Originally published on The Tab Durham in November 2014
Sometimes the divide between locals and students can seem insurmountable… especially if you’re a local yourself
Durham may not be my home city but after Newcastle it is the city I feel the closest affinity to. Sunderland may be closer but no self-respecting Geordie would admit to liking ‘the other place’ in public. I’m one of those lucky students who can just pop home for the weekend but it also means that my experience has lacked a little bit of the excitement that others have going to uni for the first time.
For those who have travelled halfway up the country a wild night in Klute might means that there is no chance anyone from home could ever see. While I’m not a Klute-goer (that sounds oddly like a disease), that’s not an experience a local student can guarantee.
I haven’t yet had the awkward experience of seeing an old friend spot me wearing some strange fancy dress but it could happen. Let me tell you though, encountering distant family for the first time in years on the walk back from Bill Bryson — while wearing a reasonably eclectic outfit — is as awkward as it sounds.
The rest of the world may have the image of Durham as an idyllic cathedral city but it is also a place that is more than a little rough around the edges. Some students might only stray as far down Claypath as it takes to get to Urban Oven and the bleak charity shop lined North Road is a far cry from the bubble of middle class privilege that surrounds the city centre.
The prevalance of shops such as Andersons of Durham and Jack Wills create an image of Durham as a bastion of wealth prevailing in the centre of an area that is still struggling after the recession. That isn’t wholly true though, as those more familiar with the area will know. When the students leave in the university holidays the city is incredibly quiet and the natural character of the place is clearer.
It shames me to admit it but I do understand the ‘town and gown’ divide. For the ordinary working people of Durham the late night antics of students, often including loud drunken chants about Hatifeld, can be tiresome. For the inhabitants of Durham going about their daily lives I understand that students can seem frustrating or obnoxious and for me that is challenging to deal with.
Moving away from all of that, it can sometimes be humorous – or downright strange – to see people’s preconceptions of the area you live in. ‘The North’ seems by some students to be viewed as a strange and exotic place and the comments of a DUCK ragraid representative to a group of freshers I overheard at the Charities Fair sums this up.
She told the group, using words to this effect, that it excited her that Durham was ‘practically in Scotland’ and it meant that the country was easily accessible. To me at least that seems like saying that Dover is ‘practically in France’ but there is a key distinction that is missing. In that case, it is the English Channel and here it is the small issue of almost a hundred miles, including hideously winding country lanes.
It is uncomfortable how ‘the North’, as in anything north of the M25, is often portrayed as an exotic and distant place as if we inhabit different countries and speak a different language. Students from southern regions were complaining of the cold and shivering in their winter coats while I was still walking around in a long sleeved t-shirt.
At least this aspect is mildly funny.
Less so is the way in which people sometimes struggle to understand my accent. My speech isn’t littered with ‘whey aye man’s and other Geordie phrases, I swear; I just speak fast and don’t speak in the RP manner that many other students do. Despite this there are still time where I feel I need to tone it down for people to comprehend me fully.
In Freshers’ Week this led to someone asking me if I was from Ireland because apparently I sound Irish. I mean come on, my accent is commonplace in this region and I had assumed that it was as recognisable after the horrors of Geordie Shore as the boisterous tones of the TOWIE crew.
For a local, events such as the Newcastle Freshers’ Trip can be met with dread. Standing atop the Castle Keep in the pouring rain staring down at the train station where you recently witnessed two drunks try to shake hands with the passengers of the East Coast London-Newcastle train is a sobering experience.
It can be difficult being both a local and a student here at Durham University but sometimes, just sometimes, it can be the best thing of all.
Especially when there are home-cooked meals and a night at home up for grabs.