Hello, I'm not so good at posting this week, due to it having been a bank holiday weekend which was also possibly the last gasp of summer, the bloke returning home from Nairobi and us turning around immediately afterward to go camping in Devon, and then back to drowning in work. We actually have some hardware in our hot little hands for the Engineering Model of our instrument for the JUICE spacecraft, and orders being placed for more, and that feels good.

I want to write up the camping weekend properly but for now, a preview from the dairy farm's ice cream stand.

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From left to right: S, Humuhumu, Keiki and S's younger brother J*, sitting on a simple wooden bench eating ice cream in cones. Backdrop is the beautiful Devonshire countryside.

* J, believe it or not, is only a few months older than Keiki. He is enormous.
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Keiki squats down to look at the fish in the polar bear enclosure at the Vienna Tiergarten.

The Schoenbrunn should definitely make the top ten of every visitor attraction list of Vienna, if not the top three. It’s the gigantic former summer palace of the Hapsburgs, and the grounds alone merit at least a half-day stroll to explore fully. There are gardens, fountains, hidden playgrounds, an enormous glasshouse full of palm trees, and even a zoo.

Despite having visited the Schoenbrunn grounds many times, I’d never been to the zoo, which is allegedly the oldest in the Western world (founded in 1752). Now, with two small children, one of whom is animal-obsessed, I had good reason to go. The children and I set out early one morning to travel via the Viennese underground to the palace.

Humuhumu was keen to learn how to navigate the transport system. She got very good at spotting the way to the correct train lines, and proudly announced when the next train would be arriving after we got to the platforms.

It took us 45 minutes to get from our temporary abode to the Schoenbrunn and, conveniently, it was just about Cake O’clock when we arrived. We detoured around the palace entrance and stopped off at an Aida Konditorei, a chain of inexplicably pink cafés that serve extremely nice cakes, coffees and hot chocolates (apart from the one near the opera house – avoid that one; everyone who works there is sick of tourists and very grumpy).

We walked into the Aida and chorused “Guten Morgen” at the round-faced, unsmiling woman behind the counter. She broke into a beaming grin and showed us to the table next to a tiny play area containing toys and books, which the children pounced upon. (Throughout the trip, I encouraged the children to greet everyone we met in German, to say please and thank you in German, to order their food using the German words and, when I felt confident in my knowledge of the right phrases, I coached them to make requests in German. I was astonished at the abundance of goodwill toward us that this produced.) Humuhumu ordered her hot chocolate and cake in German, and was rewarded with an additional pink meringue, which she received with an unprompted “Danke schoen”. When we left, Keiki crowing “Wiedersehen” over my shoulder with his dimpliest smile, the server came out from round the counter and gave each of the children an extra biscuit, which, to be honest, they didn’t really need after all that sugar!

Full of energy, we bounded into the grounds of the Schoenbrunn and raced around whilst waiting for the grandparents to join us at the entrance to the Tiergarten (Zoo). As vast as the Schoenbrunn grounds are, they are not big enough to house a comprehensive collection of the world’s animals, so cleverly the Tiergarten is focused on a limited number of species and provided them with luxurious accommodation.

Keiki and Humuhumu loved the place, particularly Keiki. Once he spotted the meerkat enclosure, we couldn’t get him to finish his lunch. Neither could we readily tear him away from the penguins. In fact, Granddad had a bit of a job keeping Keiki from clambering into their pond to join them. We communed with the seals. We watched a polar bear chewing meditatively on a traffic cone. And, of course, Humuhumu found a climbing wall and had to try everything.

It was a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon, and we will certainly return to the Tiergarten on our next trip to Vienna.

Further photos beneath the cut.
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The bloke’s parents with their heart-shaped homemade cake. The chalkboard next to them colourfully reads: “Welcome to Lodge 106. Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary! Have an excellent holiday. 😊”

A couple of weekends ago, we went to a Center Parcs with the bloke’s family to celebrate his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Each family stayed in separate lodges, and we joined together for lunches, activities, tea and evening meals.

Going to a big resort-type thing in a forest in the school holidays seems to be a rite of passage for English children. Everyone else in the family (actually being English) had this innate understanding of how things were going to work and what was going to happen. I, on the other hand, was completely in the dark. I didn’t know that the “swimming pool” was going to be a massive indoor waterslide park with separate areas for children of all ages, for instance. Or that bringing our bicycles was not just so we could get some exercise, but so we could pop out to the shop for some milk for five minutes rather than have to walk for half an hour. The place was gigantic and – it being the start of the summer holidays – completely full.

The wildlife, being accustomed to the presence of humans, was very nearly tame. If you left the sliding door to the patio open, the ducks would waddle confidently inside in search of whatever food you had foolishly left out. The squirrels would take nuts from your hands. The muntjac deer would walk up to the patio door and stare in, and not run away until the toddler came outside and tried to pet it.

We had a truly typical British summer holiday experience in that it rained nearly the entire time, so we spent a good amount of time in the water park. Humuhumu was, at first, slightly afraid of the water slides. Subsequent to our first trip to the water park, we bought her some goggles and that flipped the switch. We couldn’t get her off the water slides after that. She went round them so many times that when we went to the changing room to get back into our clothes, she could barely stand, she was so exhausted. I only got the chance to try the water slides once for about ten minutes (during which Keiki apparently screamed for me the entire time), so I went for the biggest one (twice): the Cyclone, which you went down on a rubber raft in a group. I got to go with my niece and her mum, aka the bloke’s sister. I shrieked like a banshee the whole way down. It was fantastic.

