Posts tagged ‘Aberdeen’

August 9, 2015

The Wallace Tower – Not just any banishment but Marks & Spencer banishment

Wallace Tower  Mention the Wallace Tower and some smart Alec’s bound to chip in, it’s nae the Wallace Tower, it’s Benholm’s Lodgings, to which the appropriate response is, aye I ken but it’s bin the Wallace Tower for well over a century so it’s earned the name Wallace Tower. If someone turned up at my house and insisted it was so and sos because they’d lived there a few decades ago I’d tell them where to get off, wouldn’t you? Built for Sir Robert Keith, whose brother the Earl of Marischal founded Marischal College (once a separate university from King’s College) the house was also known as Keith’s Lodgings. Given its long existence – 500 years – it has seen a lot of comings and goings. For most of that time it occupied a prime position the corner of the Netherkirkgate (the lower gate or port into the town – the Upperkirkgate being the higher up gate), above Carnegie’s brae, which came to be known as the Wallace neuk (corner). At one time the area was known as Putachieside. The home of Lord Forbes at Keig by Alford used to be known as Putachie.  Lord Forbes kept a town house in Aberdeen, near Benholm’s Lodgings and  referring to the area by his country house name stuck. It was near where the Aberdeen Market is now… beside Putachie’s house – Putachieside. I hope you’re still following – and one of the streets, which ran from Carnegie’s brae towards what is now Market Street (or as near as damn it) came to be called Putachie. Putachie has gone. The Netherkirkgate has gone. The Wallace nook has gone. The Wallace Tower has gone. The Wallace name was used when a bar of that name occupied part of the building when it was slap bang in the centre of town not in its present location on a grassy knoll at Tillydrone. The low hill it stands on is the remains of a Norman motte. As for the  name it’s possibly a corruption of wally meaning well (a nearby well-house) with the diminutive ie or y wally hoose or well-house for folks uncomfortable with the Doric. This is all a long way from the Wallace Tower’s current abode at Tillydrone. It’s a fine enough site for this fine wee building but for many Aberdonians of a certain vintage – it’s not its home. Home should be, they believe, somewhere close to the vanished Netherkirkgate – maybe close to the Upperkirkgate… maybe it could have occupied pride of place, or second place to Skene’s House in Marischal Square but then there is no longer to be a Marischal Square so it can be added to my banished list.  Putachie has gone. The Netherkirkgate has gone. The Wallace nook has gone. The Wallace Tower has gone. Marischal Square has gone before it’s ever been. Rewind…why did the Wallace Tower go west? Think Marischal Square – what’s driving this corporate carbuncle? the ugly face of capitalism silly. It was a similar situation back in the swinging sixties. Marks & Spencers wanted to expand their store across from the Wallace Tower and councillors sucked on their pencil tips and thought how old fashioned this auld rickle of stanes looked in what could be a modern shopping precinct. What to do? Before you could say pretty fine example of a late 16th early 17th century rubble-built  Scottish tower house it was howked up and trundled on the back of several lorries far enough away from the city centre that those pencil sucking councillors were no longer reminded that Aberdeen did once have some very fine buildings indeed. The M & S extension turned out to be a not-so-very fine a building or even a half-decent building but who cared? This was the 1960s and anything went then, even prefabricated lookalike every other prefabricated buildings that littered every other town’s high streets. Still, as we know when it comes to Aberdeen city centre it’s a case of knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.  Actually I don’t really mind the Tower being at Tillydrone for it is a good enough spot, at the edge of Seaton Park, but look at it – no, really look at it. When did you last see anything of architectural importance in Aberdeen look this bad? Well how about last week – and Westburn House. As far as preserving historically important architecture/introducing high quality contemporary buildings to the city Aberdeen councils would get straight As for corporate delinquency. Here we have boarded up windows to prevent another empty building falling victim to vandalism – the petty kind that ends up in courts and fined not the kind that is carried out on a large scale by local authorities. The original Benholm’s lodging house was constructed as a unique Z-plan tower house that was used as lodgings. In the late 18thC a wing was added and various adaptations have been made. At one time a balcony was built to provide grand views across the south of the area. There have been many plans to get the Wallace Tower back into some kind of useful existence but all fall through. It’s not connected with The Wallace … Aye we ken. Wallace never came this far north… So you say.  Since it is in Tillydrone it would be good if that community could make something of it but everything comes down to having sustainable funding in the end. Given that it is so close to the University it might find a use but not at its loss of it as a public asset (although the Council might question that and presumably regard it as another liability).

You can see the z-plan – or not. Corbelled features. Two round towers. The sculpted knight isn’t Wallace… they insist Aye, we ken, fit exactly IS yer problem, min? Who the rough and ready figure of a knight in a recess is no-one knows. It isn’t Wallace that’s for sure – William Wallace and his dug.  It might be Wallace and Gromit. That is a joke by the way… in case the pedantic echo is still on my case. Some think it came from the nearby St Nicholas graveyard. Whatever’s its provenance it is a rude representation of a Scottish knight with his favourite cur by his feet. He used to hold a sword – the knight not the dug that was made from a bent bit of metal. Definitely not worthy of The Wallace. Who he was we probably shall never know. Wouldn’t it be grand if it turned out his name was actually Wallace. He’s been broken and repaired and painted and broken and painted and repaired and broken.

