April 10, 2015

Arty Farty Aberdeen: look at me street festival

Rabbie Burns is fitba crazy

Rabbie Burns is fitba crazy

Rabbie Burns in fitba socks in the colours of France and Russia is not an everyday sight, even in Aberdeen. His fitba is the planet Mercury and he’s wearing headphones created by a 3-D printer.

Don’t know if Rabbie was a fitba supporter but he supported the French Revolution hence their tricolor of red, white and blue that makes up his stockings. And conveniently these are also the colours of Russia the nation that took the great poet to their hearts and minds and who celebrate Burns almost as much as here in Scotland. Actually thinking about it perhaps more so in some ways. Wasn’t it the Soviet Union that put Burns on a postal stamp a decade before the British post office did? Yes is the answer.

The Soviets were drawn to Burns’ down-to-earth poetry elevating the lives of the humble Scot and wee creatures alike.

Why Mercury? It appears that there is a crater on Mercury named after Rabbie. Not the Rabbie crater but the Burns crater. Check it out.

The headphones Rabbie’s wearing I’ve said were produced on a 3D printer in Scotland’s and Jamaica’s colours. The colours of the Jamaican flag are a reference to the post of bookkeeper he planned to take up for there was little money in poetry but he never lived to sail to the slave island. That would have been interesting.

Rabbie Burns’ gull was most put out by all the additional attention the poet was getting and watched with a jaundiced eye from the dyke at Union Terrace Gardens as people crowded around to take their pictures. He (or she) occasionally claimed his or her usual spot on the top of Rabbie’s bonce, nudging forward the headphones to get a better perch. He (or she) hasn’t yet discovered the headphones are made out of cellulose, I think, or something like that, and possibly edible.

The Mannie outside the Athaneum, one-time well and water source for people living in the area, spiks Doric to anyone who approaches it.

On the wee mannie’s heid is a motion sensor, a bit like Spike, mind Spike in the Winter Gardens in Duthie Park? only mair Doric. The mannie’s heid is covered by a wooden box with four different faces and contained inside those clips of local people that play when anyone is close by.

Albert, Queen Victoria’s squeeze hasn’t been touched as such – still think the red moustache he sported for a time contributed 100% to his appeal. Ah well, the grass around Albert who has been sitting on his backside for well over a century is arranged with blue and white flags, not as I assumed representing Scotland but signifying ideas, as in blue sky thinking (I think). The Central Library at his back is a lucky coincidence in that it extends the association of ideas.

The statue of Robert the Bruce is decorated with ceramic birds, I assumed seagulls but apparently pigeons also.

Not sure if they add anything although they are delightfully arranged and only enhance this dull sculpture for Aberdeen’s statues often sport a gull, or three or four.

General Charles Gordon on Schoolhill is beautifully attired in vibrant knitwear. I had initially gone to the wrong Gordon. I do get my Gordons mixed up. The one in Golden Square didn’t feature in this festival. Gordon of the gorgeous woollen scarf knitted in the colours of Sudan amongst other places he was associated with is the famous, uhm, infamous butcher of all sorts of foreign lands – Gordon of Khartoum.

One of the local Gordons – all Gordons originated from Aberdeenshire – including Commissioner Gordon in Batman – Gordon on Schoolhill was himself butchered and his head paraded on the end of a pike. What had he done to deserve such an end?

This Gordon was one of the fighting Gordons among his most celebrated involvements the siege of Sebastopol in the Crimean War and the Second Opium War fought by the British to force China to open its rich markets to British merchants, to dominate Chinese trade and to do this without paying taxes to the Chinese. And it did it, through coercion obviously and by selling opium to the Chinese; vast, vast quantities of the narcotic.

Opium was used as a medicine in China but otherwise prohibited. British merchants bought up stocks of the drug and traded it through the British East India Company. The profits it made British businessmen were immense. The impact on China, devastating. As if this wasn’t enough General Gordon ordered the Chinese Emperor’s summer palace in Beijing be burnt down. He was that sort of guy.

Later he became a governor of a province of Sudan during which time he mapped the Nile, not for natives you understand, but Europeans who would make their way inland to carry out trade on the African continent. On other occasions he whiled away his time crushing native rebels outraged at having British imperialist armies marching onto their land and ordering them around.

To cut a long story short he was sent back to Sudan, having served in several other places, to tackle a group of fighters known as the Mahdists, Islamists who resisted Christian colonialists. Gordon and his men held out for a while but eventually he met his bloody end.

I suppose it’s therefore appropriate that Gordon should be dressed by a knitting technique called Yarn Bombing in the colours of the several places in which he served, and splendid he looks. The knitting is beautifully done – partly hand, partly machine. Nice binoculars and stick.

I didn’t speak to the artist who dressed William Wallace, the finest Wallace statue in all of Scotland. Once a Guardian of Scotland, Wallace has been transformed into a Guardian of the future. The materials in his tabard (and is his tabard a coincidence or meant to be associated with the Toom Tabard? Look it up) are light sensitive and are different day and night. I’m sure there’s more to it than that. Anyone know?

Someone told me one or two complaints appeared on social meeja suggesting Wallace had been desecrated to which I say, get a life and anyway he isn’t a god. I love this statue and am a defender of the role of Wallace in Scotland’s history, regarding him as a more admirable figure than the Bruce but, honestly loosen yer corsets guys and embrace a bit of cultcha.

Look Again, Aberdeen’s Visual and Art and Design Festival is fun and meant to get you taking a second look at street furniture that is so familiar it has become invisible. For some of these statues that’s no bad thing. Perhaps one day we could employ a crane and a wrecking ball to dispose of one or two of them and have them replaced with real public art.

There’s more to the festival than this but that’s all you’re getting from me.

April 10, 2015

Jim Murphy Saviour of the Union: a small work of genius and hilarity

https://www.youtube.com/embed/afRE3RwLwaE“>

Eat yer heart out Neil Oliver

April 4, 2015

The most dangerous woman in Britain and the forger’s pen: Nicola Sturgeon and the Zinoviev Letter

Well, well we have scarcely seen the back of scaremongering stories in the press, along with all those patronising noises about Scotland an equal partner in the Union, when a TV debate among party leaders fuels a further onslaught of dirty tricks.

