City Views: Charlie Parker – “I missed Sheffield’s hills, of all things”

I’m off the Cross…

Or, to those not from Sheffield, I’m from Parson Cross. It’s not a picturesque area – not in the typical ‘Yorkshire Dales’ picturesque, that is. It’s not particularly popular amongst people from Sheffield, being known as ‘rough’ (normally receiving a wince once I explain my birthplace), nor is it what is regarded as an inspiring place (again, in that Yorkshire Dales way).

It is, however, real. An often-overused description, evoking a Shane Meadow’s scene, ‘real’ is the grounding I received from Parson Cross (and more so, later, in a similar area where I eventually grew up in Stockport) that has kept me in good stead for my adult life.

“I missed Sheffield’s hills, of all things. I missed that in old man pubs you could say nowt to anybody, but a good few regulars will still say goodbye when you leave”

I’ve had something of a mixed upbringing, having spent my very early years on the Cross, raised in an area called Heaton Norris in Stockport until 23, and then coming back to Sheffield for university. That said, there is a stainless-steel core that is built into everyone who even has a passing affiliation with Sheffield: disdain over non-Sheffield sandwich sizes, religious belief that everything tastes better with Henderson’s relish, the curious unmistakable mark of a Sheffielder that comes from when you pass one a knife – they will always check for the ‘Made in Sheffield’ note on it, as if to ascertain legitimacy. There is always a sense of false modesty built into Sheffielders; growing up near Manchester, it grated on me how loud our Lancastrian cousins are – ‘too much rattle,’ as elder Yorkshiremen might comment. However, I came to learn that, bluntly speaking, while initially slightly cold in person, once the Mancunians accept you, you have no choice in the matter of whether you’re friends or not. Sheffielders have no need for this time spent working you out; a city and greater area built on steelworkers and miners, a working life spent among the dust and blinding heat leaves no time for second-guessing first introductions.

The great irony growing up in Stockport was that I was always ‘The Yorkshire lad’, and in Sheffield I’ve never quite felt at home. Since coming back to the city to attend one of the universities, I couldn’t help but notice how I was still an outsider: students would hear my broad Yorkshire accent and ask if I’m local. ‘Well, sort of…’ came the response. I’d visited Sheffield a lot over the years, either family at Christmas or as often as we could to visit my beloved Sheffield Wednesday. I knew a fair bit of the north of Sheffield, but the city centre and surrounding areas were lost to me.

I had been spoiled by Manchester; or, perhaps, being a hard-to-impress yorkshireman, I was immediately disillusioned by my return to Sheffield

After working for about five years near Manchester, in addition to a year’s worth of Access to HE at Manchester College in the city centre, I thus became intimately acquainted with the Manc way of life (Oasis and Stone Roses are undisputed Gods, the phrase ‘alright’ can mean up to five things, and there is little use for the letter ‘t’ or ‘r’ towards the end of words). Moving to Sheffield then proved as something of a reverse culture shock: life is slower here. I had been spoiled by Manchester; or, perhaps, being a hard-to-impress Yorkshireman, I was immediately disillusioned by my return to Sheffield. It was nice to see areas I recognised back when I was a child, and hear accents that reminded me of family, but I could not get over the ‘big town’ ways of Sheffield. There are days I miss Manchester’s huge buildings, constant swinging cranes and planes flying overhead. I miss the hive activity of Manchester city centre, and even, at times, the almost inbuilt cocky nature of seemingly every Mancunian ever. Naturally, I cannot deny my adoration for the town I grew up in (I will always secretly celebrate a win for Stockport County Football Club), yet it is always my return to Sheffield that reminds me of why I still live here. I missed Sheffield’s hills, of all things. I missed that in old man pubs you could say nowt to anybody, but a good few regulars will still say goodbye when you leave. Most of all, I missed the false modesty of Sheffielders; one of the biggest cities in England, the home of the modern rules of football and musically cultural behemoth, yet our prideful modesty is, I believe, a unique asset.

Yeah, I always wear a flat cap, I love relish, and I still get a bit disgusted when I’m served a pint with no head on it. I love The Stone Roses as much as I love grumbling on the terraces at Hillsborough: ‘Ah’m not bleedin’ comin’ next week.’ But really, I’m just off the Cross, and that’ll never change.

Charlie Parker, @charlieparkerpoet

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