Smile Through It II: The Next Chapter

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Durham Day 2

Posted by Oli on Sunday 2nd March, 2008

I wake to my Tac-alarm (the 10am call that stirs me every morning I’m not up in time for my morning dose of Tacrolimus, my main immunosuppressant) and sit and read for a while as K comes to.  Once we’ve rolled out of bed and managed to get some clothes on, we hop in the car and run ourselves into town.  The walk along the river yesterday was great, but knowing we’re going to be exploring all over the hills of Durham today, we opt to take the car in to the centre so the journey home is easier if we’re exhausted by the end of the day.

We park up in their multi-storey by the Elphick Bridge and wander out through their “shopping centre”.  I use inverted commas because it’s not so much a shopping centre as a centralised collection of shops in a U-shape off a parking structure.  Given the olde worlde nature of the rest of the city, the cul-de-sac of high-street shops is somewhat incongruous, but we let it slip past us as we wander off and up the Bailey in search of breakfast, which we find not halfway up the street in the shape of Saddler’s, a small-but-perfectly-formed little cafe which does breakfast till 12 (we make it by 15 minutes) and other luxury items throughout the day.

Having charged ourselves for the day ahead, we continue up the Bailey towards the Palace green and the Cathedral which towers over the whole of the centre of Durham.  I pull out the camera to snap some pics as we approach only to discover I’ve forgotten to charge the battery.  I swear at myself a lot.  Mostly under my breath, although a couple of passing pigeons may have heard a little bit of blue-air in passing, for which I profusely apologise.   What makes it more galling is the fact that the weather forecast for the next few days is terrible, including snow storms tomorrow.  As we walk up to the Cathedral, with the castle bearing down on us from behind, the skies are a crystal-clear blue with barely a smattering of clouds, the city bathed in a warm Spring glow which fails to dissipate through the day.  I’m furious with myself for missing the best part of the weekend to snap decent pics of one of my new favourite homeland locations.

After an interval that would seem short for even the most temperamental five-year old, I clear out of my funk as we enter the cathedral.  It’s magnificence defies even my power of description.  I’m relieved to see all the signs telling me photography is forbidden, making me mildly less frustrated, but am soon distracted by all the point-and-wonder beauty of the inside of the building.  From the windows to the pillars, ever inch of the cathedral is steeped in over 1000 years of history.  The cathedral itself used to provide a respite for fugitives and law-breakers.  With a single knock on the great door, they would be admitted for safe harbour, given 30 days to sort out their affairs or leave the country through the nearest port.

The main hall of the cathedral is adjoined by a cloistered area and a dozen or so more rooms which afford the place ample space for coffee-shops, souvenirs and all the additional gubbins of a modern-day historical site whilst still allowing it to go about it’s regular daily business as a place of worship.

We eventually decide that it’s too much for us to take in after a big walk and with feet starting to ache, so we adjourn for the day to lower climbs down at the bottom of the hill over the bridge where we settle in for lunch at the Swan and 3 Cygnets, a pub which doesn’t end up providing the rustic-pub-grub that we had been hoping for, but it’s decent enough sustenance all the same.

While we eat, we talk to Pops, who’s calling it quits on her day’s work and heading down to meet us, nothing at all to do with the cafe opposite the pub having, “the best cake in Durham” (a direct quote from the text message).  She and her other half wander down and we head over the road to the Cafe Continental and seclude ourselves away in their uppermost room, where the two of them have lunch while K joins them in dessert.  I restrict myself a mediocre milkshake, but I’m assured by all and sundry that the cakes are, indeed, magical.

Totally failing in our planned return to the college to catch some Z’s before the later afternoon’s programme of events, we instead end up sitting and whiling away most of the afternoon in the cafe with Pops and Alex, covering as many conversational bases as it’s possible to cover without slipping into a brain-frying tangential spiral more akin to Eddie Izzard.  Mind you, we still manage to fit in a good few tangents all the same.

We head back to the college, paying our extortionate parking charges on the way, and grab a quick feet-up 20 minutes before we head back up to Castle for the afternoon’s main attraction, the Big Chill With Bill – an opportunity for the Durham students to come and meet their Chancellor that surprisingly few of them take up.  I’m not too disappointed though, as the group who do arrive mean the afternoon is passes in an intimate chat about organ donation and the amazing gift of life – both Pops and I relaying our various personal stories of transplant (her brother being a heart-recipient 2 years ago), with interjections from various people in the group to ask questions or find out what more they can do to help.  In any of the talks of events I do, however formal or informal, I always feel that if one person goes away and talks to someone else, or signs someone up to the ODR, then it’s been a worthwhile use of my time and that’s exactly how I feel as K and I walk away from the Castle to shoot back to the college to change for the main event of the evening.

The Hatfield College Charity Fashion show is an annual event that is run entirely by students (as the Master of the College’s wife was so keen to inform us).  Having never been to a fashion show before, I have no idea what to expect, but manage to take the majority of it in my stride.  Sitting on top table as guests of honour (well, of the Chancellor, anyway), we are afforded one of the best views in the house, which is only a little uncomfortable when watching the La Senza section as the barely-out-of-their-teens models (my God, I sound old) parade themselves mere inches from their Chancellor’s face.  I’ve no idea what he’s thinking, but I don’t know where to look, so take to alternately bitching with Pops and K, sitting either side of me.

The main highlight of the evening (apart from a 3-item attempt at an auction, which included dinner with one of the male models) is the group photo after the fact with all the models in My Friend Oli t-shirts, myself and Bill.  Promotion/attention seeking as I am, I have high hopes that the free t-shirts will be worn and talked about all over Durham and the photos will find their way into as many student publications as  Alice and Pops can persuade.

Torn between wanting to experience a night out in Durham and the fact that we haven’t managed the rest we needed during the day, K and I finally decide we don’t want to push it too far, so after saying our farewells to Bill, who will from here on out be detained on Uni duties and too busy for the campaign (we have spent our allotted day of his time, which is more closely guarded than many a club door on a Saturday night) , we head back to the college to crash out, which we do by 11pm. 


One Response to “Durham Day 2”

  1. Emmie said

    Fab reading, so glad you had such a great time! When you get a chance can you wing me over the photos and a small write-up about the weekend and the ‘My Friend Oli’ campaign so we can get it up on the website when we next to an update? Ta!xx

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