Chapter 14: Durham Regatta and the Pros and Cons of Headbanging

“If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful.”
Bill Bryson

A few weeks later and my abdominal pain is no better, but never mind that now, we’ve gone away for the weekend. My daughter, Indie, is currently an archaeology undergraduate at Durham University and despite being the least sporty person I know, somehow managed to sign herself up to her college’s rowing club during the fresher’s week societies fair. Being a tenacious little bugger she’s kept at it and is now somehow rowing in one of her college eights at this year’s regatta. Tori and I weren’t going to miss an opportunity to watch her splash around in the river in college colours so we’ve come up to Durham to watch.

There’s a few steep steps from the River Wear up to the top of Elvet Bridge to get into town, and I find myself gasping for breath as I climb them. They’re only a very short flight of steps but I have to stop at the top with my hands on my hips and have a bit of a wheeze before I’m ready to carry on. From the top of Elvet Bridge where I now stand, a more accomplished writer like, say Bill Bryson, might verbally escort his readers in elegant prose along Saddler Street, turn left into Owengate and up to the Palace Green. A world heritage site, and rightly so with its Norman Castle and exquisite Cathedral. Such a consummate author may well reflect for a while on the relics of St Cuthbert, the remains of the Venerable Bede or indeed the damaged door knocker that they still haven’t got around to replacing. I, on the other hand, would prefer to take you down a grubby and steep back street on the other side of the bridge I have so strenuously just ascended. There we will find a shabby red brick end-terrace with a purple sign hanging on the wall on which is inscribed the moniker, “Klute”. It is home to much student nocturnal merriment and was indeed also a significant part of my youth. As a former patron of this appalling excuse for an after-hours drinking establishment, I had always assumed that Klute must be the worst nightclub in the country, if not Europe. I am however reliably informed by my daughter that it is officially the second worst night club in Europe. A rather fitting epitaph indeed as it’s so crap it isn’t even quite crap enough to actually be the crappiest night club. I suspect that might be a claim frequently apocryphally attributed locally to many crappy night clubs, so I looked it up on Wikipedia to fact check the claim. I discovered that its Wikipedia entry had been deleted due to it not being notable enough. I therefore take its inability to even hold onto its Wikipedia entry as further evidence of its unequivocal crapness. It’s clearly such a worthless dive now that even Wikipedia editors don’t consider it notable enough to even bother to mention what an utter shit-hole it is. You should however most definitely go if you ever get the opportunity.

When I frequented Klute in the early 1980’s they always played the current hits of the day, although it was never billed as 80’s nights back then as it is now. I suspect its current choice of retro music is less calculated nostalgia and more down to the fact that they’ve never bothered to update their record collection. Nonetheless its continued miraculous existence suggests that the universitiy's current cohort of students still like to turn up of an evening and shake their bits to the classic 80’s hits. Indeed, even in my day, after a downing a few drafts of brown ale and a couple of cheeky Pernod and blackcurrants it was not unknown for me to take to the dance floor to strut my funky stuff. Not many people have witnessed the bizarre spectacle of me attempting to dance, and it’s an activity I haven’t attempted in many years, nor do I intend to. What little technique I have however was honed on the dance floor at Klute. My technique involved planting one foot firmly onto the sticky and sparkled dance floor whilst raising the other leg as high as possible. With one foot firmly anchored to the curiously adhesive floor I was able to pointlessly jiggle the other leg about in a rather disconcerting manner in a vague association with the music. It normally had the effect of clearing an arc of space in my immediate vicinity for fear of being hoofed in the privates. I made Ed Balls look like Rudolf Nureyev.

