Dec 172015

Xmas_mask__c__Duncan_HarleyBy Duncan Harley.

As support for Trump hits a new high, the discontents of Xmas are upon us. Dances with Santa under the mistletoe and brandy-laced puddings are on the cusp, as the traditional festival drops from on high.
Personally I have a particular hatred of Xmas.

Family fights and feuds blighted my enjoyment of the season to be joyful, and many a festive turkey witnessed huffy uncles sniffing at wicked aunties who had caused uproar by omitting to knit fitting pressies last year or the year before.

I prefer funerals to be honest. Amongst the eulogies and the wee burnt up sausage rolls there is a least a common theme of how to bury the dead.

When my children were young, Xmas had some attraction. Hiding the truth about Santa ranked with being wakened up at some god-forsaken hour to be told,

“Santa’s been, look what I got!”

The trashing of carefully wrapped presents ranked equally with the cleaning of chocolate covered faces prior to the granny visit. Happy faces all round usually led to cries of “When can we go home”, and the desperate playing of Monopoly. The only winners were Waddingtons.

The very best festive season I ever had was in Glasgow.

I’d read some of Charles Bukowski’s work prior to taking a seasonal job in the local sorting office … sic … it was Xmas nineteen-something-or-other and I was charged with sorting out postal packets in Dixon’s Blazes.

A former ironworks, the place was built by one William Dixon (1788-1859). In days long past the industrialist’s furnaces lit up the night sky on the south side of the River Clyde and earned the ironworks the nickname “Dixon’s Blazes”.

When the furnaces died down the Royal Mail set up a sorting office in the old red-bricked factory buildings.

After the job interview, I signed the Official Secrets Act. The exact detail escapes me to this day; but I remain convinced that the paperwork specified that I should not divulge state-secrets to any foreign power including Wales or St Kilda. It was the time of the Cold War and the postal authorities were decidedly edgy, and on the lookout for left-wing infiltrators.

Burnhervie_edited-1Despite the long hair, I must have come across as a nice young right-wing non-activist and the very next day, I began work as a sorter-out of the nation’s Xmas parcels.

In those far off days parcels were sorted out by chucking them into mailbags hung on metal posts and labelled by destination. My postal station had around 30 of these bags and featured towns such as Cambridge, Carnoustie and Coventry alongside Dundee, Dundonald and Dunkeld. The procedure was to stand well back, pick a parcel from the line and chuck it into the appropriate destination mailbag.

In those far-off days, only Aberdeen featured post-codes, and the Postal Authorities in Glasgow were a bit sniffy about the new technology.

Needless to say, my aim was poor and my knowledge of geography was even worse.

A man by the name of Dutch Hendry took me under his wing and informed me that the name of the game was smashing up the mail. A full-time sorting-office employee he had plenty of tips.

“Chuck it into the bags, who cares where the stuff’s meant for.”

“What about the children?”

“The children? Just smash the toys.”

Dutch was of course both permanently drunk and permanently childless. His only claim to being from Holland was his liking for Dutch courage.

During the night shift some other drunks drove a red ‘by Royal Appointment’ Post Office van through the sorting office doors and got suspended for 24 hours. No-one seemingly cared about the wrecked van. Things were desperate at the sorting office.

One colleague had been fired last year for sticking it in big time. He had met a supervisor in the canteen and beat him with a loaded mail bag. You just never know who you’re associating with. They took him on again. Unbelievable.

Anyway, in nineteen-something-or-other, we all felt privileged to be looking after the Royal Mail despite the obvious blemishes.

In his classic American bestseller “Post Office” Bukowski describes the delivering of mail as a menial job worthy only of low life absurdly governed and powerless drones.

“You got any mail for me?”

“How the F… ck should I know … I’m only the mailman.”

“You got any mail for me?”

“How the F… ck should I know … I’m only the mailman.”

“You got any mail for me?”

“Who the F…ck are you and why should I even care?”

“You got any mail for me?”

Bukowski throws you over the place. After all, he’s dead and even when he wasn’t he didn’t give a shi …………

Apologies to Post Office Workers everywhere … you do a great job folks!

Merry Xmas everyone … unless you’re a Donald.

Words and images © Duncan Harley

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Aug 072014

Yes campaigners in the North-east of Scotland have welcomed a new poll indicating that a majority of North-east voters will cast their ballots in favour of independence on September 18.


