Sep 212012
 

Suzanne Kelly reports on the results of some important research presented at the recent Science Festival.

Aberdeen Science Festival had an amazing array of lectures, talks, trips and cabaret events which thousands of visitors enjoyed.

One of the more important issues covered was the very serious subject of second-hand smoke and its effect on children.  I took the  opportunity to talk to Dr Stephen Turner ( pictured ) of Aberdeen University and Rachel O’Donnell of ASH Scotland on a promising initiative to attempt to tackle this complex problem.

You smoke, or your partner smokes; you have a couple of children and a cat.  No harm in smoking around them in the house – just open a window and the smoke can’t bother them.  Can it?

You close the window when you’re done smoking.  You don’t smell much smoke and you can’t see any clouds of smoke at all, so there’s no risk to anyone.

The truth is that ANY smoke residue can definitely harm your children and your pets.  Smoke that you can see and other chemicals in smoke that you can’t see or smell are injuring kids.   About 85% of cigarette smoke is invisible.

You might not believe this to be true, but please remember the old ‘canary in a coal mine’ story.  Miners would take canaries down into the mines and if the bird suddenly died, either the oxygen was running out, or there was something dangerous, but invisible and scentless.  Things you don’t see can indeed hurt you and your children.

REFRESH is an intervention aimed at reducing the exposure children get to second-hand smoke which was presented during the Aberdeen Science Festival.  Dr Stephen Turner and Rachel O’Donnell were available to explain how they worked with smoking families when they did their research.  They were not trying to make parents stop smoking, but instead were making people aware what the consequences can be on children’s lives.  The full details are written in a paper called ‘REFRESH – reducing families’ exposure to second-hand smoke in the home:  a feasibility study.’

Families where young children were living with regular smokers were asked to take part in a study which would measure indoor air quality in their homes.  The personalised air quality data were presented to the smoker, then a motivational interview was held and positive solutions were suggested for cleaner, healthier air for the child.

There were about 60 Aberdonian participants in this study with each receiving four visits.  At the first meeting a questionnaire was filled in to get a picture of the household members and their smoking habits; saliva samples were taken for chemical testing and monitoring equipment was set up.  At the second visit the indoor air quality result was given to half of the households in addition to the motivational interview.

The chart below shows smoke levels in one study household.  

Any quantity over 25 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air space is harmful; the higher the figure, the more harm.

When the smoker was asleep, the levels dropped to non-existent.  When the smoker lit that first cigarette, the levels went up to between 500 and 950 micrograms of smoke in a cubic metre of air.

Throughout the day, the smoke lingered – even when the smoker assumed the room was clear of smoke.

This came as quite a revelation for the smokers.  Here is what some of them had to say:

“Seeing the results made a big difference.  It was like a shock because I didn’t realise.  Like I don’t sit here and smoke in front of my child, I do it in the kitchen, but for the readings to be high like that when I’m not like anywhere near it, if you know what I mean, it’s like a shock factor to realise what it can do.  So I think that’s the best thing that like helped me.”

“I showed them how high it was, and some of them was like – you’re  joking?  And I was like no…”

“For it (monitoring) to be done in your own home and for you to know that the level of smoke is so high and you’re putting your children at risk of asthma, emphysema, all kinds of things, it’s quite shocking.”

One comment in particular shows the strength of the motivational factor provided by caring about children’s health:

“For me I think my son’s health, that’s my priority.  So I would like to think that all mothers would think like that, that their kids come first no matter what.  My bad habits shouldn’t be put onto my child.  Because I can’t stop smoking doesn’t mean he has to suffer.”

After one month the research team revisited the houses, repeated the air quality measurements and, this time, gave all the households their results.  During the month the air quality had not changed in the houses where air quality data was not initially given but air quality had improved by more than one third where the graph was used as part of the initial motivational interview.

  personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational

The trial was not large, but its results show that a future, large-scale programme would be beneficial.  Like everything else, budgetary constraints are a factor.  The vast sums that the NHS has to spend treating smoke-related illnesses should be sufficient to show that prevention should be actively pursued as one solution to the smoking issue.

The study has shown that lay people can most definitely engage with science and can understand complex matters when it is presented using clear, audience-appropriate, audience-relevant formats.   Crucially, the personalised measurements of smoke in the home, while shocking, can also be very motivational.  As the paper concludes:

“…in almost all participating households, indoor air (quality) approached a threshold considered unhealthy, suggesting a need to reduce indoor air (quality) in many households across the UK, and that many people would benefit from such an intervention.” 

It seems that this combination of personalised data, positive suggestions and active participation of smokers might be the way to tackle smoke exposure to children.  It is hoped this small study won’t be the end of the matter.  The research goes on but, in the meantime, parents who smoke can create smoke free homes and smoke free cars to protect their children from the harmful effects of second hand smoke.

