The Little History of Aberdeenshire - by Duncan Harley

In 'The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire', I exposed readers to a random series of tales from the North-east of Scotland.
Factual stories about The Beatles very first tour of Aberdeenshire, a resume of the career of sporting superstar Donald Dinnie and a startling description of the 1916 terror-bombing of the village of Insch by a 300ft long German Zeppelin sat side by side with mythological tales about the Maiden Stone at Crowmallie, the tomb of Eth the Swift-foot at Kellands and the mysterious mound of death at the Bass.

My intention in this new volume is to provide the reader with a few more snippets from Aberdeenshire’s colourful history. I have succumbed to the temptation to re-visit some of the stories featured in my previous book and trust that I will be forgiven for expanding greatly on those tales. The Blenheim of Buchan, a full expose of the Aberdeen typhoid scandal plus an expanded tale of artist-priest Peter Anson’s life in the North-east are examples.

Tales about the …

Dame Evelyn Glennie with Trio HLK @ Aberdeen Music Hall - By Duncan Harley with thanks to Rachel Campbell/APA

Percussionist Evelyn Glennie has performed worldwide with international orchestras, conductors and artists and fondly remembers her first percussion concerto at The Proms in 1992. She recalls “My first experience with percussion was seeing and being inspired by my school orchestra at the age of 12. I knew I needed something else to go alongside my piano playing, which was my main instrument at the time. It was an inexplicable feeling but as soon as I saw the percussion section, I knew this was the family I belonged to”.

Double GRAMMY award winner and BAFTA nominee Evelyn nowadays composes music for film, television and music library companies. The film ‘Touch the Sound’ and her enlightening TED speech remain key testimonies to her approach to sound-creation.

Made an OBE in 1993 she has received some 100 international awards to date, including the Polar Music Prize and the Companion of Honour. Evelyn continues to inspire and motivate people from all walks of life. Her masterclasses and co…


Today is yet another anniversary of that awful event when a classroom of children were murdered by a local man with a grudge. Their teacher died alongside them and the nation was shocked at the atrocity. 

America might have been well used to such carnage, but Scotland was certainly not and a ban on hand guns followed. Some 22 years on, although we still have knife crime, guns on the street are a rarity and that is a good thing.
Following the massacre, a memorial stone was erected within Dunblane's cathedral.
Wiki says - and who am I to disagree: "In the nave of Dunblane Cathedral is a standing stone  by the monumental sculptor Richard Kindersley."
The monolith was commissioned by the local Kirk Session and dedicated at a service on 12 March 2001.

The quotations on the stone include E.V Rieu's - "He called a little child to him...", Richard Henry Stoddard's "The spirit of a little child", Bayard Taylor's "But still I dream that somewhere…

The Museum to the Anti-British – by Duncan Harley

I had almost forgotten the 60th anniversary of the overthrow of Tibet by the Chinese Liberation Army. A Times newspaper report today recalls the shelling of Lhasa during the final stages of the take-over. Truckloads of Red Guards were quick on the heels of the professional soldiers and, alongside the desecration of the monasteries, a centralist agricultural policy ensured  widespread famine. Millions suffered and tens of thousands died of starvation. After all, you can’t easily grow wheat at 15,000 feet and at sub-zero temperatures.

The palaces have of course been done up and re-painted and the monasteries annually draw in a few thousand Western tourists eager to breath in the blessings. Below the Potala lies a vast concrete square. When Palin, Michael not Sarah, visited in the 1980’s it was occupied by symbols of military power. A fighter jet sat incongruously below the high walls alongside groups of excited Chinese tourists. The Chinese of course love big flat squares. Look at Tiana…

A Burgess By Far - by Duncan Harley with thanks to Charlie Abel, Suzanne Kelly, Barney Crocket, Ronald Watt and the late Bob Smith

As of this week, Fred Arthur Wilkinson is a Burgess of the City of Aberdeen and that’s maybe a good thing. After all, he’s somewhat of a more than ordinary guy and I for one owe him a huge debt. In fact, mention Fred to any Aberdonian and you will either be met with a dumfounded ‘whose Fred?’ or an ‘Oh I ken the lad well. Fine chap and no question. Disnae he hiv some sort of plaque on a wall down by the Green alongside the likes of that loudmouth Lennox wifie?”

Some folk are even minded to comment that they probably have a photo of the man and his ceilidh band on the mantlepiece following some family wedding or other. For my part, following a spell at the Big Issue in Scotland, I had been blogging for a wee while for not much money. But no-one in particular had paid that much attention. Then came a spell plugging my work on the likes of Bliphoto and Flickr and some unpaid but published pieces amongst the Aberdeenshire weekly squeaks and the various Banffies. I kept on the day job and…

