Wednesday, 26 March 2008

A Day in the North

The StarThe Three Legged Cat presents a sing-along-a-blog-post.
To be sung to the tune of A Day in the Life

With apologies to Messrs Lennon and McCartney...

I read the news today, oh boy
About a lucky place that got a grant
And though the news was rather strange
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the paragraph
“This is good news for your car
You will notice that the roads have changed”
A crowd of people stood and stared
They'd seen her face before
No-one was really sure if she was a local councillor

I read The Star today, oh boy
Three years* just to pick a contractor
But all the holes are here today
You only have to look
Having had the shock
Of being shaken all around.

Woke up, got out of bed
Dragged a comb across my head
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
And looking up, I noticed I was late
Found my coat and grabbed my hat
On my bike in seconds flat
Fell over in a hole and wrecked the bike
Bent all the spokes and I went into a scream

I read the news today, oh boy
Few thousand holes in Sheffield, South Yorkshire
And though the holes are rather small**
They’ll have to fill them all
That needs as much Tarmac as it takes to fill the City Hall
You couldn’t make it up

*Three years???!!! How can choosing a contractor take 3 years? I searched tonight's edition of the local paper for a correction, but it seems that 3 is the magic number...

**Small by
Mexican standards anyway

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Monday, 24 March 2008

Pavilioned in Splendour

Pavillions The Botanical Gardens, Sheffield contain a surprising number of listed structures, including some beautifully restored glass pavilions. It's not hard to see why these mini crystal palaces are so popular both with local people and with visitors to the city; they are not just elegant buildings, they are also home to several interesting collections of plants.

Of course, the pavilions haven't always looked like this; when I first moved to Sheffield in the mid-eighties they were in a very sorry state. Only the three domed sections remained, the linking walkways had long since disappeared. The parts that were left were in very poor repair, there were plants growing in the masonry, holes in the roofs and many broken panes of glass, some roughly boarded up, others left open to the elements. I remember thinking that the buildings must have been beautiful in their heyday , but I never imagined that I would see them reborn and restored along with the rest of the gardens.

The state of the pavilions seemed to mirror Sheffield's fortunes. When they were first built for the opening of the Botanical Gardens in 1836, Sheffield was a prosperous place, sufficiently so for the purchase of the land and the creation and upkeep of the gardens to be paid for by the selling of shares and subscriptions to well-to-do residents. However both the gardens and the pavilions proved costly to maintain and so, like the fortunes of some of the city's inhabitants, they went through good and bad times.

The upkeep of the pavilions proved to be particularly demanding: the panes of glass were damaged by weather, a hailstorm in 1843 is recorded to have broken 5700 square yards (4800 square metres) of glass; the wooden structure of the linking walkways was difficult to keep in good repair, with the result that they rotted and were demolished in around 1899; the domes even suffered bomb damage during World War II.

By the time I first saw the pavilions in 1987, the gardens had been publicly owned for many years. Of course this was the era of rate capping and cutbacks in public services, it was also a time when Sheffield was suffering economically with many local industries, particularly steel and mining, in serious decline. The council was in an impossible situation: the loss of business tax revenue, cuts in grants from central government and rate capping left them with a serious shortfall in their finances. (I am not suggesting that the council made the best possible financial decisions, that's a separate debate entirely, merely that I believe that whatever they did, they couldn't have made ends meet at that time.) Unsurprisingly maintaining garden buildings was not at the top of the council's list of priorities, so the poor state of the glasshouses was in fact a direct result of the city's economic downturn.

Botanical Gardens IThe opportunity for restoration arrived some years later when the Sheffield Botanical Gardens Trust made a successful bid for lottery funding. In 1997 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded just over £5 million to the Trust for the complete restoration of the gardens, but 25% in matching funds had to be raised. It was a long and difficult project, but they managed it, the Botanical Gardens today are almost unrecognisable compared to my first visit.

The pavilions were once the largest glasshouses in the city (a title that is now held by the Winter Gardens in the city centre), and are often erroneously associated with Sir Joseph Paxton, in fact they are known locally as the "Paxton Pavilions". The ridge and furrow style of the linking walkways is typical of Paxton, particularly of his glasshouse at Chatsworth. Paxton was one of the judges for the competition to design the gardens, but the belief that the pavilions were designed by him is nothing more than a local legend, they were in fact designed by a local architect, Benjamin Broomhead Taylor.

