Monday, 28 February 2011

New Nairn Allotments Looking Good

"Dick and some of the Mill Road team were down earlier in the day. The scene at about 13.00. Progress has been made and things are looking good."

Breaking news (and ground) with pictures from the Nairn Allotment Society here.

I can almost taste my rhubarb crumble already... 

Study says green sector costs more jobs than it creates

Government support for the renewable sector in Scotland is costing more jobs than it creates, a report has claimed.

I've never read such bilge. It isn't 'costing' any jobs and the report hints at things like tourism but admits there is no evidence to support such a claim.

All energy sectors have had major public investments. Just think of the ongoing cost of dealing with the toxic legacy of nuclear.

We have to move to a low carbon economy. The costs to society are greater if we don't.

If the reporters who covered this report on jobs had bothered to check, the consultants who wrote it have a track record. Here you can see their report that came out against minimum pricing for alcohol. Full of holes and commissioned by the, er, um, Scotch Whisky Association. No conflict there.

Interestingly they don't say who commissioned their anti-renewables report. If you were a hack, wouldn't you ask?

Fairtrade beans do not mean a cup of coffee is entirely ethical

A slightly futile investigation into where to get the most 'ethical' cup o joe.

To be blunt, chains are bad so you really shouldn't have to choose between Fairtrade Starbucks and Rainforest Alliance Costa. But it's understandable if you're in a town not your own you'll head for a familiar name.

Green Dad travels a fair bit so here are my suggestions if you need a caffeine kick but want to dodge the big boys. I think most of these little chaps stock Fairtrade. And they're independent so your cash will support local business. And most importantly you'll remember where you are. (Seriously, the number of times I've 'come to' in a coffee chain, looked around at the identikit surroundings and wondered where the hell I was...)

Inverness: Rendezvous (the former record shop) or Mr Leakey's (the former church, now a secondhand bookshop), both on on Church Street. Rendezvous has booths, cheesy film posters and does an amazing fry up. Leakey's will do you a cafetiere of very strong java. And in the winter there's a log fire.

Aberdeen: The Coffee House. Off Union Street, down Belmont Street and on the right. Bright, airy and coffee with that proper roasted smell.

Edinburgh: The Elephant House. On George IV Bridge, just along from Greyfriars Bobby. Amazing hot chocolate.

Glasgow: Tinderbox on Byers Road. I used to work in the west end and enjoyed many a post-shift brew while staring out at the nightlife.

Aviemore: The Mountain Cafe! Rothiemurchus Estate Shop! Inshriach Nursery and Cake Den! The possibilities are endless. Well, OK, there's three.

Logie: A bit of a trek to find but Logie Steading (off the Forres-Grantown road) does proper coffee, extraordinary cake, decent salad (rather than the usual Scottish cafe offering of a lettuce leaf and half a watery tomato) and there's the super secondhand bookshop.

Nairn: Hmm. I've yet to discover a very good cup of coffee in the Brighton of the North, although the Harbour Cafe was nice for a while. Until the unpleasantness involving the ingress and egress of a pram. We are expecting good things from 'The Whyte House' in the High Street. Due to open any day now... 

Chernobyl, 25 years on

Britain is coming under increasing pressure to provide Ukraine with an extra €50m (£43m) to construct a new contamination shield over the top of the stricken Chernobyl nuclear plant before the old one collapses.

Details here.

When the world's worst nuclear accident happened, back in 1986, I was living in Germany. Signs had to be posted around our town warning kids not to play in sandpits or go on any grass in case they fell and got some in their mouth. It was a terrifying time.

And here's something I only vaguely knew: restrictions are still in place in Scotland for some farmers. "The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed yesterday that the last time the government updated the public on the restrictions was in 2009 when the then health minister Dawn Primarolo revealed 369 farms and 190,000 sheep were still affected. Of those farms, 355 are in north Wales, with nine in Cumbria and seven in Scotland. Farmers in these areas must have their livestock scanned before they are able to move them."

Food for thought.

Public want Fairtrade goods and it makes business sense

Sales of Fairtrade goods have broken the £1bn barrier despite fears that recessionary pressures would persuade British consumers to put price before ethics.

More details here.

While many Nairnites moan about the Co-op snaffling spending in the town, at least you can be sure you're only a few steps away from an ethical banana!  

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Commuters blast ScotRail 'discrimination'

An angry train user has accused ScotRail of "blatant discrimination" against passengers travelling to and from stations in Sutherland.

What do we want? Reasonably priced public transport. When do we want it? More frequently than we currently get it!

Read all about it here.

Yours truly once had the pleasure of embarking at Ardgay train station. I was the only person doing so. It was the day my old Saab conked out coming over the Struie. There is a strange stain on the pavement outside the garage to mark the occasion.

Scotland’s national forests could support up to 200 new wind turbines

Scotland’s national forests could support up to 200 new wind turbines.

Nimbys across the land prepare to reach for their green ink to write letters to newspaper editors using phrases such as 'will the lights go out when the wind stops blowing' and 'ruining the view from my house'.

Bring it on!

Meantime you can read all about the Forestry Commission's plans here.

Petrol may rise by 10p a litre over unrest in Middle East

Motorists face an increase in petrol prices of up to 10p per litre, retailers have warned, after the oil price breached $110 (£68) per barrel.

More here.

Proof, if it were needed, that we should be investing in public transport and making it easier to walk and cycle places.

It cost Green Dad £61 to fill up in Forres the other day. Gulp.

Moray Greens Support “Fair deal for Forres & Kinloss” Campaign

The Moray Greens have come out strongly in support of the Forres Gazette’s “Fair deal for Forres and Kinloss” campaign.

More details here.

Green Dad is a big fan of the Gazette and its indefatigable chief reporter Tanya. The Fair Deal campaign deserves as much support as possible. The Greens' ability to think long-term will surely help with the plan to cope when Kinloss closes.

