Showing posts from June, 2018

Now that's what I call Methlick @ His Majesty’s Theatre

Duncan Harley Reviews

The last time I witnessed a Flying Pigs production was in far off 2016. Titled Dreich Encounter it failed to disappoint and I recall penning the immortal words “Father Ted meets Ivor Cutler utterly fails to describe this production adequately … reminiscent of Cutler’s Glasgow classic “Life in a Scotch Sitting Room”, [Flying Pigs] gently parody the folk memories of the North east.”

Not much has happened to alter my opinion and this year’s splendidly polished offering features around thirty of what Flying Pigs term their best glaikit hits.

Entitled Now That’s What I Call Methlick,and incorporating classic sketches involving the likes of Hilton John, The Bakery Wifies plus of course Mither: Nasal Hair, the show takes the form of a musical comedy/sketch review of all things Aberdonian.

The opening set comprises classic numbers from The Buckie Drifters. As Craig Pike enthuses about his shingles a tartan-trewed backing group launch into a splendidly Doric doo-wop rend…

Blog @ Braveheart

For the first time in nearly two years, the kitchen table is clear of books. The ‘writers box’ full of assorted press-cuttings has been consigned to the archive in the loft and the marking pens have been put away. All that remains is to edit and re-draft the next tome. And that is a milestone indeed.

The folk at Inverurie library-central were not that surprised when I returned a shed-load of books and cleared my borrowing account and I am hoping that was a good sign. Mind you, given that it was 23 degrees in the Shire today and an early closing 2pm finish for the library operatives I am also not that surprised that my lorry-load addition to their stock – I am permitted to borrow a privileged number of local history books – went largely unnoticed.

And that brings me neatly to the topic of the evening.

The next book is yet another Aberdeenshire volume. As yet untitled, it encompasses the Shire from the year zero-dot to the present. Beaker people and pesky Romans feature alongside local …

Boris Meyer @ Kabul's Third Runway

One can almost imagine the frantic conversation as the Foreign Secretary advised his minions that he was not after all planning to put his head on the chopping block in a last-ditch effort to stop the Heathrow third runway extension:

“Don’t be silly. Is my middle name Goering? Or Meyer? I mean come on, it’s not as though a single bulldozer has actually been dropped on the bloody place.”

“But sir, you made a pledge to the electorate”

“Well perhaps, but that was yesterday; or at the very least a long long time ago. And I can do whatever I want and you can’t stop me.”

“Well, erm, what would you like us to do? You obviously can’t attend the Common’s vote on the matter. You would have to resign in protest after all.”

“Just get me out of here for a bit for god’s sake. What about India, or maybe somewhere important like Borneo or Greenland. I’ve got it! Send me to Kabul, that should bloody well do it.”

“But there’s nothing much happening in Kabul at the moment sir. Perhaps you should fake open hea…

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out ...

Alongside the usual kettles, teabags, coffee filters and coffee makers my George Square kitchen is littered with pictures.

On the upper left resides an image from Lake Garda alongside a redundant flat-screen TV which hides a hole in the wall made by a previous incumbent of the property. We are talking lath and plaster here, not plaster-board, and the fragile lath option is less than forgiving. On the far bottom right is an illustration an artist- son Ben penned for some long-forgotten illustrator who had, at one time worked as a cover- artist for a latter-day Pink-Floyd.

Above the redundant flat-screen, is an illustration for a 2017 Leopard article. Oldmeldrum was the theme as I recall and for some unknown reason the line-drawn graphic, in all its magnificence, failed to make it into print. But, it did make my kitchen wall.

As for Bob, well, he was a fictional character in a short story competition. I don’t often enter such things, after all most entrants are pretty much bound to lose. …

Dr Who?

A blast from the past about the 2007 child-murder of eleven-year old Rhys Jones inhabits the back pages of a national rag today.

