Monday, 24 March 2014

Hill-walkers, Cake-bakers and Cat-lovers

Monday

The hills are alive with the sound of grumpy climbers, or so the Mountaineering Council of Scotland would have you believe. It seems its members aren’t huge fans of wind farms, although the survey the council conducted didn‘t offer respondents the option of saying wind farms are just fine. Sadly the press go to town with headlines about tourism being devastated. I’ve bagged dozens of Munros and you know what bothers me? Discarded tissues. They’re flippin’ everywhere! It’s time we hill climbers got our personal hygiene in order before we go moaning about views being spoiled.
Not a wind farm in sight but I bet there are tissues stuck in those rocks!

Tuesday

Today’s shenanigans cause me to invent a new word for the dictionary: wonkfest. It’s a noun and means a prolonged period of excitement for policy nerds, or wonks. What prompts this new word? Well, is there any other way of describing the results of Labour’s Devolution Commission? It contains all manner of complex fiddling with a broken system, fiddling which the party leader turned into a muddling during questioning on TV. Yes, folk like the idea of more powers short of independence but they don’t want to have to take an Open University course to understand the details - if they can’t be summed up on a bumper sticker you’ve no chance. As for those who say Scotland should control everything except foreign policy and defence - I simply don’t get it. Why wouldn’t you want the power to not wade into illegal wars and why wouldn’t you want the power to get rid of nuclear weapons?  

Wednesday

Budget Day. The Bairn asks me what money is for. I ask her what she thinks it’s for. Paying for things you need, she says. Such as? Chocolate. And cake ingredients. (Got that, Osborne? Not bingo and beer but confectionery.)

Thursday

I take the bus to work today due to the arrival of spring and its gale-force winds and hail stones the size of mint imperials. As my bus chugs along Musselburgh High Street (one of 500 a day) I notice a poster outside a newsagents with a headline about the local air pollution problem. Despite knowing about the problem for some years the council has done very little to date. However, according to the latest splash in the paper a council chief claims plans are afoot to conduct a traffic survey. I won’t hold my breath, although due to the pollution some days I do literally hold my breath.

Friday

Urgh. It’d be easier to extract hydraulically fractured gas from Caroline Lucas' garden than extract the Bairn from her New Best Friend. Last week’s hide and seek nonsense is repeated, indeed embellished. This time even once the Bairn and NBF are prised apart and I’m hustling my girl down the stairwell of the block I hear a letterbox being opened and her name being called out from above. I make clear we’re one step closer to meeting Serious Dad. This - or possibly the brisk spring air by the river as we walk home - chills the Bairn to the bone. What will next Friday bring?  

Saturday

Musselburgh is a city with two tails. My recent newsletter deliveries have revealed distinct zones of town where cats and dogs rule. There are some terraced streets where every other door has a cat flap, a welcome mat in the shape of a cat and a sign in the window saying We Love Cats. Oh, and actual cats. While across town there are tenement blocks with at least one barky dog per block. There also seems to be a corresponding increase in muddy boots left on doorsteps. I shall feed this vital demographic detail into my electoral supercomputer.

Sunday

To the Pans! I take Arthur Conan Doyle's advice, mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road without thought on anything. It’s sunny and the Forth is choppy with white peaks contrasting sharply with bright green lagoon-like waters. Curlews peep. I pour coffee from a flask and it doesn’t take funny. Life is good.

Monday, 17 March 2014

A Boris in the Cabinet and a Frisbee Through the Rugby Posts

Monday

Sprung must have sprung. Today turns out to be Shorts Day. Yes, the bicycle commute has been full-breeked since probably October. In the wind it’s flippin’ freezing so long-sleeved tops and a hat are still required but the excessive hair on my legs means my calves can sook up some much missed vitamin D.

Tuesday

I set hares running, startle the horses and upset the apple cart, all with the perfectly reasonable suggestion that it’s unclear if cycling provision will be improved for communities along the A9. Motorists are getting three thousand million of earth pounds thrown at them (I would say us but we’ve been two years without the Ford Focus now) while cyclists are getting zip.

I can’t help wondering what things would be like if we had an equivalent of a Boris in the Scottish cabinet to really drive cycling up the agenda. Cripes, what a thought.

Wednesday

The countdown is on to the Bairn’s fifth birthday. Tonight the invites were written for an afternoon of cake and games. Gone is the earlier idea of a dead baby mammoth cake and instead the party’s to have a Wizard of Oz theme. Oh my!

