Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Driech Mizzle Cacophony


<<<< A volcanic eruption halts ALL air traffic into and out of the UK, for the first time ever. Eerie silence at the top of the hill, where only last week I was buzzed by a helecopter-full of roughnecks. The airport roar of jet engines silenced by Icelandic ash, the only thing I can hear today at the prominence summit is the gentle wind, whispering serene abstractions in my ears. >>>>


I was taken aback to find from an entry made in an old notebook just over eighteen months ago that a silence, eerie or serene or of whatever character, could be found anywhere in this town, at any time. The note was made at the top of Brimmond Hill in April 2010. I was taken aback to read it because these days, just a short six seasons later, there's no silence to be found here - not anywhere round here at all. How quickly we forget; how easily plasticised our human existence. The condition of constant outdoor noise is so readily regarded as normal to our situation.

So I crave the peace and space that we all used to enjoy. Actually, no - we didn't enjoy it, we took it for granted. Like on a Sunday, for example. I remember long, aimless teenage Sunday afternoon walks - with friends or in solitary thoughtfulness - through our town's plentiful beech- and birch-lined boulevards and avenues. The peace affording me the mental space, the unity of direct passive experience, to appreciate the granite and slate symmetries, framed by hedge and tree, lawn and border. Bay and turret, gable and pitch. Suffusing my human spirit with unique ambience of place and time. But today, to walk those same boulevards and avenues - fewer, ever fewer their lawns and hedges and trees - is to find that unity of experience disrupted by the continual noise of motor traffic. The relaxed nature of walking for transportation or even for its own sake has been critically disrupted as, over recent years, even our streets have become roads.

To recapture that serenity - that unity - we set out with hope, with intention of passivity, on Sunday morning to walk the Sustrans footpath on the Old Deeside Way; Abergeldie to the Den of Cults, then down to the Shakkin' Briggie at the old waterworks. We hope, o we so hope for quiet. Surely, walking that route, away from roads and the streets that have become roads, we'll find what we want, and find our minds there too on that driech morning.

The morning immediately mizzles near-dimensionless nanosphere-points of water onto everything we're wearing - like dew on a spiderweb. But shortly we're properly soused as, surface tension breached, those points gather more and more water. Discharging water vapour from the smirr-saturated but mild and windless air they expand, ballooning, and burst into just wetness. But we're dressed and shod for these normal autumn conditions. Weather doesn't frighten us.

There is beauty in the soft-edges of this fall weather - the dun damp of autumn, the fungal must of the deliquescing leaf-litter by the sides of the footpath, next year's top layer of topsoil. By the side of the footpath an apple tree gnarls back at the glowering sky. Its underbrush is the focus for a squabble of birdlife. We see that somehow little beaks have split the windfall apples. The discarded semi-skins which the birds do not prefer lie around discarded, voided like pastry cases after a children's party. As we approach a double-dozen blackbirds and robins and starlings kerfuffle and flap and vector off a safe distance, to return to the tree and its underbrush once we're past. Their little songs, their tweeting entreaties, beeping out first the warning then whistling the all-clear to their feathered cadres, and cheering our souls as we set out on our morning route.

We walk along through Airyhall and Garthdee. There are few other people about. And none of those are just walking. There are a handful of joggers. Insulated, every one of them, from our world by ear-connected bicep-strapped iPod. The trademark white earbuds and wires along with the velcro armstrap appurtenance somewhat reminiscent of medical paraphrenalia - a stethoscope and blood-pressure cuff hybrid. Brows knitted and gurning, these loping obsessives: we nod hello to them as they pass. They do not see us, they focus to the horizon of the middle-distance.

And here is a dog-walker. Indignant, clearly: seems the obligation to provide his pet with exercise and relief is not what he'd prefer to be doing this Sunday morning. His face angled sternly down he mutters desultory into the phone in his right-hand fist, the remote electronically mediated interlocutor elsewhere taking precedence over the flesh and bone and fur animal present. A little knotted translucent polybag of still dog-arse warm dogshit dangles obscenely from the man's left-hand fingers on knotted loop. He twirls it absentmindedly like a dandy might a cane. We smile our community to him as we pass. He does not meet our eyes, actually turning his head away. But the dog - she is a collie - trots across and makes eye-contact with us, one after the other, politely. She gently snuffles briefly our outstretched hands and looks farewell to us over her shoulder as we walk on. She will know us now and forever.

At Pitfodels, and it's mid-morning. The mist-damp air is an efficient transmitter of sound waves, so - although we can't see it - we can hear the motor traffic on the North Deeside Road, 100 metres to the right, parallel to our walking route. What are they doing - so many of them, driving about the place, on a Sunday morning? And then we're past the old train station at The Den of Cults. An odd name, and tautological; "Cults" being a diminutive derived from the Gaelic "cuil" for "nook". So "Cults" is a little secluded place. The "den", which is the steep gorge of a stream, making it doubly-so. Despite its name, so intriguing to modern ears, no sinister sects are hiding in this steep V-shaped valley, just an everso-nice Victorian municipal suburb built for the waterworks where the Cults burn confluxes with the River Dee. That suburb now, of course, metastasised by the late 20th century's large-plan bungalows and cul-de-sacs all the way up the south-facing hill to the watershed.

Down in the den, the rushing burn streaming and bubbling over rocks and little bouldery waterfalls by our side, we feel perhaps the first inkling of the cheerful feelings - the unity of sensation - which we'd sought when we set out. We can pick out the obsolete waterworks infrastructure: An engine house now a des-res; valves, spigots and the like as garden ornaments; enigmatic equipment artefacts embedded in walls and footways. Oh, and the big newish kidney-shaped reservoir on the flood-plain, like a man-made oxbow lake on the broad flat inch (a flat sandy bank or river island). Out in the centre of the flat, still water the handrails of a just-submerged catwalk structure are parallel platforms where a gauntlet of waterbirds - mostly ducks, some gulls, a handful of swans and one single cormorant with its wings spread wide - stand guard. 

Across the river, yan to the yin on the same flood-plain inch squats the "Aspire Golf Centre". Surely one of the most up-to-date and exciting golfing opportunities available to the hard-pressed golfers of the north-east of Scotland, for acknowledging the busyness of the busy folk of business in Aberdeen "City and Shire" the Aspire Golf Centre offers a short-form of golf. Only nine holes, and every one a par 3. Flood-lit, for high-speed late-night golfing, after those long hours a-wrangling at the spreadsheets in your cubicle. And a target range; very popular, because it has what are called "Powertees", an "automated teeing solution", which means that aspiring golfers don't ever have to bend over. Less hassle, see?

And passing the golf centre, the South Deeside Road, a secondary road, a narrow winding B-road which follows the contours of the steep gradient southern wall of the glacial valley. Again and again, the crest and roar of gearbox and turbo reverberate booming off that valley wall. Reflected over the river to us on our muddy path to Inchgarth: the cacophony of the motor-men taking their high-speed gear-change engine-breaking thrills on the leaf-fall slick adverse cambers. Heel-and-toe fast and furious they fly, and we see their Subarus and Golfs or whatever flicker through the trees across the water. Not 100 metres away, their choice of Sunday-morning leisure destroys ours; we cannot even sustain a conversation between us. A flight of swans angles quite low overhead, but today we are denied the privilege of hearing their in-flight murmuring intrigues. We might as well have tried to find peace at an airport, or a Grand Prix circuit.


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