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Great-great-granddaughter of “Scotland’s worst poet” travels to Dundee to see play charting his life

April 2 2018

The great-great-granddaughter of "Scotland's worst poet" travelled from Spain to see a show about her famous relative. Helen Stewart was at Dundee Rep Theatre on Saturday evening to see the McGonagall Chronicles — a new play charting the life of the city's legendary wordsmith William McGonagall. Her sister Ann Ross, who still lives in the city, was also in the audience for the dramatic re-telling of the life of the man who penned The Tay Bridge Disaster, among 200 other published poems. Helen's son, Steve McMurdo, even arranged for his mother and aunt to meet the cast after the show. https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/lifestyle/619254/why-mcgonagalls-chronicles-will-be-remembered-at-dundee-rep-for-a-very-long-time/ "I do like surprises," she said. "It was the first time in my life that I've felt famous. My son organised it without me knowing." Originally from Dundee, Helen moved to Spain six years ago and came home specifically to see the show. She said it was a moving tribute to her famous forefather and his "unique" way with words. "It was fantastic," she added. "It was also quite sad. Especially when he was getting spat on in the street. "As I get older I have become more interested in McGonagall's work. "When I was younger people used to ridicule him and say he's Scotland's worst poet, but I am proud of having him in the family tree. "A lot of people can be quite ignorant about him." Helen's interest in her great great grandfather's life has led her to become a collector of menentos, including an edition of the McGonogall Library Omnibus dating to at least the 1960s. It still has the price label for 17 shillings and sixpence - around 18p in today's money. And the family heritage has led her into some unusual situations. "When I was in labour about to give birth to my son, a doctor walked into the room, looked at my name (before her surname was changed to Stewart) and asked if I was related to the poet," Helen added. "That was a strange thing to happen at that time." She also recalled being pulled up onto a stage in Fife in 1971 and given one line in a play about the poet. The McGonagall Chronicles tells the story of the poet's life written in "almost rhyming verse". Born in Edinburgh in 1825, McGonagall moved to Dundee to be apprenticed as a handloom weaver. Among his most famous works are the Tay Bridge Disaster and the Famous Tay Whale.

Angus & The Mearns

Tealing man wins national farrier award

October 27 2017

A Tealing man has been crowned the country's best farrier. Lewis Balfour, of J & K Balfour Farriers, won the National Champion Farrier 2017 at the weekend. He also came first in the 'shoeing scores' for best trimmed and dressed feet at the competition in Yorkshire - the biggest annual farrier event in the UK. The 26-year-old said he can't believe that he won and that it is "still sinking in". "There are some great names on that trophy so it's great to have my name on there too," he said. "It's a massive achievement for me personally, my biggest individual so far. "I'm still getting my head around that I've won it." The  competitors had to shoe a live horse and make two shoes based on a specimen that a judge provides. Lewis began his farrier apprenticeship at the age of 16, qualifying five years later. He now works full-time but says the competition keeps him "sharp". "It keeps your eye on the game," he added. It was tight at the top as fellow Scottish team member David Varini was hot on his heels in second place, just 0.1 points behind - out of a total of 60 points. Lewis said they worked together and helped one another in practice sessions so there was a friendly rivalry during the competition. His father, James Balfour, was also a winner when he took the title of National Champion Striker for is role in assisting his son in the competition. Lewis is also part of the Scottish team which recently won the World Championship for the third year in a row last month. Lewis was confident going into the individual tournament confident on the back of the team win, but was humble and said he still did not expect to win as "there was a lot of good people competing".


Wannabe Dundee broadcasters given opportunity to make their mark

April 4 2018

Budding broadcasters in Dundee have been given tips on how to carve out a career in the media industry. Around 100 people attended sessions led by Channel 4 and My Kinda Future at the Space in Dundee and Angus College's Kingsway Campus yesterday. The event — part of a series of gatherings being held across the UK — was aimed at people who do not have a degree and are looking for their first step into the industry. Participants were given lessons in video production then handed microphones, tablets and other equipment and challenged to create their own short documentary films on the themes of inclusiveness and equality. At the end of the day, 15 of the participants were granted "rising star" status, which means they will be alerted when vacancies arise and taken down to Channel 4 HQ in London for a day. The event was hosted by Channel 4 presenter Jodie McCallum, who got her big break at a similar event. She said: "It gets quite emotional when we see the films because they work hard to make them in quite a short time. The day can have an impact on their lives like it did to mine. "A lot of people think they can't get into the industry but it is not like that any more." The broadcaster's industry talent specialist Laura Boswell and coordinator Yasmin Mehment joined Miriam Kidane, campaign manager for My Kinda Future, to help out on the day. Ms Boswell managed the Rio Production Training Scheme which helped 24 disabled people get their first roles in television production and 18 trainees join the production team that covered the 2016 Paralympic Games for Channel 4. TayScreen, the screen office for Dundee, Angus, Perth and Kinross, and Fife councils, praised the initiative. Julie Craik, TayScreen project manager, said: "It's vitally important for people from the region to get involved with media production and tell not only their own stories but all kinds of stories on all kinds of platforms." Courier Country has produced its share of broadcasting talent, including Oscar-nominated director David Mackenzie, Bafta-winning camera specialist Keith Partridge and BBC diving camera expert Lindsay Brown.


