Tag Archive: peace gardens


A Strange Saturday

 

A strange thing happened to me on Saturday. 

I had been excommunicated from the house.  The girls were having afternoon tea, fifties style, and I peered over my shoulder at the array of sandwiches, scones, cupcakes and a dozen other delicious things as I left the ladies to it for the afternoon.

Outside was overcast.  My satchel weighed heavily across my back, loaded as it was with a long novel, my netbook, an umbrella and a sandwich.  They were to entertain me for the next six hours or so.

I took a trip to the town centre, hoping to catch a few hours of solitude-amongst-others in the Peace Gardens.  I’d only read five pages before a Sheffield City ambassador in a brightly coloured vest asked me to get up from the bench and leave.

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I’d been prepared to unleash maybe 30 or 40 percent of my wrath at this rude and unexplained order, when my eyes met the strangest sight.

Moving slowly along the circumference of the Garden was a group of young men and women, single-filed and expressionless.  A Chinese boy with a short ponytail; a guy who could have been a young Hugh Jackman; two or three ladies with a quiet grace; a young woman with close-cropped blonde hair, looking pale and elegant in a slim sequinned dress and ballet pumps; and strangest of all, a petite character perfectly normal but for the masked face, which bore the sculpted likeness of a ferocious bear.

realising that I’d been swept up in some weirdness, I gathered my things and moved aside.  I perched on a step a few yards away and watched the serene dada-esque performance that began in and amongst the Saturday crowd.

It seemed it waas a sequence of mini set-pieces, strung together with dreamlike fluency.  In one, two girls performed a solemn dance astride a bench.  They entangled themselves with one another, in one moment lovers, in another locked in struggle, the first compelling the second to assume a different position each second. 

Meanwhile, the pale ballerina tip-toed across the low wall behind them, the most elegant of wraiths, almost unnoticed.

The girls leapt aside.  Two young men swooped onto the bench and performed a surreal tango with the legs, supporting themselves with their hands, all the while staring impassively ahead.

The ballerina described a gentle arc around the edge of the Garden, deep into the crowd, almost forgotten.

Occasionally one of these individuals acknowledged a member of the audience.  A number of times the bystanders were required to step aside as the performers mounted the elevated grass platform or followed the line of the narrow streams of chlorinated water that form the spokes of this wheel-shaped Garden.  They would crack a smile at the young mother who was bemused to find herself enmeshed in this faceted performance.  As an elderly gent walked through the performance area, unaware that a troupe of dancers were turning circles behind him, the petite bear-headed form took his arm and led him away, prancing.

The troupe lined up by the stream.  It was only when one of the young men bent at the waist to scoop something out of the water did we observers realise that a huge chunk of ice had been floating in it for some time.  The man lifted it dripping from the illuminated stream and brought it, like a newborn baby, to his chest.

Carefully, oh so carefully, he passed it to his partner, who cradled it in her arms for a moment.  So it went down the line, passed from embrace to embrace, blue-white and dripping.  Then the performers suddenly took their heels and strode through the crowd, out of the Garden and onto the street, leaving the performance area.

But the performance wasn’t over.  Some of the more engaged members of their audience realised this and followed; I emerged from the opposite side to witness clusters of men, women and children trailing after these departing surrealists. 

The ice left dark spots on the paving outside the City Hall.  I ran alongside the fleeing dancers, taking the high road in front of the Hall’s gates, and rejoining them at the corner of a side-street sixty yards away.  The crowd had thinned, perhaps losing sight of this strange troupe.  The ice was still being passed between them, safely as though it were a precious glass sculpture. 

Then they alighted some steps and vanished from sight.  I looked up to find myself outside the Montgomery Theatre, a local community arts space.

As engrossed as I had been in this sudden and surreal show, it hadn’t escaped my notice that a man with a video camera had been recording as much of this as possible.  At least two men with SLRs also looked too serious to be there by happenstance, and captured the other elements of the entertainment that occurred away from whoever held the floor at that point in time: the handsome wandering ballerina, or the bear-headed mascot who mimed silent enjoyment at all the proceedings from the sidelines.

I got the feeling that this hadn’t meant to be recorded, but to merely be experienced: a show that would be put on record, if the crowd made it possible, so that it might last longer than the eight or nine minutes it took to enact.  I have no doubt that the performers will be studying the results for a little while.  Certainly they seemed pleased – and tired – by the time the doors of the Montgomery Theatre swung shut on them.  There were more than a few hugs and grins.  They seemed pleased with the engagement of the audience – at one point an unknown chap in a cap decided to join them for a sombre dance – and to warm themselves after the cool proximity of their frozen prop.

I wasn’t able to catch any photos myself, but if anyone happens to have any, or know who these young entertainers might be or the name of their troupe, please drop me a line so that we can praise them together by name for their guts and imagination.

—db

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

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