Monday, 1 December 2014

Fossils, First Class Flights and Fancy Tyres

Tuesday
To the newsagents! It’s day 2 for The National, the new pro-independence daily from the Herald and Times stable. It seems like a reasonable punt, given the record levels of political engagement and the huge number of Yes voters looking for a paper in tune with their views. Any new entrant in the tough Scottish media market is welcome; personally my media habits through the week tend to involve scanning websites and dipping in and out of Twitter; the weekend is for escaping from screens, and sitting back with a bundle of papers.

Wednesday
The Bairn pauses mid-mouthful of Rice Krispies to digest the breaking news on the morning radio that a new species of dinosaur has been identified from fossils held in a Canadian museum for 75 years. It’s a Pentaceratops - a smaller cousin of the Triceratops. My wee lassie may be besotted with Disney princesses but I’m heartened by her passion for pre-historic plant eaters. Dinos aren’t just for boys!
Not just for boys!

Thursday
To the National Museum! It’s been something of a second home these past three years as the Bairn has gone from toddler to P1 and as we’ve settled in to our new surroundings in the Central Belt. It’s wonderful that it’s free and it has so much for kids to do. Hands-on is really a helping hand for a parent on a rainy/skint day. Today I’m here to help with the Greens’ part in the Smith Commission report. It’s nothing like the devo-max or near-federalism some on the No side talked of, and while we engaged constructively with the process it’s hard to imagine many folk, including No voters, being excited by the powers that might get devolved. Let’s see what happens when we get our hands on them.

Friday
Dunbar looks set to get the incinerator it didn’t want. Viridor are on the radio this morning ladling out the greenwash and PR gloss pretty thick. It’s a development that will create demand for rubbish rather than reducing it, and it will literally waste bucket loads of heat. As Wife-features will testify, I’m forever banging on about how brilliant Dunbar is. But John Muir’s town is always being dumped on, with this incinerator just the latest unwelcome imposition.

Saturday
So, this economic recovery we keep hearing about. I’m not sure I’m seeing it. As I learn that the local foodbank has helped yet hundred more kids, and as I read new stats showing a quarter of children in the council ward where I live are in poverty, I also learn that first class air travel has increased by a third in five years. The growth of the sector is being encouraged by airlines offering gimmicks including taking a Porsche for a spin when you’re waiting to change flights. It seems a world away from the game of sardines that is the number 26 bus.
Not a free Porsche

Sunday
Flat pack furniture - every dad’s nemesis - has arrived in our house once more. I begin to slay the monster but constructing a chest of drawers for the Bairn, with a wardrobe and toy shelves to come. Screwdriver palm welts beckon.

Monday
Bicycle excitement. Well, that’s the positive spin I’m putting on my latest flat tyre - this time some green glass was to blame. After consulting with colleagues I take the plunge and get new wheels for my beast. My new tyres have a Kevlar coating. I’m not kidding. Come ahead, crappy road and path surfaces! Do your worst.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Fantasy Cabinet, Square Dream and Dinovember

Tuesday
In the battle to get the Bairn to try new food we deploy a range of techniques. The latest, learned from a friend whose kid is six months older than ours, involves asking the child to put some food on a fork for us to eat. Not for the kid. Oh no. But what’s that? Something has distracted me and I’m forced to look away. When I turn back the food on the fork is gone. Call Columbo! Get Jessica Fletcher on her bike. It’s a mystery.

Seriously though, it’s a great technique and helped our Bairn pile through mince and tatties for the first time, including some sneaky peas!

Wednesday
News reaches us via a chance glance at Twitter that the Crushinator is to cease its destructive rampage in our street a day earlier than planned due to complaints from residents. The overnight road removal and resurfacing will only last four nights rather than five, begging the question of when it’ll be finished. Ominously the council statement says the work will be completed at a later date. This means that our town centre will look like a war zone as the shops prepare for their make-or-break Christmas rush. I can see even more folk than usual heading for the out of town chain store retail park. Nice job, local authority.

Thursday
To Prestonfield! It’s the Politician of the Year awards and I’m pleased to see recent Green convert John Finnie pick up a well deserved gong for his work on armed police in the Highlands. I’m also pleased to report I witnessed nothing else of consequence despite the juxtaposition of journalists, politicians and alcohol. No, nothing at all. Please move along sir/madam.

Friday
The new FM announces her reshuffled cabinet. It’s good to see gender balance in action, although disappointing that Fergus “Fracking Opportunity” Ewing remains Energy Minister, and frustrating that climate change remains a junior responsibility outside of Cabinet, indeed going to a third minister in as many years. Playing fantasy cabinet (come on, admit it - you were doing it too) I see climate change as too important to be tucked away. It should be up front and cross-cutting. Given the emissions from transport and housing I’d make both those posts full cabinet positions with a clear remit to pursue low carbon policies. Added to that an objective to improve affordability to reduce inequality. Imagine! A Cab Sec for Sustainable Transport. A Cab Set for Energy Efficient Homes. Heavens to Murgatroyd.

Saturday
Dad duties call and to the clinic we go to take up the offer of a flu immunisation. I keep calling it a jag but in fact these days it’s a nasal spray and is over in seconds. Our Bairn hardly bats an eyelid; other parents appear to face a bit more of a struggle. Mind you, I still live with the memory of taking our little person, when she was very little indeed, for an actual jag. The look she gave me! A look of: Why did you let that smiling lady do that you untrustworthy brute??!! Impossible to forget.

In other dad-type news I read an excellent report that the latest delivery scheme on offer is for socks. That’s right. Hot on the heels (see what I did there) of veg boxes, fish boxes, milk and, actually now I think about it, pretty much anything you click on while online, a firm is offering to send chaps regular parcels of plain black socks every few months so they need never worry about what goes on their toes. This is a genius scheme and I look forward to patronising it enormously.

Sunday
The tarmac is hardly even cool and dry before sad motorists start piling into what could have been a Musselburgh town square but will soon be marked out with white lines for increased numbers of parking spaces. At one point the area is empty and I witness a couple of boys playing kick about with a ball. Brilliant. I am sorely tempted to occupy the space with a couple of chairs, a table, a chess set and some bagel and coffee. We could watch the world go by like urban dwellers in civilisation. I could imagine it’s NYC and Newbigging is Broadway. Ach, the fumes from the First Buses to North Berwick are going to my head…

Monday
Happy Dinovember! Wondering what I’m on about? Click here. Our Bairn loves it. Who needs Santa when you have toy prehistoric creatures that come alive during the night! What will they get up to next?

Monday, 17 November 2014

Chips, Kippers and the Crushinator

Tuesday
The Bairn’s school phones. She’s looking wan. And some other bairns have been sent home feeling sick. Don’t panic! Everything’s under control. Although Wife-features is able to collect our precious potential patient from school I need to head home to be Doctor Dad for the afternoon to allow the missus to make a prior engagement. Pretty quickly the Bairn perks up, asks for chips and laughs out loud while watching Scooby Doo. Hmm. Has she pulled her first sickie?

