Friday, 16 December 2011

So This Is Christmas And What Have You Done?

That’s a good question. What have I done? More precisely, what have I done in the year since starting this Green Dad blog?

Here’s the first post.

I pretty much stand by it. I wouldn’t give up the messiness of parenthood for anything. Although one crucial point needs updating. Namely where I said I wasn’t a member of a political party.

Not long after starting the blog I realised we were in for an interesting Holyrood election (the polls back then suggested Labour would regain control from the SNP) and it was clear to me whoever took the big seat in Bute House I’d rather they had Greens whispering sweet nothings in their ear than Libdems or Tories. So along with a like minded pal I joined the party.

They say a week’s a long time in politics but blimey Einstein was on the money when he made his theory about time being relative. A week may be long but a year seems like a split second. How come?

All will become clear. At this stage all I can say is in the space of twelve months I’ve gone from not being in the party to heading for the heart of it and for the heart of Scottish politics. It involved a big decision recently with the blessing of Wife-features and soon she, I and Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will be flitting.

We’ll be sad to leave behind the Brighton of the North - in particular the olde worlde charms like early closing on a Wednesday, the black and white weekly newspaper with no web presence and the determination among natives to give directions to tourists using romantic landmarks such as ‘the sewerage bridge’ and ‘the maggot’.

Seriously, the Sunniest Town in Scotland is a gem and I do feel very emotional about our departure. It’s a hell of a creative place. This year saw the passing of the great yet modest Ken Ramage, creator of the jazz festival which I hope is resurrected here. My old pal Swinton-features did some looney tunes stuff with a bingo hall and a filmhouse on wheels which a bunch of us then emulated and made permanent by creating Cinema Nairn.

And something tells me it will take an army of bouncers to prevent me from making a bee-line for the home baking tent at next year’s Nairn Show.

A lot’s happened in the past year - Toddler’s gone through more changes in personality than a well fed and watered Gremlin. But in a nice way. Being a dad is great and Nairn’s been a great place to be one.

And of course there’s the ‘allopman’ as TWMBO calls it. Our experimental patch of mud ten metres by ten metres will soon have a new keeper. Wife-features is planning to leave behind a map showing what we planted and where. (Non green-fingered readers should note rotation of crops is important.)

I’ll do my best to maintain the Green Dad blog and don’t forget I’m on Twitter: @greendadtwit.

Actually, looking back, maintaining the blog was one of my new year resolutions at the end of 2010.

As for the others?

Better public transport? I’ve lobbed by tuppenceworth into the Rail2014 consultation. Have you? The SNP government seem to think it’s a good idea for us to stand longer and pay more. I’ve asked for free wi-fi and more space for bikes on trains. I am a dreamer.

Battle the numpties? I’ve kept an eye out for sensible wind farm developments and written letters of support, challenging the NIMBYs to put forward an alternative rather than the usual hysteria and myths.

Recycling? Nice one Highland Council for introducing a blue bin.

Put on a jumper? Today I wore two as the temperature didn’t get above freezing.

Wrapping paper? I recently learned a friend uses pillow cases tied with ribbon when gifting at Christmas. Genius!

Blog? This is it and I’ll do my best to keep at it.

Now, let’s get ready to move. Packing up a house while keeping a toddler calm over Christmas? Piece of cake, I’m sure…

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Green Dad Christmas Appeal : Help The Daily Mail

Please give generously to the Green Dad Christmas Appeal. Think of those poor unfortunate souls at the Daily Mail who have difficulty interpreting simple documents and adding basic sums.

Let's raise some funds to give them the primary school education they clearly missed out on.

The appeal has been prompted by their latest hilariously inept attempt at spreading myths about renewable energy.

Here it is.

The headline says "Electricity bills to rocket by 25% because of 'green' targets, says Government".

It references a report by the Committee on Climate Change. (Which isn't 'government'.) The report is available here.

As you can see there is no such claim about 25 per cent. In fact it says 16 per cent of the increase in bills in the past six years can be attributed to green measures including energy efficiency. 84 per cent was due to wholesale costs, distribution and the fact the government has ramped up VAT.

The committee's own headline explains quite clearly the rising cost of gas is what's driving up bills. Surely proof we need to switch to renewables sooner rather than be afraid of them?

Meantime I suggest you chuck your Daily Mail on the fire. It'll create a carbon emission but one that's morally justified.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

It Was Acceptable In The Eighties

Super fun video by Friends of the Earth Scotland about a serious subject. Get ready to jack your body, as I believe the expression goes...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

When’s A Bypass Not A Bypass?

When it’s a “trunk link road link”.

Inverness, queen of the Highland fleshpots, has boomed in recent years with gargantuan amounts of suburban sprawl. A “Southern Distributor Road” was created linking the Inshes roundabout (near the A9, Police HQ, supermarket, business park and Raigmore Hospital) with these Brookside (does anyone remember the soap that begat Hollyoaks?) style estates, skirting the south side of the city and eventually ending at a roundabout on the Dores road.

That roundabout on the Dores road for years featured an optimistic turn off dead end suggesting further development towards the River Ness was planned. So far another Tesco has popped up.
Highland Council are consulting yet again on plans to extend the distributor road - sorry, trunk link road - across the river and the Caledonian Canal and connect with the A82 road to Lochaber. They’re calling it the West Link. The Inverness Courier has even run regular articles on the issue with the strapline: Build the Bypass. The Courier and others in the media keep referring to it being ‘long awaited’ and how it will ‘cut congestion’.

But as the council’s planning chief confirmed this week, it’s not a bypass. It’s purely to enable further suburban sprawl development. And of course evidence elsewhere shows if you build more roads you get more congestion.

Scottish Government aren’t offering a bean as they don’t see it being of strategic importance. The stats support this view. Only a third of the traffic on the A82 in Inverness is through-traffic. In other words the vast majority of the traffic causing congestion in the city centre is local. Surely the answer is to cut the congestion, ie reduce car use perhaps by investing in decent public transport or cycle routes? This would have the added benefit of reducing people’s fuel costs, cutting air pollution, making streets around our schools safer and maybe helping some folk get a bit of exercise. But sadly, no, that’s not an option the council have considered.

Instead they want to spend tens of millions of pounds of Highland Council tax-payers’ cash on a road that isn’t a bypass, isn’t of strategic importance and is purely to help developers who aren’t short of a bob or two. I can think of better uses for my money! Can you?

A Christmas Tree In The House? Are You Crackers?

Toddler recently watched the Christmas lights being switched on in the Brighton of the North. She loved it.

But when I asked if she was looking forward to us getting a tree in the house and decorating it she looked at me as if I had two heads.

I asked if she remembered last Christmas (she was 1 and a half). Not really. I explained she helped Wife-features and I decorate the tree. Nope, don’t recall.

Again I suggest we’ll be getting a tree for the house. No, daddy, don’t be silly. Trees go outside!

If I was really Green I’d love this - the sustainable way of enjoying Christmas is surely not to bother having a tree never mind choosing between plastic and an FSC approved real thing.

But heck I like a tree. Where else are my daughter and my missus going to put my presents?

We’re Building A Library In The Cellar

It’s a rite of passage. The messing up by a child of something important to an adult. I bet you have your own examples.
Wife-features and I had been blessed with mostly angelic behaviour till recently. Our luck has officially run out.

Last weekend as we prepared for Toddler’s first long train trip (two hours to Castle Greyskull aka Aberdeen) it seemed a book given to our little angel had quickly disappeared. Upon quizzing Toddler says it’s under the floor. This of course makes no sense. But she’s insistent.

In our dining room we have floorboards and there are some paper thin gaps. Ah. Paper thin. You see where this is heading.

I locate the one loose bit of board we have for accessing cables and pipes and take a photo. That’s what you see on this page. Bottom left. A sad and lonely book. No hope of retrieval. It will be discovered like a Blue Peter time capsule when our Victorian terrace is bulldozed in 50 years to make way for an additional on-ramp for the Nairn bypass.