A remaining armorial panel is not in the finest condition but at least it’s remaining.

Gunport quatrefoil.

The walls had originally been harled and presumable painted in the old Scots tradition. As of March this year planning permission for a change of use from residential dwelling to mixed use as a community cafe and office was being sought. The Wallace Tower which has undergone so many guises including lodging house, bar, tobacconist, snuff merchants was once upon a time a council house, gadzooks, rented out, controversially, to someone who would later become a councillor and Provost. It surprised some Aberdonians that the rent for such a unique cooncil hoose was the same as for ‘any other three-bedroomed council house in the city.‘ (The Herald 3 Oct 1996) but when this tenant vacated the Tower no-one else was given the chance to rent it but we were into the era of selling off council homes so the council did well to avoid falling into that trap with the Wallace Tower. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12023249.Convoluted_background_to_portrait_of_provost_who_had_listed_council_house/ I’ve been inside the Wallace Tower once or twice and it wasn’t particularly attractive as a home – stairs to everywhere and fitted out in 1970s drab but that is just decoration and doesn’t detract from its importance as a medieval tower-house. There is no question the Wallace Tower is a ‘lost gem’. It lies forlorn and unused. Largely ignored. Unwanted or rather unaffordable for those who would love to bring it back to life.

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.

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

page

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

November 14, 2014

Bust Up: Women’s Liberation in ’60s/’70s Aberdeen

The 1960s and 1970s – those eras of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll were also eras of wars, racism, starvation, massacres, atomic bombs, nuclear threats, assassinations, the Cold War and rampant sexism.

You only have to watch some hideous films of the ’60s and ’70s or listen to song lyrics from the time to realise that while there was much talk about women’s liberation the reality was it was just that – talk.

Bust Up. Aberdeen

So women’s lib movements mushroomed in much the same way they had a century before with the rise of the Suffragists and Suffragettes. That the struggle was continuing 100 years on reveals how resistant British society was to embrace radical change in its power relationship with women.

What women had discovered was if you want an injustice rectified you have to go out and fight for that cause and not to expect rights to be handed out by political bodies. Rights are grabbed screaming and kicking from those who limit access to them.

The 1960s when the taxman sent tax statements and demands and tax rebates relating to a woman’s earnings to her husband! Women were considered incapable of understanding such complex arrangements.

Women in work were horribly exploited by employers and male-dominated trade unions run by dinosaurs content to collaborate with employers to keep women’s earnings lower than men’s for equivalent work.

Along with employment rights, women sought to control their own bodies – to be able to terminate a pregnancy in particular circumstances. The alternative was horrific and sometimes lethal and in 1967 an abortion act was passed which allowed a woman to apply for an abortion if the pregnancy was a risk to her life, her physical or mental health, to her existing children, likely seriously handicap the unborn child or an arguable detrimental social impact going through with the pregnancy.

That same year the Homosexual Law Reform Act was passed allowing homosexual acts between consenting adults in private.

During the 1960s and 1970s Aberdeen was buzzing with the politicisation of the young. Groups they were involved with included Aberdeen Women’s Liberation made up of young housewives, working women and students.

Much of their discussions centred on questioning the family structure, its strict gender divisions, availability of contraception and developing awareness among girls and women of their status within society.

The group’s very limited resources produced a wee publication called Bust Up. Published here is the second edition and as well it the group printed as a pamphlet on contraception which was distributed outside factories where women worked and secondary schools in the city (which attracted an interview on BBC radio).

I shouldn’t imagine there are many copies of Bust Up or the contraception booklet left some half a century on but a copy of each have recently surfaced and you lucky people have a near unique opportunity to travel back in time catch a glimpse of Bust Up and hopefully soon, the contraception one.

I’ve separated pages from Bust Up with snippets about relevant legislation from around this time for your further enlightenment. Bust Up Aberdeen

 In 1969 the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act guaranteed a wife a share of family assets on dissolution of her marriage, based on her contribution to the household as a housewife or wage earner.

010

The Divorce Reform Act allowed for divorce on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and a divorce was granted after five years of separation.

In 1970 the Conservative government of Edward Heath introduced the Equal Pay Act. Equal pay for equal work but what was equal work? That discussion still continues. It was to be another five years before it had to be implemented. 

1973 the British Sociological Association conference on sexual divisions took place in Aberdeen. 

In 1975 Equal Pay Act implemented, in theory although we know there are still women fighting for recognition of equal pay for equivalent work with male colleagues, by Labour under Harold Wilson.

 

 

The Sex Discrimination Act was passed which demonstrates that there was no gender equality in Britain. As might be expected the Act failed to cover everything – excluding pensions and social security rights.

Maternity rights were strengthened through the Employment Protection Act.

The same year the Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference was held in Aberdeen and so too did the Northeast Scotland Regional Women and Socialism Conference. 

 In 1976 the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act was passed which made it possible to get a court order to remove a man from the matrimonial home, whether or not he owned or rented it. The Act did not apply to cohabiting couples.

A year on from the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and women at a factory in Middlesex were out on strike for 21 weeks before management agreed to follow the law. Clearly their employers were not the only ones to ignore legislation but the only one where women were prepared to stay out this length of time to force the hand of their management.

