Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Hazlehead Externalities


Long before you can see it, you can smell it; the outdoor odour of hot fried onions being remarkably similar to that of unwashed underarm sweat. Before you can see it, you can hear it; the diesel genny's farting thrum is no respecter of horticultural serenity. Those canned drinks have just godda be served cold!

The school term having just started, and this visit being made at lunchtime, many children from Hazlehead Academy (those both in the know and in the money) were seen queueing for their quarterpounder cheezeburgers and chips and Coke. All children being willing addicts of these foodstuffs, their preference is bound to run to the burgervan over municipal school dinners. 

And we wonder: is that OK? Did the process of awarding this catering concession take this into account? Or is it an unforeseen consequence. And we wonder, as we would, how did this concession come to be awarded to the burgervan of 'Monster Catering'; how much do they pay and to what controls are they subject? And in any case, just who exactly is the customer here? Which party is providing the feed and which party is the consumer?

And we wonder why the already existing modernist snack kiosk, only ten yards from the burgervan - with its already-plumbed and wired services cannot be used by the concessionaire. Indeed, we wonder what has happened to the once stately café, now boarded up and seemingly abandoned, where friends enjoyed French fancies not four months ago. It is said that the market serves all needs. And the burgers are good (not to try is not to know) and the schoolkids are very happy today. But it is clear from the scenario playing out in our town's Hazlehead park that the market both discounts the future and ignores inconvenient externalities.

If you turn your back on the noise and smell of the burgervan and walk past the soon to be derelict restaurant café, (its unique jasmine planting commemorates the pro-democracy struggle of Burmese political activist Aung San Suu Kyi), there, near a car-park you'll find a garden of stonework pods which show historical episodes from the life of Robert the Bruce in concrete-pressed bas-relief. And to think - Councillor Kevin Stewart, when he commissioned that new statue which sits outside Marischal College said that the town had no commemoration of The Bruce! It is particularly interesting to note that one of the reliefs actually has the courage to depict the historically difficult 'Harrying of Buchan' episode, though we don't think it quite manages to do justice to the full extent of the ethnic cleansing genocide, systematic rape and managed campaign of terror, demolition, fire-raising and eradication meted out to the people of this region by Bruce. Shame.

Although much of the park is already derelict and not open, if you continue walking west past what we understand is the second-largest municipal maze in the UK (now free entry, yay!) you'll walk through some well-tended gardens, putting greens, sculpture courts. And at last, the smell of the burgervan and the noise of its noxious generator fades, to be overridden by the spicy fragrance of rhododendron and the twittering of little birds respectively. 

But the Queen Mother garden is suffering from austerity cut-backs.

But next plot to that, the Piper Alpha memorial garden is in good shape. Like the Queen Mother garden, it's the sort of formally laid-out rose-garden very common in Scotland, and that's OK. No risks were taken, no-one was offended.

If any readers don't know about the Piper Alpha disaster, click here.

The Piper Alpha memorial sculpture is emotionally engaging and moving. The three figures, with their attitudes, gestures and clothing, are replete with meaning and symbology. In a still moment, alone with the sculpture, you might just begin notice the tiny things which our photos cannot show. You might begin to feel stuff. If you're old enough, you'll remember stuff. 

But when these photos were taken, the Piper Alpha garden was being tended by two municipal gardeners who had a portable radio with them. Its ill-tuned pop channel was crepitating a cacophonic dancefloor remix of Jerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' across the formal beds. I did my best to ignore it and took some more photos. A third gardener, older, appeared. Brown-sharn-smudged high-visibility tabard and trousers orange and lemon - suddenly framed at the entrance to the rose garden - he suddenly appeared and started hollering at the other two. Something to do with the order in which they were doing the work, or they were doing it all wrong or something, I don't know. The two with the radio started gesturing obscenely and taunting the newcomer, taking the piss, humiliating him. This sent him into a rage and his shouts became louder and more indignant. The two turned off their radio, the better to hear and laugh at the exhortations of the third who was by now charging towards them, waving his arms about, an incoherent stream of invective issuing from his spittle-flecked lips. Thinking it best not to intrude upon private grief, I withdrew back to the Queen Mother garden, and mooched around for a few minutes. 

When I returned to the Piper Alpha garden, all the gardeners had gone. There was peace and space and air and light in which I could now contemplate the memorial, its 168 engraved names, that dreadful night. 

Then I began to remember.

Then I remembered something of that time...


With thanks to reader Peter
for the inspiration and ideas which led to this post


Peter said...

Death, decline, Hazlehead; a mixed bag. We expect things to change but it's disconcerting when they go from functional to the moribund state of, say, the cafe. The Monster Snackvan is redolent of a general lack of care in replacing services, but in this case, virtually anything would have been better; nothing would have been better. The cafe and its garden, its pond and flora were a fine old place; who knows what is planned for it now. Hopefully nothing; if the cafe wasn't cost effective and it had to go then let's just leave the park as a park, not a burger van pitch.

If readers are interested however, in the meantime, and want to bid for the spot, they will need: a van, decent appliances, licence from ADC, Liability Insurance, and probably a good contact on the council. Then apply to Retail Concession Catering Ltd on 01279621723 as they let sites in various retail parks, B&Q and some public parks like this one, and they can tell you exactly what you need and if the spot is going to become available. The Hazlehead spot is expensive but gives a good return. You will also have to get a Hygiene Certificate, Hazard Analysis Certificate and will probably have to attend local council meetings and courses, which you will also have to pay for.

If you are disappointed and don't get the Hazlehead pitch, then check the papers for developments of out of town shopping centres, supermarkets etc and get in there fast.

Why didn't the council think of this earlier? Instead of investing money on a cafe and wasting more money on staff and stock and maintenance, why not just do nothing and charge others to do the work!?

uair01 said...

Unrelated to post, but might be interesting for you:

The Suffolk Psychogeophysics Summit 28th August to 3rd September 2011


The Suffolk Psychogeophysics Summit presents an intense week-long series of interventions, field trips, open workshops and evening discussions led by international artists and researchers exploring the Suffolk countryside through the interdisciplinary lens of psychogeophysics, defined as the combining of psychogeographic techniques (methods of wandering) with the study of geophysical traces (geophysical archaeology, the revealing of place).