Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Number Crunching

The May 5 Holyrood election looms large and increasingly the signs are we’re heading for an SNP victory although again it would be a minority government. All the polls I’ve seen suggest a wee surge for the Greens, which you must admit is a good thing if you have a lick of sense.

A few folk have asked me why the Greens don’t put candidates up in the constituencies as well as the regions. I suspect it’s because the constituency elections (Inverness & Nairn is our constituency) are still decided using the first past the post system. So the chance of a Green victory is minuscule. Mind you, Caroline Lucas managed it in Brighton so it is possible but would take a lot of money and time.

Which leads to me to the list. Do you understand the d’Honte Additional Member System? That’s what it’s called. It’s a wee bit complicated and unfortunately none of the official literature I’ve seen - either Highland Council’s or even the Scottish Parliament’s - makes it clear how it divvies up the regional MSPs or that, crucially, it is connected to how well the parties do in the constituency votes.

I’m a spoddy so and so, so I’ve taken a moment (in the bath if you must know) to run some numbers (along with the hot tap and some Mister Matey) to see what scenario we’re looking for in the Highlands to get a Green re-elected.

The Highlands and Islands region covers Argyll & Bute, Western Isles, Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Inverness and Nairn and Moray. The boundaries are slightly different this time but still the same number of seats. In 2007 the Libdems took 4 seats, as did the SNP. You then start dividing the number of votes for each party on the regional list by the number of constituency seats won plus one. So, the SNP got 63,979 votes on the list in 2007 and this number would have been divided by 5 to make 12,795 to start with. Same for the Libdems and their 37,001 votes. The biggest number means that party gets the first MSP on the list, after which you increase the dividing number by one again. So in the Highlands the biggest number (32,952) was Labour’s so they got the first MSP.

Confused yet?

In short it seems Labour rarely win under first past the post in the constituencies but have a healthy second vote on the list that can only be divided by one, hence them nearly always getting three MSPs (Peter Peacock, Rhoda Grant and David Stewart most recently). Likewise the Tories (Mary Scanlon and Jamie McGrigor).

By now my bathwater’s gone cold and my skin has wrinkled like a prune but I can’t resist running a few more numbers to see what might happen if the polls are right.

What I did was: I assumed the turnout next week would be the same as 2007, took away a small number of votes from the Libdems and gave them mostly to the SNP but a handful to the Greens. I kept Labour and the Tories static. I also took into account the pretty widespread belief that the SNP will acquire two constituencies from the Libdems following the bowing out of John Farquhar Munro and Jamie Stone. (JF recently backed Salmond for FM; while Jamie’s blessed cheesemaker brother is backing the Nats’ Rob Gibson for the Far North seat.)

The list result?

Three Labour MSPs (Rhoda Grant, David and Linda Stewart), two Tories (Jamie and Mary), one Libdem (Jamie Paterson) and a Green (Eleanor Scott). And no SNP.

All this number crunching has thrown up a couple of important points. Firstly the Greens in the Highlands and Islands are only a thousand or so votes away from bagging a place (so please make your 2nd vote Green - or would you rather have the Libdems or the Tories helping a minority SNP government?) and secondly it seems there are politicians who basically have jobs for life.

You see - bath time can be fun for parents as well as kids!

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The First Cut Is The Scariest

Ah, the exotic places you get to see when you have a child…

Before the arrival of TWMBO, indeed back when Wife-features and I were merely living in sin, we trotted the globe - eating bagels with blueberry cream cheese a foot thick in New York, sipping late night outdoor coffee in Paris and standing in the drizzle on the Kilchoan-Tobermory Calmac ferry.

The latest pin we can stick in our map of places we’ve been is (cue fanfare…) the minor injuries unit of Leanchoil Hospital in Forres.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed had been buzzing around an indoor play centre and amid the frenzy lost her concentration and slipped onto her side while sliding down one of the fastest slides known to humanity.
The crying was bad enough but after a couple of minutes blood started to appear in the corner of one of her eyes. Wife-features says she’s never seen me go so pale.

The gore manifested itself at exactly the same time as our pre-ordered lunch arrived. TWMBO bravely forced down some cheesy crisps while the play centre staff fretted about, wrapping up our hot filled rolls for us to take with us to the nearest A&E.

I couldn’t care less about missing out on my Malteser Slice - I wanted someone in a uniform and wearing latex gloves to give an immediate appraisal of the blood-in-the-eye situation. Upon inspection it turned out to be a wee cut and it’s quickly healed, not leaving a scar as far as I can tell.

I still have a scar under my chin from infant school. It was the result of an icy playground and a failure to communicate with the boy who was pulling me around like a sledge. He went left when I was expecting him to go right. I can still taste the blood.

Oh, and then there was the time I broke my right wrist break dancing to Herbie Hancock‘s “Rockit“. But I digress…

Toddlers do what they say on the tin: toddle. The dictionary definition talks of ‘short, unsteady steps’. So a few bumps are to be expected.

