My Grimsby: not just any old northern town

Cod Almighty | Article

by None

11 September 2016

Sacha Baron Cohen says his film Grimsby is not really about Grimsby, but about a 'typical northern town'. In this feature, we invite you to share what makes Grimsby special.

 Grimsby docks

Photo: Rob Faulkner (cc by 2.0)

Still home

Chris Beeley

My Grimsby is the excitement of standing at the windswept lock gates saying “Is this one dad’s?” as another rust streaked behemoth eases in, then finally catching the glimpse of the grinning face below the (seriously in need of a barber) hair and knowing there would be no shortage of Timpo toy cowboys or a Subbuteo partner for a few days.

My Grimsby is being so cold at Sunday morning footy sometimes at Bradley pitches that we couldn’t even speak. But coming in after to the fuggy warmth, with Sunday dinner (not lunch) to come.

My Grimsby is ridiculous sentimentality, aggression, casual violence, generosity, and unbeatable humour (yes, Liverpool, Glasgow, London, Birmingham, I’m talking to you).

My Grimsby is whale jaw bone park gates, Norwegian Christmas trees, terraced houses and Queen Mary Infant School.

My Grimsby is still home after 30 years away.

The Grimsby accent

Alistair Wilkinson

Does it exist? Do we talk funny here in our corner of northern Lincolnshire? No. Not really. But we have an ability to hear each other in a crowd, to pick out the fellow Grimbarian in a collection of chattering chaps and chapesses. And others can identify us and judge us as different, can separate us and lump us together as idiot children of undefined idiot parents. It's something peculiar to us, that marks us out as separate, as individuals, and, despite the faint scowls, something that we can be proud of.

Recently I have been accused of sounding "less Grimsby". I say "accused" because it feels like a besmirchment on my character, that I am somehow less than I once was, that to be as 'Grimsby' as I can be will somehow make me a more worthy, more superior individual; the same as everyone else, stuck in the same ruts as everyone else, but somehow better, like a VW in a traffic jam of Skodas.
This stain on my character comes from my working in Lincoln for the last five years. Their strange, even more vanilla accent must have rubbed against the edges of my NE Lincs lingo and smoothed it without me noticing, like ninja sandpaper for rough-cut pronunciation.

But it's still there, still spotted by fellow strangers in a strange land.

I'm a school teacher. I spend my working day surrounded by well-spoken staff and grunting teens whose dialectical differences are far more pronounced than any mere accent. Thus, for the most part, no one really notices. Until the giveaway, the marker in our linguistic larks that rings like a warning bell. The ar sound in any word pricks ears of locals and turns their heads, their eyes suspicious and flashing with fear and loathing. "You're not from round here, are you?" That our giveaway should be so common in a strange place (all those caaaar paaaarks that we must find) is doubly dangerous.

For a teacher the fun begins with the register. Normally monosyllabic teens bob their heads like hyenas: "Say Siaaaaaaaaan again, Sir! Say Paaaarker again, Sir! Say Maaaark again, Sir!" And so on. Imagine the hilarity of a lesson on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and the repeated question, "What's the name of the first ghost, Sir? Say Maaaarley again, Sir!"

When a new member of staff joined us, pleasantries were exchanged, new working relationships formed, their birthday noted on the wall planner. When was it? Maaaarch. Heads turned, eyes met across a crowded staffroom. We knew.

And so did the students. I have been accused of being the new member of staff's dad, which was depressingly plausible given our age difference. But middle-aged crisis aside, there was a level pride in both myself and my younger colleague that we had been spotted, that out accent had singled us out as different. And between ourselves we knew that we were somehow better than them. Do I sound less Grimsby? Maybe, but it's still there; I know it and so does anyone who hears me.

Lost at sea

Peter Anderson

Last heard from heading to the Faroes fishing waters on 30 January 1953, the story of the Sheldon is no different to that of hundreds of lost Grimsby trawlers. No dramatic SOS. No running aground, stray naval mines or collisions. Just a sudden, violent storm and eighteen days after the last contact, all hope was abandoned. No wreck, just a calculated guess at the location. All that remained of fourteen lives and 270 tonnes of trawler was a life buoy and a scrap of lifeboat bearing GY696 washed up on shores 250 miles and two months apart.

There's a haunting emotional void associated with many trawler losses. The emptiness extends to the language. "Lost at sea." Not drowned. Not died at sea. Lost at sea. My father was two days shy of his seventh birthday when the last contact was made with GY696, his father’s trawler.

