The Mayans Were Half-Right

I manage to have lost the last twelve days of 2012 to the flu, even though I got vaccinated a few months ago. I couldn’t even drag myself out of the flat until today (to see The Hobbit; just as satisfying as the others, I thought, at least in 2-D). And I couldn’t get to the computer much because we’ve had a guest sleeping on a couch right next to it. So much for the topical posts and end-of-year lists I wanted to finish the year on.

See you next one...

31 December 2012

Stripped attic

And here’s the attic after three days of building work. Walls gone, ceiling gone, insulation gone, floorboards gone, dust everywhere.

28 November 2012 · x2

Our empty attic

This is the attic above our flat, yet another reason my posting has ground to a halt lately. Edinburgh top-floor flats don’t usually have title to the attic space above them, but ours does, and after five years of using it for nothing more than storage we’re finally about to release the inherent value that made us buy the flat in the first place. We’re getting the collars raised (those beams on the ceiling, which come down to my chin), two extra windows put in, proper insulation, and a staircase up to it rather than the ladder that’s been there since the place was built. (That was the original impetus. The kids are big enough to climb up the twelve-foot ladder, but small enough to fall down the hole.)

Read More · 23 November 2012

Painted second bedroom

So, here’s what consumed 48 hours of the weekend. J. and I tag-teamed the painting while taking turns minding the kids, who will be moving into this room; I finished off the final coat of the walls on Saturday night and the gloss around the windows and doors on Sunday. This picture was taken a few hours before the carpeters arrived.

Read More · 18 September 2012 · x4


Over the course of the weekend we’ve finished emptying my study, getting it ready for its fireplace to be taken out tomorrow and the hole plastered over. The books came out a week ago, into new bookcases along the hall; yesterday all the other loose stuff went into boxes to stash away for the time being. Then came the desk, a 1970s giant which we had carried in there on its end from the box-room it occupied when we moved in. I wasn’t sure we’d get it down the hall now that the bookcases are there (possibly not the best planning, that), but fortunately the top screwed off and we could bring it through in pieces. This morning the last major piece of furniture, the filing cabinet, followed it. Now our lounge looks like the corner of my study has materialised in it, like an office TARDIS. Except instead of being surrounded by Daleks, it’s landed next to a curious toddler who wants to grab everything in arm’s reach.

Read More · 9 September 2012 · x1

Airshow, National Museum of Flight, East Fortune

What I Did This Summer, Part One. At the end of July we took the kids along to the Airshow at the National Museum of Flight east of Edinburgh. It was rotten weather—we had to hole up in the hangars more than once—but the planes were fun. Here’s a gallery of aerobatic pics.

1 September 2012

The autumn cold has snuck back in, which hardly seems fair when summer in Edinburgh only properly started a month ago and has been half-hearted ever since. Along with that, the seasons of the academic year have turned a not-so-young man’s fancy to thoughts of all the coursework he has to finish preparing and dissertations he has to mark in an impossibly short timeframe before next semester starts, while finishing a bunch of other work-related tasks that should have been out of the way long before now.

Read More · 31 August 2012


Why Crunch Mode Doesn’t Work was written with the games industry in mind, but sounds a lot like how things get at certain times of the academic year, especially around the end of semester. The work-related aspects weren’t the most disturbing part of it for me, though. The scariest part for a parent of pre-schoolers was this:

In both the short- and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease.

Read More · 24 July 2012

Right Ho, Eaves

I’ve finally finished clearing out the eaves. Only took about twenty hours. The ones on the lounge side were less a case of clearing out, more a case of pulling up dozens and dozens of two-inch nails from the crawl-boards covering every inch of the space using a crowbar and claw-hammer. There weren’t nearly as many bucketloads of dust and stone to carry downstairs, but there were a few finds along the way.

Read More · 10 July 2012

Eaves in the Springtime

The eaves under our roof

Here’s where I’ve been spending some of the hours I might otherwise have spent writing and posting here: in the darkest, dustiest, grimiest, boxiest space in, or rather above, our flat.

