Aug 202020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Sustrans, a pro walking and cycling charity with a multi-million pound budget might not seem an obvious choice for doling out millions in funds “to improve social distancing and slow the spread of Covid-19”, but here we are: Aberdeen will get benches and artwork, delivered in partnership with Sustrans, for £1.76 million of taxpayer money.

Sustrans’ website claims:

“The work we’re doing is creating healthier places and happier people.”

Not so much in Aberdeen where a second lockdown took place while Sustrans and the city were spending money.

Aberdonians familiar with the ‘Wallgate’ scandal may recall Sustrans’ involvement.

Former city councillor Willie Young’s father owned a stone wall that collapsed; through some maneuvering the city got Sustrans to spend a quarter of a million pounds to fix it. Neither Sustrans nor the city seem to have done any due diligence to find out the public did not own the wall; questions remain over the massive expenditure and where all the money went.

As an aside there was a vote to claw back this money from the Young family. It failed by one vote, with disgraced sex-offender Alan Donnelly voting in favour of letting Young off.

But that is a tale best told on Facebook by the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College page.

Many are still scratching their heads at the central government decision to give SUSTRANS the cash and remit to deal with social distancing in city centres. It exists to get us out of cars and buses and onto bikes or to walk instead – is this really the moment for doing so?

The city has just informed Aberdeen Voice where some of the money is going, and that all these wooden structures are temporary: All that wood will eventually be removed, possibly scrapped.

Parklets life:

These are not just any wooden benches with planters and decking; these are ‘parklets’. To date (21/7/20) ACC spent approximately:

“…£105,000 on the completed parklets, which has been carried out by in-house operational teams, with Hall & Tawse Ltd providing specialist joinery workshop fabrication and delivery to site… we were only able to locate one supplier that could meet the demand.

“The installer has a link to ACC by having an existing contract to manufacture and supply doors and fire doors from their workshop.”

Sustrans says Aberdonians will get 136 parklets. A Sustrans spokesperson said:

“It is hoped the parklets will be an attractive addition to the city centre and provide an alternative to the use of plastic bollards”

How it was determined that plastic bollards were essential in fighting Covid-19 is unclear.

Sustrans’ and Aberdeen City’s parklets jut into Union Street and other areas; many businesses are irked that they had not been consulted on road closures. Sustrans distanced itself from any road closure issues, but did not explain how it could be working with the city to build the parklets without being involved in putting them on city streets.

Businesses have been hurt by one-way traffic systems and road closures, with several small businesses closing.

The Covid-19 virus can live for quite some time on wood, but fear not. Sustrans said:

“…like all public infrastructure, it would be up to the user to assess the risk of catching the virus, before touching a surface.”

In other words, rather than spending funds on awareness posters, stickers on the pavement telling people to social distance, stickers showing any one-way pedestrian areas, added hand sanitizer stations, partnerships with retailers and hospitality businesses to ensure better social distancing, you will get 136 temporary benches, providing 136 brand new surfaces where the virus can exist, creating a risk (even if small) where none previously existed.

Two weeks ago a photo was posted to social media showing a vandalized parklet, where wooden strip had been dangerously bent to a vertical position.

Aberdeen Voice asked the city whether it had done any cost projection for the cost of maintaining, cleaning, restoring the decking. We were told no cost projection has been undertaken yet.

The city’s FOI response also said:

“To date the decking materials expenditure is £31,167.45 total (to 21/7/20) for decking, anti slip inserts, bolts, nuts, shims, adhesive, sealant, non-slip tape.

“The suppliers used to date are Keith Builders Merchants, Jewson, MGM Timber, Premier, John Smith Ltd, Cordiners Timber, General & Technical Flooring, Hall & Tawse. Quotation enquiries have been sent to suppliers by email and telephone, in line with the ACC procurement regulations.

The process is still ongoing as the units are still being manufactured, and there is limited stock due to factory and cargo shutdowns… all suppliers except for Keith Builders had existing links as suppliers with ACC, and had supplied ACC in the past.”

Simultaneously, there are insufficient resources to facilitate blended and/or on line learning and children are returning to schools – many of which do not have their risk assessments finished.

These will not be published in any event, despite UK government recommendations to do so, and other unions and schools happily publishing their assessments.

While acknowledging that not a single other Scottish city which got some of the £38 million-pound Spaces for People pot opted for decking, we are assured that:

“The decking is grooved and is sold in Scotland commercially as decking. The trip and slip potential for footwear has been considered and non-slip strips have been provided on the decking.”

Convinced that no one will slip and fall / cut themselves on the edges of these parklets, the city confirmed:

“We are not considering procuring specific insurance for the decking. The Council has public liability insurance for all its activities should a claim be received from a member of the public.”

Whether that insurance has been updated to include 136 parklets is unknown, but seems unlikely in light of the city’s comment. By the way, the decking is not fireproof – because it doesn’t have to be.

Precisely how wooden decking, notorious for slippery nature and for its uneven surface hostile to those in heels or with mobility issues, artwork and security guards from Leicester will make Aberdonians happier and safer remains to be seen.

Icing on the cake:

In order to ‘make people feel confident’, the Sustrans money for Covid-19 distancing will see £100k spent on three artworks. Sustrans demanded the right to help approve how this is allocated, according to local press ‘to help Aberdeen stay within the rules’.

