How the Mary Rose helped Simon find his ‘sea legs’
When young visitors to the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth come face to face with a man dressed in the velvet robes of a Tudor nobleman, they invariably ask the same question: “Are you a pirate?”
Simon Skuse, a museum volunteer, isn’t at all offended. He said, “I tell them, ‘Yes, I’m a pirate. But I’m a friendly pirate’.”
Simon, 64, clearly loves his job which entails meeting visitors and explaining the finer details of Henry VIII’s favourite ship. The museum – a building constructed with the help of £30M from The National Lottery – is something of a second home to him.
Listening to Simon describe his job you realise, when we all play a little, fun stuff happens.
When the pandemic forced the museum’s closure last year, Simon was forced to hang up his costume. He said, “I really miss it, we all do. I meet up once or twice a week with folks from the museum and we go for a walk along the seafront just to stay in touch.”
When The Mary Rose reopens on 17th May, Simon will be back in costume, ready to answer visitors’ questions.
If you met him today you would struggle to reconcile the enthusiastic, outgoing man in the “posh Tudor” costume with the frail, confused individual who began working as a volunteer at the museum almost 6 years ago.
When he applied for the post, Simon was still recovering from a major brain haemorrhage that almost claimed his life. After spending a year in hospital and months in a wheelchair, his confidence and self-esteem were shattered.
He said, “In June 2009 I came downstairs to go to work. I sat on the sofa in the lounge and woke up two weeks later in the neurological centre at Southampton Hospital. I’d had a subarachnoid haemorrhage which only has a 20 percent survival rate. I couldn’t remember anything, my balance had gone and I couldn’t write properly. The worst thing is you lose your self-respect.”
During his recovery Simon’s neuropsychologist asked him about his interests. “History”, he replied. The neuropsychologist suggested volunteering in the heritage sector and when Simon typed his address and his interests into a search engine, the Mary Rose Museum appeared top of the list.
He said, “I thought there’s no way they’ll take me – it’s not going to happen. I’d lost all my self-confidence and I wasn’t the same person.” He applied anyway and was astonished to be offered a position 10 days later.
His first days at the museum were difficult. He needed a walking stick to get around and struggled to navigate between exhibits. He said, “It was frightening, overwhelming. I thought ‘I can’t do this’. But they calmed me down and said ‘stick with it.”
Slowly, he found his ‘sea legs’ and his confidence grew. When someone suggested he might wear a Tudor costume he decided to give it a go. He soon found he enjoyed the way the velvet robes of a Tudor gentleman helped him interact with members of the public.
His confidence has skyrocketed since then. He said, “My friends have noticed a huge change in me. I know it’s the Mary Rose that has made that change – it’s nothing else.”
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26th May 2021
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