Tuesday Walk

It was a lovely day, cold but bright. The autumn is turning to true winter, with bitter winds, with the last leaves dropping from the trees. But with the bright sunshine, I hardly cared about the cold. I walked along the Rocheid path by the Water of Leith, then through the Royal Botanic Gardens back into Canonmills and back to work.

The last leaves on the oak tree on the Rocheid Path.


Taken 29 November 2005

Piece of a wrought iron fence, Arboretum Avenue. Sunlight and shade.


Taken 29 November 2005


Taken 29 November 2005

Holly leaves, Aboretum Avenue. I love the shapes of these leaves, but I think I need a better background next time..


Taken 29 November 2005

Red leaves with the green, Royal Botanic Gardens.


Taken 29 November 2005

With a walk like that, on a day like this, the world is a good place.

Assumed Knowledge, Geek-Style

I’m not sure we’re doing right by the kids, in fannish terms. I think we may be giving them a less than complete basic grounding in SF&F types and memes. This will harm them in later life, in certain circles.

Fiona is fine. No worries there. She, contrary to most stereotypes, is clearly a science fiction girl. Whenever she sees a hooded and cloaked figure, she exclaims “Star Wars!” We don’t know if she’s thinking Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, Jawas, or Anakin Skywalker, but she’s definitely got the dress code crystal clear. She also calls all explosions “Star Wars”.

No, it’s Alex who seems to have missed out. I first noticed this when I was talking to him about Hagrid, from Harry Potter, and he hadn’t realised that Hagrid is a giant. He wasn’t clear what a giant was, either. I explained that it was a special kind of person who was very, very tall.

I explained that giants appeared in a lot of stories, from the Bible (Goliath) to Narnia (I’m trailing the film heavily around the house, having brought it up in light of the centaur that appears in the first Harry Potter film as well.) Then I explained that other special kinds of people in these stories were dwarves, who were very, very small.

“Other special people [my attempt at nonhuman character for the four year old set] in stories are elves, who are, um….foofy.”

Alex heard the word “elves” and put his arm over his head, with his forearm hanging down from his nose like a trunk.


Feminism again

I’ve been thinking further about some of the issues I touched on in Degrees of Feminism. In particular, what do I think should be private and what public about women’s monthy cycles.

The current status, in my workplace, is that it is all private, but that some people feel that it is an acceptable topic for speculation. By that, I mean that I do not announce where I am in my cycle, and simply ensure that there is a pocket somewhere about me as I go to the ladies’ room when I have something to carry there. But my colleagues often say things about other women – even to me – like “Maybe she’s stroppy because it’s that time of the month.”

These comments are unanswerable without being marked down as a humourless bitch. I try to dismiss them by asking what a given bloke’s excuse is then, but often get “Maybe it’s his wife.” It goes without saying that none of this raises the speaker in my esteem. I am also fairly sure that several of my colleagues could make a shrewd guess about where I am in my cycle, and that they probably say similar things about me behind my back that they do about other women in front of me. It’s a humiliating thought.

The problem is that there is no reciprocity. Men are as prone to hormone-driven irrationality as women, but the consequences are very different. A man who gets aggressive because of testosterone poisoning is seen as competitive and strong, and gets promotions, company cars, and a seat in the executive dining room. A woman who gets aggressive because of oestrogen poisoning is seen as stroppy and unreliable and gets a glass ceiling and sneers behind her back.

But the masculine flavour of hormone poisoning is just as destructive as the feminine variety. The (overwhelmingly male) management team of the company I work for seems to spend all its time and energy in an endless struggle for position. Important decisions are chronically deferred, priority calls are made poorly and later reversed, and status is counted more than quality. The few women who make it to that level are as vicious as the men (that’s how they make it there). It’s a waste, and an infuriating one, to the people whose work lives it affects. I often suspect that that’s half-deliberate, that these men’s feelings of power are enhanced by their ability to waste so many people’s time. It’s a form of conspicuous consumption.

