Walking past Hillsborough Barracks

I was working today, in my new job as a project worker at the Burton Street Foundation, helping to support adults with learning disabilities. It’s the first job I’ve had in ten years that I can walk to! Now I’m wishing that it was a bit further away, because even with a walk to the shops of Hillsborough after work, I only managed to clock up 2.12 miles today, in distance anyway. Still, I did walk back carrying baking potatoes, sweet potatoes, an aubergine and a cauliflower.

I’m sure I’ll be walking around here a lot, and there is some interesting history in this part of Sheffield. One of the places I walked past today is Hillsborough Barracks. It’s a complex of buildings that many local people now take for granted, as in the 1980s-90s, it was redeveloped and is now the home of Morrisons Supermarket, various shops, a hotel, a job centre and part of Sheffield College, where I once learned about databases and spreadsheets! But it’s a Grade Two Listed Building and is the only surviving example of a walled barracks in the whole of the UK.

The barracks were built in 1848 and used up until 1930, and over the years, it gradually fell into disrepair before its regeneration. Thousands of soldiers, from officers to privates, lived here, and I’m sure I’ll find lots of links with it in my other walks around this area. It would be fascinating to step back in time and see what it was like in its heyday.

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The Chapel of the Barracks

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The main entrance to the barracks from Langsett Road

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The barracks has turrets around its perimeter

 

 

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Sunbathing and sautering on the Cote d’Bradfield. In November!

Hello! Long time no see. I’ve been having a whirlwind of a time recently, so I apologise for my lack of festival reviews, witty insights and updates about my life and my writing.

I was busy for Halloween last night, at a wonderful handfasting wedding ceremony. It was great – a very moving, entertaining ceremony. I’ve never been to a wedding before where most of the guests were in Halloween fancy dress!

This morning, I had a great lie-in and a cosy read and relax. I realised that the weather was too good to miss – clear blue skies and warm sunshine. After brunch, I jumped into my car and drove to one of my favourite spots for walking, Damflask Reservoir at Lower Bradfield, only eight miles away from the centre of Sheffield. The countryside is absolutely glorious, at any time of the year, and I’m sure that the village green, with its cricket pitch, should feature in a Yorkshire Tea advert.

By the time I’d walked around the shadier side of the reservoir, I’d stripped off to my t-shirt, and I sat basking on a bench in the village with a can of pop and a packet of crisps from Bradfield’s village shop. I couldn’t resist a bonfire toffee lolly either, and enjoyed it while strolling along in the sunshine.

Anyway, it’s now time for you to enjoy the photographs of an amazing afternoon, filled with mirror-still water, people enjoying the sunshine, and golden autumnal colours at their best.

Mamawe! May 2015

I have been a bit rubbish with this blog. Not that I haven’t been busy – I think that my posts had just got longer and longer, with more detail, and they were taking a long time to update. From now on, I think I will concentrate on shorter posts, with more pictures. I’ve been to a lot of festivals and events, and I’m also now editing my second novel, which is very exciting!

Here’s one I made earlier though. Back in May, my friend Angelina Abel ran the latest of her Mamawe Multicultural extravaganzas, combining dance and drumming workshops with a good night out.

Dancing is good for the soul

MAMAWE! 9th May 2015

The gloomy effect of the General Election result meant that I woke up on the morning of MAMAWE! with a heavy heart. The weather wasn’t doing its best either – but MAMAWE! was just what I needed – a day of African drumming and dance, and an evening of performing with dance group Mulembas D’Africa, reggae and boogying into the night. The title of the day, MAMAWE! was just right, as it’s a multi-purpose African expression of frustration, anger or triumph.

Sheffield based dance teacher Angelina Abel has been developing MAMAWE! for over two years now. Since establishing African fusion dance classes with live drumming and funky Angolan Kuduru street dance lessons in 2008, she has been on a mission to bring the best African dance and music teachers to South Yorkshire, and has built up a company of dancers who regularly perform at events such as Chance to Dance all over the region.

On Saturday 9th May, Angelina brought members of the prestigious Allatantou Guinean dance company all the way from Portugal to teach us in the colourful surroundings of the hall of the Sharrow Old Junior School.

Drummer Joao Russo taught a large circle of eager djembe players, from beginners like me, to some of Sheffield’s drum teachers and enthusiasts. For a beginner, it’s sometimes hard to keep up the rhythm – you get absorbed into it, and then suddenly overthink and lose the beat, but there were enough of us to keep up the complex drum-beats, and when Angelina started dancing along, I knew that the overall effect must have sounded good! Joao’s enthusiasm and friendliness was infectious, and he made sure that we played varied drum patterns. I was concentrating so hard, I was amazed that the two hours had gone by so fast, and the drum patterns stayed in my head all day.

There was time for a short break and to change into my dancing shoes before the class by choreographer Joana Peres. Her bubbly personality shone through the class, along with her love and passion for African dance. She threw us into learning a dance routine, and we were soon practising our moves up and down the room before putting it all together. I sometimes find that when I find dance moves difficult, I get frustrated in a dance class and think that I must be the only person getting things wrong! I felt a bit like that at MAMAWE, until I realised that everyone else was also learning and getting used to the steps – it’s all part of the process, and I ended the session feeling like I’d achieved something, not least conquering my own fears and hang-ups!

In the evening, the members of Mulembas D’Africa gathered in the Royal Standard pub beer garden to practise the dance routine we had been learning since February. Our last-minute rehearsal went well, despite the pub’s dog running circles around us! The area in front of the stage was cramped, but the audience crowded in to get a good view.

