THEY’RE wee fragments of experience, ones I’ve hung onto since I was an eight-year-old. They may be compressed or burnished by

the passage of time, drunk-edited by memory. Anyway, I lay them before you.

It’s a Girvan holiday, about 1972 (I would guess). Like a standard Coatbridge family, our summer leisure trail took in Rothesay, Ardrossan, Arran. And now this year, back to Girvan again.

I liked Girvan. There were sputtery, stately motorboats that you could steer round a concrete canal. There was crazy golf that drove you just crazy enough to be good fun. There were fish suppers accessible at any time, salt and vinegar versus the ever-impending rain.

And this year, something amazing had landed on the seafront. I was already into sci-fi, and my eight-year-old head couldn’t quite compute that an entire space station seemed to have been erected in Girvan. It was modular, many-coloured, multi-partitioned: in floorspace, as big as a council headquarters.

Amazingly, there were doors that invited you in, overarched with the words “The Fifth Dimension”. The first thing that happened, a few steps in, is that the solid floor turned to sponge – without any warning. What’s happening …?

I battled on, a bit scared but definitely tingling. I don’t remember the whole sensory onslaught. But I did have to squeeze myself between giant foam columns, negotiate a forest of Perspex strips, process strange space noises and flashing lights – and again, have the ground go suddenly squishy under my feet.

I came out and stared at the curvilinear hulk I’d just passed through. I knew I didn’t want to do it again. But I have never forgotten my basic, wee-boy feeling: is this what my future will look and feel like? This weird, this colourful, this tubular? I am recalling Girvan’s The Fifth Dimension, an extraordinary construction and visitor experience that ran from 1970-74. It was designed and built by the London-based psychedelic artist Keith Albarn (yes, Damon’s dad), and commissioned by the good burghers of the Parks Commission of Girvan Town Council.

Among some cognoscenti of A Certain Age, the Fifth Dimension (or as one wag recently replied, “I didn’t even know Girvan had a Fourth”) has been a treasured inspiration. Some of us needed the arrival of the internet and its search engines, so we could corroborate it. Had it just been a youthful fever-dream?

No: it existed. This May, a research paper written by Luke Dickens of King’s College London and Tim Edensor of Manchester Metropolitan University popped up on the web. “Entering the Fifth Dimension” begins some of the legwork needed to seriously recover the memory and significance of this strange landmark in modern Scottish culture.

There are some big cultural theories they raise which reverberate into the present (I’ll come to them later). But for now, it’s enough to luxuriate in some of the back stories.

Albarn begins by recalling a delegation from Girvan council, visiting him at his London design practice. His place was swarming with “kinetic and luminal constructionists”, pursing playful experiments in all forms. Albarn’s circle included the architects Richard Rogers and Peter Cook, the dramatist Joan Littlewood, even an certain engineer named James Dyson.

In Albarn’s recollection, the officials were unfazed by the scene. “I said ‘Girvan?’ ‘Yes, I hope you’ve heard of Girvan.’ So I said, ‘well, er...’ One of them said, ‘Well, that’s why we’re here, because you should have done! We are a very fine little town.” (Even a “very progressive little town”, as one of them reported to the Ayr Advertiser in 1969. The building was part of an Ayrshire holiday resort arms race, with rival councils sending spies to investigate the tubular monster).

They hardly faltered when it came to titling the venue. In addition to the Fifth Dimension, Albarn remembers suggesting “Coloured Plastic Dream,” “Dream Circus”, “Metal Orchid”. I certainly hope that one councillor’s proposal at least made it to the final two: “Girvana”.

ONE of the joys of Dickens and Edensor’s paper are their collections and contemporary reminiscences of “5D” (as they abbreviate it). Grant Middleton’s memory confirms the details of my own, but adds details. “There were various colourful kinetic displays mounted on the walls, with shimmering Moire patterns and liquid wheel projections. The cut‐outs seemed to freak me out the most. They suggested weird animal and humanoid forms which were the stuff of unsettling dreams or surrealist paintings.”

“I cannot overstate just how big an impression the Fifth Dimension made on me at the time,” continues Middleton, “and just how huge an influence it has been on the rest of my life. It sounds crazy, but it has left me with a lifelong fascination for surrealism, psychedelia, and most importantly with Electronic Music”.

Me too – almost exactly the same impact. There were evidently some powerful aesthetics coursing through 5D, which the paper painstakingly tracks down. Albarn was part of the 1960s creative movement that included Archigram, Cedric Price’s Fun Palaces, the “happenings” that stretched from the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow to the ICA in London.

They all wanted to build “structures” – and these could be anything, from toys and chairs to housing and factories - that were designed to flexibly respond to human desires and imaginations, not squish and standardise them. 5D’s modular design was intended to be recombined, like duplo bricks.

One councillor opined that “the fun palace units are so versatile that they can be dismantled and put up again in a new shape at little expense. So each year we could have an exciting new effect”. (Although one robust winter Girvan storm in 1974 was enough to fatally trash the structure, which was then consigned to landfill).

Was the council fully aware that they were part of a revolt against (as the academics put it) “the dominant paternal and colonial programme of modernist functionality, centred on efficiency and predefined use, and in which creative destruction becomes the common response when these criteria are deemed to be no longer met”? Er, maybe not.

But the authors make a really interesting case. They believe that 5D was indeed inflicting a true psychedelic experience on the impressionable eight-year olds of Scotland. It’s just that the sensory and spatial upheavals it wreaked on our tiny minds, using perpsex strips and foam floors, didn’t require hard drugs of any kind. Indeed, Dickens and Edinsor think that the Fifth Dimension opens up a tradition of non-drugs-centred psychedelia, waiting to be recovered from cultural history.

In 2019, the deeply likeable Keith Albarn gave his own perspective on all this mind-altering. “I was trying to do things which in a sense were answering the same desire to be in a state of super consciousness, but I felt that you could do it without bloody weed because my experience of working with people who were high wasn’t actually very profitable. Great company, but not much production.”

I have one last piquant 5D memory. I recall being somewhat bemused, at the end of my psychedelic rough-and-tumble, when I came to the “organic and exotic sensory zone”. Installed there by the Parks Convenor of Girvan, as Design magazine reported at the time, was a massive rock garden and pool.

The writer’s lip clearly curling, the report continues that “this may lay serious claim to being the finest collection of artificial plants in the British isles…This cuckoo in the psychedelic nest completely dwarfs - and very nearly cancels out - everything that precedes and follows it. If the Fifth Dimension has a fifth dimension, this is undoubtedly it.”

Clearly, there was only so much ontological creativity a seaside council could take (though the Fifth Dimension incited my appetites in that direction ever since). Or perhaps that person on the Parks Committee naming session finally got his way. There you go: a state of true Girvana.