May 252018
 

By Charlie Abel.

Aberdeen’s own National Karate Institute had more than just the luck of the Irish behind them on their recent trip to the Emerald Isle. Dedication and perseverance paid off.

They were representing the city on the world stage during the Belfast Open World Karate Championships held in Northern Ireland, on 29th of April 2018.

While many of us folks back home were tucking into our Sunday lunches and firing up the barbecues the Aberdeen athletes were burning off the calories and fighting their way through some really tough competition to win a staggering 34 medals.

The self-funded NKI enjoyed some great results bringing home 12 gold medals against fierce competition from the Irish and other countries. There were 16 different Karate Federations taking part.

Team coach and chief NKI instructor Ronnie Watt (9th Dan) (O.B.E. & Order of The Rising Sun) said:

“Our team were outstanding. I’m absolutely delighted! It’s a fantastic result. All the team have been training really hard, some since the age of 7. To get so many medals against such fierce and overwhelming competition from around the world is remarkable.

“We were heavily outnumbered and underfunded, but these results show we were not out-classed.

“For such a small club from a small country we proved we have what it takes, against all odds, and I am so proud we can deliver for Aberdeen and Scotland.

“It goes to show that Karate training really brings the best out of people. All our students were first class in my eyes. Medals or not. ”

Invitations for the NKI squad to perform and teach Karate have been coming in from around the world.

The NKF squad are back in training now and are aiming for success at the next festival, The International Karate Festival, which they will host themselves in Aberdeen this Summer.

Anyone interested in training Karate should call Aberdeen 734607 for more information.

The club meet in Aberdeen, Cults and Inverurie.

Ronnie Watt adds:

“We are always keen to attract new members of all ages.”

RESULTS:

Gold    12           Silver   15          Bronze  7         Total  34 Medals!!
 
Individual Senior Kata, Br/Black:
3rd – Grant Conroy.
 
Team Kata U14 Male Female Mixed:
1st – Kai Dark, Sophie Johnston, Nikita Kevra. 
 
Individual Kumite, 14-U16, -57kg:
3rd – Benedict Bruce.
 
Individual Kumite Cadets, Male 16-U18, 65kg+ :
2nd – Connor Davidson.
 
Team Kumite Men Seniors:
2nd – Stuart Odell, Curtis Thornton, Ian Wallace.
 
Individual Senior Women Kata, Br/Black:
1st – Nissara Kirk.
2nd – Chloe Calder.
 
Team Kata Cadets Female:
1st – Yasmin Parsa, Leah Provan, Charlotte Walker.
 
Individual Kumite Cadets, Female 14-U16, -55kg:
1st – Yasmin Parsa.
3rd – Keira Cormack.
 
Individual Kumite Cadets, Female 16-U18, -57kg:
2nd – Leah Provan.
 
Team Kumite Female Cadets:
2nd – Yasmin Parsa, Leah Provan, Charlotte Walker:
 
Individual Kata, 5-U14, Br/Blk:
3rd – Kai Dark.
 
Team Kumite Seniors Female:
2nd – Chloe Calder, Nissara Kirk, Emma Stuart.

Senior Women Team Kata:
1st – Nissara Kirk, Chloe Calder, Emma Stewart.

Senior Female Ippon:
2nd – Chloe Calder.
3rd – Nissara Kirk.
 
Individual Cadet Kata, 14-U18, White – Orange:
2nd – Keira Cormack.
 
Individual Kata, 5-U10, Green – Purple:
1st – Cameron Smith.
3rd – Harry proud.
 
Individual Kumite Female Seniors, +63kg:
2nd – Emma Stuart.
 
Individual Kumite Female Seniors, -63Kg:
3rd – Nissara Kirk.

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May 232018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fat Friends the Musical @ HMT Aberdeen

This slick-mix of classic sit-com slap-stick musicality descends at points into the vast realms of morality-tale-land but on the whole offers a humongous slice of sugary sweet entertainment.
As the title strongly suggests, fat is to the fore in this production and fans of the original Kay Mellor TV comedy drama will not be disappointed with this portrayal of positive body imagery.

Originally aired on prime-time TV some fifteen years ago as the sit-com Fat Friends, the musical story-line follows the fortunes of Kevin and Kelly as they approach their wedding day.

With a mere six weeks to go, the supersized Kelly sets her sights on shedding a good few pounds in a determined effort to fit into the wedding dress of her dreams.

Not for her a tale of ‘does my bum look big in this’. More like ‘can you zip me up sometime during the next few weeks please’. But, its all in the best possible taste of course.

However, shades of Shylock’s pound of flesh in the form of slimming guru Julia Fleshman – menacingly played by Atomic Kitten Brit-pop girl Natasha Hamilton – cast a dark shadow on proceedings when, in pursuit of her dream day, Kelly unwisely binges on the slimming pills.

Inuendo, some profanity and a good measure of double entendre litter this production with classic lines such as clumsy Kevin’s ‘I thought rats were going to come and eat my tadger’ and Kelly’s verbose ‘Diets are shite’.

Heroes of the piece include the formidable Elaine C. Smith who, alongside letting rip with a superbly well-timed panto-style trouser cough early on, uncharacteristically utters the immortal lines:
“I’m a bit frightened that they’ll ask me a question and I’ll get all lost for words.”

The songs in the main are quite bearable. Most memorable of the bunch are Chocolate and Beautiful. Chocolate parodies those raunchy Cadburys Flake ads from the 1980’s and pulls no punches.

Jodie Prenger’s powerfully delivered end of Act One solo Beautiful ‘For just one day I want to be beautiful’ is truly heart-warming. Ms Prenger can sing, and dance and enthral. Indeed, she punches high.

Although perhaps not in the slimmer of the year category, Fat Friends the Musical, delivers a good measure of lively and at times hilarious entertainment and, despite some flaws, the musical will no doubt delight fans of the original TV show plus a good few of the uninitiated amongst us.

Directed by Kay Mellor with music by Nick Lloyd Webber, Fat Friends the Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 26th 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 172018
 

Duncan Harley reviews The Kite Runner @ HM Theatre Aberdeen

The brutal rape of young Hassan by sociopath Assef and his cohorts sets the tone of this touring stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel.

And the child-rape is not the only gut-wrenching scene from the book to be splashed all over the stage in front of the theatre audience.

An execution by the Taliban, a bone-crunching beating or two and tales of death by landmine are intermingled with implicit references to paedophile driven child abduction and the stoning of adulterers.

