Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sad but inevitable truth about Ayr.

If you go into a certain supermarket in the Scottish town of Ayr, you will see a set of old photographs of the town on one of the walls. Among them is a view of Burns Statue Square from 1956. It may be a black and white picture, but what it shows is a neat, well kept and pleasant burgh with interesting shops, and a general air of seaside prosperity - a town you might be glad to visit for a holiday, or a day trip. We moved to the town in the early 1960s while I was still a child and that's the town I remember: a wee bit conservative, (well, very conservative, if I'm honest) but in general, a good place to be.
No longer. There is, I'm afraid, no polite way of putting this. The town centre is a dump. Gradually, over the years, all the small, independent shops (the kind that make, for example, small towns like Castle Douglas such a joy to visit) have disappeared to be replaced by chain stores, 'pound' stores and banks, paying vast rates for town centre premises - or charity shops. The fish market was moved to Troon and the harbourside has been built over with new flats which just about block the view of the sea from the bridges over the river.
We might just have managed to put up with all that but worse was to come. There is, quite simply, no reason for tourists to visit the town. There is nothing to do except shop, and you'll find far better shops in Glasgow. There's a good beach, but there are good beaches elsewhere. If you're looking for a walk along the sands, you might as well carry on to any one of a number of picturesque villages to the south of Ayr, or head north where Largs has so much more to offer.
You could go out to Burns Cottage. But if you're in 'history' mode, you'd be better to 'do' the Cottage and then go on to Kirkoswald, to Soutar Johnnie's cottage - and to Culzean. Why on earth would you want to linger when Ayr is dirty, dilapidated, and depressing. Public lavatories? You must be joking. A theatre? Oh no - the old Civic is a wreck and they just closed and boarded up the Gaiety, which in any case had weeds sprouting from every orifice. Museum? What museum? There's a fine gallery out at Rozelle, but again, if you're headed that way, you might just as well keep going south. There's a swimming pool in a building of sixties municipal ugliness down by the seashore, but that too looks as though it might be on its last legs. There was one of the best ice pads in the UK out on the road to Prestwick, but they've just demolished it. You can't walk in Craigie Park for fear of being mugged and if you go out to Belleisle House, the wonderful Victorian conservatory, which I remember as being such a pleasure to visit, is out of bounds, falling down. Even pets corner is closing.
Meanwhile, as fine a set of Georgian buildings as you have ever seen, beside the New Bridge, buildings of great historical significance, which anywhere else would be treasured, home to galleries, shops, cafes - are (and have been for many many years now) in a state of dilapidation which seems nothing short of criminal.
I live in South Ayrshire. The council tax bill just came in. It is not small. So what, in the name of all that's unholy, are they spending it on? Question councillors and you will be told 'education' - but my son went to a local school, and believe me, the school in question wasn't having very much spent on it. Now, over the whole of South Ayrshire, the council have just closed a tranche of venues which provide exercise and occupation for youngsters - Girvan swimming pool and various sports and activity halls in the smaller, less well off villages, places from which the children have no hope of travelling, because the bus services are dreadful as well. With Girvan swimming pool goes the canoe club, which kept a big group of kids safely occupied through the winter months. With Dailly sports hall goes the karate club that used to meet there. And all while local government - and national government too - bleat hypocritically about vandalism and - God help us - rising levels of obesity. This is nothing short of iniquitous.
There were more public loos in ancient Rome, than there are now in the whole of South Ayrshire. They are in the process of closing Council offices in the smaller towns, so that elderly people will have to travel miles to register a death or pay their council tax. Well, maybe they can use the post office for that. Oh, hold on a minute, those have all closed as well although it was the UK government who sanctioned that one. An elderly friend who was rushed into hospital recently, and was a little late with ONE month's payment of council tax because she couldn't get to the post van - received a letter from South Ayrshire Council threatening her with sheriff's officers! Not too strapped for cash to send threatening letters to pensioners then?
The One Stop Shop which offered such excellent advice about all kinds of issues, including benefits, to the people of Maybole has also shut, deprived of funds. Now, they are going to charge us to uplift heavy pieces of refuse (Fly tipping anyone? And won't clearing all those sofas and fridges from the roadsides cost just as much in the long run?) Mind you, if you do attempt to drive anywhere, you will find potholes the side of craters in all the county's rural AND urban roads. Lots and lots and lots of them. Walk through the town and the empty shops, the kilos of dog dirt and the general ill kempt look of the whole place will soon get you down. It is exactly this kind of neglect which spawns more vandalism. God help the poor traders who struggle on, paying exorbitant rates for this, while heads of services still receive 70k salaries.
This is an area whose main industry is tourism. Walking through the streets of Ayr, right now, you would have no inkling that this might be the case. Credit crunch or no, you don't destroy everything that might help to sustain that industry. What's the good of having tourist signage if there's nowhere left for it to point to?
Oh yes. The sea. That's about it. Perhaps some of our elected members past and present (because this kind of thing doesn't happen overnight) might do us all a favour, head down there, and take a running jump.


Susan said...

Hi Catherine,

As a resident for 40 years I have watched the town go steadily downhill. When I came in 1969 I thought "what a marvellous place to live" - not any more!

One disagreement - the salary for heads of services - I believe the new CEO, David Anderson, really has instigated a change of atmosphere in the council offices and he is trying to get the best people in post - at least he seems to have weeded out the real bad lots! £70k is probably the going rate around - I agree it should not so high but folk only go to the USA if we do not pay them here.


Erna said...

Hi Catherine, I love reading your blog, as I told you before I love Scotland. I visited Ayr and Girvan last November and I have to agree, they're not very attractive, but it's Scotland haha.
Please keep writing
Erna from Holland

Susan said...

I cannot altogether agree with Erna, though its good that she writes from Holland. I met some Swedish visitors many years ago who said what a beautiful country Scotland was, but it was a pity about the towns. I think that is probably what Erna means?

Elvira`s knitting blog said...

We love Scotland, and we have been many places in Scotland, but AYR is the most beautiful town of all !!!!!!
I just love to walk down the street in the summer (or any season) and smell the nice smell of sea, and watch happy peole walking around or sitting on a bench. And so many exiting shops !!!! For us tourists it is a "mekka" ha ha. But I dont know how it was before - I gues only more cozy. I love to eat.
I wish I was SCOTTISH ! I would havd moved to Ayr ;-)
Rita from Norway

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Hi Rita, well, it still is a beautiful place, and the sea and beach are lovely - but sadly, we have had terrible local government for some years and have watched the town going steadily downhill. Lots of empty shops, things like the Gaiety Theatre closing and so on...But we are hoping for better things, since there have been BIG changes of the council officers and the new people seem better. So don't stop coming!