The fishing industry was still a major employer in Aberdeen then and many women worked processing and packing fish (where incidentally they were left to man(sic)-handle very heavy wooden boxes packed with wet fish while their higher paid male counterparts drove around in forklifts never lifting anything heavier than their weightier pay packets.

 

In 1977 the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act recognised battered women as homeless.

In 1978 the ‘Normal Household Duties Test’ a wheeze brought in by the Labour government under James Callaghan, to deprive disabled married women of benefits as they had to prove they could not work but also then they were incapable of doing normal housework for a whole year in order to receive those benefits.

 

The Scottish National Women’s Liberation Conference met in Aberdeen in 1977 and discussed lesbiansism and heterosexuality, language, the fifth demand.

The Fifth Demand was legal and financial independence for all women.

The women’s movement agreed a series of demands at their conferences in the seventies:

Demands 1 – 4 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Skegness 1971

  1. Equal Pay
  2. Equal Educational and Job Opportunities
  3. Free Contraception and Abortion on Demand
  4. Free 24-hour Nurseries

5 and 6 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Edinburgh 1974

  1. Legal and Financial Independence for All Women
  2. The Right to a Self Defined Sexuality. An End to Discrimination Against Lesbians. In 1978 at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham, the first part of this demand was split off and put as a preface to all seven demands

Demand 7 Passed at the National WLM Conference, Birmingham 1978

  1. Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.

 

 

 One young woman, a keen member of the Labour Party, attended a couple of meetings. She said she was quite interested in women’s lib and she’d only entered one beauty competition. The group was arranging to disrupt a beauty contest being held in Union Terrace Gardens, which it did beautifully, with fancy dress, saucepans and lids. The young woman from the Labour Party did not come back.

 

November 9, 2014

Remembrance Day 1960s Aberdeen

Mac 11nov protest

Ian MacDonald has sent in a cutting of his anti-war protest in the 1960s at Aberdeen’s war memorial lion.

‘Archive photo of myself and a friend attending a Remembrance service at Aberdeen in the 1960s.

My message today is the same – blessed are the peacemakers, bring all our troops home, scrap Trident.’

November 4, 2014

Workers’ Lives and Helicopter Safety in the North Sea

The busiest commercial heliport in the world can be found in the oil and gas capital of Europe, Aberdeen, so the sight of helicopters passing overhead is a common sight there.

Unfortunately the safety record of these offshore workhorses is worrying. Between 1976 and 2014 there have been many incidents involving helicopters most without loss of life but more recent fatalities point to something not right with the industry.

July 2002 a Sirkorsky S-76A crashed into the North Sea killing 11 people.untitled

February 2009 a Super Puma EC225 carried out a controlled landing in the North Sea with no casualties.

April 2009 a Super Puma L2 crashed into the sea following a catastrophic gearbox failure killing 16 people.

May 2012 a Super Puma EC22 made a ditched landing when instruments indicated gearbox problems and the emergency backup failed, all 14 on board were rescued.

October 2012 a Super Puma EC225 came down in the North Sea after another gearbox problem with similar failure by the emergency backup. All 19 on board were rescued.

August 2013 a Super Puma L2 crashed into sea at Shetland killing 4 people.

Following this incident the model was temporarily grounded and not cleared to fly over water until new safety features were introduced.  Were any of the incidents, including the several that never made the headlines, caused by a fault in the Super Puma gearboxes, human error or the result of cutting corners because of commercial pressures?

Men and women working offshore are rightly nervous when about to board a Puma and the chances are they will be transported by Puma.  Super Pumas make up 60% of the British offshore fleet of helicopters. Reflecting opinions offshore the RMT union has called for a full public inquiry into helicopter flights in the UK.

In light of events the House of Commons Transport Select Committee recommended a full and independent inquiry into practices, concerned that commercial pressures imposed turn around restraints on mechanics’ ability to properly maintain helicopters in constant use but the UK government refused to grant one claiming it has ‘not seen any evidence of safety being compromised through commercial pressures’ a view much criticised. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) has claimed there is undue pressure placed on them by companies using their services.

Why, people want to know are men and women employed in the British sector of the North Sea in greater danger of being involved in a helicopter accident than their Norwegian counterparts?

Since 1997 there have been no deaths due to helicopter crashes in the Norwegian sector, a statistic attributed to a tight system of regulation which begs the question what is going wrong in the British sector?

In the oil and gas workers’ own bulletin Enough is Enough in the autumn of 2013 offshore workers shared their concerns about flying safety claiming oil companies did not care about the welfare of workers, that they regarded them as expendable. One man wrote how he had been on the craft prior to the 2009 fatal crash when rumours of a fault were circulating.

Ian Wood, who recently became the media’s favourite voice for the oil and gas industries,  told a local newspaper that helicopter incidents did not merit a large-scale inquiry, ‘It’s not a big enough, complex problem – it’s nothing like Piper Alpha …We’re down to a type of helicopter that for some reason performs much worse in the UK sector of the North Sea than elsewhere.’

Well, yes isn’t that part of the problem?

‘Elsewhere’ and directly comparable with the UK is surely Norway. Same sea, similar circumstances but in contrast with the UK the safety record of commercial helicopters in its offshore sector is excellent. There has been one accident with no fatalities on the Norwegian continental shelf between 1999 and 2009. Before that there had been 12 fatalities at which point the industry decided to examine what had to be done to improve its safety.

