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Showing posts from August, 2018

Breakfast at Balmoral

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Author John Buchan once described Walter Scott’s 1814 novel Waverley as a "riot of fun and eccentricity", a view not shared by a great many other commentators.
Some critics have even been known to view Scott’s tales of wild tartan clad Highlanders, romanticised castles and heroic Jacobite insurrection as somewhat dour, inaccurate and humourless.

Notwithstanding this, Sir Walter was charged with organising festivities for the 1822 visit of King George IV to Scotland in which "the garb of old Gaul", the kilt and the tartan, featured prominently.
The Royal romance with the Highlands had been kindled and decades later, in 1852, following some three years of careful negotiation, Queen Victoria and the Royal Consort Prince Albert purchased the, by then run down, Balmoral Estate - the previous owner having died after choking on a fishbone.

By 1856 the new Balmoral Castle was complete. The original building was completely demolished and Victoria’s “dear paradise in the H…

Roll on the Absence of Clowns

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On the 88th anniversary of the evacuation of St Kilda, today’s other news centres on a US President who has finally been persuaded to say something in tribute regarding the demise of a political giant.

As McCain continued to lie in Washington a beleaguered Trump reluctantly acknowledged that the dead senator had made a difference to America. But what the belated indifference entailed was not made clear.

Then there is the news that another figure of fun is going out of fashion.

Seemingly clowns are on the way out in favour of the likes of Jack Sparrow and Disney’s frozen Elsa. And a good thing too, in my estimation. Who, after all, wants their kids to be scared to death by some leeringly face-painted relic from the 17th Century. Bring it on Trump is what I say. At least I know he’s going to be completely scary, so no great surprises there.

Not that I am a great fan of either Trump or Coco. The first trashed my local beach before converting it into a coastal golf course and the latter mad…

The Michelin Guide to Ypres

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In the aftermath of the 1914-18 conflict, large swathes of Europe lay in ruins and the detritus of war littered the fields of France and Belgium. There was no longer much demand for tin helmets or barbed wire but battlefield tourism became popular just as it had after Waterloo and Culloden.

Early visitors to the Waterloo battlefield were of course after plunder. Mainly Belgium peasants, they took what was of value in an understandable effort to rebuild shattered lives following the unwarranted destruction of their lands and their livelihoods. Later visitors included Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo who no doubt visited in hope of inspiration for their writing. Even Thomas Hardy got in in the act with his poem 'The Field of Waterloo'. 



The field at Culloden nowadays attracts some 200,000 paying visitors each year according to the National Trust for Scotland who claim that the Outlander series accounts for much of the popularity of the venue. What in God's name h…

The Mannie @ Oldmeldrum

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This seasonal image from the 1930's, courtesy of Peter Donaldson of Grampian Transport Museum, was taken by Postie Lawson of Craigievar Express fame in the days before the statue took up his stance in Meldrum town centre.
Known locally as ‘The Mannie’, Oldmeldrum’s Sailor Boy Statue is a well-travelled life-size stone sculpture of a mariner clad in period costume, which nowadays stands proudly outside the Meldrum Arms Hotel on South Road.

Rumours abound regarding his provenance. Few know his true origins and some even claim that Spanish gold lies buried beneath his feet. Originally, he held a clay pipe in one hand and a small anchor in the other. Clad in the style of a 19th-century French sailor, he is sculpted from Portland Stone - the same material that Whitehall’s Cenotaph is made from.

Mysteriously and many years ago The Mannie is said to have been purchased by Alford’s Postie Lawson - inventor of the steam-powered Craigievar Express - at a local farm sale for just five shil…

The Cruise of the Land-Yacht Wanderer

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Dr William Gordon Stables (1837-1910) was an early but enthusiastic proponent of the caravan holiday. Famously, he was also author of possibly the first caravan holiday guide.
Titled “The Cruise of the Land-Yacht Wanderer - 1300 Miles in my Caravan” the book is, perhaps predictably, an account of his 1300-mile horse-drawn caravan journey around Britain and was published in about 1886.

