Friday, 30 September 2011

Piglet, Puddleduck And Sweet Pea

Union Canal at Ratho
These cutesy-pie names weren't discovered during a trip to a fluffy animal sanctuary; instead I came across them while working in a roughish bit of West Lothian.

Ratho. Perfectly charming to my eye as I breezed into the village on my bike, pausing for a Mackies mint choc chip cone on one of the balmiest days of the year. But I'm told it has a bit of a reputation. "You can walk from one end of the village to the other and never leave a crime scene." I am assuming self deprecating humour is deployed by the natives.

Canal marker. Why don't we say 'betwixt' anymore?
Piglet, Puddleduck and Sweet Pea were the names of three barges moored on the Union Canal at Ratho, adding to the dreamy atmosphere of my trip.

I had work to do at Ratho and in true Green Dad style made the trip from The North to Edinburgh by train, taking my bike. From Edinburgh Park station it’s only 7 miles along the canal path to Ratho. A quiet, flat 20 minute ride in glorious weather. Meanwhile many of my colleagues probably endured jams on the city bypass.

I hadn’t expected the fine conditions so my cycling was a bit slower what with my saddle bags weighed down with waterproof jackets, gloves and woolly hats! It is Scotland and it is almost October after all.

Edinburgh City Bypass viewed from Union Canal at 5.30pm
Temperatures aside, it is that time of year. Namely the time of year to panic about losing your bicycle lights. I swear I must have about fifteen pairs of lights but come each October I can never find them and have to buy new ones. The other morning when Toddler jabbed me awake and dragged me through to the dining room for a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs I opened the blind to discovered the sun hadn’t risen yet. And it was 7am.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are beginning our descent...

Thinking Of Flying To Amsterdam Direct From Inverness?

Why not pay our Dutch friends a visit the green way by checking out this video. If only Inverness were like this...

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Dual Is No Jewel

The opening of another wee bittie of dual carriageway on the A9 seems to be getting politicians flustered.

Meanwhile others are beeping their horn for state support for rural petrol stations.

At what point will any of these guys (and gals) start lobbying for long-term sustainable transport improvements? The cheap oil's running out so we need to see better rail and bus services pronto rather than seeing their funding cut. And in the parts of the Highlands not served by rail why aren't we seeing investment in alternative fuels or electric car charging points?

Everybody seems to have voted SNP twice at the election so I presume Highlanders are in favour of another Forth Bridge and an Aberdeen bypass.

But back to the A9. Here's a hilarious and heated conversation I had the other day. It reminded me why it ain't easy being green...

Me: I wish SNP politicians would stop banging on about dualling the A9. It's pointless.

Gas Guzzling Colleague: But what about all the congestion?

Me: The congestion you cause by being part of it?

GGC: But you get stuck behind slow vehicles.

Me: Didn't you tell me you got caught speeding recently? How fast were you doing?

GGC: 81. It wasn't that bad. The limit's 70.

Me: Not on dual carriageway. It's 60. Motorways are 70.

GGC: Oh. But 60 really means 70, doesn't it?

Me: The real investment if any is made in roads should be getting the A96 out of the middle of Nairn.

GGC: It doesn't go through the middle of Nairn. It skirts round it.

Me: Um. I beg to differ. As would the mums and toddlers crossing the thundering trunk road that separates them from the community centre.

GGC: But they (the government) have got to do the A9.

Me: So, let me get this straight. You'd rather the government spent gazillions of our hard to find pounds on dualling a very straight road on which you already break the speed limit while continuing to allow little children to dice with death and pollution on in the middle of a tourist town. Interesting.

Monday, 26 September 2011

"In one fell swoop, Scottish Salmon will reverse what we've acheived as a Green Island."

Plans for a fish farm off Eigg could scramble the island's green reputation. Read all about it here on The Ecologist website.

Are we approaching a post-motoring world?

"The percentage of 17- to 20-year-olds with driving licences fell from 48% in the early 1990s to 35% last year."

More here from the Guardian.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cinema Nairn Comes Up Trumped

“Arguably the most important film about Scottish environmental, land and identity rights to surface this year or any year.”
So said The List.

