Nov 142011

Old Susannah pays her respects, but is unable to maintain her silence as she takes a look around what has been happening in our vibrant and dynamic city and beyond.

Things continue to be vibrant and dynamic this week in the Granite City.  On Friday 11 November some 4o-plus people gathered for a minute’s silence to mark those who fell in war.  Robert Martin who works nearby in Golden Square told me he first started coming to Union Terrace Gardens for the traditional minute of silence a few years back.
“What better, more peaceful place is there in the heart of the City to have the minute of silence,” he commented.

A gardener tried to tell the group they should be at the war memorial instead – he could not understand that we were all happier in the Denburn Valley.

For the record, this was not a celebration of nationalism, or glorification of war; it was a gesture of respect for those who lost their lives in war.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just stop killing each other, and sort out economic and social problems another way?  Maybe that day will still come.

Then there was the enjoyable opening night at Peacock for its winter exhibition.  The 400 or so works are on show until 23 December and  are all for sale.  Alicia Bruce is offering small prints of her iconic photo portraits from the Menie Estate which had such a good reception when she exhibited at Peacock.  There are abstracts, portraits, beautiful drawings, and even one or two offerings of mine.

A quick word about litter.

During the week I asked an older man who’d dropped litter to please pick it up.  He explained (with some interesting vocabulary words which I must look up) that ‘he didn’t know me’, ‘he didn’t have to’ and ‘I could not make him.’  It was a very impressive display indeed.

Days later I was at Sainsbury’s Berryden, and groups of students (probably just over 20 people in total) had stopped by the store to get their lunch.  They had wrappers, bags, papers, serviettes, bottles and so on.  And as I waited for a bus, I saw each and every student put their trash in the trashcan near the bus stop.

I am pretty sure they were from St Machar.  My appreciation to them and the other people who do the right thing.  It’s not difficult, it’s not brain surgery.  It does however make a huge difference.

But whatever you were doing this week, everyone’s thoughts were with one brave man who is fighting a valiant struggle of his own.  Yes, Stewart Milne’s case went to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Press & Journal had no room for this story on the day, due to the breaking news that geothermal energy exists.  This astonishing front page special even had a picture of a volcano to illustrate it.  I had personally expected a story about a cow with a ladder on its neck, but the geothermal story did the trick, and between it and the massive ads for Milne Homes, no room remained for the little matter of our City being called to the Supreme Court.

Then, Friday, the P&J did run with a story on Milne, which leads neatly to a little definition or two.

Negotiate: (verb, Eng) to settle a conflict or disagreement by compromise.

Those of us who read the Press & Journal story will have felt sorry for Stewart Milne.  He claimed the matter could have been settled had Aberdeen City council accepted his offer of negotiation.

According to the P&J, Stewart Milne Group claimed:

“We have offered to go to independent arbitration on several occasions over a long period of time,”

Usually negotiations happen when both sides have a valid argument or case to make.  To refresh everyone’s memory, the City sold land at Westhill to Mr M for far less than it was worth – the City’s clever business plan was not to sell the land on the open market, but sell directly to Milne (I am sure there was a great reason).

He got a great price on the understanding the City would eventually get any sale profit.  In a really clever and not at all dodgy-looking business manoeuvre, the land moved from one arm of the vast Milne empire to the next, at a cost around £500k –apparently more than what the 11 acres cost in the first place.  This was perfectly normal, and could have happened to anyone.  Quite truthfully, Milne then indicated that there was no profit to share.

This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

The City and subsequent courts have disagreed with Mr Milne’s logic (shocking!), and rather than enter ‘negotiation’ over the £1.7 million under dispute, the City decided to see the case all the way through.  Milne could have accepted the last court’s verdict, but he appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.  If you’ve only got £60 million, then you’ve got to hold onto every penny these days.

The trial was televised, and although Old Susannah is no legal expert, it didn’t look all that great for Stew.

