Monday, 24 February 2014

Festive Road, Flat Tyres and The Four Metre Rule

Monday

“It was another ordinary day in Festive Road…“ Hearing those words brings back memories of childhood lunchtimes when I got to watch incredibly gentle cartoons - such as Mr Benn - while slurping Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup or wolfing French Toast.


A DVD of Mr Benn adventures arrived - bing - as if by magic in the post from one of my sisters. A late birthday present but very welcome, and not just by me but by the Bairn. I never met David McKee, the show’s creator, but recall an interview I did with Oliver Postgate many moons ago. The man behind Bagpass and the Clangers (along with Peter Firmin) described making kids TV back then as simple storytelling using an ordinary item like a bottle or a pin cushion to spark ideas. I think that’s why Mr Benn retains his charm after four decades - it’s a simple concept, going into a costume shop with the twist that there’s a door that leads to adventures…

Meanwhile the Bairn is hooked on her current bedtime story: the Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (first published 1943). This is Wife-features’ doing. I’d never heard of it. The stories are utterly bizarre and in true Blyton style feature exploding toffees and firm yet fair mothers. Although no lashings of ginger beer yet.

Tuesday

My delight at the recent bike service was short-lived. As I attempt to leave work I discover the front tyre is flat. The only pump available is for a different kind of valve. I resolve to fix the flat when I have time on Friday, so for the rest of the week I’ll be a bus commuter. This gives local shops a huge boost as I always end up buying biscuits and newspapers to get change for the bus. When we switch to an Oyster card type system will our high streets be further devastated?

Wednesday

To the Cross Party Group on Rural Policy! I am such a thrill seeker. These after-hours meetings at the parliament are a chance to discuss issues away from the combat zone of the debating chamber. On this occasion the topic of planning is examined, and we get an update on progress towards Scotland getting its own rural parliament. (Parliament is a misnomer; it’s a conference. But the Swedes do it, so it must be good.)

Thursday

I want to see the bright lights tonight. Or so Richard and Linda Thompson sang some years ago. Well, tonight I’m seeing bright lights as a cherry picker hoists a chap up Musselburgh’s lampposts to install some spotlights to illuminate the town hall’s flagpole. I can only assume this pricey enterprise by the community council is in response to reports of public outbursts of ill-lit flag post rage.

Meanwhile I feel like shining a spotlight on the bizarre regulations that mean that planning permission has been granted for a pub two doors along from our house without us being consulted. We’d already complained about the noise from a pub across the street. The local authority confirms to me they only consult with people whose property is up to four metres away from the applicant. Four metres. The length of two drunks lying face down. Having moved here only two years ago I fear a flit will be on the cards before long.

Friday

Another flat tyre! This time while cycling through Joppa. Oh the shame.

Saturday

One of the Bairn’s wee pals is having a birthday party and Wife-features has an extremely convenient prior engagement, so I suit up for full-blown Dad Duty. The battleground is the function room of an ex-pub. An onslaught of about twenty four-year-olds ensues, complete with high-pitched war cries. There’s dancing and cake and soon it’s over, with a goodie bag full of sweets for the bus home. I’ve been to a few of these events now. I'm a veteran, and have hopes for a medal soon.

 
To Tranent! A quick visit to the Bairn’s Great Gran (my Gran) results in a couple of startling revelations. Firstly, she asks me if Salmond’s going to get his Yes vote, to which I reply I hope so, although it’s not his, it’s ours to get. This clearly gives her food for thought (she’ll be 80 this year, is not a big fan of Big Alex but also isn’t fond of Tories). Secondly, there’s some thought about food. Gran’s an ex-school cook and points out the trifle we made last weekend was flawed. A real trifle involves fresh sponge, warm custard which soaks the sponge, and then cream. None of your jelly nonsense.

Sunday

Another flat tyre! Okay, okay. I promise. No more jelly in my trifles.

Monday, 17 February 2014

From Deep Puddings to Pooh Pine Cones

Monday

Top scientists at the University of Edinburgh’s Blindingly Obvious department suggest using Twitter makes you stupid. Okay, I’m paraphrasing a bit but the gist is that it reduces our ability to think in any depth. Right, I need to move along to the next item like a flittery butterfly of a blogger. Oh, where did I read this startling news? The Daily Mail website - the home of deep thinking.

