Mar 022021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marc said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 022021
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: 

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

The spokesperson from NatureScot also said:  

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

John Robins of Animal Concern commented:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s long-running contempt for nature:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning permission was frequently ignored. 

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

Countryside access is ignored. 

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

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

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

Waste management has been irresponsible. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Feb 232021
 

By Suzanne Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

The course has permission for clay shooting.

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Dec 132020
 

A Night At The Museum Storybook Glen.

Continuing a tradition stretching back nine years, Aberdeen Voice presents Suzanne Kelly’s annual Christmas-time satire covering the vibrant and dynamic goings-on in The Deen, the shire and the wider world.

Angus was running late for his new job.

Courtesy of Universal Credit, the acclaimed petrochemical engineer was ‘retraining’ as a security guard. 

He was at a wooden bus stop waiting for his bus to Story Book Glen.  Nearby hung a poster – ‘Fatima’s Next Job Could Be in Cyber, Only She Doesn’t Know It Yet’ read the kindly, helpful advert, featuring a ballet dancer who obviously should give up her dancing to become a government computer spy.

If Angus got lucky, he too might be retrained in cyber.  But first, he had to prove himself to Universal Credit to get that £80 a week payment.  His bus arrived after an hour or so, and off he went.

It was getting dark as he got off the No. C-19 bus on the outskirts of The Deen; the city lights were coming on, showing how vibrant and dynamic the city looked.  From afar.

Wandering through the Maryculter streets he arrived at his work placement.  ‘WELCOME TO STORYBOOK GLEN – no dogs allowed’ read the sign at the entrance, where a man sat waiting for him.  There was a papier mache castle wall with an archway; it was as pretty and as well built as any of the Barratt Homes he’d been walking past.

The little old man, smelling a bit like Buckfast Angus thought, thrust a flashlight and some keys into his hands.

“Hullo!  Ye must be thon work experience loon, Aye? Weel, welcome tae Storybook Glen,” he said, gesticulating around him as the sun continued to sink. 

“Ere’s yer keys.”

The wizened old man led Angus to a little wooden hut; in it were a wooden chair by a solitary window, a tiny fridge, and a heater.  Before they went in, Angus looked around and in the distance he could see the figures of several nursery rhyme characters as the sun continued sinking, like the feeling in his stomach.

“Did ye tak yer passport like we tellt ye tae?” the man asked; he seemed a little tipsy.

“Sure, have it here.” Angus replied, assuming it was needed for tax or ID purposes.

“Good, good – keep it on ye fer noo.  Noo ye micht get some tresspassers; some n’eer do wells were through the ither year, paintin punk rock slogans on oor statues – caused a fair stooshie,” the man warned. 

“Aa ye hae tae dae is tak a walkie roon’ noo an again, an hit onyhin ye see o’er the heid wi yer flashy, ken?  And bide oot o’ trouble!”

‘What trouble could I possibly get into around here?,’ wondered Angus ‘this will be a boring but easy way to earn ma minimum hourly wage so I can pay my council tax off soon.’

The man thrust a paper bag with a bottle in it into Angus’ hand.

“Noo, fae time tae time ye micht hear some funny stuff gan on, aye, and see even funnier stuff” said the old man.

“Tak a scoof ‘o this an’ athin will be fine.  There’s some o’ ma homemade mushroom pate in tha fridge along with half a bottle o’ Fred Wilkinson’s Tullos Hill Red – help yersel.  Ahm awa noo; see ye in the mornin’ – if ye’re still aboot.” 

And laughing to himself, the little old man hobbled away through the fake castle entrance away from Storybook Glen and out of sight.

An owl hooted.  Angus looked in the bag at a bottle that read ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin.’ ‘Ah fine; this job will be a breeze’ he thought, and with that he set himself down in the chair in the tiny guard’s booth.  He helped himself to the amazingly delicious homemade wine and pate, had a swig of Penguin, and started to doze off.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus woke with a start some hours later; the owl hooted.  He shivered and got up to turn on the space heater.  As he turned to go back to his chair, his eyes glanced at the window and he froze.

Looking back in on him were a pair of giant reptilian eyes.  He dared not move.

“Hullo!  Hullo!  Dinna be feart; Ah’m nae gan tae hurt naebody.”

Angus blinked, but when he looked again, the thing was still there, and was trying to open the door to the guard hut. 

It had a round face.  It looked like – but no it couldn’t be –

“Onywye. Fit Like?  Ah’m Barney” the thing said.  It stood in the threshold now; a giant lizard that looked like –

“You’re Barney.  Barney the -the-“ Angus stammered lost for words

“Dinosaur, aye, it’s often been said” said the beast with a chuckle an swish of its tail.

Grabbing Angus by the arm (Angus had just enough time to grab his flashlight and bottle) Barney took Angus out of the hut.  An eerie green glow illuminated Storybook Glen now, and Angus could see Barney was wearing a chain of office.

“You’re a talking dinosaur.  You’re Barney the dinosaur.  And – you’re purple – how is this possible?”

“Why am I purple?  Well, when ye start oot as Labour, but form a coalition with the Tories, the red and the blue get a bittie mixed up, and ye get purple.”

(Angus had actually meant how had a Barney the Dinosaur statue started walking and talking). 

“Weel ma loon, let ma lead ye doon the Storybook Glen gerden path and Ah’ll tell you aa ye need tae ken, and introduce ye to the rest o’ us.”

“Rest of you?” Angus repeated weakly as Barney led him away from the hut.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

“Ye’re here on an affa special nicht” Barney said, elated.

“Ye ken, Storybook Glen Cooncil has won nae jist ane, but twa awards!  The hale o the Glen is celebratin’ the nicht!”

Angus was being led down the garden path.  Soon they came to a 6’ high wooden soldier which stood at tollhouse.

“HALT!  Who goes there?” Demanded the soldier; it had very red cheeks and a mop of blonde hair. 

“Passports out!  Non-Storybook Glen characters this way – take off your shoes, belt, coat, take any computers out of bags, only one flagon of mead per person do you have any cigarettes to declare –”

“Ah Boris, it’s me – Barney,”  the purple dinosaur laughed at the guard.

“We surely dinna hae tae go through aa that, div we?  This is ma new pal Angus, oor new security guard.”

“Well OK then,” said Boris.

“I’m a tough negotiator.” 

And Barney and Angus were waived past the checkpoint.

