Sometimes a curl of the lip, always a furrow of the brow.
“Why would you want to live in Sheffield?”
This has been the response of most people I know. They look confused at first, then afraid for me, as if I’d suddenly announced I was about to invest all my money in a pyramid scheme, or that I was considering getting into heroin as a serious lifestyle choice.
It’s a particular anxiety common to Londoners that makes much of the rest of the UK an alarming place to live, especially if you’ve got creative ambitions. There are a few bastions of cool that are still permissible – Edinburgh and Brighton, for instance – but Sheffield is right out. It’s a fear of being away from the centre, of being mediocre and insignificant. But of course, one can be mediocre and insignificant whilst being at the centre – living in London is no talisman against a failing life. I know plenty of friends who should spend all their lives in London, because the city does great things to them. But I don’t think that I’m one of them.
The climbers understand, of course, London climbers being shipwrecked souls who have been swept more than three hours from any rock worth mentioning by career or romance or circumstance. I mention moving to Sheffield and they give a small nod, their eyes dimming, and I know they are no longer listening to me. Instead, they are thinking about whatever gritstone project it is that captivates them, for there are few who can resist the call of that most seductive of rocks. They think of Flying Buttress Direct, perhaps, or Archangel. Maybe they are dreaming further, more dangerously, to Master’s Edge, The End of the Affair, or Gaia. But, of course, no one dreams about Gaia. One only has nightmares about Gaia.
That it’s a home for a climber is without doubt. But is it a home for a writer? Most of the natives with a talent for penmanship end up in the music scene, Sheffield’s bands being well known for both sharp writing and dodgy electronica. The city’s past of steelwork is a useful psychological landscape, for writing is a constructive craft. It is fire and sweat and endless reworking, casting and cooling and hoping that it does not break into pieces.
I try to imagine my life there. I will buy coffee and olive oil from Bragazzi’s, books and tea from The Rude Shipyard, more books and music from Rare and Racy. Train at the Works when it is raining, catch a bus out to the grit every day that it is not. A local brew with Jack and Liz at the Sheaf View at the end of a good day’s work, lunches in the garden with Kaktus and Nome and Chaos the cat. Films at the Showroom and plays at The Crucible. I try to imagine this life, and find it isn’t difficult at all.
I think of being there in Autumn, and remember that is when the Peak is at its most beautiful – sun browned bracken, purple heather, and the morning frost. I think of Sheffield, a city of craftsmen and climbers, and I think of another place to call a home.