Apr 012022

By Duncan Harley.

A First World War veteran, Laurence Taylor (1899-1949) arrived back in his native North East in the September of 1918 just a few weeks before the armistice between Germany and the Allies which effectively ended the horrific fighting and the loss of millions of lives across the battlefields of Europe.

After four years of trench warfare, the guns on the Western Front had finally fallen silent.

Wounded by shellfire during an abortive attack on a German redoubt near Ypres, Laurence was hospitalised for several weeks in France before being sent home to his native Fraserburgh where he gradually regained his strength and took stock of his new situation.

Battlefield surgeons had amputated a leg below the knee and shrapnel had severed several fingers on his right hand but, despite these injuries, Laurence was determined to resume his career as an accordionist in a Bothy Band.

Now, folk will usually assert that there is no such thing as a left-handed accordion player. But that is not strictly the case.

Given the right circumstances and a bit of determination, it is perfectly possible to play the accordion upside down. And that is exactly what Laurence trained himself to do.

Over the course of several months, he not only regained his mobility but re-learned his accordion skills using an inverted keyboard specially designed for him by a local blacksmith.

Over the course of several decades Laurence and The Big Accordion Band toured the UK and even made it as far as New York on one occasion becoming what was probably the very first transatlantic bothy ballad band.

Towards the end of his life, the lad from Fraserburgh was interviewed for the local paper and asked about the reason for his success.

“It was all down to grit and determination” he said.

“And I would do it all again if I had to. Mind you the left-handed keyboard has taken its toll on my remaining fingers and you can’t really toe tap effectively with just the one leg in case you fall over.”

Asked about the future he stated that he was still good enough to play the bass side but not the treble side but he was still working on a solution.

The years took their toll however and the man who took the bothy ballads of the North East to America eventually ended up on the streets.

Fame and hangers on had taken their toll and drink had gotten a hold of him. The Big Accordion Band had long since broken up and by September 1947, the Fraserburgh accordionist was reduced to playing for drams in the bars and the strip clubs of rural Aberdeenshire.

Laurence Taylor became ill on stage half way through an open-mike performance at McGinty’s Bar near Cullen in 1949 and died aged fifty in a Fraserburgh nursing home after a short illness. His ashes were scattered at sea.

His legacy lives on however. Not least as the first left-handed accordionist to introduce down-town New York to the bothy ballads of the North East.

(Additional reporting by April McGinty)

Sep 222017

Elizabeth Pittendrigh, Stewart Stevenson MSP and Therine Henderson at the Fraserburgh & District Older People’s stand.

With thanks to Banffshire & Buchan Coast SNP.

Banffshire & Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson was a guest speaker at the annual Celebrate the Difference event in Fraserburgh on Saturday.
The popular event which brings together the varied cultures and people who call Fraserburgh home and provides an afternoon of Music, Entertainment and Food as well as a showcase for the local voluntary and charitable organisations to meet with local residents.

Commenting Mr Stevenson said:

“I am delighted to have taken part in another successful Celebrate the Difference event at Fraserburgh College this weekend”

“It was good to meet people from around the world who chose to live in the Fraserburgh area and to learn a little about their heritage and culture, as well as our own. Events such as this show the fantastic community spirit we have in the North-east and I would like to thank Margaret Gault and all of the organisers who work tirelessly to make this annual event a success”

“As well the food song and dance, Celebrating the Difference provides many local organisations and voluntary groups an opportunity to highlight the important work and services they provide to the local community, after all when we celebrate the difference, we also make a difference.”

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Apr 202017

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

As the closure date of Monday 8th May draws nearer for the Fraserburgh Branch of the Clydesdale Bank, local campaigners are calling for the bank to reverse its decision to withdraw services from the town.

A key issue is the retention of the cash dispenser (ATM), given that in other towns where the Clydesdale Bank has closed branches and withdrawn its ATMs, other banks have followed suit, reducing service provision and customer choice.

