A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

All Change – again

Neil Pickford fiddles about

I made a few decisions last week that will be reflected in the writing I do in future, so it seemed sensible to change my blog slightly – well, quite a bit, actually.

I shall not be writing a weekly column around my work as a virger in Beverley Minster any more. I’ve done it for over four years and there’ are only so many variations you can spin around the news that I’ve shifted some chairs about – again.

So I’m going to be banging on about a wider range of subjects in future, and also want to give an airing to some of my unpublished earlier writing as well. As they won’t necessarily be a view from a virgers’ vestry anymore, but more a series of occasional  outpourings from an overweight, oft-offended observer it made sense to rebrand them.

Hence most of my new work will appear under the title: “The Pickford Papers” (clever- hey?) at the following address:

Hopefully you’ll trek on over there, to read my cornucopia of clever compositions. I will be updating stuff over the next few days so keep coming back, if only to shatter your stereotypes.

And why not?


A load of hot air

Neil Pickford starts thinking

It all began when I was clearing away some of the debris from a parcel I’d received a few days ago. It had contained a rather fine collection of OO gauge cement wagons that complemented a splendid industrial shunter I’d been given for Christmas and so was durable and well-padded.

You’ll probably accuse me of doing something terrible to the future of the High Street by buying on-line but it was entirely understandable: this was a unique offer from a real shop in a real High Street in Merseyside and so I was actually assisting an established real retailer to fight against the rapacious hordes of warehouse-based internet shopping. I’d even been able to select the goods from a printed catalogue which gave the whole thing a suitably authentic and 1960s feel.

Anyway, that’s not important right now.

I was separating the packaging into its component bits to put in the relevant recycling bin: cardboard outer case – tear apart and fold flatly into brown bin. Plastic bubble wrap into blue bin. And then I had a thought. What happens to all the air inside the bubble wrapping? What was the correct thing to do about it?

For a start, is it ‘proper’ air in the first place? Do enormous bubble-wrap-producing plants (probably somewhere in a foul, polluted part of China) just suck up normal free-range air and seal it inside a nominally bio-degradable container, leaving it to lament its tiny, imprisoned existence for the next few dozen decades.

Or is this processed air? You know – factory-produced stuff with all the goodness taken out, and possibly just a bit of horse mixed in to give it added body?  In which case is it better to leave the foul muck trapped and removed from the atmosphere of Planet Earth. In other words, is it in my own self-interest as an inhabitant of Gaia, to keep said air bubbles trapped, allowing fresh air to roam without adulteration. Or am I contributing to my own destruction?

Is it, in fact, a cunning ploy by invading lizards (who already control us via Google) to remove all the good bits of our atmosphere, one internet parcel at a time, until we find ourselves gasping our way to extinction, and handing them the easiest conquest in the history of interstellar war?

Which is the right answer: should I diligently stand with a sharp pin and conscientiously release life-saving ether, bubble-by-bubble, or instead wrap the whole thing in dense packaging to ensure it disappears into landfill, and thus save the world? Well, it’s not an issue on which I feel I can merely stand by and do nothing.

After all, I estimate that there was enough gas in the bubbles surrounding my six Pressflo Blue Circle Cement wagons to fill a good lung-and-a-half. Multiply that by the number of similar parcels sent out by just this one innocent Liverpudlian trader over the course of a day and you’ve probably got the same amount of gas that an average person would inhale during a hearty lunch. Then multiply in all the other traders in the same city who do mail order; then the whole country. Add in the amount that tax-dodging, High Street killing monsters like Amazon seal away every day all around the world and suddenly it’s a worrying statistic.

If I liberated all the sealed bubbles my home has received so far this year I suspect it would be roughly equivalent to the amount of gas I inhale each day at the Minster (including roof tours) and, if my maths is correct, we might run out of free-range air in less than 100 years. Forget saving the rainforests – maybe we should campaign to ‘save the air,’ or: ‘let my people breathe’.

I won’t be able to sleep tonight for worrying about it.

Bright new beginnings

Neil Pickford looks around

As all good resolutions made for the new year fade into history it is time to grab 2013 by the shoulders and look it firmly in the eye. What, my loyal readers are begging, do I think will happen in the forthcoming year?

Well, now we haven’t got things like the Olympics and associated torch-related celebrations coming to our fair town, we must look more to ourselves for entertainment and inspiration – and what better news can there be than the announcement that we will soon be able to open the west end of the Minster churchyard for people to wander around – maybe even picnic in if the weather permits?

Now one or two of you might just remember that this was a prediction I made for 2012 and you may point fingers of scorn at me in consequence. Well, yah boo and sucks back you unforgiving fellows because I did use the word ‘probably’ – and I had my fingers crossed at the same time.

Actually I wasn’t that far out: the council, who have responsibility for maintaining redundant churchyards, did start work on making the area safe last year but it wasn’t possible to complete it in time for summer, so it was decided to aim for this year instead – and work appears to be progressing roughly to plan. So, with any luck, you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the Minster from the outside as well as inside this year.

John and I will be equipped with large, pointy sticks to maintain discipline and make sure everyone is out when we lock up – we’re looking forward to that.

On a more controversial note; by the time you read this a decision may very well have been made on removing/preserving the setts in Saturday Market. I doubt you’ve missed the fact that some people are very upset about this, claiming that they are a wonderful remnant of Beverley’s mediaeval past.

