I completed my first half marathon this year, I say completed not ran, I didn’t quite manage to run the whole way. It was hard work, I hadn’t done enough training, now it is over I can say it was good fun, at the time I thought my knees were on their last legs. I know a full-on marathon is beyond me, its never going to happen. But a Museum Marathon, now there is a tempting offer. 26 Museums in one day, 16 miles, raising money for Guide Dogs UK, lots of Museumy people and perhaps the most important thing for me – walking not running. How could I possibly say no. What better way to finish off a year of volunteering in museums, a year where I have pretty much said ‘yes’ to every offer and opportunity that has come my way.
To be honest I don’t think I could even name 26 museums in London. I don’t think I could get to 26 Museums in a year, even in a couple of years, so to hit them all in one day would be pretty good fun. The hardest part? Not going in. The idea is to stand outside, one quick picture and on to the next. That is a really hard thing to do when you love a good museum, it is almost akin to torture. But hey! It’s for charity so I am well up for a bit of sadomasochism.
I know what you are thinking, what a great idea! Well I would love to claim the credit but it is all down to David Mentiply, so a massive thanks to him for organising, and I have to thank his girlfriend for the cake, sustenance is very important on a marathon. A big thank you also goes to David’s Mum who gave me a little bag of sweets, an orange and of course Fido my travelling buddy. Not forgetting to also thank my Museum of London volunteer companion, we seem to be getting ourselves into quite a few museum/history escapades. As she is my friend I will forgive her for making us stand outside the wrong V&A entrance at the start of the day. Not the best way to begin a marathon I will admit.
When we found the right entrance, it was hard to spot our fellow Museum Marathon compardres. I may follow quite a few of them on Twitter, but I don’t actually know what they look like, and they don’t know what I look like which can kind of make things a little bit difficult. There was so many people outside the V&A because it was just before opening time so I kind of thought if we waited a few minutes the doors would open, everyone would go in and anyone left outside would be our Museum Marathoners. Scanning these people waiting to go into the V&A is not something I have done before. I noticed the V&A visitors are very different to the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum visitors round the corner. At the V&A people spread out waiting in little groups, round the corner there are neat lines of people patiently waiting. I wonder what it says about the different kinds of people who visit different museums. The day had hardly started and I was already Museum musing.
I could give you a picture of all 26 museums with me outside but I will direct you to Mar Dixon for her lovely round-up of the day. Instead what I thought was really cool about the day was getting to compare the public image of all these museums. Some are slap bang in your face. Massive buildings, impressive porticos, stunning brickwork. These kind of museums have a grandeur, a permanence, I guess a kind of power to them, the V&A, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.
Some museums have really impressive buildings but the museum itself is deep inside, just a part of a larger organisation. Perhaps hidden away, it is not obvious from the outside what lies within. The Freemasons Library and Museum a good example and such a wonderful building. The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, the Household Cavalry Museum or Horsey Museum as I like to call it another example. These kind of museums are always good to visit, you feel the best things are always kept hidden, secreted away behind doors and walls, but you would never miss the buildings themselves.
There are museums in busy, busy tourist spots, who are never going to have a problem attracting visitors. The London Transport Museum, not the most impressive building by a long way but you have to fight your way to their door. Tourists and shoppers everywhere you look.
My favourites are always the hard to find, side street museums. A small sign, a discreet banner on some railings. The Charles Dickens Museum, on a quiet day the Sir John Soanes Museum, but today a bit of a give away with a small queue of people patiently waiting to peruse the crazy collections filling every conceivable space.
I always like the museums that have their doors shut like the Benjamin Franklin House. Sounds kind of strange, they give off a weird mixed vibe of ‘go away’ and ‘come right in’ at the same time. You never know what kind of a welcome you will get once you open the door.
Then there is always a bit of a debate over the museums that you are not even sure are museums, the HMS Belfast, the British Library and the Globe Theatre. What even makes a museum?
And the welcome we got too, that was pretty varied, and certainly made for some highlights on the day. Some museum security eyed us with suspicion. A few polite words to discern our intentions. It is not often you get 25 people turn up outside, all run in and out, take a picture, tweet furiously and then stride off in the opposite direction. Some museums gave us the warmest of receptions, a massive thank you to my volunteer home at the Museum of London who laid on mince pies. A rather lovely christmas tree gave us all a festive glow. We had a doorstep five minute curator cram at the Hunterian thanks to one half of the Ministry of Curiosity, a friendly tweet here and there from the Science Museum and the V&A. Some museums were closed, I am looking at you Bank of England Museum. Some museums were not even opened yet but gave us the warmest and most personal of welcomes. You can’t mention Museum Marathon without a thank you to 19 Princelet Street – The Museum of Immigration and Diversity.
So what a day! A day to contemplate, tweet, snap and chat. These museumy people, not all working in museums, but many passionate about them. Not only did I get to contemplate the way museums present themselves to the world, I got to talk museums all day too. I chatted to people about volunteering, jobs and wages. Pathways and careers. Passions and expectations. I talked autism in museums, what does the future hold? Where are museums heading? Where are they now? The Collider exhibition, the Cheapside Hoard, and Turner and the Sea. I tell you museum people really know their stuff. People who love what they do, who love museum and love London too, it really makes for a fabulous combination. The miles flew by in shared companionship. We had a laugh, got slightly lost, shared aching feet and bemoaned a lack of lunch. Most importantly we did it. 26 museums as dusk fell on the most beautiful of winter evenings.
The biggest challenges of the day? Whether my phone battery would last, having to restrict my tweeting, a form of self control I am not normally used to exerting. It is also amazing how often you lose people when everyone has their head down tweeting and looking at their latest selfie.
All I have left to say is a massive thank you to all the people who supported us and sponsored us, we raised at last count over £1,000 pounds for Guide Dogs UK which gave me a warm glow at the end of the day (that might have been something to do with the mulled wine.)
Fido is now a firm friend and I have a lot more Museum Marathon followers on Twitter and they are firm friends too. I get the feeling this won’t be the first and last Museum Marathon. There is more money to be raised, more museums to visit and a never ending supply of passionate museum mad people who will be lining up to take part. So roll on next year, when we do it all over again.
There is still time to donate to Guide Dogs UK, if you enjoyed the post please donate a penny to the link below. Thank you.
and if you have donated, here is a picture just for you…