Our Toddler is getting very good at stringing lots of unsteady steps together. In fact, her appetite for walking has grown hugely just in the last few weeks. Holding a hand, asking her to stop at the kerb and to look for cars and asking her to resist running on hard surfaces - these things are at the same time wonderful and terrifying.

Today’s toddles included a trip to the baker for some rolls, a wander across the beach and back up the river to the park, but the high point was without doubt the trip to the shop for chocolate spread. (The spread in question is technically hazelnut - cocoa only makes up a tiny proportion - but it’s too late to reposition a leading brand.)

The jar of sweet goodness was pushed onto the counter by TWMBO. The assistant was still scanning and bagging shopping for the customer in front and after about twenty seconds the lack of attention towards our chocolatey purchase was highlighted.

A small hand reached out and pushed the jar of spread closer to the till. Another twenty seconds passed. The jar was pushed closer still. I half expected her to turn round to the queue behind us, roll her little eyes and ask what it takes to get a bit of service around here.

I was ready to apologise to the assistant, explaining how much TWMBO likes chocolate spread in a sandwich as a treat. But before I could the assistant shook her head and said: “Urgh. This stuff’s a nightmare in our house. My husband eats it straight from the jar with a big spoon.”

I can’t be sure but I think a certain pair of little ears heard that. Uh-oh. I can see the next bruise or cut happening as the big spoons are reached for.

Waste Not Want Not

“You’re such a dad,” asserted Wife-features with arched eyebrows and half a smile.

“What?” I replied in all innocence.

“That banana’s been sitting out since this morning…”

Dang. She had me bang to rights. Toddler had expressed an interest in a banana at breakfast, had eaten a mouthful and left the rest. I chopped it into chunks and put them in a bowl thinking they’d be grazed upon in due course.

Now it was teatime and here I was stuffing the chunks into a just-past-its-sell-by-date pitta bread with some hazelnut chocolate spread. The bits of banana looked awful but tasted great.

I’ve always been a fan of hoovering up scraps. Maybe it’s my thrifty Scottishness or the fact I had three siblings - you could bet if you didn’t finish your tea someone at the table would offer to clean your plate for you.

I read this fascinating piece in the FT at the weekend about a woman who’s managed to raise lots of money for good causes by scavenging perfectly good food that gets dumped by retailers and at markets. I draw the line at rifling in skips but I hate to see waste. If that makes me ’such a dad’ make me a badge and I’ll wear it with pride.

I recall a visit to the excellent Bakehouse Café in Findhorn a couple of years ago. It was late on a Sunday afternoon and our hopes of finding somewhere open and serving decent coffee and cake were fading but our cups of joy overflowed in the Bakehouse. Not only were they not doing the traditional Highland welcome of putting a chair in the door at 3.45pm and turning off the milk frother but they did us proper coffee and the most amazing cakes at knockdown prices. It seems they lowered the price of a slice to pennies towards closing to ensure no leftovers. Genius.

(To date my favourite Highland hospitality anecdote came from an acquaintance who went into a west coast shop on a hot summer’s day and asked for an ice cream only to be told he couldn’t have one as they had 'washed the spoon'.)

I know some local authorities like Stirling give households yet another bin for their collection - this one’s for food scraps. The waste is then sent for digestion in a Willy Wonka style industrial plant where it magically transforms into heat and power. Maybe we’ll get that here one day. Mind you, I’d probably want to hang on to my tattie peelings, etc for our compost bin - it has a practical application now we have an allotment.

Wife-features is a fervent supporter of the idea of making meals using what you’ve already got in. It always reminds me of that Simpsons episode where Homer’s left to look after the kids. “Let’s see what’s in the cupboards. Pie crust. Cloves. Tom Collins mix. Mmmm…”

I wonder what we could whip up using ten tins of chickpeas, three different kinds of white wine vinegar, a jar of Marmite and some bicarbonate of soda?

We always seem to have jars and jars of lentils and split peas and every now and then I go a bit mad and make a huge pan of soup so thick you can stand your spoon up in it just to reduce the accumulation of pulses.

Maybe if I stir a scoop of Marmite into each pan no-one will notice. It can’t be any worse than Clove and Gin Pie.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

If You Have A Nut To Crack, Maybe You Should Hire... Danny!

To assist with allotment duties a 7lb sledgehammer was purchased recently.

I couldn't help chuckling at its name...

Twenty's Plenty

Very satisfying to see the new 20mph limit signs going up around Inverness city centre.

Yesterday felt positively cosmopolitan in Dolphinsludge: a leisurely cycle through the heart of the Highland Capital to a park to sit in the sun and eat a 99 followed by a game of tig with Toddler.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Plot Thickens... With Veg!

A combination of good weather and Easter holidays means The Electric Allotments are buzzing with activity just now.