Greens Oppose Evanton Bus Cuts

Highland Greens have joined Evanton residents in their campaign to oppose proposed reductions in their bus service.

Find out more here.

Buses! Far from sexy but pretty important for rural communities and those who find running a car too expensive, something a lot more folk are experiencing.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

You’re Not The Boss Of Me, Are You?

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is very much living up to her nickname.

Following the recent jaunt to Aviemore and her introduction to swimming, Wife-features has been presented with her rucksack a few times and the command: ’Go splash splash now.’

The other day we were at the park and I was instructed - no better way of describing it - to place TWMBO on the swing. ’You too!’ came the supplementary order, as she looked at me and pointed at the neighbouring swing.

Would you like to see the bruises on my bahookie?

An old acquaintance who has two little darlings was telling me of the increasing confidence of one of them.

Little darling: Who are they? (Pointing to a picture of The Beatles)

Dad: The Beatles. A band. They made music.

LD: Sing a Beatles song.

Dad: Er, OK. Let it be, let it be…

LD: Daddy... Shut up.

Choo Choo Ch-boogie

It’s not often I have to be away from home for work but if I do I limit it to one night at a time, never two nights in a row.

Why? A combination of three things:

1. Toddler will eventually miss me, surely?

2. I’ll miss Toddler. Guaranteed.

3. Leaving Wife-features literally holding the baby for over 48 hours isn’t on in this day and age, old boy.

I was away for a night recently and instead of being sensible and bagging an early bed and a long lie I went out for dinner with colleagues and took in a late night film.

It was True Grit. An excellent update of the John Wayne classic by the Coen brothers.

And here’s a thing - I wonder if other new dads have noticed this - I’m much more likely to come close to crying during emotional scenes in movies these days. There’s a section towards the end of True Grit (spoiler alert!) where Cogburn needs to get the teenage Maddie some medical attention. It’s such a tender yet energetic section. I completely understand the adrenalin that must be pumping through his veins and the determination and love that goes with it. In short, you would find the strength and do a Superman to lift a car with your bare hands if you bairn was in danger.

At the end of The Searchers there’s a simple line John Wayne says: “Debbie, let’s go home.”

It likewise brings me close to blubbing like a big girly blouse with extra frills and ribbons.

And to think one of my earliest film memories - and it remained a favourite until fairly recently - was the bit in the Omen when the photographer gets decapitated by a runaway pane of glass.

But back to being away for the night… I did the green thing and took the train. I’m a big fan of taking the train for three reasons:

1. The A9 going south is lethal.

2. The A9 coming north is lethal.

3. I can use my laptop and my phone when I’m on the train.

While the journey down was fine, the return leg was chaotic. A humble broken down train between Haymarket and South Gyle seemed to be holding the whole country up. My train was eventually cancelled. The information screens at Haymarket station were useless - only giving details of trains a few minutes ahead while continuing to list information about services from hours before. It meant the whole reception area was crammed with people all staring at a tiny screen, suddenly realising their train was due any second so they have to scramble through the barriers and down the stairs to the right platform. It’s at times like that I see why some numpty car dwelling trolls prefer their four-wheeled cocoons to public transport.

I eventually got a train and sat opposite a dog all the way to Perth. There was a gap of almost an hour before the connecting service to Inverness. So I had to wait. And I tell you what. The waiting area of Perth train station makes your average Siberian gulag look like Alton Towers.

The newsagents was shut (who’d want to buy a paper and a bar of chocolate at 6.30pm on a weekday for goodness sake?) and the café is the bleakest piece of utilitarian humdrum I’ve ever seen. Moulded plastic chairs, limp and pale curly sandwiches dating from the British Rail days and a coffee machine that takes ages. ’Ah cannae dae ye onyhin just noo son. Ah need tae clean thay tubes.‘ Shudder.

So I sat on a bench made of cheese graters and listened to some pod casts while watching kids running to and fro. One lad - probably about six or seven - came running out of the gents, proclaiming to his mum: “I’m not going in there! It smells of wee.”

If I were feeling especially cruel I would have offered a comment: “It’s not just the loo, pal. It’s Perth.”

The truth is, Perth’s OK. It has some nice green spaces and the silvery Tay to admire. It has a very cool bike shop. But I do wonder what visitors must think about Scotland, given how reliably dour our arrival points are. Can you think of anything grimmer than booking a holiday in the romantic, misty Highlands and getting off a bus in Farraline Park? Or alighting from your train to see a locked gate to your left, the glitzy Bertie’s Bar to your right and a cloud of nervous smokers and swearing taxi drivers straight ahead?

Haste ye back!

I’m Thankful For My Country Home; It Gives Me Peace Of Mind

Ah, Neil Young.

There was a time when I would have chosen Dylan in a Bob versus Neil fight.

I’ll always love Robert Zimmerman’s enigmatic wordplay and his transition from hip New York Village bohemian to toe-tapping blues grandpa with a gravelly voice and a pencil moustache. But I’ll always identify more with Neil; the corduroys, the checked shirts, lots of fuzzy feedback interspersed with strummy melancholy and references to the great outdoors.

What put me in mind of all of this? A trip to Aberdeen, that’s what. (Dylan wrote a song that mentions Aberdeen. I think it’s called Highlands and is on the Time Out of Mind album. Neil Young has never written about the Granite City, as far as I‘m aware. Although his album Sleeps With Angels was a tribute to Kurt Cobain, who was from Aberdeen, near Seattle in Washington state. Ahem. Shall I get my coat?)

The long journey along the A96 to Castle Greyskull aka Europe’s Oil Capital was actually OK.

In the main Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed was happy to listen to strummy melancholy on the stereo. A stop in Huntly to say hello to an auntie proved a welcome break. The auntie has stairs.


