A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Strange times, strange sensations

 Neil Pickford seems to be suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
It’s been an unusual week – I haven’t set foot in the Minster once.
Most people would call it a holiday and have done with it, but this last week has seemed strange, even unnatural, to me, and I’ve been trying to work out why.
Now I don’t want you to think I’m addicted to my job because I know I’m not. When I was young and single I did live for work and not vice versa but I grew out of that, ooooo, some time round about my second redundancy.
Since then I’ve been content to let other silly so-and-sos with more ambition than common sense sweat, jostle, fight, worry and panic through to some pathetic middle-management role that gives them free sandwiches at meetings, while I just got on with what I’ve been paid to do.
I was often accused of not putting the company first as if this was a bad thing and, to this charge, I have always answered: “Hmmmmm? Sorry, did you say something?”
As I saw it, they were paying me for the use of my brain. and I reasoned that my brain worked best if it was not desperately tired or, alternatively, not spending every waking hour plotting how to put down other members of the team (‘team’- ha ha).
Those sort of jobs are easy to leave behind when you go on holiday – positively delightful in fact – so what’s so different about being a virger at Beverley Minster?
It’s not as if I didn’t have holiday things planned. There was a long list of places to visit accompanied by my wife, two sons and even mother-in-law if the ground was largely level at the destination.
So guess what? Each of the boys had their own social life planned for the week and poor old, embarrassing parents weren’t part of it. Worse, now my older son has passed his driving test I’m not even required to transport the little toe rag and his musical instruments around anymore.
So, surrendering the keys to my car I started work on reclaiming the back garden. It was quite a job, restoring what had been a parking lot for builders’ equipment and rubble during the previous 12 months.
It’s been satisfying: I’ve laid a new gravel path, levelled the lawn, dug in a new water feature, modified a patio and built yet another special shed from scratch. If I’d had another couple of days I might well have rotated the oldest one by 90 degrees and got all five of my wooden structures standing proudly in a line, but I didn’t.
And all the time my mind kept wandering back to what I’d be doing if I was in the Minster at that moment: preparing for the next event in our calendar, imagining the physical work involved as well as the planning discussions – even the routine work of cleaning the windows.
It’s too simple to say that I was missing the job, because I was truly glad to be having a break, but there’s no denying I felt a sense of incompleteness.
It’s taken me a long time to work out what this incompleteness comes from but I think I’ve finally got it.
People want me at the Minster, even if it’s only to unlock a door when they’ve forgotten their keys. Sometimes they want me to take sides in territorial disputes (no thanks, virgers are professional neutrals), move some equipment from one location to another or just look after their bags while they prepare for a concert.
Then there’s the visitors – asking questions, directions (“toilets, through the outside door, second on the left,”) but sometimes frightened and looking for reassurance.
Mostly its because everyone seems to need me and they are grateful for any help I can give them. I’m happy to do it, even if it means I’m a bit late locking up.
People come into the Minster and, in most cases, it seems to encourage them to behave in a certain way.  Jesus says: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12) and I’m glad to work in an environment where that is true.
By the time you read this blog my holiday will have finished and I’ll be back at work – thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m a lucky man.

First published June 2009


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