Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Tay Toes And Wiggy Warms

Or to translate Toddlerspeak: potatoes and wiggly worms.

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

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

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

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

Anyway, who's for mash?

Monday, 29 August 2011

Cable Ties Himself In Knots Over Land Value Tax

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

The words of Vince Cable the dancing business minister.

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

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

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Could animals be shaping us?

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

I Miss Daddy Mondays

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

What thought?

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

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

Tar Sands And Green Lands

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 August 2011

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

Summertime And The Living Is A Bit Damp

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

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

Nairn Butcher Offers Hot Dogs?

This one's for veggie readers of Green Dad.

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

Friday, 26 August 2011

Sustainable Cities

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

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

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Tooth About Toddlers

Yay! We’re going to the Densis!

Toddler’s words - definitely not mine.

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

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

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

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

My main teeth-related recollections from childhood are:

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

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

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

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

Green Dad Was Free Dad ... For An Afternoon

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

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

What did I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Man Who Fell To Perth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inverness Bikes About To Become Cubes?

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 August 2011

Five Fab Reasons To Like A Biker

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

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

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

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

5. Would save £52m in NHS costs.

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

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

Lairds, Tories And Wind

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

"Ask A Question, Win A Headline"

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

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

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

You Can Tell When It's... Leaking

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

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

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

Monday, 15 August 2011

Light At End Of Wind Tunnel For Druim Ba Plans?

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

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

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

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

Speed Isn't Everything You Know

News here about hopes of speeding up the train service between the central belt and Inverness.

Sounds OK but is shaving a few minutes off the journey time the answer? (What's the question?)

The journey is always going to be a long one so what's really needed is a more comfortable kind of train. With a bit of legroom and wi-fi and a buffet car and compartments and Celia Johnson. (OK, I'm getting carried away.)

And a wee drop in prices would be useful, along with more space for bikes. I had to nip to Stirling for work today so didn't take my bike in case it was thrown off - you have to pre-book at least 24 hours before departure. The ticket cost about £70. Eek.

Oh, and I had to drive from Nairn to get the service from Inverness as there isn't a train into the Highland Capital before half seven in the morning. Ridiculous. What's David Stewart doing about that I wonder?

Rum And Raisin' Kids

The typical summer family holiday, if we believe the clich├ęs, involves a stressed out car journey with the kids whining “Are we there yet?” followed by a frantic dash to catch a flight while struggling with luggage and then trying to find entertainment for everyone at a concrete resort.

Ours involved homeopathic anti-sickness pills, spotting nineteen varieties of butterflies and a gentle ferry ride to a place with no tarmac roads or street lights.

I heartily recommend the Isle of Rum for your next vacation although you’re unlikely to be able to do so as there are no hotels or B&Bs on the island - only a hostel and a campsite, which is fine if you like that sort of thing. I may be Green but I demand a comfy mattress and fresh ground coffee beans in the morning!

Luckily our pal Ikki lives on Rum and has a spare room. Toddler and Ikki get on like old chums so Wife-features and I weren’t constantly on parent duty. Luxurious.

Our visit swelled the population of the island by ten per cent. We were hopeful Toddler would meet the other two year old but sadly they didn’t quite co-ordinate diaries. The school has one pupil who’s about to move up to high school on the mainland, putting the island school into mothballs for a wee while.

With the whole island a nature reserve and no crime other than the occasional egg thief it’s probably a great place to raise a family but really you’d have to have a couple of kids and put one to school on the mainland to observe the difference. And I’m not that mad. I bet as I type it’s being suggested as a reality TV format by some “creative” twerp.

It’s a real lo-fi existence on Rum and I’ll admit to being envious. No roads means you don’t need a car and there’s no TV and only patchy radio reception. (Ikki made me smile when she revealed she could get Radio 4. My smile quickly faded when she failed to switch off when Weekend Woman’s Hour came on.) There’s a wee bit of internet but not much. The real test will be in the winter. It’s nice to imagine holing up for a couple of dark and stormy months with a pile of good books and a log fire but I suspect the reality is less charming.

