Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Scotland: Shovel Ready And Royal Loyal

Jubilee schmubilee. What the heck is it with this sudden outbreak of fawning over the monarch. Even this loaf of bread I bought is prostrating itself!

In the 21st century it's such a bizarre notion. It's even more bizarre Scotland is beginning a debate on independence without proper discussion of what kind of head of state we want.

Toddler quite likes stories involving princesses. But thankfully she also loves sharks, dragons and narrow-gauge steam engines.

It's difficult to avoid a completely fluffy, pink, fairy tale world when you're bringing up a girl. But we try our best.

Toddler has a doctor kit, a toy kitchen and a selection of bikes. With a bit of luck she'll aspire to be a medic, a chef or a Victoria Pendleton. And not dream of being royalty.

Diamond Liz isn't the only fad that's getting my goat...

Take 'shovel-ready'. Please take it.

It seems hardly a day goes by without a Nationalist crowbarring this stupid phrase into a statement about anything. Crisis in the Eurozone? Westminster can fend off disaster in Scotland by funding a list of 'shovel-ready' projects ranging from piers to road upgrades. Crisis in youth unemployment? Shovel-ready projects. Want the heatwave to return? Shovel-ready projects.

Trust me. Listen out for it and suddenly you'll realise it's everywhere.

It's a completely inept phrase. Anyone with any knowledge of capital infrastructure project management will tell you sticking a shovel in the ground isn't the first thing you do even if your project has planning permission and landowner wayleaves. The first thing you do before a spade breaks soil is set up a site compound with welfare facilities for the workers and a room for health and safety briefings, usually in the form of temporary cabins.

So, if they must persist with this they should at least describe it accurately. They're not Shovel Ready Projects; they're Portakabin Erection Projects. That's how I'll refer to them and I intend to keep it up.

Friday, 18 May 2012

In Today's Fast-Paced World Of Toys And Crayons...

You know how it is...

You've got a 10 o'clock appointment with CBeebies, an 11 o'clock meeting with a snack at the kitchen table, a midday romp in the garden and a 1pm tantrum.

Easy-on-pants for the busy young executive...

Keeping Healthy Should Be Cheap As Chips

Yer een are bigger than yer belly.

Ye couldnae see green cheese but ye’d want it.

Some of my Gran’s favourite catchphrases. This week my plate has definitely been piled high with food for thought.

Political hacks have had a whale of a time thanks to “Venison-gate”, although my friends in the Brighton of the North will be aware it’s not the first time deer meat has cost a politician dear. (Poor Graham Marsden was ousted in the council elections earlier this month. Perhaps his penchant for venison pushed disillusioned Libdem voters over the edge?)

Joan McAlpine’s latest no-show, due to lunch, coincided with a debate in the parliament on obesity and the part that physical activity can play in keeping the nation’s weight under control. Green MSP Alison Johnstone highlighted the importance of the built environment and green spaces. Too often we seem to think keeping fit must involve going to the gym, buying specialist clothing and equipment, and crucially, devoting precious time in our busy lives. Indeed, a Conservative commented about an increase in people attending ‘sports clubs’, a phrase that made me picture squash rackets and pullovers knotted jauntily about the shoulders.

The reality is if we design our surroundings properly, keeping fit can be part of everyday life and what’s more it will be free or certainly cheap.

I keep hearing from parents with older kids about the plethora of after-school activities that invariably turn you into a taxi service, ferrying your child and their pals from one club to another, filling in form, forking out for kit and taking turns organising trips and events.

When I was a lad I went out on my bike. I also recall raiding farmers’ fields for peapods, climbing trees, swimming, playing kerby, kicking a ball about, and on rainy days reading books. Cheap as chips. Healthier than chips.

I don’t recall constant snaffling of snacks. Even in later years with the arrival of the Atari and Commodore 64 video games, food was something prepared by mum or gran and you were called to eat it at a table.
Wife-features baked some low-sugar muffins for my work colleagues the other day. They were scoffed. One comrade came up to me a short while later, narrowed their eyes and said slowly: “That was toddler food, wasn’t it?”

Certainly our Toddler has a bit of a sweet tooth – takes after her dad with an Empire Biscuit Radar – but is of age where when she gets hungry she will say yes to a healthy snack if that’s all that’s on offer. Cakes? No cakes in this house today, young lady. But look! A banana. Still hungry? Thought so…
And in terms of exercise she is well conditioned to the Scottish weather and knows that a walk on a beach on a windy day can actually be hilarious.

I was saddened but not surprised by recent research suggesting only one in seven Scottish mums with an overweight or obese child recognises their kid is unhealthy. All too often I see toddlers sooking on sugary fizzy drinks and munching away at big chocolate bars. Or eating hideous potato or corn based snacks.

Having said that I understand the relief a bag of Pombears or an ice cream can bring. Those few minutes of toddler silence if you’re having a tough day are worth it.

Parents should lead by example but so should politicians. I wonder if any of Mr Salmond’s special advisors has plucked up the courage to ask the First Minister about his physique. I remember Jack McConnell giving an interview when he was the big cheese, saying cheese was his big downfall. You lead such a hectic job you forget to eat or exercise properly and end up wolfing cheese on toast at bedtime, which goes straight to the waistline.

Wife-features and I go through phases of being good but we’re from Scottish stock so it’s in our DNA to want fried skirlie on a winter’s night. We’re also children of the 70s so will always fall for a bucket of butterscotch Angel Delight.

