Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

Like Riding Through Treacle

It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.

Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.

Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.

After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.

Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.

On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.

The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.

Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.

The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly  proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.

Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.

It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.

I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt. 

Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.

That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow.  This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.

Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.

As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.

Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.

Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.

Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.

The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.

During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.

Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/

 

Weekly Ramblings Returns

Issue 8 – Tuesday 2 June 2020

Introduction

Its been a long time since I tried to keep a weekly blog and in hindsight its confusing why I didn’t start my ramblings back up earlier in this long-lasting lockdown. Maybe I naively considered the comings and goings of life at home to be uninteresting or maybe there is a more prevalent unwillingness to delve into my personal exploits.

This when there are so pressing matters in the public sphere. In fairness, there are always more pressing matters, but this week’s media and social media coverage is arguably all encompassing in its significance.

Whatever the reason, when writing I did feel anxious about delving into the news of the last several weeks and the one particular story which has rightfully been circulating this past week.

Alternatively, I think the terrifying, but important events of last week should be mentioned on this platform. Unfortunately these most definitely belong in the darkest recesses of The Bad and The Ugly sections of this week’s ramblings.

I want to however, begin on the good which I’ve experienced on a personal level in a world which feels unequally depressing at the moment. I don’t want to avoid the more global societal issues which should involve everyone, but have decided to conclude the following ramblings with them.

The Good

As we pass the 70 day mark of this unprecedented lockdown there are some positives to be found on a personal level.  One of these being that my wild haired and physically stronger stay at home comrade hasn’t yet murdered me as I sleep restlessly.

Indeed, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to boldly my brother and I have almost enjoyed each other’s company, despite the numerous bad habits which he has to put up with.

With the slight easing of restrictions we have manged to kick a ball around in the park this week. This to our neighbours relief as they have had to put up with endless rounds of garden cricket. We’ve also provided good company for each other on cycle runs. I slowly becoming accustomed to the uncomfortable combination of wearing tight Lycra on an incredibly solid saddle.

Taking it in turns to cook meals, I have also managed to avoid food poisoning any of my current housemates. Perhaps even improving on the little cooking skills in my locker before Covid-19 arrived and eating slightly healthier. You quickly realise when eating an orange for a cheeky afternoon snack feels unusual that you’re lazy student induced diet was likely pretty appalling.

My gradual re-introduction into the world of road cycling has also been of benefit to my physical and mental health. Last week’s sunshine and balmy temperatures have been advantageous to achieving 200 kilometres over the seven days, most of these miles being collected in the short ride out to Linn O’Dee.

At a time when the guidance is to stay local the ‘Linn Loop’ is a solid ride which ordinarily takes 40-45 minutes to complete. With a small hill on the return to Braemar I’ve tentatively taken up Strava again in the search for my best time. Frustratingly, I have now equalled my best time twice, one measly second needed to get a personal record. Its motivation to keep plugging away at it I guess.

During lockdown I have also discovered Netflix Party, a tool which has been useful for binge watching Orange is the New Black with my girlfriend while she isolates in Aberdeen. There is some comfort in being able to relay your impressions of the show while watching it together. Although, patchy WiFi and a six-year-old acer laptop can make this is a frustrating process.

A final re-discovery has been in reading and last week I managed to eventually finish Ned Boulting’s On the Road Bike. I found this very readable account of the anecdotes and more outlandish characters of the British cycling scene to be both honest and insightful. Inspiring also to a part-time cyclist with some of the gear and no idea.

My current read is now The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a book which unsurprisingly can prove complex and heavy reading. The author goes in hard on Facebook and Google, with some of the developments within sharing similarities to an episode of the dark yet brilliant Black Mirror. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

As the aftershocks of the horrific actions of a thoroughly isolated police officer in the United States and the Coronavirus death rate grows, it seems shamefully churlish to complain about my current circumstances.

The United States of America. A country which I think similarly to the UK enjoys seeing itself as exceptional and an effective practitioner of equal human rights. Unless you are living under a rock you have likely seen the evil and horrendous footage of a Minneapolis police officer unashamedly suffocating a unarmed black man.

You could say this has a detrimental on a country which prides itself on personal liberty and human rights. But the man in the White House is more focused on photo opportunities and holding a Bible uncomfortably like someone who claims to be Christian while having very non-christian values.

