Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Swings And Roundabouts

The other day was one of mixed fortunes. I arrived home to discover a traffic warden having a chat with Wife-features on the doorstep. (I can hear the pantomime boos and hisses already.)

Some moons ago when we flitted to where we are in the Brighton of the North we noticed signs in the street advising of permit parking but noticed no-one seemed to have a permit. And sure enough when we spoke to our new neighbours and even the local traffic warden himself it turned out it wasn't necessary. Hooray we thought - one fewer form to fill in! (Please note: not one 'less' form but one 'fewer'. Supermarkets in particular should be advised. Your signs should read 9 items or fewer, not less.)

Sadly the old warden has moved on and a new, by-the-book variety has ridden into town to teach us small hicks how traffic management is really done.

To me it seemed the easiest answer was to take down the permit signs but it was too late - the warning sticker had been slapped on the car. Wife-features obtained a form for a permit today (the fee is £1) which means I now have to mine the paper mountain at the back of the house to find the shiny, rare and incredibly valuable car registration document. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho...

Oh, but on the plus side Scotrail sent me a cheque for five quid.

Remember ages ago I said I'd had a gurn about poor access at Nairn train station and they didn't bother to reply? Apparently they had some technical gremlins so the £5 was to say sorry for not replying sooner. And as for my query about improving access? No, they have no plans.

So, using the railway station's a hassle, parking outside my house is a hassle... I'm about to head off on my bike for a meeting. Whatever bureaucratic hurdle awaits me I hope I can jump it!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Allotment Excitement Spreads To Inverness

A lovely piece in the Courier about the new Hawthorn Drive allotments between Dalneigh and the canal.

Intriguingly it was trailed on their front page as "Inverness leads the way". I think the tattie diggers of Nairn might have something to say about that!

The article also seems to paint Highland Council in a positive light when my sources suggest they were the main stumbling block.

But never mind - the more allotmenteers the merrier I say. Good luck to all at Hawthorn Drive!

"Having more choices doesn't seem to lead to more happiness..."

A philosophy I've long subscribed to.

I do tend to have a bit of meltdown if I go into a supermarket and have to choose between 17 varieties of sliced ham.

This piece by Oliver Burkeman reveals a fascinating discovery - the more options we're faced with the more important we regard the decision. Further proof - as if it were needed - of the corrupting influence of supermarkets!

Inverness Harbour Recycling Plant Heading For Green Light?

Remember last year plans were revealed for a huge recycling plant at Inverness Harbour?

Here's a reminder.

While some people got a bit worked up at the time about the fact no planning permission was required due to its location at the harbour, it seems on balance the idea of stopping lorries going down the A9 and along the A96 with Highland rubbish for landfill is OK.

Mind you, the materials the plant will recycle such as plastics and electronic goods should really be sent back to the manufacturer and we all as individuals should probably think carefully before purchasing such things - maybe the arrival of a recycling plant won't make us reduce our consumption as we should.

I mention the issue as the same company proposing the Inverness plant has won planning permission for one in Lanarkshire. A good omen for them? We'll see.

Send In The Clones

Remember the Nairnshire farm at the centre of the Cloned Cow Controversy last summer? Here's a reminder.

Well, now it seems the Food Standards Agency has changed its tune and the offspring of cloned animals is OK to enter the food chain.

Whether you like the idea of cloned meat and milk or not, don't expect to know that's what you're buying. The government says labelling to inform consumers "isn't possible".

PAP Set To Pop Up Again

There are occasions when I do wonder why the heck I'm not a veggie. I'm such a sucker for a tasty bit of meat. Today the butcher had a special offer on liver and bacon. Mmm.

When I tuck in to my tea I'll try to put out of my mind this report which suggests we're about to see the lifting of the ban on feeding "non-ruminant PAP to pigs and poultry". (PAP = Processed Animal Protein, aka the yukky bits although not the brain, not the brain!)

In short, fairly soon you could be tucking in to some pork from a pig fed on chicken entrails or a chicken fed on pig remnants. I bet you really wanted to know that!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Trains, Beer And Automobiles

Is it just me or does it feel like the apocalypse is nigh? (Just me then. As usual.)

I cycle into the hurricane-force wind and through torrential rain yesterday teatime to make my usual train home, arriving sopping wet at Inverness station to discover all services had been 'suspended' due to the weather.

I soon learned the train from Aberdeen had hit a tree on the track near Huntly. My poor pal Totally Green Tania was left to fend for herself (and her bike) and eventually made it home to the Highlands after many, many hours.

As I stood in Inverness station creating a huge puddle around my feet I could hear tannoy announcements barking about cancellations and suspensions, two ambulances screamed down Academy Street and a rescue helicopter flew overhead. And then someone mentioned Iceland had blown another volcano.

