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Showing posts from September, 2018

Cove Harbour - by Duncan Harley

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We had a wee stroll round Cove harbour today.
The village at one time was home to Isae Caie and her residence in the place is celebrated in the coastal village in the form of a splendid marble monument sculpted by Brazilian artist Albertino Costa with support from local residents.

I penned an article about the woman – The Last Fishwife – in some forgotten Leopard or other and Albertino and I tracked down her grave on a wet and stormy February day for that long-lost feature article.

Subject of litigation, I have no real idea why, Cove Harbour is now largely bereft of fishing boats. There are a few small boats left-over on the stony beach and it looks tidier now and that’s a fact. A private plastic-surgeon has won his case but has perhaps lost his reputation in a strange but true tale of the taking over of land beside the sea by invasive land-owners.

It somehow reminds me of a childhood haunt along Loch Fyne. Some rich mogul had bought a plot by the shore. Having erected a house and swi…

Tickets for the Messiah – By Duncan Harley

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Canon make some splendid camera equipment and I have to own-up as an aficionado of the brand. I have owned and used quite a few of the products including a couple of high-end camera bodies plus several high-end lenses – or bits of glass, as they are often referred to in the trade.

A couple of 5D’s and a more than a few of those splendidly red-ringed ‘professional’ lenses made up my collection until quite recently when, in a fit of poverty, I decided to sell some surplus.

The 5D Mk2 went to the hammer first and fetched a tidy sum. It had been, in the words of my partner Janice, a good friend, and it was hard to let go of it. But, at least the new owner – somewhere in Wiltshire as I recall – will get good use of it. I mean, who really needs two big full-frame cameras anyway. I paraded round a few shows and events with two 5D’s wrapped around my neck and all I got was that one golden shot plus a big piece of neck-ache. I mean, why would you bother.

Then the 300mm telephoto went under …

Rumpelstiltskin @ HM Theatre Aberdeen - By Duncan Harley

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This coming weekend sees Aberdeen Bramble Brae School pupils take to the HMT stage to take part in balletLorent's brand-new production of Rumpelstiltskin.
Conner Burton, Connor McGregor, Emily Rose Wood, Hanna Adrykowska, Rhylan Stuart Quinn, Rhys Warner and Robert Smith will tread the boards at His Majesty’s Theatre alongside award-winning dance theatre company 'balletLORENT'. 

Liv Lorent - Artistic Director and Choreographer for the production - commented that “We’re so pleased to have found a fantastic group of children in Aberdeen to become part of our team. At this age, children often have innate talent, a lack of self-consciousness and physical beauty in movement, which can be captured and channelled to great effect through projects like ours.”
As a folk-tale, Rumpelstiltskin is a tragedy deeply mired in kidnap and gender exploitation. Indeed, the fairy-tale tugs strongly at the heartstrings:

‘There was once a miller who was very poor. But he had a beautiful daughter. No…

The Royal Poo @ Ballater – By Duncan Harley

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The timber-built railway station at Ballater was frequented by the Royal Family in the days when the journey north to Balmoral involved rail travel. When the Deeside line closed to passengers in 1966 the building found new use as shop units and even incorporated a Tourist Information Centre and a restaurant. Prior to the disastrous 2015 fire, a part of the building was turned into a museum and visitors could, if they were lucky, meet up with a mannequin dressed as Queen Victoria’s loyal ghillie John Brown on the station platform.

A second mannequin representing an ageing Victoria, complete with mourning dress, could be seen taking tea in the private Royal Apartments of the station building.

Those Royal Apartments naturally featured a Royal Loo. Thunder-box in form and with an ornately decorated porcelain pan, replete with Acanthus leaves and brightly painted woodland flowers, the loo was off limits to ordinary travellers during Victoria’s time.

