We arrived back home from Hull the other week safe and sound and ever-so-slightly knackered. Or at least I was. Knackered, that is. Clare, Lily and Optimus were just safe and sound. As I mentioned previously, we went to Hull to collect a pram that can change into a pushchair and that’s why we call it Optimus Pram. Or, at least, that’s why I do.
I was a student at Hull University between 1990-1993, so returning to my old stomping ground for the first time in a long time was always going to be weird. Over the years I’ve carefully maintained a massive stockpile of rose-tinted recollections associated with the place. I suppose that’s something that most people who went to college do, with the possible exception of graduates from Sarajevo Poly.
Still, Hull was where I met some of my closest and most trusted friends. In that respect I’ll always have a lot to thank it for. During those three years there were good times, bad times and some extremely batshit crazy times. This was, after all, the place where I was interviewed on a local radio news programme after fleeing for my life from an exploding aerosol factory. It was where I spent every Sunday afternoon at a workingman’s club that offered a regular line-up of bingo, live yodelling and striptease. It was where I shared a house with three friends and a 6-foot tall mechanical bear. It’s a place that’s hard-wired into my history and has helped make me the person I am today. In that respect, then, it probably has a lot to answer for.
As Clare, Lily and I approached Hull the other week and I caught my first, still-breathtaking glimpse of that ridiculously long suspension bridge spanning the Humber Estuary, I found myself thinking of all those other times I did this journey, back when my Dad did the driving and I just struggled with directions. My dad passed away in 1995, and now – years later – it was my turn to be the responsible adult sitting behind the wheel. I mused on the way that life has a funny way of throwing up such ironies, until I remembered that I still struggle with directions.
After picking up the pram from Hessle, we made our way towards the city centre. As I’d expected, things had changed in the way that things invariably do. Having lived in Birmingham for most of my life I know that modern British city centres are more than a wee bit partial to extensive plaster surgery. Hull, it seems, was no exception. The change in the retail landscape was the first thing I noticed: the Jacksons chain of regional supermarkets had all turned into Sainsbury’s Locals, the Armadillo comic shop was now a coffee shop and the sight of the massive new St Stephen’s Shopping Centre (next to the revamped Paragon railway station) caused my eyes to do a reasonable impersonation of Marty Feldman’s. Hull’s been hit hard by High Street homogenisation, I alliterated wistfully to myself.
This feeling swiftly passed as we swiftly passed the neighbouring LA’s nightclub. From the outside, at least, it looked exactly the same as I remembered it from 18 years’ ago. This was quite an achievement, as back then it looked rather dated.
“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” as they say in South Yorkshire.