Thursday, 10 May 2018


Clochemerle is a farcical novel by Gabriel Chevallier, first published in 1934 and set in a secluded French village called Clochemerle, situated in the Beaujolais region. It satirises the conflicts between Catholics and Republicans in the French Third Republic, telling the story of the installation of a urinal in the village square.

The characters are harmlessly hypocritical and one-dimensional caricatures, motivated by avarice, hatred, revenge, bitterness, devotions, sexism and other powerful emotions: the first two villagers introduced are typical - a scheming Mayor Barthélemy Piechut and the schoolmaster Ernest Tafardel, a child of the French Revolution, who spend the first chapter discussing the urinal and its proposed site at the top of a blind alley by the church.

The novel catalogues a series of disasters that befall this village during 1923. The storyline is a vehicle for Chevalier to display his characters’ thoughts. The pissoir is opened to the public and there is a steady stream of visitors, but it becomes a hang-out for local teenagers who lark about there. A jealous and bitter old maid - Justine Putet, an energetic user of rosaries - agitates against the urinal. Whenever something bad happens, such as when a girl gets pregnant, Putet’s the first to blame the corrupting influence of the urinal.
Clochemerle becomes divided into Urinophobes and Urinophiles. There’s a fight in the church, troops are summoned, folk get injured and a freak storm ruins the grape harvest, the crop which all in the town depend on for their livelihoods.
The work has been translated in various editions and adapted into film and television series, notably by the BBC in 1972 when it was scripted by Galton & Simpson, most famous in the UK for writing Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.  The series was narrated by Peter Ustinov, and starred Cyril Cusack (Mayor Piéchut), Kenneth Griffith (Tafardel), Roy Dotrice (Curé Ponosse), Wendy Hiller (Justine Putet)), Catherine Rouvel (Judith Toumignon), Cyd Hayman (Adèle Torbayon), Micheline Presle (Baronesse Courtebiche), James Wardroper (Claudius Brodequin), Bernard Bresslaw (Nicholas), Nigel Green (Captain Tardinaux) and Dennis Price (Alexis Luvelat).

Commoners Choir

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Commoners Choir is dedicated to singing about the world around us, its inequalities and injustices, and - with in 4-part vocal harmony - opposition to such injustices. Commoners Choir reclaims the fun of making a big noise together without lugging round a van full of instruments and amplifiers. Based in West Yorkshire, the choir gathers and sings wherever it seems fitting.

Related/research/of interest

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Billy MacKenzie: 'Voice of an angel'

Billy MacKenzie (27th March 1957 – 22nd January 1997) was a singer best known as a founder member of The Associates, the band he formed in Dundee with guitarist Alan Rankine. Given his prodigious multi-octave range, once heard, it was impossible to forget the Scottish vocalist.

The band experimented with unorthodox instrumentation and recording techniques, including sounds amplified through the tube of a vacuum cleaner on the track "Kitchen Person" in 1981. "Party Fears Two", "Club Country" and "18 Carat Love Affair" remain some of the most distinctive singles to come out of Britain in the early Eighties. The band experimented with unorthodox instrumentation and recording techniques, including sounds amplified through the tube of a vacuum cleaner on the track "Kitchen Person" in 1981. Artists who have covered "Party Fears Two" include the Divine Comedy, Dan Bryk, King Creosote and Heaven 17. The Associates released their most commercially successful album, Sulk, in 1982. Martha Ladly of Martha and the Muffins contributed backing vocals and keyboards.]     ’Party Fears Two’ from 1982 on Top of the Pops.    Dundee repertory theatre's trailer for 'Balgay Hill', a play based on a biography of Billy, 'The Glamour Chase' by Tom Doyle.  In July1994 Billy gave one of his last formal interviews. Gilbert Blecken asked the questions

Monday, 23 October 2017

Public Service Broadcasting: 'They gave me a lamp'  Aberdeen Performing Arts presented Public Service Broadcasting and other acts performing at True North, a music festival that took place between 7th-10th September in venues across Aberdeen.
______________________________________  Public Service Broadcasting website  Public Service Broadcasting on Facebook

Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) is the corduroy-clad brainchild of London-based J. Willgoose. Entertaining, Informative and educational, PSB’s spell-binding live transmissions see them weave samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material around live drums, guitar, banjo and electronics: they beam our past back at us through vintage TV sets and state-of-the-art video projection devices.