Wednesday
Musselburgh CAB - which does a grand job in these austere times - has its AGM and out of curiosity I have a peek at its annual report. I’ve met the manager and finance officer so I know roughly the sort of casework they deal with but the annual report really underlines the extent of the chaos being caused by welfare cuts, crap jobs and crap wages. The CAB helped 110 clients over the past year with debts totalling £2.4million. That’s not a typo. Gulp.

Thursday
When I’m not banging on about bicycles I like a rant about railways. So much so I was recently invited to join the East Lothian Community Rail Partnership. These groups are springing up around the country, linking residents and campaigners with potential pots of money and the railway companies. The idea is for communities to have a greater say in the quality of local stations and services. Ahead of a public event next week I’ve chipped in some idea on connecting bike routes and bus services with East Lothian stations. I note Abellio, soon to take over the Scotrail franchise, is committing to create 10 Bike and Go stations with cycle hire schemes. I’ll be lobbying for one of them to come to East Lothian.

Friday
It’s not easy being Green, especially when there’s a first past the post election looming. Today I hear Labour politicians urging punters in Caroline Lucas’ patch to back Miliband, I hear Cameron pleading for Green votes to help him fight off the Kippers and I watch SNP folk congratulate themselves on opening up their candidate selection process to non-members who want to serve under the Nat banner. Call me a dangerous free-thinking radical but I think if you like Green policies and personalities you should vote Green!

Currently tearing up Musselburgh High St
Today I manage to get more details from the council about the imminent arrival of the Crushinator machine in our street. Five nights of road wrecking is indeed on the cards, although jackhammers should cease at 11pm, for which I’m expected to be grateful. Apparently the incessant beeping as lorries manoeuvre will be the main noise during the small hours of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A health and safety measure. Oh the irony.

Saturday
To America! Not literally but I read that Obama’s pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions has prompted real foaming at the mouth by the burgeoning Republican movement over there. Tackling climate change will “crush jobs” they say. Whereas work will be plentiful when we’re fried and flooded?

More important than such fripperies as an ecosystem habitable by humans - scarves! I read in the FT menswear pages (stop sniggering at the back) that a trend is developing - chaps are ditching collar and tie with their suits for a crewneck fine guage pullover with a small scarf adornment. I can only dream of mastering such sophistication. Like most Dads I shun the idea of clothes that stand out, and when quizzed Is That Jacket New tend to reply I Found It In A Bin Bag At A Bus Stop, Honest.

Sunday
Helping the Bairn with her homework (She’s five! Why does she have homework?) I come across a couple of assumptions worth noting. She’s been set a numbers task - namely to draw on a door our house number, on a shoe her shoe size, and on a car our registration number. We don’t have a car. Wife-features suggests crossing it out and drawing a bus with a 44 or a 26 on it.

And there’s song practice. The “nativity” the P1-3s are doing mostly seems to be about animals but one song refers to Jesus and God, neither of whom get name checked at home. I make a mental note to discuss the topic at the next parents’ night.

Monday
My attention is drawn to research by boffins with nothing better to do who have examined hundreds of hours of conversation and compared the words we use now with the words we used in the 1990s. Apparently “fortnight, marmalade and cheerio” are out of fashion (I still use all of these) while references to love have gone from being about people and family to focusing instead on, wait for it… cheese, gardens and clothes.

Frankly, I’ve explained my meh attitude to clothes and I neglect my garden as it is. But loving cheese? What's crackers about that?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Back On The Blog With Bituminous Emulsion And Black Magic

Tuesday
Well, Mrs Miggins, at last we can return to sanity. The hustings are over, the bunting is down, the mad hysteria is at an end. After the chaos of an independence referendum, we can return to normal.

A bit of Blackadder to restore the blogging bug. I’ll come to politics shortly but first I should describe an exciting event of a less hysterical kind.

Wife-features and I just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary by subcontracting parenting duties to my mum for a few days, in particular a weekend evening. The missus and I took in a show and knocked back a few cocktails like the hipsters we used to be. We don’t have a huge circle of relatives and friends handy for watching the Bairn but when it happens we always feel the benefit.

I’ve learned over the five and half years since the Bairn arrived to try to strike a balance between time as a family, time on your own and time with your better half. It’s also been good, if I’m honest, to have a brief respite from indyref campaigning! But with a membership surge and an election just a few months away, I’m going to have work hard at that family time balance.

Wednesday
To North Berwick! I address a packed meeting where jaws collectively drop at news of where the other political parties stand on fracking, the controversial gas drilling process possibly coming soon to a quiet field near you. The political spectrum goes from hardline drill-baby-drill Tories and Libdems through fudgy-wudgy Labour and SNP types who think it’s an “opportunity” to Greens like me who say Not On Your Nelly. I leave comforted by the sense that common sense will prevail and any frackers sniffing around this neck of the woods will be given short shrift.

Thursday
The local newspapers afford some local politicians a regular platform to pontificate. Today I notice my MP Fiona O’Donnell has signalled her support for pro-austerity, pro-Trident, pro-trickle down economics Jim Murphy. How this will rescue Labour from its meltdown I have no idea. Meanwhile the SNP’s Colin Beattie welcomes the lobbying by Scotland’s airports for air passenger duty to be cut, which would result in tens of thousands of tonnes of additional climate change emissions. Both these items scream business-as-usual when the mood of the nation is rather different. Will they pay the price? We shall see.

Friday
Bituminous emulsion news! This very sticky road surfacing material will imminently be applied to the street outside our house, I learn from today’s post. The council’s Executive Director for Services for Communities (no, I don’t know what this means either) informs me, and presumably hundreds of other local residents, that starting a week on Monday construction and resurfacing work will take place between the frightfully sensible hours of 9pm and 7am. For five nights. This is “to minimise congestion”. Because heaven forfend we disrupt Johnny Motorist on his daily commute - no, much kinder to have fifty hours of drilling and steamrollering right outside people’s windows as they’re trying to sleep. I shall be interested to learn what alternatives they considered. At the very least I’d like some earplugs in the post and few quid off my council tax bill.

Saturday
To the library! It’s awfy busy. We then end up in the big, evil, edge-of-town-centre supermarket, by accident. It’s really quiet. The world (at least the Musselburgh bit of it) has gone topsy turvy.

The library hubbub can be explained by the timing of the Bookbug session for wee bairns but the supermarket silence? Is the big box retail era over? Please tell me it’s over. Anyway, I was determined to get a copy of the Financial Times, which I haven’t read properly for ages but used to enjoy at weekends. Sadly, none of the paper shops in the town centre stocks it and I think I got the only copy at the supermarket. (Sorry, if that was meant to be yours!)

My instinct to restore the FT weekend habit is proved right. In a feature piece about “The Silver Economy” (ie, our ageing population) I note that Nestle has redesigned coffee jars to make them easier to open for ageing consumers, and they have reworked their Black Magic chocolate boxes by increasing the font size, reorganising the chocolates so they align with the pictures on the lid and - wait for it - they have widened the finger scoops. Yup, widened finger scoops in chocolate boxes. I may mock this right now but when I’m doddery and can deftly pop a coffee cream into my wrinkly gob I’ll be quietly thinking I Love Capitalism.

