Arias, Young Love and Rediscovering the Delights of Walking

Memory is an interesting thing, not least for its triggers, the mechanisms behind what we remember and what we (choose to?) forget and also for how something can simmer beneath the surface in the subconscious layer of the mind, feeding a gnawing sense of restlessness but never being comprehended. The return of the Aria Code podcast for a third season this week was one of those jolts, the exploration of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, the kick which opened up the door to a rabbit hole of memories. A few years ago now, in a season of young-ish love infatuation, HMT in the ‘Deen became the centre of many a late night taking in opera, walking along Union Street to cars parked in side streets (for the free parking) but not much else besides. In retrospect, it was very much a period of unrequited love that went no where in the end, although my memories of the time suggest otherwise. The things one chooses to remember or forget, I guess? The one upside to all that remembering was delving into the rabbit hole that is YouTube for performances of the Aria, one of the more fascinating ones for me being the soulful rendition by Aretha Franklin at the ’98 Grammys (which she agreed to do at short notice as Pavarotti was ill).  The aria’s closing sentiment (At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!) is apt given our time, as the Aria Code episode so aptly demonstrates.

I have just completed under a month of walking ten kilometres each day; noise cancelling headphones on and music cranked up to as loud as is comfortable as I do the loop around my house.  On most days I have tended to pass other walkers at pace, eyes averted, trying the least to intrude on their space (or more accurately preserve the sacredness of mine). On the odd occasion when it has not been possible, I have waved in response to others waving. A chance conversation on the bus the other day did however remind me that it wouldn’t hurt to initiate a greeting now and again as I whizz pass others. That is something I hope to take on board for the next batch of 10k strolls. 

Life is fleeting, things can change, and breath is a fickle thing after all. The word for this week, mashshaa‘, for walker.

Recent Finds (x5)

#47 – Ambling


When I first began to take time out during my lunch breaks to walk about, there was nothing intentional about it – as far as I can remember. It was one of those things which – having happened a few times – felt so good it became self-catalysing, etching itself into my daily routine; becoming as integral a habit as could be. In looking back at my step logs – I am one of those people who wears a wrist band for tracking steps, the Fitbit Charge HR in black being my very own brand of poison in that regard – it appeared to coincide broadly with an office move at work, one which brought with it its own issues. I claim no causal linkages here, I must quickly add.

For most of the second half of January and all of February so far, sometime after 12.00 noon I have half skipped, half walked down the stairs at work, careful to maintain contact with the hand rails at all times to avoid falling foul of the stair Nazis, and then turned right once out of the building. On most days – unusual for this time of the year – it is a relatively dry, sunny walk down Market Street, on to North  Esplanade West street and then up one of any number of roads till I find myself in Union Square and from thence on to work.

On most days, I find that I run across any number of people that I know – R and B, Lycra clad, usually zip past me somewhere on Market street; D saunters past at a more leisurely pace, but fast enough to pass me on my walk, S sometimes rides past on his bicycle. Occasionally, a lot more over the last week than before, I pass my friend K in Union Square, he is usually just heading out when I am on my return journey. When I do, we stop and have a natter, musing about  whatever gets our attention that day, usually work related.

This, this ambling about, is how fifteen to twenty minutes of my lunch hour vanishes, I suspect that I am beginning to look forward to them, perhaps need them, as a counterpoint to the steady plodding away at work…

About Town: Ambles and Musings…

It is no real surprise that I wake up on Saturday morning with an overwhelming urge to leave my house and let the cold, crisp air clear my head; a succession of events having left me feeling emotionally over extended as though more activity had been packed into the preceding two week period than the entirety of the year before that. My friends O and Alf must bear some of the responsibility for catalyzing those events, as does a not quite out-of-the-blue response to an application I had, almost as a matter of last resort, tossed out three months before. A brown roll and an egg chased down with a cup of strong black coffee and a quick Google search later, I am awake enough to grab my water proof jacket and head out into the streets with the Torry Battery as my destination.

The walk down Park Street, on to Virginia Street and then on to Market Street is one I have made countless times over the past three years, from home to work, church, Nandos or any of the other recurring decimals that have marked my life in this corner of the world, and I make it once more almost mindlessly. There are people just like me – jackets fully done up, earphones plugged in, walking briskly perhaps drawn out by the promise of warmer weather in what just might be the warmest day left of the year, if the weatherman is to be believed.

By the time I make Market Street, I am slightly out of breath, the brisk pace I have adopted a little too much for my increasingly pudgy self. Waiting to swing across from Market Street on to Guild, I end up saved by the long tailbacks at the traffic lights. At first I chalk it down to too many people being about, trying to get into Union Square but as I go further I find out there has been a car crash and a police car parked sideways across the road to preserve evidence is the reason for the hold up. The whine of the ambulance attending the scene is the one indication that this is a fairly recent car crash. Given the glass shards all over and the very nearly flattened front panel of the sedan, it is no wonder an ambulance is steaming through double time. A change in the lights allows me cross over quickly and then begin the portion of my walk I will have to depend fully on Google Maps for.

By now I have recovered my breath, and I quicken pace again, cross North Esplanade West, Victoria Bridge and turn into Torry, our very own Aberdonian Ajegunle. An old woman shawl drawn tightly around her shoulders, slightly bowed stands just past Victoria Bridge looking out onto the River Dee where an orange lifeboat chugs along, completing trials of some sort. I pause briefly to catch the moment myself, take a picture and then move on. These are not quite the best parts of town to be ambling about in if the truth must be told – my one unpleasant Aberdeen incident occurred here on these streets just a few paces removed when a clearly inebriated wannabe pirate complete with a black eye patch lobbed a slur in my direction. Rumour – direct from the mouth of a cab driver mind – has it that a dead body was found in some dark alley a few weeks ago too.

The Skandi Marstein is chugging into port when I navigate the left turn off Victoria road through a dense smell of rotten fish and onto an observation post overlooking the harbour. An old woman, slightly bowed and a mixed race kid with Malcolm Gladwell-esque hair are the only other people in sight – he prancing about with all the energy of a five year old, she barely keeping up with the questions he is rattling off. I wait a few moments as the Skandi completes its manoeuvres, seizing the opportunity to share in the unfettered joy of the little boy.

From there on, it’s a fairly quiet walk up to the battery. The rest of my amble passes without event until I arrive at the battery. It is deserted, a Scottish flag planted squarely on a mound at its centre a proud, unyielding attestation to its history. And even in this most auspicious of places, the boys from Torry have left their mark.

Only now has the enormity of the change I have tottered on the edge of, for the past year and some, began to sink in; and with its sinking in comes the overwhelming urge to maintain by every means possible the tenuous hold I have on the present, imperfections and all. The small matter of a year and some ago I had an Aberdeen version of my Newcastle moment from 2008, and in that moment I decided to bet my future – and those of the future Mrs S, Ethan Jon and Elaine Jade on swapping wet, cold and windy Aberdeen for wet, cold and arctic Eastern Canada. In the intervening period I managed to maintain a sense of normalcy by pretending it was all an academic exercise in permutations and combinations, playing various what-ifs against each other. The undeniable existence of an offer letter in my post box must count as the very present trigger, which has now shaken me out of my reverie and awakened me to the very real need to take a decision in the next few weeks.

If it’s any consolation, I may only be swapping an old Scotland for a New Scotland…