Mar 202014

The death of Tony Benn at age 88 has led to comments as diverse as “Maximum respect going out to my main man” – Ali G, and “that twinkling old poisonous irrelevance” – Adam Boulton. By Duncan Harley.

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It’s a funny old world really. Just last week I attended the funeral service of Raymond Christie late resident of Newton Of Balquhain, Inverurie. Only a very few of us Scots will have heard of him.

Within the shire he was well known and well liked. As a farmer, publican and churchman he sparkled.

As a man he did what he considered supportive to family, friends and above all his community.

A good service, a good burial and although I did not go, a good few drinks in the Strathburn to celebrate a life well lived and well appreciated.

Ronnie Rocket was there as was George Skinner plus the new owners of the Black Bull. It was a poignant ceremony and worthy of the man.

Raymond’s sons and his daughter were on hand on the way in to welcome all to the service. My friend Joe was too frail to attend but sent his wishes via his wife Anne. All in all it was a good Doric send off.

Tony Benn also died last week. Another life well worth celebrating,  a life truthfully spent in doing whatever mattered to the man. A life spent walking the walk and speaking the talk.

A man of principle who took politics out of the constricted corridors of power. A man who became an iconic figure of our age.
A man who perversely gave up politics in the belief that he could devote more time to politics.

The ever present voice of the right in the form of Adam Boulton had this to say in connection with Tony:

“Oh really, and who elected you? Tony Benn rounded on my colleague John Stapleton as he put a polite but pointed question to the tribune of the left at a Labour conference in the early 1980s. Labour conferences back then were a contact sport. I’d already been spat at, grabbed by the lapels and — this was a surprise — barged out of the way by the party leader and book-lover Michael Foot. Mid-period Benn was a man of that mood. Ready to champion any radical group that wanted to impose its will by protest and threat, from Arthur Scargill’s National Union of Mineworkers to the Militant Tendency.

I interviewed Tony Benn many times in many moods — pithy, long-winded, charming, vicious and always entertaining and informative. But I don’t think anything he said to me ever mattered. The truth is that by 1983 Tony Benn’s work was done. The twinkling old gent mourned this week is an irrelevance except to the family he loved and those who loved him. Benn’s legacy to the nation should be judged from when he was a frontline politician in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties.”

The Boulton piece was published in the Sunday Times under the title “that twinkling old poisonous irrelevance.”

Many folk of course wonder why Adam Boulton has written about Tony Benn with such great gusto. ‘Where is the respect nowadays?‘ say some and others point to Benn’s interview with Ali G where he came out of an interview with Ali G looking slightly shocked but victorious.

The sanctification of death often brings out the best rhetoric from those who are left. Often it comes from the standpoint of a relief that it was not them who died. After all, who wants to see death from the standpoint of one within.

Described as a “political nutter” by Andrew Marr, Mr Boulton was recently reported recently to have described Channel 4 news presenters as ‘Muppets’ who were ‘fighting over the autocue’

He may have a point or two about unprovoked rudeness.

As Tony Benn once said:

“If one meets a powerful person ask them five questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?” If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

Tony, bless his soul, tried hard to rid us of such foolishness as Trident and that Thatcher of whom we dare not speak.

I miss both Benn and Raymond Christie for what they stood for and of course for their honesty. Many wonder if we will miss Adam Boulton in quite the same way.

RIP Tony Benn, 3/4/1925 – 14/3/2014. A man of principle.

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Nov 082013

By Duncan Harley

clock changing177

Aberdeen Voice is not currently considering teaming up with Home Energy Scotland to reflect on the situation of the 8000 or so citizens receiving the now abolished Incapacity Benefit in and around Scotland’s Granite City.
ESA, or Employment Support Allowance, seems to be the current title and seemingly:

“Claimants already receiving Incapacity Benefit, Income Support paid because of an illness or disability or Severe Disablement Allowance (SDA) continued to receive those benefits as long as they remained eligible. However, the government announced in 2010 that these claimants would all be migrated to ESA between spring 2011 and 2014.”

Hopefully this migration has taken place since fuel bills are going up yet again by another 8% or so, and with that in mind it is time to consider energy saving measures. You may feel disempowered, you may be on benefits or you may simply feel overwhelmed by the problem of how to keep warm this winter.

With those clocks changing and the outside temperature sliding downwards, it’s time to take control and manage your energy use in the 21st Century.