Community spirit is an overused phrase and is occasionally rolled out without true meaning. It meant something in Grimsby; a place where everyone had received bad news from the sea or was dreading the day that they might. Knowing that each time your father, brother or son leaves port, fate rolls the dice on his return. For my father his grief was shared by that of his next door neighbour whose father was also aboard the Sheldon.

My mother knew Grimsby as a celebrated fishing port prior to her moving to the town in the early 1970s. The harshness of life on the docks and the stories of lost trawlers made her realise the reputation was a hard-earned one. It wasn’t just the coal that fired the trawlers that was paid for in bone and blood. The fish that filled them came at a similar cost.

The trawling fleet is gone but it moulded a psyche that I think persists in Grimsby. Resilient. Brave. Generous. Also of course an attitude of "This is Grimsby, it's probably going to go wrong." A sense that whatever course we chart, we are probably doomed. Whether this evolved as a self-defence mechanism or is based on empirical fact and experience is moot. It is sometimes interpreted as a negative streak.

One day it may feel odd to heartily proclaim that we "Sing when we're fishing" even though most of us have never fished. Or have a football club badge that bears three fish and a trawler. The seas will always be dangerous of course but future generations will have a safer, less taxing relationship with the sea. A future with safer fishing and sustainable wind energy.

Until then I’ll see the Dock Tower, breathe in the sea air and remember what makes me proud to be a Grimbarian.

The writing on Binns’ wall

Sarah Barber

I have a brown card hat box: torn. It bears the legend "Guy and Smith’s. Grimsby 5177". I have a collection of 78s – nothing good: they were the ones which broke – in brown card Gough and Davy jackets. They link generations of Grimbarians.

A collection of light classics – a spot of Liszt; Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – meant dad was no ordinary fish-worker. Guy and Smith purveyed style to fishwives, and outstanding clothing for daughters who in those days didn’t want to stand out. Visits to the dentist could be softened by the extra-frothy Horlicks in Guy and Smith’s café and Gough and Davy sold me my first records, and gave me a Saturday job which paid enough for egg and chips in Lawson and Stockdale’s restaurant (so-called).

Much has been written about the funny local shops which used to be in Grimsby – who didn’t love Norris the Rubber Man? – and the collapse of the economy following the Cod Wars. But between the steam train that used to take me to town in the 60s, and the destruction of Pailthorp’s Art Nouveau façade 20 years later, a crime against Grimsby was closing the cattle-market and building the pedestrian centre, car-parks and underpasses. Did no-one give a thought to the women who came into town for a night out, whose bus-stop was the wrong side of the underpass?

The other day I explained "tawdry" to my students: Grimsby shopping precinct with its plastic and neon shop-fronts.

"We wouldn't want it any other way"

Jim Barwick

I was born and brought up in Goxhill, schooled in Barton. I say brought up, but in the late 70s early 80s in Goxhill growing up was limited to riding my bike (with Barry Sheene stickers), fishing and football. I left school as soon as I could and went to do some more O Levels at the Tech Coll. That's when I fell in love with Grimsby. Prior to then the few trips to Grimsby were to get lugworms.

Early days, drinking in the Wheatsheaf, then Willy's and Clouds in Cleethorpes and, of course, starting to go the Blundell Park. I moved to Leeds via a short stint in the Navy and when ever anyone asks, "Where're you from?" I say Grimsby. I mean who's heard of Goxhill anyway? And there's nothing in between Goxhill and Grimsby, it's like Texas.

It's always been a bit weird for me. I know I'm not technically from Grimsby, but I go on about the place constantly. People know me more for Grimsby than anything else. Even in my local, the pub quiz this week had a special Grimsby question just for me. I've taken countless people to BP and nights out. When I go to games, home and away, like I have regularly since the mid 80s I genuinely feel like I am home, amongst friends.

Last weekend I stayed over in Meggies after watching Town. Went to Willy's and all was good, all was the same. All there were good people (including John Tondeur, a legend, especially for an exile) and I felt proud. Explaining who and what we are, even as a bit of an interloper, is difficult. Like all places, Grimsby is unique, different, hard to put your thumb on it, but we wouldn't want it any other way.

A Grimsby of the Mind

Andy Freeman

Arriving in my mid-20s to live and work on the marshy edge of England I just caught the end of Grimsby's fishing trade heyday. Thirty years later I'm still here living, like many of us, in two Grimsbys.

