from Aberdeen

Hello from my sleeping bag on my cousin Emma’s floor, in the fine(ish) city of Aberdeen, at the end of a frosty sunny day, spent in the new Aberdeen university library. I’ve been planning from my domain of the fourth floor (Music, Art History, Modern Languages: I’d feel out of place on any other floor), by the window, what I’m going to do for the next few days whilst I prowl these streets and this area.

view from my library perch

I felt that it was important for me to come to Aberdeen, in my quest to become a ‘better Scot’, to be more committed to this ‘cause’. I feel a bit like a rubbish superhero, which is good, because that’s exactly the kind of attitude I want to apply to this whole thing, so perhaps I’m doing something right, in my head at least. I digress…

I spent much of my childhood in this area, between my Grandparent’s house in Pitcaple, my Dad regularly touring shows to the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen, holidays in Colliestone and on the sand dunes, and my Mum’s old schoolfriends in Ellon, Insch, Stonehaven and more places. And I guess, what with three out of my four Grandparents being English, this is the closest I come to the ‘father/mother-land’ in this country, as it is where my Grandfather Allan Downie came from.

(left to right) Me, Emma, Grandad, Anna, Helen with the dogs Pooch and Max, Colliestone beach c.1995

I feel like the north east is a good place for me to make work, and to develop some performance, which is what I am really finding hard to achieve in Glasgow. I suspect this is because Aberdeenshire, being the place of my childhood holidays, is one of the parts of Scotland that still holds some romanticism for me: I see it in my head as one of the ‘reasons why Scotland is great’, and if I’m honest I don’t have so many of those reasons left, often due to over familiarity or boredom. For me, unlike many people I know up here (and much more like the majority of young people in England) London was always the goal. I’ve worked hard at hating Scotland. There, I’ve said it.

But one’s childhood holds something special, because no one’s is quite like yours. Mine was here, the best bits, the highlights, this is where they happened.

1) A snapshot. Sometime in the mid nineties I attended the annual Stonehaven Open Air Swimming Pool Aqua Ceilidh with my mum and brother. The band were seated on the side of the pool and we gay-gordon’d and dashing white sergeant’d our way through the heated sea water.

I thought it would be good to try to recreate the event now, and make a film. The pool is out of season so is not open to the public – though I had originally thought it to be closed – and I liked the idea of looking at how we remember things. In my memory there is only me dancing, and the band playing, and everything else just a swirl of splashes. I thought that filming in the unfilled pool would be eerie and ghostly, which would contradict the ceilidh band. There’s also a nice echo with the way we all performed at the Aller Park swimming pool at Dartington. Anyway, I thought: there’s no harm in firing off an email…… ONE HOUR later I received this surprisingly positive reply:


Hello Rachael and many thanks for your interest in the Pool.

I think the water ceilidh you remember must have been the Stonehaven Folk Festival Aqua Ceilidh, which is still going strong – maybe you'll make it this July?

I hope that we will be able to help you. However, as the Pool is now operated by a partnership between the Friends and Aberdeenshire Council, we will need to check with them that this would be acceptable, and it is possible that they would need to have more information about the insurance and Health & Safety aspects.

The other thing which you need to be aware of is that the Pool is not emptied until the spring, when work actually starts on the tank (ie the pool itself) to make it ready for the new season. The reason for this is that over the winter, the water table in the surrounding ground is such that the walls of the tank could be pushed inwards. Keeping the tank full means that the water in it neutralises the pressure from the surrounding ground. So I'm not sure how much that will affect your plans – unfortunately the water is also pretty dirty now.

I'm not sure that I will manage to meet you this week. However, I'm sure we can work through this by email. Meanwhile, I will check with Council staff to see that it should be possible from their point of view.

Kind regards

Elma McMenemy on behalf of
The Friends of Stonehaven Open Air Pool


So, it looks like it would be in cold, dirty, seawater. But it also sounds like it just might, might be a goer. And I think I might be able to rustle up a ceilidh band! More on this soon, I think.

2) Another thing that I’m interested in investigating up here is Donald Trump’s obscene Golf Development on the Menie estate at Balmedie, just north of Aberdeen. If you don’t know about it, a quick google search will give you plenty of juice, or you can look at Andy Wightman’s brilliant and detailed report on the case. There’s also recently been a film made about the case, called ‘You’ve Been Trumped’, which I’m going to go see in Edinburgh in a couple of weeks.

I’m interested anyway in the way that many Americans identify themselves as Scottish, and also in the way that land is used/access to it under Scots law. This topic combines all of these, and I like the idea of walking through the Menie estate, through the bulldozers and diggers which are destroying this incredible land, with a golf club, wearing my kilt, and adopting a bad American accent.

I don’t know how feasible this is, so my plan for tomorrow is to go to the estate and do a reccie. Hopefully I wont get arrested for walking around/filming like Anthony Baxter and his team

There’s more, and I’m going to back date as well over the next couple of days as there’s things I’ve not written about yet (especially more about the American/Scottish thing), but for now it’s definitely time to go to sleep.