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James Yorkston: How the ‘freedom’ of Fife’s East Neuk helped forge a musical and cultural phenomenon

May 11 2018

As Tae Sup wi' a Fifer returns with another eclectic line-up in Kirkcaldy, East Neuk-based event founder and musician James Yorkston speaks to Michael Alexander about his Fence Collective roots and how his recent ventures have grown from strength-to-strength. If there’s one thing that East Neuk-based singer-songwriter James Yorkston has learned from his musical travels home and away over the years, it’s that “people are people”. But when the 46-year-old father-of-two is asked whether having children has changed his view of the world, he admits that he now wouldn’t consider staying away from home for longer than a fortnight – unless someone paid him “extraordinary amounts of money” to do so. “The kids are getting older now so I can Skype them, and that helps,” he says. “But I still feel it when I’m away. I was doing a show at the southern tip of India last year and you think ‘this is bizarre that I’ve travelled all the way from Cellardyke.’ “It just seems such a long distance away from my children and all I’m doing is singing silly wee songs. I enjoy travelling but really miss my children. It makes you think.” The universal language of music will continue transcending boundaries in James Yorkston’s world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H8p4rTxfvQM But on Friday May 18 he will face just an hour’s commute from Cellardyke to Kirkcaldy with the return of his highly popular eclectic live music showcase Tae Sup wi’ a Fifer at the Adam Smith Theatre – the first of three spring-summer shows. Organised with support from Creative Scotland, the show features Ian McMillan – writer, broadcaster and presenter of BBC Radio 3’s The Verb; folksinger, songwriter and activist Grace Petrie, and Withered Hand – aka Dan Wilson – who is regarded as one of the finest voices of the Scottish alt-folk and indie scene. This will be followed on June 16 by influential American alt-folk music legend Michael Hurley; comedian, actor and performance poet Phil Jupitus and unorthodox indie-pop/folk-noir artiste Siobhan Wilson. The July 14 show will feature an ultra-rare performance by American experimental musician Carl Stone performed in surround sound; the return of eloquent electronic folk-pop maestro The Pictish Trail along with a performance by Irish Traveller Thomas McCarthy. Tae Sup began in 2015, when James was invited to curate some live music and spoken word nights for the Adam Smith Theatre. It quickly developed a reputation for its quality, diverse line-ups and laid-back, welcoming nature. Diverse sets over the years have ranged from The Vaselines, Phil Selway (from Radiohead) and Scott Hutchison* (Frightened Rabbit) to Steve Mason (Beta Band), Karine Polwart and King Creosote. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6pII42seo8 As a fan of “stripped down” music and song writing, James, who started releasing records in 2001, is pleased with the way the largely “left of centre” event has slowly seen audiences develop, with the complimentary talents from different global avenues of indie, rock, folk, electronic and spoken word performance regularly capturing the imagination within the intimate 180-capacity venue. But Tae Sup is about more than just putting on concerts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXndmItdpQY “For me it was all about bringing music back to Fife, because when I was growing up I don’t really remember having the opportunities to go and see that kind of artist,” reflects James, who grew up in Kingsbarns. “It’s almost as if Fife is overlooked because it’s so close to Edinburgh. People maybe play Glasgow and maybe Perth, but they don’t come to Kirkcaldy so much. “I’ve been delighted with the way it’s landed - the way it’s been received. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC4BJrw_F1I “The thing I’ve heard here the most is people saying thank you for putting it on, which is very gratifying.” James recalls there was a dearth of live music opportunities growing up in Kingsbarns. But he and his friend Vic Galloway –who went on to work for BBC Radio Scotland - started discovering music through his dad’s rock and roll collection. Later, he was introduced to the sounds of radio DJ John Peel who “totally opened his eyes” to the realisation that he could listen to everything without being hemmed in by a particular genre. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq9OpJYck7Y He’s not sure why at the age of 13, and living in the East Neuk, he got into Linton Kwesi Johnson who was singing about the descendents of the Windrush generation and their struggle to find their place in London. “Maybe it was the rhythm of his lyrics,” he laughs. However, he does know that the East Neuk has influenced him – even if it’s taken him a while to admit it. “When I used to be asked this question I would always say no, (it wasn’t an influence),” he says. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-Jtgx0vPRg “But if you grow up in a rural area there’s a lot more peace and quiet. There’s the colours, the proximity to the sea, just the general feeling of space. "It must contribute to what one does as a musician or as an author, a writer or whatever. "Purely from a career point of view, the very fact we don’t have 30 gigs on every night as you do in London, because we’re not surrounded by that it does let you develop your own voice.