Tag Archives: home

City of Culture

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Home, I learned, can be anywhere you make it. Home is also the place to which you come back again and again.

Margaret Mead

I said my roots found it hard to get established anywhere but in fact my roots are definitely here in the north of England, and in particular, the city of Kingston Upon Hull with which I have a very love/hate relationship. I am immensely proud of Hull’s tenacity, independence (we have insulted Kings and Queens – Victoria and William of Orange sit on top of public toilets whilst Charles 1st was turned away from our gates at the start of the Civil War), history (yes, even the bad bits – slavery and whaling give us depth and colour); and famous ancestors – poets like Andrew Marvell, Phillip Larkin (remember the Toads?), politicians such as Wilberforce, actors like Maureen Lipman (I went to school with her, though she was older than me) and John Alderton, musicians such as the Housemartins/Beautiful South and Roland Gift – a whole cultural plethora of them.

I adore Hull’s buildings such as our elegant Georgian old town, the modern city heart rebuilt after war-time devastation (the most bombed city outside London and we don’t let Coventry claim otherwise, sorry) with buildings from Georgian to 50s Art Deco; refurbished dockland warehouses to innovative Malls, one built on stilts over an old dock; our graceful yet practical tidal barrier; a modern new travel interchange; refreshing green spaces in the city centre, and many parks scattered throughout with tree lined streets that radiate around this semi-circular city (causing traffic chaos at the hint of the wrong kind of snow or a broken down vehicle). All perched on the beautiful, multi-moody River Humber (not a river at all but a tidal estuary – see my poetry) with its famous suspension bridge, once the longest on earth, and strangely patterned mud flats glistening and sparkling in midday sun or midnight moonlight, respectively.

            But I get exasperated by the inhabitant’s insular approach to life, the bad decisions made by politicians that have led to massive unemployment following the decline in the fishing industry, and the continuing closure of factory after factory. Still it’s my city and I love it. I have lived and worked here all my life, brought children into the world here, contributed to supporting disadvantaged people with my charity and social work, set up support groups, got involved in fighting for different causes, enjoyed its wide variety of culture and educational opportunities. Now I enjoy semi-retirement here, spending time showing my grandchildren the city’s delights, and proudly nodding when outsiders say how down to earth and friendly we are.

We get attacked regularly from London based journalists (Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location that dubbed Hull the worst place to live – its not, without actually coming here of course) but even that pales into insignificance by one devastating attack – that of the environment itself when Hull was badly flooded in the monsoon-like rains of June 2007. Once again though, that Hull-born tenacity came to the fore as residents rose to the challenge that saw whole families reduced to living in caravans (to add to any educational disadvantages school children now had to face GCSE exams having nowhere to revise but a caravan bunk-bed). Several years on and some families are still in temporary accommodation, fighting sluggish insurance companies and grasping builders who saw an opportunity to do a bad job for good money.

More environmental disaster as the winters of 1009/10 and 2010/11 brought arctic conditions that froze pipes and struck the roads full of potholes. Yet the Hull spirit rose to the challenge with neighbours helping neighbours dig out the drives and pathways, and get the shopping in. Yet even in this northern outpost, during weather to rival Siberia, tiny signs of life pushed the cycles of the seasons ever on as snowdrop bulbs pushed through the frozen soil and mistletoe sprouted from my apple tree trunk.

But the patient city weather victims were/are still happy to relish in other successes and subsequent failures. So – good for you Hullites, with your two exceptional Rugby teams (Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers – we went to Wembly once (and since but not together as we did that one amazing time), the police in London feared rival gangs at such a high profile derby game but couldn’t believe their eyes to see HKR and HFC fans eating in pubs, cafes etc together, no trouble AT ALL; most of Hull went – someone hung a banner on the overhead footbridge at the western edge of the city, saying “last one out turn off the lights” – that’s our local humour); and then there’s the mixed fortune football team Tigers (more about them later) with their brand new sports stadium (doubling up as a much needed pop concert venue) sponsored by the once and only independent communications company in the country, till privatisation and market forces opened up hundreds of new telecom business opportunities, for better or worse. The unusual-in-sport HKR/HFC friendliness showed its head again recently, when the teams played together. One team just wanted to win (HFC); the other NEEDED to win (HKR) to stay in the Super League. Everyone cheered when Hull Kingston Rovers won, it meant both teams could continue to play against each other in the Super League – more derbies especially the traditional boxing day match – tradition survives. This rival friendliness, or friendly rivalry, is unheard of elsewhere I understand, but is typically Hull, and I love it.

