A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Getting back in touch with reality

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford gets wild about life
It is often said that modern living is disconnected from nature. There now exist whole generations who couldn’t skin a rabbit, let alone tell me which part of a carcase is an animal’s shank – and whether it’s a good bit. This, apparently, is a bad thing.
Millions of children believe that vegetables grow in plastic bags and chickens’ natural plumage is a warm covering of fried breadcrumbs. It’s possible they think that there are three different kinds of bread-tree: brown, white and sliced.  Milk, as they all know, is made in giant factories, just like colas.
I once wrote a Harvest Festival song which reflected the current way of acquiring our foodstuffs. It started as follows, (to a traditional tune): “We scour the shelves at Asda. The good things close to hand….” and continued accordingly. It got a laugh.
During my teens the call: ‘return to nature’ was widespread – it probably still is among later generations. Well this summer we’ve done just that in the Minster, simply by leaving our doors open. When Nature came calling in the past it found its way blocked by a whole range of ancient oak doors (or even by our youthful 10-year old wheelchair door, if it was approaching from the north east). For most of the last month, however, its access has been clear. The wheelchair entrance has been hooked open all day (as described in an earlier column – and toilet-angst has been much reduced in consequence).
The main Highgate doors have been freed from their bolted bondage, despite the fact that we virgers risk a hernia every time we try to slide the massive restraining lock back into place before we go home.
Most significantly however, as far as our feathered friends are concerned, the massive doors at the west end have been swung wide and welcoming. A route that is normally travelled only by bashful brides on their way to domestic duality (and subsequently by virgers who tidy up any invasive confetti) has become accessible to them.
For some reason our feathered friends seem to find this irresistible. It’s as if they are thinking: “All this back-to-nature stuff may be fine and dandy for big, unwinged pink things, but modern birds want a nice warm, properly weatherproof nest.” And so you often hear the anachronistic sound of beating wings indoors.
Now I’m not hostile to birds per se (although I do object to the fact that they gorge themselves on our bird table and then, freshly charged, fly over our house to do their doings on our car) but I don’t think they should be inside the church.
It’s not prejudice, it’s because I know that the inside of Beverley Minster is not a viable environment for them. For a start there is an acute shortage of worms (although some people may disagree).  Birdseed is pretty thin on the ground as well and, unless we’ve got a baptism coming up soon, there’s no fresh water for them to enjoy either.
Basically, if they come into the building and stay then they are going to die.  And, if they do, who’s got to deal with the consequences? That’s right – the virgers.
Last time wasn’t too bad – we just launched the Minster choir’s new CD with an excellent concert and everyone was in a good mood – even me, who had just put in a couple of hours unpaid overtime. I had finished dismantling the staging and thought I was on the final stretch when I was delicately informed that there was a ‘dead thing’ behind the big chair near the pulpit.
Fortunately the carcase was still fresh so it was easy enough to put a black bin liner over my hand and whisk the corpse away for reverent disposal in the big green bin outside: certainly much easier to deal with than one that managed to expire in our shop.
Its final resting place was inside a wooden construction housing the overhead lights. It was a bit more difficult getting the deceased into the bag while standing with one leg on a step ladder and the other waving around in midair, but I managed it and soon everything was sanitised, spick and span once more.  
Most of the recent invasions have ended peacefully with the errant avian explorer deciding the grass is greener….(um)…. where the grass is, and deciding to leave before nightfall. Birds are simple.
Squirrels however, that’s a different matter. This morning I was warned by one of our ever-present volunteers that they’d seen one casing the joint as I swung the door open. Oh no! Once they were inside who knew what mischief they might get up to while searching for nuts? Our sound system is fragile enough as it is without sharp teeth getting to work on the cabling.
So I wasn’t going to just let this one stroll in as without a fight but, as we all know, squirrels are very intelligent creatures that can, when accompanied by music from ‘Mission Impossible’, overcome incredible obstacles which would beat the most cunning creatures – and choirboys as well.
I had to be extra-cunning so I thought hard and eventually came up with up a highly-specific, anti-squirrel sign that lets them know they are not welcome.
“No nutters allowed,”
It seems to have worked.

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