Three things people from Edinburgh need to know about Durham – Susan Morrison

Durham appears to be a place where no one ever grows old or where people over 30 stay hidden until after nightfall, travelling only in secret passages, writes Susan Morrison.

Friday, 25th October 2019, 11:45 am
The cast of Friends - particularly Jennifer Aniston (second left) - would fit right in on the streets of Durham. Picture: Getty

The Yorkshire husband and I have taken to this break lark with quite the gay abandon. We had a lovely time in Berwick-upon-Tweed and so decided that the city of Durham should receive our largesse next.

Durham has three things you need to know about. One, a cathedral. A very large cathedral, as it happens. Let’s put it this way. We could fit St Giles into a corner and still have room for the extensive gift shop. It looks a bit like some sort of 10th-century ­aircraft carrier, marooned on a hilltop.

The second thing you need to know is that it has a castle. And that’s where we win, hands down. Oh, it’s all well and good with crenellations, turrets and the kind of stairs that make you think a Norman knight would have clanked down in full armour just to answer the front door, but does it have cannon? No, it does not. An overnight stay by Mary, Queen of Scots? No, surprisingly, given that she was a gal who liked to gad about.

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Durham Cathedral dwarfs Edinburgh's St Giles'

Does it have an extensive gift shop? No, also surprisingly. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice little castle, but no contest.

The third thing you must know is that Durham, like Edinburgh, is a university town. Unlike Edinburgh, however, no one else seems to live there. Of course, I’m probably wrong. Perhaps they just make people over 30 stay indoors until nightfall. There may be secret passages where those with grey hair and crow’s feet flit back and forward, away from the shocked eyes of the youngsters who, will, of course, never age.

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We arrived on Saturday, which is, of course, party night for students. There are those who think every night is party night for students, but that was a long time ago, back in my era. We had full grants and could afford to hit the town every evening, especially when pints were only 50p and wine by the glass was something people had heard of but didn’t necessarily believe in. Today’s student pays for their degree, so any shenanigans are reserved for the weekend.

Flawless skin, swishy hair

The city centre was awash with young people, all dressed up with some place to go. Through the middle of it, the husband and I lumbered like a pair of brontosauruses. Wonder how much a nifty face lift would be...

Would it be worth it, I ask myself, the old nip and tuck? I did once give myself a facelift with some Sellotape, which looked reasonably ok. From a distance. Quite a distance. Fife, as it happens. And only in a certain light. As in total darkness. Also, I couldn’t actually breathe. I believe that counts as a major side-effect.

The young lassies of Durham flitted past looking like extras from Friends. All with the same flawless skin, swishy hair and jeans that didn’t have enough flab hanging over the top to create a veritable tutu. Ah, young sister, I thought bitterly, I am your future.

Perhaps I should have used that moisturiser that’s sitting unloved on the bathroom shelf. It’s all separated now anyway.

Twenty-five years ago, which is less time than most of those guys and gals have been on the planet, Friends first hit our TV screens, and introduced us to Jennifer Aniston,

Ms Aniston is 50 this year. She would fit right in on a Durham night out, whereas me at a student bar would look like the cleaner there to do some extra hours. Mind you, in order for Jennifer to look like ­Jennifer she has to put the hours in. She doesn’t drink and never eats after six in the evening. Her big treat is celery juice. She works out like someone trying to join the fire brigade.

It’s a full-time job, man. I have wine to drink, burgers to eat and long lie-ins to have. Think I’ll just age disgracefully and frighten the young sisters.

Why I’m perfect spy material (unlike James Bond)

MI5 are looking for new recruits. Well, sign me up mister. Spies are meant to blend in seamlessly. Never quite understood why Connery’s 007 was supposed to be such a good spy. His Bond blended in with the subtlety of a silverback gorilla on the No 22 bus.

One thing a weekend in Durham has taught me is that I am practically invisible, like all mad little old ladies.

If you’re thinking of applying, you’ll need a degree, or, rather bafflingly, “equivalent work experience”.

What constitutes “equivalent work experience” for spies?

Hanging around Tesco in a dinner suit checking out what people are buying? Have our spooks been doing Take Your Kids to Work Days and getting young Cassandra to hack her way into enemy defence computers?

Mind you, the way kids are with computers these days, it’s probably a better idea to unleash them on SMERSH than us dinosaurs.