The same newspaper article quotes someone on the project saying:

“This will make people feel confident.”

Complaint:

Nearly 30 people sent a formal complaint about the Sustrans/Aberdeen City plans, asking for a review involving central government of just how these projects meet the initial remit, noting there has been a new spike – possibly because people were feeing a little too confident and not sufficiently cautious.

Moves like allowing marquees and crowded pavements may well have contributed to the transmission of new cases. Anyone wishing to add their name to the complaint can email sgvk27@aol.com.

Sustrans is very keen to distance itself from any responsibility for overcrowding that took place at a nightclub, saying it had no remit to deal with private businesses.

It was reminded that the crowd was on the public pavement and road.

More people are welcome to add their name to the complaint; it was felt best to get it out as soon as was possible due to the urgency of the situation. It replied to Aberdeen Voice quoting a portion of its remit; we replied quoting their website:

“The Spaces for People programme is funded by the Scottish Government and managed by Sustrans Scotland.

“It aims to enable statutory bodies to implement measures focused on protecting public health, supporting physical distancing and preventing a second wave of the outbreak.”

With £1.76 million going on benches, artwork and goodness knows whatever else, public health protection was a fail, physical distancing was a fail, and a second wave of the outbreak hit Aberdeen. That artwork had better be spectacular.

With millions flowing through Sustrans staff according to last year’s Companies House documents, the pro-walking/cycling quango will be just fine. As yet only a small portion of the £1.76 million has been spent or committed as yet: Aberdeen Voice will watch where the rest of the money goes.

Aberdeen Voice is happy to hear in strictest confidence from anyone with information on the spread of Covid-19 and/or related issues. Please contact Suzanne Kelly via sgvk27@aol.com

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Jun 242020
 

Duncan Harley reviews Mike Shepherd’s latest book, ‘The World Makers – Who Gets to the Top and Why’.

At first glance Mike Shepherd’s new book might well appear to be a detailed instruction manual on how to reach beyond the greasy pole and become a super-achiever.

And, there is certainly a glut of content here to sign-post the ambitious.

Tales of Olympians, top scientists, infamous and not so infamous politicians, ground breaking engineers and innovative business leaders – over achievers the lot of them, inhabit the pages.

But, as Mike points out early on in his introduction, the ambitious amongst us will undoubtedly gain insight here but the tales within might actually deter them from ever trying to get there in the first place.

Described as gossipy by the author, this is certainly no dry academic tome and throughout the 300 or so pages of discussion there are dozens of entertaining and often supremely bizarre tales involving the unexpected aspects of human behaviour exhibited by the gifted few.

Mathematician John von Neuman – who worked on the Manhattan Project, could memorise entire telephone directories and seemingly was able to recall any of the entries on request.

Moroccan Emperor Moulay Sharif who fathered some 1,200 children. Heiress Evalyn McLean who took the art of gloating to new levels by parading the Hope Diamond on the collar of her pet pooch.

Henry Morton Stanley who rose from penury to prominence as the man sent by the infamous New York Herald press baron Gordon Bennett Jr to find the missing David Livingstone.

Churchill, who despite episodic attacks of the Black Dog and a fairly mixed early career, rose to some prominence in the 1940’s. And many many more.

A stoic belief in one’s own destiny, an obsession with achievement, intense ambition and on occasion an intense and incorruptible – as in the case of Thomas Plimsoll of Plimsoll Line fame, desire to do good all feature within these pages alongside much discussion regarding the nature of those single-minded achievers.

Throw in a bit of hubris and a measure of narcissism and you get the drift of this book.

Many of the featured hyper-achievers deserve to be celebrated but inevitably many others do not. Florence Nightingale certainly falls into the former category – for her achievements after the Crimean Campaign.

Saparmurat Niyazov – tyrannical dictator of Turkmenistan, resides firmly in the ranks of the latter. But no spoilers here.

At the core of the discussion though is the idea that these big ideas of those few in number super-achievers shape our world and, like it or not, the rest of us have to fit as best we can into the framework they create.

On an optimistic note Mike concludes that the folk at the base of the pyramid can usually rub along just fine with those at the pinnacle but tempers this with the brutal thought that the actions of those achievers, whom he labels world makers, might just be a little extreme.

He may very well be right.

The World Makers by Mike Shepherd is published as a Kindle Book (291pp) and is available from Amazon @ £2.99

Jun 242020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Rob Scott’s ‘Zombie Cake’.

March 17 – a day that is usually given over to a stereotypical but good-natured outbreak of beer-drinking to honour St Patrick.

This St Patrick’s Day, the UK was poised to go in a lockdown to slow the spread of the deadly Covid-19 virus. James Watt, co-founder of Ellon’s BrewDog, tweeted:

“At BrewDog we are doing all we can to make it through & protect as many jobs as we can. But we, like so many businesses have lost 70% of our income almost overnight.”

The growth of Brewdog is without precedent in the UK craft beer world, possibly without precedent anywhere.

In the beginning they were Watt, Martin Dickie, and a dog, selling 4 different brews at Aberdeen’s farmers’ market. They now employ thousands and have breweries in Columbus Ohio, Australia and Germany as well as their Ellon home.