After two years up in the stratosphere with the hugely successful ‘The Race for Space’, tracks from which featured frequently on the playlist for their Aberdeen performance in His Majesty's Theatre (HMT), PSB are returning to Earth. On their new album 'Every Valley', we are taken on a journey down the mineshafts of the South Wales valleys. Although 'Every Valley' is the story of just one industry, the tales of a disenfranchised working class in this age of agitation and turmoil could not be more relevant. Although the concept is localised and historical, Willgoose hopes the story is "applicable to industries all over the western world and possibly beyond, in the way that the Industrial Revolution generated these communities that were so dependent on one particular industry. What happens to that community when you remove that industry from it? Where does that leave us now?"

I felt that the noise level in HMT was oppressive; the lack of leg-room, the heat and dry ice made the gig a rather uncomfortable experience.

'Every Valley' was the top selling album in indie record stores in July.  All Directions Point To True North – reviews and photography by Craig Chisholm in Aberdeen Voice  YouTube; 'They gave me a lamp'

Monday, 28 August 2017

Cooking the Books

400 years of food and drink.

‘Lifting the Lid’, a new touring display from the National Library of Scotland, opened on June 5th 2017 at the Sir Duncan Rice Library in Old Aberdeen (pictured below). This free display runs until August 20th and tells the story of food and drink in Scotland.

Discover how the introduction of new ingredients and methods of cooking have changed and developed our tastes over the years. Scotland has a diverse natural larder with plentiful supplies of fish, game, cereals and fruit. This display celebrates Scotland’s changing relationship with food and drink and explores the myths and traditions associated with its people's diet.
Subjects include "Desserts & Baking", "Fish & Shellfish", "Oatmeal & Bread", "Soups & Broths", "Jams & Preserves", "Quaking pudding", "Cakes shaped and decorated to look like a piece of fruit, and "Entremets pie". There's an activity cart and games to have a go at, and a film reel featuring a menu of foodie films from the Scottish Screen Archive.

Accompanying 'Lifting the Lid' is 'Cooking the Books', a University of Aberdeen exhibition showcasing a selection of cookery books and food-related pamphlets from the Special Collections.
Modern recipe books regularly top the non-fiction bestseller lists. Their authors, the celebrity chefs, are household names.

This exhibition showcases a selection of cookery books and food-related pamphlets from the University of Aberdeen's Special Collections. They date mainly from the 1800s, when a fashion and a passion for food was fed by the dramatic increase in book publishing. The names of the cooks may not be familiar, but their books sold like hot cakes.

On a summer menu are starters of acorn bread and viper broth, and main courses of ragooed larks and venison pasty. There are showstoppers by Joseph Bell, Royal Confectioner, and the truth behind the blackbirds baked into a pie.

Some curious items include the designs for a pressure cooker from 1681; the first printed recipe for the potato crisp; and a miniature cookbook containing over 800 pages of pies, jellies and puddings. 

There are cautionary tales too, not just if you're a lark or a blackbird. The sad demise of the lady who ate poisonous pickles is recounted by Fredrick Accum, and Launcelot Sturgeon considers the consequences of an irresistible sauce.

'Cooking the Books' invites visitors to try more of the Rowett Institute’s nutritional reinventions of classic Scottish dishes such as Clootie dumpling, Rumbledethumps and Cullen Skink. The exhibition pays homage to Aberdeen’s signature bake, the rowie, our buttery.
'Threat to Aberdeen’s morning delicacy' ran a headline in the local press on 27th August 1917. Rowie post on Lena's blog.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Combs and Crombie coats - two success stories from Aberdeen's industrial past

Tourism and energy are the mainstays of North-East Scotland's business life; fishing and farming remain important industries. There have been many others. Established in 1136 at the Dee's mouth, Aberdeen harbour is the longest existing business in Britain. The Shore Porters Society was set up in 1498, six years after Columbus discovered America. Our quarries earned export income and provided the stone for Granite City's monuments, bridges and buildings. Closed since 1971, Rubislaw Quarry was once the largest man-made hole in Europe. Marischal College is the world's second largest granite building after Madrid's El Escorial Palace.

