60th Fringe Festival Even Bigger and Better
When the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) began in August 1947, eight theatre groups - mostly local amateur productions - turned up uninvited to add their artistic efforts to the formal event. The term 'the Fringe' was coined the following year. Now it is a bigger arts event than the EIF. The programme for this August was announced this week and - of course - it is bigger and better than ever, with a record number of shows and performances. The number of individual productions has risen to well over 1,800 and the Fringe programme covers a massive 28,000 performances - 1,000 more than last year. The festival is suffering from its own success and finding venues for all those productions is becoming increasingly difficult - there are 261 locations around the Capital staging shows. But it is in keeping with the style of the Fringe that venues such as swimming pools, inflated bouncy castles (for a performance adapted from Shakespeare's Hamlet) and even trees and a double-decker bus are pressed into service. On the other hand, Edinburgh Castle is being unveiled as a venue for the first time - how did they manage to overlook it for so long? More in keeping, however, is the E4 Udderbelly - a tent in the form of an upside-down purple cow that seats 322 people. Then there is the One-Man Star Wars Trilogy, a retelling of all the films in just one hour. Comedy accounts for 27% of the acts (though the boundary between theatre and comedy is increasingly blurred) and there are a string of revivals, including Pam Ayres, the Goodies, and Stu Francis from Crackerjack. The Fringe has calculated that it has sold tickets to 19 million people since it first started. The next million should have a lot of fun! For a full listing, see Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
University Lecturers Agree 11th Hour Pay Deal
The industrial action by university lecturers, which had threatened the graduation of thousands of students, has been suspended. An offer this week from the universities is almost identical to one which was rejected earlier by the unions. But it does include an extra agreement for an independent review in 2008 of how much universities can afford to pay staff from 2009 onwards. The deal accepted this week gives lecturers an increase of 13.1%, spread over the next three years. That is far short of their demands for a 23% increase, but the universities are adamant that they have gone as far as their finances will allow - some are saying that even at the agreed level of increase, they will have to postpone upgrading some facilities to keep within their budgets. And Caledonian University in Glasgow is to launch a voluntary redundancy scheme, to avoid a substantial deficit. Now the universities - and the lecturers - have a backlog of assessments to complete so that students can graduate this summer. But many lecturers are reported to have been "marking and parking" exam papers, without submitting them to the authorities, so that the results can be completed by June 20 at the latest. There is now "real optimism" that no student will miss out on their graduation.
Relocation for 1,000 Staff?
The relocation of Scottish Executive departments and agencies away from Edinburgh is part of a policy to spread the benefits of government work around the country. While this sounds a good theory, the staff involved in the disruption have other views - and frequently vote with their feet by refusing to relocate and take generous redundancy payments instead. Many have spouses with well-paid jobs in the Capital and in the over-heated jobs market in Edinburgh, redundant staff with skills can often obtain other jobs. The latest group to be threatened with this policy are the 1,000-strong work force at the Registers of Scotland, with a move to Glasgow being mooted. The department records land ownership and house sales, using sophisticated computer technology. Based on earlier experience, up to 70% of staff will decline to move and moving the IT equipment will be a complicated and expensive task. It is estimated that if all the work is moved the 45 miles to Glasgow, the cost to the government (and, ultimately, the tax payer) will be £70 million. Costs include recruiting and training new staff to replace experienced work force lost in the move. Scottish Executive Ministers are said to be divided on the plan, despite being told by experts that it is "high risk". A partial relocation of perhaps 20% of the staff is another option being considered.
An Extra Holiday for St Andrews Day "Would Cost £134 Million"
A report, commissioned by the Enterprise and Culture Committee of the Scottish Parliament, has calculated that establishing St Andrews Day as a national holiday could cost the Scottish economy as much as £134 million. The consultants also reported, however, that replacing an existing public holiday with one on 30 November would cost nothing - and could produce social and cultural benefits calculated to be worth over £27 million. While many Scots would welcome an extra day's holiday, they might not be so enthusiastic if they had to give up a holiday in, say May, for one at the end of November, with shorter hours of daylight and colder weather - though the US Thanksgiving Day, around a week earlier, also marks the start of their festive shopping season, with retailers seeing a boost to sales. Scotland's complicated public holiday arrangements, however, mean that many businesses would just ignore the day. Banks, in particular, who moved away from the Scottish calendar of Bank Holidays to synchronise with those in England to save money, would be most unlikely to adopt it.