I've managed to squeeze in some time on our plot, marking out a small section, getting the earth turned over and raked - perhaps not quite to the 'fine tilthe' the guidebooks suggest - ready for planting.

Some tatties and onions are now in. Leeks and other goodies soon to follow. I'm basically throwing a bit of everything at it to see what sticks. Wife-features is very keen we only sow what we'll actually eat. Assuming my tatties, onions and leeks sprout forth we can eek out the winter months with Leek & Potato Soup for lunch and dinner every day!

I've assembled a gate (any excuse to browse the aircraft hangar size screws, bolts and nails department of Highland Industrial Supplies) and plan to whack in the fencing shortly.

It's proving to be a great wee community with a real cross section of Nairn digging for victory. If you're passing on the train give us a wave!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Chernobyl 25 Years On

"The bottom line on the economics of nuclear power is that it simply does not add up. That is why private investment is wisely focusing on better alternatives."

Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union at the time of the Chernobyl disaster and now head of the environment group Green Cross International, says nuclear power is not the answer to the world's energy problems or to climate change.

Astonishing to think we're still affected (300 hill farms subject to restrictions; paying for this massive dome) and that it'll be 100 years before work begins on the actual clean up of the plant. Oh I want to hug a wind farm or a hydro dam right now.

For The Love Of Common Good Funds: 2nd Vote Green

Here it is. The Scottish Green Party manifesto for the Holyrood election.

Free education, cheaper train tickets, fairer taxes and lagging in every loft!

Plus some deeply sexy stuff about devolving power to local communities, in particular helping them take control of those mystical Common Good funds you sometimes hear about.

Inverness: You Know When You've Been Tescoed

"Look at what happened to Inverness. It was Tescoed to the north, south, east and west. They keep that land in land banks until they decide to use it."
Robin Harper, the UK's first Green parliamentarian, makes an excellent point. More on the Greens' very sensible plan to replace the unfair Council Tax here.

The reaction of the spokesperson for big business and rich lairds? Shh! You'll scare away those absentee landlords we all love.

Oh, and Tesco today reported full year profits before tax of £3.54bn, up 11.3% from a year ago. So how dare we suggest they chip in a few more quid to pay for the services we all need!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Ride The North For A Very Good Cause

Details here of Ride the North, a charity cycle in the summer to raise funds for research into and support for sufferers of kidney, prostate, bladder and testicular cancers.

The route looks superb - lots of Aberdeenshire and Moray scenery to whizz through. Sadly I'm already down to bag a Corbett that week for another good cause. Maybe I'll do the bike thing next year.

The Bottom Line Of Bike Lanes

Or the economics of cycle paths, to put it like a Brit.

A fascinating and ultra-nerdy rant here by German business journalist Olaf Storbeck.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pooh World Pooh-Poohed

I’ve already told Wife-features and TWMBO if they want to go to Peppa Pig World they’re going on their own. Same goes for Pooh World. Whatever happened to simple childhood imagination?

I grew up watching Kickstart with Peter Purves and never dreamt of owning a scrambler motorbike or going to Kickstart World. The Commodore 64 cassette game was good enough for me.

I dunno. The young people today and their desire for human interaction. Sheesh.

You Can Leave Your Hat Off

“It’s like criticising the health secretary for eating a cake.”

I couldn’t agree with this commentator more. There was a stushie, a kerfuffle or even a stair heed rammy recently when Transport Minister Norman Baker revealed he doesn’t like to wear a helmet when cycling round London as he likes to feel the wind in what’s left of his hair.

I’ve blogged before about Baker the Doughnut as he tried to claim for a bike on expenses along with hi-fi equipment and made a bizarre comment about how nice cars are in city centres.

But on the subject of helmets I’m with him and Boris the Baffling Mayor and others. If you gear up and cycling aggressively motorists behave the same way. If you look like a normal person who happens to be on a bike they give you a wide berth.

It’s a shame to see critics pointing to the number of head injuries when it’s not at all clear if those injuries would have been prevented by a tiny piece of polystyrene and plastic. I rather fear not.

I am a careful cyclist, especially since becoming a dad, and try to plan my journeys, making best use of safe routes.

One example being the Rose Street-Innes Street underpass in Inverness, possibly the ONLY safe way to get from the city centre to the Longman without risking a squishing under an HGV or dying of old age waiting for a gap at the Harbour Street roundabout.

I blogged a couple of weeks back about the recent introduction of barriers at the underpass. In a serendipitous moment the other day I was heading for the underpass when I noticed local councillor Janet Campbell and wee group in earnest discussion. It turned out to be a couple of council officials and a member of the Highland Cycle Campaign.

We had a wee chat about the barriers - not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things - and the end result I think was that the officials would look at altering them slightly to ensure while they were still slowing cyclists they weren’t ejecting them into blind corners and into the path of pedestrians.

