Steeltown (1990) Rupert Creed & Averil Court. Hull. Hutton Press
While researching Hull I came across this oral history of Scunthorpe’s iron and steel industry, from 1860 to the 1980’s. Accompanied by wonderful photographs, the accounts are woven into a fascinating narrative of working lives, individual resilience and social attitudes. In the face of adversity, and disaster, humour still leaps from the page, and there is a great account of tipping slag!
I’m hoping to have a Goodcompanionsaround Hull ready in the next few months; digging below the radar in the City of Culture. It has taken me a while to develop the themes, but with help from a Hull exile these themes are becoming clearer. I am excited at the prospect of returning to Hull to take more photos.
In the meantime, a book well worth dipping into is Alain De Botton’s Art of Travel. In the section on ‘Travelling Places’ De Botton uses the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, and the paintings of Edward Hopper, to explore how the service station, the airport, the plane and the train, can free our emotions and imagination.
Of the service station he says it is a place at night 'where the difficulties of communication and the frustrated longing for love seemed to be acknowledged and brutally celebrated by the architecture and the lighting.' (p. 49)
While, on the train, ' the flow of my consciousness is assisted by the possibility of looking out of the window, locking on to an object and following it for a few seconds, until a new coil of thought is ready to form and can unravel without pressure.' (p. 59)
De Botton's exploration of Baudelaire and Hopper to support his interpretation is worth the read in themselves.
The Art of Travel (2014) Alain De Botton. Penguin
Lynsey Hanley was brought up in ‘Area 4’ on the outskirts of Birmingham, half way to Coventry, on one of the largest estates in Europe. She writes eloquently about the physical nature of the estate and the consequent psychological barriers, of living on the edge among a ‘fistful of dead ends’, of the cultural isolation, the self censorship, the self imposed ‘wall in the head’ where cultural preferences, music, magazines, ambition were signifiers of which side of the wall you were on: us or them. Where, simply to wear a baggy jumper to school was seen as a rejection of the values of ‘us’ and to side with ‘them’, to invite ridicule, bullying. The wall in the head, that destroys dreams that things can be different. This book is not a doom laden whinge, it is a lively, life affirming call for democratic action, to create towns and cities that foster aspiration for all.
Estates: An Intimate History (2012) Lynsey Hanley. Granta
Came across a smashing website recently that I still haven't fully explored. But it has easy access to travel writing and particular locations. You type in a town, village etc into the search engine and it responds with information about historical places and writing, among other interesting geographical and historical information. I first spotted it some years ago when it appeared incomplete. I forgot about it and have stumbled across it again, finding much more information. You might like to give it a try: www.visionofbritain.org.uk
Keith Armstrong penned this poem about his relationship to Jack Common. Keith has researched and written extensively about Jack Common’s work and has kindly allowed me to post his poem on my blog.
My Friend Jack Common (1903-1968)
Ever since the sixth form,
when I found you,
a kindred Novocastrian
in a library book,
I seem to have followed in your steps,
stumbled after you
in rain soaked lanes,
knocked on doors
in search of your stories.
For over forty years,
I have tracked
the movement of your pen
in streets you walked
and on cross country trains
from your own Newcastle
and back again.
I have given talks about you,
supped in your pubs,
strode along your paragraphs
and river paths
to try to find
that urge in you
out of your veins
what you thought of things,
what made you tick
and your loved ones
laugh and cry.
I tried to reach you in a thesis,
to see you as a lad in Heaton,
but I could never catch your breath
because I didn’t get to meet you
face to face,
could only guess
that you were like me:
a kind of kindly
in a world
too cruel for words.
Keith is deeply involved in a number of community projects. This link is well worth exploring:
I'm struggling to structure a Goodcompanionsaround Hull. I normally try and structure the companion around one or two pieces of literature, either from or about working class culture. Any suggestions about such literature emanating from Hull or its environs (preferably a couple of decades old at least) would help me. Just click on the email icon at the top of this page.
It doesn’t appear to matter what you call it, Hull or Kingston upon Hull. You won’t find it indexed in 'Never Had it So Good: History of Britain from Suez to the Beatles', or 'White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties', or 'A History of Modern Britain' (“Superbly authoritative”), and very little mention of the city in 'The North' ("and almost everything in it").
