7 December 2023

8th December 2023

Today is an exciting day as Adam is running a Super-Curricular Day for Year 13 students. As well as Rob Eastaway, author of Maths For Mums And Dads (very popular with some of our child-rearing friends) and Maths On The Back Of An Envelope, there are careers talks and a Team Maths Challenge. There are some lovely mathsy gifts out there for you to buy your nerdy friends, this one is available on Etsy, it's a Maths cross-stitch melange:

Also part of the day is a quiz based around Elf On A Shelf, but with Maths! Can you guess this one?

7th December 2023

Some wacky must-have presents today:

For the condiment lover in your life, a pair of Zara Home candles:

And for the music lover/drinker in your family, Gary Barlow wine:

6th December 2023

We have so many creative and decorative friends. Lou in Wales is one of them, and she shared a picture of a wreath by her friend Beth that it themed around Bletchley Park. I've posted it as big as I can, but you should see some punched-hole tape, some Made In Britain ribbon, and even a little Enigma machine. Marvellous!


5 December 2023

5th December 2023

Every so often you come across a Christmas tree ornament that defies belief. This one from Louisa, who says she got it over 20 years ago from a great-aunt who was a nun.

Do let us know about any terrible decorations you have but are forced to display because of nuns or whatever.

4 December 2023

4th December 2023

It's taken a while, but the exotic delights of the panettone, once found only in the windows of Italian delis and in miniature in racks at Costa Coffee, has now made it through to the mainstream. Marks & Spencers, Waitrose and Fenwicks now have a plethora of flavours and prices, and panettone looks set to replace Christmas Pudding as a staple of the festive feast.

According to Rachel Hall in the Guardian:

"Selfridges said it expected to sell three times more panettone than Christmas puddings after selling more than ever before last Christmas, with sales up almost 25% on 2021. Waitrose said the Italian classic was out-selling Christmas pudding, with demand up 40% on this time last year. Although there is a traditional recipe to follow, Selfridges offers six different types of panettone, including salted caramel and chocolate orange. The retailer sells a £150 panettone hamper, which it says is “packed with inventive iterations” and has also added the cake’s flavour to many other products including chocolate and tea and even introduced a panettone advent calendar. [yes please - Adam]
"Selfridges suggests serving panettone for breakfast during the festive season, paired with afternoon coffee, or as a lighter alternative to Christmas pudding. Waitrose has expanded its range in response to growing demand for panettone. This year, it launched the “cinnamon bunettone” — a cross between a panettone and a cinnamon bun, which the retailer says is one of its bestselling Christmas cakes."

The cinnamon monstrosottone

But all is not lost for the humble plum pudding. Another article in the Financial Times, taken from Pen Vogler's book "Stuffed: A History of Good Food and Hard Times in Britain" explains how a random mention in "A Christmas Carol" led some years later to a resurgence of the stodgy sweet.

"In 1850, a strange essay called “A Christmas Pudding” appeared in Charles Dickens’s weekly journal, Household Words. This was seven years after the publication of A Christmas Carol, whose wild success had wedded the dish previously known as plum pudding to Christmas Day, making it the iconic centre of the feast for wealthy and impoverished families alike.
"The essay, written by Dickens’s friend Charles Knight though published anonymously, had symbolic designs on a dessert that already flamed with the Dickensian message of personal responsibility for the poor. Knight commandeered it to represent the fashionable doctrine of “free trade”, an anti-protectionist economic position that suited an industrialising country that needed its urban workforce to have access to the cheapest possible imported food.
"After the [First World] war, the country had to navigate falling exports and a growing global recession. Patriotic organisations came up with enterprising solutions to boost the appeal of homegrown and empire-produced goods, such as Empire Day, Empire Shopping Week and the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, which inspired the British Women’s Patriotic League to urge cooks to “Make your Christmas Pudding an Empire Pudding” with a recipe leaflet of ingredients from the empire.
"The idea took off and was supported over the next few years by various trade bodies from the Dominions; the Australian Dried Fruit Board was particularly active, alarmed by the successful marketing strategies of California’s Sun-Maid raisins. The Empire Day Movement was particularly media-savvy. It arranged a ritualised pudding-making session, involving representatives from all over the empire giving the mixture a good stir, just as families did together on Stir-Up Sunday.
"The Empire Marketing Board was set up in 1926 to boost the economies of the countries that were, in turn, Britain’s best customers: an economic and ideological virtuous circle. Its greatest success was its own Empire Christmas Pudding recipe (nobody seemed to mind that the idea was copied from both the British Women’s Patriotic League and the Empire Day Movement). The recipe was advertised in national newspapers in 1926 to much fanfare — and some complaints. Wales, Scotland and Ireland had all been left out; and when the colonial commissioner for Cyprus realised the island had been overlooked, he phoned the Empire Marketing Board on December 23 to demand that the pudding, to be ceremoniously delivered to King George V, should be served with Cypriot brandy sauce. New Zealand was missed out and Canada was represented by five ounces of minced apple, despite the tons of wheat it was pouring into Britain. Eggs could come from the Irish Free State or “United Kingdom”, but Northern Ireland wasn’t mentioned at all."