Why the excitement? Well, we live on the ground floor and as a result steps of any kind are hallowed in the eyes our Toddler. Up she must go with you holding on. And down she must come with you holding on. And then up. And then down. And so on and so on until you have a hernia and arms like an orangutan.

Wife-features even introduced the concept of bumping down the stairs on your bum. It reminded me of an ’incident’ a couple of summers ago when a bunch of us went for a Sunday drive and ended up at a ruined castle on a grassy hillside. It was a lovely sunny day and I couldn’t resist going for a roll down the hill on my side. We used to do this a lot at school. It turns out I am no longer eight years old. Within moments of my descent I could hear hips cracking and shins popping. Never again. Well, maybe just once. With a paramedic at the bottom.

We met up with friends in the Bon Accord shopping centre. Oh my. Acres and acres of Next, Thorntons and Boots. It is UK High Street plc all under one big grey roof. I did genuinely find myself looking up with mouth open, a true country bumpkin feeling tiny in the big smoke.

Mind you, it quickly wore off. It’s only Aberdeen.

One of the joys of city dwelling is the quiet bits. Art galleries, parks. A peek inside the Aberdeen gallery and you’re face to face with a bit of Tracy Emin neon and a Gilbert and George stained glass window. There was also some Andy Goldsworthy stuff - holes in the sand swept away by the tide. Hmm. I tend to think if I could do it, it’s not art.

TWMBO was enthralled by a plasma screen showing a loop of a cartoon drawing of a woman walking. Just that. Nothing else. If there’s a buyer for Cbeebies reading this - buy that plasma screen now and just make it your entire schedule and we can all have a rebate on our licence fees.

I read at the weekend - and this was news that had truly slipped past my radar - that a couple of years ago the proportion of the world’s urban dwellers exceeded rural dwellers for the first time. That’s right - city folks in their bowler hats outnumber the rustic types with their bad teeth and trousers held up by bits of string.

I was also intrigued to learn what the world’s five biggest and richest cities are. Tokyo is number one and then there’s New York, London, LA and …


Only kidding.

It’s Chicago. Handy to know in case it ever comes up at a pub quiz.

I do wonder if TWMBO will thank me and Wife-features for raising her in the Sunniest Town in Scotland rather than a heaving metropolis. To date her experiences have included getting very close to ruminating beasts, £300k combines and prize-winning cakes at the Nairn Farmers’ Show, walking through town on my shoulders behind a very loud pipe band on Highland Games day, and being told on a Sunday evening there is no emergency custard because the nearest open shop is fifteen miles away.

A colleague who lives in a metropolis told me an interesting tale which perhaps says something about kids who grow up in busy, wealthy surroundings.

His wee girl had homework to do. Draw a picture of a Scottish landmark.

What’s a landmark, was her question.

It’s a building that makes you feel Scottish, came the reply. Like Edinburgh Castle. Why don’t you draw Edinburgh Castle?

No, I don’t want to.

OK, draw something else then.

The lass produces a wonderful piece of art, clearly a fancy building of some sort.

What is it, asks her dad.

House of Bruar.

Extra £100m bill in pipeline for new Forth road bridge

TAXPAYERS could face an extra £100 million bill for the new Forth road bridge if it affects an underground pipeline, ministers have admitted.

More here from the Herald.

£100million? Just think of all the potholes on the A96 that would fill!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Eat more anchovies, herring and sardines to save the ocean's fish stocks

Cut back on tuna and salmon and load your plate instead with herring and sardines if you want to help save the world's fish.

So says the scientist who led the most comprehensive analysis ever carried out of fish stocks in the world's oceans and how they have changed over the past century.

Mmm. Sardines on toast! Guess what Toddler and I are going to have for lunch today...

Sweden took away their money, but it also took away their financial angst.

"I have a friend who is the Nanny State incarnate: he was for years a social democratic cabinet minister in Sweden. He once complained to me that a right-wing group was going around saying that Swedes had lower post-tax incomes than Alabamans, who are among the poorest Americans.

"Well maybe, my friend said, but by the time Swedes got their post-tax incomes, their pensions, healthcare, schools and universities had already been paid for. Sweden took away their money, but it also took away their financial angst."

So says Simon Kuper in the FT.

An interesting notion: less pay = less to worry about.

Barclays bank forced to admit it paid just £113m in corporation tax in 2009

Barclays Bank has been forced to admit it paid just £113m in UK corporation tax in 2009 – a year when it rang up a record £11.6bn of profits, according to the Guardian.

The admission stunned politicians and tax campaigners. It was revealed on the eve of a day of protests planned against the high street banks by activists from UK Uncut, a group set up five months ago to oppose government cuts and corporate tax avoidance.

All of which makes Green Dad glad he switched to an ethical bank last year. As for those companies who dodge paying their fair share, it's pretty tricky boycotting Boots when you have a toddler but I am trying!

Recycling Is A Waste Of Time

So says the Daily Mail, that bastion of reason and logic.

I read elsewhere that the Environment Agency down south is preparing to take a number of people to court for labelling electrical goods wrongly so they are shipped off to Africa and the Far East where children scavenge dumps for precious metals.

It's a horrible situation but apparently suggests recycling is a waste of time, if you believe the Mail.

It also calls into question EU laws.

Blimey. Talk about conforming to stereotype.

If anything it should result in a tightening of laws so we know where our stuff goes and it will perhaps remind people to reduce and reuse as well as recycle. Do you really need that new gadget? Can you pass your old one onto someone else?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

SNP overtakes Labour in latest poll ahead of Scottish elections

In contrast to recent polls, which have put Labour well ahead of nationalists, Ipsos MORI figures show SNP on 37% compared with Labour's 36%.

There's also good news for the Greens. The poll suggests they will return 4 MSPs rather than just 2.

National force would make no difference to police on Arran

Interesting piece here in the Herald looking at plans to make our police forces more efficient.

