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Space Recipes Finale

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More pictures of this day can be seen on my Flickr page. They were taken by Kayleigh Kölker, Joey Roelands, Roel Witvers and yours truly.

Remember the space recipes contest? Two of my students won the first round and were invited to the finale! This would take place at ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, which is about a five hour journey from the very south east of the Netherlands. On top of that, the event would take place on a day in the week of our school’s finals, so it was a tricky one to organise. But, this teacher’s pleased to say that both the parents of Kayleigh and Joey said ‘yes’, as well as the head of our school. So off we went for an unexpected school trip, which was a lot of fun as well as educational.

Since it was the week of the school’s finals, I did promise my boss and the parents that I would make Kayleigh and Joey study on the train. And after all, they did have a teacher all to themselves all day. But since we weren’t officially in class, smartphones, games and music were allowed too. I am used to travelling long distances, but I didn’t know how my students would like it. They didn’t seem to mind this journey though. Plus it was extra special we were travelling on the school’s business passes. When we arrived in Hoogeveen, there was a taxi waiting just for us. So we felt very ‘VIP’. Selfies were taken and I explained the programme for the day.

When we arrived, the contestants got cool name badges, which said on Kayleigh’s that she’s a Milky Way Cocktail Shaker and Joey was a Dark Matter Maker (which meant he had made a recipe for a mysterious dessert). There were tables with the ingredients and the contestant’s names on them. Anke, who organised this event as one of the winning recipes will end up in her new book, had made sure there was enough help around and I was allowed to lend a helping hand too. Joey’s Dark Matter Dessert (which contains raspberries because we had learned space smells a bit of raspberries and also chocolate, because “it’s the best thing in our universe”) had to be prepared and put back in the freezer. Meanwhile Kayleigh put her green and healthy-for-astronauts smoothie in the blender.

There were many other kids around, mostly younger than both Kayleigh and Joey, and mostly from this neighbourhood. Joey had noticed how well prepared some of them had been and he complimented his neighbour on her E=mc2 cake. Meanwhile a lovely band (a whole family) played some lovely Irish music and I bumped into a few familiar faces. As you may know, I have an honorary affiliation with ASTRON, so it was nice to catch up with some of the people working here.

Before the competition started, we were welcomed by ‘Professor Melkpak’ and Ilse van Bemmel gave an excellent lecture on the Milky Way and on what they do at ASTRON. Then Anke presented the (many) people of the jury, which was a group of astronomers, professional bakers and shakers and some who would judge the creativity of the contestants. Kayleigh heard she would have to go first, which made her a little nervous. Maybe even more so because none of the younger kids seem to worry about it. She did very well though and the jury loved her not-too-sweet smoothie, with the clever details of star fruit and strawberries (Earthberries in Dutch!) as decoration.

The kids had all been very creative indeed. After the shakes it was time for the mysterious Dark Matter dishes and Joey would have to go last. He had been relaxed all day, but suddenly reminded me of how nervous he was for his show and tell back in school and you know, in this case it was about five times more people in the audience. The poor kid was literally hyperventilating, but still wanted to do it. If I’d go with him, which I did. In this state, he forgot how to draw a star on his dish, so it didn’t get the highest points for presentation, but the baker of the jury told him later he got a 10/10 for taste! It was great to see both my students being proud of themselves too, for having participated.

Although it was a close call, neither of them eventually won. That didn’t matter much though, as they had already said on the train that if they wouldn’t , they still would’ve had a great day. Needless to say I was proud of them as well. I did ask them though, at the end of the day, if they still thought it was worth the trip and they both wholeheartedly said yes. Before we headed back, Professor Melkpak let them use his Segway, which was a popular item naturally. I also quickly showed them the telescope, which they thought was impressive too. And they got a nice little reminder of the day.

On the way back I was told we were sat on a train which looked like the Harry Potter one and they noticed how the landscape was different from back home (really flat). Joey also remarked how I’m quite nice outside the classroom and he thought it was all taken care of very well. I did of course sneak in a few extra lessons, saying I had no idea which train to get on next and let them figure it out. It was also great to see Joey taking his headphones off when the conductor came as apparently I had told him in school once that it was not polite to keep them on when talking to someone, even if you don’t have any music on (THEY DO LISTEN TO ME)!

