Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Plonkers Who Plank And Get Tanked On Our Trains

I feel really sorry for the folk on the Inverness-Glasgow train mentioned in this story in the P&J.

I've blogged before about how train journeys can be ruined by screeching hen parties and bladdered blokes.

Scotrail have no plans to improve the situation.

Fergus Ewing MSP agrees with me it's a problem.

Transport Minister Keith Brown says train staff have to power to deal with these situations and he points out the Scotrail franchise is up for renewal soon and there will be a consultation.

Given how important rail travel is becoming thanks to increasing petrol prices and the wider green agenda let's at least try to make it a pleasant option. Rather than rely on train staff dealing with anti-social situations (not that they ever do) they should prevent these characters getting on the train in the first place.

And you can bet I'll be chipping my views into that consultation when it pops up.

Tide Turning On Wave Power?

Slightly worrying news here in the FT about the withdrawal of one of the businesses developing a major tidal energy scheme in the Western Isles, leaving an Inverness company holding the renewable baby.

However it's encouraging to see there are still plans to harness the tides in the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney. Having almost lost my lunch a number of times on the Scrabster-Stromness ferry I can vouch for the power of those waves!

Blue Bin Monday

So the new blue bins down our way seem to be working OK. That's two alternate Mondays it's been collected. No rioting in the streets over fortnightly green bin collections as the Daily Mail and others might have hoped.

There were some unbelievable grumbles from a few folk complaining that the extra bin for recyclable materials (plastic bottles, cardboard, paper and tin cans but not glass) would be too much in addition to regular green wheelie bins and brown garden waste bins.

These gurners should brace themselves for yet another bin. In Moray the council is rolling out collections of food waste to be collected with garden waste and turned into compost. Of course being Green Dad I've been composting for years. My bin cost a fiver and I walked it home from Crown to almost Dalneigh in Inverness, wearing it like judicial robes.

I'm always amazed how quickly the stuff disappears. Compost bins are like the Tardis - no matter how much grass cuttings you put in they never get full.

Meantime our blue bin is great. It's somewhat reduced the piles of recycling that used to build up at the back door. We still have to waddle to the bottle bank to dispose of glass (Why do some people moan about this? Surely if you can take it home from the shops when it's full you can take it back empty?) and I'm not sure what to do with Tetrapaks as these were previously taken care of at the recycling depot but it's miles away.

Oh for the days when you could just chuck everything on the fire...

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Organic Or Low Mileage?

An interesting article in The Ecologist on the organic food movement, which it seems is being snaffled up by supermarkets.

In some ways a good thing if it means we're eating less chemically-induced stuff but of course the benefits will go into the pockets of the supermarket bosses and the company shareholders. Also, last time I picked up organic products in a supermarket they were pretty much all from the other side of the planet.

Never mind. Behold! The ultimate spud! Grown organically and with zero mileage. Yes, the harvest has begun (in a small way) on our allotment. These were the tastiest tatties to date.

Earth, Highland rain, a bit of sun and then dug up and carried a few yards to the kitchen. Smashing.

"It's going to get quite a lot worse before it gets better."

The words of a top retail adviser in this piece by the FT on how we're being squeezed by the increasing cost of fuel, food and energy bills.

I've always been the sort of person who considers the bigger picture so while I do worry about the cost of petrol, the shopping basket and SSE's price-jacking, I can't help thinking how lucky we still are given what's happening elsewhere.

It's our increasingly rarely used car's MOT this week but I won't be rolling my eyes at the thought of yetanotheruddybilltosnafflethewages. I will however be wondering - as Stephen Davies writing to the Guardian did - whether those who are well off really need all their loot and whether they wouldn't mind sending some of it where it's really needed?

Trains Starting To Feel The Strain?

Interesting figures here in the FT about the increase in rail travel due to rocketing petrol prices.

I've definitely noticed more folk getting the train into Inverness since I resumed my commute by rail at the start of the year. And the trains out of Aberdeen at teatime are routinely jam packed. Last time I had to stand as far as Keith! (Thankfully he got off at Huntly. Ho ho.)

If more of us are using the trains we should lobby for improvements. Particularly on commuter routes such as the Elgin/Forres/Nairn-Inverness service. In December an extra train will get into Inverness at 8.15am. A welcome addition but what we really need is cheaper tickets (like the other routes into Inverness enjoy - for example it is literally pennies to commute from Beauly), earlier and later trains, a ban on boozed up hen parties and demob happy riggers and easier access to the southside platforms at Nairn and Elgin.

