Sep 282021
 

Duncan Harley reviews Slains Castle’s Secret History, a new publication by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.

Slains Castle on the very edge of the Buchan coastline is a widely misunderstood edifice and a confusion of associations with Dracula do little to explain the history of the place.
This new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker is a gamechanger.

Readers of Mike’s previous books and followers of Dacre Stoker’s work – which includes Dracul, a Dracula prequel written in collaboration with J.D. Barker of Fourth Monkey fame – will already be aware of the Cruden Bay Dracula links.

But few however, will be aware of the true history of that Slains Castle we all love to associate with the Gothic Horror genre.

An extraordinary set of stories lie within these pages. Churchill visited as did Johnson and Boswell. The cutting off of the heads of dead Danes, an epic story of religious strife and a shambolic plan to surrender Scotland to the Spanish Crown inhabit this book. And the ‘tussle’ for the souls of the living takes centre stage.

There are tales of a French conspiracy to Anglicise Scotland and the role of the Earl of Errol in shaping Scotland’s future is explored in major detail. But no spoilers here.

This is in essence a history of Scotland as told through the lens of Slains. The castle itself dips in and out of the tale, and it’s only on page 197 that we get to the essence of the Dracula connection.

I would have preferred an earlier link if truth be told. And this perhaps suggests that the authors were conflicted in purpose. In part diary, there is however much to recommend in this book.

Spanning from 1164 to the present day, this take on the untold history of Slains is an important addition to the history, and the mythology, of North East Scotland.

With a foreword by Alan Hay – archivist of Clan Hay – Slains Castle’s Secret History, is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing on 20th September and, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a book to get your teeth into.

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Slains Castle’s Secret History by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.
ISBN: 979-8469387046

Jul 192021
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s latest publication, Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East.

Authors are told that when they write the blurb for the back jacket of their book they should focus on explaining what the reader will get out of it when they buy it.

So let’s apply this recommendation to Duncan Harley’s new book, Long Shadows. What will you get out of it?
You will be entertained for sure.

Duncan is a walking encyclopaedia of curious and interesting facts about everything that’s been written about Northeast Scotland.

If something extraordinary happened in your town or village, it’s probably in this book.

I can assure you that after reading it you will never dare repeat that ‘nothing interesting ever happens…’ in Buckie, Kintore, Ellon or the likes.

Now I do like quirky stories, and there is plenty in here to tickle the fancy – unexpected tales; little known tales. Take the story on page 54 about the artist Joseph Farquharson from Finzean.

In 1883, Farquharson painted The Joyless Winter Day which hangs in the Tate Gallery. It depicts a shepherd tending his flock in a raging Deeside blizzard. The execution of the painting was tricky because as Duncan explains:

“sheep cannot easily be persuaded to stand still.”

He adds:

“To solve this difficult problem, Farquharson commissioned a flock of life size plaster sheep from Monymusk born craftsman William Wilson of Kelly’s Cats fame, and used these to mark out the positions of the original live subjects in order to preserve the scene as the work progressed.”

The downside of all this ingenuity was that Joseph Farquharson ended up getting the nickname from his fellow artists of ‘Frozen Mutton Farquharson’.

Or the connection between the horror writer Stephen King and Buckie.

Did you know (a phrase you will find yourself repeating after reading Duncan’s book) that in the course of investigating a terrorist act in If It Bleeds, fictional private investigator Holly Gibney discovers that Buckie Academy is twinned with a bombed US High School.

The two schools take a mutual interest in each other’s local sports teams – Buckie Thistle thus picking up a small fanbase in a fictional part of the US.

Long Shadows comprises thirty-three chapters starting with Aberdeen and ending up with Turriff.

In between are tales from local towns and villages, or in one case, the forest at Lenabo where there was once an airship base during World War I. The airships would fly silently out over the North Sea scouting for German submarines to shoot up with machine guns. The story is laid out in chapter 22.

Now I do know about this. My paternal grandfather, who was too old to fight in the trenches, helped to build the Lenabo base. If that makes me sound ancient – be aware that both my grandfather and father became parents in their forties.

Having written this I now take a peek at Duncan’s back-cover blurb.

“In his two previous two books, Duncan exposed readers to an exciting mix of history and mythology. The intention of this new book is to expand greatly on these themes in an entertaining and informative way.

