I went to a demonstration today, to protest against the plans for a new shopping, hotel and office development in Aberdeen city centre.
Marischal Square is the culmination of the redevelopment of the St Nicholas House site, which is where the city council were based before they moved into Marischal College across the road. St Nicholas House was a piece of 60s architecture consisting of a low-rise block, and a skyline-dominating high-rise tower. Nobody was sad to see it go. Personally, I found a hint of beauty in the demolition process; the diggers scraped rubble of the sides of the tower like brachiosaurs stripping a tree of its leaves.
From the start, the plans for the site were for a shopping centre, office space and a hotel, and with he pedestrianisation of Broad Street to form a 'civic square'. Two things have happened recently that have made it a big political issue:
- When planning permission was given, they decided to consider the issue of pedestrianising Broad Street separately, to hurry the process along. There's now some uncertainty about whether pedestrianisation will go ahead at all, following objections from those who believe that closing a single street to motor vehicles will cause 'traffic chaos'.
- A third party released a video showing what the development will look like once completed, and there's been widespread shock over the sheer size of the buildings.
[Here"s an artist"s representation of what the development might look like, if pedestrianisation doesn"t happen.]Here's an artist's representation of what the development might look like, if pedestrianisation doesn't happen:
One of the consequences of the demolition of St Nicholas House was that Provost Skene's House became a city centre landmark once again. One of Aberdeen's oldest buildings, it had been hidden away behind the old buildings and only visible from a small side street, directly opposite the Marks and Spencer Click and Collect point - a glorified service entrance. Now, it's possible to view both Provost Skene's House and Marischal College, two of Aberdeen's most beautiful buildings, from the vantage point of Broad Street, and people have woken up to the potential of the site as a proper green civic square; a place of respite from the noise and pollution of traffic that Aberdeen so desperately needs.
(No, Union Terrace Gardens doesn't count. It's a dark, damp hole flanked by a railway line and a dual carriageway.)
[Another artist"s representation, this time showing a more ideal possible redevelopment.]Another artist's representation, this time showing a more ideal possible redevelopment:
The development, as proposed, threatens to hide away Provost Skene's House under an even larger blanket of concrete and glass than before, in a manner almost as unsympathetic to the existing architecture (although, I'll admit, not quite as comically awful) as The Point development a few streets away.
I brought my bike along to the demonstration, with a small placard that I made attached to the side of the rack. I was trying to imitate the effect on the view from School Hill depicted in this video, between 00:31 and 00:45. For most of the demonstration, I left the bike locked up outside the Marischal College entrance, and I saw a couple of people looking at it, and at least one guy taking a photo.
After a wee while standing outside Marischal College listening to music, we were asked by the organisers to form a human chain around the site, the idea being to give people something to do so that they weren't just standing around. I overheard one of the organisers tell a reporter that they had "just about enough" people to completely encircle the site. The whole circle started moving, and everyone in the circle walked a lap around the site.
I don't think the demonstration will make any difference. There was a public consultation, the responses to which were completely ignored. Now we're being told that the deal is done and dusted, that Muse Developments own the site and have planning permission, and there's nothing anybody can do about it.
There isn't another council election for another two years, but when the time comes, I hope that those responsible will be held to account.
I had a bit of a conversation going with the person who mans the Aberdeen City Council twitter account today, after I posted this tweet on Saturday:
These signs are on my route to work, and I've passed them so many times without registering the fact that they were just sitting there, on their own. The lanes are apparently coming in March, after winter is out of the way I guess.
Don't get me wrong, I expect these cycle lanes to be entirely useless. They'll just be painted lines on a road that is already wide enough to allow cars to pass cyclists without conflict. That's why I use it. No doubt the lanes will disappear at the traffic lights halfway down the road, where they are actually needed. They'll run on the wrong side of parking spaces, and where there's no parking, cars will just park in the lanes themselves. Queen's Road, which runs a few streets to the south, is terrible for this.
But regardless of all this, it just doesn't make sense to have cycle lanes on Lang Stracht and on Ashgrove Road, with nothing in between, which is a 60 km/h dual carriageway that's pretty dangerous to cycle on. So I'm glad they're at least planning on doing something about it (although I suspect that it'll be after the bypass is built before they get around to it, which will be years into the future).
But anyway, that's not the point of this post. The point is, this is exactly how organisations should be using Twitter. Too many times, I've contacted a company with a simple question, and they've told me how to contact whatever department to get my question answered, and just left it up to me. I like what the council have done here, and actually forwarded on my question and returned with an answer.
