Bear Grylls, Mango and Wind Turbines – Marilyn Monologues: Part 1

A Marilyn is any hill in Britain which has a prominence of at least 150 meters at each side. There are 573 sub 2000 Marilyns in Scotland, with the list encompassing every Marilyn which is under 2000 ft (609m). There are 26 of these hills in Aberdeenshire, if you include Brimmond Hill which is in Aberdeen City.  

Colossal lorries whizzed past at an alarming proximity and velocity as we marched down one of the A96’s soggy verges. We had began our first Marilyn bagging adventure in a layby about halfway between Inverurie and Huntly in rural Aberdeenshire. Following directions extracted from a Walk Highlands forum, our first step was to reach the nearby village of Colpy.

Grateful to leave the A96 behind, it took us about 45 minutes to ascend the Hill of Foudland’s 467 metres. On a better day we would have been treated to a panoramic vista of North-East countryside, but on this occasion the summit was shrouded in low cloud. Happily though, we had ticked our first Sub 2000 Marilyn of the list. I celebrated by fervently dropping my mango all over the ground while Rory went for a celebratory pee in the nearby heather.

Next we had to figure out how to reach our second Marilyn, preferably without another encounter with one of Scotland’s busiest trunk roads. We accidentally summited the Hill of Skares as we attempted to make a beeline for the Hill of Tillymorgan.

Separating us from our next summit was a steep descent down to the valley floor. We agreed it didn’t look very promising, as we examined the loose scree and sharp slate rock below. Having exhausted any other possibilities and eaten our sandwiches, we set off down the slope, my arms flailing as I tried to avoid break a leg or an unexpected cartwheel.

At the bottom we crossed the A96 and then found ourselves circumnavigating the border of a farmer’s large seeded field. During this whole episode I continuously strained over my shoulder, concerned the farmer would spot us from his visible farmhouse.

Traversing an unreasonably high barbed wire fence, we were met with a tougher challenge in the form of the River Urie. Recent rainfall had transformed this small stream into a raging brown torrent. In what could barely be described as a bridge, some local mountain bikers had placed a sizeable branch nearby.

“God I’m a natural at this”, I thought to myself immediately before nearly toppling like a tower of jenga into the fast flowing water. Having righted myself sucessfully, I celebrated wildly as we tried to find our bearings on the opposite side on the north bank of the Urie. I found it slightly disheartening that this was the happiest I’d felt in quite a while. It’s the small victories that count.

The next section proved to be the steepest, constituting direct route through the quiet forest along mountain bike trails. Eventually we reached the first of the gigantic wind turbines which are so visible from the road. We spent a few minutes watching it while getting our breath back. “Whoosh.” I found the constant movement of its blades…”Whoosh”….and the noise it was making…”Whoosh”… both intimidating and mesmeric.

From there on it was a short hike around deep quarries of natural slate and through a herd of perplexed looking sheep. With sodden feet and a sense of achievement we enjoyed a more fulfilling view from the Hill of Tillymorgan. We had considered hunting down Fourman Hill as well, but decided to head for home because our feet were wet and I had holes in my trainers. Bear Grylls eat your heart out!

The descent was navigated with ease, despite noting that our trusty directions included a rant about wind turbines and ‘Eco-warriors’. I personally enjoyed watching these colossal devices at work, but understand why they’re not everybody’s cup of tea.

The only low point of the trek back to the car was another short trudge along the A96. This was soon forgotten however, as we celebrated our first bout of Marilyn bagging with a packet of hula hoops. Two down, 571 to go.

Pounding Aiberdeen’s Streets wi Purpose

Bringing in the distant bells o 2021 fae the top o Creag Choinnich, near Braemar, I felt hopeful fur the year aheid. I didna ken fit the year wid bring, but I did hae an explicit intention. This being tae cycle, run an dauner 300 miles atween New Year’s Day an the 6th February.

It aa stairted in een o the Nixon faimily group chats, wi ma auld man suggestin ma brither an I jine him in logging oor miles fur the Doddie Aid Challenge. This coming tae a conclusion jist afore Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash wi England in the Six Nations.

Maist importantly it wis aboot raising awareness an donating tae the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This charity wis inspired bi Scottish rugby stalwart Doddie Weir, following his diagnosis wi Motor Neuron Disease a few years syne.

Efter a gladly uneventful descent o Creag Choinnich, ma mither an I woke early the next morn tae gaun an find the Secret Howff. As the name suggests, the location o this wee bothy is meant tae be kept secret. This meant battling through knee deep sna fur a guid hauf an hour until we finally stumbled across it on the side o a steep outcrop.

This first daunder ended up being aroon 10 miles lang an at several moments I felt the cauld stairtin tae ease intae ma bones. Spikkin tae Maw did help warm me up, but I wis pretty jilt bi the team we reached the car again. Indeed, it proved a guid excuse tae catch up wi ma mither efter the endlessly sporadic nature o the previous year.

I left Braemar, three furry companions an ma mither ahint taw days later fur Aiberdeen, jist afore anither lockdoon wis announced. I had added anither nine running miles tae ma total afore I left, an kent I had tae keep that momentum gaun faan I reached the Granite City.

Throughout January, I daundered every day, varying ma route atween Leah’s flat an mine, or gaun doon tae the beach on mony a bracing nicht. Fur some reason ma telebuffle canna handle GPS, sae I had tae painstakingly log every mile manually using Strava’s routes function. Sadly, I actually rather enjoyed this progress.

Meanwhile, ma running wis steady if nae scattered intae intermittent blocks o intensity which wid last a few days at a time. I became obsessed wi running alangside the River Don, faar I cuid find a wee bit o countryside wedged intae the city scape.

On twa successive Saturday morns I completed loops aroon the River Don atween Bridge of Don an Danestone. This involved timing masel on a 7.4 mile loop which took in baith banks o the Don. I wid return hame aroon 90 minutes later, smothered in mud an cauld sweat, smelling like I had passed ma best afore date. I enjoyed the freshness o the air beside the river an the trails proved a refreshing chinge fae never ending pavements.

The weather wis actually the maist difficult obstacle tae overcome, wi the mercury hovering near freezing maist days. Sadly, this aa but ended ma hopes o brushing the cobwebs aff ma bike. I wis too nervous tae gaun near it as the roads remained slick, hivvin nae rode it since ma crash last summer.

This meant rowing ma original target o 300 miles back a bit. I decided I jist wanted tae keep moving an figures ootside ma daily totals began tae feel less important. At a time o constant chinge, I took comfort in takkin each day as it came.

January flew bi relatively quickly an soon it wis the eve o the Calcutta Cup. That penultimate day o the challenge involved four easy-ish miles aroond the beach, but it wisna until later that I realised ma overall total wis sitting at 190.4 miles. Ma plan for the day efter had been tae donate a tenth o ma mileage tae My Name’5 Doddie Challenge, drink some alcohol an then watch Scotland tak a hammering fae England. Fooiver, een figure loomed large in ma heid an ma total jist didna sit weel wi me.

An sae the next day I leapt precariously oer the Spital’s mony cobblestones, passing the University of Aberdeen unner ominous looking skies. This wis followed bi a breathless ascent o Gordon Brae, ma enthusiasm outweighing ma actual fitness. I wis leaving the city fur the first time since 3rd January an daenin it bi fit.

In fact I wis loving every minute o it until the Raynaud’s in ma gloveless hauns stairted tae kick in mercilessly. This wisna helped bi passing a raging River Don as I looped back towards Aiberdeen. I shivered uncontrollably everytime I glanced at its icy waters as the sky stairted tae fill wi snaflakes.

