A Sense of Perspective
Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford tries to find something interesting
News! All the news that’s fit to print! Breaking News! Hold the Front Page! Exclusive! Daaaaah-da-da-daaaah! Boing: Here is the News….
And so on. The clichés pour out, conveying the sense of ‘Gosh!’ The sense of ‘Now!’ The sense of ‘Important!’ Television news editors in particular justify the vast sums of money they spend on collecting, packaging and presenting ‘News’ for a variety of reasons; journalists (or ‘The Fifth Estate’) as they were politely named in my youth, were supposed to be the pit-bulls of democracy and truth, ferreting out information (sorry, that’s a bit of a mixed metaphor there) that would otherwise be kept from you.
One idealistic individual opined that: “news was what other people didn’t want you to know” which, if true, might lead to an appalling deluge of trivia. After all, just because I don’t want you to know that all my underpants are fluorescent green with a stencil of Mickey Mouse on the side doesn’t mean that you’re interested in reading about them. Although these days, if you are, there’s always Twitter I suppose, or ‘Hello’ magazine, or celebrity TV or – actually, there’s thousands of places where you can find out that sort of stuff.
And that’s my point: what I might think of as boring or puerile could be the most fascinating fabric in the wardrobe of some else’s life. Just because I don’t care what Jordan’s vital statistics are this week doesn’t mean that millions of other people aren’t hungrily chasing the latest information about them.
I’m not intending to have a cheap bash at celebrity culture, or even make a reasoned argument about how it leads to an inevitable collapse of morals and society – that’s not my department. Instead it reminds me of just how difficult it is to judge what will be of interest to people.
In the Minster, mostly, the task is relatively straightforward. You can reasonably assume that any casual visitor who walks through the door and looks around with wonder is going to be vaguely interested in the building and its history. Give them a few facts, describe the difference between the Minster and a cathedral, show them where the toilets are and you’ve covered 90 per cent of their immediate concerns. If they ask you a different question then it’s easy to respond to that as well.
It gets harder when you’re about to start an hour-long tour of the ground or roof: sure, you know that most of these people want to learn more about the place (after all, they’ve paid good money to do just that) but within the group you may have children who’s attention span is going to be severely stretched by too much history, adults who really don’t care about the religious reasons for the structure and individuals whose special knowledge in one area would qualify them for Mastermind. Some are fascinated by our tapestries, others would rather watch paint dry.
If you haven’t been told about these special interests then it’s darn difficult to make the tour fascinating for everyone but we virgers do try, watching the responses as we talk and varying the information we give and the way we present it.
It’s harder still to achieve total satisfaction when you are, for example, writing a weekly column for a newspaper when the amount of direct feedback is non-existent. It’s almost impossible to be sure what subjects will interest your readership, if you’re lucky enough to have one in the first place.
Now I don’t want you to think that I’ve not got anything to write about this week and I’m just rambling on to fill the space – it may be true but I don’t want you to think that. No, I’m currently spoiled for choice on subjects, but unsure which to select.
I have to decide if you would be fascinated by knowing that we virgers have taken 15 per cent more people up in the roof to date than we had by this time last year (despite some abysmal Bank Holiday numbers). Possibly not.
How about the hundreds of chairs I’ve had to move over the last few weeks to accommodate large audiences for the Black Dyke Band and Early Music Festival? – hmmm, probably not.
What about the fact I’m working on a script for an up-to-date video of the Minster which should start filming later this summer and be available to boost church funds in years to come? – nah, perhaps another time.
Will anyone be interested in the progress of my ‘Abolish Telephone Selling’ crusade? Well, it doesn’t matter anyway because nothing’s happened this week.
Oh, I can’t decide. The best think I can do is direct you to a new blog site I’ve set up at long last, after months of faffing around.
You may remember me telling you that, before the Beverley Advertiser started reproducing me in a non-pixelated way, I wrote pieces for the beverleylocal website. Well, that website has now gone the way of all flesh so I’ve finally started uploading an archive of the 80 exquisitely-written articles that had never felt the stamp of the printed page. There’s bound to be something you like in there.
So please feel free to browse for whatever takes your fancy.
Or not, of course. It’s your choice.