Feb 102012

By Belle Mont.

Oh stunning is the vision that the CGP has shown
Of a futuristic plaza where the land that we all own
Lies waiting for the digger to tear it all asunder
It’s Mounthooly in the firmament, with parking spaces under

A theatre. A forest. Gardens by the acre.
A rowie tree with sponsorship by Aitken’s, Torry’s baker?
Trips on ships on Denburn’s tides from the former Trainie Park
On noble graceful clippers just like the Cutty Sark?

A cottage made of gingerbread? A Lagavulin fountain?
A petting zoo – with unicorns – below Malteser Mountain?
It never rains, the breeze is warm, one never needs a brolly
Thanks to Callum, Oban’s is a poorer McCaig’s Folly

A Granite Web, renowned world-wide, or is that even wider?
A web designed and realised by a maniacal spider
High-maintenance, and dear to clean, with all those nooks and crannies
Nodded through for me and you, by feart brown-nosing mannies

A monolithic Concrete Web with a permanence of gales
Shops with garish frontages proclaiming last chance sales
Litter in the flower beds, the ramps a ‘boarder’s dream
The urine of a Friday night in constant steaming stream.

Think forward two decades or more and stroll along its edges
And tell your bairns or grandchild, “Here once grew flowers and hedges
Ripped apart, the verdant heart, to leave this barren hole
A city, formerly in bloom, now a town without a soul”.

Feb 042011

By Alex Mitchell.

In 2007 Aberdeen City Council decided to relocate the International Market to Union Terrace during its visit of 10-12th August.   Prior to this, the Market has generally been placed in the Castlegate on Fridays and in the mid-section of Union Street on Saturdays and Sundays.

The relocation to Union Terrace was prompted by Police concerns about serious traffic management problems arising from the blocking-off of Union Street.
We had consistently argued that the Market should occupy the Castlegate throughout its 3-day visits.   The Castlegate is Aberdeen’s historic market place; it had adjacent parking in the Timmer Market and East North Street car parks; it needed the visitors and their custom and it involved no disruption to traffic and bus-routes at all.   Beyond all this, the Market had, at least on Fridays, given us a reason and incentive to visit the historic Castlegate, which affords the most spectacular views of Aberdeen’s best buildings and the mile-length of Union Street – views which can be seen from the Castlegate and nowhere else.

However: in the Press & Journal of 31 July ’07, Mr Tom Moore, ACC’s City Centre Manager, was quoted as follows: “None of the events at the Castlegate has been an absolute success … we’ve tried everything to encourage people to come, but they just won’t … some of the stalls do quite well, but others are just dead”.

This correspondent would have to admit, from personal observation, that neither the International Market on Fridays nor the German Market held in the Castlegate during the weeks preceding Christmas ’06 ever seemed to be doing much business; there was little of the buzz and vibrancy of the Market when located on Union Street, on Saturdays and Sundays.   Part of the reason is that the Castlegate is perishing cold much of the year, because of the wind-chill factor blowing up Marischal Street from the Harbour.   Even the stallholders, who were used to standing about in the cold, could not take it.

All this has serious implications as regards plans to regenerate the Castlegate.

The International Market is a genuinely popular event.   If not even the Market can attract people into the Castlegate, then it is difficult to see what can or will.

To the extent that ‘regeneration’ is about planting the seeds of enterprise, investment and employment, the Castlegate seems almost like blighted or toxic land in which nothing thrives or succeeds, as it should.

The main problems are (a) that the Castlegate is a backwater, some way removed from the main centre of activity and not an obvious route way of choice to anywhere much; and (b) that for all its historic significance, people do not find the Castlegate an attractive or congenial place.   Visitors are repelled by, from recent observation, blatant and overt drug-dealing; by deathly-pale junkies collapsing in the street in front of one; and by Aberdeen’s ever-shifting population of out-of-control drunks, winos and aggressive and obstructive beggars.

In point of fact, the Castlegate has been a concentration of social ills for a long time back, certainly from the mid-19th Century.   The real centre of activity in Aberdeen was always at the junction of Broadgate and Castlegate and around the Mercat Cross (of 1686, but not the first), which was originally located in front of the Tolbooth.   The Mercat Cross was relocated to its present position in 1842 and for a time served as the city’s Post Office.   The gentry used to have their town houses in the Castlegate, mainly on the south (harbour) side, but the advent of Union Street from 1805 encouraged the better off to move westwards of Union Bridge.

