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Showing posts from May, 2018

Sunshine @ Leith

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We were at HM Theatre Aberdeen reviewing Sunshine on Leith last night. It’s a splendid show, perhaps the best I've seen in a good many years,  and I recall first seeing it in around 2008 although it may have been a wee bit earlier and maybe even in Dundee. To be honest, it’s not really any better – how after all could you improve on such perfection.
The musical first saw light at Dundee Rep in far off 2003 following a review of the back catalogues of several Scottish bands by playwright Stephen Greenhorn. Awaking from some whisky-fuelled review session, Stephen found a post-it note, written in his own hand from the night before, with the words “Proclaimers musical?” written on it. Sunshine on Leith was born. Since then Sunshine has morphed into film then back to stage again and now features around eighteen original Proclaimers songs from the day.

It’s quite a splendid production but then, as a reviewer I would say that wouldn’t I?

Well no actually. If a book, or indeed a stage pro…

Lawrence of Inverurie

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It’s been yet another sweltering day in the Shire and the dust storms are gathering.
Folk down south in England-shire have been  blessed with the odd thunder clap along with some marginally lower temperatures. But us folks, up in these north-eastern realms, have been denied even a modicum of drizzle.
My neighbours are complaining. Not about the weather – they are in the main soaking in the hot sun – but about the dust. Folks in the likes of Cairo are used to such troubles as each year a few inevitable sand storms envelope the city. The temperature drops to a balmy 5 degrees C or so and both the pyramids on the Giza plateau and the door to your flat are sand blasted almost to oblivion. Masking tape and tightly closed windows are to no avail as the inevitable detritus of the desert storms march through the gaps.
It’s the same in Inverurie. A new secondary school is under construction just at the foot of my long garden and the sand dunes will no doubt form a part of it. The groundworks h…

Swearing @ air

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According to last Sundays Observer Magazine the very-third-time-ever that the word fuck was broadcast live on the UK airwaves was on 1 December 1976. How do they know this? Well, seemingly the Sex Pistols appeared on the Bill Grundy Show and uttered the immortal words “Bill Grundy is a fuckin’ rotter”. That’s probably on record somewhere in the depths of the BBC archives but what about the first two utterances, of which writer Juliana Piskorz makes no mention whatsoever. I may have an answer. The art of swearing upon the airwaves goes back a fair wee bit beyond those heady seventies.
Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby was a close friend and colleague of Robin Duff, the 32nd and last laird of Oldmeldrum. Aberdeenshire-born Duff inherited both his lairdship and Meldrum House, the family ancestral home, from his uncle in 1954. A Cambridge graduate, he worked as a presenter then as a radio journalist for the BBC. During World War 2 Robin famously stood on London rooftops during the Blitz describ…

Walking @ the Braes of Gight

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We had a wee gander round Gight yesterday. The temperature hit the mid 20s and the boots trudged some six miles around a circuit known locally as the Braes of Gight. And braes they certainly are. Both Janice and I struggled to complete the circuit.
Plunging variously down some 300ft to the River Ythan and back up again makes this not a walk for the faint-hearted and, as folks more used to the more gentle gradients of abandoned railway tracks and the like, it fairly took our breath away.Of course, the essence of this walk is the association with Byron. Not that I am an avid reader of his work; but I am drawn to the man on the back of that epithet ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know.” With somewhat uninspiring opening lines such as “O Thou! who rollest in yon azure field”, “When energising objects men pursue” and “We do not curse thee, Waterloo!” it’s a wonder that anyone reads Byron nowadays unless forced by academic requirements or perhaps an overenthusiastic zeal for the days of the great …

Narnia @ Inverurie

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Had a wee half-hour break from pounding the keyboard today and headed out to Osprey Heights on the new fringes of Inverurie. It’s a new-build development and, until recently boasted a Bridge to Narnia. I referred to it in my old Leopard column in glowing terms as a source of local speculation.

‘The Bridge to Narnia has been a source of local speculation for several years. Constructed as part of the Osprey Village residential development at Souterford, the pedestrian bridge literally goes to absolutely nowhere and during the spring when the River Ury floods at Souterford, the decking of the bridge vanishes from view. Seemingly plans are afoot to build a footpath across the flood plain to link Osprey Village with the nearby retail park and, subject to satisfactory design and environmental consultations, the infamous bridge may finally find a new use. No doubt both C. S. Lewis and King Canute would approve.’

