Jun 022016

90th-party2With thanks to Esther Green, Senior Account Executive, Tricker PR.

A band of volunteers from the village of Ballater have organised a Royal knees up in the form of the ‘Happy Birthday Ma’am’ street party to celebrate the monarch’s milestone birthday on Saturday, June 11.

Being located in the heart of Royal Deeside, organisers will use the Queen’s 90th birthday to continue to build up the community spirit which has been evident in the village since it was affected by flooding last December.

Balmoral Castle remains a favourite summer retreat for the Royal Family, and Ballater is often referred to as the ‘Royal Warrant Town’, due to the large number of businesses that hold the prestigious mark of recognition to those who supply goods or services to the Households of HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh or HRH The Prince of Wales.

Many of these businesses have already reopened or are on track to reopen in the summer, and the ‘Happy Birthday Ma’am’ street party is one in a number of events planned to welcome tourists back to the picturesque village.

Both visitors and residents are invited to join in with the celebrations which will see the whole community come together. The free event takes place from 2-11pm on Saturday 11 June at the Churchyard Green in Ballater and will feature live music, a bouncy castle, old-fashioned games, and family karaoke. Funds raised from donations made on the day will go towards those affected by flooding.

In honour of the momentous occasion, Ballater resident Lorraine Barr is encouraging people to sponsor a tree in what will be known as ‘The Queen’s Ballater Wood’. Lorraine and those involved wish to leave a legacy which will remind others of the spirit of community in Ballater. The wooded area will feature 90 trees of different varieties known to be favourites of Her Majesty The Queen.

Rev David Barr, who is helping to organise the Queen’s birthday street party, says that the event is giving those affected by floods something positive to focus on.

He says,

“All of the volunteers involved in the planning of the street party were affected by the floods in some way. We all really wanted to give something back to the community which allowed everyone to get together and celebrate what a fantastic place Ballater is. Visitors are more than welcome to join in the celebrations with us on the day, we’re all keen to show people how far we’ve come as a village and that Ballater is on its way back to its full glory.

“The Royal family took a great interest in Ballater after the flooding and we received daily encouragement through telephone calls from the palace. It meant a great deal to us all, so the street party is our way of saying thank you to the Queen and also to everyone who reached out to us with messages of support, help and donations.

“The support has been absolutely phenomenal and for that we are forever grateful. From individuals to companies, we wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the general public.

“The whole situation has definitely brought us all closer together, we’re such a tight knit community and everyone is helping to spread the word that Ballater is still open for business. It’s such a great place to visit, I’m very much looking forward to celebrating with other residents and visitors from far and wide on June 11.”

Richard Watts of Ballater Business Association says,

“There’s been a real buzz in the village in the run up to the Queen’s birthday street party. Local businesses have been getting involved by donating goods and money towards the event, whilst all the volunteers involved have done a brilliant job at organising the ‘Happy Birthday Ma’am’ street party.

 “It’s so inspiring to see how far Ballater has come as a village and as a community. This will be very apparent during the street party and we hope that visitors join us in celebrating in the Queen’s birthday and how far Ballater has come in 2016.”

The ‘Happy Birthday Ma’am’ street party takes place from 2-11pm at the Churchyard Green in Ballater. Those attending are encouraged to bring their own picnic.

For more information about the street party then contact Rev. David Barr on revdavidbarr@btinternet.com. If you would like to know more about how to sponsor a tree in ‘The Queen’s Ballater Wood’ then contact Lorraine Barr on 01339 756111.

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Feb 082013

Duncan Harley reflects on Life, the Universe and Everything. A sideways look at the world and its foibles.

The SS Politician – Whisky Galore

On the 4th of February 1941 during an Atlantic gale the SS Politician ran aground just off the Island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides.

The crew got ashore safely and the locals took them in and gave them shelter.

Now this was wartime and there was rationing of all sorts of items including eggs, butter and, somewhat crucially, whisky. When the folk of Eriskay learned from the crew of the “Polly” that the ship had 264,000 bottles of best highland malt in its hold, an unofficial salvage operation was launched.  

Word soon spread all across the Hebrides and soon fishing boats were heading to fishing grounds all around the wreck during the hours of darkness to liberate the contents of the ship’s hold before the winter storms broke up the hull and destroyed the cargo forever.  It was all quite innocent and seemingly legitimate.

But this was not the view of the local customs officer, one Charles McColl, who was incensed at the outright thievery that he saw going on.  None of the whisky had paid a penny of duty and, as he railed against this loss to the public purse, McColl whipped up a furore and made the police act.

Villages were raided and crofts turned upside down.  Bottles were hidden, secreted, or simply drunk in order to hide the evidence.

The rest is history.