Beep!’  ‘Beep!’ 

“Bleeping ~&!!&! bleep!”

Barney and Angus were approaching what looked like 4 tiny yellow cars driving around in a circle.  Elves driving them were waving their fists, honking their horns and shouting at the other drivers.

“It’s a one wye system ya bamstick!”

“Ah’m only gan one way ya gluepot!” shouted another elf

An older elf was in her yellow car sobbing; 

“Ah jist wanted tae dae ma shoppin’; I canna go a bike or walk, ken?  Aa thon one wye signs hiv  me gan roon in circles fer oors!  Ah jis want tae ging hame!”

And sure enough, the little path they were on was covered with one-way signs, do not enter signs, and a sign which read ‘Storybook Glen Fun Beach next left. No left turn’.  Dotted around were wooden bus stops and 136 wooden benches.

Barney puffed out his Devonian-era chest and said:

“Storybook Glen may yet win anither award for this An’ aa. Ah’m richt prood. Ess is how we fecht the dreaded plague here in the Glen.  We canna hae fowk jis drivin intae toon an’ parkin’ cars tae ging intae shops; it’s nae safe. Abody should be on bikes.  An’ it’s only cost £1.76 million pieces o’ gold tae get it sortit oot.”

Angus took a swig.

“Do you ride a bicycle then?” asked Angus, feeling sure Barney could not manage such a feat – knowing there were many others who could not either.

“Oh aye, yer yer a funny guy, eh?” Barney replied nodding his head,

“Me on a bike? Are ye wise min? Ah’ve got ma ain Barneymobile wi’ a chauffeur.”

Barney pointed to a large marquee in the distance; it was lit up, as were its customers apparently; the shouting and carrying on could be heard faintly on the air.

“At’s far we’re heidin,” said Barney, dragging an unwilling Angus along,

“Jist one mair stop tae mak.”

Heading down the path, Angus could make out in the green glowing light which filled the glen one brick house, a wooden house, and a big pile of straw.

“That’s …. surely not?” Angus stammered, seeing three little pigs; two were patting a sobbing pig on the back.  Angus took another swig.

“Aye, yer richt enough. Come an’ meet some o’ ma constituents, The Three Little Pigs.” Barney replied, anticipating Angus’ question.

Wordlessly Barney and Angus now stood in front of the pigs.  The sobbing pig looked up at Angus

“Stewart Milne Home, eh?” Angus commiserated and the pigs nodded.

“Come on an’ hae a drink lads, it’ll gee ye up a bittie” Barney said to the pigs, who immediately perked up. 

And soon Angus, Barney and the three little perky pigs were heading to the giant marquee.

Angus could barely hear Barney, who was telling story after story, as a terrible din rose from the marquee, which Angus soon realised was a big beer tent.  A huge roar went up; Angus peered inside.

The place was filled with storybook characters brought to life; swigging flagons of ale, Jaegerbombs, and Buckfast.  There were banshees screeching; elves dancing on tables, screaming, laughing and hugging.   Above hung a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Seven Dwarves Incorporated Trades of Storybook Glen Annual beer tent – An Inspired idea’

Dwarves mixed with trolls and witches; in a corner sat Little Jack Horner, eating a Christmas pie.  Angus swore he’d never drink again as he took another swig of the Tactical Nuclear Penguin. 

Beer flowed, shouts were heard, everyone hugged one another.  Barney took Angus by the shoulder and they entered the crowded tent.  A witch at a table stopped them at the entrance.

“Good evening.  Do you have reservations?”

‘Quite a few’ thought Angus.

“No” answered Barney.

“Good – I hate all that red tape.” Answered the witch.

“Are you in a bubble?” she demanded.

“Course Ah am, Ah’m wi’ the Cooncil.”

Barney and the witch both laughed.

“Right then, have a great time, social distance or wear a mask if you feel like it, and hug the nearest strangers if there is a goal scored in the football match on the telly. 

“We canna stop ye daein ‘at can we, ken?” She said, forgetting herself and lapsing into her default Doric.

Passing it off as humour to hide her embarrassment, she continued in her adopted, more ‘professional’ tone:

“We close at the stroke of midnight, except if we don’t.  The big award ceremony celebration starts at 11”

“Come an’ meet some o’ ma fella cooncillors.” Barney said.

“Sit doon an’ A’ll get the drinks in – nah, dinna sit there –“ Barney said, grabbing Angus away from a tall bald man and plonking him in a chair next to a man in a suit. 

Angus was introduced to him as being Wee Willie Wilkie.

Angus took another swig of his Penguin.  And with that Barney started to make his way through the throng to the bar, using his tail to sweep the crowd out of his way.  Angus was left at the table.  ‘I am definitely asking for a pay rise’ he thought, taking another sip of Penguin.

“An then –” cackled the bald man,

“then when Ah wez on me holidays, Ah got them te gissies another suspension!” 

He leaned forward on the table, and the others laughed and nodded approvingly.

“An then…” he continued, hushing the approving chuckles of agreement.

“Then Ah got them te postpone the hearing fre a furtha month. Another month on the payroll!” 

He nodded confidently and the others smiled and cheered.

“What’s all that about?” asked Angus to no one in particular as the bald speaker polished off flagon after flagon of wine.

Wee Willie answered him.

“That’s Donnelly Wonnelly Puddin and Pies. He assaults the unwilling and always denies. 

“He gets away with lots of things – like taking sex offenders fer drinks in shady bars in STorrybook toon, and taking cash fer upgradin passengers tae first class on Thomas the Tank engine trips an keeping their gold. 

“Nothing touches him, he doesn’t even get his wrist slapped, and if he does get into trouble, the judges say ‘it’s just a one off’ or ‘it didn’t seem like an assault to me’, and away he goes on holidays. Unlike poor me.”

Angus felt revolted and was glad Barney stopped him from sitting next to Donnelly.  Donnelly Wonnelly continued:

“Aye man, but get this,” he threw back his head howling with laughter,

“then at the hearing the convener sez the assault wez ‘a one off!!’”

The whole table – except Angus – erupted in laughter and they clinked their glasses and toasted Donnely Wonnelly.

Wiping a tear of laughter from his eye, Donnelly addressed Wee Willie,

“Ahm sorry aald mate, Ah divvent mean te celebrate me victories when Ah knaa yee hev yer problems.  or should Ah syah ‘Wall te Wall’ problems!” 

