Monday, 28 February 2011

Churning The PR Benefits

Earlier in the month, we posted about the curse of churnalism in Aberdeen's local press, and how the imperatives of the business community can, at times, cause us cognitive dissonance as the PR-driven press-release agenda spins an interpretation on events and situations altogether different from that which exists in objective reality. As well as this, we were also disquieted this month to see a sort of horrifying triumphalism in economic reporting from our local press.

Firstly, The Press and Journal reported on the Aberdeen economy's relatively high apparent rate of growth in GVA (Gross Value Added):
Oil capital only uk city to increase contribution to national economy during recent recession: Oil and gas business helped Aberdeen outshine the UK’s leading cities on a key measure of economic growth as Britain hurtled into a recession two years ago, new figures show ... Peers among [the] top 10 cities for GVA were unable to match Aberdeen’s achievement of faster growth, with all nine seeing a slowdown as the UK lurched into a deep recession in the wake of the credit crunch.
[our emphasis]
Yes, it's that use of the word "achievement" which bothers us the most. This article succeeds in that most fundamental piece of propaganda misdirection - making bad things look good. As you may remember, the financial volatility of recent years has been characterised by dramatic shifts in the traded oil price. As the original press release from Accountancy Firm UHY Hacker Young states:
Aberdeen rode the wave of a 190% surge in oil prices between January 2007 and July 2008. The momentum is likely to continue with oil prices back over $100 a barrel.
Yet our local press chooses to report this surge in an internationally-traded commodity price as "Aberdeen's achievement". They also suggest that this "achievement" has helped the UK economy via an "increased contribution" to growth. Unsurprisingly, they fail to point out that the same phenomenon of high energy prices has been elsewhere a major cause of inflation, a break on growth and a sink for wealth - draining it from economies and communities throughout the entire country and wider world. Far from helping - this growth in GVA in Aberdeen is symptomatic of a phenomenon which hinders the economy.

The article continues with the words of a Scottish-based accountant breathlessly and sickeningly flattering his potential customers in Aberdeen:
“I predict this positive trend will continue throughout 2011 driven, by the economic resolve and pioneering spirit of the city’s oil entrepreneurs.”
Elsewhere in the town's "Aberdeen Citizen" advertising freesheet, we see other symptoms of the high oil-price phenomenon being trumpeted as good news - for instance we are told that the town is "reaping the benefits" of high hotel-room prices. We would be at pains to point out that it is a handful of already wealthy individuals and corporate entities (the operators of the hotels) who gain. The ordinary Aberdeen citizen does not. Perhaps the freesheet should change its name.

Reveling in high prices, our press is speaking to local residents as if they are all capitalists. (By that we don't mean philosophical or political supporters of the system of capitalism; rather we mean acutal operators of capital.) Of course, most people are not operators of capital, being much more likely to be obliged to trade their labour for the money-tokens which we are required to exchange for the necessities of life. For the vast majority of people, high prices for necessities are unquestionably bad news. The same phenomenon which delivers affluence for a handful of already-wealthy capitalists is that same phenomenon which simultaneously impoverishes the living standards of all others through high prices for energy, food, clothing and transport. The fact that our local press fails to integrate that connection into its reports troubles us greatly.

Let us be clear, we are, of course, pleased that jobs in the North East of Scotland are safeguarded by global events, but we are disgusted that our local press does not report the connection between these developments even-handedly. We can see that it is an ill wind which blows nobody any good, and that the Aberdeen-based Oil and Gas industry happens to be the recipient of that good in this case, but we can also see that, to extend the metaphor, this is just economic 'weather'. We are fools to be seen to be reveling in something so whimsically changeable. Worse, we are bloody idiots to be trying to take credit for it. Worst of all, we are likely to be looked upon with contempt for our reveling in something which is bringing agony to others. It truly is in the very worst possible taste, and it is something which I and we at Other Aberdeen are at pains to distance ourselves from.

The "Aberdeen Citizen" says we are "reaping the benefits". Yes, as the rest of the world suffers from the effect of high oil prices, as hunger prompts political revolution and military instability in the maghreb, as economic contraction forces hundreds of thousands of young people onto the dole at home, we're OK in Aberdeen, we're "reaping the benefits". Certainly, it's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, but we believe that it is utterly contemptible, indeed reprehensible, for our press to make merry with this phenomenon as others simply suffer, their standard of living eroded by this rapid increase in the cost of essentials, their wealth transferred into the hands of a few far-off capitalists and their close coterie of executives and major shareholders.

Aberdeen has an unenviable and unearned reputation for vainglorious conceit and for grasping avarice. While we residents of the town know this not to be true, it seems that our local press are intent on making it so, making us appear to be as our reputation paints us. Our local journal of record appears to be set on making arses of us all. This sickens us.

