Feb 082013

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

The SS Politician – Whisky Galore

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest is history.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Tractors

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Butcher’s Arms

I find pubs fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Metal Harry

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

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

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

“Well” he said – in a Geordie accent –

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

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

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

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

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

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

Far fetched?

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

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

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

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

Picture the scene if you will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 242013

By Bob Smith.

Menie’s a mess,
A hiv tae confess
Trumpie’s coorse his an extra hole
Near the 4th tee,
Fit a tae dee
Mither Naitur his noo teen her toll
A’m nae aat surprised,
The chiel wis advised
Nae tae meddle wi the shiftin sands
Trump stuck oot his chest,
Sayin a ken fit’s best
Bit watter’s teen things oot his hans
Like King Canute,
The Donald fun oot
Watter  it aye his the last say
If yer drains are nae gweed,
An they stairt tae ”bleed”
Wee burns they flow like the Tay
Noo a wee narra road,
Tae the Munro’s abode
Is churned up wi mud an potholes
Efter  larries fae afar,
Hid roched up the tar
Ye’d think there’d bin an invasion o moles
Amang aa the dunes,
Lurk Trumpie’s big goons
They mak yer waak richt fractious
Fin they div folla,
Ower hump an holla,
An maybe use ye as target practice
It’s plain tae see,
Aat the orra numptie
Hisna heard o the “Richt tae roam”
Wull The Donald desire,
Tae erect barbed wire
As at the mooth he dis foam
So Trumpie ma freen,
If advice ye’d teen
An the shiftin dunes ye’d by-passed
Aathing micht hae bin fine,
If ye’d shifted the line
O yer gowf coorse a wee bittie wast
Bit fowk like yersel,
Fowk nivver can tell
So Donald ye’ll learn the hard wye
Mither Naitur she rules,
Ower eejits an fules
An fowk faa think they’re richt fly.

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2013

Jan 242013

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

Unlocking the Mind: More Snow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She fancied Steve McQueen something rotten.

But that’s another story.

The Great Gale of 1953

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy snow days.

Grumpy Jack

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Jan 142013

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

Jan 112013

In a new series of topical commentaries, Duncan Harley reflects on Life, the Universe and Everything. A sideways look at the world and its foibles.

Texting While Driving

I see from today’s news that more than a quarter of motorists admit to texting while driving.

An amazing feat in my view, although I do have a son who can simultaneously text, watch television and play with his cat.

In fact, now that he has left home, I suspect that he may have added playing with his girlfriend to the list, but at least he is currently a non- driver.

I used to wonder about the erratic behaviour of other drivers, though. Was the car approaching on the continental side of the road driven by a Frenchman, or a drunk, or was there perhaps a hidden passenger crouched down where they could not be seen, performing some distracting sexual favour or other?

I rule out drug addicts since I was advised by a policeman some years ago that the driver without the required daily fix may actually be more dangerous behind the wheel than the one with a full dose.

The risks of texting cannot be denied, though. Driver inattention is the leading cause of accidents, according to insurers, and I don’t doubt it for one minute. I suspect that as cars get safer and simpler to drive, there is a temptation to trust the airbags and seat belts to save life and limb in the event of an unexpected situation.

But of course that is a selfish viewpoint, since the person you unintentionally run down may be a child crossing the road.

Richard, Judy and Gerry.

I see that Richard and Judy are back in the papers, selling books which neither of them have written. There’s some sort of buy one, get one for a pound deal.

It reminds me of all those awful “Everything for a Pound” shops, with bendy garden trowels, loo roll you can stick your finger through and those loveable pink fluffy I-Phone covers.

What a month though!  I’ve had power cuts, some frost, and Gerry Anderson has left the planet. The flooded fields look quite pretty in the light from the local retail park.

Sales in the Sunset.

Many years ago these were the January Sales, but now we have the Desperation Sales.

Comet has of course crashed to earth but Halfords drives ever onward. These are the folk who told me to come back on a Saturday to have a bulb replaced, since they employ schoolchildren at weekends. They have small hands and are therefore much more adept at repairing cars.

Homebase is but a latter day Woolworths which seems quite lost and unsure what to sell. There’s also Argos: you can buy it and take it home, but you’re not allowed to see it first.

There’s also that strange shop with the intimidating picture of a policeman in the window, set against a pile of bog rolls and the slogan “bottom prices”. Home Bargains I think it’s called.

My local recycling centre has charted the relationship between the sales and the amount of stuff being chucked into skips. When the sales are on they put out extra skips.

