Nov 212014
 

From These Parts Rosetta duncan Harley (c)featBy Duncan Harley

In a remarkable interview, Philae comments on the success of the Rosetta mission to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimrnko

We had arranged to meet in downtown Aberdeen in the March of 2004 but events moved fast and furious after fridge size robot Philae took off on a ten year mission atop the Rosetta spacecraft.

In the November of 2014 we finally met on the day after the landing.

Although initially Philae was uncharacteristically upbeat about the mission, the tone changed at the mention of mission gain.

  • “Congratulations on a successful mission. Folk on earth are dying to hear more about the sacrifice and endeavour which has led to this achievement. Tell me, in your own words, the story of the Rosetta mission from day one to the present day.

 

  • Beep. Yes, we took off ten years ago with the intention of answering some of the questions about comets. Rosetta is a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to catch the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko” (C-G). Rosetta will be the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet and also the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it enters the inner solar system.

 

  • Folk on earth will be wondering about the mission’s backers. In particular, who funds the Rosetta Programme?

 

  • Beep. Yes, this daring international mission was spearheaded by the European Space Agency (ESA), with key support and instruments from NASA. NASA also contributed three of the orbiter’s instruments (ALICE, MIRO, and IES) and part of the electronics package for the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer – one of two detectors on the Swiss ROSINA instrument. NASA is also providing science investigators for selected non-U.S. instruments. In all, NASA is involved to a greater or lesser degree in Alice, MIRO, IES, OSIRIS, Radio Science, ROSINA, and VIRTIS experiments. NASA’s Deep Space Network provides support for ESA’s Ground Station Network for spacecraft tracking and navigation.

 

  • That’s confounding, thank you. Folk on earth will be keen to hear more about why the name Rosetta became the mission programme name.

 

  • Beep. Yes, the Rosetta spacecraft is named after the ancient Rosetta Stone that you can visit today in London’s British Museum. The Philae lander is named after the Philae Obelisk which, together with the Rosetta Stone, provides the key to our understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. Scientists hope that the Rosetta spacecraft will enable us to translate the even older language of comets, as expressed by their thermal signatures, into new knowledge about the origins of our solar system and, perhaps, life on Earth. Comets are probably as old as time, whatever that is.

 

  • Our listeners will probably already know that. Do you have any more astounding facts?

 

  • Beep. Yes it turns out that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is made of ice.

 

  • But surely folk on earth knew that already? How much did this mission cost?

 

  • Beep. Beep, Bee……ppppp……………pp……………………p…..”

More about comets can be found for free at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet

At certain times of year, you are likely to see a great number of meteors in the night sky. These events are called meteor showers and they occur when the Earth passes through the trail of debris left by a comet as it orbits the Sun.

These showers are given names based on the constellation present in the sky from which they appear to originate. For example, the Leonid Meteor Shower, or Leonids, appear to originate in the constellation Leo.

It is important to understand that the meteoroids (and therefore the meteors) do not really originate from the constellations or any of the stars in the constellations, however. They just seem to come from that part of the sky because of the way the Earth encounters the particles moving in the path of the comet’s orbit. Associating the shower name with the region of the sky they seem to come from just helps astronomers know where to look!

In far off 1957 Perry Como had a take on it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t_PDU5RmBw

© Duncan Harley

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Mar 072013
 

By Bob Smith.


Div ye lang fer peace an quiet
In iss modern warld o oors
Fin noise is aa aroon us
The silence it fair soors
.
Ye gyang intae a shoppie
Winrin jist fit tae buy
Yer lugs are seen bombardit
Bi Rihanna or yon McFly
.
Ye meet a freen fer a chat
In some funcy coffee hoose
Ye fin yersel suroondit
Bi mobile users on the loose
.
Waak doon the main street
In ony o oor gweed toons
Music blarin oot the windaes
O cars driven bi bliddy goons
Pubs turn up the music din
So fowk canna hae a newse
The purpose is a think
Tae mak fowk buy mair booze
.
Peace an quiet ye can fin
If in the hills ye waak
Ye marvel at the silence
An nae hae yakkity yak
.
A wis brocht up on a fairm
Twa mile fae the main road
Peace and quiet wis aa aroon
As aboot the parks a strode
.
So maybe a wis lucky
Tae ken fit quairtness wis
Unlike fowk in toon cinters
Faa can only fume an fizz

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

Image – River in the Evening.
©Angela Davis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Mar 222012
 

Old Susannah takes a humanoid angle on the Provost’s exit, the who’s who of deer cull councillors, alledged  cybercrime, the police box/granite web, and the Cameron and Clegg creatures.  By Suzanne Kelly 

 

Happy Friday everyone!  So much has been happening in our Vibrant ‘Deen it is hard to know where to start.

Bad news first I suppose:  with a heavy heart I must inform you that our Lord Provost will not be joining the council next year.  Soon his clothing allowance and civic car privileges will pass to another.

But which young pretender will take the crown, chain of office and supply of carriage clocks?

HoMalone, if she manages to get re-elected may stand some chance; she was  deemed the worthiest LibDem in the land.  And now that she leads the LibDems, I’m sure there’s no stopping her.

At least we’ll all get to go to Provost Stephen’s portrait unveiling party before the end comes. . .  guess his LibDem pals will have to find someone else to hitch rides with other than in the civic car at our expense.  Steve Delaney, who will contest the Lord Provost’s seat in the May, got a ride from the obliging taxpayer in the civic car as he was late for something or other.  We are too kind. I’d have given him a carriage clock as well, so he wouldn’t be late next time.  Perhaps he already has one?

A very silly rumour reaches Old Susannah; it can’t be true.  I hear that the virtuous ex-Councillor Richard Robertson, who quit the city council over the 3rd Don Crossing, wants to run in Torry/Ferryhill.  Now, as a Torry resident who’s been going to the community council meetings recently, I am not sure that someone who voted in favour of shooting our deer and against letting me and the Cove Community Chairman speak to the Housing & Environment Committee to try and save the deer is going to find many votes in this part of town.

In fact, if the people who we spoke to last Saturday in town while handing out flyers about the cull are anything to go by, then I doubt any of the following deer killers are going to get great receptions at the ballot box.

 One ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

Remember these people; they are the ones to thank over the affairs on Tullos Hill:   John Corall, Jackie Dunbar, Neil ‘Fletch’ Fletcher (who sadly is leaving us anyway), Jim Noble, Richard Robertson, Wendy Stuart, Ian Yuill, and new LibDem Darling, HoMalone.  The deer’s friends?  Neil Cooney, Yvonne Allan, Norman Collie,  James Hunter,  Alan Milne and Willie Young.

Dr Who has another new companion this week;  I’ve been recalling all the frightening monsters, world-destroying creatures, and evil masterminds we’ve seen over the decades.  But never mind the city council and its advisors – on with some definitions….

Dalek   (noun) part human creature created by Davros, a Dalek is a single-minded creature, repeating the same phrases over and over again, in a robotic voice; most notably ‘Exterminate!’.  Daleks are not known for their ability to negotiate, only to destroy.

We all remember being terrified and trembling behind our sofas and forts made of cushions and blankets as the Daleks rolled across our TV screens crying ‘Exterminate!  Exterminate!’.   Most of us were afraid of these creatures, but one ambitious girl seems to have grown up with the Dalek as a role model.  Step forward Aileen Malone.

She will not negotiate a peaceful settlement with thousands of people who want to keep Tullos Hill as a meadow.  She operates a scorched earth policy (well, mostly scorched rock policy – I’ve been up there and seen where the trees are going to be planted before they die), and she is going to EXTERMINATE the deer which live there.

Can no one stop the march (well, glide) of this Dalek in its quest for world domination?   Like the Daleks in Dr Who, she is aided by one or two humanoids who should know better,  but don’t.

Cybermen:

 The Cybermen likewise terrified generations of children; they were humans which had been ‘upgraded’ – or rather turned into humanoid machines powered by remnants of human brains.  But the question for Aberdeen is:  has there or has there not been any Cyber-crime?

Just as time was running out for the referendum vote, along came Tom Smith (connected to the private Aberdeen City Gardens Trust entity – amongst other hats worn) with allegations of illegal cyber crime.  Had Cybermen hacked into his emails?  Were they intimidating him?

Well, we still don’t know.  He’s said nothing, and we wait patiently for the police’s statement on the matter.  Until we know otherwise, be on the lookout for cyber-crime – and cybermen.  If it turns out to be a case of ‘the boy who cried cybercrime’, Old Susannah will tell you all about it.

Regeneration:

The Doctor occasionally sacrificed one of his several incarnations; usually to save others or for a noble cause.  Councillor Robertson, having lost a life when he threw himself out of office over the Don crossing, is going to try to regenerate as a Torry/Ferryhill councillor.  Like the doctor, it will be best if he has amnesia, for his support of the deer-cull-for-tree-scheme will not add to his appeal in this (or indeed any other) part of town.

TARDIS:  (noun) acronym standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space – Dr Who’s time-travelling apparatus – normally taking the outward form of an old-fashioned police box; much bigger on the inside than on the outside.

Well, the TARDIS doesn’t have to be a police box, in fact other time lords used different kinds of TARDIS machines.  I think I have possibly located one.

Where in Aberdeen will we soon have something that is bigger on the inside than it is outside?  Why in the Granite Web, of course.

The architects have promised that we will magically have twice the green space we currently have in the garden now!  Surely this is Timelord technology.  Despite the potato-crisp shaped concrete web over the concrete indoor/outdoor theatre/skating rink, despite the required ventilation units and means of holding the granite web up, the new improved gardens will be double the size of the existing ones.

