Feb 142013
 

This article  by Jonathan Russell is dedicated to Bill Knight, relentless campaigner and founder and Chair of Grampian Senior Citizens Forum,  a great example to us all. Bill Knight died on February 7th aged 92.

The crisis in care for the elderly is a national one, both at UK and Scottish levels.
Aberdeen has a particularly worrying situation due to high employment and a high cost of living which means that there is a shortage of the low paid staff who do this outstanding and highly undervalued work.

We have an increasing ageing population. Policies like free personal care – though good in themselves – have led to an increased deficiency in other resources to support the elderly.

Aberdeen used to have a home care service which was second to none but what has happened here, as in all parts of the UK, is that the majority of services have been outsourced to private companies who pay less and often provide poor support to their workers.

To have 13 companies providing care is also highly inefficient in covering a city the size of Aberdeen. We have a situation where all these companies are trying to provide services across the city. This is madness. The culture has changed from one of providing services to rushing round to find services of any kind.

The introduction of individual budgets, again aimed at cost cutting, will further complicate this process. We have to ask ourselves: do we value the elderly in our society and the staff who care for them ? Are we willing to increase taxation to pay for services that provide good value not only in terms of money but in terms of care?

We need to create a management culture and direct service culture which is about service and services that are localised rather than spread out around the city. More localised services allow greater flexibility in terms of need and less time would be wasted in the form of travel.

The problem is primarily a national one and has been avoided for much too long. Aberdeen has extra challenges and no doubt local politicians and staff do their best but without increased money and a change in the way we are providing services we are heading for an ever increasing problem with disasters on the way.

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Jun 282012
 

Gubby Plenderleith, our Special Correspondent for Arts, Culture and the Media, reports on the ground-breaking pilot for a new reality TV show.

It’s forty four years since Andy Warhol first forecast the future in which everybody would be famous for fifteen minutes.
That future has well and truly come and while not everyone has achieved fame, the current crop of reality TV shows has ensured that far more people than ever have realised a degree of celebrity that could never have been envisaged in 1968.

But while reality TV to date has favoured the younger members of its audience – the Club 18 to 30 of society if you like – production company Endthemall is currently piloting a show where the stars will all be senior citizens. 

The idea of the show is for a group of pensioners to share a house for two weeks, with a range of tasks, treats and penalties being administered by ‘Big Daddy’ in order to see how they interact.

The working title for the show is Grandad’s House and, having been lucky enough to be invited to view some of the footage which has already been recorded, I offer you below a taster of what we can expect to see when the show is aired nationwide.

6.13 pm     Bill and Gladys are tidying up in the kitchen.  Rose prepared the tea tonight – sausage rolls and alphabetti spaghetti – and is now fast asleep on the couch beside Tom, who’s slowly packing the few remaining strands of what’s still left of this week’s Tam o’ Shanter into his pipe.  Meanwhile, in the boys’ bedroom, Jack has stretched out on the top of his bed and snores gently, the gentle rhythm broken only by the occasional expulsion of flatulence.

6.42 pm     Bill and Gladys have finished in the kitchen and gone into the garden.  Bill’s trying to play bowls, but the chickens keep escaping from their pen and cluster around the jack.

Maggie, who’s been trying all week to get one of the boys to hold his hands out in the regulation manner in order that she can wind her wool, has given up and sits quietly on the deck area.

6.59 pm    Matt, the oldest person in the house, is telling them all again how old he is.

“We know you’re 93,” says Tom, “you’ve told us every hour of every day since we’ve got here!”

“Have I?” asks Matt and tells them again.

7.02 pm     The Housechums, having successfully completed this week’s task – staying in bed until 7 o’clock on at least one morning – are putting together their shopping list.  Gladys is again lobbying for an extra bottle of Sanatogen Wine, while Matt reminds everyone that the ten cartons of Steradent they ordered last week have already run out.

“It’s not funny when you get to my age,” he says, “I’m 93 you know!”

7.05 pm     Matt tells the Housechums again that he’s 93.  Tom swears under his breath and passes wind.

7.11 pm     Jack appears in the living room and tells everyone that there must be something wrong with the drains.  They ask him why and he tells them that there’s one hell of a smell in the bedroom.

7.14 pm     Maggie shuffles into the living room and asks if anyone knows where the Rennies are.  Jean, who’s been sleeping quietly in the corners, wakes up tells her they’re where they always-bloody-are!  Maggie asks her where that is and Jean tells her she knows damned fine before nodding off again.

Matt starts to tell her about a sergeant named Rennie who was in the Black Watch with him, but she tells him not to start and waddles off to the girls’ bedroom.

7.21 pm     Matt asks Gladys if it’s time for tea yet and Jack tells him they’ve already had their tea.  Matt asks him what he had and whether he enjoyed it.

7.27 pm     Big Daddy tells the Housechums that, as a special treat, they’re to be allowed to watch Coronation street tonight.  Maggie and Gladys both tell everyone that it’s their favourite programme and how that Gail Tilsley’s no better than she should be.  Jack says it’s a load of pish and Matt starts to tell them how old he is but falls asleep before he finishes the sentence.

7.34 pm     Gladys, Maggie and Jean sit watching television when Bill wanders in from the garden and ask them what crap’s on the telly now.  They tell him that Big Daddy is letting the Housechums watch Coronation Street as a special treat.

Bill tells them that the only reason he came into the Grandad’s House was to get away from bloody Coronation Street, bloody East Enders and bloody Emmerdale.  They tell him that he missed out River City and he tells them that it’s the best bloody programme on the bloody telly and how he’s always been interested in boats and sailing before going back out to the garden.

7.42 pm      During the commercial break Jean goes into the kitchen to put the kettle on while Jack and Tom get up to go to the toilet.  Maggie asks them where they’re going and, when they tell her, she reminds them that this will be the third time they’ve gone in the last hour.

Matt tells them how convenient his colostomy bag is.

7.57 pm     With Coronation Street finished, the Housemates hope that Big Daddy will let them watch the next programme but the screen goes blank.

8.02 pm     The Housechums have returned to compiling this week’s shopping list.  Maggie and Jean are discussing the relative merit of two different brands of pork luncheon meat, while Jack tells them not to get any eggs as he’s been bound for the last five days.