On New Year’s Day, the Pound Shop was closed. I was reliably informed that they were planning a 50p sale the following morning.

My local outlet has around 60 tons of stock, most of which doesn’t really work or is completely pointless.

I forgot to go back, but am tempted to e-mail the local council suggesting that they set out skips outside Pound Shop next year so as to save folk a trip to the recycling centre.

The quality of light is nice just now, though. Thanks Gerry for the trip and thank you Richard. I really admire you for appearing on daytime TV with your mum.

Dec 272012

By Bob Smith.

Some fowk doon in Stoney
Woke up tae flooded hoosies
Watter flowin a fyow fit deep
It flushed oot ony moosies
Rain cam poorin oot the sky
Rinnin doon fae field an park
The Carron burst ower it’s banks
Faar wis yon Noah wi his Ark?
Aroon Brigfield and the High Street
War hames fit wur warst hit
Drains they jist cwidna cope
Wi the watter, gunge an grit
Some local fowk war on TV
Like Alan Smith an Isla Duncan
In Isla’s food caterin placie
Her stock it took a dunkin
Ithers in iss bonnie place
Jist sooth o Aiberdeen toon
Showed gran community spirit
Gien grub, an the odd nichtgoon
So raise a gless o Glenfiddich
Tae thae gweed Steenhive fowk
As a toast tae aa their spirit
An tae annoy yon Trumpie gowk

© Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
Image credit: Judith Pullar

Sep 262012

Voice’s Old Susannah takes a look over the past week’s event’s in the ‘Deen and beyond in her quest to expose the uncovered even at risk of getting under the skin. By Suzanne Kelly. 

Footdee was transformed into an Ibiza foam party this week. Trees and bits of tree were trashed by the wind. Old Susannah wonders how those 89,000 trees planted on Tullos hill are doing.

They may be too small to be toppled by the wind just yet, but that was exactly the kind of weather that will be strong enough to knock them over in a few years’ time. The soil matrix is poor, according to the Forestry Commission’s soil report.

Thankfully it doesn’t rain or get windy in Aberdeen very often, so I’m sure the trees won’t have any problem at all.

The gusts this week knocked over trees and battered cars, but fear not, they weren’t severe enough to spoil Aileen Malone’s hairstyle, which was fetchingly lacquered in place.

Last Saturday she was adding glamour to the 45-minute demo, in a fetching off-white suit. I’d have thought she’d be in a hunting outfit.

They say that ‘size isn’t everything’ and that ‘length doesn’t matter’. Clearly the few at Saturday’s protest against Aberdeen City Council concurred. There were around 70 (I’m being generous) people protesting against Aberdeen City Council for 45 minutes.

You might have thought it was an outdoor rave: ex-councillor Kate Dean was trendily dressed in fetching leggings and a Cove Bay Rangers supporters’ top. I guess this further illustrates that she has no ties to the club which might have remotely prejudiced her handling of the Loirston Loch planning hearing.

Financially or otherwise, someone who might be biased towards one side or another of a hearing isn’t supposed to be the convener, as previously detailed. Anyway, Old Susannah showed up to watch the demo, with a friend and a doggie, and had a chat to some media acquaintances. They were most amused that they’d shown up in the middle of a weekend to cover a demo supposedly by four or five hundred, to find instead between sixty to eighty people, including infants and toddlers.

I learnt a few new vocabulary words from some of these hacked off hacks, but best we don’t define those.

Aileen Malone, councillor, protesting against the council.  Hmm.  Presumably she was protesting against the amiable Martin Greig, Lib Dem, who voted against borrowing £90 million or so for granite walkways. It will be interesting to find out how this move by HoMalone will be viewed by her current party members and by other sitting councillors.  And we shall.

Tom Smith wrote a heart-wrenching, or perhaps ‘stomach-wrenching’, letter to the P&J in response to a letter by one Dr. Howard Gemmell.  Dr Gemmell was disappointed that the city has been split over the UTG situation, and the lack of Wood’s/ACSEF’s willingness to compromise.

There are some absolutely charming comments on the petition which Wood might enjoy

Smith doesn’t seem to agree that there was unwillingness to compromise. I guess he missed all of Sir Ian’s statements to the effect that it was his way or no way, it was the Web or nothing, and if he couldn’t have his Web he’d send the £50 million to help Africans.