Penned by Carol Midgley, the odd piece includes the notion that policepersons are always heroes and should not be challenged. Be that as it may, the Jones investigators did a good job and secured 22 years-worth of convictions. Shot dead as he walked home from football, the tale of the unfortunate Rhys is indeed tragic but, as a keen fan of the likes of Interceptors and Judge Judy, one has to wonder if the reportage has much, if any, real relevance. I recall that in my far-off days in Glasgow, policemen were called hurry-hurry up men in reference to their predisposition for banging the heads of suspects against the door-frames of police-vans following Saturday evening street arrests. Additionally, in those admittedly far off days, street police-boxes – nowadays better known as Dr Who Tardis’s – came complete with a local gangster stocked bar and, on occasio…

Hospital of Death

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse a new medical death scandal has emerged to taint the, already backfooted, NHS. How Beveridge must be spinning in his grave. Winter difficulties have given way to historical inadequacies and a Shipman-like investigation looms.
I generally love the NHS despite having experienced some ups and downs at it’s clinical hands. A few health issues over the years have raised hackles. And a few health issues over those same years have calmed the hackles down. Kids with broken bones were well dealt with. Pregnancies and childbirth went smoothly.

Even the demise of relatives and friends seemed kind and controlled.
Then there was an admission or two. For the first time since primary school, when tonsils became an issue, I faced the surgeon’s knife. All eventually became well. I think they administered diamorphine on at least one occasion but that was just for some short-term pain and, despite the induced confusion, I recall quite enjoying the e…

Fuck Hitler

The news that three artists had been killed by a goods train came as a surprise to many who imagined that the slogans spray-painted along the rail-lines of the UK were simply part of a marketing campaign by fat-cat rail executives intent on entertaining dwindling customers in the wake of the recent timetable delays.

But in the big reality, Twitter comments by the likes of former Transport for London board member Brian Cooke calling the dead perps “common scum and criminals who cost the railway millions and keep fares high” are unwholesome. Vandalism can of course be destructive. But one man’s vandalism can of course be another’s art. Wall art is not entirely about puerile penile fantasies and homophobia. Much of the creativity implies a need to be heard and a desire to communicate to an outside world. The often graphic sexual images, rudely erotic comments and sometimes insulting narrative may in essence be a cover for the need to be understood or indeed misunderstood.


Springtime for Hitler

That’s around 50k of the words written for the next Aberdeenshire tome. It’s taken much less time than I thought but at least the few weeks left prior the publisher’s deadline can be used to good effect. Ice-cream on a distant beach with a brown-eyed lover beckons at the very least.
I have still to pen a second draft. And an index. And some final structure. And a third draft. But hey, it’s all looking good. Apart from the reviews. Yes, the reviews. They can make or break the budding author and in the big scheme of things can murder even the best-planned marketing strategy.

I well recall being asked on occasion to review other people’s books. Most submissions were fine and even if I knew nothing about Highland bothies or Harper’s cast-iron Aberdonian fenceposts I soon got to grips with the authors mindset and produced a fair and balanced review.

The only one I was unable to get my head around was a novel by a man called Bill. Rarely, aside from Joyce’s’ Ulysses, have I read such a dif…

Glasgow School of Art 2

Along with perhaps a few million other folk, I can fairly claim to have visited the MacIntosh Building at Glasgow Art School, albeit a few decades ago.

It was a fleeting visit. A school friend was studying at the place and I called round to help carry some paintings to a venue at the top of Sauchiehall street where said paintings were due to be exhibited. I have completely forgotten the name of the gallery, but I do recall being somewhat awed by the MacIntosh Building.

