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.

Conclusion

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.    

Weekly Ramblings

Issue 11 – Monday 2 November 2020

The Good

The highlight of this weekend was watching Scotland defeat Wales in the Valleys for the first time in 18 long years, before enjoying a Guinness or two while watching France beat Ireland later on Saturday evening. Despite the turgid nature of the former game, it was bliss to see Scotland actually triumph on the road in the Six Nations against an opposition that wasn’t Italy. A feat the haven’t achieved since 2010!

Away from the oval shaped ball I’ve started a fundraiser for Movember as we head into the first month of winter. Seemingly lacking in the ability to grow facial hair, I’ve decided to start the month with some pre-existing facial hair and an aim to run as many miles as I can before the 1st December.

I’ll leave a link below to my fundraising page and would really appreciate any donations which you can spare. Hopefully we can help put an end to men losing their lives well before their time.

The Bad

I had a decent week in all honesty, but Leah did leave me for the sunshine and beaches of Moray to start a new placement. Although, I’ll miss her while she’s up there, I know its going to be another great experience for her being on a different placement and wish her luck in a new adventure.

The Ugly

This week I started the bad habit of running around the beach in the dark with my small phone torch for company. I enjoy the sound of the waves lapping on the shoreline and its a lot quieter along the Beach Promenade at nighttime.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s night run was slightly spoiled by a loose firework as I crisscrossed Broad Hill, the small bump next to Pittodrie. Descending from the summit an out of control firework landed ten meters or so from my feet after seemingly coming from nowhere.

Quickly changing direction I ran straight back up the hill and down the other side. Its funny how you don’t feel the pain when you’re running from danger. This is a clear advantage of reintroducing bears to Scotland for fitness purposes I would argue, but I’m becoming less of a fan of those fireworks.

Signing off,

David Hodo

Movember page: https://movember.com/m/14439801?mc=1

Weekly Ramblings: Re-started

Issue 10 – Monday 26 October 2020

Don’t hold your breath, but I’m going to try and bring this shambles of a blog back from the teetering edge of vanishing forever with my sporadic and untimely weekly ramblings. For lack of a better excuse, my writing has been temporarily put on the back burner as my weekly schedule finally starts to fill up a bit more.

In recent weeks I’ve moved into a new flat, re-started a part-time job and most importantly, started my third year as a journalism student. This means I’ve been relatively busy, while also suffering from some untimely writer’s block and in honesty, a lack of self-belief in my writing.

Anyway, enjoy these ramblings and I will do my utmost to maintain a weekly dose of nonsense for the foreseeable future without too many grammatical or spelling errors hopefully.

The Good

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Autumn this year as it brings a tinge of much needed colour to the streets and parks of Aberdeen. When it’s sunny in the Granite City the orange and yellows of the many trees around town are a stunning site.

For someone who usually complains about the cold, I’ve also found the switch to wearing cosy jumpers quite comforting. This is either because my best fashion choices are geared for the cooler weather or because I’ve put on a bit of Scotch beef recently and want to hide it under a couple of layers.

In all seriousness, this short period of the year before the long Scottish winter brings good running conditions with it. The cooler temperatures are the perfect anecdote to the sweat fest of a summer time run. It also meaning I have a good reason to wear my lucky green hat again when its not too blustery.

Elsewhere, there’s been the chance to watch professional rugby on channels previously unseen by yours truly, being brought into the new flat by my cohabitant. This wasn’t part of the long and grueling screening process for choosing a flat mate, but just happened to be an added bonus.

 On Saturday we enjoyed a festival of rugby, with two internationals and the Premiership final between Exeter and Wasps. It was also good to see Scotland get off to a slightly clumsy, yet promising start to their Autumn campaign against Georgia on Friday. I could watch Finn Russell play all day.

More importantly, we are settling into the flat well and it’s been great to have my own place again, out with some small teething problems… 

The Bad

On moving into the flat about a month ago, we were slightly spooked by the irregular sounds of banging which we though were resonating from the attic. This would occur about once a day and usually in the evening as we wondered around the flat, making dinner and just being students.

