SO, we’re up at the South Street amphitheatre, me and her, looking out across Sheffield in silence, when she asks me what I’m thinking about.
And I consider coming out with one of my go-to answers for such circumstances - ‘you’, ‘life’, ‘that episode of Only Fools And Horses with the exploding dolls’ – but instead I tell the truth: I’m thinking about a Greek general whose name I can’t remember.
It’s been right bugging me ever since, too.
Who was he? Why can’t I find him on Google? And why – when I’m sitting on the top row of an empty outdoor theatre watching the sun go down over the Cheesegrater – is he in my head?
Bear with me. I’ll attempt to answer all these. And, then – as a bonus – I’ll give East Midlands Trains some stick too.
It was years ago now a girl with a nose stud, red hair and an A-Level in classics told me about this Greek general who, one day, found himself addressing a large crowd. At the end of each sentence, it was with some consternation he would note the audience cheered him. Eventually he turned to his accomplice and, with great self doubt, asked: “Why do they applaud me? Do I not speak sense?”
His meaning was clear: when the crowd agrees with what you say without question, it is time to question what you’re saying.
It was, thus, as I crossed Sheffield Train Station’s bridge to take my first proper look at the amphitheatre last weekend, I realised there was an element of the Greek general’s dilemma in the mass campaign to stop barriers being erected there.
For perhaps people – me included – have got so used to cheering the protesters and jeering the proposals they are forgetting to question themselves.
And maybe the first question should be: How on Earth, in any busy metropolis, can it be considered sound policy to have a direct public thoroughfare running through the biggest and busiest communications hub?
Why would any city link two parts of a town – Park Hill (and that amphitheatre) and the centre – through a place where thousands of commuters are already crowded and congested?
Because it’s just not sound.
For, just as you wouldn’t stick a right-of-way through Heathrow Terminal One, perhaps, all things considered, there shouldn’t really be one through Sheffield Train Station either.
And so I thought about this up on that hill, slowly coming to see where East Midlands Trains were coming from.
And then we walked back over the bridge and I not-so-slowly saw something else: there was no crowding at all, and actually there very rarely is, and that the entire station is perfectly well equipped to cope with all those commuters, residents and the occasional pickpocket.
All except one part. The East Midlands Trains ticket counters and machines.
For there, waiting in queues while their departure times ran down were dozens of distressed travellers.
And I wondered if EMT is so concerned about people fare-dodging why do they not forget the barriers and simply provide enough places for people to buy their tickets?
If only finding the name of that general was so easy.