City Views: Elliot
The human brain is a remarkably efficient organ. It achieves this efficiency by systematically ignoring what is always there and only soaking up wholeheartedly whatever is novel. This is no doubt a very useful trick, but it has its downsides. It means that most of the time, our hometown is actually invisible to us. Its gigantic buildings and twisting, unique landmarks pass right before our eyes, and as if some dynamo had snuck them up his sleeve, they pass straight into the void of inattention. A word of advice to aspiring magicians: If you want to make the Eiffel tower disappear, simply pass it on your way to work every morning!
Is there a way around this blind spot? After all, this blindness is hard won. The same way that washing a t-shirt every day will fade its colour, it is waking up in the same place every day that costs a city its sheen. The contours and unique character of the city, vivid red for a tourist, are a tired pastel pink for a local, who has unwound in the Peace Gardens, spent far too much in Meadowhall, frolicked in Norfolk Park, threw up chunks outside Leadmill, dined in Damon’s, and wandered down West Street more times than they would care to admit.
The best way to see your city more clearly is, paradoxically, to leave it. For that reason, I’ll describe Sheffield by hardly describing it all. I will instead describe how it felt to come back to it, after the first time I went on holiday as an adult, in July of 2016.
“Come on then d*ckhead, we can sleep on t’plane!”
I rouse from my sleep. My friend Bob is standing over me. Ben, a skinny lad whose pasty skin is now lobster-toned from six days of Kavos sun, is packing a suitcase in his boxer shorts. “When do we need to leave the room?” I grunt inarticulately. “By 11,” comes the reply. “It’s ‘alf ten now.” Damn it. The plane ride home is a blur, as all the hangovers I’ve been stacking up over the course of the week start to bear down on me.
Soon after, our minibus comes to pick us up, and on the journey back the north of England presents itself to me, as it must present itself to tourists. I notice the way the road signs look. I notice the architecture: Shoddy hotels and strips of Greek nightclubs had long since given way to sturdy little terraced houses and Victorian pubs with names like ‘The King’s Arms’. As we move towards Sheffield, its skyline is distinctly brutal and blocky, and as we moved deeper into it, the austere greys of the former industrial town gave way to the peppy light greys and pristine silver of the city centre. I felt a distinct pang of relief when we passed the train station, with its water fountains that spray and spit to impress visitors. Home was in sight.
Since then, I’ve come to learn that any time one leaves the city, you can learn something new about your hometown. When I went to Greece, I had been struck by how sleek Sheffield is. When I went to Amsterdam, it was how hilly (there’s a reason people cycle everywhere in Amsterdam). When I returned from London, I thanked my lucky stars that I lived in a place where people were so friendly and open to each other, and I came to notice how cosy Sheffield is, balancing beautifully as it does between rural and urban, cosy and metropolitan.
That is all I have to say about Sheffield. In describing Sheffield, I could talk about the many special memories I have made over a lifetime of living here. But that would be to attack things indirectly, and to downplay the importance of the people who made those memories. I want to describe the character of the city, friendly and strong, industrial and cosy. I only hope that one day I will have travelled enough to describe Sheffield completely.
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