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Published: July 26th 2016
Paul Schlicke and some of the wonderful gang of helpers
They all helped to make the Aberdeen Dickens conference the great success it was!
Well it's all over! But what a fantastic Dickens Fellowship International Conference it turned out to be. Sincere thanks to Paul Schlicke, Chairman of the DF Aberdeen branch; Gillian, Marian, Sally, Neil, Sandy and all other members of the Aberdeen DF who helped to make the conference such a roaring success. They were all friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, looking after any requests and sorting out any minor glitches for us all and were greatly appreciated.
With our accomodation in the student digs of Crombie Hall and many of the lectures taking place on campus at Aberdeen University it was all very convenient. For those events which were off campus buses ferried us there and back.
The official welcome and dinner took place at Elphinstone Hall with an introduction by Paul Schlicke and the welcome reception hosted by Professor Sir David Diamond, University of Aberdeen Principal and Vice-Chancellor. This was followed by dinner and entertainment which was provided by Kevin McMahon, a very clever magician.
With Aberdeen's City motto of "Bon Accord" and a conference theme of conviviality we enjoyed three lectures on this theme on Thursday morning. Lunch was followed by a Dickens exhibition in the recently built
Michelle at Powis Gates
Erected in 1834 they are the entrance to Crombie House
library. Then it was off to the 1906 Restaurant, next to Aberdeen's Theatre Royal, for a delicious dinner. After eating our meal and much socialising we walked to the Belmont Cinema to see the premiere of a short film 'Novel Performandes by Dickens' and 'Whisky Galore' a B & W film made in 1949. Very comfy cinema seats made it hard for me, on a couple of occasions, not to nod off!
Friday was a day off campus. With over 100 delegates we were taken on two coaches. Luckily I was on coach two which took us to Hospitalfield first - where two Dickens' letter were recently discovered - and then to the Fettercairn Whisky Distillery after lunch. This meant we spend much more time at Hospitalfield which, for me, was far more interesting than the distillery! Before lunch - which was delicious - we had a very interesting lecture by Emeritus Professor Michael Slater, MBE relating to his research into the recently discovered letters mentioned. Michael Slater has many strings to his bow including that he is a renowned biographer of Dickens. Back at the university there was just time for a quick change before dinner, once again
in Elphinstone Hall. After dinner the entertainment included 'Tam O'Shanter' performed by Jim Smith; 19th Century music with Roger Williams MBE and Drew Tulloch on piano with songs sung by Katherine Williams who had a beautiful voice. Once that entertainment was over we 'let our hair down' with some dancing and where I discovered that I could dance the Gay Gordons and the Dashing White Sergeant almost to perfection! Slight exaggeration there but it was a fun, and a rather exhausting way to end the evening.
Saturday's events began with the AGM during which Marzia Dati, President of the Carrara Dickens Fellowship branch, spoke of next year's conference which they are hosting. This was followed by Louise Owens, NSW Dickens Society President who spoke about the 2018 conference to be held in Sydney. Later in the proceedings Tony Williams presented Louise with the Percy Fitzgerald Award which she was later to present to NSW Dickens Society members Jean and Chester Porter for their outstanding service and loyalty to the Society. Both Jean and Chester became members at the first branch meeting in October 2002, each year contributing articles for both Household Words
and Boz in Oz
as well as
Michelle and the Scottish piper outside Elphinstone Hall
Erected in 1931 Eliphinstone Hall was where the Official Conference Opening took place.
giving lectures at various meetings. So such an award was well deserved. Unfortunately I won't be at the next NSWDS meeting as it occurs the day before we arrive home.
We also enjoyed three lectures on the conference theme as well as attending the Arts Lecture Theatre where Ian Rankin, best-selling Scottish crime writer, was in conversation with James Naughtie, Scottish BBC radio presenter. This event was open to members of the general public as well as conference delegates. From there, after yet another quick change, it was off to the Aberdeen Town Hall for a Civic Reception followed by a Celebratory Banquet.
Sunday was the final day of the conference with a somewhat later start than usual. It began with a tour of the King's College Chapell created by Bishop Elphinstone and which was saved from being destroyed during the Reformation of 1560. One of the lessons at the church service was read by NSWDS President Louise Owens. A visit to Castle Fraser then followed lunch. Charles Mackenzie Fraser, the laird of Castle Fraser, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. Castle Fraser was a very homely castle albeit with a circular staircase which would have been hard
to mount after a few drinks I imagine! There were some lovely gardens as part of the estate. Kevin was able to join us for this excursion after doing his own thing for the rest of the time I'd been at the conference. That was rather a bonus I thought. Back from the Castle Fraser excursion - by now a quick change expert! - it was off to our last dinner at Elphinstone Hall. Dickens great great grandson, Gerald Dickens, entertained us following dinner with his recitaction of a 'Child's Journey with Dickens'. Then, sadly, it was time for a Bon-Accord Farewell!
Over the period of the conference we heard some very interesting lectures. New friendships were forged with fellow Dickensians. Friendships which, hopefully we can renew once more when we attend the conference in Carrara, Italy next year.
While I was enjoying myself at the conference Kevin was off doing his own thing which included going to see the Lady Boys of Bangkok who apparently tour the UK every year. From what Kevin told me they are all extremely glamorous, and put on a great fun show performing inside a big top pavilion in an area near
Aberdeen beach. I've no doubt it would have been something that Dickens, who was a great lover of theatre and such extravaganza, would have enjoyed!!
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