Dec 172018

Duncan Harley reviews Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen. 

The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries.

Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.

In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.

The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854.

In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.

Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Star Brendan Cole have played starring roles over the years.

As Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs comes to His Majesty’s for a five-week run, the incumbents of the leading roles are Lee Mead as Prince Harry, Jenna Innes as Snow White, Juliet Cadzow as the evil Queen Lucretia plus of course Jordan Young as Muddles and Alan McHugh as Nurse Nellie MacDuff. Yes, that’s right – Nurse Nellie MacDuff.

Both the Grimm Brothers and Walt would have been surprised at Nurse Nellie’s staring role but, it’s all in the best possible taste; well almost.

As Alan McHugh’s take on the traditional tale rattles on through endless costume changes – Nellie appears variously dressed as a billiard table, a Heinz Beans advert, a BBQ and wait for it, a fat lady in a tiny bikini; the wonder of panto is exposed to the theatre audience in more ways than one in this production

Inuendo, double entendre, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and fast paced comedy sketches flow thick and fast as the story of the princess who was far too pretty to live unfolds.

There are no glass coffins in this version of the tale and, if Alan McHugh’s take on the story is to be believed in its entirety, the magnificent seven are named as Snoozy, Fearty, Dafty, Gaffer, Cheery, Snotty and Dreichy.

As is usual in the HMT Panto various celeb’s get to take it on the chin.

Amongst this year’s targets are Donald Trump and Theresa May with the addition of a gag or two about the AWPR, Brexit and of course Holby City – erstwhile home of Lofty AKA Ben “Lofty” Chiltern.

As panto’s go this year’s APA offering certainly delivers a good few belly laughs.

The story bears at least a resemblance to the original tale and the delivery of the traditional fast-paced monologues is, as always, second to none. However, there is a certain flatness and lack of energy about the production.

Perhaps this will pick up during the coming weeks. Additionally, Prince Harry – although pitch perfect in dialogue – appeared to be singing ever so slightly under par.

All in all, though, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a cracking piece of entertainment and should appeal to folk of all ages.

Plus of course, this year some seventy-four towns and villages throughout the North-east, including both Inverurie and Fochabers but somewhat surprisingly not Maggieknockater, get a special mention amongst the gags.

Now that must be something of a record.

Stars: 3.5/5

Directed by Tony Cownie and written by Alan McHugh, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs plays at His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen until Sunday 6 January 2019

Tickets from Aberdeen Performing Arts Tel: 01224- 641122
Words © Duncan Harley, Images © HMT

Feb 052015

Ski Instructor Nigel WellsWith the Scottish ski centres reporting between 30-60 centimeters of snow the 2015 ski season has got off to a perfect powdery start. With thanks to Janice Hopper.

The Cairngorms is synonymous with breath-taking mountain terrain and high octane skiing and snowboarding as the depth and range of skiing opportunities across Glenshee, the Lecht and the Cairngorm Mountain is vast and exhilarating.

But hurtling down a mountainside isn’t the only way to ski.

Nigel Wells (pictured), who provides tuition for the Aviemore and Glenmore Ski Shop, is a passionate advocate of cross country skiing which is a completely different approach to experiencing the landscape, expanding your skills on snow and testing yourself.

“It’s the only form of skiing that allows people to truly appreciate the Scottish countryside and really immerse themselves in the forest. The silence, compounded by the compacted snow, can be deafening and the scenery in the Cairngorms is quite something.”

Nigel is a BASI level 2 instructor but he only started skiing in his late twenties proving it’s never too late to start.  He left school at 16 and experienced a demanding career with the Police force in Bradford, including becoming a Firearms Officer and a member of a specialist unit involved in the Ripper enquiries and the Toxteth and Leeds Riots, but he was soon looking for his next challenge.

Cross country skiing started as a hobby in the 1970’s but after a holiday in Aviemore Nigel became such a regular visitor that he virtually slipped into teaching.  When he left the Police in 1998 he made his move to Aviemore to become a full time ski instructor and now knows the terrain of the Cairngorms intimately.

“Cross country skiing can be immensely challenging. You don’t have gravity on your side propelling you down a hillside so self-locomotion is the order of the day and that requires some effort on the part of the individual. You use your whole body and can burn around 500 calories an hour. It’s the top all over calorie burner ahead of swimming and cycling and requires huge stamina but it’s also hugely accessible. 

“Children can try it and I’m also hugely interested in adaptive cross country skiing for those with disabilities.  You can take it at a gentler pace or you can really speed through the forest as there are a variety of trails available in the winter months and with Glenmore now having a piste machine many more can now be cleared.” 