The 1947 Compton Mackenzie novel Whisky Galore, which was made into an Ealing Comedy film in 1949, tells a good tale about the episode.  In reality though, many islanders went to jail for up to six weeks for offences ranging from theft, to evasion of excise duty.

I can well understand the islander’s actions though.  Faced with a gift from the sea of the water of life, known in the Gaelic as usquebaugh, what else were they to do?

In the course of that most severe of winters when the temperature plummeted to around minus 26 degrees

Many years ago when I lived in an Aberdeenshire village, I met in with a man by the name of Ronnie who lived in the croft house left to him by his mother who had been a seer.  He had two brothers who were men of the cloth and he, Ronnie, had a special relationship with the water of life.

In the winter of 1981/82 I think it was, Ronnie, who was an affable sort of chap ran out of funds and took in some lodgers in order to keep body and spirit alive.  In the course of that most severe of winters when the temperature plummeted to around minus 27 degrees in neighbouring Braemar, resulting in the deer foraging in the streets in desperation for sustenance, Ronnie was faced with a stark choice.  Either heat the house or buy whisky.

Being a clever man he found a middle way.  He burned the doors, floorboards and stairs for heating and using the income from his lodgers, bought whisky.

I drove past the scene today.  The croft house is, somewhat surprisingly, still standing and looks just as it did all those years ago.

I have lost all contact with the man but wish him well.

Chelsea Tractors

One of the hazards of living in Aberdeenshire is the proliferation of those huge Chelsea Tractor vehicles which the oil rich buy and then attempt to use on the rural roads.
With names like Defender, Land Cruiser and Outlander they are often driven by diminutive men and women who only ever drive off road on the grass verge at my local Tesco’s car park.
Some of these monsters are so long and wide that the drivers really should sit a special driving test just to get to drive them round corners.

When met on a country road they often dominate the whole road and avoid the puddles lest they get mud on their vehicle of choice.  We actually have a Humvee in my locality!  I understand the owner lives in a flat in Inverurie and commutes to Dyce each day doing 55mph at a roaring 4mpg.  The daily journey includes fuel stops every few miles and the occupants require a stepladder to get into the vehicle.

Don’t get me wrong though, these muscle cars have their place.  I well remember a desert trip North of Cairo where a pal and I travelled off road for hours exploring Roman settlements and collecting Amphora.  The North East of Scotland has both but most are well within reach of a well surfaced road.

This is a shot is of my local supermarket car park.  The grass has been churned up by 4 X 4 enthusiasts who routinely park off road then proudly load shopping into the vehicles in the hope that they will somehow appear macho.

Seemingly the driver of a towel supply company has had quite enough.  Taking direct citizen action he has used his van to block off the affected area.

I commend the drivers action and have photo shopped the van’s number plate to protect his/her identity.

The Butcher’s Arms

I find pubs fascinating.

Full of all sorts of humanity, they provide an insight into other folk’s lives which would be difficult to achieve by any other means.

You can walk in, do a bit of chat and walk right out again if you have met an axe murderer.  Easy, no worries and a good kidney flush at the very least.

A decade or so ago, I frequented a pub in Glasgow populated by a quite varied spectrum including journalists, musicians, actors, students and Spanish Civil War veterans, plus a smattering of local manual labourers which completed the mix.

It all worked fairly well, at least up until 10pm on a Saturday night at which point it was best to make excuses and vacate the premises before the inevitable football rivalry came to the fore and the glasses began to fly.

I have often wondered in the intervening years why they sold wine by the pint.  White Tornado it was called as I recall.

Glasgow also had a pub in Pollockshaws by the name of “The Office,” which was very handy indeed if you required an excuse for coming back late from work.

Then there was the Foundry Bar in Arbroath where I lived there for a while.  A lovely place, by the seaside with an unheated open air pool and a sit in chipper where you had to use an old fashioned pre-metric penny to use the loo.  Bingo on a Saturday night in the hall above Woolworth’s, boats in the harbour full of fish and a great big lighthouse flashing a few miles offshore just to keep you awake at night.

The town in those days had a mix of townsfolk, farm folk, fisher folk and Royal Marines.  Each had their own public house and God help those who dared to mix and match.  The local harbour still holds some dark secrets, I think.

The Foundry Bar however was different.  Anyone could walk in providing they could sing, play a fiddle or simply enjoy the impromptu music.  A brilliant place indeed!

No fights, no hassle and an old tea chest to sit on if you got there early enough.

There are some pubs, however, that I am not fond of.  Not because they are bad pubs or difficult establishments though.  Simply because of their names. I can cope quite happily with The Kintore Arms, The Black Bull, Filthy McNasties and even The Ploughman’s Lunch, as long as he has not eaten it already.

