Friday, 14 August 2015

The Princess, the Frog and the Coal Mining Museum

My half term week, ironing, films and an exhibition of photographs.

I had a busy half term week with St Valentine’s Day, my daughter Valentina’s tenth birthday and my husband’s forty-something birthday as well. We had to eat cakes and chocolate on Ash Wednesday. No doubt God will forgive us.

All the children were at home having a rest, with too much free time. As usual I had a lot of cooking, washing and ironing and also planning what we could all do together: something which would not sound dull and outdated to the children.

Avatar 3D was a must. I could not be with them but they all agreed it was a highly entertaining and thought-provoking film.

I saw the Princess and the Frog with Valentina instead, a moving, romantic story according to the best tradition of Walt Disney animated films. I enjoyed the colours, the music and the New Orleans accent. Valentina seemed under a spell: she did not miss a jot of it sipping her pint of sprite. There was a fair balance of dream, commitment, hard work and love in the story and a couple of cracking ideas like Mama Odie’s contagious passion for life and the fact that not all   princesses are white.

Then my special day arrived: a visit to the National Coal Mining Museum of England. I had seen the advertisement for an exhibition of photos, Northern Soul, in the magazine Northern Life and was looking forward to seeing it.

We took Valentina to her children's club and prepared the sandwiches. The three older children mumbled they did not care about photographs but followed us all the same.

During the drive we faced sleet, snow, rain, traffic and road works. After an hour and forty-five we finally reached Huddersfield and the NCM museum near Overton. Unfortunately we were too late for the Underground Tour. It must have been fully booked since we had left Lancaster. But we had time to see the Galleries and the special photo exhibition.

Pit canaries, lamps, tools and machines: the Oaks kibble, the rescue bucket for the last survivor of the Oaks Colliery disaster in 1866, in which 360 men and boys were killed, showed how dangerous and hard it was working in a mines. A community was built around a pit and the pit ruled the community.

Big disasters were not so common but men were usually killed in ones and twos in everyday work. What impressed me was the team spirit of these communities, how they worked together and helped each other to improve their lives. They were proud of being miners and handed down their skills from father to son like craftsmen.

The photo exhibition was as impressive as I expected: Northern Soul, images by John Bulmer, Life & Times in the 1960s. Metallic pictures in black and white and a few coloured, tints on a bare background. They showed so much: catching a smile, a blackened face, women polishing the doorsteps, an old lady in clogs cleaning the gate post. Every photograph told a story, from drab street scenes and chimneys smoking to Victorian terraces and pit ponies. The catalogue and signed prints were also on sale and I thought they would be a never ending source of inspiration and teaching, like Monet’s water lilies.

We hadn’t enough time to see the ponies and it was too wet to discover the Nature Trail. We had to go back to Lancaster by four when Valentina finished her Club. But we are going to go back there, in spring, hopefully with better weather to complete our visit of the NCM museum.
To know more there is a website:

What else? Yes, I also took part to the event Living Books at Lancaster Library on Tuesday 16th February. Living with Valentina was the title of my story. And I had a go at the Open Mic Slam at Spotlight in Lancaster on Friday 19th.

Of course we couldn’t miss our ritual shopping, in Manchester this time. My eldest son had to buy a St Valentine’s present and my daughters needed new outfits for springtime…or summertime. Whenever the weather decides to have mercy on us.

We ended the day in our favourite Italian restaurant, La Rustica in Deansgate, where palline di pane, cannelloni alla romana and lasagne are our favourites.

We went back to work for a rest!

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