Some necessary changes have been made to the original designs during restoration. The rebuilt linking walkways are similar in appearance to the originals, but have been fabricated, rather appropriately, from stainless steel rather than wood; so hopefully they will last rather longer than the originals. However only the linking sections have been rebuilt, one old photo shows additional ridge and furrow glasshouses attached to each end of the building, but these appear to have been short lived - there are many other images where they are missing, as they are now. Modern environmental controls and a system for collecting and storing rainwater for use in irrigation have been incorporated into the design.

The pavilions now contain collections of plants from the Himalayas, the Meditaerrranean, Australasia and South America; all plants that would not survive outside in Sheffield, but which thrive under glass. The glasshouses maintain their historic appearance whilst being functional buildings that will be used for many years to come. They are certainly pavilioned in splendour, and frequently girded in praise.

Sheffield Botanical Gardens official website
Sheffield City Council official website
Some 360 degree tours of the gardens, including views inside and outside the pavillions
Wikipedia entry
There is also a Flickr group for the Botanical Gardens here

Further reading
Sheffield Botanical Gardens People Plants and Pavilions by R. Alison Hunter, published by the Friends of the Botanical Gardens, 2007. Available from the Botanical Gardens shop, local bookshops and tourist information offices, current price £4.95.

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Saturday, 22 March 2008

A Spring in my Step

Sheffield is looking so beautiful today, I couldn't resist taking a few photos. I love all the spring flowers and blossom that are starting to appear.

According to local legend, John Betjeman once described Broomhill, in the south west of Sheffield, where these photos were taken, as "the prettiest suburb in England" (although given his opinions on suburbia, this may not have been a resounding compliment!). Perhaps he saw it on a day like this.

It's very cold outside because there is a strong, bitterly cold wind, but the sun is shining and we have blue skies. A perfect day for a walk.

Spring is in the Air Spring Blossom

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Sunday, 16 March 2008

Yes No Other Options (Part Two)

Yes? No? Other Options
Art Sheffield 08
Yes No Other Options

Scroll down or click here for part one

I just couldn't leave the topic of our visit to the Millenium Galleries yesterday without telling you about the work of Sheffield based artist Andrew Cooke.

I found it hard to see how some of the art exhibited in the "Art Sheffield 08 Yes No Other Options" event fitted in with the "concept", but in this case it was very clear. I also thought Andrew Cooke's work was very funny, which in my opinion is a good thing. I don't subscribe to the view that says art has to take itself seriously.

1. A Guide to Maintaining Dignity in the Workplace (2007)
Andrew Cooke has actually written a "handbook" about how to resist the demands of your employers and avoid the pressure to perform. It was printed onto individual sheets and you were invited to take copies away with you if you wished.

The handbook covers absenteeism, mechanical sabotage, withholding enthusiasm, playing stupid strategies, procedural sabotage, work avoidance and theft.

Here's a few examples:

On procedural sabotage: "Do nothing. Procedures are there to be followed. So don't."

On work avoidance: "Find a place to hide. Toilets are a good option .... if queried, it may lead to self certifiaction the following day."
"Be seen behaving in a very productive manner by a superior. Then, if possible, disappear, safe in the knowledge that your superior will still believe you to be busy."

On absenteeism: "Consider using this strategy: during busy periods, when your work is understaffed..."

I thought this was great, so did Mr TLC and the various other visitors we saw there. We all had great fun matching up former colleagues to the various dubious strategies described by Andrew Cooke.

Now, which ones can I try next week...

2. Performance Under Working Conditions (2006)
I almost missed this one, after spending time watching some of the other video installations on offer I very nearly walked past it, but fortunately Mr TLC stopped me and made me put on the headphones and watch.

Andrew Cooke was doing the hoovering. Why is that interesting? Because he was the hoover! It was a video of a man crawling around, nose about an inch from a rather hideous hotel room carpet, making the whooooooooo-whoooooooo-whooooooo vacuum cleaner noise that famously terrorises cats of both the three- and four-legged variety.

Sometimes I feel I don't "get" modern art, that I don't take it seriously enough. Everyone else seemed to be nodding sagely at this piece and adopting thoughtful poses. Perhaps they were considering how Andrew Cooke was exploring "the working conditions of manual labour and effect of performing these tasks on the person involved." Maybe they were considering how he "Asks questions about status, respect, dignity, aspiration."