Royal Navy Base Gets Hotel Standard Cabins
There are around 6,000 people employed at the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine naval base at Faslane on the Gare Loch. In order to attract the best staff to the base, which is six miles from Helensburgh, the Admiralty chiefs are spending £125 million creating hotel-style living quarters, which will house 1,750 navy personnel. Many of the sailors based at Faslane are hundreds of miles from home and are on-call round-the-clock, for months at a time. So they are being provided not only with top quality accommodation with their own en-suite bathroom, but a cinema, a tenpin bowling alley and sports facilities.
Budget Airline Increases Challenge on BA
Budget airline easyJet started only ten years ago and has grown steadily ever since. Unlike Irish airline Ryanair, which tends to focus on lower cost airports, further from destinations in main cities and towns, easyJet is not afraid to challenge the big airlines such as British Airways by flying head-to-head on such routes as Edinburgh to London Gatwick - a main hub for holiday tour companies. Now easyJet has announced that it is to start a Glasgow to Gatwick service as well. The number of domestic flights have seen a slow down in growth recently as higher speed rail services are providing a greater challenge, so the extra service is more than welcome. The new flights will give easyJet a total of 28 flights between Glasgow and London (Gatwick, Luton and Stansted) each day.
Work Starts on Second Kincardine Road Bridge
The original bridge across the river Forth at Kincardine, with one lane in each direction, opened in 1936 and current traffic levels of 16,000 vehicles a day are well above its design capacity. Engineers have warned that it will have to close at some stage for at least a year for major refurbishment. There are similar concerns about the main Forth Bridge further down the river, but so far there are no plans for its replacement. Surprisingly, the project for a second crossing at Kincardine has been moving forward and this week the actual work started on its construction. The new bridge, 1,200 metres long, is described as "slim and elegant" (see artist's impression) and is expected to be ready for traffic by 2008. That will allow for the refurbishment of the existing crossing, before the two operate together. Environmentalists have accepted the need for the second bridge at Kincardine but argue that this should remove the need for second crossing at South Queensferry, serving Edinburgh - the two bridges are "only" 20 miles apart, after all.
Takeover Talks at House of Fraser
The retail chain House of Fraser, which recently bought the famous Edinburgh department store Jenners, has announced that it has been approached by the Icelandic group Baugur with an informal offer of £349 million. Accountants are now going over House of Fraser books in a "due diligence" exercise. The process is still at an early stage, however, and there is no certainty that a formal offer will be made. Partners Hugh Fraser and James Arthur opened a small drapery shop on the corner of Argyle Street/Buchanan Street, Glasgow in 1849. The store is still there - though considerably larger than it was 150 years ago. Over the years, House of Fraser took over a number of other department stores in cities and towns in Scotland and England. In recent years the company has sometimes struggled in a competitive market-place.
Firefighters Make Waves
The new £3.4 million aquarium being built at Drumkinnon Tower (see illustration of the tower), on the banks of Loch Lomond, needed 300,000 litres of water to fill it. If the tanks had been filled from the normal mains supply, it would have taken staff monitoring the water level round the clock for a week, to ensure that there were no leaks. So they contacted the local fire brigade who were glad of a useful training exercise to do the job. With their powerful pumps, they finished the job in just three hours. The aquarium, which is the first to be built in Scotland for over ten years, is scheduled to open next month.
Scots Waste Water, Save Power
A survey by YouGov has found that 65% of Scots are canny with electricity and turn off appliances at night, saving power even on the light emitting diodes to save a few pennies. But they are apparently prodigal with water - which comes out of the tap, apparently for free (but is actually the most expensive in the UK). The survey also showed that 82% of Scots recycle paper, cans or plastic and 74% re-use plastic carrier bags. And 51% of Scots use energy-saving light bulbs. The survey was tied in with UN World Environment Day.