From one Aberdeen Castlegate bar sprouted scores of bars on four continents. These bars are a key point of revenue – and just like that, all the UK’s hospitality sector was faced with the lockdown and all it implied.
This dog was not going to just roll over.

Sanitized News:

BrewDog first decided they would use their distillery to provide free-of-charge sanitizer for the NHS which had announced a shortage. They worked with the NHS and while the very first batch wasn’t quite strong enough (a BrewDog first), they’ve been pumping out sanitizer and packing it into any and all bottles and packages they can get. An NHS spokesman said:

“It’s heartening that firms like BrewDog are choosing to play their part, and helping protect our NHS workers on the frontline across Grampian.

“This serves as yet another example of the phenomenal support we’ve received from a number of businesses in the local community. By working together, and continuing to follow the government advice, we will get through this pandemic.”

The sanitizer is not for sale; BrewDog are now delivering some of it to North East Scotland’s nursing homes, and over 100,000 bottles have been distributed free.

Funding this initiative’s costs, and commenting on a government covid-19 scandal, BrewDog recently released a new product…

Barnard Castle Eye Test – Cummings’ Comeuppance:

While many of us were doing our part and following lockdown orders created by Boris Johnson and his advisers, he and his advisers seemed immune to these regulations they created.

BoJo shook hands with Covid-19 patients – later denying it- he caught the disease and passed it to others.

His unelected guru, Mekon-lookalike Dominic Cummings, decided that despite lockdown, despite being ill, and despite not able to see straight, he’d drive his family to stay with his dad (staying in a cottage on the property that seems to have no planning permission and for which no tax seems to be paid by the way. True: Dad owns a horse he named Barak because the horse is black and white: Racism is alive and well and in Barnard).

The country was outraged (save some Daily Mail readers) by these double-standards and all their implications. Watt told LBC Radio:

“If they’re asking the country to make sacrifices for the common good the government and its advisers should be abiding by the same rules.”

Following BrewDog’s longstanding history of ‘protest beers’ such as ‘Hello my name is Vlad’ (dig at Putin’s anti LGBT hardline actions), ‘Make Earth Great Again’ (a commentary on Trump) and more, BrewDog announced it would make a Cummings-related beer.

The name was put to a public vote, and within hours of being put on presale, ‘Barnard Castle Eye Test’ sold over 45,000 units: all profits going to the NHS hand sanitizer project.

Open Arms Welcome:

For many on lockdown, BrewDog provides a great online social resource, the BrewDog Open Arms https://www.brewdog.com/uk/onlinebar .

Every Friday at 6pm this virtual online pub opens up for a few hours of zany fun.

BrewDog told Aberdeen Voice:

“The Open Arms was started as soon as our bars shut so we could still bring our community together to be social and enjoy a beer. Since opening we’ve been blown away by the support and experience with over 100,000 people joining our sessions from all over the world.

“The Open Arms has hosted live music, virtual beer tastings, homebrew sessions, food & beer pairings and our weekly Friday session.

“We now have regulars joining us every week and, due to demand, have recently changed the Friday session to be unlimited entry via streaming on YouTube Live”.

Dawn Scott’s ‘Kamikazi Knitting Club’.

MCs Tim Warwood & Adam Gendle host the event and run a hilarious quiz with prizes randomly given out. James Watt and Martin Dickie are among the hundreds who attend. Musical guests have included Carl Barat from The Libertines and a host of upcoming talents performing from their homes.

It usually ends up with people dancing in their living rooms to the cheesiest of music, ending in Toto’s Africa (yes, really).

James and Martin announced, seemingly off the cuff that they’d give away £1,000 next week in beer vouchers for the best costume. Amanda Scott won the bar’s costume competition with a hyper-creative recreation of BrewDog’s ‘Homicidal Helpdesk Puppet’.

Runners-up included Jazza Crawford and Linz as ‘Super Bario Brothers’, while Rob Scott and his wife Dawn recreated BrewDog beer labels for ‘Zombie Cake’ and ‘Kamikazi Knitting Club’.

Rob said:

“I love the Open Arms Online bar…[it] lets us experience some of the vibe. We attend the Open Arms bar and afterwards we videocall each other and talk some more.

“Another reason I like the Open Arms is that I’m an introvert. This way I can take part of the experience on my own terms.”

Jazza said:

“Since the very first week both Linz and I have been enjoying catching up with friends and other Equity Punks in the BrewDog open arms.

“So far we have learned a lot more about the creation of some of our favourite beers and spirits. Learned how to cook some amazing dishes. Painted sharks and whales with Plague Fisher.

“Most of all our Friday night highlight is the quiz and after party. It’s been brilliant to have what feels like and escape from the home without actually leaving the house.

“I hope it stays after lockdown maybe as a once monthly catch up for the international friends that we have made through BrewDog.

“Brewdog Open Arms is a great community, it’s fun to see everyone and to hear James & Martin talk about the business and the new beers and sprits they’re making!”

The Open Arms session on 29 May featured a challenge which raised a massive £3,000 for the NHS. Sessions are occasionally held on other days, featuring beer yoga, recipes, virtual tasting sessions, and even an art tutorial from Craig Fisher, whose distinctive bold designs decorate BrewDog bars and breweries around the world.

