In praise of the Human Head and the Big Carrot

Launch event for Off The Shelf Festival at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield'Stan Skinny performs one of his poems
Launch event for Off The Shelf Festival at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield'Stan Skinny performs one of his poems

Stan Skinny is a poet, comedian and writer who has lived in Sheffield for 10 years. His spoken word show, Tell Me The Lies About Love, part of the Off the Shelf festival, is on November 2 at the Sheffield University students’ union. He runs the Shipping Forecast, a nautical-themed poetry and comedy night at the Riverside in Mowbray Street on the last Thursday of the month and a weekly comedy quiz Quizarama-rama, also at the Riverside, every Monday. Visit www.stanskinny.co.uk; @stanskinny

Parks, art and shops

Firth Park carrot sculpture

Firth Park carrot sculpture

There are many wonderful parts of Sheffield. I love how many parks there are and how nearly every bit of grassy mound will be home to someone’s appreciative posterior. I love Sheffield’s thriving poetry and music scene, and its DIY and independent attitude to art and commerce like the Forum shops in Devonshire Street or Access Space in Sidney Street or new Roco building in Glossop Road or how the old Woolworth’s on The Moor is now an art centre.

human head sculpture

I could have written in length about the glorious and inspiring views from Norfolk Park, or the elegance of Weston Park or the splendour of Dam House but instead I’ve decided to write about the carrot sculpture near Firth Park. Before I get to that I wanted to mention a sculpture in Sheffield that for a long time stood at the bottom of my street.

For many years I have lived on Ellesmere Road in Pitsmoor and one autumn I gleefully discovered on my journey to work that a tree stump had been carved into a human head at the bottom of our street. This certainly beat the usual street art offerings of abandoned sofas and mattresses that aspiring Tracey Emins left. This was a skilfully crafted head and it had apparently sprung up from nowhere. It would make me smile a big Cheshire cat, and it really caught the imagination of the street too.

At Hallowe’en they placed pumpkins around him and at Christmas they attached a Santa’s hat and beard. Unfortunately the council had it removed, maybe thinking that we couldn’t be trusted with art as it might lead to some anti-social watching of the Culture Show. I was sad to see it go.

big carrot sculpture

Then I discovered the big carrot in Firth Park. Or at least I think it’s a carrot, it could very well be a tomato. It’s a sort of mutated vegetable that has been tunnelled into by large hungry worms. It’s not so much the carrot I like, but its location. It’s just lumped right in the middle of a slab of pavement on the street and seems completely at odds with its environment. You’re left wondering why is it there? Is it a relic from an old park that they now have built houses on, or is it an arts installation by a well-meaning local artist or was it health campaign to remind you to eat your five a day?

If it was in a playground or a park it would be insignificant. In the street, it becomes a playground and an unusual world of giant vegetables. The grey and dull turns into something fun. I’m happy for it to be forever shrouded in mystery.

south street amphitheatre

Some might find me flippant for choosing a carrot sculpture as my favourite place in Sheffield but it’s this and other quirky things that make Sheffield, for me, such a fantastic place to live. There are so many wonderfully odd sights that so often go under the radar.

There are places like the amphitheatre in South Street behind the train station. You can’t look at it with anything but complete disbelief. You question why you have never found yourself there before. When you tell anyone about it, they look you up and down like you’ve snorted Horlicks and reply ‘An amphitheatre in Sheffield? Behind a train station? Yeah right, good one’.

strange buildings

The city is full of strange buildings and curious anomalies in bizarre places, like the huge coloured brick mural of a miner opposite the Co-op building in Snig Hill, or Sheffield’s own Arc de Triomphe in the Wicker, or the fact that the Morrison’s supermarket at Hillsborough looks like a castle.

This to me, makes the city what it is. Beautiful and intriguing, but always humble to the point of being afraid of showing of its own brilliance in case it risks turning into Leeds or Manchester, a fate worse than many deaths.

So, I suggest we all continue to find more giant carrots and tree stump heads.

They are the treasured gems of the city. Just don’t expect to find them in the likeliest of places.