Jun 062014

With thanks to Gavin Mowat, Constituency Assistant to Christian Allard MSP.

Christian Allard MSP at Holyrood2

Christian Allard MSP at Holyrood

North East MSP Christian Allard has welcomed Scottish Government proposals which will see rural communities given a greater say in the pharmacy application process.
Health Secretary Alex Neil has announced that existing legislation will be amended to create a range of new provisions including improved community engagement in the pharmacy application process and clearer guidance for local NHS boards.

The new regulations will create powers to refuse a pharmacy application in cases where provision of existing NHS services would be adversely affected.

Christian Allard MSP has welcomed the contribution of groups within his constituency to the Consultation on the Control of Entry Arrangements and Dispensing GP Practices, published today (30 May 2014).

The only two community councils to respond to the consultation were from the North East – Newtonhill, Muchalls and Cammachmore Community Council and Tarves Community Council. Further responses were submitted by a Pitmedden-based social enterprise the “B999 Health Trust” and NHS Grampian.

In 2012, NHS Grampian removed dispensing services from the Pitmedden medical practice following the opening on a pharmacy in Tarves. This consequently led to the closure of Tarves GP branch which had a significant impact upon the delivery of local health services.

Following an effective community-led campaign, NHS Grampian convened a special Review Panel tasked with reviewing the decision to cease dispensing in Pitmedden. Local MSPs Alex Salmond and Mark McDonald were the only politicians to make representations to the Panel, which recommended in favour of restoring dispensing in Pitmedden thus allowing for the GP branch surgery in Tarves to reopen.

Commenting, Mr Allard said:

“I’m delighted that my constituents have been able to contribute to this important consultation on pharmacy applications.

“The communities of Pitmedden and Tarves have worked tremendously hard in recent years to deliver a positive outcome for healthcare provision in the local area.

“However, these new arrangements will create a clearer framework and a stronger voice for communities with strong concerns about pharmacy applications in their area. This can only be good news for local health services.”

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Jan 312014

By Bob Smith.
Grandmother is tickling grandfather

Es growein aul’ tis a pain
Some fowk treat ye wi disdain
If yer noo ower seeventy five
Ye’ve less chunce o steyin alive
Ye micht nae be treated fer Big C
Ach ye’ll noo jist hae tae dee
Ye’re a burden tae the NHS
Yer chunces o treatment cwid be less
It’s noo a warld fer the young an fit
If yer aul’ yer in the shit
Society wints ye oot the wye
So curl up an bliddy die
Leukit upon as bein senile
Nae langer pairt o rank an file
Costs ower muckle fer yer care
Time ye wis plunkit in yer lair
Time fer aul’ buggers tae fecht back
An show the warld we dinna lack
The will tae live an contribute
We hiv mair sinse than some nae doot
Maist aulder eens they aye vote
So governmints please tak note
Ignore us an ye’ll fin oot noo
We hiv the power tae turn the screw
Seeventy five aat’s noo nae  auld
Even tho some fowk are turnin bald
Wi  hiv earned the richt tae expect
Society tae treat us wi mair respect.
©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2014
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Nov 082013

On the Eve of Armistice Day and in the year before the 100th anniversary of that war to end all wars, Duncan Harley reviews Andrew Davidson’s new book which details the story of Fred Davidson, Andrew’s granddad, who against orders, took a camera to war.

fred's war cover duncan harleyAs one raised on titles such as Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Goodbye To All That and All Quiet On The Western Front, I was excited at the prospect of viewing the First World War through the lens of a serving soldier, albeit a Medical Officer enlisted in the Cameronians.
The promise of a journal-type narrative enriched with over 250 original photographs seemed promising indeed.

Sassoon, Graves and Remarque had covered the genre almost a century ago in traditional narrative style. Indeed Philip Toynbee once described Robert Graves’s Goodbye To All That as ‘One of the best of the First World War autobiographies’.

Sassoon, of course, paints a hauntingly- beautiful picture of his experiences in the trenches.

The narrator, George Sherston, is wounded as a bullet passes through a lung when he rashly sticks his head over the parapet during the Battle of Arras in 1917. George is sent home to convalesce, and in another rash moment, arranges to have lunch with the editor of the Unconservative Weekly. The reader is left to wonder, what could possibly go wrong?

As for Remarque, day-time television channels still show the 1930’s film adaptation of his classic novel to this day. Born on 22 June 1898, he was conscripted into the German army at 18 and spent just six weeks in the trenches before being wounded by shrapnel. He was repatriated to an army hospital in Germany where he spent the rest of the war.

His classic narrative remains in print and a film for TV re-make was made in 1979, starring Waltons actor Richard (John Boy) Thomas as Paul Baumer and Ernest Borgnine as Katczinsky; it remains an unsurpassed classic.

Fred’s War has an unromantic title, probably deliberate given the rather earthy nature of the subject matter. Written by Andrew Davidson and lavishly illustrated with Fred Davidson’s actual war photographs, the narrative traces the young Fred’s path to France and his eventual return to Britain after being wounded.

The brave Fred is a newly qualified doctor from St Cyrus. His war turns out to be a great adventure. A Cameronian and later an Old Contemptible, he took pictures of his surroundings using a camera smuggled to France in a medical bag.

The narrative is full of descriptive elements many of which may be based on conjecture or on fellow officers’ journal entries of the time. On Christmas Eve the following exchange seemingly takes place,

‘Tommy, Tommy why do you not come across?’

