20 November 2013. I’m getting into the car around 7.45am to go to work and have the radio on, waiting for the engine to warm up. The radio is being broadcast live from Hull Truck Theatre, where hundreds of people are gathered, and have been since the earliest of hours, waiting for an announcement. It came. The radio suddenly got very loud. People were shouting with energy beyond what I could comprehend for this time in the morning. I got a bit emotional. Hull had been awarded City of Culture 2017, and officially been given the status that would change it from a cheap northern city, famous for fishing, to a cheap northern city, still famous for fishing, and home to some of the most inspiring cultural projects around.
Fast forward 14 months. There are countless independent theatre companies putting on shows to a growing loyal audience in unique venues, there seems to be a different festival on every weekend, there are showings of world cinema films and Oscar nominees coming out of council estates. There is something to do, pretty much every day of the week, every week of the year. Music, theatre, dance, more music, film, festivals, art, literature, spoken word, comedy. There is real, genuine, accessible culture. And it’s not as though nobody gives one about 2017, far from it. Hull is shouting it out from every corner. But the city has collectively mustered a silent agreement that there is little reason to wait. 2017 is now. 2017 is already happening, and it’s transforming this sleepy little city at the end of the M62, where train drivers announce through their tannoys that all passengers should disembark, that there is nowhere beyond here, and nothing more to see.
Back to when I was a kid: I was in my first years of secondary school. A new exciting place was being built. It would be called Kingswood. There would be a third Asda! Matalan, Holiday Hypermarket and WH Smith filled large shopping units and all our mums wanted to be there every Saturday. Wasn’t it exciting? Then the big one. Hollywood Bowl. Just across the roundabout from the shops, we now had somewhere to go. I think the whole city’s under 18 population found it hard to contain their excitement at the news. There would be an air hockey table, for Christ sake! We thought it was amazing, and spent all our money on the bus fare to take us there. And that was it. We’d done the fish trail ten times by the time we were six, we’d chosen playing in the tenfoot on rollerblades over East Park, and the pit? Well, that was just for the mosher kids.
By the time I was 18 I was sick to death of the place. Trains dragging people reluctantly in from Leeds and Manchester would show the wasteland and rubbish-filled yards on their slow trundle past the infirmary. For some reason, there was half a house, inner walls exposed to the elements, peeling wallpaper and all, on display like a bad museum exhibit to the passengers with nothing else to look at. It was embarrassing to tell people at university where I was from. The look they always gave you told you everything ‘isn’t it really shit there?’. Yeah, for the most part, it was. There’ll be plenty that disagree, say it was always a lovely place. But lovely is different. It was homely, it was friendly, and it was cheap. That doesn’t make it a great city, it makes it a fairly indifferent place to live.
Things changed, people changed, feelings changed. Someone, somewhere, decided to do something about it, and quietly, things got better. Now, better is no longer good enough. Hull is the best! Bigger, stronger cities still call out ‘we have more jobs, better graduate prospects’, and they always will. We’re not the south, but just try and find a single person here that wants to be. Hull is its own place, with its own unique sense of pride, and to leave now, just as it’s getting started feels like sitting down to watch the best film of the year, only to have to leave before the trailers have finished.
- With thanks to Hull Independent Cinema Project, who set one of the best examples possible.