Monday, 27 December 2010

New Year Resolutions

1. Continue to campaign for better public transport. It’s heartening to see Elgin community council calling for the piss-poor Inverness-Aberdeen train service to be upgraded. And interesting to note the comment from the authorities that a ‘feasibility study’ has been carried out into improvements.

2. Continue to battle the numpties who think a snowy winter is a sign that ‘global warming’ must be a myth. The past decade has in fact been the warmest on record.

3. Keep on top of the recycling mountain at the back door. It’s sad to hear of the death of the creator of The Wombles. Today I tried to ‘pick up the papers and take them to Tobermory’. Well, not quite Tobermory but the newspaper recycling bins in Forres but inexplicably they’ve been removed from their usual car park. Any answers Moray Council?

4. Continue to be a traditional Scottish dad and switch off things that aren’t being used and say ‘put a jumper on’ when someone complains about the temperature. Every little does help, despite what plonkers like this guy from SEPA suggest. Turning off your phone charger when it isn’t connected to your phone might not save a lot of energy but it’s a useful way to get people to realise the implications of their actions and get them thinking about what and how much they consume. (Why are electricity meters hidden in cupboards under the stairs and why do they need deciphering by specially trained meter readers when they should be easy to understand and in full view of everyone via a big clock on the mantelpiece?)

5. Use recycled wrapping paper for future gifting. Yes, it only seems to be available in a fetching shade of, er, brown. But the recycled string comes in bright colours! It’s not often I see a politician saying something sensible but this festive message from Highland councillor John Laing struck just the right note I thought.

6. Keep on blogging!

Happy New Year from Green Dad, Wife Features and TWMBO.

Bring Me The Head Of Julia Donaldson

So here it is: the limbo-like no-man’s-land period between Christmas and New Year.

Christmas for us involved loads of fun stuff but also the usual over-indulgence and getting of unnecessary gifts. While out for a ginger walk round our icy streets on the afternoon of the 25th we saw one wise man stuffing his car boot full of packaging and torn wrapping paper, ready for an early run to the soon-to-be-popular recycling depot.

Mind you, the advice on whether you can recycle wrapping paper is pretty ambiguous. Most wrap has metallic or plastic particles, not to mention sticky tape, which makes it hard to process.

Speaking of hard to process, if I have to watch The Gruffalo or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs one more time I may slip into a sweet animation induced coma.

Todder Who Must Be Obeyed was being fractious the week before Christmas and Wife Features buckled, tearing The Gruffalo DVD from its festive wrapping and shoving it in the machine. TWMBO was utterly enthralled for all 27 minutes. Again, again!

It’s basically been on a loop since then. It’s almost a kind of white noise, a general hubbub, an orange-eyed, purple-prickled wallpaper.

Yours truly has simply added another layer to this cartoon white noise by giving a gift of the Disney classic Snow White. Something sweet and innocent I thought, unlike the cruel and crude children’s films of today. (I recently had to stop a screening of Happy Feet because the animated lady penguins kick off proceedings by shaking their tail feathers and singing Prince’s ’Kiss’. That’s right baby, you don’t have to be cool to turn me on!)

So, Snow White will be as innocent as its name suggests, right? Wrong. Within the first seven minutes of this almost-decade old film there’s a genuinely creepy face in the mirror on the wall that made TWMBO run for cover, the Queen asks a huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill her, and to prove he’s done it he’s told to bring back her heart in a box. Happy Christmas little children everywhere!

In the end it’s a wonderful film full of completely charming set pieces (Hi-ho!) and is at least an alternative to the Gruffalo-thon.

For years I lived without a telly and I wonder what my little person would turn out like growing up without TV. Having said that I am the world’s biggest film fan (Guinness Book of Records currently adjudicating) and actually approve of some children’s programmes. (How can you object to the dancing shapes on Mister Maker? Or bumbling explorer Rapids ’Keep em peeled’ Johnson from Gigglebiz?)

While TWMBO got the Gruffalo and Snow White to start her DVD collection, Wife Features was lucky enough to earn a box set of early Columbo mysteries. I don’t half spoil the little lady.

It turns out not only does Wife Features have great taste in husbands but in old telly. Peter Falk really does ratchet up the tension with his crumpled raincoat-wearing, cigar chomping, head-scratching detective who on one hand seems to be baffled and out of his depth yet on the other is ultra-observant and unnervingly smart. And at the end of the first episode some real twists. Music by? Henry Mancini. Directed by? Just some guy called Spielberg.

