Dec 232017
 

This is an attempt at satire. Any resemblance to a person living, dead or somewhere in between; competent or wholly incompetent; greedy or otherwise is purely and yugely coincidental. By Suzanne Kelly.

It was a cold November rain that fell on the glistening, gleaming, sparkly, shiny granite stone of the Granite City.

The rain even dared to fall on the city council’s Town House and Marischal College.

Inside said Town House, a vulnerable Willie Wonky was clearing out his desk. It was late at night and unusually he felt tired and emotional.

And indeed angry – too angry even to throw out a few enlightening tweets to his many admirers – though being agitated had never stopped him before.

“It was only a fence, a wall, pathways…” Willie thought to himself; he was feeling rather hard done by.

“What about everything Dean for instance got away with?”

He had been forced from his office and his post on the City Council unceremoniously.

He felt that the science-based evidence against him was insignificant – after all, there was Pete Leonard, the man responsible for the crematorium scandal, and on a lesser note, he had formally reported that the Tullos Hill deer should be wiped out to create a forest – cost neutral no less – when he already had a letter telling him it wasn’t possible to have a forest on the hill, a former rubbish-tip.

The man was soundly hated by 99.9% of his staff – yet got months of gardening leave with full pay and a golden parachute.

“If only the public knew how much we gave Leonard.” Wonky muttered to himself.

He opened his desk and began taking out the files, deciding which to keep and which to leave behind – or destroy.

‘City Garden Project’ was by far the largest folder in his desk.

“Humpf” Wonky thought

“What a load of old cobblers. F me that was a stupid idea – ramps going up to a steep height only to descend to the other side. So much for the excuse of ‘accessibility’ being the reason to turn the gardens into a parking lot with astroturf. You’d have to be a mountain goat to get up or down those f-ing arches. So much for anyone in a wheelchair.

“Anne Begg easily accessed the gardens as they are . The idea of spending £180 million on this drivel and expecting people to fly in from all over the world to walk up and down a ramp or sit in an outdoor theatre – an outdoor theatre no less – to shop at Next and Boots; old Ian Wood must have thought we were out of our minds.”

Willie pulled this thick file out of the drawer and unceremoniously heaved it on his desk.

Rifling through the file drawer was considerably easier with the bulk of the Union Terrace Gardens out of the way.

“Oh look, the Stewart Milne Stadium plan.” Willie snorted derisively.

This huge white elephant was going to be great for everyone, especially one Stewart Milne.

File after file Wonky pulled out of his desk, from cabinets; dust was flying. Outside the rain intensified and the wind howled.

With each passing file he found – ‘Tree for Every Citizen feasibility study’ (by the man who gained £100k if it went ahead), ‘Art Gallery renovation costings’ (a work of sheer fantasy Wonky thought to himself with a sneer), ‘Donald Trump impact study – benefits for Aberdeen City, by VisitScotland’, ‘Invitation to Trump’s doctorate celebration’; ‘Benefits for Torry of having a breaking yard and incinerator’ – dozens of reports, papers, invitations and so on were piling high on Wonky’s desk now.

The wind moaned louder and the windows rattled, but Willie ploughed on.

‘Gerry Brough – curriculum vitae and list of academic credentials’; Wonky laughed aloud as he found this file; Brough was the bully who shouted down all opposition to the Garden project and stopped the public having a vote on just fixing the gardens up.

“F this wind and rain.” Willie thought as he turned on his computer – well, it was still his for a day or maybe two, as he decided to have some Netflix and chill.

The computer warmed up, and the next thing Willie heard was an old familiar voice

“Ahn tae all me friends – comrades – I should say – This is Alex Salmond, welcoming you to another instalment of McRussian TV. Have I ever told ye about the time I was doon te Balmoral and was singing with Prince –“

“F that!” shouted Wonky at his computer and closed the tab for the Alex Salmond show,

“how the f did that get on my computer?”

He opened an new tab and waited for Amazon videos to load up; he swiped haphazardly at the screen and hit the Christmas movies button.

Willie unlatched the window; as rainy and windy as it was, he had unaccountably become clammy, hot and excitable.

When he crossed the room to return to his desk, he could see there was a big box still on top of the cabinet, a yuge box.

“F that, I’d better see what the F’s in that F-ing thing.” Willie said, his anger growing.

A random Christmas movie whirred into life on his laptop; ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ had started. He could hear it play in the background.

Pushing his swivel chair close to the cabinet, Willie stepped onto its seat, reached for the huge cardboard box high on the shelf and started to pull it towards him. At that moment several things happened all at once.

The wind suddenly gusted, blowing the windows wide opened. This caused the papers in the room and on his desk to spring to sudden life and swirl through the air.

“Waa F!” Willie thought as this sudden commotion caused him to lose his footing and the chair started to wheel away. Alas, he had not lost his grip on the giant box.

The box Willie had grabbed slid off the shelf, knocking him straight between the eyes, causing him to wince and howl in pain as he fell backwards. Then to cap things off, a long-forgotten trophy ‘Aberdeen – best employer in Scotland’ made of faux granite and cheap metal clonked Wonky straight on the head. Down and out he went.

#          #          #

A voice in Wonky’s head was saying: “Congratulations! You’re the final winner of the Aberdeen Art Gallery renovation lottery Golden Ticket contest!”

“What the F?” Willie thought, then he opened his eyes. He was in a vast crowd in front of the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Crowds cheered. There was a podium on which were about 8 of the most ridiculous-looking people Willy had ever seen. The man who congratulated him was a tall, thin man of about 70.

The man, dressed in a top hat, tails and with a big bow tie kept speaking.

“I better cut down on my order” thought Wonky as he was helped to his feet.

The oddly dressed man was addressing the crowd:

“Friends, thank you for buying the 7 million Aberdeen Art Gallery refurbishment tickets in a single afternoon! We will have the art gallery back opened in no time – say 3 to 5 years! Result!”

The frenzied crowd roared with its approval.

The man fixed his top hat, adjusted his satin waistcoat, and continued:

“The art gallery lottery promised there would be six winners whose golden tickets would get them an amazing prize! More about that in a moment. We’ve raised £7 million pounds! Hooray us!”

The crowd cheered some more.

“We’re going to raise even more money through some – ah efficiencies! We’re going to stop the Youth Festival – that’ll save £100k! No more kids wandering around town in the summer! No need to thank me or your councillors!”

The crowd were delirious with joy.

“Back to the Art Gallery Golden ticket winners” said Ian Wood – for it was he,

“These lucky people are the winners who will get the once-in-a-lifetime chance to come inside Marischal College and see where all the great ideas you love are dreamed up!”

There was more cheering, as you’d expect.

“The final winner is Willie Wonky here, who won the final golden ticket when he bought his Art Gallery lottery ticket. He too has won this vibrant and dynamic look behind the scenes at Marischal.”

“The other winners are Donnie Trump from America, who loves watching television and playing with guns; He is with his lovely assistant and spokesperson Sarah Malone Bates!”

Again with the crowds cheering.

“We also have Professor Bill Ritchie, former Head of Housing Peter Leonard, and… Stewart Milne!”

The crowd was delirious by now with joy.

“And friends” continued Sir Ian, bowing and tipping his top hat,

“Before I take the lucky winners on the tour of the dream factory that is Marischal College, I just want you to know it is pure coincidence that most of the people who have won are friends of mine – but then again – who isn’t?”

The crowds cheered more furiously than ever, as the lucky winners – Donald Trump, Sarah Malone, Willie Wonky (who was still feeling groggy and confused), Professor Bill Ritchie, Peter Leonard and Stewart Milne all stepped away from the crowds and past the statue of Sir Robert The Bruce towards a revolving door which would lead into the magical Marischal College building, where the magic happens.

Willie looked at the statue. For an instant he thought the horse snorted and Sir Robert bowed his head to expose a tear, but the fancy lasted only a moment.

Here we are! All pack in now! And Sir Ian stepped into the revolving door.

The other guests did their best to cosy up to him.

“Easy Stewart, if you get any closer you’ll be behind me.” chuckled Sir Ian.

Willie didn’t see why they all had to crowd into the same section of the revolving door, but no one else complained; they just looked adoringly at Sir Ian.

“ARGH!” shouted Willie – “What the F-’”

“-No need to worry my boy, it’s just one of the Troompa Loompas who run Marischal College.” Smiled Sir Ian Wood.

“But it’s hideous! Why is its hair that colour and doesn’t it own a comb or a mirror! Why is its skin bright orange? Is it human?” said Willie, pointing

“That’s my reflection you’re pointing at pal.” Said Donnie Trump angrily

“I’ll be tweeting about this, mark my words!”

“No, that other hideous thing!” said Wonky, pointing to another orange skinned creature that looked only half human.

“Ah, that’s Valerie Watts, the old Chief Executive. She’s been stuck in this revolving door for years now, one executive appointment after another, going around in circles.” Said Sir Ian.

“Stick with me everyone, you’re on the ride of your lives!” Ian said, as the real Troompa Loompas, orange skinned minions with frizzy white hair started to make the revolving door spin faster and faster.

The revolving door was jam packed, the Troompa Loompa s made it go faster and faster.

Willie Wonky could see shapes as the revolving door spun round – there were flowers, birds, meadows of grass, gorse and birds. The elevator slowed, and out the occupants all spilled onto Tullos Hill.

A deer ambled past. A quick gunshot rang out, and the deer fell dead.

“Isn’t it beautiful?!” asked Sir Ian. Wonky looked at the dead deer, but noticed Ian was pointing at a parking lot by a new building.

“Wood House and its new parking lot!” Sir Ian sighed.

“I’d like to thank you Pete Leonard for helping me. Aside from the unfortunate crematorium debacle – which we won’t talk of .” Wonky said, noticing the obsequious yet bullying Leonard had coughed,

“if not for how you handled the Tullos situation, I might not have got that parking lot made.”

“I have to hand it to you Pete. You knew there was no chance of growing a ‘Tree for every Citizen’ forest on this hill – it’s a rubbish heap, and you were sent a letter proving it. But, on you went – and here’s the genius thing – you told everyone in a report it was – cost neutral! Brilliant!”

Everyone laughed and clapped. The deer made a further spasm. Gunshots echoed all around.

“Pete, I like your spirit. You not only got rid of these deer, the migration of which was also a stumbling block for other projects – more of that soon – but you let the land donated to the city fall into such disrepair that the private owners took it back. If there’s now coincidentally a parking lot I need for my beautiful new building, then I thank you.

“And all that money paid to the consultants – what was that guy’s name – Chris Piper? Then well done you” Sir Ian said pinching and shaking Peter’s cheek.

“I hope if any crumbs fell off that table, you swept them up Pete.”

As the group surveyed the parking lot, the now barren hill save for a few dying saplings in tiny tree guards, a group of the Troompa Loompas marched into the scene.

As the Troompa Loompas gathered the group together to go to the next destination, they broke into song.

