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 café 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.




Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Doll-talker, Butterfly-saver and Margo-listener

Monday

To the office! Not unusual for me but a wee bit unusual for The Bairn. To help Wife-features and I do our jobs during Easter holidays and days when childcare isn’t available we use excellent facilities available at my work. This means I have to ride the bus to work and remember to talk to the little person next to me, as well as animate the toy she‘s brought for company. Normally my commutes are by bike and with only Today or GMS in my ears for company. I have to say, being forced to make one of the Bairn’s dolls talk is preferable to having to listen to regular updates about weekend football and city bypass traffic jams.

Tuesday

It’s the 1st of April. That’ll be why the tabloids (and the Telegraph) are full of hilarious stories about the referendum, all featuring Salmond’s face. Thank goodness they never conflate the two the rest of the time. Oh…

Wednesday

Wife-features ventures out for a rare evening of cinema-going. I assume it’s a documentary about knitting or a Jimmy Stewart retrospective but instead the missus comes back buzzing about Captain America and Jenny Agutter kicking “ass“. I fear she’s mixing with the wrong crowd.
 
Thursday

Cake smashing. Now there’s a thing. No, apparently it is actually a thing. Parents are paying good money to have professional snappers take pics of their babies making a mess of a huge dessert. I don’t want to be a complete party pooper but as Green Dad I should point out a billion people in the world are starving right now while a billion are overeating themselves into an early grave. I’m sure somewhere I have a photo of the Bairn looking messy and happy while scoffing a treat at Luca’s Olympia Café but it would never occur to me to stage manage such an event. Each to their own, I suppose.

Friday

A sad day. For large chunks of it I cannot speak. Margo’s gone. QVC’s biggest fan, Margo was brilliant both in the intellectual sense but also literally thanks to her astonishing fashion and taste for bling. I spoke to her several times over the last year at work, as she helped the Greens form a parliamentary group with John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, the SNP’s Nato rebels.

I always remember her questioning the quality of some of the larger parties’ backbenches. You shouldn’t come here half-cooked, she said. You have to be ready to serve. Margo’s mix of compassion and determination was certainly a recipe to envy.

Saturday

To Dundee! A city I almost worked in many years ago when approaching a junction in my journalism career. I still remember the job interview. The potential employer held court in baffies and a jogging suit. The building was a weird former factory full of stairwells, ducts and Jacques Tati-style piping. But it was not to be, and anyway the job I went for doesn’t exist any more.

Dundee’s got lots of roadworks, building sites and has a pretty hip reputation thanks to the games industry, comics and its bid for city of culture. The V&A is on the way but meantime there’s an old boat across four lanes of fast moving traffic, reminding me of that great video game Frogger.

Sunday

To the Shed! What feels like the first proper sunshine of the season prompts a bit of spring cleaning. I remove the burach of boxes and play things from the spooky garden shed and put them back in an orderly manner. In the process I rescue a lovely big butterfly stuck in a web with a spider closing in. Yes, I’m a real eco warrior.


Later on, a wee blether on the phone with my mum reveals I may have Margo to thank for more than recent sparky chats about independence and assisted suicide. Margo’s forthright phone-ins on Radio Forth were apparently regular background noise when I was a nipper. If even the tiniest hint of my learned contrariness is down to her, I’m eternally grateful.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Lunch with Darling, Scooter Mums and Bye Bye Deaf Dugs


Monday

A surprise luncheon with Alas-tair Darling. No, don‘t worry. I‘ve not been re-programmed as a Better Together bot. This was an event for hacks and hangers-on, or “Mr Andrews‘ Guest“ as my place card read.

I sort of enjoyed hearing the ex-chancellor’s line in banter and Nat-bashing, as it confirmed to me the doom and gloom at the heart of the No campaign. At one point the owner of the most famous eyebrows in politics said a Yes vote would result in an economic disaster more profound than Thatcher’s demolition of heavy industry. What a muppet.

Speaking of which, remind me to have words with Kermit. He’s gone a bit Robin Harper.

Monday ends on a high note, or rather a high child. The Bairn is buzzing after eating five illicit Tunnock’s tea cakes. To be fair, they are mostly air and in our house an unguarded chocolate biscuit is basically asking for it.

Tuesday

The best thing about cycling to work through leafy Joppa and Portobello around 9am is seeing mums scootering back from school drop offs on their kids‘ toys. Why is it never dads? Anyway, these Scooter Mums look happy if knackered. A parental equilibrium.

Wednesday

The chaos of Friday pick up is the focus of a plan by Wife-features. A reward chat is drawn up, with the promise of batteries for the Bairn’s camera and a temporary tattoo if she gets ready promptly in the morning, eats her tea and doesn‘t make a fuss on Fridays when leaving her friend‘s house. The Bairn whoops at the thought. Will she meet the required standards? We’ll see…

Thursday

A friend shares footage from Russia Today. It's always interesting to learn how other see us. The TV reporter points to a map of Europe with Scotland included in what he calls "hotbeds of separatism flaring up". I blame the small Yes badge I dare to wear on my cagoule.

Friday

The reward chart worked! The Bairn is extracted from New Best Friend’s with ease. Batteries and tattoos here we come!

Saturday

To the Pans! Green newsletters are distributed first thing to sleepy citizens. A thick haar envelopes the Cockenzie power plant towers, turning the sleepy atmosphere spooky. Back in the Honest Toun there’s a sense of sadness as it’s the last day of trading for the Hearing Dogs for the Deaf charity shop. The Bairn bags some books and we say good bye with a wee sniff.

Sunday

The marketing men say it’s Mother’s Day so Wife-features gets to set the agenda. We head for the Botanics and spend the day sauntering around the gardens, playing in the park next door and rummaging in the well-heeled charity shops of Stockbridge. I’ve never seen so much thick-gauge corduroy. We also pick up a DVD of Camberwick Green. Kermit the Frog may have allegedly come out for a No vote but I bet the entrepreneurial Windy Miller’s a firm Yes…