A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

An unwelcome emotion

Neil Pickford feels uncomfortable

I don’t often ‘do’ guilty – largely, I suppose, because I very rarely do anything wrong.

That’s not to say that I don’t feel the emotion every now and then because, occasionally, random electrical pulses in the brain revive an old memory.

You know the sort of thing: naïve, childish errors; phrases that went the wrong way; gestures that were misinterpreted. Even then it’s normally toe-curling embarrassment rather than guilt which hits me first and, to cure this, a few seconds of mental self-flagellation usually sorts me out.

Guilt itself is a much deeper-rooted emotion that, at its most developed, can coil insidiously around your whole existence, choking any little green shoots of happiness that would otherwise grow into something substantial.  Long ago I discarded the image of Hell as being somewhere with flaming pits and demons. Instead I picture an endless array of sealed rooms, each with one occupant, whose guilt button has been turned up to eleven – forever.

So you’ll appreciate that I don’t just throw this ‘G’ word into the mix casually. You may also now have a good understanding of the depth of my feelings when I popped into the Minster a few days ago.

On that particular day the Minster was filled with brightly-decorated Christmas trees, there was a large stage assembled for a concert on the next evening, and there were a further 15 or so special events still to come before Christmas, each with their own unique set-up.

Last year I  was part of the two-man team which constructed and dissembled all this but, as I’m currently not allowed to lift as much as a coffee pot until my consultant signs me off the Minster has called in Kevin, whose job description is, normally, to step in for John or me when we’re on holiday.  Instead of which he’s been doing all my work for the last two months and I have to say he looked ‘crackered’ when I saw him. I, on the other hand, was just wandering around like a simple civilian, looking at that huge collection of pine needles and glistening confectionary, and simply thinking how pretty it was.

Last year I’d have been concerned with the yards and yards of cabling and dozens of multiplugs that were running along the walls to power the twinkling lights. I’d have been thinking of how and when we could get our Henrys out once the trees were taken down on Monday to remove at least 90 per cent of the needles and broken decorations that would be carpeting the aisles. I’d have been worrying about how best to set up the chairs for the next concert. I’d have been checking there were no children playing around in a manner that might damage one of the lovingly-crafted exhibits.  I’d have been doggedly thinking about what time I’d be going home each evening next week – quite a while after every last concert-goer had finally left the building. But this year I was a mere gadfly flitting from one bright object to another without a care.

It was so very easy, even for me, to overlook the sheer amount of work that had gone on behind the scenes and when I realised this I felt very guilty about not playing my part.

So spare a long thought for the caretakers, the cleaners, the postmen, the couriers, the temporary shop staff, the men in vans, the packers and, dare to whisper it, the virgers who are all extra-busy at the moment.

And, perhaps, after I’ve nagged you into remembering the hard-working people behind the scenes then I won’t feel so guilty about not being one myself.

Here’s hoping – and a Merry Christmas to both my readers


Looking back, looking on

Neil Pickford examines his emotions

I went to Bristol last week.

I realise this may not merit front page headline treatment in the minds of most of you, my loyal readers, but it was significant to me. You see, that was my home for 20 years, prior to moving ‘oop north.  In those two decades I had the privilege of editing two local weekly newspapers, up to four monthly county magazines at a time and various other quarterly business and specialist print publications.

I interviewed people for national and regional publications, sometimes repeatedly. I got to visit the homes of famous people – in other words, I knew the ins and outs of that city even better than the back of my rather uninteresting hand. And, frankly, after 20 years I felt I’d rolled the dice so many times that the corners were worn down.

And then we left.

I’ve only returned twice in the last 12 years, both times for funerals, neither gaving me an opportunity to go sightseeing around the old place.  So this time I opted to spend a few hours just revisiting.

Now some people I know just can’t leave their past behind: they continue to revisit their old homes or stamping grounds whenever they can. Me, when I close a door on one room in my life I tend to slam it on the way out and then turn the key in the lock. So it was with a genuine sense of curiosity that I examined my feelings as I found myself in once-familiar streets.

The human mind is odd. Twelve years on and, when I saw the rush hour traffic stretching down into the centre via Whiteladies Road (where the BBC is) I automatically started thinking about ways to avoid delays. Instantly I was in the groove.