Troompa Loompa doopity dee
If you are wise you’ll listen to me
If Ian Wood wants a new parking lot
Wildlife and habitat don’t matter a jot

Let the land he needs fall into disuse
So he can get it – use any excuse
Kill a few deer and ignore the public outcry
Peter Leonard, you’re our kind of guy

You lied to the public
You lied to the public
You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

As they were getting ready to leave the hill, Willie was sure he saw Sir Ian give Pete a bag marked ‘swag’. The deer’s tiny back leg gave its final twitch.

“And now if you’ll all pile onto this magic bus” said Sir Ian as the Troompa Loompas helped the guests get on a Number 3 Stagecoach.

All the while Willy Wonky felt something was wonky.

The next stop is Loirston Loch! Where I’ve got a surprise for my friend Stewart!

“Sir Ian,” asked Sarah Malone-Bates.

“That’s like great an’ all, like, but it will take ages in this traffic?”

She pointed to the gridlocked cars on Wellington Road.

“I have a nail appointment at 5, Botox at 8, then my colonic at….” She droned on

Willie started to ask whether the new Wood building with its full parking lot was a good idea for this already congested road (which was and still is one of Scotland’s most over-polluted Roads) but a Troompa Loompa shot him a dirty look.

“It will take us no time to get to Loirston, isn’t that right Stewart?” said Sir Ian with a wink.

The doughy, sweaty kitchen fitter Stewart Milne nodded emphatically:

“Yes, anything you say Sir Ian, you look wonderful today. Yes, that’s right. In my plan to build a new stadium on top of Loirston Loch, we told the public and the planners that you could get to Loirston Loch by bus from the centre of town when a football match was on in 15 minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes? It takes that longer than that to get to Torry as it is.” Willie thought as the last of the entourage climbed on the magic No. 3 bus which sped off and to Willie’s amazement flew through the air over the gridlocked cars.

Before the group knew it, the Troompa Loompas were helping them off the bus and out onto a construction site near a lake. Not a bird could be seen or heard amid the rising girders and hum of machinery.

“Well Stewart my dear friend” started Sir Ian

“We might not have got you that football stadium at Loirston you wanted – yet – but look at all these houses and businesses going up! More office space! Just what we need!”

Willie looked around, and noticed he was standing on a faded, splintered wooden sign that said: ‘The City of Aberdeen recognises the importance of Loirston Lake both to wildlife…. A first view of our city… agree it should never be built on…’

“But Sir Ian, er, don’t we already have a glut of office space? asked Willie Wonky, whose head was hurting and spinning now.

We can’t even fill the new Marischal Square, even though it does have a giant leopard statue in it?”

The looks of the rest of the assembly were of scorn and derision, but Sir Ian said:

“My boy, Willie – when I say ‘we’ need office space – I mean WE. The construction industry, Scottish Enterprise – we have to keep building stuff so we have work to do and can brag about new buildings.

“Then there’s all the – ah – associated benefits – consulting work, subcontracting… We definitely need this building. Who’s going to let a few threatened species of birds stand in our way?”

Everyone laughed and Willie smiled weakly.

Stewart Milne toddled forward, and hugged Sir Ian – although this amounted to hugging him by the waist given the height differential.

“I’ve got a wee something for you in your Swiss account Stewart, see you at the next ACSEF meeting after this tour’s over.” Said Sir Ian winking again

“You mean the next First meeting don’t you, Sir Ian; we changed the name and the logo – remember?” asked Stewart Milne?

“Whatever.” Said Sir Ian.

And the Troompa Loompas again broke out into song, which was beginning to wear thin thought Willie.

Troompa Loompa doopity doo
I have another conundrum for you
What good’s a loch and a birdie or two
When there’s money to be made for you-know-who?

If a bird can’t earn enough to feather its nest
Making it clear off is definitely best
More office space is what we all really need
A ‘Smart successful Scotland’ well, and maybe some greed

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

The group were ushered awa from the lock, and Sarah humpfed as her 6” Jimmy Blahnik dolphin-hide heels sank into the grass.

A helicopter was waiting for them marked Scottish Enterprise

“All aboard, and I’ll show you places where Aberdeen city and Shire have made several dreams come true!” said a jubilant Sir Ian Wood

“Who’s the pilot?” asked Sarah, who looked a little green with envy at the tall blond woman.

“Everyone, this is Jennifer Claw.” Said Sir Ian with a wink to the pilot.

“She’s got a degree in nutrition and the cutest little dimples when she – ah – smiles. So, as she had a degree in nutrition or something, so I made her the head of Scottish Enterprise Grampian and put her on the board of my Wood Family Trust – is it holding £25 million now? I forget.”

“Jennifer’s also on the Robert Gordon University board – no need to thank me just now Jennie darling – and– look you can see it down there as we fly over!” said Sir Ian, distracting everyone away from Jennifer who had blown him a kiss by pointing out the sprawling campus

“And that’s the Sir Ian Wood building” he said as all the assembled marvelled and clapped.

Except for Willie. Willie was beginning to sense a link to all these Aberdeen City Council projects, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.

“So, where’s Lady Helen today Sir Ian?” Willie asked. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Ah, she’s off playing tennis; her ball control’s improved, and her strokes are decidedly better.” Sir Ian said as he mopped his brow with a hugely oversized hanky.

“We’re not going to stop in, but look over to your right as we fly up the Aberdeen Coast – that’s Torry and Nigg, near where we were at Tullos – isn’t it beautiful?”

Sir Ian gesticulated towards the coast south of the city centre which the copter was now flying over.

All Willy saw was a plume of smoke, lots of lorries, barbed wire and a huge construction project on the bay of Nigg.

“The people there are so lucky Aberdeen City and its Harbour Board helped come up with these huge improvements” said Sir Ian – “well, with a little help from Scottish Enterprise and ACSEF.”

Again all those aboard laughed and clapped.

“Hey, isn’t this the same helicopter youse guys paid me to fly in to the Menie Estate in when I came over looking for a place for a golf course?” asked Donnie Trump.

“The very same.” Sir Ian replied.

“The wonderful, important golf course at Menie, the wonderful, important cruise line for Torry – does everyone know who we have to thank for these developments?”

Professor Bill Ritchie gave his head a jaunty tilt and a little shake of false modesty.

“Oh, I’m just happy to help my friends Donnie and of course you Sir Ian.” The professor started,

“I was once on the board of the East Grampian Coastal partnership. I used to think we needed a public marina, wildlife habitat, and a place to educate young people for maritime careers. But (he said looking at Sir Ian) I changed my way of thinking.

“I was proud to be helpful to you too Donnie when you wanted your golf course. I said it was easy to build 900 homes, a hotel, 2 golf courses and a country club – as well as living quarters for the lackeys – without harming the environment or the protected sites. I’m so happy to have been proven right.”

Professor Ritchie’s chest puffed out, he was filled with self-satisfied pride and almost everyone on the chopper applauded him.

“F me not another F-ing song” thought Willie as those Troompy looking hobbits geared up for another verse.

Troompa Loompa doopity da
If you’ve no scruples you’re sure to go fa
What does an expert get whose opinions for hire?
Consultancy cash from SE, ACSEF and Aspire

Using his titles to feather his nest
Swearing to everyone that he knows best
Just don’t talk to reporters
Don’t talk to reporters

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky was starting to get fed up with his golden ticket tour of all the magical things Aberdeen City was making happen. And that bloody singing.

Willie asked:

“Professor, weren’t you supposed to lead an environmental monitoring group with Sarah to protect wildlife, and isn’t it true that since the monitoring fell apart you won’t answer any questions from the press about your role?”

He immediately sensed he had overstepped the mark with this question; for a moment a shadow passed Sir Ian’s face and Sarah wrinkled her expensive nose. The professor scurried away and didn’t say a word for the rest of the trip. Donnie was turning blue in the face.

Sarah spoke.

“Oh, we did that, but it was too cold for me to go outside in my Prada, and besides, it’s the world’s greatest golf course on the world’s largest sand dunes.”

At her words Donnie Trump calmed down a bit, his face returning to its orange hue.

“Sarah’s right” started Sir Ian;

“She’s smart as a whip. Why everything’s fine and just how we want it. Sarah’s so smart I had one of my little groups invite her to give a talk, isn’t that right honey?” he asked her.

“Sure, it was fun too,” Sarah Malone-Bates said, “I got to give a talk called “’The Bigger the Vision, the Bigger the Opposition,” and the event – held at the Sir Ian Wood building of course at RGU where Woody – I mean Sir Ian – runs things. I must thank whoever wrote that speech for me sometime.”

Sarah continued to list her accomplishments, how she was whisked out of the Gordon Highlanders Museum to be Trump’s first ever Scottish Executive Vice President, how good she was at moisturising and accessorising, and how much her husband, coincidentally who used to edit the local newspaper, loved her [surely some mistake? – editor].

Willie audibly groaned as the Troompa Loompas circled Sarah Malone, whose shoulder pads were a marvel to behold, as he knew another song was coming; he felt he was going to be sick.

Troompa Loompa doopity de
I have another puzzle for ye
What’s more important than designer clothes,
Having the right hair and a beautiful nose?

Attracting the right man, obviously
Especially if that man has lots of money
She’s the Face of Aberdeen
She’s the Face of Aberdeen

What do you get when you tell lots of lies
If you are Sarah then you get a pay rise
Trading your looks in for cash is her solution
So what if other people think it’s prostitution?

(Sarah’s a Vice President)

You can live in luxury too
Like Sir Ian and Helen doopity do.

Willie Wonky’s brain was putting together all the puzzle pieces from the day, and was starting not to like the picture they were forming.

But on the copter flew, and just before they started to land on a helipad with a giant letter T, Donnie Trump exclaimed:

“There they are, the world’s largest sand dunes! I even made a plaque, didn’t we Sarah Malone honey, to say so! Biggest! Bestest! Yugest!”

A tumbleweed blew past as the rotor blades slowed, and out the lucky Aberdeen Art Gallery golden ticket winners scrambled into the freezing air.

“Anyone for 18 holes?” bellowed Donnie in the freezing winds as the rest of the group ran for the shelter of the clubhouse.

Once inside this building on an empty parking lot, Sarah snapped her fingers, and waiters and waitresses appeared with bottles of whisky and glasses.

“Trump whisky – £50 a glass or £500 for a bottle. £250 a bottle if signed by Donnie.” She hawked.

“Later Sarah Dear” said Sir Ian, adjusting his top hat and billowy bow tie.

“No one’s here, aren’t there supposed to be golfers – what’s going on?” asked Willie; everyone smiled at him.

The room started to spin as he sipped one of those whiskies.

“We don’t want anyone here.” said Sir Ian quietly, the others faces started to look mean and contorted.

Willie Wonky stumbled and fell into a chair – a chair with a big Donald Trump crest on it. The other winners, the Troompa Loompas leaned in closer.