As a result a report was drawn in 2010 which demonstrated the need for strict regulation and adoption of the latest proven helicopter technology and other measures such as reducing the number of night flights and improved training for pilots and technical personnel to reduce risk.

This Norwegian report cited workers’ fears – perceived risks – as vital sources of information on which to construct an effective and safe service. Norway operates a tripartite safety forum of companies, unions and a regulator.

A British researcher into North Sea safety suggested one vital reason for the improvement in safety in Norway was its adoption of the strict Norwegian Work Environment Act that gave power to Unions to halt work they regarded as dangerous.

Back on this side of the North Sea there is suspicion among some in offshore industries that the dangers involved in being ferried to and from installations by air have been played down by the authorities. There does not appear to be any urgency in tackling issues that would restore workers’ trust in the system.

The families of the 16 men killed in the 2009 Super Puma crash had to wait 5 years for a judgement on that accident. Then the fatal accident inquiry ruled the crash could have been prevented – pointing a finger at Bond Offshore Helicopters for failing to act on metal particles found in the Puma’s engine during routine checks which may have had an impact on the subsequent crash.

untitled

Despite this opinion Bond escaped criminal investigations into breaches of health and safety rules with the Crown Office insisting there was too little evidence to warrant one and despite complaints that the Crown Office failed to take vital evidence from witnesses of multiple breaches of health and safety.

Bond owned up to ‘honest’ mistakes –  “We have always accepted that we made mistakes through honest confusion over telephone calls and emails.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/13/fatal-north-sea-helicoper-crash-inquiry-super-puma

Our offshore workers should expect to be shuttled back and fore to and from work in as safe conditions as their counterparts in the Norwegian sector. The implication of the UK government’s decision to shut down the need for a full inquiry, the industry lukewarm response, Ian Wood’s assertion that because these accidents involved fewer fatalities than Piper Alpha so do not merit a ‘big Cullen-style inquiry’ reinforces the view of many offshore that they are expendable in the pursuit of profit.

Ian Wood justified his opinion that a  large-scale inquiry was not needed when he said, ‘…we are down to a type of helicopter that for some reason performs safety-wise much worse in the UK sector of the North Sea than it does elsewhere ‘ and that it was not ‘a big enough complex problem’ to merit a bigger inquiry.

untitled

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have introduced measures to improve offshore helicopter safety including:

  • Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken.
  • Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems)
  • Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
  • In gathering evidence for the review the CAA engaged with trade unions representing industry workers and pilots, the oil and gas industry, helicopter operators, manufacturers, government, regulatory bodies and other experts in the field, as well as analyzing available data and reports.Is it too much to ask that one of the most profitable industries on earth provides high levels of safety for their essential workers? It should be a given that offshore employees have confidence that every time they step into a helicopter that they will survive the journey, that their lives are placed ahead of commercial profit, that no corners are cut in maintenance and that when conditions are rough flights are postponed.Until we know what is behind the high number of deaths from helicopter accidents in the North Sea it is likely more men and women will die simply getting to and from work.All this begs the question – why has it taken so long to recognize the dangers of flying in hostile environments such as over the North Sea, where in the event of a helicopter going down severe sea conditions can hamper rescues? Why has it taken 40 years to realise there is value in listening to the industry’s workers’ experiences?

    I’ll leave the last word to those who spoke to the Guardian on the matter of helicopter safety:

    ‘Ask survivors what the problem is and the answer is immediate; they seem surprised I even ask. “Money.” Sharp rubs thumb and forefinger together. “Money,” says Nugent. Balpa has said it is particularly concerned by “cut-throat” competition between helicopter operators bidding for oil firm contracts. Buckley notes that in the 1990s the oil companies brought in an initiative called Crine. “It stood for Cost Reduction In the New Era and was the basis for oil companies cutting back on routine maintenance, and other cost-saving measures. It doesn’t formally exist now, but the ethos is still very prevalent.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/29/super-puma-helicopter-crash-survivors-britains-toughest-commute

October 22, 2014

They’re Not Making Land Anymore – so what can the SRUC sell off now?

lindsay

Scotland’s countryside is an important contributor to the nation’s economy: cereals, potatoes, soft fruit, beef and dairy, sheep and forestry. These industries are vulnerable however – to fluctuating markets and weather certainly but what else?

Where do young people go to train for careers in rural occupations? The time was when there were facilities fairly close to home for our rural youngsters to get the basics while still working on family farms, certainly at weekends. Unfortunately these facilities are contracting and the danger is some may disappear altogether. Whole experimental farms have been sold off for house building or golf courses at the same time our rural college offers its majority of courses not in any of Scotland’s mainstays of farming but in Scotland’s second biggest city, Edinburgh.

The food produced in Scotland is renowned for its high quality and you might think it essential to reinforce this state-of-affairs through the provision of educational courses provided in just those areas where demand is greatest to learn rural skills and where back-up services are most needed. Edinburgh does not spring to mind for either of those.

The body providing training for a life in farming and forestry is the Scottish Rural College (SRUC) which a couple of years ago morphed out of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) – an umbrella organisation for agri colleges across the country that had been established in the early years of the 20th century and were instrumental in the expansion of Scotland’s agricultural sector, based largely on pasture-reared stock.

