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Hartlepool to Durham

November 2008
I waited for the bus to Durham, at the bus stop that was outside the Hartlepool Arriva Travel Centre. This meant that I could spend the time waiting for the bus, profitably reading the adverts for holidays that were stuck to the inside of the travel centre windows in great abundance. I learned that I could go on a five-day trip to the German Christmas markets, with afternoons to myself in Freiburg and Strasbourg, and a berth in a cabin on the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam, for £259. That seemed extraordinarily good value. Or if I preferred, Skegness for £129 or Morecambe for a bargain £99. What value! Pregnant with possibilities!
Then it was time for my bus and I saw with some surprise and delight as it arrived that it was a double-decker. It was a rather ancient double-decker that rattled a lot. I rushed upstairs to the front seat, but needn’t have hurried, for of course all the old folks (ie all the other old folks) fill the seats nearest the door, so they have as short a distance as possible to walk. The only other person to come upstairs was a young man who looked like he probably had a mild learning disability, and he sat near the back. The bus was rather decrepit, and the backrest of the seat opposite where I was sitting came away from its housing when the driver braked, and slapped back with a resounding clonk as he accelerated.
The driver batted the bus along at quite a lick. Or maybe he didn’t especially, maybe it just seemed like it because it was an old rattly bus. Winding through depressed-looking towns, though this bus also negotiated some country lanes, past pheasants strutting in the ploughed-up fields. These buses do a number of detours around housing estates and it’s not always clear to a newcomer like me whether you’ve been down a road before, whether the bus is in fact just doing a loop. So I was not quite sure how many direction signs I saw to a SureStart centre, for it’s possible that some of them were seen more than once, but it did appear to me that every small town had at least one. SureStart is the government programme that helps parents with parenting skills, among other things to try and help make the poor less poor.
The other pleasing thing about this double-decker bus was that one of the unappealing towns it went through was Hutton Henry. When you drive north along the dual-carriageway A19 through County Durham, you see the signs to Hutton Henry, but of course never go there. To my delight, the bus did, not that there was much there when it came to it, but no longer will I have to wonder.
As the bus gets within sight of the cathedral at Durham it goes down a steep straight hill, quite fast, which in the front seat upstairs makes you feel like saying, wheee! (to yourself of course, even though there was no one else on board). A windy day too.


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