In more recent times however, subject t…

The MacDonald Trail – By Duncan Harley

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I see that as part of this weekends Doors Open Day, Ramsay MacDonald’s family home in Lossiemouth is to open to the public. From humble beginnings he became not only the first ever Labour Prime Minister but also one of the first members of parliament to embrace aviation as a means of transport to and from his Lossiemouth home to the powerhouse of Westminster.

In pre-RAF Lossiemouth days he regularly flew out of grass airstrips on the outskirts of the town.

Born in 1866 he entered Parliament in 1906 as MP for Leicester following an early career as a journalist. A fierce opponent of the Boer War he was outspoken in his opposition to WW1. His pacifist convictions and unshakeable socialist stance quickly made him a hate figure both locally and nationally. He was blackballed by Moray Golf Club in 1916 and vilified in the likes of John Bull magazine as “A traitor and a coward, a libeller and a slanderer of his country … he is nothing more than the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl!…

Stone Stacks down by the Don – By Duncan Harley

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I had hoped to go zip-wiring down Union Street at the weekend.
It’s something of an occasional passion and although I hate the blatant uncontrollability of rib-ticklers and roller-coasters, the prospect of dangling dangerously from a swinging cable whilst travelling at speed over difficult terrain somehow fills me with joy.

Aviemore and Perthshire have been my previous zip-wire haunts and a quick enquiry to the city council elicited the underwhelming response that ‘We won’t have the zipwire installed on union street In Town Without My Car Day.’ It was an omen.

In the event, The Scottish Samurai Awards over at Maryculter House Hotel took prominence and I reported on this at length @: https://duncanharley.blogspot.com/2018/09/the-scottish-samurai-awards-by-duncan.html

As it turned out, the Union Street zip-extravaganza was cancelled on the day due to inclement weather although all was fine over at Maryculter.

In a quite separate piece of disappointing street-theatre, it seems that resid…

The Scottish Samurai Awards 2018 – By Duncan Harley

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The four-star Maryculter House Hotel was today the venue for the Scottish Samurai Awards. Scotland and Japan have long enjoyed both trade and cultural links – well for just around 150 years in truth.
Japan sent many students to the UK between the late Edo period (1603-1867) and the early Meiji period (1868-1912) in order to explore and import Western technology and the various international trade exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th Century provided useful platforms for the sharing of both scientific and aesthetic ideas.

Cities such as Glasgow and Aberdeen provided ripe-pickings for the aspiring technologists and alongside acquisition of new skill-sets the two nations exchanged cultural and artistic aesthetics which continue to create broad-ripples to this day.

Japan, of course, had participated in the second Glasgow International Exhibition in 1901. The Japan Pavilion was located near the main exhibition hall at Kelvingrove and there is a likelihood that Rennie Mackintosh and many…

I'm Desperate Dan - By Duncan Harley

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A local history conference hosted by Aberdeen City Library Service at the Beach Ballroom in early 2017 featured a talk by George Adam, the then Lord Provost. An eloquent man and a humorous speaker he spoke about the triumphs and tribulations of the Granite City before moving on to what seemed like a diatribe regarding the cultural and artistic state of the city. 
Using a fictional foreign civic dignitary as an anchor point, he advised attendees that the city offered a multitude of cultural attractions. “First of all,” he said “I would take the visitor to the Music Hall. Such a splendid place with such a splendid history. Oh, wait it’s closed for renovation. Then perhaps we could visit the Art Gallery. Oh, wait it’s closed also. Well, maybe Provost Skene’s House. Oh, wait it’s temporarily closed to the Public.”

Obviously said attractions will eventually re-open for public gaze, although it beggar’s belief that the funding was never put in place before the various renovations began. Tha…

Revising Aung San Suu Kyi – By Duncan Harley

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I was over in Huntly earlier today and picked up a copy of the Northern Scot. It’s a splendid paper and winner of more awards than I care to remember.
Full of local news, it carries a good spread of feature articles.


In last week’s edition, which was the one I bought, there are tales of fiddlers from Fochabers, firefighters from Buckie and, of course a leader describing how Elgin High Street is about to take on the mantle of ‘Best High Street in Britain’.

