City of Culture

My neighbour, whose son was on the steering committee and is just returned from delivering the bid in Londonderry, announced the news this morning with uncontained delight. And I thought that bringing the Olympics to London was a long shot…

Kingston upon Hull. Perhaps not a city you’ve visited, perhaps not a city you intend to visit, not even ever! Were it not for the fact that I have roots here, I’m certain it’s a sentiment I would share. People of note are a bit thin on the ground – Philip Larkin, William Wilberforce and Amy Johnson head the list but when you discover that John Prescott and Maureen Lipman generally occupy the next few places, you realise that it’s a short one. And why would you go to Hull anyway, unless you were on your way to catch a ferry or got lost in Lincolnshire and were forcibly redirected over the bridge? It’s on the way to nowhere is it not? But in truth I have a strange affection for Hull and always have had. Many of my ancestors are from the city – my paternal Grandfather was the first curator of the Ferens Art Gallery, (one of the few standout pieces of architecture in an otherwise uniformly grey metropolis); a little oasis of colour and culture right at the heart of the city centre. My maternal grandparents, as children, remember seeing the zeppelins caught in the search lights during occasional bombing raids on the docks in the First War. The city was bombed most terribly during the Second, many of the grand civic buildings were spared but the hotchpotch of concrete that sprung up to replace the damage, the tenements and high-rises, the underpasses and multi-stories are as ugly as any in Britain. My Grandfather became Treasurer of the University at the same time that Larkin was the university librarian and my grandparents knew him well. I did a year’s Foundation Course at the College of Higher Education, a magical year in which I discovered art, creativity, self-expression for the first time. If ever there was city more ridiculed, and yet more deserving of this accolade, this opportunity to show what it can do, and more importantly what lies at the heart of it’s appeal, and always has… the folk who live there, it’s Hull. ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’, Betjeman could have been writing about Hull. Instead we have Larkin who made Hull his home for the last 30 years of his life and who, in spite of his taciturn and misogynistic outlook on life, has become synonymous with the city. David Mark, in his debut novel, Dark Winter, described Hull ‘as a city on its arse’ and in recent article for the Guardian writes’ It’s not the prettiest of places, and the wind that tumbles in from the sea can eat through to your bones, turning the citizens into gargoyles as they wince into the gales’. But David has lived in and around the city for 12 years, he probably has the same strange fondness for it that Larkin did… that I do.

“Come on you Ull” they shout every second Saturday at the KC Stadium. Come on indeed, here’s to 2017, here’s to all the hard work that got us here and to all the hard work between now and then to get the old girl ready. Perhaps finally, it’s time to revise the joke book and abandon the well worn clichĂ©s.

Congratulations to Hull. Named City of Culture for 2017, yesterday!

Ben Galloway

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