Phil’s Forty, 13: Lockdown birthday


It’s 40 years this year since Phil Ascough, our most prolific freelance contributor, arrived in Hull to begin a new episode in his journalistic career. Having spent two years on the weekly Doncaster Gazette, Phil headed east to the Hull Daily Mail. Apart from three years on the Royal Gazette in Bermuda and a short spell at the Teesside Gazette, he’s been here ever since. He worked for the Yorkshire Post and the BBC before returning to the Mail and becoming business editor. He moved into sports media with the Press Association in Leeds and then Howden, and set up his own PR consultancy in 2010. To mark the anniversary he has set out to write 40 essays looking at his career, our city and its people.


Anichkov Bridge
Anichkov Bridge, St Petersburg.

Nearly 40 years of living in Hull adds up to a lot of birthdays in the city, but not all of them have been spent here.

There were three during my time in Bermuda, one on holiday in Spain and one working in St Petersburg at a time of year when the sun never properly sets.

Late May sees the start of the “White Nights”, a season of cultural celebrations of the emergence from the darkness of winter. Even after midnight there were traces of daylight, albeit with people and traffic reduced to a hazy and almost slow motion monochrome as we headed back to the hotel. Or maybe that was just the effects of the Russian beer but, in truth, we didn’t have much.

Nor did we see much of St Petersburg because that’s what the workload is like at SportAccord. The erratic schedule left no time to book tours of the galleries and museums but we admired the architecture as we travelled around the city, wondered at the number and height of the bridges lifting to let the shipping past and made a mental note to avoid a clash with those manoeuvres on the way back to the airport.

The underground, Primorskaya.
The underground, Primorskaya.

We also timed the escalator descent at Primorskaya, the station nearest to our hotel on the St Petersburg metro, reckoned to be one of the deepest in the world. I forget now how long it took but I remember checking – if you’d started listening to Back in the USSR when you stepped on the escalator the song would be finished well before you stepped off.

That was birthday 54 in 2013. The Bermuda birthdays were 1990 to 1992. Details have faded but the first two will have involved dinner at the Lobster Pot, a favourite watering hole for journalists on the Royal Gazette and, without meaning any disrespect, a few steps up from the 1980s media pubs in Hull – Bonny Boat, White House Hotel, Hull Cheese and the original Star of the West.

The third Bermuda birthday coincided with the leaving celebration as we prepared to come home to Hull and took place on two floors in the Robin Hood, the haven for expats on the islands. Work colleagues were in the main bar, pub mates were upstairs. Two groups of friends, two parties, two drinking rounds of loads of people and too messy!

The Bonny Boat had hosted my 30th birthday in 1989 but the occasion was somewhat understated, with plans coming together for a bigger bash to mark departure to Bermuda. Two years before that was the Johnnie Walker birthday. As a star of Radio One he used to feature “this day and age”, so when I was 28 on the 28th May I splashed out with an all-dayer at the Adelphi.

Shamen.
The Shamen.

Lunchtime featured a live show by Nine Play Hendrix and in the evening, for just £60, Jacko managed to book The Shamen, then at the peak of their creative powers before psychedelic rock made way for electronic dance and commercial success. At some point I bumped into the late Martyn Hainstock, famous as the match day announcer who gave us “THIS is Boothferry Park!” Propping up the bar in The Queen’s, Martyn was thrilled to announce the birth of his son Harry, then gutted to learn that the new arrival shared a birthday with me!

It was a day of two doner kebabs – tea and supper – and for losing a house guest as the crowds cleared at closing time, only to find him asleep on the doorstep of my house just off Goddard Avenue. A homing drunk.

My 40th was a civilised tea time session at the Blue Bell in Cottingham when Shirley and Terry Leahy, who I can see sunning themselves in their garden round the corner as I write this, ran the place as one of the best pubs in the region.

The 50th was a family meal at Mimosa, a terrific Turkish restaurant on Beverley Road which was one of the first in the city with a nice, big open kitchen. It’s now a grocer’s in that parade of shops near the Mainbrace, once a great pub but now apartments. We’ve lost so much.

It would have been a bigger occasion, many 50th birthdays are, but it came the day after my final consultation at the Press Association and we wanted to careful with funds. The redundancy process had dragged on since March, in no small part down to my own delaying tactics as I schemed to keep the salary coming in, negotiate a bigger pay off and rekindle old business networks in Hull.

For those who find themselves in a similar position during these difficult times I can only offer this. As I drove home from the first consultation I considered my strategy and decided that the very worst outcome would be for the company to change its mind and make me stay. Having decided that, everything fell into place.

In 2016 Hull City beat Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley on my birthday to deliver the fantastic present of promotion to the Premier League with a performance as accomplished as I’ve seen from the Tigers. I was there with our Amber, who wouldn’t let me have a beer afterwards on the grounds that she was too young to go in a pub. Yeah right!

I made up for it in 2019 with my 60th taking in Beverley Races, Istanbul restaurant and Nellie’s prior to spending what seemed like an age trying to help a former colleague and renowned photographer overcome the effects of beer, wine and whisky to cross the railway bridge at Cottingham station.

Some superb occasions shared with lovely people and all leading to a birthday first last week – a celebration under lockdown. It was great. We stocked up with Stella and opened a very nice bottle of cardamom gin from Hotham’s to enjoy in the sun-kissed garden. Then a glass or two of wine after Amber returned from her shift at the Chinese takeaway with a nice meal for three.

We’ll celebrate properly when circumstances permit. We’ll get Matthew back home for his belated 21st and we’ll pick up with friends to mark the special occasions which they’ve all been saving up and to say farewell to those we’ve lost. Because some of us are all in it together.

For now the garden beckons, and maybe a chat with Shirley and Terry Leahy over the garden fence. Cheers!

Phil Ascough