DCR’s good friend Mrs. W of Derby has been raiding her husband’s laptop yet again. This time, she has discovered a lengthy rant penned last year by Mr. W to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley. Because this social history based visitor attraction is not only in the UK, but in the darkest Midlands1 have had to add rather a lot of explanatory footnotes for the benefit of our overseas readership (The footnote text will appear if you hover over the footnote number).
30th August 2012
Dear Compulsive Hoarders,
I must congratulate you on the absolute beauty of the Black Country Living Museum.
Please allow me to offer my experience of a very recent visit to yourselves as it does state that you would love to hear from us. Are you ready, hold on tight because here we go……
The entrance to your site is simply majestic; I love what you have done with the place. The right turn into your car park is like a thrill ride at Thorpe Park. Dodging the huge and numerous articulated vehicles3 vying for territorial rights with the coach loads of pensioners is a wonderful touch and certainly set the tone for the day that lay ahead. The wonderful combination of a perimeter wall topped with razor wire (?) and old plastic shopping bags teamed with a demonically possessed entrance barrier is fantastic.
Then as if that wasn’t amazing enough, a car park surface so pot-holed and filth-ridden on it’s lower sections as to make an Ice Road Trucker think twice about attempting it is sublime. The jolly chaps in high visibility jackets were indeed in high spirits, in between making coach drivers perform a delicate ballet routine in their vehicles, letting me know that “you is number 10 and we ain’t got room for nay more, why ‘ent they stoppin’ ‘em up on barrier?” I admitted that unfortunately I had no idea why but if it would be possible to park somewhere on site I would be eternally grateful.
“Roight chap, back in next to that blue ‘en in front of that gate there, yam be orright”4
Well done you because as we all know……first impressions count.
The eclectic layout of the parking arrangements are a nice afterthought too as any visitor to your site on a summers day with a vehicle any larger than an Austin A405 enjoys a 54 point turn to enter a bay (?)
Better still was the place where I was asked to leave my own carriage, the single point where all the surface water drains to. Oh how I laughed when my right foot sank up to my ankle in filth while exiting my vehicle.
All this and at no extra cost. Top work there people. Nicely done.
The random shrubs and brambles strategically growing through the multi-coloured fencing remind me of wistful summer days spent in the Dordogne6, obviously the ‘feel’ you were going for.
On entering the site through the half-opened restaurant doors manned by a terminally harassed member of your team (this only seemed to infuriate ever so slightly the 180 or so other queuing visitors), you are greeted as you well know, with a confusing odour of a type that is tricky to nail down.
More of that later.
Now I do not profess to be well versed in visitor attraction design and layout schematics but I like what you have done here, to have debris cluttered tables on your right, arguing families on your left and then disinterested staff directly in front of you is brilliant.
The reason I was visiting your delightful site was for my young sons to have an educational but equally fun day out in the heart of the West Midlands. The thought of my two children beating each other senseless with random gift shop items obtained from your site brought forth a tear of joy to my disillusioned face so thank you for that.
After negotiating our way through the gift emporium we duly followed the avenue of famous names of the West Midlands, no seriously, (Oscar Deutsch next to Nigel Mansell?)7 through to the indoor exhibits which I have to say are fantastic. The peculiar small grey slabs with what appears to be an old style post office pen on a chain (minus the pen on the end?) caused some degree of confusion as to why there were so many of them and what they were intended to be used for, but we pressed on with our visit nonetheless.
Progressing through to the outdoor exhibits we were lucky enough to be bathed in brilliant sunshine while we made our decision as to where to head to first. The vintage car and motorcycle exhibit was a real find.
My two children were in awe as they were repeatedly pushed away from the viewing area by the frighteningly high number of middle aged men in ill fitting garments trying to obtain the best possible pictures of an unusual and obviously rare and deeply important spoked wheel hub with what can only be described as hand held Hubble Space Telescopes. You know the ones I mean, the ones that are still dressed by their mothers, that have never kissed a girl and have a subscription to ‘train spotters weekly’. Yes, those guys.