Everyone at the table laughed again – except Wee Willie and Angus.  Willie shook his head and sighed.

“Well, at least the wall’s paid fre noo . Forst , Humpty Dumpty sat on it an had a fall, then Storm Gertie made it fall in.” Donnelly said.  

At that several eyes silently met each other around the table, almost as if they didn’t believe Gertie was responsible.

“Yes, go on, laugh if you must. But it was not as easy as you might think to remember whether I owned the wall, whether I didn’t own the wall, whether I owned the wall with the wife, whether the city owned the wall, or me or my da or-“  Willie stammered

“Aye,” interrupted Barney, who was back with drinks, plonking a steaming tankard of something or other in front of Angus. 

“Some of’ us drink tae ferget; but Wee Willie, you dinna need ony help at aa, div ye?  How’s the amnesia?  Cleared up noo?” 

A few at the table laughed; Willie blushed.

“Dinna worry yersel aboot it Willie; that’s aa fergotten”. 

“Handy though that ye didnae hae to pay 200,000 pieces o’ gold tae get it fixed.  But this ither business needs tae blaw ower, then ye can come back in aboot the body o’ the kirk.”

“What has to blow over, Barney?” asked Willie,

“You mean when I told the peasants we had to build Marischal Square Castle or that they would have to pay a billion pieces of eight in penalty?”

“Nah, nae thon” said Barney.

Ye mean that I’m in the Labour party but support the Tories?” asked Willie.

“Nah, ‘at’s nithin; hisna stopped the rest o’ us.” 

The table laughed.

“You mean when I didn’t know who owned that wall but I gave verbal permission for the repairs, that I sent and got emails aboot it using my council email and held meetings in my council office aboot it? 

“Maybe you mean when I accidentally leaked some information about yon Marischal Sq? Or-”

“No Willie – Abody likes to mix a wee bit o’ business wi’ council business” said Barney

“Ah mean this fortune cookie Covid-19 racist cairry on.  We hae tae hing fire til ‘at aa blaws ower.  Ahm thinkin we’ll get oor pals at Inspired tae dae some’hin in the Storybook Glen Press. Gie fowk some’hin else tae spik aboot.  Mibbee some good news aboot the ‘Inspired indoor Christmas fayre’. 

“We’ll hae thoosans o’ fowk come in aboot tae shop – and they’ll be gled we stopped them gan intae aa the wee shoppies.  Some’hin’ lik ‘at. But dinna worry Wee Willie; anither wikk or twa, and it’ll be aa business as usual again.”

Everyone at the table chatted to each other, growing increasingly drunk. Angus, who was feeling somewhat left out of the conversation, decided he really wanted to do the rest of his security guard rounds – and to get some fresh air out of the stifling, noisy, crowded tent. 

After he finished whatever was in his tankard that is.  Soon he was ready to go, but feeling somewhat worse for wear.

“Barney, ladies an gents; I really must go do my rounds” Angus said.

“Maybe I’ll be back here though before closing time.”

“Cinderella will arrive around 11pm; myek sure yee are heor fre tha – she’s got summat ta celebrate – we’ve won awards –  and that’s why so many of weh are oot the neet – though Ahm not heor in me official capacity, yee knaa” said Donnelly, and the table laughed.

Angus got up, wove his way out of the crowd, and found himself in the night air once more.  He had another hit of Penguin.  Somewhere an owl hooted.

*                                        *                                         *                                          *

Angus felt dazed; ‘Well, at least things can’t get any stranger’ he prematurely told himself as he wandered down a further path.

He heard a whirring noise, and stumbling towards it, found himself face to face with an imp hard at work on a spinning wheel.  On the creature’s left was a huge pile of sh*te and straw which he placed on the spinning wheel; on the right was a tiny pile of gold, falling from the wheel. There was also a giant pile of books.

“I’ll bet ye canna guess ma name!” The creature said in a smug, satisfied conceited manner.

“Err, yer Damian Bates, disgraced news editor who used his job to further his wife’s business aspirations.”

“”$!”%!!! ye little sh*te” said the outraged creature,

“I’ve rebranded!  I’m Trumplestiltskin!” said the thing angrily, spinning harder than ever.

Angus picked up a book; the cover read ‘Shirk in Scotland:  Thon Real Deal, Ken’; over it was a sticker saying ‘SALE NOW ON: ONLY 1 GROAT OR 2 EGGS’

“Ah’m a Spin Doctor!  If aince on a blue moon Shirk says or daes some’hin’ that could be taen the wrang wye,  it’s ma job tae spin his sh*te intae gold.

“Like, fan Shirk cages immigrant bairns -he micht be cooking them fer aa I ken- I spin for him an’ tell fowk that nasty trolls fae abroad are tryin tae sneak intae Storybook Glen. 

“Hiv ye nae read any o’ the stories I wrote aboot fit a topper o’ a boy Shirk is?  Did ye nae hear aboot thon time he rearranged some o’ his paintins in Turnberry Glen Castle? Amazin!  Fit a guy! 

“Anither time, he tellt me personally – he likes eatin ornery grub like hamberders and cofvefee!  Can ye believe Ah got these amazing insights!  I really ken the loon! He’s  ane o’ wer ain, ken? 

“Ah’m ees best pal!  Lik Brithers! He took me tae farawa lands in a flying machine aince.

“Ah hae a Ferrari.  Ye needin a copy o’ ma book?  It’s chock-a-block wi smashin stories lik thon.  A could gie ye a signed copy fer jist one egg if –“

“Wait a minute” Angus interrupted “Just who is this Shirk guy?”

The imp was astonished and stopped his monologue.  Jaw dropping, he said:

“Well if ye dinna ken, jis follae the path on the richt.  Tak a far richt turn, an’ hud gan as far tae the richt as ye can. Ye’ll find Shirk.  He’s wi ma bonny wife richt noo – She’s ca’d ‘Fee-earner’.  Just tell them Ah sint ye! 

 “Then I ken ye’ll be back ta buy ma book!”

Angus, feeling a desire to be away from the imp, made his excuses and headed away down the right-leading path, taking one further swig of Penguin from the now half-full bottle.

After a time, Angus saw a clearing up ahead on the extreme right.  As he got closer, he heard bellowing- then a golf ball whizzed past his ears.

“ANOTHER HOLE IN ONE FOR ME, FEE-EARNER – I’M MAKING GOLF GREAT AGAIN!”

Angus reached the clearing. 