Described as a "shed on wheels", his two tonne 30ft long caravan came complete with a china cabinet and was pulled along by Captain Cornflower and Polly Pea Blossom - his two horses. His dog was named Hurricane Bob.

Dr Stables was particularly taken by the Aberdeenshire coastline and, in an attempt to murder prose, infamously described the town of Banff in glowing terms: “I have discovered Banff … it is by far and away the most delightful town on the coast … the scenery all around would delight the eyes of poet or artist.”

Reviewers took a dim view of his travelogue and one even went so far as…

The Holy Day of St Bartholomew

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I am a long admirer of Peter Anson. Not only did he co-found the Apostleship of the Sea, but he left a legacy of articles and longer writings – some about the North-east – and a shedload of paintings. In all he penned some 40 books including titles as diverse as The Caravan Pilgrim and A Tourist Guide to Banff.

The paintings are mainly maritime in theme and encompass every aspect of seafaring from the hauling in of nets to the painting of the ships-painters colouring the hulls of ships and of course the seafarers who sailed them.

His skills in drawing seafarers were somewhat mixed and often simplistically stylised but when you realise that he used images and even postcards from other artists as inspiration this is not surprising.

His ship paintings and his harbour-head work is however often stunning. Macduff, Portsoy, Banff and Aberdeen feature in his work and, in an age when photography had pretty much overtaken the activities of the harbour-head painters he produced a lasting rec…

The Man Who Fell to Earth

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I went past the Bass today, just to check if the Pictish Stones were back you understand. The sign on the gate advised that they would indeed be back in place alongside the Mary Eerie-Orie gravestone by late spring 2018 following much needed restoration and digital scanning. It is now late summer and the twice buried Mary lies quite alone in her grave.

I wrote about Mary in glowing terms in my A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire book. The unfortunate serial spouse was once buried alive after being mistakenly pronounced dead following a short illness. The story is told in many versions. In one, her distraught second husband rescues her when he hears her desperate cries for help coming from the freshly filled grave.
In another version of the tale, the gravedigger spies a gold ring on the corpse’s finger. He tries and fails to remove it by hand and finally resorts to cutting off the unfortunate corpse’s finger with his knife at which point the ‘deceased’ wakes up howling in pain.

Anyway, the …

John Reid

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A search for Papers of David Toulmin reveals a sad ‘Sorry, your search did not match any Descriptions on the Archives Hub’ response on the University of Aberdeen Archives Hub. Until quite recently Toulmin, despite dying in far off 1998, was a favourite of the Aberdeen academia. But not now.

Despite awarding the man a degree. And despite the various Toulmin £500 prize competitions, the land of academia has largely forgotten the man.

He had a difficult death by all accounts. Something about a stroke as I recall. And had moved from the Buchan fields to Westhill and then Pittodrie Place. He did of course leave a legacy of fine writing. Subject to a deeper search, the University records some bare records in blandly academic terms.

GB 231 MS2823 David Toulmin, Hard Shining Corn (Aberdeen: Impulse, 1972); Straw into Gold: a Scots Miscellany (Aberdeen: Impulse, 1973); Blown Seed (Edinburgh: Harris, 1978); Harvest Home (Edinburgh: Harris, 1978); The Tillycorthie Story (Aberdeen: The Centre for…

Mary Queen of Scots Stayed Here

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Amongst the exhibits at Blairs Museum, on the outskirts of Aberdeen, is a full length portrait of Mary dressed exactly as she would have been on the day of her execution. 
Reproduced from a miniature smuggled abroad by one of her ‘Mary’s in waiting’, the portrait was returned to Scotland many years after her death, having been saved from the mob during the French Revolution by being rolled up and then hidden in a chimney-breast. Mary of course had strong links with the North-east. In September 1562 she set out on one of her several journeys around Scotland. Each of her tours, known as Progressions, lasted for weeks at a time and in consequence she stayed at various castles and country houses along the way.

