A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Carrying a torch for Beverley

Neil Pickford presents his regrets.

Sometimes it’s hard being a humble scribe, especially when one has been elevated to the heights of celebrity, merely for providing a few hundred words every week to the world-famous Beverley Advertiser. Despite my best efforts at sinking into the background and being inconspicuous I am sometimes dragged forward by my betters and asked – nay, begged – to include something within my tiny divertissements.

Such indeed happened only the other week when I was present, in the background and being generally inconspicuous, while the Olympic torch relay took place in Beverley.

The Minster was hosting a civic reception to mark the event, we had more be-chained officials than you could shake a stick at, if such was your wont; we had the local man who had designed the splendid torches which are carrying the flame around Britain; we had Look North recording the occasion; we had a very popular member of our congregation carrying the torch through town and the former mayor of Beverley had worked hard to erect patriotic decorations around the building.

The Minster catering team had done another excellent job of preparing and presenting food for guests, the mood was happy and, dare I make this sweeping generalisation – yes, I dare – everyone was quite excited. I was photographed holding one of the official relay torches and felt curiously thrilled. People were grinning in all directions.

In fact it was wonderful to be involved with the whole afternoon but then someone suggested it should make the subject of my next column. I had to break their heart: “Sorry,” I said. “Next week has already been written and, of course, the week after will be too late.”

And I felt awful because it had been such a fabulous afternoon, the sun had beamed and the world would have been a much nicer place if I’d been able to record this fact. But I can’t, because, by the time this column gets published, it will be yesterday’s news.

I felt the dilemma acutely: as a human being I wanted to spread happiness regardless of deadline: as a former journalist I was trained to follow the news agenda. So, this, I’m afraid, forces me to discuss the currently unpredictable nature of British weather.

When I’ve actually stuck my head outside my office I see that we have been experiencing pretty much the full collection of extremes, from lipstick-melting heat to goosebump-generating chill, sometimes on the same day. At least this year the wind has yet to repeat a previous triumph, of whisking a bride’s mother’s hat completely over the top of the Minster before depositing it safely in the eastern churchyard – but that could happen any time.

And so…..actually, I don’t know about you but, for the first time in my life as a true-born Brit, I don’t want to talk about the weather. It was all right in the good old days when it didn’t change much – you remember, we had warmish, wettish summers and coldish, dryish winters with a sort of fluctuating bit between each of them. Then: “turned out nice again” was just a bit of idle chatter designed to aid social interaction. Now, when we’ve just been facing a fair recreation of monsoons with attendant flooding, following Sahara-like aridity with the associated hosepipe bans, the topic is just too darned serious to mention casually – and it’s taxing my limited social skills to the utmost.

How I wish I could have written about the Olympic relay and avoided the topic altogether but, sometimes a humble columnist has no control over the words they write. Sorry.



Work, work, work

Neil Pickford is pooped

It was a tiring old week last week – we had our annual REaction event where several hundred pre-teens are given a day of dancing, loud music, quizzes, a bit of learning and a special virgers’ tour as part of their religious education.

This year it ran from Monday to Wednesday which meant I swapped my normal two midweek days off to shout loudly at groups of excited children and wave my arms around in the roof all day for the duration.

John, bless his cotton socks (and aching legs) opted to lead many of the parties up and down the stairs so I thought I’d got the easier part of the day: John thought he’d got the better deal so we were both happy, but my poor ‘ickle throat was vewy, vewy tired at the end of each day and demanded a soothing glass of red wine – for medicinal purposes you understand.

In between these we walked around, gauging the mood of children and visitors and comparing notes. My goodness, you don’t half get some cobblers thrown at you: one year I was indignantly told that a visitor, who had just walked through the main entrance, had been planning this trip for years and it was utterly ruined for her.

I pointed out that the event was due to finish very soon and normal peace and calm would prevail once more – but apparently her trip of a lifetime was only scheduled to last for a total of ten minutes so she couldn’t stay for that.

