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'Hen Hooses'

Have you ever taken the train to Aberdeen?

When you come in from the south, the hulking mass of North Sea dominates the horizon and gives a perfect reflection of the often-soulless sky above. Her complexion, grey, her poise, fickle. Your view constantly flicks between the simmering North Sea bitch and the vicious swells she makes at the foot of the cliffs you clip by. It can be quite a frightening thing, especially on a windy day as the train gently rocks along the tracks. It is then you are subtly reminded that you are tearing along a cliff edge at eighty miles per hour, in a hundred-foot-long steel and glass tube, balanced delicately on two tracks, each under three inches wide. What could possibly go wrong?

When you survive the approach to the gateway of the city you are rewarded with an elevated view and aroma of the sewage works and at present, the building works of the new quay. Look beyond that and you’ll see the postcard-esque Torry lighthouse, a sentinel, proudly prone, waiting for the call to scan the Bay of Nigg and guide ships home. As the tracks veer left, away from the North Sea, to your right are the rows and rows of flats and houses that make up the South Balnagask area of Torry. An entire community sprayed across a hillside like a living piece of concrete graffiti, much like the Favelas of Rio or Sao Paulo, only much greyer and much colder. Of course, there is very little that connects Rio De Janeiro to Torry, one is a poverty-stricken hive of crime, drugs and violence that also happens to produce great footballers, the other, is Rio De Janeiro. But on a basic human level there are many innate ways of being that would connect the Brazilian ‘Menino’s e meninas’ to the Torry ‘Loons n’ Quines’.

I worked in Brazil once and saw for myself. It was in my former day job working in the oil game. I was due to fly to a rig within days of arriving in Brazil but fortunately the job was delayed, so I got to spend the best part of two weeks exploring Rio State. Where most offshore workers claim to have the travel experience of Michael Palin, but in reality, only ever see the airport, the hotel, the heliport, the rig and then the repeat in reverse, I actually got to the opportunity to explore far more and what’s best, I was getting paid for it. I had no tour guide, no travel companions and basically no clue of what to do. Fortunately, I am big fan of my own company, particularly when traveling. So, I’d get up in the morning, hit the hotel gym, shower, dress, eat breakfast, stick a few delicious pastries and some fruit in my rucksack for later and set off on my way. I did Sugarloaf Mountain on the cable car, then the hill tram up Mount Corcovado to see the awe inspiring Christo at its summit, which is ‘summit’ else by the way (pun absolutely intended). I realised early that it is quite expensive to do all those traditional touristy things so most of the time I would just walk around the city watching people, and there are over six million people to watch in Rio.

I’d walk through the bustling shopping and business areas with its enormous glass skyscrapers much like any major city. People on business calls frantically making their way through the crowds, people meeting with friends for coffees or lunch on their breaks, exactly like any city, any-where. In those busy parts you are reminded that a city is a city wherever you go, at least in its physical appearance. There was a feeling of relief when I would stumble upon a square or a fountain that would be surrounded by older buildings with beautifully detailed architecture and something of a feeling of history to it.

Beyond these more polished areas lie the entrances to the favelas which I was told to avoid for my own safety. I took heed of this advice in the evenings but by day I wandered in semi-unintentionally. I felt fairly safe though not entirely welcome as I strolled through one street with no real reason for being there other than poverty tourism. I exited the first tier of the favela to the built up ‘safer’ parts of the city sharpish and continued my aimless drift. I’d stop by the many five-aside pitches that are splattered throughout the city and gawp at the famous samba skills on show. These pitches seemed to be open twenty-four hours a day as regardless of whether I walked by them in the early morning or late evening, they were floodlit and still in use.

