This Summer George spent five months living in his friend’s cupboard because he had nowhere else to live. He spent that time training Parkour as hard as he could. This article and pictures detail the time spent between two spaces, the city of Sheffield and the cupboard, and how these spaces influenced him to respond to the loneliness and isolation experienced during the UK lockdown.
For a sport that involves jumping on walls and hanging out in questionable smelling alleyways, Parkour has a surprisingly intricate philosophical engagement. It is decentralised and countercultural, driven by a restless desire to escape the constraints of modern life. This ideal, combined with a desire to explore and a deeply rooted suspicion of money has inspired Supertramping: an ultra-minimalistic form of travel. Possessions don’t exceed a single rucksack, transport is facilitated by hitching rides with strangers and a rooftop becomes the ideal sleeping spot. Supertramping finds freedom in its own unpredictability, knowing that life will deliver if only you have the boundless optimism to believe that it will.
Travel may not have been possible this year, but the end of a lease and unfortunate coronification of future housing plans forced me to embody the ideals of Supertramping as I moved into my friend’s cupboard for the best part of five months. I mean, it seemed pretty funny and it’s not like I had any better options, so why not squeeze as many slices from the banana as possible? Inhabited by some of Sheffield’s best Freerunners and aptly named after the Wi-Fi box, I joined the Parkour Palace with the singular intention of using this time to train Parkour as hard as I could. Subsequently, the majority of Summer 2020 was spent between two spaces: the Parkour spots dotted around the city of Sheffield and the squalid cupboard that became my semi-permanent residence. This time was spent primarily alone and both spaces strongly influenced how I responded to being by myself. The peaceful and introspective solitude of the city was balanced by a claustrophobic and increasingly frenzied sense of isolation experienced in the cupboard.
From a structural perspective, Sheffield could be likened to an explosion at a paint factory. The city is a vibrant coagulation of immiscible architectural styles fighting to dominate a densely compacted city centre. Visually it is a mess, but these interwoven styles are forced to correspond with one another in a chaotic and reactionary manner, creating a variety of unique and unconventional environments that are perfect for training parkour. During Lockdown I grew to know Sheffield like the back of my hand. The forgotten warehouses, underground car parks and formidable rooftops quickly became a second home.
Supertramping has normalised subsisting in weird places, although I never intended to stay in the cupboard for as long as I did. It was bug ridden and dimly lit, but more importantly it was a means to an end. It enabled me to keep training, so what did it matter if there was no natural light and I could touch opposing walls with outstretched arms? If you think about it, I was pretty much living the wildest fantasy of every Harry Potter fan! After spending the days prowling the streets of Sheffield looking for new spots to train at or lines to film, I would return home, eat, and promptly pass out on my mattress. Sleep was a luxury I couldn’t afford; the groaning nocturnal pipes, Summer heat and lack of ventilation ensured I would awake drenched in sweat multiple times throughout the night. Early the next morning I would arise, drink some coffee and return to the streets. It was a minimalist existence.
I believe that if you are able to joke about something, then you are strong enough to withstand it. It is less painful to joke than it is to admit to suffering. The cupboard was treated like a big joke, but in truth I struggled. The living conditions were exhausting, but tolerable; it was the constant and lingering sense of claustrophobia that shot my nerves. Those four walls could barely contain a fraction of my possessions, let alone my crowded mind. My head hadn’t been in a good place for a long time and suddenly I was trapped with all the insecurities and self-loathing that I had refused to confront. Supertramping is primarily a group activity, the burden of exertion is shared until it weighs nothing. I felt unbearably isolated. Eventually I learned to come to terms with my emotions, but that Summer it just made me even more determined to train, dealing with problems in the only way I knew how.
In contrast, the solitude experienced among the streets of Sheffield was a welcome and rejuvenating change to the cupboard. Parkour spots are usually secluded and entire days could be spent outside, wandering or training without encountering a single person. People comprise a vital characteristic of a city’s personality and without them it felt like I had stumbled upon somewhere completely brand new. For a brief period, I owned the city; I was one with it. It was mine alone to use as a blank canvas onto which I poured my imagination. A solitary flaneur, free to dissect the cobbled streets of the Castlegate quarter; the shining glass university buildings that gleamed in the sun; the ugly brutalist structures atop Park hill that are being renovated as if they are some shameful stain that needs to be concealed, breathing life back into the skeleton of a city. Armed with a bag of oranges and a Gopro, I trained with an intensity that could only have been catalysed by the stifling restriction of the cupboard. Sheffield became a place of boundless opportunity to materialise the wildest parkour lines that had been dreamed up in captivity. A city can never be fully appreciated from the ground and the allure of the lines, shapes and contours that comprise the urban space are amplified the higher you choose to take your training. I pushed myself harder and higher than I probably should have because my attitude was dialled to self-destruct. It was a dangerous mindset, one that I am not proud of, but after living and experiencing some unforgettable memories I don’t think I would change a single thing.
Life at the Parkour Palace was wild and unpredictable, but completely unsustainable. My whole mental wellbeing was reliant upon a finely balanced routine that involved jumping and exploring. In the end it was a positive Covid result from a housemate and several weeks of torrential rainfall that disrupted this balance, confining me to the cupboard for over six weeks. The problem with Supertramping is you always need to keep moving. As soon as you stop the mental and physical exertion overwhelms you all at once. As Summer evaporated into a cloud of rain so too did my plans. My priority was to take care of myself. It was time to stop Supertramping and move on.
Parkour has a bad reputation. Not necessarily underserved, but more often than not it is misconstrued and misunderstood by the general public. Parkour is more than just jumping on walls or terrorising old ladies, as many believe. It is an artistic expression, one that finds adventure in the ordinary and unassuming. A railing is more than just a railing. A slanted wall offers infinite potential limited only by the body and imagination. Parkour overcomes expectations that dictate how we are supposed to move, act, or even perceive our environment. There is freedom hidden among the reticent brick walls that most are too preoccupied to notice. Among the walls and railings, I learned to accept myself. The fearless and determined freerunner that commanded the city was exactly the same insecure person that tried their hardest to fade from existence. I have learned to stop treating them like two separate entities and to find balance in myself. I am proud of what I am capable of and confident in the person I am shaping up to be. Ultimately, I am glad with the way everything turned out, although I now realise the futility of pointless suffering. Life can be cruel and unfair and unpredictable. The best parts of life, just like so many of the best Parkour spots, are concealed and will remain undiscovered unless actively sought out. More than travelling or roughing it, Supertramping is about experiencing the beauty of life through these small pleasures. After a long day of training there is nothing better than lazing on a rooftop eating oranges and watching the sun set over a boundless city.