Top tips include:

  • Home Heating: Did you know that by just turning down your home thermostat by just 1 degree you can cut your home heating bill by 10%?  Great news for your bank balance.
  • Your floor: Did you know that by insulating an under floor space and sealing those pesky gaps around your skirting boards you could save 1% of your annual spend on household heating? Great news for your bank balance.
  • Loft insulation: Did you know that most heat is lost via the roof? By making sure you have the recommended 270mm of insulation recommended by the government you could save around 30% on your annual bills for home heating. Great news for your bank balance.
  • Cremation: Did you know that the average cremation consumes around £200 of carbon rich resources. Many families choose cremation because it’s seen as a more environmentally friendly route than a traditional burial.  Embalming, expensive sealed caskets and burial vaults are not required by law and although traditional memorial parks may require them, a green cemetery or memorial nature preserve does not.  The simplicity of a green burial is in tune with nature and need not be expensive. Great news for your bank balance.

A green burial can relieve your loved ones of the distress that comes in having to make difficult, and often costly, decisions after your passing.  Involve your friends and family now, so difficult decisions do not need to be made in a time of grief. Great news for your bank balance.

frond177A green burial is a cremation alternative, and a viable alternative to traditional burial practices in the UK.  It is an eco-earth friendly option when considering burial vs cremation.

Home Energy Scotland?  Seems it’s at

It is apparently a one stop shop for people looking to save energy and lower fuel bills during the winter months.

Measures include offering free energy saving gadgets worth £50 in the form of a digital electricity monitor and a stand-by plug which will help households to save, on average, £47 a year on fuel bills and CO2 that would fill 361 wheelie bins.

Great news for your bank balance.

Kenny MacAskill MSP says:

“The range of help available through the Home Energy Hotline includes free or discounted insulation, central heating, help to switch to cheaper tariffs and help to ensure people are claiming their full pension and benefit support.

“By offering this help the Scottish Government are once again ensuring people are able to stay warm and keep their bills down this winter. If we see a winter similar to last year this will be a very welcome measure. The free energy-saving devices and other help will assist households in saving money at a time when everyone is counting the pennies.

“I would encourage anyone in Edinburgh East & Musselburgh who is unsure of what they can do to call the Home Energy Hotline on 0800 512 012.”

Great news for your bank balance.

The government and the energy companies wish you well this winter but advise you to remember to turn down your thermostat.

They also would like to take this opportunity to remind you that a warm home is a privilege not a right.

Great news for your bank balance.

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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)

Oct 242013

Bullet holes Trinity Duncan Harley Janice RayneBy Duncan Harley.

Cody’s gran had passed a few weeks ago.  Not a huge surprise really since she had been some ripe old age or other.
The surprise was when the family learned where she had died. In the Canaries would you believe and with no travel insurance whatsoever!

What to do?  Return the body for a proper burial or lay her to rest in a far off land?  Ignore the whole thing and let the authorities deal with it all?  Cremate the remains and fly her back in a wee box?

“It’s no’ as though she had money set aside for all this” said Cody’s mum.

“I mean, she lived on her own in a wee flat in Torry.  How the devil did she get there anyway?   I mean, the Canaries of all places!  Jesus!  It’s a wonder they even let her on the plane.

“Buggered if I’m paying this all on my own, you’se will all need to chip in, no exceptions!  See that Ryan air!  No complaints; no refunds; no seats!  That O’Leary should be ashamed.  Him and that Branson Sauce man.  Bugger the both of them! “

And chip in they did!

A few thousand pounds emerged, plus some Euros – reluctantly in some cases – from the recesses of the family pockets.  And there was even a 50 Yuan note from some distant cousin who’d been to Tibet and just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t forget it.

Cody’s gran was duly, and legally, flown back to Aberdeen in a wee wooden box to await the opening of the family lair and the gathering of the clan.

TrinityCemetery lies not far from the beach and within sight of the creaking grandstands which are home to Aberdeen FC.  On a good day in summer the views are good and in all honesty it must be a good place to lie; providing of course that you’re dead that is.

The day of the internment was wet and miserable however, with a howling sleet driving inland off the North Sea and no weather break forecast for the next two days.

Wet jackets off and pints down throat seemed the order of the day

There was a good turnout considering.  As well as family there were Cody’s mates, plus a few neighbours of Mrs McLaughlin who, in all probability, had never taken much time over the old woman but who, no doubt, felt obliged to show face as an indication that they maybe had.