Smoking is still a social norm for many families but in the same way as drink driving and not wearing a seat belt are no longer acceptable, in future smoking will be considered as not acceptable by society.

PS for animal lovers -  according to Dr Turner, the incidence of feline leukaemia is twice as high in cats that live in a smoker’s home than for cats that live in a smoke free environment.

  •  Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Sep 072012
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

This year’s TechFest is bigger than ever before, and it’s not too late to catch a host of lectures, activities and events.  TechFest runs through Sunday 9 September at various venues throughout Aberdeen. Archaeology, Psychology, Geology and even Mixology get a look in this time around.

The Bill Bryson talk may be sold out, but there are still plenty of free events for people of all ages.  These include:-

  • ‘Is Access to Water a Human Right’ – Friday 15.30pm
  • ‘CSI – Fact or Fiction?’ – Saturday 10am
  • ‘Café Cosmos’ – Sunday 10am
  • ‘Looking for Leviathans’ – Sunday 1pm
  • ‘Multi-Track Mixing’ – all day Saturday
  • Festival Finale – Sunday from 7pm

Do check the programme for dozens more events, event locations (some free events may still require booking in advance).  Times may change; check with the organisers.  Or better still, wander up to the Spiegeltent on Aberdeen University Campus, and see what’s going on when you get there.  Details and booking:  www.britishsciencefestival.org

There is a festival bar at Elphinstone Hall, and other eating and drinking venues on campus.

Sep 072012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah looks at events over yet another vibrant and dynamic week in the ‘Deen. By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally Ho!  I hope everyone’s had another exciting week in  Aberdeen.

The Science Festival has kicked off, attracting visitors, scientists and lecturers from around the world.
It is most kind of them to visit Aberdeen– we have a garden that’s not at street level and we don’t have a web – we should be most grateful to them.

We should be grateful to BP as well, which is investing £100 million in the area.

Old Susannah discovered beer cocktails at BrewDog this past week.  They are gorgeous, and very enjoyable in these trying times.

I am amazed BrewDog chose to open its brilliant bar and factory in our area when we didn’t go for the granite web.  It’s almost as if the gardens were not a factor in their plans.

The more cynical among us wonder:  Would businesses really prefer operating here if we were £92 million in debt and had a giant city centre construction zone for at least a year?  If you listen to the SNP, some LibDems (funny, HoMalone doesn’t seem to be the charismatic leader we all thought she was) and ACSEF, then the answer is yes.

The petition to ask Sir Ian to spend his wealth to Africa instead of the web is now one week old.  Please do visit, read, and hopefully sign at www.gopetition.com/sir-ian-send-your-£50M-to-africa-as-promised   No doubt the mainstream press will take the story of this petition up any day now.  After all, our local papers wrote about the MASS demonstration planned by pro CGP activists when the figure was around 200.  Guess the Wood petition is about to be massive, too.

And massive and genuine thanks to Lush shops throughout Scotland; last weekend they raised hundreds of pounds to benefit Willows Animal Sanctuary.

Finally, Morris the Monkey has a new pal in Si the Seagull, new mascot for AFC.  Word has it that the fans are not necessarily impressed by this development, but I’ll wait and hear what Si himself has to say when he starts working for BiG and promoting the web.

On with a few definitions.

Union Terrace Effect: (modern English phrase, attributed to F. Wilkinson) – scheme in which powers that be allow a building, park or structure to decay deliberately, until such time as there is an outcry for a new replacement to be built- which is what the desired outcome was to begin with. 

Old Susannah heard this term recently, but can’t think of a single historic building, museum, school, terrace gardens or Tullos Hill that would fit this definition of something left to rot so it could be sold off / developed.  If I think of anything, I will let you know.

The Itemiser: (mod Eng noun) a portable particle scanner which can detect microscopic traces of a variety of substances.

We will all be safer soon!  Result!

traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note

First, we are considering building a giant ‘state of the art’  prison soon – yet another construction job coming our way!  Secondly, the police now have a portable scanner which can find particles on a microscopic level of things like cannabis (!) and hard drugs.

They plan to go from bar to bar and search people here and there, for traces of drugs.  Anyone who’s been in contact with these substances (except for politicians, the wealthy, successful creative types, celebrities, etc) will be thrown in jail – where tons more drugs and interesting career training opportunities will freely available.

There is just one flaw in this cunning plan of searching citizens for microscopic evidence of crime, and that is this little fact:  90%+ of all paper money in circulation in the United Kingdom has traces of cocaine and/or heroin on it.

Old Susannah can’t begin to imagine how or why that should be – but next time you buy something in a bar, use coins rather than folding money – or it might just be off to jail with you.

The Daily Mail was one of the many news media that reported the presence of drugs on currency; it wrote:-

“A senior analyst at the FSS, the largest provider of forensic services in the UK on behalf of police forces, says traces of the drug (cocaine) can be found on any bank note regardless of its geographical location.

