Kildrummy Castle

Kildrummy Castle

There are so many castles in Aberdeenshire and I’m still discovering ones we’ve never seen, like Kildrummy Castle, which is where we went today. It’s a ruin but in its hey-day it was known as the “noblest of northern castles”. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by that but one thing is certain, Kildrummy Castle was once a very impressive fortress, with impregnable stone towers, and a drawbridge. It was built in the 13th century and witnessed many battles until its demise during the Jacobite rising in the 1700s.

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This is all that remains of one of the towers where the Lords lived. You can see how thick the walls are in the cross-section of the circular wall.

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The kids like playing hide and seek at ruins like these.

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The timber bridge in the next photo is where the drawbridge once stood.

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I love the plants growing up this stone wall.

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About 5 minutes up the road from Kildrummy Castle are the Kildrummy Castle Gardens. These look gorgeous but are not run by Historic Scotland so you have to pay to get into both places. We only saw the gardens from the bridge above as we were hungry and wanted lunch, but I got a couple of nice photos from the bridge. I’m sure we’ll go back for a proper look.

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The drive to Kildrummy Castle is magnificent. All the heather is in flower right now and it gives the hills a purple hue which looks lovely from a distance.

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Castles, seals, and Spiderman

Yesterday we checked out Knockhall Castle, the doer-upper which is currently for sale at £130,000.

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I think it’s over-priced because there’s very little land with it. The surrounding fields are all owned by someone else and not for sale – although I have heard the owner is open to the possibility of selling them. However the castle is gorgeous and has magnificent views of the sea. I would buy it in a second if we had a spare £130,000 and it included some land for a garden. The only bit of land included is the small castle courtyard.

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The holes near the bottom are apparently gun holes.

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There’s an inscription over the door which reads 1565. The door itself is bricked up.

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Here’s Lord Sinclair in front of his castle.

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The main reason we went to visit Knockhall was to see the seal colony at Newburgh. The kids love this place as do I.

It was sunny when we arrived but there was a dramatic change in the weather which made for some nice photos.

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I got myself some tartan tights in Edinburgh the other weekend but I fear they look more like Spiderman tights.

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The ultimate doer-upper

I tried to convince Ben last week that we should buy this doer-upper:

http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-63319526.html

It was built by Lord Sinclair in 1565 and Ben’s mother’s maiden name is Sinclair. Maybe it could be our bach (bach is the New Zealand word for a modest holiday home near the beach).

It’s true that we’re the most un-DIY family in existence and we need to hire tradespeople for even the simplest of things so I can see why it might not be a good idea. However we could just pitch a tent on the castle grounds and camp there. Elizabeth says she’d like it for her next birthday.

 

A £6,000 Highland Cow

A £6,000 Highland Cow

After a very soggy weekend Edinburgh put on a splendid day for us yesterday. I took lots of lovely photos from high places: first the ferris wheel and later the Scott Monument. Starting with the ferris wheel:

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This is our view at breakfast. We stayed at Motel One on Princess St. There are two Motel Ones in Edinburgh and both are terrific. I highly recommend them.

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The kids wanted to have their photos taken with the grim reaper. Is that bad? A passer-by shouted out to him, “You stay away from me for another 40 years!”.

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Here’s the Scott Monument, to Sir Walter Scott, which is the largest monument to a writer in the world. There are lots of winding and very, very narrow stairs inside which make it, er, rather intimate when trying to pass people going in the opposite direction. I thought they would have different stairwells for people going up and down but there’s only the one. However if you don’t mind tiny spaces, lots of steps, and close encounters with other tourists, it’s well worth checking out.

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We passed a shop with this life-sized highland cow in the window. I asked them whether it’s for sale and it is – with a price tag of £6,000.

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Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

I have a new look. Just call me Bond, James Bond. I even have my own trusty Aston Martin, a.k.a. Busby.

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Daniel is very lucky to have a friend from New Zealand visiting him right now. They haven’t seen each other in almost three years and a lot changes in that time when you’re a kid. They spent the afternoon today rampaging around Drum Castle.

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Perhaps even more exciting than James Bond and long-lost friends are the new toilets at Drum Castle which are simply smashing!

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Why does the Aberdeen city council think it’s acceptable for children to cycle in the bus lane?

This is the expectation on Union St because there is no cycle path. Children are wobbly on bicycles and do not always cycle in a straight line. Buses are huge compared to bicycles, especially children’s bicycles. Visibility is also poor for bus drivers. Children are slow cyclists and cannot keep up with traffic. Children on bicycles in the bus lane are a nuisance to bus drivers and are putting their own lives at risk.

