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Ping-pong and then she's gone
Stuart Macdonald

Damn Aberdeen! That grey, brooding, lonely place. It teeters on the brink of the North Sea, clinging desperately to the shore whilst it reaches its greedy paws out for more. Like a spoilt child; more fish, more oil, more money and more people. Always more - so much so in fact, that it beggars belief that someone hasn't just one day given it a nice firm shove into the deep blue depths.

This stance may seem somewhat irrational at first, but please take a moment to reconsider. I'm quite certain that all of us have, at one point or another, held a deep-rooted grievance against a place for whatever reason. In some cases (such as mine) you may never have lived there, or even visited - it's just that whenever its name is mentioned, you feel your blood beginning to boil and your teeth clench so hard you think they might crack. For some, the reasons are straightforward. For instance, a girl meets a guy from, say, Brighton whilst on holiday in Ibiza, who loves her so much he leaves her a small token of his affection - Genital Herpes. However, for others such as myself the reasons are infinitely more complex - I was robbed. Aberdeen robbed me of £2.5 million and left me without so much as a black eye to show for my troubles. Worse than that, however, the bloody place stole the heart of my first true love.

We were in the same year at secondary school and I fancied the pants off her; and thought that she quite liked me. When we neared the end of our final exams and a school trip to Kenya beckoned, I was sure that my chance had come. I'm still uncertain as to exactly where I initially went wrong.

©Aberdeen Art Gallery

Perhaps she was discouraged by the sight of me in a pair of garish green and rather translucent Speedo swimming shorts. I was maybe being a little forward in this regard, but for my part, I adored her every nuance and flourish at the Ping-Pong Table, where we spent much of our time in the hotel after the first week's Safari. Hardly the most romantic of pastimes I agree, but we played tirelessly, as though firing this small plastic ball at one another was in some way an expression of our as yet, undeclared love.

Rather disappointingly, however, it seemed that my cunning ploy of allowing her to beat me convincingly every time, was backfiring. Instead of thinking me a skilled and charming but over-generous opponent, I became something of a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter. It was a bizarrely masochistic addiction - I kept going back for more; and losing terribly. I think that the only thing I did manage to win was her pity and sadly precious little of her coveted affection.

This rather irritating and frankly pathetic state of affairs persisted, until Nature (or rather Neptune) decided to lend a hand. Some bright spark hit upon the idea of exploring the lagoon out to the distant coral reef that shielded our coastal paradise from the whims of the Indian Ocean. Quite a fine idea you may be forgiven for thinking, if only the ramshackle native craft which we enthusiastically boarded in order to undertake our plan, had managed to stay afloat. In retrospect, it would have presented quite an amusing spectacle for anyone close enough to witness the events which unfolded as we floundered in the middle of the lagoon. Our Captain proved to be the master of understatement when, with his unsteady half tree-trunk of a vessel full of shrieking students and taking on water faster than the Titanic, he cried out that we shouldn't be alarmed, although Sharks had recently been sighted in the vicinity.

The ensuing panic was indeed something to behold and had there actually been any opportunistic Dorsal fins circling our stricken vessel, they would surely have been delighted at the prospect of plucking their thrashing prey at will, as we dutifully set about drowning one another. There was, however, opportunism of another sort about to scythe its way through the water and into my unsuspecting mind: rescue. After all, what damsel in distress can resist the romance of a gallant escape from the clutches of certain doom? So with the speed and skill born of desperation, I cut through the frothing water over our rapidly descending Marie Rose, towards where the object of my affections was thankfully still afloat and hauled her shoreward. Fortunately, I was forgiven for half-drowning her and was able to claim my reward - a kiss!

Happily united back in Scotland, we spent an idyllic summer together, our relationship blossoming in the seemingly endless sunshine that prevailed that year. It felt as though we were destined to last forever in contented harmony. Eventually, however, as with all spells of sunshine, clouds have an irritating habit of appearing on the horizon to wreck the party. In our case, the particular cloud was especially nasty and dark. As the weeks rushed by, it loomed ever larger in our lives until one day it blotted out the sun for good. That cloud was Aberdeen.

An interesting by-product of a relationship that is stalked by the spectre of separation, is denial. That is at least how we dealt with the ever deepening shadow which was cast over our lives, by the knowledge that with the end of summer would come a new beginning at University. In her case it was to be Aberdeen and in mine Glasgow. For a couple of weeks we attempted to keep in touch, but with each day apart, the certainty grew that it was over. Our lives were headed in different directions, with new friends and experiences and that was that. It broke my heart.

To add insult to injury, her parents had the cheek to win £2.5 million from the Lottery six months later. Not content with stealing my heart's desire, it seemed as though Aberdeen wanted to ensure that I would forever cringe when I heard her name, at the thought of what might have been. I felt cheated, lost, and angry all at once. Most of all, however, I felt something akin to what most men must have felt when gangly Joe Di Maggio made off with his prize of magnificent Marilyn Monroe. Lucky bastard.

© Stuart Macdonald 2001

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