Like the built environment supporting physical exercise we need to create the right food environment to support healthy eating. We live nextdoor to a cheese and wine shop and across the road from an ice cream parlour but we’re also within waddling distance of a greengrocers. Maybe if it stayed open till 10pm we’d nip out for an apple instead of a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a tub of Rum & Raisin.

It’s an issue of perspective. In the long run I don’t want Toddler being burdened with an unhealthy dad so if I care about her quality of life in the future I should look after mine right now.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Green With Envy On Polling Day

So this Thursday Scotland goes to the polls to elect local councils and in most parts of the country you’ll have a Green on your ballot paper.

Greens have worked hard over the past five years with five councillors in Glasgow, three in Edinburgh and two in Aberdeenshire (they were Libdems but quit in disgust at the Trump debacle and joined a party with principles).

Here’s hoping we see those Greens returned, added to and we see breakthroughs in other council areas.

I would particularly like to see Fab Fabio of Forres and Findhorn fame elected to serve on Moray Council. And in Highland there are some cracking community stalwarts in the shape of Donnie “Knobbly Carrots” Macleod, Myra “Caring” Carus, Mandy “Tree-mendous” Haggith and Anne Thomas. (Sorry, Anne - don’t know you well enough to bestow a nickname but friends in Inverness say you’re impressive on the doorsteps and persuasive with the leaflets so fingers crossed!)

Maybe if my new job in Edinburgh hadn’t come up I would have been running for council myself. Since moving away in January I haven’t been following the situation in Nairn too closely but I suspect Bellydancer Macdonald will get back in as one of the four ward members. (Liz is SNP and a former provost who had the ceremonial chain yanked away from her unceremoniously by the three non-SNP, all-bloke councillors.)

The Nats are pushing two candidates in four member wards and maybe that’ll happen in Nairn given the departure of independent convener Sandy Park and the other two incumbents having jackets on shoogly pegs. Independent Laurie Fraser made some ill-judged comments about Muslims (he also doesn’t like wind farms, begging the question how he expects the lights to stay on in his electrical goods shop) and Libdem Graham Marsden just seems generally ineffective although may corner the small but important venison vote.

Ideally any fresh blood on the council would be just that. Fresh. Sadly Highland will probably continue to be male, pale and stale.

In terms of freshening up local government I heartily commend this report by the Jimmy Reid Foundation. A lot of what it says is what Greens have long argued for.

Greens are contesting every ward in Edinburgh but I’m just over the border in East Lothian where there are no Green candidates. What’s more I’m in a three member ward - one Nat, one Labour and one indy. It’s difficult to see how this make-up can be altered.

Musselburgh High Street has been bustling these last few weekends. Labour along one side asking you to sign their petition against local bus service cuts caused by the SNP. Nats on the other side saying they’ve saved the buses (from their own cuts) while handing out photos of Alex Salmond. The Neep-in-Chief and Rupert Murdoch Cheerleader is relevant how exactly? In fact he’s a liability as he’s tied the hands of the councils by restricting their ability to raise funds.

With no Green I’m in a pickle. Who to vote for or do I even vote at all?

Judging by the leaflets we’ve had through the door I’m leaning towards giving my Number 1 to the local independent. His very wordy leaflet talked about the need to tackle traffic in the High Street.

The SNP put something round recently and under ’environment’ it talked about spending more on roads!

We’ve had nothing from Labour or the Libdems although I did see Willie Rennie sticking cards through doors nearby the other day.

The Tory chap says his top priority is repairing the cemetery wall. Not a hot button issue I had been aware of.

So, if you have a Green on your menu when you go into the booth on Thursday remember your Greens are good for you! A “1” in the box if you please. I am envious of your choice. But if like me you don’t have such good fortune… Good luck deciding!

Pedal Power

Saturday was a great day for anyone remotely Green and anyone who prefers two wheels to four.

Pedal on Parliament was a roaring success, with around 3,000 cyclists buzzing through Edinburgh city centre.

It was heartening to see so many people, young and old, male and female, serious and silly, simply enjoying the freedom to freewheel down the Royal Mile on a sunny day.

The Scottish Government has a commitment to increase cycling in Scotland so that by 2020 10 per cent of journeys are made by bike. At the moment, with only seven and a half years to go, it’s just one per cent. Uh oh.

And in more switched on societies serious funding is thrown at walking and cycling infrastructure, recognising the benefits to health, wellbeing, people’s budgets and the environment. Sadly in Scotland we only spend one per cent of the transport budget in this area. The Nats blew the kitty on a shiny second Forth Road Bridge and a bunch of other useless bits of motorway that very soon no bugger will be able to afford to drive on.

Cycling isn’t a wacky hobby anymore - it’s mainstream. Sadly the roads don’t recognise this. And when you listen to government ministers talking about cycling it’s clear they haven’t caught up either. They’re still pushing a hectoring agenda all about people getting out of their cars and getting on their bikes because it’s good for health and carbon emissions. I’ve cycled all my life and it’s only in recent years it’s occurred to me I’m keeping myself fit and not killing the planet. I started riding because IT’S FUN.

Cycling should be a first option, something made easy and attractive. If you make it easy and fun people will do it. Trying to sell it to them will always be an uphill struggle. It should simply be the norm.

It’s much the same when it comes to public transport. I keep hearing politicians talking about buses as important for rural residents, the elderly, disabled and those struggling to find work. It gives the impression it’s a mode of transport that is a last resort, a safety net. When of course it should be the norm.

Anyway, one thing most cyclists have by the bucket load is stamina. So the government can be assured we won’t be dropping the subject any time soon.