The Time I Went Oop North And Actually Went To A Coal Mine (…Museum)

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If there’s one thing I love more than travelling (apart from my gerbils, football teams, strawberry & lime Rekorderlig and Dominos pizza, in that order), it’s making jokes about The North. Jokes of the Yorkshire puddings, coal mines, poor people, flat caps and whippet-racing variety, offset by jokes about my Southern softy life of caviar, champagne and unadulterated opulence. However, the world, in its infinite wisdom, has conspired in an unexplainable turn of events to matchmake me with not just a Northerner (that is, anyone born north of Camden Town), but a PROPER Northerner. A Yorkshirer who is amazed by slightly upmarket recycling bins, to be precise. One who very stereotypically loves tea and seems to have a Yorkshire pudding with every meal he eats. As such, I found myself heading into the wilderness of West Yorkshire, which is practically Scotland, in February and having to learn not to wince every time someone dropped their ‘the’s in a sentence.

Victoria Coach station: one of the most depressing places in London. Look at the despair.

Victoria Coach station: one of the most depressing places in London. Look at the despair.

The train from Paddock Wood to Leeds is 4 hours, but costs nearly £80 even with a 16-25 Railcard (for the uninitiated, this means a 33% discount on all but peak-hour fares). Training it up to London and getting a National Express coach takes nearly double the time but is less than half the price, so I take this option. Victoria Coach Station is reliably depressing: a haven for sunken-eyed passengers waiting for long, thankless journeys across the country and fending off diseased pigeons. Yet the National Express coach, to my surprise and delight, was actually pretty nice – leather seats, wooden flooring, not too many people, and best of all plug sockets! Never underestimate how great it is to have the option to charge your phone as you travel so you can browse the internet. Some rush hour traffic in central London aside, the trip is uneventful.

T'NORTH.

T’PORTAL TO T’NORTH.

Upon delayed arrival at Leeds coach station, I am in equal measure disappointed to have seen no coal mines and delighted to see Bundy waiting and ready to point out notable things on the bus from Leeds to Tingley, his amusingly named hometown. Notable things include a shopping centre and his former secondary school, but still no coal mines. Yet if I thought I’d accidentally come to the wrong county, a visit to The Bull’s Head – seemingly Tingley’s hub of Friday nightlife – to meet ‘the lads’ sets me straight:

1. ‘The’ ceases to be a word.
2. My claim that Camden is where the North/South divide lies nearly causes a riot. It is agreed (wrongly) by all but me that Sheffield is the most southern point of The North.
3. I ruin all of Bundy’s friendships by outing him as a Chelsea fan.
4. The barman talks to me about whippets.* (*Admittedly, because I am wearing a comedy flat cap to fit in with everyone else.)
5. If all of the above fails to convert me to the joys of Yorkshire, this redeems everything: I buy drinks for both of us and – deep breath – return from the bar with change from a fiver. This simply doesn’t happen daaaaan Saaaaarf. I take it all back! Yorkshire truly is God’s own county!

This Friday night ritual is brought to a close by an obligatory visit to Aroma, the fast food place next door. I am impressed by the fact that a shoebox-sized shop like this is able to offer seemingly every dish of every cuisine known to man. (As for taste? Don’t know. I wasn’t hungry.)

Maurice the Miner, the NCM's friendly mascot.

Maurice the Miner, the NCM’s friendly mascot.

If I’ve been disappointed thus far by the lack of coal mines, our Saturday afternoon date will assuage that: we are off to the National Coal Mining Museum in Overton. Getting there from Tingley involves a bus, a long wait in a bus stop in the cold, uninspiring-looking nearby city of Wakefield, and another bus. For extra Northerner points I’ve made Bundy wear the comedy flat cap, which really suits him. I think perhaps Northerners just have a ‘look good in a flat cap’ gene that Southerners don’t. (Sadly I do not have any pictures of this 😦 )

The most Yorkshire sign of all time.

The most Yorkshire sign of all time.

Unfortunately upon arrival we are informed that the mine tours are all booked, although this does mean we can visit the rest of the museum for free. In the main museum building we learn about life down t’mine, life in mining communities (happily, this includes a picture of whippet-racing), and the miners’ strikes. There is an interactive option for children to etch some mining strike slogans on a bit of paper. Despite not being children, we take it and add ‘#thuglyfe’ underneath. (Image below)

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Outside we find another building with, to our mature delight, a plethora of factboxes using the words ‘shaft’ and ‘pumping’, and a list of names of former mines around the country. One of them is called Minge. However the main purpose of this out-building is that there’s more interactive learning exhibits, one of which is a life-sized-height model mine shaft. It’s basically just a teeny tunnel. No one is around, so we crawl into it. And one of us struggles to turn around and get out. (Clue: not me.)

Bundy tries out the model mine shaft. Hehe, shaft.

Bundy tries out the model mine shaft. Hehe, shaft.

There’s half an hour before the bus back to Wakefield, but there’s a pub called the Reindeer Inn right next to the bus stop, so we go in for drinks and watch Final Score on BBC. There’s a moment of joy when United go 2-1 down to Swansea, and a moment of agony when Chelsea concede against Burnley to draw 1-1. Burnley, ffs. These are both full time scores that we will watch on Match of the Day this evening. Well, I say watch, but really I’m too busy bitching about Robbie Savage’s terrible hair to take it all in.

THE REINDEER INN. I've always said that Yorkshire's so Northern it may as well be Scandinavia.

THE REINDEER INN. I’ve always said that Yorkshire’s so far north it may as well be Scandinavia.

It’s been a fun day out, not least because it confirms all the stereotypes about the North that I’d come with in the form of a Yorkshire Bingo sheet. I won’t be satisfied until it’s complete, though. So until I hear someone say “ee by gum”, there’ll be more instalments of my Yorkshire adventures to come. Next up: a groundhopper post about Elland Road for next week’s clash between Leeds and Cardiff. Pip pip.

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