I wis in full survival mode bi the time I reached the Granite City’s pearly gates again. Wi nae pockets fur ma phone, I switched this noo gelid object fae een painful haun tae anither afore I finally reached ma last glorious descent.

Sae, we jist minutes tae spare afore kick-off at Twickenham, I finished Doddie Aid Challenge 2021 wi 200.4 miles unner ma belt. I hadna reached 300 miles, but the feeling o accomplishment wis still immense. As I desperately tried tae wairm ma numb extremities in a towel, I realised that getting oot fur a worthwhile cause in the depths o a Scottish Covid-19 winter had been warmly welcomed.

Fur some 200 miles in five weeks bi fit is impressive, while fur eithers it’s less sae. Fur me, I wis jist glad I had something tae keep me gaun faan there wi little tae be cheary aboot. Aiberdeen’s pavements had taen a hell o a purposeful pounding an ma year had got aff tae a suprisingly guid stairt.

Marilyn Monologues – Introduction

Marilyn = Any hill with a prominence of at least 150 metres.

It was a particularly dreary February evening when I first started mapping out Aberdeenshire’s Sub-2000 feet Marilyns. I wanted something out with my journalistic development to look forward to when the Summer months finally arrived. This involved peering at my laptop screen with my curtains tightly shut, comforted by the rumbling of lorries trundling down King Street and the BBC World Service.

At this point we were in our third-ish lockdown and I was desperately fire fighting a festering negativity which keep rearing its ugly head. A ray of positivity and motivation had been provided by Jonny Muir’s The Mountains are Calling: Running in the High Places of Scotland. I had read Muir’s descriptions of feats of endurance, such as the Ramsay Round, in about five days with a rare voracity.

Tucking into a second or fifth hobnob, I realised I fancied a bit of that glory for myself. And yet, I knew it would be some turnaround if I was to be completing anything similar to Charlie Ramsay’s epic 56 mile creation a few months on.

I quickly decided the challenge would centre around running Aberdeenshire’s 25 Sub-2000’s, possibly within a time limit. The next day, while watching Arsenal lose again, with Rory, I explained my plan to try and tick-off this list of hills over the Summer months.

Any distraction from the football was obviously a welcome one and my flatmate’s interest was instantly piqued. He said he wanted to join me on this adventure, walking the Marilyns instead and thus leaving my shortest figure hugging x-rated running shorts at home.

I was initially reluctant, as I imagined myself leaping down mountains with an agility I’ve never possessed. I hadn’t however, considered this social aspect and realising that this could be a great opportunity for us both, I quickly agreed.

This consensus was followed up by a rare moment of foresight, as we started outlining our first outing. This a solid three months before Covid-19 restrictions would be loosened to the point where we could venture out into the ‘Shire. The Hill of Founland and Hill of Tillymorgan were first on our list…

The Alternative Eurovision Review (Scots)

I cuid hiv spent Saturday nicht waashin ma hair, bit thoucht I’d be mair eese providing an irrelevant an ill-informed insight intae the Eurovision 2021 Sang Contest whilk naebody asked fur. Broadcast live intae ma sittin’ room faar I’m spending a Seturday evening in ma ain company, the follaein lays oot ma live reactions tae aa the acts at this year’s contest. Wi a cuppa o milky tea in haun an a wash oan, let’s git this wild pairtie stairted.


Its 8pm an Graham Norton’s dulcet vyce narrates scenes fae Rotterdam, the Dutch city whilk is hosting this year. I’m nae a huge admirer o Norton as a commentator, bit I’m willing tae gie him a chance tae chinge ma mind tonicht. Tae be fair, I think this is mair a reflection on Terry Wogan’s absence syne 2008 because he wis the vyce o Eurovision faan I foremaist stairted watching it wi ma parents.

Ilk act then scurries ontae the stage, stairting wi Cyprus. I’ve ay bin puzzled bi the inclusion o non-European countries in the competition, although the island nation is a member o the EU. Azerbaijan an Israel’s participation ur less easy tae explain, but the mair the merrier I suppose. Australia’s recent involvement in the contest disna mak ony geographical sense at aa, sae I should probably relax a wee bittie (Australia didna qualify fur the final this year).

There ur mair pressing questions tae speir onywiy. Fit why is Flo Rida walking on wi San Marino? Will the Netherlands dae an Ireland an enter a terrible act tae rule themsels oot fae hosting fur a second year running? Foo many cuppa’s o tea will I git through? The tension is palpable.

Cyprus: “El Diablo” bi Elena Tsagrinou

The Dutch are thankfully keeping tae a ticht schedule an we’re aff tae a solid stairt wi Cyprus. I’ve missed the wee promotion videos afore ilk performance an it’s braw tae see a different European city than Abeirdeen fer a chinge. I got slight Dua Lipa vibes on the chorus an micht jist doonload this on Spotify efter because it’s annoyingly catchy – 7/10.

Albania: “Karma” bi Anxhela Peristeri

There wis a unco mirk an ominous beginning tae this sang afore Peristeri suddenly appeared in a muckle plume o smoke. It’s aa very dramatic, bit it’s a powerful performance in her ain language fae the Albanian – 6.5/10.

Israel: “Set Me Free” bi Eden Alene

Onto sang three an there’s some interesting dance moves an outfits fae the Israelis. I ay git in trouble faan I eese ma arms tae complement ma jerky dance moves, but these professionals seem tae get awa wi it. Must be guid at dancing or something. Onywiy, the outfit chinge haulfwiy thro’ wis cool, but I thocht the sang wis a wee bit dreich. I sensed strong department store music vibes fae it – 5.5/10.

Belgium: “The Wrong Place” bi Hooverphonic

Efter three songs wi’oot them on stage, we’re finally seeing some musical instruments. Hooverphonic are the auldest competitors in this year’s event an the lead sangster strongly resembles Lulu. The style disna strike me as unco Eurovision like an it’s een o they sangs that stairts weel but trails aff slightly faan it gits tae the chorus – 6.5/10.   

Russia: “Russian Woman” bi Manizha

There’s a strong message there an I loved the energy. Based purely on the music though an it’s gitting an average score fae me. It’s worth minding at this point that I hiv an awffa brassic taste in music an that my judgement definitely reflects badly on me an nae Manizha – 5.5/10.

Malta: “Je Me Casse” bi Destiny

This wis a definite fit tapper an I’m a strong advocate o the upper body’s importance in dancing. I enjoyed that, despite finding it slightly terrifying that Destiny Chukunyere wis born in 2002. I’ll be singing Je me Casse sassily tae awbody I come o’er next wik. Let’s gang an confuse some elderly fowk in Lidl on Monday. I’ll hae ma mask on, sae they winna see ma mooth moving – 7.5/10.

Portugal: “Love is on My Side” bi Black Mamba

Pedro Tatanka his a cracking voice, an I really enjoyed the black an fite section o the performance. Some great dress sense gaun on an Tatanka handles his guitar weel. Fit’s nae tae like? – 7.5/10.  

Serbia: “LOCO LOCO” bi Hurricane

Unfortunately, the standard inevitably drops again. I wis willing this een tae be a slow burner, but it didna really improve. They deserve some marks fer their exhaustive dance moves though – 4/10.