Of course, in those days, and we are talking 1970’s here, I had no real idea of the extant heritage. In fact, I had never even heard of Rennie MacIntosh and I suppose that I was not alone since not once in my decade living and working in Mungo’s fair city did I hear even a breath of civic pride regarding the man’s humongous legacy. I suppose it was all down to the grinding cultural poverty of the day and perhaps a fixation by the the city fathers on the precariously coupling lines: Here's the bird that never flew, …

Glasgow Art School

It’s almost as if someone has it in for Rennie MacIntosh. Not only is Hill House over at Helensburgh falling to bits, but this weekend his quite splendid creation in Glasgow’s Scott Street has - for the second time in less than half a decade – burned to the ground. Hill House escaped the attentions of the young men of the Luftwaffe although my great aunties flat in nearby Kilmacolm suffered a near miss and records indicate that around 80% of Clydebank’s housing stock was destroyed or badly damaged in the onslaught. Indeed, around 600 folks were killed during just two nights of terror bombing in 1941.

The NTS of course nowadays look after Hill House and charge folk a tenner to look at it. Good luck to them is all I can say. As for the MacIntosh Building at the Glasgow Art School, I have much more sympathy.

The NTS plans to enclose Hill House within a plastic ‘shield’ are just plain silly and I am sure the man himself would agree. But, the art school building could maybe have benefited…

Relaxed @ Panto-trolly

Seemingly supermarket giants are piloting a dementia friendly ‘relaxed’ checkout lane for customers who need to complete their shopping in a less pressured space. 

Alzheimers Scotland hope that the initiative will aid folk who find the normal cut and thrust of supermarket checkout lines difficult. Pilot schemes are in place in Newcastle and at Ayr and store-staff have been provided with special training to allow sufferers to pay for their shopping at a slower pace. Laudable and welcome of course. But can you imagine the queues?

Retailers could maybe take a leaf out of APA’s book. Theatre has long pioneered the concept of a relaxed immersive experience where instead of the ‘relaxed’ label, the tag ‘calm’ predominates. Aimed at the 700,000 members of the UK population on the autistic spectrum, the calm performance initiative represents a positive cultural shift in attitude towards inclusion of an audience group sometimes marginalised by the performing arts.

Dick McWhittington – Aberdeen P…

Waterboarding Helena

Been a windy day. Some Storm Frank or other passed overhead and blew horizontal rain all over the shire.

The man in the paper-shop commented that it had all started out so well but that after he arrived at work at 6am, all hell had taken over.

I assumed he was discussing the weather and made an attempt at a nod. “Yes, I hate the wind but love the rain” I told him. Not impressed he asked if I needed a receipt, to which I said “no”.

The new book, of course, pounds on and I just need to add some seven thousand more words plus a good few wee edits. A chapter entitled Bravehearts now includes the story of shop-window mannequin Helena Torry.

Interviewed on the Andrew Neil Daily Politics show some years ago Helena’s political agent Renee Slater revealed that she - Renee, not the dummy - had in fact spent time in custody after being charged with electoral fraud. “I was in a police cell for around 6 hours and they wouldn’t let me out until I handed in Helena. It was a sort of prisoner exchange.…

Blog-random @ thought-Marra

Michael Marra came into my head today.
Described variously as Scotland’s Tom Waits and as the Dylan of Dundee, the man passed aged 60 in the October of 2012. He left a legacy of immortality and also, or so I am told, a splendid boat which he constructed from redundant pallets in the back garden of his Dundee council house.

Bands such as Hens Teeth and Skeets Bolivar were his stamping grounds and his solo performances were legendary.

Lyrics such as: ' If Dundee was Africa and Fife was Antarctica; if Arbroath was India and Perth was Peru' led me to search my image collection for a shot of the SS Yavari. Made famous by Michael Palin in some distant travelogue or other the diesel driven boat was carted over the Andes on lamma-back in some forgotten year or other before being re-assembled on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Imagine my surprise when the, then semi-restored, cargo ship popped up just outside my hotel window in far off Peru.

Here, for what it’s worth, is Marra’s take on…

Scotland's @ Stations

Bit of a departure tonight. Instead of self-aggrandising my own writing, I thought it might be nice to publicise a fellow author’s work.

Famedram's popular tourist titles usually cover the likes of whisky and haggis, the Vital Spark and great Scottish inventions plus of course the lighter side of Highland life.

