City Views: Frazer
Before I arrived in Sheffield, I knew it was going to look different, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what laid in wait for me. I took an Uber from the train station to the estate agent, where I picked up my keys; I then took another one to my house, and left all of my stuff in my room. Then I relaxed for a couple of minutes, and eventually fell asleep. So I never really saw Sheffield until the night-time. I got out of bed, freshened up, and went down to the main road. I could tell that, usually, it would be bustling: there were bars and restaurants lining the road, but that day, very few people were patronising them. It would be a month or so before they closed properly, but even then nothing was quite the same. There were a couple of people walking to and from the supermarket, but it didn’t feel lively and unpredictable, like a city should. Instead, it felt more like a concrete version of the place I’d come from: a rural village in Wales, population 446, where you could walk for an hour and see no more than two people. All you could hear there was animal sounds and wind making its way through the trees. So I got used to living in Sheffield quickly; during my first month in the city, before my degree had properly started, I only walked around the same couple of streets, and I barely saw any of the city at all. Because of that (although I’d find out later it was untrue), the city felt very small. Despite that, there was one crucial difference between Sheffield and Wales.
Back home, there was a sense that coronavirus was not only real, but an immediate danger: the people who lived there knew it, for the most part, and the government did, too. But in England, only one of those parties was doing so. People wore masks, they took all of the care possible but, as has become increasingly obvious as the year progresses, the government has no handle on the virus: there is no robust test and trace system in place, and that failing system has been marred by government misconduct, healthcare privatisation, and a failing of the democratic order. Somehow, at the worst time possible time, the government has lost all desire to look after the people it’s supposed to serve, forcing them to make their own decisions based on the amount of knowledge about the coronavirus which they had.
It would be a month or so before they closed properly, but even then nothing was quite the same. There were a couple of people walking to and from the supermarket, but it didn’t feel lively and unpredictable, like a city should.
But I have to hand it to Sheffield: it’s in the North, for one thing, and has largely been left behind by the government, but aside from a few infamous covid-deniers, the people who live here have dealt with it well. The people who live here should never have had to do this in the first place, but where the government has failed, they’ve picked up the slack, donating food to their neighbours who’ve lost their jobs, or helped them with other hardships they’ve been forced to endure. It’s a time during which a lot of people are grieving, but it’s a city with a strong sense of community; big enough to feel exciting, but small enough so as to not feel overwhelming.
I’ve seen some of the city, though probably not as much as I should have by this point. I’ve seen some places in Sharrow, my immediate surroundings; I’ve seen Bolehills; I’ve seen Showroom cinema and the train station, and I’ve seen the areas surrounding the University. But there are plenty of places which only exist in my mind: Kelham Island (which, sooner or later, I suppose I will see); Division Street, which I only know has a lot of bars, and exists in my mind as the kind of hedonistic place you might find in Berlin; and I know there are lots of other residential places. Woodseats, Meersbrook, Beauchief, places I would never think to go, except I’ve heard so much about there, and right now, I can’t really go unless I have a good reason to. Maybe someday soon, I’ll get the opportunity.