Sunday
Arg! Trauma. The Bairn is pretty confident on her wee bike. (Pedals and no stabilisers.) But I misjudged the size of the hill she was happy to career down on our walk/cycle from Musselburgh to Prestonpans via Levenhall Links. She slammed on her brakes, lost control and went tumbling. There was crying and hugging but in the end she was fine. I even got a laugh out of her later when I described my experience of learning to ride. (Plonked on a bike at the top of a hill. Given a shove by my dad. Caught at the bottom of the hill by my mum after scraping my sides on fences and walls on the way down.)

It’s a horrible moment when you see your kid coming to grief but hopefully when she’s older she’ll think back and laugh. She did manage a pretty professional “tuck and roll” when the bike came out from under her.

Monday
If I told you an oil baron called Algy Cluff wanted to set undersea coal seams on fire and catch the emerging gas you’d probably think I was describing a sequel to There Will Be Blood, starring Daniel Day Lewis. But no. Sadly it’s a real thing that has come forth and will affect the Forth. Pity the poor planning official at Fife (probably) council who has to handle the application. This will prove to be one very hot potato.

And speaking of delicious foodstuffs, it turns out school meals can be a real help in broadening the Bairn’s tastes. Some days she gets a packed lunch but today it was a school lunch and she tells me she had chicken with gravy and sweetcorn - things she’s been dodging at home. Peas remain the inaccessible pinnacle of the dinner table for her, both at school and home. Apart from whizzing in a soup, any ideas for how to solve this? All I ask is that she gives peas a chance.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Mining For Metaphors On The Indyref Trail

100 years ago this week the East Lothian press reported the activity of the local school board: “Arrangements are being made for the feeding of necessitous children.”

Today, I read not only that 22,000 children have used foodbanks in Scotland in the past year but that the charities operating them noticed a spike in demand over the school summer holidays. It would appear despite the passing of an entire century that the only nutritional meal some children get is a free one at school.

In the week that my Bairn started P1 (she loved it and I managed not to blub) I’ve been thinking a lot about the ingrained poverty and inequality that families experience in the area where I grew up almost four decades ago.

Today the communities of Tranent and Prestonpans remain on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). 2 “data zones” in Tranent, one of which includes the streets I used to play kerby on as a boy, are ranked as being among the 20 per cent most deprived in the whole of Scotland.

By deprivation, the number crunchers mean low employment, low income, high levels of crime, overcrowded poorly-heated housing, poor health, children absent from school and low education grades.

12.6 per cent in that zone claim Job Seeker’s Allowance compared to 0.8 per cent just half a mile away in more modern housing estates on the south-eastern edge of town. Across the Fa’side council ward which includes Tranent and surrounding villages such as Ormiston and Pencaitland household income varies massively; there’s a £310 per week gap between the most and least affluent neighbourhoods.

Tranent has grown and changed a lot since I was a bairn there. My memories are of pretty much every family being in the same boat; living in a council house with a dad who did hard graft. My old man was a soldier, my pal Jamie’s dad worked down the open cast coal mine; and my Papa was a haulier. A lot of mums, aunties and grans I knew worked part time in shops or as cooks and cleaners.

The town’s coat of arms shows a farmer and a miner. Today mining makes up 0 per cent of local employment; farming along with forestry just two per cent. The biggest sectors are health and social work, retail, motor vehicle repair and construction.

The relatively new housing that has grown around the outskirts of the town has attracted families who commute to offices and retail parks in Edinburgh for work and has given a lift up for those who wanted to get out of the council estates. But it would seem little has been done to give a lift up to those who find themselves in those estates, hence the continued state of deprivation.

Out delivering Yes leaflets the other day I found myself on the row of council houses where I spent most childhood weekends. One of my grans and a great aunt lived a few doors apart and in front of their houses was a great green, perfect for football, Frisbee and even tennis. This time there were no kids playing. Instead the green has a No Ball Games sign whacked in the middle of it, and as I stared dumfoonert at it I noticed a motorist in an SUV mount the pavement to park on the green so they could be nearer their front door.

The high street has changed too, not that it was ever pretty you understand. Channel 4’s Absolutely used a shot of Tranent Civic Square for the Stoneybridge promotional vido - maybe that gives you a clue to what I looked like. These days there’s a No Militia memorial, some trees and a redundant angular-shaped library building. It’s now the foodbank.

Tranent is what you might call a Labour heartland. But for all its historic links to socialist politics through the miners’ struggles, I genuinely fail to see what good Labour is doing the place anymore. That party has had a chance to improve Tranent’s lot by being in positions of influence at all levels: Westminster, Holyrood, Haddington. And yet it remains on the SIMD.

Today Labour politicians at UK level talk about helping Britons make their first million, capping welfare and continuing austerity. They want to spend billions on nuclear weapons, are happy with 850 unelected Lords deciding on our laws and have no plans to reform Westminster’s unfair voting system which resulted in most East Lothian voters choosing someone other than the person who became MP.

Those at Scottish level berate the idea of universal public services and label a transformation in childcare as a bribe, while those at local authority level seem to think the opening of a third betting shop on the high street is a proud symbol of a great tradition.

Tranent in many ways represents Scotland. Over the decades some parts have developed and improved while others have been allowed to become disconnected, with the gap between the two growing. When we look at decisions taken by the Scottish Parliament on health and education - by Labour, Libdems, SNP and Greens - we see an attitude that wants to close that gap but is limited in what it can do.

The former Labour MP for East Lothian, John P Mackintosh, famously said that Scots want a degree of control. Those who knew him say he’d probably be voting Yes if he were alive today. His party seems to have twisted his words into support for the UK, when in fact his view was that the people should decide how much control they want. Even if there is a No vote in the referendum, when do the people get to decide how much control they get? The answer is they won’t. They’ll get a vote in May 2015 which may lead to something that a party put in a manifesto but is highly unlikely to be what people actually want and need.

The folk I’ve spoken to in Tranent see the attraction of getting rid of Trident, ending the influence of the House of Lords and shifting decisions to a parliament that more accurately reflects what Scotland thinks. None of those things is on offer with the No vote being advocated by Labour.

I mentioned that the old library’s now a foodbank. There is a new library round the corner. It’s named after George Johnstone, a miner who in the 1920s saved 50 colleagues from drowning in a Tranent pit. Despite being warned that he would lose his life if he tried to save them, Johnstone got to them, and together they tunnelled by hand for five hours to get out.

I can only hope my old neighbourhood, and others like it, realise the opportunity they have to tunnel out. We’re being warned by some that it’s risky but together we can do it, and show what we’re made of.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Car Is King In Honest Toun

I’ve spoken before about the problems of air pollution in Musselburgh town centre and the weirdhostility in some quarters to the idea of allowing people to enjoy a bit of public space.

Well, work has now begun – and is due to last until just before Christmas – on a programme of pavement and parking refurbishment at the easternmost end of the town’s High Street.


There was of course a grand plan for a town square, following heaps of comments from local people, but the current council have seen fit to shelve it, instead coming up with a patch up and re-jig job to refresh the pavements and amend the lay-out of the area’s parking spaces.

We’re always hearing how important town centres are yet I’m afraid what’s happening in the Honest Toun right now simply demonstrates the lack of action behind such warm words.

The first I knew about the patch up job was a letter from the council telling me it was about to happen, including a satisfaction survey for me to complete after the job is done. No consultation.