Craig, who no longer works in-house for BrewDog, said:

“It’s been an awesome way to interact with the BrewDog fans who’ve followed my work, despite the current limitations.”

While many businesses are losing revenue, while many people are worried about finances, friends and lockdown, BrewDog is coming through with helpful initiatives – and it all started on our doorsteps in Fraserburgh, Ellon, and Aberdeen.

On a personal note, I am a shareholder (as I always disclose when I write about the company) – I’ve had many proud moments as such, but how they’ve handled lockdown’s challenges, but these initiatives re-set the scale and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

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May 162020
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally ho! Lockdown is bringing out the best in people; I’m getting more email than ever from lawyers of dead relatives in the Gabon and Bolivia than I never heard of, all wanting to give me money.

This is particularly heartwarming, as I’ve been singled out from the scores of relatives we apparently share in common.

All I need to do is reply with my personal details and a few hundred pounds and they’ll wire me millions. What a great thing the internet is.

Along with these generous offers I have email from people like ‘Claudia Hayman’ who emails saying I must pay her invoices immediately.

There is usually a ‘PAY NOW’ comment in Claudia’s subject line, and an invoice number – which means it’s genuine.

Funny though, she never says what service or item she’s invoicing me for, and Old Susannah must be getting forgetful, as I have absolutely no recollection of buying anything from her.

In the interest of saving time, I forward Claudia’s emails to people like The honorable Doctor Abraham Naki, who represents my deceased ancestor in Nigeria and who is about to transfer billions into my account. I tell Claudia that Dr Abraham will pay her invoices, as he apparently has US $8 million of mine.

By allowing them to talk to each other directly, I’m sure I’m making everyone happy while I stay well out of it.

Either I’m about to come into lots of money, or these people are scammers who have mistaken me for a run-of-the-mill Covidiot.

It’s ages since I wrote an Old Susannah column (thank god some may say), but I wanted No. 200 to be a landmark issue. I nearly wrote about poor misunderstood councillors Alan Donnelly and Jennifer Stewart.

He bravely continues to represent Aberdeen and won’t let a trifle like his conviction for sexual assault stop him collecting his remuneration – I mean bravely voting in favour of the ruling majority – I mean going to functions – er something like that.

And Jennifer; well, despite going to the newspapers with tales of her being bullied by unnamed councillors to the point of her being mentally ill, she didn’t let that stop her going to the press to stick up for Donnelly, questioning whether the sexual assault conviction was really a sexual assault (let’s hope the victim won’t find her remarks bullying).

But we are in lockdown, and it is time to write Column 200.

I’ve been doing lockdown, because I’m an overly-cautious, paranoid person who is too thick to realise I’m a sheeple, sleepwalking into giving government and vaccine companies my freedom for the rest of my life.

I’m clearly a stooge for following the ‘Stay at Home Save Lives’ NHS request when I could be throwing bar-b-ques and going to house parties. Or so some would have me think.

My lockdown has included BrewDog just as past columns have. I usually open my column with a quick look at what BrewDogs I drank in which BrewDog pubs.

I did this before I bought shares, I own shares now, and so do some 131,000 others. I bought shares because I wanted to see where James Watt’s and Martin Dickie’s dreams would go. They went large. Then Covid19 struck.

This is what they did next.

This photo shows me in my home-made BrewDog Neon Overlord costume (this being one of their brews a while back), which I made for the BrewDog Open Arms online pub.

Is it childish to dress up? Hope so. I will never stop enjoying such challenges when they come my way.

Like so many other businesses, BrewDog has lost a lot of income – c 70% since lockdown started. The Dog was not about to roll over and play dead though.

They immediately started making hand sanitizer in conjunction with the NHS. BrewDog has donated huge quantities of it to the NHS. Thanks BrewDog.

Elsewhere BrewDog has helped entertain, motivate and engage with people during lockdown that has reaffirmed every great thought I’ve had about them.

The online pub is a great place to virtually hang out with hundreds of others. On Fridays at 6pm there is normally a hilarious, frenetic quiz, a few words from Martin and James, and lots of silly dancing.

During the week there are other pub events too – eg beer yoga, virtual tastings, and (my favourite) art tutorials from the amazing Fischer whose art decorates BrewDog bars and bottles www.brewdog.com.

This photo is my feeble attempt at doing one of his iconic whale creatures – the tuition was fine, my execution not so much.

I’m isolated at home with my cats (nb just Sasha now; Molly passed away), but when the BrewDog Open Arms is open, I sing, dance and laugh along with others, and I dare say many of us feel connected.

I’m currently drinking my favourite readily-available BrewDog, Jackhammer, but I recently discovered their delicious Zealots Heart gin. Juniper, angelica; the smell is divine – divine to the point I’ve broken out my home perfume-blending lab and am making my own version of the scent.

But I digress, and it’s time for some definitions.

Covidiot:  (noun) person who displays traits of gullibility, illogic, selfishness and/or good old-fashioned stupidity. Collective nouns for group of covidiots include: a Brian of covidiots (see photo below), a pandemic of covidiots, a murder of covidiots.