As well as making you stupid Twitter makes you giddy. Or at least it does when you get birthday wishes from @nigelslater in response to a tweet saying thanks for his Irish coffee trifle recipe. Excitement over a mere trifle? Trust me; Nigel’s puddings are deep.

Tuesday

Miliband says Labour will continue the austerity agenda if they win the 2015 General Election. This follows recent comments by a former adviser to Blair that Labour should focus on winning over voters in the south of England; Scotland’s already in the bag and doesn‘t matter. Hello? I said hello! Is this thing on?

Well, at least someone’s listening. Those lovely waste management types at East Lothian Council. Yes, Brown Bin Day came and the brown bin was emptied this time. But in the short time between bin collection and me taking it in from the street some dolts of passers-by had deposited two crisp packets, a drinks can and a chip wrapper in it. If only there were some clue to help them avoid this. Grr!!

Wednesday

Outnumbered is pretty scary these days. The kids are enormous! It feels like this BBC sitcom only started the other day. I think this season is the last, and it feels like it’s done its job. As the first of four kids I can vouch for the accuracy of many of the storylines albeit without the emails and texts. I still remember the day my “wee” brother came home from school and lifted mum off her feet like an out of place fire extinguisher. To my knowledge none of us filched a rabbit from a farm visit but there was a long car journey where every single one of us, including the dog but except me, was sick. The upholstery of our Mitsubishi Space Wagon was definitely outnumbered that day.

Thursday

To Nairn! The Brighton of the North played host to the launch of some bright Green ideas on local democracy. Everywhere you look councils are making cuts yet have no say in how they raise funds due to central government control, and people feel so disconnected that turnouts at elections are as low as 20 per cent. In countries like Denmark they have much smaller units of democracy with real local powers and as a result turnout is around 70 per cent.

My old home town was looking good if a little damp. The bus station’s being turned into flats, and Donnie ‘Knobbly Carrots’ Macleod tells me there’s a regular market on the site of the old community centre. But bizarrely there was no bunting lining the streets to mark my return. An administrative oversight or proof that the Inverness mafia are in control?

Friday

The weighty topic of horse riders appears to have caused a schism in the Honest Toun. The honest truth about our girth seems to have gone down like a lead balloon with some of those involved in the Musselburgh Festival. Thankfully the local fruit and veg man has taken up the reins so the festival will go on. Interestingly the Common Ridings in the Borders appear to be taking the issue in their stride. Neigh bother.
 
Saturday

To the shops! The Bairn watched her elders scoffing Irish coffee trifle last weekend and is angling for something similar. We pick up strawberry jelly for 29p, a can of custard for 55p, make use of half a box of sponge fingers in the cupboard and free sprinkles from a friend. But cream is also required. Can I find any in Musselburgh? Not a drop. There’s ersatz stuff mostly made of vegetable fat. Barf. The only option is The Bad Place. They like to say Every Little Helps so I take great pleasure in only giving them 82p for a wee pot of double cream. By contrast the couple in front of me cough up over £100 for their mountain of shopping. I almost cry. But the homemade minuscule-cost trifle soon puts a smile on my face.

Meanwhile I’m considering calling up the Phantom Flan Flinger (Tiswas, whippersnappers. Look it up) to take out Alan Rusbridger. You see the Guardian is a wee haven on a Saturday, mainly thanks to its non-news content. But sadly this weekend it wades into the independence debate with this baffling editorial.

For a start it uses the word “Panglossian” in the 3rd sentence. Sheesh. Then it says Cameron and Osborne “promote a more positive existential case for the union”. Huh?

It says “the stresses and strains of the eurozone offer a warning of the risks of a badly executed or politically opportunist union.” So, we’re a basket case economy liable to tip rUK over when we vote Yes? Sharing Sterling would be politically opportunist rather than pragmatic and in the interests of the nations?

“The SNP is not primarily interested in strengthening the union. So there is no inherent reason why the remaining UK should prioritise anyone's interests other than its own.” Basically, both the Scottish and UK Governments are hell bent on causing calamity for the sake of it, yeah?