I took in the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches so alive and vibrant. Whole families, three or maybe even four generations, flock there on weekends to play in the sun. They play this rapid back and forth, bat and ball game, they play beach volleyball and they play keepy-uppy, passing a ball to each other using one deft touch of the foot, knee, shoulder or head without the ball ever touching the ground. I’d sit and gawp at the mad skills of those groups of oily Brazilian men in trunks before realising I was indeed gawping at oily Brazilian men in trunks and decided to take my view elsewhere.

There are many things to observe at those beaches aside from oily men in trunks. The Brazilians are an extremely sociable bunch and congregate in large groups of various ages. You can see the importance of multi-generational family just by watching how the young conduct themselves around the old. They are loving, kind and warm towards their elders. You also learn that enjoying each other and enjoying the simple things in life are important to them. This makes you realise how important family is and when you are thousands of miles away from your own family and on your lonesome, that realisation becomes potent and unsettling. You also realise that the G-string should not be for every-body despite being worn by every possible kind of body. It is not only the stereotypical, size ten, curvy, Brazilian carnival dancer women who wear these beach garments. Men, of all ages, shapes and sizes wear them, as do women of all ages, shapes and sizes and that age, shape and size is not always that of a young, fit, carnival dancer. As I seen with my own eyes and struggle to un see to this day, the elderly women enjoying their day at the beach are apparently unfamiliar with the female pubic hair grooming routine named after their beautiful country. So, you could say I also got to see a bit of the Brazilian rainforest too. Anyway, I digress.

The rig choppers leave from Brazils small oil town of Macae, pronounced Macca-ye, which really should have been the name of the collaboration between Paul McCartney and Kanye West. Macae is around a hundred and twenty miles North of Rio De Janiero. By bus it takes about two hours on a long straight road with one stop. The bus back to Rio however, takes five hours, down a windy coastal route, stopping at every small town it passes. As you approach the outskirts of Rio a few of the stops are in the heart of the favelas and that is where you see poverty at it’s most raw. The majority of the homes in the favelas are four walls of breeze block and a corrugated tin roof. Many do not have windows or doors and while I stared, wide-eyed in fascination, I pondered what the toilet and kitchen situation must be like within. The elderly men I saw were sat around on stools and makeshift chairs in the shade. Some chatted and laughed, others stared at the coach with a strange look of wonder and wisdom, somehow saying a lot by saying nothing. Though poor in material possessions and things that my developed world mind seen as basic human comforts, the children of the favelas have no soles on their feet, but the biggest smiles on their faces that I have yet to see matched. Children, content and free, running, jumping, kicking, playing, interacting and growing like children ought to, free to be who they are. In these unbridled societies there are no social expectations upon the children to submissively follow the path trampled by the bare feet of their ancestors. There is no cultural obligation to ‘get a trade’, get an education, a career so you can cuff yourself to a mortgage, some car finance and a credit card and all the other nonsensical traps that we in the developed world voluntarily subscribe to. This place is as far away from those chains as you can get.

I had some broken-up conversations with a few Brazilians I met over there. In their fragmented English, and my rudely non-existent Portuguese, I was able to establish how important community and family are to the Brazilian people and it was there that I realised that certain moral values are universal among humans but more visible and valued in areas of relative poverty. One middle aged man I worked with called Andre had grew up in a favela. His English was lumpy and when I asked what it was like he simply used the words, ‘dangerous’ and ‘happy’. Not usually two words which go together but as I asked more, my colleague, a bright young Brazilian called Miguel who was from a more middle-class background, translated for me. Andre was saying that community spirit and family are guarded more by the poor because often in the Favelas their very survival depended on it.

Though our physical toil and struggles were nothing like those faced by favela dwelling Brazilians like Andre, the mental toil would be similar, human to human, nation to nation. I understood there was a universal truth for any close knit, poor community, including the one which I had grew up in, Torry. Andre’s people, like the people of Torry, would struggle together, laugh together and dream together. It did not matter that the conversations I had with him were lumpy at best for it was easy to see the emotions of a man as he gushed with pride about his family and his community. It was the universal language of hope that was spoken fluent by both of us that we attempted to converse in, and we understood each other clearly.