It was enough to make me want to watch it again.

But perhaps not quite as many times as I’ve seen the Gruffalo.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Supermarkets Have Super Powers

Tonight's Panorama reassured me I'm not unreasonable in holding grudges against supermarkets.

If you didn't see the show click here to view on the iPlayer and click here for the associated news story.

In short, the stranglehold of supermarkets is getting tighter and the consequences for the quality of our food and the environment are deeply worrying.

Even more worrying is the herd-like instinct of many people, politicians and planners here in the Highlands who think big out-of-town supermarkets are a good thing.

I attended a recent community council meeting at which Sainsbury's bumper stickers were being handed out. Needless to say I didn't take one.

While I understand consumers craving choice the answer is not a massive shed of a shop that you have to drive to and in which you buy bland overpackaged food sold at knock down prices that put small producers out of business, damage independent high street retailers and only provide unskilled, uncertain jobs.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Junket And Flummery, Attorneys At Law... Or Possibly Puddings

What was it Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss used to mutter? Poppycock and flapdoodle?

Well, apparently, that’s what you’re supposed to feed an ill toddler.

Oh no, wait a minute. It’s bunkum and flim-flam. Widdershins and rumbledethump? Talcum and hogwash? How about Randall and Hopkirk?

The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed had a tummy bug the other day. An ill baby is a nerve-wracking experience for a new parent. Particularly when you read in the equivalent of the Haynes manual that they should be fed "bland food" when they’re sick - "nothing milky or fatty; indeed ‘junket and flummery’ are recommended".

I’m sorry. What and what?

These instruction manuals that come with babies are supposed to be clear and reassuring, not full of dodgy sixes and risky eights from Countdown.

Anyway, after twenty-four hours of nothing more than soya milk and grapes the wee one was peachy again. Indeed she felt the need to catch up and kept us awake till 10pm and gave us a 5am start the following day. (I say ’us’. Wife Features’ recollection of events may differ. In which case I’m not saying anything until my solicitor gets here.)

Reading about funklet and jummery (it turns out one is a traditional Scottish dish involving, surprise surprise, oats and takes at least 48 hours to make, and the other has brandy in it - perfect if you want your kid steaming - mind you, it is the Keith Floyd recipe I found) reminded me of the bizarre and occasionally inappropriate foods tucks TWMBO has enjoyed. The manuals say not to worry about toddlers refusing to eat delicious, nutritious meals - just keep trying different things and eventually some will find favour.

To date our little gastro-gnome has scoffed cocktail sausages, stringy processed cheese, cappuccino foam, shortbread dunked in ketchup, kipper on cream scone and possibly a couple of jingly bells from the Christmas tree.

But her taste buds are in for an explosion… For Christmas dinner desert: Butterscotch Angel Delight.

Satsuma Wrestling

As Green Dad I do my best to recycle and boy does the food packaging mount up when you have little people!

Previously when it was just Wife Features and me our recycling consisted of bags and bags of glass from weekends going blind on cocktails thinking we’re Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. And a hallway overflowing with all - and I mean all - the Sunday newspapers.
But these days it’s the cardboard recycling bin at the back door that fills up the quickest, followed by the plastic milk container bag.

It’s all very well recycling but the best way to be green is reduce the need for packaging in the first place. I love the refills you get of washing up liquid and laundry liquid. If only there was a similar scheme for milk. Imagine putting an empty glass bottle on your doorstep at night and finding a fresh pint in the morning. What a dreamer I am!

And it’s not just packaging that makes green types see red but BOGOFs too. I remember trying to buy a single satsuma in M&S way back in the days when we had warm weather (yes, I am so old I remember life before the current Ice Age) only to find they were only available in those bags made from Rab C Nesbitt vests. And to make matters worse they were Buy One Get One Free. I took one bag to the checkout only to be told I should have picked up another one. I explained there was no way I’d be able to eat 24 satsumas before their expiry date, no matter how juicy, seedless and easy to peel they were.

And what’s more I was on a bike and my bag was already full. But the cashier wouldn’t take no for an answer and I was duly badgered into assisting the depletion of the M&S Satsuma Mountain. I then had to cycle back to work with a string bag of citrus fruits dangling from each end of the handlebar, like some tropical version of a stereotypical French onion seller.