A huge military Barracks was built on the Castle Hill in 1794 and was occupied by the Gordon Highlanders until the 1930s, after which it became a form of slum housing.   The Castlegate’s proximity to both the Barracks and the seaport made it a concentration of drunkenness and prostitution.
It was for this reason that the Salvation Army located their Citadel there in 1896.

The Citadel has done much good work in its time, but it has in certain obvious respects served to reinforce the Castlegate’s magnetic attraction for down-and-outs of various kinds.   The drugs rehab & treatment centre under construction in the Timmer Market car park may well have similar effects and will quite possibly kill the Castlegate stone dead.

A neighbourhood or locality, or indeed a town or city, has to be much more than just a cluster or agglomeration of buildings and streets.   There has to be a base of economic activity, of business, trade and employment, otherwise it becomes merely a ghost town or, at best a heritage museum like Venice or, prospectively New Orleans.   One might think also of the great medieval Flemish seaport of Bruges, through which all Scotland’s exports to Europe were channelled, until its river Zwin silted up around 1500, and the trade shifted over to Antwerp.   Bruges remained trapped in a 15th Century time warp for the next 500 years, nicknamed Bruges-la-Morte.

few of us ever go there now; it has become another of Aberdeen’s shunned places

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, President Bush promised to rebuild New Orleans, presumably in the belief that city equals buildings, but the economic base of New Orleans faded away long ago, not least because of corrupt and incompetent civic administration, poor public services and rampant criminality.

Once legitimate business activity withdraws, everything else goes too, including the economically active part of the population – most of us have to live where we can earn a living.   There are obvious lessons here as regards Aberdeen’s city centre.   Policy needs to be more consciously directed towards economic regeneration, to creating a more favourable and attractive environment for business enterprise and investment, job-creation, the local resident population, visitors and shoppers, before it is all too late.   Unfortunately our local power elite seems to have completely the wrong idea as to what this involves and requires.

On Tartan Day, your correspondent decided to go for a wander around Castlehill, mainly with a view to taking some photographs of the remnant of the wall that surrounded the Georgian military Barracks, which were demolished in the 1960s and replaced by the present tower blocks of council flats, Marischal Court and Virginia Court.

Castlehill is an immensely historic part of Aberdeen and affords spectacular views across the harbour and beach area, but few of us ever go there now; it has become another of Aberdeen’s shunned places.   Castlehill is dominated by the giant tower blocks to the extent that non-residents feel we have no business being there, and are effectively excluded.

A great many people must live in the tower blocks, but on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, and with Tartan-related activities going on nearby in the Castlegate, there was hardly another soul to be seen anywhere on Castlehill.   The effect is isolating and intimidating.   A vicious circle is engendered, whereby mainstream citizens stay away, the locality is increasingly monopolised by anti-social elements and becomes even more of a no-go area, and so on.

It has been a real achievement, in a negative kind of way, to transform so many hitherto vibrant parts of Aberdeen into dead zones, apparently devoid of population or legitimate business activity and employment.   Photographs of the Mounthooly area, taken as recently as the 1960s, show streets, granite-built tenements, shops, businesses and large numbers of people walking the streets and pavements.

thousands of Aberdonians must have worked there, but somehow it already seems to have been airbrushed from the collective memory

As with Castlehill, there are still lots of people living in the Mounthooly area, in huge tower blocks such as Seamount Court and Porthill Court, but there are hardly any local shops and businesses such as might provide local people with employment or a reason to go out and about.

In consequence, even on a bright, sunny weekday afternoon, there is hardly anyone to be seen anywhere.

The name ‘Porthill Court’ is the one official acknowledgement that the Port Hill, opposite Aberdeen College on the Gallowgate, was and remains the highest of the seven hills on or around which Aberdeen stands, so-named after the Gallowgate Port, which guarded the northern entrance to the Burgh.   The huge Porthill Factory (linen, textiles) stood on this site for about 200 years, from about 1750 until its demolition in 1960, and thousands of Aberdonians must have worked there, but somehow it already seems to have been airbrushed from the collective memory.