So if that’s the problem, what is the desired solution?

Well, to horribly misquote Martin Luthor King, I have a dream that my children will one day live in a world where they will not be judged by the shape of their genitals but by the content of their character. I want Alex and Fiona to work in an environment where women’s PMT and men’s overcompetitiveness are both grounds for apology. It should be acknowledged that these things occur, but that they are not the norm, not rewarded behaviour.

Chances? Low, since the power structures are populated by people who have got where they are by using their testosterone-fuelled aggression. But men elected to office ended up sharing the vote, so perhaps it is not impossible.

Quiet Day In

Fridays are usually adventure days around the Sutherland household. I’m home from work, the kids are home from nursery, and we tend to go out and find something fun to do in town.

For two reasons, we didn’t do that today.

One: Disease Girl

This little darling was up and down between 3:30 and 4:30 am, coughing her wee tiny throat out. Even cough syrup couldn’t settle her. I finally got her back to sleep by lying in bed with her singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and my own version of Rockabye Baby. She was no better in the morning, moving slowly and eating little.

Two: The White Stuff

Lovely, isn’t it? First snow of the year, falling thick and fast in the midmorning. The chilly air meant that it lay on the ground for several hours, looking peaceful and bright. I love the snow and the light that comes with snow, particularly from inside a nice warm house.

So we stayed in and watched Harry Potter DVDs. It was kind of a disparate day, one I would like to remember because it was so unfocussed.

I took snow photos out the windows.

Alex needed a quiet day, too. It’s been a busy and exciting time for us lately, and he decided he wanted to lounge around in his pyjamas for most of the morning. He wasn’t in the mood to be photographed, but I got some good shots of him as he watched the climax of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Fiona watched the snow.

About midmorning I popped popcorn.

This is a fine art, by the way, popping on a stove. My mother taught me how years ago. You cover the bottom of a pan with kernels, then pour enough vegetable oil to well coat the kernels. Cover the pan and heat it over a high flame, shaking the pan constantly. The trick is knowing when to stop, so that all the kernels are popped and none burned. Like this!

In the afternoon, while Fiona napped, I made Alex a new shield, as I’d been promising for ages. (He loves playing with swords and shields, and just got another wee sword in a parcel from California. Thanks, Trish!) The shield is made of medium-weight bookbinding cardboard, with coloured paper over it and a leather strap. The whole thing is protected with sticky-backed plastic. Alex loves it.

In between all these activities, I got some cooking in – goulash for dinner tonight, and a chickpea soup for Saturday. That recipe, from the ever magnificent Oswego Tea site, has been tempting me for weeks. Unfortunately, it came out bitter and bland at once. I think I’ve rescued it with some sausage and some balsamic vinegar, but the soup was the point of the day when things started to turn.

In contrast to the rest of the day, dinner was decidedly not peaceful. Alex decided he wouldn’t eat the goulash (though he had promised me he would earlier in the day). I decided I was tired of his fussy eating. So I took him upstairs and put him in his bed. He apologised, came downstairs, and still wouldn’t eat it. So his dad took him upstairs, forcibly dressed him in his pyjamas, and put him to bed. It was an epic wrestling match, with screaming, hitting, and numerous bolts for freedom. He shouted and carried on for 10 or 15 minutes after the bedroom door was closed, too!

Having Alex get that fussy took much of the joy out of the memories of the day. But our lives are rarely unmixed tragedy, any more than they are unmixed comedy. The light relief in this case was provided by Fiona, who decided, halfway through Martin putting Alex to bed, that she wanted to go to bed too. She climbed down from her seat, toddled upstairs, and clambered into her bed on her own, barely attending to the tantrum going on a few feet away. While her brother howled and carried on, she laid her head onto her pillow and pulled up her duvet (my offer of assistance was spurned with an “I do it!”). By the time Martin had left the room, she was asleep.