Through all this chaos who came to the rescue? A motorist. An anti-regulation, climate change sceptic frequent flier of a motorist who happens to be a friend. If I had my smugometer with me its reading would have been off the chart had I pointed it at him. Anyway, I was grateful for the lift home, although when we arrived we noticed the power was off.

The train into Inverness was cancelled this morning. Has one tree really felled an entire rail service? It seems a poor show to me and gives succour to those who love the car.

Actually, at the weekend I was on the verge of going off the train. Yet again I had to endure a journey in mobile pub. What is it with the trains from Aberdeen? They're routinely crammed with bladdered football neds, reeking rig workers or screeching hen parties. The train into Inverness on Sunday morning (Sunday morning!) was festooned with a singing, swearing crowd whose tables were littered with whisky miniatures.

The train home to Nairn at 6pm was similarly clarted with empty cases of beer. (As my pic here shows.) Trains are enclosed public spaces and in the same way as you're not allowed to smoke on them and you're not allowed to swig booze in the High Street I fail to see why these rules don't apply on the rails.

I recall a few years back asking Scotrail if they had any plans to change their alcohol policy. No was the very short answer.

If we're to encourage people to use public transport we must make it more attractive. The Scotrail franchise must be up for renewal soon. Time for a rethink? Or should I rename my blog Green Prude?

Anyway, must go. It's started to snow...

Friday, 20 May 2011

Stop The Pigeon!

Tragedy has struck. Readers of a nervous disposition should look away now.

Something has eaten my broccoli. And my cauliflowers.


These lovely leafy baby vegetables were only in the ground a few weeks and had such a promising life ahead of them (get bigger, get dug up, get made into soup) and it’s been cut horribly short by a winged vermin.

No, not seagulls, but pigeons.

I spotted one on my plot from across the allotment site today and blimey it was about the size of a capercaillie (regular Green Dad readers know these as “turkey-sized birds”) but it flapped off when I started to head over.

It seems there are a few pigeons down our way and they’ve had a good munch of everything going. And there was contemplating going to Nairn’s Tradeway hardware store to see if I could hire a Wallace and Gromit style BunVac 6000 to humanely remove any pests of the cotton-tail variety.

The broccoli and caulis were nibbled away so neatly. But hey-ho, this is allotmenteering is pioneering stuff. I think Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed will be persuaded to visit a garden centre this weekend to help Daddy choose some new fodder. Meantime some netting has been purchased so I’m ready to raise a force field if the pigeons take a fancy to anything else.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Like Local Hero But Real...

Please spread the word about this amazing film that's showing at Eden Court on Monday 30 May at 8pm.

It tells the real-life (and ongoing) story of Shell UK's plans to lay a giant, high-pressure gas pipe through a small Irish town and its fishing waters to a new inland refinery. The residents, farmers and fishermen of Rossport stand up to oppose the project, fearing the risks of pollution and the threat to traditional economic activities.

The director of "The Pipe" will be at Eden Court for a Q&A following the film.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

In My Day It Was A Five Mile Hike To School, Including Crossing The A1!

Do I sound like the Monty Python Yorkshiremen?

Anyway, the number of children walking to school is steadily declining despite Scottish Government attempts to promote activity. More details here.

Stupid Transport Firms Mean No Smart Cards Anytime Soon

Disappointing news here in the Herald about plans for a Scottish smartcard, similar to the London "Oyster".

Just think how convenient it would be if you could make a complicated journey (is there any other kind in Scotland thanks to our knobbly geography?) using different kinds of transport but one ticket!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Why cyclists sometimes opt for the pavement...

"Outdated one-way systems designed for a car-dominated world mean even the most law-abiding among us risk a £30 fine."

Interesting article here from the Guardian.

I too detest one-way systems. Even worse are those bizarre compromises you get - Ness Walk in Inverness leaps to mind. You're allowed to cycle against the flow of traffic past the Columba Hotel and Riva but the oncoming motorists don't seem to know that!

Dumb Dumpers Spoil Nairn-Inverness Cycle Route And Footpath

It's always seemed bonkers to me the National Cycle Route between Inverness and Nairn takes 28 miles, wiggling its way up and down the hills behind Cawdor when of course motorists get an almost arrow-straight journey of fifteen miles.

Part of me wonders if the easiest way to improve the cycle link is to bolt a bike lane onto the side of the new dual carriageway between Inverness and Nairn - whenever that arrives. But actually, cycling next to four lanes of thundering traffic is pretty horrible and dangerous. Best we look for a route on by-ways and tracks.

The other day I pootled through to Inverness staying south of the A96 and avoiding busy B roads where possible and it only took two hours. Maybe it could become a proper cycle route. There's always the option of taking the road to Ardersier but of course there's a horrible bit at Delnies where you have to cycle on the A96 and cross over at a bend. And then the coast road from Ardersier into Inverness is busy and you again have to cycle for a wee bit on the A96 to get to the Balloch turn off.