Another year I was loudly informed that children should be seen and not heard and it was blasphemous to have them running around and having fun. I asked how long it was since they’d last been in a church to worship rather than as a tourist and they told me, with some pride, that they weren’t Christians – which rather undermined their right to lecture us on how to behave in our own building, I thought.

Of course, not everyone was so negative. In fact the vast majority (while wincing at the noise levels) thought it was marvellous to see so many youngsters having a good time in the Minster: “It certainly won’t do them any harm” was a common reaction, “And a few of them might come again.” And we agree.

Anyway, we virgers and everyone else involved with the event – the 11th we’ve hosted – agreed it had probably been the best-run yet and was all very satisfying. We then stripped everything down, packed all the staging away and I was walking out of the door when the ‘phone rang. Stupidly I answered it.

Apparently a concert scheduled for the next lunchtime was not, as we thought, 50 ladies singing from the floor but 150 ladies who required raised staging and seating for all. This was rather unexpected and a huge amount of extra work – and all the more irritating because we had packed the staging away.

As I was flying solo next day John and I decided to tear into the task right then and there. We worked like maniacs and, from first ‘bless’ uttered through clenched teeth to final set-up was a mere two virger-hours (equivalent to six normal man-hours).  I thanked John and he thanked me because he figured those would be the only ones we’d get for our efforts.

And that’s how it turned out because, next morning, I got another phone call telling me ‘sorry, but I’ve got the concerts mixed up. It IS only 50 ladies after all and they didn’t want staging. Sorry’.

Oh, how we laughed.

Over a 20 minute period, I personally set the world record for speedy dismantling of a large stage while not swearing. And then, for some strange reason, I felt rather tired.

I’m told it was a nice concert.

The shape of things to come

Neil Pickford looks back from the future

The Book of the Resurrection

Chapter 1: Verse 1

This chronicle is written by a humble scribe, so humble that he wasn’t even listed on the staff contacts page of the Beverley Minster web site back in the days when evil stalked the land

1)         No one would have believed in the middle years of the 21st century that human affairs were being watched, with annoyance, by intelligences greater than humans. In the days before Black Out (B.O. 20 to B.O. 1) we did wilfully fill our world with radio waves, micro waves and wi-fi communications – yeah unto the nth degree.

2)         And our digital transmissions did also reach out, yeah unto the very distant corners of our solar system, and our neighbours wearied at the 500th repeat of Top Gear on Channel Dave. And verily they were angry and full of wrath and did scheme to make Earth silent again.

3)         The cold eyes of ‘the Googles’ did see all and did harvest this knowledge to create dark despair among us.

4)         Tempted by servants of the evil Googles we did cast aside our ancient knowledge and, verily, we did embrace the world of the false god Digital. Yeah, we did foolishly convert all our hard-won wisdom and Harry Potter stories into digital format which we did then verily migrate unto the ‘cloud-based’ model until we did not use paper or common sense any more, wherein did lay our error.

5)         And then did the Googles send their servant, the Electro Magnetic Pulse, which did verily fry all our satellites and did also verily black out all electronic gismos and Xbox Live machines and electronic control systems in automobiles and televisual images and electronic mail communications and satnav systems and electronic books, yeah even unto the DCC chips in expensive Hornby model locomotives. OHornbhOH

6)         And there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the land and people of blameless character rent their clothes, while men and ladies of blameful character stopped rending their clothes because there was no one to take pictures of them. And civilisation did collapse and everyone was sore afraid.

7)         But there were in those times servants of the old true God, the God who gave trees that they might be tended and harvested and turned into paper and used to record and spread knowledge plus amusing little weekly vignettes under the title: “View from the Vestry” And these loyal servants they did call ‘Virgers’ after the powerful metal rod that each did carry to persuade all men and women- yeah, and even children – to get out of their way.

8)         And there were among these virgers two of who were granted the power to save the people of the earth and they were called Car Park Johnny and his acolyte and humble scribe Yours Truly.

9)         For verily they did look upon the despair of the world around them as people starved because they could not order online and have things delivered or because they did not know how to find the nearest convenience store without SatNav.

