Thursday, 27 October 2011

Trump, trump, trump

This week we finally got to Dundee to see the documentary film about Donald Trump's Scottish golf course project - "You've Been Trumped". I had read quite a lot about the film - partly because the site of the course/resort is quite local to here (just over 30 miles north of here in Aberdeenshire) and partly because the film was made by a Montrose-based filmmaker Anthony Baxter (and it can't get much more local than that, Montrose being our nearest town).

“You've Been Trumped” is very interesting and I urge all of you to try and see it when you can (all showing details at the film's website). It's a documentary but quite a gentle artistic one and it shows some great shots of the beautiful north-eastern coast of Scotland. What it tries to do above all, however, is to provide some balance to the whole story of the golf development up there by allowing the wider public to meet the locals whose lives have been most affected by the Trump project at Balmedie/Menie Estate and to see how that project has been carried out to date (no surprise perhaps considering Trump's reputation – the whole thing is an outrage). Trump and his entourage have done their best to paint the locals who opposed him (or you could say 'those who just refused to be bought by him') as the lowest of the low, as slum-dwellers, as people whose opinion means nothing but what the film does, very successfully, is to show these people for what they are - an ordinary mix of extraordinary folk, people who deserve the right to be protected and listened to, people who deserve more (much more!) from their national politicians and agencies.

Below is a photograph of two of the locals taken by Alicia Bruce. The photo is titled "Mike and Sheila Forbes: Mill of Menie" (copyright Alicia Bruce) and, along with others from Bruce's excellent collection "Menie: a portrait of a North East Community in Conflict", it is featured in the film. The full collection of photographs is currently on show at the Moray Art Centre (until 26 November).

Some of you will know the story of the Balmedie golf course but others will not so I will try to provide a quick summary. If any of the facts or order here are wrong please feel free to put an oar in. For some balance Trump's site for the subject is here, wikipedia's is here and a group that opposes Trump's plans is here.

  1. A few years back Donald Trump announces he wants to build “the best golf course in the world” (complete with hotel, luxury houses etc.).
  2. After some umming and ahing he chooses a site in Scotland, just north of Aberdeen. Some of the site is a particular type of dune system and therefore an SSSI (Site of Specific Scientific Interest).
  3. He buys up a lot of land at this site (2005/2006).
  4. Aberdeenshire Council deny permission to build the course/resort (2007).
  5. The Scottish Executive/Government override this decision and permission is granted (2008).
  6. Building commences, locals are treated badly, local police act terribly (even on one occasion locking up the filmmakers for what, looking at Trump's rep in a funny way..?). There is much talk of Compulsory Purchase Orders for people who live adjacent to the site but eventually these are not brought into use.
  7. Trump receives an honorary degree from Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University (autumn 2010). Former Principal of the same institution, Dr. David Kennedy, returns his honorary degree in protest.
  8. Trump announces that whilst the course is still being built the hotel and housing part of the project is on hold because of global recession/economic problems (June 2011).
  9. The film “You've Been Trumped” is released (2011). Trump says it's a “failure” but it starts to win prizes and get very positive reviews.
  10. Recently there is coverage of Trump's objections to a windfarm that is due to be built just offshore near the Balmedie site (it will ruin the view from the 18th hole, apparently). It appears the Scottish Executive may stand firm on the windfarm issue. So what will happen now..?

After watching the film I would really like the answers to some of the following questions:

  • If some of the site is an SSSI how was the Trump golf course project allowed to be built on that area at all? I thought the whole point of an SSSI was to protect the area. I thought Scottish Natural Heritage (at the very least) had the job of protecting such areas. There is some detail here of how SNH were involved in the early stages (advising Aberdeenshire Council). But then what happened?
  • How can the Scottish National Party's Scottish Executive explain their decision to override Aberdeenshire Council's original denial of permission?
  • Do the SNP now realise they made a mistake and is this windfarm debacle a way of avoiding the bad publicity by easing Trump out by another door?

  • What on earth did Robert Gordon University think they were doing giving Trump an honorary degree? (To be honest I find the whole business of honorary degrees baffling – either you get a degree, by working for it, or you don't. The rest is just so much PR. )
  • How much benefit will the Trump project bring to the area of Aberdeenshire? Not much according to some economists. And how much of a “billionaire” is he anyway?

And now some background material and links connected to the story.

Here is an interview with the film makers:

Here is a page from Scottish Natural Heritage on SSSIs. I also read an SNH document called the “North East Coastal Plain” online which refers to the need to “protect, restore and maintain coastal habitats” but I'm not sure how the Trump project fits in with that.

Here is an article from “the Guardian” published when the film came out.

A recent interview with Trump on TV's “Scotland Tonight” is here. In it he calls the windfarm development “ugly and depressing” - interesting for those of us who have seen the film and therefore some of what has been done to the local landscape in the last couple of years. “I've left the dunes largely alone”, he says in this interview. It didn't look like it from what we could see on the film.

Art featured in the film (and on the film's poster) is by Scottish artist David McCue. Bold and startling work it is too.