United Kingdom: “Embers” bi James Newman

Wis that Jon Newman? No, but it wis his slightly less talented brither an ye can tell they’re related because there’s a definite similarity there. Its nae the worst UK performance I’ve seen in syne years, but that is a low benchmark tae judge this against. There was an awffa lot o hardcore finner pintin gaun on an it wis pretty repetitive. I’m nae saying I wid hiv fared ony better bi the wiy. I hope he managed tae at least acquire some free beverages afore his flight hame – 4/10.

Greece: “Last Dance” bi Stefania

Anither contestant foo’s younger than me. Shit I’m auld! The dancing wi the laundry an special effects wis unusual bit I liked the purple theme – 6/10.

Switzerland: “Tout l’Univers” bi Gjon’s Tears

This isna the performers’ fault but there were too mony camera angles! He has a cracking voice on him, but it’s nae quite for me. Returning to that recurring theme, and the dancing towards the end has major Finn in a nightclub on his ain at 2am vibes. Sae, respect tae Gjon Muharrema fer that if naething else – 6/10.

Iceland – “10 Years” bi Daði og Gagnamagnið

I thocht I wis gaun tae enjoy this, an I certainly did. Ye get the feeling these guys wid be guid fun at a party. I loved the handheld keyboards an synchronized taps. The keyboardists’ enthusiasm reminds me o faan I thocht I wis a genius because I cuid play “I Just Can’t Get Enough” in music class. Tipped tae win last year’s cancelled competition an wi nae being able tae perform live this year because o Covid-19 cases in the band, Iceland hiv faced lots o adversity. There wis a braw pause fur effect at the end as weel – 7/10.   

Spain – “Voy a Quedarme” bi Blas Cantó

There wis a muckle moon, bit dinna worry we didna see Blas’ bare behouchie at ony point whilk wis guid because he gave his Mither a shout oot at the end. It wis really atmospheric, bit I feel it was slightly ruined by the Usher style high pitch screaming towards the finale. Nae need Blas mon – 6.5/10.

Moldova – “Sugar” bi Natalia Gordienko

Seemingly Natalia an her backing dancers were trying tae get a passing lorry tae honk at them wi aa the arm pumping. It wis promising in pairts, but I found the chorus slightly disappointing, an the backing dancers were a bit frightening – 6/10.

Germany – “I don’t feel hate” bi Jendrik

Seemingly Germany hiv done an Ireland this year an ensured they dinna win. Some hardcore ukulele action an a lassie in a massive haun costume means this een scores high fur comedic affect an nae muckle else. It is fooiver, worryingly a bit o a grower efter a second lug in. Jendrik Sigwart’s positivity is contagious, sae I feel bad giein’ him sic a low score – 4.5/10.

Finland – “Dark Side” bi Blind Channel

Foo hurt ye Finland? That wis potentially the angriest Eurovision performance I’ve ever seen. Lots o flames an shouting mean it’s an effective musical pick me up as ma bed stairts to ca’, bit I’m struggling tae judge this een tae be honest. Despite its distinctive heavy metal vibes, I dinna feel like it had that much substance – 6/10.

Bulgaria – “Growing Up is Getting Old” bi Victoria

There is a major shift again as we gang fae silly tae intense tae an emotional an relaxed ballad fae the Balkans. I doot this een will win, bit I rate its simplicity an the backstory highly. Maybe I’m jist a bit o a softie? – 7.5/10.

Lithuania – “Discoteque” bi The Roop

Again, this had a major Finn’s moves in a nichtclub vibe, bit on the next level. Bi this point in the nicht ma girlfriend wid hiv accidentally lost me in the club or is in hiding. Fooiver, Lithuania’s offering is quite catchy an the dancing is weel… interesting. 6.5/10.  

Ukraine – “SHUM” bi Go_A

Since Verka Serduchka burst ontae the Eurovision stage in 2007, I’ve ay waited in anticipation fur Ukraine’s entry every year. Unfortunately, nae one his quite reached Serduchka’s heights an fur me, this wis a step in the wrang direction. It wis very repetitive, bit I enjoyed the intense flute action an sudden dramatic chinges in pace – 5/10.

France – “Voilà” bi Barbara Pravi

It’s hard tae believe that France hivna won the competition syne 1977 faan I feel that singing jist sounds better faan it’s in French. The simple stage effects were quite relaxing an in ma opinion, that wis een o the better performances sae far – 7/10.

Azerbaijan – “Mati Hari” bi Efendi

“Ma ma ma marti Hari!” – That is undootedly gaun tae be stuck in my heid fur ages noo. The dramatic fire at the end wis guid, bit despite its catchiness it wis a bit average really – 5.5/10.

Norway – “Fallen Angel” bi TIX

Four demons chained tae an angel wi sunglasses an a hairband on. Again, Fit’s nae tae like? The tune wis mair than bearable as weel, an I got major Westlife vibes fae it. I’m gaun tae gie it an unprecedented high score because awbody deserves a guid pop ballad in their lives. TIX’s story is also admirable because he wis bullied for hivin Tourette’s Syndrome faan he wis younger an cried “Tics”, whilk he then turned intae his stage name. – 8/10.

Netherlands – “Birth of a New Age” bi Jeangu Macrooy

This wis a catchy een an received an expected positive reaction fae the hame crowd. I thoucht it wis quite middle of the road though – 6/10.

Italy – “Zitti e buoni” bi Måneskin

I wanted this tae be guid efter Graham Norton wis a bit mean aboot it in his intro. The leather costumes were cool, an it wis a bit less angry than Finland’s earlier offering. Maybe that’s because the weather is a bit better doon on the Mediterranean coast– 5/10.

Sweden – “Voices” bi Tusse

Anither artist younger than masel an ma age is showing as my endurance stairts tae waver during the penultimate performance o the nicht. Top marks fer stage effects though an that wis actually quite enjoyable – 6.5/10.

San Marino – “Adrenalina” bi Senhit

Flo Rida featured on this track fur a reason I’ve yet to find ony rationale behind. Apparently, he wis jist invited alang fer the ride whilk provided me wi an unwelcome throwback tae first year at secondary schuil. In ay fairness, the Sammarinese dinna hiv an abundance o choice wi a population similar in size tae that o Dumfries. Mind ye, if the Doonhamers did enter, they wid potentially hiv Calvin Harris at their disposal – 6/10.  

Final Verdict:

On a predictably brutal nicht fer Britain, ma preferences deviated dramatically fae the opinions o the wider European public. Italy were eventually crowned winners, while France an Switzerland remained in the running ’til the closing stages o the voting.

Meanwhile, Amanda Holden did wonders fer the UK’s already deteriorating reputation bi failing tae read the room spectacularly as she presented oor votes. Her jest aboot nae unnerstaunding the difference atween spikken French and Dutch wis nae a great look ata. If Flat F became an independent state fooiver, an in the absence o ma mair sensible flatmate, oor points wid be haunded oot as follows:

12 pts – Norway

10pts – Malta

8pts – Portugal

(Excerpt picture fae BBC News)

The Alternative Eurovision Review

I could have spent Saturday night washing my hair, but I thought I’d be better providing an irrelevant and ill-informed insight into Eurovision 2021 which literally no one asked for. Broadcast live into my sitting room where I’m spending a Saturday evening in my own company, the following lays out my live reactions to all the acts at this year’s contest. With a cup of milky tea in hand and a wash on let’s get this wild party started.


Its 8pm and Graham Norton’s dulcet tones narrates scenes from Rotterdam which is hosting this year. I’m not a huge admirer of Norton as a commentator, but I’m willing to give him a chance to change my mind. To be fair, I think this is more a reflection on Terry Wogan’s absence since 2008 who was the voice of Eurovision when I first started watching it with my parents.

