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Mega trawler - even Hull didn't have them this big when it had a fleet.

Fishing boats and seagulls, Hull and Hastings

HOT reporter Joe Fearn lived in Hull from 1990 to 1993 when studying philosophy at Hull University. He has recently moved back to Hull after four years in both St Leonards and Hastings. Here Joe compares life in North Humberside then and now, and also compares Hull to life in East Sussex.

There’s a funny moment in Rab C Nesbitt when Rab, on holiday in Spain, acknowledges his doppleganger with the words, “Look! Shite like me!” It is equally honest to recognise that the chav in Hull looks and acts much the same as his counterparts in St Leonards and Hastings. Hull’s most famous poet, Phillip Larkin, remarked on such people: “Hours giving evidence or birth”. Whether or not you approve of Larkin or his poetry, it is possible to agree that he simply called it as he saw it, just as did the philosopher Rab. So, in this tradition of uncomfortable honesty, I intend to do just the same.

Ignorant southerners talking about ‘the industrial North’ will nevertheless probably know that both Hastings and Hull are steeped in the history of the British fishing industry. What is less known is that the entire Hastings fleet could be carried inside a few of Hull’s massive trawlers. Whereas Hastings’ small beach-launched fishing boats bring home the odd netfull, the day’s catch from a Hull trawler is measured in tonnes. Also less well-known is that the entire Hull fishing industry was wiped out by a stroke of the pen in Brussels.

When I first lived in Hull the dock area was a scary place. Here is a poem I wrote in 1991, after I went there with young students for a night out. It was published by Smith Doorstop Press.

Among the Locals

We talked of Evolution,

from the first ‘plip’ to the final ‘plop’

in the bar down by the docks,

Darwin’s waiting room was full.

‘Real men’ jokes prompted your gay brother’s wicked haiku:

‘The Isle of man

Homosexual

is banned from

entering Douglas’.

Two graduates of the Martin Bormann charm school

“Liked your tits”

And I could hear your essay: ‘Spitting on Hegel’

ticking away in your rucksack.

 

When intimidation got too much I swore profusely and informed the patrons that I worked down the mines from leaving school, so they couldn’t lecture me. Things calmed down a little and I had time to notice all the missing fingers, the terrible arthritis, the artificial leg or two, the hard ruddy faces. I realised one of the reasons that this country won two world wars was because of such men. The EU fishing quotas (and plenty would say unjust legislation) wiped out Hull’s once mighty fishing industry. I went back to the same pub yesterday afternoon. A slight breeze cooled office workers’ coffee at the tables outside. Cafes and restaurants now ring the perimeter. I walked round the corner to Holy Trinity Church, and sat on one of many tree umbrella’d benches in the pleasant plaza near a building advertised as a ‘hands-on’ museum. I pondered post Thatcher Britain. At one jobshop all the vacancies are in Polish. An agency in town had vacancies for jobs with titles like ‘outreach worker,’ ‘project officer,’ ‘minorities worker,’ ‘solutions enabler’. Many people work for an agency that is funded to dig a hole and another group gets funding to fill it in. Government-funded self-preservation societies are everywhere. Nobody makes anything here anymore. The same can be said of East Sussex.

Hull dock area is now labelled ‘Hull Old Town’ on big brash blue banners draped across the quaint narrow cobbled streets. There are seagulls, oh how I’d hoped to escape seagulls.

Hull Old Town.

There are artist’s studios, a pub on every corner, and a thriving café society has developed. However, I can’t help but make comparisons with Parkgate steelworks in Rotherham, which produced the materials for the war effort, and employed thousands through the 1960s and 1970s, which is now Meadowhall Shopping Centre. Yes, it all looks lovely, and visitors from London are gobsmacked, but many locals remember and experienced its previous input and role. I never want to visit a mining museum, but Southerners are no doubt fascinated. My friend Emma was married to a miner. When Emma did her degree as a mature student, Billy came to visit her in her hall of residence, and the young students came out to look at him!

 

 

Ferens Art Gallery – bigger than the Jerwood.

