December: A Manic Month of Mayhem! (Time for a rest?)

If I thought there were lots of gigs in November, the pace was set to continue, with lots more gigs and events – and that’s on top of Christmas and the New Year.

During the start of December, I was working hard, and gently starting to prepare for Christmas. But that was all about to change.

The 11th December had been in my diary for months. I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the Manic Street Preachers, playing The Holy Bible album in full. It feels unbelievable, but 2014 was the twentieth anniversary of this harrowing, critically acclaimed and essential album, an album influenced by angular post-punk, rather than the glam metal and grunge of the previous two albums. In the months after its release, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared from a London hotel room, and has never been found.

Against all expectations, the Manic Street Preachers continued as a three-piece band, and they have now released twelve studio albums. They seemed busier and more productive than ever in 2014, having released Futurology in July. A tour to commemorate The Holy Bible was fervently wished for by fans, but it was unsure if the band would want to revisit old ground that invoked such painful memories of their friend’s disappearance.

But in late September, the band officially announced the tour dates, and my friend Louise managed to get tickets for the  Albert Hall in Manchester. On a stormy, sleety afternoon (I didn’t dare to cross the Pennines by the Snake Pass or the Woodhead) we drove to Manchester, arriving in good time at Louise’s boyfriend Peter’s flat, where he cooked a lovely meal, and I opened a bottle of red wine as a reward for battling the rain and the rush hour.

The gig was everything I hoped it would be. The Albert Hall was build in 1910 as a Wesleyan Chapel (very fitting when you think of the Methodist upbringings of the young Manic Street Preachers and the religious title of the album they were about to play in full. Ornate tiles, stained glass and cast-iron pillars added to the atmosphere of the venue. There was no support band, and we enjoyed the DJs and drank beer with mounting excitement.

The band appear onstage. The thing that hits me first is the empty space – the space where Richey Edwards used to perform – front left. This space has always been left, but as they launch into ‘Yes’, the first track from the album, about prostitution and exploitation, it feels incredibly stark. The stage is draped in camouflage netting, and James, Nicky and Sean are wearing their combat chic, just like in 1994. Nicky is all in black, his face half-hidden by outsize shades, and James Dean Bradfield wears a black sailor’s top. The songs are tight and powerful, and in such an intimate space, it becomes obvious what an outstanding guitarist James is, and also how hard he has to work: carrying the weight of these songs about human suffering and cruelty. It was brilliant to experience The Holy Bible being performed live, but the gig went far too fast to take in.

After all the emotional intensity, the Manics then delivered a brilliant second set with songs from the rest of their career. A particular highlight for me was Dreaming a City (Hughesovka) from Futurology, really allowing James’ guitar heroics full reign. The Manics ended with their traditional closing number A Design for Life, before we were kicked out into the pouring rain. It had been an amazing night!

The next day, I was doing it all again, this time seeing another of my all-time favourite bands, Gogol Bordello at the O2 in Sheffield, with my friend Kirsty, her husband Mark and old uni friend Katy. After stopping off in Pennine town New Mills to take photographs for an adult education session, the drive back was a little stressful, due to a blizzard in the Peak District. I didn’t fancy taking any of my usual shortcuts on minor roads as it looked too slippery, but luckily, but the time I arrived back in Sheffield, the long way round, there was no sign of snow!

The O2 felt pretty chilly though, but support band Mariachi El Bronx, who combine punk with Mexican Mariachi music, including tiny and gigantic guitars, trumpets, violins, accordions and maracas! I think it was Mark’s Santa had and Christmas tie (he’d just come from his work Christmas party) that made the singer announce that he was feeling Christmassy for the first time! The band looked great in proper gold-fringed Mariachi outfits.

Gogol Bordello themselves were a riot of colour, attitude and fun. Singer Eugene Hutz is the only person I can think of who would get away with wearing satin boxer’s style shorts and pointy black and red cowboy boots. Since I last saw them at Download last year, they’ve had some line-up changes – a leather-clad accordion player called Pasha, and bald, Les Paul toting guitarist Michael Ward (Eugene Hutz lied in his announcement – he’s American, not from Sheffield!) They played songs from their breakthrough album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, right up to their latest album Pura Vida Conspiracy. Gogol Bordelo have built up a big cult following over the years, with a devoted audience wearing the t-shirts and outfits inspired by Hutz’s off-kilter colourful sense of style. The place was packed, but the crowd were friendly and up for a good dance/mosh.