Personally, I was shocked by my lack of surprise at the video of the original incident. The footage itself was harrowing and shocking in how avoidable the tragic outcome of those 8 minutes, 46 seconds where George Floyd was pinned to the ground by his neck was.

But this is frighteningly not a rare occurrence. Mr Floyd didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, it is a sharp reminder I need to educate myself on where I’ve benefited from inherent racism. A racism which is likely less distinct than the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of merciless police officers or disgusting racial slurs.

Great Britain as a whole, urgently needs to discuss its colonial and imperial past and far from perfect present. This island nation is no beacon of shining light when discussing global inequality. Indeed, Scots who have seemingly enjoyed the tag of being viewed as a more liberal counter-balance to an England arguably struggling to find its identify need to do the same.

A lack of personal action against racism witnessed at school or in other sociable areas is likely linked to an anxious response to potential conflict or confrontation. It is shameful and fallible that it has taken this to spark this thinking process for myself on a personal level. This needs to go further than a shared hashtag on Instagram or a brief moment heart searching thinking.

Finally, the widely shared row of houses analogy which has been used to deligitimise the philosophy of the All Lives Matter movement in comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement is an important one.

If one house on a street of several houses is obviously on fire it makes little sense to aim a fire hose at the neighbouring properties. When it comes to racial inequality, and the in depth effects which this can have on an individual’s lifestyle, my house isn’t on fire. This isn’t about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

A Granite Paradise

The sand is warm between your toes as you stroll across a beach sipping a cocktail while lounging around in your swimsuit. The location is undisclosed as the waves lap the shore. You could be in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or somewhere else warm. That doesn’t matter. The sun is shining and you’re at peace with the world.

Suddenly you’re hit by a wave of brain freeze and you return to reality with a bump. You’ve been daydreaming again. You’re clinging to a hot flask of coffee while trying to prevent yourself from shivering. Shivering despite the multiple layers you wrapped around yourself before you set out. The location is a non-descript bus stop on Union Street. Passing buses, cars and smelly dustbin lorries create a deafening cacophony of sound around you. Welcome to Aberdeen.

On a cold, wet November day a bitter northerly wind is often funnelled down Aberdeen’s main drag. A wind which can chill you to the bone and can make you feel instantly ‘jeelt’. As they would say around these parts.

Meanwhile, Councillor Marie Boulton is sitting in her warm office on the second floor of the Town House, watching as people scuttle across the rain-soaked pavements below like woodlice. It’s a Thursday afternoon in December and the Christmas market across the road is struggling to find much trade from potential passing customers. Most people are either at work or are deliberately minimising the time they have to spend outdoors.

This is the Granite City. Not perhaps a name that shouts out attractive architecture, tourism hot spot, or holiday destination central. It is, however, a name which accurately reflects the nature of Aberdeen’s mini skyline of quarried rock clad buildings.

The town house itself is a pretty unremarkable building with its tinted windows and multiple entrances. Entrances which seem to all be out of order. This rather drab sight, however, is offset by the impressive Marischal College building next door with its church spiers towering above the festive display below. The is the second largest granite building in the world and is principally used by the city council.

Councillor Boulton is the cultural spokesperson for the council. She admits Scotland’s third city still lags behind the more popular attractions of Edinburgh and at Loch Ness for example in terms of visitor volume and popularity. Despite this, she remains enthusiastic about the Granite City’s potential as a tourist destination. An almost curbed enthusiasm if you will.

“Before there was this perception that Aberdeen was a grey, cold, only oil related city and I think people almost expected to see an oil rig in the middle of Union Street”, she suggests.

Boulton insists this snap judgement now firmly belongs in the past. She explains that the city council are putting more emphasis on developing the Granite City’s sightseer trade, citing the recent reopening of the popular Art Gallery as part of the council’s “city centre masterplan.”

She explains: “It was a huge investment for the city. We got £10 million from heritage lottery funding and £5 million from the UK treasury to do the memorial hall which is an important part of the art gallery.”

The newly refurbished venue is certainly impressive with its wide range of art and scenic roof top viewing point. The nearby Union Terrace gardens are also being redeveloped and are set to be completed in 2021 to the tune of £25 million. They will join an already plentiful supply of parks and green areas in Aberdeen.