We want to encourage children to ride their bicycles to address the obesity crisis, traffic congestion, pollution, and climate change, but the city council needs to give them road space away from cars, trucks, and buses.

Cycling infrastructure returns more to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the City of Sydney found for each $1 that was spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 was returned to the community through improvements to health, pollution, and congestion –
https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-963

A University of Auckland study found the benefits of spending on cycling infrastructure were 10-25 times greater than the costs. – http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1307250/

A recent Finnish study also found benefits outweighed costs even in the worst case scenario:
http://www.flanderstoday.eu/innovation/cycle-highways-pay-themselves-say-researchers

Compare this to building roads for cars and in all cases the costs outweigh the benefits.

For why building new roads is not cost effective see the theory of induced demand:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

For something more academic try:
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.447.73&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Sometimes adding additional roads to a network can impede the flow of traffic. See Braess’ paradox for more:
https://rachel.blog/2014/03/31/roads-traffic-and-braesss-paradox/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Braess%27_paradox

If you live in Aberdeen please write to the city council and ask them to provide space away from traffic for children to ride their bikes.

Glamping in a bus

Glamping in a bus

I’ve got lots of bus photos to share today. First, the chicken bus again because I think it’s ingenious. Just inside the front door is a gate to stop the chickens from escaping. Also up front and where the driver sat is a good storage area for food and straw which provides handy access and protection from the elements.

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Inside the bus at the back is a little doorway for the chooks to get in and out. The seats have also been removed and the seat frames now provide a nice perch.

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Here are some photos from inside our bus. The bedroom is at the very back and has a sky light for star gazing.

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The kitchen/lounge area (the kids are cracking eggs for their breakfast):

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The log burner:

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The toilet is where the bus driver used to sit:

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The shower:

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There are two bunk beds for the kids. Here’s a pic inside Elizabeth’s:

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Breakfast this morning:

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There’s an honesty shop on the site where you can take what you want and pay at the end. This is particularly useful because there’s always something you forget to bring with you and it has essential items like tea, coffee, and chocolate.

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In the bus is a book with photos of the transformation from public transport to accommodation. I took some photos of pages in the book of how the bus used to look:

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This is our first time glamping and we’re having a terrific time. The bus has everything we need – kettle, microwave, toaster, stove, fridge/freezer, electric power points, wifi, bathroom, log burner, wood-fired hot tub, bbq, and fresh eggs from the nearby chicken bus. The beds are comfortable and warm and all the linen is provided. There are lovely views from all windows and it’s peaceful, quiet, and private. It’s about 30mins drive from Edinburgh in East Lothian. If you want to find out more they have a web site at http://thebusstop.scot.

Today we walked to the village of Gifford which is 2.7 miles away and was a lovely ramble through wheat fields, forests, and burns (streams). In Scotland they have a freedom to roam rule where the general public has the right to access private property. This meant we were able to walk across private farmland rather than walking alongside a road. It was a beautiful walk. IMG_1780.JPG

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We had lunch in Gifford at a pub called Goblin Ha where I had one of the most delicious vegetarian meals I’ve ever had. There was a lot of choice on the menu for me. It’s so easy to eat a plant-based diet in the UK.

Peeing in the driver’s seat

Peeing in the driver’s seat

We are glamping in a bus and it’s heaven. We have our own wood-fired hot tub in a peaceful rural setting of wheat fields and rolling hills. It doesn’t get much better than this. Teetotal me even enjoyed a South African organic red with no added sulphur. This is my kind of camping.

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Here’s our bus:

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There’s a toilet and shower in what was once the driver’s seat, hence my title, peeing in the driver’s seat. There are also chickens and we can help ourselves to eggs. The chickens have their own bus to sleep in.

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Daniel driving the chicken’s bus:

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Inside the chicken’s bus:

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There are also alpacas but they don’t have a bus because they prefer to sleep outside:IMG_1648.JPG

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It’s the time of year with fields of gold everywhere and they’re beautiful. It’s rapeseed and they match my coat … kind of.

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The wifi is ace too.

Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

We gathered on the Beach Esplanade at 11am this morning for the Aberdeen Pedal on Parliament ride. This is the third year running for Aberdeen and the sixth year for Pedal on Parliament in Scotland. We were an energetic, cheerful, and brave crowd hoping to convince the Aberdeen City Council to give some road space to cyclists in Aberdeen. It was nice to meet some kindred spirits and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I think there were around 80 of us which is a bit pathetic. Come on Aberdeen! You can do better than this! Judging by the Tweets I’ve seen the crowd in Edinburgh looked more impressive.