I did make the point that it’s a useful cycle route and should be made easier for cyclists to use rather than harder only to be met with: “It’s not an official cycle route.” Well, maybe it should be!

There have been a few instances in recent times where cycling and walking just haven’t been considered by the car-centric authorities we have. (For example, what would it have taken to extend the path from the old Delnies School a very short distance to the Ardersier turn off on the A96? The authorities said it would be dangerous and the councillors I approached about it simply shrugged.) What was it HG Wells said? "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." You don't need a Time Machine to know that makes sense now.

It Was A Knockout Birthday Cake

Picture the scene. It’s an episode of It’s A Knockout (no apologies to those too young to understand) featuring giant inflatables, custard pies and paddling pools with Stuart Hall commentating/guffawing. But instead of Ordinary Members Of The Public or The Royal Family the competitors are toddlers!

TV gold, surely!

This was the flash of genius that crossed my mind at the weekend when our Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed arranged to have her 2nd birthday party. Completed unbeknownst to us. Messages on Twitter and everything. I dunno - the youth of today.

In reality it was a very civilised afternoon of tea, cake and sandpit action. (Top tip from parent whose Toddler is six months ahead of ours: Don’t be tempted to put sand in one half and water in the other half of the sandpit just because that’s what the serving suggestion suggests. You just end up with very wet sand. And it gets everywhere. Sigh.)

I just couldn’t help wondering what fun could be had if TWMBO and her five acquaintances were lined up and made to compete. “First one to the Co-op and back for a bottle of Pimm’s wins!” Should I change my moniker to Sick Dad?

One of the main developments during The Birthday Party was my ability to tell Dad Jokes. You know the kind...

Green Gran dropped her mobile phone in her bowl of vegetable soup, causing reasonable amounts of hilarity. I suggested she take no more calls on it, lest it give her cauliflower ear.

Later I congratulated one of our friends on a new venture which will see her doing things with food. Her first name is Pennie. I suggested she change by deed poll her surname to Pasta. (Are you losing the will to live yet?)

And, zut alors! The cake I referred to. No ordinary birthday cake, oh no. Not some bit of sponge with generic ‘Happy Birthday Insert Name Here’ icing. Oh no. During the cooking stage when our TWMBO was a bun in Wife-features’ oven the missus craved crunchy things including meringue. We’re also big fans of the French cream cake people who appear at the Inverness Farmers’ Market. So we put two and two together and came up with a crispy, creamy cake heaven for toddlers and grown ups.

These guys (and they do appear to be literally a couple of guys) based on the industrial estate on the outskirts of Nairn concoct amazing confectionary. When I phoned to ask what they could do I was told, in a voice akin to Jean Reno, “Anything you want, monsieur!” We placed our meringue-heavy order and I had to collect on the morning of the party.

I suggested to Wife-features I could easily strap the cakes to my bicycle handlebars but this was met with a Paddington Stare so the car was phutted into action. Out on the industrial estate (“This development made possible thanks to EEC Regional Assistance funding” says very worn sign) I presented myself at Cake HQ. “You are Mrs Mackenzie!” was the chef’s hat-wearing patisserie man’s greeting. Er, not really, I ventured. “Pavlova?” came the response. Yes, pavlova but chocolate. Ah! All became clear and thankfully I wasn’t sent away with Mrs Mackenzie’s pavlova.

Then came payment. A calculator had to be found and very exact amounts were calculated. At this point I began to wonder if the tiny shack I was in was some sort of front. At any moment I could expect to hear chopper blades overhead, a siren in the car park and an offer of minimal injury being made through a megaphone if I came out with my hands up, Jacques.

Then again I’ve watched too many Jean Luc-Godard films and those episodes of Twin Peaks involving One Eyed Jacks.

In the end I got home with the meringue-tastic cake which was universally acknowledged as the most magnificent taste sensation ever. Seriously.

Which reminds me of a Dad Joke: A guy walks into a baker’s in Glasgow, points at one of the items on display and says ‘Haw, pal. Is that a doughnut or am ah wrang?’ The baker says, ‘No, you’re right enough. It’s a doughnut.’

A Lot To Update You On

A bottle of Blue WKD, a disused power cable, three varieties of snail, one enormous beetle, a hundred and forty-two pebbles, seven shards of glass, a Zoom wrapper, a packet of Disco crisps (empty) and a couple of roof slates.

My first allotment yielded the angler’s equivalent of a welly boot, as expected.

The sun has been shining these past few days and the allotment-holders down our way have been busy as bees. I made a start today.

Some already have sturdy fences up, sheds erected and sprouty things sprouting but today for me was all about introductions.

Introductions to the new neighbours - a dad about the same age as me with a son about the same age as my wee girl and a lady determined to get some tatties on the go as soon as humanly possible - and the soil that makes up the Green Dad family plot.

I selected a square about four metres by four metres and gave it a good forking, flinging all manner of aforementioned detritus to the side. “Seventeen black bags and I’m still going,” came the ominous advice from the nextdoor neighbour waging his own war on the impurities.

