Jul 012013
 

Suzanne Kelly gets to grips with graffiti, ghastly beer and grumpy dads.

Another amazing week whizzed past in Aberdeen, under a super moon, bright and dynamic in its aspect.  BrewDog’s AGM was indeed the beer event of the season.  Great food, brilliant brews, lots of merchandise at great prices, and a presentation of good news were all served up with good humour.  More on the day in another article soon.

The BrewDog AGM could not have been any more different from the dismal CAMRA beer festival I attended a few weeks ago at Pittodrie.  In fact, the only more disappointing thing would have been to watch a match at Pittodrie. I am still waiting for an email, a refund and now an apology from CAMRA.

Its local operative virtually accused me of lying when I wrote to complain about different aspects of the dismal last day I attended.

Despite my offering proof as to when I arrived, how little beer was still available then and so on, CAMRA’s local people insist I was wrong, and they verge on implying I lied to them (as you would do for a £15 refund).

I complained to the national CAMRA PR people.   I’d told them my friend and I arrived c. 3.30 (she’s got a time on the first photo she took minutes after we arrived; we walked to Pittodrie from BrewDog, where we met and had a half, which was just after 2.30).  One beer was awful, we complained to the guy serving it who had been tilting the cask forward to get it to pour, and he agreed it was off, and gave us something else to drink.

In fact two other guys tasted this beer before buying it at my insistence, and went away without buying it. This particular beer I complained about was so bad I spat it straight out.   This is what the local CAMRAMAN’s position is:-

“No such instances [complaints of bad beer] were raised on Saturday afternoon. The cellar records show that the one beer in particular you said was in its “dregs” didn’t finish until after you had left. However its brewery companion did run out during Saturday afternoon. If that was what you saw being finished that would have meant your arrival time at the festival was earlier than you indicated.”

Well, that’s me told then isn’t it.  Perhaps I should fess up and send them an apology for blatantly lying and for not knowing the name of the beer I complained about.  They’ve asked me to wait for some exec or other named Paul Scrivens to get back to me (no word yet).  This is brilliantly good public relations.  In any event, I plan to send a keg of the beer in question to ACSEF as a token reflecting my affection.

Perhaps CAMRA think I’ll forget the dismal day and the accusations made against me.  After all, it was some £15 pounds I wanted to claim back – they have every right to stand their ground. After all, what can I possibly do about it?

While on the topic of PR, there is some bad news I am afraid.  Well, bad news for Zoe Corsi of the BiG Partnership.  In an astonishing move, the  that decision has been made – the public relations work for NESTRANS and for ACSEF is going to be done by the Shire’s in house PR/Communications team.

I know – you’re thinking ACSEF is so wonderful and so universally trusted and loved it can’t need any PR help at all.  Still are the in-house team up to the challenge?  Can they fill Zoe’s Jimmy Choo’s?  Does this mean a pay cut for Morris the Monkey, the fictitious creature they used to sensational effect when promoting the granite web?

There was often a smell of alcohol and urine.  It was no place for children

The not-so-very-BiG-now Partnership will undoubtedly miss the £54K or so income it received in the last fiscal year reported in Aberdeen Voice .  I do so hope that my exposure of the money flying around for PR to BiG last year hasn’t had any part to play in this unhappy scenario.

Before getting on with some definitions, I just want to set the record straight on something.  There is part of the city which is a dank, dark unwelcoming place.  Over the years it became out of control and dangerous.  Criminals operated from it, and the dodgier elements in society were there as well, intimidating others was part and parcel of the goings-on.

There was often a smell of alcohol and urine.  It was no place for children, even though a few did go in, they were tainted by being  exposed to the rough crowd that hung around, shying from work.  Even though it is definitely improved in the last year, there is still some way to go.

Lastly, it is definitely not on the level.  But yes, Aberdeen City Council is now on the up, thanks to getting a good sweeping out not long ago.  Let’s continue to try and fix it, for even though it is better, there are still some dodgy elements there.

There are many ways to fix problems with the city council, there are ways for people to protest, and ways for people to make a difference.  With that thought in mind, it’s time for some definitions.

Grafitti: (from Latin – writing).   Artwork, words or painting applied to urban features, used to mark territory or make statements.

Result!  Rejoice!  We have a visionary revolutionary (at least one) in our midst who is solving all our problems of government.  It’s almost too good to be true, but some brave (yet strangely, modestly anonymous) person out there has sprayed their message on Marischal College and the Town House.

And all this time the rest of us have been wasting time and energy lobbying, campaigning, running for office, making peaceful protests, making documentaries and even writing about problems to get things solved.  Why didn’t we think of it sooner – the answer is just to deface our public buildings.

Of course if the taxpayer has to pay a mere few thousand pounds to get one of the world’s most important granite buildings cleaned by experts to ensure there is no discoloration, then it’s just a price each and every one of us is more than happy to pay.  I’m sure the artist in question knew he had a personal mandate from each and every person in Aberdeen to go ahead and spray our buildings.

I’m feeling better already.  What a positive contribution to intelligent debate.  What a means of solving problems.  What a great grasp our artist has of how things actually work.   Clearly the councillors hold all of the power of change, and it’s nothing at all to do with the heads of department or the higher up mandarins, or those who write reports the councillors must accept or reject.

‘Ye have not yet done what ye ought’

There have been some  positive changes; the new government has already done some of what it promised (like saving Union Terrace Gardens from the developers).  But that’s clearly not enough speed and progress for our spray-painting hero.

His message, which no doubt will start appearing on t-shirts was: ‘Ye have not yet done what ye ought’ – Well, whoever thou art who sprayest our building, I thinkest thou should gettest thyself a good lawyer, go public with your great deed, and get ready for the thanks of a grateful city.

Oh, and considering your Town House graffiti was something about the ‘weilders’ of power’, gettest thou a dictionary as well.

So, if a bit of graffiti can change the world and make everything better for Aberdeen Citizens, then so can other forms of heroics such as…

Vandalism: (noun; Eng – after Germanic tribe Vandals implicated in the fall of Rome) to deliberately deface, deform or destroy property or art.

Vandalism is the art of defacing art for social change.  Or at least that is what a member of ‘Fathers for Justice’ is trying to tell us.  First a painting was damaged in Westminster Abbey; nice one.  And this past week, in order to win sympathy for the cause, it was time to glue photos onto Constable’s famous painting The Hay Wain.  Well done!

First, the long-dead painter Constable certainly needs to have his artwork damaged to teach him and us all a lesson in what is fair for fathers.

The connection between Constable, his painting of a wagon of hay, and injustice for this dad couldn’t be clearer.  Now that someone’s attacked this painting, which obviously was doing a great deal of harm to wronged dads throughout the UK, the world will immediately cave in to the logical, well-made point, which of course is in no way tantamount to a  temper tantrum or a blackmail attempt.

According to Yahoo! News:- (my comments in square brackets)

 “Fathers4Justice named the man arrested as Paul Manning, who claims he recently lost a legal battle involving his son, and said he had carried out “a final act of desperation”. [excellent – isn’t ‘a final act of desperation’ what half of the shooting spree gunmen usually use as their excuse?]

“In a statement posted on its website he wrote that his heart, conscience and love “pushes me on to some sort of future action, some sort of path that will get me back to my dear son or it may not?” [sure.  makes perfect sense.]