Renewed drive to find match for little Garvie

May 24 2018

A new drive to find a donor match for sick Tayside seven-year-old Garvie Winter has seen a weekend event organised in Dundee. Garvie was diagnosed with leukaemia last year and treatment has, so far, been unsuccessful. The family was told he has a rare tissue type and an appeal to find a match for a bone marrow transplant was launched. However, a match has yet to be found so family friend Karen King, and Charlene Shaw, one of Garvie's teachers, have organised a public registration event in Fintry. It is also hoped money can be raised for blood donor charity DKMS. Karen, whose daughter Agatha was treated for Leukaemia last year, said: "The driving force behind this is to find a match for Garvie, but I thought it would be worthwhile to raise some money for the charity as well. "There is the stress for the family of travelling to Glasgow, where Garvie is likely to be getting all his treatment now, and still looking after other children as well as the costs of rent, food and bills. I wanted to do something that might help out as I know what it is like. "But if we can get some more people on the register then that would really give Garvie a chance of finding a match." The free event takes place on Saturday May 26 from 10am until 2pm at Fintry Church Hall, Fintry Drive. A simple swab sample is sent for testing and the charity will get in touch if a match is found. People need to be aged between 18 and 55 and in good health to join the register. Anyone unable to attend but still interested in joining the register can do so via the DKMS website. The event will also have coffee bake sales to raise funds for the charity. While it is free to join the register, it costs £40 for the charity to test and register donors. Although unable to attend as Garvie is in hospital in Glasgow receiving treatment to help stabilise his leukaemia, the family welcomed the event. Haley Winter, Garvie's mother, said: "Karen is a lovely woman and it's absolutely amazing what she is doing. "I wish me and Garvie could have been there, but it obviously isn't going to happen with him being in hospital. "It's good to get as many people on the register as possible. It's not just my son's life they could be saving, it's somebody else's child as well." She added that they are looking at options for treatment overseas, including Italy and the United States, but are awaiting test results before proceeding. Sarah Gray, donor recruitment manager at DKMS, said: "Please spare the time to attend the event and help find a matching donor for Garvie or someone else in need of a blood stem cell transplant. "By doing this selfless act and registering as a potential lifesaver you’ll go on standby to save the life of someone just like you." World Blood Cancer Day takes place across the world, aiming to raise awareness of the importance of donations, on May 28.

Angus & The Mearns

Man previously jailed for dangerous driving death pleads guilty to driving without licence

December 3 2017

An Angus man who killed a taxi driver in a high-speed crash eight years ago is facing a return to jail after admitting driving while disqualified and failing to provide a breath sample. Halim Cholmeley, 43, of Broomhill, Glen Prosen, appeared from custody before Sheriff Jillian Martin-Brown at Forfar Sheriff Court on Friday. He admitted driving while disqualified at Medecinewell, Montrose, the access road from Wester Lednathie Farm to Glenuig and various roads in between on March 5. He further admitted failing to submit a sample of his breath when requested. Cholmeley pleaded guilty to the two charges during a brief hearing and sentence was deferred. He was remanded in custody and will appear at Forfar Sheriff Court in connection with the case again next week. Cholmeley was previously jailed for six years in 2010 at the High Court in Edinburgh for killing a Perth taxi driver on Dundee’s Kingsway on March 15 2009. He had been consuming alcohol in the company of his now ex-partner and friends in the afternoon and evening before the fatal collision. Around midnight he returned by taxi to his ex-partner’s flat before going out again to a nightclub. Sometime before 2.30am he returned to the flat and removed the keys to his ex-partner’s BMW without her permission or knowledge and drove off. He then sped down the Kingsway and smashed into a taxi. The impact at the Myrekirk Roundabout spun 41-year-old Gavin McCabe’s cab around and catapulted him out on to the road. Mr McCabe was so seriously injured he died in intensive care at Ninewells Hospital a week later. Investigating officers calculated Cholmeley was travelling at a minimum speed of 77mph shortly before the collision and at around 67mph at the point of impact with the Skoda taxi. Cholmeley’s alcohol level after the collision was 106 mgs against a legal limit of 80 mgs. Several witnesses — civilian, emergency services and medical staff — stated Cholmeley said it had been his intention to commit suicide.  

