A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Tree-mendous troubles in t’graveyard

Neil Pickford discusses matters arboreal
It’s been a rotten start to the year; in a sensory sense. If you remember my apology last year for excessive and inappropriate winking at people then, I’m sorry to say, it’s still going on. The new prescription for my left contact lens means I have to rely on my right eye to focus on middle to distant but the lazy thing hasn’t adjusted yet, so everything is all a bit bleary and blurry.
Add to that the fact that my right ear has gone on the blink again and it’s as if half my connections with humanity have been lost. This partial silence of the rest of the world does make everything seem a little distant and that’s not good. I feel like someone watching life as a kind of bad back-projection: there’s movement but it’s not very involving on a personal level. This can have annoying consequences.
 I gave a talk t’other day and, beforehand, warned my audience that I was a bit ‘mutton and Jeff.’ I said I would appreciate it if all laughter should be loud and obvious so that I could detect it and know I was doing something right.
I’m not sure if they heard me because I only picked up faint titters over the next hour, but I’ll blame the ear for that and continue to believe that I’m the funniest guy for miles around.
There was one occasion this week, however, when my deafness might have been a blessing, but it didn’t work out that way.
I won’t bore you with the reasons but I found myself trapped in the organ loft for nearly an hour, kneeling down and with my head and arm shoved through the rungs of a ladder, pushing rapidly at two red buttons whenever a digital signal changed and chaos boded. Downstairs there was a special service going on that consisted of periods of quiet readings, silence and then blasts of noise from our organ.
To make those noises our massive organ (please stop sniggering at the back there) has some massive pipes – up to 32 feet long (I won’t use the word ‘metre’ in this context so as not to confuse any musicians among my readers – hahahahaha, sorry, obscure little joke there).
These huge wooden whistles (for that is, basically, what they are) are called ‘oboes’ and make the deepest noises. It rapidly became very apparent to me that, when operating at full whack, they are also very loud – and I was right next to them.
A deaf left ear might have been a blessing at this point but, unfortunately, that particular aural channel was working properly. Typical!
Partly as a result of my sensory shortcomings I also fear I may have mislaid some of my chuckles recently.
Chuckles – you know – those silly little things that make people like you. Little jokes that brighten up even the most average conversation (or newspaper column). I used to have ready access to them but I currently feel a bit like an absent-minded squirrel that prudently laid down a reserve of nuts for the winter and now can’t find them. It’s really very vexing. So I apologise for that as well.
And speaking of matters arboreal, as I nearly was, I seem to have finally stumbled onto the subject of this week’s essay – one that has been bothering me, and several others, for a while.
It’s the huge tree in our northern churchyard, between the Highgate door and north transept, that is the issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I like trees. I think they are very nice things to look at and useful when waving their branches around to warn you of windy weather. They are also excellent perches for birds to stand on while aiming their doings at my newly-washed car. I believe they are also saving the planet and can help hide obtrusive mobile phone masts (if Orange doesn’t cut them down for interfering with reception, of course).
So I speak with a heavy heart when I say that, in my opinion, the tree needs to have a severe pruning if not total removal. I am aware that not everyone will agree with me because, when it was last proposed to remove some of the tallest twigs, people objected to any work being done at all. This led to a long period of consultation and various committee meetings before approval was granted for this routine husbandry.
And then the paperwork got lost somewhere and the work was never done.
So now everyone has got to go through the same process again and, of course, the tree has grown even more massive in the interim. Of itself that’s not an issue but the tree is destroying the Minster while we wait. Its roots are questing and pushing aside the clay on which the (not very deep) foundations of the building are resting while the tall branches deposit sap and other natural by-products that stain the stonework, leave a sticky residue and block up guttering – as do the tons of leaves and twigs that fly off throughout the year. This makes routine roof maintenance a rather more dangerous and irritating occupation than it needs to be.
I would much rather see the Minster in a near-pristine condition than any number of trees, no matter how venerable, so I rather hope huge quantities of its surplus timber will be chopped off and carted away sooner rather than later. It’s not as though you can’t plant any number of replacements, but you’ll never plant another Minster.
And there’s no point arguing with me on this matter because I won’t be able to hear you.

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