The Scotrail franchise is due for renewal in the next couple of years and there'll be a consultation soon to gather views. So, next time you're on the train have a think what would make it easier/cheaper/better and fire off a letter to those in charge. If you don't ask you don't get!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A Hole In One Of His Arguments

And so another hero bites the dust.

You know that moment when you discover someone you'd admired turns out to have a dark secret or unpleasant trait? Think of the moment in "A Close Shave" when Wendolene from the wool shop tells Wallace she can't stand cheese. "Oh no. It brings me out in a rash."

"Not even Wensleydale?" Wallace whimpers, clutching at cheese straws. (I've seen the film about 15 billion times thanks to TWMBO. Not that I'm complaining you understand. Any excuse for some W&G!)

Well it's a similar feeling I had when I read this hilarious sketch by Martin Kelner about the golf at Castle Stuart.

Yes, it seems the Voice of Golf, Peter Alliss, doesn't like wind farms. The comment he made is of course nonsense. No energy generation works 100 per cent of the time. And at least wind doesn't pollute.

Golf of course is one of the most environmentally-damaging sports with its huge requirement for water, chemicals and energy. Really all golf courses should have turbines on them. I'd suggest solar panels for the clubhouse roof but given the downpour during the Open maybe some sort of hydro scheme would be more appropriate!

The Only Way Is Up

Floods, droughts, rising oil prices and speculation by spivs...

Four of many reasons why the cost of food is going up and the warning is: get used to it.

This morning I looked out £1.50 for a loaf but had to scrape up another 15p when the girl rang it through the till.

Thankfully I've checked our kitchen cupboards and we still have half a tonne of wholemeal bread flour and twenty-nine tins of chickpeas. Humous and toast anyone?

Oh, by the way, the first of our allotment tatties have been lifted. Delicious! And (almost) free.

Common Good Campaigner Heads For The Highlands

I've blogged before about Common Good funds. Punted into the long grass many years ago with local control a crazy dream.

Andy Wightman, an excellent writer and campaigner on land reform and social justice, is due to appear at the Inverness Book Festival next month. His views on Common Good are definitely worth hearing.

Let's hope the community bid to take control of a chunk of Nairn's common good land at Sandown comes to fruition. A proper green space with parks and allotments run by local people is surely better than just more Mickey Mouse housing.

And the Forres Gazette poses an interesting question now the issue of the Mechanics' football ground sell-off for a supermarket has been resolved. What now? Surely whatever happens next it's for the people of Forres to decide. But do they have control?

Can't Stop Now - I Have To Shoot For The Chute

This is outstanding. A slide for grown-ups to use as they commute! (It's also cool to note the item was posted by Jason King. Although sadly not THE Jason King with That Moustache.)

Dear Highland Council,

Please can we have a chute for Stephen's Brae in Inverness?

Green Dad.

How To Polar-ise Opinion On Oil

Dressing up as polar bears. That'll get the environmental movement taken more seriously. (Sarcasm alert!)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Death By Powerpoint

Encouraging news here in the FT about the rise of the Anti-Powerpoint Presentation Party in Switzerland.

Thank goodness - I thought it was just me that hated the visual bullet-pointed slideshow software that brings jargon to life in 16 point Arial font with arrows, graphs and witty clip art.

I remember having to give a presentation to colleagues and simply said a few words, scribbled some salient points on a flipchart and sat back down.

The next guy footered around forever with a USB stick and a dongle and then bamboozled us for half an hour with all sorts of images and lists of upbeat lingo. He may even have used a laser pen to point.

I felt like a hick from the sticks but sometime later a colleague confided that my effort emphasised substance over flash.

I do hope we get back to flipcharts and pens - surely greener than having laptops and projectors constantly humming away - if only for us to enjoy scenes such as the one in Black Books when Fran hasn't a clue what she's doing and draws a circle and a line on a flipchart and bluffs to the board of directors: "Are we or are we not... a company?" And gets a huge round of applause. Genius.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Small Balls Pose Big Question

Here's a warning I discovered on the side of a box of toy wooden eggs. (Wooden eggs? Don't ask!)

My question is this: the toy is for a girl. Can I disregard the warning?