Their sound is fresh and still evolving, with heavier guitars combining with Latin rhythms. They are one of the most multi-national bands I know of, formed in 1999 in the cultural melting-pot of down-town New York; the vision of Ukrainian immigrant Hutz, who was hungry for success as a musician and actor. A Gogol Bordello gig is a very entertaining experience – each member of the band is a stunning musician, and although Eugene Hutz is one of the world’s most engaging frontmen, every member of the band has a chance to shine, and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev deserves a special mention for his virtuosity and on-stage antics. The first time I saw them, in 2006, at Rock City in Nottingham, I hugged him! That’s my claim to fame, anyway. He looked quite surprised! This time, we just left with smiles on our faces and our ears ringing.

I felt a bit wrung out after two big gigs in a row. I don’t know how I hack it when I’m at a festival, but going to see a band in a proper venue is always a treat. I concentrated on Christmas and went back home to stay with my parents and see family members on the next weekend – it was good to calm down for a bit!

My mum is a volunteer room steward for the National Trust at Kedleston Hall, and she recommended that I visited the stately home while it was open for Christmas. My dad and I went along and I’m really glad I did. The sight of Grecian statues covered in fairy lights really made me giggle, and I loved the atmosphere of the grand rooms lit only by flickering LED candles. Even when it was lit for grand dinner parties and balls, this eighteenth century mansion must have been full of shadows and mystery. It was really a visit to spark the imagination.

The next day was the winter solstice. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember that I spent the summer solstice up Glastonbury Tor. That was a long way away, so I suggested that we should wake up before the official sunrise (8.15am) and walk to Bunkers Hill, a viewpoint near the ridiculously posh village of Quarndon, a mile or so up the road from my parents’ house. The sky was already turning red as we walked up Woodlands Road up to the park, but we got to Bunkers Hill just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon. We were lucky, because it started raining just as we got back to the house. Later on, we met up with family members and went to my Aunt Marion’s annual Christmas party. It was lovely to see everyone. I’ll always remember the 21st December as the anniversary of my grandad’s death, thirteen years ago, so my mum lit candles in his memory, which was lovely.

On Tuesday 23rd December, I gathered up some friends for a Christmas dinner (nut roast with all the trimmings) and lots of mulled wine. Eventually, we made it out of the house in time to catch the folk train! It was rammed, but very good-natured. Some of my friends managed to get seats, but the rest of us were crammed into the corridor but we didn’t mind! On the way to Edale, local choir The Sheffield Folk Chorale entertained us with Christmas carols and gave out song sheets so we could join in.

I hope the customers having a quiet night at the Rambler in Edale were warned about the hoards of people who descended on the pub in one go, once we got off the train! It was like being part of a huge procession walking from the railway station to the pub just around the corner. Surprisingly, we got served fairly quickly, and found a corner with seats to drink our pints. In the main room in the pub, the choir conductor stood on a table, and the choir started singing! They did a great version of Fairytale in New York, as well as more traditional carols.

On the way home, the choir sung some traditional Sheffield carols, such as Sweet Bells, which is a version of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night’ which originates from Stannington in Sheffield and has now been made famous by folk singer Kate Rusby. It was a beautiful moment. At the other end of the journey, the choir sang around the Christmas tree at Sheffield railway station before we all headed off to the Sheffield Tap for a final beer.

I spent Christmas Eve collecting holly for a touch of traditional decoration, and preparing a mountain of vegetables for Christmas, even though there were only four people eating, enjoying listening to the radio adaptation of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, followed by a selection of rockabilly Christmas CDs played by my other half!

Christmas Day went smoothly, except for my dad’s self-timer on his camera not working, and then the batteries ran out, but we used my camera instead, and we went for a lovely afternoon walk in the local park and took the chance to have a go on the huge swing that’s popped up near us! Even my dad had a go!

On the morning of Boxing Day, we had a bracing, if a little foggy walk to Stanage Edge from Redmires Reservoir, which was popular with a lot of other people trying to blow away the cobwebs after a Christmas blow-out! And then at tea-time, it started to snow…and snow…and snow… until we woke up the next day in a winter wonderland /nightmare, depending if you had to get anywhere. Luckily, we fell into the first category, and the snow looked very pretty, with lots of families enjoying sledging in Ruskin Park.