Similarly Ogston & Tennant’s soap and candle factory; the former front office remains at No. 111 Gallowgate.   These were local firms, employing local people, most of whom would have walked to work, going in past their local shops for their morning paper, fags and rowies on the way.

There is no point in romanticising what must have been fairly bleak and grim workplaces; but it must have been easier then for a young person to find their way into paid employment when the workplaces were just up the road, when you already knew people – friends, relations and neighbours – who worked there, equally when you and yours were weel-kent locally, than can be the case nowadays if you live halfway up a tower block in Castlehill or Mounthooly and the only jobs available are with firms nobody has ever heard of, located on industrial estates miles away in Altens or Westhill.

Contributed by Alex Mitchell.

Oct 152010

By George Anderson.

I was shopping in Turriff last week, failing, as usual, to find a low-salt, low-fat, cholesterol-free, high-fibre titbit for my supper. Something healthy enough to turn my doctor’s frown to a smile, but with a hint of indulgence. Something with the life enhancing promise of muesli and the bohemian decadence of a Walnut Whip.

In pursuit of this unlikely product, I circled the supermarket’s food hall until I was light-headed.

I eventually concluded that I could have decadence or health, but not both in the same foodstuff and finally fell to considering a carton of peely-wally looking cottage cheese with a kirn of minced greenery through it.

A note on the side claimed that the carton contained eighty-five percent of the vitamins and minerals needed to survive the day, including folic acid, riboflavin and iron. I was just swithering whether to look for something nearer ninety percent – just to be on the safe side – when I realised I was obsessed with nutrition. “When did this start”, I wondered? Having been an Aberdeen loon in the sixties when the government urged us to eat butter, milk and cheese as if the four minute warning had just sounded, I certainly wasn’t so fussy about what went over my thrapple.

I stuffed my face each morning with a brace of Aberdeen rolls. By the time I entered the Grammar School in 1966 I’d eaten eight times my body weight in dough – and remember, I’m not talking about dough with cholesterol-lowering plant extracts, Omega-3, or bifidus digestivum. I’m talking about dough with saturated fat and enough salt to corrode the tailpipe of a Morris Minor.

lard was so popular that people would spread it on bread if they had to, but get it they must.

Nutritionally speaking, things didn’t improve much at lunchtime. The fear of being force-fed semolina kept me permanently away from school dinners and I largely survived on a diet of Sports Mixtures and sherbet-filled flying saucers.

Supper consisted of polony which Ma bought by the yard from the Home & Colonial in George Street. Cut into slices, polony could be grilled, fried, or used to wedge open doors during flittings. For sheer versatility and taste, no other sausage came close.

When Ma was unable due to weemin’s trouble to make supper, the spurtle of power passed to Da. Da’s generation embraced the concept of ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ long before Ainsley Harriott ever shoogled a skillet in earnest.  In those days working class men believed that standing too close to a domestic appliance (close enough to use it) shrivelled the gonads, so Da avoided cooking whenever possible. This often meant pottit heid: scrapings of meat from a cow’s skull, suspended in meat jelly. It was cheap and required no cooking. I wish it had required no eating either but I had no choice. I wanted to start a helpline for those exposed to pottit heid but Da said “No”.

Supper was followed by mugs of tea, neep jam (What else could it be? It wasn’t made from any fruit I’ve ever tasted) and white panned loaf from which all nutrients had been diligently thrashed. Variety was added to our diet by means of the chipper supper. Did this increase our life expectancy? It’s unlikely. These were the days when lard was so popular that people would spread it on bread if they had to, but get it they must.

Our nearest chipper was Archie’s in John Street. The ten o’clock shout of “Last orders” in Cooper’s Bar across the street from Archie’s heralded a nightly stampede for all things deep fried that made the customer’s side of Archie’s counter look like the floor of the Tokyo stock exchange. If elbowing your way through this stramash for a single mock chop wasn’t worth the inevitable black eye, you could stick your nose in the air and follow the whiff of over-used fat all the way to the White Rose chipper in Mounthooly. Here you could buy a tanner special: a shovel of chips and a fragment of deep fried sea-life that might be coalfish, starfish or seahorse depending on the by-catch landed at the fish market that morning.