You've Been Trumped has been winning awards, wowing the critics and making life a wee bit uncomfortable for a certain Weetabix wig wearer.

It's on a tour of a few UK cities as well as Canada, Bermuda and, er, Nairn!

Monday 3 October at 8.30pm. Check out the Cinema Nairn blog. Best Pringle jumpers on!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Four Wheels Good; Two Wheels Bad?

Or so you'd believe if you followed the logic in the Scottish Government's spending review.

Wading through the stats I notice spending on motorways and trunk roads is set to go up from £557m this year to £700m in 2014 while over the same period spending on "sustainable and active travel" (which includes cycling) is set to drop from £25m to £15m.

Patrick Harvie of the Greens sums it up smartly: "Concrete trophies."

"If you want to know what Scotland could look like in 10 years..."

"...then take the 90-minute ferry journey from Scrabster to Stromness and find out."

Lovely piece worth reading here about one of my favourite places, Orkney, and how it's well along the road to our renewable future.

The Highland Nuclear Legacy

Interesting to note here that the environment agency has changed its stance to reflect the reality that the environment around Dounreay will never been clean.

Druim Ba NIMBYs Named

Re the daft decision by councillors to object to the Druim Ba wind farm proposal you can view the full list of objectors and supporters here.

Interesting to note objectors include:

Tony Davidson, Gallery Director, Kilmorack Gallery
Joe Gibbs, Phoineas House, Belladrum Estate (he appears twice!)
Hon. Kim I M Fraser, Lovat Estates (he also appears twice!)
Robert Livingstone (boss of Hi-Arts)
Terry Butcher
Ann Gloag, Beaufort Castle
RSPB Scotland
Warwick Lister-Kaye, Aigas Field Centre
20 people at "The Whins" which I'm guessing is a B&B (Sign our anti wind farm petition? That's Highland hospitality for you.)

On the list of supporters I see Norman MacDonald, Cafe 1. It's been ages since I had a slap up dinner there. If ministers give Druim Ba the go ahead Norman can expect my custom to celebrate!

Highland Councillors Know Which Way The Wind's Blowing

Well this is depressing. Highland councillors have formally objected to plans for a wind farm at Druim Ba near Kiltarlity.

They say it would have threatened a tourist area. No it wouldn't. It's a really boring bit of plantation and the wind farm would have opened it up, creating walking and cycling tracks. Oh, and clean energy rather than the alternative "do nothing" offered by the NIMBYs.

Hopefully Scottish Government will show some backbone and give it the OK.

A senior politician once told me: There's a time for leading and there's a time for following.

Clearly the councillors feel it's a time for following. The NIMBYs have been vocal and there's an election just a few months away.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Toddler Pipes Up

A definite highlight of this weekend was Toddler's reaction to seeing me appear in the living room before I headed out to the aforeblogged Alastair McGowan dinner.

I was wearing my kilt (17 years on from its purchase it still fits - if I breathe in quite a bit and shun the dessert course), brogues, socks with flashes, Argyll jacket and tartan tie.

Toddler said: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Er, no. I really felt I'd let her down.

She turns to Glan (babysitter for the evening) and asks: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Wife-features then enters the room ready to head off to Pipling-style Yogo (hence the need for Glan to babysit) and Toddler again asks: "Daddy play the bagpipes?"

Laughter all round and a confused kid in the middle of it. Her query was quite understandable. During the summer we kept bumping into pipers in full Teuchter regalia - at the Games, the farm show, etc.

She even does an amazingly accurate impression of a piper if you ask her nicely. One arm is pumped vigourously by the elbow while a loud "eeehhhhh" droning noise escapes the side of her mouth.

There's only one way forward. I cannot disappoint my wee girl. The neighbours are gonna love me...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

McGowan Makes An Impression At Inverness

A master of comedy.

No, not impressionist Alastair McGowan - after dinner entertainment at a swish bash I attended last night - but Climate Change minister Stewart Stevenson.

Stewart famously had to resign amid criticism of his inability to stop snow falling in Scotland in winter. He's actually a really nice guy although his pre-dinner speech had me stifling chuckles.

