Wednesday, 26 January 2011

We're S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G. We're Shopping.

Friends! Next time you come… bring your own sugar.

Never mind the sugar, how about a pair of marigolds and an offer to do the washing up?

The sugar slogan is an old wartime advert, encouraging everyone to do their bit to conserve resources. I’m intrigued by the Green MP Caroline Lucas getting involved in an effort to find out if the way we lived during the wars can teach us how to live today.

I sort of understand her point when she says: “
It would be wrong to glamorise (glamourise, perhaps?) the second world war. But it would also be wrong to ignore the experiences and wisdom of those who lived through it.”
But it’s this sort of thing that makes it easy for other politicians and the press to portray the Greens as extremist dreamers. It’s a difficult message to get across to the public - war time living had benefits we should apply today. What’s that about conserving? You can’t hear what I’m saying over the noise of your X Box and the fact you’re on your second sack of Monster Munch?

One of the best ways we can help the environment and support our local economies is to shop local. Sadly, we’re human and love convenience. A brave soul recently had a letter published in the Nairnshire Telegraph (a black and white legend on a par with a Buster Keaton movie - and containing just as many thrills and laughs) expressing her appreciation of small independent shops and pointing out she wouldn’t care if the out of town Sainsbury’s didn’t come about.

Meantime it seems the ‘Tesco Tax’ proposed by John Swinney has been squashed by the childish opposition MSPs who failed to offer an alternative way of raising funds. It would only have affected a tiny number of big stores, increasing their rates in Scotland to what they already pay in England. In some cases they would have been asked to contribute over the course of a year what they make in profit in a single day. Surely not much to ask?

Inverness already enjoys doughnut status (a sweet ring of supermarket shopping and a hole in the middle where there used to be a tasty town centre) - Nairn High Street will soon feel the squeeze and I’m struggling to understand why Forres needs another major retail development.

Let’s hope Forres folk appreciate the vibrancy of their town centre, the benefits local businesses bring and continue to encourage excellent initiatives such as the monthly market - the next one’s on 12 February.

Supermarkets not only provide low skills and uncertain employment but they encourage car journeys and the money they take in doesn’t circulate locally whereas cash spent in independent local shops does benefit the community. Supermarkets are also one of the worst offenders when it comes to packaging. I actually burst out laughing one time in Morrisons when I encountered an individually plastic-wrapped red pepper with a barcode.

The council are gearing up to provide us with one bin for all recyclables, which in many ways is great, but it doesn’t help reduce the amount of packing in the first place. Remember: the three Rs include Reduce.

Meantime it’s interesting to see Highland Council’s suggestion for encouraging recycling. Fines. (Thanks to the Gurn for pointing this out.)

Back to the call to arms to bring your own sugar, go to work on an egg and make do and mend…

When TWMBO was teeny we had plenty of visitors. They always brought cake. Don’t get me wrong - I like a bit of confection. But I’m serious when I say an offer to do chores was what I secretly hoped for. That’s my top tip to anyone visiting a zonked new dad or mum. Never mind the sugar - bring a damp cloth.

Television, The Drug Of The Nation

Baron Grumpypants of Withering Barbs (aka Charlie Brooker) has a new TV series about the awfulness of, er, TV. It’s actually a work of genius, as most Brooker things are. His Screen Burn column in the Guardian was always the first thing I read on a Saturday. If I’m right, following a nasty review he wrote of someone’s new show, he received a comment from them along the lines of: “I hope you are sprayed with hot s**t.” Nice.

Our TV still goes nighty-night around 6.30pm when it’s bath time. To vary Toddler’s viewing we have been introducing some DVDs including vintage Paddington Bear and Trap Door. I’ve also updated our rental list on LoveFilm so we can sample without buying.

So far Shaun the Sheep has proved a big hit. ’Beep. Beep!’ (She can’t say ’sheep’ properly.) It’s a very knowing animation with all sorts of pop culture references. It made me hoot no end. Particularly this episode where the sheep gang up and go out for pizza.

Speaking of LoveFilm I see it’s been bought by Amazon. One intriguing aspect is the fact that it’s now routine to ask you if you want to (a) buy the film, (b) rent it or (c ) watch it now on your computer via broadband. My head swims at this concept. Why would you want to watch a movie on a laptop never mind via broadband? I can do DVD on a TV screen but surely nothing beats the cinema experience?

However the download option is proving pretty popular. I read recently the firm that supplies ’the pipe’ through which downloaded movies flow is at capacity. Will Amazon have to fork out for an upgrade? It all seems too virtual. I’m afraid I still think of reels of film rather than bits and bytes. Mind you, at least DVDs are fairly Toddler-proof. I recall a number of harrowing incidents when I was young, watching my younger siblings yanking VHS tape out of the flap across the top of the video cassette and strewing it round the house like bunting.

