Archive for the ‘community’ Category


With the current weather to cope with,  our local Council in Perth and Kinross have been struggling to empty the bins of the more rural folk like us.   Like many Councils, they now empty bins fortnightly, and we have two wheelybins at the end of our road – one for general waste, and the other for recycling, emptied week about.

The general waste one was last emptied on the 3rd December, and the recycling one on the 13th December.     Both were full yesterday.

And today was a recycling bin emptying day.   The Council managed to get up the road ………..  and emptied both bins into the one lorry.    Perhaps the best solution under the circumstances, as this cold spell could last a while.

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Be Near Me, a  joint production between the National Theatre of Scotland and the Donmar Warehouse reached Perth last week.

Ian McDiarmid adapted this from Andrew O’ Hagan’s book, and he also starred in this disturbing piece.     The story, set in a sectarian west coast community is about Father David Anderton, a very English, Catholic priest, fond of wine, classical music …….. and the odd young boy.

Anderton, for ever scarred by the death of a close friend, Conor, in a car crash while they were at University in Oxford, sought refuge in the Church.    A good administrator, but poor priest, he was taken on reluctantly by the Glasgow Bishop only because he was intelligent, and they were short of priests.    In what was a rather improbable series of errors of judgement, he got a little too friendly with a group of difficult teenagers, including 15 year old  Mark.    Mark  ended up at the rectory, and after drink and drugs were taken, Anderton planted a kiss on the boy’s lips.   

The wider community was well represented by the rest of the actors, mostly present onstage throughout.   In a strong cast, Blythe Duff gave was particularly outstanding as Mrs Poole, Anderton’s housekeeper.    Collette O’Neill played Anderton’s mother – bright, old and wise, and still churning out her books with plenty of sex included.    There was some excellent singing, which under John Tiffany’s direction, added much to the drama.

But ultimately, this was not a comfortable play.    The very English, camp Catholic priest was very much at odds with Ayrshire working class community.      Anderton  reminded me of the English Colonel in Tunes of Glory.   And the sectarianism was present from the old down to the young.   Anderton held very different views to his peers, which we saw demonstrated in a wonderful dinner party scene.

In the end, Anderton was a lost man – he lost his job and had to do community service, but he lost his way in life:   he was challenged about what he had achieved in his church career not only by the young teenagers, but by his agnostic mother.     Ian McDiarmid gave a very convincing performance, even if what we were being asked to believe was less so at times.

And nice to see Perth Theatre very busy, and to see a good sprinkling of other actors and a director in the audience, which is always a good sign.

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Now and again, I find myself on a delivery round for one cause or another.   I am just back from such a round with literally bloody knuckles from difficult letterboxes. 

letterboxNow I know, living in the Perthshire countryside, that letterboxes can be a reliable source of drafts, and I understand why people fit brushes or sprung flaps to the inside.    Sometimes both.    But some letter boxes this morning had an unnecessarily strong spring-loaded front flap, then lavatory brush strength bristles with a final strong spring loaded flap after that.     It is impossible to get stuff through without bending it, and posting material in is a two handed operation:   fingers lift the top flap, in through the brushes and push the back flap open – the other hand then posts in the letter.      But some letter boxes are designed well – they keep out the drafts, yet allow for easy posting.     These have flaps, but not too strongly springy, and if they have bristles, they are soft.    There ought to be a design standard which is acceptable to the Royal Mail.

doorAnd who thinks it is OK to put a letter box at ground level?     It really isn’t.    And if it is a Fort Knox type of letter box, it is nigh impossible.

And this morning is the first time that a dog had a go at me.   I stood still and adopted a non threatening position, yet the dog still came at me.   My thick jacket was good protection.    Dogs usually like me.  This one didn’t.

The very worst deliveries though are strong letter boxes with a fierce dog on the inside.    The knack is to stuff the post in just enough to do the job, but before the dog gets your fingers.

Why not take the test yourself – take a letter, stand outside your front door, and try to post it in.    See?   Stop laughing – it is not funny!       Posties have my sympathy.

