Dec 082017
 

By Fred Wilkinson.

“Aaaah Grasshopper, you still have much to learn … you must first try to listen … and feeeel!”

Once upon a time there was a young man who fancied himself as the rebranded Anarcho Dennis The Menace.

Unfortunately, he did not have the means to put enough calories into his person in order to avoid being laughed and sneered at by the bespectacled Walter and his crew of ‘softies’.

So he developed a defiant, unflinching pose in order to look hard.

He got a punk band together and generally scared the crap out of folk … his relatives mostly,

Then he got a wee job doing sound for a band called Mabel Meldrums Ceilidh Band.

Working alongside his chum, and punk band colleague Frank Benzie, nephew of Mabels’ guitarist and vocalist, Ian F Benzie, the young man in question came to know and refer to the Benzies as ‘Frunk an’ Unc’ – which neither ever objected to.

But their influence on the stoic, stripey one was not only significant, but equal and opposite!

This brought about much confusion. Whilst Frunk would lead young Dennisesque astray, and goad him into strange and perilous situations, Unc would be much more a source of a calm and enlightenment – particularly with regard to the realm of music. 

Words of wisdom were dispensed freely:

“If the music is ‘at loud ye canna hear yersel think, then how d’ye ken yer actually listenin tae music?”

“The words ‘I love you’ should be spoken close up, and whispered ….. if ye scream them oot til there’s snotters comin oot yer mou’, yer likely tae get a blind date wi fower or six coppers wi big sticks in the back o’ a van”

“It’s nae jist the notes min, it’s the space in atween”

And ither such hippy stuff and fluff.

However, it sunk in eventually, to the point that young hardened cynic began to appreciate the understated and the subtle alongside the “in yer face wi a big slab ya ****” aspects of music and art.

But then, not long after, Ian F Benzie, along with Mabels’ bassist/banjo plucker Buzzby McMillan parted company with Sandie Wyles (fiddle/mando/vocs), Andrew MacDonald (keys/concertina/caller) and Ian Wilson (Bodhran/ percussion/whistle), and went on to form the notorious Old Blind Dogs.

Sandie continued playing with a new Mabel Meldrums line up with a very different approach and sound.

As for that defiant, unflinching, skinny, stoic, cynical, spikey, stripey, cartoon character wannabe, tribute act? Well that was me (still is I suppose) …. your Aberdeen Voice editor.

Which brings me to the purpose of this one off spontaneous and unusual Aberdeen Voice article.

In the last few hours, I discovered a forgotten, presumed lost (or borrowed and not returned) cassette tape which was recorded by myself and Frunkie B from the mixing desk we were charged with the task of operating … or at least, preventing teuchters from plonking/spilling their beer, or stubbing their fags out on.

And so, 30 odd years later, I decided, if I had gone to sleep when I should have … like about an hour before I found that ‘lost’ tape … it might become ‘lost’ again ….. maybe forever!

And so, instead, I lashed a load of wires and boxes together, and now have a digital copy of the whole gig, which I hope to share soon.

However, I felt, when listening to one particular track, which was not part of the band’s set, but performed ‘off the cuff’ while some technical problem was resolved, that there was a wee bit of magic which transcended the background noise and the tape hiss.

Therefore, I felt compelled to ‘splice’ it out, and with the bare minimum of processing, offer it here without any further delay. 

Westlin Winds by Ian F Benzie. Live at Premnay Hall, 86/7 … as part of Mabel Meldrums’ (ceilidh band) show.

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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May 162016
 

White Wood ForumWith thanks to Kate Sargent.

For millennia, storytellers, musicians, artists and indigenous thinkers have engaged with the sensitive nature of our planet, exploring the complex relationship ecologies, economies and cosmologies have with people and all matter.

At the core of all this is a concern for the environment and obtaining peace.

The White Wood Forum is a continuation of thinking about art and ecology began by Joseph Beuys, whose practice both literally, with acorns from his 7000 Oaks, and conceptually sowed the seeds for The White Wood.

As a living monument to peace, created by the people of Huntly, the wood will grow and change as the oaks mature over the next 300 years. Working as an artist, pacifist and environmentalist, Beuys’ work acts as a confluence between social and cultural perspectives of sustainability: local and global understandings and lived practices around the world.

Our current eco-political system is designed by and for the very few, resulting in unending conflict and ecological decay. What world can we dream of for future generations? And what contributions can art and community make?

Focusing on the nexus between art, peace and ecology the White Wood Forum will ask how art can be in harmony with the key principles of sustainability, including next to ecology – social justice, grass roots democracy and non-violence.