The high oil price is just a matter of (good or bad, depending on your status) luck. It is not the result of good judgement, it is not the product of the judicious use of capital, nor is it the outcome of the expert skills of labour. One of the problems of this windfall (for that is what it is) is that it will distract from the transfer of capital and skills towards the renewable energy sector (or other, non-energy sectors, for that matter). A necessary transfer, as the availability of wealth to suck from beneath the seabed will not last forever.

There is no amount of capital, there exists no force of man, and there is no market mechanism which can reverse the grinding certainties of geology; North Sea oil and gas production is currently declining at around 6% per year. While this might be mitigated through high-technology approaches which enhance flow rates and increase ratios of recoverable reserves - all worthy ventures - one thing is certain; oil and gas reserves are finite. The day will come when we will all, no matter our status and no matter our location, dearly wish that we had started down the difficult road of re-balancing our energy supply earlier than we have. In Aberdeen we will, additionally, wish that we had started down the road of re-balancing our local economy a little earlier too.

At Other Aberdeen we greatly fear that high oil prices, the hubris they inspire and the offensive triumphalism they provoke militates against the redirection of capital towards the development of a sustainable economy in Aberdeen, be that in the shape of the switch to renewable energy technology, the burgeoning development of the Scottish life sciences sector or other more traditional business sectors. Unfortunately, and contrasting with 'competitor' town Dundee, the opportunity to anchor a progressive arts and creative sector in Aberdeen has been so thoughtlessly as to appear maliciously squandered, so we'll leave that for others to discuss.

It is now time to get on with something else as a matter of urgency. Oil and gas is not the future and its overburdening domination of our town and its press is harming the present.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Beach Boulevard Tenement, March Stones, Public Art

On our way to visit "By Order of Me", we walked from Castle Hill to Links Road down Cotton Street, parallel to the Beach Boulevard in an area where industry is giving way to retail and residence. On the corner of Cotton Street and Links Road, we spotted something we'd missed last week when we went to look at the big weapon of embarrassed prestige.

The wall has been built over the top of a granite boundary stone, only the 'BD' of its 'ABD' mark is visible. Well, we assume it has an 'ABD' mark. Probability suggests that it is, but there's no definite way of knowing.

Along with the stone we spotted about 15 metres east of this stone, this is one of what we at Other Aberdeen have started calling "unknown stones", that's to say, boundary stones (or "march" stones) which do not appear on Aberdeen City Council's Sites and Monuments Record web pages. The RCHAMS record says "nothing is now visible of these stones".

Across the road, the post-modern tenements which are bounded by the railway, the Beach Boulevard, Links Road and Constitution Street have some nice detail touches on the Boulevard side: porthole stairwell windows, asymmetrical profile and frontage, colourful penthouse storey. Unfortunately, the Links Road frontage is a little less uplifting.

Beach Boulevard

Links Road
But it's inside, in the semi-public, semi-private space of the courtyard/carpark that we find some real gems of placemaking, worthy of this spot's maritime associations, what with it being quite close to the beach and all...

Our town is dotted with new-build tenement developments of this kind, invariably with a car-park and circulation area in the centre (rather than gardens). No doubt there are many similar instances of semi-public art. We'll try to seek them out.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

By Order Of Me at the Broad Hill

"By Order Of Me" is a public art installation on Aberdeen's Broad Hill which suggests "challenging new ways for people to interact with and enjoy their urban environment". Splendid! Walk down the Beach Boulevard or Constitution Street or Urquhart Road and go and see it - the signs mock the Aberdeen City Council signs which more usually tell young people what not to do - you know the ones "No Skateboarding. By order of ACC", "No Ball Games. By order of ACC", "Keep off the Grass. By order of ACC". It's intended that the installation will stay in place for a whole year; encouraging visitors to step out of themselves, and jarring them out of their usual view of the world.

The installation is part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Extreme Aberdeen Project and is the final "trailblazer" event which builds towards the site specific theatre/dance/extreme sport/interactive art event: "Nothing to See Here".

Which we're very much looking forward to seeing.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Those Tiled Street Signs Again

We mentioned these signs the other day, we lionised the tiled lustre of the originals and we bemoaned the crap hyperreality of the plastic simulacrum with which they are being replaced.


