People ask me whether I write about Sheffield much.  I live in Sheffield.  I wouldn’t say I know it inside and out, but I know it pretty well.

I suppose I do kind of love this town.  It’s a love derived from familiarity. But being familiar with it, very familiar, I take it for granted.

One day I’ll probably leave Sheffield for another, more exciting town.

What a dick

Because of this, stories set in Sheffield don’t appeal to me.  They aren’t as interesting as tales built around bustling London, which I’ve visited but never lived in; or exotic South America; breathtaking Japan; or the rugged, mist-drowned mountain ranges of Tibet.

It would be like taking photographs of your own kitchen cupboards. You just don’t do it.

To see the world in a grain of sand, or an apartment in a mirror.

This is Sheffield for me:

— Magpies picking at bread in the early morning after a rainstorm.

— Overweight mothers in sweatsuits screeching at their bored, insolent toddlers.

— A fifth-floor view over old redbrick buildings, brown rooftops, decrepit industrial sites reduced to hollows, smokestacks and steeples.

— The old Stan Lee lookalike on the shopping promenade who wears a yellow safety jacket and waves a placard quoting the Bible.  I call him the Placard Hell man.

— Eva, the Evangelical.  Don’t know her real name.  She’s an ebony herald of the Lord who can often be seen outside the Boots, wandering by the bus stops around Chapel Square or riding the bus itself.  She preaches like a lunatic.  She sings like Whoopie Goldburg.  Can I get a ‘Hail Mary’?  She makes me alternately joyful and supremely irritated.

— Most recently, the monstrous ferris wheel that hunkers at the confluence of thoroughfares in the city centre, lurching to the tune of £6.50 a pop with – currently – 42 empty capsules swinging like bloated bluebottles on a knackered pinwheel.

How'd you like to be a big wheel?

42

— If one were to bore through the Earth, suck out the air, and jump through, it would take you only 42 minutes to reach the other side.

— There are 42 gods and goddesses of Egypt.

— It is the number with which the Hebrew God created the universe.

— Rule no. 42: “All person more than a mile high to leave the court!”

Don't Panic!

There’s not much rhyme or reason to Sheffield.  The roads are one-way and criss-cross, intersect or loop around one another.  The bus routes zig-zag wastefully from one side of the city to the other.  Even the buskers loiter uncertainly, trying to pinpoint a place where the pedestrian traffic flows with any kind of consistency.

In Sheffield I have heard:

— Accoustic guitars

— Electric guitars

— Eucalales

— Banjos

— Harmonicas

— Accordians

— Bass drums

— Bongo drums

— Tin drums

— Tin whistles

— Oboes and bassanellis

— Saxophones

— Bagpipes, panpipes and boatswains pipes

Most of these people could play.

Not many of them could sing.

It’s a funny town.  I wrote about it in a story called “Hidden Homeless”, currently being considered by the BBC as part of a radio drama ‘competition’.  The homeless are everywhere in Sheffield. You see the obvious ones walking about like drunkards.  Actually most have perforated eardrums.  You would be forgiven for thinking the former.

One – I called him Geoffrey – constantly flicks his fingers beside his ear and smacks his gums together.  I realised, after many times of seeing him walk past the grotty cafeteria where I eat a greasy English breakfast before work, that he is mimicking the people he sees around him – talking on mobile phones.

He is observant, our Geoffrey.

There is Gilmli.  He’s a short fellow, rotund, bald on top like a stouter Clive Anderson, with long thin locks of hair hanging flaccidly from the back of his head. He is the dwarf and the wizard and the sneak all in one.  He wears a stripy sweater and never carries less than four plastic carrier bags full of who-knows-what.

There is Howzah.  I met her selling Big Issues one week, then bumming change off me the next.  I never asked what happened to the Big Issue work.  She asks me for forty pence for a cup of tea on the Monday and stops me again on the Thursday, never remembering me.  As far as I can tell.

She must drink a lot of tea.

She looks like a heroin addict and has dark rings under her eyes.  One week I chatted to her outside the Mediterranian-looking stand by the Monstrous Wheel that sells good cheese-and-tomato paninis.

Incidentally, the plural of panini is panini.

The singular of panini is panino.

You ask this guy for a panino he’s gonna look at you like you’re fucking cracked.

Yummy

This week I ordered a cheese-and-tomato panini.  Howzah seemed to know one of the guys.  One of her black rings seemed to have swollen around her eye, down her cheek, as far around as her ear and as low as the corner of her mouth.

Howzah always looks fucking miserable.

I lend her forty pence for a cup of tea often.

These are obviously homeless.  But there are hidden homeless.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.

The story is at the short-list stage.  If it fails to impress the BBC further, I will post it for free at Spinninglizard.co.uk.

I wrote about Sheffield in a novel of mine. “Spinning Lizard” would be the fifth of my published novels, should the ones in between ever see the light of day.  I describe Sheffield as faintly grotty, largely empty, alienating, confusing, arousing, invigorating.  There is a night-life and it usually entails getting the shit beaten out of you.

I have a nugget of hard flesh in my right ear from a dizzying punch. The swollen cartilage never went away.

In “Spinning Lizard”, the brother of Nicola Sorensen has been missing for some time.  Nicola gets a letter from the South Yorkshire Police, who have given up the search.

I retyped the letter, in full, from one that I received following the nugget experience.

I do write about Sheffield, sometimes.

Half Discovered Wings” has scenes of racial intolerance, of class prejudice, of an endless cemetary in the desert, of a claustrophobic network of stale values and smouldering underground hatred.  The sun shines on Sheffield too, sometimes – usually through a layer of white cloud, I must admit.  There are brighter days and intermittent festivals, fairs and markets.  I’ve lived her for most of twenty-five years, and I still live here.

The pudding itself is proof!

— db

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EDIT: A few people have asked for photographs of Placard Hell, the Stan Lee lookalike, and of Gimli, Geoffrey and Howzah.  I’ll do my best to take a few sneaky snapshots next time I see them!  If only I could get an audio clip of Eva …

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