I recently read another article debating whether or not Hull deserves its City of Culture status. This one was in the Independent. Its conclusion? Oh yes it does.
It’s quite popular these days to give Hull the thumbs up. In fact it’s more on-trend than hipster beards and big eyebrows . The thing is, it’s always been Hull. Nothing’s changed. I don’t imagine its sharpened its vowels or taken pattie and chips off the menu since getting its crown. It’s just that, finally, the nation has started paying attention.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve joked about it. I’ve told people not to flinch when they’ve asked where I’m from. But I’m allowed. It’s a part of who I am. I still cover my chips in American chip spice and I’m still in love with the actor I first met at Hull Truck Theatre.
I live in Newcastle now (said actor is a Geordie and there’s no way you’re getting one of them to leave the toon) but I still visit. However, my strongest memories date back over a decade from when I was a proper full time Hullite. So here’s a little trip down memory ten-foot. The places and people that I remember back in my Hull days.
Places are made by people. By the old guy Les from The Blue Lamp pub with his velvet jacket and silver trainers. By my neighbours to the left who kept a garden full of pigeons but still rescued my beloved cat from under the shed, gave her a saucer of milk then returned her home safe and sound – even though I was warned by the eccentric woman two doors down that ‘the pigeon fanciers’ probably killed said kitty. Speaking of cats from Hull, you often find they have extra thumbs, like my Phoebe did, and her ancestors before her. No idea why.
And then I moved to Ella Street – the busy one-way street that held its own festival. Neighbours threw open their doors and let people into their back yards to meet their pet rabbits and guinea pigs. Some even donated their sofa to the road-blocked street so people could enjoy a screening of an outdoor film in comfort. The people who lived locally opened up businesses at the bottom of the street – the funky Air hair salon, the wholesome Grain whole food store and the seriously cool Bed boutique.
You’d pop in for a hair colour and they’d bring you lunch and half a pint to keep you going while your foils were in. Or you could pop into Bed Boutique for a natter and a new vintage handbag while your colour was developing.
The people, the talent, the community – they’ve always been there.
I’ve already mentioned Bed Boutique. But there were tonnes of cool shops in Hull. Hepworth Arcade was a particularly good destination. It had Larry’s and Arcade Curios – the best spots for second hand bargains to cater for my transformation from a Roxette and Prince fan to a Courtney Love wannabe (anyone who knows me knows how ridiculous that notion is – I was such a quiet girl).
Then there was the famous Beasley’s where you could buy prison issue t-shirts and combat pants – in the days before All Saints brought them to Top Shop. Changes was practically next door – and that’s where you went for your club wear. And of course Space and Evolution – the home of skate/surf labels and upmarket club wear (I’ll never forget fitting into that tiny Sue Rowe lace dress when I was 18).
Since I left my friend Sarah temporarily opened up a cool pop up clothes and art shop on Princes Ave (the former home of Fanny’s second hand clothes shop and Pauline’s – run by Roland Gift’s mum) called Tide All that I had the pleasure of visiting after hours with a glass of wine on a trip back to my home town.
I’m not talking about the gaggle of girls you’d spot outside Oasis nightclub swaying on their stiletto heels or the luminous shirts that queued up outside LAs wreaking of Lynx. I discovered seriously interesting wildlife in Hull. In Pearson Park to be precise. It’s conservatory never failed to entertain me with its ‘pink fish with legs’. It’s the reason I still plead my other half to let us buy an axolotl.
And then there’s the Lovezebra – a horse statue that magically transformed overnight into a zebra in memory of DJ Lovezebra, a much loved local girl otherwise known as Louise who tragically drowned while travelling. The zebra came to be thanks to her close friends and some early guerilla art.
I remember leaving Hull with friends one night and heading to Whitby for a change of scenery. As last orders rang we all piled into the takeaway and were horrified when we were greeted with a bag of yellow chips. If you come from Hull, there’s only one colour your chips should be – pink. American Chip Spice is a Hull thing. And sure, it might be full of MSG but Oh. My. God. Throw some mozzarella on top of your pink chips and you’re in serious food heaven (Asian Kitchen did the best cheesy chips).
Of course, there’s the pattie butty and chips too. A kind of herby potatoey event covered in batter, thrown into a buttered bread bun and served with….more fried potato.