Each act then scurries onto the stage, starting with Cyprus. I’ve always been puzzled by the inclusion of non-European countries in the competition, although the island nation is a member of the EU. Azerbaijan and Israel’s participation are less easy to explain, but the more the merrier I suppose. Australia’s recent involvement in the contest doesn’t make any geographical sense at all, so I should probably relax a little (Australia didn’t qualify for the final this year).

There are more pressing questions to be answered anyway. Why is Flo Rida walking on with San Marino? Will the Netherlands do an Ireland and enter a terrible act to rule themselves out from hosting for a second year running? How many cups of tea will I go through? The tension is palpable.

Cyprus: “El Diablo” by Elena Tsagrinou

The Dutch are thankfully keeping to a tight schedule and were off to a solid start with Cyprus. I’ve missed the wee promotion videos before each performance and it’s nice to see a different European city than Aberdeen for a change. I got slight Dua Lipa vibes on the chorus and may just download this on Spotify later because it is annoyingly catchy – 7/10.

Albania: “Karma” by Anxhela Peristeri

There was a very dark and ominous beginning to this song before Peristeri suddenly appeared in a big plume of smoke. It’s all very dramatic, but it’s a powerful performance in her own language from the Albanian – 6.5/10.

Israel: “Set Me Free” by Eden Alene

Onto song three and there’s some interesting dance moves and outfits from the Israelis. I always get in trouble when I use my arms to complement my jerky dance moves, but these professionals seem to get away with it. Must be good at dancing or something. Anyway, the outfit change halfway through was cool, but I thought the song was a wee bit dull. I sensed strong department store music vibes from it – 5.5/10.

Belgium: “The Wrong Place” by Hooverphonic

After three songs without them on stage, we’re finally seeing some musical instruments. Hooverphonic are the oldest competitors in this year’s event and the lead singer strongly resembles Lulu. The style doesn’t strike me as very Eurovision like and it’s one of those tunes that starts well but trails off slightly when it gets to the chorus – 6.5/10.   

Russia: “Russian Woman” by Manizha

There’s a strong message there and I loved the energy. Based purely on the music though and it’s getting an average score from me. It’s worth remembering at this point that I have a poor taste in music and that my judgement definitely reflects badly on me and not Manizha – 5.5/10.

Malta: “Je Me Casse” by Destiny

This was a definite foot tapper and I’m a strong advocate of the upper body’s importance in dancing. I enjoyed that, despite finding it slightly terrifying that Destiny Chukunyere was born in 2002. I’ll be singing Je me Casse sassily to everyone I come across next week. Let’s go and confuse some elderly people in Lidl on Monday. I’ll have my mask on, so they won’t see my mouth moving – 7.5/10.

Portugal: “Love is on My Side” by Black Mamba

Pedro Tatanka has a cracking voice, and I really enjoyed the black and white section of the performance. Some great dress sense going on and Tatanka handles his guitar well. What’s not to like? – 7.5/10.  

Serbia: “LOCO LOCO” by Hurricane

Unfortunately, the standard inevitably drops again. I was willing this one to be a slow burner, but it didn’t really improve. They deserve some marks for their exhaustive dance moves though – 4/10.

United Kingdom: “Embers” by James Newman

Was that Jon Newman? No, but it wis his slightly less talented brother and you can tell they’re related because there’s a definite similarity there. Its not the worse UK performance I’ve seen in recent weeks, but that’s a low benchmark to judge this against. There was an awful lot of hardcore finger pointing going and it was pretty repetitive. I’m not saying I would have fared any better by the way. I hope he at least managed to acquire some free beverages before his flight home – 4/10.

Greece: “Last Dance” by Stefania

Another contestant who’s younger than me. Shit I’m old! The dancing with the laundry and special effects was unusual but I liked the purple theme – 6/10.

Switzerland: “Tout l’Univers” by Gjon’s Tears

This isn’t the performers’ fault but there were too many camera angles! Cracking voice on him, but it’s not quite for me. Returning to that recurring theme, and the dancing towards the end has major Finn in a nightclub on his own at 2am vibes. So, respect to Gjon Muharrema for that if nothing else – 6/10.

Iceland – “10 Years” by Daði og Gagnamagnið

Thought I was going to enjoy this, and I did. You get the feeling these guys would be good fun at a party. I loved the handheld keyboards and synchronized jumpers. The keyboardists’ enthusiasm reminds me of when I thought I was genius because I could play “I Just Can’t Get Enough” in music class. With such a good entry before last year’s competition was cancelled and with not being able to perform live this year because of Covid-19 cases in the band, Iceland have faced lots of adversity. There was a great pause for effect at the end as well – 7/10.   

Spain – “Voy a Quedarme” by Blas Cantó

There was a big moon, but don’t worry we didn’t see Blas’ bare buttocks at any point which was good because he gave his Mum a shout out at the end. It was really atmospheric, but I feel it was slightly ruined by the Usher style high pitch screaming towards the finale. No need Blas man – 6.5/10.

Moldova – “Sugar” by Natalia Gordienko

Seemingly Natalia and her backing dancers were trying to get a passing lorry to honk at them with all the arm pumping. It was promising in parts, but I found the chorus slightly disappointing, and the backing dancers were a bit frightening – 6/10.

Germany – “I don’t feel hate” by Jendrik

Seemingly Germany have done an Ireland this year. Some hardcore ukulele action and a lady in a massive hand costume means this one scores high for comedic affect. It’s a low scorer music wise but is worryingly a bit of a grower after a second listen. Jendrik Sigwart’s positivity is contagious, so I feel bad giving him such a low score – 4.5/10.

Finland – “Dark Side” by Blind Channel

Who hurt you Finland? That was potentially the angriest Eurovision performance I’ve ever seen. Lots of flames and shouting mean it’s an effective musical pick me up as my bed starts to call, but I’m struggling to judge this one. Despite its distinctive heavy metal vibes, I don’t feel like it had that much substance – 6/10.

Bulgaria – “Growing Up is Getting Old” by Victoria

There is a major shift again as we go from silly to intense to an emotional and relaxed ballad from the Balkans. I doubt this one will win, but I rate its simplicity and the backstory highly. Maybe I’m just a bit of a softie – 7.5/10.

Lithuania – “Discoteque” by The Roop

Again, Finn’s moves in a nightclub vibe, but stepped up a level. By this point my girlfriend has accidentally lost me in the club or is in hiding. It’s quite catchy and the dancing is well… interesting. 6.5/10.  

Ukraine – “SHUM” by Go_A

Since Verka Serduchka burst onto the Eurovision stage in 2007, I’ve always waited in anticipation for Ukraine’s entry. Unfortunately, no one has quite reached Serduchka’s heights and for me, this was a step in the wrong direction. Very repetitive, but I enjoyed the intense flute action and sudden dramatic changes in pace – 5/10.

France – “Voilà” by Barbara Pravi

It’s hard to believe that France haven’t won the competition since 1977 when I feel often singing just sounds better when it’s in French. The simple stage effects were quite relaxing and in my opinion, that was one of the better performances so far – 7/10.

Azerbaijan – “Mati Hari” by Efendi

“Ma ma ma marti Hari!” – That is undoubtedly going to be stuck in my head now. The dramatic fire at the end was good, but despite its catchiness it was a bit average really – 5.5/10.