To this day co-workers wonder where that Satsuma on their desk appeared from. By posting this blog entry my secret identity is revealed. I am Satsuma-man. ‘Satsuma-man, Satsuma-man - does whatever a Satsuma can…”

Monday, 20 December 2010

Little Horror Of Shops

Some of my best friends work in retail so I had better be careful what I say here.

Western consumerism sucks.

Driving back from the Metropolis with a boot loaded with goodies today I heard a piece on the radio about the amount of ‘unwanted gifting’ that goes on. It was in short a plug for a popular auction website masquerading as Radio 2’s attempt at financial journalism. It turns out it's one of the most popular websites on Boxing Day.

We (and I bet that includes you) do buy a lot of useless tat, don’t we? We feel the need to give something, anything at this time of year.

One of the worst traumas of my childhood (no, not the one where a transmitter problem meant Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade with replaced with the Grampian Sheepdog Trials) was going to fetch something from the back of the cellar in our block of flats in Germany. I stumbled across several bottles of Old Spice. I quizzed various relatives and presented my shocking dossier of evidence to the old man. It transpired he’d never had the heart to tell me he couldn’t stand the stink of that aftershave and had squirreled away several years’ worth of Christmas presents, creating a highly flammable arsenal of emotion.

Anyway, the frenzied need to buy buy buy was palpable in Inverness today. The shoppers I passed in the Eastgate and on the High Street all had that hungry look in their eyes. The upstairs bit of M&S was a sea of adrift gentlemen who have to idle their motors while the missus buys frilly things. These guys of course have a plan for the perfect Xmas gift: Whatever is on sale at the petrol station on the way home from work on Dec 24. “Crushed flowers in cellophane and a Dire Straits CD? You shouldn’t have…”

And blimey the chuggers on the High Street were either brave or deranged today. “Spare a minute for a quick survey? I’m not asking for anything.” Yes you blinking well are asking for something and what’s more you’re asking in sub zero temperatures literally hours before Christmas. In parallel with its relaxation of lorry drivers’ working time rules and late arrivals at airports to beat the Big Freeze perhaps the government could ease the rules around whacking chuggers to a cheery pulp with their clipboards.

Mind you, I did get a good bit of schadenfreude today when a swarm of chuggers sitting in a café spilled something all over their ruddy clipboards. Hooray and humbug!

Speaking of schadenfreude and my memories of pungent German cellars I took my mum shopping in Aldi. Shh. Don’t tell Wife Features. I want the suspiciously cheap sausage I bought for Christmas dinner to be a surprise.

In fact, Aldi did OK for a reasonably ethical (picky in other words) shopper like me. The veg I bought was all Scottish, as was the chicken and loads of other stuff. I couldn’t see anything labelled organic but the fruit was Fairtrade. And of course the beauty of Aldi or Lidl is the random nature of the store. I swear the line up in one aisle went like this: chicken, Haribo, thermal underwear, dog biscuits, cottage cheese.

Anyway, at least it means fewer of my pounds going to Tesco and what‘s more the place was almost deserted so I got what I needed in good time.

I lived in Germany in the 80s so I’m familiar with bright orange sausages in a jar of yellow fluid, massive ingots of marzipan covered in dark chocolate and tins of cola where you really can taste the vegetable extract.

Oh, and I remember a couple of years ago when the Aldi was being built in Inverness (at the roundabout between Telford Street and Kenneth Street) and due to professional purposes I learned the name of the man overseeing its construction. Mr Liddle.

Now, I wonder how the Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will react to the new brand of nappy she‘ll soon be wearing: Einmalwindel auch bekannt als Windelhoschen. Sehr gut!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Crumbliest, Flakiest Of Problems

An interesting change in my attitudes since becoming a dad has been the charities I support. Previously I worked for a broadcaster that had its own charitable trust raising funds for a wide variety of small good causes throughout its transmission area. I would give my time for free each year to help with an on air auction and even raised funds myself, including a bike ride from Inverness to Aviemore which I think generate a few hundred quid.

It was local charity for local people. (I bet you’re picturing me wearing a headscarf, padded jacket and smiling with bucked teeth.) I remember feeling slightly upset when the trust was taken over by the radio station’s German owners who imposed a children-focused charity as this was what its biggest station in the central belt operated. In marketing terms it was seen as a successful brand they could roll out.

