Neil Pickford reflects ruefully on humanity
Over the years I’ve evolved slightly. Once upon a long time ago I wasn’t really interested in other people en bloc but tended to deal with them one-to-one. Crowds were things I chose to avoid and, consequently, group behaviour was something of a foreign land to me.
Over the last few years of working in the Minster, however, I’ve had a chance to broaden my knowledge; presented with a constantly changing mix of groups and individuals who, overall, share only one common characteristic: they are inside Beverley Minster. And yet certain patterns of behaviour do emerge from this random mix.
As we virgers have such a huge amount of spare time available to us when we’re on duty I decided to fill some of it by observing my fellow humans within this environment and, to my surprise, it was jolly interesting.
Hopefully you’ll find it interesting as well or this week’s article will be a dead waste of time for both of us, won’t it?
Anyway – let’s jump in and start discussing the subject of coffee – aha! I can see I’ve got your attention already, haven’t I?
For the last few months, following a brilliant brainwave by Head Virger John Dell (he who must be obeyed) we have been offering pour-your-own coffee (Freetrade, classic Columbian) and make-your-own tea in the transept to help people who expect us to provide drinks and meals on site.
Don’t think we haven’t looked into the possibility of providing a full café service by the way, because we have. Currently we just don’t get enough people through the doors to justify an outside caterer providing the service, but it’s too much work for our own pool of volunteers to do properly. Consequently we virgers have attempted to fill the gap with a partial solution.
Naturally we’re much too busy people-watching to actually serve the drinks ourselves or operate a till (and you also wouldn’t want to see me in a white pinny, I can assure you), so we have an honesty box – and this is where the interesting stuff begins.
We started off just putting out a simple bowl under a sign that suggested a donation of £1 per cup and, lo and behold, people normally put in a £1 coin or two 50ps, something like that. We sometimes had a mismatch between the amount of coffee taken and the total in the pot but that was fine because, well, sometimes people just don’t have the right change, or they may be volunteers who have thoroughly earned a free cup. I’ve even poured myself one without putting money down.
But then we noticed that sometimes there wasn’t as much money in the bowl in the afternoon as there had been before lunch so we wondered if someone was absent-mindedly removing change rather than donating some. So, to avoid any such embarrassing confusion, we put out a piggy-bank to hold the money and – (and this is the interesting bit, I promise) – our takings went down!
Oh, there were still coins inside the box but, instead of £1 and 50p pieces there were 10 pences and copper coins in profusion. Whereas, with an open bowl we might expect to receive between £3 and £8 on a typically quiet day we were now getting 42p – and the coffee sachets cost us £1 each.
So we retired the box, dug out the open bowl again and, voila! a minimum of £4 a day once more, usually in decent-denomination coins. Provided we remember to empty the bowl at lunchtime then there is usually another batch of £1 coins that mysteriously appear in the afternoon session.
Interesting, isn’t it? To me this provided a dazzling insight into humanity and its different forms of behaviour when seen and not seen. But you probably already knew it, didn’t you?
Anyway, next week, I shall continue to discuss what a funny old world we live in, using the supply of incontinence pads as my theme. I expect you’ll hardly be able to contain yourselves, waiting for that one.
‘Til then, fellow students of the human condition…..