Fraserburgh man and SNP candidate for Fraserburgh & District David Donn, who organised a petition, commented:

“We’ve seen recent examples of bank closures where Head Office have pointed to the existence of other banks and ATMs in the town and basically said to the local community, ‘You’ll be fine as our rivals are still here’.

“Within sometimes a very short time thereafter, we’ve seen closure announcements from other banks in the same locality.

“Portsoy and Cullen are good examples where the Clydesdale Bank closed and locals were told you still have other banks to fall back on. Now, there are no banks at all in these places. If the Clydesdale Bank can close down its Fraserburgh Branch there’s no guarantee other banks won’t follow suit.

“We need a minimum of a cash machine locally to continue to provide Clydesdale customers with a service. We can’t rely on other financial institutions to still be here.”

Fraserburgh SNP councillor Brian Topping said:

“Bank closures have been a feature of the last few years but many of us thought a town the size of Fraserburgh would be immune from this so it’s come as a real blow to the community.

“We know that once the decision is made it’s unlikely to be unmade but the least the Clydesdale Bank can do is give some consideration to its loyal customers in the Broch and maintain the ATM service.”

Fraserburgh SNP councillor Charles Buchan added:

“I really commend David on the petition he organised and I hope the bank bosses will pay heed to the view of those who signed it.

“It’s very disappointing that the Clydesdale Bank has so far failed to give any kind of commitment to its customers in Fraserburgh except for pointing them in the direction of the Post Office.”

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Feb 072017

Photo courtesy of Aberdeenshire SNP.

With thanks to Aberdeenshire SNP.

Fears of another sell-out of the fishing industry grew this week with the publication of the UK Government’s White Paper on leaving the EU. 

Chairman of Aberdeenshire Council’s Fisheries Working Group and Fraserburgh SNP councillor Charles Buchan said the brief mention of fishing in the White Paper, which has only 75 pages, gave him great concern that the UK Government was gearing-up to repeat the sell-out of the fishing industry first perpetrated in the 1970s.

Commenting on the development, Cllr Charles Buchan (pictured) said:

“I’m very uneasy about what has been announced in the Tory Government’s White Paper and I know that the Prime Minister’s comment last week about Spanish fishermen has made many people in the industry fearful about what may be coming down the line.

“The bottom line here is that the UK is leaving the EU and I fully support efforts to make the best possible deal from that situation as we can.  The SNP has long-argued to leave the CFP and that will be extremely beneficial to the industry – it represents a “sea of opportunity” as the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have said.

“What we don’t want or need is for that opportunity to be traded away by the Conservative Government as it did in 1972 because it thinks it can safely use fishing as a bargaining chip in its negotiations.  The pronouncements of the last few days from Westminster make me very fearful we are about to see history repeat itself and we must stop that from happening for the sake of our coastal communities.”

A Scottish Office memo dated 9 November 1970 famously said in relation to the negotiations being conducted by the then Conservative UK Government:

in the wider UK context, they [the fishermen] must be regarded as expendable“.

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Dec 162016

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford.

Eilidh Whiteford and Stewart Stevenson with Broch Postal Staff Dec 2016.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP and Stewart Stevenson MSP visited the Fraserburgh Delivery Office on Friday morning to see first-hand the operation of delivering Christmas post and to pass on season’s greetings to its hardworking staff.
Dr Whiteford and Mr Stevenson were shown around the office by Delivery Office Manager, Chris Share, and were introduced to the postmen and women, who are pulling out all the stops to sort and deliver mail in the Fraserburgh area over the Christmas period.

The Festive Season is Royal Mail’s busiest period, as millions of people shop online for gifts and send Christmas cards and parcels.

As Royal Mail’s 500th anniversary draws to a close, this Christmas provides an opportunity to reflect on the centuries of hard work  delivering to every single address in the UK.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“At no other time is the hard work and dedication of postmen and women clearer than during the festive period.”

Stewart Stevenson MSP added:

“I thank them for the extraordinary lengths they go to ensure Christmas cards and presents are delivered to loved ones on time, and for all they do year-round.”