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiG3NgpPOkU It was this creative freedom to develop without, as he puts it “worrying about a one-star review in a magazine”, that led to James being an integral early member of the Fence Collective - that loose collection of Fife-based musicians including KT Tunstall, The Beta Band and Lone Pigeon - that became a cultural phenomenon. Working with Anstruther-based Fence founder Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote, the motivation to perform was “purely for pleasure” at a time when no one was looking to the East Neuk of Fife for music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7s87kZ_FS0 But when word spread and the record companies did start knocking, it awakened a wider appreciation from across the world. “When Fence was running at full capacity as it were, I remember one gig at the Cosmos in St Andrews,” he says. “It was a funny gig, we were just mucking around – we were just having fun as ever, but we realised Domino Records were there, Mute Records were there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IUra6Qcatg "It was like ‘hang on, all these guys from London have come up to see what’s going on’. “I talk to them about it now and they always say what excites them is when there is a scene of people helping each other and just joining in, a feeling of camaraderie, they really value that because the music has strong roots and the people growing out of it tend to have a strength a flavour that will last beyond one album. Everyone wants something that’s rare.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn6YRGLtzOg James, who is signed to Domino Records, says the beauty of the East Neuk “really added a magic” to what was going on. People would travel from all over mainland Europe and North America to see the East Neuk ‘Home Game’ shows. But crucially, as well as the music there was a feeling of inclusion between the musicians and the visitors. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtnnKsqiTPk “There was no snobbery,” adds James. “There was no green room. There was no back stage. It was just everyone. It was a natural extension of Kenny and myself horsing around in the wine bar at Aikmans (in St Andrews)!” he laughs. James missed those kind of events when Fence scaled back its big events a few years ago. But it was from those Fence experiences that James’ own  Tae Sup wi’ A Fifer was born. “One of the great things about Fence was that you’d see all these amazing artists in your home town – for me in Cellardyke and Anstruther – and I kind of missed that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=piavfDPr4Ww “So working with someone who was at the Adam Smith Theatre at that time, we came up with the idea of Tae Sup. “We got some amazing people in like Sheena Wellington, Karine Polwart. We started off with a really strong line up and it’s kind of gone on from there. "Also thanks to Creative Scotland we’ve been able to get artists who normally wouldn’t come up to Kirkcaldy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2gMHd0Fpd0 James says Tae Sup has also grown in strength thanks to the word of mouth support of artists. “I’m a touring musician myself and it’s very different when you get to an anonymous venue and there’s no one to welcome you, it’s not a supportive environment or maybe you’re headlining and you have support but you get put in a different room and you don’t really meet them,” he says. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=684cvMS-GCo “There’s a lot of venues on the road like that. “But with Tae Sup I always try to welcome them with a good relaxed feel. "Everyone gets the same set length really. There’s no real headliner, it’s programmed, everyone gets their slot. And there’s always three amazing artists. “Word is spreading and it’s through that I’ve recently managed to get people like Philip Selway from Radiohead and The Vaselines, Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aaXEHiYKcs “It’s a fun gig, easy and they are well treated." James says that part of the fun for him is just programming the events - the "joy" of getting people up. Everyone he's booked is someone who’s music or poetry he's really into or he's really just wanted to see live. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpZtnmqlF9U “In general, I’m a fan of more stripped down music and song writing, so when you hear someone like Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit or Steve Mason, or King Creosote doing it solo - that’s always something I’ve always enjoyed," he adds. “I just love hearing the roots of the song. “How they sound just with the guitar or just with the accordion. You can really get to the heart off the lyrics or the melody. That is something that really appeals to me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhnoJapRndk *James Yorkston presents Tae Sup wi’ A Fifer – Ian McMillan/Grace Petrie/Withered Hand – Friday May 18, Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy. For information on all the forthcoming dates go to www.taesup.co.uk * This interview took place before the disappearance of Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison.