Joana Peres, Angelina and Mulembas D’Africa members wowed everyone with energy-packed samba-inspired dancing first, and then Angelina took to the stage to perform a poem about the vivid colours of Africa. The pub’s dog didn’t want to miss out on the action, and ambled up to smell the drum skins before being gently steered out of the way! Angelina remained passionate and professional throughout her recital. Our dance routine went smoothly, and we received appreciative applause before we scrambled out of our long grass skirts into our everyday clothes to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Reggae band Truly Apparent are becoming a firm feature of the Sheffield music scene – two female singers, backed by some great musicians. They sing their own songs, complimented by well-chosen covers, with a lovely inclusive sing-along feeling that had the whole audience bopping around.

After the band, DJs Papa Al and the Globologist played a set of funky world music from Africa to Latin America and Eastern Europe to round off the evening nicely!

Coming next…my belated account of Bearded Theory 2015!

Sheffield Take Over the Wardrobe!

On Saturday, I followed my friends Hot Diamond Aces up to Leeds, to play a gig at the funky Wardrobe venue – where I’ve previously seen Seun Kuti, so they were definitely amongst good company. The Wardrobe is a great venue – with a large bar/restaurant at street level, very close to Leeds Playhouse (in fact, The Wardrobe used to be its costume department), and a spacious basement venue downstairs. The whole ethos is around great music, so everyone there is going to be a big music fan, or a musician themselves.

Apart from the first band on, who were from Leeds, it was a night where Sheffield got to show its big neighbour up the road what it’s made of!

Apparently, this was only Tough Crowd‘s second time playing live together. They were great – two suited and booted MCs rapping about being polite and considerate, with an accomplished jazz/funk backing from seasoned musicians. The lyrics were funny and engaging and the music was an antidote to hip hop with backing tracks. I think we’ll definitely be hearing more from them in the future.

Tough Crowd - playing to quite a nice crowd in Leeds!

Tough Crowd – playing to quite a nice crowd in Leeds!

By the time I’d bought myself another drink, there was no room to get onto the dance floor for Hot Diamond Aces. Luckily, there was lots of space at the side of the stage, raised up well so that I got a good view. I was glad to be there, as I could see the crowd dancing, throwing jazz shapes (yes, really!) and enjoying themselves as they heard the funky tunes of Hot Diamond Aces for the first time. Combining funk, jazz, afrobeat, and big beefy tunes, they really made a big first impression on the people of Leeds.

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Hot Diamond Aces wow the Wardrobe!

For the last song, my friend Angelina came on to dance. Her energy and passion totally blew everyone away. This photo didn’t quite come out as planned, but I think it’s brilliant – very psychedelic! As you can see, Angelina was moving so fast that there are two of her – and two of Dan’s guitar!

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Woah! Far out, man!

Finally, The Renegade Brass Band showcased their 8-horn hip hop sound. Featuring James from Hot Diamond Aces on trumpet (he was exhausted, doing two gigs on the trot, but didn’t show it!), the Renegade Brass band deliver tunes in a way that’s as bold and brassy as their name suggests, with a great MC who really knows how to work a crowd! Craig Charles has recently called them “probably the best brass band working out of Britain”, and they’re, quite rightly, one of Sheffield’s most hotly tipped bands at the moment.

They’ve come a long way in the five years since I first saw them, at Bearded Theory festival in 2010, playing mid-afternoon on the Baar stage!

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The Renegade Brass Band – a wall of brass!

Seeing a night of first-class home-grown live music at the Wardrobe was a great way to start celebrating my birthday, and well worth a trip up the M1! I’ve got plenty of live music treats to come, so I’ll keep you updated with lots of short posts!

Art and Decay: a walk home

I’ve decided that once I’ve finished my festival reviews (I’ve still got Shambala to review, and a cider festival coming up!) I’m going to do more blog posts in the form of photo journals and poetry. Actually, I was inspired by Shambala, as I was in the audience at the epic Sunday afternoon poetry slam, and really enjoyed the contributions by poets from Sheffield’s Wordlife.

Today, I was walking home from the city centre, after an interview with a teaching supply agency (I seem to be collecting agencies!), and treating myself to coffee and cake in the Blue Moon Cafe. Maybe it was the effect of the caffeine, but I started taking photographs. The back streets that take me directly back to Walkley fascinate me – a mixture of derelict steel and cutlery trade buildings, wooded wasteland, fancy new apartments, businesses, and accommodation for students, many of them Chinese. As the sun goes down on Scotland Street, the area turns into the red light district. If you end up there by mistake, and hollow-eyed girls start to lurk in the abandoned factory doorways, you want to break into a run, as the feeling of menace grows. But there’s beauty in the decay too.

On the walls of the old industrial buildings, graffiti artists have pasted disturbing faces that add to the unsettling atmosphere, but around the corner, the Furnace Park is transforming an area of unclaimed wasteland into a celebration of art, technology, recycling and Sheffield culture.

Anyway, I hope you like my poem!

Walking Home

Walking home, on Scotland Street
Past an abandoned pub. Demolished buildings
Transformed into an early autumn wood,
Rowan berries ripe. A blackbird calls,
Cutting across the roar of ring-road traffic.
Sinister photocopied faces stare down at me
From boarded windows, scrawled graffiti
Shouts back at redundant safety signs
And a bundle of clothes in a doorway
Reminds me that behind the ash and elder
Springing from pavement cracks and asphalt
It changes when the sun goes down around here.
Broken girls loom in shadows, cars crawl
You’d better run if you don’t belong.
Back to the safe University side of the street
Where the slums were cleared for parks and puppies
Where you’ll never know that whole families lived
In rooms the size of your white en-suite.