Film and TV are johnny come latelys in the sphere of entertainment. The old master is radio. Sadly, in the year we’ve been doing the daily commute I haven’t found anything on the dial that suits all three of us. On one occasion we managed the whole thirty minute journey from Inversnecky to the Sunniest Town in Scotland listening quietly to PM with Eddie Mair. Mind you, I think Toddler was concentrating on a spectacular nappy filler that afternoon.

Mostly we listen to books on tape (on CD) - Julia Donaldson’s Greatest Hits, The Very Best of AA Milne and Eric Carle: The Platinum Collection.

As long as there’s a good bit of rotation they don’t drive me too demented.

We’ve tried the Cbeebies podcast a couple of times but it’s a bit talky and jumbled for Toddler’s liking, although Wife Features and I loved Jelly’s News. Jelly is a muppet from the super-smug tree-hugging Green Balloon Club show. Her news mostly consisted of kids breaking exclusives such as chocolate cereal makes the milk go brown. Bong!

Radio 4 used to be on constantly but due to the mania of parenthood I find I have to keep in touch with I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and In Our Time (wow - two ends of a spectrum there) through their podcasts. I see the new controller has plans. They may not sound earth-shaking but I recall a conversation I had in Broadcasting House with a top R4 bod about possible changes to the schedule. ’It’d take an act of parliament to change it.’ He was perfectly serious.

When TWMBO was tiny I used to feed her an early bottle on a Saturday to Sounds of the 60s with Brian Matthew on Radio 2. It’s such a great show - full of hidden gems and perfect for a boogie with a baby.

My sanctuary however is Jazz Record Requests on Radio 3. Saturdays at 5pm. Unless the heartless thugs who run the network decide to trash this hallowed airtime with live opera. I’m afraid my idea of relaxation does not involve a beardy bloke and a lady with thunderthighs (just call me the Andy Gray of blogging) warbling nonsense in German for three hours. What is it Jamie the press officer says in In The Loop? Vowels! It’s just foreign f***ing vowels!

I also recommend Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on 6 Music. 10pm on a Sunday. Despite my best efforts I usually bail out at 11. Yes, the show is called Finest Hour but it lasts two. Garvey - the lead singer with Elbow - plays an eclectic and intelligent selection of tracks. And, if you listen very closely indeed, you will hear a rather unhealthy obsession with Sir Patrick Moore and The Sky At Night. Good night!

Blue Monday: How Does It Feel?

So, I take it you survived Blue Monday? What a load of twaddle. If anything I’ve been extra perky this week, despite Toddler’s latest penchant for rising at 5am.

The spring in my step may have something to do with the fact that life’s about to become a wee bit simpler.

To fill you in: at the moment the three of us (Green Dad, Wife Features and Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed) hustle and bustle of a morning to get washed, fed and clothed before bundling into the car and joining the jam that is the A96.

I drop WF at her work, TWMBO at her nursery and then pitch up at my own grindstone. At the end of the day it’s action rewind time with me heading back to nursery for TWMBO, back for WF and back home to put the teas on, bathe the wee one, get her in her jammies and off to bed with milk and a story.


Here I am at 8.30pm finally able to do what I want. And you know what I want? My bed!
I recall friends, relatives and colleagues coyly saying ‘better get some sleep now’ before the baby arrived. Oh how we smiled, little realising how serious they were.

It’s been a shock to the system; I’ve always been a bit of a night owl. Indeed, one of my previous paid gigs involved drinking red wine and playing records of an evening, sometimes till 1am. It seems so alien now.

But I’ve made my lumpy futon so I better try lying on it, to coin a phrase. I am a Man in a Grey Flannel Suit by day and as I said it’s all about to become a bit easier.

The daily commute will become greener - I’ll be letting the train take the strain as I did before TWMBO arrived, and there’s a bike ride between the station and the office making the commute even greener as well as healthier.

I’ll actually be increasing the hours I work but bizarrely I reckon I’ll spend more time with my knee-high best buddy. Breakfasts can be less frenetic and the quick bike and train journey home should give us time for a chat and a play before bath.

While I scowl thinking of those euphemisms like ’get sleep now’ and ’it’ll change your life’ - when people really mean ’it’s mental’ and ’what the hell were you thinking you ninny?’ - I grin and nod sagely at those who said ’your priorities change completely’. They’re right. The kid is the centre of the picture.

On that happy note, and to ensure we’ve banished the Blue Monday blues, check out these wise words from Hector Mackenzie. (Hector. It’s a great name. One day TWMBO will get to hear how it almost became hers.)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Road To Hell

"Here in my car I feel safest of all. I can lock all my doors. It's the only way to live. In cars."   

