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Lennon, Yoko and Ray and me – by Duncan Harley

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The weekend papers are brim-full of John Lennon tributes. It’s an anniversary of when he died.
Shot five times from behind by a fan intent on taking over his fame, Lennon bled to death in a New York street some four decades ago while we all listened intently to his music.

As the tabloids screamed the news, the perp – some sad man called Chapman was arrested, tried and incarcerated. Seemingly, aged 63, he is about to get out of the penitentiary – that is if he can be pronounced sane.

Today’s Times Mag’ carries a piece by biographer Ray Connolly who describes himself as a friend of the dead musician. Fluently illustrated with shots and quotes from the day, it makes for a good read although one has to wonder how well Connolly actually knew the dead star and why he waited 38 years to tell the tale.

It’s a bit like when a famous gangster dies. Headlines scream the loss and news-weary tabloids predict the death of crime as we know it. Twill never be the same. Extortion is now officially dea…

Jamie Fleeman - by Duncan Harley

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Jamie Fleeman lies buried at Longside churchyard. Alongside the usual information one might expect to find on a gravestone are his last words which read “Dinna bury me like a beast”.
Known far and wide as “The Laird of Udny’s Fool” Jamie was employed by a local laird who, alongside paying him to look after his geese, looked upon him as a kind of family jester.

Described as having a “large round head with dull hair that stood on end giving the impression he had been scared out of his wits", Jamie is specifically mentioned in various publications including the New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845:
“No offence is meant by introducing here the name of an individual who had a county - if not a national - reputation, and whose printed memorabilia have gone through several editions. This was Jamie Fleeman, the Laird of Udny's fool, who flourished here about the middle of last century. His name appears frequently in the session's list of paupers and his sayings and doings…

Gordon Duthie – A Thran backwoods poet

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I've ranted on about this man's music many a time and in the course of ploughing through some glossy copies of Leopard Magazine dating from early 2015 I came across this review of his quite splendid album Thran. 
As I recall, 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 in the churchyard. 
As for the bill - I think he paid it, but I cant quite recall to be honest.

The review went along the following lines:
"With the release of his third album Thran, NE singer/songwriter/musician Gordon Duthie reflects on the 74 year old event in which his great grandfather’s fishing vessel, Fraserburgh registered Steam Drifter SS Duthies was sunk in Montrose Harbour by the young men of the Luftwaffe. Alongside titles such as Whisky Disco and Feel Loon did a Wildpoepen, Gordon’s tribute to Sandhaven built FR106 Duthies is just one of ten provocative numbers in this new offering.

A year in the making,

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Aberdeen – reviewed by Duncan Harley

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The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries. Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.  In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.
The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854. In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.
Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Sta…

Gay Gordons – By Duncan Harley

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It’s a funny old life. Many more years ago than I care to remember I considered an army career. The lure of the uniform and an escape from a post-WW2 factory job in a Lanarkshire light-bulb factory was at the back of it.

An interview in Edinburgh followed - all expenses paid as I recall. A sad relic of the battles in Korea, replete with coloured gongs and khaki trousers sat behind a desk and asked various questions.
“Would I be prepared to undergo basic training at Sandhurst? … did I have a relative who had served in the desert who might vouch for me … did I have backbone? Would I like a Sam Browne.”

Well, the answer to most of those questions was a resounding maybe. And I returned to my light-bulb career for a brief period before taking up knitting for a hobby.

I only say this since, and I know that I have harped on about this sort of exploitation of writers before, the library @ the Gordon Highlander Museum recently asked me for £60 per day to research within their hallowed halls…

The Woods of Blelack @ Logie Coldstone – by Duncan Harley

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Logie Coldstone in Aberdeenshire is home to the lost wells of Poldhu. Hidden deep within Woods of Blelack and fed by natural spring water, the granite-lined mineral baths at Poldhu were once a popular attraction for those seeking cures for virtually any ailment.

Mentioned in the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) they are described as:
“a mineral spring in the parish of Logie Coldstone, a little to the south of the church, called Poldow, which in Gaelic, signifies a Black Pool, the water of which some years ago was much, and successfully, used for scorbutic and gravelish disorders”.

By the time of the Second Statistical Account (1834-1845) interest appears to have waned and the wells at Poldhu were said to be “occasionally resorted to by some, for the benefit of their health, and by others for amusement”.

With time, a 6ft high rhododendron thicket enveloped the wells and hid them from view.
Recently however, interest in the historic site revived following the chanc…

Seven coffins and some stolen shrouds – By Duncan Harley

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The sudden demise of Leopard Magazine a year or so ago left a literary void in and around the North-east. My contributions to the monthly magazine are well known but pale into insignificance when compared to the vast reservoir of writing featured within the publications forty-plus year history as a stand-alone monthly stalwart.