8.13 pm     Bill comes in from the garden and announces that he’s going to his bed.  The Housechums all agree that this is an excellent idea as they’ve got to be up early in the morning and join him.

Clearly Endthemall have worked their particular brand of magic again and we can look forward to yet another example of the kind of reality TV that has made British broadcasting what it is today.

 Image Credit:  © Frenk And Danielle Kaufmann | Dreamstime.com

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Feb 102012
 

By Bob Smith.

“Fred the Shred”’s nae langer Sir
He’s bin strippit o his title
Noo jist a plain ex bunker
Wi views nae langer vital
.
Reduced eence mair ti the rank
O a mannie in the street
Bit still he his mair millions
Than fowk ye’ll likely meet
.
Wull the chiel be maist pit oot
Nae langer bein ca’ed Sir ?
Is stem cumin oot his luggies?
Is oor Fred in a bit o a birr
.
Forced ti chynge his letterheids
Titled stationery wull disappear
An cardies sayin he’s a Sir
Wull be chuckit on the fleer
Noo spare a thocht fer Fred
There’s lots mair o his creed
Titled gadgies linin their pooches
Wi the proceeds o great greed
.
Anither Goodwin we aa ken
A bank – bit een o sand
As notorious as oor Fred
Fer “shipwreckin” oot o hand
.
The puir mannie’ll hae ti learn
An iss he micht weel dread
Fin ask’t fit his name is
He’ll hae ti say “jist Fred”
.
.
.
©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image © Alexandr Denisenko | Dreamstime.com
Dec 152011
 

Aberdeen Voice presents An Aberdeen Christmas Carol – A work of fiction, with apologies to Charles Dickens, by Suzanne Kelly and Fred Wilkinson.

The Characters

(any resemblance to anyone living, dead, or somewhere between the two is purely coincidental and not at all a deliberate attempt at parody.  This is a work of fiction and of Saltire satire )

Ianeezer Scrooge                          Old, wealthy miser, lacking in compassion but loaded with greed
Gruff and MeKeachruns                Servants to Scrooge, supplying his needs
Jenny Crawl                                   Companion to Scrooge, with whom he feeds
Jacob Milney                                  A Spirit – Once partner of Scrooge, now doomed for his deeds
Bruce the Robert                           A Spirit of Christmas Past, with Scrooge he pleads
ASIF                                               A Spirit of Christmas present, transparent indeed
Hoodie                                           A Spirit of Christmas future – but will Scrooge heed?
Spencer for Hire                             A waiter
Steve Peters Lord Provost             A dignitary
Kevin                                              An errand boy
Mr Mickie                                        Scrooge’s employee, head of a large family
Tiny Tim Mickie                              Youngest of the Mickie household
Katie Dee & Kevin Dum                 Washerwomen

  *                                              *                                              *

The careful shopper kept one eye on his purse and the other looking upwards, for the gigantic Christmas lights hung over all, like the giant orbs from ‘The Prisoner’, and were prone to falling, crushing the occasional small child or pensioner.

The pubs were filled with young ladies and gentlemen drinking eggnogs and Babycham.

The first snow would soon fall, and Christmas cheer was everywhere.  Well, almost everywhere.

A car drove towards an office block; not just any car, but the town’s very own Civic Car.  This chauffeur-driven car was the envy of all, and in it sat the Lord Provost Steve Peters himself, and the town’s wealthiest man, Ianeezer Scrooge.

“Listen Peters, I’m a patient man, but if construction doesn’t start soon on my Scrooge family car park and shopping mall, someone’s going to find less cash in their Christmas stocking this year – get the picture?”

The speaker was Scrooge, and although his voice was calm, he was turning a reddish colour.  Peters shook his head and rubbed his hands.

“Everything possible is being done – we have our best people ah, ‘volunteering’ to work on the project night and day.  Soon the Denburn Park will be officially yours.”  Peters answered Scrooge with a slightly nervous voice, for there had been far more opposition to this plan than was expected.  The public it seems did not want a little patch of ground turned into a car park.

This piece of ground had been given centuries ago to the people by the famed  hero king of old, Bruce the Robert.  A statue of him astride a trusty steed stood outside the newly-cleaned (and gutted) Marshall Academy building which now housed the city’s staff.  The Denburn Parkland was the property of the people, gifted to they by King Robert, but if Scrooge wanted the park, well, then he must have it.

Teams of lawyers toiled day and night to find some clever way to make it all work. The brilliant, peerless lawyer MeKeechruns could not have been more helpful.  Loopholes were exploited, companies set up, and there very best man, Berry Gruff was one of the lead figures making it all fall into place. ‘ If only the people would stop protesting!’ the Lord Provost thought.  ‘The wife’s on at me for some more designer jeans, and her clothes are costing a fortune.  Guess it’s all on expenses anyway, but still.’

“I want progress soon, understand!  You do want to stay Lord Provost, I’m sure, and all those other councillors know what side their bread is buttered on.  Get me a progress report tonight.”  Scrooge said matter-of-factly, as the chauffeur opened the door and Ianeezer Scrooge alit at the Scrooge Building.  He entered the doors, thrust his hat and coat at his assistant Mr Mickie, and strode off to his office, Mickie trotting at his heels.

“Have you written those letters yet?” Scrooge asked “They need to be out to James Brown at the funding office forthwith – but do send them second class – first class stamps are going up again.  And who turned the heat up in here?  I’m paying for this you know.”

Scrooge’s pet project depended to some extent on a funding application.  A Mr James Brown was in charge of the funds.  Most of Scrooge’s employees and lackeys had been set the task of writing to Brown, saying what a great project it would be and that funding must be granted.

“Oh, I’m sorry” said Mickie, “I’ll turn the heat off straight away.  Yes, I’ve written to ask for the funding for the Denburn project in my own name, in the names of all my wee children, including Tiny Tim, and as myself for all the companies you’ve put me in charge of – in name only of course” he added, seeing  Ianeezer had raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’m out to lunch” said Ianeezer – and Mickie thought that was true enough.  “Have you made reservations for me ?  I’m taking Jenny Crawl out to the Clifmar for a nice long lunch.”