Gary Numan was onto something back in 1979. 32 years later and not a lot has changed. We love our cars and in places like the Highlands the mantra is that they’re a necessity not a luxury.

But are they really?

Danny “Cuckoo In The Nest” Alexander is back-pedalling (rather telling that the best metaphor for a dodgy car scheme is a bicycle reference) a bit after earlier gung ho announcements on trying to lower the cost of fuel for rural motorists. There are hoops to jump through in Europe says the former Britain in Europe champion.

Meanwhile Brian Wilson (not that one - the other one) has been having a dig at the idea. Begging the question, if it’s so important why the heck didn’t Labour do anything about it the thirteen years they were in power? If only they had a minister with an interest in energy from the West Highlands. Oh, hang on.

But even if drivers in Stornoway, Kirkwall and Lerwick eventually enjoy filling up for a few quid less does it solve the problem? What problem? The elephant in the room (rather telling the best metaphor for an environmental threat is an endangered animal) is of course climate change. If we keep on living ‘the only way to live’ as Gary Numan put it then we keep on contributing to rising carbon emissions and the damage that does to our global environment.

And of course there’s the small matter of the stuff running out or only available from unstable sources who would have you over a barrel when it came to price. (Yes, I know, enough metaphors already.)

As Green Dad I face a real dilemma. Trying to hold a normal life together with a tiny tot at the heart of it is almost impossible without a car. There’s so much to-ing and fro-ing. It also doesn’t help that I’m a sucker for ideas such as this, a vintage car touring holiday of the Highlands. I love reading old gazetteers and Edwin Muir’s Scottish Journey is an all time favourite book. I wish we could relive the days of phutting along single carriageway A roads, pulling in every now and then for a wee half of ale and a cheese sandwich at some old drovers’ inn.

There is undoubtedly joy in a nice drive but this is where I differ from most motorists. To me, going for a drive is a luxury and I’m well aware of the environmental implications. If it’s a functional A to B via C and D trip then I usually try to figure out how it could be achieved without turning the key in the ignition. Which makes me wonder if the effort being put into reducing the price of unleaded in Uig (the cost will continue to rise anyway given dwindling supplies) would be better focussed on improving public transport so when crunch time really does arrive for future generations the transition is easy.

Luckily, living in the Brighton of the North we can jump on a train or a bus but there’s only so long a 22 month old will sit still on public transport. I guess if we took a long train journey we’d pack a pile of activities and make the most of it, to the almost certain disgruntlement of fellow passengers. And then there’s the issue of screeching hen parties and Special Brew swilling offshore dudes who would quickly turn Chuff Chuff Happy Trip To See Auntie Gina into Two Hour Family Hostage Hell.

If we’re serious about weaning ourselves out of our cars and onto public transport we need to make it a more attractive option. It doesn’t help when lobbyists and the media enforce the idea of drivers having ‘rights’ somehow distinct from other human beings while politicians unable to bend to tie their own shoelaces announce the end of ‘the war’ on motorists. War? What war?

Motoring rent-a-quote Neil Grieg commented on a recent incident of black ice in the Central Belt thus: "Drivers going on to the M8 at rush hour have a right to expect it to be in good condition. To see the motorway network closed like this is perplexing, to say the least. We live in Scotland and we know that black ice happens.” 

That’s right, Neil. Black ice happens. So if, say, we’ve had record low temperatures and heavy snowfall for weeks the idea of black ice occurring shouldn’t be perplexing in the slightest and the numpty car dwelling trolls you speak for should remember they live in the real world, check the forecasts, be prepared and adjust their fuming accordingly.

The Meehan Streak cartoon I’ve posted sums up my feelings on this perfectly.The attitude of many drivers genuinely astonishes me. The other day we pootled from The Sunniest Town In Scotland a few miles along the A96 to a kipper and cream scone emporium to sate Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed’s appetite. We ended up phoning the police after a young lady overtook us in snow, on a bend, on a hill, while she was on her mobile having spent several minutes sitting just feet from our back bumper. In the end she turned off the road before we did, suggesting she was close to her destination. Even if she had some dire emergency to attend to I can’t think why any of her behaviours could be excused.

Our attitude to motoring extends to the courts. Apparently you can drive dangerously as long as you’re loaded and threaten to sack people.

Back briefly to Neil Greig’s black ice hell and I see the government has been trialling new kinds of de-icer. One is called Eco-Thaw but I’ve yet to discover what’s in it.