There will be all sorts of weird and (allegedly) wonderful underground areas which will be far bigger than the outer structure.  I think the plans have space for a lair for the Master, and some Silurians.  Yes, I see the Granite Web as a time-travelling icon – it is taking us back to the ‘60s and/or ‘70s –  and yet promises to take us proudly into the future.  This is time travel at its best – and possibly at its most expensive.

Dr Who and The State of Decay:  (noun, television show) Part of the Dr Who Saga in which a planet is dominated by bloodsucking vampires who have caused society to regress.

Old Susannah can’t think why this series (featuring the inimitable Tom Baker) has sprung to mind, but in this story, a small amount of greedy powerful  bloodsuckers have taken so much away from the existing society, that it has regressed to  a more primitive, poverty-stricken state than it had been in before power was seized by these vampires.

The blood-sucking creatures, Cameron and Clegg, have reduced the NHS to rubble, impoverished the old, got rid of any decent schools, and use the young as fodder for their own selfish ends.  One of the scariest parts of the Dr Who story so far.  Thankfully, the Doctor and Ramana eventually find a way to rid the planet of its tyrannical despots.

Next week:  (Hopefully) deer update, Milne update, Referendum update – and a cheerful look at Aberdeen City Council’s happiest publication – ‘Our Green Times’.

Feb 172012
 

A lecture by Charles Renfro, held at the Robert Gordon University, Tuesday the 14th of January. By Jeremy Millar.

I pulled on my black turtleneck and picked up my Mac book pro and set off for the lecture. Would I be mistaken for an architect; yes I was – it’s all in the attention to detail. The theatre was pretty full, with architecture students to the back, and bolder interested parties to the front. Charles Renfro is an engaging character – think Niles Crane amalgamated with Andy Warhol.

He had flown in especially for this event, and encountered the usual techie difficulties in getting his gleaming Mac book pro to talk with a PC campus. The lecture was a run through of a number of the DS+R projects, and very impressive it was too.

At their heart DS+R are artists, often very clever and imaginative conceptual artists. This approach is exemplified by the ‘blur’ installation on lake Neuchatel in Switzerland. This brought to mind ‘Smoke on the Water’ for some reason. This building was a folly in the architectural sense and Charles spoke of playing with the senses as the visitor entered the water cloud and saw nothing. Like many of the DS+R projects there is an element of passing through, rather than destination.

The revolving trees in Liverpool are another witty play on perception.

Understandably the main focus of the lecture was on the High Line project in New York. I have to say that I was a fan before, and now I am even more so. This project demonstrates all that is great about urban design. It involves people with their environment on so many levels. There are many small spaces along the route that offer opportunity for performance. There is a sense of people owning and playing up to the intimacy of these spaces. If it is not to your taste – well you can just move on. It was, however, sooo New York – and I was reminded of “just a New York conversation rattling in my head”: thanks Lou.

 a walk-through video that involved much playing of the bagpipes

I was impressed by the way in which the High Line acknowledges routes and roots, and builds in memory of decay and goes wild. Charles is keen on letting the DNA show through and inform the evolution of the space. He ably demonstrated this with the Lincoln Centre and the new Rio gallery designs.

Loving what I’ve seen so far, in that it is visionary, interactive and accessible.  These projects are also all in large metropolises with sophisticated urban elites, and large numbers of tourists pretty much the year round. There is no question that I would visit if in New York, Rio or Boston.

And so onto the ‘City Garden Project’ for which Charles launched a walk-through video that involved much playing of the bagpipes. The key words and phrases included diversity of ecology, ideas pulled from existing context (that DNA concept) sustainability, green lung, reconnecting the city, reinforcing heritage moments, keeping topographic interest; and I have to say he lost me.

I could see some of the connections to the successful DS+R projects, but this vision betrayed a fundamental absence of an understanding of what makes Aberdeen unique both architecturally and culturally. The DNA of Aberdeen city centre is in the crisp Victorian lines of squares, crescents and terraces. The grand public buildings echo a past of commerce and culture as one strolls down Union Street.

The visual dominance of ‘education, salvation and damnation’ overlooking the gardens and leading the eye round to the gallery are rightly flagged up in guides to the city.

The gardens as they stand reveal this DNA and tell Aberdeen’s story. Charles in his presentation showed photographs of this evolution, the exposed Denburn, the trains pulling into the station, the bandstand and the vistas beyond. This legacy would be obliterated, and as for the DNA, we would have some balustrade and two statutes. I would defy any visitor to read the city from the perspective of the Web, unlike the active interpretation gained from a stroll along the High Line.

A question about the merits of consultation with the public gained an acknowledging that this had not happened

Granite is what makes Aberdeen noteworthy. The city centre is a symphony of granite. Apart from the granite in the name of the Granite Web it barely features in the design. The talk of the eye being drawn to new perspectives is compromised by the edifice of the Web blocking views towards the Theatre and the Terrace. The parade of arches under Union Terrace barely feature in the walk through.

The biodiversity of the various garden spaces are for me messy and confused. The High Line took it’s planting from the wild flowers that colonized the derelict line and the wildness was utilized to great effect. The current gardens are formal with wild edges and they reflect a city rightly famed for this form of planting. If people want to experience the Scot’s pine they can catch a bus to the Duthie Park. We have parks for all tastes and occasions in Aberdeen. There is no need to create a microcosm of the northeast in the city centre.

There was time for a few questions. A question about the merits of consultation with the public gained an acknowledging that this had not happened, although there was an awareness of the controversy. DS+R worked to the brief and they may consult more widely if the referendum is successful. There was no acknowledgment of contact with heritage groups at any stage of the process. Charles has made four visits to the city and feels he is getting to know it.

A question about the profile and presence of the arena space referred to as the ‘butterfly’ draws on the restaurant at the Lincoln centre, and both attempts to sit in the landscape and be iconic. There was an acknowledgement from Charles that this is a work in progress and they will get it perfect.

There was a question about sustainable build and climate change. Charles said that the build will reach the highest standard and will probably be the first in Scotland to do so. He talked to the advantages of green roofs for maintaining ambient temperatures. He did not address the concrete involved in the build, but did say that he was given materials to work with.

A further query focused on the tunnel through to the station. Charles was clear that this is not part of the project, but the Web would provide the opportunities for others to take these developments forwards. The man from Keppie spoke of connecting with the harbour and opening access to Aberdeen’s other areas in 10, 20, 30 years. He added that the project is about creating an identity for Aberdeen going forward.

 Make Union Street a cultural space and preserve the gardens

A question followed which addressed scale of the design and queried the numbers of people required to make the space work. The observation that Aberdeen was not New York was made.

Charles interestingly responded by reference to walking on Union Street and having to ‘fight’ people off. He went on to claim that the Web would provide the space for people to escape Union Street, which he acknowledged was dying, with the malls draining the energy away.

He then went on to claim that a range of cultural programming would attract people to the Web. It would be a melting pot for all the different populations that are around. In a further observation about walking down Union Street in the rain, he wondered why the ‘sidewalks’ couldn’t be bigger.

The final question was the magical one, and asked Charles that knowing what he knows now and if given a free rein to develop a project – would he go for the current one? The answer was of course, absolutely. He then returned to his battling down Union Street theme and made the obligatory one man and his dog in the gardens observation of the usage of the gardens by the public.

So there you have it. For me the most revealing evidence from Charles came with his ‘Why can’t the sidewalks be bigger’. In looking into the tranquil sanctuary of the gardens from the bustle of Union Street he was blind to the answer beneath his feet. Pedestrianise Union Street: create a space, a green corridor that revitalizes the Street; brings together all the successful elements of his other projects, preserves and lets the DNA speak. Make the Street a cultural space and preserve the gardens – subject to access improvements and recreational attractions – as the sanctuary within the hustle and bustle of ‘downtown’ Aberdeen.

The final train journey along the High Line delivered turkeys to New York for Thanksgiving.

Don’t let the City Garden Project deliver another architectural turkey to Aberdeen. Vote ‘Retain Union Terrace Gardens’  in the referendum.  

Cue ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’…

Dec 152011
 

Aberdeen Voice presents An Aberdeen Christmas Carol – A work of fiction, with apologies to Charles Dickens, by Suzanne Kelly and Fred Wilkinson.

The Characters

(any resemblance to anyone living, dead, or somewhere between the two is purely coincidental and not at all a deliberate attempt at parody.  This is a work of fiction and of Saltire satire )

Ianeezer Scrooge                          Old, wealthy miser, lacking in compassion but loaded with greed
Gruff and MeKeachruns                Servants to Scrooge, supplying his needs
Jenny Crawl                                   Companion to Scrooge, with whom he feeds
Jacob Milney                                  A Spirit – Once partner of Scrooge, now doomed for his deeds
Bruce the Robert                           A Spirit of Christmas Past, with Scrooge he pleads
ASIF                                               A Spirit of Christmas present, transparent indeed
Hoodie                                           A Spirit of Christmas future – but will Scrooge heed?
Spencer for Hire                             A waiter
Steve Peters Lord Provost             A dignitary
Kevin                                              An errand boy
Mr Mickie                                        Scrooge’s employee, head of a large family
Tiny Tim Mickie                              Youngest of the Mickie household
Katie Dee & Kevin Dum                 Washerwomen

  *                                              *                                              *

The careful shopper kept one eye on his purse and the other looking upwards, for the gigantic Christmas lights hung over all, like the giant orbs from ‘The Prisoner’, and were prone to falling, crushing the occasional small child or pensioner.

The pubs were filled with young ladies and gentlemen drinking eggnogs and Babycham.

The first snow would soon fall, and Christmas cheer was everywhere.  Well, almost everywhere.