Chris Share, Royal Mail Delivery Office Manager, said:

“It was a pleasure to show Dr Whiteford and Mr Stevenson our Christmas operation and to hear their kind words of encouragement and support.”

“We are extremely proud of our postmen and women for all their hard work during the Festive Season and for continuing our proud history of delivering Christmas mail.”

The last recommend posting dates for Christmas are:

Second Class – Tuesday 20 December 2016
First Class – Wednesday 21 December 2016
Special Delivery – Thursday 22 December 2016

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Jun 102016

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford

Eilidh Whiteford In boat (small)

Dr Whiteford met with Lifeboat volunteers, and joined the crew on a training exercise

BANFF & Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford has joined members of Fraserburgh Lifeboat crew to mark the launch of the Royal National Lifeboat Association’s summer campaign to raise awareness of staying safe by the sea.
‘Respect the Water’ aims to spread awareness on safety at sea, particularly during the summer months, and decrease the number of deaths at sea by half by 2024.

Around one-hundred and ninety people die at Irish and UK coasts each year, and the majority of these people do not intend on entering the water.

Dr Whiteford visited the Lifeboat station in Fraserburgh on Friday to meet Coxswain Vic Sutherland and other Lifeboat volunteers, and joined the crew on a training exercise off Kinnaird Head. She also met with representatives of the RNLI at the group’s reception at Westminster to launch the campaign yesterday.

Speaking afterwards, she said:

“Everyone in Banff and Buchan needs to know about safety on the water and around our coastline. With so many local livelihoods dependent on off-shore industries, most folk already have a healthy respect for the sea, but every year preventable incidents put lives at risk.

“Speaking to local lifeboat crew members, there are particular risks at this time of year with dinghies and other inflatables. Strong rip tides on some of our most popular beaches, and our windy weather, can cause real dangers to swimmers and those involved in other water sports. Another well-documented risk is people falling in harbours late at night having left pubs or clubs. 

“Everyone wants to have fun on these fine Summer days, but we all need to be sensible and aware of the risks

“For nearly two centuries, lifeboats have set out along the Buchan coast, and last year alone, Scottish lifeboats rescued over a thousand people. Since the RNLI’s establishment in 1824, it has saved more than 140,000 lives. Even allowing for the timeframe, that’s an absolutely astonishing level of heroism, and the men and women who volunteer to crew our lifeboats deserve enormous gratitude and support.

“We can all do our bit to support the campaign by being aware of the risks.”

Crew (small)Respect the Water have identified that the main risks originate from three separate factors. These entail: shock, rip currents and waves, and suddenly falling into water. The shock that cold water brings to the system takes air from the lungs and causes people to feel helpless leading to a panicked state.

The unpredictability of the water is a highly influential factor in the cause of drowning, as currents can pull even the strongest of swimmers far into the sea.

Lastly, people can drown by tripping, slipping or falling into the water unexpectedly.

Studies have shown that out of the total number of deaths, two-thirds are male. The campaign is targeting men aged between sixteen and thirty-nine years old in particular, who are the most likely demographic to die at sea. The RTW campaign found that last year, on average, fifteen per cent of people in the UK recognised Respect the Water and a higher percentage of twenty-one per cent of males had acknowledged the campaign.

This shows that RTW had successfully raised awareness throughout the UK after being a national campaign for under a year.

Eilidh Whiteford Showing support (small)This year, Respect the Water will advertise its campaign in several different ways, including poster advertising. From August 2016, RTW posters will be put up on billboards all around the coast, in male lavatories and pubs situated near water.

By the end of this month, the RTW campaign will introduce an interactive video to social media sites which will put people in a water related scenario and have them choose what to do next.