This disappointing editorial was entitled “Politics at the business end“. The industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie once said: “The thorough man of business knows that only by years of patient, unremitting attention to affairs can he earn his reward.” I do hope the Grauniad leader writers pay more attention to the debate before penning any more opinions. Otherwise they’ll be rewarded with me taking my £2.50 across the street.

Sunday

To the Botanics! A brief burst of blue sky prompts us to pack pieces and a flask and head for leafy Inverleith. It’s a great place for the Bairn to play Pooh pine cones (like Pooh sticks), spot the squirrels and hide and seek. I also take delight in seeking out the juniper trees so I can squeeze some berries between my fingers and get an illicit whiff of gin.

To the Deaf Dugs! There are only a few weeks left to marvel at this Musselburgh emporium. Even their filing system is class. Look along the miles of bookshelves and you’ll spot Puzzles next to Pregnancy & Parenting. Indeed.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The Tim Burton Birthday Pic And Flushing Out The Frackers


Monday

The start of a special week. I’ve taken a few days off work so while the Bairn is at nursery in the mornings, Wife-features and I can have some rare grown up time. This week also contains my birthday, when I will become older than I’ve ever been. And it’s the last week of the winter beard.

Tuesday

Three hours of uninterrupted daytime with my better half are well spent. A walk on the beach at Porty and a leisurely coffee (including refill) and blether. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me, with a four year old, it’s eerie not hearing “Mum” or “Dad” being yelled every 10 minutes. I have an extra spring in my step after picking the Bairn up from nursery. She’s been telling everyone it’s my birthday. The teachers seem very impressed. Apparently I’m seventeen. Ahem.

Wednesday

I enter my 38th year with a decent haul of goodies including whisky and old cowboy stories. The Bairn has fashioned me a card with a picture of a Linzertort or possibly a Jammie Dodger. She also sketches a picture of me with some kisses. I do not tell her it bears an uncanny resemblance to a scene from a Tim Burton film.

Thursday

To the newsagent! I’m pleased to see the local organs of truth flushing out the wishy-washy views of our elected representatives of the big issue of fracking. East Lothian’s certainly done its bit over the decades for energy supplies by inefficiently burning coal at Cockenzie and piling up a toxic legacy at Torness. We know of course that wind turbines will doom us by literally scratching the retinas from tourists’ eyes so perhaps the answer lies by hydraulically fracturing lots of gas wells. The FM seems to be open to the idea, the local Labour MP and MSP too. Some Libdem chappie doesn’t answer the question, like a true Libdem. Thank goodness I’m a Green and won’t hesitate to tell the frackers to frack off.

Friday

I witness some spectacularly bad driving and parking in an area earmarked for a paved town square. It seems pavements in the Honest Toun are up for grabs for particularly inept and lazy motorists. Where’s a traffic warden when you need one?

I also take great delight at hearing the latest words of wisdom from the top brass fighting for the Union. General Cameron says we should vote No so he can continue to read his kids books about Britain’s history. Unless a Yes vote results in access to a Tardis I’m not sure why history would be changed. And Captain Darling is continuing to equate a Yes vote with That Man Salmond. Apparently the First Minister of Scotland is acting like he’s Head of State or something! Carry on, chaps…    

Saturday

To North Berwick, the dapper coastal resort where the taps run with artisan gin and cheese toasties look like the Law. In a cafĂ© the Bairn spills her drink in her lap (FYI it’s water, not the hard stuff) and despite my reassurances that she’ll dry with a brisk walk on the beach, new trousers are sourced in one of the many excellent charity shops. Later on, miles out on the beach, the Bairn tells me she needs an urgent toilet trip. Power walking back to town is required. I don’t want to have to shell out for a second pair of emergency breeks.
 
A Bairnsitter allows Wife-features and I out for a rare grown up drink in a bar. We’re so out of practice that Her Nibs orders something that comes in a bucket covered in fire. I have an Old Fashioned, heavy on the cherries.