A few days later, and the snow had turned very icy and slippery on the pavements, which is tricky if you live in such a hilly city, so we caught the train when we went to meet an old uni friend in Castleton in the Peak District and went down the Blue John mine at Treak Cliff Cavern, which truly has some stunning sights, and actually felt quite warm underground!

And so we come to New Year’s Eve! The pavements were still icy, but I headed out to the city centre for some early drinks with a friend. It was very quiet, but I was due at another friend’s house for a small gathering with wine and pizza (I supplied my own vegan garlic bread and some Christmas cake – which I always seem to end up eating myself!) It was all very civilised, and for a while, it looked like we were destined to enjoy Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and the Queen concert that followed on TV. But my friend Angelina was determined to drag us out to enjoy ourselves, so we put our boots on and slid out onto the melting ice and headed first to the Three Tuns, a lovely little pub on the outskirts of the city centre, where the party was in full swing, with DJs playing some great music.

After a pint…or was it two? I can’t remember, we ended up at the Dada bar, where the Dub Central New Year’s party was happening. It was a bit quiet, but we know the lady who ran it, and I vaguely remember a round of aniseed flavoured shots! This was probably the point where things got a bit hazy.

We’d heard about a party in the Wicker Arches, so a group of us stumbled out of town, towards the Victorian railway arches. Over the years, several of the arches and the tunnels underneath have been used as party venues, and we headed to the last place we’d been to a party near there, only to find it all very quiet. Maybe the party was in one of the arches further along? I have vague memories of walking along the “spider bridge“, suspended over the river that runs through one of the arches. And then we found the party.

It was in the old “Arches” nightclub, which I hadn’t been inside for at least ten years. Angelina and I met in 2004, working together in a building very close by. The nightclub was already closed then, and shortly afterwards, the new ring-road was built, right next to the railway arches. Then the dramatic floods of 2007, when the river burst its banks and swept down the Wicker, must have caused terrible damage. But there it was, like some kind of mirage from 1999.

When we were students, a long time ago in the 90s, the Arches was a by-word for a crazy night out. Headcharge played dance music of all kinds, but mostly house, techno and trance. Rough and ready, it was the place to go if you wanted to rave all night long, with the main club inside the old railway arches, and metal stairs leading up to the bar, toilets (always a bit crazy in themselves), and a weird, corrugated iron-roofed chill-out area. It’s all still there. I was amazed. We just walked in through the fire escape, and it seemed to be a free party of some kind, but it was packed, and lots of people we knew were there – and lots of other people who were also veterans of the club scene in the 90s, who’d somehow ended up here. It was like being in a dream – a very strange, euphoric dream. It had to be a dream- the toilets had toilet paper! The music was thumping… it was like we’d taken a trip in the Tardis (although it had actually just been some wine, several pints of ale, that weird aniseed spirit, and some rum). I can’t even find anything about it on the internet…It was like a mirage.

Eventually, we looked at our watches and were absolutely mind-boggled to realise what the time was. It was about to get light! We were absolutely shattered. Within a few minutes, we’d flagged down a taxi and were on our way to a terrible New Year hangover. It was worth it though. The only clue that my Wicker Arches adventures were real was the mud on my coat and all over my boots. In my drunken state, I somehow managed to get the dustpan and brush and the carpet cleaner out before I stumbled into bed.

After all that excitement, I’ve been teetotal so far in the New Year. I’m looking forward to an action-packed year, when hard work and creativity are combined with good times with friends and amazing music of all kinds!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

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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.

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.

IMG_3724

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.

The world’s smallest festival?

The post-festival blues didn’t strike this week, because I’ve been busy doing some supply teaching assistant work at Whiteways School, and some volunteer work at Walkley Primary. On Thursday, I held my first memoir writing taster, which went really well. In particular, it was great to start to build links with Your Good Mourning, a wonderful bereavement charity based here in Walkley, Sheffield. Some volunteers from the charity came to my course and they were so inspiring. I love learning, and this week, I’ve certainly learned a lot from  the people who came along to the course, and also the children I was working with.

We’ve had weird weather though. Thursday saw torrential hailstorms and Friday was cold, wet and windy. It seemed like another Bank Holiday wipeout was in the offing, and I felt sorry for the Oxfam stewards on their first outing of the year, at Symmetry festival. However, Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. I fired up my laptop, promising myself I’d go for a walk later, once I’d caught up with some freelance work I’m doing, editing a memoir.