It takes just two weeks for a new note to pick up the drug… “

Read more: http://www.dailymail/Every-British-bank-note-contaminated

So to sum up, anyone with traces of drugs on them is either:  a)  a drug fiend who should be locked up, and/or b)  someone who has £5, £10, £20 or £50 pound notes on them.  We will all be safer if these types are all locked up.

If anyone’s worried about any bothersome civil rights issues over this type of presumed guilt / mandatory search, infringement of freedom, they could always organise a protest.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.

Except that Gordon McIntosh is proposing to the Council that we get rid of such things as protests, or at best only allow them in the Castlegate, where any crowds can easily be kettled.  Thanks, Gordon.

Anyone suggesting his latest report (which also recommends charging groups for holding events in parks as well as banning protests) is over-stepping his remit will be locked up.

King Midas: (ancient Greek mythological figure).  Midas was magically transformed so that everything he touched turned to gold.

Witty Kevin Stewart is making a stir once again.  Back in the day, he told the people in care homes, schools, Choices, etc. that we all had to be ‘reasonable’.  Then he cut their services off and closed their schools.

ACSEF was of course allowed to flourish, city real estate was sold at bargain basement prices, and we wrote off millions of pounds in bad debts.  Reasonable indeed.

Kevin had a wonderfully clever sound bite this week, aimed at Aberdeen City Council’s web-rejecters.  For the benefit of those who have stopped reading it, the P&J wrote:

“MSP Kevin Stewart claimed the administration had an “inverse Midas touch” hindering future private investment in the city.”

As mentioned before, I guess someone forgot to tell BrewDog, BP and a host of other businesses about the hindering future private investment in the city.  But as painful as it is to correct him, I feel I must remind Kev the moral of the Midas story.

King Midas was not a bad man per se; but he loved wealth and lived for gold.  So far, so good – if you’re an ACSEF member.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment

As a reward for his kindness to a Satyr, he was granted a wish – he wished that everything he touched would turn to gold.  At first very happy to be surrounded by his new wealth, Midas soon learnt that he could not eat, as his food turned to gold.  Then he touched his daughter, and she turned to gold as well.

Kevin Stewart forgot part of the legend when making his brilliant comment.  Midas realised his folly in thinking gold and wealth was more important than the environment, living creatures and of course his own daughter.

Midas was cured of his lust for gold, and once cured of the Midas Touch too, he retired to the countryside to enjoy nature. It was almost as if something in life was more important than wealth creation.  Ultimately, the moral of the Midas tale is that the environment and people are more important than gold.  How backward-looking is that?

I’m sure that this ending of the story would horrify our average Chamber of Commerce member, who would gladly have brought their golden daughter to a pawn shop to flog as scrap metal.

In an uncharacteristic slip, neither Kevin nor our local press found time to mention that Kev was on the City Gardens Project Management Board when writing about Labour having the Midas touch in reverse.

Some people might think his connection to the project is relevant to his attack on Labour, but that would just be jumping to the conclusion that a person on a board of a project would want the project to go ahead.   (And that would be as silly as assuming someone in a football supporter’s club might be biased towards the football team).

You might expect this service-axing champion of the people to advise fiscal restraint now until we truly got on our feet again.  You might even think he’d advise restoring some services ahead of web weaving.

No, Kev would prefer us to borrow £92 million on this real estate speculation which he supported as a board member.  (Note – I suppose I should just call it ‘TIF Funding’ like the professional reporters do; if you call it ‘funding’ rather than a ‘loan’, it sounds better and safer, doesn’t it?)

Amnesia: (noun; medical term) forgetfulness; loss of memory.

Isolated pockets of amnesia have hit our business community, press and government.

these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

Kevin forgot to flag up his direct involvement in the CGP project when he criticised Labour for cutting the web.  We’re told by ACSEF, pro CGP politicians, the Evening Express and the Press & Journal that the future is all gloom and doom, and no businesses will come here without the web.

They say we’re ‘closed for business’, we’re ‘frightened’, we’re ‘embarrassing’.  (It’s not that we’re being environmentally-friendly, economically prudent or aesthetically intelligent – no, we’re in the wrong if we don’t want the golden web).

And yet as recently as February of this year things looked so much better.  This is what the Press & Journal had to say back then:-

“Aberdeen is in prime position to help drag the UK economy out of recession, experts revealed today.

“The city has more start-up businesses than anywhere else in Scotland and will suffer fewer public sector job losses than anywhere else in Britain, says a new report.

“Aberdeen was named as one of five cities which Cities Outlook 2012 said was well-placed to aid recovery from the current economic gloom.

“Last night industry chiefs said the Granite City was an ideal location for new firms to flourish.”