2 December 2023

3rd December 2023

As we reach the first Sunday in Advent, people are already gearing up for their local carol service, whether in a church or in the community. But you have to feel sorry for the social media intern who didn't quite get the name of the event correct. These are all from 2023, by now you would think the mistake would be quite well-known. But no:

At least the last one has sausages to go with the candles.

2nd December 2023

For many families, this will be the weekend where the "tree in a box" comes out of the loft, gets dusted down, has its branches bent back into shape, and the decoration begins. For others, it's the trip to the Christmas Tree Farm so beloved by Hallmark Christmas movies (more on them later as well). But we are off to London because it's the weekend of the Scandi Christmas Fairs!

But disaster has struck! The cinnamon bun machine at the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe has broken. At least their lovely star-shaped pastries and Fazer jellies are still available, plus reindeer stew.

And then it's off to see Christmas trees! There are three we recommend this year (and every year).

The tree from Norway is on its way to Trafalgar Square. It's been growing for 70 years in Nordmarka, the forests north of Oslo. BBC London News are tracking its travels, currently at the Port of Immingham:

St Pancras Station always has a great tree, and this year it's all about books, a collab with Hatchards (Best London Bookshop Ever) and Penguin (Best Publisher Ever). You can sit in it and listen to audiobooks while you wait for your train.

And the third tree is a bit modernist. This year the V&A has taken up the mantle from Tate Britain and gone for an angular metal tree. Not to everyone's taste, the "Power Plant by Isabel + Helen" is an "the installation is formed of wind-powered turbines which rotate within their own orbit to collectively power the lights in the structure" (it says here). See what you think:

1 December 2023

1st December 2023

Welcome to latest (and we hope greatest) online Advent Calendar yet. When we started these the internet was in its infancy, and as well as inventing blogging and Twitter, Adam was getting total random strangers to visit and comment on eclectic Christmas stuff. We even (apparently) got a mention in a newspaper's Saturday magazine (but they weren't online in those days so we only heard about that).

Christmas seems to have come very early this year, especially some Carol Services (more on that later). But Advent has come, as it always does, on 1st December. We'd love to hear about your Christmas preparations, what Advent calendar you have bought (or been given), and any requests for daily pics (Hasselhoff in a Santa outfit? Did that in 2005). Just tweet @robotmaths or send us a message below.

Today we celebrate Christmas ornaments. Living in a 1930s semi, we were enchanted by this lovely scene from Homesense. Nothing quite says Christmas like a flamingo in a Santa hat in front of a modernist gazebo with a wall of screen blocks.

As a special bonus, here's a must-have Secret Santa gift for the music fan in your life. Though we would probably have headlined this "Egg To The Rhythm", or maybe "Pull Cup To The Bumper"

We applaud Grace Jones as a musical hero. Here's the Platty Jubes video of her hula-hooping throughout her song "Slave To The Rhythm".

29 October 2023

Lisbon Travel Guide 2023



The airport is on the Metro system red line, which intersects each of the other 3 lines and is under €2 for a one-way trip or €7 for an all-day ticket (including bus and tram as well)
A taxi to the city leaves from a well-organised rank outside the terminal, but keep your eye on the meter as our driver tried to charge us double! It’s around €10 to the Marriott (see below) and €20 to the riverside (depending on traffic of course)

When you are leaving, British Airways departure check-in is at Terminal 1, Zone C. It only opens 3 hours before the flight. but if you need to wait until then, Café GoTo between Zones A and B is comfortable seating with charging points in the lamps and a decent cup of cha (tea).
The ANA lounge is beyond the boarding pass gates and security scanning, up an escalator in the middle of the shopping zone. It’s around €40 for comfy chairs, peace and quiet, sandwiches, cakes, and drinks including wine and beer. But be warned, you will still need to go through passport control out of the Schengen zone, so allow 20 minutes to walk to the gate.