As I stand now over 33 years later eyeing the venue, it is only with a little regret that my pioneering early 80s work into unipedal choreography techniques was never really adopted into the mainstream, or even received the critical acclaim it clearly deserved. Klute however was not my only teenage drinking haunt. Indeed, a normal weekend's imbibing followed a common pattern with favoured venues for Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Friday night was the night we went to to Dunelm House, The Durham University Students Union Building, for the weekly heavy metal disco. Indie tells me that it’s currently used as a cafĂ© and it sounds like it bears no resemblance to its raucous past. Despite not actually being students at the University, my friends and I would line up on the floor on a Friday night and headbang as frantically as possible. We must have looked like a shambolic ensemble of orthodox Jews praying at an invisible wailing wall. One especially keen regular would even dress up as Angus Young from AC/DC with his shorts and cap and strap on a real Gibson SG Standard. We took our headbanging seriously in those days. I was clearly much more adept at headbanging than I was at disco dancing as I recall on one occasion being approached by a rather attractive young lady shortly after a particularly energetic performance of frenzied nodding. She introduced herself as Pamela and despite being clearly out of my league somehow seemed to rather like me. We ended up going out and the following week she asked me around to her parents' house to meet her family. I recall that Pamela worked in a microwave oven factory and her dad, like most people in Quarrington Hill (where they lived), was a miner, although also like most miners at the time, he was currently on strike. Despite only recently moving to Durham from Cornwall and having a quite different accent, I was keen to fit in and be accepted by Pamela’s family, I was after all, punching way above my weight.  I sat politely in Pamela’s front room admiring a rather amusing picture of various dogs playing snooker, I was on my very best behaviour. Pamela’s dad asked me if I would like some tea. As I did indeed want some tea I was then offered a rather curious further choice. He asked me if I wanted a cup of tea or a pot of tea. Why I wondered would I want my own teapot, I just wanted a simple mug of tea. Perhaps he thought I was a bit posh and was offering me a teapot, perhaps with a separate milk jug and sugar bowl. I didn’t want to stand out and look like swanky southern ponce, so I insisted that I would just have a cup of tea. Pamela’s Dad looked at her mum, and then disappeared into the kitchen to make the tea. He arrived back a few minute later with a tray of teas. Mugs of tea for himself, his wife, Pamela and her siblings, and a fine bone china tea cup and saucer especially for me. I learnt that day that in the North East, a pot of tea, can mean, a mug of tea. I can’t quite remember if she ended her relationship with me that day or the following day but with hindsight, how incredibly fortuitous that she did as it was only a few months after this event that I met Tori.

On Saturday night we would go to the student union bar at Neville's Cross college. They must have had a far rougher clientele at the Neville’s Cross College Student Union bar. I recall on one evening seeing a chap with a tray laden with beer and cheekily asking him if I could have one as he seemed to have far more pints of beer than friends to dish them out to. He failed to see the funny side of my attempted joke, placed his pints of beer securely on his table and then all of his friends slowly stood up and started menacingly walking towards my table of friends, rolling up their sleeves up as they approached. I have cowardly avoided every ending up in a fight and neither me nor my friends had any intention of ending up in a scuffle this night. We glanced at each other, stood up together and legged it towards the door. Our pursuers picked up their pace and came after us. We sprinted across the car park with no thought as to where we were headed until we came up against a garden fence of a neighbouring house. We had nowhere to go, our only options were to turn and fight, or climb over the fence into the garden of the neighbouring house. It didn’t take too much thought, we climbed over the fence and ran across the flower beds and lawn to the fence on the far side of the garden, surely they won’t follow us. We stopped to see if we had reached safety only to see our adversaries scaling the first fence themselves. We clambered over the next fence and continued in this manner across three separate gardens before stopping again to assess our options. It was at this point that we noticed we were missing one of our number. David, our less agile comrade had refused the third fence and ran instead to the back door of the house whose garden we were trespassing and started frantically hammering on the back door with his fists in the hope of being granted sanctuary. The owners of the house never answered the door but his actions did at least cause our pursuers to abandon their chase and return to their numerous pints of beer.

Hild Bede Ladies Novice Eight 2016 Durham Regatta
Finally, on Sunday night we would go to the Randy Mandy Sound Sensation Heavy Rock Disco at the Rowing Club, a far more civilised event. It seems odd that my daughter should now be attending the same venue, not to participate in Randy Mandy’s Heavy Rock Disco, but to row. She had a few teething problems before the start of the race, the box in the boat (The amplifier used by the cox), was not working properly and so a replacement boat had to be quickly sourced. Once an alternative vessel had been identified and launched from the Hild Bede jetty, Indie and her crew made their way back up river towards Maiden Castle and the starting line. Her eight was not at all confident of a win, their aim was to still be in contention by the time they passed their college and the throng of supporters assembled to cheer them on. Although multiple boat lengths shy at the finish they at least looked like they were making a good fist of it as they breezed past me and Tori and her fellow college members.

So world class as Durham’s Cathedral and Castle may well be, it is nonetheless its dingy legacy nightclub and dodgy student bars that hold my enduring memories. Alas I suspect that my preferred ramblings on Durham’s sub-standard night life venues is unlikely to afford me the same privilege as the more accomplished writer mentioned at the start of this chapter, so I do not expect the University to be renaming its library in my honour any time soon.

It has been a great weekend away watching my daughter row and reminiscing over my old hangouts but as I have painfully hauled my way around Durham this weekend it is becoming blindingly clear that all is not well with me. The abdominal pain that I had been blaming on the surgery is getting worse, not better. I’m coughing more and I’ve been constantly out of breath all weekend. I shall have to make another visit to my doctor when I get back home.