A car drove towards an office block; not just any car, but the town’s very own Civic Car.  This chauffeur-driven car was the envy of all, and in it sat the Lord Provost Steve Peters himself, and the town’s wealthiest man, Ianeezer Scrooge.

“Listen Peters, I’m a patient man, but if construction doesn’t start soon on my Scrooge family car park and shopping mall, someone’s going to find less cash in their Christmas stocking this year – get the picture?”

The speaker was Scrooge, and although his voice was calm, he was turning a reddish colour.  Peters shook his head and rubbed his hands.

“Everything possible is being done – we have our best people ah, ‘volunteering’ to work on the project night and day.  Soon the Denburn Park will be officially yours.”  Peters answered Scrooge with a slightly nervous voice, for there had been far more opposition to this plan than was expected.  The public it seems did not want a little patch of ground turned into a car park.

This piece of ground had been given centuries ago to the people by the famed  hero king of old, Bruce the Robert.  A statue of him astride a trusty steed stood outside the newly-cleaned (and gutted) Marshall Academy building which now housed the city’s staff.  The Denburn Parkland was the property of the people, gifted to they by King Robert, but if Scrooge wanted the park, well, then he must have it.

Teams of lawyers toiled day and night to find some clever way to make it all work. The brilliant, peerless lawyer MeKeechruns could not have been more helpful.  Loopholes were exploited, companies set up, and there very best man, Berry Gruff was one of the lead figures making it all fall into place. ‘ If only the people would stop protesting!’ the Lord Provost thought.  ‘The wife’s on at me for some more designer jeans, and her clothes are costing a fortune.  Guess it’s all on expenses anyway, but still.’

“I want progress soon, understand!  You do want to stay Lord Provost, I’m sure, and all those other councillors know what side their bread is buttered on.  Get me a progress report tonight.”  Scrooge said matter-of-factly, as the chauffeur opened the door and Ianeezer Scrooge alit at the Scrooge Building.  He entered the doors, thrust his hat and coat at his assistant Mr Mickie, and strode off to his office, Mickie trotting at his heels.

“Have you written those letters yet?” Scrooge asked “They need to be out to James Brown at the funding office forthwith – but do send them second class – first class stamps are going up again.  And who turned the heat up in here?  I’m paying for this you know.”

Scrooge’s pet project depended to some extent on a funding application.  A Mr James Brown was in charge of the funds.  Most of Scrooge’s employees and lackeys had been set the task of writing to Brown, saying what a great project it would be and that funding must be granted.

“Oh, I’m sorry” said Mickie, “I’ll turn the heat off straight away.  Yes, I’ve written to ask for the funding for the Denburn project in my own name, in the names of all my wee children, including Tiny Tim, and as myself for all the companies you’ve put me in charge of – in name only of course” he added, seeing  Ianeezer had raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’m out to lunch” said Ianeezer – and Mickie thought that was true enough.  “Have you made reservations for me ?  I’m taking Jenny Crawl out to the Clifmar for a nice long lunch.”

“Oh yes sir, everything is in place; do have a nice –“ but before Mickie could finish Scrooge was off again.

Mickie knew he had to work hard and do as Scrooge told him.  He had all his children to think of, including poor little Tiny Tim who needed a crutch.  Not only did Mickie work for Scrooge, he had to hold down several other jobs and even work at the local pharmacy to make ends meet.  If only things went Scrooge’s way, then no doubt Scrooge would pass some money onto Mickie as well – at least Mickie hoped so.  For Scrooge had pledged to leave the project millions of pounds, and hinted that those nearest to him would likewise be remembered in his will.

Across town Scrooge was peering at the lovely Jenny Crawl over the wine list.

“Is there anything else I can do for you sir, anything at all?  Just let me know, I’m your man.”  The little waiter, Spencer for Hire addressed Scrooge with great respect.  He too hoped to be a beneficiary of the as-yet unseen largess of Mr Scrooge.

“That will be all thank you Spence.” Jenny replied.  She was a tall stately woman with long blond hair.  She had worked her way up through the ranks and was now in the inner circle of Scrooge’s trusted business associates.  She worked long and hard helping Scrooge fulfil his dreams of seizing Denburn Park; it was after all the most desirable piece of real estate in town.  Of course they told the public that everything that Scrooge did was for their own good.  The truth was something else altogether.   If they could only turn this unprofitable bit of land with its trees, grassy banks, birds and flowers into a parking lot, they would become even richer.

They passed a pleasant few hours over caviar, champagne and fine foods.  Suddenly Scrooge felt unwell.  His head began to swim and his stomach ached.

“Jenny my dear” he sighed.  “Not feeling all that well, perhaps I had too much stilton and port.  Going home for a lie-down.  See you later I trust?  Just sign the bill for the project, it was a working lunch after all.”

“Dear Dear Ian” she said; she called him by his shortened name “you must go home and lie down at once!  We mustn’t let anything happen to you!”  She genuinely looked alarmed.  How she must care for him, Scrooge thought.

Before he knew it, Jenny and Spencer for Hire had bundled him back into his limo –  he thought they mumbled something about a will –  and he was being driven home through town.  It was twilight.  The moon shown over the Denburn Park as the limo drove past.  A shadow crossed the moon and for a moment, Scrooge thought he heard a moan.  The car then stopped at traffic lights at the Academy building, just by the Statue of Bruce the Robert.

The moonlight danced on the statue and as Scrooge froze – the horse lifted his hoof and the great Robert leaned forward and pointed at Ianeezer.  Scrooge closed his eyes and rubbed them – and when he opened them, there was the statue as motionless as it always had been.  ‘I must not eat any more of those funny chocolate brownies Katie my cleaning woman makes.  Trick of the eyes.’ He thought to himself.

As he arrived at the Scrooge mansion, his servants Katie D and Kevin Dum were at hand to help him into the house.  He ordered his faithful lackeys to bring him his dinner in his room; he would watch television in his bed and get an early night’s sleep.

Some funny programme was on, some old film called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.  Scrooge stopped to watch for a few moments.  In the scene that was playing, a young man called George Bailey was talking to a wealthy man called Mr Potter.

“Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!”

Ianeezer Scooge couldn’t quite fathom what was wrong with the young man, and thought that the Mr Potter character seemed like an admirable fellow.

Just then a gust of wind caused a tree branch to tap on the window at the opposite wall.  The noise caught Scrooge’s attention and he turned.  For a split second he thought he saw the statue of Bruce the Robert again.  A feeling of dread crept over him, but then the moment was gone.  Scrooge gradually drifted off to sleep.  He though of Christmas and how much it would cost him in holiday wages.  ‘Christmas!  Bah Humbug!’

Scrooge had a troubled, strange sleep.  Waking with a start he noticed the room glowed red in the dark.  ‘what the hell is that irritating red light and how is anyone supposed to get any sleep with it on’ he thought when suddenly he realised he was not alone.  He clutched the bedclothes and sat upright, heart pounding.

There to his horror was a hideous figure – bald and short in stature with an undefined, characterless face.  It wore a red football jersey marked ‘AFC’.

“Ianeezer Scrooge!  It is I, your former business partner  Jacob Milney come to warn you!  Mend your ways, or you too will be damned for all eternity as I am!”

“Milney – is that you?”  Scrooge could not believe it – there stood the ghastly apparition which looked exactly like his former business partner Jacob Milney.  Poor Milney had blotted his copy book.  First there were some funny dealings with the city and a queer land deal. Then Milney alienated the people by buying their city champion curling team, and running it into the ground.  People whispered that Milney did not really care for curling at all, and simply wanted to grab as much land as possible.  True enough – and Scrooge in the old days felt a paternal fondness for Jacob Milney.  But as the tables turned on Milney and he lost credibility and got into trouble, Scrooge quite rightly cut him off.

“Er, look here Milney, I’m hallucinating right?  You are just an undigested bit of cheese aren’t you?” Scrooge demanded.

“I’ve been called far worse,” said Milney looking at the floor and shaking his head sadly “Ian, I have been sent here tonight to warn you – you must give up your greedy ways.  Three spirits will visit you this night to show you your past present and your terrible future if you don’t get off the path you are on.”

“What’s that thing you’re wearing?” demanded Ianeezer “and what makes you think I’m doing anything wrong?

At this Milney let out a ghostly long wail.  “For my greed, dishonesty, destruction of green spaces and miserly treatment of the curling club, I am forced to glow red in the dark like the stadium I built in the nature reserve.  I must wear this long chain.  It is made from all the trophies and silver that the curling team could have won had I not treated it as a real estate vehicle.  And believe me, this is a pretty long chain.”

Jacob shook it for effect.

“Learn from my greed and turn back.  Pay your UK taxes.  Stop getting rid of green space – and above all:  YOU MUST NOT BUILD THE MONOLITH.  My time here is ending.  I return to my punishment – I am forced to read the fan website and all the newspaper articles denouncing my stewartship of the curling club.  Ianeezer….,,”

Milney seemed to shrink to an even smaller shape than he had been in life, and with a final moan (which Ianeezer was used to from their long years of association) he was gone.

“Phew!” Thought Scrooge “If that was poor old Milney, he’s really lost his business sense.  But it was only a dream.  No more Brewdog ‘Tactical Nuclear Penguin’ for me before bedtime.

He rolled over and soon was sleeping again, but not very soundly at all.

*                                              *                                              *

Somewhere far off a horse whinnied and steel crashed against steel.  Scrooge sat up, and there was the great heroic figure of Bruce the Robert.

“Get up ye wee futtret!”  Robert demanded.

“Now look here” Scrooge cried ” Don’t speak to me like that, dead hero or not!  I’m Ianeezer Scrooge – or Mr Scrooge to you.”