However, the city arguably suffered culturally before and while the art gallery was under wraps, with 2016 city council figures suggesting that only 16% of visitors to venues in the city visited cultural locations. Councillors and locals alike will be hoping that the Schoolhill venue attracts a wider audience to its 15,000 strong collection of decorative art pieces.

This sentiment is echoed in a vast but empty conference room in the Visit Aberdeen offices, a company which promotes tourism in the Granite City and the wider North-East. Their CEO Chris Foy says: “I think it’s the tipping point. I’ve been here for two and a half years and I think when I arrived it was a lot harder to promote Aberdeen as a city destination on its own. The gallery kind off changes everything.”

But how does the gallery compare to the Dundee V&A, for example? An unusual yet impressive piece of architecture which sits proudly on the River Tay. It’s grand opening in September last year was met with much fanfare and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described its opening as putting “Dundee firmly on the world’s cultural map.”

Foy reckons Aberdeen’s art gallery can compete with the City of Discovery’s offering. “You can compare it to the V&A. A great brand which is getting lots of media attention. But I think the substance that we have in that gallery really makes it stand out and it’s a complete game changer for the city.”

He also zealously describes the action his team is taking to promote the P&J Live arena and newly reopened music hall as venues which have attracted and can attract big names. An obvious example is the BBC Sport personality award which will be hosted by the P&J Live on the 15th December.

Returning to the Town House, and Councillor Boulton explains how a wider audience had attended a recent performance in the city: “I believe out of those who attended the Michael Bublé concert at P&J Live, 60% of the audience were from out with Aberdeen.”

On this basis, it would seem there is an upward trend in visitors coming into the city, though there are those who have concerns this apparent increase in visitor numbers isn’t being felt by other areas of the city. Boulton believes the new harbour being built in Cove Bay to the south of the city will solve this issue.

She expects that cruises will land there, bringing visitors to different areas of Aberdeen and of course the wider North-East with its castles, distilleries and wide-ranging outdoor pursuits. But are other areas other than the city centre itself actually experiencing an upward turn in tourism?

On the other side of the city from Cove Bay is Old Aberdeen. Founded around the time of the 15th century, this area is home to Aberdeen University and the impressive St Machar Cathedral which some locals think isn’t being promoted to visitors to the city enough. The area is busy during university hours but is much more peaceful and quieter than the bustling city centre on the weekends or outside term time.

Several of the full-time residents here meet every month at an open meeting in the Old Town House. This building sits at the end of the cobbled High Street, a narrow road which travels through the university’s picturesque main campus.

Tourism, or an apparent lack of it, is often on the Old Aberdeen Community Council agenda. However, it is discussed a lot less exuberantly around these parts, with a conversation at the last meeting being provoked by complaints that there aren’t enough public convinces in the vicinity for visitors.

Attendees were beginning to make their excuses to leave after an hour of productive proceedings when Dewi Morris mentioned the apparent lack of amenities. Looking over his spectacles the council’s chairman described how, “tourists are directed into the main centre of Aberdeen and that’s it. Our understanding is that even senior people on the council aren’t aware of Old Aberdeen and aren’t aware of the significance of St Machar Cathedral.”

It’s a hurdle which Chris Foy and Visit Aberdeenshire refer to as the “challenge of the final mile”, but the community group have other concerns as well. Wider concerns.

Some members aren’t impressed by the amount of attention to detail or funding that has gone into encouraging tourism in the city as a whole. Trevor, an older man who has sat quietly during the previous proceedings suddenly pipes up: “I don’t think our council have done a good enough job over the years of helping that (tourism). They’ve got lazy because the oil industry has been here and the city has, in some ways, made its money too easily.”

It’s a scathing remark and one which is met with no vocal dispute from around the table. The attendees seemingly share a displeasure at the council’s attempts to try and attract tourists to visit this historic part of the Granite City. In the less official surroundings of the Old Town House, the insistence of others that tourism is at the top of the city council’s priorities is being undermined somewhat.

Chairman Dewi, thinks the city council should walk a mile in their shoes: “Tourists are directed into the centre of Aberdeen and our understanding is that senior council members aren’t really aware of the significance of Old Aberdeen and St Machar Cathedral. We want visitors to the city to be able to stop here.”

