The Moor – A Short Story In A Blackened and Apocalyptic Style
Alighting from the urine marinated ringroad subway, I deny the street hustler his request for spare change. I too am penniless. What does he expect? Its January: everyone here is more skint than normal.
My executive decision on engaging the short stairs up to street level, rather than walking around the long access ramp, brings a quick flare of warmth, temporarily curbing the worst excesses of the Northern cold. It is at this point I start to worry about older people. I make a mental note to reply to mum’s earlier text, where she was ‘wittling on’ about her winter boots which she can’t find.
Looking up to the sky at the huge Ziggarat-like layers of a government building, I’ve always been intrigued as to where the entrance is. My destination of The Moor is clearly visible through the arcade-like tunnel at ground level, but I am denied access to this thoroughfare by a 20 foot metal portcullis of a gate. Multiple no access/no right of way signs, and CCTV cameras on masts, reinforce this in case I was unsure.
Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, Its been chained off for as long as I can remember and almost the stuff of legend. Originally it was meant to be the terminus for the city Monorail, but apparently the closure of the thoroughfare was associated with the IRA homeland campaign of the 1970s. Hadn’t all that been sorted out now? Do the powers that be still not want this building to be at all vulnerable? What’s so important about it that it has to be a man-made barricade blocking the organic flow of human traffic from The Moor to London Road? Surely it would make a nice arcade of kiosks?
Contemplating the various criticisms of redtape, bureaucracies and other things beyond my control, I like everyone else am forced into circumnavigating around the obstruction. I enter into a pavement-wide bottleneck of mass human ambulation. With a sheer unrelenting wall of grills and concrete to one side and a main road on the other, this section of pavement becomes a metaphorical mountain pass. The pass is punctuated by several discarded cans of Tenants StuporBrew and a thoughtfully placed bus stop with resultant queue. I look towards the dizzy heights of the barricade for any sign of human activity that may make this inconvenience acceptable. I see no humans – only many pigeons, perched on the windowsills. I wonder if the pigeons can see any Oompah Lompahs inside the building making chocolate and other confectionary? I wish I could fly! As my eyes and thoughts are elsewhere I bump into a fellow man of similar age and size. He looks like his life has dealt him more blows than mine.
“Sorry mate, my fault!” I quickly inform him, as for a split-second too long he makes bloodshot eye contact in a surly manner. Saying nothing, he continues on his travels.
I am positive that my intrigue in the building has now been captured by its many electronic eyes. I resign myself to this inevitable fact, and the certainty my attention to it has been recorded in someone else’s interests for a future date.
There’s a throbbing at the top of my thigh… Shit. Its a blood clot! No, you idiot…you’ve left your phone on silent…its mum again… “Where’s my boots?” Mental note…sort that out…its annoying now rather than worrying. Right, now I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
In more senses than one. Walking onto The Moor, I’m hit head on by the pungently, heady stench of Anglo streetfood. Its almost as if decades of constant deep frying have embedded an essence into all the concrete – the sheen is complimented by an acidic combination of cheap ketchup and fried onions. Coupled with the feeling of now being enveloped by the government building on two of my sides, and the concrete precinct style shops on a third, I find myself yet again looking up to the gargantuan structure as if it’s commanding me to do so. Or am I just unable to stop myself?
Despite the skin exfoliating wind, a Union Jack seems to hang impotent and lifeless from a flagpole on its roof, as if any pride has long since been sapped from it. In front of the building a large Modernist public art sculpture, very much of its time, now looks outdated and obsolete.
Next to it is an untended flower bed. The sort that should serve as an occasional street bench, but is now festooned with used nappies and white cider bottles. From this bed rises a solitary lifeless tree. A grimy plastic bag snagged onto its branches champions over the Union Jack by flapping irritatingly in the wind.
This repetitive beat is interrupted by a young man, clad in grey sportswear, which has long since lost any former lustre. Demonstrating the art of multitasking, he simultaneously walks anticlockwise in a circular fashion, whilst holding his genitals and talks dutifully loudly to a seemingly interested party down a mobile phone.
“Just got it today, get keys tomorrow.”
“Gonna get mesen 2 Akitas an 3 Rotties. Stick ‘em in the garden.”
The observation that he looks barely able to feed himself, let alone five powerdogs, amalgamated with the fact that he is blissfully holding his sexual organs in public, brings me to the conclusion that this must be some kind of masturbatory fantasy of his.
There’s far too much going on here, plus my daily hangover has started to kick in!
I think I’ve worked out where the entrance to the building is. I make another mental note to try and get access one day. It’s the point where all the leaves, litter and general detritus get blown into and collect within this man-made cave. I see workers coming and going from the building, hence dispelling my Oompah Lompah theory. Like children walking to school in Autumn, they kick their way through the piles of aforementioned leaves and rubbish, but without the same joy and innocence that children have. People here look and dress older than they should. It’s as if they’ve resigned themselves to something less than they’d originally bargained for. Although not a fan, I’m bizarrely reminded of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.
There are a couple of Parisian cafe style tables and chairs outside a shuttered shop. Why? Were they were put there for civic reasons, as most people don’t want to sit in a wind vortex of grit and leaves next to used nappies and Trampagne empties?
I look round, as I’m bemused as to which shop they belong to. With the possible exception of the body building shop, and its promises of increased testosterone,sexual prowess and aggression, none of them seem to sell any kind of foodstuff. I abstractly ponder whether the table and chairs were placed there by people who’d just come to this place with bread to mop up the previously mentioned grease from the sides of the buildings. Almost like some post-apocalyptic picnic.
