Aug 092012
 

Dave Watt presents the third article of a series of three concerning ‘strops and arguments’ in the olympics.

“May joy and good fellowship reign, and in this manner, may the Olympic Torch pursue its way through ages, increasing friendly understanding among nations, for the good of a humanity always more enthusiastic, more courageous and more pure.”
– Baron Pierre de Coubertin – founder of the modern Olympics. Athens 1896.

1948 Olympiad London.

Although World War II was over, Europe was still ravaged from the war. When it was announced that the Olympic Games would be resumed, many debated whether it was wise to have a festival when many European countries were in ruins and people were near starvation.

To limit Britain’s responsibility to feed the participants, it was agreed that they would bring their own food. No new facilities were built for these Games, but Wembley Stadium had survived the war and proved adequate.

No Olympic Village was erected; the male athletes were housed at an army camp in Uxbridge and the women housed at Southlands College in dormitories. Germany and Japan, needless to say, were not invited to participate.

It was a generally good natured Olympiad, apart from US protests after their relay team was disqualified and the second placed British team had to give up their gold medals and received silver medals – which had been given up by the Italian team. The Italian team then received the bronze medals which had been given up by the Hungarian team.

1952 Olympiad Helsinki.

A total of 69 nations participated in these Games, up from 59 in the 1948 Games. Japan and Germany were both reinstated, but getting back to normal, the strops began with only West Germany providing athletes, since East Germany refused to participate in a joint German team.

The Republic of China, listed as “China (Formosa)”, withdrew from the Games on July 20, in protest at the People’s Republic of China’s men and women being permitted to compete. Israel entered for first time.

The US won 40 golds and a total of 76 medals with the new participants the USSR coming second with 22 golds and a total of 71 medals which just goes to show what you can do if sport is open to the entire population instead of being the preserve of a few toffs.

1956 Olympiad Melbourne.

In Europe, the USSR, suspecting the resurgence of fascism in Hungary, invaded the country, while the British and French attacked Egypt in order to regain control of the newly nationalised Suez Canal.

As a sign of protest 6 countries withdrew from the Olympics. The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland withdrew because of the events in Hungary, while Iraq and Lebanon withdrew because of the conflict in Suez.

Less than two weeks before the opening ceremony, the People’s Republic of China also pulled out because the Republic of China (Taiwan) had been allowed to compete. Although the Games were not cancelled, there were many episodes such as the water-polo match between Russia and Hungary which turned into a major aquatic ruck.

On the plus side, East and West Germany were represented by one combined unified team.

Strangely, as the quarantine laws did not allow the entry of foreign horses into Australia, equestrian events were held in Stockholm in June 1956. The rest of the Games started in late November, when it was summertime in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Butterfly event in swimming was “invented” for the 1956 Games after some swimmers had begun to exploit a loophole in the breaststroke rules and rocketed past their more traditional opponents.

The Soviets dominated the Olympiad, winning 98 medals with 37 gold , while the Americans won 74 medals with 32 gold.

1960 Olympiad in Rome.

This proved to have a disappointing lack of strops apart from the ludicrous spectacle of Formosa representing all of China yet again. The points of interest were Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia winning the marathon bare-footed, to become the first black African Olympic champion; and a relatively unknown US boxer called Cassius Clay winning the boxing light-heavyweight gold medal.

Soviet gymnasts won 15 of 16 possible medals in women’s gymnastics, and the USSR won 43 golds, 29 silver and 31 bronze medals, comfortably topping the medal table.

1964 Olympiad in Tokyo.

In 1964, the IOC banned South Africa from the Games over its policy on racial segregation. The Sharpeville Massacre two years previously had been too much even for the UK and the US, who had been cheerleading happily for the South African state up until this point. The ban continued right up until 1992, following the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.

The US & Soviets shared the medals table, with the US winning more golds (36) but the USSR winning more medals overall (96 to the US’s 90).

Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Miyoshi, Hiroshima on the day that it was destroyed by an atomic bomb, was chosen as the final torchbearer.

1968 Olympiad in Mexico City.

The 1968 Olympiad came during a turbulent year. Soviet tanks rolled into Prague, the US was fully involved in a full scale war against the Vietnamese and the country was riven internally by the repression of the Civil Rights movement culminating in the murder of Martin Luther King.

Only a few weeks prior to the games, the Mexican government had carried out a massacre of workers and students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, known as the Tlatelolco massacre. At one point there was serious speculation as to whether the games should go ahead.

East Germany and West Germany competed as separate entities for the first time at a Summer Olympiad, Formosa became Taiwan and continued to represent mainland China – at least in the eyes of Avery Brundage, president of the IOC.

However, the creation of the most iconic symbol that was to represent the 1968 Olympiad for all time came about because of the struggle of black athletes in the US.

Amateur black athletes initially formed OPHR, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, to organise a black boycott of the 1968 Olympic Games. OPHR was deeply influenced by the black freedom struggle and their goal was nothing less than to expose how the US used black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally.

OPHR had four central demands: restore Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight boxing title, remove Avery Brundage as head of the International Olympic Committee, hire more black coaches, and disinvite South Africa and Rhodesia from the Olympics.

Ali’s belt had been taken by boxing’s powers-that-be earlier in the year for his resistance to the Vietnam draft. By standing with Ali, OPHR was expressing its opposition to the war and opposing a campaign of harassment and intimidation orchestrated by the IOC supporters of Brundage.

The wind went out of the sails of a broader boycott for many reasons, partly because the IOC re-committed to banning apartheid countries from the Games and also because some black athletes were unwilling to sacrifice their years of training on a point of principle.

However, On October 16, 1968, black sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the gold and bronze medalists in the men’s 200-meter race, took their places on the podium for the medal ceremony wearing black socks without shoes and civil rights badges. They lowered their heads and each defiantly raised a black-gloved fist as the Star Spangled Banner was played. Both were members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

Supporters praised the men for their courage in making their stand.

Some people, particularly Avery Brundage, felt that a political statement had no place in the international forum of the Olympic Games. In an immediate response to their actions, Smith and Carlos were suspended from the U.S. team by Brundage, and banned from the Olympic Village.

Those who opposed the protest said that the actions disgraced all Americans. Supporters, on the other hand, praised the men for their courage in making their stand.

Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who came second in the 200m race, and Martin Jellinghaus, a member of the German bronze medal-winning 4×400-meter relay team, also wore Olympic Project for Human Rights badges at the games to show support for the suspended American sprinters.

Norman’s actions resulted in a reprimand, his absence from the following Olympic Games in Munich, despite easily making the qualifying time, and a failure of his national association to invite him to join other Australian medallists at the opening ceremony for the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. Rather more creditably, Tommie Smith and John Carlos acted as pallbearers at Peter Norman’s funeral in 2006.

Jul 202012
 

Aberdeen Voice’s Old Susannah can barely contain her excitement over the imminent Olympics, and reviews the week’s past local events. By Suzanne Kelly.

Yet another exciting week in the Granite City has just passed. I had a great weekend with Anthony Baxter, the Milnes, Susan Munro, photographer Alicia Bruce and more at the Belmont on Saturday.

Baxter’s award-winning documentary, You’ve Been Trumped has returned, and at the Saturday evening show Menie residents and director Baxter did a lengthy Q&A session. I enjoyed the additional footage on the windfarm controversy and other updates. The film still makes me angry, it must be said.

Oddly the residents have a completely different take on what is going on at the estate than the Shire’s Clerk of Works – I wonder why?

If you’ve seen the film you will remember shots of trees being buried in a giant excavation. The Clerk wrote to me months back and advised that this hadn’t happened. So there. I sat next to David Milne during the screening; we are both amazed at the unprecedented way this documentary is doing the rounds. Next stops are New York and LA.

Don’t bother looking for any news of You’ve Been Trumped’s return or its many awards in the local press: you will be searching in vain.  If however you want a nice picture or two of Ivanka Trump, you’ll be well rewarded. We are all as good as rolling in money and new jobs now, I’m sure.

Sunday was a great day to visit Willows; Sandi Thom performed a lovely acoustic set in a barn packed with peacocks, peahens, cats and people of all ages. I like her voice, I hadn’t appreciated her guitar skills until I saw her play. You can’t fake it unplugged with an acoustic guitar. Even the animals were attentive. The Willows is a wonderful place to visit – and a great place to support.

Later in the week Old Susannah and Aberdeen Voice editor Fred met with some legal consultants. Do watch this space, particularly if you’ve ever had doubts about the legality of some of the previous Aberdeen City administration’s decisions. I even had a nice long chat with a councillor or two about some of the issues of the day. There may be some developments coming in the near future.

Tomorrow there is an event in Union Terrace Gardens. In the words of Dorothy from Common Good Aberdeen:

“There is to be a very interesting and moving event taking place in Union Terrace Gardens this Saturday, 21st July 2012 at 2 p.m. T.A.C.T. Bereavement Support are to hold their service of remembrance for loved ones, with a Book of Remembrance being opened. Quiet observation and reflection would be the order of the day, and what better place to have it. Common Good Aberdeen will be there to support in the form of helping with the afternoon tea.”

Hope to see you there.

Despite all the running around and events, I’m managing to stick to the diet programme I’ve been put on by Temple Aesthetics. It is called the Alizonne diet, it seems to be working a treat, and I do get a variety of flavours in the meals I eat on this plan.

The problem is, my visits to BrewDog are out for now (unless I go there and drink water and coffee – and with the best willpower in the world, I’m not sure I could do that just yet). Still, I’ve lost 5½ pounds in the first week. I hope to be back to normal eating habits soon. And normal drinking habits too.

This week I have to admit that I got a bit jealous of the lucky few who attended the opening of Trump’s golf course at Menie. I’ve had a look at the goody bag they took away.

Wow. Not only did I miss out on the free toothpaste (I think that’s what I saw) and golf goodies – but I have to do without an embroidered baseball cap as well. Shucks. It was clear that this collection of goods was put together by an imaginative billionaire with the highest standards of class and taste.

Even though I didn’t get an invitation or a bag myself (I wonder why?) I will still try and get ‘Trump’ baseball caps for Anthony Baxter and the Menie estate residents; I’m sure that will make everything seem better.

But let’s move on with some definitions.

Miscalculate: (verb, Eng.) to incorrectly estimate a quantity or a situation; to fail to appreciate all relevant variables when making decisions.

For all those Olympic fans out there (I presume there are some, even though there is evidence coming in to the contrary), it seems that a few little errors of judgement may have been made.  These involve the demand for tickets, and the all-important security arrangements.

Firstly, despite our Prime Minister pleading with us to agree that the games are great for the UK (he doesn’t want us to call them the ‘soggy’ Olympics, we should think of these as the Great Olympics; do make sure you think accordingly), not all of us seem to be keen on the games.  The football matches, which we have all dreamt of for years, are not exactly selling tickets quite as quickly as expected.

This minor miscalculation means that sales have been overestimated by around half a million tickets, depending on who you talk to. The BBC has this to say on its website:-

Organisers said there had been around one million football tickets left but these have been cut in half by reducing capacity at stadiums. A spokesman for Locog said: “We are planning to reduce capacity across the venues by up to 500,000 tickets across the tournament This will involve possibly not using a tier, or an area of a ground, in some of the venues.”

I hear they might want to hold one of the games in my back garden to cut costs.  Old Susannah is no economist of course, but if there are one million football tickets left unsold from an event that was supposed to make tons of money, does that mean we might not make quite as much money as we thought?  Even if the tickets were £1 each (they were not), that is one million pounds less than expected.

G4S, has said that it ‘regrets’ taking on this contract.  I’m sure they do.

But I don’t want to be negative.  I guess people are skipping football tickets in favour of the more important, exciting events, like women’s 10k three legged race or the men’s McDonald’s hamburger eating contest.

I am sure the sponsors won’t mind a little bit that a few million people less than expected will be there to look at their logos and be impressed at sponsorship for the events.

The other wee bit of miscalculation seems to involve how many security personnel would be needed. After all, we have to make sure that no one is allowed to bring in their own food and drink to the stadium village; the sponsors would be up in arms, and sponsorship is what the games are all about.

It seems that the firm that won the security contract have got their sums wrong, and every able-bodied police person in the UK is being told that they must go down to London to help out.