Depending on the snowfall tracks run through Glenmore forest, taking in Bagaduish, the south side of Loch Morlich and excellent views as skiers cruise past Meall a’Bhuachaille just north of the loch and the forest. The Glenmore Cross Country Ski Machine was an investment to improve cross country skiing in the region and it’s hugely popular for an inanimate object.

With its own Facebook page the machine’s run as a charity to encourage the advancement of public participation in sport, but the beauty of cross country skiing is that those who wish to explore aren’t necessarily confined to the tracks but can venture out and explore as desired.

Cross country skiing offers its followers further advantages as Nigel explains:

“Well it’s quite economic as far as skiing goes. As long as you dress sensibly for the outdoor temperatures you don’t need quite so much kit or ski wear. You don’t have to buy a lift pass and another huge bonus is that you don’t have to queue for the lifts.  That’s a lot of extra skiing time. If there’s snow on the ground you can do cross country skiing virtually anywhere so it’s really flexible.”

As cross country skiing takes place on lower ground it’s more weather dependent than mountain-top snow sports so it’s definitely worth keeping a keen eye on the forecasts. The Aviemore and Glenmore Ski Shop and its instructors have the latest information on the weather conditions, tracks being cut and other suitable terrain available.

For dedicated skiers or for complete novices cross country skiing offers a challenging way to get the most out of the stunning Cairngorms countryside and try a form of skiing that can be gentle and peaceful or rigorous and intense.

The Cairngorms National Park, in the heart of the Highlands, is the largest National Park in the UK and is made up of five different areas – Aviemore and Cairngorms; Angus Glens; Atholl and Glenshee; Tomintoul and Glenlivet; and Royal Deeside and Donside. To find out where to stay, what to do and what’s happening across the Cairngorms National Park this winter visit

Apr 122013

With thanks to Dave Macdermid.

The chances of the north east of Scotland producing future Olympic champions in Freestyle Snowboarding and Skiing are set to increase dramatically with the recruitment of the UK’s first specialist development coach in those particular disciplines.

Applications for newly created position of Freestyle Ski and Snowboard Development Coach for the area are now invited.

Garthdee Alpine Sports General Manager Dave Jacobs believes the successful applicant, who will commence his or her new role in June, will have a massive part to play in further developing a sport that already enjoys a substantial profile:

“Thanks to support from UK Sport, Aberdeen Snowsports Centre and The Aberdeen Snowsports Club, we have a fantastic opportunity to develop the sport through a programme that encompasses the use of available facilities in the locality as well as other sporting facilities to participate in a range of cross training activities.

“We anticipate interest from throughout the country and beyond and the successful candidate will develop, promote and run programme that will complement the objectives set out by the three supporting organisations. Having an individual dedicated to these disciplines can only improve the overall standard of our athletes and I am certain this will be reflected by our accomplishments in the years to come.”

 The potential referred to was underlined at the British Freestyle Championships in Tignes, France with six medals won as follows :-


Ben Kilner [snowboard] – men’s ½ pipe

Finlay Bremner [snowboard] x2 golds – youth ½ pipe and slope style


Grant Donald –[ski] men’s slopestyle

Abbie Dorwood – [snowboard] girls Slope Style


Abbie Dorwood[snowboard] – girls ½ pipe

Finlay Jacobs[ski] – kids slope style

Other places

Finlay Jacobs[ski] – 6th Kids ½ pipe

Cameron Smith [snowboard] 7th Snowboard, Kids slope style, 8th Boarder Cross, 4th kids half pipe

Abbie Dorwood [snowboard] – snowboard cross 5th

Jan 242013

With thanks to Kenneth Watt.

Struan King, Kenneth Watt and Barry Black, senior Aberdeen City Youth Councillors, are encouraging young people to clear the paths of older neighbours in order to prevent them from becoming ‘snowed in’ this week.

Struan King, vice-chair, said:

“Even the smallest amount of snow, which quickly turns to ice, can force an elderly person to become housebound for days.  Clearing their front paths and a small section of their pavement is a rewarding activity for both your neighbour and you.

“I get up half an hour earlier on snowy days and ensure my older neighbours are able to get from their front door to the pavement which is cleared by council gritters.  A small amount of time from me makes a big difference to them – allowing them to go to the shops and visit friends – and I would encourage young people across the city to join me in doing so.”

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Jan 242013

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

Unlocking the Mind: More Snow

It was snowing in Pitcaple this afternoon, and in fact it’s still chucking it down big time.