“Oh yes sir, everything is in place; do have a nice –“ but before Mickie could finish Scrooge was off again.

Mickie knew he had to work hard and do as Scrooge told him.  He had all his children to think of, including poor little Tiny Tim who needed a crutch.  Not only did Mickie work for Scrooge, he had to hold down several other jobs and even work at the local pharmacy to make ends meet.  If only things went Scrooge’s way, then no doubt Scrooge would pass some money onto Mickie as well – at least Mickie hoped so.  For Scrooge had pledged to leave the project millions of pounds, and hinted that those nearest to him would likewise be remembered in his will.

Across town Scrooge was peering at the lovely Jenny Crawl over the wine list.

“Is there anything else I can do for you sir, anything at all?  Just let me know, I’m your man.”  The little waiter, Spencer for Hire addressed Scrooge with great respect.  He too hoped to be a beneficiary of the as-yet unseen largess of Mr Scrooge.

“That will be all thank you Spence.” Jenny replied.  She was a tall stately woman with long blond hair.  She had worked her way up through the ranks and was now in the inner circle of Scrooge’s trusted business associates.  She worked long and hard helping Scrooge fulfil his dreams of seizing Denburn Park; it was after all the most desirable piece of real estate in town.  Of course they told the public that everything that Scrooge did was for their own good.  The truth was something else altogether.   If they could only turn this unprofitable bit of land with its trees, grassy banks, birds and flowers into a parking lot, they would become even richer.

They passed a pleasant few hours over caviar, champagne and fine foods.  Suddenly Scrooge felt unwell.  His head began to swim and his stomach ached.

“Jenny my dear” he sighed.  “Not feeling all that well, perhaps I had too much stilton and port.  Going home for a lie-down.  See you later I trust?  Just sign the bill for the project, it was a working lunch after all.”

“Dear Dear Ian” she said; she called him by his shortened name “you must go home and lie down at once!  We mustn’t let anything happen to you!”  She genuinely looked alarmed.  How she must care for him, Scrooge thought.

Before he knew it, Jenny and Spencer for Hire had bundled him back into his limo -  he thought they mumbled something about a will –  and he was being driven home through town.  It was twilight.  The moon shown over the Denburn Park as the limo drove past.  A shadow crossed the moon and for a moment, Scrooge thought he heard a moan.  The car then stopped at traffic lights at the Academy building, just by the Statue of Bruce the Robert.

The moonlight danced on the statue and as Scrooge froze – the horse lifted his hoof and the great Robert leaned forward and pointed at Ianeezer.  Scrooge closed his eyes and rubbed them – and when he opened them, there was the statue as motionless as it always had been.  ‘I must not eat any more of those funny chocolate brownies Katie my cleaning woman makes.  Trick of the eyes.’ He thought to himself.

As he arrived at the Scrooge mansion, his servants Katie D and Kevin Dum were at hand to help him into the house.  He ordered his faithful lackeys to bring him his dinner in his room; he would watch television in his bed and get an early night’s sleep.

Some funny programme was on, some old film called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  Scrooge stopped to watch for a few moments.  In the scene that was playing, a young man called George Bailey was talking to a wealthy man called Mr Potter.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

Ianeezer Scooge couldn’t quite fathom what was wrong with the young man, and thought that the Mr Potter character seemed like an admirable fellow.

Just then a gust of wind caused a tree branch to tap on the window at the opposite wall.  The noise caught Scrooge’s attention and he turned.  For a split second he thought he saw the statue of Bruce the Robert again.  A feeling of dread crept over him, but then the moment was gone.  Scrooge gradually drifted off to sleep.  He though of Christmas and how much it would cost him in holiday wages.  ‘Christmas!  Bah Humbug!’

Scrooge had a troubled, strange sleep.  Waking with a start he noticed the room glowed red in the dark.  ‘what the hell is that irritating red light and how is anyone supposed to get any sleep with it on’ he thought when suddenly he realised he was not alone.  He clutched the bedclothes and sat upright, heart pounding.

There to his horror was a hideous figure – bald and short in stature with an undefined, characterless face.  It wore a red football jersey marked ‘AFC’.

“Ianeezer Scrooge!  It is I, your former business partner  Jacob Milney come to warn you!  Mend your ways, or you too will be damned for all eternity as I am!”

“Milney – is that you?”  Scrooge could not believe it – there stood the ghastly apparition which looked exactly like his former business partner Jacob Milney.  Poor Milney had blotted his copy book.  First there were some funny dealings with the city and a queer land deal. Then Milney alienated the people by buying their city champion curling team, and running it into the ground.  People whispered that Milney did not really care for curling at all, and simply wanted to grab as much land as possible.  True enough – and Scrooge in the old days felt a paternal fondness for Jacob Milney.  But as the tables turned on Milney and he lost credibility and got into trouble, Scrooge quite rightly cut him off.

“Er, look here Milney, I’m hallucinating right?  You are just an undigested bit of cheese aren’t you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I’ve been called far worse,” said Milney looking at the floor and shaking his head sadly “Ian, I have been sent here tonight to warn you – you must give up your greedy ways.  Three spirits will visit you this night to show you your past present and your terrible future if you don’t get off the path you are on.”

“What’s that thing you’re wearing?” demanded Ianeezer “and what makes you think I’m doing anything wrong?

At this Milney let out a ghostly long wail.  “For my greed, dishonesty, destruction of green spaces and miserly treatment of the curling club, I am forced to glow red in the dark like the stadium I built in the nature reserve.  I must wear this long chain.  It is made from all the trophies and silver that the curling team could have won had I not treated it as a real estate vehicle.  And believe me, this is a pretty long chain.”

Jacob shook it for effect.

“Learn from my greed and turn back.  Pay your UK taxes.  Stop getting rid of green space – and above all:  YOU MUST NOT BUILD THE MONOLITH.  My time here is ending.  I return to my punishment – I am forced to read the fan website and all the newspaper articles denouncing my stewartship of the curling club.  Ianeezer….,,”

Milney seemed to shrink to an even smaller shape than he had been in life, and with a final moan (which Ianeezer was used to from their long years of association) he was gone.

