Having been in the Greatest City on Earth for almost a decade I have always behaved like a true Londoner; I have seldom ventured outside the borders of what is called Greater London with the exception of oversees travel. I am not particularly proud of this, but for a long time it had been a question of money. When the money- or rather the lack of it- was not such an issue any more, time prevented me from exploring the country of my residence. As it’s high time I made amends, I travelled up North to Durham to see my friend Helen, whome I studied with in Alex and who is about to move back down South as she too has just finished her degree. As train fares are ridiculously expensive in this country if you don’t buy them two decades in advances, I travelled by coach, which is a six-hour journey. When I told two colleagues at work that I was going, they kind of ridiculed me; why would I want to be on a coach for six hours to spend a day and a half at a place that doesn’t sound that interesting, meaning: it’s all the way up North. As I was quite looking forward to my trip north of the Watford Gap I have come to the conclusion, that although these colleagues are really good boys, they are also miserable Southern farts, not sharing my five-year-old -mindset excitement. Although being asleep half of the journey I enjoyed absorbing the landscape and entering cities and towns I had not been before as it all seems so different from anywhere in Europe I have been and I am, after all, a true traveller at heart.
Helen picked me up from the bus station (tiny) and walked me to her residence, which is a very cosy student household, and showed me Durham town. Durham town is very picturesque with a beautiful cathedral, impressive castle, cobbled streets, a scenic river and lush greeneries. Durham is very much a student town and student life is entirely different from big city university Marleybone. Unlike our uni, Durham is rather elitist and very white- middle class. Besides studying hard, college life is a very big deal and one’s college provides plenty of entertainment and social activity. And the booze is cheap: paying £2(!) for a dark rum and pineapple juice makes you want to give the whole bar a round. Although being in a small town, we enjoyed a varied eve filled with culture in the form of sight-seeing the cathedral and the castle, watching a very well executed student production of the Gaza Monologues, drinking and student-watching in the college bars, having a boogie in a non-studenty place with average music where no one was dancing except me and Helen, and observing the locals getting absolute s*hit faced and wearing shockingly little around legs and arms despite rain and non-summery temperatures ( apparently that’s a thing of women up North; they wear very little when going out and don’t bring a coat, even if its minus 10, so the rumour is true).
Since Durham was explored within an evening, the next day Dark Fairy and Company ventured even further North-although only 10 minutes by train- to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Now, I like Newcastle. Despite its industrial image, and I’ve been told the sun is seldom out, it’s a pretty city with cool architecture, a set of rather funky bridges over an impressive river Tyne and the Tate Modern of the North, Baltic, which used to be an old flour mill and is a rather groovy building at the riverside. It held an exhibition of Robert Breer. I am not a massive fan of contemporary art but quite digged this. We, that is Helen, her entertaining flatmate from Portadown in Northern Ireland Steve, who sounds just like my old landlord Jay, and yours faithfully, explored the riverside market, had some food at the EAT! Festival and checked out downtown Newcastle. Like Durham, Newcastle is rather hilly so pretty rubbish for cycling. I guess you can’t have it all. During my short experience of the North, I didn’t find people friendlier than down South per se, something many Northerners often claim. People in Newcastle appear different than people in London and I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the look of the provinces or it’s the lack of a great(er) variety of people.
Great Britain is by no means the only country with a regional divide. And although London is the centre of the universe, it is good to check up on the (in)action in the peripheries. If one fails to do that, then one has the same small-town mentality as one accuses folk in the peripheries to have. Be worldly, stay curious, venture up North, West, East and South.
top image: franksmeltphotography.co.uk