Durham – 5 great years and 53 amazing hours

I’m now boarding a train from Durham train station, southbound, leaving this small country city for what I am sure will not be the last time.

This has been the perfect regression into my unique student lifestyle perfect to begin 7 weeks of summer vacation and, actually, I’m feeling just a tiny bit emotional writing this.

It has been far from the perfect two days, but there have been moments scuttled throughout this of complete euphoria (yes I am over using that word, and I plan to overuse it the entire year), giving me memories that rival anything I have ever witness.

I want to outline them and share them with the world.

Firstly, my main purpose of the trip was to attend the DSU Awards Dinner, the main function I organised two years ago.  With Durham Students’ Union in a sadly typical disarray, well done to all involved for a good event.  However, mine was better and will always be better!  I was frustrated by the lack of information; we need to and deserve to know who has been nominated for each award, and the motivation behind this.  I was frustrated by the portion sizes (although maybe lunches at  school buffet-style every day is not healthy in this regard).  I was frustrated by the well-intentioned idea of the big bang playing, but we all wanted them to play at DSU instead – less glamourous – but we were ready to move on after Mike King’s 7 minutes about the future of DSU that we all have rather not listened to at the very end of the night.

But gosh, I know how I want my Awards Dinner to be, so I will be the moody old guy in the corner and have no real regrets about fitting that character if I did.  The main positives of the night though have to completely be the Honorary Life Memberships of the Union.  One, all considered, was not too revolutionary (Anthony Forster) – and none of us could complain about this.  The other though, had all of us on the sabbatical table I am sure in delight (a euphoric delight, I could add), as we slowly realised who was getting the award.  Andy Hopkins is not a traditional DSU type of guy, he is no political animal, but he cares about things, always gets them done and more than any student I know always supports what the union does.  I am thrilled he joins the HLM club and I am thrilled somebody out there recognised this.

I didn’t have the greatest night out after this.  Fun enough certainly, but not quite living up to Durham memories.  I think if we made an incisive decision, and to insist to the Freshers’ that we needed the New Klute experience, it might have been an even better night.  But I can’t complain too much.

The next morning I asked to be woken, but didn’t expect it at 07:50 – to come down to witness the Wagon Cup, the Collingwood knockout tournament to celebrate the end of the year.  Little did I think I would be getting a game.  Of course, I would have loved it, but I didn’t expect any captain to take such pity on my childish dreams that in all fairness I have already done many times before.

However, the A team, playing the G’s at 09:00, seemed to be feeling the side effects of a massive social the night before, and were only able to field 7 players before the game, so without knowing any of the fun history of my time in college football called me up for a game.  I ended up playing in the position I dubbed ‘the place where nobody else was’ and loved the few occasions when I managed to set up some passing triangles around.  We won 2-0, a little scrappily but as the better team, and I had the experience of clearing a header off the line to earn myself some tokenistic plaudits.  However plaudits still of gratitude, genuinely and humbly from good footballers, as they realised that 5 minutes before the game with 4 players they would otherwise have had no chance.

I am glad I stayed to witness the next game, a hard earned win for the H’s against the D’s.  The H’s are and were barely recognisable from the team I played for last year, but it was a performance telling of the kind of memories that I remember from 1st year when with a non-league team that just keep on winning – filled with so many enthusiastic freshers looking to make some history.  The difference though is that this is, remarkably, a H team, and when I first began, Collingwood AFC kept 4 teams in the league and now should arguably have 8, and as former H team captain I was proud of the spirit I witnessed that evoked so many strong memories.

I met with the other sabbatical officers from times gone by at Zen, and we had a fancy lunch (I think I picked the wrong option, but it was still fun – I need to remember at heart I am a weakling when it comes to spices).  If I can, I would have no issue in trying to make this a bigger, more co-ordinated tradition for us former sabbaticals to meet up for the Awards Dinner formally, and maybe it should be my job to co-ordinate.  I don’t think I can do it more than once a year, but it is a perfect time and chance to bring people all together to share our great memories of the Union, and I value the skills and chances it gave me.

Natalie, President when I was her sidekick, said on the train up that I would not recognise many people in Durham.

Yes, there were times when I felt a little out my place, randomly walking through college JCR for example, with everybody there being a new face.  However also, I even surprised myself by how easy and how often it was to bump into people I knew.  Perhaps what Natalie forgot was that, as a Societies officer, my hand was in many different pots and therefore knew people very loosely and informally, but also very friendly and that was not lost – there were many pleasant conversations, and even still many people that I wish I had chance to meet but did not.  On this note also, it was highly amusing how these people either had one of two stories to tell me.  Firstly, was the one to say how…well…well remembered my Sex Education videos were that I produced for my classes.  Secondly, was a well done from everybody for the Durham University Eurovision Society shout out from Graham Norton during the Final.  I was still doing things that were a feature in the lives of people I knew and I loved that.  In a typically quirky Ben way, I was still a fabric of university society and that was special.

That night I was tired, but I felt I should be going out and hitting Durham, and I felt, although most definitely unfairly, a little frustrated that nobody else I knew did.  I now feel much better for having the decent night’s sleep (and as I write this section between Northallerton and York on the train, could possibly do with another one).  I felt frustrated by my lecturers not being in Education to have a gossip about Swedish education, by the next person in line for Societies and Student Development Officer not coming to the event we planned, by the traditional late June damp squid of summer weather in Durham, and an impression that maybe, just maybe, it was one night too long.

This though, is not necessarily a bad thing.  I remember one friend of mine, in fact one of many inspirations for starting this blog.  He came up to Durham the year after he graduated, and did not find it as much the welcoming place he wanted it to be.  He felt like a nobody, and worthless here to some degree.  Oddly, I did want to feel this idea a little.  I don’t want to be so delighted about my university life that I can not live without it, so to feel so much that I need to move on is great and an essential part of my growing up experience.

But I managed to find things to do.  I was inspired by going swimming, however useless I have managed to become at that again, and had the joys of taking part in chocolate biscuit tasting for product testing.

And to end my time at Durham, was a hastily organised AGM for the Eurovision Society.  Arguably the worst and least promising year has gone by for the society, but I was a delighted man to see people standing for our key executive positions hopefully to keep the flame burning and to keep me coming back for more Eurovision love.  Ruth, you may be busy, but you do need to do so so so much work next year to make the society function.  You are starting from scratch and have a survival game to play, and it is something that frustrating takes a lot of work.  I’ll be there to help you in the impromptu role of Events Co-ordinator, but I am expecting and needing you to lead by example and deliver events and fun for the society.

Witnessing this though, and having great fun times afterwards, made Durham special again.  Things happen that work that I am proud of and I want to see them develop and prosper further.

I expect to be back, and I expect it to be worthwhile.  My vow now if that Durham will only be worth it for events, and hanging around there does not need to be done any more.  But I could come back, indeed a well organised society event in v. 44 when I am in the UK anyway could be perfect.

I did a lot in 5 years at Durham.  I did a lot in 2 days at Durham.  There are memories of such significance to me, and I don’t even mention them all in the near 2,000 words I have written.  Jim in Collingwood had not moved from the computer room.  I bumped into Durham’s Super Mario lookalike in Tesco.  DSU was as empty and desolate as I remember.  Things that don’t change that brighten my day no end.  As a place, with the people I know around, it can be and often enough is a fun, vibrant, exciting and successful place I still want to know and remember.  I will do my best to return when I can guarantee I can witness these emotions again.  It is hopeful to expect it to be as good if I did it again next year, but thanks, I have that hope again.

Welcome Summer Holiday!!!

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