It wasn’t until the start of this week that we discovered the actual source of the noise in a letter stuck to our foyer which had been written in red felt pen and lacked a signature. It explained that that the tenants below us had experienced rattling lampshades and had even apparently lost a bulb to our outrageous rampaging behavior above.

In all seriousness, we were pretty puzzled at their complaints, especially as we heard them assumedly banging on their ceiling (our floor) with a brush when I went to brush my teeth the other evening at approximately 9.45 pm. Out of curiosity I wrote them a letter, but there has been no reply.

 Anyway, Mum* thinks it because I stomp about a bit and now, I’m feeling slightly paranoid. Maybe I’m pretending I have a clear purpose? Maybe the neighbors have a right to be annoyed? Maybe they’re all 8ft tall and the sound is magnified because their heads are so close to the ceiling?  

A second slight teething problem with the flat is the inconsistency of our shower which has now gone cold until the plumber returns from his pilgrimage for a mysterious part. Previously, the shower had kept you on your toes as it went from hot to cold and back to hot. Now it’s just cold.

A definite silver lining is that cold showers do wake up the body for the day ahead, as I’ve found when waking up early to drive to work in Braemar. They are however, much more suited to the Fijian summer than the Scottish Autumn and it takes a fair few layers and the blasting of a heater to warm the body up once you’ve dried off.  

The Ugly

Being a dishwasher feels slightly perilous during these times of heightened attention to preventing the spread of infection. Even those who are less concerned about the spread of the virus are still taking precautions.

Therefore, it still comes as a bit of a surprise that so many customers leave their wet baby wipes on their plates and still insist on using their tables as a rubbish bin. This along with the inability to socially distance and wear a mask properly in many of the supermarkets has become a real bug bear for me.

Working in the kitchen again has definitely nailed down the importance of good hygiene in the kitchen and why its key to shave my pathetic attempt at a beard off to avoid the temptation to scratch my face.

However, I do have sympathy with the difficulty which some will still be having adapting to the bizarre changes which we have had to make to our lives over the last six months or so. Not all people can wear a mask, but if you can then surely you could at least wear it properly? I don’t want to see your big nose at the best of times.

Signing off,

Stomp, the T-rex dinosaur from Flat F   

*Leah revealed while I was writing this piece that she also thinks I’m heavy footed and now I’m feeling even more self-conscious.

A Glen for the Less Cynical

I’m no dentist but as I face Shrek and Donkey with their, bulbous wide open eyes I can’t help but notice their truly terrifying teeth. Fiona is nowhere to be seen and nearby Barney the purple dinosaur looks like he’s been out on the town the night before. His mouth agape in a twisted smile as his beady black eyes stare into your soul.

Thankfully, these characters and their rotting teeth aren’t real, but are also not a part of a deeply weird dream. In reality its a bright Sunday afternoon in the countryside and several excitable kids are running their parents ragged around the 28 acre Den in the Glen. Otherwise known as Storybook Glen.

The three of us felt understandably out of place as we wandered around the grounds as childless adults, but curiosity kills the cat. I think we wanted to discover why this local attraction has received so much attention for ourselves. Receiving plenty of positive and negative recognition since its opening in the 1980s.

A 15 minute drive from Aberdeen, the Storybook Glen is located near Maryculter, a small village along the South Deeside Road to the west of the city. I have little recollection of visiting the park before, although my parents have informed me that I had previously visited as a chubby infant.

The Den includes a restaurant and soft play Centre, both currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, the Glen hosts 94 figures ranging from Humpty Dumpty and his wall to the cast of In the Night Garden. This huge collection of fictional characters are inarguably the most interesting commodity of the attraction.

Don’t get me wrong, several of the figures in the park are very well done. It also feels misplaced for a below par artist like myself to be so critical of the work on display at the Glen. At secondary school level my trees still looked quite dodgy and my hills looked like buttocks protruding into a sky of fluffy sheep. Basically, I’m no Picasso okay.

