Apparently, bike theft has become more common this academic year. When I heard my friends mention it, my first thought was ‘Hey, that’s rare in Durham’, and my second thought was, ‘Why didn’t they lock their bikes a bit better?’. The second thought ties straight back into the first: because it’s so rare in Durham.
Of course, being Dutch, bicycles are something that lay close to my heart. It is my main mode of transport in Holland, and something I miss this greatly in the UK (too many mountains – or ‘hills’, as you lot call them). Therefore, it is fortunate that bicycles fit right into my commentary on the safety of the Durham Bubble. See, I was in Holland the other week. Within 30 seconds of arriving at my old school to pick up my sister, one guy swore at me and another crashed straight into my bike. Where I come from, this is not very rare. Someone stole my phone from my backpack in that school once, on a staircase, in clear daylight – while in Durham, I happily wander around town without clutching it against my chest.
Back to locking bikes: in Holland it is not uncommon to take your saddle or your wheel when you leave your bike – if a thief manages to crack your lock at least it will be damned difficult to execute a speedy take off. In Durham, no one would ever bother with such extreme measures. In fact, most people don’t even lock their doors. (Think back now to those police messages about burglars, telling livers-out to lock their doors.) We are truly very fortunate to live in a little Bubble where you have to think about locking your bike or your door; where people actually laugh when you double-check if the door’s locked before going to bed.
Back to that guy crashing into my bike: here in Britain people are prone to apologise when being run into. When I am late for a lecture in the science site and I run up the hill bouncing into a student here and a small child there, I leave a trail of apologies – and they are never just my own. Here, people apologise when they failed to hold a door open long enough, or when they didn’t offer you chocolate and a full meal upon entering a house. I realize this is not Durham-specific, and it is a struggle for the entire nation (to feel sorry for ‘being in someone’s way’ – ah Britain), but it contributes to Durham’s pleasantly polite environment nonetheless.
Finally, back to that pickpocket in my school: you will not be able to make me walk home through Amsterdam on my own at 4 in the morning. You travel in groups, through well-lit areas, holding your phone and not looking anyone in the eye. In Durham, I am embarrassed when my (lovely and thoughtful) friends want to make sure I get home safely, or ask me to text when I get there – because here I am naively not worried at all that someone might jump from the bushes. I still walk through well-lit areas, but more out of habit. Here I fall into my own pit of safety: while I’d never leave my bicycle unguarded or my door unlocked, I wander home like nothing could happen.
This is a column for the happiness society, because this contrast makes me happy. It is wonderful to have a small town like Durham where you can feel safe and not have someone steal your wallet outside of a lecture theatre. It is also, however, unrealistic: it is the Durham Bubble. Moreover, no matter how shiny the Bubble might seem, it is very easy to pop. Be happy, but be careful!