Norway – “Fallen Angel” by TIX

Four demons chained to an angel with sunglasses and a hairband on. Again, what’s not to like? The tune was more than bearable as well, and I got major Westlife vibes from it. I’m going to give it an unprecedented high score because everyone deserves a good pop ballad in their lives. TIX’s story is also admirable in that he was bullied for having Tourette’s Syndrome when he was younger and called “Tics”, which he then turned into his stage name. – 8/10.

Netherlands – “Birth of a New Age” by Jeangu Macrooy

This was a catchy one and received an expected positive reaction from the home crowd. I thought it was quite middle of the road though – 6/10.

Italy – “Zitti e buoni” by Måneskin

I wanted this to be good after Graham Norton was a bit mean about it in his intro. The leather costumes were cool, and it was a bit less angry than Finland’s earlier offering. Maybe that’s because the weather is a bit better down on the Mediterranean coast– 5/10.

Sweden – “Voices” by Tusse

Another artist younger than myself and my age is showing as my endurance starts to waver during the penultimate performance of the evening. Top marks for stage effects though and that was actually quite enjoyable – 6.5/10.

San Marino – “Adrenalina” by Senhit

Flo Rida featured on this track for a reason I’ve yet to find any rationale behind. Apparently, he was just invited along for the ride which provided me with an unwelcome throwback to first year at secondary school. In all fairness, the Sammarinese don’t have an abundance of choice with a population similar in size to that of Dumfries. Mind you, if the Doonhamers did enter, they would potentially have Calvin Harris at their disposal – 6/10.  

Final Verdict:

On a predictably brutal night for Britain, my preferences deviated dramatically from the opinions of the wider European public. Italy were eventually crowned winners, while France and Switzerland remained in the running until the closing stages of the voting.

Meanwhile, Amanda Holden did wonders for the UK’s reputation by failing to read the room spectacularly as she presented our votes. Her joke about not understanding the difference between speaking Dutch and German wasn’t a great look at all. If Flat F became an independent state however, and in the absence of my more sensible flatmate, our points would be handed out as follows:

12 pts – Norway

10pts – Malta

8pts – Portugal

(Excerpt picture from BBC News)

Embracing my Inner Aberdonian

“Ye hiv tae ken faar tae look. Ye need tae ken a the different places tae actually see the good characteristics o Aiberdeen.”

This was Leah’s wonderfully positive reply to a pretty negative question which I had tasked her with. It had come towards the end of a practice interview as part of my placement at Scots Radio. I had asked her if she thought Aberdeen had “something gaun fer it?”

My ever patient girlfriend from Keith was helping me sharpen my broadcasting skills as we discussed the idea of ‘A Sense of Place’, using the Scots language. This straight to the point reply took me aback and resonated with me as someone also from another part of the North-East.

You see lockdown and my third year as an Aberdeen resident has given me an opportunity to understand the city better. To realise that there is more to the Granite City than the unerotic shades of grey its nickname conjures up.

Growing up in a rural Aberdeenshire setting I always saw Aberdeen as somewhere I didn’t want to be. A larger dot on the road atlas I obsessed over. Eight capital letters at the end of the red A93. A destination which offered little more than 30 minutes of hell in John Lewis and a cringy secondary school date to Cineworld at Union Square. Snobbish I know.

Fast forward out of my teenage years (thank God) and I now feel more Aberdonian by the day. I’ve even considered changing my Facebook profile home town to Scotland’s third city. Therefore, renouncing the romantic falsification that I originally hail from a small fishing village (I spent my first year of my life in Whitehills, near Banff).

Through running (shock horror) and walking these streets, I’ve discovered parts of Aberdeen that I love. The River Don trail, Bucksburn Gorge, Seaton Park, Northfield Tower, Donmouth Nature Reserve and Girdle Ness lighthouse to name just a few.

Staying here due to lockdown imposed necessity has meant appreciating Aberdeen and it’s less obvious details more. I now search for previously unexposed detours amongst its many streets. I people watch and inspect every day life inside the city limits with an attentive curiosity that I didn’t have previously.

A large part of this is of course my connection with the harbour. This is where my late grandfather worked as a harbour pilot for many years.

At the entrance to the harbour sits the roundhouse, now dwarfed by a larger less aesthetically pleasing maritime operations building. The former is where my grandpa was based.

I often take a seat on one of the marble benches nearby, watching the boats of all shapes and sizes sail peacefully into the North Sea. This is somewhere I visit in search of some headspace. A place of important and joyful memories.

I think my memories are always intrinsically linked with the places I’ve been and the places I’m from and that this can sometimes be detrimental. For example, I realise that I was incredibly lucky to grow up in Deeside with the countryside as a playground and relatively safe adventures a stone throw away.

Unfortunately I feel I have to reconcile these feelings with some painful memories which I’ve tried to leave behind. Its not even events which happened in those geographical places, but more what headspace I was occupying while I was there.

This is course offset by a catalogue of wonderful memories with friends and family. By saying I’m from Aberdeen I feel I’m actually more connected with my family. They come from across the North-East and many have made memories of varying degrees in Aberdeen.

Over the last three years I’ve spent in the Granite City I’ve made an overwhelming amount of happy memories. I’ve stuck at a university course and will hopefully be going into fourth year next year. Additionally, I met my girlfriend here, I’ve shared two flats with brilliant flatmates, experienced the excitement of living in student halls and made good progress towards achieving my dream of becoming a journalist.

I now feel like an Aberdonian. A title I would be disinterested in claiming several months ago. This teuchter is gradually becoming a toonser and I don’t know whether to be pleased, slightly terrified or both.

Pounding Aberdeen’s Pavements with Purpose

Bringing in the distant bells of 2021 atop Creag Choinnich, I felt truly hopeful. I didn’t know what the start of this year would bring, but I did have one definite purpose: To cycle, run and walk 300 miles between New Year’s Day and the 6th February.

It had all started with a message into a family group chat from my Dad. The old man suggested my brother and I join him in logging our miles for the Doddie Aid challenge. This challenge would run throughout January and up until Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash with England.

He didn’t have to wait long for my reply and I promised to donate a tenth of the miles I completed to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This is a charity inspired by Scotland rugby stalwart Doddie Weir following his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease a few years ago.

After we had negotiated the treacherous descent of Creag Choinnich, my Mum and I woke early the next morning, setting off to find the Secret Howff. The location of this secret bothy is meant to be kept secret and we battled through deep snow to find it hidden on an outcrop after a five mile walk in.

At several moments during this mini-adventure I felt the cold ease into my bones. Casually chatting with Mum and glancing at Cora dog’s frozen paws warmed me up pretty quickly though. I had barely seen Mum during 2020 due to the sporadic nature of the previous year. This 10 mile walk had been the perfect sociable beginning to Doddie Aid.

I left the natural beauty of Braemar, three furry companions and my mother behind two days later for Aberdeen, just before another lockdown was announced. I added another nine miles in Upper Deeside to my total and then hopped on a bus. I knew I had to try and keep this momentum going in the Granite City.

I walked everyday, trying to discover route variations between Leah’s flat and mine or wandering down to the beach often in the dark. My phone can’t handle GPS, so every mile was being logged manually with the help of Strava’s routes function. Although this process had a time consuming element to it, I love maps so it wasn’t too testing a task.

My running was steady, if not slightly scattered into intermittent blocks of activity. I had habitual routes, but quickly became obsessed with running along the River Don where it almost felt like I was venturing into the countryside again. If only for a short while, I was able to get away from Aberdeen’s cold grey granite and the unnatural right angles of the city streets.

