Yesterday I took J, L, and A into town early. J is doing a holiday music thing, so we had to be there (20 mins drive away in perfect conditions) at 9.30. Hmmm… It’s for 4 days, and 9.30-1.30 means it’s not quite worth going home again to come back out again. He’s doing gamelan, recorders and choir, and is enjoying it – it runs every holiday and next Easter K will be old enough to join in too. It’s in the university music school, and the place is full of Terribly Nice Middle Class Parents Who Want To Help Their Children Develop (like me, and former colleagues I keep bumping into).

After I’d dropped J off, I took the girls to church. We were sooo early that we sat in the car reading for a bit, and then headed off to the anglican church just down the hill from the Methodist church we’d otherwise go to. The Sunday after Christmas is traditionally a low turn-out, and so churches often get together. St. Giles is run by a lovely woman who really likes children. We sat at the back of the church in the comfy play area, played with the cuddly nativity set and read books.

One of the books was new to me, and one of the best tellings of the Christmas story I’ve seen: The Nativity by Julie Vivas. The angels have billowing ragged wings the colour of dragonfly wings, and unlaced Dr. Marten boots. When they visit the shepherds, some of them ride the sheep. There’s a picture of an exhausted but glowing Mary sitting and leaning against Joseph, who’s cuddling Jesus. It shows quite how hard it is for a heavily pregnant woman to get onto a donkey. Afterwards, when it’s time to go, an angel holds Jesus while Joseph helps Mary onto the donkey, and then Mary rides off with Jesus in a baby sling.

What I like about it, I think, is that it isn’t the bloodless stained-glass perfection depiction. It shows a normal-ish family coping with extraordinary things in amongst all the normal bits of life. God is drawing near to them, becoming a real person, born in a dirty stable, lying in an animals’ feeding trough. He’s not checking them off against a series of tests that they’re designed to fail – he’s in their life. There’s life and substance, like Aslan being a wild lion.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of God as just some nice mate. One of my favourite hymns from around this time of year is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (all the words are here) – that’s the utterly freaky thing about Christmas, the infinite, immortal, cosmic creator somehow here like one of us.

After church, we pottered a bit and went to pick J up but he reminded me that there was a free concert as part of the holiday music thing, by Prime Brass. He persuaded me to stay, and I’m glad he did as it was excellent and L and A managed to keep quiet and enjoyed it too.

On the way home J said that one of the songs he’s doing in choir is in Latin. He doesn’t know what it means, but apparently it sounds like “Ta ra ra boom teeya in an emu’s nostrils.” I’m glad all the rushing about (and hence not having a completely relaxing holiday) is worth it!

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This is a cloud of stuff swirling around in my head that I’m trying to pin down on paper, so sorry if it comes out wonky.

The thing that prompted me to blog was a thought-provoking article in Salon on What’s Wrong With Science As Religion?. I can reconcile science and a religious faith – not always easily, but for me it’s the best explanation of life. Given that have a foot in the science / reason / logic camp, I get extremely frustrated at the arrogance and bigotry of the New Atheists (see the article), just like I get frustrated at similar arrogance and bigotry in the name of religion.

Here’s an little thought experiment – take a militant rationalist and apply a 5 year old child using standard rhetorical techniques i.e. asking “But why?” repeatedly (I’ve embroidered it slightly to make it more interesting).

There is no need for religion. Science is all you need.
But why do you say that?
Science can explain everything.
But why do you say that?
Because we can explain stars, computers, volcanoes, birds – lots of things.
Yes, but science hasn’t explained everything yet, has it?
No, but it will eventually.
Why do you say that?
We’re confident that it will.
But confidence isn’t the same as proof, is it?
No, but it will get there.
Why do you say that?
Because, err…

There is nothing in science that proves that science is true. A chain of logic reasoning always starts with axioms i.e. things you assume to be true or take on faith. You just have to accept on faith that science is a good way of explaining the world – this is an axiom of science. Militant rationalists seem to ignore the element of faith required in their world view. I’m happy to take science and Christianity on faith, because they seem to make sense.

Another thing that militant rationalists seem to ignore is that the core engine of rationalism – logic – misfires in some circumstances and no amount of going back to basics will fix it. Kurt GΓΆdel showed via his Incompleteness Theorem (which I have no hope of understanding, but take on err… faith) that paradoxes such as “Am I telling the truth when I say I am lying?” aren’t just the result of sloppy thinking but are inevitable in logic.