Here's what I did:

Loch Flemington
Balblair Road out of Nairn towards Clephanton but turn off just before the crossroads and head towards Loch Flemington.

Then uphill to Croy and into forestry following a footpath to Tornagrain.

Sadly this section was spoiled by some dumb dumpers who appear to have been gutting caravans or something. Watch out if you're out this way as there's lots of glass on the path.

Don't go into Tornagrain but stick with the forestry and you'll see the Cloud Factory (Norbord) on your right through the trees - this eventually spits you out in the middle of Balloch where you can connect with the cycle paths to Culloden, Smithton and Inshes.

It was a really enjoyable ride and the lack of traffic was bliss.

Then it was over the Kessock Bridge and around the Black Isle, stopping off at a certain brewery for refreshments! It's a hard life cycling but someone's got to do it.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Man In A Shed

"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."

Ah, there's a Nick Drake lyric for everything, isn't there?

The allotment is progressing nicely. Massive thanks to a couple of the neighbours for putting together The Shed while I was away. Life seems so calm viewed from here...

It's Also The Only Town I Know Still Has A Wimpy Burger Restaurant

Dingwall. Famous for Ross County, rubber bumpers and, apparently, an amazing curry house (although I forget which one).

We paid the former Ross and Cromarty capital a visit recently and were amazed how well the High Street is doing considering there is a Goliath-sized Tesco within spitting distance. (Excellent baby changing facilities, to give them their dues. Free nappies in fact!)

The train ride out was wonderful, along the shore of the Beauly Firth. And our first port of call? The secondhand bookshop. As a treat for Wife-features’ birthday I gave her three whole pounds and told her she could pick any ten she wanted. Huh?

You see, the shop has an extensive ‘whodunnit’ section, including a couple of shelves stuffed with Agatha Christie paperbacks, priced 30p each. Needless to say the missus was in her element. So there you have it men: all the ladies need is a few quid and a bit of retail therapy and you’re in the good books for another year.

The shop had a comfy sofa so while WF selected her haul TWMBO and I read some stories. Next stop: The Greenhouse.

This lovely old shop has been converted in a community-run secondhand emporium. Amazing retro clothes, fifteen thousand varieties of buttons, old LPs and knick-knacks. TWMBO was in her element, running up and down the length of what is a very lengthy shop.

The bacon rolls from the bakers were smashing and the High Street still has a greengrocer. And of course most of the High Street is pedestrianised, so you can linger and not be too worried if your little person goes runabout. I wonder how Nairnites would react to a suggestion to pedestrianise part of their High Street? I suspect many would regard it as worse than the extra traffic lights on the A96, which by all accounts are the end of civilisation as we know it. The fact that it will enable people to cross a trunk road splitting their community in two without playing ‘chicken’ and taking their life in their hands seems to have been overlooked. I can’t wait to use the new crossings and walk really slowly across, smiling at the motorist waiting at the red light, his or her forehead veins almost certainly throbbing with madness.

Not only is it amazing Dingwall’s coped (relatively) with the infectious spread of the Tesco virus but in general it’s a wonder it’s survived since the Kessock and Cromarty Firth bridges were opened almost 30 years ago. Previously Inverness was probably viewed as just another town, maybe slightly larger, and a bit of a trek to get to. With the bridge you can drive there in, what, 20 minutes?

Bypassing the town so widely by taking the A9 to Tore and Culbokie then landing at Evanton was obviously a massive boon to freight and other road users trying to get to Wick in less than half a day! But I do wonder what sort of compensation the then government and councils considered for Dingwall. Probably none at all.

Maybe the old Highland Region could have relocated a few jobs out of Inverness, similar to what happened after the Scottish Parliament was set up - SNH moved out of Edinburgh to Craig Dunain.

Dingwall will always hold a special place in my heart. I was once called as a witness in a court case there. But that’s another story…

Green Dad Joins The Campaign And Gets To The Route Of The Matter

“So what made you join the group?”

“Well, I’m an old pal of Roger’s…”

“Ah, that explains everything.”

You see, as the old saying goes, it’s who you know, not what you know.

And which highbrow, secretive, influential, elite club have I joined?

The Highland Cycle Campaign.

I can tell you’re impressed. I mentioned it to a friend who isn’t hard of hearing and their reaction was: There’s a campaign for Highland psychos? Hmm, I bet there are some people who would use that word to describe a bloke on a bike! Hardly a month goes by without a “letter to the editor” berating cyclists in general after witnessing somebody in lycra running a red light.

I’ve been cycling since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. (Is it just me or does a Grasshopper sound like a really cool bike? Yeah, just me then.)