Boat trips along the Tay between Perth and Dundee launched

May 12 2018

The first in a summer series of boat trips along the River Tay was officially launched on Friday. The return journeys between Perth and Broughty have been launched in a collaboration between Perth and Kinross Council and the Tay and Earn Trust. Bosses say the Tay is "the jewel in Perth's crown" and the venture is an exciting new way to make the most of one of the city's greatest assets. It follows the success of similar trips last year. The schedule has now been extended from May to July, offering passengers a fresh way to view Elcho Castle, Kinnoull Hill and other landmarks from the river. Shorter voyages, from the Fergusson Pontoon to Kinnoull Hill are also on offer, taking people under the Friarton Bridge and past the Willowgate Activity Centre before returning to Perth. The council and the trust are working in partnership with David Anderson Marine who will be providing the Broughty Ferry trips and Tay Maritime Action (Taymara). Perth and Kinross Council's environment, enterprise and infrastructure convener, councillor Angus Forbes, said the team were delighted to be able to offer the service this summer. "Qualified crews will provide safe access to the exciting River Tay marine environment, providing a memorable experience for all," he added. Perth and Kinross Provost Dennis Melloy said: “The Tay is an important and unique asset for Perth and improving access to it by offering boat trips is a great way to attract visitors to the area. “It is important that we continue to develop opportunities on the river. Having the pontoons in place is an important stage in continuing the delivery of the infrastructure to support this. “I hope that visitors and residents of Perth and Kinross will take advantage of this wonderful opportunity." Simon Clarke, chairman of the Tay and Earn Trust said: “This year's visitors will not only be able to explore the Activity Centre but also be able to sample the home made cakes at Willowgate Café. “The Willowgate destination continues to grow and is proud to be working with Perth and Kinross Council in introducing and re-introducing people to the jewel in Perth’s crown that is the River Tay." Due to the tidal nature of the river, the trip will run at different times throughout the day. Tickets start at £9 per adult and can be found at perthcity.co.uk/boating-on-the-tay.

UK & World

Army recruit let down before Deepcut Barracks death, inquest told

May 9 2018

An Army recruit was “let down” by a number of people before he died from gunshot wounds at Deepcut Barracks, an inquest has heard.Private Sean Benton, 20, was found with five bullets in his chest in June 1995, shortly after he had been told he was to be discharged from the Army.An initial inquest found he killed himself, but his family have campaigned for years for a full investigation into his death amid allegations of bullying.Members of the family arrived at the Old Bailey to hear closing submissions before Coroner Peter Rook QC who is due to record his verdict in June.Their lawyer, Paul Greaney QC, told the court: “Sean was let down by a number of people and or by the system.”He called for “clear and definitive conclusions” on the circumstances leading up to Pte Benton’s death.He said it was “uncontroversial” that suicide should be considered but suggested that “neglect” also played a part.Non commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers were or should have been aware of Pte Benton’s deteriorating state, he said.Mr Greaney told the coroner: “They should have known he was being seriously bullied and abused and you would be entitled to conclude such persons were responsible for his bullying.”A number of NCOs stopped Pte Benton from getting hold of a weapon so the risk was acknowledged, he said.The fact he attempted to get on guard duty before bore “striking similarities” to the events of June 9, the court heard.Mr Greaney asserted officers should have known he posed a “risk of harm” in the days leading up to his imminent discharge and barred him from having a gun.Yet on the day he died, a guard was not told that Pte Benton was not on guard duty and should not have had access to a weapon, he said.Such a “simple step” would have prevented his death, the court heard.Mr Greaney said: “All these failures have a direct causal connection to Sean’s death. If they had not occurred, Sean would not have had access to a weapon to shoot himself.”He raised the failure to identify the risk of self harm or suicide and a failure to take steps to provide care and support.He called for a narrative conclusion to look at all the causes behind his death in the public interest as well as for the sake of the family.


