Sep 092016
 

Old Susannah’s takes account of how no one is accountable any more for their actions. By Suzanne Kelly

DictionaryA lovely week of great weather in the Deen has passed; if only we had some city centre concrete slabs we could have relaxed on instead of a suntrap in the form of a sunken, historic, green, grassy garden. Oh well.

BrewDog threw another of its Drink and Draw events; these are for people of all abilities, and are going down a storm. Lush helped raise awareness and funds this past weekend for excellent charity DAWGS.

This past week in the UK saw some of the great thinkers of our time explaining some of their great works.

A 63 year old man in Manchester is being unfairly persecuted for punching a 5 day old baby in a supermarket. The proud parents were holding the child up to show to some of their friends on the child’s first-ever day out, when the man came over and punched the child in the head.

For some reason security called the police and the child was hospitalised (apparently she is fine now). Inexplicably, the police wanted the man to explain.

“I thought it was a doll,” he said. 

The Manchester City doll-punching finals will be held next month, we hear.

Closer to home, Aberdeen City Council is once again the toast of the town.

Not content with giving us Marischal Square and giving the P&J free rent for a year (while we have homeless on the streets and empty, habitable council properties it should be noted – thanks Pete Leonard), they are making the streets safe. By safe, I mean they are covering those hazardous cobbled streets of the merchant quarter (if that’s what we’re calling the Green this week) with tar.

No more high-heel-related trips; no more boring historical ambiance. It was all going to be lovely – then the not in my back yard brigade demanded the cobbles should be restored.

If only there were someone in charge of making decisions about our Housing and Environment who could know what’s going on and what’s happening. But if you’re only going to pay someone about £112,000 a year plus expenses and a £20,000 a year pension contribution, you’re not going to find anyone but a selfless saint to take on the job and actually know what his department heads are up to (isn’t that right Pete Leonard?)

Well, autumn is on the way, and Old Susannah will be joining Aberdeen’s fashionistas to do some shopping. And where better to wear the latest fashions?

ESCALE FRANCE is a Union Street shop selling fox and racoon fur clothing. Nothing screams ‘I am ignorant, self-absorbed and don’t care about needless suffering’ than decorating yourself with the pelt of an animal that was caged, tortured, terrified and skinned, usually alive, sometimes after being clubbed to death.

SPECIAL OFFER: Visit Escale France, and for every OS reader who tells them to stuff their fur where there will be no danger of sunburn, I will buy you a free half pint of BrewDog. I am serious. Send me a photo of yourself in front of their shop with an anti-fur poster to Aberdeen Voice, and I will stand you to a drink (first 50 people).

It is a well-kept secret, but it is possible to be warm and good looking in 21st century Scotland without sewing together the skins of tortured dead animals, raised only for fur, to wear.

Whether it’s making money out of torturing animals, tarring over a medieval cobblestone street, selling Aberdeen taxpayer-owned land for a pittance, or punching infant girls, the people who engage in such activities always have excuses.

Just remember – you can do anything you like – as long as you have a good back up story. Here are some examples of today’s best excuses, great and small. Have you screwed up? Did you lie down on the job? Over your head and don’t know what’s going on? Here are some helpful examples of how great leaders cope.

Clerical Error: (Modern English compound noun) To make an unintentional administrative mistake, which might include making a typographical error, mis-filing documents.

Didn’t get obey the law on Data Protection? No idea there was one? Are you charged with No clue how to do anything but your nails? No worries! If you’ve not registered your multi-million pound, 6,000 person employing golf resort complex with the UK authorities and are in breach of some serious human rights – just tell them you made a clerical error.

If you’ve been filming all those tedious plebs, camera crews and residents for years but didn’t actually register your activities, just tell the authorities it was not your fault, but one of your thousands of employees made a mistake and didn’t file.

According to that leftie newspaper The Guardian, the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office said:

““The Data Protection Act requires every organisation that processes personal information to register with the ICO, unless it is exempt. Failure to do so is a criminal offence,” the commissioner’s office said last week. “We’ll be writing to the company, asking it to clarify how it is registered.”

