Tag Archive: faith


Parade About Town

I have already pointed out some of the highlights and lowpoints of Sheffield.  Like pretty much any other city in the world, it has its contrasts.  It isn’t without its attractions however, many of which come clustered in the summer season when we expect it to rain, but only does most of the time.

The “Lord Mayor of Sheffield Day” this month began with a parade from the Peace Gardens.  The Gardens were built as part of Sheffield’s ‘Heart of the City’ project apparently in the 1930s, but only officially given the Peace Gardens moniker The Year of Our Lord 1985, when this constructor of painful sentences was born.

Parade in Blue

OOM-pah OOM-pah OOM-pah (etc)

The parade begins with the arrival of a marching brass band.  It’s the police – with trumpets.  They all look rather pleased to be out and about, dressed in their finest.  Instruments glinting in the rare sunshine.  Cheeks pink and lacey with veins.  The bompah-bompah-bompah sounds vaguely familiar.  Competant at least, right up until their arrival at the Gardens, where classes from something like thirty schools are waiting in costume.

Each school class has been designated a country, and together they represent a united world.  Somehow they all manage to avoid cringeworthy stereotyping – it would only spoil the mood if the Krauts showed up as lederhosen-wearing bratwurst-munchers and pissed off half the city’s European visitors.  Their interpretations are occasionally rather inventive, and manage to accommodate recognisable traits whilst side-stepping any serious cariactures.

Parade - Brazil

"What's that, Crow?  Eat a banana!?"

Hanuman approves of your celebratory attitude

There are numerous floats and puppets.  The first to turn the corner is a giant pinwheel crow-bird, which follows the procession as it swoops down West Street.  Later, when the bands start playing at Devonshire Square, this crow will hover and do some muppet-style dancing with its wings.  A few constructions even more giant, though faintly bewildering in the mounting summer heat.

A giant marionnette of an Indian god moves through the crowd on a wheeled platform. His arms and legs move via a system of pulleys.  His head turns and his mouth opens and closes. His blue-faced shepherd produces lilting, playing music from his clarinet.

I realise with a grin that the familiar tune coming from the police brass band is the Police Academy theme tune.

Pinwheel Crow

King of Borg Represents No Particular Country

Eventually the tuneful procession makes its way to Devonshire Square, and continues with live music and festivities into the baking afternoon.  Hundreds of people have gathered in this green arena, where there are stalls and activities for the kids.  Make a wicker fish on a rod.  Paint your face.  Buy buns and eat them.

The bands play some choice tracks from the original motown and funk era.  A soulful sister belts out ‘Preacher Man’.  A guy who sings fit to burst in the style of James Brown kicks it with some Marvin Gaye.  There are some seriously good acts providing, admittedly, mainly cover tracks, but they are local and they are not, thank fuck, the Arctic Monkeys.

The sun makes us take a layer off.  The afternoon wears on, turning.

Mayor of Sheffield (and wife/consort/mistress)

Parade - Band

Dancing Man danced like a hopped up Kermit

Do you like fishsticks?  Do you like to put them in your mouth?

There is a Fruit Cow.  Note the strawberry nipples on the udder.  She is rather marvellous.  There are a man and woman on stilts, striding through the crowd.  The woman in a salsa dress smiles and chats with the youngsters ten feet south.  The man stalks after children with a long-limbed stride,  Jack Skellington and Timothy Mouse with a human face.  When he dances, he’s actually rather good.

Stiltwalkers

Fruit Cow - See Her Marvellous Strawberry Udders!

I find my attention returning again and again to the Indian marionette.  The mighty Hanuman has two blue-faced operators. The lady wears white tights covered in butterflies.  At the moment he stands tall and revered in the rippling shadow of a tree, open-mouthed.  One of the operators and the eat apples.  Fruit Cow is distracted by something to the east.

Mighty Hanuman

An apple a day keeps devaloka at bay

It is easy to get distracted here, with children running around your feet near the thumping stage.  Dance acts are intermittently enthralling and embarassing.  Rap artists try too hard, as a row of children watch the skaters performing basic ollies in the half-pipe behind the stage.

Turning, Hanuman has travelled.  He is up on the paved path by the festivities, moving slowly and deliberately on his wheeled platform.  Occasionally the shepherd’s clarinet produces tunes that match the cover songs drifting up from the stage speakers.  He is fond of approaching kids and tootling off a few slow, quiet notes. Hanuman will approach the children with patient grace. His dancing and tinkling bells delight them greatly.  He floats high above the ground, sceptor balanced on one shoulder.

The blue patterned material of his legs part to reveal the intricate workings of his insides, a wire-frame god with bells in his knees.  A toddler reaches in, taps the bell, runs away giggling.  Hanuman, hollow, paper-thin, inanimate, is still an impressive eight or nine feet tall.  Another child takes a picture.

Hanuman Shepherd

Hanuman Controllers

Hanuman's platform

How many gods do you know have bells in their knees?

A girl takes a picture of Hanuman, then runs to hide behind her parents' legs

Delighting the ladies

It makes me wonder if the city has a spiritual side.  The cathedral is always empty, but there are cliques of Jews that sometimes can be seen laughing behind curls and beards on the benches around town.  There are rumours of underground extremist Muslim groups operating aruond the university.  I happen to know that there are weekly tea mornings in many of the smaller, more select churches dotted around the city.