Ross Cassie

The Survation Poll for the Mail on Sunday, published on August 3 indicates that voters are increasingly moving towards Yes in the North-east with 48.6% of respondents backing independence, 39.8% for no, and 11.6% undecided.[1] The poll follows steady increases for the Yes vote country-wide, with the overall figures for Scotland indicating 40.2% Yes and 45.9% for no – putting the Yes campaign within four points of victory. Yes Banffshire and Buchan Coast organiser Ross Cassie said:

“This latest poll illustrates that momentum is very much with the Yes campaign in the North-east of Scotland. The good people of the North-east are being persuaded by a positive, ambitious and aspirational vision for our future in an independent Scotland; and are fed up of the negative scaremongering of the no campaign which offers no change at all.”

“We will not be resting on our laurels and will continue to take our positive message to the streets and doors of the North-east in the weeks ahead. A Yes vote and a better future is within our reach and that is something that will enthuse and inspire many across the country.”

[1] Survation poll for the Scottish Mail on Sunday, August 3, 2014: Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.

Nov 282013

Burnhervie duncan harley tommy cat featDuncan Harley looks somewhat sideways at the sell-off of the UK Postal Service.

Recent headlines, such as “City banking giants will rake in nearly £17million in fees from the flotation of Royal Mail, despite accusations yesterday of having failed the taxpayer”, may not represent the complete picture.

Postman Pat’s cat is probably still licking her paws with glee. At an undervaluation of about 220p per Royal Mail share she can almost certainly afford to stock up on cat treats.

The Royal Mail shares famously opened at 330p each during the October 2013 sell off. Now valued at an enhanced 550p they represent a hefty profit indeed for the City fat cats. Do the math. It will probably amaze.

In addition, the City advisors stand to earn fees of 0.8% of the funds raised in the sell-off. Some such as Goldman Sachs and UBS have already received more than £12m in fees, with much more due when the 0.8% of the total sale fee is computed.

The government’s independent advisor, a Limited Company by the name of Lazard who are billed as “a global financial advisory and asset management firm that engages in investment banking, asset management, and other financial services primarily with institutional clients” has already received some £1.5m, with much more to come.

Around £12.7million has already been paid in fees to the seven banks involved in the privatisation. Much more taxpayers’ cash is likely to be paid out in the next few months in fees and commissions to banking advisors and institutions hired by the elected representatives of the UK, who have been charged with the safeguarding of public resources and ensuring good value for money in the sale of the Royal Mail business.

The UK Government was of course quite right to seek advice about the sale of Royal Mail. After all it is a 420-year-old UK business with some 100,000 employees, many of whom would become jobless should the share deal go wrong.

Burnhervie Post box Duncan HarleyIt seems however that the sell-off advisors to HM Government now expect to be paid for what for many seems like particularly bad advice prior to the Royal Mail flotation.

David Cameron has publicly backed the Margaret Thatcher Museum this week.
Seemingly it will be replete with memorabilia from the decade or so of that era. Empty villages, streets full of unemployed folk, destroyed communities and lost opportunities.

Some suggest that bus tours through the wastelands of the mining villages of Wales and Scotland might be a better use of the £43m cost of the museum project. Others wonder about Scottish Independence or even emigration.

Let’s hope that Cameron’s legacy does not include tours of the empty and desolate postal sorting offices of our towns and villages.

A parody of the Swiss bank Goldman Sachs exists at:

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Oct 242013

The 540 year-old business which delivers letters by hand to every front door in the UK, has been sold off by the party with the biggest majority in the House of Commons. Duncan Harley applies his magnifying glass.

Postie Van throw keys 2 by Duncan Harley

The familiar red mail vans parked outside a Royal Mail depot. Photo by Duncan Harley.

The share starting price was, of course, unknown. Indeed, if investors offered to buy there was no guarantee either of a successful bid or of a profitable purchase.
If the general public wanted to take a punt on the UK postal industry, they had to be aware that the cost of the shares would be between 260p and 330p each, and the price to be paid would be completely unknown until the very day of the sell-off.

What does this mean?

Well, imagine walking into your local supermarket to buy a pint of milk and being faced with a label on the shelf reading something like, “This product may contain nuts and will cost between 43p and 62p depending on consumer demand, best of luck and we hope you reach the checkout safely and in one piece. Signed, your pal Vince”.

