A survey of our provincial towns, collected in book form under the title Crap Towns, has concluded that Hull is the crappest place of all in Britain, a verdict that might have caused the residents of Goole to blanch, for Goole is the second town on the Humber Estuary after Hull, a place that has, pretty much officially, even less going on.
"Sleepy Hollow" is one of Goole's nicknames; another - pushing it a bit, I admit - is "the Venice of the North".
Most people have never heard of Goole. "Ghoul?" they incredulously blurt, "you mean G-H-O-U-L?", and there is something a little ghoulish about Goole. The skeletal cranes of England's most inland port loom from Yorkshire's eastern flatlands in a dreamy and compelling way, and the place is dominated by a terrifying red-brick, pepper pot-shaped water tower, into the black gullet of which some top-hatted worthy tumbled while giving a firework display from the parapet.
Goole has long been the underdog, booted from the West Riding of Yorkshire to North Humberside, and now finds itself in the East Riding. At one stage, the bureaucrats were going to put it into North Lincolnshire, but that was too much even for the languid folk of the East Riding. (My mother, who died when I was nine, came from there, and my chief memory of her is as an amazingly calm person, forever telling my father, who was from North Yorkshire, to keep his hair on.)
There's a Dutch influence in Goole, which might explain its nature. Half the buildings have a look of Amsterdam, and Goole, like Amsterdam, is flatly mired amid a mutely sparkling network of waterways. Even today, you will hear Dutch or Scandinavian voices in the pubs of Goole because the place is thriving. In Edwardian times, it prospered through the patronage of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. Yes, there are fewer sailors than before, and where once the complicated docks would have reverberated to the hooting of steamships, the only sound today is the anaemic pulse of reversing fork-lifts. But at least they're there, shuttling busily, day in, day out.
I love Goole, which I consider to be like a fascinating concatenation of Liverpool and deep countryside. Before my recent visit there, I'd been listening to the haunting works of the composer Gavin Bryars, pieces such as The Sinking of the Titanic and Farewell to Philosophy, which seemed to send out a baleful depth charge from somewhere near the bottom of the sea. I vaguely knew that Bryars's orientation was north: he wrote a piece called North Shore, inspired by Whitby Abbey and Jules Verne's Captain Hatteras, who went mad in such a way that he would only walk north. When I found out that Bryars was born in Goole, it seemed to make a lot of sense.