Cody’s sister Annie said a few words, as did his brother Jesse who had flown in from Orkney especially for the occasion.

“She was a fine woman,” said Annie, “always ready to help anyone and a pillar of the community.”

Sadly missed,” shouted Jesse above the blasting wind.  “Always made me rock cakes and let me play with her budgie.  Before it died, of course!”

After a few words from the minister, the ashes were duly lowered into the opened grave and an invite went out to gather at Guy’s pub for a wee libation and some of those dried up sausage rolls you get at funerals throughout North East Scotland.

There were, in all, about twenty folk assembled in the lounge bar, seated at various different tables according to how fast they had managed to get their after the graveside service.  Wet jackets off and pints down throat seemed the order of the day.  Cody’s dad had set up a tab but no-one knew how long that would last so the race was on to down a few drinks before economic reality kicked in.

His dad had worked on the rigs in the early days when men were men and oil was oil.  A big built man who took no prisoners, he had seemingly been impressed in his youth by the story of how Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show toured Scotland in 1904.

Tales of Sioux Indians and frontiersmen battling it out on Beach Boulevard and then proceeding by train up to Banff and Fraserburgh caught his attention and he vowed to name his future children after Wild West heroes.  Hence Cody Bill McLaughlin, Annie Oakley McLaughlin and in a rash moment Jesse James McLaughlin, came into being.

Cody’s mum’s protests that Jesse was nothing but a murdering bank robber who never even featured in the Wild West Show’s tours were as nothing.

A silence followed, broken only when Auntie Mary began to sniffle

Mr McLaughlin took after the Canadian Mounties and always got his way.  Needless to say, Jesse had a difficult time at school where he was nicknamed Sue.  Little did his mum know that Jesse was indeed a murdering bank robber who never featured anywhere except Crime Stoppers. But that’s another story.

Danny was seated three tables down from the bar still wearing the brown knitted balaclava which he had sported inside the cemetery.

“How you doin’ Danny, can I get you a pint?  Or a maybe a wee nip?  Or both?  Water in it?  Keep us a seat at the back eh!  Back in a mo.  Meant water in the nip.”

Drinks on table, plate of sausage rolls on plate and customary mug of tea in hand, I sat down between Danny and Cody’s Auntie Mary.

“Sorry for your loss Mary.  Never really knew your mum but I know from what everyone in the street said she was well respected.  Sad loss indeed!” 

“Cheers.  She was a bit dottered by the end but there but for the grace etc … How are you doing?”

“Great!  Workin’ here and there, doin’ this an that so canny complain really.  Even if I did, no-one would take any notice.  All good!  All good really; honest injuns!  Nice to see you. “

“She was a lovely woman.  Always there when you needed help.”

“They don’t make them like her nowadays, that’s all I can say!”

“Sad loss mind you!  Long life eh?”

“Aye right!  Very sad.  I remember when she used to buy her sausages out of Dougal McPhersons.  On Sinclair Road you understand, long gone now of course.”

“How come she was buried in the Trinity?” came a muffled voice from table three.

“Whit was that?”

“How come she was buried in the Trinity?”

The balaclava’d Danny had spoken.  A silence followed, broken only when Auntie Mary began to sniffle.  After a full thirty seconds she recovered composure and began to tell a tale.

“Well, when I was in primary, we lived in King Street just down from the old fire station.  Mum would often take us down the beach after school.  Used to take a short cut through the cemetery.  There’s a path down past Urquhart Road to Park Road if you know.  

“I don’t really remember when, but one day we were halfway down and we heard a throbbing noise up above.  I was too young to take much heed, but your gran knew what it was.  ‘Run! Get down!’ she shouted as a big blue aeroplane appeared overhead.  

“We stared as it passed over and I can still remember the gunner looking down at us as we lay flat on the ground.  You can still see the bullet holes in the gravestones.  My dad refused to let us go there after that.  Suppose that’s when he bought the lair.”

No one spoke for a bit.  Then the drink kicked in and folk began to tell jokes about the war, golfing heroes and that Union Terrace Gardens thing.