For more information on the campaign, visit: http://rnli.org/safety/respect-the-water/Pages/Safety.aspx

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Sep 182015

With thanks to Kenneth Hutchison, Parliamentary Assistant to Dr. Eilidh Whiteford MP

Eilidh Whiteford, Parliament [2015]Prime Minister David Cameron needs to give a serious answer about the UK Government’s involvement in proposals to use state aid to entice jobs from Fraserburgh to Grimsby, following a parliamentary intervention from Banff and Buchan MP, Eilidh Whiteford.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Dr Whiteford (pictured) asked the Prime Minister directly what action the UK Government was doing to keep jobs in Fraserburgh. The Prime Minister, in response, gave a much vaguer political answer about keeping inflation and taxes low – failing to address the UK Government’s involvement in Grimsby’s bid as a base for centralisation of Young’s operations.

It was reported earlier this month that North Lincolnshire Council, in conjunction with the UK Government, will deploy a £1.34 million funding package to persuade the company to move jobs from Scotland to Grimsby.

It is understood that the money comes from unused cash in the area’s Regional Growth Fund.

However, Scottish politicians have cast doubt on the funding package, highlighting European Union State Aid rules which place strict limits on the direct financial support governments can offer to companies. Since the UK Government and North Lincolnshire’s offer, the Scottish Government has stated that it will match the funding package – provided it can be demonstrated that such a move would be within the law.

Last month, Dr Whiteford and local MSP Stewart Stevenson wrote to the UK Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, asking for more information about the UK Government’s legal basis for making the offer.

Speaking afterwards, Dr Whiteford said:

“I asked the Prime Minister a straightforward question, and he tried to dodge it. It won’t rub with my constituents, who stand at risk of losing their jobs because the UK Government plans to directly subsidise Grimsby’s rival bid.

“The Prime Minister made no effort whatsoever to address the fact that his Government is in the process of breaching state aid rules, with the specific goal of consolidating jobs in Grimsby – to Fraserburgh’s direct detriment.

“The Scottish Government will aim to match this assistance – if it emerges that it is legal to do so. However, it is disappointing to note that the Prime Minister cannot defend his own Government’s role in damaging the local economy.

“I will continue to ask difficult questions at Westminster, and my colleagues in the Scottish Government will continue to ensure that Fraserburgh remains an attractive place for Young’s to continue doing business.”

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Dec 132013

Lucy and Pot - Duncan HarleyBy Duncan Harley.

The story so far:

Cody’s gran, Señora McLaughlin, has died in far off Santa Cruz at an undisclosed old age and her family have gathered round to say goodbye.
At some expense the old woman’s ashes are brought home after a family whip round.

Following the graveside ceremony, the mourners take time to reflect on her legacy in a clan gathering at the local pub. When the tab runs out, only Danny and Rob are left.

All of a sudden the bar door flies open and a white hoodied figure marches quickly in. Pistol in hand, he walks straight up to Danny and raises his hand in line with Danny’s head.

“This is from McAllister” he says, then pulls the trigger.

Danny had known a few dementia sufferers in his time. We all do really. The longer we live, the more likely it is that it will happen either to us or to one whom we know or love or even hate. Vascular, late onset, mid onset and that slightly uncertain early stage of the illness are all slightly unsettling. Especially for the ones left behind of course.

The onset can be insidious however.

–          Shall I have salt on my porridge Dave? Or maybe some honey?

–          Who are you talking to dear?

–          Dave of course.

–          Erm, Dave died at Normandy. He stepped on one of those landmines and bled to death. Don’t you recall? His obituary was in the local squeak. They said he was a sad loss, a hero as I recall.

–          Don’t be silly, he’s right here at the breakfast table. Can’t you see him?

–          Now, as I was saying Dave …

Best perhaps to have a wee defining heart issue or even one of those “he was sorting out the washing one minute then I heard a thud” episodes maybe.

Danny’s uncle Martin was largely undiagnosed until he reached the rank old age of fifty nine, at which point life became unusually interesting for Danny’s auntie.

Off Martin went to work each day to a job which had certainly been his some 20 years before.
The local GP was supportive in the extreme but, with no real diagnosis or indeed cure what could she suggest. Hide the car keys and consider a divorce before it’s too late was the best she could do between the administering of day centres and pills.