In these communities of such extreme poverty such material desires of the western world ‘things’ are so far out of their grasp they do not exist and therefore have no value. As humans we should only really place value on that which keeps us alive, water, food, shelter are our only physical needs but mentally we have always relied on the stimulation of human interaction to survive and thrive. What keeps you alive mentally is the people around you and close bonds of family and community. These interpersonal relationships are worth more than the very roof above your head or the shoes on your feet. Instead of the vacuous pursuits that we privileged westerners adore, the Brazilian people of poverty’s only cultural obligation is to enjoy what they have, and what they have is the sun, each other and hope. No matter how dire their living conditions are, the senior members of these societies have nothing to pass on to their children but pure golden hope and the promise that living from moment to moment, seeking only joy from the here and the now might be enough to get you through life and its struggles. The seeds of hope planted in that fertile soil of poverty are fed and watered by dreams and from those seeds bursts forth beautiful expressive flowers. These flowers of the favelas become known to millions with names like Pele, Jairzinho, Romario, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, grown and shown to the world beyond the favelas I trundled through.

When I look hard enough at the concrete sculpture of council estate in South Balanagask, I try to see the same love, freedom, pride and defiance of struggle that I saw in the favelas of Rio, all in the thirty odd seconds it takes the train to pass her by. Instead I fantasize that these things once existed or hope that they may still be there. It is just a council estate after all, just a collection of shelters inhabited by a collection of humans, but the romantic in me sees the loving community and a potential for magic that exists within her. Just like the favelas of Rio, it is where misery and wonder cohabit that the magic of hope can exist. Question is, does it exist there?

South Balnagask is one of the poorer areas of Torry and Torry is one of the poorest areas in the city of Aberdeen. Torry is where I grew up though it has been over a decade since I moved to the opposite coast of the country. Torry is a typical granite grey tenement filled community to the south of Aberdeen. It is bordered by the River Dee on its north side and the North Sea to its east. The sea is one thing I miss most about living there. Five to Fifteen minutes maximum walk from any part of Torry and you are on the rocky, tempestuous shores of the North Sea. I often miss the smell of the sea air and the sound of the gulls. As I now live in an inland farming village the sound of seagull’s gabble is rare and when I hear it, I smile. I also love the sound of the sea, its gentle lapping against rocks and beaches as well as its fearsome thrashing against the breakwater on one of its more pissed off days. I mentioned Copacabana and Ipanema as places I have visited. Two of the most famous beaches in the world, but neither held a candle to what is known locally as ‘The Sannies’. Located at the Bay of Nigg, The Sannies is a short two hundred or so feet of sand at the base of the breakwater where I spent so many summer days flirting with hypothermia as I dipped in and out of the North Sea. If only we had the weather of Rio De Janiero, then hypothermia would not be an issue, but the thong most definitely would be. Directly above The Sannies, the iconic Torry Battery faces out toward the sea. Once an armed outpost with nine artillery guns installed for the protection of Aberdeen against air and sea attack and even used against the Luftwaffe in World War Two. The battery was said to have gunned down German bomber. This is in fact bullshit and I can tell you exactly who it ‘was said’ by; my Granda, who’s legal duty as a Granda is to make up these kinds of extraordinary stories to us kids. Nowadays the only action the battery sees is that of the numerous legitimate dog walkers and the not so legitimate lovers whose night antics can be witnessed in the various car parks around the battery.

Torry has always been a proud part of the city. Its history was that it was once a royal borough in its own right, separate to Aberdeen up until its incorporation in 1891. Though over a hundred years have passed since that event, there is still a palpable feeling that Torry’s natives are still viewed by the rest of the city as outsiders. It is an area which had clung to its traditional working-class roots while the remainder of the city evolved into the middle-class oil town it is today. This was in some ways partly due to its continued reliance on more traditional industries at the heart of their community, namely fishing and drinking.

