At the beginning of the month, a few (travel) writers revealed their most treasured souvenirs in the travel section of The Guardian. Paul Theroux suggested that collecting – rather than impulse buying – is the passionate drive behind the desire to seek and own a particular object. Items range, the article suggests, from tango shoes (Kapka Kassabova) to boar tusks (Margaret Elphinstone).
Souvenirs certainly link travel and collecting, two ways of knowing a place by ‘consuming’ it in different ways, by purchasing (or picking up) an object that may bring back the memories of a beautiful journey. More often than not, such meaningful mementos become the theme that somehow sums that particular travel experience.
So I went to Hull two weeks ago, now, and bought a sailing boat.
The short train journey north was long enough to give me a sense of distance, both geographical and cultural. A cheerful (!)-looking Philip Larkin welcomed me as soon as I got off the train on my way out of the station. Immediately I smelt the sea, and the seagulls, flying over Andrew Marvel’s head (this is the city of poets after all!), along with the mouth-watering smell of fried fish confirmed my proximity to the sea. Unlike Brighton, however, this maritime lady of the north does not go out of its way to impress the visitor. Hull’s understated charm is like that of a widow who has, perhaps, seen happier times, but which nevertheless retains her dignified appeal.
So off I went to spend a couple of hours treading the city’s cobbled streets, spotting, every now and again, the engraved silhouette of a fish along the Seven Seas Fish Trail. If you pick up a map from the Visitor Centre – the place where you can purchase your own miniature sailing boat – you will be able to tick all the fish, learn all sorts of weird and wonderful facts about fish and even gain a certificate of completion at the very end!
I did not have time to finish my fish trail, but chose to spend some time in the Fruitmarket area and visit the Streetlife Museum. This is a nostalgic tribute to Hull’s historical past, with exhibits ranging from a double-decker tram to a wonderful gallery of vintage bicycles, standard models and penny-farthings, where I learnt that in the 1930s Hull was known as the ‘bicycle city’.
On my way back to the station to meet Ray French, who had kindly invited me to talk about writing and space at the University, I walked past the marina, elegantly lined with white masts swinging in the wind, and wished everyone could travel on the estuary on public transport. Unfortunately, sailing is only the privilege of rich boat owners, who choose to drop anchor in Hull to save a few pennies!
The short visit left me wanting to see more, so I hope I will travel back soon!