REASONABLE RATES: Still charging by the hour on Waterhouse Lane.
It wasn’t my first night job at the Hull Daily Mail – that was a review of the Sooty Show at the New Theatre.
But it was one of my first late shifts. Start at 2pm, an hour’s break in the Hull Cheese about six-ish then back to the desk with a Yankeeburger. And fries of course. Read the papers, bash a few stories out, ring round the police, fire and ambulance contacts.
“Oh. Er… I need to know about that then.”
My first murder. There had been one or two to cover at my first paper in Doncaster but I’d never been involved at the sharp end. Now I was the only person on the Mail who knew about it; it was up to me to lead our response.
Thankfully there was only so much I could do at getting on for 10pm on a Friday in late autumn. I say “thankfully” because you never really get used to covering murders, and because this being a Friday the aim was always to get finished at 10 on the dot, head back to the Cheese and then down to the Waterfront Club.
So we covered the bases. A snapper went and photographed what he could from the scene at Earles Road, the lane leading down to the old Victoria Dock. He didn’t get much, a few coppers milling around, one or two police vans. I typed up a holding story for the morning, when we would be able to get more information.
That came from a police press conference. I can’t even remember now whether it was at Queens Gardens or Tower Grange. But what I will never forget is the question from a freelance journalist who I would get to know quite well over the years. Jim Goodrick must have been well into his fifties then and always looked older, silver-haired and immaculately dressed, very proper with no time for Fleet Street wide boys or anyone who adopted their approach.
“Was she a sporting girl?” he asked. Even at the age of 21 I thought it a strange term for a prostitute – rough sex on a remote part of the dock estate right up there with football and rugby league, hockey and lacrosse.
Sporting girl, prostitute, sex worker. She was all three, and met her death at the hands of a trucker, lorry driver, punter.
The episode got me thinking, as young reporters do, that there was an in-depth feature to be written about prostitution. I chatted about it with colleagues and we decided, as young reporters do, that we would have to carry out some independent research before presenting the idea to the news desk. So on my day off, as young reporters do, I headed to begin my inquiries in a sleazy pub known to be at the heart of the sex industry.
Waterhouse Lane, across the main road from what is now Hull Marina, was always lined with women offering sex for sale. The infamous Earl de Grey pub stood on the corner at the end. In later years there were stories of the girls conducting their business in the pub toilets because some Middlesbrough football fans were running amok in the lane outside. The whole hooker operation was very visible.
On this Thursday lunchtime the place was packed. I’d just been paid and by the look of the lounge bar so had everyone else. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and there was just once vacant seat. I didn’t think for a second why no one would want to sit next to the big black man, the only non-white face in the room and first person I’d ever seen with tattoos on his face. He confirmed the seat was free so I joined him and we chatted.
And we chatted and drank and smoked until last orders, 2pm in those days. And then, new best friends, we climbed into a cab and headed a mile or so down Hessle Road to Gillett Street Club, one of the few places in Hull where you could drink all afternoon.
On such occasions it’s perfectly possible to spend an entire afternoon with someone yet learn next to nothing about them – work, family, even age, although I’d have guessed at about 10 years older than me. In the Earl de Grey I established his name was Ray. On arrival at the club I watched as he signed me in, carefully scratching out “Raymond June Harvey” like a kid tagging their homework.
“Weird,” I said, as I told my colleagues that evening.
“You could’ve been killed!” they responded.
Turned out Ray was a bit of a bad lad. Fancied himself as the hardest bloke in Hull and not many were up for challenging him.
The next time I saw him was a few months later when, covering proceedings at Beverley Crown Court, I spotted the name Raymond June Harvey on the sheet just as he arrived in the dock. I forget the charge and I can’t remember whether he got sent down or was let off with a suspended sentence, but it was all down to him threatening a lad of about 12 somewhere on Beverley High Road. Ray put a replica gun to the boy’s head and pulling the trigger. The lad was scared witless, but someone told the police.
A couple of years after that I found myself sitting in another pub with another big black man who enjoyed – no, that really is the right word – a reputation for violence.
“Didn’t you used to hang around with Ray Harvey?” I asked Les Hilton
“Oh. I thought you two were…”
“Ray Harvey used to hang around with me!” finished Les
Years later Ray became a regular at the Adelphi Club, turned a few heads with a pretty bizarre and probably drug-fuelled dance style that involved a lot of staring into space. But he was never any trouble.
And the last time I saw him, in early summer 2008, he was positively frail as he stepped out of the Cross Keys pub into the early evening sun and shuffled off to watch another band in another bar at the Springboard music festival in Cottingham.
His dreadlocks were as immaculate as his dress, but his stick was evidence that he wasn’t well, as was the black and white check coat, too thick and long for such a warm day but inadequate to conceal the stoop of a man who looked much older than he was. I helped him across the busy road.
It all came back to mind at the launch recently of Scream If You Want To Go Faster, the new book by local author Russ Litten, and full of the flavour of Hull.
Eddie Smith, formerly the singer with The Gargoyles, kicked off the proceedings with some of his poetry – the same crackpot style of his old band, just without the music.
And his first poem was about Ray, Eddie suggesting that the one-time tough-guy would have terrorised his way through the pearly gates and would now be bullying Jesus while God turned a blind eye to try and keep the peace.
“Is he dead then?” came a voice from the crowd.
“Well they cremated him last week,” replied Eddie.
And I just thought: “He’d better have been dead, because you don’t fuck about with Ray Harvey.”
Or maybe it was all talk. We’ll never know.
The Earl de Grey is still there, spared by the delayed redevelopment of land next to the Princes Quay shopping centre but boarded up and not looking like opening any time soon.
And Waterhouse Lane is there as well, but the girls have moved on and there isn’t even a street sign at either end of the road or hanging from the derelict buildings. Oversight or an attempt to ease the notorious knocking-shop of a street out of the memory?
There is one sign though, in the car park next to the Earl de Grey. It says: “PAY & DISPLAY WATERHOUSE LANE.” Which sums up its history as well as anything.