Of course, it helps to not be too controversial. I wonder how helpful they'd be if I'd been asking awkward questions about the Marischal Square development? There's a protest against it on Saturday, which I might well go to…
The highlight of this evening, spent at the pub, was the chance to talk to Ben's Norwegian girlfriend Heidi. I think she's the second Norwegian person I've met Iin Aberdeen that wasn't course-related (the first being the guy in the Prince of Wales toilets who started speaking Norwegian to me and got a shock when I spoke back). She said my pronunciation was pretty good! Except for the fact that I pronounced her name wrong. And to be quite honest, the pub was so loud that I could barely understand English at that point.
Amanda went somewhere with other people and doesn't have keys to get back into the flat, and tbh I'm not sure how this is going to play out. TO BE CONTINUED.
Pedal On Parliament 2014 took place in Edinburgh at the weekend, and unlike last year, I managed to get my ass down for it this time!
It was the first demonstration I've ever been to, believe it or not. It's not something I really regret; the only other demonstrations I can think of that I would have liked to be a part of were the Iraq War protests. With every other issue, I've always been able to understand the points of view of both sides. I'm not sure if that's a form of apathy, but the end result is the same.
ANYWAY. I wanted to do the whole thing properly, so instead of bundling the bike in the back of the car (which is a bit of a hassle in itself) and driving down, I took the train, which left at 07:52 on Saturday morning. The weather wasn't good that morning, and I got absolutely soaked on the cycle in to catch the train. But the fact that I'd splurged for a first class ticket on the way down, the complimentary coffee, and a quick change of clothes in the train toilet, made it all better. And the weather had improved a lot by the time I reached Edinburgh.
Cycle provision on trains in Scotland is a bit of a farce. I was on an East Coast train, which is really a relic from a bygone era with its slam-doors. Bikes don't go in racks in the passenger carriages like on Scotrail trains; they go in the guard van instead, where you're apparently expected to ignore the "No Public Access" sign and just wander in with your bike. Once you do, you'll find a rack which can hold three bikes, catering for a train that can carry 544 passengers (I worked it out). But at least you can make cycle reservations, so you know whether or not your bike will get on the train in advance.
I was staying with my wee brother, Stuart (the older of my two brothers), who's also really into his bikes right now. He's just bought a new mountain bike frame, which he casually handed to me for inspection while we were sitting in his living room. And he decided to come along with me to the demonstration, which was pretty cool.
The ride started at the Meadows, before heading up the hill to the Royal Mile and then down to the Parliament. Stuart and I arrived quite early, and so ended up quite close to the front. Close enough to the front that you can see us in the BBC article's photo, although we had to look at the high res version to be sure it was us.
While we were waiting for things to start, one of the stewards came to chat with us. I mentioned that I'd come down from Aberdeen, and she seemed surprised, and started asking about what cycling conditions were like in Aberdeen. From the way she spoke, I got the feeling that there weren't that many people down from Aberdeen. Not a huge surprise (especially given the three-bikes-per-train limitation), but a bit of a shame considering that PoP is meant to be about all of Scotland, not just Edinburgh.
The other thing that happened while we were waiting was, a girl walked past us with the same bike as me. Now, my bike was far from the most distinctive one there - in amongst the recumbents, tandems, trikes and even a penny farthing, it was downright ordinary - but the bright blue tyres still make it stand out. So seeing someone else with the same bike, and remembering my New Year's resolution, I went and said hello to her (her name was Julia) and we talked about the bikes for a bit.
After a minute's silence to remember the fallen (which was well observed where we were, but apparently further back nobody had any idea what was going on), we headed off. Families had been put in front, which I suspect was an attempt to keep the entire group as a cohesive whole and to stop fast riders from speeding off. This was a bit problematic while climbing the hill towards the Royal Mile, as we were going so slow that Stuart and I were struggling to stay upright. We were very jealous of the guy in front of us who had brought a tricycle at this point.
The Royal Mile. Cobbles are bumpy.
All the roads had been closed to traffic for us, but as we reached the Royal Mile there was a bit of confusion about whether we still had to stop at traffic lights, which were red for us at the top of the hill. A steward started waving us through though, so apparently it was okay.
