Showing posts from July, 2018

The Days

As the new book nears completion I have had time to reflect on some still-to-be completed writing projects. Few of us live to be much beyond a hundred and there are quite a few unpublished tales stuck within my bulging filing cabinet.

An armoured train, manned by a Polish Dad’s Army regiment which once patrolled the Buchan permanent way plus a piece about the last of the Covesea millwrights lead the pack and the strange tale of sculptor Alexander Brodie’s lonely suicide are just examples of the buried genre. Then there is the story of a long-lost number 10 Bluebird buried at Rothienorman, a Victorian Music Hall sandal scandal and that quite splendid tale of the last voyage of the Girl Pat. I could go on …

But where to begin.

The lack of a regional magazine, now that Leopard has been abandoned by the university and then swallowed by a bigger fish, has led to a dearth of publication places and in the big scheme of things even David Toulmin has been cast aside by the powers that be who…
It’s silly season yet again. A UK foreign minister – the MP for South West Surrey, a Bullingdon Club boy and the man who famously failed to sell marmalade to Japan - today told a meeting of senior Chinese diplomats that his oriental wife is in fact Japanese despite her blatantly Chinese origins.

Quite what our esteemed representative in the Foreign Office was thinking of when he made the Duke of Edinburgh style slant-eyed gaff is unclear. Although, given his sudden succession to the previously Boris-dominated job, one might be forgiven for giving the man some slack, which is more than his wife is likely to do.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi apparently laughed till the camera’s stopped clicking then laughingly threatened to impose an embargo on British goods until such time as the Foreign Office finds someone less dim-witted to enhance trade relations with the Japanese hating Chinese hierarchy.

According to CNN “Relations between Japan and China have been strained for years, with bi…

War and Peace in the Denburn Valley - A review

In her book 'Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens - War and Peace in the Denburn Valley' author Diane Morgan explores the often turbulent history of one of the last of Aberdeen’s city centre green spaces.

Opened to the public in 1897 and bounded by some of the city’s finest architecture, the Gardens have often been the subject of debate between developers intent on transforming the area to meet the needs of an expanding population and conservationists intent on retaining an irreplaceable asset. Dedicated to “all friends of Union Terrace Gardens” and profusely illustrated with both modern and historic images, the new book presents the complex and sometimes dramatic story of the Gardens from very early days right up to the present.

Writing in her customary and easily accessible documentary style, Diane Morgan traces the early history of the Denburn Valley guiding the reader gently through the events and the politics which have shaped the manicured parkland which visitors experienc…

Mama Mia - Here we go again

We had a wee gander around Stonehaven at the weekend before gadding off to the new Mama Mia blockbuster.

Unexpected rain meant that the queue at the Bay Chipper was a mere 17 minutes which was fine since queuing in a thunderstorm can be a complete pain.

As an aside, the harbour was empty of water but full of boats and spiked lightning.

As the lightening flashed the countdown went from 20 miles to under two, at which point we sped off to Garthdee to watch an episode of Метод. It’s a kind of Russian adaptation of Dexter. Slightly disturbing – well very disturbing if truth be told, I have no idea how it will end although there are dark hints that the main character Rodion Meglin may be a serial vigilante.

As for Mama Mia Two. It’s not at all bad apart from the strange lack of a coherent timeline.

The hiring of a heavily made-up Cher as Meryl Streep’s mum is probably the cause of it all. With a mere three years between the pair of them – Cher is circa 72 and Meryl is seemingly 69 – the scr…


I ordered a few more copies of my recent book today. I need a few to sell on to an admiring public. My financial adviser wants one and the whisky shop at Inverurie are almost sold out of signed copies.
Of course, the new book is also nearing completion and a third draft – or is it a fourth, is well underway.
All that remains is to sort out those last three chapters. Typhoid, oil and Trump as I recall. Plus, a wee bit about Piper Alpha. It’s all in the best possible taste and in the big scheme of things all should be well.

The ordering process however was a bit weird. Now, I know for a fact that Amazon have around 30 copies left in stock prior to the next reprint and if you try to order from the site they might even go as far as to offer free delivery for orders over a tenner.

Imagine my surprise then when my distributors advised that they had some books in stock, but they could not fulfil my entire order right now.