It is clear that if Visit Scotland and the city council want to entice tourists into the Granite City there is no time to rest on their laurels. Despite the exciting prospects new and improved attractions like the art gallery, music hall and P&J Live arena will bring to Aberdeen, it has a long way to go.

Back amongst the bendy buses on Union Street, and it may be hard to see Aberdeen’s appeal as the cold tickles your bones. It may not be the Caribbean or the Mediterranean and a stroll by the beach barefoot is likely to be a bracing affair at the least, but Aberdeen might just be growing in its appeal. The critical hurdle to overcome is encouraging tourists to stop here and give this potential granite paradise a second glance.

An Irish Guinness Please

With a sense of intrepidation, I climbed the narrow steps leading to the small Aer Lingus flight which would be taking my Dad and I to Dublin. I’d describe it as smaller than a small plane. The mini bus of planes if you like.

Boarding the propeller plane, I rembered I’d previously convinced myself that it’s important to feel at least a little nervous about flying. It’s almost as if I feel I’ll be tempting fate if I fly with stonewall confidence. A confidence that this miraculous and almost non-sensical invention with all its intricate moving parts will actually work.

The take-off was most likely textbook and I still found myself worrying, becoming increasingly nervous as the prop launched itself into the skies above Aberdeen at an astonishing rate. It was a beautiful winter morning and we got a good view of the Granite City as we turned to go inland.

Carefully combining an uncomfortable nap with unnecessary worrying about normal inflight sounds meant the journey  went quickly and it wasn’t long before we were lining up with the runway at Dublin International. While we descended, a flat calm Irish Sea glistened in the sunshine below and the pilot was able to make a smoother than smooth landing.

Arriving in the Irish capital I was struck by how much larger Dublin is than I thought it would be. Stepping of the bus in the city centre, I was greeted by the sights and sounds of O’Connell Street. A seemingly less miserable version of Aberdeen’s Union Street if you will.

From there we strolled down the street to the rather peculiar Spire. An 120 metre steel monument which towers over the surrounding buildings. Alongside its slightly absurd location and shape, it is unusual that there are little to no information boards at the base of the structure.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals it is also referred to as the Monument of Life or the An Tur Salais in Gaelic. I thought it resembled the top of Thunderbird One, but that’s probably just my left of field imagination. Judgements on its aesthetics aside, standing at the bottom of the Spire and looking up certainly made me feel rather dizzy.

It being a Sunday morning, I was slightly disappointed to not see the inside of the renowned General Post Office. Remaining as the Irish Postal Service’s headquarters, it is known for the significant role it played in the Easter Rising of 1916. To this day bullet holes remain in its impressive, but weathered columns.

Wondering away from the city’s main drag and we came across the grounds of Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College. From there was decided an open bus tour was in order, forgetting to account for the cold breeze which would accompany this activity on an already chilly January day.

Managing about halfway around the bus tour, the old man and myself both simultaneously succumbed to the cold and hopped off when the bus returned to near the city centre. It was insightful yet delivered in a downbeat and slightly dutiful fashion. Though I’m quick to admit I would find it near impossible to juggle dozens of historic accuracies while attempting to navigate Dublin’s busy streets with a bus.

From the driver’s commentary I learned that around three million litres of Guinness are produced at the 64 acre brewery in the city. On several occasions we travelled past the famous black gates associated with the dark stout.

The bus also took us through the vast Phoenix Park which is home to Viceregal Lodge. This grande building set off Chesterfield Avenue being the Irish President’s house.

Passing the large brewery again, I was reminded of the only time I’d tried Guinness previously. It was at a summer test at Murrayfield on a warm Edinburgh day. The drink was presented in a plastic cup and was overpriced and warm.

However, following the tour we decided to warm up in a sports bar which was showing European Champions Cup rugby action. A half-pint later and I’d changed my mind about Guinness.

My girlfriend suggested I’m a changed man when I broke this news to her later that day, though the more realistic theory is that Guinness does really taste better in Ireland. It was also refreshing to see the rugby given priority over the football. This would be a rare occurrence in Scotland.

After enjoying Dublin’s fair city where I’m not at liberty to describe whether the girls are pretty, we set off into the countryside on the bus. Our destination was the midsts of County Wicklow and into Baltinglass.

Travelling through darkness for the best part of two hours, we were eventually dropped off in the small town where we’d be staying for the next couple of days.