No great shakes. But Toddler topped this the other night.

Wife-features and I were having an intelligent grown-up conversation. At which point my internal alarm began to ring. Normally we don’t have time or energy and it wasn’t quite bath time/bedtime yet. Uh oh.
Toddler appeared in the hallway at this point looking like a ghost. Clarted in white gunk. Sudocrem. The antidote to nappy rash. I dashed to her bedroom. Sudocrem in the carpet. The antidote to clean carpet. Arg.

Old wives apparently recommend covering the greasy splodge with brown paper and ironing it to absorb it. I was half tempted to throw white wine and salt on it or some sort of solution involving vinegar and lemon juice. (Can you tell a few years ago on days off I watched back to back episodes of How Clean Is Your House?)

Instead some anthrax-style chemicals were sourced and the carpet was given a good scrubbing. There’s a pale patch so I’ll probably give it another go just to be sure. Toddler is sorry, apparently. I’m pleased to say both WF and I remained calm. The wee lass is only two and a half. My worry though is now she’s set the bar so high what’s next?

In discussion today with Green Gran it seems I still have “top trumps” when it comes to the kid-wrecks-adult-thing.

I reckon I was about five or six years old. I was outside our house happily playing. I looked up after hearing my dad yelling and could see him barrelling towards me with a purple face and a mouth as round and as big as a hula hoop.

What was I doing?

Nothing. Honestly.

Well, apart from sitting on top of our Renault 4 spreading gravel on the roof.

Where does Toddler get her cheeky streak from I wonder?

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Brighton Of The North Turns Into Tinsel Town

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Urgh. Well, actually, no. More like: ahhh. Interestingly (and I use the word selfishly) my attitude to the early onset of tinsel-encrusted festivities appears to have changed in the short space of a year.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been one of those gurners who tut at the arrival of selection boxes in the shops in October. But maybe because this Christmas will be Toddler’s third and most meaningful to date, I’ve mellowed. In fact I’m really looking forward to it. When I say meaningful what I mean is her first Christmas she was only nine months so hadn’t a clue what was going on; when she was one she was overloaded with toys and actual had most fun with cardboard boxes.

Toddler has developed a great wee personality and will be great fun over the holidays (although my holidays are shorter than most - I’m working on Christmas Eve Saturday and on Mon 2nd and Tue 3rd Jan - cue the pitying strains of the violin) and a reminder of what really matters - presents! Er, sorry, that should have read “family“. It’ll just be the three of us on the big day and I’m looking forward to a snug time.

It’ll be difficult to avoid getting into the spirit as the Christmas lights switch on is at the end of our street this Friday. It’ll be Toddler’s first. This year we tried her on her first fireworks display and oh my it wasn’t a hit. More than just a damp squib. She was slightly terrified and we had to retreat to the safety of the car to wait for Wife-features.

I’m sure it’ll be plainer sailing at the lights switch on. The thrill of watching a balding electrical contractor in ermine and chains press a button! My favourite provostian moment (I’ve invented a word and I like it) was at Bonfire Night at Bught Park in Inverness many moons ago when the wonderfully dour Bill Smith greeted the huddled masses with an utter crowd-pleaser: “Aye, well. At least it’s not raining.”

But back to the present and presents. We live in a consumerist society and it’s pretty hard not to buy things simply to have something to give as a gift. In recent years Wife-features and I have resolved to be a bit more circumspect - this year WF has offered to make things for people and there’s already some funky chunky knitwear whizzing through the post in a jiffy bag for an old pal down south. I won’t be getting a knitted item as last year I received The Melter - officially the thickest jumper on earth with a tog rating that makes a space shuttle tile look like rice paper. I have a tendency to give secondhand books as gifts - you find some hilariously appropriate things in charity shops. It means I’m recycling, giving to a good cause and shows I’ve put some thought into who I’m giving the gift to.

Toddler loves cooking so I’m also hoping we can fob off (I mean delight) our friends with some home baking. Surely it adds to the magic of the season when you find a lump of baked purple play dough or the head of a Lego man in your scone?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Parallel Playing

I’ve been revisiting the Dr Spock book - surely a compulsory purchase for a new parent. I had skimmed through it in between Wife-features’ contractions but heck that was two and a half years ago. Time for a refresher course.

It turns out there’s a thing called Parallel Play. Our Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed has been doing it a lot recently. It means she’s perfectly happy being in the same general area as other kids but they don’t share toys or play the same games. I had to drop off some half melted half burnt biscuits to Toddler Group the other day (saving WF’s bacon it would seem as she elevated me to the status of a superhero) and I noticed the room was buzzing with bairns but all of them doing their own wee things.

We paid some friends a visit the other weekend and TWMBO was the same with their two kids, aged four and seven. Of course there were shared activities including painting, watching That Pig Cartoon (I can’t bear to say her name - she’s almost as omnipresent as anything by Julia Donaldson) and having a bath. Three kids aged 7, 4 and 2 sharing a bath? Yeah, we’re Green all right.

As for TWMBO’s playing with me, I’ve come to really value the time we have when I get home from work and before tea/bath/stories/bed. She’s always delighted to see I’m home and creates the most surreal games with strict rules. The other night I was marched back and forth loading and unloading shopping from a bag while it was explained her shop had unusual opening hours and required the return of the goods even after they’d been purchased and no I couldn’t have a refund.

As the days shorten (only four weeks till the shortest day though - just hang on in there) and temperature drops the opportunities for outdoor play lessen. The temptation is to bung on the TV or a DVD but I’m keen we find something more creative rather than passive. I have a week off work next month and I suspect my colleagues will picture me using this precious pre-Xmas time to bustle about getting all my shopping but in fact I plan to spend it being marched about by a two year old shopkeeper.

Waste Watchers

Some nice ladies from Zero Waste Scotland came to our workplace the other day to raise awareness of, er, zero waste. In particular food waste.

They had a wee survey to fill out which I did and one of the ladies look it over and looked a bit crestfallen. There isn’t really anything else you can do is there? You’re doing it all already!

It seems common sense thrifty behaviour is much sought after. I don’t understand why so many people throw away so much food.

I’m pretty good at snaffling any leftovers. The last batch of soup I made was too much so the remainder went in the freezer. I avoid BOGOFs - one of the many reasons to hate supermarkets. And we have a compost bin. I paid £5 for it and walked through the middle of Inverness on a Friday night wearing it to get it home so I‘m jolly well going to use it!
The conversation with the ZWS posse quickly turned into a discussion about favourite vegetables and recipes. A debate raged about kale versus spinach. I think I prefer kale. We recently picked some from the allotment and Wife-features did a really tasty thing involving garlic and onions. The missus also lifted some baby beetroots - they’re earmarked for roasting. Mmm, mmm!

Down at the electric allotments it’s gone very quiet. Most veg has been harvested and some people have started to cover over their soil to stop any weeds arriving before the spring. I’ll probably get down there soon to turn over the ground a wee bit and cover over. We plan to do a lot more with the plot next year - this year was our first go and what with having a sudden handover of the site in April and priority Toddler duties we did the basics - dug and weeded the ground, built a fence, got a shed, threw in some tatties and onions and enjoyed a chinwag with the neighbours as well as some lovely moments of peace and quiet.

Back to food waste and Wife-features recently had an audit of the kitchen cupboards, discovering about seven different varieties of vinegar. Some were past their best so had to be disposed of. But I do think we’re getting better at not overbuying and trying to use what we’ve got before we pile new stuff into the cupboards and fridge. I always remember my gran’s “press” - the scullery cupboard next to the back door. The bottom shelf was packed about two feet deep with tins - everything from butter beans to peaches. The next shelf was packets of dried things like semolina and chicken noodle soup. The top shelf was sweet things like sugar, golden syrup and cake mixtures. You can tell she lived through the war and rationing. If for any reason we’d been confined we could have lived and eaten well for several months.