By bringing together people from arts, anthropology, ecology, politics, peacemaking and locality, The White Wood Forum will ask how we can foster a culture of complexity, an art and a community that impacts the future, to the benefit of generations to come.

White Wood Forum

Thurs 26 May 7pm: Ex-Servicemen’s Club, Huntly.

Prof Tim Ingold: The Sustainability of Everything
Screening of 7000 Oaks with Q&A

Fri 27 May 9am-7pm, Stewarts Hall, Huntly.

Chair: Deirdre Heddon, Prof. Contemporary Practice, University of Glasgow;

Keynote: Satish Kumar, long-term peace and environmental activist;  Loïc Fel, Philosopher and Cofounder of The Coalition for art and sustainable development; Tim IngoldChair of Social Anthropology, University of Aberdeen; Robin McAlpine,Director of Common Weal; Shelley Sacks, Prof. Social Sculpture, Oxford Brooks University; Georges Thierry HandjaMapping Coordinator at the Rainforest Foundation UK; Rhea Thoenges-Stringaris, 7000 Oaks Society/Kassel; Caroline Wendling, White Wood artist; and others….

7pm Peacemakers’ Ceilidh with the Strathspey Fiddlers, Gordon Arms Hotel

Sat 28 May White Wood Opening Ceremony and Gala day. More info here.

Tickets:

White Wood Froum: £25 Early Bird/£35 regular; £10 Students/AB54 Citizens/White Wood planters (includes ceilidh)

Peacemaker’s Ceildh only: £5

White Wood Gala: free event

Dec 242015
 
Iron Broo5

Iron Broo earlier the same day at the Winter Wonderland Festival on Union Terrace.

With thanks to Charlie Abel.

It really was a brilliant night. The 2015 Iron Broo Christmas ceilidh went with a swing at St. Margaret of Scotland’s Church hall at the Gallowgate, Aberdeen on Saturday the 19th of December.
Keen ceilidh goers traded their winter blues for their dancing shoes in preparation for the Christmas holidays.

As promised it was a good old-fashioned Scottish evening where guests were invited to bring their own beverage and snacks and enjoy a ‘reel’ ceilidh.

Families and friends came and took part in the dancing, which knew no barriers to age with children, young people and the more experienced taking part. All the dances were called and everyone was invited to join in.

Nobody was left a stranger by the end of the night.

The raffle and a ‘throw coins at the whisky’ game were held to raise money for ‘Charlie House’ a local Aberdeen children’s charity.

Iron Broo would like to thank The Devenick Dairy who donated a ‘Big Beast’ Christmas hamper, full of cheeses and goodies and Makro Aberdeen for donating a bottle of malt whisky for our whisky game. A respectable £173 was raised for Charlie House.

Congratulations to Lydia Van Beers for winning the Devenick Dairy ‘Big Beast’ hamper and to Jonathan Scott for winning the Makro Whisky game with a bottle of 12 year old Old Pulteney.

“Everyone who came tonight had a fantastic time. You can’t beat a ceilidh in a wee hall for a friendly welcoming atmosphere. It’s a really great low-cost night out for anyone. Especially welcome at this time of year. Everyone is smiling,” said Charlie Abel, Iron Broo’s accordionist and band leader.

The ceilidh at St. Margaret’s was the second performance for Iron Broo on this particular day having entertained an appreciative lunchtime crowd at the winter wonderland festival on Union Terrace. The next public ceilidhs from Iron Broo are being planned already.

Keep an eye out on their Facebook page and website www.IronBroo.scot

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Dec 112015
 

With thanks to Charlie Abel.

Iron-Broo-christmas

Ceilidh away the start of the holidays with friends and family at the Iron Broo Christmas Ceilidh 2015.

Popular local ceilidh band Iron Broo will be playing at the St. Margaret’s of Scotland Church hall on the Gallowgate, Aberdeen (opposite the Blue Lamp) on Saturday 19 December.

It’s bring your own bottle as there is no public bar and there will be no food, so if you need a snack or some energy for the dancing bring your own treats. But remember, Santa could be watching so be on your best behaviour!

Open to the public, doors open 6.30pm starting around 7pm, Finishing at 11pm.
Space is limited.
Tickets available in advance £10

Call Charlie on 07802 861390 or 01224 874570
Email charlieabel@ironbroo.scot.

Feb 042014
 

Julie Thompson continues her series on photographing bands in Aberdeen taking in Terry McDermott & The Bonfires, Amy Sawers, Craig John Davidson & Innes Cardno at The Lemon Tree, Toxik Ephex at The Moorings, and Iron Broo at The Beach Ballroom.

