In my experience, there are no three words more likely to stop a conversation dead in its tracks than the words: “I’m from Hull.” I first discovered this phrases’ incredible talents in my first year at university when, whilst making idle conversation with complete strangers, those three words created many awkward silences. Some would nod their heads whilst trying to imagine Hull on a map and others would simply look blank.
My housemate was the first to actually come up with a response to this statement by simply asking “That’s the place with the bridge isn’t it?” Well, yes we do have a bridge but that doesn’t really narrow it down. What my less than eloquent housemate was referring to was the Humber Bridge, the seventh longest single span suspension bridge in the world and the gateway to Hull. It’s maybe not as fancy as the Golden Gate Bridge or even the Clifton Suspension Bridge but at least one person was able to actually refer to something from Hull.
The only other fact that friends would dredge up from their minds on Hull is perhaps its most famous accolade, Britain’s Crappest Town, won in 2003. They read the reports on the bad smells and bleak exterior and their opinions on Hull were made. So bridges and bad reputations were the order of the day for Hull but nearly 15 years later, I finally have the last laugh. The C-word has evolved and Culture, not Crap, is the focus as Hull prepares for its year in the spotlight as City of Culture 2017.
Perhaps Hull’s most famous accolade is Britain’s Crappest Town 2003 but culture, not crap, is the focus now
The theme for the year is the regeneration of Hull, bringing itself from out of the darkness to become a major player in the cities of England and crazily enough the UK’s front door. Really? The front door of the UK? That’s pretty ambitious for a city with an airport that flies to only 15 locations outside of England. The desire to improve the global reputation of Hull has potentially gone a bit too far but you have to admire their drive and determination. Plus, lets face it, ‘side entrance to the UK’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
So along with global recognition and improvement of reputation, a celebration of the quirky and unique nature of Hull has been set in motion for 2017. Branded ‘Hullness’ it encapsulates what might be considered the weirder sights of the city and those are plenty. One of these was the ‘Larkin with Toads’ exhibition, created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the death of Phillip Larkin. The poet resided in Hull and was inspired by the city, although having had his poetry described as having lowered sights and diminished expectations, perhaps this doesn’t reflect that well upon Hull.
Based upon his work Toads, 40 Toads each with their own design ranging from punk rockers, ‘Punkphibian’ to landmarks of Hull ‘Toad in the Hull’ were placed around the city. Trying to make the city look like it’s suffering the second plague of Egypt may seem crazy, but the extraordinary sight of decorated Toads on city streets resonated with the public and both tourism and a demand for public art increased.
Hull obviously works best with the outlandish and spectacular as ‘Larkin with Toads’ has proved, making their bid for 2017 even more exciting. Programmes such as the ‘Made in Hull’ Commissions Programme have been created to celebrate the best that northern artists have to offer. If poetry offers us Toads, god knows what artists will lead us to!
Trying to make the city look like it’s suffering the second plague of Egypt may seem crazy, but the extraordinary sight of decorated Toads on city streets resonated with the public
Another quirk worth a mention is that of The Deep. It is the world’s only submarium. If you’re thinking “what the hell is a submarium?”, you won’t be the only one. It’s the combination of aquarium and submarine and the name was created especially for the Deep, in order for it to have a unique selling point. Marketing ploy perhaps but the quirky application of ‘Hullness’ has led to three million visitors walking through the door. Quirk obviously works for Hull.
The fact that I am proudest to tell people about Hull and a shockingly rather unknown face is that Hull was the birthplace of William Wilberforce and this is the moment that your knowledge of British history is put to the test. Wilberforce was the leader of the anti-slavery movement in England which saw the trade finally abolished in 1807. Consequently the city has deep connections to the theme of freedom and boasts that as its greatest gift to the country, with The Beautiful South coming in a very close second.
The Freedom Festival was established in order to celebrate the link of the city with Wilberforce and has been running since 2008, collecting the best of artistic talent from music to theatre and displaying it for the city to see. The 2017 plans look no different, taking Freedom to the next level by doing everything and anything, from spectacular fireworks to aerial choreography. For nothing screams freedom more than throwing everything possible into the sky!
So in years to come, when I say that tainted phrase “I’m from Hull”, blank faces or weak bridge facts will be a thing of the past. Animated responses about the wonderful city that I am from will set off streams of conversations as my own knowledge of Hull is outstripped and surpassed. All will be singing the praises of the unique cream telephone boxes, the delicious taste of chip spice and the charming tones of that impossible to duplicate accent.
The evolution from crap to culture is beginning and Hullians are taking it in their stride, eager to show the world what they have. 2017 is going to be a crazy year for Hull. The plans are bold, quirky and fun and they will be pulled off in spectacular fashion, because after all, Hull is far from crap anymore