There was a time not so long ago when Torry had a choice of nine drinking establishments, a staggering amount when you consider its population of around nine to ten thousand. The Torry Bar, The Grampian Bar, The Victoria bar or ‘Rat Cellar’ as it is known, The Double Two, The White Cockade, The Golden Tee and The Nineteenth Hole by the municipal Nigg Bay Golf course were its seven pubs. Add to that the Golf Club at the Nigg Bay course and The Dee Boat Club for the more sporting minded drinkers, that gives you nine establishments to drown an afternoon, or a day, or several days. Torry’s pubs have always outnumbered its churches but never outnumbered it fish houses which lined the streets of Crombie Road, Menzies Road and the Esplanades. It’s main street, Victoria Road was once a thriving shopping area for the locals and every day of the week, the streets would be alive with workers from the docks which serviced the oil field supply boats, or the white and yellow welly wearing fish workers as they made lunch runs to bakers and chip shops, nipping in for haircuts or to pay bills at the post office or bank. Thousands of seagulls made Torry their home and they filled the skies with their squawks and covered the cars, streets, buildings and people below with their shite. In the halcyon days of the fish game, they would frantically follow the dozens of orange, open sided lorries transporting gutted fish from factory to monger in huge plastic ice filled vats. They say that smell memory is one your strongest and if my childhood had a smell it was the constant background aroma of fish which filled the Torry air. In fact one of my earliest memories was standing holding my mothers hand on Victoria Road watching agog, as a future bride and groom were driven through the streets, tied to a chair on the back of one of these fish lorries. I remember they were in their underwear and had been ‘tarred’ with all manner of fish leftover as was tradition. I can still to this day remember the fishy stench turning up a notch as the truck rolled by sounding its horn to the joyous cheers of the locals. But it was the faint perfume of the sea that loomed in the Torry air that I am always most fond of. The smell of the sea is something I am always instantly warmed by wherever I go. Perhaps it’s smell memory attached to nostalgia I speak of or perhaps the affinity with the sea is engrained in me from my ancestors who, for at least the most recent generations I know of, all made their dwellings on the coast and their living from the sea. It also probably explains why I would happily covert to pescatarian-ism, finding it fairly easy to give up on cows, pigs and birds but impossible to ditch fish and the divine tastes and textures of shellfish.

Aberdeen’s connection to the sea is deep, pardon the pun, and it is where many have forged a living for centuries, initially through fish, now oil as it’s plunder. Torry’s resistance to Aberdeen’s oil & gas oligarchy lasted right through the early part of 2000 but the beast of big oil began to appear on its doorstep in the shape of glass fronted offices and swanky riverside flats on the opposing banks of the Dee. The last city stronghold of the family business that was the fish factories, was on borrowed time and in 2006, the fish market at Commercial Quay was demolished to make way for more oil service warehousing and loading bays. One hundred and eighteen years of living, breathing heritage and culture, deleted in the name of progress and fossil fuels. Across the bridge came the slow deterioration of the small but still proud, Torry fish community and the birth its now vibrant Polish migrant community.

Torry’s history as a small fishing community is very much at the forefront of its modern mentality and its reputation across the city was one of violence and poverty. Both cannot be further from the truth. It is viewed in this way by outsiders because of its primal territorial tendencies and fierce loyalty to one and other. Both are borne out if its close-knit nature, which often times may have required violence to uphold. Everyone one knows everyone, the downside of this being that everyone knows everyones business but the upside of this being that when trouble would arouse with any other territory in town, those offenders would soon know that when you fuck with one, you fuck with them all. Many in Torry do not have a lot but what they do have they would share with those closest in a time of need. This was completely unique in an ever changing city in an ever changing time.