The tomato growers in the Clyde Valley had been Martins customers.

The company he had worked for had been out of business for a good few years. Nobody wanted Scottish grown tomatoes any more, the Spanish imports were just as red but much cheaper. Plus of course there were those lax custom regulations. The chance to import some mind enhancing substances was on the agenda.

The big growers had of course diversified into those Garden Centres. Some were of course quite legitimate, others were just money funnels for the Glasgow boys.

Not those Glasgow boys of painting fame of course, just “those” boys.

You know the routine.

–          Bring granny for a wee cup of tea and while you’re at it buy some stuff.
What stuff? No matter, anything will suffice.

–          Can we tempt Sir with a wee umbrella perhaps, black or brown?
Maybe a tartan umbrella or one with that Scottish Saltire emblazoned upon it? No worries Sir, we also have jigsaw puzzles and bird feeders for the back garden. Not that birds can solve the puzzles you understand, but just a suggestion. Always like to help and all that. Milk in that granny tea? A wee biscuit perhaps or just a bill?

–          We have Airfix kits galore, fun wellies replete with frog motifs and golf clothing for the buying. Fancy some nice brown brogues or some bargain publications?

–          We have books about most Scottish subjects. Wallace, Burns and tartan. Clans, Glencoe and tartan. Highland walks, those big mountains and tartan Victoria.

–          If Sir would like to view our paintings.

–          If Sir can take some leisure time to view the original and mainly manly complete toss, mainly manly unhealthy quality, mainly manly  stuff no-one  really needs much, teddy bears and pictures of those nostalgic Lancaster Bombers.

–          Spitfire’s and cuddly cats. Mind those you used to hang off the bedroom ceiling by a thread, the old ones are the best eh? Nostalgia and those Krays.

The keywords.

Tartan whisky, Munro kilts, malt grouse, highland games and those cabers. Highland dancing, that bagpipe lilt and men in kilts. White heather, Jimmy  Shand and Granny’s Heilan Hame.

The money of course often came from dubious sources. The accountants lived in big mansions just off the Bothwell Road.

Right next to those footballers wives spread legs they shovelled it into bank accounts well hidden and well contrived.

–          Fancy some shit, legitimate … honest.

–          I right pal. Think I just embarked from a banana boat or something.

–          Question mark.

–          Honest injuns.

–          I ok. How much?

When the gun went off, Danny had wondered if all was well. A last chance saloon, maybe a delusion or perhaps a good few too many.

–          Who the fuck are you came very much to mind.

–          Is this for real?


–          Happy birthday ya big gobshite.  Meant to send you a wee card but at 50P a pop for that Post Office stamp stuff, never quite got round to it. Had a few I see, not a problem.

–          Mc Allister says hello and Happy Birthday.

–          Way hey, look at the state of you.

–          Only a wee joke, lighten up.

Danny had of course imbibed.

Not best pleased he reflected that Señora McLaughlin was still dead. He reasoned that her ashes were back in that Trinity Cemetery and the  family had grieved appropriately.

The bill for the cremation had been paid, the flight costs had been met and the bar bill had been covered. Well at least until 5pm. So no problem then. No unresolved issues whatsoever.

The gun to the head had been tempered by the drink but in the scheme way of things, the birthday message was unwelcome, very unwelcome in fact.

–          Mc Allister and Happy Birthday seemed an unhealthy combination somehow.

Another wee sniff might just make all the difference.

Mind you …

(to be continued)

Nov 082013

Danny in Pub shooting crop mono177By Duncan Harley.

The story so far.

Cody’s gran, señora McLaughlin, has died in far off Santa Cruz at an undisclosed old age and her family have gathered round to say goodbye.

At great expense the old woman’s ashes are brought home after a family whipround.

Following the graveside ceremony, the mourners take time to reflect on her legacy in a clan gathering at the local pub. When the tab runs out, only Danny and Rob are left.