Cheering from the sidelines is the Labour Party – see how its desperate members attach themselves to their new-found allies in the conservative Telegraph and Daily Mail, quashing any doubts that they are Red Tories.

It hasn’t escaped the notice of historians among us that the Labour Party has been the victim of similar political smears not least when they were damned by association of being too socialist and likely to open the door to communism in Great Britain. Oh how times have changed.

Labour had formed a minority government in 1923 under Ramsay MacDonald despite polling far fewer votes than the Tories (take note Murphy). It attempted to govern with support of the Liberals but they would not back its socialist measures, other than a council housing programme, and in 1924 another election was called.

With exquisite timing up popped a letter shortly before polling day. Not any letter but one said to have been written by Grigory Zinoviev, the Soviet head of the communist international. It urged close ties between the Soviet Union and Britain; this was shortly after the Russian Revolution and the political right used it prove their case that the Red hoards were about to invade or get their comrades in this country to do their dirty work for them and spread their foreign ideologies of communism and socialism through the shires and cities of Britain, or England as it was known then.

It was leaked to The Mail which did its duty and published it. The clear intention of its publication was to damage support for the Labour Party in the election, for MacDonald when in power had recognised the Soviet government and was negotiating repayment of Tsarist debt from it and the release of a fresh loan which horrified the British establishment.

Zinoviev

Zinoviev immediately denied the letter came from him. He pointed out basic errors which backed his claim and soon suspicion fell on agents and officers from MI5. Later inquiries seemed to indicate involvement of White Russians, monarchists living in Berlin in collusion with the Intelligence services. Any doubts there might have been over the letter’s authenticity was secondary to the desire of the innately conservative civil servants of Whitehall and the foreign office from where it was leaked to its value as black propaganda to damage the Labour Party and influence the election outcome.

The spectre of another socialist government, one that might actually begin to shift the social certainties in Britain went down like a lead balloon with the ultra-conservative British establishment.

MacDonald was in no doubt the letter was a political conspiracy. Subsequent investigations led to involvement of Stewart Menzies, later head of MI6, and fellow Etonian Desmond Morton, also involved in Intelligence and arch enemy of the Soviets.

The Labour Party was then still fairly new and very different from its current rightwing persona. It was regarded as a threat to the stability of the United Kingdom and the establishment’s megaphone of the press was happy to collude with publishing hysterical headlines, similar to those that now define the British press’ attacks on Scotland, the SNP and its leftwing agenda for it believed then the Labour Party was a danger to the stability of Britain, or rather the establishment’s narrow, self-interests.

MacDonald

Down the decades there is a similar reaction from the press and the corridors of Whitehall and the security services to any form of social and political upheaval and it sees plenty social and political upheaval it sees emerging from an SNP government. Shock that the independence referendum was merely the opening round and not the end of Scottish ambitions and the realisation that major changes to the political landscape of Scotland are just beginning -with a huge wave of support for the SNP and the Scottish Greens and the SSP has had a laxative effect on the establishment and their lackeys.

By the way the Zinoviev forgery did not lose the Labour Party votes though it did lose it the election when a whopping number of Liberals shifted their votes to their natural allies the Tories from Red-dread thereby wiping out the Liberals for decades until they crawled back into bed with their pals in 2010.

The attacks on Nicola Sturgeon so hot on the heels of her acclaimed success in the leaders’ debate is no coincidence and only the start of a combined strategy by the forces of conservatism – Tory, Labour and Libdem, to demonise her, ‘the most dangerous woman in Britain’.

The gloves are off and as in 1924 the truth is irrelevant and only headlines and their impact matter in this fight. We have just seen how quick the British press is to repeat lies meant to damage a reputation and oh, so reluctant to check the authenticity of outrageous claims making them no better today than they were in 1924.

As for Miliband his unseemly rush to add credibility to this obvious forgery in an effort to shift attention from his ineffectual and unpopular leadership confirms the general opinion of him as a pathetic and unprincipled man.

March 30, 2015

High Jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery

They were queuing down Schoolhill to get into the high jinks at Aberdeen Art Gallery this weekend despite there being no exhibition.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

One hundred and thirty years down the line and the gallery is finally getting a major extension and refurbishment. It is not without controversy for the rooftop addition seems oddly out of kilter with the grand, sombre pink Corrennie and white Kemnay granite solidity of the weel kent facade on Schoolhill.

Aberdeen granite

The unique granite columns in a rainbow of colours, most from local quarries, topped with gilded Doric capitals are a reminder of an industry that will forever be associated with Aberdeen and the northeast of Scotland, and that the gallery was first established to promote local industry and craft.

But this blog is not about architecture. That is a dreary enough topic in the realm of Aberdeen City lately but a meandering, though short reminiscence of what the gallery has meant for me for I’ll miss it over the next couple of years.

It used to sit next door to Gray’s Art School. Not that the gallery has moved but the art school has, and while attending Saturday morning classes there as a youngster I suppose I was first introduced to the gallery.

It was a very different place from how it looks today. For example the once much loved sculpture court, filled with figures I think copies of ancient classical statues, was a source of infinite fascination for kids, and probably adults. I spent hours drawing one or other of them. I think we had names for one or two but can’t remember what those were. Can’t recall either when it was decided the sculptures were too out-of-date and were relegated to the knackers yard but they were sorely missed. Their departure opened up a large hall for temporary exhibitions but I never felt the same about them as I did about the maze of ghostly figures that invited you in to wander around and up to them to stretch out a tentative hand to trace the smooth plaster of a beautifully formed limb or take their icy cold fingers in yours.

Then came the 1970s and the space was populated with abstract sculptures equally tactile and hugely attractive for wee bairns for some of them would not be out of place in a children’s playground.

I always had more conservative tastes as far as the gallery’s collections were concerned. My favourite pictures were upstairs in the green room where a cluster of tiny portraits were exhibited on vertical display boards that you could open up. Several were by the Aberdeen artist George Reid and the translucency of his skin tones are breathtaking; on a par with Ramsay’s.

