HULL SCENE REPORT
(Hull’s answer to San Fransico’s Golden Gate Bridge and Humberside’s premiere suicide destination. Safe Nath lives to tell the tale.)
Words and photos by George Marshall
Let’s get one thing straight – people hate Hull. It’s understandable. The city’s bleak reputation precedes itself. An ageing fish town on the Yorkshire coast, Hull is widely laughed off as isolated and cut off, a dead end, void of opportunity and appeal, where teenage pregnancies outnumber jobs and the best source of income is salvaging copper pipes from the abandoned homes of laid off dock workers. Once the beating heart of British shipping, a vast industrial port and whaling goldmine, the nautical trades on which the city was built have long since rusted away, only to be replaced by drug trafficking from Holland and import of STDs. With a list of grim accolades as long as the queue outside the post office on dole collection day, it’s no wonder the town has such a bad reputation. It’s claimed the city boasts the highest drug related death rate, lowest GCSE pass rate, highest suicide rate, lowest wages, highest unemployment rate, suffered the worst bombing of any UK city in WW2, was described by the Observer as ‘Britain’s drug capital’, it ranked No.1 in the book “Crap Towns” and one in three residents has Chlamydia. Get the picture? If all the stories are true then it must indeed be the UK’s most depressing city, and by the law of averages, one of the local riders Tom Sanders, Carl Wood or Safe Nath has Chlamydia. But does Hull really deserve such a bad name or is it a victim of bad press and preconceptions? Cursed by its own unfortunate name, too close to hell and easily misheard as ‘dull’. This doesn’t sound like the city that could raise the well-spoken man of principles; Tom Blyth. Is it as dire and deprived as everyone outside of Hull presumes? Or are there benefits to being stuck at the end M62, and cut off from the rest of the country by a muddy estuary? Is there more to Hull than the morning after pill and a battered fish supper?
(Carl Wood loves brick, can’t get enough of it. He builds with it, sleeps with it and slides it.)
Chances are you have never been to Hull. You’ve never called in on the way to somewhere else, your parents never took you there on holiday to dip your toes in the polluted estuary banks and it’s doubtful you’ve had a job interview there either. A description by an ex-resident from the book ‘Crap Towns’ is enough
to put anyone off, “The silent threat of violence hangs in the air, along with the smell from the chocolate factory. Chocolate factories, by the way, don’t smell of chocolate, they smell of death. If the wind comes from the southeast, the smell of Grimsby docks adds a fishy staleness to the odour. If it comes from the other direction it brings the smell of the tanning factory . . . rotting carcasses and rancid flesh.” With bad press like that it’s not hard to see why more people go to the cinema to watch Kevin Costner’s most recent self-indulgent box office flop than make the journey North East.
A possible explanation for Hull’s lack of visitors could be the city’s secluded location. The city is geographically cut off, lying isolated, at the end of a motorway, 200 miles from London in one direction and 200 miles from Edinburgh in the other, stretching out eastward to Holland for its next hit, gurning at the North Sea. It’s safe to say the Britney Spears circus tour didn’t call in, the Beckhams didn’t visit the Bransholme estate when shopping for a coastal retreat and Paris Hilton didn’t nip into Peacocks for a boob tube. The city must be one of the least visited destinations in the UK. Sadly, Hull’s most noteworthy visitors in recent times were the uninvited Nazi Luftwaffe – not top of the guest list for any city. In 1941, Hitler’s air force destroyed 95% of Hull’s buildings, leaving a city more battered than your average cod from Bob’s chip shop on a Friday night and creating a blank canvas for 1960’s architects to commit visual sin on.
When the Nazis bombed Hull into ruins they weren’t trying to do the English tourist board a favor by wiping it off the map. They were trying to destroy a Hull unrecognizable today, the vast military port, a rich market town, vital trading hub and industrial metropolis. Hull hasn’t always been the depressed council estate by sea it’s now regarded as. Long before Charles Bronson took his art teacher hostage at the local maximum-security prison, and before the Humber Bridge was built only to become a well-frequented suicide destination, the city has long been a historic port of wealth and importance. Hull remains to this day the only town to ever be royally endorsed to Kingston status, by King Edward I in 1299, and historically led the way in the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, through local champion of civil rights, William Wilberforce.
(Carl Wood and his bricks again. Hop from a small flat bank to wallride over a rail.)
But Hull’s days of glory and vast wealth were numbered. The city’s economic downturn started with the decline of the whaling industry in the mid 19th century, was made worse by Hitler’s tantrum and was sealed with William Wilberforce’s replacement as the city’s most famous politician with the fist fighting bulimic; John Prescott – the only politician to chin a voter on live television.