In the original post, which forms part of our A to Z of Aberdeen we asked rhetorically:
"We’re not sure whether this system is unique, but it’s certainly unusual and is [has been?] of very high quality."
Thanks to old friend 'AJD' for pointing out that the signs are not unique:

Thanks are also due to fellow Aberdeen Blogger RXPELL of the Moved to comment blog for pointing out that the Aberdeen City Centre Development Framework (huge slow pdf) makes capital out of the tiled signs, and looks to use them as a way of distinguishing Aberdeen from it's "competitors".
Signage and way-finding in the City Centre should capitalise on existing unique features, such as the distinctive street letter tiles used to name streets in the City. These individual fired clay tiles with white lettering on a black background do not occur elsewhere in Scotland and could form the basis of a unique signage strategy distinguishing Aberdeen from its competitors. 
[our emphasis]
We're concerned about that use of the words 'should' and 'could'. These are "weasel words" which renders the quoted policy meaningless as a statement of intent. Disappointing.


We've also found these couple of outliers which have been, um, sort-of "placeholder" repaired.


Interestingly, on both examples the "E" has been replaced with an "F" and the "A" has been replaced with an inverted "V".

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Deep Topography.

Sometimes we're really happy that BBC Scotland opts out of the often inconsequential bit at the end of Newsnight and brings us Newsnight Scotland ("Hootsnight"). We usually use that often jarring moment as the signifier that it's time for bed.

At other times, we're quite furious that BBC Scotland opts out in order to bring us what is essentially repetitive and parochial news about our pocket talking shop at Holyrood.

Especially when we're caused to miss fantastic content like this including interviews with Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Russell Brand and Richard Mabey:

Brought to us and you by the website of the Deep Topographer in question. With our thanks.

The A to Z of Aberdeen - H is for Hyperreality

H is for Hyperreality.

One of our motivations for setting out on our psychogeographcal projects is to defamiliarise ourselves with the town which we’ve lived in for so many years. And so by coming at our urban landscape from this defamiliarised high angle of attack - with new eyes as it were - we hope to see things that we’ve simply dismissed or ignored before; we hope to see things as they really are, and so we hope to decrypt the events and messages encoded within the fabric of the town.

One of the things we’ve begun to notice - begun to percieve the shape of - is our collective condition of hyperreality in Aberdeen.

The notion of "hyperreality" is one which popped up in the late 20th century study of philosophy and sociology, notably expounded upon by French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard and Italian semiotician Umberto Eco. Hyperreality can be thought of as the way in which modern life can cause us to seek and experience satisfaction through a "simulated version of reality". A sort of reality by proxy - where the real world or experience has been replaced by a simulation at surface level only: a "real fake" which is thought of as "even better than the real thing". By finding (or believing to have found) satisfaction in simulation, the boundary between the "real" and the "fake" becomes blurred to the point where we cannot perceive the difference. The substitution of the simulacrum for the authentic article or experience is no longer noticed, and, indeed the substituted item (the simulation) is sometimes considered to be superior to that which it has replaced (the original). In this way the artifacts and experiences of our lives become authentic simulations, "real fakes"; "hyperreal".

We first noticed it in the replacement of our street-name signs which is happening at the moment.

This one is of original quality.
Click the pic to see a larger version and
appreciate the quality and lustre of the ceramic tiles.

Since the late 19th century Aberdeen has had a ceramic tile system of displaying street names. We’re not sure whether this system is unique, but it’s certainly unusual and is [has been?] of very high quality. The ceramic tiles literally have a lustrous depth to their burnished sheen. By their nature they are non-homologous; their slight variability lends them a character, substance and personality which speaks of a certain quality and integrity not only in the built environment of our town, but also in the attention to detail shown in its street furniture and in the offices of the civic functionaries who made it so. I remember as a small child my disappointment when, first taken on family outings to Glasgow or Edinburgh, noticing that their street signs weren’t as interesting neither as well-designed or executed as ours. Ever the street-furniture trainspotter!

But of course, nothing lasts forever, and recent harsh winters have damaged the signs; frost shatter.

Nothing will last forever.
In the past, if individual tiles were damaged, they were replaced. You can notice the replacements if you look very carefully.

The letter 'I' has been replaced. The tile, being newer, is slightly brighter.
We like this - we like the authentic quality of the repair.
We like the fact that nothing is hidden, there is no pretence, no artifice in the repar.

Thus we can read the history of ongoing maintenance; we can imagine the care and attention of the artisans making the tiles and of the tilers who installed them. We might imagine a storeroom with a wunderkammer of tiles, somewhere in the basement or attic of the Townhouse; all the letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks, ampersands and the fabulous pointy hand.

More recently, damaged street signs have been replaced in their entirity with printed plastic sheets, screwed roughly and visibly into rawlplugs.

New to the left.                Original to the Right.
Up close, the difference is clear to see.

Original quality.

Plastic, roughly screwed to the mortar.

