Phil’s Forty, 24: Holidays at home

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.

Stone Creek, Sunk Island.
Stone Creek, Sunk Island.

Without quite reaching the heights of social media sensation, the two-parter on holidays in Holderness attracted a flurry of activity among the Twitterati. Especially those who live there.

Our jaunts to admire the costal jewels also cropped up in conversation elsewhere time and again with one associate recommending the stretch of beach just north of Kilnsea, and another telling of his 45-mile bike ride taking in Ottringham, Sunk Island, Paull and elsewhere.

A third has just told me about his first visit to the Alexandra in Withernsea since his stand-in job at the Holderness Gazette some time ago. Now he’s thinking of buying a chalet up towards Skipsea.

The area was also celebrated in the pages of the Yorkshire Post magazine, with John Godber revealing that he too has been wandering along the wonderful beaches. His findings that the sands at Mappleton were busier than usual resonated with our own experience – we didn’t even stop there because we couldn’t find anywhere safe to park.

It’s all down to the problems with overseas travel. Withernsea, Hornsea, Spurn and the rest aren’t on the quarantine list, even for people from outside Yorkshire.

John also made the point that without the pandemic paralysing so much of what we take for granted many people would never have ventured east to discover – or in some cases experience for the first time – the delights on our doorstep.

I can’t stand the word “staycation”. It’s a feeble attempt to make people feel good about missing out on a proper holiday.

It first emerged during a period of economic hardship a few years ago. It’s back this year because of Covid-19. And it will be here again next year when even if Covid has cleared the fall-out from Brexit will make overseas travel more costly and time-consuming than in the past.

Penury, pestilence and politics offer nothing to celebrate, although that’s not to say there aren’t good reasons for holidaying close to home. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had was in Hull and east Yorkshire and it came about when a friend from overseas dropped in for a week.

Kyle, a friend and colleague of Phil’s.

Kyle was a colleague during my near three years working for The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. As the paper’s sports editor he was extremely well-travelled with regular visits to the Commonwealth Games, the PanAm Games and even the Olympics. And that was just work.

He’d lived in Miami and toured the States, the Far East, the Caribbean and every World Cup in recent years. In 1998 he came to Cottingham as part of a European trip taking in his Scottish relatives and a few games at the World Cup in France. I worried whether Hull would have enough for him.

But our city and surrounding region scored highly for attributes which Bermuda lacks. It doesn’t have the swanky seafront hotels or the designer golf courses which during my time there routinely attracted such celebrity players as Bob Hope and Michael Jordan but, even 22 years ago, it had a wider range of quality, interesting and affordable places to eat, drink and shop. Coming from an island about 21 miles long and never more than two miles wide, Kyle also enjoyed a drive into the countryside where you didn’t have to turn round after half an hour.

Taking a week off and showing Kyle the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Hull really opened my eyes to the attractions which many locals still fail to appreciate. I’ve said for years that the people who knock Hull are those who have never been here, or who have never been anywhere else.

The shopping offer in 1998 didn’t include the spacious St Stephen’s or the stylish Paragon Arcade. The Deep hadn’t been built, the marina was still finding its feet and the Fruit Market was, well, a fruit market.

But Princes Quay was prime retail and Kyle spent heavily on CDs from Virgin Records which you just couldn’t find in Bermuda and on tennis gear from one of the sports shops which was the same as the kit gracing the island’s courts, but maybe half the price.

The pubs in the Old Town were unlike anything that Bermuda had to offer and the Baltic Wharf next to the marina gave a taste of things to come. Created by Francis Daly, the man behind the wonderful Waterfront club and hotel, the former dockside warehouse was Hull’s first café bar and has never been bettered. With everybody else stuck at work on a sunny Thursday afternoon Kyle and I had the place to ourselves, enjoying the food and drink and a 2–2 draw between the Netherlands and Mexico.

Bermuda doesn’t do candy floss and amusement arcades so we took a trip to Bridlington on a day when flaming June made way for a quick blast of winter chill and sent my wife dashing into Boyes to buy a denim jacket.

We stayed in touch over the years but never saw Kyle again. We became busy with work and kids. Kyle with work and travel, before his death last year. Our memories are of late nights drinking Gosling’s Black Seal rum and playing loud music, and long days watching NFL and First Division football in the days before the Premier League. But they’re also of shivering on the prom at Brid, watching the World Cup in the Baltic Wharf and pacing round Virgin Music, beaming like a kid in a sweet shop during an unforgettable holiday at home.

Phil Ascough