Recently I’ve noticed a few decisions or developments where there was an opportunity to make life easier for folk who want to use a bike but this was overlooked. The car is still king in the land of lazy petrol heads. I wondered what happened to the Campaign and cor blimey it still exists.

The AGM was the other night so used it as my chance to slip into the saddle. Well, maybe not quite the saddle. The chairman is the very enthusiastic Hamish. But I definitely managed to get a “backie”.

Various issues were discussed but the highlight of the evening was when the guest speaker, a civil engineering consultant, took the floor and produced an enormous map to illustrate his talk.

I like a map. I dream one day of owning a complete set of OS Landrangers and Explorers.

The map produced by Alan the engineer (why are they always called Alan or Jim? Mind you, I once spoke to one called Adolf. Seriously) showed the proposed route of a new national cycle network - number 78 if I recall rightly - linking Campbeltown, Fort William and Inverness. We were focussed on the Fort William to Inverness section. My excitement at seeing a large map was soon surpassed with the revelation that part of the route will utilise a tunnel from the old Spean Bridge-Fort Augustus railway! We were told that it’s not a very long tunnel - you can see the light at the end as you enter it. But still, what a thrill.

Also, the AGM meant there was free coffee and shortbread.

While I enjoy my biscuit, let me reflect for a moment. Some years back Wife-features (although she wasn’t my missus then - we were living in sin), our pal Feexby and I walked the Great Glen Way. The highlight was when a man wielding a clipboard leapt out from the bushes just a mile out of Fort William and started asking us if we were enjoying the experience and if we had any recommendations to make. We’ll let you know when we’ve done the remaining 65 miles was our answer, which he dutifully noted before regressing into the undergrowth.

Anyway, the cycle route deviates from the GGW in a few places, particularly after Fort Augustus as it goes to the east of Loch Ness and heads for Inverness via Foyers and Dores. It’s quite a climb on the Whitebridge section but what amazing views you’ll get and it could be a real boost for businesses on that side of the loch. From memory there’s a café at Falls of Foyers and I’ve heard great things about the Dores Inn since the new owners took over a couple of years ago from the legendary Ella.

The Highland Cycle Campaign has been working hard behind the scenes for ages on developments such as these. It was pointed out how different things are now compared to just five or ten years ago. In terms of access and ease of cycling around the region it’s much better with dedicated paths and routes all over the place. Obviously I’d like to see a direct route between Nairn and Inverness but suspect it’ll take a bit of work. I will apply myself and keep you updated.

One issue I raised at the meeting was a forthcoming conference on transport. It’s billed as a major event, looking at “transport of the future” in the Highlands and Islands. Guest speakers include Danny Alexander and bigwigs from Scotrail and Stagecoach. It’s backed by some serious dosh by serious organisations.

Sadly, nowhere in the literature for this two day jaw-jaw is there any reference to cycling. Gah! HCC are setting about it.

I recall a few months back seeing a Tweet from Patrick Harvie (one of the two Green MSPs - he’s the one who makes spiky comments and wears a suit rather than the traditional Green uniform of hole-riddled jumper and odour of patchouli) following publication of a major report on ‘low carbon transport’ plans for Scotland. Hundreds of pages long. And not one mention of bicycles. “Major fail” is how Patrick put it. I couldn’t agree more.

Soft Play Is Hard Going

Soft play. It sounds gentle, warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?

In reality it’s a Full Metal Jacket training course - the only difference being there are rubber mats and carpeting. Oh, and no gunnery sergeant yelling You are a disgusting fat-body!

We had experienced the joys of a minor soft play area during our trip to the winter wonderland of Aviemore.

However, what we braved the other weekend was on a much bigger scale.

Marooned on an island of development ground - you have to cross roads and car parks to get to Tesco on one side and soulless identikit housing on the other - is an aircraft hangar of a building that contains an enormous, three storey climbing frame full of netting, slides, ball pits, trampolines, punch bags, foam-filled rocking horses and a mini football pitch.

All round the perimeter of the place are leather sofas and end tables so parents/guardians can sit back with a coffee and watch the kids from a distance. And everyone is in their stocking soles. It felt eerily like twenty-three conjoined living rooms.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed needed no instruction, set her hyperactive drive to maximum and buzzed around for 90 minutes like a hummingbird on Pop Tarts. We were there to say happy birthday to TWMBO’s cousin who had turned one. (TWMBO can now tell you, if you ask her, that’s she’s two. She might also tell you she’s had a poo, even if you didn’t asked. You have been warned.) The pair of them romped, as did the five million other toddlers in the place. It was a Saturday.

TWMBO fell asleep almost immediately after we left the building and I wanted to join her.

Now that I think about it, it was possibly the only place I’ve been where you don’t have to hunt for a highchair in the café - there was a massive rack of them, lined up like supermarket trolleys.