Titian's First Study in Colour

It too disappeared, into storage as the gallery changed. What did stay in that room was the hugely popular William Dyce picture, Titian’s First Essay in Colouring. The colours, appropriately enough are sumptuous and it is one of those paintings you can spend a long time staring into for its detail and magic. Aberdonian Dyce was part of the pre-Raphaelite circle and while the gallery has several by the better-known of the movement’s artists, it is the Dyce that I prefer. Here in the green room was Millais’s portrait of a young girl, Bright Eyes, with its striking resemblance to my daughter so that it became a must-see whenever we were in the gallery.

bright eyes

Henri La Thangue’s Ploughboy was another of my favourites and possibly one reason I took so much to the French realists who painted artisans, peasants and labourers with near spiritual reverence.Ploughboy Guthrie

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Jules Bastien-Lepage’s painting of a child Going to School is simply charming. An everyday scene from a French village the sparsity of the background means it is the elaborate headgear worn by the child as well as its sweet face which are the captivating elements within it.

And the Goose Girl or as it’s not known, To Pastures New. This wonderful study by James Guthrie is such an striking image and the colours so subtle and perfect and quiet and ideally pastoral.

goose girl

Train Landscape by Eric Ravilious I used to find oddly captivating in an understated way.

trains

As a teenager I visited the red and green rooms less often preferring to look at the Leger still life and Paul Nash’s trees in a landscape. nash

The shapes fascinated me. George Braque too was one of my introductions to cubism. But a visit was never complete without a peek at Landseer’s Highland Flood for few could resist reading this vast picture like a book brimmed with tragedy and drama.

flood

There were the chairs. Fittingly the gallery chairs were very different from any we had at home. Very designery and modern (though in fact by the time I was going into the gallery they were old designs), black leather and chrome: squashy soft seats that invited visitors to sit and stare into the fountain, once it was added and which used to have a Barbara Hepworth piece at its centre.

I never took to the café which replaced the old teashop with its cake stands filled with sandwiches and fancies. There was something quintessentially sophisticated and worthy about the old place which the cafe never achieved, always found it a noisy, uncomfortable space with far less attractive food than most other places nearby and not a patch on any other museum I’ve visited.

One upon a time Aberdeen did have a museum dedicated to, well, Aberdeen. Housed in the dunks of the Cowdray Hall it was a long narrow space, all dark varnished wood and, as I remember though I expect misremember, filled with dusty glass cases you had to peer into and were filled with all kinds of this and that to enthral young minds.

In the modern era I quite like Julian Opie’s Sara Walking for its rhythmic almost hypnotic quality. Almost. opie

My favourite of the most recent acquisitions is the figure of a Chinese girl holding flowers aloft as a salute. Can’t remember what it’s called or who the artist is but there’s something highly attractive, in a literal sense, to this piece.

boy

There were no such attractions on show this weekend. The hundreds who waited patiently to get in were the attraction in a sense, putting their mark on its walls, it is their building after all and joining in the fun and games, and cake eating on offer. By any standards it was a huge success. When it re-opens in 2017 I hope there will be something similar, to entice back the regulars and coax in some who are still daunted by the exterior grandeur of the place to persuade them art galleries and museums are or should really be about them and be palaces of fun and education.

Don’t know if the old closing bell will survive the revamp. Maybe it will. The old wooden revolving doors went several years ago, thought to be a deterrent to potential visitors. Dyce (Aberdeen International) Airport doesn’t appear to have that problem with its revolving door but there you go.

The marble staircase is going much to the disapproval of some. No idea what will happen to the marble.

P1030569

Two years is a long time but there are other museums available, not enough, but we are in Aberdeen after all. Meanwhile you can catch and play around with some of the collections at Aberdeen Quest http://www.aberdeenquest.com/home/home.asp

quest

P1030599

March 23, 2015

Master Planning in the Granite City

P1030506

How Aberdeen’s ring road was once envisaged, intersecting with the beach boulevard.

In the foreground an assembly hall and theatre.

That was in 1949. Time now to consider the latest version of Aberdeen’s Master Plan so brace yourselves for an onslaught of fatuous bureaucrat-speak.

Key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, did I say? enhanced, revitalisation, dynamic, did I say enhance? ambitious, vision, opportunities, did I say enhance? = an exercise in verbiage.

Aberdeen City and Shire Economic Future’s Economic Manifesto, and Action Plan (yes, really) states that the City Centre must act as a key business location, retail centre, major tourist destination, historical and cultural centre, leisure and entertainment centre, key transport node, and a place where people live and feel safe.

It will not have escaped your notice the order of importance listed by Aberdeen City Council – historical and cultural and indeed a place where people live and feel safe as well as transport trail behind retail – as usual.

You cannot ever accuse Aberdeen City Council of understanding the real worth of the city and its own responsibilities.

Aberdeen City Council has never sought to complement and enhance Aberdeen’s unique identity. On the contrary it has sought and succeeded in burying anything unique about Aberdeen in its drive to prove Aberdeen can look like any other town with a bland urban landscape devoid of uniqueness and interest – a cultural desert.

In its Masterplan the Council uses the analogy of the human body to describe the city with Union Street as the spine. It is tempting to suggest that while the city may have a spine the council does not.

For all its high-faluting language we only have to look around at the flimflam chaos and lost opportunities to discover where reality lies. Instead of me setting out what might, but probably won’t, materialise I’m reviewing what has been dished up in the name of planning.

Take the fairly recently built bus station – could it be any more alienating to passengers? People struggle to get there with luggage, from taxis and cars. Families find it virtually impossible to see off family, rushing them out of cars with their luggage from no waiting streets such as Guild Street and Market Street. Why was seating not provided for waiting bus passengers? Why do buses have to perform hazardous reversing manoeuvres when leaving bus stances? Whoever designed the bus station and whoever sanctioned it should have been sacked for incompetency. As soon as it was built it was discovered the place was not fit for purpose, as the man from the council might say. You can be fairly certain those who designed it don’t use it.

Take the Green, or the Merchant Quarter as we are encouraged, unsuccessfully, to call it, where charges for cafes providing seating outside put obstacles in the way of creating a relaxed café atmosphere that the council made such a hoo-ha about wanting yet had no idea how to implement. And it is typical that these guys don’t appreciate the area’s name used and recognised by generations of Aberdonians, the Green. If they don’t get this they won’t get any of it.

Take the ugly, ugly mini retail park at the historic Bridge of Dee. Who but a group of madmen on speed would sanction that?

Take the traffic nightmare on Guild Street, all manufactured by the well-paid jobsworths of Aberdeen City Council.

