Friday, 29 April 2011

I Walk, I Cycle, I Look, I Think. I am the Bad Man of Rubislaw Hill.

I've just been Krakened!

After yesterday's upbeat feeling when we reported that maybe the tide was turning for the creative and progressive sections of Aberdonian society, we've been brought back to earth with a thump provided by the agency of our burgeoning police state and its ad-hoc amateur army of self-appointed busybody petit-police informants who have been empowered by the urgings of Operation Kraken - which we've complained about specifically before.

Denburn flows beneath Seafield House
'underground' carpark at Hill of Rubislaw
A little while ago, on the 10th of April, I was up on the Hill of Rubislaw. There are many, many interesting aspects to the geography, industrial archaeology and current use of this part of our town and the human interaction with that geography. We've got quite a lot to say about it, and will do so over the coming weeks and months as part of several interestingly intersecting projects. So there I was, on a mountain bike that day, photographing the Denburn as it disappears underneath the carpark of Seafield House. There are no signs which prohibit access, there are no notifications that the space is private; footpaths and roads criss-cross the site providing access from all sides and various routes across the campus.

Seafield House is a huge office building, once occupied by UK state oil corporation Britoil, latterly occupied by multinational plc oilco Shell, now split into suites with various occupants, some empty. Shell are still in some of those suites, I think. I took a handful of photos and had conversations with a couple of private security guard petit-police who (obvously having espied me on their CCTV panopticon monopticon screens) emerged from their airless cabin and took an indignant interest in what I was doing, they asserted (incorrectly) that I required permission to take photographs. I told them I was working on a writing / geography project, and they seemed to accept that. They didn't bother asking to see the photos I'd taken. They did ask my name. I declined to provide it. In hindsight the way they 'dealt' with me is quite fascinating and enlightening. One of these private-security guards was a blond-dreadlocked white-rasta multi-pierced crusty-type. When I explained the parallels between the non-underground underground carpark of Seafield House at Hill of Rubislaw - the way it fills the valley of the Denburn at that point - and how it parallels and provides a precident for the notorious proposal to fill in another part of the Denburn Valley further downstream, he agreed with my aims in wishing to point out this parallel. I can now see that this was one of the ways that these people have been trained to 'contain' non-conforming behaviour - I thought I'd made an ally for progressive urbanism - I thought I'd made him think, but all the time he was making me reveal my hand, reveal details about myself, and once I'd gone he got on the phone to the police. Stupid me.

Denburn re-emerges from beneath carpark
and Seafield House
So today, the police come to the door of our studios in the upscale heart of downtown Pituxton, demanding to be let in to interview me about this "incident" at Seafield House. ("Incident"?) As far as I was aware, I had a conversation with a couple of over-officious security guards who appeared to accept my explanation as to what I was doing - it's stretching a point to label this an "incident", surely? As I hadn't provided the petit-police with my name, I was surprised that the real police had managed to connect me with the "incident" at Hill of Rubislaw. It is of great concern to us, and a source of anguish and worry that police resources and capital have been expended in reviewing, cross-referencing and collating CCTV footage in order to arrive at an identification of me.  The footage was circulated within the police, presumably via some sort of internal notification communication system, and seen by a significant proportion of their officers, until one could identify me (no doubt from my 'footprint' left by the famous 'incident' at Union Square.) We cannot say how many police man-hours have been expended in making that cross-reference identification. Maybe they have AI expert systems based on fuzzy logic which help them make these connections. But perhaps we're getting just as paranoid as they are if we start to think like that - robot overlords, the singularity is close, etc...

Sign says "Underground car park"
But it isn't "underground" at all...
It's build into the natural contours of the Denburn Valley
In any case, with so much time and manpower being spent on mopping up the fallout from our perfectly legal activities which impinge on no-one else's rights, it seems clear that we've become quite a pest to the authorities (or businesses, or something) - what with all that walking and cycling around and noticing stuff and thinking about it and writing about it. How dare they accuse me of any wrongdoing or assume that I am intent on causing harm? Our intentions are quite the reverse. Yet there they were, in our studio, two Grampian Police officers excusing themselves that they had to investigate the "incident" because of the "terrorist threat". Really. The female officer said that she understood that what I had been doing at Hill of Rubislaw was harmless, but that nevertheless she was duty-bound to follow up, just as the petit-police were duty-bound to report me to the police. At the risk of invoking Godwin's Law, it all sounded a  bit "we're just following orders" to me.

During the interview with the police, which was conducted in the working studio of our business, surrounded by the tools of our trade and by artwork in progress strewn around the place in various stages of completion, I was insultingly asked by the interviewing officer: "Do you work, at all?" It was firstly incredible to us that she didn't notice that she was actually within a place of work, but secondly, and probably more pertinently, what difference should it make whether I work or not? Is it as if the unemployed are all evil with malfeasance on their minds, more likely to be involved with terrorism?

"Ground" level. Parking in the Denburn valley beneath.
I expressed my incredulity to the police officers as they stood in my studio, implying stuff. I expressed my incredulity that the petit-police at Seafield House, while appearing to accept my explanation on the day had actually taken the puffed-up indignant and self-important time to take the 'matter' further. "Oh, but they've got to report 'incidents' like these, d'you see" the female police officer patronisingly assured me.
"Incident?" I asked, eyebrows raised.
"Oh yes, there's a heightened level of threat at the moment," the policewoman told me. "Just look what happened in Morocco."