Highland Libdems have launched a campaign against what they call 'centralisation' but as the fine folk of the isle of Arran suggest, it doesn't matter where your top brass are, as long as you have a decent bobby on your beat.

What was Mr Salmond's slogan again? Bobbies, not boundaries?

Helius Energy secures project financing deal for Rothes biomass plant

News here of a step forward for a biomass plant at Rothes, south of Elgin.

It'll burn stuff left over from the whisky distilleries to put power into the grid.

I'll raise a glass to that!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Souter donation makes the election much more interesting

"Last time he gave them this much money, a long-standing commitment to improve bus services mysteriously disappeared from the SNP manifesto. I wonder what he wants this time."

Plain talking from Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

Interesting reading here on the Caley Merc detailing how Souter cash helped clinch the last election for Mr Salmond. 

Of course, if you have a spare couple of bob you could send it here.

Moray community groups urged to take on council-owned facilities

“The community association now have a lease from the council for the tearoom, which has raised a lot of money for the community and for charities.

“It has done very well for the good of the village, and is run entirely by volunteers.”

More details here of efforts to make council cutbacks more palatable by giving power to the people.

Plans for windfarm are scaled back

Controversial plans for a large north windfarm have been dramatically scaled back, according to this article in the P&J.

Carbon Free Developments originally planned to build 55 turbines on the Moy Estate, south of Inverness, but last night the company said it will now apply for planning permission for 20 machines.

Interesting to note: Carbon Free said it will contacting people who live closest to the windfarm site to show them revised photo montages, illustrating the visibility of the turbines from their homes. Also that updated plans will be available at and the revisions will be discussed in detail at the next liaison group meeting.

A lesson for other wind farm developers? Go straight to the nearest residents and create a 'liaison group' rather than hosting public exhibitions which usually give the climate change deniers and other numpties the chance to drown out reason with their hysteria?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Yoga is great for children and adults

"Alas, you have to go to the private sector to get yoga for your children or to learn how to relax during pregnancy. It's only pills that you can get on the NHS – but don't let that stop you taking charge."

So says relationship boffin Oliver James.

Our Toddler already does 'Yogo' with help from the Waybuloo piplings. Ohhmmmmm....

UK farmers' leader attacks government for lack of national food plan

We're allowing our agriculture to decline and expect the rest of the world to feed us. Strong stuff from the farming chief.

Why doesn't the UK have a food plan?  "It has not been at the top of my agenda," admits the minister.

Green Dad says: "I knew the fiver I put down to secure an allotment in Nairn would make sense!" 

Classroom assistants in Highland safe for now; axe falls in Aberdeenshire

"We all walked out in protest."

Green councillor Martin Ford (the man who took on Trump) writes here about a poor show of democracy along the A96.

Chevron fined for Amazon pollution by Ecuador court

A court in Ecuador has fined US oil giant Chevron $8.6bn (£5.3bn) for polluting a large part of the country's Amazon region.

The oil firm Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, was accused of dumping billions of gallons of toxic materials into unlined pits and Amazon rivers.

Chevron's profits last year? $19bn.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Bar - Food - Music - Dancing!

It Must Be Funny In A Rich Man's World

I like to think I’m a pretty ethical sort of Dad. I try to buy FairTrade and shop in local, independent retailers, I believe strongly in equality unlike some oddballs, and I give to charity when I can. 
But I have a problem. Chuggers.

What on earth makes any charity think I’ll be more interested in their cause if they employ some smiley young student to step in front of me while I’m walking down the high street?

I find it extremely off-putting but usually feel terrible afterwards. The result is the charity in question makes me feel awful and doesn’t get any money from me. It’s a lose-lose situation.

But it must work otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it.

It’s not often I think ‘what a great idea Lord Foulkes is proposing’ but have a look at this.

Cracking down on chuggers during the age of austerity probably seems a bit harsh. As this article suggests, charities are up against it.

In which case, if you have the means you could consider doing what Toby Ord is doing. An interesting idea but I’d be terrified of miscalculating and not being able to meet one of those crucial payments - the subscription to the mountain bike magazine or the allotment waiting list deposit. (What’s that? Hang on. Ah. Wife Features says I’ve to worry instead about something called The Mortgage. Okily-dokily.)

These stories about charity contrast nicely with the FT’s astounding How To Spend It supplement. It’s a glossy pull out that appears from time to time and explains which yacht or art collection you should be adding to your grotesque pile of fripperies. I also noticed in the most recent edition a gem of an advert featuring a familiar face from Nairn.

I’ve always been intrigued by the ‘need’ for money. There surely comes a point when you struggle to spend it? I remember one year my income halved; I was busier with work than before and I ended up with a much better quality of life. I guess if you have a specialist skill and the market is willing to find the cash to secure your services you’d find it difficult to say no, or at least ask them not to pay so much.

I note that there are 14,000 people in Scotland paying the new 50p rate of income tax.

That’s 14,000 people in a country of 5 million each earning more than £150k. I just know if I ended up in that salary bracket I’d use my wages to buy very expensive cheese for my Maclean’s oatcakes. Or maybe I’d wake up one morning with a sports car in the driveway, a yacht in the harbour and an urge to jauntily knot a cashmere pullover around my shoulders.

Until that day I plan to keep donating what I can when I can, keep ducking the chuggers and learn more about this newfangled thing called a mortgage.

Rainy Days And Mondays

One of the Krypton Factor-style challenges of my parenthood is how to fit a toddler (square peg full of beans) into a wet winter Sunday in the Highlands (round hole - a deep, dark one at that) without spending a fortune.

Despite Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed already owning a toy mountain that looks like one of those cargo ships from Taiwan has beached in our dining room, you cannot underestimate cabin fever. At some point you have to put the toys down and get out of the house.

