Catherine Cookson and a pig’s head: photos of Sheffield markets
Best-selling novelists alongside bits of an animal: a surrealist fantasy or just another day down at Sheffield’s markets? Incongruous meetings were what I always found there; here’s a short piece of fiction from 2007 with photographs from 1986.
“There was this lad, right. Lived on the Manor. He had fag burns down his arms and an orange bonehead. Like a Belisha beacon. Black Harrington jacket with the tartan inside – and a biro-tattoo spider’s web on his hand. Chewed his finger nails summat chronic.
He used to hang around by the market. Sheaf Market, Castle Market, down there. Of a Saturday he’d wander up and down the steps and lob Cresta bottles off the edge. Smash ’em on the pavement and that. Said his mate worked for a butcher and got him owt he wanted. Meat. Bits for his mum. Said I could have a pig’s head if I needed one.
I said I’d get back to him.
I met him when I used to sell my papers on Flat Street. Commie papers. He shoved me in the back and tried to fight me. He took my bag and ran off down to the bus station, but my mate were a big bastard, and he caught him. Then this lad started crying and said someone had dared him to get my bag and he didn’t know what we were about or anything. So we had a cup of tea at Pond Street and he looked at the paper – it were all the miners’ strike and stuff back then – and because it were full of photos of blokes shouting and scrapping with coppers, I think he thought it didn’t look too bad.
He didn’t half stand out. There weren’t any other skinheads left on the markets by then. Everyone were going for flicks and wedges and streaks – school were like a boot camp for George Michael lookalikes. I had a flat-top – well, kind of. My hair were too curly to do it proper. But it were near enough. And a long coat and army trou. I always thought he looked neat – tidy and that. All tucked in and sharp at the edges. Not really clean or owt, but not really a mess. And with his orange number two haircut, you could see his head from the Parkway. Rare good, I thought it were.
Then I always saw him when I went down by the market. Sometimes he were on the gallery, sometimes he were supping tea. But if you looked hard enough, there he were in the crowd. Knocking around. Just finding summat to do. I used to take him reggae tapes because I said that’s what skinheads were meant to listen to, but they were all ‘Jah Rastafari’ and that, not ska or moonstomp stuff. He took the cassettes. I think he taped over them.
I were always giving him things I thought might mend him a bit. For a start, I thought he shouldn’t be chucking pop bottles off the top deck. But I thought I could do summat for him by giving him Lenin For Beginners. I suppose it might have made him think. Not the book – he wouldn’t have opened it. But the fact that someone bothered to give it him. Wouldn’t he wonder why someone who weren’t a teacher had give him a book? Not that teachers had chance to give him anything very much.
I packed in flogging the paper in ’85. When the miners went back to work, that felt like the end of everything. The end of picket lines and shouting ‘scab’ at Kinnock and all the pushing and shoving which had been pretty exciting really. And when I stopped the paper, it were like a slice of Sheffield vanished for me. I didn’t hang about round Flat Street. Or outside the dole office. Or round the market. So I never saw that kid any more.
When I found out I were going to leave Sheffield for a bit, for polytechnic and that, I thought I’d see how he were doing, and give him back this picture of his mum and his sister that he’d give me ages back. It were just a photo from when he were little, took at Bridlington. I don’t know why he give it me. I’d had it ages, in my sock drawer, but I didn’t want to keep it forever or owt. It didn’t belong to me. He should have it back.
So I took the photo down the market and tried to find him. I looked all o’er. Round the meat stalls specially – I wondered if any of them lads were his mate, the one who could get the pigs’ heads. I didn’t ask though. And I looked round the fruit and veg, and the Mills & Boons, and the precincts. I looked at all the faces, and I could see summat like him, but not really him. There weren’t no skinheads. There weren’t no sign of him. It were like Where’s Wally? – but stinking of liver and blood.
I left the photo on a ledge by the army recruitment shop.
Then I turned my back, walked up to the bus, and went home.”
Text © Damon Fairclough 2007
Images © Damon Fairclough 1986
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