Aug 212015
Poldullie Bridge - Tercentenary of Strathdon landmark celebrated2

Poldullie Bridge: Tercentenary of Strathdon landmark celebrated

With thanks to Ian McLaren, Innes Associates.

An Aberdeenshire community has come together to mark the 300th anniversary of a local landmark as it prepares for its biggest day of the year.
Members of the Lonach Highlanders joined schoolchildren and residents of Strathdon yesterday to celebrate the tercentenary of Poldullie Bridge in Strathdon.

Built in 1715 by John Forbes of Inverernan and spanning the River Don, the bridge significantly improved safety and communications in the area when it opened.

The celebrations, organised by Strathdon Primary School (whose logo features the bridge), took place two days ahead of the annual Lonach Highland Gathering and Games. A commemorative cast-iron plaque has been unveiled on the bridge to mark the milestone.

Assisted by pupils from the school, the plaque was unveiled by Sir James Forbes of Newe, patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society. Members of Lonach Pipe Band joined the highlanders on the march, with the highlanders being supported by their new horse, Socks, who will make his official debut at Saturday’s gathering.

Poldullie Bridge is one of the best surviving examples of an 18th century single semi-circular arch stone bridge. Unlike many of its neighbours, the bridge survived the catastrophic flooding of August 1829, known as the Muckle Spate. The bridge is maintained by Aberdeenshire Council and the local authority area has the highest number of listed bridges in Scotland.

The man behind Poldullie, John Forbes, also known as ‘Black Jock’, was the bailie of Kildrummy and a close associate of John Erskine, the Earl of Mar. Erskine led the Jacobites against the British Government forces at Sherriffmuir in November 1715, having planned the campaign at Kildrummy Castle and raised the Jacobite standard at Braemar Castle.

Pupils at Strathdon Primary School have been learning about the construction of different types of bridge, as well as the history of the local area and Poldullie Bridge itself. They will be showcasing their work at an open-day event at the school on the same day.

Saturday sees the 174th Lonach Highland Gathering and Games take place in nearby Bellabeg, with events getting underway from noon. Organised by the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the annual event attracts up to 10,000 visitors, including many from overseas. This year’s event will also commemorate the 300th anniversaries the Poldullie Bridge and the Jacobite uprising, with a number of Jacobean reenactors attending.

Strathdon School head teacher, Lilian Field, said:

“We feel very privileged to be able to commemorate the construction of a local bridge which has provided a route for travellers and local people for the past three hundred years.”

Jennifer Stewart, secretary of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said:

“Poldullie Bridge is an elegant local landmark. Its importance as a transport route may have been bypassed by more modern roads and bridges, but its historic contribution to the local area shouldn’t be overlooked.

“The Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is honoured to have been asked to be involved in today’s ceremony and thanks must go to Strathdon School and its pupils for their research and organisation. It is wonderful to see such enthusiasm in the local community to mark this milestone.

“Along with enjoying the packed programme at Saturday’s gathering, we are encouraging visitors to explore the local area, and pay a visit to our local landmarks, including Poldullie Bridge, the Doune of Invernochty and the Lost sign.”

Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Marr Area Committee, Moira Ingleby, said:

“The north-east played a significant role in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.  The Earl of Mar, who led the uprising, called on men from Donside to support the Stuart cause.

“That Poldullie Bridge is still standing strong, weathering tumultuous times better than its architect, is certainly something that should be celebrated.

“What’s more, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society was founded during the difficult post-Culloden years, on a will to preserve the memory of the past but embrace the future.  It’s very fitting that the Lonach men should be involved in the commemorative celebrations.”

Organisers of the gathering are encouraging visitors to explore the local area and visit some of its attractions and landmarks, including Poldullie Bridge. They have also unveiled the ideal selfie spot in Bellabeg for the weekend – beside the iconic road sign that points to Lost.

Established in 1823, by Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is a charitable organisation based in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The society organises the annual Lonach Gathering at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, which is held on the fourth Saturday of August – this year’s event takes place on Saturday, 22 August.  The main attraction at the gathering is the march of the Lonach Highlanders, a unique body of non-military men.

Further information on the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highlanders and the annual Lonach Highland Gathering can be found at

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Aug 212015

Organisers of next week’s Lonach Highland Gathering and Games are encouraging visitors to ‘get’ Lost when they attend the annual event by recommending the ideal selfie spot in the village of Bellabeg where the event is held. With thanks to Ian McLaren, Innes Associates.