Don’t worry about the crime issues locally or the cost to the taxpayer: Cameron has already explained that the Age of Austerity will last until 2020.  If we have to stump up a few million pounds in police overtime, and the rest of the UK is hit with crime waves, it’s a small price to pay for finding out who is the best 50 yard dash runner in the world.

The firm which altruistically won the work for Olympic Security, G4S, has said that it ‘regrets’ taking on this contract.  I’m sure they do.  Having only secured a contract worth an estimated £57 million or more, depending on who’s doing the calculations, or miscalculations, they can hardly be blamed for small hiccoughs.

They might not have hired enough people, not arranged sufficient training or obtained uniforms, offered salaries below industry standards, but they couldn’t have been cutting any corners for reasons of profit.  After all £57 million doesn’t go nearly as far as it used to; it would barely get you half of a Granite Web.

The Home Office, which usually gets everything perfect, has also fallen a bit flat.  They had no way of knowing that lots of people from around the world would be coming to compete in London.  If the occasional terrorist suspect has got through the Border Agency without a hitch, I guess that’s fair enough.  I will try and remember that the next time I see a granny or a little child being body searched at the airport.

  Tom Smith says economist Mackay just doesn’t understand economics.  Good enough for me.

These little miscalculations demonstrate that this kind of thing can happen to anyone.  Except that it will not happen with the Granite Web. We don’t exactly know what’s proposed to go in the gardens.  We don’t have any working drawings available to the public showing how the ramps over the gardens will be safe, but they will of course have to be enclosed, barbed wire being a cost-effective solution.

We don’t know what the negative impacts will be on the existing city centre businesses, as the streets are clogged with construction vehicles and construction dust, if the thing is allowed to go ahead.  If only there were some other Scottish city that had started an open-ended civic project using many layers of public/private companies, then we could get a handle on the potential problems.  But I can’t think of a single example.

Failing that, we must rely on PriceWaterhouseCooper’s projections of 6,000 totally new jobs appearing and £122 million pouring into the city every year until 2023.  It all sounds so precise, doesn’t it?  Of course there was some economist named Mackay, but Tom Smith says economist Mackay just doesn’t understand economics.  Good enough for me.

So, since the economy is in such great shape, this is a great time to take an Olympic-sized leap of faith, get rid of the city’s only lungs, the UTG trees, clog the streets with construction vehicles – and of course borrow £92 million to pay for it.  It could all either go vastly over budget like the trams in Edinburgh, or turn out to be not quite as lucrative as £122 million flowing in per year.

The Olympics overstated the financial gain case, but this is Aberdeen:  the web will be a profitable, problem free project built to budget and completed without a hitch in no time at all, not like these amateurish cities London and Edinburgh.

Same Sex Marriage: (mod. English phrase) Situation in which two consenting adults of the same sex agree to enter into a marriage contract.

Readers of a sensitive disposition might wish to stop reading. This will be a shock, but there are people out there who apparently are not heterosexual.  Some of these people want to have long-term, legally-recognised partnerships or even marriages with their beloveds.  Clearly this is wrong.

The SNP were going to consider this issue, but have developed cold feet.  And too right.  What kind of a society would we have if people who loved each other could get married as they wanted?  Let’s stick to what we know works – a society where some six out of ten marriages end in divorce and separation.

  Actors are exactly the kind of people who go in for this kind of wild behaviour

On what the kids call ‘social network’ websites, there are a number of protagonists claiming that it should be their right to choose who to be with.  Top among these is one Mr George Takei.  He may be remembered for his role as ‘Sulu’ in Star Trek television and film appearances.

Actors are exactly the kind of people who go in for this kind of wild behaviour.  Elton John too has a ‘same sex’ partner.  Just  because they are intensively creative, intelligent, witty, generous men who have entertained millions for generations is no reason to think this kind of thing won’t mean the entire breakdown of society, or even the planet.

It is clearly our business what consenting adults get up to, so let’s put paid to any same sex marriage ideas here in Scotland – Scotland, arguably the home of modern philosophy, invention and upholder of the Rights of Man.  Next thing you know, we’ll have men going around in skirts.  God forbid.

Confidential to a certain councillor

I am very glad to know that you are having doubts about the private companies set up to carve up the Common Good land of Union Terrace Gardens.  You have confided that you are not sure the financials stack up, and you wonder if this isn’t either a vanity project, or a ‘jobs for the construction boys’ deal.

As you have those doubts, you will have to err on the side of caution, and reject any plans to start any project over UTG at this time.  If you vote to go ahead, you are going against your own better judgment.  I am glad you have these doubts – and as long as there is any doubt, the project must not proceed.  Don’t listen to me:  listen to your own common sense.

Next Week:  Old Susannah wants your gift suggestions for Ian Wood’s retirement.  What do you give the billionaire who has everything?

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Jul 062012
 

With thanks to Dave Macdermid. 

Turriff’s Alasdair Hamilton finished a creditable ninth out of thirty-three competitors at the Stoke Mandeville International Invitation 70m archery event.

Broch Archery Club member Alasdair was the second placed British competitor in the competition, which was won by Canada’s Kevin Evans.

Alasdair narrowly missed being selected for a place in the Great Britain archery squad for the London 2012 Paralympics later in the year, being pipped in the men’s compound by a single position.

Jun 142012
 

Interested in joining the new Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship? According to the Fellowship, the Aberdeen branch is their first in Scotland. As highlighted in Voice’s previous article: A Tale of Two Centuries, a successful inaugural meeting was held on Tuesday 12th June in the city’s Belmont Theatre. Aberdeen Voice’s Nicola McNally went along to the event to find out what the local branch were planning.

The first meeting was set up following a successful spring programme of Dickens lectures, film showings and readings at the University’s King’s College campus and the Belmont Cinema.

The branch is being hosted and organised by the renowned Dr Paul Schlicke, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and a Trustee of The Charles Dickens Museum.

The local literati who attended the first meeting included students, academics and assorted curious Aberdeen Voice readers who turned out to support this first meeting dedicated to the works of Charles Dickens, journalist and prolific author.

Future activities planned  for the Aberdeen group will include films, lectures, readings, parties and some themed evenings such as:  Dickens and Film; Dickens and Money; Dickens and Women  and Dickens and Social Reform.

