The helmet brigade strikes again

There’s an article in the Telegraph that has got me all riled up. I’m not going to link to it but the headline is something like, “Teenager seriously injured because he wasn’t wearing a bicycle helmet”. Why do people think it’s ok to shame cyclists for not wearing helmets? Do they do the same to smokers or people who don’t exercise? Maybe they do but I have never seen a newspaper headline like this: “Obese mother who drives children to school dies of heart attack”. You just don’t see that and I doubt the people who drive their kids right up to the school gate in their tanks ever get shouted at, as I do on my bike, even though I’m likely to cost the NHS far less in the long term and I’m not putting noxious gases into the air that harm our children. No, instead I am the one who gets abused. And for what it’s worth, I do wear a helmet but most people don’t realise that because it’s an invisible helmet.

Physical inactivity is the biggest health problem of the developed world. Air pollution kills 50,000 people a year in the UK. People who ride bikes, with or without helmets, are doing a great service to society. I’m not in favour of compulsory helmet legislation because it reduces the number of people who ride their bikes which is bad for the health of the population as a whole. The risk of injury and death from not wearing a helmet is far lower than the risk of not doing any exercise at all. Cycling UK has a good summary of the facts.

I should know better than to read an article in The Telegraph.

No pain, no gain

I caught a taxi home from the train yesterday. It was a very short trip and one we usually walk but I had Ben’s backpack (he walked straight from the train to the University) in addition to my own. Nevertheless I felt bad about sitting in a car when I could have easily walked. I had a nice conversation with the taxi driver who remarked how little traffic there had been since the school holidays started. The amazing thing is children can’t even drive! Those were his words.

Why are we driving our children to school? We are setting them up for poor habits later in life. Children who are used to making short trips by car will continue doing that when they become adults. We worry about our children becoming smokers but a bigger health issue today, in terms of direct attributable mortality, is not smoking but physical inactivity. This research is old but the message just isn’t getting through.

How much exercise should we be doing? The NHS has some guidelines on its site. They say we need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 72 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. This means you can do 30 minutes of moderate activity on five days each week or 15 minutes of vigorous activity on five days. That’s the minimum. More than that is probably better.

Yes, it’s much easier to drive up a steep hill than walk up but millions of years of human evolution did not involve driving everywhere in cars and our bodies depend on this physical activity for our wellbeing. Without it we get sick, depressed, and risk cognitive decline. It’s like the old saying goes, No pain, no gain.

Porridge with peanut butter

Porridge with peanut butter

Last Sunday we went to Bonobo for brunch and I tried their Bonoboats which is porridge made with peanut butter. I was a little skeptical at first but it exceeded my expectations so I decided to try making it at home. Here’s what I got at Bonobo:

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Here’s what I made today at home:

Ok, so it doesn’t look as good as the Bonobo version which is why I don’t intend to quit my job and open a restaurant, but it tasted just as good, if not better. I added a secret ingredient to mine: ground flaxseed. I’ve heard it said that where there’s flax there’s healthy people. But don’t trust me! Have a look at this university medical centre leaflet about flaxseed.

The Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed
  • Cinnamon
  • Fruit
  • Agave or maple syrup (optional)

Method

Mix the oats, water, non-dairy milk, peanut butter, ground flaxseed in a saucepan and cook on the stove over a medium heat. Stir continuously so it doesn’t burn or stick to the bottom. When it’s a nice gluey consistency turn off the heat and serve with fruit, cinnamon, and agave/maple syrup. I also put some plain soya yoghurt on mine but this isn’t necessary.

Protip: Be careful not to accidentally sprinkle cumin over the top instead of cinnamon which is what I did. 

A weekend of vomit

I cleaned up lots of vomit on the weekend. On Friday night I was woken by the sound of Elizabeth wailing from the bathroom. I found her sitting on the toilet surrounded by a pool of vomit. Why couldn’t she have vomited in the toilet rather than on the floor next to it? I suppose I should be thankful that it was in the bathroom and not on the bedroom carpet.