‘Cause we don’t trust you, and you hae bin four months shooting at us’

‘Hoch der Kaiser’

‘Fuck the Kaiser’

‘Gott strafe England.’

Fred’s life in the trenches is described in some detail despite the author revealing,

He never talked about the wars he fought in and the friends he lost. But he did pass down the items that now sit in front of me: three photographic albums and a set of binoculars monogrammed FCD. He also left a framed collection of medals – now replaced by replicas, the originals having been lost to the family.”

Through the diaries and memoirs of Fred’s fellow officers we learn that, following Royal Army Medical Corp training, Fred is sent to join the Glasgow-based Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) at Maryhill Barracks. He quickly equips himself with an imported Buster Brown folding camera to augment his medical kit and begins taking portraits of fellow officers posed in the doorways and streets of Maryhill.

The images do indeed tell the story of a man despatched to war complete with a bellows camera

War breaks out after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by the Black Hand, and in August 1914 the battalion is stationed beside the Conde-Mons Canal with orders to hold the position against the German advance at all costs.

This is actually a relief to many of Fred’s fellow soldiers who had feared being sent to Ireland to suppress the Irish unrest and defeat the Ulster Volunteers.

There follows a predictable description of the grim reality of static trench warfare, complete with blood, suffering and lice. Constant shelling, freezing conditions and trenchfoot abound. Mud, excreta and rats feasting on corpses are all around.

In terms of photographic content, this is a really interesting book. The images do indeed tell the story of a man despatched to war complete with a bellows camera. The monotone shots provide the reader with a unique insight into the day-to-day reality of what it was like to be there on the battlefield in the early part of that European war almost one hundred years ago.

The description of officers shopping for shirts and underwear defines the book well.

“Most of their kit has gone missing, cast off in the frantic retreat. Outside the railway station, they see a captured German Hussar officer marched under guard, tracked by a hostile French crowd, baying like dogs. Still no-one knows what will happen next.”

The title page proclaims: Fred’s War – A Doctor in the Trenches, an apt summary perhaps. This is after all a description of static warfare at ground zero.

In terms of historical perspective, it is perhaps a dull book. In terms of revisionist history, it says little which is new. The narrative promises much but delivers little except anecdotal diary-based material.

The strength of this book is in its images. Most have been unpublished until now and many show the same scenes then and now, a nice visual touch, allowing the reader to understand the changes in landscapes and townscapes since The Great War.

If you are a fan of the images of war, then this may be for you. If more serious history is your forte, then check out your local library in the next few months to see what else is on offer.

Andrew Davidson
Fred’s War
Short Books £25 (hardback)

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Sep 262013

With thanks to Aimee Dominick.


An Aberdeen pharmacy is set to embrace the spirit of the Great British Bake Off in support of a national cancer charity. Clear Pharmacy on Alford Place is taking part in the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support on Friday 27 September.

In exchange for a small donation customers can enjoy hot and cold drinks and delicious baked goods which will be served from 8am to 6pm. The pharmacy will also be offering free blood pressure testing and diabetes checks throughout the day, as well as all regular pharmacy services.

Local businesses including Chalmers Bakery and The Eatery will donate a selection of cakes and tray bakes which have been well tested by the pharmacy staff in the past! Ruth Milne, a dispenser at Clear Pharmacy, said:

“We’re all looking forward to turning the pharmacy into a café for the day, and getting to know our customers a bit better while raising money for a good cause.”

One in three people will be diagnosed with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support improves the lives of people with cancer, providing medical, emotional, practical and financial support to those affected by the disease to help them have the strength and energy to fight it.

The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning, an annual event taking place since 1990, has grown to be one of the charity’s biggest fundraisers, taking in £15 million last year.

Donating to Macmillan will allow the charity to help the two million people living with cancer in the UK today. £25 pays for a Macmillan nurse to help a family affected by cancer for 1 hour, allowing them to fight for the best care for their patient.

Pharmacist Kelly MacDonald said:

“We’ll be accepting donations throughout the day and have also set up a JustGiving page to try and raise as much money as possible. We have already raised £280, and hope to raise even more on Friday.

“Everyone is welcome to join us for some cake and coffee in support of Macmillan.”

Clear Pharmacy is based on Alford Place and will be hosting the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning from 8am-6pm on Friday 27 September. Donations can be made in store or online at www.justgiving.com/clearpharmacyaberdeen.

Sep 082013

2014 will be the 50th anniversary of the then-terrifying outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen, once commemorated by the scallywags of Scotland the What, ‘I can mind the typhoid epidemic at its worst, we never washed wir hands unless we did the lavvie first’. Duncan Harley muses on food hygiene then and now.

Food. Credit: Duncan Harley

Sadly, three patients being treated in Aberdeen’s City Hospital died, but it could have been much worse indeed had the authorities been slower to act.

There have been several such public health epidemics since 1964 but the 1996 Lanarkshire E. coli O157 food poisoning outbreak must rank as being among the most devastating, both in terms of deaths and of the failure of those charged with keeping our food supplies safe.

A total of twenty-one people died in the 1996 E. coli outbreak after eating contaminated meat supplied by a butcher’s shop in Wishaw, Lanarkshire. In 1998, Sheriff Principal Graham Cox concluded after a two-month inquiry that the shopkeeper, John Barr, had been ignorant of food hygiene procedures and had also deceived food inspectors.

Sheriff Cox also severely criticised the Environmental Health service as acting too slowly in linking the outbreak to Mr Barr’s shop.