The white stuff has returned with a vengeance; fortunately I am well stocked up with pies and cat food.

All day the TV news has been advising drivers to avoid non-essential trips. Mind you, they sent some reporters out in 4x4s to “see how far they could get”, which sounds fairly non-essential.

That aside, it gave me time to chill out and watch a film. I chose The Man Who Wasn’t There.

It’s a 2001 neo-Noir film, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It’s about a barber.

If you need a plot summary, there’s quite a good one on Wikipedia.

Though a black and white film, The Man Who Wasn’t There was shot in colour and transferred to black and white. Some prints were however accidentally released with the first couple of reels in colour. It’s nicely shot and the plot is superbly flat.

Folk such as Big Dave die, other folk lie, some cut hair and near the end there are flying saucers. It’s a bit like life, really.

The central theme of the film is that when you look too hard at situations, they become complicated and hard to understand. That reminds me somehow of Andy Warhol’s work.

We all know, and love or hate, the Campbell’s Soup prints but, in my opinion, Warhol’s films are still quite challenging, despite the lack of any obvious plot.

One of his most famous films, Sleep, features poet John Giorno sleeping for six hours. The 35-minute film Blow Job is one continuous shot of the face of DeVeren Bookwalter receiving oral sex from filmmaker Willard Maas, although the camera never tilts down to see this. Another, Empire, consists of eight hours of footage of the Empire State Building in New York City at dusk. Then there is the film Eat, which consists of a man eating a mushroom for 45 minutes.

This is a shot of the lock on my back door. Simple in the extreme, although you could write a book about it. Who made it, how it was made, when it was made, who has locked and unlocked it over the last 70 years or so…

In the morning, if the blizzard persists, I intend to watch The Great Escape for the 34th time, just in case I missed anything. I first saw it at the age of 12, with my Aunty Isobel from Inverurie.

She fancied Steve McQueen something rotten.

But that’s another story.

The Great Gale of 1953

As the Met Office threatens to spread even more of the white stuff across the North East of Scotland, warning bells are sounding amongst those of us who recall the Great Gale of 1953.

On 31st January and 1st February 1953 a great storm surge, accompanied by gale force winds, swept out of the north, causing widespread flooding of coastal areas in the UK and Europe. Often referred to as the 1953 North Sea flood, the storm caused massive devastation and loss of life.

The Netherlands, a country mainly located below mean sea level, suffered extensively, recording 1,836 deaths.  In England, 307 people were killed in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.  Nineteen Scots are also recorded as having died.

Now, in 1953 I was a babe in arms and I have no direct recollection of events.  It seems however to have been a seminal, even just eight years after the conclusion of hostilities in that second ‘war to end all wars’ and just ten years before the assassination of Kennedy.

The forests of Aberdeenshire had just begun to re-generate from the effects of the wars and were now flattened yet again by the gales.

Ammunition boxes, pit props and even aeroplanes such as the de Havilland Mosquito had all been end users of the forest industry.

A recent article in a local North East newspaper suggests that the Lancaster Bomber and Spitfire Fighter were also made of wood; however, I have to report that this was thankfully not the case.

If you take a walk in any local woodland you can still see the signs. Stumps, earthworks and gaps filled with birch.  Old uprooted trees and pits where trees once rooted. It’s all there alongside the signs of ridge and furrow.

A few years ago, I met a man in an Inverurie pub who told me about his memories of the great gale of 1953.  As always, I took some notice of his story and stored it away for future reference.  I told a few friends over the years but some were too young to understand, and some were too old to be interested.

Anyway, the man I met in the pub all those years ago had been a gaffer in a team of foresters charged with the task of clearing the roads between Inverurie and Huntly. Hundreds of trees had been blown down and the blizzards had made things even worse.

According to his account, it took them 10 days to cut their way along the roads.

These were the days of primitive chainsaws, two handed crosscut saws and hand tools, so I guess 10 days was quite reasonable in terms of time and motion.

Mind you, they went via Alford which surprised me even at the time. After all, the direct route from Inverurie to Huntly is via the A96 and Alford is a good few miles to the west.

I think he may have been a cryptic crossword puzzler, to be honest.  The mindset of the breed is quite alien to most folk and can appear beyond understanding.

The Guardian’s Araucaria, one Reverend John Graham, had been setting clues for the readers of the paper for over fifty years as a creative process when he found that he was afflicted with the Emperor of All Maladies.