The inevitable Hitler had only one ball (Battle of the Somme in 1916?  No I just have one ball.)  Donald Trump’s hair do (Donald Trump said he still wants to look more closely at Obama’s birth certificate to make sure that it’s real.  Incidentally, President Obama said the same exact thing about Donald Trump’s hair.)  And Union Terrace Gardens (Tycoon Sir Ian Wood was set to inject £85million into a revamp of Aberdeen’s historic Union Terrace Gardens.)  Jokes abounded.

Turning to Danny,

“why the balaclava?”

“It’s a long story.”

I asked the barman for more tea.

(To be continued)

Apr 122013

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

It was a very warm welcome at the wonderful Blaikiewell’s when I visited over the weekend; it is a great spot.  There is much to do to ensure its future, but certain figures have pledged to help, and hopefully this great sanctuary will carry on.

BrewDog launched its new ‘Fake’ Lager, which  was a huge success.  I had a nice chat with Alicia Bruce, and hope to have an interview with her on Aberdeen Voice shortly.

News-wise Spoiler Alert:  Mrs Thatcher died; North Korea threatens to wage war, and horse meat tainted with the carcinogen ‘Bute’ are in the food chain, despite previous EU assurances this wasn’t the case.

That the EU got something wrong is obviously the surprise of the week.  Worse still, Psy is releasing a ‘serious’ music video, and Kelly Brook accidentally went around with her dress unzipped.

Astonishingly, there was a photographer to hand.

Faced with all these overwhelming developments, and as a mark of something or other, please be advised that this column will be a bit light on the sarcasm this week.  Normal services resume will resume shortly.

On the national scene, Kent Police’s Youth Police and  Crime Commissioner Paris was forced to resign after some of her old tweets came back to haunt her, throwing huge shadows on her role.  Some one-hundred and sixty people went out for the really cool, hip youth police job, but she was the best candidate.  Makes you wonder.

Despite making drug-related and racist tweets prior to taking the job on more than a few occasions, Paris is not a racist, just someone who makes racist remarks to show off.  Confusing her with a racist is an easy mistake to make; apparently all the young people are showing off by trying to look like bigots.

Thankfully nothing like that could ever happen in Aberdeen.  It is not as if there are any would-be youth leaders involved in campaigns at present organising demos, holding meetings, and getting involved with politicians and academics who have previously made any dubious internet postings.  I’m certain our local political parties and august educational institutions would never get involved with anyone with a dubious history.

As Ms Brown learnt, things never really get deleted from cyberspace.  Can you imagine what a web of intrigue would surround such a revelation here?

In life as in death, Margaret has split opinion

There was no shortage of colourful news close to home, either.  I knew our politicians had great talent, but I hadn’t appreciated that faith healing was one of their skills.

We had the one who was able to make money disappear right before our eyes; we named a street after him for a bit.

We have HoMalone who can grow trees on a severely polluted hill. To this goddess a herd of deer were sacrificed (it’s just as well she’s sure those trees will grow: I think more than a few people will be slightly cross if they don’t).  She also could make things disappear, like the people who previously voted Lib Dem.

We also had a councillor who was very gifted with young people, serving on the Youth festival, and kindly offering lifts to any young people who he found walking the streets late at night.  But faith healing.  Wow.

In life as in death, Margaret has split opinion and bitter division erupts. Champagne corks popped in the streets of Glasgow; others mourned her and placed flowers in locations associated with her.

Old Susannah is, as you can imagine, not in the Thatcher fan club.  But I won’t be dancing on her grave, either.

The first person who told me of her death was from a mining family; I can well understand the hatred she inspired in many.  The privatisation of Britain and the selling of the family silverware largely started with her – but others eagerly took up her mantle and mantras.  It’s said that Tony Blair was a sleeper agent of Thatcher’s, and I for one can’t disagree.

She’s gone; many of her destructive policies live on.

There are those who practically want her beatified, and refuse to hear any word against her.  There are those who’d disrupt her funeral.

Gene Roddenberry put forth all sorts of ideas about equality of races and sexes

Once things quieten down, I hope people will increase their focus on the many things that are going wrong under current local, regional and national governments, and start demanding change.

There is a saying ‘only a fool would fight in a burning house’ –  and all things considered, I think we might all be in a burning house together.

This ‘burning house’ proverb is, er, a ‘Klingon’ saying from Star Trek.  Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry put forth all sorts of ideas about equality of races and sexes, applying wit and logic to problems, science and fact over superstition, and of creating a better world.   One of the episodes had a sub-plot based around the simple benign philosophy of ‘Can I Help?’