Both the Aberdeen and Lanarkshire E. coli cases were, of course, public relations disasters for the businesses concerned. John Barr’s shop was closed for three months but it did reopen at the end of February 1997 after remedial work had been carried out. However, the shop closed again in April 1998 when the building began to collapse because of old mine workings.

The source of the Aberdeen typhoid epidemic was a Granite City supermarket which unwittingly sold on contaminated supplies of corned beef imported from a cannery in Rosaria in the Argentine. The shop closed for good in the light of the episode and a good few folk breathed a sigh of relief.

Dr Ian MacQueen’s use of the words ‘leper colony’ may have been particularly unfortunate

The economic effects on Wishaw are difficult to calculate. It was not a tourist Mecca nor was it endowed with copious volumes of North Sea oil. On the other hand, over a decade before the oil started coming ashore, Aberdeen suffered great economic hardship in the years following the 1964 epidemic.

Hotels and restaurants were perhaps the worst affected and the area Tourist Board’s attempts to encourage folk back to the Granite City were not helped by the proclamation of the then Medical Officer of Health, Dr MacQueen, “we’re not a leper colony!” His subsequent advice to Aberdonians and holidaymakers alike to avoid swimming or paddling in the sea led to a local paper headlining on ‘Beach Bombshell’ and pretty effectively killed off any short term prospect of the return of the lucrative ‘Glasgow holiday trade’ to the beach seafront area.

Dr Ian MacQueen’s use of the words ‘leper colony’ may have been particularly unfortunate though. Perhaps lacking an in-house spin doctor, he may have imagined that the proclamation would have had a more positive effect. After all, the epidemic had more or less been contained and, from a health perspective, the battle was all but won.

The word leper however, then as now, is closely associated with grotesque suffering and disfiguration leading to the shunning of sufferers and their treatment as outcasts.

Leprosy is an infectious disease causing severe disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms and legs. The disease has been around since ancient times and is often associated with some quite terrifying negative stigmas. Outbreaks of leprosy have affected and panicked people on every continent.

St Fitticks Torry Leper 2 Duncan Harley

St Fitticks Church on Nigg Kirk Road reputedly features a leper’s window

The oldest civilisations of China, Egypt and India feared leprosy as an incurable, mutilating and contagious disease. According to recent World Health Organization estimates, around 180000 people worldwide are currently infected with leprosy.

Even today, over 200 people are diagnosed with leprosy in the US every year, mostly in California and Hawaii. There was even a recorded case in Eire a few years ago.

Leprosy died out in Scotland several hundred years ago although there are a few sites in Aberdeen associated closely with the disease. The Grampian Fire and Rescue Service headquarters, for example, was constructed on the site of an old Leper House just off Kings Crescent. Bede House in Old Aberdeen also has associations with leprosy and may be situated on the site of a lepers’ hospital.

St Fitticks Church on Nigg Kirk Road reputedly features a leper’s window although this is now in some dispute since the disease may well have died out in the area well before the small opening in the northern wall was formed.

St Fittick was of Scottish or Irish descent. He may have been a son of the Dalriadan King Eugene IV and might have been brought up on Iona. Equally, he may have been born into a noble Irish family. What is certain though, is that as a young man he lived in France.

Scottish tradition suggests he was sent by the Bishop of Meaux to deliver Christianity to the Picts in the North of Scotland. He was seemingly swept from his ship during a storm and washed ashore at Nigg Bay, where he refreshed himself from a well which took his name and caused the church to be built. Some accounts relate that he was thrown overboard by the crew of the ship who feared that he was unlucky.

The truth may never be known.

What is known is that St Fittick became the patron saint of gardeners, having performed a miracle in instantly clearing a large area of forest for cultivation.

St Fitticks Church, Torry. Credit: Duncan Harley

St Fitticks Church, Torry, Aberdeen.

He is also, seemingly, the patron saint of Parisian taxi drivers, which is hard to explain unless you are a Parisian taxi driver.

St Fittick’s Day is usually celebrated on 30 August in the UK and a day later in Ireland.

As well as having a long and fascinating religious and social history, St Fittick’s Church in Nigg is also where William Wallace, or at least the relic of the man which was sent to this corner of Scotland, is said to be buried.

But, back to the events of 1964.

We frequently hear complaints from restaurateurs and publicans about the strict food hygiene rules and the cost of training staff to adhere to the standards required by Environmental Health Inspectors.

It is most unlikely that food inspection or hygiene courses will cause either E. coli or leprosy, but they may prevent us getting sick. If Dr MacQueen had been more astute in the PR department in 1964, then perhaps Aberdeen would now be the tourist destination of choice for the cognoscenti of Europe instead of the Oil Capital of Europe.

Described by a colleague as ‘a bulldog with the hide of a rhinoceros’ Dr MacQueen’s strategy of innovative traditionalism has been seen by some as an attempt to protect and extend his department’s services. He was deemed to have made excessive use of the media and to have turned the outbreak into an event approaching a national crisis.

Compared to the human cost of the Lanarkshire E. coli outbreak, Aberdeen’s typhoid epidemic pales into insignificance, except that we all remember it.

The legacy of Dr MacQueen lives on, even after fifty years.

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Jun 062013

With thanks to Kubra Boza.

Students from the Stop AIDS Campaign Aberdeen were out on the street in city centre last Saturday to raise awareness of their twitter campaign which started on Thursday 6th June.

Along with other Stop AIDS campaigners from across UK universities, they took pictures with the public holding up a giant #theworldiswatchingnow eyeball placard and encouraged them to tweet Justine Greening, the UK Secretary of State for International Development.

