Angga came to the UK in 1997 as a child, a minor, with his sister, two brothers and parents, his father a doctoral student from Indonesia. Living 15 years in Pitsmoor, attending Fir Vale School, after university in Liverpool the tripling of loss and unexplored trauma led him to some dark and very lonely places.
Where could he turn, a man too stoic to share with those more stoic than him? To whom might he address himself in his vulnerability?
From this question, Men Up North was born in Sheffield in 2017. Groups have since been formed in Chesterfield, Newcastle, Hull and elsewhere, and there’s one member in North America. Men together: listening, hearing, supporting.
I met Angga recently when, as a facilitator for Men Up North in Sheffield, he had been tasked with finding an outdoor space which they could, in some way, tame or tend to. A green space, an island, a retreat into which they could gather and work themselves into the earth with stories, songs and sweat.
I met him outside an allotment site on the brow of a hill to the east of Lady’s Bridge. He took a road he knew well, the bus passing through the 12th century cattle market of the Wicker, under the arches with their bomb damage repaired and up the old Hospital Hill.
Passing his old house on the bus, he got off on Scott Road and, as I was running late, took shelter there, thinking precisely about how the land, the houses, the bits in between, how they held part of him.
This is a magical place right here
We met at the gates of Grimesthorpe allotments.
“Good to meet you!” I said in return to his smiling greeting, not yet knowing he had spent his formative years here. I introduced him to the site.
“This is a magical place right here. The slope of the allotment site on the southern edge, this is the slope of an ancient earth work stretching once from here, past Wincobank Hill and out 25 miles to Mexborough downstream on the Don.
“The earth work is known today as the Roman Ridge and was before that Grim’s Ditch because there is Grimesthorpe to the east and this is Grimesthorpe Road that runs parallel below.
“Places that carry this name ‘Grimes’, they relate to things being grim, to another word, another name, to Woden, to the Devil.”
We passed through the gate, locking it behind us.
“This little lane here, to the north… I don’t think it has a name now. I don’t think it’s called anything on the maps.”
“An old man I knew who’d lived here as a boy, he knew its name as Devil’s Elbow, a sharp, crooked, steep little lane.”
We walked on, perhaps in some amazement. Finding the key, we entered some community gardens and took our seats looking out across the Don Valley in the shelter of an outdoor schoolroom.
“You know with Covid,” explained Angga, “We couldn’t meet together any more. Some of us didn’t even have computers or telephones to be able to Zoom. It’s just not been possible.
“We have all become aware of how much the earth actually matters, about the way things really grow from out of it and that this is important. So we wanted to have a place to come when we could get back together, where we could do something, build something together. Something outside, here in the air, where things grow and have seasons. Somewhere where we can build. With muscles.
“Our group varies in age from 18 to 72. Men of all ages. Men who need this space where frailty is the strength.”
“Imagine,” says Angga, the young man, “an older man in his 50s, who is divorced, who doesn’t know how to cook and just depends on takeaways. About that simple shame of not knowing how. To do. To ask. To listen.”
Angga had been married and his ex-wife had taught him the ways of the British. “Foraging,” he said.
We looked out across a partially-tamed allotment site and spoke of men there working. Angga told me about his family, his parents, two brothers and sister who had returned to Indonesia ten years ago.
“You didn’t go…” I said, as we returned to the gate. “You’re here.”
“You are tied to the earth, are you not?” I laughed at this. “Your ex-wife, she took you foraging, didn’t she? It’s all that nettle soup you’ve eaten. It stung you into the ground.”
I continued, “How ridiculous is that! By gathering, cooking and eating of the idiotic nettle you actually attach yourself. For real. And now you’re here. And it matters.”