Maybe if it’s ‘eco’ it’s simply alcohol and washing up liquid? That’s the easy non-chemical way to clear your windscreen apparently. Which reminds me - if the bobbies ever pull me over and notice the bottle of Smirnoff rolling around in the passenger footwell I wonder if they’d buy my story about ‘just being prepared for a sudden frost’? I have rights you know!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sweets For My Sweet; Fish Gelatin For My Honey

Having a kid has made me more aware of what’s in what we eat. I’m afraid I’m not a complete hippy and have never de-toxed. I’m also a true Scottish Dad so if the organic version of something is ridiculously more expensive than the chemically-induced one, I side with price rather than environment, feel guilty for a nanosecond and feel better about saving my pennies.

The rise of food labelling is seen universally as a good thing. Red tractors, traffic lights for fat, sugar and salt, and explanations of E numbers. But sometimes I think less is more.
For this reason I’ve never looked at the ingredients on the side of a haggis. I know perfectly well what’s been stuffed in this sheep’s stomach. I just don’t need it printed in front of me in black and white, thank you.

Bizarrely my mum got me Haliborange for Christmas. Maybe I’ve been looking a bit peely-wally. If so I expect to be brimming with vitality soon after a few days necking ‘orange flavour chewable tablets with sugar and sweetener’. Sugar AND sweetener? Double the goodness! And let’s check the full list of ingredients: Talc, Aluminium Silicate, Fish Gelatin, Carnauba Wax, Titanium Dioxide, and more Gelatin (presumably this time from cows’ hoofs). Mmm, mmm!

Another brilliant festive gift was a box of Jellied Fruits. I am half tempted to contact Trading Standards as I don’t think fruit has come anywhere near this box. Indeed there’s a warning on the back: May have an adverse affect on activity and attention in children. Still, they’re endorsed by cake legend Jane Asher so what are you waiting for? Tuck in…

After the Advent Calendar incident we’ve been pretty good at keeping TWMBO away from chocolate and other sweets. One foodstuff I had hoped she’d take to was cheese. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Namely: I love it but if I eat too much dairy my skin goes bonkers.

On the subject of dairy I see the number of dairy farms has dropped again yet the number of cows has gone up. And of course the mega-dairy is on its way. It’s enough to make you udder, I mean shudder.

And while I’m in bash-the-big-boys mode, I saw this load of bullocks from Sainsbury’s. They and other out-of-town retailers are fretting about a proposed rates increase by the SNP Government. In reality it would only apply to one tenth of one percent of stores and only increase their rates from two per cent of turnover to two-point-three. Aww, diddums.

Back to the cheese course and sadly TWMBO keeps turning her nose up at it. I‘ve even tried screening some Wallace and Gromit in the hope they‘ll provide role models. According to the books one of the best ways to get kids to eat their greens is to smother them (the veg, not the bairns) in cheese sauce. She does like pasta so maybe macaroni will have to be tried.

But I mustn’t grumble. As I type she’s wolfing pitta bread after pitta bread from the Findhorn Bakery. Ingredients: Flour, water, malt, sunflower oil, sea salt and yeast. And nothing else. See what I mean by less is more?

What The Papers Say About You

Exclusive: Sunday newspapers are weird.

A few years back Wife Features and I decided not to bother getting Sunday papers any more. Our old jobs required reading all of them - and I mean all of them, from the charming olde worlde of the Sunday Post to the celebrity shenanigans-fest that is the News of the World. But as we discovered a lot of what appeared, when you looked into it, was pretty flimsy.

Today while taking TWMBO for a walk I saw so many people coming out of shops clutching unwieldy piles of newspapers, obviously set for a day of lounging.

The old adage about today’s headlines becoming tomorrow’s chip wrappers never seemed so apt. Does anyone ever remember what they read in a Sunday paper? Some of it gets rehashed by the Monday papers but it rarely sticks.

As a form of leisurely entertainment I guess they have their place. And it’s interesting to see the Sunday Herald attempt to revive its flagging sales by re-inventing itself as a magazine. No more ‘sections’ to share round the house. I took a quick look today but it appears to be the same as before, just easier to carry.

Saturday newspapers are completely different. Usually made by the same crew who do weekdays but made in the knowledge hardly anyone reads news on a Saturday. A Guardian from cover to cover has been my weekend treat for some time, with the FT becoming a recent addition.

The P&J is a must on a Saturday with its hilarious pet portrait double page spread. What’s not to like about readers’ photos of Labrador puppies chasing sticks on North-east beaches, Cairn terriers wearing tartan coats and evil-eyed cats looking, well, evil-eyed?

But the recycling… You’d think the age of the internet would put an end to newsprint. But I love the tactile enjoyment of a newspaper; being able to settle back and slowly leaf through printed pages is much more comfortable than hunching over a laptop and scrolling, clicking and scrolling. I do enough of that Monday to Friday nine to five.