“Please enjoy these wee snippets of Scottish history and smile gently at the past. Long Shadows – Tales of Scotland’s North East is guaranteed to enthral both residents and visitors alike!”

I must agree.

I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it. It’s available on Amazon at a price of £17.95 and looks to be selling fast. Do buy it.

Mar 022021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Marc Ellington, musician, philanthropist, climate change activist, author has passed away. He leaves behind his family and many friends.

Dr Ellington, or Marc to his many friends, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist.  He occasionally performed with his lifelong friend Richard Thompson, and with Fairport Convention. 

Marc had not often performed in recent years, but joined Richard on stage at the Royal Albert hall in September 2019 for Richard’s 70th birthday party show along with many members of the Thompson family, and artists including Dave Gilmour, and Harry Shearer.

Marc and his wife Karen lovingly restored Aberdeenshire’s Towie Barclay Castle and gardens.  From its great hall he worked on his many projects. 

He founded and ran the charity The Scottish Traditional Skills Centre.  The Centre ran some of the first-ever courses on how climate change threatens our cultural and built heritage. 

Presentations were made by experts from various disciplines including the Met Office, focusing on historic properties and sites such as Skara Brae. 

The Centre ran courses for professional and amateur alike including topics such as gardening, dry stone walling, and property repair.  Perhaps its greatest success was running courses for young people with a variety of needs. 

Young people learned from different specialists about the environment, wildlife, botany, and enjoyed hands-on activities from dry stone walling to building lean-tos at locations such as Fyvie Castle grounds. 

Passionate about Aberdeen city’s and shire’s architectural gems, Marc edited The Lost City: Old Aberdeen by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. 

Marc knew any number of little-known historic jewels, and greatly enjoyed showing these off to his guests.  He was a keen student of the area’s history, not least its importance to folk music from the past through artists such as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

Along with Charles MacLean and Daniel MacCannell Marc Ellington was an editor on the book, Scotland’s Secret History: The Illicit Distilling and Smuggling of Whisky.  The book paints a vivid picture of whisky’s history and the Cabrach. 

He was instrumental in the creation of a memorial cairn in the Cabrach dedicated to those from the area who lost their lives in WWI and subsequent conflicts.  Whisky giants The Gordon family were the main funders. 

Marc said:

“Each and every aspect of the construction of the cairn has involved members, both young and old, of the Cabrach Community working closely with master craftsman Euan Thompson.

“As well as being one of the finest memorial cairns to be built in Scotland in recent years, this is an outstanding example of what a local community, working together with energy and determination, can achieve.”

Marc spoke at an exhibition of international artists in 2018 held at the Glenfiddich Distillery. 

He talked about the role art plays – or should play – in education and in our culture.  As part of the speech he applauded the creators,  rebels, movers, and individuals who stand up for what is right, who follow their passions and dreams.  Indeed, this was how many saw him.

As the historic landlord in Gardenstown and Crovie, he was shocked when in 2015 salmon farmers were illegally shooting seals from the land in order to stop them eating salmon. 

He was actively involved with stopping the destruction of wildlife, and cared deeply for the sea and marine life.

He acted as announcer and master of ceremonies for the annual Portsoy Boat Festival, often sailing his craft to the harbour. 

Marc never missed a chance to help people when it arose; he always had a hilarious, apt anecdote for whatever social situation he found himself in. 

He sought to impart his passions for the environment, culture, history, music and arts, and succeeded in influencing many.  He is greatly missed, but his music and his many accomplishments will continue to influence.

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Mar 022021
 

Suzanne Kelly updates her piece Trump Menie:  Wildlife Shot, Carcasses Dumped in Hole with quotes from experts, and shows how this destruction of wildlife fits the pattern of business at the club. 

Trump International Golf Links Scotland at Menie is killing wildlife, and may be ignoring good practice with its horrific open stink pits filled with decaying deer and birds.

NatureScot told Aberdeen Voice it has concerns at Trump’s decision to kill wildlife and leave it rotting in open holes, saying: 

“the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice.”

In early February 2021 a concerned member of the public who discovered a stink pit on the Trump Menie Estate alerted Aberdeen Voice.  They sent us photographs of the ‘worrying’ pit filled with deer and birds decaying in oily, stagnant water.