Iconic sign - The road sign pointing to Lost at Bellabeg, Strathdon2

Iconic sign: The road sign pointing to Lost at Bellabeg, Strathdon

The Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which organises the annual event in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, isn’t discouraging visitors from attending the popular event, instead it is looking to inspire those that do to explore Bellabeg and visit local businesses and landmarks.

That includes one of Scotland’s most iconic road signs, the one pointing to Lost.

The small directional flag style road sign has gained legendary status and is among some of the most photographed road signs in Scotland for the confusing message it conjures up. 

With the current craze for taking selfies, organisers of the Lonach Gathering hope it will be a fun way to get people to discover more about Bellabeg and Strathdon.

Taking place on Saturday, 22 August, the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games is one of north-east Scotland’s best-known and most popular traditional summer events. It attracts up to 10,000 visitors each year, including many from overseas.  Keen to boost the benefit that the games provides to the local economy, organisers have launched an initiative to highlight to visitors some of Strathdon’s other sights and attractions.

Within Bellabeg is the Doune of Invernochty, an impressive 12-metre high motte which is all that the remains of a 12th century Norman castle. While a short walk away is the 18th century Poldullie Bridge. When it was built it significantly improved safety and communications in the area and is one of the best surviving examples of an 18th century single semi-circular arch stone bridge.

For those adventurous enough to wonder where they might end up if they followed the sign to Lost, the answer is not far – the road now leads only to a farm.  At one time it would have led travellers to the Bridge of Nochty and the Glenbuchat road, from which today they can access the Lost Gallery. Run by Peter and Jean Goodfellow it features paintings and sculpture.

In addition, there is the nearby Goodbrand and Ross tearoom and gift shop at Corgarff, Kildrummy Castle, where the 1715 Jacobite rising was planned, and the Grampian Transport Museum at Alford.

The initiative is in keeping with the aims of Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which was established in 1823 to maintain traditional highland culture and promote social benevolence.  Meanwhile, the gathering has been shortlisted as a finalist in the Best Cultural Event or Festival category in this year’s Aberdeen City & Shire Tourism Awards.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said:

“The society’s ethos has evolved over recent years, meaning the support we provide to the local economy through the gathering and events at the Lonach Hall has grown substantially. Around 10% of the local Bellabeg shop’s takings occur in games’ week.

“We’re always keen for visitors to the gathering to explore Bellabeg and the selfie spot is a fun way for them to do that. The sign to Lost has gained legendary status, but many people don’t realise that it is in Bellabeg. In Strathdon we’re really proud of this very simple, but quirky landmark. Over a decade ago we fought a campaign for the sign to be reinstated unchanged after it was stolen.

“With the current craze for selfies we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight the location of the Lost road sign as a perfect selfie spot.

The 174th Lonach Highland Gathering and Games takes place on Saturday, 22 August at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon. It features a full programme of traditional highland events, including individual and massed piping, highland dancing and light and heavy athletics, with some of the country’s leading pipers, dancers and athletes competing.  The games commence at 12 noon, but events get underway at 8am as the Lonach Highlanders start their six-mile march around the local area.

Established in 1823, by Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is a charitable organisation based in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The society organises the annual Lonach Gathering at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, which is held on the fourth Saturday of August – this year’s event takes place on Saturday, 22 August.

The main attraction at the gathering is the march of the Lonach Highlanders, a unique body of non-military men. Further information on the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highlanders and the annual Lonach Highland Gathering can be found at


  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Aug 132015
Socks1 - Socks the new Lonach horse

Socks, the new Lonach horse

With thanks to Ian McLaren, PR account manager, Innes Associates

A horse is in its final stages of training ahead of its debut performance later this month at one of Scotland’s leading highland games.

Across the country, musicians, dancers and athletes have been fine tuning their performances and training in order to be at the peak of their discipline for the highland games season.

However, in rural Aberdeenshire a horse has been undergoing a rigorous training regime to participate at the annual Lonach Highland Gathering and Games on Saturday, 22 August.

Socks, a six-year-old gelding, hasn’t been practicing his sword dance or fine-tuning his sprinting ability for the light athletics, but getting used to the skirl of the pipes and the beat of drums.

The young Irish Heavy Cob is making his first appearance at the popular traditional event where he will parade throughout the day with the Lonach Highlanders, and numerous pipe bands.

Having never encountered the sound and motions of the pipes and drums before, Socks has been attending the Lonach Pipe Band practice sessions over the last three months in order to become comfortable with the distinctive sounds ahead of his debut at the gathering.

A horse and cart has traditionally followed the Lonach Highlanders on their marches in order to convey their weapons when they became too heavy for the men to carry on long marches, particularly over uneven hill roads.  Socks will follow in the hoof prints of a long line of horses to provide this supporting role to the Lonach Highlanders.