Not that the above events appeared gratuitous. Indeed, they are central to the telling of the tale. It’s just that they are shocking. The rape may well bear allegorical significance in relation to the 1979 Soviet invasion and death by landmine is described as a good way for an Afghan to die.

As for the stoning of adulterers and the abductions, well, these simply add to the overwhelming uneasiness which this production induces. Indeed, at the end one audience member was heard to comment that she was going home to have a few unpleasant dreams.

Is there a point to The Kite Runner? Well, as a tale of betrayal, guilt and eventual redemption the answer is probably a resounding yes. And as a short sharp introduction to a brutally immersive style of theatre, again the answer is probably a yes.

Its not that we actually see the rape or indeed the landmine deaths. But we can almost smell and taste the drama of it all. And that is no easy thing for an audience intent on seeking out an evening of entertainment.

The story, narrated directly to the audience by Amir – an Afghan refugee living in California, concerns the period surrounding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the plot leads us relentlessly through the harshness of the early Taliban period.

Amir’s childhood betrayal of his loyal friend Hassan is central to the plot and his quest for redemption is the final goal.

A simple set comprising bare dusty boards with a backdrop of a giant kite, split in two halves provides stark setting for the action.

Raj Ghatak’s Amir both participates in the drama and leads us through what is in essence the tale as told in the novel, filling in the gaps with lengthy monologues and generally doing a splendid job of compering the unfolding drama taking place all around him on stage.

At times though, he perhaps has far too much to say and perhaps that is the danger when scripting the play of the film of the best-selling novel. Sometimes less is better.

Hassan is played admirably by Jo Ben Ayed and also plays his own son Sorab much later in the performance. At times, and this is no criticism, resembling an organ-grinders monkey he dutifully covers for his friend Amir even unto death at the hands of the Taliban.

All is not angst and wringing of hands however.

There are lighter moments such as the scene where Amir’s dad Baba, Gary Pillai, politely informs Amir and Hashim that in point of fact John Wayne does not speak Farsi and has probably never even been to Iran. Now that is indeed a revelation.

With live music by Hanif Khan, The Kite Runner is directed by Giles Croft. Adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini the production plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 19th 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © APA

May 032018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Legally Blonde – The Musical @ HM Theatre Aberdeen

There’s a little bit of line-dancing, a couple of very camp cupids and a lot of pink in this musical and I mean a hell of a lot of pink!

In fact there’s enough pink to tempt Barbara Cartland back from the grave.

Indeed honey sweet romance, or at least the very prospect of it, is at the core of this tale of girl meets boy Hairspray styled musical.

Not that Legally Blonde lead Elle Woods in any way resembles the heavy set high-schooled Tracy Turnblad.

But the plot treads that familiar path of redemption in the face of adversity. Except of course that, in lieu of Hairspray’s ‘Corny Collins Show’, Legally Blonde – The Musical relies on the medium of a trad-clad Harvard Law School to get the message over.

And not that Legally Blonde takes itself too seriously. The opening line ‘OMG you guys, enjoy the show!’ pretty much sets the tone.

This is a show to enjoy and not one for deep analyses.

The sexual politics are perhaps somewhat dated and, although the pink-laden message of emancipation is central to the story, there is really nothing new here.

Splendidly camp lines such as “Is he gay or European” and “Depending on the time of day the French go either way” kind of give the game away.

The storyline pretty much follows that of the film of the book. Based on the 2001 movie, the plot convolutes around the downs and ups of Malibu blond Elle Woods who gets dumped by would-be senator boy-friend Sheridan Smith the third.

Smith is off to explore the ivy leagued portals of Harvard Law School. Against all the odds, and in a determined effort to stalk the poor man, Elle worms her way into the hallowed institution and takes up the cudgels of the law.

Along the way we meet Bruiser the Chihuahua, a lovable hairdresser called Paulette and Elle’s various Harvard classmates.

Cute Chihuahua’s aside, Lucie Jones’s Elle pretty much steals the show although soap veteran Rita Simons’ portrayal of the romantically downtrodden Paulette runs a pretty close second.

Paulette’s ‘Bend and Snap’ slapstick comedy turn with the hunky UPS man is pretty slick although the accompanying line dancing routines seemed somehow superfluous.

Male lead-wise, it’s pretty much a no-contest.

Bill Ward’s Prof Callahan dominates and commands the stage during both the Harvard and the courtroom scenes; that is of course until the courtroom escalates into a hilariously Cabaret themed farce.

The music and the lyrics are well delivered but are maybe not particularly memorable, relying perhaps a ‘tad’ much on OTT costumes and energetic choreography to woo the audience. However there are splendidly classic musical moments to be had. Watch out for Elle’s love-sweet duet with David Barrett’s Emmett.

As an all singing and all dancing musical, Legally Blonde is a whole lot of fun and if last night’s stand-up applause is anything to go by then the show delivers exactly what it says on the tin.

Choreographed and Directed by Anthony Williams. Musical Director James McCullagh, Legally Blonde – The Musical plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday May 5th 2018.

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122

Words © Duncan Harley and Images © Robert Workman

Apr 192018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Fittie Fittie Bang Bang @ HM Theatre Aberdeen.

Broad Street may not quite be on a par with Broadway, but if this year’s Aberdeen Student Charities Campaign production of the brand new musical Fittie Fittie Bang Bang is anything to go by, then theatre-wise at least, the Granite City is well on the way to becoming the Manhattan of the north.

Previous productions have included titles such as ‘An American in Powis’, ‘A Midstocket Night’s Scream’ and of course last year’s musical extravaganza ‘Michty Mia!’.

However, this year’s production of ‘Fittie Fittie Bang Bang’ must surely take the biscuit.

Bond writer Ian Fleming was a keen follower of motor racing and the original Chitty tale evolved from stories involving a series of monstrous aero-engined cars funded by the richly eccentric ‘Bentley Boy’ speed-king Count Louis Zborowski in those far off roaring twenties.

In the subsequent Hollywood production, the Chitty story involved one of Zborowski’s racing cars being rescued from the scrapyard by a gang of cheerily red-faced middle-class school-children.

Fast forward to this week’s student production of Fittie Fittie Bang Bang and a dastardly plot involving the consignment of Aberdeen’s old folk to the scrapyard takes to the HMT stage.

With electoral fraud firmly to the fore, Trump look-alike Lord Provost Dean Fine plans to revive the ailing fortunes of the Granite City using a series of sinister measures intended to clear the streets of the elderly inhabitants of the city.

