“Grimsby was not at all what I had expected…. The town centre was not compact and charming and town like, but grubbily urban with busy roads which were difficult to cross on foot” – Bill Bryson
Since July 2011 I have lived in the east coast town of Grimsby and every so often I get to entertain my grandchildren for a few days at a time. This can be a challenge because to be honest there isn’t a great deal to do in Grimsby. My grandson likes trains so one day last year I planned a three train treat, a main line ride from Grimsby to Cleethorpes, a promenade sightseeing trip and a ride on a narrow gauge steam train.
I like Grimsby but it has to be said that it is an odd place. I am not sure what Bill Bryson was expecting to find, Chichester or Banbury perhaps? Grimsby is a town in decline. On the south bank of the Humber Estuary it is so far east that the only place to go after this is the North Sea and there aren’t any ferries to Europe as there are in Hull on the north side of the river. It is a dead end. It is a place that you only go to by choice. No one visits Grimsby by accident. You cannot stumble upon it while taking a leisurely drive along the coast as say in Northumberland or East Anglia. It can never be an unexpected discovery.
A postcard map of Lincolnshire doesn’t even show Grimsby even though it is the second largest city/town in the county after Lincoln. It doesn’t get any visitors unless they are on business and, believe me they, don’t really want to go there and it doesn’t get any tourists. I mean it doesn’t get any tourists! As a measure of this let me tell you it is completely impossible to buy a post card of Grimsby anywhere in the town. There is nothing in Grimsby that anyone would want a post card of. I challenge anyone to find a reference to Grimsby in any visitor guide to England!
My day out started at the railway station which is an area close to the old Market Square. By all accounts this was once an attractive part of the town with a traditional market place surrounded by Georgian houses and old-fashioned traditional family shops. The sort of place that we remember fondly in a foggy mist of 1950s nostalgia, and then in the 1960s the modernist architects and town planners did their worst and demolished it all to make way for Soviet style concrete construction of modern shops, a hotel, offices, banks and a gloomy underpass and today, except for a good statue that pays tribute to the fishermen of Grimsby, it is a place without heart or soul.
On any average day here you will find unemployed men drinking from about nine o’clock in the morning (unemployment in Grimsby is 50% higher than the national average), teenage girls pushing their babies in push chairs (Grimsby has the third highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK) and unemployable young men in hoodies and track suit bottoms or if not track suit bottoms then jeans slung low around the hips to show off a fake designer label band on their underpants.
With nothing really useful to do most of the young people in the Market Place are reduced to making important decisions like which part of the body to have pierced or tattooed. Personally I cannot understand why anyone (unless they are a Maori) would want to disfigure themselves in this way but in Grimsby and all across the UK bodies are decorated with lions, wolves and dragons, goblins, fairies and skulls, a comprehensive A to Z of boys’ and girls’ names and more Indian braves than General George Armstrong Custer had to stand against at the Battle of the Little Big Horn!
Recently I went to have a haircut and waiting in front of me was a woman with a low cut top and tattooed writing all over her voluminous breasts. She was a big woman (Grimsby has an adult obesity rate of over 30%) and although I was too embarrassed to make a close inspection I suspect it might have been the complete works of William Shakespeare with space left over for Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’.
In between the new Market Place, with pointless pavement water fountains, where rag-arsed kids who are playing truant from school dodge the water jets, and the railway station there is a new street layout called ‘shared space’ which is a crazy paved area where neither traffic or pedestrians have any sort of priority. It is the mad idea of an English urban planner called Ben Hamilton-Baillie who proposes that road/pavement planning should be based on what he calls behavioural psychology. Apparently he bases this theory on the basis that he has visited Utrecht in the Netherlands and it works there. The point that he seems to have overlooked is that Utrecht is a pedestrianised traffic free city centre.
This man who is plainly deluded says that… “to make a street safe, you need to make it dangerous. If a driver feels like they have got to really watch out then they will respond accordingly. By deliberately introducing a bit of uncertainty then you get remarkable improvements in terms of safety.”
England it seems has a talent for producing a long line of barmy architects.
It doesn’t come as a great surprise that it doesn’t work of course and despite paying this man a king’s ransom the local council had to eventually climb down, reinstate pedestrian crossings and proper pavements because no one in Grimsby was ready for a space age solution to the traffic problems of the modern town.
After visiting a cash machine at the Halifax Building Society we walked the hundred yards or so to the train station, bought our tickets and went to the platform to catch our train which was due in five minutes time. We were waiting for a Class 158 Desiro Trans Pennine Express but there was nothing express about it this morning because the information board advised us that it was approximately twenty minutes late which shouldn’t have been a great surprise because according to its own website Trans Pennine Express only ever achieves about 85% reliability on providing services at the scheduled time.