Willie felt quite ill now, as these ghastly, grotesque faces sneered at him and laughed. Sir Ian spoke.

“We don’t want anyone here; never did. Another few years of tax write offs in the USA for Trump – if he doesn’t get impeached or jailed yet – no offence Donnie, but you’re not quite as subtle as you should be sometimes – and then it’ll be sold off. Donnie – we’ll talk about that international charity US tax break later.

“It will go to housing – we’ll all see to that. And what housing developer is favoured in this neck of the woods? That would be my good friend Stewart Milne.

“And what organisation would get involved with such a huge or if you will ‘yuge’ undertaking? Why Scottish Enterprise of course. I may have retired, but after decades as head of the thing, don’t you think I still have my claws still in it one way or the other?

“Think of the construction jobs, the consultancies, the money to be made. And Willie, the granite web is making a comeback; do you think I give up that easily? And when the idea was being promoted so hard, ask yourself two questions – who stood to benefit is one.

“Stewart owned the adjacent Triple Kirks, and he needed parking; we could have got that for him, but it’s not all over yet. The other thing to ask yourself – what did the public miss while we were distracting them with a design consultation vote when we already knew what design we wanted – the ludicrous web design.  And they fell for it.

“We have Donald Trump in charge of the USA; over here he will be allowed to do as he pleases.

And while tens – hundreds of millions are moving through Scottish Enterprise, land deals – like when the city sold that land to you Stewart for a peppercorn, and while public land is snapped up – we’ll get people to focus on other things.

“Either we’ll threaten to take away what little arts provision they and their children get, or the more mean-spirited ones will be convinced that people from abroad are taking their land, money and jobs – not you Donnie though” Ian winked, any previous trace of gentility gone from his features.

“While we’re at it, there’s one more item on the agenda for your tour Willie Wonky – we’re going to look at the City of Culture Bid.

“All aboard the helicopter for gigs on oil rigs! How much public money and time did that nonsense soak up? Well, here’s Rita Stephen to tell you all about it!

“Remember Willie – whether it’s a football stadium, a parking lot, a breaking yard, Trump’s golf course – and his honorary degree from the University I own that has a building with my name on it – you now know who’s behind everything in this town. Nothing, I mean nothing goes on in this town without my say so.

“I said as much to people before, and I’m telling you now.”

Oor Willie whined as, while his eyes fluttered open and closed, the Troompa Loompas broke into one last verse of their song:

Troompa Loompa doopity do
I have final question for you
Who in Aberdeen is behind everything
That is environmentally damaging?

ACSEF, First, RGU and SE.
As the saying goes, ‘follow the money’
Sir Ian is behind it
Sir Ian is behind it

You can live in luxury to
Just do what Sir Ian Wood –

tells

you

to!

#          #          #

Willie’s eyes had glazed over; the other golden ticket winners’ laughs had turned to a huge roar of noise, and he fluttered his eyes.

As if he hadn’t been through enough, standing over him was… Rita Stephen

“NOOO!” shouted Willie,

“Anything but the City of Culture bid! – Anything!”

“Willie, are ye alright mon?” She said.

“I was just going to re-write the symphony for orchestra, ship’s horns and horses that was part of me great City of Culture bid tonight, when I saw yer door open.

“I’d seen you passed oot and thought it was the usual, but I noted the gash on yer heid.”

His eyes focused and leaning over him was Rita Stephen, the woman behind among other things the City of Culture bid that made Aberdeen the laughing stock of the western hemisphere – again.

“AIEEEEE” Willie screamed, and sprinted out of the office, leaving all of his paperwork behind.

He didn’t stop running until he was safely locked in his house and under his covers.

The sun was shining. Willie woke up as the phone rang.

He remembered with a sudden start his horrible nightmare. He shook his head violently from side to side and answered the phone.

“Hi Willie, well, you’ve been gone long enough; what’s it been, a few days now? Fancy being deputy Lord Provost?”

Willie thought of all the corruption he knew about; he thought of all the pieces that had fallen so neatly into place in his fevered dream. He took a deep breath.

“Sounds great Barney; I’ll be over in a few hours. I’ll want a bigger office with a view mind.”

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Sep 222017
 

With thanks to Yvette Rayner, PR Account Manager, Frasermedia Ltd.

One of Aberdeen’s oldest charities has been giving local people a taste of living without sight, during Remember a Charity Week.

North East Sensory Services (NESS), which has offices in Aberdeen, Dundee and Elgin, supports over 6500 people in the north-east who have sight or hearing impairment. 

The charity invited local dignitaries to experience what it feels like to live without sight this week, by taking them on a blindfold guided walk.

Aberdeen’s Lord Provost, Barney Crockett, was guided along Union Street and around the Town House buildings by NESS volunteer Christa Reid.

The Lord Provost wore glasses which demonstrated serious sight impairment and was given instruction by Ms Reid, to negotiate busy streets, steps, narrow doorways, revolving doors and busy corridors.

Russell Borthwick, Chairman of the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, agreed to be blindfolded while he was guided around the AGCC offices in Aberdeen, and Zoey Clark, World Athletics Championships silver medal winner and University of Aberdeen graduate, learned how to navigate Aberdeen Sports Village in a blindfold.

The Lord Provost said:

“Being inside, in a building I know well, seemed fairly comfortable thanks to the expert guiding, but as soon as we got outside I felt quite overwhelmed. It was fascinating and gave me a real insight into what life is like for people with a sensory impairment.”

Mr Borthwick, who was guided by NESS volunteer Hazel Young, added:

“I am lucky that my eyesight has never caused me any problems, so I was quite surprised by how frightening it was to walk with no and reduced vision. Corridors and paths which had seemed wide and open, felt very close, and walking downstairs was particularly challenging. I was very grateful to my expert guide, who made me feel much more at ease and I relied upon her totally. It really made me feel grateful for having good vision.”

Zoey Clark said:

“I was expecting my hearing to compensate

“but actually the noise and voices made walking around more difficult!

“I relied completely on my guide and often felt very disorientated – particularly outside when I know the track quite well!”

Graham Findlay, CEO NESS, said:

“Remember a Charity Week is an annual event which asks people to think about the charities in there area and consider leaving a legacy to help less advantaged people.

“Something as simple as walking along the street and up stairs can be very difficult for people who have limited or no vision. We are very grateful to the Lord Provost, Mr Borthwick, Miss Clark for taking time out of their busy days to help us demonstrate what life is like without sight, and how a little bit of expert help can make an huge difference.”

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Mar 222012
 

Old Susannah takes a humanoid angle on the Provost’s exit, the who’s who of deer cull councillors, alledged  cybercrime, the police box/granite web, and the Cameron and Clegg creatures.  By Suzanne Kelly 

 

Happy Friday everyone!  So much has been happening in our Vibrant ‘Deen it is hard to know where to start.

Bad news first I suppose:  with a heavy heart I must inform you that our Lord Provost will not be joining the council next year.  Soon his clothing allowance and civic car privileges will pass to another.

But which young pretender will take the crown, chain of office and supply of carriage clocks?

HoMalone, if she manages to get re-elected may stand some chance; she was  deemed the worthiest LibDem in the land.  And now that she leads the LibDems, I’m sure there’s no stopping her.

At least we’ll all get to go to Provost Stephen’s portrait unveiling party before the end comes. . .  guess his LibDem pals will have to find someone else to hitch rides with other than in the civic car at our expense.  Steve Delaney, who will contest the Lord Provost’s seat in the May, got a ride from the obliging taxpayer in the civic car as he was late for something or other.  We are too kind. I’d have given him a carriage clock as well, so he wouldn’t be late next time.  Perhaps he already has one?

A very silly rumour reaches Old Susannah; it can’t be true.  I hear that the virtuous ex-Councillor Richard Robertson, who quit the city council over the 3rd Don Crossing, wants to run in Torry/Ferryhill.  Now, as a Torry resident who’s been going to the community council meetings recently, I am not sure that someone who voted in favour of shooting our deer and against letting me and the Cove Community Chairman speak to the Housing & Environment Committee to try and save the deer is going to find many votes in this part of town.

In fact, if the people who we spoke to last Saturday in town while handing out flyers about the cull are anything to go by, then I doubt any of the following deer killers are going to get great receptions at the ballot box.

 One ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

Remember these people; they are the ones to thank over the affairs on Tullos Hill:   John Corall, Jackie Dunbar, Neil ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (who sadly is leaving us anyway), Jim Noble, Richard Robertson, Wendy Stuart, Ian Yuill, and new LibDem Darling, HoMalone.  The deer’s friends?  Neil Cooney, Yvonne Allan, Norman Collie,  James Hunter,  Alan Milne and Willie Young.

Dr Who has another new companion this week;  I’ve been recalling all the frightening monsters, world-destroying creatures, and evil masterminds we’ve seen over the decades.  But never mind the city council and its advisors – on with some definitions….

Dalek   (noun) part human creature created by Davros, a Dalek is a single-minded creature, repeating the same phrases over and over again, in a robotic voice; most notably ‘Exterminate!’.  Daleks are not known for their ability to negotiate, only to destroy.

We all remember being terrified and trembling behind our sofas and forts made of cushions and blankets as the Daleks rolled across our TV screens crying ‘Exterminate!  Exterminate!’.   Most of us were afraid of these creatures, but one ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

She will not negotiate a peaceful settlement with thousands of people who want to keep Tullos Hill as a meadow.  She operates a scorched earth policy (well, mostly scorched rock policy – I’ve been up there and seen where the trees are going to be planted before they die), and she is going to EXTERMINATE the deer which live there.

Can no one stop the march (well, glide) of this Dalek in its quest for world domination?   Like the Daleks in Dr Who, she is aided by one or two humanoids who should know better,  but don’t.

Cybermen:

 The Cybermen likewise terrified generations of children; they were humans which had been ‘upgraded’ – or rather turned into humanoid machines powered by remnants of human brains.  But the question for Aberdeen is:  has there or has there not been any Cyber-crime?

Just as time was running out for the referendum vote, along came Tom Smith (connected to the private Aberdeen City Gardens Trust entity – amongst other hats worn) with allegations of illegal cyber crime.  Had Cybermen hacked into his emails?  Were they intimidating him?

Well, we still don’t know.  He’s said nothing, and we wait patiently for the police’s statement on the matter.  Until we know otherwise, be on the lookout for cyber-crime – and cybermen.  If it turns out to be a case of ‘the boy who cried cybercrime’, Old Susannah will tell you all about it.

Regeneration:

The Doctor occasionally sacrificed one of his several incarnations; usually to save others or for a noble cause.  Councillor Robertson, having lost a life when he threw himself out of office over the Don crossing, is going to try to regenerate as a Torry/Ferryhill councillor.  Like the doctor, it will be best if he has amnesia, for his support of the deer-cull-for-tree-scheme will not add to his appeal in this (or indeed any other) part of town.