A few people were wearing POLITE jackets, which are designed to make them look like police officers to unobservant drivers. So it was a surprise to me when, as we began to pick up speed coming down the Royal Mile, I was overtaken by a guy on a mountain bike who turned out to be a real police officer. Going a bit too fast for the conditions, I have to say.
Once we reached the Parliament, we all congregated around the grassy landscaped area just next to the building. We cycled past what I'm assuming was some kind of cancer event, which was right outside the Parliament's main doors and seemed to consist of a lot of pink knitting and a string quartet.
I was interested to discover (although I can't remember where I read this) that Pedal On Parliament is one of the few events that uses the 'amphitheatre' part of the landscaped lawn for the purpose that the architect, Enric Miralles, originally intended. We were a little bit away from there though, and couldn't really hear any of the speeches, or indeed anything of what was going on. This was partly because the PA system wasn't really up to the job (something that many people have since pointed out), and partly because a Critical Mass guy had turned up close to us with a stereo system strapped to his bike, and was drowning it all out. But we'd run into Julia again, and after we got chatting there didn't seem to be much point in moving. We eventually decided that we were hungry, and Stuart and I headed off for some pub food, probably before the speeches had really ended... not that we could tell.
I didn't really get as involved as I maybe would have liked. I'm not sure if there was much point in talking to any of the MPs, MSPs or councillors who had turned up, none of whom I think were from Aberdeen, but I didn't have any really well thought out points to make beyond having a bit of a moan. I didn't talk to all that many people at all, just a couple of people in the crowd at the start, and mostly Julia.
This was the first Pedal On Parliament that the Transport Minister had attended, and a lot of people had viewed that as a positive step, but although he listened, the general feeling post-demo is that he's not really on our side. His first priority when making his own speech was to talk about cycle training for children, which is all very well, but doesn't even come close to the kind of sea change in government thinking that Pedal On Parliament is calling for.
After an amazing day on Saturday, a lot of people seem to have been suffering the business-as-usual blues. I'm certainly one of them.
Come to think of it, that's a lot of time spent in the pub. I suspect that, despite the increase in the amount of cycling I've been doing lately, I'm actually putting on weight, and this is probably the reason.
If I actually posted here more often than my current once-in-a-blue-moon schedule, I would be taking incessantly about bikes and cycling. It would be very boring. I am, however, going top talk about my new bike for a bit, and the fiasco I had with it.
I bought a 2013 Revolution Track, Revolution being Edinburgh Bicycle's own brand of bikes. I wanted something that was a bit lighter and simpler than my regular commuter, and something that I could leave locked up in the town without worrying about it too much.
I also wanted to try drop bars, which seem to have come back in style and about which everyone is currently raving. I might not stick with them - switching to fixie-style bull bars is an option - but they're working for me so far. And I wanted to try out fixed gear too, which takes a lot of getting used to! I'm back to running it on the freewheel for now, at least until it's six-week service.
It's already been back to the shop though. I'd had the wheel off in order to practice changing it (it's a little bit more involved than a geared bike), and when I took it out for a ride afterwards, the wheel started to wobble like crazy. I had to walk it home, as I didn't feel safe riding it.
So I took it in to the shop, which is understaffed at the best of times but at weekend is just crazy. I suppose the staff to customer ratio is better than in most shops, but when one customer can tie up a member of staff for half an hour, it becomes a problem.
Also, their engineers only work on weekdays. This was also a problem, and I was asked to come back during the week. Because I finish work at five and they close at six, this meant sticking the bike in the back of the car, driving to work, and then going straight to the bike shop afterwards.
Fortunately, the guy I spoke to in the shop on the Monday immediately said, "It shouldn't do this, you're right that it isn't safe to ride, and we'll get it fixed as soon as we can." I was worried that I'd done something to the wheel while I'd been taking it off and putting it back on again. But no - and instead of fixing the wheel, they just took the wheel off another bike that they had in stock and gave me that. So it all ended well.
I should get some photos of the bike itself. It's going to be a bit of a project bike for me. I'm going to try and give it a bit of a vintage look with a brown saddle and bar tape. I'm also going to run it fixed for a while, and if it works for me I'll remove the back brake and freewheel, saving some weight. And maybe change the bars, as I mentioned already, which should lighten it a wee bit as well.
But right now, I'm off for another ride :)
I watched the X-Files episode 'Drive' this evening.
A while back, I tweeted for a while about how a whole bunch of actors I was familiar with from a whole bunch of TV series' were turning up in the X-Files. I had to stop tweeting about this, because it was happening so often. I'm starting to wonder who hasn't been in the X-Files.
