Polphail – By Duncan Harley

Wall art is not entirely about pre-pubescent puerile penile fantasies and homophobia. Much of the creativity implies a need to be heard and a desire to communicate to a more adult world.

The graphic sexual images, rudely erotic comments and insulting narrative may in essence be a cover for the need to be understood or indeed misunderstood. “FUCK HITLER” when sprayed on a Stalinist inspired 1960’s damp concrete multi storey edifice may in reality be a subversive comment regarding planning policies. “Mo Mo is Fat” when painted on a fast food outlet door is open to wide interpretation. Is Mo Mo fat because the business owners don’t care about the hydrogenated fat content of the burgers on sale? Or is this simply a meditative Buddhist take on the perception of a reality near you. Try reversing the text.

The eastern oil boom came to Aberdeen some 40 odd years ago and the effects are still resonating. Fast wealth, fast drugs, fast cars and some extremely fast ladies abound. Stories of rags …

Tiger Hill @ Cairnbulg

July 2014 saw the crew of the Fraserburgh lifeboat summoned to rescue the crew of the fishing trawler ‘Sovereign’ which had run aground at Cairnbulg some nine years before.
A member of the lifeboat crew told reporters that a tourist had been standing on Tiger Hill when she spotted the ship lying on its side on a reef. "She must have thought that it had just freshly sunk and made the call to the RNLI."

"It is a familiar landmark to locals but you can see how easy it would be for a visitor to mistake it for a vessel in distress" he continued "It was a mistake made with the best of intentions."
The Banff-registered trawler had in fact run aground during a storm in December 2005 with the five fishermen on board being airlifted to safety.

The rusting wreck later made international headlines when it made a surprise appearance on a promotional cinema poster for the Hollywood movie Life of Pi. The blockbuster, an adaptation of a Yann Martel novel, features the st…

The Carron To Mumbai – by Duncan Harley

Scotland’s love affair with Indian food knows few bounds. As a Glasgow student many years ago, I variously got to grips with endlessly bland lamb-bhuna styled carry outs and mind-numbingly awful  starters following a good few pints of  lager. Various mediocre meals were served up as authentic Indian sub-continent cuisine and we accepted them as the norm. It seems odd nowadays, but if the consistency varied from one restaurant to another, we moaned. A McDonald’s style mindset prevailed and the security of a cloak of blandness took precedence.

Thankfully the days of Indian food by numbers are fast ending and the recently opened Carron To Mumbai at Stonehaven is a stunning example of the new enlightenment in Indian cuisine.

I first became aware of the Carron Restaurant a good few years ago. Family visits for birthdays and get-togethers led me there and the place simply blew me away. The food was one thing, but the Art-Deco setting was quite another. Combine the two and, well you get the…

Theatre Review – Duncan Harley - Evita @ HMT

Margaret Thatcher once said that “If a woman like Eva Peron with no ideals, can get that far, think how far I can get” and she had a point. The Iron Lady however took several decades to claw her way to the top; Eva took just the one. Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita first took to the stage in 1979. A film version followed in 1996 starring Madonna as Evita and Antonio Banderas as Che. With the stage version now pushing forty, the story-line remains controversial.

Portrayed as a working-class girl who whored her way out of the slums and exploited the poor, her legacy remains subject to debate. Hard to ignore however is her undoubted political prowess. Assuming control of the Argentinian Ministry of Labour in 1946, she generously handed out wage increases and promoted women’s suffrage whilst privately embracing a lifestyle lavishly populated with couture clothing and expensive jewellery.

Greats such as Elaine Page and Madalena Alberta have taken on the mantle of the lead over the …

Zombie Apocalypse - Duncan Harley

An Aberdeenshire regional newspaper today carries the startling news that Aberdeen City Council have failed to plan for a possible Zombie uprising. Alongside lurid tales of ‘Washed Up Whales’ and ‘Drivers Hit by Potholes’, the daily lays bare the shambles of the council’s emergency response procedures.
Seemingly procedures are in place to deal with flood, landslide and terrorist attack alongside detailed plans to protect council tax payers from the effects of nuclear fallout and an epidemic of typhoid. 
But, to date at least, the council planners have given little thought to the prospect of a Zombie Apocalypse.

