A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Brassed off

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a spot of simple physical work to clear the mind.
We’ve just seen the back of another 1,000 schoolchildren.
After delivering the same lecture some 14 times and waving my arms around for three days in front of a dodgy projector I packed away my dongle and folded down the big white screen.
We cleared the stage, cleaned the last traces of biscuit, crisps and snacks from the nave carpets before playing host to a former Archbishop of York and fellow historic church enthusiasts. We also entertained extra visitors spilling over from the Folk Festival and generally kept busy, busy, busy.
Sunday was the normal non-stop sequence of doing, Monday saw both John and I attending a meeting when a large amount of forward planning was done- and then the Pickford brain had had enough. 
So that afternoon, when there was no trace of a 2.15 roof tour, I started polishing the brass lectern.
It’s a big thing, about eight foot tall from the three lions at its feet to the overly complicated ridge and weighs altogether too much to move. Frequently, when there is a concert in the Minster, we are asked if we can shift it to make more room for a second trombone, or suchlike.
We virgers like to be helpful in most things but there’s never any hesitation in rejecting this request. No way, no how, no where.
It’s a true product of the Victorian period, an ornate piece of triumphalism in brass dating back to 1880 and commissioned as a memorial to Canon John Birtwhistle, who was incumbent, curate and vicar of the Minster from 1844 to 1879.
By Victorian standards it’s actually quite a restrained piece of design: the three lions support two plates which then rise, somewhat  pointlessly, into a hexagonal box before reverting to the circular theme. There’s ins-and-outs and little nooks and crannies before you get up to the double-sided lectern itself on which are engraved the uplifting words: When thy word goeth forth it giveth Light and Understanding unto the Simple.
I don’t know about that, but I do know there’s a heck of a lot of bright, shiny surface to it, requiring a good few handfuls of Brasso to cover and restore to its full gleaming glory.
It’s the sort of job that encourages you to slip into a thoughtful frame of mind as you rub away, musing on the various unconnected facets of life.
I’d almost describe it as a drug-like state apart from the fact I don’t know what one is. I admit that I smoked a grand total of two funny cigarettes while I was a student but I was drunk at the time and can’t remember what it was all about.
All I do know is that, this Monday, my mind started wandering, free-associating rather pleasantly, as I settled into a rhythm.
Memories of  recent services, with the choir pitching the high notes rather beautifully;  my younger son posing while crunching out the chords of Rammstein’s “Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen”; Alice chasing the white rabbit down a hole (funny image that – don’t know why it keeps recurring); the Starship Enterprise in full flight, some recordings I have to do for future-bishop Nick Drayson before he escapes to Argentina; a press release I read some 20 years ago, a headline I wrote 30 years ago, the phrase: “With the inevitable hilarious consequences”, Spike Milligan…
No it wasn’t, it was John, the head virger, putting on his best Eccles voice and reminding me to take a break for tea.
There’s nothing like a virgers’ tea break for getting back to the real world. Switching on the kettle seems to activate a siren somewhere because, before we’d even got the teabags in the pot two people had wandered into our office. John made them cups as well and then I had to answer the telephone twice. Someone else joined us and suddenly our quiet little hideaway was as busy as a Scottish street when someone’s dropped a sixpence.
I couldn’t get back to my lectern fast enough.
First published June 2009 

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