Our family

Entries in UK (55)


The harvest


First spring in Cambridge

Spring has arrived in Cambridge, and it is lovely to have our terrace. Having never had a proper outside space of my own, it is so nice to be able to potter around doing some gardening, sit outside to read a book, or have friends over for a BBQ.


Cambridge Science Festival

One of the wonderful things about living in Cambridge is being in a science city. Brussels was a rich cultural city, but orientated towards arts and politics. Cambridge lives and breathes science, with interesting science events for the whole family.

During the Cambridge Science Festival I was able to take Hayden to:

* A lecture on octopuses

* A seminar on microbes

* A demonstration of the periodic table, where Hayden learned about elements from Hydrogen to Tunsten


* A great lecture of the mathematics of games

* A hall filled with volunteer junior scientists all eager to teach him about their speciality

It is also a progressive city, so Lydia and I could attend some great LGBTinSTEM events, such as Out Thinkers.

What a wonderful event, and a delightful introduction to our new home.


A long and illustrious history of mediocrity

I just finished reading "The Spirit of Inquiry" by Susannah Gibson, which I highly recommend. Cambridge University is well known as being one of the very best places in the world to do science, which is one of the reasons that I moved here. With the long and rich history Cambridge has, it is easy to imagine that the current state of appears dates back 810 years, since its founding. "The Spirit of Inquiry" is the story of the rise to greatness of Cambridge science, and perhaps the most striking aspect is how far Cambridge had to rise over the past 100 years, only coming to greatness in the recent history of the University.

Consider the state of Cambridge University 200 years ago. It was described by Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), the founder of the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1819, as being in an "unhealthy death-like stagnation". John Gascoigne described the prevailing attitude of the University towards research: "It was no more a professor's business to add to the existing body of knowledge than a librarian feels an obligation to write new books". Cambridge was essentially "an ecclesiastical nursery or place where gentlemen are covered in a varnish of culture" (Nature, 1873).

For 50 years, the Cambridge Philosophical Society lead the movement to reform the ecclasiastical nursery, importing new science and mathemetics from the continent. But the University was ultra-conservative, resisting all efforts to include science in the cirriculum. Opening a laboratory at Cambridge was considered antithetical to "the superior calims of ecclesiastical history and pastoral theology". Even relative progressives such as William Whewell (1794-1866), considered a reformer for supporting the inclusion of science in the graduate examinations, advocated for gradual change - such as suggesting that scientific facts might be included after they had become generally accepted for at least a century!

Consider this quote by Nature, in 1873, comparing Cambridge science to the Continent: 

"It is known to all the world that science is all but dead in England.... It is also known that science is perhaps deadest of all at our Universities. Let anyone compare Cambridge, for instance, with any German university; nay even with some provincial offshoots of the University in France. In the one case he will find a wealth of things that are not scientific, and not a laboratory to work in; in the other he will find science taking its proper place in the university teaching, and, in three cases out of four, men working in various properly appointed laboratories".
It is striking to me that the incredible success of Cambridge science in the past 100 years is more an outlier than the norm across its eight hundred and ten year history.

A summer in Oxford

So fast our summer sabbatical in Oxford is over. Weeks flew by filled with interesting meetings, lazy hours in our little garden, long walks along the canals, the occasional beer in an English pub, and visits by the best friends you could imagine. We celebrated some major milestones, 10 years married and Hayden's 6th birthday. We got to re-indulge in pleasures of our youth, with Oxford surprising us with its familiarity to Australian eyes, while encountering new pleasures of today. Even a trip to the hospital was an occasion to smile with a visit from a volunteer clown. A magical couple of months to be treasured.





Claymation with Aardman 

As part of the Oxford Festival of the Arts, I took Hayden to a claymation workshop run by one of the clay modellers who works at Aardman. He made the models for Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and many other Aardman productions, and today he taught us!


The White Cliffs of Dover


Dover Castle

The White Cliffs

The view to France



Feeding the farm animals at Fancy's Farm. Hayden was responsible for rationing the animal feed, doling out one piece at a time to me and Lydia. His favourites were the chickens.

Rock-hopping along the Jurassic coast at Portland Bill

Locals used this winch to drop their boat into the sea, followed by a sail out to the wrecks and scuba-diving to catch lobsters by hand.


EU open day

EU Open Day at the Commission. Hayden met Captain Europe, but was somewhat dubious.

Every country had a booth. Hayden's favourite was the Netherlands.

Disgracefully, the UK didn't bother to turn up for Open Day.

Fortunately, the official UK negotiator realised the collosal mistake the UK was making, and formally made a plea to re-join the EU.

The Minister for Belgium nominated the UK to rejoin the EU

Seconded by Poland

And the UK is back in the EU! Crisis averted everyone!


Brexit is a result of the cowardliness of the Tories

The Leave-Remain compaign was never about sovereignity, it was always about xenophobia, pure and simple. For a tolerant country like the UK, founded on immigration and international empire, this xenophobia does not come naturally. Xenophobia was only a fringe movement on the right until the Tories decided to co-opt the language of racism in order to gain an electoral advantage over Labour. They thought they could repeat UKIP and BNP talking points against immigrants and the EU in order to pick up extra votes. It worked, but they legitimised a monster which has just proven willing to trash the UK economy in order to kick out Polish plumbers. If the Tories had had the moral courage to speak out against xenophobia early and strong, this would never had happened.

So what is gained by Brexit? Basically nothing. What the leave campaign didn't tell you is that the UK only voted against 2% of EU laws, so 98% of EU laws were put in place with the support of the UK government. All EU laws and regulations require the support of either elected governments or elected MEPs, so the UK still had a say over every decision made. Now it won't have a say, but it will have to abide by all of the laws and regulations anyway if it wants access to its largest trading partner. Bravo Leave campaign, you have just reduced the sovereignity of the UK. And if the UK decides not to be part of the EU trading block? Well the British pound instantly dropped 11% on this possibility, so get ready for a slow flight of capital out of the UK and into the US or Europe.

How about immigration? Again, it is disingenuous (i.e., a lie) to say that the UK lost control over its borders to the EU. The UK government was one of the leaders in the push to expand the EU to the east, and when Eastern Europe joined each EU member state was given the possibility to delay free migration. The UK was one of those countries that allowed immediate immigration - as a choice of the UK government. The simple fact is, the high level of immigration to the UK has nothing to do with the EU. It is driven by history, empire lost and the deliberate choice of the UK government to put economic growth over racial purity. So what will happen now? Well a bunch of Brits will lose their jobs in the EU, British retirees won't find it so easy to swan around in southern Spain, and French and German professionals will be discourged from working in London. That's it. The UK will still be a country of immigrants (sorry racists), and the only impact Brexit will have on slowing that process is if the economy collapses so badly that immigrants don't want to come any more.

What a disaster.

A noble woman, victim of xenophobia