How I tried to explain to a Chinese tourist that our ‘Great Wall’ will be unique in all the world

by Colin Campbell

AS I had another look at the Gathering Place site on Sunday morning, I came across a Chinese visitor who asked me to use her camera to take a few photos of her standing by the Ness riverside with the islands in the background.

After taking some pictures, Carol Chih, chatty and very quick on the uptake, waved a hand towards the fencing, rubble, concrete and barricades which I suspect seem utterly incongruous to visitors strolling along our otherwise unspoilt and serene riverside.

Visitor Carol Chih at the Gathering Place site as she gave her views on the riverside’s Great Wall.

“And what is this?” she asked.

Because that question defies rational explanation, and because it would take a week to explain detail of the entire saga, I gave a truncated response.

“It is wall that is being built, and is partly completed. Many people are opposed to it. But those who are building it say when it is finished it will be unique, and something that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” (The words of Arts group chairwoman Isabelle Mackenzie).

Miss Chih, who spoke perfect English, looked at the concrete and rubble strewn site for a moment. Then she giggled. “China has the Great Wall. And you have this. Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think it might be so unique…”

Well, in terms of freely expressed global perspective, that was an interesting Sunday morning encounter.

Indeed. China has the Great Wall. We have the Gathering Place wall, with the “wonder of the world” claims made for it by our beyond crazy council. Need the charmingly forthright Miss Carol Chih or anyone else for that matter say more?

Meanwhile Highland Council has deigned to explain why it has been delayed for months beyond its proclaimed early summer completion date.

It’s been due to a shortage of materials caused by the knock on effect of the coronavirus.

However, that has now been rectified and the scheme is now due to forge ahead.

That’s a relief. Up to now it has looked like we’d be left with a half completed concrete monstrosity.

Now we are guaranteed a fully completed concrete monstrosity.

It’s a burden of the shoulders of council leader Margaret Davidson also, who a few days ago showed her stout, Churchillian leadership qualities by whining that the coronavirus in the Highlands was becoming almost unmanageable.

Well, at least she’ll manage to complete her beloved Gathering Place. Whatever else is going wrong, her council will most assuredly manage to do that.

Shortage of materials has been a problem throughout the construction industry. Many projects have stalled and ground to a halt.

You can bet Highland Council moved heaven and earth to ensure the same fate would not be befall their £300,000 ultimate vanity project.

That assumption is based on the obsession they have shown in recent times with getting this thing built.

If it was a choice between acquiring an adequate supply of concrete to build an orphanage or to complete the “artwork” monstrosity, the Gathering Place would win every time.

Before work began at this natural riverside beauty spot, there was no shortage of grass and trees and shrubbery in an area where people could relax and enjoy the scenery.

Now all that has been torn apart and the site is a dirt and rubble strewn shambles as the giant pillars of that hideous concrete wall have been put in place.

The many people who believed it would look ghastly underestimated the intent of council leader Davidson, arts group chairwoman Isabelle MacKenzie and Provost Helen Carmichael.

It looks even worse.

To add insult to injury, a council spokesman said that work would now proceed to ensure the “vision” of the highly paid Glasgow designers who sold the notion of this thing to these council clowns would be completed to perfection.

What vision was that again? The delusional spiel where it was claimed by the “artists” that it would “complement the river and people’s relationship to it, to frame and invite others to appreciate it. A thin ribbon of stone frames the Ness, starting as an access, becoming a path to run along for a child, a bench for reading a book, a viewing point up and down the river, a back-rest for looking across it. In its upstream portion it weaves through the trees and bushes to offer a unique view up the river or back to the Castle and Cathedral.”

And of course Davidson, Mackenzie and Carmichael, to name but three, swallowed that ineffable garbage hook, line and sinker.

In addition to the shortage of concrete to desecrate and vandalise the riverside, this three year travesty has been marked by other glaring shortages. Of consultation, of candour, of openness, of willingness to listen to the public, and most strikingly of all, of basic commonsense.

In stark contrast, however, there have been excesses also, of vanity, of arrogance, of secrecy, of delusion, of chronic wastefulness, £300,000 in total, and most of all a sickening obsession among the clique involved to get their way at all or any cost.

They can issue as many intelligence insulting statements about “unique, world class artwork “as they like, to no avail.

People can see with their eyes what is taking shape, and compared with the natural setting that was there before, it is hideous.

Every last one of those involved in this wretched affair should be booted out at the next council elections, and because of the huge number of people infuriated by it, and the naming of names by the influential Openness group, in some cases that could yet happen.

The Gathering Place, beyond its immediate environs, vividly shows what happens when supremely arrogant councillors run out of control with near fanatical determination to get their way at any price.

As Carol Chih might have thought on further reflection, Chairman Mao would have been proud of them.

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