Saturday, 22 December 2007

A Wizard Shop

"Wizard!" said Mr TLC on hearing the news. No, he hadn't been reading Enid Blyton, but he had just received a phone call to say that his new toy was awaiting collection. The long awaited Gordon-Smith Classic T (which for those of us who speak English, is a guitar) had arrived at Wizard Guitars.

Mr TLC has been lusting after a Gordon-Smith creation for ages and having seen him play one, I can see why. It's not just that he's been able to choose exactly what he wants, or that Gordon-Smith Guitars still set high store by old-fashioned values like quality materials and excellent workmanship. It's hard to describe, but Mr TLC's new guitar just seems to fit him and despite being a custom built piece, the new toy was rather cheaper than many similar mass-produced guitars.

While we were at the shop a mother and son acted out a cautionary tale for us. The teenage son had brought in the "guitar" that he had purchased via E-Bay. Apparently the seller had neglected to mention the fact that this particular guitar came in an "easy home assembly" form. The poor lad stood there holding the pieces of what used to be a guitar while Mr Evans of Wizard Guitars explained to him that it really was beyond repair. Chatting with Mr and Mrs Evans afterwards, they said that this isn't that uncommon.

I often use E-Bay, Amazon and other online stores, but I wouldn't use them to buy something like a guitar, that really needs to be tried out before you buy it, and I don't buy online if I can buy the same thing locally. We are lucky to have lots of small, independent shops like Wizard Guitars in this area. You have to use 'em or lose 'em.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden may be one of Sheffield's newer buildings, but it is certainly one the best loved.

When the plans for a giant greenhouse in the heart of the city were first published, they didn't create much of a stir, possibly because the local population were still suffering from development fatigue after the less than joyous experiences of building for the Student Games and then the Supertram. Of course, once the incredibly beautiful arched structure started to take shape, everyone simply fell in love with it. People stopped to stare as the giant wooden skeleton was gradually transformed into a stunning building.

Since then the Winter Garden has been planted, has matured and has become a much loved part of the city centre. The finished building is around 70 metres long and 22 metres high and holds around 2500 plants. It's a place to walk through, to sit and watch the world go by, to visit temporary exhibitions, to enjoy a cup of coffee or even (if you are really lucky) to attend an exclusive event with a select few. Despite the name, the building is open for 364 days a year and is popular all year round. A Winter Garden is for life, but not for Christmas.

The Winter Garden is now officially five years old. Many Happy Returns!

Take a 360 degree tour of the Winter Garden, inside and out

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Sunday, 25 November 2007

It must be love

All reet love

(Common Sheffield Greeting)

Yes it's true; Sheffield people really do call each other "love". If you aren't from Yorkshire, being called love sounds a bit odd at first, but here it's just a normal, friendly term.

When I arrived here it was the one thing I thought I would never get used to, but of course now I've been here so long that I say it myself. I didn't realise that I was doing this until I said "Thanks love" to a barman in London, who of course looked at me as if I was mad. It appears I've gone over to the North Side...

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Monday, 19 November 2007

A Sigh of Relief?

Sheffield’s bid to become the grid-lock capital of the UK might just be thwarted today when the long awaited new section of the inner relief road opens.

According to the local council’s web site, the new section of road is just 1.5km long, but has cost a staggering £56 million, the local paper quotes an even higher cost of £65 million.

A glance at the map does suggest that it will bypass many of the worst traffic bottlenecks, so journey times should be reduced. The scheme has been designed around the needs of all the city’s road users, so it incorporates bus lanes as well as diverting large numbers of cars that would have previously created congestion on the city centre’s roads. If all goes to plan, this should be good news for everyone.

Of course this is Sheffield, a city with a council which appears to believe that simply placing inconveniences in the way of motorists will cause them all to abandon their cars and leap enthusiastically onto buses and trams. Consequently the new relief road also incorporates features such as traffic lights to help to help to manage traffic flow/slow those pesky car drivers down.

Public transport is of course a great option for many journeys, but until the system offers both improved journey times and buses, trams and trains that actually connect, without passengers having to trek from one part of town to another, it’s unlikely that many motorists will be persuaded to leave their cars at home.

In the short term, many are predicting a great deal of confusion since many local people seem very unclear about how to find their way around the new system, so there is plenty of potential for motorists to become annoyed and get lost in the days to come, particularly for those who rely on their SAT-NAV systems to find their way around.

