By Christine Palmer
I had hoped to be able to proudly relate in this blog how I had just walked across the Humber Bridge.
We live in France where we run a small business and our only opportunity to holiday together is in the winter or early spring. This year we decided to take a nostalgic trip to Yorkshire, where Graham comes from. Over the years we have visited most of the county, but neither of us had been to Hull, the 2017 UK City of Culture.
When we mentioned to friends we were going to Hull, there was always an ambiguous response such as “Why?”, or “Actually you’ll find it very interesting”, both accompanied by a less-than-jolly chuckle.
“There’s nowt wrong with Hull,” my husband would reply.
As we drive past Sheffield on the way north his accent becomes distinctively Yorkshire, and by the time we reach Leeds his vowels have become truly rounded akin to Gromit.
But he’s right that there’s nowt wrong with Hull. Its people are friendly, funny and rightly proud of their city. Arriving at our hotel, Graham went to get a trolley for our cases only to find it was chained to a railing. When he asked why, the receptionist replied: “Welcome to Hull. It’s a great place, but our homeless can be rather more enterprising than in most cities.”
That night we ate in one of many wonderful fish restaurants you can find along the modernised docks. The fishing industry may have gone into a heavy decline, but you can still feast on fresh local fish caught by the boats you see along Fish Dock. Our taxi driver back to the hotel drove us around the historic part of Hull – “for no extra charge” – stopping at various places to regale us with historical tit bits.
In the morning, when we crossed the main square with its elegant Victorian buildings, we were amazed to see one blade from a modern windmill suspended high across the square. Allegedly, the people of Hull had not been given prior warning of this addition to their city, and the gigantic blade had been erected overnight. Whether you approve of or dislike these windmills, their blades are huge and so sculptural that a solitary one deserves to win the Turner Prize.
As we gazed up at it, a man approached us selling a book of jokes that he had personally written. “It’s not for charity,” he explained. “It’s for me, trying to make a living, and they are good.”
We had a choice of two.
“Are you a feminist,” he asked me, “because if you are, you’d better not take the ‘blue’ one.”
“Give me a sample,” I said, and he did.
I laughed so much I bought the ‘blue one’ for three pounds.
Like his jokes, he was warm, hilarious and immensely proud of Hull, and the fact that Prince Charles and Camilla had visited the day before.
We went for coffee afterwards and laughed out loud at all the jokes in the book. This is one of the more respectable ones:
A plane is about to crash. A woman takes off her clothes and shouts: “Will some man make me feel like a woman before it’s too late.” A man immediately jumps up and takes off his shirt, saying, “Iron this for me love."
Our next stop was the newly refurbished Ferens Art Gallery. I love art galleries, but they can often be rather daunting, but the Ferens is the perfect size. All the glossaries to the pictures are simple, clearly written and at eye-level. Along with the impressive collection of paintings, there is a whole gallery for local artists, and a large children’s room. But most importantly there are plenty of beautifully designed chairs to sit on. The gallery staff are charming and happy to talk. We asked one guide if he’d spoken to Prince Charles the day before, and he said HRH had asked him how he remembered all the details of the art works. He explained that over the years he had learned on the job, to which Prince Charles replied, “Best way, that’s the way I’ve done it.”
So, the Humber Bridge. You sort of approach it at a right angle, so it’s fairly late before you realise just how big it is. I had checked that you could walk over it without having to pay a toll. But when I finally realised how long it was, the fact that it was misty and rainy gave me the perfect excuse to remain comfortably in the car.
It is immensely impressive, with a real wow factor, so for me another good reason to return to Hull.