The council are of course in partnership with The North of Scotland Regional Alliance Partnership.
Described as a ‘Multi-agency co-ordination in Scotland is (sic) based on three Regional Resilience Partnerships (RRPs - North, East and West) which are broken down into 12 Local Resilience Partnerships (LRPs)’.
The agency clearly has a poor taste in grammar.

But moving on, the …

Aspire – A Garioch artwork inspired by the pupils of St Andrews School

When Aberdeenshire Council Landscape Services Officer Ken Regan realised that he had a dead elm tree on his hands he decided to approach Chainsaw Sculptor Gary Shand in the hope of persuading him to transform the 25ft high stump into a piece of public art.
“I had seen carved tree stumps in the parks of Barcelona … the notion that folk could almost randomly stumble upon them appealed and when this opportunity arose it seemed appropriate to create one for Inverurie” said Ken.

Sited in parkland on George Square beside St Andrews School, the sculpting process immediately drew comments from local residents. Carving a tree trunk with a power-saw is after all a very public process.

Said Gary “It was really interesting overhearing the comments. At the beginning folk were mainly asking what it was for and what did it mean. Towards the end of the week I detected a sense of ownership. Folk had literally adopted the piece as a part of their local environment.”

The design stage involved consultat…

Here Lies Lester Moore – By Duncan Harley

Writing competitions are just that … competitions. You either win, or you lose and, in the big scheme of things losing seems likely. After all, there can only be one winner and the rest of the pack are destined to some dark hole in the vast behind of some ugliness best described as the deep pond of despair. I should know. In a fit of participation, I penned a piece for a competition recently. Themed on the note ‘Noon’, the tale centred on a cowboy village in the Garioch – or more correctly near Huntly, the piece failed to even make the long-list and said literary judges have, to date, quite forgotten to get back to say why. Makes a mockery really. But then, I would say that …
Here, for what it’s worth, is my High Noon, Hadleyville piece:

“Hidden in full view alongside some minor road linking Tranquillity with Huntly, the wild-western village hosts a graveyard appropriately named Boot Hill. There are no genuine graves here, only empty headstones made of wood, but visitors to Tranquill…

School for Scoundrels

The snagging list for the next book pounds on. Off for an edit, the new tome – to the best of my knowledge – has but three embarrassing bloopers. Not so last night’s blog about Dracul, which had just the two.
Fortunately, both Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker were forgiving and, following a wee hint, suitable amendments were made to the inaccurate portions of the piece.

That’s the essence of the blogging problem really. Bloggers generally have no editor. You write, publish and generally wing it. Unless readers take umbrage, or better still make suggestions, the blogosphere relies on feedback and hopefully kind words.

I don’t as yet have a cover image for the new book, but here – in the hope of some pre-publication appreciation – is an extract …

“In his circa AD 98 biography of his father-in-law Agricola, Tacitus records amongst other things the victory of the Roman general Agricola’s armies over the Barbarian hordes of Caledonia. Much has been made of the fact that, although Tacitus goe…

Dracul by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker – reviewed by Duncan Harley

It’s Dracula season in North-east Scotland. Local writer Mike Shepherd is about to release a new book about Bram Stoker’s Cruden Bay connection and Dacre Stoker – in conjunction with Illinois born writer J.D. Barker – is about to unleash a prequel to Stoker’s Dracula classic. Dacre Stoker gave a talk at Cruden Bay in early 2017 and both Janice and I were privileged to attend. Alongside setting forth some solid ideas about the history and the mythology of vampirism, Dacre let slip the fact that his forbear, Bram Stoker, let loose upon the world that classic of the bloodsucking genre ‘Dracula’.

Indeed, the very venue of Dacre’s mid-winter talk – The Kilmarnock Arms at Cruden Bay – boasts a guest book entry which reads something like “Delighted with everything and everybody and hope to come again”. The signature alongside the entry reads “Mr and Mrs Bram Stoker”.

Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic Vampire Horror tale ‘Dracula’, and many other literary sensations, stayed with his wife a…

Theatre Review – Duncan Harley - The Band @ HMT

Gary Barlow reckons that Take That was Britain’s very first successful manufactured boy-band and he is probably quite correct. I mean he, of all people, should know having composed pretty much most of their early hits. When the band went their separate ways in 1996, the angst amongst the fanbase was so great that helplines were set up to help with the grief.

Gary went off on a solo career as did Robbie Williams, the youngest band member, and although the post Take That years have been tumultuous to say the least, the music and the songs from the boy-band years at the top feature in play-lists across the land.

Now, courtesy of Tim Firth, the legacy of Take That forms the backdrop to what in essence is a celebration of the power of an enduring friendship shared by a group of friends from the day.

This is not by any means the story of the boy-band nor is it a simple juke-box musical intent on squeezing dry the hit-playlist of the glory days. Yes, the boys are there in almost every scene. An…

When Huntly was Hadleyville - By Duncan Harley

Not may folk know it, but there is a cowboy-town just outside Huntly. Not that you would likely stumble across it by accident of course. Hidden in full view alongside some minor road linking Tranquillity with Huntly, the wild-western village hosts a graveyard appropriately named Boot Hill.

There are no genuine graves here, only empty headstones made of wood, but visitors to Tranquillity kind-of-generally get the drift.

Boot Hill is of course full of those folks ‘hung by mistake’ and ‘shot at noon cause he stole a horse’. The carved markers speak of bank-robbers and cattle rustlers who, in some far dreamland took that step too far and suffered the indignity of a good bit of neck-stretching after shooting the Sherriff. Not that Huntly is a stranger to the wild west. In far off days The Bruce ravished the land in what became known as The Hership Of Buchan. Burning and slaying as he went the somewhat nasty man ensured loyalty via the sword. The early American settlers must have read abo…

Cove Harbour - by Duncan Harley

We had a wee stroll round Cove harbour today.
The village at one time was home to Isae Caie and her residence in the place is celebrated in the coastal village in the form of a splendid marble monument sculpted by Brazilian artist Albertino Costa with support from local residents.

I penned an article about the woman – The Last Fishwife – in some forgotten Leopard or other and Albertino and I tracked down her grave on a wet and stormy February day for that long-lost feature article.

Subject of litigation, I have no real idea why, Cove Harbour is now largely bereft of fishing boats. There are a few small boats left-over on the stony beach and it looks tidier now and that’s a fact. A private plastic-surgeon has won his case but has perhaps lost his reputation in a strange but true tale of the taking over of land beside the sea by invasive land-owners.

It somehow reminds me of a childhood haunt along Loch Fyne. Some rich mogul had bought a plot by the shore. Having erected a house and swi…

Tickets for the Messiah – By Duncan Harley

Canon make some splendid camera equipment and I have to own-up as an aficionado of the brand. I have owned and used quite a few of the products including a couple of high-end camera bodies plus several high-end lenses – or bits of glass, as they are often referred to in the trade.

A couple of 5D’s and a more than a few of those splendidly red-ringed ‘professional’ lenses made up my collection until quite recently when, in a fit of poverty, I decided to sell some surplus.

The 5D Mk2 went to the hammer first and fetched a tidy sum. It had been, in the words of my partner Janice, a good friend, and it was hard to let go of it. But, at least the new owner – somewhere in Wiltshire as I recall – will get good use of it. I mean, who really needs two big full-frame cameras anyway. I paraded round a few shows and events with two 5D’s wrapped around my neck and all I got was that one golden shot plus a big piece of neck-ache. I mean, why would you bother.

Then the 300mm telephoto went under …

Rumpelstiltskin @ HM Theatre Aberdeen - By Duncan Harley

This coming weekend sees Aberdeen Bramble Brae School pupils take to the HMT stage to take part in balletLorent's brand-new production of Rumpelstiltskin.
Conner Burton, Connor McGregor, Emily Rose Wood, Hanna Adrykowska, Rhylan Stuart Quinn, Rhys Warner and Robert Smith will tread the boards at His Majesty’s Theatre alongside award-winning dance theatre company 'balletLORENT'. 

