Tag Archives: Sheffield

empty, ersatz nature

Damn, but Kate Wagner is a good writer. Here she is on the aesthetics of ruination for The Baffler:

Unlike images of nature’s reclamation of Chernobyl, there is no righteous, morbid, fetishistic pleasure to be found in Superfund sites whether or not they’re remediated. In a secular world free of mysticism, they are perhaps the closest approximation to what it means for a place to be haunted—by invisible poisons that destabilize communities and the bodies that inhabit them. Remediated sites, with their empty, ersatz nature mottled with the uninteresting sump-pump infrastructure of monitoring and purification, offer no decaying buildings or strewn-about gas masks to aestheticize. Often, the only titillating feature is a humble sign attached to the fence dutifully informing the observer that what they are looking at is indeed a Superfund project. The rather mundane reality can be underwhelming—we want to see visual symbols of death and decay caused by our misdeeds against the land. It is unfair that poisoned earth so often looks like the perimeter of an airport.

I know that “uninteresting sump-pump infrastructure of monitoring and purification” that Wagner mentions; Shirebrook Valley Nature Reserve is peppered with it, if you’re willing to look, as are many such green spaces around Sheffield and Rotherham.

We don’t really have an equivalent to the Superfund site in the UK, as far as I know — but we probably should have. Indeed, I’ve been living not far from one for the last seven years, and what was once the famous Orgreave colliery and coke-works is now half “nature” reserve (which proves every point ever made about the social/natural dichotomy) and half housing estate. I’m told that the Rother, which wends its way across the washlands just down the hill from my front door, was once reckoned to be the most polluted river in Europe (though I find that hard to believe, given the continued state of the Don, which still reeks of wrongness after heavy rainfall); you’d not know it now from a casual glance.

But who knows what lies beneath the silt and mud, lurking in the water-table, sucked up into the buddleja and brambles? A lot of industrial “remediation” projects in this country seem to involve either leaving a place overgrown and neglected for a few decades, or bringing in a layer of heavy topsoil in a manner analogous to capping a moribund landfill site… we can only hope that it’s enough, I guess. Every time I walk around Waverley, I wonder how many of its residents know what once occupied the land their homes are sat upon. Hell knows there’s little or nothing there to tell them about it.

(As a side note, much is made of Sheffield’s status as “England’s greenest city”, not least by the council itself. Less often mentioned is that many of the green spaces within the city boundaries are the sites of former coal pits; these spaces remain undeveloped largely because the excavations beneath make them unsafe and/or toxic, rather than due to the desire of the council or the development industry to make the city “greener”. But hey, if you’ve got a sow’s ear, you might as well make a silk purse of it, right?)

Talking up a storm

Thanks to the Opus Independents / NowThen Magazine crew for giving me the opportunity to pose some questions the incredible, the humble, the forthright Kate Tempest. Online version’s here if you want it.

I spotted NowThen during my first week in Sheffield, and decided immediately that if I was going to write reviews and similar for a free local rag, then it was this one, or none of them.

Right choice, Paul. Right choice.

Now Then’s Ten

Surfacing briefly to note with pride that Now Then is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

Now Then Magazine - Tenth Anniversary edition

I stumbled across Now Then during my first weeks in Sheffield, way back in the autumn of 2012, when I was desperate to make some connections to the local cultural scene, and to find a new venue to write music reviews for. Now Then is basically an ad-funded arts-scene free-sheet, and generally I don’t write for such publications on principle; as a rule they’re awful, full of shamelessly fawning promo passing itself off as commentary, with tawdry production values and even lower editorial standards. Now Then stood out immediately: its print edition (which doesn’t run during the summer, so as to save money) is always a gorgeous piece of printed product, fronted with original art commissioned to purpose; its reviews are written with genuine passion, and are permitted to be critical; it carries poetry, short fiction and humour, and it carries editorial and local-political content that puts both of the local “newspapers” to shame by comparison.

My PhD and other work has meant I’ve not been a very regular contributor to Now Then, but of all the free-to-air venues I’ve ever reviewed music for, it’s the one I’m proudest not only to tell people about, but to show them a physical copy. Perhaps the most solid endorsement I can offer is that I pick up a copy every month, whether my words are in there or not.

Sheffield’s a city with a fair few problems and difficulties, most of which are political in origin. But it teems with people working hard to make a difference, not just for themselves, but for everyone else. Sam and the gang at Opus are solidly in the latter category, and Now Then is product and platform all at once. I’m reyt proud to have contributed to it, in however minor a manner.

(You can read my latest review in this month’s online edition.)