Before the ride:

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We cycled along the beach to Castlegate in the city centre.

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There were three cargo bikes. Those two fellows both have an Urban Arrow which is what I wished I’d bought instead of the Butchers and Bicycles. I’ve sold that bike now for a huge loss.

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Here’s the Aberdeen group, a great bunch of people:

The leader of the Aberdeen City Council, Jenny Laing, was there at Castlegate to greet us at the end. I had a satisfying rant to her about the lack of cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen and what’s needed; she listened and seemed to agree with everything I said. But this is typical of the city council: they listen and agree then do nothing.

Pedal on Parliament this year coincided with the marches for science, a worldwide initiative to support science and evidence-based policy making, both of which I fully support. There wasn’t a march in Aberdeen but I believe the Edinburgh march did not clash with Pedal on Parliament as they are at different times and I’m sure there were people going to both events since they have some shared goals. If government policy was evidence-based we’d have cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen.

Pedal on Parliament 2017

On the 22nd April mums, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and friends will be cycling in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness (Glasgow on the 23rd April) to urge our politicians to improve cycling infrastructure all over Scotland. That’s this coming Saturday! Tomorrow! We need as many people as possible to have the greatest impact so please join us.

The benefits of ditching the car in favour of the bike are so far-reaching we cannot let our politicians ignore them. A study published in the British Medical Journal yesterday found,

Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.

Source: https://theconversation.com/cycling-to-work-major-new-study-suggests-health-benefits-are-staggering-76292

Cycling also makes you feel good, it reduces pollution and traffic congestion, it reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, it helps people to lose weight, and it’s fun. However very few people cycle to work, school, or the shops in Scotland because there’s nowhere to cycle unless they are prepared to brave the roads alongside cars, trucks and buses. We have to start allocating road space for cyclists and make our cities more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly. The only way this will happen is with pressure on politicians from us, the general public.

Spending money on cycling infrastructure returns more in benefits to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the city of Sydney found that for each $1 that was spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 was returned to the community through improvements to health, pollution, and congestion.

A University of Auckland study found the benefits of spending on cycling infrastructure were 10-25 times greater than the costs.

A recent Finnish study also found benefits outweighed costs even in the worst case scenario.

If you want to participate you can find out when everyone is meeting and where at the following links:

Pedal on Parliament 
POP Edinburgh 
POP Glasgow 
POP Aberdeen
POP Inverness 

Haddo House and Country Park

Haddo House and Country Park

Things didn’t go quite according to plan today. We booked the nearest car-club car this morning but it had a flat battery. We’ve been members of the car club for two years now and this is only the second time this has happened. Fortunately there was another car-club car nearby and so they switched our booking for us and we took that one instead. This is one the best things about the car club – all the maintenance and the inevitable mechanical issues that crop up are not our problem to sort out. We book a car on average about twice per month and it has been terrific. Very rarely is the car I want not available and even then there’s usually another one I can book instead.

We planned to have a picnic lunch at Pitmeddon Gardens which is about 18 miles north-west of Aberdeen. However when we got there we discovered it too had a flat battery (= closed) but fortunately there was another castle/stately home/garden just down the road: Haddo House. So we went there instead. It’s handy living in the most densely castled corner of the UK. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps the Scots used to fight a lot?

I am an active travel person. I walk and cycle pretty much everywhere I want to go in Aberdeen and I do it by choice. Giving up the car was very liberating and I never want to own another, not unless it has pedals. When I get in a car-club car now I find it a bit confining. How can people sit there and not move their bodies for such long periods of time? I want pedals or something to keep myself physically active. It’s just not right to sit on our bums doing nothing. You might wonder how I survive with an IT job but I have a standing desk and I am permanently standing at it. I never sit down, not even at 6:30 in the morning when I start work. It makes no sense to me why people want to sit in cars in traffic when they could walk or cycle instead. Cars needs pedals to allow the occupants to get some exercise while they’re inside them. Who’s with me on this? I Tweeted my request to Elon Musk.

Anyway, I digress. Three paragraphs and still no photos of Haddo House and park. Here they are.

Picnic.

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Lots of daffodils.

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There’s a squirrel hide but we’ve never seen any red squirrels there.

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We did see a bear though.

 

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Elizabeth is like me and doesn’t like the heat. It got up to 17C today and she complained endlessly about being hot.

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Burn O’Vat

Burn O’Vat

Someone recommended Burn O’Vat on my Scolty Hill post from last week and so we decided to check it out today. It’s a WOW place. How have I never discovered it before? It’s at the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve which is about 34 miles west of Aberdeen. There’s a terrific visitor centre there.

