I live in a tip-top touristy town (Stratford-upon-Avon). Durham is a similarly touristy town (okay, city) which I lived in for three years as a student. I was back in Durham last weekend, working with the Students’ Union, and took the opportunity to get reacquainted with the place after 15 years away. After reflecting on the weekend, here’s what stood out:
- Everything’s cheaper.
Bus trips are £1.50. Half the price of London. And in my area, no-one but pensioners and the desperate use buses (the pensioners: only because it’s free). A round for two people in a pub came to less than three quid. Companion thought he’d mis-heard. You can’t even buy a pint in my town for less than £3.30. Which might explain why…
- Everyone’s drunk!
Locals, students, probably the wildlife too. There are quite a few drunks out and about from 10am but from 4pm, drunks are everywhere: hanging out in bars and cafes, carousing down the streets, festooning every wall and street-corner. Which leads to…
- People pee in alleyways in broad daylight.
They’re utterly unembarrassed and quite polite about it. ‘Oops, scuse me.’ As well as those weak-of-bladder, you will also encounter students doing the ‘tactical chunder’: an early-evening barf to enable drinking to continue later into the night. Nice. The booze and cheap prices might partially explain why…
- Everyone’s friendly.
In Durham, people are warm and outgoing towards their fellow humans. I visited on a warm sunny weekend but I recall this spirit continues even into bitterly cold winters. You find yourself immersed in chat at bus-stops, in queues, at the gym, anywhere. And if you fancied a quiet cuppa while you catch up on correspondence or reading, forget it – it’s impossible to sit quietly by yourself in a bar, cafe or restaurant.
- Rivers are always beautiful.
Even if you stick a huge concrete monstrosity next to it.
- Durham is missing a trick in catering for tourists.
Strolling from Palace Green (where the Castle and Cathedral are), I fancied writing some postcards. I couldn’t find any. (Admittedly WHSmith had just closed.) In my town they’re everywhere, touristy-tat shops are as ubiquitous as tea-rooms. I walked all round the city centre, including up to the bus station, surely a hub of tourists coming and going, and then had to give up my hunt for postcards. Instead I bought postcards in Craster, the next day. They know how to entice tourists: sea views, postcards and… kippers.
- There’s no security anywhere.
The uni buildings (colleges, DSU etc) had no security – this is 2014, I was expecting swipe-card panels, control gates etc. I’ve walked past Birmingham Uni, Oxford and Cambridge colleges to know that unis are doing this. Why haven’t Durham? And it’s particularly important in a town where my home (while living out) was burgled and where Jim (my fella back in 1999) had his motorbike nicked. People used to say that in Durham, ‘if it’s not nailed down, it’ll get nicked’. Anyone with a van and an overall could easily steal (for example) all the PCs in the Union’s office.
- Durham has proper history. Ancient, whole-population significant, battles and murders, kings and knights, religious and supernatural type of history. My town is famous for one talented playwright who was born there, then bu**ered off to London.
- Student towns support enterprises which wouldn’t survive in other towns.
– alternative shoe shops (Scorpio, and the folk in there are so nice, see point 4
– nightclubs (in my town if you want to go out late at night, we have one cr*p nightclub which keeps rebranding itself and no-one grown-up goes, and a cheesy over-priced strip-club)
– cheap n cheerful restaurant (La Spagnettata hasn’t changed in 15 years – piles of delicious filling Italian grub, whizzed onto your table pronto by speedy chaps in black; meal for two including wine: £28 – see point 1)
- I can’t wait to go back!
I’d like to talk to some of the Mildert students, go into the Physics department and see what’s changed, stroll the river-banks again, and of course, refuel at La Spag. Soon…