Whether it’s the favelas I passed through in Brazil or the ‘Hen Hooses’ you fly by in Torry, the world over, cold grey buildings coarsely wedged on riverbanks, coastlines and on hillsides throughout lands so green and epic are home to millions of souls with similar stories of potential majesty within definite tragedy. Each road, street and avenue is littered with the potential for vision, riddled with unnoticed artists and poets and fairy lit with good souls at every turn. Good people who struggle are still good people and though they are often locked in battles with potions and pills and a host of different antidotes, their beating hearts and glowing talents are alive, though ensconced in the rubble of jaded circumstances. The drugs or the booze, when used, are simply a band aid only ever serving to offset or annihilate a pain in their lives, even if only for a night, but never do they overcome their inner light of goodness. These folks I speak of are the tortured ones, entombed in the grey misery, yet glowing like a golden sun in spite of it all.

I say misery, but in Scotland, we are a ‘developed nation’. In Scotland, we have rights to housing, we have welfare, the NHS and Schools. In comparison to the favelas and the many other ‘slums’ the world over, cities like Aberdeen and communities like Torry know nothing of misery. Like many working class and welfare class estates, the misery is a myth. Misery is within the heads of the miserable and since most people I know from Torry are happy and proud to be from there, I don’t believe they are the miserable ones. The smiles on the faces of the Brazilian favela kids suggest to me that misery is in fact a projection or an attribution. The misery I project upon the poor of Brazil is the same as the misery that is projected upon Torry by a middle class whose irrational fear of living in such an area, perpetuates the myth that places like Torry are the ‘social armpits’ of a city. Ironically this projection comes from within a cities middle class population who are so surface happy yet so deeply angry, in a country so beautifully unspoiled yet often so uncomfortably ugly. To me the real misery in 21st century Scotland lies in the pristine lawned, new built suburbs which are carving up precious green belt in the name of ‘progress’. The real misery is the lifetime debts incurred by the families who inhabit these ‘homes’. The real pain is that felt by the man who stumbles out of bed in his new build ‘Lego’ building, into a car he can barely afford, to join two hours of traffic filled with cars that no one can afford to enter a giant ‘Lego’ building and take his seat in a small booth, input data onto a screen to make a multi billion dollar conglomerate the few more dollars it so desperately needs and pretend that ‘everything is awesome'.

Misery, is having no time to expand upon a dream they once held, or pursue even a slight interest in anything that could bring about a shred of meaning to their lives. Instead they inhabit the pointy shoes and pastel shirts of the middle class working man, except on Fridays when they adorn their jeans, and Rolling Stones T-Shirts for 'dress down Friday’. They take their kids to football matches on Saturday afternoons and attend social engagements with their fellow social prisoners on the odd Saturday night. At these gatherings of middle-class misery, the women discuss their men and everyone else’s men, their kids and everyone else’s kids and their lives and everyone else’s lives. Meanwhile the men dig a conversational ditch of sport, work and times gone by. Though many are happy in this routine, there is no magic nor depth to be found in this ‘life’, at least none that I can see. Perhaps I am projecting my fear of that life onto those poor souls, just like they project their irrational fears of twenty first century western world ‘poverty’ on to me and mine. This ‘poverty’ defined by them is not the abject poverty of not knowing where your next meal will come from or whether today will be the day you finally get a pair of shoes to wear. This western middle-class image of poverty is the indignation of being forced out of the check-out queues of Asda and into those in Farmfoods. The shame and utter devastation of it all.

No town or city is more painfully materialistic and void of magic than an affluent oil town. Aberdeen is your typical affluent oil town. If you don't know what the typical oil town is like, let me explain. Most folks in an oil town have above the national average income, it is extremely materialistic, and it is extremely expensive. The most accurate way to describe the general populous of Aberdeen is; low class people, with middle class money and a high class opinion of themselves. This may seem a very damning description of the people of my hometown, so please allow me to elaborate.