Tayside theatres in the running for top awards

May 10 2018

Theatres across Tayside have been nominated for top prizes in this year's Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) competition. The newly refurbished Perth Theatre, which opened its doors to the public for the first time in more than three years last December, will host this year's awards on June 10. Perth has been nominated in six categories across three separate productions – Jessica Hardwick is shortlisted in the Best Female Performance award, Lu Kemp is shortlisted for the Best Director Award, Jamie Vartan and Simon Wilkinson are shortlisted for Best Design, and the performance is also shortlisted for the supreme award, Best Production. Joseph Arkley is nominated in the Best Male Performance award for the title role in Richard III, and acclaimed composer Gareth Williams is shortlisted for the Best Music and Sound award for The 306: Day. Pitlochry theatre's version of The Monarch of the Glen at Pitlochry by Peter Arnott has been shortlisted in the Best New Play category and Dundee Rep Theatre has been nominated for Best Ensemble for its production of August: Osage County. Mike Griffiths, interim chief executive of Horsecross Arts, the creative organisation behind Perth Concert Hall and Perth Theatre, said: "We are delighted to have so many CATS nominations in our first season back in the newly reopened Perth Theatre." CATS co-convener, Joyce McMillan, said: "It is a huge pleasure to see Perth Theatre firing on all cylinders again, after its three-year rebuilding programme. "We are especially pleased to be holding the ceremony at Perth this year, to celebrate the tremendous work that’s been done to make that much-loved theatre into a brilliant 21st century resource for the Perth area, and for the whole of Scottish theatre."  

Restaurant Reviews

The Grange Inn, St Andrews (39/50)

May 12 2018

On a bright and sunny day in April, a friend and I took a drive from Dundee, over the Tay Bridge, through St Andrews, and a mere five minutes after leaving the famous town, we arrived at our destination - The Grange Inn. It did not seem possible that, in this short distance, we could have gained so much altitude as the views from the car park alone are something to behold. We stood in wonder even before we entered this cosy inn in Fife as it felt as though we could see the whole of Courier Country and beyond. It helped that the weather was clear and bright and the sea glistened in the distance. The Grange Inn is a maze of nooks and crannies and the dining room itself has a large picture window in an otherwise cosy stone room in order for guests to marvel, as we did, at the vista. There are not many tables and the atmosphere on our chosen lunchtime was quiet and calm. The lunch menu was presented to us and £20 for three courses seemed very reasonable for a place that clearly wasn't going to be serving run of the mill fare. I will say that the main courses were all fairly heavy and wintry but how was the chef to know that the weather was about to do a rapid degree shift from windy winter to sunny spring? Before our starters arrived came the bread. Oh the bread. Made in house, the bake of choice that day was walnut and sultana, which was springy on the inside with a lovely hard crust and on the cusp of being a cake rather than a bread. It was fabulous and we had to try very hard not to scoff the lot, with lashings of butter of course. My first course was the pigeon and blueberry roulade. I love the gamey flavour of pigeon but this creation had a rather more mellow flavour. It was soft and cut like butter and the blueberries lifted the dish with a zing. The vegetable garnish had been lightly pickled and overall this was a delicate and subtle starter. My friend chose the watermelon served with fresh cheese as it had been made by the chef. It was Crowdie-like in texture but without the saltiness which meant it didn't stand out as the star of the show. The watermelon was under-ripe but still added a cool freshness to the creamy Parma ham and toasted buckwheat components. I was aiming for a lighter lunch and so chose the hake which was cooked perfectly. I love hake as it has as much flavour as, say, sea bream but with a chunkier, meatier texture and these morsels were prepared simply to allow their flavour to shine. Plenty of fresh dill was clinging to the new potatoes which sat alongside the confit cherry tomatoes, butternut squash and wilted greens. The dish was completed with a balsamic and chive oil dressing which added a hint of sweetness. I thoroughly enjoyed my plate of food. It was simple and fresh and the combination really worked. Our other main course was the braised blade of beef. No knife needed for this one as the meat just melted under the slightest pressure. It had clearly been cooking for many hours in its red wine sauce, giving the whole dish the depth of flavour one would hope for. The accompanying red cabbage carried a hint of cinnamon and made a lovely contrast with the earthy root vegetables and creamy mash. A hearty and comforting dish. Even on a weekday lunchtime, we decided to push the boat out and sample desserts. As hard as I tried, I couldn't move past the clootie dumpling on the menu and not because of its familiar warming feeling but because of the description of the iced marmalade yoghurt and tea syrup that were noted as its accompaniments. I was certainly not disappointed. The dumpling itself was light but the iced yoghurt simply divine. It had the slightly sour taste that yoghurt does but with the bittersweet flavour of marmalade that would have made Paddington Bear very proud. Using frozen yoghurt instead of traditional custard or ice cream really did lift this pudding entirely and I loved it. Once we had googled Tonka beans, my friend ordered the panna cotta which had been flavoured with these sweet yet earthy pods. Not as sickly as vanilla, the beans suited the creamy jelly really well. The crunchy and oh so naughty honeycomb provided a totally different texture to the smooth dessert and this one too was a winner.   We had been served a lovely lunch by three charming and enthusiastic members of the waiting staff team. From the moment we sat down, it was clear that real time and effort had been taken in the kitchen to cook and serve the food with precision and care. The portions were not overbearing and the presentation elegant. To make bread in house is a real treat for guests but to make cheese as well shows true dedication and flair. The Grange Inn is quirky, cosy and adorable and the setting is wonderful. A lovely spot all round.     Info Price: Lunch: £17 for 2 courses and £20 for 3 courses. Value: 9/10 Menu:  7/10 Atmosphere: 7/10 Service: 8/10 Food: 8/10 Total: 39/50 Info: The Grange Inn Address: Grange Road, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8LJ Tel: 01334 472670 Web:  www.thegrangeinn.com  

