Cities

Broughton Street Boys from the Blackstuff

Road resurfacing workers in Broughton Street, Edinburgh © J. Ashley Nixon

 

Tarmac, asphalt, blackstuff. A material with many names yet a common use on road surfaces around the world. Recently, I had a front-row view of its application as it was laid down along Broughton Street in Edinburgh.

Workplace film set

Over a few nights, the street was closed off to passing traffic, making way for a nightshift crew, their JCB diggers and other machines to pull up the old surface and put down a new layer of bitumen toughened up with a mix of pebbles. By Saturday, the job was complete due to some very focused hard work by the MacLay Civil Engineering team. Floodlights and vehicle headlights reflected off their yellow high-vis overalls turned their workplace into a film set, a fascinating street stage to photograph their craft.

Tarmacadam

The visit reminded me of the blackstuff inventor, Scotsman, John Loudon McAdam. I recalled the origins of this material from tar and, later, from bitumen, a petroleum product. It triggered thoughts on the naturally occurring oil sands of Alberta, also known as tar sands by opponents to their development, concerned by this hydrocarbon’s high CO2-intensity, even though it is less than the coal still combusted in too many North American power stations.

Boys from the Blackstuff

I reminisced over Boys from the Blackstuff. Each of the episodes of this classic television series broadcast on British telly in 1982 put a focus on the trials and tribulations of five scousers, or Liverpudlians (Yosser, Chrissie, Loggo, George, and Dixie), who had previously worked together on a job in Middlesborough putting down tarmac. Now they themselves were put down. Unemployed workers back home in Liverpool; they and their families devasted by the divisive politics of Margaret Thatcher. Shockingly, the characters represented five people in a mass of three million workers, or one in eight, who were unemployed in Britain at that time.

Desperate Dan

The most notable character of that series was Yosser Hughes, performed by Bernard Hill, a large and deeply tragic-comic character fondly remembered for his line “Gizza job!” (give us a job) and his tearful confession during a mental breakdown with the local priest who, when asked to be called Dan, Yosser replied: “I’m desperate, Dan.” Brilliant script writing for a truly black comedy from the Liverpool-born playwright, Alan Bleasdale.

More photos of the Blackstuff

For more images from Broughton Street’s road surface make-over and other photography, please visit J. Ashley Nixon Communications.

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