But there was far more to life than pink chips. The Boar’s Nest on Prinny Ave was a bit lush. It was opened by the late chef Simon Rogers who learnt his trade at the Savoy in London. And a personal favourite of mine was the friendly little Russian cafe in town called Lena’s Deli. Lena did the best fat-free apple cake and was consistently over generous with the pesto on your sarnies. We experimented with nouveau cuisine in the old town at Venn bar where I first experienced gazpacho back in my naive early 20s, ordered Cosmopolitan’s and aspired to be like Carrie Bradshaw (I did say I was naive). And a firm favourite with my mates was Hitchcocks vegetarian restaurant – where the menu theme for the evening was chosen by the first person to book a table for the night.
But one thing I will always miss. KB’s takeaway. I know that is no longer there. You could literally order a vegetarian cooked breakfast with a huge slice of chocolate fudge cake and get it delivered to your doorstep early on a Sunday morning to soak up your cosmo induced hangover.
Why stress over whether you were a punk, an indie kid, a techno kid or a trendy when you could be all four with a jam-packed weekly club itinerary.
Tuesday night was indie night at Silhouette – and the first club I ever went to, after school on the 122 bus. The pride that emanated from me on a Wednesday morning in GCSE English class when I loudly announced to my school friends that I was ‘hungover’ after going clubbing.
Similar, in fact, to the pride I felt when I flashed the dirty Welly club stamp on the bank of my hand after a feeble attempt to wash it off.
Welly club used to be home to Shaft on a Friday night. Home of the cool kids. Acid jazz, trip hop and drum ‘n’ bass – a load of made up genre names to help you sound like you knew what you were on about. You knew where the acid jazz section in Syd Scarborough’s record shop was, but you asked the cool guy behind the counter anyway so he knew that you were in on the secret.
The Welly club was also home to Eat Your Words – a banging techno night that saw me ditch my heels (catalogue) and shift dress (Bay Trading Co) for a pair of Fila trainers, a lycra crop top and matching lycra mini skirt.
But the piece de resistance, scoring number 7 in Sky magazines best drinking venues, was
Spiders. Located slap bang in the middle of East Hull’s industrial estate, it served Pink Pugsley’s and Pangalactic Gargle Blasters in plastic pint glasses for about £1.50 each. You were seated in metal spider web cages, you danced to The Prodigy, Jilted John and Violent Femmes all in one night, and you rounded off the fun with a dirty burger from the van parked outside.
(I have conveniently forgotten to mention Pozition – a club that I rather embarrassingly loved for a time – dancing to cheesy RnB, thinking I was Beyonce. Let’s just pretend I did cool stuff OK).
Arts and Culture
I’ve already mentioned Hull Truck Theatre, but I’m going seriously bang on about it now. I worked there for a few years – my first job in PR. I was in my early 20s and luckily theatre life catered for my every need. ‘Must be prepared to work occasional weekends’ was a big fat bonus, because guest night on a Friday when a new show opened became my favourite night out (sorry Spiders). Clocking off and joining the cast and crew in the theatre bar post show until Brian the bar manager got sick of us, closed up and we all headed off to the Blue Lamp just down the road. Theatre people knew how to have fun – there was absolutely nothing stuffy about this place.
I remember the then Artistic Director, John Godber, standing at the doors one night watching the world go by as we waited to open a new version of his classic show Up n Under. John – who must be 6ft 5 and is built like a rugby player (the subject of Up n Under) just laughed when two little tracksuit clad anger machines walked by the building and shouted ‘pufter’ at him (which I’m guessing was because he was stood in a theatre doorway).
The work that theatre produced was amazing. Accessible yes (we had plays about rugby, bouncers, bus drivers and Elvis impersonators – the show which introduced me to my lovely husband, note – he wasn’t the impersonator) but the quality was top notch. I never laughed so hard as I did sitting in that auditorium. The venue was a bit clunky (I remember the box office manager once describing it as being ‘held together by sticky tape’) but the atmosphere in Spring Street Theatre (as it was originally known) was second to none.
When there was a compulsory purchase order put on the building we went through a rather interesting transition. I think we were the last building standing at one point, and the morgue across the road moved into our car park – we sat watching the fridges get dropped in by huge cranes as we had our cup of tea one morning. And it was great to see renowned theatre critics like Michael Billington visit the venue – especially when all around us was a building site yet inside the little building world-class theatre was being staged and Stowell’s wine was being drunk (remember that stuff fellow Truckers?). I do remember Michael Billington opened his review by talking about the buzz the place had. He was right.
It was the theatre for the people – where renowned playwright Richard Bean’s work was premiered to an audience that included reformed prisoners from Hedon Road. And that is exactly what theatre should be about.
So that’s my Hull. The one I remember. Much of this has gone now, things change, people move on. But you can bet your last pattie butty the spirit is still going strong. Of course it is. It’s Hull.
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