Sneaking into Essen..

At 11am, as I am beginning to despair, Crazy Sandra materialises – for an adwenture (sic). Patricia, her blonde pal, is in tow.

Pat is also crazy because not only does she go to far too many Metallica concerts, but she is also a paid-up member of their fan club. I don’t know what that entails but it’s probably fairly crazy.

A marathon has wreaked havoc on the roads today and so the girls are late, relying on an unfamiliar public transport system. We look at each other helplessly, thinking about where we could go. Ah, that wonderful tool, the internet, supplies the answer.

Since the death of the coal and steel industries in the Ruhr Valley, Gelsenkirchen is now making waves as the centre of Germany’s solar industry. That’s a potential scoop; we’re off to the Pholtovoltaic Information Centre.

The girls lead off decisively, boarding a tram back to Crazy Sandra’s car. I think of querying their choice of tram, sensing that it is heading north, not south. ‘Barn, we are wrong,’ they admit a little later. Yes, I know.

What is worse is that it’s nearly lunchtime now, and there isn’t a sandwich vendor in sight – the situation looks decidedly unpleasant. After a good hour of embarking and alighting of trams, we pass the Veltins Arena – our starting point.

This marathon is ruining everything; Crazy Sandra is wrestling with the wheel, thwarted at every junction by plastic barricades. The spaznav is going beserk. Exhausted from three-point turns, and foiled yet again by a closed road, she pulls into a carpark full of interesting cars, to turn around.

Stepping out to take a photograph, I find that we are, in fact, at a tourist attraction: the Zollverein coking plant.

Beggars can’t be choosers; intrepid reporters must remain flexible and spontaneous. We’ve stumbled into the neighbouring district of Essen now, and this is a World Heritage site, built in 1958.

Extended in the ’70s, it became one of the largest and most modern coking plants in Europe. Sounds riveting.

Rather than bore you with the coal to coke process, I shall instead recount the girls’ joint translation from the information board outside, sending them into peals of giggles.

‘Er, the female frog when she met the man frog. They have to met before the small sea [she means ‘pond’], then the man frog has to jump on the female frog. They will not have sex before the sea. She carry him, and then they have sex. Yes, Barn – look, it is written there.’ Rightho…