We are Oxfamily!

Now I’m firmly into the thick of the festival season, I need to catch up and tell you about the last two weekends’ festivals.

On Friday 25th July, I set off for a festival with a difference. I was volunteering as a steward with Oxfam again, but this time, the festival had come to me – it was Tramlines, on the streets of Sheffield, my home town!

The campsite where the Oxfam stewards was camping was at Fox Hagg Farm in the Rivelin Valley. It’s only four miles from my house…but that’s further away from the festival than home two, which is only half an hour’s walk from the city centre if I hurry.

I decided that I would camp overnight on the Friday. To be sociable and chat to stewards old and new, and also because it was so hot that sleeping in the house was impossible. When I reached the campsite with my stewarding friend Jez, who’d given me a lift, it was surreal to see an Oxfam gazebo in a field on the outskirts of Sheffield, and strange to people that I knew.

I put my tent up, admiring the view of the valley, with horses and sheep grazing around the field. I hadn’t seen it from this angle before. After a while, we got a minibus lift into town with the amazing “Beardy Pete”, a long-term steward, and now logistics intern for the Oxfam stewarding team. Louise (who lives near me) met us in town and we got our wristbands. Even though we were volunteering to work, and the weekend passes were only £30, (although they’d all sold out) it was still worth doing.  Our wristbands would let us gain entry through the backstage area, with posh toilets and a bar. And we’d be able to get to the main stage on Devonshire Green when it was officially too full. On the other hand, many of the Tramline venues, such as the folk forest in Endcliffe Park, the bandstand in Weston Park and the multicultural acts at the Peace Gardens, are completely free, and so are many of the pubs and clubs.

After a pub meal and a lovely pint in the Devonshire Cat, Louise, Jez, Martin and myself headed back to Devonshire Green. We didn’t know what was on, and apparently, we hadn’t missed much yet, as Ms Dynamite had failed to show up! We stayed to watch the Toddla T Sound set. The others weren’t very impressed at all, but I had a good dance, looking a bit like a nutter. DJ Toddla T is so famous now (particularly amongst the younger generations!) but I remember seeing him playing in tiny basements at Kabal parties, almost ten years ago now!

Enjoying Toddla T - or maybe not!

Enjoying Toddla T – or maybe not!

It was time for a change of scenery and to go to the Leadmill to watch indie evergreens the Wedding Present. I’d never actually seen them before and don’t have any of their albums, but I enjoy hearing their songs on BBC 6 Music. I was really looking forward to it, even though we were enjoying being outside, and weren’t looking forward to spending a few hours in the Leadmill, a hot and sweaty venue at the best of times. The place was packed, and unbearably hot, but the band were great. I recognised quite a few songs, and I enjoyed their intense sound washing over me – and they now have a cool lady bass player!

We returned to the rear of Devonshire Green, where Pete and our minibus were ready to pick us up and take us back to the farm. It was very pleasant to be in the cool of the countryside after the furnace-like conditions of the Leadmill. It was nice to sit around and chat to everyone – a lot of the stewards had stayed on the campsite for a barbecue. But it soon started to feel really cold, because it was so clear, so I wrapped myself in a blanket – it was a cold night too, and I hadn’t brought very warm sleeping stuff, thinking that the night would be boiling.

On Saturday morning, I woke up at 7am, and it was already shaping up to be a hot day, with clear blue skies. The campsite had showers, so I felt fresh as we were whisked off to the city centre. We put our tabards on and had a tour of the venues and areas where we would be working. I was in charge of a team of stewards making sure that revellers didn’t get run over as the one-way traffic went around the city centre at two points on Division Street, the road leading to the Devonshire Green stage, which was closed to traffic for the weekend!

 

As the streets got busier, the job got harder, as lots of people were already drinking at lunchtime, and other people (mostly young men in their twenties) felt patronised at being told when to cross the road! But overall, most people appreciated having a bit of help.

"Yo! I'm a rapper!"

“Yo! I’m a rapper!”

We’d finished our shifts in time for the 5pm set by the legendary Public Enemy. I’d seen them last year at Glastonbury, but this time, they had Flavor Flav – with a smallish clock around his neck. They did a brilliant set with lots of hits, lots of positivity and attitude. I still don’t know much about Public Enemy but their songs are about politics and overcoming oppressions – ‘Fight the Power’, ‘Get up, Stand Up’, and they use live guitar, bass and drums – and the guitarist can really “shred”. Even if you don’t like rap, they’re one of the original, and best bands in the genre, and definitely worth seeing.

Louise, Paul and I decided to go for a meal at the Blue Moon Cafe, next to Sheffield Cathedral. Wandering through Sheffield was a bizarre experience, with crowds heading to various venues, and people spilling out of pubs and down the street, fairground rides in the middle of Fargate and continental market stalls. The strangest thing about it was the heat though – it was as if Sheffield had been transported to a balmy Mediterranean location. It was lovely and restful in The Blue Moon, and I didn’t realise how hungry I was, as I shovelled delicious vegetarian food into my mouth.

It was good to have lots of energy for Sister Sledge, the girl group famous for their Nile-Rodgers’ produced hits, such as ‘The Greatest Dancer’ , ‘We are Family’ and ‘Lost in Music’. Some people might think that Sister Sledge are a bit cheesy, but I grew up hearing their songs on the radio, especially ‘Frankie’, which was a massive hit for them in the mid-eighties. And everyone loves that funky Chic sound with the choppy guitars. The funniest moment was when they got several guys from the audience to each prove that they were “the greatest dancer”, and the guys were having such a great time that they didn’t want to leave the stage.

