Showing posts from December, 2018

Alexa says no … By Duncan Harley

Today’s news that Alexa’s Christmas message was a typical ‘Sorry, I’m not working’ or ‘I’m sorry, but I cannot order a hit on your previous foster-parents right now. Please try again later or press the re-set button’ led to a degree of speculation that the household assistant was either having a laugh or a festive day off. Yuletide recipients of the Echo Dot, a lookalike Alexa-clone reporting to the likes no doubt of both Google-analytics and the CIA, were experiencing similar connectivity problems. Seemingly the fresh-out-the-box Dot and the beefier Echo were having difficulty understanding English never mind binary. Turning lights off and on and answering questions about the making of the perfect festive gravy seemingly proved too much for the spy-in-the-home devices which at up to £89 a pop are programmed to report our every move to those shadowy companies who track both our spending habits and our every behaviour.

In Christmas past the Mori Polls would send canvassers round the d…

Lockerbie Solstice 30 Years On - By Duncan Harley

I well recall the news coverage on the night that Pan Am Flight 103 came down in the Scottish borders some 30 years ago. A pregnant wife was on a late shift at the local geriatric hospital and it was cold and dark and windy with the promise of frost.
Sky and Beeb and local radio reported that a petrol station on the M74 between Moffat and Lockerbie had caught fire. But it was of course much worse than that. Oddly, I met a lady long after the event who had been the recipient of a lucky escape.

Ella Ramsden was her name as I recall and her house was badly damaged by the aircraft's fuel-filled wings which destroyed Sherwood Crescent and killed her neighbours. She survived unhurt although her house was pretty much blown to pieces.

I seem to recall that her dog had wanted out just before the explosion and that she had gone to the back door to take him out. That probably saved her life since the back of the house remained standing. A local newspaper has this week reported that her two…

And I Am You - by Judy Mackie

Reviewed by Duncan Harley Layla is a splendidly timeless song penned by Eric Clapton and co-songwriter Jim Gordon of Derek and the Dominos fame.
Inspired by an Arabian love story – Layla and Majnun – Clapton’s song made 27 in Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time and won a Grammy in 1993. Clapton was of course in love with Patti Boyd – the wife of his friend George Harrison. Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry for a few years and Layla – the song not the lady – would become ranked amongst the greatest rock songs of all time. They all remained friends. In fact - and stick with this - Harrison attended the Clapton and Boyd wedding and gave his blessing to the unlikely pair. Lyrics include the immortal lines:

‘Let's make the best of the situation
Before I finally go insane.’

And now, some decades after the release of Clapton’s Layla, North-east author Judy Mackie, inspired perhaps by the lyrics, has penneda novel deeply rooted in those far-off but timeless events. …

That Panto Magic – by Duncan Harley

There’s a splendidly written panto review in today’s Times in Scotland penned by the redoubtable Allan Radcliffe. Titled 'This recycled panto scrubs up most agreeably', Allan’s take on Aladdin @ Glasgow’s King’s Theatre rang some familiar bells. ‘There is much that is familiar in this year’s beano, from the dazzling orange-and-yellow colour scheme that infuses the set and costumes to the traditional final song sheet’ he writes. ‘Indeed, several of the comic set pieces will stir a strong sense of déjà vu in anyone who has seen a panto from the Qdos entertainment stable, in recent years.’
I could not concur more. That is, if that Scrabble six letter word concur word makes any sense any more.

As one who has endured a good many panto offerings - some good and some completely awful, and indeed a great many spectacularly difficult theatrical failures over the years, that pattern of hoary old asides and inuendo-laden-jokes has become de rigueur. ‘Look behind you’ is but one and ‘Oh …

Lennon, Yoko and Ray and me – by Duncan Harley

The weekend papers are brim-full of John Lennon tributes. It’s an anniversary of when he died.
Shot five times from behind by a fan intent on taking over his fame, Lennon bled to death in a New York street some four decades ago while we all listened intently to his music.

As the tabloids screamed the news, the perp – some sad man called Chapman was arrested, tried and incarcerated. Seemingly, aged 63, he is about to get out of the penitentiary – that is if he can be pronounced sane.

Today’s Times Mag’ carries a piece by biographer Ray Connolly who describes himself as a friend of the dead musician. Fluently illustrated with shots and quotes from the day, it makes for a good read although one has to wonder how well Connolly actually knew the dead star and why he waited 38 years to tell the tale.