Now we just have to wait for the outcome – at which point no doubt everyone’s favourite football club owner will immediately give Aberdeen the £1.7 million it is owed, plus court costs.  I think an apology is also due, and hope the City are drafting one to Mr Milne for taking things this far.

This expensive litigation obviously in no way impacts on the role Mr Milne plays in ACSEF, the City and Shire’s invention which is helping us out of economic chaos.  Aside from the bang-up job ACSEF has done so far for our city’s shops, it’s created a brilliant logo for itself, and now has a great big vibrant, dynamic mural at McCombie Court.  This giant poster in no way looks like a desperate advertising ploy, but it does paper over some cracks nicely.

In light of Stewart’s logic concerning negotiation, the next time you get mugged or have your wallet snatched, don’t go to the law.  Just find out who’s got your money and negotiate to get some of it back.  Sorted.

Reading this story about how Stew wanted to negotiate, I wonder if I’m not having déjà vu.  This sense comes from the P&J article some time back, when Milne and everyone’s favourite forum, ACSEF, were taking over Peacock Visual Art’s project and turning it into the great City Garden Scheme.

Just before the final, decisive and divisive voting on the project took place, ACSEF / Milne said that Peacock had been offered some kind of 11th hour alternative, but were unwilling to strike a deal.  Of course if you read the full story, you would have eventually discovered Peacock said ‘we were never contacted about any deal.’

I hope in future any Peacock person, Aberdeen City legal rep, etc. will just ‘negotiate’ when Stewart wants something – it will save the taxpayer lots of money to just go along with him from the start.

In fact, when I think of Loirston Loch, the Triple Kirks glass box scheme, Pittodrie and so on, I wonder if we haven’t just started to say yes to him already.

Geography: (noun) study of terrain, locations, types of environments and areas.

If you are out there, Pete Leonard, Director of Housing, perhaps you might consider a geography lesson or two.  Pete insists Tullos Hill is ‘urban’.  The hill is next to all the lovely industrial estates which have helped make Aberdeen the profitable centre of the universe it is, but the hill just isn’t all that ‘urban’.  It’s covered with plants, grasses, wildlife, pre-historic cairns and so on.

Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors

On the word of Mr Leonard, I went to Tullos Hill the other day assuming it had been urbanised.   I looked for fast food, a coffee or a monorail ride, but there was nothing of the kind to be found.

It struck me that Ms Malone (who has lately been very, very quiet) might want to look for a new initiative to push. Perhaps if she abandoned the ‘tree for every citizen’ scheme and maybe had ‘a monolith for every citizen’ and/or ‘monorail for every citizen’ scheme, it might increase her popularity.  As I hear it, an improvement in her popularity stakes is currently the only possible direction.

Aside from Tullos, other urban areas in our city are easy to recognise by the well-maintained roads and footpaths, the general cleanliness, the complete lack of any crime, and all the many open local shops.

Corruption: (noun, English) a state of dishonesty, lack of integrity, self-interested behaviour of a person or body in a position of trust.

Edinburgh has faced accusations of council corruption. (“At least it couldn’t happen in Aberdeen!” I can practically hear you say.)

For openers, according to the BBC, the hospitality records are incomplete. ( This contrasts with our city’s up-to-date, perfectly set out, fully inclusive records which seem to indicate some councillors went to absolutely no events whatsoever in 2009 and or 2010).  But that’s the least of Edinburgh’s problems.

Edinburgh’s councillors are in the firing line for ‘possible fraud and serious wrongdoing’ with regard to building works and property.

Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption

It also looks like a city councillor had a holiday paid for by a contractor.  Here in Aberdeen, there is a complete separation of contractors and councillors.  In those rare occasions when a councillor is somehow connected to a contractor, then they stay well out of any possible conflict situations.

Some years ago we had our own little trouble with Audit Scotland, you may remember.

They had a few uncertainties after a detailed investigation of our city’s property selling activities.  There were questions as to why so many properties were being sold below value.  Audit Scotland did tell the city to stop selling property at knock-down prices, and otherwise pay attention to details – like who is actually buying your property and what it should sell for.  In the end, Audit Scotland could not decide if the city was just a wee bit disorganised, or if there was a whiff of corruption.  In the end, they invited our local police to look into the issues.