On Saturday morning Daniel woke up to find he had vomited in his bed through the night. He’s the only person I know who can vomit without waking up. He also slept through a magnitude 7.1 earthquake so I suppose it goes with the territory. Unfortunately his vomit ended up on the carpet and blankets.

Why does vomit always contain diced carrots even when diced carrots have not been eaten? Ben has also been sick but thankfully he has avoided puking so far. I’m the only well one which means I’m either about to catch it or they’ve got food poisoning from some animal product which I don’t eat. I’m hoping it’s the latter.

WordCamp Edinburgh 2017

I’ve been in Edinburgh all weekend for the Edinburgh WordCamp, which was hands-down the best WordCamp all year so far. It rained all weekend but that didn’t make the city any less beautiful and nor did it dampen the spirits of all the attendees. The venue was right beneath the castle and it was inspiring to look up each day and see an imposing castle perched on a craggy cliff-face looming above us. The grey sky added to the atmosphere.

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I gave a talk about writing as therapy and my journey into blogging. I started my blog in April 2011 after struggling to deal with anxiety following the Christchurch earthquakes. Writing about my feelings and emotions was therapeutic for me and helped me feel better.

In preparing my talk I wondered whether there was any evidence that writing really does have benefits. It turns out there is. In 1986 an American psychologist, James Pennebaker, published a paper which showed that students who wrote expressively about a traumatic event had fewer physical health problems in subsequent months. Expressive writing really does improve our physical health. It’s thought that when we suppress negative, trauma-related thoughts we compromise our immune function.

There are several similar studies including some which demonstrate benefits in addition to our physical health, like this one which explored expressive writing and job loss. It found that people who had lost their job and wrote about their feelings about losing their job were more likely to be employed again 6 months later.

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To get these health benefits from writing the only rule is that it needs to be expressive. Writing about superficial things like what we’re wearing will not have the same benefit. The goal is to not censor yourself. You must really let go and explore your thoughts and feelings. When you explore how you feel it can makes what seems complicated, simple. It doesn’t have to be public and it doesn’t have to be well-written. There are no spelling or grammar rules that need to be followed.

I ended my talk with this Shakespeare quote from Macbeth.

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak

Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break

– Macbeth Act IV Scene iii 209

Since I was not volunteering or womanning a booth this time I got to see lots of talks and the standard was very high. I want to give a special shoutout to Bridget Hamilton who runs the Verbal Remedy site and who spoke about using WordPress to create social change. Several of my coworkers also gave terrific talks – Stef, Luminus, Sarah, and Kat. I also learnt a lot from Graham Armfield’s talk about accessibility. There were several others that I also thoroughly enjoyed and they’ll all appear on WordPress TV at some point.

The WordPress Edinburgh team put together a great conference. I’m looking forward to the next one.

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Sainsbury’s vegan mac and cheese

Sainsbury’s vegan mac and cheese

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Sainsbury’s reported earlier this year that sales of their newly launched vegan cheese exceeded expectations by 300%. This is not bad at all considering the vegan market has always been viewed as small and somewhat niche. I decided to give their vegan macaroni cheese a try.

It’s a ready-made meal for one which you heat for five minutes in the microwave. It’s also gluten-free and wheat-free which is a disappointment for me since I’m not in the 1% of the population that has coeliac disease. Why does it matter, you ask? Gluten-free foods tend to have a higher glycemic index (GI) than foods made with wheat. Wheat is often replaced with rice or potato and both are very starchy and have a high GI. Wheat has more protein in it than rice and therefore a lower GI. I will always choose wheat over rice and potato for this reason. I also prefer the taste of wheat. Pasta made with rice is often sticky and doesn’t have the same flavour. It annoys me when vegan food is made gluten-free. I guess they are trying to boost sales by capturing two different markets but when I see gluten-free I usually put my wallet away. I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with Daniel and people who follow a gluten-free diet are at a slightly higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

I purchased Sainsbury’s mac and cheese without realising it was pasta made with rice but I ate it nevertheless and it was very tasty. If I hadn’t known it was made with rice I probably wouldn’t have realised. The texture was good and suitably cheesy. If I was a coeliac I’d definitely buy it but given that I’d prefer pasta made with wheat for health and taste reasons, I will not buy it again. Now to go and do 300 star jumps to combat the sugar rush…

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What Traffic Fumes Do to Our Children

I copied the following factsheet from George Monbiot’s blog, Car Sick. He is encouraging people to share it:

I shared it with our local primary school on Twitter in the hope they might share it with parents. They did not. I also shared it on the school Facebook page but only one person liked it. Sometimes I feel like no-one cares. Here’s the factsheet in full taken from Car Sick. Please share it.