These are the eaves over our kitchen and hallway, next to the flat roof we’ve been dealing with all year. You reach them through a hatch in the wall from the attic. There’s a bigger set on the opposite side, over our bedroom and lounge. When we moved here four years ago, I cleared both areas out; previous owners had used them as storage spaces. As storage strategies go this was one of the worst imaginable, as anything left here ends up covered in dust. Not any old dust, either, but roof dust: a filthy combination of soot, slate, cement and plaster dust which turns everything black.

Read More · 30 June 2012 · x1

The Mark of Zero

How easy it turned out to be to fall off the wagon.

Marking the best part of two hundred thousand words over recent weeks—too many weeks—took its usual toll. There’s reading it all, of course, but writing the comments is the hardest part; trying to justify a mark while offering constructive feedback is never simple. And until I’ve finished, I never feel I can legitimately write anything else, like posts for here. Having to coordinate all the other markers and marks for a course of five hundred students doesn’t help, either.

Now that it’s done and I’ve had a few days to recover, I’ll try to post something every day again for a while.

29 June 2012

The Roof is On Fire

It seems our roof saga isn’t quite over after all.

The past few days have seen glorious weather after a month of cold. This weekend, the Meadows and tenement gardens of Edinburgh have been packed with people enjoying the sun and firing up their barbecues.

Yesterday at the end of the afternoon we heard someone clomping around on the roof over our kitchen. When I went up to the attic and looked through the window I saw a guy and a couple of girls settling down on a rug to enjoy the view, with only a metre or two of flat roof between them and a four-storey drop. They’d set up some sort of barbecue on our side of the roof. It all seemed ridiculously foolhardy, but I thought they might be our student neighbours and didn’t want to come across like their dad, so warned them to be careful and not to damage the roof we’ve just fixed, and left them to it.

Later on, after they’d packed up and gone, I looked out at the roof again and saw they’d left a flat board where the barbie had been... and had a horrible feeling about it.

Read More · 27 May 2012 · x2

The AFOL Truth

I was never the Lego kid in my family; that was my brother. Over the years, my handful of Lego sets were subsumed into his, leaving me with only one. When it came to toys, my focus was on Matchbox cars and action figures, but I knew the sight and sound of Lego all too well. G. kept it in a divided wooden caddy our Dad had made him, and throughout the summer holidays it would be spread out in the lounge-room somewhere, waiting for someone in bare feet to tread on it.

So there’s some irony in being father to a Lego kid of the 2010s. I’m reliving part of my childhood vicariously through him, but it’s a part that was vicarious in the first place.

Read More · 14 May 2012 · x1

Never Let Me Go

The Lego Show

In the end, we spent all three days at the Lego Show. I’m just about all Lego’d out, but I’ll try to post a proper account of it tomorrow.

7 May 2012 · x1

Manchester Sans Mad

For some reason or other, I’d never been to Manchester before this weekend. Never been to Liverpool, either. I’d been to Chester (man) and Blackpool, but not their big brothers.

Visiting a place for the first time with a five-year-old, and specifically for that five-year-old, is an odd experience. I haven’t done any of the general wandering around to get my bearings that I otherwise would have, so haven’t seen many of the supposedly nice bits yet. Instead, after getting off the train at Manchester Piccadilly, which is surrounded by a jumble of nondescript buildings, we caught a cab to our hotel and then two buses out to the Trafford Centre, the neo-Victorian shopping mall where the Lego Show has been held. Along the way we passed Daniel Libeskind’s striking Imperial War Museum North and the new BBC buildings, but haven’t visited either. On our bus trips up and down Oxford and Wilmslow Roads we’ve been travelling along the “Curry Mile” of Rusholme, which has left Mint Royale running through my head and my tastebuds tingling, but we haven’t eaten there—we ate at Pizza Express last night and the hotel restaurant tonight so that we could avoid scary spices and stick to the bedtime routine. Manchester’s famous nightlife is just up the road, but for this trip it might as well be on the Moon.

But never mind: the Lego, and especially W.’s reaction to the Lego, has been worth it. Two full days of it seem to have satisfied him, so we might get to see something else before we catch the train back tomorrow afternoon. I don’t think it’ll be the War Museum—or, as one of his nursery friends told him it was called, the National Worm Museum (in memory of all those worms who have given their lives for us...). Maybe it’ll be some of the fancier Victorian buildings of the West End. I hope they’re fancier, anyway; so far, Manchester reminds me of the dingier parts of Glasgow or London. But I’m sure my limited exposure to its non-Lego charms isn’t doing it justice.