It was as if I’d never been away: effortlessly slipping from one back road to another I was checking in to my hotel while the car formerly in front of me was probably still gazing at the ‘Christmas Sale’ poster two shops down from where I’d left it.

I went into my old church – new faces but same smell. A few nice new display units but otherwise the place felt exactly the same as in 1999. The old Dixieland jazz pub near the waterfront looked the same and, lo-and-behold, The Blue Notes were still playing there on Sundays, even though their lead clarinet player died yonks ago. The old office across the road where I endured six months of late-night hells putting a newspaper to bed: well, the newspaper is long-gone but I recognised many of the weather stains on the concrete.

The shopping centre has been extended and, sorry patriotic Hullians but, if you’re super-proud of St Stephen’s arcade then you really need to get out more – the Cabot Centre in Bristol starts from the same box of bits as that glitzy new thing next to Paragon station but then goes on to become something totally transformational.  And yet it still felt like Bristol.

So what is it that makes a place into a character, a set presence in the memory? I pondered long and hard, but then came the conclusion it’s nothing to do with the place but everything to do with your perspective. In Bristol I dealt with thousands of people over the years but most touched me lightly, whereas avoiding pointless traffic jams was a major consideration to me.

Not very sociable of me I know, but them’s the facts ma’am.

It just goes to prove the old adage (which I’ve just made up): the more you travel, the more you learn about yourself.

And I didn’t meet anyone who remembered me either, so I guess it balanced out.

A good investment

Neil Pickford plays the market

I know we’re coming up to Christmas and so it is bad form to talk about house prices, but sometimes the news agenda comes along and rudely kicks everything else aside. Given that my own musing was unceremoniously elbowed in the ribs last week by such an interruption I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject.

And the subject itself is the cost of buying a house in a market town. Now I’m not going to debate whether having a ready supply of inexpensive housing to encourage new families to move into an area is a good thing (although it’s difficult to see how primary schools can keep going if they don’t) but let’s just accept the status quo for now.

A report t’other day said that market towns are becoming some of the most expensive UK destinations to live in and the cost of buying a house in a market town is higher than in the surrounding county. The report compilers speculated that market towns were popular because they allowed urbanites to escape to a more rural lifestyle, without losing most amenities such as shops.

I disagree.

When I looked at the list of the towns with the highest premiums over their near neighbours: Beaconsfield (west of London), Winchcombe in God’s own county of Gloucestershire and Tenterden in the stuffed-shirt county of Kent, my mind made a sudden connection – preserved railways.

Forget Beaconsfield for the moment because it doesn’t fit my argument (although it has no need or opportunity to create a preserved railway as it still has its original one). Instead look at Winchcombe, the northern terminus for the 12 mile-long preserved Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway: then Tenterden, the headquarters of the 11.5 mile Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Or take Bakewell in Derbyshire, which is the premium-priced market town in the county and currently the target for an extension of the preserved Peak Railway line from Matlock.

I think you can see where I am heading with this. For quite a few years there has been a small but persistent campaign to reopen the Beverley to York railway line as a modern commuter route, using most of the old trackbed which still exists – and I’m a member. However, things have gone a bit quiet this last year because, basically, it needs a big commitment from someone to persuade the government to put money into it.

However, as London tends to ignore northern transport apart from the Birmingham to Manchester axis it might be sensible to consider something else, something that can utilise local talent, energy, enthusiasm and resources. Something that doesn’t require someone in Whitehall to have endless meetings to debate not signing a cheque for millions of pounds for East Yorkshire; something that creates value locally and ploughs any profits back into the local community. Can you see what I’m thinking?

After all, the Yorkshire Wolds Railway restoration project has just received planning permission to create a centre at Wetwang, first step in a scheme to reopen at least part of the Driffield to Malton line for tourism and, frankly, what’s Wetwang got that we haven’t?  There’s loads of places where we could bung down a few bits of track and slap an old locomotive in place to get going.

And if we got a line up and running to Market Weighton and beyond maybe we could ultimately lease the track to an operating company who will carry on to York with a modern commuter service around or alongside whatever heritage locomotives are pulling in the tourists during the summer.

C’mon guys, let’s work together on this one. As you can see from the examples above, if you want to push up the value of your house forget investing in cutting edge plumbing or a new conservatory. Stick your money into some old railway sleepers and you’ll be quids-in.

I’ve got two in my back garden already.

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