Boiling water for a cuppa takes longer as electric kettles are frowned upon. If everyone switched on theirs at the same time in the morning the small hydro power supply would apparently fall over. It’s little things like that that make some people roll their eyes and mutter about Greenies wanting to send us back to mud hut existences. But it makes me sad - is the immediacy of boiling a kettle for a mug of coffee so important in the grand scheme of things? If we’re to tackle the Energy Crunch or whatever we’re calling it we have to face the uncomfortable reality that it’s unreasonable to expect as much power as we want when we want it.

What I really loved was the absolute darkness at night with only the lights from yachts moored in the bay twinkling and studding the black out. (Apparently the islanders are encouraged to close their curtains at night if they have lights on as these can distract Manx Shearwaters who fly into the houses.) Upon our return to the Brighton of the North I couldn’t help noticing the traffic noise from the A96 whereas before I thought our back garden was a tranquil haven.

Toddler’s trip resulted in her coming to a number of conclusions:

Horses should wear nappies as they do big poos all over the place.

The sea is full of whales and dolphins and crabs and daddy fish and mummy fish and baby fish and seals and otters and jellyfish and more whales and more crabs.

Ferries are wibbly wobbly.

I also earned some new Dad stripes thanks to our Rum adventure. I inflated an inflatable bed for Toddler which she then only played in and slept instead in a travel cot already assembled by Ikki. I endured midge bite after midge bite insisting they were building character. And I took pride in helping Toddler trace our journey along the A96, down the A82 and along the A830 to Mallaig with her finger on a big map every day until she could do it by herself.

Oh, and the road to Mallaig was mental. Lovely sweeping chunks of carriageway courtesy of the European development fund but few places to overtake and I kept getting stuck behind caravans doing 39mph. As an added frisson many of the vehicles in front would suddenly slam on their brakes, yank over onto the embankment and spew forth a bunch of people frantically clicking cameras. The Jacobite/Hogwarts steam train was right behind us it seems.

Best bit? (Apart from trying not to laugh at Wife-features realising the expensive anti-sickness pills she bought in Fort Augustus - to cope with the twists and turns of the A82 rather than the ferry crossing - were homeopathic placebo nonsense.) During the drive down the A82 Toddler kept pointing out of the window at passing mountains and saying “I want to climb that one and that one and that one…” That’s my girl!

Some Of My Best Friends Like Cars

Hopefully there are no photos to prove I did it. I’d be summoned to Greenie HQ for a "meeting without coffee". Did what? Ah, well, you see… At the weekend I drove to a vintage car rally. That’s right. Gasp! Drove. Gasp! To look at cars. One reader at the back has spilt his peppermint tea in shock.

I should have cycled to it and let down some tyres but you see I actually quite like old cars. I love the idea of motoring about for leisure with a gazetteer in the glove box and picnic hamper and flask in the boot with a tartan travel rug and tin of powdery sweets on the back seat.

Also, old cars are solid beasts with style. Yup - on the surface I appear to be Tom Good but scratch the surface and there’s a bit of Jerry Leadbetter.

The car created so much freedom back in the day - it’s understandable we want to hang onto it. But as a Greenie I very much view motoring as a luxury, like other novelty pursuits and eccentric passions such as collecting 45rpm records, going to Vue cinema and taking the Daily Mail seriously.

After oohing and aahing at the Austins, Rolls Royces, M-Gs and Ford Cortinas (vintage?) in the driveway of Brodie Castle and avoiding the numerous burger and deep fried donut stalls we repaired with Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed to a local cake emporium for a sweet treat.

It’s right next to an old railway station on the Inverness-Aberdeen line. My car-loving buddies who were with us seemed a bit unsure of my enthusiasm that it would be great to see such stations open again. Some motor-mad folk I know simply can’t comprehend getting the train as any kind of freedom. They seem to think sitting in traffic, paying a fortune for petrol and polluting the air is a much better deal.