“He added: ‘It will be an action that may lead to my incarceration possibly even to my own death. [I don’t think we’re quite ready to kill vandals just yet, but the melodrama is tugging on my heartstrings]

“’For I tell you this and take note: my own nation or government or some judge who knows little of my deep love for my child is NOT going to take my son from me or prevent me from seeing him!’ [no, but an unbalanced act of stupidity and vandalism isn’t going to impress the courts much either]

“It comes as Fathers4Justice~* said it was abandoning its five-year “attempted engagement with the political establishment” and called on fathers to take “independent weekly direct action” in the spirit of the Suffragettes 100 years ago.  [Seriously?  Really?  The Suffragettes wanted all women to get the vote.   Do Fathers 4Justice believe all fathers are good and deserve access in 100% of all cases?  There are good and bad parents of both sexes; how precisely F4J determines that all of its members should have visiting/custody rights would be most interesting to find out]”

Thank you Fathers4Justice;  I’m sure your move will have won you many more supporters.  Obviously our shared cultural history and irreplaceable art is as nothing compared to the pace of change you desire, and you not having your expectations met.  No doubt in a few years’ time, little Mr Manning junior will brag to his friends of the brave, selfless act his dad committed against a painting.

Fathers4Justice might do well to define exactly what constitutes direct action.  For those of you who saw the film ‘Just Do It’ you saw people going to banks and power stations and protesting to those they held responsible for social problems.  How very juvenile.   What protestors should of course do is act like Dads4Destruction and start vandalising works of art rather than confronting tax evaders, dodgy banks and polluters.  In addition to gaining more sympathisers, this new ploy by the dads just might be seen as an incitement to commit crime.

Next week – a round-up of the latest acts of vandalism, some bedroom tax bedtime stories, and more

*  Sarcasm aside, I know many fathers who were treated very badly in the past, whether being ordered to pay vast sums of money to partners (not all of which were honest by a long shot) and/or refused access to children.  Things have slowly started to change – change is usually a slow process – the CSA is still god-awful, but is perhaps not quite as draconian as in the past.  Still, is the best way to prove to the courts that you are a fit and proper person to be in charge of a child defacing paintings, climbing on buildings dressed as batman?

Possibly not.  While I very much sympathised in the past, if their new vision is to incite new weekly direct action events which are based on destroying our art heritage, then they’ve lost me, and a few other people I suspect.

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May 092013
 

By Bob Smith.

Boxes, boxes, boxes
Is aa we nooadays see
The “darlins” o modern architects
Be it Aiberdeen or Torquay

Thingies like yon Rubik’s Cube
O a Uni Library biggin
Leukin like the pint his run
A think it’s bliddy mingin

Union Square, o michty me
It’s jist aa steel an gless
Oor toon’s in the hauns o Philistines
Creatin a maist affa mess

The city skyline is fair important
Says Aiberdeen mannie Eric Auld
Seen throwe his artistic ee
Marischal Square it leaves him cauld

Fowk noo are fair upset
At fit they see gyaan on
Aa in the guise o progress
In the toon twixt Dee an Don

“Progress is jist the exchange
O ae nuisance fer anither”
So wrote  yon Havelock Ellis
Writer, Doctor an life giver

Boxes are fer storin things
Bit nae the human race
Stop biggins fit are jist bland
Dinna chynge oor city’s face

Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013
Image credit: Corporate Tree 2 © Andres Rodriguez | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Sep 262012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s event’s in the ‘Deen and beyond in her quest to expose the uncovered even at risk of getting under the skin. By Suzanne Kelly. 

Footdee was transformed into an Ibiza foam party this week. Trees and bits of tree were trashed by the wind. Old Susannah wonders how those 89,000 trees planted on Tullos hill are doing.

They may be too small to be toppled by the wind just yet, but that was exactly the kind of weather that will be strong enough to knock them over in a few years’ time. The soil matrix is poor, according to the Forestry Commission’s soil report.

Thankfully it doesn’t rain or get windy in Aberdeen very often, so I’m sure the trees won’t have any problem at all.

The gusts this week knocked over trees and battered cars, but fear not, they weren’t severe enough to spoil Aileen Malone’s hairstyle, which was fetchingly lacquered in place.

Last Saturday she was adding glamour to the 45-minute demo, in a fetching off-white suit. I’d have thought she’d be in a hunting outfit.

They say that ‘size isn’t everything’ and that ‘length doesn’t matter’. Clearly the few at Saturday’s protest against Aberdeen City Council concurred. There were around 70 (I’m being generous) people protesting against Aberdeen City Council for 45 minutes.

You might have thought it was an outdoor rave: ex-councillor Kate Dean was trendily dressed in fetching leggings and a Cove Bay Rangers supporters’ top. I guess this further illustrates that she has no ties to the club which might have remotely prejudiced her handling of the Loirston Loch planning hearing.

Financially or otherwise, someone who might be biased towards one side or another of a hearing isn’t supposed to be the convener, as previously detailed. Anyway, Old Susannah showed up to watch the demo, with a friend and a doggie, and had a chat to some media acquaintances. They were most amused that they’d shown up in the middle of a weekend to cover a demo supposedly by four or five hundred, to find instead between sixty to eighty people, including infants and toddlers.

I learnt a few new vocabulary words from some of these hacked off hacks, but best we don’t define those.

Aileen Malone, councillor, protesting against the council.  Hmm.  Presumably she was protesting against the amiable Martin Greig, Lib Dem, who voted against borrowing £90 million or so for granite walkways. It will be interesting to find out how this move by HoMalone will be viewed by her current party members and by other sitting councillors.  And we shall.

Tom Smith wrote a heart-wrenching, or perhaps ‘stomach-wrenching’, letter to the P&J in response to a letter by one Dr. Howard Gemmell.  Dr Gemmell was disappointed that the city has been split over the UTG situation, and the lack of Wood’s/ACSEF’s willingness to compromise.

There are some absolutely charming comments on the petition which Wood might enjoy

Smith doesn’t seem to agree that there was unwillingness to compromise. I guess he missed all of Sir Ian’s statements to the effect that it was his way or no way, it was the Web or nothing, and if he couldn’t have his Web he’d send the £50 million to help Africans.

Old Susannah started a petition, now with about 175 signatories, asking Wood to honour his February pledge and send the money to do good in Africa instead of getting rid of the city’s lungs.  There are some absolutely charming comments on the petition which Wood might enjoy; it can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/sir-ian-send-your-50m-to-africa

Smith goes on to say ‘there is no strident political campaign by business or Aberdeen City Garden Trust.’  So before getting on to this week’s themes, here is one non-related definition first:

Strident: (Eng. adjective) Characterised by harsh, loud, aggressive noise or commotion.

ACSEF?  Aberdeen City Gardens Trust?  Big Partnership and 300-plus radio adverts?  The letter signed by a hundred businessmen complaining that without a Web we’re doomed?  Strident, these guys?  Never!  I’ve never seen a more refined, elegant polite request to hand control of public, Common Good land over to a private company before.

A member of the royal family playing games in the nude.  A member of the royal family sunbathing in private.  Another royal, Lady Gaga, accused of being ‘fat’.  The naked rambler’s naked ambition.  Kylie’s bottom, again.  A host of issues have made the nude, sorry, news this week.  Here are some relevant definitions to get to the bottom of things.

Right to Privacy: (mod. Eng.; law) The right of an individual not to endure surveillance, be harassed, photographed, recorded, etcetera, as guaranteed by EU Human Rights law, unless there is a legal reason or a journalistic need to expose truth in the public interest.

Apparently, Individuals’ right to privacy is guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.  Journalists however are able to collect and reveal information if it is in the public interest to do so. Smash criminal gangs? Expose illegal activities? These are the kind of things the old-fashioned investigative reporter used to get up to.

But why risk danger, spend ages researching topics, and wind up with a story buried deep in a newspaper if it’s printed at all? After all, not all papers are interested in exposing truths. I wish I could think of an example or two of this.. All you need is a long, long telephoto lens, a decent camera, some recording equipment, and you’ll be in the tabloids earning lots of dosh with little effort. Result.

A newspaper can print a story if it has not been illegally obtained, and if it is definitely in the public interest to print it. This obviously means we need nude photos of the royal family. What could be more in the public interest than that? Perhaps a certain young man was foolish in the extreme to have had a wild US holiday captured in snapshots.