It was past bedtime when we arrived back in Heerlen. Proud parents were waiting to pick them up. And the other day Kayleigh came to school with a present: she had framed a photo of the three of us, which now has a place on my desk. It really was a great day!

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Scheire en de Schepping – the Book!

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“Do you crave knowledge and information endlessly? Do you need some securities in life? Don’t look any further: this book has the solution.” Says the blurb on the back of the new book ‘Scheire en de Schepping’. It goes on where the TV show (which is like the British QI) stops. And it does just what it says on the tin. It shares interesting stories and scientific facts in an understandable and entertaining way. This accompanied with many nice graphics.

It’s written in Dutch by the Belgian team behind the TV show on which I made an appearance last year. I was interviewed for this book too and so my story is one of the thought-provoking facts mentioned in it. I do believe Lieven is a fan of the Zooniverse’ projects. (I also read this interview in a magazine my dad brought me). This book is so interesting though, that I just started to read the other chapters before checking out ‘my bit’.

So I can wholeheartedly recommend this book (to anyone who can read Dutch)! Lieven signed my copy at the recent TEDxGhent event, which I’m showing off below…

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A few months ago, I received a very official looking invitation to speak at this year’s TEDxGhent event. Cool, I thought, I didn’t have one of those on my CV yet. So I said yes. Loads of information followed, including deadlines, rehearsal days and an invitation from a speaker coach! The event itself was planned on a Saturday, the 8th of June, which meant Steven and I would spend that weekend in Belgium. With this blog I’d like to share my TEDx experience, from the early preparations to the interviews at the grand event itself. I hope you’ll enjoy reading along.

The early preparations started with the deadlines for forms to fill in, including your ‘speech essentials’, after you’ve read and understood the TEDx guidelines and the TEDx commandments. There was also an agreement in which you’d state you’re allowed to use the pictures in your presentation, but since we would get to use Shutterstock images, that wouldn’t be a problem. They did say they asked me because they had seen a previous presentation and they thought my subject would fit in well with their “ideas worth spreading” motto. They also complimented me on my enthusiasm and my ‘speaker coach’ said I wouldn’t cost her a lot of work.

We did spend an hour and a half skyping over how I should tell my story though, as they had some different ideas on that. (Norbert, from Sterrenwacht Limburg, had told me they might). I am headstrong, but not in a way I won’t take suggestions on board. So after that conversation I went back to the drawing board and wrote the story I have told many times, in TED style. A week before the event I finished the presentation and I started practising on the Thursday before we left. With Ghent being a two hour road trip from Heerlen, I didn’t need to attend any of the rehearsals either, but I’m better this way. We did make it to the reception prior the event on the Friday evening.

This after a rather difficult journey. Colleagues had advised me to travel via Antwerp, which was indeed a good choice. Even though there was a bit of a traffic jam and it was a hot day, we managed to find Ghent fairly easily. Then the problems began. Ghent is a beautiful city and places of interest are pretty easy to find, if you ask the locals – which we did many times. The problem occurs when you’re not travelling on foot, but by car. This labyrinth has mostly one-way streets and this made following directions pretty hard. I’m not ashamed to say it took us an hour to find the city hall, so we didn’t stay long after we had let the organisers know we were in town.

The hotel was lovely. Both the places we stayed at, actually. The Carlton Hotel as well as the apartment complete with living room and kitchen. I wasn’t very happy to hear the news we would have to change for the second night at first, but after freshening up, going over my notes once more and getting some rest, I was my usual optimistic self again. I told Steven that I think that that saying about life being like a box of chocolates goes for hotel rooms too: you never know what you’ll get behind the door. In our case, door number two was nice as well. And Jeffrey, the friendly guy from the hotel, was very helpful. We could leave our car in their car park and he told us the best route on foot.

It had been nice to pack for a car trip for a change. I mean, I usually worry about taking too much on a boat or a plane, but now I took both my heels as well as a pair of flip-flops. So it was a nice walk from our hotel to the venue. Lieven Scheire, who I first met when I was on his show last year, would present today’s event and we had agreed to go over a few things before lunch. He also signed my copy of his latest book, which also mentions my discovery! Jeffrey (from the hotel) had asked what I would be talking about and he could hardly believe my story. And since I hadn’t shared it on one of the rehearsals yet, I hadn’t seen any of the others either, but I figured I would just today.

