Friday, February 28, 2014

4 Hull

King Edward I's brick and concrete town

By the time I was six, Hull was my most visited holiday destination in the galaxy.
Hull's really called Kingston Upon Hull. The King in question being Edward I. Apparently, medieval Edward (a bit of a wanker of an English king, truth be told, the sort of dictatorial monarch featured in Braveheart) used Hull as a staging town for his armies before sending them further up north to ick hell out of the Scots. Edward also sued Hull to import through her North Sea facing port lots of things from Europe (which back then we weren't a part of), and he used Hull and her lovely earth to create one of the world's biggest medieval brickworks.
In writing this piece I searched King Edward and Hull on the internet. After fifty references to things American (all searches on the internet seem to give me fifty things American before they list out what I'm really after) I found this...

"Edward the First, conquered Wales, razed Berwick on Tweed to the ground and tried to give Scotland the same treatment..."

Over the years I've realised that King Edward's Hull descendant folk rarely mention King Edward's naughty deeds. If they ever mention them at all. One of my nans was born in Berwick on Tweed. She lived and finally died in Hull. She never grumbled about Edward. Not once. Never even mentioned what a tosser King Edward was when it came to her birthplace. Margaret and her man, Alex. A fine pair. Fine.

When I was young I found the Hull accent quite strange in a nice sort of way. Hull people (Hullians?) like my grandparents, with incredible oral lethargy, pruned back their pronunciation of that complex, single city syllable "Hull" to... Ull.


Ow good is that? Some of Ull's residents even use Ull as the title on their community website; thisisull dot com. The site isn't that inspiring but it has a cracking amount of getting on with it and down to earth articles. Read it. I promise you that for the rest of your living days a Long Bank Holiday Weekend stopping in or tidying out your shed will never sound more appealing.
And that's a problem with being an unselfconscious Ull insider, an emotional in there Ull local. The local finds it hard to understand where they're at and suspend judgement. Instead it is easier to give off the extreme scale "it's all rubbish" / "hate it here" attitude or an even more extreme and equally un-credible "it's all great" / "don't you dare knock it" picture.

Hull's not all great. And neither is Hull complete pants. Ull's glass is alf full. Hull is what I would say, Quite Good. If St Paul's and the City of London is the orchestra in stone, then Hull has to be the chorus in Kahnian brick.

Oh for Hull and Ahh for the River Humber. While Lancastrian streams tootle off to die in Liverpool, Hull's offshore aquatic graveyard is blessed with Yorkshire's / God's Country rivers ending their journies, the Ouse, Derwent, Don, Aire and Calder. It makes Ull very U2-ian. As Bono once sang (before he started to wear ridiculous sunglasses);

"I believe <slight pause> in the Kingdom Come,
When all the rivers <even slighter pause> will bleed into one.
Bleeeee eee eeeed into wwuuurrrrrrn
Bleeeed into wuurrrrnn.
< and cue the gospel choir > In To One."

Which means, Mr Irish matie boy, the Kingdom’s already here. Yorkshire's rivers have been bleeding into one for years - and they will keep on bleeding straight out east into the North Sea and off to Norway, with the Sealink Ferry, for a good while yet.

My dad used to drive us to Hull from London, once a year, taking nearly all day in the Mini or Vauxhall Viva. Now when you drive into Hull you can look down and admire the vastness of the Humber when you approach from the west, when you drive across... The Bridge.

The Bridge used to be the longest single span suspension bridge in the galaxy. It is so tall that its towers stick up three inches out of parallel. Not because they were built wonky and that the contract workers left out a key R.S.J. but because of the earth’s curvature. We're talking huge. Epic. Ben Hurr-ian. A four horses abreast Charlton Heston chariot race on the thing would not be out of scale.

In their opening ceremony press pack the Council deployed full on Yorkshire understatement to play down their achievement. They featured neat photographs of their new toy. The big brochure cover picture was the bridge photographed from underneath. A strip of concrete running across the page. Nowt else. None of those Brooklyn Bridge helicopter aerial shots with indigo sky and puffy white cumulus clouds. Forget the idea of a panoramic wide angle image - as they do so well in Japan - through the mist and with an oil tanker the size of Corsica maneuvering in the foreground. Nope. In East Yorkshire the Council outsourced a professionally photo'd up skirt shot of the Humber Bridge’s tarmac'ed butt.

Hull folk really should be gloriously proud of their achievements, after all, Hull docks were once the third largest in England. After London and Liverpool. Liverpool; The Merseybeat, The Beatles, Paul, Ringo, George and John. Strawberry Ice Cream For Ever, Walruses and singing about how fab it is when the sun shines...

"Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes,
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes."

Hold my hair back while I puke.