It did make me wonder if somewhere amid the many layers of bureaucracy in government if someone has at least had a go at a set of ballpark figures - how much it would cost to reopen some of the stations and lines that fell victim to Beeching and weigh that cost against the environmental, road safety, air quality, oil supply, health, happiness and employment benefits to the nation. Proof of the success of reopening old stations and lines was aired earlier this year on the BBC by Douglas Fraser.

Just think. You could indulge a guilty pleasure with a bit less guilt by arriving by train.

Even better - the vintage cars could be run on the used cooking oil from all the burger and donut stalls!

Dolphins And Endorphins

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is going to grow up to be a marine biologist. I’m sure of it. I know she’s only two but the signs are already there.

She loved her visit a few months back to the Macduff Marine Aquarium, loved her ferry ride out of Mallaig and across the sea that’s apparently full of whales and crabs and sharks and more whales, she’s seen Finding Nemo a billion times and on Sunday morning at dawn had her first close encounter with a bottlenose dolphin.
We’d checked the tide times and the weather was good so headed out early to reach Chanonry Point just in time for a superb display by the Moray Firth’s most famous residents. At the Point they leap about literally in front of your face. (Wife-features made an excellent observation. The shore was crowded with guys clutching very expensive camera equipment but all taking shots at head height rather than crouching down to get a shot showing the dolphin completely out of the water. Such insight. One of the many reasons I hitched my wagon to her horse. One of the others being her ability to stomach my love of Test Match Special as background noise on days off.)

TWMBO suggested the dolphins had come to say hello to us, which I like the idea of. There is something about their playfulness which suggests they like to have a bit of fun after snaffling fish caught in the twisting currents. Maybe that’s why humans feel good when they’re full of endolphins. I’m sure that’s what they’re called.

And maybe their playfulness is why we don’t eat them. (I’ve no idea if they taste awful. In fact they probably taste like chicken. Doesn’t everything?) Everything else in the sea simply looks glum and we scoop them up and stick them under the grill. Same goes for on the farm. Would you want a burger quite so much if Ermintrude came barrelling across the field to see you, performing a couple of somersaults and doing some synchronised mooing with a couple of bovine pals?

On our ferry trip to Rum I pointed out some fishing boats to TWMBO and explained they catch fish so we can eat them. The penny has yet to drop but it’ll be interesting to see what her reaction is when she realises those animals in the sea she regards as friends are the same as those who make up the fish fingers she eats.

Our Rum buddy Ikki is a notoriously veggie and ethical eater (I still have a bruise from the time last summer I suggested we get coffee in Starbucks) and secretly I’d hoped to dine during our recent visit on my own stack of venison every night (they have a lot of deer on the island - an awful lot) but instead we had risotto made using mushrooms picked in the woods near her house and elderflower fizz made using bits of the bushes in her garden. It was super tasty but a real let down to discover I couldn’t relieve myself afterwards in a composting toilet. I had to use one of those newfangled flushing contraptions.

Anyway, TWMBO wolfed down some Ikki burgers made from veggie mix with gusto. We have searched in vain for the same mix since.

But back to the dolphins. The best thing about Chanonry Point is how little it has been developed. There’s now a smooth path and picnic benches just beyond the lighthouse which has made the point more accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. But there’s no massive visitor centre and no man with a cart inviting you to part with cash for a bucket of chum to feed to dolphins. Nor is there a tacky gift shop. All these things seem so inevitable with tourism but often the best way to sustain an asset is to leave it uncluttered.

We’ve become so used to interpretation showing dramatic images and nature trails promising all sorts of wildlife and gift shops that stock cuddly animals that seem so familiar yet are very hard to see for real. Maybe TWMBO will realise this - all those whales and crabs and so on are under the water and require a lot of effort and time to encounter. Answer? Become a marine biologist!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Numpty Trumpty

"Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries on earth, with its greatest asset being its magnificent coastline."