I guess that is only true if we have a web though.  Either that or these ‘industry chiefs’ and our press forgot how rosy things looked earlier this year in a moment of mass forgetfulness.

We’re also being told by the guardians of accuracy, PriceWaterhouse Cooper that we need to attract 122,000 people to work in Aberdeen’s energy sector in the next ten years.  Funny, the £71,000+  they earned from web-related consultancy doesn’t get much of a press mention either – yet more amnesia, I think.

So amnesia-wise – Kevin and the press forgot to mention his involvement with the CGP when he attacked Labour; PwC forgot to mention in the press the money it made over the web so far when supporting it, and the media forgot its reports earlier this year as to what a great future Aberdeen has.

Do I think these people and institutions are possibly dishonest, scheming, colluding, corrupt or greedy?  Certainly not – I just think they have selective amnesia.

Additionally, BrewDog and BP forgot that the city cannot survive without the Granite Web when they committed to the area.  Yes, amnesia is at epidemic proportions.

And there we shall leave it until next week.

PS  very best wishes to Declan Michael Laird for his film premier; have a great time tomorrow night and a good trip back to LA. 

  •  Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Mar 092012
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

Organisers of the Denis Law Soccer Tournament, which replaced the longstanding Aberdeen International Football Festival last year, are looking to cement the financial future of the event with the formation of a ‘Friends’ group comprising 200 members.

Scotland legend Denis, the Patron of the DLST, is passionate about the tournament.

“Sport and in this case, football, forms an important part of a child’s upbringing and I firmly believe the experience and enjoyment that kids get from this event in my home town will stay with them forever. The organisers need your support to be able to sustain this worthy cause and I would urge you to become a Friend to ensure it can continue as an annual event. I look forward to seeing you at some point during the year to thank you personally.”

And everyone who signs up at £200 per annum to become a ‘Friend’ will get the opportunity to do just that as there will be ‘Friends of DLST’ reception at Aberdeen Sports Village, hosted by Denis himself.

In addition, Friends will receive recognition of support within the tournament programme, venue and website, a quarterly e-newsletter and entry into a prize draw for a complimentary team to be included in the DLST corporate football event.

This year’s tournament will take place at ASV between July 16th and 21st with action at 16 and Under and 14 and Under age groups.

Anyone wishing to become a Friend can pay via BACS, cheque or debit card via the ‘Friends of DLST’ link on www.aberdeensportsvillage.com or by contacting ASV Events Manager Fiona Cardwell on 01224 438926 or fiona@aberdeensportvillage.com

Feb 172012
 

Last Saturday, 58 members of The Aberdeen Chorus of Sweet Adelines headed south to Edinburgh to take part in their second audition for this year’s version of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. With thanks to Linda Allan.

Having had very positive feedback from some of the programme’s producers in the first audition in the autumn,  the ladies were ready to brave the “fearsome 4” judges as well as a live audience in the magnificent Festival Hall.

The Chorus added some more polish to the ballad “At Last” and donned their “Black and Sparkle”  ( some of the visitors to the Kinross Service Station car park will never be the same again!).

The day passed in the Festival Hall with photo and video shoots, interviews, warm ups, run-throughs, wee glimpses into the Hall at some of the other acts, lots of chat, and endless trips to the facilities to check apparel and make-up – all of this punctuated regularly by the most awful foghorn sound of the dreaded buzzer bursting through from the stage.

As the day wore on and the programme schedule slipped further and further behind, it became quite clear that this Chorus was not going to see the Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen again till well into the “wee sma’ oors” – about 3:30am for some of the ladies!!  Never mind – more time to eat another snack, have another photo shoot on the staircase – and watch some performing dogs being interviewed and getting their costumes put on for their act.

There was time too to serenade the (very enthusiastic) public at audience change-over times with some Chorus songs.  It has to be said that the BGT crew members and Festival Hall staff were extremely pleasant, helpful, positive and encouraging, despite what must have been an extremely stressful day for them too.

A visit from the very pleasant and charming Ant and Dec added to the excitement

Then – at last – the intrepid songsters were escorted down endless flights of stairs, along miles of corridors, past mounds of cables and whole forests of cameras and microphones till arriving behind the curtain of the big stage where acts, comments from the judges and the scary buzzer could clearly be heard.

There they stood in excitement for – ages – along with a flea circus, 4 lycra-clad Scottish pipers in rather dubious pink, blue, and green all-in-one skin tight costumes, a very nervous singer experimenting rather gingerly with a microphone, and some curiously clad individuals with strange accents and weird instruments.

A visit from the very pleasant and charming Ant and Dec added to the excitement, as in between various stages of their duties, they ran the gauntlet of the rows of waiting ladies “high-fiving” as they went!  There was also to be more chat and filming with the duo just before going on stage, and later on some of the ladies of the chorus were able to pose with them for photos and autographs at the stage door.

