The DNA and genetics of the blue eyed and fair haired members of my family has determined their colouring stems from the Vikings or “Víkingr” in the Old Norse language. As a family, we often frequented the Jorvik Viking Centre in York. It used to be a treat as a child and I can even still remember the stench of the basement which was used to recreate a Viking village in as many senses as possible.

The Vikings are here!
The Vikings are here!

News spread the British Museum was holding a temporary Viking exhibition. This interested my mother for reasons as stated above and I, for memory’s sake. Having arranged to meet up with a few others, we decided to have a day off, absorb the whole experience and go back in time which we very much looked forwards to.

Spotting the multimedia guide desk upon arrival encouraged us to try and enquire after a hand held guide for my mother as we had one for our visit to Buckingham Palace. There, the guide consisted of a BSL translated version as well as a captioned version, 2 in 1. Unfortunately we realised the BSL guide on offer in the British Museum was only for the rest of the museum, the permanent collection. We instead tried to enquire at the temporary Vikings exhibition desk for one. A lady took out a hand held guide which gave us a tiny bit of hope they had a version she could use… and then a loop which could be plugged into the guide for the hearing aid user to hear the audio clearer. Realising this meant she could not use these, I tried to explain due to the fact she did not wear hearing aids. Bless them as they tried. We did try to ask just for clarification if they had a BSL alternative version like there was for the rest of the museum. Predictably and slightly disappointedly, they said no.

Puckering up and continuing positively, there was information plagues on each of the glass cabinets displaying artefacts, here and there for everyone to potentially glean information and facts from. This sufficed except in the case where it was overcrowded. Members of the public who were listening to their audio guides tended to stand still and gaze at the artefacts thus holding up the momentum whereas others leaned as close as possible to the display cabinets, often placing their hands over the text information provided. It was starting to become a little bit frustrating for my mother especially because we had paid to go into this exhibition yet we could not access the information provided equally. I did not mind too much as it was nice for me to be reminded of my childhood, my grandparents. The whole Jorvik experience I had been missing since a child.

Towards the end, there was a stand which seemed to display a percentage of the Vikings in certain places within the United Kingdom. On this stand a sound speaker was embedded in. We looked at one another with a knowingly look as if to say “If only we could understand what was being said.” However there was a timeline which I found rather interesting to read the names from. Surnames seemed based on physical attributes for identification. Belly-Shaker, Bluetooth and Finehair to name a few.


We all otherwise enjoyed the exhibition and remarked at the size of the longboat, the brooches which seemed more like daggers in disguise. The neck and arm rings which were used as money –that could be unwoven to a certain weight or cut off at length to make payment with. The vast collection on display, collected from all the lands they travelled to via the seas on their trademark boats.

Long boat
Long boat

On our way out of the main museum, I asked at the multimedia guide desk why it was not possible to get BSL version for the temporary exhibitions and could they get some? The attendee didn’t quite know the answers so I asked him if their BSL versions had captions on. He brought a guide to show us, to see for ourselves what they were like. As soon as we saw the signing, we instantly knew someone who was deafened and not experienced in signing, would not be able to follow this version. Yet, it had no captions either. This meant, for someone who did not or could not wear hearing aids and was learning to or not able to sign, missed out the most. There was no middle ground to make the whole experience more fully inclusive and equally accessible. Except for those who are able to appreciate and make good use of the loops.

Naturellement, we decided to take refuge for a short while at a mutually agreed café for some quality coffee, tea or in my case hot chocolate and cake to revitalise ourselves. It had been a good challenging walk around the exhibition which tired some of us out, mentally and emotionally. Having to concentrate on lip-reading, reading whatever text was not obscured and being very patient. It was a good experience and one we have learnt from for the future but will not let it deter us from visiting any more exhibitions at the British Museum. We know now, what to expect. And where the luxurious cafes are!

Hot chocolate brownie cake - truly scrumptious.
Hot chocolate brownie cake – truly scrumptious.

That evening, I posted a status on the Tree House Facebook group feeling a tad frustrated about the lack of middle ground and what if anything, could we do about it. It was suggested to me that I contact the access manager personally which I have since done so, to thank her and the museum for their efforts and to explain constructively the differences and what areas needed to be covered.

For some they would say, for the “Inbetweeners”.

For different people, it is only natural that certain words mean different things to them due to their own understanding, experience and interpretations. What does the term “Inbetweeners” mean to you? This was the question I relatively asked so I could give you our varied yet balanced versions. Are you ready??

One answer was: “A very funny (and quite rude) film.”  whilst another bravely mentioned a body part?!

Another being: “Well this comes down to our old friend “Labelling” again doesn’t it? On the one hand we have people saying that they deplore labelling and on the other hand the Inbetweeners are arguing that they don’t have a label.

Some days you just cannot win…

For those pondering the topic it is because it depends on the circumstances. An audiologist needs to label your type of hearing loss in order to deal with your specific needs. This is because there are many kinds of hearing loss.

On the other hand there are labels which we don’t need, such as “dependent” and “in need of help”. But we have to accept *some* labelling in order to describe our problems. It must seem like a minefield to hearing people and so they tend not to mention it.”

Nearly last but not least: “The ones who don’t have full BSL and cannot use loops and being stuck between two places… Neither one nor the other. Examples like neither Deaf nor hearing; neither black nor white etc.”

Very nearly last but not least: “I define Inbetweeners as a person who has an understanding of both aspects. But know of others who view it as not belonging.”

The latter two examples depict the closest interpretations of what the word translates to me; Someone who can speak but is assumed a signer. Someone who can sign but is judged to be oral. Being able to have the best of both worlds has meant I and others have suffered from being placed in between. Neither here nor there.

Hence the Tree House – a neutral common ground for all to be equals, regardless. 🙂 Being true to ourselves.

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

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