So says Shredded Wheat wig wearer Donald Trump who is outraged at the prospect of a few wind turbines on a distant horizon in the North Sea.

Securing renewable energy for the future is obviously bad whereas ripping up a great asset (our coastline, not his hairpiece) and destroying beautiful countryside to create a rich man's golf resort with a massive carbon footprint is clearly fine.


Organic Exodus?

"In the past decade, Scotland has experienced the biggest exodus in organic producers, with 189,000Ha either in organic production or in conversion last year, compared with 429,000Ha in 2002."

More on the slowdown in the organic movement on the Guardian website here.

Not long ago I blogged about the joy of discovering organic food at the same price or in some cases slightly cheaper than the chemically-rich variety in the Co-op. I took a trip to Nairn's new out-of-town Sainsbury's the other day and couldn't help noticing the very significant mark up for organic products. For example, a stalk of broccoli was 40p more. Any wonder it puts people off in these austere times?

Oh, and those chemicals don't guarantee freshness. We bought a non-organic cucumber that had turned to brown mush with a day.

Thankfully our homegrown tomato plants have started to flower. Mmm, mmm.

Nessie-sary Walking And Cycling Trail Now Open

Excellent news here about the opening of a trail for walkers and cyclists down the south side of Loch Ness.

Coachloads of tourists jam up the twisty turny A82 on the north side in the summer, buzzing around the honeypots of Drumnadrochit, Urquhart Castle and Fort Augustus. And not to mention the piss-poor lay-bys.

The south side's always been the real gem. A pint at the Dores Inn on the beach, squirrel bridges, creepy Boleskine House, lovely walks at Inverfarigaig, great hydro history and waterfalls at Foyers and spectacular views on the Wade road above Loch Tarff.

Opening up these gems for walking and cycling is key to developing Highland tourism. Motoring about the place is getting awfy pricey so the less time behind the wheel the better.

Well done to the destination management group of tourism businesses around Loch Ness for getting things moving in the right direction. I wonder what could be achieved if Inverness and Nairn had a similar group. There's one in Moray. Why the gap?

I noticed during last week's trip down the A82 (more about this to come) that signs have now appeared saying Welcome to Loch Ness. I recall the MC for VIP occasions Willie Cameron giving the local authority and tourist board chiefs what for at a swanky dinner when he pointed out there were 29 signs around Loch Ness, a world famous visitor destination, saying No Overnight Parking. But none saying welcome to Loch Ness. Haste ye back!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Pay As You Go Pothole Repairs?

The Inverness Courier is helping stir up a lot of fretting about the state of the roads with its rolling Pothole Hell coverage.

Today's edition even reveals a local business has a 400 signature petition calling on the council to "get it sorted".

It somewhat baffles me, simply moaning at the council. The Highland road network is gargantuan. Added to that the Age of Austerity. Added to that the coldest winter in 100 years worsening the cracks. Highland Council really are up against it.

So, here's an idea. Why don't those who use the roads most often chip in a few quid to speed up the repairs they're so keen to see happen? What's that? All gone quiet all of a sudden have we?

It's not so strange an idea. In fact it was heavily promoted by none other than Danny Alexander and Charles Kennedy of the Libdems (actually one's an old fashioned Tory Liberal and the other's ex SDP which is almost Labour) ahead of the general election. Here's a Libdem policy paper from a few years back.

So, next time your suspension goes whack in a rut down the Longman don't curse the council - shake your fist and ask why the Libdems haven't yet delivered on a pledge to introduce road charging. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Goodbye, Chocolate Face

It’s true what they say: be careful what you say in front of the kids.

Today Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed instructed Green Gran and I to wheel her into the bookshop to pay Uncle T-bo a visit.

You see, some of our friends have star quality and bookseller T-bo is a real celeb in TWMBO’s eyes. The first sighting of him results in a hushed gasping of his name and a slow creeping up on him, too shy to say hello, instead waiting for him to turn around and notice she’s there.

