A view backstage at Beverley Minster

My place in posterity

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford considers his place in eternity.
I invented a new joke the other day, and I’m very pleased with it.
Question: What do you give a happy cat for breakfast?
Answer: Purr-idge.
It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Completely original by the way, so that might be a brand new word as well, I’m confident it’s all my own work – well, at least, I’ve never heard the joke before and I was acutely conscious of the process of creation as I thought of it – perhaps unsurprisingly while I was stroking one of my cats.
So now I’ve invented this new joke what happens now? Well, naturally, I want to be recognised as its creator – not for financial reasons, I should say, but because I want a little bit of that immortality that comes from being recognised as originator of something that later went on to become ubiquitous.
Life after death, in other words.
Hmm, that’s a bit of a burden to place on a simple joke so early in its existence, but let’s just follow the process for a while.
If my joke is fresh and funny then, dear reader, you may care to share it with another person.  That person may then…and so on and so on until the thing becomes ‘viral’ (as we hip media commentators call it these days) and it spreads faster than a speeding germ through the general population.
Then it becomes part of the language. It might even become the catchphrase for a wildly successful and popular advertising campaign – possibly completely unrelated to breakfast combustibles.
I can see it now – shapely and hugely attractive females (although, I must admit that I think about them quite frequently, anyway) on posters, TV ad breaks, 3D cinema commercials, radio breaks, all featuring my word as a universally accepted definition of pure happiness: “Purr-idge”.
Then, one day in years to come, someone will ask a question in a newspaper along the lines of: “Where did the word ‘purr-idge’(trademark) come from?” and a diligent researcher will be able to reply: “First recorded use was in 2010 where its origin was claimed by one Neil Pickford, a middle-aged, overweight, pony-tailed virger (correct spelling) at Beverley Minster in an article for the Beverley Advertiser weekly newspaper and associated beverleylocal website.
“Lord Pickford of Minster Yard South, as he later became known, also wrote a series of best-selling sci-fi novels featuring Beverley Minster as a backdrop…..”  and so forth.
Which would be nice.
This desire to leave something that survives you is almost universal – children being the most frequent expression of this drive – and, of course, I work in a huge monument to such thinking.
It’s fair to say that not every single stone was shaped by the desire for immortality –the masons’ marks show the primary motivation for the Minster’s builders, just as with modern brickies, was short-term income. But, throughout the whole building, there are mementoes and personal touches that speak of a yearning to leave a lasting mark over and above what has been contracted and paid for
Last week illustrated such a case. A family on one of my roof tours asked if we had found a small time-capsule that had been left there by an ancestor to commemorate his association with the building. Apparently, back in the 19th century he’d been a plumber and, as someone who was trained in the use of lead, he was employed to work on the roof of the Minster.
He was so thrilled to be associated with the historic building that the tale of his hidden memorial was proudly passed through the generations until his great grandson finally came to Beverley on a quest to track it down. It was a moving moment.
Which leads me, somewhat obliquely, to the subject of the world-famous May Day Bank Holiday clock tower climbs (3rd May) – you’ll see how I made the connection at the end of this section. Well, the relevant permissions have been secured, insurance cover agreed, volunteers recruited and prayers offered for good weather, and so we are again opening our west towers to the general public for only the second time in 30 years (last August Bank Holiday being the first).
Despite the 212 uneven steps (many in a narrow, dark and winding tube) and a £10 charge for everyone (including children) we were vastly oversubscribed on the day last year and had to run a supplementary series of climbs on the following Saturday. This time we recommend booking in advance to guarantee a space on one of the tours which run every 40 minutes from 10am onwards.
The 165 feet climb ends in a magnificent 360 degree view over the East Yorkshire countryside from where you can see, in brick and stone, human expression of the desire for immortality set against the more lasting backdrop of semi-tamed nature.
(Ta-raa! There you are, made the connection- and with a beautifully evocative piece of writing too.) So I’ll see you there, I hope.
But I must finish this week as I started.
Please tell all your friends and, remember, you read it here first.
First published May 2010


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