Jun 052015

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s events in the ‘Deen and beyond. By Suzanne Kelly.

DictionaryTally ho! There are many vibrant, dynamic, connected smart successful goings-on as summertime draws near to the Granite City. I had a tasty affordable dinner at Amarone; it may be a chain, but its mozzarella is second to none.

On Sunday I attended my first BrewDog Home Brewers’ tasting session – a dozen or so home brewers met up to taste a wide range of homemade craft beers of all sorts; some were amazing; some a bit challenging. The BrewDog AGM is this coming Saturday; as is the Taste of Grampian, both of which seem to be bigger and better every year.

A wide variety of events are around the corner; the Gray’s School of Art Degree show opens on the 19th June.  The word is that this year will be particularly impressive.

The Moorings, Tunnels, Drummonds and Lemon Tree have lots of great bands coming up (Gerry Jablonski Band plays the Moorings the 4th; which is the place to head after the BrewDog AGM). Black Grape plays on the 5th of July. Old Susannah remembers the last time she saw this band in London. By the end of the night the entire venue became one big backstage after show party. Bez danced up to me, and I asked him how he was doing. “WIDE” was the reply.

More on Black Grape soon. With all this going on, I hope the city has seen fit to order more crowd barriers and hire a few thousand security guards. Can’t be too careful.

Great news! ‘Tally ho!’ might once again be the cry heard in the countryside if the newly re-elected Conservatives get their way. David Cameron’s got his priorities right, and his head is well screwed on his shoulders as it ever was post-election. Now that our banks are no longer in crisis (financial banks, not food banks that is), and the NHS is safe, it’s time to worry about the issues that really matter to us all. Like chasing and killing foxes.

After all, ripping these vermin to shreds is traditional, and isn’t that what the Conservatives are all about – ripping things to shreds – sorry, I meant to say traditions? I for one am happy we’ve had such a fair and proper election, and I’m happy to trust Westminster to keep giving us the kind of government we deserved and voted in.

Here we are, we’ve never had it so good, and yet there are one or two people out there who seem to want to stir up trouble and find fault. Some people think that some multinationals are happy to poison us all to make a profit. Others aren’t sure the police are always completely fair, believe it or not.

Still other worrywarts have it in their heads that the banks have behaved dishonestly and that we’ll be bailing them out again before long. I say to them, get out into the countryside; go on a good British fox hunt, and soon you’ll forget all these minor paranoid unsubstantiated fears.

For such sceptical souls, perhaps a few definitions may help them become as trusting, uncritical and accepting as I am.

Fact-finding mission: (Modern English noun) – to seek verification or otherwise for data.

Pity the poor misunderstood Metro reader who wrote into the paper’s advice team, which answered him on 28 May. If you read his heart-breaking letter in the feature entitled ‘How can I trust my girlfriend’ you’ll see that some hussy or other has her hooks in this poor trusting man. The poor guy went on a little fact-finding mission in the noble cause of trying to find out whether or not his girlfriend was trustworthy.

He decided to test her honour by snooping into her phone and her emails. ‘Fair enough’ I can practically hear you say. It turns out that the woman in question hadn’t told him she had in the past been married and was now divorced! What a breach of trust! I hope he’s given her the boot.

As ever, clues to the relationship’s doom were in the man’s letter. He described the woman as ‘smart, funny, independent, sexy and extremely successful.’ Smart is never an attractive quality in a woman; funny is best left to blokes, and as to independence – well, that’s simply not done. If she was sexy, then she might well have looked at other men before this prince arrived on the scene, and going through her correspondence seems a reasonable way to check how honest she is.

If she was successful, then she must have had a rich boyfriend or husband along the way, kind of like the way it’s done here in Aberdeen by our prettier faces. If you love someone, set them free. If you really love someone, bug their phone, put a keystroke counter on their laptop, and go through their messages when you can. Relationships are built on trust after all.

Take for instance the trust between the electorate and the government.

The government shows us how much it trusts us, and we should show some respect in return. Sure they may want to impose some random named guardian to interface and interact with your child whether or not you are a good or bad parent. They may be using undercover spies to infiltrate legal protest groups, and even to stir up trouble in those groups which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

The government may be spying – sorry, I meant to say ‘fact-finding’ on all of our emails, phonecalls and naughty Instagram photos. They may want to train your children from birth to be answerable to a ‘named person’ (more on that in a separate article) who’ll have input into your family life. It’s not that they don’t trust us. It’s certainly not that they want the private sector making huge profits from outsourced spying and other services after making deals with lobbyists.

Why are they treating us like potential if not actual criminals? It’s because they care.

‘Taking the Mickey’/ ‘Taking the Michael’ / ‘Taking the Carmichael’: (Modern English and Scottish slang phrases) To make fun of, to insult someone’s intelligence by tricking them; to mock.

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters” Albert Einstein said (I got this from the internet, so it’s true). I don’t know who Einstein may have had in mind when he came up with that little gem, but it could well have been newly-re-elected Orkney & Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael.

Some people feel Carmichael may have been taking the mickey at election time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you hadn’t heard, there was this little matter of a wee practical joke he played. Carmichael accidently leaked a fake memo purporting to concern Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador. Someone told me this was some kind of a French Letter. In this document, it seemed Sturgeon would have preferred Cameron as PM over Milliband (Milliband was apparently someone else running for office.

Like you, I never heard of him before, either). If anything Charm-Michael was doing Sturgeon a favour by trying to make her look even more popular. After all, Cameron was the people’s choice.

Some people have no sense of humour however; and headlines like ‘Alistair Carmichael facing sleaze probe over memo leak’ seem to imply there was something wrong with what he did. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/alistair-carmichael-facing-sleaze-probe-over-memo-leak.1433245837.

Thankfully, this august politician has lots of allies. The people who voted him in are happy to stand by him; many of them with pitchforks, torches. If you don’t believe he’s got lots of support left after his beau jest cost the taxpayer some £1,400,000, don’t take my word for it: Alistair Carmichael says so himself, and that’s good enough for me http://www.scotsman.com/news/uk/i-ve-lots-of-support-alistair-carmichael-insists-1-3788374

Sadly there are some people who just won’t take their better’s word, and need a bit of hand holding and reassurance when they feel they’ve been slightly misused, tricked, cheated, conned and defrauded. To allay fears, nothing works quite so well as a testimonial.

Testimonial: (English noun) A statement given in support of a cause or person by someone with gravitas.

Carmichael indeed has his friends, and none perhaps better than Lib Dem Sir Malcolm Bruce.

Rushing to the aid of besieged Carmichael, Sir Malcolm said:-

“Politicians regularly tell lies and Parliament would “empty” if they were punished for it a Liberal Democrat politician had admitted.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, who stood down as an MP at the election, was asked on BBC Radio 4 whether lying was widespread in public life.

“No, well, yes. Lots of people have told lies and you know perfectly well that to be true,” he responded.

“If you are suggesting every MP who has never quite told the truth or even told a brazen lie, including cabinet ministers, including prime ministers, [should be removed] we would clear out the House of Commons very fast, I would suggest,” he added.

Sir Malcolm was defending his colleague, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, who admitted that he had ordered the leak of a document after saying he had nothing to do with it. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/politicians-lie-a-lot-admits-liberal-democrat-politician-10275934.html

I’m sure that should be enough to silence even the staunchest Carmichael critic. To summarise Sir Malcolm’s position, Lots of people lie and that’s perfectly true. Old Susannah started to think about this in light of the shocking revelation that there are liars in the House of Commons. I started to wonder… if Bruce is in the House, and he’s telling me truthfully that the house is full of liars, and that’s the truth, then is he lying about that or telling the truth.

Several bottles of BrewDog’s Vote Sepp later (itself named after the trustworthy fearless FIFA leader Mr Blatter), I found myself no wiser than before.

Bruce’s position that lies shouldn’t be punished (Certainly the Conservatives go along with this longstanding LibDem position too) is something we should all go along with. If MPs who lied were punished, Bruce says the House of Commons would soon be empty. Where on earth would we be then?