Socks is owned by Kildrummy resident and Lonach Highlander Derek Gray, who has looked after the Lonach horse on marches since 2013. Mr Gray bought Socks as a yearling and hopes he will become a long-standing part of the Lonach marches.

In addition to featuring in the Lonach marches, Mr Gray has set up Odd Socks Enterprises to offer horse-drawn carriage services, which will see Socks available to hire along with a restored four-wheeled wagon.

Organised by the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games is held annually on the fourth Saturday in August. Staged in the small, picturesque Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg, this year marks the 174th time the gathering has been held.  One of north-east Scotland’s best known and most popular traditional summer events, it attracts up to 10,000 visitors, including many from overseas.

Socks2 - Socks with his owner Derek Gray

Socks with his owner Derek Gray

A major feature of the gathering are the Lonach Highlanders.

First established in 1823, they are believed to be the largest body of non-military men to carry ceremonial weapons in Britain.

Dressed in full highland dress and armed with traditional Loachaber axes and pikes, which are over eight-feet in length and weigh up to 3 kg (7 lbs), the Highlanders form an impressive sight on their three marches on games day.

Membership of the Lonach Highlanders is drawn from residents of the local area who descend from the Forbes, Wallace and Gordon clans, and currently numbers 220 men.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said:

“A horse has long been a feature of the Lonach Highlanders marches and usually gets as a warm a reception on the games field as the Highlanders themselves. Our last long-term horse, Mac, filled the role for over five years but retired along with Willie Gray, who looked after the horse at Lonach previously. Last year Derek felt Socks was too young, so we had a temporary pony, Mhairi, who did a great job.

“The debut of a new horse is always special and we hope Socks will have a long association with the Lonach Gathering. A horse is an important part of the unique experience that is the Lonach Gathering. The sight of 220 Lonach Highlanders and the massed pipe bands leading the Lonach horse and cart onto the games field in such a stunning setting is a sight to behold.”

Socks’ owner Derek Gray said:

“Until a few weeks ago Socks had never encountered the sound of the bagpipes or the beat of a drum, so we’ve spent the last few months getting him used to them.  Horses have very sensitive hearing so it is important to expose Socks to these unique sounds so that he is comfortable with them. He has a great temperament and has taken the training in his stride.

“I’ve been looking after the horse on the Lonach march for the last two years, taking over the role from my father who had done it for over 40 years before that.  Having reared Socks since he was a yearling, I will be extremely proud to march alongside him on games day. There’ll be a few carrots close at hand to keep him sweet and ensure he behaves himself and doesn’t end up in the beer tent with all the other Highlanders.”

This year’s gathering, on Saturday, 22 August, will once again feature a full programme of traditional highland events. This will include individual and massed piping, highland dancing and light and heavy athletics, with some of the country’s leading pipers, dancers and athletes competing. The 300th anniversaries of the 1715 Jacobite uprising and opening of the Poldullie Bridge, a local landmark, will also be marked at the event.

Established in 1823, by Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is a charitable organisation based in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The society organises the annual Lonach Gathering at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, which is held on the fourth Saturday of August – this year’s event takes place on Saturday, 22 August. The main attraction at the gathering is the march of the Lonach Highlanders, a unique body of non-military men.

Further information on the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highlanders and the annual Lonach Highland Gathering can be found at

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Aug 082013

Turriff’s resident population of 5,743 received a welcome boost over the weekend of 4 and 5 August when the 149th annual Turriff Show was held at The Haughs, just outside the town centre. The Turra Show as it is called locally, is one of the highlights of the farming and agricultural year in NE Scotland, and quite rightly so, writes Duncan Harley.

Farming folk from all over the UK descend on the town during the show weekend seeking livestock prizes, farming machinery and, quite frankly, lots of fun. Bargains are struck, tractors and combines are purchased and, just occasionally, wedding matches are made – just as they have been for the last century and a half of the Show’s history.

With a claimed entries total of over 802 horses and ponies plus some 43 goats on the Sunday, over 450 cattle and 580 sheep, including the return of the Bluefaced Leicester Progeny Show sheep, Turra Show is perhaps the biggest show of its kind in Scotland still going strong after 150 years of traditional agricultural shows.

The Open Dog Show on the Sunday, complete with the ever popular rabbit and cavy sections, is now affiliated and upgraded to 2-star official status. Added to this, the poultry show and the popular Companion Dog event on the Monday makes this a completely irresistible event for the non-agricultural breeders and pet fanciers of the area.