I should’ve known it would be a bit too hectic for that, although everything was organised very well. After a quick check of the stage and undressing and redressing to attach the microphone to my bra, I just waited in the ‘red room’ for my slot. Meanwhile, Steven took a few pictures which led people to think he was the official photographer. It was a beautiful stage and everybody was so nice. I tried to enjoy it as much as I could, but those 9 minutes were over before I knew it. I don’t think I was very nervous, I know what to say, and I’m looking forward to see if that came across in the video. I was told I appeared very natural and the organisers were pleased in any case.

After my talk, I chatted to some of the other speakers backstage and I remember I kept thinking that I should really look them up later, so I’m looking forward to see their videos as well. At the end of the day, when the 400 visitors had left (some would be on their way to the reception) a group picture was taken on stage. I was also asked to give an interview, which would be done by the main sponsor and should appear on YouTube, before the videos of our talks. For this I had to walk to their car, get in the back and answer a few questions, for instance about who my inspiration is. I was apparently the first to ask where the mic would go if I wore a seatbelt, but they were happy I did. Meanwhile the ladies outside told Steven I looked very elegant, so if all else fails, I could always do this?

At the reception afterwards one of the visitors came to ask me about the Zooniverse and she said she’d sign up as soon as she got home. I also ended up talking to the woman who had proposed me as a speaker – which was nice – and her friend mentioned she now wanted her own space Voorwerp as well. That was a fun conversation (in the ladies room, where I changed heels for flip-flops again). It had been a great event. I’ve learned that apparently only 1 in 10 woman who are invited to speak for such an event say yes. For men it is 1 in 3. And did you know you help digitalise text books when you enter a ReCAPTCHA code?

I like TEDx. And the reception was nice as well. Eventually, Steven and I said bye to the organisers and left to have dinner opposite the city hall though. When we eventually saw everyone coming out, we concluded we sort of stayed until the end anyway. We had a nice walk back and Steven said he had enjoyed the event too. Today had been our official first anniversary (that’s one trip around the Sun together!) and we could’ve stayed in Ghent for a bit the next day – I can recommend it – but we were tired and thinking of the trip back in the hot weather made us decide to travel home the next day.

That Sunday morning we had breakfast at the bar in Jeffrey’s hotel. He asked how my talk went and he gave us some last travel advice. I had been travelling so much that I had woken up that morning wondering for a moment in which country I was again. But since I started thinking in a Belgian accent, I was soon reminded of my location. This had been another great trip. Ghent and its people are lovely and it was wonderful to be a part of the TEDx event. Thanks again to all who’ve made that happen!

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My Students visiting De Sterrenwacht

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More pictures of these events can be seen on my Flickr page.

One of my colleagues recently asked me if I knew who to contact at Sterrenwacht Limburg to discuss a school trip to the science centre. And so the Brunssummerheide forest, where it is located, became my ‘office’ for a few days. We had arranged sessions of three mornings, with on each morning, two groups visiting: about 150 students in total.

Since Steven and I both volunteer now and then, we prepared a lecture ourselves and that’s how my boyfriend ended up teaching my students! Norbert and I did the other two sessions and it was a success. We also had a look in the dome and we used a solar telescope to look at the Sun!

Not many of these students know about my discovery, as I’m not teaching the first year groups this year. They seemed to enjoy this unexpected trip though and I think they learned a thing or two, judging by the “wow-s” in the audience. In fact, some of my colleagues had said they learned something new about our solar system too. Besides this and the playground (yes), they also really liked the map on which their star signs show up in lights.

As a teacher, I had a great time too. I only managed to set the alarm off once, but we were saved by the lovely neighbour, who’s not unfamiliar with such visits. And besides the fact my students were visiting the Sterrenwacht, I also like that I learned a few things from Steven myself. He makes a good teacher. While showing the size of Jupiter compared to Earth, he explained their relative size by calling Jupiter the bunny hole and Earth a marble.

One of my students still thought Jupiter (and that amazing storm!) looked more like a wooden floor though. And when I told them about the Moon landings, one of them asked me if that was done by André Kuipers! I was also asked if “female aliens” exist (as opposed to male aliens, which we have already confirmed, I assume?)

We have already decided we would like to do this again next year. Thanks to everyone involved for making this happen!

