Thursday, 31 March 2011

Carton Carry On Resolved For Nairn Recyclers

I perhaps haven't been paying close enough attention but the other day doing Statutory Dad Chore Nr 83 (taking any accumulation of packaging to the recycling depot) at the Park Quarry on the Grantown Road I noticed a skip for 'beverage cartons'.

Hardly front page news, I'll grant you, but my eyes lit up.

For a long time it seems Tetrapak and its ilk have been a puzzle for recycling authorities. (Something to do with the metallic lining.) The installation of a facility suggests they've cracked it. So no longer do our mountains of milk, juice and passata cartons go to landfill - they go for recycling. Let's hope the mystical Blue Bins take them when they arrive later in the year.

The View From The Park

Here's a conundrum.

Why is the Cairngorms National Park passing judgement on a wind farm proposal outwith its boundaries?

Apparently you'd be able to see the wind farm from parts of the park. (Intriguingly the report says this includes Dava Moor - I didn't know Dava was part of the park; the welcome markers from the north are after the moor and just outside Grantown and Carrbridge.)

I tell you what else you can see from parts of the park: Aviemore! What's worse? Some gently turning windmills in the far distance that provide clean power or a bundle of bad architecture and tower block hotels next to the Spey, soon to be joined by a massive Tesco?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Greens Shoot Up

So far the polls have pretty much had Labour and the SNP neck and neck. The Tories are always in the doldrums and the Libdems are clearly facing a pasting.

The Greens tend to be fifth party. But, hang on, what's this?

More Greens than Libdems? I like it!

The question voters must ask - whichever of the two big parties wins on May 6th, which of the smaller parties do you want influencing what they do? Hence the importance of making your Second Vote Green if you want to protect public services, cut energy bills and keep education free.

Driven To Distraction

You've got to admire the Tories (and not just for Annabel Goldie's mellifluous soundbites on the TV debate) for injecting some humour into the election campaign.

How to solve climate change?

Add another lane to the motorways.


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Bloody Swearing

Why is our twenty-three month old girl so drawn to the skate park?

Down our way there’s a wee park - swings, slide and roundabout; nothing fancy - with a green we use for a kick about. But if you go down a wee slope and cross some tarmac usually strewn with broken bottles you come to a set of concrete ramps, half-pipes and railings for the BMX and sk8r dudes.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed invariably disobeys us and makes for the skate park like a zombie sniffing fresh brains. It takes a few warnings before she sticks to the swings and slide.

One reason we’re keen to keep her away is the no man’s land of concrete and glass shards she’d have to cross. Another is the, ahem, choice language the sk8r dudes emit. Last time we were there a bunch of them seemed to be having a competition with the winning entry: “Arsecrapwillynipple.“ I had to stifle a laugh. What is wrong with me?

Anyway, a wee tumble at the weekend has perhaps persuaded TWMBO Mummy and Daddy know best.

I still remember the first time TWMBO had a bloody ‘bonk’ - I think she bumped her lip on something and it caused a bit of bleeding in her mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so awful and helpless. Apparently when you have kids you’re responsible for them and other people frown if you don’t look after them.

A trip to the park involved an actual trip this time. She was chasing her ball and stumbled onto the concrete, leaving a red scuff on her chin. There was a fair bit of crying and cuddling and we went home to apply Germolene.

If you were to ask me to nominate a smell that reminds me of childhood it would have to be Germolene, the magic pink gunk that settles the trauma of cuts and bruises. In my day it came in a little round tin, like pink shoe polish. These days it’s in a squeezy tube and could easily be mistaken for toothpaste or pudding. But it still has That Smell. Like sweet bleach or something.

I stand by what I think is a statement by Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes: You haven’t had a good day if you don’t have grass stains on your knees. I lose count trying to think of all the scrapes my brother and I had as kids. I once put a rusty nail right through one of my feet. Not on purpose you understand. And my younger brother once fell from the top of a tree onto a rusty set of bed springs. It made us the fine strapping fellows we are today.

I have no idea what sort of palaver my two younger sisters got up to so maybe my tolerance of childhood injury needs to be recalibrated for my wee girl. Do I want her to blossom into a polite, intelligent and peaceful woman or the sort of bruiser you saw on Cell Block H?

And what happens if at an appropriate age she takes a liking to skateboarding or BMXing? In parenting terms it is the Perfect Storm. Excuse me while I read her a few more bedtime stories about kittens and fairies…

Energy Debate Hots Up

I have a love/hate relationship with nuclear power.

You can probably imagine what it is I ‘hate’ about it. It’s dangerous, expensive for the public purse and leaves a toxic legacy for thousands of years. A knocked out diesel generator at a reactor in Japan means raised levels of iodine in Scottish air.

But I have a curious ‘love’ of the engineering that goes with it. Maybe ‘love’ is too strong a word. I have great respect certainly for those pioneers who created the experimental fast reactor at Dounreay back in the 50s. The white heat of innovation back then must have made anyone with an interest in technology simply giddy.