The award-winning most beautiful golf course in the world ever told the Guardian:

“We take the security of our employees and guests’ personal data very seriously and comply with all aspects of the Data Protection Act. [sure you do – Old Suz] A clerical oversight has just been brought to our attention which is now being rectified.

“As a public facility open to all, Trump International has CCTV cameras located at its entrance and around the public buildings within the estate, for the safety and security of its members, guests and staff. [but not for the safety and security of ramblers like Rohan Beyts, filmed while on the course, obvs – Old Suz]

So, it’s all just a clerical error. The clerk in question forgot to register with the Information Commissioner, assuming they had the sense to know that if you put up security cameras you need to do so. It would be a harsh person indeed who disagrees with the Trump position this is a clerical error.

Far be it from Old Susannah to suggest this is yet another mistake in a catalogue of mistakes (planning, budgeting, forecasting, course design – remember when part of the course was washed away?…) which demonstrate the management shows that it is both out of its depth as to what is required for legal compliance, egotistical to the point they feel themselves above the law, and demonstrative of disdain for the rest of us.

Yes, just a clerical error.

Bonus example of clerical error: The Press & Journal has reported on how lovely the course is, and how tastefully decorated the Trump-crested MacLeod house is. It also reported on Rohan Beyts’ being arrested for allegedly urinating in the Marram grass – and being allegedly filmed on Malone-Bates’ orders.

However, I can’t find a record of Damian Bates’s P&J reporting on Mrs Sarah Malone-Bates’ failure to register the Trump resort with the Scottish Information Commissioner. This omission is most likely just a clerical error.

Road Repair: (Modern English Compound noun) act of ensuring street surfaces are safe.

You really have to hand it to the people responsible for road maintenance in The Granite City. For centuries a cobbled street surface at the Green managed to endure. It’s just wild speculation, but in the past, Old Susannah guesses that if a cobblestone got chipped or loose, either it was replaced or the area around it would have been fixed. How did those past craftsmen manage for the hundreds of years before ACC 2016 existed?

Yes, someone near the top of the food chain, possibly of course in Housing & Environment (would that be you Pete Leonard?) decided the thing to do was to tar over the cobbles. Now I prefer the romance of a tarred street in a historic area as much as the next gal, but apparently people complained, and the cobbles will be restored.

Why did the city suddenly decide to tar the road over? According to the BBC:

“Aberdeen City Council said the resurfacing on Windmill Brae was necessary because some of the stones had come loose. Concerns had been raised on safety grounds by local businesses.”

The BBC piece continues:

“However, the local authority said the work was below standard and the tar would be removed. A “permanent solution” is being sought.” 

Why fix a few loose stones when you can tar over history? You might think that since policy seems to be pothole repair is done on a patchwork spot by spot area (when it’s done at all), some due care might have been given to fixing whatever stones were loose.

It does get better though – this whole debacle shows just how responsive and caring our council is. Local businesses – not named, not coming forward – apparently have safety concerns about the cobbles. Naturally, whenever a business or a person expresses a concern or a wish, the city will immediately spring into action to fix the issue or respond to the request. Just like when 3,000 of us and three community councils asked the city to leave Tullos Hill alone, spare the deer and save money.

If you don’t recall, the head of Housing & Environment helped push the destruction of 36 deer and we now have neither deer nor thriving trees in the scheme our head called ‘cost neutral’ (but you were wrong on all counts, and it’s cost the taxpayer a five figure sum so far, hasn’t it Pete Leonard? Ever thought of going into a different line of work?) But I digress.

Yes, some businesses apparently had safety concerns. Answer: change the hundreds of years old cobblestone streets. I am on the edge of my seat to see what businesses come forward to say they wanted this, and to see what the ‘permanent solution’ would be.

So the next time you vandalise a historic structure by covering it with tar (why didn’t the workmen wonder at the stupidity of their task you might ask?), just say you were trying to please local businesses, and it was unsafe – but you’ll undo it anyway. Makes perfect sense here in the Deen.