Aberdeen had historically been a working-class area. Before the oil boom, most men and women worked in industries such as, fishing, textiles and paper. This would have made the communities staunchly working class and proud, making their children equally so. Men would escape the draconian education establishments of the early twentieth century to go make money on fishing boats or work in the same mills and factories as their parents before them. That all changed upon the discovery of the Montrose oil field 135 miles off the coast of Aberdeen in December 1969. This discovery opened up the North Sea for the plunder of fossil fuels and suddenly there was a need for manual labour throughout the industry. From yards and offices to the offshore rigs themselves, the clamour for workers was nationwide as American oil might lined up to ‘help cultivate’ UK oil fields. Because of our ‘special relationship’, this was all without the use of military force that we have become accustomed to where natural resources are scrambled for and Uncle Sam induces his own brand of ‘freedom’ throughout the globe. U.S. Oil Companies paid good money for young men to head offshore and form drill crews and like the oil fields of the U.S, the level of education required to become a Roustabout (the bottom rung on the drill crew ladder) is four limbs, working eyes and half decent hearing. Everything else you needed would be learned on the job. This suited the thousands of fishermen, factory workers, general labourers and farmers that made up the lower classes of the entire North East (low class people). From here a workforce was established which saw many young, poorly educated men rise to the heady ranks and of Driller, Toolpusher, OIM or Drilling Supervisors within the following few decades. Therein lay the bumper wages and the middle-class money I speak of.

Your housing status is often seen as the physical barometer for class. If you rent, either private or public housing, you would be considered working class, if you have a mortgage or own a home, you would generally be considered middle class. Around this time in the eighties Maggie Thatcher initiated the ‘right to buy’ scheme and overnight the working class became middle class, no more so than in Aberdeen with their high populous of working class council tenants now on inflated wages of the rigs. Stories are regaled of people buying their own homes for under five thousand pounds then buying their parents and grandparents homes for similar prices because of the huge state discounts.

The high-class opinion of themselves could only be understood if you have spent long enough in the North east and in particular amongst the oil workers of the North East. If you know what I mean, you know what I mean and I need not explain any further. If you don’t, then allow me too explain. Aberdeen city centre moves with new and nearly new cars. It’s sprawling suburbs continually spawn neat-lawned, pristine, white boxes, creating miles and miles of new build kit houses being sold for extortionate prices. If you need to know how much an Aberdonian oil worker paid for their house and how much it’s worth now, no need to ask them, they will tell you, and usually within the first 5 minutes of meeting you. Alas, high-class opinion of themselves.

This is of course a sweeping generalisation. I myself am an Aberdonian, I myself was an oil worker. I also have many family and friends still living proudly in Aberdeen and those who have grew up in Torry, a poorer area, are maybe not as ‘Aberdonianized’ as the rest of Aberdeen. Perhaps it is because Aberdeen’s affluence is not as obvious in Torry or perhaps the seperate town mentality still runs as deep today as it did over a hundred years ago. Many Aberdonians are not at all like the stereotype I have perhaps cruelly painted, but some are so this is not a judgement, it is merely an observation.

The upshot of living in such an affluent area is that jobs are easy to come by, as is the subsequent wealth acquired. But things are very expensive and cost of living and recreation is at a premium which leads to another downside of growing up in a predominantly middle class city; A distinct lack of artistic adventure and creativity. I only need to look at my own circumstances when I reached working age as an example to describe how the social environment could have potentially choked my own creativity.

Such is the culture of money and material possession in Aberdeen, it is everyones ambition to get out of school and not only make money but try and make more money than your friends and ex schoolmates. This was at least, very typical behaviour in my social circle anyway. This meant that any dreams one may harbour of doing something expressive, artistic, creative or academic would be drowned out by the overwhelming urge to comply and compete with the crowd. In a social circle like I had, the culture was such that no one wanted to become a student because students are skint and we’d been skint for our whole sixteen years of life. Add to the fact that in Torry, fifteen years of age was age enough to be served in any one of its nine pubs, and to drink in those establishments, you obviously needed cash. Becoming an artist or studying a creative subject was out of the question for most kids from Torry, in spite of their no doubt inner yearning to do just that. I was urged by my Art teachers, Mr.Scobbie and Mrs. Scott to stay on at School then pursue Art College. The fact that me, a creative kid who’s only enjoyment in school and in life came when I had a pencil in my hand and an idea in my head, never even entertained that notion shows how deeply the claws of peer influence can sink in.