A Scottish through and through publishing house - god knows we need them now more than ever – the Famedram brand has now ventured bravely into the realm of the railway buff in the form of Scotland’s Stations – A Traveller’s Guide. And a good thing too! This splendid publication reveals the largely unknown history of the stations which serve our Scottish national rail network. Superbly illustrated throughout, the book sets out on a modern-day Bradshaw style journey around these, largely Victorian, historical sites.

Around 150 of Scotland’s platforms are featured and alongside an image or two, each entry records the unique history of the station plus a general description of t…

Robotic NHS @ Monday

Seemingly the march of the robots is upon us.

Not only can the digital servants cut the lawn and provide endless fun for the family pet as it – the robot and not the dog – bruises around the living-room sucking up dust, but the NHS is seemingly considering employing artificial intelligence to carry out everyday tasks around the average ward.

Called Carebots, the plastic nurses will no doubt race around the wards emptying bedpans and deliverooing pizza’s thus freeing up valuable clinical resources.

According to Former health minister Lord Darzi, a leading surgeon, nearly a third of care staff tasks could be handed over to robots in a bid to save £13bn a year. Indeed, the Telegraph goes so far as to suggest that he is calling for ‘Full automation’ of health and social services. All well and good then from the man whom the London Journal of Primary Care says is ‘a great believer in bottom-up’.

Indeed, one can almost smell the robotic nurse advising the patient in bed four that she has …

Lewis Grassic @ Gibbon

We had a wee gander around Lewis Grassic Gibbon territory at the weekend.

At the Kirk of St Ternan, we duly signed the visitors book before setting off to Fowlsheugh in search of puffins.

Fowlsheugh is aptly named since the stench of bird-droppings is quite overpowering although some folk prefer to call the place Crawton.

There are around 200k breeding seabirds on and around the sea cliffs at this time of year but there were only a very few puffins - perhaps seven in all -  and I now am wondering if the RSPB have plaster mock-ups stapled onto the seaside cliffs. Seemingly if you sign up to a public walk they will show you more at a cost of £8 for members and £14 for so-called 'Non -members'.  I prefer to be an outsider and, given the lack of facilities on-site, am quite prepared to stick to my principles. Seven puffins will do me for a lifetime methinks.

Confusingly, the interpretation boards along the way sometimes refer to fish as opposed to birds and the way-marks are spars…

High Rollers @ Glasgow

A splendidly scurrilous piece in yesterdays The Times in Scotland reminded me of a roller-coaster journey made many years ago. Seemingly Glasgow Lord Provost Eva Bolander - yes, you couldn’t really make that name up – is to be chauffeured around the city in a newish Rolls Royce. Donated by some as-yet unnamed philanthropist, said Roller has the word “Go” emblazoned on it’s registration plate and is reputedly valued at a cool £200k. Not cheap then but seemingly not a donation which should concern the powers that be. A quick search on the DVLA website reveals nothing. Seemingly I must input the registration data in a valid format. Singer Tom Jones famously owned a similar Roller with the registration plate “T J BIG” so it’s defo not him. I tried googling The Big Yin, but I’m guessing he drives a sensible Skoda or perhaps even a custom trike.
Now, Abu Dhabi businessman Saeed Abdul Ghaffar Khouri paid a cool £7.25million for the worlds most expensive plate in far off 2008. But his Roll…

The Sunday Papers

Yes. I know it’s Thursday already, but I never quite got around to reading the Sunday papers.
Alongside a good few splendid pieces about the new - yawn - Jeremy Thorpe revelations there is a quite splendid article by Laura Pullman regarding the end-tale of that churchman Jonathan Aitken.

Seemingly Mr Aitken, a former jailbird, is off to buy his cassocks prior to some investment or other in St Pauls. At 75, the former Conservative cabinet minister, and perjurer, has finally found God just in time no doubt to be welcomed at the pearly gates.