Thursday

To the bath! I still have flashbacks to giving the Bairn her first bath. A tiny child, a nervous new dad and too much baby oil. It was a terrifying ordeal - for me anyway. Since then bath time has evolved through various forms, from bubbles and giggles to spelling with foam letters and complicated rescues involving cartoon figurines. Tonight I find myself reading a newspaper while the Bairn washes her hair. I feel a small sense of loss. This seems far too grown up. I lob some squeezy toys into the water and a squirt fight ensues. That’s better!

Friday

So, Wife-features is easing herself back into the wacky world of work. As a result the Bairn is entrusted to/runs rings around one of her friends’ mums for a few hours a week. Today is my first experience of picking her up from her friend’s house after work and she simply won’t leave. She’s burrowed in like a beautiful tick. I takes me half an hour to extract her from the premises and I have to explain to her that I won’t tolerate it next time. It’s lovely to see her making such good friends but it’s also good to be clear about the need to do what dad says, especially when he has to get the tea on!

Sat

A day of disaster. My normally peachy scone-making technique goes pear-shaped. I fail to add enough baking powder. Please don’t tell Paul Hollywood.

Sunday

To the park! The sun is out and the skies are blue. The Bairn persuades me to spring for a new Frisbee and I get pretty puffed out as we take it in turns to skim it over the bar of the park’s rugby posts. We did this before but with hula hoops. I suppose one day I should tell her these aren’t real sports but until then I plan to enjoy my status as Champion Flinger of Round Things Over the Big White H in the Park.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Litter Bugs, Jitterbugs and Dead Mammoth Cake

Monday

Not a good start to the week. The broadcasting regulator Ofcom decides Farage’s Kippers deserve equal airing with Tories, Labour and Libdems in the run up to May‘s Euro election. Except in Scotland where Ukip are nowhere. Although this only applies to the teeny tiny amount of Scottish-only broadcasts.

I’m not too concerned actually. Given the anti-foreigner, anti-equalities and anti-science tosh spouted by this bunch of Basil Fawlties and Majors (retired) I suspect anyone switching on and happening across them will assume they’ve found an old, unfunny sitcom and will change the channel.

Tuesday

To North Berwick! Fair Trade wine and bright ideas flowed freely as the East Lothian Greens gathered to hatch plans for the coming year or two. My own plan is to win the lottery so I can pitch up in NB permanently. I’d need to start playing the lottery first, mind.

Wednesday

Another day, another warning about sugar. The World Health Organisation says our sugar intake should be halved. Earlier England’s chief medical officer became the latest expert to recommend a sugar tax. Meanwhile in Scotland? We’re letting Irn Bru sponsor the Commonwealth Games.

The sweet thoughts continue. The Bairn was captivated by the mammoths exhibition at the National Museum in Edinburgh. In particular she has told me the sad story of how the baby woolly mammoth got fossilised. (She fell into a bog.) Maybe my birthday cake could have a picture of the dead baby mammoth on it, she ventures. The grey icing is being ordered.

Thursday

To Staggs! A bar I’ve supped in quite a few times since flitting to the Honest Toun two years ago. It is named Lothian pub of the year (again) by the beardy ale connoisseurs at Camra. It does a fine selection of proper beers and the conversations I’ve got into have not, I repeat not, been about fitba. They’ve been about the weather, farming, social work and rugby. Wife-features has even gone to a regular knitting circle there. Musselburgh’s fair cosmopolitan, I tell ye. Tonight I pop in for a pint of Jarl, wearing my high-vis cycling jacket. This, I fancy, gives me the appearance of a manual labourer. My slowly healing case of Leafleter’s Knuckle maybe adds to this. My office dweller status will be rumbled eventually.
 
The Bairn’s school puts on a performance of the Wizard of Oz, one of my favourite childhood stories and films. It’s a whiz of a show, channelling what appear to be elements of the Mighty Boosh. There are vacuum cleaners instead of broomsticks, jitterbugs as well as lions, tigers and bears (oh my) and no Toto! I bet Hollywood wouldn’t get away with such a radical remake but the Burgh kids carry it off in fine style.

Friday

The council emails to inform me those pesky parkers mounting the pavement in the square outside our house are in for a surprise this summer. A mysterious-sounding “improvement” project is planned and it will apparently tackle bad parking. My nails are being bitten to the quick in anticipation.

Saturday

A spot more leafleting to spread the Green word. On the plus side: no knuckles stuck in letterboxes! On the minus side: a very yappy dug almost takes my whole hand off.