Never before in history has so much factual information been available to so many for free. Never before has it been so easy to corroborate information and separate fact from fiction. But for many, where’s the fun (or profit) in that?

Here is a look at some of the sub-species of covidiot:

‘I’m a Genius’ Covidiot:

We’re all of us so stupid, listening to the NHS, the WHO and the CDC. We could be taking our health advice from Kevin in Stockport’s sister’s friend who knows someone who’s a nurse.

Genius Covidiot posts go viral, they feature audio recordings of an unnamed, unseen self-styled ‘expert’ who tells you that Covid-19 is just the ‘flu or that if you shine a UV light in your mouth, you’re invincible.

Then we have the even smarter Genius Covidiot.

They are bravely protesting against the lockdown with a breath-taking array of signs. In America, many are financed by the far right, including the charming Dorr brothers, who like guns and want freedom (unless you’re a woman needing an abortion, or a person who wants gun law reform).

Here are some of my favourite Genius Covidiots.

(Moran, if you’re out there, hope you’ve got a Brian now. I recommend May, Eno or Cox)

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It’s Pennsylvania, by the way – something most people who live there know. And… it’s ‘people’ not ‘peaple’.

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Personally, I don’t think we’re paying frontline NHS enough to flip burgers let alone deal with Covid19.

Imagine taking the time to make such a kindly sign, but not knowing how to use an apostrophe or the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’.

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Paranoid Covidiot:

We see the Paranoid Covidiot in its natural habitat on both sides of the Atlantic, huddled together in protests. Many of them in the USA need guns because, well, rights.

To the Paranoid Covidiot the lockdown and coronavirus is all a government/Bill Gates/5G/Elon Musk/Leftist/Communist/Socialist/Illuminati/Vaccine company plot to permanently take away our rights and mandate that we be force-injected with poison, don’t you know?

If you don’t realise all this and protest, then you are not woke. On the other hand if you don’t attend mass protests, you may well outlive the Paranoid Covidiot all the same.

Survivalist Covidiot:

Also crawling out of the woodwork are the survivalists – a predominantly American type of covidiot.

They usually wear camouflage gear so they can blend into the background. They also wear unmissable bright red Make America Great Again caps so that they stick out to fellow Survivalist Covidiots.

Reading things like ‘Survival Times’ or emails from some guy named Sam, the Survivalist Covidiot should be able to survive every disaster known to man.

If you had taken their advice, you would now have an underground concrete bunker filled with canned food, turmeric and krill capsules, radiation suits and protein bars (and lots of guns and ammo and toilet roll).

If you had acted on some of their bulletins, you’d have stocked up on enough tinned Cheeetos and dehydrated tacos to last 15 years. Their missives warn that those who didn’t stockpile would be in terror during a crisis but the survivalists would be smugly safe.

And now that they’ve been asked to stay indoors for a few months to stay alive? The Paper Survivalist Covidiot is freaking out.

The ‘It’s all about me’ Covidiot:

This genre of Covidiot is typified in Kristin from Hastings:

“I’ve been going out and I don’t even have a sniffle,” she boasts online, advising that since she personally doesn’t know anyone who’s had it, then it is just a big joke.

If it doesn’t impact Kristin personally, it can’t be bad right? Kristin doesn’t know anyone who died? Let’s all go back to normal then. Thanks Kristin.

The WTF Covidiot:

The WTF Covidiots are the ones who’ve taken being a covidiot to new levels.

The ‘My Body My Choice’ covidiot has taken a pro-choice slogan, which would be fine, if not for the fact the highly-contagious virus can live for days on some surfaces, and a single infected person can infect scores, hundreds, even thousands in the case of South Korea’s Patient 31.

They are often American, almost always far-right.

This person supports Trump, who with his evangelical preachers oppose the ‘My Body My Choice’ mantra when it comes to abortion.
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Thank you, mystery woman, for fighting for our right not to wear facemasks and freedom to infect others at large gatherings and all those they come in contact with; your contribution will not be forgotten.

Face Masks are controversial even among experts. Can they pose risks if used wrongly?Apparently.

Can they stop an infected person’s droplets infecting others? Seems so.

But dang, they’re just so uncomfy – and unflattering.

Thinking outside the box, a Kentucky woman has solved the problem.

No need to thank me for sharing this tip.

https://metro.co.uk/video/american-woman-cuts-hole-face-mask-make-easier-breathe-2164644/

PS: do not agree to pull a bank heist with this woman.

The Head of State Covidiot:

I cannot express how I felt when Boris Johnson announced he had shaken hands with Coronavirus patients. Then he got criticised and said he hadn’t.

Then he fell ill.

Now he’s making speeches again. Thanks Boris. Where would the NHS be without you?

But in this pandemic, the greatest head of state covidit is undoubtedly Donald J Trump. I admire how flexible he can be – not afraid to change his stance from ‘zero cases’ and ‘just one person from China’ into recommending specific, as-yet untested drugs (which may add profits to the Trump family coiffers) and recommending that people ingest bleach.

You first Donald.

At the time of writing the valet who serves POTUS diet coke, Kentucky Fried and hamberders has tested positive.

I’m not worried for The Donald: evangelical preachers tell us Trump is God’s man on earth, and they’ve prayed for him. Bleach and prayers, that’s all you need – if you’re Trump.

