Fuck Hitler

The news that three artists had been killed by a goods train came as a surprise to many who imagined that the slogans spray-painted along the rail-lines of the UK were simply part of a marketing campaign by fat-cat rail executives intent on entertaining dwindling customers in the wake of the recent timetable delays.

But in the big reality, Twitter comments by the likes of former Transport for London board member Brian Cooke calling the dead perps “common scum and criminals who cost the railway millions and keep fares high” are unwholesome. Vandalism can of course be destructive. But one man’s vandalism can of course be another’s art. Wall art is not entirely about puerile penile fantasies and homophobia. Much of the creativity implies a need to be heard and a desire to communicate to an outside world.
The often graphic sexual images, rudely erotic comments and sometimes insulting narrative may in essence be a cover for the need to be understood or indeed misunderstood.

“FUCK HITLER” when sprayed on a 1960’s damp concrete multi storey edifice may in reality be a subversive comment regarding planning policies.
Likewise, “MO MO IS FAT” when painted on a fast food outlet door is open to wide interpretation. Is Mo Mo fat because the business owners don’t care about the hydrogenated fat content of the burgers on sale?

Or is this simply a meditative Buddhist take on the perception of a reality near you. Try reversing the text.

Polphail at Portivadie is a prime example. The Loch Fyne village consisting of some cottagers, a family run farm and around a dozen summer-time holiday hutters was bought over by a government agency in the 1960’s.

Intent on building oil rigs for oil hungry Klondikers, the devil may care career civil servants offered householders a deal. Get out or get forced out was the message. Most left in a hurry.

Keen to exploit the black gold, the UK government of the day with the complete compliance of the Scottish Office focused on a site which was intended to become an oil rig construction facility.

Despite extensive work costing the nation millions, the white elephant of Portivadie was never used for its intended purpose. In a moment of unmitigated madness, planners employed outdated thinking to an industry which they completely misunderstood. The assumption was that oil rigs should be constructed from concrete despite the industry’s total reliance on state of the art steel-built drill platforms.

Shorelines were torn up; local folk were offered minimal compensation for dwellings owned by generations before and buildings were bulldozed. Local landmarks such as the Watch Rock were blown up and 6th century carved stones were thrown into Loch Fyne. No rigs were ever constructed nor even ordered from the Portivadie facility and the construction site now functions as a marina.

Ironically the Civil Service blunders continued as Hansard (03 February 1981 vol 998 cc147-54) records that: “£3.3 million of public money” was used “due to an omission, an error, a blunder—call it what you may—by either the Scottish Office or the Department of Energy, or both, the ownership of the village passed to a company called Sea Platform Constructors (Scotland) Ltd. because the Department or Departments failed to buy the land from it. Under the provisions of Scottish law, the ownership of the village passed to the private owners of the land on which the village was sited.”
The workers accommodation village built for the failed project still stood until quite recently. It was full of bats and broken windows plus the detritus of decades of neglect.
In October 2009, a group of six graffiti artists decided to paint the place. Armed with a few dozen gallons of spray-paint plus some long aluminium ladders, they transformed the derelict concrete village from a grey Stalinist concrete gulag into a point of contention.

The street artist combine, Agents of Change consisting of Derm, Rough, Timid, Stormy, System and Juice126 initially contacted the site owner Alan Bradley to ask permission to re-decorate Polphail in a street-wise way.
Alan replied: “as long as you’re insured and you protect yourselves – go for it, guys!” Basically, bring your own paint and do your thing was the message from the Laird of Polphail.
The results were stunning.

We visited in rain but were completely bowled over since the graphics occupied entire walls. Rarely were there any words and most of these were in good humour.
There were no “WANK IF YOU LIKE ME” comments here. The most contentious phrase was “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SPARKAY” however we failed to penetrate the innermost sanctum due to some darkly deep puddles and a few very dead sheep.

In June 2012 the workers village at Polphail was put up for sale. Word-on-the-wire was that its status as a heritage habitat for bats might prevent demolition.

In June 2010, Glasgow photographer Brian Cumming visited the site to document the changes since the arts project. His findings were that not much had really changed:
“Polphail is still very much derelict with not much having happened over the last few years, it still really is a dark and gloomy mysterious yet fascinating place, especially for creative people such as myself.”

Sadly, Polphail no longer exists in any meaningful physical form. The bulldozers eventually moved in and the bats were evicted.

A video of the place inhabits cyberspace @: Polphail

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire


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