That awkward moment when one of the tour group might know more about the subject than the tour guide.
While on a guided tour of a cemetery, the tour guide was momentarily distracted by a cat. She then explained that they often see cats, due to the amount of wildlife they can catch in an otherwise urban area.
The stray cat they had previously sort of adopted was sadly run over. After I asked, it was admitted that it was was quietly buried in corner of the otherwise very very expensive plots - "staff privilege".
Recently I visited a lot of venues over three days. At Westminster Abbey, Apsley House, HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms we were given hand held audio guides which worked with varying degrees of success. We noticed that wherever they were being 'successfully' (extensively) used, they turned most visitors into zombies. My travelling companion made the observation in the cartoon above.
I know that audio guides are a good way to control visitor flow and visit times, ensuring people get an overview while also pushing them through sites at a suitable speed. They can provide a reliable service not always possible unless you employ a large pool of highly trained staff, such as language options, BSL on video screens, child friendly tours. They can be a flexible tool, such as at Apsley House, offering visitors a choice of tours depending on their specific interests. They allow historical venues to be free from obtrusive signs. From the visitor's point of view, their experience can also be enhanced by a good audio guide, with music, interviews from behind the scenes staff, and video clips.
However, using so many audio guides in a short time highlighted two - to me - unpleasant side effects. The first is how much people were attuned only to the audio guide, to the detriment of all else. The second was the isolation of the user.
A special tour for a local adult special needs group.
It gets extra special if some of the people on it can't actually speak any English, and the guide is desperately trying to understand their stutter!
Apparently, a good time was still had by all.
Although they won’t charge for entry, new rules from the British Museum mean that tour groups of more than ten people must give a week’s notice as to when they wish to visit, or they may be turned away from entering the Museum, or certain galleries. Read more about it here (the basis for this blog post).
Given that tour operators make a profit from guiding people around the free museum - hurrah - as in some areas it can get very uncomfortable even when not at peak weekend times, so these people who benefit from bringing the tours should be more carefully controlled.
In a warning to tour operators, the museum said that those who failed to book an hourly slot, stating which part of the vast collections they wished to visit, “may be denied immediate entry”. In a message on its website, it continued: “This new policy is due to the significant increase in tour group visitors to the Museum and is intended to make the visitor experience more pleasant for all visitors.”
There has been some confusion and misreporting, believing that the British Museum wishes to charge large tour groups and/or foreign tourists for visiting. (Guardian and Daily Mail articles) A spokeswoman for the museum said “There are no plans under consideration for charging tour operators. The trustees remain absolutely committed to free entry for all.”
Your venue is busy busy right now with kids and tourists (at least, I hope so, and I hope they spend some pennies there too) so make sure you keep the good times with you whenever you start to grit your teeth and marvel at the depth of human ignorance!
Sometimes small things happen which remind you why you love working in the museum and heritage sector, sometimes a situation comes out better than you expect, and sometimes... well, sometimes you're given a reason to hide a smile. On the days when a football is being kicked about in the art gallery, or you think all of the signage has turned invisible, take a second to hark back, and put your game face on with a glow in your heart.
How to make a medieval cave and tunnel system more appealing. To a very specific market of small girls.
The caves and tunnels are underground.
Bits of the country have flooded.
Our caves and tunnels are partially flooded.
The electricity has gone to that area. (and even if it hadn't, electricity and water?...)
Even with pumps, the damage to the stone needs to be estimated before it's passed as safe for public access.
There's really not much we can do for you, so getting angry at staff will only make them get increasingly polite and smiley towards you, while also loosing the will to actually help you out.
Through barred and dirty doors, across mausoleum quiet lobbies, and down, down winding stairs to a monument of human ambition fallen foul of progress.
I was recently fortunate enough* to go on one of London Transport Museum's rare tours of the abandoned Aldwych Underground station, originally known as Strand. Why an abandoned tube station? Well, it's a beautiful little time capsule to another age of design, site of many well known film and tv scenes, and a we got a very good little tour giving insights into how the Underground was originally run.
Click on pictures for larger views, and on "Read More" for more images and info.
It's your child's birthday, it's your anniversary, it's your once in a lifetime visit to our country, it's your dad's special birthday, it's your honeymoon.
A special event occasions a special experience; taking a dino mad kid to a natural history exhibition, taking the missus on a guided tour of a stately home. But if you get in touch with a venue a couple of days before you plan to visit, find out that what you want to do or see is fully booked out or unavailable (and advertised as such for months in advance) and then play an emotional blackmail card, the odds are that staff will feel for you - but not be able to do a darn thing about it.
Really, we'll want to help, we'll make suggestions for alternatives, we'll add your name to waiting lists. But if that guided tour is fully booked, we have good (insurance often) reasons why we can't "just squeeze two more on" and if that exhibition is closed we probably can't "let you have a peek" because it'll be covered in dust cloths, hoardings and workmen/curatorial staff, with most of the exhibits missing or not even on display.
I hate saying no to people (I know, I whine a lot here, so that may be a shock) but it hurts knowing there is a disappointed kid whose parents have already said "Yeah! we can do that!" or a new spouse whose ideal honeymoon will be less ideal.
So a plea, if you will, to plan ahead a bit - because at the very least, birthdays happen the same time each year - and the more warning you give your chosen museum, gallery, historic house, castle... the more likely the staff will be able to pull out the stops and make your day awesome.
We want you to be happy, and we want to be the people who make that happen. So plan a little, and we can plan a lot.
Webcomic and occasional blog about the heritage sector.
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