The ‘I’ve found a new expert’ covidiot:

In times of pandemic, nothing’s more important than being the first person to push a radical theory or wacky pseudo expert.

So if your google search comes up with one chiropracter who has a radical theory about the disease, if you find a video from a woman denounced in her profession because she can’t run experiments properly – by all means share these peoples’ views on every social media page you can.

Join new pages, tell everyone how the world’s greatest minds are wrong/corrupt/in a conspiracy, but Dr Bloggs from Dumbarton or Muskeegee has the solution to the pandemic. That’ll help.

And if someone takes dodgy advice you’ve shared and falls ill because of it, well, that’s not your fault, is it?

I think that’s enough Covidiots for now.

Please isolate yourself from idiocy, please take any non-medical advice with a pinch of salt, do not buy all the toilet roll in the asda superstore, and please – don’t go to mass protests against lockdown, even if you do believe you have a right to a haircut or golf game.

Lockdown measures are designed to stop you joining the 30,600 dead in the UK and 279,000 dead worldwide – and taking others with you.

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Mar 122020
 

Duncan Harley reviews On Your Feet – The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Despite the expansive title, this is really a biopic of Gloria.

Thin character development leaves husband/manager Emilio, played here by George Ioannides, lagging.

Portrayed as caring, charming and occasionally comedic, that’s about all you get of the essence of the man.

Gloria, a splendid Philippa Stefani, and her mum and her gran hold the plot strings and the show is really about the Estefan brand.

Plot-wise, an attempt is made to set the bands rise against a mid-20th century geo-socio-political scene in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. Havana born Gloria’s family flee to Miami following Castro’s takeover.

Dad Jose – Elia Lo Tauro, participates in the disastrous Bay of Pigs CIA inspired invasion of Cuba and is later exposed to a toxic chemical defoliant whilst serving in Vietnam. He gets ill and dies.

A later traffic accident leaves Gloria wheel-chair bound. She miraculously recovers. The band face determined music industry hostility. They overcome this.

In short, the link-story is all about triumph in the face of adversity. But it’s still paper-thin in places and perhaps over-reliant on tear-jerkers.

There are better musicals in the biopic juke-box pack, think Jersey Boys and Beautiful. But of course, none have a back catalogue which crosses over so many musical genres.

Ballad, disco, pop, samba all feature and in both Spanish and English.

Combined with the shows drop dead gorgeous dance numbers and, as a piece of uplifting entertainment, it works. Staging, and lighting and sound – superb. Ensemble/swing/band all good.

In all there are some twenty-one stunningly performed musical numbers. But please can I have some more plot sir?

Entertainment: 3/5
Stars: 3/5

On Your Feet is @ HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 14 March.

Words © Duncan Harley, Images © Aberdeen Performing Arts

Mar 022020
 

Will a convicted sex offender hold the key vote on Aberdeen City budget cuts? Suzanne Kelly writes.

Disgraced Alan Donnelly was found guilty, in an Aberdeen Sheriff court, of sexually assaulting a waiter at a civic function.
Despite this completely contravening the Councillors Code of Conduct, he’s staying in power and may hold a key vote on swinging budget cuts at the council’s meeting Tuesday 3 March: and some councillors are happy with him staying put.

The council’s ‘Urgent Action’ Committee have removed him from committees he was on, and reported him to the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (they had to really – so many people have done so, the Commission won’t take more complaints).

However, it does not appear they asked the Commissioner to exercise the power and suspend Donnelly. Instead, some councillors have been making statements in their official capacity to support Donnelly. Many believe this is because his vote is needed.

Repercussions.

While publications such as Private Eye (Eye 1516) cover this scandal and, as the Commissioner confirms, it is investigating Donnelly’s breaking of the code, Donnelly is still being allowed to attend civic functions and represent the city – and vote.

If he hangs on, he will be the subject of a public hearing by the Commission.

The Commission may be asked to look into what the council did to protect people from Donnelly, not least as there are reports Donnelly, who once was attached to ACC social services, bought alcohol for a sex offender in violation of protocol.

Did the city really do all it could to prevent this sexual assault? Were councillors’ remarks and actions appropriate? The commission’s remit is apparently widening by the day.

A petition started by Renee Slater, a former Torry Community Councillor (Donnelly’s ward) has over 770 signatures asking for Donnelly’s swift departure from office.

Reaction: Survivors UK say ‘he should step down or be removed’

“I agree wholeheartedly that he should step down or be removed from being a Councillor,” said Alex Feis-Bryce, Chief Executive Officer of SURVIVORS UK.

SURVIVORS UK helps sexually abused men as well as their friends and family, no matter when the abuse happened, and challenge the silence and attitudes.

Mr Feis-Bryce added:

“I say this as a survivor, the CEO of an organisation supporting thousands of survivors and a former Councillor.” 

According to the group, an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted.

Which witch hunt? What Jennifer Stewart did next.

“What I see is that there is a bit of a witch hunt to get him (Donnelly) out.”
– Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Jennifer Stewart

As Survivors UK’s web page says:

“we know male sexual abuse has profound effects on those who experience it and can deeply affect their mental health and relationships.”

