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Yes, Aberdeen the Silver City with the Golden Sands was the guideboook's title. Published in 1950, it was in a box of books my father had bought from a roup (Scots: auction.) Since then, it's been on my own bookshelf for years - because I want to go to the place it describes. Trams still glide, while the Northern Cooperative Society 'can supply your every need while in the Granite City' and 'Stillade Makes Thirst a Joy'. Take me back to that Aberdeen the Silver City, when the Gordon Highlanders were an army regiment and not a museum, and the approach to the city via the long-gone hairpin called the Devil's Elbow, on today's A93 between Blairgowrie and Braemar, had the mystery of a remote alpine pass.
I must emphasise that all quotations from Aberdeen the Silver City guide (cover pictured below) are verbatim. I'm not making any of this up. 'For whatever your tastes.....the stimulating vigour of the sea, or the bizarre stimulations of the town - Aberdeen can cater for them all.' It's funny now, looking back on the Aberdeen of my childhood a little later, how I never associated the place with the bizarre or the stimulating. The only curious thing I can remember was a joke shop somewhere up George Street. But then, maybe for grown-ups it was different.
The old guidebook, the production of the Corporation of The City of Aberdeen's Publicity Department recalls a vanished age, before the invention of understatement. This 'translucent pearl set in platinum', this 'sun-kissed' Silver City offered the ideal holiday. It even gives the recipe.
First, it says you must get up early to see the fishing boats land their catches - though, admittedly, some tourism literature of today still unfathomably recommends this. Thereafter, the guide coyly suggests 'you can eat a small part of the cargo you saw being landed'. (It seems to suggest that 1950s tourists had the appetities of a school of killer whales.) It then says that afterwards, at ten o'clock, you have to make for the beach. 'After a swim, let yourself dry in the sun'.. In this post-war period of austerity, perhaps holidaymakers were too poor to own towels.
But the day is far from over. After golf, tennis or bowls, 'recalling the great days of Drake' (What?)'...comes a bus trip through mountains and streams'. Let's see, under the heading of popular sports, be assured that 'Riding stables fringe the town'. No industrial estates and oil support pipe-yards in those days. 'Is there anything more pleasant than a fine horse and a brisk canter over moorland?' Looking back to those far-off gentle times, was this a fair question to ask a family from deepest Glasgow on their precious once a year holiday? In any case this Aberdeen the Silver City guide suggests that a walk along the two-mile promenade 'before breakfast, lunch or tea, will.....produce a feeling of exhilaration seldom experienced'.
Let's skip the history chapter, except for admiring Marischal College, 'a poem in granite....at its most regally splendid by moonlight'. Instead, we can plunge back into the seaside, which gets a whole section to itself. After all, Aberdeen the Silver City did once proudly promote itself as the largest seaside resort in Scotland, a strategy echoed by the Aberdeen Fun Beach banner that still seems to be part of the marketing today.
(Gosh, weren't they thin in those days?)
Aberdeen the Silver City guides lists nine dance halls, as well as fifteen cinemas. If you weren't completely sookit (Scots: wrinkled by water immersion) by daytime beach frolics you could also visit the swimming baths in Justice Mill Lane, only ten years old then and 'built on Olympic scale'. (Ah, such aspirations of the old Corporation.) As if tiring of the sheer splendour of it all, the guide concludes that:'By night the entertainment vista of Aberdeen is limitless'- a modest slogan which I thoroughly commend to today's city tourism promoters.
There is much more in similar style. What hasn't changed was the need to offset the printing costs of such a publication by taking advertising. In 1950 advertising, Aberdeen hairdressers pleaded: 'May we give you your next Eugene?' (Nope, no idea - the illustration looks like a lady whose head is covered in wood shavings.) On the other hand, when eating out you could be sure that 'If you take your Friends to Dine at Mitchell and Muil's Quality Restaurants, the Result will be Complete Satisfaction' (and a tendency to capitalise at random). Certainly, there would be no need to avail yourself of the product on the next page, where Caie and Co proclaim their expertise in gravestones. 'Whether it be the splitting of the atom, the building of Meteor Aircraft, or the production of Granite Memorials, precision and fine judgment are necessary', it says as a fine example of the copywriter's art.
Implicit in the writing of sixty years ago is the messsage that the city could not only compete with the other Scottish holiday places but could in many ways outshine them. Now, the global industry of tourism is infinitely more competitive. In a Scottish city context, today's Edinburgh is buzzing and has a certain status as a European destination of choice. For many years, Glasgow has assumed it is 'miles better' and gets results through an unswerving belief in its own coolness. Dundee has gone through a similar process of re-invention. Six decades ago, Aberdeen the Silver City was 'famous as one of Britain's leading holiday resorts, or so the old guidebook claimed. With tourism appearing to play a secondary role to almost four decades' preoccupation with the oil industry, how will 21st century Aberdeen make that leading resort claim again? With a Donald Trump toxic golf course?
More information on Aberdeen the Silver City on the Scotland city summary page.
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