A Silent Night in Durham, ahem, Hogwarts

Standing outside at 7pm in the middle of the Geordie autumn is like having a TV that only works when The Jeremy Kyle Show is on: painful and lethal. Upon waiting half an hour for my friend who was running a bit late, I was tempted to look up the symptoms of hypothermia, but that would have involved taking my gloves off and there are not enough hot showers in the world.

You might be wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, no reason. There’s no moral to this story. This is not Disney!

Although this story involves no princesses, talking mice and walking inanimate objects, there are, however, broomsticks, a bored owl and a dark lord whose sense of fashion stems from a black and white photo of the Dalai Lama. You guessed it! I’m referring to Harry Potter! Of course, the word “Hogwarts” in the title might have tipped you off.

It turns out that the green square in Hogwarts was filmed in the cathedral of Durham – and that was our main destination for the night.

Durham Cathedral

The drive to Durham was as fun as it gets. My friend Owen is a “victim” like me and thus we listened to The Killers half way there and sang along the rest. It was a big contrast considering Owen is a musician with a heavenly voice while I sound like a wild animal that needs to be put out of its misery.

Durham Cathedral

Situated on top of a steep hill that overlooks the River Wear, the facade of the cathedral rises majestically over the horizon brightening the darkness of the night with shimmering lights. Before such glorious display of human ingenuity, all I could utter was, “it’s… biiiiiiig!” And I could almost hear my friend Ilze stating that’s what she said and then breaking into a famous YouTube song dedicated to the size of the singer’s shaft of delight… Since he feels the need to boast, it’s more likely a gigglestick.

Standing before the cathedral, Owen dared me to deduct what was odd about the 920-year-old Romanesque building. After racking my brain for a whole minute, he gave up on me and revealed that one pillar is wider than the other. Although there are many stories that explain this dissimilarity, according to Owen, there was a mistake in the architectural drawing, but I could be mistaken. To be honest, I was so eager to indulge my inner wizard that my appetite for culture was at a millennial’s level.

Broomsticks fell down from the sky while wands cracked as soon as I saw the sign Closed for a private function outside the cathedral. With a heavy heart, I walked towards the entrance after Owen motioned me to follow him.

“Excuse me,” a lady holding a folder stopped us on our tracks. “Are you guys tourists or are you here for the concert?”

“We are here for the concert,” Owen replied without flinching while my jaw slackened with shock. Oh yeah, let me fill you in. Owen is a devout Mormon and he had just lied at a sacred place. He could go to Hell for that ssss—tuff!! The equivalent in my Venezuelan family is: You could go to jail for that shit.

Upon excusing herself on the grounds that night tours take place around that time, she let us in. As soon as we were out of her earshot, I turned to Owen with my finger up in the air and exclaimed, “You lied!” in a very accusatory tone. “You’re a Mormon. Lying is not permitted!”

“We are in this together, Claudia. You are here with me and that means you’re lying as well.”

“I’m a Catholic! That’s what we do.”

He pondered over that statement and nodded. Can’t argue with that.

Hogwarts

Without further ado and before we got caught, we headed straight to the green square where Harry Potter was filmed. And you can’t even imagine my excitement.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s Hogwarts,” I vocalised rather loudly, prompting a few heads to turn.

“We can’t wait for the concert to start,” Owen said. He’s good at this thing called lying.

“Yeah, so excited!” I said aloud, then whispered. “What’s the concert about again?”

“It’s a salute to the soldiers who died during the Second World War and their families.”

“Oh!” Perhaps I should have said I’m excited in a gloomy tone.

We made it this far. Of course we were going to take a selfie. We are millennials after all. This is the moment we’ve been training for.

Unfortunately, we haven’t mastered the art of taking a selfie that captures the background as well, so here’s proof that I made it to Hogwarts. 5 points to Gryffindor.

No picture of Owen, though, because after all that lying, he was sorted into Slytherin.

Photo by Owen Michael Thomas Crake

Concert

After indulging my inner wizard, we took a seat and stayed for the concert, mainly because Owen had to atone for his sins. Sorry Owen, you rock!

“This is going to sound crazy but my father served in the Second World War,” Owen confessed.

Considering that Owen is only 23 years old, that does sound crazy. If World War II went from 1939 to 1945 and his dad was probably in his early twenties at the time, then how old was he when Owen was born? Ouch, mental calculations hurt my brain.

The concert and performance were highly emotional and off the charts. No wonder… I was sitting next to David Bowie. Owen’s beautiful rocky voice stood out amongst the crowd like a white bird, which upon being freed from its golden cage, rises above green fields and soars into blue skies.

Show off!

During an interlude, he showed me a black and white photo of his grandfather sitting next to his two other sons (Owen’s uncles) who didn’t make it back home from the war. Only one out of three survived. That made me think of all the broken families, of all the parents that lost their sons, of all the wives that lost their husbands, of all the orphaned children… It made me think of the horrors of war. It’s so fictitious when you study it on a textbook, when you see on paper the number of the casualties. We all live our lives through the lights of a screen. Nothing is real.

Owen’s sigh brought me back to reality. “Are you okay?” I asked before thinking it through. I’m the most awkward person when it comes to comforting someone. The visual of Jack Donaghy trying to comfort Liz Lemon with a broom came to mind.

30 Rock

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said.

Phew! Dodged that bullet!

Once the concert ended on a melancholic note, the masses headed for the exit. Soon after stepping outside of the Cathedral, I realised Owen wasn’t there by my side. I turned around and found him holding the door open for one person and then another, and another. People were beginning to think he was a doorman… at a cathedral!

“Come on, Owen, they are perfectly capable of opening the door for themselves.”

“It’s only polite and the nice thing to do.”

“Dude, you’re not even Canadian!”

The River at Night

Greatly we rejoiced as we walked through pebble streets that lead us up the hill past an 11th-century Norman castle and medieval walls. Our stroll took us to an old stone bridge barely illuminated by a dim street light. Rising above the river with an incandescent splendour, Durham Cathedral stands grandiose as it has for the last nine centuries. Seen at night, its reflection is mirrored in the water amidst the darkness.

Photo by Owen Michael Thomas Crake

The whole scenery evoked a remote era and all the magnificent stories it has witnessed. It felt like taking a peek through a hole in the time of knights and pilgrimages. It also looked like the scene of a perfect crime. So when we saw a dodgy guy walking towards the bridge, we ran for the hills in a gracious manner.

Arghhhhhh!

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