Most people understand sexual assault does not have to be a penetrative rape or involve being beaten. Not Cllr Stewart.

Jennifer Stewart, now in Donnelly’s former role as Depute Lord Provost went to the press in her official capacity and said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing but sentence has been passed.”

In other words, the Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen went to the press to call into question the robustness of an Aberdeen Sheriff court decision and to denigrate the sexual assault victim.

She said that those seeking to get Donnelly out were on a ‘witch hunt’.

Was she trying to conflate a hysterical persecution of the innocent (witch hunt) with trying to protect people from a sex offender, protect the council’s reputation, and ensuring the code was adhered to by councillors? Surely she knows the definition of the phrase ‘witch hunt?’

The barrage of justified criticism of her words was swift. Stewart immediately took to the press again and released a story, again in her official capacity, claiming she suffered mental health problems. These, she said, were so bad she was scared to walk down certain council corridors.

Stewart said:

“The level of pressure that was brought on me by the SNP and Liberal Democrats caused me significant mental health issues and anxiety, something I have never suffered from before.

“I have been ostracised, shunned and prevented from walking down certain corridors.

“Other councillors have no right to go on a witch-hunt to try and get rid of someone.”

In her next press outing, she was praised for her work to help female victims of domestic abuse in a new initiative with the police and a charity.

(NB – The most recent figures (Scottish Government 2012a) show that in 2011/12 there were 9,569 reports to the police of a domestic abuse incident where the ‘victim’ was male and the perpetrator female and 659 reports where there was a male ‘victim’ of a male perpetrator (where the sex of the parties were recorded).

A day or two later she was portrayed in the press again sympathetically, talking about the death of a friend.

Ms Stewart was asked to comment but has not replied. If it is true, she has mental health issues which she is willing to talk to the press about while accusing political opponents of causing these problems, then the Standards Commission should be asked to investigate these as a matter of urgency.

However, if she suffers mental health problems because of bullying, perhaps she should not go around contradicting the sheriff court’s finding a man was a victim of sexual assault, and in her official role telling the press ‘an attack is a physical (it was) and aggressive (it was) thing’.

If, however she has cynically made a false claim of mental health problems caused by political opponents (who strenuously deny such claims – and Stewart named no names) as a means of garnering sympathy and to deflect attention from her contentious remarks over Donnelly’s victim, this must be investigated.

For a woman who uses the term ‘witch hunt’ about those wanting Donnelly out, she has herself started a genuine witch hunt with her claim unnamed people gave her mental health problems.

She has tarnished her every opponent and by not naming anyone has made the public wonder who is harming her mental health, thereby causing people to mistrust those who would do such a thing: with absolutely no evidence for her claims.

It is understood Ms Stewart’s conduct will be reported to the Standards Commission shortly too.

Reaction.

At least some members of ACC recognize the crime of sexual assault is serious. Councillor Alex Nicoll and Steve Delaney want Donnelly out now.

The calls came not long after Donnelly was seen at a Town House event to celebrate the success of local food bank (the ‘oil capitol of Europe’ should not need food banks, by the way).

Lord Provost Barney Crockett told the BBC the city must:

“ensure everybody is treated appropriately, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

How he is treating Donnelly’s victim appropriately remains to be seen.
Mr Nicoll demanded Crockett must:

“clarify why he feels the sex offender should be treated the same as everyone else.”

Responsibility.

Mr Nicoll added:

“It is utterly disgraceful that Councillor Donnelly continues to attend events, by invitation, as if nothing has happened.

“I would urge the Lord Provost to ban him from civic events if he is serious about protecting the public and ensuring Aberdeen City Council is not a laughing stock.”

When asked where the responsibility for protecting the public from a further Donnelly attack lies, a spokesman for Aberdeen Sheriff Court said

“This would be a matter for Aberdeen District Council.”

Risible.

As things stand, Donnelly is on the council, attending events, drinking alcohol, enjoying himself, laughing with other councillors.

He is poised to vote, and may be key to getting a controversial budget passed. Depending on what ACC do over this vote, it looks as if the Standards Commission is going to be very busy with investigations indeed.

But, alas for Cllr Nicoll, Aberdeen is now a laughing stock throughout the UK and is on record as being an institution callous to sexual assault victims.

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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/

Feb 212020
 

Duncan Harley reviews Dial M for Murder at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The unfaithful Margot – a splendid Sally Bretton, kills the hitman hired by tennis-pro husband Tony and heads to death row. Enter Inspector Hubbard who, assisted by Margot’s lover Max, solves the crime and cheats the hangman.

Well, truth is Hubbard got it wrong first time around but he eventually gets his bearings.

Case solved, end of story, all live happily ever after. Well not quite.

Dial M is one of those classic thrillers where we, the audience, are in on the perfect-murder plot from the start. But, and all power to them, it takes ages for the police to catch on. If only they had asked us at the start.

But that’s not how these things work.

This is a four-hander which means you won’t ever see hitman Captain Lesgate and DCI Hubbard on stage at the same time since both are ably played by Christopher Harper. Of the two, Hubbard is the most believable and has the unenviable task of sorting out who did what to whom and how.