Angus & The Mearns

The ‘Avenues and Alleyways’ of Courier Country will always hold a special place in singer Tony Christie’s heart

May 12 2018

Music legend Tony Christie has told how Courier Country will always hold a special place in his heart. The 75-year-old celebrated his first UK number 1 single in Dundee in 2005 after taking to the Whitehall Theatre stage on the same day he hit the top spot. Christie was already booked to appear in Dundee long before comedian Peter Kay used ‘Is This The Way to Amarillo?’ in an episode of his comedy show Phoenix Nights and events snowballed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=ID&hl=id&v=yqLLDZvbG-U The Peter Kay effect eventually resulted in a unique collaboration when they teamed up to re-release the single for Comic Relief and it outsold the rest of the top 20 combined. Christie told The Courier: “When the song was first released in 1971 it was a hit across the world but it only made the lower reaches of the Top 20 in the UK. “My record company had no idea why it wasn’t a hit in the UK so the fact that it eventually made in here in 2005 was a nice feeling. “I’ll always remember being in Dundee when the song reached number 1 although what happened that night is a bit of a blur. “Once the song hit the top spot it was so manic and I was working seven days a week.” Over the course of Christie’s 50-year career, which includes over 40 albums, 70 singles and countless live performances, he has sung thousands of songs. He is now bringing his show back to Tayside with a performance at the Webster Theatre in Arbroath on June 4 as part of a national tour ahead of a new album later this year. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcfGeNqp-bY Christie said: “We wanted to play to audiences in places that we’d never been before and I’m really looking forward to the tour. “There’s a different feel about playing in a small theatre and it’s like playing a show in someone’s front room. “I’m pleased to still be performing and the good thing is that even at the age of 75 I’ve still got the voice I had when I started.” Christie said his new material will surprise his fans and he’s been working with songwriters who have worked with the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran. He said: “There’s a different style about it and I think people are going to listen to it and think: ‘Is that Tony Christie?’ “But it’s a nice feeling to still be surprising people after all these years and I’m still enjoying it as much as ever. “My fans are very loyal and I’m looking forward to seeing them in Arbroath next month - I can promise them all the hits and more.” Tickets for Christie’s Arbroath date are on sale now from the Webster Theatre box office. Memories of the time Tony swapped Amarillo for the Whitehall I found myself backstage with Tony Christie in Dundee 13 years ago when he hit the top spot, writes Graeme Strachan. The last time something like this had happened was in 1966 when The Troggs played Dundee’s Top Ten Club when they were number 1 with ‘A Girl Like You’. Tony’s concert had sold out two weeks earlier after comedian Peter Kay had put the music legend firmly back in the limelight thanks to Phoenix Nights and Comic Relief. There was even a waiting list for restricted view tickets such was demand as 'Christie Fever' whipped the city up into a frenzy. The Whitehall Theatre phone was still ringing off the hook when I turned up with a photographer to meet Tony. A tabloid newspaper set the bar high by turning up backstage with some Page 3 girls and a cake. We had arrived to celebrate with some cheap plonk from Oddbins. Fair play to Tony though, who handled the situation like a true professional. Shaking a bottle of sparkling wine until it sprays like champagne for a front page photo is an achievement. But Tony pulled it off and was extremely generous with his time afterwards. Over the years Tony's continued to sparkle and Arbroath fans are in for a treat.