You rarely see canned goods in shopping baskets these days - it tends to be fresh and I suppose more likely to be forgotten at the back of the fridge so it goes off. We should probably try to get through as much as we can to create some space in our cupboards for the inevitable Christmas indulgence. Toddler can look forward to sardine and sweetcorn sandwiches for lunch tomorrow! Glace cherries drizzled with seven kinds of balsamic vinegar for afters anyone?

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lights, Gloves, Action!

Aye, the nights are fair drawing in. The mornings are proving sluggish too. And come to think of it, it’s a bit grey during the day as well. Yup. Welcome to Winter.

The last couple of nights have been very clear - great for Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed’s fascination with the moon and the stars - leading to frosty windscreens and the temptation to crank the central heating up a notch.

This time last year Wife-features and I had our daily routine involving our workplaces, TWMBO’s nursery and a car. Now I’m back to my old routine of bike and train. Suddenly I notice the main difference between winter and summer cycling.

Most of the year (I’d say March to October) I simply leap on my two wheeled steed and push off to where I need to be, maybe with a casual glance at the sky and if rain is threatened I’ve probably got a waterproof jacket in my bag. On particularly fine days I can dress fairly smart and because I don’t wear a helmet and have panniers for my bags I arrive at the office or meetings looking, well, normal.

This time of year is totally different. For example, leaving the office tonight I had to make sure I had collected not just my bag but my gloves, woolly hat, fluorescent jacket and lights. Instead of leaping on the steed I had to fix the lights, zip up the jacket, pull on the hat, pull on the gloves and then strip down at the other end. It doesn’t take any time really unless you’re a foggy brained doofus like me and are forever leaving something behind.

A cycling pal recently experienced a foul mouthed rant from a motorist ticked off that my pal didn’t have lights on his bike. He did - it’s just the batteries had run out. It made me wonder why motorists behave like that. If it was me I’d politely point out the lack of lights assuming the cyclist hadn’t realised. This time last year we would routinely see dozens, literally dozens, of cars going between Inverness and Nairn with defective headlights. I do recall a study carried out which showed how beneficial to wellbeing and stress levels cycling is. Even in the cold and the dark a quick bike ride at either end of the day certainly makes me feel healthy, awake and connected to the world.

My Daughter Makes Late Night Phone Calls. She Is 2 And A Half.

It is 9pm-ish. The telephone rings at Green Dad HQ.

Me: Hello?

Caller: Hello Sir, is everything all right? This is police headquarters and we’ve had a number of 999 calls from this number.

Me: Er, what?

Caller: 999 calls. We’re just checking everything’s OK.

Me: Ah. We have a toddler. And a phone in the spare room next to hers. Sorry about that.

Caller: I see, sir. This isn’t the first time, is it? Could I just take your details…

Me: Sigh…

"Leaf Slime" Promising Start To Rail Roulette Season

Scotrail are “Hotrail” if you believe the hype. This hilarious play on words was one of the headlines I saw when the train company unveiled its plans to cope with another bad winter.

I cut them some slack last winter as it was the coldest period for 100 years. But I’m not sure I take much comfort from their strategy which seems to be to keep people informed rather than maintain services.

The Aberdeen-Inverness line is a joke at the slightest hint of nippy conditions. If I had a quid for every time I turned up at Nairn station to be told about ’frozen points at Inverurie’ or similar I could buy a year’s season ticket to the damn place.

Hence my recent enthusiasm for signing up for train email alerts. You tell the Scotrail website which services you regularly use and whenever there’s a delay they ping you a wee note, which pops up on your BlackBerry if like me you have one and assuming the mobile networks are working!

So far it’s been useless. Same goes for checking the website and calling their call centre.

On one occasion a train I was hoping to catch was said to be running a few minutes late and then five minutes before it was due to depart it was cancelled. On another occasion the website said a particular train was running but that’s not what the travel bulletin on the radio was saying so I called the call centre to be told of earlier problems on the line but the later train I was aiming for was OK. I duly made my way to the station loaded with newspapers and a hot coffee only to be directed towards a coach. “Leaf slime” on the line was the cause.

So, I have little faith in the trains coping and little faith in the accuracy of the information to enable me to amend my activities accordingly. As a result my strategy has been to cram in as many Central Belt meetings now before the temperatures drop and prepare to pull up the drawbridge in the coming couple of weeks.

And when the snow arrives even Inverness will be an adventure too far. As I speak wi-fi is being installed on my work laptop in readiness for my retreat. The Ice Age cometh!

Inverness-Nairn Cycle Link - The Uphill Struggle Continues

Some of you keener blog readers down the front who’ve been taking notes will recall my enthusiasm for a safer, more direct cycle route between Inverness and Nairn. Progress is slowly being made on this project of social, economic and environmental importance (or whimsy depending on your view) and I’m dreading the thought of having to fill in mammoth funding application forms to make it a reality. But that’s hopefully where it’s headed.
I secured backing for the idea from Nairn’s three community councils, VisitNairn, Historic Scotland who run Fort George, Fergus Ewing and David Stewart MSPs and Sandy Park convener of Highland Council, although Sandy seems to think development in the A96 Corridor will take care of it.

Meantime Highland Council are trying to develop a coastal path between Inverness and Nairn and this could provide one of the key links for a cycle route - helping cyclists get from the outskirts of Inverness at either Allanfearn or Balloch the short distance across to Castle Stuart where they can follow the coastal B road to Ardersier and then to Delnies and Nairn.

Sustrans the national sustainable transport charity are supportive but I’m seriously worried for them as the SNP government has slashed funding for sustainable transport. Mr Swinney’s budget is roads, roads, roads. Disappointing.

Joining Highland Cycle Campaign has really helped me make progress on the Inverness-Nairn issue. If you feel strongly about cycling please give HCC your support and tell us what to tackle next.

Allotment Can Happen In Seven Years

7 years of marriage. What did I get Wife-features for our anniversary the other weekend? “An itch?” was one cheeky suggestion from a colleague.

I think I excelled myself with my gift: a box set of DVDs of The Good Life. That’s right. All 12,000 hours of Tom falling over pigs, Barbara making her own clothes, Jerry swigging gun and Margot looking repulsed by everything.

Actually, WF loves it. Apparently it’s a great way to get knitting and ironing done. Ah, that’s my girl.

We’re not quite Tom and Barbara (the Goods) but thankfully neither are we Jerry and Margot. I actually felt envious watching one episode where at the end of a hard day’s graft the Goods were slumped half sleeping in front of their secondhand wood-fuelled kitchen range. There is a tendency to think of the Green way of life as simple but actually as Tom and Barbara demonstrate it’s a lot of work if you want to be self-sufficient.

As for our allotment, WF has done a grand job (in between knitting and ironing) with some curly kale on the plot but everything else has been lifted and the soil dug over. Everything apart from the beetroot which we reckon must be baby beetroot as they don’t seem to be getting any bigger. I think the soil will get another turn and then we have some material to cover it over to await the spring. I’m already planning a fortnight’s holiday around April time for a frenzy of planting.

We’re still eating tatties from this year’s harvest and I put our onions to good use rediscovering my love of a cheese and onion sandwich. Ah, the tang and the crunch!

We’ve also invested in some cold frames. I say invested but in fact they were a bargain - we picked them up at Moray Waste Busters in Forres. We will probably go back there even if there’s nothing we need. It’s an amazing place with a great wee secondhand bookshop and a vast array of toys which kept Toddler occupied for ages.

Someone else’s junk could be just what you’re looking for…

Veggie Good News For Organics

On nearly every count – on cost, resilience and energy – organics come out superior to conventional agriculture.

More info here from the New Economics Foundation on the results of a big study.

Permit me a smug glow - Green Dad the Organic Allotmenteer. It's just a shame the supermarkets hike up the price, putting people off buying organic. Yet another reason to grow your own or buy local.

So Long Solar

"Since the scheme was introduced in April 2010, it has seen 100,000 solar installations, the creation of more than 22,000 jobs and almost 4,000 new businesses."

