Darlington. Darlo. A market town in the North East of England that was once described by Daniel Defoe as having
nothing remarkable but dirt.
Yet in the industrial revolution all of that changed, notably due to the railways; Darlington was of course on the route of the world’s first railway journey, was the site of a number of engine works when rail was at its zenith, and is still one of the main stations on the East Coast Line
During it’s heyday it had it’s own bank; Backhouses, in a magnificent edifice on High Row designed by the same architect as the National History Museum, Alfred Waterhouse. Now it’s just another branch of Barclays, still a magnificent building, but tarnished by being nestled adjacent to Poundland!
Darlington is a place of contrasts, plenty of old northern terraces, presumably originally built to house workers on the railway, with other parts of the town far more affluent, the residents here attracted by the grander homes of former industrialists. Duncan Bannatyne, millionaire entrepreneur of Dragon’s Den fame, has his head office here as well as a health club and a hotel.
The dichotomy is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that a dozen or so years ago the constituencies of the Prime Minister (Tony Blair) and the leader of the opposition (William Hague) bordered one another here. Blair is long gone, but Hague uses one of the town’s hotels to double for his home when providing political comment on weekend TV.
As I walked into town this morning the majority of those I observed around me fell into the less affluent category; hard northern faces set against the challenges life throws their way; good subject matter, yet the intensity of their stares defies you to approach them. Stepping through the melee of their carrier bags and winter coats came a tall black woman pushing a small red buggy. She was beautiful and elegant, contrasting with all around her in so many ways, but then as I’ve said Darlington is a town of contrasts.
I discounted her immediately, feeling that she was probably accustomed to attention from male strangers and may be suspicious of my intent.
Continuing on my way I entered Skinnergate, mentally assessing those around me and glancing into various business premises in the hope of finding someone inspirational. Perhaps the alley that I sheltered in last week would suffice, but no, it was relatively deserted today.
I emerged on High Row once more and popped my head into Barclays to see how much of the Victorian interior had survived the attentions of the bank’s branding specialists, before walking to the Kings Head Hotel, critically wounded by an infamous fire a few years back. A woman with an amusing hat was setting a brisk pace towards me in designer tights and Wellington boots. Could have worked, but I doubt she would have responded well to “can I take your picture? I think you look really funny”. (Then again Vic Reeves hails from this town!)
Deciding I would head back to the college with not a single photon captured, I turned 180 degrees and spotted that red buggy once more. Fate? I don’t believe in it, but wasn’t going to pass on the opportunity a second time.
A brief explanation and a long black suede boot reached out to put the brake on the buggy. Three quick shots on motor drive and I thanked her for her co-operation and asked her name. Initially she told me that it was Ese (rhymes with Jessie) but went on to tell me that it was short for Eseyoma. Her parents were from Nigeria she said and this was where the name originated. It means God’s gift. Hmmm. What did I just say about fate? After meeting Harjinder yesterday I seem to be getting messages from on high!
I don’t speak Yoruba, Hausa or any of the other major languages of Nigeria, nor did I need to; Ese was English and spoke in a far more refined accent than many others on High Row today. Nevertheless I hope she will forgive me for ending with a little Kiswahili, the lingua franca of so much of Africa.