Having looked at the drawings I contacted the council and after a fortnight got a reply.

Apparently the normal working hours of the contractors will be 8am to 4.30 but work out with these hours will be required. I suppose the prospect of a pneumatic drill outside our house at 7am on a Saturday isn’t as bad as the hideous Orange band striking up during marching season.

Key to any improvements in a town centre like Musselburgh should be traffic reduction and promotion of walking, cycling and public transport as these will increase footfall and spending for businesses, and improve air quality for the benefit of public health. However, in reply to my questions the council confirms that the project involves the creation of more car parking spaces, not fewer. It also appears that bus stops outside the old Post Office and Luca’s are to be removed, with a replacement bus stop much further east beyond the Pinkie Pillars.

During the consultation on the grander plans I did make a case for cyclists, and I’m pleased to see that bike racks are to be installed outside the old Post Office and Luca’s. I also like the look of built-out sections of pavement at Pinkie Pillars to narrow the entrance to the High Street, hopefully encouraging boy racers and generally inconsiderate drivers to keep the heid.

I’ve blogged before about the problems of motorists parking on local pavements and I’m told that bollards will installed at “strategic” locations. However, it seems the additional parking spaces being provided are in some way meant to be a response. So, rather than making it harder to park and easier to walk, cycle and catch the bus, the council is making it easier to park.


Given the council’s stated priority of sustainability and the fact that it has been forced to declare the High Street East Lothian’s only air quality management zone, I don’t see how this refurbishment work was approved. It’s an enormous missed opportunity, does not have a public mandate and will if anything contribute to increased traffic, poorer air quality and lack of retail vibrancy.


Still, maybe I should be celebrating a small victory - the arrival of the High Street’s first bike rack! Yes, that’s what I’ll do. As the new parking spaces are laid I’ll channel Lt Col Kilgore from Apocalypse Now. I love the smell of tarmac in the morning. Smells like victory.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Feckless State And Celebrating Cake

Conservatives like to talk about the “nanny state”, and shake their fists at the sky as their mouths foam with rage whenever they perceive that someone better informed is attempting to tell them what to do.

I have a peculiar fascination with Tories who comment on health, much like my bizarre compulsion to order a custard slice when one is available in a cafe. In both cases it starts out as fun but then I feel decidedly queasy afterwards and remind myself to avoid a repeat of the situation.

You see, when it comes to poor public health the instinct of a right-winger isn’t just to bridle at the prospect of a Nanny State intervening, it’s to actively encourage the roll-out of a Feckless State that aimlessly flops about when there are people in need. Why bother addressing a problem when instead you can get on your high horse and judge people?

The latest bid for fecklessness comes for Conservative health bod Jackson Carlaw who is appalled at 5,600 Scots youngsters a year getting healthy weight interventions. On the one hand he describes obesity as “the next great public health challenge” yet on the other happily wags a finger to warn that it is “an issue of personal discipline and responsibility.” Little Archie’s a bit overweight? Well, it’s his own fault. What’s that? He’s only five and can’t possibly control the obesogenic environment that surrounds him? Nonsense. He just needs to buck up a bit, the slacker.

The healthy weight interventions that Carlaw uses to make his argument for a feckless state are of course the tip of the obesity iceberg. Our Bairn is due to start P1 in a few weeks and as part of the preparations we’ve been given some complicated looking charts to keep track of her weight. By all accounts whenever a child is found to be overweight – that is, unhealthy – the parents don’t take kindly when it’s pointed out to them. There is probably a more subtle way to manage these interventions but at heart they’re well-intended.
The big challenge is to shift the unhealthy culture we’ve developed in our society, where it’s OK to eat crap and move our bodies as little as possible. You walk to school and your dad cycles to work? Loser! You have carrots for a snack rather than a second can of Monster? What a dweeb.

Even at this time of sporting frenzy we see unhealthy products happily associated with muscular, good-looking glory. We may have impishly celebrated our fondness for chocolate-coated mallow teacakes and caffeinated sugary drinks in the opening ceremony but should Barr’s really be sponsoring the whole gig?
And when the baton came through town a few weeks’ back it was accompanied by a generous breakfast for the kids, comprising pain au chocolate, pancakes and other sweet treats. Would have it been so hard to hand out bananas?
Breakfast of sporting champions, apparently

Recent stats show our unhealthy tastes aren’t changing, so I’d suggest Carlaw’s on a hiding to nothing with his “personal discipline” schtick. Growth areas are fizzy drinks other than cola (ie, caffeinated sugary Irn Bru or caffeinated sugary energy drinks), hot chocolate, fancy coffees and pies and sausage rolls.

Scottish teens are also buying into the eating out of home market at an earlier age, with little evidence that they can eat healthily when doing so – chips and cola is the default setting. Upsize meal deals are also much more common in Scotland.

Then there’s the issue of kids streaming down the street at lunchtime for fast food or crisps and chocolate in the supermarket. Again, personal discipline is a pointless argument here. The siting and opening hours of these food providers is a matter for local authorities, yet we as voters and taxpayers choose not to make a fuss when they give planning permission to supermarkets next to schools and grant licenses for places offering fatty sugary treats during school hours.

Occasionally the idea of taxing unhealthy food and drink comes up, a prospect that causes apoplexy among the Feckless State promoters. Of course the alternative is to simply make it much clearer how unhealthy some products are – think of those gross images on cigarette packets. Why not an equivalent image on cans of pop or at least bold lettering explaining the sugar content?

As well as preparing for P1 by taking a look at the Bairn’s weight we’ve been advised to send her to class with her own water bottle; very sensible given the obvious benefits to concentration and health from regular hydration. But pause for a moment. When she’s older and if she chooses to go down the street with her mates for lunch where would she fill up her bottle? She couldn’t. Where’s the demand for public drinking taps and why isn’t there an incentive for local shops to provide them? It’s all part of the culture shift the state could achieve but which rhetoric about personal discipline won’t.

It’s also tempting to think if you make the healthy stuff cheaper people will buy more of it but I’ve seen studies which show people simply spend their savings on gulch.

On our recent campervan holiday around the South of Scotland we indulged the Bairn (and ourselves) in the usual treats – ice cream, cake and so on but the real treat for all of us was a visit to a PYO farm near Kelso. We harvested the most amazing strawberries and raspberries, living off them for days. No meringues or cream required!

This leads me to wonder why we don’t do more to celebrate the great fruit and veg we have here in Scotland. Think of any celebration and sugar will be involved. Chocolate now smothers Christmas advent calendars, Valentine’s Day, mother and father’s days, Easter and even Halloween. I’ll admit I’m partial to black bun in the depths of winter but where we have healthy and exciting foods we should be making more of them.

Sadly strawberries are now synonymous with Wimbledon rather than the Borders or Tayside; native apples have a day a year but the other 364 we’re crunching boring Braeburns from New Zealand; fish come and go but are undeniably healthy and simple to cook – I live in Musselburgh yet the shellfish that gives my town its name seems to be something only specialists seek out.