But it made me wonder why kids were so important - surely a general charity would reach all parts of the very many communities served?

While I’m still unsure of the motivations behind that cause, I realise I’ve taken much more of an interest in groups that work with youngsters since becoming Daddy. I’ve been supporting this amazing charity, Room to Read, who do brilliant work in troubled parts of the world giving children, particularly girls, access to books. And a good friend of ours is out in Nepal supporting vulnerable kids there. Take a moment to check out My Small Help.

You can also support kids by buying chocolate. Seriously. As long as it’s Fairtrade. Read more here about the perils of buying non-Fairtade confectionery. Sorry to be blunt but basically you’re complicit in child slavery.

And while you’re at it, make sure to check the length of your Toblerone.

My top tip for new parents at Christmastime? Don’t buy an advent calendar with little chocs behind each door! Wife Features thought I was Lord Boring of Boringshire when I pointed out my advent calendar when I was a boy was the same one every year and only had pictures - no sweets. So, a calendar promoting the traditional Yuletide message of “a glass-and-a-half of milk in every bar” was purchased on 30 Nov.

Toddler WMBO loved opening door one but couldn’t understand why door two had to wait till the following day. A mini tantrum ensued.

Next year: I’m going to hang up twelve pairs of socks, each containing a sprout. That’ll learn her.

Baby You Can Drive My Car … If You Can Afford The Petrol

"Two thirds of drivers are cutting back on journeys, cutting back on other expenditure, or cutting back on both.” To anyone even vaguely ‘green’ this quote sounds like a dream come true. What sort of cunning incentive can the authorities have devised to drag people out of their cars?

The quote is from a lobbyist who benefits from increased car use and he actually means it to sound negative - as in fewer car journeys are a bad thing. Click here for the full story about how the latest petrol price rises are apparently putting people off driving.

Living in the Highlands, albeit reasonably close to the main Metropolis and with a trunk road tearing through the middle of my wee town, sometimes a car is the only way of getting about. But if we’re serious about cutting carbon emissions to minimise our impact on the global climate we’ve got to make some tough decisions. Just because you live somewhere rural and remote does that entitle you to pollute the planet?

Rather than faffing about with populist nonsense like fuel price reductions for islanders those in power should be doing all they can to provide clean alternatives. Better public transport and investment in electric and biogas cars.

It’s December which means the new train timetables are out (although they’re as much use as a chocolate fireguard at the moment - I appreciate the severity of the snow and ice but every winter almost every day the Inverness-Aberdeen line is disrupted due to ‘frozen points at Inverurie’ or similar) and the route I use most often is a great example of Scotland’s feeble excuse for public transport.

The earliest you can get into Inverness, the Highland Capital, the administrative hub of the north with its useful connections south, is twenty to eight. Useless. The latest you can leave the city is 9.20pm. So don’t go having notions of taking in a film or eating out. Bizarrely you can get into Inverness by train at midnight from Aberdeen and go the other way at 5am. I have witnessed these ghost hour trains and they’re usually completely empty. Apart from little old bemused me.

What’s more the ticket prices are going up again, apparently to fund investment in the system, but nothing is planned to benefit my area. You can travel into Inverness from the north or south - places like Aviemore and Tain - for pennies thanks to a commuter scheme but if you’re coming from the exotic Far East (Nairn) it’s over a fiver for a return and sometimes as much as £7.

And just to rub in how much environmentally responsible travel you’re missing out on, Scotrail have a widget on their website that tells you the carbon cost of your journey compared to going by car.

When the trains are on time and running at a time convenient to us and don’t cost a complete fortune The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed and I have jumped on for a few hours’ diversion in Inverness. The train ride itself, although only 15 minutes, is a great adventure. There are other passengers to annoy or make smile; there’s the thrill of TWMBO getting to hand the ticket to the conductor for him/her to put an indecipherable squiggle on; there’s the hilarious lingo about ‘uplifting belongings from vestibules’ and ‘taking cognisance of the slippery underfoot conditions’.

If you have a toddler you really can let the train take the strain. As long as it’s a short distance!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Quiet Time

There’s a song on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon about time. Something about frittering away the hours and how each year seems shorter.