6 May 2012

The Lego Show

The Lego Show

W. and I have spent the afternoon at the Lego Show in Manchester, and will be back there tomorrow. It’s five-year-old heaven. A fuller report will follow in due course—it’s been a long day of trains, buses and bricks.

5 May 2012

University Library door, Durham

Today I was in Durham for a few hours as the external examiner for a doctoral viva, which went happily for all involved. Afterwards I went for a wander along the River Wear, over the Elvet Bridge, and up the hill to the castle and cathedral, between which are several old university buildings and a grassy square. I’d been to Durham a couple of times before, in 1985 and 2003, and even went on a student-guided tour of the castle the last time, but it was still good to see it again, even if briefly. A shame it was a bit grey there today. GREY. I DIDN’T SAY GRIM. (Actually, I inadvertently did, when I was chatting with the receptionist on my arrival. Oh dear.)

Click on the photo above for a bit of a gallery.

3 May 2012

Punning Hunt

I was at a pub quiz last night, where we tossed around team names inspired by Jeremy Hunt’s ministerial woes since he was caught sucking up to the aging prince of the tabloids. Mine carried the evening:

Hunt for Red Tops Over.

I thank you.

1 May 2012 · x1

Status Quo Ante

Our roofing crisis is near its end. Last weekend we had the last of seven payments from our neighbours for their share of the eight grand. We hadn’t known this last landlord’s contact details, until J. sent his letting agents a letter outlining the legal ramifications for him and for them. That worked. He said the letting agents had failed to pass on the previous messages. Whatever it was, he came by with an envelope full of cash, and so today we had the roofing company’s receipt for payment in full, just after their Second Final Reminder Invoice. It was a relief not to get sucked into the vortex of pursuing people through the courts and being pursued in turn by the roofers.

Read More · 27 April 2012

L'enfant malade

Isn’t well

When she grizzles
We can tell
Our baby isn’t
Feeling swell

When the Calpol
Barely quells
Her hot and bothered
Midnight yells
The case is even
More compelling

Getting better?
Isn’t telling

Image: Eugène Carrière, L’enfant malade (detail, 1885), Musée d’Orsay

27 April 2012

Pecha Catch-up

So, we did it, and all nine of us survived. In fact, our slides all worked really well, even though the number of words in our scripts varied from six or seven hundred up to 1500. Mine was 730, although I probably ad-libbed another 50–100 along the way; I was aiming for two sentences a slide. I hit all the transitions with only a few pauses, so I guess that counts as a success. I never felt I had to race to the finish line, at least, and that was without any actual rehearsal.

It does turn out to be a good way to get to the essence of a presentation without having to sit through a lot of waffle. And it actually seems to help if there’s a sense of shared panic among the presenters.

26 April 2012

Patchy Catchall

At our programme team Away Days in Fife we’ve all agreed to give a Pecha Kucha presentation on a piece of our research. I thought it was pronounced in a similar way to “Machu Picchu” or Betchadupa, but the stresses are on the cha’s; apparently it’s the Japanese term for “excruciating psychological torture”. In a Pecha Kucha you’re supposed to give a talk in 20 slides of 20 seconds each. Sounds simple, until you try to condense anything of any substance down to it, and realize how well-rehearsed you’ll have to be to get through them in a timely way.

Read More · 25 April 2012


I’m in Lower Largo in Fife for work, in a meeting venue by the beach, and realised during our lunch break that the skyline to the west looks different from this time last year: the smokestack of Methil power station has finally come down. And so one of Scotland’s most ironic tourist stops meets its end.

Read More · 24 April 2012

A Tree Falling in the Forest

It’s time to let go of this experiment. Even though this entry will probably end up long enough to keep me on track, the whole business of blogging one or more posts a day to meet a daily average of 274 words is having too negative an impact for something that nobody else cares about. There have been too many filler entries, and too many entries—like this one—talking about the challenge itself rather than something substantive.

Read More · 23 April 2012 · x1

Historic Battles

Around the dinner table last night, we were discussing the difference between university teachers and the school teachers W. will soon meet.