BBC Glasgow – by Duncan Harley

I had the rare opportunity to watch Scottish telly last night and tuned into the new Freeview BBC Channel Nine. Devoted to all things Scottish and with an upbeat launch week promising to be all over the land, I was - to say the least - interested in what the new all-Scottish TV station might have on offer. Maybe there would be some upbeat content about local affairs down by the harbour, perhaps a new piece of Scottish drama or something geared to upstage that slightly odd River City or even a new take on the dogging sites in and around Torry Battery. 
A bit of Doric perhaps or even a piece about how Dundee’s national bard composed a song about why US General Grant came to describe the Tay Bridge as ‘a mighty long bridge for such a little town’. Surely there would be something about oil, or wind power or Mennie Estate or Buffalo Bill’s sojourn in Huntly. But no. None of the above. In truth, not that much from above the Antonine Wall made it onto the airwaves on that windy Saturday nigh…

Northern Lights - by Duncan Harley

A friend keeps a Saturday paper for me and in return I keep him copies of the Times Crossword. I think it is a good bargain. At least I hope so since I have never completed a sudoku much less a crossword in my life.
Seemingly those Bletchley Park heroes were chosen from aficionados who could complete a Times puzzle in something less than three minutes. I am guessing that the war was won not just by troops on the ground but by folk in huts pinpointing targets and first-guessing enemy actions.

My old mum would probably have agreed. As a WAAF radar operative in that Hitler war she scanned the skies for signs of enemy bombers arriving from Norway. In four years of service, she only saw the one and recalled reporting the sighting to the sergeant who, disgracefully, took his time over a mug of Bovril before calling in the local Hurricanes, thus allowing the insurgent time to get away back to Trondheim.

She rarely spoke about her war service except to say that once she was charged with loo…

Calendar Girls the Musical @ HM Theatre Aberdeen - Duncan Harley reviews

All they ever really wanted to do was raise some cash to buy a settee for the local cancer ward but when word got out that Rylstone & District Women's Institute were planning a Pirelli style Christmas calendar, things soon spiralled out of control.
It’s a well-worn tale. A bevy of rural friends decide to publish a fund-raiser for cancer support following a death. John has died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and wife Angela’s pals at the Rylstone & District Women's Institute set about creating a wall calendar as something for her to focus on during this most difficult time. 

However, instead of the familiar Women’s Institute images of sheep infested landscapes, ecclesiastical spires and cricketed village greens, they decide to bare all. The 1998 launch of the raunchy publication attracted widespread press coverage and very soon the print run reached into the tens of thousands. A book and a film followed along with international fame. Described as a group of ordinary ladies who ac…

New Lanark – A Mexican Menie - By Duncan Harley

Today brings news that the Scottish Government has rejected the advice of its own planning reporter and turned down a proposal by Mexican multi-national conglomerate Cemex to extend an existing aggregate quarry on land bordering the UNESCO listed Falls of Clyde upstream from New Lanark.
New Lanark is best known as the site of a social experiment set up by Robert Owen. 
Owen, a mill-owner come social reformer, had seen first hand the results of the abuse of the labour force in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution and formed the opinion that better conditions would improve production as well as improving the lives of the workers in the cotton mills.

Robert Owen's big view was that a “permanent cause of distress was to be found in the competition of human labour with machinery and that the only effective remedy was the united action of men and the subordination of machinery.”

Between 1799 and 1813 he improved the lot of the workforce at New Lanark. He introduced educational…

Hamish Napier’s ‘The Railway’ – reviewed by Duncan Harley

I was sent a copy of Hamish’s Railway a few months ago and it stood for a while on my dusty shelf alongside a few books and discs needing a review.
I should have known better than to ignore the music. Various of the books amongst the pile will never make it onto either the Times list or the Waterstone shelves and god only knows why the publishers send me them.
I must be on some difficult writers list.

I digress.

Hamish, or his agent, has been sending me his work for a few years and in the Leopard/Aberdeen Voice days, I reviewed positively alongside the music of other folk such as Thran Backwoods poet Gordon Duthie.Gordon makes music in his bedroom and broadcasts it all around the world. I've ranted on about his music many a time and in the course of ploughing through some glossy copies of Leopard Magazine dating from early 2015 I recalled that we met up in Kintore to have tea and scones before heading off to the local graveyard to do a photo-shoot alongside the Pictish stones.


The Doric Poetry Mannie - by Duncan Harley

It's maybe just a few weeks till the annual anniversary of the demise of Bob Smith. I am always ahead of the game and just thought that you might be happy to remember the splendid man. Bob famously spent a latter career slaving over adverts for an uncaring local paper and was a fierce critic of Donald Trump.
He would never miss an opportunity to mention Trump in his popular poems, which featured weekly in Aberdeen Voice.

