Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Unplugged Panopticon Brimmond Hill

The young man, pulling his overcoat around him against the late-winter windblast, sits enthroned on the topmost cairn which marks the summit of Aberdeen's Brimmond Hill.

The summit of Brimmond Hill is overburdened with a surfeit of psychogeographical artifacts: An OS trig-point pillar; the large summit rubble-cairn; a flagstaff - the saltire flapping and snapping, the banner new this year but already fraying from its extreme exposure; a dual-use war memorial/orientation rose; picnic benches and an earth-station for the microwave relay network. The summit of Brimmond Hill thrums with metaphorical and real-world significance. A nexus of networks offering different meanings to all the different (but few) people who come to the summit - every one for a different reason.

From his vantage on the summit cairn, the overcoated man can scrutinise the airport and its splendid new Buckydome-encased landing-radar station and he can discern the harbour's sea-wall and its guiding light. He can make out the route of the current A90 and he can pick out the planned route of the forthcoming Aberdeen bypass. He can see the Aberdeen exhibition centre, the telecoms relay station at Cairncry and the industrial estates of Altens, Bridge of Don, Kirkhill and Westhill. On a clear day, and if his eyes are good enough, he might be able to make out the standing stones at Tyrebagger. Maybe, if he squints, he can see some of the public art on the side of Elrick Hill. And, if he's really eagle-eyed, he'll be able to detect the OS trig-point pillar on the summit of Kingshill.

As I approached the cairn. I noticed that the young man was hunched over - intent on his task; earnestly working at a sketchbook. I didn't interrupt his work, and stayed out of his eye-line. I wondered what was the specific subject of his sketch. So much to see - too much, surely, to draw as-seen in one panoramic artwork from the viewpoint of this natural Aberdonian panopticon. Perhaps he was sketching the topography of our town, for this would be about the best place to discern the three-dimensional shape of the landscape we inhabit. Perhaps he was drawing something unrelated to the view - sketching from memory or imagination and his location here was merely for the peace and solitude. Maybe he wasn't drawing at all, maybe he was writing. I don't know.

One thing I do know is that - as I sat at a picnic bench sipping my coffeeflask and regarding the transmitter trusses and stanchions, taking photos and speculating upon the young man's endeavours - both of us were engaged in activities which some officers in our police force would like members of the public to report to a special hotline.

[On March 1st this year, Assistant Chief Constable Bill Gordon of Grampian Police appeared on local TV news, calling on members of the public to report "suspicious activity". This "suspicious activity" taking the form of individuals snapping photographs or making notes regarding (amongst other things) "significant buildings", "locations" or "bridges". This is supposed to protect us from terrorism. Yes, our police are actually encouraging people who live or work on the coast to register with them as "members" of what they call "Project Kraken". We can't remember the name of the society to which the child informants belonged in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, but we'll assume that being a member of Project Kraken is something like that.]

As the pair of us surveyed the world we live in (I cannot know what conclusions my summit-companion was drawing - either literally or figuratively) I asked myself whether the police's incitement to suspicion is a characteristic of a country which I would choose to live in had I any other choice. To ask the question is to answer it.


Peter Burnett said...

Panoramic drawing is truly for the masters. Often little comes of it. Best to start small and work up to the large scale. At least he wasn't on a laptop or ipad - I thought that was where the post was heading. I wish you were joking about Project Kraken too. I can't believe Aberdeen. It has always maintained that Bourgeois Shithole attitude, despite being a folk-rich and naturally blessed area.

Anonymous said...

I asked myself whether the police's incitement to suspicion is a characteristic of a country which I would choose to live in had I any other choice. To ask the question is to answer it.

I don't think I could put it any better if I tried. A sad state of affairs all round.