I’m in ‘ull!

Okay, I fell off the blogging train. Sorry not sorry!

Last autumn I upped and moved over the Humber into Hull. It’s a friendly, laid back kind of city – it’s the kind of hipster chic that Calgary neighbourhoods spend a lot of money and effort trying to imitate. Old brick industrial buildings converted into hip art spaces (Humber Street), old pubs full of brass knick knacks and ancient regulars, live music of all sorts every weekend, several awesome museums and some delightful parks . . .

I’ve been meaning to update with some City of Culture reviews. Living in Hull for 2017 has been rad – cool events, wicked happenings, nonstop culture and I’m taking full advantage of it. What’s been really fascinating is the local reaction – at first there was a kind of skepticism, but as time has progressed and we’ve seen some truly world class events (and some boring, shrug-worthy ones too) I hear more and more positive comments.
The reaction to my presence has changed as well over the past few months (“You moved to HULL? From CANADA? But why?!?” has shifted into “Yeah, we are a friendly bunch, hope you enjoy Hull however long you stay!”). So anecdotally, yeah, there has been a real infusion of vitality because of the City of Culture title, and the arts funding & infrastructure improvements that have accompanied it. I love these conversations with locals – and even with Southerners (starts with “Why Hull?” and moves on to how it’s their first visit and it’s much nicer than they expected).I like Hull. Sure, there are downsides, and I’m sure I’ll rant about those another day. But I’m here, and I plan to stay a time.

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A visit to the Leeds Royal Armouries

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Pew pew

Put this on your to-do list, because the Royal Armouries are amazing.

From the moment you arrive at this museum (free entry, donations welcome), you are immersed in the history of warfare and combat – with a focus on England, yes, but the collections span the globe, with some great pieces particularly from Japan. From the actors dressed in Saxon armour at the door, to the shooting simulators that let you see what it’s like to shoot a Lee-Enfield Rifle or a machine gun, there’s things to see and do before you even get to the exhibition halls.

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Pew pew. Ranked as Marksman, Second Class. Good enough to be conscripted.

And then you get to the staircase.

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Oh, so that’s why it’s the armouries.

Suddenly you are thrust face to face with a display of weaponry that is impressive, breathtaking, and a little frightening. The craftsmanship is stunning, but the sheer scale of these things for use in battle . . . it’s staggering.

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Dieu et Mon Droit – God and My Right: the slogan of the British monarch. Aggressive, no?

The museum is arranged over 5 floors, and is well designed to be bright and spacious. The space and the exhibitions are marvelous, and I could have easily spent a few days there reading about warfare and arms. I am particularly interested in Medieval history, as you can probably tell from my selection of pictures, but there were also large collections that outlined the development of guns and cannons, Victorian hunting weaponry, and contemporary weaponry and policing tools (though not so much about contemporary warfare, noticeably. Though there was one room dedicated to worldwide peace movements).

There were also plenty of live performances and presentations, from a storyteller reciting the tale of Beowulf and Grendel with vigorous use of props, to a talk about Saxon blacksmithing, to a demonstration of medieval swordfighting . . . there were more things to do than time to do them in. And they were all top quality, presented with passion and knowledge.

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But for me, the absolute highlight of the day was having a go at the crossbow firing range.

Yes, that’s right – for a small extra fee (I think it was £3.50 for 8 bolts) you can try your hand at shooting a crossbow. There was a bit of a wait in line, but so, so worth it.

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Ridiculous amounts of fun.

A great and very full day out, and plenty of interactive elements for all ages to enjoy. There are a couple of cafes in the Amouries, a little picnic area and some lockers if you prefer to bring your own food, and some restaurants just outside (we enjoyed a Pizza Express before driving home).

To finish, I will leave you with this delightful picture of Henry VIII’s tournament armour (sorry about the reflections in the glass case).

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Wow, would you look at that . . . helm. Do you think he could fit his whole ego in there?!

Poetry reading today!

I’m doing my first poetry reading in the UK today! At 1pm!

The amazing Riverhead Coffee is hosting at their Grimsby location. It is very kind of them to host – it’s their first poetry reading. And while I’ve done lots of performances, this is my first in the UK. It’s exciting, especially because I have no idea what kind of turnout there will be. Preparing has been an interesting process, because while I’ve been able to anticipate the response of the average Canadian poetry audience, who knows what the folks here will think. It’s great – I’ve got to be on my toes.

Wish me luck, and I hope to see you there!

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Soccer! Football! Whatever it’s called!

Living in England has converted me. That’s right, I’ve become a footie fan.

It’s a surprise to me. As a retired roller derby athlete and a lifelong ice hockey fan, I have always thought of soccer as a slow sport for the unfortunate people who can’t skate. Oh, I recognized the athleticism of jogging around after a ball for 90 minutes, but I just thought it wasn’t any fun to watch. All that diving to the ground and clutching at ankles. Give me Bobby Baun scoring a game winning goal on a fractured femur – as a Canadian kid I heard the legends of the hockey toughs, saw the sutures stitched on the bench. So naturally I held soccer in a not-always-quiet contempt.

I changed my mind when I worked with some soccer athletes. Dedicated, passionate, skillful and athletic, they had way more fortitude than I would have previously imagined. Still not the sport for me, but now I gave it respect.

Since moving to the UK, I have been adopted into a Manchester United household (this means that I am forbidden from saying anything remotely positive about Liverpool. At all. In any capacity. Ever.). I watched a couple games, and wasn’t that interested in their dull defensive strategy. Boring to watch. Especially when it doesn’t work, which is most of the time.

But then I started watching Leicester, who play an entirely different ball game. They’re the type of team that bring so much get-up-and-go to the field that they make other teams step up in kind. They’re fast and aggressive. It’s exciting. Really, really exciting.

Who knew?

I’m definitely a bandwagon jumper here, and I’ll admit that freely. So while I’m at it, here’s another bandwagon I’ve hopped on.

The football club to me – so local they play just a few blocks away – is Grimsby Town, nicknamed the Mariners. The team was founded in 1878. For context, the phonograph was patented the same year.

I haven’t been to a match, but I watch the crowd bedecked in black and white stripes streaming into and out of the arena whenever there’s a home game. There is a good deal of visible team support, which is really cool in an area of England where people grumble that there’s nothing to do except drink. The Mariners fans represent with a particularly Grimsby twist: chanting “fish” while waving inflatable haddock. I love England. Tis a silly place.
Last weekend the whole family gathered around the tv to see whether the team would be promoted to Football League after a 6-year absence. They won, and it’s a big deal, not in the least because it means they’ll be included in the next FIFA video game, because it means more money and prestige for the club, which in turn should attract more fans to watch games, eat at local restaurants and drink at local pubs. Good for business.
But more meaningful still is what it means to the people who live here. I sat at my window a few days ago and watched a gaggle of youngsters in their jerseys running up and down the street waiting to see the Mariners come past with their trophy. This is the difference between their hometown being the butt of a joke in the movies and having something to cheer for. It’s about community, and as someone who lives here, it brings a huge smile to my face.
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The Mighty Mariners right outside my window.
I’m looking forward to getting to a match in the future. If only to shout FISH! FISH! FISH! while waving my haddock.*
*No, that’s not a euphemism**
**Or is it??

Taking the sea air

It’s a beautiful day today, so here’s a short clip of the waves along the Cleethorpes seafront promenade.

Technically it’s not the sea, it’s the Humber Estuary. But it is glorious on a sunny morning. An instant caffeine infusion for the spirit – lifts me right up. Those Victorians were onto something with their seaside resorts.

Say what you’d like about living in Grimsby, it is fabulous to have this sight a two minute walk from my door.