So, you need to accept it on faith and paradox is unavoidable – sounds a bit like religion? The article speculates what the world would be like if militant rationalism held sway, and suggests that bad things would happen. This new religion would be a new excuse for atrocities and other bad things – the fault seems to be an underlying problem with human nature, rather than whether people believe X rather than Y.

This then led me to wander elsewhere. I flicked through The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook last night and it has a whole chapter on what the author calls fifth columnists. Something like home education, that could be great, can be diverted to be a tool for other things such as making money, religious dogma and anarchy.

Similarly Esperanto. As far as I understand, the idea is to have a single language so that we can all understand each other. If you look at a widespread language such as English, French or German, there are regional dialects and variations. I can’t see how if it were used around the world, there wouldn’t be local dialects and variations in Esperanto too. That is, it would be a victim of its own success.

It’s all messy, and I think that the fact that life is imperfect is a key lesson you learn when growing up.

UPDATED: I’ve thought a bit about this since posting it (maybe I should have thought more before I posted) and wanted to make a few things clearer than they might be. If you have a religious faith and don’t believe science explains important things like creation, that’s fine by me. If you have atheist or agnostic and think that science explains everything then that’s also fine by me. (If you think science and religion both explain things, that’s also fine by me and is my general position.) What I’m ranting about is people of whatever persuasion thinking they are completely right and those of different persuasions are completely wrong, evil, superstitious, weak-minded etc.

I’m sorry if I have got in the way of you believing in whatever you hold dear as that is not my intention. If you think I’m un-Christian to hold the position I do, then I would point to Isaiah 55:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:13. I know that you could use the Bible to justify almost anything; I’m just saying that my position is no exception ;-).

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J has a friend I find very hard to deal with πŸ™ We do things together because of common interests and because I like his mum, but each time we spend time with him aspects of J come out which I do not like and the two of them together behave in ways I hardly recognise and which make me angry and sad πŸ™
We see him usually in a situation where in theory I am able to discipline him if need be, but in practice he tends not to listen and when they are together J doesn’t listen either. Together they become loud, bouncy and occasionally aggressive and they tend to push others out of their way. They whisper together, make jokes and comments about others, disrupt activities and generally do their best to wind everyone else up. Today J commented that he wished this friend lived with us; K and L both immediately said, “I don’t!” which saddened me but also made me feel better in a way, because it shows I am not just imagining things. Bob asked if J has the same effect on his friend, i.e. is the friend normally like this and infects J or is he normally calmer and nicer and becomes like this when with J. I’ve never seen him without J there so I don’t know, but I think he is normally louder and more aggressive than J and I know that others have problems dealing with him too, whereas I don’t know of anyone except me who has problems dealing with J (but maybe people just aren’t telling me?)… I know that his mother is worried and is struggling to deal with his behaviour at times, so I’ve not said anything, but it is becoming a real issue for me; I hate to see J acting the way he does around this boy – and the worst thing is that he carries on being like that for a few days afterwards, so if we meet up each fortnight we lose half a week after the meeting to bolshiness and unpleasant behaviour πŸ™ It also concerns me that the people we meet with only see J with this boy so judge his behaviour by that – but maybe that’s just my pride; it reflects on me after all! I keep finding myself wanting to say “I’m really sorry – J isn’t like this normally – only when he’s with *!” and then thinking I can’t do that because *’s mum would be upset, angry or hurt and I don’t want that to happen.
Atm it’s low-level stuff and I know she’s trying to deal with it, but she also has a good line in excuses and reasons. I don’t want to stop doing things they do and I seem to keep inviting them to do things we do, partly because I like her, J likes him (and K does most of the time) and mostly because it’s hard to invite others and not them, but I really don’t like the effect being with him has on J or the lessons their joint behaviour is giving to the younger ones. I guess J has to learn to deal with negative peer pressure some time, but I’d rather it didn’t impact so much on the rest of us. I think we need a serious chat about this soon!

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Last weekend and this one, that is. I was watching We Were Soldiers this evening, but stopped as it made me so angry and sad, and deepened my profound … (words fail me) for George Bush and Tony Blair (to a lesser extent for mostly being just a poodle rather than a breathtakingly incompetent, arrogant, combat-dodging and ignorant (again, words fail me)). Stupid, stupid, dangerous man. Frothing at the mouth slightly less, but possibly boring more people, I came across a brain-bending but interesting initiative to do with very high level computer languages. There has been a long history of looking for silver bullets to solve the computing problem, and all candidates get over-hyped and then fade back to being at best generally good but no panacea: formal specification, objects, objects with multiple inheritance, aspects, agile programming and now this.