We recommend the Marriott, north of the city centre. This is a business hotel, with excellent service, three restaurants and an outdoor pool in summer. There are always taxis outside ready to take you to where you want to go. But it’s also only 15 minutes walk from Metro Laranajas, through a peaceful neighbourhood, and 15 minutes from Sete Rios station, on the main train line to Sintra, which has a big Lidl for stocking up.

Getting around:

The Metro:
The Viva card (like an Oyster) is made of card, is only €0.50, and lasts a year. You need one before you can buy a ticket. Each person needs their own.
When you get to the barriers, look above to see the green arrow, as the other ones are for people coming the other way and you will tap fruitlessly.
It’s a typical metro system, easy to use, and you can enjoy the different tiling patterns at each of the stations. The blue line runs NW-SE, the red E-W north of the city, and the green and yellow to other places, each intersecting with the other 3.

On buses and trams, you only need to tap your Viva card when you get on. You have to enter via the front door of a bus, and the card reader is by the front window.

Tram 28: this is a tourist trap from Martim Moniz metro that goes through Alfama, then along the front, and then up to the northwest of town (from which it’s easy to get to Alcantara)
Queue up on the east side of the square, the trams are small and old-fashioned and leave when full, so it’s hard to get on anywhere else. Locals dislike it because it’s full of tourists, and there are not many alternatives.
You can also get a Sightseeing Bus version of the tram if you have their ticket, or take a private tram tour, but both of these obviously cost a lot.

This is almost entirely cobbled, through most of the city centre, certainly in Alfama (the old town), and even alongside some major roads. Wear the most comfortable walking shoes you have, eg Nike Air Force Ones, Clarks Active Air. You are going to be going up and down hills to rival San Francisco! There are several e-scooter and e-bike schemes that can be found around town, as well as terrible tourist tuk-tuks. But walking is unavoidable.

Lisbon Card:
This costs €45 for 72 hours, and in our opinion is not really worth it. It does give you bus, metro, tram and train access, including those to Sintra, Cascais, Azambuja and Setúbal. However a Metro/bus/tram day pass is only €7 and you will walk most places. Also it only gets you free entry to 4 or 5 decent museums, doesn’t include many others, and most of its offers are for out-of-town excursions.
It does enable you to skip the line at Jerónimos Monastery and the Belém Tower in Belem, if you were planning to see those anyway. Other good museums included are the Tile Museum, the National Pantheon, and the National Museum for Contemporary Art.
You can buy it online, or at Lisbon Airport, or at tourism offices.

Tourism Offices:
Ask Me Lisboa, at the Airport (07-22), Centro Tejo (on the waterfront by the Arch, 10-13, 14-19), and Praça do Comércio (to the west of the Arch, 10-19) 


Foundation Calouste Gulbenkian
M Sao Sebastiao or Praca de Espanha
20 minutes south of Marriott – see pavement notes above
Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman – amazing displays of one man’s collection

Money Museum (Museu do Dinheiro)
Banco de Portugal, Largo de S. Juliao, just north of Rua do Comercio
Free museum with coins dating back 4000 years, banknotes, a café and interactive exhibits.
The building itself is magnificent and worth a visit. In the basement is a wall dating back to the 13th Century.

National Tile Museum
10-13, 14-18 closed Monday
Portugal’s ceramic heritage from the 15th Century, including a large display of what the city looked like before the earthquakes

Carmo Ruins, Largo do Carmo in Chiado
A ruined church with artefacts dating back to the 4th Century
Mon-Sat 10-18

Museu da Agua (Museum of Water) is spread over the whole city, with aqueducts, reservoirs, a steam pumping station, and fountains
It’s best to start at the Barbadinhos Steam Pumping Station near the Tile Museum, and then follow a walk following a map given out there.
Rua do Alviela 12

National Museum for Contemporary Art, Rua Serpa Pinto 4, Chiado
A former convent renovated in 1994, now presenting temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection from the 2nd half of the 20th Century to the present day
10-20 closed Monday

National Pantheon
A church converted into a national monument for Portuguese heroes and heroines
At the top of Alfama, with a great view of the city from the dome’s balcony
Near Santa Apolonia metro on the Blue Line
10-17 closed Monday


Rua Augusta Arch, Rua Augusta 2
Three centuries in the making (because no one could agree on the design) this gateway to Commercial Square can be climbed by going to the entrance on the east side of Rua Augusta and paying €3. There’s a lift and 74 stairs to climb for great views over the river, up to Alfama, and to see the gridded layout of the Rua Augusta district immediately to the north. It’s as high as the Elevador but not as high as some of the hills on the way to Alfama. There is a clock room with historical displays.