Yet neither William Wilberforce nor John Prescott is Hull’s most famous resident, that title lies with a character far more worthy of Hull. Nottingham has Robin Hood, Stratford has William Shakespeare, and Liverpool has John Lennon;
each city has an ambassador that shines as a symbol for their home town, Hull, being Hull, has none other than Jack the Ripper, the Victorian serial killer who sliced up grimy prostitutes in the back alleys of London’s east end, and whose art work allegedly still hangs in Hull’s library. In an attempt to revert the damage done by Jack the Ripper, John Prescott and a wave of negative press, Hull City Council’s PR team has tried to improve the town’s image. Every court summons, overdue repayment notice and birthday card to go through Hull’s post office was stamped with the slogan “Hull – the gateway to Europe”. Gateway to Europe?
If it’s one thing Hull is gateway for it’s not Europe, its itchy STDs and hungered narcotics.
Hull is credited as being the first entry point for Syphilis into the UK. From stories told by local nurses, it appears Hull has a high frequency of STDs only second to South Africa, or a single pro rider after a weekend at Simpel Session. Hull’s problem with STDs is only second to the town’s addiction to drugs. Recently branded the ‘Britain’s drug capital’, Hull’s previous source of wealth and jobs now fuels a nasty habit. Hull’s close proximity to the sea and trade routes brings with it an unwanted industry, serving as a massive point of entry to drugs into the UK. With bigger budgets for security at international airports and the
port of Dover, Hull is the country’s weak spot for smuggling, exploited by Dutch drug cartels. Worst yet, it appears most of the drugs don’t leave the city. “It’s fucking crap, man.” Tom Sanders tells me, “Everyone’s on it, none of the riders like, but other folk are all about the Special K, they’re even injecting that shit nowadays, get it in a soluble form and bang – instant head fuck”.
Hull’s social problems of drugs and STDs go hand in hand with the city’s bleak economy. Having not even recovered from the last recession, Hull has been hit hard by the credit crunch. By the amount of boarded up shops and pubs on the riverfront, you’d be forgiven for thinking a Hurricane was about to roll in off the North Sea. Hull is one of the few cities to be classed in the governments credit crunch assessment as ‘red alert’ status for impact of the recession. “People just aren’t bothered at the moment.” Carl Wood tells me, shrugging his shoulders. “I’ve had three weeks off sat about, not a conservatory or anything, nowt”.
Nowadays, the majority of riders in the country seem to be one of two things; either studying to be graphic designers or are qualified graphic designers, with the odd photographic assistant making cups of tea in between the two. Not Hull. Hull folk are definitely more Chip shop than Photoshop. Carl Wood’s brick collection beneath his bed is testament to that. Amongst the lonely socks, Mars Bar wrappers and scratched DVDs, lies Carl’s display box of varying classes of brick; the Fetton Brick, the Engineering Brick, and the underrated Handmade Brick, all appropriately labeled for future reference and enduring appreciation. A bricklayer by trade, Carl earns his keep building conservatories, mixing mortar and swearing. A sentence from Carl Wood doesn’t pass without a “fuck this”, “fuck that” or a “have I fuck” – he loves raising his voice more than he loves Sunday Lunch down Lambworth’s £3 a head Carvery.
Open Gallery12 Images
(Tom Sanders ditched schools like the one behind him at age 13 to learn stuff like this icepick to manual.)
(It’s a good thing still images don’t have stereo, it would scare the younger readers. Tom Blyth now combines his music with riding, screaming death metal vocals on every trick. Mosh pit to wallride.)
(Safe Nath has been fined hundreds of pounds this year from on the spot fines for doing stuff like this. No Hander, no lights, no brakes – £30 please.)
(Robert Julian or ’The Donn’, is the only self proclaimed ‘G’ in Hull, but the only thing that’s criminal about Jules is his tattoos. Doubled kinked rail in the neighbouring seaside village of Hornsey.)
Carl Wood isn’t Hull’s only rider seeking work where he can get it. Ex-rider Paul Baker came up with a novel way to make ends meet. Paul earns a bit on the side making pirate copies of BMX films, as instructed by his entrepreneurial minded mum. Odyssey ‘Electronical’ is £4, Shadow Conspiracy ‘Into the Void’ is £3, and to you NSF 1 is just £2. Another of the Hull riders is far less desperate. Charles manages numerous pubs throughout the city, specifically notoriously rough pubs, where violence and even murders have scared off the previous landlords. Through taking over pubs that simply no one else is prepared to manage, Charles and his dad rent out pubs for next to nothing and clean up what were previous hot spots for trouble, typically reducing pub violence and police call outs by half. Their technique is simple, no door staff – no trouble. One evening we head over to the one of Charles’s pubs, just in time to witness a fight being broken up, started by his 15 year old brother on the dance floor. Sometimes the locals aren’t too happy when he takes over and replaces the regular staff, Charles tells me. “This one pub the locals burnt down the pool table, when he got rid of the old staff” he recalls, “So we just went in there, chatted to them, and reminded them that it’s their place and now they didn’t have a pool table, and there’s no trouble since, end of”.