I was going to get on to another trust-related definition in reply to a fan’s comment on a recent column. I intended to talk about the Wood Family Trust’s Wood Family Foundation taking £10 million of the £50 million it has sensibly sitting around to build a parking lot.

I was going to explain that by avoiding several million pounds a year, the prudent billionaire out there can save a ton of cash, and then decide how the government that should have had the cash to do with as it saw fit will instead be tugging the collective forelock when given a gift which represents a small portion of the tax avoided, and wax lyrical about the generosity of the gift. But coupled with grappling with Sir Malcolm Bruce’s logic, I started to feel a bit light headed.

Perhaps we’ll go there another time.

On those rare occasions on which I find myself a bit wary of whom or what I should put my trust in, or perplexed by the logic of my betters like Carmichael and Bruce, I like to relax with television shows like Britain’s Got Talent. You can’t beat it or its contestants for good old-fashioned genuine honest talent, can you? If it turns out that the most talented person to be found in the whole of the Kingdom happens to be a dog trainer, fair enough.

What could be more entertaining than watching an animal that’s been trained to walk along a tightrope with strings digging into the pads of its paws?

At least we know we have a real, honest-to goodness, gimmick and trickery free winner. If the dog we thought we were watching refused to do the tightrope trick (I feel sorry for the poor trainer), then it’s fair enough to use a stunt double for the dog, even if that little fact was kept a bit quiet. Nothing dishonest about that, is there? Woof woof.

Remember, that rabbit that was tortured to death on Danish radio (to prove how hypocritical people are who eat meat but don’t like animal cruelty – a great lesson) was a gentle, trusting creature until its last educational minutes.

Next week: an overdue look at the property portfolio of our city council, the council that can’t manage to house everyone, but which has over 1400 properties of various kinds. And definitions to include Paradox, Hoist by their own petard, and libel.

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Nov 082013

Old Susannah aka Suzanne Kelly casts an eye on the past week’s vibrant and dynamic events.

DictionaryTally Ho!  It’s been bonfire night, which here in Torry means another 7 weeks or so of fireworks at night.

The Members (‘Sound of the Suburbs’) played at the Moorings; the Gerry Jablonski Band is touring Poland, the Opera was in town, and the fireworks went well (better than the last time, when everything went off all at once).

Giant balls and lights are being hung on Union Street for the holidays. Let’s hope the balls don’t drop, like they did a last year.

I bought a wonderful new mattress from Glencraft; the company continues to employ and support people with visual problems and others with special abilities. 

It’s just as well it’s still here, those nice ConDems have a plan to save money by taking it away from several thousand people who get independent living benefit. At present a court appeal is saving the day.  Let’s hope commonsense prevails at least once. If those individuals and corporations which avoid paying tax paid their fair share, we’d possibly not be in such a position. But they know who they are, and they’re holding onto their money.

Aberdeen Positive (cleverly branded AB+), had one of their inspiring cultural talks this week.

They’re going to give us a cultural identity brand, which is great. BP is of course involved, as are various other businessmen, and RGU admin types (who I’m sure don’t take any direction from web-happy Sir Ian Wood, who is more or less in charge at RGU). Old Susannah tragically couldn’t make their last meeting, but was told a riveting time was had by all.

Sadly someone dared to bring up the subject of Union Terrace Gardens; this dismayed the convener. Happily just at the end, our man from RGU (who’s actually lived in 27 different places, so he proudly boasts – wow!) closed by saying we need a public square. Of course we do.

I’ve spent a happy few hours this past week at BrewDog, you’ll be surprised to hear. They’ve run out of their new creation ‘Hello my name is Sonja’ – which is a blueberry packed delight. Hope it’s coming back soon. There was some pumpkin brew from the US, which was subtle, and perfect for this time of year. And yes, I’ve even bought a few more shares. Me and a few thousand other people.

BrewDog are hiring, reinvigorating the drinks sector in the UK and abroad, and are expanding. If my few quid contribution helps, then I’m glad of it. Cheers all.

