Aberdeen II. The last Aberdeen Intercity walk was on Union Street, back in February. My only memories, aside from writing it up on the train home to have it ready for the next day, are of finishing it as a parade of folk on Harley Davidsons harrumphed past. The second Aberdeen walk had a sense of obligation about it since I was in Aberdeen anyway on other business so I might as well do an Intercity walk. I didn’t think it would be probably the best single walk I’ve done for this blog and pretty much capture my view of what psychogeography means.
I interpret the French Situationist concept of psychogeography as looking beyond the surface of a city, to walk in it and try and slow down to see what other folk might miss. I’ve done it for years, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, each of Scotland’s seven cities and even London too. More often I’ve gone on derives or aimless drifts, particularly in Edinburgh, but lately it’s been for this blog’s benefit, choosing a single street as a prism to appreciate the bigger place. This time I chose the Beach Boulevard or Esplanade in Aberdeen, covering nearly three miles between the city’s two rivers, the Don and the Dee.
I got off the bus on Ellon Road and crossed the Don, looking upriver then down, noticing wind turbines high and close at sea. I discovered I was in the Donmouth Nature Reserve and found a birders’ hide and a football on the grass. I kicked it with the outside of my right foot then tried to guide it round my left, my lack of skill one of many reasons why I’ve never played the game. I could see Aberdeen’s ground, Pittodrie, across the golf course (some might say they lack skill too) and the towers of the Town House and Marischal College in the city centre. They were in the distance, between a series of high-rises, all carefully laid out. I could sense the architect’s pencil working that out.
Around the corner came one of the Oor Wullie figures that have been scattered across Scotland this summer to raise money for charity. Next to it were some fairly unremarkable stone sculptures, put there by an oil company in the 1980s. At this point I had a choice. I could either walk by the road or on a prom closer to the beach. Obviously I chose the latter. Sunshine and waves. Who can ask for more? As I walked up I heard in my head an old Billy Connolly routine about being pale blue and swimming in the North Sea. It was warm with a pleasant sea breeze. There were even folk in the water. I walked and I was beginning to doubt how much I could write about this walk. Then came the shelters, a lot bedecked in words, colourful patterns and graffiti, some positive and life-affirming, others more sobering, including a graphical depiction of the very high percentage of deaths caused by drugs in Scotland. In an underpass were numerous scrawled messages amongst the graffiti, including ‘nature kens ah-hin’ (nature knows everything) and a short, colourfully depicted defence of hash. In another shelter nearby was a pitched tent, possibly occupied. Cities are often held up as places of plenty, of civilisation. In such a wealthy society homelessness is a disgrace. How we deal with drugs should change. It has to. We need to have compassion and humanity at the heart of our public discourse, not dismissing folk and their problems, looking the other way. In those hidden places lie what matters. It’s very far away from the news of the day, 10 Downing Street and even Holyrood.
By the drugs statistics was a list folk had added to of what they liked to do on a rainy day. Some included ‘do science’, ‘see the stormy sea’, ‘fuck the system the sound system way’ and ‘cuddle with Sarah’. Beside were stylistic drawings of a wolf, plant stalks and rain clouds.
I was coming past the shows, restaurants and the Beach Ballroom. None of that interested me, save a chance glance to see an institution called the Inversnecky Cafe, a slang name for Inverness in Aberdeen. Strange. A rollercoaster clattered and fell overhead, carrying screams and shouts over the wind.
The place was busy, making taking photographs harder since I try very hard not to get people in. Folk were swimming, sunbathing, walking or just sat on benches, some in considerable undress, others dressed for winter with good Scottish pragmatism. I looked along the benches since they always yield a good story or two. Some of the names reflected the new Scotland, Russian and Indian, some people having lived long lives, others far too short.
The walk came to an end as I clambered over a wall onto the path into Footdee, otherwise known as Fittie to the locals. Fittie, a traditional fishing village in the heart of the city, is neatly old-fashioned and I had a turn around before taking the high road back. Along the way I scribbled notes and thought. In life I don’t like surprises yet my writing and my walking leads me very deep into the unexpected, a strange contradiction in a world that’s full of them.
Thanks for reading. This is the last of the current Intercity series. Links to other instalments, including the first Aberdeen walk, appear on the Intercity page. Something different appears here next week.