TARDIS:  (noun) acronym standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space – Dr Who’s time-travelling apparatus – normally taking the outward form of an old-fashioned police box; much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Well, the TARDIS doesn’t have to be a police box, in fact other time lords used different kinds of TARDIS machines.  I think I have possibly located one.

Where in Aberdeen will we soon have something that is bigger on the inside than it is outside?  Why in the Granite Web, of course.

The architects have promised that we will magically have twice the green space we currently have in the garden now!  Surely this is Timelord technology.  Despite the potato-crisp shaped concrete web over the concrete indoor/outdoor theatre/skating rink, despite the required ventilation units and means of holding the granite web up, the new improved gardens will be double the size of the existing ones.

There will be all sorts of weird and (allegedly) wonderful underground areas which will be far bigger than the outer structure.  I think the plans have space for a lair for the Master, and some Silurians.  Yes, I see the Granite Web as a time-travelling icon – it is taking us back to the ‘60s and/or ‘70s –  and yet promises to take us proudly into the future.  This is time travel at its best – and possibly at its most expensive.

Dr Who and The State of Decay:  (noun, television show) Part of the Dr Who Saga in which a planet is dominated by bloodsucking vampires who have caused society to regress.

Old Susannah can’t think why this series (featuring the inimitable Tom Baker) has sprung to mind, but in this story, a small amount of greedy powerful  bloodsuckers have taken so much away from the existing society, that it has regressed to  a more primitive, poverty-stricken state than it had been in before power was seized by these vampires.

The blood-sucking creatures, Cameron and Clegg, have reduced the NHS to rubble, impoverished the old, got rid of any decent schools, and use the young as fodder for their own selfish ends.  One of the scariest parts of the Dr Who story so far.  Thankfully, the Doctor and Ramana eventually find a way to rid the planet of its tyrannical despots.

Next week:  (Hopefully) deer update, Milne update, Referendum update – and a cheerful look at Aberdeen City Council’s happiest publication – ‘Our Green Times’.

Mar 092012
 

Referendums, deer culls, employers telling employees how to vote, services cuts, classroom assistants under threat.  Old Susannah cuts to the heart of the matter and ponders upcoming Lord Provost parties.

Tally Ho!  It’s been a boring week in Aberdeen; referendums, deer culls, habitation destruction and other criminal activity notwithstanding.  I will write a column over the weekend once a few conditions have hopefully been met.

First, I need to find something important and local to write about, and second – I must find an outfit to wear for the Lord Provost’s upcoming parties.  I’ll need everything from some evening gowns to designer jeans for the nearly £28,000 worth of partying just approved by the ‘Lord Provost Sub Committee’ – and that’s on top of the £4,000 party to launch his £9,000 portrait. I am sure my invitations will arrive shortly.

At the time of writing it is not clear whether residents of a home for people with paralysis issues are still being told not to drink too much fluid at night and buy rubber mattresses, as their overnight on-site assistants are no longer affordable.  Perhaps Lord Provost Stephen will invite some of them to one of his little get-togethers.

Hopefully my party invitatins from the Lord Provost  won’t arrive as late as the bundles of postal votes which showed up too late to be counted in the aforementioned referendum.  Hard luck, eh?  Kind of reminds me of when I personally handed in 63 individual postcards protesting the deer cull to the city’s Town House – only to get a letter from Valerie Watts saying she’d had a total of less than 40 from all sources.  But it would be wrong to mention that, or the deer cull.

Unfortunately national media are about to cover the cull, with one reporter telling me this tree planting/deer cull is ‘bizarre’.  Clearly only Aileen HoMalone (newly crowned queen of the Lib Dems – not counting Nick Clegg), Pete Leonard and Ian Tallboys can understand the importance of ripping up existing habitat to expose industrial waste and rocks on which to plant trees that can’t possibly thrive.  The rest of us are thick.

Being busy with the important business of buying new outfits for all the upcoming Lord Provost events means there’s no time for a column just yet, but don’t despair  – the link below will take you to a spread sheet you can download to keep as a little gift.  This shows how our favourite councillors have voted over Union Terrace Gardens and culling deer – with plenty of room for you to fill in the results of your favourite votes as well.

This may be a handly little reminder when it comes time to vote of who is dynamic, forward-thinking and so on.

Here is the link:  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

You will also find an additional present with this spread sheet – Old Susannah has made her own portrait of the Lord Provost, complete with wife and glamorous security guard.  I would be happy to sell it for less than £9,000, and rather than holding a £4,000 drinks party to celebrate my artwork, I’d happily go down to BrewDog for a pint instead.

So that’s it for now – more in a few days, if I can find some subject matter.  Cheerio!

Feb 282012
 

It seems all Aberdeen’s comic characters are lining up to do PR with the BIG Partnership. Jake the Ghost ghost-wrote an article, Morris the Monkey has a blog. Even Sir Ian Wood has given interviews. Old Susannah always wondered what life was like for celebrity characters, and while Morris the Monkey hasn’t as yet returned any of Old Suz’s phone calls, Lena the Hyena had a window of opportunity, and spoke to Voice.

Old Susannah: Lena, you’ll have seen the Morris the Monkey blog written in conjunction with BIG Partnership.
My question is, as a Hyena and a professional writer, are you worried about Morris the Monkey’s appearance on the Aberdeen celebrity animal journalism scene?

What’s your opinion of Morris’ sensational new blog in support of the CGP?

Lena the Hyena: Hi Suzanne.

Morris, you’re not alone in hoping that one day Aberdeen City Council would take its responsibilities seriously and give some much needed attention to Union Terrace Gardens. Sadly it has failed in that duty and, yes, its gates are locked early and too often.

I once stood with a group of embarrassed City officials, including the Lord Provost, locked out of the Gardens where a launch of a piece of granite art was supposed to be happening. So we slunk around Union Terrace for a while then sloped off to the Town House. Such is typical of Aberdeen City Council’s slick operations.

Yes, Morris, the once vibrant Gardens have been well and truly abandoned by this irresponsible Council.

And talking about that my dear Morris, let me take you aside and explain that the reason no-one plays draughts in Union Terrace Gardens anymore is, Morris, because the Council took them away. The rascally spoilsports. Watching people playing chess in the centre of New York is a fine pastime for passers-by and so it was in Aberdeen. Then the Council stepped in, and you know Morris, when the guy from the Council, let’s call him Mr No, turned up with his clipboard he wasn’t going anywhere without confiscating the old guys’ draughts.

You got friends in the Council, Morris? Perhaps if you asked the spoilsports to return the draughts they might oblige, it could be that they’re still locked up in the Gardens just over the road from you.

Trainspotting, Morris? You do know that no-one will be able to spot trains once the concrete web is built don’t you, Morris? Didn’t spot that one coming either, did you, you wee monkey?

Oh Morris, Morris – just how will the concrete web make the gardens greener? Morris?

Please Morris take that banana out of your eye. Hemmin, gie’s a packet o’ that green grass. No nae that green grass that ither green grass.

Morris lad. You can’t be serious!

Bigger trees, Morris? Now you really are taking the monkey. The big trees, Morris – and I’ll say this very slowly – the big trees are being chopped down and wee trees will be planted, in tubs no doubt, supplied by a mannie who is backing this project. Not big trees, Morris, really quite wee trees. If you try swinging on any of them you’re no going to last long when you drop off and plunge onto a whole lot of awfully hard concrete. And then Morris, you’ll be on yer own, unless any of your pals in the Council are fellow swingers. A wee nudge there Morris.

Oh, Morris, lad, I sympathise with you that your bar is empty. God only knows why. Me? I couldn’t hazard a guess. Hey – you got a good friend, Morris? Someone who could be honest with you?

And a wee word of advice, Morris, don’t listen to rumours. Most of them are wishful thinking or even deliberately deceitful, Morris, can you believe that? Humans call that monkey business. Ooh, mischief-making, rascality, roguery but being a monkey you’re probably familiar with this, eh Morris?

Feb 242012
 

Peter Veritas makes the case for voting “Retain”.

1.  There is a very real danger that the City Garden Project will bankrupt Aberdeen.

The City Garden Project (CGP) is planned for a greenfield site which would require substantial excavation. It is a five acre, five storey, underground construction that would span both a main road and a railway track

It’s roof would be required to hold approximately ninety thousand tons of topsoil, the same weight as the worlds largest aircraft carrier.  It is projected to cost £140M.

Union Square, which is of a similar size, was built on a flat brownfield site with good access. The final cost was £250m.

Marischal College is a much smaller existing building that was recently renovated.  No major construction was performed.  The final cost came to £65M.

Given that context, how can we be expected the believe the estimate for The City Garden Project is realistic? Should the City Garden Project experience a similar scale of overspend to the Scottish Parliament Building or the Edinburgh trams, then the shortfall could conceivably be of the order of £360M.  The city, which is already £560M in debt, would be liable for this overspend.

It could not be rolled up into the existing loan, and would require immediate payment.  Failure to cover the overspend would result in us being left with a dirty hole in our city centre.  The only options open to the council would be to auction off it’s remaining assets, such as the other parks, to property developers, and to increase council tax  massively.  Public services which have already suffered severe cuts would be totally decimated.

2.  Aberdeen has suffered badly from previous developments.

St Nicholas House, the New Market, The Denburn dual carriageway, the Denburn Health Centre, The St Nicholas Centre, and Virginia Street are all universally acknowledged as failures that now blight our urban landscape.  Aberdeen lost many beautiful buildings to clear the way for those developments.

The people who campaigned against those architectural and planning atrocities are also campaigning against The City Garden Project.  They’ve been proven right time and time again. Perhaps it’s time we listened to them?

3.  We already voted against this Project under a different name.

There is something sinister about the City Garden Project.  It was originally conceived as the City Square Project (CSP), and envisioned as a five acre flat concrete piazza.  That proposal only emerged after Peacock Visual Arts were given planning permission to embed an unobtrusive arts centre into the hillside of Union Terrace Gardens.  Sir Ian Wood pledged £50M to build The City Square, but promised to scrap the Project if the public rejected it.

That was then put out to a flawed public consultation, in which the public voted against by a substantial majority, despite the online survey mysteriously defaulting to a “yes” vote.  Sir Ian then reneged on his promise and continued to push the concept, the council ran roughshod over the electorate, and by the casting vote of the Lord Provost, consigned the Peacock plan to the dustbin.

Sir Ian has consistently stated that he will only contribute his £50M to this particular proposal and nothing else, and that if we reject his proposal then he will divert the money to Africa.  His behaviour is baffling.

4.  There has been an air of deception around The City Garden Project.

The City Square Project was rebranded as The City Garden Project.  During the Project’s second coming the public were presented with six designs and invited to vote on them. None Of The Above was not a option.

Aesthetically, the public appeared to favour the Winter Garden design.  From a conceptual perspective The Monolith design was arguably the most cohesive.
The appointed panel then refused to release the outcome of this public vote and instead selected The Granite Web, a design for which very few people acknowledge having voted, and which many people considered to have been among the weakest.