Then of course there is the ongoing Jeremy Thorpe affair. Lambasted to the grave - he died from Parkinson’s in 2014 -  not for being gay but for being a well-defended establishment icon. Jeremy, or ‘bunny’ as he preferred to be called, made a complete mockery of both British justice and the then, quite respected, Liberal Party. Heath, the penile wanderer, and his sad cronies were at least denied a coalition as a result.

In a follow-up article in …

Big @ Dreams

There’s a forecast for rain tonight, but I doubt if it will come to much, and the Chinese folk next-door have been chucking rubbish into my front garden. Lucy of course is mainly oblivious and is tucked up in the shed. It has a black-felted roof and is splendidly warm despite the fairly obvious clutter.

At some rotund age or ever she is quite entitled. “Do you know how old I am” she purrs as the vitamin-enhanced cat-soup goes down. 
As I say, she can do more or less as she wants in her dotage. My son says she is 22. I disagree and suspect a year older. The railway station cat at Aberdeen lived to 26, but Lucy probably doesn’t really care about such niceties. Last week, and despite her age, she took lumps out of a local tom, and I don’t blame her. I may yet set her on the Chinese next door – that is, if one is allowed to even say such things nowadays.

They, the Orientals, are probably very very very fine folk. But chucking stuff into a neighbour’s patch kind of makes a mockery of neighbo…

A Recumbent plus some Flankers @ Daviot

In between penning a theatre review and doing some much-needed shopping at Aldi, I drove to Daviot today.
It’s a fine place Aldi. The shelves are full of humongous discounts and, in the main much of what they are selling is good value although I’d deffo’ recommend avoiding the tinned soup. A pack of Egyptian organic onions caught my eye. At 67p for half-a-kilo they bore the legend “Grown to strict organic standards using organic farming methods”. The label bears the official Soil Association logo and has the tag “Oaklands Organic Onions” strewn boldly on the front of the pack. How kind of the Nile Delta farmers to adopt such a rurally Sussex image.

As for Flashdance The Musical, the splendid review has yet to be published although I am hoping that my Voice editor will take a peep at the copy and publish soonish. It’s a sort of Cinders tale where Rosie the Riveter and Billy Elliot find some common ground. Nuff said.

I really hadn’t intended going to Daviot ever again. I’ve been there…

Kippers @ Dawn

It's BBQ time and a neighbour has not only roasted a few cows but has now started on the fish. Not ordinary fish you understand. These smell very much like kippers and Janice has been forced to take the washing in because of the backyard odour.
Not that there's anything wrong with kippers you understand.
Sublime and full of good fishy protein and splendidly sumptuous maritime fat the health benefits are well publicised but the smell lingers for days and I really don't relish sharing a drink or two with fellow hacks in the theatre bar tomorrow wearing a kipper-strewn shirt. It's the same with bread. A quite splendid piece by Felicity Lawrence graces page 34 of today's Observer. After highlighting the fashionable obesity crisis, she bashes the 45p supermarket white-loaf. Again, I am not against the white loaf - how after all can you achieve decent toast except by the use of thick-sliced white bread. In my youth we relished the plain-loaf. A factory produced delicacy if…

Smokey Joe

Many years ago, in fact more years than I care to recall, I met a man in a pub in Inverurie. I had seen him a few times along the bar and imagined him to be some big landowner or at the very least some rich son of a gun.

Deer-stalkered, he sat at the end of the bar swapping conversation with a few cronies. The conversations usually revolved around Africa, or Boston, or sometimes Portugal. Intrigued, I inveigled myself into his company.

It proved to be a good move.

Eventually he featured in a Leopard article or two as ‘Retired Railway engineer Joe Strachan’ and his tales of gunslinging ambushes on the railway route between Victoria Falls and death by landmine on the Mozambique railway lines will no doubt feature in an intended novel.

Imagine my surprise when, during a visit today, he revealed that a street in the Zimbabwe province of Harare is named in his honour.

Both Google Maps and something by the name of record that: “Strachan Street is next to Ardbennie and is locat…