Take the current state of the once majestic Bridge Street transformed into a state of tacky ugliness.

amadeus

Take the beach Esplanade nice enough it runs along a magnificent beach front but don’t look landward at the horrendous erections city planners let companies away with. Why has this choice site never been reclaimed? Another sacking offence surely?

Take the demolition of old Torry. That sums up the short-sighted, blinkered, ignorance that marks out Aberdeen City planners over the years with no conception of the value of heritage.

Take the Castlegate. Once bustling and a traffic hub it was killed stone dead by planners who thought shutting out traffic would make it people-friendly. It didn’t it made it a no-go area.

Take the shoddy and shabby upper deck at the St Nicholas Centre that closed-off the historical St Nicholas Street and in its place created a dead space; unfriendly and creepy area after dark. Name and shame the architect responsible and the planners who ticked his box. st nich deck 2

Take the approval given to the bland, boring and out-of-keeping blocks that will surround Aberdeen’s only red brick spire at the Triple Kirks. Shameful.

I could go on because quite honestly it’s think of an area and chances are the cack-handed touch of Aberdeen Council has damaged it in some way.

Aberdeen bureaucrats speak a good game, as good as any in other parts no doubt. They don’t deliver on their prattle.  They deliver all that is vulgar, uninspiring and tasteless.

Pedestrianisation is back on the agenda. Pedestrianism is a tricky trick to master. It can deprive areas of life – again those dead spaces, far from creating pedestrian friendly areas cut them off as useable.

Do not pedestrianise Union Street. Remove the pedestrianisation of the Castlegate and bring buses back there and reinstate a direct route to the beach.

I wholly agree with the intention to utilise upper floors of Union Street buildings. Where they cannot be turned into shops or offices I think upper floors that are not used should be taken over by the council and used for social housing. This would bring life back into the centre of the city.

Another ambition, they claim, is to encourage high quality architecture. That is precisely what has not been happening and will not be delivered in the disastrous Broad Street shopping centre nor those bland boxes at the Triple Kirks.

Making our towns and cities comfortable and safe and practical places for the people who inhabit them is too important to leave to the whims of dubiously qualified planners, developers and their cronies.

Following World War II the city plan shows how those then charged with responsibility for modernising Aberdeen considered thirty years the lifespan of a building and after that it was fair game for replacement having outlived its usefulness.

‘…it must not be overlooked, that sooner or later, buildings of all classes, no matter how well preserved structurally, become out-of-date from a functional point of view.’

It was this mindset that lost Aberdeen its interesting old wynds and courts and old Torry. The drive for modrenisation that involved ripping out and tearing down. We saw it during the years of Harold Wilson’s government when dead-eyed concrete towers sprang up in all our towns and cities as a harbinger of the new age which unfortunately turned out to be an age of instant slums and social alienation.

Back in 1949 there were good ideas mixed with bad in its Master Plan such as an entire ring road, not only Anderson Drive, that incorporated a bridge over the harbour mouth to permit industrial traffic from the eastern parts of the city and the fishing ports of Fraserburgh and Peterhead, the harbour, fish market and so on, easy access north and south.

The proposed assembly hall at the beach (see top picture) did not materialise and neither did the graceful bridge that would have offset the burden of traffic crawling through the city and away from the congested Bridge of Dee. Something of the kind could have be built now in place of the western peripheral route but the vision wasn’t there.

Notice, too, the elegant line of the banana pier that has been lost by the addition of an ugly light at its end and wire mesh to keep people off. It is another mark of how in this country people are stopped, blocked, prevented from getting close to the nooks and crannies and places familiar to previous generations by increased private restrictions and overarching public regulations.

harbour

You’ll see what I mean with this ’49 proposal for Market Street; a working area of the city. No high fences to keep people out but the integration of people and space. I struggle to understand how it is people elsewhere survive wandering around harbours when we are deemed incapable of walking past water without succumbing to the urge to fall in.

So much of urban life is about alienation. People are valued for how quickly they will part with their cash – hence the preference for shops over community spaces, as in a Marischal Square. It is as if our councillors work for private business and not citizens. Their concerns are purely economic. The well-being of the citizens of Aberdeen comes way down any list of priorities, if it makes that list at all. There is a shallowness that pervades Aberdeen Town House, a general incompetency and disregard for their roles as guardians of the past as well as the future.

st nich deck

It is interesting that the creation of space in the 1949 plans was regarded in keeping with the concept of functionality. Space now is at a premium and as we know from the Marischal Square debacle must give way to yet more retail – as far as the eye can see.

The spaces that would have been created in ’49 would have come from flattening what was there. Flattening there certainly was but those bold ideas remained on paper and never found expression into bricks and mortar.

beach

The illustration of how the beach might be transformed at the end of the Second World War with a short pier and play pool areas to the north of the Broad Hill looks child friendly but were never built. But at the same time thank goodness those acres of flat-roof blocks, like some prison complex, did not see the light of day. But a pier would have been nice.

When future plans are written we can be sure they will contain key terms then current, variations on

key, transformation, vibrant, reawakening, deserves, accessible, enhanced, significant, enhanced, shaping, stakeholders, revitalisation, dynamic, ambitious, vision, opportunities

as an exercise in ticking boxes but our children and grandchildren will left to ponder when those terms lost all meaning, leaving their value only as word count to bulk up planning documents.

Meanwhile the little that remains of Aberdeen’s unique heritage is dependent on the whims and abilities of this and the next incumbents of the Town House. It is an absurd method of determining the future of the city that is guaranteed to plunder its past and waste opportunities in the pursuit of short-term ambitions of a few men and women of dubious capability. We have seen it before. We see it now. And we will see it in the future. One thing is certain, planning officials don’t change their spots.

March 21, 2015

Rubislaw Quarry versus the Planners from the Dept of You Couldn’t Make It Up

Rubislaw Quarry

 

Rubislaw Quarry

Rubislaw Quarry

You could not make it up, as they say.

I think there ought to be an inquiry into the quality of planners at Aberdeen City Council. At the very least those employed there should have to undergo an aptitude test – and fast.

There is no logic, no understanding the poor unintelligible decisions that emerge from this dismal department.