Back to our mixed fortune football team – up and down the leagues – but suddenly finding itself in the Premier League for the first time in its history, playing the giants, and for one brief glorious shining moment, third in the league above many globally famous teams! Even the great Man U underestimated them. What other team has been to Old Trafford and LOST 4:3! It was a brief heyday as two years on – relegation, financial ruin and manager misdemeanours taint the dream – but things change – owners, managers, players and fortunes – to see us in 2013 back where we belong – the Premier division.

Hull, as a city, cannot seem to win: we are the forgotten city, with decaying factories, desperate social problems – being at the bottom of just about every league table from health to education. There is very little investment in the city, and help was exceptionally slow to arrive, for instance, during the summer floods and winter freezes, leaving families living in dreadful conditions months, nay years on. A global recession and political chaos are not helping. The government refuse to abolish the Humber Bridge debt (rising by thousands of pounds per day they say though its expensive tolls have been cut by half) in order to improve commercial networking and free trade; the council are hesitating to sell the KC stadium to a local entrepreneur which could bring prosperity and life to the very run down area surrounding the stadium.

Yet our population remain some of the most positive, resourceful, friendly, do-anything-for-you people I’ve ever met. And there are glimmers of light on the horizon with foreign companies expressing interest in making Hull the centre of green technology appropriate to our Gateway to Europe position – if the politicians are able to see the same potential that the investors seem to, and that we, the residents know is here.

Recently the Economist urged the government to abandon Hull. But thankfully it hasn’t abandoned us – for – today, at 07.45am – we were named City of Culture 2017: the best news we have had for years – and so well deserved.

I love the existing culture (some of it free yet rivalling York) though this is also under threat from government cuts (talk about a lack of joined up thinking): museums, art galleries, cinemas (popular and art-house), theatres (municipal and the World Famous Hull Truck), the award-winning Deep – Europe’s deepest submarium (deepest what? people ask), our two ground-breaking universities, our local radio (the best in the country, its official); and the traditions too: Hull Fair in October, the largest travelling fair in Europe and the last traveller stop before winter; the Sea Shanty Festival in September; the Lord Mayors Parade and Hull Show; the mighty Freedom Festival and Round the World Clipper race spectaculars, the city’s love of fireworks, our council organising some of the best displays in the country; the Christmas carol concert in our beautifully Baroque and dignified City Hall, the annual, August spectacular called National Play Day when the city centre is opened up as a playground for children; and the many, frequently multi-cultural, street festivals, parades and parties in our several and beautiful parks – and more, much more … and so much more to come! 

But my local affection goes further, I love the nearby coast of chalky, bird rich cliffs, and ever-changing nature-reserve sand dunes, and its grey, cold, unpredictable seas (once full of fishing trawlers now empty of even the fish thanks to foreign factory ships registered in countries that don’t even have a coastline); the Yorkshire Wolds, and Moors that surround us on two sides ensuring those strange local weather patterns that leave us sunny in snow storms, and experiencing droughts when everywhere else floods, till the years when Hull did indeed find itself under water (but it so desperately needed that cleansing) or frozen under arctic storms. I love the local flower sprinkled woods and dark gothic moorland forests, both within which one can glimpse, if you’re quick, a pagan green man with spreading antlers peeping out from just beyond the next tree; the ancient standing stones and vanished coastal villages – can you hear the bells tolling at high tide; the rich agricultural flood plains stretching towards an endless horizon and huge, ever-changing skies; the busy market towns nestled and nurtured amongst breast-like rolling hills; and elegant Victorian spas, dumbed down with candy-floss, bingo halls and rows of battered Vacancy signs. See my poetry page.

Returning to Chez-Lynne: I do not need anyone else in my house to make me happily fulfilled, and it  feel cosy and full of love. I revel in my solitude, which is far from lonely. I have friends and family who visit regularly. If someone special comes along one day, all well and good; if not I have my work, my writing and my creative projects to keep me busy, the garden to nurture, decorating that still needs doing, sometime, no hurry. I might kid myself into thinking I’d like to live in a villa in Tuscany complete with vines, olive trees and the local Cazanove visiting for evenings of bohemian pleasure, or on a stony mountainside in citrus-scented Cyprus, or at the Galactic Portal that is Glastonbury, or even in Middle Earth or travelling the universe in the TARDIS (yes truly, all are dreams I entertain) but will I ever be able to tear my roots from East Yorkshire, I doubt it. I’m a northern lass, through and through, born and bred. But if I do tear myself away, I know I can take my ‘home’, that idea, that concept, that feeling even, with me, like a snail, and create it again, anywhere, anytime – just another canvas!

