Tag Archive: Sheffield


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.

  Image

 

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

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I walk through town, I think about things.

I think about how quickly a city can fill with people.  I wonder what it would be like to live in the city centre, with all these people.

I buy freshly baked warm bread and sit on a stone bench.  Although the sun is out, the centre is always in shade except around noon: the buildings have crisscrossing shadows that mean it is always cold in the morning.  Sitting on the stone bench for too long eventually gets painful.

I eat my bread and throw crumbs at the pigeons.  I wonder if it’s really illegal to feed pigeons in Sheffield city centre.  I imagine that this is because some arse at City Hall got fed up of having his car shat on, and for no other reason.  There is a simple pleasure that comes with providing food for another living thing.

I like about fiction.

My story KASHKEI AND THE FIREBIRD, AT PEACE, one of the thirty stories I wrote during my 2010 November Challenge, was this month published by Mirror Dance magazine, a prestigious publication I’ve wanted to get into for a while.

Another story, THE TRANSDIMENTIONALIST, was picked up by Estronomicon to be printed some time this month or next.  This is a kind of successor to BLEACH, printed in Aphelion back in 2008.

Sitting on the bench, I realise that I’ve neglected to update the website with these.  This is now corrected.

I think, ‘What if I had my own fiction magazine?  Could I edit it?  Would I have the time?  Would people want to read it?  Would I be able to get enough people to contribute to it?  What kind of fiction would it showcase?  What kind of writers?  Would it have illustrations?  Would I showcase artists?  Who would make awesome covers for me?  How do you go about publishing an e-zine?  How much would it cost?  Would I be able to advertise so that I could pay my writers?’

I think I’ll give it a go.

If you’re a writer, reviewer of literature or artist, get in touch.

–db

 

Is this a blog or an essay-station?  It’s a blog, so maybe I should blog.

*          *          *

If a city changes and your perception of the city changes with it, has the city really changed at all? 

*          *          *

Sheffield is a different town lately.  There’s an increased bustle around the marketplace, new stalls popping up all the time.  Food.  Culture.  This morning, the last day of September, is the strangest yet.  A market for electronic goods.  There are fridges and washing machines in the street, right now, under green and white awnings.

*          *          *

The big wheel that can be seen from my office window, looming over the surrounding buildings like the Eye of fucking Sauron, is to be dismantled some time in October.  The monstrous thing, so long a fixture of the city centre, will leave a big empty space where it once stood.  On a sunny day, the rotating spokes cast their moving shadows over all the buildings across the street from my window.  I often sit on a bench under the wheel in the morning, if I have time to snatch a few more pages of a book before work.  It’s almost like a giant creaking shield; we may well feel vulnerable in its absence.

*          *          *

The main shopping thoroughfare is routinely packed with charity workers.  They’ve all obviously been taught to apply new techniques to their particular brand of begging.  It’s as though the same workshop leader has been all around the different charities and said the same thing: ‘Say something funny to get their attention.  Flatter them and they’re more likely to talk to you.’

I found it strange the first time I fell victim to this new species of hyenaism.  The guy hopped in front of me, like they usually do, looking like chirpy little gnomes, and said, ‘Rugby player, right?’

I thought, ‘What?  Why would he think that?  I don’t look like a rugby player.  I look like I spend all my time reading and not doing sports.  What’s he getting at?’

Gnome

I’m usually busy when I’m in the thoroughfare.  Whenever I’m walking, assume that I’m going from A to B.  The only reasons for me to do this are, firstly, I don’t want to be at Place A and intend to get as far away as possible, as quickly as possible.  The other reason is that I want to get to Place B, and therefore have something to do. 

Why charity workers think this is the best time to harass someone is beyond me.

I said to the gnome, ‘I’m busy,’ and walked on. 

I caught on properly when I saw the same worker the next day (It was the food market.  I ate an ostrich burger).  He pounced on somebody else and said the same thing, ‘Rugby player, right?’