Craig John Davidson - Credit: Julie Thompson

Craig John Davidson – Credit: Julie Thompson

The last of my three Lemon Tree events between Christmas and New Year was to shoot Terry McDermott and the Bonfires, along with his supports Amy Sawers and Craig John Davidson with Innes Cardno.

A queue had formed outside The Lemon Tree when I arrived. Some had come over from the USA especially for this gig – they were big Terry McDermott fans.

I also bumped into Matt Jolly’s dad – who is also a big Craig John Davidson fan.

Craig John Davidson took to the stage to start the evening, along with Innes Cardno. Craig was excellent as ever but Innes was new to me and what a revelation the two of them together was – quite amazing. Craig alone is an incredible guitarist, but the two together were musical manna with Innes weaving lovely melodies around Craigs vocals and guitar.

amy1Amy Sawers was the next act on stage.

This was my first time seeing her on stage (previously I’ve only seen her in one of the Old Granite Whistle Test sets in HMV). She has a fantastic, powerful voice and big dark eyes.

Her eyes were usually open as she played and she looked around and made eye contact with the photographers (well, their cameras).

So many guitarist look down at their hands, which can make catching an open eyed shot a challenge.

I’ve found that eye contact from a performer can often lead to intense images that can make the back of the neck tingle.

Aberdonian Terry McDermott – who was runner up on Season 3 of The Voice, a US talent show and has become a big name over there – was back in his home city to coincide with his new single release; ‘Lose this Feeling’, and to Headline at the New Year’s ‘Gig at the Brig 2013’ in Ellon.

Terry was previously with the Aberdeen band, Driveblind. Today he was singing with his band, The Bonfires – a mixture of American and British musicians.

terry2By the time Terry & his band took to the stage, the place was pretty packed, with the Americans fans front and center against the pit wall.

Also along to shoot this gig were Matt Jolly, George Mackie, Dod Morrison and Andy Thorn.

I had a quick word with Captain Tom before Terry came on, as I wanted to see if I could shoot some images from the crowd later on, after the pit session was over.

Terry was actually quite good to shoot – he was active and made good eye contact with those there to take the photos.

I enjoyed the shoot and his performance and the crowd loved the show, his new single going down very well with them.

I had a stupid novice problem later on, outside the pit. When I was taking my camera out of my bag I must have knocked the autofocus switch to off.

I didn’t notice at first; I just thought my eyes were tired. Anyway I missed a few, but luckily not too many, good photo opportunities due to that mistake, so mental note to self – take more care and always check the autofocus switch is on!

innes1Terry and his band had a busy night planned, as it happens – during his set he announced that they were playing again a little later that evening.

After the signings and chatting at the Lemon Tree, they were off to play an acoustic gig at Korova on Bridge Street.

At the end, I managed to swipe a set list that Terry was kind enough to sign, as an addition to my memento drawer.

I remember, some time ago, asking George Mackie if he’d photographed anyone well known – Iron Maiden, Paul Weller & Katy Perry were some of the names he mentioned.

He has also been at the X-Factor shows when they visit and was recently at the AECC for Boyzone.

I asked if there was anyone he applied for and was gutted when he got a refusal:

“I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of knowing. I still get rejections of photo pass applications, but not so many these days.”

His travels for music photography are somewhat limited by him being self employed – he single-handedly runs his football related business and can’t just take off for days on end whenever he wants – so he mainly reserves his trips for the summer when the festivals are on.

Wickerman is his favourite and was the first he got a pass for:

“My kind of music with my kind of people in attendance”

Belladrum is another favourite, mostly because there is so much going on. It’s a family friendly festival and great for candid/street style photography, another of his interests.

I asked if there anything he wished he’d known when he first started:

“Possibly to shoot in RAW, but fast action photography needs the best equipment to process the digital files. At the time I could capture sudden movement more precisely by pressing the shutter whilst saving as jpeg files. I’ve never been a fan of rapid shooting as you then lose the precision and control over what is captured.”

Last question, George, honest! Any tips you’d like to share?

“Start with small shows in dark rooms, you’ll learn the functions of your camera better.”

A couple of weeks on from the festive season and I was off to The Moorings to see Toxik Ephex.

toxik1Toxik (originally called The Abductors) are possibly one of Aberdeen’s longest surviving Punk bands going back, off and on, for some 35 years.
Having previously only caught the tail end of their last one in Downstairs @ The Malt Mill a few weeks back I was interested to see a full show.

Dod Morrison was, of course, there; in fact he was singing along in a mic at several points during the evening. Moorings house tog, Matt Jolly, was also
there.