“Dad teaches adults at university,” said J.

“I know that,” said W. “He told me.”

“So what’s my job?”

“I don’t know,” said W.

“And what’s your job?”

“Fighting,” he said. “And history.”

19 April 2012

The Chequered Flag

Not still writing that report. Ten thousand words of notes turned into eight thousand plus. Phew.

(What would be even better is if I could post the whole thing here and knock off the rest of the month’s word count in one hit. But no.)

12 April 2012

Holding Pattern

Still writing that report. And to think that I estimated it would take a day.

10 April 2012

Our University doesn’t do public holidays, apart from Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Hogmanay Hangover Day (January 2). The union traded the others away for extra annual leave a few years ago, making it even harder to find room in the working calendar to take it. Now we’re supposed to work on Good Friday, unless we take a day of leave (as I did).

It doesn’t make any difference today, though, because Scotland doesn’t do Easter Monday either. Hogmanay Hangover Day is one thing, but Christ Still Alive Again Day just doesn’t cut it. You’ll have had your resurrection.

Not that you would know from the near-empty car-park at work today. The servitor checked in on me an hour ago and said I was the only person left in the building.

I’m taking advantage of the peace and quiet and working back until seven, on a roll (at last) with the report I was meant to finish two weeks ago when I was sick. I’ll need to do more later, though, so there won’t be much of a blog post tonight. In fact, this is it. Blog Still Alive Again Day.

9 April 2012

Buy Our Stuff

French-Polished Dining Table and Chairs
£100 Polwarth, Edinburgh

Four French-polished dining chairs with a small dining table (seats 4), all in good condition. The chairs’ upholstery matches in theme, with two pairs in navy and two in burgundy. The table is a versatile size, 137cm by 74cm (4’6” x 2’5”), which could suit a kitchen or dining room. This furniture originally came from a nunnery in New South Wales, and was stripped and restored by the current owners; the chairs are a typical early-20th-century Australian style.

For collection only.

Read More · 8 April 2012

Computer Support 101

I’ve been hanging on to my six-year-old iMac, a PowerPC G5, for as long as possible, but it’s so slow that it’s like an old terminal, with visible lags between each letter as I type. Partly that’s because there are only six gigs free on the hard-disk at the moment, but I clear out a chunk every now and then and it doesn’t make much difference. I could put up with it until upgrading my work machine a year ago, but dissatisfaction with relative levels of performance gets me every time. Maybe I need to downgrade the work Mac to a Performa.

Read More · 5 April 2012

Phew, Not a Scorcher

Last week we had summer weather, this week sleet and snow: esrever otni enog evah snosaes eht. The snow hasn’t settled, which seems a shame: if it’s going to be this cold, you should at least have a chance to get the sled out.

4 April 2012 · x1

An Excusal Rarely Offends

It seems that I am eligible for jury service and not entitled to excusal.

Guide to Jury Service Eligibility and Applying for Excusal

This is a shame, because “excusal” is such an amusing word. Scotland is the only place I’ve ever heard people describe retirement as “retiral”, and now this.

I have no excusal that would get me off jury service, so now I have a gavel of Damocles hanging over my head, making it more difficult to travel or to watch box sets of Boston Legal until that day actually arrives.

I must have walked past the Edinburgh Sheriff Court in Chambers Street one too many times on my way to work. “You’ll do, pal.”

30 March 2012

After two days of fog, the skies cleared in Edinburgh to give us our warmest day in months, just in time for W.’s birthday party in a West End communal garden (courtesy of a friend’s key). We hit a piñata, played tug-of-war, fired up the barbie, and all had a wonderful time. When the cake came out, shaped like a five and iced like a racing track, I saw him as happy as I’ve ever seen him: not bouncing up and down doing silly noises, but glowing with pride. And why not—every birthday is a graduation at this age.

Five. I can’t believe he’s five. Halfway to ten, a third of the way to fifteen. A quarter of the way to... himself.

25 March 2012

Nope, still not up to much.

23 March 2012

Uh-oh. Stomach bug.