Sadly the Butcher’s Arms has never quite done it for me.  Connotations of those Tesco’s horse burgers perhaps, or simply an uneasy relationship with raw, bloody, meat.  I don’t really know for sure.

I often wonder if the management of this public house and the other 1200 similarly named establishments in the UK, would consider a name change to something like My Lovely Cow or even Aren’t Horses Great Ted?  But that’s just a personal preference.

Full Metal Harry

We have heard a lot from the Royal Press correspondents in the last week or so about the third in line to the throne’s prowess with a machine gun, and I for one am certainly not about to get into a debate here except to state the obvious, which is of course that such guns are banned in the UK unless the powers that be can be convinced that citizens have a legitimate reason for possessing them.

The whole sorry tale somehow reminds me of an ex-soldier I saw interviewed a few years ago on a current affairs programme.

He was jobless, having left the army after several years of exemplary service. At his Jobcentre Plus interview he was asked about the skills he had learned during his time in the army.

“Well” he said – in a Geordie accent –

“I’m quite an ace with a machine gun and I can strip one down and reassemble it in the blink of an eye, so if you want someone killing, then I’m your man!”

Needless to say the Jobcentre staff struggled to find the ex squadie a job in his previous line of work.

So what would Harry need to do to get some target practice in, on the UK mainland?

He could join an Armed Response Unit I suppose, although self restraint and maturity are normally required to be taken on in such a role. Plus of course he would need to walk the beat as a uniformed bobby for a couple of years before even being considered for the job. Being sworn in, sworn at and spat upon on a typical Friday night down on Union Street may not be his scene though I suspect.

I am guessing that Royal Protection Duties would be also be out due to protocol issues.

He could of course provoke a riot. That would do it!

Far fetched?

the troops have returned home to discover that all is not well in Scotland

Not really, look at the Miners Strike, the 2011 London  Riots which have been somewhat euphemistically called “England’s Summer of Disorder” and of course the numerous more recent examples in Eastern Europe and the Middle East where the ruling classes have fired upon the populace to make them see things their way.

In short, when the people are not happy with the governing classes, there may be trouble ahead.

The 31st of January is of course the anniversary of the Great Storms of 1953 which I wrote about last week.  It’s also the date of the demise of the Young Pretender – Charles Edward Stuart – in Rome in 1788 after a protracted relationship with Brandy.
But who remembers the Battle of George Square which took place on the 31st January 1919?

Picture the scene if you will.

The “War to end all wars” has recently ended and the troops have returned home to discover that all is not well in Scotland. There are few jobs for the returning heroes and working conditions are poor with low wages and a long working week.

The workforce which had been in reserved occupations manufacturing the arms and tools for war are unhappy with the cuts in the standard working week due to the fact that the war has ended and there is no longer much demand in France for barbed wire, bullets and explosives.

Plus of course the Bolshevist revolution has taken place leading to the early demise of the Russian Royal Family by a firing squad.

So on Friday 31st January 1919, after a general strike by 40,000 workers in the industrial heartland of Scotland, there was a mass rally in Glasgow’s George Square.  Now the aim of the rally was to hear the response of the UK government to the workers demands so the Lord Provost, Sir James Watson Stewart, and the Trades Council President, Mannie Shinwell, duly entered the City Chambers to have a wee natter.

Sadly things got out of control. As they talked, the police baton charged the assembled crowd. A magistrate tried to read the Riot Act but had the document taken from his hands and ripped up and things just got from bad to worse.

seasoned troops from south of the border were instructed to open fire if required to do so

The failure of the police to control the riot prompted the Coalition Government under one David Lloyd George to react. After Scottish Secretary Robert Munro described the riot as a “Bolshevist uprising” troops armed with machine guns, tanks and a howitzer arrived to occupy Glasgow’s streets.

The howitzer was positioned on the City Chambers steps facing the crowd, the local cattle market was transformed into a tank depot, machine guns were posted on the top of the North British Hotel, the Glasgow Stock Exchange and the General Post Office Buildings.

As is usual in such situations no local troops were used. The Scot’s battalions who had recently returned from France were confined in Maryhill Barracks while seasoned troops from south of the border were instructed to open fire if required to do so.

Amazingly, there was no major bloodshed as far as I am led to believe. There must have been broken heads and limbs via the initial police action but I can find no record of deaths.

The troops did not open fire although the tanks were deployed in Glasgow’s George Square. I can only assume that the government of the day decided that it would be a bad idea to provoke social change via bloodshed.

Mannie Shinwell and some other trade union activists were jailed for a bit and a 47 hour working week was agreed. Until the 1922 General Strike, things smouldered on of course, but that’s another story.