Adding to the thrill of the day was our decision to use public transport. It’s so easy to think: we’ve got a pile of stuff to do today, there’s three of us, so let’s jump in the car. But instead we hopped on the train to Inverness, noodled around the farmers’ market (offering commiserations to Donnie ‘Knobbly Carrots’ Macleod in light of the close-but-no-cigar Green vote), then took the bus out to the retail tundra. Even with bags of presents and organic rhubarb it wasn’t complicated getting around.

And when we returned to the Brighton of the North the usual faff of getting across the railway bridge was eased thanks to a good Samaritan who took one end of the buggy.

The other we created our own Soft Play area on the back green. A blanket and TWMBO’s old baby bath. Suddenly she was captain of a ship on a tartan sea. Who needs a foam filled rocking horse when you have imagination…

Mini-Goth In The Making?

I love Berk.

Not me, you understand. Oh no, this is our two year old speaking.

I can tell you are shocked. Indeed one reader has spilled his coffee on his keyboard. But at least it doesn’t have sugar in. That’s the real menace to electrical hardware.

Berk, you will surely know, was the star of 80s TV animation Trap Door. Voiced by the wonderful Willie Rushton in a sort of oo-aar Westcountry accent. Each episode was only a few minutes and consisted of egg-shaped blue plasticine Berk battling some disgusting creature that had emerged from the trap door in the basement of the castle where he slaved. His best mate being a skull called Boni. Catchphrases include the classic: Phwoar, sniff that! Come here for a good bonking. Get out of my way, flipping Drutt. And a joke’s a joke but this has gone way beyond the realms of light entertainment.

In short it was yukky and macabre but hilarious. I put the DVD on one day a few months back for a laugh and to occupy TWMBO while I set about some chores. She’s been hooked ever since, culminating in the recent proclamation of her undying adoration of Berk. She’s even taken to demanding Wife-features and I draw pictures of Boni for her in the bath with her special bath crayons.

Part of me wonders if I’ve created a mini-goth. But then I think how grateful I am she’s developed a crush on a retro, semi-sophisticated piece of animation rather than the generic pink glittery princess stuff that’s so difficult to escape.

Trap Door, along with Wallace and Gromit, seem firm favourites just now but who knows - maybe they’ll turn out to be passing fancies. Certainly I can’t recall what TV, if any I watched at that age. I guess as long as it’s in small doses it’s OK. I’m afraid I can’t understand why some people seem to have their tellies on all the time. I know a few folk - the first thing they do when they enter the room is switch on the box. Mad.

In an attempt to balance our bairn and ensure she isn’t brainwashed by Berk, Boni and the creepy crawlies, I‘ve taken to leaving Radio 4 on at bath time, when the Archers comes on. Previously I would have risked injury lunging for the off switch at the sound of the jaunty theme music but it turns out TWMBO likes it, shouts “Akkers” excitedly, boogies in the bath for a few seconds then gets back to rubber duck action.

Although I like to think she’s quietly absorbing the latest goings-on in Ambridge. There was a fairly amusing plotline a few weeks back involving some of the chaps furtively roasting a chicken during Lent and attempting to scoff it before one of the wives came home.

As for other media influences on TWMBO she claps and cheers whenever the audience claps and cheers on panel shows like the News Quiz. I fear the appeal of Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties is fading - I still love it but rarely do I get a dance these days. Of course, when I say dance, she was only able to crawl so couldn’t really escape my clutches as I burled her round the room while yelping Purple haze all in my brain!

Oh well - as one Sixties troubadour put it: The times, they are a-changing’.

Electric Allotments Power Ahead

So you’re one of the lucky 29, are you?

It must have been my loamy trousers and the fact I was carrying a shovel that gave me away. The man in the street had me marked as one of the New Allotmenteers.

It turns out he grows veg on a patch of ground in Nairn he rents from one of the churches. We stood in the street chatting for a bit about different soil textures, weeds and techniques for shoring up embankments. This is what I have become. And I like it.

The Electric Allotments are powering ahead with most plots developed now. Fences are up, tatties are sprouting and, hooray, the sheds have arrived. We now have our own wee Shangri-las.

It does feel a bit like painting the Forth bridge - it’s quite a responsibility taking on a hundred square metres of earth. It will take time to get on top of everything and of course it will evolve in the coming years. It’s a real investment and shows I’ve literally put down roots where I live.

There is a great sense of community at the allotments - we all help each other out and there’s no shame in peering over a fence to pinch a neighbour’s idea. Some of us were hopping with excitement at the discovery of a frog in the pond. The other day I nipped down to prepare the ground for the installation of my shed (and do a wee bit of weeding, aka The Never-ending Story). It was mild, sunny and blissfully quiet between 7 and 8am with only a passing train and tweeting birds creating any kind of hubbub. To experience such peace so close to a town centre was magical. And it made my labour all the easier.