Angus & The Mearns

‘We must crack down on crime against raptors’ — calls to help bird-of-prey fly high

December 28 2017

An Angus and Mearns politician is urging all sides of the debate to come together in 2018 to help a bird-of-prey flourish. SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon spoke out after Police Scotland launched a probe when a hen harrier was found dead with “unexplained injuries” near Dunoon in Argyll and Bute. The death of the satellite-tagged bird, named Kathy, is one of a number of high profile cases involving hen harriers this year. One was shot in Leadhills earlier this year, while satellite-tagged raptor Calluna went missing near Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and a four-year court case over the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Moray was dismissed. A recent survey also showed a decline in the hen harrier population down to just 460 pairs — a drop of 27% since 2004 — with illegal persecution of the bird considered a major factor in its decline. But with 21 of Scotland’s estates signed up for the Heads Up for Harriers project — which reported 37 successfully fledged young hen harriers in 2017 — Mrs Gougeon is keen to bridge the gap between estates and conservationists next year. The Angus North and Mearns MSP said: “I’m under no illusions how contentious this issue is. I know it won’t be resolved overnight but I take my role as a species champion very seriously. “One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period. “Across Scotland we have the habitat for the species to exist. Almost half of Scotland is capable of supporting a hen harrier population. “There are a number of ongoing projects — including Heads Up for Harriers — geared toward trying to sustain and grow the hen harrier population in the future. “Heads Up for Harriers is not without its critics and may not be the immediate panacea but it is a promising step in the right direction. “More estates need to sign up to that project before we can assess whether or not it is successful. We also need to look at other potential solutions such as diversionary feeding proposed by the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. “We need to take every available measure to crack down on the serious crime that is committed against raptors and to tackle the illegal persecution that takes place. “Only then we will have a hope of protecting and encouraging growth in the numbers of this magnificent species.”


Valentine’s Day advice for the broken hearted

February 14 2018

Romance may be in the air around Valentine's Day, but one Dundee University professor has offered advice for those that aren't lucky in love. Professor Wendy Moncur has outlined the best things to do — and not to do — for people looking to "digitally disentangle" after a break-up. The Professor of Digital Living wrote the piece for The Conversation outlining seven key points for getting over the end of a relationship in the digital age. The temptation to check an ex-partner's social media pages to see what they are doing may be too great for some people but the professor, unsurprisingly, says not to do this as it prolongs the grieving period. Instead, people are encouraged to have a clean break, including placing the former partner's profile on a "restricted list" on Facebook. Naturally, the process of expunging someone's existence from one's life, is said to be tougher and more complicated if the couple had been living together. Apart from the practical, real-world problems of where to live and moving belongings, there is also a higher likelihood of sharing accounts for the likes of Netflix (other streaming services are available). Account holders are told to change their passwords as soon as possible. Meanwhile,  non-account holders should take a note of all details, including which Game of Thrones (other television programmes are available) episode you were watching before the passwords are changed, resulting in lost access. And if devices were being used by both partners then passwords may be saved and a former spouse could still have access to social media accounts, it warned. The essay recognised that whether or not to stay friends on social media is a "tricky" subject, but said those choosing to maintain a friendship should take steps — such as setting preferences on what is prioritised on a news feed — to minimise digital contact. People are also warned against pretending their life is rosy post-break up with numerous social media posts depicting a great life as friends may not think you require their support when in fact it's most needed. In summary the article says to "make good use of your online social media, and make it a force for good after a romantic break up. Don’t look at what your ex is doing. Do let your friends know that you need them. And things will start to look up". The post falls short of recommending having memories of an ex deleted a la the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind —  but that is perhaps simply because the technology doesn't exist yet.

Angus & The Mearns

IN PHOTOS: Brechin man hopes you’ll vote this loft conversion the best games room in the UK

October 23 2017

A Brechin man is in the running to be named the owner of the best games room in the country after transforming his loft into a shrine to Aberdeen Football Club. Dedicated Dons supporter Graeme Strachan converted his loft earlier this year with the help of some friends - three Rangers fans and a Celtic supporter, he noted. The work took a "couple of months" and was finished by April. Now the 42-year-old is in the running to win £3,000 and have his loft named as the best games room in Britain. Twelve rooms from across the country have been whittled down from 76 entrants to be in with a chance of taking the Games Room of the Year 2017 title, with an online poll taking place to determine the winner. Graeme has been a life-long fan of the Dons and says one of his first games at Pittodrie was when they beat Bayern Munich in 1983 - one of the club's most historic wins. He is so dedicated to the club that even whilst living in Dublin for "a couple of years" in the early noughties, he kept his season ticket, flying to Aberdeen for the games before returning to Dublin in the evening. So there was little contest when deciding on on a theme for his newly converted loft. The room contains a bar, a darts board and a television for watching football, but he has never watched his favourite team there. "Probably the only team I haven't watched there is Aberdeen because I am always at the games," he said. "But it's a nice room to hang out. We have a lot of guests and it's a good place to be in and watch football." The project began after he DJ'd for a friend's 40th birthday party. Graeme refused payment for the gig, but the friend insisted on some form of payment, so Graeme said he could lay flooring in his loft. It snowballed from there and the room was finished in a couple of months. Friends urged him to enter the games room competition — and Graeme definitely wants to be crowned champion. "I want to win — I am quite competitive," he said. "I don't mind if Rangers fans or Celtic fans vote for me. You don't have to be an Aberdeen fan to vote for me." Voting closes on November 5, with the winner being named on November 13.  