“Sheep and beef production from extensive systems is broadly speaking, environmentally friendly. Animal welfare is perceived to be of a high order and, coupled with images of fresh air, open hills and clean water, Scottish meat is seen as a high quality product”.
House of Commons, Scottish Affairs Committee (1996).

But not all is perfect with the SRUC which returned a loss for the last financial year – blamed on a number of one-off and merger costs, but contrived a 43% increase in pay for the principal and chief executive to £309,000, from £216,000 previously. The SRUC Chairman is Lord Jamie Lindsay.

Hard times have not dampened the ambitions of the SRUC Board to achieve university status for its courses and it is undergoing discussions with Edinburgh University with that in mind because the SRUC is seeking,

“a new alignment with the potential to create an influential force in the agricultural world”.

And you and I thought good farming practice came down to a farmer being able to tell one end of a cow from another.

The SRUC operates six campuses across Scotland – at Aberdeen, Ayr, Barony, Edinburgh, Elmwood and Oatridge plus a network of veterinary, advisory, consultancy offices and research farms, essential to the farming community. The provision is similar to what has long existed if somewhat curtailed in extent after years of pruning staff, courses, property and land – in a bid to balance the books.

The model sought was smaller and sleeker and not so messily rural which is why the SRUC ended up as an urban institution, in one of the most expensive parts of Scotland.

Scotland’s richest farming areas are found in Orkney, the northeast and southwest and rural communities in these parts were desperate to retain a close working relationship with the then SAC. What emerged was an extended internecine war over which campus would be the best headquarters and which would suffer greatest losses of land, buildings and staff in the drive for economic viability.

Back in 2003 the Scottish Parliament’s Environment and Rural Development Committee issued this statement:
‘The current review of SAC did not itself consider the wider economic impact of SAC’s decisions. That was not an oversight. SAC’s Directors are responsible for the viability of the organisation. Though SAC wishes to be as helpful to local economies as it can be, that must not compromise its own survival.’

This is curious. The SAC’s survival was surely inextricably linked to the success of its decisions and the attractiveness of a rural college is surely its usefulness to the people most likely to use it. Given the particular and differing strengths of agricultural industries across Scotland their needs will vary by area. The notion that the SAC had to survive at all costs is a peculiar one. If the SAC was not effective in responding to the needs of its industry then preserving it as an entity was never going to create a facility relevant to the future of rural life and industry.

Deloitte and Touche (D&T) were employed to draw up a report to establish the situation within the SAC and its future options.

D &T’s report threw up a list of justifications for situating Scotland’s rural college in its capital city as the best way forward rather than at one of its two main purpose-built campuses – Auchincruive, Ayrshire and Craibstone, Aberdeen.

At the time student numbers were:
Edinburgh – 146 students
Craibstone – 200 students
Auchincruive – 360 students

Brian Pack, former CE of the giant Aberdeen and Northern Marts (ANM) group argued for the retention of the Scottish system of integrating practice at the SAC – preserving a link between research and development and consultancy with teaching while the SAC sought to separate them out. He was a strong advocate for making Craibstone the lead campus for the SAC Scotland operation, not least because of its proximity to the rich farming lands of Aberdeenshire.

Edinburgh, it was pointed out had no student accommodation on site and it would be difficult and expensive for students to find their own in the city. Craibstone was well-served with student accommodation, and its many students were able to combine studies with practical work at home, not possible for the majority from Edinburgh. Craibstone was also popular with students from the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney because of the good transport links with these areas. Craibstone included several experimental farms distributed over a wide area as well as woodland in a prime location at the edge of Aberdeen.

Another view in support of Craibstone is quoted –

‘It is recognised that there are other further education establishments closer to
home e.g. Edinburgh SAC is closer to the Borders than Craibstone is,
however the students still chose to come to Aberdeen. This shows a better
quality experience gained at a rural campus, especially for rural-based
courses. You only need to look at the successful recruitment of students at
other land-based colleges in rural locations to see this is true e.g. Harper
Adams, Writtle, Royal Agricultural College.’

But the D&T report worked hard at persuading the case for establishing the rural college’s base in Edinburgh where it said there was –

‘better access to physical resources in libraries, bookshops and other support services were seen as great advantages’

…which annoyed supporters of Craibstone –

‘This has obviously been produced by people with little knowledge of how the campus at Craibstone Operates: all students are matriculated to Aberdeen University, so have a free access to the University library, sports and other student facilities which are only 5 miles away from Craibstone and on a main bus route. It is therefore obvious that the weightings are unrealistic and inaccurate.’

Was the D&T report projecting the outcome desired by the SAC Board? That was certainly the suspicion among many in the industry whereas it appeared the then Scottish Executive supported retaining the College as a cross-country facility. Given that the SAC was receiving 41% of its funding from Holyrood you might think that view should have carried weight.
However Labour’s Rhona Brankin MSP appears to have supported the move to Edinburgh.

brankin

It is not obvious how setting up in an urban environment was going to stop the loss of students and cash. Quite the reverse.

At Ayr it was felt that decisions were being taken without consultation with ‘local stakeholders’ and that the detrimental impact on the Ayrshire economy was not given consideration. Auchincruive offered consultancy services, vet labs along with an experimental farm and brought in nearly 29% the SAC’s education income.