This discussion between Green MP Caroline Lucas and Judge Monbiot fascinates me. He says climate change is so serious a threat we have to consider new nuclear power stations as a way of getting our emissions down. Caroline disagrees. Even Sir David King, the government’s former chief scientist and a great advocate of action on climate change, is apparently suggesting we press the nuclear button.

Since becoming a dad almost two years ago my respect for nuclear engineers has increasingly become a sort of nostalgia. The sort of ‘winging it’ attitude that went with it can seem hilarious but actually led to serious things like the Dounreay shaft explosion in the 70s. The thought of leaving Toddler and future generations with any kind of avoidable mess horrifies me.

Usually when you prod the anti-wind farm NIMBYs hard enough they’ll admit they like nuclear. It all boils down to a question of risk - what would you rather risk: a nuclear accident affecting your air, food and water or a slightly different view of the hills by putting up some windmills?

Energy consumption is a favourite hobby horse of dads, green or otherwise. Put on a jumper instead of turning up the heating! Switch off some lights; it’s like Blackpool illuminations in this house! You get the picture.

I’m a stickler for turning things off that aren’t in use. Apparently in Japan 3.9 per cent of their electricity consumption goes on heated toilet seats. While I’m all in favour of toasty buttcheeks I really do think civilised societies need to consider what we need - and I really mean ‘need’ - power for.

Amid the nuclear/coal/oil debate between SNP and Labour in the election campaign it’s pleasing to see some level-headed long-term thinking from - who else - the Greens. They plan to campaign hard to insulate all homes in Scotland, massively reducing people’s power bills and at the same time reducing our energy consumption and carbon emissions.

It’s a far-from-sexy subject but I urge you - if you bump into a candidate in the street in the coming weeks, buttonhole him or her and ask them what their position is on lagging. If they don’t have one, you have to question why they’re not in favour of cutting your electricity bill and our contribution to climate change.

Allotment Work Is Jammy

Ding, dong goes the doorbell.

A young lady in pyjamas answers the door.

A scruffy, unshaven young man raises an eyebrow and asks: “Are you the lady with the hedge that needs attention?”

Cue the Benny Hill theme music…

I don’t normally spend my Saturday mornings howffing hedges out of strange ladies’ gardens (by strange lady I mean she was a stranger to me - she was perfectly pleasant in her demeanour) but I am Green Dad: Allotment Holder.

The extremely jaggy hedge was apparently due to be removed and dumped but the allotment lot heard about it and agreed to take it off the lady’s hands. An hour or so of shovelling and it was uprooted and transported across town and transplanted along the boundary of a couple of plots. This is apparently a temporary home until the super-strong fence is erected around the whole site in a week or so.

While I and a couple of other lads were hedging others were digging, clearing litter from bushes around the allotment site and giving the Big Shed another coat of varnish. It wasn’t long before the whole place really looked spruce.

At which point the scones appeared. There are times when I think I live in a timewarp by living in Nairn. It is possible to watch cricket at the links, go for a stroll along the promenade and wave hello to the Major on his Penny Farthing. Okay, so I made the last bit up but I did once go for a stroll along the promenade and bumped into a couple of old friends who informed me they had been ‘fortunate enough to have been invited to lunch at the golf club’.

I too hope one day I will be so fortunate.

Timewarp on the allotments involved a well spoken lady with greying hair suddenly appearing with a wicker basket of still-warm fruit scones and homemade strawberry and gooseberry jam. I got the first one. I may have knocked some innocent allotmenteers to the ground to ensure this and I’d have no hesitation in doing it again.

Warm jammy scone in the sun watching robins and blackbirds hopping in and out of the hedge we’d planted… So satisfying!

Later that day Wife-features noticed scratches on my hands and I have a couple more on my legs. The fruits of my labour!

I’ve also just remembered I booked some time off work in early April. This holiday will coincide with, I hope, the handover of the allotments. Digging and sowing here I come. Mind you, I’ll probably have to supply my own scones.

Baker's A Doughnut

"We will not be banning cars from city centres anymore than we will be having rectangular bananas."

The bizarre response from UK Transport Minister Norman Baker to a suggestion that it would be wise for cities to consider making it harder to use cars and make it easier to walk and cycle around them.

Mr Baker sounds like a rabid Mail-loving Tory but in fact he's a Libdem!

If you remember, during the Telegraph expenses feeding frenzy he was outed as a chap who thinks the public should pay for his bicycle to get him to work and a PC so he can listen to music and send emails to his friends. Poor chap. He must be really hard up.

What We Have Here Is Failure To Communicate

The words, if I remember rightly, of the prison dude to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

The Herald reports that rail firms could be fined for failing to let customers know what's going on when there's a problem.


I've lost count of the number of times I've sat on a train waiting ages for it to move, struggled to find anyone in uniform who knows what the heck's happening and eventually after everyone on the train has lost the will to live there's a bing-bong announcement saying it's cancelled and we better find a bus or a hotel.

I also love it when a train is delayed and the conductor apologises, explaining the delay was caused by, er, delays.