Sunday

To Ikea! The crappy public transport provision (ie no bus stops for miles) turns a short family walk into We’re Going On A Bus Hunt - what a beautiful day; we’re not scared. We eventually catch a number 40 at Whitecraig, where I resist the pre-bagged Berwick cockles on the counter of the village shop and instead hand over 20p for a very black banana, one of exactly two kinds of fruit available. The village has a huge green space in the middle but it’s deserted. I wish we’d brought a ball so we could flout the rules.

The 40 bus weaves its way through Bonnyrigg, Lasswade and Loanhead, where we hop off to indulge in Swedish-themed sensory over-stimulation. I almost go crazy and buy four jars of marinated herring and a pack of fun sized elk meat sausages. Instead we purchase a sensible bedside reading light. And a giant cuddly vegetable. As you do.

Waiting for the bus home my breath is taken away by the vista of Allermuir Hill, at the start of the Pentland ridge. When I turn round to face the Loanhead bus stop my breath is taken away for a very different reason.  

Monday, 3 March 2014

Groundhog Day, German Banks and Baron Greenback

Monday

A grim start to the week with the unedifying sight of Messrs Cameron and Salmond arguing over who’s nicer to the oil industry. Cam attempted to trump Salm by staging his jamboree inside the offices of Shell. Greenest government ever, anyone? World-beating climate change targets? Hello? Hello! Is this thing on?

The grimness continued with the news that Harold Ramis crossed the streams and went to the great containment unit in the sky. I do look forward to the day I introduce the Bairn to Ghostbusters, and a few years later Groundhog Day. I might leave her to discover Caddyshack and Animal House for herself.

Tuesday

The flat front tyre saga continues. This time the repairs hold. The culprit? A teeny tiny fragment of glass wedged inside a crack in the inside of the tyre.

Yet my howls of anguish over repeated bike failures were nothing compared to the sturm und drang cacophony that screeched from my TV tonight. Apparently it’s the done thing for our country’s two most senior female politicians to shout at and over each other. Next time I expect to see the moderator produce a pencil and explaining that only the person holding it gets to speak.

Wednesday

RBS posts whopping losses. Trebles all round! Huh? Oh, I see. Bonuses. Musn’t forget the bonuses, dude. In my previous life as a corporate schmoozer I got an annual bonus but it wasn’t huge and it varied depending not only on my performance but that of my department and the wider company. We really were all in it together.

It would be great to see us emulate the German Sparkasse model of local banking. I used Sparkasse when I lived in Germany in the 80s. I was only a kid but recall the thrill of getting pound notes from my Scottish grannies changed into shiny marks and pfennigs. I also once handed over an exotic banknote that came back from a relative’s holiday. I expected untold riches but the inflationary nature of the holiday country’s economy meant I got hardly enough to buy a poke of pommes frites with mayo.

Thursday

To Peebles! The New Economics Foundations rated the sleepy Tweeddale burgh as the most diverse town centre in Scotland, and that still appears to be the case. There’s hardly a chain store in sight, there are loads of independent shops thriving and even the County Hotel bar is busy with a pub quiz and a fine selection of craft ales. But I don’t have time to savour the Borders hospitality for long, as I’m taking part in a workshop on Scotland’s referendum choices.

It’s hosted by a neutral facilitator and we discuss our aspirations for Scotland. There are Yes, No and Undecideds in the room. Themes emerge over the course of the evening, with many of the No folk bringing up the issue of identity and Britishness, while others talk about UK clout in the world. It’s clear to me if we vote No no-one will pay much attention; if we vote Yes the world will notice and we will have a moment to be big and bold and do great things.

Friday

Apparently being big and bold and doing great things includes cutting taxes for an already undertaxed industry. It seems airlines liking the idea of paying less air tax is good news for Yes. World-leading climate targets, anyone? I said… Hang on. Is this my Groundhog Day?

Saturday

I inflict on myself a severe case of Leafleter’s Knuckle, delivering Green newspapers to some lucky householders in the Honest Toun. My legs are jelly by the end of the session; the constant up and down tenement stairs is agonising. I can’t wait to do it all again next weekend.

The sun is out, it’s the first of March and we go for a stroll on the beach with the Bairn. It does feel like we’ve turned a corner. Has winter passed us by? I feel like we’ve missed a good dump of snow. Maybe it’ll arrive in April or May, followed by a heat wave causing a huge flood. Hope springs…
 
Sunday

A luxurious long lie thanks to a late night at some friends where the Bairn and a buddy got to watch two whole Disney movies and the grown ups got to drink wine and play cards.

An impulse visit to the Deaf Dugs charity shop of wonder results in an astounding find. Now, shush! The Bairn and I are reading about Greenback’s evil plan to drain all the oil and cut taxes for big business…