A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Living Aphorisms during Advent

Neil Pickford explores the literal world
noun – a terse saying embodying a general truth, or astute observation, e.g: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton).
It probably won’t surprise you to know that I was moving chairs on this particular Friday – a LOT of chairs. It was after 4pm and the church was closed so it was just me on my own little ownsome – and all these chairs. Everything was black: I had decided that there was enough light coming from the floodlights outside to let me do this fairly routine task without pouring yet more profit into the pockets of our electrical supplier, so I was clattering away in a dark but not gloomy world.
It was easy – and as the rows of newly-moved chairs lengthened so my mind started to wander, as it does.
Here I was, working away in considerable darkness. Could I do it in COMPLETE darkness?
So I closed my eyes and kept on working.
At first things went well – I was toiling in the south aisle and I’d already got stacks of plastic bottom-holders in regular spaces along the wall. I was easily able, by touch, to lift one, tilt it slightly and clip it to its predecessor, counting out groups of five and then moving back two paces to start the next section. Hands out – orientating myself to the chairs in front; getting them all parallel. Easy!
Gaining in confidence I turned to start downloading from the next pile and tripped over one of our floor-mounted radiators.
Opening my eyes I found that what I had fondly believed would be three lines of neatly-ranged chairs were, in fact, an untidy mess.
Grumbling gently as I rubbed my ankle I concluded that, in this case, the phrase:  “I could do this with my eyes shut” wasn’t literally true.
Rocked by this revelation I wondered just how true some of the other aphorisms that pop up in casual conversation really are. You know, those little social lubricators that pour out unthinkingly when your brain is tired or you’ve had enough of a particular topic: “Once bitten, twice shy”, that sort of thing.
Earlier that same day, as it happened, I’d been for a blood test where the phlebotomist had unsuccessfully attempted to extract just a few drips of my precious red fluid for someone else to enjoy. This was only three days after a different phlebotomist had also failed in this routine task and I had amused myself by twisting another aphorism: “You can’t get blood out of a virger”
Now inspired, I decided to examine some other ‘astute observations’.
“Man cannot live by bread alone”: Hmmph – for a large part of this year I lived without bread at all in a (vaguely successful) attempt to lose weight. A previous vicar once told me that he found the smell of toast wafting from the virgers’ vestry to be very distracting. “That’s a pity,” I said.  “I find it positively ethereal” – as well as virtually impossible to resist.
The misery and longing I felt during 2011 every time I scented freshly-baked or toasted and couldn’t share, would make me amend the aphorism to: “Man cannot live without bread” and I offer my most profound sympathies to anyone who will never know its joy.
“If you can’t beat them, join them.” What a supremely cynical piece of wisdom, and so wrong-headed. Any poor individual with a sense of loyalty to a football team, for example, knows this is ridiculous. For example, Manchester United ruled the roost for many years and consequently have many fair-weather fans who will soon gravitate to their local rivals when the Light-Blues top the Premiership – and they miss the point.
There’s no deep pleasure to be gained by these dilettantes who rarely experience defeat and consequently cannot appreciate the euphoria of hard-won victory against all odds. Whereas poor saps such as myself (who is helplessly tied to Bristol City and winces at their current position in the Championship), can still derive huge pleasure despite the downturns. In my case, it’s from knowing we’re currently two divisions above local rivals Bristol Rovers. Another failed aphorism, methinks.
The pen is mightier than the sword.” That’s obviously written by someone who’s never been in a fight. Ha! Which would you prefer if you were being threatened in a dark alleyway: a weapon, or the chance to write a letter of complaint to the European Court of Justice? In those circumstances I don’t think many people would spend their time searching for a stamp.
So, once you start to examine them, many of these ‘pearls of wisdom’ don’t bear close scrutiny. However, there is one that I’ve always appreciated: “if you don’t know what to write, write about not knowing what to write.”
Excellent advice, in my humble opinion.
So it’s nearly Christmas – but there’s still just time for you to buy an audio CD contained a selection of these very columns, uttered by my own sublime voice – to give as a loving gift to every single member of your family and circle of friends. “Three Chairs”: sixty minutes of me – a snip at £6 from Beverley Minster shop or email me directly at and we’ll get you all the copies you want in time for the big day.
Just imagine the tears of gratitude in their eyes. Just imagine the many good causes who will benefit from your kindness. And ignore any aphorism beginning: “A fool and his money…..”

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2 thoughts on “Living Aphorisms during Advent

  1. Ridiculous quest there. What happened after? Thanks!

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