“Fit kind o’ fish is this, mister?”

“Fit kind wi’d ye like it tae be, loon?”


‘It’s huddock then. Now, dee ye wint salt an’ vinegar or no?’

There were times when I tried to improve my diet by making stuff for myself. Like the day I was foolish enough to rustle up a batch of black sugar ale from a recipe my grunny gave me. Black sugar ale: The very phrase was as romantic as a Barbara Cartland novel. It sounded like something Long John Silver might have drunk. If he did he was a gype. Only a qualified chemist could supply the main ingredient: a bullet of liquorice so concentrated I had to sign a book before the pharmacist would hand it over.

When I got home I removed the slug of liquorice from the bag using the coal tongs, dropped it into a Hay’s Dazzle bottle filled with water and hastily screwed the top back on. The concoction was to be left undisturbed in a dark place for at least six weeks, so I stuck it on a shelf in the coal cellar. I reclaimed the cobwebbed bottle two months later by which time the contents had transformed themselves into an anthracite coloured sludge of extraordinary laxative power.  I opened the bottle and took an exploratory whiff of the fumes lurking in the neck of the bottle and ……..well, let’s just say they were sliding polony under the lavvy door for days.

Why didn’t we all come down with scurvy and double rickets?  Probably because every Saturday Ma bought a tea-chest of ‘chippit fruit’ from The Orchard in Upperkirkgate. Chippit fruit. Nowadays I suppose it would be called ‘distressed’ fruit — was a generic term for all the fruit the fruiterer couldn’t palm off on anybody sober: oranges that had been knelt on, terminally bruised bananas or melons the shop assistant had been playing keepie-up with during the week. This weekly super-boosting of our immune systems most likely kept us all out of hospital.

I returned to the present to find myself still clutching the cottage cheese. I intended to head straight for the checkout with it but an unseen hand guided my trolley to the cold meats section of the store, where I stood gazing at a yard of pre-packed polony with a nostalgic eye. Maybe, just maybe, polony was as packed with vitamins and minerals as my reluctantly chosen cottage cheese. I examined the food label to see.

The main ingredients were listed as pork and bacon. Then came the phrase: ‘Other Meats’. Which other meats I thought? Badger? Three‑banded armadillo? Rusk followed that. Rusk is a variety of edible sawdust the government allows butchers to mix with meat while the customer roots distractedly in the veggie basket for a decent neep. Further down the list where the tiniest of writing strained my prescription glasses to their limit, I found E450K (Wasn’t this the stuff they put in wallpaper paste to kill fungus?); Colour 128 (I Googled it when I got home. It’s in the Dulux range as Fencepost); and anti‑oxidant 301 (an early rocket fuel used by Wernher von Braun if I wasn’t mistaken). No mention of folic acid, riboflavin or iron.

I stood there for some time looking from cottage cheese to polony and back again. I know our sixties diet would be enough to make today’s nutritional boffins at the Rowett Institute cowk on their Special K, but don’t they say that a little of what you fancy does you good?  It just depends on your definition of ‘little’ I suppose.

“Dee ye ken the polony sassidge is buy-een-get-een-for-nithing jist noo?” the lassie at the checkout asked,

“Dee ye wint tae rin back and get anither een?” I took the lassie up on her offer, put the cottage cheese back where I found it and set off home.

Over the next few days I managed to eat the whole two yards. Guilt free. Or so I thought. The night I scoffed the last of it I fell asleep with a contented smile but looking like I’d swallowed a fully inflated beach ball. At two in the morning, I sprang bolt upright out of a nightmare, peching like a ploughman’s horse at lowsin’-time. I was back in the Aberdeen tenement where I grew up. A gang of vitamins had infiltrated our house through a crack in the pointing. Armed with a tattie-masher, Ma pursued the intruders from room to room, clambering over furniture and twice falling down the back of the radiogram before driving them out.

Before I fell sleep again I promised myself that in the morning I’d devote my life to Ryvita and green tea. I should be fine so long as I stay well away from the cold meats section of the supermarket in Turriff.