CGP propaganda has continually claimed that Union Terrace Gardens are a dangerous place, but Grampian Police crime figures reveal that they are actually among the safest places in the city centre. Neighbouring Belmont Street, which the plans propose to connect to the Granite Web, is statistically the worst area for street crime.

Under the rules of the referendum, registered campaign groups are limited to £8k spending to maintain a level playing field.  However a mysterious group of anonymous business people has allegedly ploughed £50K into sending pro-CGP propaganda to every home in Aberdeen City.  This is not within the spirit of the referendum and is arguably a breach of the rules.

It has been claimed numerous times that the 250 year old elm trees in Union Terrace Gardens are diseased, but a recent report by a tree surgeon has given them a completely clean bill of heath.  These elms are among the last surviving in Europe, and they flourish both due to their isolation from other elms, and because the pollution of the city prevents Dutch Elm disease from spreading to them.  These trees are all covered by a preservation order.

5.  Those arguing in favour of the City Garden Project are mostly connected to it in some way.

Scotland’s top public relations firm were engaged to promote the Project, which may be why the majority of stories that have appeared in the local press have been fawningly in favour of the CGP.

Those who have argued the merits of the Project, both in the press and on-line, are interconnected people with an as-yet unknown agenda.

In addition to the numerous PR professionals being paid thousands of pounds each day to present the case, there are several property developers, the owners of assorted the premises on Union Street, and various oil company executives.

No fewer than three city councillors, who backed the Project, recently announced that they intend to stand down, and have also revealed that they are planning to leave the city.  Virtually all of those involved are members of Acsef, Scottish Enterprise, the Institute of Directors, and The Chamber of Commerce.  The same dozen people feature time and time again in the groups which have come out publicly in favour of the Project.  The same people wearing different hats.

6.  The economics have no basis in fact.

Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) is intended to fund the redevelopment of brownfield sites.  Businesses which later setup in and around those sites pay increased business rates which repay the cost of the development in a similar manner to a mortgage.  The business case for this Project bends the rules since the increased rates will not be gathered for the site itself, but from two new industrial estates, located several miles away and for which planning permission has already been granted.

The 6,500 jobs and £122M of projected annual revenue are a product of these new industrial estates working at full capacity. This is almost  guaranteed to occur anyway without The Granite Web.

Furthermore, the paid author of the reports is PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which has recently been fined £1.4m for audit failure.  PWC rates the TIF case at Risk Level 3, where 4 is the highest risk.

7.  To save the architecture of the Denburn Valley

None of the Granite Web mockups, artists impressions, or video, have addressed the issue of the rear elevation of Belmont Street.

This is home to some of Aberdeen’s most spectacular architecture, descending right down to the level of Denburn Road.  Architecture which will be obliterated when the CGP connects to it, some five storeys further up.

Most of these buildings are either local businesses or publicly owned concerns, and several of them have picturesque balconies below the finished level of The Granite Web.

8.  To retain our sheltered park.

Union Terrace Gardens lie in the Denburn Valley which offers shelter from the wind and urban pollution.  Raising the area up to street level would turn it into a wind trap.

The wind would howl round the concrete walkways and other architectural features of the granite web, plants would struggle to survive, and people would avoid the area, preferring instead to travel along the relatively sheltered confines of nearby streets. It’s a fallacy to claim that this development would enhance connectivity.

9.  Union Terrace Gardens have been cynically starved of funding – in order to ‘pave the way’ for this redevelopment.

Union Terrace Gardens was the centre piece of Aberdeen’s famous successes in the Britain in Bloom contest.  Over the course of the past eight years the council has cut funding, with the result that the Gardens are no longer maintained at previous award-winning levels

The beautiful Grade A listed public toilets were closed, the famous giant draught boards were ripped out, the winter skating rink was no longer installed and concerts and other public events were discontinued

A modest investment would both regenerate the Gardens, and improve access to them.  There is no need to risk bankrupting the city for what amounts to no additional benefit

10.  The curse of Corbie Haugh.

Back in the seventeenth century, the area where the Gardens now stand was a wood called Corbie Haugh. The ancient Scots word for crow is corbie and the wood was named after the crows which gathered in the grassy valley and within the bank of elm trees. The elm trees in the Gardens date back over 250 years to that eighteenth century wood.

An ancient legend, The Curse of Corbie Haugh, holds that when the crows depart, the city will be ruined. If the elms are chopped down, the crows will indeed depart, and if they city ends up burdened by an additional £360m of debt, then it shall indeed be ruined!

SAVE OUR CITY FROM DISASTER BY VOTING TO RETAIN UNION TERRACE GARDENS.

 

Feb 162012
 

By Belle Mont

Robbie, ma loon, jist turn aroon
Pit doon the daisy, boot up yer Mac
A twenty-first century parcel o rogues
Hell-bent on destroyin fit lies at your back.

Wallace, my friend, when it came to your end
You were tortured and flayed, stretched oot on the rack
But tak up yer shield to show we’ll nae yield
‘til the vandals and money-men are driven richt back.

Salvation, look doon o’er the apron afore ye
Verdant and colourful, unspiled and free
Replaced by a latter-day usurer’s temple?
Frown sternly upon those fa wish it to be.

Hey Byron min, look roon the corner
And wonder, ‘far’s next for concrete and tar?’
The Gairdens destroyed? The wreckers micht lobby
To fill in the corrie of dark Lochnagar

Granite-hewn monuments, proud parts of heritage
We call on your spirit, for now is the hour
And, toonsers a’wye – fae Bucksburn to Pointlaw
Save these great Gairdens. We have the power.

Belle Mont
February 2012

Jan 122012
 

Voice reviewed ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’ a few weeks ago. So impressed was David Innes with Maggie Craig’s excellent take on a vital part of Scottish history, that he spent an afternoon in her cosy kitchen on the wrong side of the Balloch, discussing the book’s background, her passion for the subject, and much more besides. Here is Part One of that interview.

How much of your background is in ‘When The Clyde Ran Red’?

A lot of my background. My dad was very involved with Labour politics and was an Inverness town councillor in the 1940s. He moved to Glasgow and became election agent for Cyril Bence, the Labour MP for Dunbartonshire East after Davie Kirkwood, in the early 1950s.

My dad was born in Coatbridge in 1913, so grew up during the Depression. We were told stories about them going over the farmer’s dyke to nick a few neeps and the farmer turning a blind eye because he knew everyone was really hungry.

In fact my dad’s in the book. I discovered a big pile of my dad’s papers which showed he’d written to the Commissioner of Distressed Areas about the Scottish Allotments Scheme for the Unemployed. He was a great gardener and a railwayman and you know how these two things go together.

People say, “Let’s not talk about politics”, and you think, “If you ignore politics it won’t ignore you”. It was my dad’s lifeblood. I remember him crying about a neighbour’s baby who’d died and they’d no money even for a coffin. This would have been, I suppose, in the early 1930s. They wrapped the baby up in brown paper, and he said, “Tied up like a bloody parcel”, because nobody had any money.

There was always the big hoose and the mine owners. He went apoplectic about Sir Alec Douglas Home, who they were working for at one point, because they were living in the lap of luxury when their workers were living in poverty.

My dad was one of about ten and they were really a bright, clever family, and there was this idea that girls who were clever were going to work in factories at 14 and the boys didn’t get a chance either. It was such a waste of potential.

I remember my aunt telling me about how the doctor would come out. It cost five shillings, but they’d a good doctor who’d say, “I’ll get it next time, Liz”. My aunt says they were on first name terms with the doctor, who must have been an idealistic man who saw himself on the same level as the miners he was treating. When you think of some doctors now who insist on their status, it’s an interesting turnaround.

You grew up in the Glasgow area?

I grew up in Clydebank. My dad then got a job as station master which moved us from Clydebank to Bearsden, quite an interesting culture shock! My mother had come from a farm, and the station house we lived in came with a third of an acre of ground which my dad was proud of. It was semi-rural. He came from Carnwath and loved being in the country.

If you go there now the industry’s gone and it’s back to being a rural area. A lot of these Clydeside places were. There were shipyards and tenements, but you went up to the farm to buy eggs. I think there was a love of the land even in industrial areas.

My mother’s from Barthol Chapel on the Haddo House Estate and she used to talk about Lord and Lady Aberdeen. I don’t think her family was as poor as my dad’s, but she told me that her mother sometimes had to sell their butter and buy margarine. That really hit me – the one benefit of being on the land is that your children are going to have healthy food, but that wasn’t always the case.

I think their rural background helped them speak fantastic Scots. There are words my mother used that we still use, like “fair forfochen”. Because my dad came from what he called the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire he had that rich Scots and that’s all running through the book too.

I think there’s an obvious really good prose rhythm in the book, and that possibly explains it, but it’s your passion for the subject that really shines through.

I grew up with it and thought a couple of years ago that it was time I wrote another non-fiction book. I thought, “What do I feel passionately about?” and the book’s the answer.

I went and looked at some of the other books and some of them are pretty dreadful. The Legend of Red Clydeside is hard going, and you come up against the party line quite often. The Marx Memorial Library gave me permission to quote from Helen Crawford which a lot of people said they wouldn’t allow.

You also have to make a judgement about what’s been written and have to say to yourself when reading some of the memoirs, “You’re presenting yourself in a bit of a heroic light here”. I love the wee vignettes, and I don’t think they’re frivolous. Like when James Maxton gives Davie Kirkwood a clean hanky when he gets arrested because he always liked to have one. Somehow you think, “Well, that’s true!”

I think I had a passion to write about it because it seems to have been forgotten. People are talking about austerity nowadays, and I think, “Not yet”. We’re not at the level of poverty where people couldn’t go to work because they didn’t have a pair of shoes, or they had to share a pair of shoes with their sister.

We’re now seeing the prospect of our children doing less well than we did, which is very hard because you want your children to do better than you’ve done. Both my husband and myself are working class kids who’ve made good but you feel as though you’re almost being hit for that – the idea that if you can afford to send your kids to university, you have to bear this cost. This is fine, but you don’t have the cushion that someone like David Cameron has. I had to have a full grant to go to university otherwise I couldn’t have gone.

Next week: The author speaks about her books on the Jacobites, ‘Bare-Arsed Banditti: The Men of the ‘45’ and ‘Damn Rebel Bitches; The Women of the ‘45’, and how this period of Scottish history is misunderstood and worthy of re-evaluation.

Those of you who want to meet Maggie and hear a bit more about her influences have the opportunity on Saturday 21 January when she and fellow writer Kenneth Steven will be at The Central Library, Aberdeen at 11.00 to talk about their love of books.

Dec 152011
 

Aberdeen Voice presents An Aberdeen Christmas Carol – A work of fiction, with apologies to Charles Dickens, by Suzanne Kelly and Fred Wilkinson.