I then raked the square from south to north then west to east. All in all a sweaty, back-creaking two and a half hours.

But boy do I feel good. Hopefully tomorrow with a bit of top soil I can get some actual planting done. Once a few things are in the ground I can tidy up the rest of the plot.

There are pictures here of the perimeter fence going up. The poor contractor has by all accounts been swatting people away like midgies as they enquire into the possibility of leftover fenceposts and wire for their own wee sections. I have a cunning strategy that involves relocation of my mother’s spare garden gate and fence. (Spare? Don’t ask.)

It’s interesting to see the effect the acquiring of an allotment has had on me. Previously a trip to Highland Industrial Supplies (mainly for its excellent cafeteria run by Cobbs) involved looking at various implements and widgets and wondering who on earth buys them whereas now I actually go there with a shopping list.

Previously my web favourites were things like the Calvin and Hobbes daily cartoon or Savage Chickens but now it’s filth like this (sensitive blog readers should look away now).

Monday, 11 April 2011

Moray Poop Plant Inspires Far East Clean Up

The Findhorn Foundation's Living Machine (sewage treatment works) appears to be the inspiration behind a big clean up of Manila's previously filthy waterways.

Read all about it (but not while you're eating) here.

How Many Grebes Will The Blimp Maim?

The wind farm deniers have a hilarious plan to fly a big balloon near Kiltarlity to show the height of the proposed Druim Ba turbines. Not exactly scientific but certainly eye and journalist catching.

The P&J coverage also mentions an event in Inverness recently at which wind farms were rubbished by an expert from the Renewable Energy Foundation. A quick check would have revealed this Foundation is chaired by a serial investment banker and directed by a former oil and gas chief. No conflict of interest there. No-one from the renewable industry was invited to take part.

Meantime I wonder if any sane people want to join me in out-stunting the Say No numpties by hiring an inflatable nuclear power station? Of course if it springs a leak and starts to deflate we'll have to evacuate a hundred thousand people.

Super Supermarket Idea

Here's a great idea - make the out of town supermarket giants chip in a few more quid to help boost town centres.

We should try it. Oh, hang on, John Swinney was going to and was supported by the Greens but the idea was squashed by the Libdems, Labour and the Tories. Bunch of children.

Nairn Mannie Comes Out Of His Shell

Interesting profile here of James Smith, outgoing UK boss of oil giant Shell.

I saw him give a fascinating talk during the banking crisis. He's a Nairn mannie, don't you know.

Sadly, life in a tower block office overlooking the Thames seems to have disconnected him from reality.

He thinks cheap gas from shale could be the saviour of peak oil. Shale gas extraction involves 'fracking'. At his Findhorn talk the other night Judge Monbiot explained how flipping awful fracking is. At least something we agreed on!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

John Muir's Turning In His Grave

As a native of East Lothian and a huge fan of the county's most famous son, the founder of the modern nature conservation movement, it's disappointing to see the John Muir Trust continuing to dismiss wind farms as a way of reducing the carbon footprint of our energy needs.

Their latest nonsense is a report by an anti-wind campaigner and is full of holes. The saddest thing is they never offer an alternative. Turbines spoil the view for some people therefore they must be stopped. I'd like to think Muir would appreciate what a threat to nature climate change is and that adding a few turbines to the skyline as part of a renewable energy mix is a price worth paying compared to either doing nothing or using more coal or nuclear which are both devastating for the environment.

As well as hailing from Muir's old stamping ground I'm a Munro bagger and the sight of a wind farm from a mountain top always fills me with hope and happiness.

It's also disappointing to see the P&J refer to the recent NIMBY gathering at Holyrood - those involved claim 250 people attended when in fact only about 30 turned up. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story...

Whodunnit Mystery - Tain Bookshop Is The Innocent Victim

Sad news from the oldest Royal Burgh.

The great wee bookshop there has closed its doors. Could it have anything to do with a big out of town supermarket? Yes it could.

We can't help noticing a similar story elsewhere. Forres used to have a secondhand bookshop but it's gone since the new Tesco opened. How long will the Nairn Bookshop last if Sainsbury's starts selling bestsellers and non-fiction at knockdown prices?

Shock! Some People Don't Mind Wind Farms

Jings, crivvens and dare I say it - help m'boab!

Read all about it here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Innes Street Underpass Over-reaction

I don't know how well you know Inverness but it can be a bit of nightmare getting from one side of the city to the other on foot or by bike.

There are lots of busy roads, narrow pavements and few crossings.

For years I've cycled to an office in the Longman Industrial Estate from the railway station, making use of an underpass linking Rose Street with Innes Street. There isn't really any other way to get across the railway line other than going all the way along Millburn Road and across the level crossing and under the wee tunnel towards the car dealerships. The thought of negotiating the roundabouts at Rose Street and Harbour Road and the dual carriageway in between makes me shudder.