It’s a pity there weren’t any older, wiser professional people around him to stop photos being taken without spoiling the fun, or at least to ensure that the young man was fully aware of the consequences.  If there had been any such experienced, sober professionals around, this particular upset could easily have been avoided. Good on the Sun for printing the photos.

It’s not as if the Sun is in any way an opportunistic paper that will do anything for money.  Beloved of those caught up in Hillsborough, and celebrities and politicians who may have been hacked, thank goodness we’ve got the Sun.

However, a female member of the Royal family was sunbathing at a private French chateau when she was photographed topless. Who could I be referring to? She was photographed by someone with a long lens who was apparently standing nearly half a mile away. She had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and it was taken away from her. Result!  More public interest photos!

Whether or not you are a fan of the royal family, celebrities, sports people, politicians, all these groups of people are contributing by helping our kindly, intrepid newshounds to make a dignified living.  But the stories wouldn’t be as much fun without photos…

Paparazzi(Italian, plural noun) Packs of journalists and photographers who follow famous people around, looking for photo opportunities and stories to sell to tabloids and cheap magazines.

The paparazzi have done a great job so far, and they couldn’t keep it up without people buying magazines.

Whether it’s a drunk singer getting out of a car showing underwear or skin, whether it’s an ageing Peter Falk aka Colombo in California being literally chased by a pack of news hounds (the poor man was old; he was upset and confused when cornered and photographed), or a celebrity’s child going to school, all are fair game for the paparazzi.

After all, everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, or so I am told, and ‘all publicity is good publicity’. The famous should be grateful that the ever-attentive photographers trail their every move, spying on them, their family and friends.

If you’re famous enough, your accidental death may likewise get a good set of photographers recording it. You’ll be most grateful I’m sure. Old Susannah thought that there was a law and a code or two stopping the exploitation and hounding of celebrities, but apparently there aren’t.

So, keep on buying those mags. Find out who’s been seen cheating on whom, who got drunk, what colour underwear they had on. Most importantly, keep buying these worthy news periodicals to find out crucial things like who looks too fat or too skinny.

Body Image(Mod. Eng. psychological term) The mental picture we have of what we look like to ourselves and the rest of the world.

Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders were once a comparative rarity confined to teenage girls. However, people of all sexes and ages are suffering these days in increasing numbers.  The problem? Who knows. It’s certainly nothing to do with paparazzi and the celebrity mag. It is mere coincidence that any star in a bikini or ‘revealing outfit’ is immediately deemed to be too thin or more likely too fat by the press.

For one thing, the camera adds ten pounds to us all, or at least that’s my excuse. For another, we’re saturated in images of people who are close to physical perfection, because they’ve been airbrushed. Somehow, when someone doesn’t look quite as tall and thin in real life as in their movie poster, the press is free to speculate whether they have ‘cellulite’.  And ageing is definitely a no-no. Botox to that.

There is obviously no link between the media obsessing over every inch of a celeb’s body and other people wondering if they are beautiful or not. Any link between people binge eating or starving themselves has nothing to do with this tiny societal pressure to be perfect.

Lady Gaga, it is being claimed, has no right to any privacy. So her ex pa claims in a New York law suit. I think Gaga might beg to differ. She has recently posed in a bikini as a response to people saying she’d got fat. As a teenager she suffered eating disorders.

It is almost as if she thinks her music is somehow more important than what she looks like. But here’s the thing: just because someone poses for a photo when there is a photo call or an event on, does it mean they should be photographed in their private time? Of course it does!

Thankfully girls have many positive role models. There is Jordan for instance. Buying quantities of silicone, taking your clothes off, and having a ghost writer are what we want our young girls aspire to.

Exposure: (Eng; crime) exposing oneself wilfully, for instance to young children or in public.

In Aberdeen, a man was spared jail this week. He continues to go out in public and expose himself to young children. What a freedom fighter! Just like our friend, the Naked Rambler.

You might think Old Susannah would rush to defend the Naked Rambler’s right to be naked wherever and whenever he wants. Absolutely!

The thing is, other people’s rights not to be disturbed by the Rambler exposing himself aren’t as important as his right to be naked. He was recently asked to stay clear of a children’s play area when he was naked. He refused. What a hero!

There is a silly old saying ‘your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins’. Surely this doesn’t apply to our naked freedom fighter. So what if something like one in five women can expect to have some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime? Why shouldn’t this nude guy be free to make people wary of a potential attack? Why should anyone have the right to keep their child from seeing him?

An American criminal legal professional I know brought up the subject of crime and nudity once, it was one of those conversations. She said that in her years of court experience there were usually only two reasons a man shows up naked somewhere: one is because they intend a sexual assault; the other is because they are going to kill someone and don’t want to get blood on their clothes. But let’s just let everyone go around naked, shall we? How can that lead to any intimidation or discomfort?

Sadly, we don’t live in an innocent, nice world any more. Some say we never did. By the way, the Naked Rambler has two children by one of his ex-partners. She asked him to keep his clothes on to visit his young children and he refused point blank. Now that’s truly heroic, sacrificing your children’s right to a father so that you can get naked.

Confidential to ‘Forgetful of Bucksburn’:  Sorry you forgot about all the charming posts you put on Facebook extolling the various good points of the EDL. If you need any reminders of what you wrote, just let Old Susannah know. I’ve got screenshots saved and backed up, and I’ll be  happy to refresh your memory.

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Sep 232012
 

After a long build-up, vitriolic postings on FaceBook, and a call to the media to attend a protest by hundreds of people, a group of approximately 70-80 stood outside Marischal College today for three quarters of an hour.  Aberdeen Voice’s Suzanne Kelly attended.

Background: Aberdeen has been split over a controversial plan to build a £140 million pound series of arches over Union Terrace Gardens called ‘the granite web’.
The city is far from financially sound, and would need to borrow some £70 million minimum to build the scheme, which would also see the felling of ancient trees – some of the few trees in the city centre.

Those against the scheme point out the city has vast areas of disused brownfield, some of which are becoming arson hotspots which could be the site of any futuristic architectural projects.

The web’s opposition also cite that simple improvements to the gardens are affordable and would be sympathetic to the existing area, and that money should be spent on other projects and restoring services cut under the previous LibDem/SNP coalition.

Proponents of the granite web cite projections made by PriceWaterhouse Coopers, which was paid some £44,000 pounds to create projections for the scheme and research the TIF scheme by scheme supporting agency, ACSEF.  These projected benefits included 6,500 permanent new jobs and no cost to the taxpayer.

It has been shown the taxpayer has already picked up a substantial tab for furthering this project (see https://aberdeenvoice.com/2012/02/the-great-city-gardens-project-gravy-train/ ).

An advisory referendum was held; the Labour Party stated from the start it would not be bound by this referendum, which saw the pro-web side narrowly win.
Various issues arose with the referendum, and an anonymous group placed hundreds of radio adverts via the BiG Partnership which were found in breach of code by OFCOM.

PwC refused to say whether or not the ads’ use of its projections as fact was appropriate, as a ‘private company’ (actually  the PwC invoices are made out to Scottish Enterprise) had commissioned the work (which the taxpayer paid for).

Labour’s election pledges included stopping the granite web, and Labour wound up with a majority in the council at last May’s elections.

The Protest:  A Whimper not a Bang
The organisers included Chad West-MacGregor (who resides in the USA according to his FaceBook page, but who now says he will stay in Aberdeen); they had told the assembled media before the event that hundreds would be in attendance.

A video of the speech can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u57XTEus84

This proved optimistic in the extreme.  The weather was dry and sunny; the date selected was apparently the most convenient date for those who wanted to attend, even if there would be no one in the City Council’s Marischal College to protest to.

