Oct 012019
 

Old Susannah rides back into Aberdeen, well, back onto Aberdeen Voice’s pages anyway, picking up where she left off, defining the terms that define the indescribable goings-on in the Deen and Shire. By Suzanne Kelly.

It’s been a while, but with all the exciting things going on in the dynamic and vibrant city of Aberdeen, I couldn’t stay away.

This column traditionally opens up with descriptions of what I’d been drinking and doing in BrewDog bars, so why not now? I’ve visited BrewDog Brighton (Drank my first Dog F – a rich, heady dark offering) and BrewDog Clerkenwell to enjoy Obzest – very citrusy and refreshing. 

I never hid the fact I’m a shareholder.  I’m glad I’m a shareholder.  So are at least 100k other people.

I bring BrewDog up not just because I wish I were at the Flagship this minute, but because from the first time I owned shares and wrote about BrewDog, I told Aberdeen Voice’s readership.

To do otherwise would have been dishonest. And still we had complaints: I was writing about the biggest new thing in town, the UK’s fastest-growing drinks company started by two young men paying a living wage, making phenomenal brews, being politically active and irreverent.

No one ever has to pay to read Aberdeen Voice; and if you were a donor who didn’t like my offerings, then you could either stop donating or simply not read the bits you didn’t like.

If, however you were an Aberdeen Journals Ltd subscriber (there are still some apparently), you paid for years while being played – and not for small beer. 

Damian Bates never told those buying the local rags he had a financial interest in Trump doing well in Scotland.

He kept quiet about his wife’s working for the toupèed toddler.

I sometimes wonder whether those who insisted I shouldn’t write about BrewDog ever insisted Damian shouldn’t be allowed to print dozens of pro-Trump advertorials and stories, while directly helping his family’s wallet? 

Aberdeen Voice allowed my morally-indignant critics to have their say. Have you ever yet read a word in the P&J admitting this ethically challenged editor used the papers to firm up the Mrs.’s position under Trump?  No, you never did. 

Trump is a regular guy, as you’d find out if you buy a table

Tally ho!  Northsound Radio is holding a business dinner – only £1250 per table at the 5 star Marcliffe Hotel and Spa (homophobic ‘jokes’ from the owner included at no extra charge).

Who got the huge honour of speaking? Why, Master Bates, who’ll tell the guests about his book and what Trump is really like (he hates fancy food). 

It must be interesting to be a reporter who’s pals with a man whose hate speech has got reporters beaten and even killed. But Trump is a regular guy, as you’d find out if you buy a table.

Result! I finished making my emergency survival bag which UK police recommend we all do, while telling us ‘don’t panic’.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-49631455 

This is nothing to do with Brexit, food shortages, rioting or the yellowhammer documents. I recommend a first aid kit, some BrewDog, and old unsold copies of the Evening Express for insulation and starting campfires.

Alas though! I’m upset for poor Prime Minister Johnson, who was slammed by the courts, ruling his closing Parliament was illegal. I’m so upset I can barely see through my tears. Now there’s a man who’d better get his emergency survival bag ready.

PS. I recommend Steve Coogan’s latest offering, Hot Air. One reason I wanted to see it was to see Declan Michael Laird. I’ve written about this young Scots actor in the past and things are starting to go, deservedly, extremely well for him. 

The highlight as expected is Coogan’s soliloquy: he plays a cynical, manipulative right-wing DJ. In his speech he describes virtually all our current societal, governmental, media failings.

I didn’t have any preconception of what Declan would be doing in this – but he’s wonderfully hilarious as a wealthy young Russian trustafarian living in Coogan’s uber-rich building. Hot Air is well worth your time. 

Herewith some definitions

Exploitation: (Noun) Taking something of value from a source and profiting considerably more than the source does.

Friday was some kind of climate protest day, and I’m sick of the exploitation of children by adults who have selfish motives. 

It’s awful to see young people who don’t understand the real world being manipulated to the point they care more about species extinctions, plastic entering the food chain, unprecedented climactic events -when they should care about clothes and getting rich. 

Who gave them clearance to be at school and take this PR photo? Did they have DBS Clearance checked? If you know, please tell

How would you feel if your child went on some rally when they should be safe at school?

They’re being manipulated I tell you; if they were at school all would be well.  Unless maybe they were in an American school (have you seen this video yet?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5ykNZl9mTQ ). 

Or unless they were in a school where politicians entered at will without any permission or vetting, like when Alex Salmond descended on Bramble Brae Primary with his team.

Since that happened, Mr Salmond had sex abuse charges leveled at him.  Just like his friend Donald Trump. No, no reason to get clearance people who want to wander into schools to take pictures.    