They approve the worst sorts of development that offer the city neither architectural merit nor understanding the area’s historical references. It is as if Aberdeen City planners are basically ignorant and talentless as well as devoid of any positive vision to enhance the attractiveness of the city.

The latest shambles is the planning department’s negative response to a proposed heritage centre at the iconic, and it really is iconic, Rubislaw Quarry.

The concept is brilliant and admirable. The guys behind it should be lauded for its potential impact on the city as a tourist attraction. What is there not to like?

This type of development is precisely what Aberdeen is desperate for.

Aberdeen and the northeast is defined in part by the granite industry and this idea would provide it with a fitting memorial. Something of the kind should have been constructed decades ago. Years ago I suggested that when St Nicholas House came down a granite look-out tower should be erected, to mark the industry, from where people could view the city, the sea and over the land. Of course nothing came of it. The truth is Aberdeen City Council is as good as its officers and their impact on the cityscape speaks for itself. This is a council that understands nothing beyond the mundane – beyond retail and more retail. When it comes to culture and heritage there is a gap as wide and deep as Rubislaw Quarry. There is no comprehension of the value of heritage. No concept of collective pride that comes from a shared industrial or cultural inheritance. No pride in the past. No veneration of local craftsmen and women. No understanding that heritage tourism is an immense economic driver that attracts visitors to places to discover what makes them distinctive.

It came as no surprise a recent poll showed Aberdonians feel less pride in their city than elsewhere in Scotland. In Aberdeen the past is brushed aside like so much detritus. Look around there is very little to see and this reinforces the idea that there is nothing of Aberdeen’s past worthy of commemoration.

There is NO museum dedicated to Aberdeen and its surroundings. That says it all. So much of immense importance happened in Aberdeen but so little is widely known and as a consequence Aberdeen and the northeast are largely written out of the histories of Scotland. Aberdeen City Council is complicit in this state of denial.

The people behind the Rubislaw heritage proposal should be welcomed with open arms instead of being met by carping petty obstructiveness. They are doing what the council should have done. Their attempts to preserve this amazing landmark from which the city was built is commendable.

Rubislaw Quarry

So why are the planners at Aberdeen City Council not falling over themselves to grasp this opportunity with open arms?

They are so blinkered they cannot understand why the visitor attraction should be based at the quarry – the very quarry that is being commemorated and one of the biggest man-made holes in europe. Yes that is what they said. The Rubislaw Quarry visitor attraction could be anywhere – because frankly, these jobsworths do not have the first understanding of how heritage works.

Plonk a visitor centre anywhere and you might attract visitors. Position a visitor centre within the context of its subject and you immediately enhance its value.

It appears the dullards at Aberdeen City Council’s planning office are more concerned with some trees that would have to be felled than losing a great granite memorial and potentially first-rate tourist attraction.

I love trees and don’t like to see them taken out but sometimes you have to for the greater good. This is one of those times. I do not recall the same outcry from the Council when removal of mature trees from Union Terrace Gardens was being approved.

Several years ago a handful of people promoting culture in the Council tried to get a development underway at the Quarry. It was hoped it might be drained and something like the proposed centre built, an indoor rainforest experience created at the bottom of the drained quarry and perhaps sports activities such as climbing walls within the quarry. Drainage was going to be hugely expensive and nothing came of the plans – but they were within the auspices of Aberdeen City Council so of course nothing came of the plan.

 

 

It is time to tip these planners out of their cosy existence with Aberdeen City Council and have them named and shamed. They do Aberdeen a great injustice by their feeble timidity and the people of Aberdeen deserve and should demand much better.

Show your support for the Rubislaw Quarry proposal and give Aberdeen City  council and its planning department the bird.

 

http://www.rubislawquarry.co.uk/history/

March 16, 2015

In the midst of poverty there was plenty: William S Rennie – Socialist

William Simpson Rennie Aberdeen

William Simpson Rennie
Aberdeen

William Simpson Rennie: Socialist & Stonecutter

Guest blog by Textor

William Simpson Rennie, 1866-1894, was a man of his time and one who would have asked questions of the present morass of greed, wars and crises.   Sadly aside from labour historians he is probably unknown to most Aberdonians, but for a brief period, too brief a period, he was one of the best known men amongst the city’s working class.

He was a member of that band of activists of the 1880s and ’90s who fought hard for the rights of working men and women.   At meetings, demonstrations and marches he, with others, stood against wealth and privilege and argued for the right to unionise as well as believing in the need for labour to have its own distinct political voice in parliament.   In other words he had a notion that the classes defined society and as a consequence favoured foundation of a Labour Party, although not necessarily the one that we now know. Through the later part of the nineteenth century most of the parliamentary and municipal representation of workers found expression through the Liberal Party.   Socialism challenged this.

S. Rennie came originally from Ellon but spent most of his life in Aberdeen. where he served his apprenticeship with Bower & Florence at the Spittal Granite Works, becoming a qualified stonecutter in the 1880s, when the reputation of the city as the place for quality granite work and workers was at its highest.   From the beginning of the 19th century to William’s time the sophistication of the stone trade had come on leaps and bounds.   Basically the trade consisted of the building side and the monumental-decorative industry.   Evidence of the skills of both can be seen in not only the remarkable monuments standing in cemeteries across the world but also the fine cutting displayed on buildings, bridges and other civil engineering structures.   This was the working life of William Simpson.   Like many others he crossed the pond and spent some time in the United States, taking his skills to Concord, New Hampshire to work with many other Scotsmen and stonecutters from across the world.   William was there 1889-1890. when Concord’s granite industry was at its height, with 20 local quarries, 44 stone companies and 45% of the population were foreign born. Apart from the attraction of available work the town had a further attraction for W.S.: Concord was at one time the home of the American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and this fact made work in New Hampshire doubly attractive.   When he returned to Aberdeen he came, back as his fellow stonemason and historian of the Trades Council records, abuzz with stories of his time in the US and replete with Americanisms.

Coming from the highly esteemed granite industry William, within his own class, was in an envious position.   Stone masons had a long history of being willing to defend their craft status against any attempts either to cut wages or undermine their rights.   Like others they suffered the ups and downs of economic cycles, trade slumps and booms.   But given that so much of the work they carried out depended upon knowledge of stone, manual skill and dexterity, in times of business upswing masons were in a relatively strong position.    Unlike trades such as handloom weaving which had been destroyed by mechanisation machinery had not pushed their skills to the margins.

