Sadly, the moment has arrived. Yesterday, I packed up my mug, my spoon and my jar of decaffeinated coffee and left my lovely workplace for the last time. This, as my devoted followers (I can dream, can’t I?), will be aware, is my second retirement, the first having taken place almost exactly seven years ago, and in rather less happy circumstances.
I have had a wonderful six years working part-time at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge: I have learnt a lot, just from being on the premises and able to wander round in my lunch breaks, but also from my hugely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and devoted colleagues, whom I am so sorry to be leaving (though I have hopes of sneaking back in some sort of volunteer capacity …).
One of my roles has been to answer the ‘general enquiries’ phone and to reply to ‘general enquiries’ emails. You never know what you might be getting into when you pick up the phone: anything from ‘Are you open?’ to ‘I think I may have dropped my mobile phone in your café two weeks ago’ to ‘My [relative] was X [a famous artist], and I wondered if the Museum might like to be given some of her works.’ (This latter has actually happened to me not once but twice.)
The most oft-recurring question has to be ‘How much does it cost?’, to which the answer is ‘Nothing, it’s free.’ After that, on individual pieces in the collections: ‘Is The Magic Apple Tree on display?’ Answer: ‘Sorry, no, because it is a watercolour that cannot be exposed for any length of time to high light levels without fading.’ So then I rehearse the way in which it can be viewed in the Study Room, for which at least two weeks’ notice is required. Most people are completely understanding, but I once got back the response: ‘But this is ridiculous, I’m coming down from Manchester tomorrow specially!’
I had a small fantasy of visiting as the archetypal Grumpy Old Person, for whom NOTHING, from the coffee in the café to the lighting in the Fan Gallery (which has to be kept low, see watercolour above) is ever right. But of course, in reality I won’t – not only because I have far too much respect and affection for my ex-colleagues, but also because I don’t want to risk being barred from the best and most fascinating, as well as most welcoming, museum in the country. Floruit, floreat, florebit Museum Fitzwillianum!