Music in the film is by Icelandic favourite jónsi.

Scottish singer/songwriter/folk favourite Karine Polwart has a new song (“Cover your Eyes”) that is available to people who donate $100 to the film's distribution costs. There are lots of other perks available to those who support the project for this or smaller/larger amounts (all details here).

And this is a trailer for “You've Been Trumped” (along with an appeal for funds for distribution at the beginning).

To finish this post I would say that watching “You've Been Trumped” made me in turns:

angry about how a “billionaire” can somehow avoid all the rules and regulations that the rest of us have to observe,

angry about how easily the Scottish government and local police force were ready to roll over and obey this same “billionaire”,

repulsed by some of the footage of Donald Trump... and I'm not talking about the infamous hair and gross facial gestures but about sections in the film where he was talking to the media and particularly when he was talking to women (e.g. to one young Miss Scotland). Ugh.

angry about the sand dunes area that has already been torn up to provide this new development,

angry and upset at how local people were treated by the Trump organisation, the Scottish executive and the local police,

pleased to see local people standing together against injustice.

As for what happens next.. apparently the first part of the golf course is due to open July 2012. In the meantime see the film, support the film, write to your politicians... I know I'm going to.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Work, progress

We've had an old friend staying this week and there has been lots of walking, even some cycling, much talking, giant eating, a bit of music, some dressing up. I still managed to get to art class on Wednesday though and this time I asked Jackie (teacher) if I could try pastels (chalky ones... I had a go with oil ones a couple of weeks ago – the thistles back here). I really only intend to do the ten classes right now so I'd like to try as many different ways of making marks as I can while I'm there (next stop watercolours!). Maybe it seems odd to only want the ten classes at this point... but I am odd... and who knows... I may have some other classes in the future.

Anyway the pastels turned up two pictures this week. One was h on a beach (and I posted that on facebook yesterday). The other (above) is working from a photo of my Mum and little h taken in 2006 (one of my very favourite photos of them – a picture of total love and devotion and being relaxed with another person). This is very much a first stage picture I suppose and I'm sure I could do a lot more to it (apparently you spray with some kind of hairspray stuff and then keep adding the layers). The problem is I quite like it as it is... so what to do? It's not like with poetry where you can keep a copy of the first draft and go back to it if you want. I guess I'll just have to start from scratch if I want to keep this individual picture at all. And maybe no-one will like it much but me.

In some ways I had/have this problem a lot with poetry too. I quite like early drafts, rough edges, unfinished business and I'm not sure it helps with how my (writing) work is... received at times. I'm pretty sure that when I've sent poems to magazines and competitions in the past often the response from the readers/editors/committees must have been “why hasn't this person finished their work?” or “what are we supposed to do with this?” Other reactions may have been “did this person go to school?” or “what were they thinking?” It's a bit frustrating because obviously I did go to school and usually I've put quite a lot of thought into what may seem an unfinished piece. It feels to me like somehow I'm not really a big fan of perfection (at least when it comes to arts like these... obviously if I'm getting into any form of transport I'd quite like the designer and manufacturer to have quite high standards when it comes to perfection...). I don't necessarily want to produce something (in a poem or a picture) that has been tweaked and retweaked to within an inch of its life... but I am aware this is not necessarily a popular view. Certainly not amongst poets. I once read another poet talking about "instinctive" writing and I suppose I fall into that camp. Maybe. I'm not really keen on camps either.

Speaking of writing I am sure that many of you read the tips for writing fiction printed in the Guardian newspaper last weekend (here and here). They got a great range of writers to contribute and below are some of my favourites points from the list.

From Margaret Atwood (ever practical):

“Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.”

A smashing one from Elmore Leonard:

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

From Roddy Doyle (though his whole list is great):

“Do not search for the book you haven't written yet.”

A couple from Geoff Dyer:

“Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.”


“Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.”

I have to admit I had to look Dyer up (I'd never heard of him before). Can anyone recommend which of his books to try first?

From Anne Enright:

“The first 12 years are the worst.”

A timely one from David Hare (considering the whole Booker prize readability/quality business this year... again...):

“The two most depressing words in the English language are 'literary fiction'.”

From A.L.Kennedy:

“Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.”

A lovely one from Joyce Carol Oates:

“Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst.”

Someone had to say it – here's Philip Pullman:

“My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.”

A twist on the old feminist line from Ian Rankin:

“Don't give up.”

A few choice ones from the marvellous wordman that is Will Self:

“Always carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.”

“You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.”

“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can't deal with this you needn't apply.”

From one of my favourites Zadie Smith:

“Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won't make your writing any better than it is.”

And finally a corker from Colm Tóibín that we could probably all keep in mind:

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

OK. OK. Over and out.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Bridges and bones

Montrose bridges, yesterday, as we set off for walks and friend-visits mid-morning.

The schools are back today after a two week break so once again I have a few hours in the day to... I have a couple of little projects in what I suppose must be a pipeline but mostly just now I'm working... writing... thinking... in a fairly free and wandering way. I'm not getting a whole lot done... but I don't always mind that.