TWMBO paid a visit to the plot the other evening before bath time to help water the veg. I plonked her down and her instant reaction? Eww, muddy!

Oh no. Really? She’s only two and already I’m one of those ‘uncool’ dads? (Sigh.)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Cunning Stunt

I see Cambridgeshire hillwalker Alan Sloman plans to go ahead with his hysterical over-reaction to the Dunmaglass wind farm.

He's pretty sure a few more turbines on a bit of land that isn't designated and is where the council have suggested developers build wind farms means the death of wilderness.

I'm sure I've blogged before about my love of hillwalking and bagging Munros. And the sight of a patch of turning windmills on a hillside doesn't spoil my day out. In fact, I find them uplifting and a sign of hope.

Mr Sloman's stunt is bound to be splashed across the media next week. I just hope the journalists covering it speak to a few more hillwalkers. I know plenty who love wind farms. I also hope they ask him what alternative suggestion he has for our energy needs. Using less energy and having a mix of renewables seems pretty sensible to me. The other options are dangerous, dirty and dwindling.

Another thought while I'm on wind farms: why, if there's so much concern about blights on the landscape, did so many people vote SNP twice last Thursday? Some say it's a mandate for independence. If so it's surely also a mandate for 100 per cent renewable energy.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Aw, But I Like Paying Less For Chemicals

I have tomatoes on the brain (see earlier post) at the moment. I couldn't help noticing the price of a can of the chopped variety is the same whether it's organic or non-organic.

I lingered like a nut to see if anyone picked up the chemically-enhanced option but it seems the tinned veg aisle is a lonely one on a Sunday night.

If organic is the same price but means you haven't harmed the environment by producing the product why on earth would you buy the non-organic version? Some say organic food tastes better but that's a nonsense. It's all about the impact of what you're consuming.

Right, I promise. No more posts about tomatoes. This week at least.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

You Say Tomato, I Say Red Ball Of Ketchup Ingredient

To quote Toddler’s current hero, Berk from Trap Door: sniff that! Phwoar.

I’ve just finished potting on (moving seedlings from an incubator to larger tubs, city slickers) a bunch of tomato plants. A fortnight ago they were seeds. Now they’re sprouty, hairy and green. And boy do they smell good!

What is it about certain smells? Why is the whiff of tomatoes, or cut grass for that matter, a positive one?

Toddler is in the habit of sniffing plants and flowers but I’ve yet to see her really react to any distinctive smell.

Maybe when she’s older she will associate the smell of fresh, room temperature tomatoes will her dad’s potterings. For me it’s just a nice aroma, like ground coffee beans or napalm in the morning.

This is our first year with an allotment; last year Wife-features had good results growing tatties in a sack and our window ledges were clarted with tomato plants that at one point had to be tied up for fear they were taking over the building like an armada of fruity Triffids.

The taste of both was unbeatable. I simply don’t get it - why would you pay good money for some red balls of semi-frozen tasteless water that have been flown thousands of miles and wrapped in plastic? Supermarket shopping is weird. But it’s how we’re brought up in our consumer society. Personally I’d rather we binned algebra and metaphysical poetry at school and instead taught kids how to grow a spud. Maybe schools do.

I’ll soon find out - Toddler will be a teenager in the blink of an eye.

A fond childhood memory I have is raiding the pea farm near where I grew up in East Lothian. I recall me and my buddy Jamie crawling Commando-style through the fields and picking a sackful of tiny green spheres of savoury delight. (If you think my verbiage is odd, spare a thought for journalists who often labour under the impression they can’t use they same word twice in a paragraph. For example, a story about bananas will start off with “A new survey says bananas are good for you.” Followed by “The curved yellow fruit…” I know one hack who wrote a story about capercaillie, the second line of which spoke of “the turkey-sized bird”.)

I think we made ourselves sick eating our ill-gotten peas. Maybe we should have cut them with little green balls of plasticine and sold them on to desperate friends at a huge mark up.

I remember a bag of pea pods being a regular snack. I bet these days if a group of kids gathered in a playground and agreed to do one-for-one with their play pieces most of them would be happy swapping different flavours of Monster Munch or McCowan’s Highland Toffee (my knowledge of playground foods may need updating) but I bet punches would be thrown if little Darius offered wee Tyler a f***ing pea!

I also have memories of eating raw white turnip as a snack. But maybe my family was having a laugh.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed has her good days and bad days when it comes to eating sensible food. She can still wolf a kipper and the other day scoffed three homemade plaice fingers. Broccoli seems to have been a fad, sadly. But I’ve never known her to refuse a pear.