22 March 2012 · x1

End of the Day

Near where I work.
Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, 20 March 2012

I’ve just finished three days of meetings with some visitors from Egypt, and have to spend tomorrow turning 10,000 words of notes into a report, so I don’t think I’ll be adding another 274 here tonight. All really interesting stuff, though, and I may well write about some of it here.

21 March 2012

On the Roof Again

While I’ve been frantically timetabling at work, overhead at home our roof has finally been under repair. We met with the owners of (some) neighbouring flats a couple of weeks back and agreed on the firm we would go with, and within days the scaffolding was up. The day we drove back from Nottingham was the repairers’ first on the job, and a week later they were done. Fortunately it didn’t rain during the day or two when the roof couldn’t be guaranteed as watertight—not that it was before.

I took some photos from our attic window as they went. Here they are, to mark the occasion.

Read More · 18 March 2012

Finally finished timetabling a two-day mini-conference for a course I coordinate, and put the sign-up sheets for its twenty-three parallel sessions online this afternoon. Within six or seven hours, the best part of five hundred students had signed onto them and most were full. A bit daunting. I hope none of the tutors or rooms are double-booked.

Meanwhile, alongside that I’ve been arranging the timetable for some international visitors who are coming for three days next week. The two timetables overlap, so keeping them separate in my head has been a challenge.

Those clichés about academia being the life of the mind are true, except that what takes over your life and your mind are spreadsheets.

12 March 2012 · x1

Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey in the Scottish Borders

A busy week with no time for Great Thoughts Befitting Blog, so here are two more photos from Monday. Mouseover to see the other, or click through if your browser doesn’t like miceovers.

8 March 2012

The Fan-Film Menace

I linked the other day to the Machete Order for showing the Star Wars films to a newcomer, something that interests me more and more now that W. is showing an increasing interest in all things Star Wars thanks to his nursery peers. I’d rather he’s a bit older when he sees them, so I’ve been telling him we can watch them when he’s 8, or maybe 7. There’s no avoiding them, though, because he’s obsessed with Lego, and Star Wars Lego is huge with young boys. He doesn’t have any yet, but his friends do, and so does his Lego sticker book.

So he knows the names of various characters. The other day on the bus he was grilling me extensively on their relationships, which must have sounded amusing to bystanders. He said something about Anakin turning into Darth Vader, but hasn’t yet figured out the biggest reveal in movie history. The Machete Order holds out hope of preserving this spoiler-free innocence, if only his entire network of friends would play along; which they won’t, but one can hope.

Read More · 7 March 2012 · x1


The Angel of the North
Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North, Gateshead

Read More · 6 March 2012

W had a nightmare last night, dreaming that he ate so many sweets that he got sick and died; and as I was putting him back to bed he said once again, “I don’t want to die.” And as hard as it was, again, to think of reassuring things to say to him, I couldn’t help thinking how it could have been worse: he could have said the opposite.

26 February 2012

The Dishwasher

Six months after we moved into our current flat, one of our mugs went missing. It was just a mug, but it was a good one, a Taylor and Ng 1983 Minimals mug from San Francisco (via a Canberra op shop), featuring a couple of stylized elephants in grey and black. I looked everywhere for that thing, and couldn’t find it, which seemed bizarre: it couldn’t have wandered off, and we never took it out of the house.

Months later, it turned up. In the dishwasher.

Read More · 20 February 2012

This time last week, Jane and I got to go out on a Saturday night for the first time in far too long, thanks to our excellent new babysitter. We were thinking of going to a movie, maybe The Artist, but checked what was on at the theatre on the off-chance, and were able to get a couple of seats in the rear stalls to the last night of The Infamous Brothers Davenport at the Lyceum.

Read More · 18 February 2012

Seeing Stars

I got my eyes tested this morning, for the first time in five years—just one of the many things that were interrupted by the radical gear-change in my life that occurred back then. They haven’t been particularly bad, just a bit more tired than usual, perhaps. It sometimes takes them a while to focus in the mornings.

Optometrists have moved on a bit in five years; now they take photographs of your retinas for their files, eerie maps of Mars lined with blood-vessel canals and complete with an optic-nerve polar ice-cap. Then it’s the usual reading lines of letters and telling whether the circles look sharper against the green or the red.