So there is faith in this town.  But faith can be dry and more like a tradition, expected by family or community rather than adopted by those who want or need it.  Spirituality is the word.  Is there spirituality here, or are we a grey urban settlement filled with bodies rather than a crucible of desire and faith?  I would be interested to hear any thoughts and news of events around town this year.

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Parade

This costumed dude had to walk around with someone holding his hands.  He threw out some hot moves to the rap guys later on, though!

Parade - Jazzman

Parade

Parade

Parade

I stand at the foot of the Cathedral’s tower and look up and up, at the fragile tip of the spire.  It’s enough to make you fall over backward if you aren’t careful.  A memory of Cologne, probably ten years ago: I did just that, craning, craning, then landing on my arse a little dazed.  It had been a blazing hot, blue-skied day.

I have a camera in my hands.  It’s new.  I am preparing a follow-up to my Sheffield post last month.  I have the camera after a post-holiday splurge and want to try it out, and felt that I would take advantage of the rare sunshine we’re getting to capture as much of the city as possible.

I don’t want to take a picture.  It’s not that the Cathedral in Sheffield isn’t interesting architecturally.  Anyone who looks close enough, particularly from the inside, will notice that it has been built and rebuilt through the ages.  The stone on the eastern side of the building is paler, rougher and probably three hundred years older than much of the rest of it.  I was told by a surprisingly upright bell-ringer there, a long time ago, that the magnificent altarpiece is medieval. The screen looks like it was made in the last hundred years.  A number of swords are beautifully arrayed along one wall of the chapel, and are evidently original to their era.

There is a curiosity: a glass pyramidal ‘dome’ shines from its place in the ceiling.  Its colour and mixture of square and triangular panels seem very 1960s, giving it the impression of one of those hideous modern extensions to historical buildings that never should have happened.  A gentleman who turned out to be the chief organist (or possibly only organist) a few years back told me that this is called a “lantern tower”, and is as original as any other piece of the church.

This occasion I don’t go inside, only peer up with the grey sky behind the spire and wonder why I’m not taking a picture of it.

I feel very uncomfortable around religious edifices.  The grandeur and the artwork evident in their design and construction are utterly fascinating, but they are not functional buildings.  They are built as monuments to one god or another.  Their survival of their towers through the ages amuses me constantly: those who place so much faith in a book of stories seem to have forgotten the one about Babel.  Talk about hubris.  And I hate to apply Freudian ideals to anything, but—

Organised religion seems to cause more trouble than it’s worth.  Ooh, heavy topic for a Friday afternoon!  But bollocks, why not.  I do not trust the ‘officers’ of these faiths.  The integration of church and state in some parts of the world concerns me.  The existence of the Papal city-state is troubling.  In any time or place, violence ‘with the sanction of God’ is perhaps one of the most evil things I can think of.

I have a problem with the ritual nature of many religions, particularly the obvious Catholic/Christian ones.  Baptisms in particular make me supremely uncomfortable and I have taken to avoiding them.

At a baptism ceremony, a priest in robes speaks of the youngster as though of the same family.  The child is promised to God.  Those present at the ritual are obliged to do everything in their power to keep this human being on the path toward God.

A candle is lit, like the best of arcane practices.

The priests are good enough to allow heathens into the church for this archaic procedure, however the non-believers are excluded from moving to the front of the church to take the sacrament.  There is an undercurrent of nasty elitism to Christianity, not to mention that more frequently-noticed sense of superiority that gets up the noses of so many.

What is most frightening is the rigid structure of the Rite of Baptism, which is a sequence of alternating phrases between the priest and the entire congregation:

–––The priest will say: “Please repeat after me: Come to him and receive his light!”

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

–––The priest will say: “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.  Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad.”

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

–––The priest will say: “Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame.  Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy is the person who takes refuge in him.

–––The congregation repeats, Come to him and receive his light.

This chant, like the mindless repetition of cultist supplications, sends chills up my spine every time I hear it.  Being present is akin to becoming an accomplice in something pagan and esoteric.

The last time I consented to attending a Christening, I found my body unresponsively rigid.  Every muscle appeared to be tensed and I could only loosen one limb at a time, with great effort.  That evening my jaw ached – I realised from keeping my teeth clenched for the entire two hours.  My eyes had felt as though they were about to pop from my head just for the hypocrisy of my being there, complicit in what was, I felt at a time, a hateful thing.

When you offer somebody body and soul to another, it is normally called slavery.

Sickeningly, people baptise their children not because they believe in the god or the idealism, but because – for many, like marriage, like conception – it is ‘what you do next’.  Sometimes it’s a family tradition.

Okay.  Some families have a tradition of interbreeding or murderous tendencies.

Those that undertake the ceremony for these reasons under the illusion that it ‘means nothing’ are about as blameless as Pilate.  One might equally say that placing your baby on a pentacle surrounded by black candles and offering his eternal soul to Satan is equally meaningless, if you don’t believe – but you wouldn’t rush to do it and invite your family and friends to watch, with punch and pie to follow.

—db