Anyway, that doesn’t have much to do with our weekends – sorry. Last weekend, Katy was ill and everyone was tired from Melrose, but I took the biggest 3 on the pre-arranged visit to the local mosque where one of the families in the local HomeEd group goes. It was pitched more at the adults than the children, so the adults found it interesting and the children got a bit fidgety. But there was craft and food at the end, and a nice man wrote people’s names in Arabic (by trying to re-create the sounds of their names using Arabic letters). It was very interesting see what marks corresponded to what letter – K’s name had lots of ink for the consonants and hardly any (just some dots) for the rest. We were too late to stay for henna tattoos which was a shame, but we then had to zoom home, pick up Katy and A, then zoom back for a birthday ceilidh.

The birthday boy was 10/40 (born on 29th Feb), and we all had an excellent time (some photos on Flickr). The children were up v. late, enjoyed the dancing (although Katy and K making an arch to go over the other dancers in their set was interesting!) A was strapped to Katy or me, and when I spun L she would often lift her feet up and fly for a bit.

Sunday was dual purpose: Mother’s Day and L’s birthday. The children gave Katy some flowers and I tried to keep them out of her hair with only limited success. L unwrapped presents and enjoyed being a bigger girl. Her birthday tea was brought to us by the colour pink – the cake had been cooked in a bowl and then turned into the skirt of a dress for a doll. L and J had a go at doing the icing (more photos).

Errr… this weekend. So far it has been unpacking from Melrose 😳 and the first swim en famille since E’s pool party an embarrassingly long time ago. Now we’ve splashed out on a year’s family membership of the local leisure centre we’re hopefully going to be doing this more often. L and A glided about on floats and did Humpty Dumpty with me, K did his outboard motor impression with his float and J was initially v. annoying with his refusal to do anything but Katy’s patience won the day. I also did a bit of maths and English with the boys to catch up with stuff not done earlier in the week and to give Katy a bit of peace (she hasn’t properly thrown off various lurgies for a while): J was surprisingly un-grumpy about it all which was great, and did some tessellation and then some work on pronouns.

It brought back my M.Phil. a bit, and I managed to limit myself to a single sentence about it rather than boring him to tears: how would you get a computer to work out what a pronoun referred to? (It turns out that large passages of text, like this rambling waffle, can follow a pattern of nested blocks e.g. with digressions then returning to what you were talking about previously – often marked by saying things like “anyway”. If you keep track of what is being talked about in each block it makes it a lot easier and more accurate. I expect Beardie will be cringing at all this – sorry, it was a long time ago and I’m rather rusty.)

We also squeezed in some shopping (“just loo roll” turned into quite a lot more), and got photos for the boys as K needs a new proper passport and they both need photos for their Kentwell passports and our leaving till after the last minute means we’ll have to bring photos to the open day next weekend. It’s going to be 1588 again this year (it was 1588 when I did it the only time pre-children, which was a hoot, although how a real present-day war going on will change things I don’t know).

Tomorrow will be our old church and meeting up with K’s godmother, then catching up with more jobs I expect.

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We went to a local National Trust place at the weekend. It was lovely weather, and the place is great. Being National Trust members we could park the car for free, go around the hall for free but had to pay to go into the farm. We wanted to do the farm bit so paid. They quoted two prices for each kind of entry – a basic one and then one with a suggested donation added in. If you paid the donation they could claim back gift aid on the whole lot (not just the donation) which sounded a bit dubious to me, but it was all printed up on signs and everything. We had just enough for the basic family entry on us, but when I asked at the till for a family ticket the NT person assumed I wanted to pay the donation as well. That irked me – I’m already paying the NT money via the membership, I’m paying on top to make this visit and then they assume I want to pay a donation as well. I’m in favour of the NT and I’m glad it exists, but that made me a bit Victor Meldrew.

Enough grumbling – some links.

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Katy passed this link on to me – it’s long but worth a read. All sorts of stuff – the need for humility in science, the hijacking of science by politics and the hijacking of politics by money, the problems of reductionism rather than holism, wisdom in traditions: Unhappy Meals.

I really hope that when our descendants look back in the future, they will see that our current consumption mania (the obesity kind and the environmental kind) was just a blip that ended when we came to our senses and realised that our great-grandparents knew more than we do.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 177 user reviews.