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive provide courses from SVQs to BSc Hons level although more limited in university degree options than at Edinburgh.

Arguing in favour of Edinburgh was Dr Mark Hocart from the SAC there –

‘Education is about personal growth and development as well as academic success. SAC has a responsibility to provide the most appropriate environment for students to develop as fully rounded personalities. For many students the contacts and network of friends made at college or university will be important to them throughout their subsequent careers so it is important that that experience is as rich and diverse as possible. A National Centre of Excellence The proposed ‘Hub and Spoke’ model is the right way to move.’

So there you have it – learning skills is so old fashioned – it’s all about personal growth blah, blah, blah.

As for ‘Hub and Spoke’ – this is Edinburgh the hub and Auchincruive and Craibstone etc are the spokes. Which is fine except shouldn’t it have been the other way around with the concentration on rural rather than urban?

He went on

‘Bringing the full-time education provision together for the first time will allow SAC
to build an integrated range of course programmes, maximising opportunities for
sharing of teaching modules across programmes. The hub focus will improve the
diversity of course programmes students can pursue while still delivering
education in a financially viable manner. The ‘Spokes’ are effectively satellite
teaching centres, and outreach centres based principally on SAC’s advisory
offices that will allow a greater participation in education for students in rural
Scotland. Developments in e-learning, distance learning and ‘electronic
classrooms’, will enable SAC to deliver education and training over a wider
geographical range than is currently the case. The hub and spoke model will
give SAC a truly national reach for education provision.’

You might be forgiven for wondering how this matches up with effective training for our young farmers … e-learning? really?

Here’s a novel approach – do away with the need for e-learning and get students out into the field (literally). Or is that too radical?

He continued

‘King’s Buildings (Edinburgh) have strong and productive research links with the Moredun Research Institute, the Roslin Institute, the SABRIs, SASA and BioSS. This
amalgamation of research activities adds significantly to the critical mass for
effective world class research. ‘

Forgive me but isn’t this exactly the setup for e-communication rather than practical skills? And while Edinburgh campus was close to those research bodies Craibstone was equally close to the Macaulay Institute(John Hutton), the Rowett and the University of Aberdeen and Robert Gordon’s University.

And continued

‘SAC Edinburgh has a local tradition of agriculture and land-based education and
has been supporting land-based industries for as long as any other centre. At
present we provide 25% of the courses at SAC, less than our Auchincruive
campus, however this is to change in the future.’

And we know why.

Dr Graham E Dalton FIAgrM commenting on the D&T report –

‘This report is a classic consultancy report where the wrong question has been asked. The financial accounts show that SAC is not working. Why? High overheads for facilities are only one possible reason for this situation.’

He questioned whether staffing levels were right rather than D&T’s concentration on WHERE to put staff. And he questioned D&T’s favouring centralising the SAC in Edinburgh – arguing this WOULD have a negative impact on revenue so that the report’s assumption of their best option was unlikely to succeed.

He suggested the report was coming on the problem from the wrong end. Instead of concentrating on the organisation of the institution it should have looked to the needs of ‘its customers’.
Indeed.

Brian Pack pointed out the danger of being fixated by costs rather than value. A yes to that.

Think about it if you were setting up an agricultural – let’s widen it – rural college would you opt to put it in the middle of a city?

If there’s one thing people need it is food. There is surely great scope for further development of Scotland’s rural industries so how is it the institution on which so much of this future depends is in dire straits? Could it be the fault lies with the Board and decisions taken by it?

Isobel Gibson thought so. Back at the same Holyrood enquiry in 2003 she was critical of the management of the SAC and D&T report for failing to understand the needs of students and their ‘potential as generators of income.’

Auchincruive and Craibstone were once major centres for learning for young men and women, many of them from farming backgrounds, in search of rural skills. Both colleges provided their localities with professional advice from experts in crop management, pest control, veterinary advice and so on as well as undertaking research programmes. But their farmland, woodland and many buildings were sold and with them so vital provision and links with the land.

auchincruive

There’s an echo of the consequence of slicing away at our agricultural base in an academic paper on ‘Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and environment’ (2001) from the University of Aberdeen which found that when Scots were asked to visualise ‘rural’ they conjured up images of a highland idyll – of mountainscapes – whereas in other parts of Europe the same question brought descriptions of things agricultural.

While I might not be able to lay the blame for this diminution in awareness of our agricultural sector at the door of the SAC or SRUC or whatever they are likely to call themselves next week there were signals back in 2003 that not all was right.

“The Scottish Agricultural College is a practical example of what happens when Colleges merge without a well thought out strategy. The Committee should regard it as a template of all that can go wrong. There has been a preponderance of “bankers and business types” on the SAC Board. Practical farmers were ignored.”

Both Craibstone and Auchincruive suffered draconian cuts in the SAC/SRUC drive to stop leaking cash. Slash and sell – the SAC saw a future in selling off farms and land and anything that stood still. Indeed could that be the reason Edinburgh won out as the SAC HQ – that campus had nothing to flog off whereas Craibstone was resource-rich and by selling its assets and those at Auchincruive the SAC was able to use the capital raised to reduce its losses. Had the decision been taken to abandon Edinburgh in favour of, say, Craibstone, there would be no such financial gain as the SAC there had virtually nothing to sell.