One of the bastions of the “dead tree media” is the Nairnshire Telegraph. Tabloid sized but venerable in tone and in glorious black and white. Sometimes it’s as big as twelve pages. And there is no on-line version. At all. To find out where the grit bins of Fishertown are being located, how the synchronised swimming team did at the big meet, and whether Clark’s Butchers is having a special on brisket or lamb’s liver, you have to physically go into a newsagents and part with 40p.

It’s a business model that obviously works. Maybe Murdoch should follow The Nairnshire’s lead and just ignore the internet rather than putting up pay walls and trying to tame the information superhighway.

Speaking of Murdoch I do realise my purchase of FT Weekend helps line his pockets but it’s actually a good read. Tim Harford the Undercover Economist and presenter of Radio 4’s More of Less is a regular contributor. And how else would I have known Andrew Lloyd Webber’s wine collection is up for auction in Hong Kong? Tempted? He’s expected to get £2.6m for it. I am getting squiffy just trying to imagine how £2.6m worth of wine might taste.

And the Home section is hilarious. Adverts for apartments in Manhattan with floor to ceiling windows and views of Central Park are going for $3m these days. I reckon if I keep an eye out the bubble will burst and one weekend there’ll be an ad for a house swap: New York studio flat offered for ramshackle Victorian terraced house in Scottish Highlands.

Of course I’m kidding. How could I part with a property that is within waddling distance of a chippy? Maybe I'd get a discount on a fish supper if I took my old newspapers... 

Man In A Shed

While I might not be able to hold a conversation about football or cars, there is one blokey subject I’m willing to bump gums about: sheds.
As the late great Nick Drake put it: Leave your house. Come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don't think I'm not your sort. You'll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.

When we bought our Victorian ramshackle flat in Nairn over four years ago it came with a substantial garden shed and a one-eleventh share of a communal wash basin at the bottom of a shared drying green.

Upon opening the shed back in 2006 I discovered all sorts of nonsense, including a semi-ornate wooden wardrobe. With no lighting and more than its fair share of cobwebs, the shed made an ordinary piece of furniture seem ultra-creepy. As a result it remained unopened.

But this weekend the Green Dad Cleaning Blitz continued with a dramatic discovery at long last. Can you guess what was inside the wardrobe?

I half expected to see Tilda Swinton in her white witch regalia offering me some Turkish Delight (she did once offer me a piece of her Crunchie at the cinema) but all I got was a spider and some tubs of turpentine.

The cupboard is now a useful storage space and enabled some reasonable tidying of the shed, with a car boot load of curiosities taken to the recycling depot. The shed actually feels spacious - plenty of room for three of my four bikes and a friend’s bike. We’ve also added a huge plastic trunk containing some of Toddler’s sixteen billion toys. This will help de-clutter the house and can be produced later in the year to almost certain shrieks of joy at the rediscovery of forgotten goodies. My mum tells me this trick, I mean technique, was used on me and my three siblings to great effect.

There will have to be a second phase of shed rehabilitation as the area Beyond The Wardrobe is still like a bomb site but already Wife Features says she can see me in there with everything neatly shelved and curtains on the window. It doesn’t have a window but hey, I could put one in! And get some lighting into it. Maybe even a wee heater, an old armchair and my turntable. Uh-oh. I really am thinking about this too much.

Will I become one of those dads who has been called in from the shed several times when it’s teatime? Part of me hopes so!

Meantime good news on the allotment front. The tattie diggers of Nairn are apparently ready to roll with diggers to revive the waste ground at the bottom of our street. There’s a wee waiting list for a plot but a fiver will secure our place. One of the best fivers I’ll spend, I bet.

One of my favourite childhood memories is from about 1985. I remember being in the garden of my Papa’s council house where he was lifting tatties and passing them to my Gran in the kitchen. She peeled, chopped and fried them, wrapped them in newspaper and handed them to me. In the space of a few minutes I had watched the creation of that most magical Scottish experience: a poke of chips.

Maybe Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will enjoy a similar experience. The only question remaining: how do I wean her off tomato ketchup and onto brown sauce?

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Order Of Things

It dawned on me this morning at breakfast that our toddler will in the blink of an eye be a teenager. I do not exaggerate.   
Today’s genteel start to a Monday with us both slowly chewing Weetabix with Radio 3 on in the background has every chance of being replaced quite soon with Radio 1 (or worse, Capital/Real/Magic - whatever generic commercial pap has taken over MFR in fifteen years) and Pop Tarts.

My mornings will be sullied.

I am a delicate flower but I am happy to ‘park’ such serenity for a couple of decades in return for the joys of dad-hood.