“Hi, can I order 25 books please?”
“Of course, do you have an account w…

Far, Far from Ypres

To my complete surprise and astonishment that’s a short story of mine heading towards the Aberdeen stage in a few weeks. And I have to say that I am humbled.

A call for entries came via Rachel Campbell at APA and after a day or so I got to thinking that, although I have no realistic idea regarding how to even pronounce Ypres, I do have an intimate store of first war recollections albeit at second, third or even at fourth hand.

A grandfather, now long missed, left a family story regarding his first war experience. A regimental quartermaster, or so he had us all believe, he recalled only that following a long and muddy march through France and then Belgium he played some football then marched all the way back to Glasgow.

I have his war medals and one at least appears to be a military medal plus bar from his Black Watch experience.

Based on a Greentrax double album of WW1 songs, Far, Far from Ypres is an acclaimed production of songs, poems and stories, following the terrifying journey…

Lucy's Tomboy

Despite her advanced age, Lucy is not a difficult cat. Easy enough to look after and supremely affectionate,  she mainly sleeps in the shed nowadays.

Natasha, a local cat walker, sees to her when I am away and in the big scheme of things Lucy seems reasonably happy with her lot.

Until last year, she over-summered in a Chinese neighbour’s garden. Replete with Rose Bay Willow Herb the cat space suited her until after council warnings and dark nods from the folk on the street, said Chinese trampled the fireweed down and now dry damp clothes above Lucy’s summer-laden-cat-space. I, and most folk in the street were bemused when, alongside trampling the Fireweed and the Dandelions, the neighbours stripped the Holly and the Rhododendron bushes of greenery. Perhaps they are frightened of Pandas.

They left the Fuchsia bush and the Leylandii intact however, but I have no idea why since we do not speak because of the weeds and in fact that they are off my Christmas card list due to the chucking …

Red White and Blue - Reviewed by Duncan Harley

Mark Jackson’s take on the beautiful game, of rugby, is a welcome distraction from that stereotypical play on sweating giants in short shorts which generally populates the sporting-fiction bookshelf.
Set against a backdrop of rarefied privilege in the lead up to the 1924 Paris Olympiad the story follows American student Jack Morgan as, on the trail of burning ambition, he vows to secure selection for the US Olympic team. Along the way he must pick up a Rugby Blue, bag the girl of his dreams and, of course, win that Gold.

Following a meeting at Stamford University, during which he accepts the challenge “Climb that Everest and perchance other mountains may be scaled”, he secures a scholarship at Oxford and sets off on his quest.

Morgan is young, wealthy and gifted. When he arrives at Oxford in 1923, he is paired, by the sniffy College porter, with new room-mate Saul Warburg.

“What are you here for?” asked Morgan
“Isn’t it obvious? Law. It’s the Inns of Court for Saul Warburg QC. You?” …

Nelson Mandela’s Place

As the tributes flow from those who value Mandela’s contribution to international statesmanship it is worth recalling his impact on the city of Glasgow all those decades ago.
Awarded the Freedom of the City in 1981 – some 12 years before his visit, the terrorist-turned-president wowed the crowds as he made his way around George Square in an official visit to thank folk of that dear green city for their support during the difficult years.

Not many now recall the furore caused when in 1986, the local council renamed St George’s Place, then the location of the South African consulate, as Nelson Mandela Place in his honour, thus forcing the consular officials to advise visa seekers and others to contact the embassy at the embarrassingly re-named Mandela Place postal address.

In a speech at the City Chambers in Glasgow on 9 October 1993, Mandela famously said: "While we were physically denied our freedom in the country of our birth, a city 6,000 miles away, and as renowned as Glasgow,…

Not On My Watch

‘This morning the American Ambassador in Moscow handed the Russian Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by three o'clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from the Baltic States, then a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you that no such understanding has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Russia.’

Far-fetched perhaps but a not untimely reminder of the cost of appeasement.

Trumps conciliatory rhetoric ‘Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing’ exposes us all, both in Europe and world-wide, to the reality that the man at the helm is quite out of his depth and indeed possibly quite out of control. He appears to understand dollars and roubles but is maybe slightly lacking in the diplomacy department.

