Showing posts from November, 2018

Seven coffins and some stolen shrouds – By Duncan Harley

The sudden demise of Leopard Magazine a year or so ago left a literary void in and around the North-east. My contributions to the monthly magazine are well known but pale into insignificance when compared to the vast reservoir of writing featured within the publications forty-plus year history as a stand-alone monthly stalwart.

Nowadays confined to the back pages of The Scottish Field and arguably long forgotten by a solid band of traditional readers, the magazine’s archive forms a hotbed of surprising articles.

Over the years since first publication in August 1974, hundreds of writers, mainly local, contributed to Leopard. Early content ranged from farming stories by Eddie Gillanders to Anne Tweedie’s series on the, then emerging, oil industry. North-east writer David Toulmin’s ‘Tillycorthy Story’ and Ian Bryce’s ‘Castle of the Month’ also featured.

Interviewed in 2014 by Leopard editor Judy Mackie, founding Editor Diane Morgan recalled the early days. “Our material came from many un…

Zanzibar – The Long Read - By Duncan Harley

A conversation with number two son today, reminded me that there’s always a wee bit of thrill seeking when submitting words for publication. The buzz of seeing stuff from the innermost portions of the brain spread across a glossy page is just that … a buzz. Then of course there is the thorny question of payment.
That’s a second buzz – that is, if the end-users are prepared to offer a financial inducement. Most are full of respect and payment of course, but some see us writers as easy prey.

Personal episodes include that proposal, from an Embra' lady, that I ghost write her novel about some failed army general or other who invaded Tibet. Then there was the mad-man who insisted I contribute to his fictitious blog  concerning Jesus. The list goes on. But, at least I am learning how to body-swerve the more dangerous jobs.
Many publications, such my local daily, are prepared to publish subject to a non-payment clause. Try as I might, I can’t seem to squeeze even a penny from Dundee own…

Coffee at the Kings – By Duncan Harley

We had a wee gander round the familiar hotspots at the weekend before ending up in far off Kemnay on the Sunday.
Keith, Buckie and Findochty were fine and we even managed a bit of seal spotting @ the Gollachy ice-house.

The weather wasn’t that great though and as dusk closed-in on Saturday, we ended up in Cullen intending to have a sit-in at the local chipper. It was still early however so we headed down to the Three Kings at the golf-course to take in the sea view.

The writer Doris Davidson based her romantic novel The Three Kings in the town with the lead character, the orphaned Katie Mair, renaming the rock stacks as 'The Three Wise Men' - her trusted friends and the only ones to whom she could tell her troubles.

Of course, ask any Scot what they associate with the Moray seaside town of Cullen and the conversation will invariably turn to Skink. Cullen Skink to be precise. A hearty chowder like soup whose main ingredients are smoked haddock, potatoes and milk with maybe a l…

The Mound of Death @ Inverurie - By Duncan Harley

This week the local papers have been full of the news that Aberdeenshire Council are about to close a local cemetery for a few days while they quietly deal with a few dozen rabbits accused of undermining tombstones, endangering mourners and eating graveside flowers.  Todays Times even carries the news but fails to identify the cemetery concerned.

I can exclusively reveal that the graveyard headlined in the Times as “The end is nigh for rabbits causing graveyard chaos” is none other than The Old Cemetery at Inverurie which sits below the historic Bass of Inverurie.

Seemingly, according to Landscape Officer Shirley Bruce, the offending rabbits which threaten the graveyard are to be gassed using aluminium phosphate.

“While this action won’t be popular with everyone” she told reporters “it’s vital we do it for safety reasons.”

The Bass motte and bailey castle at Inverurie, locally known simply as the Bass, consists of two flat topped conical hillocks, the largest of which stands a full 12…

Julian the Tank Bank – The Long Read by Duncan Harley

It’s been a funny old day. Firstly, I finally found an old photograph of Julian the Tank which had eluded me for years.
I had been trying to find a review copy of Gordon Duthie’s early album ‘Thran’ and alongside Thran and his later ‘Dunt, Dunt, Dunt’ there, staring me full in the face, was Julian in all of his full glory atop the Broad Hill down by the beach. I mean, how serendipitous is that? 
There are a very few on-line images of the steel monster but, until today at least, I had completely forgotten a folder headed war-bonds tucked deep within my research archives. Sounds grand really, but of course in reality the Duncan Harley Archives Collection comprise a three-drawer steel filing cabinet full of current projects plus a few dusty cardboard boxes of done and dusted folders heading for the loft to await, no doubt, my untimely demise in some forgotten year or other.

Then there was the reading of the local paper. In amongst the piles of Auntie May and Theresa Brexit articles and …

Reviewed: When Brave Men Shudder – The Scottish Origins of Dracula by Mike Shepherd

The Whitby Dracula connection is well established and has been extensively written about. Bram Stoker’s life and times have also been well documented.
But until now, the story of how Stoker came to pen possibly the most talked about gothic novel in history whilst on vacation in and around Cruden Bay has been largely unknown.

Outwardly, Cruden Bay is just one of many coastal villages which dot the Aberdeenshire coastline. Claims to fame include a connection with Norwegian aviator Tryggve Gran, who took off from the local sands on an epic flight over the North Sea to Stavanger in the July of 1914.
Then there is the story of the Cruden Bay golf hotel where, for a few years at least, the rich and the famous came to relax and take in the sea air along the links.