All of this is quite distressing to those of us who care about quality, authenticity and integrity. But all the more distressing to us is the attempt at deception; the simulation, the misdirection and the complacent assumption that “it’ll do - nobody will notice the difference”. It makes us cringe with embarrassment for our town and its people that this assumption is, regrettably, correct. Unless you take the time to look and think about what you’re seeing; if you’re in a hurry, speeding past in your car, not taking the time to attempt to decode the urban environment, what it means and what it does to us by what we do to it, you just won’t notice this hyperreal simulacrum, this deceptive veneer. Like laminate flooring or a fake Rolex, this says so much more about us than we intend it to.

It is this willingness to accept artifice which most troubles us. This disinclination to see anything wrong when something hollow, something without depth and without character attempts to simulate something intrinsically better. It tells us a lot about the character of the people who live here that we are so easily deceived, so easy to please.

But, admittedly, a few street furniture artifacts don't add up to much, what else is there? What else is hyperreal? A while back, we posted about a new housing development at Kingswells and moaned at length about it’s hyperreal appearance. There are plenty more similar examples.

In Bill Brogden's splendid reference work Aberdeen: An Illustrated Architectural Guide, he writes of the West End houses of Aberdeen:
Characteristic of the West End are the northern streets. In Devonshire Road or Gladstone, Beaconsfield, Carlton and Desswood Places, only the materials distinguish them from their contemporaries elsewhere in Britain - typically two-storey buildings with canted bay windows to the side capped by its own roof and often ornamented with by wrought iron finial. The doorway is broad, often with an architrave window.
This understated beauty displays its original quality Whitehall Place.
Click the pic for a bigger version - enjoy the high quality of materials and detailing.
There's a lot of variety around this basic formula. But recently, the formula has been polluted and corrupted by developers who are mining the vein of housebuyers to whom this veneer of traditionality might appeal. New-build houses and apartments have been springing up on formerly vacant plots, back gardens and change-of-use sites all over the West End and Ferryhill. They have a wierdly jarring quality, there pretense at traditional respectability is betrayed by their weird out-of scale proportions, their ill-considered placement and their oddly mis-designed and mis-specified finishes. We call this 'Pencilneck Pastiche'. The four following pictures are of brand-new buildings, all of which are pretending to be something they are not.

This new-build tenement is pretending (very badly) to be
a converted Victorian villa. This is doubly hyperreal.
Not only is the building attempting to simulate something
which it is not, but it is also attempting to simulate something which
itself has been subject to a change from its original purpose.

The squatness of the storeys is betrayed by the lack of fan-light above the door and oddly proportioned bay windows, themselves with a bizarre architrave detail.
No Chimneys!

Shallow bays with no architrave.
First storey different in height from ground storey.
Shallow gable.
Oddly canted bay roof betrays awkward proportions
of bay and overly steep pitch of main roof.
Plastic details simulating wrought/cast iron and lead!
Squat storeys cause out-of proportion bays.

The very worst aspect of these buildings is that, by their cut corners and half measures, by their lipservice to the past and by their pandering to the market for traditionally acceptable conformity they degrade the authentic qualities and details of those which they copy. This is regrettable. But all the more regrettable in our opinion is the loss of opportunity; capital has been sunk into the creation of these buildings, mortgages have been arranged and people work hard to pay them off. It is as if our era has no architectural style of its own of which we can be proud. Well, of course it does, and there are several high- and low- quality exceptions to what we've posted above. (We'll post pics in the future along with praise or brickbats as we see fit.) But for the moment we bemoan these pastiche buildings which lack the integrity and authenticity which should and could characterise our town. It did in the past, there's no real reason why it can't again today and in the future.

You see, when the Victorian and Edwardian era terraces and avenues of our town were laid out, the buildings which lined them were of cutting-edge style and quality. They exhibited both literal and metaphorical integrity. In our opinion, we should respect this heritage by building with our own era's cutting edge style and highest possible build quality and standard of finish. Those who have caused the creation of Pencilneck Pastiche in Aberdeen have misunderstood what it actually means to respect heritage. They have constructed buildings which sort-of resemble hundred-year-old buildings, and by doing so believe that this policy respects our high-quality heritage. It does not. Conversely and perhaps counter-intuitively, it serves to devalue that heritage through its low-quality facadism and simulation. This Pencilneck Pastiche lacks the authenticity and integrity which would better respect the heritage of our built environment.

It is not only in the built environment and street furniture where we can discern hyperreality. We can see a preoccupation with surface appearances to the exclusion of real substance in many aspects of Aberdonian life: from the client of the "aesthetic practitioner" who will conduct home visits for the discrete injection of botulinum toxin into your forehead in the comfort of your own home (the preferred euphamistic nomenclature "injectable products" being itself, hyperrealistic) to the young man who parks a Ferrari supercar outside his (albeit new, and itself, hyperreal) tenement apartment, all are concerned primarily with surface appearance.