On two successive Saturdays I jogged to the Bridge of Don from my King Street flat, running a 7.4 mile loop around the River Don and timing myself. When I would return around 90 minutes later I was cold, sweaty and clarted in mud. The air felt fresher by the riverside, the trails fun and the nature more…natural. Those two runs were tough and magical in equal measure.

A difficult aspect of the challenge was the weather, with the mercury often plummeting towards freezing for most of the five weeks. This all but put the kibosh on my plans to brush the cobwebs of my bike. I could have ridden it, but I was admittedly nervous to face a potentially sketchy time in the saddle. I hadn’t ridden my stead for nearly six months following a crash at speed in the summer. I didn’t want to dent my confidence and more importantly my body, more seriously.

My original target of 300 miles would have still been reachable, but I unashamedly let this target go. I just wanted to be on my feet and to continue moving. Figures outside my daily totals began to feel meaningless. I took reassurance in taking every day as it comes.

The walking continued and I began to enjoy this less laboured form of exercise more. Towards the end of January the snow was beginning to deepen in areas of Aberdeenshire, but the city remained predominantly icy and sleety. On the penultimate day of the month I ran to the top of Danestone and found some feeble snow underfoot. Sometimes getting that wee bit of altitude opens up the city for those of us who like to explore its many streets.

On Friday 5th February I ran four easy miles around the beach and went straight into the shower on my return, running late for placement. It was only later that I realised my Doddie Aid total was at 190.4 miles. I stared at this figure for a while, in the knowledge that the day after was the final day of the challenge. Surely I had to try and finish on 200 miles?

And so the next day I set off with a 10 mile route planned out. I plodded towards a ominous sky along the Spital, scrambling across the slippery cobblestones of Aberdeen University’s cobblestones. From there I powered up Gordon Brae, breathlessly ascending this longish hill, before joining Whitestripes Road. On the final day of this personal journey I was finally leaving the city by foot. With a dull football playlist on low volume in the background, I ran with purpose in an easterly direction before turning back towards Dyce.

The Raynaud’s in my gloveless hands kicked in without mercy and the pain of having to clasp my phone became slightly overwhelming as I ran on. Continuing back towards the city, I passed a raging River Don which made me feel colder every time I glanced it. For the first time I was able to inspect the paper mills on the other side of the river in more detail. Running is a brilliant medium for actually experiencing your surroundings.

Eventually I reached Aberdeen’s city limits again. Ascending Great Northern Road I was buoyed by the deafening weekend traffic and the pain in my hands. I felt privileged to be able to run and more pertinently, to be able to use my legs for my own enjoyment at this time in my life.

And so with just hours to spare until kick-off at Twickenham I finished the challenge on 200.4ish miles. As promised I donated £20.04 to My Name’s Doddie and I hope I managed to raise a wee bit of awareness through my activities. It was a good excuse to be out and about for a worthwhile cause.

On a more selfish note, as I sat with my hands buried in a towel trying to get some feeling into them again I felt a huge amount of satisfaction. For some 200 miles in five weeks on foot will be impressive, while for others it will be less so. For me, I was just glad I rediscovered a lost love for running and as it turned out, for walking as well. I had pounded Aberdeen’s pavements with a feeling of purpose for five weeks.

Running Diaries – The River Don Trail

On an afternoon of icy rain in Aberdeen I found temporary shelter under the arching Diamond Bridge. This is the third Don crossing, a structure completed in 2016 which connects the housing estates of Danestone and Middleton Park with the city centre.

Five miles into a nine mile run and the bridge was offering little respite from the biting cold. My hands were damp and almost numb. Despite this, I was most definitely in my happy place.

I scanned my surroudings. The River Don looked heavy from rainfall and snowmelt from the Eastern Cairngorms, 70 odd miles upstream. The thought of the icy water made me shiver.

For the last two years I’ve enjoyed following the river’s journey through Aberdeen on foot, switching between its north and south banks in different combinations. For a country lover like me, the area surrounding the Don isn’t too distant from a rural setting.

Monday’s muddy scramble had began by shadowing the river at Persley Bridge, a workmanlike crossing which carries the A92 as it heads North-East. The surroundings hadn’t been too glamorous for the beginning of this mini-adventure but I didn’t mind.

Separated by a roundabout, a sewage works sits across from the two storey Danestone Tesco store complete with massive car park. However, it was a steep embankment beside a Bannatyne gym that started my journey down the Don proper, leading me onto the path to Danestone Country Park.

On entering the park I had crossed the Bridge of Wellies. As my name for it suggests, this is a bridge with dozens of Wellies clinging to its fencing. Each welly boot contains a plant as part of a local initiative to brighten up the otherwise barren country park.

The Bridge of Wellies which crosses the Grandholm Mill Lade.

The path then distances itself from the river, but on Monday I turned back on myself and onto an always slippery slope. In my opinion, it isn’t really trail running if there aren’t some slips and trips. This time was no different and I soon had a mud splattered knee.

This excursion led me right down to the riverside for the first time and onto a more technical path. Careful attention has to be paid here to not tripping over a large tree root and headfirst into the Don’s dark waters. I’ve accidentally dunked myself in the River Dee at Kincardine O’Neil previously, but I think I’d rather fall in there for obvious reasons.

Across the water from this section is the Woodside sports pitches where I last attended a rugby match. That was in March last year, while on reporting duties as Aberdeenshire narrowly defeated Ross Sutherland.

Meanwhile, the trail meanders around trees with more lethal roots and stingy nettles in abundance. This is what a trail runner cooped up in a concrete jungle longs for.

Across the river from the Woodside Sports Complex.

This section soon gaive way to the cobble stoned Grandholm Avenue which leads to a complex of houses, shops and a care home. There are options here to cross a narrow girder bridge and tackle a cobbled ascent into Tillydrone. I personally prefer the muddy route to Diamond Bridge where I then crossed over onto the river’s south bank.

Between the Third Don Crossing and Seaton Park is an impressive Archimedes Screw and an island which seems to be permanently closed off despite there being a small wooden bridge across to it.

After my break under the Diamond Bridge, I had passed both these landmarks and traversed a short section of trail on boardwalk before reaching Seaton Park. This is a particularly picturesque area of the Granite City, especially when the sun shines and a plethora of flowers start to blossom in the summer months.

On Monday, the path towards Brig of Balgownie could be compared to a slip n slide. In my road runners I struggled to gain much grip with the path gaining altitude as it passed the prison like Hillhead student halls.

This exceedingly muddy section comes to an end at the scenic of Brig of Balgownie. Originally built in the 14th century, this bridge would have been the primary crossing across the Don in the locality for many years.

Night falls at the Brig O’Balgownie.

Addicted to polished running statistics and Strava segments, I used to foolishly view stopping for breaks during a run as almost a cardinal sin. Since moving away from Strava as a platform however, I now always ensure I include a moment or two of respite here. I watch the river flow lazily downstream and under the much newer Bridge of Don towards the nearby Donmouth Nature Reserve.

Just upstream from the Brig an ordinarily small trickle down the side of a steep drop sometimes becomes a majestic waterfall following a period of heavy rainfall. It cascades down from just below Balgownie Road and into the Don.

Crossing the river again here, its didn’t take long to reach Ellon Road. Often this is where I bid farewell to the river, returning to the realities of the bustling city. On other occasions I venture slightly further and into the small sand dunes of the Donmouth, the quieter side of the river’s completion point where there are often more seals than people.