Old Susannah started a petition, now with about 175 signatories, asking Wood to honour his February pledge and send the money to do good in Africa instead of getting rid of the city’s lungs.  There are some absolutely charming comments on the petition which Wood might enjoy; it can be found at http://www.gopetition.com/sir-ian-send-your-50m-to-africa

Smith goes on to say ‘there is no strident political campaign by business or Aberdeen City Garden Trust.’  So before getting on to this week’s themes, here is one non-related definition first:

Strident: (Eng. adjective) Characterised by harsh, loud, aggressive noise or commotion.

ACSEF?  Aberdeen City Gardens Trust?  Big Partnership and 300-plus radio adverts?  The letter signed by a hundred businessmen complaining that without a Web we’re doomed?  Strident, these guys?  Never!  I’ve never seen a more refined, elegant polite request to hand control of public, Common Good land over to a private company before.

A member of the royal family playing games in the nude.  A member of the royal family sunbathing in private.  Another royal, Lady Gaga, accused of being ‘fat’.  The naked rambler’s naked ambition.  Kylie’s bottom, again.  A host of issues have made the nude, sorry, news this week.  Here are some relevant definitions to get to the bottom of things.

Right to Privacy: (mod. Eng.; law) The right of an individual not to endure surveillance, be harassed, photographed, recorded, etcetera, as guaranteed by EU Human Rights law, unless there is a legal reason or a journalistic need to expose truth in the public interest.

Apparently, Individuals’ right to privacy is guaranteed in the European Convention on Human Rights.  Journalists however are able to collect and reveal information if it is in the public interest to do so. Smash criminal gangs? Expose illegal activities? These are the kind of things the old-fashioned investigative reporter used to get up to.

But why risk danger, spend ages researching topics, and wind up with a story buried deep in a newspaper if it’s printed at all? After all, not all papers are interested in exposing truths. I wish I could think of an example or two of this.. All you need is a long, long telephoto lens, a decent camera, some recording equipment, and you’ll be in the tabloids earning lots of dosh with little effort. Result.

A newspaper can print a story if it has not been illegally obtained, and if it is definitely in the public interest to print it. This obviously means we need nude photos of the royal family. What could be more in the public interest than that? Perhaps a certain young man was foolish in the extreme to have had a wild US holiday captured in snapshots.

It’s a pity there weren’t any older, wiser professional people around him to stop photos being taken without spoiling the fun, or at least to ensure that the young man was fully aware of the consequences.  If there had been any such experienced, sober professionals around, this particular upset could easily have been avoided. Good on the Sun for printing the photos.

It’s not as if the Sun is in any way an opportunistic paper that will do anything for money.  Beloved of those caught up in Hillsborough, and celebrities and politicians who may have been hacked, thank goodness we’ve got the Sun.

However, a female member of the Royal family was sunbathing at a private French chateau when she was photographed topless. Who could I be referring to? She was photographed by someone with a long lens who was apparently standing nearly half a mile away. She had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and it was taken away from her. Result!  More public interest photos!

Whether or not you are a fan of the royal family, celebrities, sports people, politicians, all these groups of people are contributing by helping our kindly, intrepid newshounds to make a dignified living.  But the stories wouldn’t be as much fun without photos…

Paparazzi(Italian, plural noun) Packs of journalists and photographers who follow famous people around, looking for photo opportunities and stories to sell to tabloids and cheap magazines.

The paparazzi have done a great job so far, and they couldn’t keep it up without people buying magazines.

Whether it’s a drunk singer getting out of a car showing underwear or skin, whether it’s an ageing Peter Falk aka Colombo in California being literally chased by a pack of news hounds (the poor man was old; he was upset and confused when cornered and photographed), or a celebrity’s child going to school, all are fair game for the paparazzi.

After all, everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame, or so I am told, and ‘all publicity is good publicity’. The famous should be grateful that the ever-attentive photographers trail their every move, spying on them, their family and friends.

If you’re famous enough, your accidental death may likewise get a good set of photographers recording it. You’ll be most grateful I’m sure. Old Susannah thought that there was a law and a code or two stopping the exploitation and hounding of celebrities, but apparently there aren’t.

So, keep on buying those mags. Find out who’s been seen cheating on whom, who got drunk, what colour underwear they had on. Most importantly, keep buying these worthy news periodicals to find out crucial things like who looks too fat or too skinny.

Body Image(Mod. Eng. psychological term) The mental picture we have of what we look like to ourselves and the rest of the world.

Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders were once a comparative rarity confined to teenage girls. However, people of all sexes and ages are suffering these days in increasing numbers.  The problem? Who knows. It’s certainly nothing to do with paparazzi and the celebrity mag. It is mere coincidence that any star in a bikini or ‘revealing outfit’ is immediately deemed to be too thin or more likely too fat by the press.

For one thing, the camera adds ten pounds to us all, or at least that’s my excuse. For another, we’re saturated in images of people who are close to physical perfection, because they’ve been airbrushed. Somehow, when someone doesn’t look quite as tall and thin in real life as in their movie poster, the press is free to speculate whether they have ‘cellulite’.  And ageing is definitely a no-no. Botox to that.

There is obviously no link between the media obsessing over every inch of a celeb’s body and other people wondering if they are beautiful or not. Any link between people binge eating or starving themselves has nothing to do with this tiny societal pressure to be perfect.

Lady Gaga, it is being claimed, has no right to any privacy. So her ex pa claims in a New York law suit. I think Gaga might beg to differ. She has recently posed in a bikini as a response to people saying she’d got fat. As a teenager she suffered eating disorders.

It is almost as if she thinks her music is somehow more important than what she looks like. But here’s the thing: just because someone poses for a photo when there is a photo call or an event on, does it mean they should be photographed in their private time? Of course it does!

Thankfully girls have many positive role models. There is Jordan for instance. Buying quantities of silicone, taking your clothes off, and having a ghost writer are what we want our young girls aspire to.

Exposure: (Eng; crime) exposing oneself wilfully, for instance to young children or in public.

In Aberdeen, a man was spared jail this week. He continues to go out in public and expose himself to young children. What a freedom fighter! Just like our friend, the Naked Rambler.

You might think Old Susannah would rush to defend the Naked Rambler’s right to be naked wherever and whenever he wants. Absolutely!

The thing is, other people’s rights not to be disturbed by the Rambler exposing himself aren’t as important as his right to be naked. He was recently asked to stay clear of a children’s play area when he was naked. He refused. What a hero!

There is a silly old saying ‘your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins’. Surely this doesn’t apply to our naked freedom fighter. So what if something like one in five women can expect to have some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime? Why shouldn’t this nude guy be free to make people wary of a potential attack? Why should anyone have the right to keep their child from seeing him?

An American criminal legal professional I know brought up the subject of crime and nudity once, it was one of those conversations. She said that in her years of court experience there were usually only two reasons a man shows up naked somewhere: one is because they intend a sexual assault; the other is because they are going to kill someone and don’t want to get blood on their clothes. But let’s just let everyone go around naked, shall we? How can that lead to any intimidation or discomfort?

Sadly, we don’t live in an innocent, nice world any more. Some say we never did. By the way, the Naked Rambler has two children by one of his ex-partners. She asked him to keep his clothes on to visit his young children and he refused point blank. Now that’s truly heroic, sacrificing your children’s right to a father so that you can get naked.

Confidential to ‘Forgetful of Bucksburn’:  Sorry you forgot about all the charming posts you put on Facebook extolling the various good points of the EDL. If you need any reminders of what you wrote, just let Old Susannah know. I’ve got screenshots saved and backed up, and I’ll be  happy to refresh your memory.

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Aug 312012

With thanks to Dave Macdermid

The weather was the only winner at the Scottish Disability Sport Lawn Bowls Championships at Westburn Park.
Supported by Sport Aberdeen and Aberdeen Disability Sport, the event has been coming to Aberdeen for over 20 years, with all of the 70 entrants having qualified for the National Championships via regional championships over the summer and travelling from all over Scotland to take part.

Although not a Paralympic sport, bowls will be part of the Para Sport programme at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and many of the hopefuls for the Scottish team were present to make the most of top class play.

During the first session there were some outstanding matches and the teams from Lothian, Fife and Aberdeen were looking especially strong.  Players were competing in sections for wheelchair users, visually impaired bowlers, ambulant bowlers with a physical disability and bowlers with a learning disability and, as the competition reached the quarter final stages, a long torrential downpour stopped play for the day.

Disappointingly, the rain kept falling and the games could not resume, resulting in the 2011 Championship Winners retaining their titles for another year until the bowlers convene in Aberdeen for the 2013 Scottish Disability Sport National Championships.

Organisers would like to thank the 25 local bowlers who volunteered their time to act as markers and umpires at the Championship.

Image credit:  Wikimedia Commons. Licence info: File:Bowls%26Kitty.JPG


Jul 262012

By Bob Smith. 

