During the coronavirus lockdown I'm nostalgic for people-watching in Hull

People watching in Hull
People watching in Hull

As the coronavirus lockdown continues may of us are feeling the stress from not being able to visit the public places we enjoy. I am sure that many of us in East Yorkshire are already nostalgic for the bustle of the city of Hull. So with that in mind, here are my reflections on the art of people-watching in the city.

What do we mean by people watching? I would say it is the pleasant pastime of watching one’s fellow citizens as they go about their various activities, both business and pleasure. One can observe changing fashions, the evolving cultural composition of society, and the general great tapestry of life, to name just a few of the fascinations. This activity enriches the soul by allowing us to be aware of the nature of the society we live in, and the nature of life for our fellow beings.

From where do we actually do our people watching? First off, the ideal venue must be well located. There is not much point in visiting a venue where you cannot see anything or anyone. Of course what you want to see in your people watching depends on yourself.

For example in Italian cafes I visited in Rome, Florence and Venice I saw more tourists than anything else. It is funny how tourists look and behave similarly, with their glazed ‘Oh no not more history’ look, their over-specced cameras and pointless hats.

In Hull you might see more tourists than you expect especially around places such as the Ferens Gallery and Maritime Museum. But in other places you’ll see fewer tourists. For me the people watching fascination is with the people of Hull themselves.

So what features in the ideal people watching venue? I would suggest the following:

  • good overall location - near busy pedestrian thoroughfares
  • good specific location near the kind of people and culture you like to observe
  • comfortable seats to sit in
  • optional availability of food and beverages
  • quietness in order not to disrupt the essential musing
  • good windows to maximise observational potential

In my view a public house is not a good venue for people watching. These venues are noisy and alcohol is not the ideal beverage for relaxed observation. However, you may feel differently about this.

Ideal location of a people watching venue - good view of thoroughfares
Ideal location of a people watching venue - good view of thoroughfares

Having located an ideal venue, one needs to accessorise oneself for people watching. Ideal accessories are dependent on taste, but for me always include coffee and cake. Fortunately Hull is well served with places which can provide these in a comfortable and peaceful setting next to a good window.

Coffee and cake - the ideal accessories for people watching
Coffee and cake - the ideal accessories for people watching

A sturdier foodstuff might be the traditional English bacon sarnie. I find this traditional flavoursome delicacy to be an ideal accompaniment to lunchtime people watching, and one which creates an additional sensory delight.

A bacon sarnie puts the viewer in the ideal mood for people watching
A bacon sarnie puts the viewer in the ideal mood for people watching

A good venue may be situated in a district of interest in any town or city. As a boy I would people watch in a local fish market, which was almost a education in itself. Often a quiet city sidestreet can provide rich people watching opportunity.

Local people in Hull make for good people watching
Local people in Hull make for good people watching

The activity of people watching must be appraoched in the correct frame of mind, otherwise the overall experience will be marred. Stress, worry, sadness are all unwelcome causes of the type of preoccupation which can hinder the people watchers ability to take in what he or she observes. Indeed people watching is similar to meditation in that it takes those who practise it to a higher spiritual plane, and thus provides solace and comfort to the soul.

With the modern focus on mindfulness, people watching should be a recommended therapy for all those suffering the stresses and anxieties of modern life. There is surely no better way to be mindful than to relax and watch the world go by.

The House of Fraser - once offered premium people watching in Hull
The House of Fraser - once offered premium people watching in Hull

In an evolving city such as Hull, the opportunities for quality people watching ebb and flow. Recently alas the potential of Hull was greatly diminished when House of Fraser closed its doors in 2019. This venue had arguably the best people watching spot in Hull - its venerable Cafe Nero, where a range of coffees and additional succulent delights could be purchased.

On the positive side, there are still many good people watching venues in Hull. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Cafe Nero opposite the Maritime Museum
  • Any of the cafes at the railway station. Personally I prefer Starbucks
  • Robbie Johnson’s Cafe

Wherever your people watching may take you, may your soul find peace