Having just been knocked out for the best part of three days by my first proper bout of mastitis I thought I’d share the joy :frog: Actually, I’ve given advice on mastitis so many times now, both on and offline, that I thought it might be a good idea to put my experience down here and then I’ve got something to refer to in future. Any more self-help ideas or references welcome too please πŸ™‚

I’ve had warning signs before – blocked ducts, lumps in breast, painful areas, even a slight fever – and always managed to head it off with self-help methods, but this time either it came on very fast or I missed the signs πŸ™ (I was a little distracted by Gina πŸ˜‰ ) I woke at 4 in the morning on Thursday with uncontrollable shivering, teeth chattering, raging thirst and breast pain. No matter what I did I could not get warm, but I was too muzzy headed to realise that this probably meant I had a fever πŸ™„
Feeding A helped a little with the breast pain, although it was rather uncomfortable to do, and then I woke Bob up and insisted he get me warm – poor man! He tried to warm me up with cuddles, blankets, a cup of tea (helped with the raging thirst anyway!) and a hot water bottle and then finally went in search of Ibuprofen (I think I may have been mildly hallucinating by then 😯 which I guess helped him realise I needed something!) which helped a little, but we didn’t really get much sleep from then on and by the time Bob should have been leaving for work it was fairly obvious I was in no fit state to look after our 4 small children and the two equally small friends we had sleeping over and he decided (bless him) to take the day off – and run toddlers for me :clap: That day I could barely stand up, my breast was hot, red and swollen, and it was hard even to string a sentence together; I stayed in bed all day except when I was in the bath.

I was determined not to take antibiotics unless absolutely necessary so used all the self help techniques I could think of:

– feed as much as possible from the affected side (and feed from that side first , so baby feeds most effectively) but don’t neglect the other side completely or you risk engorgement and possibly mastitis that side too.

– rest as much as you can.

– take ibuprofen (unless you’re allergic to it, obviously) to relieve pain, fever and swelling. Paracetamol (acetaminophen, tylenol) can also be used, but it doesn’t have the anti-inflammatory effect. Don’t forget you can alternate the two as well – I ended up doing this on day two when my temperature began to rise again between ibuprofen doses.

– a warm bath helps enormously. I used this as a chance to express as much as I could to drain the affected breast again, especially when I saw that the milk coming out of the affected ducts was grey-green and stringy and then luminous green and thick – although I’m assured it won’t do any harm I’d rather that went in the bath than in my baby! That gunky milk has to come out somehow and the faster you can strip it from the ducts the more chance you have of clearing the infection quickly.

– on a similar note, use massage or a wide-toothed comb to break up any clogs and to push any infection towards the nipple so that it can drain from the duct. Start well away from the nipple area and push gently but firmly towards it, either whilst nursing or whilst expressing. This is painful to do, but it relieves the swelling and tenderness no end, so is well worth it. I found it hurt less under warm water (ie in the bath).

– feed in different positions and at different angles to make sure that the breast is fully drained. The most effective position (if your baby will oblige – mine kept giggling at me πŸ˜† ) is actually to lay the baby down and dangle your breast over his or her mouth so that gravity helps with the drainage as well. Angle yourself so that baby’s chin is pointing towards any painful/swollen/lumpy/red areas, as the chin side does most work at squeezing and so will empty more efficiently πŸ˜‰ You may feel a fool, but I have cleared many a blocked duct this way and thereby avoided the whole mastitis experience πŸ˜€ I have a big advantage here in that L is still BF too, and she can take direction πŸ˜‰

By day 2 I had a distinct red patch (looked like a bad sunburn) on my breast and a large lump which I could break up and almost remove by nursing and/or expressing, but which kept returning. I had a fever which I could keep under control by alternating ibuprofen and paracetamol and I felt as though I had been run over by a bus – I think thanks to muscle spasms from all the shivering the day before. I was well enough for DH to go back to work, but just barely – and we didn’t get much done that day (apart from visiting Gina and new baby πŸ˜€ ). Fortunately I have helpful kids πŸ™‚ They got to play computer games and watch tv more than usual in return for keeping quiet-ish and playing with the baby too πŸ˜‰

By day 3 the redness was still there, but a smaller area and less red. The lump was still there, but smaller, easier to get rid of and slower to return. The fever was occasional and the muscle aches almost gone, but my head felt as though it would fall off if I moved too fast πŸ˜• That’s when I knew I could get by without ABs this time πŸ˜€ Luckily it was Saturday, so Bob was able to do childcare again and I was able to get more rest.