The quite exciting sideshows, funfair and extreme catering franchises also make Turra a Mecca for those seeking a weekend of bacchanalian beer and wine-soaked revelry.

With over 249 trade stands, a very well attended food fayre plus the indoor shopping mall to tour around, Turra Show is a family fun-filled affair indeed. The show exhibition hall with its lifestyle theme and the ever popular home cookery demonstrations will, as ever, attract the homemakers.

And why not?

Those seeking extreme fun should head for that Special Forestry Area and the Special Educational Area to entertain and even educate the children amongst us.

The Industrial Marquee at Turra Show is one of the largest in the country with over 1745 home-based craft exhibits and an excellent horticultural show featuring large turnips and a few enormous marrows to salivate over.

The Turriff Show is always a veritable feast and a huge fun weekend for all the family. Each of the two show days has an extensive ringside entertainment programme with many special attractions including in 2013, the awesome Quad and Motorcycle Flying Daredevil Stunt Show by Jason Smythe’s Adrenaline Tour.

Jason comes from a professional racing background in Motocross. He started competing when he was seven, progressing from multiple regional champion to British schoolboy champion, British amateur support class winner before turning pro at eighteen.

In the professional ranks he has competed in all three classes at World Championship, 125cc, 250cc and 500cc and the World Supercross Tour as well as becoming Luxembourg national champion.

At Turriff, Jason thrilled the crowd by powering his quad bike over 31ft in the air above his articulated rig before landing safely, to loud applause.

On Sunday, Turra’s family day featured some exciting Terrier Racing with Cyril the Squirrel, fine sulky-trotting, pony carriage driving and of course the famous Turriff Pipe Band.

The same day’s Showground grand finale was, as always, the Vintage Tractor and Vehicle Parade featuring agricultural vehicles from the past century, including vintage Fergusons and the local Anderson collection of Field Marshall Tractors.

A sight to salivate over indeed!

On Turra Monday the Parade of Champions was, as is fitting, a splendid climax to what must be the finest surviving agricultural show in NE Scotland.

Norman Christie of Woodside Croft, Kinnellar, Aberdeenshire came best of show in the 2012 Turra Show with his Clydesdale Anguston Amber and in this years show Norman’s quite majestic Amber Anguston came show best reserve.

This year’s best of show was Arradoul Ellie May from Buckie owned by Ian Young. The cattle “Aberdeen Angus” section was headed by Idevies Kollar of Ellon and the British Blonde champian was Whistley Dollar entered by former Turra Show chief Eric Mutch. The sheep and goats also won prizes but were unnamed as were the cavies.

Turriff, of course gained international fame almost 100 years ago as the Scottish town which stubbornly resisted Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act and its provisions for medical and unemployment benefits for farm workers and their families.

Both Lloyd George’s Liberal government and the Marxists of the time rallied against the stance of Robert Patterson of Lendrum Farm who, perhaps unwittingly, became both the focus and the willing local hero of this often humorous but politically quite sad affair. That of course is another side of the Turriff of years gone by.

The anniversary of the Turra Coo is fast approaching though, but that’s another story.

Further Reading.

Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

Jun 282013

By Suzanne Kelly.

mavis-and-friends-2Campaigners determined to save Blaikiewell Horse Sanctuary, home to over 60 horses and ponies launched a petition asking the Scottish Government to treat the charity fairly and give it premises of equal size in the vicinity.
Without a proper valuation and settlement, the charity will find it hard to support the animals it has and to continue.

Mavis Petrie, founder of Blaikiewell had this to say:-

“If we are not given the means to relocate we will have to drastically reduce the number of horses we can provide for.  Destruction is out of the question and not only will the feed bill for the existing animals be greatly increased, it will mean that we cannot rescue another animal in the foreseeable future.

“There are already far too few sanctuary places in Britain for all the animals that find themselves homeless.  In the past we have taken horses from as far afield as Orkney and Mallaig and Kent and Dartmoor, and everywhere between. This is not only an animal issue. 

“Many people are having to reluctantly part with horses and ponies for reasons of ill health or financial difficulty and we have often helped people who were faced with the heart breaking reality of having their pets destroyed because there was nowhere for them to go. We have always taken the horses that have been turned away from all other organisations.”  

The controversial Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route will cut through pristine AberdeenCity and shire countryside.  Land and homeowners were subject to compulsory purchase orders.  One of the larger landowners runs Blaikiewell Animal Sanctuary, home to over 60 horses and ponies.   It is reliant on private donations, and as the cost of caring for the animals continues to rise, it has done a great job of continuing its work.