Dr Schlicke recommended:

“The Aberdeen group could wait a year before affiliating with Dickens Fellowship headquarters“.

He asked the group to consider: what the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship branch should be for: (parties/ social events or more formal lectures and readings), how often they would like to meet; and possible venues for the branch meetings.  It was decided that monthly meetings would be held with a variety of activities.

The choice of a Dickens text for the group to discuss at the September meet was not easy!   The  group’s options  ranged from topical novels such as ‘Hard Times’ or ‘Bleak House’  in these times of austerity…  or possibly one of the ‘blockbusters’: David Copperfield or Great Expectations?  A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist?

The decision was made and the text for summer holiday reading, for those who choose to accept the challenge, is to be the excellent Sketches by Boz.

The group noted that city centre venues are better for some meetings but the University of Aberdeen campus, and in particular, the library, would allow the group to use lecture and film facilities as well as visit the Dickens Special collection in the University library.

The next meeting is being planned for Tuesday 26th June at 7pm in Room 301, MacRobert Building, Aberdeen University. This will feature an introductory lecture on the biography of Dickens by Dr Schlicke, followed by informal discussion. If you’d like to attend, please email Dr Schlicke on p.schlicke@abdn.ac.uk to confirm a place or for further information on the Fellowship.

New members with an interest in Dickens and his work will be made very welcome and membership is provisionally free so it is hoped that the Aberdeen group will go from strength to strength.  While new branches of The Dickens Fellowship are appearing all over the globe from Canada to Cambridge, your local branch can be found no further than King Street!

Jun 072012
 

By Bob Smith. 

Her Majesty she his bin
Sixty ’ears “on the throne”
She maan hae a sair belly
Littin oot an antrin groan

A gweed laxative ‘tis needed
Ti aise the puir wumman’s woes
Efter sixty ’ears “on the throne”
Ye’d hae ti maximise the dose

Noo am nae an anti royalist
Nor a supporter o the croon
Bit “on the throne” aa iss time
Maan git Her Majesty doon

Raise a gless o Syrup o Figs
As a toast ti Her Majesty
 Efter sixty ’ears “on the throne”
Fae win micht she bide free

A ken richt weel wi iss poem
Een or twa micht nae see reason
An ca upon the powers aat be
Ti hae me jiled fer treason

QueenVictoria micht hae said
We are nae amused
Clap the mannie in irons
Iss canna be excused

So ony mail addressed ti me
An ma trial cwid need fundin
Jist sen it ti “The Poetry Mannie”
C/O The Tower o London 

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image: Creative Commons © Terry Johnston
http://www.flickr.com/photos/powerbooktrance/

Jun 072012
 

By David Innes.

2012 is the bicentenary year of the birth of Charles Dickens, arguably the English language’s greatest writer.
It is fitting then, that enthusiasts in Aberdeen are making positive moves towards establishing a local branch of the Dickens Fellowship, led by Dr Paul Schlicke, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and a Trustee of The Charles Dickens Museum.

Dr Schlicke told Voice,

“I’ve proposed that we have a meeting to discuss dates, times, venue and not least what kinds of activities might be attractive to us as a group.

“Since these are early days, I think we’ll hardly need to consider drafting a constitution or affiliating with the international Dickens Fellowship at this stage, but we do need to decide when, where and how often we wish to meet, and to discuss ideas as to what we might do at our meetings.

“We propose to hold perhaps six evening meetings a year, for lectures, discussions, readings and any other activities, as the local membership decides. Provisionally, membership will be free of charge.

“I stress that although I am myself a retired academic, I don’t envisage scholarship as our primary purpose; rather we should be gathering to share our enjoyment of the Inimitable. Indeed, you don’t need ever to have read a word of Dickens to join in the fun.”

This chimes with the ethos of the international Dickens Fellowship which

“was founded in London in 1902 with its stated aim to ‘knit together, in a common bond of friendship, lovers of the great master of humour and pathos, Charles Dickens’, to spread the love of humanity, to campaign against those social evils that most concerned Dickens, and to assist in the preservation and purchase of buildings and objects associated with his name or mentioned in his works”.

The first meeting will be held on Tuesday 12 June at 7pm in the lounge of the Belmont Cinema. Anyone with an interest in Dickens and his work will be made warmly welcome. To help gauge interest, please contact Dr Schlicke at p.schlicke@abdn.ac.uk if you intend coming along or if you want to be kept informed about the Fellowship.

It will be the best of times.

https://sites.google.com/site/aberdeendickensfellowship/
http://www.dickensfellowship.org/

Apr 192012
 

Old Susannah looks at recycled paper in the shape of old news and defines some tricky terms we will all too soon be bombarded with in the run up to the London Olympics.  By Suzanne Kelly.

What a week it has been in Aberdeen! This was the story everyone was talking about:

DEER FOUND DEAD AHEAD OF ABERDEEN’S CONTROVERSIAL CULL: 

“Animals ‘starved to death’ on tree-planting site” were the headline and tagline which greeted readers of the Evening Express online on Monday 16th April. My phones rang, my email filled up, and Facebook was buzzing with questions from those who saw this ground-breaking news story. ‘How did the deer die? When were they found? How old were they?’ were all questions people wanted answered.

It soon transpired that in the text of the printed news story, anyone who took the trouble to read the piece learnt that the deer died… in 2010. Yes, that’s right, the headline referred to deer which died two years ago.

Old Susannah is happy to say that after a wee chat with the EE’s deputy, a correction was made online (I did ask for something in print, but apparently this is not happening).

I told the EE’s deputy editor that this headline was akin to putting up a headline ‘Titanic sinks’ in a newspaper today. He seemed to think I was equating the loss of all those lives with two deer and he didn’t think that was the right thing to do.

But I happily explained to him that I was making an analogy as to printing old news in a paper, without making absolutely clear in the headline that the news is old. I think he got the idea in the end.

But someone came to the Evening Express ‘on Monday’ with ‘a report’ – which led to the story being written. Hmm. Can we think of anyone who would want people to believe deer need to be culled or they will starve? Someone who might perhaps want to get re-elected, stay in their job, get money for the tree scheme – could such a person be behind this? I think we should be told. I’ve asked the Evening Express and the Council who is responsible for this strange, belated tale. Please feel free to ask them, too.