For a resort given a ‘Six Star Diamond award’ for its excellence (Donald J Trump was on the award body’s executive board coincidentally), and given Trump’s infamous ‘sh*thole countries’ remark when he was president, this disgusting, wildlife destruction is beyond the pale.

The practice of having stink pits is, shockingly, not illegal. 

The pit is used to destroy wildlife.  Animals are killed, then the rotting carcasses are left exposed to attract animals that feed on carrion.  Those animals are then destroyed too. 

There are reports of area pet cats that went missing and never returned.  We await comments from Trump on this point.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: 

“We have been made aware of the matter and no criminality has been established.”

The spokesperson from NatureScot also said:  

“We cannot tell from the photographs provided whether an offence has been committed. However, the disposal of carcasses in a water-logged, open burial pit is not in line with good practice… we would urge anyone who suspects that a wildlife offence has taken place to report their concerns to the police.”

John Robins of Animal Concern commented:

“From the photographs I have seen it is obvious that deer and several species of bird have been deliberately dumped in this pit. I have dealt with cases before where animals have been killed for scraping at the grass on golf courses in order to find worms to eat.

“There is absolutely no good reason to kill animals on a golf course.

“Indeed I’m sure most golfers would appreciate catching a glimpse of a deer or seeing some birds while they are out on the course.

“I hope the Trump organisation give a full explanation for the presence of this mass grave on their land and then make a commitment not to allow any further persecution of wildlife on all their landholdings in Scotland.”

A spokeswoman for the RSPB found nothing amiss; they said: 

“.. what is shown in the photographs does not appear to be illegal, despite how unpleasant it is, so we cannot comment on this.”

Trump’s long-running contempt for nature:

From the outset the Trump organisation did what it wanted to at Menie.  Anyone wishing to ask the Trump organisation why it feels the need to destroy wildlife can contact the club by phone here 01358 743300, or by email here  admin@trumpgolfscotland.com

Should any reader get a response from the Trump organisation, we would like to hear it.

The environmental monitoring was a sham.  When the Scottish Reporters weighed up evidence on Trump’s proposed course, Aberdeen-based Professor Bill Ritchie said the course would not impact the environment if there was monitoring. 

As readers of Aberdeen Voice may know, he led the environment monitoring group called MEMAG.  MEMAG fell apart on Ritchie’s watch and no agency did anything to save it.  Ritchie has never responded to any of Aberdeen Voice’s requests for comment.

Two SSSIs are gone forever.  Further examples of the Trump organisation acting as if laws didn’t apply to it are many. 

Menie’s two Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSIs) had the highest level of legal protection an environment can get.  The sites, the only moving sand dune system in the UK, were destroyed, and virtually nothing was done to stop it.

Planning permission was frequently ignored. 

Trump has ignored/overstepped planning permission several times, and has at least ten retrospective planning approvals.  From our observations, this is not the same consideration Aberdeenshire shows to others who fall foul of planning.

Countryside access is ignored. 

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water across Scotland. 
Over the years, Aberdeen Voice reported numerous ways this was ignored at Menie to Aberdeenshire Council’s relevant officers.  Nothing we reported was ever remedied. 

Gates are permanently locked shut, such as the one between Trump’s parking lot and Leyton Farm Road. 

Plants have been put in place which block peoples’ access around this gate and elsewhere.  Anyone with a bicycle, pram or disability is not getting through or around that gate.

Waste management has been irresponsible. 

Mountains of mixed waste existed on the estate.  I took these photos following information from an environmental campaigner in March 2013 . 

Chemical containers, plastics blowing across the land and the scale of the waste was staggering.

Animals are being destroyed; chemicals are used on the greens (per previous AV articles), the SSSIs are destroyed.  None of the promised benefits (thousands of permanent jobs, tourism money) appeared. 

How long can it be before the area is entirely destroyed and housing springs up?

Footnote:
I dedicate this piece to my sources to whom I am grateful.  In particular there are three wonderful dear friends who bravely fought to help the situation at Menie and made a difference, but who can no longer fight.

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Feb 232021
 

By Suzanne Kelly

Shocking scenes of decaying dead birds dumped in an open hole on the Trump International Golf Links Scotland course on the  Menie Estate, have been sent to Aberdeen Voice.  