William S Rennie Headstone

William S Rennie
Headstone

It seems that W. S. first entered the political arena in the mid 1880s when he joined Aberdeen Parliamentary Debating Society a forum for all manner of opinions.   This was some forty plus years after the high points of the Chartist movement, years which had seen the creation and expansion of a more secure industrial capitalist society.   In the process, or perhaps more correctly part of the process, elements of the working class had organised themselves into trade unions which had more solid foundations than those of the earlier period.   Working class interests became more distinct and with a gradual expansion of workers’ indirect representation in Parliament socialist ideas began to permeate ever wider circles with a corresponding challenge to and gradual decline of Liberalism’s influence.

William Rennie was in at the formation of Aberdeen Socialist Society, he represented Aberdeen Operatives’ and Stonecutters’ Union on the Trades Council and was a founding member of the local Social Democratic Federation and Aberdeen Independent Labour Party.   This was a period of mass outdoor meetings with Castle Street-Castlegate being particularly favoured for gathering.   He was no shrinking violet and had no hesitation in addressing hundreds of workers, whether it was damning the managers of the gasworks for sacking men with many years service, calling for the introduction of the eight hour day, demanding that all Town Council workers be paid union rates, or seeking help for the unemployed; all these issues and more drove the stonecutter to fight for a fairer more just society.

He was a member of what the conservative Aberdeen Daily Journal called the advanced wing of socialists which, for them, was evident in, among others things, in his call for the nationalisation of land.   No doubt this was confirmed when William Rennie took part in a demonstration in 1891, standing behind an Aberdeen Socialist Society banner which made fun of the Duke of Argyll.   Aberdeen’s socialists did not falter when it came to attacking privilege and wealth and when necessary denounce the class pretensions of local Town Councillors: in 1892 William writing as a representative of the city’s unemployed demanded relief work for those in distress, including men being put to work on building council housing.   This letter was not couched in wheedling tones but in terms of strident rights for the unemployed.   Some Councillors took great exception to this including Provost Stewart who said the letter had a disrespectful tone; Baillie Lyon said it came from a subversive street meeting and was seditious.   Unperturbed W. S. damned the Council decision to pass a list of the city’s unemployed to the Aberdeen Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.   It was not improving that was needed he said; not charity, but the abolition of the conditions of exploitation which gave rise to poverty.   he recognised that in the midst of poverty there was plenty.   An unemployed man he said was like a man buried up to the neck in sand, and surrounded with food which he could not reach.

William Simpson Rennie worked closely with fellow socialists such as James Leatham.   Not that they agreed on everything, far from it.   Ideas and arguments were the stuff of political discourse; it might be over who should be chosen as a parliamentary candidate in a coming election or, indeed, with the presence of the Anarchists and Revolutionary Socialists whether Parliament was in fact the way forward.   William sided with the parliamentary road and was one of the Aberdonians who in 1891 called for a conference of all Scottish Trades Councils and socialist societies with a view to establishing a national presence to fight for greater representation of the working class.   However, despite significant differences he had with others it seems he did not fall into a narrow sectarianism and was willing to march and associate with a wide spectrum of left wing opinions.

It’s clear that William Simpson must have spent most of his time on union and socialist business.   He had a wife and child (sadly I have no further information on them), how far, if at all, the strains of such a heavy load played on the family I cannot say.   It must surely have been present in one way or another.   What we can say is that there is every likelihood that the volume and pace of political work he undertook, not to mention the physical toil of being a stonecutter, played some part in his sudden death on 3rd August 1894.   For three months prior to his death he had been staying with his wife and child at Kincardine O’ Neil, just west of Aberdeen, working on a contract of stonecutting at the local mansion, a new-build castle in the ever popular Scots Baronial style.   On Friday the 3rd William returned to his lodgings at the end of the working day.   Was taken ill and died shortly after.   Dr Cran of Banchory issued the death certificate, concluding that death was caused by heart disease.   William Simpson Rennie was twenty eight years old.

Kincardine o' Neil castle

Kincardine o’ Neil castle

It is a sad irony that a man who campaigned against privilege should die while employed on the grand folly at Kincardine Castle

The following day his body was taken from the village to the railway station at Torphins to be carried to his home town.   In a mark of respect some fifty of his fellow workers at Kincardine O’ Neil, dressed in working clothing, followed the coffin to the station.

When it came to his burial at St Peter’s Cemetery at 6.30p.m. on the evening of 7th August (allowing workers time to attend) the extent of his influence became apparent.   The cortege of mourners was in the region of 1600 with thousands lining the streets to the graveyard.   And, again giving an indication of how he stood for breaking of many of the conventions of bourgeois society a large number of processionists were ladies.   Women walking to the graveside en-masse, not a common sight in late Victorian Aberdeen.   His coffin was draped with a red flag, bearing the words “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”.   An indication of the non-sectarian strength of the man and others was that at the graveside orations were given by men from the Anarchist Communist Group, the Trades Council, the SDF, the Aberdeen ILP and the Secularist Society; and at William’s home at Kingsland Place the Reverend Alex. Webster had conducted a short religious service.

At the Trades Council meeting of 15th August W. S. Rennie was described as one of their youngest and best members . . . one of their most eloquent speakers . . . always endeavoured to convince rather than to bully . . . a credit to the council and an honour to the working men of the city.

John H Elrick

John H Elrick

His headstone was erected by fellow workmen to a design by John H Elrick, mason, trade unionist and socialist.   Drawing on his own verse inscribed on the headstone it’s fitting to describe William Simpson Rennie as “A Courageous Friend of Freedom”.

March 10, 2015

The head of woman is man: John Knox is alive and well and speaks for Scottish Labour (sic)

knox

If you believed John Knox long dead you would be wrong. He is dead but his coarse ranting against the unnatural desires of women to assume equality with men live on in the hearts and minds of the Labour Party in Scotland, as was made apparent in the rapturous reception and support for its stark misogynist message to the women of Scotland last weekend.

I came on a passage from John the Resurrected in the Party’s Wee Red, White and Blue book of handy things to say on doorsteps (but don’t mention alcohol at football anymore). I’m summarising for reasons obvious if you’ve seen the actual text.

