‘Aromas get up your nose in a most welcome way’

Maggie Lett at her favourite place on London Road, Sheffield
Maggie Lett at her favourite place on London Road, Sheffield
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Maggie Lett was born in Liverpool and moved to Sheffield in the late 70s. She was a journalist on the Sheffield Morning Telegraph and Sheffield Telegraph before moving to the press office of Sheffield City Council. She also taught journalism at Norton College and Sheffield University. With Geoff Rowe, she opened and ran Bukowski’s Piano Bar and Diner in London Road for three years from 2001. Maggie and Geoff have written a historical novel based on the Sheffield Flood of 1864 that claimed 250 lives. Flood Waters is published by ACM Retro priced £9.95.

London Road

This place has always seemed to have a bit of a bad name and I’ve never understood why. Sure there are loud drunks staggering home from town at night and some quiet drunks who stagger along London Road whether it’s day or night, the cheap booze available in the offies proving an irresistible magnet to the frayed pocket brigade, but the road gives out a pungent air of cosmopolitan community and suggests an edgy street life, which for me is a heady mix.

I have lived along here for 15 years and never tire of that sense of spicy urgency. The spiciness is integral: London Road is one of the oldest local shopping areas in Sheffield but the traditional shops have been replaced by customer offerings from all regions of the world and the aromas floating round in the air get up your nose in a most welcome way.

The thing I regret about London Road is the lack of greenery. We have just a few trees along here and they’re grouped together. When my partner Geoff Rowe and I opened Bukowski’s, we approached the council for permission to plant a few trees along our frontage but we got the heave-ho. Evidently the infrastructure under the pavement wouldn’t have liked the roots.

We had raised beds built instead for small flowering shrubs: this was where the London Road challenge to Ecclesall Road domination would begin. Unfortunately the plants were all stolen. That’s London Road for you. (Former Bukowski’s customers might be interested to know that Geoff is studying flamenco guitar in Spain.)

Stones and feathers meet at the Ruskin Gallery

At the risk of sounding a bit of a pseud I’d say that the Ruskin is the place to go for anyone who thinks abstract art is unfathomable rubbish. Here you can stand in front of a display of, for example, feathers and stones and appreciate in a very simple way the beauty and colours of the repeated patterns in nature. Just colours, just patterns, sheer wonder: the abstract art of nature can be a great way in to discovering the pleasure of enjoying a painting as a visual feast rather than a recognizable form. The Ruskin inspires me no matter how many visits I make.

Dale Dyke Dam

What a magical setting, where the trees and the grasses and the water still whisper with the suggestion of latent power. This is the site of the dam breach of 1864, which led to the deaths of some 250 people in what became known as the Great Sheffield Flood. There is a notice board there – a rather pathetic one on my last visit – with the basic facts of the event.

Scramble on through the woods and you can find the old cob stones, which mark the curve of the original dam wall: it’s amazing to look at how tall the trees are now and to try to imagine the huge reservoir of water which once stood there waiting to surge forth.

Turn right and you can find the replacement dam: it appears a somewhat innocent-looking weir but you never know.

El Paso – aka La Bamba – aka Sergio’s

Memories, memories whatever the name of this Latino restaurant on Cumberland Street: memories of warm sociable evenings, of tasty tapas and belt-stretching chimichangas, of dancing to Volare for the umpteenth time to everyone else’s annoyance, of mourning tears and contagious laughter, of having to share a starter as a main meal when broke, of lingering over the last glass of wine before downing the goodnight shot of Sambuca.

I can’t imagine ever celebrating or commiserating anywhere but here.

Back streets to the future

The walk back to London Road from the Showroom cinema is always as interesting as the movie just watched. Unfortunately it’s all changing and wonderful old industrial buildings are disappearing to make way for the usual flat developments of modern premises. But there are still some gems.

Stroll down Arundel Street and Eyre Lane for a short trip into the city’s architectural past: red brick edifices with light-defying windows and entrances which once led into old shops or loading yards still speak of noisy industry and bustling businesses; Challenge Works, White Rose Works – what evocative names; BLOC in a block of pitched roof and bricked-in arches and port-hole windows. Across the ring road the walk home takes in John Street, with myriad styles and occupancy, from the cultural energy going on in Stag Works – this monolith of a place has a very interesting face if you appreciate the progression of tidy rows of windows (and I do) – to the crafty stuff of the old Melcro building.

St Marie’s Cathedral

I sit in this church for an instant reminder of my dad. We always went to Christmas Mass here and one year the Bishop called for all the children below a certain age to go up to the front for a bar of chocolate.

My son was too old and knew it but grandad insisted he went for his free chocolate. (My dad was a true Scouser.) When my son was turned away, my dad went up himself to complain to the Bishop and returned with his sweet prize.

General Cemetery

This is a suitably moody destination for an overcast day. The falling-down higgledy-pigglediness of the gravestones and the overgrown bushes actually invoke feelings of ease, maybe ‘rest’ is the right word. For me there is also an inexplicably noble feeling to be had from reading the legends on the gravestones, details of people, families I didn’t know, but I always feel that somehow I’m doing something very positive by remembering all these strangers just through taking the trouble to linger and read their bits.

John Gunson, the engineer who worked on the Dale Dyke Dam at the time of the great flood, is buried here.

When we finished our book about the flood we spent hours looking for his grave – it’s hidden away in a very dark, very neglected corner – and then cleared it of weeds and moss and left some flowers. He might be due another visit.

Breast Clinic, Royal Hallamshire Hospital

Be assured, anyone diagnosed with breast cancer, you couldn’t be in better, more sympathetic hands. I found my lump a couple of years ago and of course tears flowed, fear ruled. When I went to the clinic for the biopsy, I immediately felt cocooned in a place of understanding and calm efficiency. I was still scared but knew I was in good hands.

I had my op and I still have to attend the clinic at regular intervals but those high standards of personal care set right at the beginning of my treatment have never slipped.

I am not yet fully out of the woods but I am used to living with my situation, safe in the knowledge that the breast clinic with all the great people who work there is just a short walk away.