Goodbye We Will Rock You


It wasn’t just a title. It was a promise. And they have kept that promise for 12 years. They really have rocked millions of people including me on several occasions. Starting back in that summer of 2005. When I came back to London in 2008 (after discovering the Voorwerp) I also went back to see the show (with my friend Graham). Since that year I’ve kept an online diary of my adventures and I have mentioned WWRY a couple of times. I remember I also went back in the summer of 2009. I went to see the Dutch cast in 2010 (a couple of times). And I saw the European Tour. I also took my boyfriend to see it when Katie played Killer Queen.





So yes, I was a fan and I was sad to hear the news of the very last show coming up. It would be the day after my birthday, but I just had to be there. This time I’d fly in and out. Over the years, England has become my second home and the only preparation I do these days besides booking the tickets is making sure I have my toothbrush with me, right before I leave. Steven dropped me off at the airport and would pick me up again the next day. I did take my coat, but it would be 20+ degrees. There were going to be two shows this Saturday and I was already there for the afternoon one. I felt like a rocket ship, on my way to Mars, on a collision course. It was good to be here.






I realise this is just a personal account of the day, but I wrote about the musical itself before and this does answer people’s questions of ‘how was that weekend?’ Well, it was ace. The cast was on fire! At the end, Brian and Roger joined them on stage and together they lit up the audience. Of all the times people in the audience had annoyed me a bit for not participating, these people made up for it. They stood up to stomp along to We Will Rock You and did not return to their seats anymore, all the way through We Are The Champions and eventually the Bohemian Rhapsody. As an encore, they gave us The Show Must Go On and I don’t think I ever heard a group of people shouting this with more passion.

This show really should have run forever. In between the two performances, the production team had asked on Twitter to share favourite moments and I have a top 10, actually. Here goes, just for sentimental reasons.

1. When the Bohemians pay respect to all those great artists who have died too young and Meat says: “Freddie”, right before she starts singing “No One But You”.
2. When Pop sings “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” and Scaramouche figures out the ‘star’ they’ve been looking for is Freddie.
3. When the band comes out shouting: “We are, Killer Queen!” In response to her question who’s crashing her party.
4. When Pop introduces the vi-deo-tap-pee and that bit of the Bo Rhap is played.
5. Clapping along to We Will Rock You, of course.
6. Khashoggi’s “Seven Seas Of Rhye”.
7. Killer Queen’s “A Kind Of Magic” and how she flies over the audience.
8. How you’re hooked from the moment the Ga Ga students sing “Radio Ga Ga”.
9. The introduction of Scaramouche with “Somebody To Love”.
10. The introduction of Galileo with “I Want To Break Free”.

Also in between the shows, I walked back to my hotel room where I had a salad and a nap, before I headed back for the night. On my way back I was stopped by a lovely young woman who just wanted to tell me she loved how I combined the grey and yellow in my outfit and it made me happy to realise people like that exist. Back at the venue I noticed how loads of people had gathered both near the stage door and the main entrance. The police were present too, just in case. It seemed like the whole of London wanted to be at this after party and I hadn’t realised how many people fit upstairs either. Not the whole of London, but still a huge amount.






Inside I also saw a silhouetto of a man projected on the wall. Queen, the cast, family and friends had come together to celebrate the success of We Will Rock You and I raised one glass with them. I congratulated Bri once again on the grand show and I told him I hoped he could enjoy this madness still too. I didn’t stay long; it was late, I was exhausted and I’d have to get up again at silly o’clock. Before I walked out, I donated all the English money I had still left in my wallet to the Mercury Phoenix Trust and I felt grateful as I walked back to my hotel that second time.

I had looked at Freddie one last time and I remembered the first time I saw his statue from halfway across Tottenham Court Road. It had brought a little tear to my eye. Over the years I pictured him a few times and one of those images has been my screen background for years. Maybe I’ll change it to one of the Montreux pictures now. In any case, London won’t be the same anymore, now that Freddie is gone from the theatre. I thought the flag he held, saying “Bye for NOW”, looked very promising though and I do hope there will be a sequel. Meanwhile, I was happy to learn the statue now lives with Roger and Sarina.

So. Thank you for the music. Goodbye everybody. I know you’ve got to go. But, We Will Miss You.

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