Friday, 29 November 2013

Harmfully Compromising Integrity

What’s the score with East Lothian Council and its anti-wind attitude? I’ve been told by some that it’s one of the most anti local authorities in the country, and they’re at it again.

They turned down an application for a turbine at Queen Margaret University – a decision thankfully being appealed – on the wacky basis that it would make people forget Arthur’s Seat existed. They turned down an application for a community-owned turbine near Dunbar which would have generated funds for the town, with local councillors expressing delight at the crushing of a community’s hopes. And now they’re recommending refusal of one wee turbine (34 metres from base to blade tip) that would generate some renewable power for a farm near Pencaitland. Why?

Loads of objections? Nope. Just one.

MoD/aviation concerns? No.

Permanent removal of agricultural land? No.

Noisy? No.

Overbearing on nearest residential properties? No.

Unacceptable impact on water environment? No.

Danger to passing traffic? No.

Danger to wildlife? No.

What then?

Well, you’d be able to see it from the Pencaitland crossroads.

I’m not kidding. Seriously. That’s the reason given for recommending refusal. The officials actually state it would “draw from the focus of the Law (Traprain Law, a hill and quarry some 9 miles to the east) harmfully compromising the integrity of it as a highly valued landmark natural feature.” 

I happen to have a photo from a bike ride looking back to Traprain from the Pencaitland Crossroads. I'll let you draw your own conclusion.
See the wee dimple on the left? Its integrity is under threat!

Let’s remember East Lothian Council is actively lobbying for a dual A1, a bigger Edinburgh city bypass, another fossil fuel power plant at Cockenzie and another nuclear power plant at Dunbar. Harmfully compromising integrity? What a bunch of jokers.

I wonder if any of East Lothian’s 23 elected members will be bold enough to challenge this sort of clowning around when the planning committee meets on Tuesday to determine the application.

Never mind accusations of Nimby (not in my back yard), has East Lothian Council gone BANANAs? (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody.)   

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Deaf Dugs, Parents' Night and Freakishly Tall Rugby Players

It’s been a busy old week full of stuff. In chronological order the stuff went like this…


I read an interesting thing about reading: “While 70 per cent of P4 pupils agree a lot with the statement `I enjoy reading`, by S2 this has dropped to 29 per cent.”

Book Week Scotland (w/b 25 Nov) is an attempt to put the pleasure back into what can seem like a chore to a grumpy adolescent. Our Bairn (age 4 years, 8 months) simply loves being read to, and is apparently the chief shusher at nursery when the other weans are restless during story time - more about that later.

My own childhood included a surrogate reader. No, not Bernard Cribbins on Jackanory but Story Teller, a vast catalogue of tales performed by A-list voices like Sheila Hancock. It was a fortnightly magazine with a cassette. I think we even had binders and cases for storage. If I was the sort of person who people asked about great literary influences I’d have to say Marshall Cavendish.

Scotland shuffled toward the white heat of modernity today but also planted a foot firmly in the mucky past. On the plus side a majority of MSPs said yes in principle to equal marriage but Midlothian Council gave an open cast coal mine planning permission.

It’s genuinely baffling when you consider the fuss that is made whenever someone wants to stick up a low-carbon wind turbine or two. All hell breaks loose with appeals and public inquiries. But if you want to obliterate a wildlife-rich moor to get at ten million tonnes of carbon-rich coal, with massive lorries going through small communities every few minutes for the next ten years apparently nine guys in Dalkeith can say yes and it happens. Go figure.


Regular readers may be familiar/tired of my statements on the state of Musselburgh High Street with its chronic traffic congestion and World Health Organisation-defying air pollution. A conversation with a local business chappie also confirms my view that the old style High Street is dead and for our town centres to have purpose they need reinvented as places you want to spend time.

One place I do spend time in Musselburgh High Street is the majestically ramshackle Hearing Dogs for the Deaf charity shop, aka the Deaf Dugs. A bag of toys is a pound! A nearly new Katie Morag story book is 20p! My office fruit bowl came from there! Sadly I have to report that the lease on this cavernous emporium is up in a few months’ time and it won’t be renewed. I am considering hiring a skip.