The shop, with complimentary table and chairs, is next to public conveniences, a sign outside of which warns in no uncertain terms against any criminal activity taking place within there. The shop has a large ‘To Let’ sign abutting from it. I mischeviously imagine placing a large ‘I’ inbetween the two words, thus producing a huge ‘TOILET’ sign. Maybe this would increase the public’s awareness of the conveniences and prevent said criminal activity taking place. Maybe it’d invite more criminal activity there? Maybe I’m just being somewhat puerile… I giggle about my personal joke whilst staring at empty tables and chairs outside a public toilet well known for illicit activities. A few people are starting to stare at me in a concerned manner. Keen to avoid psychiatric disposal, I make a scathing comment about the municipal mural on the wall between the ladies and gents and move swiftly on, acknowledging the trader who has eternally sold DVDs from a canopyless stall, without ageing or changing facial expression. She still looks the same.
Besides…I’m on a mission. The whole reason for travelling to The Moor is out of basic human necessity. Food. I need a maintenance dose of carbohydrates, fat and protein to quell the angry storm within my toxin laden guts. By far the easiest way of securing this would be via the medium of a pasty or two: better pastry/filling ratio than a pie, usually less messy. A king of Northern food.
Scaling up and down The Moor, I consider my options. Times are hard. I need to be careful with the little monies I have. Most of the businesses on The Moor reflect this, and give me some solace that it’s not just my problem. Pound Shops, Cash Converters, promises and allure of instant cash for anyone…only 3000% APR. We’ll buy your mobile phone from you because you’re desperate – pawnbrokers of the digital age. I feel angry.
I’d instinctively lied to the hustler before. He’s probably got more cash than me. Bet Xmas didn’t cripple him with his free soup kitchen dinner.
I once read a book ‘Pies and Prejudice’ by Stuart Maconie*. He proposes an academic hypothesis. That every decent size town in the North must contain a workman in Hi Vis clothing and a branch of Greggs. I wonder if The Moor would pass such a test on its own merits?
For a pedestrianised area, there’s a lot of vehicles and machinery going on here. Workmen clad in tabbards and helmets swagger around authoritatively,like boisterous boys who’ve bought the place with their own pocket-money. Continually shouting to each other about their most minor and trivial matters, as if all should take an interest in their daily and nightly conquests. I too am taken back to this metaphorical playground and remember the age old maxim about sexual activity – that the ones that talk about it; aren’t getting it.
I bet they’ve not read ‘Pies and Prejudice’. I wonder if their cultural capital is gained via DVDs as opposed to books. Anyhow, criteria number 1 is met.
They’re tearing up the pavement, leaving two telephone kiosks alone, lost and forlorn in a sea of rubble and muck. Its as if they’re hugging each other in comfort and hope, like the last people alive following the apocalypse. Inaccessible portals of communication to another world that doesn’t give a fuck about this one. Defiant and proud they stand. I need to stop this philosophical musing and prioritise the more basic instincts of human survival otherwise I’ll never get past dinnertime (that’s lunchtime for some folk).
I’m spoilt for choice here, with two branches of Greggs and leading competitor The Pound Bakery to choose from. Deciding that two vegetarian sausage rolls for a pound will be better value for money than a Greggs Cheese pasty for 95p, the Pound Bakery wins. The sales assistant asks if I want a drink with that and duly runs through several continental choices. Expresso, Cappucino, Latte… Maybe it was the Pound Bakery that put the table and chairs there? I also wonder if, for the majority of customers on The Moor, Latte has to be translated to ‘A Milkie’.
Opting for my usual morning tipple of Triple Espresso, I park myself onto a nearby bench to consume my acquired feast. They taste like stuffing wrapped in pastry, but they function well and serve their purpose. More quantity than quality compared with Greggs. Maybe I need to seek a new vocation as a food critic? I consider going back for two more, but wait a moment for things to take effect.
The street hustler shoots me a glare as he passes me, noting my discarded food bag and polystyrene cup. I smile back. Mum has just sent me another text, glady informing me that she’s found her boots. The pasties make quick work, extinguishing the raging storm in my stomach and I feel the simultaneous benefits of blood sugar increasing and high potency caffeine hitting my brain. I feel alive again. I’m also sure I can feel high levels of saturated fat entering my blood vessels. I’ll be paying this back with interest in years to come. The Moor does fulfill both aspects of Maconie’s theory. It is truly Northern in its own right!
Temporarily at one with the world. My attention is drawn to the activity of the Hi Vismen. I’m acutely aware that a futuristic honeycomb lattice structure appears to be taking shape in front of my eyes…..
- – - – -
There’s no doubt that ‘The Moor’, at the southern end of Sheffield’s pedestrianised zone, has somewhat gone to seed over the past few years.
However, here are links to new development proposals for The Moor:
The new Market Hall that is expected to open in late 2013 will sadly relocate the 700 year tradition of market traders from the Castle Market area to a brand new market hall and street market close to the proposed retail quarter. The intention, though, is to make the market somewhat of a foodie destination, allocating at least 50% of its stalls for foods. Given its proximity to London Road, and also foodie temple Waitrose, this could get pulled off.
*With self depreciating humour, ‘Pies and Prejudice’ is an authorative text and, when twinned with George Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, becomes a Northern masterclass. They’re possibly the only books to have any real meaning to me in a sociological sense.