Tonight I had decided to try a new thing. I had an event coming up the following week which needed me to be familiar with flash and I thought this would be a suitable venue and subject to use as a testing ground.

I’d played around with various settings during the support act but wasn’t really happy with the results, a dark background and flash lit washed-out subjects.

During the gap between support and main act, I put my thinking cap on, eventually coming up with a theory where I could fill-light the subjects so they look natural but also keep the ambient lighting visible. Still, proof of the pudding is in the result – having a theory is all very well – and so, with some trepidation, I set my camera to those theoretical settings and prepared to give it a try.

Another issue with using flash is that you have to wait between shots for the flash to recharge. It slows you down and makes you pick your images more carefully, so in some ways it is no bad thing. However, here’s a little tip – always carry spare batteries because flash recharge time increases as the batteries are used. Swap them out for fresh ones well before they go flat. Keep the old ones for reuse – they’ll still last a long time in a tv remote.

toxik2Looking for that special moment can be engrossing – which is why I ended up getting my camera accidentally smacked back into my eye. People are closer than you think when you’re looking at them through a wide angle lens.

I eventually ended up standing on the edge of the stage for a while to grab some close-up photos of Dod, the frontman, interacting with the crowd. This was an excellent position for the shots I was looking for, but the crowd closed in beneath leaving me effectively stranded for a while.

I think everyone there had a great time, the crowd was well natured and I was pretty pleased with the results from my flash experiment. I had a great night, despite the bruises.

The last event I’ll briefly mention was something new to me.

iron_broo1There was live music, yes, but this was of a different sort to the music I’ve usually been
encountering.

It was a Ceilidh – in this case a charity event to fundraise for ARCHIE – with Iron Broo and friends (Paul Anderson & Bob Knight) providing the music.

The event was a sell-out and the floor was so often packed that people had little room to dance.

It was fun to watch, a challenge to photograph and all for a great cause. I even learned a few new dances that night. Well done to all those involved in getting this event organised!

.paul_anderson2sq bob_knight1sq

I’ve picked my next music photographer to talk to – Dod Morrison. He’s been shooting gigs for some years now and should have some interesting tales to tell.

More Photos:

Terry McDermott & The Bonfires
Amy Sawers
Craig John Davidson & Innes Cardno
Toxik Ephex
Ceilidh for ARCHIE

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Jun 282012
 

Old Susannah watches the latest developments in the ‘Deen and the wider world and helps Voice readers to get their whites right. By Suzanne Kelly.

One of the best events in recent memory?  The Party in the Park held by Common Good Aberdeen last Saturday was fantastic, despite the rains.  Nearly 4,000 people visited over the course of the day, all of the thousands of home bakes Mrs B created over a course of weeks disappeared long before the day ended, and the shelter of the marquee made the rain a minor inconvenience rather than a show-stopper.

And what a show it was.  Gerry Jablonsiki and the Electric Band opened the entertainment, and played an extraordinary set (I must say the solos Gerry comes out with are riveting, but you can’t play like that without a solid rhythm section.

The big surprise for many was the unique, creative duo ‘The Pounding’ whose electronic compositions went over a storm.

The final act of the day were the school choirs performing ‘Sing’.  The audience went wild as they danced to Danse MacCabre’s ceildh music.

I was honoured to have been asked to do a speech of thanks at the end; it was a privilege to thank the many volunteers who made the day a success, and Mrs B in particular, without whom this would not have been realised.  All around the gardens people commented ‘there should be more events like this’, ‘we don’t need to build anything here, just hold events’ and ‘get me some more of this delicious cake!’

Marie Boulton, Depute ACC Leader, made a brief but wonderful speech; many politicians came out to have fun and talk to their constituents.  Everyone was pleased in particular that Dame Anne Begg MP was there, proving that the gardens are accessible.  They could be made more accessible it is true – but access does exist, despite odd claims to the contrary.

I would like to apologise for not getting to have proper chats with a number of people, but I was charged with getting the acts on and off stage according to a strict timetable. Neale Bothwell and I did a fair job of it, I think.  Don’t wait for someone to throw another event, but when we next do get a dry, sunny day, use your gardens – they are common good land, and you own them.

Another event of this past week was Aberdeen Voice’s 2nd anniversary drinks held in Ma Cameron’s, where the idea for AV was launched.

Members of local band Toxik Ephex had been talking about the need for an independent  newspaper, and two years later Fred Wilkinson and a host of volunteers are keeping AV going.