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The main attraction is the Burn O’Vat which is a relic from the end of the last Ice Age. Wikipedia has more info about how it was formed, if you’re interested. Here are the photos.

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I am dwarfed by the rock-face behind.

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Ben looks pretty miserable in this next photo. He says it’s his “resting bitch face”. I think he’s just jealous because he’s not wearing gumboots like the rest of us. This is definitely a gumboot place.

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The kids loved this place so much. The waterfalls, the shallow pools, the giant walls of rock, and the cave-like feel to it made it all a bit out of this world and exciting for them. It’s a very short walk from the visitor centre – more of a wander than a walk – but the nature reserve also includes two big lochs with several walking tracks of varying distance.

I love this photo of the kids choosing to walk through the stream rather than over the bridge.

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After the Burn O’Vat we did a 4km walk which took us past a Pictish stone cross which was carved in the 9th century.

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The two lochs are Lochs Davan and Kinord. Both were giant ice-cubes that melted and formed lakes, or lochs as they are called here, at the end of the last Ice Age. The Muir of Dinnet is a great place and I highly recommend it. There are toilets and picnic tables at the visitor centre and we took a picnic lunch with us and ate there.

On our way home we stopped at a cool café in Aboyne called Spider on a Bicycle. I love this place. I guess it’s a given that I will love a place with a bicycle outside but the coffee was superb, they had non-dairy milk, and even a vegan dessert. That makes me happy.

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Scolty Hill

Scolty Hill

Next to the village of Banchory, which is about 18 miles from Aberdeen, is Scolty Hill. Desperate to get out of the house and into the countryside I suggested we go there after lunch and walk to the summit. It was a superb outing. The walk is about 1.5 hours and not too strenuous. There is a steepish section but definitely doable, even for small children.

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It was about 3C but you quickly get hot when you’re walking uphill. Elizabeth took her coat off not long after we started and I didn’t even bother putting mine on.

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Daniel complained endlessly on the way up and this photo was taken in the midst of complaints, hence the miserable expression on his face. He would rather sit in a café and eat cake than walk up a hill to admire the views. His mood changed significantly on the way down because the steepish parts were covered in snow and made for good sliding. Perhaps he was also thinking about cake.

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At the top is a large stone monument with a spiral staircase inside. You can walk right to the top to admire the views.

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It was incredibly windy on the summit and in this next photo it looks like a storm is about to engulf us so we didn’t stay for long. There was also cake to be had so we took some photos and made a hasty retreat. It started to snow on the way down which was lovely.

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Afterwards we went to Milton Brasserie and ate cake.

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I always get a bit annoyed when cafés don’t have non-dairy milk so I’ve started taking my own with me. I bought a pack of mini cartons and if I think we’ll be going to a café which won’t have non-dairy milk I’ll take one with me which is exactly what I did today. It was perfect.

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Milton Brasserie is surrounded by lots of lovely shops selling, art, crafts, and Scottish things. I bought myself a tweed hat because once you hit your 40s it’s time to start wearing tweed. There was a matching tweed jacket but it was £350!!! I didn’t buy it.

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Robert Burns Night and Donald Trump

It’s Burns night in Scotland today. January 25th is an annual celebration of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. In school the children tasted some Scottish foods and learnt one of his poems off by heart. Daniel has come such a long way since we first moved here. In our first year he protested vehemently about having to learn a poem. This year he memorised it with enthusiasm and his recitals are completely way over the top, but in a good way – full of actions and emotion. I think he’s what they’d call an “overactor”. He’s also apparently one of the first to volunteer to stand up in class and recite it.

I’m still in denial about Donald Trump. It’s unbelievable. I would not have believed this possible a year ago. He’s the most unlikely, unsuitable, and unlikable person imaginable for leader of the United States. He lies, he’s divisive, he’s more concerned with image than reality, and he’s intellectually challenged.

I was very disappointed to see Donald Trump and a room full of men preside over a decision which directly negatively affects women’s health and that is the decision to ban funding for international aid groups that provide safe pregnancy terminations for women. Poor women are harmed most by this because wealthy women can travel to a place where abortions are safe and available. The poorest women will be left to make do with dangerous, botched abortions.

I am not religious and do not believe in the sanctity of human life; instead I believe that pain and suffering is wrong and should be avoided as far as possible. A foetus in the early stages of pregnancy does not feel any pain and does not have a right to life. Species membership is a biological classification and is not a moral or ethical boundary. Membership of species homo sapiens does not give a being the right to life. What does matter is the capacity for pain and suffering, self-consciousness, and the ability to see oneself over time – mothers do feel pain and they do suffer and can see their lives over time.