So then – at last (again)- the culmination of the day – an entry on stage to a packed auditorium and the ‘fearsome 4’. There was some further filming, with some questions from the judges to the Director of the Chorus Gwen Topp and the Chorus President Debbie Pern, and then the ballad “At Last”.All judges acknowledged the technical expertise of the Chorus, and the polish and quality of the singing

So how did it go?  The Chorus sang extremely well. One judge liked the Chorus, 2 judges liked the song “At Last”. One judge commented on the lovely involved faces.  All judges acknowledged the technical expertise of the Chorus, and the polish and quality of the singing. In the end two voted for the Chorus to go through, and two voted against.

  As with everything the Chorus undertakes there are valuable opportunities for learning.

Because the judge who had the casting vote in a tie-breaking situation had voted against the Chorus and had in fact used the buzzer, the Chorus will not be going through to the next stage. The genre of music, in which the Chorus excels, was unfortunately simply not to their liking. They simply did not get it!

How does the Chorus feel?  As with everything the Chorus undertakes there are valuable opportunities for learning.  The experience gained from the preparation for the event, the process of being involved in performing at such a big event and dealing with uncertain procedures and ever-changing timelines is very valuable for any performer, and plays an important part in developing performing skills.  Listen, learn, and move on!

What now??  The Chorus will continue to work for the next important events in its calendar, including visits from international coaches and preparation for the annual competition in May in Birmingham.

Tribute must be paid to GwenTopp, Chorus Director and Debbie, Chorus President, for their work both in preparation for the event and also for their magnificent handling of interview questions at the various sections of the day.

Both succeeded in giving heart-felt, eloquent responses which went a long way to promoting not only the Aberdeen Chorus and The World Wide Organisation of Sweet Adelines, but also the value of singing in a group as great fun, a wonderful hobby, a promoter of well-being and a source of support and friendship to those who take part. This message has the potential of reaching many thousands of people, should the clips be televised.

Jan 272012
 

One of America’s biggest stars, Rosie O’Donnell, has admitted to millions that she was “moved to tears” by the hit feature documentary You’ve Been Trumped when the film’s director was the main guest on her show last week.

Footage of what the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) described as filmmaker Anthony Baxter’s “violent arrest” was broadcast across  America for the first time.

The broadcast prompted scores of outraged viewers to hit Twitter and Facebook to voice their anger at the actions of Donald Trump, the Scottish Government and Grampian Police.

On The Rosie Show, Baxter revealed how Freedom of Information requests made by the Sunday Herald have only heightened concerns that Grampian Police “have been acting like Donald Trump’s private security force”.  He also accused the force of carrying out a “whitewash cover up enquiry’ into his arrest.

The arrests of Baxter and his colleague Richard Phinney whilst making their film in 2010 prompted fierce criticism from the NUJ. The union described the police’s actions as “a breach of human rights” with “important implications for press freedom”.  

Meanwhile, O’Donnell is urging Americans to watch what she describes as “an amazing film”. She admits to crying during the scene where hundreds of people walk across the bulldozed dunes of the Menie Estate, to show of support for local resident Michael Forbes, accused by Mr Trump of “living like a pig in a slum”.

You’ve Been Trumped will be screened again in Chicago on 22 March, prior to its being rolled out for screenings in Europe as well as in Washington DC, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Arizona and other major American cities.

Clips from The Rosie Show…
http://www.oprah.com/rosie/The-Rosie-Show-Rosie-Takes-on-Trump

You’ve Been Trumped has won a total of eight international film festival awards

WINNER: Starz Denver Film Festival, USA
WINNER: Take One Action Film Festival, Scotland
WINNER: Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, Michigan
WINNER: DaKINO International Film Festival, Bucharest
WINNER: Hamptons International Film Festival, New York
WINNER: Edindocs Film Festival, Edinburgh
WINNER: Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival, Nevada City
WINNER: Sheffield International Documentary Festival UK

Michael Moore hand-picked You’ve Been Trumped for his Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan where it won the Special Jury Prize. It is now well on course to be the most successful cinema feature documentary ever produced in Scotland.

Dec 152011
 

With Christmas fast approaching and people hitting the city in droves this weekend – why not pop into our lovely city gardens in between the present hunting for a truly festive event.  Iain Richardson writes re. this Saturday’s Winter Festival at Union Terrace Gardens to celebrate prize art work by city children.

The winners of an art competition for children will receive their prizes at a Winter Festival in the centre of Aberdeen this Saturday, 17th December.

Christmas-themed artwork by Aberdeen school children will be on display at the event in Union Terrace Gardens on Saturday 17th December 2011, between 1pm and 3.30pm.

The Winter Festival will feature the Bon Accord Silver Band, carol singing, Yousedancin ceilidh band, Santa, Cairngorm reindeer, and free festive food and drink.