10)    And, thusly, they sent out a cry. “Come all ye stricken, ye starving, ye frightened, ye lost, and we can help you. And, verily, once ye know the way, ye shall be able to help those around you.”

11)    And so the people did come for what hope they did hold out. They could find the Minster easily enough because it stuck up over the countryside for miles and they didn’t need SatNav to find it – which was just as well as they couldn’t walk very far. And when they arrived at the Minster they were astounded at the wonders inside for, verily, there was light without beamed electric power, and the virgers did verily describe how to use candles.

12)    And, having seen such wonders, the people wanted to come back for more knowledge and, verily, the virgers did provide a miracle and showeth the peoples an kind of exercise machine that moved along the ground and carried people if they were great in faith and did not fall off and it made it easy to travel around once more, and they called it a bicycle and it was good.

Here endeth Chapter 1.

Incidentally, and coincidentally, due to the irritating policies of Google’s Blogger facility the archive of my writings has been moved to a new web address: Nearly 200 rib-tickling or anger-inducing articles all in one easy-to-find digital area – ironically.

A plague on their houses

Neil Pickford deplores modern management.

Sorry, but I’m a bit angry this week, so if you want a relaxing read I recommend you turn to the gardening article on another page.

I believe there are two curses in modern life. Actually, I believe there are many curses in modern life but one that is well up in my top ten is the fallacy that individuals can run organisations without the slightest practical knowledge of the industry that they are ‘managing’.

Years ago managers were either born into the role or were gradually elevated from the shop floor, having shown exceptional knowledge, intelligence, flexibility or years of boot-licking servility. For all their faults these systems at least engendered a basic knowledge of the product being dispensed by the process – and the people doing it.

Nowadays we have a professional class of parasites, educated in jargon and buzzwords, whose life-experience revolves around meetings and computer terminals. This leads to a total disconnection between the managers and those people, products and services they are managing – and we all suffer because of it.

Another curse, as I have argued in the past, is the modern spreadsheet whereby various facts are collected which then seem to have equal value with every other fact on the screen. In such a world the death of 10,000 people has the same impact as the death of 10,000 ants.

Bring these two mindsets together and you have ‘the perfect storm’ – decision-making without experience and without the ability to discriminate. The workforce ceases to be an asset but becomes a commodity – as does the customer and everything else connected with the service.

This management madness currently infests the health and social services, as I shall demonstrate with a tale of undersized incontinence pads.

Did you know that a decision has been taken by an anonymous oaf at high level that all people who have been receiving home-deliveries of such essential NHS equipment up till now will henceforth get pads that are one size smaller than previously supplied.  It’s an economy measure, apparently.  

Now I’m quite prepared to say that, as a nation, we’ve got to make savings: the last Government was spending public money as if their pockets were on fire and it all had to be reined back. But does it really reduce the level of international indebtedness to provide everyone, and I mean everyone, with pads that don’t soak up everything they should? No, of course not – in fact it increases costs because bedclothes have to be washed more often.

Full-time carers are less productive the next day as a result of being woken up in the middle of the night because a bed is wet and someone is crying for help.  Oh, and you use twice as many pads anyway. But, on the spreadsheet, a cost–saving has been made and so the manager is well on the way to promotion and a bigger pension. The hours of time lost by everyone else as they deal with the unhappiness that flows from this is unquantified and, therefore, does not exist.

Would people with common sense try to save money by buying themselves smaller sized shoes that crush their feet, or shirts with collars that are much too tight? Of course not, yet these parasitic professionals in their polished palaces of puerile pomposity can make similarly stupid decisions for other people with impunity.

One thing that might prevent such mindless management from taking root, to reduce heartlessness and inhumane results, is ensuring that people in such roles have a degree of commonsense and empathy – which, after all, is how the main faiths teach us to behave to fellow humans.

Now I’m willing to bet that the individual who took the decision to reduce the size of night-time incontinence pads is a non-believer – and I believe it’s time to take a stand on behalf of people with faith against those who have none.

I currently have two boxes of unwanted incontinence pads which I would be quite happy to deliver to …….well, I won’t say where, but I’ll bet many of you would like to watch.

Post Navigation