Sunday, 26 February 2012

Retail Park? Retail Tundra More Like

Cycling into Edinburgh the other day I was listening to a radio debate about out of town supermarkets and whether they are killing the high street. Er, yes, would be the answer to that.

My regular route takes me past this sad sight.

Massive sheds that used to sell cheap tat, handy for the bypass with loads of free parking.

Of course everything's on line these days. But it's worth remembering some on line retailers are dodgy and as I've blogged before, if something's cheap you can bet somebody or something is paying the price.

Just recently I jacked in our subscription to a certain DVD rental service. (You may be familiar with it if you love film. Ahem.) They're owned by an online giant named after a South American river and it turns out they don't pay their taxes in this country despite being lauded by the SNP government for building some warehouses here.

Anyway, Wife-features and I just don't have the time to regularly watch DVDs and I can't be trusted not to overload the rental list with bonkers David Lynch stuff or experimental Hungarian documentaries. It was literally pennies per week but I felt it best to cancel. Blimey it was like pulling teeth getting the account stopped.

You can't cancel on line - you have to dial a special number. The call handler then asked me why I was cancelling so I explained even though I didn't see why I had to. She then said she'd reduce our subscription to see if that worked better. No, I want to cancel.

Okay, how about we freeze the account for a couple of months and call you back to review? No, I want to cancel.

Are you sure? Really sure? Oh, right. Well, I just need to access a bit of the system I've not used before...

The upshot? We have a cupboard brimming with DVDs we own and which given the thinning out process before we moved must surely be the cream of the crop, the ones to watch, the definite keepers. We plan to work our way through them over the course of the year and the ones not viewed come Christmas will be exiting stage left.

Maybe we could set up a shop to flog them? Somewhere handy for the bypass with free parking...

The Joy Of Junk

Since the flit we've been on something of a declutter and buy secondhand kick.

We did try before moving getting shot of hoardes of stuff. Loads of books, DVDs and CDs were packed off and we left behind some chunky items of furniture to lighten our load. In the end it took two trips in a massive Transit van and a few car journeys with the family chug-a-bug packed to the gunwales before we got everything down the road.

Being Green we tend to think a wee bit more about the implications of our purchases and it seems crazy to buy something new just because it's cheap when of course there's probably an existing item for the same price or less only without the newness. And when something's really cheap you just know somebody somewhere or some bit of the planet (you know, the only one we've got) is paying for it.

We almost buckled during a trip round a certain cut price Scandanavian furniture goliath but in the end ate pickled fish in the canteen and picked up a pack of t-lights for a friend.

By going secondhand we got a kitchen table and chairs for less than half a ton and a sturdy wardrobe for Toddler for a pony. Lovely jubbly.

We couldn't resist visiting a junk shop at Prestonpans recommended to us and the picture you see here was the highlight for me. Among the dusty copies of Black Lace by Agadoo, hallway telephone tables and paisley patterned recliners was a stereo system in a wooden cabinet complete with twin cassette desk and ... wait for it ... soft eject!

I only had to show Toddler once how it worked and she was addicted for a good ten minutes. Oh for the days when you physically had to shove a thing into a thing and rely on mechanical parts moving to make it work. Remember when tapes would unspool and you'd use a pencil to wind it back in?

Among the ephemera that survived our decluttering was my turntable. I can't wait to see Toddler's face when I show her how to line up a vinyl record. Let's face it - pressing buttons on a screen is boring!

Country Mouse Is Spoiled For Transport Choice In The City

It's been a month since the flit from the Brighton of the North to the Honest Toun and I'm three weeks into my new job at the Scottish Tarlymint (as Toddler pronounces it - she also believes it's a bit like a castle and full of toys - at which point I could make a crack about it being a land of make believe and child-like behaviour but I'm far too professional).

Musselburgh's twice the size of Nairn and Edinburgh's five times the size of Inverness so the scale of things is obviously different. A friend visited from the isles the other week and was genuinely agog at the sheer number of people and houses crammed in to this part of Scotland.

Toddler's coping fine with the extra bustle and in particular loves the buses. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Lothian has a mighty fine bus service. There is concern the fares are going up (the operator blames the SNP government for cutting its grant and the SNP government blames Westminster, yawn, yawn) but still for just over a quid you can go any single journey, all the way from East Lothian through the Athens of the North and out to the Pentland hills.

Living in the Highlands for the last fifteen years (and before that the Borders) I've come to expect public transport to be either rubbish or non-existent. Car is king. But where there are serious concentrations of population it makes sense to have brilliant buses and trains and it seems reasonable to expect government to make it as affordable and accessible as possible. It helps those on low incomes and reduces the pollution caused by car journeys. What's not to like?

As for the trains, I can get from Musselburgh into Waverley in seven minutes. Brilliant. I recently had work in Glasgow so took my folding bike expecting space for cycles to be rubbish, non-existent or fully taken. As it happens there was plenty of room. Mind you I was travelling after 9am and before 5pm.

I've cycled in Scotland's six cities plenty of times and I have to say Glasgow's the worst. It's really weird that such a cosmopolitan metropolis that pitches itself as 'Scotland with style' is so unfriendly to get around on a bike. Weirdly, Dundee with its dual carriageways is a dream to negotiate. And I love the higgeldy piggeldy nature of Edinburgh's old town although prefer to stick to safe cycle routes away from busy streets.

Buzzing around Glasgow and Edinburgh recently one thing has struck me (no, not an eejit in a BMW who hogs the road) and that is the fact that cycles are expected to share lanes with buses. Cycles. Buses. Not ideal bedfellows. Most mornings I get the bus into Edinburgh and there are always cyclists pedalling furiously like panicked pheasants on a rural road in front of the Number 44 causing it to stutter along at 10mph. Then the bus pulls into a stop and cyclists behind overtake only to be caught up moments later. Hilarious yet terrifying.

One of Toddler's favourite games while on a bus is Dearg! And Buidhe! She picked up Gaelic at the toddler group in Nairn so we continue to use certain words. These two words mean red and yellow and we shout them when we see a car in these colours. And usually cause baffled looks from fellow passengers.

Toddler's counting is coming along nicely. The other day she totted up the cars coming down the street. 1, 2, 3, and so on until she reached 10. There was a pause despite an oncoming vehicle and guessing she was having difficulty remembering the next number Wife-features helpfully suggested 'eleven?'

'No, mummy - that one's a van.'