The next morning we arose to a hard frost, wrapping off before driving into the Wicklow mountains to find the roads slick with ice. Experiencing some hairy moments on slippy roads, we arrived at the Glendalough Visitor Centre and the starting point of our planned walk shaken but not stirred.

Walking along the Upper Lake we made our way uphill and out of the cooling shade at the floor of the valley. For around 125 years the Glendalough valley was home to the a lead mine and this is indicated by the old ruins of a miner’s village. I can imagine this would be quite a haunting spot at night and this is furthered by the old graveyard we passed at the beginning of the hike.

Lunch at the head of the valley was followed by an often stomach churning walk alongside a ridge with steep drops to one side. This trail on the southern side of the lake amazingly encompasses around 600 railways sleepers ending in steep steps when it eventually descends to the valley floor.

Following this stunning walk we made our way to Dublin again, taking the coastal route to hopefully avoid anymore sketchy roads. The seaside town of Bray provided a pleasant place for us to stop-off for a hot drink. Although it was surprising to see ice creams being consumed in temperatures little over 5c.

We didn’t spend long in Dublin this time and experienced the city’s rush hour. This proved equally insightful as witnessed countless risky manoeuvres and several kamikaze cyclists on their commute home. I’m glad I wasn’t driving or worse, cycling.

Soon our last day on the Emerald Isle came around and I awoke this time to discover a thick mist blanketing the surrounding landscape. We had a relatively quiet day, travelling to nearby Carlow, a larger town of around 24,000 residents.

A brief tour of the town was carried out in less than ideal weather and if pushed I’d compare it to an Irish Inverurie. A place where your Grandmother likes to go shopping, but not somewhere that might be at the top of your destination list.

Poorly grounded judgements aside and the next day was our cue to travel back to sunny Scotland. Surviving the plane journey again through distracting myself from thinking about the physics of flight, I was pleased I’d visited Eire proper and pledged to return.

I had only visited a small part of this island nation, but would like to see more of the country in the summer when it will surely be warmer. Three days well spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man Up – Re-post

I originally posted this on the 15th May during Mental Health Awareness week. I thought I would re-write in for World Mental Health Day which was on the 10th October. Reading the previous post I thought my writing could have been more concise and less sweary, so I  decided to implement these changes.

It was with some misfortune that I woke up early one morning last week. This wasn’t merely unfortunate because of the early hour which I’ve become unaccustomed to as a lazy, half employed student on his summer holidays. Instead, the real misfortune lay in this student’s decision to watch television while eating his breakfast.

Recently the TV in my student halls has been playing up and we have only had certain ITV channels at our disposal. Of course, this isn’t a huge issue as there’s plenty of good quality content to find on ITV. However, at 6.30 am ITV 1 viewers are watching Great Morning Britain, the channel’s attempt to rival BBC Breakfast on weekday mornings. These viewers are greeted by the sounds of a certain loudmouthed and obnoxious presenter.

This presenter and journalist adores the outrage and attention he receives for his repugnant views. Perhaps, he should even be applauded for achieving a very similar form of notoriety to the likes of Katie Hopkins. Like Hopkins, Piers Morgan has successfully created a paradoxical situation in which the more discussion surrounding his controversial opinions is always a win-win for the 54-year-old.

On this morning I was sitting in my worn-out running shorts enjoying a bowl of piping hot porridge. This is typical millennial snowflake behaviour I suppose. Meanwhile, the discussion on GMB had moved onto the topic of mental health.

I won’t take the time to recount the exact details of the discussion here as you can probably view it on STV player or YouTube if your so inclined to. I also think the tail end of the televised conversation is likely the most fascinating and stinging part.

It all ended with Mr Piers Morgan concluding that as a society we all needed to “man up” a bit. This really hit home with me and here’s why. I don’t take issue with using the pre-mentioned words per say as I’ve often used them myself in jest.

However, there is one setting where I think these words and the advice to “man up” should be avoided at all costs. This is when speaking to people who are struggling with their mental health.

As well as those with diagnosed mental health conditions, I would also refer to anyone who hasn’t been feeling quite themselves of late. This is easily all of us at given times in our lives and I’m convinced that when his massive ego allows it, even Mr Morgan admits he’s feeling down in the dumps. Maybe he feels some sadness at the realisation that he’s almost like a puppet. A puppet for outrage who spends his waking hours shouting like a dying dinosaur at the younger generations because they experience human feelings.