I wonder what he’d make of the goings-on today.   He cast people from all races, sexual orientations and religions in his original series.

On that note, it’s time for a few timely definitions

Handbag: (1.  Eng noun) – a satchel or case carried by women filled with personal effects; (2.  Eng verb) – for a woman to suddenly and/or violently carry out a ferocious, withering  verbal attack often while carrying a purse.

Well, the Thatch did give us a new word.  BBC presenters, politicians, her cabinet members and advisers – none were immune from a handbagging from Maggie.

Grown men wept; this was the late 70s and early 80s, and in those somewhat less PC days, our first female PM would rage unbridled abuse on those who dared to look at her oddly, let alone challenge her, in a fashion  which would  be cause for legal action today.

The handbag in question held state documents and god knows what else. Likewise, several latter-day women politicians here in the Deen were known to keep interesting items in their handbags, but that is another matter.

The BBC’s Oliver Lee-Stone has an excellent article cataloguing some of the attacks launched by PM Thatcher on her colleagues, cronies and journalists; many of whom lived in absolute terror of this form of abuse.  In it he quoted Kenneth Baker:-

“”When Maggie was really up against it, she would put her handbag on the cabinet table and take out a well-crumpled paper.  This was the brief that came from no-one knew whom – a friend, or someone who had rung her up.  It was unpredictable, sometimes illuminating, at others weird, sometimes an interesting new light, at others a worthless piece of gossip.  Whenever this happened, the cabinet secretary would pale, and the minister would raise his eyes to the ceiling.”

Alas!  Ironwoman was herself handbagged, in a moment which gave birth to another expression.

A Belgrano Moment: (Mod English phrase) to tell politicians ‘not in my name’ and to call them to account

While the men around her might have quaked with terror, Diana Gould was not having it.  When Ms Gould participated in a BBC question and answer session with Maggie, it was handbags at dawn.

The Falklands war raged; the Belgrano was sunk – while in an exclusion zone.  Margaret T was being interviewed; Sue Lawley, who seems to have been unlucky that day, was given the modern equivalent of the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern treatment – she was fired.  Taking questions from callers, Margaret Thatcher met her match in Diana Gould, Geographer of the Royal Navy.

Maggie held her ground – the Belgrano sinking was the right thing to do.  Gould pulled the rug from under Thatcher’s feet.  Gould wasn’t having it, and sparks and fur flew.  Words fail – the only thing to do is to visit this page, and watch the incident again.

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May 012012

With thanks to Suzanne Kelly.

A candidate in the Torry/Ferryhill area of the city for City Councillor, has hit out at Aberdeen City Council for the slaughter of 22 Roe deer on Tullos Hill.

Suzanne Kelly  has been researching, reporting on and campaigning against the ‘Tree For Every Citizen’ scheme (a LibDem election pledge) for over a year.

Kelly says:

“The Council are hiding behind new legislation and insisting the deer were overpopulated and had to be culled.  This is a nonsense.  Firstly, the roe deer have lived on Tullos Hill in stable numbers for over 70 years .  Some of those who joined us at the Mock Funeral yesterday grew up with the deer, and are well aware that deer move from area to area.  I want to set the record straight:  there was absolutely no need to try and turn this meadow into a giant forest.  It is the city’s idea to do this against the written wishes of three of its community councils representing tens of thousands of people.

“The idea that this council is so keen to enforce any laws is laughable to people who live here.  We have had overcrowded classes, cuts in services to people with special abilities without proper consultation, higher than EU limit air pollution (Wellington Road), and years of men and women working for the council without equal pay.  A new law, open to interpretation, is no excuse for this long-planned determination of the city to destroy these deer.

The SNH and the City were planning as long ago as November 2010 as to how the public should be ‘managed’ over the cull.

“An initial public consultation for the tree scheme said that rabbit fencing would keep rabbits out.  This consultation was live when – as I proved – the cull had already been planned.  The city did not tell its citizens the trees would be at the expense of the deer, even though they knew it.  

“They knew full  well the scheme would have not passed an honest consultation.  They also never said a massive 89,000 trees would be put on this hill.  People are justly outraged.  The city now feebly claim that ‘the consultation was not about the method’ of the tree-planting.  Explaining that rabbit fencing would be needed is obviously to do with method.  In fact, the SNH and the City were planning as long ago as November 2010 as to how the public should be ‘managed’ over the cull.  This is not democracy:  this is scheming.