As a parent it’s easy to assume bairns don’t like veg but our experience is that a bit of fun can win the day. We stick butternut squash into soup and call it A Squash and A Squeeze Soup (Julia Donaldson will surely sue), carrots and peppers are great for scooping up hummus and other dips, and cucumbers have become snozzcumbers thanks to Roald Dahl’s BFG.
Snozzcumbers. Lovely in gin. Maybe not for the Bairn.

But the real challenge will be post-Games. For next week the Great British Bake Off is back on our screens. A clear example of the state foisting unhealthy obsessions upon us! Of course, being inspired to create chaos in the kitchen with the Bairn to perfect the occasional lemon drizzle cake is a world away from daily gorging on biscuits, Irn Bru and sausage suppers.

It could even be argued that putting home-baking on such a pedestal is a way of encouraging that good food culture we’re missing. I’d rather we were fretting over soggy bottoms than the bottom line of our NHS obesity bill, and blaming on it on wee Archie’s lack of discipline.




Monday, 30 June 2014

Show Me Your War Face

As a Green you'd maybe expect me to be a bit of a hippy when it came to the topic of war. While I'm all for peace, I'm also a pragmatist and I have the experience of growing up the son of a soldier. Between the ages of 9 and 13 while living in West Germany it was my job on a Saturday to check the wheel arches of the family car for bombs. I view my enduring love of mayo on chips as compensation for such trauma.

While it's tempting to dwell, we must look to the future. As we debate the pros and cons of independence we should consider the opportunity to repurpose our armed forces, reprioritise our military spending and write our own foreign policy.


So often it seems those campaigning for a No vote characterise a Yes as Scotland turning its back on the world, when of course it would be us taking responsibility for our place in the world. It wouldn't guarantee we did or said things differently but there'd be a chance we might, and with the fairer representation that we have in the Scottish Parliament I can see the opportunity for debates on defence policy that simply don't exist through Westminster.

The Army itself is going through relentless reorganisation, so the idea that independence represents some sort of instability is simply laughable. By 2020 the MoD wants regular forces cut back dramatically and 30,000 reservists integrated.

Morale has understandably taken a huge knock. In the latest MoD survey there are fewer personnel who feel proud to be in the services, fewer who feel valued, fewer satisfied with service life.

Top brass say that the era of long-term "stabilisation" projects (as they cutely call Iraq and Afghanistan) is over. Adaptability will be key, and withdrawal from Germany means most of the UK military will be based at home for the first time in many generations.

Significantly, they say that the UK's economic climate remains a "strategic threat to the nation".

Deloitte, the corporate finance and risk management giant, publishes a global defense (sic) outlook, and in its 2014 version, hot off the press, it stresses: "Resources once devoted to conventional military formations are moving toward network security and military cyber capabilities."

All together you can see that the military is under enormous pressure to reform and get to grips with modern threats. For me it underlines the silliness of Trident. I seem to recall even Tony Show-Me-Your-War-Face Blair describing it as a status symbol.

The White Paper contains ideas for how an independent Scottish military would shape up, and naturally it focuses on personnel, bases, jets, etc. It seems reasonable to expect a long-ish transition rather than an overnight rearranging of the players and hardware.

How serving personnel will vote in the referendum is hard to say. It's tempting to think those who take the Queen's Shilling are likely to vote No, and it's understandable that those who depend on Trident for work want to know what job they'd get in future. However, the apparent attempt by the Cabinet Office to "cascade" pro-UK material down through the ranks using email is likely to have raised some hackles. It's one thing to take orders from a senior rank but it's quite another to be nudged by some remote politician with an agenda.

Crucially I'd like us to think of how a Scottish Government and Parliament with responsibility for the military would treat forces families. The impact on spouses and children can be both positive and negative - while there's an attraction to "seeing the world" as the recruitment ads used to put it, there's also the disruption to home life, schooling and friendships, not to mention the worry and trauma when mum or dad is away fighting or on exercise. I still can't quite believe my dad was on the frontline in the Falklands, and I still remember the night a helicopter was shot down over his base in Northern Ireland.

Whether it's lack of kit at the frontline or a failure to invest in decent houses for families back at home, it does seem like governments are happy to praise bravery but not provide for dignity. Interestingly I see from a glance at various military websites that the Army Welfare Information Service is currently suspended.

So, would a Yes soften the harsh realities of service life for families? Well, we'd have to push for it. By pursuing a defence policy that focuses on cyber threats, international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations we'd have a chance of ending the culture that Westminster governments have always embraced - a culture that says unquestioningly that war is inevitable.

And indeed we're seeing what appear to be attempts to repackage war as wholesome family fun, such as Armed Forces Day with all its bombast and bomb blasts.

I think the Quakers have a point when they invite us to step back from the music, parades and uniforms for a moment to ask what's going on. Are we creating a war-ready society?

While I like to insist I'm no hippy, I find it hard to resist quoting from Glasgow-born folk legend Donovan, who famously sang of the Universal Soldier:

"His orders come from far away no more. They come from here and there and you and me. And brothers can't you see - this is not the way we put the end to war."

Friday, 20 June 2014

ON DOLE AND DIGNITY

Should jobseekers’ allowance be withdrawn from young people who don’t finish school or are not on training schemes, asks the vox pop section of one of my local newspapers. One guy answers saying he’s got two teenagers looking for work and there’s not enough for them, and he’d love them to get on a training scheme.


As a dad, that desire for kids (yours and others) to get on in life strikes a chord. And that’s maybe why one of the biggest attractions for me of a Yes vote in the independence referendum is the chance for Holyrood to take control of benefits and social security, and make the case for a more caring, equalising system than has been pursued by successive Westminster governments.

Here’s another inspiring quote, this time from a guy in his forties with two school-leaver sons who’re in poverty pay jobs. He lives in Manchester and says signing up for benefits when work dries up is complex and time-consuming. Safer, he says, to stay on benefits rather than dipping in and out of work.

Of course we hear a lot about welfare “reforms” but these don’t seem to be designed to address the issues highlighted by the two dads I’ve just referenced – the need for jobs and training for kids, and the need for a social security safety net that is easy to access and doesn’t leave you stigmatised.

Those reforms we hear about are themselves shambolic. The Commons public accounts committee says implementation of the new personal independence payment (Pip) has been "rushed", with long delays for claimants who are disabled or have a long-term health condition. Some folk have ended up in hospital due to the stress of the process.

A Citizens Advice report Voices from the Frontline is even more heart-breaking and anger-inducing. The human cost of the benefits cuts and the administrative chaos at the Department for Work and Pensions is simply appalling. Take for example the client who was sanctioned (losing four weeks’ worth of payments) after he was 20 minutes late for an appointment. The client was caring for his 15 year old sister after their mother started a custodial sentence. The client had literally no money.

Or the Citizens Advice client who is type 1 diabetic and was sanctioned for four weeks. She has a six year old child and has been relying on her mum, who was also on benefits, for food. She had completed a Hardship Form, but the Jobcentre would not give her any help as to where to send it or hand it in. The bureau was able to source some food for the client from a local community centre. 

Meanwhile the UK Government could breach its self-imposed cap on welfare spending. Labour supports the cap, and my local Labour MP was absent from the vote that saw it approved. The cap is £119.5bn, which excludes the state pension and some unemployment benefits. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has pointed out that there is more spending on the richest households NOT in the welfare cap than within it. It’s madness.