Sé de Lisboa (Lisbon Cathedral) is Lisbon’s first church from 1147.
Largo da Se, on the way to Alfama

Don’t pay (or queue) to go up the Elevador de Santa Justa. Instead, on your walk round town, follow the path to the right of the Carmo ruins, bear right and go up more steps, make your way past the Bellalisa Elevador restaurant and access the viewing platform that way. More of a climb, but worth it.

Pilar 7 Bridge Experience
Avenida da Índia, Pilar 7 da Ponte
close to Alacantara-Mar station on the waterfront
An exhibition and tower with views of the Ponte 25 de Abril, regarded as one of the most stunning bridges in the world (and also features twice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).


Aside from the large amount of tourist tat shops, scattered throughout the main thoroughfares and concentrated in Alfama, there are places to buy genuine Portuguese handicrafts and decent souvenirs of Lisbon.

El Corte Ingles
Av. António Augusto de Aguiar 31
near Parque on Metro Blue Line
The 7th floor has a food hall with tins of sardines, biscuits, chocolate, wine and olive oil. The supermarket on level -1 has the same sort of things but a more demotic range. It’s worth visiting the International Desk on the ground floor at the main entrance on, as showing your passport will get you a voucher to use in the 7th floor “Cafeteria” for a pastel de nata and a small port wine, though we would recommend it as a lunch destination too, with good outdoor views.

Avenida da Liberdade
Main shopping street from Marques de Pombal down to Rossio.
As well as shops, embassies and hotels, it has many statues of Portuguese personalities.

Armazens do Chiado downtown shopping centre
Rua do Carmo 
handy for McDonalds, Starbucks, and a lrage FNAC

LX Factory, Alcantara, to the west of the city, is an open-air village of shops, including design, bookshops, bikes, food, plus lots of cafes

The Portuguese Concept: Rua Nova do Almada 26, Chiado, and LX Factory in Alcantara

A Vida Portuguesa, Rua Anchieta 11, Chiado, for soap, magnets, toys, pottery, 

Tourist Information Shop, locations above

Bordallo Pinheiro
Lettuce-leaf shaped dishes and bowls are just the tiniest part of this ceramics collection
Av. Guerra Junqueiro 28 D

Ceramicas na Linha, Rua Capelo 16, Chiado

If it’s just sardines you are after, there are 2 main shops that sell a massive assortment of beautifully designed tins:
Mundo Fantastico with model fairground rides and sardines
Loja das Conservas

bookshops in Chiado:
Livraria Ferin, 27 Rua Nova do Almada, from 1840
Livraria Bertrand Chiado, 73 Rua Garrett, the “oldest bookshop in the world”

Feira da Ladra (flea market) in Alfama, take the Blue Line to Santa Apolonia and walk up, it’s a bit glum with people’s belongings strewn on blankets, but worth a stroll to see the odd things people are trying to sell


Bakeries have different names, depending on their range: pastelaria, confeitaria, padaria
We recommend Pastelaria Sacolinha in Chiado, but there are hundreds to choose from

For savouries:
bacalhau – cod, smoked, you can buy giant ones in supermarkets
bolinhos are fishcakes, iscas are fishcakes with egg
rissoles, croquetes and folhadas
befanas or bifanas are pork sandwiches

Time Out Market concept, a food hall that is so busy there are no seats, in a domed 19th Century market hall called the Mercado de Ribeira. Be prepared to queue.
Avenida 24 de Julho, opposite Cais do Sodre station on the waterfront

Back at the Marriott Hotel, the concierge a recommends 2 restaurants in the neighbourhood, less than 10 minutes walk, both run by locals for locals. We haven’t tried them, but that was usually because we were full from a hearty lunch!
Carvoeiro de Palma, Rua Antonino e Sá 9, bookings on +351 21 726 4018
Xico Rolo, Rua General Firmino Miguel 10C, bookings on +351 21 895 4816
For a local fast food option, the Burger King up the hill is a 10 minute walk.

Visiting Belem:

Depending how much you want to see, you could spend up to a day in Belem. With the Tower and Monastery, not to mention the Palaces, there’s plenty to visit. However the queues are several hours long, and even having a Lisbon Card doesn’t enable you to skip the lines much.
To get there from Lisbon central, you can take the bus or the tram, or the train (though a €7 day pass is not valid on the train).

Jerónimos Monastery
1000-1730 closed Monday

Belém Tower
1000-1730 closed Monday

MAAT, the Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology
A giant curved building by the sea, and in the old power station next door.