I wasn't, I was clutching my sides as I guffawed at the sight of a man literally doing the hoovering. Brilliant! I like it when people show me how to look at things differently. (And I know what will be happening in our house for the next few weeks if either of us mentions that particular phrase.)

My appreciation of Andrew Cooke's work may be missing something, but I'll still be looking out for him in the future.

A rather more highbrow informed review of "Art Sheffield 08 Yes No Other Options" and a blog post from The Guardian

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Saturday, 15 March 2008

Yes No Other Options (Part One)

Yes? No? Other Options
Art Sheffield 08
Yes No Other Options

We paid a visit to the Millenium Galleries today. A large section of the gallery is hosting part of "Art Sheffield 08 Yes No Other Options", a citywide contemporary art event.

So what is it all about? describes it like this:"Taking as its foundation a specially commissioned essay by art critic Jan Verwoert, this city-wide exhibition addresses the fact that in a post-industrial condition, one particularly pertinent to Sheffield, we have entered into a service culture where we no longer just work, we perform in a perpetual mode of ‘I Can’. ...

Verwoert asks, “...What would it mean to resist the need to perform?” He suggests that certain means of resisting are in themselves creative ... art has also used the ‘ I Can’t’, by creating moments where the flow of action is interrupted, established meanings are suspended and alternative ways to act become imaginable. He suggests that as well as yes and no, there may be other options."

All clear?
Yes: Well done, you are doing better than I am. I understand the idea of living in a service culture and being driven to perform, but I'm still a bit hazy about exactly what is on offer here, especially since the pieces we saw before we got to the main exhibition space don't have any obvious relevance to performance, or the lack of it
No: Me neither
Other Options: Lets go and look at some of the actual art.

Want to actually see some art?
Yes: Here are two of the pieces on display ouside the main exhibition area. Both are created from neon lights and are by Sheffield based artist Tim Etchells. Aren't they brilliant?

Wait Here

Please Come Back

No: I'll describe some for you. There was a third piece by Tim Etchells inside the main exhibition space (where I wasn't allowed to photograph) that read "Lets pretend that none of this ever happened"
Other Options: We could find out how these pieces fit into the overall event. Apparently "... by displaying phrases that make you feel you should act but make no immediate sense, Etchells shows and dismantles the power of words to make us perform."

Are you getting the hang of this Yes/No/Other Options thing yet?
Yes: Excellent, perhaps you could explain it to me
No: Me neither
Other Options: Just enjoy the art, I did.

There was some great art on display, some was thought provoking, some was funny, some was just plain incomprehensible (at least it was to me). I enjoyed what I saw, although I still don't think I've got my head round how much of it fitted with the "theme" (if I may use such a mundane term in reference to some rather conceptual art).

But do you know what? I don't care, I don't think it matters whether I "see" what the artist or the organisers want me to. What does matter is that I enjoyed myself, what I saw made me think, and it's made me want to check out some of the other sites. If you are interested, you have until 30th March to go and see for yourself.

Scroll up or click here for part two

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Monday, 10 March 2008


AniseAnother weekend, another chocolate shop. Anyone reading this blog would think I am obsessed with chocolate.

This week we paid a visit to Anise on Glossop Road in Broomhill, Sheffield. From the outside, the shop looks fairly ordinary, even a little shabby, although the troughs of spring flowers outside the window do give a hint of what's to come.

Once you go inside everything is exceptionally pretty, with glass shelves and counters used to display beautifully presented chocolates and greetings cards. The shop's main speciality are Belgian chocolates, sold either loose in a bag or packed into a posh box. At the moment Anise also has amazing displays of Easter eggs in every colour imaginable, but these aren't branded eggs; think marbled colours on white chocolate or vivid coloured foils wrapped round milk or dark chocolate eggs.

Of course, being full of chocolate means the shop smells fantastic, another incentive to start buying the goods!

Belgian ChocolatesMr TLC and myself are not particularly compatible where chocolate is concerned, he prefers milk or white chocolate, but I'm definitely a fan of dark chocolate. Of course he can also eat a lot more of the stuff than I can, or at least he can do so without piling on the pounds. What does this mean? It means we bought twice as much as we needed to, on the pretext of each choosing something.

The real triumph was one of Mr TLC's choices, raspberry ganache: a thin shell of white chocolate around a dark chocolate filling, flavoured with raspberry. They were gorgeous. I know what I'll be buying next Saturday!

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