A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Oh, the pain!

Neil Pickford enters the new year, still full of good resolution but already severely tested.
Aaargh, my legs, the pain in my legs is crippling. I may never move again.
It’s not just mere pain it’s agony: excruciating, debilitating, muscle-ripping, tendon-snapping, whimper-forcing, brave-men-turned-into-babies, tortured agony. I have aged 50 years every time I go up or (especially) come down stairs today.
I’ve tried every tried-and-tested remedy: alcohol, a good long soak in a hot bath, laying back in the marital bed and moaning, but no cure. The pain is just hanging on in there with a cussedness you have to admire.
And it’s all through being a Good Helpful Virger.
Now you may have already noticed that I climb a lot of stairs in my job (see numerous blogs in passim) so my thighs should be used to it, but they got caught unawares this week.
It wasn’t the highly successful series of advertised roof tours we did on Saturday 2nd, (contributing a splendid £900 to Minster funds). Nor was it the unexpected tour I did on Monday afternoon for a few final Christmas visitors and last-day-of-the-holidays parents and grandparents.
No, I suspect it was the climb John and I did during the morning to get our clock’s bongs aligned with the rest of the world.
It wasn’t that we hadn’t had a reasonable amount of exercise already.
While I was loading and returning 150 chairs to the High School John and resident handyman Steve were lowering and de-bulbing our two 20 foot Christmas trees. By the time I returned, having successfully navigated frozen car locks, sleet, snow, traffic and kamikaze school-bound schoolgirls the trees had already been stripped of their minor branches and were in the process of being sawn into manageable chunks of timber.
This was something we were trying to finish as quickly as possible because stonemasons were about to start smashing up slabs where our round altar normally stands.
For several years now John and I have been moaning about the state of repair in this part of the floor. One or two of the chalk slabs have fractured under various pressures and this produced enough potholes to trip an unwary virger when wheeling a tall stack of chairs around the transepts.
When our new vicar Jeremy arrived at the Minster he told every member of staff that we could bring a list of three ‘wannadoes’ to our first personal meeting with him, to help him gauge the most urgent tasks for his attention.
One of my three was repairing this section of floor and I’m delighted that we’ve finally got some action on it. Three squares of replacement stone were ordered, diagonally sliced and, when I left work on Monday for my normal weekend, several new sections had already been placed and the mortar was setting.
However, that job was still in the future as we wielded the saw and swept away millions of pine needles that now coated the work area.
Shortly after 10am we were done and could relinquish the site to the masons, retiring in a fit of righteous satisfaction for our customary cup of tea.
Then, recharged and bubbling with energy, John pondered what to do next.
Apparently the vicar had noticed that our bells were marking the hour some two minutes earlier than good old TIM or the atomic clock at Rugby and commented how nice it would be if we were a bit more accurate.
It’s a fair point, no one’s fault, it’s something that happens to the mechanism during cold weather but it’s a rather cumbersome two-virger process to sort out (see ‘Timing is everything’ if you’re interested). And, as we didn’t have our normal staff meeting on a Monday to occupy us then we decided to go ahead and make things right.
And that’s where it all went wrong for me.
Now, it’s only 112 steps to the clock mechanism rather than the 113 to our Central Tower and they revolve clockwise, just the same as my more familiar route. But there’s something different about the pitch of the steps – there IS I tell you – so by the time I was only halfway up I was…
Well, I won’t use the Army’s version of the famous nursery rhyme, but I was certainly feeling the strain.
Grandad John of course, a mere ten stone stripling, skipped on up ahead of me and was showing no signs of effort by the time I finally panted, wheezed and groaned into place beside him.
We stopped the clock for one minute 55 seconds then, bongs once more in agreement with the wider world, we descended. And now I really started to feel the pain.
It’s led to a bit of a disagreement between the two of us, and that’s not something that happens very often.
January is normally a quiet month and we use it to have a really concentrated bash at spring cleaning the old place. Last year I invented a brand new and supremely brilliant way of cleaning the ten-foot high windowsills around the nave and transepts, successfully removing dust and debris that had taken root on VE Day and now considered it had squatters’ rights.
But, this year, that wasn’t good enough for Grandad Dell, oh no. This year he wanted to do the whole thing with a brush and dustpan and I’m refusing point blank to assist him. I’m sorry but we either use my magnificent ground-based system or he can do the whole darn thing himself.
The way I’m feeling at the moment I couldn’t possibly think of climbing a ladder, even to go to heaven.

First published January 2010


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