It’s even worse of course if you are a UK postal worker. Vince Cable’s sell-off capitalises on the fact that 149,638 employees have each been awarded around £2,230 worth of shares.

Some doubt if the deal, which ties the Post Office employees into a three year retention of share certificates before being allowed to sell, is fair.

It’s a bit like saying, “Here’s two grand’s worth of milk Jess*, mind you don’t spill it all over your grubby paws yah fat pussy, and if you do, it’s your problem. Signed, The Management”.

No wonder the postal unions are encouraging their members to withdraw their labour. The Communications Workers Union balloted 115,000 members on striking on November 4 and reports a 78% vote in favour. In response, Royal Mail said that it was, “…very disappointed that the CWU was pushing forward with a strike”.

Royal Mail stated that they will, “…do all that we can do to protect our business and minimise the effect of any industrial action on our customers’ mail”.

In 1916, Éirí Amach na Cásca (The Easter Rising) graphically illustrated the importance of control of communication in the face of authoritarian rule. Organised by the Military Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Rising began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and lasted for six days.

Postie Van throw keys by Duncan HarleyMembers of the Irish Volunteers led by Patrick Pearse, seized key locations in Dublin and proclaimed the Irish Republic independent of the UK. The main Dublin Post Office, then a key pre-internet communication centre, was seized by the rebels and shelled mercilessly by the British Army until the maimed and shocked defenders surrendered.

In a series of courts martial, 90 Irish people were sentenced to death.

Fifteen of those had their sentences confirmed by the UK government and were executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol. The rest saw their lives squandered in British jails until Irish Independence arrived.

The outcome of the current postal sell-off might not include death by firing squad; it might, however, result in big profits for the fat cats.

David Cameron, in a rare interview, declined to comment on the historic link between the Royal Mail and the British people but said, “The political system is broken, the economy is broken and so is society. That is why people are so depressed about the state of our country”.

Postman Pat’s cat, whatever his name was*, is no doubt licking his paws with glee.

Read more:

  • Comments enabled – see comments box below. Note, all comments will be moderated.
Apr 062012

Old Susannah comments on UK Government proposals to access emails between all citizens in the name of preventing Terrorism.

There will be dancing in the streets, celebrations at public squares (as long as they are vibrant, dynamic and have connectivity), and rejoicing all ‘round: the government has found the way to stop terrorism! Result! Yes, the government is getting rid of terrorism. And your basic right to privacy.

Why didn’t we think of it earlier, we are all wondering. Yes, the Government has decided it has the right to record each and every email you receive and send. And that is how terrorism will be stopped once and for all.

I’m happy to give up my private life forever in order for government snoops to be able to catch the bad guys. I’m thrilled to be treated like a new prison inmate every time I want to get on a plane. I’m sure you are as well.

So what if there are the occasional cases of disabled and/or elderly people being strip searched for having mobility aids. If the occasional frightened child is separated from its parents to be frisked, then so be it. It’s the price we pay for having the fantastic safe and secure lifestyles we have.

It was said by an American founding father, Benjamin Franklin that ‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ How times have changed.

You could also wonder how secure your business secrets will be when they are intercepted by unknown government spooks. Do people ever mis-use information? Hardly ever. The slightly paranoid J Edgar Hoover kept files on American citizens, and would occasionally blackmail people into doing his bidding. Liberty and Justice for all, except if the FBI wanted you.

That would never happen here. Of course a senior police official was recently found guilty of accessing data on an ex-partner of his right here. I’m sure this was just a one-off, no need to trouble ourselves about it.

It’s also a very good thing that terrorists would never use the Royal Mail. Except for those charming people who sent bombs to Celtic’s manager, that is. No one would ever think of using the post for smuggling, planning terrorist attacks or anything else we should concern ourselves with. Phew!

It would be terrible if there were any civil disobedience over this great move. For instance nothing is stopping you from going to an internet cafe, and creating a free email account under the name of john smith. If enough people did this, and only sent or checked emails at internet cafes, then this little snooping plan of our kind government’s would be toast.