Liv Lorent - Artistic Director and Choreographer for the production - commented that “We’re so pleased to have found a fantastic group of children in Aberdeen to become part of our team. At this age, children often have innate talent, a lack of self-consciousness and physical beauty in movement, which can be captured and channelled to great effect through projects like ours.”
As a folk-tale, Rumpelstiltskin is a tragedy deeply mired in kidnap and gender exploitation. Indeed, the fairy-tale tugs strongly at the heartstrings:

‘There was once a miller who was very poor. But he had a beautiful daughter. No…

The Royal Poo @ Ballater – By Duncan Harley

The timber-built railway station at Ballater was frequented by the Royal Family in the days when the journey north to Balmoral involved rail travel. When the Deeside line closed to passengers in 1966 the building found new use as shop units and even incorporated a Tourist Information Centre and a restaurant. Prior to the disastrous 2015 fire, a part of the building was turned into a museum and visitors could, if they were lucky, meet up with a mannequin dressed as Queen Victoria’s loyal ghillie John Brown on the station platform.

A second mannequin representing an ageing Victoria, complete with mourning dress, could be seen taking tea in the private Royal Apartments of the station building.

Those Royal Apartments naturally featured a Royal Loo. Thunder-box in form and with an ornately decorated porcelain pan, replete with Acanthus leaves and brightly painted woodland flowers, the loo was off limits to ordinary travellers during Victoria’s time.

In more recent times however, subject t…

The MacDonald Trail – By Duncan Harley

I see that as part of this weekends Doors Open Day, Ramsay MacDonald’s family home in Lossiemouth is to open to the public. From humble beginnings he became not only the first ever Labour Prime Minister but also one of the first members of parliament to embrace aviation as a means of transport to and from his Lossiemouth home to the powerhouse of Westminster.

In pre-RAF Lossiemouth days he regularly flew out of grass airstrips on the outskirts of the town.

Born in 1866 he entered Parliament in 1906 as MP for Leicester following an early career as a journalist. A fierce opponent of the Boer War he was outspoken in his opposition to WW1. His pacifist convictions and unshakeable socialist stance quickly made him a hate figure both locally and nationally. He was blackballed by Moray Golf Club in 1916 and vilified in the likes of John Bull magazine as “A traitor and a coward, a libeller and a slanderer of his country … he is nothing more than the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl!…

Stone Stacks down by the Don – By Duncan Harley

I had hoped to go zip-wiring down Union Street at the weekend.
It’s something of an occasional passion and although I hate the blatant uncontrollability of rib-ticklers and roller-coasters, the prospect of dangling dangerously from a swinging cable whilst travelling at speed over difficult terrain somehow fills me with joy.

Aviemore and Perthshire have been my previous zip-wire haunts and a quick enquiry to the city council elicited the underwhelming response that ‘We won’t have the zipwire installed on union street In Town Without My Car Day.’ It was an omen.

In the event, The Scottish Samurai Awards over at Maryculter House Hotel took prominence and I reported on this at length @:

As it turned out, the Union Street zip-extravaganza was cancelled on the day due to inclement weather although all was fine over at Maryculter.

In a quite separate piece of disappointing street-theatre, it seems that resid…

The Scottish Samurai Awards 2018 – By Duncan Harley

The four-star Maryculter House Hotel was today the venue for the Scottish Samurai Awards. Scotland and Japan have long enjoyed both trade and cultural links – well for just around 150 years in truth.
Japan sent many students to the UK between the late Edo period (1603-1867) and the early Meiji period (1868-1912) in order to explore and import Western technology and the various international trade exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th Century provided useful platforms for the sharing of both scientific and aesthetic ideas.

Cities such as Glasgow and Aberdeen provided ripe-pickings for the aspiring technologists and alongside acquisition of new skill-sets the two nations exchanged cultural and artistic aesthetics which continue to create broad-ripples to this day.

Japan, of course, had participated in the second Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901. The Japan Pavilion was located near the main exhibition hall at Kelvingrove and there is a likelihood that Rennie Mackintosh and many…