This lack of relevant audience did not bother the organisers, who posted on their FaceBook page:-

“Providing hundreds of us make an effort to attend, we will have several media photographers and journalist’s [sic] there to show the entire country that we were there and we were loud. Barney’s back hair will be sticking up when he opens the front page of the EE or the P&J and sees his council building swamped with protesters.”

STV reported:-

“More than 400 people had said they would attend the event on Saturday outside Marischal College to vent their fury at the decision to axe the plans to transform Union Terrace Gardens.  In reality, it was probably only around 60 people who turned up to the demonstration but the organisers felt the small band of protesters made their point.”
http://local.stv.tv/aberdeen/news/local-democracy/191410-city-garden-project-supporters-hold-demonstration-outside-councils-hq/

Organisers have made different representations as to the number of protestors; the FaceBook page linked to the protest has posts from organisers saying there were less than 100 present, but a different post says the organisers had more than 100.

This Aberdeen Voice reporter and her friend were present and counted approximately 70-80 people (more than STV counted) – but there was some fluctuation as people left.  There were about ten media professionals covering the event – 1 for every 8 protestors by my account, or 1 for every 6 by STV’s figures.

The two higher-profile attendees were former councillor Kate Dean and Aileen Malone.  Dean held a Cove Bay Supporters Club banner and wore leggings and the club’s shirt.

Aileen Malone’s presence was something of an oddity. The protest was against the council she is elected to, and she had made it plain that the remaining five Liberal Democrats on the council were not subject to a party whip when the vote on the granite web was held.  Precisely why she felt the need to protest against her own party members – who did not all vote for continuing with the granite web – is a mystery.

The Facebook Pages
A page using Barney Crockett’s photo to represent the organiser (for some odd reason), and an ‘event’ page were launched.  The FaceBook pages caused controversy with a wide range of offensive posts.

After one person, ‘Sasha Molyneux’ mocked someone who had been abused as a child, one person who planned to go on the protest said he now would not.  This person was then attacked for being ‘an anarchist plant’ by Molyneux.

Many posters asked the web pages’ administrator(s) to step in and stop the abuse, but the posts are still there (as at 17:30 22 September 2012).

The web ironically was supposed to attract talent from outwith Aberdeen.  Non-Aberdonians and Aberdonians alike were put off by more posts from Molyneux, who wrote:

“Isn’t it strange that inabootcomers like Suzanne Kelly from New York USA (got a current Visa I hope), Alasdair Johnston from Ayrshire, Richard Baker from Edinburgh, Lewis MacDonald from Lewis via Insch, Willie Young from Stonehaven (we’ll let him off with that) and countless other dissidents seem to think they know what’s best for Aberdeen and it’s [sic] citizens. All the while there are others who can trace their ancestory [sic] back hundreds of years to people who have hewn the very rock from the ground that Aberdeen is built from, taught in the schools that were built with that rock, employed generations in factories run by local entrepenuers [sic] and generally built this city from the ground up and afforded others a lifestyle that they enjoy today. The abuse and disrespect coming from the above mentioned individuals is absolutely disgusting and an extreme isult [sic] to our history and heritage and really if they are not happy they should go elsewhere and learn some decorum and basic manners.”

Most of those mentioned above had not even posted on this page.  Brian Scott then countered with:-

“I can hardly believe my eyes. Has some one actually posted a comment about incomers not having a right to have their say on issues because they cannot trace their roots to Aberdeen despite them setting up home here? Isn’t that racist and reminiscent of a certain political party that takes their mandate from a 1930’s movement originated in central Europe?”

Voice’s Suzanne Kelly quoted Sasha’s earlier anti-incomer post (above) and Sasha replied:-

“I know what I said and i’m glad it is on record because it is the truth. As Annie Lennox once said a North East of Scotland upbringing puts a rod of iron in your soul so just remember that. Your Bully Boy tactics and general disrespect for the people in general don’t go down too well with the people up here and if you think you are being smart and clever just consider this we are a pretty stoical bunch up here and we will break you in the long run.”

 The subjects brought up by pro web factions also included one man’s assertion that the English Defence League is a “peace loving group”, and its leader ‘inspirational’.

There was heated debate back and forth between the two camps, but the radical extremist posts of Molyneux and others from the pro web side were considered by many to be highly inflammatory and seem to constitute what is called ‘trolling.’

It is clear that these extremists do not represent the views of all of the pro granite web faction, but it is clear that the FaceBook page administrators, the organisers of this event, gave tacit support to these posts by allowing them to remain and by not banning the posters.

The organisers seem to indicate they will hold more such events.  Aberdeen Voice will keep you posted of any further developments.

Sep 212012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah  takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and further beyond ( including the murky depths of ‘local’ cyberspace ). By Suzanne Kelly.

Across Aberdeen this past week most of us have enjoyed the last warm(ish) days of summer, and the sunny days and early evenings. Others have been glued to their computers waging a curious battle over a protest planned for tomorrow (Saturday 22nd September).

In the quest to win new friends and influence people, the ‘Protest Against Aberdeen City Council’ Facebook pages have entertained a wide variety of opinions, and a wide spectrum of humour (I am using the term ‘humour’ loosely).

Somewhere between 12 and 500 people will appear at 1pm tomorrow in front of the Marischal College  building (which will be deserted, as it’s Saturday), to protest against Aberdeen City Council, Labour, and the death of the granite web.

An interesting report is to go before the Audit Committee soon; it is by an independent reporter who finds that both the councillors and the officers of Aberdeen City Council need to think about how they interact.

Anyone who read about this report in the Press & Journal would have been shedding tears, assuming this bullying was 100% by mean councillors against poor but honest officers.   Indeed. More on that later.

But the real talk of the whole country is around the most fundamental question of all, which is dividing the Scottish nation, setting brother against brother, and causing an affa bother:  is the deep-fried Mars bar a national treasure or not?  Earlier on, the Mars company reportedly disowned the creation;  other sources later claimed the Mars business had embraced the calorific snack.

This crucial question will no doubt be the subject of several independent consultations, a referendum, Holyrood debate, health & safety analysis, a PR campaign by the BiG partnership featuring Morris the Monkey, and more than a few bar room fights.

Some people claim that the original, unadorned Mars bar was good enough as it was, and should be retained.  Others claimed it wasn’t 21st century enough unless it was covered with a web of deep fried flour and grease.  Not since Culloden has such bickering been seen in this part of the world.  Old Susannah hopes resolution is possible.

There have been a few amusing news stories across the UK as well.

  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind

Seems some of those nice people at Scottish Enterprise have been very enterprising indeed.  Old Susannah never realised what a generous employer SE was, but it is kindly allowing staff to take SE credit cards and take out nice big, fat juicy cash advances (in a variety of currencies), and paying the amounts back as and when.

As a taxpayer, I’m so pleased we can help out the less fortunate SE employee with the odd £10K loan or two.  It’s alright though, as the employees always intended to pay the money back.  Just tell that to your boss next time you need a few grand on your company’s credit card; I’m sure they won’t mind.

It’s almost as if proper financial controls were not working 100% at SE – which is a bit unfortunate in such a tiny organisation; they still operate on a mere £750,000,000 or so per annum (much of which is salary – which Old Susannah finds difficult to reconcile with the cash advances the cash-strapped staff seem to need).

And in England, a woman has been sentenced for hijacking a ferry boat, telling her pursuers ‘I’m Jack Sparrow!’ and sailing away until finally caught.

Readers will find it hard to believe, but she was high on drink and belladonna (deadly nightshade to you and me, which is quite poisonous).  I prefer the odd BrewDog and crisps, myself.  After two days of drink and hallucinogens, she felt ill for some reason or other, and called the paramedics.