I’ve told the Aberdeen Voice’s editor that I’m working on two similar stories myself.

The first to be called ‘WOOLY MAMMOTH DIED ON TULLOS HILL IN ADVANCE OF CULL’ – it will explain the hill is too small to support many mammoths, and the mammoth is thought to have died having been hunted to extinction by members of the primitive ‘LibDem’ tribe – ten thousand years ago.

The other story I am working on is ‘EVENING EXPRESS FOUND DEAD IN ADVANCE OF CULL: CAUSE OF DEATH BELIEVED RELATED TO POOR CIRCULATION.’

 The ConDems are proud to present (no expense spared): The 2012 Olympic Games!

Just when you think you have some kind of entente cordial with these guys, they plant the seed in everyone’s mind that deer are starving and that only by killing them can we prevent the tragedy of them dying.  How and why an ancient letter was not only presented to the EE and then turned into a ‘news’ headline is as much a mystery as the stone cairns on Tullos we will soon obscure with dead and dying tree saplings. Sigh.

Perhaps if I send the Eve Express the old letters I have which prove:

a) The cull was long planned and deliberately kept out of the public consultation and
b) The city was chased for not paying up on time the £43,800 it owed to the Forestry Commission, these letters too might be transformed into brand new news stories.

But I don’t think I’ll bank on it. It’s as if someone were playing silly games.

While we are on the subject of silly games (which I just got us onto of course), it won’t be long now until the London 2012 Olympics start! Result!

People don’t want to think about jobs, pensions, pollution, EU scandals, water companies that don’t fix their infrastructure which leads to drought: people want bread and circuses (another thing the Romans ever did for us). Therefore, the ConDems are proud to present (no expense spared): The 2012 Olympic Games! Result!

Let’s look lovingly at some definitions for the Olympics (even if they aren’t going to create as many jobs and as much wealth as our Granite Web will magically do)…

Logo: (noun) – an emblem or design linked to a movement, company or other entity.

You thought the ACSEF logo was brilliant; it was. Well, the boundaries have been pushed; thinking has taken place outside the box, and the beautiful, elegant 2012 logo was launched. It graces everything from chocolate bar wrappers (which I’m sure the athletes gulp down by the case) to chequebooks. Who will ever forget those precisely-formed, joined up ‘2012’ numbers?

The only thing I can think of that was as pretty and chunky was our own ‘Monolith’ design, which sadly won’t be built. Some people say the ‘2012’ lettering looks like it was done by a 9-year-old with a crayon in the back of a car with bad suspension, but this is just artistic jealousy. Whether or not the artistic talents behind the granite web had any input is unconfirmed.

Mascot: (noun) – a character or animal linked to a movement, company or other entity.

The American Olympic Games gave us a cuddly version of the American eagle wearing an ‘Uncle Sam’s hat’. The Moscow Olympics gave us a bear. How very passé.

The greatest British design teams toiled day and night, and have come up with Wenlock and his friends. What better way to sum up what our collective of nations is all about than a long, thin blob thing with a giant bloodshot eye on the top of it? I don’t know what it is – do you know what it is? Would you have this thing in your house?

Why would you buy one? Again – what the heck is it? I am sorry I started down the path of trying to define Wenlock – and think I’d best forget about his other little friends, too.

Commemorative stamps: (noun) a postal stamp or set of stamps issued to mark an historic event, occasion, person or place of importance.

Elvis had a stamp. The Beatles had a set of stamps. And now for the first time in recorded history – we will get a brand new stamp issued instantly every time a British Athlete wins a Gold Medal.  That’s going to be an awful lot of stamps I can tell you.

I intend to camp out at my post office with a portable tv so I can watch the women’s 25 meter tag shotput heptathalon event, and be the first person in Torry to get the Gold medal stamp. I trust you are all as excited about this development as I am.

The only thing I found more exciting is that it will soon cost £0.60 each time I want to send a first class letter. That is presuming whatever envelope I want to use can fit through that silly little guide thing they now have – kind of like a version of ‘The Wall’ for envelopes instead of people. Perhaps ‘The Wall’ should be an Olympic event?

Poetry Parnassus: (noun – modern English) – an event invented for the 2012 Olympics so that intellectuals will feel part of the whole wonderful Olympic thing, too.

This is the concept (although there aren’t enough poets yet – volunteers should call the Olympic HQ): there will be a helicopter drop of 100,000 poems printed on bookmark size paper onto the happy Olympic fans. Result! This will apparently take half an hour. I can’t decide whether to get down to London for this and then find a post office to wait at for the first Gold Medal Stamp or not.

I’m afraid all this Olympic excitement has overtired me. Otherwise I could have reminded everyone of the story of Native American, Jim Thorpe. Thorpe was perhaps the greatest athlete the modern Olympics ever knew. He won everything. Decathlon, everything – it was a great triumph and he fought a great deal of discrimination to get that far.

But it turned out he had once been paid for playing ball – and so was theoretically a professional. All of his medals were stripped away by our always-honest and rule-abiding Olympic authorities. However, his accomplishments still stand.

Today’s athletes have been known to endorse products, be paid professionals, and to use the occasional ‘enhancer’. But for me, none of them could hold a candle to Thorpe. Must remember to tell you about him sometime.

Next week: Election round up – and news flash! Ancient Pictish/Celtic warrior found dead on Tullos ahead of cull!

Mar 092012
 

Aberdeen Sports Village (ASV) is the premier sporting facility in the North East.  ASV is running a project from 26th April as part of the London 2012 Inspire Programe.   The Inspire programme provides an opportunity for everyone to be a part of the London 2012 Games – a broad participation programme. New opportunities are being created to inspire young people and encourage the whole of the UK to join in. With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

ASV’s World Sports Tour, a series of sports taster sessions for children, recently celebrated success, receiving the award of the London 2012 Inspire Mark by former Olympic, Commonwealth, European and World champion triple jumper Jonathan Edwards. Bookings are now being taken for the programme of sports activities.

ASV’s World Sports Tour offers children the chance to take part in 12 taster sessions of 12 different Paralympic and Olympic sports in the 12 weeks leading up to the arrival of the Cameroon Olympic Team in Aberdeen for their Pre-Games Training Camp (PGTC).

