I arrived for my events in Durham only mildly troubled, but things soon spiralled down. (The mild troubles related to getting no sleep last night, plus an unfortunate incident in the station. I was walking along whistling ‘I got you under my skin’, as I’ve been reading the huge two volume Kaplan biography of Sinatra, when the person in front of me – a middle-aged woman – span around and gave me an evil glare. I didn’t know why, but wondered if it was because she thought I was in some way whistling it at or for her, in some sort of predatory way. Or maybe she was just looking behind her at someone else, and she has the sort of face that falls easily into a glare. Either way, I’ll never know, but it cast a shadow over my journey.
Then I decided to walk the 50 minutes to my Premier Inn, to save the taxi fare. Which was fine, if you’ve a fondness for strolling by dual carriageways. I eventually reached a part of Durham called, I kid you not, Pity Me – I took a photo of the sign. I vaguely wanted to joke with someone about this, but the only people around were a group of tough primary kids smoking at the bus stop, and I feared that hearing my non-local accent might trigger some primal rage or Carthaginian barbarity, so I hurried on.
I finally reached my destination, dumped my bags and went shopping at the adjacent retail park. However, although I could clearly see it, I couldn’t work out how to get in it. I wandered around by another couple of dual carriageways without getting any closer. In the end I tried to enter through a Honda car place. There was a low fence at the back I thought I could scramble over. But some young salesman saw and cornered me. I panicked and expressed an interest in buying a car.
Until the 1990s I knew every car on British roads, but my car lore is long gone. I glanced at a smallish vehicle with a puckered sort of sneer on its face, like a mocking orc. The name came back to me. Honda something… Honda Crevice? No…
“How much is the Honda Cervix?”
“Civic,” I barked “CIVIC!”
He started talking about a test drive. He went to get the keys and I ran away and hid behind some bins.
Later I stumbled somehow into the retail park. I went to Superdrug, as I’d come away without any toiletries. There were various irresistible special offers that meant I went to the till with three packets of dental floss, two toothpaste tubes and more antiperspirant than even I could get through in a day of school events. Oh, and some haribo tangfastics. The woman on the till looked at me with pity. No, better to call it sympathy. What sort of a life must this person live, you could see her asking herself. She had a kind face. I was worried that she might think I had horrible brown teeth, hence my need for so much floss etc. So I tried to smile, but I was having a low blood sugar episode by now and I think it was more of a carnivorous leer. She asked if I had a Superdrug card thing and when I said no she said I should get one, as I could start to save straight away, and even though didn’t want one at all I said OK.
Then I thought I’d get some sushi from Marks , but they didn’t have any. After a period of listless wandering, I looked in my basket, and all I had was some plums and a three pack of underpants, like some kind of art installation. I put the basket down and tried to find my way back to the hotel. But it was even harder to leave the retail park than to enter it. In the end I tried to cut through some sparse birch woodland, with a Blair Witch sort of feel. I thought I sensed other lost souls amid the trees, and worried that it might be a gay pickup area, and I’d be forced to give an unsatisfactory blowjob to a trucker from Gateshead in exchange for directions out of there, but it was fine, and I crawled under some barbed wire to get back to a familiar stretch of dual carriageway, a mere mile or two from the hotel.
Anyway, a night of editing my philosophy book ahead of me, so I can’t get drunk. I like Durham, though. I feel very much at home, here.