Old Susannah thinks this great scheme might run into a few wee problems anyway. For one thing, I keep getting all sorts of ‘spam’. Multiply all the emails selling you drugs or which try to get your personal details out of you by the country’s population, and you’ll need a bank of computer storage just to keep the spam.

Perhaps we should all go back to sending letters.

If anyone wanted to sign a petition against this great piece of legislation, although I can’t think why they would, the online petition is at

Celebrity Blog from Cattie the Millipede and Milly the Caterpillar

Greetings everyone from our safe house in Torry, where we were airlifted to after our beautiful meadow home on Tullos Hill was destroyed – for a LibDem election pledge. We are surviving the cold snap OK, because we have lots of dead leaves to hide under to keep warm. (gardeners should always leave some dead leaves or other mulch around to keep plants – and creatures like us – warm).

We are even more worried now about our old friends on Tullos Hill. The deer have nowhere near as much gorse to shelter in and it’s cold. The birds lost lots of their shelter too when the gorse was ripped out. We are fine – but we wish our friends were, too.

Election Notes

The Labour Party have announced they would – end the Granite Web in its tracks if elected! Rather than borrowing £140,000,000 to put concrete ramps over our garden, chop down 250 year-old trees to turn into wood chip, they seem to want to spend time and energy on helping people.

Gerry Brough, city employee who has generously volunteered to work on the project is said to be incandescent with rage. So no change there then.

Royal Mail – Not For Sale!

 Articles, Community, Information, Opinion  Comments Off on Royal Mail – Not For Sale!
Feb 182011

Members of the Communication Workers Union will be holding a demonstration outside the St Nicholas Centre on Saturday February 26th to raise awareness of proposals put forward by the Government to privatise Royal Mail. Voice’s Stephen Davy-Osborne reports.

The proposal, set out earlier this year, sees the link between Royal Mail and the Post Office Ltd severed as Royal Mail becomes a privatised company, while the Post Office remains in public ownership under a partnership similar to that of the John Lewis Group.  These proposals have caused a great deal of concern to those employed by both organisations.

Once privatised, there would be no guarantee of Royal Mail making use of the Post Office network; which is already facing 900 closures up and down the country.   Once a vital amenity for any village, town or city; the Post Office has faced increased competition from other companies offering similar services resulting in decline in footfall, and therefore closures.

Alan Robertson, Secretary of the Grampian & Shetland branch of the CWU, is hopeful that further closures and subsequent job losses can be avoided:

“The future of the Post Office Ltd does not have to be gloomy.  If the Government stuck to its election promise of putting a fully-blown bank within the Post Office, then it would help secure its future. Last year alone 150 Post Offices shut down.  If privatised and not given banking services, then Post Offices will simply wither on the vine and the people who suffer the most will be the elderly, those in remote areas, and the most vulnerable in society.”

people think either it will never happen or it’s a ‘done deal’ – neither of which is true

Demonstrations and marches have been taking place up and down the country over the last few months, with many more yet to come.  Just last month following  the announcement of the proposed changes, the CWU marched on the constituencies of both David Cameron and Minister for Postal Affairs, Ed Davey, to highlight that privatisation is not in the best interests of Royal Mail or its users.

Members of the Grampian & Shetland branch of the CWU will also be journeying down to London at the end of March to join a march against cuts being organised by the TUC.

Royal Mail has attracted a lot of media attention over the past couple of years, with reports of inefficiencies and huge job losses on the horizon as it sought to compete in a modern market.  Despite the bad press, Mr Robertson is confident that things were starting to look up for Royal Mail:

“The long-term problems we have had are already being addressed.   Last April our membership ratified a three-year deal that accounts for things like the decline in mail, new machinery and ways of working.  This will lead to a significant drop in headcount for our members, but it has been done on a proper basis that will see a more efficient Royal Mail at the end of the three years.”

However, all of these agreed changes, which saw heavy campaigning from the unions to secure a fair outcome for all, could be put in jeopardy by privatisation.

The demonstration outside the St Nicholas Centre will therefore try and raise public awareness and let people know what the results of privatisation would mean to them.

“I believe that most people think either it will never happen or it’s a ‘done deal’ – neither of which is true.” adds Mr Robertson.

For further information and to show your support for one of the nation’s most vital public services, head along to the CWU’s demonstration outside Marks and Spencer, St Nicholas Centre between 11:00 and 13:00 on Saturday February 26th.