Another girl, for the NSPCC: “Well-dressed man.  Hello.’

‘I’m busy.’

A guy for OXFAM: ‘Tell me the truth, do you like my beard?’

‘It’s great.’

The latest, for St John’s Ambulance: “OHMYGOD!  No!  Brad Pitt, really!?”

Brad Pitt.

She missed the mark, I think.  Going for “flattery” and throttling “insulting” instead.  My own floppy-haired, pointy-nosed, girly-mouthed phizzog in no way resembles Mr Pitt’s.  In fact, it’s so far from Mr Pitt’s that the comment merely draws attention to just how not-Pitt I am.

*          *          *

Evangeline, the soul-singing Bible-basher who regularly wanders the streets pouring out her heart at the top of her voice, has taken on a new look.

She sports a red and white jogging suit, a red felt beret and–

–and an electric guitar.

With an amp.

Motherfucker’s organised now!

*          *          *

Someone sent this fax to my office:

 Incoming fax

 It doesn’t say who it’s from, or why they want to contact us, or what their business is.

So I sent this reply, to which I have not received a response:

Outgoing fax

I get these little moods.  One time, I put tiny pin-pricks in the bottle of washing-up liquid by the kitchen sink.  The holes are too tiny to let the viscous fluid leak out when the bottle is left standing, but as soon as a hand exerts pressure …

A couple of months ago I drew a giant smiley face on the counter in salt.  It had Tetley tea-bags for eyes.

The other day I made the following wonderful work of art out of sheer boredom.  This happens regularly and nobody’s figured out that it’s me yet.

 Tumbler Tower

 I can’t take responsibility for this one, although I wish I could:

Percy Plant

 *          *          *

One woman in the office apparently has a home filled with contents so pristine and uniformly matching that it’s been dubbed ‘the white house’. 

It must feel like that first step into Narnia.  Blinding, wondrous, otherworldly.

The sight of a single leaf on her lawn is supremely distressing and the situation must be corrected immediately.  Woe betide the birds that keep dropping small twigs beside the tree in the garden – but there’s no way to get them to move on.  This is very upsetting.

*          *          *

Before I die, I want to understand why it’s not littering to drop your fag end in the street.

*         *         *

A therapist asked me once how I feel about the dark.  I said, ‘With my arms out, like this.’ 

He thought that was funny, which made me feel a little better about myself.

*          *          *

The cat with the white-tipped tail that walked so nonchalantly into my flat the other week has not returned.

But a ginger one chased Oscar all around the bushes last night, the little shit.

*         *         *

But if a city changes and your perception of the city changes with it, has the city really changed at all? 

If you are different but the city goes on as before, is this the same thing?

*         *         *

You are one of 6.8 billion people living on Earth.  You occupy one of 195 recognised countries, on six continental landmasses.

There is a lot of world to see.

If there are tides in the soul driving us to travel, then there need be a moon pulling on the tide; any innate need to see the world must be the result of a cause.

Ishmael’s opening chapter in “Moby Dick” struck a chord in me years ago, and continues to do so to this day:

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

–db

 

So I thought I’d road-test McDonald’s new summer burger, being the glutten for greasy salty fast-food that I am and probably always will be.

As expected, the Summer BBQ Burger was a flat, cardboardy lump of slop.

Almost feel guilty about lovin’ it.

Japanese McDonald's ad

Served in a pristine, sharp-edged card container.  Pop that baby open.  Flaccid streaks of browning lettuce hanging over one side of the bun.  Spilled cheese having congealed against one side.  Smell of hot something

Mmm-mmm-mmm!

Do what most do and pile the cooling tasteless fries into the other side of the open box, right next to the burger.  Easy access.  Slurp of soda-diluted diet coke to prepare the palate for the dessicating onslaught of over-salty potato product.

McDonald’s use worm meat as filler in their patties, because it’s cheaper – and actually more nutritious – than beef. 