The campaign is to push the UK to increase their contribution to the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.

The Global Fund is a transparent and innovative financing institution that provides funding to support programs that prevent, treat and care for people with HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria all over the world.

Currently the Global Fund needs to raise $15 billion to meet the needs for these devastating diseases for the next three years.

Azam Ismail, the president of Student Stop AIDS Aberdeen said:

“The USA has pledged to give $5 billion but only if the other countries give the remaining $10 billion.  

“We realise that £1 billion is a big sum of money, but it is absolutely essential for the UK to step up their contributions in order to ensure that the USA keep their promise and the Global Fund can reach their target.

“We encourage everyone to join us in tweeting @JustineGreening on Thursday to let her know you care and that the world is watching now”

The Student Stop AIDS campaign advocates for global access to HIV medication, zero discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.

It is a network of over 30 student societies all of which are a part of a national Stop AIDS Campaign, a coalition of over 60 UK NGOs and trade unions.

Facebook:    https://www.facebook.com/abdnStopAIDS
Twitter:          @StopAIDSAbdn

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Apr 222013

By Suzanne Kelly.

Evidence continues to mount against the French giant ATOS, brought in to assess the fitness of UK citizens to work or otherwise, yet the current UK Government does nothing.

Sensationally, Dr Stephen Bick MP claimed to have uncovered a quota system through which ATOS planned to allow only one in every eight people it assessed to be considered permanently unable to work, irrespective of the medical facts.

Scores of people have had their own physicians’ opinions overturned. Bick has called for a National Audit Office report.  And still ATOS carries on, at great expense to the taxpayer, with its ritualistic, insensitive, arcane investigations and operations.

Sometimes they cause upset and damage before the client even sees a doctor – take David Brazendale’s case.

In his words, here is his Aberdeen ATOS experience.

“I had an appointment set to take place at the ATOS Medicals, Aberdeen centre today at 11.20. It never happened as I was told when I got there at 11.10, the required 10 min early, that there was a 2 hour wait. Well, the air nearly turned blue with steam coming from my ears. This is a copy of the e-mail I have just sent them.”

“Dear Sirs

I am writing to you today to make an official complaint about your Aberdeen Medical Centre. I had an appointment today scheduled to take place at 11.20 at the Aberdeen medical centre, I struggled to make the appointment after a 45 min journey to get there the required 10 min early for the appointment.

When I got there I was informed that there was a long wait for my appointment well you can imagine my shock to find out that is was at least a 2 Hour wait, at the time I was there was only one other person sitting in the waiting room. I find this totally unacceptable as I had an appointment for a set time , also I have not received any communication before I got there today.

I said that I would come back in 2 hours as I could not sit and wait for 2 hours, anyway how many disabled people do you know who could sit and wait for 2 hours?

I was then told that I could not come back in 2 hours as it might upset the afternoon appointment so I was sent away and was told that I would get another appointment for a different day, it’s bad enough that I have to go there in the first place, never mind the fact that I was only released from Hospital yesterday the 11th April after having a hernia repair operation and I was in severe pain on top of the chronic back pain that I have anyway.

I have contacted my local Job Centre Plus about this, who told me I had to make a complaint to ATOS myself.

Yours Disgusted

David John Brazendale.”

At David’s invitation I contacted ATOS on Monday 15 April, asking questions relating to both his bad experience and ATOS’s treatment of Justin Smith. David now has a letter from ATOS regarding his e-mail and it has launched an investigation into his complaint which should take four weeks or less to complete.

ATOS was asked to explain its lack of communication with David. Its own charter reads,

“We aim to keep to your appointment time, and if not, we will update you about any waiting times”

Other issues put to ATOS include:-

  • Please confirm whether or not everything is running in Aberdeen as it should,
  • Please confirm what should be done when an appointment is running late – do you call the patient or not?
  • Is it policy to read a patient’s existing notes in advance? If not, why not?
  • Are patients allowed to reschedule if they have newly come from hospital or have some other issue?
  • Do you tell people in advance that when you ask them to, for instance, move a box from place to place you are not making a medical diagnosis, but determining if they can do moving work?
  • Does ATOS believe that anyone on chemotherapy or radiotherapy should be working?
  • Why would someone be forced to wait in your waiting rooms if there was a two hour wait?

In a spokesperson’s response on Thursday 18 April, I was given contact details for anyone wishing to make a formal complaint.

ESA/WCA Customer Service: Telephone 0800 2888 777. E-mail: customer-relations@atoshealthcare.com

Anyone with a complaint should register it, but judging by the evidence of those who have gone down the complaint route, I would not expect a particularly sympathetic, helpful, quick decision.

The spokesperson continued,

“Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists work hard to provide a compassionate and professional service for all those asked to an assessment, at what we know can be a difficult and emotional time. Last year we conducted over one million assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.

“If there is any aspect of our service that people are not satisfied with, we would urge them to make a complaint to us directly so that we can thoroughly investigate and make changes if necessary.”

To my cancer-related questions, they had this to say:

“On your cancer question, please may I refer you to a recent announcement made by the DWP on cancer regulations for the WCA? You will be aware that DWP own the policy surrounding the WCA not ATOS Healthcare.”

It seems that following orders is the order of the day at ATOS. If it wishes to disavow responsibility for part of the work it carries out as a medical practitioner, could this put ATOS medical ethics in a poor light? I recommend reading the full transcript of Dame Anne Begg MP’s recent contribution to the debate from which this is an extract,

“It is not enough for Government to say that the genuine claimant has nothing to fear. In too many cases, genuine claimants are not scoring any points in their initial assessment. There is something fundamentally wrong with the system and the contract that ATOS is delivering.