Or there was the time a bunch of suits and Sarah Malone took photos of young people in their new Trump International football strips.

The shire told The Ferret’s Rob Edwards years ago the shirts were in line with policy (even though it really wasn’t true).

You might think that’s old news. However, the shire told me a different story recently: they now say the shirts were nothing to do with them after all, but a private group of parents organised it. Parents who were allowed to go into what certainly looks like school property and photograph students – with a couple of besuited men with them.

For marketing and promoting a private business. Owned by a man with US mob and Russian ties, accused of sexual crimes. That seems to be OK too.   

In the same way the police release photos when trying to solve a crime, I want to know: who are these people? Does everyone in this photo have DBS clearance to be hanging around young people? Did they get permission to use this gym in their wonderful photos?

Aberdeenshire doesn’t care but I do.

Yes, keep the students in school; a day away to exchange ideas and support each other over their future is far less important than whether Sarah Malone wants a photoshoot or Salmond wants to boost a candidate.

Maybe Aberdeen Voice should just print up some t-shirts for the frisbee team, head to a school, and take photos of kids holding up AV shirts?  I’m sure the shire would have no problem with that.

he does know his Nazi regalia, I’ll give him that

If young people have to be out of school for some ‘environmental’ reason, then it should be for something practical. Like planting marram grass to stabilizes Menie’s moving sand dune system.

The shire insisted the planting was approved by educational environmental bods. I found out that was not remotely true. But at least the photos of the kids planting the grass that ruined the dunes were lovely; I’d not be surprised to find the EE was selling prints for a tenner, as they do.

All this climate change talk is obscuring what’s really important in this life:  how you look.

Sexy Dinesh Dsouza reckons Greta Thunberg’s braids mean she’s emulating an old Nazi poster of a child in braids (he does know his Nazi regalia, I’ll give him that). Somehow he objects to Danish student Greta looking Nordic – she should do something about that. 

And those braids – so very traditional and childish; almost like she was a young person or something.

The teen certainly needs fashion advice too:  there are so many exciting styles coming out of third world sweatshops (Ivanka can give some pointers here as she owns so many – speaking of pointers did you see her tasteful blue shirt worn t the UN?). 

Perhaps anti-bullying champion Melania can serve as a role model too. I wonder where that jacket she wore on her way to visit caged refugee children got to, you know that one that said ‘I really don’t care do you?’ That would look so cool on Greta.  

Finally, a bit more orange make up would put some colour in Greta’s cheeks too don’t you think – get rid of that ‘Nordic’ look? Trump could make a recommendation or two here I think. Kids today, eh?

Rent: (Noun or verb) A fee paid by a tenant to occupy real estate. Unless you’re the P&J renting from ACC.

It’s only taken about four months for ACC to partially answer my freedom of information request on what Aberdeen Journals Ltd is paying to be in Marischal Square. You know, I think they’re getting faster.

Why would anyone think that ACC was giving AJL a free ride or sweet deal on rent?  Maybe it was the talk at the time, the odd article or two, or the fact Bates put out an email denying it was remotely possible. 

Here’s two findings from my FOI:  I’m sure this all sound as legit and believable to you as it does to me: 

Council says:  

“Aberdeen City Council personnel, Chief Executive, Elected Officials and staff have NOT accepted any discounts, hospitality, gifts, favours from Aberdeen Journals Ltd and its companies for the period 1 January 2017 through the present day (Sept 19).”

So for nearly two years, not a soul at ACC took so much as a free lunch, newspaper, paperweight, pen, calendar, theatre tickets, dinner for three years and nine months. Wonder at the fact-checking here.

The Council wrote:

“The headline rent paid per square metre paid by AJL at Marischal Square is £322.92.” 

And just exactly what is headline rent?

Headline Rent: (Compound noun) Rent paid under a lease after the end of any rent free or reduced rent periods. It is an artificially inflated rent which ignores the rent-free period or any other concessions given by the landlord to the tenant in return for a higher headline rate.

So.. from the definition, we can conclude AJL got some kind of a sweet deal for at least a while.

Who would have guessed – and what was it exactly?  (I’m on it).

By the way, looking at city centre commercial rents on large properties the £332.92 per square metre per annum hardly looks like an inflated rate at all – it looks average.

If the city says this figures is a headline rent it means AJL was definitely paying less than the average going rate for a brand new building. And of course, there is nothing unethical about a newspaper cozying up to government, just because the press is supposed to serve as a check on government.

Someone needs to tell Damian Bates.

When the move was still being discussed, he sent an email:

“.. it is not correct to suggest there is any ‘state aid’ around any potential deal…”  (But there was – otherwise no headline rent). 