The Characters

(any resemblance to anyone living, dead, or somewhere between the two is purely coincidental and not at all a deliberate attempt at parody.  This is a work of fiction and of Saltire satire )

Ianeezer Scrooge                          Old, wealthy miser, lacking in compassion but loaded with greed
Gruff and MeKeachruns                Servants to Scrooge, supplying his needs
Jenny Crawl                                   Companion to Scrooge, with whom he feeds
Jacob Milney                                  A Spirit – Once partner of Scrooge, now doomed for his deeds
Bruce the Robert                           A Spirit of Christmas Past, with Scrooge he pleads
ASIF                                               A Spirit of Christmas present, transparent indeed
Hoodie                                           A Spirit of Christmas future – but will Scrooge heed?
Spencer for Hire                             A waiter
Steve Peters Lord Provost             A dignitary
Kevin                                              An errand boy
Mr Mickie                                        Scrooge’s employee, head of a large family
Tiny Tim Mickie                              Youngest of the Mickie household
Katie Dee & Kevin Dum                 Washerwomen

  *                                              *                                              *

The careful shopper kept one eye on his purse and the other looking upwards, for the gigantic Christmas lights hung over all, like the giant orbs from ‘The Prisoner’, and were prone to falling, crushing the occasional small child or pensioner.

The pubs were filled with young ladies and gentlemen drinking eggnogs and Babycham.

The first snow would soon fall, and Christmas cheer was everywhere.  Well, almost everywhere.

A car drove towards an office block; not just any car, but the town’s very own Civic Car.  This chauffeur-driven car was the envy of all, and in it sat the Lord Provost Steve Peters himself, and the town’s wealthiest man, Ianeezer Scrooge.

“Listen Peters, I’m a patient man, but if construction doesn’t start soon on my Scrooge family car park and shopping mall, someone’s going to find less cash in their Christmas stocking this year – get the picture?”

The speaker was Scrooge, and although his voice was calm, he was turning a reddish colour.  Peters shook his head and rubbed his hands.

“Everything possible is being done – we have our best people ah, ‘volunteering’ to work on the project night and day.  Soon the Denburn Park will be officially yours.”  Peters answered Scrooge with a slightly nervous voice, for there had been far more opposition to this plan than was expected.  The public it seems did not want a little patch of ground turned into a car park.

This piece of ground had been given centuries ago to the people by the famed  hero king of old, Bruce the Robert.  A statue of him astride a trusty steed stood outside the newly-cleaned (and gutted) Marshall Academy building which now housed the city’s staff.  The Denburn Parkland was the property of the people, gifted to they by King Robert, but if Scrooge wanted the park, well, then he must have it.

Teams of lawyers toiled day and night to find some clever way to make it all work. The brilliant, peerless lawyer MeKeechruns could not have been more helpful.  Loopholes were exploited, companies set up, and there very best man, Berry Gruff was one of the lead figures making it all fall into place. ‘ If only the people would stop protesting!’ the Lord Provost thought.  ‘The wife’s on at me for some more designer jeans, and her clothes are costing a fortune.  Guess it’s all on expenses anyway, but still.’

“I want progress soon, understand!  You do want to stay Lord Provost, I’m sure, and all those other councillors know what side their bread is buttered on.  Get me a progress report tonight.”  Scrooge said matter-of-factly, as the chauffeur opened the door and Ianeezer Scrooge alit at the Scrooge Building.  He entered the doors, thrust his hat and coat at his assistant Mr Mickie, and strode off to his office, Mickie trotting at his heels.

“Have you written those letters yet?” Scrooge asked “They need to be out to James Brown at the funding office forthwith – but do send them second class – first class stamps are going up again.  And who turned the heat up in here?  I’m paying for this you know.”

Scrooge’s pet project depended to some extent on a funding application.  A Mr James Brown was in charge of the funds.  Most of Scrooge’s employees and lackeys had been set the task of writing to Brown, saying what a great project it would be and that funding must be granted.

“Oh, I’m sorry” said Mickie, “I’ll turn the heat off straight away.  Yes, I’ve written to ask for the funding for the Denburn project in my own name, in the names of all my wee children, including Tiny Tim, and as myself for all the companies you’ve put me in charge of – in name only of course” he added, seeing  Ianeezer had raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’m out to lunch” said Ianeezer – and Mickie thought that was true enough.  “Have you made reservations for me ?  I’m taking Jenny Crawl out to the Clifmar for a nice long lunch.”

“Oh yes sir, everything is in place; do have a nice –“ but before Mickie could finish Scrooge was off again.

Mickie knew he had to work hard and do as Scrooge told him.  He had all his children to think of, including poor little Tiny Tim who needed a crutch.  Not only did Mickie work for Scrooge, he had to hold down several other jobs and even work at the local pharmacy to make ends meet.  If only things went Scrooge’s way, then no doubt Scrooge would pass some money onto Mickie as well – at least Mickie hoped so.  For Scrooge had pledged to leave the project millions of pounds, and hinted that those nearest to him would likewise be remembered in his will.

Across town Scrooge was peering at the lovely Jenny Crawl over the wine list.

“Is there anything else I can do for you sir, anything at all?  Just let me know, I’m your man.”  The little waiter, Spencer for Hire addressed Scrooge with great respect.  He too hoped to be a beneficiary of the as-yet unseen largess of Mr Scrooge.

“That will be all thank you Spence.” Jenny replied.  She was a tall stately woman with long blond hair.  She had worked her way up through the ranks and was now in the inner circle of Scrooge’s trusted business associates.  She worked long and hard helping Scrooge fulfil his dreams of seizing Denburn Park; it was after all the most desirable piece of real estate in town.  Of course they told the public that everything that Scrooge did was for their own good.  The truth was something else altogether.   If they could only turn this unprofitable bit of land with its trees, grassy banks, birds and flowers into a parking lot, they would become even richer.

They passed a pleasant few hours over caviar, champagne and fine foods.  Suddenly Scrooge felt unwell.  His head began to swim and his stomach ached.

“Jenny my dear” he sighed.  “Not feeling all that well, perhaps I had too much stilton and port.  Going home for a lie-down.  See you later I trust?  Just sign the bill for the project, it was a working lunch after all.”

“Dear Dear Ian” she said; she called him by his shortened name “you must go home and lie down at once!  We mustn’t let anything happen to you!”  She genuinely looked alarmed.  How she must care for him, Scrooge thought.

Before he knew it, Jenny and Spencer for Hire had bundled him back into his limo –  he thought they mumbled something about a will –  and he was being driven home through town.  It was twilight.  The moon shown over the Denburn Park as the limo drove past.  A shadow crossed the moon and for a moment, Scrooge thought he heard a moan.  The car then stopped at traffic lights at the Academy building, just by the Statue of Bruce the Robert.

The moonlight danced on the statue and as Scrooge froze – the horse lifted his hoof and the great Robert leaned forward and pointed at Ianeezer.  Scrooge closed his eyes and rubbed them – and when he opened them, there was the statue as motionless as it always had been.  ‘I must not eat any more of those funny chocolate brownies Katie my cleaning woman makes.  Trick of the eyes.’ He thought to himself.

As he arrived at the Scrooge mansion, his servants Katie D and Kevin Dum were at hand to help him into the house.  He ordered his faithful lackeys to bring him his dinner in his room; he would watch television in his bed and get an early night’s sleep.

Some funny programme was on, some old film called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  Scrooge stopped to watch for a few moments.  In the scene that was playing, a young man called George Bailey was talking to a wealthy man called Mr Potter.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

Ianeezer Scooge couldn’t quite fathom what was wrong with the young man, and thought that the Mr Potter character seemed like an admirable fellow.

Just then a gust of wind caused a tree branch to tap on the window at the opposite wall.  The noise caught Scrooge’s attention and he turned.  For a split second he thought he saw the statue of Bruce the Robert again.  A feeling of dread crept over him, but then the moment was gone.  Scrooge gradually drifted off to sleep.  He though of Christmas and how much it would cost him in holiday wages.  ‘Christmas!  Bah Humbug!’

Scrooge had a troubled, strange sleep.  Waking with a start he noticed the room glowed red in the dark.  ‘what the hell is that irritating red light and how is anyone supposed to get any sleep with it on’ he thought when suddenly he realised he was not alone.  He clutched the bedclothes and sat upright, heart pounding.

There to his horror was a hideous figure – bald and short in stature with an undefined, characterless face.  It wore a red football jersey marked ‘AFC’.

“Ianeezer Scrooge!  It is I, your former business partner  Jacob Milney come to warn you!  Mend your ways, or you too will be damned for all eternity as I am!”

“Milney – is that you?”  Scrooge could not believe it – there stood the ghastly apparition which looked exactly like his former business partner Jacob Milney.  Poor Milney had blotted his copy book.  First there were some funny dealings with the city and a queer land deal. Then Milney alienated the people by buying their city champion curling team, and running it into the ground.  People whispered that Milney did not really care for curling at all, and simply wanted to grab as much land as possible.  True enough – and Scrooge in the old days felt a paternal fondness for Jacob Milney.  But as the tables turned on Milney and he lost credibility and got into trouble, Scrooge quite rightly cut him off.

“Er, look here Milney, I’m hallucinating right?  You are just an undigested bit of cheese aren’t you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I’ve been called far worse,” said Milney looking at the floor and shaking his head sadly “Ian, I have been sent here tonight to warn you – you must give up your greedy ways.  Three spirits will visit you this night to show you your past present and your terrible future if you don’t get off the path you are on.”

“What’s that thing you’re wearing?” demanded Ianeezer “and what makes you think I’m doing anything wrong?

At this Milney let out a ghostly long wail.  “For my greed, dishonesty, destruction of green spaces and miserly treatment of the curling club, I am forced to glow red in the dark like the stadium I built in the nature reserve.  I must wear this long chain.  It is made from all the trophies and silver that the curling team could have won had I not treated it as a real estate vehicle.  And believe me, this is a pretty long chain.”

Jacob shook it for effect.

“Learn from my greed and turn back.  Pay your UK taxes.  Stop getting rid of green space – and above all:  YOU MUST NOT BUILD THE MONOLITH.  My time here is ending.  I return to my punishment – I am forced to read the fan website and all the newspaper articles denouncing my stewartship of the curling club.  Ianeezer….,,”

Milney seemed to shrink to an even smaller shape than he had been in life, and with a final moan (which Ianeezer was used to from their long years of association) he was gone.

“Phew!” Thought Scrooge “If that was poor old Milney, he’s really lost his business sense.  But it was only a dream.  No more Brewdog ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ for me before bedtime.

He rolled over and soon was sleeping again, but not very soundly at all.

*                                              *                                              *

Somewhere far off a horse whinnied and steel crashed against steel.  Scrooge sat up, and there was the great heroic figure of Bruce the Robert.

“Get up ye wee futtret!”  Robert demanded.