Having said all of that at least if you're delayed at Nairn these days there's a decent cup of coffee available on the platform. Every cloud... silver lining, etc.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Nairn Shopkeepers Told To Think Positive

The wise words of sod-shoveller Sandy Park as he helps a supermarket giant prepare to destroy some of the local, independent retailers in the Sunniest Town in Scotland.

What's the line from Monty Python's Life of Brian? Worse things happen at sea, mate!

All four councillors should be ashamed of allowing this development to happen. If they'd kept to the local plan and said no the chances are the Co-op would have invested in the town centre. Instead we'll get even more traffic thundering through the town, past some boarded up shops which were selling local produce and supporting skilled jobs.

There's no doubt a bit of competition/choice is good but 'thinking positive' won't help when the playing field isn't level.

Wind Worse Than Oil?

This is either hilarious or depressing.

A letter writer to the Shetland Times who thinks an oil spill is nicer than a wind farm.

Germans Go Green

A good omen for the Scottish Greens?

More here about success in the German elections.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Curious Case Of The ICA, The ASA And The PCC

Any day now the April edition of the ICA (Inverness City Advertiser) will plop through your letterbox. My use of the word ‘plop’ is intentional.

When it plops I recommend you post this stinker of a publication back to where it came from.

The magazine has its charms - notably the thoughtful and hilarious column by radio legend Ken Kelman - but it’s also regularly riddled with spelling misteaks, bad grammatification. and not to mention RANDOM capitals and missing/superfluous punctuation mark‘s.

Anyway, it’s a listings magazine so you can imagine my bafflement with the anti-wind farm advert that appeared in the March edition.

It made all sorts of misleading and scary statements - the usual NIMBY numpty nonsense - but didn’t say who had placed the advert. My enquiries through the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) reveal it was placed there by the magazine, signalling the ICA’s move into editorial territory.

Was this a breach of the advertising code? No, as no money had changed hands. Was it a breach of the press code? Shockingly, no as the ICA doesn’t subscribe to the PCC (Press Complaints Commission) code of conduct.

Not only were the claims misleading, the article itself was as it failed to make clear who had placed it. And what’s more there’s no way of replying to it or contesting it. I wonder how many of the ICA’s advertisers are aware they’re supporting a publication with an agenda.

At least with a newspaper you have to buy it, you know what opinions you’re likely to read and you have a right to reply but when it’s pushed through your door under the guise of an impartial entertainment guide, a line has been overstepped.

In the words of one of the great entertainers: Return to sender. Thank you very much.

Bing Bong! Train Announcements

Earlier this month I blogged about access at Nairn railway station:

“At the Brighton of the North station there are two platforms but only a set of stairs to get across the tracks. It means you can arrive from Inverness at the dreaded Platform Two laden with buggy, shopping and wriggly toddler and face the prospect of somehow getting up the stairs and across the bridge without having a heart attack. Herding deaf cats while blindfolded on a ferry that was pitching and tossing would be easier.

“Instead your only option is to trundle across a pothole infested yard, walk down a road with no pavement outside the football pitch and council depot, cross a dangerous and busy junction with limited visibility and go uphill under the railway bridge. As Nairn is being eyed by developers it is clear we can expect the station to become busier. I have asked Scotrail and Transport Scotland what plans they have to improve things. Don’t hold your breath but I will keep you posted!”

Well, hats off to Transport Scotland. Their access chap replied swiftly and clearly to my questions.

I made some suggestions for how access could be improved in the short term and he’s promised to discuss with Scotrail. (Scotrail I should say never replied to my original queries.)

Longer term the Transport Scotland mannie tells me there is an investment programme for rail stations to make them ‘step free’ but Nairn isn’t on the list. I asked if level of use was the main driver for the programme. Apparently Nairn has 75,000 passengers through it each year whereas most of the stations being improved see more than a million users. But level of use turns out to be just one factor taken into account when deciding where to invest. Others include ease of installing a solution and the station’s proximity to useful facilities such as hospitals. (Town and County’s pretty handy wouldn’t you say?)

In short I think there’s a good case for doing something at Nairn and I’ll keep up the pressure on the authorities. If you don’t ask you don’t get!

Meantime I’m considering starting up a Samaritans-style helpline for users of the ‘Flexipass’ ten cheap tickets option following a recent harrowing incident which I gather is pretty common.

To explain to non-commuters: If you get the ’peak time’ train services (7.20 and 8.20am from Nairn and the 5.10pm from Inverness) the Flexipass offers a cheaper option (still expensive in my view!) but the deal involves having to write the day’s date on the ticket before handing it over for inspection.

I recently sat on the train going into Inverness and the call ’tickets please’ didn’t materialise until we were going under the A9 and passing the Mercury (I think it’s the Thistle these days) Hotel. So I rummage for my ticket and a pen only to realise I don’t have a pen. Could you write the date on for me, I plead.

“I shouldn’t. In fact I should take this ticket off you, tear it up in front of your face and sell you a full price one,” came the reply from the uniformed tyrant who had clearly forgotten to take her Berocca that morning.