“AAARRGH!” Cried Bruce the Robert, swinging his huge sword close to Scrooge who seemed to regret his earlier rudeness.  “Ah’ve focht bloody battles tae win the lands Ah hae noo – but fit aoot yersel? A’ you’ve ivver daen is stan idle watchin rival firms struggle, an’ like a hoodie cra’ pick their banes fan they’re ower puggled tae fecht back.

“Ah dinna ken why Ah should gee ma bahookie ower sic a grippy flechbite as yersel, but somebody hid tae come ower an gie ye a bollockin, an’ as ayewis, it wis left tae Muggins.

“Hemen, ye’ve mair money than ye ken fit tae dae wi, an’ still aye yer needin mair. Ah’m tellin ye noo tae cut it oot!

“Ah ken fit it’s like tae a fair puckly siller. Ae time Ah could hae went onywye an daen onythin Ah likit. Twis naebody’s business fit Ah did wi siller Ah workit for. But Ah gaed awa! ‘At’s richt, glaikit as it micht soun’, Ah gaed awa ma siller tae ornry workin fowks…. an as lang as Ah’m still kent as the Big Bob, fit Ah gied tae the fowks will bide wi the fowks. D’ye underconstumble?

“So if you as much as pint yer finger at ae tree in the fowk’s perk at Denburn, Ah’ll come doon on ye like a ton o’ bricks.

“Noo Ah’ve heard ye bumpin yer gums aboot gaein yer siller awa tae fowk, but dinna kid yersel, the Aiberdeen fowk are nae blin’, an’ they’re nae as feel as ye think. So fit is’t yer buildin onywye? Ah’ve haen a lookie an’ Ah’ve nae seen siccan a sair sotter in a’ ma puff. Fit’s wi’ the muckle gless worm thingmy? Are ye wise??”

“Clearly”  Scrooge replied, “You just don’t understand this wonderful gift I’m giving the people.

“There will be underground parking, shopping, ramps to walk on, a monolith, and a great big covered space to sit in.    It is the way to ensure our economic future, and people will come from afar to see this wonderful site.  And spend money.  There will be jobs creation, vibrancy, dynamism.  It is a focal point for the civic heart of the city which – “

“Haud yer wheesht min!” interrupted the ancient hero’s ghost forcefully  “Div Ah look like a gluepot? Div ye think fowk are feel enough tae believe the tripe comin oot yer mou? Div ye believe it yersel min? If ye dae, then yer mair o’ a neep than Ah taen ye for. Ah’m tellin ye yince mair min jist in case the penny hisna drapped. That perk is tae bide the wye it is … so snoot oot –  or ye’ll ken a’ aboot it.

“Richt, Ah’m awa noo, but mind fit Ah telt ye.”

“Is your time on this earth up?” asked Scrooge “You see, if you could just understand why we need to build these ramps and monoliths, then –“

“Nah, ma time’s ma ain” the Robert growled, prodding his finger into his chest “But the verra sicht o’ yer soor coupon is daein ma napper in, so Ah’m aff. But Ah’ll be clockin ye. So get a grip ye grippy git. Yer needin tae heed the wise or wise the heid. Itherwise min, it’s tatties!”

And the ghostly horse reared; the Robert charged the window, and was gone into the night.

“Hm… I guess I believe in ghosts!” Thought  Ianeezer – “Hmph!  It’s easier to believe in spirits than in any of this public relations ‘vibrant and dynamic’ nonsense – whatever that means.   I just want that land, some parking, some shops and of course a statue to ME, which the grateful populace will insist is built.  But the spirit was right – perhaps I need to do some more thinking about this project.”

Scrooge shook his head up and down with satisfaction before plumping his pillow, and laying down again.

*                                              *                                              *

“You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your money. Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter. In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider!”

The television was still on – these words woke Scrooge up, and he rubbed his eyes.  The room was filled with a fuzzy glow.  There was some kind of shape in the room, cloudlike with little form.  It however spoke in a girl’s voice.

“Hi there!  I’m ASIF, the ghost of Christmas present!  But you can call me Jan.” the thing said.

“What are you?  I can’t figure out what you’re supposed to be?” Scrooge asked, turning his head to one side.  The thing existed, yet he could see straight through it but could not tell what it was.  It kept changing.  Truly this ghost was vibrant and dynamic.  At one point he thought he saw a big translucent worm.  Another moment and it seemed to be either a big spiderweb or a great big square block.

“You should understand” the voice said “for you are creating me.  I am ASIF, your project.  I’m not exactly defined yet – no one – not even you  – knows what I will look like.  You only know that you want me built, and you hope to have a statue of yourself – like the statue of Bruce the Robert.  I am here to show you the truth of Christmas Present.  You will see what your actions have created in this city for people this very Christmas night.  Now come with me.  Take hold of my robe and you will be uplifted in more than this.  Whatever that means.”

“Now hold on Jan” said a sceptical Scrooge.  “I had Milney in her not long ago pretending to be some kind of spirit – just the kind of silly caper that gets him into trouble every time.  Why should I think you are ASIF, some kind of a ghost?”

“Well, I’m fully transparent aren’t I?” ASIF answered.

“Very well spirit, show me what Christmas looks like this year.”

They flew out the window.  And this is what they saw.

They saw a homeless man shiver in the cold, mourning for his friend who had frozen to death earlier in the week.  They saw bulldozers tearing into the remaining countryside; they saw other green fields nearby.  They saw some people suffering, and others feasting.  They saw pensioners and people with special needs trying to make do.  They saw crumbling NHS hospitals and closed down schools.  They saw poor ailing Tiny Tim Mickie sitting in a corner of his room, writing letters at his dad’s bidding to James Brown, begging for the Scrooge project to go ahead.  They saw the happy, the sad, the rich and the poor.  Then they saw the richest man in town’s mansion, and it was Scrooge’s.

“All those people with all their hopes and dreams.  All of the land being built on, leaving animals without shelter, space or feeding ground. All the suffering.  And yet Mr Scooge, here we are back at your billionaire pad with its comforts and servants.  Does this teach you anything at all?”  The spirit asked.

“Yes, indeed it does.  Thank you ASIF.  I have learned much.”  Scrooge answered thoughfully.  “But what are those two child-like figures clinging to you, hidden under your robes?”

“Fear them Scrooge” answered ASIF “the little boy is Ignorance; he is what happens if schools are closed.  The little girl is called Want, and what you waste in a day could save her.”

“Would I get any tax break if I make a donation?” Scrooge asked.  The spirit pretended it hadn’t heard this question.

“I shall leave you now, and another spirit will soon appear to show you the future.”ASIF said.  With that, the ghostly shimmery giant worm thing was gone.

“I shall make use of what she showed me.  I shall change” Ianeezer thought. “And now I await my last spectral visitation.”  He sat on his bed, and noticed the movie was still playing.  It felt as if this night was never going to end, yet if the movie was still on, only moments had passed.

*                                              *                                              *

A wild wind was blowing; Scrooge’s windows were thrown wide open by an invisible force.    Before the spectre, who was wearing a hoodie that covered its face entirely could speak, Ianeezer began.

“Look, I know who you are and why you’re here – let’s see the future, for I’ve been given much food for thought tonight.  Time’s money, let’s get a move on.”  The spectre grabbed Scrooge’s arm and they flew forward in time.

They  were still in Scrooge’s house, but according to the calendar some 20 years had passed.  Two old haggard ladies were arguing, and the draperies were closed around Scrooge’s bed.  They were his faithful servants, Katie D and Kevin Dum.

“I’ll have that for all the years of suffering I’ve endured.” Said one of the washer women.  She was grabbing a casket of silverware.

“Fine – take that, I’ll get the old fool’s fillings from his teeth!” said the other scrubber.  More voices were heard, and the two washer women scarpered.  Soon a party of lawyers, councillors, and the lovely Jenny Crawl dressed head to toe in black entered.  They all sobbed.

“See spirit!  See how they miss me!” said Scrooge, who realised it was his deathbed they were seeing.  He felt most proud at this outpouring of grief.

“Bollocks!” said Jenny.  “After all those  years of crawling, the old bastard not only didn’t leave money to the Denburn project, he’s  not left me more than an old photo of himself!  The nerve!”

“Years I printed what I was told, and more to the point I didn’t print what he didn’t want out.  And it’s all been for nothing.”  A man with a folded up newspaper under his arm simmered angrily.

“My project, my beautiful project!” said Gruff “who’s going to pay for it now!?  Hundreds of millions of pounds are needed, or the city will go broke.”

“I thought I had all the angles covered,” wept MeKeechruns “I’m usually so very, very brilliant!”

The miserable party railed at the dead man.  “Show me no more of this!” cried Scrooge.  He blinked and found himself at the home of his servant, Mickie.  Tiny Tim’s crutch lay along against the fire place.

“Where’s Mickie’s son Tiny Tim?” asked Scrooge

Before the spectre of Chrismas Future could answer, the Mickies entered the room.

“My poor wee Tim!” cried Mrs Mickie “Who would have thought he could die from writer’s cramp?  It was bad enough he  had to bombard James Brown with letters demanding that the funding for Scrooge’s project be granted.” She sobbed, “But it was just too much for wee Tim to have to also forge all those referendum ballots too.  Ah, my poor boy!”.

Scrooge and the spirit were suddenly in the fresh air, in the middle of what seemed like a party.  It was the Denburn Park, but not as Scrooge remembered it.  A giant steel skeleton with smashed glass panes lay to his left.  A giant huge monolith with no windows stood nearby.  A schoolboy threw empty bottles of Buckfast off of a giant concrete ramp covered in graffiti.

On a stage under the ramp, Status Quo played to an audience of OAPs. Groans intermixed with the sound of car engines emanated from the oversized Monolith.  It bore a sign that read “The Ianeezer Scrooge memorial Monolith – parking, shopping and children’s Workhouse.” But all were rejoicing as overhead a grafittied monorail limped to a halt.

