A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A worrisome, wearisome kind of day

Neil Pickford is all fingers and thumbs
I wasn’t really that surprised when I sat down with my laptop and started planning this week’s column to find that my thoughts consisted of the following:
Not a sausage.
It had been just one of those days – you know the sort. You walk into your kitchen in the normal way yet, somehow, you manage to knock a cup that must have been at least three miles from the edge of a table. Then the strange magnetism that attracts china drags the utensil to the floor where it immediately shatters.
And, of course, it’s the family heirloom, isn’t it?
Things just didn’t get any better after that. As it was one of my days off I was helping my dear wife in her wonderful award-winning bed & breakfast (Hunter’s Hall, just visit for details) as we’d had a very busy period. I was on bed-making duties and the corners of the pillows just wouldn’t match up with the cases. Normally I can just slide the darn things in and they look great, but not today.
Naturally the double quilt also managed to perform a corkscrew while being inserted into its cover, and when it came to placing pairs of towels neatly at the foot of each bed they just snagged each other and refused to lie flat. Even when they finally capitulated they didn’t look right and I had to do it all again.
Wiping down the shower screens left smears where normally they would have just glistened and, all-in-all, it was a pretty pooped Pickford who was finally satisfied that everything was shipshape and Bristol fashion (a phrase referring to the round-bottomed ships that were specially designed to moor in that fair city and rest safely on their hulls when the tide went out. Don’t tell me this column isn’t educational). 
 The general air of ‘elbows’ continued for most of the day. I needed to iron some shirts but every time I eased out one crease I managed to create two more elsewhere.  You can also imagine how much fun I had trying to put my contact lenses in.
But I survived all these frustrations – and so did all the inanimate objects around me (except for that first cup, of course). I finally made my way back to my trusty laptop, powered it up and then stared blankly at an equally blank screen, desperate for inspiration but not confident about finding it.
Unsurprisingly, as my mind ranged here and there I thought idly about the Minster and the various concrete (well, stone, actually) examples of ‘thumbs’ that exist slap-bang next to dazzling craftsmanship. Once you start to look really carefully you can see hundreds of little bodges that cover up an awkward piece of workmanship. Back in the 13th and 14th centuries the masons obviously had their own equivalents of the camouflage garden decking that Alan Titchmarsh did so much to popularise.
Over the years John and I have been compiling a list of what we like to call: “Oh whoops” architecture. For example, after building phase one of the Minster it eventually reached the existing Norman nave and the masons stopped work for 70 years. Then they started building from the other end back towards part one. Eventually they knocked down the final wall ready to join together their marvellous gothic constructions – only to find they didn’t match.
“Oh Whoops” they probably said as they realised the beading around the east rim of the window was different to that around the west side. “Never mind, let’s just slap a quick carving over the join – no one will notice.”
And so they did.
The best example, however, is at the back of the reredos – a magnificent edifice of the highest quality that once supported the gold-covered reliquary of St John himself. This was the holiest place of all where wealthy pilgrims would come to pray for miracles.
Before Henry VIII’s religious reformers (and subsequent Protestant purists) removed all traces of colour with wire brushes this structure would have been a riot of pictures, murals and brightness that individuals could study and meditate about for hours. So, obviously, it was the centrepiece of the whole building and every single detail would have been carefully planned and executed.
And yet….. and yet….
Once you look at it carefully you find something that is so very, very wrong that it can’t be anything other than a total Thumbs. The hugely expensive tiles are not just badly laid– they don’t even follow the same alignment from one section to the next.
It makes me humble to know that, no matter what sort of clumsy accident I may have, I am still a mere amateur compared to the experts. I shall approach the task of repairing a large, chipped fish tank (chips and fish – did you see what I did there, readers? Sorry) at home with renewed confidence and my normal blind optimism.
But if you see me sloshing around with wet feet you’ll know I’ve had another day like today.

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