Thankfully this quirky landscape error has now been rectified and a splendidly a…

Steaming @ Castle Fraser

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Got a lovely surprise today when in amongst my snail-mail a beautifully handwritten envelope revealed a couple of press passes for the annual Bon Accord Steam Fair at Castle Fraser. Its an event which I have long loved and often written about and I am looking forward immensely to attending what must surely be Scotland’s largest steam fair. Now well into its 48th year, the 45th anniversary was celebrated in 2015, the event simply goes from strength to strength. 

A wee weather blip in 2016 saw the cancellation of the event – a decision taken by the organisers with safety in mind. Hauling a few tons of steam-engine out of the mud is not an experience for the faint hearted after all. In 2017 all was fine and a good few thousand folk from all around Aberdeenshire and beyond bathed in bright sunshine as the steam engines strutted their stuff.

Hosted by the Scottish National Trust’s flagship Castle Fraser, the Bon Accord Steam Fair is truly a flagship event. With over 50 thousand gallons of w…

Blogging about Roadkill

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The blogosphere is a funny old world really. An article in today’s Guardian set off a train of thought about a long dead pal.
Nigel was his name if you must know, and he picked up road kill on a whim to feed his many cats.
There were at one point thirteen of the feline buggers living and shitting in his living space and the sheer cost of Felix must have strained his resources to the hilt.
Hence the feeding of rabbits, pheasants and the occasional flattened fox to his co-habitants.
He lived in a series of variously run-down country cottages of the type commonly available in those splendidly hippie days that were the 70’s, then the 80’s and perhaps the early 90’s. His last place was a well-used caravan over at Monymusk at the back of an old mill. The kind landowner had agreed on a peppercorn rent on the basis that the mill and its adjoining miller’s house would be his for a few decades, providing he agreed to renovate it to a habitable standard.
Well, Nigel was no easy tenant. And in …

Lurid Headlines @ Fraserburgh

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Well that’s Dennis Nilson dead and about time perhaps. A serial killer trapped by a plumbing problem as I recall.
I penned an article on the town of Fraserburgh a good few years ago for Leopard’s Our Town series as I recall; but conspicuously failed to mention the man described in the Press & Journal as a ‘Fraserburgh born serial killer’. Not a headline I personally would use about the place, but each to his own I suppose. In fact, if I were trying to flog a few newspapers in those far-flung fisher-towns at the very tip of Aberdeenshire’s circulation wars I might have chosen to ignore the association just in case of invasion by The Northern Scot or some similarly robust publication intent on taking full advantage of the slur that Fraserburgh is guilty of murder by association.
My column that month focused much more on the positives of the town. Bill Gibb, Thomas Blake Glover, the local heritage centre and Marconi – yes Marconi – featured but certainly not Nilsen.
Dennis of course…

The day that Windsor came to Dunecht

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The blogosphere, and indeed the mainstream media, are all over the royal wedding this weekend and why on earth not. I mean, this is the media event of the decade and, if the pundits are to be taken seriously, then around 86% of the British public are lauding it for the royals. The other 14% are no doubt secretly sneaking a wee look at the endless re-runs and I know I was one of them. That is, until Janice made an appearance at which point we watched until the very end taking only a few well spent hours out to attend the BA Vintage Country Fair over at Dunecht. Then it was back for chips and a few feet up on the settee for more of the royal highlights. That’s the beauty of this digital age really. You can miss the footie or indeed the wedding of the year then do a seamless catch-up later in the day. We saw that royal kiss, or was it a pair of kisses, endless times and spotted Charles leading his future daughter-in-law down the aisle on at least a hundred news clips. Then there was Meg…