Having a kid certainly alters time. When I think back to just a few years ago and all those Saturdays I spent mooching around the shops and drinking coffee with friends, my head swims at such luxury (or waste, depending on your point of view).

Parents of new babies always look tired and it’s understandable. But what I didn’t appreciate was this: it’s permanent! You never get those lost hours and days back. They are a write-off. Babies even when they become toddlers don’t know Sundays are usually for lie-ins. So at 6am they’re champing at the bit and it’s generally frowned upon if you leave them to rattle their cup against the bars of their cage, er, I mean cot.

Picking our wee one up from nursery today it was remarked she hasn’t had a daytime nap for ages. I’ve noticed this at weekends too. Occasionally she’ll get grumpy around 4pm and you can tell she’s fighting to stay awake. I love the idea that she’s realised how brilliant life is and why on earth would you want to sleep through any of it.

Looking for a bit of reassurance I found some comments on line including this piece which recommends creating a daily Quiet Time in place of Nap Time. Dim the lights, snuggle up and read a lovely story or two. Sounds great for The Toddler but, oh no, what’s this? Am I unhappy at losing my daily break from micro-managing her? I think I am. Bad Dad.

Previously I’d use the hour to two hours of Nap Time to get things tidied around the house, make food and even treat myself to a decent coffee (memories of those endless Saturday caffeine sessions come flooding back) and a read of a grown up book.

I did remark to the nursery folk that while little people get out of the nap habit, when you get to my age (I’m ancient - mid-30s. I remember when there were only three TV channels.) you could actually do with a wee snooze after lunch to recharge your batteries. I am genuinely jealous of those warm countries where Siestas are part of the norm. I wonder if the UK workforce would be more productive given the opportunity for power naps in offices? Replace all the swivel chairs with recliners padded with luxurious upholstery…

I shudder though when I think of a friend whose work sometimes involved a late shift followed by an early shift with a departmental bed available for the four hours in between. At some point she asked whose job it was to change the sheets. ‘Change the sheets?’ came the reply. Uh oh.

Added to the constantly changing sleep patterns of children is the fact that I’m a bit SAD. Seriously, I slump almost the second I get home on dark evenings and struggle to drag myself awake on dark mornings. It’s always seemed mad to me that what little light we get, especially in the north of Scotland, at this time of year we waste by sitting inside offices. There is of course this plan to switch us permanently to BST. The proposal has its ups and downs. It will apparently help reduce carbon emissions but could spell disaster for Blackpool tourism.

Rather than messing about with the clocks wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could adjust society’s start and finish times to enable us to take advantage of scarce daylight? Start a bit earlier and finish a bit later and take longer for lunch. I already try to get out during the day to go for a quick bike ride or walk. It’s amazing the difference a bit of fresh air and brightness can make.

It means I’m all the more alert when I pick up a grumpy Toddler at teatime.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

As Hendrix Said: Crosstown Traffic - So Hard To Get Through

Being ‘green’ often seems to involve self-punishment. You find yourself doing something which you started with the best of intentions and a warm smug glow but suddenly realise is difficult and annoying.

Think of those occasions doing the recycling when the lid comes of the jam jar and your trousers get smeared with Baxters’ finest, attracting some nearby wasps, causing you to leap, dropping your bag of glass which shatters across the car park underneath other people’s tyres. What? You mean this never happened to you?

Today I took action to increase the amount of biking I do. One noticeable difference since becoming a dad is time for cycling - indeed, time for anything - is cut back like a Tory-Libdem budget. Slashed. (But not decimated. This means to reduce by one tenth. Please pass this knowledge along.)

Most days I drive Wife Features and The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed into Metropolis, drop them off and drive to my work but I realised if I leave the car at nursery I could cycle the last couple of miles to work, thereby reducing fuel consumption and improving my health.

Good in principle but in practice? Nightmare! Well, maybe not nightmare but something in the same class as the glass shards and wasp attack buffoonery described previously. I hadn’t checked my bike lights and one was dud when it came time for the cycle away from work in the dark so a back up light had to be sourced. I then had to negotiate the choked roads of the city with a major dilemma.

When you’re cycling faster than the traffic do you overtake it on the left or the right? If you go on the left you’re squashed against the kerb and risk bashing into wing mirrors or losing balance in a pothole or sunken drain cover. Many motorists sitting in a jam seem to think it’s necessary to pull in to the left. What’s that about?