Danny has kept his face hidden throughout the proceedings.

–          Why the balaclava?

–          It’s a long story.

–          How long? I mean, what happened Danny?

The balaclava’d Danny had almost had enough. Persevere or not? he thought. Talk to the man or ignore him? Ach, give peace a chance. What could possibly go wrong? At the end of the day he could always just get up and leave. That is if his legs would carry him through the door.

Aware that he had probably drunk far too much to make that much sense, he began to talk.

–          Ach, good funeral eh? Nothing quite like a good send-off is there?

–          Maybe. Depends I suppose.

–          Depends on what? Ha ha, nobody was there eh! Ashes to ashes perhaps?

–          You always were a joker Danny. Ashes, cricket, the crack of the ball against the wicket. All good, all good.

A good funeral indeed. Mrs McLaughlin’s ashes had been interred in the family lair. If indeed they were her ashes. Who indeed could tell the difference between las cenizas de la señora McLaughlin or indeed anyone else’s ashes. The graveside box could have been full of cremated donkey remains for all anyone knew.

–          So what’s the balaclava about then?

–          Christ, is that all you want to know? I mean for god’s sake, can’t a man wear a wee disguise if he wants to? I mean, what’s the problem? It’s not as if I’m a bank robber or anything.

Now, you’d have had to be blind not to notice Danny’s disguise. A hoodie is one thing but a balaclava is quite something else. Facial recognition was quite out of the question.

In his day, Danny had been quite a catch. The ladies were on to him big time. Good looking, smartly-dressed and his dad owned the local garage. His mum owned the local dress shop. I mean, what more could a lady want? But to enhance his looks with a woollen balaclava was right out of character.

–          Aye, the balaclava. Sore point indeed. Sorry I asked. To change the subject completely, how are your verrucas?

Danny had been pals with a few folk in his time. Most had let him down. Most were hangers-on who, when the good times were plainly over, had let him down big time. First the strippers, then the repo business then the jobbing joiners. Quite a story indeed.

Maybe a wee snort between friends would help him open up.

–          Of course Danny, if you’d rather not say too much, that’s absolutely fine, you understand. At the risk of repetition, what’s your pleasure?  Today we have on offer some white, a few small bags of an off-white dolly mixture, plus some other more euphoric colours should sir require. This stuff may blow your mind big time, all rights reserved of course, and should sir feel unwell, we urgently advise the calling of a G-DOC or similar. All rights reserved, of course, yet again.
Care to partake? Of course we completely understand if sir is as happy as sir appears to be already…

All good, all high and all slightly mad if you know what I mean.  After a wee white snort Danny did indeed begin to open up.

–          See all that pillar of the community stuff, the “she was a fine woman” and all that?

–          Aye

–          She was a lady of the night if you ask me. Not shameful, you understand, just difficult times. Plus Jessie lied about the rock cakes. He was only wanting to be a part of the oration. There was never any budgie, that was all made up as well.

–          Your point Danny?

–          No point really, just saying. That was out of order. Sorry. Won’t mention it again.

–          No worries Danny, hard times indeed. The balaclava?

Now, a year or so back, Danny’s long-time school pal had retired from the police. Not one to retire gracefully, he kept tabs on some acquaintances who belonged to the governmental services. At the rank of Inspector, McAllister had done well. From a poor background point of view, he had done really well. Not only that, but he’d kept his hands squeaky clean throughout his time in the force. No unfortunate incidents in the cells and no hint of misconduct had marred his unblemished career.

As a result, it was really no surprise when he received a phone call from an ex-colleague just a month or so after the retiral party. Would he be interested in some part time work? Just a little matter of surveillance you understand, nothing strenuous.  Absolutely no personal risk involved. Payment in cash. Just a couple of days a week. Easy money.

In no time at all, McAllister found himself back on the force as an unofficial contractor to HM Customs and Excise.