“Phew!” Thought Scrooge “If that was poor old Milney, he’s really lost his business sense.  But it was only a dream.  No more Brewdog ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ for me before bedtime.

He rolled over and soon was sleeping again, but not very soundly at all.

*                                              *                                              *

Somewhere far off a horse whinnied and steel crashed against steel.  Scrooge sat up, and there was the great heroic figure of Bruce the Robert.

“Get up ye wee futtret!”  Robert demanded.

“Now look here” Scrooge cried ” Don’t speak to me like that, dead hero or not!  I’m Ianeezer Scrooge – or Mr Scrooge to you.”

“AAARRGH!” Cried Bruce the Robert, swinging his huge sword close to Scrooge who seemed to regret his earlier rudeness.  “Ah’ve focht bloody battles tae win the lands Ah hae noo – but fit aoot yersel? A’ you’ve ivver daen is stan idle watchin rival firms struggle, an’ like a hoodie cra’ pick their banes fan they’re ower puggled tae fecht back.

“Ah dinna ken why Ah should gee ma bahookie ower sic a grippy flechbite as yersel, but somebody hid tae come ower an gie ye a bollockin, an’ as ayewis, it wis left tae Muggins.

“Hemen, ye’ve mair money than ye ken fit tae dae wi, an’ still aye yer needin mair. Ah’m tellin ye noo tae cut it oot!

“Ah ken fit it’s like tae a fair puckly siller. Ae time Ah could hae went onywye an daen onythin Ah likit. Twis naebody’s business fit Ah did wi siller Ah workit for. But Ah gaed awa! ‘At’s richt, glaikit as it micht soun’, Ah gaed awa ma siller tae ornry workin fowks…. an as lang as Ah’m still kent as the Big Bob, fit Ah gied tae the fowks will bide wi the fowks. D’ye underconstumble?

“So if you as much as pint yer finger at ae tree in the fowk’s perk at Denburn, Ah’ll come doon on ye like a ton o’ bricks.

“Noo Ah’ve heard ye bumpin yer gums aboot gaein yer siller awa tae fowk, but dinna kid yersel, the Aiberdeen fowk are nae blin’, an’ they’re nae as feel as ye think. So fit is’t yer buildin onywye? Ah’ve haen a lookie an’ Ah’ve nae seen siccan a sair sotter in a’ ma puff. Fit’s wi’ the muckle gless worm thingmy? Are ye wise??”

“Clearly”  Scrooge replied, “You just don’t understand this wonderful gift I’m giving the people.

“There will be underground parking, shopping, ramps to walk on, a monolith, and a great big covered space to sit in.    It is the way to ensure our economic future, and people will come from afar to see this wonderful site.  And spend money.  There will be jobs creation, vibrancy, dynamism.  It is a focal point for the civic heart of the city which – “

“Haud yer wheesht min!” interrupted the ancient hero’s ghost forcefully  “Div Ah look like a gluepot? Div ye think fowk are feel enough tae believe the tripe comin oot yer mou? Div ye believe it yersel min? If ye dae, then yer mair o’ a neep than Ah taen ye for. Ah’m tellin ye yince mair min jist in case the penny hisna drapped. That perk is tae bide the wye it is … so snoot oot -  or ye’ll ken a’ aboot it.

“Richt, Ah’m awa noo, but mind fit Ah telt ye.”

“Is your time on this earth up?” asked Scrooge “You see, if you could just understand why we need to build these ramps and monoliths, then –“

“Nah, ma time’s ma ain” the Robert growled, prodding his finger into his chest “But the verra sicht o’ yer soor coupon is daein ma napper in, so Ah’m aff. But Ah’ll be clockin ye. So get a grip ye grippy git. Yer needin tae heed the wise or wise the heid. Itherwise min, it’s tatties!”

And the ghostly horse reared; the Robert charged the window, and was gone into the night.

“Hm… I guess I believe in ghosts!” Thought  Ianeezer – “Hmph!  It’s easier to believe in spirits than in any of this public relations ‘vibrant and dynamic’ nonsense – whatever that means.   I just want that land, some parking, some shops and of course a statue to ME, which the grateful populace will insist is built.  But the spirit was right – perhaps I need to do some more thinking about this project.”

Scrooge shook his head up and down with satisfaction before plumping his pillow, and laying down again.

*                                              *                                              *

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!”

The television was still on – these words woke Scrooge up, and he rubbed his eyes.  The room was filled with a fuzzy glow.  There was some kind of shape in the room, cloudlike with little form.  It however spoke in a girl’s voice.

“Hi there!  I’m ASIF, the ghost of Christmas present!  But you can call me Jan.” the thing said.

“What are you?  I can’t figure out what you’re supposed to be?” Scrooge asked, turning his head to one side.  The thing existed, yet he could see straight through it but could not tell what it was.  It kept changing.  Truly this ghost was vibrant and dynamic.  At one point he thought he saw a big translucent worm.  Another moment and it seemed to be either a big spiderweb or a great big square block.

“You should understand” the voice said “for you are creating me.  I am ASIF, your project.  I’m not exactly defined yet – no one – not even you  – knows what I will look like.  You only know that you want me built, and you hope to have a statue of yourself – like the statue of Bruce the Robert.  I am here to show you the truth of Christmas Present.  You will see what your actions have created in this city for people this very Christmas night.  Now come with me.  Take hold of my robe and you will be uplifted in more than this.  Whatever that means.”

“Now hold on Jan” said a sceptical Scrooge.  “I had Milney in her not long ago pretending to be some kind of spirit – just the kind of silly caper that gets him into trouble every time.  Why should I think you are ASIF, some kind of a ghost?”

“Well, I’m fully transparent aren’t I?” ASIF answered.

“Very well spirit, show me what Christmas looks like this year.”

They flew out the window.  And this is what they saw.

They saw a homeless man shiver in the cold, mourning for his friend who had frozen to death earlier in the week.  They saw bulldozers tearing into the remaining countryside; they saw other green fields nearby.  They saw some people suffering, and others feasting.  They saw pensioners and people with special needs trying to make do.  They saw crumbling NHS hospitals and closed down schools.  They saw poor ailing Tiny Tim Mickie sitting in a corner of his room, writing letters at his dad’s bidding to James Brown, begging for the Scrooge project to go ahead.  They saw the happy, the sad, the rich and the poor.  Then they saw the richest man in town’s mansion, and it was Scrooge’s.