A suitably evil ‘Grunny Catcher’, ably played by Callum Anderson, is set loose and before long the city’s OAP’s begin to disappear. Provost Fine, played by Reece James Duncan, announces plans to build a border wall around Torry while in far off Fittie the search begins for the missing old folk of Aberdeen.

Enter Bradley Phillips as Dick Van Dyce, Becky Hossick as Provost’s daughter Effie Fine and Victoria Barvinko as the Provost’s trophy wife Nadine Fine.

Will the red-haired Lord Provost succeed in his dastardly scheme? Or can Dick and his merry gang rescue the imprisoned OAP’s from a fate worse than death in Aberdeen’s Marischal College Premier Retirement Home.

Add in a flying fish-van plus some splendid musical numbers and, judging by last nights full-house, last years total of £92k raised for local charities looks likely to be well on the way to being exceeded.

A 5 Star must see!

Musical direction is by Matthew Rose with choreography by Sophie Hamilton Pike and stage management by Graeme Shepherd.

The musical, Fittie Fittie Bang Bang plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday 21 April 2018

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © HMT Aberdeen

Apr 122018
 

Duncan Harley reviews Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em at HM Theatre Aberdeen

Originally broadcast on prime-time BBC television during the 1970’s, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em ran to 23 episodes over three series and attracted audiences of millions.

Originally starring Michael Crawford as Frank Spencer, the story-lines featured the hapless Frank innocently stumbling his way through life whilst creating complete confusion amongst all who came into contact with him.

Catch phrases such as “Mmmm – nice” and references to the cat having “done a whoopsie” litter the scripts and Crawford’s portrayal of the accident-prone Frank generally embodies an element of camp-comic- innocence.

Somehow ‘Some Mothers’ has managed to dodge those often-wearying daytime television schedules which feature endless re-runs of Dads Army and On the Buses, which is probably the saving grace which makes Guy Unsworth’s stage adaptation palatable to a 21st century audience.

Suitably de-camped and replete with good old-fashioned double-entendres, this revival of the TV classic works well on the stage and should appeal widely.

Those of us familiar with the BBC original may find that Joe Pasquale’s interpretation of the Frank Spencer character takes a little bit of adjusting to. Yes, there is the familiar shrill Spencer tone and those infuriatingly spectacular miscommunications certainly fit the bill. But is this enough?

Fortunately, after only a very few minutes exposure to a more mature Frank a script replete with the familiarly iconic bungling awkwardness reveals that all is well in Spencer-land.

With the trademark blue beret and Bogart themed gaberdine trench coat firmly to the fore and a benign portrait of a young Humperdinck gracing the living-room wall, Pasquale excels in the role and it is soon clear that Frank is back with a vengeance.

The plot involves a good few misunderstandings regarding Frank’s impending fatherhood, a splendidly drunken mother-in-law played by Barbara Fisher and of course Frank’s thwarted ambitions to become a stage-magician.

A rapidly crumbling set, complete with indoor chicken shed come granny flat only adds to the hilarity as Frank’s DIY skillset is found to be somewhat wanting. Exploding electrics, faulty plumbing and dodgy banisters are only a small part of it all and by the final curtain the Spencer house is literally in ruins.

Frank’s long-suffering wife, Betty is played pretty much true to the original by Sarah Earnshaw but with a few splendidly new twists and David Shaw-Parker’s Father O’Hara Duelling Banjos sketch really has to be seen to be believed.

Add in some prune wine plus a couple of culinary disasters and even those unfamiliar with the original will be laughing out loud.

The slap-stick routines, the absurdities of a farcical storyline and the double entendres fly thick and fast throughout this production which begins somewhat appropriately with Frank’s iconic line “Hello Betty, I’m home”.

And indeed, he is.

Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em plays at HMT Aberdeen until Saturday April 14th
Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley and Images © HMT Aberdeen

Feb 222018
 

A three-year, £350m Aberdeen Harbour expansion project chalked up a broken leg and a serious head injury in the first two months of construction. By Suzanne Kelly

Spanish firm Dragados is contracted to deepen and industrialise the Bay of Nigg, and is keen to keep a lid on its mounting problems.

According to one contractor: 
“Everybody is told at the beginning, ‘There is a group of people against the project

“We encourage you not to talk with these people in any manner, social media included.'”

Despite frequent verbal threats to would-be whistle-blowers, mounting injuries and near-misses are encouraging people to speak out.

One worker described the lead-up to the broken leg:

“On 6 December 2017 an Eastern European broke his leg when a supervisor for Dragados – with no risk assessment, no toolbox talk – instructed a forklift driver to move steel ten meters long (a practice which is frowned upon by others more experienced).”

While the steel was being moved it either hit or fell on the injured party who was rushed to hospital.

The injured man left the UK and is said to have been paid a hefty settlement.

Another person was hospitalised after someone opened the door of a lorry into their head.

One source said:

“I’d say 90% of the workforce don’t know what’s to be done as there are no plans in place.”

They claim safety material is not routinely translated for non-English speakers.

“Some of the management’s English is that poor they don’t understand certain documents.”

The HSE confirmed only one of these two accidents was reported (they would not confirm which incident this was, but they requested materials and are investigating).

One whistle-blower said:

“Dragados are now contemplating sub-contracting out most of the work as they will be unable to complete it; they simply do not have the safety systems in place.”

Javier Buron, Community Engagement Officer, Aberdeen Public Relations and Communications for Dragados SA UK & Ireland, had no idea whether he could even release the company’s Health and Safety Policy – something most companies publicise widely and are proud of.

Mr Buron promised to send a statement, but did not express concern on behalf of Dragados for the injured.

When chased for lines for publication Mr Buron said:

“We cannot issue any of these documents [no documents were requested].

“It is [for] internal use. It is illegal to share it.”

His posting to this multi-million-pound project is something of a leap; his Linked-In profile gives his previous experience as working for Aberdeen’s International Youth Festival (which is about to lose its £100k yearly council funding).

There seems to be as haphazard an approach to supply management as there is to safety and public relations.

Several sources claim 40 tonnes of non-specification stone was imported from Norway, only to be rejected as inferior.

Dragados now has to get rid of the stone and make up the financial loss.

Disenchanted workers are watching to see how this plays out while scratching their heads as to how Dragados became the preferred bidder in the first place.

Work is due to complete in 2020. No one working on site believes this is possible.

The impact of this expansion on the dwindling number of salmon, sea birds and cetaceans is another matter which doesn’t seem to have troubled Scottish environmental authorities sufficiently to make them object; time will tell the impact on wildlife.