“Now look here” Scrooge cried ” Don’t speak to me like that, dead hero or not!  I’m Ianeezer Scrooge – or Mr Scrooge to you.”

“AAARRGH!” Cried Bruce the Robert, swinging his huge sword close to Scrooge who seemed to regret his earlier rudeness.  “Ah’ve focht bloody battles tae win the lands Ah hae noo – but fit aoot yersel? A’ you’ve ivver daen is stan idle watchin rival firms struggle, an’ like a hoodie cra’ pick their banes fan they’re ower puggled tae fecht back.

“Ah dinna ken why Ah should gee ma bahookie ower sic a grippy flechbite as yersel, but somebody hid tae come ower an gie ye a bollockin, an’ as ayewis, it wis left tae Muggins.

“Hemen, ye’ve mair money than ye ken fit tae dae wi, an’ still aye yer needin mair. Ah’m tellin ye noo tae cut it oot!

“Ah ken fit it’s like tae a fair puckly siller. Ae time Ah could hae went onywye an daen onythin Ah likit. Twis naebody’s business fit Ah did wi siller Ah workit for. But Ah gaed awa! ‘At’s richt, glaikit as it micht soun’, Ah gaed awa ma siller tae ornry workin fowks…. an as lang as Ah’m still kent as the Big Bob, fit Ah gied tae the fowks will bide wi the fowks. D’ye underconstumble?

“So if you as much as pint yer finger at ae tree in the fowk’s perk at Denburn, Ah’ll come doon on ye like a ton o’ bricks.

“Noo Ah’ve heard ye bumpin yer gums aboot gaein yer siller awa tae fowk, but dinna kid yersel, the Aiberdeen fowk are nae blin’, an’ they’re nae as feel as ye think. So fit is’t yer buildin onywye? Ah’ve haen a lookie an’ Ah’ve nae seen siccan a sair sotter in a’ ma puff. Fit’s wi’ the muckle gless worm thingmy? Are ye wise??”

“Clearly”  Scrooge replied, “You just don’t understand this wonderful gift I’m giving the people.

“There will be underground parking, shopping, ramps to walk on, a monolith, and a great big covered space to sit in.    It is the way to ensure our economic future, and people will come from afar to see this wonderful site.  And spend money.  There will be jobs creation, vibrancy, dynamism.  It is a focal point for the civic heart of the city which – “

“Haud yer wheesht min!” interrupted the ancient hero’s ghost forcefully  “Div Ah look like a gluepot? Div ye think fowk are feel enough tae believe the tripe comin oot yer mou? Div ye believe it yersel min? If ye dae, then yer mair o’ a neep than Ah taen ye for. Ah’m tellin ye yince mair min jist in case the penny hisna drapped. That perk is tae bide the wye it is … so snoot oot –  or ye’ll ken a’ aboot it.

“Richt, Ah’m awa noo, but mind fit Ah telt ye.”

“Is your time on this earth up?” asked Scrooge “You see, if you could just understand why we need to build these ramps and monoliths, then –“

“Nah, ma time’s ma ain” the Robert growled, prodding his finger into his chest “But the verra sicht o’ yer soor coupon is daein ma napper in, so Ah’m aff. But Ah’ll be clockin ye. So get a grip ye grippy git. Yer needin tae heed the wise or wise the heid. Itherwise min, it’s tatties!”

And the ghostly horse reared; the Robert charged the window, and was gone into the night.

“Hm… I guess I believe in ghosts!” Thought  Ianeezer – “Hmph!  It’s easier to believe in spirits than in any of this public relations ‘vibrant and dynamic’ nonsense – whatever that means.   I just want that land, some parking, some shops and of course a statue to ME, which the grateful populace will insist is built.  But the spirit was right – perhaps I need to do some more thinking about this project.”

Scrooge shook his head up and down with satisfaction before plumping his pillow, and laying down again.

*                                              *                                              *

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!”

The television was still on – these words woke Scrooge up, and he rubbed his eyes.  The room was filled with a fuzzy glow.  There was some kind of shape in the room, cloudlike with little form.  It however spoke in a girl’s voice.

“Hi there!  I’m ASIF, the ghost of Christmas present!  But you can call me Jan.” the thing said.

“What are you?  I can’t figure out what you’re supposed to be?” Scrooge asked, turning his head to one side.  The thing existed, yet he could see straight through it but could not tell what it was.  It kept changing.  Truly this ghost was vibrant and dynamic.  At one point he thought he saw a big translucent worm.  Another moment and it seemed to be either a big spiderweb or a great big square block.

“You should understand” the voice said “for you are creating me.  I am ASIF, your project.  I’m not exactly defined yet – no one – not even you  – knows what I will look like.  You only know that you want me built, and you hope to have a statue of yourself – like the statue of Bruce the Robert.  I am here to show you the truth of Christmas Present.  You will see what your actions have created in this city for people this very Christmas night.  Now come with me.  Take hold of my robe and you will be uplifted in more than this.  Whatever that means.”

“Now hold on Jan” said a sceptical Scrooge.  “I had Milney in her not long ago pretending to be some kind of spirit – just the kind of silly caper that gets him into trouble every time.  Why should I think you are ASIF, some kind of a ghost?”

“Well, I’m fully transparent aren’t I?” ASIF answered.

“Very well spirit, show me what Christmas looks like this year.”

They flew out the window.  And this is what they saw.

They saw a homeless man shiver in the cold, mourning for his friend who had frozen to death earlier in the week.  They saw bulldozers tearing into the remaining countryside; they saw other green fields nearby.  They saw some people suffering, and others feasting.  They saw pensioners and people with special needs trying to make do.  They saw crumbling NHS hospitals and closed down schools.  They saw poor ailing Tiny Tim Mickie sitting in a corner of his room, writing letters at his dad’s bidding to James Brown, begging for the Scrooge project to go ahead.  They saw the happy, the sad, the rich and the poor.  Then they saw the richest man in town’s mansion, and it was Scrooge’s.

“All those people with all their hopes and dreams.  All of the land being built on, leaving animals without shelter, space or feeding ground. All the suffering.  And yet Mr Scooge, here we are back at your billionaire pad with its comforts and servants.  Does this teach you anything at all?”  The spirit asked.

“Yes, indeed it does.  Thank you ASIF.  I have learned much.”  Scrooge answered thoughfully.  “But what are those two child-like figures clinging to you, hidden under your robes?”

“Fear them Scrooge” answered ASIF “the little boy is Ignorance; he is what happens if schools are closed.  The little girl is called Want, and what you waste in a day could save her.”

“Would I get any tax break if I make a donation?” Scrooge asked.  The spirit pretended it hadn’t heard this question.

“I shall leave you now, and another spirit will soon appear to show you the future.”ASIF said.  With that, the ghostly shimmery giant worm thing was gone.

“I shall make use of what she showed me.  I shall change” Ianeezer thought. “And now I await my last spectral visitation.”  He sat on his bed, and noticed the movie was still playing.  It felt as if this night was never going to end, yet if the movie was still on, only moments had passed.

*                                              *                                              *

A wild wind was blowing; Scrooge’s windows were thrown wide open by an invisible force.    Before the spectre, who was wearing a hoodie that covered its face entirely could speak, Ianeezer began.

“Look, I know who you are and why you’re here – let’s see the future, for I’ve been given much food for thought tonight.  Time’s money, let’s get a move on.”  The spectre grabbed Scrooge’s arm and they flew forward in time.

They  were still in Scrooge’s house, but according to the calendar some 20 years had passed.  Two old haggard ladies were arguing, and the draperies were closed around Scrooge’s bed.  They were his faithful servants, Katie D and Kevin Dum.

“I’ll have that for all the years of suffering I’ve endured.” Said one of the washer women.  She was grabbing a casket of silverware.

“Fine – take that, I’ll get the old fool’s fillings from his teeth!” said the other scrubber.  More voices were heard, and the two washer women scarpered.  Soon a party of lawyers, councillors, and the lovely Jenny Crawl dressed head to toe in black entered.  They all sobbed.

“See spirit!  See how they miss me!” said Scrooge, who realised it was his deathbed they were seeing.  He felt most proud at this outpouring of grief.

“Bollocks!” said Jenny.  “After all those  years of crawling, the old bastard not only didn’t leave money to the Denburn project, he’s  not left me more than an old photo of himself!  The nerve!”

“Years I printed what I was told, and more to the point I didn’t print what he didn’t want out.  And it’s all been for nothing.”  A man with a folded up newspaper under his arm simmered angrily.

“My project, my beautiful project!” said Gruff “who’s going to pay for it now!?  Hundreds of millions of pounds are needed, or the city will go broke.”

“I thought I had all the angles covered,” wept MeKeechruns “I’m usually so very, very brilliant!”

The miserable party railed at the dead man.  “Show me no more of this!” cried Scrooge.  He blinked and found himself at the home of his servant, Mickie.  Tiny Tim’s crutch lay along against the fire place.

“Where’s Mickie’s son Tiny Tim?” asked Scrooge

Before the spectre of Chrismas Future could answer, the Mickies entered the room.

“My poor wee Tim!” cried Mrs Mickie “Who would have thought he could die from writer’s cramp?  It was bad enough he  had to bombard James Brown with letters demanding that the funding for Scrooge’s project be granted.” She sobbed, “But it was just too much for wee Tim to have to also forge all those referendum ballots too.  Ah, my poor boy!”.

Scrooge and the spirit were suddenly in the fresh air, in the middle of what seemed like a party.  It was the Denburn Park, but not as Scrooge remembered it.  A giant steel skeleton with smashed glass panes lay to his left.  A giant huge monolith with no windows stood nearby.  A schoolboy threw empty bottles of Buckfast off of a giant concrete ramp covered in graffiti.

On a stage under the ramp, Status Quo played to an audience of OAPs. Groans intermixed with the sound of car engines emanated from the oversized Monolith.  It bore a sign that read “The Ianeezer Scrooge memorial Monolith – parking, shopping and children’s Workhouse.” But all were rejoicing as overhead a grafittied monorail limped to a halt.

“He’s dead!  He’s DEAD!” they all cried, raising glasses of latte or vodka overhead.  Scrooge did not want to know who’s death the rabble were cheering – he had his suspicions.

“Spirit, show me no more.  I have learnt my lessons well.  Thank you.  I promise I will make changes!”  And with these words from Scrooge, a bolt of lightning blinded him for a moment.  Then, he was in his own room again.  The calendar showed he had returned to the present time.

Scrooge was much changed by what he had seen.

*                                              *                                              *

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends”

Incredibly, the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was only just now ending, although Scrooge felt his ordeal had lasted several nights not hours.  Scrooge sat straight up in bed, and the sunlight streamed through the window.  He laughed out loud.  Throwing on his robe he raced to the window, still laughing, and threw open the sash.  A boy was visible nearby.

“You there boy, what day is this?” Scrooge demanded.

“Why sir, it’s Christmas day!” the puzzled lad answered.

