Recently, the communist I’m married to has been desperate for a holiday. Because we’re currently in the process of buying a house, we can’t afford to go anywhere, you know, nice. Particularly somewhere that has that added frisson of seediness that can make a dirty weekend such effective part of anyone’s relationship kit, or has one of those specially designed sexy time hotels. Paris, Tokyo, Rio, Berlin- none of them is on this year’s menu.
So, we went to Wolverhampton instead.
My husband has refused to let me post photographic evidence of his ever being there on the internet but trust me that, in spite of the lack of him in the pictures, it wasn’t just me enjoying the company of my left hand for a couple of days.
Why we went:
Literally, it was the naffest place I could think of when Rebecca suggested this feature (which is part of a series - where should other xoJane writers try out the goods? Tell us!).
No. The much-maligned city is not only the hometown of Caitlin Moran (brilliant!), Chubb locks (useful!), and my Dad (hiya!), it’s also close to the Staffordshire village where I spent my first couple of years on this earth, allowing me to get both nostalgic and laid in the space of a few hours.
We also offered to cover Middlesbrough.
How we got there:
We had to get over from Dublin so it was cheap seats on Ryanair. I’d always recommend travelling with Aer Lingus if you can, but it’s never once worked out more cost effectively for me. So, for the duration of the hour and five minute long flight we put up, shut up, and suppressed laughter when the little boy sitting in the row in front of us refused to play ‘I spy’ with his mum “because everything is only yellow and blue on here.” It’s not so long a journey as to get unpleasant, despite the relatively cramped conditions and hordes of kids that populate every summer flight.
Then, because I am scabby like that, I borrowed my brother’s car for the weekend, rather than rent one. Public transport fans might find it more useful to know that the train journey from Birmingham Airport’s Railway terminal to Wolverhampton takes just over half an hour, and drops you right in the centre of town but- as there are many attractive country spots around the Potteries area (which Staffordshire is also known for)- I’d get a car if you can.
Where we stayed:
The Novotel on Union Street, which is in the city centre.
I’d never been in a Novotel before, and chose it based entirely on its location and the mostly good tripadvisor reviews. Basically, we like somewhere we can stagger back to at the end of a night’s drinking, and this did the job.
The staff were friendly and helpful when it came to recommending restaurants and bars, it was clean, and, um, the bed was nice. I am saying it under duress because a piece about dirty weekends demands it. I will not tell you anything else. For that you may thank me in the comments section.
What we did:
Please see above.
The West Midlands is - or in its own collective unconscious is - famous for five things:
1) Manufacturing, particularly during the industrial revolution when so many factories, coal mines and foundries were in use that the air was thick with smog much of the time, earning the area the nickname “The Black Country”.
2) Queen Victoria was so appalled by the appearance of the area, she’d draw the curtains on her train carriage as she passed through so as not to have to look at it.
3) The accent. Locals sometimes find themselves referred to as “yam-yams” cos of the - shall we say “unique”? - way they pronounce the phrase “I am.” I, incidentally, love it.
4) Slade (and other lesser music). Noddy Holder, Liam from One Direction and, um, the dude from Babylon Zoo are all from here.
5) Amazing curry houses. Like, the fucking best you’ll find outside of the subcontinent.
We tried to make sure we took in a bit of all these things, especially the bit involving Indian food. The Penn Tandoori comes highly recommended by locals and tripadvisor alike, and is genuinely worth a trip for both food and service. They also do steaks and omelettes for diners who are not willing to try what is frankly some of the best Indian food I’ve eaten.
We got a bit of industrialisation in with a trip to the Black Country Living Museum which, frankly, is amazing. I hadn’t been since school, and it totally holds up. Visiting the open-air museum which showcases early twentieth century living through a collection of buildings and transport artifacts is the one thing I really must insist you do if you’re in the area. We drove (took about fifteen minutes) but it’s possible to get a train to nearby Tipton and, I think, walk up. It’s perhaps not as romantic as wondering round the Louvre hand-in-hand but I think it’s smashing, and a must.
You should also do as we did, and listen to Slade on the way there. Slade make everything at least twenty times better.
The next day, we wondered around the city enjoying the July heat wave, and tried to take in a few bits of culture. There was an interesting art exhibition on while we were there that had prints of famous portraits of women displayed in the windows of a disused clothes shop. I could wank on talk about how interesting this use of a female-centric consumer space is, but I’m not sure if it’s still running, and I’m worried that doing so might diminish some of the exhibition’s charm.
The city is home to the very impressive Grand Theatre, built in 1894 and designed by famous architect of theatres CJ Phipps. It’s always worth checking out what shows they have on, as the range of stuff they promote is very varied and interesting. Sadly, there was nothing to our taste the weekend we were there so we barhopped instead.
Many of the bars and pubs are parts of chains. We stopped in at Revolution, Wetherspoons, the Chicago Rock café and, inevitably, Walkabout. If you’re looking for somewhere unique and original to drink at one in the morning, this may not be the city for you. Personally, as someone who enjoys a bit of unpretentious naff, I thought it was great.
The only sore point is that the Wolverhampton branch of the legendarily cheesey nightclub chain Oceana closed down in March so we didn’t get to go. The communist has never stepped foot in one and I really wanted him to see it.
How it went:
Actually, and especially since we planned it as a bit of a joke, it was fantastic. Granted, the weather was on our side, which will always make things look better but the people were lovely, we liked our hotel, ate great food, saw some interesting things, and generally just unwound. And, you know, did the dirty.
Don’t have a bad word to say about it.
xo xo xo xo (I’m leaving one off ‘cos, yeah, it’s still not Paris).
So, tell me, where’s the best place you’ve ever had a dirty weekend? And the worst? Should any of xoJane’s intrepid team of weekenders be heading there? We NEED to know.