A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The Natural World

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Neil ‘Bill Oddie’ Pickford recalls highlights of the natural world, as experienced in Beverley Minster during 2009.
Please read the following in a hushed tone. We don’t want to scare anything.
In a building the size of Beverley Minster resting, as it does, beside a patch of open countryside (well, a field anyway), you can expect to see wildlife roaming around.
Sadly, not for us the wild deer that regularly grace BBC2 ‘SeasonWatch’ programmes, nor the humorous meerkats (although one or two of our visitors could be,…… no, no, let’s not go there.) No, our fare is more modest but nonetheless valid.
Firstly, let’s take our cameras to the roof where God’s flying creatures are most at home. (Please excuse me if I don’t go with you but I’m afraid my vertigo is giving me gyp at the moment.)
Anyway, up here on the roof the Minster’s plumber, glazier and general handyman Steve Rial wages his constant campaign to keep the gutters and drains clear for when the rains fall.
You might think this is dashed diligent of the chap, strolling along some 70 foot in the air, maintaining the fabric, but there is a reason for this. Steve knows that, if there’s a blockage for any reason, then he’s the poor sap who will be standing in a huge roof pool, trying to poke a drainage channel open while preventing himself being sucked away when up to 10,000 gallons of water finally escapes.
So, based on an entirely understandable desire for self-protection Steve roams diligently, removing tons of leaves and sycamore ‘helicopters’ from the gutters as well as nests assembled by optimistic pigeons and sparrows in strategic waterways.
He’s noticed one interesting piece of adaptive behaviour this year. Normally the starlings’ untidy constructs are assembled out of whatever twigs or grass they can find. 2009, however, has seen many new nests built entirely out of the plastic ties that are used to bind electric cables.
We suspect they’re the most readily available material now, lying around by the thousand on the derelict site of the former Hodgson’s tannery nearby.
Possibly the lazy birds also thought this non-biodegradable material meant they could get away without making new nests next year.
Tough luck – Steve’s sorted them out.
Indoors there has been a marked reduction in bird activity. In fact there has been none, in pleasant contrast to last year when a pigeon found its way in but, despite every sensible encouragement, failed to find its way out again. I particularly enjoyed the experience of taking its maggot-riddled corpse outside when we finally tracked it down.
We’ve had a few mice, but our humane killer has killed them, humanely, before they started eating anything we were subsequently hoping to sell in the shop.
Apart from that it’s been largely homo sapiens in all its myriad glories around the old place.
Hmm, I’m afraid the blog is running a bit short of live material this week so I shall pad out this dispatch from the front line with a few observations from the archives.
And, as a bonus I shall use my wonderful powers of mimicry to convey an exact impression of 1960s Belgian wildlife presenter Armand Denis which will help set the scene and also remind my older readers of happy and educational hours in front of black and white televisions.
Younger readers may prefer to look up Armand (and, more especially, Michaela) in Wikipedia. Anyway, here we go:
“Und here ve see a grrroup of apparently perr-fectly normal people in search ov der toiletz.
“Here ve can zee dat day haff come to ze exit door which is clearly marked ‘Toilets’ und ‘Push to open’. Vat will day do now?
Aaaah,  now ve hear them plaintively asking: “can ve get back in this way?”
Okay, impression over, back to me:
Now I don’t know about you but I’ve almost always found that doors work in two directions, in and out. I’ve always been puzzled why some visitors should think a building that doesn’t charge admission fees should have a one-way door to the toilets, but there you are. As my many identical spinster aunts used to say: “It would be a very dull world if we were all the same.”
Some members of this confused group are clearly special cases. Even when they’ve read the sign on the outside of this door that says “Pull to open,” they are filled with anxiety. They delegate a member of the party to hold the swinging thing open until they emerge from their restorative visit to our enamel room. You can just feel the heat whistling out of the building as they do this and I can hear the sound of our treasurer weeping in the background, but they never seem to doubt the sense of their behaviour.
“Well, we didn’t know we could get back in,” they say as explanation.
“Oh no, we wouldn’t keep you out, we’re a very welcoming church,” we laugh madly as we prise the door handle from their frozen mitts and let it swing back into place, giving the boilers a fighting chance of restoring the internal temperature before the next group of confused visitors wants a widdle.
Quite often a member of one of these parties will then look at a sign on the toilet door showing stylised figures of a male and female with the word ‘unisex’ underneath and ask other members where the gents’ are.
I recently put another sign just inside the door which shows a female figure above an arrow to the right and a male figure above one pointing to the left.
Nine times out of ten that seems to answer the question. For the remaining visitors it doesn’t really matter – both cubicles are the same anyway.
It’s almost tempting to follow the example of Hexham church where they don’t have any toilets for visitors at all.
Their approach is: “There are some public loos in the town – just follow your nose.”
However, at the Minster we ARE a welcoming church so that’s not our way, darn it.
Anyway, that brings us to the end of this blog but I’ve just got time to leave you with one conclusion: that it’s a funny old world.
Oh yes, and ain’t nature wonderful.

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