‘Get a trade son.’ Was the soul sucking mantra of our more senior generations, a more downbeat and defeated a slogan is hard to imagine but not when you see life through the lens of working class struggle, perhaps that trade is the best you could ever hope for. The allure of a modest wage that can be earned in an apprenticeship was enough to fuel the drinking and spending of many a clueless teenage tearaway and keep the wheel spinning on a culture of work - pay bills - drink away the regret, that we’d been brought up to participate in. As the years roll by and the income slowly increases, the notion of quitting our jobs to pursue an artistic dream vanishes into thin air. Society fuels the materialist march through rampant consumerism and a lust for growth both individual and economical.

In Aberdeen in 1996 and the beginning of the Tony Blair years consumerism went into overdrive and polluted even the working classes. It seemed to me that property, cars, clothes and other material wealth were beginning to be seen as one’s self-image, while talent or expression of your real personality became ignored and irrelevant. Youth of the day was beginning to define itself by what they owned not who they were. It was a travesty of circumstances which sickeningly may have suppressed some immense talents over the years. From what I understand, this is still something of an epidemic in the cities like Aberdeen and as middle-class mediocrity spreads throughout the ‘civilised’ world. The working class’s beautiful dichotomy of struggle and hope has become embalmed. Equally as unfortunate is the fact that this type of mentality is not only being encouraged but nourished through the consumerism being punted to us as ‘life' on a second-by-second basis today on all forms of media.

Brilliant art, and sports stars often come from the rage against adversity and the desire to better themselves and their circumstances. Where Industry is depleted, education polluted and opportunity rare, young people only have art, sport or crime to escape the poverty they face. That hunger and desire cannot be matched by gentle middle-class upbringings where the safety harness of the ‘trade’ or in the case of Aberdeen, the job on the rigs provides more security than the artist’s struggle. It’s the defiance of desire in the face of adversity which breeds such character, such passion and such skill required to create work that changes the very fabric of society.

For me, the depth of character which produces the kind artistic, athletic or academic magic I speak of can only be found where those who live-in middle-class comfort dare not tread; In adversity’s perfect blend of the magic and tragic beats the pulse of the humble council estate where in spite of the weight of the world leaning hard against them, they can still conjure music, art and imagination. The deep waters of poverty and adversity resembles the same North Sea I hurtled by as I return to my city of birth. Though at times it appears hostile, at times it may appear bleak, there is a lot life hidden beneath her grey veneer.

I used to stand on the shores of Aberdeen’s beaches as a boy and look to the horizon. In the eighties that horizon was dotted with the cold steel structures of oil rigs. It was a subconscious message to the people of Aberdeen that said,

‘Look no further. Everything you will ever need is here.’

It took me the entirety of my twenties and a move away from the city to build up the courage to refute that lie and to indeed look further.

When I stand my adult self next to that small boy on the beach and survey the wide open expanse of water, I want to tell that boy he must close his eyes to see what lies beyond the horizon, beyond the rigs which guard that horizon, for what is there will be seen in his wildest dreams, where anything is possible.

Like the sea, the cold grey granite which entombs the city can sparkle in the sun, or it can darken in the gloom. Though the sparkle is fleeting and the gloom enduring, certain acts of magic create their own light allowing anyone who witnesses it to have that dream and latch on to that hope. Hope is the feeling that what is desired can be had. When all around you screams despair, when all around you says it is not possible, hope will show you that it is.

Sean McBain


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