Is it sad that cobbles are being ripped out of a Sheffield street? Or is it progress? Whichever way you look at it, as the recent headline suggests, it’s an emotive issue.
Cobbles are great to look at – there’s something about those small, rounded humps unevenly studding a street.
Especially in the rain, when they glisten and shine as though someone has run a cloth and some polish over them.
On the other hand, try walking on them when they’re wet. It’s like trying to walk on sheet ice.
And best not to attempt it in any weather if you’re wearing stiletto heels.
Tiny cobbles mean multiple gaps between them – catch a heel in one of those and you could end up planting your face on those lovely little lumps.
A cobbled street looks perfect when it is lined with terraced cottages or Little Mesters’ workshops.
Not so much when shiny skyscrapers fill the space, where the uniform perfection of Tarmac, although soulless, is more suited.
Cycling along a cobbled street is no fun, unless you particularly like feeling as though your eyes are being shaken from your head.
And, let’s face it, a smooth, shiny sheet of black is preferable if you’re driving at 70 mph, when cobbles are the last thing you want under your wheels.
A cobbled surface harks back to a time before the practice of burying pipelines and cables under city streets, when it wouldn’t need to be disturbed for access to those utility carriers.
It’s much easier – and cheaper – to dig through and replace Tarmac (although there is evidence everywhere that it’s not that easy to replace a smooth surface).
I can see the attraction of a perfect line, but making progress doesn’t have to mean erasing the past.
A cobbled street highlights that a city has history. It’s nice sometimes to escape the present and the new, to wander back along narrow streets where those little, irregular bumps evoke the character and ambience of that history.
They help take you away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and lead your mind on a journey, albeit a romantic one, back to a calmer and slower pace.
Is there any sense in a future that pays no respect to what has gone before?
As Joni Mitchell says: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.