Finally, while I am in two minds about including this in a satirical column, sometimes satire is a good response in place of fury. Here are some of Pete Leonard’s excuses for the Aberdeen Crematorium ash scandal. Despite industry bodies existing in the UK for decades, despite best practice standards being easily found on the internet, despite being the man ultimately in charge, Pete Leonard has his reasons for what happened on his watch.

Vacation: (English Noun) State of being away from work, perhaps involved in travel and/or leisure.

While the families who were denied the chance of personally disposing of the ashes of their offspring waited for answers, Leonard was on vacation.

Signed off Sick: (English compound noun) Non attendance at work due to illness.

Mr Leonard did not return from holiday; he is signed off ill.

No Excuse:

So many people seek power and money; I’ve lost track of the people who asked me to try and help with long-running Aberdeen City housing issues (some quite horrific). I’ve tried to make Pete Leonard see sense over the deer cull; he would not take any heed or even listen to the experts who were lined up to give free advice on how to control deer without culling.

Leonard did however deliberately stop the proposal put forward by a councillor to retain and enhance the meadow at Tullos and leave the deer alone – Leonard said leaving the land alone was ‘too costly’.

Housing & Environment always had a reason for delays, bad decisions, and stubbornness. I will, as stated, publish a crematorium review report, but I leave you with this sobering conclusion from the public-facing report (I am trying to get the ‘secret’ report released, you know – by contacting that Information Commissioner Malone hadn’t a clue about). Here is what the report said about the crematorium service, which fell under Leonard’s remit:

“this was a section of the City Council working in almost complete isolation without any strategic direction, development or quality control of the service, so far as it related to babies, infants and non-viable foetuses. There was little knowledge by Senior Management of the service provided to the families of these babies.

“There was insufficient interest taken or leadership shown by management” 

I am sorry if Mr Leonard is ill. I do however want him out of office, as I have done since first encountering him. I am far sorrier for all the people who should have had someone in this highly-paid senior management who actually gave a damn. The evidence over the years convinces me he never did.

Let’s not leave on this bitter note though. Just a few words of advice in summary.

1.  if you are going to run the world’s greatest golf course, there may well be some laws that apply – even to you.

2.  Fur belongs on the animals that bear it. The animals do not belong in cages. The fur trade is obscene.

3.  If you are the sort of person involved in the doll-punching scene, try to make sure you can tell the difference between a doll and a living, breathing infant. If not – consider asking for permission to punch someone’s doll/child before actually doing it.

Next week: hopefully a report on Leonard’s resignation, and more definitions. And – hopefully by then Aberdeen City Council will have offered Aberdeen Voice a free office space too – if they do it for the P&J, then they should do it for us too (nb – we’d turn it down because of things called journalistic ethics, principle, and the fact Marischal Square is nearly as unpopular with the pubic as the P&J has made itself.)

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Jan 272012
 

In these bleak and pessimistic economic times, it’s always heartening to hear of a thriving business looking to expand. All the better when its success is built on an alternative business model which genuinely appreciates its staff, rewards and motivates them appropriately,and involves them at the core of decision-making. Surely this can’t work in the cut-throat commercial world? Jeremy Miles, MD of the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative has proved it can. David Innes cruised alongside him in high gear (definitely NO Lycra though) to ask him how it works.

Expanding? In the current economic climate? 

What looks like a sudden announcement of expansion is really a plan we have been quietly executing for just over ten years. For 25 years we only operated in Edinburgh where we built up a £3m store. We decided to expand in 2001 and acquired Cycling World in Aberdeen’s George Street.

By 2011, turnover increased to £12m, with stores operating in Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. We were developing our online presence at the same time. Our aim was to double in size in each of the two five-year periods – every self-respecting socialist-minded business has to have a five-year plan!  These are among the most challenging times traders have ever faced. Our business is no different. Customer spending on discretionary items is down, on bicycles as much as sofas and flat screen TVs. We’re seeing growth, but its hard work to keep that going, although it’s very positive in current conditions.