My jaw dropped and I sat silently blinking from this verbal mugging as we pulled in to Inverness station.

The First Group website says: “We want to deliver the perfect journey to all of our customers.” Fourteen of the fifteen minutes of mine were lovely.

I am sorely tempted to get on the train tomorrow and buy a full price ticket, paying with 670 individual copper pennies produced from a bulky piece of luggage stowed in the overhead rack or possibly blocking an aisle or vestibule.

Do let me know if I sound like I’m going off the rails…

Gym'll Fix It

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed has taken to water like a duck wearing armbands. We’ve had a couple of sessions at the pool in the Metropolis. The first one wasn’t a great success. It involved lots of furrowing of the brow and standing around observing. The second trip saw her warm to the surroundings.

There was splashing and giggling and a brave venture onto a slide quickly turned into an addiction. It’s at this point I should admit I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Taking Toddler Swimming, regulation fatherly duty number 12. (The first eleven include things like doing the recycling and ushering big spiders from the house.)

You see, in primary school I had swimming lessons, mastered the basics and got a certificate.

No other meaningful swimming has taken place since. I’ve always viewed swimming as something you do in an emergency, not for fun.

But the trips with TWMBO have changed my tune and I can’t wait for the next splashy session. One of the great spin offs of going swimming in the big city is the café at the sports centre. You get proper coffee and can snack on cheese, oatcakes and grapes. It’s thoroughly civilised! The café even has a view of the athletics track. I think there should be a coin slot for entertainment so you can insert 50p and out spring a couple of runners who race in front of you while you sit back Caesar-like popping grapes.

The sports centre has recently become a regular haunt, not just with TWMBO and her armbands but because I’ve been - brace yourself - going to the gym. One of the effects of having a kid is time pressure and I’m afraid over the past couple of years there have been too many occasions when a planned bike ride has had the brakes put on or when a delicious, healthy dinner gave way to fish and chips or a pot of tea and a packet of Jaffa Cakes.

These days I feel like a Big Green Dad. I want to get back to being appropriately proportioned. In the way I’ve historically viewed swimming as being an emergency activity, I’ve viewed gyms as either grim chore houses or intimidating palaces of posers. It turns out the Inverness Leisure Centre is frequented by normal people.

I was invited to sign up for a programme which apparently gets very competitive. The machines in the gym record your progress with some sort of running total of ‘fit points’. Not my cup of isotonic drink, I’m afraid. I just want rid of the wee belly I’ve developed and stronger arms which have evolved into lightweight button pressing spindles after years of sitting at typewriters, computers and tape editing machines.

Just a few years ago my lovely comfy rut involved going to the pub every Friday night, sinking generous quantities of red wine, pate and cheese on Sunday nights, reading a book a week, watching almost a film a day and sitting up till all hours listening to complicated jazz.

These days I nod off when In The Night Garden comes on at 6.20pm, I watch maybe three films a month and I love going to the gym.

They say having kids changes your life. They’re not kidding!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Allotment Excitement

I’m just back from my first meeting.

We all sat in a circle.

Billy went first.

“I’m a member of the National Vegetable Society.”

He then produced some leaflets and we all nodded supportively.

I mock but in reality I’m genuinely excited; I’m now officially Green Dad: Allotment Holder. Plot 18 out of about thirty at the end of our street, down by the banks of the dawdling River Nairn.

Tonight’s meeting brought everyone up to speed - and what speed things are moving at! It feels like only the other day I put my name forward and now it appears in just a couple of weeks I’ll be putting spade to earth.

I’ve blogged before about my happy memories of childhood in East Lothian helping my Papa lift tatties - I really can’t wait to muck in with Toddler lending a hand. She already has a fascination with wheelbarrows and watering cans - I wonder how she’ll take to weeding? And at what point do I technically have to pay child labour rates?

The real highlight from tonight - besides of course the prospect of joining the NVS - was news of The Sheds. A deal has been done (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and soon we’ll have some decent wooden huts at a knockdown price. A teenager piped up: “What colours are you allowed to paint your shed?” Any colour you like, came the heartfelt reply from the Allotment Supremo. The youngster’s eyes lit up like it was Christmas.

One of the benefits of taking a plot as part of a group - I hope - is that you can seek advice and learn lessons. Already tonight I know never to trust a cauliflower. “I sowed them at different times but they all came up the same week. Twenty of them. I couldn’t give them away!” Wise words from one veteran.

I recently read a great wee book called The Worm Forgives The Plough. Written during the Second World War it’s an account of an academic who roughs it in the countryside helping on farms. His descriptions of the characters who work the land are full of charm and he captures beautifully the feeling of satisfaction you can only get from a cheese sandwich eaten after a day of hard graft.

The idea of providing for myself, my family, friends and neighbours appeals greatly. Whether I have the oomph to follow through - we’ll see! If I fail I can always blame those pesky cauliflowers.

Poos, Peas and Playdough

Toilet training. Now here’s a subject Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will almost certainly thank me for discussing publicly on a blog. (Note to self: consider printing out all copies of the internet and burning before TWMBO gets web access. I assume that will be when she’s 18?)

