Being From Hull and Jewish and a woman, the triple whammy, generally one feels like saying, when asked to go there, “what’s second prize?”. But not today.
Today I woke up and found myself besieged by requests to big up my beleaguered home town on TV, radio and press, on the grounds that Hull has been named City of Culture 2017.
I’m writing this on my phone on Wednesday in the canteen of the BBC, having just been interviewed by Radio Humberside and The World at One. Jeremy Vine is waiting for my pearls. (If you ask someone from Hull what “pearls” are, they say “people who come from Poland”. It’s the accent.)
Look, I take no credit for this fabulous win — it just happens to be a joy I share with thousands of Hullovians.
My late uncle and aunt, Louis and Rita Pearlman, were Lord and Lady Mayor for years until he was tragically killed in a car crash.
I think of him today and of my dear friend, the writer Alan Plater and the actor Ian Carmichael — all clinking glasses of nectar on a cloudy bar stool with Andrew Marvell and Amy Johnson.
Hull is, naturally enough, twinned with Sierra Leone and we have had a bad press since our MP Sir William Wilberforce put an end to slavery. A lot of folk were doing nicely out of that.
“Hull is other people”, Sartre did not say, but he might have done. The city time forgot, the unemployment centre of the north. Plus John Prescott for goodness sake. What have we done to deserve this Job-like assault on our reputation?
Hull is dour and doughty with the kind of accent and humour that all ports acquire. One thing you can be certain of is that no one will be over-impressed with themselves. We won’t get above ourselves or clean up our vowel sounds.
We will just “gerron with it” just as we “gorr on” with the worst bombing outside Coventry during the war, the end of our trawler heritage and the terrible floods of a decade ago.
There will be grumbling over pints of Hull Brewery’s best over what £15 million quid could have been better spent on, but the mood will lighten over the next four years and pride will poke through the deadpan expresssions.
We have a bridge of such beauty, it takes your breath away. We have a first-class aquarium where my dad’s old gentleman’s outfitters used to stand. We have the magnificent Feren’s Art Gallery and the trail-blazing Hull Truck Theatre.
It’s going to be costly and the city may have wobbles on the way, but visitors will pour in and ultimately the whole place should be galvanised.
And it should be seen because it has a huge and beating heart under those hunched shoulders. Will it benefit from all this attention? As they say on the Beverley Road: “I dern’t kner”.
● The city has a total population of around 264,000.
● The Jewish community of Hull numbers around 200 people – a decline since a 1962 survey which recorded 2,500 Jews living there.
● The first Jewish arrivals can be traced back to the 18th-century. Hull was the primary entry point to Britain for Jews fleeing persecution in continental Europe.
● Hull currently has no kosher butcher or bakery and has to import kosher meat from Leeds,Manchester and London.
● In the 1990s, several of Hull’s Orthodox synagogues were consolidated into the Hull Hebrew Congregation. Hull Reform Synagogue, founded in 1964, is the only other shul still active.
● Gateshead-born Rabbi Naftoli Lifschitz, minister of the Hebrew Congregation, has been credited with rejuvenating Jewish life over the past year, with his Friday-night dinners and communal events attracting big turn-outs.
● The city has six Jewish cemeteries. Historians believe that the first one was established with the opening of the first synagogue in 1780.
● One of the city’s most celebrated Jewish figures is the late Sir Leo Shultz — known as the “Lion of Hull” who convinced the council to build bomb shelters before the Second World War. He was proved right — Hull was the most bombed city in Britain. He also worked to preserve the Jewish history of the city — today Hull has one of the most impressive Jewish heritage trails in the UK.