I am sitting in the train at Euston, waiting for departure. I have a window seat and look forward to watching the countryside roll past. Tigger has told me that it is cold up there so I am warmly dressed although it is sunny and mild here.
I have a black Caffe Americano from the Camden Food Co to comfort me in what are rather cramped accommodations in Virgin standard class. I hope our first class seats this evening will be more comfortable.
We’re off, under a pale sun shining from an overcast sky. Near me is a loud-voiced woman who has already made several calls on her mobile. Someone should tell her that phones were invented precisely to avoid the need to SHOUT!
The ultimate destination of this train is Wolverhampton, though I am not going that far, of course. Although I know nothing about the town itself, I have always liked the name “Wolverhampton”, perhaps because it makes me think of wolves. I must remember to look up the etymology of the name. Could there once have been wolves in Wolverhampton?
I disembarked at Sandwell and Dudley station and found Tigger patiently waiting in the entrance hall. We caught a bus to the Oldbury Interchange and caught a second bus there to Dudley. We asked the driver for the stop nearest the Black Country Living Museum but he either forgot or couldn’t be bothered so we got out at the bus station and walked from there.
The Museum is huge and it is a wonderful place. It includes a whole village of houses, shops and workshops, as well as a fairground and a canal boat dock. Many of the buildings have been brought from elsewhere and reassembled brick by brick, tile by tile.
The Museum’s upper time boundary is the 1930s. The adjective “Living” means that there are people on sight who can explain the purpose and history of the buildings and even perform the functions that go with them. For example, we met a nail-maker busily making nails in his forge, a shop keeper who could describe the shop’s history and a gentleman in the chemist’s shop who demonstrated how pills were made.
We had lunch in the Canalside Cafe, one of three food outlets on the site. We looked in some of the houses and spent some time in the Worker’s Institute, which is a superb building with important historical associations.
At this time of year, the Museum closes at 4pm so we could only skim the surface. As admission tickets are valid for a year, we intend to come back another day and spend much more time exploring the site. There will probably be more to see by then as development is ongoing.
From the Museum we walked back into Dudley and had a look around. There are some handsome buildings in the town, including the public library, which we visited, and the castle, perched upon its hill, is visible from many angles.
There is a small, friendly shopping arcade and the inevitable big, ugly shopping centre. There is a decorative but sadly neglected drinking fountain in the market square that deserves some loving care and attention.
The Black Country has its own variety of English and I suspect that in its full form it would be impenetrable to outsiders but, like the Yorkshire dialect, it seems to be in decline. Should we be sad about this? Yes, I think so because all these different dialects add richness and imaginative quality to the great family of English languages.
The local accent is similar to Birmingham though I am sure that knowledgeable people can tell the difference. By the way, we were told that Black Country folk resent it if you assume they are from that city. Be warned!
The time came to take the bus back to Sandwell and Dudley station. We asked the bus driver to let us know when we reached the stop. He did so, but only as we were getting off, having recognized the stop for ourselves.
We had about an hour to wait for our train and went into the Railway Inn, just across the road from the station, where the cheerful barmaid made us tea. The end wall of the bar was one gigantic TV screen but the sound was tuned to a moderate level and the locals seemed be enjoying the programmes.
A little before the train was due, we crossed the road to the station and sat in the little waiting room which was clean and pleasantly heated. This is an example of how a small station can sometimes do well where larger stations fail.
Our train was a few minutes late and our first-class carriage was right down the front so we thought it prudent to board the train where we were and walk along it to our seats. These were at a table for four so we preferred to take a two-seat table that was unreserved.
All in all, a good day out, spiced with the satisfaction of a job well done. We now have the weekend to look forward to. We will count today’s expedition as this week’s outing and have a relaxed weekend. That is not to say we will not go out if we feel like it. We will wait and see how the mood takes us.