He continued in this July 2016 email: 

“… we have not sought nor will we be seeking anything with the council subsidizing our lease…”

Whether they asked for it or not – looks like they got it. Here’s to Aberdeen:  home of the world’s most generous taxpayers.

But why be upset? It’s not as if your tax money has been used to support Scotland’s most pro-Trump mainstream news vehicle. It’s not as if that newspaper took money off you every time you wanted a P&J or EE to line the canary’s cage, while hiding Bates’ personal financial link to Trump? 

If you ever have awkward questions about the city’s dealings (maybe while you’re wondering why they’re charging you £30 a year now for green waste), you can just call the local press with your scoop. They’ll be right on it I’m sure.

PS. the City has recently taken out a few more million plus pound loans.  Result!

Math quiz:  Select an answer from (A) through (D): 

If AJL has 19,000 square feet (which is 1765.15 square metres) and is now paying £322.92 per square metre (presumably per annum) and paid a lower figure previously, then: 

(A)  the cost is £570,000 per year;
(B)  aren’t we taxpayers generous;
(C)  they got a very good deal initially to be paying headline rent that is around the city average – did the taxpayer get left holding the bag again; or
(D)  all of the above.

The bottom line? We can rely on the City to get best value for taxpayer money and to be transparent with its taxpayers, and on AJL papers for unbiased, investigative reporting. Well at least to the same standards we’ve become accustomed to.

I have much more to say, so there’ll be a further column or ten – that’s either good or bad news depending on your perspective. But I see the word count increasing, and with it the editor’s patience decreasing. More soon. 

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Sep 262019
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

On one side of the pond people are waking up to the shenanigans of the Trump empire.

Donald J Trump is being impeached with some six congressional committees looking at a myriad of potentially serious crimes he’s committed.

In Aberdeenshire however, where – despite ‘oversight’ by planners two SSSI sites were irreparably damaged at Menie – the council voted today 38-24 in favour of him building 550 homes.

David Milne, Menie Estate resident, issued an impassioned, logically and legally compelling video days ago as to why the permission should not be given.

“Overall, it’s devastating.” he told Aberdeen Voice.

Hundreds have watched it so far – it can be found here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntztSr6_K1w&list=FL3ali7Onfmv9EXPrkrCdiqQ

Only three letters were sent in supporting the controversial application; people wrote to the shire to object in their thousands.

“I can confirm, I voted against. I am sorry not more councillors agreed with me,” councillor Vicky Harper posted on the Aberdeen Voice Facebook page,

“I wish we could have done more. I am sorry to the residents who will feel the biggest impact.”

Cllr Harper is not wrong.  Anthony Baxter’s first film in his trilogy of all things Trump and golf show the absolute environmental devastation of the first golf course being built.

Not over yet.

None of the campaigners against Trump’s development have run out of steam, not by a long shot.

“I’m not one to give up,” David Milne said.

And there is something of an ace in the hole, or ace in the bunker to be specific.

The road to the Bunker.

Councillors have forgotten the attempt made by the Trump organisation to buy the residents’ properties by stealth:  in other parts of the world this would have been prosecuted as an attempt to defraud.

To refresh memories, Neil Hobday, using an assumed name (based on his middle names) visited several of those who refused to sell their homes and pretended to be an average American tourist.

His story was that he and his wife ‘fell in love’ with the area and wanted to buy their home – at a price which was far below what the value of homes wanted by a huge developer would be. No one fell for it.

Did the police pursue this crime? They were too busy arresting Anthony Baxter and Richard Phinney for ‘a breach of the peace’.

The two journalists, working on You’ve Been Trumped, had simply gone to the site office and asked when the Forbes family would get their water line, broken by Trump contractors, repaired. They were thrown in cells.

The underhanded behaviour by the Trump organisation in trying to get that land made people take an in-depth look at the estate’s land ownership.

A fly in the ointment was found which may yet prove a stumbling block and today it seems more important than ever.

The Bunker.

Land ownership can be a complicated thing, and as a supreme act of campaigning, Tripping Up Trump has quietly had an ace in the hole: ‘The Bunker’. 

On the estate, the land fondly called The Bunker by protestors is a small patch of land. It may be relatively small:  but it is now legally owned and registered to a staggering, unprecedented ten thousand – yes 10,000 people.

As the Tripping Up Trump website advises:

“The Tripping Up Trump campaign acquired some land right at the heart of Donald Trump’s planned private housing and leisure development.

“The reason TUT has done this is to help protect the families who have forced eviction (by means of Compulsory Purchase Orders) hanging over their heads.

