Our current Programme of Talks was brought to an enthralling conclusion on 17 March with Owen Dudley Edwards’ talk on the Scottish Signatories of the American Declaration of Independence. Owen’s moving tribute to our beloved and much missed Past President, Doug Riach preceded his vivid, contextual account of the very significant part played by those of Scots ancestry, in particular James Wilson and John Weatherspoon, in the evolution of the document which has since shaped the development of the American nation.
On 16 February, Tony Pryke gave an illustrated talk on the life and work of Joan Eardley, RSA, whose iconic depictions of life in mid-twentieth century Glasgow tenements and powerful landscapes and seascapes around Catterline on the north-east coast, stretched the boundaries of British art and established her as an artist of international standing whose influence extends to the present day.
On 19 January, Marcus Humphrey gave a fascinating talk on the remarkable life and career of his grandfather, Sir Malcolm Barclay-Harvey, who was elected MP for Kincardineshire and West Aberdeenshire and appointed Governor of South Australia before returning to resume his service to our local community as Deputy-Lieutenant for Aberdeenshire and taking an active role in local politics. Marcus’ talk was copiously illustrated with personal documents, photographs and anecdotes, bringing to life the story of a family man who clearly lived life to the full.
A good turnout of members trudged through ice and snow on 8 December to listen to this month’s speaker, local loon Murray Brown, introduced by our own Brian Patterson.
Murray gave a very entertaining talk on the Aboyne Highland Games and his involvement both as a Heavy Athlete in the 1970s and 80s and latterly as the Convenor of the Heavies Committee. Murray’s talk was laced through with highly amusing anecdotes and reminiscences as to how the Aboyne Games had evolved over the years since its inception in 1867. Murray passed around a few quite astonishing photographs of athletes in days past, including pole vaulting onto bare grass – no soft landings here!
The ‘art’ of caber preparation – was it too dry and therefore too light, or too wet and therefore too heavy, as well as the technique of tossing the ’stick’, as it was known to athletes, came in for some detailed discussion. The assembled throng would have listened to Murray’s tales all evening had not Brian brought questions to a close as mulled wine, mince pies and other seasonal delights awaited.
On 20 October, Alistair Cassie gave an engrossing talk on the catastrophic loss by fire in 2015 and the subsequent, three-year programme of reconstruction, of Ballater Railway Station, introducing scenes, events and personalities from the Station’s history and aided by graphic illustrations of the fire itself, its immediate aftermath and the reconstruction works in progress.
The Declaration is probably the most celebrated document in Scottish history. But what do we know about it? Why was it written? Who wrote it and to whom? Who signed it? Why Arbroath in 1320 (and not, say Newbattle in 1319?) Did it get any reply? What did it achieve? Is its explanation of the origin of Scots just make-believe? Why the boast that the Scots have ’totally destroyed the Picts’? Making a welcome second visit to the Society on 15 September, Neil, a published author on the Declaration, provided compelling answers to these questions in a very well-received talk.
Our extended 2021/2022 Programme was brought to an exhilarating conclusion on 21 April, when John Henderson introduced us to a vividly presented cast of Scots whose lasting influence upon Scotland’s relationship with China over the last two hundred years encompassed activities as diverse as Commerce, Healthcare, Plant Hunting, Ship-building, Missionary Work, Diplomacy and Bi-Lateral Trade, not least in tea and opium, but extending in more modern times to include food products, engineering and of course Whisky! In addition, Scotland fosters contemporary educational and cultural links through tourism and the Confucius Institutes in three of our major universities.
In the midst of current uncertainties and anxieties, this was an evening to remind us of Winston Churchill’s famous quote that ‘of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind’.
Thursday 17 March saw the very welcome return of Colin Johnston, whose deep knowledge of the impact of the Great War on the lives of those who experienced it fuelled an absorbing talk on the artistic flowering precipitated by this horrific conflict. The talk was of course given added poignancy by the current events in Eastern Europe and our hearts go out to those enduring the warfare in Ukraine.
Gordon Casely delivered this talk on 17 February with his customary panache, taking his audience on a trip through the marvels of Mull, then the geological wonders of Staffa’s basalt columns, ending with a pictorial journey to Iona. This was exploration through delightful pictures and tasteful commentary, highlighting the natural beauties of this remarkable part of the world. Iona rightly took pride of place for many in the audience, with its remarkable history as a key north European cultural centre, focussing on the early Christian settlements, the Viking attacks and the restoration of the Cathedral led by the redoubtable Revd. George Macleod and the unemployed craftsmen from Glasgow. Seventeen kings are buried here, including, some say, Macbeth. But it is not simply a place of the past: through the Iona Community the Island’s spirit and purpose endure. This beacon in the Hebrides.
As befits our Christmas meeting, our talk on 9 December was billed not so much as a presentation but, rather, as an entertainment. And entertaining it most certainly was, with our Committee member Brian Patterson regaling us with a fund of anecdotes of his early years: the family move from Cults to the Aboyne area, his schooling at Lumphanan and his years as a fee’d loon. (As part of the preparation, a two and a half-hour interview with Brian had been recorded and is now in the archives of the Elphinstone Institute at Aberdeen University.)
Inimitably, Hector Riddell – with his voice as strong and his mastery of the lyrics as impressive as ever, despite two years of lockdown – sang a number of bothy ballads illustrating key aspects of Brian’s stories. Yet all of this was also richly informed and instructional, providing vivid insights, delivered in fluent Doric into a key aspect of North-East heritage: the story of farm life in the bothies and chaumers – the humour and vitality, the joys as well as the deprivations, of a way of country life now gone, but here, richly remembered.