The couple of days a week turned out to be a couple of nights a week, sitting in an old van in Fraserburgh and Peterhead. The little matter of surveillance involved monitoring the harbours and bars for unusual activity involving the supply of class A substances. The “easy money” bit was true though, at least for a while.

–          Are you free a couple of nights a week Danny for a wee easy job? Well paid, you understand, no risk – plenty of cash plus, of course, expenses and professional training will of course be provided.

So that was how Danny got involved. The training duly took place over a couple of weekends.

How to take detailed notes using a voice recorder. What type of vehicle to use, vans are best, no-one will notice you and you can observe from the back without being seen. When shooting video create definite borders between clips by placing hand over camera at the end of each segment.

Make sure a time and date stamp appears on the footage.  Always obtain a panoramic video shot of the location and any persons or vehicles, for use as verification that the person being observed was there. Don’t do surveillance by yourself. It isn’t a single-person activity and always keep a roll of toilet paper and an empty plastic jug in your vehicle at all times, stakeouts can last for hours.

There was a talk on passive self-defence and the defusing of potentially violent situations which concluded with the helpful advice “if in doubt about your personal safety, the best thing to do is leg it as fast as you can.”

So began Danny’s new career.

The first few weeks were uninvitingly boring but profitable. Nothing much happened. Two nights a week, Danny and McAllister picked up a van from the Custom House car park in Guild Street and drove to various north east ports.

The first job involved the small but packed marina at Findochty harbour. Situated some four miles from Buckie and on the shores of the Moray Firth, a more unlikely location for the smuggling of drugs could in all probability not be imagined.

A one-pub town, Findochty boasts a population of eleven hundred souls who attend six churches including those of the “closed” Plymouth Brethren and, of course, that Salvation Army. Deserted at most times of day but with the distinct air of eyes behind windows looking out at anything which moved, the excise men would have been better enlisting locals for the surveillance instead of the two men in the red van.

–          Operation Moravia. What kind of name is that? Looked it up on the ‘net before we came out. Czech Republic, famous for its cabbage market and the National Salon of Czech Republic Wines. Somebody’s probably been their holidays there.  Probably as deserted as Findochty is on a Sunday morning eh?

–          Aye, you’re right there. Two more hours, then off home. Can’t wait. Pass the jug.

A weekend in Buckie followed, again with nothing to report. Then came Fraserburgh.

Operation Moravia had concluded with some arrests in Dufftown and Elgin. McAllister had been asked to look out for amateurs moving into vacant territory to fill the vacuum left by the arrests. Men who looked out of place, expensive vehicles parked outside clubs and pubs late at night. Men in suits carrying briefcases. In short, anything unusual in a busy harbour town.

The first few nights were fairly uneventful. A few drunks, a few minor fights and the usual comings and goings. Nothing much to report and nothing too much to film. The instructions were to record number plates for later analysis and, if possible, take photos of the vehicles in the harbour area.

Facial shots of drivers and passengers were also required, providing this could be done from inside the van. On no account were either of the men to leave the vehicle, and if compromised in any way, they were to drive off and avoid any potential confrontation.

–          There’s that car again. Third time it’s been round past. Red BMW, two guys in front, might be one in back.

–          Got it, what do you think?

–          Odd, slowing down just opposite, then off again. Maybe just youngsters. Get a photo if it comes round again.

A few minutes later the BMW appeared again. This time it stopped twenty yards away from the front of the van with its lights off. Three hoodied men got out slowly, as if in no particular hurry. They walked leisurely up to the front of the van and McAllister realised that one appeared to be carrying a small axe.

As the pair watched in disbelief, the man swung the axe and the driver’s side window disintegrated in a shower of splinters, allowing a blast of cold damp November air to flood the interior of the van. The second figure pulled out a small yellow canister and the unmistakable smell of lighter fluid filled the confined space.

–          Must be freezing in there pal, here’s a wee present from the Broch to heat you up a bit. Next time you might end up in the harbour. Take a wee hint.

There was a soft whooshing sound accompanied by a blast of heat.

–          Jesus, get the fuck oot.

