Friday, 29 June 2012

Hard Rain, Rio And Lack Of Sun Push Positivity To The Limit

“We are all in it together,” says David Cameron. But the PM isn’t trotting out the posh boys’ excuse for dismantling the welfare state. On this occasion he’s praising an art project you can see if you visit the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.

It’s called Hard Rain and on a recent visit to the Botanics with Wife-features and Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed we spent a fair bit of time looking at all the different panels of text and images. They cover population growth, food production, water resources, fisheries, pollution, energy and poverty. It includes thought-provoking quotes including the one here by Eddie “Every Little Helps” Burke.

I found it overwhelming if I’m honest. It lists the many ways we’re sending our planet to hell in a handcart. If you space them out over several days it doesn’t seem so bad but when they’re combined in one space it makes your head swim.

It takes inspiration from Bob Dylan’s song, with lyrics about dead oceans and people with empty hands. I think the venue for the project is very interesting. There’s an obvious connection with nature in the gardens and of course it’s a relaxing place so while the subject matter may be uncomfortable at least you have the space and surroundings to consider the issues properly.

Please go see it if you haven’t already.

Since visiting Hard Rain we’ve seen the world’s top politicians fail (again) to get a grip on the issue of sustainability. The Rio+20 summit achieved almost nothing but did provide a platform for a couple of grassroots campaigns that I hope gain momentum. (Check out End Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Save The Arctic.)

In recent days I’ve been speaking to lots of different people involved in the environmental sector and a theme has emerged. Namely, we’re doomed. I remark upon this because in years gone by as I have become more interested and involved in environmental and social justice issues I have been buoyed by optimism and good humour. It really does feel like the big green balloon is starting to deflate and few of us have any puff left to keep it up in the air. (In contrast if the Big Green Balloon smug club TV show deflated I’d have no problem. Never seen it? Give it a go. I defy you not to retch.)

Added to all of that I see the rubbish summer weather means my health is at risk. Scotland’s frustrating climate could be to blame for widespread vitamin D deficiency.

It’s too much for one man to take. I used to be so positive. How do I get my mojo back?

Maybe Hobbes can help.

Do not that to another, which thou wouldst not have done to thy selfe.”

Erm. Yes. While the old words of philosopher Hobbes remain worthy today what I actually meant was Hobbes, the go-karting tiger:

“I’m not sure I can stand so much bliss.”

I don’t think ignorance is really my style but taking time out to top up on Calvin cartoons definitely gives me the pep I need. Sunshine? Overrated.

“There are fewer views of the sea than one expected.”

I hope this will be my last post about Donald Trump’s harebrained golf project for a while. The official tee-off is on the 10th of July and frankly I’m losing the will to live thinking about it.

Golf World magazine (this week’s guest publication on Green Dad) gives the Menie course a glowing review, albeit with some startling observations.

They say: “There are fewer views of the sea than one expected.” Which of course begs the question why trumpety Trump is making such a hoo-ha about the proposed offshore renewable energy test centre.

The reviewer bizarrely says the area is “protected wetland housing many species of birds. It was easy to see why Trump and Hawtree were so keen to use it.” Um. Okay.

And Trump claims the development has been “done in a very sensitive way. We didn’t rip up the dunes.”

The course’s official website gave me a chuckle. Check out the section on dress code:

“Golf slacks or Bermuda length shorts with socks for ladies and gentlemen. Collared shirts or appropriate mock and turtle-neck shirts must be worn at all times. Caps shall be worn in the traditional manner, with the bill facing forward and must be removed before entering the Clubhouse. No sandals or flip flops are permitted in or around the Clubhouse.”

By all means devastate a unique swathe of Scotland’s environment but heaven’s above, dude, turn your Burberry skip the right way round!

I’d like to think even the most ardent golf fan (resplendent in Bermuda shorts and a turtle-neck shirt) will be put off by the extreme CGI nature of the course. Look at the photos. Did Ridley Scott design it? This is anything but natural and traditional – two words that Trump likes to use.

But if you’re still interested don’t panic - there’s plenty of tee-time available just a few days after the official opening. It seems this course is proving as attractive as a lacquered combover.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Baby Won’t You Buy My Car? Beep Beep, Yeah!

Buyer: So, what’s the new motor like? 

Me: We haven’t got one.

Buyer: Aye, but you’ll have something in mind.

Me: No. We’ll be fine without.

Buyer: Ah dunno about that, pal. Where is it ye work?

Me: Edinburgh. I cycle in or get the bus.

Buyer: Hmm. I suppose so. The buses are pretty good. And in fact, tell ye what, you could cycle up to the train station and in just a few minutes ye’d be in the middle o’ Edinburgh.

Me: I know. Great, isn’t it?

Buyer: Aye, I suppose so…

From sceptic to believer in the space of 30 seconds. Life without a car is possible! Who was I converting? The bloke who bought our car. Not the best sales patter I admit. But anyway, we’re now car-less and that‘s what counts.

You have no idea what a relief it is. I don’t have to give myself an ulcer fretting if the Musselburgh equivalent of the Arkansas Chuggabug will pass its MOT next month. Nor do I have to fork out for insurance, car tax, parking tickets, petrol (£70 a tank these days) and ongoing maintenance.

By contrast I gave my commuting bike its MOT this weekend. It simply involved a clean of the chain, some lubrication and an adjustment of the gear shift mechanism. I think I bought that bike for about £200 - thirteen years ago. What an excellent investment.

