A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Now is the time to be merry – or is it?

Neil Pickford considers the why and where of it all
It’s all going very well so far isn’t it? I mean, compared to last year when we were blanketed by snow and all the pre-Christmas events were cancelled as if the NoFun brigade had taken control. No sign of that happening this year, I’m glad to say.
Actually, that last sentence is complete cobblers, the product of wishful thinking because, you see, it hasn’t happened yet. Oh, I know it’s happened (or not) to you by now because you are reading this in December whereas I am composing these exciting words while still firmly ensconced in the latter days of November. I’m actually on holiday at the moment, filling in my time by rewiring my model railway, forecasting the weather and pumping iron, ready for the fray.
Still, by the time you read this a ‘daft’ or ‘giving’ group of Yorkshire virgers will have already digested our Christmas lunch (which will be/was absolutely lovely, of course).because  the only chance we have to meet together before Christmas is in November as we’d never get time once Advent has started. Luckily, the Minster’s own staff will be able to grab a quick hour together on the Monday before Christmas, which will be nice.
Having said that, I’ve actually been finding it quite hard to get worked up about December.  I suspect that this is because familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying has it. You see, when I first became a virger some five years ago the seasonally-packed diary was a thing of wonder and fear. How on earth could John and I possibly get the church ready for all the different carol services, concerts and events that were planned and crammed into just three weeks.
It’s less daunting this year – partly, I suppose, because we’ve learned a few tricks along the way. Turning 400 chairs around to face the west is far less of a problem that it used to be because we’ve developed a system for doing it while the rest of the world assembles or dismantles the mass of staging that will support the East Riding County Choir in full ‘Messianic’ mode this year.
For the rest of the month the seats will be firmly facing east and we’ve also learned how to create a set of staging that seems to be acceptable for almost all performers. Oh, there will be individual tweaks for each event, of course, but that’s a lot easier than rebuilding the whole thing from scratch every time.
We’ve got a few apparently horrendous combinations – not least on the final day of term when the High School fills the Minster, overflowing the nave and requiring extra seating in the transepts.
That’s not a particular problem but, joy of joys, our final Youth Café of the year is scheduled for that very night. You’ll never guess which part of the Minster it’s sited in, will you?
But it’s not going to cause us any worries – we’ve got at least three hours between events and, with the help of some clever pre-planning and a certain number of extra muscles, we’ll be ready.
One thing that seems to have got harder over the years, however, is performing the virgers’ very unique version of ‘Riverdance’.
This is a remarkably beautiful performance that takes place in the slightly unromantic setting of the Minster’s industrial rubbish bins. At a suitable moment when, for example, piles of cardboard packing are sticking out of the lid and there’s still three days until ERYC’s Refusians swoop to clear them, we unleash our powers of dance and crush the contents beneath us.
Not so long ago John and I would hoist ourselves onto the packed pile of packages and leap up and down, whistling an appropriate tune such as: “My Old Man’s  (not) a Dustman”; “He Ain’t  Heavy, He’s my Virger”; “Whole Lotta Lumps”; and, for older readers, I would perform that 1950s favourite: “The Bristol Stomp”.
Except that I don’t these days. I don’t know what happened but suddenly I just can’t seem to climb the sides of the bins anymore. Oh, John can – and he does – but I’m now at the embarrassing stage of grunting, sweating, getting red in the face and failing to ascend to the stage. Even if I could get up I’m not sure how much of a performance I would put on as I’d still be wheezing and coughing while John, on his side of the bin, would be halfway down  and starting to wonder how he’s going to get out again.
I could try and blame global warming but I suspect it’s because I’m fat, unfit and getting old, and probably more of the first two than the last.
Mind you, if we move enough chairs and staging around over the next few weeks then that should do something about my fitness levels, but the fatness, I fear, will still be there.
Of course, if the weather turns nasty again you can forget everything I’ve just written, because it won’t be like that at all.
Sometimes I wonder why I bother …..
Never mind.  If this hasn’t been enough for you why not browse some of my old articles at – or even buy a CD of me reading some of them. Just £5 in Beverley Minster shop; an ideal Christmas present for the family member you really love.

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