Sceptical locals are promised cruise ships will dock. Whether well-heeled travellers will disembark to spend money in Torry’s pubs, betting shops and off-licenses is doubted.

As one source summed it up:

“It’s a complete joke.”

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Dec 232017
 

This is an attempt at satire. Any resemblance to a person living, dead or somewhere in between; competent or wholly incompetent; greedy or otherwise is purely and yugely coincidental. By Suzanne Kelly.

It was a cold November rain that fell on the glistening, gleaming, sparkly, shiny granite stone of the Granite City.

The rain even dared to fall on the city council’s Town House and Marischal College.

Inside said Town House, a vulnerable Willie Wonky was clearing out his desk. It was late at night and unusually he felt tired and emotional.

And indeed angry – too angry even to throw out a few enlightening tweets to his many admirers – though being agitated had never stopped him before.

“It was only a fence, a wall, pathways…” Willie thought to himself; he was feeling rather hard done by.

“What about everything Dean for instance got away with?”

He had been forced from his office and his post on the City Council unceremoniously.

He felt that the science-based evidence against him was insignificant – after all, there was Pete Leonard, the man responsible for the crematorium scandal, and on a lesser note, he had formally reported that the Tullos Hill deer should be wiped out to create a forest – cost neutral no less – when he already had a letter telling him it wasn’t possible to have a forest on the hill, a former rubbish-tip.

The man was soundly hated by 99.9% of his staff – yet got months of gardening leave with full pay and a golden parachute.

“If only the public knew how much we gave Leonard.” Wonky muttered to himself.

He opened his desk and began taking out the files, deciding which to keep and which to leave behind – or destroy.

‘City Garden Project’ was by far the largest folder in his desk.

“Humpf” Wonky thought

“What a load of old cobblers. F me that was a stupid idea – ramps going up to a steep height only to descend to the other side. So much for the excuse of ‘accessibility’ being the reason to turn the gardens into a parking lot with astroturf. You’d have to be a mountain goat to get up or down those f-ing arches. So much for anyone in a wheelchair.

“Anne Begg easily accessed the gardens as they are . The idea of spending £180 million on this drivel and expecting people to fly in from all over the world to walk up and down a ramp or sit in an outdoor theatre – an outdoor theatre no less – to shop at Next and Boots; old Ian Wood must have thought we were out of our minds.”

Willie pulled this thick file out of the drawer and unceremoniously heaved it on his desk.

Rifling through the file drawer was considerably easier with the bulk of the Union Terrace Gardens out of the way.

“Oh look, the Stewart Milne Stadium plan.” Willie snorted derisively.

This huge white elephant was going to be great for everyone, especially one Stewart Milne.

File after file Wonky pulled out of his desk, from cabinets; dust was flying. Outside the rain intensified and the wind howled.

With each passing file he found – ‘Tree for Every Citizen feasibility study’ (by the man who gained £100k if it went ahead), ‘Art Gallery renovation costings’ (a work of sheer fantasy Wonky thought to himself with a sneer), ‘Donald Trump impact study – benefits for Aberdeen City, by VisitScotland’, ‘Invitation to Trump’s doctorate celebration’; ‘Benefits for Torry of having a breaking yard and incinerator’ – dozens of reports, papers, invitations and so on were piling high on Wonky’s desk now.

The wind moaned louder and the windows rattled, but Willie ploughed on.

‘Gerry Brough – curriculum vitae and list of academic credentials’; Wonky laughed aloud as he found this file; Brough was the bully who shouted down all opposition to the Garden project and stopped the public having a vote on just fixing the gardens up.

“F this wind and rain.” Willie thought as he turned on his computer – well, it was still his for a day or maybe two, as he decided to have some Netflix and chill.

The computer warmed up, and the next thing Willie heard was an old familiar voice

“Ahn tae all me friends – comrades – I should say – This is Alex Salmond, welcoming you to another instalment of McRussian TV. Have I ever told ye about the time I was doon te Balmoral and was singing with Prince –“

“F that!” shouted Wonky at his computer and closed the tab for the Alex Salmond show,

“how the f did that get on my computer?”

He opened an new tab and waited for Amazon videos to load up; he swiped haphazardly at the screen and hit the Christmas movies button.

Willie unlatched the window; as rainy and windy as it was, he had unaccountably become clammy, hot and excitable.

When he crossed the room to return to his desk, he could see there was a big box still on top of the cabinet, a yuge box.

“F that, I’d better see what the F’s in that F-ing thing.” Willie said, his anger growing.

A random Christmas movie whirred into life on his laptop; ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ had started. He could hear it play in the background.

Pushing his swivel chair close to the cabinet, Willie stepped onto its seat, reached for the huge cardboard box high on the shelf and started to pull it towards him. At that moment several things happened all at once.

The wind suddenly gusted, blowing the windows wide opened. This caused the papers in the room and on his desk to spring to sudden life and swirl through the air.

“Waa F!” Willie thought as this sudden commotion caused him to lose his footing and the chair started to wheel away. Alas, he had not lost his grip on the giant box.

The box Willie had grabbed slid off the shelf, knocking him straight between the eyes, causing him to wince and howl in pain as he fell backwards. Then to cap things off, a long-forgotten trophy ‘Aberdeen – best employer in Scotland’ made of faux granite and cheap metal clonked Wonky straight on the head. Down and out he went.

#          #          #

A voice in Wonky’s head was saying: “Congratulations! You’re the final winner of the Aberdeen Art Gallery renovation lottery Golden Ticket contest!”

“What the F?” Willie thought, then he opened his eyes. He was in a vast crowd in front of the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Crowds cheered. There was a podium on which were about 8 of the most ridiculous-looking people Willy had ever seen. The man who congratulated him was a tall, thin man of about 70.

The man, dressed in a top hat, tails and with a big bow tie kept speaking.

“I better cut down on my order” thought Wonky as he was helped to his feet.

The oddly dressed man was addressing the crowd:

“Friends, thank you for buying the 7 million Aberdeen Art Gallery refurbishment tickets in a single afternoon! We will have the art gallery back opened in no time – say 3 to 5 years! Result!”

The frenzied crowd roared with its approval.

The man fixed his top hat, adjusted his satin waistcoat, and continued:

“The art gallery lottery promised there would be six winners whose golden tickets would get them an amazing prize! More about that in a moment. We’ve raised £7 million pounds! Hooray us!”

The crowd cheered some more.

“We’re going to raise even more money through some – ah efficiencies! We’re going to stop the Youth Festival – that’ll save £100k! No more kids wandering around town in the summer! No need to thank me or your councillors!”