“He’s dead!  He’s DEAD!” they all cried, raising glasses of latte or vodka overhead.  Scrooge did not want to know who’s death the rabble were cheering – he had his suspicions.

“Spirit, show me no more.  I have learnt my lessons well.  Thank you.  I promise I will make changes!”  And with these words from Scrooge, a bolt of lightning blinded him for a moment.  Then, he was in his own room again.  The calendar showed he had returned to the present time.

Scrooge was much changed by what he had seen.

*                                              *                                              *

“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends”

Incredibly, the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was only just now ending, although Scrooge felt his ordeal had lasted several nights not hours.  Scrooge sat straight up in bed, and the sunlight streamed through the window.  He laughed out loud.  Throwing on his robe he raced to the window, still laughing, and threw open the sash.  A boy was visible nearby.

“You there boy, what day is this?” Scrooge demanded.

“Why sir, it’s Christmas day!” the puzzled lad answered.

“Then a merry Christmas to you!  See this twenty-pound note?” Ianeezer asked, waiving a bill in the air

“Yes Sir!” answered the boy

“Go and fetch me the biggest turkey in the whole town!” Scrooge commanded

“Dean, Fletcher or Malone?” asked the lad

“Ho ho – smart lad!  Fetch me them all! – and Gruff and MeKeechruns as well!” Scrooge answered, and disappeared from the window.  “Much to do today!  Much to change!” he thought to himself.

In a little under an hour later, a somewhat disgruntled motley crew of councillors, officials and others connected to the Denburn Park project found themselves in Scrooge’s drawing room.

“I’ll bet you wondered why I called you hear today” he asked.  A chorus of “we are happy to be here, and ‘merry Christmas sir” greeted him.

“I’ve been thinking about the project, and have a new suggestion or two – believe me, these changes are very forward looking.” Ianeezer  announced.  The assembled great and good replied ‘fantastic!’ ‘can’t wait!’ and so on.

“We’re going to electrify the worm, and throw anyone in prison who touches it.  Now the monolith idea – what if as well as underground parking we put in a workhouse? We’ll save money putting the kids in workhouses and closing more schools.  Do you think that will be possible – I mean think of the labour saving and government grant possibilities!”

There was a moment’s silence “Well, are you with me – remember the money I’m leaving in my will!” Scrooge said with a hint of threat.

“Astounding!” “Visionary” “Vibrant!!” “Dynamic!”  “Inclusion!”   the buzzwords he so loved rang out across the room.

“Merry Christmas  – now back to your homes.  Jenny – stay for a drink won’t you?”  A shadow seemed to cross her face for an instant, but it was gone.

Ianeezer Scrooge was a happy man indeed, and remained grateful to the spirits to the end of his days.

“Please sir – the twenty pound note?” asked a wee boy in the back of the great drawing room.   “Yes, here it is” Scrooge said waving it, “And if you do me another favour sometime, I’ll show it to you again.”

Amid the approving nervous titters of the council bigwigs, the boy was shown the door.

Somewhere far away, an icicle formed under the eye of a bronze statue of a former king of Scotland.

THE END.

Oct 132011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was and wonders who’s up to what and why. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is having trouble sleeping at the moment for several reasons. Firstly, there is the sheer excitement over the UTG design competition – which design will I fall in love with?  What will be built that will make the world beat a path to Aberdeen for coffee, baguettes and monorail rides? Will Paris, New York and Rome empty as people come to Union Square and the new UTG?
Secondly, I am worried about Ms Aileen ‘Homalone’ who has dropped out of the public eye, and refuses (to date) to answer questions about the finances needed for the phase 2 attempt to plant trees on Tullos, and the money to shoot those extremely hungry deer.  It looks as if there isn’t any money, but no one’s talking to the public just now.

I did email to say ‘C’mon Aileen’ – and she replied that ‘an officer (if not a gentleman) would get back to me’.

I gently reminded Homalone that she had at least a little responsibility for the scheme to rid Tullos of vermin deer and plant 89,000 trees where trees had failed before, as she’d taken a wee bit of the public relations credit for this great scheme to begin with.  I expect as soon as she turns her razor-sharp mind to the task of analysing all the facts and figures regarding the tree planting, deer and slaughter, she’ll revert to me asap.

I don’t think I’ll hold my breath though.

You may recall the deer are under the death sentence because we must be cheap when using ‘the public purse,’ and Aileen being a good Lib Dem can’t stand any waste of public money.  Quite right.

No such restrictions apply to buying crucial carriage clocks and expensive pens from the Common Good Fund.  

If you are in Inverness, you have to apply to use the common good fund there, and a committee decides if your charity should get a bit of the fund. They seem to have helped quite a number of deserving causes, and the application procedure is the same for the rich and the poor, believe it or not.  It is not quite as easy to get a handle on who has their fingers on Aberdeen’s CGF sporran strings. But I digress – again.

Thirdly, I can’t sleep now that I know it’s OK to shoot small mammals and birds on Tullos Hill whenever you want – you just need a permit and the right kind of gun. I am amazed that no one’s been shot there yet. I am also amazed that people still like to hunt living things, but I guess I need to acknowledge that the law allows this.

So do keep walking on Tullos, but keep in mind bullets can travel long distances, and wear your bright clothes and your bulletproof vest.  And for goodness sake, don’t wear any of those novelty deer antler headbands.

Vermin:

(noun) 1. insects such as lice, ticks or fleas (or the more fashionable bedbugs plaguing New York at present) which can lead to infestations. 2. birds and mammals that eat other animals / game. 3. animals which are after the same food as people or domestic animals (How dare they!).

The police sent me some detailed answers about the gunman spotted on Tullos Hill in early September after I did one of my little FOI requests.  The hunter would not legally have been after the roe deer – but the police made it clear that such ‘sportspeople’ are allowed to shoot ‘vermin’. The police definition of what constitutes vermin seems to include deer. So the next time you and a roe deer are trying to nibble the same 2,000 trees, just kill it – as long as you have a permit and are using the right kind of bullets and rifle.  Result!

But if the deer aren’t after the same quarter-pounder you want, and the squirrels (red, black, grey – I don’t discriminate) aren’t after your chocolate shake – then are they really vermin? The vermin label put on these wild animals justifies the gamekeeper poisoning the birds of prey, the snare-setter (snares are still legal for some reason) who kills indiscriminately, and the council targeting the Tullos Hill deer.

Speaking of the council (well some of them anyway), I’d best move to another definition before someone comes gunning for me.  And for some reason, a related word comes to mind now that I’ve mentioned our City Council.

Parasite:

(noun – English ) an insect or other creature which feeds off of a host animal to the host’s detriment. 

Let’s consider bloodsuckers, worms, leeches and ticks. These are some of the parasitic vermin infesting your city council. You do have the right ammo to despatch them – or at least you will come May elections with your vote. The parasites in question feed of resources such as The Common Good Fund, Council Taxes and all-expense paid hospitality.

Like a swarm of locusts, they descend on areas such as the AECC and the Beach Ballroom if so much as a free sandwich can be had.  Parasites such as these are notoriously thirsty, and can empty cases of drink in nanoseconds.

Do not get too close to such creatures – they may well carry disease.  Do instead hide your money (offshore if possible), and guard any green spaces, which these parasites can easily destroy if not kept in check.

“Cultural” spaces:

(noun, English Modern) a wholly new concept of “space” where “Cultural” “events” can take place.  Not to be confused with existing businesses or arenas and spaces they have for cultural events.

If it’s not hard enough for me to get any sleep with everything else going on, the Evening Express told us on 8 October that there is a ‘plan’ to attract ‘top performers (!)’ to Aberdeen.  This brand-new idea, never before attempted, would see the ‘proposed new park over (?!!) Union Terrace Gardens’ filled with “cultural” spaces.  (By the way, the quotes around the word “cultural” appear in the Evening Express piece on this subject, so I’d better leave them in).

“Culture” of course is something that we people not in ACC, ACSEF, or SEG can’t really appreciate or understand.  ( Remember – Stewart  Spence, stalwart of the Marcliffe wrote to the P&J last week to call people opposed to these great new plans ‘NIMBYS and luddites’.  Who can argue with him?).

The AECC – long propped up by the taxpayer – and the Lemon Tree (likewise on a taxpayer sub) have never attempted to bring Top Performers here before.  Likewise none of the independently-owned  bars and clubs (not supported by taxpayers by the way) have tried this either.  Some years ago I got my hopes very high about Top Performers coming here, but in the end, Geri Haliwell had to pull out of doing the AECC.

Now in another guise, Scottish Enterprise might not really be permitted to shell out large amounts of taxpayer cash to create “cultural” spaces if these new inventions borne of taxpayer money would compete with already-existing public funded and/or private spaces. 

But the story with UTG is different somehow – kind of like when Scottish Enterprise took the money the Arts Council had earmarked for Peacock (who had wanted to , er, create a “cultural” space in UTG first).  Hmm – I must remember to soon define ‘intellectual property’, ‘copyright’, ‘lawsuit’ and ‘moral rights’.

I for one am happy to subsidise the AECC directly and indirectly (the City Council somehow needs to rent large amounts of office space at the AECC despite its large roster of properties) as well as subsidise the other city-owned venues AND find some 140 million towards yet another “cultural” space under/in/over  Union Terrace Gardens.  And if the private sector of the music/entertainment industry in Aberdeen can’t compete, then that’s just showbusiness.

We are in a democracy after all – the richest amongst us get to either be on boards or appoint boards to do what they want done with public spaces – all in the name of “culture”. 