Yes. That's what she said. Words almost fail us. We find it offensive in the extreme that my taking photographs of buildings and burns in the West End of Aberdeen should be compared to the indiscriminate slaughter of innocents in a faraway foreign country characterised by unstable social, political and religious conditions. It is sick and sickening. The minds which make these connections are sick, it sickens discourse (this being an example) and it is part of the ongoing pathology of the society which we had hoped to help to remedy. It makes us nervous about our whole lives - nervous of finding things interesting - structures, textures, imprints, buildings - nervous and afraid to share the delight we find in the things we find interesting. Nervous to even write this. I steel myself and write on...

It sickens us to our stomachs that we're being made to feel bad about our way of life, our interests and the way we explore our city in order to reach an understanding of its past, present and future. In this way; in our own small way we hope to help influence societal development here, to try to make our future in our town better, livable, human. We care about our lives in our town, we care about this passionately - which is why we look so closely. And then for this we have to explain ourselves at length, to authority figures (and petit-police para-authority figures) who think it's just weird to look at a river and wonder where it goes. We submit that it is we who are normal and they who are weird, using as they do their authority to nosey in about and ask us impertinent questions, to compare us to terrorist murderers and to keep and refer to records on us at the behest of private security part-time self-empowered petit-police squinting suspiciously at their CCTV screens, hating, fearing, paranoid. We have done nothing wrong. We should have nothing to fear - yet we feel the yolk and shackles of suspicion beginning to chafe. As they have managed to identify me, and come to my door simply from pictures of my likeness, we wonder just how deeply their investigations into the background of my private life have gone. It's a creepy feeling.

It is becoming clear that by looking at, thinking about and writing of our surroundings in the way we do, we stand out to a degree which is increasingly regarded as unacceptable in our society. There is a Japanese saying "The nail-head that stands out will be hammered flush". Our interest in urbanism has prompted a three-week police investigation and has brought officers to our door: We just felt the hammer.

We'd like to say to the interests which wield that hammer:

Stop guessing! Go out and catch some effing criminals; go out and gather some intelligence on those who perhaps do wish to cause harm to people, property, society - these people emphatically are not us and you know it. Stop trying to stifle the creative people in Aberdeen, for one day you'll find there are none of us left. Our patience is wearing thin.

Of course, by writing all this, we are putting ourselves further in view as outliers. We are nail-heads that stand all the further out. By oppressing us and attempting to suppress our perfectly innocuous actions - by attempting to hammer flush the nail-heads - the authorities and para-authorities provoke our further criticism.

And so on...


A friend points out that I'm probably not right to believe that I've been tracked by my likeness on CCTV:
...the way I'd do it would be look at the cellphone info to see whose phones were in the cell, get their numbers, id the owners. Fairly straightforward if you are in a position of power. Not that I do, but just saying. Going to CCTV mode is so inefficient.
Indeed, and thanks for that.

After having had a few days to reflect, we think that the most interesting aspect of the story is that the police went to the bother of tracking me. It strikes me that the Oilco's here in Aberdeen may be behaving a little like those A+ list celebrities (Tom Cruise and the like) who ban eye-contact with their underlings. Shell are saying "don't you dare look at me!"

We think that there are three possibilities for the police having followed up on the security guards' reporting of my presence in this semi-private semi-public place.
  1. Oilco paranoia - police willing to act as oilco agents and deliver me a fingerwagging rebuke for daring to notice that there are oil company premises in Aberdeen. Police owned by business. We're doomed.
  2. Genuine fear of terrorist attack by slightly chubby middle aged man making no attempt to hide his actions and happy to discuss what he's up to with the security guards. In which case the three weeks they took to getting round to intercepting me simply demonstrates their incompetence. We have no hope of these officers protecting us from genuine malfesance. We're doomed.
  3. Mechanical box-ticking follow-up by-the-book. 
Of these, we reckon that the third is the most likely. It's the book that's wrong. It still makes the security-guards and police guilty of 'just following orders' by the agency of 'by the book' and incapable of autonomous action which would allow an independent response to unique circumstances. We're doomed.


Anonymous said...

How well and succinctly put. I do so worry that freedom of speech is taking a hammering in this city. What kind of social climate are we making for our children, when people are denied their right to a view?

John Aberdein said...

In a mindless society, to have a mind – and to mind – is seriously errant. You hunt and you gather, Alan: to be a hunter-gatherer in a consumer society is a category error. Categorically this is War on the Errant and on Category Error. If you could just display a bought bottle of water prominently about your person when you muse on burns, you would establish your bona fides...

Anonymous said...

Another very fine articlate article that makes us bow our heads at what is going on in our cities & Aberdeen in particular. We apparantly
have lots of freedom in our society but "big brother is certainly watching you" if you happen to be procative in any way outwith the accepted norms set out by those in control.

Anonymous said...

After being on jury duty this week. The State desperatly need a win. That win could well have been you Alan. Shame on you for not being a terrorist!!

cowfreak said...

Your folder is getting thicker...

Lee Kindness said...

Keep up the good work!

neepheid said...

I think it's time to dust off my camera and start taking an active interest in my surroundings. Maybe everyone should. Surely we can't ALL be terrorists?

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