Our optimism and our ambitions are based of a number of factors. Cycling is enjoying a very positive momentum at present with concerns over health, transport costs, congestion and the environment all helping the industry to grow. We also feel that our co-operative structure presents an alternative to discerning customers who want to spend with a company with real values as well as a genuine focus on high levels of service delivered by owners of the business.

  we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

Look how the Co-op has positioned itself against the corporate strength of the major supermarkets. The Co-op has heavily engaged with its local communities to help fund projects. It projects an image of being off the beaten track in terms of their offer.

Since we face similar challenges as our competitors become more organised and supported financially by private equity, we must also target a particular market where the growth in cycling is focused – in family leisure cycling and commuting.

Our previous expansion plans were about big stores in big cities with the right demographic spread; a fairly rigid plan which worked well for us in good times. The bike market is changing, however, with the development of some huge internet players in Wiggle and Chain Reaction Cycles. Significant retail chains like Evans and Cyclesurgery are expanding rapidly and bicycle retail is very different from even five years ago. We’re also seeing more established brands such as Specialized and Giant opening branded stores, whilst the government-driven Cycle to Work initiative has also helped change the landscape.

Expansion opportunities are broader and more flexible as the customer base widens. Business-to-business relationships develop through government-funded initiatives and the internet offers new ways to market and support the bricks and mortar business. We look to capitalise on these opportunities when they emerge. We don’t have plans for x stores in y years, but we work within our general vision of doubling turnover every five years.

This co-operative structure – how does that work?

Within the spectrum of employee-owned businesses we are a traditional workers’ co-operative, so as hardline as it gets!

We have around 180 employees, full-time and part-time, of whom 135 are co-operative members. Members are invited to join after 12 months service by purchasing a single £2.75 business share. Around 75% of our workforce are owners of the business.

Having secured membership, they’re entitled to receive a share of profits, free shares awarded annually, a single vote on issues put to the membership and the opportunity to be elected to the Board. They have access to communication mechanisms allowing information to move freely from top to bottom and vice versa, ensuring that opinions and ideas are fully utilised. It’s an open and consultative approach to management and operations.

Aside from the ownership model, our business structure is fairly traditional with a board of directors, including an executive management team where I am MD, a group of elected employee directors to represent the membership, and an external non-executive director to provide guidance and expertise. I manage the staff in a conventional manner via Divisional and Department Managers.

This obviously works – tell me why

We’ve always been structured this way. We started out in 1977; seven hippies fixing bikes in a small repair centre in Edinburgh. Two of these hippies are still with us today!

The central philosophy was always to have an alternative view of how a business was structured, but I don’t suppose your readership is all that interested in very deep philosophical musings about the prevailing mood of the 1970s and detailed Marxist rhetoric!

We are very much a business which values its people. We see them as the key asset of the business, so it makes sense that they control the business.

We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects

A prime retail challenge is delivering an all-round quality customer experience. To be effective at this, you must ensure that customer-facing staff are heavily engaged with your business. Many retailers struggle, paying minimum wage rates and providing a fairly uninteresting working environment.  They turn staff over very regularly.

As a co-operative, we put owners in front of customers in most instances. This makes it much more likely that customers are speaking to someone with a deeply-vested interest in making sure the experience is positive. The fact they are almost always very passionate about the product they are selling helps too!

We see ourselves as much more than just a shop selling bikes and bits. We’re all about added value and the wider customer experience. Promoting cycling as a leisure activity and a genuine alternative mode of transport is at the heart of our vision and mission. We spend 10% of our targeted profit every year on supporting grass-roots cycling projects, from school fairs to individual charity rides through Vietnam. We support key charity-focused cycling events which also promote cycling, for example the Edinburgh to St Andrews Ride and the Great North Ride in Newcastle.

We don’t just write a cheque. We’re hands-on involved, with starting line presence, repair services en route, food stops, and finish line presentation. We’ve run a range of hugely-successful maintenance and training skills classes for customers for years, and have a real commitment to providing repairs services to a high level. Our workshops are prominent in our stores rather than tucked away in a back room.

We see our engagement with customers as a vital part of the character of our business and put huge effort into getting feedback from them. Customers contribute to the content of our catalogues with family photos, and will soon be helping with blogs and social media content.

We have a very loyal base who are genuinely interested in our values and want to be part of our success as a genuine community co-operative.