It’s a good thing people’s noses don’t actually grow when they lie like Pinocchio’s did; or else some of the great and the good would have to either clam up or hire permanent plastic surgeons. Truth, or the lack of it, has featured largely this past week in the news.

In mythology, Diogenes searched endlessly for an honest man. It seems like he’d have his work cut out for him today. Here are a few definitions to illustrate.

Lying: (English Gerund) To deliberately distort the truth.

Times have changed; and I think people are getting much more honest than they used to be. After all, absolutely no one, no matter what kind of situation they might get caught in, admits to lying these days.

We’ve seen the ‘Plebgate’ case unfold: first policemen accused senior Tory MP Andrew Mitchell of a foul-mouthed rant over a bicycle, which upset the public. Later, Channel 4 obtained the footage, showing no public within earshot at all. The police logs seem to have been creative writing exercises. What followed, when the police and their superiors were asked to explain further, saw one or two innocent little white lies coming to the fore.

Mitchell lost his job, had never used the word ‘pleb’ and it’s proved no such rant actually happened.

Mitchell may have lost his job over this, but don’t worry: all the police involved are still in place, ready to continue to fight crime in their usual virtuous fashion.

The BBC reported:-

“A police officer has apologised to MPs for an “inadvertent error” in evidence to them about the “plebgate” affair.

“Det Sgt Stuart Hinton, of Warwickshire Police, said he had made an “honest” mistake in a previous hearing held by the Home Affairs Committee last month.

“He also said he regretted the “distress” felt by Andrew Mitchell and his family during the whole saga.

“But Sgt Chris Jones, of West Midlands Police, said he had not misled MPs over his disciplinary record. On Tuesday, he told MPs 13 complaints had been made about him but none had been upheld.”

So, no lying there then, just the odd ‘inadvertent error’ and the odd ‘mistake when talking to the Home Affairs Committee. Could happen to anyone.

Just because we assume the police can and should have a head for accuracy and details is no reason to think they’re superhuman. In fact Sgt Jones also managed to forget any claims had ever been lodged against him, but this was soon proved to just be another little mistake on his part.

He seemed very believable to me in his court appearance; first of all, he’s a policeman, and second of all, he was wearing a nice suit. Did the policeman admit to blatantly lying by making up this little story that cost someone a job? Not a bit of it. He does however regret things. I’m sure he does.

So how did the press get all the previous alleged dirt on former MP Mitchell? Er, the police leaked it to them, but I’m sure it was all well intentioned.  It’s very bad form for the BBC and Channel 4 to point out these flaws, and to remind us that policemen from the slightly powerful union would wear ‘police pleb’ t-shirts to show solidarity for their ‘inadvertently erring’ colleagues. That’s what friends are for.

It was all going so well against the businessmen involved, who had been granted export licences to Iraq

Perhaps we had expected the politician was lying in the ‘Plebgate’ saga; after all, there have been one or two small instances of politicians lying to us in the past.  Even Tony Blair decided to turn an intelligence dossier into a spectacular, sensational, frightening case for attacking Iraq.

Weapons of Mass destruction were poised and ready to take the UK out within 45 minutes; of course we had to have a tiny little war, even if a few million UK residents marched to protest against it. After all, we’re better off, the veterans who went there are better off, and of course the Iraqi people are better off. As is Halliburton and as are a few US tycoons.

Aside from the dodgy dossier, we had the earlier instance of saintly Alan Clark, purveyor of truth back in the days of Thatcher. The Matrix Churchill trial saw gagging orders handed out like sweeties. It was all going so well against the businessmen involved, who had been granted export licences to Iraq. It might have looked like the Government was caught in a web of blatant lies, but that wasn’t the case.

Alan eventually admitted in the face of evidence that he was just being ‘economical with the actualité’. So, once again, no real lying was going on.

Don’t worry, Aberdeen makes the grade when it comes to having honest police. We now have our own local policewoman who managed to avoid being branded a liar and/or snoop.

WPC Amanda Dixon decided that she needed to know a wee bit more about her new Peterhead neighbours; the poor policewoman was in fear they would break the law and rob her. She then merely bent the law a little, and used the police’s STORM database to do a little pre-emptive spying on them. Sure, it might have been illegal, but she is a policewoman after all.

