P&J Column 26.7.18

Pugh Pugh Barney McGrew Cuthbert Dibble and Trump

Ron Cluny – official council spokesman

As chief spin-doctor for Aberdeen City Council, part of my role is to take the heat off the administration and draw attention away from their less brilliant decisions (I am kept busy).  So, as you can imagine, I’ve done my share of talking up unpopular development plans.

But what a pleasure it’s been to see the masters at work, with the announcement this week of the Trump Organisation’s application to build 500 luxury houses, shops and offices at Menie. ‘The Trump Estate’ is a fair size of a development, as big as a small town, in fact – so it’s a bit of a pity the name  ‘Trumpton’ was already taken.

Of course, all the usual nay-sayers will come out with their tired and predictable arguments that the original Trump plan was only granted on the basis of the promise of significant job creation and massive investment in the region, almost none of which has actually been delivered, and the Trump organisation itself has a questionable track record for what some would call ‘sharp business practice’, and others might refer to as swicking.

But that kind of doom-mongering is missing the point. We in the North-East have only recently dared to hope that the green shoots of recovery might be about to poke through the ground frost of the oil slump; so it is reassuring to know that an international concern with the status of the Trump organisation is confident that there’s a market here for funcy hooses priced at over a million a pop.

It’s almost as if they have inside information that the oil price is about to rise dramatically as it typically does in times of international crisis. Such as when conflict is threatened in a country in the Middle East. Like Iran, to choose an example entirely at random.

But the very best thing about this application, is that it’s before Aberdeenshire Council, and not the town. So we can be assured that the final decision will be taken carefully, thoughtfully, and without fear or favour; and that the inevitable stooshie that follows won’t be my problem.


Hector Schlenk, Senior Research Fellow at the Bogton Institute for Public Engagement with Science

As a scientist in a heatwave, people have been asking me plaintive questions like “Is it true that hot drinks cool you down more effectively than cold ones?” “Can you make it rain please?”, and “Is the Torry Pong now officially recognised by the UN as a chemical weapon?”

However, I’ve been too overcome by the current humid conditions to answer such trivia. This sort of weather is not good for me, as I have an excess of excess of forehead, and indeed tophead. Therefore, I have been sitting in the shade of some trees in Victoria Park, with a Tupperware tub full of factor 50, pondering issues of science and technology, and trying to ignore the young ruffians on mopeds who keep doing wheelies around me shouting ‘hoy, baldie – yer ice cream’s melted’.

I have been delighted to see, in the wake of the government recommending ‘full-fibre broadband’ coverage as standard, that Aberdeen is one of only 3 Scottish cities who are getting this super fast digital upgrading right now. Network provider CityFibre has proclaimed it will enable recipients to be more innovative, more productive and more economically active.  An impressive claim, particularly as the scheme is being rolled out in Kincorth.

It will certainly revolutionise things, promising download speeds of up to 20 times faster than we have now, or 200 times faster than the AOL modem I still have plugged into my phone line, as part of my home-made computer lash-up which I cling to as a protest at the exorbitant prices charged by technology companies like Apple and Microsoft. The specs of my set up are available online for all to see. On Myspace.

There are, however, far more scientifically interesting things than fibre-optic cables beneath the ground. There is also the recently demonstrated method whereby trees secretly talk to each other and share resources via a network of mycorrhizal fungi within their root systems. Through this method, trees can pass water, nutrients, and even information to each other, warn each other about dangers like insect infestations or even sabotage their rivals.  It is, in very many respects, a naturally occurring version of social media, only with fewer selfies and more sap. In fact, clever people like me have christened this process the ‘Wood Wide Web’ which might seem like a pretty weak pun to you, but is about as funny as gets for academic botanists who specialise in mycorrhizal fungus.