I remember very clearly, the day my beloved grandpa showed me the photo of the school I would be going to. It looked like some kind of weird space factory. At the time we lived in South Devon in a village called Buckfastleigh. I was around 8 years old.
My stepdad got a place at Psalter Lane Art college to study silversmithing, so we were moving to Sheffield. I was leaving my little school and my grandparents and my days of a pretty typical country childhood, and I was going to a big City which I knew nothing about.
I don’t remember much about the move apart from that we had to leave behind my little Jack Russel; Mouse. We couldn’t take her with us so we left her with some ladies near Dartmoor I think. I hope she was happy.
I guess one of the joys of being a kid is that you can be oblivious to all the adulting going around you. The packing, the organising, the house hunting…I don’t recall saying goodbyes, packing my toys and books, leaving the beautiful seaside and the fields and my precious grandparents. I didn’t contemplate the enormity of the change.
We moved to Hamilton Road in Firth Park. To a small semi-detatched house with a small backyard and garden. All local amenities; park, library, doctors, shops, playgroup for my little sister, schools within walking distance. Tick. Tick.Tick.
As always, retrospect is a great thing. I can now see how poor we were. It must have been a real struggle to keep us clothed and fed. I remember being allowed to order a dark green Adidas track suit from Kay’s Catalogue. ( I was old school before old school!). That’s how my mum brought most of our clothes and paid abit weekly. We didn’t have any furniture really. We had big cushions on the living room floor and a little black and white telly. Kids this was before video recorders were even thing. No Netflix, just ‘Seaside Special’ on a saturday night.
At night I could hear the steam hammers. I used to think that it was the giant from the Iron Man story. I found it a really comforting sound.
I joined Hucklow Middle School for my last few years of primary education. My headteacher was called Mr. Bradley. I have alot to thank him for. He was kind and welcoming and encouraged my love of music as I screeched my way through violin lessons. I remember him as such a kind man and he reminded me of my beloved grandpa who was hundreds of miles away.
One of my first memories of Sheffield is going to the Castle Market. I thought it was amazing, though it smelt of fish and slightly past it vegetables. My mum brought me a kind of stainless steel bracelet and had our names engraved on them in a swirly script. I also had my ears pierced for the first time, by Errol ‘Bomber’ Graham who was to go onto become a something-weight boxing champion. You could buy everything in there: fish-obviously, big bags of breadcakes, nail varnish, fruit and vegetables, handbags, records, slightly damaged factory seconds, dog beds, carpets, buttons…
One of the hardest things for me to get my head around was the Sheffield accent, but I knew it was essential in order to try and fit in. It was quite literally like trying to learn a new language. I used to practice alot. I propably sounded ridiculous. I studied hard on my Sheffieldish. Our neighbours’ son was called Andrew Campbell. He was ace. He once let me dress him up as Diana Ross for a rendition of ‘Baby Love’. My god his dad was angry/jealous. I often wonder where he is now.
We had a neighbour on the other side called Brenda. She fascinated me. She always wore spandex trousers and had a fag in her mouth. She had a front room that was for special occassions and visitors only. Her daughter became a friend and I spent alot of time at their house. It smelt of stale cigarette smoke and lard. I think her husband was a bus driver and every day when he got home she would cook him a thick pancake to go with his tea.
‘Are thy playin’ art cos i ‘ave to go in for me tea soon or I’ll get reyt done!’ (in devon lilt/pseudo yorkshire accent).
We did literally used to go out in the morning, have adventures, maybe pop home for food at lunchtime, and then stay out again until the sun went down.
We used to go out after school, slide down the’donkey hill’ on bits of cardboard, ride bikes round the empty.old boating lake, play two balls and french skipping….
‘it’s supper time….’
I remember two things I spent hours trying to get my mum to agree too. Firstly when supper was ready to call it ‘tea’ instead when she called us in. Supper for the other kids was what you had just before bed; a bowl of cereal or a biscuit. Tea was the evening meal. Secondly, we begged her to buy white.sliced.bread. She used to make her own bread: wholesome.nutty, wholemeal loaves that she would cut into thick slices for our packed lunches. This immediately made us extremely self concious and we yearned for the more acceptable ‘Sunblest’. We were allowed it occassionally as a treat. A ‘pop’ van used to come round loaded with bottles of fizzy sugar and water with added E numbers and hyper-inducing colourants. We used to sometimes have Dandelion and Burdock and if you kept the bottles and gave them back to the pop man you got money back. Propably about 2p. And..talking of 2p!! At this time any one under 12 could travel anywhere on a bus for 2p!! It was amazing and gave infinite freedom to my inquisitive self. You could also smoke on the top floor of the bus so when you went up the steps you were greeted with a yellow nicotine smog and the sound of many lungs coughing at the inhalation of every woodbine. It was worth it as, pre-smoker, we used to like sitting on the front seats on the top deck as it looked like you were flying on a driverless ship. Marvellous.
We also had conductors who would nearly always work the same route so became familiar. Years later I asked the conductor for 10 John Player Specials instead of my busfare because I was hungover and you know what?He didn’t judge…..