In fact the city council has produced a really excellent map that makes this all very clear. Unfortunately for some reason instead of publicising this map’s existence, they have tucked it away on their web site. Which is a shame; because I’m sure that most people would have found this map very helpful today.

The big question is whether the new section of relief road will deliver any real relief to the city’s travellers, or will it just provide us all with interesting new places to view traffic jams?


Sheffield City Council This news page includes a link to download a map of the new road system.
The Star Sheffield's daily paper

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Sunday, 18 November 2007

Henderson’s Relish

"If you slice any Sheffield man in two, you’ll see
“Henderson’s” running through him like a stick of rock."

(Overheard in my local pub)

I’m not sure I like the idea of cutting people in two (although on second thoughts maybe I could be tempted to think of one or two potential candidates...), but I have to agree about the Henderson’s. Its status in Sheffield is legendary.

So what exactly is it? Like most people attempting to describe Sheffield’s version of the elixir of life, I’m reduced to the following somewhat underwhelming description: it’s a bit like Worcester sauce, but the flavour is different and somewhat sweeter.

According to the label on the bottle, the “spicy Yorkshire sauce” will add extra flavour to meat, fish, soups, pies, casseroles and vegetables. The flavour isn’t what I would describe as spicy, but of course in this area, “spice” means “sweets”, so the label may well be referring to the slightly sweet flavour. It is made with vinegar, sugar, caramel, salt, tamarinds, cayenne pepper, cloves, garlic oil and (oddly) saccharine. It also contains water; in fact some people claim that Sheffield’s water contributes to the distinctive taste of the relish.

Henderson’s is also approved by the Vegetarian Society (unlike Worcester sauce, which contains anchovies), which has helped it find favour with some of Sheffield’s temporary student residents.

Invented over 100 years ago by Henry Henderson and made in Sheffield pretty much ever since, Henderson’s has somehow become more than just a condiment in the eyes of its many fans. Why? Well probably because most native Sheffielders were brought up on the stuff. Whether added during cooking, or sprinkled liberally over food, just about every meal cooked in post-war Sheffield seems to have included Henderson’s Relish. The result is that Sheffielders, particularly the men, just can’t seem to get enough of it.

The Henderson’s factory itself is something of an enigma. If you stand directly outside you will notice that the smell of the relish is quite strong and the frontage of the building is in reasonable condition, but if you look at the ramshackle buildings behind it you’ll be left wondering how they are still standing. And who works there? Why is no one ever seen arriving or leaving?

No wonder then that the famous relish and its factory are often the subject of rumours claiming they are closing down. This often sparks panic buying among Henderson’s addicts; one friend told me how his Dad bought a lifetime’s supply of the stuff and stored crates of it in his garage, just in case.

Happily the rumours seem to be unfounded; Henderson’s Relish continues to be produced. If you live outside Sheffield, you’ll find it a challenge to get hold of the stuff, but it’s selling as fast as they can make it (and sometimes faster) in the supermarkets, grocers and chip shops of South Yorkshire.

The official Henderson’s site, with a guide to the company’s history, recipes and celebrity fans.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Henderson's!

An un-official fan club, with an interesting explanation as to how Henderson’s Relish is brewed.


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Monday, 12 November 2007

Train Spotting

East Midlands Trains (part of the Stagecoach group) are now been the official operator on the Sheffield-St Pancras line. They took over at 2 am on Sunday 11th, but the "big launch" was today. Cue: lots of film of people in first class carriages on Look North. Cue: Harry Gration and others bemoaning the lack of a restaurant/buffet car.

Midland Mainline were judged to be one of the most reliable train companies. And you could go and get a cup of coffee for free from the buffet car. But the thing with the Sheffield to St Pancras service at the moment is it's slow. Really slow.

Of course journey times vary, but a typical journey time for this route leaving after 7am on a weekday is about 2 hours 20 minutes - a little faster if you are lucky, a lot slower if you aren't. Compare that with Doncaster-Kings Cross ( shows times between 1:36 and 1:59 hours), or even Leeds to London - which has a journey time of between 2:12 and 2:20 hours, despite being significantly further.

The East Coast line is a better line, but the real difference that I noticed once I started using this route is the reduced number of stops: the Doncaster train makes one or two intermediate stops, the Sheffield train stops at nearly every major station on every journey. It is quicker (although sadly also more expensive) to travel to London via Doncaster than to go direct from Sheffield.