Car Sick

Every year, we discover more about the harm being done to our children by the fumes that cars and other vehicles produce.

The more we learn, the worse it looks. In polluted places, the damage to their health can be very serious.

Here is what we now know about the harm that traffic pollution can do to children:

It can damage the growth of their lungs. This means that the lungs of children who have been affected don’t work so well. The damage can last for the rest of their lives.

It raises the risk of asthma and allergies. For children who already have asthma, pollution can make it worse.

It can damage the development of their brains. Air pollution can reduce children’s intelligence, making it harder for them to learn.

It can change their behaviour and reduce their happiness. Air pollution has been linked to anxiety, depression and Attention Deficit Disorder.

It raises the risk of heart disease later in their lives.

It can cause cancer, both in children and when they become adults.

Unborn children can also be affected by the pollution their mothers breathe. Air pollution is linked to babies being born prematurely and small.

Pollution inside your car can be much worse than pollution outside, because the fumes are concentrated in the small space.

By driving them to school and by sitting in our cars with the engines idling, we are helping to poison our own children.

We don’t mean to do this to our children. But once we know how much we are hurting them, we can stop it, by changing the way we travel. Walking and cycling are ideal.

Groups like Living Streets can help schools to turn this around. Together we can protect our children from harm.

The information sources for this factsheet can be found at https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/advpub/2016/6/EHP299.acco.pdf, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26825441, http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001792, https://www.rcplo ndon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution, https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306770/, http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/children-and-air-pollution.html and https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/05/the-truth-about-londons-air-pollution

 

Turkey neck and gardening

Turkey neck and gardening

I’m trying to reduce the amount of sugar I eat, partly for health reasons and partly for vanity. I’m starting to notice the wrinkles more and more and – dare I admit it, a turkey neck! – and sugar ages you. I’ll never be able to give up chocolate but sugar sneaks into things that don’t need it like breakfast cereals. There’s nothing worse than muesli with sugar in it or tea with sugar in it. Yuk. I no longer have any sugar on porridge either, instead opting just for fresh fruit. However, I love jam on toast and jam is packed with sugar.

Recently I discovered these fruit spreads that don’t contain any sugar, other than the natural sugar in the fruit they’re made with.

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The flavour reminds me a bit of baby food but it’s much thicker, less watery, and has a richer taste. Both the Biona and Suma are very good and I can’t pick which I prefer. They’re both deliciously tart.

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The first signs of spring are popping up here with snowdrops and crocuses appearing all over the place. My greenhouse is also starting to get a lot of sun during the day and feeling nice and warm inside so I’ve started sewing seeds again. I planted a lot of seeds and as usual I can’t remember what I planted. I’m pretty sure there’s broccoli and spinach in this lot.

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After doing nothing all winter my pak choi is also starting to take off. I put wool pellets around the edges of this garden bed in the hope it will deter slugs and snails. None of them have woken from winter yet so I’m not sure if it will work but it did make the greenhouse smell like sheep which was rather nice.

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These are the wool pellets. Has anyone used these before? Do they work?

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Here’s the view from the cycle path today.

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Rain tent for a cargo bike and homeopathy

For a little while now I’ve been lusting after a new bicycle. I currently have my heart set on a Triobike. The main reason I want a new bike is because the kids are getting too tall to fit under the rain tent in Busby. However Bakfiets, makers of Busby, recently released a taller version of their tent and so rather than buying a new bike, I bought a new rain tent instead. Here it is:

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There’s quite a bit of head room in there now although I think the kids are still too tall to sit on the seat. They currently sit on cushions on the floor of the bike. The new rain tent is great though because it has zips on both sides which act as windows. These won’t get much use over the winter but in summer they’ll be very useful. There are times when it’s too hot with the tent on but too cold with it off completely. The zips should make it just right.