My prescription turns out not to have changed much. The right eye hasn’t changed at all, while the astigmatism in my left has changed direction slightly. I don’t particularly need new glasses after all, apart from the frames looking and feeling slightly wonky from small fingers grabbing them triumphantly off my face. The morning tiredness is more a result of routinely going to sleep after midnight and waking up before seven when the radical gear-change climbs over my head.

Read More · 11 February 2012

Each year brings a few snowy photos in this part of the world, but by any measure 2010 was extraordinary. My family and I largely missed the big freeze of 2009–10—Edinburgh’s first white Christmas in the whole time we had lived here, and we were on the other side of the world visiting friends and relatives—but the news reports of it were enough to make us wonder if we’d get home safely in early January. (We did; it started thawing just in time.)

We were here for the next one, though, and it managed to disrupt my travel properly this time—but that’s a story for a later post. In the early days of the blizzard I took plenty of photos, and more in the second half of the freeze after my return from a work trip. Now I’ve finally turned them into a proper gallery at Detail:


6 February 2012


Saxa salt, Edinburgh, 29 November 2010

It’s been cold, but Edinburgh has completely missed out on the snow that’s covering most of England. We’re just to the north of where mild air from the west is meeting a Siberian cold front from the east, so we aren’t seeing a repeat of the late 2010 Snowmageddon just yet. That’s inspired me to go through my photos from back then, though, and put together the photo gallery I never did at the time. When I’m finished I’ll post them here, but in the meantime the photo above is a reminder of what we’re missing.

5 February 2012

Enemies of Promise

I only have an hour left to write and post something, and don’t even have any fresh links or photos I prepared earlier in reserve. Yesterday I unplugged the ethernet cable from my office computer to force myself to finish a pile of marking, and today I’ve been looking after small children.

Also, thanks to J’s canny O2-contract-renegotiating ways, I seem to have come into possession of an iPhone; she gave me her upgrade. So there went this evening on setting it up, and there go however many hours staring at its shiny screen.

2 February 2012

Trinity House, Leith

On Friday after work, I joined a group of friends—two of whom work for Historic Scotland—for an after-hours tour of Trinity House in Leith, the headquarters of the Incorporation of Masters and Mariners and now a museum. The highlight of this fine Georgian pile was the Convening Room upstairs, lined with Raeburns and a huge painting of Vasco da Gama, and with a table covered in treasures. They kept us engrossed for an hour or more. Here are a few of my photos of them.

1 February 2012

Under Pressure

When I got back from the supermarket at the end of the day I noticed a tyre was down, so after dropping my son home I had to take the car to the nearest petrol station with an air pump (which not all of them seem to have in the UK; which surprises me, because it’s not like you can run an extension cord out into the street to power one of your own).

A 4WD was pulled up at it, and another car was parked behind that, so I joined the queue. After a while it became clear that the car in front of me was waiting for the car wash off to the left instead of the air pump, so that was good, I wouldn’t have long to go.

Read More · 29 January 2012 · x1

These latest posts are marking time because it’s marking time. I always feared that this end of January would be the bottleneck through which my blogging challenge might not pass. Even now, I’m supposed to be reading another 2000-word assignment from the pile I’ve been working through, which is somewhere between one and two percent of the total by volume. It’s not the reading that’s the challenge, or coming up with a mark; it’s finding fresh enough things to say in the comments that the process doesn’t feel like Groundhog Day.

Actually, it’s the reading too. And the coming up with marks (that are fair). And the fact that it comes around again every few months. The best point of comparison isn’t so much from Hollywood as it is from Greek mythology.

28 January 2012

You know those stories of great scientists who wake up in the middle of the night with a dream image in their heads that provides the answer to a problem they’ve been working on? Like that chemist who dreamt of Ouroboros and came up with the structure of benzene?

I woke up in the middle of the night with two words burnt into my brain, convinced at that moment that they were incredibly significant:

Cat flip-flops.

Read More · 21 January 2012 · x1

Six Months in a Leaky Boat

It snowed today, briefly, which must be the first decent precipitation we’ve had in two weeks. I could tell because the melting flakes found their way through a gap in our supposedly repaired roofing felt, down a roofing nail, into the ceiling cavity above our bathroom, and through the light fittings. Again.

