Saturday, 1 August 2009

Why I am proud to be from Hull

I haven't lived full-time in Hull for a long time - since I was seven (1962 to you). That was when I was sent away to school, first to around York and then to Oxford. Since then I have lived in Cambridge, London, Reading, the South of France and now just outside Brussels.

But, still, I am not a Southerner, nor French, nor Belgian. I am a little closer to being South African, as my wife Ralette is South African and my children are half-so. Plus South Africa has some uncanny resemblances to Hull.

So I am definitely from Hull and my home reference is still Hull.

Ten years ago I would have felt a little embarrassed admitting this although it might not have stopped me. Hull was definitely a place to come from rather than to be in. In 2004, Hull had some of the worst crime statistics in the country.

However, an extraordinary thing has happened to Hull. It is fast becoming, if it hasn't already become, a cultural mecca.

In my youth, this claim would have been ridiculous. In my youth, the claim that Australia produced decent wine was ridiculous too (remember the Monty Python's "better than a Welsh claret" claim?). I even remember Japanese cars being a laughing stock ("Have fun, in the sun, with Datsun").

I cling to the prejudice that Hull in the 1960s really was a cultural wasteland. Andrew Marvell had done something memorable (but not actively remembered) in the 17th century. Winifred Holtby wrote an exceptional book for the fact that it was written by somebody from Hull, and Stevie Smith was born in Hull and left shortly afterwards. The Hull New Theatre hosted Agatha Christie plays in the summer and Doyly Carte Gilbert & Sullivan operettas in the New Year.

Then somebody had the incredibly bright idea of inviting Philip Larkin to be the librarian at Hull University. It is hard to describe the impact of this, but I will try: Tony Flynn, TF Griffin, Ian Parks, Frank Redpath, Peter Knaggs, Pete Ardern, Peter Morgan, Andrew Motion, Carol Coiffat, Daithidh MacEaochaidh, Joe Haikim, Mike Watts, Daphne Glazer, Dorothea Desforges, Leslie Wilkie, Nick Quantrill, Peter Jones, Rich Sutherland, Robert Adams, Robert Erdric, Valerie Wood, Alan Plater, John Godber and Dave Windass.

The defining moment was the publication of a collection of poetry wittily called 'A Rumoured City' which local poets still rave about but which I think was a total boss shot artistically - a whole roomful of talented poets coming over like the Great Eeyore Choir.

Its quality didn't matter. It made a statement and created an unstoppable momentum - flowers colonising the scrubland (as memorably described by Frank Redpath).

I have spent the last year reading almost exclusively Hull writers and poets and listening almost exclusively to Hull and York musicians (CrackTown, Joe Solo, Edwina Hayes, Holly Taymar, Abbie Lammas, David Ward Maclean, Henry Priestman) and I certainly haven't been slumming it. I am so proud.

It almost makes me believe in redemption.

I don't want to give the guy who invited Philip Larkin to Hull all the credit, nor Philip Larkin himself. The Hull Daily Mail has worked tirelessly to promote Hull artists, as has ThisisUll, that wonderful site driven by Cilla Wykes which publishes new poetry and writing daily.

God bless you all.