If we don’t ‘get it’, then we are indeed the NIMBYS and luddites Spency thinks we all are.  I shall remember his words when I next book a dinner or a hotel.

Those who oppose the UTG project (not that it is defined yet – not even Old Susannah could do that if the city can’t) will be laughing out of the other side of their faces when I’m having a large latte before Toto opens up for Geri Haliwell near the monorail at the Wood memorial car park “cultural” space centre.  So there.  Gives those luddites something to think about doesn’t it?

I have to digress again – it is because some of us can’t understand how wonderful the whole project is that we oppose it.  It is all crystal clear, but here is a little helpful guide as to who’s doing what about our “culture” space / UTG project.  Here is my little luddites guide to the simple way things work

1.  Locum Consultants – apparently a part of the Collier Group – have been hired to ‘find uses’ for ‘some kind of performance and exhibition space’ created by the UTG project.  Appointed (by whom I don’t know).

(By the way I can find a ‘Locum Consultants’ in Surrey and a ‘Collier International’ in Manchester.  Unless there are companies with those names in Scotland, I guess no one here was up to the job of filling the “cultural” space.  I could be wrong, I could be right).

2.  The Aberdeen City Gardens Trust (ACGT) – works on ‘how to use “cultural” spaces inside (?!!) the proposed new park over Union Terrace  Gardens’.  Unelected.  (This seems to be a “Private, Limited by guarantee, no share capital, use of  ‘Limited’ exemption” kind of an affair – which makes sense as the Taxpayer is paying for it at least in part, and it will be involved in the future of a public asset.  Result!)  Or in words a child could understand – taken from the website:  http://thecitygardenproject.com/news

“Aberdeen City Gardens Trust has been set up, under the auspices of the City Garden Project management board, as a special purpose vehicle to channel funding for the project and deliver key activities within the project plan. The Trust will operate using best practice procurement procedures and will be accountable for the delivery of activities to project management board.

“The Trust will also receive £375,000 of Scottish Enterprise funding from its available funds for major infrastructure projects.

“Cllr John Stewart, chairman of the City Garden Project management board, said: “The fact that Aberdeen City Council is making no revenue contribution to the project means it is necessary to be imaginative in the way in which non-council finance levered into the project is managed. The creation of the Trust presents us with an ideal solution. Equally, it will allow for contracting of the required services involved in the next steps and for the project to progress to the design competition stage and complete the business case for the TIF application. Through the TIF we will be to access funding not otherwise available to invest in the art gallery and the St Nicholas House site, enhancing and reinvigorating our city centre.”

“The founding directors of the Trust are Tom Smith and Colin Crosby who will be joined by Directors from Aberdeen City Council and others involved in the project in due course”.

3.  The City Gardens Monitoring Group – exists to hide its doings and to  decide that the public should not vote on the option of leaving the gardens as they are in the current design competition for the 6 finalists (chosen by an unelected group and guaranteed loads of dosh for getting this far).  The Group redacted its minutes to the point you had no idea who was in it (unless you cut and pasted the redacted text and found none other than Aileen Malone was involved).  Unelected.

But for those of you still not clear, here is an excerpt of who’s who and who’s doing what where from our City’s very own website:  http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/

“The membership of the Project Monitoring Group comprises Councillors Malone (Chair), Boulton, McDonald, Kirsty West, Wisely, Young and Yuill.

“For reference, the membership of the City Garden Project Management Board comprises Councillor John Stewart (Chair), Councillor Callum McCaig and Valerie Watts, ACC; Tom Smith and Colin Crosby, ACSEF; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Bob Collier, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce; John Michie, Aberdeen City Centre Association; Lavina Massie, the Aberdeen City Alliance, Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise and Paul Harris, Gray’s School of Art.

“The membership of the Project Implementation Team comprises Tom Smith (Chair), Colin Crosby and John Michie, ACSEF; Gerry Brough, Hugh Murdoch and Patricia Cassidy, ACC; Jennifer Craw, the Wood Family Trust; Maggie McGinlay, Scottish Enterprise; Derick Murray, Nestrans; Audrey Laidlaw, Network Rail and Iain Munro, Creative Scotland”.

This diverse membership of people with no vested interests in the project going ahead or not will reassure us all.  But somehow, I still can’t get any sleep.

4.  Malcolm Reading – a design consultancy which shortlisted the winning entries in the design competiton, an amazing feat, as there was and is no design brief in existence approved by ACC.  What Malcolm Reading will earn is unknown; how exactly it was appointed is also a mystery to me.

5.  The BIG Partnership – a PR consultancy which tells us how great it all is going to be.  I don’t know how they were appointed or what they will earn. (not to be confused with ‘The Big Sleep’.)  STOP PRESS:  The BIG Partnership has recently announced a new client:  The Wood Family Trust.

6.  ACSEF – A board of business people and city officials who, well, do what they like.  Includes one impartial Mr S Milne.  Known for issuing warning as to dire consequences for Aberdeen if we don’t build on the garden.  ACSEF is an invention of ACC, and funded at least in part by the public purse which we are all so keen to use sparingly.

7.  Genus Loci – a document produced supporting ideas for the Garden’s future as long as these don’t include a garden for the future.  Famous for proposing the monorail idea.

8.  Scottish Enterprise – a quango, unelected, on a mere £750 million or so per year which holds meetings, and supplies members to sit on the board of ACSEF, and who gave the world Jennifer Craw, now on the Wood Family Trust.  Which of course has a seat or seats on the secretive City Gardens Monitoring Group – or was it the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust.  Unelected and expensive.

9.  Wood Family Trust – er, apparently the wood family and/or friends who want to get rid of the wood in the gardens apparently, for “cultural” spaces.  Apparently not elected.  This Trust has possibly one or two overlapping areas with some of these other groups,  maybe.

10.  Project Implementation Team – are on hand to implement the project whether or not the public want them to.

Now that you see how simple it all is, I trust that there will be no more whining about the expense of paying all these companies off, signing a lease for a few thousand years for the gardens, or whinging about issues of ‘transparency’.

As that little Meerkat person on TV would say, ‘Simples’.

I was going to define ‘Impartiality’ this week as well, and how it relates to TIF, BID, and so on.  However, I now have a headache for some reason, and there is a knock on my door which may be the sherrif coming for my furniture.  ‘Impartiality’ it is for next week then.  And ‘Old Boys’ Network’, ‘Nepotism’ and ‘Greed’.

Good night all.

Sep 232011
 

Old Susannah looks back at the week that was. By Suzanne Kelly.

Old Susannah is enjoying a glass of ‘Hello… my name is Ingrid’ (a beautiful brew made with cloudberry) at Brewdog, and is reflecting on another busy week in the Deen.
There was the Periurban conference for one thing. This was announced last minute on the City’s website.
It was an international conference on how cities deal with land on the fringes of the urban areas. I guess people from around the world came to see how wonderfully Aberdeen treats Union Terrace Gardens, Tullos Hill, green space at Westhill and Cove, and Loirston Loch.

The two-day conference was opened by the pioneering champion of all things green: Kate Dean.

I sent in an application, and then found myself invited to the second day’s events. For some reason it seemed they didn’t want me on the first day. I heard lots of important speakers, most of whom said urban sprawl is a problem, and we must all use less resources and re-use what we can. Someone even said ‘planting trees is not a solution’ – Cllr HoMalone please take note.

We heard about city centres emptying out if there is too much urban sprawl, with shops closing and crime and social deprivation becoming a problem. I was just surprised no one from Aberdeen explained how our ‘improving’ Union Terrace Gardens into a car park, ‘cosmopolitan cafe’, the hoped-for monorail and building in the greenbelt were going to save the day. I would have loved to have heard it. 

One City Council official kept turning around in their seat to look at me; for some reason they almost looked worried I was there. Could it have been the ‘Save the Tullos Deer’ t-shirt I wore under my suit jacket?

Someone was there from a local green charity, and somehow I brought up the deer cull situation (my t-shirt might have helped). The person had no idea why the Scottish SPCA was against the cull and what the other issues were. I happily explained.

Elsewhere in the Deen, someone has decided to leave a cat in a wheelie bin. Perhaps they want as much media attention as the woman from Coventry got? You may remember Mary Bale who cruelly left a cat in a bin for hours on end and was caught out. Let’s see if we can’t find the Aberdeen copycat cat botherer and do for them what the press did for Bale.

It would likewise be a shame if shamed Banff Brothers David and Colin Reid of 22 Boyndie Street West, Banff, got any bad press for their dogfighting activity conviction and jail sentences.

This is the Scottish SPCA’s first major dogfighting conviction in Aberdeenshire (where officials denied there was a problem, you may recall), and it is cause for celebration.  The Reids must know something about other dog fighters – let’s hope they roll over.  Thankfully, some of the dogs they were abusing have been rescued.

But anyway, here I am in Brewdog wondering what to write about this week.

I am looking at a recent Press & Journal headline which screams in giant letters: ‘IS THIS THE MOST HATED MAN IN SCOTLAND?‘ As I am always happy to follow where the P&J leads, so let’s skip definitions this week and take a look at the most hated man in Scotland instead. 

Imagine one man using the legal system to the maximum for his own self-interested ends. Imagine him standing alone, unwilling to listen to the thousands of people who want him to abandon the battle.

Imagine for a minute how much taxpayer money and court time he is willing to use up.

Yes, Mr Milne may well be the most hated man in Scotland. For openers there is the legal battle which he’s taking all the way to the highest court in the UK. For those who don’t know, Milne bought land from the City Council – 11 acres in Westhill – for some £335,000. (By the way, who do the rest of us have to know to get deals like that? Jane – can you help?). The land is worth millions.

