Saturday 10 September 2011

#13 trying to fight an Aberdeenian

Picking a fight with locals is never a really good idea. From Fort Williams to Dundee, from Orkney to the Borders, one will always find a few people, most likely drunk, to get into some nice physical interactions with using punches and kicks. In Glasgow one might get a particular bad beating due to the roughness of the town, but if there is any place, where one might get punched to death in a fight, it's Aberdeen. The Glasvegian might fight dirty or with weaponry, but the Aberdeenian is much larger, more healthy, less drunk and infinitely stronger. With his large hands he normally works at the docks and the local diet isn't so grim as in other places. So these grey giants can tear a man's heart out, once someone provokes them. The ultimate provocation is to declare Aberdeen to be anything but a hard and tough place. Never mention its fair beaches. Its beautiful gulf courses. Its amazing hinterlands. Or its fairly healthy looking maidens. Just nod in silence and agree with the Aberdeenian in everything and he might let you live.

Aberdeen the Granite

According to ancient Asian wisdom particular building materials create particular energy fields and therefore change the mood and behaviour of inhabitants. The people of Aberdeen weren't really bothered with Feng-Shui, when the used the extensive ressources of granite nearby to build their town. Granite is certainly not a welcoming and warm substance. It looks hard, it feels hard and it fits perfectly to the grey sky typical for the Scottish seasons. In rare cases of sunshine it glitters prettily, but this only helps to underline the harsh greyness once the sun it gone.
Aberdeen is called the Granite or the Silver City. It sure is granite, almost every building in town is made out of massive grey stone bricks. Somehow its citizens look similar: large, grey and mostly hard faced. People who work in the harbour or on the oil rigs. Aberdeen also has a large community of guest workers from all kinds of places, but the most present one is the Nigerians. What on Earth must bring people from the Tropics all the way to this grey place next to a grey sea far far in the North? Money of course. Aberdeen will have a few more decades with it, but once the oil runs out, and the clock for that is already ticking, this will become a really, really depressing place.

Friday 9 September 2011

#12 The Tray bridge disaster

"Tand, Tand, ist das Gebilde von Menschenhand..."
These are the immortal words of Theodor Fontane, the great german poet who was a proclaimed lover of Scotland and these lines come from his most famous poem called "Die Brück' am Tay". Loosely the sentence translates "rubbish, rubbish, is this construction made by human hands" and rubbish it was. It was so rubbish that the construction, a gigantic train bridge spanning the river Tay collapsed while a passenger train drove over it. None of the 72 passengers survived when the train fell into the cold waters on the 28th December 1879. Only a year before the bridge had been opened in a pompous ceremony and was hailed as one of the greatest achievement in engineering in British history. It ended up in the history books as one of its greatest disasters. The main designer, Thomas Bouch, had been completely oblivious to the strong forces a storm might confront the tall metal construction with and missjudged a great many details that lead to the disaster. A committee concluded the bridge was "badly designed, badly built, and badly maintained".

# 11 the tragic loss of the lifeboat Mona

Some stories come not by moving towards things but rather by going away from them. And so some cruel telling of naval disaster comes to us not at windy shores or dangerous cliffs, but in front of a comfortable fireplace in the hills south of Stirling. That is as much far away from the sea as one can get in Scotland. In front of the warm glowing coals we sit with Mister Wilkie, the father of John Wilkie, our seasoned mountain guide. Mister Wilkie has been working on lifeboats off the east coast of Scotland for a few decades and so he knows all of their disasters. When looking further into his stories, we found this particular story to be the most compelling.
In a cold December night 1959, the lifeboat Mona and its crew of eight were called out into a storm to rescue the North Carr lightship that was adrift in severe stormy conditions. The Mona headed out straight into the fierce storm. At 4.48 it sent its last message. A helicopter was sent after the two ships in the morning. The North Carr and its crew were found and saved a few hours later. The Mona was found capsized on Buddon Sands. All its crew members were dead.
In the years between 1935 and 1959, the Mona and its different crews managed to save 108 lives from certain death. This was the price that was paid for the courage of the crews.
But there is an interesting postscriptum: in 2006, some lifeguards took the old hull of the Mona to Cockenzie harbour and burned the remain in some sort of Viking funeral. They were doing this to exorcise the evil spirits, that apparently led to the disaster almost 50 years ago...

#10 for Britain

This is the 4th company of the Blackwatch, an almost exclusive Scottish battle force. The lads on the image just escaped death by bayonet, shrapnel, bullet, gas, artillery and what other niceness the trenches of World War I had to offer. Mysteriously enough and despite their ongoing rejection of the idea of British rule a disproportional high amount of Scots signed up to fight for the Empire in this war. The English generals gave them special treatment, such as being in the vanguard and so the Scots also died in significant higher numbers then their fellow comrades from south of the Borders.
With Britain being still a bit of a warmonger, though in much small proportions then in the good old days, there is always the chance for any brave Scot to sign up for armed duty to get killed in some shite hole on the other side of the planet. Update: If you don't fancy the army, you can also die for Britain as a civilian. Just follow the example of some adventurous brits, who didn't take a closer look at the map when booking their beach holiday in Kenia. The Somali militia could easily walk over the border, gun down a few infidels and be back home for tea and evening prayer.