“When the British Medical Association votes at its conference to say that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose there is something wrong with the system. When GPs are reporting an increased workload, not just as a result of providing reports but as a result of treating patients whose condition has worsened as a result of their WCA experience, there is something wrong with the system.”

Sources/further reading:


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Apr 182013

By Justin Smith.

3 years ago, I was a successful IT systems Engineer earning in excess of thirty thousand pounds a year and had been in continuous employment since leaving university.

On 15th Aug 2010 I was in a road traffic accident that turned my world upside down. I was left in Critical condition in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary as a result.

According to RoSPA,  80,000 people a year are seriously injured on the road. So it could happen to anyone!

I had 3 major surgeries in ARI and 2 further surgeries including a total hip replacement up to December 2011. On the 9th of May 2012 I was assessed by ATOS to be fit to work.

This was despite the fact I was on crutches and due to have my 6th surgery in August 2012, on a leg I am fortunate still to have.

I had that surgery in August and there was absolutely no chance I would have been fit to work for several months even if everything went well. As it was, I spent most of September in ARI due to an existing infection in my leg. I needed 4 more surgeries as a result.

I was in no way physically fit to work for many months afterwards.

My consultant had said as much in a letter I had requested and that was presented at my tribunal.

In addition to my physical injuries, ATOS took no account of the effects of my head injury believing that my spending an hour at a time on FB was sufficient evidence that I could return to work!

Maybe if I worked for ATOS?

The WCA takes no account of my fatigue and the anger issues resulting from head injuries. I have since had my Tribunal – March 2013- and although they gave me 6 points, I was still judged to have been fit to work last may, at least according to the limited criteria of the WCA.

How anybody can reach the decision that I was fit to work in May 2012 and how the tribunal can confirm that decision, based on any form of reason is beyond me.

They said I was fit to work when they knew I had upcoming surgery that I obviously needed. Subsequent to that surgery I was in hospital for a month for 4 more surgeries, with a further 6 weeks of hospital visits to attend to open wounds.

Those wounds did not close until the week before Christmas 2012. That was 5 months and I was still recovering. In what way would I have been fit to work over that period?

I am currently on the Momentum pathways program for head injuries to prepare me for a return to work this summer. It has helped a great deal and I wouldn’t have been fit to return to work without it.

I plan to go back to work part time in May and build up my hours from there.

It was always a primary objective in my recovery to get back to work! If I, as a hard working productive member of society am treated like this when I need the help most, what is the welfare system for?

I am one of the lucky ones in having the support of my family and being able to get back to work. Other people aren’t so lucky and are dying or left destitute due to the actions of this government.

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Dec 032012

Old Susannah casts her beady eye around the ‘Deen – and this week, far beyond! By Suzanne Kelly

Tally Ho! Apologies for the late-running of this service but Old Susannah has been in New York and Glasgow over the past 10 days or so.

The biggest news of the week is the annual Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Top Scot award going to Michael Forbes, Menie resident and nemesis of Donald Trump. Many congratulations on an award well deserved.

It was disheartening to see New York in such a state; there is a huge, under-used park at the very centre of Manhattan.

Because this central park hasn’t been successfully transformed into a vibrant, dynamic, iconic web, New York is closed for business. Retail trade is down, with many small family-owned, non-chain store businesses operating throughout the greater Manhattan area instead of multinationals and pound shops.

This park also has major connectivity problems. Some if it is actually below street level! Yes, really. Other parts have a wall separating the park from the street, and people have to travel a few blocks to get to the next entrance.

To make things even worse, some of the park is even higher than street level. I hear a delegation from New York will travel to Aberdeen soon to look at the web plans, and see if the Granite Web can’t be built over Manhattan.

Until such time, New Yorkers will have to suffer the consequences – little tourism, hardly any business, and not much going on culturally.

If they were to just set up their own version of ACSEF, I’m sure the local taxpayers would be happy to fund an unelected quango that knew better on all issues than elected officials, and do whatever it said without question.

Then it was on to Glasgow.

For some reason, the streets there don’t have much going for them. Well, not in the way of litter, potholes and broken pavements anyway. The public transportation is affordable, clean and frequent – even after 6pm!

One really tough-looking guy on the underground strode purposely near where I was standing – to put a used ticket into a used ticket bin. Must have been something wrong with him.

Returning to BrewDog on Monday evening, I bought the last two bottles of Ghost Deer. This truly delicious beer is the world’s strongest fermented beer (and it has fetching artwork).

I also managed to buy one of the last limited edition Ghost Deer t-shirts, so I am well chuffed at having something to wear when I next see Aileen Malone.

Ghost Deer is marketed as ‘an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion.’ It reminds me of someone, I just can’t figure out who.

 Want a few weeks off work? Stop washing your hands when you use restrooms and stop disinfecting surfaces

The deer theme continued at Aberdeen Art Centre as I attended an opening of work by Nicky Cairney and her mother, Angela Cairney. The show was well attended and the work is very varied, with themes of nature, man’s interference with nature, and environment the overriding themes.

Please do go and see it, especially the silhouette work concerning Tullos Hill and golf. When lit in different ways, these dioramas throw powerful shadows with more than a little hint of political commentary.

Before moving on to some seasonal definitions, something seems to be wrong with the council. When the first icy days hit us, salt and sand were being used on the roads AND pavements. I really don’t know what they’re playing at – you didn’t get this kind of thing happening when Kate Dean was convener. Let’s see if they keep it up.