I still might get a new bike at some stage but not in the near future. The Triobike is 10kg lighter and that appeals to me. However there are benefits to keeping Busby and these are:

  1. Busby might get upset if I replace him.
  2. I don’t think anyone will steal him because he’s old and rusty whereas a new bike might be more attractive to thieves.
  3. I’ve spent quite a bit of money on him getting puncture-proof tyres and other things.

Yesterday I discovered that the NHS pays for homeopathic prescriptions. I do not think this is a good way to spend NHS money especially given it is under strain. Please note that I am being very restrained here. The revelation that the NHS pays for homeopathic prescriptions got me rather worked up. What were they thinking! People are still free to seek homeopathic treatments if they want but not at tax-payer expense.

A co-worker shared this funny YouTube clip about a homeopathic A&E. The patient dies, but they did their best 🙂

Fish antibiotics

Mum has been ill this week with a headache, sore throat, blocked sinuses, cough and just generally feeling miserable. She wanted to see a GP and after my experience trying to get an appointment for Dad when he was here I was not hopeful. It seems I was right to feel this way because every place I rang said no, they were completely booked. They said I had to ring back the next day at 8:30am to see whether there were any spaces available and keep doing that each morning until something came up.

Mum was naturally feeling quite anxious about it and went on eBay and ordered some fish antibiotics. You can buy pharmacy-grade amoxicillin on eBay. I am not kidding – see here. Given the concerns about antibiotic resistance I think it’s astonishing you can buy amoxicillin on eBay.

Eventually one of the medical centres told me about a private GP practice in Aberdeen which is new. It wasn’t an option when Dad was visiting. I tried them and managed to get an appointment the very next day. Thankfully Mum got some antibiotics for humans rather than fish which is a bit of a relief for all of us.

I think it’s so great that the NHS is completely free but if it means you die before actually getting to see a doctor then that’s not really that great. I’d rather pay £20 and get an appointment within a reasonable time-frame than pay nothing and wait weeks. But then I come from countries where I’ve always had to pay to see a doctor and because of this, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me.

How dangerous is cycling?

One of the biggest barriers to cycling is the perception that it’s dangerous. But is it dangerous? Public perception of risk is often quite different to real risk but it’s also difficult to change. I’m speaking from personal experience here too: I know that flying is one of the safest modes of transport but knowing this doesn’t make me any less terrified of it.

According to the CTC (The National Cycling Charity), the “risk of injury from cycling in Great Britain is just 0.048 injuries per 1,000 hours of cycling”. You’re actually more likely to be injured in your backyard than out cycling. But perhaps more importantly, the benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks and life-years gained through physical activity account for more than those lost through injuries.

To put things further into perspective, the biggest risk to health today is actually physical inactivity. That’s right, sitting in front of a computer screen is far more likely to kill you than a bicycle ride is. In fact, a sedentary lifestyle now accounts for more deaths than does smoking. It’s actually better to be fat and fit than thin and unfit. Physical inactivity is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, and certain cancers. So perhaps rather than worrying about a minuscule risk of injury when cycling, we should think about the real risk of our sedentary lifestyle and get out on our bikes more often.

I took this photo of some poppies in someone’s front yard today. Aren’t they gorgeous.
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Daylight, UbbLE, and FIFA

It’s light when I fall asleep and light when I wake up now. The other night I woke up at 3:30am to use the bathroom and it was light! Sunrise is officially not until about 4:20am but the first light here is at about 3:15am. Surprisingly it hasn’t affected my sleep at all. I thought I would find it hard to sleep without pitch darkness but I haven’t had any trouble. Blackout curtains probably help even though they don’t block out all the light.