After a completely thorough, detailed investigation, the police found nothing untoward.  Old Susannah is not sure when the investigation was conducted.  Then again, I’m not sure when exactly Stewart Milne Group started advertising on police cars, either.

Next week hopefully a Milne court and FOI case update; a fond look back at the careers of John Stewart and Neil Fletcher, who are not going to run for re-election in May.

Stop press Christmas Gift Solution:  Tired of the usual old boring gifts – the handbag-sized bottle of vodka, the city council carriage clock or branded pen?  Look no further for your gift requirements:  The City is selling photo prints of its greatest moments.  Rather than taking a picture of St Nicholas House or the ACSEF logo yourself to make a welcome gift for a loved one, just go to the City’s website.

What is the most popular subject on sale?  Why the Lord Provost of course!  There are only about 750 photos of him in action this year but fret not: there are two other years of Lord Provost photos as well.  Make a lovely print on canvas, or can be sent to an artist to create a portrait in oils.  I just might buy a photo of the Lord Provost handing over a gift and turn it into a mug, a mug for some reasons being the first thing that springs to mind.

Stop press 2:  there will be a further extension for getting your entries in for the Union Terrace Gardens art competition  – more news soon!


Aug 242011

It has been a busy summer down at Sunnybank Park. Philip Sim reports.

Just six months have passed since the park, formerly known as the St Machar Outdoor Centre, was taken over by the Friends of Sunnybank Park community group.

Already, major structural changes are underway to breathe new life into the previously run-down site, with the newly-built allotments looking full of life.

One of the most visually impacting changes has been the removal of the large metal fence across the middle of the park, which has made the whole area feel much more open and spacious.

The fence removal was funded by Aberdeen Greenspace Trust, who have pledged around £60,000 to the park. They have now completed the bulk of their work, including re-surfacing the existing paths and installing some benches and a new stairway and path leading to the park.


Sunnybank Park Update: July from Philip Sim on Vimeo.

Meanwhile BTCV Scotland volunteers have also been hard at work picking litter, building benches and trimming down the undergrowth. They have also built compost bins for the allotment holders and other green-fingered locals.

There has even been some political interest in the project. Former City Council leader John Stewart has provided funds for signage and a notice board, while North East MSP Lewis MacDonald toured the site last week.

The park was formerly home to a bowling green, but Aberdeen City Council decided to mothball the site after the pavilion was burned down in 2009.

The area was left to fall into disrepair until local community groups rallied round and put together a business plan, complete with funding, to save the park. With many major developments now complete and a few more still to come, the future certainly seems bright at Sunnybank Park.

Nov 182010

By Alex Mitchell.

The poet and architectural conservationist John Betjeman (1906-84) visited Aberdeen in May 1947, staying at the Douglas Hotel.   This experience resulted in a talk – ‘Aberdeen Granite’ – given by Betjeman on the BBC Third Programme on 28th July the same year, from which the following is adapted.

From Waverley Station north, and north for hours, I had not realised there was so much of Scotland. The train ran on, over wide brown moors with blue distant inland mountains and then along the edges of cliffs whose grass was a deep Pre-Raphaelite green. And down steep crevices I saw rocks and fishermen’s cottages above them, but still no Aberdeen.

Could there be such a thing as a great city with tramcars, electric lights, hotels and cathedrals so far away among empty fields, so near the North Pole as we were going? And then the line curved, and objects familiar to me from the illustrations in my guide-book came into view.

Away down the tramlines to the north, on a rise above the beech-bordered meadowland of a river, stands Old Aberdeen, which has a Cathedral, a University and some Georgian houses, built of huge blocks of granite, a strange-textured place with an atmosphere of medieval and Jacobite grandeur about it, a place which really makes you think you are in the Northernmost seat of learning, so remote, so windswept and of such a solid grey strangeness.

