We visited three museums on Thursday as part of the AHI Conference in ‘glorious Shropshire’. The RAF Museum at Cosford was the one I was least looking forward to. It turned out to be the one with the best interpretation and where I had the most profound visit experience.
(It is very often good to notice my prejudices and assumptions and then ignore them.)
We were visiting the newest part of the Museum, the National Gallery of the Cold War, opening in 2007. I began, near the beginning, with the Berlin Airlift. I can’t remember what I looked at – maybe a picture of Kennedy and a quotation from him. Whatever it was, it hit me really hard. ‘Oh my God’ I said out loud, as I flashbacked to our kitchen meal table in the 1960s and my father talking about the Russians.
I kept hearing my father and seeing my childhood home as I read the (very well written) text and pieced the story of The Cold War together. Somewhat disoriented, rather numb, I re-positioned myself as someone who had lived through almost all the Cold War. I had never before framed my life like that. This was, in part at least, my story on the walls.
No wonder we children were so often frightened and learned to be so suspicious.
It was all there a story I had been part of, even from before I can really remember.
This was interpretation that certainly had relevance to me, almost more of it than I wanted. It achieved that golden goal of heritage interpreters of making me reassess who I am and how my life relates to a bigger history.
That is big stuff. It hit me in the stomach, not the brain. It made me feel dizzy, winded and confused. Later, it set me thinking and talking. I sought out the company of three other delegates and we sat down in the Checkpoint Charlie Cafe for a nice cup of tea and a chat. (This is England in the Cold War after all, what else would we do but stay calm and drink tea?)
Tea and empathetic/sympathetic company worked a treat. There is a lot of excellent theory, much of which I have taught for years, that real change and learning happen through reflection and conversation. It worked that way for me on Thursday. Sitting down with a group of contemporaries and talking through our memories of those times, is where things settled down. It was a great conversation, a core part of my visit experience.
Great visits to heritage attractions are very often a combination of the people you go with and what you see. I knew that. At Cosford, I felt it.
Many thanks to Ivan Nethercoat who kindly provided the photos for this blog, when mine were too poor to use. I suspect my hands were shaking …