A view backstage at Beverley Minster

I’m doing something right, aren’t I?

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford queries his existence
I must admit that I’m feeling a trifle nervous about the quality of my writing this week as it doesn’t seem to conform to the rules.
By rules, what I really mean is the conventions used by doyens of the weekly column – i.e. the people who receive a lot of money for their outpourings. These are people who I’d like to emulate, for obvious reasons. (I’m not talking about big-name footballers who couldn’t string a sentence together but, once their infantile gruntings have been handed over to a professional scribe, are credited with deep philosophical and analytical powers. And that’s another particular gripe of mine. But I digress……)
Yes, these highly paid practitioners of prose do have a template or two, upon which they weave their words and, sadly, my current offering doesn’t conform to any of them. For instance, Top Gear’s James May often produced a line of poetry to conclude his muse – but I can only recall: “The boy stood on the burning deck, when all but he had fled….” and that doesn’t fit most of the material I’ve written over the years.
Doctor Jeremy Clarkson has a marvellous knack of creating crisp, punchy and strangely contemporary ‘wham-bam’ conclusions; Richard Littlejohn has a selection of catchphrases which help him dispatch his latest diatribe while Polly Toynbee delivers portentous pronouncements of timeless polly-twaddle that sound profound but rattle like a marble on a tin plate once you think about ‘em.
All good tricks of the trade – but I can’t think of anything to wrap up my latest offering which is inspired, nay –driven, by recent events in my life. This is a story that demands to be told, regardless of the lack of punchline, so I might as well begin and see where it takes us. You never know, we might strike lucky.
Are you sitting comfortably?
I was messing around with an annoying spreadsheet t’other day, as you do when you haven’t got a life. It was work-related, of course, and it was a familiar item to my loyal readers. In fact it contains the complete history of Minster roof tours over the last four years, of which I have written in the past.
For any newcomers who are stumbling across my writings for the first time this week please don’t think I write about electronic thingies on a regular basis. I had only mentioned this particular assemblage of pixels and algorithms previously to complain about how terrible it was when I lost it, and how clever I was to have found it again. So if you’re expecting a deep and meaningful insight into spreadsheet operations I’m afraid you will be disappointed.
This is, however, a tale that illustrates hubris and humility in equal measure, so perhaps it’s worth sticking with it for another 450 words or so. Shall we see?
Anyway, I’d started investigating things because I’d suddenly realised that one of the lines of figures was giving the wrong answer. I have created a display that gives me a running total at the top as well as showing how it’s been built up, one day at a time, as you go down the column. And, I have to admit, I hadn’t noticed that the figure at the top of the page and the one at the bottom were different. Initially I thought this error was a simple bit of fluff, caused when I messed around with the totals from August Bank Holiday to record photo permit revenue. It only goes back one month, no big deal, I’ll just insert the correct figure and…… Oh no!  The gap is even bigger!.
So I went back through the whole darn thing, day-by-day and, embarrassingly, the error dated right back to something I’d done in February. This means it had been wrong for more than eight months of this year – and I hadn’t noticed. Oooops.
Anyway, as it was only me who knew about the glitch I decided no one needed to be told that I’m less than perfect. But then I happened to glance through the rest of the figures to the end of the year and discovered a rather nice fact that I’d like to share: the £10 I’d taken from two visitors THAT VERY DAY meant that the revenues from roof tours in 2011 now beat the entire total of 2010.
It’s true – the spreadsheet cannot lie, (unless some idiot has put rubbish information into the columns – and, I ask you, just how likely is that?). The virgers have achieved last year’s target in just nine leg-aching months. New records will now be set on a daily basis – hip, hip hooray (he said tiredly)
I looked at the statistics in more detail:  255 climbs – that’s a total of 28,815 steps or a (literally) staggering 17,850 feet in height if they were all stacked end-to-end (or 61% of Mount Everest). That’s nearly 11 days and nights, non-stop, of talking and waving our arms around, trying to entertain and educate nearly 3,000 people of all ages, shapes and interests. It’s a really good feeling.
Because as the poet Eddie Cochran (nearly) said: “Now there are (11)3 steps to heaven….”
Oh dear, what a rubbish ending. Must try harder next week.
A CD with a selection of 13 of the best Views from the Vestry, read by Neil Pickford himself, is available at the Minster shop, price £5 –or email for details.

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