Day 4 is today and I still feel shattered, but my breast is pretty much back to normal, bar a little residual tenderness. My head still aches a little and I’m distinctly crabby, but I’ve got through to 9pm without retiring to bed…

Useful links for info on mastitis: BFN

Average Rating: 4.9 out of 5 based on 278 user reviews.

Last night K said something I want to note down before I forget. The name of a small bowl or dish, according to him, is a ceramekin. Nice.

Later last night, J had a protracted and painful stomach ache which culminated in being sick. Fortunately he was in the bathroom at the time so the clearing up was not so bad.

In between the two was the news of the bowls-up over HMRC losing Katy’s personal information, the children’s and ditto for most families in the country. The only consolations are the ID card and child database being at least a bit less likely now and, I confess, watching a junior government minister squirm under a weight of very uncomfortable fact and professional opinion from Ross Anderson.

Average Rating: 4.6 out of 5 based on 278 user reviews.

I could tell you what we’ve been up to, but I won’t. Maybe I will later, or maybe Katy will :).

One of my colleagues in the office recently came back from helping other colleagues in India. He bought some genuine Indian Bombay Mix like stuff, and one of them has the marketing blurb: More taste, more masti, more munch! What does masti mean? The answer involves horny elephants and spiritual discipline.

The town where the new office is has very few facilities. An application has been made to the local district council for a sports centre, which would be great. According to the council’s web site the answer so far is yes, but there are conditions on the next steps. The best one is (with my emphasis):

No development or site clearance shall take place during the bird-breeding season until a suitably qualified ecologist has checked the site for the presence of nesting wild birds and declared them absent. (Reason – To prevent damage to or destruction of the nest of any wild bird whilst it is being built or in use, in the interest of the biodiversity of the site, in accordance with Local Development Framework Development Control Policies Development Plan Document policy NE/6.)

I’m glad that they care about the wildlife, but the document name! 3 instances of the word Development, and a total of 8 nouns in a row (plus 1 adjective). Forming a big noun by stringing small nouns together can get confusing as you don’t know which way to group the small nouns. In fact the number of ways to group them (each with a possibly different meaning) grows exponentially, via the Catalan series – 8 nouns gives 1, 430 ways to group them. :slap:

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The lesson for today is from The Gospel according to Morrissey.

I’ve been struck by a few things in the last couple of days where I’m surprised that other people are surprised when history repeats itself.

The first was an article on an amazing invention that a colleague gave me from the Mail on Sunday. It’s a tabloid, so there was a big chance it would irritate me (snob? moi?) and yes it does on two counts. First is the bit “it violates almost every known law of physics”. I did less physics than many people, so I may well have got this wrong, but I think that the only law it violates is the first law of thermodynamics. Admittedly it’s a fairly fundamental law, but it’s not like it’s breaking the law of gravity, or the law of cause/effect and permitting time travel. Grrr…

The second way it annoys me is the overall tone of the article. It implies that scientists will have to go back to the drawing board and come up with a new model of the world – oh dear, the sky is falling in, our beautiful tablets of stone are all wrong. Scientific arrogance really annoys me (I appreciate that there are both humble scientists and lay people who are scientifically arrogant). People thought that with Newton’s laws we’d pretty much got things sorted, and science just had to fill in a few gaps. Then – bang – quantum theory and relativity come along and suddenly Newton’s laws are shown to only be useful under certain (everyday) conditions. But we haven’t got it completely sorted now either – why shouldn’t something else come along and disrupt things again. And again… Just because we have iPhones and vacuum cleaning robots and Twitter doesn’t mean We Have Got There Now. I’m sure the Romans were pretty chuffed with their legions and surveying tools etc. and thought that their science was pretty groovy too.

The current international financial problems are another instance of history repeating itself. An unavoidable part of the capitalist system is greed – economists for some reason seem unhappy when things don’t grow. So if you give people enough power (like those in banks in the US) and new ways to be greedy, and surprise surprise, at least some of them will be greedy so much that it hurts other people. I don’t like the prospect of interest rates going up because of the mortgage, but I’m not surprised that there is a problem in Big Finance.

A slightly less depressing note, where someone other than me is doing the ranting, is a nice article about web things from Joel Spolsky.

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