New Car Sales Respond to Price Cuts
The Scottish Motor Trade Association has reported that new car sales rose in May, after eight months in a row when sales were less than the same month in the previous year. 15,285 new cars were driven off garage forecourts in May, 5% up from 14,560 sales last May. In England, the rise was just 0.8%. But the increased turnover was achieved by heavy discounting of prices. That may be good news for consumers, but puts more pressure on the struggling car sales companies. The best selling car in Scotland in May was the Ford Focus (see illustration), with the Renault Megane second and the Renault Clio third.
Aberdeen for Aberdeen
We all know that the reputation of Aberdonians as mean is a music hall joke, rather than a reality. Pictures of a deserted Union Street titled "Aberdeen on flag day" are often refuted by the frequent generosity of its citizens. The latest example is the thousands of pounds raised in Aberdeen by the Rotarian organisation to provide a badly needed covered market and the only block of public toilets in a Sierra Leone township - which is also named Aberdeen (one of 34 Aberdeens, in all corners of the globe). The "Aberdeen for Aberdeen" project raised over £6,000 and allows the market to continue in all weathers, under cover and local hygiene has been improved dramatically. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and the new facilities have made a big difference to the community.
Hollywood Tribute to Sir Sean
This week Sir Sean Connery teamed up again with Harrison Ford for a special tribute to the Scots movie legend, when the American Film Institute presented its annual lifetime achievement award for a career spanning more than 40 years. Connery and Ford starred as father and son in the Indiana Jones movie, but this time they were in a more sedate performance. 75-year-old Connery was accompanied by his wife Micheline and Ford was with his girlfriend Calista Flockhart. Directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and actors Andy Garcia and Mike Myers (sporting a kilt), were among the stars who applauded Connery's achievements. Connery commented in his speech that he got his big break when he was five years old - and it's taken 70 years to realise it. "At five I learned to read, and I would not be standing here without the books, plays and scripts."
Earth Moves in Highlands
An earthquake, measuring 3.1 on the Richter scale, centred on Applecross on the north-west coast of Scotland, shook parts of the Highlands on Thursday. Some residents in Gairloch, Achnasheen, Stromeferry and Ardaneaskan phoned the British Geological Survey when they heard what was described as a "loud bang" and houses shook. Of course, earthquakes are relatively unusual in the area, so some folk thought it was just a supersonic aircraft or a heavy lorry passing by. It was the biggest earthquake in the Highlands since September 2004, when the island of Raasay experienced one which registered 3.3 on the scale.
Mass Highland Fling
More than 100 heavyweight athletes, from all over the world, are due to compete in the Masters World Championships in Inverness in what is being called Scotland's "biggest ever" Highland Games, over the weekend of 22-23 July. Organisers are planning a mass Highland Fling with 200 dancers at the end of the opening ceremony - and are looking for more dancers to allow them to reach that number. They brought together 100 dancers in a similar event last year, but are hoping to double that. The games will also be hosting a Clan Village featuring exhibits from 28 Clan Societies and a display by the RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team. Next summer, as part of the Year of Highland Culture 2007, the Inverness Highland Games will host the World Highland Games Championships, contested by the top 12 heavyweight athletes in the world.
Scottish Storytelling Centre
It is claimed that the Scottish Storytelling Centre on Edinburgh's Royal Mile is the world's first purpose built storytelling centre. The recently opened facility aims to promote the rich traditions of Scottish storytelling with an events programme where people can enjoy and take part in storytelling and other artforms. It will link with a national network of storytellers, involving all age groups and the diverse cultures of modern Scotland. For more on the centre, see www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk.
