In The Dark

What a week. When the estimable Adrian Tinniswood suggested I take a group of visually and hearing impaired students on a week’s tour around Georgian London there was no way to know what to expect. I mean, I sort of knew what to expect in terms of guide dogs (and Poppy, Lyle and Ice defied all expectations) but in terms of student ability and their expectations, I was a bit lost.

Well, they soon set me straight on that. Eighteen students, eighteen guides, various guide dogs. We started out with,’ You’re speaking too fast! Are you wearing the transmitter?’ ‘Where are you sitting? I don’t know where you are!’ ‘You have a nice voice but it’s NOT VERY LOUD. Speak up, not all of us have hearing aids, you know.’ I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where nothaving to wear a hearing aid is a disadvantage. Yet soon I learned that this group haven’t only been to more museums than I’ll ever go to in my lifetime, but they overcome more obstacles in order to just get to those museums than most of the rest of us can understand. Yesterday, the heat and rain in London combined to make the bus changes we had to take to get to Kensington Palace for the special tour beyond minging. We worked out a Tube route. Only some of the group felt confident enough to take it, even with guides and guide dogs. But others, most of them unfamiliar with London, launched themselves onto the Underground with cheerful abandon. I was struck, constantly, with how the visually impaired trust the goodness in others. And how they attract that goodness.

I must extend a special thank you to Goldsmiths’ Hall, particularly Richard McCrow, Sophia and Claire, who guided us brilliantly and wore the court robes and let themselves be felt up, as well as all the furniture, wall coverings, chimney pieces and decorations. And the summer restorers who manned the lifts and took such good care of us. The Foundling Museum found a place in the heart of everyone who attended on Wednesday afternoon, as did Julian at Kensington Palace who had everyone howling with his talk including well-endowed herms and how to take a leak in the presence of the king.

Last night we were lucky enough to have Amy Kavanagh speak to the group about the experience of being a visually impaired historian.

I woke up this morning with the final session’s lecture in my head and on my laptop. And a real sense of sadness that I wouldn’t be working with such a committed and informed group after today. So I ditched the lecture and took questions from the floor. We covered interiors, the tactile exhibitions at European museums, childbirth and menstruation in the eighteenth century (that was in a corner during the coffee break), the trouble with hearing loops in echoing rooms, and finally, Barbara Hepworth.

I only hope my students got as much out of it as I did.


This week I taught a course on Georgian London for Add-Venture In Learning.

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