Here is the old King’s College of Aberdeen University, and here its Chapel with a low tower from which spring ribs that support a renaissance style crown.  Inside, the Chapel is remarkable for its canopied stalls in dark oak, the only medieval church woodwork surviving complete in Scotland after the ravages of Knox. And to the solid architecture, designed for resisting storms and simply designed because of the hardness of the granite from which it is made, the elaboration of this woodwork is a perfect contrast.   Finally there are windows, like the rest of the Chapel which are early sixteenth century, of a style so curious and original as to be unlike any Gothic outside Scotland.  The buttresses run up through the middle of the tracery and the arches of all the windows are round.

Not far from King’s Chapel is St. Machar’s strange Cathedral. The west end is the thing to see; seven tall lancets of equal height flanked by square towers with no openings, and on top of each tower a dumpy spire in a style half Gothic, half Renaissance. The interior has been stripped of its plaster and ancient furnishings, except for a wooden roof of some richness, too high and dark to be visible, so that the effect of the building inside is merely one of size.

Let the stone speak for itself and then emphasise its scale and texture by a few strong mouldings and broad pilasters projecting only an inch or so from the face of the building.

You cannot walk back and down through the main streets of New Aberdeen without being aware of the noble planning of late Georgian times; wide streets, such as Union Street; stately groups of grey granite buildings in a Grecian style, crescents on hill-tops and squares behind them.

These are largely the work of two architects, friendly rivals, John Smith and Archibald Simpson.

John Smith built in correct Classical and fifteenth-century style and with granite, close-picked and single-axed so that it was tamed to carry almost as much carving of capitals and mouldings as a softer building stone. The lovely Screen of 1829 fronting St. Nicholas Kirkyard in Union Street is his, and many a handsome Classical and English Perpendicular style church or public building.

But the original genius was Archibald Simpson. My attention was seized by a huge wall of granite, so bold, so simple in design, so colossal in its proportions that I stood puzzled.   I have seen nothing like it, before or since.

This was the New Market, by Archibald Simpson in 1842.   The magnificence of the entrance is designed to show the strength and quality of granite: the architect realised there was no point in carving this unyielding material into delicate detail.  Let the stone speak for itself and then emphasise its scale and texture by a few strong mouldings and broad pilasters projecting only an inch or so from the face of the building.

The inside of this covered market is worthy of its outside – colossal, simple, constructional.   I seemed to be stepping into one of those many-vista’d engravings by Piranesi.   It was a great oblong hall with curved ends and all around a row of plain circular-headed arches rising to the glass and timber roof.   Half-way down the wall-height ran a gallery of shops.   Shafts of sunlight slanted through the arches on to the wooden shops and stalls of the central space and the surrounding gallery.

Archibald Simpson: here was an architect of genius, a Soane, a Hawksmoor, someone head and shoulders above the men of his time.   Simpson’s work depends on proportion for its ornament, e.g., his two-storey houses in Bon-Accord Square & Crescent and Marine Terrace. But his greatest work is the brick tower and spire of the Triple Kirks of 1844, opposite the Art Gallery.   The fact that it is in red brick makes it stand out, but not glaringly, amongst the grey granite of the rest of the city.   How can I explain why this tall plain spire is so marvellous?  I think it is because of the way it grows out of the high, thin-buttressed tower below it, because of the pinnacles and tall gables at its base and because its very plainness is so carefully considered.

Wedged behind the huge Town House, in an expensive and attractive mid-Victorian baronial style, I saw a cluster of silver-white pinnacles. As I turned down a lane towards them, the frontage broadened out.   Bigger than any cathedral, tower on tower, forests of pinnacles, a group of palatial buildings rivalled only by the Houses of Parliament at Westminster – the famous Marischal College. This gigantic building rises on top of a simple Gothic one designed by Simpson in 1840.   But its spires and towers and pinnacles are the work of A. Marshall Mackenzie, completed in Kemnay granite in 1906.