We had a drink in the backstage bar afterwards, and I got to talk to Sister Sledge and tell them what a great show they’d put on. They were really lovely as well, and posed for photographs!

To round off the evening, Louise and I ended up in the beer garden of the University Arms on Brook Hill near (you’ve guessed it!) the University. When I was a student, the University Arms was the private staff club for lecturers, but now it’s a beautiful Victorian pub with one of the best selections of ale in town, and certainly, one of the nicest beer gardens, tree-lined and secluded. The barmen were playing some great underground 1960s music that could be heard in the beer garden, and it turned out that there had been a full schedule of alternative live music outside too, but it was all winding down nicely. The guy who’d been organising the music was wearing a Cramps t-shirt, just like me; and we chatted to the staff at the pub. Tonight, I was going home to my own bed! We walked home to Walkley in a rain shower. I was glad I wasn’t in the tent, with only a thin blanket and sleeping bag to keep me warm.

My Cramps t-shirt buddy. Only the coolest people...

My Cramps t-shirt buddy. Only the coolest people…

On Sunday morning, Louise and I decided to walk to the Folk Forest in Endcliffe Park. It was lovely – a total contract to the mayhem of Division Street. We browsed artists’ and craft stalls, chatted to a yoga teacher, had lunch outside the cafe, and settled down in front of the woodland stage to watch the delicate Laura James and Lyres, followed by Sheffield’s own Nat Johnson, featuring our friend Kathryn on violin. After that, it was time to leave the tranquillity behind and report for duty again at Devonshire Green. It seemed a shame to start work so soon, particularly as the Beat were playing on the main stage as we signed in for our shifts.

Me and Neville Staple! Terrible picture of me!

Me and Neville Staple! Terrible picture of me!

I was back on one of the Division Street Road crossings. But this time, there was another supervisor looking after the other road crossing, an on the corner of Rockingham Street, the Viper Rooms bar were hosting Neville Staple from the Specials, as he played over two hours of ska classics on the bar’s patio. I decided that I may as well dance while I worked. It made it far more fun! The previous day, I’d been a bit fed up with shouting at people to stop crossing the road, and I found that dancing with my arms outstretched worked brilliantly, and gave the revellers a bit of a laugh. I also managed to get my photo taken with Neville Staple, who seemed to be really enjoying his set. We had to look out for the festival-goers, who were trying to get inside the cordoned-off area of road opposite the bar, but it was all good fun! After Neville’s set, there was a local DJ playing some great funk records, followed by a live band who combined funk and hip hop. Having some music definitely made the road crossing more fun!

I took a break for a snack and I managed to catch a bit of The Cribs, who were headlining the Devonshire Green festival. They’re a raucous indie-rock band, loved so much by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr that he joined the band for three years. What an accolade! Johnny can’t be wrong, and I liked what I heard, so I’m definitely going to check them out again.

However, heading back to the road crossing, I knew that The Cribs were due to finish very soon, and that the organisers would be clearing the site. And in the meantime, all our metal barriers had been taken away from us! So we hastily made a human barrier that stopped the hoards of Cribs fans crossing the road when the lights were red, and it worked really well. Luckily, most of the Cribs fans seemed very polite and were more than happy to wait for the traffic to pass.

The Ratells

The Ratells

Soon afterwards, the security supervisor came along to tell us that we could dismantle the crossing point and allow the traffic to return to normal. So we had a bit of time at the end of our shift for a quick pint in the Red Deer, another classic real ale pub. But the live music wasn’t over yet. Jez and I headed to a new music venue on West Street, Maida Vale, to watch the Ratells, a really promising young indie rock band from Sheffield. I’d seen them at Bearded Theory, and I was really impressed. And I really enjoyed the gig in Sheffield – shimmering guitars, pounding drums, and a very charismatic singer/bass player, with a strong, soulful voice. The gig was hot and sweaty and absolutely joyous, enjoyed by fans and people seeing them for the first time. I bought a demo CD later, from one of the guitarists, and had a lovely chat with him.

I ended up walking home again, because there were no buses or trams going up West Street, due to engineering works, but it was invigorating to walk home, and leave the noise of the city centre behind me and see foxes running through the park. I slid into bed, with the sound of the Ratells still pounding in my ears.

On Monday morning, I drove back to the campsite to say my goodbyes and take my tent down, knowing that I would be seeing some of my Oxfam comrades in a few days’ time at Nozstock! But it was my shortest drive home from a festival ever!

 

 

 

 

 

The year of the horse gets off to a galloping start…

In some ways, February is a frustrating month. We’re worn out and worn down by winter, and it’s easy to miss those small signs of spring – the lighter evenings, the crocuses carpeting the ground, the first daffodils pushing their way through the ground, the catkins; the grass in the park and on roadside verges being just that bit greener and brighter. Now at the end of the month, spring is tantalisingly close. The garden is coming alive, and there’s a freshness in the breeze. Although apparently, it’s going to snow tomorrow!

For me, February is always cause to celebrate. My birthday is on the 10th February, and as my first “free range” birthday, I was determined to make the whole month special.

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

It started on the 1st February, when my parents took me to Wong Ting Chinese restaurant in Sheffield City Centre. It was made even more special, because when we arrived, there was a parade of Chinese dragons outside the restaurant! Inside, the restaurant was decorated with red lanterns and garlands. A birthday lunch at Wong Ting has become a bit of a tradition, but sometimes asking for veggie food seems to confuse them! Sometimes it’s excellent though, and it has a brilliant atmosphere, full of genuine Chinese culture. And it was the start of the Year of the Horse. This year seems to be galloping along so far, and I’ll need to keep track of the things I’ve achieved.

