A view backstage at Beverley Minster

You’ve gotta smile, haven’t you?

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford puts on a brave face
I’ve got a splinter in my finger.
Now I do appreciate that’s not really big news, but it’s annoying me.
It’s all thanks to the flag on our north tower: well, indirectly at least.
You may have seen this flag over the last few weeks – it’s the cross of St George and it’s been flying for much longer than normal. In fact we started flying it so long ago that I can’t remember if it was John or me who actually tramped up the 208 steps to raise it, or which particular special festival we were flying it for. Was it Easter? Ascension Day? The Queen’s official birthday (no, no, we’d have been flying the Union flag for that). Prince Philip’s birthday?
Well, whichever it was, it’s had a good innings (if you can call it good, being whipped around a metal pole by winds of up to 90 miles per hour, 24 hours a day). You’re probably thinking we virgers should have taken it down rather sooner than we have – and you’d be right.
However, there are extenuating circumstances: the flag pole has been surrounded by a great grid of scaffolding recently and it’s been too darn dangerous to try and retrieve it. Oh, I don’t want you to think John and I haven’t tried, or at least thought about it. In fact, for the first few weeks the scaffolding was in place both of us did the deed several times – on one occasion twice in one day. But the final time put paid to all further efforts: it was very windy and, having climbed 165 feet and limbo-danced under one particularly irritating brace I unlocked the flagpole and prepared to lower the proud ensign.
It stuck – several times. Firstly, the rope had mysteriously swollen inside the hollow pole and it took a lot of tugging to finally persuade it to come down. Then, as I was lowering the flapping thing it decided to wrap itself around an upright piece of scaffolding and wouldn’t let me free it by flicking the rope and shouting at it.
There was no other solution – I had to do my world-famous impression of King Kong and ascend, by whatever means I could, until I was perched some eight foot above the top of the tower, with the nasty, knotted nuisance laughing at me. I DID enjoy the unique aerial views of East Yorkshire and bracing benefits of a gale blowing directly from Siberia but, grimly determined, I got it down.
A few days later it had to go up again for another festival and, afterwards, the wind was joined by driving and very wet rain. It was at that point that John and I decided to let it stay there, flying freely. We reasoned that this was the natural habitat for a flag and it would be much happier there than tucked away in a nasty dark cupboard.
And so it remained. Eventually the masons finished repair work on our pinnacles and then, several weeks later, the scaffolders removed their property. Finally our route was clear. Oh goody.
As it turned out, a major attraction in our social committee’s special ‘Welcome to the Minster’ event last Friday was a tour up the same tower. While I can’t say I was looking forward to the climb with huge excitement I was, nevertheless, pleased that I could finally collect the flag while simultaneously earning the Minster some much-needed tour revenue – a genuine ‘two-for-one’ bargain.
I was a bit more tired than I would have liked because I’d had a very busy day. We’d had a funeral in the morning and then only a few minutes to remove all traces of that service before guests started arriving for a wedding. Not a problem, but a complicating factor was that the Minster was also hosting a ‘singalonga County Choir’ event the next day and I needed to build staging for 130 visitors.  Wouldn’t you know that this staging was required exactly where the happy bride was expecting to process from her limousine towards her eager victim-to-be?
I couldn’t reasonably expect her to climb over a massive construct in her wedding finery so I had to wait until afterwards to start building – and I ran out of time to complete it before the social event started.
Not to worry – I started the tour, had just cheerfully shown everyone our 110 year old clock and was about to lead the final push to the pole when I suddenly realised I’d left the keys to the flag downstairs in my office. 
Oh…..bother, I thought.
I didn’t feel like popping down for them right then so the flag was still flying that night. Next morning I was pooped but, from eight o’clock onwards we virgers were busy with unending stage-building while people kept telling us (wrongly) that there wasn’t any toilet paper in the ladies’ loo. It was during one of those distractions that I managed to shove a splinter deep into my index finger and I haven’t been able to remove it since.
It’s my day off tomorrow and, in a sneaky and rather guilty way, I’m kinda hoping that John will choose to take the flag down without telling me.
Well, you see, I’ve got this painful industrial injury and I really think that should rule me out of having to do it – don’t you?


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