After a couple of hours’ work, I was on a mission. I needed to find out more about ambulances in Sheffield in 1913 as part of my research, and bizarrely enough, the Fire and Police Museum is a short walk away from my house. I walk past it all the time but I’ve never visited. It was lovely and warm outside and as I walked into the imposing Victorian building, I questioned my logic – spending a lovely sunny day indoors! I asked about the ambulances and unfortunately, I’d chosen the only day when the vintage ambulances were  having their MOTs! I got the information I needed though: in 1913, ambulances in Sheffield were horse-drawn, and would have been up until 1940. In 1933, a race was held between a horse-drawn and a motorised ambulance. The horse-drawn ambulance won!

The museum is quirky and charming, with lots of corners to explore and old fire engines to climb into (I’ll have to go back another day and look at the ambulances!) The museum is based in the old fire station in West Bar, Sheffield, and has the UK’s longest fireman’s pole! There was also a terrifying display about murders, with some of the actual murder weapons on show. If you ever wanted to know about the Crookes laundry murder, look no further! As I walked home, I was amazed by how lush and green our local green-space, Philadelphia Gardens is looking, despite the mixed spring weather.

When I got home, I received an invitation to see the Allstar Revolution perform at a house party in Crookes, a short walk away to the area of Sheffield where I used to live. It was a gorgeous early evening, with lots of people having barbecues. As I walked up Mona Road, I could hear a band performing loudly. It turned out to be a jokey acoustic rap act called Ham Pocket, playing at the end of a long, but very narrow garden, which was packed with people. There was a gazebo on the lawn, an afro caribbean barbecue and a bar, complete with a thatched roof! The trees and bushes were decorated with various kinds of hats. I chatted to other members of the Allstar revolution collective, ducking out of the way as their equipment was squeezed past the partygoers. The gig was brilliant. The band got everyone up and skanking, although we were dodging the increasingly unstable moves of a very drunk guy! The songs sounded perfect in the summer evening and the sound was great. Hopefully the neighbours enjoyed it too!

I left the party to meet up with some good friends at the University Arms, a lovely real-ale pub which used to be the lecturers-only club at the University of Sheffield. We watched another brilliant gig, this time by blues maestro (and renowned Dr Who enthusiast) Tom Attah.

After the gig, I took my friends back to the world’s smallest festival. It was winding down a bit, but some friends of mine were still there. I stayed up far too late, so I had to work hard today to get myself out of the doghouse! I think I’ve just about made it, and I’m going to take it easy for the next few days as my voice is still croaky from last weekend at Bearded Theory!

And Steve, the host of the party, should take care. Six years ago, a young man called Rich held a festival-themed birthday party that involved fake beards. Now it’s a 5,000 capacity festival, with some of the biggest names in music on the line-up!

Sheffield’s got Soul

 

This has been my first “free range” week. I’ve kept myself very busy.

I’ve been setting up and promoting a memoir writing taster course to be held in Sheffield later this month. For more details, please take a look at my new business blog http://wildrosemarywritingservices.wordpress.com/ The courses will be held on Thursday 23rd and 30th May at the Quaker Meeting House in Sheffield city centre.

I’ve lined up some volunteer work in my local primary school. During my initial visit last week, I discovered how vibrant, creative and colourful it is, a far cry from my junior school, where we had to write with a fountain pen, sing endless hymns from a shabby blue book and the boys had to wear short trousers, even in winter. And this was in the 1980s, not the 1890s! I’m looking forward to starting work as a supply teaching assistant at schools around the city.

I’ve also made some freelance connections: I’m formatting and proofreading the novel of an writer with a wealth of experience. It’s a great novel and an honour to work on it. It was brilliant to meet the writer, Tom Webster, as he wrote many radio plays broadcast on the BBC in the 70s and 80s.

