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Hull, slumped on the edge of the cold North sea, with
its fish docks and trolley buses, is an unlikely candidate for a city
of culture (2017). My mum would turn in her grave with surprise. Nor
did I know it has a well established werewolf, Old Stinker. Which explains
a lot. After a long war which took her teenage years, she applied for
two secretarial jobs, one in Scarborough (up the road), one in Lagos,
Nigeria. I’m not sure she calculated the difference, but it was
a bound for freedom and the rest is history.
They lived on Lake View but there was no view of a lake; the lake was half a mile away in East Park. The view was of the other terraced houses, and out there on the high road, trolley buses, one of which one day ran down my mum’s young sister, an aunt I never met but apparently resembled.
She was stuck.
Five daughters, one dead, two bedrooms, a front room where granddad would bring home kippers and newly baked bread, a bit of a garden, a typing course, a town of sour grumbling whose humour was difficult to dig out, unlike that of the alternatively madly jolly or weepingly depressive Liverpudlians over on the other side of the North of England. The North, Hull, with its dark, lowering, rainy skies, fog, cold. Hull, with its fish docks, its history of the slave trade and the spice trade. The ‘land of Green Ginger’. A way out she’d not yet seen.
East Park was always a shortcut, a bit of green when not too misty, something slightly wild where the rock outcrops suddenly appeared beyond the lake, with its splashboat and ducks fed bread by generations of small hands, beyond the swings and roundabouts.
There is nowhere more prosaic than Hull, nowhere more determined to remove fantasy, imagination and hope, the town of Philip Larkin, with his levelled down cynicism about relationships, dreams, love, families, sensitivities. In this park he was walking about watching others, hare-eyed clerks with the jitters, aimlessly poking in bins.
It was a gloomy, pensive day. Trapped in a city looking backwards into a history of slump, trolleybuses, their hair was in pins on the bus, slippers in the street, hauling in coals to keep warm, not even the romantic grace of true poverty.
It was a town which suddenly ends and falls into the dark, cold, North Sea.
So she took the short cut, because she was trying to sort out in her mind what was going on in her life and what to do next, trying to make some decisions. No one else seemed interested in moving away, in escaping, but Barbara wondered what was beyond the fish docks and the market, over the grey harsh sea, what to do about her grief and anger about the lumpen, deceitful, dull, policeman ex boyfriend, and about the claustrophobic household of young women lurching at love.
Prosaic and resistant to wild flights of fancy - Hull. Far from the moors of Howarth, in such an unimaginative place, it’s only fair to give absolute credence to a werewolf tale. Who could make this up?
The day was long gone, although it was only 5pm; the rain fell steadily.
She was thinking of the two letters in her pocket, results of the months in night school learning shorthand typing, each offering her a new secretarial job: one from Scarborough, up the road, and one from Lagos, Nigeria. Barbara clutched her pointed umbrella, a warm bag of a fish and chip supper in newspaper, covered with a gingham cloth in her basket, next to her newly cobbled and pointy heeled red shoes, also in newspaper and snug from the rain. Her woollen gloves warming her, her headscarf keeping out the drizzle, she mused as she trod her familiar shortcut through the park, past the green, past the lake, round the now very misty rocky outcrop to go out the side gate near home.
There’s no romance in Hull, no fantasy in Hull.
It was hard to make out a shifting shape shrouded in drizzle, but suddenly
from the mist and gloom, a ferocious crackle and snap of branches, and
leaping in front of her was a seven-foot one, blocking her way, its dark
bulk outlined against a faintly rising moon, its muzzle, its shaggy red
hair, its teeth, its teeth.
The bad breath was so overwhelming she almost forgot to be afraid. But only for a moment. She laughed in his face with its rancid breath and its stinky teeth. She knew she was no werewolf’s dinner. Seizing her newly cobbled red stiletto heels she struck out, lunging for his eyes, whacking his pointy snout with her tough bag, drop kicking him in his matted fur stomach, scattering the fish and chips in his face, on the ground. Food! And as Old Stinky, overwhelmed and confused by the mixture of food smells, now a young woman, now some freshly fried chips, blindly clawed his way to the hot battered cod she made a swift getaway.
After that it was clear that it must be Lagos – the Gothic inlaid cabin trunk and the mix of mosquito boots and cocktail dresses. She sailed from the fishdocks off over the grey grey seas, her mother and sisters weeping and waving her off from the quay.
It took weeks to get to West Africa, but eventually, after many a legendary cocktail party and a few bouts of seasickness, the ship docked, and on the quayside, the crowds welcomed them. My mother was on deck in her new gingham short sleeved dress, with her suitcase, and her new perm. And as his job was welcoming the new arrivals, the first who leaped on board in front of her was my red-haired dad, with his natty tropical uniform and his wolfish grin.
The rest is history.
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