Our source claims they also saw ‘at least two’ deer carcasses.

Plans for the course and related construction were in part predicated on respect for the environment and wildlife. 

The two SSSIs (Sites of Specific Scientific Interest), unique moving sand dunes found nowhere else in the UK were destroyed beyond hope of remediation. 

Professor Bill Ritchie was responsible for the environmental monitoring group, MEMAG, which was simply allowed to disintegrate, partially because the Trump organisation failed to attend meetings.  

Aberdeen Voice will investigate further and report back when the Trump organisation, wildlife protection groups, and relevant authorities take the opportunity to respond.

The course has permission for clay shooting.

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Apr 062020
 

Day 11 in the Old Susannah House. Old Susannah is feeding her cats, making pottery, and bothering her editor, asking him to print this pretty please: Three of the North East’s largest animal rescue charities, Halfpenny Farm, The New Arc and Willows Animal Sanctuary, are all in crisis and are seeking help from the Public.

For many years these charities, all members of R.E.A.C.H. (Reputable Animal Charities), have provided rescue, rehabilitation and specialised care for over 50,000 animals in the North East.

Together, they have cared for all types of animals from neglected, unwanted, abandoned, orphaned and injured animals ranging from domestic pets, exotics, farm and equines to our local wildlife. Between them their centres currently care for over a thousand creatures requiring their specialist help.

These charities are completely dependent on the good will of the public.

They receive no income from the Government and rely on their own fundraising activities and initiatives to continue their work.

Their only source of revenue has been through a variety of avenues.

  • Charity shops …. Closed.
  • Open Days….Postponed.
  • Fun events…Cancelled.
  • Fund raising such as pub quizzes, sponsored walks, charity tins and the like which have all been suspended.

In this current situation, everyone’s first concerns are understandably with family and friends.

However these charities continue to do what they can to rescue and care for animals in need. But if they fail then there is no replacement when things get better. They will be gone!

They are the animals ‘Front Line’. Please help them to continue their work!

Click on the following links.

Donate to Halfpenny Farm 
Donate to The New Arc 
Donate to Willows Animal Sanctuary 

Feb 262020
 

Duncan Harley reviews Hamish Napier’s new album, The Woods.

In this, the third part of his Strathspey Pentalogy musical journey, composer Hamish Napier celebrates the ancient forests of the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve ranted on about the man’s music on a few occasions. Once or twice in the, now defunct Leopard Magazine, a couple of times in Aberdeen Voice and in the blogosphere.

So, here I go at it again.

The first album dwelt on vivid sonic images of the River Spey – The River, and part two of the five-part journey – The Railway, was dedicated to railwaymen all around the north-east.

In this new collection there are 21 new tracks which according to Hamish incorporate 28 new tunes and pieces in a folk-tune cycle. Legends, folklore and a heady mix of jigs, reels, marches and slow airs inhabit the album.

Themed around the medieval Ogham alphabet, there is says Hamish:

“A track for every letter of the Scottish Gaelic tree alphabet.” 

Venus of the Woods, an upbeat polka, reflects the cheerful mood of the ash while the elm, a coffin tree, is celebrated in a melancholy lament – The Tree of the Underworld. Birch, gean, holly, alder and rowan all get a mention as do willow, oak and hawthorn and more.

Hamish recalls his childhood playing in the Anagach Woods over at Granton as being the primary inspiration.

‘What I viewed as simply the woods is now a gathering of characters and personalities … my work is about celebrating my homeland, finding hidden gems and stories in the surrounding landscape.

“I have used the Scottish Gaelic alphabet, which is centred around Scotland’s native trees, to explore the folklore, natural and social heritage of Strathspey.

“I’ve composed tunes for all 18 Gaelic letters. There’s also music for the people who lived in the woods locally, and who explored, worked, foraged, mused, trained, flourished and died there.

“I explored the flora and fauna of the Caledonian forest, riparian woods, montane scrub and other woodlands, in particular the properties and uses of our twenty or so native trees.’

Hamish is joined in this new production by an array of talent including Calum MacCrimmon, Steve Byrnes, Ross Ainslie and James Lindsay.

All in all, this is a quite splendid album. Go buy/download.

The full 21 track album will be released on 20th March (the Spring Equinox) and is available now for pre-order @ http://www.hamishnapier.com/

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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