People came and went over the course of the night; we were pleased to see some of the Aberdeen cyclists, a member of the Silver City Surfers, and in particular Anthony Baxter.   Baxter has a new version of ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ about to start a UK and North American tour (details elsewhere in Aberdeen Voice) with new footage of The Donald.

All of these positive developments are enough to sap a girl of any sarcasm.  Thankfully, there are always a few banking, tax, trident, deer cull scandals to keep me on track.  So, without further hesitation, here are a few definitions.

White Cliffs of Dover: (noun, Eng. geography) A steep, dramatic chalk cliff face on the South of England.

The iconic White Cliffs of Dover are in the news this past week; some NIMBYS are objecting to a proposed housing development near them.

The Cliffs also have some problems with erosion, but the main issue of course is that they are not accessible.  There is no access for the  able-bodied, let alone people with any mobility issues, and to be honest, the connectivity is just not there.

If the cliffs could just be raised (or would that be lowered?) to street level, and a bosque, theatre  and parking be thrown in, they might just be onto something there.  As to refusing a housing development, well, that would mean that England is not open for business.

Craig Whyte: (Proper Noun, possibly Improper noun) – a colourful character.

Oh dear, could it be that Craig Whyte is not whiter than white?  The would-be king of Rangers has had one or two previous problems in the boardroom.  This would-be white knight  sadly no longer looks set to take over Rangers.  Private Eye magazine unkindly suggests that someone with a failed directorship or two is not a fit person for the Rangers role.

Indeed they are correct; Whyte’s considerable talents would be used to best advantage in central government.

To add to this week’s colour theme, it would seem that Green owns the club, but Brown is trying to make the fans see  red, and opt for a buyout.  Will Rangers ever be in the black again?  It is currently a bit of grey area.

Whitewash: (verb, mod English) to cover up bad news, dilute the truth, gloss over facts for political, personal or monetary gain.

Aberdonians and UK taxpayers will be most unfamiliar with this term, and Old Susannah thought you might like to know more about it.  It will be difficult, but I shall try and find some examples.

On the national level, there have been one or two little Inquiries which have unjustly been described as being whitewashes.

There was the Hutton Inquiry into the small matter of how a bland dossier about Iraq was magically transformed into a document proving Sadam Hussein was about to use his Weapons of Mass Destruction on the UK, and would only need 45 minutes to wipe us  out.  This Inquiry found that changing a report into a justification for waging war was a bit naughty, but was fair enough.

No less a person than Alasdair Campbell said he defended ‘every word’ of the ‘sexed-up’ dossier.  Why bother to have an Inquiry at all I wonder?  If the man who wrote the thing for his boss Tony Blair says it’s above-board, then who are we to question it?

We’ve also had the Levenson Inquiry, a great spectacle for the whole family.  One frail little old pensioner, a Mr R Murdoch is cruelly being asked questions about newspaper reporters hacking into phonecalls and emails.  The poor Australian gent keeps telling the investigators he can’t remember anything, but they keep asking him questions.

Just because he and his family own the newspapers which carried out the illegal spying is no reason to think he’d know about it or be in any way responsible for it.

Are there any whitewashes going on here in the Deen?  Let’s think.  The city has been totally transparent over the Tullos Hill deer cull; they pride themselves on their transparency and consultation with the people; quite good of them really.

Freedom of Information requests are answered immediately and clearly.  It’s not as if the FOI officers are waiting until the last moment to supply information, or that the information they supply contradicts information they’ve previously released.   Surely they have nothing to hide?

Were the city in the right to have guns blazing on a hill used by families, motorcyclists, animals and indeed the occasional free-range arsonist without giving warning?  The mainstream press quoted a ‘council spokesperson’ as saying ‘there was no legal requirement’ for any warning signs.  Has this whitewash covered the matter sufficiently?  We shall see what the public and the authorities think.

White Collar Crime: (Modern English phrase)  to commit a non-violent, financial criminal offense.

WE must pause to think of those in our society who are being asked to go without, who are being forced to justify their dependence on State handouts.  Yes, I am worried about our banking sector.

We clearly did not give them enough of a bail-out, in fact, they can’t even afford decent IT systems, and some financial institutions are  experiencing problems with their electronic banking and cash machines.  I do hope none of the bankers will be terribly inconvenienced by people demanding money.

Sometimes however, when forced to the wall, a banker will have no alternative but to turn to crime.  It is because we do not have a caring mentality, and because we do not yet have ‘The Big Society’ (whatever that is) which Cameron wants that poor Barclays was forced to what certainly looks like white collar crime.

