A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Bad by design

Collecting money in Beverley Minster is not as easy as it should be – in fact it’s downright dangerous.
My normal routine was thrown on Saturday by an extra roof tour, closely followed by an organ recital, so I couldn’t empty the Minster moneyboxes in the ordinary way.
And, by being forced into a different routine I was reminded of just what a flipping stupid performance I have to undertake, to complete what should be a very simple task.
It’s true what they say, that artists don’t think about money – but that’s only in a bad way. Oh no, the artistic so-and-sos who designed the main money box by the front door and the candle stand in the retro quire made sure they got paid a lot of money for their finished products, but I think they spent far less time considering the way in which their beautiful pieces of design actually function.
Both containers are very strong, so the designs tick that particular box adequately, but that’s about it. In fact, in almost every other practical respect the two newest Beverley Minster moneyboxes are the most ‘unfit for purpose’ items we possess (and boy, we’ve got a few of those in our collection, believe me).
Let’s start at the north door where we see a bright wooden box with glass top and sides. We won’t dwell on the fact that the flat glass top, some three feet off the ground and displaying lots of lovely money, is an irresistible magnet for little fingers and even faces – after all, we virgers are paid to keep the place clean and tidy aren’t we, and wiping the glass regularly is part of our job description.
No, let’s look at the practical. (By the way, it’s probably best to read the following section in a sort of rapid-fire, note-dictating way as it might make more sense like that. For some reason I’ve been reminded of a poorly-translated set of instructions from the original Korean while writing this, so if you want to imagine a vague pidgin accent while you’re reading then please feel free.)
Step one: Putting money in. Nice visitor to Minster wants to make donation to Minster for lovely visit to beautiful church. Visitor see box with money in, visitor want to put money in box.
Visitor looks at box for slot to insert money but in original box visitor could not see slot because designer-san designed it to be hidden away at back of box. Visitor think: “Stuff this for game of soldiers” in own language and puts money back in pocket.
Virgers notice this problem and, despite strong opposition, managed to put discrete notice behind well-hidden slot with arrow pointing down. Result: more money in box.
Step two: Taking money out. Nice box have two nice locks, but only need one key to open – good design. Front flap hinges upwards but no strut to keep flap open when virger trying to get money out so flap keeps falling closed again– Bad design. Bolts undo flap at front of box – but all money goes in through slot at back, therefore all money is as far from flap as is possible. Bad design.
Money needs to be pulled forward, so designer put in loose base to help: Good design.
To make box tidy, designer also put collar all around edge of loose base which means money has landed on collar, not on loose base. Bad design.
Reality – virger kneels on nice, dusty, cold stone floor and shoves head under flap to wedge open, then stretches arm into back of metre-deep space to scrape money onto loose base – space only six inches deep so virger often gets difficult-to-clean hand marks on inside of glass case as well. Thinks rude word.
When money all scraped onto loose board virger starts pulling out board with one hand, holding up front flap with elbow and sliding collecting box under front edge of board with additional limb.
Money rolls off board, misses box, lands on floor, virger lets flap go, flap bashes on loose board, money on loose board jumps and falls on floor, metal money rolls under moneybox, paper money makes burst for freedom through newly-opened north door, virger says rude word, new visitor just arrived through north door asks virger what time church closes, virger smiles from floor as watches two pound coin roll under central heating pipe where will be lost until next major church renovation in 22nd century. Visitor gets impression virger is not very welcoming person.
Return to position, wedge head under flap, hold box with one hand, pull money into box with other, more money falls from opposite edge onto floor, virger finally gets most money off loose base into collecting box. Pushes back base, cuts cheek on corner of flap as it falls back, lock box, scrabble on floor for missing coins, stand up, on to next box…
Oh dear – I’ve run out of space. I’ll tell you about our lethal candle stand next week. Until then I shall continue my campaign for the Minster to install a credit card reader as a practical alternative.
First published August 2009 .

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