Museum of Folk Art (and Traditional Crafts)

Henry the Navigator (Monument of the Discoveries)
A grand monument, not just a statue, showing the quest for the New World.

CCB (Cultural Centre), Praça do Império
This has an amazing café, Padaria da Esquina, popular with local office workers, selling every type of filled pastry imaginable, savoury and sweet.

Visiting Oriente:

Oriente Metro station is on the red line, and from there you can take a cable car with views of where the Expo was held

Day trip to Sintra and Cabo da Roca:

Trains run from Rossio, Sete Rios, Entrecampos and other Metro interchanges every 10 minutes to Sintra. You have to buy a Carris/Metro/train day ticket for €10 instead of a Carris/Metro day ticket for €7. Or you can just get single fares – it is around €3 each way. But beware! There are 2 train companies – Fertargus (red) and CP Urbano (green). You need to use a green ticket machine AND validate your ticket in a green barrier!

Sintra is in 3 bits – the station (tourist hell, everything claiming to be a Tourist Information is actually trying to sell you a tour), the old village (with the National Palace), and the modern town. Then literally MILES away are the big hitters – the Pena Palace, the Quinta da Regaleira, and the Moorish Castle. We didn’t do any of those, but you will have no problem getting them by bus or tuk-tuk. Don’t try to walk or cycle!

Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point on mainland Europe (aha, of course Ireland is slightly further west). There’s a gift shop, restaurant, toilet, lighthouse (not open to public), and lots of very cold-looking tourists. Bring a coat and a hat that won’t blow off. You can probably get 30 minutes out of it before you start looking for the bus back.
You have 3 transport options:
Bus 1253 leaves from Sintra station, you can pay in cash or by card on the bus, and it’s €3 each way. It’s a little minibus that rattles along and takes about 30 minutes. It’s meant to leave every 20 minutes but can vary from that so be patient!
There’s also bus 1624 from Sintra’s modern town centre (search for Florista Camelia to find the bus stop) which is a bigger bus and is a bit slower.
Your third option is from Cascais, also bus 1624, every half an hour, from just outside the historical centre.
If you are catching the 1624 back from Cabo da Roca, don’t get on the Cascais bus instead of the Sintra one (or vice versa)!
Ignore websites that talk about “Bus 403” – everything has been reorganised and renumbered in the vast Carris transport network.

Day trip to Cascais and Estoril:

Trains run from Cais de Sodre, just west of Commercial Square, every 20 minutes, and it only takes 40 minutes. You have to buy a Carris/Metro/train day ticket for €10 instead of a Carris/Metro day ticket for €7. Or you can just get single fares – it is around €3 each way.
The walk from Cascais to Estoril is only 25 minutes, taking you past 4 beaches, Carcavelos station and reach the beach in a 5 minutes pleasant walk on a wide and tree-edged sidewalk.

20 December 2022

24th December 2022

Along with everything else that happened in 2022, one of the highlights for Adam was getting a freebie from Rymans Stationers, just by sheer determination and Chutzpah.

We are please to introduce you to our new little friend, who lives in the hall, and has been given his own set of tinsel and lights. It's MR CLASSWIZ the giant calculator.

A very happy Christmas to you all!
Sarah & Adam xx

23rd December 2022

A few random things to fit in on the penultimate day:

As usual, the Swedish Royal family have a much better Christmas than ours. Princess Estelle, Prince Oscar, and their parents Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel are going behind the scenes of the ballet Cinderella, and charming us with their brilliant family dynamic.


Every year people work out the "Twelve Days of Christmas" inflation index, looking at the total cost of all the gifts mentioned on the 12th day. This year it has gone up by 10.5%.

Even the Three Kings would have been hit by 2022's record inflation. Their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh have kept their value in the commodity markets, reports Waitrose. Gold is around £1500 an ounce, up 40% on last year, and is used in phone technology as well as for jewellry. Incense costs £300 a kilo, harvested from the sap of the boswellia tree. And myrrh, from thorny commiphora trees, is £400 a kilo.


If you were horrified by the M&S Panettonut, or by Christmas Pudding flavour crisps (They. Are. Real.) then you may not like this next photo. It's a Nando's seasonal special:

Plus some extra present ideas - you've still got 24 hours to buy them!

1) Aesop hand cream - as recommended by Cantabkitty and Biltawulf, 2 of the finest tweeters you will find
2) Margaret Howell calendar of classic Isokon furniture. Only £15 and the profits go to Open City, a charity making cityspaces more accessible and equitable.