An avid watcher of television, he has no doubt watched the old hoary documentaries depicting the so-called Munich agreement between the leaders of Germany and the UK in far off …


I had intended blogging about the football stadium in Yekaterinburg tonight but can’t really be bothered to be honest.
I mean, no sooner has the Footie Cup been won by those tri-coloured-folk French-speaking folk on the continent than the Times, in a so-called page 25 ‘leading article’ bemoans the death of some blue-blooded murdering tyrant from almost a century ago.

For those not in the know, Yekaterinburg was the last living-place on the planet for those somewhat despised Tsarist folk who got put to death on July 171918. That’s 100 years ago tomorrow to you and me.

The town’s footie-stadium has of course played a major part in the World Cup. I may be wrong, but a few matches were probably played not that far from the place where, according to the Times, a ‘Wholesale Butchery by Bolsheviks’ took place. Seemingly folk in Russia, having lost the cup, are now mourning the regicide of Tsar Nicholas II and his Victorian family.

“As the cheers fade in the stadium and Moscow basks in the gl…

River, Railway and Ravine by Douglas Harper - Reviewed by Duncan Harley

At 164pp and profusely illustrated, Douglas Harper’s book examines both the provenance and the history of the patented, made in Aberdeen, Harper and Co rigid suspension bridge.
Until now little documented, the Harper bridges were among the first suspension bridge designs - not to be confused with the “Shakkin’ Briggies” well known in the NE - to employ steel wire rope in order to form a relatively rigid and therefore highly functional bridge.

Harpers manufactured over sixty such bridges for export throughout the British Empire between 1870 and 1910. Douglas, a direct descendant of the original bridge engineers, has spent over a decade researching the company’s innovative designs and seeking out surviving examples.

The mid 19thC was a period of rapid industrial growth both in the north east of Scotland and throughout the British Empire.The boom times of railway expansion had opened up new markets and stimulated engineering innovation on a scale rarely seen before.

From humble beginnings s…


On the day that Aberdeen International Airport saw a Trump plane land on the tarmac to disgorge some retinue along with a rumoured son called Eric, I finally realised that Air Force One is too large to land anywhere in Scotland.

In fact, try as he might, the half-German half-Scottish golf-magnate will thankfully be prevented by his presidential status from stopping off unannounced at Aberdeen for a round of golf.

The big bosses at Aberdeen Airport must have foreseen this. Calls for runway expansion at Heathrow have made headlines over the past decade and the, perhaps outdated notion of a UK air-hub, has in consequence made the southern counties once more vulnerable to conquest from overseas. Not so in the Shire however where anything bigger than an Airbus needs flaps down, brakes full-on and reverse thrust to avoid running out of tarmac and smacking right into Dyce caravan site.

Of course, Gatwick should have been the landing-field of choice for the presidential minders on this ausp…

Piper Alpha - by Duncan Harley

This week the Scottish papers are full of supplements reflecting on the death of 167 offshore workers just 30 years ago today and even The Times in Scotland carries a splendid but short piece commemorating the event. 
Tonight, a reading of the names of the dead is due to take place in Aberdeen’s Hazlehead Park.

Truly cataclysmic, Piper Alpha represented a turning point in offshore safety. Lord Cullen, in his two-year inquiry into the tragedy, concluded that both engineering failings and a lack of basic safety protocol had led directly to the deaths. The Piper Alpha platform was said to be ageing, rusting and unstable and much was made of the claim that safety alarms were routinely ignored. In the light of the Cullen Report, Health and Safety law underwent major changes in the UK.

Offshore survival training became mandatory and protective clothing compulsory. On top of that, rigs nowadays are required by law to have quick escape routes to lifeboats. Amongst Lord Cullen’s remarks was a tr…

Miscelectric – a new album by Gordon Duthie

I first encountered Gordon Duthie a few years back when an editor flagged his music and I interviewed the man in the course of some black coffee in a backstreet café in darkest Kintore.
We added cake as I recall and split the bill.