Perth & Kinross

Perth pensioner was “too old to clobber” housebreaker — so he offered him a lift home instead

April 27 2018

An 86-year old man who disturbed a thief in his Perth home said he offered him a lift — because he is "too old to clobber anyone". Harry Turner said he was "bewildered" to find the would-be crook in his home just moments after he left to go out for dinner. The pensioner decided to go out for a bite to eat because he was "fed up" in his house. However, just after leaving his home he realised he had forgotten his copy of The Courier so popped back to pick it up. Upon his return he found a young man sitting on his bed and going through his belongings. "I was bewildered," Mr Turner said. "I'm too old to be getting into a fight. I asked what he was doing and he said he hadn't taken anything so I offered him a lift. "He said he would be going to North Muirton, but when I went to lock up he disappeared. "I was trying to be reasonable," the pensioner continued. "There's no way I could clobber anyone at my age." Mr Turner was unhurt during the incident and does not think anything was taken by the culprit. The man, thought to be in his mid-20s, let him see inside a bag he had to show he hadn't taken anything yet. Mr Turner said the only item inside was a brick. The pensioner believes the man may have been a drug addict as he spoke with a marked "drawl". "It's lucky I came back," Mr Turner added. "My laptop was in getting repaired, which is just as well as I'm sure that's the type of thing he would have gone for. "It's a shame that someone has let themselves go like that. "He was a good looking young lad and I feel really sorry for him. "He could be one of your own. You just don't know." Mr Turner said he would definitely be keeping his doors tightly locked in the future. "After he left I went down to the police station and they were very helpful," he said. "A lady came up and dusted for fingerprints so it was quite educational. "A lot of my friends give me a hard time for not locking my doors. I keep them locked now." Originally from Worcestershire, Mr Turner moved to Perth with his now-deceased wife, who was from Errol, 17 years ago. I'm too old to be getting into a fight. I asked what he was doing and he said he hadn't taken anything so I offered him a lift. A police spokesman confirmed they are carrying out an investigation into the incident, and said they are "keen" to speak to a man described as 5ft 10in, of average build with short dark hair. He was wearing a maroon coloured rain jacket and was carrying a small black bag. The spokesman added: "We are again urging householders to consider home security measures when they go out. If you are going out and you have a house alarm remember to set it and lock doors and windows when you leave. "Anyone with any information that may be useful should contact Police Scotland on 101."

Angus & The Mearns

Angus bus driver loses unfair dismissal appeal after TITP crash sacking

November 13 2017

An Angus bus driver who jammed a packed coach under a bridge has had her claim of unfair dismissal rejected. Audrey Kempton, of Finavon Hill, near Forfar appealed her sacking from Tayside Public Transport (TPT) on August 2 last year for gross misconduct. She had been employed by the firm for 19 years before driving a bus to T in the Park with 30 passengers aboard into a bridge after deviating from a pre-planned route on July 10 last year. Ms Kempton was carrying out contracted work for Citylink, driving passengers to the Strathallan-based music festival. Ms Kempton, who had been trained to follow a predetermined route, was driving a double-decker bus. After being directed away from Perth bus station because of heavy traffic, she took a wrong turn and deviated from the planned route – meaning that she came to a low bridge. Ms Kempton stopped to survey the height of the bridge and decided to attempt to go under it. An internal investigation was launched, which led to Ms Kempton being sacked by the travel firm on the grounds of gross misconduct because she had ignored warning signs and then put passengers at risk by deciding to try to negotiate the bridge instead of turning back to the bus station. Agents acting on behalf of Ms Kempton argued that she had an unblemished driving record and that the punishment handed out was too severe. The facts of the case were undisputed by both sides and employment judge Nicol Hosie dismissed the claim. In his judgment, Mr Hosie said that after reviewing the case he believed TPT had been justified in terminating Ms Kempton’s employment. He said: “It was within the band of reasonable responses for the respondent to dismiss the claimant as the misconduct had potentially serious safety consequences. “Although this was a ‘one-off’ mistake, it was reasonable for the respondent to take the view that it was a grossly negligent one.”