Instead of saying something like, “I’m not really very well and have a poor life prognosis, thank you for solving all my puzzles,” he created clues which puzzle aficionados seemingly interpreted as an indication of his probable imminent demise.

One read: “’has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15.”

The folk at Bletchley Park would, in my opinion, have been hard put to crack that one.

Anyway, back to the weather.  I have now stocked up with some petrol for the generator and bird nuts for the red squirrels.

If the Met Office has got it wrong, I will be asking for compensation, of course. If they have got it right, I may be selling some snow on a collect your own basis. Bring your own truck!

I have carefully avoided any reference to the great horse burger disaster which, seemingly, wiped £300m off Tesco’s share price. Should you want a laugh, however, I heartily recommend the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre’s take on the fiasco on YouTube.

Happy snow days.

Grumpy Jack

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Jan 142013

With a wet but generally mild period behind us, could we hope for a snow-free winter? Not a chance, reports Duncan Harley. This is N.E. Scotland!

We Scots are always bleetering on about how unprepared other folk in the UK are for winter weather.

Newspapers and pubs are full of comments about how English cities grind to a halt after a couple of centimetres of the white stuff plunges from the sky.

It reminds me of the leaves on the line headlines of a few years ago following train delays in autumn, except that leaves really do cause locomotives to slip about and lose traction, hence the sand boxes they are now equipped with.

Well, I personally think that we Scots should take it all back. Last night it snowed in Aberdeenshire and, no doubt, elsewhere as well.

Just a bit of wet snow, if truth be told and, as far as snow in this part of the world gets, just a light covering. It was well forecast and the gritters were seemingly out in force.

What happened?

Three-hour tailbacks on the roads into and out of Aberdeen is what happened. Cars on their roofs, in ditches and in fields. Folk unable to get to work, schools closed and transport links in chaos.

On behalf of the Scottish people, I would like to apologise to the rest of the UK for the disparaging comments last year, the year before and the year before that, as well.

Apr 062012

By Bob Smith.

The first season o the ‘ear
Heralds the fresh breath o Spring
April shooers weet the grun
Birdies ti nests they cling

Syne the time o Simmer
Wi the sun heich in the sky
Fin thunner micht be rummlin
An yer skin can stairt ti fry

Simmer’s deen an it’s Autumn
Wi the leaves nae langer green
Fairmers they still wark the lan
Bi the licht o a gweed hairst meen

Fae Autumn inti the Winter
Wi it’s dark an broodin skies
The sna lyin’ deep an crisp
Ye’re maist affa sweir ti rise

The vagaries o oor climate
Am sure some wull agree
Are better fin yer hearin
“The Fower Seasons” by Vivaldi

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image Credit: Elaine Andrews

Mar 302012

By Bob Smith.

On mither earth faar we div bide
Thingies noo are fair on the slide
On iss sphere in the universe
The gweed life noo is in reverse

Flora an fauna are aa in decline
As the human race dis undermine
The basics fer the warld’s survival
Yet maist fowk’s brains are in denial

We build an drill an pull oot trees
The polar regions nae langer freeze
The kwintraside noo aa tar scarred
As motorin groups they lobby hard

Mair an mair hooses biggit near toons
Coverin fertile fields we kent as loons
Rape an winter wheat full fairmer’s parks
Nae placies left fer the peesies or larks

Aathing noo maun be neat an tidy
In winter time things canna be slidie
If sna faas doon at the rate o faist
It’s look’t upon as bein a bliddy pest

Yet sna we need ti fill lochs an rivers
It melts in the hills an rins doon in slivers
So we can aa drink a draught o H20
The watter levels shudna be ower low

We cut doon rainforests so cattle can graze
Or palm ile is socht ti mak soap fer yer face
An fowk faa hiv bade in thae forests fer ‘ears
Throwen oot o their hames bi firms’ owerseers

Mither Earth provides us wi aa wi need
Sustainable? Aye bit nae fin there’s greed
We maun use less of fit Mither Earth dis gie
Some fowk in oor warld iss they canna see

I hiv some hope Mither Earth wull survive
As the younger fowk weel they div strive
Ti gither an protest aboot fit’s aa gyann on
Mither Earth micht yet see a brand new dawn.


© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie”2012


Image Credits:
GRASSHOPPERS © Steffen Foerster | 
PLANET EARTH © Foto_jem |

Dec 222011

Temperatures are plummeting; Holiday lights are being blown down on Union Street, and it’s been snowing in Aberdeenshire.  Local wildlife needs your help to make it through another winter writes Suzanne Kelly.