Personally, when I book a train ticket I want a fast, reliable service - and preferably one that goes direct to avoid the hassle of changing trains. I also want a seat, I am not a fan of standing up or sitting in the space provided for luggage. The presence (or absence) of a buffet car is far less important to me - particularly since the on two out of the last three occasions when I travelled with Midland Mainline, the buffet car was closed anyway, so I couldn't have relied on it being available!

If we get the promised improvements, then I think it will be worthwhile. I say "if" because whilst a shiny new train appeared for the launch, we are still waiting for:
  • Improved journey times
  • The promised "through" tickets that will link up with Eurostar, which don't appear to be available via the EMT site yet
  • Cheap tickets that are actually available (East Midlands Trains site promises "tickets from £7", but I couldn't find any that were actually on sale...)
I am feeling very cautiously optimistic, there is the possibilty of a reasonable service being operated. Time to wait and see.

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Saturday, 10 November 2007

Continental Sheffield

An excellent surprise today, a routine trip to collect my new glasses turned into a mega shopping trip - the Continental Market was in town! (Well the Queen did tell us Sheffield was now closer to Paris when she opened St Pancras this week - I didn't realise how close!).

There were cheese stalls, bakers, creperies, traders selling hats and scarves, Morecambe Bay shrimps(!), sweets, gingerbread houses, German sausages, flowers, plants, Christmas trees (bit early!), olives, dried fruit, piles of garlic, fruit and vegetables, leather goods and a grumpy Yorkshireman complaining "They're tekin some reet money" every time his wife looked at anything. Fortunately for me, Mr TLC is not a grumpy Yorkshireman at times like these - he is much too busy buying all the cheese in the world. However the grumpy Yorkshireman is right - it is fairly pricey on the food stalls, but on the other hand the food is fantastic - and I can kid myself that I've been to one of those marvellous French markets without the expense of a ferry/train to France!

I got the chance to practise my awful French, although this did backfire when the very nice guy on one French bakery's stall failed to understand me before saying "I'm sorry I don't speak French". Which wasn't too surprising, because he was from Poland.

There were also buskers playing which added to the festive feel. I love this kind of shopping. The city centre is alive - the total opposite of the sanitised, chain store blandness of the out-of-town "shoppertunity" offered by Meadowhall (aka Meadowhell). The development and location of markets seems to be a contentious topic for our local council - I hope they take note of the popularity and success of the specialist markets on Fargate and reconsider relocating The Moor market there during the current redevolpment -after all the 'normal' and 'continental' markets operate on the same streets in Chesterfield without any major problems. Vive le marché!

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Friday, 9 November 2007

Friday Tea Thyme

It's Friday, it's five fifteen and it's Thyme to think about going out for tea! It's been a long week, so Mr Three Legged Cat & I set off to start the weekend at Thyme Cafe.

The name cafe could be considered a little misleading. To me the word "cafe" conjures up two images: somewhere that serves huge mugs of tea and enormous bacon sandwiches, or one of those fantastic bar meets restaurant places that seem to line every street in France. Thyme Cafe doesn't fit either of these, it is more like a very informal restaurant. You sit at chunky wooden tables on either pews or old wooden chairs. The menus are on huge chalk boards and you wander up to the bar to order your meal. There are no reservations, but they do run a list once it gets busy, so if they don't have a table you can call back later at a pre-arranged time. The unofficial pre-Thyme early evening bar is in the neighbouring Broomhill Tavern, which seems to do a pretty decent trade serving people that you end up sitting next to when you go back to eat.

The best thing is (of course) the food. Menus change fairly often, but usually feature a mixture of Thyme classics eg meat & potato pie, cheeseburger & fish cakes, as well as tapas, risotto, salads and dishes such as confit duck or seared salmon. They always use freshly cooked, good-quality ingredients, which make great tasting (& nicely presented) meals.

As usual, we had a relaxed and enjoyable meal. All in all, a very pleasant start to the weekend.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Seismic Sheffield

How very amazing - not only does the Queen mention Sheffield, but she informs us that "Today Sheffield is closer to Paris". Bloody Hell. You'd think we'd have noticed a seismic shift that major.

Actually, it is fairly seismic for those of us who live here. After years of the Sheffield - St Pancras line aiming to set new records for slow journeys to London (it was quicker - but sadly more expensive - to travel via Doncaster), we are promised an improved service. Then the transformation of St Pancras, once the forgotten station of London, is completed. Suddenly Europe seems tantalisingly close.

For me, first up is a weekend in Lille and a return visit to the famous chocolaterie Meert. Can't wait.

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