Ship-building and textiles were prominent industries - I can recall the sound of hooters and the sight of workers as they poured from Hall Russell’s York Place shipyard, and Richards linen and jute manufactory at the Broadford Works on Maberley Street, once the city's largest single employer. Both are now closed.

This short article concentrates on the Comb Works and the manufacture of Crombie coats, two stories from Aberdeen's industrial past. I've lumped them together not only because it makes for a good alliterative title, but also because the conflation reveals some similarities with the history and success of both industries.

The production of combs in Aberdeen was introduced in 1788, the year of Byron's birth. John Stewart scaled up Aberdeen Comb Works on Hutcheon Street from 1830, growing the business through the use of new steam-powered machinery. By 1851 the works was the largest comb factory in the UK, possibly in the world. For a tortoise shell effect, some combs had to be hand-made. 730,000 ox horns, four million hooves, sea-tortoise shell, wood, whalebone and ivory were imported through Aberdeen docks.

As the Comb Works flourished, the seeds were being sown for high-quality woollen production beside Aberdeen's other river, the Don. Weaver John Crombie had taken over Cothal Mills at Fintray in 1805, the year of the Battle of Trafalgar. A waterfall saved him the expense of steam-driven machinery: the locals donated piss and blood which made a good scouring mixture for the material.

In 1859 J & J Crombie moved to Grandholm Mill, where the waterwheel was the largest in the world. Over the years the firm produced uniforms and coats. An early example of cool branding, spies, tsars and mods adopted the Crombie coat.

Devotees of note include Sir Thomas Glover, Cary Grant, the Beatles, Mikhail Gorbachev, John F Kennedy and Doctor Who. 

The founding family sold its interest in the company in 1928. Grandholm Mill closed in 1990. The building is now in business and residential use, and houses a fusion restaurant, the Spice Mill.

Reader Sue Edwards recalls a visit to Grandholm Mill in the 1970's. She was given two bottles of spinning oil for her handspinning; she suspects that it was whale oil.

Related/of interest.

Street names in Aberdeen reflect past trading - commodities, artisans and countries.  Candlemakers' Lane, Wrights' and Coopers' Place, Cotton Street, Flourmill Lane, Virginia Street, Baltic Place, Jamaica Street and Patagonia Court spring to mind.
 “Up Fittie, down with the Hun” - xenophobia and trade. Post-war trawling and granite. This article by Textor guesting on lenathehyena's blog describes fishing riots in Aberdeen and workers' unrest within the granite industry during the 1920s.
Darg and drams is the culmination of Kate Steenhauer's artistic explorations at the shipyards, heliport and hangars of Aberdeen, the Oil Capital of Europe, where workers grump and joke in muted tones at 'red-eye time'.
In the barns where whisky casks are made; a trade associated with traditional skills and craftsmanship. At Knockando Woolmill where woollen textiles are created on Victorian machinery. In Thainstone Mart, where the ringmaster auctions livestock by circling them before a captive audience. In the pubs where music carries the locals into the early hours after a long week of grafting.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Crucible

In 1692, when a group of young girls are discovered dancing in the woods trying to stoke up spirits, the God-fearing people of a small New England town are told that the Devil and witchcraft is in their midst and must be rooted out at all costs. The town is quickly caught up in an unstoppable flow of paranoia, indictment and manipulation as personal grievances collide with lust and superstition, creating a crucible where no person is safe from their suspicious neighbours.

The Crucible serves as a stark, chilling reminder of the frailty of reason in the face of hysteria and the terrifying power of false accusations. The play is a scorching indictment of fanaticism, a powerful central work of American drama. The Crucible by Arthur Miller: Selladoor Worldwide Productions.

ARTHUR MIlLLER was born in Harlem, New York on the 17th October 1915 to parents of Jewish and Polish heritage. His father owned a successful coat manufacturing business but the family lost almost everything in the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and had to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn. After graduating from high school, Miller took up a number of odd jobs so he could attend Michigan University, where he wrote for the student paper. His first play, No Villain, won an award. Inspired by his teacher Kenneth Rowe, Miller moved back East to begin his career as a playwright.