When they arrived she was, naturally enough, on a moored ferry boat, as you do.  She ‘didn’t mean to untie the craft, but the ropes kept getting under her feet’.  Fair enough – could have been any of us really.  The ferry boat’s owner told the BBC this incident was a:-

“total one-off bizarre incident which we have never experienced before”.

Old Susannah should hope so, too.

I’m afraid the definitions this week do involve the web; don’t worry – this too shall pass.

Carrot or the Stick: (English saying) to offer an inducement – reward and/or sanction to gain support or agreement.

Any movement needs to recruit new members.  Those nice Scientology people give out free books on  Oxford Street, and tell you how clever you are.  Next thing you know, you’re married to Tom Cruise and waiting for the mothership.  The Moonies used to give out flowers; various missionaries would trade a square meal in exchange for preaching at you.

The Friends of Union Terrace Gardens and Common Good Aberdeen – two forces with the same ultimate goal of saving UTG from development have web presences, hold meetings, and hold the odd demo or two.  New members and the curious are welcome.

Speaking of odd demos, there is a group called ‘Protest against Aberdeen City Council’ holding the demonstration I mentioned before, taking place tomorrow.  They too have a web page and embrace open debate.  And what a debate it has been.

The finest minds in all of Scotland’s past pale into insignificance against the rhetoric, logic, self-restraint and persuasive skills of a small number of the posters on this page.  I’m surprised we’ve not all been convinced the web’s the way to go by this bunch.

The page’s administrator, who apparently lives in the United States, has allowed a wide raft of comments to go unmoderated, which I’m sure doesn’t mean they are encouraging trolls at all.

Usually when you want someone to come around to your way of thinking, you offer them some reason to do so – the proverbial  carrot and the stick.  The Big Partnership, recently rendered silent on the topic of the web, used both the carrot and the stick to get us to join the granite web fanclub.

  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence

The carrots were ‘build the web and 6,500 new jobs appear’, ‘two hundred million pounds will magically flow into the city annually until the year 2023 (not 2022 or 2024 – 2023) AND the added incentive that Morris the Monkey and Jake the Ghost want the web convinced us in the thousands.

The sticks used to try and beat us into submission?

‘No one will come to Aberdeen’, ‘we’ll look silly if we don’t take Ian’s £50 million and do what he says with it’ and ‘people will think Aberdeen is ‘closed for business.’

I always liked this last ‘closed for business’ argument.  It was supposed to make me think of a vibrant and dynamic shopping mall, doing lots of business.  Instead, it made me think of an indiscriminate callgirl who would do anything with anyone if the price was right.

How are the ‘Protest against Aberdeen’s’ members and posters winning hearts and minds?  Reasoned argument?  Supplying facts and figures?  Welcoming newcomers?  Parrying dissent with rapier-like wit and friendly banter?  Absolutely!

Please do go and visit this page yourself – it has all the relevant facts you need to know to make an informed decision to support the web.  These include colourful postings such as the following:-

*  There is an explanation of why the English Defence League has nothing to do with hate or violence;

*  there is a woman being insulted because of her looks;

*  there is a man who says he’s no longer onside with the protest because of the abusive comments made by protest supporters – so he’s attacked as being a ‘plant’;

*  a man who was abused as a child is asked if he was ‘a little sh*t who deserved a clip ‘round the ears’;

*  there is a woman who ‘has it on good authority’ that all the bills the taxpayer has already picked up for the web were really somehow not paid by the city council (who the invoices were made out to), but Sir Ian really picked them up; and

*  a hilarious joke about building a mosque on UTG (alas; Old Susannah is unable to appreciate the witticism or the point being made)

People against the web have in several instances risen to the bait and argued back.  But whatever side of this issue you are on, have a look at the comments made by people like Sandy M, George S and others.  They’ll have won you over with their carrots and sticks before you know it.

Readers of a sensitive disposition may, however, wish to stay well clear.  https://www.facebook.com/events/456202784419418/

Cautionary Tale: (compound noun; English) A story intended to impart advice by showing someone else’s error.

This new Information Commissioner is taking no prisoners – well, actually she might be, as the police have been called in to enforce the law.

This kind of development in Aberdeenshire is extremely worrying!  The local authority seems to have accidentally denied it had information and accidentally deleted the information it denied having.  It was almost as if there was something to hide, and as if the law came second to what the local government mandarins wanted.

This story, covered in this past week’s Press & Journal (really) implies that Freedom of Information requests have to be answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Old Susannah is reassured that there won’t be any such issues here in our city.

Even if the Information Commissioner’s office is reportedly auditing the work our FOI office does, it’s not as if information has ever been withheld from me, or anyone else, is it?  (Unless of course you count requests about Mr S Milne, the deer cull, cost of Marischal college…)

Pre-emptive strike: (compound noun; English) a form of defence or deflecting attention  by attacking one’s opponent first.

Well, a report going to the Audit Committee next week seems to imply that councillors had in the recent past not been treating officers courteously and had asked difficult questions.  Naughty!

No real naming and shaming was done.  I hope no councillors asked awkward questions of Pete Leonard for instance.  Mean councillors in the past may have asked him why he kept representing that the deer-culling, tree-planting scheme was completely cost neutral, even though he knew for months that phase one failed, and ACC had to repay £43,800 for the dead trees.

He recently tried to deflect this irritating fact by reportedly saying £43,800 referred to something in the 1990s.  Just because the money was paid in March 2011, when he was saying the great scheme was cost neutral to the Housing Committee, is no reason to think he wasn’t accurate or completely open, is it?

A cynic could think this report’s suggestions that councillors should show more deference to officers like Leonard is a pre-emptive strike.  Did the report authors know about all the assorted little machinations of Leonard and his ilk?  I’d love to know.  At least one person must have come out of this untarnished:  the softly-spoken, always calm and rational Gerry Brough, kindly volunteer to the City Gardens Project.

Now that this report has come out, I hope city councillors will be warned by this pre-emptive strike not to ask any tough questions!  Hope that’s settled then.

And there we leave it for now.

Next week:  I will attempt again to escape from the granite web – unless Zoe finally writes back about those CGP radio ads, promising us the web for free.  Will keep you posted.

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Jul 062012
 

Disillusioned and dissatisfied with the speed, quality and transparency (for lack of a better word), Suzanne Kelly sums up her dealings with Aberdeen City’s FOI officers.

In 2007 I made my first Freedom of Information request to Aberdeen City Council.  This concerned travellers’ sites (the city had the brainstorm of telling travellers to go to the Torry  Battery – I pointed out that it was an Ancient Monument which the City was supposed to safeguard).

I received a reasonable answer in a reasonable timeframe.

However, it seems as if FOI request handling is far from straightforward of late.

I have been given information late on several occasions.  I have been refused information which I should have been given (as the Information Commissioner later agreed).  I have been given contradictory information. I have even, in my opinion, had disingenuous interpretations made of straightforward requests.    A few examples will illustrate the types of failings I believe need to be addressed.

1.  How many deer were shot on Tullos Hill?

Initially the first figure of deer shot was 22.  This was later changed to 23.  The figures continue to change.  An email of 22 June 2012 from the FOI Office implies 33 shots were fired.  Yet this same reply came with a copy of a handwritten notebook, in which 35 deer were listed as  killed.

Still another document sent at the same time shows 34 deer were killed.  Even though the last animal was -we are told- killed on 9 May, June FOI requests said 23 deer were killed.

This hardly seems like accurate information management to me.

2.  CJ Piper & Co. –  A mystery to ACC

‘CJ Piper & Co.’ is an entity connected to the tree scheme and the cull.  This company co-wrote a report with ACC on the tree scheme – recommending the destruction of 22 deer this year.  ACC paid CJ Piper & Co. at least £44,000.  However, there is no ‘CJ Piper & Co’ listed with Companies House.  There may be very simple explanations for this.  Whatever the explanation, we are not likely to get details anytime soon.