Finally, I think of the spire of the Presbyterian kirk at Queen’s Cross – the Free Church of 1881 by J.B. Pirie. I never saw such a thing. I cannot describe its style or changing shapes as it descends in lengthening stages of silver-grey granite from the pale blue sky to the solid prosperity of its leafy suburban setting. I only know that when I tried to draw this late Victorian steeple, I gave it up at the seventh attempt!

Archibald Simpson’s New Market of 1842 was destroyed by fire in 1882 and was rebuilt in 1892 with a wrought-iron roof and no clerestory; this is what Betjeman describes.   The arcaded interior of the bow-ended Market Hall was 320 feet long, with shops in the arcades at first floor level overlooking the vast interior space.  The granite frontage on to Market St. was particularly impressive, in a style resembling that of early Egyptian temples. Simpson’s New Market was demolished in 1971 and was replaced by the present seriously inferior building.  Why? Some buildings have a kind of negative energy, which has a magnetic attraction for rubbish and tat, and the present 1971 Market is all too evidently one of them.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Oct 222010

With thanks to Grace Banks and Jenny Watson.

The launch of new book by Sheena Blackhall will serve as a warning to anyone thinking of taking a packed lunch beyond their own front door!

Millie is the tale of a beloved Dalmation dog who loves to steal sandwiches! She travels round the North East of Scotland stealing goodies from unsuspecting fishermen, golfers and posties.

Illustrated by Bob Dewar and edited by Bill Burnett, the book is written in Doric, with an English translation, and is published by the Reading Bus. (

The Reading Bus is a city-based service which delivers a highly innovative, motivating and successful literacy programme in the St Machar, Northfield and Torry Communities.  This ground breaking project has succeeded in promoting reading as a lifelong pleasure, raising attainment and achievement of children at risk of early failure and involving and empowering parents in their children’s learning.

The multi-coloured Reading Bus visits schools and community locations and welcomes onboard youngsters and families for a wide literacy programme including storytelling, author visits, read together sessions, poetry and puppet work.  The project also includes a film animation and radio programme as well as having its own in-house publishing company called ‘Bus Stop Press’.

Millie will be launched on Thursday 4th November 2010 and will be available in all good bookshops near you, at the bargain price of £5.99.

A Millie website, full of resources to complement the book will soon be launched. There will also be a Millie Tour onboard the Reading Bus with Sheena Blackhall which will take place in Aberdeenshire in November and December and Aberdeen City in January and February.

Watch out for Millie appearing near you!

Aug 202010

Last week in Aberdeen Voice, Alex Mitchell brought us a history of Aberdeen from its recognition by the Romans as a settlement, through its development as two separate burghs, the influence of the burgesses and the benevolence of Robert the Bruce. Part 2 of The Old Burghs of Aberdeen continues.

A Mint was established by the end of the 12th century, most likely at Exchequer Row, which issued coinage in the forms of sterlings, groats and half-groats until the reign of James IV (1473-1513). A weekly Sunday market had been established in 1222 and an annual fair in 1273. The local economy was based on fishing and the processing of wool and leather. Continue reading »

Jun 242010

New lease of life for the Gibberie Wallie in Sunnybank Park

Gibberie Wallie

Gibberie Wallie badly in need of repair after being vandalised.

A group of residents in Aberdeen have come together to stop a valued green space being sold by the Local Authority. The newly constituted group “Friends of Sunnybank Park” are a collection of citizens from all walks of life who have renamed and taken control of their own recreational centre in the Old Aberdeen area. The formerly named St. Machar Outdoor Centre had, in 2009, been earmarked by Aberdeen City Council (ACC) for closure – saving the city an extra £22,000 – as part of it’s £25 million budget cuts package. However, after many objections and local protest, the council agreed to give the initial steering group a period of 6 months to devise a business plan for the park. In May 2010, the plan was accepted and the Council agreed to lease the ground to the group at the rate of £1 per annum. The lease is still being finalised .

Continue reading »