Estimates vary wildly however it is likely that at least 80 historic houses in Scotland can rightly make the claim that “Mary Queen of Scots stayed here” in their respective guidebooks. Some such as Pitcaple Castle can really only lay claim to the fact that the monarch visited briefly…

The Ladybird Book of Gore – By Duncan Harley

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Had a wee gander past the Harlaw Monument today. Isolated and on a decidedly unlisted road just to the North of Inverurie it’s a largely neglected local asset. Blue-badged tour guides might on occasion drive their foreign charges past the penile monolith but I doubt it. The passing places are pretty much non-existent and a tourist bus would probably clip both edges of the road. And, god forbid, oncoming traffic would be disastrous. I only met the one car today and at best guess it was driven by a local mum intent on picking the young-ones up from school.

So why the road-trip. Well, my next book has a chapter titled Bloody Battles although I may yet tone it up to ‘Gore, Bloodletting and the Making of the Shire’ – it really depends on the publishers. The Ladybird Book of Gore might not appeal to chuckle brother audiences but The Ladybird Book of Famous Battles might be a starting point. I digress as always.

It was Mike @ The Inverurie Whisky Shop who put me up to it. He suggested that the …

Aretha Franklin

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The weekend papers were full of Aretha Franklin. Now, and only now, we learn that she was both the queen of soul AND the singer who provided black American women with ‘anthems which still ring out and ring true’ – that according to The Observer.

The air-waves are full of the same, as are the splendidly observant tabloids.

It’s a bit like when a famous footie player dies. Headlines scream the loss and news-weary tabloids predict the death of sport as we know it. Twill never be the same. Sport is now officially dead. He/she will never be replaced. Gad!

13 January 1889 – William Cropper dies of a ruptured bowel during a match against the away team, Grimsby Town.
8 April 1907 – Scottish defender Tommy Blackstock collapsed after heading a ball in a game against St. Helens FC and died.
19 February 1916 – Bob Benson of Arsenal dies of a burst blood vessel following a wartime game against Reading.
20 February 2002 - Cristian Neamțu, pronounced dead after suffering a massive brain haemorrha…

Jersey Boys @ HMT – Duncan Harley Reviews

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The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame arrives in Aberdeen this week in the form of the 1960s era, jukebox-laden musical Jersey Boys, and from curtain rise to curtain fall this highly polished and electrifyingly energetic production features around 30 original Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons numbers.

With a pedigree of 27 Top 40 singles including Big Girls Don’t CryWalk Like a Man and Rag Doll, the original Four Seasons’ tough-but-tender doo-wop harmonies continue to wow Rock ‘n’ Roll fans of all ages.

Add to the mix around 100 million record sales, and it’s difficult to see how Director Des McAnuff’s musical portrayal of the groups often troubled rise and fall could fail to please the theatre audience. In fact, this is one of those shows that should be seen again and again. I should know – to date I’ve seen this tribute show three times and given a whiff of a chance, I would go back at least one more time. As always, casting makes or breaks a musical, and the choice of Michael Watson to pla…

The Lido @ Tarlair - by Duncan Harley

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Macduff was for many years a popular holiday destination.
The big attraction of course was the lido at Tarlair. 

In the inter-war period, around 169 such pool complexes, often known as lidos, operated at coastal resorts all around the UK, and the Tarlair Lido is one of only a very few remaining examples.


Commissioned by Macduff Burgh Council, Tarlair Lido opened to the public in summer 1930, in partially completed form. Funding came via public subscription and from the government’s Unemployment Grants Committee, a 1930s-style job creation scheme.

In 1935, the town council secured a £7k loan enabling completion of the ambitious project. Unlike the Stonehaven heated outdoor pool, Tarlair relied on the vagaries of the sun to warm the salt water. The main pool boasted a diving board and a chute, and there were paddling pools, a restaurant, sandpits and a large boating pond.

The man in charge of the proceedings at Tarlair was known as the Pondmaster. Swimming lessons could be arranged thr…

Tugnet by the Sea - by Duncan Harley

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Dang. Read sign before engaging brain.