If you go right you are basically cycling into oncoming traffic which might be OK in the light but this is the Highlands in December. It’s also quite common for motorists with the patience of a crack addict to suddenly throw a U-turn to get away from the queue, inviting any passing cyclist to lob themselves over their handlebars.

I’ve said it before: Cyclists! We want the moon on a stick.

There doesn’t seem to be anything definitive in the Highway Code - it just says motorists should give cyclists the same room as a car when overtaking. Nothing about what cyclists should do when overtaking cars. But here’s a lively discussion I found. It seems going left is universally acknowledged as asking for trouble.
So, how difficult would it be to create a dedicated cycle lane on some of the main roads around Inverness? Think of the benefits to congestion, pollution and health. And not to mention my blood pressure. There will be council elections in 2012. Guess what I’ll be badgering the candidates for!

The Answer My Friend Is Blowin' In The Wind

I like a wind farm. Some people don’t. To my mind they are a symbol of hope - hope that we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels and nuclear.

I grew up in East Lothian near a coal power station, open cast coal mine and nuclear power plant. On my most recent visit to the Garden of Scotland I couldn’t help noticing loads of wind farms have sprung up in the Lammermuir Hills and at Soutra on the A68 down to the Borders.

Yes, the skyline has changed but surely it’s changed for the better? To reject these clean sources of energy because it spoils someone’s view is madness. Of course they must be sited sensitively like any development but it frustrates me when people don’t see the big picture.
There was coverage recently of an appeal against the rejection of a wind farm on Cawdor Estate. The quote from the local NIMBYs? 

“We will continue fighting to stop these industrial windfarm developments which will be so damaging to the environment and tourist economy and which will produce no overall benefits to the Highlands.”

So, renewable energy damages the environment does it? And you think they’ll put people off visiting the middle of nowhere? And the Highlands won’t benefit from the clean energy and community funds generated?

If you want to know more about the proposal for yourself click here. It seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Latest info suggests Scotland is well on the way to hitting its renewables targets, which is great news. I was startled to learn this stuff about Denmark the other day. Population: 5 million. Number of people employed in wind farm sector: 29,000. Wow. Just think how Scotland’s economy could be revolutionised for the better.

But like the entire climate change debate (A friend asked the other day if it is still a debate? Surely everyone gets it by now? Sadly, no.) the wind farm debate looks like being dogged by misinformation and NIMBYism for some time to come.

George Monbiot voiced a conspiracy theory the other day which I didn’t think about too much until I noticed these comments: this letter in the Inverness Courier and the response here at the bottom of the Caley Merc article. Eerily similar and complete misinformation.

He’s right. If we feel strongly about this stuff it’s not good enough to believe it ourselves - we have to keep a check on what those against it are putting out there. I’m buckling up for a bumpy ride!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Food And Drink For Thought Down The Longman

One of my chief Dad duties was accomplished today. No, not the boiler service. No, not catching that spider you think you saw. The Recycling.

We have bags at home for paper, card, glass and plastic. To recycle three of those four items you have to go to the main waste sorting centre in the Longman. It's a wonderful if slightly whiffy place, although not as bad now the neighbouring fish factory has closed.

The guys who work there are as cheery as Dick Van Dyke on a London rooftop and it's pleasing to see latest recycling rates are almost 80 per cent. I'm sure this could be improved if recycling was made easier - and I'm told in the not too distant future we'll have two wheelie bins for collection on alternate weeks. One for recyclables and the other for normal evil rubbish.

One of the greatest excitements of The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is on a Monday when The Bin Lolly comes. Starring? The Bin Lolly Men. Their massive yellow monster truck scoops up the green bins and the men give Toddler WMBO a wave and a smile. Her awe is awesome. What is it with binmen and bin lorries? It seems to be a toddler thing.

Anyway, while down the Longman I had to put my glass into an overflow bin. One of the Dick Van Dyke characters told me all the bottle banks had been emptied on Saturday but were now completely full. What's going on? Are Invernessians purging their drinks cabinets of crusty containers of Tia Maria in preparation for some forthcoming mighty feast?