Unkind authorities are asking for £290,000,000 from the Barclays group for a wee matter of its fixing interest rates.  What’s the problem?  I thought we wanted fixed interest rates?  Unfortunately the bank seems to have given false information about rates it was borrowing money at.  Firstly, £290,000,000 is really small change, in fact, it would only get you two granite webs at today’s rates.  Secondly, how is a poor bank like Barclay’s going to get its hands on this kind of money?

I think the taxpayer should voluntarily help this poor bank out.  After all, if we don’t do so voluntarily, no doubt the treasury will just give them our money anyway.  I believe there used to be a commercial with Mr Bean with the repeating phrase ‘Well, thank you BARCLAYCARD!’.  Barclays, thank you indeed.

Old Susannah is going to have to cut it there, as she is in Edinburgh – and the sun is out.

Next week:  A look at some of the little arguments within Council Chambers.

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Dec 152011
 

With Christmas fast approaching and people hitting the city in droves this weekend – why not pop into our lovely city gardens in between the present hunting for a truly festive event.  Iain Richardson writes re. this Saturday’s Winter Festival at Union Terrace Gardens to celebrate prize art work by city children.

The winners of an art competition for children will receive their prizes at a Winter Festival in the centre of Aberdeen this Saturday, 17th December.

Christmas-themed artwork by Aberdeen school children will be on display at the event in Union Terrace Gardens on Saturday 17th December 2011, between 1pm and 3.30pm.

The Winter Festival will feature the Bon Accord Silver Band, carol singing, Yousedancin ceilidh band, Santa, Cairngorm reindeer, and free festive food and drink.

Dorothy Bothwell, retired Head Teacher and member of the Common Good Aberdeen group, who organised the event, said:

“We’re just thrilled at the response to the competition. The children’s art is stunning and we’ll be displaying as many of the 300 or so entries as we possibly can on Saturday, as well as handing out prizes to the winning children”.

The prizes for the winning Art Competition entries in each of three age groups will be presented to children at approximately 1.30pm on Saturday 17th December, at the Arches in Union Terrace Gardens.

Nearly 300 entries were received from primary schools and individual children in and around Aberdeen.

For further information, contact:

Dorothy Bothwell:      01224 583451
mrsb_cafe52@hotmail.com

Iain Richardson:        07833 453961
iainrichardson@ieee.org

 

 

Jul 052011
 

Old Susannah tries to get her head around the Council’s secrecy and finds them much more transparent than they had thought they were.  By Suzanne Kelly.

Firstly, I trust we are all excited about the discovery of a giant wombat’s fossil in Australia!

This lumbering, hulking, ungainly creature could not move with the times, and so faded into history. Its great big head only had a pea-sized brain which was useful only for more primitive functioning. It spent its time hoarding nuts and drinking at its favourite watering holes.

Any relation to Councillors K ♦♦♦ D♦♦♦ or N♦♦♦ F ♦♦♦♦♦♦ is curiously coincidental.

While I may have spent most  of this past week enjoying the sun as well as well as a pleasant afternoon or  two in Brewdog, I’ve not been oblivious to the things that the City Council,  local institutions and mainstream press want me to be oblivious to.  While I enjoyed champagne and plenty of Pimms  with my friends ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ and ♦♦♦♦♦♦  in the great outdoors, I’ve been informed of a few developments.

Despite the summer sun, there are shadowy  figures behind the scenes, keeping secrets, denying facts, and trying (with  little success) to keep people and stories quiet – some innocent, some not so  innocent.

‘No news is good news’ – so  the saying goes, but whoever came up with this particular phrase probably had  too much of Brewdog’s ‘Sink The Bismarck’ ultra-strong beer.  Here in Aberdeen ‘no news’ seems to mean the local,  mainstream press have decided to play things down.  So – listen very carefully, I will say this  only once…

Redacted: (adjective) – obscured,  covered up, deleted, censored.

Some months ago, I attended a special meeting of Torry Community Council at which  the Friends of Union Terrace Gardens presented their case, and a very nice lady  named Jan represented ACC (Gordon McIntosh  had been invited, but was having dinner instead).  Jan told us how everything was going to be  wonderful, and how the entire matter was going to be handled ‘in a transparent  manner’.

In fact, she used the word  ‘transparent’ half a dozen times.  I left the meeting with a warm, fuzzy feeling that if something were going on about  the gardens, it would all be transparent.  What a relief.

How very strange it was  then to open up a P&J this week and find our new Council Leader McCaig asking why the minutes of one of the Garden-related groups (and there are many  I can assure you) has been redacted.  Over the weekend I’d emailed him asking why the text had been redacted; he’s not slow off the mark, our Mr McCaig.