“All those people with all their hopes and dreams.  All of the land being built on, leaving animals without shelter, space or feeding ground. All the suffering.  And yet Mr Scooge, here we are back at your billionaire pad with its comforts and servants.  Does this teach you anything at all?”  The spirit asked.

“Yes, indeed it does.  Thank you ASIF.  I have learned much.”  Scrooge answered thoughfully.  “But what are those two child-like figures clinging to you, hidden under your robes?”

“Fear them Scrooge” answered ASIF “the little boy is Ignorance; he is what happens if schools are closed.  The little girl is called Want, and what you waste in a day could save her.”

“Would I get any tax break if I make a donation?” Scrooge asked.  The spirit pretended it hadn’t heard this question.

“I shall leave you now, and another spirit will soon appear to show you the future.”ASIF said.  With that, the ghostly shimmery giant worm thing was gone.

“I shall make use of what she showed me.  I shall change” Ianeezer thought. “And now I await my last spectral visitation.”  He sat on his bed, and noticed the movie was still playing.  It felt as if this night was never going to end, yet if the movie was still on, only moments had passed.

*                                              *                                              *

A wild wind was blowing; Scrooge’s windows were thrown wide open by an invisible force.    Before the spectre, who was wearing a hoodie that covered its face entirely could speak, Ianeezer began.

“Look, I know who you are and why you’re here – let’s see the future, for I’ve been given much food for thought tonight.  Time’s money, let’s get a move on.”  The spectre grabbed Scrooge’s arm and they flew forward in time.

They  were still in Scrooge’s house, but according to the calendar some 20 years had passed.  Two old haggard ladies were arguing, and the draperies were closed around Scrooge’s bed.  They were his faithful servants, Katie D and Kevin Dum.

“I’ll have that for all the years of suffering I’ve endured.” Said one of the washer women.  She was grabbing a casket of silverware.

“Fine – take that, I’ll get the old fool’s fillings from his teeth!” said the other scrubber.  More voices were heard, and the two washer women scarpered.  Soon a party of lawyers, councillors, and the lovely Jenny Crawl dressed head to toe in black entered.  They all sobbed.

“See spirit!  See how they miss me!” said Scrooge, who realised it was his deathbed they were seeing.  He felt most proud at this outpouring of grief.

“Bollocks!” said Jenny.  “After all those  years of crawling, the old bastard not only didn’t leave money to the Denburn project, he’s  not left me more than an old photo of himself!  The nerve!”

“Years I printed what I was told, and more to the point I didn’t print what he didn’t want out.  And it’s all been for nothing.”  A man with a folded up newspaper under his arm simmered angrily.

“My project, my beautiful project!” said Gruff “who’s going to pay for it now!?  Hundreds of millions of pounds are needed, or the city will go broke.”

“I thought I had all the angles covered,” wept MeKeechruns “I’m usually so very, very brilliant!”

The miserable party railed at the dead man.  “Show me no more of this!” cried Scrooge.  He blinked and found himself at the home of his servant, Mickie.  Tiny Tim’s crutch lay along against the fire place.

“Where’s Mickie’s son Tiny Tim?” asked Scrooge

Before the spectre of Chrismas Future could answer, the Mickies entered the room.

“My poor wee Tim!” cried Mrs Mickie “Who would have thought he could die from writer’s cramp?  It was bad enough he  had to bombard James Brown with letters demanding that the funding for Scrooge’s project be granted.” She sobbed, “But it was just too much for wee Tim to have to also forge all those referendum ballots too.  Ah, my poor boy!”.

Scrooge and the spirit were suddenly in the fresh air, in the middle of what seemed like a party.  It was the Denburn Park, but not as Scrooge remembered it.  A giant steel skeleton with smashed glass panes lay to his left.  A giant huge monolith with no windows stood nearby.  A schoolboy threw empty bottles of Buckfast off of a giant concrete ramp covered in graffiti.

On a stage under the ramp, Status Quo played to an audience of OAPs. Groans intermixed with the sound of car engines emanated from the oversized Monolith.  It bore a sign that read “The Ianeezer Scrooge memorial Monolith – parking, shopping and children’s Workhouse.” But all were rejoicing as overhead a grafittied monorail limped to a halt.

“He’s dead!  He’s DEAD!” they all cried, raising glasses of latte or vodka overhead.  Scrooge did not want to know who’s death the rabble were cheering – he had his suspicions.

“Spirit, show me no more.  I have learnt my lessons well.  Thank you.  I promise I will make changes!”  And with these words from Scrooge, a bolt of lightning blinded him for a moment.  Then, he was in his own room again.  The calendar showed he had returned to the present time.

Scrooge was much changed by what he had seen.

*                                              *                                              *

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends”

Incredibly, the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was only just now ending, although Scrooge felt his ordeal had lasted several nights not hours.  Scrooge sat straight up in bed, and the sunlight streamed through the window.  He laughed out loud.  Throwing on his robe he raced to the window, still laughing, and threw open the sash.  A boy was visible nearby.

“You there boy, what day is this?” Scrooge demanded.

“Why sir, it’s Christmas day!” the puzzled lad answered.

“Then a merry Christmas to you!  See this twenty-pound note?” Ianeezer asked, waiving a bill in the air

“Yes Sir!” answered the boy

“Go and fetch me the biggest turkey in the whole town!” Scrooge commanded

“Dean, Fletcher or Malone?” asked the lad

“Ho ho – smart lad!  Fetch me them all! – and Gruff and MeKeechruns as well!” Scrooge answered, and disappeared from the window.  “Much to do today!  Much to change!” he thought to himself.

In a little under an hour later, a somewhat disgruntled motley crew of councillors, officials and others connected to the Denburn Park project found themselves in Scrooge’s drawing room.

“I’ll bet you wondered why I called you hear today” he asked.  A chorus of “we are happy to be here, and ‘merry Christmas sir” greeted him.