Dorothy Bothwell, retired Head Teacher and member of the Common Good Aberdeen group, who organised the event, said:

“We’re just thrilled at the response to the competition. The children’s art is stunning and we’ll be displaying as many of the 300 or so entries as we possibly can on Saturday, as well as handing out prizes to the winning children”.

The prizes for the winning Art Competition entries in each of three age groups will be presented to children at approximately 1.30pm on Saturday 17th December, at the Arches in Union Terrace Gardens.

Nearly 300 entries were received from primary schools and individual children in and around Aberdeen.

For further information, contact:

Dorothy Bothwell:      01224 583451
mrsb_cafe52@hotmail.com

Iain Richardson:        07833 453961
iainrichardson@ieee.org

 

 

Dec 012011
 

By Bob Smith.

Here comes the Retail Festival
Cooched in glossy Christmas cheer
Spen spen spen the shops cry oot
Their merchandisin moves up a gear

Maun we owerspen at Christmas
On presents aat leave us skint?
Mony fowk are left in debt
So aat shops can mak a mint

Christmas time itsel a fear
His lost it’s freenly glow
Fowk tryin to see faa can hae
The dearest presents on show

A sma present ti faimly members
There is nae hairm in iss
Bit keepin up wi the Joneses
Is some fowks idea o bliss

Hunners o poonds they are spent
On presents fer aa yer freens
Kids yammerin fer the latest
Toy or game shown on TV screens

Hotels an restaurants filled ti the brim
Yet their prices are ower the tap
Faan wull aa iss madness eyn
An prices wull stairt ti drap

Faimly Christmases used ti be
A time ti visit an hae a blether
Yet ti sit aroon the table
Nooadays fowk they dinna bither

The festivities noo a fear
Hiv naething ti dee wi the 25th
It’s aa ti dee wi consumerism
Spenin dosh on expeensive gifts

In case ye think a’m a scrooge
Tak time ti stop an think
Fit’s the purpose o aa iss spenin
Ither than bringin ye ti debt’s brink

It’s time fer a revolution
A time ti say stuff yer stuff
Resist the aa empowerin persuasion
Pit the retailers in a huff

Celebrate Christmas? Of coorse we shud
Yet think fit shud be deen
Raither than buy a material gift
Jist present yersel as a freen

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”
Image Credit: © Sergey Sundikov | Dreamstime.com

Nov 172011
 

As part of Edinburgh Folk Club’s Carrying Stream Festival, an annual celebration of Hamish Henderson’s life and legacy, Will Kaufman brought Hard Times and Hard Travellin’ – The Songs of Woody Guthrie to the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. Fittingly, this was on Remembrance Day. Voice’s David Innes attended and reports in.

Joe Klein’s masterly Woody Guthrie biography and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath set the benchmark, as far as this reviewer is concerned, in documenting the US Dustbowl phenomenon, its resulting human tragedies, scar tissue which continues to disfigure the increasingly-hollow American Dream.
There is now, however, a new source of information, a 21st century interpretation of those hardest of times and of the hushed-up and damped-down radicalism which ensued.

Will Kaufman, a New Yorker who enjoys professorial status in American Literature and Culture at the University of Central Lancashire, has published Woody Guthrie, American Radical, in which he focuses on Guthrie’s radicalism and political activity, reclaiming this wiry, uncompromising American cultural icon as a champion of the oppressed, from the sanitised public romantic notion of Guthrie as a hick Dustbowl minstrel.

Kaufman is no stuffy, dusty, robed academic though. His love of Guthrie’s song canon and keen appreciation of Woody’s entertaining establishment-baiting writing and broadcasting has seen him take to the road and publicise his book and interpret Woody’s songs through live documentary.

Live documentary? A Macbook, an open-tuned Martin guitar allied to Kaufman’s expansive knowledge, dazzling digital fingerboard dexterity and sonorous singing voice made his visit to Edinburgh Folk Club a mesmerizing experience. Bringing a Macbook into a folk club shows that Kaufman himself is as radical as the subject of his show.

He describes Woody’s timeline, fleshing out this skeletal summary with contemporary 1920s and 30s pictures and social and political history of those times. Guthrie’s songs are the backbone of the performance but Kaufman draws on other songs of the era to illuminate further the hardship and hostility endured by Dustbowl refugees and those radicalised by inequality and authoritarian brutality. He encored not with a Guthrie song, but Steve Earle’s Stetson-doffing Christmas In Washington:

So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now

The presentation is not without criticism of Guthrie, however. Kaufman counsels those who have yet to read his subject’s autobiographical Bound For Glory to “set the bullshit detectors to maximum” and ensures that Woody’s less-savoury proclivities are not ignored in a haze of hero homage.

To be as academically and musically gifted as Kaufman demonstrates he is, yet to remain as honest and true and entertaining as evidenced by the live setting, are comradely qualities that Woody Guthrie himself would surely have appreciated.