Apparently Milne agreed with the City to pay a portion of any sale/rental profit to the City. In a really sharp, not at all transparent move, the land was sold from one arm of the vast Milne empire to another Milne company. As you’d expect, such a deal cost over £500,000 to do. Or so Milne claims when his companies say there was no profit left after the sale.  Seems pretty clear to me.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us).

You’d have thought that our very generous Council wouldn’t go bothering Stew for a mere 1.7 million pounds (goodness knows the City can waste that much with ease), but it seems the City will be trying to claw back the money.

The courts found in the City’s favour – but Milne would rather drag us on through the legal system and cost the taxpayer more money than shell out.

Yes, Milne is appealing (but not to most of us). Of course if you weigh this against all the associated costs, then there probably won’t be much financial gain. Here’s a clever idea: let’s stop selling our assets at less money than they are worth. Who knows?  We might wind up less than the £50 million in debt we currently are.  But back to Milne.

We come to the subject of the once-beautiful game. Someone’s decided it’s much better to do land deals than try and win matches.

Milne will develop Pittodrie (which could have been rennovated – this has been done elsewhere in the UK) and build in the greenbelt well out of town.  Loirston Loch will be greatly improved by the new stadium. What the remaining wildlife will make of the lack of land, the cars, the additional pollution and inevitable trash is another matter.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds?

The bottom line is the stadium will glow in the dark (!) and we can have Elton John and Rod Stewart concerts!. (Who cares that two BBC stories this week prove another link between ill health and car exhaust fumes, and Scotland’s wildlife continues to diminish?)

You would have thought that AFC fans would be jumping for joy at the chance to drive/bus/walk to Loirston. Instead, many of them want Milne to jump ship. Things are so desperate that some fans are actively inviting Donald Trump to invest in the club.  Ouch.

I wonder what it’s like to be less popular than the Donald? Will the Dons become the Donalds? Mr Milne might want to stay away from Facebook or AFC fan sites for a wee while, where there is just a hint of dissatisfaction. Such ingratitude – and after all he’s done to us. Sorry – I mean ‘for us’.

Stew’s not very popular in the city centre either. In his proposal for Triple Kirks, he’s promised us more office buildings. Result!

So who’d have thought that putting two glass box buildings next to the Triple Kirk spire (and probably chasing those pesky peregrine falcons away in the process) could make you unpopular? There will be office space – and who wants anything more than more office space?

I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting.

The only problem is parking (not that that is hindering him developing Pittodrie or in creating the stadium – neither has adequate parking in their plans). Where on earth will Stew find any parking solutions close to Triple Kirks? If only there was some empty, under-used space nearby – maybe something that ‘only has grass’ in it. He could have car parking, the offices would go ahead without a hitch, he’d rake in some money.

People would be amazingly grateful: we would get parking, shopping and ‘cosmopolitan cafes’ – where we can sit and drink coffee year round and be, er, cosmopolitan. If only Stew or his pal Ian could think of some solution to the problem, it would mean more money for Milne. There are some people who think the consultation should have been handled by the city with a lengthy consultation, and that the listed status of Triple Kirks carried a bit of weight.  These people were of course wrong.

And let’s face it: Milne could be low on cash.  Am I alone in thinking he’s short?  He’s chasing a mere 1.7 million through the courts (when he’s supposedly worth about 60 million). He’s about to lay off workers up and down Scotland – he says he can’t afford them.

Perhaps he expanded a bit too quickly? Perhaps he thought new building would continue for ever? Well – with our City Council it just might.

It seems a little ironic that the City is giving Milne contracts (some recent ones total over ten million) while he is both dragging the city through the courts and firing Aberdonians in the building trade. But the people who are in charge know best. 

For reasons of space, I’ll limit this to just one more aspect of the man’s popularity. I’m afraid to say Mr Milne is now as popular with golfers as fox-batterer Forbes would be at an animal rights meeting. It seems that the Portlethen community council and those who use Portlethen Golf Club are up in arms over Milne’s plans to build 153 houses so close to the course that there may be a few problems. Safe to say, people are teed off.

There you have it. The Press & Journal had their own front-page suggestion for ‘the most hated man in Scotland.’ Some of us have a different candidate for that title.

Last word: City Council employees: stop criticising your wonderful employers and managers on the Intranet. First: they don’t like it and are drafting all kinds of means to stop your free speech. Second: that’s my job. I understand they may participate in a 24-hour ‘tweeting’ session to say what excellent services they’ve got going. You are cordially uninvited to tweet back.

May 272011
 

Voice’s Old Susannah casts her eye over recent events, stories, and terms and phrases familiar as well as freshly ‘spun’, which will be forever etched in the consciousness of the people of Aberdeen and the Northeast.

To the amazement of the entire City, the Rapture came and went this Saturday without our Council floating away through the skies to heaven. Some American religious-types (who are not nutters at all) believed this past Saturday was the date for the righteous and holy to ascend to heaven.

However, since Kate Dean, Donald Trump, Stewart Milne and HoMalone have been seen walking the earth since Saturday, we can conclude that the Rapture was nonsense (or the date was wrong anyway).

Those who believed in the Rapture also believed that Hell on Earth would follow for those left behind. I hear the Council is working on it.

Then again, that’s maybe why Dean, Trump, Milne and Malone are still among us. Any similarity between these four local dignitaries and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is purely coincidental. Some say Hell doesn’t exist except as a state of mind. If it does exist, I’ll be its got lots of concrete, parking, chain stores – and level access from all sides.

So the Rapture didn’t come Saturday.  But then when my mini polytunnel started floating out of my garden to the skies with the high winds on Monday night (along with a few roof slates), I wondered if the Rapture hadn’t just been delayed by a day or two.

Speaking of delay, I am told that Marischal College is not exactly up and running yet, despite Monday being the official opening date. It’s just not like our Council to be imprecise or miss deadlines, I admit. I guess if even the Council aren’t reliable 100% of the time, then God can be a few days late with his Rapture too.

I have a friend in Torry who is most concerned about Marischal being delayed – he is more than happy to have waited a couple of years for the Council to fix the leaky roof over his head, knowing that Marischal was given priority.

Even if the great building isn’t fully functional, citizens are still overjoyed that any ruts in the road surrounding Marischal have been smoothed over. After all, we wouldn’t want visitors to Aberdeen to get the wrong idea and think we had any potholes. And it’s only cost you and me £60 million, £80 million or somewhere in between, depending on whom you talk to.

This next definition may not fully make up for the Rapture not happening – but it’s the next best thing. I bring glad tidings of great joy: Aberdeen has launched another Consultation!

Open Space Audit: noun – another consultation.

Yes, another one. The Open Space Audit is a specific consultation asking for public opinion and which like previous consultations leaves a wearying feeling of deja vu.

Open Space: the final frontier. These are the consultation papers of the Flagship Enterprise Committee, whose continuing mission to seek out new green spaces and destroy ecosystems – to boldly develop what no council has developed before.

I hadn’t realised it, but there are still one or two green spaces that haven’t been carved up by developers – I mean which still need connectivity and improvement. You should feel very flattered: these important people want to know your opinions on these ‘new’ green spaces.

I only hope this time we are smart enough to give them the opinions they want, unlike when we turned down the opportunity to improve and ‘connect’ Union Terrace Gardens (which will still be ‘improved anyway – don’t worry). If previous consultation exercises are anything to go by then I’m happy to help. After all, it is a privilege to give up a few hours to read massive consultation documents, digest hundreds of pages of council-speak, set my thoughts on paper – and still be totally ignored.

“How do they always get it so right?” I hear you ask. Well, there is a scientific scale the Council uses to decide what the results of a consultation mean:-

  • if 300+ people want something left alone, and 2 people want the same thing changed – then change it  (like the comments on Union Terrace Gardens made during the last local development plan)
  • if people don’t object to a deer cull they didn’t know about – then get on with the deer cull, however many thousands of people and community councils beg you not to.
  • if more than half of respondents to a consultation (let’s say about gardens for instance) don’t  give the answers that the council or ACSEF want- then it means the consultants should have ‘massaged’ the results better – and it means the people didn’t understand what they were supposed to do.

Anyway, back to this exciting Consultation at hand.

Right: we have these ‘new’ green spaces, which obviously can’t be left as they are – we have to improve them. Some of them are even hard to get to. I therefore hope we will be building carparks in the Cairngorms and some connectivity enablers (shopping malls) on Loch Ness, which would increase the economic viability of the region as well.

What good is an open space if you can’t park, shop and eat at it? But rest assured – this is a local plan for local people. If you wish to read the 43 page main document, then please be my guest.

I was fascinated to learn Union Terrace Gardens is not really a city centre park (as if you need me to tell you). It is obviously a local park that “generally serves a smaller catchment area than city parks but can contain specific attractions. Most visitors will be from the immediate locality but some will travel further to use specialist facilities, e.g. sports centres or horticultural features in season.” (Aberdeen City Council Parks Hierarchy document, 1998). Glad to have helped with that.

Here is a highlight to entice you into reading the consultation papers:-

The Open Space Strategy has very close links with other strategies such as Aberdeen City’s Nature Conservation Strategy and should not be considered as a standalone document for delivering wider environmental benefits. Links to the various relevant policies and strategies are provided in Figure 1.

Supplementary Guidance on Open Space has been developed in parallel with this strategy, and sets outs the Council’s approach towards planning and development of new open spaces.
See www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/openspace

I think they are really going for a literary prize with this one. Again, I don’t understand what makes green spaces with bronze age burial grounds or Victorian garden features ‘new’ green spaces – even after reading all the helpful literature.

You will be pleased to find a fetching diagram with arrows, nice colours and shapes and soundbites at ‘Figure 1’. A free Brewdog to anyone who can explain it to me.