On this occasion I ventured no further, flying down King Street. My hands reminded me that my poor circulation had taken a hammering. The ensuing discomfort of thawing them out in the flat is always worth it if there is mud and trails involved.

Six Festive Strolls

Cora pants with unstoppable enthusiasm as she drags me up the side of Carn na Drochaide with ease. Mum follows on behind as we struggle to navigate the slippery path in search of a good viewpoint. As humans we are unable to depend on the natural four-wheel system which dogs have at their disposal.

Eventually we are provided with views across to some of the highest mountains in Britain. The white complexion of the distant peaks of the Cairngorms means that several of them are difficult to make out against a darkening and overcast sky.

We agree to head back to the car instead of pushing onto the summit. It’s the day after the Winter Solstice and the landscape will soon to be pitched into total darkness. I’m tempted to chatter away to Mum about nothing much, but pause for a split second.

As we rest the silence is almost overwhelming. In that moment I realise how much I’ve missed the countryside and how grateful I should be for the opportunity to leave the city over Christmas, especially under the current circumstances.  

During the first unwelcome installment of lockdown, I often found it better to walk instead of run. Primarily, because it was usually a more relaxing form of exercise to slot into my permitted once daily venture out from Leah’s flat.

I suddenly found walking a great activity to slowly release any stress I had in my fragile system. Walks also provided a great opportunity for me to let any creative thoughts flow. Even if they centered on nonsensical nonsense half the time. Thus, I kept a short diary of my walks over the festive period. 

Monday 22nd December:

We left it until early afternoon to hop in the car with Cora, the excitable black and white Greek mongrel who enjoys elegantly posing for photographs. Parking near the punchbowl at the Quoich, we walked around the west side of Carn na Drochaide along a gradual incline to see if we could get a good view of the Cairngorms.

It wasn’t too cold and there was little ice underfoot, but we still had to navigate a couple of sketchy river crossings. From an elevated viewpoint we had a perfect of the east Cairngorm mountains. No one was about and blissfully, there was no unnatural sound. We descended carefully and eventually finished a decent outing as the last light faded in the west.

Tuesday 23rd December:

It was almost a full house for the Braemar Nixons contingent as we clambered up Carn na Sgliat on a chilly afternoon. At 690 meters, it is affectionally referred to by some locals as Coo Hill. The only member of the family missing in action was Skye, a tiring 13-year-old Black Labrador.

Although her fur is greying and she looks a lot slimmer, I don’t think she has run her race just yet. Though sadly, she does seem to be becoming slightly senile in her older age and is unable to come along on the longer walks with us anymore. I think she enjoys being without Cora and Islay’s company for periods though, especially as the former is the equivalent of a jumpy 20 something. Meanwhile, Islay is an 11-year-old Westie with a can do attitude.  

Coo Hill is one of my favourites hill runs. A winding path takes you up through the heather and eventually onto the summit. On a clear day you can get cracking views and it’s a great place to view Braemar village from.

Today it was blowing a hoolie and started to ding down with snow as we turned into the wind to return down the hill. Mags and I reminisced about eating lunch on the summit of every hill we climbed as a family when we were younger no matter the weather conditions. If we had climbed Everest as a family the result would have likely been death by tuna sandwich.

Christmas Eve:

Our Christmas Eve walk consisted of the classic Creag Choinnich excursion which is unequivocally the closest hill to the house. At a canter it takes about 25 minutes to traverse the steep path to the summit. It’s a perfect hill to climb if you find yourself in Braemar and are short of time. With enough exertion involved there is still a feeling of achievement when you’re able to stop and admire the several different views from the hill in all directions. Skye joined us this time and did admirably in slippery conditions.

Christmas Day:

Its almost family tradition to go for a decent walk every year on Christmas Day. In previous years the suggestion of an outing into the usually pretty ordinary festive weather is met quite begrudgingly. As a kid all I wanted to do was play with my new Subbuteo set or play with my new rugby ball.

This year it was definitely worth it though as we ventured out to try and find the Colonel’s Bed, a rocky overhang in a ravine in the River Ey. We parked the Corsa at Inverey, a hamlet three miles from Braemar and set off up Glen Ey. There was a smattering of snow on the ground and we had to take great care around the steep sided canyon where the bed lies.

The Black Colonel was a particularly violent Jacobite by the name of John Farquharson who apparently burnt down Braemar Castle in the late 17th century. Farquharson had also earlier been banished for killing a man from Ballater.

In search of shelter the colonel is said to have hidden from the Red Coats on the large overhang when they would pay visits to the local area. It is an atmospheric spot, but I also felt a little spooked when gazing into the tumbling rapids within the deep gorge.

 According to local legend, the colonel wanted to be buried at Inverey alongside his lover, but instead ended up at the graveyard in Braemar after his death. The story goes that on the day after the burial his coffin was discovered on the ground next to his grave. This happened twice more before he was eventually buried for good at Inverey.

This is a far-fetched story which I would love to explore in more depth as a piece of creative fiction. Despite this, I seem to get a shiver up my spine every time I read or write about the Black Colonel. It’s a bizarre feeling which I also experienced this afternoon in the vicinity of the Colonel’s Bed and again as I write this after everyone else has gone to bed.

Monday 27/12/20:

Today we walked from the Linn O’Dee car park to Derry Lodge, a building arguably at the outer edges of where the largest Cairngorm mountains begin. This was a bitterly cold walk which my numb hands and feet can attest for despite my thick gloves and wearing three pairs of socks.

Cora pulled Mags along on the lead with glee. When walking her we would love to let her run free, but she has run away so many times that we can’t really risk letting her off the lead. Her early years involved a tough upbringing on the streets of Athens, before she somehow ended up in the UK. With gas to burn Cora dog will just keep running.

This afternoon we were treated to stunning views of some snow-covered peaks as they almost blended in perfectly with the low cloud which obscured their summits. I again allowed myself to drift into my own creative thoughts as I strolled along. I considered how the weather conditions would-be near perfect conditions for the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui to make an appearance on Britain’s second highest peak, which is relatively close to Derry Lodge.

 Macdui is a monroe which I still haven’t ticked off my list. The fantastical accounts of coming across a giant creature near the summit in low visibility captured my imagination, but also irrational fear when I read up on the subject a couple of years ago. On the way back it started to snow heavily and darkness started to ascend quickly. I was suddenly glad that I wasn’t anywhere near the high peaks.   

Tuesday 28/12/20

This latest walk involved trying to find an abandoned cottage in the middle of a forest in a race against the fading daylight. Mags, Mum, I and the dogs went off the beaten track near Crathie, navigating a substantial forest with several spooky dark patches where the trees were more condensed.

After much map work, we finally found the cottage, apparently used by Queen Victoria during her extensive visits to the nearby Balmoral Castle. More recently planted trees now hem the long-abandoned building in and we had to walk a bit further to find the other end of the forest.

Once outside the intimidating woods we were treated to truly stunning views across to Lochnagar, a mountain which is synonymous with Upper Deeside. Today’s hike was the perfect ending to several festive walks which I was lucky enough to experience in a beautiful part of the world and with my family.

 Wherever you are I wish you the best for 2021 and hope you are also able to enjoy some walking when you need some peace. I would highly recommend it.  

Social Media and Me

Wednesday 11 November 2020

On Tuesday I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. A docudrama which I would recommend spending 125 minutes of your life watching and by watching, I mean with no social media apps open and no laptop screen blocking your view of your television. As someone who is likely balancing on the periphery of being addicted to social media with a short attention span to boot, I did both and I really wish I hadn’t.