As TWMBO’s 2nd birthday approaches we are nearing the point of nappies giving way to pants. Already we get three minute warnings from her when, er, production is about to commence.

The other night there was a successful deposit in the porcelain bank. It’s impossible not to feel proud, even if it is icky. (Speaking of porcelain banks, I’ve just recalled that wonderful expression Speaking to God in the Big White Telephone. Ever had a very bad hangover? I think you understand.)

Meanwhile we’ve been having fun squeezing and producing squidgy shapes that are altogether more fragrant. Playdough.

It turns out I take my Playdough - sorry, ‘Soft Stuff’; I don’t want to infringe on anyone’s copyright - seriously. TWMBO invited me to help her make something and half an hour later Wife-features walks in on us to discover I have rolled almost a whole kilo of green Soft Stuff into about sixty-seven individual garden peas. And there’s an anatomically correct orange Soft Stuff carrot to go with them. All I needed was a slab of brown Soft Stuff, slightly pink in the middle, to nestle alongside and I’d have had an ersatz Sunday lunch. (Ersatz was an answer on University Challenge the other night. Why didn’t anyone get it? Kids these days…)

I wonder at what point TWMBO will make the connection between Playdough/Plasticine and the Wallace and Gromit films she’s become hooked on? Every time I see the residents of West Wallaby Street go to the moon I want to slice off a wedge of yellow modelling clay and try eating it on a cracker. You truly haven’t lived if you don’t know what Blu Tack feels like pressed between your teeth. Or is that just me?

Tactile fun is, well, fun. Especially on dreich days. I’m delighted to say the weather has perked up a bit - today was a cold one but a bright one. Adventures in the park and on the beach, curtailed over the winter months, look set to ramp up again. Time to dust off the bucket and spade...

The Price Of Everything Has Scone Up

How much? Just for a baked tattie? No way am I paying that.

And so my colleague had to sit in silence while I tucked in to my bowl of soup and wholemeal scone.

We’d paused at a classy joint on the A9 in Easter Ross for lunch but apparently some of the prices were out of order. It was genuinely the first time I’d eaten anywhere where someone had refused to pay.

With the arrival of dad-hood my interest in the price of food has surged. Before it wouldn’t have occurred to me what anything cost. Just call me Wayward. Fiscally Wayward.

I usually subscribe to the notion that in a restaurant or café a large chunk of the price should have something to do with the surroundings, the ambience, the service and so on. A tattie does indeed only cost pennies but is it high quality, well prepared on nice crockery in good surroundings and served with a smile?

Increasingly I’ve been packing a lunch. I have a pal whose daily routine involves a posh coffee and a Marks and Spencer sandwich. While I agree coffee deserves to be well made and I of course doff my cap at M&S the King of Sandwich-makers I can’t help thinking how those costs rack up over the course of a week. Over a month it must be about £100.

One of the perils of packing your own lunch is forgetting where you’ve left your food. To this day, many years after the event, Wife-features still refers to the ‘Banumper’ incident. It’s too harrowing for me to talk about in detail. All I’ll say is it involved a banana. And a jumper. Left in a rucksack. For quite a while.

Today WF questioned my need for three flasks. I didn’t dignify this with a response. (As anyone knows, you need a small flask for small quantities of tea/coffee/soup and a large one for large quantities. And then of course you need a back up in case one of your primary flasks goes down in the course of duty.)

The question was prompted by the discovery of a flask that had been used to hold some delicious homemade broth. Admittedly this was a few weeks ago. But with the appropriate ‘hazmat’ procedures normally reserved for a chemical supertanker running aground and by banishing Wife-features and Toddler from the kitchen for a few hours I was able to rehabilitate the offending vacuum device. It lives to serve hot refreshments another day.

Yes, there is no doubt it’s getting pricier eating out, out there. I overheard a couple of wifies in Inverness the other day discussing which restaurant to hold a celebratory dinner at. It turns out, they claimed, all the eateries are jacking up their prices, blaming the cost of fuel.

Through in Castle Greyskull (Aberdeen) I stopped at a favourite haunt only to gulp at the combined cost of a bowl of soup and an Americano: £6.50. Perversely I added a scone and jam to my humongous bill but this only raised the total by £2 and the scone was the size of a generously proportioned bungalow. I had to take half of it away with me to eat on the train later. Expensive soup; cheap cake. Where’s the nanny state when you need it?

Maybe we need a soup/baked tattie price regulator? Let’s face it - oil/petrol will continue to spiral so let’s tackle what really matters: surely a serving of carrot and coriander or leek and potato should be capped at £2.50. I would perhaps tolerate £2.90 but it’d have to be a pretty exotic concoction - spicy butternut squash for example.

Of course there’s Wife-features’ Lush Lentil soup. But it’s priceless.

Friday, 11 March 2011

On The Road Again

Depending who you talk to and what you read it’s either a ‘killer’, ‘deadly’ or ‘notorious’. In reality it’s a couple of hundred miles of tarmac linking the Highlands with the Central Belt.