Readers' letters

READERS’ LETTERS: A pioneering strategy deserving of cheers

May 9 2018

Sir, – I have rarely seen in your columns a letter so steeped in ignorance as that from Chris Sutherland (May 4) criticising minimum pricing for alcohol. I would suggest he familiarises himself with some life stories of those whose lives have been blighted by alcohol, whether drinkers, former drinkers, families or friends. Alcohol contributes significantly to crime, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, broken homes and relationships, homelessness and destitution, bankruptcies, significant mental health issues and suicide, as well as the commonly reported stresses and strains on our NHS. Alcoholism has long been recognised as an addictive illness yet treatment is considerably under-resourced with privately funded rehabilitation generally well outside the resources of the majority of sufferers of this potentially fatal disease. Mr Sutherland also demonstrates a strange class arrogance by claiming the introduction of minimum pricing is laced with hypocrisy, with middle-class health professionals trying to save the working class from their own self-destructive tendencies. Alcohol misuse is by no means the prerogative of the working class but the availability of cheap booze is a recognised route for many people into alcohol abuse, crime and violence. It is morally reprehensible and unacceptable that supermarkets should be allowed to continue to offer low-priced alcohol knowing it has the potential to cause so much physical and mental damage. Contrary to Mr Sutherland’s views, the Scottish Government should be congratulated on a pioneering strategy. M Duncan. West Huntingtower, Perth.   Twenty is not always plenty Sir, – I refer to the plan by Mark Ruskell MSP to roll out 20mph speed limits in residential areas throughout Scotland. An obvious question, is how will such limits be enforced when Holyrood has presided over continuing cuts to local policing in favour of centralisation of services? He takes his idea from the Fife Council practice of erecting 20mph signs in towns and villages and seems to advocate a voluntary code of adherence. I can tell your readers, since I live and drive in Fife, that such adherence is patchy at best, and ignored by drivers who see little point in reverting to horse and cart speeds when modern vehicles have much enhanced braking systems. A further question is, if we have 20mph limits, why do we also need speed bumps, such as those in the village of Largoward? I could agree with such constructions in the immediate area of the village school, but in this case the bumps are throughout the village main road and, of course, are ignored by HGV, high-clearance vans and 4x4 vehicles that are comfortably able to drive over them at 20-30mph. Instead of holding up Fife Council as a shining example of road and traffic management, Mr Ruskell might be better employed in persuading the authority to improve the dire state of Fife’s road surfaces, which by themselves are a traffic-calming measure because of potholes, flooding and lack of proper surveillance of road works carried out by utility companies whose contractors regularly bodge the restoration of road surfaces. Derek Farmer. Knightsward Farm, Anstruther.   Green light for reasonable view Sir, – I read Jenny Hjul’s column every week, hoping that, if I persist, I might find something with which I agree: but to no avail. So it was with this week’s missive, in which she attacks Green MSP Mark Ruskell for being, well... green. After berating him for the eminently sensible proposal that speed limits in built up areas should be reduced, she suggests “his priority is the planet, not the people who live on it”. If we don’t prioritise the welfare of the only planet we have, we really will be heading for catastrophe. She goes on to complain that the Green Party “with just six out of Holyrood’s 129 MSPs...holds undue sway over policy because of its willingness to prop up the minority SNP government”. She conveniently forgets the DUP, with 10 out of 650 MPs, holds her beloved Tory government in Westminster to ransom, bribed with £1 billion of taxpayers’ money. She goes on to lambast him for wanting a small tax rise for the better off, to be spent on public services, as opposed to the UK Government who favour tax reductions, but only for the very rich. She accuses him of being a “fan of land redistribution”, as if this were unreasonable in a country where 50% of the land is owned by fewer than 500 people. And she is unhappy about his views on “a citizens wage”, which is indeed untested but given the many challenges ahead, surely we need consider radical measures. She concludes by suggesting Mr Ruskell is “the most extreme green”. He seems perfectly reasonable to me. I would suggest that, in modern Scotland, Ms Hjul’s views are the ones which are out of line. Nevertheless, I will look forward to her next column, ever hopeful. Les Mackay. Carmichael Gardens, Dundee.   