The FOI officer advised me:

“ACC is unable to provide you with information on ‘C J Piper & Co’, including  whether or not this is a registered company, … as it is not held by ACC. “

Precisely how Aberdeen City can spend public money and make payments to a company without holding its details may be of interest to the Information Commissioner as well as Audit Scotland.   It must have been extremely difficult to write a report with this mysterious firm, but ACC managed it.

There is of course the assumption that Chris Piper (a known forestry expert) is the main force behind this company, but the public should have the right to know this company’s details and whether there are any other directors/shareholders.

Should someone being paid to plant trees be the same person who writes a report recommending deer should be slaughtered in order to plant trees when they stand to gain financially from the contents of the report? The relevant issues will be looked at in the next Aberdeen Voice.

3.  How much has the Tree for Every Citizen and deer cull cost? 

I have received two spreadsheets under FOI legislation on this question.  The  latest spreadsheet was meant to show all the incoming and outgoing money on the deer cull and tree scheme.  But it raised more issues than it answered, including:

  • Thirteen lines of 32 line items are classed as ‘unknown concerning ‘ – this is unacceptable
  • Who are ‘Highland Estate Services’  – did they carry out the cull?  How did they and other contractors win work on this project?
  • What exactly are the ‘interdepartmental charges’ on Line 15 for £3000?
  • Where do the accounts show  the £43,800 returned to the Forestry Commission?  Accounting for this returned grant, it would seem ACC spent £167,512 minimum on the tree scheme and cull to date
  • Where are any entries to reflect all the deer fencing that was put up, or the £480 per week site clearance charges that went on over several months?
  • One of the few income streams coming in would have been the deer carcasses which were sold to a game meat dealer.  Where is an entry in the books showing how much money the City made from destroying this herd of deer?

4.  Correspondence between ACC and the Scottish SPCA – Someone is hugely mistaken

A story in the Evening Express recently claime 2 deer were found dead ‘ahead’ of the cull (the story appeared in 2012; the deer died of unknown causes in…2010).   The ‘news’ item quoted heavily from a letter ACC sent to the Scottish SPCA.

I asked for copies of letters to and from ACC and the Scottish SPCA (which told me there were a handful of letters on the Tullos topic).

However, Aberdeen FOI office says:

“… ACC holds a high volume of correspondence with the SSPCA relating to Tullos Hill. As such, it has proven to be quite difficult in identifying the particular letter to which you refer.  … it [FOI office]  is not aware of ACC supplying a copy of any letter to the Evening Express.”

So, not only do the City’s FOI people contradict the Scottish SPCA over the quantity of correspondence, but the ACC FOI office also cannot find a letter from ACC to the Scottish SPCA, quoted heavily in a news story (a copy of which I sent with my request).

At this point I can be forgiven for asking whether there is an political pressure at work on the FOI team concerning the cull.

5.  Q:  ‘Who or which agency performed site clearing work at Tullos?’

My question could not have been more straightforward; I asked ‘who or which agency’ performed site clearing work at Tullos (work which was worth apparently £480 per week).  The answer I first got smacked of sarcasm:  ‘a private contractor’.   Somehow, I had already managed to deduce that myself.   Sarcasm is fine in creative writing, but I question its place in a FOI response.

I wrote back:

“…the name of the company / companies involved should be specified.  This should please include their Company Registration Number by which they are listed in Companies House – if not listed, then please specify”

The FOI officer replied:

 “ACC is unable to provide you with the name of the private contractor (a sole trader).  ACC considers this information to be excepted under Regulation 11(2) and Regulation 10(5)(f) of the EIRS.  Please refer to the attached exception notices”

Perhaps they should have just said they were refusing to answer the question in the first place.   I am not completely certain that a sole trader should be called ‘CJ Piper AND COMPANY’, either.

Private entity  or not, the person/company was paid with public money, and we should know who is connected with it, how it was appointed, and what other work it has done.

6.  Is the use of a present tense verb reason enough to deny that a debt existed?

Rumour reached me that the failure of the first planting had cost the taxpayer about £44,000.  I asked the FOI office:

“Is it true that Aberdeen City Council owes a sum for previous, failed planting? “

The answer came:

“No money is owed by Aberdeen City Council to any agency or organisation for the previous planting.”

When I obtained a SNH letter proving £43,800 debt for the previous failed planting indeed existed,  the Chief Executive Watts denied the £43,800 had anything to do with my FOI request.  The Chief Executive indicated the £43,800 for the failed tree planting on Tullos Hill had nothing to do with the current scheme.

In the first place, it certainly has every relevance to the phase 2 tree planting.  In the second, my question did not say anything about phase 2 – just a ‘previous failed planting’.

The FOI people also defended their answer, writing  that since the debt had been paid, it no longer existed – and therefore they considered my question was not relevant.  The debt was paid in March; I asked my question in May.

I may be alone, but I see a connection between the £43,800 repaid for the previous failed planting and the £44,000 I asked about for a previous failed planting, irrespective of my  use of past or present tense verb in  my question, it was abundantly clear what information I had wanted.

7.  FOI 10703 The Tree scheme won’t cost us anything

I asked a ‘non-factual’ question, and wondered how the FOI office would cope.   I did get an interesting reply.

I asked,

“ Why is the ‘a tree for every citizen’ project something that must be adhered to so precisely?”

The reply came:

“Elected members made a commitment in their Vibrant Dynamic and Forward Looking statement … to plant a tree for every citizen to support the ongoing development and improvement of the quality and quantity of public open space in the City.  Officers have been challenged to deliver this commitment.  

“Aberdeen has a relatively small area of woodland cover (8.8%) as a percentage of its total area.  ….   Woodland recognised to offer a range of benefits for human well-being, creating a pleasant environment for people to live and work in, as well as being of great biodiversity value. 

“Creating these woodlands … will deliver on all these points, with the additional benefit of being created at no cost to the City Council due to the levels of external funding being obtained to deliver the project.  This demonstrates that the Tree for Every Citizen is not taking resources from other services within the City.”

I have to wonder how this answers ‘why’ we must adhere precisely to a scheme which condemned the existing meadowland ecological system.  is the above answer a factual, quantifiable piece of information – or is it political waffle?  The FOI did not attribute their answer.

8.  Marischal College – on time and under budget?  Where’s the proof?

Back when the idea of gutting Marischal College to create offices (too small for the  Council’s needs) first emerged, people were telling me that the costings for alternative projects had been done very hastily and all alternatives were dropped quickly in favour of the Marischal plan.

My FOI ENQ 7172 uncovered that ACC spent £20K on consultants to look at the Marischal project.  However while I found out that costings on alternatives were done, I can’t see them .

I had asked:

“What were the costings done on the alternatives to Marischal College development?”

FOI Answer:

“ACC are of the opinion that… because the Copyright and Patents Act 1988 forbids Aberdeen City Council from copying the cost analysis on the Marischal Project without the owners consent. … ACC is not obliged under the terms of the FOISA to provide you with the information requested. “

How can ACC have paid consultants to look at costings – and the taxpayer not be allowed to know what the results are because of ‘copyright’ ?  Certainly copyright is meant to stop people profiting from the writings of other people, not to prevent the public finding out how its money could have been spent.

#                              #                              #

We are asked to have sympathy for the FOI staff and are told many of the requests they receive are ‘frivolous.’  However, the purpose of this Freedom of Information office  is to fulfil Aberdeen’s legal duties under Freedom of Information Legislation.

I haven’t counted up how many emails I received from the FOI office apologising for lateness in replying to me (all FOIs are meant to be answered within a certain time frame).  Let’s suffice it to say at least 50% of my requests are answered late.