We left the motor exhibits and noticed a trolley bus/tram waiting just a little further up the hill. Great we thought, a ride on a vintage vehicle…… that will be fun.
Do you know what?
We waited and waited but even after the chap had entertained us all with his repeated attempts to swing an arm on to the power cable using nothing more than a rope and muttered curses we were still unable to catch a ride as while we tried to gain entry, my children were pushed and bashed out of the way by the hoard of Rita Hayworth impersonators obviously desperate to relive their childhood by taking up every seat on this thing, acting like the nutter on the bus and talking about the war. I kept calm and although my eldest son politely asked if we could get on the next one he was totally ignored by all and sundry and had the door closed in his face.
Still, we had the delights of the metal home to look forward to. Or so we thought.
Yep, it is indeed a house made out of metal sections. I understand that this homage to an important part of our local history should be kept alive but as a stand alone exhibit in my own humble opinion, it did leave a lot to be desired. Still, we trundled off to a nearby railed embankment area where there is many an opportunity to laugh uncontrollably at the parents attempting to manhandle a child laden push chair around this amazing part of your site. With feet failing to gain any real purchase and wheels caked in filth, (a different colour to the filth from my earlier parking challenge it has to be said) these parents were fighting a losing battle.
I must admit however that it did take a little shine off the day as it spoiled my grandstand view of a failed genetic experiment called “Craaaaiiiiigggg” trying to turn a small but surprisingly weighty train wheel and axle combo handily left out by yourselves into a rudimentary weapons system to cripple or maim it’s sibling named “Waaayyynneee”. Who would have thought that a diet of Sunny Delight and Turkey Drummers8 would have given him/them/Mongo the strength for this amazing feet of dexterity and stamina?
With our spirits lifted somewhat we made our way to the antique rides area where the team members were most helpful and polite. The rides and attractions were great fun and after sustaining only minor injuries on the Brooklyn Cake Walk we headed towards the school. This was a real gem. My children are fortunate to attend a small village school which bears an uncanny resemblance to St James’s and they were enthralled by the Master.
They were unfortunately unable to actually enter the classroom as (as was becoming the pattern of the day) it was full to bursting with other visitors. We left the school and headed out towards the Workers Institute for some light refreshment. This too was unsuccessful due to the fact that a coach party of elderly folk had descended upon this place just before us and were determined to order their lunches individually and attempt to pay for it in pennies or possibly even luncheon vouchers. We couldn’t get close enough to the counter to confirm this, sorry. Still, award winning fish and chips awaited us at Hobb’s.
Or rather it would have if the 60 strong queue of fried food craving pensioners stretched out before us negated that idea also.
It was then that my seven year old son found, quite by accident, Hobb’s Courtyard Café. This was the jewel of the site. We located a table, opened up our menus and were met by a charming young lady who took our order, brought our lunch promptly and politely and was attentive without being overbearing in any way. My wife and I had open sandwiches which were great, my nine year old son fell in love with the red pepper and tomato soup and my seven year old devoured his half pint of prawns with gusto. Other drinks were ordered and again were prompt in their arrival. The gentleman whom delivered our considerable bill (£31.44) was equally polite, professional and is a real credit to your team. Please pass on my family’s heart felt thanks to them and the chef.
Now fortified for the rest of our day we set about trying to gain entry into at least one of the buildings but alas, the throngs of minkies9 blocking our every attempt coupled with the superficial wounds to my own shins from the discarded mobility ramps dotted around each building curtailed this. Winding our way towards the boat dock area we came across the Anchor Forge and chain making attractions. Now I am by no means a health and safety Nazi. I am a firm believer that children should be allowed to play in a robust manor. However, my children really smiled when they both sustained injuries to their heads from the bushido blade10 sharpness of the metal edged corners of this monolith which again, is such a thoughtful and cost free attraction for your visitors so thank you for that. Furthermore, to leave a furnace roaring away with no attendant present or indeed a complete or worthwhile barrier to stop the numerous Sunny D crazed blighted offspring’s launching ‘display only’ items at each other is, to my mind, a tad foolish.