“Then a merry Christmas to you!  See this twenty-pound note?” Ianeezer asked, waiving a bill in the air

“Yes Sir!” answered the boy

“Go and fetch me the biggest turkey in the whole town!” Scrooge commanded

“Dean, Fletcher or Malone?” asked the lad

“Ho ho – smart lad!  Fetch me them all! – and Gruff and MeKeechruns as well!” Scrooge answered, and disappeared from the window.  “Much to do today!  Much to change!” he thought to himself.

In a little under an hour later, a somewhat disgruntled motley crew of councillors, officials and others connected to the Denburn Park project found themselves in Scrooge’s drawing room.

“I’ll bet you wondered why I called you hear today” he asked.  A chorus of “we are happy to be here, and ‘merry Christmas sir” greeted him.

“I’ve been thinking about the project, and have a new suggestion or two – believe me, these changes are very forward looking.” Ianeezer  announced.  The assembled great and good replied ‘fantastic!’ ‘can’t wait!’ and so on.

“We’re going to electrify the worm, and throw anyone in prison who touches it.  Now the monolith idea – what if as well as underground parking we put in a workhouse? We’ll save money putting the kids in workhouses and closing more schools.  Do you think that will be possible – I mean think of the labour saving and government grant possibilities!”

There was a moment’s silence “Well, are you with me – remember the money I’m leaving in my will!” Scrooge said with a hint of threat.

“Astounding!” “Visionary” “Vibrant!!” “Dynamic!”  “Inclusion!”   the buzzwords he so loved rang out across the room.

“Merry Christmas  – now back to your homes.  Jenny – stay for a drink won’t you?”  A shadow seemed to cross her face for an instant, but it was gone.

Ianeezer Scrooge was a happy man indeed, and remained grateful to the spirits to the end of his days.

“Please sir – the twenty pound note?” asked a wee boy in the back of the great drawing room.   “Yes, here it is” Scrooge said waving it, “And if you do me another favour sometime, I’ll show it to you again.”

Amid the approving nervous titters of the council bigwigs, the boy was shown the door.

Somewhere far away, an icicle formed under the eye of a bronze statue of a former king of Scotland.

THE END.

Nov 252011
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look at the week that was in Aberdeen and beyond and concludes that this is no country for old men (nor for old women, people with special abilities, school children and infants or animals either).

Old Susannah has been busy this past week.  There was an excellent two-day conference at Fyvie Castle.  The speakers seemed to believe our heritage, buildings, archaeology and environment are being affected by something they called ‘climate change’. Hard to believe, but some of these speakers think that our weather and climate are changing.

I’ve no idea why they would come to such a conclusion.  There was some person from the Met Office (whatever that is), who seems to think a case can be made for climate change because he has statistics that show it’s happening now.

Stranger still, he thinks this climate change might be somehow linked to people burning lots of ‘fossil fuel’.  If anyone hears any news about this unlikely story, please let me know.

The general thrust of the conference was that our ancient buildings are under moisture and temperature stresses they’ve not faced before, and many are at risk of actually crumbling.  Something called ‘Skara Brae’ in the Orkneys might get washed out to sea before long.

This would not be a huge loss. As far as I can see, it just a bunch of old stones.  The site is crying out for a nice high rise building, holiday homes, shops and parking – if not a monolith and a giant glass worm.  As to our wildlife, seasons are getting wetter and warmer, affecting growth and breeding cycles.  This is no time to be a bird of prey (or any other type of wild creature either.  Just don’t mention deer).

Despite the fact these animals are protected, we still have people who poison, shoot, and loot eggs.  Mixed with the changing seasons and related change in availability of food, things look rather bad for these creatures.

This two-day course was run at Fyvie Castle by the Scottish Traditional Building Skills Centre, an organisation which trains people (of all abilities) in the skills needed to maintain our historic built heritage.  The Traditional Skills people seem to think preserving Scotland’s historic buildings and monuments is a worthwhile thing to do.  (If certain local developers have their way, this centre won’t be needed much longer).

Further information is available on their website:
http://www.traditionalskills.com/

We must have skilled craftspeople in future who can ensure the glass worm/teletubbieland, concrete ramps, etc.  will remain beautiful, as I’m sure they will be when they are built.

I couldn’t help going away from the conference thinking what I’d do if I had £50 million burning a hole in my pocket.  It might involve a little bit of BrewDog, but it would not involve getting rid of listed trees to build a carpark with decorative worm.

It would have been very hard for staff to figure out that this frail woman had a wound so deep you could see her bone

I was glad of the two-day course and its speakers, if for no other reason than there’s not much else going on in the wider world for me to write about this week.  I think I heard something about an American policeman offering some protesters a peppery snack treat, and there may be one or two minor problems in Europe and the Middle East.

I also get the feeling that there might be some financial issues concerning our European economic paradise.  Other than that, I’ve not much to say just now.

Close to home, news these past few weeks has been short on happy endings.  For one thing, the Monolith was not shortlisted as a Union Terrace Garden design.  But looking through recent news items, I conclude this is no country for old men.  Or old women, women, people with special abilities, school children and infants.  And this is definitely no country for animals.

For example take the case of 87 year-old Jamesina Mackenzie who died from a bedsore which became so exposed you could see the bone.  This didn’t happen in the ‘dark’ or middle ages; it’s just happened.

So let’s move on to a definition or two.

Bedsore: (compound noun, English) A type of pressure sore caused by the sufferer lying prone in one position without movement over time.  A wholly avoidable type of ailment.

The owner of the Highland ‘care home’ where Ms Mackenzie suffered with the sore that killed her told an inquiry into the death that his staff ‘did the best they could’.   According to this  manager, the problem was that ‘…there had been some errors in staff’s record keeping’.  What would have been the result if they were negligent or slacked off, Old Susannah wonders.

I was glad to hear the staff did the best they could.  After all, paperwork can be pretty heavy going.  It would have been very hard for staff to figure out that this frail woman, who must have been in excruciating pain, had a wound so deep you could see her bone.  You would have to have some kind of medical background to work that out.

Older people are always happy to sell up their own homes

My granny had been head nurse of a hospital in Massachusetts.  The old-fashioned, primitive way to prevent bedsores was to encourage movement and if necessary, actually help people to move.

This hospital was very inefficient in that it had more nurses and doctors than managers.  Far too much money was spent on patients’ food, and far too much time was spent on actually caring for people.  I’ll bet the place didn’t even have a good profit margin.

Care Home(compound noun, English) a residential institution dedicated to long-term care offering rest and re-cooperation of infirm people, usually elderly.

‘Care home’ – the word even sounds warm, safe and snug.  The problem is running these homes costs money which could be put to other use.  Older people are always happy to sell up their own homes so they will be able to afford a care home of the type which looked after Ms Mackenzie so well.

Saving money and keeping a home in order to have something to leave to your children is so passe.  Sure you might get one or two dozen stories a month about older, frail people being abused in care homes, but who are you going to believe – them and their relatives, or the highly-paid (sorry – highly-trained) caring staff who run these places for profit.

Since most regional authorities and councils decided to ‘outsource’ their care responsibilities, there may have been a few minor hiccups or injuries and deaths.  But outsourcing is here to stay.

Still our City council knows best, and despite the collapse of a major private care home operator, Aberdeen is still looking into privatising more of its homes.  Which leads me to a definition I might have already done, but seems to need updating.

Outsourcing: (noun; modern English) To take a service or operation away from its parent/owner and have it run by a third party.

We are desperate to save money in Aberdeen (those portraits and jeans for the Lord Provost don’t pay for themselves, you know) and in order to do so, we are giving our money to consultants.  The totally impartial consultants come in and look at your business.  They decide which services should be outsourced, and then the money saving starts instantly.

clearly they just want to give the best care possible to your grandparents or children.

Coincidentally, they often want to outsource the same services that they are able to provide.  Old Susannah has yet to hear of a consultancy saying ‘let’s hire more people so we can run things better and have nicer schools and care homes’.

This just proves that the consultancies are impartial businesses which have to make tough choices.  It must be very hard for them indeed.

After the consultants have been paid a modest sum for their expertise, the city fires/lets go/lays off its existing staff who initially performed the services.  That’s a saving right there in salary expense.  In the case of childcare or nursing homes, this may upset the clients initially (the word ‘client’ as used by the City is an old, infirm or young human being to the rest of us).

The ‘clients’ may lose any relationship they’ve built up with their previous carers, but never mind.  If you play your cards right, you might even fire enough people to pay part of the consultant’s bill.

The economics of outsourcing get greater for the city involved.  Now that they are no longer providing a non-profit service with taxpayer money, they turn the taxpayer money over to people who exist to make a profit.  It might seem as if these private operators would cut a corner or two to make money, but clearly they just want to give the best care possible to your grandparents or children.

In the old days you might have thought the purpose of paying tax was so that the government could provide you the services you needed, but which were not designed to be money-making businesses.  If we read the odd case of an older person abused (or given a salt shaker instead of an asthma inhaler as happened recently), then that’s the breaks.  The other breaks often involve bones.

Thankfully in these modern, enlightened times, we realise that making money is more important than anything else.  Including poor Mrs Mackenzie and the other stories that don’t make the paper.

Stop Press!  Aberdeen City Council has approved its budget! Read all about it here in this unbiased City Council report:  
http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/CouncilNews/ci_cns/pr_budgetrevcap_100211.asp

It’s all central government’s fault for not giving us lots more dosh.  This might be in part because we waste so much of the stuff on monolith research, portraits and so on, but hey.  You will I’m sure be happy to know that only a few hundred posts will either go unfilled (keeps the existing staff busy covering lots of jobs – they enjoy it) or will go altogether.

Re-roofing an unfit building makes as much sense as anything else going on here

We’re holding on to teaching assistants, which is interesting because we’ll be cutting expensive, boring music and art lessons for children.  If you don’t have time to visit the city’s website, then just rest assured of one thing:  the 50 metre swimming pool is still very much in the cards.  Result!

We may pay for it from the Common Good Fund (remember the good old days when this was c. £35 million? Things have changed).  To help balance the books, it looks as if Tullos Swimming Pool will stay shut.

Old Susannah is told that it recently had brand new lights installed, and its roof is brand new.  Which is odd, because the city now say the building is unstable.  Re-roofing an unfit building makes as much sense as anything else going on here.

Consultants have also produced a brilliant 10 page report (took about a year to do, as you can imagine), showing that Aberdeen has many more swimming pools per population than other parts of Scotland.  Of course these consultants counted in all the pools we’ve got:  Ardoe, Palm Court, etc. etc.  I guess the families of Torry will just have to hop into their BMWs and pay to swim for a day at a hotel pool once Tullos is gone.

Still, we’ll have saved money, and we may eventually produce a swimmer who may win a shiny medal.  If Aberdeen wins an Olympic medal in a few decades, we’ll all agree it’s been worth it.