My first Parents’ Night! The Bairn’s only at nursery but it was worthwhile having a chat with the teacher. Wife-features and I were able to see the primary one classrooms and get an idea of what’s in store next June when the transition starts. It would be improper of me to boast about the Bairn’s glowing report. It is perhaps sufficient for me to point out that later that evening Wife-features and I feel it appropriate to have two scoops and a flake from S Luca.


The civic Christmas decorations are up! The corner shop now stocks a selected vegetable! This is all too much.


The Bairn’s name is down for the primary school where the nursery is. It is a crisp, clear day, so we decide to go for a bracing walk around the catchment. (In my old job at a national publicly-owned water corporation walking the catchment had a very different meaning. Feel free to ask me about it some day. It involves animal poo and pesticides.)

It’s possible we’ll flit at some point before P1 starts - the current homestead was found in a bit of rush - and if we do it would make sense to keep the Bairn at the same school. It’s fascinating looking at the catchment map, which jigs in and out of various housing schemes. Who decides where the line falls and is it drawn using an etch-a-sketch?

Speaking of lines and falling, I subject the Bairn to another painful game of rugby on TV. During the match she sketches out the Scotland squad. I think the freakishly big lads are Jim Hamilton and Kelly Brown. Either that or it’s a perspective thing and they’re standing much closer to the artist’s viewpoint.


A bracing bike ride along the seafront from the Honest Toun to Leith Links to meet some fellow Greenies for a bit of light bureaucracy. On the way home I buy an energy efficient light bulb for the hallway. On the box it says it lasts 8 years. Remind me to de-bayonet it from the light fitting if we do move!

Monday, 4 November 2013

“I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.”

As the carved pumpkin lantern gently sags and goes smelly, and thoughts turn to budgeting for Christmas gifts, I’m reminded of how non-religious an upbringing our Bairn is getting.

This will surely be tested next year when she goes into Primary One. I’ve yet to check what the school’s policy is on religious observance and it’s disappointingto see teachers’ representatives describing any move to a more secular systemas presenting “administrative burden”.

I appreciate that back in the day the church basically set up educationin Scotland, and for that I thank them. But we’re not living in the past so let’s see education tailored to meet modern needs.

On the issue of “religious observance” I really don’t understand why prayers have any role in the school day. Faith is a private matter. It shouldn’t be part of the normal running of a school but instead left to parents’ discretion. You hear of children whose parents have opted them out of observance being left to do utterly boring things rather than playing or being taught.

And being taught about faiths and the role religion plays in our society is very important. I don’t want to dwell too much on my experience (my primary school years were three decades ago) but I don’t remember getting any RE at all. What I do remember is a weekly assembly hosted by the local Kirk minister at which we bowed our heads and said the Lord’s Prayer. I hadn’t a clue what all the daily bread stuff was about and was probably busy thinking about playtime and whether I’d be able to swap one of my Discos for one of my pal’s Monster Munch.
Give us this day our daily corn-based snack
In short, a good chunk of my childhood was wasted on this stuff but I guess it did me no harm.

There was a tiny wee bit of religion at home. As a kid I would regularly stay with my gran (dad’s mum) on Friday and Saturday nights. At bedtime we’d say the Lay Me Down To Sleep prayer. “If I should die before I wake…” Again, no harm done. It was a cosy routine and a neat way of expressing love for those around me.

I think it was probably my gran’s death that nailed shut any prospect of me taking religion remotely seriously. After decades of teaching and generally being a lovely, clever, confident person (including raising my dad on her own following the death of her husband when my dad was only about ten) she retired with plans to go places and do things. Within a couple of years she was gone. Cancer. It was very sudden and impossible for me to comprehend. How could anyone have faith when faced with such random cruelty?

The Bairn recently asked if she’ll get a new grandpa. (My father-in-law died earlier this year. We avoided any talk of heaven or going to sleep, simply explaining we all get old and eventually die.) I said I didn’t think so and quickly changed the subject.

This week one of my favourite writers, the philosophic goalkeeper AlbertCamus, would have turned 100. He once wrote: “I had only a little time left and I didn't want to waste it on God.” Sound advice, if you ask me.

So, as I gear up for the Bairn’s fifth Christmas – a Christmas full of Santa and presents but hopefully not too much Baby Jesus – I’ll also be gearing up for questions about religion with the move up to Big School.

What would be wrong with keeping the Lord’s Prayer out of the Assembly Hall and Lay Me Down To Sleep in the bedroom?