It’s a bit like when a famous gangster dies. Headlines scream the loss and news-weary tabloids predict the death of crime as we know it. Twill never be the same. Extortion is now officially dea…

Jamie Fleeman - by Duncan Harley

Jamie Fleeman lies buried at Longside churchyard. Alongside the usual information one might expect to find on a gravestone are his last words which read “Dinna bury me like a beast”.
Known far and wide as “The Laird of Udny’s Fool” Jamie was employed by a local laird who, alongside paying him to look after his geese, looked upon him as a kind of family jester.

Described as having a “large round head with dull hair that stood on end giving the impression he had been scared out of his wits", Jamie is specifically mentioned in various publications including the New Statistical Account of Scotland of 1845:
“No offence is meant by introducing here the name of an individual who had a county - if not a national - reputation, and whose printed memorabilia have gone through several editions. This was Jamie Fleeman, the Laird of Udny's fool, who flourished here about the middle of last century. His name appears frequently in the session's list of paupers and his sayings and doings…

Gordon Duthie – A Thran backwoods poet

I've ranted on about this man's music many a time and in the course of ploughing through some glossy copies of Leopard Magazine dating from early 2015 I came across this review of his quite splendid album Thran. 
As I recall, we met up in Kintore to have tea and scones before heading off to the local graveyard to do a photo-shoot alongside the Pictish stones in the churchyard. 
As for the bill - I think he paid it, but I cant quite recall to be honest.

The review went along the following lines:
"With the release of his third album Thran, NE singer/songwriter/musician Gordon Duthie reflects on the 74 year old event in which his great grandfather’s fishing vessel, Fraserburgh registered Steam Drifter SS Duthies was sunk in Montrose Harbour by the young men of the Luftwaffe. Alongside titles such as Whisky Disco and Feel Loon did a Wildpoepen, Gordon’s tribute to Sandhaven built FR106 Duthies is just one of ten provocative numbers in this new offering.

A year in the making,

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs @ His Majesty’s Aberdeen – reviewed by Duncan Harley

The traditional folk tale of how the beautiful Snow White survived the evil queen’s murderous attention has been told in many versions over the centuries. Countries across the globe from Albania to Malaya hold versions of the tale deeply rooted in popular culture.  In an Indian take on the story, the magic mirror is portrayed as a talking parrot and an Albanian version has Snow White’s jealous sisters portrayed as a murderous duo intent on her untimely demise.
The Brothers Grimm are often credited with having collected the definitive version of the story. Featuring seven unnamed dwarfs, a glass coffin and an insanely jealous stepmother they published several versions of the tale over the period 1812-1854. In 1937 the tale was subjected to Disneyfication and, despite Disney having trademarked the name “Snow White” in 2013, the films and the literature continue to follow the snowy-white road.
Ever popular as a pantomime theme the likes of Dawn French, Wendi Peters and even Strictly Sta…

Gay Gordons – By Duncan Harley

It’s a funny old life. Many more years ago than I care to remember I considered an army career. The lure of the uniform and an escape from a post-WW2 factory job in a Lanarkshire light-bulb factory was at the back of it.

An interview in Edinburgh followed - all expenses paid as I recall. A sad relic of the battles in Korea, replete with coloured gongs and khaki trousers sat behind a desk and asked various questions.
“Would I be prepared to undergo basic training at Sandhurst? … did I have a relative who had served in the desert who might vouch for me … did I have backbone? Would I like a Sam Browne.”

Well, the answer to most of those questions was a resounding maybe. And I returned to my light-bulb career for a brief period before taking up knitting for a hobby.

I only say this since, and I know that I have harped on about this sort of exploitation of writers before, the library @ the Gordon Highlander Museum recently asked me for £60 per day to research within their hallowed halls…

The Woods of Blelack @ Logie Coldstone – by Duncan Harley

Logie Coldstone in Aberdeenshire is home to the lost wells of Poldhu. Hidden deep within Woods of Blelack and fed by natural spring water, the granite-lined mineral baths at Poldhu were once a popular attraction for those seeking cures for virtually any ailment.

Mentioned in the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) they are described as:
“a mineral spring in the parish of Logie Coldstone, a little to the south of the church, called Poldow, which in Gaelic, signifies a Black Pool, the water of which some years ago was much, and successfully, used for scorbutic and gravelish disorders”.

By the time of the Second Statistical Account (1834-1845) interest appears to have waned and the wells at Poldhu were said to be “occasionally resorted to by some, for the benefit of their health, and by others for amusement”.

With time, a 6ft high rhododendron thicket enveloped the wells and hid them from view.
Recently however, interest in the historic site revived following the chanc…