“The families of Menie have again and again stated they do not wish to leave but still Trump and Aberdeenshire Council won’t withdraw the threat of using CPOs if the families don’t agree to sell ‘voluntarily’.”

If someone wanted to buy that land, if the government decided to try a compulsory purchase, legally it must contact all of the owners.

Every. Last. One.

Aside from occasionally having a Mexican flag flying over it (an act of solidarity from Trump’s prejudiced attack on Mexicans), the bunker has not been hugely used.

Read more about the Bunker here:
http://www.trippinguptrump.co.uk/the-bunker/

Perhaps it is time for the owners to start making better use of their land?  Just a thought for Tripping Up Trump – and 10,000 people. Time for a party? Building application – perhaps a refuge for refugees?

Don’t Mess With Mother Nature.

The sand dunes may be nearly stabilized – but if Trump International Golf Links Scotland is banking on a coastal property in North East Scotland being immune from the elements, they have short memories.

The photo (of me on my first visit to Menie) shows part of the course wiped off their little course map. A winter storm – and by far not the worst one Scotland has ever seen – ruined the place.

Keen-eyed visitors will notice that the greens are fighting the sands, constantly blowing through the course.

The keen-eyed visitor will also notice that a fair amount of the fairways have been dyed a sickly blue-green colour.

There will be more showdowns between Trump and Mother Nature – place your bets on the eventual winner now. Sadly, the new homes mean the displacement of wildlife if they are ever built.

The End- not.

There may be some smug congratulatory words at the clubhouse today, and some champagne corks popped.

But the celebrations are premature: Trump is not likely to last his presidency, may well be jailed, and as happens – his property could wind up being seized if it is found to be purchased with laundered money.

If Scotland’s crime task forces could start investigating now, that would be nice – it’s not as if they haven’t been asked and presented with evidence.

The bunker however, is now a bunker and a beacon. A creative, proactive and canny move, it may well throw a spanner in the works.

Here’s hoping – and here’s to making it so.

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Sep 242019
 

David Milne issued a video last night explaining what is wrong with Trump’s plans for Menie,  He talked to Suzanne Kelly about the video and the vote.

Campaigner, Menie Resident, and published author, David Milne released a video last night explaining all the reasons Aberdeenshire Council should not vote to approve further development of the Menie Estate.

The plans go before Aberdeenshire council this week.

From his former coastguard cottage home, David Milne gets a daily view of the Trump International Golf Links Scotland parking lot.

Most of the time – it is sparsely used. People are not coming here in droves to golf and stimulate the economy, whatever promises were made for the elitist course, where a round can set you back £200.

Many residents, ecologists and environmentalists are still reeling from recent revelations that the SSSIs at Menie – a moving sand dune system unique to Great Britain – was destroyed despite Trump’s promises it was fine.

An environmental clerk of works and a group, MEMAG, were meant to ensure the SSSIs were protected – despite assurances from Aberdeenshire Council Planning and MEMAG (disbanded by Trump unilaterally) the dunes and their ecosystems were fine, they are now permanently damaged.

Even recently George Sorial, an officer of the Trump company, claimed the dunes were ‘95% untouched.’ This serious breach alone should stop the council proceeding: the deveoper simply cannot be trusted.

Mr Milne described a number of flaws in the plan:- lack of suitable infrastructure, inability of the current roads to handle 550 new homeowners and their cars, and the fact that the first Trump golf course failed to bring anything near the projected financial benefits were among those flaws.

Watch the video here:

Donald Trump Jr previously said that Russian money was involved in many Trump projects. The council’s Planning department deny that they have any responsibility to be concerned about potential money laundering.

When confronted some years back with irrefutable proof Mr Trump is associated with organised crime figures, Planning accused Aberdeen Voice of ‘slandering’ the developer (it is not slander or libel if it is true).

On Thursday 26 September the council will vote on whether or not to let Trump build 550 more homes. Menie would never be the same again.

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May 312019
 

A new book detailing Donald J Trump’s activities in Aberdeenshire launches next week.

Campaigner Suzanne Kelly, contributor of hundreds of articles to Aberdeen Voice over a period of nine years,  releases her book ‘Trump in Scotland:  The Real Real Deal’ on Monday 3 June.

Her book comes out one week before former Trump compliance attorney George Sorial and former Aberdeen Press & Journal editor Damian Bates release their book, ‘The Real Deal’.

Ms Kelly is known for breaking stories on Trump’s activities at the Menie Estate and for her campaigns against Trump’s honorary degree from Robert Gordon University, an award which was subsequently revoked. 

She also launched a petition to block Trump from the UK under its existing hate speech laws.  This was signed by 586,000 people – which was at the time the highest number of signatures on a Parliamentary petition.

