O, Sheffield is Wonderful

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Isn’t that just the truest and saddest thing you ever heard?

I’m in Berlin, and it’s so wonderful. But I miss Sheffield. I always took it for granted, just like everyone always takes everything for granted because that’s what humans do. Looking back on the 14 months I spent there now, I’m feel privileged and proud to have lived there. It’s such a special place.

More than any city I’ve visited, Sheffield has no pretensions. It’s not famous outside of the UK, it’s not prosperous, it has no glory attached to it, just steel mills and industry and a couple of cool bands. Walking down Eccy Road in summer or in snow felt like achieving something, every single time. The greenest city in Europe, and so proud! The only city you’ll find where trees outnumber houses on the springtime skyline. There was a palpable energy in the streets at any time of day. I miss winding down into the valley and up again on the far side, from Sharrow Vale to Crookes with crates in hand, checking the street names and following distant bass to find some hidden house party.

On summer afternoons we’d pass through studentland, always enjoying that feeling of warm optimism that encircles university campuses like a crackling force field, flags hanging from  balconies, empty bottles stacked in pyramids and Green party stickers in front room windows, tipped over bins on a Sunday morning and half-finished tins left on the garden wall. I remember countless nights spent in a halcyon haze in West Street Live or Gatsby, Hopeworks or the Harley, Night Kitchen and Yellow Arch and DQ and Fez and old famous Leadmill, the same club our parents danced in, always free entry because we’d jump the fence in the smoking area. Getting in despite the bouncers made you feel unstoppable. Didn’t matter what you did after that, the night was a success.

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We’d walk home slow after, messing around and climbing things you shouldn’t, always discovering hidden treats at 4am in the everwarm darkness. Spinning each other on the merry go round in the park, beer flying off and having to pick bark chippings out of your can. Pushing each other too high on the swings, laughing too loud and scarpering fast at the shouts of some furious neighbour disturbed from their slumber. Tramping through the Botanical Gardens as the high wore off and dew settled on the grass, wet socks inside your shoes, drifting down into real talk, clearing the air. Sometimes you’d be too honest, reveal too much, and you’d be all shy in the morning, hoping nobody else remembered.

There was always the stray hope you might meet your heroes, Alex Turner or Richard Hawley or Jon McClure or Jarvis Cocker or Jessica Ennis just buying the groceries or having a sly one in the Lescar. Monday morning and some jammy bugger in the office would no doubt have a photograph to display proudly with the assembled Arctic Monkeys, taken in a bar not 50 metres from your house while you were at home watching telly. Kicking yourself for days after, and returning to that same bar week in week out on the off chance.

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Then Tramlines would hit, and the city would transform into a paradise for one weekend, a festival in the streets, different music on every new breeze, so alive and wild that New York would blush with envy. There was always a new place to sit and drink and be lazy, a sun dappled graveyard or an overgrown creek with gleaming graffiti. One of my favourite spots was the steep bank behind the train station, stacked earth in a natural amphitheatre giving you a view of the entire city below, glittering. Every bank holiday the Tav beer garden was always packed to the rafters with young people, all in white with fake black Ray Bans, their tables heavy with empty Calsberg glasses, because nobody had any money for anything better.

The summer weekends meant never ending free parties, drum n bass, and Peace in the Dark, thousands of people arriving in the middle of nowhere with rigs of speakers stacked eight feet high. Laughing gas making a fool of you. Taxis out into the Peak District, with no direction but a single text from an unknown number. We had to walk miles through the blackness with nothing but phone screens and the stars to light the path. The thrill of finally finding the party, a hidden clearing or old fort long abandoned, now teeming with people. Walking back in the grey dawn, weary and sick, to spend Sunday slumped all in one room together arguing over who would do the Woody’s run and bring back enormous bacon sandwiches.

Never a dull moment in Sheffield. Not only weekends either – no weeknight passed in dull silence, we refused to let them. School nights meant nothing, because work didn’t matter at all. We had a poster on the living room wall that we put up as a joke, but we came to worship it. The life cycle of tigers. Infancy, Adolescence, Power, Courtship, Parenthood, Old Age. It was during some faded conversation in the small hours that we realised we were in the middle of Power, and so we never let a second go to waste. Always out on some strange quest, pinching a table from the local’s beer garden dressed all in black, a bar crawl dressed as Scooby Doo and the gang just because, naked gardening, wigs and fancy dress constantly, themed house parties with secret rooms, wardrobes that led to Narnia, abandoned houses with crumbling floors, weird friends and warehouse raves.

Parties held weekly in recycled architecture, old post offices, long dead pubs, the boarded up Woolworths off the Moor, crammed full of speakers and a makeshift bar and people turned loose. Late night drop ins at strange flats, noise complaints, lock outs, lock ins. Sundays spent over a couple of cold ones in the Pointing Dog, people watching and making plans for the future.  Dreaming up some new scheme every week. As the day wore on, we’d sit and see friends and familiar faces drifting down Eccy Road, and we’d throw them a wave. The local dealer, a band, a girl someone used to date. It never felt like a city, it felt like a town that just kept growing.We’d sit there all day and put the world to rights, throwing around theories about what the world needed, what music needed, what young people needed, until we were surrounded by towering grand plans that would change everything.  Unstoppable optimism.

I miss Sheffield a lot, but writing this has made me realise that more than anything, I miss my friends. You don’t know you’ve got till it’s gone, I suppose.

sheff

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