However it was come to the decision was taken in favour of Edinburgh and the SAC now existed as a private company with charitable status. Its Principal and Chief Executives were appointees – by fellow Board members. There was also a tie in with the Anglian Water Group (AWG) hired to carry out some of the campus pruning operations. The SAC sat back and waited for the cash to drop into their laps. In 2007 merchant baker Lord Lindsay was appointed its chairman. Integration was the way forward.

Then in 2013 this emerged:

“If ever a monument to “joined up” academic planning stupidity was to be erected, the Craigie Campus, Ayr should be its home. No one but an academic would train nurses and farmers at the same facility. Squeaky clean meets E Coli heaven. This week (7 Janueary 2013) the annual health warning to pregnant women was issued by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Harry Burns. This warns women not to come into contact with lambing ewes or even the clothes of anyone doing the work for fear of risks to their own unborn child.”

P1000766

While the SAC was selling off property with one hand it was swallowing up various rural colleges, to mix metaphors, to mixed fortunes. Integration at any cost. Doesn’t responsibility for this absurdity rest with the Board?

Critics of the way the SAC was run and now presumably the SRUC have made no impact on it.

‘What lessons can be learned from the conduct of the SAC. The SAC Board has long been considered a self perpetuating oligarchy.’

“On 19 January 2011, the then SAC chief executive told all 30 South Ayrshire Council Planning Committee members at a public planning meeting they were to disregard the testimony of the person nominated by the Ayrshire National Farmers Union to speak in opposition to SAC plans to ruin Auchicruive.
On the day, the Ayrshire NFU farmer representative was not allowed to rebut the unwarranted attack on his integrity. The SAC Chairman later did admit the SAC Chief Executive was in error and apologised to the Ayrshire farmer in the press.”

Extraordinary behaviour.

There is no disguising discontent among the farming community over the role played by the organisation.

‘Finally the Committee should invite the NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller to tell why it was necessary for him to write to the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead in August 2011. “It is a sad fact that our Scottish system, which was once world leading, is probably no longer the best.” He also calls for a need to examine how we make the most of our existing sites.’

The SRUC annual report 2013 shows the SRUC still selling off land at Aberdeen and Ayr to improve its net balance. The jargon seems to indicate we haven’t seen the end of mergers – or ‘merger synergies’ as stated in the report.

The move to Edinburgh doesn’t appear to have been the answer to the SRUC’s problems. It appears caught in a cycle of cost cutting – to what end?

Who and what are losing out to this crazy setup and how damaging is it for the future of Scotland’s rural industries?

In its drive to attain university status has the SRUC lost sight of its basic function?

Why was it able to become a private company answerable to none over its selling off once publicly owned resources?

It bothers me that its Board members, apart from staff and student representatives are appointed.

That it is private but is still supported by public funds – currently the SRUC gets
financial assistance from the Scottish Funding Council.

That it is a registered charity therefore does not pay corporation tax.

The SAC, and now the SRUC, was set up as a limited liability company under guarantee (without share capital). Many such conversions from public colleges to private have gone down a similar route but with Boards of Governors plus a CEO and Principal. The SAC chose to form a standard limited company with a Board of Directors.

Confused?

A board of governors allows greater opportunity for scrutiny of senior management. And it is cheaper than the SAC/SRUC setup as governors are paid a small stipend and expenses. An executive Board gets salary plus benefits – what they are is anyone’s guess. Board executive liability in the event of the SRUC becoming insolvent stands at £1 each.

As there are no shareholders the Board can remunerate themselves to any amount they wish. There are stakeholders of course, who can attend the annual AGM and grand dinner, but they don’t get any vote on the issue of executive remuneration.

There we have it. A rural skills college run from a city as a private business dependent on public money, paying no corporation tax and flogging off what were publicly owned assets.

Nothing illegal about it but for the life of me I can’t see this model as being in the best interests of Scotland’s rural industries.

ENVIRONMENT AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
AGENDA
2ND Meeting, 2003 (Session 2)
Wednesday 25 June 2003
[PDF]SRUC Board and Committe Structure and Remits – working …
www.sruc.ac.uk/…/sruc_boards_and_committees_remits_and_structures

[PDF]Agriculture’s contribution to Scottish society, economy and …
www.scotland.gov.uk/resource/doc/158216/0042826.pdf

https://lenathehyena.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/craibstone-estate-on-greenbelt-gets-1000-houses/

Herald Scotland : Few signs of peace as SAC’s battle for survival reaches the Executive Thursday 26 June 2003

October 18, 2014

Ban the Bomb 1967-style

As a follow up to Singing Ding Dong Dollar blog here is another copy of Megaton, Aberdeen youth ban the bomb’s magazine from the summer of love 1967.

Scott MacKenzie was the vinyl of choice with his hit San Francisco which you might want to play while perusing this recently uncovered edition of Megaton.

MegatonMegaton p.2Megaton p.3

The quality is poor but hey, it was nearly half a century ago.