Coventry Canal boat - beautiful roses and castles artwork

Coventry Canal boat – beautiful roses and castles artwork

The thing about being self employed is that if you want money to pay the bills and for extra treats, you’ve got to work for it, and in the first week of February, I was busily finishing off several freelance projects to make sure I could pay for a few nights out, and petrol money to take me to Coventry. I’d booked a place on a course with the National Association of Writers in Education. It was great to meet other writers who also work on community projects and it’ll be exciting to see what we all achieve. I wrote more about it on my Wild Rosemary blog here! It was lovely to spend time with my friends Fraser and Louise, and Fraser’s parents were very generous with their hospitality by letting us stay for the weekend.

Peacocks at the Strines

Peacocks at the Strines

After a morning of teaching at Sheffield College on my birthday, I was free to enjoy the rest of the day, and it was an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. We had a great pub lunch in the Strines a medieval pub in the Peak District, dating back to the thirteenth century. It’s an old favourite for pub lunches, and their veggie burger was vegan, and the home made chips were very tasty! It has eccentric decor, with lots of ancient stuffed animals in glass cases, buffalo horns and brass pans hanging everywhere. It has a cosy open fire, piled with logs, and it would have been tempting to linger and chat, but the sun was actually shining and after weeks of rain, we were in desperate need to stretch our legs. First though, we stopped to photograph the famous peacocks, roaming around in the garden behind the pub.

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Not wanting a route march in very boggy conditions, we chose a route which would be a bit firmer underfoot – Ladybower reservoir. We parked up and walked to the Fairholmes Visitors Centre, where we a crowd of cheeky mallards jostled for attention at the refreshment kiosk. From some distance, we could hear the water roaring over the cascades at Derwent, and we walked up to the dams for a closer look. It was the first time I’d seen the dam in full flow and it was truly spectacular.

Derwent dam close up

Derwent dam close up

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Derwent dam in full flow

Derwent dam in full flow

The Derwent dams are famous as the site where the RAF practised their “Dambusters” bombing raids with their bouncing bombs in World War Two. Today, there is a memorial to the pilots of the 617 Squadron who lost their lives on this mission, and the turret on the left hand side of the dam is a museum. As we reached the top of the dam, there was a notice informing us that all the reservoirs were 100% full, and had been for weeks. It’s not surprising, but we are lucky to have the reservoirs to catch all the rain water and make good use of it.

We continued walking on the narrow lane that runs alongside the Derwent Reservoir, feeling very lucky that such stunning scenery is a short drive away from home in Sheffield. The reservoirs are such a part of the landscape, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like before they were built, before the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were dismantled and drowned by the reservoir waters, and before such vast bodies of water reflected the ever-changing Peak District sky.

We headed to the remains of Birchinlee, the tin-hut village where the navvies lived while they built the dams. They lived in quite sophisticated conditions, compared to the workers half a century earlier. In the 1900s, the workers at Birchinlee brought their families, and had schools, shops, a church, a pub and recreational facilities. Although there is nothing much left, apart from some terraced pieces of ground, a hole in the ground which used to be the pub’s cellar, and some kerbstones, there is an eerie atmosphere. As the sun grew lower, we could almost feel the presence of the people who lived and worked here. The information plaques with photographs helped, showing the interior of one of the huts, complete with an aspidistra plant and a canary in a cage; the family sitting proudly in front of it. The plaque at the site of the pub says that a group of navvies once chucked the landlord out of the pub for rationing the beer out, rather than letting the workers sup as much as they liked! That wouldn’t have gone down well!

After another duck attack when my friend opened a packet of crisps, we made it safely back to the car, just before the sun went down. It was a great way to spend my birthday!

The site of Birchinlee village - "Tin Town"

The site of Birchinlee village – “Tin Town”

Tree reflections

Tree reflections

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Last weekend rounded off the birthday celebrations, with a vegan trip to Kelham Island Brewery (they took the isinglass – a fish product our of the beers, especially for the Sassy V Vegan Group. I had a great time, meeting new friends and trying a whole range of beers. The food was really nice too, and I enjoyed the tour around the brewery.

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

And to cap it all off, on Saturday, I decided to gather some old friends and go to the Corporation Rock club in Sheffield. We had a great time, but I got wildly enthusiastic about the eighties room, rather than dancing to much actual rock music. The alternative eighties hits reminded us of the goth club we’d frequented in our youth, Epitaph / later known as Dissolution, and we whirled each other around on the dancefloor to “You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive. My friends were buying me the notorious Corporation vodka and Red Bulls, and I became very bouncy and enthusiastic – just like I’d been in those long-gone goth days, annoying anyone who took themselves too seriously. It was a brilliant night, but I’d been seriously mixing my drinks, being out of practise at this drinking lark! So the next day wasn’t pretty! But it was worth it.

And there I am, another year older, and some of the time, I’m wiser, and I certainly have more idea about my direction in life. But sometimes, stupidity rules. And sometimes life is all about spinning your friends round on the dancefloor and getting drunk! I hope we’re still doing it well into our old age. If you think I’m embarrassing now….. And the festival season has finally arrived, with priority Oxfam Stewarding applications opening to people who’ve stewarded before. Watch out for me at Bearded Theory, Glastonbury, Nozstock, Beautiful Days and Shambala…as well as Tramlines.

Hidden Histories

The new year has already been very busy and is full of possibilities. This month, I’m saying “yes” to gifts and opportunities that come my way, which seems to be very fruitful so far.