Meanwhile I'm sorry to see the Real Food project by Inverness High School is downsizing. I used to pick up veg from the wee shop they had in the Victorian Market and later the stall in the Eastgate. They stocked Cromarty loaves - possibly the best bread in the world. Still, the school garden remains. Indeed, there are other signs the idea of homegrown produce is gathering momentum. The Nairn Allotment Society has quite a waiting list and is close to starting work on a new patch round the corner from me. Maybe I'll dust off my spade and fork and see if Green Dad has green fingers.

Anyway, back to the Longman and I'm pleased to say most of the glass I recycle turns out to be jars of pasta and curry sauces and not Babycham. But there may be gin and vermouth containers in the next run. I hope to persuade Wife Features to join me in playing The Thin Man Drinking Game on Christmas Eve. Tell me - you don't need to get up early or be sober on Dec 25 when you've got a kid, do you?

Flash Mobs To Take On Tesco?

Squirreled away in John Swinney’s Scottish Budget recently was a proposal to increase business rates for big retailers and out of town retail parks. The idea is this will assist small businesses and town centres.

I see a lot of merit in it but as Mike Smith of the Inverness Business Improvement District points out, the Terry Leahy’s of the world will be lobbying hard against it. He suggests ‘flash mobbing’ the town centre traders into action. Oh my.

It has given me some flash mob ideas for Sneck. Feel free to pinch these. Just let me know when we’re doing them and I’ll be there…

1. Suddenly all the customers in Leakey’s start asking him to charge realistic prices for secondhand books.

2. Everyone turns up with a harmonica, guitar and drum to create the Bang On Boogie Orchestra at the bottom of Market Brae steps.

3. Loads of us wear seagull costumes and hang around Falcon Square waiting to be fed by idiots and tourists.

4. Crowds with bad taste queue outside Next at 7am on Boxing Day. Oh. Hang on. I’m told that one’s already taken.

A Bridge To The Far Side Of Inverness

Green Dad Picture Exclusive!

As this startling image reveals, Highland Council's 'consultation' on how to cross the River Ness and Caledonian Canal is a sham. Clearly work has already begun.

Oh, er. It's a weir. Probably been there for ages as well.

Anyway, will you be expressing a preference for one of these five options? They all seem pretty similar to me - and equally baffling.

Why can't the Southern Distributor Road (or Trunk Link Route as its seems to have become) just go straight across from the Dores Road roundabout and connect with the A82 at the entrance to Craig Dunain and the Crematorium/Cemetery? Why all the faffing about going through rugby pitches and Whin Park?

Some of the press coverage of this now-legendary dream of a crossing has talked of easing congestion. Is that really what's driving (pardon the pun) this? Getting HGVs away from the city centre makes sense but if it's more general traffic management surely any bridge should be accompanied with some measures to encourage Invernessians to get around their wee city using public transport or - dare I suggest it - by walking or cycling.

As it stands the SDR/TLR has generous paths at the side so cycling along it isn't an issue, although there are a billion (slight exaggeration) roundabouts so no sooner have you built up a bit of speed than you have to look behind you, slow down, go up and down a few kerbs and resume. Blimey... Cyclists! We want the moon on a stick we do!

I look forward in just a few years to being able to cycle right round Inverness, all the way from Tesco at the Retail Park to Tesco at Holm Mills, pausing along the way to admire the Tesco at Inshes and the Asda at Slackbuie. Maybe Inverness should copy Edinburgh and get trams. They could call it the Trolley Bus because every stop would be a supermarket.

I do hope whatever crossing is built over the river and canal that it looks good. I'm unhealthily obsessed with the majesty of the Kylesku Bridge. It shows you can have form and function. Inverness is a city of bridges and this new crossing could be a real asset in one of the last remaining chunks of green space.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Politics Is Snow Joke

Last week if you’d asked Joe Public to name any of Alex Salmond’s Scottish Cabinet I suspect you’d have been met with puzzled looks and an eerie silence. This week however I bet most folk could name ‘the guy who looks a bit like Father Jack from Father Ted - you know, the guy responsible for the bad weather’. They mean Stewart Stevenson who quit at the weekend after the other parties and the tabloids ganged up and accused him of not stopping snow falling in Scotland in December.

Personally I think the forecasts had been clear for some time and anyone venturing out was doing so at their own risk. It’s amazing what little bubbles of worlds we live in - safe in our warm cocoons, stepping from our house into our car and into our office without having to breathe much fresh air or take too many steps. Or observe what the weather’s doing and why it’s sometimes a good idea to take a jacket and a flask of tea.