It is related to a separate riding school, Redwing, which exists to support the charity (Reg. No. SC026054)

The petition can be found at this link:

It is bad enough that the AWPR will destroy countryside and add to air pollution, already chronically bad in parts of Aberdeen, which has two of Scotland’s most polluted roads.  Giving Blaikiewell’s a less than adequate compensation for its compulsory-purchased lands will be a huge blow to the charity and its supporters.

We need to ensure it can continue at premises nearby which are large enough for the horses it has.  Any settlement from the government which will not meet this fundamental requirement, let alone compensate the charity for the loss of this location is unacceptable.  In the run-up to a referendum on the future of Scotland, people will be watching how central government acts locally.

It is crucial that this situation is resolved quickly and fairly.

About Blaikiewell

Blaikiewell Animal Sanctuary is a small charity in Deeside, Aberdeenshire, UK.  It is home to over 60 horses and ponies, two Jersey cows, and six pigs as well as cats, dogs and any other animal or bird that needs a safe place.

The first two ponies were bought on impulse in 1977 at the local market to save them from meat dealers who were bidding for them.  (I know this is no real answer to the problem of horses being shipped, live, hundreds of miles in dreadful conditions to dubious slaughterhouses, but once a horse has looked me in the eye I cannot walk away and let him or her go off on the horrendous journey)

Other homeless ponies began to arrive from various sources and none were turned away.

In 1985, I decided to open a small riding school to pay for the maintenance of the growing animal population.  Redwing Riding School has always been conducted with the welfare of the horses and ponies firmly in first place.

No whips or sticks are allowed and young riders are not allowed to ride with a bit in the horse’s mouth until they have learned control of their hands.  They learn in lead rein classes, each with a leader on foot, and the reins attached to a head collar with a fluffy noseband.  Riders are taught to ride with a light squeeze of the legs and gentle hands.  The words ‘kick’ and ‘pull’ are strictly forbidden.

It may take pupils a little longer to be off on their own this way but pupils learn that good riding is a partnership and a horse a friend, and many have become very competent and sympathetic riders.

Most of the original School horses are now retired and the Charity was formed in 1997 to help raise funds.  Animals that come to Blaikiewell live here forever and are never sold, nor moved away.  When possible those who have been returned to health and fitness are used in the School and some have been leased to carefully chosen people who have agreed to keep them at livery on the same premises.

When their working life is over, they continue to live in their own fields with their old friends for the rest of their lives.   Many of the ponies have lived well into their thirties.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.


Jun 192013

Willows Animal Sanctuary invites you, your friends and family to its next Open Day – 22 June.
Come join the staff, farm, domestic, exotic and wild animals living at Willows.  There will be loads to do and see, and animals to meet.

New arrivals at Willows include a family of Shetland ponies. Penny the Shetland mare, rescued from a very uncertain fate earlier in the year, has given birth to a beautiful colt foal. Bertie was born on the 30th April 2013 and is an absolute treasure. He currently lives with his mum Penny and his sister Daisy.

Here is Penny’s story.

We were contacted recently by a very desperate lady who urgently needed help with two Shetland pony mares and a filly foal. The lady suffers from an auto immune disease and has become allergic to daylight which had made looking after her ponies very difficult.

She also expressed concern that the paddock they were in, which had looked good in summer, was now so wet that the ponies were sometimes up to their hocks in mud and she feared that two of the ponies were again in foal. Her only other option had been to put the ponies into a market which would risk a very uncertain future for them.

The ponies were quite a way from Willows on the border between Perth and Angus, but Animal Health were extremely helpful with facilitating the move to Willows. It was also some time since their feet had been trimmed and all in all Animal Health felt that the sooner they could be removed the better.

They all arrived safely and have been checked and blood tested by our vets. The filly foal has been named Daisy and the two mares are called Ruby and Penny.

The events run from 11:30 am through 4:30pm; they include:-

  • Live music,
  • Bottle Stall,
  • Tombola,
  • Plant sale,
  • Lucky ducks,
  • Gift shop,
  • Coffee Shop,
  • Raffle,
  • and Home-bakes.

Willows Animal Sanctuary, Lambhill Farm, Strichen, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire AB43 6NY

Reg. Charity No. SCO29625
Tel. 01771 653112

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.

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Apr 122013

If you are fond of a flutter on races such as the Grand National or simply enjoy watching horse racing on TV, you might like to consider what you are buying into. Duncan Harley writes.

Equestrian sport has a long history with records indicating that horse racing occurred in ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt.