On Saturday, I decided to join a guided walk with a poet that would end with a writing workshop in a lovely real ale pub. But the walk wasn’t in the hills of the peak district. It was one of the “Unregistered Sheffield” walks, a project run by Art in the Park, an environmental arts organisation based here in Sheffield. I was curious about the format of the walk and the techniques that the walk leader, poet Bill Cooper would use on the walk and in the workshop (because I’m interested in leading walks combined with creative writing workshops too!) And also, for months, I’ve been intrigued by Wardsend Cemetery, a Victorian cemetery, abandoned for years, on the banks of the River Don behind Hillsborough. However, I’d been told that it was a bit spooky, so I didn’t dare visit it on my own! I’m a wuss!

Despite a downpour earlier on Saturday morning, it was bright and clear as I set off for the meeting point in Hillsborough. But the streets were already busy with Sheffield Wednesday supporters and alarming numbers of police, before a Wednesday vs Leeds local Derby match. However, by the tram stop next to the Rawson Spring pub at Hillsborough corner, it was easy to spot the walkers – people of all ages, dressed in cagoules and fleeces which weren’t in blue and white stripes! I was pleased to meet Zoe, a lady who had attended the writing workshop I ran in October. We set off towards Hillsborough College and Penistone Road, already feeling “different” than I do on my shopping trips and errands that I usually run around here. As we crossed the dual carriageway – where I’ve driven thousands of times, we stopped under the huge sign for Owlerton Stadium. Bill said that we had crossed an “invisible line”, away from the world of cars and business, and the walk started to take on its own pace. We talked about the church of St John the Baptist, and the Swann Morton factory over the road, which makes most of the surgical blades in the world!

A sculptural stack of tyres

A sculptural stack of tyres at Owlerton Stadium

We walked past Hillsborough College, Napoleon’s Casino and around the back of Owlerton Stadium, where we found this rather sculptural stack of old tyres filling a whole in the fence! For years, I had wondered what the roaring engine noise was that could be heard from Crookes and Walkley on still nights. The stadium has hosted speedway racing since it opened in 1929 and all kinds of motor sports, including stock cars and monster trucks (which might be where those tyres came from!) The stadium is also famous for greyhound racing, which can be a cruel sport for dogs who don’t make the grade. But Owlerton stadium does support the Retired Greyhound Trust. We rounded the corner, and crossed the river at the back of the Cadbury Trebor Bassett factory, which smelled delicious, like toasted chocolate. Bassett’s Allsorts are made here! It was lovely to chat to the other walkers: artists, writers and people curious about hidden Sheffield.

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The river Don, behind the sweet factory!

As we crossed the river, memories came back to me, of driving slowly the long way round to Coopers Car Spares in 2008, after our beloved Fiat Cinquecento had spewed the insides of its exhaust onto Penistone Road and wasn’t firing on four cylinders any more. My last sight of it before I scrapped it was of a very large man being laughed at by his colleagues as he tried to drive the sluggish car up the hill in the scrapyard. I hadn’t even noticed the cemetery then, ironically, as I was taking my car to meet its end! And the cemetery is right next to Cooper’s scrap yard, the mechanical and human remains lying in close proximity.

Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery

We gathered around an impressive Victorian memorial, and Bill explained the background to the cemetery. When someone said: “where did people buried here come from?” Bill mentioned that many of the graves were from soldiers stationed at Hillsborough Barracks (now Morrisons’ Supermarket!), but I spotted that the memorial in front of me was dedicated to John Register, of Fir View, Walkley, which caught my eye. He must have been someone important in the community, with his prominent marble grave, and several other relatives had been buried in the same plot. We were given twenty minutes to wander around the cemetery but I noted the engraving on John Register’s gravestone for a six year old child: “the mother gave in tears and pain. The only flower she had to love. Assured she’ll find it once again. In heavenly fields of light above”. I stood and noted the call of great tits, the shafts of sunlight, the delicious, waffly smell from the Cadbury’s factory, the hum of the nearby electricity pylons, a call of a jackdaw and a distant roar of traffic.

Eerie gravestones amongst the bracken

Eerie gravestones amongst the bracken

I hadn’t left much time to explore the rest of the cemetery, so I took pictures of old gravestones and the wildlife that had taken over. I made my way quickly over the railway bridge to see the graves on the other side – Wardsend was the only major cemetery in the country bisected by a railway line. The gravestones on the other side were an eerie sight – half hidden by crispy brown bracken as the land on the other side turns into heath. There had evidently been a fire – perhaps in the dry summer, which had blackened some of the trees into skeletons, but the gravestones had survived, stubbornly. When we gathered again as a group, Bill showed us the Obelisk, which commemorated soldiers from Hillsborough Barracks, who had died in the 1860s. We also found a broken column lying on its side – the gravestone of a young girl. The broken column represented a life cut off before its prime. Wardsend cemetery used to have its own chapel, until it was demolished, and the graveyard was abandoned.

Keep Out!

Keep Out!

We walked along Club Mill Road – it had been a “proper” road when I had driven my car to the scrapyard in 2008 – because the bridge we’d walked along had been swept away by the floods in the summer of 2007. But now the road has been blocked to traffic and it is starting to resemble a riverside path, abounding with wildlife. The river flowed swiftly and we saw how the Parkwood landfill tip is being landscaped, with trees planted. We walked past demolished factories and a lady who was one of the walkers said that there used to be cooling towers here, by the side of the river. There was a large, grassy mound there now, and a half demolished, grafitti-covered wall on the other side of the road, it’s “keep out” notices redundant now there was just a grassy hill on the other side, rather than a factory. We mused on how Sheffield evolves and re-creates itself, in the space of relatively few years. Nature is reclaiming this part of Sheffield.