An enormous ogre stood in a golf swing pose. 

Its skin was bright orange with bright pink lips on a misshapen mouth.

White circles were around its beady black eyes.

It was as wide in the stomach as it was tall. 

Before Angus could recover himself, an ear-splitting shriek went out, and an ogress grabbed Angus by the arm.

“EEEEK!  FA ARE YOU?” the ogress shouted.

“FIT YE DAEIN HERE?  ARE YE FAE THE PAPERS?  THEY’RE AA OOT TAE GET ME AN SHIRK, KEN? AND IT’S NAE FAIR!” 

She had brown hair teased up into a ridiculous do, wore impossibly high heels, which kept sinking into the grass, and from her shoulder hung a banner which read ‘FACE OF THE GLEN – 2010.’

Angus found himself dragged in front of the Ogre, who wore a red baseball hat with the initials MSGGA.

“Look fit ah’ve foon, Shirk” she said to the golfing ogre.

“WHO IS THIS GUY?  WHADDYA WANT? AN AUTOGRAPH?  A MSGGA HAT? GONNA VOTE FOR ME AGAINST THOSE COMMIES?” it bellowed.

“Er, my name is Angus, and some guy named Trumplestiltskin told me I should come and say hello.”

“WHO? OH YOU MEAN FEE-EARNER’S HUSBAND, THAT WRITER GUY -WHAT’S-HIS-NAME.  HE BETTER BE SPINNING ME SOME GOLD.”

“Aye, too richt boss”, crooned the ogress, pointing to her oversized feet spilling out of her high-heels,

“Thon ‘Jimmy Choomaker and the Elves shoes’ dinna come cheap.”

Angus’ curiosity got the better of him, and taking a swig from the bottle in his tightly-clutched paper bag asked:

“Why de they call ye ‘Shirk’?”

“BEATS ME!” Bellowed the ogre, lining up another golfball

“SOME PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA HOW HARD IT IS TO BE AN OGRE. SOMETIMES THEY EVEN WANT ME TO LISTEN TO SECURITY BRIEFINGS.  DON’T THEY KNOW I’M BUSY?  DID YOU WATCH FOX LAST NIGHT?”  he asked while swinging at the ball, which flew off into the sky,

“ANOTHER GREAT SHOT!  MAKE GOLF GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE STORYBOOK GLEN GREAT AGAIN!  MAKE ME A HAMBERDER FEE-EARNER!”

Angus felt a strong desire to get away, but what to his wondering eyes did appear but Santa Claus, a team of reindeer pulling his flying sled, which landed on the edges of the clearing.

Santa was not what Angus expected:  he was tall and thin, and looked a bit like Sir Ian. Santa approached.

“Shirk, wonderful to see you again, and you too Fee-earner.  I’ve got a few presents for you,” Santa said, pulling some brown envelopes out of his sack. 

“Ah, just look at all these trees, glens and glades.”  Santa smiled, waving his hand towards the trees and a sand bank.

“Isn’t it a pity” said Santa slowly,

“that the Sandman no longer has environmental protection on his sand dunes?  Who could have seen that coming?”

Fee-earner laughed.

“Between that ‘unfortunate’ loss of protection, my connections and your, errr, obvious charisma, this will all be Stewart Milne homes before you can say ‘Jack Swinney be Nimble’.”

“THANKS SANTA! THIS IS MUCH BETTER THAN THAT DIPLOMA THINGY YOU TRIED TO GIVE ME A FEW YEARS AGO.  DID YOU BRING ME ANY KFC?  HUNGRY!”

“Yes, well. I wanted to-” but before Santa could finish his thought, shots rang out from several directions. 

Donner and Blitzen fell over dead in their tracks.  Dasher was wounded.  Angus took a big sip.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!” said a little donkey clutching an AK47, “Daddy I killed them!  I’m a hunter daddy, a big scary macho hunter!”

“JUNIOR, THAT’S NICE NOW RUN ALONG AND PLAY, DADDY’S BUSY.” Said Shirk as his son, the ass, who was visibly crestfallen, “NOW THERE’S A GOOD BOY, GO RUN ALONG AND MAYBE FIND SOME SHEEP YOU CAN SHOOT TOO.”

“I got one! Kill! I got one! A Tree for every citizen!  Kill!”  Another hunter emerged from the glen. She was a tiny little witch with a pointed hat.

“Damn those deer!  They eat plants!  Kill!  Kill!”

“JUNIOR, TAKE YOUR FRIEND AILEEN MALICE WITH YOU AND GO KILL STUFF SOMEWHERE ELSE, I’M BUSY”

Shirk dismissed the pair who wandered off together.  Soon other shots rang out as the pair disappeared into the trees.

“Don’t worry about those deer” said Santa coldly,

“No one is irreplaceable.  I’ll just be off now though, plenty of ‘gifts’ to be delivered at the Awards Ceremony, not least to the people behind the Storybook Glen incinerator and the Storybook Glen harbour expansion.  Shouldn’t we all be heading there now?”

And as everyone always obeys Santa, off they headed back to the beer tent.  Angus had some Penguin.

*                                       *                              *                                     *

Shirk, Fee-earner and Santa all headed back down the path towards the beer tent.  Angus followed behind.

“PSST!” Angus heard a voice,

“Come here fer a second”

Angus found himself face to face with three fish.  What three 2-metre-long fish were doing in this place he had no idea.

“Ye must be the new security guard” said the first fish.

“Ok, I’ll bite – who are you?” Angus asked.

“We’re the three fish. Naebody kens ower muckle aboot us, tho there’s mony a tail, maistly codswallop, but on a scale of 1 to 10 we dinna gie a dab” said the first fish, floating above the ground.

“Ye see we’re actually the legendary Black Fish.  Ye ken? – fish that were caught and landit, but nivver declared tae the Storybook Glen tax mannie.  A big ‘net profit’ ye micht surmise. There wis heaps o’ gold in that back in the day.”

“Still is” said the second fish.

“T’wis the Crookit Man fa steert thon up, Ah’m tellin ye.” said the third fish, which inexplicably wore a bowler hat. 

“Them fa land black fish ayewis say it’s by accident – but we ken it’s daen on porpoise.”

Angus, who found himself transported from Universal Credit minimum wage security guard to grown man talking to three giant hat-wearing talking fish who was about to catch up with ogres and Santa, found himself finally lost for words.  He had another swig from his bottle.

