A Blast from the Past

I work in heritage. More precisely, with three Museums and two heritage organisations in Milton Keynes. It was in the centre:mk shopping centre on a Thursday afternoon during the first week of August, in the middle of the chaos that ensues when mounting an exhibition, that I received an email from work asking me to get in touch with someone that I’d not heard from in over a decade: my college tutor and archaeology lecturer. At once my skin began to prickle. What had I done?  Had he discovered that it had been me that had laced his wine with a ¼ bottle of vodka at the third year Tutor-Tutee formal…? I drafted a one-line response:

Hope all is well! I was just forwarded your email. How can I help?                                                         All the best,

His reply was almost instantaneous. There was a possible job coming up in the Gulf and he wanted to ask my advice about recruitment. Phew. I was off the hook. He would call later to discuss. That call came on Sunday 9th August. Again in the shopping centre, surrounded by piles of wood, archive boxes of artefacts and Notbob, the 6ft papier mache and faux fur mammoth (complete with tusks) that we had just installed in the window for the children’s archaeology exhibition. “Is it convenient to speak now?” Umm, yes.

And so began a conversation that would ultimately find me jokily uttering, “it sounds amazing, when can I start?” Really, would you? You were just who I was looking for but thought you’d be settled and agreeing to meet in Durham to discuss the finer points of how I could help him to find a suitable candidate to run the Ras Al Khaimah National Museum if I was unable to take a year’s sabbatical. I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to it, but opportunities like this don’t always fall in your lap, so before I had time to think, I’d booked a train ticket and was stepping out onto the platform at Durham.

It was a gloriously hot day when he met me off the train and we walked into town past such familiar landmarks that brought back pangs of nostalgia. Durham is beautiful and I am so lucky to have spent four years living there. We spoke about the job over lunch at a cafe on Framwellgate Bridge and then spent the afternoon catching up on a country walk before we went for a curry. I had already asked work about taking a year sabbatical and that idea went down like a lead balloon. What about four months? Write a 10-year strategic plan for the Museum. Will give you a chance to see if you like it over there. If you do, stay. If not, your report can be used by the person that is ultimately appointed. Good idea.  

The four-month sabbatical was given the go-ahead and before I knew it I’d received an email: Congratulations, the Sheikh was impressed by your CV, you’ve been appointed the Director of the National Museum. Gulp. What have I just signed up for? Over the course of a few short weeks a blast from the past had me throwing caution to the wind, fulfilling a life-long ambition and opening up the future to endless possibilities.

From Mammoths to Milton Keynes. Notbob takes pride of place in the finished exhibition in centre:mk.

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