I know I’m jumping into this debate a bit late, but last week it was announced that the city of culture for 2017 would be Hull. I lived there for a couple of years towards the end of the 20th century, and I refute the usual sneering from Brian Sewell types who claim that there is no culture outside of London, because they can’t be arsed to buy a railcard.
Hull is a strange place which keeps itself to itself. It is not the life and soul of the party, but while London, is telling anecdotes loudly in the middle of the room, Liverpool is getting a bit emotional in the kitchen and Manchester is making a giant bong in the bathroom (Birmingham hasn’t even been invited), Hull will be quietly hugging their pint and wishing they’d stayed at home.
I’m surprised Hull even went in for the title. It’s not like them to draw attention to themselves. Not shy or timid, it’s just that Hull doesn’t really care what the rest of the country thinks about them. They don’t need the approbation of other cities; they’re not ‘joiners’.
Hull has lots of things about it which make it unique; cream phone boxes; chip salt; the second most bombed city in the blitz; the impressive Humber Bridge, but tends not to go on about stuff like this. Not like Milton Keynes, give them a couple of cement cows and they’ll never let you forget about it. Hull doesn’t even bother pointing out that everyone’s getting its name wrong (Kingston upon Hull).
It’s the adopted home of Phillip Larkin, Stevie Smith was born there as was J Arthur Rank. They have the Hull Truck, The Beautiful South/Housemartins/Fat Boy Slim. Hullensians William Wilberforce abolished slavery and Amy Johnson flew the world.
This isn’t to say that the city is misunderstood, and is actually a playground of artists and poets. It is undeniably as rough as hell too. When I got the bus from the station, the next stop along was for the bus to Bransholme. The queue was half Crimewatch, half X Factor and all chav. Jeremy Kyle could save a fortune in researchers simply by hijacking the no 10 when he’s running low on material. There’s a month worth of shows in every one.
When I was there, there were some, probably apocryphal, stories about a spate of hammer attacks by locals on students. Perhaps their use of tools could be considered an evolutionary development, but probably not. Admittedly I was a student some time ago, but living in Hull then you did feel like something could kick off at any moment. Not in the ‘air of excitement’ sense, moreover that was part of everyday life, your bike gets nicked, your mate gets beaten up, it happens, nothing to make a fuss about. You quickly stop worrying about it.
Owing to its geography Hull is at the end of the line, and it can really feel like that sometimes, especially when you’re hit with the smell of the chocolate factory. You’d have thought a chocolate factory would smell sweet, but it doesn’t. It’s an acrid smell, like the burning hair of an oompa loompa.
Larkin said about Hull, ‘It is a little on the edge of things.’ and it is this stand-offishness which makes me look forward to it being the city of culture 2017. I can imagine Hull inviting visitors, to their museums, tourist attractions and festivals, and when the year is done, saying ‘You can all fuck off now.’ and quietly closing the door.