November 21, 2013


I’ve always thought it no coincidence that when I tell people where I went to university, most people think I’m saying “hole.” Back in that bleak and windy autumn term when we gathered for the first time in the rattling dining hall at the Lawns, the standard matt black union bar, or the towering Brynmor Jones library, we quickly sorted ourselves into soft shivering southerners who pronounced scone to rhyme with stone, and hardy northern types who were prepared to cycle into the wind on Cottingham Road. This was the only distinction that mattered.

For personal reasons that have surely been divulged before, Hull was my nearest university. It has been conveyed to me throughout my life that this was some sort of cop out. I presume that if my nearest university had been trendy Bath or frankly anywhere more prestigious than Hole, I might have been forgiven. Fact is I didn’t take my laundry home nearly as often as my roommate who had made the journey all the way from Derbyshire and was collected by her dad as often as she wanted. On the upside, my brother was close enough to take him to Spiders Nightclub for his birthday. Because most of the cocktails were milk-based, it seemed okay to supply them to one so young. I had my first cigarette in the union bar and my last in the Welly (the same night). I drank tea from red plastic teapots in the break between lectures. My mum gave me a slow cooker for my birthday and I had an illegal fridge under the sink in my room, and I learned to cook because I didn’t have enough money to buy ready meals (my roommate was a master of the Vesta Curry. She said the shops in Hole were shite, which they were, but we were the last year to get a government grant, and mine didn’t get topped up by my dad so shopping was never really a thing for me. We didn’t get along).

I’ve been back to Hole so many times, because as stated my family live nearby. It has never seemed quite so bleak as it did when I was a student. It has fancy new shopping centres and a pretty good aquarium. We took Bernard to see Cinderella with the Chuckle Brothers at Hull New Theatre 30 years after our dad took us to see Elkie Brooks there. Neither performance was flawless. A couple of decades ago Hole decided to celebrate its fishy heritage by adding sculptures and street art to do with fish, and you can walk around a trail of interesting areas that you simply would not otherwise see. Hole has a cultural heritage that includes Rick Astley and Roland Gift, Kingmaker, the Housemartins, and maybe also some good bands, who knows? It was the home of slavery abolitionist William Wilbeforce, and curmudgeonly poet Philip Larkin. Our very own Dr Pockless once had a picture in the Ferens Art Gallery, and Hull Truck Theatre brought you such plays as Bouncers, Up’n’Under and Teechers, which you might have heard of. Alumni of the university include notorious politician Tom Watson, notorious grouch Vaughan, and coincidentally my doula mentor also studied at Hole.

And that has exhausted all the nice things I have to say about the place. Your turn…


18 thoughts on “Hullaballoo

  1. Herself went to Hull Uni (well, Uni of Humberside) so I have memories of visiting, walking up Bev Road and leaning into the wind to what felt like a 45° angle without falling over.

    I didn’t mind it as much as some (Coventry is my own personal rating of hell/hole, along with Worcester) although I’ve only been back a couple of times.

    I also have memories of lots of weird takeaways along Bev Road – it seemed like for every three buildings there was at least a Greek and a Chinese takeaway.

    Weirdly, my brother also went to Hull, and I *think* lived in exactly the same house as Herself had a few years before. Certainly same street, and I’m 99% sure it was the same house number.

  2. Oh, I’d forgotten about the red plastic teapots in the Wheatsheaf ( enormous cafe that took over the whole second floor of the Student Union, for any non-Hullites reading). I probably spent most of my first and second year in that place, as my student houses were rather grim, and we had pretentious Drama student meetings there too. It was such a shame when they ‘modernised’ it into some bland airport-style cafe – and replaced the red plastic teapots with individual cups of tea, as I remember. Pah.

    I’ve no great sentimental attachment to Hull – I’ve only been back twice in the 20 years since graduating (and both those occasions were in 1994/95, for tutor meetings with my regrettably terminated PhD), but the jokes and snobbery about the place do make me, I suppose, a little protective in arguing its case.

    I did actually drink cheap beer with Tom Watson once, in 1992, although I don’t think either of us knew who the other was (since I didn’t take any interest in Student Union politics). This was at a house party on Spring Bank – a house that, a year later, when a different bunch of friends was living it, was condemned and the residents forced to move out after the toilet fell through the rotten floor and nearly landed on someone in the living-room.