Cold weather also can mean an increase in viruses. A few unpleasant illnesses are doing the rounds, so try and stay well. Here are some definitions which may help.

MRSA Virus (noun) a strain of the staphylococcus bacterium which can cause serious infections in people, and which is becoming increasingly immune to antibiotics.

Want a few weeks off work? Stop washing your hands when you use restrooms and stop disinfecting surfaces. Also forget all that nonsense about using a tissue once, throwing it away, and then washing your hands. That’s for wimps.

It’s an awfully good thing that Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Grampian NHS ensure all the wards in our area are spotless. I was told you could eat off the floor in Ward 49, for instance. Bring a knife and fork.

It’s important to remember that if you get an infection that needs antibiotics, the doctor doesn’t really want you to finish the whole course of medicine. Just take a few pills, stop after a day or two, then be totally surprised when you don’t get better. You’re doing a good deed for biodiversity by making bugs stronger and stronger. Result!

However, there is a more serious hospital virus going around. At present, there is only one known case.  This case is, however, in our area – so do be vigilant…

MRCS Virus (noun) new strain of hospital virus causing computers to imply doctors have more qualifications than they do. Pity poor Doctor (???) Muhammad Ishaque.

It’s clear that ARI takes checking references seriously

This trainee doctor worked in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, where he picked up this curious disease. Unfortunately, the highly-trained professionals at ARI failed to spot this virus before he was hired. Perhaps a better check-up of incoming doctors is called for.

To most people in the medical profession MRCS means Member of the Royal College of Surgeons.  The implication if you got an email from said trainee was that they were a qualified, recognised surgeon. This trainee didn’t exactly have all of the medical qualifications his computer said he had. Instead, he claimed he contracted the MRCS virus on his computer at the hospital.

This rare virus causes a trainee doctor’s outgoing emails to magically contain the letters MRCS after the trainee’s name. Scientists are baffled at the emergence of this new virus, and are closely studying Ishaque, the only known sufferer in the world.

So by all means clean your hands – but clean your hard drives as well.

I guess it’s no big deal – as the ARI seems to insist – that this person examined people. They say he was always working alongside a fully trained doctor. It’s not as if people expect a person examining them would have been fully vetted before allowed anywhere near the public.

I’m thinking of going along for a job as well – guess if I work with a qualified doctor, no one would mind being examined, advised or probed, would they? It’s clear that ARI takes checking references seriously. Otherwise, we might wind up with people being treated badly in hospital, and that simply couldn’t happen here.

Funnily enough, there is a long-running rumour that a form of this virus may be at work in Aberdeen City Council computers, a rumour that says not all officers have all the qualifications they claim to hold. Obviously the city’s HR team check and double-check all references.

Gift Cards (modern English noun) A procurement card with a given amount of credit, which allows the holder to buy goods and services.

Poor former administration of Aberdeen City Council. Despite having teams of accountants, financial experts, staff of all descriptions and black-and-white procurement procedures, they just couldn’t find a way for some essential purchases to be made. Easy to understand, I’m sure.

Instead of being hassled with procurement rules, they bought and dished out tens of thousands of pounds worth of Tesco gift cards. Result! ACC staff obviously bought just what they needed for their jobs, kept receipts, and filed accurate business expense claims.

Maybe instead of going to work as a doctor for ARI, I should just get a job at ACC and some Tesco gift cards

Old Susannah remembers the story of an enterprising social worker who did their best to stimulate the economy by purchasing much-needed goods. Mind you, technically some of these purchases should have successfully made it into the hands of the people the social worker was caring for, rather than being used by said social worker for personal use.

That’s just splitting hairs, though. Some thoughtful social workers have, so I am led to believe, given a wee bit of help to their clients when it is time to vote as well. What a comprehensive service!

Back to the use of Tesco gift cards. According to STV:

“The fact that money seems to have been spent towards the end of the financial year, that some things were bought that were inappropriate expenditure and the fact that a certain area was stockpiling cards in (sic) unacceptable.”

Another little fact of city council budgeting is that departments might lose funds in the following year if they did anything rash – like not spending all of the money they were allocated in the current year. This is how we encourage departments to do all they can to save money. I’m just not exactly sure how that is working out.

Hmmm. I wonder who gets to keep the Tesco Club card points, worth a fair bit of money, air miles and free pizza? I think we should be told. That’s an awful lot of points someone’s got. Who, I wonder, has them?

Clearly the financial records will show that such points are retained and used by the council, as the purchaser of the gift cards. Maybe instead of going to work as a doctor for ARI, I should just get a job at ACC and some Tesco gift cards.

That’s almost it for this week – but to cheer everyone up, Aberdeenshire Council is ‘manning up’ and getting tough on crime. Yes, at this festive time of year, there can be an upsurge in street crime.

But hooray! The shire is going to save us all from the scourge of – too much bunting, banners and festive lights. According to the council, there will be a crackdown on this kind of unwanted, hazardous, illegal activity.

Meanwhile over at the Menie Estate…

Next week:  more festive definitions.

Confidential note to the person with the Saltire posting fetish: great – good for you – keep putting the Saltire up but can you please stop nailing your signs into living trees? You’re not doing the trees any favours.

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Oct 282011

Old Susannah reflects on what’s been going on, who’s got designs on our City, who’s doing what out of the goodness of their heart, and wonders if there’s enough ‘connectivity’ yet.  By Suzanne Kelly.