It’s the A9.

I try to avoid using it as much as possible, particularly in the dark and in the winter. And with the arrival of TWMBO I really have been ultra-cautious, even changing my driving habits no matter what road I’m on. Good grief, these days I pay attention to things like the speedometer and the wing mirrors. (It turns out some objects appear closer than they are. Who‘d have thought?)

As we had emerged from the enforced Highland hibernation caused by Big Freeze 2: Return of the Ice Age, we wanted to live up to a promise to visit some old friends in Perthshire. They have two kids - aged six and three - and wanted to see how demented, er I mean how enriched their lives had become. It would also give them an opportunity to offload clothes and toys their darlings had outgrown and give our Toddler a chance to engage with new playmates.

The journey down was fine, including the discovery of the world’s best sausages at House of Bruar. Wife-features paid for breakfast so perhaps this is why I rated them so highly. Jumbo super tasty bangers and they were free. (Okay, we have a joint bank account so in reality I paid for them too but I didn’t have to see the bill or hand over any cash.)

The toy department at Bruar was heaven for TWMBO who ran amok. (Would you run amok in heaven? I guess it depends what your idea of heaven is. I would take a comfy seat in mine.) In the end an early exit was required as there was too much amok-ness.

I resisted the urge to spend £100 on pink corduroy breeks but I did eye up the waxed jackets. I used to have one, many years ago, but it went away, along with other traits that had to be suppressed in the interests of harmonious co-habitation. Listening to Neil Young records at full volume while only wearing pants being another. One day I’m sure I’ll be allowed to once more don a lovely Barbour with its deep pockets and in-built smell of wet dog. I reckon if I bide my time and choose my moment judiciously it will be accepted into the fold. But probably not the coat cupboard. It’ll hang on an outside peg and I’ll only be allowed to wear it on solitary walks downwind from the missus.

While I’d like to think the Neil Young/pants groove could be resumed I’d probably be getting on a bit and catching sight of myself in a mirror might result in a mild cardiac event.

In the mad rush to leave for Perthshire we had forgotten to put any shoes on TWMBO. I know, I know. You’d think this would be a basic requirement before leaving the house but if I recall rightly I thought it was more important to get in the car and Wife-features would bring the shoes for us to apply later. Of course I didn’t communicate this, resulting in us having to buy emergency rubber slippers at Bruar. Have I mentioned before parenthood is mental?

A lovely visit followed with our old pals and their offspring. Judging by their displays we can look forward to TWMBO asking for arguments to be settled on the toss of a coin and for relaxing walks in the countryside on sunny Sunday mornings to be peppered with ‘why’ and ‘what does that mean’ every thirty seconds. I sound weary but in fact I love the inquisitive nature of children. I can’t wait for TWMBO to start quizzing me. I won’t have all the answers; in fact I suspect I will have very few as kids are good at asking fundamental and existential queries. I can fix a bike puncture, hum the entirety of Art Blakey’s Moanin’ and explain how Spielberg does the funny zoom thing in Jaws with Chief Brody on the beach, but ask me why horses have tails and I’ll suddenly discover something diverting elsewhere.

My favourite example is when Calvin asks his dad what causes the wind to blow. Trees sneezing, says Dad. Later we see Calvin arriving home on a blustery dad, telling his mum ‘Wow, the trees are really sneezing today.’ Mum looks bewildered. (Note to self: Find out what really causes the wind to blow.)

But back to the A9 and while the journey down was relaxed and full of good spirits, the return leg was scripted by whoever did that John Cleese film Clockwise.

We stopped again at Bruar as it would the last outpost open on a Sunday afternoon, allowing us a wee break before completing the journey home to the Sunniest Town In Scotland. Sadly, we got but a couple of miles north of Bruar and the traffic came to a grinding halt. The queue stretched as far as the eye could see. Wife-features even got out, climbed a hill and took a photo using a zoom lens and still the traffic stretched as far as the eye could see. We turned on the radio hoping for information but Pitlochry-based Heartland FM were busy with a programme of light classical music hosted by an American robot. A quick flick to Radio 2 and the first item on the travel bulletin told us there had been a bus fire and we could expect to remain stationary for an hour.

And so we did. Initially I began to fret and sweat, wondering how on earth we could keep a toddler amused for an hour in a small car when all the books and stories on CD had been read and listened to a million times already. Thankfully she was napping and only woke up about ten minutes before we got going. These ten minutes were easily taken care of with the application of cake.

Because of the delay in our journey we had to make a stop soon after for a bit of bathroom action. This added further to our spiralling timings, prompting the idea of stopping for tea at somewhere like Aviemore. Which we did, although the only place that looked welcoming was the chipper in the High Street which has a sitty-doon section. TWMBO can be relied upon to scoff a chip.

You have to order at the counter and I as wearily dragged myself towards it a flipping football team arrived. I had to wait while fifteen orders for different kinds of pudding suppers were processed before I was able to stake a claim to the last portion of curry sauce.