She said: 

“I have reported on Trump’s activities in Scotland for many years and have heard first-hand from the residents and film maker Anthony Baxter on a variety of unacceptable events.  We’re talking about water lines being cut, security guards overstepping their remit, journalists being arrested, environmental monitoring simply being abandoned.

“I will have one or two revelations that are new, and a lot of the material may not be well known outside of Scotland:  but it should be. 

“This is a collection – for the first time – of a host of past and ongoing instances of organisations bending over backwards for the Trump brand, despite the promised jobs, tourism and local income never materialising.”

Suzanne Kelly on collapsed Trump course, 2012, photo by Rob Scott.

There are nearly thirty chapters covering different aspects of the Trump development, quoting a wide variety of sources.

“In the past I have invited Sarah Malone Bates, Trump spokeswoman and wife of former Press & Journal editor Damian Bates, to debate the issues with me in public.  That offer still stands.”

The book launches with a party at BrewDog Gallowgate from 4pm on Monday 3 June to which the public are more than welcome to attend. 

The book is published by Milhouse Publishers, and will be available on Amazon in paperback, e-book and audio book formats.

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Apr 302019
 

We have seen that petitions can work, and Clive Smith clearly believes in the petition system. Mr Smith has launched a petition requesting Aberdeenshire Council apologises over the Menie Estate planning debacle. Suzanne Kelly writes.

With none of the (hugely inflated?) benefits Trump promised materialising, and the unique environment damaged possibly beyond recovery, is there anyone in the shire big enough to admit this was a huge, avoidable error that has harmed people and the environment?  We will see.

The petition is still in its early days; it can be found here

Clive has shared with Aberdeen Voice what he plans to say if he gets the opportunity to address the Council:

“We all make mistakes. As a resident of Aberdeenshire, I don’t expect Aberdeenshire Council to be perfect, to get it right every time. But as a resident and member of a Council Tax paying household, I do expect the Council to evaluate its own performance, recognise when it gets things wrong and learn from those mistakes so that they are not repeated.

“I also expect the Council to be prepared to apologise for the mistakes it does make.

“The support given by the Council in 2007 and subsequently to the proposed Trump golf resort at Menie was by any measure, a mistake. I am aware, of course, that following due process, the Council at first resolved to refuse outline planning permission for the Trump proposal.

“However, after pressure from the applicant and his backers, the Council expressed its support for the application and maintained this stance through the ensuing public local inquiry in 2008. Then, in 2009, the Council failed to rule out the threat of compulsory purchase orders for acquiring local homes, leaving householders vulnerable to eviction from their properties.

“The case for the proposed resort was based on inward investment and job creation on a massive scale. In addition to the direct spend and job creation by the applicant, it was argued that a ‘celebrity developer’ like Mr Trump would draw in tourists and other inward investment. Association with Mr Trump would enhance the standing and profile of the whole region.

“These benefits were deemed justification enough to allow the effective destruction of a large proportion of an important and irreplaceable site of special scientific interest, a truly amazing sand dune system.

“Ten years after outline planning permission was granted for the proposed golf resort, what has actually happened? A golf course has indeed been built on the site of special scientific interest, so it is no longer a functioning mobile dune system. We have lost an important and unique part of Aberdeenshire’s natural heritage.

“The proposed golf resort has not been built, however, and it is clear that nothing remotely resembling what was proposed will ever go ahead.

“Instead of the six thousand jobs promised, only around one hundred have been created.  Instead of the billion pound investment, the actual spend has probably been less than ten percent of that. Association with Mr Trump, far from boosting our reputation, has become a source of embarrassment.

“In the meantime, some of Mr Trump’s neighbours at Menie have been on the receiving end of behaviours that left them feeling bullied as Mr Trump sought to acquire their homes.

“The reasons given for supporting the scheme have not materialised, the damage has been done. Aberdeenshire has paid a heavy price for Mr Trump’s vanity project at Menie.

“The particularly galling thing about the mistake of backing Mr Trump is that it was entirely predictable that this wasn’t going to end well. The claimed job creation and investment always seemed too good to be true.  Mr Trump has a history of business failures.

“Even the Council Leader, Councillor Gifford, admitted on television that it was not worth it.

“A trade off was made.  Promised gains in exchange for the destruction of a precious and irreplaceable part of our natural heritage.  Aberdeenshire Council never had the means to enforce the deal.

“Knowing this they should have weighed the risks of non-delivery. The consequences were foreseeable.  The impact is catastrophic.  We are the losers.  Future generations are the losers.