Woody Guthrie, American Radical by Will Kaufman is published by The University of Illinois Press and is available by contacting nickesson@combinedacademic.co.uk or by telephoning 01494 581601. We’ll see what we can do about reviewing it in Voice.

Oct 212011
 

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly was present to witness Wayne Hemingway give a talk to a full house at Robert Gordon’s Business School on the evening of 5th October. The audience was a wide mix of students, lecturers, design practitioners, businesspeople and others (Hemingway kept asking the audience questions to determine who was there, and he tailored his presentation accordingly).

Mr Hemingway gave an illuminating, bespoke talk.  My only criticisms were that the lighting engineer had no clue what type of lighting was appropriate for a slide/video presentation talk where people wanted to take notes (the lights went on and off, up and down for most of the second half), and that those who plan to forever change Union Terrace Gardens weren’t in evidence.
They might have learnt something.

If you think the Hemingway family (Wayne and Gerardine) are associated solely with fashion and the iconic ‘Red or Dead’ brand, you are missing some very important developments – housing developments to be precise.

Wayne saw a very clear need (which alas many planners and construction firms miss) to create places where people would actually want to live, socialise, landscape, play and be proud of. But more on that later.

Hemingway began the talk with his own life and design history.

In his early family years in Blackburn, his family was not wealthy; they valued creativity and imagination. He was on the music and clubbing scene from age 13 or so, and was enthralled by all he saw and heard in these early heady days of punk. He met his future wife and business partner Gerardine in a club, and was impressed with her clear passion and talent for clothes and customising vintage wear.

They got engaged, headed to London, and did typical day jobs (she as a secretary; he in a pub). One month things looked tight for paying the rent, so they decided on the entrepreneurial path and took a stall in Camden Market to sell their own second-hand, vintage clothing. This first outing proved so successful (and I assume enjoyable) that they put their efforts towards buying second hand clothing to sell. They delved into the world of  ‘the rag trade’ literally – buying goods otherwise destined for recycling from the ‘shoddy’ yards.

Few were touching vintage or second hand at the time, and the popularity of their stall grew and grew.

They soon learnt marketing tips such as the importance of where the stall was located in Camden. The now iconic Doc Marten boot was adored by the punk world, but elsewhere just seen as workers’ footwear. A clever deal with Doc Marten saw the duo buying old, damaged DMs in quantity (where the soles were worn through), repairing them (with a family member’s repair solution and friends to help), and selling them on for a considerable profit. The business grew and grew.

Gerardine created a small line of clothing – there were only eight pieces in the whole line – and headed to the very cool Kensington Market to join other designers and artists selling work.  Of all things Macy’s of New York found her there, and placed an order for 200 of each item. With some help from  several friends and relatives who could sew  they were able to fill the order. Out of this growth and interest, ‘Red or Dead’ came to life.

 Wayne had bought a large number of non-working sample watches; these were used to decorate shoes.

An older man in the trade asked Wayne ‘What does Red or Dead stand for?’ In the ensuing conversation this man explained how different brands were clearly aligned to aspirations and values: Weetabix, Nike, etc. – all major brands had a ‘raison d’etre’. Wayne and Gerardine made a list of things they stood for themselves – they were politically active, they came from areas without expensive, fashionable designer wear, they valued creativity and bought affordable items themselves.

It was clear they wanted Red or Dead to be affordable designer clothes. In deciding this they reached out to a sector of the public which had long been ignored. (They also realised that Macy’s did not fit with this direction).

The Red or Dead lines were to be sold through Top Shop (1983) and Miss Selfridge. Topshop at that point used to have no designers – only buyers and “copiers”.  These days it uses established and graduate designers, and the flagship London store also has a vintage section, perhaps a nod to ‘Red or Dead’.

At this time the pair had started paying attention to London Fashion Week, which was still at the time primarily an affair for the affluent. But the ‘powers that be’ at London Fashion Week had noted Red or Dead’s ascent with disdain.

The Hemingway’s dealings with Topshop and Miss Selfridge actually prevented them  from showing at London Fashion week for there years. The Hemingways had ‘demeaned’ fashion, and fashion ‘is about Harrods and Harvey Nicols.’  Or at least this was true to a Fashion Week mandarin.

This rebuff did not hurt Red or Dead sales in the least.

One year when the French were conducting nuclear tests and protestors were demonstrating against the tests around the world, London Fashion Week saw some drama courtesy of Red or Dead. “Non a Nuclear” banners provided the backdrop to the Read or Dead collection and French buyers were banned from the RoD show (which accounted for about a quarter of the buying audience normally – this exclusion was a considerable financial gamble).

Wayne explained he and Gerardine were willing to lose this custom in favour of making a political statement and appealing to and showing solidarity with the environmentalists – a growing movement in terms of visibility and economic power. What was going to be the public, media and market reaction to this show? The Hemingways went home.