There is also the matter of a judgment from the Information Commissioner against Aberdeen.  A FOI request concerning Stewart Milne group companies of mine went largely unanswered by the Council, which said the law was against the information coming out.  The information Commissioner had a different take, and eventually  five  errors were identified in how ACC FOI staff handled my questions were identified.

If we want FOI responses  to be accurate, swiftly delivered and comprehensive, then this department needs immediate overhauling.  I will be asking Councillors and the Information  Commissioner  to investigate further.

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Jun 282012
 

“THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations….. Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.” (Hard Times, 1854)
The master of 19th century fiction may have caricatured imagination-free learning thus, but would have been heartened by the spirit of the questioning and discussion evident during the meeting of the nascent Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship on 26 June.

By David Innes, with thanks to Dr Paul Schlicke. p.schlicke@abdn.ac.uk

Illustrating very well the group’s desire to ensure that appreciation of Dickens’s life and work is enhanced in an atmosphere of mutual understanding and fun, Dr Paul Schlicke, an academic, who is anything but dry and who displays not as much as a single speck of dust, shared his globally-renowned knowledge of Dickens’s life with fellow travellers.

There were questions on the effects of economic circumstances and social class on the author, the influence of his travels on his writing and whether or not his finely-tuned populist artistic antennae would see him wrestling with Rhianna – definitely not ‘old, fat and toothless’ as Maria Beadnell described herself – for music chart supremacy were he celebrating his 20th birthday this year rather than his 200th

It was a fun evening, and it is the group’s intention that these will continue, with some plans already in place.

On Thursday 30 August, Miriam Margolyes will perform her one-woman show, Dickens’s Women, in the University’s Arts Lecture Theatre. Tickets are selling well, and can be had from Aberdeen Box Office, 01224 641122. www.boxofficeaberdeen.com

The next gathering of the group will take place in September and members will be invited to give a party piece, by reading favourite passages from Dickens. Our Parish, from Sketches by Boz, will be the group’s text for discussion.

On Thursday October 11, James Naughtie, Rothiemay loon, University of Aberdeen alumnus  and scourge of politicians on Radio 4’s Today, will lecture on Dickens. The topic and venue will be announced at a later date in Voice.

Dr Schlicke is negotiating with a renowned Dickens biographer to speak to the group and Keith O’Sullivan, Senior Rare Books Librarian, has offered to set up an exhibition of the University’s Dickens treasures, of which there are many. In fact, Aberdeen itself has one of the very best Dickens collections in the world.

There is unanimous agreement that there will be a future session devoted to the Downie Slauchter, the Aberdeen murder mystery featured in Household Words in1852.

There has been a call for a series of discussions based on Dickens and ********  topics and those on the mailing list have been invited to suggest such themes for future meetings. Add in further suggested Dickensian events and a schedule for the 2012-13 season is looking very viable.

The group aspires to become the first Scottish affiliate to the Dickens Fellowship and urges anyone with an interest in the author to join in the activities.
https://sites.google.com/site/aberdeendickensfellowship/

What larks!

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Jun 222012
 

By Nicola McNally. 

On Tuesday 26th June the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship group will meet at the University of Aberdeen King’s College campus, to launch their 2012 programme of events.

The meeting will be hosted by Dr Paul Schlicke, honorary senior lecturer at Aberdeen University.

Dr Schlicke told Aberdeen Voice:

“The meeting will consist of an informal seminar discussion of Dickens’s life. No prior knowledge of the topic will be required and no preparation expected. I shall lead the discussion myself and will welcome questions and contributions from everyone present. There will be no charge for admission, and everyone interested is most welcome.

“Then in September we’ll hold our next event, when we will discuss the group of sketches entitled ‘Our Parish’ from Sketches by Boz, and members will be invited to read favourite passages from Dickens, chosen by themselves.

“Thereafter we plan to schedule a series of seminars on topics under the general heading ‘Dickens and’—that is, Dickens and Money, Dickens and Charity, Dickens and Education, etcetera.

“We’ll have one meeting devoted to Dickens and Aberdeen. He came to give public readings on two occasions, turned down an invitation to stand for rector of Marischal College, and published an article in his journal Household Words about the local legend of the ‘Downie Slauchter’. We also plan to have a viewing of Aberdeen University’s magnificent Dickens collection.

“The essential point is that we should meet in fellowship; it is not intended to be an academic organisation, but rather a meeting of people who simply enjoy reading and talking about Dickens and his works. Anyone is welcome to participate”.

To find the venue:

The MacRobert Building is the tall building on the corner of King Street and St Machar Drive . There is ample parking adjacent to the building, free after 4.30pm. The entrance is on the south side of the building (i.e., facing in the direction up King Street towards the city. On entering the building, turn left and then through the doors on your right, and down the corridor for lifts.

Future events which have been arranged will also feature the actress Miriam Margolyes who will be at the University presenting her one-woman show, Dickenss Women on 30th August. Tickets for that event are available from the Aberdeen Box Office on Union Street .

 

Mar 152012
 

Voice’s Old Susannah considers the upcoming council elections, the UTG referendum result, the happenings on Tullos Hill, International Womens Day, blogging beasties and generosity. By Suzanne Kelly 

Tally Ho!  The May elections are coming, and not a second too soon.  Some of our tireless (or is that tiresome?) councillors are packing up and preparing to move on.  Let’s hope they bring all of their talents to their new areas.

I hear that there is now a shortage of packing crates at the Fortress of Doom (aka The  Townhouse) as heroic councillors get ready to head into the sunset.  I hope they don’t let the doors hit them on their way out.

As to the UTG Referendum?  Well, I guess that’s it – it has been a totally above-board, fair-and-square contest.

The grapevine would have it that some of the rich and powerful secret members of the Vote for the City Gardens Project are less than pleased it’s cost so very much money to have such a small margin of victory, but they still got the result they wanted, if not the landslide they’d prayed for (or is that ‘paid for’).

In the next few days I’ll write about the dozen or so wee problems that some people have with the referendum and how it was run.

Did you know that over 300 votes arrived just a wee bit too late to be counted?  Did you know it would be totally illegal for any of the campaigning organisations to see the register as to how the votes went?  No, neither did I until recently.  I also have it on very good authority who some of the VFTCGP backers are.  Old Susannah is toying with the idea of naming them.

They would be free to deny the association – but why should they want to be secret in the first place, after all, they were the heroes behind the scenes helping us poor souls know how to vote.  Who could turn down their promise of 6,500 new permanent jobs or their £122,000,000 flowing into the city each year?  Think of all the parties and portraits that would buy!  Wow!

(You might be interested to know that PriceWaterhouse Coopers were asked by me if they had intended their projections about money and jobs to be used as the VFTCGP did in its propaganda.   PwC might have been expected to say they were delighted, and that they stand behind their projections 100%.  However, they said that as the projections were made for a ‘private client’ they can make no comment on them to me.  Of course the bills I’ve seen for PwC look like you and I paid for this great work out of our taxes, but there you go).

And other great news from Tullos  Hill.  HoMalone is having her way, backed up by impartial ‘expert’ C Piper (perhaps related to the CJ Piper firm which was already paid £42,000 for the bang-up job delivered on tree planting to date?).  Yes, the gorse is gone, and with it all those annoying butterflies, bees, moths, and insects.

The birds that would have eaten these critters and the small and larger mammals which lived in the gorse are homeless.  If only I had an environmental degree, then I could say we’ve interrupted the food chain and interfered with existing biodiversity on Tullos.  As it is, I’m not allowed to make any such observation, however obvious.

Any small mammals or deer rendered homeless should apply at Marischal College reception to declare their homeless status.  Of course these creatures are likely now to wind up as road kill.  Surely not even HoMalone or Ranger Bigboy will dare to claim any roadkill we see now will be due to overpopulation?  Well, we’ll see.

