Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Sheffield - Part One

Orlando was exotic, York less so but still respectably grand, so where better to continue this downward spiral than Sheffield?

On the occasion of Emma's something-somethingth birthday we decided to spend the weekend in the city of her birth. She has family there, and if you are still not convinced about our reasoning then how about the fact that one member of said family works at one of the city's Holiday Inn hotels and can therefore get us cheap accommodation? As my mother's son, there is a part of me that would buy two Jim Davidsons if one were free.

None of which was necessary as the Holiday Inn turned out to be quite a decent place to stay. Disappointingly for this column there were no access issues, and so the only thing to moan about was the South Yorkshire weather and the fact that going away for the weekend means you're missing the cricket. Still, I had a coat and the current England v Pakistan one-day cricket series is as predictable as an episode of Lie To Me. There was no excuse.

We'd done our research and to tell you the truth Sheffield does not rival York for it's tourist attractions. The principle reason for leaving the hotel on Friday afternoon was to visit the Wheel Of Sheffield. Or, should I say, the Hallam FM Wheel Of Sheffield. Yes, just like everything else with even the remotest market value, the Wheel of Sheffield is sponsored. As a consequence of this, the in-ride commentary comes from one of Hallam FM's dullard disc jockeys.

Fortunately you don't really think about the commentary when you are up in the skies overlooking the city landscape. This is no London Eye (that's according to Emma whose been on, I would just be making an arbitrary estimate), but though it lacks the Tower of London and Westminster, it does have Cathedrals and the Crucible Theatre, home of the World Snooker Championship. The view remains exciting and interesting enough to keep your attention.

All of which is a bloody good thing, for if you were to listen to the Hallam FM Wheel Of Sheffield commentary brought to you by Hallam FM in association with Hallam FM, Wheels and Sheffield you would be immediately reminded of Mike Smash and Dave Nice. Not half, but not really a reassuring or even an informative voice when you are hundreds of feet in the air wondering why your pod appears to be rocking. That is not a sentence I expect to be writing again in the very near future, but it is accurate nonetheless.

The Hallam FM Wheel Of Sheffield is somewhat quicker than it's London counterpart. For your £6.50 you get to go around five times (though some debate this suggesting that they have been on when it has been only four), and takes about 15 minutes of your time. Emma tells me that the London Eye ride lasts for the best part of an hour. For our part we definitely went around five times, but the pod only stopped for any great length of time on the first cycle. It is this moment which makes the whole thing worthwhile. It's a bit scary, but the scenery from that kind of vantage point really is breathtaking.

The other item on the 'to do' list from our research was the Winter Garden. As we dizzily exited the Hallam FM Wheel Of Sheffield we stumbled towards an even dizzier information guide who assured us that the Winter Garden was just a 'couple of buildings further down' to the right. Despite being advised that we could not miss it, we missed it initially. It wasn't until we had been moving for around 15 minutes and past several hundred couples of buildings that we noticed a sign for the city museums. It had to be that way, surely?

It was. So what delights does the Winter Garden hold? Well, to be honest you might be a little underwhelmed. That is unless you are an enthusiast of someone called John Ruskin. Ruskin has an entire exhibition devoted to him here, the bumph on which explains that he wanted people to acknowledge the power and beauty of nature and to themselves use nature to be more creative. I find that Ruskin's own contribution to this honourable goal is a little lacking in substance. I still can't work out whether he was an artist or a scientist or both, but I do know that he must have talked a lot to inspire this kind of tribute.

The Gardens themselves contain exactly what you would expect, lots of indoor plants. This time the blurb explains that these particular plants (the name of which has already escaped me) were the main source of sustenance for dinosaurs. However, whereas the dinosaurs died out in the meteor blast, these plants survived and evolved. Yet the philistine in me will always point out that their longevity and startling evolutionary capabilities do not preclude them from being as dull as a house plant. Or even as a Hallam FM Wheel Of Sheffield commentator.

A friend of mine had told me to sample the cakes in one of the small eateries in the Gardens, but time constraints and Emma's diet rather put paid to the idea. They looked nice though, I will concede. As many people were sat sampling their delights as were strolling around the indestructable greenery.

Once Emma's family joined up with us we decided to head for an Italian restaurant called Antibos in the city centre. By now I had lurched from worrying about the cricket to having seizures about the rugby. Saints were playing their first play-off game at home to Warrington at about the same time I was tucking into my enormous pizza. I have to admit to checking the score on my phone a little more often than might normally be thought of as socially acceptable at the dinner table.

I overdid it on the food aswell, and felt shockingly sick by the time Emma and I got back to our room. I'd preceded the pizza with a piece of garlic bread as big as Kent, and followed it with something resembling chocolate fudge cake which I ordered through sheer bloody mindedness and a determination to keep up. With a big day ahead I needed rest and besides, it was all I could do not to regurgitate the whole lot by then.

On the plus side, Saints won........

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