During the programme, the children will also discover fun facts about the events at the London Games and about athletes from different countries. At the end of each session, parents will be issued with contact details for local clubs where the children can continue to take part in the sports they enjoyed the most. The programme concludes with the Hydrasun Mini-Olympics on the 12th July, where the children will have the opportunity to meet some of the Cameroon athletes.

The programme aims to raise awareness of the Olympic Games, get the city excited about the arrival of the Cameroon team, increase the number of children participating in sport, and raise subscription numbers in established sports clubs across the city.

Additionally, the project forms the first phase of Aberdeen Sports Village & RGU: SPORT’s PGTC Community Programme through the use of local coaches and volunteers to deliver the activities. The Community Programme is set to raise the profile of the London Olympics and the Cameroon Team’s visit, and inspire the people of the North East.

Jan Griffiths, Sports Development Manager at Aberdeen Sports Village said:

 “We are delighted to have been awarded the Inspire Mark for ASV’s World Sports Tour. We’re confident that the programme of activities will be inspirational to local children and, through the signposting element of the project, will provide existing children’s sports clubs across the city with a wealth of new talented and ambitious athletes.”

ASV’s World Sports Tour is open to children from P4 to S2 of all abilities, and takes place at Aberdeen Sports Village on Thursdays from 4pm to 5pm, starting on 26th April. Each session only costs £2 and spaces are limited, so advanced booking is essential. Spaces can be booked by calling 01224 438 900 or visiting Aberdeen Sports Village.

More details about ASV’s World Sports Tour can be found on www.aberdeensportsvillage.com.

Contact Details:

Kenny Gunnyeon,
Business Development Manager
Email: Kenny@aberdeensportsvillage.com
Tel: 01224 438 918

Feb 292012
 

Shakhaf Barak wrote to a friend highlighting the history behind the current referendum that is dividing the city. He has kindly allowed Voice to use it, almost verbatim as the deadline approaches for voting.

Dear Friend,
Here in Aberdeen there is a bitter referendum taking place, and it could go either way. Over 70,000 people have voted thus far, in a city of barely 212,000 souls, and both sides have reported each other to the police. Central to this story is a 250-year old city centre park, Union Terrace Gardens, and the billionaire oil tycoon seeking to redevelop it.

Union Terrace Gardens are similar to Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, lying in the natural amphitheatre of the Denburn valley, the Denburn being a stream which flows right through the city, underground where it borders the Gardens. Much of Aberdeen’s best architecture was clearly envisaged to overlook this area.

The Gardens are home to a cluster of 260-year old elms trees that once formed part of the Corbie Haugh, a historic wood which ran through the valley. This is among the largest concentration of healthy mature elm trees in Europe, and they are reputed to have escaped Dutch Elm Disease, not only due to their isolation, but also because the pollution of the city has afforded some sort of protection from it.

Both the park and its beautiful Victorian toilets are Grade A-listed, and all of the trees are under preservation orders. Up until as late as 2003, the Gardens formed the centrepiece of Aberdeen’s Britain In Bloom entry, and they were truly stunning, but since then expenditure has all but ceased, and the toilets have been closed for several years.

In 2008 a local arts organisation, Peacock Visual Arts (PVA) was granted planning permission for an award-winning and sympathetically-designed arts centre to be built into the hillside of the Gardens. This would have meant felling a small number of trees but none of the elms. The design was universally acclaimed and it was hoped that this scheme would help regenerate interest in the Gardens.

Enter Sir Ian Wood, one of Scotland’s richest men, and chief of Wood Group PSN. Sir Ian decided that he’d like to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place, whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a flat civic square at street level. It was not entirely clear what would be installed in the bunker, although speculation was rife to say the least.

He offered the council £50m towards the cost of this project, which was mooted to cost £140m. This was possibly an optimistic figure since Union Square, a similarly sized shopping mall with none of the technical difficulties or prior excavation work, cost £250m to build. The council felt this offer was too good to refuse, but the some members of the public were up in arms.

Sir Ian decided to put the proposal out to public consultation and promised to walk away should the public reject it.

The ‘consultation’ was commissioned by Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future (ACSEF), a publicly-funded unelected QUANGO, and conducted by The BiG Partnership, Scotland’s largest PR company.

It many ways it resembled a marketing exercise. The bulk of participation was via a website, which asked several questions with a somewhat loaded feel to them. For technical reasons, the question on whether or not to proceed with the plan defaulted to a YES vote.

If, during completion of the questionnaire, any previously-given responses were subsequently amended, this again defaulted back to a YES vote. When the results were released, it became apparent from the comments sections that may people who had intended voting NO had instead been recorded as YES voters.

Over 10,000 people participated in the consultation, and In spite of it’s technical oversights, the public voted against the Civic Square proposal by 54%-46%, a healthy and significant majority. However the PR machine kicked in and somehow spun that the 202,000 people who had not participated possibly represented a silent majority in favour of this scheme.

  Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park

Sir Ian decided not to walk away, and the project went to a council vote. The council voted in favour of taking the plan forward at the expense of PVA who by that time had 80% of their £20m funding in place. It has subsequently been alleged that some of the PVA funding was diverted into the new project.

The BiG Partnership now re-launched the plans under a new name, The City Garden Project (CGP). It was claimed that the outcome of the public consultation was that the public were broadly in favour of a garden as opposed to a civic square. Any implication that they were actually in favour of preserving the existing gardens was ignored.

The interested parties now felt that the best option was to redevelop the Gardens by building a five-storey bunker in their place whilst covering over the adjoining railway line and urban dual carriageway, with the entire roof of this construction forming a new garden at street level.

The whole thing had an air of déjà vu.

This time it was decided to hold an international design contest, paid for with public money. Six designs were shortlisted from hundreds of entrants. One, The Granite Web, bore a striking resemblance to Civic Square concept, albeit with less concrete and more greenery. Critics described it as a cross between Tellytubby Land and a skate park.

The local press heavily promoted the Granite Web design from the outset of the contest, leading with it on their front page and providing it with more photo coverage than the other designs. It was almost as though it had been ordained.

The public voted, and spoiled ballots aside, all indications were that The Winter Garden design proved the most popular. An independent poll confirmed this and put The Monolith in second place.