“Ye ken the story” said the first fish: “There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile?  That guy.  Affa fishy indeed.”

“Need tae watch thon crooked mannie lik a hake” said the second fish “He’ll come bearing gifts an’ acting like yer best pal.  Ye’ll fa’ for him hook, line an’ sinker if ye dinna look oot.”

“Aye,” said the second fish, “he stitched ma mate up like a kipper.”

“What’s your names?” asked Angus.

“Ah’m Gil” said the first fish.

“And this is Finn, an’ Ray.”

“Well, thanks for the warning and all, but I think I need to go get a drink.”

“Sorry we canna jine ye.”said Finn.

“Gil drinks like a fish, an we’ve aa been barred.  Thinks he’s the life and sole o’ the party.”

“Always legless” said Ray,

“And Ah dinna like pubs; Ah aye feel oot o’ plaice – lik a fish oot o water.”

Angus, who feared he had a haddock coming on, had had enough. 

“Bye then chaps; I’d best get my skates on.  Bigger fish to fry.  Sea you later.”

“Whale meet again!” chimed the three fish.

And off Angus hurried to catch up with Shirk and his party, taking a quick sip from his bottle on the way.

*                                            *                                    *                                       *

The Seven Incorporated Dwarves tent was heaving.  A space had been cleared in the middle of the tent when Angus arrived.  His friend Barney sidled up to him and thrust a further tankard of drink into his hands.

“Been haein a fun wi Shirk an’ Suntie Claas Ah hear” smiled Barney, who was now clutching a brown envelope. 

In fact Santa was working the room, handing out brown envelopes large and small.  Just then, to Angus’ astonishment, Santa pulled off his beard, which had been a disguise, and his Santa hat.  He put on a tall, black hat, which was crooked.

“The crooked man” muttered Angus to himself.

“What wez tha, Angus?” asked Donnelly Wonnelly tucking something into his suit jacket pocket.

“Er nothing.  I-“

But Donnelly wasn’t listening and a sudden blast of trumpets made even the drunken revellers hush.

“Ladies, Gentlemen an’ Cooncillors” Barney addressed the room; he was now in a spotlight talking on a mic. 

“Here she comes noo; the fairest in aa the land:  Give it up fer SNOOOOW WHITE!”

A hush fell over the room as Snow White glided to the centre of the room.

‘She looks just like Melania Trump’ Angus thought, although he didn’t recognise her at first with so much clothes on.

“Ladeees and Gentlemen.  I am Snow White.  Whiter than White.  White Power.  Obama he had never been born – no birth certificate.  My husband Shirk is going to make Storybook Glen Great again!  Be best!”

Huge cheers rang out in the tent.  She continued, but it was clear she was a bit tipsy.  Suddenly as Shirk tried to take her hand, her mood changed abruptly.

“I really don’t care do you?  F Christmas!  Who gives a F about Christmas! I-“ Snow White growled, as she was suddenly being dragged away by footmen. 

“I have more to say!  I am brilliant like Shirk!  I have Epstein Visa!” she bellowed as they took her away.

Barney swiftly recovered the event. 

“OK, Movin richt along noo, here she is:  oor ain Cinderella, an’ AWARD-WINNING COUNCILLOR OF THE YEAR!  Welcome Jeanny Ling!”

The crowd shouted wildly and applauded as a pumpkin coach drawn by six hydrogen-powered cars pulled up next to Barney, who helped the beautiful award-winning Cinderella out.

“Well, this is the best thing that has ever, ever happened!” 

“I WON!  I won an award as best councillor!”

The crowds chanted ‘Jea-nny!  Jea-nny! Jea-nny!’ as she held the shining golden trophy aloft.

“Ah micht nae be Labour richt noo, but Ah’m an AWARD WINNER!” Jeanny told her admirers,

“Aye, thon prestigious, fee-charging, private thinktank, the LGIU decidit to mak me – ME! The top cooncillor!”

Barney handed her a bouquet of flowers; Angus thought he saw a bulging brown envelope inside of it.

“Tae show oor gratitude, Ahm hopin ma fella Storybook Glen cooncillors will be a-signing up fer some o’ the LGIU’s braw workshops – there’s a bargain course ‘how to deal with difficult people’  for jist 540 pieces o’ eight.  Some o’ ye micht need ‘at if yev hid ony doins wi Donnelly Wonnelly or Wee Willie!”

The crowd guffawed except Wee Willie, who was busy live-tweeting the event, pretending not to notice the slight.

Angus started to have his doubts about the integrity of his new-found pals.

Jeanny continued: 

“Ah hope ye’ve aa got yer memberships; maybe cometime ye’ll win an AWARD as weel – jis think foo happy the peasants will feel aboot ‘at  – or think they feel, Ah should say.  Costs Storybook Toon Cooncil next tae ni’hin for the annual membership fees – but we canna tell ye foo muckle.”

“And this prestigious LGIU award is sponsored by CCLA.  And fit’s the CCLA?” Jeanny trilled,

“A charitable investment fund!   AND..” she waited for cheers to die down.

“Last year CCLA had a turnower o’ 33 million gold coins!”

The applause was thunderous; streamers and balloons fell from the sky.   Brown envelopes were flying like confetti.  The Crooked Man had left the Santa suit he’d been wearing across a table; he was now talking to a few men in suits.

Angus felt a touch on his arm.  It was the witch from the table at the doorway.

“Here dearie,” she crooned,

“Ye look a wee bit peaky.  I’ve something tae mak ye feel better.”

“Is it a magic potion?” Angus asked.

“Well, dearie in a wye it is” and she pressed a small but thick brown envelope into his hand. 

“Time ye wis back doon tae yer guardhoose.”

She snapped her fingers.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

“Huzzaat?”

With a jolt Angus was awake.  The sun was coming up.

Next to him on the desk was the now-empty dish of home-made mushroom pate and the empty wine bottle. There was still a slug of Penguin left.

“You wakkint?”

The old man who’d helped him last night was knocking on the window of the guard hut; his face was beaming. 

“Ony bother last nicht?”

Angus took a few moments to recover his senses. 

“Err, all fine last night, nothing to report.”

“Smashin,” said the man with a twinkle in his eye.

“Morn’s nicht again then, Aye?”

“Err.. sure” said Angus, gathering his things. 

“Mind if I take the rest of this Penguin with me?  I’ll bring you some ‘Sink the Bismarck’ tomorrow.”