In 1927 H. V. Morton went in search of England and couldn’t find Hull. When W.S Percy strolled through England in 1935 he wasn’t as observant as he might have been. He couldn't find Hull either, even though Baedeker in his 1937 'invasion' edition of 'Great Britain' estimated the city had 314,000 inhabitants. Morton had another go in 1942 and, despite seeing Two Englands, couldn’t find it in either of them. It was still missing in 1964 when Arnold Fellows wrote a travellers companion to England and Wales. In fairness, he must have read Morton and Percy and came to the conclusion that Hull must be something akin to a North Sea Atlantis - a nice idea but highly improbable. In 1981 Richard West fared no better in his English Journey. Michael Wood promised to be more rigorous, undertaking journeys into the English past. But it still wasn't to be found. I began to wonder if Hull was a fiction. Winifred Holtby’s South Riding was a figment of her imagination. Maybe the three years I thought I'd spent in Hull were a figment of mine. Or maybe it was just too scary a place for law abiding travel writers to venture. Pax Romana stopped at the South Bank of the Humber and that was clearly a warning from History.
Then I came across my 1943 copy of Walter Wilkinson’s ‘Puppets in Yorkshire’, where Walter was ‘Caught in Hull’ for eleven whole pages and, as often happens, the next reference quickly followed, Priestley’s 1933 ‘English Journey’ with another eleven pages. So Hull does exist after all, indeed, it must do, as it is the UK’s City of Culture 2017. But where is it? Maybe I had been looking in the wrong place. So, I decided to look in The Land of Green Ginger and Terry Street.
Great piece by Paul Mason on the achievement of poor white kids in school and the destruction of culture. Guess what? Kids live in the world and so do schools. Kids, just like adults are formed by, and help to form culture; and working class culture has taken a pummeling. Jack Common expresses a beautiful working class narrative of solidarity, optimism and hope. He draws attention to the contradictions too. Contradictions he understood and did not belittle. He did not follow in the path of many of his peers, but he didn't rubbish those who remained. Kiddar's Luck is a celebration of life under tremendous strain. In the words of Paul Mason 'We need to find a form of economics that - without nostalgia of racism - allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story. '
*Crikey! Just realised I had missed out the word 'didn't' on the fourth line up - changes the whole meaning. My apologies - proof reading ain't what it should be.
I’m currently working on the Newcastle 'Goodcompanionaround'. My working title is ‘How I learned to love Metroland.’ I have been thinking about some of the friendly social interactions I have experienced in Newcastle. An anecdote my father told me many years ago came to mind. My Dad spoke highly of ‘the Geordie’, as he called them, on the the basis of one event. He went to a cup game at St James’s Park on the 25th January 1958, to watch Newcastle v Scunthorpe. He was standing at the back of the terracing that ran along the University and as the crowd surged forward and then back, he, and a number of his fellow Scunny fans fell off the back of the terrace, some six feet or so. Newcastle fans (fans were mixed in those days) reached down to lift the stranded Scunny fans back on to the terraces. This kindness was from Newcastle fans whose team were losing 3-1 at home. Now, football fans are meant to be middle class. We’re are also, apparently, meant to hate each other. I wonder if anyone has told ‘the Geordie’?
I have been fascinated by the networks of corruption developed by John Poulson -T Dan Smith's architect of choice - since my first teaching appointment in Bradford. On interview, I was greeted inside the front entrance: ‘See that curtain, it’s the curtain of shame,’ I was told. ‘If you take a look behind it you will see a plaque commemorating the opening of the school by - (then Home secretary) - Reginald Maudling.’
‘Ah,’ I replied. ‘The Silver Teapot Affair.’
Poulson designed the school with several key features, although I doubt they were unique. It was considered an innovation to have windows that could open inwards so that they could be cleaned from the inside. Unfortunately for the window cleaners, they only opened inwards on the ground floor. The lift shaft was not of sufficient size to contain a lift. The lengthy access road was only wide enough for one vehicle to use at one time, thus restricting access for emergency vehicles. Once the swimming pool had been built it had to be deepened at extra expense as it couldn’t safely take the plunge of children from the planned diving board. Then, the roof of the pool had to be raised once the pool had been deepened as it was pointed out that the diver could not stand on the board because the roof was too low.
My break time duty on my first day was to ‘patrol the covered area’. This area turned out to be a three sided hall with a roof. Money ran out for the fourth side and was never used as intended, as a gymnasium. However, the substantial number of pupil smokers did make use of it and didn’t appear to mind exposure to frequent snow, blown into blizzards by the wind that blasted across Europe from the Urals. Though they did mind my request to stop smoking, a request the scores of smokers also found amusing. Oh, and of course, the place was riddled with asbestos. Thankfully, that building has now been knocked down.
T. Dan Smith, once leader of Newcastle City Council, founded ‘Open System Building’, which Poulson came to run - both were jailed. I am currently navigating my way through the Newcastle section of Owen Hatherly’s ‘A guide to the new ruins of Great Britain,’ and Amber Films ’T. Dan Smith: a funny thing happened on the way to Utopia.’