A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The Two Towers

Exhausted after a long campaign, the warrior recovers.

I’m feeling pooped, shattered, wiped out and various other words I might be able to think of if I wasn’t so cream-crackered.
My legs are stinging, my throat feels like I’ve been gargling soap and there’s a general pain all over my body which I normally associate with ‘flu but, despite all that, I’m feeling on top of the world.
The reason for my various aches, and the associated euphoria, was the success of our Bank Holiday Monday Towering Experiences.
Last week we opened our clock tower to the general public for the first time in many decades. The virgers  thought it might be popular and a good way of boosting revenue for the Minster – and how right we were.
Interest beforehand was already sparking, just among any church members we spoke to and then, when I sent out a press release, it became big news. Thanks to the HDM who gave it a nice boost in their Bank Holiday preview we got a lot of enquiries from the wider public so we started to take advance reservations.
One big question – how long would each tour take? Without knowing this we didn’t really have a clue how many tours we could run, or what time they would start. We made a guess, based on how long it takes a virger to climb up to the top and fly a flag, doubled it, took away the number we’d first thought of and pencilled in three trips during the day.
Numbers were climbing nicely and then Look North asked if they could send a reporter with his camera to do a piece for the Friday before. Naturally, being a major-league show-off, I agreed.
The resulting piece, which ran throughout the day, was a great boost, reminding people of the earlier HDM publicity and generating a lot of calls.
I was delighted when many visitors and neighbours said they’d seen me on telly, demanded my autograph and, rather more seriously, said they were looking forward to climbing the tower.
The numbers were mounting: now we knew we had a potential success on our hands and I was starting to worry that we might have overcooked things. One thing I didn’t want us to do was disappoint a lot of people – and we still didn’t know how many tours we could do in a morning. And what if it rained, or was too windy to be safe?
I’ll be perfectly honest – when the doors opened just after 8.30 I was a bag of nerves and my stomach felt it had lost a wresting match with Giant Haystacks (a 1970s reference there for all my younger readers).
It didn’t settle down until about 10 o’clock when we seemed to have developed a rhythm and then, suddenly, I realised there were also a large number of people who’d turned up for one of our normal tours of the Central Tower. Everyone else was busy with the clock tower so it fell to me to look after them all.
And so I did, for a total of six tours on the trot. A total of 678 steps climbed, over 300 minutes of talking and waving my arms around in the air in between my more important duties of resupplying candles and toilet rolls to the appropriate locations and getting more change for the shop.
I was a bit punch drunk when I finally rolled downstairs after 5pm and noticed that everything had gone quiet – except for some preparations for the evenings’ organ recital. I limped across to John and raised my eyebrows (virgers’ code for “How’s it gone?”)
He beamed broadly, but that wasn’t much help as he’s always smiling – and twice as much as normal this week because he’s just become a grandad. I croaked at him and pointed at my throat (virgers’ code for “I can’t talk, I am dying of pain.”)
He smiled again and waved a £10 note (virgers’ code for “I think we deserve a pint at The Sun or similar venue, for medicinal purposes of course”.)
There was a ‘whooshing’ noise as we and two of our assistants were mysteriously transported to a public house, where much happiness was in evidence.
We swapped stories – everyone especially enjoyed the one about the hapless helper who’d gone to relieve the welcomer on the roof, only to find he’d climbed the wrong tower.
It was hard work, but it’s so worthwhile when you see how many people had a wonderful time. What put a finishing touch on the day was when the barman popped his head round the corner and, instead of asking us all to quieten down, told us that a visitor to the Minster had so enjoyed himself that he’d bought us all a drink.
I cycled home, wobbling a bit (thanks to my tired legs, of course). Only one thought bothered me. What can we do to top this next year?

First published September 2009


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