Opinion / Uncategorized

Stars. Spinning.

By Ian Macartney

You’re lying on a bed of daffodils by the River Dee. Although you’ve lived in Aberdeen for about a year now this is a new place; you’ve never gone this far into the city, nowhere near RGU certainly, but here you are. It’s only when the people you’re with (people you did not know before entering Tunnels; people you only know from some shared words, a few Facebook requests and the drunken ruffling of hair in mid-dance) point out how bold it is to get a taxi to a student village forty-five minutes’ walk away that you consider the importance of this simple moment.

“There’s a lot of squares at Aberdeen, right?” one of them asks later. You have to agree. You don’t mention that, conversely, people at the University of Aberdeen typify RGU students as failures, or stupid, or— for the Tories in the building— plebeians. That last point seems relevant when they start to put on rebel music. Thankfully, you (oh sensitive sweet kind you) can see past stereotypes. The particular common room you’re in, for example, is far from any scruffy stereotype. Sure, it’s mountainous in its mess of empty packets, bottles, duvet, shopping trolley (substitute for a bin, I’m told) and giant inflatable crocodile, but the same could be said for any campus.

And when they see that you do spoken word performances on your Facebook page, as another example, an impromptu roulette of poetry happens; they all stand on a table and from their smartphones read Poe, Kipling and Burns.[1] You read out the start of Ginsberg’s Howl because you’re hip and modern like that. And it’s all surprising because in high school your friends discarded literature as stuff passionately hated by any sane individual through the medium of irony, dry humour that barely ceased during adolescence, thereby driving you to play convoluted mind games like everyone else, to hide your passions and disarm self-sincerity with dry humour and believe in the never-ending joke.

Yet here you were, hearing near-strangers stand on a table reading words composed before any of us were born, half-parodic and half-genuine. Finally you witnessed the fact that people are just people. Humans are, to heavily paraphrase David Foster Wallace (because of course you would like him, cliché liberal arts fresher you) sentimental balls of goo who just want to be hugged. Like dough balls. Giant pudgy dough balls, walking around, waiting to be eaten either by the void and/or an ambivalent god, yearning to have a meaningful dough-on-dough experience in the meantime, to be moisturised in another’s metaphorical and totally not-disturbing sauce musk. “Yes,” you think, “this is an apt metaphor for human existence.”

Talking of weird imagery, people usually walk like traffic from Hillhead, you notice, on their way to tutorials or lectures. They walk with heads slightly bowed, listening to music or their own shuffle, close beside each other. At times people overtake, power-walking ahead of another to get closer to their destination. A select few slow down to avoid the awkwardness of too close a proximity to their fellow walker, because seeming ready to talk in that context would be awkward. Obviously. No, the right way to make friends is to deliberately shut down parts of our brain with sweetened poison and then garble to another person until you share phone numbers or hug or whatever. That’s why children are so stupid; they don’t understand all the 100%-rational precautions needed before talking to other people. You suppose all first-year students are toddlers, then, in their eagerness to reach out, be who they want to be, utter an uncompromised ‘hello’.


After only knowing them for a day or so this group has either professed their platonic love for you or, more reservedly, given you the highest lad-honour of “a sound guy.” Even they’re not sure why. One suggests you have a lovable face. You’re okay with that too.

But there’s still a distance. “Talk to me” is thrown around and you try, but struggle with what to say. Earlier, at the club, you tried something similar. There was a woman shaking, sitting far from the smoking area; her arm was bleeding, joined with her other to make a cage around herself; you asked if she was okay, she weakly nodded back; you asked what her name was, she shook her head; you got the bouncers to help and they stayed with her. An ambulance was parked outside when you left an hour later, still self-conscious about dancing in the presence of her trauma. It feels worse mentioning it in a collegiate article. But maybe the most heart-breaking thing was how predictable it was that you were the first to help. Even you felt the delay, the temptation to mind one’s business, to not get uncomfortable by proxy. You decide that isolating oneself, self-wrought loneliness, is a corrosive defence based on fear. And maybe your personal drive to do the unexpected is an attempt at fighting that. Maybe awkwardness becomes part and parcel of being a better person.

You recall a party back in high school. You left the house because of some vague adolescent melancholy and decided to stand on one of the play-swings outside, in the garden. It was cold— a March night— and while wobbling over the dew-wet grass you looked up to the stars. Orion’s Belt sought its stoic place past the first half of a question mark, you jumping between these plastic plates where you and others, as children, leapt in tandem to friendlier pendulums. And you yearned for what was lost when moving from these years of agony so comfortable into sometime unknown, to higher education. Even after the move up north to Aberdeen these feelings still seem to resonate. Now you wonder whether life, when out of childhood’s grasp, becomes a series of greetings and goodbyes.


Regretfully there is the chance you might never see these people again, all befriended because you were willing to laugh and push yourself to surreal moments. That itself is a minor kind of miracle, you have to admit. You can’t run from yourself. But you can walk with other people on their journeys, making the brief moments together last forever.

So, here, lying on the bed of daffodils by the Dee’s ceaseless motion, your new friend says he sees all the stars— more than at home, at Hillhead— spinning.  You can make mental maps between the bone-white points in the sky. He talks about a red hemisphere rotating over it, as well; you like to think that’s a cosmic heart, of sorts. A very strange heart, for sure, but still wonderful. On the other side man-made lamps make the waves amber in their light. He says he’s at peace. You have to agree.


[1] A few are also topless while doing this.

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