A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The answer’s a lemon

Attention this week switched from the big to the small as Beverley Minster virgers undertook some home improvements.
You know how it is when you’ve been working on a big project in a rush, all goes well and then suddenly it ends? You’re restless, you can’t sit still, you’ve got to do something else.
Well, that’s the way it seems to be with John and me anyway.
Last week I impressed you all with our superhuman achievements on Monday morning when we turned all our pews round and set up our two 20 foot Christmas trees.
Well, Tuesday was the start of my weekend off so I left my esteemed colleague to carry the whole burden of the Minster on his shoulders as I recuperated, allowing the muscles across my chest to heal.
He, meanwhile, wondered why his back was hurting.
However, while we were taking time out to physically recuperate, our minds were still whirring like highly-tuned whirring things (sadly the metaphor-making bit of my brain isn’t working very well at the moment – sorry).
Anyway, each of us came up with a burning desire to complete a project that had been hanging over us for a considerable time.
In the case of John it was a simple wish to provide better illumination to a significant part of the Minster  ceiling. This is often overlooked (which is somewhat ironic as it’s always overlooking us – hahahahahaha – sorry, I’ll get my coat).
Anyway, it is the section of ceiling directly above our High Altar in the quire.
Until you look carefully you probably don’t even notice that it’s different to the rest of the church, and why should you? After all, it’s 70 foot above the ground and slightly hidden behind the arches that span the void between our high walls. Because it’s been quite dark in that area you probably wouldn’t even notice that it’s got some decorative painting on it, instead of the plain white that adorns the rest of the nave and transepts.
But it has, and John wanted to do something to show it off better. I’m glad to say he’s succeeded, and in a most cost-effective way.
Once upon a time, in the dim and distant early years of the current millennium there was a major project to illuminate our Lady Chapel.
This is the section of the church behind the High Altar where, established readers may remember, we now have two marvellous pieces of modern related sculpture (the pilgrims and the window).
Anyway, the same mixture of brilliance and brain-fade that characterised the Lady Chapel project extended to lighting our new display area.
After an inordinate number of meetings, plans, consultations, site visits and expenditure three floodlights were purchased to illumine and enhance our new treasures. Carefully selected and specified, they were to be positioned in the most advantageous places to appease architect, artist, ley lines, ti chi and anything else you can think of. Specialists were consulted, quotes requested, contracts awarded and special wiring installed to deal with the project.
Finally, after all this kerfuffle, the lights were switched on – and they were too bright. So they were taken down again and replaced with domestic-sized light bulbs.
John managed to grab these very expensive old units before they were thrown out and we’ve been using them in a casual sort of way around the church ever since. Sometimes we have one in the central tower workshop to show off the ceiling or just to provide more light for Handyman Steve in his workshop, sometimes we use one along the transepts to highlight an exhibition or performance, but mostly we keep them in store.
John has now placed one on the platform which once housed the reliquary of St John (but that’s another story) and it now beams light where there was previously dark, like a war-time searchlight picking out aerial objects of interest (sorry, even my similes aren’t working this morning).
So far no one else has noticed what’s been done, but John feels good about it.
And my improvement project, while arguably less significant, is probably destined to be similarly unnoticed. So I’ll mention it now as a form of permanent record.
I’ve cleaned one of the brass memorial panels in the Minster.
I can hear your apathy just oozing back at me as I write, but stick with me on this, it might be quite interesting.
Anyway, it’s a fairly standard Victorian panel listing members of the East Yorkshire Regiment, killed in various parts of the world on behalf of Queen and Empire between 1885 and 1895. I’ve no idea when it was last cleaned but I do know that the shining brass effect faded into dull brownness many years ago.
And so it would have stayed, had I not noticed that there was a small trickle of water oozing out at the top where a screw held it to the wall. Out of curiosity I gently rubbed my fingers over the moisture and, arrgh, botherkins, the brown patina just rubbed off and left a bright splodge right across the top.
Never mind, I thought. If it’s as easy as that I’ll soon get the rest of it shining.
Well, I don’t know what marvellous brass-cleaning elements were combined in that moisture but, sure as heck, they aren’t used in good old Brasso.
I rubbed and rubbed, and rubbed and rubbed, and then did some more rubbing and, after 30 minutes and about six inches of expensive chemical strip, my legacy was four square inches of gleam and a sore arm. Then I was called away to help set up everything for Remembrance Sunday and the project was temporarily shelved.
But that shining four square inches was preying on my conscience, even if I always made sure I avoided that part of the Minster whenever possible. I didn’t fancy repeating the previous exercise over the remaining three feet by two so I googled my problem and, strangely enough, kept getting the same answer – use a lemon – possibly mixed with table salt, bicarbonate of soda or by itself.
So, one day, in an uncharacteristically Delia Smith-like mode, I procured said natural ingredients, mixed them together and dubiously rubbed the sliced lemon on the plate.
Eureka – instant success with just gentle rubbing! I had to admit that, sometimes, Grandma did know best.
So, during rehearsals for the Grammar School concert I could be found gently and contently rubbing away the accumulated discoloration of decades, gradually exposing the enamelled names and decorative patterns for all to see (oh dear, getting a bit wordy now. Time to stop).
Anyway, that’s it, job done. All clean now.
And I’ll bet no one notices I’ve done it.
First published December 2009 


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