Ikki is another such awe-inspirer and TWMBO has almost literally been doing star jumps at the prospect of going to visit her by ferry. An hour long Calmac ferry ride an exciting prospect? Toddler is only two so it’s understandable. So why am I equally excited? I’m 34 and a half.

Anyway, once we’d chewed up plenty of Uncle T-bo’s time (the backlog of books had really begun to mount - if only people would stop writing for a bit booksellers could put their feet up and we’d all get a chance to catch up on what’s on the shelves) Toddler busied herself with some Potter toys. Not Harry. Beatrix.

Another wee girl was playing with them and over the course of five minutes or so TWMBO was comfortable sharing and I’m sure the two of them would have hit it off but sadly the wee girl, who’d recently enjoyed a biscuit or sweetie by the looks of things, had to go.

Her mum beckoned her away with the words: Time to go home. C’mon chocolate face…

As the wee girl was led out of the shop I heard TWMBO say earnestly: Goodbye, Chocolate Face.

Rockets, Coaches And Trains

The great thing about living close to the train station and just one stop along from the big city is the ease of hopping on and getting where you’re going quickly. On a train you generally don’t have to fold the buggy down and the wee one can run around if required or at least sit at a table and play games.

Going the fifteen miles by bus would be more of a chore. You’d have to fold the buggy and stow it. The bairn would have to sit tight in a cramped seat with minimal views for forty minutes rather than fifteen.

However, today’s coach ride into the big city still felt like a great adventure rather than the let down my old man mind had automatically started to program.

The train was cancelled for no apparent reason and the replacement coach was pretty full but TWMBO really enjoyed herself, especially when the coach went round a roundabout causing her to veer out into the aisle. I may have exaggerated this effect for maximum amusement.

TWMBO was slightly confused that our journey didn’t involve any tunnels. I tried explaining the train goes under the road so the coach goes over rather than through the tunnels. She looked at me as if I were mad.
The day of drama didn’t end there. Oh no. Our non-tunnelling wildly-veering coach ride came to a sudden halt just short of Inverness train station. Somebody’s Merc had burst in flames on Millburn Road and we were all ushered out onto the street to fend for ourselves.

We hooked up with Glan (that’s how TWMBO pronounces Gran) and made our way to an even more exciting mode of transport than a replacement coach or a burning hatchback. (By the way, why are they called replacement coaches when of course they’re replacement trains?) A rocket ship to the moon!

It was a bit of kids theatre at Eden Court and it was brilliant. Mind you, some of the little ’uns in the audience burst into tears when the alien rocket pilots arrived. It made me think of those daft mascots you get in “family” restaurants and similar places. Some poor student in a seven foot bear costume - just what little kiddies want to make them smile.

The kids had to wear special space jackets (high vis waistcoats) and were showered with sherbet flying saucers and wobbly spacecraft shaped jelly. We sang a rap about the solar system. I very much approved of the correct proportions of the different beach balls produced that represented the eight planets. Most people fail to appreciate how enormous Jupiter is compared to Earth. And I was pleased they included Baby Pluto but pointed out it’s not really a planet.

We then re-entered the real world and sauntered back towards the train station along the riverside in Inverness with TWMBO occasionally stopping and asking complicated and undecipherable questions about the moon and aliens.

I noticed some new signs by the Ness Bridge showing different walking routes and giving distances in time. “Eden Court 4 mins” one said. Hmm. Not if you’re pushing a buggy or waiting for a straggling toddler, I thought! But you’d get there in just 2 mins in a rocket…

Midge Madness

A quick explanation for passengers on a recent 2120 Inverness-Aberdeen train who may have caught sight out of their window of what looked like a disturbing pagan ritual or possible exorcism.

A perfect storm of circumstances contrived to place me in a ridiculous position. (Oh yeah, Green Dad? Excuses, excuses.)

I’d nipped down to the Electric Allotments to do a quick bit of evening weeding and check on the general health of the veg. Upon arrival I couldn’t help noticing there was only one other allotment mannie there and he made a fairly sharp exit after muttering something about biting.