Lesgate just has to do and die and frankly he deserves the latter. An unlovable rogue, he joins Tom Chambers’ Tony in the over-egged dialogue stakes.

In truth though, the Inspector really is neither one thing nor another.

Although things pick up in the second act, the DCI Hubbard character bumbles early on between watered-down Taggart and smartened up Columbo.

The sharp suits certainly fit the era but a sometimes-thin script detracts and the police assault on Max – played by Michael Salami, seems without context.

The convoluted plot is eventually unravelled. But it’s still laboured at times.

Perhaps the period setting is partly to blame. Originally a 1950s piece, Dial M has been re-imagined within the 1960s for this production.

2020 might have been better. Beset by references to the likes of ‘press button A’, kerb appeal might have been enhanced by the addition of a mobile phone or two.

All in all, though, this is a decent stab at the perfect crime thriller. And there’s nothing more entertaining than a good murder.

Entertainment value: 4/5

Stars: 3/5

Dial M for Murder is showing @ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until 22 February

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

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Feb 122020
 

Duncan Harley reviews We Will Rock You at His Majesty’s Theatre,  Aberdeen.

Mad Max meets Star Wars in this hilariously camp re-run of the Queen back catalogue. We Will Rock You (WWRU) is of course a jukebox musical and the Ben Elton inspired story is at best weak at the knees.

But it doesn’t really matter. Few come to this show to dwell on the plot.

It’s all about the Queen numbers. And the show features a shed load of them.

Set 300 years into the future, WWRU is set in a world dominated by Globalsoft, an outrageously oppressive corporate giant run by the Killer Queen, which dominates society to the point where free thought and creativity have been all but obliterated. Enter hero Galileo Figaro – a splendidly cast Ian McIntosh.

A bohemian and a dreamer by nature, Galileo – following various adventures including an Arthurian guitar hunt ending in Wembley Stadium – re-invents rock, defeats the Killer Queen and gets the girl.

So that’s all right then. But, as I said, the plot is simply a modest vehicle for the music and the entertainment value is where it’s at.

Truth is, with a 25 strong Queen song list including the likes of Radio Ga Ga, Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Are The Champions and Fat Bottomed Girls it would be hard to fail.

Add in a roller-coaster of panto-inspired innuendo, lots – and I mean lots – of fast and furious choreography and of course a Bohemian Rhapsody finale and the whole thing works brilliantly.

Stars? Amy Di Bartolomeo’s Oz for one. Her solo No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) is to die for. Adam Strong’s Commander Khashoggi – delightfully camp. Michael McKell’s Buddy – suitably stoned. Swing/Ensemble – simply brilliant! Technically stunning throughout.

Go see. And don’t forget to pack your air guitar.

Entertainment value: 4/5

@ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until 15 February
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

  • Aberdeen Voice does not accept payments for advertising or publishing, we rely on our volunteers and donations from the public. Donations can be made via paypal to donations@aberdeenvoice.com
Feb 072020
 

Duncan Harley Reviews Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

The task of re-animating dead flesh is not for the faint hearted but, at some two hundred years distance from publication of the original novel, Mary Shelley’s tale of a latter-day Prometheus continues to fascinate.

During the summer of 1816, Mary Shelley along with Lord Byron and Mary’s future husband – the poet Percy Shelley holidayed near Geneva.

Freakish weather curtailed their plans and a ghost story competition ensued. Mary famously triumphed and in 1818 – aged twenty, she published the Gothic horror novel we now know as Frankenstein.

She was later to record:

How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?”

Multiple takes on the story have emerged during the subsequent years and the nightmarish tale of science versus god has spawned a plethora of sensationally bonkers Hollywood films and theatre adaptations.

Thankfully, this new but ambitious theatrical take by Rona Munro steers clear of the bolt-necked cadaver approach. The familiar story is acted out by a cast of seven who perhaps struggle to inhabit some dozen roles.

Greg Powrie for example plays three distinct characters. But there is little apart from minor costume/accent changes to clearly differentiate the individual roles. He is not alone in this.

The central role is that of Mary Shelley herself – played by Eilidh Loan. As she pens her debut novel, she also directs the action on stage.

At first, and all power to Eilidh, this approach is intriguing and shows promise. She is after all the real monster albeit in creative guise.

These are her words and she gets to decide who lives and dies.

Thoughts are expressed, written down and the plot is duly acted out. Then more thoughts are expressed written down and duly acted out. Actors rush around delivering frantically shouted lines between her constant interjections and the stage takes on the chaotic energy of an inner-city road junction.

At first this appears fresh and promising. But as the performance progresses the approach takes on a slightly repetitive quality which eventually sours the narrative. Neither one thing nor another, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein cries out for urgent reappraisal.

Michael Moreland’s portrayal of the monster is more than adequate.

Lighting, sound and set do full justice to the story. But there is perhaps a need to re-think the urgency of the plot and maybe lessen Mary Shelley’s iron grip.

This really should have been a completely decent bit of theatre. Prepare to be horrified.

Stars: 3/5

Directed by Patricia Beneckie, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein plays @ HMT Aberdeen until 8 February.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

  • Aberdeen Voice does not accept payments for advertising or publishing, we rely on our volunteers and donations from the public. 
    Donations can be made via paypal to donations@aberdeenvoice.com