Although I do admire your valiant efforts to chlorinate the gene pool from whence they came. Every cloud and all that….?
Time was ticking on and we decided to cut our losses and head back to the main shop and entrance for sustenance before our drive home. Your gift shop is stunning. Just stunning. These monuments to tat that even K-Tel would have turned away from delighted my children no end. The Woman’s Institute reject manning the till point took the items that had been chosen and was totally confused by the lack of a price affixed to them. She looked at me with utter hatred manifesting in her gaze and asked me if I knew how much they cost. I chose not to laugh in her face while getting the children not to vomit at the offensive olfactory assault posed by this individual (the strange smell mystery finally solved perhaps!!) and politely stated that unfortunately I was not an employee or in fact the head purchaser for this company. Although I did admit to knowing that the site layout and merchandising guru was none other than a certain Mr Trebus11 from televisual history and was so glad that he had found gainful employment within the museum.
No, she didn’t see the funny side of it either.
She must have found a price and furiously hammered into the till a succession of numbers that produced an intake of breath and then a price was explained to me. Now, I understand that to fit a tiny rubber ball to a small and flimsy wooden paddle via the worlds cheapest and thinnest piece of elastic must be one of the most soul destroying jobs on this earth. One which would undoubtedly fill any sane person with the desire to repeatedly fill a schools exercise books pages with the phrase “I will kill again….” in their own blood. But to then attempt to charge the ridiculous fee of £3.99 for one of these things is to be perfectly honest, taking the piss.
By now my spirits were flagging so I decided that what we all needed was a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Yes, you know where this is going don’t you…….
The Café was in the same state as when we had entered it some time previously but when you really have no other choice you have to go for it. Two small warmish drinks, a milkshake, two pieces of cake and two small tubs of freezer burned ice cream for only £17.07 !
I decided to question the validity of this price and was told “Arrh I know, It’s crap innit. Soz”12. I think this is what was said, I am sorry to say I am not currently fluent in Yam Yam (but the Rosetta Stone CD has now been ordered so here’s hoping!) so this was of little or no use to me.
I decided not to argue and duly paid up so as to not delay the next poor sod whom would be the victim of this systematic financial fleecing. Or the Black Country Living Museum Pricing Policy as it is sure to be known.
Oh and the Lavatories they were sublime. No other word for it, sublime. I urge you to go through the first door and look to your right. The contents of a skip has been dumped in there so you may want to get on to the council to see who has been fly tipping?
Just a suggestion you understand. Just a suggestion.
The exit from the site via the sludge encrusted service road straight from Pripyat13 was a little strained due to an elderly couple trying to reverse their beige Volvo through the hopscotch type road markings and cones which one can only assume were their for guidance. Either that or we were stranded in a huge crime scene and these were the chalk outlines of film and television fame. Eventually we escaped past the demonic £2.00 a time exit barrier and sought solace two hours later in Ikea, Nottingham.
I know, I know. Just how bad must your site be if I had to take my family into an Ikea store for solace….!
In Nottingham for goodness sakes, what had you driven me too !!!!
Look, I don’t want your sympathy; I don’t want your feigned empathy. I don’t even want your sodding bat and ball sets any more, (which ironically reduced themselves to their component parts upon opening on the way out of the shop). I’m not after a refund either.
All I want is for me and any other poor lost soul’s to not have our wallets emptied while in your site by other-worldly pricing standards and to be able to navigate into, throughout and more to the point, away from your site without the need for sustained prayer, a fully stocked first aid kit and a willingness to take our families to repeated therapy sessions to expunge the horror embedded in their psyche by your site’s experiences. It really is like being inside a stinking steel and cobbled street homage to the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Is that too much to ask? Really? In this day and age? I sincerely do hope not.
Anyway, you now have my contact details should you wish to offer me any crumbs of satisfaction to bolster my fading desire to experience the West Midlands Premier Tourism destination in all it’s glory.