I’d also forgotten to take a hanky with me. I had meant to after spending most of the day sneezing like Sneezy the dwarf would if he were pushed into a pile of pepper and pollen. Normally I am not given to sneezing.

Not long into my weeding I’d worked up a bit of a sweat and in the absence of a handerchief lifted my t-shirt to mop my brow. That’s when the midgies attacked (this is Nairn for heaven’s sake, not the west coast - what is going on?) and started to eat my ears. It’s also when I started to sneeze violently.

The situation was so serious I dropped my dutch hoe to attempt to restore some sort of order but it was no good.

As I was attempting to get unwedged from my lifted t-shirt while smacking my ears with a pair of gardening gloves and convulsing with great big “achoos” I heard the train trundle by. The driver gave a friendly toot.

I bet you’re hoping this is where I trod on the end of the hoe, causing it to flip up into my face, Sideshow Bob style. Hah! No chance. I’m not an idiot, you know.

“Get three balls in a bucket and you get a Saint Bernard”

One of the many very strange cries to be heard at the Nairn Show on Saturday. Wife-features pointed out on our way home from the event what a weird concoction it is.

Well to do farming and gentry types in tweeds and jodhpurs, displays of cattle, pipe band parades, garish carnival stalls and prizes for artworks made entirely out of butter. Personally I think we should go the whole Lake Wobegon hog and create a Living Saltire. (If you’re not a fan of Garrison Keillor this will explain.)

I love the Show although it’s a shame it’s moved from the easy to walk to historic town centre farmers’ showfield to a massive field two miles out of town and off a busy trunk road. I wonder what the carbon footprint of the Show is these days because so many more people must drive to it.

There was a bus laid on but it was such a nice day we walked. Not the quietest of walks next to the A96 for most of the way but it got us some exercise and saved on petrol. We also saw horses and butterflies. Much more fun than listening to Spot the Dog stories over and over.

Toddler was mesmerised but terrified of the motorbike stuntmen in the main ring and she also developed a form of stage fright when she reached the top of a huge inflatable slide. For about fifteen minutes (I don’t think I’m exaggerating) Wife-features and I sat at the bottom beckoning her to come down, going so far as to promise an ice cream if she did so. She seemed quite content watching all the other kids having a go instead.

We bought some strawberries from a very lonely looking fruit stall. The poor chap was squashed between a fish and chip van and a burgers, chips and hotdogs stand. Both had queues miles long. It may be blisteringly hot but damn it we’re Scottish and we demand fried food.

We did buy hotdogs and I can only assume they were made from mechanically recovered portions of a Queen’s corgi as they were £3.60 a pop. Next year we’ll be taking a picnic.

We bumped into an old pal, the writer Jim Miller. I cheekily suggested amid the different displays in the main ring - along with the vintage tractor display, prizewinning animal display, sheepdog display, cheerleader display - they could have a vintage columnists display.

“And leading the parade is Jim Miller of the Inverness Courier. He seems to be muttering something about biodiversity in a Caithness accent. Give him a cheer! Oh and look, here comes grumpy Colin Campbell from the Highland News. Hold your nerve if he comes over to you - he can smell fear you know. And bringing up the rear it’s Iain Bain carrying a placard that says What do we want? A return to pre-1970s council administrative boundaries. When do we want it? Now although I won’t hold my breath.”

An interesting observation from the show - when TWMBO saw some horse poo I suggested horses should wear nappies and this was met with enthusiastic nodding.

Finally, our quest to see “the animals”. Blimey this was mind-bending. TWMBO kept asking to see animals. We went over to the cows. I don’t like the cows. OK. Here are some sheep. I don’t like sheep. OK. How about…

Just then we passed the chainsaw man and she yelped “animals!” Ah, carved animals. So there we have it. We traipsed several miles in sweltering weather to a major farm show with hundreds of ruminating beasts but our toddler’s day was made by seeing a small owl fashioned from a tree stump. What a hoot.