I dinna myn a bittie rain
It fresh’ns aathing up
A haill month’s rain in a day
Fyles noo is bein dumped

Watter rins doon the streets
Drains canna tak the strain
Ony mair sic wachty shooers
Watter’s gurglin back oot again

Flooers are lookin drookit
Heids low wi the wecht
Wi aa the watter fae the sky
The bird bath sees nae fecht

Birdies look a bit bedraiglt
They’re hidin in the trees
Waitin for the sun tae shine
An feathers dry in the breeze

Fin the sun braks throwe again
An stame rises fae the grun
Kids’ll splash throwe the puddles
They’ll be haein lots o fun

Nae doot the morn wull be fine
Birds aa wull tweet and trill
Next wikk o coorse it’ll be pissin doon
O rain maist fowk hiv hid their fill

©Bob Smith “The Poetry Mannie” 2012
 Image Credit: SKY MOUNTAIN 1 © Alexandru Mitrea | Dreamstime.com

Jul 122012

Gubby Plenderleith, our Literary Editor, reports on a find which has rocked Scotland’s literary world.

The Scottish literary establishment is charged with anticipation over the announcement this week that a number of previously unknown poems by Scobie McSporran, ‘The Bard of Balmaha’ are to be published next month.
I spoke with Torquil Abercromby, a senior researcher at Freuchie University, who was approached last year by a woman claiming to be McSporran’s great-granddaughter.

He told me:

“She telephoned me completely out of the blue and said that she had a number of the poet’s unpublished works which the family had kept in storage since his death. She wondered whether the University would be interested in reading them.

“To be honest I was a bit sceptical at first.  Here was someone saying they had unpublished works by one of my favourite Scottish poets and asking me whether I’d like to read them. It was all pretty unreal at the time and I wondered if it was one of my students playing some kind of practical joke.”

Happily, Abercromby put aside his initial dubiety and met with the woman who had contacted him. She wishes to remain anonymous.  He was, he told me, bowled over by what she showed him. He was also fearful that unless he acted quickly, she might take these literary jewels elsewhere, and so he lost no time in contacting the University authorities who fortunately were able to make sufficient funding available for the publication of a slim volume.

The resultant book, although limited in size, also contains some notes on McSporran the man, tracing his journey from apprentice shoemaker to running the family business himself, before handing it on to his two sons in order that he could become a full time writer.

This new publication also details some of McSporran’s travels round Scotland, and documents the way in which he summoned up the spirit of the simple man, choosing to write about everyday subjects rather than the more grandiose themes chosen by some of his contemporaries.  His method of achieving this was to take to the road, living the life of a vagabond – a period of his life which, in his later years, McSporran looked back on with great fondness.

Speaking in 1928, a few months before his death, he told the writer Rudyard McGillicuddy that the day he gave up control of the family business for life as a vagrant was the happiest of his life.

As McGillicuddy recorded:

“Scobie was a free spirit who wished to be bound by no man, creed, or obligation.  As for the family business, he told me that his father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been shoemakers before him and as he himself remarked,’yon’s a lot o’ cobblers.’”

Abercromby is keenly protective of the publication of these works, which he sees as a landmark in the country’s literary landscape. He is extremely reticent to give away too many details of its contents.  Aberdeen Voice is, therefore, exceptionally privileged to have exclusive permission to print two poems which elegantly demonstrate McSporran’s fascination with the everyday topics of the weather, and unrequited love.


It’s dingin’ doon in Dingwall
An’ it’s snawin’ up in Skye,
There’s hailstones o’er in Helensbru’
An’ a snell north wind forbye,

But we’re snuggled warm an’ toastie
In oor wee bit heilan’ hame,
So the warld can pass ootside oor door
An’ lea’ us a’ alane!


Oh dearest Jean, my cushie-doo,
I crave your tender bosy
An’ a kiss frae aff your tender lips,
So warm an’ saft an’ rosy.

I saw you first in Januar,
When the snaw wis oan the dyke –
You were lying at the roadside,
Havin’ fa’en aff yer bike.

But I stopped and helped you oan again
An’ waved a fond goodbye,
As you pedalled aff tae Cowdenbeath,
Your messages to buy.

But that was ower a year ago
An’ I’ve no’ seen you syne,
So maybe it’s a portent,
That you never will be mine.

‘The Sabbath, Sin and Stovies’, a collection of poems by Scobie McSporran, is published by Wanchancy Press on 20th August.