Green Dad.

Train Travel Is A Mann's World

Inverness Courier columnist Lorraine Mann is back to commuting by train.

A great wee piece by her here.

Flexipasses are indeed like the Holy Grail. And heaven help you if you get on the train without filling in the date!

Monday, 11 July 2011

News Of The World Gone But Another British Tradition Lives On ... The Queue!

I was down in the Central Belt for work last week and had taken a copy of the Nairnshire Telegraph with me to read during a pit stop on the A9. A metropolitan colleague laughed at the front page story about traffic lights. I scolded them, explaining it was the Nairn equivalent of the Edinburgh trams.

Working in Nairn today I nipped out for a quick bike ride to Auldearn and back during lunch and look what I saw. Okay, not the best piece of photojournalism you're likely to see but hopefully you can make out it's a queue of traffic all the way to the Auldearn turn off on the A96. That's almost two miles.

The infamous traffic lights (several sets have been installed at various points along the A96 as it goes through Nairn - a good thing in my view as it means you can cross the road without taking your life in your hands - apparently to offset the increase in traffic caused by the new out of town Sainsbury's but perhaps also because a large housing development was earmarked for the other side of town) aren't operational yet. The queue today is because the new roundabout at the entrance to the new supermarket is being tarmacked.

What was really disappointing was every single vehicle I passed in the two mile queue had its engine running. There were no signs to indicate what a long wait they'd have and ask them to switch off. It'd save them a bit of money and it would reduce pollution.

Lots of vehicles meeting the end of the queue were doing u-turns and going back to Auldearn to take the back road to Cawdor, suggesting they were through-traffic. A lot has been made of the need for a Nairn bypass and I agree it's a "no-brainer". But intriguingly objectors to housing developments have been saying there should be a bypass before more people live here. I don't recall the same point being made for the supermarket development.

Queues through and into Nairn will be more common with an out of town supermarket. These will possibly ease when the bypass arrives.

But as the Inverness Courier revealed recently the study into the bypass route and the new dual carriageway to Inverness is delayed. Therefore the question for those who represent the community is: what are you doing in the meantime to make public transport, walking and cycling easier and more attractive options?

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Only 166 Sleeps To Go...

iPads-style tablets for 2 year olds?

A £140 dolls' house - for boys? (It has a heli-pad and a gym.)

A ride-in Dalek?

Lego-branded USB sticks for, er, toddlers?

Yes, it's that time of year already. The toy manufacturers are revealing what they're banking on us buying this Christmas.

Read all about it here in the FT. (If you're not a subscriber you'll need to sign up. Hey, maybe that could be TWMBO's gift this year! Happy Christmas baby - on-line access to stocks and shares news. Love, Mum and Dad. Hmm. Maybe not.)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Damp Knitting?

A while back my brother got me a book called something like Big Lies to Tell Small Kids. Things like if you put a slice of ham into the DVD player a film about pigs appears on the TV.

I also love the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin’s dad is trying to persuade him that black and white photographs exist because back then colour didn’t exist. I wouldn’t say we’ve ever really lied to our Toddler but Wife-features and I have certainly discovered the benefits of the euphemism.

TWMBO gets very excited at the prospect of going swimming. Wife-features sometimes goes to the pool of an evening leaving me to do bath and bed. To avoid unnecessary excitement we refer to this activity as Damp Knitting. As in, OK dear, have fun at damp knitting. Don’t forget your 20p for the lockers. TWMBO hasn’t twigged. Yet.

Why Damp Knitting? Wife-featuring already goes out one night a week to a knitting group (it’s just an excuse for cake and a gossip if you ask me) so TWMBO is used to the (truthful) notion of her mum missing bedtime stories because of knitting.

Any day now I expect to be asked what the word “damp” means. We’re getting away with it so far because TWMBO can’t see her mum’s hair is damp when she returns from her so-called knitting. I’ve also managed to persuade her that one of our friends lives in the shop where he works. That’s right - in the bookshop in the “T” section there’s a wee gap and that’s where he sleeps at night. The fact our friend backed me up with this story made TWMBO’s eyes pop with amazement. Clearly Daddy can tell the occasional fibs but if another grown up says it too it must be true.

I know, I know. Sooner or later the tables will be turned.

Teenager Who Must Be Obeyed: But I need the next generation iPad to do my homework.

