Retell this story by giving a short summary of what you can remember of it. (in less than 400 words)

The velveteen rabbit is given to the boy one Christmas. He’s plush and new, and the fanciest toy in the room, and is quite proud of his luxurious coat. He becomes the boy’s constant companion, going everywhere with him, but this comes at the cost of the velveteen rabbit’s appearance. He becomes patchy and raggedy as time passes. One of the other toys in the playroom is a rocking horse. The horse has been in the family for many years, and tells the velveteen rabbit that being worn and loved makes a toy more alive than being pristine but never used. One day, the boy takes the velveteen rabbit out to play in the woods. While they’re there, the velveteen rabbit meets some “real” rabbits, and is embarrassed when they discover that he’s a toy, that his legs aren’t even the right shape. The boy gets scarlet fever and becomes very ill. He spends a lot of time ill and recovering in bed, and the velveteen rabbit is there with him every minute. However, when the boy recovers, everything he was around when he was sick has to be taken away and burned, his clothes, his bedding, and the velveteen rabbit. While waiting with the other discarded things, the velveteen rabbit starts to cry. When his tear hits the ground, it grows into a flower and the flower has a fairy in it. The fairy brings the velveteen rabbit to where the wild rabbits live. At first the velveteen rabbit is scared of the other rabbits teasing him, but he discovers that his legs are no longer one solid piece, and he can run and jump. As a reward for his loving the boy, he becomes a real rabbit and gets to live out his days in the wild.

Think about (try to remember) and write down what fascinated you most about this story. What can you remember best? What impressed you most? … Its characters? The locations? The plot? The style and voice of the story? Or maybe even the surroundings of how this story was told, maybe by your parents, grandparents, or maybe in your first self-read book? Tell us the story OF the story so-to-speak. (less than 500 words)

I had this read to me when I was very young, and to me it was the saddest story I’d ever heard. I didn’t remember the ending so clearly until I read it a few years ago, I mostly remember the part where the boy got sick and the velveteen rabbit had to be thrown out. The idea that this rabbit who loved the boy so much and helped him so much when he was sick would end up having to be disposed of because of this seemed so tragic and unfair. Also, as far as I was concerned, scarlet fever was the scariest thing that could happen!

I also strongly remember the beauty of the artwork. It wasn’t silly like some children’s books, or bright and bold. They were soft, detailed paintings, and possibly the tone of the story helped emphasise the more somber tone of the story. By contrast, the Quentin Blake illustrations of the Roald Dhal brought out the wonderful whimsy of the work.

I don’t remember strongly identifying with either the boy or the velveteen rabbit, compared to how strongly I identified with Matilda in the Roald Dahl book, but as a child who was often sick, and a bit of an outsider, I guess I identified somewhat with both. There are several standard story elements at work here, the velveteen rabbit’s desire to be alive, the mentoring by the wise old horse, almost failing and being destroyed, and then being rewarded with life for his love for the boy. It’s interesting how I forgot the ending of the story, and for much of the time I viewed the velveteen rabbit being put out for destruction as being the end of the story. I think it would still work as a story ending like this, although it might be considered too upsetting for the audience (or their parents!).


I grew up with a library on the corner of my road. Granted, it was a tiny prefab, with a limited selection, but it was two minutes walk away without crossing any roads, so my sister and I could walk there unsupervised.

Then that library closed down and another, much larger library opened about twenty minutes away. By that time we were old enough that we could still walk there alone. I had a kid’s library card, but my older sister’s card had a special sticker that let her borrow from the young adult section, which worked out very well for me. Then I got my proper adult library card and had full access to the whole library and a limit of ten books at a time. And used it.

I like books.

I like books, and I like reading. It’s probably the least unique thing about me. Not liking books is something most people, at least the ones I interact with, would just not admit. What we often will admit to is not having enough time to read anymore.

I have a full time job, one that leaves me brain-tired at the end of the day. I have a commute. I have computer games. I have hobbies like knitting. Oh, and I have the internet. My reading time is severely limited, but if I’m honest, it’s limited by my choices. My commute is short, I don’t have children or pets to mind, and my so-called complaints are about how I have chosen to spend my reasonable amount of free time.

A couple of years ago, when I was in the last throes of my PhD, I signed up for audible. Last year I bought a kindle. I’ve been buying more books to make up for having to give away so many when we moved. I’ve vastly increased the number of books I own, but mostly I’ve vastly increased the number of books I’m not finishing.

So this year, I’m going to fix that. One kindle book, one audible book, one paper book at a time. And I’m making time for the reading too. I can listen while I knit, commute, or just before bed. I can read my kindle at lunch or on the bus. I can read my paper books in bed (before my eyes get too tired and I switch to audio.)

Right now I’m reading:

The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (audible). I’m about one quarter of the way in but I’m really enjoying it. The narration is well done, and the plot is good. I’m trying to bulk up my fantasy reading and thought this would be a good series to start with.

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (paper). I had to reread The Quantum Thief before I could get stuck into the sequel, so I’m just starting into this now despite buying it when it launched a few months ago.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky (kindle). Technically this is fan fiction, but it’s well written, very funny fan fiction. And if 50 Shades of Grey has taught us anything, just because a work is fan fiction doesn’t mean it can be easily dismissed (despite how much we may want to).

Hopefully I’ll be able to tick at least one of them off my list soon.

I’m a Scientist – March zones

I’m a Scientist is looking for scientists for their March session. The zones are

  • Brain Zone*
  • Drug Development Zone
  • Health Zone
  • Medical Physics Zone
  • Space Zone

I did this last Spring, in the Quantum Zone, and had a blast. I highly recommend the experience.