Top brain boffin Oliver James has some interesting thoughts on maintaining some decorum about the house.

In short it seems if you’re a rubbish parent with a messy house your weans will turn out to be right terrors. But how do you achieve the parental nirvana of loving attention and tidy living space? James suggests dads should do more chores.

This may explain my current whirlwind of de-cluttering and dusting. The recent thinning of the DVD collection has been followed by the dismantling and hiding of baby’s changing table and the near-napalming of mummy and daddy’s bedroom.

Oh my God were Wife Features’ words on entering her boudoir this evening, genuinely amazed at being able to see surfaces. Two years’ worth of accumulated receipts, packaging from baby goods and crumpled clothes were whisked away.

The Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed was on brave form during my industrial scale scouring of her and our bedrooms, actually helping me switch on The Oovah. She has a serious trepidation when it comes to this monster. Its sudden whirring, sucking noise and snake-like power cable are frightening enough but then when you see it’s got wheels and can be manoeuvred into all sorts of awkward nooks and crannies, it takes on the status of a Cyberman or Dalek, except you‘d find Kim & Aggie rather than The Master giving it its dastardly orders to clean, damn it, clean.

So, an ordered house plus decent parenting should result in a smart kid. Here’s hoping. While the tidying is on track, we’ve also tamed the TV. A wee bit of addiction was setting in following repeated showings of The Gruffalo and Snow White so we’ve taken to draping a blanket over it at night and explaining it only really comes awake at 6pm for Waybuloo and In The Night Garden. This blatant big fat fibbing lie seems to be working.

TWMBO is already smart enough to point out other kids’ failings. On a recent train journey a toddler older than her was having a tantrum so she pointed and said to me (and the rest of carriage) ‘Baby?’ The whining nipper quickly quietened down.

My own childhood is scarred with good behaviour.

I was trained (I can’t think of another way of putting it) to set the table each night and clear it away afterwards, including giving it a polish. It was my duty to trundle out the wheelie bins for our entire block of six flats every Sunday night. And it became second nature by the age of nine to check for bombs in the wheel arches of the car before getting in. (Did I mention I grew up in West Germany during the Cold War?)

It strikes me the best way to raise TWMBO is to be as British as possible. Already she loves making cups of tea with a plastic tea set. Using little teacups with saucers and a teapot. If I could get a plastic tea strainer and sugar tongs I would.

She’s eaten more kippers than Coco Pops for breakfast.

And she blows her nose with a tissue rather than viewing nose contents in the traditional toddler way: food.

Other decidedly British traits we’ve yet to instil:

- How to queue. I am considering a numbered ticket system for the use of the toothbrushes in the morning

- How to not make eye contact when on a crowded train. Except when it’s someone else’s misbehaving child, of course. In which case they should be looked at and pointed at.

- How to tut whenever someone on Radio 4 crashes the pips. Come on, Naughtie! Look at the clock. When the big hand’s pointing up…

Wild Is The Wind

Kids. They are the future.

The stereotypical youth, of course, wears a hoodie and is a thug or layabout. My own experiences are exactly the opposite. A couple of Nairn neds once walked past me effing and blinding and, amazingly, apologised when they realised they had an audience. How decent of them.

I’ve also worked with fifth and sixth years doing business studies and they’ve always struck me as perfectly normal, if a bit spotty.

One of the relentless bits of drudgery involved in being ‘Green Dad’ is battling the Nimbys and numpties who’re for things like pollution and wrecking the planet. I could just roll my eyes every time I see a letter in a newspaper against wind farms or simply look the other way when I see drivers going round the town centre hunting an elusive parking space within waddling distance of the chippy.

But given how often both those things occur I’d forever be looking the other way while rolling my eyes and I think the nice people at A&E would get hacked off with me turning up having walked into yet another lamppost or door.

So it was with a rosy glow I saw today a report stating that the council has submitted a planning application for a wind turbine at Culloden Academy. At last! The day of the dinosaurs is drawing to a close. This is a school where you can study Energy, including units on wind generation and solar powered heating. On this basis the future is bright!

It was a welcome pick me up after reading about a numpty from Cambridgeshire who says ‘no amount of financial benefit from the energy companies will make up for the shortfall in the hill walking pound’. This guy plans to carry a coffin into the Monadhliath hills and burn it to protest at the loss of wild space to wind farms.

Talk about an over-reaction. (I bet you’re rolling your eyes.)

He seems to think people won’t want to go hill walking if there are a few turbines on the horizon. And the loss of these walkers will devastate the economy of these, er, wild areas. Any time I’m out bagging Munros the only boost the economy gets is if I buy a can of Coke on the way home. Even filling up with petrol isn’t going to do the village shop much good but it‘ll be nice for the oil companies and the Treasury.