“Ach, ‘at would be affa good o’ ye”. said the man patting Angus on the shoulder.

“Ah think me an’ you’s gan tae get on jist rare.”  

Angus turned to leave and was walking away when the old man caught his arm. 

“Ye fergot this, pal.” said the old man, and he thrust a brown envelope at Angus, who swiftly put it in his inside pocket.

Angus took a further swig from the bottle, patted the envelope through his jacket and headed to find the bus back home.  Somewhere a sleepy owl hooted.

*                                      *                          *                                          *

From Aberdeen Voice, Old Susannah, and the fictitious, unrelated to any plaice, place, person or persons, Storybook Glen and its fake inhabitants – MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY 2021, and Good Health!  Wear a mask.

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Oct 212019
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Tally ho! I’m missing Aberdeen and want to visit. If anyone wants to add me as a guest to the Northsound Business dinner, I’m in. Tables are £1250, and it’s at the Marcliffe, as previously mentioned.

Richard Thompson turned 70, and threw the best birthday party/concert I’ve ever been to, or am likely to ever attend.

The Royal Albert Hall three-hour extravaganza was unlike any show ever assembled before.

The music was a masterpiece of curation. Folk music, early RT songs, Fairport, torch songs, epic rock and humour were all on show.

The multi-talented, marvellous Marc Ellington performed ‘The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie-o’ beautifully.

Where do we start with the Thompson family – Teddy was awesome; Kami stunning, and Linda was there. I eventually had to stop counting the many Thompsons present as the music took me away.

There were some soloists who I definitely will go out of my way to see in future. There must have been 20 people onstage by the final pieces. Harry Shearer was mind-blowing in his Spinal Tap Derek Smalls persona, performing the moving, elegant ‘She puts the bitch in Obituary’.

The entire Thompson clan sang one of my favourite-ever protest songs, ‘That’s enough’.

‘Cry me a River’ transported us to a different time. For the last two pieces, a final guest star emerged: David Gilmour. ‘Dimming of the Day.’ ‘Fat Old Sun.’ the talent on stage was unsurpassable, and when Gilmour and Thompson played together as Fat Old Sun reached its crescendo, I think I cried some happy tears.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=njeoAIX1Slw .

‘Meet on the Ledge’ saw all the legends present assemble. This was beautiful beyond the telling of it.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB4F-DS0Wvw .

I’d been backstage for some pretty wonderful times at the RAH before, but I’d never seen a crowd anything like this before. Alas, I didn’t get to meet Mr Gilmour, whom I’m told I should meet. Maybe one day.

He also signed a photo and CD for Willows Animal Sanctuary, 

In the bar it was Thompsons to the left of me. Thompsons to the right of me. Thompsons in front of me. Harry Shearer, Michael (RT’s remarkable percussionist), other stars, and Marc Ellington peppered among the partygoers.

I found myself next to Richard for a few minutes, and looking around at the lively, deliriously happy crew, I asked:

“So Richard, you going to do anything interesting for your birthday?”

We laughed – or I think he did. I believe he gets my sense of humour by now. If not, that’s going to be the last invite I get. But what a night; beyond uplifting. Happy Birthday Mr Thompson.

I never ask for autographs as a rule from anyone, but I did of Richard twice. Ruth MacPherson was a great friend to Aberdeen Voice; she was meant to come with me to see him play at the Music Hall years ago.

She was ill with lung cancer, and on the night, she wasn’t up to it, which saddened her greatly.

He signed her a cd which I passed to her, and I know she treasured it. He also signed a photo and CD for Willows Animal Sanctuary, helping raise funds. Guitar hero indeed.

Moving swiftly along – as I must rush to London Brewdogs now that the collaboration festival is live (they brew scads of new beers with other breweries and each bar gets a few different ones. And yes, I’m a shareholder).

Since I’ll be out sampling new brews, I’m turning this 199th Old Susannah column over to a very special guest.

Aberdeen Voice has obtained the secret diary of…. Damian Bates, former editor of Aberdeen Journals Ltd.

I’ve added a few historic notes to the diary entries so you can see what was going on in the world at the same time Master Bates penned his thoughts. I hope you enjoy reading Damian’s thoughts on his pal Trump and how he had death threats.

It would be wrong for me to question the minor ethical dilemma or two that arise.

THE SECRET DIARY OF DAMIAN BATES

16 October, 2019

Only 18 days before I, Damian Bates, will tell everyone at Northsound’s business dinner what a great guy my personal friend Donald J Trump is and how great my tome is!
Sarah’s out shopping for the right dress and shoes (of course) for this great honour. Do you know I’ll be joining some of history’s great and good by speaking at this dinner? I, Damian Bates, will now be spoken of in the same breath as past speakers: Alastair Campbell, Lord Digby Jones and Ed Balls. I told some of my old colleagues about being asked and who the past speakers were, and they smiled and said I was a perfect fit.
I got where I am by hard work, not by coincidence; I don’t believe in coincidences. Now here I am, a friend of Donald J Trump. Me, Damian Bates who coincidentally edited the only newspapers where Trump was coincidentally building the world’s greatest golf course! Me Damian, who was coincidentally married to Sarah, The Face of Aberdeen Beauty contestant who I coincidentally chose to be the face, and who I coincidentally married! Sarah who Donald J Trump then coincidentally chose to run his golf course, despite my Sarah not having a stitch of relevant experience. No, I don’t believe in coincidence me, just in plain hard work. And being in the right place at the right time.
On reflection, I probably put one or two articles in the papers that praised the Menie golf course. But I only did that because it’s what people wanted. But the thing is, no one knows Donald J Trump like I do. He’s really just a nice, kind down-to-earth guy. If only everyone could know him as well as I do – they’d like him as much as this humble, hard-working newspaper editor does.
I’m a family man, me. Did you see the photos on my Facebook page? I still get people saying they can’t believe it’s really me pictured at the White House and then at Air Force One! And my Ferrari – I mean really. Did you ever see a cooler car? I think it matches my sunglasses really well – I spent days picking out the right pair. And my haircut. It goes with the glasses, don’t you think? And my car.
And now because my tome, Donald Trump The Real Deal is doing so well all over the world, Northsound Radio want me to speak at their business dinner this year! Time to get out my White House pen and start writing! I could hardly believe it when one of his aids gave me an official White House pen, it even has the presidential seal logo on it. If the metal clip on it says ‘made in China’ that just shows what a great businessman Donald J Trump really is. Now let’s get writing; I think I’ll comb through my diary to get some great anecdotes for my speech. What will be the high point? The time Trump got Eric and my great friend George Sorial, who’s also very close to Sarah, to move paintings around at Turnberry, or the fact Donald likes to eat KFC? Hard to tell which of those two is more of a show-stopper.