The earlier burny bus drama had obviously caused the traffic on the A9 to bunch up that evening as the rest of the journey was slow going. In the end we got home five and a half hours after we left on what should have been a two and a half or maybe three hour journey.

At least I am prepared for it happening again and learned a valuable lesson. Always pack some cake in your glove box for toddler emergencies.

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

“We have an eighteen month old and it took us half an hour just to get her from the house to the car this morning.”

The words of a colleague the other day remarking on The Return Of The Snow.

It’s universally accepted kids love snow.

But not Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed. Oh no. She can’t stand it. Or rather, she prefers not to step in it. It appears to be her Kryptonite. Plonk her down in the white stuff with protective padded suit, hat, gloves and wellies and she goes all limp and rubbery like a globalisation protestor trying not to be thumped by the Met.

I hope it’s a phase and we move swiftly onto full blown praying for white out conditions in the style of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

During the blast of wintry weather around Christmas we did get TWMBO out on a sledge and she loved it. Down at the links in Nairn is surely one of the best places for sledging in the world (he said without hyperbole) although we’ve yet to try it. I love what the links around the Wallace Bandstand (just along from the Gromit bench) look like on these days. Full of excited kids (and dads, usually) doing what excited kids have done for generations.

A downside of The Return Of The Snow is the crippling effect it seems to have on public transport. One of the morning trains into Inverness was cancelled recently - and had been cancelled some three hours earlier when it hadn’t left Montrose or somewhere - yet Nairn travellers had no idea until they arrived at the station. Mind you, how would they have let us know in advance? (I think you can sign up for text alerts but it sounds a faff and would presumably alert you to everything.) It means I have to get back to my old paranoid ways of checking the Scotrail website every time I go to use a train just to check things are running. 

One of Green Dad’s best buddies - let’s call her Totally Green Tania - also suffered at the hands of Scotrail recently. She sat on a train trying to leave Aberdeen for a whole hour before being told it was broken (the train, not Aberdeen - mind you…) and cancelled and she’d have to crowd onto the next one instead. On the plus side people on the cramped service began talking to each other.

Which reminds me why I love to visit London. I take particular delight when I’m on the tube in looking people in the eye, smiling and saying good morning/afternoon/evening. It doesn’t half freak them out.

Last time I was down I took Green Gran and she actually stood with her jaw dropped like a cod fish (I thought I’d stick in a Mary Poppins reference since we’re talking about cor blimey London me old matey) watching commuters literally throw themselves onto the tube trains, squeezing in as the doors closed hard against their backs.

The need to invest in public transport has never been more pressing. The cost of fuel keeps going up so naturally people will look to get around be cheaper means. Sadly some journeys are pricey and unreliable (as I’ve just gurned) and then there’s the palaver of access.

At the Brighton of the North station there are two platforms but only a set of stairs to get across the tracks. It means you can arrive from Inverness at the dreaded Platform Two laden with buggy, shopping and wriggly toddler and face the prospect of somehow getting up the stairs and across the bridge without having a heart attack. Herding deaf cats while blindfolded on a ferry that was pitching and tossing would be easier.

Instead your only option is to trundle across a pothole infested yard, walk down a road with no pavement outside the football pitch and council depot, cross a dangerous and busy junction with limited visibility and go uphill under the railway bridge. As Nairn is being eyed by developers it is clear we can expect the station to become busier. I have asked Scotrail and Transport Scotland what plans they have to improve things. Don’t hold your breath but I will keep you posted!

Back to the White Hell as journalists are fond of calling snow in winter and as I type I’m on the train to Aberdeen approaching Keith. (Keith the town. I’m not approaching Keith the attendant with the refreshment trolley. Railway coffee and sandwiches continue to leave a lot to be desired.)

The watery low sun is casting long shadows over the frosty fields and we’ve just crossed the mirror-like River Spey, reflecting perfectly the pale clear blue sky overhead. The Return of the Snow hasn’t turned me into a gloom merchant. It’s a wonderful view and what’s more the trains are running.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Inverness Courier Off Its Trolley?

The Inverness Courier's editorial leader on Friday made Green Dad slap his forehead and roll his eyes.

Try reading it here without similarly getting depressed.

Apparently more supermarkets are what the Highland Capital requires. Genius!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Exploring Scotland From the Train

Tim Woods (of Car Free Walks) is writing a series of articles for Scottish Mountaineer about the virtues of tackling Scotland's hills from the luxury of the train.

These are now becoming available on the Mountaineering Council for Scotland website and will hopefully inspire you to find a new way to explore that is 'Green' and harks back to the luxury of the Victorian era.

"One last flap of the arms before the barrel goes over the falls..."

With a turn of phrase like that, is it any wonder I'm a big fan of Michael Chabon.

The author of Wonder Boys, the Final Solution and other gems recently published a memoir called Manhood For Amateurs. It's full of anecdotes of failure. He admits to having a glass half empty attitude but it just adds to his charm.