Nov 172011
 

Bucksburn in Bloom was born because we wanted to brighten up our neighbourhood with floral displays and to try and make it a brighter place to live. Drew Levy,  President of Bucksburn in Bloom writes.

For a good many years I as an individual had entered into Aberdeen in Bloom and after 6 years of effort in 2011 our garden was awarded 1st prize.
However back in 2007 we were asked what we could do with our street.

To start with I suggested we could get some brackets on the lamp-posts and have two hanging baskets on each lamp-post, then as well as making our own planters we also looked into asking the council if we could have 4 planters as well.

Since 2007 we have added different things to our area and it was one of these improvements, at the entrance to our  our street,  after seeing an article for “Britain’s Best Flowerbed Photo Competition” in a Beautiful Scotland & the RHS News Letter, that we decided to enter into the competition.

At around this same time we were making improvements with floral displays to Bucksburn and also choosing a name and so: Bucksburn in Bloom was born.

Back to the photo competition, we decided to send in the photos of our flowerbed and the entry letter to go with it. We did not expect to win anything, and when you consider that the competition was across the whole of the UK and we are just a new group, you can imagine our surprise when a couple of months later we had been awarded 2nd Prize in our class.

There was more to come, as a result of the prize we were given a 7mtr x 4mtr flowerbed at the North of England’s largest show – The RHS Tatton Park Flower Show in 2009, similar to the Chelsea Flower Show in London .

Once the shock and surprise had eased off we set about designing the flowerbed with all the plants and landscaping. We submitted our design which was a floral oilrig, themed “Scotland’s Homecoming”. In July we packed up all the plants and accessories and we were off to Manchester to take part in our first RHS show.

We had three days to build the flowerbed and on the Wednesday it was judged. We were awarded an RHS Merit, the first they have ever given and we were very proud of it especially as we were up against 26 local council’s in the same category. On the Wednesday after judging the show was opened to 90,000 visitors until the Sunday. We were not just representing Bucksburn but Aberdeen and the North of Scotland and as such we were proud to be dressed in our national costume- the full kilt outfit.

Another great surprise was when we were asked to come back next year in 2010. When asked what our theme would be, we decided that we were going to look into doing a flowerbed around the Highland Coo (cow) complete with its long horns.

Well, in 2010 our entry was accepted and in July  we collected “Gracie” – the coo from the Loch Katrine Centre & headed off to Tatton Park flower show.
We drove all through the night to get there for the Friday morning.

We had incorporated not just the coo, but a block of local Kemnay granite into our bed , which our Lord Provost Mr Peter Stephen had chosen the design of a thistle to be carved into its 4 sides.

Much to our delight and all our hard work this flowerbed was awarded an RHS Bronze Medal!

Sadly, we could not go this year (2011) due to my very bad health, but we have used this time to our advantage. The Tatton Park Show Manager phoned me to say that I had to get well for next year as Bucksburn in Bloom is part of the Tatton Park Family now and we have our place for 2012. We have designed our next flowerbed in the form of a flower canoe and paddles entitled “2012 Paddling to Success “.

If anyone would like to visit our web site you will see not only the first and second flower beds, but also our work around Bucksburn and  you will also see our design for the 2012 show when it goes onto the site in a few weeks time.

We bring all our plants back to Bucksburn & plant them around the area. The granite pillar used in the “coo” flowerbed was presented to the Lord Provost who accepted it on behalf of the people of Aberdeen. It has been placed in the floral courtyard at the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park for all to see.

Our flowerbed and Bucksburn in Bloom were featured live on TV at the time on Gardeners World Live

We feel the floral work that we are doing is going some way in not only  helping the area look nicer but in hopefully bringing people together and I can think of no better way than community gardening. You are out in the fresh air, you are improving your environment and everyone young and old can always learn about gardening.

At 59 and with my years of gardening experience I am still learning all the time and it is good that as you grow older you can pass on your skills to the younger up and coming gardeners.

Our entries to the show are all paid for by sponsors and donations, which allows us to represent Bucksburn and Aberdeen at the RHS Tatton Park show. Our flowerbed and Bucksburn in Bloom were featured live on TV at the time on Gardeners World Live.