Yesterday I discovered a quiz you can take to calculate your five-year risk of dying – UbbLE. Some of the questions were surprising. There are only ten and none of them are questions about diet and exercise. The questions are also different for men and women. Apparently the best predictor of five-year mortality for men is how they rate their own health while for women it is a diagnosis of cancer. Walking pace is apparently a good predictor for both. The relationships are not causal; that is, the study does not claim that the variable was the cause of death, just that there is a correlation between the two.

The UbbLE quiz is only for 40-70 year olds and although I’m not quite 40 yet – a few more months to go still – I took it anyway. My UbbLE age is only 24 which means I have the same risk of dying in the next five years as a 24-year-old. Although quizzes like these don’t really mean very much on an individual level, I think they’re more accurate for the population as a whole.

I don’t care very much for soccer but I couldn’t help following the news of the FIFA corruption scandal recently. I despise dishonesty and corruption like this so I was pleased to hear that people are finally being called to account. How can we stop this kind of corruption? I think they need more women on these voting boards – not because women are not also susceptible to cheating and bribery, they are, but because more women means a better diversity of views and more diversity means more people challenging existing practices. I also think regular public oaths are useful, or at least, that’s what Dan Ariely says in his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Apparently people are less likely to cheat immediately after signing some kind of moral oath. I’m sure there are lots of other things they can do too but without knowing more about how FIFA operates, these are my only suggestions. Not that anyone from FIFA is listening or cares what I have to say 🙂

Here’s John Oliver’s take on it:

A pic and should healthcare be free?

I took this photo of a church on Union St this morning because I found the colours really striking. The blue-grey of the sky and the gentle sunlight shining on the church spire made me want to whip out my camera and capture it as I raced to a 9am appointment.

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I went to the dentist this week and it cost me £4.64. And that included two x-rays. That’s just ridiculous. Why is it so cheap? No wonder the NHS is broke. I’m used to paying $100+ for a dental check-up with x-rays. The GP here is completely free too. My GP in New Zealand usually charged about $50.

I’m not sure what my views on this are. I’m used to paying for these things so it doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect people to pay for these services when they can afford it. But then I guess it’s hard to manage a system where some have to pay and some don’t. I really don’t know what the answer is. Wait, yes I do. The answer is bike lanes of course 🙂 Think how much money the NHS would save if there was some decent cycling infrastructure in the UK. The Christchurch City Council just published a report which claims that for every $1 spent on cycling infrastructure, $8 will be returned to the community in the form of reduced traffic congestion, health and environmental benefits.

What do other people think? Should the dentist and doctor be free for all?

I’m still alive!

Thanks for all the lovely comments on my post yesterday and the emails, tweets, and text messages. I’m completely fine today. I was just over-reacting which is not so unusual for me. I’m pretty sure the vision loss was migraine-related. I was just confused because it was unlike any kind of vision impairment I’ve had before in that it was only in one eye and it was loss of 50% of my vision in that one eye. Usually I get an arc of moving geometric shapes when I get a migraine. They start off slowly in the centre of my vision and move gradually to the periphery over a period of about 20 minutes. I can still see during this time but not very well. By contrast, the episode yesterday was very sudden and a complete curtain of grey covering the entire top half of my field of view in just one eye. I was chatting live with WordPress.com users at the time and had to shut that eye completely so that I could still see.

I’ve sort of given up on trying to see a GP now. This is actually a very good strategy the NHS has for saving money on health care: make patients jump through hoops and wait weeks to see a doctor – all the hypochondriacs will realise they’re not sick and everyone else will just give up or die. We’ll try to register somewhere though of course – I’d like to at least be able to take my children to a doctor if they get sick – and I think we’ve found a practice that is much more accommodating and friendlier than the one yesterday. All that is required at this new place is that we copy encyclopaedia Britannica word-for-word with pen and paper :). Then we should be all set to see a doctor in about a week after having done that. The receptionist at this new place was very friendly too and much nicer than the [Mod: redacted] at the last place. I would pay to see a GP but I’m not sure how. I searched for private doctors but all that comes up are private hospitals for patients needing surgery. We actually have travel insurance at the moment too which would probably cover this.