The crowd were delirious with joy.

“Back to the Art Gallery Golden ticket winners” said Ian Wood – for it was he,

“These lucky people are the winners who will get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to come inside Marischal College and see where all the great ideas you love are dreamed up!”

There was more cheering, as you’d expect.

“The final winner is Willie Wonky here, who won the final golden ticket when he bought his Art Gallery lottery ticket. He too has won this vibrant and dynamic look behind the scenes at Marischal.”

“The other winners are Donnie Trump from America, who loves watching television and playing with guns; He is with his lovely assistant and spokesperson Sarah Malone Bates!”

Again with the crowds cheering.

“We also have Professor Bill Ritchie, former Head of Housing Peter Leonard, and… Stewart Milne!”

The crowd was delirious by now with joy.

“And friends” continued Sir Ian, bowing and tipping his top hat,

“Before I take the lucky winners on the tour of the dream factory that is Marischal College, I just want you to know it is pure coincidence that most of the people who have won are friends of mine – but then again – who isn’t?”

The crowds cheered more furiously than ever, as the lucky winners – Donald Trump, Sarah Malone, Willie Wonky (who was still feeling groggy and confused), Professor Bill Ritchie, Peter Leonard and Stewart Milne all stepped away from the crowds and past the statue of Sir Robert The Bruce towards a revolving door which would lead into the magical Marischal College building, where the magic happens.

Willie looked at the statue. For an instant he thought the horse snorted and Sir Robert bowed his head to expose a tear, but the fancy lasted only a moment.

Here we are! All pack in now! And Sir Ian stepped into the revolving door.

The other guests did their best to cosy up to him.

“Easy Stewart, if you get any closer you’ll be behind me.” chuckled Sir Ian.

Willie didn’t see why they all had to crowd into the same section of the revolving door, but no one else complained; they just looked adoringly at Sir Ian.

“ARGH!” shouted Willie – “What the F-’”

“-No need to worry my boy, it’s just one of the Troompa Loompas who run Marischal College.” Smiled Sir Ian Wood.

“But it’s hideous! Why is its hair that colour and doesn’t it own a comb or a mirror! Why is its skin bright orange? Is it human?” said Willie, pointing

“That’s my reflection you’re pointing at pal.” Said Donnie Trump angrily

“I’ll be tweeting about this, mark my words!”

“No, that other hideous thing!” said Wonky, pointing to another orange skinned creature that looked only half human.

“Ah, that’s Valerie Watts, the old Chief Executive. She’s been stuck in this revolving door for years now, one executive appointment after another, going around in circles.” Said Sir Ian.

“Stick with me everyone, you’re on the ride of your lives!” Ian said, as the real Troompa Loompas, orange skinned minions with frizzy white hair started to make the revolving door spin faster and faster.

The revolving door was jam packed, the Troompa Loompa s made it go faster and faster.

Willie Wonky could see shapes as the revolving door spun round – there were flowers, birds, meadows of grass, gorse and birds. The elevator slowed, and out the occupants all spilled onto Tullos Hill.

A deer ambled past. A quick gunshot rang out, and the deer fell dead.

“Isn’t it beautiful?!” asked Sir Ian. Wonky looked at the dead deer, but noticed Ian was pointing at a parking lot by a new building.

“Wood House and its new parking lot!” Sir Ian sighed.

“I’d like to thank you Pete Leonard for helping me. Aside from the unfortunate crematorium debacle – which we won’t talk of .” Wonky said, noticing the obsequious yet bullying Leonard had coughed,

“if not for how you handled the Tullos situation, I might not have got that parking lot made.”

“I have to hand it to you Pete. You knew there was no chance of growing a ‘Tree for every Citizen’ forest on this hill – it’s a rubbish heap, and you were sent a letter proving it. But, on you went – and here’s the genius thing – you told everyone in a report it was – cost neutral! Brilliant!”

Everyone laughed and clapped. The deer made a further spasm. Gunshots echoed all around.

“Pete, I like your spirit. You not only got rid of these deer, the migration of which was also a stumbling block for other projects – more of that soon – but you let the land donated to the city fall into such disrepair that the private owners took it back. If there’s now coincidentally a parking lot I need for my beautiful new building, then I thank you.

“And all that money paid to the consultants – what was that guy’s name – Chris Piper? Then well done you” Sir Ian said pinching and shaking Peter’s cheek.

“I hope if any crumbs fell off that table, you swept them up Pete.”

As the group surveyed the parking lot, the now barren hill save for a few dying saplings in tiny tree guards, a group of the Troompa Loompas marched into the scene.

As the Troompa Loompas gathered the group together to go to the next destination, they broke into song.

Troompa Loompa doopity dee
If you are wise you’ll listen to me
If Ian Wood wants a new parking lot
Wildlife and habitat don’t matter a jot

Let the land he needs fall into disuse
So he can get it – use any excuse
Kill a few deer and ignore the public outcry
Peter Leonard, you’re our kind of guy

You lied to the public
You lied to the public
You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

As they were getting ready to leave the hill, Willie was sure he saw Sir Ian give Pete a bag marked ‘swag’. The deer’s tiny back leg gave its final twitch.

“And now if you’ll all pile onto this magic bus” said Sir Ian as the Troompa Loompas helped the guests get on a Number 3 Stagecoach.

All the while Willy Wonky felt something was wonky.

The next stop is Loirston Loch! Where I’ve got a surprise for my friend Stewart!

“Sir Ian,” asked Sarah Malone-Bates.

“That’s like great an’ all, like, but it will take ages in this traffic?”

She pointed to the gridlocked cars on Wellington Road.

“I have a nail appointment at 5, Botox at 8, then my colonic at….” She droned on

Willie started to ask whether the new Wood building with its full parking lot was a good idea for this already congested road (which was and still is one of Scotland’s most over-polluted Roads) but a Troompa Loompa shot him a dirty look.

“It will take us no time to get to Loirston, isn’t that right Stewart?” said Sir Ian with a wink.

The doughy, sweaty kitchen fitter Stewart Milne nodded emphatically:

“Yes, anything you say Sir Ian, you look wonderful today. Yes, that’s right. In my plan to build a new stadium on top of Loirston Loch, we told the public and the planners that you could get to Loirston Loch by bus from the centre of town when a football match was on in 15 minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes? It takes that longer than that to get to Torry as it is.” Willie thought as the last of the entourage climbed on the magic No. 3 bus which sped off and to Willie’s amazement flew through the air over the gridlocked cars.

