Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Our Friends in the North #1: Sheffield, 21:35, Monday

(The first in an occasional series)

It's always alarming, that moment when a drunk starts bearing down on you in the city centre at night. This one was no different. Mid forties, hoodie, bald as a snooker ball and lugging a Lidl bag presumably stuffed with the booze that's causing the lurch.

I have this terrible habit of making eye contact with people. Once that's done, you have to smile. And who knows where that might lead?

He nods. "Alright, fella."

"Alright."

"How you doing?"

(I'm going to miss my train.) "Really good, thanks. Yourself?"

He's unmistakeably lunging towards me now.

"I shouldn't be drinking," he slurs. No shit.

"Night in tonight, then?" No chance.

"I'm going to the pub." He points to the pub in question. I doubt they'll let him in with his goodie bag, even if his demeanour doesn't put them off. He's definitely swaying and spit comes out when he talks. He's going to carry on talking to me first, though.

"What you up to?"

"I've just been working at the theatre." Please god don't make me have to explain a physical comedy workshop. This guy is a physical comedy workshop.

"I went to the theatre once."

"Oh yeah?" I hope this doesn't sound as sceptical as it looks in type.

"Just once in my life I went to the theatre. What do you think I saw?"

Cinderella? Babes in the Wood? I hazard no guesses and just ask him what he saw, but he's drifted back to the sotten world in his head. I ask again and he tells me.

"Swan Lake." That was unexpected. He continues: "Swan Lake. And do you know what it made me do?"

I definitely don't want to know the answer to this, but I figure he's going to tell me. I wait for him to negotiate his way through whatever thought process allows him to speak.

"It made me cry." Now that was unexpected. Then with a lurch of logic to match his gait, "how old are you?"

I tell him, and he reciprocates by asking me to guess how old he is. Why do people insist on doing this? There's no way of coming out of it well. I once worked at a drama group peopled by asylum seekers and I guessed the age of an Afghan called Khan at 45. He was 28. I don't think booze has quite the same effect as war, but I decide to play it safe anyway.

"36"

"I'm 45. You've got everything, Dan" (when did I introduce myself? I suppose I must have done. Come to think of it, that explains why he's got hold of my hand at this point.) "You've got everything. I've got my dinner here. Bread, baked beans and sweetcorn. You've got everything. Go out there and give 'em hell."

He shows me the contents of his bag. Wholemeal bread, baked beans and sweetcorn it is, multiple cans of Stones it isn't.

"Go out there and give 'em hell."

"Um. Cheers. Have a good night." And I go off to catch my train.

For the five years I've been going there regularly, Sheffield has maintained a minimum of 90% building site. It's looked like someone's lost a tenner and is systematically uprooting the whole city in its pursuit. But now it's finished and a light show of mirrored steel and waterfalls illuminates the walk from the theatre all the way back to the station. It's not always what you would expect.

1 comment:

Fergus M said...

That's really, really cool!