Go To Dundee, Not Jail
Special themed Monopoly boards, created with landmarks found in major cities, towns or even football clubs, have become a useful additional way for the manufacturers to increase sales of the popular board game. Edinburgh and Glasgow already have their versions and Aberdeen's edition is being designed now. The final layout will be announced soon (local companies pay a premium to have their names included in the game) and 32 streets and Granite City landmarks will be incorporated. The Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper is to be the "community chest" and Duthie Park will no doubt feature. Suggestions from the public are also being made - with the suggestion from some Aberdonians that the "Go to Jail" square should be "Go to Dundee" or "Go to Inverness"!
Compost Bins Cause a Traffic Jam in Western Isles
The Scottish Executive encourages local authorities to increase the amount of material recycled or composted. So they supply finance for local councils to make it easier for householders to support that policy. A few weeks ago, Western Isles Council (or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to give it its correct title) announced that free plastic compost bins would be available for collection at a park outside Stornoway. Up to three bins (themselves made of recycled material, of course) were available for each household. Clearly the give-away was seen as a major attraction and before the centre opened, there were queues of cars for miles around. They don't often get a traffic jam in the Western Isles, but they got one that day. It wasn't helped by the Stornoway half-marathon, with more than 130 runners, taking place on the same day. Eventually, the local police decided to close down the distribution early because of "public safety fears". Now Western Isles Council are talking to the Scottish Executive about getting funding for more bins. Whether that is forthcoming, may be influenced by stories in the media that householders are using the bins as tool sheds, "Wendy Houses" for small kids and other purposes. But anyone planning to use the plastic bins for whisky-making will be disappointed - the large bins don't have any floor inside.
And the Bride Wore Black
Don't believe all those stories about undemonstrative Scots... The Registrar at a wedding in Elgin this week said it was the most unusual ceremony she had officiated at to date. The happy couple said it was "traditional with a twist". The bride had a flowing wedding dress - in black, with pink embroidery and hair dyed a shocking pink to match. The groom wore a pitch black kilt and matching shirt and boots. Guests entered into the spirit of the occasion and the room was a sea of black with bright pink and scarlet overtones. In the marriage suite, there was a skull on the main table, surrounded by a series of ornate candelabra. The happy couple had written their marriage vows themselves - and had chosen the sixth day of the sixth month in '06 for their happy day - because the date only happens once every thousand years...
Review of May's Weather
The Meteorological Office has published its analysis of the weather in Scotland over the whole of last month and has confirmed that it was "cool and unsettled, apart from a warm spell early in the month." From the 4th to 11th May, the weather system produced a flow of warm air from the east and for a few days the temperature reached above 21C (70F) in many parts. There was then a dramatic drop in the thermometer - on 12 May, Aboyne in Aberdeenshire struggled to reach a daytime maximum of 8C (46F) and overnight -4C (25F) was recorded in Highland glens. There was then a lot of unsettled weather for the rest of the month. The monthly average temperature of 8.9C (48F) was close to the long term average, but was no doubt influenced by that warmer spell at the start of the month. And the wind chill factor caused by strong winds on a number of days often made it feel cooler than normal. But Lerwick did record 75.6 hours of sunshine in the 6-day period 21st-26th.
Weather in Scotland This Week
It's not often that this weekly Scottish weather report can tell of day after day of sunshine, but that has indeed been the situation over the last ten days. Glasgow and the south-west got the best of the weather, as cloud and mist affected the east and north on some of the days this week. The daily maximum temperatures at the Glasgow weather station, from Monday to Saturday this week, were always above 20C (68F) and by the end of the week temperatures had risen to 22C (73F) on Thursday and Friday and 27C (over 80F) on Saturday. Edinburgh too, had a fair amount of sun and temperatures above 20C (68F) from Tuesday to Thursday. But a haze blown in from the North Sea on a strong easterly wind kept the temperature down to 16C (61F) on Friday. The north of Scotland was even more affected by more cloud cover, however. Stornoway's warmest day was Friday, when temperatures rose to 19C (66F).
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include the fountain in front of Culzean Castle (seen here), Tulip, Deer and her newly-born Calf, Red Admiral Butterfly, Osteospermum, Wisteria, Yellow Iris and an Oystercatcher and its Chick. See This Week's Colour Supplement.