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Yet another canvas

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A comfortable home is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience.

Sydney Smith

I always thought a home was a building – a roughly cubic box of brick, glass and roof tiles, made individual by artful décor, expressive colour and beautiful things. I still do, to a certain extent, but I now realise that ‘home’ means much more.

I suppose I never really felt at home as a child and teenager. My parents never let me put my stamp on my room. They worked, so my sister and I trailed all over town (and around Yorkshire in summer) to relatives at weekends and holidays. My roots found it hard to get established. Later, as a wife and mother my house was our family home; and so never really felt mine, as such, involving so much compromise.

I suppose, for some reason, I always felt like a lodger wherever I was. So when I divorced, buying my own house was a big deal. It had to be just right. As a style I edge towards the romanticism and exoticism of the Pre-Raphaelites, Art Nouveau and Victorian/Edwardian Bohemia, with a soupcon of Art Deco. I love the strong elegant lines of the Victorian/Edwardian terraced town house: the space; the height; the huge, lengthy windows, low and deep enough to sit in; the corridors, perfect arenas to display family photos and arty pictures; and steep, twisting staircases with carved, spindled banisters. And that is what I bought – in a very Bohemian and multi-cultural (well the only Bohemian and multi-cultural) part of the City of Hull. I treasured it, adored it, cared for it lovingly (that’s official – the estate agent said so in the brochure when I finally put it up for sale – but that’s to come, later).

When I moved in I found it blemished with 70’s beige, hardboard covered doors and staircase, and more such DIY abominations. So I painted it in strong, rich heritage colours between replaced dado and picture rails, put in ceiling roses and cornicing, and turned it into a designer shrine to my freedom to be me.

I filled the place with rainbow colours, glorious music, fragrant flowers and the fluidly warm enigma that was my half-alien, ghost-watching, black cat Midnight (still there sleeping peacefully, buried in the walled garden after her death at Samhein  2003– when else?)

I planted the walled garden with gorgeous flowering perennials, herbs and fat patio pots, transforming the unhelpfully north facing concrete space into a verdant and magical place where I am certain, to this day, that fairies live. I meditated in the garden, sun-soaked there, read endless novels there, and had many barbecues.  People enjoyed visiting my house and garden, saying it had a friendly, positive feel and asking advice on how to get a similar feel in their homes.

Then disaster struck – really, it was that bad. A pair of noisy young women moved into the upstairs flat next door. After 6 years of heaven, auditory hell descended on to my ambiance-full haven. Music and shouting thudded and blared out, 24/7, day and night, for over a year. The council couldn’t help, the landlady wouldn’t (it was her relative making the racket). I deteriorated into a screaming, sleep deprived harridan but I wasn’t going to be driven from my beautiful home. I succumbed to sick leave from work due to the stress, panic and anxiety attacks, took anti-depressants, whilst my friends and family stood around, watching, helplessly, as I fragmented and disintegrated. Then one otherwise perfectly ordinary day I saw the light – quietly, simply, with not even a blast of trumpet to announce this timely enlightenment: a home is not a house, it’s an idea! The concept of ‘home’ comes from within! Therefore I could start again somewhere else. Duh! When I finally detached emotionally from the building I was able to sell it, and buy somewhere quieter. Yes I would (and do) miss my elegant, spacious, Edwardian ‘Avenues’ house; but life would (and did) go on.

What I bought to replace it was a 1930s semi-detached suburban house, a cottage really. Tiny yes, but it was beautifully renovated inside, if blandly decorated (I could change that). There was a stylish modern galley kitchen (with range, I trembled with delight on seeing it), delightful leaded windows and – bliss – through a Tuscan Villa-like archway,  an Italian floor-tiled conservatory leading out onto a paved patio, and small enclosed potential-full garden, with grass for the grandchildren to play on, and off road parking for me. The whole length of the building was only as big as my previous lounge. It was just a town cottage, really.

The neighbourhood is not so friendly or cosmopolitan, in fact it’s desperately conservative and insular, but I have my corner of heaven back, because what I learnt was that I made my house home. It would be my attitude to my space that would make this new house the friendly, welcoming building that my previous one was.

It is now, seven years on, a tribute to purple and lavender, with classic furniture blending with clean modern paintwork, and lots of plants. There are less pictures, mirrors and other artifacts (not enough room, the scale is all wrong) but the same spirit of beauty, serenity and space is there just like before; the garden is evolving into a mini Italian garden with paving, steps, pond, pergola and even a small maze (the grass was hell to manage)  and lots of scented roses, fruit trees and bushes, and herbs – a wildlife haven; my home is … just another canvas!