Larkin about Markle and Harry

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Richard Morrison writes in today’s Times in Scotland about how the about to be wed royal couple can learn a thing or two from long dead poet Philip Larkin. Seemingly the Windsor wedding day falls on Whit Saturday and the theory, at least, suggests that the wearing of white is appropriate for the Pentecostal weekend. Larkin’s take on the state of marriage is, he writes, ‘really, a meditation on marriage and what lies ahead for the travelling couples’. As the wedding train finally arrives at its destination Larkin, always the pessimist perhaps, writes gloomily about ‘a sense of falling, like an arrow shower, sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.’ As for Whit Saturday. Well, Google directs searchers to White Saturday which is seemingly the day after Black Friday which is the day when stores hike up prices to a level to which only the rich can aspire. Google aside, Richard suggests that the church festival of Whit Saturday was in fact well known in those heady pre-Google days of 1971…

Cerium, Ruthenium and Caesium @ Aberdeenshire

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As one of the Chernobyl generation I am always on the look out for signs of nuclear illness. The radioactive cloud from the disaster sped slowly over all of Europe spreading an invisible ash over the entire continent. As with Windscale before it, Chernobyl was officially downplayed. The very public pouring of milk down Northumbrian drains following the Windscale nuclear disaster kind of gave the game away and Windscale was quickly renamed Sellafield as a cover-up for those guilty parties. Shameful indeed. Officially the only folk to suffer were the oysters of the Irish Sea who were found to contain a mixture of radioactive Cerium, Ruthenium and Caesium. In the case of Chernobyl, although the region around the stricken town was evacuated and the place remains contaminated till this very day, us Scots were told not to worry but simply advised not to eat sheep sourced from those high pastures around the English borders. Seemingly the politicians, the scientists and the engineers of the …

The Kite Runner @ HM Theatre Aberdeen - Duncan Harley reviews

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The brutal rape of young Hassan by sociopath Assef and his cohorts sets the tone of this touring stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel. And the child-rape is not the only gut-wrenching scene from the book to be splashed all over the stage in front of the theatre audience. An execution by the Taliban, a bone-crunching beating or two and tales of death by landmine are intermingled with implicit references to paedophile driven child abduction and the stoning of adulterers. Not that the above events appeared gratuitous. Indeed, they are central to the telling of the tale. It’s just that they are shocking. The rape may well bear allegorical significance in relation to the 1979 Soviet invasion and death by landmine is described as a good way for an Afghan to die. As for the stoning of adulterers and the abductions, well, these simply add to the overwhelming uneasiness which this production induces. Indeed, at the end one audience member was heard to comment that she was go…

A Deliveroo @ Inverurie

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It’s been an interesting day. Up at seven, AM that is, in Garthdee to take breakfast – a boiled egg, some buttered toast and some very black coffee - then off to Inverurie to pen last night’s theatre review. HMT, for their sins, hosted Hosseini’s The Kite Runner last night – it plays until Saturday next and is a splendid performance by some splendid actors in a splendid setting. The review, for Aberdeen Voice, begins:

“The brutal rape of young Hassan by sociopath Assef and his cohorts sets the tone of this touring stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel. And the child-rape not the only gut-wrenching scene from the book to be splashed all over the stage in front of the theatre audience. An execution by the Taliban, a bone-crunching beating or two and tales of death by landmine are intermingled with implicit references to paedophile driven child abduction and the stoning of adulterers … “

The local daily was much more subdued, referring only to some ‘severe adult themes…

Logging with Horses@ Huntly

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Until today I had never seen logging with horses. In a past life I managed some woodland in the shire and, as you do, I took to cutting down the odd tree or two. In fact, it may have been the odd hundred or two, but who’s counting. I did of course replant ten times or so of what I harvested so the resin-stained guilt is easily assuaged. There is a woodland at Pitcaple which should really bear my name. But that is another story.
The power-saw was my weapon of choice and I owned a good few of these smoking beasts over the decades. The worst were those dreadfully noisy American made Presidents. They were forever overheating and suffered from poor design and an utterly appalling centre of gravity. Trump-like, they huffed and puffed between services. And Trump-like they were never ever up to the job power-wise. Big broad cutting chains and poor oil-feeds don’t mix and I soon moved on to chainsaw heaven in the form of Andreas Stihl and Son. At least the Germans take care to ensure that the…