Before the group knew it, the Troompa Loompas were helping them off the bus and out onto a construction site near a lake. Not a bird could be seen or heard amid the rising girders and hum of machinery.

“Well Stewart my dear friend” started Sir Ian

“We might not have got you that football stadium at Loirston you wanted – yet – but look at all these houses and businesses going up! More office space! Just what we need!”

Willie looked around, and noticed he was standing on a faded, splintered wooden sign that said: ‘The City of Aberdeen recognises the importance of Loirston Lake both to wildlife…. A first view of our city… agree it should never be built on…’

“But Sir Ian, er, don’t we already have a glut of office space? asked Willie Wonky, whose head was hurting and spinning now.

We can’t even fill the new Marischal Square, even though it does have a giant leopard statue in it?”

The looks of the rest of the assembly were of scorn and derision, but Sir Ian said:

“My boy, Willie – when I say ‘we’ need office space – I mean WE. The construction industry, Scottish Enterprise – we have to keep building stuff so we have work to do and can brag about new buildings.

“Then there’s all the – ah – associated benefits – consulting work, subcontracting… We definitely need this building. Who’s going to let a few threatened species of birds stand in our way?”

Everyone laughed and Willie smiled weakly.

Stewart Milne toddled forward, and hugged Sir Ian – although this amounted to hugging him by the waist given the height differential.

“I’ve got a wee something for you in your Swiss account Stewart, see you at the next ACSEF meeting after this tour’s over.” Said Sir Ian winking again

“You mean the next First meeting don’t you, Sir Ian; we changed the name and the logo – remember?” asked Stewart Milne?

“Whatever.” Said Sir Ian.

And the Troompa Loompas again broke out into song, which was beginning to wear thin thought Willie.

Troompa Loompa doopity doo
I have another conundrum for you
What good’s a loch and a birdie or two
When there’s money to be made for you-know-who?

If a bird can’t earn enough to feather its nest
Making it clear off is definitely best
More office space is what we all really need
A ‘Smart successful Scotland’ well, and maybe some greed

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

The group were ushered awa from the lock, and Sarah humpfed as her 6” Jimmy Blahnik dolphin-hide heels sank into the grass.

A helicopter was waiting for them marked Scottish Enterprise

“All aboard, and I’ll show you places where Aberdeen city and Shire have made several dreams come true!” said a jubilant Sir Ian Wood

“Who’s the pilot?” asked Sarah, who looked a little green with envy at the tall blond woman.

“Everyone, this is Jennifer Claw.” Said Sir Ian with a wink to the pilot.

“She’s got a degree in nutrition and the cutest little dimples when she – ah – smiles. So, as she had a degree in nutrition or something, so I made her the head of Scottish Enterprise Grampian and put her on the board of my Wood Family Trust – is it holding £25 million now? I forget.”

“Jennifer’s also on the Robert Gordon University board – no need to thank me just now Jennie darling – and– look you can see it down there as we fly over!” said Sir Ian, distracting everyone away from Jennifer who had blown him a kiss by pointing out the sprawling campus

“And that’s the Sir Ian Wood building” he said as all the assembled marvelled and clapped.

Except for Willie. Willie was beginning to sense a link to all these Aberdeen City Council projects, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.

“So, where’s Lady Helen today Sir Ian?” Willie asked. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Ah, she’s off playing tennis; her ball control’s improved, and her strokes are decidedly better.” Sir Ian said as he mopped his brow with a hugely oversized hanky.

“We’re not going to stop in, but look over to your right as we fly up the Aberdeen Coast – that’s Torry and Nigg, near where we were at Tullos – isn’t it beautiful?”

Sir Ian gesticulated towards the coast south of the city centre which the copter was now flying over.

All Willy saw was a plume of smoke, lots of lorries, barbed wire and a huge construction project on the bay of Nigg.

“The people there are so lucky Aberdeen City and its Harbour Board helped come up with these huge improvements” said Sir Ian – “well, with a little help from Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF.”

Again all those aboard laughed and clapped.

“Hey, isn’t this the same helicopter youse guys paid me to fly in to the Menie Estate in when I came over looking for a place for a golf course?” asked Donnie Trump.

“The very same.” Sir Ian replied.

“The wonderful, important golf course at Menie, the wonderful, important cruise line for Torry – does everyone know who we have to thank for these developments?”

Professor Bill Ritchie gave his head a jaunty tilt and a little shake of false modesty.

“Oh, I’m just happy to help my friends Donnie and of course you Sir Ian.” The professor started,

“I was once on the board of the East Grampian Coastal partnership. I used to think we needed a public marina, wildlife habitat, and a place to educate young people for maritime careers. But (he said looking at Sir Ian) I changed my way of thinking.

“I was proud to be helpful to you too Donnie when you wanted your golf course. I said it was easy to build 900 homes, a hotel, 2 golf courses and a country club – as well as living quarters for the lackeys – without harming the environment or the protected sites. I’m so happy to have been proven right.”

Professor Ritchie’s chest puffed out, he was filled with self-satisfied pride and almost everyone on the chopper applauded him.

“F me not another F-ing song” thought Willie as those Troompy looking hobbits geared up for another verse.

Troompa Loompa doopity da
If you’ve no scruples you’re sure to go fa
What does an expert get whose opinions for hire?
Consultancy cash from SE, ACSEF and Aspire

Using his titles to feather his nest
Swearing to everyone that he knows best
Just don’t talk to reporters
Don’t talk to reporters

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky was starting to get fed up with his golden ticket tour of all the magical things Aberdeen City was making happen. And that bloody singing.

Willie asked:

“Professor, weren’t you supposed to lead an environmental monitoring group with Sarah to protect wildlife, and isn’t it true that since the monitoring fell apart you won’t answer any questions from the press about your role?”

He immediately sensed he had overstepped the mark with this question; for a moment a shadow passed Sir Ian’s face and Sarah wrinkled her expensive nose. The professor scurried away and didn’t say a word for the rest of the trip. Donnie was turning blue in the face.

Sarah spoke.

“Oh, we did that, but it was too cold for me to go outside in my Prada, and besides, it’s the world’s greatest golf course on the world’s largest sand dunes.”

At her words Donnie Trump calmed down a bit, his face returning to its orange hue.

“Sarah’s right” started Sir Ian;

“She’s smart as a whip. Why everything’s fine and just how we want it. Sarah’s so smart I had one of my little groups invite her to give a talk, isn’t that right honey?” he asked her.

