Thursday, 26 March 2015

Ma’am, as in Jam: a Grand Day Out

A friend of ours, Fiona Keyte, recently went to Buckingham Palace to collect her richly-deserved MBE: she’s worked tirelessly within a small charity called Time Out which was set up to enable and support the work she and her small army of volunteers does within parts of the local community.  Fiona has now got closer to a member of the Royal family – the Queen no less – than I ever have, or probably ever will.  However, earlier this month I did have a ‘near miss’ …

I’ve written before (e.g. here) about the small projects I have had the privilege of undertaking with some hugely talented people at the Turner Contemporary gallery and ought one day to pull my reflections on these experiences together into a more coherent post.  There is plenty of scope for such an exercise: dropping a scientist into the work of an art gallery is almost bound to generate ‘sparks’, and I have certainly learnt a lot – and perhaps I have changed a little in the process.  In the meantime I thought I might describe my own grand day out at a reception at the gallery in honour of a visit by the Duchess of Cambridge – well, it was only a morning actually and for the most part not very grand, but it was interesting.  Presumably on the basis of my modest input to the work of the Learning Team at the gallery, I received an invitation to the reception and was sufficiently flattered and intrigued to accept.  Having never been invited to anything quite like this before it was all novel to me.  In all honestly this is probably as close to the reason for this brief post as I’ll be able to express: as a scientist and an academic – and presumably it’s the same for most of us – one doesn’t get the opportunity to be a part of this sort of event very often.  Indeed, this was a first for me and I’ve been doing the job for four decades in one place or another.  (It’s not the first time I have posted something along the lines of ‘a day in the life’: see here for an earlier example.  I’ll not write too many, I hope.)

The scene outside Turner Contemporary as I arrived: a flag-seller,
the press and others beginning to stake their respective claims to a spot.

Out of curiosity and an innate need to ‘be prepared’ I turned to Debrett’s, where else, to learn more of the etiquette.  Evidently there are orders of Dukes and Duchesses: only four carry the epithet ‘Royal’ according to Debrett’s (Cambridge, York, Gloucester and Kent – although one might imagine Edinburgh ought to be in there somewhere …) and in conversation one ought to open with “Your Royal Highness” and continue with “Ma’am” – correctly pronounced, naturally.  As it turned out my research was not necessary, although it did inspire my title for this post.  One had to arrive early, and most people got there at least an hour before the royal party were due to arrive, replete with two forms of photo-ID.  Everyone was directed to a large open room in which a handful of chairs and some tea/coffee/water were provided.  It’s good that this particular room has a wonderful view of the sea.  It was also good to be able to catch up with folk I’d not seen for a while and to meet some new people.  But mostly it was standing and waiting whilst, out of our sight, the visitors arrived and were greeted and shown around the current exhibition.  Once the more private events had concluded we were directed into the main foyer – beautifully filled with the sound of a youth orchestra – in order to await the return of the visitors from their viewing.  Those pre-chosen for ‘the line-up’ stood separately from the bulk of us, and in turn in their three small clusters, were introduced to the Duchess; after this there was a speech of welcome before the Duchess went into the room we’d just vacated in order to have some lunch.  With the reception now over, we who had provided the reasonably well-behaved and moderately well-dressed backdrop began to leave. 

In all honesty, I’d think twice before committing more than half a working day for this sort of engagement a second time.  Having said that, I was happy to be able to support the gallery’s work in this small way, glad to have had the chance to chat to people I don’t see often, and pleased to have had a harmless novel experience.  Photography was banned for those of us inside, but there are some images here if you’re interested.

Next stop, if I write according to my current loosely-framed plan, are a few thoughts on some of the committees I've known: the good, the bad and the ugly?

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