In truth, Cinderella looks quite resplendent in her well maintained sky blue dress, complete with horse drawn pumpkin carriage. Other highlights include its three miniature castles, a grinning tiger and Puff the Magic Dragon, which coincidentally is one of the only songs I could play on the violin. In a dark twist the tiger was apparently decapitated by a thief in 2012, but seems to have miraculously recovered quite well.

These caveats aside, its not too difficult to see why the well attended attraction aimed at young children has previously been labelled as nightmarish. As mentioned, everyone’s favourite purple dinosaur is quite terrifying and several others could definitely do with a fresh lick paint.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park Fireman Sam looks like he’s suffered a particularly hard paper round and the Teletubbies look like they been eating too much tubby custard. Nearby, Postman Pat is joined by a red van which he would struggle to fit in with his colossally oversized noggin.

Pat and Sam are child’s play compared to the miniature Emerald Castle though, complete with a worse for wear lion, a tin man with little heart and a scarecrow who’s peeling nightmare of a face topped the lot.

Lisa Simpson does however, offer stiff competition to the Wizard of Oz gang, her saxophone attached to her featureless face for the rest of eternity. The older Simpson sister stands next to her brother, Bart, his eyes bulging out of his head as he balances on a skateboard with his eight fingers outstretched.

In 2011 the site bared witness to the shocking discovery of a dead body amongst its grounds in a darker dose of reality. The man in his 20s was initially mistaken for a vandalised figure by a family, before they discovered something much more horrifying than that on closer inspection.

There is however, a noticeable appeal to Storybook Glen, especially for those children who are easily captivated by the site of their favourite fictional characters all in the same place. We were lucky enough to get a nice day for our wee outing amongst its picturesque grounds, but I don’t think I quite rediscovered my childhood.

The Glen also homes a couple of pigs, some bunny rabbits and chickens, which seem to appear from thin air, in its Old Macdonald’s farm section for any animal lovers. But I’m not sure I would return anytime soon, even to go and see the real highland cow which we somehow managed to miss.

And yet, Storybook Glen was well worth a look around on a day when I didn’t have much else going. If nothing else, the staggering amount of caricatures offer a unique experience to its many visitors who are hopefully a little less cynical and younger than myself.

Martians, Millennium & Maitlis: Nine Novels of Lockown

On entering lockdown in March my catalogue of recently read novels was looking pretty sparse. My last fray into fiction being the completion of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably best read onboard a ferry to Shetland.

For the first two months of 2020 I’d been too distracted by Netflix and an unhealthy addiction to Rugby League Live in my downtime which kept me away from literature.

But as the nation was told to stay indoors, a personal silver lining amongst the gathering storm clouds was a pick up in my reading habit. Dropping the PlayStation controller (have resisited its pull since), I buried myself in the first book at hand. Here’s a rundown of my nine lockdown novels:

  1. War of the Worlds by HG Wells

I like making the slightly clumsy comparison between the storyline of this late 19th century fiction with some aspects of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly when studying the apparent helplessness of swathes of the population when faced with a certain threat. After wanting to read Wells’ masterpiece since I was a child obsessed with Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the story, I certainly wasn’t left disappointed. Additionally, I found the sudden conclusion to the novel satisfying as humanity eventually needs an uncontrolled disease to wipe out the unwelcome Martian invaders. 9/10.

2. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Although I enjoyed this read, I did find it slightly repetitive in Harari’s emphatic description of the future struggle against issues such as the increasing inclusion of artificial intelligence in the workplace. It was however, illuminating and reasonably straightforward, providing clarity to some of the biggest questions in the modern day. Good for getting the brain’s cogs whirring and proved a bit more uplifting than Wells’ descriptions of a burning London. 7/10.

3. Airhead by Emily Maitlis

As the presenter of BBC’s Newsnight, I’d come across Maitlis in passing, but really sat up and noticed her work after she infamously nailed Prince Andrew in a revealing and deeply uncomfortable interview. Airhead emotively details her experiences in interviewing a downtrodden Theresa May following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower and a scary encounter in a Cuban prison cell, while also describing more lighthearted encounters with figures like the Dalai Lama. It was rather reassuring to read about the pre-show nerves that Maitlis still experiences and she provides motivation in spades for any budding journalists out there. 9/10.