There is a new editor in post now and the broadsheet has shrunk to a tabloid. But, in the big scheme of things – and I am biased since a previous editor gave me my first start in print – the paper sure beats the hell out of most weekly rags.
On page 34 there is a poignant piece by Jill Stewart – a local historian – detailing the endgame of those folk from Moray unlucky enough to have died as a result of enemy action during the first war. A lad from Findochty – died of wounds in a French hospital. A Lossie man killed at Ypres. A Lhanb…

Spies and Saboteurs

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During the early years of WW2, spies and saboteurs were put ashore all around the UK coastline, often by flying boat and sometimes from submarines.

Usually they were quickly picked up by police suspicious of forged documents and in at least one case due to cycling along on the wrong side of the road.

Spies making landfall on the Aberdeenshire coastline had a particularly difficult time of it since, due to the close-knit nature of the coastal communities, any stranger instantly came under special scrutiny.

During April 1941, two armed men landed at Crovie pier from a rubber dinghy. Road signs in the North-east had been removed and the Emergency Coastal Defences were in place. General Ironside’s nearby Innes Links Coastal Gun Battery was yet to fire a shot in anger, but the general mood was fear of invasion from German held Norway and deep distrust of German sounding foreigners.
It was just before 6 a.m. on April 8th, and three hours earlier the two men had been dropped off a few mil…

The Shell Hoosie @ Dunnottar Woods

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The North-east countryside is littered with heritage in the form of archaeology from the near and distant past. There are Roman marching camps, castles galore and of course a multitude of ancient stone circles and standing stones.
Most of these structures were built for a purpose. 
For example, each night the while on the march the Roman army constructed a temporary camp, complete with rampart and ditch, as a defence against attack while in hostile territory. Examples can be found at Durno and at Kintore.

The Castles and the big houses were in many cases also defensive structures but in more recent times they became potent symbols of the wealth that the area generated through agriculture, inheritance and trade.
Debate of course continues over the true purpose of the standing stones and the stone circles. Places of worship and centres of mystical ceremony say some.

Others wonder if the circles were simply settlements. After all, folk in those distant times needed a decent place to live…

Leopards for Swans @ Aberdeen – by Duncan Harley

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I was privileged to obtain a copy of Edi Swan’s splendid history of His Majesty’s Theatre a couple of years ago. I forget precisely how the book arrived in my hands.
It was either via Amazon or, more likely via a swap for some Leopards.


In the days when Leopard Magazine was on the go as an independent voice for the writers of the North-east, I was able on occasion to get my hands on a few writer’s copies. Just to oil the wheels you understand and not to oil my bank account.

Artists, local businesses and heritage centres usually benefited from the spare copies. One may have ended up in Royal hands. But, of course, my tongue is tied to this day.

Whilst researching a story, folk more often than not will ask when it will be published and can they get a complementary copy sent out as a reward for speaking onto the page. As politely as possible, the writer will usually resort to some excuse or other.

“Ah, well, that’s an editorial issue” or “I’ll see what I can do” is often the reply. “Of…

Bells @ Stonehaven - by Duncan Harley

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Alongside the Art Deco buildings - one an open air pool, the second a splendidly new curry house aptly named 'Carron to Mumbai' - Stonehaven has quite a lot going for it.
With Dunnottar just around the headland and two of Scotland’s most famous chippers – one wins accolades for best battered fish in Scotland-shire, while another deep fries chocolate bars to order ... what’s not to like about the place.

I gave the seaside town a good few mentions in my Our Town Leopard Magazine articles. Robert Burns, the Raedykes Mons Graupius connection and that Highland Boundary Fault made it onto the pages of the now sadly defunct periodical.

Hitler’s Bunker, fresh seafood, fine dining and New-Year arson inhabited the pages. And, inevitably some war history made it into print in my A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire book as well.