But what group is this redacting its papers?  It’s the City Gardens Project Monitoring  Group.  What do they do?  According to the City’s website,

“The role of the Project Monitoring Group is to oversee the City Garden project’s progress and ensure that Council’s interests, and  that of the majority of Aberdeen citizens, are protected as the project
progresses”.

I take it that makes it  quite clear why they must act in secret. It’s not a question of whether or not something will be done with the gardens – they are overseeing progress.  So – the Council’s interests are not the same  as the interests of Aberdeen citizens (minority or majority).  In all my years I never would have guessed  that.  Perhaps they should have redacted  this mission statement as well.

Who is in this group?  Who attends the meetings?  If you go to the city’s website, you can  download the minutes and reports – where you will see that all the names of  attendees have been blacked out, or in council-speak ‘redacted’, together with  lots of text.

The City was trying to keep this top secret information a closely guarded secret.  Perhaps the Monitoring Group is made up of  MI6, the CIA, Lord Lucan and Spiderman?  Whoever it is, I bet they have a dual identity, a good cover story – and probably a costume with a cape.  I hear they all meet at midnight and each have limos with blacked-out windows.

 From now on I hear that anyone in a Council committee which discusses  Union Terrace Gardens will sign the Official Secrets Act, be security-vetted,  be given a cover identity and undergo survival and torture training.

Mr McCaig has no  recollection of agreeing to this group’s identity being protected, and he wants  some answers.  Let’s hope he gets  them.  Why on earth would this be secret, and what do they wish to hide?  Answers  on a postcard please (preferably in a secret code).

Alas for our poor Council:  their secrets are out.  That nice Danny Law over at STV has announced that a simple bit of cutting and pasting reveals all.  Visit STV for further information.

http://local.stv.tv/aberdeen/news/261573-council-blunder-means-concealed-minutes-from-union-terrace-gardens-meetings-can-still-be-read/

You might also want to visit the (excellent) blogspot Other Aberdeen:-
http://otheraberdeen.blogspot.com/

It’s hard to imagine that  the City didn’t give due care and attention to this life-or-death matter of who’s going to meetings and what they are saying about our gardens.  I am stunned.  From now on I hear that anyone in a Council committee which discusses  Union Terrace Gardens will sign the Official Secrets Act, be security-vetted,  be given a cover identity and undergo survival and torture training.

For my part, one of my trusted sources told me how to spy at the hidden text a while ago, and I was sworn to secrecy – which I kept.  My secret hope was that the Council would continue to keep thinking it had successfully blacked out text that could actually be read.  We could have been onto a winner with this one.

My sympathies to the Garden Monitoring Group at this unfortunate point in time, and in particular to one of those in the group:  our very own old friend, Ms Aileen HoMalone.  Not only is the debacle an embarrassment in itself, but my very own spies tell me that since the balance of power shift, this and other committees will be re-arranged over the summer, shedding a few LibDems in favour of SNP councillors along the way.

Gag:
1.  noun – a joke or stunt designed to cause laughter or possibly embarrassment.
2.  Verb – to make another remain silent via coercion or force. 

A gag can  be a stupid remark, like John Stewart’s saying Aberdeen needs a monorail, or a  stunt — like holding a design competition for ‘transforming’ a cherished  garden into a car park/mall.  On the more  sinister side of the coin, this week both Aberdeen City Council and Robert  Gordon University stand accused of gagging their staff.

Now, obviously the opinion  of staff at ACC is held in the highest esteem by management, and at an institution of higher learning such as RGU, nothing can be held more important  than the right to free expression and intellectual debate.  There is absolutely nothing ‘Big Brother’  about Aberdeen City Council rounding up four of its less-than-grateful staff as  it did this week to tell them off.

What had the four done?  They said mean things about the City and their bosses on something called ‘Facebook’, which apparently all the young people are using.  I hope these four ingrates have apologised for having opinions.  I do know that they have been issued with a set of guidelines as to what they can or can’t say.  Sounds like a great move.

In fact, back when the cuts were being  proposed in 2008, the City very wisely told its staff that they should in no way protest against the City’s school and service closures.  Many of them did so anyway.  You might think such people are brave in standing up for education and health services, but you must remember, when you take a job for the City, you lose all your human rights.  Fair trade, I’d say.

I hope these four people are at home right  now, reading their new behaviour guidelines and composing letters of apology.  I’d certainly hate to think they’d be sending  me copies of the city’s newest Kafkaesque policies.  Or even worse – they might be creating anonymous Facebook identities so they can continue to keep us posted with City developments and dark doings.