The only good thing about Donald Trump is he’s a never-ending source of entertainment for the media like this funny YouTube video from the Netherlands about him.

A taste for whisky

A taste for whisky

I feel like I need to embrace my new home country a bit more and learn to enjoy pure malt whisky. Ben likes the peaty stuff and so that’s what we mostly have in the house. I decided to give some of this a try, watered down with soda water.

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I’ve got my armchair, pajamas, and slippers. Everything is perfect.

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But this stuff is really disgusting. It tastes like industrial cleaner.

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I’ve heard people say it’s an acquired taste but then how did the very first person figure that out? Did they force themselves to drink it over and over again until it tasted good?

 

Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

About 16 miles north of Aberdeen is a little village called Newburgh. We went there for lunch today, to the Newburgh Inn. The food was terrific. I highly recommend it. They put on a typical Sunday roast pub lunch but there were a couple of options for vegetarians. I had a chick pea and sweet potato curry and it was delicious.

After lunch we walked to the beach and this was the highlight of my day. There’s a seal colony and it is huge. I’ve never seen so many seals all one place before. It was like King’s Cross Station for seals.

See that thick black line on the sand across the estuary? Those are all seals. Hundreds of them.

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Let me zoom in for you.

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Many were swimming in the estuary and came quite close to the shore, like this one in the next photo.

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There’s something a bit doggy about their faces. This next seal could almost be Freud swimming. He loved swimming.

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The beach is very nice as the shore is lined with sand dunes, just like at Balmedie Beach, and these seem to go on for miles and miles. It’s also fairly quiet and undeveloped.

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I took a short video.

 

Film review: Local Hero

We watched a 1983 movie called Local Hero this afternoon because we’re planning to go up to Pennan, where it was filmed, in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

I find myself longing for the natural world and for peace and tranquility and so we decided to plan a weekend away to a remote seaside village up north. I had never heard of Local Hero until I started planning our weekend away but I knew it would appeal to me – it’s set in Scotland, stars Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) and features music from Mark Knopfler (lead singer and songwriter from Dire Straits).

It’s a funny drama about an American oil company that want to buy up a section of coast in Scotland to build an oil refinery – they just need to convince all the locals to sell up. All but one want the cash and it’s this one old eccentric fisherman who owns the beach and who stands in the way of millions. Eventually he gets his way and the plan is scrapped.

The movie reminds me a bit of the real-life drama at Balmedie Beach in Scotland where Donald Trump built his golf course. It also has a local hero, Michael Forbes. Sadly the real-life drama doesn’t have as good an ending as that in Local Hero. Trump got his golf course and Michael Forbes and his neighbours have had a pretty dreadful time since Trump moved in. Trump’s promise of jobs for the local community never materialised either. If Americans who voted for Donald Trump think he will deliver on his promises they should have a look at his track record and Balmedie is a great example of failed promises.

Aberdeen harbour was developed by oil companies decades ago.It’s a ghastly place now. They’ve butchered it.Was it worth it? I don’t think so but then I guess we all value different things. Some people value fast cars. I value the natural world.

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year which is today and it also happens to be Elizabeth’s birthday. This year we went to the Pantomime. I’ve never been before but I’d heard good things about it.  It was superb and exceeded all my expectations.

We saw Dick McWhittington,  the Scottish version of Dick Whittington. There was singing and dancing, lots of slap-stick comedy, plenty of politically incorrect references, toilet humour and Benny Hill-type jokes. The kids loved it so much as did we. There was even a segment about Donald Trump which, I’m sure you can guess, was not complimentary. It’s a British tradition to go to the Pantomime with the family in December and I think we’ll make it our tradition too. I love living here so much and I especially love living in Scotland.

Here’s the theatre in Aberdeen. It’s lovely inside.

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Elizabeth got a new bike for her birthday.

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She also got a neat game you can hook up to an iPad where users control the character in the game with coding blocks. It’s an introduction to programming for kids which is a bit like Scratch except that the coding blocks are tangible things you can move around with your hands. It was a big hit and she played with it for almost an hour this morning.

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She got several other cool things too and had a very enjoyable birthday, I think.

Did you know that Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns? Scotland has a lot of distinctly Scottish things – a distinct culture I guess you’d say – like tartan, whisky, kilts, golf (invented here), bagpipes, hogmanay, haggis, shortbread, Gaelic, and lots of other things I’ve likely forgotten.

Happy birthday Elizabeth and Happy Hogmanay everyone else. May 2017 bring peace, health, and happiness.