A few weeks back some metal barriers appeared at both ends of the underpass. This means all users - pedestrians, wifies with message bags, mums with buggies and cyclists like me - have to bunch up and at times queue to get through.

After being given a bit of a run around by the council it turns out they installed the barriers after being contacted by the police who in turn had been contacted by people apparently complaining of almost being knocked over by cyclists going into the underpass at great speed. It seems it's a useful route for students at the college who cycle on the pavement next to the dual carriageway across the railway line and then down a steep sloped path next to some steps which emerge onto Innes Street.

In a bid to resolve an issue the authorities have just made things worse for everyone. The real problem of course is how difficult/dangerous it can be getting around the city by bike so it's understandable (but not excusable) that some younger dudes cut corners and act without due care. Installing metal barriers in the underpass won't stop students whizzing down the hill - so perhaps barriers on the hill (like on Stephen's Brae) or even just a sign asking them to slow down? Or paint a white line down the middle of the underpass making one side a cycle lane.

One of the local councillors is on the case and is keen to resolve it to satisfy all and has promised to keep me updated.

Why aren't Highland Council and others doing more to make places like Inverness easier to get around other than by car? Am I a one man band? Have I been inhaling too many exhaust fumes?

Leak Plugged; Fish Buggered

"We have borne the risks, co-existed and flourished with Tepco for more than 40 years, and all these years, we have fully trusted the myth that nuclear plants are absolutely safe," said Katsuya Endo, the mayor of Tomioka.

The latest from Fukushima here.

Public Safety Announcement

For a long time I've wondered why on earth so many people buy the Daily Mail. Its articles crop up pretty regularly on the excellent Tabloid Watch blog - check it out.

For professional reasons there are times when I have to sully my eyes with the Mail. Such as today.

Their coverage of the Libdem manifesto launch had the headline: "Party's big new idea ... more rights for gays".

They took one line from an 83 page manifesto: "We will tackle lack of awareness about gay issues, equality and bullying through the teaching profession. We will find new ways of challenging homophobia in schools and colleges and underachievement by lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils."

Which the Mail translated into: "Libdems are promising lessons on gay issues in Scotland's schools. Teachers would be expected to give over class time..."

Followed by a quote from 'Family and Youth Concern' (?): "Most parents don't want their children's schools to promote homosexual lifestyles."

I felt sick after reading this bilge. Intriguingly they don't have this story on their website - only the print version.

The public safety announcement in my headline? Oh, yes. Next time I'm in Strachan's buying my papers please don't be in the queue ahead of me clutching a Mail. I will not be responsible for my actions.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Forres Developers Off Their Trolley

Forres has potential to become a “food destination” just as Speyside is a “whisky destination”, according to the head of the local chamber of commerce.
And how will the town achieve this gastronomic gong?
By selling its common good land to a bunch of developers who want to build a supermarket, despite residents voting no in a referendum.
Bon appetit!

Monday, 4 April 2011

By George, He Hasn't Got It!

George Monbiot - whose environmental views normally chime with my own - gave a talk in Findhorn tonight explaining why he believes going nuclear isn't all that bad.

It was a wide-ranging talk which stimulated a lot of discussion about where our future energy supplies will come from and I commend the organisers for enabling this sort of conversation.

One young audience member wondered why we're not seriously talking about energy rationing. A good point but which brave politician is going to propose that!

Sadly George seriously believes the risks involved in nuclear power plants are less than the impact on the scenery by installing some wind turbines, hydro reservoirs and pylons. Very disappointing.

On the plus side he suggested we could rely on the bankers to break the economic system again quite soon, stifling our compulsion for growth, growth and more growth.

Personally I'm with the energy quota girl. And grown men with power-guzzling X-Boxes should pay twice as much for electricity as normal humans!

Nairn Motorists Who Cause Traffic Jams Fume At, Er, Traffic Jams

Here at Green Dad HQ we have little sympathy for those in Nairn who campaigned for an out of town supermarket but who now appear aggrieved at the prospect of a few more traffic lights and pedestrian crossings in the town.

There's even a Facebook page set up by one of the local councillors called "Nairn Against Proposed New Traffic Lights" which blames Transport Scotland when of course it was the councillors who voted for the supermarket who are to blame.

Getting across the A96 on foot, especially with kids, can be a nightmare so anything that helps has got to be welcome. Nairn needs a by-pass but meantime (I've said it before and I'll say it again) get on your bike!

The Time For Time Outs Has Arrived

Time Out.

Surely one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Dave Brubeck and Co. Take Five and all those other very hummable ditties.

Time Out has a new, less jaunty meaning for me these days. Apparently it’s not unknown for small children to misbehave. Wife-features and I are keen to keep our Toddler on the straight and narrow and the time for time outs has definitely arrived.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is fast approaching her 2nd birthday and the ‘terrible twos’ are, we have discovered, a real thing. The other day she booted Wife-features in the face while resisting a nappy change.