True story.

I wonder why the burger joints are slow on the uptake when it comes to fries.  Kentucky Fried Chicken did away with salty fries, for the benefit of their customers (or their image).  They’re nice enough without.  And you can still get free sachets of salt from the counter, or the big ol’ troughs where they sling in their plastic sporks, straws and napkins. 

Probably they even save money by not salting their fries.

Although … thinking about it … there is the risk of having students grabbing handfuls of packets and stowing away with them, back to whatever stacked-plate under-stocked ant-infested kitchen hovel they go to whenever they want to microwave something.

KFC don’t make their food from chickens.  They breed chicken-like mutants, genetically modified to be fat, boneless, featherless, limbless, eyeless, beakless ready-made-to-eat living products.  Occasionally a talon grows internally however and ends up in a 14-piece bucket somewhere in Ohio. 

True story.

My fries, with BBQ sauce.  It comes from taps, now.  There’s probably a reservoir of the stuff underground, some enormous vat of glutinous brown paste prevented from coagulating by a colossal, slow-turning turbine.  You push the lever on the tap and it dribbles out like turd.  You cannot help thinking this as it fills the tiny cardboard cup you’re supplied with in an ice-cream spiral. 

If you’re gonna spew … spew into this.

Can you blame us for returning?  Personally I’m not a fan of the Maccy D’s.  I’m a Burger King man. 

XL Bacon Double Cheeseburger meal, please. 

Grammatically it doesn’t really make sense.  Surely it’s double bacon and cheesebuger?  Or does that imply a double portion of the frazzled bacon-like substance that is usually melted into the Kraft cheese slice they slap on there? 

A meal.  Large.  With proper Coke.  “Fat Coke”.

Oh, we love the Coke.  There’s a Facebook group.

But then, there’s a Facebook group for everything nowadays.

Of course, you don’t get Coke at Burger King.  It’s all Pepsi in that place.

——“I’d like a Coke, please”

——“Is Pepsi okay?”

——“Is Monopoly money okay”?

I'll have the Happy Happy Happy Happy Happy Happy Burger, please

I had to laugh when a Burger King trailer got taken off the telly this week.  It’s fraud!  That’s a fraudulent advertisement!  MISLEADING!  THEY MADE IT SEEM BIGGER AND TASTIER THAN IT REALLY IS!

Seriously, you go to BK and expect a rich, filling, tasty, substantial meal?  Really?

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh yeah, that’s it … you’re a dumbass.

So that they can claim to use 100% beef in their products, Burger King use cow eyes as well as horn, hoof and tail.  This is more cost effective than using just meat. 

True story.

I did hear that Gordon Whatshisface, that facile TV chef with Tourette’s, absolutely loves the BK.  He drives around in his shiny black car, leans out of the back seat, orders himself a Whopper.  It was in some magazine and last year the Sheffield City Centre outlet (now closed, probably for health reasons) had it copied multiple times and put into placemats, and left on the counters

They’re proud that a TV chef is a lazy, greedy, scum-guzzler like the rest of us.  Self-destructive addicts that we are.  It’s almost like they’re admitting they make shit food. 

“This guy makes good food!  And he eats our food! ”  It’s a noteworthy story because there’s a contrast.  Did this miss this point?  Did it fly by in a flurry of mutant chicken feathers?

Fair enough, I suppose – it can’t be that bad for you.

Plus, didn’t the first thing Tony Stark do upon escaping Afghanistan was get himself a good ol’ American beef burger — from Burger King? 

Fuck it, if it’s good enough for Iron Man, it’s good enough for me.

True story!

— 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.

*

*

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

8:45

I go into W H Smith at quarter to nine.  I must look lost because I’m pounced upon by a member of staff.

‘Can I help you with anything?’ she asks.

I say, ‘I’m looking for a 15 centimetre ruler, preferably in translucent blue, and a ball of string.’