'Drive' was a bit special, because it had two actors that I recognised. At first I didn't recognise Bryan Cranston from under his ginger moustache (Hal from Malcolm in the Middle, of course), but I recognised Michael O'Neill immediately as the head of the Secret Service from The West Wing.
I was pretty intrigued by the fact that the episode borrowed the central idea of Christopher Priest's novel Inverted World, which is apparently completely unintentional as according to Wikipedia, the episode is a homage to the film Speed. [Spoiler (click to open)]Cranston's character must keep moving or he will die, but like in Inverted World and unlike Speed, the direction matters; he must move west. In Inverted World, the story ended when the city reached the Atlantic coast of Portugal, whereas in Drive, it was the Pacific coast of California.
The reason for the direction of travel playing a role was never explained in Drive, which I think was fortunate. The ending of Inverted World was very deus ex machina.
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My weekends have been getting busy lately.
A couple of weeks ago, I was up in Inverness visiting Kirsty with Adam and Scott. We spent most of the time wandering about, getting lost in wooded areas during the day and going out for drinks at night. And taking photos - we even had a theme: boy band poses.
And on Sunday, I went to Crathes Castle with Amanda and her friend Bennet. In the snow. Wtf, March. We're going to make it a regular thing. A castle a month, perhaps?
And in a couple of weeks, I'm heading to Aviemore for Kirsty's Birthday Weekend Of Adventure, which will involve stuff like quad biking, zip lining… I have no idea what else actually. I probably need to pick stuff soon.
I haven't had a Sunday night cinema night for a while though. I think we've run out of things to watch. Are there any good films coming out soon? We might make it a DVD night instead… more people to introduce to Studio Ghibli, maybe?
In non-weekend-related news, my Norwegian lessons have started up again! My first was last Thursday. After three months of pretty much no practice, it took a wee while to get back into the swing of things. I could read everything I was given just fine, but when I came to start speaking, I stumbled over it the first time round. It got much easier after couple more tries though.
I switched my phone's language to Norwegian a few weeks back, in order to keep the language relatively fresh in my mind. It sort of worked! A lot of apps don't have Norwegian localisations, so a lot of it's still in English, and I sometimes get caught out when something is in Norwegian unexpectedly. Most notably my sat-nav app! I had to learn how to understand directions quite quickly that time.
I'd been cycling to work three or four days a week before this, but laziness often got the better of me and I'd drive in sometimes. But for the last few weeks, I've been leaving my car in the car park at work (so I can still use it if I need to) and cycling to work every day. It actually makes it easier to motivate yourself in the morning when you know that you have to cycle! I've also tried to use it for trips into town and down to the uni campus whenever possible.
Cycling instead of driving certainly has its advantages when it comes to getting around. It's pretty easy to negotiate your way through congestion, and I've had some mornings where I've overtaken lines of twenty or more cars. And parking is free, and usually easy to find (and it means I don't have to carefully edge my way out of the office's tiny car park as often).
But a bike definitely isn't as practical as a car. There's no spare wheel, so you have to remember to bring puncture repair tools with you (and in my bike's case, that includes a spanner and a multi-tool because the gear hub doesn't quick-release). You have to plan for the weather, both for yourself and your luggage. You can't leave luggage with the bike when it's parked. And parking the bike is much more involved than pressing a button on a key. It's all manageable, but you have to be that bit more prepared than a car driver would.
The cost savings compared to driving a car and having to buy petrol for the damn thing haven't kicked in yet. What I'm saving in fuel costs, I'm spending in accessories! My most recent buy was a cheap one - an elastic strap for my rear rack. I used it today to carry a shoebox back from the city centre, which would have been really awkward otherwise. (And a suit in the bag on my back! I bought a suit, wtf. I'm now officially middle-aged!)
I could go on and on. I've been obsessed with this stuff for ages. I've started reading a bunch of cycling blogs, including ones that talk about Dutch/Danish cycling culture, and I've started thinking about what Aberdeen could do to improve the state of its roads. But I'm going to stop here or I never will.
To be fair, it feels a bit like all my Norwegian lessons have started to blend together, as we have to revise what we've done in previous lessons. Once, we spent so long revising that we didn't finish that day's lesson in time.