When Gordon first came to my attention he had just released his third album A Thran Backwoods Poet. The Westhill singer/composer/musician had re-visited a family event in which the young men of the Luftwaffe had bombed and sunk his grandad’s fishing boat in Montrose harbour.
A year in the making, Thran represented a significant shift from the themes of sadness and isolation expressed in Gordon’s previous albums and, alongside titles such as Whisky Disco and Feel Loon did a Wildpoepen, Indeed, Gordon’s tribute to his grandad’s Sandhaven built FR106 Duthies featured ten quite provocative numbers.

Then came Dunt, Dunt, Dunt - his fourth album and again a full year in the making. Dunt looked deeply into the soulless existence of those micromanaged Gen-X Millen…

The Scottish Bothy Bible - Duncan Harley Reviews

In this comprehensive guide to Scottish mountain bothies, Edinburgh writer Geoff Allan reveals the unique network of mountain huts and bothy cabins which inhabit our wild places.

Geoff has variously hiked or biked to every known Scottish bothy and in this stunningly illustrated book he details all of the 81 Mountain Bothy Association maintained bothies and, in addition, points the way towards the lesser-known wilderness gems.

Defined in the pre-amble as “A simple shelter in remote country for the use and benefit of all those who love being in wild and lonely places” remote bothies are often romanticised and Geoff’s short but concise take on the beginnings of the bothy movement cuts to the chase and advises the reader what to expect of typical bothy accommodation.

Facilities are quite rudimentary. “As a bare minimum” he cautions “bothies will have a table and a couple of chairs.” Answering calls of nature will however involve a short walk plus the use of a spade “Select a location at le…


The news that Glasgow Caledonian University has a new chancellor naturally fills me with Aberdonian pride. Not that I am from the granite city, or indeed the fair city of Glasgow; but I am sure that the Eurhythmics lady will do a sterling job and I wish her good luck. 

I met the woman in some far off year or so at Haddo House. She had fund-raised something about the then Arts Trust and was keen to promote the struggling theatre venue. I recall that she gave a short speech before advising listeners that “Yooose bastards had better not fuck it all up and I’m telling you you'd better not!” – or something splendidly similar.

It was a long time ago and I may have gotten one expletive mixed up with another. Some Royals who were present for the Lennox speech left early in a fit of embarrassment despite the promise of champagne.

In some ways, Annie’s Haddo tirade reminded me of Taggart star Mark McManus’s appearance at a long-forgotten trade fair in the Aviemore complex some decades ago. …

Old Tom Morris

The news that Police Scotland are to divert some 5k officers and around £5m in public money to enhance the northern portion of the visit of the 45th President of the United States is reverberating around Scotland-shire at the minute. It’s almost as though the presidential threat to ‘take tee with the Queen’ at Balmoral’s private golf course has led the, possibly hubristic, golf-magnate to imagine that the land of his mother will welcome what some unkind folk describe as a bullying entrepreneur to the northern outposts of the Roman empire.

The Donald, of course, has choices. He can hide behind the Antonine Wall and play at Turnberry. Or, in a fit of pants, he can head north to the coastal links at Balmeddie. Either way, Scotland’s pseudo-Mexicans plan to give him a Mexican wave or two. Mind you, it’s not all cringeworthy.

Golf of course is a great leveller. The golf course at Cruden Bay is situated twenty-three miles north of Aberdeen, ten miles South of Peterhead and around two hours’ …

Scottish Traditional Boat Festival

Following its decline as a cargo and fishing port Portsoy has in recent years capitalised on its biggest asset – its connection with the sea. 
This weekend the town hosted the 25th annual Scottish Traditional Boat Festival and, in sweltering sunshine, visitors were treated to a maritime spectacular as 21st century maritime heritage mingled with the likes of the 128-year-old Wick registered Isabella Fortuna. Arbroath built, the Isabella was launched in 1890 and is a regular festival visitor.

In far off 1994 the inaugural event firmly placed Portsoy on the tourist map and visitor numbers regularly swell the resident population of 1,800 to a giddy 18,000 on festival weekend. 1994 also saw a world first: the landing of a radio-controlled model helicopter onto the deck of the world’s largest model aircraft carrier, Duncan Cameron’s 31ft radio controlled Invincible, within the shelter of the 17th century harbour. 

Nowadays an annual fixture and undoubted leader of the harbour festival pack, th…