Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

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Brutalist memory lanes

I have just watched this short video on the BBC website about the Park Hill estate in Sheffield which has triggered many memories. It provides a snapshot into some of the urban regeneration taking place in Sheffield, and the wider English north - although I happen to believe that much of the English north, in terms of real, aspiration-enabling industry, has been for all intents and purposes left to stagnate.

Old meets new...

The Park Hill estate in Sheffield holds a fascination for me, ever since they decided to really push forward and renovate it, rather than demolish it, around a decade ago. The fact is the hand of local government was forced into renovating, because this awesome monument to 1950s and 1960s Sheffield's brutalist architecture - this legacy of a once progressive and assertive policy of slum clearance - was given Grade II listing in the 1990s.

I never really had the Park Hill on my visual landscape as a kid, it was the other side of the city and my voyaging outwards from my home in the Rivelin Valley area more often than not tended to be towards Derbyshire. I always remember the time I cycled around six miles, alone on my BMX, from home to the 'Welcome to Derbyshire' sign and it felt like I had journeyed to another country. I was excited and scared, and quickly turned around fearing I would become irretrievably lost. I was probably thirteen at the time and I am sure my parents wouldn't have been happy at just how far I'd travelled, as much as they allowed us freedom to roam the local countryside during the summer.

But the Park Hill did have a smaller sibling, the Kelvin Flats, which I would pass by every time I caught the bus into what we called 'towun' - Sheffield's city centre. The Kelvin Flats was a place of which many horrific tale was told amongst us children and some of the adults around us. We heard stories of thuggish muggers, tragic jumpers and malicious throwers (namely the tale of people throwing TVs off at passers-by below). At school, any fellow pupil 'offa Kelvin' was immediately deemed to be 'hard' and would be looked upon with a mix of fear, admiration and pity. So in many ways it was a morbid fascination to begin with.

Having said that, brutalist architecture was also part of my everyday environment as a child. It wasn't just the brutalist monoliths of Park Hill, Hyde Park and Kelvin that made their way onto Sheffield's horizons - many of the outskirts of the city had brutalist-inspired social housing estates, which our privately owned semi-detached was nestled amongst. These took the form of tower blocks set amongst maisonettes.

The tower blocks seen here were renovated around twenty five years ago, with red-brick cladding added...

Even then I had an understanding that there was some kind of divide between the pockets of privately-owned houses and these swathes of concrete houses. It was a visual demarcation as much as a social-economic one - the stark difference between the pockets of reddish-brown bricked traditional-looking houses and the swathes of light grey flat-roofed housing. 

Interestingly though - as much as I probably knew even at such a young age that my close friends in these houses were technically 'poorer' than my family and our privately-owned semi-detached house - I was often the poor relation, as I came from a similar lower income household but with six children to feed rather than one or two (on top of a more expensive mortgage to pay, I guess). This status would manifest itself in our less-fashionable clothes (a source of periodic bullying and ostracisation at school), a lack of a car for many years (another source of mocking), a lack of pocket money (resulting in some petty shoplifting followed by some severe tellings-off), a lack of the latest games console and so on.

But when it came to the summer holidays, the fact we all spent most of our days in the nearby parks and woodlands was a leveller-of-sorts. All you needed to get on during these days was a football, some hands for climbing trees and catching pond life, and when we felt more daring, a box of matches for a campfire. So as much as there was deprivation in various forms (though not necessarily outright poverty), we were blessed by Sheffield's 'golden frame'.

The Kelvin flats were demolished around the early 1990s and I remember vividly how the rubble - previously thirteen storeys high, making up a thousand dwellings - was rumoured to have been used partly to fill in the 'Hole in the Road' ('oil in't road'). 

The Hole in the Road, much like the Park Hill, was an iconic (yet increasingly-dilapidated) feature of Sheffield - so much so that there has even been a local folk song written about it.

There's also a lego version, which perhaps helps those who don't come from Sheffield perhaps visualise it a bit better.

I'm refusing to get too serious with my writing on this blog at the moment - this is deliberate, as I am meant to be on sabbatical. There is much I feel I could say as a result of reflecting on my trip down these brutalist memory lanes - about how my own life has in some ways radically departed from these roots (something that generates mixed emotions), how Sheffield (and other northern towns and cities) continue to struggle with poverty in the hangover of Britain's imperial boom, how many Sheffielders I know feel increasingly feel alienated by globalisation. But I'll perhaps leave you to reflect upon all of this yourself - and I always appreciate comments from the handful of people who read.

Here are two poems which may help also:

'Change' by Kathleen Jessie Raine
A poem, I feel, about how change can be opportunity masked by fear...

Said the sun to the moon, 
You cannot stay. 

Says the moon to the waters, 
All is flowing. 

Says the fields to the grass, 
Seed-time and harvest, 
Chaff and grain. 

You must change said, 
Said the worm to the bud, 
Though not to a rose, 

Petals fade 
That wings may rise 
Borne on the wind. 

You are changing 
said death to the maiden, your wan face 
To memory, to beauty. 

Are you ready to change? 
Says the thought to the heart, to let her pass 
All your life long 

For the unknown, the unborn 
In the alchemy 
Of the world's dream? 

You will change, 
says the stars to the sun, 
Says the night to the stars. 


'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost
A poem, I feel, about the human tendency to look back - and a warning to not place too much meaning on past events, particularly on those tinged by regret...

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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