It says something like 'please do not climb on me'. I, of course took this literally and wondered why anyone in their right mind would put that on a sign.
Surely it would make more sense to simply not put the warning out in the first place. I mean, why tempt folk to break the rules.

It was only after Janice had come back from the loo that I finally got it.

The message, she pointed out, had nothing whatsoever to do with the sign at all and had much more to do with the blue and yellow plastic dolphin. A broken wing, if dolphins have such appendages, told the partial story. Bound to the dolphin's flank by rolls of brown fibreglass tape, the Tugnet dolphin shows signs of desperate life-saving surgery following the unwanted attentions of some five year old intent on high-sea bow-riding..

Not for them the attentions of a cash-strapped NHS physician. The plastic dolphins of the Moray Firth are dependant, in their hour of finest need at least…

Far, Far From Ypres @ HMT – Reviewed by Duncan Harley

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It’s difficult to adequately classify Far, Far From Ypres.

Described as “the story of the Scottish war effort during World War One” with “its excitement, hope, suffering, endurance, humour, fear and disillusionment in the face of horror told through the eyes of fictional, prototypical soldier Jimmy MacDonald” this ambitious multimedia production sits oddly – and please excuse the pun – with its feet astride two camps.

A strong documentary-styled historical narrative, delivered by veteran broadcaster Iain Anderson, frames a broad range of popular song from the period whilst overhead a mix of trench imagery combines to add poignancy to the performance.

We are told that the fictional Jimmy is from any town or village in Scotland and that when issued with his tin hat and his Enfield rifle, he heads off to the continent in search of medals for the victory parade and of course for a great foreign adventure. An acceptable figure for Scottish war dead has yet to be calculated – some put it…

Number 9 - by Duncan Harley

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Accused by a Tesco checkout operative of having a 'senior moment’ following an attempt to press the number 9 on her checkout keypad I remonstrated.

“The number nine doesn’t work” I said. “try again” she said. “it still doesn’t work” “Give it another go and see what happens”

This time the keypad took the number and the shopping was duly paid for.

“The keypad does have a problem” I told her. “I mean it really is old and worn so no wonder that the nine is knackered. If I was you I would report it. I mean, it might be the eight next and then the seven.”

“Maybe you’re having a senior moment” she said as she ducked and covered behind the corporate barrier.

All well and good then. But in the big scheme of things I prefer the uncaring anonymity of Lidl or that big Morrisons up at Burghmuir. At least the keypads work and the uncaring folk behind the tills don’t condescend the customers.

There is more @: The History Press  and of course the Beatles did it better at Number 9

The Clack of Cricket - by Duncan Harley

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When I first moved to the capital of the Garioch I was warned by a Tesco checkout operative that George Square was a noisy place to be.

Backing on to the Academy playing-fields the AB51 post-code seemingly attracted screaming lunchtime children and lost cricket balls into the adjoining gardens.

I recall saying something like “I really like the sound of children enjoying themselves, after all I was once one myself.”

The till operative seemed bemused at my reply and has since been retired – or so I am led to believe.

I did enjoy the daily spectre of lost balls and, on occasion even got to throw them back into the field at the bottom of my garden. In fact, on one occasion, a trio of enthusiastic cricketers rang the front door-bell intent on retrieving the object of their desire.

“Is it ok if we go into your garden to look for our ball” they asked. “Of course, go for it!” came the reply. I have not seen the lads since and hope that they both found the ball and made it back to the sports …

The Original Gypsy Rose Lee

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I recall seeing a trio of caravans at Keith Show a decade or three ago, each emblazoned with hoardings offering palm-reading and each with a long line of hopefuls awaiting the chance to cross a palm with silver in fair exchange for a glimpse of the future.

It was in the grander days of the country shows. Keith was filled to the gun-whales with folk intent on a bit of fun and maybe a dalliance or two over the show-days and up at the show-park two full-grown heifers were roasting over a couple of spits.