So we went for a walk in the rain to the beach. TWMBO fell asleep in her buggy and I inhaled big lungfuls of ozone (can I do that? Where’s Professor Brian Cox when you need him?) as the waves pounded the shore. Some folk would find a rainy morning in February in a northern town a bit dreary but I love it. It is calming and, in true Scottishness, cheap.

The best fun, I reckon, is free fun.

We’ve recently discovered the joys of running up and down embankments in the park and we once spent a whole hour on the beach examining pebbles and driftwood.

And a real revelation - tiddlywinks! TWMBO found a small button a few weeks back and goodness know why but I showed her how with the aid of another button you could clip the edge of the first one, sending it pinging across the room. Mega giggles.

We made do with a selection of buttons harvested from all four corners of our home until the recent expedition to Aviemore. There a professional tiddlywinker’s gaming set was obtained for a whopping couple of quid. Hours of flipping fun have been had. Not quite free but almost.

Oh, and you know those moments in Stephen Spielberg films where the kid impersonates the grown up? There’s one in Jaws, another in Close Encounters and I have a vague memory of one in ET or was it an Indiana Jones film? Anyway, Toddler has started doing that with me.

I’m happy to admit I like it partly because it makes me feel a wee bit like I’m Roy Scheider.

But eventually the free stuff runs out and you buckle. To be fair we were giving Groovy Gran a lift home after babysitting so took the opportunity to enjoy the warmth of the Eastgate.

Saying that makes me sound like one of those old geezers who shuffle into a library pretending to be interested in the reference section but who’ve actually come for a lean against a radiator.

We managed to tour the shops without buying very much. Wife Features even put back Season Two of Columbo despite it being almost half price! (As I was leaving the store I turned around, scratched my head and mumbled something about ‘just one more thing’. I went back to buy some Gerry Rafferty.)

Free fun was provided by a wooden stirring stick from a certain coffee chain. We also had a good run around in the toy section of a certain department store. I was intrigued by the fact that their toy section is between the luxury fabric concession and the fine china department.

Some shop layouts really are random. I can think of one where to get to the café you have to wade through bras. You can lose an eye going for a latte.

As well as free fun and calming walks on desolate sleety drizzly beaches I’m a big fan of gentle radio and I like the idea of meditating.

I heartily recommend Radio 3 as a way of slowly coming to of a morning. The BBC Trust published a report the other day urging the station to become more ’welcoming’, whatever that means. I saw this review of the breakfast show and couldn’t agree more. Rob Cowan used to host the Sunday morning slot before being moved to weekdays. He was perfect on Sundays - I hear him less through the week due to work. He will play serious classical stuff but always surprises and charms with something jazz-tinged or movie soundtrack-related.

As for meditation the key it seems is to find a regular slot for it in one’s hectic schedule. I was enjoying this article until I got to the last line. He gets up early, meditates for a whole hour and then has breakfast, takes his kids to school and goes to work. I assume his kids are in their thirties and they are teachers. Or while he’s in his meditative bubble his partner and/or kids are screaming at him to help find the iron, help with the homework, watch Peppa Pig, make a sandwich for lunch, defrost the car, etc.

A technique I have developed in recent months is the half-sleep, invaluable for those times when Toddler is wide awake at 5am and you have no choice but to actively parent, or at least give the appearance of parenting. You find something to occupy Toddler - a good toy, paper and crayons or a DVD such as Finding Nemo or Season 2 of Twin Peaks - and sit upright and attentive on the sofa. You will soon drop off. But I have developed an ability to keep half of one eye open most of the time.

With this newfound talent perhaps once the little darling is all grown up and has flown the nest I can change career and become a ‘cleaner’. You have seen Leon, haven‘t you? It’s very calming.

Last Train From Inverness

Imagine you’re inside a metal tube being hurled through darkness at great speed while just feet away some Doric-spikking quines screech along to the Communards’ Don’t Leave Me This Way in between swigs of rose wine and discussions about sex.

No, this isn’t some dystopian nightmare directed by John Carpenter. It’s the FirstScotrail 2120 Inverness-Aberdeen service. Passenger safety information notices are located throughout this train.

To celebrate Green Dad’s advancing years a bunch of us went out for curry while Groovy Gran babysat The Toddler. (In what way is Gran groovy, I hear you cry. She buys herringbone frock coats in TK Maxx and sings along to Bon Jovi when doing housework. And she worked in a record shop in the 70s and got Sparks’ autographs. OK?)

It was a rare treat for yours truly and Wife Features to be out for a dinner that didn’t come with high velocity ketchup spatter and a high chair. We kept our baby chat to a minimum and the discussion was as hot and serious as the madras sauce. At some point I’m sure we agreed it would be an interesting idea to give maiming rights to pensioners. It was a healthy discussion among consenting adults.

But then came time for our carriage home - the last stage out of Dodge. The latest you can ride the rails out of Dolphinsludge is 9.20pm. Pathetic. But I see there’s a plan to try to improve the frequency of the service, as well as installing a station at Inverness Airport. I really do hope the line gets earlier and later trains. I did ask Scotrail a while back about this and their response was written on a Mobius Strip. It went something like: there isn’t any demand for earlier or later trains on this service because we don’t run earlier or later trains. (My suggestion was that they put on some and tell people and see what happens but apparently this a crazy fool notion, like the earth being round or something, and I should go lie down.)

So, anyway, the late train is hideous. Thankfully it’s pretty rare to be on it. The commuter services are much more restrained. Going into Inverness on the 7.20 or 8.20 from Nairn usually involves sitting next to someone who’s fallen asleep at Forres or Elgin with their face all squashed up against the window.

This happened to me once on the Edinburgh-Inverness train after a long day in meetings. I woke up at Perth to the sound of giggling. Three young lads at my table seat got off. A few minutes into the onward journey north a lady across the aisle explained that while I’d been asleep the neds had been drinking and had piled their empties in front of me and had taken my photo. Excellent.