We’ve had a few sleepless nights of late but the interruption to sleep is the least of our worries. If the only way to settle TWMBO is allowing her to sleep sandwiched between mum and dad inevitably we are given a 6am alarm call in the form of a jab in the eye sockets or the kind of kick in the kidneys a grumpy horse would be proud of.

But how to discipline a toddler without scarring them for life?

Most guide books suggest a ‘naughty step/spot’ but we’re struggling to think of one. Perhaps outside in the street leaving her at the mercy of passers by. Or there’s the tiny attic where we stash the Christmas decorations. A few minutes squashed in a cupboard with nothing but smiling Santas for company and I’d sharpen up my act.

So far we’ve been using her cot-bed. Sadly there are occasions when she realises her penitentiary has a bouncy mattress and before you know it she’s hopping and giggling. Actually, just seeing a parent look serious seems to be enough to shake her so a naughty spot might not be needed.

Recently on a visit to Castle Greyskull (Aberdeen) I was in a stationery shop (not a stationary shop - all shops are stationary except for ice cream vans and those mobile grocers that tour the islands) that was full to the brim with teeny tiny fripperies and colourful, sparkly books, pens and paper. I therefore had to sympathise with the wee guy about five years old being lambasted by his mum. Why do you keep touching things? Why can’t you stand still? Perfectly reasonable questions, I don’t think so.

It was as if she’d taken her dog to the butchers and ticked it off for straining its leash.

I felt bad thinking so judgementally but if I’ve learned anything in the past two years it’s that some situations become hideous with the addition of a wriggling child and it’s better to get the heck out of Dodge than battle on with your tether in tatters and the world scowling at you.

I lived for some years in Germany and over there there’s a cultural difference when it comes to correcting bad behaviour. I don’t think I ever saw a kid being told off, let alone receive a smack. It may have been different behind closed doors but in public even the raising of a voice to a youngster was enough to shock society.

Maybe they’re on to something. After all, their trains run on time and they don’t have street litter.

Anyway, keeping our Toddler in check is probably a bit futile. She’s already turning the tables. The other day she was persuaded to finish her tea with the promise of a chocolate spread sandwich for pudding. I asked if I could have a chocolate spread sandwich as I’d finished my tea. TWMBO looked shocked and said: “Choccit sammidge for me. Choccit sammidge not for daddy!”

That’s me told!

No Chains Please, We're Ethical Cyclists

Prescott was Two Jags.

I’m Green Dad: Four Bikes.

Don’t look at me like that! Each bicycle is essential, vital, necessary.

You’re like those people who don’t understand why a guy needs three thermos flasks.

Look - one’s a fully fledged mountain bike with a super light frame, disc brakes and suspension for doing silly things in the hills; the second is a commuting steed for the city; the third is a folding bike for those last minute business trips by train; and the fourth is an old rusting work horse of a bike that used to be for off-road stuff but is about to get a new lease of life…

The old mucker is getting an upgrade. The suspension doesn’t work very well but that’s no problem. Its new life will be as a touring bicycle. A new chain, big squidgy saddle and rack on the back and I’ll be able to do lots of trips on unclassified and B roads with the ability to lug a camera and change of clothes. And I won’t have lost the feeling in my tender rear at the end of the journey.

This weekend involved a superb bike ride between Forres and Elgin. It was a route I’d spotted on the OS map a while back but had never got round to exploring. If you head south-east of Forres up Califer hill it takes a fair amount of puff but you’re rewarded with an amazing view across the Moray Firth. You can then breeze on east through Monaughty Forest to Miltonduff and thence over the Lossie to Elgin.

It was a splendid ride, marred only by the distant view of a wind farm to the south. (Can you tell I’m being sarcastic?)

Upon arrival in the Moray capital I suggested a takeaway coffee and a seat in the sun. This was seconded by my biking buddy but blimey the look she shot me when I suggested Starbucks! For a cyclist she has a strange aversion to chains. (Hey, see what I did there?)

For the record, Gordon & Macphail’s the deli do excellent takeaway coffee. I was amazed at my self-restraint; I didn’t come away with a case of whisky and my own bodyweight in blue cheese.

So a lovely day on the bikes - but could I have taken Todder with me? A few folk have suggested I get a child seat but I remain sceptical. I just know TWMBO would fall asleep listening to me pointing out interesting cloud formations and stopping to assess our route on the OS map. Her nodding off would cause us to veer into a hedge.

There’s also the option of the wee covered wagon you tow along behind you but they look so flimsy. No, the answer is to let her waddle about on tricycles and scooters for a few years then go for a full blown bike riding lesson. We’ll perfect the balance issue first then slot in some pedals. Stabilisers are such a mistake!

