Cartography: I will not forget Peter's map of Hull, drawn on the back of an envelope at a cafe table, which broke the illusion I had that Hull is a city divided into two. A diagonal line - the Humber; a semicircle resting on it - the urban conurbation; and to the right of centre, a vertical line segmenting that semicircle into one large, one small portion - the River Hull.
So far, Peter's sketch agreed with the oft-repeated view of Hull as having an east-west divide, usually stated in Rugby League terms (Hull FC, Hessle Road west-siders vs. Hull Kingston Rovers, team of the far-eastern Holderness Road). However he then went on to draw another vertical line, parallel to the other and to its left, which effectively cut the semicircle of Hull into three.
That line, he said, is the local authority boundary, and that, he suggested, is far more of a major divide than the perceived other. Hull city to the east of that line, the East Riding of Yorkshire to the west: and within the East Riding, the Hull suburbs, the posh bits, home to the holders of the city's wealth who have chosen to live outside the city and - in a gesture of heavy political symbolism - to turn their faces towards Beverley, administrative centre of the East Riding of Yorkshire which was this week in the news for being the most 'affordably affluent' location in the UK, according to a report by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Most cities have wealthier suburbs which balance and serve them, Peter pointed out. Hull hasn't.
Today I took a walk on the inner west side, among the radical reshaping of Hull's centre-west at St Stephen's (watching Tesco signs being fitted to shining white walls, joining snack bar queues of fluorescent-bibbed workers), along the Hessle Road, around the Kingston Communications Stadium and back into town past the Royal Infirmary, guided by a trail in Derek Spooner's Discovering Cities: Kingston upon Hull.
Spooner is a little brisk in his description of Hessle Road, a teeming thoroughfare: 'older and often dilapidated shops ... still line much of Hessle Road, suggesting a low-income clientele'. There's a hint of disapproval in this statement which sounds like it might come from the East Riding. Or the RBS. Though Spooner's observations are factually true, I couldn't find much to disapprove of in a mile-long stretch of shops busy with customers, buzzing with conversation, peppered with cafes outside which families and friends sat enjoying the late-morning sun. The RBS researchers deducted points from places which had “value” supermarket chains and fast-food joints. Hessle Road has many and I'd score it highly, for the sense of gentle vigour and human engagement which it shares, I think, with that other distinctive Hull thoroughfare, Holderness Road.
Great to see a street with so many original, 'local' shops still on it: individually-run electrical stores, bedding and curtain and DIY shops, hobbyist havens, fresh meat and fishmongers and specialist bases like the Chinese Medical Centre ... I struggle to picture any equivalent road in Liverpool, richly diverse with low-cost personalised shops; and if those researchers truly believe that quality of life is best served by the presence of 'luxury car dealerships and high-end hotels', they evidently haven't taken a long, close careful look at the lives being well lived down Hessle Road.