A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The virgers’ guide to total fitness

Neil Pickford gets himself in shape

Long-term readers (i.e. people who saw my column last week) will know that I am currently ‘resting’ as I recover from a minor operation. Sadly it wasn’t a total success and so I shall have to return to the bountiful care of the NHS for a small tweak which will keep me out of action until Christmas.

It’s a long time, too long to keep the rest of my body in the pristine athletic condition it currently enjoys (he said, without a hint of self-awareness). So I’ve been very carefully drawing up an exercise regime so I can ‘hit the road running’, so to speak, on my return.

First, and most important, I have to climb stairs. Now, due to a mistake made when my house was built back in the 1930s, we have 14 steps from ground to first floor. This turns out to be absolutely brilliant for my purposes as climbing these stairs eight times is (almost) exactly equivalent to ascending the 113 steps to our central tower and the world-famous roof tours provided therein.

So, at least three times a day I am clumping up and down in a concentrated burst of thigh and calf muscle development that should see me able to shame all but the fittest visitor in the New Year. It should also mean that I could kick a football with a single hoof all the way from my front garden to the Westwood, clearing Minster School en route. This could become a very useful virgers’ technique when shifting kneelers from one end of the church to the other.

It goes without saying that chair-shifting is a hugely-important part of the job so it’s important not to lose upper body strength. Sadly, that’s exactly what’s happened as a result of the surgeon’s knife and so, as an alternative, I shall be creating a structure that I can wear suspended from my waist that resembles the prongs of a fork-lift truck.

After a serious regime of crouching and rising I should be able to build up my lower body strength to compensate and lift pews with this technique, using my one good hand to steady them.

This might actually turn out to be a far better way of working than the one involving a sack truck and a lot of wobbling that we currently use. I’m considering patenting it to provide me with an income in my pension-lite old age. Obviously there will be special discounts for virgers who copy The Pickford Way; perhaps the Church of England could buy a sort of overall annual licence, like you do with photocopying these days.

I don’t know: it’s something I need to work on.

My virge will also turn out to be very helpful – it’s not super-heavy but there’s enough metal in it to make it into a useful weight to rebuild wasted muscles on my left side.  A few weeks of working out with that, once I’m given the all clear to lift my hand above my shoulder, and I should be able to bulk up my left side to match my right – otherwise it’s a lop-sided me that you’ll encounter in the Minster (think Charles Laughton in Hunchback of Notre Dame).

Finally, I need to practice my smile – it’s compulsory for virgers to be constantly beaming brightly and, I have to admit, I’m not as good at that as I should be. By the time I return to action I shall be like the proverbial ray of sunshine – or perhaps that’s a step too far.

Hmmm, yes. Methinks I should lower my sights somewhat to something slightly more realistic. After all, I want to be still recognisable when I do return.


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