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.

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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Oct 132017
 

With thanks to Martin Ford.

Two planning enforcement notices have been served by Aberdeenshire Council on Avant Homes in respect of the former Kingseat Hospital development near Newmachar.
The action by the Council’s planning service follows a report on Kingseat, instigated by East Garioch councillor Martin Ford, that went to the Garioch Area Committee in June.

Cllr Ford has welcomed the decision to serve enforcement notices. He said:

“I am very pleased by the response from the Council’s planning service to the Member Promoted Issue report on Kingseat discussed at the Garioch Area Committee in June. Actions are now being taken that will put real pressure on the main site owner to complete at least some of the outstanding planning requirements.”

The planning enforcement notices served relate to the storage of spoil and materials and failure to install a play park, required from the developers as part of the overall Kingseat planning permission. The developer has 12 weeks from 20 October to clear the spoil storage area and create a new open space including play equipment.

If the developer wishes to appeal the enforcement notices, it must do so by 19 October.

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“Under the Councillors’ Code of Conduct, councillors are not allowed to press for particular planning enforcement actions. Such decisions are for officers in the planning service. The decisions officers have now taken regarding Kingseat have my wholehearted support.

“I do think Aberdeenshire Council was far too passive for far too long in dealing with the stalled development at Kingseat. Of course, the Council cannot simply order the developers to complete the whole development, it doesn’t have that power. But the Council can proactively pursue obligations the developers have under the legal agreements associated with planning permissions, and take enforcement action over non-compliance with those permissions.

“There is clearly now a new determination to use the powers the Council does have to try to force the main site owner to undertake further work stipulated by the permissions granted and agreements signed. That has got to be very welcome.”

Aberdeenshire Council hopes Avant Homes will comply with the enforcement notices. In the event of non-compliance, officers in the Council’s planning service will decide what action to take. This could include the Council undertaking the work required and recovering costs from Avant Homes and reporting Avant Homes to the procurator fiscal for non-compliance.

The Council is also reviewing other options for action to get work progressed at Kingseat, including Avant Homes’ obligations under Section 75 legal agreements.

In order to preserve the historically important former hospital site, Aberdeenshire Council granted planning permission for a mixed use development at Kingseat in December 2004. The first new homes at Kingseat were completed on 21 February 2006 – so some residents have now been living in an unfinished development for over eleven years. The lack of a play park is just one very obvious failure by the main site developer.

The Council’s long-standing policy on preserving the historic buildings at Kingseat is reflected in the agreed development brief for the site.

Cllr Martin Ford said:

“The goal has to be to get the whole development finished and see the fine buildings that are currently derelict brought back into use.”

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Sep 072017
 

Popular Aberdeen based ceilidh band Iron Broo will provide the music for the World’s Largest Strip The Willow. Photo credit: Janie Barclay.

With thanks to National Trust for Scotland.

Do you want to be a Guinness World Record Breaker? On Saturday 9th of September we will be attempting the Largest Strip the Willow at Castle Fraser and we need YOU.

In the year 2000 Edinburgh broke the record with 1,914 people during their Hogmanay. We are ready to bring the record to Aberdeenshire.

So save the date and get your dancing shoes at the ready!

Organiser Paula Swan said:

“I can’t wait to see it. It was a little idea we had last year and only last week we got confirmation from Guinness World Records to say we could do it.

“Now it’s a reality and we’re really excited about pulling it together, and the responses we’ve had so far have been fantastic.”

She added:

“The great thing about Castle Fraser is you can stand on the tower, so we’re planning on filming it.

“We’re also going to fly drones across the field to really capture all the people having fun.”

By signing up for a ticket you are signing to take part in our attempt. You will still have to register on the day to collect your band. Tickets are free to attend however, there is a £2 parking fee.

Due to the nature of this record attempt participants must be 10 years and over. If you are a business or group and would like to register a team to take part please get in contact with castlefraser@nts.org.uk

Registration: Opens at 12:00pm and closes at 1:30pm for a 2:00pm record breaking kick off.

There will be catering vans and activities to help you to warm up and stay limber. Please keep in mind that we do live in Scotland so dress for the weather. We will be going ahead with our attempt regardless of the weather, so please bring suitable clothing and footwear as you will be dancing on grass. Ponchos will be available to buy on the day if you do require one.

Tickets are limited, booking essential.

The event would not be possible without the hard work and contribution of the following people;

– Iron Broo; who are performing the lovely ceilidh music that will help us strip that willow
– STV’s Andrea Brymer; who will be hosting the event
– Deeside Caledonia will be performing before we kick off the attempt
– Gordon School of Dancing will be showing us all how it’s done before the attempt
– A-line will be providing all AV and Tech support to make this event possible
– Mike Gall Transport for providing the staging required
– Fennel Media who will be filming the amazing attempt

Let’s do this Aberdeenshire!

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Aug 112017
 

Tiny Toadstools and Monster Mushrooms make for magical event at Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate. With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

With its harled façade, magnificent turreted towers and walled gardens, Crathes Castle is a standout property from the 16th century.

Fungi, folklore and fairy tales come together in the grounds of a magical North-east castle where woodland secrets and stories will be shared with young visitors and their families.

Green goblets that elves might use to drink from are likely to be among the finds during the Tiny Toadstools and Monster Mushrooms walk at The National Trust for Scotland’s Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate on Tuesday, August 15.
The ‘goblet’ is in fact the green elf cup, a fungus which creates a vivid green stain on dead wood and looks like a drinking vessel for an elf, and which is among hundreds of different fungi that can be found in the grounds of Crathes, a stunning castle that looks like it has come straight from the pages of a story book.

The setting makes Crathes ideal for sharing stories of fungi and fairy tales and visitors will learn how the fly agaric toadstools, synonymous with Enid Blyton books, get their spots and have the chance to find out about the largest fungi in the world which is visible from space.

Ranger Stephen Reeves says:

“Crathes is home to hundreds of different species of fungi due to the wide variety of habitats that can be found here. Some mushrooms like open grass lands, some live on dead wood and some on trees and we have all these different mixes.

“Our ranger-led walk isn’t about identifying mushrooms and toadstools but it is about sharing some really cool stories and games. Some mushrooms turn purple when they are cut and the biggest organism in the world is the honey fungus which is found in Siberia.

“There’s lots of fascinating stores and some interesting folklore too around them and we think adults will be every bit as intrigued by the stories as children are.

“Mushrooms and toadstools are so often overlooked but we have them in abundance at Crathes at this time of year and they will be very much at the heart of our storytelling.”

The ranger-led walk on August 15 is from 10.30am to 12 noon and is ideal for families with children aged between 5-11 years. Entry is £5 per child and adults go free.

Places are limited and so booking is essential at https://nts.cloudvenue.co.uk/crathestinytoadstoolsandmonstermushrooms

With its harled façade, magnificent turreted towers and walled gardens, Crathes Castle, which is managed by the National Trust for Scotland, is a standout property from the 16th century.

The castle and its gardens will be open to visitors during this summer programme event.

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