Tellingly both of these designs retained much of the topology of the existing Gardens. Word on the street was that The Granite Web was not a popular choice, but we’ll never know for sure, because a decision was taken not to release the results of the so-called public vote to the public.

It was then announced that the winner of the private-public vote would be put forward to the selection panel, along with another design. The self-appointed selection panel consisted of Sir Ian, some other influential people from the oil industry, an architectural consultant on the project payroll, and a councillor who backed the project.

The two designs discussed were the acknowledged public favourite, The Winter Garden, and you’ve guessed it, the joker in the pack, The Granite Web. When the panel announced the result, it should have come as no surprise to anyone that they had chosen The Granite Web, yet there was a shocked silence, and even those had come out in favour of the redevelopment initially appeared bemused if not downright confused.

The original Civic Square was mooted to cost £140m, with £50m coming from Sir Ian, £20m from the private sector, and the rest to be borrowed through a Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) scheme. Any over-run would be covered by the council (read local taxpayer) .

Only £5m of the private sector contribution has materialised thus far, but there has been an announcement that The Granite Web would be significantly less expensive to build than the previously-envisaged, but somewhat less complex, civic square. Sir Ian has offered to personally fund up to £35M of any cost over runs, should they occur.

The TIF proposal cheerfully bends all the guidelines of TIF funding. TIF is intended to be used to redevelop brownfield sites, with the loan being repaid over a 25 year period through increased rates recouped from any businesses setting up in the redeveloped area. The city council had already approved planning permission for two new industrial estates on the outskirts of town, under the business case for the TIF funding, these new estates become part of the TIF zone, so in The Granite Web’s case, sections of the TIF zone are located several miles away from the actual redeveloped area.

The predictions are for 6,500 jobs and £122m annual revenue to the local economy, all based on the new industrial estates, which have no obvious linkage to The Granite Web, operating at full capacity. Even if one were to accept that any new jobs could be somehow attributed to The Granite Web, the figure of 6,500 seems unlikely given that the London Olympics is only projected to create 3,500 jobs.

Either way, the setup feels a bit shaky; the truth is that these jobs and their associated revenue will accrue with or without The Granite Web.

By this time, councillors seemed to be getting edgy and unwilling to green-light the project, so they decided to hold a public referendum. Any group wishing to campaign was required to adhere to an £8,000 spending limit, and for this they were provided with 300 words of text in the voting pack.

The packs went out, but unfortunately some of the Retain lobby’s statements were mangled due to a ‘computer error’. The voting packs were closely followed by a big money public relations mail bombing campaign by The BiG Partnership promoting The Granite Web. Publicity materials went through every letter box, pro Granite Web articles dominated the press, and adverts were played around the clock on the local radio stations.

Apparently this expenditure was permitted by virtue of being funded by an ‘unregistered’, and as yet anonymous, campaign group – whatever that means! I guess it’s a bit like not having to pay tax because your parents never applied for a birth certificate, who knows? By this point, things were becoming surreal to say the least.

The referendum closes on 1 March and it’s a bitter fight that has divided the city. For example, an oil company boss has made a complaint to the police alleging mail hacking and cyber bullying. The police claim they are taking this allegation seriously. There have also been two arrests possibly related to claims of vote-rigging, but ultimately no one was charged.

The town has gone berserk and it’s civil war all over Facebook. It’s as if we’re all experiencing a really, really bad shared dream. I just dread to think what we’ll all be waking up to on Saturday morning.

Feb 282012
 

A person might think that a chamber of commerce exists to promote local businesses.  Here in Aberdeen this is true as well.  But as Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly learns – the taxpayer is funding at least some of the PR work  for the City Gardens  Project – and the Chamber of Commerce and ACSEF seem to be leading the City Council by the nose.

The proposed City Gardens Project/Granite Web is a contentious idea which would see a mix of public and private interests building huge, granite ramps over Union Terrace Gardens.
While this idea may not even get off the ground, it has been a gold mine for some fortunate businesses via the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce – at the taxpayer’s expense.

This article will primarily deal with money that the City Council was invoiced by the Chamber of Commerce for PR-related work.  Before doing so, a little recap of other financial facts will add perspective.

PriceWaterhouse Coopers have come up with some grandiose projections including the creation of some 6,500 permanent jobs and £122 million flowing into Aberdeen every year until c. 2023:  all because of the granite web.  PriceWaterhouse Coopers were first paid £41,000 and change for TIF-related work in March 2010.  Other invoices followed, and so far I have been shown by Scottish Enterprise £71,000 worth of PwC invoices.

These invoices are made out to Scottish Enterprise, and Scottish Enterprise is funded by the taxpayer.  Unfortunately, these projections have been seized upon  by the press and turned into ‘facts’  (The Press & Journal published these and other items in a box entitled ‘facts and figures’ on 19 January next to an article about the PwC projections and the garden’s many projected benefits).

The unelected and free-spending and secretive ‘Vote for the City Gardens Project Group’ have likewise promoted these figures in their literature as being reliable facts as well.  They are projections, and arguably very optimistic ones at that.  Whether or not these glowing projections (that we will have more permanent jobs from our web than London expects from its 2012 Olympics) are based on the fact that PwC is being paid by the side that wants to build the web is something the referendum voters may wish to ponder.

A Freedom of Information request I lodged with Scottish Enterprise some time ago revealed (details of which I have previously published) included:-

Item Description Date Amount
1 Technical Feasibility Study to undertake an engineering, cost and design appraisal of the development options for UTG, each incorporating an arts centre. Jun 2009 £162k
2 Architect, Design & Project management fees for a Contemporary Arts Centre project Feb 09/May 10 £226k
3 Consultation Report – City Square Project.. Mar 2010 £113,915
4 Union Terrace Gardens (TIF)-Tax Increment Financing Mar 10
Oct 10
Nov 10
£71,959.65
5 Scottish Enterprise holds 22 copies of invoices relating to ACSEF approved spend for activities relating to stakeholder engagement, events management, and communcations. [sic] 2009-10
2010-11
£51,766.60
£22,712.72

(source – Scottish Enterprise email exchange with Suzanne Kelly May 2011)

While this £648,000 was being spent, Aberdeen City Council was battling with potential job and service cuts in order to balance its books.  It seems that these costs have largely been paid by the taxpayer via Scottish Enterprise and other vehicles, and I can find nothing to show that the Wood Family Trust, which has offered £50,000,000 to further the project, has paid towards any of these costs.  The PR and promotional invoices referred to at Item 5 have been paid by the Aberdeen City taxpayer.