It is this confusion between surface and substance which indicates our condition of hyperreality in Aberdeen. This quote from Wikipedia's entry on Hyperreality is illuminating:
Hyperreality is significant as a paradigm to explain current cultural conditions. Consumerism, because of its reliance on sign exchange value (e.g. brand X shows that one is fashionable, car Y indicates one's wealth), could be seen as a contributing factor in the creation of hyperreality or the hyperreal condition. Hyperreality tricks consciousness into detaching from any real emotional engagement, instead opting for artificial simulation, and endless reproductions of fundamentally empty appearance. Essentially, fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of a transient simulacrum of reality, rather than any interaction with any "real" reality.
So, what is the 'real' reality which this Aberdonian hyperreality is screening us from? Why is it that we seek the comfort of a surface simulation of past glories, of traditionally-styled conformity, of a mediated experience even in the domestic sphere? What is Pencilneck Pastiche hiding? What do conspicuous displays of affluence conceal?

We will explore the possible answers to these questions in our next entry in 'The A to Z of Aberdeen'.

"I" will be for Insecurity.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Hardgate Well, and Another Hardgate Well

All the little and big stories, all the little and big artifacts, all the places and all the people. Woven together where the past meets the present and gathers its forces to generate the future. That's "Other Aberdeen"; that's what the psychogoegraphical toolbox we're building is intended to disclose. We are all part of the process, tools in the box, part of the story of the town.

That's why we're really pleased that 'Other Aberdeen' has inspired a reader to share his story of a place, an artifact and of people. It brings it all together - that's what Other Aberdeen's for. Today, many people seem to think that a town is merely the sum of all the business activity within it. Part of Other Aberdeen's mission is to demonstrate that this is wrong. Reader Bill Watt has joined in by clicking the e-mail link to the left of the page and sending a message to with this story and photos:

When I first became aware of the intended destruction of a local landmark ‘The Hardgate Well’ I shot off the following series of photographs for posterity. 
Readers may find it interesting to know that the Hardgate Well had a brother/sister well just across the road which I very nearly fell into back in the early 1980’s.
 How I almost fell into the well; My Father (Bill Watt Senior) was employed by the owner of a house just across the road from the ‘Hardgate Well’ to renovate his basement. Part of the renovation involved lifting all the granite flagstone flooring in the basement rooms and hallway.
The need to remove the flagstones was caused by rats or voles, not sure which, tunnelling everywhere just under the flagstones causing the flagstones to sink and tilt in all the rooms and hallway, the intended solution was to remove all the flagstones, level the ground and pour in 4-6 inches of concrete to replace the flagstones thus preventing the rats/voles from returning, question being how were the wee devils getting under the flagstones in the first place.
 As my father was getting on and didn’t want to carry out the heavy work of lifting and removing all the large granite basement floor flagstones he approached me (Bill Watt Jnr) to assist him.
We estimated the removal would take a couple of days as the flagstones covered a couple of rooms and a hallway, each flagstone was about 2’ x 3’.
My job was to lift each flagstone and walk it out the back door and onto the Hardgate there the flagstone would be stacked until someone collected them to be re-used, probably in someone’s garden..
Removing the flagstones took two full days. To complete the job ready for the concrete delivery I worked into the evening of the second day, no electricity, no one to help me, I was all alone and the basement was getting dark, finally I had just one last flagstone to remove at the end of the hall.
The procedure was the same for removing all the flagstones, it was, dig my pickaxe just under the edge of the slab, prise it up just enough to get my fingers under the stone then with all my strength lift the slab and take a step forward to get my body behind the slab for the last shove to get it upright against the wall, as I had done with all the other slabs, except this time as I lifted and was ready to take my step forward I heard a small plop, like a small stone dropping into water! This noise saved my life, if I had taken the step forward I would have dropped down into a well with the slab slamming shut on top of me, crushing me and or knocking me out, once in the well I doubt if I could lift the slab again as the well was 4’ to 5’ deep with slippery walls and three quarters full of crystal clear water.
Could this be where the rats or voles were coming from? We never did find out. Next day I showed my father and the owner of the house the well, I managed to get a photograph before I was instructed to fill the well with rubble before the cement arrived. You may think from the picture that the hole is an old drain, which is possible, however this does not explain why the hole is so deep and why the water so clear, in addition no one knew it was there as it had been covered by granite flagstones for a number of years, probably since the house was built which was at least 200 years ago.

With our grateful thanks to Bill Watt for the story and photos. He retains all rights.

The well(s) of this slope featured in the notorious Battle of Justice Mills (pdf) during the Civil Wars, the battle being a curtain-raiser on a dark period of occupation for and atrocities against the then people of Aberdeen.