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regimen of Women

(Aye there was not a ‘t’ on Regimen – refers to rule or governing)

hamilton

 

The head of woman is man, and she must be commanded and give homage and obedience and appear before him, honouring him with the distinction of his position for man has received a certain glory and dignity above the woman. Scotland has drunk the enchantment and venom of Circe (a sorceress) to its own shame and confusion.

How abominable before the Party, (that was one-time called socialist but that was a long time ago and now we are exceeding right-wing and intolerant [as is our right]) is the empire or rule of a wicked woman (yea, of a traitress and bastard); and what may a people or nation (not Scotland you understand because we don’t believe we are a nation but a fiefdom of brother England wherein are domiciled our imperial masters) carry on destitute of a lawful head, a mere wee lassie in a tin hat.

murphy

I see our country intent on challenging the natural order that Scotland shall remain a region of England and yet there are those who would question this order for a monstrous empire [government] of a cruel woman.

It is more than a monster in nature that a woman shall reign and have empire above man. And yet, with us all there is such silence. I know the natural Scotsman, enemy to the Nats, shall find many causes why we should hold our tongues and ought not to speak out on these things in these dangerous days before a General Election: first, for that it may seem to lose us votes; secondarily, that it may lose us more votes.

But woe be to me, if I preach not the evangel of the doctrine of the Labour Party in Scotland!

If any think that the empire of women is of little importance, that to speak of such is to hazard our MPs their seats I answer, that it is the duty of every true messenger of the Party to let women know their place. For what, I pray you, is more able to cause a woman to forget her own condition, than if she is lifted up in authority above man? It is a very difficult thing to a man (be he never so constant) promoted to honours, not to be tickled somewhat with pride (for the wind of vain glory does easily carry up the dry dust of the earth).

But as for woman, it is no more possible that she, being set aloft in authority above man, shall resist the motions of pride, than it is able to the weak reed, or to the turning weathercock, not to bow or turn at the intensity of the inconstant wind. And therefore I say forbid all women to intermeddle in the office of man.gray

For it is written in de Viginibus Velandis: “It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the parliament, neither to discourse, neither to reason, neither to vindicate to herself any office of man.” For it is written of a place called Scotland where there is a great monster in nature, that women in those parts are not tamed nor abased by consideration of their own sex, but that, all shame laid apart, they make use of their intellect, and question the word of men, and take pleasure in this way that they care not what men think of them and will not be subject to man.

The Labour Party in Scotland abhors all attempts by women to promote themselves as leaders over men for it has been written long ago in smoke clouded rooms that it is the nature of women to be inferior to men.

blair

A vote for Labour is a vote to keep women repressed and bridled at all times.

Is my repast ready? Toot toot.

March 8, 2015

‘Brilliant stuff from Davie Hamilton’ : The Labour Party in Scotland and the wee lassie of politics

https://www.youtube.com/embed/JttnYYcIVfA “>

In the week of International Women’s Day we got a stark reminder that women have not yet won the battle to be judged the equals of men in the minds of too many men, and shamefully a number of  women. Few had heard of the bullish Labour MP David Hamilton before he took to the stage at a special one day conference of the Labour Party in Scotland on Saturday. This swaggering individual is pretty well known now not to say notorious. I don’t know what else he said other than that outrageous sexist jibe at the First Minister because I wasn’t watching but I couldn’t avoid the firestorm his words caused on social media and there was Youtube to catch up on his moment. (I understand the Labour Party in Scotland pulled the video in an attempt to bury bad news but life on social media and with the wonders of modern science concealing what’s been said is no longer as  simple as that.) ian gray Now I don’t have problems with political attacks on fellow politicians, and Nicola Sturgeon must be scrutinised in her role as First Minister but that was not what Hamilton was up to. He was out to win over his audience, to ingratiate himself with his comrades who were lapping up his rhetoric as he sought to take the First Minister down a peg or two. Oh yes, they were up for that. And he did it in the way that came most naturally to him – he condemned her for being a woman doing a man’s job. His audience of Labour Party members loved it. Oh how they laughed – he’d got to the essence of Nicola Sturgeon’s weakness – she was a wummin – wait – wait – not even a wummin but – what’s even less regarded than a woman – a wee lassie. Nicola Sturgeon was a nothing but a wee lassie dressing up – hence the tin hat (worn by men, real men – usually ‘heroes’) to act out a role that should have been done by a bloke. tweet for hamilton Oh how his audience lapped it up. What’s not to like? The First Minister was being ATTACKED – put down, sneered at not for her political beliefs or record but the sheer basis of her gender. Nicola Sturgeon too photogenic, too friendly, too popular was getting her character – for thinking she could make it in a big man’s world. It is the easiest thing in the world to label men such as the bluff Hamilton as Neanderthals. It’s not really appropriate for Neanderthals were of their time – Hamilton and his type are relics, or should be, of a past age. Their ability to offer a coherent political analysis of opponents is negligible and so they try to conceal their lack of intellect with humour. Well Hamilton succeeded. We know where he stands on women in politics, and we can surmise from that, women in other ‘male’ spheres of influence. labour support If there was anything even more depressing than the sexist display on stage at the Labour conference it was the reaction of many of its top Scottish political figures who couldn’t get to twitter quick enough to share with the world the ecstasy of the moment as they ejaculated excitedly in praise of Hamilton and his misogynist outburst. That rush of adrenalin was only matched by the later stampede to their twitter pages to delete their support for Hamilton’s mysoginist outburst. That only happened when it was pointed out by their political opponents how outrageous his remarks were. Until then these guys, the same ones who approved the thick wee woman political broadcast during the referendum debate and the pink lady bus, were unaware there was anything amiss with demeaning women – och, can’t you take a joke?  Remember that? You will if you were part of the women’s movements from, well – as far back as you like but let’s stick with the 1970s. Picture the scene – Aberdeen during the miners’ strike and a group of miners went around the country looking for help when the Tory government was intent on starving them back to work. In Aberdeen there was a strong Women’s Liberation group and members, all just getting by themselves, bought groceries and donated cash to help the miners’ families. When handing it over the all-male contingent looked at each other and laughed conspiratorially – they didn’t believe in women’s lib they said. A bit non-plussed the food and money were, nevertheless, handed over and accepted, albeit with a few sniggers, but it was perplexing how anyone in a struggle during the 1970s could still think in that way – that women anywhere were a subclass of human. suffragette Hamilton, a former miner, was expressing this same bankrupt view of woman over 30 years later. It is ignorance and stupidity and prejudice all rolled into one unedifying performance. And yet even more disturbing was the reaction of women in the audience. Labour Party women laughing their silly heads off at this man’s comments. Reminds me of the Eric Bogle song about the silly women who stay on with abusive drunken husbands – who but a silly woman – he returns home, tanked upslapwhere’s my tea?kickthe boys didn’t win the day so I’ll take out my frustration on you punch. (Dovetails nicely with Jim Murphy’s demand that alcohol be allowed to be drunk again at football matches. I’ll bet quite a few women were terrified by that announcement.) Disappointingly there are women who are complicit with the demeaning behaviour of sexist dinosaurs. We saw that in the audience on Saturday. blair mcdougal The trades union movement was steeped in sexism. Attitudes and practice that prevented women getting equal pay and conditions with men for over a century. Hamilton proved they are still very much with us now and his audience of Labour Party men and women exposed themselves as a hindrance to the efforts of women to be taken seriously in work, any type of work. I suspect International Women’s Day will have given rise to quite a number of winked asides based on the idea of women getting above themselves. Now we know this is the official position of the Labour Party in Scotland. Lassies get back into the kitchen and get my tea on the table and you can forget about International Women’s Day.