Falling asleep on public transport. Everyone must have a hilarious/chronically embarrassing story. This is surely enough of a reason to ensure loads of government investment in the rail and bus networks. You never hear funny stories about people who fall asleep in cars.

One way to stop nodding off on the train is to open the window. By open the window of course I mean strain to prise a tiny slit at the top of the carriage ajar a centimetre or so. The impossibly named Tyler Brulee of the Monocle has some first class thoughts on this subject.

As for cars, I’ve driven the tortuous A9 so many times I refuse these days to entertain the notion of going up or down it in the dark and simply don’t have the stamina for a return daytrip to Edinburgh or Glasgow, which I’ve had to do a few times in the past. There are few places to stop for a coffee and the idea of winding the window down to stay awake by blasting your face with freezing cold air always terrifies me - what if a deer or an owl happens to be crossing and gets in through the open window? Owl in the face, owl in the face!

I see Highland Council are promising to take on board comments about the West Link Road/Trunk Link Route/Southern Distributor Road/Inverness Bypass or whatever it’s called. There are concerns about Whin Park and the rugby pitches. It’s great to see those with concerns putting forward alternatives. It gets my goat, grinds my gears and flips my lid when people such as wind farm naysayers simply naysay and don’t say what we should do instead.

I like the idea of a viaduct like Glenfinnan or the one that goes over the River Nairn at Culloden/Clava. (The longest stone-built rail viaduct in Britain, anoraks.) A sensible crossing of the canal and river would be between Holm Mills and Torvean rather than a hotpotch through vital leisure space. And I bet function rules over form.

And, dare I suggest this, maybe one way to help pay for the crossing would be to charge the motorists who use it?

The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Terrified Slavonian Grebes

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own facts.” Former New York Senator Daniel Moynihan said that, and boy did he have a point.

I do wonder how Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will turn out given the fact - and it is a fact - that her parents are both ex-hacks who strived for accuracy and always tried to remember to attribute their sources.

Maybe she’ll rebel and end up a real gossipmonger. I suspect you are having a wry smile at the thought of journalists being accurate but it really was something we cared about. Attributing sources too. It’s so easy to state something as fact when upon examination it turns out it’s just someone’s opinion.

I had the opportunity to wade into the heart of the facts versus opinion arena the other day as I happened to be passing an exhibition for the ‘controversial’ Druim Ba Forest wind farm between Kiltarlity and Abriachan. (I dream of the day I see a headline about a ‘lovely’ wind farm.) Let’s see what the fuss is about I said to myself.

I hadn’t even reached the street of the exhibition venue when I was accosted by someone handing out slips of paper. ‘You’re a cyclist. You’ll be interested in this,’ was the bizarre statement they made. Clearly my high-vis jacket, helmet, trouser clips, saddle bag and rolled up copy of the Grauniad were a bit of a giveaway.

But hang on. Surely these things mark me out as likely to be pro-wind farm? Anyway, the slip of paper contained hysterical statements about tens (or was it hundreds) of thousands of lorries that would pass through the area during construction and how it would dent house prices and that from several miles away you’d be able to hear the turbines going whoosh.

Like I say, hysterical.

Then at the exhibition entrance I was invited to view an ‘alternative’ presentation. It mainly consisted of old Daily Mail articles about global warming being a leftie swindle and a cartoon of Nessie with a slogan about monster wind farms. All very grown up.

Inside, the exhibition was packed and the materials on display were detailed, clear and answered all possible questions. You won’t be able to see the turbines from Loch Ness, the Slavonian Grebes’ flight paths won’t be affected - in fact the forest is pretty dead in terms of wildlife and isn’t designated.

The communities surrounding the site will get decent chunks of cash once the wind farm is operational and the forest will become accessible, a genuine asset for the area. In short, the objections were pathetic, nonsensical - I was left wondering why you wouldn’t want to build a wind farm there. It’s ideal.

Those involved in promoting the project told me it’s been genuinely intimidating trying to organise community information events. Angry mobs literally in your face with placards. Of course that’s what makes the headlines - not the detail of what the fuss is about.

I enjoyed slapping my forehead when I read this piece about information being ’redacted’ in relation to a similar development in the Far North. What possible reason could there be for hiding references to the exact whereabouts of some rare and vulnerable wildlife? Er…

This week also saw the publication of an interesting report on the importance of climate-proofing our infrastructure.

It grinds my gears when people say it’s a waste of money preparing for a changing climate or trying to reduce emissions and our reliance on oil. As the infrastructure report makes clear reliable systems ‘underpin’ the economy. And I shake my head when people say it’ll be OK in the UK - we just need to slap on a bit more sun cream in the summer and put snow chains on our tyres in the winter. It’s such an ‘I’m All Right, Jack’ attitude. You only have to look to China and Africa to see the problems some of the world’s biggest populations are already facing.

Maybe the dolts will wake up when they read the strawberry forecast.

I was pleased to see council houses in South Kessock getting solar panels fitted the other day.

I wish it was easier for ordinary householders and community groups to install renewable energy systems. But as this article neatly explains, the government’s incentives are ’pants’.

Back to the Druim Ba debacle and my point about attributing sources. I noticed one newspaper (let’s just say it’s a bi-weekly Inverness-based broadsheet) covered the exhibitions by describing Druim Ba as a ‘scenic tourist’ spot. I’ve been biking and walking there. It’s a bleak, boring bit of commercial plantation where fluffy animals are frightened to tread. Is there a branch of EuroDisney tucked away before the turn off to Cannich? We should be told.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

We're All Going On A Winter Holiday

Holidays with a little person are completely different from holidays without. This is yet another small but important point those who already have kids fail to mention when smothering parents-to-be with euphemisms about how it’ll change your life.

Wife Features and I managed to align our diaries in a way that if they were planets would have caused Patrick Moore to froth how “absolutely extraordinary” an event was being witnessed. We both managed to bag a couple of days off and hit the road to the Shangri-La that is the Macdonald Aviemore Highland Resort.