Following a day selling fancy goods, I wandered over to Reidhaven Square, which is where I found the caravans. They were top of the range trailers with all the mod-cons and, to the untrained eye at least, seemed to represent the height of traveller luxury. Lace curtained and shiny with chrome and fancy ornaments in the windows, each claimed a connection with the original Gypsy Rose Lee.

Two proclaimed direct lineage, a daughter I recall and maybe even a grand-daughter and the third – a…

Inverurie Academy - by Duncan Harley

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That’s the new school building at the foot of my garden finally taking shape.

I blogged the destruction of the hallowed sports ground some months ago and the digging up of the turf finally ended when the steel-erectors moved in a few weeks ago.

From grass to mud the project took around 16 weeks and from mud to steel a further 6 weeks has elapsed although it will be a year or so until the splendid complex is finally completed. Hopefully some royal or other will arrive to open the place as that would be fitting probably. Prince Charles would be nice, or maybe if the project is delayed for a bit, or goes over budget, then maybe Prince Louis might unveil the inevitable shiny plaque.

As an aside, despite the forward planning and the public consultations, I suspect that the solar panels on the structure's roof face somewhat to the North instead of facing the more conventional South, where – given that we inhabit the Northern Hemisphere, they might just receive the most sunlight.
But …

It's hot. Damn hot! Real hot!

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It’s been hot and sticky in the Garioch with highs of around 27C and still no sign of a promised shower to break the humidity.

On the email front, B & Q have been in touch to advise that the pensioner’s discount of a hefty 10% each Tuesday is now restricted to garden items only. CEO Mike Emery has at one fell swoop alienated everyone on the planet over 60 with the pronouncement that “from 3 September 2‌01‌8, the 10% discount we offer to you every Wednesday will be limited to gardening products when you shop and take away in store”.

Has he even heard of Homebase I wonder. It’s amazing how much negative publicity you can buy in lieu of a £2-97 discount on a pot of black Hammerite.

Then there was that theft of crown jewels from a museum in Sweden. Some thieves in a boat seemingly made off with the crown and sceptre. Worth some humongous amount of Kroner, the royal accoutrements seemingly rival the Scottish Crown jewels if tabloid accounts are to believed in their entirety.

Well I h…

Turra Show - by Duncan Harley

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It’s been nearly a year since we went to Turra Show but it feels just like yesterday to be honest.

Robbie Shepherd, bless his tartan socks, was retired quite recently and Robert Lovie has taken over as commentator for what must be the biggest and most successful agricultural show on the North-east calendar.

The queen attended a year or so ago and was chaperoned around the site by an attentive Bruce Ferguson.

It’s a splendid event and attracts folk from far and wide intent on a day or so out from the humdrum of everyday life.

Farming folk and ordinary folk from all over the UK descend on the town during the show weekend seeking livestock prizes, farming machinery brochures and, quite frankly, lots of fun. Bargains are struck, tractors and combines are purchased and, just occasionally, wedding matches are made – just as they have been for the last century and a half of the Show’s history.

Show weekend begins soon.

The 2018 dates are Sunday 5th and Monday 6th August. Do go. More @: http…

Cow Turra

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Following on from last nights tirade about the lack of print-media for budding authors within the bounds of the North-east, I checked to see if an old article was still available on-line.

It was a piece about a cow. Not just any cow you understand but a cow from Turriff. Us bloggers are fond of cows and a good friend informs that they always face the same way no-matter what the weather.

I had penned a few words about the sturdy beast in a Leopard article or two. Something about Lendrum to leeks as I recall. The late Bob Smith and I had cooperated in an article to record the tale. I penned some words and Bob compiled a poem in his native Doric.

As I recall Bob, or Smithie to his friends, concentrated on the National Insurance ramifications of the tale of that famous ‘fite coo’ whereas I relished the political ramifications  – the House of Lords were humbled into submission by a triumphant parliament and stripped of their power of veto.

Cynics of the time suggested that the workforce …