It was the documentary maker, Michael Moore, who described Donald Trump and everything he encompasses as being like the “sound of dying dinosaurs” in 2016. That being the politically infamous year Morgan’s friend was on the precipice of becoming the President of the United States.

It’s a good soundbite from Moore but I remain unconvinced about its actual validity. As we now know, President Trump was riding on the crest of a populist wave which may return at the next US elections in 2020. Neither is it perhaps valid when examining the views of the former Daily Mirror editor.

Many of us like to believe we now inhabit a mutually tolerant society which treats issues like mental health with the relevance and respect which they deserve. When it comes to telling anxiety sufferers to “man up”, however, I fear Morgan’s misplaced advice isn’t coming from the mouth of a dying prehistoric creature.

For me this is hugely concerning as using this rhetoric is not only plainly unhelpful, but also dangerous. Although I am of course hypocritical as everyday I tell myself to “man up”.

Feeling sad Finn? Man up. Finding it hard to concentrate on the simplest of tasks Finn? Man up. Worrying yourself into an uncontrollable frenzy Finn? Man up.

Coincidentally, the rest of that given day wasn’t a good one from my perspective. From Piers Morgan’s perspective it might have been a good day. He probably went home and watched a film or read the comments section under his column on Mail Online oblivious to the countless others who are having a bad day. Though perhaps he was having a bad day as well. We’ll never know.

I spent a large part of that day playing out the man up battle in my head. This hadn’t been specifically triggered by the insensitive discussion on GMB that morning but was more because that always how I’ve convinced myself I should cope with an anxiety that I often experience. An anxiety which returns every now and then like an annoying friend your unable to quite cut ties with.

When I struggling to control the anxiety in my complex headspace the last advice I need is to “man up”. I can’t be the only one who tells themselves that their feelings of intense negativity are non-sensical and a waste of other people’s time. I know I’m far from being the only one.

In my opinion, manning up doesn’t equate to having resilience. Today this has seemingly become an equation that is promoted by those who forever hark for the good old days when we all had a stiff upper lip and just go on with it apparently.

There is no doubt freedom of speech is paramount to the foundations of our society, but I shouldn’t be labelled an ultra-politically correct snowflake if I call you out for being horrible. I think telling people with poor mental health to ‘man up’ is quite clearly horrible.

We are reminded during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week that suicide is currently the largest killer of men between the ages of 15 and 35. Men who on receiving Piers Morgan’s callous piece of advice might not go to their local GP practice when they’re not feeling quite right. Men who will likely factor in feelings of shame and emasculation when considering whether they should open up to their friends and families. Lives are at stake.

This specific age group is often who the older generations seem to enjoy taking aim at. We are labelled weak snowflakes who can’t look after themselves. We are told we don’t have any resilience and any idea how to grow up to be breadwinners for our families.
I was lucky however, as my bad day passed and the next day was great. I went to the beach with my girlfriend and we had ice cream. The sun was shining and for once I was happy to just be living in the moment.

I’m not that naïve though. I realise there is another bad day coming and that I will try my best to face it with all the resilience I can muster. Despite my best efforts, I’ll likely telling myself to man up again and that I should stop being silly. I’ll beat myself up in inside because I’m feeling anxious and a bit miserable.

I guess my overall point is that we don’t need any help with identifying the degradation and attempted normalisation of how we are feeling. We have that part all but nailed on. Instead, we need someone to talk to. Someone who won’t belittle us because we’re not tough enough in their eyes. And by we I mean all of us.

Man Up

It was with some misfortune that I woke up at 6.30 the other morning. Not merely because of the early hour which I’m not used to as a lazy, kind-off half employed student on his Summer Holidays which he doesn’t deserve. No. The real misfortune was my ill informed decision to switch on our flat TV which has been experiencing signal issues recently.

I mention these signal issues because the only channel available to my flatmate and I is ITV. Surely this isn’t an issue I hear you cry. There’s plenty of good programmes to watch on ITV. Perhaps, but at 6.30 am ITV viewers are greeted by the sounds of a certain loudmouthed presenter on Good Morning Britain. 