Don’t mock. It has a soft play area.

Parents with wee ones will know why this is so important.

Frankly, a soft play area should be mandatory in every neighbourhood. Bugger the weekly bin collection and sod the classroom assistants - I’d seriously support a wedge of my council tax going on padded rooms full of slides and foam balls.

Our jaunt to the Davos of the Highlands (both are mountain resorts where you occasionally see economic experts - in the case of Aviemore it’s Treasury Squirrel nipping into Tesco) also presented me with my first chance to take Toddler swimming.

I’m not a regular at the municipal baths - in fact I think the last time I went for a dip was at the Glebe Street pool in Inverness, which tells you it’s been a while.

Toddler loved it. But no sooner had she figured out how to wade around the shallow end (in fact, up to her neck) without mum or dad’s help than she was angling for a trip on the flume. A giant flume slide that was spitting out shocked looking grown ups at the bottom. A tantrum from Toddler’s Finest range was produced and the best I could do was bargain with her. We ended up back at the soft play area.

The holiday fun didn’t stop there. Such variation in scenery and routine obviously affects little people and despite being presented with an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet she opted for a slice of dry toast and some crying for dinner one night.

Our stay-cation was actually really good. The Mountain Café does amazing cakes, and the Rothiemurchus shop has an extensive range of Gruffalo merchandise. Café Mambo took absolutely ages to bring us a simple bowl of soup but they did provide Toddler with her introduction to slot machines. So many flashing lights and buttons! And lots of small print explaining in several different ways why you’re a mug for even coming near, never mind putting a coin in the slot.

I took my bike (OK - one of my bikes) to Aviemore only to draw the curtains in the morning to see a thick blanket of snow. But I am a dad these days so whereas before I would have modified my plans accordingly, I now feel compelled to plough ahead with the previously agreed schedule. It reminds me of those driving trips we had as kids when my dad would see how far he could get before he’d have to turn around to head for home. (“Right, out of the car. OK, we’ve seen what we came to see. Back we go!”) One trip, to John O’Groats, saw my youngest sister throw up as we crossed the Dornoch Firth bridge, my other sister barf as we descended the Berriedale Braes, my brother puke as we passed Wick and when we arrived at the end of the earth the dog threw up.

So, cycling in snow. It turns out I love it. With chunky mountain bike tyres and good off-road trails where the snow isn’t too deep it’s actually pretty easy. Much easier than slipping and sliding on an icy road. Indeed there’s something deeply pleasing about making the first impression on a pristine white landscape. A single tyre track snaking its way across the winter wonderland. I only hope the greens-keepers of Dalfaber golf course agree!

The Things Sleep-Deprived Parents Say

One of the unintended consequences of starting a family is the increased likelihood of speaking jibberish.

Some recent examples from our household:

Why do you have a Klinger up your jumper? (Wife Features meant to say Clanger as in the pink creature created by Oliver Postgate. Klinger is the guy in M*A*S*H who dresses as a woman in a bid to be sent home. Now there‘s a cuddly toy likely to spark an ‘outrage’ headline in the Highland News.)

Please remove that spatula from my trousers.

We could put Velcro on her bottom…”

"Ahh. Cuffs on pyjamas are great. It means you dont get draughts. Wife Features purred this to me one night. Grr! Easy, tiger

"Get in the bath. Youre covered in jelly.

I Want To Ride My Bicycle

As you might expect, I’m a big fan of the bicycle. After a year or so of me commuting by car my trouser clips will once more be seeing some serious action.

One of the issues I have with biking to and from work is what to wear.

I see plenty of cyclists in all the day-glo gear and feel tired just thinking of the palaver involved. I sadly don’t have the luxury of a shower and changing room at the office otherwise it would be tempting to stow a grey flannel suit, fedora and selection of ties there so I could at least look like I work for a living.

Instead my uniform tends to involve dark, thick, comfortable and crumpled trousers (never light coloured - a combination of chain grease and puddles means they never stay light for long and the thickness is essential given the wear and tear on the nether regions), an open necked shirt and one of those waterproof jackets with air vents. I have a feeling I should don something that ‘wicks moisture away’ but I worry where it would wick it to. Wouldn’t I be the cycling equivalent of those motorists whose windscreen scooshers result in spatter on the windscreen of the car behind?

(The editor in my head tells me I’m getting yukky.)

One of my bikes is of the folding variety. “Spoddy” is how they’re described by some, with even less flattering terms used by others. To my face.

There was a brief period when I seemed to be constantly on trains going to country hotels for seminars, conferences and symposiums and a folding bike was without doubt an excellent investment. Yes it looks a bit nerdy, like a gangly teenager, but it’s compact and reliable.

One recent change to my biking behaviour has been to wear a helmet all the time.

Previously, especially on a sunny day, I’d do without. I have a spectacularly handsome hairdo that makes intelligent women walk into lampposts when I cycle past so I prefer not to squish it. I also believe, as this research suggests, that if you dress like a normal person motorists take more care around you whereas if you gear up with lots of safety kit they behave like maniacs and are more likely to send you sprawling into traffic.

But Wife Features tutted and the spate of slips other cycling friends experienced during the recent ice age has made me err on the side of caution.

I see in the greater conurbations some cyclists are adding video cameras to their helmets to record the shocking behaviour of drivers.

I reckon Inverness is mostly okay for getting around by bike. There are some obvious gaps such as how the hell you get across the Raigmore Interchange and out to the retail park without taking your life in your hands. I’m also a bit unsure of the new system between Eden Court and the Ness Bridge which encourages cyclists to go against the flow of traffic in front of the Palace and Columba hotels. Any time I’ve done this I’ve been met with shocked looks from pedestrians. And motorists just seem even more intent on mowing me down.

