Reflecting on places I've lived whilst confined to a single city on the North Bank of the Humber.
Hull is an incredibly flat city. I personally can’t think of one area where, if you were carrying your weekly shop and the bags split, you’d have a nightmare retrieving all of the oranges and tins of beans.
In spite of this lack of rolling hills to elevate tiers of architecture toward the clouds, the urban skyline boasts many wonderful structures that catch the eye, tell a tale, perform a task, and provide a little orientation if your satnav is on the blink. These features can vary greatly in every respect: take the solitary Doric column of the Wilberforce Monument, a towering tribute to the great abolitionist that offers seagulls a view over the gardens, a far cry from the super-modern glass wave roof of St Stephen’s, the bright and airy hub of retail, dining and entertainment.
Then there are the various manmade forms reflecting our riverside environment, such as the sharp angles of The Deep piercing the setting sun; the magnificent feat of connective engineering that is the Humber Bridge; the Tidal Barrier, protecting our carpets from creeping brown waters; and the splendid Maritime Museum, with its flawless Victorian balance of elegance and dignity.
In addition to this abundance of captivating designs, I’ve always found myself fascinated by the places in which I’ve hung my coat. Granted, these have ranged from terraces to semi-detacheds and bedsits to student squats, but never castles, windmills, lighthouses or other such settings where you would expect to gather weird and wonderful tales. Plus I must admit that part of this fascination has been due to the minor details that no one else will have noticed, or quirky events that occurred but which very few witnessed. Still, personal histories can prove the most interesting of all, especially when celebrating the momentary as opposed to the everlasting.
See, I began my time on this planet as a small baby. Whilst I admit that all of us can make such a declaration, I doubt that many spent their first fortnight of life in a cramped flat beside a funeral home – its owner bearing the fitting surname of Boddy – and being pushed in a pram past a bankrupt company called Balloon Stores, which displayed a sign in its window that ironically read ‘closed due to inflation’.
The chances are equally high that newborns who did share this environment did not then move to an area where gardening tools, broken bricks, spiky bramble bushes and great big lumps of coal were considered perfectly suitable playthings for an inquisitive toddler. I may only have been born in 1982, but I feel I can proudly use the old-school phrase of “back in my day, we had to make our own fun”. This second home, near Preston Road, also had a resident pet, one that was wonderfully cheap and easy to care for. It was a spider that forever dwelled in the corner of the bathroom, unflinching and benign, and given the name Johnny Six-Legs by my dad. I’ll leave you to muse over that choice of moniker at your own leisure.
The third building in which I lived, by then old enough to wear a primary school uniform, had a back garden separated from East Park by a large reel of flimsy chicken wire. During my time there I grew surprisingly tall, frequently attempted – and failed – to learn to ride a bike, almost had my head punctured by a stray golf ball (yes, teenagers were involved), and joined a group of aspiring young eco warriors. This assemblage of do-gooders was naïve, short-lived and totally inept, its most memorable day being when the members tied themselves to an oak tree due to be cut down that afternoon, only to hear a terrific crash mere minutes after their mums called them in for their beans on toast.
Something I adored about this house in particular was the spare room. I can’t remember what was in it, or its décor, or even if it was indeed a spare room or used for something more important, but I do remember a daydream I had about Anneka Rice. Idly sitting on the window cushion, I gazed out at her as she happily roller-skated up and down the concrete path, as if it were the most natural environment for an eighties TV personality to practice some sweet moves. (I would say she had been my first celebrity crush but I’m often reminded that I fancied Smurfette when I was a toddler, something that I’ll never be allowed to forget.)
My final childhood abode was a semi-detached, which was a novelty in itself at the time. I could now access the back garden without tramping mud into the carpet, or scampering down a dark alley that reeked of marked territory. This house was by far the most typical of them all: a three-bedroom suburban domicile built in the late seventies, later to receive an extension and loft conversion. But, still being a young rascal, my favourite areas were the cupboard under the stairs, which I turned into a little hideaway; the back of the garage, comprehensively transformed into a far more extensive and visitor-friendly den, albeit tinged with exhaust fumes; and the patch of flattened grass beside the rose bushes, where my brother and I would pitch our tent and try not to dream about the many decomposing rabbits, which the previous owners’ son had buried mere inches beneath our resting heads.
Since those carefree days I’ve lived in two student hovels, one of which boasted a variety of infestations; a bedsit that wouldn’t even accommodate most people’s living rooms; a terraced house with a faulty boiler as standard and juddering freight tracks adjacent; and now a comfortable home with mortgage, partner, solar panels and smart controls (how very grownup and 21st century). Regardless of their many differences, all of these residences have provided far more than just shelter, running water and a place to rest my head. They have also hosted love and heartache, joy and despondency, self-development and idiotic mistakes, creativity and writer's block, wellness and ill-smellness, and all of life's many happenings and non-events that make it worth living.
Over the years I’ve walked the city's streets and silently marvelled at the bold lines, smooth curves, conflicting styles and haphazard colours of bricks-and-mortar arrangements that present themselves far too confidently, or peek out from between gaps like timid mice. I adore their history and context, their function and form, the way they bring people together or hide away for only a select few to enjoy. Buildings are the heart of a hometown, and we are the lifeblood that courses within.
In time, many of them will surely topple and be replaced by new shapes that we will question before eventually accepting, as is the way of an ever-changing city. But the main thing I wonder about is where, perhaps many years from now, I will next hang my coat, and what manner of tedious, everyday details – silly things, really – will make me truly happy to call it my home.
Copyright © 2020 Rich Sutherland