Sounds like a scheme that should be expanded or at least protected.

But, er, no. Instead it's headed for the tip thanks to the government slashing the feed in tariff. (I should point out the government is consulting on this but its consultation closes a fortnight after the new tariff takes effect. Clever!)

Panorama On Gas Bills - A Lot Of Hot Air

"In the last year wholesale prices put about £170 on gas bills alone, while support for renewables added £20 to combined bills. So which did the TV show focus on?"

Damian Carrington has some good questions for those slipshod hacks at Panorama.

Our gas bill is about to go up by £15 a month. I bet many people getting similar letters will have an automatic reaction: bloody wind farms. Many thanks to the Daily Mail and now Panorama for perpetuating this myth.

Energy prices like petrol prices are only going up. We need to invest in renewable home-grown sources now or the next generation will be stuffed. Those who object are being utterly selfish.

Hooray! A Lock-In! Oh. It's The Wrong Kind Of Lock-In. :o(

"Anything built from now on that produces carbon will continue to do so for decades to come, and this 'lock-in' effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change." More details here on the latest warning from the International Energy Agency.

Thank goodness we're not building any more fossil fuel power stations in Scotland then! Ahh. Wait a moment. What's this?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

"While only 9 per cent of pre-school children can tie their shoelaces..."

"...about 20 per cent can play an app on a smartphone."

Read more here in the FT - companies are targeting children's "tablet aptitude". Jeepers.

Tonight TWMBO and I read The Tale of Peter Rabbit. By picking up a book. And turning the pages. I fail to see how that could be improved.

Technology sometimes gives me the vapours. A spoonful of camomile tea please...

Tree-mendous Talk At New Monthly Meeting For Moray Greens

Green Party members in Moray are shifting their activities up a gear with monthly events in Forres featuring hot topics for all to enjoy. Whether you're interested in environmental issues, social justice or simply want some sparkling conversation why not give them a go...

The first event will be an interactive talk on woodland culture and the restoration of Scotland ’s forests, by poet and author Mandy Haggith. The event is open to all, and will take place from 7.30 to 9pm on Wednesday 26 October in the upstairs lounge of the Carlton Hotel, High Street, Forres.

This year, 2011, is the International Year of Forests, but in Scotland our forests are mostly long gone and replaced by plantations of exotic conifers grown as cash crops for pulp and fuel. There is, however, still a rich heritage surrounding our native trees, not least a traditional link between the letters of the alphabet and woodland species. This interactive talk will take ivy as an example to explore how efforts to restore Scotland 's forests can be informed by our woodland culture.

Mandy Haggith is a poet and author with a passion for trees who lives in Assynt. Her novel, The Last Bear, won the Robin Jenkins Literary Prize for the best environmental writing in Scotland in 2009. She has published two collections of poetry and a non-fiction book, Paper Trails: From trees to trash - the true cost of paper. Her current project, A-B-Tree, celebrates the links between woods and words.

There will be no charge for attending this or the next event in the series (Emma Wood’s illustrated talk on “the Hydro Boys” on Wednesday 23 November). Participants can make a small donations to help cover the speakers’ costs.

What We Did On Our Holidays

Wife-features, Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed and Green Dad are not long back from a few days on the Scottish Riviera aka East Lothian.

On our not very Green holiday (we drove as we had to visit relatives not near train stations and also didn't fancy the prospect of a three and a half hour journey in a cramped carriage with no pauses for air or exercise - but maybe next time we'll let the train take the strain, break up the journey a bit and by then TWMBO will be able to lug her own luggage) we saw...

5 tractors
23 squirrels (all grey unfortunately)
1 enormous slab of chocolate truffle cake
1 greedy daddy (me)
100,000 gannets (on the Bass Rock)
10,000 geese (approximately - they were flying overhead at sunset - what a sight!)
10 pound notes being exchanged for a plate of macaroni with only five pence change given
16 speeding motorists using dual carriageway bits of the A9 to go faster than 60mph
26 speeding motorists going faster than 70mph on the M90
1 amazing red humpbacked railway bridge across the Forth
17 twenty pence pieces fed into an on street ticket machine in Edinburgh giving ninety seconds of parking time
15 Hawick Mint Balls (blimey, sweets are £1.10 per 100 grams these days - what happened to fifty pence a quarter?)
A billion Pringle jumpers (can you tell we stayed in North Berwick?)
1 Law (with 1 fibreglass whale's jawbone at the top) and we didn't have time to climb it. Sigh. Next time...

The Nimby Event Horizon

"Perhaps when the entire landmass has been so subdivided that there remains not a single portion that cannot be identified as someone or other's backyard, then, and only then, will the property owners be able to acknowledge after all that there's something really rather beautiful about a wind turbine.

"Unfortunately, by then it will be too late because there won't be white blades whirring at the end of the garden, but black clouds belching from the chimneys necessary to power all that rural idiocy."

The wise words of Will Self in a Point of View on Radio 4. More here.

The verbose novelist was in Inverness just the other day. Maybe his journey north and back inspired his thoughtful rant.

‘Here are the jobs, here is the investment. Are you really against it?’

The words of one Bill Clinton in a fascinating interview with superhero historian Simon Schama. You can read it all here in the FT.

The jobs referred to are in renewables and energy efficiency. He says the economic case is key to winning the argument on green power:

"For $1bn invested in a new coal plant, you get fewer than 900 jobs, for solar you get 1,900 jobs, for wind turbines 3,300 jobs and [for] retrofitting buildings, 7,000-8,000 jobs."

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Sunniest Town In Scotland

Nairn should try trademarking that claim. It must be true.

Best climate? Yes. Not so sure about the 'sailing marine'.
Today I'm down in the central belt for work and everyone's huddled in jumpers trading stories about how miserable, cold and wet their weekends were. In contrast I'm a wee bit sunburnt, covered in a late burst of freckles and full of anecdotes about skimming stones on a sapphire-blue flat-calm expanse of firth ollowed by miles of barefoot walking in the sand, topped off with a quickly melting ice cream treat.

To be fair it looked quite gloomy in the morning but after lunch what a transformation!

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed had a whale of a time. She's pretty brave when it comes to paddling and we have to keep reminding her to hold mummy or daddy's hand if she's in the water. It doesn't take much of a wave to give her a wee fright.

A balmy day at the beach in October? Not a shaggy dog story, trust me.
She loves the wet sand and sinking her feet into it. And she also discovered the joys of handstands. Ably assisted and encouraged by yours truly.

We really made the most of it; after all the tabloids have been predicting snow in October. Wife-features has been knitting like a Wallace and Gromit cyborg in recent months so we're ready for any frosty onslaught. Indeed we set out for the beach wearing kagouls and woolly mitts but these were soon peeled back.

But I bet the Indian Summer won't last. My reasoning? I'm on holiday next week. Blizzards ahoy!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Trump Dreads Dreadlocks

Maybe it's his weird combover.

This piece in the Sunday Herald is fascinating.

Donald Trump - property tycoon, rare habitat trasher and bullier of pensioners - seems to think Grampian Police are his own private protection detail.

I particularly liked his company's demand to know how the bobbies would react to "a dreadlocked individual in combats on the estate in the middle of the night”.

Dreads are so 90s eco protest. Modern day environmentalists look like policemen. Doesn't Trump keep up with the news?

A quick reminder You've Been Trumped is showing at Nairn Community Centre this Monday night (3 Oct) at 8.30pm. Tickets are only £4 (£3 if you're under 18 or have a Cinema Nairn loyalty card). I saw it at Eden Court last night and was genuinely amazed and shocked to see the golf resort development from the residents' point of view.

Best bit in the film? So many to choose from but possibly the bit where the boss of STV is caught meeting Trump and describes local people as less intelligent than a dog.

After the Eden Court screening an audience member asked why there weren't people lying down in front of the bulldozers and why there wasn't wall to wall media coverage as work started. Proximity to Glasgow or London seems to be the answer. It's just a bunch of sand dunes on the west coast (Trump's words) of Scotland. Who cares?