What does the Humberbeat offer? The Housemartins; who rather than address the rosier effects of global climate change instead advise us against the dangers of being sheeplike trendy and “I spoil my ballot paper in protest" idiotic. The Housemartins; who reassure us that tomorrow the forecast may be perpetual heavy drizzle with gray skies, but so what if society has planned ahead and got the umbrella at the ready.

"Too many Florence Nightingales,
Not enough Robin Hoods.
Too many halos not enough heroes
Coming up with the goods.
So you thought you’d like to change the world,
Decided to stage a jumble sale
For the poor, for the poor."

And whereas Liverpool has one of the most successful footie clubs in Europe, Hull has a Hull Kingston Rover Rugby League team and... Hull City Football Club.

In my football watching days Hull City were a struggling team of young apprentices and decaying veterans, usually found locked in the middle of the Division Two. In the deepest freezes of winter the football commentators would talk over the radio "Hull City at home. Match postponed. Pools panel sits. No score draw."

City played in orange shirts with a couple of black stripes. Hence their nickname. The Tigers. Tigers? More like a swarm of overweight bumble bees. But that strip, oh yes. It was why Hull was my most aesthetic Subbuteo flick to kick table football team purchase (# 35 in the catalogue, albeit with some strong competition from the Norwich City's green and yellow, "The Canaries", #28).

Also. Hull City is the only team in the English footie league (all divisions) where you can't colour in a single letter, using either upper or lower case. As I found out when bored and trying it on my school GCE Soc and Econ History exercise book.

h u l l c i t y H U L L C I T Y.

Told you, nothing to colour in. Liverpool ( e, p, and two o's ). Arsenal (A e a) Blackburn (B a b). Chelsea (e e a). Keep going. I'm right.

I loved my Hull City Subbuteo team. Because when I flicked them I was sitting in their stands and not crouched over the green baize in my bedroom. Liverpool FC had Anfield and the euphoric roar of blokes walking together on the Kop. Hull City FC's Boothferry Park had a few dozen lads from Sutton chanting “ Ull Ull Ull Citee” in the drafty train station stand. Specialist sports architectural critics such as Simon Inglis found it hard to describe Boothferry Park’s stands without crying into his pint. (Actually, he didn't try that hard.) If he had, his texts may have read "Ancient Britain gave us the Stone Age, the Bronze and the Iron Ages along with the structures those materials support. Two millenia on and it was left to Hull’s sports ground architects to advance us into the Asbestos and Formica Age."

Why didn't Hull's stadium architects use brick? Kahnian bricks, like they did for Holy Trinity Church? Why didn't they get a few trucks in from Hull's they-go-all-the-way-back-to-the-14th-century brick works?

Yet the old Boothferry could have been made out of Meccano and wooden lolly sticks for all I cared. You see, grandpa Alex, my Berwick on Tweed nan's husband, took me off to watch my first professional football match at Boothferry. 21st November 1971. Dark by four, damp by five past, and flipping cold.

I, as a seven year old I, saw the tribality (made up word). I loved it. I doubted the Vikings and the Danes would have risked sailing up the Humber if they had a copy of City’s home fixture schedule. If the Norse folk accidentally landed after a boring nil nil Tigers draw on a bleak winter's afternoon they'd have been annihilaited. Kicked back to Oslo by Doc Marten ox blood six hole boots with steel toe caps. Their horned helmets whipped off them and kept as trophies. Their long boats sunk in Fish Dock Three.

Now the Boothferry crowd is a tad more middle class. And better behaved. If City gets thumped on a Saturday they don’t get fussed. Hull's Larkinesque fans would, with culture and wit, blame the shoddy result on the fatherless referee. A lack of two parents, a mum and son combination that 'ucked them up and out of a chance of the cup."

There you have it. My Hull. And as a wrap up, a quick mention of Roger McGough, another fine poet who was was influenced in Hull. In my book Goughie beats Larkin. This is one reason...

"The trouble with Snowmen," Said my (grand)father one year,
"They are no sooner made Than they just disappear.
I'll build you a Snowman And I'll build it to last
Add sand and cement And then have it cast.

And so every winter," He went on to explain
"You shall have a Snowman Be it sunshine or rain."
And that Snowman still stands Though my (grand)father is gone
Out there in the garden Like an unmarked gravestone.
Staring up at the house Gross and misshapen
As if waiting for something Bad to happen.

For as the years pass And I grow older
When summers seem short And winters colder.
The Snowmen I envy As I watch children play
Are the ones that are made And then fade away."

An interesting theme from Roger; decent people and decent city places as temporary snow people and temporary snow places. True. We can't preserve and bottle every great stadium and every grand parent.

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