Some who have recommended I view this have proclaimed their visceral distress at the realisation that many forms of social media (if not all forms to some extent) are constructed around the idea of trying to get the user addicted on some level to using their platforms. For me however, I used it more as a much-needed reminder of how easy it is to be addicted to scrolling through endless feeds of posts and videos.

Watching The Social Dilemma also perfectly complimented my most recent reading material. Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media, which does what it says on the tin really. It cites the loss of your volition to technology and the inequitable financial situation which a world absolutely reliant on social media would likely find itself in. These to name just a couple of his most compelling arguments for deleting your accounts.

Lanier also appears alongside Shoshana Zuboff in the Netflix special. Despite Zuboff’s intricate study of Surveillance Capitalism, the former’s work is perhaps easier to understand for someone lacking in a more rounded technical knowledge like me. It also got me thinking about how I could write about my own experiences with social media without straying too far into the technicalities of how it all works. Perhaps, creating an uneducated personal account of social media under several sub-headings. Well here goes nothing I suppose.

Tempus Fugit

It’s another gloomy morning in Aberdeen and therefore, a perfect opportunity to sit down and get studying for an array of fast incoming deadlines. My smartphone is likely sitting on my desk, although I’ve recently got into the habit of laying it on the opposite side of my room to give my attention span a bit more of a chance. I start reading through my notes. Its 10am.

Just as I’m getting into my reading a notification pings loudly on the phone and I fall into the trap of checking my device with the aim of seeing who could possibly be contacting me. Suddenly another notification pings and several minutes later I’m scrolling through videos on Facebook or through various opinionated and outraged posts on Twitter, unforgivably leaving any slight willpower at my desk.

Finally, I switch my phone off, annoyed that I’ve likely eaten into maybe ten minutes off my study time. I check my bed side alarm. Its 10:45 and thus we have a terrifying example of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in this case confined to a device the length of my index finger.      

No Need to Feel Bashful

We’ve all been there haven’t we. You’re at a party (pre Covid-19) trapped with someone you barely know and there’s a clear stiffness in the conversation or lack of one, which is proving awkward. Instead of asking the person a quirky question which could provide you with a means of reigning in the inherent awkwardness of the moment, you reach for your phone and begin to scroll aimlessly.

There are of course extroverted people out there who are great at creating discussion with someone which they don’t know too well. As of yet, I am generally not one of these people, particularly if I’m sober. It is common for me to enter such situations feeling bashful and uneasy. Feelings which I will regularly counter-balance by reaching for my mobile. A device (in both senses of the word) which has done more damage than good in the long-term because as long as I continue following this pattern of behavior, the less confident I’ll become in handling social situations. Therefore, leaving me in the vicinity of a Catch 22 situation.    

The Fear of Missing Out

In July 2014 I joined Facebook. I was almost 16 years old and had arrogantly thought of myself as some sort of maverick for shaking off the magnetism of social media in my formative years at secondary school.  As I built friends over the following months I was struck by the sudden urgency and seemingly endless desire to know what other people were up to.

By nature, I’m a curious (and perhaps nosey) person and I found that platforms such as Strava feed this personality trait. Strava, for the uninitiated, is an app which allows athletes to predominantly record their runs and cycles through the use of GPS which is then circulated around other athletes’ feeds. I used to be an avid user and it proved a highly effective personal tool for motivating me to go further and faster. On the flipside of this was an unhealthy obsession with comparing myself to other users on a daily basis.

 Strava became like a shrine of better cyclists and runners for me to worship and this soon fed into increasing anxiety which I was already starting to feel as a teenager studying for their Highers. This being comparable to a feeling of missing out or not being invited which I know many people, especially teens, experience on a regular basis through shared events and the subsequent pics on platforms like Facebook.    

Indestructible Bubbles

It is almost common knowledge that social media can feed the issue of becoming trapped in an echo chamber of your political views and values. This is one of the aspects of it which I think concerns me the most. After choosing to study Media Studies in my last year at school, I became fascinated with the idea of bias and started to question whether any news outlet could ever really exclaim that it was either truly fair or balanced.

I started reading newspaper articles online and read The Guardian on a regular basis, leaving other publications and news sites at the wayside in my quest to become more knowledgeable about news gathering and production. It wasn’t until we were shown Outfoxed in class one day that I became more aware of being sucked into a so-called news bubble and after attempting to make myself aware of alternative news sites, I realised that The Guardian was comparable to drawing a warm bath for someone whose values predominantly lean to the left (shock horror).

This has of course been amplified since then, following my decision to join Twitter two years ago. My Twitter feed quickly became largely dominated by a steady feed of left leaning articles, comment and a lot of faux outrage at the other side of the political spectrum. If and when a post from the likes of Nigel Farage does appear on my feed, I’ve developed the unhealthy habit of screenshotting it before sending it into a group chat where we can all become suitably outraged without actually taking any action outside ticking a box in a polling booth.    

Need to Know Now

One of the slight fears I have about trying to become a full-time paid journalist is the seemingly super human ability which many in the profession have for keeping up with an endless and ever-changing news cycle. It genuinely frightens me.

In order to keep across the news, we’re encouraged as journalism students to be across social media, checking local citizen news pages such as Fubar News, while most experienced journos seemingly find the time in their hectic workday to send out handfuls of fresh tweets.

As a form of practice for what may be to come, I find myself trying to keep up to date with the news at all times through a messy combination of social media feeds, news websites, rolling TV news and podcasts. This relatively recent drive for journalists to be across all forms of online media is also likely the very last bastion preventing me from quitting my social media if I ever actually took that action.    

No Sleep for the Wicked

In recent months I’ve discovered an unsurprising correlation between late night screen time and an interrupted sleep pattern. I would make a case that flicking through social media late at night not only makes me feel more awake in that moment, but also increases an anxiety which often visits when I’m lying in bed tossing and turning.

When the now denounced Louis CK commented on the inability of humans to sit still in a world with so much amazing technology at hand, it wasn’t just comedy. It is this struggle to be stuck with nothing but my thoughts and a dark room which leaves me teetering on the edge of panic and needing a distraction in the form of my phone.

Fortunately, I’ve gradually becoming better at swapping the sleep intolerant device for a book. When struggling to sleep as a child visiting my grandparents, my late grandfather would often hand me a novel and tell me to read it until I was tired. I find myself sleeping for longer and better after drifting off with a book in my hand.   

Keep in Touch

Last but not least, is what I would argue is the most significant hurdle for many social media users who have considered quitting their platforms. The need to keep in touch with those closest to you and to develop new contacts.

In the modern day, it is arguably a lot easier to give someone a quick follow and direct message than to exchange mobile numbers. Indeed, my mobile phone would be almost futile without its capacity for applications like messenger, my grandparents now being the only people I primarily contact without the use of an app.

This also feeds into the previous need to know now category, with it being of importance to me that I can comment or react to experiences which people are having and sharing on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. I think this can also be viewed as a method of trying to keep in touch in an increasingly digital world.


I realise this meandering essay of a blog post has solely focused on which negatives I associate with social media without the obvious positives which many platforms bring collectively and for me as an individual. For example, the irony that I will likely share this piece on three different accounts at a specific time of which I calculate most people will view it, is not lost on me.

There is however, more perceived downsides of the digital world which I would have preferably mentioned, but this essay of sorts is already too long. I’ll probably try and present the other side of the argument in another blog post in the near future. I hope you retweet this.