“Sure, it was fun too,” Sarah Malone-Bates said, “I got to give a talk called “’The Bigger the Vision, the Bigger the Opposition,” and the event – held at the Sir Ian Wood building of course at RGU where Woody – I mean Sir Ian – runs things. I must thank whoever wrote that speech for me sometime.”

Sarah continued to list her accomplishments, how she was whisked out of the Gordon Highlanders Museum to be Trump’s first ever Scottish Executive Vice President, how good she was at moisturising and accessorising, and how much her husband, coincidentally who used to edit the local newspaper, loved her [surely some mistake? – editor].

Willie audibly groaned as the Troompa Loompas circled Sarah Malone, whose shoulder pads were a marvel to behold, as he knew another song was coming; he felt he was going to be sick.

Troompa Loompa doopity de
I have another puzzle for ye
What’s more important than designer clothes,
Having the right hair and a beautiful nose?

Attracting the right man, obviously
Especially if that man has lots of money
She’s the Face of Aberdeen
She’s the Face of Aberdeen

What do you get when you tell lots of lies
If you are Sarah then you get a pay rise
Trading your looks in for cash is her solution
So what if other people think it’s prostitution?

(Sarah’s a Vice President)

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky’s brain was putting together all the puzzle pieces from the day, and was starting not to like the picture they were forming.

But on the copter flew, and just before they started to land on a helipad with a giant letter T, Donnie Trump exclaimed:

“There they are, the world’s largest sand dunes! I even made a plaque, didn’t we Sarah Malone honey, to say so! Biggest! Bestest! Yugest!”

A tumbleweed blew past as the rotor blades slowed, and out the lucky Aberdeen Art Gallery golden ticket winners scrambled into the freezing air.

“Anyone for 18 holes?” bellowed Donnie in the freezing winds as the rest of the group ran for the shelter of the clubhouse.

Once inside this building on an empty parking lot, Sarah snapped her fingers, and waiters and waitresses appeared with bottles of whisky and glasses.

“Trump whisky – £50 a glass or £500 for a bottle. £250 a bottle if signed by Donnie.” She hawked.

“Later Sarah Dear” said Sir Ian, adjusting his top hat and billowy bow tie.

“No one’s here, aren’t there supposed to be golfers – what’s going on?” asked Willie; everyone smiled at him.

The room started to spin as he sipped one of those whiskies.

“We don’t want anyone here.” said Sir Ian quietly, the others faces started to look mean and contorted.

Willie Wonky stumbled and fell into a chair – a chair with a big Donald Trump crest on it. The other winners, the Troompa Loompas leaned in closer.

Willie felt quite ill now, as these ghastly, grotesque faces sneered at him and laughed. Sir Ian spoke.

“We don’t want anyone here; never did. Another few years of tax write offs in the USA for Trump – if he doesn’t get impeached or jailed yet – no offence Donnie, but you’re not quite as subtle as you should be sometimes – and then it’ll be sold off. Donnie – we’ll talk about that international charity US tax break later.

“It will go to housing – we’ll all see to that. And what housing developer is favoured in this neck of the woods? That would be my good friend Stewart Milne.

“And what organisation would get involved with such a huge or if you will ‘yuge’ undertaking? Why Scottish Enterprise of course. I may have retired, but after decades as head of the thing, don’t you think I still have my claws still in it one way or the other?

“Think of the construction jobs, the consultancies, the money to be made. And Willie, the granite web is making a comeback; do you think I give up that easily? And when the idea was being promoted so hard, ask yourself two questions – who stood to benefit is one.

“Stewart owned the adjacent Triple Kirks, and he needed parking; we could have got that for him, but it’s not all over yet. The other thing to ask yourself – what did the public miss while we were distracting them with a design consultation vote when we already knew what design we wanted – the ludicrous web design.  And they fell for it.

“We have Donald Trump in charge of the USA; over here he will be allowed to do as he pleases.

And while tens – hundreds of millions are moving through Scottish Enterprise, land deals – like when the city sold that land to you Stewart for a peppercorn, and while public land is snapped up – we’ll get people to focus on other things.

“Either we’ll threaten to take away what little arts provision they and their children get, or the more mean-spirited ones will be convinced that people from abroad are taking their land, money and jobs – not you Donnie though” Ian winked, any previous trace of gentility gone from his features.

“While we’re at it, there’s one more item on the agenda for your tour Willie Wonky – we’re going to look at the City of Culture Bid.

“All aboard the helicopter for gigs on oil rigs! How much public money and time did that nonsense soak up? Well, here’s Rita Stephen to tell you all about it!

“Remember Willie – whether it’s a football stadium, a parking lot, a breaking yard, Trump’s golf course – and his honorary degree from the University I own that has a building with my name on it – you now know who’s behind everything in this town. Nothing, I mean nothing goes on in this town without my say so.

“I said as much to people before, and I’m telling you now.”

Oor Willie whined as, while his eyes fluttered open and closed, the Troompa Loompas broke into one last verse of their song:

Troompa Loompa doopity do
I have final question for you
Who in Aberdeen is behind everything
That is environmentally damaging?

ACSEF, First, RGU and SE.
As the saying goes, ‘follow the money’
Sir Ian is behind it
Sir Ian is behind it

You can live in luxury to
Just do what Sir Ian Wood –

tells

you

to!

#          #          #

Willie’s eyes had glazed over; the other golden ticket winners’ laughs had turned to a huge roar of noise, and he fluttered his eyes.

As if he hadn’t been through enough, standing over him was… Rita Stephen

“NOOO!” shouted Willie,

“Anything but the City of Culture bid! – Anything!”

“Willie, are ye alright mon?” She said.

“I was just going to re-write the symphony for orchestra, ship’s horns and horses that was part of me great City of Culture bid tonight, when I saw yer door open.

“I’d seen you passed oot and thought it was the usual, but I noted the gash on yer heid.”

His eyes focused and leaning over him was Rita Stephen, the woman behind among other things the City of Culture bid that made Aberdeen the laughing stock of the western hemisphere – again.

“AIEEEEE” Willie screamed, and sprinted out of the office, leaving all of his paperwork behind.

He didn’t stop running until he was safely locked in his house and under his covers.

The sun was shining. Willie woke up as the phone rang.

He remembered with a sudden start his horrible nightmare. He shook his head violently from side to side and answered the phone.

“Hi Willie, well, you’ve been gone long enough; what’s it been, a few days now? Fancy being deputy Lord Provost?”