It was another busy week in the Granite City. Have been busy decorating cupcakes with Sweet Lily Adams (it’s a hard life), and trying out new Jo Malone perfumes (I love their Gardenia cologne, and the orange blossom candle is my favourite).

NB: Jo Malone has absolutely nothing to do with Ho Malone, although the idea of Aileen and I having champagne and canapés together of an evening is an enticing prospect.
She is meant to email me back about the financials for the deer cull (we might not have enough money to kill stuff you see– or it could be a bluff).

Once she does write back, I’ll suggest that the two of us go out for drinks and dinner. Watch this space.

I actually went to some shopping malls without being accosted by guards, and I tried to avoid looking at the six design finalists more than was absolutely necessary. It was truly a car crash of an exhibition:  I had to force myself to look, and then in horror could not look away again.  Whatever the organisers say, not everyone at the show is convinced by the scheme or any of the designs by a long way.

The show has had a profound impact on me as has the TIF application – I think of these things and unavoidably burst out laughing.  You have to hand it to these people  – the emperor has no clothes on, but thinks it all looks fantastic.  If you are free on 1st November, The Moorings is hosting its own alternative design competition – details on Facebook, where the alternatives are far more popular than the official site.

For some reason when I was back at the Academy shopping centre for the first time since my last little visit, my mind turned to the old Benny Hill show.

The other week when the guards were chasing me round the Academy and St Nicks (for taking photos), I could practically hear the Benny Hill theme tune in my head.  If you remember, the wealthy, ageing Benny Hill surrounded himself with pretty blondes, and promised everyone that they would be generously remembered in his will. In the end, almost no one inherited a cent.

What on earth made me think of a rich, older man making promises to leave money to lots of people (including blonde actresses) I couldn’t tell you. The mind works in funny ways.  I must have got something stuck in my craw.

Obviously it was not as vibrant as being in a shopping mall, but I took my turn on Tullos Hill Monday night (yes, we are keeping a watch on the hill – if you want to get involved, get in touch) and saw a solitary deer on two occasions. 

It was obviously vermin, as it was peacefully doing nothing.  I am sure this little vegetarian would have eaten thousands of trees of a single evening.  A well-meaning man had a dog off a lead – the dog chased said deer away.  The man saw nothing wrong with this, saying his (fairly small) dog would not be able to catch the deer.  True, but not quite the point though is it?

Please let your dog run free if it will respond when you call it back.  If not, well, then don’t.  Wild creatures can be petrified in these circumstances.  In the past week and a bit we’ve a child badly bitten by a dog, a dog attacking another dog, and a charming man using his dog to attack police.  It’s just as well we got rid of dog licensing, isn’t it?

But onwards with a few definitions.


(adjective) generous, unselfish, giving behaviour.

Many of us here at Aberdeen Voice help out our favourite charities and causes when we can. But our efforts are quite second rate when compared to the heroic, unselfish, self-sacrifice practiced by some of the City Council’s officers. Step forward Mr Gerry Brough and Ms Jan Falconer.

These two have been working in part on a voluntary basis to make sure that we get something built in boring old UTG.  It is very generous of their employer, Aberdeen City Council to allow them to toil away on the garden project.

It was Jan who spoke to the Torry Community Council about UTG some months ago (Gordon MacIntosh had a dinner to go to instead of seeing Torry), and she promised everything would be spelled out and transparent.

I am convinced she is right – everyone on the City Gardens Project and associated companies has everything perfectly clear. And once the diggers move in, the rest of us will see what’s happening too.  Here is a statement from a report, spelling out how she works:-

 “I have only recently started in this project and the work I have undertaken other than attending meetings is administrative. My hourly rate exclusive of on-costs is £26. I work an average of 50 hours per week making an average of 200 per 4 weeks I work while I am contracted to 148 hours (37 hrs per week). I regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks as taking place during this 11  additional unpaid weekly hours (52 hours per 4 weeks less 8 hours for a flexi-day leaving 11 hrs per week)–which represents a cost saving of £2288 since working on this project from 2 February 2011. (i.e. 11 hours x 8 weeks @ 26 per hour = £3,120). Outwith this is Community Meetings to which I attended the Torry Community Council Meeting for 3 hours in my own time representing an additional saving of £78. This is my choice as I wish the project to be a success whilst following the Council’s instruction”.

Again, the real philanthropist is Sir Ian Wood, without whose promise of putting something into his will, we would not be where we are today.  (Hmm – who’s supplying the office space, light/heat, printers, consumables for all these extra hours?  What is the EU working time directive?  Just curious.)

Mr Brough has occasionally become a wee bit heated when discussing the whole situation, and has written to some local opponents of the new gardens that they are just jealous of Ian.   Here is an example of Gerry’s unselfish nature, hidden behind the sometimes less-than-genteel facade:-

“My hourly rate, excluding on-costs, is £46. However, I work an average of 55 hours per week. Therefore, I would regard all other administrative and desk-based tasks relating to the City garden project as taking place during the 17.5 additional unpaid weekly hours that I work for the council – which represents a cost saving of £20,125 since 6 October 2010 (i.e. 17.5 hours x 25 weeks @ £46 per hour = . £20,125). Indeed, it would be possible to claim that all City Garden work is effectively more than made up for by this additional no-cost time input. Consequently, it can be argued that any input to the City Garden Project is effectively on a voluntary basis, at no cost to the council”.

Bargain!  Only £46  per hour, and he’s willing to work extra at that rate!  I am impressed!  In fact, the amazing report that these quotes come from can be found at:

…. it has some real gems – like the fact they see no legal problems with getting the land and only 10 Freedom of Information Requests had to be dealt with.  You will be amazed as you read this; please be my guest.

