A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Named and Shamed

Neil Pickford goes critical
Before I start this week I’d like to make a brief appeal to some of my more excitable readers. Please be very careful when hailing me in the street. It’s not that I mind – far from it – but I’ve met two men this week who were accused of being me in front of innocent bystanders.
Both of them were associated with Beverley Minster and each had a beard, but neither of them had that extra touch of distinction that I carry so effortlessly – my ponytail. This is the only guarantee of authenticity, but please don’t tug it to check. If it comes off you may embarrass someone.
Thank you.
It’s hard to believe, amongst the avalanche of good wishes I’ve been receiving, that I actually met a critic of my writing the other day, but it’s true. They came up with a bemused expression and said: “Your column doesn’t go anywhere at all.”
I’ll be honest, my brain was a bit foggy, having worked to 11.30 the night before and at that point I was five hours into a shift that had started at 7.15am so the answer I gave was less than scintillating.
“It probably won’t go anywhere in future either,” I replied. “It’s not meant to.”
“Do you mean people want to read that sort of stuff?” they asked, their face creased with an air of honest perplexity and they wandered off, radiating confusion. Well, I’m sorry about that, but I see my role as providing of a few harmless minutes of entertaining distraction rather than powerful polemics on the human condition.
And I hope this continues to be so.
Mind you, as a result of my recent columns there are now several thousand people in East Yorkshire who know how to spell ‘virger’ properly, so it’s not been a complete waste of time, has it?
Spookily enough, however, this little exchange prompted me to ponder on the human condition. It often happens when I’m stacking chairs anyway and, in this particular instance, I considered the varied ways in which different individuals react to the same situation.
I recalled the recent example of a young, professional female who’d entered the Minster full of purpose and vim with a camera at the ready.
“Excuse me,” said one of our splendid volunteers who politely greets visitors throughout the day. “You’re very welcome to look around but we do ask that you buy a £3 permit if you want to take pictures.”
She looked annoyed.
“Well, stuff you then,” she spat out and, turning on her heel, marched out again.
Now most people, when the photographic fee is pointed out, are quite happy to pay. They know that they’ve just come into a magnificent building for no charge at all and, if they want, they can leave without paying anything. If they have any knowledge of church funding at all they will also be aware that they do not pay a penny in taxes, either through their pay packet or local rates, to maintain and operate Beverley Minster (or any other Anglican parish church).
So any of Beverley Minster’s casual visitors can truly experience “something for nothing” if they so wish (and many do). However, for the privilege of retaining a permanent record of their visit, we request that they hand us a sum somewhat less than the price of a cup and a bun in a tea shop. But this particular visitor obviously thought we were being completely unreasonable in asking for any money at all.
Later on we found she’d also abandoned her car in our car park to go shopping in town – and that’s a more serious subject that I promise to deal with next time.
In that column I will also reveal the strange truth about my colleague John Dell: by day the saintly, ever-smiling and helpful head virger of Beverley Minster – by night Car Park Johnny, the Phantom Car Curser of Olde Beverley Towne.
This particular column will be written in a way that is highly factual and informative, which should make my critic happy, if no one else.
Until then.
First published June 2010


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