jump to navigation

Reflections on a Home 7 July 2012

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Time, University.

(Originally written while on holiday in early June, but forgotten about until now…)

Twelve years on, yesterday I was back in Durham. I say “I”, but really it was “we”. In 1997 I arrived, finding myself staying at 35A The Avenue, Crossgate, for my first year of theological training (and second year of theology degree – which is known as being thrown in at the deep end). In 1998 I became we, as Siân and I married and moved into Hylton Court, Newton Hall, a small terrace bungalow with partially cardboard walls that was to be home for the next two years or so (and cost rather less than the recommended rental figure than the Diocesan budget expected, although that was not a deliberate action on my part).

Yesterday, ironically coinciding with the Johns’ and Cranmer leaving service, we were back. Or maybe more correctly, I was back, as it rapidly became apparent that Siân has very few functional memories of the place, her routine and the time being very much one of working full-time (if not more than full-time) at the now-gone Dryburn Hospital, travelling to and from it, and sleeping in-between (somehow fitting in the first years of marriage too!)

I can’t say that I’ve wanted to go back for ages, despite some very good memories, otherwise I think we’d have made the effort sooner. The fact that they are really my memories only perhaps explains it rather well. We drove down from Berwick, via a brief and pointless stop in Chester-le-Street (lasting rather shorter than that of St Cuthbert), and started off by visiting Newton Hall, the housing estate from which Sian walked and I often cycled to our places of work. I made it to Hylton Court without needing to use the map (memory is a powerful thing!) and we decided to park up and see the old place. (Lucy didn’t want to see and stayed in the car. Her loss.) Deceptively small, a through lounge-kitchen, small double room, probably no larger than the one in the rather luxurious caravan we’re staying in, and a single bedroom that ended up being used as a store room and study. Outside the planting (not just for it, but everywhere actually) was much lusher than I remember.

From there we drove into town, noticing to our surprise just how many of the familiar shops and businesses were still there. The local Chinese restaurant and take-away was still in the same name, even though I’d forgotten it; The Golden Rice (Indian) still stood next door, and Bishop’s Barbers was still in that same small parade of shops on Framwellgate Moor. On, past the fire station, and then left down towards the centre, passing the now “University” Hospital, and onwards on slghtly less-well remembered roads. Even so, we still managed to make it to The Avenue, our planned all-day parking spot in easy reach of the City Centre, without recourse to the street map, and ending up very nearly opposite 35A for good measure.

One thing I was a little worried about was how well the girls would take to all the expected walking, but I was pleased and impressed about how good they were. I can’t say the walk down to the river was just as I remembered it, as I’d “lost” the middle section of it from my memories, but it was familiar enough, even down to being able to remember what some of the shops were when we last were there, which took us to lunch. The Pizza Hut I remembered was no longer there, but Bella Italia was a pleasant enough alternative. Thence up the side of the peninsular, along a path that certainly had been properly surfaced since I last went up and down it, sometimes on the bike (which was notable as it was both steep, and formerly, occasionally stepped!) So onto Palace Green, with the Library, Castle, Theology Department, and more impressively of all, the Cathedral.

I don’t really “do” cathedrals, I have to admit. Usually I find cathedral worship rather uninspiring and “flat” rarely doing justice to the surroundings, although maybe in a strange way that is actually part of the point, something to do with the insufficiency of human effort before the awesome holiness of God. But I love Durham cathedral. Ever since I first saw the place, which I think must have been when I visited in 1986 for an interview to study Geography and to be attached to the non-College that is St Cuthbert’s. (I applied for Johns’, and so got there 11 years late!). I love the architectural solidity of the place, Norman mass rather than Gothic slenderness. I love the way the lofty nave stands in counterpoint to the more modest scale of the Galilee Chapel. And the Galilee had to be the first port of call – my favourite place and familiar quiet spot from my years at Cranmer. Of course I had to introduce Lucy and Becky to the Venerable Bede too.

It was really good to see them both enjoying the place so much. I had been worried that Lucy in particular would be “bored”, but not a chance of it, she was awed and amazed instead. I can’t say that we went everywhere, as 10 and 6 year olds move first, but I did get the chance to say “hello” in passing to Kate Bruce, who was running various Johnians through their paces for the service that evening. I also had to correct the impression that the Cloisters were those in the Harry Potter films, that was Hereford Cathedral. (As an aside I was reminded how unimpressive I find the Shrine of St Cuthbert, despite its historical importance to the cathedral.)

After a brief, but profitable visit to the Bookshop (that’s profitable for them, not me!) it was on to John’s and Cranmer, where John the porter, after a few phone calls, did us proud with a walk around. In the best traditions of progress it’s a definite case of the same yet different. Virtually none of the staff remain, although we bumped into Alan Markham, the chap in charge of the building and maintenance and I was recognised, but much of the college itself is familiar. I wouldn’t have expected much to change broadly-speaking, although one of the Cranmer Lawns has been sacrificed to a new 37 room block of accommodation, all with en-suite and 2 disabled-accessible. When that’s done there will be a new Library and IT Block built, probably, on the site/within a 1970s build house near the Chapel. I’m sure Siân and I ended up playing a game of Risk with students on our interview visit there (the house not the Chapel). There’s an extension to the Haughton Dining Room in progress, which will move the servery and render the Bowes (Cranmer) Dining Room redundant. On reflection I’m not quite so sure what I think about that, as although it was always cramped it was also always Cranmer, just like the Cranmer Common Room was separate from the Johns’ one. (Didn’t get to see that actually, the heart of Cranmer, on our perambulations, I was too busy soaking it all in and the girls were beginning to get rather bored, and the building work made various areas rather less accessible.)

Another welcome change was to the Chapel. Even at the point of my leaving I’d known there was plans to re-order (as I’d seen them). The result is a much larger and flexible space, if a little barn-like. The only dark-coloured wood remaining is the reredos, off-set by a much lighter coloured altar table, made of matching wood to the bench pews, which appeared to be stackable. John the porter, our guide, wasn’t so keen on the new space, but he’d never seen the old one.

By this time I was the only one interested, so it was time to head off back along the bailey in search of the fondly-remembered Haagen-Dazs Shop…. which had gone! Nevertheless ice cream was found for Lucy from a traditional freezer on a trike, and sweeties for her Becky-ness. (As were the necessities of toilets!)

I have to admit that there was plenty more we could have done, and I’d have liked to, but it had already been a long day, especially for Becky. So Prebends Bridge, the river path, New Elvet, The Swan and Three and other sights will have to wait… but hopefully not for another 12 years!

So, a visit Home, or more correctly to “a” home. I’ve had rather a lot of them when I come to think of it…



No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: