Ask a stupid question… | The Mary Rose
Ask a stupid question…
In the Museum | 30 Sep, 2019 | Museum Blogger
There's nothing to be ashamed of about asking questions

A lot of people use the same starting point when they ask our volunteers questions in the museum; “This may be a stupid question, but…”

The sad thing is, it never is. They may be obvious questions, such as when the Mary Rose sank, or were there any survivors (30-40), but those are reasonable questions to ask, and by no means stupid.

Sometimes, though, you can become so involved in a subject that you forget what is actually common knowledge, and what is actually rather specialised. At the Mary Rose museum, things like the number of crew, the date of her recovery, even the name of the body of water in which she was lost are considered ‘the basics’, which all of our staff and volunteers should be able to tell you, yet they’d make pretty tricky pub quiz questions.

The Raising of The Mary Rose

Many people over the age of 40 recall the morning of 11th October 1982 from their childhood, either from the telly being wheeled into the classroom, or taking the day off school/work to see the raising, but while they might remember the year, or at least place it within a ten year period, few will know the exact date. and why would they? Can you remember the date of the last three Royal Weddings, or the date when Dolly the sheep was announced? Probably not, but it hasn't held you back.

In the south of England, the Solent is a fairly well known term for the body of water between Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, but the further away you get from the coastline the less people know about it. You mention the Trossachs to someone from Hampshire, and they'd probably have a similar response to that you'd get from someone Scottish when you mention the Solent.

As to the number of crew, even at the time of her loss people disagreed on that, with numbers varying between 400-700 men! We tend to err on the side of caution, and say around 500.

This is something our volunteers have to bear in mind when giving answers to the general public. If you ask where the Mary Rose sank and we say “The Solent”, to a lot of people we might as well reply “Flaggady Gibbidy Donk” for all the use it would be. “Off the coast of Portsmouth” is usually sufficient for most people, and if they want further information wecan then go into details.

That’s why our guides often ask if you’re local; they're not weird "League of Gentlemen"-style characters, challenging outsiders, they just want to know how to best interpret the collection to you.

Vols Of All Ages

Some mean people might call this ‘dumbing down’, or ‘pandering to the lowest common denominator’, but those people are missing the point of a museum. Museums are a learning experience; they aren’t there to make you feel clever because of what you knew before you arrived, they’re there to make you feel clever because of what you’ve learned during your visit. What’s the difference between learning about the existence of, for example, a ship’s dog at home through reading, or on a day trip out to a museum? Looking down on someone because they don’t know something you do know is forgetting that there was a time when you also didn’t know it, you just happened to learn it before them.

This sort of thinking is why you get people who don't know things, and try to blag their way, making up 'facts' and misleading the people they're talking to, rather than asking a simple question. Not knowing things isn't a weakness, but refusing to ask about them to protect your ego is.

This means that we have to be careful what we say. Pretty much every question we get asked has a standard answer and we hold training sessions for our staff and volunteers to make sure that they know the actual answers to any questions. As museum guides, they hold a position of authority when it comes to matter relating to the Mary Rose, and if they give a wrong answer, it either reflects badly on us, or worse starts a new myth that we have to spend the next few years (or decades) trying to correct.