Please show you care by going along to the Nairn screening and telling all your pals so we can prevent this sort of thing happening again.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Piglet, Puddleduck And Sweet Pea

Union Canal at Ratho
These cutesy-pie names weren't discovered during a trip to a fluffy animal sanctuary; instead I came across them while working in a roughish bit of West Lothian.

Ratho. Perfectly charming to my eye as I breezed into the village on my bike, pausing for a Mackies mint choc chip cone on one of the balmiest days of the year. But I'm told it has a bit of a reputation. "You can walk from one end of the village to the other and never leave a crime scene." I am assuming self deprecating humour is deployed by the natives.

Canal marker. Why don't we say 'betwixt' anymore?
Piglet, Puddleduck and Sweet Pea were the names of three barges moored on the Union Canal at Ratho, adding to the dreamy atmosphere of my trip.

I had work to do at Ratho and in true Green Dad style made the trip from The North to Edinburgh by train, taking my bike. From Edinburgh Park station it’s only 7 miles along the canal path to Ratho. A quiet, flat 20 minute ride in glorious weather. Meanwhile many of my colleagues probably endured jams on the city bypass.

I hadn’t expected the fine conditions so my cycling was a bit slower what with my saddle bags weighed down with waterproof jackets, gloves and woolly hats! It is Scotland and it is almost October after all.

Edinburgh City Bypass viewed from Union Canal at 5.30pm
Temperatures aside, it is that time of year. Namely the time of year to panic about losing your bicycle lights. I swear I must have about fifteen pairs of lights but come each October I can never find them and have to buy new ones. The other morning when Toddler jabbed me awake and dragged me through to the dining room for a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs I opened the blind to discovered the sun hadn’t risen yet. And it was 7am.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent...

Thinking Of Flying To Amsterdam Direct From Inverness?

Why not pay our Dutch friends a visit the green way by checking out this video. If only Inverness were like this...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Dual Is No Jewel

The opening of another wee bittie of dual carriageway on the A9 seems to be getting politicians flustered.

Meanwhile others are beeping their horn for state support for rural petrol stations.

At what point will any of these guys (and gals) start lobbying for long-term sustainable transport improvements? The cheap oil's running out so we need to see better rail and bus services pronto rather than seeing their funding cut. And in the parts of the Highlands not served by rail why aren't we seeing investment in alternative fuels or electric car charging points?

Everybody seems to have voted SNP twice at the election so I presume Highlanders are in favour of another Forth Bridge and an Aberdeen bypass.

But back to the A9. Here's a hilarious and heated conversation I had the other day. It reminded me why it ain't easy being green...

Me: I wish SNP politicians would stop banging on about dualling the A9. It's pointless.

Gas Guzzling Colleague: But what about all the congestion?

Me: The congestion you cause by being part of it?

GGC: But you get stuck behind slow vehicles.

Me: Didn't you tell me you got caught speeding recently? How fast were you doing?

GGC: 81. It wasn't that bad. The limit's 70.

Me: Not on dual carriageway. It's 60. Motorways are 70.

GGC: Oh. But 60 really means 70, doesn't it?

Me: The real investment if any is made in roads should be getting the A96 out of the middle of Nairn.

GGC: It doesn't go through the middle of Nairn. It skirts round it.

Me: Um. I beg to differ. As would the mums and toddlers crossing the thundering trunk road that separates them from the community centre.

GGC: But they (the government) have got to do the A9.

Me: So, let me get this straight. You'd rather the government spent gazillions of our hard to find pounds on dualling a very straight road on which you already break the speed limit while continuing to allow little children to dice with death and pollution on in the middle of a tourist town. Interesting.

Monday, 26 September 2011

"In one fell swoop, Scottish Salmon will reverse what we've acheived as a Green Island."

Plans for a fish farm off Eigg could scramble the island's green reputation. Read all about it here on The Ecologist website.

Are we approaching a post-motoring world?

"The percentage of 17- to 20-year-olds with driving licences fell from 48% in the early 1990s to 35% last year."

More here from the Guardian.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cinema Nairn Comes Up Trumped

“Arguably the most important film about Scottish environmental, land and identity rights to surface this year or any year.”
So said The List.

You've Been Trumped has been winning awards, wowing the critics and making life a wee bit uncomfortable for a certain Weetabix wig wearer.

It's on a tour of a few UK cities as well as Canada, Bermuda and, er, Nairn!

Monday 3 October at 8.30pm. Check out the Cinema Nairn blog. Best Pringle jumpers on!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Four Wheels Good; Two Wheels Bad?

Or so you'd believe if you followed the logic in the Scottish Government's spending review.

Wading through the stats I notice spending on motorways and trunk roads is set to go up from £557m this year to £700m in 2014 while over the same period spending on "sustainable and active travel" (which includes cycling) is set to drop from £25m to £15m.

Patrick Harvie of the Greens sums it up smartly: "Concrete trophies."

"If you want to know what Scotland could look like in 10 years..."

"...then take the 90-minute ferry journey from Scrabster to Stromness and find out."

Lovely piece worth reading here about one of my favourite places, Orkney, and how it's well along the road to our renewable future.

The Highland Nuclear Legacy

Interesting to note here that the environment agency has changed its stance to reflect the reality that the environment around Dounreay will never been clean.

Druim Ba NIMBYs Named

Re the daft decision by councillors to object to the Druim Ba wind farm proposal you can view the full list of objectors and supporters here.

Interesting to note objectors include:

Tony Davidson, Gallery Director, Kilmorack Gallery
Joe Gibbs, Phoineas House, Belladrum Estate (he appears twice!)
Hon. Kim I M Fraser, Lovat Estates (he also appears twice!)
Robert Livingstone (boss of Hi-Arts)
Terry Butcher
Ann Gloag, Beaufort Castle
RSPB Scotland
Warwick Lister-Kaye, Aigas Field Centre
20 people at "The Whins" which I'm guessing is a B&B (Sign our anti wind farm petition? That's Highland hospitality for you.)

On the list of supporters I see Norman MacDonald, Cafe 1. It's been ages since I had a slap up dinner there. If ministers give Druim Ba the go ahead Norman can expect my custom to celebrate!

Highland Councillors Know Which Way The Wind's Blowing

Well this is depressing. Highland councillors have formally objected to plans for a wind farm at Druim Ba near Kiltarlity.

They say it would have threatened a tourist area. No it wouldn't. It's a really boring bit of plantation and the wind farm would have opened it up, creating walking and cycling tracks. Oh, and clean energy rather than the alternative "do nothing" offered by the NIMBYs.

Hopefully Scottish Government will show some backbone and give it the OK.

A senior politician once told me: There's a time for leading and there's a time for following.

Clearly the councillors feel it's a time for following. The NIMBYs have been vocal and there's an election just a few months away.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Toddler Pipes Up

A definite highlight of this weekend was Toddler's reaction to seeing me appear in the living room before I headed out to the aforeblogged Alastair McGowan dinner.

I was wearing my kilt (17 years on from its purchase it still fits - if I breathe in quite a bit and shun the dessert course), brogues, socks with flashes, Argyll jacket and tartan tie.

Toddler said: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Er, no. I really felt I'd let her down.

She turns to Glan (babysitter for the evening) and asks: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Wife-features then enters the room ready to head off to Pipling-style Yogo (hence the need for Glan to babysit) and Toddler again asks: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Laughter all round and a confused kid in the middle of it. Her query was quite understandable. During the summer we kept bumping into pipers in full Teuchter regalia - at the Games, the farm show, etc.

She even does an amazingly accurate impression of a piper if you ask her nicely. One arm is pumped vigourously by the elbow while a loud "eeehhhhh" droning noise escapes the side of her mouth.

There's only one way forward. I cannot disappoint my wee girl. The neighbours are gonna love me...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

McGowan Makes An Impression At Inverness

A master of comedy.