    I’ll confess the town doesn’t stick in my memory much. I liked exploring the Old Town, and I loved a particular tatty record shop in that area that became my regular haunt for buying albums that I couldn’t really afford by sulky, monosyllabic indie bands of the era. Spring Street Theatre, then the home of Hull Truck, was a favourite place to see good plays, and I loved the Tower Ballroom (since closed, I hear) for seeing bands. Far better than the legendary Adelphi, which was pretty much the size of someone’s living-room.

    I think my favourite Hull fact from my time there – which I’m sure I’ve adjusted to be far more poetic – is that the Royal Station hotel, just by the station, had a serious fire which destroyed much of the building within a couple of days of me arriving in the city in October 1990. I seem to recall – though this is where my imagination might be playing tricks on me – that it didn’t completely reopen until I was about to finally leave Hull again in July 1993. (Feel free to correct me on dates and assure me that I wasn’t responsible for the death and resurrection of the place.)

  3. Oh yes I remember the Station Hotel burning down, though I can’t remember exactly when. And clubbing at The Tower. And the Wheatsheaf, yes, thanks for filling that gap.

  4. As Universities go, I’ve always thought of Hull as quite a good one. Or, at least, like much in the city, certainly better than you’d expect. The only reason I never would’ve considered going there is that it seemed to me that the point of University was to get as far away from home as possible. I also chose by course, and spent three years convinced my friends in Manchester and Leeds were having a better time than me.

    My love of Hull is mostly based on the fact that it wasn’t the dreary seaside town we grew up in. In fact, in comparison, with its clubs and galleries and record shops, it was very much the City of Culture. It was where I went to spend really quite a surprising amount of money on records, mostly in Offbeat, which was in the Old Town, but definitely wasn’t tatty. There were plenty of record shops where my Headcoats vinyl could be had from old cardboard boxes, but Offbeat was close to the Marina in some sort of red brick conversion, underneath Function One, which supplied all your Goth footwear needs.

    I’ve met people from Hull or who attended Hull University all over the World (or, at least, all over the UK, and in little bits of Eastern Europe) and the one thing that we’ve immediately been able to bond over is Spiders nightclub. But I have a softer spot for a small terraced house n De Grey street which remains one of England’s finest independent music venues. I saw PJ Harvey there and many more somewhat less prestigious acts. Bomb Disneyland. Radical Dance Faction. The Moonflowers. Visiting almost weekly, I didn’t care if I saw the occasional duff band at The Adelphi, because every once in a while, the likes of Blaggers ITA would come through and blow my little mind.

    I could go on, but I’m on a deadline…

  5. And I’d completely forgotten the picture in Ferens. …But wasn’t it a picture inspired by a painting at Ferens, which actually hung in the Posterngate Gallery?

  6. I think you will find, Lyle, that the University of Humberside is the poly next door to the University of Hull.

  7. Yes, Karen, it is. Hence the correction/explanation. It’d become “Uni of” instead of “Poly” that year, I think.

  8. I’m been to paradise but I’ve never been to Hull. But Harrogate is over that way somewhere and that is the coldest place in Britain. That is all I know.

  9. Gawd, I’d forgotten about Blaggers ITA. I had their album on cassette. No idea where it is now.

  10. Ah, Pockless reminded me of the name of that record shop. Offbeat. Of course. And yes, I may have been poetically imagining the tattiness. Gosh, my ageing memory is playing tricks on me these days.

    And in fairness to The Adelphi, which I criticised in my earlier comment, it was the first place I saw Cardiacs (hmm, 1991?) shortly after discovering them. I think my impression of it being like a tiny living-room may have been because of Cardiacs’ enormous sound – it felt a bit like seeing a stadium band playing a phone box. (A cream-coloured phone box, naturally.)

  11. No, it was definitely like seeing them in a tiny living room. That was precisely its charm. I’ve seen PJ Harvey play a tiny living room and The Albert Hall, and I know which I prefer. Also, if you frequented The Adelphi around ’91, we were probably there at the same time at some point.

  12. Elkie Brooks is an amazing singer. Her concerts are always flawless. She is the U.K.s finest female singer.

  13. I’m glad that’s been picked up, it was the most important point in this post.

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