Green Dad: Whatever happened to pen and paper, mutter, mutter. I don’t believe you.

TWMBO’s friend: She can borrow mine. It must be awful being the only girl in our year without one.

Green Dad: Oh. Really? Poor baby. Okay then…

TWMBO: (To herself) That’ll teach him and his mate for fibbing about sleeping on a shelf. Ha!

Good Result For Forres Common Good Land

Excellent news here from Forres about plans to flog common good land to a supermarket developer.

Well done to the local campaigners and especially to Fabio of the Greens for keeping the issue high on the public agenda.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Say It With Flour

I vaguely recall a TV advert some years ago featuring curly-wurly haired Alan Thingy off QI. It was for a bank I think. And his catchphrase was “because life’s complicated enough.”

It didn’t make me switch to that bank but it was a sentiment I agreed with and still do.

A few months back we made some big changes to our routines that on the face of it made life less complicated. Wife-features popped her workaholic career on the shelf for a moment to savour being a mum and as a consequence Toddler didn’t need to go into childcare four days a week and I didn’t have to spend about 90 minutes each day behind the wheel of a family hatchback listening to The Gruffalo over and over.

However, I’ve noticed an usual spin off from our streamlined, sunnier set up. Complicated requests designed to outwit blokes.

For example, Wife-features was keen to cook a particular dish for TWMBO and it required “wholemeal plain flour“. As I was heading to the shops to pick up a few things I offered to collect the vital ingredient.

I’ve blogged before about my near-meltdowns in supermarkets when presented with endless choices. But surely the flour section of a wee Co-op will be a doddle? Think again. So many varieties with different brand names and packaging. Eventually I plumped for something that had the words “wholemeal” and “flour”. Big mistake.

I turned out WF already had a packet of what I’d bought and it was wholemeal BREAD flour. You know. For making bread. Rather than whatever it was she was trying to make. Not bread anyway.

A few days later heading back from the heaving Metropolis after a late night movie and Coca Cola I called in to the 24 hour money and soul sucking Tesco - leaving my ethics at the door and making a note to scrub myself with Swarfega when I got home - to do battle with the baking products.

An ever bigger selection! Flaming Nora. Again I plumped for something I was confident would hit the spot. But it was midnight and the blazing strip lighting did make my shopping experience feel a bit like a police interrogation.

Upon presenting the bundle to the missus a torrent of laughter and finger wagging was unleashed. Yet again I’d bought BREAD - flippin’ BREAD - flour. It said so a total of seven times on different parts of the packet. And there was even a picture of a sodding great loaf on the front looking utterly bready.

The other example of a minefield I trod in relates to wallpaper. Not complicated stuff usually but I swear what was once easy peasy is now like some nightmare version of The Crystal Maze. There’s no way I’m ever getting to the big dome at the end to catch all the fluttery bits of silver paper. I’m trapped in the B&Q Zone.

You see, Wife-features is a stationery fetishist and has passed this love of crafty things to our Toddler. During a flash of inspiration she suggested I nip in to a DIY store and ask for some swatches of wallpaper. These freebies could be used underneath paper and crayon to create patterned drawings. Highly logical.

I managed to find literally five minutes to swing past B&Q, couldn’t find a gullible-looking member of staff to blag scraps of paper from but did notice a clearance bin full of rolls of textured wallpaper. A large roll for a fiver? That’ll do nicely!

I got it home but alas it was the craft equivalent of fecking wholemeal bread flour. Except, when I unwrapped it, TWMBO sat for ages rolling it back and forth and stretching out on it like a towel on a beach. It’s proved to be a fiver well spent, if you ask me.

Oh, and the three tonnes of unnecessary wholemeal bread flour stacked to the ceiling in our kitchen? It’s toast. A lot of toast.

News Of The What?

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is getting on. Soon we’ll have to think about pre-school and then there’s school itself. It’s exciting and scary. I can almost recall my first day at school and somewhere my mum has a Polaroid of me aged four and a half and wearing a blazer.

The thought of TWMBO going to school so soon makes my head swim. I experienced a similar feeling recently when I gave a talk at one of my old schools.

When I was a pupil it was a collection of huts on a hillside. These days it’s a state of the art building with touch screen white boards. I’ve given talks at schools before as part of the programme that equips fifth and sixth years with ideas for business. My speciality is showing them how to get good publicity for their products and services and how to fend off negative publicity if something goes wrong.