A few people suggested I make an appointment with an optician and I thought I may as well do that and I have an appointment for tomorrow. I’m almost 100% sure I don’t have a retinal detachment  – as the symptoms have completely gone and there aren’t any more “floaters” than usual – but it can’t hurt to rule this out. I wouldn’t want to go blind for the sake of £50.

Daniel says so many funny things all the time that I have trouble writing them all down. The other day we were walking through town and we passed a woman smoking. Daniel asked, “Do women smoke?”. He’s obviously never seen a woman smoke before and thought it was just something men did.

Then yesterday he asked out of the blue, “What would happen if Mummy stuck her bottom out of the window and a policeman saw?”.

Who is really being alarmist?

People who accept what the scientists are saying which is that human carbon emissions are causing global warming are often called alarmist. But I think it is the people who protest the shift towards a low carbon economy who are being alarmist.

I read a very biased article in the Washington Times this week – Climate alarmism’s 10,000 commandments – in which the author claims that Obama’s recent climate change policy announcement will result in “sleep deprivation, lower economic and education status and soaring anxiety and stress.” Really? I mean, really? This is surely an alarmist statement if ever there was one.

A report from The Lancet – The health benefits of tackling climate change – found that “action to combat climate change can, of itself, lead to improvements in health.” These benefits are in addition to the benefits gained from avoiding the harmful impacts of climate change. So even if people do not accept that there will be any harmful effects from climate change – and I would suggest they read a recent World Bank report which says there will be – a low-carbon economy will still bring health benefits.

In poorer countries, indoor air pollution from inefficient cookstoves leads to respiratory illnesses in young children and heart disease in adults. Almost 1 million children around the world currently die from respiratory infections through the burning of solid fuels. An Indian stove programme aims, by 2020, to lower the cost of health care associated with these diseases by about one sixth.

The transport sector accounts for about a quarter of all fossil fuel use. A shift from motor vehicle use to walking and cycling not only reduces carbon emissions but promises large reductions in the cost of health care by lowering rates of chronic disease caused by inactivity. The report uses London and India as examples and estimates that for London, heart disease and stroke could fall by 10-20%, breast cancer by 12-13%, dementia by 8% and depression by 5%. For India, falls of 10-25% for heart disease and stroke and 6-17% for diabetes are projected.

A shift away from polluting coal-powered electricity also sees gains in health because the airborne particles that these power plants emit, cause respiratory and cardiovascular damage. For China, the gains are estimated at an extra 500 life-years per million people in one year. The benefits are even greater for India.

The study also addresses livestock farming, which accounts for 8-9% of greenhouse-gas emissions. The benefits here occur through a reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy and therefore a reduction in livestock farming. The health benefits from eating less meat and dairy are a lowered risk of heart disease, obesity and diet-related cancers. In the UK, a 30% fall in the consumption of animal-sourced saturated fat by adults would reduce heart disease by 15%.

The Lancet study shows that there are real health benefits to be gained from reducing greenhouse-gas emissions and these benefits will lower the cost of public health care and therefore go some way to offsetting the costs of mitigating climate change. This is all good news.

Who is really being alarmist here?

My unsolicited advice – read at your own risk

To pregnant women: Take the epidural. Ask for it early. It’s called labour for a reason.

To Wellingtonians: Leave while you still can. No city in the world is worth the disaster that awaits yours.

To parents of babies: Comfort your crying baby. You’d want nothing less for yourself as an adult. If they don’t stop crying, you are not a bad parent. But don’t leave them to cry or ignore them. Babies have no need for material things. They just want love, comfort and security. Is that really so hard?

To everyone: Exercise. Everyday. Your body needs it. Your brain needs it.

To everyone: Don’t drink too much. It’s really not good for you. If you’re motivated by health, then read: booze causes cancer. If you’re motivated by vanity then read: booze causes wrinkles.

To everyone: Be kind to animals and children. Anything short of this makes you a bully.

To everyone: The single most important thing in life is the relationships you have with the people around you. Nurture those relationships. Talk to the people you love. Spend time with them.

To everyone: Ignore all unsolicited advice.