A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Time is on my side

 Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford checks his watch.
I am in reflective mood this week so if you want any good ‘knock-knock’ jokes you’d probably be better off reading a Daily Telegraph editorial instead.
However, as the days shorten and dusk creeps gently unto the patio of afternoons my mind starts to roam – to visit yonder worlds where syrupy silver streams ripple and tease gently while the panting hart is inclined and invited safely to rest.
Gosh, that was a fine bit of writing there, darn me if it wasn’t. That was good enough to be in a book – in fact, it was. I nicked it from some old thing that I found while enjoying an extra half hour each day in the bosom of my loving family. This extra half hour is thanks to the annual autumnal change in the opening hours at the Minster.
Now, opening hours are an awkward subject: I know the vicar is unhappy that we  currently close for one hour during Sunday afternoons but, sadly, we don’t have enough welcomers to man the building constantly from noon to 6.30 at the moment. Maybe next year.
One thing we do find out, every day, is that whatever time we do actually close the doors – be it 4pm or 9pm – there is always someone coming up two minutes later and wondering if they can be let in. This phenomena appears to be a universal constant for all venues everywhere in Britain and is a rather irritating one.
Anyhoo – from early September we have been closing the doors 30 minutes earlier than during the summer, aiming to swing the bolt into place at 4.45 for 5pm. Soon (well, from 1st of November when the short days really kick in) we shall advance this exercise to, horror of horrors, 3.45 for 4pm and then, for an hour each day, the whole place is mine, mine! MINE!!
I’m looking forward to it because, I must be honest, that hour when the building is virtually empty and the lights are off can be one of the most fulfilling of all. It’s not spooky, there’s plenty of light glowing through the windows from the street lamps outside and you can still dimly hear the traffic  but, strangely, these hints of the rest of the world make the enclosed space even more personal. And, when my duties are concluded, the toilets restocked and locked, the Henry cooling off, the brasses polished, candle stands emptied and replenished, there is nothing better than sitting down for a few minutes to let the atmosphere and mood of the building sink into you.
It’s incredibly cathartic, sucking away all the tensions of the day and replacing them with an inner calm that fortifies and revitalises  – I’m always saying that if we could bottle this marvellous and restorative experience then the world would be a much better place and the Minster funds would be considerably more healthy than they are.
And I’m being paid (not a lot, but paid nonetheless) to be there – that’s a good feeling too.
After some of my world-famous roof tours people sometimes comment: “You really love this building, don’t you?” and, to save wasting time with pointless philosophical explanations, I agree that I do. However, the reality is a bit more complicated than that.
Yes, I do love the design, the lines of sight, the awesome interior; the care, talent and dedication of craftsmen. I am also thrilled when I see work produced by that most versatile of individuals, Master Bodge, whose many lash-ups and compromises have survived up to 700 years of testing.
I am also inspired, time and again, by the way in which the whole, cumulative picture uplifts and enhances the human spirit.  I appreciate it enormously but that’s not all there is to it. It’s there for a purpose – to physically connect us on Earth with the Christian Heaven and help in anchoring Heaven to Earth.
It’s a multi-level understanding of the building and I think this means that I actually ‘appreciate’ it more than ‘love’ it – a fine distinction I know but a crucial one.
Anyway, I’ve just thought of a relevant ‘knock-knock’ joke:
“Who’s there?”
“Visitors – can you let us in?”
“No – it’s two minutes past five.”
There, I said you’d be better off with the Telegraph.
First published September 2010


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