A view backstage at Beverley Minster

How to lose friends….. and your car

Minster virger Neil Pickford finally unmasks a secret identity
Head virger John Dell and I were discussing Christmas last week – as you do when you are a major church. We have to start planning a long time in advance to make everything look as though it’s working smoothly (it never is, but as long as you lot out there don’t realise it then we’re doing a good job).
Naturally, after every other subject had been discussed in detail we finally came to presents – not for each other, you understand, because we already know what we’re giving and receiving. John will present me with a nice bottle of red wine – probably part of a three-for-two offer from Tescos. From me he will get a nice bottle of red wine – probably part of a thirty-for-twenty offer from Morrisons.
No, we were idly speculating about ideal but highly unlikely presents and John finally opened his heart to reveal a long-held secret.
“I’d like a fork lift truck,” he said.
Oh dear, this meant he was in a bad mood, because there’s only one time when a fork lift truck would be of use to him, and that’s when he’s on the point of transforming into Car Park Johnny, the scourge of Minster Yard North.
From his genial manner you’d guess that this alter ego is a rare visitor, appearing only around the time of a conjunction of at least three major planets in the solar system, but you’d be wrong. It’s actually lurking close to the surface on any day that has a vowel in it.
And it’s all to do with a little area of land to the north west of the Minster – our private car park.
Once upon a time this patch was part of the playground for Beverley Girls’ School and we still get visitors who remember being chivvied to and from the blessed site back to what’s now our parish hall. A frisson of ancient terror still haunts many of them.
We don’t own the plot of land but, since the closure of the school, we have leased it for use by our visitors, always aware that the owners could decide to apply for permission to build houses or other such change of use if we stopped paying. It’s a great convenience for people using our halls, volunteers coming to church, guests at weddings, mourners at funerals, visiting artistes and choirs and, of course, our own worshippers.
It is private land, for private use – and you’d think people would appreciate this, but no. The lesson you quickly learn is that it’s a foolish person who comes between a motorist and an opportunity to park without charge. If you request, however, politely, that someone might like to leave their vehicle elsewhere then you get the most extreme response. It’s as if you’d accused them of being a politician or, worse still, an England footballer. 
Well, we’ve had occasions when weddings and funerals have been delayed because critical members of the families had been unable to park, despite clear notices at the entrance to say there was a special event coming up and would non-essential users please stay away. These get ignored and – I’ll be honest – that sort of selfishness makes me fully understand Car Park Johnny’s feelings.
Currently his preferred approach to the problem is to crush offending vehicle into tiny cubes with his bare hands then, using a secret technique, to melt them down and use the raw material for some rather exquisite pieces of public art. You may have seen a few of the results around town recently – many have been incorporated into the Beverley Town Trail.
However, I think his request for a fork-lift truck is a bad sign – he’s obviously thinking about  extending his range and creating larger works. One Angel of the North is quite enough so don’t feed his growing obsession – just park somewhere else, please.

First published July 2010


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