"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
We all need reinvention, re-branding or a change of mood. These changes can correct misconceptions, whilst opportunities for advancement are sought. If for no other reason Hull’s status as ‘City of Culture’ must be embraced. Yes, the concept is alien to some. Southern metropolitan types, who cannot see beyond their silo, expressed disdain at the proposal. Even the stoic people of Hull - if they’re honest - will admit to doubts and having a chuckle. Bloody daft idea!
Yet, if any place needed a rebranding it's Hull. Long suffering, it sits on the A-list for unwelcome socioeconomic factors. Teenage pregnancy, single-parent families and chlamydia a few of the highlights. These and others seized upon by the media to feed a narrative of a failing northern town.
No mention then of the city’s fine history. Its accomplished university, art galleries, museums nor the thriving theatre scene. Of course, none of these supports the negative agenda driven media version. Moreover, and after all, its far easier to denigrate then see a diverse city with much colour and many hues.
That’s not to deny that Hull has its challenges. These are manifest and many. Some are of its own making, others the consequences of recent history. The city suffered terribly during World War II. Estimates suggest 80% of the housing stock was either destroyed or damaged. The sympathy extended to London and Coventry, was not given to Hull. It struggled in silence as a press blackout kept the damage under wraps. 'A Northern City raided' ... a simple message that gave no hint of the damage done.
Victory didn't feel that way for 1946 Hull. In desperate need of regeneration, its heart trashed. When rebuilding came, it was piecemeal. The population decamped to satellite estates. Greatfield, Longhill, Orchard Park and Bransholme all provided homes for heroes. Or, rather, that's what the slogans proclaimed. And at first, it was pleasant enough.
The sixties saw plenty of work. Optimism abounded. Then the fishing industry collapsed. Next industrial strife brought forth strike and factory occupations. A winter of discontent. Power cuts, a four-day week. The 1970s and 1980's were not good to Hull. Whilst the UK economy rebounded in the 1980s, Hull remained in a rut. Even the mighty Humber Bridge only brought marginal benefits.
Once busy thoroughfares, with an abundance of businesses, gave way to charity shops. Always a sign a city is in decline. Then the pristine housing estates slipped into isolated islands of despondent souls. No work, no aspirations, no hope. The residents sat bereft, their confidence gone. Crime flourished.
Those that could, decamped. Hedon, Cottingham, Swanland and villages too many to name became refuge from the city. Successive Labour Councils lacked the vision or the determination to address the issues. Ardent political positions, instead of the practicalities of running a city, prevailed. No one was pushing for investment.
Then slow at first, change came. The Marina- a project laughable to some- is now full of luxury boats. New river front apartments, overlooking street cafes, soon brought an upbeat mood. The bleak abandoned warehouses transformed. The city then rediscovered its history. Confidence is all about attitude - a sense of purpose returned.
Arriving by train this week, I sat beside academics venturing to explore the city. Pouring over the details of Charles I's rejection at the city gates in 1642. In muttered voice they conclude Hull is the start of the English Civil War. Sir John Hotham did the deed. Later standing accused of double dealing, he paid with his life. He and his son executed in the Tower of London.
And on it goes, the history is rich. William Wilberforce, who brought a halt to the slave trade; Mick Ronson, collaborator of David Bowie and actor Tom Courtney. There is too many to relate here. But don't worry Hull's not gone all PC on us with its Freedom festival. The 'Old Black Boy’ Pub still has not bowed to modern conventions with its off-colour sign.
Strolling the streets today in bright sunshine, you'd believe yourself in Amsterdam or Copenhagen. A positivity is evident, streets alive with people enjoying the scene. Buskers songs echo. Kids romp through the Victoria Square fountain as she looks on unimpressed.
So without hubris or unjustified pride, Hull has put on an honest face. Come see what's on offer. But come with an open mind, leaving your prejudices at the door.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.