Monday, 4 March 2013

My Silver Anniversary

As I said last week in my introduction to the Ology of the Month I’m a keen geologist and rock collector. Its exactly 35 years ago this week when I went on my last geology field trip to the Peak District in Derbyshire.

Ten years later, having lost direction in my life, I drifted into tour guiding. And on 5th March 1988 I conducted my first guided tour at Epworth Old Rectory, the childhood home of the Wesley brothers who founded Methodism. So tomorrow I celebrate my silver anniversary as a tour guide! Yaaaay!

Epworth was a deliberate choice to begin my guiding career as I was Methodist lay preacher at the time, and 1988 was the bicentenary of the founding of Methodism. In May 1988 I was one of 3 guides who met 200 delegates of the World Methodist Council at Doncaster train station and took them around the rectory (filmed by the BBC’s “Songs of Praise” programme).

After Epworth I got a job at Gainsborough Old Hall, a medieval manor house. It’s appropriate that there’s been all that fuss over the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton recently because the Old Hall was built by one of his supporters and he visited it (and I’m descended from his aunt Philippa). At the Old Hall I conducted many tours for visitors, but I was also involved with the school education programme (which won the Sandford Education Award during my time there) and living history weekends (oh, how I miss those weekends!).

For the school and living history I had to dress in authentic period costume. This (very bad) photo shows me in one of my costumes. Dressed like this I also publicised the Old Hall at county shows.

Then, in 1998, I moved to Nottingham. There I got a job at Nottingham Castle. Underneath the castle are man-made passages which are grouped together under the name of Mortimer’s Hole, named after the tyrant who deposed and probably murdered King Edward II. Some time back I wrote about an amazing fact I discovered after I left the castle. One of my colleagues and fellow guides was young Mark. After we both had left the castle (and had a bit of an on-and-off fling over 2 years) I discovered he was descended from Edward II’s partner Piers Gaveston. The implications of this are given in an earlier post.

I had, perhaps, something of an advantage over my colleagues in that I could use my knowledge of geology to describe the rock formations within the walls. I was able to point out the shape of the sand dunes from which the rock was made all those millions of years ago. And even pin-pointed out one very short event from those millions of years ago by following a line of pebbles in the rock wall which signified a flash flood. Those pebbles, of course, came from mountains that were formed many millions of years before that.

I didn’t have a special costume for the cave tours, except at one special event when I dressed as the Constable of Nottingham Castle – my tribute to 3 “gay” constables of the past. I really enjoyed my tours and got a lot of good feedback. Several times my manager put me forward when a television crew came along. I even took a female wrestler into the caves for an American wrestling programme (can’t remember which one, but there used to be a YouTube video of it). On another occasion I was being interviewed by a professor. While we were waiting for the crew to set up the cameras the professor and I amused ourselves by making hand shadows of dinosaurs and bats against the cave wall!

On my tours I tried to get people involved, especially the children. When I got to the part where I describe how Roger Mortimer was captured at Nottingham and later executed I “demonstrated” on a volunteer child how a traitor was hanged, drawn and quartered. The kids loved it! And so did most of the adults! And this was years before “Horrible Histories” became popular. In 1994 I even helped to get the cave tours awarded the Best UK Guided Tour of the Year. One of the undercover judges told me years later that she still remembered it with a smile (I hope it was for the right reasons!).

After I left Nottingham Castle I wanted to carry on being a tour guide but there weren’t many openings. For several years before I left I was researching lgbt history. From this research I decided I could do gay tours of Nottingham. My first was during Nottingham Pride on 29th July 2006.

I’m pleased to say my Nottingham tours are very successful. I’m planning 2 fund-raising tours for this year’s Nottinghamshire Pride committee, and have several others planned in the coming months. There are even some “regular” customers – the University of Nottingham LGBT Students group have been on 7 tours so far, and they’re hoping for their 8th in October.

My tours are always developing. No two tours are the same, and I often alter the route for each group. I also try to create at least one new tour every year with a different theme. So people can decide whether to have the Romantic Valentine tour, the Seven Deadly Gay Sins tour, or the standard tour, for instance.

I don’t know how I’m going to celebrate my Silver Anniversary tomorrow, but I’m sure I can do some sort of celebrating throughout the year. Perhaps you may even join me on a tour yourself one day.

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