When I moved up to secondary it felt like a big leap into the unknown. I remember clear as day going to the B and C 9Brightside and Carbook Co-op) with my mum to buy my uniform. Christ it was ugly. Grey skirt, knee high socks, light blue shirt with a massive 1970s style collar and a grey cardigan. There was rumours that older kids were going to flush our heads down the toilets as a welcome. They didn’t but on my first day as we were lining up for assembley, a Year 5 boy crawled along the floor looking up our skirts. I think that was worse.
I went to Hinde House Comprehensive which was lorded over by The head (name erased from memory), and the deputy head. Mr. Battye. Both of these men insisted on wearing their black graduation cloaks at all times to remind us that they had a degree or something, and Mr. Battye looked like ‘the count’ out of Sesame Street so his name was very apt and he carried off the vampire look beautifully.
Mr. Battye really didn’t like me and i’m not sure why. In the 70s’ teachers were allowed to openly declare their dislike for you, to bawl at you down the corridor. They could grab you, slap you round the head and also give you the cane! These various forms of abuse were propably integral to my growing desire for rebellion and to not conform to these horrendous rules.
I used to walk to school over Wincobank Hill, stopping en route at the shop to buy rhubarb and custard and black jack sweets and later single cigarettes from the very considerate proprietor who was willing to overlook the age restrictions just for us and our lungs. Bless him.
Our school was next to a graveyard and at lunchtimes we used to go in there and eat our chips. One day the gravedigger chased us and we had to climb a fence to escape. I got my foot stuck in the fence resulting in a broken toe but also a whole joyous month off P.E.
I hated P.E. The teacher was stocky and always wore a gym skirt, she was also very shouty and made us do stuff even if we obviously were incapable. I remember standing in the line waiting for my turn to ‘mount the horse’ which was never going to happen, it smelt of teenage sweat and old suede.. I always seemed to be sandwiched between 2 athletic and flexible girls who sprang over in one graceful movement. We were once trying out for Sports Day and I was made to run the full 800 metres like a demented flamingo even though I was 3 laps behind everyone else and obviously not going to do the team any favours if I took part. Humiliation was the name of the game.
Cross country was quite good. We used to all set off together then divert down a jennel, eat some chips, have a fag and then stroll up to the top of the drive and jog back. All apart from one girl who I quite admired for her swottiness and aspirations to be a kennel maid. She did the whole circuit AND snitched and we all had detention. She propably went onto great things.
I desperately wanted a boyfriend and soon hooked up with my friends’ brother Dean. He wasn’t an actual boyfriend but he was a good friend and I loved him. We used to play out in the woods around the Northern General and we joined choir together at St.Cuthberts church. I quite liked choir. I wasn’t really religious but it was 50p to sing at weddings and funerals and we got jammy dodgers afterwards. My cassock was way too short but thats the thing about being tall. No concessions made for my height so it looked great teamed with my bell bottom ankle length jeans.
One morning I went to school assembley. They announced that commiserations were to be sent to Dean’s family. He had got up for a drink in the night and died of a brain haemmorrhage. It was horrible. My whole head started spinning and I felt sick. I’d had no idea. I’d seen him the evening before. I don’t think I ever found a way to come to terms with it .
As time went on, I found school more and more difficult. I couldn’t believe the way we were treated and wanted to make a stand against the injustice of it all! I used to leave in the morning as if I was going to school and then divert to the woodland behind the library and ‘wag it’ (play truant). I literally used to sit on a bench, surrounded by trees and birds and wait for 3.15 so that I could go home.
I was an expert at forging notes from home to school and vise versa.
Dear Miss (name inserted here)
Joanna needs to be excused from P.E/swimming/cross country/school trips etc. as she has women’s trouble.
They couldn’t argue with that one could they. There were no mobile phones. No text messages. It was forged onto Basildon Bond in my best swirly joined up writing. I then presented it to the teacher in an envelope to make it seem more like a real note. The relief of not having to partake was palpable as I went and sat out the lesson.
My plan was foiled one day when I mistakenly thought everyone was out at home and was caught sunning myself in the garden with a copy of ‘Grease-the official magazine’ which I had shoplifted that morning purely on the basis of the pull out John Travolta poster. My stepdad had come home early and I was ridiculously flustered and gave him the lamest of excuses about it being a training day. He rang school and I was exposed as a truanter. It all went a bit down hill from there really. I shall address my expulsion from school at a later blog. It needs and commands it.
I love this city, even though I had no choice in relocating here. It definately feels like home. I’ve raised my babies here and I know its nooks and crannies. The best places to walk my dog, the best places to get good coffee. I love that I can drive for 10 minutes and be on the moors. I love that the bus drivers call you ‘duck’ whether you are male or female. I love it that it’s green and lush and has such a rich history. I love it that Henderson’s Relish is held in such esteem. I love it that I can walk through town and despite the changes it has gone through it has a rich expanse of memories for me. I love it that it’s like a bloomin’ village and everyone either knows you or knows someone who does. I love that I know and have met so many amazing people. My best people. Sheffield has a rich and diverse culture and has changed beyond recognition from when we moved here. But I am glad we did.