While in the old days, if people wanted to snoop on neighbours they would simply hide behind twitching net curtains and peer, it’s nice to know Dixon is willing to go just that little bit better.

I can’t think why she got into any trouble for illegally accessing personal data in contravention of the Data Protection Act, but the story has a happy ending:  she didn’t have to go to court.

Police don’t lie, and they don’t break data protection rules, fabricate notes, and leak info to the papers

Obviously admitting no lawbreaking, Dixon bravely admitted being ‘nosy’.

Thankfully her lawyer told the sheriff that Ms Dixon was too mentally fragile to appear in court and such appearance would be detrimental to her mental health.

I, for one, am so very grateful to the legal system for sparing her this huge trauma of attending court, which clearly would be something a policewoman would never need to do normally as part of her job. You might think she was just trying to evade justice, but surely it is health after committing a crime that’s more important than the people being spied on or the law being upheld.

Now that the police have displayed such compassion to spying Dixon, I await their expedited compassion in offering compensation to George Copland. If you need a reminder, Copland was arrested days after a siege at his empty flat.

The flat was meant to have a gunman in it, although it was empty, and whoever said they were looking in the windows at a gunman would have had to go very close to the house, set away from the main road and peer in deliberately. Perhaps it was Dixon? Anyway, that was in June. No doubt a fair, full compensation deal is winging its way to Copland as you’re reading.

Police don’t lie, and they don’t break data protection rules, fabricate notes, and leak info to the papers. They might sometimes make mistakes, but don’t we all. And if police like Ms Dixon spy, I’m sure it’s for our own good in the end. No doubt her neighbours think so.

Spying: (English Gerund) The act of covertly obtaining information without the person or organisation being scrutinised giving consent or having knowledge.

In this Age of Information, the only thing that’s successfully stopping wars, terrorist attacks, organised crime, and Policewoman Dixon’s neighbours from undoubtedly robbing her is spying. I am very glad big brother is watching. I am very glad that the ‘all-seeing eye’ on American dollar bills stands for something less nebulous than some Masonic symbolism.

Spying is only done when necessary. Sixty Million Spanish telephone calls were intercepted by the US. Yes, that hardly seems like any, and that’s actually the number of calls for a whole year’s worth of listening in. I’d have thought it would be a higher figure, after all the population of Spain is about 47 million: that’s only about a call and a half per citizen.

However, Germany’s Angela Merkel is a bit put out the Yanks have been spying on her personal calls, and there is some evidence to point to the UK helping the US out in these covert activities.

As so many right-thinking people claim ‘if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to hide’. Quite so. Perhaps we should just give up on the idea of individual freedoms, privacy, intimacy and individuality if it means we’ll all be safer.

It would be churlish to bring up the fact that back in the day, famous cross-dresser and paranoiac J Edgar Hoover had files on millions of Americans. If he needed one of these people to spy on other people, all he would have to do is threaten to expose the personal info he’d collected on them. If we could only get back to those good old secure, happy days – Communist witch hunts, paranoia, government control.

Thankfully, it seems we’re heading there.

Sometimes it might seem that the security forces and police get a bit sensitive about sharing the details of their own activities – particularly when these activities fall into grey areas of law. No doubt if they want our lives laid bare for their legal inspection (or for a less than legal whim, Ms Dixon), they’ll become completely honest, transparent, and law-abiding as well.

I feel sorry for those who make their living from spying on the innocent, that nasty whistleblower Edward Snowden has made life tricky for them and their crucial work. He’s obviously let the world know the extent of US snooping for his own personal gain.

He’s currently living a luxurious life as a fugitive in Moscow somewhere (no – I don’t know where to any government spooks reading this). After all, the people who are willing to look into your and my personal business for reasons ranging from national security to Dixon’s ‘nosiness’ are just trying to make an honest living.

Well, have a good week everyone. And mind what you put in that email, or say on your mobile. Big brother is listening, taking notes, and will be in touch.

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