While you and I could never hope to equal these giants of giving, who expect nothing in return for their efforts (not even a private sector job or promotion of some kind I am sure), I will take a moment to say that many local charities for people and animals need your help now.  Check out Voluntary Services, Contact the Elderly, Willows, New Arc  just for starters.

They are all in need of money, goods and if you’ve none of those to spare, they need your time.  Obviously you won’t get a carpark named after you, but you might wind up chatting to great people on a Contact the Elderly event, help out with animals, or do one of a hundred other things worth doing.  If you can, then please do get in touch.


(adjective) impartiality, indifference,

Aberdeen City will not – so some claim – spend a single penny on anything to do with the City Garden Project.  Its officers might be volunteering their time and sitting on boards, companies and committees about changing our dreary Union Terrace Gardens from something Victorian to something 1950s – but it won’t cost us.

The people in Aberdeen who brought us the BiD funding are completely neutral and indifferent to whether or not the City Gardens Project borrows 70 million (probably a wee bit more – say 100 million) through TIF Funding.

This is proved by the BiD people sending out a very smart draft letter for businesses to send.  Here are some extracts from the text that an Aberdeen City employee is sending to local businesses (text in blue is mine):

“I have been asked by ACSEF (to) highlight [sic] that additional support is also required from local businesses to ensure that Aberdeen City can access TIF funding”. 

Well, that’s neutral enough for me.

“We would be grateful if you could consider writing to Barry White, Chief Executive, Scottish Futures Trust, 11-15 Thistle Street, Edinburgh EH2 1DF in support of Aberdeen City Council’s TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) submission” 

Aberdeen City is only asking businesses to write to the Scottish Futures people; it’s not biased at all.

“The TIF being proposed by Aberdeen City Council would unlock up to £80 million to deliver a range of city centre improvements as part of the city centre masterplan. At the heart of the city centre regeneration is the City Garden Project, which has already secured a commitment of £55 million of private sector investment with a further £15 million planned.”

Nothing wrong with a little unlocking, I say.  Who can argue with this factual paragraph?  Yes, sounds quite impartial to me.

“TIF is an invaluable and innovative tool for stimulating greater investment and regeneration, achieving major city centre transformation, and retaining and attracting existing and new business investment. It is therefore vital for Aberdeen to be selected as one of Scotland’s six remaining TIF pilot projects” 

Yes, they are saying TIF is great and it is vital for Aberdeen to get TIF, but I’m sure they really are as neutral as they first claimed.

“We hope that you will demonstrate your support for the Aberdeen TIF submission by making it clear that the Scottish Government needs to demonstrate its support for Aberdeen City and Shire by investing in the regeneration of Aberdeen city centre which, unlike Scotland’s other major cities, has received little or no public infrastructure investment over the last fifty years.”  

Yes, it is only fair that Aberdeen gets its own tram fiasco by having a big infrastructure project.  I do seem to remember that Audit Scotland thought things were so messed up here that we weren’t supposed to do anything big for a while.  But you can’t fault the City’s claim of neutrality just because they are asking businesses to beg for TIF.

Some of you out there might be starting to doubt whether or not the Aberdeen City BiD people are neutral when it comes to the City Garden Project getting TIF funding.  This excerpt from a letter from a Bid Bod should end any doubt:

 “Aberdeen BID is entirely neutral with regard to the City Garden project …”

So yes, Aberdeen City Council and its BiD people are neutral, they are just keeping businesses in the loop, and giving them a letter of support to sign so we can borrow somewhere between 70 million and 100 million (depends who you ask, really) for your great-grandchildren to pay off for building Teletubbyland. Neutrality to match the volunteer work, you might think.

It might sound like it’s asking for help from businesses getting TIF, but they have said they are  impartial so that’s that.

One tiny part of this impartial letter requires a little more study:

I draw your attention to what might be a typo (or a Freudian slip) in this letter which I found amusing (underlining is mine)

“ACSEF is a public private sector partnership that seeks to grow the economy and enhance its quality of life through a joined-up approach. With the private sector standing shoulder to shoulder with the private sector, ACSEF has facilitated, influenced and delivered a variety of major projects that are helping the region and Scotland to meet its growth targets”

Is the private sector going to stand shoulder to shoulder with itself – or is that exactly what the creation of ACSEF with taxpayer money has created and what we should be grateful for?  Answers on a form letter, please.

Just to show that I too understand neutrality, here is a link to a letter you can send to Barry White.

Tell him you don’t want a giant worm or a monolith that will cost someone, somewhere down the line tens of millions – if not one hundred million pounds.  Tell Barry the designs are awful, and the city needs to attract people with excellent schools, great medical facilities, safe, clean streets, and support services for those who need them.

No one is going to live in our city because it has more parking, more offices or a few giant concrete ramps where once 400 year-old trees once stood.  Use this letter as it is; customise it, or send your own to :  Barry.White@scottishfuturestrust.org.uk

Next week:

The  mystery of the uncomprehending Chief Executive, and the Case of the Missing Postcards in which Valerie Watts only receives 35 of the hundreds of anti-cull postcards created – over 60 of which were hand delivered by Old Susannah to a security guard who commented ‘loads came in’ that week – and the week before.  Where are the missing postcards?  Did deer eat them?  Answers on a postcard please – or get one of the remaining postcards and send it to the City – pop into Lush for your card – and some very nice ‘candy cane’ soap.