Tag Archive: police


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

City of Steel

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 …