Although Ypres castle welcomes streams of visitors every day of the year (except Christmas day), its sister museum on East Street usually opens its doors only at weekends. However on Good Friday, with the town full of tourists, East Street decided to make a special effort to welcome visitors.
I took over the welcome desk from my father, who was leaving to participate in the Good Friday procession, organised by Churches Together in Rye. The procession is led by a man carrying a crucifix, followed by worshippers from the different churches in Rye and others. My father explains to a family who have recently entered the museum where he is going. “Oh really? Do you do this every day?” they asked. This was the beginning of my hour in the museum.
“Hello, hello, hello, hello”.
Four German visitors enter the building. They are in their early twenties and I am not sure they are going to really enjoy their visit as they seem rather gruff and bored. However they start looking around the displays and after 10 minutes or so, sit down and start watching the film about Rye.
The original family leaves, going in search of the Good Friday procession.
A lady comes in.
“Hi there, there is me and two children, one is 17 and the other is 15. How much?”
“Hey, its free to come in, buy a postcard or make a donation if you like.”
“Really? Thank you!”
A family comes in, with a baby and a child, maybe eight years old or so. The little girl wants to do the Pugwash quiz. She takes it very seriously, does not want any help from her parents and halfway through she exchanges her pencil for a sharper one.
A group of 30-something-year-olds comes in. The first one begs me to tell him if there are any public toilets nearby. Well, of course there are, but it’s not that easy to explain how to get there to someone in dire need, so I suggest he uses the museum one and makes an appropriate donation. It turns out that this has opened the floodgates and all of his party of five decide to use the loo. While they are waiting for each other to finish, they look around the museum and as they leave about 20 minutes later, they thank me profusely and all put lots of coins in the donation box.
Next, a young lady comes up to pay for some books she has picked up from the stall outside. She is delighted – she has two Shakespeare plays, an illustrated Animal Farm by George Orwell and two other classic novels. She is from Birmingham, on a day trip and her favourite thing is to mooch around second-hand book stores. She has a good haul.
The lady with the teenagers leaves; she buys some postcards and leaves a donation in the box.
A ginger cat approaches the door. I open it and he walks in. I mark him down on the tally of visitors. He rolls about on his back and then decides to leave. He jumps up into the garden on the right, which I happen to know is not his own.
Another family comes in with two young children, who also accept the Pugwash quiz challenge. They work through it diligently and post their completed sheets into the special box.
A man comes in and buys a lighthouse model card.
The Germans leave – they have been here an hour and have spent at least 40 minutes watching the video. They put huge amounts of change into the donations box. They clearly loved it.
“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”.
A whole host of other people arrive, but my shift is over.
As I am leaving the ginger cat comes in again. I leave him there.
Rye’s East Street museum relies heavily on volunteers to keep it open and free to enter. If you could spare an hour or two once in a while, please contact email@example.com and we will pass your details on to the museum
Photo: Seana Lanigan