In almost the same breath he trumpeted Scotland's ambitious carbon reduction targets and said what a wonderful thing the new Inverness-Schipol air route is and how we should use it or lose it. Cut carbon by taking more international flights? An intriguing strategy! Maybe because you land in Holland the CO2 doesn't count towards Scotland's footprint...

In truth it's always going to be difficult for the Highlands to resist the temptation to maintain and try to grow its airlinks given its distance from other hubs of business, as well as the tourism potential. Personally I'd like to see a real push on rail - I've only taken the Sleeper once and it was wonderful. We really should make the least environmentally damaging options the cheapest, easiest and most pleasant.

As for McGowan, he was in excellent form: "Aberdeen is lovely. Just like Manchester. Except in black and white."

We learned he's a keen environmentalist, a patron of Sustrans (a cycling cause close my own heart - maybe I should have badgered him about the Inverness-Nairn cycle link campaign), doesn't have a car so travels by train and loves wind farms.

He praised the Highlands for having turbines but wondered why some people, especially his near neighbours in the south of England, don't like them yet they love olde worlde windmills. They're doing the same job - turning wind into energy. What's the answer?

"Clad the turbines in wood and open a f***ing gift shop at the bottom."

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Granite Day Out

It seems I'm warming to Castle Greyskull, aka Aberdeen.

Europe's Oil Capital and World Rowie Epicentre is usually grey, cold, mildly intimidating and grey. I said grey twice. I meant it.

But occasionally the freezing fog parts and the city reveals its green spaces and lovely old buildings. And if you have time to explore, some of the shops down the lanes off Union Street are rather cool. (The Coffee House on Gaelic Lane does a super chunky veg and humous sandwich and bowl of spicy lentil soup for a fiver!)

One recent difference I've noticed is the spruce up of Marischal College on Broad Street. Now the HQ of the city council and a building containing so much granite it's a surprise it doesn't collapse in on its own weight.

Now that it's clean it's actually breathtaking to look at. Like a silver House of Commons.

Work took me to Aberdeen the other day and I put my bike on the train. I cycled up to the hospital complex at Foresterhill for a meeting then whizzed downhill to the city centre for another. Sadly the magnificence of Marischal College was slightly muddied by the fact it doesn't appear to have any bike racks. Not a single one. I had to chain my steed to a railing across the street.

As I headed for the train home at the end of the day I got excited noticing signs indicating a direct cycle route to the station that would mean I could avoid riding on hectic Union Street. Bizarrely to get onto the route you have to go up a kerb and across a pavement thronging with shoppers and tourists outside the tourist information centre. Then there's a red brick path especially for cycles that whizzes down a back road to the harbour and close to the station. Most of the red bricks were occupied by white vans. Charming.

Upon arrival at the station all three bike railings were fully taken and I had to wheel through the swanky Union Square shopping mall and out the other side to where about twenty four rails in two covered racks were completely empty.

Like I say I've warmed to Furry Boots town but its cycle provision could be a bit more joined up. Then again everyone there seems to drive 4x4s and Porsches and drill for fossils fuels for a living. Maybe when the wells run dry the beauty of the bike will become apparent!   

Pee Is For Plotting

The plotters at the Electric Allotments aka Mill Road in Nairn have been shortlisted for possible funding for a toilet on the site!

It might not sound thrilling but as this short film shows digging tatties is thirsty work and if you have one too many cuppas somewhere civilised to relieve yourself would be a great, er, convenience.

Good luck guys! The funding is from RBS (don't we own them?) and the public is invited to view the applications on Facebook, Twitter etc and then vote for the one they think is most deserving. I'll post more details if I get them.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

"Growth will include, for example, a longer rush hour, coupled with increased demands for school places, parking and accommodation."

Stewart Nicol's utterly defeatist comments in the Courier about the growth of Inverness.

Who's this Nicol guy when he's at home I hear you wonder.

He's no less than the Chief Exec of Inverness Chamber of Commerce.