Tories own issues on race Sir, – The Conservative Party and its supporters are loud in attacking the Labour Party for the occasional wrong judgement and slowness of internal procedures in investigating allegations of anti-Semitism. So it’s interesting to see how the Conservative Party deals with the racist element inside its ranks. When London Tories tried in vain to prevent the election of Labour’s statesmanlike London Mayor Sadiq Khan, they ran a campaign soaked in racism and anti-Muslim prejudice. In Brighton this month, Tories ran a council candidate who had written an article claiming Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was correct. And in Lancashire when a Conservative councillor in Pendle retweeted comments portraying Asian people as dogs, she was merely suspended for three months and then reinstated, turning up at the vote count of local elections this month wearing a blue rosette. That allowed the Conservatives the majority of one needed to take control of Pendle Council, and the chairman of the party nationally tweeted that it was victory for a great team. It’s no coincidence that this happened in the party of a Prime Minister who refused to take action when a Caribbean man who came to Britain in 1974 to join his mother, an NHS nurse, was told he would not get radiotherapy for his prostate cancer unless he paid £54,000. Or that they then held a vote in the House of Commons allowing them to cover up documents showing Theresa May’s role in the unfair treatment of Windrush generation immigrants. Phil Tate. Craiglockhart Road, Edinburgh.   Optimism from a dinosaur Sir, – As a member of the “order of ancient dinosaurs” I feel that the once upon a time known world is fast disappearing. Today’s state of the art communications and computing technology, with ever more people spending much of their time staring at screens, seems most peculiar. Effective person-to-person communication has, unfortunately, become a thing of the past with, it would appear, mainly negative results. While endeavouring to remain optimistic, an outlook which may now originate from “Another World”, we trust and hope the future turns out well. Kenneth Miln. Union Street, Monifieth.   Dunkirk facts remain unclear Sir, – The recent film on Dunkirk rightly pays tribute to the many small craft and their crews, who so greatly assisted the evacuation, but it leaves out most of the inconvenient facts. Dunkirk was a disaster on an unimaginable scale. Yes, 338,226 troops were evacuated, two thirds of them British. But they had been sent to fight the Germans and instead they abandoned 472 guns, 63,879 vehicles and an incredible 76,097 tons of ammunition. Even Churchill was obliged to state that it was far from a victory but a defeat. What I found even more disappointing in the film was there was not so much as a “PS”, pointing out that for 10 days after the evacuation was completed, the Highland Division, alone and deserted, continued to fight the might of Rommel and his Panzers, but I suppose that truth doesn’t fit so well with the myth. Joseph G Miller. Gardeners Street, Dunfermline.

Business news

Dignity posts solid first-quarter results

May 14 2018

Revenue at funerals firm Dignity nudged up in the first quarter, helped by a higher death rate and a better-than-expected take-up of premium services.The under-pressure group, which has been embroiled in a price war, booked sales of £95.1 million in the 13 weeks to March 30, up from £93.3 million last year.Dignity reported earnings of £37.5 million, in line with the previous year, but well ahead of what the board had pencilled in.The figures come as the absolute number of deaths increased by 8% to 181,000, with Dignity forecasting that the full year will record “at least” the same number of deaths as last year, which was 590,000.Earlier in 2018, Dignity warned that it was seeing lower-than-expected take-up of its “no frills” funeral option, despite slashing prices.But the firm has since said that “simple funerals” only account for 15% of all funerals, lower than the 20% originally anticipated, indicating demand is still strong for its premium option.The firm performed a total of 21,400 funerals in the quarter, up from 20,100.But chief executive Mike McCollum struck a cautious note.“While the first quarter produced a much stronger result than we had anticipated when implementing the price changes in January, the current year is all about completing our review of our funeral business and ensuring we provide the excellent service our clients expect from us.”