The original Ordnance Survey of 1867 shows many wells along the spring line at Justice Mill Lane and Bon Accord Terrace on the southern facing slope of the Glen of the Holburn (or Ferryhill Burn, or Howburn or Justice Mill Burn), today's Union Glen. It makes a fascinating connection to the past that Bill and his father discovered one of these wells while making a property fit to face the future. It's all the more gratifying because today we can spread the story in this most modern of ways.

We've heard that locally-headquartered multinational oil service company Wood Group has leased space in the new office block development which now occupies the site of the derelict buildings shown in the first of Bill's photos above.

We're pleased that commerce/industry has returned at last to this historic part of Aberdeen. Now, it has a future.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Aberdeen Cycle Chic

Calm serenity and stylish composure begins to colonise the centre of Aberdeen as the number of motoring journeys fall to levels which allow young bohemian women to feel safe undertaking utility cycling journeys in the heart of the town, chic in their idiosyncratic clothing, unimpeded in the Advanced Stop Box and very 'Scotch' with the kilted piper skirling in the background.

Yeah, if only! Unfortunately, for the moment, this remains a slightly unusual sight. But it is one which we see more and more often. There is hope.
When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.  ~H.G. Wells

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Unknown Stones - Foreshore.

We spotted another couple of 'unknown' boundary stones down by the foreshore the other day when we went to gawp at stranded warship HMS Diamond, becalmed at Telford Dock.

Firstly, on the Queen's Links we noticed this concrete marker which is inscribed:

?(defaced) M
No 3

Being concrete, this stone intrigues us. It's not like the other boundary markers around town and we've not seen any others like it, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. It doesn't appear on Aberdeen City Council's Sites and Monuments Pages, but here's its RCAHMS entry.

Then, on Links Road we spotted this granite marker which is inscribed 'ABD', and also sports an Ordnance Survey benchmark rivet. Of which more later.

Oddly, its RCAHMS entry says that "Nothing is now visible of this boundary stone". We beg to differ. Here it is:

There are probably many other stones like this one, the 25 inch Ordnance Survey of 1869 certainly shows a good few. Over the coming weeks and months, we'll see if we can find some more of them.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Absurd Answer to Sedentary Lifestyle Problems

Not really a specifically 'Aberdeen' thing, but we regularly touch on issues of public health and transport, and when we do we are always at pains to point out that these issues are not separate.

So this BBC report made us laugh out loud this morning. We really did check that it wasn't April 1st.

'Pedal while we work' idea raised by scientists in US 

Mini exercise bikes could combine a desk job with a workout.
Portable pedal machines could be used in every office to improve the health of workers, according to scientists in the US.
Apparently, if desk-workers are provided with a pedal machine, they'll use it for about 23 minutes per day at their desks, and workers said they would use such a machine regularly if they were offered one.

A few years ago a similar idea was raised when an American obesity clinic developed a 'vertical workstation' which combined a desk with a treadmill. No, really.

Let's just re-iterate that: In order to improve public health, the promotors of these ideas really do
suggest that workers with sedentary lifestyles (who by definition do not use active transport modes to get to work) are offered a simulated form of active transport to exercise with once they arrive at their desks!

Amazing. These people have thought of everything they possibly could in order to avoid breaching the Golden Western Taboo: Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES Suggest That People Shouldn't Use The Car.

We iconoclasts at Other Aberdeen are very much in the business of breaching taboos, so we offer this alternative to these absurd 'solutions':

'Pedal or walk to work' idea raised by Other Aberdeen.

Walking or cycling to work could be used to improve the health of workers, according to Other Aberdeen. 

No shit, Sherlock. Walking is a perfectly viable transport choice for journeys less than 2 miles, cycling for journeys less than 8 or 10.


We appreciate that some may have to travel farther than eight or ten miles, and so have to use the bus. We suggest that they consider getting on and off the bus a few stops farther away from their home and workplace.

And, as prompted by "Stinky" (who comments below), we acknowledge that for some 'the car' may appear to be the only option (though we would first suggest that these people re-evaluate the resilience and sustainability of their work/living arrangements). However, even those who cling to their cars (much as those in the American mid-west cling to their guns and bibles) could park up a couple of miles from their workplace and walk the rest of the way. Don't they realise this?

Simples! (As we've heard car-dependent people say repeatedly ad nauseam.)

HMS Diamond's Affiliation

A wander down the docks yesterday morning to have a look at Aberdeen's newest 'affiliated' warship: HMS Diamond. We've written about Aberdeen's previous affiliation to the frigate HMS Scylla before but Diamond is altogether different, being a Type 45 'Daring' class air-defence destroyer this ship is said to be the world's most advanced [sic!] warship (at the time of writing). It's a big boat.