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A Delicate Question

I think that most people now have access to soap and running water these days.    We have come a long way from standpipes and outside lavatories.     And the ‘weekly bath’ – or there again, perhaps not? 

There a consistent and recurring problem with an older audience at Perth Concert Hall.     Several times over the past year we have been next to people whom, let’s put it politely, could do with a good wash.     Sometimes the whiff is so bad it is several people away from us where the problem lies.

It is not great to have to raise the point, but there really is no excuse for this these days.    Last Thursday was particularly grim.

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We have become used to CCTV cameras everywhere these days, even although we may not be too happy about them.    Our mobile phone logs into the nearest base station every so many minutes, effectively tracking its location.    As we drive along roads, number plate recognition is used to monitor traffic flows, but increasingly to track criminals.    Our supermarket knows exactly what we buy.    How we choose to live our lives is becoming more and more in the public domain.

But now the government in its Communications Data Bill is proposing that ISPs have available all of our e-mails for the past 12 months as well as how much time we spend online and a record of where we go when online.   

This is really a step too far.    It is exactly equivalent to the government asking the Royal Mail to open, photograph and have available for examination, every piece of mail we receive (or send too).    There should be a massive fuss about this.

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We have a community owned woodland walk in our village.    It is a pleasant and much used circular walk with a stream running through it.     Members of our community give up their time freely to maintain and enhance this space.

We had an in-service training day this week – a day where school pupils do not go to school, but their teachers do.     This leaves children with a free day on their hands, and a day where supervision by parents may be stretched due to work commitments.

So a group of these free-ranging kids got hold of some extra strength bleach – the really heavy duty stuff, and went down to the community walk.   They poured this concentrated chemical over bridge handrails, on the ground and over a memorial stone.    This was simple premeditated badness.

Our walk is used by walkers, by children and by dogs.    Imagine a young child holding onto a handrail and then putting their hand to their mouth – as children do.     Imagine dogs walking through concentrated bleach and then trying to clean their paws.    Imagine the bleach falling off the bridges into the stream and killing the fish.

We called the police and tried to keep walkers away meantime.    We gave up waiting for the police after an hour and a half, and it was dark.    A car might have taken a turn round the car park later on – but that is all that it was.     And we have heard nothing more.    The police clearly are not interested, which is appalling.    We obviously have wait until we have a child with blisters down her throat requiring hospital treatment before anything gets done.

As a farmer, I have to monitor and record all my chemical use.   There are very strict rules about the distance between spraying activity and watercourses.    I have to record and have available for inspection the minute detail of all spraying activity.   We are talking about dilute chemical here.     If I pollute a waterway, I will (rightly) be taken to court.    And, yes, I have had a randomised snap inspection by the authorities.

But it seems that if children pollute a waterway with concentrated chemical, then nobody cares, including the police.    The children in question should be found;   the people who are supposed to looking after them should be hanging their heads in shame.    It is similar to the situation where children set fire to a healthy beech tree last summer.



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Carol Hogel is an American who has been living in Scotland for the past 25 years.    She has been a major sponsor of the arts in Scotland and the UK – to the tune of £20 million through the Dunard Fund which she set up.

She has contributed to the RSNO, most UK opera companies, the National Galleries of Scotland, Scottish Chamber Orchestra and lots more.    It is a big list, and adds up to a lot of money.

For Scotland, through her generosity, she has allowed us to be genuinely ambitious with artistic projects, like the building of the Playfair project at the National Gallery, like bringing Peter Stein’s Parsifal to Edinburgh, and so much more.      She helped rescue the Edinburgh International Festival from a financial black hole.   In short, she has made a major contribution to the UK arts, particularly in Scotland.

But now, faced with what she sees as a tax for bringing her wealth to the UK – the Brown/Darling  non dom tax of £30,000 pa, she has announced that she is moving to California, where philanthropists giving to the arts are appreciated.

Shamingly, it was not the tax itself which tipped the balance, but a chippy article written by Robert McNeil in The Scotsman which concluded by saying “The rich are leaving, and good ruddy riddance to them”.   Hogel wrote a letter back accusing McNeil of “taking ethnic cleansing to a whole new level” and calling him “destructive, spiteful and philistine”.    

