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A Magazine for Sheffield

Down There: A Summer Tale

Page Hall. Everybody wants to know what it's like 'down there', except perhaps those living there. Maybe none will know that someone has told a tale. A summer tale between here and somewhere over there, about why 'down here' and not 'down there'. I’m visiting friends. It's early summer and the cherries are just starting in the back courtyard. Children have spotted them and, judging by the torn leaves and snapped twigs, they've clambered up already. "The cherries! Look, the cherries. They're going to be ripe soon," calls out their eight-year-old son as I arrive. "Do you like cherries? I like apples too." Back in the house we are all sitting round a rickety, Victorian-style oval table. It’s from a car boot sale, bought in Doncaster perhaps, on a Sunday morning. I went there once before with these same friends. That day we had met up early. We were at the market by seven and there were seven of us in the car. I knew that I ought to be cautious and made sure everyone wore seat belts. We laughed about it after. We didn’t buy a table that day. I looked at plastic storage boxes while the others walked around gathering crafted flowers on long metal stems and a ring for my friend’s mother. On the way out the police drove past and gave us the once-over. Sitting at the table with my friend’s family, over coffee and shinga, a rolled poppy seed pastry chopped like swiss roll, I'm told that next week most of the family are travelling home to Slovakia for the summer. I return to the house a few weeks later and ask after their recent trip home. My friend answers, “You know I’ll tell you, I just…” he pauses, lost for words. “Look,” he continues, “I’ll show you a video.” Opening his phone, he scrolls through the gallery, past endless clips and stills, finally hesitating on a photo of a village showing some low blocks of flats bounded by open fields in the background. "You just sit there, in your flat," he says, laughing and indicating a plain concrete building in the photo, "then you go downstairs and stand outside and look around!" Pointing to the passage between two blocks of flats, he pursues a route. “Look, you see that set of flats? There? That's where the village ends. After that there is nothing. No buses. No taxis. You just walk round the back of those flats and come back past ours and then you’re back here again!” Next my friend shows me a Facebook feed of two men dancing outside a small concrete-framed shop, like a garage. A young man of about 19 – tall, skinny, bare-chested – is doing an almost-disco dance, while an older man moves nearby him and kids watch. “He's mad, him!” my friend and his wife chorus. The family had returned to Page Hall from Slovakia after only a couple of weeks, it emerges. “Why?” I ask. "It’s just so nice to be back, to be here in Sheffield. It’s a real town, things to do. I don’t know," my friend muses. "What do you do when you’re over there? You walk around, children play – but then what?" "Some people drink," explains his wife. "There's nothing to do but drink!" they both chorus again, laughing and looking across the table at my friend’s father intently decanting beer. His daughter-in-law properly chuckles. "You should have seen him when he was over there. First thing in the morning and he was already at it." The tree still held its leaves in the courtyard. Sun caught on the cobbles with slanting late summer light. School had started and life went on in that house in Page Hall. )

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