But this was the first time I genuinely felt old. It wasn’t just the super modern surroundings. When I explained how to deal with newspaper journalists I was met with blank looks. Newspapers? It quickly emerged newspapers and even the internet was for fuddy duddies. How do you know what’s going on in the world was my obvious question. A few of them grunted Facebook and Mobiles.

And so it seems we now have a generation that only consumes information passed along by friends. It’s mind-boggling. I still get the shakes on a Saturday if by midday I haven’t at least glanced at the front page headlines of the FT and the Guardian. And although it’s pretty sparse I feel compelled to buy the Inverness Courier on a Tuesday just in case I miss something. Only buying Friday’s edition? Who knows what you could be missing! Just think of the effort Jim Miller puts into those columns, goddamn you!

I do worry about the future of information. There’s a really strange set of forces at work in the media. The rise of the Daily Mail is relentless (I’m curious: why if Scotland voted overwhelmingly SNP is everyone buying an overtly right-wing tabloid?) while the News of the World has imploded. Regional dailies like the P&J and the Dundee Courier are doing fine. Weekly locals have mixed fortunes but what definitely seems to help is if the quality of their journalism is maintained. The temptation for big media firms is to cut back and do as little as possible to maximise profits. But if the quality of writing isn’t there people aren’t going to buy the product.

And then there’s the Nairnshire. No web presence. Still black and white. But where else do you turn for news from the Brighton of the North? It’s a format that works but will it continue to once the Facebook generation takes over?

I grew up in a household that never read a newspaper. However for several years I spent weekends with one of my grannies and I recall her getting the Edinburgh Evening News (it was a broadsheet back then) on a Saturday teatime. Reading snippets from it and watching The Money Programme on a Sunday made me the nerd I am today, I am sure of it.

I hope TWMBO has memories of bumbling around at weekends with her mum and dad with the house festooned with newspapers. Ah, the joy of wading through pages of articles you don’t know you’re interested in until you start to read them - how else do you find out what’s going on in the world?

And as for blogs? Print them out. I’ll read them later.

Lettuce Eat

The Allotment.

It's a bit like painting the Forth bridge.

Who'd have thought a plot of ground ten metres by ten metres within waddling distance of my front door would be so much work?

The fruits of what little labour Wife-features and I have managed to put in to the plot have started to emerge.

The other night the missus came home cradling half a dozen butch lettuces that looked like they'd been fed on a cocktail of protein shakes, Miracle-Gro and the radioactive goo that turns turtles into ninjas.

On the way home she bumped into a neighbour. Would you like a lettuce? Er, yes. How lovely. (What would you say?)

I took one into work for a colleague who likes her veg and has a family to feed. Wow, she exclaimed. This looks like what you get in the shops!

About twenty minutes later in the middle of something she piped up You grew this?

So, the harvesting has begun and sure enough food does taste better when you've grown it yourself. Food miles? Zero. Taste-o-meter? Off the scale.

The strawberries and tomatoes are coming along nicely, as is the rocket. Our onions are huge, as are the tatties. And the rhubarb is looking good. Wife-features has planted some beetroot so like I say it's like the bridge - there's always something on the go.

This Sunday the Electric Allotments are having a wee jamboree to celebrate what's been done and each of us is chipping in with some food. I hope everyone likes salad!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

King Car's Crown Is Slipping

It seems the penny is finally dropping for some folk.

Petrol isn't going to get any cheaper and the roads aren't going to get any easier to negotiate.

During the recent work on the Kessock Bridge a lot of people shared cars, took the bus or train or cycled.

Interestingly the Inverness Courier wrote a leader column calling for more to be done to make these options easy all the time and not just during emergency repairs.

Here's what they wrote.

They've followed it up with a scoop - the study into the route of the A96 dual carriageway between Inverness and Nairn, the Nairn bypass and the Inshes flyover has been delayed.

This has prompted a further leader column, here.

At last! A chance to really push for a better train service, a better bus service and decent cycle connections. Or should we just sit back and put up with congestion, accidents, pollution and spiralling costs while the new road takes a decade or two?

I would also argue the Nairn bypass is more important than dualling the A96 and if there were an option to progress one aspect of the work it would be that one. Yet our elected representatives have been strangely silent on it. Is it just me or are our councillors, community councillors and MSPs asleep at the wheel?