Megaton p.4

Megaton p.6Megaton p.6Megaton p.7

Aberdeen YCND

Aberdeen YCND

Megaton p.8Megaton p.9Megaton p.10Megaton p.11Megaton p.5Megaton p.12

Aberdeen YCND

Aberdeen YCND

Megaton p.13Megaton p.15Megaton p.16Megaton p.17

October 15, 2014

A man, a dodgy arm and the NHS

The experience of a friend today – I haven’t used his name in case a mad medic attacks his dodgy army with something sharp.

By the way he’s at pains to point out he’s a supporter of the NHS but not the people populating Health Boards.

‘I think I’ve discovered ONE reason why the NHS is losing money. I got a letter this morning saying they’d been trying to contact me about an appointment at Woodend Hospital and would I contact them to find out why I wasn’t available on the phone.

I phoned the NHS and told them that the reason I hadn’t been available on the phone was because I hadn’t received any phone message from the NHS about any appointment. I said that if nobody left a message asking me to call them, it was unlikely I would somehow intuit* (*look it up) that the NHS was trying to contact me.

I added that, if the NHS was calling me from a withheld number (which was highly fucking likely) they wouldn’t get an answer because I get umpteen telemarketing calls ever week from withheld numbers so I never answer those type of calls.

Agreeing that it seemed a pretty stupid idea to phone folk and not leave a message, the NHS person then asked me what the problem was that they had been phoning me about. It seems they had lost/mislaid/eaten the letter from my GP about the trapped nerve in my left arm which has been causing me discomfort for several months. We eventually decided that someone should see me about this problem and I was asked if I’d like to travel to Edinburgh for a swift consult.

I said I wouldn’t, so I was then told that I would remain on Grampian Health Board’s waiting list but that it might take several months before a letter is sent out with an appointment date.

I said this was OK but would they mind not phoning me about it and not leaving a message until I have completed my training as a psychic.’

Tags: , ,
October 9, 2014

Now you see it – now you don’t – Marischal Square

 

The vote was taken at once, and it was agreed by an overwhelming majority that rats were comrades.                                                                                                                                                                (Animal farm)

Aberdeen City Council has reinforced the belief that it is surely one of the most disgraceful and sleekit of local authorities.

It has played a dirty game over the development that it once boasted would be Marischal Square – a great opportunity for a civic space it once promised – an idea that captured the mood of the city’s citizens browned off by a recent diet of lacklustre plans lacking in ambition and confidence.

Did they say square? They did. Did. Not any more. Because square there aint. Unless you follow the logic of Cllr Boulton who, in reply to being challenged on the great disappearing square, muttered something along the lines of – the whole area is a kind of square.

 The erm, Square

Quite.

There used to be a distinctive old street there called Broad Street. Lord Byron, Geordie Gordon, bade there as a child. The old Aberdeen Journals occupied a large property there and Bissets bookshop was there at the other end. There never used to be a square and there sure as hell isn’t going to be one in the near future. Not until these eejits running the council are dead and buried.

So square is now a former concept of a square. This wonderful civic square that would become a hub (councils love the term hub) for city folk and so the idea of Marischal Square was born – no not born, conceived.

Then the council had a think and it thought – hey min there’s nae cash in an empty space.

Come on you didn’t think they’d stick to their word – did you?

 COUNCILLORS'  BRAIN

Average councillor brain

There’s been a lot of talk – encouraging the public to get involved, implying citizens’ views would be taken note of in drawing up the final design. That is until people said,

Yes we want a square – ken fit I mean, min?

Well you ken fit want gets.

It is clear the Labour-led coalition which includes a Tory and Independents while happy to provide a blank sheet for the developers eager to build shops, offices and a hotel is less interested in what the people of the city want. Did I say less interested? Not interested.

Of course councils ignoring the wishes of the people is not a new phenomenon but disappointing nevertheless whenever it occurs and when it doesn’t even try to modify the commercial aspects of the design as a sop to public opinion.

The final decision was taken away from the Planning Committee and put to full council to ensure the commercial proposal went through, as councillors would be more or less voting along party lines. This was nothing short of politicising the scheme and a scandalous manipulation of power on a project that is so controversial.

Cllr Willie Young is reported to have indicated on July 17th this year that the decision had already been taken to go ahead with the Muse development causing consternation among opposition councillors opposed to the deal.

Squares are good

Squares are good

Squares were good

Squares were good

Squares no good

Squares no good

Squares were good but concrete is better

 

What we want is concrete and more concrete. Can’t get enough concrete. Our aim is to concrete over Aberdeen. Concrete is money. Fill the mouths of those who dare to speak out with concrete. That’ll shut them up.

Cllr Jenny Laing tells the world this vibrant developments of offices and shops will prove that Aberdeen is open for business, as if one of the most economically dynamic areas of the UK isn’t already open and doing a grand line in business.

Do people actually vote for these people who speak in banalities?

ACC ratings

Aberdeen Evening Express

Do not imagine, comrades, that leadership is a pleasure.

On the contrary, it is a deep and heavy responsibility.

Contrary to what the Labour group say there is nothing , absolutely nothing in this design to attract people into the city. On the other hand a large photogenic square would most definitely become a tourist attraction as well as a potential gathering place and area for music and entertainment. Think of what some photographs of a fine square with the magnificent Marischal College, the second largest granite building in the world,  in the background and those fine old properties of Upper Kirkgate along one side, would do to enhance the attractiveness of Aberdeen.

Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs.