Sheffield 1: campus memories

Halifax Hall Hotel, Sheffield

I spent four happy years as a student at the University of Sheffield. I met John there. Why then, I ask myself, is it 25 years since I last visited the city? I have no answer. However, in February John had a Friday meeting at the University so I tagged along and we made a long weekend of it, staying four nights in Halifax Hall. In my day, Halifax was a student residence – now it’s a very comfortable hotel (with great breakfasts), although it still belongs to the university and alumni get a good discount. From here we sallied forth to re-explore the city. I warn you that the next few posts are going to be jam-packed with nostalgic reminiscing!

A redbrick university

Sheffield is one of a group of “redbrick” universities established in the large, industrial cities of England in the early 20th century. The appearance of Firth Court (1905) might give a clue as to where this name comes from! This is the university’s main administration building which also contains Firth Hall used, amongst other things, for postgraduate ceremonies. John and I have both graduated here.

On my first morning, while John was at his meeting, I met an old friend, Jacky, in Firth Court’s café. Jacky is one of only two people whom I knew during both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: we studied History (1975-8) and Librarianship (1979-80) together. I left Sheffield, but Jacky stayed on working in the University Library through which I was able to contact her. Despite not having met since the early 1980s, the years rolled away and we spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee, catching up and sharing memories.

The Arts Tower

Many new buildings have appeared round campus since I was a student, but in my opinion the 78 metre tall Arts Tower (1966) is still the university’s greatest icon. Despite the name, all the Arts departments have long since outgrown it and moved out, but in my first two years History occupied Floor 9. Here’s the Tower by night and day.

The university is surrounded by parkland. Here’s the Tower again from Weston Park and Crookes Valley Park. One of the first things John and I ever did together was take a rowing boat out on Crookes Valley pond.

As well as stairs and two ordinary lifts, the Arts Tower has a paternoster lift – a chain of open compartments that move in a continuous loop up and down the building. Here’s John descending and looking a bit wary – he’s never used it before. Being an engineer, he had no reason to visit the Arts Tower.

If you’re only going a few floors the paternoster can be quicker than waiting for the standard lift. I used it a lot and, although I never consciously felt nervous, I must have had some underlying anxiety because I occasionally dreamt about it. Either the lift would speed up so that it was going too fast to jump out, or the gap between lift and floor would suddenly increase so that it was too wide to jump across. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened!

In my final year, History moved out of the Arts Tower to a building now occupied by Nursing and Midwifery (left, below). The School of Librarianship was in a house on a street called Claremont Crescent. Although Librarianship is no longer there, several houses in the street are still owned by the University. I couldn’t identify the right one for sure: it could have been this one – or maybe not!

The Library

Next to the Arts Tower, and joined to it by a bridge between their mezzanine floors, is the Western Bank Library (1959) in which I spent many hours studying. These days, it houses the university’s research collections and undergraduate material has moved to the Information Commons (2007).

Western Bank’s Reading Room windows look out onto Weston Park, and I confess that some of that studying time might well have been spent watching the ducks on the pond.

The Students’ Union

Most students spend a lot of time in the Union with its range of cheap bars and cafés and space for gigs and the occasional ball. The red brick building, Graves, is the oldest part of Sheffield’s Union dating from the 1930s. In my first year, I lived in lodgings on the edge of the city so often ate in Graves Restaurant, or one of the refectories in the more modern part of the Union, before going home in the evening. The menu consisted mainly of pie and chips, sausage roll and chips, and – you get the picture. I put on quite a lot of weight that year, although I was still almost skeletal compared to my current size. The rest of the Union dates from the 1960s – a fancy new tower at the front and some coloured lighting can’t disguise the old place from me!

Other sights / sites around campus

In the gallery above:

  • Two street signs at the edge of the campus. How could I ever forget those names?
  • The University Drama Studio now, as then, housed in the former Glossop Road Baptist Church. I went to many a performance during both my degrees, and only one was so bad that we left in the interval.
  • A mural on the side of the old Henderson’s Relish factory (also shown). Henderson’s Relish is a spicy Yorkshire sauce.
  • Allen the Peregrine by Jason Heppenstall. Allen was originally made to celebrate the opening of IKEA Sheffield and is made entirely of – allen keys. Now he perches outside The Diamond, the university’s new engineering building. I met John there after his meeting and we spent the rest of the day with two other old friends, John and Jill.

So many memories, and more to come – next time, I’ll move off campus to look round the city.

Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi: Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria

Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female painter of the 17th century, was born in Rome in 1593. Her date of death is unknown, but it must be after 1654 when she is recorded as living in Naples. Self Portrait as St Catherine of Alexandria (c 1615-17) has recently been acquired by the National Gallery in London, restored, and sent out on tour to unusual and unexpected destinations including a library, a school, and a health centre. The painting’s first stop is Glasgow Women’s Library where it is on display until 19th March, so hurry along if you are in the area.

Who was St Catherine of Alexandria? In the 4th century she was sentenced to death for her Christian beliefs and tied to a wheel studded with iron spikes. Although she was miraculously freed by angels, she could not escape a martyr’s death and was later beheaded. In Artemisia’s portrait she leans on the broken wheel with her left hand while her right hand holds a martyr’s palm. I spent an hour in the same room as Catherine / Artemisia and continually returned to that beautiful, clear gaze.

You can read more on the National Gallery’s site:

I wonder if Artemisia would approve of being added to a blogging challenge? If it gets more people looking at her wonderful painting, maybe she would. I’m linking to Becky’s Spiky Squares.

The call to place: Hampshire

Anabel and Becky, Winchester 2018

Last week, I left you with a bit of a riddle. I said I would soon be off for a short break to the south coast of England with John who was visiting a university in a city where I lived briefly as a young woman. I also told you that it was near the home of a blogging friend whom I was going to meet, and invited you to guess where and who. By the time my scheduled post was published, that meeting had already taken place. The university was Southampton and the blogger was Becky who lives in nearby Winchester, when she’s not in the Algarve, and writes at The life of B and It caught my eye in Portugal.

Becky and I had been discussing a meetup for some months, envisaging that we would both travel to somewhere in-between our homes, but John’s trip was too good an opportunity to miss. He’s a regular, if infrequent, visitor to Southampton and I’ve wanted to accompany him for years, long before I knew Becky. Somehow, it never worked out, but this visit was on a Monday allowing us to make a weekend of it. Why was I so keen?

Let me take you back 40 years to 1978. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Sheffield and hoping to study Librarianship at postgraduate level. To do this, you had to have a year’s experience working in a library. At that time, many councils and universities had Graduate Trainee posts which allowed you to experience all aspects of library work. I applied for several and accepted the first one I was offered – Hampshire County Council. I thus spent four months each working in Southampton, Winchester and Farnborough. Apart from one short visit a couple of years later, I’ve never been back until now. What would be different? What had stayed the same?

I have very few photographs of that time. Forgive the quality of this one, scanned from an old slide, which shows me standing outside Southampton Central Library in the autumn of 1978. My very first library job. Could I replicate this picture?

Anabel in Southampton, 1978

We had a wonderful weekend searching for the answers to these questions. On Saturday, we met Becky in Winchester. I can report that she is an excellent tour guide, and I’m very grateful to her for taking a few hours out of her busy schedule to show us around. On Sunday, John and I took a walk through Southampton’s Old Town and on Monday, while John was working, I did some more exploring myself and hunted down some old haunts. Full posts on Southampton and Winchester will appear in due course*.

As for my year in Hampshire, it passed very quickly and in October 1979 I returned to Sheffield to study for my MA. While there, I met John as I’ve already described in a previous post. He had another year to go on his PhD in Sheffield, but I was going back to Hampshire. Part of the traineeship arrangement was that I (and 5 other trainees) would work for the council for at least two years after university. The library would save up librarian vacancies during our year out and slot us in when we returned. However, in May 1979 a Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher had been elected and all the talk was of cuts, cuts, cuts. Much like now.

In the early summer of 1980, Hampshire wrote to say they had no librarian vacancies but would appoint returning trainees to library assistant posts and we would all have to compete for anything better that came up. This was a blow. When I told John, he said “You could write and tell them you’re getting married and don’t want to come back.” What! This was the first time the M word had been mentioned between us, so I took it as a proposal and, well, here we still are.

I didn’t actually say that to Hampshire, but I suggested that, as they were obviously having difficulty finding jobs for us all, it was in everyone’s interests if I applied elsewhere. Luckily, I got a job in Nottinghamshire – much nearer Sheffield! But I did wonder as I toured Winchester last week what our lives would have been like if I had gone back.

Many of you will know Cathy who has created several blogs over the years but is now settling down as ~wander.essence~. She’s revamping her approach to travel writing and is encouraging us to do so too. One of her challenges is Call to PlaceI invite you to write a 700-900 word (or less) post on your own blog about what enticed you to choose a recently visited or a future particular destination. I’m linking this post to that invitation – Cathy’s own most recent call to place is to the Four Corners area of the USA. Follow the link to find out more.

*See:

How we met

21st March 1981. The minister is my Dad.

It was our wedding anniversary last week. I celebrated in Glasgow, and John celebrated by flying to China on business. Oh well, we’ve celebrated a few anniversaries already (36 of them, mostly together) and hopefully have quite a few more to come, so I’m not complaining. Too much.

Last year I mentioned our anniversary in my March Gallivanting post, and had originally included a section on how we met. As the post grew longer and longer, I had to cut it out. I think this year’s March post might be a long one too and, as I have nothing else written for this week, here’s that section now.

How we met

Anabel and John, March 81

In autumn 1979 I went to Sheffield to do my Masters in Librarianship. I moved into a student flat in Victoria House which I shared with four other young women: two more postgraduates and two first-year undergraduates. We felt quite sorry for the first-years, who seemed to have nothing in common, and decided they needed more friends. We were thinking female and their own age (18 – we were looking down at them from the lofty height of 22). Between us, we leafleted all the flats in the block inviting people to meet in our kitchen to set up some social events.

What we didn’t know was that our flat was not typical and, apart from us and two women downstairs, the occupants were all men. Postgraduate men. As our kitchen filled up with them I answered the door to the last arrival. Readers, I would have been astonished to know it, but this was my future husband. However, I can report that my very first thought was “Oh no, not another old man!” Not a promising start.

After a bit of discussion, our large group of men and a few women hit the nearest pub then dispersed in smaller groups to various other destinations, the local curry-house in my case. I didn’t see John again that evening and, apart from the odd hello when passing on the stairs, didn’t speak to him again all term. He admits to a flicker of interest but noticed that I had a boyfriend already.

By January that relationship was over. One evening, my flatmate and I returned from the cinema to find John and his friends had tied climbing ropes to their balcony and were abseiling down the building. (This photo of me on the balcony outside our kitchen gives you some idea of how it worked. There were three floors, we were on the middle one and John was immediately above.) Conversation ensued, and we were invited to a concert the following night for which John was doing the “on-stage visuals” (remember this was 1980, it meant he was operating the slide projector). We became friendly as a group,  John and I soon became a couple and we got married the following March.

Romantic? I think so! Let me know in the comments if you have a better story.

The Zombie Ward

I seem to have had no time for blogging recently – so here’s one I prepared earlier. In my July Gallivanting post I said:

Over the last few months, I’ve been taking part in a project at Glasgow Women’s Library to research the women associated with the Belvidere Fever Hospital in the East End of Glasgow around the time of the First World War. There isn’t much detail in the records, so the idea was to use our imaginations to create a series of dramatic monologues around our chosen women. On the 4th of July, this came to fruition with a performance and a book, both called Voices from the Belvidere, bringing to life fascinating stories of laundry maids who ran away, nurses who caught fever after fever, and the rare women doctors who followed their calling against all odds. My contribution was called The Zombie Ward: some day, with more time, I might tell you its story. 

Now is the time! Here’s my introduction and monologue as it appears in the book.

Introduction

At the first meeting of the Belvidere group, my eye was drawn to a picture from the Alice Bauchop collection showing a group of nurses and a young male doctor on a set of ward steps. In particular, I liked the woman in the middle with her arms crossed nonchalantly and a friendly smile on her face, so I was really lucky to find her again in a photograph in the Mitchell Library. Even better: her name, the name of the ward, which disease it treated and the year were all identified. After that it was just a case of using a little imagination – and Wikipedia! I was worried that the term zombie might be an anachronism, but it was first recorded in 1819 and films featuring zombies have been a part of cinema since the 1930s. The former Nurse Watt is talking to her grandson sometime in the 1960s.

The Zombie Ward

Och, Jimmy! You’re not watching zombie films again, are you? I hate that kind of film. Why? They remind me too much of my worst days at the Belvidere. Look, this is me here – your Granny was Nurse Watt in those days. I was an innocent young lassie, just up from Kilcreggan. I’d never even been to Glasgow before, so it was a big shock – so busy! But I loved my work, most of the time. I’d always wanted to be a nurse.

We look happy here, don’t we? That must have been, oh, 1923 I think. Sour-faced Dr Smith left in 1922 and we had the new young doctor. We all liked him. He was much more easy-going. And handsome! Look at his lovely hair. And if it had been 1924, I don’t think we’d have looked so cheerful. If I remember right, that was our worst year ever on Ward 14W.

Encephalitis Lethargica – that was the fancy name for what we treated. Sleepy sickness for short. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Sleepy; lethargic. But it attacks the brain and some of the patients were left like statues. Couldn’t speak. Couldn’t move. It was an epidemic for about 10 years – they say 5 million people round the world got it, and a third of them died. In one year we had more than 150 patients. Men. Women. Bairns. 15 died – one of them a little baby, not even a year old. That one nearly finished me.

Mind you, maybe the dead were lucky. Some of the ones that lived were never really alive afterwards. Conscious maybe, but not awake. Like ghosts. Or zombies. No, Jimmy, I can never watch films with zombies.

Pikes Peak with Claudia and Scott

Have you met Claudia at The Bookwright? No? Pop over to have a look, I’ll wait…

Claudia and her husband, Scott, live near Denver and very kindly offered to pick us up and take us to Pikes Peak for the day. Colorado has 54 “Fourteeners” and at 14,115 feet Pikes Peak is only the 31st highest! But don’t worry, there’s a road all the way up (or a cog railway) so no climbing was involved. Not only that, you can eat donuts at the top – it’s amazing that they cook at such high altitudes.

It was, as you might expect, a tad chilly – but as you can see below, we all look very happy to be there.

Not far from Pikes Peak is Garden of the Gods, a park with magnificent red sandstone rock formations, many of which are over 300 million years old. We stopped off there on the way back to Denver.

We must have behaved ourselves, because next day Claudia and Scott offered to take us out again! This time, we visited the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The gems and minerals section was particularly impressive.

As was the Sky Terrace with its views over City Park towards the Rocky Mountains.

What an amazing two days! This was the fourth time that we have met up with fellow bloggers, and all have turned out to be lovely people. Many thanks to the wonderful Claudia and Scott for giving so generously of their time to show us around.

That’s almost it for our Summer 2016 road trip – we flew home the next day. However, we didn’t have to be at the airport until early evening so there was plenty of time for one last visit – Denver Botanic Gardens. Coming up next!

Looking back on Leonard

Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013
Leonard Cohen in Dublin 2013

I can’t definitely say that I’d never heard of Leonard Cohen until 1980. I’ve seen YouTube clips of him on TV series that I know were required family viewing in the 1960s, but if he ever made an impression I quickly forgot him. However, when a new boyfriend introduced me to Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs of love and hate I was hooked. Thirty six years later, I can’t say John (for it was he) and I have embraced all of each other’s musical tastes. I have never reconciled myself to Captain Beefheart, and he can’t understand why I find Abba so entrancing, but we share a good solid core and Leonard was the first. And the best.

Neither of us had ever seen him perform, so you can imagine our joy when he started touring again in 2008 – and then our sorrow when we realised that his only UK dates were when we were on holiday in the US. Not to worry – he would be performing in Dublin before we left. I still class that weekend as one of the most special in my life.

My weekend in Dublin with Leonard Cohen (I wish)

While we were away, we got an excited message from a friend, another Cohen fan. Good news! New dates! Leonard was coming to Glasgow in November. We immediately ordered tickets. I remember the concert was the day after the US election in which Obama got in for the first time. There was a sense of elation from both band and audience at the line Democracy is coming to the USA. That’s quite poignant to look back on too.

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Leonard Cohen and band in Berlin 2012

In 2012, we travelled to Berlin where the stand-out line in terms of audience participation was First we take Manhattan – then we take Berlin. This left me with the ambition, sadly unfulfilled, to belt out the same line in Manhattan some day.

Berlin: Leonard Cohen at the Waldbühne 05/09/12

However, we did get one more chance at a Cohen concert towards the end of his touring days when we travelled to Dublin again in 2013.

Dublin Diary: Day 1

Leonard was still in such good shape then. He skipped and danced, bent down on his knees – and got back up again without a struggle! When his former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, was dying earlier this year it worried me that he told her that he wouldn’t be far behind her, then I heard that he had said in an interview that he was ready to die. He recanted this in his final interview at the launch of his last album just a few weeks ago, but he looked terribly frail and, from comments made by his son Adam, was in a lot of pain and not very mobile. I was shocked at the decline in just three years, but I suppose that’s old age and we all have to face it.

I’ll leave you, not with my favourite Leonard Cohen song which would be far too hard, but with this little gem that I discovered a few years ago via the wonderful site, Cohencentric: I love Leonard Cohen.

Leonard – you might, or might not, have been ready to die, but we certainly weren’t ready to lose you. So long, and thanks for all the memories.

On being 90

Last month, we celebrated my Mum’s 90th birthday. Here, she describes the weekend on her own blog.

It was always sunny

Chris Mitchell 90thOn the 21st October 2016 I became a nonagenarian. When I was a wee girl I was very proud to have been born on Trafalgar Day, which in these far-off times was celebrated widely. I was also exactly six months younger than Princess Elizabeth of York, which pleased me when I was old enough to know. When I began to feel I might make it to ninety I had a trawl through the internet to see who, apart from Nessie and Nancy, Paisley Methodist friends, might be sharing the occasion. There were quite a lot, most of whom I’d never heard of, but two appealed to me.

John and I were tremendous fans of the first and had a great admiration for him. He is now regarded as a National Treasure, not surprisingly. He opened our eyes to the wonderful wildlife in many places in the world which few of…

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Niagara

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

On the Wednesday of our week in Toronto, we caught an early bus out to St Catharine’s where we were met by fellow blogger Birgit of BB Creations and her husband Michael. This was the start of a wonderful day on which we had a pair of fabulous tour guides all to ourselves!

After a short drive from St Catharine’s, we parked by the Skylon Tower at Niagara Falls.

Perhaps remembering our fleecing at the CN Tower we didn’t go in, but walked down to the Falls which are, of course, best viewed from the Canadian side.

These guys seem to be thinking “seen it all before”.

Above the Falls, this building is the first major hydro-electric plant in the world – one of the investors being Sir Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma, subject of an earlier post. Opposite is a statue of Nikola Tesla, engineer and inventor, who was also involved.

After visiting the Falls, we drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake, making a few stops along the way. One was at Brock’s Monument, Sir Isaac Brock being a hero of the War of 1812. Some of the figures at the base were quite strange (and I don’t mean me and Birgit!)

We also stopped at the tiniest chapel I have ever seen, the Living Water Wayside Chapel.

Then we arrived at Niagara-on-the-Lake for a convivial lunch and a wander around this pretty town.

The fort seen in the gallery above is Fort Niagara, on the American side of the Niagara River. During the War of 1812 the British and the US managed to “swap” forts, with the former capturing Fort Niagara and the Americans capturing Fort George on the Canadian side. We visited Fort George – I’m not sure it was strictly open (there was a lot of work going on), but we wandered through without challenge anyway.

After that, it was time for Birgit and Michael to take us back to St Catharine’s to catch our bus. It’s also time to close my tales of Toronto – this must have been one of the most sociable breaks ever. Not only did we meet fellow bloggers Birgit and Jill, we met up with old friends from Glasgow too. So thanks Birgit and Michael, Jill, Stewart and Edith, and Amr and Anney for giving us such wonderful times.

Our next venture “abroad” was to England – coming soon, Northumberland.

Toronto: an urban walk

Monteith Street, Toronto
Monteith Street, Toronto

On our third day in Toronto, I was excited about meeting fellow blogger Jill from My Spanglish Familia. The rendezvous was a café in Little Italy – about 45 minutes walk according to Google Maps – so off we set.

Our starting point was Monteith Street in the Church-Wellesley Village. That’s our B&B above, the Downtown Home Inn, the first house in the row past the purple flag. We had the apartment at basement level which I can recommend as spacious and comfortable – it also meant we had our own kitchen which was handy on occasion. I wouldn’t book any of the other rooms because they all have shared bathrooms and ensuite facilities are one of my red lines. If that means I’m not a true traveller, too bad!

The Village itself is very gay-friendly with rainbow lines at road junctions and some fabulous murals.

Our route took us along Wellesley until we hit Queen’s Park, home of both the Ontario Legislature and the University of Toronto – some beautiful buildings here.

Cutting down onto College Street, we passed a rather splendid looking public library. I’m always interested in those!

Still, no time to go in – on we pressed to meet Jill. And it was just like talking to someone I already knew – which, of course, I did since we’ve been commenting on each other’s blogs for a year now. After a good blether over coffee, we walked to Kensington Market where we enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant (very good, not at all like Mexican food at home, but – Jill being something of an expert – I know to be much more authentic).

She also introduced us to churros – fried dough stuffed, in my case, with chocolate, Mmmm – that’s what I’m clutching in the photos below. I couldn’t actually eat it straight away because I was so full from lunch!

After the churro stop, Jill headed home to collect her children. We took a further stroll round the area enjoying its quirky sights. I can’t remember now which of these are Kensington Market, which Little Italy and which Little Portugal but they’re all quite close together.

Footsore by now, we retraced our steps home. This was one evening when our kitchen came into its own – we didn’t feel like another full meal out, so we purchased pizza slices and beer from local takeaways and consumed them with our feet up.

Many thanks to Jill for making the time to meet us for a few hours – it was a lovely, sociable day.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – check it out for more walks around the world.