We were out for lunch the other day - Wife-features had to look away a couple of times and suppress her gag reflex when TWMBO started bolting down whole pats of butter (other toddlers do it, so I’m told) like Homer - and across the street the local pizza/kebab emporium was packed to the gunwales with blue jumpers. Was it some sort of Guinness Record attempt? There wasn’t a McWhirter in sight and it was 1pm.

It seemed most of 2nd year from the local academy was in there loading up on grease.

I turned to TWMBO and in all seriousness warned her I wouldn’t stand for her waddling a few steps from her school gates and pushing chips in her face at lunchtime. It’s a lovely day; why the heck aren’t they all sitting on the playing field eating cheese sandwiches before a game of football I wondered out loud. I did however offer a caveat to my paternal order. If the fast food was outwith a five mile radius it would be acceptable. A twenty minute bike ride to get a fatty lunch followed by another twenty minute cycle back to school? It all balances out. Maybe that’s what that burger van in the lay-by at Brodie is all about.

Anyway, the real crunch will come with a slurp this summer. Tomatoes. Sorry, red balls of ketchup ingredient. Toddler’s never been a fan. Within a few months we’re likely to have several hundred in our greenhouse. She better acquire a taste for them fast!

Checkout These Shops ... Coming Soon To Inverness (Not)

En route to the indoor soft play hangar at Inshes the other day (a blog on the experience is coming, I promise) I noticed an area of scrubby ground and a ubiquitous 'development opportunity' sign.

My first thought was - flip, another mini-mall of chain stores. Bleargh.

But look closer. To presumably prevent copyright infringement the names have been subtly changed. My favourite, a few doors down from the coffee shop you see here, looks like a video rental place but has the baffling name above the door: 'Clockbuster'.

Hilarious. My second thought - isn't this 'development opportunity' site earmarked to be flattened to make way for the new distributor road to connect with the A9 and the Beechwood campus? Sorry, that should read Beachwould Compass.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Salm Down Dear, It's Only An Election

Final results from the Highlands & Islands regional vote here.

Sadly Eleanor Scott of the Greens was pipped to the post - just 400 votes shy of getting in.

There'll be time for proper analysis but at this point it seems to me a lot of folk voted SNP twice - they liked the constituency candidate (in our case Fergus Ewing) and liked the idea of Alex Salmond as First Minister. Of course that's not what the 2nd vote is for - it's to elect another bunch of regional MSPs. I wonder how many people who voted SNP twice realised they were electing John Finnie, Jean Urquhart and Mike Mackenzie.

Who? Exactly.

Lots to chew over but not right now. Waybuloo's almost on, pasta's cooking and then it'll be bath time. Priorities, people - priorities...

Something Interesting Happens In Milton Of Leys?

"This easily makes up for the nearly exciting moment when we thought we were going to get a chemist’s."

I've long thought the kind of 'burbs that have been thrown up around Inverness were jaw-droppingly boring and ill-thought out. The Inversnecky blog has a flaming good take on the situation.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tram Fine Idea ... For Inverness?

An interesting article here in The Ecologist. Well, interesting if you're a public transport nerd like me and can't stand those luddite Edinburgh types who whinge about The Trams.

For some time I've thought Inverness could do with a tram line. Just imagine - it could run from SNH at Craig Dunain down to the canal (handy for the tourists hopping on the Jacobite Cruises), along Glenurquhart Rd (passing the Aquadome, council HQ and Eden Court), across the bridge, along the High St and out Millburn Road to the Retail Park to connect with the new rail halt at Beechwood University campus.

I am such a dreamer! Must be all the car exhaust fumes going my head. As usual.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

"A huge increase in toilet roll colours represents an unqualified gain to the consumer.."

Fans of supermarkets (and I'm looking at you, Sainsbury-worshipping-Nairnites) should read this and weep.

It's also a useful reminder of how Labour, Libdems and Tories ganged up like playground bullies and squashed the SNP's perfectly reasonable idea of asking the big retailers to chip in a few more quid to pay for stuff we all need. The Greens supported the idea. Makes you wonder who really cares about local, independent businesses, doesn't it?

But then again a wider range of loo rolls is vital...

These Train Guys Just Don't Get It, Do They?

Disturbing news here about East Coast (used to GNER) withdrawing dining cars. It's the end of civilisation as we know it! Seriously.

One of the delights of train travel, especially on a long journey, is the idea of a decent meal and comfortable surroundings. Are we really so keen to hunker over laptops for hours on end, not speaking to anyone and consoling ourselves with limp sarnies?

Occasionally I get the East Coast train to Edinburgh from Inverness in the morning and it's great. Comfy seats, plugs for laptops, wi-fi and a decent bacon roll and coffee from the buffet car. There's usually a few folk you recognise making the same journey and it's such a long train it's great fun to walk the length of it seeing who you can spot.