No, not impressionist Alastair McGowan - after dinner entertainment at a swish bash I attended last night - but Climate Change minister Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart famously had to resign amid criticism of his inability to stop snow falling in Scotland in winter. He's actually a really nice guy although his pre-dinner speech had me stifling chuckles.

In almost the same breath he trumpeted Scotland's ambitious carbon reduction targets and said what a wonderful thing the new Inverness-Schipol air route is and how we should use it or lose it. Cut carbon by taking more international flights? An intriguing strategy! Maybe because you land in Holland the CO2 doesn't count towards Scotland's footprint...

In truth it's always going to be difficult for the Highlands to resist the temptation to maintain and try to grow its airlinks given its distance from other hubs of business, as well as the tourism potential. Personally I'd like to see a real push on rail - I've only taken the Sleeper once and it was wonderful. We really should make the least environmentally damaging options the cheapest, easiest and most pleasant.

As for McGowan, he was in excellent form: "Aberdeen is lovely. Just like Manchester. Except in black and white."

We learned he's a keen environmentalist, a patron of Sustrans (a cycling cause close my own heart - maybe I should have badgered him about the Inverness-Nairn cycle link campaign), doesn't have a car so travels by train and loves wind farms.

He praised the Highlands for having turbines but wondered why some people, especially his near neighbours in the south of England, don't like them yet they love olde worlde windmills. They're doing the same job - turning wind into energy. What's the answer?

"Clad the turbines in wood and open a f***ing gift shop at the bottom."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Granite Day Out

It seems I'm warming to Castle Greyskull, aka Aberdeen.

Europe's Oil Capital and World Rowie Epicentre is usually grey, cold, mildly intimidating and grey. I said grey twice. I meant it.

But occasionally the freezing fog parts and the city reveals its green spaces and lovely old buildings. And if you have time to explore, some of the shops down the lanes off Union Street are rather cool. (The Coffee House on Gaelic Lane does a super chunky veg and humous sandwich and bowl of spicy lentil soup for a fiver!)

One recent difference I've noticed is the spruce up of Marischal College on Broad Street. Now the HQ of the city council and a building containing so much granite it's a surprise it doesn't collapse in on its own weight.

Now that it's clean it's actually breathtaking to look at. Like a silver House of Commons.

Work took me to Aberdeen the other day and I put my bike on the train. I cycled up to the hospital complex at Foresterhill for a meeting then whizzed downhill to the city centre for another. Sadly the magnificence of Marischal College was slightly muddied by the fact it doesn't appear to have any bike racks. Not a single one. I had to chain my steed to a railing across the street.

As I headed for the train home at the end of the day I got excited noticing signs indicating a direct cycle route to the station that would mean I could avoid riding on hectic Union Street. Bizarrely to get onto the route you have to go up a kerb and across a pavement thronging with shoppers and tourists outside the tourist information centre. Then there's a red brick path especially for cycles that whizzes down a back road to the harbour and close to the station. Most of the red bricks were occupied by white vans. Charming.

Upon arrival at the station all three bike railings were fully taken and I had to wheel through the swanky Union Square shopping mall and out the other side to where about twenty four rails in two covered racks were completely empty.

Like I say I've warmed to Furry Boots town but its cycle provision could be a bit more joined up. Then again everyone there seems to drive 4x4s and Porsches and drill for fossils fuels for a living. Maybe when the wells run dry the beauty of the bike will become apparent!   

Pee Is For Plotting

The plotters at the Electric Allotments aka Mill Road in Nairn have been shortlisted for possible funding for a toilet on the site!

It might not sound thrilling but as this short film shows digging tatties is thirsty work and if you have one too many cuppas somewhere civilised to relieve yourself would be a great, er, convenience.

Good luck guys! The funding is from RBS (don't we own them?) and the public is invited to view the applications on Facebook, Twitter etc and then vote for the one they think is most deserving. I'll post more details if I get them.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

"Growth will include, for example, a longer rush hour, coupled with increased demands for school places, parking and accommodation."

Stewart Nicol's utterly defeatist comments in the Courier about the growth of Inverness.

Who's this Nicol guy when he's at home I hear you wonder.

He's no less than the Chief Exec of Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

He goes on to say: "These are growing pains which we will have to embrace if we want to benefit from a healthier economy, better lifestyle and increased employment opportunities for all."

Sorry Stewart if I sound like Lord Cynical of Doubtful-on-Sea but what a depressing vision you have.

Basically the message is: put up with congestion and lack of affordable housing because in the long run we'll all have lots of out of town supermarkets we can drive to, which is convenient because stacking shelves to make profits for big business will be the core of the economy.

His bizarre view is prompted by criticism of comments he made when Highland Council deferred a decision on plans for the new UHI campus at Beechwood amid public concerns over road congestion. The campus is yet another Inverness development that is unsustainable and lacks the long-term view. Yes the UHI will be good for the region but why the heck doesn't it include a railway station? The main line into Inverness goes straight through the site.

The only bunch I'm aware that has been calling for this logical joined up approach is, surprise surprise, the Greens.

Yes, let's develop Inverness but please can we lift our ambition a bit higher than "grin and bear it".

"The livestock of Europe already require an area of vegetation seven times the size of Europe to keep them in feed."

Fascinating stuff on the unsustainability of a meat-rich diet in this article by Felicity Lawrence.

Also worth noting these comments by one of the Dragons from the Den.

Friday, 9 September 2011

New Rack Joins The Pack By The Track

Hot on the heels of the Green Dad exclusive about abandoned bikes being removed from Inverness railway station I bring you thrilling news of a new cycle rack.

Not only is it metal bars rather than those stupid butterfly holder things but it's under cover!

Check it out next time you're near platforms 1 and 2 - next to the turning circle behind Debenham's.

Scotrail have confirmed to me the clearance of abandoned bikes next to the gates behind TK Maxx (who abandons a bike and why?) was simply to create space. It - and the new rack - are welcome but Inverness station could be so much better.

If you agree let the Highland Cycle Campaign know by leaving a comment on their Facebook page and they'll step things up a gear. 

Scone Request Takes The Biscuit

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is only two and a half but already she’s exhibiting signs of a pensioner.

The other day we were heading to a cafĂ© for lunch and I asked her what she thought she’d like to eat.

No hesitation: “Cheese scone and cup of tea.”

A cheese scone was sourced and duly wolfed. She had to make do with chocolate milkshake instead of a cuppa. I dunno. The kids of today. Next she’ll be asking us to turn off Cbeebies and switch on Heartbeat and pass the Werther’s Originals.

Letting The Sides Down

Great events in world history: The fall of the Berlin Wall; The first man on the moon; South Africa elects a black president; The sides come off our Toddler’s cot.

Okay, so perhaps that last item isn’t worthy of rolling TV news coverage but in our household it’s dramatic stuff.

Wife-features caught TWMBO with a leg over one of the side bars of her cot. Can you climb out of there? Yes, came the reply, in a tone of voice basically saying Duhh, of course I can!

The following morning I set about the cot with one of my many allen keys (got four bikes? You too will have an allen key in every pocket), reducing it to a wee bed. I say reducing but of course it’s really an upgrade.

In recent months TWMBO has occasionally woken up early and lies in her cot yelling for mum and.or dad to get up. I took the view that having her get out of her bed and run through to ours to poke us in the eyes to wake us up would be a more pleasant way to greet the day.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that - so far. In fact the other night it took several attempts to persuade her to stay in her bed. She kept coming through to the living room, on one occasion making herself comfy between mum and dad and when asked what she thought she was doing simply said Sitting, again with that Duhh tone.

Maybe I interpreted it rather than her inferring it. She is after all only two and a half.

It’s yet another watershed moment on a gloriously bumpy but rewarding journey. If you start to notice blog posts badly typed you can assume I’ve had my morning wake up call, aka a poke in the eye.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The first day of the working week doesn't have to be blue...

Green Mondays are back!