In the Roman Empire, chariot and mounted horse racing were major industries as anyone who can remember the film Ben Hur will have realised.

Thoroughbred racing was, and is still of course, popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title “Sport of Kings.”

I met a man in a pub a few years ago and during the course of a conversation about the world and everything he revealed that his job was to supervise Health and Safety on construction sites. The company he worked for he revealed used to “kill around 26 employees each year” due to accidents and he was very pleased to report that the figure had now dropped to 13 per year.

Jaw dropping figures however you look at them but small fry when the scale of equine death in the name of the Sport of Kings is examined.

Over the past five years around 940 race horses have died on the UK’s 60 race courses. That’s an average of 188 per year and average 3 per race course per year.

The Grand National at Aintree has a fairly poor record in this respect with an average over the last 2 years of two deaths per year for a single race, although this pales into insignificance in comparison to the Aintree’s 28 deaths over the past 5 years which equates to 5.6 horses each year.

What is the problem? Attitudes for a start say Animal Aid. The public like a flutter, the bookies like a profit and many owners view the animals as expendable once the economic value they represent has declined. In fact, leading jockey Katie Walsh has been quoted as saying “I hope to god there are no accidents but these things do happen,” and “they are horses at the end of the day!”

The style of racing, the distances and the type of events vary significantly by the country in which the race is occurring, and many countries offer different types of horse races. There are three major types of racing: flat racing, steeple chasing (racing over jumps), and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a sulky.

A major part of horse racing’s economic importance lies in the gambling associated with it, an activity that in 2008 generated a world-wide market worth around US$115 billion.

Big business however you look at it and big profits, but at what expense? Where is the Health and Safety for racehorses I wonder? Much has, of course, been made recently of the changes to the jumps at Aintree.

The Aintree course authorities have seemingly made the jumps more visual and in an effort to reduce falls at Becher’s Brook -where 13 falls and 2 fatalities have occurred in the last 5 Grand Nationals -there have been major changes.

The fence took its name from Captain Martin Becher, who fell there from his mount, Conrad, in the first official Grand National in 1839. The Captain seemingly took shelter in the brook to avoid injury. The jump originally consisted of an 8ft-wide brook with a fence set back a yard in front of the water, the ground on the landing side 3ft lower than the take-off side.

In 2011, Aintree announced new modifications to Becher’s Brook following a review of the course in the aftermath of the 2011 Grand National calamity where the public nationwide were treated to views of mayhem and dying horses.

The Daily Mail reported afterwards that:

“Death came again to the Grand National yesterday – and the horror was played out in front of a worldwide television audience of 600 million. They and the thousands who had packed Aintree for the annual cavalry charge looked on as two horses died in appalling falls.”

Amongst the changes to the course, the landing side of Becher’s was re-profiled to reduce the current drop by between 4 and 5 inches across the width of the fence. The drop is now approximately 18 inches on the inside of the course and 13 inches on the outside of the course.

This difference in drop from the inside to the outside of the fence has been retained to encourage riders to spread out across the width of the fence and also to retain the unique characteristics of the fence. The height of the fence remains unaltered at 4 ft 10 inches. All well and good, some would say, but still a real challenge when you consider that the riders and animals typically reach speeds of over 30mph when jumping this obstacle.

A fall at this speed is very likely to cause injury and death to both horse and rider.

Becher’s Brook is of course only one of the sixteen jumps which horse and rider are faced with in the Grand National. Animal aid has named Aintree as the most dangerous racecourse in the country with Becher’s Brook being seen by campaigners as a jump which should be removed forever from the circuit.

critics continue to wonder why these animals are often slaughtered rather than being put out to grass in their old age

But it’s not just deaths during races which concern animal charities however.

Animal Aid, a leading animal welfare charity,  claim that for several years more thoroughbred horses have been bred than have been needed by the racing industry.

A report by the British Horseracing Authority says that in 2011 the number of thoroughbreds reported dead to the horse passport issuing authority rose by 29%, from 1,994 in 2010 to 2,574.

The report titled The Effect of the Recession on the Welfare of British Thoroughbred Horses notes: “Of these, 1,127 horses either in training, breeding or out of training were reported as killed in abattoirs, from 499 horses in 2010, an increase of 126%.”

“To solve this problem we’ve got to stop breeding so many, and then we won’t have to put so many down,” said Carrie Humble, an independent equine welfare consultant. “But I would rather see these overproduced horses dead than suffering.”

All well and good but critics continue to wonder why these animals are often slaughtered rather than being put out to grass in their old age despite the existence of the racing industries own charity for pre-loved racehorses Retraining of Racehorses (RoR). This charity has four centres in the UK and aims to re-home animals which are no longer required in the sport and give advice to those wishing to purchase at bloodstock auctions.