Despite the filthy weather, we managed to sneak in some outdoor activities. We played boules. We climbed around the adventure playgrounds. I took Keiki to the pond, where the nearly tame baby moorhens nibbled at his wellies, to his boundless delight. We also found a peacock, with whom Keiki had a half-hour conversation. I turned my back on him briefly and when I looked at him, he had moved close enough to the peacock to stroke its tail feathers. The peacock held itself very still, almost as if it didn’t want to frighten him, when really it should have been the other way round.

The wedding anniversary celebration came off very well indeed. There was a huge, heart-shaped and delicious sponge cake, baked by the bloke’s sister, and a “cheese cake”, which was a mountain of stacked cheeses. The bottom layer, an enormous squishy brie, had to be served separately because it would have collapsed under the weight of the wheel of harder cheese above it. This was not a problem because we devoured it over the course of two days. Most importantly, the bloke’s parents had a wonderful time being surrounded by, but not in the pockets of, their children and grandchildren.

Further photos below the cut, including a series titled “Keiki Points at Things”.

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In case you’re wondering why there aren’t so many photos of Humuhumu, this is because (1) she wanted to go to the water park pretty much every waking moment, (2) you couldn’t take photos in the water park and (3) Keiki did not want to go to the water park more than once a day, so someone had to stay with him.
nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( Jul. 4th, 2017 10:22 am)
We went to the pub last night to sit by the canal and enjoy some celebratory holiday pizzas. After a couple of lime and sodas, everyone got a bit silly and our (eye, not drinks) glasses got mixed up.

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[Humuhumu and Keiki grinning across a wooden patio table at the pub. Humuhumu is wearing Daddy’s sunglasses and Keiki is wearing mine.]

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nanila: wrong side of the mirror (me: wrong side of the mirror)
( Jun. 28th, 2017 05:50 pm)
I'm frantically trying to finish a bunch of work before I go on holiday for two weeks in July, so time for blog is very limited. I'm hoping to have lots of leisurely catch-up time to post things like photos from Vienna and Spain.

Worst thing that happened today: I forgot my glasses on the counter by the mirrors in the ladies' toilets at Birmingham New Street Station. I realised this at exactly the moment my train to London was moving away from the platform.

Best thing that happened today: I received an e-mail alert titled "hggggggfgfg", which I assumed meant, "ALERT: Engineer's Cat Has Walked Across Their Keyboard." It was later claimed that this alert was issued because of "testing", which I can only mean "testing for robustness of cat-proof-ness", a test which the system has surely failed.

In conclusion, I give you the most recent studio portraits that nursery had done of the children (late April).
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[Studio portrait of Humuhumu and Keiki smiling together. Humuhumu has her peach-framed glasses on.]
I have been outrageously busy at work this week and I don't have the brain to string these together into a proper narrative. My apologies. So: Have a series of happy photos from the past week or so.

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[Keiki with freshly dug potatoes in his fist, ready to deposit them in one of the two white bowls in front of him.]

We ate our first potato harvest tonight. Yum!

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Humuhumu: “Keiki, are you a boy?”
Keiki: “No!”
Humuhumu: “Keiki, are you a girl?”
Keiki: “No!”
Humuhumu: “What are you, Keiki?”
Keiki: “I’m a KEI-KI.” syllables of name drawn out emphatically

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[Humuhumu and Keiki in the bath, giving themselves bubble beards.]
Since I’d best get these posted before next weekend happens, have a selection of photos from the bank holiday weekend.

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This prequel is from work in London on the Friday before the weekend. Everyone’s favourite selfie-loving tattooed physicist ([twitter.com profile] mggttaylor) came to lunch with the Rosetta team. We talked comets and outreach and heavy metal. Beer may or may not have been consumed.

Then I went back to Worcestershire and the weekend proper began.

Avoncroft )

At home )

Pub )
nanila: nellie kim is awesome (purple nellie)
( May. 25th, 2017 06:21 pm)
Back story: The garden behind our house is a very peculiar shape. It is quite wide at the back of the house for about 10 metres, then narrows abruptly to a very skinny path alongside the canal towpath hedge. It goes along like this for about 5 metres and then ends in a round, fenced-in patch about 4 metres in diameter. The round patch has a concrete pavement in a pretty circular pattern.

We’ve been trying to work out what to do with this odd space since we moved in. It’s a fair way from the house and not visible from the back door. Jacuzzi? Too much maintenance, plus it’s too far to trek on a horrible winter night. Bike shed? Functional but boring, and also bike sheds are ugly. This is a pretty space, ringed by climbing roses and vines.

A few weeks ago we went to the garden centre and found a display of cute playhouses with trimmed roofs and windows, and an interior upper floor reached by a child-sized ladder. The 6’x6’ models were on sale. As we had to carry the children away from them, literally, we thought, perhaps this is the optimal use for that round patch.

Thus far, we have been proved entirely correct, and the expense has been justified. Since it’s been installed, both children come home from nursery, dash through the house and out the back door into the playhouse to draw, play on the tablet or just run up and down the steps and in and out the doors. (There’s an adorable toddler-sized door out the side in addition to the larger front door.) The only things that brings them back to the house in 15-20 minutes are the requests for drinks and fruity snacks, which are then carried back up to the playhouse.

tl;dr version We got the kids a playhouse for the garden. Photos below!

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[Keiki on a wooden chair outside the playhouse. “Oi* shut da door on moi sister!”]

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* The Black Country is strong with this one.
** There is a whole separate post brewing about how I simply do not understand Danger Mouse.
...so here, have a photo from yesterday evening instead of hearing me moan about that.

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[Humuhumu and Keiki in their swimming costume & swim nappy respectively, eating ice creams in the paddling pool.]
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