Come along to Blackfriars, Academy St, Inverness on the 1st or 3rd Monday of the month for some great craic, usually with a "green" theme. 6pm-8pm.

Bring topics, questions, friends. Open to all. Next session is 19 Sep.

Find out more by visiting the Highlands and Islands Green Party Facebook page.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Tay Toes And Wiggy Warms

Or to translate Toddlerspeak: potatoes and wiggly worms.

You see before you the results of tonight's harvest in the sunshine from our plot on the Electric Allotments by the babbling River Nairn.

We now have a haul of about 50 tatties in a cool, dark and dry place, ie the cupboard at the back door.

During the digging Toddler made herself right at home in her secondhand Wendy House we have on the plot. She kept bringing me cups of tea (plastic plant pots filled with dirt and cobwebs) and tried counting the potatoes but kept losing count at five.

The smell of earthy spuds takes me right back to my Papa's garden 30 years ago. The whiff of mud and veg - sweet memories are made of this, as Dean Martin almost sang.

Anyway, who's for mash?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Cable Ties Himself In Knots Over Land Value Tax

"You could replace business rates with a tax based on the value of the site; then, instead of council tax, you could have a property tax based on the underlying value of the land calculated on an annual basis.”

The words of Vince Cable the dancing business minister.

Hang on. De ja vu. Replace business rates and council tax with a land value tax? I think the Libdems will find that was a central part of the Green Party manifesto.

I dunno. Libdems. They're either secret Tories or secret Greens. If only they'd come clean.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Could animals be shaping us?

“If cows went extinct tomorrow millions of humans would die.”
A fascinating piece here in the FT looking at some new books that explore our dependency on animals and the environment, shaking our perception that this is a modern, gadget-filled world.
As a friend pointed out recently (while I expressed my regular concern that I'll never be a veggie because steak pie is so tasty) - cows are a roaring success story; they're everywhere! But a sustainable success? I don't think so.

I Miss Daddy Mondays

"It is this thought I cling to when my wife comes home and I sneak off to hide for an hour in the loo."

What thought?

Find out here in a lovely article about a dad's decision to give up his job to raise his kids.

For a few months I went down to working four days a week to spend a bit more time with Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed and I can honestly say I really miss Daddy Mondays.

Tar Sands And Green Lands

"The sense we have is that the oil sands would be developed and there is not going to be any change in greenhouse gas emissions with the pipeline or without the pipeline because these oil sands will be developed anyway."

What an utterly bizarre excuse given by President Obama's assistant secretary of state for an environmentally damaging tar sands oil pipeline.

Surely the US and Canada could, er, not develop the tar sands?

Meanwhile this piece in the FT is fascinating - a look at the race for oil off Greenland. It's the world's biggest island but with a population less than Inverness. A chance to grow the economy of the arctic Danish dependency? Or a way of furthering climate change and risking pollution to the important fishing industry?

It's weird isn't it? Everyone knows fossil fuels are bad so why do we keep going after them?

Saturday, 27 August 2011

David Byrne's Poem To The Bicycle And The People Who Ride Them

Summertime And The Living Is A Bit Damp

The increasingly frequent torrential downpours seem to have got to this Highland shopkeeper.

Top marks for wit but a point deducted for the superfluous apostrophe.

Nairn Butcher Offers Hot Dogs?

This one's for veggie readers of Green Dad.

An interesting juxtaposition of posters in the butcher's window in Nairn High Street.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Sustainable Cities

I heartily recommend this short talk, part of the TED series, by Alex Steffen about how we can make our cities more sustainable.

Something for Highland planners and councillors to consider? Oh, no. Whoops. We've already concreted most of the land around Inverness and there's more on the way. Sigh.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Tooth About Toddlers

Yay! We’re going to the Densis!

Toddler’s words - definitely not mine.

Ah, the innocence of children. Not only does our two year old actively look forward to having her teeth inspected but she’ll eat wholesome vegetables if we promise pudding and she believes she might get stuck on the moon if she goes too high on the swings.

I’m always shocked by the statistics that are spat out relating to Scotland’s poor dental health. We seem to have a nation of tiny versions of Mark E Smith.

Our Toddler has been brushing - and, significantly, enjoying brushing - her teeth since they appeared. We give her a helping hand and make sure it’s part of morning and evening routine.

I grew up mildly terrified that I’d end up like my mum or dad, both of whom have false teeth. Their dentures weren’t due to old age - they got them when they were younger than me.

My main teeth-related recollections from childhood are:

In Primary 4 being made to swish blue liquid round my mouth and spit it out so the whole class could compare plaque coverage. Charming. Around the same time the importance of strong clean teeth was being impressed upon us the free school milk was stopped. (Please note the Milk Snatcher wasn’t Thatcher. The policy was devised by Heath’s first chancellor, Iain Macleod, an islander from Lewis. He was also health minister, famously chain smoking his way through a press conference detailing the link between cigarettes and lung cancer. Tories. Don‘t you just love them?)

While at military secondary school in Germany we had to visit the army dentist. He had a reputation as a butcher. I only spent a few minutes in his chair but it did indeed feel like my mouth was being used to sharpen a set of steak knives rather than a gentle examination with a mirror on a stick. Ow, ow and ow.

The Tooth Fairy. In my day it was a twenty pence piece. What did my mum do with all my old teeth? Actually, I don’t want to know. These days kids probably have an App on their smart phone. Simply take a photo of the loose tooth and your parent’s bank account will be nudged into donating a fiver.

On a slightly connected note I had to take a photograph of some happy Swedes the other day. (People from Sweden rather than a bunch of neeps, you understand. I take my allotment seriously but not that seriously.) To make them smile I automatically suggested they all say Cheese. But this was met with confused looks. Ok, how do you say cheese in Swedish. Whatever it was it made an even worse set of facial expressions. So I asked what foodstuff we could say that bring out big smiles. Their response? Herring!

Green Dad Was Free Dad ... For An Afternoon

Sunday was Freedom Day. Not an internationally recognised celebration of shackles being cast off but rather a first birthday party for one of Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed’s distant relatives with only Wife-features required to supervise. Basically, I was offered and seized the opportunity to have a whole afternoon to myself.
Let’s have a look at the list of wholesome Dad activities for spare Sunday afternoons, shall we?

Inspect and clean guttering.
Weed allotment.
Transplant squashes from plot to poly-tunnel.
Physical exercise.
Meditation/Zombie movie marathon.

What did I do?

Well, I ate some leftover pie from the fridge. Then I fell asleep on the couch listening to Test Match Special (England’s whitewash of India was quite mesmerising and the commentary team made short work of a delicious banana and pecan loaf sent in by a listener). I took a short walk to the beach. Had a cheeky half pint in a beer garden and read some short stories. Er, that’s it.

It’s occasions like this that remind me of a boss who often said he liked to “work hard and play hard“. I commented that this sounded exhausting. I prefer to work efficiently and then relax. He’s no longer my boss.

It’s a bit like the Fawlty Towers line when the Americans boast about life in California: you can go skiing in the mountains in the morning and then swimming in the ocean in the afternoon. To which Basil comments: Sounds very tiring.

Maybe when I hit my 40s a sense of urgency will kick in and I’ll feel compelled to use every spare moment skydiving or spelunking. With a small child I think I’m entitled to put my feet up when I get the chance.

As for TWMBO’s party? It sounds like it was a riot. I don’t mean all the toddlers ganged up, set some buggies alight and looted the host’s stash of rusks. The party was held at a house with an enormous garden. So enormous TWMBO went to the bottom of the lawn and back and told Wife-features that she’d “gone for a walk in the park”.

There was the compulsory trampoline although I’m pleased to say the plaster cast quick response unit at Raigmore didn’t have to swing into action at any point. TWMBO also had a go in a miniature car, hilariously mimicking the habitual adjustments Wife-features makes when she gets in our car - seat forward, mirror dipped, etc.