There was a fair bit of fuss over the recent approval of plans for a major housing development at Stratton between Smithton and the retail park but for a change it was a development that seemed to have seriously considered how people get about on foot and by bike.

Donnie ‘Knobbly Carrots’ Macleod believes the area should be used for food production - an interesting idea. Which reminds me - the allotments at the end of our street are starting to take shape.

Away from biking I see the other part of my commute - the train - is the subject of some investigation. I do hope the Aberdeen-Inverness service improves, and more importantly, becomes cheaper. It’s maddening that other routes into Inverness are subsidised to reduce costs for commuters but those travelling from the Far East have to pay a premium.

I also see electioneering is on track. The other day the SNP minister for transport announced an increase in frequency of trains to and from Inverness, while the Libdem candidate going up against Fergus Ewing issued a mailshot to households expressing fury at the fact that one of the trains takes nineteen minutes longer than before.

A few extra minutes versus more frequent service. Which gets your vote?

Back to bikes and it’s usually this time of year I take mine to the shop for a service and my annual telling off. Oh yes, that’s Highland hospitality for you. The local bike shop is a marvel and the guy who runs it is a diamond geezer but pretty much any time I take one of my steeds in he rolls his eyes and tells me I really should take better care of it. Scolded, I hand over some money and promise to do better. This makes perfect sense. I am a cyclist; I am therefore a sucker for punishment.

The Doors Of Perception

There’s an election coming up and I know how off-putting politics can be so I’ll do my best to keep this blog campaign-free in the coming weeks. Before I put the blinkers on, I would encourage you to take an interest in policy issues that matter to you and quiz the candidates.

And you must vote, otherwise you have no right to complain when things don’t go your way.

Regular readers will know how I feel about some of the childish MSPs we have who simply oppose what the SNP government has proposed without offering a detailed alternative. Thanks to their behaviour - Labour, Tories and Libdems - we’ve missed opportunities to save lives and improve health by setting a minimum price for alcohol and make the retailers with the broadest shoulders pay a fairer share of society’s taxes.

Lastly, perception is everything and I would encourage you to look beyond what you expect. The Greens are a case in point. A friend said to me recently they’d love to vote Green but on an issue such as education they want high quality teaching first and solar panels on the roof second. If you look at Green education policy solar panels aren’t mentioned; in fact they have interesting policies on all sorts of ‘non-green‘ issues.

It’s interesting to see some perceptions being confirmed. According to
this survey old geezers who vote Tory tend to be climate change deniers. Who’d have thought!

Speaking of old Tory geezers who deny climate change, did you see Christopher Monckton on BBC4 the other night? He’s a highly entertaining Nobel laureate and member of the house of lords. Oh, hang on. He’s highly entertaining but not the other stuff.

I had the pleasure (honestly, it was) of interviewing him a few times in my previous life. Not on the issue of climate change but on the important subject of jigsaw puzzles.

The Eternity puzzle to be precise. A great wheeze with an enigmatic end.

As for his latest incarnation as the anti-Al Gore, it’s right we should question the science but as one of the contributors to the programme explained, it’s a question of risk. If we do nothing we are risking massive disruption, damage and expense. If we do something to mitigate our carbon emission and adapt to climate change we are risking a few lifestyle changes. I know which I’d prefer.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Hair is hairy stuff. It wigs me out.

I was a Ginger Baby. Full-blown Mick Hucknall red ringlets. I can tell you are wincing.

The curls and the colour subsided eventually but for a brief period a couple of summers ago a few short-sighted souls said I looked like The Ginger Rodent. Since then I’ve kept my barnet short and encouraged the grey to put a wiggle on.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed had her first proper haircut the other day. The previous attempts being artistic lunges by Wife Features wielding kitchen scissors. Some kids find getting their hair cut traumatic and I’m told some parents find taking their wee one for his or her first trim just as traumatic. Baby’s all grown up! Boo hoo.

TWMBO was an angel and sat perfectly still while her curls were chopped and bangs were levelled.

In complete contrast a recent ‘experiment’ at Toddler’s nursery saw one wee boy heading home with his hair braided and full of kirby grips and ribbons, while one of the workers stuffed what looked like a toupee into a sandwich bag and asked me if it looked like a lot. For a child? Yes, was my reply. It was going to be a surprise gift for one lucky parent to take home. Along with their, presumably, bald child.

My latest haircut (sounds like the name of a band) was less dramatic than The Childcare Hairdo Massacre but a wee bit more exciting than TWMBO‘s saintly sitting. As it was my birthday I treated myself to a proper piece of work rather than the usual in-and-out, short back and sides for a fiver with minimal conversation.

This time I got a pre-cut discussion with my hair consultant, a head rub and shampoo, and a gentle trim with scissors rather than a brutal number three buzz cut. It apparently gives Wife Features enough to ruffle (as she is occasionally wont to do) but keeps it short enough to be low maintenance.

All of which leads me to wonder how green haircuts are. All that washing and buzzing and sweeping. Maybe that explains why guys like Swampy are so hirsute.

Hirsute but perhaps not so hygienic.

I recall a colleague from my previous life in journalism interviewing some GM protestors and telling me I owed him one because he’d braved ‘the smelly people’ for me.

I also recall attending a Donovan concert at the Findhorn Foundation (I interviewed him. He was cool. He totally believes in the power of crystals and comic book heroes) and took a friend who was somewhat freaked when a mass hug broke out among the audience during a rendition of The Hurdy Gurdy Man. Some of the concert-goers could have benefited from a tooth brushing, was the after show review I received.

Beside the environmental implications of hair there are the economic ones. I have a spendthrift friend - he’ll pull the loose change out of his pockets, smash it onto the counter in a coffee shop and ask what he can get for that - who is always neatly presented. By rights he should look like Brian Blessed or that guy Cheval who plays rugby for France. I must ask him how he justifies such expense.

And my swish hairdo? I’m worth it.