Either that or just so you can sign me up to some periodic news letter that you must undoubtedly produce flogging your overpriced vomitous shite through the medium of positive suggestion and shiny pretty pictures just to add insult to injury.
I would however, be eternally grateful if you would be kind enough to pass on my greetings and salutations to your head merchandiser and site designer Mr Trebus, it’s so great to see he is continuing his good work within your “Living Museum”.
To be perfectly honest I thought he had died years ago.
My kindest regards
The Midlands is an area of central England which roughly corresponds to the ancient Kingdom of Mercia and includes the UK’s second largest and ugliest city, Birmingham. People from the Midlands speak with a very strong regional dialect and accent which makes them sound like they have clothes pegs on their noses. All Midlands football teams are rubbish. ↩
Dudley is a town in the Midlands situated to the North West of Birmingham. Wikipedia begins its entry for the town “In recent years, Dudley has become considerably run down”. Enough said. ↩
Articulated vehicles: Known in the USA as ‘Semis’. In the UK, a semi is a house which is attached to another house – or a partial penile erection. ↩
Yam be orright: That peg-on-the-nose regional dialect again. Translation: “You’ll be OK” ↩
Austin A40: A stunning example of how not to build a car – inflicted on the UK by the Austin Motor Company between 1947 and 1967. A more powerful and reliable vehicle can be built using a cotton reel, a small piece of candle, a matchstick and a rubber band. ↩
For our American readers: The Dordogne is part of southwestern France between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees. It is where the Romans ran into a spot of bother with Asterix and Obelix. ↩
Oscar Deutsch (1893-1941) was the founder of the ubiquitous Odeon Cinema chain in the UK. He opened his first cinema in, you’ve guessed it, Dudley in 1928. Nigel Mansell (still alive) didn’t come from Dudley but he did win the Formula one World Championship and the Indy Car World Series – the only person to hold both titles simultaneously. He also won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award twice, which is strange, because personality isn’t one of his strong points. ↩
Sunny Delight, aka Sunny D: A disgusting, vaguely orange flavoured drink consumed in vast quantities by very small people which purports to be healthy but which is alleged to lead instead to hyperactivity and attention deficit syndrome. Turkey Drummers: A culinary crime against humanity manufactured by Bernard Matthews Farms out of the bits of a turkey that no-one else will eat, which are pressed into shapes, rolled in breadcrumbs and then deep fried in axle grease. For our American readers: Think Mississippi! ↩
Minkies: For our American AND British readers, ‘minkie’ has various translations. In this context, the slang meaning of ‘mischievous girl’ is probably most apt though it can refer to a cow’s udder or a certain very personal part of the female anatomy or, in its plural form, to a group of islands and rocks south of Jersey in the English Channel. ↩
Bushido: The unuttered and unwritten code of the Samurai warrior. You know – Tom Cruise with a beard and a big sword. That sort of thing. ↩
Mr. Trebus: Edmund Zygfryd Trebus was born in Ostrowo, near Danzig in Germany (now Gdansk, Poland) in 1818. Having fought for both sides in the Second World War (Yes, really, he did. He was conscripted into the Wermacht and later, after he was captured by the Allies, he served in an anti-tank unit of the Polish Armed forces under British command) he settled in the UK after the war and became a compulsive collector of just about anything and never threw anything away. He later rose to fame when he featured in the British Television documentary ‘A Life of Grime’. He lived in the one, tiny remaining clear area of his run-down house in Crouch End, London, surrounded by 515 cubic yards of his own accumulated rubbish. He died in 2002 after he was finally re-housed away from his collection of assorted junk. ↩
Arrh I know, It’s crap innit. Soz: More dialect. Translation: “Yes, I can empathise with you. Dreadful isn’t it? My sincere apologies”. ↩
Pripyat: The city in northern Ukraine which was abandoned following the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster. It once had a population of 50,000 people but is now home only to the local wolves (which have five legs). ↩