“The Scottish SPCA said it was ’abhorrent and absurd’ to kill deer to protect trees that don’t even exist yet.  The Scottish SPCA is very vigilant and effective in my area:  if the deer had been suffering or starving, they would have ordered a cull long ago.  Other animal welfare groups likewise think the deer were fine as they were.  As far as we can tell, there has never been a cull on this hill.  That is because these animals lived in sustainable numbers, and lived only 6-7 years.

“I was not surprised that the police decided to attend our peaceful funeral protest.  However, when they showed up at the Aberdeen branch of Lush where I was to speak later, I was somewhat bemused.

“We tried proving that the soil is scant (there is a Government soil report proving this and showing trees would be likely to topple in the rocky ground).  We tried showing that the public didn’t want this cull or a giant forest.  Since reason, democracy and public opinion didn’t work, we were forced to stage this funeral.

“It was a blow to all of the campaigners when we found out the funeral was not going to be the mock event it should have been.  It is now clear the city was given permission to shoot outside of the normal deer hunting season, and have been destroying these deer since February.

“John Robins of Animal Concern Advice Line, Deb from Lush Aberdeen, and Fred Wilkinson of Aberdeen Voice are three of the people who have helped bring this situation to light and help fight it.   They have the thanks of all the campaigners – who themselves have been amazing.

“Councillor Neil Cooney and I have been trying to promote the idea of keeping the hill as a meadow – we have no idea how much public money has been wasted so far on the trees.  The first batch didn’t take – due largely to weeds – and this cost the public £43,800.  The ‘expert’ who claims the deer must go has a vested interest:  they have been paid £44,000 so far that I know of.  Expensive deer fencing has been installed.   This is in a city with a massive budget deficit.  The whole thing is a disgrace, a farce, and an environmental disaster.

“On my way back down the hill after the protest, I passed huge swathes of land which had been cleared of gorse (home for birds as well as deer).  I remembered seeing in January a deer leap out of a gorse thicket.  The gorse thicket has been destroyed now – and I guess that deer has been shot.    People who live nearby tell me they fed deer by hand on occasion.  What an unnecessary, violent waste.”

Further information:

  • Suzanne Kelly – 07752 356 455
  • John Robins – Animal Concern Advice Line
  • Reports, source material, etc:
Nov 152011

With thanks to Bex Holmes.

Aberdeen was one of five locations across Scotland where the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) shot a series of short films to show what humanists believe.
The films cover a wide range of important moral issues, including physician-assisted suicide, sectarianism and same-sex marriage and feature more than fifty people – from 10-year-old Mellin Buchanan (Thurso) to 81-year-old Margaret Ferguson (Inverness).

The films can be viewed at the society’s H Factor campaign site where they can also be downloaded and shared on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Among the contributions in the film on humanism, Alex (Edinburgh) says:

“As far as I am aware, no humanist has ever killed anyone because of their beliefs”.

Among those commenting on physician-assisted suicide Catriona (Aberdeen) says movingly:

“We had to watch my granny die over a period of months, in pain, and wasting away in front of us when she’d told me years ago she’d had a great life and she was ready to go. Why can’t we afford people the same compassion that we show to our animals?”

HSS Convenor Les Mitchell says:

“We’re delighted with the H Factor films.  They show that humanists are deeply committed to making the world a better place.  Humanism is becoming daily more familiar in Scotland.  But, although our ceremonies grow ever more popular, very few people actually know what humanists believe.  In these films they can see for themselves and many of them may realise that, without knowing it, they’ve been humanists all their lives.”

The HSS is also inviting members of the public to win £1,000 by creating a new slogan for the society in an online competition hosted at the H Factor site.

Humanist weddings were made legal in Scotland in June 2005.  In 2010 there were 2092 weddings led by Humanist celebrant, compared to 1776 Catholic weddings, making Humanist weddings the third most popular form of marriage in Scotland [after Registrars and Church of Scotland ].

The Humanist Society Scotland is a charity founded in 1989 and currently has more than 7,000 members.   Christopher Brookmyre is its president and distinguished supporters include Stephen Fry, Richard Dawkins, Professor James Lovelock and the novelist Iain Banks.

The Society aims to represent those in Scotland who choose to live a moral life without religion. We have a network of trained Celebrants who carry out non-religious ceremonies such as funerals, weddings, baby-namings etc.