The situation will only get worse say campaigners, as racecourses across the UK suffer dwindling revenues and face closure. Hereford and Folkestone racecourses closed in 2012 and more may follow in their footsteps in 2013.

The British Horseracing Authority, also known as the BHA, is the regulatory authority for horse racing in Great Britain.

Its stated objectives are to:
1. Provide the most compelling and attractive racing in the world.
2. Be seen as the world leader in race day regulation.
3. Ensure the highest standards for the sport and participants, on and away from the racecourse.
4. Promote the best for the racehorse.
5. Represent and promote the sport and the industry.

Critics feel that the BHA is ineffective  in promoting the “the best for the racehorse” and point to the BHA’s own admission in the Thoroughbred Owner and Breeder magazine during 2009, that 7,500 horses leave racing annually but that they could not say what happened to between 3,500 and 4,000 of that total.

A staggering admission indeed by the regulatory authority for horse racing in Great Britain, albeit from 2009, that they simply had no idea of the fate of around 50% of the animals whose welfare they purported to be promoting.

Perhaps its time for some major regulation in the racing industry.


Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

Feb 142013

After the revelations about problems in the food chain, vegetarians are probably feeling a bit smug; those folk who for religious reasons avoid certain types meat will be feeling quite concerned, and investors in food testing labs will be rubbing their dividends with some glee! Duncan Harley writes.

FrayBentosThere is of course nothing new here.

Throughout history products such as milk and sugar, coffee and tea, mustard and ketchup, baking powder, butter, cheese, flour, olive oil, honey, spices, vinegar, beef, pork, lard, beer, wine and canned vegetables have been subject to adulteration on a regular basis in the developed world.

Driven by the profit motive, manufacturers and distributors are prone to dupe unsuspecting customers by bulking out foodstuffs with cheap substitutes.

The old stories about sawdust in bread, chalk in baking powder and the adulteration of beer with water all have some basis in truth. A recent case in China involved the adulteration of milk with melamine. After a brief trial in 2008, two executives of the company concerned were sentenced to death and shot.

In 2012, a study in India conducted by the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) across 33 states found that milk in India is adulterated with detergent, fat and even urea, as well diluted with water. At the turn of the 20th century, industrialization in the United States saw an uprise in adulteration and this inspired some protest.

Accounts of adulteration led the New York Evening Post to parody:

Mary had a little lamb,
And when she saw it sicken,
She shipped it off to Packingtown,
And now it’s labelled chicken

Back in the 18th century, people recognized adulteration in food.

“The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes, insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread, because it is whiter than the meal of corn [wheat].

“Thus they sacrifice their taste and their health. . . to a most absurd gratification of a misjudged eye; and the miller or the baker is obliged to poison them and their families, in order to live by his profession.” – Tobias Smollet, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker (1771)

There have been recent warnings that all might not be quite right within the UK meat supply chain. The Food Standards Agency published a report in 2003 entitled “Survey of Undeclared Horsemeat or Donkey meat in Salami and Salami-Type Products”.

Horsemeat2The results from a range of outlets, including supermarkets, independent retailers, catering suppliers and independent butchers indicated were seemingly inconclusive in that only one result showed horse meat in food.This was at the time put down to cross contamination at a French food plant named as “Busso Freres”.

The company promised to introduce additional quality controls to prevent the “mixing or cross contamination of meat species”.

Between September 2006 and September 2009 a Ravenscorpe firm ran a £200,000 food scam on fake halal meat.

There have also been countless instances of so called “organic” foods and “free range eggs” being found to be fake in the UK.

Now I have no problem eating food which is honestly made and honestly labelled. A quick search of my food cupboard reveals a well known brand of tinned pie which I, perhaps unwisely, purchased in my local pound shop since it seemed too good a bargain to miss.

The first two ingredients are listed as “water 30%” and “beef 25%”.

I have wine in the house which will have been clarified using “bulls blood” and beer in my fridge which has been fined using “Isinglass” which is of course a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. I have on one occasion eaten horsemeat and probably had donkey meat in a Cretan restaurant on a few occasions.

It appears to me however that food regulation has to a great degree been outsourced to suppliers and manufactures quite far down the food processing chain. The end user has little control of the food content beyond either refusing to buy or simply trusting the description on the packaging.

