Of Alba and Brass Monkeys

November 3, 2011
Just arrived from Thailand, my suitcase weighs a ton stuffed as it is with winter clothes. But although its totally
chilly by comparison with a normal day in Asia, it seems to me it was twice as cold the last time I lived in
Aberdeen. Then central heating was something you only saw on the TV or benefited from in schools and corporate
headquarters, and I remember the nation was shocked when the price of coal burst through the pound-a-bag barrier!
And it was often cold enough back then to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!
With car owners then still relatively few and far between, the most hated word in winter was ‘slush’ and the
uncoolest form of fashion was wellies. I’d catch a yellow bus into Aberdeen and freeze half to death en route at a
time when Jean Imrie was still thought to be funny and Bothy Nichts was still on the telly. Punk rock had come and
gone and nobody even knew Tony Blair existed, as Mental Maggie ruled the roost and telephone and electric bills went
routinely into three figures.
No surprise then that when in 1983 I got the offer of a job in China exploring for oil offshore with Holder Drilling
and BP leading the charge, I grabbed it and left the Frozen North far behind me. It was September 1983. Winter was
looming and another Christmas in the pipeyards of Altens held little appeal, so I agreed to forego the prospect of
freezing to death in Tullos for the warmer climes of Southern China.
I remember stepping off the ‘plane in China and thinking I had stepped into a boiler house with the doors on the
boilers left open by mistake. The heat hits you, blankets you like an invisible duvet, smothering you in hot, humid
air, a cloud of high pressure heat that gets right under your clothes and starts the melting process immediately.
And this was late September. Magic!
Actually, my trip abroad was truly a voyage of discovery because I found out where all the Scottish summers had
gone. The Asians had nicked them! It’s actually summer every day over there and stuff like snow and frost are alien
concepts. I lived in Hong Kong for a while and one winter when a freak drop in temperatures caused a freak frost at
the top of the highest mountain, almost the entire population got in their cars to have a look, at 2 in the morning!
It’s little wonder there are so many of them, as they dinnae have to wait for a warm night to get the leg over.
The next morning, and for the next 26 years I woke up every day with the sun shining and with prevailing ambient
temperatures associated only with heat waves back in Scotland – and this at 7 in the morning! Very magic.
It was a seductive situation this sun first thing in the morning, and it kept me in Asia for years. But typically,
daft Calvanist Scot that I am, I still managed to return home without a suntan,not being a fan of beaches nor lying
about idly in the sun.
It’s not warm here in Alba but the warmth of the community and the joy of rediscovering all my old pals and places
and wandering through my past in Scotland helps me forget how cold it really is. And it’s not a vicious cold. More
like the arm of a friend around you, someone who has just come in from a frosty night. And his or her touch reminds
you that central heating really is one of God’s gifts to we once-heathen, once permanently frozen Scots!
I doubt the words ‘chillblains’ or ‘frostbite’ are even to be found in the various Asian lexicons.
Thank goodness!
These days Scotland is a prosperous, middle class, European ‘miracle’ with everyone owning their own houses and cars
and getting abroad on holiday at least once a year – unless they are building an extension or moving up the ladder
to a bigger place. Or buying a Jag!
But it’s not all good.
There’s a lot of drugs in Scotland and the rest of the UK now, and with this plague comes a rise in crime associated
with junkies getting stuck into the vulnerable to steal the wherewithal to score.
More than 4,000 heroin addicts in Aberdeen alone my drug counselling mate Dave tells me. A city of maybe 230,000.
There were about ten known junkies when I left in 1983.
Not even.
Then there is the influx of East Europeans who have arrived to take all the crap jobs and send their dosh home. But
many are here simply to take advantage of the generous UK welfare system.
Fine, and frankly, they are everywhere.
Wherever the masses congregate you can see them and hear the heavy Slavic brogues cutting through the Doric chatter.
Mostly this new wave of cheap labour is welcome, but disturbingly, my police sergeant friend claims the crime wave
in her northerly division is mostly the result of this influx of displaced continentals.
Hardly a surprise really. From unscrupulous communist dictatorships they come, where life was sordid, basic and
cheap and where what values there were, were based on who you knew or what you could screw out of an unyielding,
often terrifying and always corrupt communist system. Little wonder they come here devoid of scruples and that many
are ruthless in their intent often lacking the gentile sensibilities and refined morals of the advanced societies in
which they now find themselves.
Some would rather steal or deal drugs than work. The third world mentality they bring means so many want to get rich
quickly, not slowly or eventually, if they believe that particular dream at all. They’re not all Polish of course.
There are Africans, Russians and Czeks and Romanians here too, but the chances of having an East European lady or
gent serving you in Starbucks or MacDonalds, or dealing you bad dope or heroin is exponentially higher than it was
even 10 years ago.
It sucks I know. But I am not letting it get to me. I am celebrating the fact that now I am old enough to enjoy the
statuesque, grey glory of my home town, built almost entirely from granite, and a monument to an authentically
prosperous past and erected by fine and noble stone masons who once worked the cold hard stone into these wonderful
terraces, high streets, elegant squares, hospitals, merchants’ homes and entire neighbourhoods, planned and designed
by some of the finest architects of their day, though the likes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh apparently studiously
ignored the shimmering potential for even greater architectural glory!
Aberdeen the city is truly a sight for sore eyes in this age of glass and metal monstrosities, and while I lived
here 30 years or more before so innocently embarking on my 30-year sojourn to the Far East, it is only now I see
properly what I left behind.

Just arrived from Thailand, my suitcase weighs a ton stuffed as it is with winter clothes. But although it’s totally chilly by comparison with a normal day in Asia, it seems to me it was twice as cold the last time I lived in Aberdeen. Then central heating was something you only saw on the TV or benefited from in schools and corporate headquarters, and I remember the nation was shocked when the price of coal burst through the pound-a-bag barrier! You would wake up in the morning with frost on the inside of your bedroom windows as well as the outside!

And it was often cold enough back then to freeze the balls off the proverbial brass monkey!

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