Sunday, March 25, 2007


Big day for Hull today - lots of people descended on the city for a closer look at all these vinyl banners that exclaim, in shouty capital letters PRIDE FREEDOM BELIEF CHANGE. Just four random words really, eh? Any four might've done. VINYL BANNER LOOKS PRETTY for example. Or BIG GIRLS DON'T CRY. Any four words. Except rude ones. Not sure the Prime Minister of Barbados Owen Arthur would've reacted favourably to filth. But the words don' really matter, just as long as people get the gist that something's going on.
So, PRIDE FREEDOM BELIEF CHANGE. What's that all about? It's about the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of course. Although that's not quite as snappy for the vinyl banners, is it? And, at this point, we should add that Wilberforce's old house, now a museum, doesn't have disabled access. So it should read PRIDE FREEDOM BELIEF CHANGE PROVIDING YOU'RE NOT IN A WHEELCHAIR.
All the able-bodied came: The country's media and their satellite vans, Deputy PM Johnny Prescott travelled all the way from east Hull, the aforementioned Owen Arthur performed the opening ceremony at the freshly tarted up Wilberforce House before running across the road to Holy Trinity church, where little Billy Wilberforce was christened, to deliver a speech to the invited guests. Security in the city centre was obvious and, naturally, there was also a small and essential army of traffic wardens enforcing the necessary parking rules and regulations. It seems that Owen had failed to tell his fellow Barbadians that he was off to Hull, if the Nation News is to be believed: "we have not seen the Prime Minister since last Friday night," his opposition leader David Thompson was reported as saying. Give him a break, David, we're all entitled to a jolly once in a while!
Us? We were just walking around in the sun. Spoke to the techy chap in the Sky News van. He told me they're in Hull a lot - the Crown Court being a particular favourite. "Lovely to be here for the right reason for once," he added with a cheeky wink, before twiddling his many knobs. Overheard lots of grumbles from people who'd headed to Wilberforce House only to find out they'd have to wait a bit for the doors to open. And that after losing an hours sleep! Yer can't treat people like cattle, not on this day! You fools. They've waited months for opening day, and you tell them to hang about until 2.30pm. These are Hull folk and they won't wait a minute longer than they decide is necessary. And you've upset the kids. One father decided to give the whole day up as a bad job, prompting his wittering, mumbling, complaining lad to give daddy some home truths: "We never get to do nowt never. If we're not going in Wilberforce House we might as well not never go out or do nowt never again. I hate you."

Actually, what I did see and hear of the commemorations did fill me with pride and belief in the city. We can do stuff and it can be great. And Owen Arthur said some good stuff. Well done all.

And how does Channel Four mark the occasion? Why, by playing hours and hours and hours and hours of Peter Kay, a William Wilberforce for the 21st century ("Do you remember biscuits? Me too. And telly. Telly, eh? Remember? My mum lives in accommodation that has a warden. Let's sing Amarillo.").

Crashed the last night drinks for R Bean's Toast last night, if I can use the words last night three times in a sentence like this and, indeed, crash when I paid for the ticket. The cast are all good value. And Bean handed over the Royal Court mug he promised me, albeit one bearing the name Caryl Churchill rather than his own. In retrospect, it wasn't such a brilliant idea to use it as a surrogate rugby ball with which to re-enact some classic rugby league moves as I wobbled the long and winding way home along Holderness Road with MB. But it was heavily coated in bubble wrap and I do like to press theatrical trinkets into real service rather than place them in the display cabinet I haven't got. From tomorrow, I shall be drinking from Caryl and, every time I take a sip, I shall think of Bean, a true Hull hero.

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