Monday, August 22, 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Museum*

'Tickets? £1.00 for adults, children 50p. Come on in - please do. ' I announce at the sniff of a visitor...

...and worth every penny I add, sotto voce, to myself.

My inability to say 'no' or my hyper-inclination to volunteer for all and sundry finds me on Saturday afternoon as Custodian at the Old Bell Museum in Montgomery. This is like putting a child in charge of a sweetshop.

The Old Bell is the loveliest little museum you can imagine, focussed on the past of this county town and its immediate environs. I've been as a visitor a couple of times previously and each time found more of interest. How tantalising it will be to remain behind my desk knowing what treasures lie in the rooms beyond.

Fortunately I am taking over from an experienced hand who has successfully unlocked, un-alarmed and remembered to slide the little slidey thing which announces to the world that the museum is OPEN. I gather that as this is not the busiest visitor attraction in the county I can probably look forward to an untroubled afternoon.

I settle into my Custodian's chair and survey my domain. I have two rolls of tickets. (Proper museum-y jobs don't you think?)

There is a desk with a CCTV screen, a file of instructions, a record book and an important piece of paper on which I must note with 'five barred gates' the number of adult and child visitors and publications sold....all to be added up at the end of the date. My greatest fear is not outbreak of fire, rowdy or light-fingered visitors. No, it is making the books balance at 5.00pm. I see a column of figures and begin to tremble.

I read the file of instructions for custodians and welcome my first visitors - the first of many as it turns out - enough to make the afternoon pass at a reasonable and interesting pace. I have little time to twiddle my fingers. I'm a bit restricted to the reception area but while it's quiet I open a few drawers; the Custodian's perogative perhaps. I am reminded of visiting No.10 Downing Street to find that tucked behind that famous front door were dusters and polishes. So much for the panoply of state.

This multi-drawed chest must have come from a seed merchant but now seems to hold a stash of light bulbs.

Feel a bit off colour? Can I recommend a course of Dayus's celebrated alternative 'General Condition Balls'?

Visitors were all most complimentary - and nobody asked really difficult questions. A couple were clearly moved by the room which exhibits artefacts from the Workhouse at Forden (a.k.a. The House of Industry) - none more so than the mother who was accompanied by her husband and teenaged son. He was deaf and perhaps autistic. He would have been she reflected, in years gone by, incarcerated somewhere like that. This room has in it the story of Blind May - Hannah Thomas - who, blind, deaf and dumb was sent to live at the workhouse at Caersws at 4 years old - and transferred to Forden where she lived until her death at the age of 89. It is the most poignant story. We must count our blessings.

The clock on the Town Hall just up the street eventually rang 5 and as the last 'dong' died away the long case clock in the the museum's reception chimed the hour too. Time to slide the slidey thing to its CLOSED position and bolt the doors. The museum's curator arrived and kindly volunteered to close up for me....but left me to  'balance the books'.

What a relief it was to find everything tallied. Phew.

*With apologies to Kate Atkinson.


Mac n' Janet said...

I love small, "homey" museums like yours.

Wipso said...

Sounds like a good day was had by all :-)
A x

elizabethm said...

You do have a great tendency to say to interesting things though. Love the tickets.

Frances said...

Let me compliment your taking on this duty. Easy, and yet not so easy. I'm sure that the visitors to the Museum will remember your good welcome and be glad that they spent time there.

I so loved that Kate Atkinson book, and was delighted to actually meet her on her first author's tour of the States. Your experience has brought back some good memories of my own.

Thank you!

Cro Magnon said...

Sounds like my kinda museum!

Preseli Mags said...

What fun! I've fallen for that seed merchant's chest. All those useful little drawers and does that one really say radish? Adorable!

rachel said...

I feel quite sick with envy... I would love your job!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

How could you bear to leave at the end of the afternon ?
When I was little , tram conductors would replace a nearly finished roll of tickets at the end of the route , so that they were ready for going back through the center of the city and the hordes of passengers . If you were lucky , you'd get the old roll Bliss!

Twiglet said...

I have to admit - I have been to art exhibitions in the gallery but never popped into the museum. I must call in - it looks fascinating. I have made a collage of the building - its in Indigo Moon the craft/vintage/gift shop in Montgomery.

Jayne said...

Montgomery is such a lovely place I have not been in the museum yet mostly because I spend far too much time in Bunners hardware shop.

the cuby poet said...

What a lovely picture you paint of the museum. Little museums are able to harbour some fascinating artefacts of the town which tell stories that humble and intrique today. I used to visit you as Kissa but now blog under a new name. Really glad I found you again.

Nikki-ann said...

Do you know what, I don't think I've ever been in... and I was only in Monty today for lunch. I must pop in next time... especially as my great grandfather spent his last days in Forden Workhouse.

Friko said...

I've done the museum volunteering here too, it's usually very quiet, but the people who come all have something interesting to say.

C. museum is a treasure trove of small (dusty) odds and ends and a few interesting larger pieces, all collected from the local area, much the same as Montgomery, I suppose.

Museum 'duty' isn't onerous, just chilly, as ours is in the town hall, which has thick, cold walls, stone floors and no amenities at all.

ethnic salopian said...

Such a good account of your afternoon, loved it and stil smiling!