Little did we know that we were going to be sort-of too late, and Diamond was actually 'at sea'. But hold on, there it is, tied up at Telford Dock.

A word with the Harbourmaster security guard at the dock gate let us know that the warship had been scheduled to sail at 9.00 am, but - lacking the sheer grunting thrust of the type of anchor-handlers more normally seen using Aberdeen Harbour -  wouldn't have been able to make it over the sand and gravel bar which retards Aberdeen Harbour's entrance given the swell that was running at the time (that's what they say, isn't it?). And so Diamond had remained tied up. Tugs were awaited. How embarassing - it's just as well we weren't under air attack today. At least it didn't get stuck on a sandbar like that submarine last year.

Because of Diamond's 'at sea' condition, we weren't allowed any closer than the gate of the dock - but got these shots of the sci-fi forms of this terrifying weapon of war. We don't really like weaponry. 'Killingry', as our hero R. Buckminster Fuller would have had it - we prefer 'livingry', naturally enough, at Other Aberdeen - but we must admit to a grudging admiration for the alienating cold stark beauty of these forms.

Edit 15 Feb:

Anonymous sources tell us that, it being "Aberdeen's Warship", the Captain of Diamond and his senior bridge staff were invited to worship at St Nicholas Kirk on Sunday. Quite amazingly, they actually showed up late and missed the service, having got 'lost' in the Fittie/foreshore area.

So, firstly a snub to the godbotherers at the Mither Kirk and then stuck in port unable to surmount our well-known sandbar. Not a particularly auspicious start to our mutual affiliation.

The Royal Navy's Type 45 Destroyer webpage was offline at the time of writing.

Edit. Weds 16th Feb.

Other Aberdeen Scooped the Sun!

And the P&J

The warship wasn't the only interesting thing to see down the harbour that morning before elevenses.

Nae drunk much.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Private Enterprise Petit-Police at Union Square - UPDATE

Back in December, we posted about a bad experience at the hands of security staff at Aberdeen's controversial Union Square shopping centre. The post went viral, and to this day still generates a very high level of hits for this blog.

Yesterday, we received a comment on the original thread, which we thought warranted a blog-post all to itself, so here it is:
Interesting encounter this afternoon.
Had been for a meal in Yo Sushi with my sister and her two daughters (aged about six and seven I think). Afterwards one of them wanted to go on that trampoline / bungee rope thing in the main court. The child was happily springing up and down when one of the security guards approached us, pointed at a Japanese tourist taking photos, and asked if he was with us. 
We had never seen him before, so said no - at which they went over to him and demanded that he stopped taking photographs and leave.
My sister wasn't pleased with this and told the security guard that she was perfectly happy for him to take photographs if her children were fully closed and going about their normal activities, and felt the fact there was a problem with this was indicative of a sickness in society where everybody is under constant suspicion of being a paedophile.
Next up, the other Union Square person in charge of the trampolines got launched into a rather heated and patronizing flow - saying 'yes, they're fully clothed ... but what if he uses Photoshop to take your child's face and superimpose it onto a naked child's body" then he finished with "do you know how computers work?" - this was funny considering my sister did a post grad in computer programming and was a vice president at Deutsche Bank, working with computer security.
The first security guard went on to ask how she'd feel if she switched on her computer and was confronted by such a photograph - to which she replied that she wouldn't be seeing that on her computer because she wouldn't be looking for that sort of thing, and had filters to block it anyway. He then went on to say they had the same dangers when it came to people photographing the Union Square security cameras ... the photographer could be planning to blow up Union Square - or be a suicide bomber. My sister asked if they thought the tourist taking photos of her daughter was a suicide bomber? They said that you could never tell, he was ex-military, and these people are experts at covering their identity and could be wearing suits or anything.
By this point my sister was fairly openly laughing at them, and the security guards were pretty much shouting at her, while her daughter bounced away on her £5 trampoline session. At the end she just told them their policies were sick, and said that they had better be wary of her daughter when she put her mask and cloak back on (she was dressed as Batman) in case she was a plotting to blow up Union Square herself.
I didn't get involved in this argument myself, but must say it was quite amazing that my sister had to endure being shouted at and patronized by two knuckleheads while paying for her daughter to have five minutes of trampoline fun.
If anybody bothered reading this far, do you think the security guards were in the right?


Thanks to this anonymous commenter for posting the story.

Clearly, these ex-military security guards believe themselves to be in the right. Union Square is their domain, and they protect those who come there.

Even a small risk is still a risk, so it's better safe than sorry. Everyone knows that them sick pediatricians always go about their sick perversion in public, and always prey on children who're accompanied by family members. Similarly everyone knows that those suicide bombers are somehow associated with Japan, where the cult of the kamakazi was invented after all - coincidence? I don't think so!