Labour are of course desperate to win the 2015 election. They’ve openly admitted the moveable votes are mainly in the south-east (of England) where there seems to be a real battle around issues such as benefits, housing and immigration with sections of society being pitted against each other. And the Westminster system means Labour need to win votes from right-of-centre Tories or downright-daft Ukippers.

But back to the vox pop I mentioned at the start. Labour are proposing to end out-of-work benefits for 18 to 22-year-olds if they don’t have the right skills. The chief executive of the Crisis charity for the single homeless says this risks leaving many more young people homeless. The assistant general secretary of the Unite union says the rhetoric of sanction and punishment is not a message that Labour should be taking to the country; our young people did not cause the economic crash and shouldn’t be made to pay for it. And the chair of the left-wing Compass pressure group says in a world of increasing job insecurity, conditionality makes less sense.

Contrast that with the words of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. In a report called “In Place of Anxiety” - part of its Common Weal project – the authors, including the late Ailsa Mackay, say that the most significant indicator of causes of stress and anxiety is economic inequality and in particular the problem of low pay. They say that the political narrative in the UK seeks to divide different social groups from each other, creating animosity and disharmony between them as a means of generating consent for continuous downward pressure on benefits.

If we had responsibility for welfare in Scotland we could reverse all of that. We could bring different social groups together, generate support for a social security safety net that we could all be proud of, and see a less-stressed, more productive society.

Labour like to characterise a Yes vote as Scotland turning its back on those being squeezed south of the border. In reality, a Yes vote would enable Scotland to show a better way is possible.


And as a dad, why wouldn’t I want to lead by example?

Monday, 9 June 2014

Independence - Are We There Yet?

Independence - Are We There Yet?

100. What a lovely, big round number. Today’s media is awash with coverage of the indyref as it’s 100 days till the polls open. Sadly that coverage is mostly generalities, with the usual figureheads at loggerheads. Luckily I found myself where the real action is - speaking to undecided voters, specifically undecided teenagers who are getting their first chance to vote.

In a debate hosted by Jedburgh Grammar and chaired by an old BBC colleague Ken Macdonald it was me, Colin Fox and Joan McAlpine for Yes, and Michael Moore, John Lamont and Claudia Beamish for No.

For those of us who’ve been on the campaign trail for the past couple of years it does feel like the vote can’t come soon enough. But for these students, as with many others, it’s only now that minds are starting to focus on what it’s all about.

I did my best at explaining why I’m voting Yes as a Green and as a Dad. I had a go at answering questions on the currency and the BBC. I did take a few notes, and if there had been time it might have been fun to unpick some of what the No gang said.

Michael - a thoroughly and literally upstanding chap who like me has a Bairn about to go to big school - talked about the UK having “real power”, whatever that is. And the collapse of the banks seemed to be a reason against independence, although I find it hard to imagine Westminster ever truly reforming the sector.

Claudia - a vision in green and the first speaker to mention climate change - spoke of wanting a “moral economy”, although how Labour would deliver that if the Tories win the 2015 election she didn’t say. She also said the UK is great at sharing resources. I’ll just pop down to the local food bank to spread the good news, shall I? We also heard that we couldn’t click our fingers to make Trident go away, and that there are complex global agreements being worked on we should put faith in instead. I prefer putting faith in CND who reckon we could switch Trident off within 8 days if we had the will to do so.

John - who only lives a few miles from the Border - fretted about cross-border health care post-Yes when of course neither health service or government has proposed changing the current arrangements.

Chatting to some of the young people afterwards they were asking for specific local visions - what would independence do for the Borders? I pointed out that if we’re moving powers from London to Edinburgh there will be pressure on Edinburgh to give power away to regions and local communities, giving them more control of finances and economic development.

But I closed the debate for Yes with a riff on a memorable movie quote. When I left school, twenty years ago, the big film that year was Forest Gump. His mama liked to say life was like a box of chocolates - you don’t know what you’re going to get.



At the moment the UK system feels like someone else is holding the box of chocolates and I have no choice and have to swallow flavours I don’t like. A Yes vote is the equivalent of taking hold of the box and getting to choose which chocolates I eat.

I am a bad man for talking about chocolate right before lunch but I just know a Yes vote will be sweet.

Monday, 19 May 2014

13,750 cubic metres of radioactive waste. Best of Both Worlds?

Twenty-five years ago this month Torness, that ominous grey box on the coast south of Dunbar, hummed into life with Mrs Thatcher pressing the big start button. A quarter of a century on nuclear is key to the debate on Scottish independence.

You see, energy policy is largely controlled by Westminster. We have the best of both worlds, according to the anti-independence campaign. Applied to energy policy that vacuous slogan means we have no say if EDF want to extend the life of Torness, as they have already done with Hunterston in Ayrshire. It means we will continue to pay for the containment of thousands of years of nuclear power’s toxic legacy. At the last estimate the UK’s nuclear clean up bill was approaching £100billion. Yes, one hundred billion.

Since Mrs T’s visit in May 1989 Torness has generated approximately 13,750 cubic metres of radioactive waste. That’s the equivalent of 125 double decker buses. Added to that are the health risks to workers, the worries for nearby residents who are expected to neck iodate tablets in an emergency, and the health effects on miners in Canada and Australia who dig toxic uranium out of the ground in the first place.

A glance at the archives reveals an interesting U-turn by the party that has taken East Lothian for granted for so long. Labour MP John Home-Robertson apparently refused to welcome Maggie, instead choosing to be pictured with protestors outside the plant waving Labour, SNP and Green banners. It seems he told some sections of the press that he was concerned about the waste remaining dangerous for 1,000 years while other journalists heard that his concern was that nuclear would put coal out of business. Cockenzie of course only stopped burning black diamonds in the last year.

Fast forward to the late 90s and early 2000s when Home-Robertson was MSP for the county in the new Holyrood parliament. Not only did he secure Tory and Libdem support for a debate on “environmentally friendly” nuclear power but he went on to table a motion describing nuclear power as “essential” with his Labour backers looking forward to the development of new plants across Scotland.

This pro-toxic stance is continued today by Iain Gray, and a replacement Torness is being lobbied for by Labour-led East Lothian Council.

Iain Gray likes to trot out energy costs as an argument against independence but he always seems to conveniently overlook his beloved nuclear. He likes to suggest that Scotland couldn’t afford to subsidise renewables and only the might of the UK can do that.

In reality the UK is under enormous pressure to decarbonise its electricity supply by 2030. It cannot hope to meet its targets unless it takes advantage of Scottish renewables. The UK Government has painted itself into a corner on new nuclear with eyewateringly expensive new builds and guaranteed hefty payments for the private firms responsible. By contrast onshore wind from Scotland is one of the cheapest sources of renewable power anywhere on earth, with the offshore revolution starting to ramp up.

So, as we debate whether Scotland should be an independent country we should consider the benefits of being completely responsible for energy policy and we should be wary of what Labour politicians from East Lothian have to say on the subject given their track record.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Glaciers, Floods And Kippers

There’s something ironic about the glacially slow speed with which we appear to be reacting to climate change. Indeed, I suspect many people are only vaguely aware that the global warming stuff Greens like me bang on isn’t just about things get hotter but about weather becoming more extreme.


