Category: Blog

To Hull and back on a culture quest

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The taxi driver was unimpressed.

“It’s a fingers-crossed job,” he grunted.

He sprawled back in the driving seat and folded his arms at the lights, revealing a tattoo snaking down his fleshy forearm.

It read: “Blessed to be born in Yorkshire.”

“The problem is,” he added, “City of Culture only interests about two per cent of local people.”

Running late

Hull has a problem. It has been chosen as the UK City of Culture and the blue touch paper for the fireworks is due to be lit on January 1st.

But Hull clearly isn’t ready. The street works are causing chaos, the regeneration projects are running behind and the city suffers a major dearth of hotels rooms.

With an extra 1m visitors expected in the year ahead, the new Hilton hotel looks unlikely to be ready before September and a rumoured Radisson Blu hasn’t even broken ground yet.

Local people are either feeling frustrated, or completely disinterested.

After successful cultural-regeneration projects in Derry and previously Liverpool (as a European City of Culture), Hull is feeling the heat.

Weekend away

I came to Hull for a half-term break, introducing the girls to the city closely associated with the poet Philip Larkin [his statue at the train station pictured above].

Larkin described his home town:

This town has docks were channel boats come sidling; Tame water lanes, tall sheds, the traveller sees … His advent blurted to the morning shore — Arrivals, Departures (1954)

Today much of the industry is gone. The Fruit Market area of the old docklands is a work-in-progress building site with hipster hang-outs closing as fast as they open.

Only The Deep, the family-bustling aquarium with its perennially popular penguins, rises with any certainly above the shifting cityscape beyond the waterfront.

I want Hull to hit its stride. I plan to return with the right commission.

But, meanwhile, the taxi driver wasn’t holding his breath.

“When it happens,” he added, dropping us at the station for the journey home, ” then it will be more luck than planning.”

More: Hull City of Culture 2017

Pushing the limits of Easter at Carden Park

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It’s good to push yourself sometimes.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I stepped gingerly off the platform and clung to the rope for dear life, my legs instantly contorting into a most ungraceful set of splits as I did so.

It was bad enough trying not to look down the 50ft-odd drop to the forest floor below but, with Maya and Olivia about to follow me out onto the aerial ropes course [pictured above], there could be no bottling it by dad.

“The first one is always the worst,” said instructor Phil, trying to sound reassuring. “It’s the fear of stepping into the abyss.”

Easter activities

We had come to Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire to try out some of the activities for the forthcoming Easter holidays. The hotel offers crazy golf and archery sessions, as well as boasting its own vineyard.

I had expected a gentle afternoon on the Easter Trail, searching for clues in the grounds to win chocolate eggs.

But the idea of leading my two daughters across a series of elevated platforms and obstacles caught me off guard.

We had harnesses and a full safety briefing, of course. But, despite the incentive of finding mini eggs along the course, did we have the nerve?

More to the point, as the responsible adult in charge of two primary-school-aged children more used to playing on the CBBC app than swinging like monkeys through an adventure playground, had I taken leave of my senses?

Active kids

Maybe not.

The National Trust report, Natural Childhood, suggests our children are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in regard to their lack of engagement with nature.

A key reason for this, it suggests, is the aversion of many parents to any form of risk. “No natural environment is completely free from risk,” writes report author Stephen Moss.

“But these risks are a fundamental part of childhood: by gradually learning what is safe and what is dangerous, especially with regard to their own actions and behaviours, children develop their own ‘risk thermostat’.”

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom supports this view, expressing concern for the long-term implications for not allowing children and young people to experience risk, challenge and adventure.

The group promotes more creative approaches to curriculum development and summarises its concerns about risk aversion here.

Confidence building

From climbing nets to swinging logs, we made our tentative way across the course, instructor Phil [pictured below] lending a helping head to coax a nervous Maya across the high-wire stepping stones and swing a worried-looking Olivia across a gap too wide for little legs on her harness.

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He was less forgiving of dad as I edged my way along an elevated log walkway and hesitated at a see-saw bridge. “Go on, attack it,” he advised, dismissing my request for emergency technique coaching.

“That’s not attacking it,” he laughed as the children looked on nervously.

He was right. I was never in the scouts and was probably more interested in my Space Lego than climbing trees when I was Maya’s age. But demonstrating my own nervousness will only hold the girls back in life.

There were some wobbles and a few tears along the course but, after an hour of white-knuckle antics, we were negotiating the wobbly bridges of the final obstacle.

“It’s always the parents who struggle,” smiled Phil, congratulating Olivia for being the youngest person in our group to make it across. “The little kids haven’t don’t have the fear.”

Down to the wire

By the time we reached the zip wire platform for the 250m descent back to terra firm, the girls were taking the course in their stride.

They raced each other on the zip wire [watch the vimeo] and laughed as I trundled behind, dangling like a limp balloon from my harness over a swampy bit of ground at the bottom.

Before I could even get myself free, Olivia was already devouring the first of several Easter eggs.

“Again,” she squealed as I headed for coffee and a long sit down.

I’m not booking a week at Center Parcs just yet but we had dared to step beyond our comfort zones.

And, once more, it took two young children to remind their sensible dad of a valuable life lesson: sometimes you just have to step into the abyss.

  • Activities run from March 25 to April 10 at the hotel’s Event Station and are open to non-residents; prices and bookings here

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Sleeping beauties

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Time away is like a deep sleep.

 It takes you time to settle; some initial tossing and turning is almost mandatory.

But, slowly, your breathing slows. Your mind quietens. You start to drift.

The things that crowded your head on the incoming flight, the stresses that tripped up your transfer start to fade.

You’re entering the first dream.

As the time meanders languidly forward, Larkin on the beach and palms raised in a sun salutation, you sink gratefully into the womb of slumber.

The dreams are freewheeling now, gentle and replenishing, rather than frantic and frightening.

By the time you stir, the sunlight beckoning group the white-net curtains, something has changed: your perspective has altered.

It had been 18 months for me since I’d slept like this and I had carried every day with me like a dead weight. 

But no more. We all need a deep sleep sometimes.

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A home from home in Chester

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* Image credit www.chestergrosvenor.com

I took a holiday in home town recently.

It was easy: walking from home to the hotel reception to check in; no resetting my watch for time zones and unpacking my wash bag in the reassuring knowledge that I could always pop home if I had forgotten my toothbrush.

It was refreshing, too.

I slipped out in the evening out for a walk around streets I know well — yet I still felt like a tourist.

I threw back the curtains the next morning to gaze up on the upper floors of the shops from my second-floor window.

I know these shops from ground level but never before had I appreciated the architectural flourishes of their upper floors, the dates elaborately carved into the stone.

It was practical, too. After years of negotiating airport queues, train delays and volcanic ash clouds, it felt good to be away yet so close to home.

Maybe we should take a holiday in our him town now and then. It was a refreshing to start a new year with a new persecutive on a place I thought I knew all too well.

I may well be back in the summer for another stay. After all, it’s just a 15-miute walk from my front door.

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