A trip to Durham and Newcastle

Last week I headed back to Durham for my PhD viva.  I had a mock viva with a member of staff the week before, so I arranged a 10-day extravaganza.  How much can I fit in?  Lots!

On the train up to Durham (it's a long way from Sussex!) I read through my thesis in preparation for my mock viva the next day.  The mock viva went quite well, and definitely reassured me that I do know my research, I do know what I was doing, and I can answer questions on the spot!

 On Friday I headed into Newcastle.  I love Newcastle, and love it a bit more every time I go.  I was meeting a very good friend for dinner, and needed to buy some shoes for my viva, but I had lots of time so first I headed to BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art.  Now, I know nothing about art, contemporary or otherwise, but I do like a good meander round this place.  It's an old flour mill by the river, and I love how this old industrial building has been transformed into a modern venue (a friend of a friend had her wedding reception there, so the building has so many uses now).  There are no permanent exhibitions, so every time I go I see something different.  It's free to enter (donations encouraged) and I like wandering around and just having a look.  There are usually exhibitions that you can walk in, through, under, around, which I like.  My favourite this time was the Simon Bill exhibition, a series of oval paintings covering many different themes.  Always something to look at as they were all so different.  There is also a viewing platform near the top of the building, with a great view over the city.  Shame it wasn't very sunny, but lovely nonetheless.

Another thing I love about BALTIC is the gift shop, which has lots of arty books and accessories, but also some great cards, postcards, accessories and toys.  Many of the postcards are artist prints of the north east, so I bought a few unusual postcards of Newcastle and a card to send to Ben.  Plus a pen for my mum, which is a long-running tradition.

The cafe was annoyingly closed for a refit, so I walked back across the river and went to a Japanese restaurant for lunch, before doing some shopping and buying some shoes and a new top.  I met up with my friend, and we had dinner in El Torero, a great tapas restaurant I love.  We possibly over-ordered, but the food was delicious.  A lovely day well spent in the city.

Saturday it was off to Barnard Castle for a Brownie sleepover.  I loved the pattern on the curtains!  It was Hawk Owl's licence weekend, so she was being assessed on her ability to run a sleepover.  I think she did brilliantly, and the assessor seemed happy with that she was doing, and the Brownies all seemed to enjoy themselves!  We had the sixers and seconders from two units and so our activities focused on leadership and team work, as well as letting the girls do more things for themselves.  It was great having a small number of girls as we could do slightly more complex activities.  These are the units I worked with when I lived in Durham, and the leaders are all good friends of mine.  I loved how I fit straight back in to the leadership team, and thank you to them for inviting me back!
In the kitchen the girls were making orange, lemon or orange and lemon cake with me and Brown Owl.  The recipe and list of ingredients were laminated, so the girls were able to get on with it themselves, with minimal supervision and help from us.  They loved the freedom to do things themselves (weighing ingredients, greasing the tin, mixing it all together) but asking for help when they needed it (we had sharp knives for cutting the fruit, we were in charge of the oven) and the cakes were delicious.  Well done Brownies!

At the beginning of the week I had a presentation in the department (more viva prep!) and one evening I joined my friend at her knitting group in the pub.  A group of ladies who meet every week in the pub for a bit of knitting and a lot of nattering.  I really enjoyed it!  My friend also taught me to knit on circular needles using the magic loop technique, something I tried to do from online tutorials but it didn't make sense.  Now I can do it!  I also met up with my Newcastle friend for lunch, and then two of the Brownie leaders for dinner.  I caught up on all the local goings on, and how the Brownies are growing up - there are so few of them I know now, as they are getting old and moving on.  But it's great to hear how the units are going from strength to strength.

This was followed by a conference and then my viva - eeeek!

I spent my final night in Durham with some family friends - the daughters used to be my Brownies, and I am great friends with their mum.  Any excuse to go and see them!  We had a lovely dinner, complete with place names - mine said Dr Amy!  Nope, the novelty has definitely not worn off yet.

Back home, Ben had decorated the flat with balloons, a congratulations banner, and bunting saying Dr Amy Halls.  Much as I love Durham, the north east, visiting old friends, there really is no place quite like home.


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