Nowadays confined to the back pages of The Scottish Field and arguably long forgotten by a solid band of traditional readers, the magazine’s archive forms a hotbed of surprising articles.

Over the years since first publication in August 1974, hundreds of writers, mainly local, contributed to Leopard. Early content ranged from farming stories by Eddie Gillanders to Anne Tweedie’s series on the, then emerging, oil industry. North-east writer David Toulmin’s ‘Tillycorthy Story’ and Ian Bryce’s ‘Castle of the Month’ also featured.

Interviewed in 2014 by Leopard editor Judy Mackie, founding Editor Diane Morgan recalled the early days. “Our material came from many un…

Zanzibar – The Long Read - By Duncan Harley

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A conversation with number two son today, reminded me that there’s always a wee bit of thrill seeking when submitting words for publication. The buzz of seeing stuff from the innermost portions of the brain spread across a glossy page is just that … a buzz. Then of course there is the thorny question of payment.
That’s a second buzz – that is, if the end-users are prepared to offer a financial inducement. Most are full of respect and payment of course, but some see us writers as easy prey.

Personal episodes include that proposal, from an Embra' lady, that I ghost write her novel about some failed army general or other who invaded Tibet. Then there was the mad-man who insisted I contribute to his fictitious blog  concerning Jesus. The list goes on. But, at least I am learning how to body-swerve the more dangerous jobs.
Many publications, such my local daily, are prepared to publish subject to a non-payment clause. Try as I might, I can’t seem to squeeze even a penny from Dundee own…

Coffee at the Kings – By Duncan Harley

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We had a wee gander round the familiar hotspots at the weekend before ending up in far off Kemnay on the Sunday.
Keith, Buckie and Findochty were fine and we even managed a bit of seal spotting @ the Gollachy ice-house.

The weather wasn’t that great though and as dusk closed-in on Saturday, we ended up in Cullen intending to have a sit-in at the local chipper. It was still early however so we headed down to the Three Kings at the golf-course to take in the sea view.

The writer Doris Davidson based her romantic novel The Three Kings in the town with the lead character, the orphaned Katie Mair, renaming the rock stacks as 'The Three Wise Men' - her trusted friends and the only ones to whom she could tell her troubles.

Of course, ask any Scot what they associate with the Moray seaside town of Cullen and the conversation will invariably turn to Skink. Cullen Skink to be precise. A hearty chowder like soup whose main ingredients are smoked haddock, potatoes and milk with maybe a l…

The Mound of Death @ Inverurie - By Duncan Harley

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This week the local papers have been full of the news that Aberdeenshire Council are about to close a local cemetery for a few days while they quietly deal with a few dozen rabbits accused of undermining tombstones, endangering mourners and eating graveside flowers.  Todays Times even carries the news but fails to identify the cemetery concerned.

I can exclusively reveal that the graveyard headlined in the Times as “The end is nigh for rabbits causing graveyard chaos” is none other than The Old Cemetery at Inverurie which sits below the historic Bass of Inverurie.

Seemingly, according to Landscape Officer Shirley Bruce, the offending rabbits which threaten the graveyard are to be gassed using aluminium phosphate.

“While this action won’t be popular with everyone” she told reporters “it’s vital we do it for safety reasons.”

The Bass motte and bailey castle at Inverurie, locally known simply as the Bass, consists of two flat topped conical hillocks, the largest of which stands a full 12…

Julian the Tank Bank – The Long Read by Duncan Harley

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It’s been a funny old day. Firstly, I finally found an old photograph of Julian the Tank which had eluded me for years.
I had been trying to find a review copy of Gordon Duthie’s early album ‘Thran’ and alongside Thran and his later ‘Dunt, Dunt, Dunt’ there, staring me full in the face, was Julian in all of his full glory atop the Broad Hill down by the beach. I mean, how serendipitous is that? 
There are a very few on-line images of the steel monster but, until today at least, I had completely forgotten a folder headed war-bonds tucked deep within my research archives. Sounds grand really, but of course in reality the Duncan Harley Archives Collection comprise a three-drawer steel filing cabinet full of current projects plus a few dusty cardboard boxes of done and dusted folders heading for the loft to await, no doubt, my untimely demise in some forgotten year or other.

Then there was the reading of the local paper. In amongst the piles of Auntie May and Theresa Brexit articles and …

Reviewed: When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula by Mike Shepherd

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The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented.
But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.
Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no on…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow - By Duncan Harley

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The Zulu wars were to take an awful toll on Aberdeen’s Gordon Highlanders and in years to come, the young men of the regiment were to be sacrificed on the poppy strewn plains of Europe not just the once but twice more.
Miss Christie, as her pupils referred to her, seldom shared her feelings with her Dunnottar Primary class. 
But her charges still recall her tears each year when, on the anniversary of the death of a brother who perished amongst the dense blue clay of Flanders fields, the entire class would be asked to recite John McCrae’s poignant poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break…