His hissy fit follows the approval of the Dunmaglass wind farm. The most important point to note - which the media seem to be ignoring - is that the area earmarked for the development is not officially designated. It is very nice to look at but nothing special. We have all sorts of designations to protect land and wildlife: Special Areas of Conservation, Nationals Parks, Nature Reserves, etc. The list’s as long as the queue for a humous baguette at SNH’s canteen.

If you look at the areas where Highland Council is likely to permit wind farms it’s getting pretty small - there will still be bags and bags of unspoilt wilderness for lonely loners to enjoy.

It also hacks me off that the coverage of this story keeps referring to Dunmaglass neighbour Sigrid Rausing as a philanthropist. Yes, she is. But she’s also the Tetra Pak queen. I wonder what proportion of landfills are comprised of those clever cartons, which as far as I can tell you will have great difficulty recycling.

An old acquaintance Cameron McNeish makes a point on his blog about community based generation being preferable to large scale wind farms. I agree but will it ever happen in a country full of Nimbys? We love bypasses and out of town supermarkets but a bundle of wind turbines on a hill overlooking our houses? No chance.

Elsewhere in the decidedly stormy wind farm debate I see this feeble argument trotted out yet again. Save the Slavonian Grebe! As this WWF report indicates, never mind a few birds being hit with blades (not that any have to date - have they?) the big threat to birds is climate change. If only we could develop an energy source that didn’t pollute. Oh, hang on.

And I love that quote from an objector saying kids will be worse off in years to come if a wind farm is built near them. How exactly? Would you prefer to lump the next generation with nuclear waste? Please don’t just object - at least offer an alternative.

I’ve also seen David Bellamy’s name crop up a few times recently. He’s usually described as a ‘botanist’. There’s another word beginning with B that leaps to mind.

The most surprising and encouraging article I’ve seen for a long time in the press on wind farms was in the P&J Energy supplement today. Dick Winchester gives the whingers and moaners both barrels. Refreshing stuff from Europe’s oil capital. I hope it puts the wind up a few folk.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Stuff And Nonsense

What will happen when you wake up in the morning and you can’t look out the window in the morning? Surrounded by all the books and records of your lifetime.

Nick Drake. Man, he could write a song so he could.

Having a kid does inevitably lead to being surrounded by ‘stuff’ but unlike my previous life of child-less luxury I’ve not been surrounded by books and records recently but packs of baby wipes, plastic toys, encrusted Weetabix (GM crops aren’t intended to feed the world but provide a cheap alternative to concrete for the construction industry) and piles of laundry.

Kicking the material possession habit is hard for most people. Having less stuff is undoubtedly greener but when there are so many great books, films and records is it so bad to want to own them? I guess buying secondhand is the solution.

I have an embarrassingly large record collection - when we lived in a one bedroom flat in Inverness it did feel like we lived in a library. Every conceivable wall had shelving on it and as the years went by the walls started moving in on us.

We moved to a bigger house (according to Judge Monbiot we were naughty buying a place with three bedrooms when there were only two of us) and when our bundle of joy arrived it was clear to me little hands would find compact discs tempting shiny circles ideal for spreading jam on or feeding between the floorboards. Not to mention the likelihood that the shelves would be climbed.

So after taking a very deep breath I started to pack it all away. The prime cuts of the collection were laboriously added to iTunes and a back up hard drive. Then thousands of CDs were stuffed in body bags and boxes and hidden around the house in every available nook and cranny.

It has removed the deeply anorakish satisfaction of sitting in front of a pile of records listening to obscure tracks, looking up the liner notes and making a connection with another album which is hunted down there and then.

My iPods (I have three - don’t ask) are great but I don’t think I’ll ever shake off the tactile love of a record. I particularly adore the album. The idea that someone thought about the tracks they were laying down, creating in effect a piece of art. Ideally it has a thread running through it, an A side and a B side and interesting artwork and sleeve notes. Downloading a track from the web seems so dull and hollow.

Anyway, it’s been two years since the collection was ‘disappeared’ but Wife Features brought the memories back with a thoughtful Christmas gift. Display cases rather like picture frames.

You insert your chosen CD and it is held in place with neat little rubber bumpers. (Ever said ‘rubber bumpers’ with an Inverness accent? Hours of fun, trust me.)

The removal of the Christmas Tree from the living room has also created a bit of space so the DVD collection has been relocated and put in some sort of order. I took the opportunity to thin it out a bit - for a while there it could be viewed from space.

Into the charity shop/car boot sale/free to a good home bag went things like Jaws 2, Blue Velvet and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but I’ve kept hold of my Romero Dead Trilogy.

