We’d done the shops, the vast light spacious shiny shops, we’d sat last night and drank halves of amber beer in a bar with high stools and reclaimed tables. We’d walked the long straight roads and felt the endless rain beat our umbrellas and splash our shoes. Sandstone buildings rose around us up into the grey sky and the pavements went on and on until they met the tangle of the motorway.
The two stunted cottages were squashed together in the village, their rooms small, their doorways shallow. These houses had been there for more than two hundred years and they carried with them the way people used to live here. They faced a river that ran into the city and out again, onto another city and…
My city is one of the greenest in the country, known as ‘the outdoor city’ its pockets of green spaces and its close proximity to open countryside give it its semi rural feel. Sheffield straddles post industrialism with nature easily, perhaps because it has always mixed the two. Factories back onto the river. Parks and gardens over-look the busy town centre. And suburban streets are lined with trees, providing the name ‘the leafy suburbs’. But these streets have had a fight on their hands lately. One which they seem to be losing.
“Because I just can’t take anymore.”
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“I’m not being dramatic, we’ve walked round this shopping mall ten times, we’ve been in every shoe shop there is.”
The tree had been caged in mesh at the garden centre, a small woman with a bright smile telling Louise she must water it and keep it away from radiators. Louise had looked at the way the tree, its branches free only seconds before, was constricted and held, and she felt a wave of guilt rush through her body. She could water it, of course, but keep it away from a radiator? Impossible in her flat.
The rehearsal was her favourite bit. Sure, it was something special to be at the performance and see the polished final piece, but at the rehearsal she could experience the birth of it, see it take shape and grow into what it would become. Her words. The very words she’d laboured over and written down carefully, re-written a dozen times, being spoken, being performed, by an actual actor. It never lost its shine. It never got old.
He sat behind the table on a Thursday afternoon, the door opening and closing every two minutes as shoppers came and went, came and went. He’d done this a hundred times now, or at least it felt like it and he knew the drill exactly. Most of the people who came in were heading straight for that pile of paperbacks stacked on the table near the desk. The new bestseller by E. Tanner. He’d get a few to his small table of neatly piled hardbacks, his latest offering of seasonal gardening, but the majority were led by their noses and would take whatever they were fed. Was he cynical? Oh god, he was cynical!
This summer I did the spa towns. I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened. Bath, being somewhere Jane Austen is famous for living for a while, held a celebration of 200 years since the writer’s death, and I’ve never been before.
“Last night I dreamt about your girls. You were in the house and they came along the top road. They were so full of smiles and excitement at the idea they might see you again. They’d ridden their bikes all the way from their house and they stood and waited for just a mere glimpse of you.”
Deep, deep below the ground among the hills. Up through the haunted Winnat’s Pass and down, follow the land like a spill of wine. The green meets the blue as the hills touch the sky and sheep roam wherever they like. Here is the mouth of a cave. Enter the stone and step down into the earth and feel the linger of Romans who discovered this opening 2000 years before.
The building feels like a warehouse, though I know it was once used as workshops for metal workers. The stairways hold the memories of the mesters who once crafted their material, each step I make as I ascend tinny with the clank of the metal frame and steps. I like to think we keep their spirits alive by carrying on the tradition of art in this space.
A walk through the Neepsend area of Sheffield doesn’t exactly bring you at one with nature. The area was heavily industrialised in the 19th century and today it’s an urban explorer’s paradise with many old factory buildings standing derelict and frozen in time. You have to look hard to find any hint of greenery here, but in this landscape of chimneys and brick, there are small pockets of nature in the most surprising places.