TODAY I am off to Hull for a spot of work. Despite having lived fairly close for 27 years, I have been there only once. And that was to visit the Deep, so I have never set foot in the city proper.
There is something spirit-lifting about an expedition, even if is only an hour on the train to Hull. My guide for the day is the crime writer Nick Quantrill, a proud man of that sometimes downtrodden city. “I’ll meet you next to the statue of Philip Larkin in the station because that feels fitting,” says Nick in his email.
Another crime writer with Hull links, David Mark, once described Larkin as that “grumpy bugger who looked like Eric Morecambe”. He also pointed out that Larkin was one of the most celebrated poets of the last century, winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal for poetry, and a man who turned down the job of Poet Laureate.
Larkin was known for his “piquant mixture of lyricism and discontent” – a man who half-filled his glass with the beautiful and the sour. He didn’t exactly fall over himself to praise Hull, calling it “as good a place to write in as any”. But he stayed there long enough, so he must have liked something about the place.
Another poet, Peter Porter, calls Hull “the most poetic city in England”. Perhaps today I shall find out if that is true or if the scowling presence of Larkin still lingers like a sea fret.
Hull is City of Culture 2017. The honour was seen as a joke by some, including that noted cultural commentator Freddie Flintoff, who tweeted about the announcement: “It’s not April Fool’s Day is it?”
No it wasn’t; just Freddie’s a fool day. Hull has been having the last laugh and I suspect that guffaw will rise next year, mixed perhaps with the occasional salted growl of discontent in honour of Larkin.
The coastal city does lay claim to another man of words, the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, whose most famous poem was To His Coy Mistress. I studied the poem at A-level and fragments still roam around my mind like those specks that float before the eyes. When I first wrote a crime novel it was called A Fine And Private Place in honour of the poet, and the policeman hero was called Marvell, so there you go. Unpublished, sadly.
Here are a few other things I know about Hull: Hull Truck Theatre; the phone boxes used to be white; Maureen Lipman comes from there; John Prescott used to be the MP and developed a binge-eating problem in part because of Mr Chu’s in Hull – “My favourite Chinese restaurant in the whole world… I could eat my way through the entire menu,” he once said.
Oh, and the Deep, which is great but I am looking forward to learning more about Hull than that dockside attraction. I have heard too about the street called Land Of Green Ginger, but that’s about it.
Ah, I have forgotten William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist, who was born in Hull. There are bound to be other gaps too. The Housemartins maybe.
Ah, yes, and the Hull Daily Mail, which yesterday published one of those silly “we’re better-than-you” stories attacking York under the headline: “Is Hull Better Than York?” Not according to the paper’s own scorecard which declared the contest an honourable draw. I suspect my old newspaper is already preparing a riposte to that one.
But pardon me, for I am off to look for a tall crime writer standing next to a statue of Philip Larkin.