vestryview

A view backstage at Beverley Minster

And now for something completely different

Neil Pickford changes tack
I have been accused, after my last few columns, of veering towards the serious rather than the silly. For this I can only apologise. It was never my intention to push, provoke, postulate, pontificate or proselytise and I am sorry for any confusion that may have arisen.
And if you’ll believe that…..
This week, however, my mind is being drawn irresistibly to the infinitely less intellectual subject of chairs – specifically the moving of same.
These thoughts are provoked by demands on the virgers to remove all pews from the nave for this Saturday morning in the Minster and subsequently return them to their original locations by the end of that same evening. This apparently pointless exercise is caused by the need to accommodate a wedding fair which will be in full swing for a mere five hours or so but will take over almost the entire church for the duration.
We’re accommodating around 50 stalls between the pillars and down the centre of the church, as well as catering for many hundreds of visitors. It’s a major logistical exercise because we’re also building a catwalk for two fashion shows and providing the seating for these demonstrations, as well as the tables and serving bases for refreshments.
Then, when it’s all over John and I will have to take exactly as long as it takes to strip down all traces and restore the building to its normal Sunday layout – so we won’t be home for early evening telly, that’s for sure. Good job Doctor Who isn’t on at the moment – I’d be too torn between Daleks and Duty.
We’re been planning the procedure like a military exercise, and I can just picture it: Private Pickford squares his shoulders and slowly stretches his neck, feeling the tension building as he prepares for the campaign. Corporal Dell is beside him, the warriors acknowledging each other with a simple nod before they start their well-planned manoeuvres in silence, each concentrating on their own part of the operation, confident that their comrade will not let them down.
The central rails have already been removed on the north side of the central crossing and the round altar, a cunning camouflage, is jacked up and ready to be manhandled aside.
The two men tense and prepare to push, straining to feel the first critical micro-movement as their pressure fights the inertia of the altar, then they guide the huge but beautifully-balanced structure past various innocent obstructions with bare inches to spare from disaster on both sides, until it is out of the firing line and safely stowed where no one will disturb it.
Phase One of ‘Project Wedding Fair’ completed: now for Phase Twp.
Next, the virgers must assemble an intricate assembly of pipes, frames, plastic fixings, boards and bridges, each part expertly placed in exactly the right position to play its full part without fail.
From the air it looks a simple ‘T’ shape but, in reality, this construction is a carefully designed launchpad for dozens of dazzling designs that will bewilder and beguile. Yet, so brilliant is our work that the entire edifice will appear invisible once the whistle blows.
Stretching away on three sides will be the baffles, rows of pews in groups of three, still bearing blast-absorbing kneelers on their backs which can be grabbed at need by any civilians in the area when the balloon goes up.
No time to waste – the rest of the pews have been commandeered to defend the walls of the Minster and must be manhandled into place along the north and south sides. Each group of three has its own space and if any one of them is out of position the entire beautiful edifice is in danger.
Good soldiers that we are, John and I will check, check and double check each other’s work before we are satisfied, then we can move to Phase Three: getting the essential stores in place and provisioning every single one of the participants.
Each one needs a table of sorts or a stand, plus two chairs for maximum efficiency, plus an inexhaustible supply of electricity to maintain equipment in peak condition for the entire exercise.
Then, infrastructure in place, we must be ready to solve the million and one individual problems that afflict an army at war in the critical moments before action begins. John and I are grizzled old-timers, obviously men with many years of knowledge built up the hard way and so, naturally, the nervous, the new and the inexperienced will come to us for guidance and reassurance.
We shall sort them out; we will pat their shoulders; we may tell them everything will be fine (whether we believe it or not) and then, when the whistle blows, we can finally stand down for a cup of tea and a slice of toast: the essential fuel of the working virger.
And when, a mere six hours later, the skirmishing is over we shall remove any casualties from the field and begin reversing the results of our previous physical endeavours. Why? Well, because we have to get everything ready for the next engagement, the 8am Communion that marks the opening salvo in the next weekly cycle of life in the Minster.
Finally the whole vast internal space in the Minster will be as it was before, ready for action, and we shall finally be able to return to the virgers’ truest and bestest friend – their bed.
And with this article the balance of nature has been restored. Thank you and good night.
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