UK & World

Fears for missing sea eagle after signal is lost in Aberdeenshire

May 10 2018

Gamekeepers and land managers from an Aberdeenshire estate have appealed for help in locating a sea eagle whose satellite tag was last recorded in woodland near the River Dee.Invercauld Estate, near Braemar, said its ranger and gamekeepers have been working hard to find the sea eagle whose tag last signalled on Saturday.The tag was said to be last operating within a native woodland and scots pine regeneration zone on Invercauld.Pellets are understood to have been found in the vicinity of the search, which suggest the sea eagle had been roosting there.But neither the bird nor its tag have been located within the woodland or estate. Efforts continued to find the bird on Wednesday with one other sea eagle and two golden eagles spotted but as yet, there have been no known sightings of the absent sea eagle.Angus McNicol, estate manager at Invercauld, said: “We have spent the last two days trying to locate any trace of the missing sea eagle and we will be continuing our efforts to watch the area in case there has been a technical malfunction of the tag and the sea eagle returns to roost again.“For several months our ranger has been working with the RSPB’s sea eagle project officer to track the movements of the sea eagles in our area and if the tag is no longer transmitting then it is a concern to us. “Invercauld hosts a vast range of bird species and other types of wildlife and we want to learn if any harm has come to the bird.The estate is part of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership with the Cairngorms National Park Authority and bird species include golden eagles, sea eagles, buzzards, merlin, kestrels, golden plover, curlew, lapwings and black grouse. It also works with conservation bodies including the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on their wildcat breeding programme Mr McNicol added: “We realise that such cases where a tag stops transmitting will invariably attract comments about persecution but it is clear that gamekeepers, conservationists, and the Cairngorms National Park Authority all want to see this bird alive and well.“We would ask anyone with information that could aid the search to speak to the RSPB or ourselves immediately.”

Motoring news

Hyundai gives i20 mid life refresh with dual clutch gearbox

May 12 2018

Hyundai has given its i20 supermini a mid-life refresh. Diesel is ditched, with the range now comprising petrol engines only, and the South Korean car maker has added a seven-speed dual clutch gearbox to the range for the first time. Expected in showrooms in June, the updates apply to both the three-door coupé and five-door hatchback versions of the i20 supermini. Styling changes include revisions to the front and rear bumpers, the addition of the brand’s signature cascading grille, new 15 and 16-inch wheel designs and two-tone paintwork. Models in S and SE specification gain a new seven-inch display audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility. Higher up the range, Premium Nav and Premium SE Nav models get an upgraded infotainment system, again based around a seven-inch screen and smartphone compatible. The new seven-speed automatic transmission, which is said to improve comfort and efficiency, is launched alongside stop/start technology that's now standard for the whole range. Hyundai has removed the option of the 1.4-litre diesel engine from the i20 line-up. That means engine options now include the 99bhp or 118bhp version of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo. A 74bhp or 84bhp version of the 1.2-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine also remains part of the line up. The 1.2-litre and 100hp 1.0-litre are supplied with a five-speed manual gearbox, the 120hp unit with a six-speed, but this can now also be matched to the seven-speed dual clutch auto transmission, never before offered in the i20 line-up. Hyundai is also significantly updating the i20’s safety specification, introducing its SmartSense package as standard on SE models and above. Lane departure warning and Lane Keeping Assist are available, as is autonomous emergency braking and a driver attention alert that monitors driving patterns and activates sounds and instrument panel messages if it senses the driver is becoming fatigued. The refreshed i20 will go on sale in June with prices expected to start from around £12,000.