I had not been to the V&A museum for 18 months.

That was how long since I had left.

The nature of organisation is that it gives one identity and in leaving one loses some of that. The question is how much you invest in that identity; how much you allow it to become your primary signifier – “James. You remember him. That guy from the V&A”.
Breaks are never clean, so I have tended to stay well away from places I have left to avoid the messiness, the loose threads.

Trepidatious steps…

Time passes and change occurs. Much was familiar, and I found myself curious as to what was different and what was the same. I noticed that I saw fewer staff than I expected. Working in an organisation one is sensitive to the presence of colleagues. I am out of the habit of noticing them as they are not my colleagues these days.

Uniforms for public staff had changed and I wondered about the process of making that happen. What you wear for work is important, conferring role and position. At the London Fire Brigade, with 80% of staff being operational firefighters, uniform is everywhere. People will defer to the shirt (white for middle and senior, blue for crews and watches) and to the pips on the shoulder. At the V&A a uniform denotes a more lowly position – gallery or retail assistant. Suits worn by security managers and some senior managers bring power.

I hoped that the front of house staff had been given some choice in the uniform.

Ronald MacDonald can never be identified when he takes off his clown costume and make-up – a useful anonymity, perhaps. For front of house staff, it is easier to be subsumed by the uniform.

The best thing about Christmas parties at the V&A was that all uniformed staff (security and catering as well) would be there without their uniform. At last you could meet them as them, engage with them as people rather than functionaries.