Like everyone else, I imagine, I woke up somewhat bleary eyed on January 1, 2017.
Typing some notes into my phone in a bed in Willerby – which, for the uninitiated, is a place sufficiently on the edge of Hull that it may as well be in it – and trying to make sense of what I was thinking and feeling, I felt a bit pre-match over-emotional. It was about 8.30am. This was a big day. The big day. Hull’s big day. The first moment of a year of moments. A time to change those misconceptions about the city. To turn a new page, and start as we mean to go on.
I tweeted something about loving Hull in ways I can’t describe. And I’m not afraid to admit that there was a tear trickling down my face. Maybe more than one. But I’ll put that down to the fact that I’d been cleaning up the innards of a few giant party poppers from our hosts’ carpet at 5.30am, and the amount of beer, wine and rum I’d consumed, not to mention the rather frenzied salsa dancing that could well have been confused for a fit of some kind. I was still rather drunk. If I could have thrown my arms around the city at this point, I’d have slurred “I love you,” a hundred or so times until Humberside Police were called in to cart me off and may well have appeared in a shambolically provocative piece of editorial in The Sun or the Daily Mail.
I bobbed downstairs, put the kettle on, and hunted the house for a piece of paper on which to write the thoughts that were swirling round my head. I couldn’t find any. This was a house jammed full of vinyl, stylish carpets and impressive light fittings. But there was no paper. None at all. What is it with suburbia?
I considered butchering a couple of our hosts’ Christmas cards. Or rifling through the drawers for an old bill to scrawl on. But I didn’t want to get caught in the act because, although these were nice people we’d spent the night with, they’d also have no hesitation in hitting me over the head with a baseball bat if they mistook me for a burglar. So I gave up. The moment had passed. And I decided to head back upstairs with another coffee and annoy someone with my post-New Year’s Eve chatter.
We headed back to the city of culture, plonked ourselves on a sofa and, as you do on Hull’s big day, vegged out by putting The Goonies on. The temptation to sack off the fireworks was high. I mean, they’re only fireworks, eh? We’d do all that Made in Hull stuff another night. But we had a table booked at Ambiente where we’d be joining some of Hull’s biggest cultural misfits so, having discovered One-Eyed Willy’s hidden fortune we did finally manage to get cleaned up, wrapped up warm and thought we better go and join The City Speaks’ poet Shane Rhodes and filmmaker Dave Lee and their entourage and hurl some tapas down our necks. It did the trick, along with a few pints of Mahou. So, having maxed out our allocated table time, we headed out into the hustle and bustle in order to locate Zone A and a spot to stare skywards.
I’ve been to enough large-scale spectacles to realise that the moment isn’t so much about what you might end up gawping at but the company you’re keeping as the spectacle unfurls. Surround yourself with the right people and you could watch a packet of indoor fireworks from Dinsdale’s Famous Joke, Trick & Fancydress Shop splutter out pathetically and you’d still have the time of your life. That we’d been promised an epic display to light up the skies and the Humber Estuary and one that would better London’s New Year’s Eve didn’t really matter, then. We practiced our “oohs” and “aahs” in readiness, sang along to a couple of the tunes that Bonny Boat DJ Linda Levantiz (who usually spins her Neil Diamond and the like to 80 punters down the boozer), found a bench to stand on to elevate us another 24 inches (600mm) and braced ourselves, not really caring too much about what we may, or may not, see. The vibe was pretty good, everyone was in fine, if eerily (hungover?) subdued, spirits, we chatted to complete strangers, as you do, we pondered that we might be stood in completely the wrong place and tutted about the volume of the sound, and the absence of street entertainers, and the size of the screens. But none of it really mattered. Because we were with each other and this was about us.
I bumped into Sam Hunt, 2017 Executive Producer who had programmed the night’s shenanigans. He was ridiculously calm, given that 25,000 people who’d all elbowed thousands of other people out of the way for tickets for the night might be about to judge him. I like a calm head at a big event. Sam was at the point where it was happening anyway, there was nothing he could do to change anything now and he was a punter, like the rest of us. I never saw him again that night, but if I had I reckon I’d have seen a fella with a big smile on his face for a job well done.
Yeah, the In With A Bang fireworks were grand. They looked lovely and were in-sync with the accompanying soundtrack that was nicely slammed together. Was good to hear Kingmaker’s Really Scrape The Sky, amid the Ronno riffology, EBTG and The Housemartins, and a few other less obvious gems as colour splashed over our heads. I have no idea if things started on time or not – something was due to start at 20:17, somewhat predictably, but whether that was the fireworks or the pre-fireworks film screening or just that, at 20:17 it would be 20:17 in 2017, not sure. Nor do I care. But the countdown to whatever it was was a nice bonding moment for 25,000 of us.
The highlight of this evening was the 5’13” of The City Speaks, a screening of the film made by Dave Lee, with a soundtrack by Steve Cobby, of the poem by Shane Rhodes. I’ll express an interest here – I’m a big friend of the author. I had to endure him wittering on about the first line of his poem after he wrote it, his excitement at describing the Humber Bridge as a harp, and the estuary as chocolate, and how the word ‘peel’ would be reprised, as the word ‘peal’. I asked him to shut up but he wouldn’t stop. For five months. And a draft was wafted under my nose a few months ago for proofreading purposes (a few others were asked to do this too. We were mainly focused on whether ‘trawlerman’ was or wasn’t a compound noun. We’re from Hull. We should know this shit). And even reading it off a few sides of A4 was a quite moving experience. The City Speaks is a lovely bit of work, a short history of the city and its people and Shane’s relationship with Hull and reflects the uncompromising nature of the fella that penned it. So it was quite fantastic to realise, quite quickly, that people were most definitely listening to the words being read by Stan Haywood. And the spontaneous applause at the film’s close was very fitting and a tangible sign that this really could be our year (but don’t take my word for it; rather, the words of youtube commenter William Braquemard, who feels that The City Speaks is, “dull, cliched corny rubbish aimed at those who wouldn’t know a poem if it slapped them in the face.” Very Hull, that comment).
And then I snapped out of that odd sense of pride about my bald-headed mate – a council estate kid done good – and returned to the friends that I was with. And went in Butler Whites, comparing notes, laughing, drinking and chatting, and sharing and enjoying each other’s company in the city’s first moment of a year of moments as the crowds headed for home.
Not a bad start at all. Here’s to the next 364 days.