Whatever it means, it links to the Nature Conservation Strategy, so that’s OK then. Presumably this strategy includes taking a beautiful, unspoilt hill like Tullos, letting people set it on fire for a few decades, suddenly calling it new, saying it’s under-used, killing (“managing”) whatever lives on it, and putting 40,000 trees on it for the benefit of future arsonists.

Nature Conservation: noun – to find any remaining land, cull or ‘manage’ any nature that’s there, change it into something else, and to act like a Conservative who’s smelled money.

So you see, some of these green spaces have wildlife – which will consume the green stuff on the green spaces – so we need to ‘manage’ the wildlife. With guns.

How Nature ever managed in the past without HoMalone’s help is anyone’s guess. There are even ‘birds of prey’ which go after the captivity-bred, helpless, battery game birds found on some estate without paying for what they eat. Quite rightly we are continuing to poison these freeloaders, as witnessed recently at the Glenbuchat Estate in Strathdon.

Accidentally of course, a golden eagle got hold of a banned pesticide, carbofuran, and was ‘managed’ successfully by a painful death. Thankfully this kind of event will soon be a thing of the past, as we’re ‘managing’ to finish off the birds of prey quite nicely.

The fox which Mr Forbes bravely killed – sorry – – sorry ‘managed’ at his golf club was a dangerous wild beast.  A wild beast which normally would have eaten worms, and which was the size of my cat.

But we do have an even more serious issue: Ms Malone is still ‘desperate’ to plant her tree for every citizen. First things first, right?  The deer might eat some of the trees. Just for your reckoning, 40,000 trees divided by the 30 deer the City says live on the hill is equal to each deer consuming 1,333.33 trees. Food for thought.

When there are conflicts like this in nature between deer and vicious predatory beasts, there can be only one solution. However Ms Malone hasn’t resigned yet. Please keep your complaints to the City Council coming. You might want to ask HoMalone what’s going to stop people burning the new trees for that matter.

I eagerly anticipate sending in my response to this Open Space consultation. But once again, I must put up my hand and admit I am not smart enough to have any opinions until I have read the ‘Supplementary Guidance’ document. At only 38 pages, it’s a really brief read. It starts by telling you

“Access to good quality open or green spaces is important in contributing to a greener, healthier, smarter, safer, stronger, wealthier and fairer city”

How this city could get any fairer is beyond me. Still, you start by reading that sentence, and by the end of the document you’re brain hurts so much you’re ready to get a gun and start blasting seagulls like Mervyn New, or culling deer like HoMalone. This set of consultation documents is hypnotic persuasion at its best.

I am not sure I can handle waiting – but in due course there will be ‘The Open Space Strategy Strategic Environmental Assessment Report.’

When this is released, expect scenes reminiscent of when the final Harry Potter book was released as people queue in the streets to be the first to get their copy. To tell the truth, I can’t even figure out what the title means.

To sum up, our Aberdeen City plan is inclusive (unless you are an endangered species, fox, gull chick or deer), and your opinion counts. Tell the Council what you’d like it to do with its consultation. And its trees for every citizen.

Community Signature: noun – a positive outreach project which makes people in Torry feel a great sense of community.

People colour code triangles on a piece of paper. A valuable (£25,000 at my last count some years ago) exercise which isn’t in the least bit preposterous or patronising.

Let’s start defining this wonderful initiative by visiting its description on the City Council’s web page:-

“So what is a Community Signature?

“The Community Signature is a picture of the community. It’s built up by people sharing their views on what Torry is like as a place to live and work. The discussion’s really important because we all have lots of different views and experiences. The group also colour in a grid with green, yellow or red to reflect what works (community strength), where there is room for improvement (community opportunity) and what does not work at present (community barrier)”.

As you can see, nothing patronising there at all. The police, the city (that’s you and me as taxpayers), and the Foyer have spent tens of thousands of pounds on this colouring-in exercise. Not that we would have spent the money on saving the Tullos Hill Deer, had we been given any choice.

Once a Torry quine or loon has used a few coloured pencils, they are part of the community, are involved, and get a warm, fuzzy feeling. The fuzzy feeling may be a symptom from the logic employed by this scheme. But I don’t want to ruin the experience for you.

Get yourself some paper and coloured pens. Make some triangles – green for strengths the Council has, Yellow for what’s not quite great, and red for what is completely beyond the pale of what any reasonable, rational person should put up with. On second thoughts, just get yourself a green pen. Draw a few triangles. Talk about your feelings. That’ll be £25,000 please.

There is a newsletter, too. Value for money indeed. It reminds me of the guy in the States who’s made a small fortune from the Rapture – he took money to look after your pet dog or cat once you’d floated up to the clouds. Very creative and enterprising indeed – and not at all a rip-off.  I offer a similar service to anyone who’s going to be drinking flaming mojitos on the lake of fire instead of going to the pearly gates.

That’s all I can cope with. I’m going to get some green pens, start drawing triangles, and then read nearly 80 pages of the Open Spaces consultation. Definitely time to leave Brewdog tonight – there is a giant Stoat behind the bar that says it’s his birthday. Perhaps the Council has some policy covering stoats – Ms Malone should be told.

Next week (unless Rapture happens) – appeasing volcano gods, register of interests, and conflict of interests.

May 052011
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Spring has sprung and the weather’s glorious:  it’s garden time.  Some of us will take strimmer, mower and other power tools to our gardens until there isn’t a weed in sight. But before you chop down that tree or cut all of your long grass, here’s something to consider.  Aberdeen City and shire are losing green space at an unbelievable rate; new housing developments are planned for virtually every patch of open land.

We will have to wave goodbye to the meadows near Loirston Loch, and Union Terrace Gardens are a stone’s throw from being filled in with god-knows-what kind of shopping mall/parking area ( ‘it’s only full of grass’ says Councillor John Stewart ).  A massive bypass will cut through pristine shire at some future point and nine hundred homes will be built by future president Trump on what was once a wildlife paradise.

If habitat loss weren’t enough of a problem, climate change is most definitely driving many species into areas they have not previously inhabited.

Where will wildlife go when the habitats go?  It’s a wonder we still have any wildlife at all. Consequently, please consider making part of your garden a wildlife haven.

The long grass you are about to strim is likely providing food and shelter for insects including some of our rarer butterflies and moths. The tree you might prune or cut down is cleaning your air, housing birds, and feeding a host of creatures you might not have considered. If you don’t have to turn your grass into a concrete patio ( sorry, I meant ‘vibrant space’ not concrete patio ), you are again helping the birds by giving them area to look for worms. Bird lovers might want to keep a bird feeder going all year round ( which is current RSPB advice ) and having a small bird bath and a source of drinking water.

My back garden is probably an eyesore in the eyes of my much neater neighbours. There are large sections of dense herbs growing as well as dandelions and plenty of long grass. On the whole, it’s totally none-suburban. On the other hand, it supports a fairly large bee population (there are a few varieties), many kinds of birds, a few butterflies and moths, and one year even a toad took refuge under a tree.

  I don’t clear dead leaves and debris away at the first sign of warm weather as there are as likely as not insects and eggs dependent on this temporary mess.

There are many spaces for all kinds of creatures to live, breed and hibernate in a garden like mine and it doesn’t cost all that much in terms of time and money.  In return I get fresh herbs, fruits, amazing flowers – and the knowledge that I’m playing some small part in helping wildlife.

Even if you don’t have much time to devote to gardening ( I definitely don’t ), it’s not hard to grow a few herbs and flowers which will help our dwindling bee, moth and butterfly populations.  There are nurseries such as Poyntzfield on the Black Isle ( http://www.poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk/ ) which can help.  They provide plants which are increasingly rare in the wild, plants native to Scotland and exotics from around the world. Poyntzfield’s outdoor plants are particularly hardy with many of them specifically cultivated to manage in our cold winters.

When buying plants and seeds, you might also want to consider that the EU have just virtually banned herbal remedies  – this could be a good time to start your own backyard collection of traditional medicinal plants such as Echinacea, St John’s Wort, Valerian and so on. Again, Poyntzfield is a great resource for medicinal plants.

The news has been filled with stories about the declining bee population worldwide.

If you can believe it, there are ‘bee rustlers’ stealing bee colonies from bee keepers in parts of Asia; thankfully this is not a problem we have just yet in the Deen. The bees in my garden seem to gravitate towards sage blossoms, quince flowers, roses, lilac and a variety of herbs and heathers. It is best to have flowers supplying nectar for as much of the year as possible.

A good nursery or website will tell you what plants flower when, and will be happy to help pick plants for your particular garden.

Small bee habitats can be bought inexpensively or made from hollow reeds bound together (think of those godawful Pan’s pipes that fake South American bands play).

When plants are no longer flowering but bees are still around, leaving sugary water in shallow dishes makes a nectar substitute.

Butterflies thrive on nettles, so if you have a corner where the nettles won’t bother you too much, you’d be helping the butterfly population by growing some (you might even like to try making some nettle soup).  If nettles are a bit too extreme for you, then you might consider buddleia.  Poyntzfield recommend hyssops, mints, rosemary, thymes, lavender and basil for bees and butterflies.

Edible fruiting plants will benefit wildlife as well as you and your family – strawberries, blaeberries, raspberries (which need attention and isolation so that they don’t take over) can with little effort provide you with fresh fruit for most of the summer and early autumn.  When you serve a meal containing herbs you’ve grown or fruits you’ve grown there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be found.

As well as Poyntzfield, you might want to visit the Organic Growers’ Alliance website at http://www.organicgrowersalliance.co.uk/links There are seeds for sale, courses, and information for all kinds of gardeners from the new to the experienced.

Whatever you choose to do in your garden, please think about attracting wildlife – they need all the help they can get.