This presenter and former journalist loves the outrage he creates and could possibly be applauded for achieving huge notoriety in the same way Katie Hopkins’ types do. Like Hopkins, he has created a paradox in which more discussion about his views and controversial opinions is always a win for him.

That’s why I won’t mention him by name in this post. Though in all honesty it’s actually a pretty useless gesture on my part because you most likely know who I’m speaking about. Its a win-win situation for him anyway. You probably think I’m far too woke. Its okay. I know I am.

Where was I? Oh yes. I was sitting in my shorts in the kitchen enjoying a bowl of porridge like the millennial snowflake which I am, when the topic of discussion moved onto the topic of mental health.

I won’t recount the details as its probably on STV player or something. I also really don’t want to re-watch it on YouTube just so I can provide an accurate account of the conversation. I’m going to be a great journalist…

Anyway, it all ended with Piers Morgan (fuck it he wins again) ending the discussion by informing his many viewers that we all needed to “man up”. Now I don’t have any issue with the phrase ‘man up’ per say.

I would  be quite likely to use the phrase in jest if my mate or brother (mainly brother) hurt himself or was feeling physically poorly. I’m full of banter me. So don’t worry I’m not going to get all politically correct ‘millennial’ on your ass.

Actually hold that thought because there is one particular setting which I think the words ‘man up’ should never be used in. This setting being when speaking to people who are struggling mentally.

As well as those with mental illness, I’m also referring to anyone who isn’t feeling there selves. Which realistically is all of us at various points in our day to day lives. I’m sure even Piers Morgan wakes up and thinks fuck me I’m just a puppet for outrage who spends his waking hours shouting like the sound of dying dinosaurs about the younger generations because they can’t man up.

The comment about dinosaurs is taken from an interview with documentary maker Michael Moore in 2016. Moore was referring to a good mate of Mr Morgan’s. That close buddy of his being Donald Trump who at the time was on the precipice of becoming the President of the United States.

Its a good quote but I’m not sure it was necessarily accurate. President Trump was riding on a wave of populism which may continue in the next US elections. Who knows. However, I’m also not sure if it actually holds up when looking at the example of Piers Morgan.

Many of us, particularly young people, like to think we live in a society which is tolerant and treats mental health issues with the respect and relevance which they deserve. However, when it comes to telling anxiety sufferers to man up, for example, I don’t think Piers Morgan’s comment is coming from one of the last of some dying prehistoric creatures.

This is worrying because the pre-mentioned rhetoric is not only unhelpful, but also, in my opinion, dangerous.

Its at the point that I should point out my own hypocrisy. I don’t tell others struggling with mental health issues to man up. No, instead I constantly tell myself to man up.

Having a bad day Finn? Man up. Feeling so anxious that you can’t concentrate on any task Finn? Man up. Doubting yourself to the point of frenzy Finn? Man up.

It was perhaps an unusual coincidence that the rest of that specific day was shit. Well from my perspective it was pretty shit. Piers Morgan probably went home or read the papers oblivious to countless others who were having a shit day. Or perhaps he was also having a bad day. We’ll never know.

Ironically I spent the rest of that day telling myself to man up. Not because of anything which Piers Morgan or anyone else said, but because that’s how I’ve always coped (poorly) with the long term feeling of anxiety. Anxiety that returns every now and then like an annoying friend that you can’t seem to get rid off.

I suppose my point is that when people are struggling to control what’s happening in their headspace the last thing they want to be told is to man up. I can’t be the only one who tells themselves on an almost daily basis that what they’re feeling is non-sensical and a waste of time. In fact I know I’m far from being the only one.

For me, manning up doesn’t equate to being resilient. But, unfortunately it seems to be a phrase uttered often in freedom of speech discussion circles by those who forever hark for the old days when everyone had a stiff upper lip and we just got on with it (apparently).

Freedom of speech is massively important but it doesn’t mean I can’t call you out for being a dick. I’m not a snowflake who’s no platforming you if I think you’re being a dick. In my opinion, telling people with mental health issues to man up is quite obviously a dick move. Especially as we are reminded during Mental Health Awareness Week that suicide is the largest killer of men between 15-35.

Men who on hearing that might not go to the doctor or tell anyone how they are feeling. Lives are at stake.