We always need sponsorship & donations to help us represent the area. Anyone wishing to make a donation or sponsor our flowerbed entries or even wishing to become a volunteer or just wanting to look us up on our web site,  the details are as follows:
http://www.bucksburninbloom.btck.co.uk

On a final note; one of next biggest projects and working alongside Bucksburn and Newhills Community Council is to try and turn an old school playing field into Scotland’s and Aberdeen’s first solar powered, totally green Community Park for the people & visitors to Bucksburn.  We will be needing volunteers to help with the project for the 5 years it will take to build it.

Whether you are young or old always enjoy your gardening.

Sep 302011
 

Those irreverent scamps of Scotland the What?, in a live take on Harry Gordon’s ‘Fittie Folk, Kitty Folk’, once cheekily ended a contemporary refrain with, “Harlaw, Pointlaw, Babbie Law and Denis Law”, proof that the reputation of this scrawny blond loon from Printfield is as firmly scorched into the local psyche and folklore as those enduring, immovable, jutting-jawed Aberdeen landmarks. This is all the more impressive considering that apart from his 55 appearances for Scotland, Law’s football career was entirely spent in England and, briefly, Italy. Voice’s David Innes reviews Denis Law: My Life In Football.

I have to admit that I was first disappointed when I picked up My Life In Football. I did not know that it was a pictorial retrospective of Law’s life and career, expecting it to be an update of his previous biography The King.

It is only on the inner frontispiece that the alternative title My Life In Pictures is shown. There is also a Scottish Edition available, although there is no indication how this differs from the edition sent to Voice for review.

Do not let this put you off if you are a fan of the formerly Beautiful Game, however.

Law, in partnership with Ivan Ponting, has selected almost a thousand photographs, ranging from his gawky, bespectacled Kittybrewster schooldays in the late 1940s to contemporary images, showing one of the game’s elder statesmen happy and relaxed in well-deserved retirement.

In between, there are some stunning action images captured by the cream of the world’s sports photographers during football’s golden era. Unfortunately, the photo credits are only given to the image owners in the book’s acknowledgment appendix, as it would provide fellow obsessives with months of joy tracking down and drinking in the magnificent portfolios of the snappers whose work is featured.

Each image has been captioned by Law, and although he and his editor will have had access to historical statistics and tele-visual resources to inform these mini-narratives, there is little doubt that Law’s own memory has played its part in writing the captions.

The detail proves that his memory remains as sharp as those deadly penalty box reflexes were when this legend was the goal area nemesis of rugged, brutish defenders, when football was tough and hard and its physicality celebrated as a challenge to the skilful and brave. One cannot imagine Law ‘simulating’ to gain a penalty under a robust assault by Chopper Harris, Jackie Charlton or Norman Hunter. That would have been an admission of defeat, of weakness, and viewed as an unworthy, cowardly way of gaining a tarnished advantage.

My Life In Football is unashamedly for football fans, so does not set out to philosophise about the game or give deep insights into the consciousness of one of the finest footballers of all time.

The captions, the narrative if you will, are therefore non-controversial and written in the ubiquitous ribbing, deprecating style, an incessant feature of football in dressing rooms at every level in the UK and which are a bit wearing unless you happen to be part of it.

The same can be said of the contributions made by Law’s fellow protagonists in the images, Paddy Crerand, Bobby Charlton, the late George Best and a variety of other teammates and rivals, but behind the mickey-taking, the comments are made with obvious affection and respect for Law’s outrageous ability.

This is a coffee table book, designed for repeated reference, packed with magical memories for those who had the privilege of living through the era when supremely-gifted craftsmen such as Denis Law made football, when it was The People’s Game, exciting, compelling and the best possible release from stupid, stressful reality.

It is also a worthy historical tome which will help inform those who believe that football began with Serie A, La Liga and the Premiership and the out-of-proportion sums of money falsely keeping such structures afloat.

Denis Law: My Life In Football (Scottish-edition)  
Simon and Schuster.
ISBN 978-0-85720-084-6.
250 pages.
£25.