4. And yet … Essays by Christopher Hitchens

I flipped through this collection of intellectual essays in a matter of days and in no particular order, in awe of the numerous subjects tackled by Hitchens with ease. Reading this collection made me went to become a better writer. 8/10.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

If Hitchens made me want to write better, Larsson’s first of his posthumously published Millennium trilogy inspired me to get more creative with my writing. This proved to be one of those rare and wonderful novels which I flew through and found difficult to put down. The devil was in the Swedish author’s detailed geographical and character based descriptions. 9/10.

6. War and the Death of News by Martin Bell

This account from an aged and experienced war correspondent was another interesting read, yet excluded some of the palpable emotion of Airhead. Perhaps, this is an unfair reflection though, as the realities of how horrendous conflict is described through the eyes of the man in the white suit. Bell takes the reader through his poignant experiences in Vietnam and Yugoslavia, two of several conflicts which have blemishes the fantastical idea that we live in peace times. 7/10.

7. March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Performance 2016 – 2019 by Stewart Lee

As a big fan of Lee as a comedian, this collection of his Observer columns was hilarious and wacky in equal part. I particularly enjoyed his insistence on inserting self-deprecating swathes of abuse which he received online after each article. However, the last section of the book was quite tedious as a full transcript of his Content Provider stand-up routine was included with a meticulous catalogue of asterisks and notes. 6/10.

8. Flat Earth News by Nick Davies

After leaving this book midway through on the first attempt, I’m glad I decided to pick it up again a couple of years later. Flat Earth News delivers a pessimistic and quite shocking account of the direction the newspaper industry is travelling in. A major selling point of this read for me was its deliberate distancing from political point scoring, taking aim at papers which have historically positioned themselves on both sides of the political spectrum. 8/10.

9. The Girl who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

After picking up the second installment of Larsson’s best selling series in a Moray village shop for £1.50, the follow-up didn’t fail to disappoint. Leaving the reader on a frustrating cliffhanger, I reckon its predecessor has the slightest of advantages when it comes to nail-biting action. Now I just I need to get my hands on the final volume!

9 1/2. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

A fascinating and terrifying description of the issues surrounding the intrusions of digital marketing which I’m yet to finish. Not a book to read before bed, but I’ll hopefully return to tackle Zuboff’s enlightening and complex work soon. Uncompleted.

Running is Badass. Period.

While flicking through an issue of Runners World recently I came across images of toned athletic specimens in perfect fitting gear. Beside the images of barely sweating bodies are finely tuned weight loss regimes, 10K training plans and endless lists of foods to avoid.

Although I often envy the kitted out gentlemen in these publications tI have accepted that look isn’t for me. It might be one day, but it isn’t now. This is of course all my decision and I could look amazing if I chose to. I’m just bidding my time before I eventually cut out the digestives from my diet.*

As a man with wide thighs, short legs and a 30-32″ waist, most of my cheap running gear is seemingly either too baggy or tight. This perhaps explaining the multitude of curious looks which I think I receive when running around Aberdeen**, which have been compounded by the recent discovery of a large hole in a pair of my shorts. Not a look I would recommend.

My overthinking mind tells me the looks I receive are either for that or the unusual running style I’ve failed to adapt over the last five years since a p*** in a race told me I was running wrong. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

Luckily I have come to accept my miss match of risque fashion choices and running style as my own. Running through the city has never really bothered me and it is one of the sole activities which I actually don’t feel socially awkward doing.

Several acquaintances have however, voiced their concern about running in the city. Some prefer the treadmill because they feel self-conscious about being seen on the hoof. Some do run outdoors but will only run at dawn or dusk when there are less people, but more zombies roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, our social media dominated society has suffered memory loss of what is real anymore, searching for a level of perfection which will always be difficult to reach. When I pass someone jogging around Aberdeen instead of judging their running style or studying their image for blemishes of imperfection, I instantly consider them a badass.