I have no information about what transpired in Aberdeen or Aberdeenshire on the 31st January 1919 and would ask folk to get in touch with any memories of that day. I did however find a reference to Aberdeen Trades Council discussing the issue and agreeing to mount a protest against the “continued imprisonment of the Clyde Strikers” and I have no doubt that given the politics of the time there must have been folk from the North East not only attending the demonstrations but serving with in the military in the area.

I sincerely hope that the third in line to the throne will not only read this but will have a wee look at the helicopter door gunner sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

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Oct 282011

Saturday 5th October morning was sunny and crisp; a perfect setting for the unveiling and dedication of the Gordon Highlanders commemorative statue by Mark Richards.   Story by Suzanne Kelly; photos by Earl Solomon of Hart & Sign.

The guests of honour were those who had served as Gordon Highlanders before the world-renown unit was ‘amalgamated’ in 1994.

HRH Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay and last Colonel-in-Chief of the Gordon Highlanders spoke of how he had grown up alongside this regiment, and had been surrounded by its members who formed some of his childhood memories.

“When I was a child in the 1950s my earliest memories were of the Gordon Highlanders; they suffered terribly but found their way to Balmoral” he said, naming a Pipe Major Brown and others.

“It was a proud moment for me when Her Majesty appointed me in 1977 (as Colonel-in-Chief of the Gordon Highlanders)”

“We have done my old regiment a great honour in making sure the Gordon Highlanders’ history and memory will be kept alive in Aberdeen.”

The Prince also spoke of the suitability of the statue’s location, for the old barracks had been located at Castle Hill from 1872 to 1935.  He recalled how the unit had marched down Union Street many times.  Before he left, the Prince spoke with many of the VIP Gordon Highlanders who were seated in a special enclosure.  Prince Charles also took his time speaking to members of the public before he left.

I spoke to a number of the Gordon Highlanders, including C. McIntyre, who had joined in 1980:

“this was a great regiment” he commented.

Major Birnie – a Gordon Highlander for 39 years commented to me on the statue:

“It’s marvellous – a great reminder for years to come; as soldiers grow older they are less in number.  I am thankful for this statue.” 

The statue is a figurative bronze showing a standing Gordon Highlander in the older dress uniform, and the second figure is in more modern dress.

A Mrs Reid was there to see if she recognised any of her husband’s former colleagues in arms; she thought the statue and dedication was a ‘lovely gesture.’

I also spoke with an acquaintance, Sheilagh.  She was there with her mother and two nieces.  One of the nieces offered that her great- grandfather had been a Gordon Highlander.

He had been shot in the leg in France during World War I.

There was talk of another Gordon Highlander (an uncle) who had seen service in World War II and had been a POW in a Japanese camp.  Sheilagh had been inspired by these relatives and had served in the RAF.

Other speakers during the day called the Gordon Highlanders ‘the finest regiment in the world’ and others spoke of the statue’s purpose ‘not in praise of war but to respect the Gordon Highlanders for their faith, honour, sacrifice and courage’.

As Earl Solomon who had photographed and videoed the event and I left, he commented as we said goodbye to some of the Gordon Highlanders we had spoken with;

“it’s all about them, isn’t it”,

and Earl was right.

The world’s greatest resource on the history of the Regiment is The Gordon Highlanders Museum on Viewfield Road, Aberdeen http://www.gordonhighlanders.com/ which offers a full programme of events, displays, and hosts private regimental dinners (not to be missed).


Jun 242010
Big Chuck

Hello Subjects

Here is one putting pen to paper on your behalf once again. Well, what a to-do about the Union Terrace Gardens, eh? One simply couldn’t believe that even a jumped-up, nouveau-riche oik like the odious Wood would try to desecrate the centre of the Granite City with his ridiculous vanity project.

That was bad enough but when we heard that crowd of bludgers in the city council had actually passed it! Well, I’ve haven’t seen Mumsy so peed off since that dreadful Thatcher woman came on a visit and Ma found her in the guest bedroom trying on her crown. The flat-heeled sensible Clarks Ladies shoes were flying that day, I can tell you. As the visiting Australian Cultural Attache aptly remarked at the time , “Yer ma’s farting sparks today, son”.

Anyway, back to the day of the council vote. Obviously, the family’s first response was to get tooled up with polo mallets, climb into the Range Rover then zip into town and give the spineless curs a good seeing-to while Mumsy, (having what the family calls ‘One of Her Little Pol Pot Moments’) was all for having the little bastards shot for treason.

Unfortunately, when we got to the garage, accompanied by the corgis, who are always up for a ruck, we discovered that Dad had taken the Range Rover and left it at the airport on his way to the demos in Greece. So instead of being available for us it was sitting at Aberdeen Airport clocking up parking fees like nobody’s business. There’s your typical bloody anarchist for you – never around when you need them.

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