Danny hurled himself at the now partially open back doors where McAllister, having seen what was coming, was standing with a jacket in front of his face shouting something unintelligible.

The stench of burnt hair filled Danny’s nostrils. He hadn’t smelt that since the day his cat nearly caught fire in front of the electric heater a few winters ago. He picked himself up and looked around only to find McAllister standing laughing at him.

–          What’s the joke? Have they gone? What’s so funny?

–          Your hair’s burnt off on the one side and you’ve only got one eyebrow. Aye, they’ve gone, it was just a friendly warning.

–          Friendly? Could have killed us both. Get me out of here fast before they come back.

With that, Danny’s short career as an undercover investigator came to a fiery end. He collected his cash for the job and hid in his flat for a week hoping that the missing hair would grow back in.
Each day, he checked the mirror for signs of regeneration, each night he applied hair tonic bought for him by a sympathetic neighbour.

On the Friday following the Fraserburgh episode, Danny’s phone rang. It was Cody’s sister Annie calling to inform him about her gran’s demise. Could he come to the funeral?

Now Danny had always had a soft spot for Annie. Just friends, platonic you understand, but good friends. He told her about his predicament, about how half of his head resembled a burnt mattress, about his missing eyebrow, about the hair tonic.

–          So what did she say?

–          At first she just laughed, guess she didn’t believe me. Then she came round for a look and laughed some more. Said it might take months to grow back in and that I couldn’t hide in the flat forever. Suggested the balaclava idea. Winter after all, who would think it odd? Need to wrap up warm and all that.

–          Ah right. Well good for you, well done. Must have taken a lot of courage to walk into Guy’s with that on and no shotgun.

Another round was duly ordered, plus some crisps and a couple of cheese toasties. The wee dried-up funeral sausage rolls were long finished. When the toasties came, the two of us munched in silence.

Then, all of a sudden the bar door flew open and a white hoodied figure marched quickly in. Pistol in hand, he walked straight up to Danny and raised his hand in line with Danny’s head.

“This is from McAllister” he said, then pulled the trigger.

(To be continued)

Aug 022012

Aberdeen’s very own award winning Chorus of Sweet Adelines is having another busy year preparing for a series of events in the North East of Scotland.  With thanks to Linda Allan.

Usually at this time of year, this extremely accomplished medal winning Chorus is preparing to take to the stage at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but this year, due to problems with a venue, Chorus Director Gwen Topp decided that it was time to tour in the local area and bring a summer show to their loyal fans in the North East.

Interviewed recently about the Chorus, Gwen said:

“We work hard every year preparing for our annual competition, making sure that our vocal and performance skills are at a very high level and, as many time medal winners over the years, this dedication has paid off extremely well.”

“But the ladies also enjoy putting on shows and staging concerts, particularly if that involves dressing up, or props!  This kind of performance also allows us to choose a repertoire which suits different audiences and different events and lets us include a few comedy moments which the ladies and the audience usually enjoy very much. “After these summer shows, our schedule continues with a Charity musical event in the Music Hall on Sunday 7th October as invited artists supporting such causes as the Maggie’s Foundation.

“Later in the year, as we prepare for our own Christmas Shows in Aberdeen, we will be looking forward to singing in the magnificent Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow as guests of the Phoenix Choir in their Christmas Concert on 14th December.  The Chorus relishes the chance to perform at all kinds of venues and for all kinds of audience and seeing the happy smiling faces in the audience always adds to our enjoyment of the event.”

This talented group of enthusiastic singers will be delighting the folks of Fraserburgh with a harmonious evening of light-hearted entertainment and exciting a cappella singing on Saturday 25th August at 7.45pm in The United Reformed Church on Mid Street. For tickets for this event, contact the Church, or Baird’s Pharmacy. The group also has a show in Newtonhill on Saturday 1st September at 7.45pm in the Bettridge Centre.  For tickets for this event, contact the Bettridge Centre or, visit the website at www.aberdeenchorus.co.uk