This week was weird, because only nine people turned up, and then we were down to eight after one guy got a phone call and had to leave. Aina thought it worked well, because it meant that when we paired off to practice conversations, she could hear us and keep track of all the little things we were getting wrong. But everyone is still so shy! I think we're all going to have to go out for drinks together sometime, just to loosen up a bit. Maybe we can have our last lesson in the pub?
We've been doing listening exercises, mostly from the companion CD that comes with the book we're working from. After the first time, where the dialogue was very slow and repetitive, Aina felt the need to tell us, "We don't actually talk like this!" And this week, we watched a clip from the start of the first episode of Headhunters, to see how many words we could pick up. We only managed a handful between us. It's a bit of a shock, after breezing through most of the lessons so far, to suddenly be in a situation where you once again don't understand a word!
Aina admitted this week that she was going to have to start proof-reading the material that she gives us. There's usually an error or two every week, although often it's because she has to switch between Norwegian and English while she's typing.
This week's mistake sort of unfolded. The vocab list contained the word 'liten', but the dialogue used 'lille', and Aina explained to us that one was used with the indefinite article, whereas the other was used with the definite article. I read the dialogue and I had to ask which one was which - it read, "Det er to køyer i en lille lugaren", which had both! But apparently the 'd' was missing from the 'den'. And then Aina also noticed that she'd misspelled 'kjedelig' in the same paragraph. I'd noticed as well, but I didn't want to be a dick by pointing out all of the mistakes!
What also makes things awkward is that I keep bursting into fits of laughter at inconvenient times, every time I read a word that I've learned under amusing circumstances. We did colours this week, which reminded me of the time I asked for my sandwich to be made of green bread instead of brown. Even though the Norwegian 'brun' sounds identical to the Scots 'broon'. But I guess that's a sign that I'm enjoying myself?
Yesterday's lesson was a fun one! Which I sorely needed, after having walked home from work and been thoroughly soaked.
Looking through my notes, we didn't cover all that much stuff. It seemed like a lot at the time, but I guess a lot of the lesson was spent going over what we learned last week.
We did something new this time. After refreshing ourselves of what we did in the previous lessons - introductions and 'polite phrases', mostly - we had to get up and walk around the class, and talk to people. Haha, it was so awkward. Normally I'd be the super shy one in this situation, but I was reasonably confident with what I had to say. Not everybody was. It was weird being the one confidently walking up to nervous people to start a conversation!
I should probably mention the tutor, at least so I can call her by name rather than saying 'the tutor' the whole time. Her name's Aina Middleton, and she's from Mysen, in Østfold. She works as a consultant, providing translation services as well as taking courses.
After we'd done the walk-about-and-talk-to-people exercise, Aina made the observation that it would help some people if they could hear what spoken Norwegian actually sounds like in real life. She said, "There's a programme on BBC Four right now…" Yep, it was Lilyhammer! And she also recommended a couple of films: Max Manus and Headhunters.
I'm sure I still sound exceedingly foreign. I find myself putting on an accent when I speak (because speaking Norwegian in a Scottish accent just feels wrong), but I probably sound ridiculous anyway.
Other things we did were days of the week, seasons, the numbers 21 to 100 (with a moment of thanks for the fact that we weren't learning Danish).
And we discussed genders in more detail. Hoo boy. I seem to get 'en' and 'et' consistently wrong. I should be right about 50% of the time, shouldn't I?
English may be a clusterfuck of a language to learn, but at least we have relative sanity when it comes to genders (OR LACK OF).
At the end of the lesson… I kinda embarrassed myself. twissie had tentatively agreed to help me practice after my lesson, but then said she might be asleep by the time I got back. I wanted to send her a message asking, "Sover du nå?", but I wanted to get the grammar right… so I asked Aina about it after the lesson. More generally, I also wanted to know whether I was asking "are you sleeping now" or "do you sleep now", and whether there was an equivalent of the latter in Norwegian.
Only… I hadn't worked out how to phrase my question in time, and ended up blurting out, "I want to ask my friend if she's sleeping." Aina's response was something like, "O_O What?! This sounds really dodgy!" Much explanation later, I finally found out that what I'd planned to write was just fine in the first place.
I caught up with Giulia afterwards, and after she'd finished laughing at my terrible question-asking skills (and suggesting that I ask how to say "What are you wearing?" next week), I asked her if she wanted to meet up for some practice before the next lesson. She agreed… but we didn't say when or where. Arranging to meet up with people is my new social-situation-I-need-to-get-better-at.