There were vague tales about how Bram Stoker and his family had spent a few holidays in the area and the local hotel could point to an entry in the guest book written by Stoker and promising to come again.

But, until now, no on…

In Flanders fields the poppies blow - By Duncan Harley

The Zulu wars were to take an awful toll on Aberdeen’s Gordon Highlanders and in years to come, the young men of the regiment were to be sacrificed on the poppy strewn plains of Europe not just the once but twice more.
Miss Christie, as her pupils referred to her, seldom shared her feelings with her Dunnottar Primary class. 
But her charges still recall her tears each year when, on the anniversary of the death of a brother who perished amongst the dense blue clay of Flanders fields, the entire class would be asked to recite John McCrae’s poignant poem ‘In Flanders Fields.’

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break…

Bottom Prices – by Duncan Harley

You couldn’t make it up really. Andy Drinkwater, a spokesman for the Water Research Centre, is reported in today’s Times Scotland as saying that “a lot of the products that are marked as flushable are not really flushable.” Seemingly sewers across the land are being bunged up with a mixture of fat balls and bum wipes.

Breakfast news on the BBC picked it up earlier today, the story not the blockage, and steam radio followed hot on the heels. Now, on reading today’s printed media, I discover that this tale of toilet woe has bled its way onto the news pages.

The issue, of course, pales into insignificance when set head to head with the plague of plastic which lines our shorelines. That international disgrace needs sorting and sorting fast before the good old fish-supper becomes the good old plastic fish and chips. I kid you not. The residue of those foamy micro-plasticised hour-long showers has come back to haunt us big-time.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports …

The Muchalls Peace Sign – by Duncan Harley

As the wreaths pile up alongside the War Memorials on this Remembrance Sunday and the bagpipes play Battle’s O’er at some 2,000 locations worldwide it seems appropriate to remember that Scotland has its own Little Cenotaph sitting, almost forgotten alongside the main railway-line between Newtonhill and Stonehaven. Muchalls is described in the 1884 edition of the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland as: “a village in Fetteresso parish, Kincardineshire, with a station on the North-Eastern section of the Caledonian railway, 5 miles NNE of Stonehaven, under which it has a telegraph and post office”.

The tiny settlement nowadays lacks a station but still sits alongside the railway-line which transported the men from the towns and the villages of Aberdeenshire to the battlefields of France and Belgium.

Charles Dickens is said to have described the village as a remarkably beautiful place and there are dark tales of a long-lost smuggler’s cave, haunted by a Green Lady, linking Muchals Castle to the n…

An Aberdonian Black Madonna - By Duncan Harley

I see from today's edition of the P and J that various business-folk and various council-folk are promoting the idea of a ‘Barcelona Style’ cable car to link the city centre with Nigg. On the face of it, the idea looks viable given an expansion – and, by that I mean a huge expansion – in tourism numbers. Given that, the proposal looks like a winner.

Mind you, Barcelona has Gaudi plus some very fine Catalonian outdoor dining and a Gothic quarter and an unfinished cathedral and Roman architecture and a well-established tourist industry.

By contrast, Aberdeen has all the stuff to do with history but as a tourist destination of choice it has signally failed to do much more than promote a few pleasantly restored gentrified castles plus a good few distillery visitor centres. The lure of the Highlands and the romance of the West Coast have traditionally left the North-east with just a smattering of visitors and the largely untapped resources of the North-east remain just that, largely un…

Fifty Long Shadows – By Duncan Harley

Writing the back-page fluff for a new book is both a pain and a pleasure. The publishers generally put out a pre-publication questionnaire some months before even a single word is placed on the final page.
Well, not that final really since drafts more drafts and final drafts are likely to supersede the early content. So, ideas change and the final fluff might not resemble the initial hopeful words.

Then of course there is the difficult issue of the title. Should it be ironic, reflective of some pun or simply be a play on some clever words such as ‘Here be dragons’ or ‘You should read this since it will make you cleverer than you were before’?

I don’t really know. But what I do know is that the joy of holding the print in your grubby hand makes up for the hassle of getting into print and the lack of monetary rewards.

Not many folks know this, but most books fail to make more than the cost of printing and sell just a few thousand copies or even less.
At last week’s Aberdeen launch of…

Omnibuses and Vampires- By Duncan Harley

It’s been a great week. We got back from Spain – well actually Gran Canaria – on Monday. As always, Booking-dot-com pestered for a review and I duly obliged.

“Arucas is slightly off the beaten track and at first sight might not be the first place of choice for tourists seeking sun in Gran Canaria. However, the area has much to offer and the Hotel Emblematico is perhaps the best place to stay in town. A traditional family house, the Emblematico has no airs or graces and offers simple easy-going accommodation within easy reach of both the coast and the mountains.
There are traditional restaurants just around corner and if you are minded, there is a chapel just down the road. We used the local Global bus services to get about. Firgas, Las Palmas and Teror can be reached for less than a fiver and a trip south to the more-busy resorts on the southern coast costs less than £14 return. All in all, a bargain.
Breakfast is described as ‘continental’, but it is more than that. A choice of local…