For further information please contact:
Tim Maguire, HSS Media Officer
Tel. 0131 556 0128 or 07770 555 224

Aberdeen Group  Main Contact:
Marion Richardson, Secretary
Tel: 01888 562 237

Nov 122010

By George Anderson.

In these post credit crunch-times, with predicted belt-tightening likely to bring tears to a glass eye, I wonder whether there might be resurgence of the cheap funerals (known in the patois of the north-east of Scotland as ‘froonyals’) of my youth.  A good illustration would be the froonyal of my uncle Chunty in 1968:

Chunty’s family huddle together in the front pew. This is due more to a failure of the chapel radiators than anything related to a group hug. The pews behind the immediate family creak under the combined weight of people to whom Chunty is related through drink. The organist battles his way through a double time version of ‘Abide With Me’.

This has been written specially for low cost funerals by the Reverend Melrose Nochty himself.

Melrose strides in to the chapel and ascends to the pulpit two steps at a time. At the summit, he signals the organist, Mr Leiper, to pack it in—sharpish like, by throwing a hymn book at his head. Melrose starts talking before the final strangled blasts of air struggle out of the organ pipes.

‘Up ye get,’ he says, and lifts his palms toward the rafters. The congregation scramble to their feet.  ‘Dearly beloved, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera … Matthew, Mark, Luke and John … pearls before swine … Sit doon.’

He fishes an alarm clock out of the dark recesses of his ministerial garments, winds it up, and slams it down on the edge of the pulpit. The congregation sit down.

Melrose is talking faster than an auctioneer at a cattle station in Woolawonga. “Stand up! The Lord may well be my Shepherd, but let’s face it”, he waves a hand toward a plywood casket , “judging by Chunty’s pitiful record of church attendance, it’ll be easier for the Turra Coo to pass through the centre o’ a doughring than for Chunty tae enter the Kindom o’ Heaven.

A thundercloud of Old Testament wrath passes across the Reverend Nochty’s scowling face

Now, sit doon, sit doon for God’s sake. I haven’t got all day.”

From his lofty perch Melrose looks down at the organist’s toupee.

‘Mr Leiper will now play an ex-tremely short extract from the twenty-third Psalm.’ Mr Leiper’s fingers scurry over the keys like mice fleeing a burning barn. Eight bars in, Melrose again signals Mr Leiper to cease and desist, this time by repeatedly banging a hymn book on the edge of the pulpit and shouting ‘All right, that’ll do, this isn’t an organ recital, Mr Leiper.’

Melrose clasps his hands before him and closes his eyes. “Jonah in the belly of the whale…Sermon on the mount… Feeding o the twa thoosan”—’ a voice from the back of the chapel, interrupts.

“Is it nae five thoosan’, minister? The feedin o the five thoosan’?”

A thundercloud of Old Testament wrath passes across the Reverend Nochty’s scowling face. He speaks. “Listen pal, you shouldnae’ even be here. Now sit doon.”

“I am sittin doon!”’

“Well, stand up and then sit doon.”

He pauses, grips the edges of the lectern and looks at the congregation with a measure of contempt normally reserved for the criminally insane. His voice drops an octave. “There’ll be weepin”,’ he says “and there’ll be a fair skelp o wailin’ intae the bargain.” He stabs a finger in the vague direction of the front pews. “An’ by Christ, teeth’ll be gnashed ‘n’ aa! Stand up, sit doon, and pey attention”.

Now it is the widow’s turn to interrupt.  “Will ye be much langer?’ she asks. ‘Only, there’s a steen’ cold cert rinnin’ in the three thirty at Perth and the nearest bookie’s fower miles awa.”

Melrose gives her the vees and gathers from the alarm clock that it is time to wind up the service. “Get up and start prayin, real fast”, he says. He lowers his head fast enough to get whiplash. “Oh Lord, please tak’ Chunty tae yer bosom. In yer own hivvenly time, of course, but seener rather than later, if ye dinna mind. I’ve anither three o these to get through afore lowsin’ time.”

He raises his arms and clears his throat. “Ashes tae ashes, stew tae stew, Chunty’s awa, and so are you”, Melrose’s alarm clock goes off, forcing him to raise his voice. ‘Sit doon, stand up, and shove right off.” The congregation do not have to be told twice; there is a stampede through the chapel doors reminiscent of the opening thirty seconds of a Next sale.