I'm still reading the book about writing that I mentioned a few posts back ("Writing down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg, publ. 1986). It is, I am sure, the kind of... hippy nonsense that would drive many poets (especially British ones...) to distraction but that's OK with me (I think I live in a different universe to many of them anyway - I've tried reading some of the books other poets recommend about writing and I never seem to get very far with them). Goldberg's book is mainly about making writing central in your life... about speaking from within... about digging really deep... whilst at the same time still noticing all that's around you. And whilst it's true that you could work that all out for yourself... and in a way many of us do... still, much of what she says is powerful and incisive. The book has sold many copies... and it is very readable (now, now... let's not get involved in the Booker prize readability debate) but mostly I am finding it pretty helpful and interesting at this odd stage of life (mother just gone, daughter on brink of adolescence, self a bit vague). I have also, in between reading the "Bones", read Goldberg's coming-to-zen book "Long Quiet Highway" (1993). A lot of it is her life story and that was interesting for many reasons - one of them being that she has spent a lot of time in Taos, New Mexico (and we were there too earlier this year - beautiful place). This book's subtitle is "Waking up in America" and I really enjoyed it. We can be calm. We can be good. It's nice to know.

Here's a quote from "Writing down the Bones":

"Suzuki Roshi says in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind that 'The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.' You need a large field in writing too. Don't pull in the reins too quickly. Give yourself tremendous space to wander in, to be utterly lost with no name, and then come back and speak."

See. Not bad. Now try this from earlier in the book:

"Every minute we change. It is a great opportunity. At any point, we can step out of our frozen selves and our ideas and begin fresh. That is how writing is. Instead of freezing us, it frees us."

And now another photo:

Another Montrose bridge we passed yesterday (this time on the way home again in the evening). This one is the train viaduct by the Basin.


Monday, 10 October 2011

The sea, the sky

Several things to share this week. Some have already been on facebook but I know some of you don't go there...

Firstly... the photos above... a young seal we saw on the beach last week (a grey seal, we think). We kept our dog on the lead and at a distance... Apparently it's normal for the young seals to hang about on the beach like this at this time of year.

Secondly a slideshow of local sights from our trip to the same nearby beach yesterday (tide a bit further in this time). At the end of our North America trip someone, Dana, suggested we did a slideshow of our home town to complement all the travel slideshows (that were over there). So we got to it finally Dana - sorry about the delay! The skies here can be just amazing and this week there has been every kind of cloud on show (I wrote a wee poem about Montrose skies ages ago - back here). The skies still amaze me and whilst these photos might seem a bit repetitive... they're not really. Take a look.

And then a few links...

The Cerys Matthews show on BBC 6 Music this week featured a poem by Sue Boyle called "A leisure centre is also a temple of learning". Cerys found the poem in an anthology called "Poems of the Decade" (and you can too - here). The radio show is here and the poetry slot comes in at about 1hr 24mins.

Want to find out more about how the "Occupy Wall Street" protest is spreading around the world? Try here. Day of protests coming up on 15th October, it seems.

Another radio show about a very good author and a regular protestor... Arundhati Roy on BBC Radio 4 is here.

So that was kind of a messy post but it was packed full of good things. And it's school holidays here too... no time for concentration! Look where the yoga mat ended up...

except of course that isn't mine. Mine's stuffed behind a bookshelf right now (where else would it be..?).


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Testing paint

This is the painting I managed in art class number four last week. I'm really just testing this to see how it looks online... and being a bit naughty by posting paint instead of poem on National Poetry Day... Still, someone else (Judith Taylor) posted a link to a humdinger of a poem (this one). And from it this:

"Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved."

Hard business, this creative lark. But fun. Sometimes.


Monday, 3 October 2011

Poetry days, radio days...

Our garden, on Friday

So this week in the UK it's National Poetry Day (it's on Thursday - events and info here). However after a few years of my own events and activity for NPD this year I plan to do nothing special whatsoever for it (yay). It's school holidays here at this time of year and we're all at home so we're having a quiet family kind of a week instead. I'm feeling very laid-back... it's great.

Yesterday, for example, I spent a crazy amount of time sorting out one of the rooms upstairs (so many papers, so many boxes of stuff/old photos/birthday cards, so much dust!) but the best bit of it was listening to the radio all day (I don't seem to have done that for ages). It was great too - on BBC 6 Music they were doing specials for National Poetry Day/Week so we got an interview with the founder of said annual poetry celebration (William Sieghart) on the Cerys Matthews show in the morning (quite interesting - listen here). But then, even better, there was an absolute giant of a poetry segment on the Jarvis Cocker show at 4pm. Jarvis interviewed poet/former Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, and though I've never been a Motion fan (or, to be honest a Cocker fan... I like him but not any of his music particularly to date... though I guess things can always change) it was a really interesting interview (listen here). It's more about poetry in general than Motion's own work and a lot of it concentrates on his involvement in the Poetry Archive (which is a fabulous resource).

So much culture content... and the room is tidy too (at last). Win win.