He features in my two books along with the likes of Wallace, Bruce, Byron and T.E. Lawrence. And why not.  All in all, Bob contributed in excess of 200 poems to the Aberdeen Voice and had a few of his pieces published in the glossy Leopard. There maybe should have been a book but he never made it into that sort of print. Occasionally I think of the man. For some strange reason, his memory popped up today despite the few more weeks till the anniversary of his passing. Here, for what it's worth, is his take on the Doric: A’ve ayewis spak the Doric
Sin a wis jist a l…

Lost at Sea – a theatrical tribute to the fishing communities of Scotland

With thanks to Rachel Campbell - Aberdeen Performing Arts
A brand-new production of Morna Young’s epic fishing drama Lost at Sea will come to His Majesty’s Theatre this coming May.  Inspired by the loss of her fisherman father, Morna Young’s personal tribute to the fishing communities of Scotland comes to His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (Thursday 9 until Saturday 11 May), as part of a Scotland wide tour.
A storm is brewing in a small fishing village. A young woman returns home, searching for answers about her father's death. But as she begins to weave together the strands of her past, a mysterious force unravels family secrets. Lost at Sea journeys through a labyrinth of myth and memory in an epic tale spanning forty years of the fishing industry.
Featuring the voices of fishermen and their families in their own words – with music, songs and Scots language – Lost at Sea is the lyrical and powerfully evocative story of a North-East fishing family.
With much of Scotland being a stone’s t…

Runway 13 - By Duncan Harley

Fatal aircraft crashes, often due to accidents in training, were fairly common in wartime. Places such as Ballater, Aboyne and Logie Coldstone bear witness to the carnage. 
In the October of 1943 for example, a Bristol Blenheim of 526 Fighter Squadron based at Inverness crashed on high ground at Morven.

Both aircrew died. The pilot, a Welshman, was recorded as Flight Sergeant Douglas Evans and his wireless operator/air-gunner was named as Flight Sergeant Charles Baden from Derby.

Another crash, this time of a Wellington bomber on a training mission out of Lossiemouth, occurred in 1942 high up in the hills behind Braemar.

A gamekeeper out checking the deer herd at Glen Cluny eventually spotted the tail of the downed aeroplane sticking out of deep snow and alerted the local policeman. The eight aircrew had lain undiscovered for weeks and consisted mainly of New Zealander, Australian and American servicemen in training. Eventually, some 45 years after the tragedy, one of the plane’s Roll…

Life of Pi – by Duncan Harley

Todays news that officers from Fraserburgh Coastguard Rescue Team were called out to investigate reports of a sinking ship off Cairnbulg comes as no great surprise.
Called into action by the HM Coastguard Operations Centre in Aberdeen following a report by a concerned walker the investigators quickly realised that the wreck was none other than the fishing vessel Sovereign, which had foundered off Cairnbulg in 2005.

This is not the first time that the rusting wreck has made headlines.

July 2014 saw the crew of the Fraserburgh lifeboat summoned to rescue the crew of the Sovereign only to discover that it had foundered 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.

Scottish Television News reported that "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…

Seaside Cafe Hell - by Duncan Harley

The steep stairs to the coastal café would put off the unwary and the signage is at best confusing. Indeed, even finding this hidden gem would put the most determined macaroni and cheese aficionado to the test. From the outside, it looked inviting. From the inside, it was less so.
Mind you, this was some months ago and things may have improved.  After all that much maligned 'Hook Line and Sinker' chipper @ Portsoy is now ranked better than it was.

It's all to do with customer care really and Chef Ramsay would probably agree that an entrance sign advising that there is “Room for only 60 patrons at a time” and “Please wait here to be seated” might be a scare-away issue.

Waiting is usually not an issue – in a 5-star restaurant- but this Banff place is not, by any stretch of the imagination even 2 star.

Not that the food is sub-standard. The place serves up good and hearty beach-side-café favourites. Macaroni-and-fries and Big Breakfasts sit solidly within a menu boasting Cullen S…

Rock of Ages @ His Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen - Duncan Harley Reviews

Fans of rock-opera unfettered by notions of either plot development or political correctness will be delighted with this cheesy as hell piece of rock n’ roll debauchery. Landing like aliens upon the Aberdeen stage, the cheap gags spewed forth amongst a feelgood pseudo-rebellious and occasionally offensive script. 
A duo of Cleese-like goose-stepping Germans vie with a bevy of gyrating strippers for supremacy as a thinly spread plot tells of unrequited love and vaunted ambition. Brassy, glitzy, brash, raunchy and ultimately inhabited by pretty much all of the seven dwarfs, the show makes a mockery of correctness.

Rock of Ages women exist in a bubble of Ann Summers lingerie while the guys generally get to leer and swill beer.

But thankfully, the musical score makes up for the disappointing dialogue and from the opening call “Are you ready to rock?” to the closing anthem Don’t Stop Believin’, at least the music makes sense. And that probably is the saving grace of Rock of Ages. That is …

Fiddler on the Roof @ HMT – reviewed by Duncan Harley

Anti-Jewish pogroms in the not-so-far-off days of the Russian Empire were quite common and reached new heights during the period 1903 to 1906 when a series of state-sponsored ‘demonstrations’ affected many settlements in the Ukraine and in Bessarabia. Thousands of Jews were reportedly killed and many more thousands displaced as a wave of violence backed up by harsh laws targeted Russian Jews. Tsar Nicholas II was not known for his tolerance of either dissidents or minority groups and in the political turbulence of the times the Jews made for a convenient scapegoat.
Married to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria he was referred to by Trotsky as having been “more awful than all of the tyrants of ancient and modern history”. Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Magazine was more succinct when, during a state visit to Balmoral it reported that “When the Tsar is at home, we do not hesitate to call him a tyrant. Then in heaven’s name, why – when he visits his grandmother-in-law, should we play the hypocrite …