Phone Pix 2

I changed my phone a few months ago, leaving my old Nokia for a new Sony Ericsson K750i. The ostensible reason was that the Nokia’s keyboard was wearing out, and I could no longer reliably answer calls. The real reason, of course, was that phone camera technology has moved on. Martin got a better camera phone, and all of a sudden I wanted one.

The new phone coincided with a greater emphasis on my lunchtime walks. The past few years, I’ve tried to be rigourous about going out at lunchtimes, since noticing the effect a midday walk has on my Seasonal Affective Disorder. Between the weather and my work patterns, this autumn has been a particularly good one for walks – possibly one of the reasons I have not sunk so deep into myself thus far this year.

I tend to go along the Water of Leith Walkway, through the local park, across the Botanic Gardens or by whatever other approximations of nature I can find in an hour. These times refresh my spirit, and my new phone has been a good tool to make myself see and appreciate the things I pass.

Here are the best of the bunch:


Taken 19 September 2005


Taken 19 September 2005


Taken 29 September 2005


Taken 17 October 2005


Taken 18 November 2005

Degrees of feminism

I was recently reading a conversation online between some very committed Democrats and some very committed Republicans. Like many of the readers, I was floored when one of the Republican women called one of the Democrat women an “overemotional, angry, thick-skulled feminist”.

Huh? This educated, enfranchised and employed woman was using feminist as an insult. How does this creature think she got where she is today, if not through the efforts of overemotional, angry, thick-skulled feminists1 like Abigail Adams, Emily Parkhurst, Susan B. Anthony and Eleanor Roosevelt?

I got to feel smugly superior about my comparative enlightenment for exactly one day. Then I found this basket in the ladies’ room of the Capita conference centre, and it made me squirm.


It took me a while to realise why it got at me. It’s not the fact that sanitary products are set out for women to use – though the dynamic of being given them as opposed to buying them one’s self (even from a vending machine) is already a move from the intense privacy with which we deal with these matters.

It’s the fact that they are offered with corporate compliments. If they just left them out for customers to filch, I think I’d be a little easier about it. The implicit attention to menstruation that the sign conveys is, well, embarrassing. (And this blog entry is an attempt to get over that embarassment.)

I hope Fiona is that bit more relaxed about these things when she grows up.

  1. Note that “feminist” in this context means one who believes that women should have equal rights to men. The use of “feminist” to mean “man hating freak” is a semantic hijacking.


Alex has been going to his nursery, Mother Goose, for almost four years now. As he has become more verbal, he’s brought nursery rhymes and songs home with him. Sometimes they’re the standard ones – “Baa baa black sheep” and suchlike. Sometimes, they’re not.

His favourites right now are “Heyyy, baby…I want to know-ow-ow….will you be my girl?” and “Jadda”, which is a string of nonsense syllables I can’t reproduce, but which does NOT finish “bing bop pop.” (I think it should and add it in when he sings that, to his massive indignation.)

He brought home another verse to “Row, row, row your boat” the other month. I understand that it’s become common, but I had never heard it before:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don’t forget to scream

Now, this is the sort of thing that gets me going on inventing my own doggerel. I quickly added another verse:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a hippo there
Feed it some ice cream

He loves it. He’s tried to convince Goose that it’s an official verse, with about as much success as he had sellng this rewrite I did of Hey Diddle Diddle:

Hey Diddle Dat
The fiddle and the cat
The moon slid under the cow
The little dog cried ’cause he was sad
And the dish and the spoon said, “What now?”

I can’t wait to see him try to get them to accept my latest offering, invented last night with Fiona in my arms:

Rockabye baby, in your mom’s lap
When the wind blows, your arms go flap flap
When the bough breaks, it’s a good thing you fly
Since otherwise you’ll fall, and then you would cry

And yes, I know I am messing with my descendents unto the tenth generation with this stuff. But it’s so much fun!