It was a full on afternoon of activity for Toddler so when she arrived home just before 7pm she was zonked and had to be peeled out of her clothes and flip-flopped into jammies before flumping on her bed. She didn’t wake up till 7 the next morning! Wife-features enjoyed an uninterrupted night.

Normally I’d be all for us being together at the weekend but this Sunday seems to have hit the spot by giving us each time to ourselves. We’re so lucky. And no amount of “playing hard” would deliver the same satisfaction, I’m sure of it.

The Man Who Fell To Perth

A green buddy of mine surprised me recently with his views on the lack of wi-fi on trains. He, like me, spends a lot of time chuffing between Inverness and the lowlands. I observed that apart from the GNER (sorry, East Coast) mega train there’s no chance of getting on line while on track. My pal responded with Yes, isn’t it great!

One of the reasons I like getting the train is you can work on the move. This productivity is increased - if you’re a pasty office-dwelling thinking and writing type like me - if you can email and surf. However it seems my pal takes the view that it’s good during the working week to have some time for actual thinking, reading and digestion so the idea of being plugged in to the information superhighway at all times horrifies him.

Yes, my friend does wear bicycle clips and doesn’t own a TV. You can tell, can’t you?

Part of me agrees with him and in fact there are decent chunks of the journey - mainly between Dalwhinnie and Pitlochry - when mobile reception is non-existent so you can’t make or take phone calls.

Increasingly it seems we’re all plugged in to something, whether it’s a laptop, a phone, earbuds … it’s probably a bit sepia-tinted to think we should be cerebrally reflecting or engaged in conversation with our travelling companions rather than looking busy busy busy. I think a wee bit of wi-fi on long train routes wouldn’t hurt. Of course there’s a danger train carriages become “hot desks” when businesses should really be thinking of ways to minimise the need for employee travel in the first place.

Today’s trip was to the ancient city of Perth. I say city but of course it’s not one in the modern sense although there is a campaign. It certainly feels more like a city than Inverness. It has huge Georgian buildings, a massive grid of a city centre and has a history as a hub of trading, a seat of kings and a home to the Scots parliament. What does Inverness have? Nineteen thousand Tulloch homes.

I took a chance and took my bike with me, discovering a canal-side cycle path and walkway almost directly between Perth train station and my place of work. A ten minute journey with no traffic fumes and thankfully it wasn‘t raining - delightful. I also recommend the almond macaroons from Bayne’s Bakery. Mmm.

When I alighted at Perth I bumped into a friend also down from Inverness for his work and he observed how “green” my travel choices were. He and his two colleagues were preparing to share a taxi to their office.

I guess there’s only so much we can do by video conference, phone and email in a small country like Scotland where face to face discussions are often the best way of doing business.

Perth seems like a nice place to live and work - lots of green spaces, pedestrian shopping streets and they’ve made a genuine effort to encourage people to admire the silvery river Tay with a pretty smart viewing platform at the bottom of the High Street. I suppose Inverness has its bouncy bridges. If I had my way I’d bulldoze the Ramada Jarvis despite its Soviet Bloc charm and create a pedestrian boulevard from the train station using Union Street and going right down to the riverside. I’d also grass over the riverside road between the Mustard Seed and Johnny Foxes. It would be a place you’d want to linger rather than taking your life in your hands dodging traffic and then doing battle with the mutant seagull menace.

I can’t end this blog post on such a grubby thought. Oh, wait. I know. It’s a weird thing to get excited about, but the toilets at Perth station have been refurbished. No longer do you run in with your nose and eyes closed and hope for the best. They’re bright and clean. Attention Perth Marketing Board. I enclose herewith a new slogan for the city: “Perth - for a capital P!”

Inverness Bikes About To Become Cubes?

Here's a sad image I spotted at Inverness train station today - a bike with a ticket slapped on it.

Not a parking fine but a warning from Scotrail that the cycle has been deemed 'abandoned' and will be removed in the next day or so. About a dozen bikes seemed to have these stickers. Thank goodness I was away on my bike today or who knows!

I do wonder if the bikes are being removed to create more space or if there's a grander plan. The cycle facilities at the station are pretty rubbish. Indeed there are many signs around the place discouraging people from parking their bikes and there's only one small covered area.

Anyway, if you've suddenly remembered you had a bike and last saw it when you parked it up before going to the pub in Inverness one night I'd find that padlock key sharpish before your two wheeled steed is crushed into a cube and used for shoring up a railway embankment.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Five Fab Reasons To Like A Biker

1. In the past year new cyclists contributed £685m to the UK economy, with existing regular cyclists representing £635m.

2. Regular cyclists take 7.4 sick days per year, compared with 8.7 sick days for non-cyclists.

3. A 20 per cent increase in cycling by 2015 would save the economy £207m in reduced traffic congestion.

4. Would save £71m in lower pollution levels.

5. Would save £52m in NHS costs.

Some highlights from a new report on the many benefits of cycling.

If like me you're a "regular cyclist" this report clearly permits us to increase our smugness levels to maximum while casting pitiful glances at motorists stuck in traffic. Ahhhh, lovely.

Lairds, Tories And Wind

A couple of articles in the Herald highlight the lunacy of many wind farm objectors.

Check out Struan Stevenson's comments. The Tory MEP (can you name all six of your MEPs? That's right. We all have six - they represent all of Scotland) has used a completely inappropriate word in the fine tradition of right-wing foot-in-mouth buffoonery.

And here's a piece about how wind farms generate lots of money for rich landowners. People who object to renewable energy on the grounds it makes money for lairds are looking at the issue the wrong way round. Wind farms work and can help with our sustainable energy mix but the fact Scotland's land is owned by a handful of toffs and rich foreigners shouldn't be barrier. Instead we should be asking why the heck our land isn't owned by us.

Here's an idea. Where studies show land is good for wind the local community should be involved in any development, sharing any revenue with the landowner and getting involved with the development. It's a fact that wind farm developments with an element of community ownership always get planning permission. If we're serious about greening our energy supply why aren't we making land ownership and community involvement easier?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

"Ask A Question, Win A Headline"

Excellent commentary from the Gurn on David "Call me Dave" Stewart MSP getting some publicity by asking what Highland MSPs and councillors and community councillors should have asked flipping ages ago: why the delay with the Nairn bypass and A96 dualling?

With my Highland Cycle Campaign helmet on I asked Transport Scotland this question some months back prompting their worrying answer. This was picked up by the Inverness Courier. And with lightning speed here we are mid August with politicians realising they need to catch up and sound concerned.

A bypass for Nairn is vital for safety and air quality in the town. I don't really care about a dual A96. Better trains and buses and cycle links are most important of all. And what are our dear leaders doing about that? (Cue tumbleweeds...)

You Can Tell When It's... Leaking

The BBC is reporting this morning a second leak beneath the Gannet Alpha.

Shell say they care about the environment. (If so they'd stop drilling for oil and build some renewable stuff.)

Interesting to note the FT explains the Gannet Alpha leak is the biggest for the last ten years, with a handy graph revealing that oil leaks in the North Sea are pretty common. Almost a thousand barrels of the stuff scooshed out in 2003 for example. Why wasn't this reported at the time?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Light At End Of Wind Tunnel For Druim Ba Plans?

I've blogged before about the perfectly sensible proposal for a wind farm at Druim Ba between Kiltarlity and Drumnadrochit.

The Scottish Government is considering the scheme and Highland Council have to come up with their own formal opinion to add to the mix. If the government give the OK it gets planning permission regardless of the council's opinion.

The council have previous on this issue - officials recommending approval and members wimping out. As it again falls to a bunch of politicians, many of whom face an election in nine months, I suspect they'll follow the noise-makers and give it the thumbs down rather than provide leadership and show the Highlands is serious about generating sustainable, renewable energy. I would dearly love my expectation to be confounded.

The council tell me their planning committee will meet on 20 September for a site visit and a discussion before coming to a decision on an opinion. If only we had some Greens on the council to show a bit of backbone!