“I’ve been thinking about the project, and have a new suggestion or two – believe me, these changes are very forward looking.” Ianeezer  announced.  The assembled great and good replied ‘fantastic!’ ‘can’t wait!’ and so on.

“We’re going to electrify the worm, and throw anyone in prison who touches it.  Now the monolith idea – what if as well as underground parking we put in a workhouse? We’ll save money putting the kids in workhouses and closing more schools.  Do you think that will be possible – I mean think of the labour saving and government grant possibilities!”

There was a moment’s silence “Well, are you with me – remember the money I’m leaving in my will!” Scrooge said with a hint of threat.

“Astounding!” “Visionary” “Vibrant!!” “Dynamic!”  “Inclusion!”   the buzzwords he so loved rang out across the room.

“Merry Christmas  – now back to your homes.  Jenny – stay for a drink won’t you?”  A shadow seemed to cross her face for an instant, but it was gone.

Ianeezer Scrooge was a happy man indeed, and remained grateful to the spirits to the end of his days.

“Please sir – the twenty pound note?” asked a wee boy in the back of the great drawing room.   “Yes, here it is” Scrooge said waving it, “And if you do me another favour sometime, I’ll show it to you again.”

Amid the approving nervous titters of the council bigwigs, the boy was shown the door.

Somewhere far away, an icicle formed under the eye of a bronze statue of a former king of Scotland.

THE END.

Dec 092011
 

Students have opted to end their nine day occupation of Aberdeen University offices. With thanks to Aberdeen Defend Education Campaign.

Around 50 students occupied Aberdeen University offices on Regent walk from Monday 28th November in protest against education cuts.
The aim of the protest, organised through Aberdeen Defend Education Campaign, was to demand that university management resist cuts to staff jobs, to decline any bonus offers, and to make a stand against the Government’s economic policies.

Aberdeen Defend Education Campaign issued the following statement:

“We have taken the decision to end our occupation of the University Offices on Regent Walk, and we do so in good spirits and having achieved a lot.

“Over and above the concrete concessions we have been given by management, the occupied space served as a venue for people to genuinely challenge the direction of Higher Education at a much more fundamental level. Through dozens of lectures, talks and workshops we have aimed to foster a culture of debate and critical thought. As well as this, we have also firmly put issues such as pensions, college funding and bonuses on the agenda and the importance of this shouldn’t be understated.

“Management have committed to raising concerns around reforms to the USS pension scheme. They have also committed to breaking down the culture of secrecy and unaccountability around bonuses and senior staff remuneration. Lastly, they have made clear their belief that the state should be and should remain the primary funder of education and that the enormous cuts we have seen to colleges have been unfair.

“We are clear that there is still much to be done, but the concessions we have gained from management and the bridges we have built with staff and trade unions put us in an excellent position to continue this fight in the new term.“

Dec 012011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was, who said what to whom about what, and wonders what Saint Andrew would have made of it all.

Happy St Andrew’s Day! Old Suz is having haggis and whisky, or ‘swishky’ as the man at the next table is calling it. St Andrew’s Day reminds us of our national identity, more on that later. I read that Aberdeen is climbing up the list of ‘best places to live in the world’ and has reached the dazzling height of No. 52.

Well done everyone! And that’s before we get our glowing stadium at Loirston or our giant glass worm. We’ll be number 51 in the world before you know it.  Apparently factors like our low crime level feed into how the ratings are calculated. Congratulations to us all for living in this desirable paradise.

These statistics may or may not include the small minority of people who aren’t rolling in dosh like most of us are. The statistics on crime may or may not be being ‘massaged’ – after all, the top brass get nice bonuses if the crime levels are low. How could I think such a thing? Well, the newspapers this week may have something to do with it.

We’ve had a charming man just sent to prison; he kicked a four-year-old child in the head. Fair enough, they had been having an argument apparently.  You know what these toddlers can be like.

Another similar humanitarian’s gone down for 3 years for robbing children of their pocket money and jewellery, threatening to ‘slash’ some of them. The fact the victims were boys, girls and an autistic person just show that this particular thief was running his business in a non-discriminatory way.  He should be congratulated really. To be even more inclusive, this particular robber tried putting on a ‘Scouse’ accent.

Perhaps his career is inspiring to young people – a nine year old’s been caught stealing a car as well.  You’re never too young to learn.  I wonder if he at least brought a child safety seat on the job with him?

We’ve had older people robbed, conned and abused. Yes, in our 21st Century world, Aberdeen is the 52nd best place to live.  I’d say ‘safe as houses’, but we’ve had burglaries and fire-raising in the news as well.  Still, statistics don’t lie, and if there are experts who say we’re no. 52 in the planet, who are we to question it.

I heard something about some disruptive elements holding something called a ‘strike’. I just hope this won’t affect our place in the world quality standing. I can’t for the life of me see why anyone in such a highly-ranked city would have any reasons for unhappiness, although frozen salaries, cut pensions, closed schools, closed recreational facilities, cut school lessons, cut services and cuts to care homes might play a small role.

Someone should look into this.  Maybe if we just all looked at the brand new festive lights on Union Street, the rest of it wouldn’t matter so much.

That nice Mr Jeremy Clarkson had a solution for these ‘striking’ workers – he apparently said on air that he’d have them all shot in front of their families.  He thinks they get great pensions.  Please be a bit patient and don’t judge Mr Clarkson too harshly.  He’s got to work for a living, and probably only has a modest pension to look forward to.

It is not like him to be intolerant of other people, and as it’s the season of good will (or is it the season of ‘buy one get one free’ – I can never remember), let’s let Jeremy off the hook. We should be more tolerant, like he is.

Perhaps it’s time for some definitions.

Nationalism: (noun), The belief that a person or thing’s national origin is its most important and most defining characteristic.

Incidents of racism and nationalism are on the rise – not just in the UK at large, but here in 52nd best city, Aberdeen. Still, it’s important to remember just how important a person’s nationality is. If Donald Trump hadn’t reminded us that he has a granny from Skye, we might not have given his development the wink and the nod.