I use this specific example not only because this is the age group I belong to, but also because this seems to be the group which those who take joy in labelling young people as millennial snowflakes take aim at. We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t resilient enough. We don’t know how to grow up to become breadwinners.

Anyway, that day passed and the next day was great. I went to the beach with my girlfriend. I had an ice cream. The sun was shining and I was happy to just be in the moment.

However, I know that there will be another shit day coming and I’m willing to face it with resilience. The reality is though, despite my best efforts, I’ll end up telling myself to man up. To stop being silly. I’ll beat myself up inside because I’m feeling miserable when I am so lucky in many aspects of my life.

And that’s why I don’t need to be told to man up or that I’m constantly getting into these ruts through negative behaviour patterns. I know and I already degrade and normalise how I’m feeling. I and anyone who feels anxiety likely doesn’t need help with understanding that aspect. Instead we need someone to talk to opposed to someone who will belittle us.

Lets be clear. This article wasn’t written as a direct result of watching early morning TV. I wouldn’t want to give Piers Morgan the satisfaction. It did get me thinking though so thank you Mr Morgan. I also apologise. This long ramble wasn’t meant to get particularly political, but perhaps sometimes it is necessary to do so.

 

Nightclubbing – what’s it all about then?

My first experience with drinking was three years ago and I can remember it vividly. I was 16 and most of my schoolmates had already had a taste of the ‘naughty juice’.

I remember stumbling around a friend’s field, being an utter and total lightweight, a category I would likely still firmly place myself in. Now three years on and attempting university for the second time, I obviously have much more experience with drinking.

Living in Dundee two years ago, and now settled in Aberdeen, it’s an activity which is no longer limited to damp Deeside fields and freezing River Dee ‘seshes’ (drinking sessions). These locations featured heavily in my early experiences with drinking, stumbling over my own feet as I tried to judge my surroundings.

Back then it was never a regular occurrence and it still isn’t really. However, it would be churlish to deny that for many students, especially excitable first years, drinking plays a significant role in their lifestyle.

There are many freshers who don’t like drinking and when I left the comforts of home for the ‘up-and-coming’ city of Dundee in 2016, I was one of them. This may have been mostly down to my lack of success in making many good friends, something I blame solely on my failure at being sociable. As my long suffering Dad always says, “its not rocket science.”

Anyway, while at Abertay University I got my first taste of nightclubbing, a new form of nightlife which I had never been party to. It was both terrifying, entertaining and, because I’m a bit weird, fascinating.

Its like my peers had chosen the loudest place to try and socialise with each other through the medium of bad dancing to the deafening thud of often below par music. I soon found the key was to drink and to perhaps drink to excess in order to enjoy this experience on any level whatsoever.

For me, rule one of nightclubbing would definitely be to not even consider entering a nightclub if you feel slightly sober. When breaking this rule I either break the bank buying drinks from a bartender intent on ignoring the small, yet incredibly handsome fair haired man standing at their bar or become thoroughly miserable.

Drinking enough before heading to the bright city lights of Dundee and now Aberdeen has therefore become a vital part of a good night out. This part of the evening, for the uninitiated, is simply referred to as ‘pres’ and usually ends at 11.30pm, when everyone heads for the nightclubs.

In Aberdeen, I have likely been out more than I did during the whole year I spent in Dundee, having both high and low points in my mission to convince myself that nightclubbing is a fun activity. Many nights have been fun, with good company and memorable moments cancelling out the repetitive music and my questionable dancing which often raises a few eyebrows.

My conclusion thus far is I remain wholly unconvinced by the whole experience. Looking past my lacking dancing abilities, I seem to spend most of my time in these dark, loud buildings either looking for or having shouting conversations with my friends, going to the bathroom or awkwardly standing about with a drink in my hand while others around me look at total peace with the madness.

I won’t however deny that on some level it is good fun. Unlike my year at Abertay in which I let my anxiety about social situations take control, I am slowly and surely pushing myself more. I feel that something as benign as nightclubbing is assisting in this greatly, however awkward I feel.

Maybe by the end of the year any negative views I currently have about this activity will have dissipated and I will become less cynical and more positive. Any partygoers reading this can only hope for such as I am yet to release the true party animal which lives inside.

Whatever happens I will strive to find a new conclusion about nightclubbing. Lets see what happens…