hist_uk_20_suffra_car_suffragettes_fun_1875

February 28, 2015

They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided

 

 

St Drostan, Insch

Andrew and Jane Murdoch die within days of each other

Andrew and Jane Murdoch die within days of each other

 

They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and  in their death they were not divided

Their death notice in the local newspaper:

At Insch, on the 10th inst., after a lengthened illness, JANE GAULD, wife of Mr Andrew Murdoch, aged 63 years; and on the 12th inst, after two day’s illness, the said ANDREW MURDOCH for many years employed in Culsalmond Slate Quarries, aged 73 years.

The remains of this clearly devoted couple lie in St Drostan’s graveyard at Insch Old Church.

Repaired tombstone Insch

Repaired tombstone
Insch

The ruined kirk dates from the 18th century and is the remnant of one of several which occupied this spot from the 12th century during the reign of King William, Lion of Scotland. The land the church was built on was owned, or claimed, by David, the King’s brother.

12th century grave slab from Insch, Aberdeenshire 12th century grave slab from Insch, Aberdeenshire

Immediately facing you as you walk in through the iron gates is a sandstone gravestone thought to date from the 13th century. Note the remnants of a figure at the side.
The inscription reads:    Orate Pro Anima Radulfi Sacerdotis: Pray for the soul of priest Radulfus

Radulfus, a chaplain to the Bishop of Aberdeen, died in the late 1100s, making this one of the oldest lettered monuments in Scotland.

It may not belong to the churchyard as it was discovered in another part of Insch in the 19th century.

If you like you cemeteries crumbling and abandoned you will enjoy a walk around St Drostan’s; there are fallen stones all around the small graveyard. Evidently some have been in this state for years.

St Drostan's churchyard

St Drostan’s churchyard

There are few obvious stories to emerge from a visit – not least because many stones are in poor condition and the inscriptions indecipherable.

Among the more interesting are one or two freestone with a few decorations, others are in granite and slate.

The best graveyards contain stones which tell us something of the lives of the interred. The modern trend that includes only dates of death, omitting people’s occupations is a huge loss to the social historian and I wish people would add a detail or two that means something to others beyond the family. Remember in the future family members will be dead themselves and the sparse information will mean nothing to anyone.

Bellcote 17th century Insch

Bellcote 17th century Insch

If you look up you’ll catch a glimpse of the church bellcote. This pretty work in sandstone dates from the start of the 17th century, from 1613, and so considerably older than the ruined remains of the west gable it is perched upon. It sits on a base of worked stone.

17th century bellcote

17th century bellcote

The bell that used to hang there was removed in 1882.

The photographs are not great but you should be able to make out dog-tooth workings and scrolls among the uprights and finials. Bring up the photo and you will make out initials MIL carved into it – Minister John Logie

St Drostan's Church, Insch

St Drostan’s Church,
Insch

The wall, as you can see, is built of granite rubble and together with the bellcot and the various tombstones of sandstone, slate and granite we get an impression of the mixed geology of the area.

Slate tombstone

Slate tombstone

You might be wondering who St Drostan was – or you may not. You might guess he was another of those determined early missionaries who set sail from Ireland for Scotland to convert the heathens here to Christianity – and you’d be right.

Drostan was one of twelve, the Bretheren of St Columba, who travelled with Columba in 563 heading for Old Deer. What Old Deer does in the 6th century Insch gets around to eventually and so it was that in time Christianity reached this part of the northeast.

The land, as I said, was owned by David, brother of the King, and as was the fashion of the time for princes and such to go on crusades to sort out those who had beliefs different from themselves which involved much bloodshed he gave this piece of land to Lindores monastery in Fife with the proviso they would pray for his safe return from the East. As thanks, in return, the monastery then decided to build a church on the parcel of land.

One little story I found online. A local master baker heated bricks in his ovens on Saturday evenings and took them with him to church to heat up the family pew. Churches can be glacial places and a sermon might last hours with the body cooling just short of hypothermia.

Milne children die within a day of each other

Milne children die within a day of each other

The elderly couple who died within days of each other had their deaths recorded in the local newspaper but I couldn’t find any mention of the Milne children, Annie aged 9yrs and Peter 2yrs who died a day apart in 1863. There was, however, an epidemic of typhus in the Aberdeen area at the time. The couple John Milne and Elpet Tough had sadly lost baby twins five years earlier.

Note the Scottish tradition of married women retaining their maiden names throughout their lives.

P1030285

 

A couple of inscriptions referred to a death at Motherwell Schoolhouse. I couldn’t find any local reference to such a place which doesn’t mean one didn’t exist but it’s strange all the same.

 

Another couple who died within a day of each other- Alexander Reid born in 1766 and died at 80 years a day before his wife, Ann Roger.

And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God

St Drostan's graveyard, Insch

St Drostan’s graveyard, Insch

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