In other news …..

President Trump sends a letter to the Turkish president, telling him to ‘make a great deal’ or Trump will ‘crush’ Turkey’s economy. The letter continues ‘history will… look upon you as the devil if good things don’t happen.’

The letter is widely ridiculed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?

Donald Trump takes to twitter to insist that Nancy Pelosi, not he, had a meltdown yesterday. Trump met Pelosi, Senator Schumer and others after his crushing defeat in the House.

A bill to challenge Trump’s abrupt pull-out from Syria, which has seen Kurds killed in the vacuum passed 348 to 60; many Republicans turned away from Trump for the vote. He is said to be ‘shaken.’

William D Cohan publishes a blockbuster article in Vanity Fair on mysterious, huge profiteering on the stock markets revolving around announcements and actions of Donald J Trump. Did these lucky players have knowledge only Trump could have had? https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2019/10/the-mystery-of-the-trump-chaos-trades?

26 July, 2019

Today I did an interview with Northsound to promote my speaking at their business dinner in November about my tome! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnQh6w2ere8&t=10s I revealed for the first time that I’ve had death threats – oh yes. Can you believe it? Death threats against a journalist! Against me! People have to respect reporters and editors; we’ve got integrity and we’re here to give you the news. I did tell the interviewer not to ask me what these threats were about or when, or ask when I reported them to the police or why I didn’t seem to have ever mentioned them before. I also explained ‘I was the captain of the ship; the ship was far more important than I was’, I said. I might have steered that ship towards the Menie Estate and away from any Trump critics (believe it or not he has some), but nothing more than any other editor whose wife works for Trump would have done. I thought one of the recording crew said something about ‘a rat leaving a sinking ship’ but I couldn’t be sure.
I tell the interviewer there are many tomes out there that claim to tell readers what Donald Trump is REALLY like – but they are by people who haven’t even met him. How can you know what someone is like unless you have dinner with them at their club which your wife manages? It’s like when people write about Hitler or Pol Pot who never met them – what can such authors really know? My tome has it all – our phone calls, dinners, interviews – and what an impartial observer I am.
Trump’s been honest with me and I’ve been honest with him. I might not have been honest to the readership of the P&J or EE about these dinners, phone calls and of course the wife’s job – but there you go. Some reporters just report about the things he says and does, like telling the Ukraine president to get him dirt on Biden, or sending Ivanka to high-profile international meetings, or saying journalists are the enemy of the people who should be roughed up. But he laughs and jokes, and is a great guy. Some people write that he yells at his staff and it’s chaos – but I never saw that, so it can’t be true. My tome will say that – he can be wrong sometimes! Ground-breaking!

In other news ….

At Trump’s insistence, the federal death penalty has been reinstated, despite evidence that innocent people given unfair trials have been convicted, some executed.

June 13, 2019
( Damian Bates adds photo of him with Trump in the Oval Office to his Facebook page.)

Wow. I thought my Ferrari was really cool – but wait until my friends see this photo of me in the Oval Office while Trump sits at his desk! That’ll really impress everyone! Maybe I should put in my tome about the time I said ‘Mr Trump, sir, Donald – can I call you ‘DJ’?” He looked up at me from the TV and, get this – with more than a hint of his genius – he said ‘No.’

In other news ….

North Carolina man Craig Hicks, pleaded guilty to fatally shooting three Muslim university students back in 2015. The women’s father said the killings were part of rising bigotry against Muslims.

Prosecutors said Hicks had brandished a handgun to intimidate a Korean neighbour and a black remodelling worker. Relatives of the victims have asked federal authorities to charge Hicks with hate crimes.

Hate crimes have spiralled upwards since Donald Trump’s election.

Trump called for a ban on Muslims travelling to the US, which has an estimated 4-7 million-strong Muslim population. This was to be, in his words ‘…until we can figure out what the hell is going on.’

Trump recently offered to hire out US troops to Saudi Arabia, a nation with an appalling human rights record, implicated in the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018.

He was believed to have been dismembered while alive in Turkey in the Saudi consulate – the Saudis claim the murder, involving several Saudi agents and a bone saw, was ‘a spur of the moment’ event; an audio tape makes it abundantly clear it was premeditated. Trump refuses to listen to the evidence.
newly-released-transcripts-tell-gruesome-moments-saudi-columnist

June 28, 2018 …..

Note to self – must make sure to update my Companies House appointments and addresses; I guess saying I’m at Lang Stracht isn’t quite right any more.
https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/officers/5pJaOqY8SsluCgyKU-FaAQZxH4Y/appointments

In other news ….

Five journalists at Maryland’s Baltimore Gazette are shot dead. This followed Trump’s repeated speeches casting journalists as purveyors of fake news and enemies of the people.

April 17, 2018 
(
Damian Bates adds photo of Air Force One to his Facebook page.)

The best day ever! It’s not every day a hard-hitting, honest newspaper man like me gets to hang around with his busy pal Donald J Trump and go to Air Force One, that’s the president’s plane by the way. Someone wanted Trump to sign some paperwork – but he said he was busy – with me! This is the kind of friendship we have, and that’s how I know the real Donald J Trump – a great guy who’s hardworking and as honest as I am. Must take home some of the Air Force One branded cups and sick bags for Sarah – she loves anything with a prestigious logo, like my Ferrari.

In other news …..

President Trump held off imposing sanctions against Russia for its backing Syria. Nikki Haley, then UN Ambassador for Trumpistan had announced the sanctions the day before.

The Washington post reported:

“The additional sanctions were expected as a response to Syria’s suspected chemical weapons attack. Moscow opposed the sanctions, and Trump didn’t sign the order. Haley had said Sunday on CBS News that the sanctions would target Russian companies linked to equipment used in the alleged chemical attack.

“Trump, however, reportedly told his national security advisers he was not yet comfortable pulling the trigger on the sanctions.”
10-things-need-know-today-april-17-2018

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Apr 302019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Petition link: Apologise for Trump course.

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Apr 112019
 

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

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

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

This is anything but a dry and dusty history tome.