A civilised country is measured in part by its artistic and cultural status and aspirations.     A vibrant arts sector contributes to the high quality of life we enjoy in Scotland.    It encourages others to visit, and it provides many jobs.

So, this is to say thank you so much to Carol Hogel for her generous contributions.      I am so sad it had to end like this.     NcNeil and The Scotsman should be hanging their heads in shame.

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We had a bit of excitement in our village this week.   A police cordon appeared with cones and tape blocking off the whole pavement on one side and parking on both sides of the street.    A white boxy trailer thing (mobile incident room) appeared, and there were a series of rather chilly looking policemen standing guard in rota.     Then a minibus of the white suited brigade rolled up to get stuck into forensics.    It was the whole works.  

Like everywhere else, we get our share of vandalism, and we had a stabbing in the 1970s, but being good the Taggart watchers that we are (supporting Scottish acting talent of course) it looked all set for the big man himself to roll up, climb out of his car and announce “there’s been a murder”.

Well, not exactly.    A cannabis factory had been discovered – a whole house growing cannabis plants.    500 plants, according to the local paper.    Apparently these places are springing up all over the place these days, but to be honest, we did not expect it in our busy Main Street.

The Police set up the cordon on Monday night, and it was only lifted late on Thursday afternoon.    To the layman like me, that’s a long time to deal with 500 cannabis plants and get a few fingerprints.    It was very disruptive to the shops round about and casued significant loss of business.

Still, the law must take its course.   Currently not sure if anyone has been arrested for this.

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Anyone who has been to the Royal Museum in Edinburgh in Chambers Street – that’s the old museum, will remember the spectacular building.    If you were taken there as a wee child, you will remember the two floor-level fish tanks immediately in front of you as you enter the building.    You will probably remember the stuffed animals and the push-button working models of various bits of engineering, but the fish you pass on your way in, and on your way out.   You may have even added a penny or two to their pools.

Everyone looks at them.    I actually spent time watching people there last week, and it was amazing how many stopped to look at the fish.   Parents being guided by young children, older children crowding to point at the bigger more active fish, and people simply sitting down and passing the time of day – the fish provide much amusement and a focus to the ground floor.

The museum is closing in the spring for a massive refurbishment, and sadly, the fish are not to be part of the the new look museum when it reopens.

Which is a shame, I think.   

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Donald Trump wants to build a massive golf course resort north of Aberdeen.    The golf courses would also involve a big hotel and a few hundred houses to pay for it.     The trouble is that the site is environmentally important.   To cut a very very long story short, Aberdeen Council threw out the plans on the casting vote of the Planning Committee Chairman.     Normal procedure from that point would have been for Trump to appeal, and after that for the Government to call it in for determination.    What actually happened was that the Planning Committee Chairman was sacked and the decision has been reversed.   

It is not good.    Elected representatives should be allowed to get on with their job, and the democratic process respected.   The project would have been called in by the Govermment in any case, and Trump should have been more patient instead of throwing his rattle out of the pram and threatening to decamp to Northern Ireland.    There are also accusations of sleaze by MSPs interfering behind the scenes.    And one law for the Trumps of this world and one for the rest of us is not a good way forward.

Having said that, this application should never have got to the point of entrenched positions.    Faults on both sides I think, and Trump appears to have been riding roughshod over some local opinion to get what he wants.    There should have been more allowances made for local views, and planning compromises offered.

Compare the project at St Andrews Bay, where new golf courses and a big hotel have been built.    This did not need to rely on hundreds of houses to make it work, and was a ‘pure investment’ in golf.    So why couldn’t Trump do a similar project at Aberdeen?   

The Trump golf course development is one that Scotland and Aberdeen in particular really needs, although the location is perhaps a bit remote and prone to haar off the North Sea.    It is good news that the project has been called in, and hopefully it will be given the green light, but quite appalling for local democracy.    How the MSPs come out of it remains to be seen.

And of course, there is the scruffy farmer holding out against a Trump takeover from the middle of what will be two golf courses, despite being offered a generous sum to move  – but that’s a whole other story.

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