Nov 162012

Voice’s Old Susannah surveys the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond, and smells something fishy while she’s at it. By Suzanne Kelly

Tally Ho! The masked ball was a huge success socially and financially; its use of Union Terrace Gardens was inspired. This great common good asset made money both for the city (I assume a fee was charged for using UTG – it normally is) and for the charity – and all during hours the park would normally have been closed.

Organisers Balmoral Group announced they hit their £50,000 target with a thousand or so to spare, all for the benefit of the Friends of Anchor charity. What’s not to like? (Someone was there in a gold deer head mask: I wonder who that was?)

I have good news for all fans of great literature – news that can only add a touch of class to our City of Culture bid. It was reported at the weekend Aberdeen Journals Ltd is to branch out into fiction – and not just their usual P&J and EE kind of fiction, either.

Someone on the board must have read 50 Shades Of Grey and decided this was the way forward in the 21st century – yes, the Journals is to start its own erotic literature publishing company! Will this feature people sending in readers’ wives photos just like the EE does? We shall see.

No doubt this is a move calculated to stimulate young minds, and absolutely nothing to do with cashing in on the latest, no doubt flash-in-the-pan trend for cheap mummy porn. One wonders how one of their books might open? Hmmm…

“It was at an ACSEF meeting he first caught her eye, or rather her eyes lingering on his bulging portfolio just a tad longer than might be considered decent in polite company. His interest well and truly aroused, he quietly checked out her assets from beneath hooded lids while scanning her CV, impressed by its list of the quangos she had dominated while the taxpayer paid through the nose.

“But could she handle his inducement? Would she help with his erection if he gave her 50 million big ones? Could they spin a beautiful web together? Questions, questions, and as he chewed them over, she glanced in his direction, wondering how he would feel if she started talking TIF. She didn’t want to go too far, too fast, too soon. But she needn’t have worried. They were made for each other.”

With all the comings and goings of these past few weeks, I can’t help but feel something fishy is going on. The Scottish Government’s (legal? really?) insistence that UTG must be developed is giving everyone who cares about the park a haddock. At this stage, with the city divided, it is very shellfish indeed of Wood to continue carping on. Central government won’t clam up either: we either build over our park or it’s no TIF for us.

Pretty soon, the SNP/Scottish Government is going to have to tell us exactly what piece of legislation it is that enables them to insist we develop UTG if we want TIF funding for other projects. Several Freedom of Information requests await reply, very simple requests asking exactly what communications have passed between Holyrood, Sir Ian, ACSEF and the rest of the usual suspects regarding the future of UTG.

You might recall TIF in Scotland was rolled out as a pilot scheme, with no real rules about what land must or must not be developed. On the other hand, the TIF model as practiced in its US birthplace is already creaking, and creaking badly. Designed to be used only for the regeneration of disused brownfield sites in deprived areas, unforeseen difficulties with the TIF funding model in the States are in most cases causing havoc.

Here, we could be forgiven for thinking central government has something against the greenbelt and SSIs of Aberdeen City and Shire, or even that they have a secret agenda of sucking up to the rich at every opportunity. I wonder what discussions have taken plaice?

Our previous collection of councillors included an old trout or two, not to mention Councillor Coral. They were old school and fell for the Granite Web hook, line and sinker. Not since the days of the Krays has anyone had so much pressure piled on as our new councillors – but at least they aren’t out of their depth like the old lot.

BTW I didn’t set out on porpoise to do any bad puns, but I was having such a whale of a time at BrewDog the other night (where coincidentally people named Fisher and Squiddy work), that by some fluke fishy jokes just came to the surface!

Now it’s time to look back at last week and mullet over. Without further delay, I offer you a chance to trawl through my small school of definitions that I hope will be good for the sole.

Sturgeon: (proper noun) a particularly primitive type of large fish, has not evolved much in 100 million years

This particular bottom feeder lacks any real teeth, although its posturing makes it look most fearsome. It survives in its murky habitat (Holyrood) largely by using its large nose and sense of smell to navigate.

Though it tries to push smaller fish out of its way, the Sturgeon tends to be outwitted by smaller, quicker species. Mostly known in North America, the pallid Sturgeon has been seen in Scotland of late (Edinburgh specifically), where it reputedly swims with sharks. The Sturgeon in question is looking more pallid by the week.

Somewhat ironically, the future of this fish is in jeopardy – its natural environment has been negatively impacted by mankind, whether through overfishing – or excessive building. Our local politicians might well learn a thing or two from the Sturgeon’s decline.

Puffer Fish: (proper noun) genus of fish known for slow speed and deadly poison

The Puffer Fish writes PR prose, known as ‘puff pieces’. They may, for example, tell you to enhance your land by building glorified walkways and redundant theatres. Puffers might look a bit dumpy in stature but they are often garishly coloured (or have lots of expensive fashion accessories).

Their comic appearance should not deceive anyone; they are filled with some of the most deadly venom on the planet. They are highly sought after but can still poison clients who sample their wares e.g. the delicacy fugu is poisonous if incorrectly prepared. Still, people are willing to shell out plenty for puffer fish. though  it should be noted they are not that quick to react to stimulation, and find moving quickly or gracefully rather difficult.

Salmond: (proper name) A rather common sort of a fish; goes with anything

The Salmond is identified with Scotland – an independent Scotland. Sought after and easily angled by rich businessmen who visit the Northeast in search of real estate deals, land and money.

The Salmond is one species which seems not to mind wind farms. Red Herrings are often found when the Salmond is in the area. This fiercely independent fish is often found swimming against the tide.

Craw Fish: (noun) a crustacean with large grasping claws; an omnivore, devouring plants and fish whether they are living or dead

Stitched Up Like A Kipper: (Eng. phrase; exact origin unknown) to be tricked, entrapped, cheated etc.

I can’t think why this phrase having to do with being badly used, manipulated and conned should have sprung to mind. If I can find any examples, I’ll let you know.

Well, I’d better get my skates on – sea you next week!

Nov 172011

When the clocks go back, this doesn’t mean that gardening duties stop, unfortunately. Bucksburn in Bloom’s President Drew Levy offers some timely tips for November as winter approaches.

Leaves seem to get everywhere and cover everything including your lawn, flower beds and paths, but once collected, they make excellent leaf mould.
Your lawn might be covered in leaves and raking can be a chore – so take out your mower, attach its collecting box, select a high lift setting so as not to cut the grass and use it as a vacuum cleaner.
Not only does this make it easier to collect the leaves, but it also helps chop them up, aiding the rotting process.

They can go on your compost heap or into your compost bin, but remember to cover them with an old piece of carpet or close the compost bin lid, as they’ll all blow out again if you don’t.

If you don’t have a compost bin, but have a spare area at the side or back of your shed, you can collect them as before and put them in black bin liners or empty compost bags, adding just a little water to moisten them. Tie the top of the bag and put some small holes in the polythene with your finger to allow air in to help the rotting process.

The leaves will, over winter, turn into leaf mould, which you can put into your flower beds. If you have Acers in your garden, their leaves take a little longer to rot down due to their structure, but they will still turn into the leaf mould that you are looking for.

Worried about your garden pond freezing during the winter? Just drop a couple of tennis balls into the water and this will keep the iced water moving and help prevent the cracking of the pond liner or sides. If you have fish in your pond, take out the tennis balls during the day so that there is a hole to allow the fish to breathe and a place where you can put in their food.

If you haven’t put your spring bulbs in yet, there is still time to plant them before the end of November.

Plant pots which stay outdoors all winter can be helped from freezing to the floor and cracking by cutting small squares of wood to place under them to raise them up off the frozen ground.

Oct 072011

Dr David Kennedy, former Principal of The Robert Gordon University, is a man of many interests, experiences and opinions. Voice’s Suzanne Kelly was eager to get his views on contemporary local and global topics and they conversed, among other topics, about life, the planet, greed, oil, fish and Wood. This is the first extract from that conversation.

David Kennedy was not short of words, opinions or facts.
He had recently been interviewed in-depth by the mainstream media in connection with the proposed New Town development at Elsick, but in the end all that was reported was the well-publicised return of his own honorary RGU degree in protest over RGU’s decision to award a similar honour to Donald Trump.

This simple act of defiance was eloquently accomplished and captured beautifully in Anthony Baxter’s and Richard Phinney’s film, You’ve Been Trumped.

For those who mainly get their news from Aberdeen Journals, the rest of the world has been writing about this award-winning documentary for months, and it is hitting cinemas in Scotland again now – see details elsewhere in Voice.

I asked first about his son Peter’s concern over the development of a massive housing estate at Elsick and  Peter’s subsequent article in Voice   and wondered if Dr Kennedy himself was keeping up with the issues around this or other planned housing developments?

“There‘s a lull at the moment other than the application that went for approval last week. The BBC spent just under an hour with me. Despite taping a long video interview when the report of the development was eventually aired, virtually nothing of what I said was used, just a reference to my handing back my degree some 12 months ago to RGU.

“The arguments that I put during the interview were about farmland. Human beings have a few basic requirements. One is food; another is warmth. As a prime requirement, humans must be able to feed themselves. We were cautioned by Winston Churchill during WWII that we should NEVER allow ourselves to be dependent on other countries for our food. If our country is unable to do this, then we must depend on trade with other countries.

“How is Scotland going to feed its people if it hasn’t any farmland? Therein lies the problem. We’ve seen here in the North East the decline of all the indigenous industries that have been with us for hundreds of years – textiles, paper, agriculture, fishing, that sort of thing. They’ve all been virtually destroyed by the growth of the oil industry, which sucked skilled people away from these industries.

“Oil is a finite resource, therefore we know from the start it’s not sustainable. It is a short-term gain for a long-term loss. I was on a few committees debating the future of Aberdeen when the oil was gone. Tourism was the only answer they came up with. However, tourism is like taking in one another’s washing – our tourists go out, theirs come in. Where is the gain? The future of Scotland certainly depends on its being able to either produce its own food in sufficient quantities to feed its people, or otherwise manufacture and export goods other countries want.”

This led us to discuss red tape and over-regulation in the farming sector.

“That of course largely comes from what is happening in Brussels. I know one or two larger farmers in the area, one of whom told me he’d never been as well off in his life. Thanks to me and other taxpayers, he was being paid so many subsidies from Brussels for set-aside, tree-planting and so on, as Europe wanted to control where food is and isn’t produced and thereby avoid overproduction.”

Suzanne’s fascinating conversation with Dr Kennedy will continue in future issues of Aberdeen Voice. We are grateful for his input.

Sep 222011

Techfest rolled into town last week; one of its attractions was a free session of whale and dolphin watching from Torry Battery.  Ian Hay of East Grampian Coastal Partnership led the event. By Suzanne Kelly.

Torry Battery – Saturday morning 10 September: it was a bit windy, rainy and overcast – so it was almost perfect. Well, perfect for whale and dolphin watching anyway. Expert and marine mammal enthusiast Ian Hay of the East Grampian Coastal Partnership met a group which had gathered this morning as part of Aberdeen’s Techfest. And the marine life did not disappoint.
There was a small pod of dolphins – but these decided to head north along the coast just as the talk was due to start.

Those who got there early saw an impressive display, and were able to make the dolphins out as they headed away from the harbour. Ian then delivered an amazing talk; everyone present took away new information however young or old they were.

As the dolphins headed away, Ian turned his attention to the rich, varied bird life.  He pointed out the cormorants and eider ducks on a harbour jetty.  He reminded us that bird watchers from all over the world come to our City and shire for the wealth of species that are found here. Some species are protected; but he mentioned that the eider ducks (from which eider down comes) were protected since the time of St Cuthbert in the 8th Century.

Some birds travel here in the winter from the north (soon the great geese flocks will appear); some come up in the spring from the south. The lighthouse in Torry is as useful to birds as it is to ships – it serves as a beacon and aids seabirds to find land. Aberdeen also has a famous Sycamore tree loved by bird watchers – any number of rare species can make their way here.

Ian then returned to his specialist subject, our marine mammals. He rightly called this harbour:

“The best place in Europe for watching whales and dolphins.”

Ian said there are locally five predominant types of mammals:  Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoises, White-beaked Dolphins, Risso’s Dolphins and Minke Whale.

The Bottlenose are the animals most commonly seen here; they travel in pods of upto 30 or 40; and are a coastal animal. The Harbour Porpoises are the most common species in the area – but ‘they don’t do very much’.  The White-Beaked Dolphins are very special to the area, and the Risso’s dolphins are identified by their large heads.

This species eat squid – and usually pick up a few scars in the process of catching them. The scars turn the Dolphin’s skin white, so if you see a white one, it’s going to be an older one.  This species is a bit more solitary than some of the other mammals which travel together in larger numbers.

If a Minke (or other) whale is around, a clue will be a large number of seabirds together at sea.

Their presence means a whale has found a shoal of fish and is rounding them up. Gannets, gulls and puffins will be seen picking fish up from the surface. Suddenly the birds will scatter as the giant whale’s mouth emerges to catch the fish.

Ian told us the unfortunate (if not heart-breaking) story of some humpback whales that appeared here each winter. There were a mother and her calf, and a male.  They made an impressive sight, however it is thought that the mother and calf were found on an Angus beach having become tangled in fishing nets.

Being mammals, they could not surface; they could not free themselves – and they died. Thankfully in general terms the population of the Humpback and other whales is returning. (Feel free to write to the Norwegian, Icelandic and Japanese Embassies and protest at their pro-whaling stance in the meantime).

Fisherman or not, we can all act responsibly to encourage and protect our marine life. 

For openers, don’t throw your plastic trash out near the shore, and don’t flush anything plastic down the toilet. You otherwise risk having your unwanted plastic junk (like cotton buds) ending up eaten by sea creatures that will probably die.

If you have slightly greater ambitions than not littering the sea with plastic goods, then by all means come to Torry Battery and look for marine life. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find something to see.

As our talk came to an end, the dolphins reappeared almost on cue. Many people had been surprised to know whales could be spotted, and many people planned to head back to Torry soon. I had been asking a family (originally from New York) for some comments on the morning’s activity.
The re-appearance of the dolphins left Iona and her brother little left to say except ‘did you see that one?’ ‘Amazing!’ and ‘Look there they are again!’

Things to do further afield

  • Visit Fowlesheugh RSPB site, south of Stonehaven. The quantity of birdlife (c. April to July) is astonishing.
  • Go watch the incoming, dramatic goose migration at Strathbeg
  • Join a beach litter clean-up. There is an upcoming event tomorrow – Don Mouth at 10am – and one in early December. Further information from Techfest offices –
  • Consider joining a Norcet as ‘Citizen Scientist’ marine life observer – get a free trip to the Shetland Islands and help watch sea life at the same time – details on this opportunity and a host of other marine life issues and events from
  • Are you a jet skier? Then please stay away from the dolphins! It’s the law: the dolphins cannot hear you until it’s too late, and they can’t get out of your way quickly. Thanks.
Apr 072011

By Bob Smith.

Faar’s the likes o Tammy Mitchell
A provost wi nae falderals
Nae cavortin wi Acsef types
Or big lood moo’d Yankee pals

Provost Mitchell he spak the lingo
O the local North East lan
Ye aye kent fit wis
Fin Tammy shook yer haun

Nae mair chiels like Bob Boothby
Or mannies like yon Robert Hughes
Ye micht nae agreed wi their politicks
Be ye kent they’d peyed life’s dues

Jist mealie-mou’d gabbin gadgies
In the political scene the noo
Maist o oor Scottish MSPs
Shud bi on the bliddy Broo

Nae worthies in oor local council
Like Dick Gallagher or Alex Collie
Jist a bunch o maistly fearty fowk
An we greet at aa their folly

Nae muckle fish landed at Aiberdeen
Since the discovery o aa the ile
Nae mony fish market porters
Hiv ye seen noo fer a fyle

Nae chatter o riveters haimmers
Or the soond o tackety boots
Jist the noise o fower bi fowers
Driven bi billies in Armani suits

The young in oor wee villages
Canna afford ti buy a hoose
The reason is ower plain ti see
Incomers hiv bin lit loose

Fowk faa wark miles awa
In the toon o Aiberdeen
Hiv snaffled aa the village hooses
Or as holiday hames they’re teen

Nae mony local shops o ony note
Cos they’ve aa gin ti the wa
Nae langer a leevel playin field
Supermarkets hiv pinched the ba

We eesed ti hae a gweed paper
The P&J wis
aye breezy an bright
It’s nae langer kent as impartial
The pages are noo fu o shite

Nae chunce o mince an skirlie
At some funcy restaurant placies
The chef wid look doon his nose
An pull affa funny facies

The reason he wid gie ye
As he whisks up his blancmange
Is ye canna serve up skirlie
Wi a dish o Duck a l’orange

At Pittodrie I watched gweed fitba
Faar players talents war set free
Noo it’s aa blackboard tactics
Wi systems
4-5-1 an 4-3-3

N.E. culture some say is wanein
Bit the Doric it still huds fast
An as lang as we aye spik it
It’ll nae bi in the past

I’m sure ye’ll bi noo hae gethered
I’m haein a wee rant an rail
An if a happen ti lan in jile
Wull somebody please pey ma bail

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011