Willie thought of all the corruption he knew about; he thought of all the pieces that had fallen so neatly into place in his fevered dream. He took a deep breath.

“Sounds great Barney; I’ll be over in a few hours. I’ll want a bigger office with a view mind.”

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Dec 112017
 

Duncan Harley reviews Aladdin @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen.

Following a thrilling, but ultimately unsuccessful, swordfight arch-villain Abanazar is thrown upon the mercy of the audience.

“What shall we do with him now?” cries Widow Twankey.
A young voice from the front stalls cries out “Kill him! Chop off his head.”

Quick as a flash, Twankey replies “We can do pretty much anything in Panto, but the one thing we can’t do is kill Jimmy Osmond.”

Indeed, the Christmas Pantomime at His Majesty’s Theatre delivers everything from death defying stunts to innuendo laden humour and, of course, gloriously costumed entertainment suitable for children of all ages.

As the undoubted star of the show, Jimmy Osmond’s Abanazar exudes a suitable mixture of evil and cunning as he schemes to steal Aladdin’s magic lamp before, in the second act, delivering a stunning medley of familiar Osmond 70’s classics. As the show progressed the US born star dipped a brave tongue into the Doric, endured several inevitable references to his ‘Long-haired lover from Liverpool’ 1972 hit and generally endeared himself to the audience.

There were flying carpets galore, an impressive Bush-of-Truth stunt, a flying Jordan Young and, perhaps surprisingly, an ethereal appearance – as the Voice of the Genie – by Elaine C. Smith.

Costumes of course are at the core of Panto and although Alan McHugh’s Dame Twankey outfits outshone most in that department, Emperor Ming’s jewel-laden headgear really took the biscuit for ponderosity. Indeed, it’s a wonder that Billy Riddoch’s head remained upon his shoulders throughout the performance.

Irreverent humour is of course the mainstay of any Aberdeen Panto and inevitably both Trump and the Scottish Parliament took a bashing. The Trump reference took the form of a not-so subtle ‘trouser cough’.

As for ‘Hollyrude’, well it would be unfair of me to give away the punch-line but let’s just say that it involves the Bush-of-Truth.

Special effects are to the fore in this production and the overall entertainment quotient is a massive 5 stars.

Add in Jordan Young’s Aladdin on the Ladder sketch and a few comedic references to Echt, Tillydrone, Mintlaw, Balnagask, Ellon, Buchan, Tarves and Oldmeldrum and you have a winning combination of belly-laughs and completely splendid entertainment. Indeed, at the end of the night, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and for all the right reasons.

I did wonder why Inverurie failed to get a mention though.

With the pupils of Aberdeen Academy of Dance, written by Alan McHugh and directed by Tony Cownie, Aladdin plays at HMT Aberdeen until January 7th.

Oct 222017
 

Duncan Harley reflects on Life, the Universe and Everything. A sideways look at the world and its foibles.

Nephrostomies work reasonably well but are, if truth be told, never particularly good. I mean, who in their right mind wants to wear a bag full of warm urine around their waist in summer. Not that anyone might know of course.
In the best possible taste, all is pretty well hidden apart from the drainage tube sticking out of one’s back.

In fact, the consultant, or at least one of them, cautioned that, although it all looks bleak – and I can tell you that this is true – no-one would really know that you are wearing one.

Really? I think not. Pissing, showering and anything to do with having sex are on the table as being difficult.

Having a shower involves a set routine.

First wash your hands. Then empty the urine bag. Ensure that a dry waist belt is available and then, and only then, take a shower. On emerging, dry off before changing belts. Make sure that you towel underneath the bag – otherwise you will need to suffer wet pants and worse. Above all, never sleep on your back and avoid turning in bed lest you put pressure on the bag. And, whenever it feels right, keep on with the hand-washing.

It’s a habit learned from the warnings on the wards – hospital acquired infections are rife. Hand-washing may defray death.

Simple really.

That’s an aside of course. Mainly, and apart from not being able to sleep on my back for the last 12 weeks, life is good.

The health-break has allowed a final edit to the new book. Taking it easy is fine if the head is allowed to engage after all.

The first post-surgical days were, to coin a phrase, a bit mad. An elder son had gifted a biography of a certain Bukowski as a birthday gift and I read it on the ward. Between bouts of surgically induced pain, the life and times of the man who variously wrote ‘Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must lead’ and ‘We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us’ made complete sense. All down to the morphine perhaps.

So, there we have it. There is nothing like a good nephrostomy really.

At least, in the big picture, I have had a chance to do a final edit to the new book. I had, until now, no idea how much work a book involved. As I sit recovering aside a pile of other people’s books I and my cat Lucy take heart that in a few weeks or so, I will become famous. Or infamous, depending on your stance, as the author of the A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire.

After all everyone should write a book at least once in their lifetime and I count myself one of the lucky few who have finally made it into print. Lucy is not so sure.

Muchalls, David Toulmin and the doomed Marquis of Montrose all get a good mention alongside Inkson McConnachie, Victoria’s ‘brown Brown’ and of course Jock o’ Bennachie.

Here’s a wee extract:

“When John Reid wrote about his native North-east in his guise as David Toulmin,

he penned some memorable stories. His tale ‘Snowfire’ springs to mind. Hitler’s

armies are at the very gates of Moscow and the Russians are fighting for their

lives in the siege of Leningrad. It is 1942 and he records that the folk of Buchan

were getting the ‘tail-end’ of the Russian winter ‘so you dug the snow from the

turnip drills … and all you’d get for an afternoon’s work was enough to fill a horse

cart.’ During a fierce blizzard, the farm’s water supply freezes, leaving the drinking

troughs empty. When the beasts are finally let onto the frozen river to drink from a

hole in the ice, a German bomber appears overhead and the aircraft gunner sprays

the ice with bullets, sending the thirst-crazed animals to a watery doom.

Toulmin is nowadays internationally recognised as one of Aberdeenshire’s finest

exponents of the short story. Born on a farm at Rathen in Aberdeenshire, he

worked as a farm labourer and spent most of his life working long hours on

the land for very small rewards. In odd moments he jotted down short stories,

character studies and bothy tales. Eventually, he had a few articles printed in local

newspapers. The first of his ten books was published when he was 59. His literary

output consisted mostly of short stories and reminiscences, his one novel, Blown

Seed, painting a vivid and harsh picture of farm life as an indentured labourer.”

Wish me luck is all I can say.

Grumpy Jack

PS: the book is on pre-order at http://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/publication/the-a-z-of-curious-aberdeenshire/9780750983792/

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