(With acknowledgement to a far better writer than I for the title)
My return to Sheffield, the place of my birth, a city I still refer to as my home city – even though I call Wellington home – is frustrating. It rains all day. We get wet packing the car; we get wet when we call at Dad’s; we get wet when we arrive at our accommodation. That evening I get an angry phone call from my brother. He lives with Dad and wants to know when he fell. He’d done so as we left, following us out to collect the bin, even though we’d said we would do it. I hadn’t seen him land, just saw him sitting on his bum when I turned from putting something in the car, and presumed he’d fallen that way. As I helped him up and inside I yelled at him, putting himself at risk when he didn’t need to. Turns out he’d fallen on his side, hurting his ribs, not mentioning it to me. My brother yelled at him too. Poor man. I can understand he wants to try and do things for himself, to stay independent as long as he can, but he will not accept help. I have his genes. I fear for Neil in the future.
I have a love/hate relationship with Sheffield. I love that I get to see friends and family. Children that were babies when I last saw them are now running around chasing each other, hiding shyly from a woman they don’t even realise they’ve met and who isn’t part of their lives. There are some I haven’t even seen yet. It gets harder to say goodbye every time I leave. Is this because we are all getting older and it may be the final goodbye for some? I shudder when I think of it.
I hate driving in the city – it’s a nightmare. I used to be so smug, moaning when we were on London streets about the congestion and how you sit for hours going not very far but now it is as bad here. It’s impossible to park anywhere, cars crammed along streets, traffic queueing to get around them, crawling through with inches to spare between wing mirrors.
We take advantage of a break in the rain to walk out for a quick coffee. My bike has gone from the roof of the car, the locked bars it was attached to wrenched from their rivets and discarded on the ground. We’ve travelled around Europe for three months, parked outside apartments, in public car parks, never had any problems. Now, in the driveway of a house in what is considered a nice area of the city, my bike has been stolen. The police, of course, have got better things to do (frighteningly someone was shot in Sheffield the same day) and I know I won’t see it again. I file a report online – long gone are the days of the friendly local bobby popping around. I’m more frustrated than angry – with two months of our holiday to go I would use it again. I’m determined it won’t become the focus of the trip, that the many good experiences we’ve had will outweigh this single bad one. But it’s another nail in the coffin of my relationship with my home city.
It doesn’t take me long to remember why I loved living here, thought I would never leave. The Botanic Gardens are beautiful, squirrels beginning their autumn gathering of food to hoard for winter. Not that they need to, the amount of people who come here armed with bags of nuts, squatting and holding out an arm – squirrels here will take them from your hand. Around the gardens are streets of old stone houses with large gardens abutting rows of brick terraces. I could wander around them for hours. I’m impressed to see butchers, bakers, candle stick… no, sorry, I mean greengrocers. We even find a bank, and a post office, both as likely on the high street nowadays as a unicorn trotting by.
There are great restaurants too, especially in the inner suburbs, and we eat at one where the food is as good as I’ve eaten anywhere, small plates that make my tastebuds zing with their flavours. The city centre is quieter than you’d think in a city this size, mainly pedestrianised – it has been for decades – and therefore without the noise of traffic that seems to haunt many suburban streets. The canalside has been revamped in recent years and inner city high rises are enjoying a renaissance, even playing a part in Doctor Who.
And, of course, roughly a third of Sheffield is in the Peak District National Park, remarkable for the sixth largest city in the UK. This has always been one of its biggest draws for me – it takes less than half an hour to get away from the traffic and noise. Out at Burbage Edge it’s cold. In the city we couldn’t feel the wind but here it drives into me, what my nannan called a lazy wind – can’t be bothered to blow around you and tries to blow through. For some shelter from it we choose the lower path, below the rocks and people clinging to them – it’s big climbing territory here. Cows block the path at one point, huge beasts with long hair and horns. I’ve never seen cows here – sheep, yes – and certainly I didn’t expect to see the highland variety. It’s Neil’s idea of a nightmare but they ignore us, crunching away at the coarse grass, although I cop a flick of a heavy tail across my chest that almost winds me and makes me laugh.
We reach Fox House in half an hour, too early for a beer so settle for coffee. The return path, past Padley stream (which as I child I thought was so called because we paddled there) is wet, the ground sodden. Paths have become waterways and the river runs fast with mud. In contrast, the streams off Carl Wark are clear, the water running over grass, not stained by peat as it normally is. We find a sheltered spot in the rocks to eat lunch, looking over wild and wet ground towards Longshaw. I’m reluctant to leave.
On the way back to Sheffield we pass a layby lined with cars, a footpath sign pointing over the wall and away from the road.
‘Where does that go?’ asks Neil.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I reply. ‘It just goes.’