Before the credit crunch hit, Hull’s economy had one chance left. Unique to the UK, Hull has a municipally owned telephone system from 1902, whereas the rest of the country is on one grid, explaining why all telephone boxes in Hull are cream, and not red. The likes of Prescott and Co at the Hull city council sold the network for a quarter of a billion pounds with which to fight social deprivation, put bobbies on the beat and put teenage girls in schools and out of maternity wards. Stupidly, a large proportion of the money was used to fund the installation of double glazing and insulation of council houses which had to be demolished the year after. With the money that wasn’t wasted the city council has invested in a huge regeneration project for the entire city. What do you think would be first on the shopping list to end social deprivation? A new hospital? A new school? More sniffer dogs at the docks? No. Try an elaborateddesigned Aquarium that would put an Apple shop to shame and a new state of art Football stadium for Hull City Football club. Surprisingly Hull’s greatest sporting rivalry isn’t between two football teams, but actually between two Rugby league sides, Hull F.C. who play in black and white, and Hull Kingston Rovers in red and white. Their rivalry is bitter, and often violent. So bitter in fact that the most devoted Hull F.C. fans refuse to eat bacon due to its close resemblance to the Rover’s team colours.
That’s not the only abnormal behaviour in Hull, perhaps a by-product of its geographical and mild genetic isolation. To start with the local accent is unique, the pronunciation of vowels and the rhythm of speech is distinct to that of the rest of Yorkshire region. “Cold” is “celd”, “don’t know” is “derrn’t nerrrr”, “bloke” as “blerk” and Hull” is “‘ull”. Like Jack Ripper and John Prescott, the city seems to breed individuals, such as a man known simply as ‘Devil Fish’, a World Poker player by day and armed robber by night. The riders are not your average group either, from FBM rider Tom Sanders whose education ended early at the age of 13 when he was locked in a teachers’ staff room and never returned, to Robert Julian who went into a tattoo pallor wanting ‘THE DON’ on his arm and came out with ‘THE RON”, to match his lighting bolt ACDC tattoo for which he won ‘The World’s Worst Tattoo 2008’ as voted on myspace.
There is one major benefit to living in the city in a grip of an economic decline, and it’s not car jacking or having spare time to watch daytime TV, it’s the cheap cost of living. When asking one the riders how much it costs to live at the “Cock House”, named due the lack of girls to stay or visit the terrace house, Carl replied “it’s about…errrh, I think its about one three five… yeah about one hundred and thirty five quid”. £135 a week? That’s not too cheap after all, especially when you live a few doors down from a Cannabis factory that was raided last week, and countless Polish alcoholics occupy the three bed flat next door. Then the penny drops. “Nah you southern dim fuck, £135 a month, not a week”.
If there’s one thing Hull does have it’s cheap or even abandoned land, which offers freedom that’s rare to find in a major city. Hull is scattered with abandoned factories, docks, and wasteland, all of which make for an ideal region for finding and building new spots. For a comparatively small city to the likes of Manchester and Leeds, Hull has an abundance of spots. Although the Hull scene is more street than ramp, Hull is also home to several outdoor concrete parks, and Driffield, an outdoor wooden skatepark is only a short drive. By far the best of the outdoor concrete parks is Ings, situated in the heart of Europe’s largest council estate and with more CCTV than the local Cash Converters. The transitions there are hand skimmed and not your regular prefab transitions, making the park 3 unique from countless concrete parks around the country.
The endless street spots, empty warehouses and skateparks cater for a huge scene of about 200 riders scattered amongst city centre and surrounding towns. For the last fifteen years the scene has been supported by the Cottingham Cycle Centre, since the days of Rock City skatepark where the likes of Tom Blyth and Safe Nath first sharpened their teeth. Such a big scene comes at a cost. On the spot fines of £30 (a week’s rent), from community service officers, making up for those long years spent getting bullied, is a daily occurrence. Safe Nath has spent over £400 this year alone in fines for riding on the pavement and without brakes, to add to an already unhealthy fruit machine addiction. Jobworths aside, the amount of riders and spots are definitely some the finest the UK has to offer, as can be seen on the One More Brew DVD and Richard Wilson’s Nike media apprentice entry.Conclusion
If there’s one thing Hull has taught me, it’s how to spell Syphilis. Damaging jokes aside, the city does suffer from an obvious image problem, but not all the negative preconceptions are justified. Not enough is said about the city’s active regeneration, affordable housing and as a place to grow up riding a bike in, the proof is in the pudding with the strong scene producing riders such as Tom Blyth, Safe Nath and Tom Sanders. To those people who remain convinced they’ll only find chip shops and unemployment at the end of M62, Go To Hull.
(Tom Sanders has more pop than the entire drinks fridge in Bob’s chip shop. Massive hop to smith.)