Before moving on to Item 5, which is the subject of this article, some of these other items are worth a further glance.

At Item 2 you will notice we are now talking about some kind of ‘Contemporary Arts Centre project’ – is Peacock already being edged out of the picture at this point?

Item 4 would seem to correspond to PriceWaterhouse Coopers invoices which I referred to.  How much more money has been spent on PWC since this May 2011 exchange is unknown.

From what I have been subsequently sent by Scottish Enterprise, the bulk of the invoices at Item 5 were from the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce to the City Council.  In the words of Scottish Enterprise:-

  • 9 invoices relate to financial year 2009/10 – these total £51,766.60
  • 16 invoices relate to financial year 2010/11 – these total £36,692.95. This total is higher than the original figure stated due to the invoices received after the date of that response
  • There has been no spend on the City Garden Project from the ACSEF budget during the current financial year  (SK notes – it is only February – there is time)

(source – Scottish Enterprise email to Suzanne Kelly February 2012)

Arguably a mere £88,459 is small change as Aberdeen City contemplates borrowing £92,000,000 (minimum) if the project goes ahead. However, this is money which the City paid from its own budgets – it is taxpayer money.  Should a financially-pressured city use pubic money for propaganda purposes – PR, events and photos designed to promote the City Garden Project?  Is the Wood Family Trust contributing any money towards these expenses yet?  I simply do not know.

A spreadsheet of the expenses comprising Item 5 can be found online at http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/  I would recommend looking at these 50 or so items.

If you look at the wording in the table above, ACSEF is apparently approving this expenditure.  ACSEF is a public-private quango, and at the time of writing, Stewart Milne is on its board.  He owns the Triple Kirks land adjacent to Union Terrace Gardens, and he wants to turn this landmark into an office complex which will likely enrich him if it goes ahead in my opinion.

Despite several emails, no one in a position of power has the slightest qualm with Mr Milne potentially having a conflict of interest.    Why precisely ACSEF is allowed to commission and recommend for payment invoices to the City Council is a matter I personally find worrying.

Virtually none of the invoices from the Chamber to the City specify who / what company actually performed the services in question.  What company got all the PR work?  Who took the photos?  I do note that Zoe Corsi of the BIG Partnership is on the Chamber’s Board of Directors – as are other key players such as Tom Smith, one of the two directors of the private entity, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  This company seems to be in the thick of the decision-making processes; it is apparently the company which is holding onto the results of the design finalist public vote – which it refuses to release at present.

The taxpayer apparently paid for that exhibition and the public vote – and yet a private company seems to be withholding the results.  The argument has been put forth that it is no longer relevant.  Many people took the opportunity to write on the voting papers that they were against all the schemes and wanted the gardens retained and improved.

The public should have had this ‘no’ option at the final selection vote, but it seems councillors who asked for a ‘no’ option were outmoded by the Project Management Board (note – see the website listed previously for details of how all these companies and entities have interesting personnel overlaps).

It may be of interest to accountants that the party which actually performed the work not specified on these invoices, and with only a rare exception is VAT ever charged.  It would be interesting to know whether or not the Chamber of Commerce adds any fees or commission charges to the work it is invoicing the City for.

Highlights of the list of invoices include:-

  • £180 paid for a photograph showing ‘inaccessibility of Union Terrace Gardens’
  • over  £25,000 paid for ‘Stakeholder engagement’ events and so on since October 2009 to August 2010
  • £3500 paid to ‘Comedia’ for Charles Landry to attend event / speak
  • Redacted line items and handwritten notes adorn several of the invoices
  • One invoice – No. 42407 shows only one line relating to ‘coach hire’ – this is £246.  However, the total shown on this one page invoice is for £7444 – what has happened?
  • A January 2010 Advertising bill from Aberdeen Press & Journals for £ 2,820 ( See: http://fraserdenholm.blogspot)
  • £11,000 in February 2010 charged from the Chamber to the City for “Development of images, movie, powerpoint and exhibition material for City Square Project as per attached sheets”

As to the redacted text on the invoices, redacted text has started showing up in Project Monitoring  Board minutes and reports again, despite Councillor McCaig’s previous intervention to cease this practice.  One company which has had its name redacted from recent documentation is Brodies.

The value of three Brodies invoices which I received copies of is around £12,000.  One of these invoices from April 2011 is for:

“City Gardens Project – Development Constraints Report (Legal  [sic] To fee for professional services in connection with the preparation of a development constraints report relating to the title of Union Terrace Gardens, Aberdeen, and surrounding land.”

I suppose our City’s in-house legal department cannot be expected to know whether or not it has free title to Union Terrace Gardens.   Happily, experts have demonstrated the land is Common Good Land.  As such, whether any of these garden projects can or should be legitimately carried out will be a big question in the future.

Earlier we saw how ACSEF was allowed to recommend these expenditures; we have seen how the Chamber of Commerce invoices the City for ACSEF-approved costs.  If we were to put in some of the over-lapping names from ACSEF and the Chamber of Commerce into the equation, we would be able to see that:

ACSEF [including Stewart Milne, Jennifer Craw (of Wood Family Trust), Tom Smith (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Colin Crosby (Director, Aberdeen City Gardens Trust), Callum McCaig (ACC) ]

approved invoices generated by the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce [Colin Crosby; Zoe Corsi (BIG Partnership) , former director Tom Smith]

for the City Council [Callum McCaig]

to approve to further the aims of the Garden Project (CGP entity members include John Michie, Colin Crosby, Jennifer Craw).

Given the above, I suggest that the time is right for an entire re-think of how this project has been allowed to develop, and a full investigation into the demise of the Peacock plan and an investigation into the genesis of the current state of affairs might not be a bad idea as well.

While this is going on, a local care home has announced it will no longer provide 24/7 on-site staff as there is not enough money.  Residents were told to drink less fluids at night time.