Seasons are getting wetter; winters are more unpredictable – at least according to the Met Office data.  Animals need to be able to access clean water, food and shelter – your help couldn’t be easier or more important.

If you have a window box or a large garden; if you live near a park or open waste ground, here are some tips.


All living things need water; birds need it to drink and to bathe.  Can you keep a shallow bowl of water outside, keeping it clean?  Then you’ll be doing a large service to wildlife.


If you can afford to buy specialist bird seed or suet and seed balls, that’s great.  But birds will also be grateful for your kitchen scraps, particularly in winter.   Bits of cheese, pet food, cooked pasta, suet, fruit, cereal, and nuts – even cooked eggs and eggshells will be appreciated.  Whatever you choose to feed your birds on, make sure it is kept clean and is out of the reach of predators.


Insects, bees, butterflies and birds will greatly appreciate it if you can leave a patch of lawn to grow tall.  This is crucial for many species.  A pile of old wood makes a shelter for insects and small animals.  Bird houses and bee boxes can likewise be bought or made (you will find instructions on the Internet)

Domestic Animals

Domestic dogs and cats do not have the same qualities for surviving harsh weather as wild creatures.  Do not leave your animals outside overnight.  Some cats may like to come and go at all hours, if you can put in a cat flap that might be a solution.  But domestic animals will suffer or possibly perish in extreme weather.  Do not assume it is OK to leave them outside – it is not.

And just in case there are some people who have not got the message yet – do not leave animals unattended in cars.  This is advice from the RSPCA and the Scottish SPCA.  In the summer we are still reading stories of dogs dying – they can’t sweat; a closed car which might be a bit uncomfortable to people is an oven to them.  And unfortunately there have been more than a few incidents of dogs being stolen from cars and from in front of shops.

Whatever the weather, if you are leaving an animal alone, if something happened to you out of the blue – what would happen to them.  The advice is – don’t do it.

Gardening for Wildlife

It might not seem like the ideal time of year to do any gardening, but it’s a great time to do some planning.  A wildlife garden even in the city can help our overall wildlife population.  Habitats are being lost at an alarming rate to development.  People are increasingly getting rid of their lawns in favour of parking or paving.

Grass is integral to wildlife survival – birds need to hunt worms; the soil supports all sorts of life, and plants are essential to all forms of wildlife.

It’s never been easier to plan a wildlife garden – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has an online service which will tailor a gardening plan to your exact situation.  The Homes for Wildlife scheme will give you dozens of suggestions – most of which couldn’t be easier to implement.

Visit for details.

Dec 212011

By Bob Smith.

Christmas Eve in the 1940s
A myn o’t as tho’ twis last nicht
The livin room fire wis aye bleezin
An aathing wis bonnie an bricht

Paper chines hung fae the ceilin
An slap bang in the cinter a bell
Ti a wee loon in short troosers
Aathing  jist lookit richt swell

A Christmas tree wi didna hae
Oor roomies they war ower sma
Bit wi plunty o ither decorations
Aa nivver gied iss a thocht ava

A’d scriven ma letter ti Suntie
An sint it awa up the lum
An if he micht lave fit a wintit
Losh he wid fair be ma chum

On Christmas Eve on the wireless
Carol singin ma mither thocht braw
Good King Wenceslas he look’t oot
Aa he saw roon aboot wis sna

Ma lang sock a wid lave hingin up
It wis peened ti the muntelpiece
An ower aside the fireplace grate
Fer Suntie a’d lave a fine piece

Awa ti yer bed ma mither wid say
Suntie disna cum tull yer sleepin
Nae argument noo fae you a’ll hear
Or maybe yer present he’ll be keepin


Fae ma bedroom winda a peered oot
Ti see Suntie’s reindeer in the sky
Bit nae maitter foo lang a lookit
They nivver wid cum wanner’n by

On Christmas morn a hash’t ben
Ti see if ma letter hid bin heeded
A aye wis maist affa feart ye see
Maybe Suntie he cwidna read it

Afore ma verra een there wis
A widden boat ye pulled on wheels
Made a fun oot in later eers
By een o oor local chiels

Stappit in the lang sock ye’d fin
An orange an a fyow chocs
A  drawin book fer ti colour in
Wi crayons in a braw box

Christmas it wis a time fer bairns
Growen ups they preferred Hogmanay
Bit wi the kids o yesteryear they bade
Aroon the fire on a caul Christmas Day

Noo fowk  awa back in the forties
Didna hae  the siller ti splash oot
Bit bairns they war mair contintit
Than eens nooadays a’ve nae doot

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2011