Hull: City of Culture 2017. In the year it dawned on some that the game will soon be up for European-supported cultural cities, Kingston-Upon-Hull embraced it. I stepped off Hull Trains for a weekend and my first visit to that patch of the East Riding.
It was quick step around Hull, loosely demanded by some deadlines; governed by one remit: sample a distinct slice of culture across multi-media across one weekend. I popped up at the start of October when events were heading from peak to wane. It was too late to attend the live recordings brought by the BBC’s mini-festival. it was a light kick to the teeth when alighting a train with a head half still back in the South East. But this is the City of Culture, so where better to miss something only to find something else?
In the heart of the city’s library, a BBC Writer’s Room session kicked off with a thoughtful intro. I’m two scripts and many one-liners into some failed submissions, but for a quiet room, and a free event, there were grains of inspirational gold.
From Hull Central Library, I left one bookend and booked into John Godber’s Kings of Hull. With my Rugby League and Brid-rivalry knowledge lacking, at times it was like sitting in a huge in-joke, at others, total immersion therapy. I laughed along, as humour rise above these things, and the bathos and pathos shone through on the single set, through multiple generations and flashbacks. There was even a song dedicated to Spiders – the ever-more infamous nightclub I’m pleased to report I’ve still not visited 15-odd years on from first hearing of it. An impressive space the New Hull Theatre, despite the bar service being out of whack, no doubt deterring me from Spiders, and an evening far better than any city tour.
A new day, and having not been poisoned nor kept awake all night in a haunted hotel 20 minutes from the city centre, I realised how optimistic my targets for the day were. Horrifically far apart: How dare Hull be so bloody big? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But I sauntered into town to the Ferens Art Gallery, making up for not attending the Turner Prize the day before, by stepping into the superbly curated exhibition first. 2017 was a good year.
At the metaphorical, cultural crossroads, I headed east. To East Park to be exact, for a necessary pilgrimage. On the cans was Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the park lies the Michael Ronson Reflection Graden, at its centre a beautiful tribute to the legendary son of Hull unveiled earlier this year. An eight foot, lightning bolt-branded metallic guitar, designed by a very talented local student. Naturally.
The bands listed around the base are hardly exhaustive, a reminder, in negation, far more effective than my earlier Mick Ronson week’s failure to take in his full breadth of work. Now was the real trek, as the album changed to Aladdin Sane. Looping around Hull, I headed to the university and the final day of the ambitious and divisive Philip Larkin exhibition. Not only focusing on items reclaimed from his house but reconstructing his bookshelves and record collections. Of course, the shells of his diaries were there – their innards burned away as per his testament, alongside legion stuffed envelopes yet to be documented. An exhibit that helpfully suggests the light and the dark in the centre of the building that remains a major legacy. Another excellently branded library exhibition, most effective when representing the slim volumes of his oeuvre on shelves, dwarfed by committee minutes, just as he once wrote.
In-between books, trinkets, below a hanging tie tree and some fabulous(ly bizarre) poems and sketches some visitors had mocked up, were select quotes from his letters. One fabulous one was typically bullish about the passing of HG Wells.It’s one that everyone should memorise, whether you agree with it or not, and use as often as possible:
“He couldn’t bastard write, he couldn’t bastard think, what he could bastard do was write bastard good scientific bastard romances, the bastard”. (Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, ed. Anthony Thwaite)
Had he known about this exhibition, Larkin would have likely been quite furious. I completed the loop back from the university to the station at the centre of town. By now the Bowie era had slipped on to Lodger, and through the russet leaves it’s the through of Larkin’s anger I took back to the poet’s statue, greeting and disptching visitors to Hull every day.
Well played Hull, well played.
A step around Hull: City of Culture 2017