Thursday, 24 November 2011

Brighton Of The North Turns Into Tinsel Town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Parallel Playing

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

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

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

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

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

Waste Watchers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lights, Gloves, Action!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: Hello?

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

Me: Er, what?

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

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

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

Me: Sigh…

"Leaf Slime" Promising Start To Rail Roulette Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inverness-Nairn Cycle Link - The Uphill Struggle Continues

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

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

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

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

Allotment Can Happen In Seven Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Veggie Good News For Organics

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

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

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

So Long Solar

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

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

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

Panorama On Gas Bills - A Lot Of Hot Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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