Amid any political stooshie it’s usually worth watching what the Green Party say. During the childish tantrum festival that was the debate on minimum pricing for alcohol they were the only non-SNP guys who gave a considered opinion and were for it. They said: No, it’s not perfect and only a small part of the effort to tackle Scotland’s drink problem but it’s better than nothing and we can save lives by doing it straightaway.

A similarly thoughtful comment has appeared on the subject of Mr Stevenson and his Snow Balls Up from Green council elections candidate Gavin Corbett.

Guilty Pleasures

To many people what I was doing in that steamed up car in a car park in Forres the other night was nobody else's business. How I get my kicks is private and each to their own.
 But in the interests of full disclosure (and before I am court martialled by a committee of Green Gods chaired by Judge Monbiot) I feel it necessary to explain...
 Last weekend The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed had kept us on our toes round the clock (at least that's what it felt like) and promptly fell asleep in the car just before teatime. Silence is precious so Wife Features nipped into Tesco (other hideously large supermarkets are available - although not really in the Highlands unless you go to Elgin where there's an Asda) in Forres to stock up. Not before I'd popped into the in store branch of Costa for a soy capuccino.
 That's right. I sat in a car outside a Tesco while drinking a Costa coffee in a takeaway cup. And I loved it.
 I am birching myself as I type. Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow.

Literally Making A Good Point

In between the day job, the fatherhood and the community do-gooding you'd think I'd have no time for anything.

But the other day I spotted an opportunity to do something good for the environment, a local community and my own health.

I dragged along a friend to help clear gorse bushes and thorns from parts of Carnac Point in Inverness to improve the view from the path and benches which overlook an area frequented by herons, seals and dolphins.

In case you've never heard of it, Carnac Point is opposite the harbour - a spit of land into the Moray Firth forming the final stretch of the western bank of the River Ness and just a stone's throw away from the boundary of the Merkinch Nature Reserve. (For the record I didn't throw a stone to prove this although I am a nifty skimmer with a good flat pebble and a calm sea.)

My mum-in-law used to live in Merkinch and was a keen walker. Seriously, Zola Budd had nothing on Mrs S who loved fresh air and the wonderful opportunities for strolling Inverness provides. Just think of the Caledonian Canal, the Ness Islands and so on. I'm sure she would have approved of our handiwork.

BTCV (It used to stand for British Trust for Conservation Volunteers but apparently the corporate line is to forget the acronym and insist it is a brand - rather like the WWF people who get twitchy when you call them the World Wildlife Fund) are involved in the Green Gym initiative. It tidies up bits of ground for communities to use while providing outdoor physical activity. Genius!

The pal I dragged along to help clear the gorse says he plans to muck in with future BTCV events. I'd encourage you dear blog-reader to do likewise.

The Kids Are All Right - Just Don't Have Too Many

This blog is an attempt to make some sense of the baffling life I lead. I try very hard to be ‘green’, especially as I became a dad for the first time last year. But therein lies the dilemma. One of the worst things you can do in terms of carbon emissions and depleting the planet’s resources is to, er, well - have a kid.

I love being Daddy - the challenge is to minimise my impact on the planet and raise my little person to hold the same ideals. I've been thinking of blogging my endeavours for a while. Peter Preston has spurred me into action with this tough-talking article.

I'm not a member of a political party and in the grand 'green' scheme of things I'm pretty normal - I have a mortgage, a car and have just plugged in the Christmas lights. But I love my bike, hate to see waste and get freaked out in really big supermarkets.

I believe the best way to make our society kinder to the environment and more ethical is incremental changes rather than the 'you're either with us or against us' attitude many green campaigners emit.

If I had oodles of cash and oodles of time I'd stick a windmill on my roof, install solar panels, dig an allotment and only ever take the train but hey - I live in the real world.

But back to Peter Preston's population problem. If we’re serious about the long term liveability of the planet then we should explore the idea but he's right - which politician is ever going to dare suggest people have fewer kids?

Usually what puts people off having babies is the messiness of parenthood and the enormous weight of responsibilities. And that's the crux of my dilemma: I wouldn’t give up the messiness and responsibility for anything.

I am Green Dad. I fully intend to do the recycling but first I need to scrub some crayon out of the carpet.