A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The Good Old Daze

Neil Pickford starts to wonder if nostalgia is as good as it used to be.
The news that the costume drama ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ is to make its return to television will send a frisson of excitement down the spine of any soppy TV watcher from the 1970s.
What a marvellously educational series that was, documenting life among the aristocracy (upstairs) and their servants (downstairs) between the years 1903 – 1930. Tight corsets, stiff upper lips, restrained emotions, BAFTA award-winning productions set against the backdrop of real historical events – mind you, I thought it was a load of old cobblers at the time and concentrated my viewing efforts on Doctor Who and Tiswas.
Time, however, with its habit of rubbing off the sharp memory of raw emotions with its constant drip, drip, drip of abrasive reality (say, that’s a mighty fine piece of writing there – that’s as good as any I’ve read this week. In fact I did read it this week and thought I could cut and paste it here without anyone knowing better).
Drat, I’ve lost the flow, let’s start again.
Time, however, with its habit of… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. (I put in: “etcetera, etcetera, etcetera” to avoid having to say all that stuff about the “rounding off the sharp edge of raw emotions with its constant drip, drip, drip of abrasive, ever-changing reality.” Didn’t really want to repeat myself unnecessarily.
Ah, now I remember what my point was:
The Good Old Days, seen through a daze – imperfect memory painting gloss and highlights where none really existed.
Those good old daze, when everybody came to church on a Sunday, when the vicar, the bank manager, the doctor and the squire would get together afterwards for a drink in the classiest lounge bar in town: when the role of a virger was one of honour and respect and there were plenty of servants to do the menial cleaning.
We’ll skate over the rickets, the dirt and pollution that assailed the Minster from the nearby railway and adjacent steelworks, let alone the stench from Europe’s largest tannery that was a mere hop, skip and vomit from our East End window.
You may be able to tell that I’m meandering down memory lane again (yes, yes, poor old boy, shame how the mind goes in some of them, just keep him away any sharp objects, etcetera, etcetera), but the truth is that I’m feeling all nostalgic. It’s due to the close proximity of a number of anniversaries over the last few days – the main one being my third since I started work as a virger.
Only three years? It seems like forever.
Life pre-Minster must have happened to another person as all my memories from that time feel somehow alien and my reactions to various people and situations are as foreign to me as a different country – and a country where they speak French very quickly.
It was also one year since my first outing as Mister Minster, yet here I am, still going….
Two weeks ago I asked if you thought it was worth my while continuing, or if I should chuck it now before people started chucking things at me. I sat back anxiously, fingers crossed, waiting the result.
And now, after 14 days of uncertainty and existential angst I can reveal the result: by an overwhelming majority of one to nil I’m still wanted.
It may not sound much but, be fair – it’s a bigger vote than Gordon Brown got to become Prime Minster, and he’s a lot more expensive than me.
Anyway s a result of my witterings as Mister Minster I actually copped a free meal last Friday – I was invited to be the after-dinner speaker for the Friends of Beverley Minster. It was an honour I rapidly accepted then spent weeks agonising about once I started to compose my speech.
It was reassuring to have come up with what I thought was a brilliant concluding line within a couple of days but then I needed to pad out the 15 minutes before this brilliant line with a bit of meat. I doodled away and eventually had a sort of framework. Then, on the morning before, I chucked it all, including the brilliant last line, and started again.
I’m glad to say that no one threw anything, there was a reasonable round of applause afterwards and a few people subsequently said nice things about it so I guess that was OK. I was hoping I could reuse parts of the speech in one of my future roof tours but, unfortunately, I can’t remember a thing I said – I just recall waving my arms around a bit. I reckon my memory must be going – or have I already said that?
I’m sure I had an important point to make when I started this article but, for the life of me, I can’t recall what it was. So I’ll leave you with these two vexing questions that have been worrying me recently:
Intaxication: is it the euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with?
And steroids – are they things for keeping carpets in place on the stairs?
If your answer to either, both or neither of the above was ‘yes’ then I look forward to seeing you again next week.
First published October 2009

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