My own learning curve was a sharp and painful one. I recall being about six years old, my dad placing me on top of a massive Grifter (remember those? They had three gears!) and pushing me down a hill while my mum watched through her fingers at the bottom. I inevitably lost my balance a few times but gravity - until that point regarded as a friend - kept me going while scraping my face against the harling on the council house walls.

Since then I’ve been addicted. I remember when I was a teenager one friend said I was never seen without a bike. Even then I thought it was a huge compliment.

They are the ultimate low carbon transport and will without doubt replace the car in good time. I’m always amazed how car-centric development is in this country. I recently had to attend a meeting at a local authority headquarters. Not only was there no path - only a road - to get to the building but there was nowhere to padlock a bike.

The current stushie about fuel prices and the ‘raid’ on North Sea oil firms is an utter red herring. We’ve burnt the cheap stuff. It ain’t gonna get any easier. The sooner we shift to a low carbon economy the better. In short: get on your bike!

Spelling Broccoli's Hard Enough But Getting Kids To Eat It?

Trees, Gromit!

We’ve still not quite convinced Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed it’s OK to eat cheese but she’s started wolfing ‘trees’.

I should explain this is what she calls broccoli.

You’ve no idea how proud Wife-features is. Her wee girl eats broccoli! I’m half expecting her to take out a back page advert in the Nairnshire Telegraph to tell everyone.

It is interesting if a bit frustrating watching TWMBO go through phases of loathing and loving different foodstuffs. Some nights almost her entire tea goes in the bin while on other occasions she’s practically licking the pattern off the plate.

We’ve also developed a pattern whereby if she turns her nose up at something wholesome we’ll trail ahead to pudding, warning that said pudding won’t materialise if the wholesome main course isn’t at least tried. It really works. The other night I watched as the entire contents of her dinner dish were scooped up in a fist and pushed into her face at the prospect of getting access to a biscuit.

It’ll be interesting to see how Toddler responds to food dug up from her allotment. She has a wheelbarrow and watering can and we’re hoping to create a wee corner of the allotment for her. Maybe those pesky tomatoes and salad leaves won’t seem so weird when she realises she can help them grow?

Apart from rare occasions visiting my Papa and his veg patch I’m a true child of the 70s/80s. Most of my formative food memories involve things from packets and tins.

We would have soup from a powder in a packet followed by frozen fish fingers and Bird’s Eye Potato Waffles (waffly versatile) and finally butterscotch Angel Delight made from powder from a packet.

There was even a fruit drink (I used the word ‘fruit’ in its loosest sense) that you made up using powder from a packet.

I also remember being in the privileged position of being allowed the lone cherry from the can of fruit cocktail in syrup - until my brother arrived when I was six and then we had to share. Hmph!

Other creations which seemed space age at the time were things like Toast Toppers and Sandwich Spread. I swear special effects guys on movie sets deploy these condiments when vomit is called for.

Somehow I survived.

Looking at the food we eat today it seems like a different world. On a recent trip to visit my Gran we took snacks for TWMBO. The pot of hummus intrigued Gran and she had her first taste of it. Not a hit. But still amazing to think this was the first time someone in their seventies had tasted hummus.

I’m trying to think what I would have been offered as a snack when I was TWMBO’s age. Probably some prawn cocktail flavoured Skips. Mmm, mmm! Whatever it was it would have been in a packet.


Oh no!

Where will the fine folk of Forres go in future for their picture hooks, draught excluders and complicated scones?

It seems Mackenzie & Cruickshank will soon be but a memory.

Look Away Now If You're Easily Offended

"I shall be voting for the Scottish Greens because the world we live on is being ruined and if we do nothing about it the s**t is going to hit the fan and we will all die as a result.

"None of the other parties seem to seriously care about this impending catastrophe because they are a bunch of fork-tongued ba***rds who care more about obtaining or maintaining power for its own sake than they do about the future of the human race."

Scottish artist David Shrigley (his cartoons are one of the many reasons to add Ballboy albums to your record collection) gives his support to the Greens but I wish he'd come off the fence and tell us what he really thinks!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Just Say Yes To Druim Ba

Green Dad took the trouble to visit one of the recent Open Days for the proposed Druim Ba wind farm near Kiltarlity and was mightily impressed.

In a nutshell a really boring piece of forestry plantation that is pretty dead in terms of wildlife is to be opened up for the benefit of locals and visitors with clean energy generated for the nation.

You won't be able to see it from Loch Ness as the NIMBYs suggest and the local communities will get a decent chunk of cash to spend on vital community projects.

Some wind farm proposals do raise issues but this one's benefits and merits are clear and obvious.

If you fancy supporting it, send an email to these guys.

If you want to know more about the project click here.

Kudos To Kingussie For Hydro Plan

I hope this proposal by a community group in Kingussie got the green light today.

Small scale renewables are to be encouraged. In fact, if there isn't something happening in your community - ask your 'leaders' why not!