He goes on to say: "These are growing pains which we will have to embrace if we want to benefit from a healthier economy, better lifestyle and increased employment opportunities for all."

Sorry Stewart if I sound like Lord Cynical of Doubtful-on-Sea but what a depressing vision you have.

Basically the message is: put up with congestion and lack of affordable housing because in the long run we'll all have lots of out of town supermarkets we can drive to, which is convenient because stacking shelves to make profits for big business will be the core of the economy.

His bizarre view is prompted by criticism of comments he made when Highland Council deferred a decision on plans for the new UHI campus at Beechwood amid public concerns over road congestion. The campus is yet another Inverness development that is unsustainable and lacks the long-term view. Yes the UHI will be good for the region but why the heck doesn't it include a railway station? The main line into Inverness goes straight through the site.

The only bunch I'm aware that has been calling for this logical joined up approach is, surprise surprise, the Greens.

Yes, let's develop Inverness but please can we lift our ambition a bit higher than "grin and bear it".

"The livestock of Europe already require an area of vegetation seven times the size of Europe to keep them in feed."

Fascinating stuff on the unsustainability of a meat-rich diet in this article by Felicity Lawrence.

Also worth noting these comments by one of the Dragons from the Den.

Friday, 9 September 2011

New Rack Joins The Pack By The Track

Hot on the heels of the Green Dad exclusive about abandoned bikes being removed from Inverness railway station I bring you thrilling news of a new cycle rack.

Not only is it metal bars rather than those stupid butterfly holder things but it's under cover!

Check it out next time you're near platforms 1 and 2 - next to the turning circle behind Debenham's.

Scotrail have confirmed to me the clearance of abandoned bikes next to the gates behind TK Maxx (who abandons a bike and why?) was simply to create space. It - and the new rack - are welcome but Inverness station could be so much better.

If you agree let the Highland Cycle Campaign know by leaving a comment on their Facebook page and they'll step things up a gear. 

Scone Request Takes The Biscuit

Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed is only two and a half but already she’s exhibiting signs of a pensioner.

The other day we were heading to a cafĂ© for lunch and I asked her what she thought she’d like to eat.

No hesitation: “Cheese scone and cup of tea.”

A cheese scone was sourced and duly wolfed. She had to make do with chocolate milkshake instead of a cuppa. I dunno. The kids of today. Next she’ll be asking us to turn off Cbeebies and switch on Heartbeat and pass the Werther’s Originals.

Letting The Sides Down

Great events in world history: The fall of the Berlin Wall; The first man on the moon; South Africa elects a black president; The sides come off our Toddler’s cot.

Okay, so perhaps that last item isn’t worthy of rolling TV news coverage but in our household it’s dramatic stuff.

Wife-features caught TWMBO with a leg over one of the side bars of her cot. Can you climb out of there? Yes, came the reply, in a tone of voice basically saying Duhh, of course I can!

The following morning I set about the cot with one of my many allen keys (got four bikes? You too will have an allen key in every pocket), reducing it to a wee bed. I say reducing but of course it’s really an upgrade.

In recent months TWMBO has occasionally woken up early and lies in her cot yelling for mum and.or dad to get up. I took the view that having her get out of her bed and run through to ours to poke us in the eyes to wake us up would be a more pleasant way to greet the day.

It hasn’t quite worked out like that - so far. In fact the other night it took several attempts to persuade her to stay in her bed. She kept coming through to the living room, on one occasion making herself comfy between mum and dad and when asked what she thought she was doing simply said Sitting, again with that Duhh tone.

Maybe I interpreted it rather than her inferring it. She is after all only two and a half.

It’s yet another watershed moment on a gloriously bumpy but rewarding journey. If you start to notice blog posts badly typed you can assume I’ve had my morning wake up call, aka a poke in the eye.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The first day of the working week doesn't have to be blue...

Green Mondays are back!

Come along to Blackfriars, Academy St, Inverness on the 1st or 3rd Monday of the month for some great craic, usually with a "green" theme. 6pm-8pm.

Bring topics, questions, friends. Open to all. Next session is 19 Sep.

Find out more by visiting the Highlands and Islands Green Party Facebook page.