Miller married college sweetheart, Mary Slattery; they divorced in 1956. Less than a month later, Miller married Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe. Their marriage lasted four years; Monroe struggled with drug addiction, and they divorced in 1961. Monroe died the following year. It was widely rumoured that Miller’s play After The Fall was inspired by their relationship – a rumour he denied.

The Crucible was written when Senator Joseph McCarthy was running a campaign against Communism in an attempt to suppress socialist actions. Fear of 'the enemy' was high thanks to the Cold War. His expression of strong anti-communist sentiment in the public sphere ignited an intense fear among the population of the United States. Specialist committees such as the House of Un-American Activities were established to root out members and supporters of the Communist Party and their sympathisers. The actions of these committees were controversial, with those being investigated encouraged to accuse others to avoid their own punishment. This resulted in many giving false accusations to save their own skin. Many people in the entertainment industry were accused. In 1956 the House of Un-American Activities called Miller before the committee, having refused to renew his passport. It was believed that The Crucible had a lot to do with this, as his story of the Salem witch trials presented an allegory of the McCarthyism that the committee were practising. Miller refused to assist the committee and inform on individuals, so he was held in contempt of Congress. The ruling was overturned two years later.

The Crucible is based on actual events in the town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, where a group of young girls fell ill with seizures and hallucinations after being discovered dancing in the woods to conjure spirits.. Due to the highly religious nature of society at the time, any strange or unexplained occurrences would be attributed to the Devil; these unexplained illnesses were the same. This fear was only strengthened when the girls began accusing members of the Salem community of witchcraft. Mass hysteria spread and accusation came from more and more people who feared the finger being pointed at them. In only a few weeks, large numbers of people had been jailed and when hysteria had run its course, fourteen women and six men had been hanged for 'their crimes'. Five others died in prison.

Miller’s approach to the facts was fairly loose. The central relationship between Abigail and John Proctor (who were actually aged 11 and 60 at the time) was entirely fabricated, and many characters were conflated for effect. The central romance gave Miller the opportunity for a dramatic driving force behind the plot’s development and created a tragic hero in John Proctor.

A theocratic town, religion rules in Salem: public and private moralities are one and the same thing. Reputation based on such principles is important to the residents; it helps to fuel hysteria, fear of guilt by association. Rumour becomes power as members of the community fight to drive suspicion away from their own front door. The Reverend Parris’ proximity to the girls, and his daughter’s illness, leaves him in fear for his reputation. The actions of John Proctor are also driven by his desire to protect his reputation. He misses an opportunity to stop the girl’s accusations for fear of tarnishing his name, meeting his fate through not wanting to sign a false confession saying:-“I have given you my soul; leave me my name.’

There are several characters in the play who are empowered by the Salem Witch trials, who benefit from them. These people would otherwise be marginalised in society. With few options in life, women would have been subordinate to men at the time, working as servants until old enough to be married off and become wives and mothers. A number of these girls and women are outcast for other reasons. Tituba is a black slave: Abigail is an orphan who has an affair with a married man. Having ignited her love and lust, John Proctor ends their affair, leaving Abigail jealous and looking for revenge. The Putnams lose seven of their eight children and are looking for someone to blame. By aligning their views with those of God, the accusers give themselves credibility and more power.

McCarthy's witch-hunts of the 1950s produced mass hysteria, as the nation’s collective fear of communism during the Cold War led to a climate of suspicion, fear and accusations. The rules of everyday life were suspended, allowing people to hide their selfish acts under the guise of righteousness. Such conditions ensure that those who can benefit from 'righteousness' will thrive.

Mass hysteria is characterised by anxiety, loss of logic, jealousy, irrational behaviour or inexplicable symptoms of illness. It is seen to occur among the disenfranchised of society, such as the young or women. Central to the trials, we see a group of young women on the edge of society showing symptoms of mass hysteria that spread throughout a town, leading to accusations on a huge scale and destroying the community.

'It's perceived wisdom; it's common sense'. In an epoch of Cold War scare tactics, aka 'Reds under the beds', fake news, lies, Russian/Trump US election collusion, CIA hacking (Vault 7: Wikileaks), the Democratic National Committee discrediting Bernie Sanders, the baiting of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, smears, threats and other mainstream media projects fostering  fragmentation, ignorance, delusion and fear - in short, a climate of neo-McCarthyism - the Crucible remains a vital production, now more than ever.