And tonight, I’m meeting Kweku of Ghana again and the other members of up-and-coming band The Allstar Revolution http://m.soundcloud.com/the-allstar-revolution. I’m going to be doing some press and publicity work with them and I’m really looking forward to their gig tonight at Haggler’s Corner, a quirky Arts Centre in Sheffield. https://www.facebook.com/hagglers.corner

In between all of this activity, it’s been lovely weather this week in Sheffield and the spring is really starting to come alive. The woods and valleys are starting to turn a fresh green colour. The daffodils are starting to turn brown and crinkly but gardens are turning into a riot of colour. I’ve finally got round to planting some vegetables and salad leaves in my garden. Walking around Sheffield this week has been a pleasure, discovering shortcuts and hidden corners I didn’t know about, watching birds collecting fluff for their nests and seeing the first butterflies of the year. This is a good sign, as we’ve had some bad years for butterflies. http://butterfly-conservation.org/

If you’re reading this and have never been to Sheffield before, you’re probably thinking of the Full Monty – a grim, post-industrial landscape, full of ex-steelworkers stripping off in a working men’s club. Well, to be honest, you’re not far wrong! A lot of the places I’ve been wandering to this week were featured in the Full Monty, from the park outside The Blake pub, to the back streets around Burton Street near Hillsborough (The Burton Street Centre was where they filmed the Job Centre scene). I saw the film again recently and noticed how green the city looks. It must have been filmed in early summer. That’s one of the things that makes Sheffield special. Wherever you are, you’re never far from a park or a green oasis. It was very different in the boom time of the steel industry, when the river Don was one of the most polluted places in Europe. Now its banks are lined with trees and it’s teeming with life (as well as the odd shopping cart!) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Don,_South_Yorkshire. It’s true that Sheffield is built on hills. Walking around here gets you fit, but there’s always a good view at the top.

I’m determined to spend time in my city and be part of my own community. It definitely beats driving 100 miles every day!

“This,” she thought to herself cheerfully, “is where I break my neck.”

I’ve stolen a phrase from the book I’m reading at the moment, The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White. It’s the fantasy novel about the future king Arthur. The young Arthur, known as “The Wart” is the foster son of an obscure nobleman in a fictitious medieval England until he meets his destiny by pulling the magic sword out of the stone. Merlyn the magician becomes his tutor and helps him to achieve his destiny by sending The Wart on magical adventures and turning him into various animals. In this particular scene, The Wart has been turned into an owl and is about to take his first flight.

And that’s how I feel right now, knowing I should be scared of falling, but excited about flying.

Yesterday, I plucked up the courage to give my notice at work. Following the much reviled office move to Derby, I had a month to make up my mind whether I thought I could give it a go. If I decided it wasn’t working out for me, I could apply for redundancy with no hard feelings. And that’s what I’ve decided to do. It was a very calm, and very friendly discussion, very far removed from the scene in my novel Outside Inside when Miriam quits her job at the building society. I work until the end of April, I’ll get a small redundancy package, and that’s that – I’m free! A few months ago, that thought was a terrifying prospect, but I’ve been spending the last few months learning about myself and starting to plan for the future. This blog is one of the tentative first steps that I’ve taken into the wide world.

I do have a plan – I’m sure it will evolve and develop as I go along, but the biggest change is that I don’t want my life to be dominated by one job that takes up the majority of my time. I want to have my cake and eat it really. I’m going to get back into education so the sensible part of my plan is to sign up to be a supply teaching assistant; to gain experience in working in a wide variety of schools. But I’m also going to be developing my skills as a writing tutor, volunteering with the wonderful http://www.inspirerotherham.org/. I also want to develop my own creative writing business so watch this space! I should be terrified about leaving the security of a full-time job behind me, but I feel excited and inspired. I would like to thank my partner, family and friends who have been very supportive so far. I am also very grateful to Marianne Cantwell and everyone at Free Range Humans: http://www.free-range-humans.com. You should check out the Free Range Humans website, especially if you are feeling a bit pissed off with your job and are wondering what to do next.

I’ve been able to practise my “free range” career lifestyle today because Sheffield was buried under a rather large dump of snow today. There was no way I was able to drive to Derby as half the motorway was blocked. Instead I just fired up my laptop and got on with a full day’s work. However, it was a case of “death by spreadsheet”, so at teatime, I took a walk to the fetch my veg box from my local health food shop, Beanies, about a mile away. http://www.beanieswholefoods.co.uk/  It was a very bracing walk, in a blizzard, but I felt alive and a bit smug watching people in cars sliding all over the place on their way home from work.

I feel like my personal spring is starting, but everyone is waiting for the temperatures outside to rise. In just over a month’s time, when I finish work, it should be almost Summer, but outside right now, there’s about a foot of snow on the ground and the steep roads in Walkley are impassable.  Come on Spring!

Here are some photos, I took on my walk, including an ironic one with daffodils in my garden covered in snow. I told you I was feeling creative!

Things this blog is about…