There was a surge – pun intended – of mentions of climate change in the media following the recent English floods (caused by the prospect of gay weddings, if you believe the Farage balloons) but this quickly subsided. Away from the chaos it’s quite hard to get non-Greenies enthused about it because without the obvious pandemonium caused by floods or droughts it’s intangible. The global nature of the issue adds to that intangibility.

This perfect storm, it would seem, makes it fashionable to bash the renewable energy and emissions reduction targets that will set us on a more sustainable course. Whether it’s local elected Tories (there are a few here in East Lothian) shaking their fists at the turbines on the horizon or out-of-town unelected Ukippers offering to scrap the Climate Change Act and frack us to heck.
  
Quantifying what climate change means at a local level could be the spur we need to start taking things seriously. It will be interesting to see whether any of East Lothian’s 23 councillors pay sufficient attention to a paper going before the council this week. Blandly titled “Flood Risk Management” it updates members on progress towards strategies and actions to deal with the increasingly extreme weather experienced in vulnerable coastal and riverside locations.

The planning for any actions will be taken forward between next year and 2021. These plans stem from a report compiled by SEPA (the environment agency) in 2011, which in turn was prompted by parliamentary legislation in 2009. So, already you can see the glacial rate of progress we’re dealing with.

Buried within the SEPA report are projections which show how sea levels – predicted to be half a metre higher by 2080 – will affect homes, businesses and the economy. The risk to residential properties in the Musselburgh area rises from 480 family homes to 2,200, and businesses from 100 to 440. Cockenzie and Port Seton would also be affected.

Along the coast from North Berwick to the English border the number of residential properties at risk doubles from 50 to 100 and non-residential from 45 to 70.

It is worth noting that these projections are based on still water without wave action, so we can expect the impact to be much higher in the event of storms. In short, it seems we’re not far away from thousands of people being flooded out of their homes and businesses unable to function. If we continue to do very little to mitigate a problem we’ve known about for some time.

Of course the renewables-bashers and climate-deniers might argue we don’t know these predictions will come to pass. My response would be that these are robust projections from Met Office data using sound science and funded by the UK and Scottish Governments. They are not the rambling interpretations of tea leaves by some roadside Professor Marvel.

The UN intergovernmental panel on climate change has also stated that “higher benefit-cost ratios can beachieved by implementing some adaptation measures at an early stage compared toretrofitting long-lived infrastructure at a later date.” In other words, what are we waiting for?


So, as our councillors are invited to “note” their 4-page update, I think it’s worth asking why we’re not being offered a stronger commitment on this issue. It’s hard not to conclude that they view thinking ahead as hard work and are happy for future generations to literally mop up the mess.

Monday, 28 April 2014

"I’m starting to feel at home."

Monday
To Newtongrange! Home of the national mining museum, a rather awesome public park, quaint brick terraces with communal greens, and, er, my bike. The hastily abandoned puncture magnet is repaired, after which I repair to the museum cafĂ© for a pre-ride espresso. I sadly don’t have time to look round the exhibition but I will go back one day in a less chaotic state. To compensate for missing out on a tour of a bygone era (although a million tonne coal mine does have planning permission along the road) I make the Bairn semolina for pudding. Wife-features has her doubts but it’s a bit hit with the wee person and with me. Why so palatable? I have no idea. I’m sure the high ratio of jam to semolina has nothing to do with it.

Tuesday
The economic recovery continues. One of the local high street card shops closed down but a new business has quickly filled the gap. It’s vapour outlet, catering for all your electronic tobacco liquid gadget needs. The line up of shops on this section of the street now goes as follows: Greggs, Vapour place, bookies, pub, chippie, Cancer Research. I shall continue to dream of delis.

Wednesday
Cycling into Edinburgh via old railway lines proves a pungent experience. No, they’re not spreading the fields. Wild garlic overload! Okay, nature, I get the message.

Thursday
The headline on the newsstand is pretty scary. 500 kids in East Lothian have been helped by the local food bank in the past year. UK OK?

On a happier note I spend the evening at a pub quiz. And not just any pub. Staggs! They haven’t had a quiz in the two years I’ve been in the Honest Toun so it’s actually more exciting than it sounds. As I head out the door to the pub the Bairn says You’re Like An Old Man. Charming! It then occurs to me I’m wearing a tweed jacket, a checked shirt and, well, I’m away to the pub to drink real ale. Oh well.

A work colleague joins me and between my knowledge of Alec Douglas-Home’s premiership and his knowledge of okra we come mid-table. Ach well, at least the Fyne and Tempest beers were good, and my Green Yes badge got at least one thumbs-up. We exit after marvelling at the post-quiz band, their matching shiny shirts and vibrant renditions of Kelty Clippie and Falls o’ Killiecrankie-o. Hee-yooch! Musselburgh. Culture. Y’ken?

Friday
Election fever grips the town. The annual Honest Lad and Lass vote is decided. One of the Bairn’s pals’ neighbours loses out in the Honest Lass vote. The winners are hoisted up and carried to a buggy pulled by the boys’ brigade down the main street. It’s a great tradition and hints at summer being just round the corner. There’s drizzle. I hope that’s not a hint of the kind of summer we can expect.

Saturday
To the barbers! The woman who wields the scissors remembers me from last time. Later, on a walk with the Bairn across town we meet someone we know in the park, another couple of folk we know at the community garden where we impart the Honest Lass news and get a bunch of purple sprouting broccoli in return, and another couple of chums on the bridge over the river. It dawns on me, after living here for two years, I’m starting to feel at home. Only starting, mind you!

Oh, also, I find myself in a shop excited that they stock a particular type of cracker for cheese. The Bairn looks at me. Before she can say You’re Like An Old Man again I hustle us to the checkout.

Sunday
The Bairn has a pretty bad cough. There‘s not much to be done other than dish out sympathy and mix up warm drinks involving lemon and syrup. I think we‘re all feeling a bit knackered as the coughing has been breaking our sleep for the last few nights. Somehow I summon the energy to take the Bairn on a scooter adventure. We end up going a fair distance and I feel all the better for it. Much of the route we scoot is away from main roads. Maybe that’s what’s needed. A map of safe scooter routes around our town. At the moment there’s no way I’d feel comfortable with her taking her bike on the roads, not even to school. But for another year or so I reckon I’m on to a winner with the scooter. Do old men do scooters? I don’t think so. Mind you, my project does involve looking at maps…

Monday, 21 April 2014

Taking A Stand, Keeping The Heid And Biking With A Bang

Monday

I’m a sucker for punishment so when I see a headline in a press release from my local Labour MP warning about the cataclysmic consequences of independence I click the link to read more. It doesn’t disappoint. My Westminster representative (actually, I didn’t vote for her and neither did the majority of people in the constituency but that’s the wacky Westminster way of doing things) is literally freaking out at the prospect of shifting responsibility for tax, welfare and defence from London to Edinburgh. Apparently a Yes vote would mean at a stroke our businesses would only be able to sell to the 5 million people north of Hadrian’s Wall. So, farmers: plough in and mince up those highly exportable crops and beasts. Distilleries: pour your internationally renowned water of life down the drain. Innovative manufacturers: throw a spanner in your works before you get any more great ideas. We’re doomed!

