Saturday, 15 March 2008

Some like it not

Hull- Standing quietly on the muddy banks of the vast Humber estuary, The city of Kingston upon Hull has a reputation forged through centuries of under achievement and downright weirdness as a strange wind torn, almost forgotten corner of England. It's the kind of place you wouldn't really want to go to unless you had to, kind of like the urban equivalent of the clinic for sexually transmitted diseases.

But the city's bad reputation and lack of visitors allied to an ever shrinking gene pool have made the people of this much maligned town decidedly different from even the people that occupy the rest of the glorious county of Yorkshire.
So in the name of exploration News direct decided to travel to this forgotten kingdom of the clinically unwell, to try to document this huge lump of concrete that proudly calls its self 'Yorkshire's fifth best city'.

My contact in Hull was local historian Mike Fotheringill, who I was to meet in Hull's most famous hostelry, The Nervous ferret.

Mike was a short bald man with a beard but that didn't put me off talking to him and minutes after meeting we were deep in conversation.

"Hull was founded here on the shores of the Humber around about the 8th century, Hull wasn't it's original name though."

"Was it not?

"Nah it was originally known by the Viking name of 'friesboogard stahl'"

"And what does that translate as?"

"Windy shit hole."

"So the city has had a bad reputation from the very beginning?"

"Oh yeah, the Vikings originally used it as a kind of mental health sanatorium."

"They built a hospital here?"

"Well not so much as a hospital, they mostly sailed up the Humber and dumped the mentally ill off here."

Mike finished the pint I had bought him only moments before and sat looking me in the eye while tapping the rim of his empty glass.

"Would you like another pint Mike?"

"Bloody hell I thought you'd never ask!"

After returning from the bar with Mike's vocal lubrication I asked "what are the people of Hull like?"
Mike drained half of the pint I'd just bought him, burped and said "Well we have a reputation as hard working, slightly quirky xenophobes with a distaste for spending."
"And is that reputation deserved?"
"On the whole I would say, yes but obviously you can't generalise about a whole city, my glass is empty by the way."
"Oh right, and do you think the people of Hull see themselves as very different from other people?"
Mike sat closed mouthed and feigned disinterest in me till I realised he was tapping the rim of is empty glass again.
"Can I get you another beer Mike?"
He immediately regained his animation "Oh that would be lovely your a real gent you are."

I returned a few minutes later with Mike's pint and placed it on the scratched table next to my untouched white wine and soda.
Mike eyed my drink suspiciously, before picking up his real man's drink and again draining most of it in one gulp.
"So mike, the people of Hull they see themselves as very different from the rest of Yorkshire?"
"Didn't they have any crisps?"
"Behind the bar, is their some kind of national crisp shortage I haven't heard about?"
"You want a bag of crisps?"
"Oh that would be lovely thanks, salt and vinegar please."
I shook my head and stood up, Mike quickly drained the rest of his pint."
"Might as well get me another beer while you're there."

I made my way carefully back to our corner table and placed mike's new pint and a bag of crisps before him.
"Just the one bag?"
"You wanted two?"
"Well, no I didn't particularly want two bags, but it might have been nice."
"You want me to go back and get you another bag??"
"No, no I wouldn't dream of asking you to go back just for another bag of crisps."
I bent to resume my seat.
"But if you are going back you could get me some pork scratchings as well."
"So you want another bag of crisps and a packet of pork scratchings?"
"Only if you're going."
I stood again.
Mike drained what was left of his drink "You might as well get me another pint while your there."

I placed Mike's refreshments before him and before he could request anything else I pressed him of the question of the characteristics of Hull people.
"Well I believe it comes from our isolation and our spiritual connection to the sea, you see this was a seagoing town, until Thatcher decided to give our fishing rights to the mighty island nation of Iceland, this city was one of the world's top fishing ports.
A community forged by the hardships of the North sea is bound to set its self apart from others because it takes a special sort of person to make a living from such a dangerous trade."
"But isn't Hull more famous for car theft and drugs offences?"
"Well now it is yeah, but even those occupations are quite dangerous, so it is a really a continuation of our proud tradition of undertaking dirty and dangerous work."
"And it's this that makes you look down upon outsiders?"
"We don't so much look down on them as pity them."
"Why would you pity outsiders?"
"Well it's like my old dad used to say 'Son, you're not clever, you're not good looking, you're not even mildly interesting, but you are from Hull so you'll do for me kid.' That sort of sums up the Hull peoples attitudes I think."
"So what your saying is that you're stupid,ugly, dull people but you live in a geographically isolated corner of nowhere and that makes you all very special?"

After managing to squeeze two more pints from me I said a fond farewell to Mike and his strange corner of nowhere.
Now wherever I go and whoever I meet in this strange world of ours, I will be eternally grateful that I will never again have any reason to visit 'Yorkshire's fifth best city'


deathsweep said...

Where can I get some tourism information on this place? Maybe boring, perhaps dull, but they obviously have good, cheap beer!

Aningeniousname said...

Unfortunately, tourism is no longer allowed in Hull due to the population's inordinate fear of strangers.