“Aberdeenshire Council needs to recognise and acknowledge that its support for the Trump scheme has not delivered and learn from that. And it should apologise for its governance failure, a grave error of judgement, a mistake by any measure.”

Petition link: Apologise for Trump course.

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Apr 222019
 

Duncan Harley reviews Doorways in Drumorty @ Aberdeen Arts Centre

Doorways in Drumorty is loosely based on the writings of a Strichen lass by the name of Lorna Moon who made it big in Hollywood.

Alongside her one published novel Dark Star, Lorna – born Helen Nora Wilson Low – escaped her native Buchan age 24 in around 1910.

Broken relationships and abandoned offspring followed before the talented, and by now re-badged, Lorna Moon took up with the son of Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille and forged a successful career as a scriptwriter.

Her short stories, first published in Century Magazine, feature a clutch of thinly disguised Buchan folk and pull few punches. Titles such as ‘The Sinning of Jessie MacLean’ and ‘Feckless Maggie Ann’ did not endear her to the locals and, in true Lewis Grassic Gibbon tradition, legend insists that her books were shunned by the local library service.

Penned by author/playwright Mike Gibb the play explores the curtain twitching mentality of small-town Buchan. Questionable morality, dubious loyalty, fractured community and tightly held family bonds inhabit the tale and through the course of a series of vignettes the reality of a century old Buchan community is revealed warts and all.

A three-hander – Estrid Barton, Fraser Sivewright and Lucy Goldie take on some dozen roles – Doorways is at points humorous, poignant and even tragic.

Neatly bookended by Lucy Goldie’s Lorna Moon in full 1920’s flapper gear the play hits hard.

A heavily pregnant and destitute Bella Tocher is banished from Drumorty to fend as best she can. A new minister unwisely accepts a dinner invitation and is labelled a thief, the local dentist elopes with the postmistress and – following the theft of a chicken – an innocent infant is subject to divine retribution.

Gossip, double-standards and rumour-mongering infest the close-knit community but of course:

“You’re only the gossip on the street until something more interesting comes along.”

Set and lighting are simple and reek of a more austere era. Fast paced, the character changes are at times difficult to follow leaving some of the audience at least lagging behind the action on stage.

However eventually, when it becomes clear that this is not a tale about Lorna Moon but is a tale based on her writings, the building blocks slide into place.
As for the title; there is speculation that alongside revelling in the name Lorna Moon – she had taken up with Walter Moon in around 1913 – Lorna was a great admirer of kailyard authors such as Ian MacLaren and J.M. Barrie.

Barrie’s ‘Window in Thrums’ and MacLaren’s ‘Drumtochty’ provide some clue as to the provenance of the ‘Doorways in Drumorty’ header.

As Lorna, an admirer of Barrie seemingly said:

“I’d rather be Barried than buried.”

This is in essence an important play and seems destined to re-awaken interest in a woman who, although ruthless in her pursuit of career, nevertheless put the likes of Strichen on the map.

Mind you, at the final curtain and despite the loud applause, it was hard to shed the notion that the long-gone folk in the Buchan graveyards were still cockin’ a lug and shakin’ their heids at the pure cheek o’ the lass.

Stars: 4/5
Produced by Andy Corelli and written by Mike Gibb, Doorways in Drumorty will tour 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April – 18 May 2019

Click here for tour dates and tickets.

Words © Duncan Harley. Images © Andy Corelli

Apr 112019
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The Little History of Aberdeenshire’.

Duncan Harley’s fascinating new book is described as a little history of Aberdeenshire, yet covers a 4,000 year time span from the Neolithic when peasant farmers built the stone circles that dot the countryside through to North Sea oil.

Along the way we read about battles, plagues and the arrival of the modern era when Aberdeenshire finally became accessible to the outside world: turnpikes, canals and railways were built.

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

As with his previous book, The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire, Duncan throws in lots of quirky and curious facts to liven up the tale.

Did you know that the bulldozers building the Aberdeen bypass uncovered a whole load of new archaeological finds including ninety Roman bread ovens at Milltimber? That it took years to complete the monument to the battle of Harlaw near Inverurie, because of a reluctance to add the armorial shields representing the highland clans?

The expense involved was considered as ‘paying for the arms of the enemy’ (and this 500 years after the battle took place). The shields were finally added in 2011 for the 600th anniversary.

Or how about this? Stonehaven’s oldest building, the Tollbooth at the harbour, was severely damaged during the Second World War when an anti-shipping mine beached next to it.

These and many more nuggets make Duncan’s book an engrossing read. If you enjoyed Duncan’s first book or you are curious about the history of Aberdeenshire, then this is the book for you.