Anyhow, these pedos and suicide bombers aren't a match for the guys on our side, thank god! Those who wish to harm us in Union Square are so stupid they always telegraph their intentions by ostentatiously making obsessively extensive and slightly arty photographic surveys of their targets. The fools - they keep giving the game away! No wonder none of them have yet succeeded in their aim of bringing down the West by destroying Union Square! For, make no mistake, that is what they intend - nothing short of the destruction of our civilisation by striking at Aberdeen's newest generic shopping centre, which is the lynchpin of all Western commercial activity.

But with this incident we see the rise of a new and highly insidious threat to our comfortable western consumerist way of life - yes, the paedophile suicide bomber! The filthy b@stards!

It all adds up -
children + Japanese people + camera...
= Pedo suicide bomber
DEFCON 1. !!!

So we should congratulate these security operatives on their absolutism; stamping down on any aberrant behaviour keeps us all safe from these murderous suicidal foreign perverts. And it's better safe than sorry! We should be heartened that our operatives (our boys!) have a military background; perhaps they were posted to conflict hot-spots where Taliban and Al Qaeda IED's sharpened their hair-trigger reflexes.

It can't have been easy for these heroes, but we're benefitting from their sacrifice as we go about our innocent lives of consequence-free consumption. Is not consumer choice in free markets the one true freedom? Isn't that what we're still fighting for in Afganistan? Isn't that what we've achived in Iraq? Now, with the return of these heroes to their native soil, the front line has come home with them as they take up these jobs in our shopping centres which are the 'bastions' of our civilisation.

Some might say that these heros could use a course of counseling to re-integrate them into normal civilian life where threats to life and limb do not lurk around every corner. Some might say that the brutalisation these heroes have suffered ill serves them for public-facing jobs. Some might say that some of these guys are haunted by demons, that the things they have seen and the thoughts which they cannot dispel predispose them to paranoia and overreaction.

But we say: No! Bleeding-heart liberal politically-correct hand-wringingly cringeworthy attempts at 'understanding' these proud veterans only belittles them; emasculates them. These guys are men's men. They don't need namby-pambying mollycoddling. They can handle themselves just fine. The proof of this is that no paedo suicide pervert has yet succeeded in destroying Union Square.

It. Makes. Us. Proud.

New Street Lamps for Pitmuxton.

Boring alert. Trainspotting alert.

Mmmm. Indeed. At first glance, a predisposition to be interested in such things; the routine replacement of vital street furniture/infastructure does seem a little, well, obsessive. But bear with us, we've got a point to make.

There can be no doubt that the streetlamps on some of the side streets of Pitmuxton had, um, reached the end of their life.
Not looking good.

And so to rest.

Brushed burnished.

Aluminium oxidised.

At eye-level, during the daytime, we like the new aluminium standards, we like the way the bare metal oxidises into crystal forms resembling camouflage shapes, and we like the fact that the standards are zero maintenance.

However, what we don't like is the extreme white brightness of the new lamps which have been installed on the main roads. We think that not enough research has been done into the effect that this extreme bright whiteness has on the livability of our streets. One might intuitively think that brighter is better, that this will improve visibility, that this will be a disincentive to crime, that it will improve road safety etc.

But, we believe that these lights have been specified by someone who does not ever walk the streets after the sun has gone down. Counterintuitively, we've found that the effect of these lights is to increase contrast, to deepen shadows, to dazzle the eyes and so to make visibility worse.

When we walk out at night, we find that our sightlines are overwhelmed with the glare of these new lights. Oncoming pedestrians who walk towards us are wreathed in silhouette shadow, we can discern faces and clothing detail less well than was possible before because the glare of the overly bright lights has stopped down our pupils to pinpricks and has effectively blinded us to human scale detail.

Human eyes are perfectly capable of operating in low-light, having evolved over millions of years operating in naturally low-light conditions. By attempting to turn night into day and shining lights as bright as can be wrangled directly into the eyes of pedestrians, the designers of our urban environment have dismissed this human heritage. It is clear that they have chosen these ultra-bright white lights to improve contrast, rather than allow human vision to discern fine detail. The night-time town is now a place with lighting highly suited to reading traffic signs and road-markings - high contrast items. But the light which falls on the pavement is not now suitable for identifying the faces of oncoming people on foot.

This choice has been driven by the needs of car drivers traveling at speed, and so normalises high speed motoring during the hours of darkness. By choosing to design the night-time townscape exclusively for the needs of motorists, our planners have turned the town into a high-contrast environment suitable for viewing at speed from behind a windscreen. They have struck another alienating blow against the needs of pedestrians. Thanks for that.