Watching the national news some hours later, an item opened with a protest outside the French Embassy at Trafalgar Square.

Then the news item cut directly to the Red or Dead Fashion show.

All the media had picked up the story – and the phone started ringing. Wayne and Gerardine were being summoned that same night to talk to the press – the story of their show had veritably gone global.

Sales increased some 400% around the Red or Dead shops (which by now were in many countries). Corporate takeover advances soon came, and the Hemingways decided to sell. It was time for another adventure.

Wayne had interspersed this biographical talk with some sage business advice – the willingness to take risks, the way in which he delved deeply into the workings of the fashion industry from the lowly shoddy yards to the high end and London Fashion Week; all of which contributed learning experiences leading to success. (And by the way, apparently he is a very early riser, proving there must be some truth in the old ‘early to bed, early to rise…’ adage).

Wayne tells the audience:

“You learn absolutely every day; you need an ability to graft; there is never a day I get up after 5am.

“Creative minds don’t switch off… it’s how you get those ideas realised – graft and recognising which ideas can work… you need friends and good minds behind you.”

He also said without any false, unnecessary modesty how good he and Gerardine were at putting excellent teams together.

Turning from fashion to architecture and housing was the new direction. Boris Johnson had asked Wayne to be a ‘London Leader’, which involved working with the Mayor on a voluntary basis on projects and ideas to make London better.   At this point the talk turns from fashion history to the future of our cities.

“We’ve allowed our High Streets to become ‘clone’ High Streets.”  Hemingway says, and no one can argue with that.

He discusses his contribution to Boris Johnson’s project, which was ‘KiosKiosk’ – moveable, affordable (need I say it – well-designed) designer boutiques on wheels, seen at various London icons such as the Wheel.  These offer young designers a chance to meet the world head on – and since a stall at Camden Market is now extremely expensive, this offers others the kind of break the Hemingways had at the start.

Hemingway also applauds the model of ‘pop-up’ shops and restaurants, which have taken London by storm, and which have reached Aberdeen (for instance Emma Noble’s and Toni Roddie’s S.T.A.G Studio events at Korova – 19 November).

Hemingway references an article he wrote, “Why I Hate The Creeping Suburbs” in which he describes the Wimpeyfication and ‘Barratification’ of Britain.

The issues surrounding ‘urban sprawl’ are now recognised by the United Nations (as well as by most serious, thoughtful local planners); our ecology and biodiversity are not all that is at stake – our very health is jeopardised by the cities and suburbs over spilling into the countryside (increasing asthma and heart problems come with increased pollution; obesity from lack of exercise as we all commute to and from the cities to work, alcoholism increases, and so do social problems).

As a designer who has identified a problem does, Wayne decided to ‘look inside’ the issue, ‘see what he already knew’ about housing, and propose solutions.

He showed poignant photos at this point – a fairly new housing development which clearly looked more like a prison or factory; a beautiful Victorian pub turned into a block of (very unattractive, compact) flats, and a Liverpool street which once offered small, good first homes, now earmarked for high-rise flats.

He cautioned that mortgage companies (which could have provided mortgages for people to fix and modernise the existing homes on that Liverpool street) are dictating the state of our housing by what they will lend money for.  They seem to favour mortgages for new properties and turn down those who want to refurbish and improve properties.

The old Victorian homes may leak carbon, but they have been around for one hundred years, and thus have less of a carbon footprint than the alternative of tearing them down to make flats.

Wayne has designed housing estates which have very few, if any, equals in the UK.

There are leisure spaces for families (sand, trees, tables, different levels, etc. – some of the best design work he ever did, he tells us), and community gardens.  No one vandalises these (or the outdoor communal Ping-Pong table) because everyone’s families had a hand in creating and designing them in the first place.  The design for these estates started with people first and what they wanted and liked – the actual housing came second to the people.

Wayne ends with some great footage of his and Gerardine’s ‘Museum of Lost Content’ (a home for vintage design which might otherwise be forgotten) and the Vintage event – a massive ‘happening’ (for lack of a better word) held last year at London’s Southbank.

This festival combines decades of design and fashion, iconic music, bands, events and everything that celebrates Britain you can imagine in one place.   It was attended by thousands.  As words fail me, I suggest you visit http://www.vintagebyhemingway.co.uk/ and let the design do the talking.

Wayne also discussed photos he has of an Aberdeen estate; there are signs prohibiting virtually every kind of activity a child (or adult) might want to indulge in, including the dreaded ‘ball-playing.’

Question time arrives, and I am dying to ask for a comment on the future of our Union Terrace Gardens then and there.  However I decide that once the designs are unveiled, I will contact Hemingway.  I have no doubt he will have something useful to say after tonight’s talk.  It was a valuable and thought-provoking evening, and I was glad for this glimpse into ‘Wayne’s World.’