The old mill and the tree

The old mill and the tree

After a while, we reached the point on the road where traffic is allowed, and there are various industrial units. We felt like we were returning to “normality”. But then we heard a cockerel crowing. In yard of a ramshackle taxi garage was a man feeding a small flock of fancy chickens and fan-tailed doves with bird seed. It was an unexpected and endearing sight. We could still hear the cockerel when Gary showed us the old mill, complete with a rusting metal water wheel. The ruined mill, behind a row of Heras fencing, had a really spooky atmosphere – and all of my photos of the mill have come out blurred! There was an incredibly large, twisted willow tree nearby. Near the mill, an angler sat serenely on the river bank.

The old gates of Hillfoot County School

The old gates of Hillfoot County School

One of the walkers was a lady who had grown up on the Parkwood Spring estate, which was demolished many years ago. She showed us the coke depot where people used to queue to scramble on the slag heap for nuggets of coke during World War II and afterwards, when fuel was still rationed. She showed us the gates of her old school, blocked by a young ash tree and buddleia and the scruffy wall of a corrugated factory, where there was once a Victorian School building. Barbara vividly remembered fights outside the school gates and running up the hill when she found out that George VI had died. There was more rubbish and detritus between here and the derelict Farfield Inn – a culvert full of tyres and rubbish bags, an unpleasant cave  full of broken things where a few walls of a demolished factory stood – evidently a hiding place for someone up to no good. The atmosphere became edgy and oppressive as the road became a narrow alleyway.

It was a relief to be on the industrial streets again, and we passed close by Neepsend Gasometer and its huge gas pipe, which I can see from Walkley, but I didn’t know what it was before. It used to be obscured by a huge art-deco factory which was demolished a few years ago, taking part of the building next door with it. As we reached the Gardener’s Rest, a real ale oasis in the post-industrial desert, we stopped to look at the old brewery building and the ingenious graffiti mural. Sheffield ia a virtual gallery of street art, with work around many obscure corners by artists who have become well-respected in the art world. Check some of them out here: http://sheffieldstreetart.tumblr.com/.

Graffiti mural in Neepsend

Graffiti mural in Neepsend

Once inside the warm, sunny conservatory of the pub, we ate lunch, enjoyed a drink (I had a pint of shandy), and chatted. Bill talked us through a series of writing exercises, asking us to list the things we had found charming, or sad or shocking on our walk. We listed verbs: “glitter, sparkle, splash, squelch, crunch, reflect, fester, cockadoodledoo”, and imagined conversations taking place in the cemetery, at the gates of the old school and at the garage where the man was feeding the chickens. We had time to draft a piece of writing inspired by one of the exercises. I’ve been writing more poetry recently, but I found myself writing a story about some sixth-formers from the college holding a seance in the cemetery, which I’ll try to finish soon! If it works, I might have a great Young Adult novel on my hands – in my head, it’s threatening to develop into something much longer.

The walk was a great adventure. It felt like we were exploring a hidden world, yet only a short walking distance from home. I met an interesting mixture of like-minded people – and I’ll definitely be going along to the Unregistered Sheffield celebration event this Sunday afternoon in the pavillion in Hillsborough Park. There’s always something interesting, stimulating and creative to do in Sheffield – and even in the midst of industrial decay, there is beauty and wonder – and amazing stories.

“I love it when a plan comes together!”

I’ve just come back from an amazing weekend. I stayed in Sheffield, so I didn’t go very far in terms of distance, but it’s been a wonderful journey nonetheless.

We were celebrating my friend Jaspal’s hen night. We’ve been friends since Fresher’s Week at university in Sheffield – eighteen years ago. It’s a big change for Jaspal. After years of living in Sheffield, she’s going to be emigrating to Canada. So it was much more than an average hen night. It was our chance to celebrate our friendship and an opportunity to bring old and new friends together.

As we live in Sheffield, my friend Kirsty (who has also known Jaspal for eighteen years) and I were helping Jaspal to organise the hen night, with a few sneaky surprises added along the way. Months ago, we discussed options such as renting a cottage in the Peak District for the weekend, but we decided to have a good, old-fashioned night out in Sheffield, culminating in dancing to Northern Soul and old indie favourites at the Leadmill, one of Sheffield’s legendary music venue.

A few years ago, we virtually lived at the Leadmill, but now we’re older, with more responsibilities and less time. It’s not that we’re getting old and boring, but we’re all trying to get our dreams off the ground. The time we spend with our friends gets more precious: the moments of laughter and lunacy mean more to us.

Organising the hen night was hard work, and Kirsty in particular put in a lot of hard work, organising a treasure hunt and a quiz, making a huge pile of muppet masks, buying pink hair extensions (in tribute to the amazing pink highlights Jaspal had in the early 2000s!)  and blowing up balloons, as well as making sure the whole thing ran smoothly! My partner made some brilliant compilation CDs to play in the restaurant and Abbi bought some highly amusing penis-shaped straws and a “willy wand”. At a hen night, no matter how classy, it’s mandatory to have penis-shaped novelty items, and omissions in this area are punishable by law.

My contribution to the hen night extravaganza was a biography of Jaspal, compiled from tributes, poems, photos and memorabilia donated by friends and relatives. It was difficult to keep it a secret from Jaspal – the tributes were so funny and moving that it was really difficult not to talk to her about them! When I met up with Jaspal a couple of weeks ago, I’d been looking at photos of her for so long that seeing her “in the flesh” was unsettling, like being in the room with a celebrity I’d been stalking! (Not that I stalk celebrities – honest! The closest I’ve come to it was talking to Mark Chadwick from the Levellers twice at Beautiful Days.)

I really enjoyed compiling the biography. It was hard work to combine it with my ridiculous work situation (only one week to go now!) but I loved the process of scanning photos, writing, designing and editing. I rediscovered my desktop publishing skills and spent many hours totally absorbed in the project. I had a great time making the front cover of the biography look like a Select magazine from the 1990s. Select was a monthly music magazine that I was totally obsessed by in my teenage years. it was irreverent, yet influential, and I cherish my battered Select collection. http://selectmagazinescans.monkeon.co.uk/

The look on Jaspal’s face when we revealed our surprises was worth all the hard work a thousand times over. It was very emotional and I was delighted that things had come together so well. I was so pleased that I’d been able to bring together contributions from so many of Jaspal’s friends and family and to tell the story of so many friendships. The muppet masks were a brilliant shock / surprise, and we all had a fantastic time terrifying young men at the Leadmill by plastering them with stickers which read things like “nice biceps” and “worst dancer”. We then headed back to our rooms at the Hilton Hotel, where we were staying too – to be part of the fun. It was a great idea and we found ourselves sharing the hotel with a WWF wrestling team. It was disconcerting to be sharing a lift with a giant (about 7ft tall) man at 3am!

There were a few headaches this morning but no major hangovers (i.e. the throwing-up, lying on the sofa all day kind of hangover). In fact, there were a few people who weren’t drinking, notably Kerry, who came along to the Leadmill, despite being due to give birth in less than a month! Kerry had her hen night in Sheffield two years ago. This morning, I woke up to find the “Mr T” wig we’d used at Kerry’s hen party on the bedside table! So there’s the A-Team reference, if you were searching for it! We had a great day floating around in the pool and sitting in the jacuzzi at the hotel.

It was lovely to hang out with such an amazing group of friends! It’s an honour to know so many talented, intelligent, feisty women. I’m sure we could all conquer the world if we put our minds to it. I really appreciated everyone’s support for my new career plan. Everyone thought that starting a business putting together biographies and tributes to people (similar to the biography I’ve compiled for Jaspal), would be a great idea. After all, lots of people want to celebrate the life of a friend or relation, but not everyone has enough time, editing or design skills to make it a reality!

Elsewhere in Sheffield, it was Record Store Day, and there were enormous crowds outside the shop, queuing to buy records, especially when the singer from the Crookes decided to hold up a bus! http://recordcollectorsheffield.co.uk/ http://www.thestar.co.uk/lifestyle/music/record-store-day-vinyl-fans-flock-to-sheffield-1-5600971

The dance of life

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I'm on the left!

Dancing at Shefftival, August 2013. I’m on the left!

I’ve been learning to dance for six years. I was encouraged to go to a bellydancing class with a friend. At first, this seemed like an enormous step, even though I considered myself confident in other ways at the time.

Me? Dance? But I can’t dance (unless I’ve had a few drinks)! But I went along to the bellydancing class at a local sports centre. In my first class, I was so nervous and stood right at the back of the room. But I loved it. After a few classes, I was eagerly standing at the front, keenly watching every move of the dance teacher and trying to master every hip-drop and shimmy. I adored the long, flowing skirts and jangling coin-belts and soon realised that there was no going back. I couldn’t just bop around on the dance-floor any more – whatever I was dancing to, I had to try out new moves and fancy foot-work. As I realised that I had the ability to learn dance routines, I discovered that dancing is a wonderful work-out for the brain as well as for the body.

I’m forever thankful to the friend who dragged me along to the class, and also my bellydancing teacher, Cis Heaviside, one of the Boomshanka bellydancers in Sheffield. Full figured and proud to be a goth, Cis explained her own journey in learning to dance, as well as the cultural history of bellydancing and the moves. For example, the Saidi Hop move was originally danced by men, and the women learned it to “take the Mick” out of them! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLmEFBw5ZVQ

The friend who encouraged me to start dancing is the wonderful Angelina Abel, who started the Mulembas D’Africa dance school http://www.myspace.com/mulembasdafrica  in Sheffield and I’m proud to say that I’m one of the most enthusiastic members of her dancing tribe. Thanks to both teachers, I’ve taken part in many dance performances and I’m guaranteed to get up on the dance floor even if sober!

On Wednesday, we had our first dance class for a couple of months. It was brilliant to see fellow dance-class friends, including two people who had returned after becoming mothers. We practised our moves and I realised that Angelina is now blossoming into a wonderful teacher, encouraging, inspiring and providing a safe, friendly environment to dance, learn and most importantly to laugh. We started working on our new routine. As usual, I struggled with some of the moves and felt frustrated with myself and a little ashamed! I’d positioned myself right at the front and at one stage I was thinking: “What possessed me to dance at the front of the class, when I’m clearly the most rubbish dancer in here? I can’t even work our whether it’s my left or right arm I’m supposed to be moving!” But I took a deep breath and focussed on learning the moves at my own pace, without comparing myself with anyone else. It worked, and I was soon enjoying myself again.

At the end of the class, we took it in turns to perform the dance routine in front of the others and I realised that lots of other people were using the wrong arm or leg. After all, we’d been dancing these steps for less  than an hour. It didn’t matter. It’s all about learning. It’s important to make mistakes; to learn; laugh at ourselves; get out of breath; get sweaty and wake the next morning with a serene mind and aching muscles. The most important thing is to have fun and to give new things a go.

A few years ago, I thought that I had two left feet and no dance ability at all. I would have never guessed that by 2013, I’d have danced several times on a stage, in front of a paying audience. And that could apply to anything: if you’re scared of learning a new skills, try it anyway, have fun and see what happens!

Things this blog is about…