By Bill Heaney
Journalism is turning out to be more dangerous than ever. It always has been a stressful business, of course, and I have been in a few tight spots in my time in this trade. Northern Ireland and Africa come to mind, snipers and terrorists on a daily basis. I haven’t been in the new Burgh Hall in Church Street yet and I wondered from time to time why not. I knew the Council and the SNP didn’t like me to the extent that they banned me and cut me off from asking legitimate questions as a bona fide member of the press. I complained, of course, but when I got nowhere I raised the matter with my MSP, the National Union of Journalists, of which I am a Life Member, and the Society of Editors, of which I am an Editor Emeritus. I shook the trees, as they say, but no monkeys fell out. There was a concession, a small one. If I wanted their media releases then like everyone else I could pick them up from their website. But, if I wanted to ask any questions, I would have to go round to the back door with the plebs and ask my questions at the Inquiry Desk. Then, suddenly, they decided to put me back on their media list – but not to allow me to ask questions unless I made a Freedom of Information request. It was a slap on the wrist, a bit like being savaged by a dead sheep.. This week however came the terrible news that a journalist had disappeared (and is thought to have been murdered) in a Saudi Arabian Embassy where he went to collect marriage documents. Even President Donald Trump, who hates journalists and is constantly disparaging about “fake news” was concerned about this. Then, out of the blue, I received an invitation to attend the private viewing of the portraits of 100 men and women who have shown bravery and dedication in times of war and conflict which will go on public display to mark the end of the First World War. This major exhibition of portraits tells the story of the sitters, painted by acclaimed local artist Tom McKendrick, which will open to the public at Clydebank Town Hall on Tuesday, 6 November. I am wondering whether I should chance turning up. Will there be CCTV in Hall Street to catch a glimpse of me going in? And will I get out alive or be driven away in the back of one of those little white vans with the council logo on the side? If this matter concerns you, dear reader, then write to West Dunbartonshire Council and support my campaign for The Democrat to be given the same rights as other media outlets when dealing with the council. That would be only fair – and democratic, of course.
The sculpture was supposed to be a statue of a mother and child. It was erected to project the image of Dunbartonshire County Council as a mother figure looking after the interests of the community. But it was a strange looking object, something which few people could not make head nor tail of. One councillor, I think it was Joe Cannon from Bonhill, said it looked “like a drunk man playing the bagpipes”. Pipe smoking Joe was near the mark – but he was too near the bone for some folk. The senior people at Crosslet’s once majestic council offices, pictured right, which is now lying deserted in a sorry state of disrepair, agreed with him. I think they privately thought that a mistake had been made spending however much of the ratepayers’ cash the council splashed out on it. But no one would admit it – we got the usual ‘it wisnae me’ – and the matron of dishonour was eventually secreted away “for repair”. I never saw her again after that, but I would like to know where the sculpture has gone; which dark cellar it is stored in. Perhaps the Heritage Section of West Dunbartonshire Libraries knows where it is? Who knows, that sculpture may well be worth a few pounds, sufficient even for the cash-strapped council leader Jonathan McColl to take it to the pawn. Does anyone remember that statue? And, if so, where is it? I think we should be told.
The Flamingo Land row in Balloch rumbles on – and rightly so. Why wouldn’t there be concern about the fact that a major development such as this is taking place on the Bonnie Banks? There are reports that 26,000 objectors to the plan signed a petition against it in just one week. But there is a lot of scaremongering going on too, according to Scottish Enterprise, who are hand in glove with Flamingo Land. They are involved in the joint planning application for holiday lodges, a hotel, a brewery, a monorail and a leisure and water park centre to be created on the west bank of the Leven and at derelict Woodbank House, pictured left, an old hotel. Scottish Enterprise’s Allan McQuade claims it is inaccurate to suggest that the land earmarked for Flamingo Land is public property.He said: “We recognise the concerns surrounding the plans but unfortunately there are inaccuracies in some of the statements made as part of the latest e-petition. It is important to remember that this area of brownfield land has a long, post-industrial history and it was strategically acquired by Scottish Enterprise with a view to creating a tourism destination in Balloch. This development would bring much-needed regeneration, jobs, training opportunities and leisure facilities to the area and, should the development proceed, land at West Riverside will continue to be open, accessible and enjoyed by the public. We would encourage the public to see the plans at http://www.iconicleisuredevelopments.co.uk before signing a petition based on misinformation.” That is all very well Allan, but how come land owned by Scottish Enterprise is not public land. Is SE not a government agency?
I hear on the grapevine (a secret in Dumbarton is something you tell one person at a time) that the Rev Ian Miller, pictured right, will be treading the boards this Christmas. The word is out that West Dunbartonshire’s most popular clergyman since the Rev Robert Paterson, the Happy Padre, who held the pulpit at Jamestown and wrote a column for the Sunday Mail, is to become an honorary Son of Drumtartan. Ian will be taking part in Dumbarton People’s Theatre’s annual pantomime in the Denny Civic Theatre. I wonder if there will be a ‘skit’ about the theatre and the Concord community centre being under threat from SNP council cuts? Whatever, with the grass cutting fiasco and all the other cuts, blunders and U-turns committed by our elected representatives, the script writers should not be short of material. Oh, yes they will!
You will no doubt remember that we told Democrat readers on October 4 that Mike Ashley, the new uber boss of Jenners at Lomond Shores was getting his feet under the table – and the staff were becoming twitchy. It comes as no surprise then to learn that Audrey Reid, who has been facilities and events manager at Lomond Shores for the past 14 months, has decided to quit her post. The news of her going reminded me of an old pal of mine, Gavin Docherty, who was the entertainments editor of the late, unlamented Sunday Scot, which was owned by Sir David Murray. Big Gav got up from his desk one day and left the building with the unforgettable words – “Cheers chaps. I think I am in the wrong movie.”