(james benedict brown) on the road

Two pints? That’ll be £2.88 please…

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 20 September, 2006

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On Monday it was time to start packing. Not the hopelessly optimistic packing I’d done in Montréal, in which I had attempted to fit a year of my life into two suitcases and excessive amounts of hand baggage. That had almost killed me, and I still managed to show up at the airport with 18kg more than my permitted 20kg of checked baggage allowance.

No, this was easier. I parked the car outside the front door, and filled it until it could take no more. That is how I pack a car, and it works for me.

I left after lunch, crawling across the flat farmland of Lincolnshire, around endlessly repetitive roundabouts and past numerously quaint sounding villages (could a village with a name like Burton Pedwardine exist in any other country?). I slipped into ‘the north’ just south of Sheffield, slipping down onto the M1 a few junctions before I turned off it again for Sheffield. It is an immense city, but a vigorously beautiful one. Countless hills have been conquered by the sprawling suburbs and every valley has been filled with industrial or commercial activity. By population, Sheffield is supposedly England’s fourth biggest country, with more inhabitants than Newcastle. When you approach the city by road, climbing and descending the hills that surround the city, you can believe that fact. As I neared, I began to pick out recognisable landmarks on the opposite sides of the valley. Across the busy city centre (were there really that many construction cranes the last time I was here) I finally saw the most recognisable building of all: my long lost Arts Tower (see photo). In just a week’s time, I’m going to be back in there, looking down over the city and doubtless pondering whether I chose the right course.

The rest of the evening and some of the following morning was spent shifting furniture around and making the love-nest-cum-studio complete. More furniture, clothes and books will be arriving on Thursday with Beatrice, so I avoided finalising the layout or settling on which cupboard I was going to put my clothes into.

Upon my return to Sheffield, I knew that I owed Matt at least one pint, if not more. We both started the undergraduate course in architecture in October 2001, and while I decided to prolong my year ‘in practice’ to twenty four months, he instead returned to university to begin the Masters course twelve months ago. I gave him a ring on Tuesday to find out what he was up to. He was deep in the middle of the washing up, apparently a completely legitimate distraction from writing his dissertation. For someone who is so dedicated to his studies, it took surprisingly little persuasion to get him out of the house for a drink.

Suddenly I am poor again, so I was grateful for Matt’s suggestion of a true Sheffield watering hole, one in which a round could be purchased with the monetary fruits of a search down the back of the sofa. We met at 19h00, outside the city’s Winter Gardens. Next to the Winter Gardens stands a horrendous new six star hotel which has somehow managed to appear since I was last in town. We don’t quite know what turns a five star hotel into a six star hotel (felatic services available through room service?) much less how Sheffield can justify having one. We peered up at it’s ridiculously two dimensional skin and crummy elevations, and agreed that the adjacent nineteenth century Town Hall has suddenly become much more attractive simply by being next to such a hideous new building.

Matt lead me to the pub. I won’t tell you it’s name or where it is, because I’m quite happy to keep this one a secret for now. If you want me to take you there then you’ll have to buy me a drink once we’re inside. Don’t worry too much, because the two pints that kicked off the evening came to £2.88. That wasn’t a special happy hour price or a student price, that was the genuine daily rate for a pint of lager and a pint of ale. And my, were they fine pints. The pub has two rooms, served from the same two-sided bar. The walls are covered with posters of theatrical productions at the near-by Crucible and Sheffield Theatres. I imagined I might see Withnail and Marwood propping up the bar, but in fact it seemed more populated by local Sheffield folk. After a year immersed in the grating and crashing tones of Québecois French, I slipped so smoothly back underneath a warm blanket of soft Yorkshire dialects. Pint followed pint, and I caught up on Sheffield gossip, received useful recommendations for module and project choices, and with Matt’s amiable conversation, got back into the swing of thinking like an architecture student.

It’s good to be back. Hopefully my suddenly restricted budget can stretch to a regular stop in this cosy pub.

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