How has Toddler Who Must Be Obeyed taken the news that the car has gone? Well, we haven’t really told her. Apparently she’s mentioned once in the fortnight since it was sold that she wanted to go somewhere in it. But let’s face it - strapped into a seat watching the world whiz by isn’t exactly a dream come true, is it? But you can guarantee a beaming smile on her face if you chase after her through a field, bounce her silly on a see-saw in a park or tell her we’re going on the Number 26 bus to buy some fish.

I’ve always found driving stressful and expensive - the opposite of its image as fun and liberating. Marketing people (The Spawn of Satan to quote Bill Hicks) insist on adverts showing cars as toys for grown ups. In reality they suck you into mind-numbing traffic jams and bleed your wallet dry.

I occasionally get nostalgic about cars. Memories of trips to Eyemouth in my Papa’s Talbot are often evoked whenever I smell fish and chips. The Rialto fish bar in the Berwickshire town is definitely worth the drive.

I doubt we would have remained sane if we’d tried bringing up a baby without a motor. Maybe in a big city we’d have given it a go but in the Highlands if you’re outwith Inverness it must be daunting raising a wee person while relying on public transport.

You've heard of cars having metallic paint.
How about metallic upholstery?
Clearing out our reliable family vehicle before selling it was an eye opener. I once gave a colleague a lift and upon entering our car he asked exactly how many offspring I had. Who knew one kid would generate so much mess? During my half-hearted attempt at showroom valeting I turned up numerous half eaten biscuits along with a selection of stickers and grain after grain of sand.

But my abiding thought? Good luck to the new owner getting that glitter out of the real footwells. Goodness knows I tried.

Mind Your Pees And Poos

Potty training for girls. Four words guaranteed to strike fear into a grown man’s heart.

What was it Bette Davis said? Buckle up, it’s going to a bumpy ride.

Okay, so I’m perhaps not exuding masculinity by quoting the star of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, but there’s definitely something scarier about teaching a wee girl to wee than teaching a wee boy to wee.

With boys it’s easy peasy. It’s just a question of perfecting the aim. At least that’s what I vaguely recall telling my wee brother when I was a kid.

Now I have a three year old daughter who delights in updating me on her bathroom activities. The other day I took a call at work from her in between a flurry of deadly serious conversations: Hey daddy! I did a pee pee in the potty!

I said well done my darling and I’ll see you at teatime and thank your mother for putting you on the phone as well as on the potty. I had to bellow an instant laugh and get back to the grindstone.

Octonauts ... to the potty!
Because I’m at work during the day and Wife-features is at home with TWMBO I’m missing the actual training and in fact it seems the L plates are ready to come off. Days have gone by without accident, apparently resulting in the awarding of a gift. Who knew an Octonauts magazine could be so motivational?

To add to the general feeling of time slipping by not only has Toddler learned to pee and poo in a potty when she needs to, she can zip up a jacket, put on shoes with Velcro and express concepts like ‘tomorrow’ correctly.

And she goes to pre-school after the summer holidays!

My wee girl is growing up. (My bottom lip is wobbling.) How did this happen all of a sudden?

Library Rhyme Time Is Just The Ticket

In the space of a few years I’ve gone from being a Fifty Quid Bloke to a Freebie Sing-along Dad.

To explain, FQB was a phenomenon that had its peak during the early Noughties boom, particularly when every town had a galactic-sized branch of Borders and a Starbucks concession. Inverness, City of the Dream Ring, was such a place.

Chaps of a certain vintage could be relied upon to mooch around Borders, HMV, etc, usually on a Saturday afternoon, and blow £50 on a wee stack of CDs, DVDs, PS games and/or books. And then probably go and blow a further tenner on a Venti triple shot something or other with cream and sprinkles at a coffee chain so they could sit and gently peel off price stickers from their newly acquired material possessions.

Eurgh. Makes me queasy just thinking back.

In stark contrast I spent a recent Saturday afternoon at our local library where they do a RhymeTime session, consisting of songs and stories aided by soft toys and a sparkly, stretchy blanket. It was great fun - at least TWMBO and the other kiddies enjoyed themselves. I found the whole thing so soothing I almost nodded off during the fifth verse of The Wheels On The Bus.

We’ll certainly be going back. And I think it won’t just be Toddler taking books out next time. The Honest Toun Library isn’t exactly big nor is it an inspirational building (more concrete prefab than Carnegie foundation) but the staff are really friendly and according to Wife-features who already has and uses a ticket if the book you want isn’t on the small number of shelves they can order it in for you.

I used to be a bookseller so I’m wary of advocating libraries as the solution to our need to read but increasingly I’m leaning towards that. I recall an excellent TED Talk from a boffin who asked the audience to put up their hand if they had a power drill at home. Almost everyone put their hand up. Asked if they’d used it within the last two years only a couple of hands remained up. This starkly illustrated how pointless the human desire for material possessions can be.

I once asked a neighbour if I could borrow their lawnmower to tackle the drying green we shared only to be told I should by my own. Thankfully I found another neighbour who had no problem loaning me theirs, indeed pointing out they were happy for it to be used as they only dragged it out of the shed for twenty minutes four times a year. A loan of a Flymo isn’t quite the same scale as the Northern Counties Agricultural Machinery Ring but it’s a principle that I think we could see more of as people watch their pennies and consider consumption of resources.

Which takes me back to my Fifty Quid days. If anyone wants a loan of a Johnny Cash back catalogue or a Yes, Minister box set…