A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Christmas comes early for virgers

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford gets some unseasonal presents.
Oh, deck the halls with sprigs of holly and a merry tra la la to all. There is dancing and rejoicing in the virgers’ vestry tonight. Two large boxes have arrived at the Minster containing goodies galore and we’re not waiting until Christmas to open them.
No, good-hearted souls that we are, John and I will be sharing the benefits of the contents with everyone who visits us in future – you lucky, lucky people. 
Firstly, the smaller box should contain a bright red, round object that is affectionately called a ‘Henry’ (although I don’t mind if we receive a ‘Henrietta’ instead – there’s no sexism in our little part of the Church of England I can assure you). It sucks – but in a good way – and replaces another Henry that has done sterling work for us over the last few years, clearing dust, muck and small stones from floors, stairs, carpets and high-up ledges without complaint.
The old one got a lot of hard wear over the last year or so when it was used daily to remove huge quantities of stone dust generated by peripatetic masons. They were infilling and tidying up the joint between two leaning walls in the Percy Chapel and their by-products would have set off our smoke detectors.
Then it performed similar herculean chores in the roof, removing accumulated dust and debris from the workshop and everywhere the public can see (and a few other places as well). It probably experienced 100 years of work in a single season. The rest of the time it’s been around, poised, ready for whenever a virger feels a sudden burning need to clean the nave.
Anyway, we’ve decided to retire it now – send it somewhere where it can cease sucking, or whatever heavenly reward it is for old vacuum cleaners when they’ve filled their last dust bag.  Now its replacement has arrived we can send it off and welcome the new one in style: ribbons, flags, bunting, tears, drinks – you know the thing. We might even get old what’isname, the vicar chap, to bless it for us.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Poor old fellow, finally lost his marbles, getting all excited over a simple sucking servitor. But that’s the way it is in the life of a virger, as I’ll explain via this metaphor.
Some of you who’ve visited the Minster may have noticed a fine model of the building inside a plastic case. It reminds me of the old large-scale locomotive models you used to see on railway stations where you’d put in a penny on behalf of the Railway Benevolent Fund or some such good cause and then the wheels would revolve for about 15 seconds. (Gosh, it’s amazing what used to amuse us in the days before colour TV.)
Anyway, the Minster model reminds me of this and I keep thinking we should have a coin-activated machine in ours – one that plays the sound of a Henry whirring away when you put your pound in. Oh, alright, for £2 you can have a quick burst of Robert Poyser letting loose on the organ but £1 just gets you the normal sound of everyday virger reality. So, yes, the arrival of a new Henry IS a big event in our sad little lives.
But it’s what’s in the bigger box that is the real story and John, despite a sense of almost overpowering excitement, has voluntarily kept the lid on it until I return from a couple of days of well-earned holiday: (John and I divided the Virgers’ Holiday Fund between us last week and I’m putting my share towards a bag of sweets for the trip: John is still deliberating what to spend his windfall on, although I’ve heard him muttering about a new pair of laces for his walking boots). Anyway, when I return there will be fanfares and we may even get the Archbishop of York to do a special dedication for us. Yeah and verily for the Henry is not even fit to tie the shoes of the one that follows…
Sadly, I’ve run out of space to tell you what it is but I promise to unveil the secret next week. However, in the interim you may be assured that, while I’m relaxing on the Costa del Goole, I shall be thinking about it all the time.
First published October 2010 

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