There is an impressive Maritime Museum. Hull has umpteen museums and art galleries, including Ferens Art Gallery, which is twice as big as Jerwood in Hastings, and houses a permanent collection in several rooms as well as frequent exhibitions from internationally exhibited artists. Then there is the famous Hull Truck New Theatre, etc. The art-led redevelopment of Hull is well documented, and it’s no surprise that it has been shortlisted for European City of Culture status.

I find North Humberside a bit weird. The Humber Bridge spans the river in one single grip, quaint villages have street names like Gingerbread Close and Marmalade Avenue (or look as if they do), and people who wear Harris Twee pose outside Georgian houses that have insulation made from 17thC human hair behind the brickwork. It is all so like Hebden Bridge, that place near Leeds which once housed mill workers aged eight through into old age, now home to writers and artists and the chattering class. Hull is now similarly packed to the rafters with poets, writers, artists, lawyers, solicitors and managers of software companies who take on work experience interns before they hitch-hike around Europe after finishing at Uni. Whatever happened to the white working class?

I decided to walk through the council estate hidden in full view of people driving down the long main road into Hull town centre. Rab’s colonial cousins were in evidence straight away. I was the cynosure of all eyes. Then, just as it used to be for me progressing up London Road in St Leonards, I got a gobful of abuse from men drinking from cans, sat on doorsteps as women shrieked at their side. I couldn’t get the gist since it was in yob-speak. I was ‘bludclot’ and ‘fat something’ (my being overweight was also a huge crime to chavs in Hastings). Kids roared around on stripped-down illegal motorbikes. At the central children’s playground, young women pushed mixed-race toddlers on the swings. Polarization is obvious. Labour MP Frank Field, the coalition government’s ‘Poverty Tsar,’ said recently in the Daily Mail that he understood the white working class were disenfranchised and suggested they should attend a citizenship ceremony, alongside immigrants, led by a registrar. During the ceremony, applicants for citizenship must take an oath of allegiance, and pledge to respect Britain’s ‘rights and freedoms’. I can just see him running away from a gang of shaven-headed pursuers while glancing backwards to shout, “It’s O.K. I know why you are doing this.”

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Hull. A good aspect is that the cost of living here is way low. Fish and chips is generally around three quid. A pub meal is £6.45 for TWO diners! A pint of mild can be had for a quid. Guinness is £2.30. Those cute Georgian houses can be bought for around 50K. To rent a posh ex-warehouse apartment at docklands overlooking the River Hull will set you back around £325 to £395 a month. However, in Hastings, housing benefit would be £92 a week, whereas in Hull they will offer £56 a week. Also a Hull private landlord who accepts JSA is very rare, which is why I’m renting a room in a student house and paying £40 every fortnight to make the rent. If I ever get a permanent job, a flat with commanding riverside views will look tempting. It’s not easy though. The same cruel game is played out in Hull as it was in Hastings. My supervisor at the Jobcentre said, “Why have you come to Hull? Hull has record unemployment.” Then a short time after he said that there were plenty of jobs out there if I cared to look. He observed that I had been with the government agency Avanta, and now I had limited options left, and pushed a leaflet about Workfare in my direction. He is obviously looking forward to the £2,000 bonus he will receive for forcing someone to sign up for the Workfare programme. (I talked my way out of it but had to sign up for an ’employability course’). 

There is now a whole industry of people and businesses living off the backs of the unemployed. The business that takes on an unpaid worker on the workfare scheme now receives £2,750 per placement from the taxpayer. Hardly anyone knows (or cares) about the true reality of it all. The definition of a successful parasite is one whose existence is unknown to its host (my thanks go to David Francis and the anti-workfare campaigners of Hastings). Hull is a great place to live if you have a job with a good income. But the same can be said of most cities. The disenfranchised, however, live in a parallel world that only gets noticed in the “Hours giving evidence or birth”.

Posted 11:45 Sunday, Jul 14, 2013 In: Home Ground

1 Comment

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Kay

    Hastings did itself a bad turn the day it inspired Joe Fearn to up sticks and leave town.

    Comment by Kay — Monday, Aug 5, 2013 @ 08:28

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