Back to the roofing company for more repairs, and back to waiting for the next rain or snow to see if they hold. At this rate it’ll be spring before it’s safe to get the ceiling fixed.

Forget the dramatic fires and floods. This is the banality of our changing climate and its more frequent and stronger storms: endless hours of getting the roofing guys back to patch a nail.

19 January 2012

Just before lights out, after bedtime stories, is when my son raises the big questions weighing on his mind. A few nights ago, a question about two storybook dogs fighting over a bone meant my having to explain—delicately—how and why cows are butchered. I only just avoided having to describe an abbatoir to a four-year-old.

But that was nothing compared to the subject he raised a few times last year. Which prompted this.

Read More · 15 January 2012

The Eleven-Day Itch

Eleven days in and I’m already dropping below my target 274-words-a-day average; posting a link or two makes it easy to post once a day, but it only gives me a few words at a time. Blethering about day-to-day events would help, but if I were drawing on my day for this post I’d have to tell you about the drain that backed up and flooded the passageway out to our shared garden with unspeakable stench; or that getting our roof properly fixed (as opposed to temporarily and adequately) is going to cost five grand, and that getting their share of the payment from five of the six other owners in our stair will take forever because they’re all absentee landlords. Which is depressing enough to deal with, let alone write about or read. Anyway, isn’t that what Facebook is for? I wouldn’t know; I drifted away from Facebook because I wasn’t interested enough in too-brief posts on people’s day-to-day doings. The irony is killing me.

I should remind myself of the purpose of setting an arbitrary word target and post-a-day challenge: to break out of the perfectionist mindset that had me thinking that I shouldn’t post anything because it would be too trivial, or that somebody would already have said it better, and what’s the point anyway. Last year I came close more than once to mothballing the whole site. And yet I know from past experience that it’s only through these pointless throwaway entries that you get to the worthwhile cut-out-and-keep ones. So I’ll keep going.

And hey, another 271 words! Not including these ones. 292 including those. (And also these.) (That’s enough theses and thoses—Ed.)

11 January 2012 · x2

Wet Wet Wet

The way things are going, this is going to turn into a Home Repairs blog. There’s a leak in the roof of our flat from the repairs on Tuesday, which has let rainwater into the ceiling cavity above the bathroom. Now the bathroom is full of buckets, all the lights are off throughout the flat, and water has seeped through to the kitchen ceiling as well (not too badly yet, fortunately). The roofing guys were supposed to be back at 9.30, but no sign of them yet. Presumably, half of Edinburgh is chasing every roofer in town for emergency repairs. Not to mention plasterers, electricians and insurance companies.

5 January 2012 · x1

Our damaged roof

Here’s a great sight to greet you on your last day before going back to work. When we woke up our top-floor flat was groaning in the wind, and J thought she heard one of the doors down at the bottom of the stairs banging. Then after breakfast she left to take W swimming with friends... and was back in the flat only a few seconds later. The skylight above our tenement stair was almost completely covered by roofing felt. Sticking my head out of the attic window confirmed that it was our felt: the left half of that exposed wooden roof was over our kitchen and bathroom.

Read More · 3 January 2012 · x4


Black-headed gulls hanging in the wind at Cramond, Edinburgh, on Christmas Eve. With the black dots behind their eyes, they looked like they were painted by Picasso. It took longer than usual to identify these with Google, because they look so different in summer (guess how), but the RSPB came to the rescue.

Read More · 2 January 2012


Some years ago I wrote a piece called The Fade, about the impact a shelf-full of faded book spines had on my feelings about home. I should write a sequel, because it’s happened again—not because a tree was chopped down this time, but because I built bookshelves right next to the window of our top-floor Edinburgh flat when we moved in four years ago. You wouldn’t think there’d be enough sunlight in Scotland to fade anything, but there is, and even some books I bought here in the past decade have suffered. So I did some research on anti-UV window film, ordered some a month ago, and this morning finally installed it. Cutting the stuff to size was tricky, and squeegying bubbles out with a credit card was trickier, so the results are annoyingly imperfect; but I think I value the books more than a few air bubbles and plastic wrinkles on the double-glazing.

Read More · 2 January 2012

Journal in 2011