Pretty soon we’ll have the number one golf course in the world near the 52nd greatest city: it will be like paradise on earth. Believe it or not, on my mother’s side I can trace my direct ancestry all the way back to King Duncan, King Alexander and St Margaret of Scotland.

Armed with this information, I intend to ask Alex Salmond to give me privileges as well.  Maybe someone will even sell me some land in Westhills for a fraction of its value. National origin is where it’s at.

Of course if someone’s not Scottish, it’s OK to discriminate against them and you can always tell someone’s national origin by looking at them.

We know what a pure Scottish person looks like because of their Scottish characteristics. These Scottish traits come from the Egyptian princess Scota (for whom the country may be named). They also come from the Phoenicians who sailed here, the Celts who came here and the Vikings, Danes, and Norsemen who raided now and then. These pure Scottish traits also come from the Picts, and the Romans (whatever they may have done for us).

Later on continental settlers from travellers and sailors to kings and queens came from the continent. St Colomba came from Ireland, and the movement of people between Ireland and Scotland was massive. So yes – be proud you’re Scottish. After all, it’s not like a Scot is some kind of foreigner or something.

We could learn a lot from that nice lady on Youtube who had a wee bit of a go at foreigners coming over here to live.  It’s only been going on for three and a half thousand years or more as far as I can tell.  The lady in question is now helping the police with their enquiries.

St Andrew, for those who didn’t know, came from Galilee, and was Jewish-born convert to Christianity.  He had this crazy idea of preaching his religion (something to do with ‘turning the other cheek’, loving one another, and so on) to people in every country he could manage to travel to.

He travelled extensively in Europe and is also revered in half a dozen countries and the Greek Orthodox Church.  No doubt he’d be proud of the nationalism that seems to be taking hold of a few people here.  What he’d say to the giant worm or the monolith plans for Union Terrace Gardens is another matter.

Aberdeen Citizens Party: (noun) A facebook site with some 35 friends.

A wide range of rather strong opinions can be found on this site.  The Citizens Party is against Halal slaughter of animals (so am I).  It is all for capital punishment, and says that since 80 percent of people (really?) want the death penalty brought back it should be done.  I guess if a few innocent people get killed like happens in the USA, then the families can be given some kind of compensation payment. Fair enough.

This page is apparently run by one Patrick Wight; I’m told he has some form of hilarious act wherein he pretends to be a camp homosexual hairdresser named ‘Patrice’.  I really must catch that some time (perhaps around the time I want to define ‘tolerance’ more fully).

Old Susannah was surprised to read this on the Citizens page:

“Lets hope that a campaign of direct action can save Union Terrace Gardens and prevent the environmental damage which is to be inflicted upon it by Ian Wood and his yes men. The right to protest peacefully is a fundamental part of our society. We tend to forget that many of the human rights we cherish today are a direct result of protests by ordinary people who were prepared to go onto the streets ..”

I of course don’t want anything to stand in the way of Stewart getting his much-needed parking spaces, and Ian getting his eventual statue.  However, I found the above just a little bit of a contradiction to what a Patrick Wight wrote to Aberdeen Voice:-

“Message:
Not affiliated to any political party?
Your having a fcuken (sic) laugh!
Your promoting the day of action rally by the political left and the unions who want to wreck economic recovery and cause public misery across Britain.”

So – a protest is fine, but not a day of action rally by the unions.  I can’t quite work out why we have unions anyway, since we’re number 52 in the world.  It might have had something to do with workers in the past not having great rights (or any rights).  It might have something to do with the infamous New York City sweatshop fire in the Triangle building–  all the workers had been locked in and none escaped the fire.

But that was then and this is now.  Public sector workers have ‘gilt edged’ pensions; Jeremy Clarkson said so.  Let’s all get behind the Aberdeen Citizens Party and protest against the gardens, but complain about unions having a day of protest.  Makes sense to me.

Next week:  more definitions, including ‘slacktivist’ – someone who likes the idea of supporting a cause, as long as it doesn’t mean doing anything much.

Nov 242011
 

With thanks to Brian Carroll.

Teachers, Local Authority Workers, Civil Servants, Community Organisations, Pensioners, Anti Cuts Alliances and members of the general public will be taking part in a Rally on Wednesday 30 November 2011 at 12 noon in the Castlegate, Aberdeen, as part of the National Day of Action.

It is expected anywhere between 2.5 and 3 Million Union Members will be participating in Strike Action against the Government’s Pension Proposals, as well as in support of Civil and Public Sector jobs and services.

This rally has been organised by the ATUC and is being supported by all Unions affiliated to the ATUC as well as by other organisations who support the ATUC.

Consisting of members from Unions such as Unite, Unison, GMB, EIS, PCS, CWU, UCATT and others, the rally will also have representatives from Community Organisations, Pensioners, Anti Cuts Alliances and members of the public taking part. This event will be the culmination of the National Day of Action in Aberdeen, with thousands of Union members having taken Strike Action and hundreds of Union Members having manned picket lines from 6am or earlier.

Speakers will be from Local Branches of National Trade Unions, representatives of various local community and anti cuts alliances and public service users.

Commencing at 12.30pm with people gathering from 12 noon, The Rally will end some time between 1pm and 1.30pm.

Everyone taking part has the common aim of working together to:

  • challenge poverty levels and campaign for the fair and equitable redistribution of wealth across Scotland and the UK
  • campaign to protect those hardest hit by service and benefit cuts
  • challenge austerity and call for investment in the UK economy which will create jobs, put Britain back to work, therefore boosting the economy and cut the deficit
  • protect pay, pensions, jobs and services of all civil, public and private sector workers
  • challenge the government to collect the £120 Billion tax gap of evaded, avoided and uncollected tax
  • get the banks working for the benefit of the country, to free up opportunities of investment, for them to start paying back the bail out money and to use the £850 Billion of banking assets the UK Taxpayer now owns for the benefit of the country as a whole.

They say that “we are all in this together” but the bankers and owners of big business are still getting their multi-million pound salaries and bonuses and the majority of the cabinet are millionaires.

The top 50 of the wealthiest people in the UK saw their personal worth increase by 35% in the last 2 years whilst middle and low income earners saw their income fall by at least 15% in the same period. It will fall by at least another 7.5% in the next year, if the Cuts agenda continues.