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended. 

Published by The History Press. £12.00 in hardback.

 

Nov 272018
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike continues:

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

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

“Astonishing as it might seem” writes Mike,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While another recalled that:

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

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

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

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

Stars: 5/5

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

Oct 122018
 

It’s Dracula season in North-east Scotland as Duncan Harley reviews Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker.

Local writer Mike Shepherd is about to release a new book about Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay connection and Dacre Stoker – in conjunction with Illinois born writer J.D. Barker – is about to unleash a prequel to Stoker’s Dracula classic.

Dacre Stoker gave a talk at Cruden Bay in early 2017 and both Janice and I were privileged to attend.

Alongside setting forth some solid ideas about the history and the mythology of vampirism, Dacre let slip the fact that his forbear, Bram Stoker, let loose upon the world that classic of the bloodsucking genre ‘Dracula’.

Indeed, the very venue of Dacre’s mid-winter talk – The Kilmarnock Arms at Cruden Bay – boasts a guest book entry which reads something like:

“Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again.”

The signature alongside the entry reads:

“Mr and Mrs Bram Stoker.”

Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic Vampire Horror tale ‘Dracula’, and many other literary sensations, stayed with his wife and son at the hotel for most of that 1884 August. He returned frequently over the subsequent 20 years and wrote at least part of his Dracula tale at Crooked Lum Cottage, one of his holiday homes at Cruden Bay.

There is a strong local belief that his tale of Transylvanian terror was heavily influenced by nearby Slains Castle although Ecclesgreig Castle at St Cyrus and the town of Whitby in Yorkshire also claim to be Stoker’s inspiration. But the jury is still out.

Jointly written by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, the new Gothic novel, ‘Dracul’ makes no pretence at solving the riddle and, in a volume dedicated to ‘finding the roots’ of the Dracula truth, both Dacre and Barker have penned a bold prequel to the Stoker tale.

Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings

Dracul is described in the PR fluff as ‘Scary as hell. Gothic as decay’. And for once, the cover fluff is pretty much near the truth.

Based on notes left behind by Bram Stoker, Dracul is really a fly-on-the wall insider-vision to what really happened.

Stoker is in a room, in a tower armed with various items. A gun, some mirrors and holy water litter the table alongside some plum brandy and a crucifix for fortification. His fevered mind imagines a night to remember and he awaits with some trepidation the inevitable battle with the undead.

Inevitably, the reader is drawn to the suspicion that this early tale reflects at best a dream sequence brought on by some dreadful childhood fever or, at worst, an over-use of some prescription medication.

Imbued with a sickly childhood, Bram’s tales probably reflected his early sufferings and his later associations with theatrical empressario, Sir Henry Irvine could only have augmented the childhood recollections but in a mainly theatrical way.

But, back to the chase … imagine if you will a pre-adolescent Dracula author – in fact Stoker himself – sitting behind a firmly locked door awaiting the arrival of some dreadful apparition.

‘The Journal of Bram Stoker: From my earliest memories, I was a sickly child, ill and bedridden from birth until my seventh year, when a cure befell me. I will speak of that cure in great length to come …’

The indescribable tension will have you hiding your face in your hands at times and the complexity of the tale might draw you to the very edge of your seat. Blood and guts in nature, Dracul is one of those gripping reads which – by its very provenance – is difficult to put down.

All in all, this is a splendidly orchestrated piece of pure Gothic horror told in the style of the master of the art and by writers who have been privileged to access the family archives.

It’s not often that I pen a spoiler. But suffice it to say that Dracul ends with the immortal words:

“I will stay with you always.”

Stars: 4.5/5

Dracul is available in the UK in hardback from 18th October 2018 from Bantam Press @ £12.99
ISBN: 9780593080108

Jan 282018
 

Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The A-Z Of Curious Aberdeenshire: Strange Stories of Mysteries, Crimes and Eccentrics’

Tucked out of the way in the far reaches of the land, behold Aberdeenshire, a place that can boast the forlorn reputation of being largely unknown to the population at large. Edinburgh yes; Glasgow yes; and lots of tourists nip up the west coast of Scotland, but Aberdeenshire?

If the area registers at all in the national consciousness, it’s a vague awareness of something to do with North Sea oil, whisky, farming and a bit of fishing.

Otherwise nothing much ever seems to have happened there.

Then along comes Duncan Harley’s new book to challenge these perceptions. Much in the way of odd and curious things did indeed take place in that north-eastern corner and the world hadn’t known about it until now.

The book follows an alphabetic format starting with A for Aberdeenshire Art and ending up with Z for Zeppelins. Now that last section I found the most curious. During the First World War a German bombing raid went astray as the Zeppelin got lost somewhere over Aberdeenshire.

As Duncan notes:

‘Wildly off course and completely disoriented, the L20’s  sixteen-strong crew flew inland, bombing Craig Castle at Lumsden before overflying Kintore, Old Rayne and Insch, where they dropped bombs and a flare on a field at Hill of Flinder Farm, Mill of Knockenbaird and nearby Freefield House were also targeted. Amazingly though, there were no casualties and next day, curious locals went in search of souvenirs in the form of bomb fragments.’

Crazy or what? – yet fairly typical of Duncan’s fascinating book. Here’s how it came about. Duncan was asked by the History Press to write the book.

They had been aware of his articles in Leopard magazine, now subsumed into the Scottish Field. Duncan is a known wordsmith having worked for a time on a newspaper before turning to freelance writing. He has also contributed to the Aberdeen Voice which as he writes in the introduction deserves special recognition for their support.

To whet your appetite here’s some more curiosities that you might want to read more about in Duncan’s book:

– Buffalo Bill’s trip to Peterhead and Fraserburgh with his Wild West Show.

– How the Beatles, then the Silver Beetles, were nearly wiped out in a car crash on the road to Fraserburgh.

– The German spies who landed at Crovie during the Second World War.

– The royal wee… Queen Victoria’s toilet at Ballater. And on a similar theme – how a German U-Boat was sunk by its toilet near Cruden Bay.

– The Stonehaven Railway Riot in 1848 during the construction of the line to Aberdeen when over 200 navvies rampaged around the town.

This and so much more – an alphabet soup for the curious. Highly recommended – The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire is on sale in bookshops around Aberdeen and the Whisky Shop in Inverurie – where signed copies are to be had. Do have a look.

Mike Shepherd.