Some of the films failing to make the cut were simply not ’keepers’ but others like Texas Chainsaw represent an interesting development.

Since becoming a dad - and Wife Features has noticed this too since becoming a mum - my tolerance of violence and gore has been recalibrated. I genuinely cannot imagine when I’ll next get the chance or indeed want to watch something like Predator.

I recently rented The Offence (Sidney Lumet directs and Sean Connery and Ian Bannen star in a superbly gritty drama about a policeman obsessed with cracking the case of a child molester) and had to tell Wife Features not to watch it with me. Absolutely brilliant acting and direction but blimey it’s tough for a parent to stomach and I’m glad I chose to rent rather than buy. Around the same time I dipped into a Hammer box set I have and saw The Nanny (Bette Davis is genuinely terrifying as a hard nut childminder) which similarly spooked me. Great film but it won’t get a repeat showing.

Romero is a special case - I have a soft spot for Dawn of the Dead, full of zombies trying to get into a shopping mall. It’s rather like Escape from New York. Bleak, dystopian, vaguely disturbing films set in the future I can still see a place for on the shelves. Given the increasing austerity, protests and disruption caused by climate change it’s probably useful to know how to land a glider on a skyscraper in case I get the call and have to rescue the President.

Anyway. Stuff. It’s bad but it’s good.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Ham It Up And Cut The Cake

Honey roast or Freedom Food maple glaze? Wafer thin or crumb coated? Added water or truly irresistible?

I really do need to ‘man up’ next time I go to a supermarket.

I was in the Nairn Co-op the other day - not quite Fortnum & Mason and nowhere remotely as intimidating as the Tesco Goliath at Inverness Retail Park - and found myself genuinely flummoxed, befuddled and suffering the shopper’s equivalent of stage fright.

Choice. Margaret Thatcher had a habit of answering her critics with that word, believing it appeals to most people and justified her proliferation of privatisations. More choice equals a better life, doesn’t it?

But when you’re me - frazzled from several hard days at the office and zonked from several late nights/early mornings courtesy of a bairn in the hoose - the last thing you need is a multitude of vaguely similar options when it comes to choosing something as simple as flaming ham for flipping sandwiches.

(I’ll pause for a moment to allow vegetarians to feel smug. OK? Had your moment? Good. We’ll move on…)

It’s yet another reason to go to the local butcher rather than give all your money to Terry Leahy.

You: “I‘d like some ham for sandwiches please.”

Local Butcher: “Ham for sandwiches, sir? Certainly. I’ll just wash my hands. How many slices and how thick would you like them? It’s lovely ham this. Our own cure. And from a local farm. Terrible this weather isn’t it? Now, will there be anything else?”

Notice the lack of choice. You get your ham and you stay sane.

If only High Street butchers kept slightly more convenient hours.

Anyway, I feel this blog is getting a bit ham heavy so let’s switch to cake.

Food has been in my thoughts lately. It’s never far from your mind when you have a toddler. I’m sure I’ve blogged already about our wee one wolfing kipper on a cream scone and dunking an empire biscuit in ketchup. I may have suggested a jingly bell from the Christmas tree had been consumed too but luckily that turned up under the sofa the other day. No more detailed inspections of nappy contents required. Thank fudge.

It really is difficult to be Daddy Cool when Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed eats weird things but refuses to taste perfectly normal stuff, especially if you’ve slaved in a messy kitchen to make it.

Tonight a perfectly fine plate of vegetarian sausages, potato waffles, peas and beetroot was binned. TWMBO instead put away crumpets and humous with oatcakes. How dull. What’s that all about?

And not to mention turning up her nose at Wife Features’ drooltastic lemon cheesecake and my legendary banana bread.

It means in the past 48 hours I’ve eaten the majority of the banana loaf. So much for my usual New Year intentions to Cut The Cake, as the Average White Band used to sing.

Raising a kid is exhausting and has made me reach for my food ’crutches’: tea and biscuits. Why bother cooking a proper meal when you can stick the kettle on and plough through a packet of bourbon creams?

The advice to new parents on staying healthy is hilarious. One guidebook suggests maintaining a fitness regime with your child in tow. That’s right. Excuse me while I nip out for a quick jog to the beach and back with a twenty month old girl strapped to my chest.

There’s also the suggestion of taking TWMBO with me on bike rides in one of those precarious looking baby seats. A colleague with two tykes tells me kids just find it boring looking at your back, fall asleep and nod off to one side, dragging the bike off balance and sending you both into the nearest ditch.

So to keep things simple I’m sticking to the Cut The Cake plan (biscuits included) and have submitted a request in triplicate to Wife Features for time off for a morning bike ride, probably this weekend.

Oh, and the ham? I bought corned beef instead.