Public transport should be attractive as well as functional and affordable. Why on earth do we still have tiny cramped commuter trains running between the Highlands and the central belt most of the time when that's a journey of almost four hours? And don't get me started on the Inverness-Aberdeen service. Last time I came back from Castle Greyskull I had to stand till Keith!

Ferry Good Snapshot Of Inverness At Election Time

Check out this video by the Guardian's John Harris.

He's paid Merkinch and other parts of Inverness a a visit, along with the Cromarty Firth, to get a feel for how votes will be cast tomorrow.

Highlights include the Libdem leader describing polls as 'mythical' and Fergus sticking it to snobs perpetuating a very real myth.

Monday, 2 May 2011

I Can't Stand Those Liberals ... Although That David Cameron's OK

The perils of offering to give up some precious spare time to staff a political stall during an election campaign.

Eleanor Scott's battlebus roared into the Sunniest Town in Scotland today and a small folding table smattered with Miffy stickers was unleashed.

Those who stopped to talk included a chap working in higher education interested in the Transition Movement (something Wife-features is about to dip her toe into ... more details when I have them), a lady asking why we still have a monarchy as head of state and a few folk who genuinely didn't seem to understand the voting system; the fact that areas like Moray are part of the Highlands and Islands region, the fact you get two votes for the Scottish Parliament with your local MSP elected under first-past-the-post (hence the Greens only standing on the 2nd vote) and regional MSPs elected using a proportional representation formula connected to how well the different parties do on the first vote.

Maybe the Electoral Commission should take a few stalls next time and leave the candidates to get on with explaining policies!

The highlight was definitely the Tory 'rebel' as he described himself. I'm not sure I'd normally put 'conservative' and 'rebel' together but there you go. He waxed lyrical about hating the Liberals although apparently David Cameron's okay. (?)

Clutching a rolled up Daily Mail (I'm not making this up) he literally foamed at the mouth saying women should be put back in their place and how socialists invented global warming so they could take over the world. What he said about the SNP I simply can't repeat here.

Eleanor caught up with a representative of the Nairn Access Panel and was shown how difficult it can be to get from one side of Nairn railway station to the other if you're disabled, elderly or have wee kids. Other issues discussed included the proposed Nairn South development, the town centre saga, Sainsbury's traffic lights and the fact that Nairnites have a great sense of identity and would probably have preferred to stick with Moray and Banff counties when local government was reorganised in the 70s, rather than being annexed by Inverness-based Highland Region.

And Eleanor saw first hand the fine work down at Mill Road allotments. My goodness! Runner beans outdoors already? What a climate!

The Greens are the only party to mention the importance of allotments in their manifesto.

The polls are as promising for the Greens as those thriving runner beans; let's hope the result on Friday is as good as the Nairn weather! 


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Candid About The Candidates

It seems the price of petrol is the underlying issue of the Scottish Parliament election campaign in the Highlands.

In Dingwall on Saturday Wife-features bumped into David 'Call me Dave' Thompson (the last MSP to be declared in 2007, giving the SNP one more than Labour and enabling Salmond to land his helicopter on the presidential lawn) and asked him what the word on the streets of Ross, Lochaber, Badenoch and other Random Bits of the Map is. Cost of fuel, came the answer.

The issue also cropped up during today's recording of the BBC Radio Scotland hustings at Eden Court, due to be broadcast tomorrow (Monday) at 1pm.

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed and I literally ran into Fergus Ewing on his way into the theatre. His nipper is about to be three. What have I to look forward to in the next year, I quizzed the Minister for Drugs. Lots more sausage rolls, apparently.

The fuel price issue is of course a bit of a red herring. We've burnt the cheap stuff. So the question for the candidates is what they plan to do over the next five years preparing us for life with increasingly expensive petrol. How do we make it easier to walk and cycle places and catch a cheap and reliable bus or train at convenient times?

Fergus has been a good constituency MSP and is sure to get back in. But who would you rather helped the government get things done? Libdems or Tories? Or how about the Greens, who propose a 'public transport renaissance'?

That's the ticket!

Waste To Power Plant A Waste?

“The plant will need to meet very rigorous standards and we are confident the Reporter will see the merits of the scheme."

The optimistic reaction from the developer proposing a waste-to-power incinerator for Invergordon following a Scottish Government reporter's decision to investigate further.

The overwhelming impression you get from those against it and the subsequent press coverage is that folk are worried about the health and environmental impacts. I'm reasonably sure these can be addressed. However, my understanding is the incinerator would burn waste we can get the manufacturers to re-use or recycle. Surely we should be trying to reduce waste? Won't an incinerator simply create a market for more rubbish?

Veg Rage

"We just want to be left in peace to enjoy the rural landscape."

So says one objector to, mercy me, some vegetable allotments!

Thank goodness I live in Nairn and not Ullapool...