Jobs and services being lost now, will be lost forever !

Wednesday 30 November
Castlegate, Aberdeen.
Commences: 12.00 noon.
Ends: Between 1pm and 1.30pm. 

Jul 012011
 

In a week where the media have been vilifying public sector workers taking strike action to protest at government cuts and pension changes, little coverage has been given to alternative proposals for dealing with the UK’s economic deficit. Patrick V Neville gives his views.

On June 30 we visited two picket lines and attended a meeting of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to understand their feelings on cuts in public services and to show support for the workers who, against the wishes of the government, organised strike action.
Needless to say, PCS members we spoke to felt unhappy about our nation’s financial situation.

If the full cuts proposed are implemented, one in every five public service jobs would be lost, adding further to the UK’s unemployment rate. Not only could there be fewer jobs, but those who will still have a job available to them face cuts to their pension schemes.

Each worker in government pension schemes could see their contributions doubled or even tripled. To the best of my knowledge, this extra money contributed will initially end up in government funds – but with rising poverty, corporate tax avoidance and evasion and rising prices of consumer goods, will there even be money available for pensions in a few years time? If so, will the cost of living become too expensive for the average person to survive?

Investment in jobs and public services must be in place if we desire a future free from poverty and we could avoid the majority of public services cuts if we take the right course of action.

Corporate tax loopholes are estimated to be costing the tax payer £25 billion a year.

Since moving its headquarters to Switzerland, Boots has reduced its annual tax bill from £100m to £14m, a saving enough to employ 4000 NHS nurses.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/dec/11/boots-switzerland-uk

Rather than closing tax loopholes, we are making cuts in the public sector.

Billionaire Sir Philip Green is to advise the government on how best to plan for the cuts, rewarding himself hugely in doing so. Sir Philip is the owner of the Arcadia retail group which includes Topshop, Topman, Burton, BHS, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge. The company is registered in the name of Sir Philip’s wife Tina, who resides in Monaco and therefore pays no UK income tax. This arrangement has allowed the Greens to save around £300m in UK taxes.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/03/topshop-philip-green-tax-avoidance-protest

Tax evasion and avoidance aside, who have we bailed out?

The Royal Bank of Scotland was rescued with £45 billion of public money. This represents over half of the £81 billion planned in cuts over the next four years. Rather than being allowed to stay open, the bank should have come to terms with closure.

Public spending cuts are more damaging, and minimising them and their effect is more important than encouraging risk-taking bankers to carry on trading.

UK Uncut has leafleted members of the public near the premises of targeted retailers to inform them of tax avoiding measures taken by these retailers.
http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/

I would encourage anyone wishing to preserve a future free from poverty to choose where they shop carefully, to write to politicians and businessmen, to contact journalists to demand coverage of tax avoidance and evasion and simply to consider bringing up these issues with friends and relatives.

Jun 292011
 

 With thanks to Mark Chapman.

Civil and public servants across the UK and from within Aberdeen & Inverness Revenue & Customs Branch, will be joining teachers, head teachers and university lecturers striking against attacks on pensions, jobs and services on 30th June.

The government wants to make public servants work at least:-

  • 8 years longer,
  • pay double or triple more per month
  • not get any benefit from that whatsoever to receive a reduced pension
  • accept real term pay cuts of 10% which is not only affecting the standard of living of public servants, but is already reducing the worth of their future pension entitlement

They say  ‘we are all in this together’ but the bankers are still getting their multi-million pound bonuses for failed banks owned by the taxpayer and the majority of the cabinet are millionaires.

In PCS Aberdeen & Inverness Revenue & Customs Branch we will be striking on 30 June.  There will be picket lines at all branch offices, but in Aberdeen as well as having a picket line, PCS representatives and members will also be joining together for a union breakfast followed by a cross unions meeting in the Aberdeen Trades Union Council Social Club at Adelphi at 12pm.

With inflation at over 5% in the last 2 years, the current pay freeze on Civil Servants pay actually represents a real terms pay cut of at least 10%. Probably more when you take account of rising costs. We have also had an increase in National Insurance contributions and VAT. Aberdeen PCS members’ standards of living have already been severely attacked and eroded and we are not prepared to accept any further cuts when they are totally unnecessary, especially when it is clear that the increased pensions contributions we are being asked to pay are going to pay off the deficit; these increased contributions are not being invested for the benefit of the employees.

There is £120 Billion of unpaid, evaded or avoided Tax to be collected and the UK, the 6th largest economy in the world, holds £850 billion in banking assets from the bailout of the banks – this is more than the national debt.

Mark Chapman, Branch Chair of Aberdeen & Inverness Revenue & Customs Branch of PCS Union said:

“The government admits that money cut from pensions will go straight to the Treasury to help pay off the deficit in what is nothing more than a tax on working in the civil and public sector. The very modest pay and pensions of public servants did not cause the recession, so they should not be blamed, punished or demonised for it.

“Unless ministers abandon their ideological plans to hollow out and attack the public sector in the way they propose, they will face industrial action on a mass scale on 30 June and beyond.”

An AO (Admin Officer), 38 yrs of age added:

“I’ve worked out that I will pay an extra £48.75 per month, have to work 7 years longer than I expected and will lose approximately £19,000 from my pension too.

“I cannot afford this. I already struggle to make it to pay day at the end of the month and this all because this government wants me and people like me to pay for a crisis caused by failed banks and the irresponsible non-investment decisions of those who run those banks.

“This is not equality of sacrifice, is not fair and is criminally unjust. This is on top of an expected pay freeze which is already making life harder for me and is already hitting the future worth of my pension”

There will be picket lines outside most major HMRC buildings and other Civil Service buildings, and services to the public will be disrupted.

Striking Aberdeen PCS Union members will join teachers, other striking workers and representatives from other Unions at various meetings and rallies up and down the country, showing support and solidarity for this action.

PCS, the Public and Commercial Services Union is the largest Civil Service Union. It has over 290,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies throughout the UK. It also represents workers in parts of government transferred to the private sector. PCS Union is the UK’s sixth largest union and is affiliated to the TUC.  For further info See: http://www.pcs.org.uk/