If your still concerned about feeling too self-aware then consider these points: 1.) Who put that person in a position to judge a badass like you? 2.) If they are judging you its because they are probably jealous that your a badass you badass. 3.) They are probably sad they will never be a badass.

Quite often I participate in the same formulaic discussions with non-runners or joggers who are unable to hide their incredulity at my most recent activities. They say: “How far did you run today?”.

And I’ll reply: “Just 7K”

And they’ll go “Just 7K?!”, often in a high pitched voice filled with shock and undeserved awe, before making it sound like I make it look easy when the reality was that I was blowing my arse out for most of the run. Almost collapsing at traffic lights as the blood rushes to my head when I come to a halt.

There’s a reason why several of my recent routes have taken me past ARI, climbing Foresterhill Road while dodging buses and ambulances. Running should be as hard as you want it to be, but the faster among us (not me) are most definitely not finding the experience painless when they run a 5K in under 20 minutes.

I guess I want to get across a point to those who see running as a higher playing field which they will never reach. Lots of people will never be keen on running and that is in itself understandle. Running can hurt dude and can sometimes be pretty miserable if your like me and suffer bouts of athletes foot. Many non-runners are also badasses. I’m just stating that in my book putting on some shorts and trainers is a qualifying factor for becoming a badass.

Gyms seem to be very popular places to visit, but I’m personally not a fan. I can understand the appeal for the more dedicated and disciplined or those who don’t like the Scottish weather. I like my exercise outside and in nature, even if that involves running through Northfield, probably not Aberdeen’s equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest or the Alps.

Some see this form of painful physical activity as pointless without a clear purpose. This epitomised by a passer by in Dundee who asked me: “What are you running from?”. That deeply philosophical question keeping me up long into the wee hours of the next morning after I had descended the Law in a state of existential crisis. I hadn’t been able to give him a straight answer on the spot.

On another occasion in the City of Discovery I was offered a lift. A kind yet misplaced offer which clearly showed a lack of understanding around the idea of running for leisure.

If you have never ran before you may find jogging difficult. We all have to start somewhere and it is the recognition that getting over that first hurdle is the hardest part which is a driving force behind my continuous running. I fear starting out again after a period of rest would be too hard.

I guess I just wanted to get across the point that it doesn’t have to be all about fitness, weight or even aiming to look closer to what this society wrongly assumes is aesthetically pleasing. Rain or shine, my running obsession will always be about my mental wellbeing.

The endorphin rush and sense of minor achievement helping me flush out any lasting negativity for a moment. I love the freedom which comes with a pair of trainers and a complimation of old rock songs on Spotify. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnston has become a recent favourite of mine.

My message is pretty simple. If you want to go for a run or to get fitter then why not try the great outdoors and get some Vitamin D (not assured in Aberdeen). If you prefer the gym there’s nothing wrong with that either. You’re probably still a badass.

If you choose the outdoor version then why not run a 10K at your own pace? Run a mile. Jog for five minutes and then stop. Whatever you do, I swear you’ll look badass.

*Slight hint of sarcasm here for anyone that missed it the first time round.

**Maybe I’m a bit of an egocentrist?

Birthday Adventures

In past years I’ve often awoken on New Year Day around midday, slightly dazed but with a vague feeling that I want to do things differently in the year to come. Unfortunately, the lazy and dare I say slightly dull resolutions that many of us make at Hogmanay have often failed to come to fruition by February 1st if not before.

Thankfully we aren’t too near the end of an eventful (to say the least) year yet. I did however, find myself having similar feelings on the 29th August, which happened to be my 22nd birthday. Yes you read that right, I’m 22. Its frightening really.

So on Saturday I decided to make one simple resolution to try and seize the moment whenever I could. This thinking was challenged when faced with the decision about whether to make a four hour round trip on the hoof to Eilean Donan castle with Bumble and Leah. I wasn’t keen after making a long journey before, but then reality kicked in. Life is too short.