The girl looks at me.  She is maybe seventeen.  I remember working with customers in a job I hated at around seventeen.  You cannot help looking at strange people in the strange way that they deserve.

She points to the correct isle.

‘Is there anything you want, sir?’

Is there anything else I want?  Anything else from life?

All I want is straight lines and twine.

‘That’s it.  Thank-you.’

Walking back to work I see a bus driver forced to get out of his seat to lower the ramp for a man in a wheelchair.  The driver looks thoroughly irritated.  The man in the wheelchair waits patiently, awkwardly, as the driver slams down the ramp and gets back into his high little chair in his little driver’s booth.

It rained yesterday and it will probably rain again today.

–db           

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and cybersnot   

Chuck yer ‘ands up, Duck

Dancing means the removal of the final inhibition; you are rarely more naked than when you dance in front of others.  You become an open book, sharing your passionate energy; revealing your personality, your desires; and, unless you dance alone, you are part of a cyclic transference of energy that is as temporarily binding as fucking – or being shot with the same bullet.

June 12th was the Sheffield dance festival, which apparently happens every year.  I’ve lived in Sheffield most my life and never heard about it.  News made its way to me yesterday; I spent the today in the city’s Peace Gardens for the duration of one of our rare sunny days.

I have never seen so many openly happy people.  With the exception of the line dancers, who looked fucking miserable every dosey-doe step, there was a self-renewing gush of joy prevalent enough to fairly replace the great water fountains, which had been switched off to provide a wide flat space for the various performers and groups.

I arrived during a performance from a whole class of under fives, who with natural school-play anxiety looked faintly shell-shocked to start with.  It seemed that as soon as they forgot that they were dancing in front of what must have been a pretty intimidating crowd of hundreds, lounging on the grass or splashing up and down the narrow aquaways, the kids realised that they were having fun.

I pointed out to someone recently that we never seem to grow out of this.  I am not a dancer.  Nor have I ever been a dancer.  I suspect I never will be.  But non-dancers go in stages of non-dancehood.

School discos.  Never has there been a place of more embarrassment, anxiety and shame than a school disco.  The most sensible of us stood timidly at the edge of the room, wondering what made us so different that we could bop like crazy little shits to Wigfield or that danced-up version of the Power Rangers theme tune.

It doesn’t change much.  We progress into stage two, which is the college/university phase of non-dancing.  You tell yourself, You really should make an effort.  Girls seem to like dancing.  I’m missing out on a trick, here.  Hop to it, mother fucker.

Fortify the nerves.  Hit the dance floor.  Oh, this is bad.  No, I’m not doing it right.  The instant the song has finished, it’s back to the side of the room to nurse your drink and wounded pride, hoping not too many people noticed your mortifying display of awkward locomotion.  Limbs shouldn’t move that way! Fuck!

I suppose later comes early middle-age, when the feeling comes that the weight and repetition of life has snuffed out that fire.  I was young, once!  Honey, let’s do that salsa class Janice and Chris go to.  Long pause.  Okay. It’ll be fun, I promise.

Give it a few months, then pretend it never happened.  Or worse, your paunchy wife really gets into it and takes a shining to that Latin dance machine who runs the class Tuesdays.

There’s nothing so awkward as a group of strangers grinding up against one another.

Beyond that, you only have OAP line-dancing lessons to look forward to, if the desire to dance (but not break a hip or work something loose) remains strong in your wrinkled, much-bruised heart.

I didn’t take a picture.

But there is something about dancing.  Even watching it was joyful and entertaining.  The geyser goes high indeed.  The pleasure of watching a father dance with his little daughter, or the simplicity of whirling skirts, is as dizzying as reconnecting with a childhood friend or saying something that makes a girl laugh.

When was the last time we were in the tangle of arms that happens in salsa (don’t let go) or kicked the air like a swing king (hey – pachuco)?

How often to we have both feet off the ground?

— db      (June 12th, 2010)

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

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 …