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Mar 282019
 

Suzanne Kelly asks a rather obvious question which seems to have gone unnoticed:  If President Trump is not supposed to be involved with his former business interests while in office, then what is the TIGLS spokeswoman’s husband doing posing at the White House and with Air Force One? 

With Aberdeenshire Council soon to vote on whether or not to approve the latest amended plans for Trump International Golf Links Scotland – is Trump breaking strict American emoluments laws? 

A social media account raises the question.

Upon becoming president, Donald Trump had to resign from several Trump business ventures, including Trump International Golf Links Scotland. 

Sarah Malone Bates is the spokeswoman for the controversial venture; her husband is Damian Bates, former Aberdeen Journals Limited executive and editor with responsibilities at the Evening Express and Press and Journal.

On April 17, 2018 Mr Bates posted photos of himself in front of Air Force One and The White House.  What exactly was he doing there?  Even his friends wanted to know, with one asking ‘What are you up to??’

Damian replied ‘Ssshhh.’

Another friend replied ‘Some of us know – but Mums [sic] the word Shssh.’

Click on Image to enlarge.

Together with George A Sorial, the lawyer responsible for ensuring compliance by Mr Trump with the relevant emoluments clauses, Mr Bates is penning a book about how Mr Trump ‘won’ in Scotland. The book is due out 11 June.

Aberdeen Voice contacted Mr Sorial, but has not yet had a reply as to the potential for overlap between a Trump employee’s spouse being chosen to co-author a biography and being at Air Force One and the White House. 

Any reply received will be published in full.

The Press & Journal and sister paper The Evening Express under Bates’ management decreed it would not print any material from the protest group Tripping up Trump, declaring the group was not ‘bona fide’. The group is made up of residents of the Menie Estate, people in Aberdeen City and Shire, and has members further afield. 

Aberdeen Journals also failed to disclose the relationship between Damian Bates and Trump spokeswoman Sarah Malone to readership of the Evening Express and Press & Journal. 

Aberdeen Voice broke the story that the two were married while the paper printed favourable articles about Trump International Golf Links Scotland without disclosing this fact.

The Press & Journal also published a column by Mr Trump while he was running for office.

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Dec 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘And I Am You’ – the new novel by Judy Mackie.

Layla is a splendidly timeless song penned by Eric Clapton and co-songwriter Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame.

Inspired by an Arabian love story – Layla and Majnun – Clapton’s song made 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and won a Grammy in 1993.

Clapton was of course in love with Patti Boyd – the wife of his friend George Harrison.

Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry for a few years and Layla – the song not the lady – would become ranked amongst the greatest rock songs of all time.

They all remained friends. In fact, Harrison attended the Clapton and Boyd wedding and gave his blessing to the unlikely pair.

Lyrics include the immortal lines:

‘Let’s make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.’

And now, some decades after the release of Clapton’s Layla, North-east author Judy Mackie, inspired perhaps by the lyrics, has penned a novel deeply rooted in those far-off but timeless events.

In this exquisitely penned Gothic tale a lonely lady, recently abandoned by a long-time lover, examines her life and finds herself in another person’s body.

Judy is of course well known for her stewardship and editing of Leopard Magazine and her love for all things North-east comes through strongly in this, her dark debut novel. And I Am You is set variously along the North Sea coastline with locations as diverse as Cruden Bay, the massive blowhole of the Bullers of Buchan and the tarry-sheds of Fittie.

Betrayed and abandoned by her husband and with a career in the doldrums thirty-eight-year-old academic Layla Sutherland longs to escape her shattered existence while half a world away, Australian journalist Stevie Nightingale is desperate to shed her identity.

A ground-breaking procedure developed by an Edinburgh neurosurgeon, Professor Blunstone, offers both Layla and Stevie salvation in the form of not just an identity swap, but a full-blown body swap.

The eccentric professor has discovered a previously unknown portion of the brain which, when transplanted, offers the subject the possibility of switching bodies whilst retaining consciousness within the new host.

His discovery of the ‘Me Gland’ throws up both moral and ethical dilemmas but, in the true traditions of eccentric scientist tales, nothing can halt the pursuit of knowledge and once the taboo of using humans for experimental purposes is broken, there is ultimately no easy way back from the unspeakable brink.

“He’s not mad and he’s not evil,” says Judy,

“he thinks he’s furthering human knowledge.”

And I Am You, aside from being set in Bram Stoker territory, has all the elements of a contemporary Gothic thriller. A vast baronial mansion occupied by an obsessed researcher hides a secret hospital wing within sound of the Buchan coastline while two damsels in distress agree to help him crack the age-old secret of the seat of consciousness.