And so we found ourselves on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh, traversing single track roads and steep inclines on the northern route to this postcard perfect part of the Scottish Highlands. An exhausted Bumble would have probably preferred if we’d given this trip amiss, but being situated in Nairn meant this was too good an opportunity. We had to tick this item of our collective bucket lists.

As an undeserved birthday surprise, Leah and I had been booked into the Great Wagon in Nairn, an old train carriage transformed into a cosy accommodation for two. We arrived late on Sunday afternoon in the bonny Highland town, having made our way up from an Aberdeen recently freed from its personal lockdown.

Masked up, we went for a pleasant, but chilly alfresco meal in the town, before enjoying a quiet wander along the beach. I also needed an early night after accidentally double booking myself for the following morning, travelling the 88 miles back to the Granite City for a flat viewing postponed by the local lockdown.

As I set of down the pretty joyless roundabout extravaganza* which is the A96 with Bumble, Leah headed into Inverness to catch up with a friend the next day.

Viewing done and dusted, I traversed the eternity of the 102 mile trunk route westwards, life endangering crawler lanes and all. That road isn’t much fun and previous driver surveys back this point of view up. Reuniting Bumble with her owner**, we then set off for the Black Isle as I napped in the passenger seat.

Passing through the narrow and twisty streets of Avoch and Fortrose, we eventually reached Cromarty, a quaint fishing village dominated by several nearby oil platforms. It was indeed, bizarre to see these complex structures up close as they loomed over the cream cottages of the village’s sea front. Almost similar to HG Wells’ description of the Martians’ tripods in War of the Worlds I thought.***

We wandered along the coastline for a couple of miles in the afternoon sun, watching a small boat circle the closest rig which whirred continuously from its position near the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. This walk provided impressive views across the Moray Firth, but no dolphins were unfortunately spotted on this occasion.

That evening was another quiet one of alfresco dining on the cheap with the eat out help out discount and another wee walk along the beach. This time enjoying the perfectly timed sunset of oranges and pinks.

Thus we come to yesterday when the most exciting adventures and epic travels took place. Waving a sad farewell to the wagon and its generous owners who had provided us with four cans of Brewdog on our first evening, we set off for Eilean Donan Castle.

I was first up in the driving seat, attempting to treat a tired Bumble with care and respect as we travelled north of Inverness before heading briefly towards Ullapool. The roads were an unmitigated pleasure to drive, with plentiful amounts of variation and stunning scenery thrown in for good measure. I’m taken aback at the feat of managing to build a railway out this way to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Two hours later we arrived at the stunning spot, queuing for the toilet and then making our way into the fortress which has its earliest origins in the 13th century. I think I’ll write about the castle and its history in more detail in another post, especially as it was an interesting experience to visit a historical site affected by Covid-19 restrictions. It was though a sign of the weird times that visitors were rightly made to social distance and handwash before entering each room of the impressive island based building.

This is peak postcard perfect Scotland and the surrounding landscape is a definite reminder of what attracts tourists to our shores. Kyle is located eight miles westwards of the castle and this bustling village was where we stopped for lunch following a very brief trip over to Kyleakin to at least say that we had been on the Isle of Skye.

By this time it was late afternoon and we reluctantly decided to head for home. Leah took over the driving duties once again as we trundled through more stunning landscapes. The peaks of the Kintail Sisters rocketing into low cloud above the road towards Loch Ness. This road seemed longer, but eventually we arrived in Inverness, making our way to Keith from there.

It had been a fantastic weekend where Bumble and a decision to grasp an opportunity had done us well. After being stuck in the city several times this year, this was a timely reminder of Scotland’s inherent beauty.

*I counted 37 roundabouts on my journey between Aberdeen and Inverness, nine of which were located in Elgin. I was bored okay!

**To avoid any confusion, Bumble is the affectionate name we have given to Leah’s bright yellow Vauxhall Corsa.

***Although Wells’ imagery is impressive, I’m specifically imagining the artwork on Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album which was one of the soundtracks of my childhood.