We, Janice and I, had been checking out the Cowie Stop Line. In case you’ve never heard of it, it’s a largely forgotten part of the Stonehaven history.
In the dark da…

Cilla The Musical @ HMT - Duncan Harley Reviews

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Cilla the Musical is based on BAFTA-winning writer Jeff Pope’s 2014 ITV series and tells the story of Black’s meteoric rise from ambitious Cavern Club cloakroom girl to chart-topping mega-star.
Her sometimes turbulent relationships with Bobby Willis and the troubled Brian Epstein feature strongly alongside a no-holds-barred peek into Black’s less-savoury aspects.

At a not-too-long two hours and fifty minutes, including interval, the show celebrates the triumphs and the tribulations of one of Epstein’s many stars and covers the greats from the Cilla back catalogue along with tribute numbers from the bands from the heady days of the Black magic.

Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Mamas & the Papas and of course the Fab Four feature alongside a stream of biopics of the men behind the labels. Burt Bacharach, Ed Sullivan and Andrew Lancel’s splendidly vulnerable Brian Epstein feature alongside Alexander Patmore’s study of the dependably stoic Bobby Willis.

Scottie Road Songbird, Liverpudlian D…

Bennachie’s Casualties of War - By Duncan Harley

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Today marks the 79th anniversary of the declaration of war on September 31939 and, just a few hours into the conflict, the Bennachie hill-range in Aberdeenshire was witness to an accident resulting in the deaths of two RAF airmen.
The hill has seen two 20th century air crashes. The most recent in 1952 when an RAF Gloster Meteor jet fighter on a training flight from RAF Leuchars crashed during a snowstorm into Oxen Craig on 12 February 1952. The pilot, Yorkshireman Brian Lightfoot died instantly on impact and wreckage was scattered over a wide area. One of the aircraft’s cannon was retrieved by souvenir hunters and was for a time stashed in a barn over at Oyne before being re-discovered in the 1980’s.

The RAF’s fleet of Gloster Meteors had what can only be described as a horrendous safety record and records indicate that there were 436 fatal accidents between 1944 and 1986. Some 890 of these aeroplanes were lost during that period over the entire UK including one piloted by the son of …

Curious Aberdeenshire

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Author Mike Shepherd reviews Duncan Harley’s ‘The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire: Strange Stories of Mysteries, Crimes and Eccentrics’

'Tucked out of the way in the far reaches of the land, behold Aberdeenshire, a place that can boast the forlorn reputation of being largely unknown to the population at large. Edinburgh yes; Glasgow yes; and lots of tourists nip up the west coast of Scotland, but Aberdeenshire?

If the area registers at all in the national consciousness, it’s a vague awareness of something to do with North Sea oil, whisky, farming and a bit of fishing.

Otherwise nothing much ever seems to have happened there.

Then along comes Duncan Harley’s new book to challenge these perceptions. Much in the way of odd and curious things did indeed take place in that north-eastern corner and the world hadn’t known about it until now.

The book follows an alphabetic format starting with A for Aberdeenshire Art and ending up with Z for Zeppelins. Now that last section I found the most c…

North East Scotland At War – by Alan Stewart

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Reviewed by Duncan Harley

Five years in the making, Alan Stewart’s new book ‘North East Scotland At War’ will appeal to anyone even remotely interested in the history of the North-east of Scotland.

There are plenty of home-defence books out there which record the difficult years between the Chamberlain peace accord and the Soviet conquest of Berlin. Osborne’s ‘Defending Britain’ and Gordon Barclay’s  'If Hitler Comes’ are the classics. But this book is slightly different and there is certainly room for further historical accounts of the dark days when Hitler threatened our shores.

With a decidedly local slant, North East Scotland At War launches the reader into the minutiae of the defence of the North-east against what was, for a brief few years, perceived as the Nazi threat. The archaeology of those distant times is laid bare and many of the official documents which record the difficult days inhabit the pages.

A ground-based Invasion never came. But preparations were firmly in …