Typhoon's @ Lossiemouth

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It’s unusual for me to post two WordPress posts on the one day however a conversation with Janice’s brother Michael, also a Catto, earlier set me thinking about a visit to the RAF at the airbase at Lossiemouth. As usual, it was something to do with an article and as usual Janice drove while I consulted notes and gathered some thoughts.
We were met at the gate by a Warrant Officer. I have no idea to this day what that is; but I have to say that he was pleasant and was as nice as ninepence. In the course of the day we were taken all around the base and fed lunch, for a miniscule and probably subsidised £2-32 per person, at the officer’s mess.
Following that basic but splendidly adequate aviator’s lunch sat next to some highly trained fighter-pilots, we set off around the base taking in the fast-response units and the Typhoons sitting around the maintenance hanger. There were around 4 aeroplanes parked there and, although I am probably not allowed to reveal this, all were red and shin…

Walking @ Battlehill

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We decided to have a wander round Battlehill at Huntly over the weekend. Fortunately, we chose the Saturday full of sunshine and not the Sunday full of wet-stuff. We set off in bright sunshine for a bit then encountered a cold breeze from the north before circling into shelter and more strong sunshine on the lee side of the wood. It’s changed a bit since our last visit. The treeline around the summit has been re-planted and a series of archaeological digs have revealed some good evidence of habitation in past years. Post holes from bronze-age huts, some flint arrowheads and some ancient pottery have been uncovered and a fresh dig is planned for August 2018. Perhaps some bones of those slain in battle will come to light since seemingly the wood is named after a skirmish during the wars of Scottish Independence.
However not much information is available on-line or indeed locally. At first, I wondered if the clash-of-arms might have been as a result of the bloody end-game of The Battle…

Dancing @ Maggieknockater

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One of the joys of feature writing is that awful feeling when, despite your best efforts, you get it spectacularly wrong. It’s a bit like putting your head on the block really. Once in print, there’s no way back really. Digital stuff is different – but that’s a story for another day.
In far off 2013 I had penned an article about Maggieknockater. It was published in a couple of places including Leopard Magazine and of course Aberdeen Voice. For those not in the know Maggieknockater is a tiny village on the A95 made famous many years ago when an Aberdonian named George McLean built an apiary by the roadside.
Now, I soon discovered that George’s efforts had led an Englishman by the name of John Drewry to pen a 32-step jig about the place. Aptly named ‘The Bees of Maggieknockater’ the dance was inspired when John drove past George’s banks of bee-hives on his way to Craigellachie. John seemingly failed to stop and almost certainly never tasted George’s heather-honey. But he was obviously …

Glenfiddich @ Ultimate

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A couple of years ago I was invited by Glenfiddich to pen an article about the Braemar Gathering.
No Gathering would be complete without an evening meal and a dram to round off the weekend and both athletes and journalists were treated to a meal at Mar Lodge on the Saturday night. The very best of Scottish produce and the very best of Scottish whisky led to the very best of Scottish conversation. As a succession of dishes arrived at the long table, ranging from locally caught Deeside Salmon to pan-fried Aberdeen Angus Beef, whisky specialist and Glenfiddich brand ambassador Ian Millar produced, as if by magic, a succession of unique malts. As the evening drew on, the 15 year olds gave way to the 20 year olds and in a magnificent gesture Ian poured a few drams of the rare Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix. Created using whisky saved from broken casks that lay in warehouses collapsed under snow during January 2010, the Snow Phoenix is a poignant reminder of those heady days of a wild winte…

Last Bus @ New Pitsligo

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A year or so back a pal suggested that New Pitsligo, a village in Aberdeenshire, might be host to Scotland’s most northern vegan café. I was of course sceptical about the claim. I mean, the notion that a settlement in rural Aberdeenshire could even contemplate such a thing as veganism seemed at the very least misguided. New Pitsligo after all is a place famed mainly for its curtain twitchers.
The vegan café claim led to quite a few visits to the place. An actor pal from Edinburgh once accompanied me and on subsequent visits both Janice and son Ben were suitably amazed. On another occasion Scottish film star Jake Williams was ensconced prior to a village hall performance of a RightLines play entitled something like ‘From These Parts’. Jake, as I recall, was then showing anyone who would look at it a cutting from the Telegraph regaling his starring performance in the Ben Rivers Bogancloth Treehouse arthouse production of the film ‘Two Years at sea’. Bogancloth is of course one of the U…