Sunday

To the bicycle repair shop! The new-ish commuting bike’s chain snapped recently and I had to press the back-up bike into service. I decide to stick with the old faithful but put it in for a service. It emerges like brand new, with no creaks or squeaks and a sturdier bag rack. It also gets an upgrade from a threaded headset to a threadless. Apparently my bearings were getting rusty. Now there’s a metaphor for birthday week.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Car Ban, The Brown Bin Mystery & The Cow Joke


Monday

The last week of the longest month (January - why is there always so much month left at the end of the money?) began with chaos in the normally sleepy town of Haddington. But rather than the usual chaos of parents doing seven-point turns in their 4x4s and mounting pavements in their luxury saloons it was the chaos of the world’s media attention. Yes, those wise old birds at East Lothian Council have banned cars from the streets around the primary school at drop off and pick up times. The resulting images of kids scootering and cycling down the middle of the road to school with their faces beaming sheer joy must surely send a message to other authorities to follow suit.

Our own experience of the school run (nursery run until August) can be pretty hairy. The Bairn’s school in the middle of the Honest Toun, boxed in on all sides by busy roads and the entrance of a back-of-the-high-street pay and display car park. Motorists go too fast, run red lights at crossings, the pavements are narrow and on more than one occasion we’ve been freaked out by delivery lorries throwing U-turns. Where Haddington leads, let’s hope Musselburgh follows.

Tuesday

Follow the clues! That’s what PC Plum would do in Balamory. But the mystery that greets me on Tuesday has no obvious trail to follow. Our brown bin has not been emptied! According to the calendar supplied by the council it’s brown bin day. The bin was placed on the kerbside before the allotted time. It only contained garden waste. There’s even a sign on our bin, printed in large friendly lettering, asking passers-by not to use our brown bin for their crisp packets and drinks cans. I think even Sherlock would be foxed. The council has been emailed. I shall await their response before resorting to stimulants to solve the puzzle. Holmes favoured pipe tobacco, which is not my style. Columbo-style chilli is more my scene. Holmes was also fond of the odd bit of cocaine but as Watson pointed out it was simply a “protest against the monotony of existence." Of course Sherlock lived in simpler times, before fortnightly brown bins.

Wednesday

I see the joyless hermits at the ASA are trying to “ban” a Nice Way Code advert. (Ban? The campaign ran it stupid course and thankfully will never return.) Apparently cycling along quiet roads without wearing a helmet is the stuff of dreams. Snap out of it, you two wheeled hippies and suck up those exhaust fumes!

Thursday

As well as gluing pasta shapes onto cardboard boxes and singing songs like Three Craws Sat Upon A Wa’, it appears the Bairn is undertaking Financial Management for Junior Consumers. She’s set her heart on a toy that’s a wee bit pricey but has taken up the offer of walking to her weekly exercise club rather than take the bus. The money saved on bus fares goes into a toy fund. As I’m the sort of Dad who rarely asks for a receipt when making an ATM withdrawal I find this kind of logic and fiscal planning unnerving. Maybe I should ask the Bairn what she makes of the idea of a Sterling zone currency union.

Friday

To Dalkeith! I see the transformation of the old bus depot is nearing completion. Soon to be a supermarket. Frowny face. However, I see the transformation of the old Borders railway line is progressing apace. Smiley face!

Saturday
To the Pans! (Bottom Pans, not Top Pans. Apparently this is important.) My tour of East Lothian to spread the Green Yes message continues with an attempt to accost folk in a chilly and soaking Prestonpans. Given the town’s Labour traditions I was pleased to actually find a few people willing to engage in a bit of banter about the referendum. Those who said they plan to vote No gave a mixture of reasons including:

We can’t afford it.
It wouldn’t make things better.
We’re not ready for it.

I did ask how much we’d need to afford it; I asked how a No vote will make things better; and I asked when will we be ready for it. On each occasion I got a don’t know and a hint of second thoughts. I’m glad to have planted those seeds.

Sunday

The punch line to the whole week is an actual punch line. Why did the cow go to the cinema? To see the moo-vies! (Why is it when I say it, it’s naff, yet when the Bairn cracks it we all crack up? She is four; I’m approaching forty. That may have something to do with it.)