What could possibly go wrong and what might be the ultimate cost of tampering with our sense of self?

As medical ethics go out the window, Layla finds herself inhabiting Stevie’s body while retaining her own identity. Likewise, Stevie inhabits Layla’s body. At first all seems smooth and, alongside a practical exploration of the reality of the situation, elements of conflict creep in.

Layla for example meets up with errant spouse Calum, but in the body of the blonde-haired Stevie. Things, to say the least, become complicated.

Will Buller the dog sort out who is who? What will the subjects experience when, or perhaps if, the body-swap is reversed? Who, or what, is the mysterious stalker?

Blunstone makes clear early on that:

“Quite clearly, body swapping is not for everyone. But for those of a certain mindset the opportunity to occupy someone else’s body is surely the most profound experience a human being could have.”

As I raced towards the final pages of Judy’s novel, I began to wonder if the eccentric professor’s premise that body swapping is not for everyone might be slightly off the mark. After all, who amongst us hasn’t imagined what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes?

And I Am You – by Judy Mackie (289pp) is available for download from Amazon Kindle at £4.99

Nov 272018
 

Duncan Harley reviews ‘When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula’ by Mike Shepherd.

The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented. But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly of course, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.

Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

Think Jeremiah Coleman of mustard fame and the families associated with Swan Vestas, Horlicks and Bovril.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no one had really taken time to research the story and until now, no one had drawn together the multitude of recollections and solid clues which make up the story of how Dracula came to be written in a largely unknown coastal village on the North Sea coastline.

With an introduction by Dacre Stoker, Mike’s new book is brim full of bite-size facts and with a cover based on an original circa 1897 Dracula edition this is clearly a book to get your teeth into. Well, that’s the vampire puns dealt with so onto the content.

Penned in plain language and meticulously researched, When Brave Men Shudder makes for a fascinating read.

Not only has Mike tracked down the various visits, there were thirteen at least, which Stoker made to the area; but he has traced the links between the man’s writings and the local community at Cruden Bay.

Local lore and superstition backed by an interest in the writings of Emily Gerard – who explored long-held Pagan beliefs flimsily shrouded by a ‘surface varnish of Christianity’ in Transylvania – must, says Mike, have excited Bram enormously.

Mike continues:

“In contrast to the peasants of Transylvania, the residents of Port Errol didn’t believe in vampires and had probably never seen a bulb of cultivated garlic. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two widely separated cultures were evident.”

Stoker of course stumbled upon Cruden Bay, then known as Port Errol, completely by chance. Seemingly he had heard that the Aberdeenshire air was “very bracing” and in a quote from the man’s diaries Mike relates that when he first saw the place, he had fallen in love with it.

“Astonishing as it might seem” writes Mike,

“this little-known Aberdeenshire fishing village with a population of 500 was about to change his life forever.”

Many of the landscape features which to this day inhabit the area would have been completely familiar to the Dracula author and Mike’s local knowledge, he lives in Cruden Bay, and careful research has identified landmarks which appear in Bram Stoker’s writings.

Sand Craig, an offshore rock, features in an early short story and the Scaurs – a jagged outcrop – seems to have fascinated the Gothic author.

Stoker apparently stared at the Scaurs for hours on end and may have explicitly referred to them in the Dracula tale:

“it needed but little effort of imagination to think that the spirits of those lost at sea were touching their living brethren with the clammy hands of death … “

When Brave Men Shudder is full of such references neatly linking Stoker’s Cruden Bay experience to passages in his writing.

Of course, it wasn’t all about the writing. Bram and his wife Florence formed sound links within the local community. Indeed, it seems that the locals took to him.

Long after his death one resident was recorded as saying that:

“Bram had a fine sense of humour always joking about something.”

While another recalled that:

“he became a familiar figure with his stout walking stick as he strolled along the sands and the cliffs.”

In essence, this new take on Bram Stoker is both surprising and occasionally scary. Scary because the portrait painted of the man who penned Dracula is that of a family man on a mission to explore that dark side of humanity which most only dream about.

Although the villagers portray him as a genial gent with a sturdy walking stick, his wife and child often became fearful of his moods and occasional outbursts. Perhaps a lifetime spent amongst actors had enabled him to immerse himself in his stories to the detriment of those closest to him.

As for surprises, it seems that Bram wrote extensively in the Doric, was married to a lady who had previously had a fairly serious relationship with Oscar Wilde and never really made much money from that book which, to this day, remains both a Hollywood staple and an international best seller. Who would have thought!

Stars: 5/5

When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula is By Mike Shepherd and is published in paperback (244pp) by Wild Wolf Publishing @ £12.99