As to that bastion of higher education, Robert Gordon University: they are also gagging for it.  You may have seen the news that RGU want the Trade Unions to go away and stop bothering them. 

This institution of higher learning has announced that since the unions are now ‘smaller’, they shouldn’t have to recognise them at all. Quite right.  Just because the University has shed a few jobs and has a few less people, there is no reason the unions should have shrunk as well.  Staff and educators alike are overjoyed by this move on RGU’s part, as they won’t have to go to any more tedious union meetings.

The staff won’t publicly say how happy they are, because RGU is, according to STV “accused of ‘gagging’ staff as dozens protest over de-recognition decision”.  I know staff who have been asked to take on more work with no pay, who have had pensions cut, and who work weekends with no extra money to show for it.  I’m sure union representation is the furthest thing from their minds.

RGU wanted the whole episode to be treated as Top Secret:  staff were told not to discuss these special Trump security arrangements

It might be worth mentioning that RGU held its staff’s safety particularly important during Donald Trump’s visit for his honorary degree.  RGU management were so concerned about the safety of its people who would be in the same building as ‘the Donald’ that they let Trump’s private security people search bags, set up security checks, and made sure no one left the building until the great man himself had gone.

Some people say that their mobile phones were looked at, and they weren’t allowed to take any photos (which would have been the first thing on my mind), but this remains unconfirmed.

Those who did get in touch told me that RGU wanted the whole episode to be treated as Top Secret:  staff were told not to discuss these special Trump security arrangements.  I would be happy for the RGU administration to confirm or deny that private, American security was given power over its staff.

Maybe they could have done what Robert Gordon’s College did, and simply lock any bothersome people up in cupboards (congratulations to Ms Michie for winning her case against the College where she was indeed locked in a cupboard.  I await news of the dismissal of the person who did this, but it hasn’t appeared yet).

News Blackout: (modern English phrase) – to deliberately ignore or censor news events. (See also ‘P&J’)

The local press simply  don’t have the time and space to tell you the entire goings on.  The P&J may have covered the story of the City Council’s ‘redacting’ text (see below), as Cllr McCaig came forward with the story.

However, if you put ‘Robert Gordon University’ into the Press & Journal’s online search feature, you’ll see a collection of innocent PR stories about boat races and an RGU student appearing in something called ‘Glee’ (whatever that is).  No RGU bashing in the P&J; they don’t want to upset that nice Mr Wood and his friends.  No word of gagging staff or staff being kettled by American private scurity.

You might also search the P&J website for the story of guitar hero Richard Thompson’s honorary degree from Aberdeen University granted  on the 5th July (congratulations by the way). 

I’ll give you that Richard Thompson is no Donald Trump (who got his degree from Ian Wood’s RGU for services to money).  Thompson has only enjoyed a successful international musical career since the 1960s, released award-winning albums, and made a particularly important collection, ‘1000 years of popular music’.  I doubt the man even has his own jet.

Don’t bother searching for news of his honorary degree award in the local rags – it’s not there.

Just as Anthony Baxter never got any newspaper coverage for his documentary ‘you’ve been trumped’ about Trump and the Menie Estate (it was held over twice and had unprecedented demand at the Belmont), the local press are making life easier for us by deciding what’s newsworthy and what isn’t.

I for one am far more interested in petty burglaries, minor football matches and cute baby photo competitions than the workings of secrecy in local government and the schemes of our local millionaires.

It is the editors at the local papers who decide what goes in (or possibly a few of the city’s richercitizens), not the reporters.

At least we don’t have a ‘News of the World’ situation.  Several newspapers stand accused of hacking mobile phone conversations – of murder victims and their families. Potential evidence has been lost and Milly Dowler’s family wrongly believed she might still have been alive since her voicemail was being accessed.  If you can think of anything lower than this, don’t let me know.

PS – the Murdoch Empire isclosing the News of the World after Sunday!  Result!  However, Murdoch is looking to take over BskyB completely.  If you somehow think this might lead to a  monopoly over news coverage, speak now.

RGU, millionaires, the  future of our Gardens, quangos, dodgy deals, secret deer cull plans:  somewhere the truth is out there.  Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it. 

Speaking of holding your breath, I’d best go  close the windows.  The wind must have changed, and the scent drifting through my open windows in Torry is decidedly not roses and violets.   Old Susannah is off for a short but much needed holiday.  I am going to turn 50 on ♦♦♦♦♦♦ and will fly to  ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ on ♦♦♦♦♦ and will stay with ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦ where I hope very much to see ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦My best wishes to ♦♦♦♦♦ ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦.