A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The same old grind, but with added sparkle

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford flexes his muscles
Now if I was in charge of a US TV hit series, or something like Doctor Who, I would have a team of writers and advisors helping me maintain the high standards that have come to be associated with the ‘brand’ known as ‘View from the Vestry’. I would float a few ideas, my employees would respond with honest criticism (or, more likely, sycophantic barking noises) and we could continue down my nominated path until we had all thrashed out an acceptable script or draft for whatever project we were producing.
Obviously, as a brilliant and talented TV show-runner with the power of life or death over the career of any employed scribes I would expect instant agreement about all my fizzling ideas. However, sometimes if I, the employing genius, came up with something that was just so, so, sooooooo unbelievably hackneyed that undiscovered tribes in the remote Amazon rainforest already knew the plotline then a particularly strong-minded (or suicidal) junior wonk might just interject: “Umm – are you sure, sire, lord of all that’s wonderful?”
To which I would wittily riposte: “You’re fired!”
Scaling down the situation to my own rather more modest circumstances I might, for example, conversationally mention to my wife and family that I could pen this week’s missive on the subject of moving chairs in the Minster.
“Been there, done that,” they might then respond. “Try something new.”
“You’re tired!” I might then reply amusingly. “You just can’t see the endless fascination that exists in stories of me moving chairs around the Minster. After all, there’s an infinite variety in the way we move them: do they get shuffled closer or further apart? Do we turn the chairs in the nave to face the west instead of the east? Do we fill the side aisles with chairs, and are they plastic or wooden? Do we arrange them straight or diagonally? Three, five or six to a row? How far back?
“Do we use only the round-hole plastic chairs or the square-hole ones – or a mixture of both? And if so, in which aisles should we put each set?”
As you can see, there’s a vast range of fascinating permutations and so I think I’m quite justified in ignoring malicious falsehoods claiming I have ever picked a boring subject for my readers/viewers/listeners/whatevers.
Indeed, only today somebody asked me how I managed to consistently keep coming up with new and interesting subjects for my weekly blog and I modestly replied that I hardly had to think at all. All I do is report on my fascinating life as it happens – it’s just packed with exciting and glamorous episodes – as you can tell in the forthcoming paragraphs.
You see, as luck would have it chairs have actually featured quite largely in my life over the last week – yes, honestly. I’m not just making this up for your entertainment.
Only t’other Saturday we were host to a massive fund-raising concert which featured The London Chorus, East Riding Sinphonia plus other singers in an ear-shattering performance of Verdi’s Requiem. And flipping good it was too. Wow, what a terrific noise!
Sadly, due to decisions taken by well-meaning individuals when reordering the interior of the Minster in the 1970s we currently have some fixed choir stalls which are in exactly the wrong place when it comes to staging such a major event.  If they were on wheels we could push them to one side and build all the necessary staging in front of our magnificent organ screen but they aren’t so we can’t.
If I could just enter a brief aside here: these choir pews are not particularly important, historically speaking. Mass-produced Victoriana, they’ve been used in several places around the church before ending up where they are, on a lashed-together wooden frame which leaves both halves of the singers some three feet further apart than our present MD would like.
We virgers have a simple solution to this problem which involves a chainsaw and a skip on the back of a fast lorry but, sadly, we have to go through ‘Proper Channels’  which might take years to sort out. Until then it means that the virgers have to shift all our nave chairs through 180 degrees whenever there’s a concert involving more than 100 singers.
So we did that and then, between10pm and midnight on Saturday night we were dismantling everything because, of course, the next day was Sunday and we had to have everything reversed to their normal positions.  By the way – guess which virger’s shift started at 7.15 next morning. Yep, mine.
And on the following Saturday we had TWO big concerts scheduled and, surprise surprise, they wanted the chairs turned again. And so we did that. All 400 nave sit-upons rotated or relocated and another 200 set up down the aisles.
And, of course, we then turn them all yet again for the Sunday services. What fun. 
There you are – as promised, an insight into another endlessly fascinating chapter in my life. Now please excuse me but the only chair I really want to see for the next few weeks is a nice, comfy one.
A full archive of around 150 articles from the View from the Vestry collection is free here at: – and a CD with a selection of 13 of the best, read by Neil Pickford himself, is available at the Minster shop, price £5 –or email for details.

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