The high street shops and supermarkets seem to be hampered by too many processes along the way making it difficult to track the origin and up until now the content of the foodstuffs they sell to us.

cows beef2Like the banking industry before it, the food industry has betrayed its customers. At what point from the slaughterhouse did the cow become a horse? The bigger question is why no-one is checking.

It’s a bit late now checking samples to find it’s all horse. As consumers we have the right to have our food labelled properly, what’s in it, if a ‘natural ingredient’ is actually some animal gland secretions or if chemically treated  then what with?

This way we can make an informed choice as to what we eat and feed to our families. As vegans say “a horse is a cow is a sheep”. Perhaps we could all get back to home cooking, to be more aware of the ‘crap’ we can avoid, and to choose a healthier option whatever our diet – meat, veggie, vegan etc.

After reviewing the FSA’s response to this and the 2003 salami scandal, I am not sure there is much hope of a government that wants us to be healthy!

Horse meat is around 25% of the cost of beef.

Oct 042012

By Suzanne Kelly. 

Crime involving animals of all kinds, domestic, farm and wild, is on the increase throughout the UK.  There are a wide range of illegal, violent acts taking place up and down the country.  But there are things we can do to help stem the tide.
The details are upsetting.  Horses have been attacked in Cornwall recently, and wildlife crime has been reported in the Scottish Borders.

A golden eagle was killed recently in our own area. It probably suffered for days in an illegal trap.

Conviction is almost always a difficult business.  Thankfully, in Aberdeenshire, the successful prosecution of the Reid Brothers led to the exposure and end of a violent, vicious dog-fighting ring.  These people tortured the unfortunate animals, and for their pleasure filmed the dogfights.

Money is the main motivator. Bets on dogs, though highly illegal, are still making money for those involved.  The dogs are treated inhumanely from birth, usually born to a mother who is kept perpetually pregnant then simply disposed of when worn out.

Even worse, the enjoyment of cruelty is why some people get involved in this crime.

Here is a link to the September 2011 STV story on the Reid Brothers’ conviction. It is distressing.

But it is also an encouraging story.  The Courts took this case very seriously and imposed custodial sentences on the Reids, who had 6 dogs being trained for fighting.  The ring was exposed, the dogs which the Reids had were rescued, and awareness was raised.

The Scottish SPCA’s undercover work helped bring about this conviction. It believes that there are others in our area involved in dog-fighting, and that it is still going on. There are reports that fighting might be taking place in Torry and Kincorth.

How to help

If a dog fight is about to take place or is going on:  it is very rare that the authorities get a lead like this, but it happens. Call the police emergency number – 999, or call the Scottish SPCA hotline – 0800 999 4000.

John Robins of the Animal Concern Advice Line said;

“People involved in dog fighting can be extremely dangerous. Dog fighting is a very serious crime and anyone who stumbles across a dog fight or has possible evidence of dog fighting should not try to intervene but immediately dial 999 and alert the police.”

If you know anything about dog fighting: please get in touch anonymously with the police, the Scottish SPCA, and/or Crimestoppers.  You can help save innocent animals from torture.  Dogs do not naturally wish to fight each other, and if you knew the barbaric things done to these animals to make them into fighters, you would want it ended.

Many people involved in acts of animal cruelty have gone on to harm people when the thrill from animal cruelty is no longer enough. This interest in hurting animals escalating to violence against people is not uncommon in killers and serial killers.

If you have seen any animals mistreated:  please get in touch with the authorities as above, anonymously if you wish.  The people who can help need as much information as they can get.

If you have any suspicions. Dogs that have obvious signs of injuries, either bodily or facial may be involved in dog fighting.  If you have any suspicions it is important that you bring them to the Scottish SPCA’s attention.  Either they can rule out cruelty and dog fighting, or they can start to build a pattern, and hopefully rescue animals from further cruelty.

There will be a leafleting campaign taking place shortly in the south of the city.  If you wish to get involved, get in touch.

Anyone who is not comfortable calling the Scottish SPCA, the police, or Crimestoppers can send an email , for non-urgent matters such as suspected dog fighting, to can also write to that email address to go on an anonymous mailing list. No one else will get your details.

PS:  it is also Staffie Awareness  Week.  Staffordshire terriers are lovely animals, and deserve the same treatment and kindness as any other dog breed.


Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Hotline 0800 999 4000; website

Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL)
John F. Robins, Secretary, c/o Animal Concern,
Post Office Box 5178, Dumbarton G82 5YJ.
Tel 01389-841111.,
Mobile: 07721-605521. Fax: 0870-7060327.

Grampian Police
Emergencies:  999.  Non-emergency number:  0845 600 5700.

Tel.  0800 555 111

Email for any leads

 Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.