He turns out to be a massive Dr Who nerd and shares his thoughts on the death of the ultra-brilliant David Foster Wallace.

I heartily recommend Manhood to any dads, sons or brothers. Women must not read it. Too many male secrets will be given away.

For example: "One of the fundamental axioms of masculine self-regard is that the tools and appurtenances of a man's life must be containable within the pockets of his jacket and pants. Wallet, keys, gum, show or ball game tickets, Kleenex, condoms, cell phone, maybe a lighter and a pack of cigarettes: Just cram it all in there, mother****er."

Amen, brother. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

All That Way Just To Pick Up A Can Of Creamed Corn?

If I recall rightly Elspeth had gone to Inverness for a hen night. And what poor Hamish didn’t know was she used Knorr stock cubes to make his broth. Elspeth was of course screaming with delight at a strip joint, which I don’t ever recall the Highland News exposing.

My memory of this TV advert of the 80s was prompted by our recent Quest For Creamed Corn. It might not have been as perilous or as epic as Frodo, Gandalf and the crew returning the ring to fires of Mordor but I think it underlines the lengths parents will go to for their bairns.

Wife-features had come across a recipe for zucchini (courgettes, to you and me) fritters that involved buttermilk and creamed corn. I scoffed that these items were mythical creations from American sitcoms like ‘twinkies’ and ‘half and half’ and there was no chance of finding them in Nairn.

It was the equivalent of laying a gauntlet down. The food retailers of our burgh were scoured.

We later found ourselves in Forres where buttermilk was seized upon with glee. But the creamed corn (ingredients: corn, water, sugar) was more elusive. Wife-features’ Quest For The Creamed Corn left no stone unturned or at least no supermarket website unsearched.

Asda has some! And there’s a branch in Elgin, hint, hint.

Again I mocked. We’re not going all the way to the county town of Moray, home of the humorously named Elgin City FC, the world’s smallest and most disappointing shopping mall - the St Giles centre - and the West End Fish Bar where a sitty-doon tea comes with bread and butter on melamine crockery.

I’ll treat you to lunch came the response.

Oh, OK then.

I’m afraid when it comes to most blokey clichés (roaring at football, worshipping Top Gear, liking Bruce Springsteen) I’m useless, apart from the offer of food. Works every time.

We made a day of it - took the train, romped in Cooper Park with Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed and had a good lunch at the Epicentre of Cashmere. The store has an excellent ramp inside, which occupied a hyperactive toddler for a good while. She also ran around the place at full tilt but of course was never in any danger - anything she crashed into would have been made of the softest woven fibres.

Why the buzzing bairn? Lunch was supposed to involve sandwiches but these were ignored in favour of the chocolate milkshake and chocolate crispy cake. In fact, just the chocolate from the crispy cake - the crispies were spat out once they had given up their chocolatey goodness.

Elgin does have a lot going for it. It has lovely green spaces and some interesting independent shops (Yeadon’s bookshop is excellent - I bought a comic hillwalking novel from the 50s with a foreword by Bill Bryson, thus ticking all my boxes) but also the hideous housing and retail park developments that blight Inverness. Times ahead will be tough with Kinloss closing and lay offs apparently also in order at Lossiemouth, although total closure has yet to be decided.

Finally, before we entered through the hallowed gate and into the Kingdom of Asda, we thought it would be fun to take a peek at Lidl. In one aisle I found Frikadelle (pork burgers), thermal underwear and dog biscuits in close proximity. Brilliant.

Even better was the fact we had to queue to get out. We weren’t buying anything but the only escape route was through the lone operating checkout. I seriously expected to have a light shone at me and a voice to bark: ‘Ver are your peppers?’ (Hmm. Green Dad went a bit Boris Johnson/Duke of Edinburgh there. Anyway…)

Over at Asda the creamed corn was cornered. Takeaway coffees were taken away and we sat and slurped at the station while waiting for the train home, Toddler having fallen asleep. It was only a few minutes of quiet time but I think we both had one of those moments when you realise how good life can be.

Oh, and the zucchini fritters? They were delicious but TWMBO didn’t eat a single one. Fish fingers to the rescue!

"I'd like to express my creative thoughts, but I'm mentally ill..."

"I'd like to express my creative thoughts, but I'm mentally ill..."

David Byrne meets a fan on the number 73 to Stoke Newington.

The ex-Talking Head (from Dumbarton don't forget) is one of my favourite bloggers. He loves bicycles, buildings and public transport. I met him once at a party in New York. Ooh. Get me!

The blue bins are coming

Preparations for the introduction of the new refuse and recycling collections to households in Caithness and Lochaber step up a gear this week as The Highland Council begin the distribution of new calendars and booklets giving full details of the new service.

Households in areas which presently have blue recycling boxes will also begin to be issued with blue wheelie bins; these will take a wider range of materials than the boxes – paper, food tins and drink cans, cardboard and plastic bottles.

Good news for dirty Wickers and folk from the Fort. The blue bins will arrive in Green Dad's patch later in the year. About time! How else are you supposed to recycle all your stuff - drive several miles to the depot?