* Neuroscientists can also participate in I’m a Neuroscientist – Live.

Few authors evoke such strong childhood memories as Roald Dahl, curling up with one of his books, and the illustrations of Quentin Blake that went hand in hand. In addition for having a wonderful sense of macabre, he was also a master in creating images that would stick with the reader for life, like the image of a shark trying to take a bite out of the giant peach.

One thing he was less good at, it has come to light, was physics. In James and the Giant Peach, James and his insect buddies take a trip across the Atlantic in their fruity vessel. They start their journey floating in the water, where the aforementioned sharks attack, but the second part of the journey is spent in the air.

In order to achieve airborne status, James and his friends tether 501 seagulls to the peach stem (using the silkworm’s and spider’s threads, naturally). But how many seagulls would it really have taken?

Watkinson, Walach, Staab, and Rogerson at the University of Leicester did the maths and came up with their own number. Using estimated data from the book, the film, and some information about seagull flight, they calculated that it would take just shy of 2.5 million gulls. That’s quite an increase from 501, and would probably be beyond two, admittedly giant, thread producing creatures. Perhaps someone could write another paper on how many giant spiders would be required?

You can read the full paper here (via British Science Association), or just read/reread the original story instead.


The snow fell, dulling the lines of the trees. Obscuring footprints, blank slate on the ground. If she left now, she knew he could never follow her. Knowing that, she stayed.


Got You

I pressed myself against the trunk of the tree. This was wrong, all wrong. The animals knew it, the woods were deserted for miles. I was the only creature stupid enough to come here now.

I heard a twig snap somewhere behind me. Got you. I whirled around the tree, pushing all the stored magic into my fingers and fired.

“Got you”

I froze at the voice at my back. I turned slowly, hoping for a mistake. Some trick that would get me out of this. All I saw was her smile, perfectly content. Then everything was bright and pain.

I lay on the dry leaves as the world turned grey and dark. There was no hope. No help coming. I was the only creature stupid enough to come here.

These two pieces were written as 31 and 131 word stories for the flash fiction competition on Alison Wells’ Blog. The inspiration came from the sentence “The woods were silent, not even the twitter of a bird.”

2013, a new year. I’m constantly berating myself for not blogging enough, but this year (famous last words), I’m going to make a schedule and see if I can stick to it. I have the oldest excuse in the book, a fear that I have nothing to write about, but I’m going to just show up to the page and we’ll see what comes out. So here’s my plan.

Monday is writing day. I did Nanowrimo in November and it was an amazing experience. My main discovery was that I’m much less stressed when I’m writing. I’m going to aim to write something every week, even if it’s just flash fiction. I can’t promise it will be good, or even long, but I can promise it will be there.

Science Wednesdays! I might write about some news. Or something old but interesting. Or just write about life as a researcher.

Fridays are casual. I’ll probably put up something about knitting, I can usually be relied on for that. I’ve also got a knitting blog with my bestie, Fibre Friends, where we alternate posting on Wednesdays, so some weeks I’ll be all talked out on knitting, but no doubt I’ll have found some other diversion that week.

So that’s my plan. See you on Monday!

Remember when we were kids and our only knowledge of travel was from TV and the movies? I mean, apart from driving to Wales for two weeks in a caravan. Staying in a hotel was the epitome of glamour. It was like being invited into a castle and being treated like a princess for the night.

Oh how wrong we were. Now when I travel, I’m mostly happy if the hotel looks clean, and like I can get a reasonable nights sleep in it. The few times I’ve stayed in “princess level” hotels, I’ve either been too tired to enjoy them, or the pure cost of the room meant room service was off the cards. Also, the five star rating should be more descriptive. Like
1 star = You probably won’t get murdered.
2 star = We cleaned the sheets after the last person.
3 star = Comfy and cosy for the night, your home from home.
4 star = We have those pointless strips of fabric at the end of the beds and our decor is brown, white and burgundy.
5 star = I’m a princess and this is my tiara!!!!!!!

Whoever said that only bored people get bored (which was almost certainly a parent or a teacher) has never spent a significant time in an airport, ferry port, bus station or train station.

The best part of flying is take off and landing. Oh, unless there’s turbulence. Bumpybumpbump!

And early morning flight with breakfast is a things of beauty. Arriving at your destination when you have eaten more recently than 5:00AM changes everything about your day.

When I first arrive in a hotel room, I check the tea and coffee making facilities. If there are no biscuits, I judge you.

Oh, and if you’re sitting in a nice wide exit row, and you spend the entire flight with your seat leaning back, including takeoff and landing because you apparently need just that much space, and I don’t, I judge you too.

Being tired and stressed from travel can occasionally make me judgey.

Before getting on a plane, put everything you’re likely to want from your hand luggage into a plastic or canvas bag at the top of your bag. Then when you arrive at your seat, you can get what you want and stow your back with minimal fuss and delay.

The more I travel, the more casual I get about travel. I used to memorise all the details and double check flight numbers on departure boards. Now I just look for a flight heading in the right direction at the right time and hope for the best. The only time this failed me was when two flights to Heathrow with the same airline within five minutes of each other.

Having a smart phone means that being casual about travel usually works out ok.

I think we’re living in the glory days of air travel as it currently exists. In my lifetime it’s gone from being something that you might do once a year, only if you could afford to, to being somewhat like taking the bus. And for all the grief they (deservedly) get, companies like Ryanair did a lot of good in terms of making air travel accessible. Unfortunately, this just isn’t sustainable, and I reckon we’ll be forced to reduce our travel down to the very necessary.

I like travelling. Not as much as some of my colleagues and friends, but I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to visit a decent number of countries as part of my work.