One Grimsby has problems common to all towns in George Osborne's post-industrial 'Northern Poorhouse' but we've managed to create others all of our own.

I hate the lurid front pages of the Telegraph; the squabbling petty-minded local politicians; the chewing gum and oil–splattered black hole of our new town centre; the bomb-damaged, mortally wounded Ice House; the rust and fading paintwork on the wonderful Ross Tiger; the boarded-up shops on Freemo; the shame of our treatment of the fishing apprentices; the docks transformed into car parks.

But crossing the contour line down from Irby on the A46 my heart quickens at my first glimpse of the Dock Tower. I think of the songs of Connolly and Meek; the Nottingham House and the Pier; the paintings of Dale Mackie and John Hopkinson; Steels and the Ocean Fish Bar; the Fisherman's Statue; the stirring, tribal chant of "Maaa-rriners"; the only town in the world named after a literary figure.

Perhaps this other Grimsby of mine is romanticised and self-indulgent, born of my 'outsider' status. I know my children have left, gone down south, and will never return here to live. Perhaps one day my wife and I will leave and find another Grimsby of the mind.

But I know that glimpse of the Dock Tower as I cross the contour line down from Irby will quicken my heart until I die.

No time for pretension

Rob McIlveen

My Grimsby cares nothing for reputation.

It is a rainy and freezing cold November day, but the cold is offset by the warmth emanating from a packed Barrett stand. A visiting left-back, capped at international level, and playing for the first time at Blundell Park, struts over to take the first throw-in of the second half.

A voice is heard from somewhere in the stand: "I've shagged your wife". The left-back looks up accusingly, but all he sees are two thousand smiling faces. He retrieves the soaking wet ball. His mind preoccupied, he forgets to wipe it dry. As he throws the ball, it slips from his hands, and disappears behind him. "And she's better than you," says the voice.

Town's right winger has his easiest 45 minutes in a long time. Town romp to victory. The final whistle is a relief to only one of around ten thousand people in Blundell Park.

The following season, the left-back is suspended for the game against Town, having picked up three bookings in the previous three games. He knows, he knows...

This is my Grimsby, a town that has no time for pretension, but plenty of time for good, honest endeavour.

A few memories

Steve Bierley

Arrival. A rented house in Eleanor Street and a parcel of fresh haddock left on the adjoining wall the day after we flitted from Spilsby. Town in red shorts and white shirts. A grammar school run by a snobbish headmaster with public school aspirations. Learning to avoid getting thegged, and chewing spoggy. Tierney's in Freeman Street: 10 mixed fags, two Turkish, two Egyptian. Later Black Sobranies with money earned on the pea viners. Town playing five-a-side at the Wintringham Gala. Heroes at touching distance.

And the South Bank Jazz Club. Up the wooden staircase to hermetic heaven. Fags, booze, and music, music, music. Alex Welsh, Chris Barber, the Bruce Turner Jump Band, the John Mayall Bluesbreakers. And the American legends. In Grimsby! Ben Webster, Vic Dickenson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Sonny Boy Williamson.

The rush of the new. Family. Spooky Tooth. Fleetwood Mac (without the girls). The Graham Bond Organisation with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. Learning trumpet, badly, to be in the Rumble Band.

The smell of Pyewipe. The lift home on the back of some bloke's Lambretta after only my second trip to see Town. Jimmy Fell forever doing up his laces on the halfway line.

Ah, Grimsby.

Something new might come along

Pete Green

November 2015. It's my first time at Grimsby College since 1992, when I took the third A-level that qualified me for university.

My Grimsby was a town you got out of as quick as you could. It was haunted by its losses and couldn't move on. Nothing had replaced the fishing. Why would you stay in a place with no decent jobs and townies throwing bottles at your head?

I'm here to do an interview with Estuary TV about the We Are Town book I've been working on, which launches later this week. Waiting in a large, busy foyer, I watch the college students come and go, some passing urgently through, some gathering to chat over energy drinks.

Their Grimsby could be better than mine. I've talked to people around the town. We'll never get back what we lost, but after decades of decline and neglect there's a sense that something new might come along. In May's general election Ukip and their shoddy eco-sceptic candidate threw everything at this constituency and failed to take it. Green energy could see the wind set fair for Grimsby at last.

Now I'm looking round the room at the kids, thinking, I want you all to be OK. And I hope you do better than we did.

Then I have to stop because I don't want to get all emotional just before I'm on the telly.

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