  Women around the world lack rights and comforts we all take for granted

Some of those animal-loving, meadow-loving radicals will be handing flyers out and collecting signatures on petitions this Saturday at 12:30 in front of Marks & Spencer Union Street.  The petitions apparently are to protest the use of school children to plant the 89,000 trees on Tullos.

Ms Malone indicates this will be an educational experience for the little mites, and I’m sure it will.

Having seen the state of the hill, they will learn about cuts, tetanus boosters, chemical pollution, industrial waste, and dead deer.  Thank you, Aileen.  I do hope she will make it to the hill to plant a few trees herself.  That would seem only fair to me.

For the paper petition, further info, and a PDF of the new flyer, visit:  http://oldsusannahsjournal.yolasite.com/

Finally, Old Susannah attended two events in the last week which celebrated International Women’s Day, a great Oxfam fundraiser held by Bead Crazy on St Andrew Street.  A dozen or so guests were treated to cocktails (thanks for the Black Russians), brownies and beads.  Everyone made pieces from recycled materials which was right up my street.

I’ve turned an old domino into a necklace that says ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, and a bottle cap into a brooch with an Oxfam fact.  Women around the world lack rights and comforts we all take for granted.  Thanks to Alex and everyone at Bead Crazy for the event.

Then at the Belmont last Saturday I ran into a collection of women celebrating Women’s day a bit differently.  They were all dressed as fairy godmothers, and were collecting wishes from the public as to what people would like to wish for our young girls’ futures.  My wishes didn’t include any granite webs or deer culls.  Thank you Merlyn and all the other women.

As well as a definition or two, this week I am pleased to announce that Aberdeen Voice has negotiated two new Celebrity Bloggers!  They will be featured in this column for the next several weeks.

And now – the first ever Millie & Cattie joint Blog!

“Hi I’m Millie, the Caterpillar!”

“And I’m Cattie the Millipede!  We’ve had a horrible, tragic few days:  our meadow home was destroyed and many of our friends with it.”

“Yes, sadly that’s true, Cattie.  Bulldozers showed up without warning to our Tullos Hill home, and ruined our wildflower and gorse home.  We had our rescue quite by chance.”

“That’s right Millie.  We were chewing on a Foxglove plant and suddenly it was ripped up and hurled into the air.  Sometime later the plant was found by a kindly passerby, and we were all taken to a safe house where we all now live.”

“We were both reluctant to launch this blog, but Old Susannah showed us the coverage Aberdeen was giving to a talking cactus, Morris the Monkey, and Jake the Ghost.  So we thought, ‘Why not try it?’   We know Spike the Cactus is very popular, and if people are willing to take voting advice from a monkey and a ghost (no offence), then people should know our story, too.”

“Yes Millie – we have a responsibility to let people know our beautiful home is gone, and an entire generation of moths, butterflies, bees have been wiped out.  What will become of some of our larger friends like the birds, small mammals and especially the kindly roe deer is our huge worry now.”

“Agreed Cattie.  We are grateful we were saved – we only hope our friends who haven’t been destroyed yet will be spared.  Got any lettuce?”

Cattie and Millie will give us an update next week and for the foreseeable future.

Charity:  (adjective) state of being generous, donating time or money to those  less fortunate.

While our very own local billionaire works selflessly to ensure his lasting granite memorial will bring his family continued and visible dominance over a certain city, a less savvy multi-millionaire has displayed a woeful lack of commonsense.

When it looked as if there would be some public outcry against his web, he calmly threatened to take his ball and go home.

J K Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter saga read the world over, has donated over £100 million to charity in the past year and a bit.  Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard hardly anything about her donations.  Where were the press cuttings, the headlines, the photos?  What did she get in return to show for it?

Ms Rowling has a lot to learn I fear.  Not only has she given enough away to nearly pay for the granite web we all long for, she’s dropped way down on the UK’s wealthiest list.

We will remember for quite some time how Sir Ian made his gracious £50 million donation to Aberdeen.  As long as we did what he wanted with it, and let unelected entities ‘manage’ our common good land, it was a great gift indeed.  When it looked as if there would be some public outcry against his web, he calmly threatened to take his ball and go home. Charity begins at home, and we’re going to take his charity, whatever form it takes, and like it.

Sure, Rowling may have made children all over the world discover the joy of reading,  and her books got people to read together in families and groups.   Her money may have helped countless people the world over across a wide variety of problems and concerns.  She may have made important points about the value of love, courage, kindness and friendship –  

But where’s the statue?  Alas, if there’s no granite monument and not a ton of press coverage bragging about the money, then the donations might as well never have happened.  Shame.  Perhaps a great PR firm could help…

One of the more radical points I picked up from these ‘children’s books of Ms Rowling’s ran along the lines of this (I deliberately paraphrase)  “One thing the tyrants of this world fear is that one day, one of the people they have oppressed will rise up against them.”  Can’t for the life of me think why that particular idea should spring to mind, but there it is.

New Acronyms!

Hooray!  We’ve more acronyms in this town than we know what to do with.  First it was the ‘Tree for Every Citizen’ scheme or “T’FEC!’ as it is affectionately known in Torry.  The tree scheme’s supporters (all 3 of them) are so pleased with their recent successes that they have more plans up their sleeves, or so I hear.

‘Forget Allowing Citizens Anything for Free’  is a brainchild for the coming budget cuts which are  in the pipeline, reflecting the service cuts and support staff cuts.  It will be called ‘FAC AFF!’ for short.

If this proves successful, phase 2 may be launched.  Its working title is Forget Every Citizen Utterly – or ‘FEC U’ for short.

If you want to see these schemes enacted, then don’t rock the boat at the elections, and we will continue on our happy course.  See you down at the Granite Web or Monorail station soon!

Next week? – At this rate what our Council will dream up is anyone’s guess…

Mar 082012
 

The Council has taken a bit of a pasting recently, probably in Voice as much as anywhere. That’s what happens when we invite citizens to pen articles for us. One of Aberdeen Voice’s founders, Ross Cunningham, makes a welcome return by musing on some of the things that councils responsible for the city actually got right over the years.

Let’s face it, our city council is pretty woeful.
Hundreds of millions in debt, essential services cut, hair-brained schemes to revamp the city centre and deafness to those who wish to voice their opinions on the city itself.

But, was it always like this? Surely our great city’s leaders must have been competent once upon a time?

I’m sure there are many more fantastic schemes the council has facilitated over the years that I’ve left out, so please feel free to add to the list. But first try these…..

1. Raising Union Street to street level from Union Terrace to Castlegate

What a superb plan. It almost bankrupted the city when it was built in the 19th century but that was the problem of Aberdonians back then and not ours. Can you imagine having to go downhill and back up again to get from KFC to Poundland? No thank you!

2. Putting the Canal Street signpost on top of a pole instead of at street level

Brilliant! We were all tired of seeing people scoring out the C and S to formulate a crude and badly-spelled statement. To hell with delivery drivers unfamiliar to the area who may not have a TomTom to guide them. Someone needs to treat these things anally!

3. Britain In Bloom champions umpteen times

Being an ex-gardener, the floral displays in the city have always delighted me. Considering we are surrounded by grey, the colour and vibrancy the flowers provided were always a welcome sight. It looks like we may have a new place to show off our horticultural nous very soon. I’d rather we just did up the old one.

4. Revamping Marischal College

It’s amazing what you can do with a pressure washer nowadays. The granite sparkles with a freshness not seen for at least half a century – apart from the old church on the side – and it sits across the road from the recently-evacuated monstrosity. Still, the view from the never-ending queue to wait to discuss inaccuracies on your council tax bill is better than it ever has been.

5. Rebranding the city arms logo

Does anyone remember when the leopards on the city logo looked a bit too fierce and menacing? Surely not the sort of image the city would wish to portray? The answer? Make them look more like a cartoon drawn by an infant, with their tongues sticking out. Sorted.