Tuesday

Sitting down is killing us. Or so I keep reading, from the comfort of my armchair. A documentary on Radio 4 highlights the change in office culture over the centuries and the toll it’s taking on our health. I think it was David Mitchell who once joked we’re basically a nation of workers vaguely clicking on computer screens. In a previous life, working in radio, I was a fairly active desk jockey and disc jockey. As a reporter I’d spent a shift darting from typewriter/PC to studio and to outside interviews. And as a presenter I could ensure a breezy voiceover by standing up at the mic rather than sitting down. For a while I was a bookseller and always stood up. To start with I ached at the end of the day but I got used to it and came to appreciate putting my feet up. Isn’t it time more of us took a stand against the swivel chair?  

Wednesday

To Whitelee! This Ayrshire wind farm is probably Europe‘s biggest onshore development. A gaggle of us get a tour of the site and the control room. The site has become a massive visitor attraction and community resource. There’s even a hardy crowd of mums with buggies who promenade between the turbines. The drive down from Glasgow was revealing. It’s been eighteen months since I was last behind a wheel and within minutes my autopilot clicks in, and I‘m forced to “keep the heid and mind the footwork” to quote my Gran. I find it almost impossible to do less than 50mph on the M77. Who on earth set this speed limit? I’m overtaken by pensioners on mobility scooters. Maybe beneath my terribly sensible Green Dad exterior there’s a dipstick Top Gear Dad struggling to get out!

Thursday

To Dunbar! The sunniest town in Scotland, cycling nirvana and home of a community bakery that does awesome sausage rolls. I’m given a tour of the groovy Green things going on to inspire me in my desire to mould Musselburgh into a sustainable shape. Dunbar has a car club, a community garden, community woodland, well-signposted network of paths and a primary school where you can’t park a car so instead everyone cycles. Given the Honest Toun’s chronic traffic problems I fear I have my work cut out.

Friday

To Newhailes! This grand old house on the outskirts of Musselburgh has lovely open grounds for chasing a giggly Bairn on a sunny day. I show her how to play music* using a blade of grass between two thumbs, we take part in an Easter Egg hunt, and discover a route home that avoids walking next to the main road. Back in town Musselburgh Races are in full swing, evidenced by a noisy blokes’ Buckfast chug-a-thon in the High Street. Even as they chug and chant local worthies are Tweeting what a great economic boost the races are. Is the anti-social behaviour a price worth paying?

*When I say music, I mean the difficult Eric Dolphy/Eyvand Kang stuff, not something hummable from a Disney soundtrack.

Saturday

The sun keeps his hat on, so we don ours and spend the day in the back garden. Wife-features breaks out the Flymo to give the lawn its first cut of the year, then takes a siesta. The Bairn and I have hours of fun playing simple games and reading stories in her tent. These are the days, my friend.

A compliment! I don’t often get them so they’re worth noting. The lady at the checkout in Farmfoods says my uber-efficient bag-packing abilities are astounding and I should consider working there. I believe that’s what’s called an iron in the fire.

Sunday

The cataclysm is a step closer. I read that Yes is at 48, while No is at 52. To celebrate I ride my bike on purpose up some steep hills to prove that anything’s possible. Just as I’m about to cross the boundary from Midlothian into the Borders there’s a massive bang, hiss and squelch and my rear tyre goes flat. A massive screw brings my sunny ride to an abrupt and unhelpful halt. It’s a sign, I tell you. We’re doomed!

Monday, 14 April 2014

The bubbles! The cake! The shrieking! There there. All better now.

Monday

It’s the start of the school holidays. I take the Bairn to the nursery attached to my work, treat her to a cheese sandwich in the canteen and show her the delights of my office. There’s a swivel chair, a PC on which you can type in hilariously massive 72-point scale, and there’s a telly. But what’s this? It doesn’t get CBeebies! The other options including CNN and BBC Parliament do not find favour. Let’s face it; I’d never get any work done if I knew I could have Mr Bloom’s Nursery and Katie Morag bopping away in the background.
The Bairn safely passed baton-like to Wife-features, I make a last-minute dash to the shops for a particular toy and a card with a 5 on it. After the fourth or fifth card shop I begin to panic. So far none has had any such cards. Plenty of 4s and 6s though! “More than just books” proudly screams a poster in the window of a bookshop. I dive inside brimming with positive hopes. There are a limited number cards. Some 4s, some 6s, no 5s. Arg!

Eventually I find one, in a toy shop. The choice of numbered cards is mainly between pink and glittery with princesses galore or black and blue with violent superheroes. Thankfully I find a red and mousey compromise.

The essential birthday toy is purchased and placed in a large plastic bag. I shove it on a high shelf when I get home, only for the Bairn to spot it and blurt out what it contains. The bag material is basically transparent. Sigh. Why in the name of Satan’s toenails would a toy shop put purchases in see-through bags? Someone at corporate HQ must be having a right old laugh to themselves.  

Tuesday

To Haddington, the nerve-centre of East Lothian, for a briefing on the forthcoming European elections. (22 May, election fans.) I plan to take a gander at the count. Outside, after the briefing, I’m met by a rather ominous sign. My millionth puncture this year. A friendly counterpart from a rival political party gives me and my bike a lift most of the way home. I give the bike a good talking to later that night in the shed.

Wednesday

The Bairn turns 5. It’s almost overwhelming thinking of everything that’s happened in a relatively short space of time. Buggies, high chairs and cots have been built and dismantled; cars have been bought and sold; jobs and houses have been changed; small fluffy toy pirate cats have become integral to our lives. It’s been a whirlwind.

Amid the frenzy of life I do enjoy the occasional moment of zen. It can sometimes be the glint of sunset on the Forth as the number 44 bus sails home along the coast road, or those few seconds in the morning between opening the Bairn’s curtains and her leaping out of bed, when all you can hear is blackbirds in the garden. Today I again notice and smile at the discovery that the time between appearances of the green man on the crossing between our house and the bakers is the same amount of time as it takes to buy six morning rolls and a custard slice. I still look both ways but have never had to wait.

Thursday

Hooray for QMU. The uni’s plans for a wind turbine were knocked back by the BANANAs lot at East Lothian Council (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody) but a Scottish Government reporter has overturned the decision. Maybe the climate clowns at the council will stick a couple of revenge coal mines in its development plan to balance things out.  

Friday

It’s the end of the working week and I look to Sweden with envious eyes, as a six hour working day is on the cards for some employees. I’ve blogged before about how much I enjoyed Daddy Mondays when I worked a four day week for a few months when the Bairn was tiny. I do think we need to get better at finding the right balance between working and spending time with our families, friends and ourselves!

Saturday

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen warned of a cataclysm. I wasn’t really paying attention to the context of his stand-up routine (I assume that’s what it was) but guess he was referring to the aftermath of a party for five year olds. The bubbles! The cake! The shrieking! There there. All better now.

Sunday

To the playing fields for a game of hoopla with the Bairn, her gran, a hula hoop and some rugby posts. On the way back home I notice some graffiti and from a distance assume it’s rude. Upon closer inspection however… Well, we do live in the Honest Toun.