Well, we at Beverley Minster are blessed by the presence of someone who, if they ever appeared on Mastermind, would easily win with their specialist subject ‘Everything about Beverley over the last 100 years – and beyond’. He assures us that the original setts were actually covered over in the 1970s and then lifted, to be replaced in 1986 by setts bought from Hull docks. It is, apparently, these Johnny-come-lately black, rectangular objects that have caused so much angst.

I’m not going to add my own knowledge on the subject because I haven’t got any, except to note that it’s marginally less difficult to push a pram or wheelchair over the setts than it is over the adjacent pavements.  They were a feature of Beverley when I moved here 12 years ago and, frankly, I never really noticed them because I was always distracted by the depressing eyesore that is the rest of the surface in Saturday Market. Good grief, when I was a child we used to park in Bristol on tidier left-over bombsites. It’s a pity we couldn’t all agree on a scheme to beautify the place a few years ago.

Oh, I know we need parking spaces near the shops, but what’s wrong with knocking down the grotty old Minster Towers site by Wednesday Market and extending the existing car park behind it? All talk about housing and shops on the site seems to have died down, so why not?  Be convenient for the Minster too, and counterbalance the pull of the retail development on Hodgson’s old site.

Oh dear, my mind seems to be belting around in all directions at the moment – I blame my medication. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone but, at least, thanks to the Government’s recent decision to amend Section 5 of the Public Order Act it’s not against the law. What a relief.

Many happy returns

Neil Pickford recaps

That’s it. To paraphrase The Terminator: “I’m back.”

For those of you who haven’t been following my every movement over the last three months (or who have very short attention spans) I should clarify that phrase by saying I’ve rejoined the active staff of the Minster for the first time since early October.

The technician who waved a sort of electronic doughnut over me the other day pronounced that a clever combination of plastic, wire and battery was working properly and helping my poor old heart do its job. She also confirmed that I hadn’t disconnected anything while I’d been scratching myself or tidying up my ponytail.

So I had no more medical excuses: I was fit for work.

It was all so familiar, getting into the uniform again. Black, sensible trousers – notch in belt at same place (sadly – I’d been hoping to lose some weight at my extensive Beverley hacienda during this enforced holiday but not an ounce has dropped from my overweight frame. I blame the medication).

White shirt and tie – hang on, how do you do these things up? It’s got to be a big knot to hide the fact I can’t get the collar to meet without turning purple but the simple: ‘flick-of-the-wrist’ technique I once used to do to achieve the effect seemed to evade me on this morning. Brand new Minster jumper and jacket completed the effect and then it was time for the tools of my trade.

First things first – keys in pockets.

As I felt the cold metal shapes slide down my legs I suddenly remembered one particular repair job I should have done on my pocket over the last three months – a simple running stitch would have been adequate, but I forgot. Well, I’ve been busy. 80,000-word fantasy novels don’t write themselves you know and that’s what I’ve concentrated on since my delicate flesh was pierced by a man with a scalpel – and it’s jolly good. I’ll tell you all about it some other time but can tease you with the fact that it starts off in a town very much like Beverley. Then the action transfers to a place remarkably similar to the beautiful countryside where I grew up, before ending in a typically ugly commuter town down south.

Anyway, then it was back to the old wheelchair door, the start of most of my epic daily adventures over the last six years. No problem remembering which key was the one to unlock it, particularly as someone had got there first and opened it for me.

Being a Thursday meant there was a long line of regular tasks to be completed before swinging back the front doors but, to my surprise, I didn’t need a written list to remind me what needed to be done next.

It’s amazing how memory works: I finished off setting up a whole communion service without having to double-check anything then, when it came to my first break, I couldn’t remember where we kept the virgers’ coffee mugs.

All morning I was waiting for the first complaint to hit. Someone was bound to tell me that the paint was hanging upside down or a door was looking slightly funny, but nothing like that happened at all. In fact I was welcomed back so warmly and wished all the best so many times that I ran out of sensible ways to respond in a manly way.

I even did a roof tour, legs working perfectly despite three months of not being used to climb seven storeys the hard way and was buzzing so much at the end of it that I promptly persuaded the group to buy one of my famous CD recordings.

It may not last much longer but, at the moment, it’s good to be back.

An angry New Year

Neil Pickford seethes.

By the time you read this it will be nearly three months since I last pushed a pew for professional purposes. Hopefully I shall shortly be given a clean bill of health and the opportunity to start rebuilding my muscles for the Minster. It won’t be a minute too soon – I fear that the good influence the old building exerts is wearing thin and will soon be a thing of the past if I don’t start topping up on it pretty darn quickly.

This has became increasingly clear over the last few weeks because my blood pressure has been rising, and it’s not due to the mechanical aid in my chest – the cause is thoughts prompted by one of the most overbearing, pompous, pointless, puerile, inadequate wastes of space and money in Britain, the superfluous mound of mediocrity that is The Right Honourable, The Lord Patten of Barnes.

This puffed-up windbag with a remarkable record of irrelevance is currently the part-time, £110,000 per year chairman of the BBC Trust (among his many other jobs, in all of which I’m sure he performs with equal mental agility). Let’s not forget that this is ‘Poll Tax Patten’ who was also the last governor of Hong Kong followed by an ineffectual, well-paid stint as a European Commissioner.  Baron Prescott of Kingston upon Hull has possibly wasted more public money over the years but Patten is certainly entitled to be spoken of in the same tones of awed amazement for the amount of tax-payers money he’s pointlessly squandered – in the specific case I’m banging on about, TV licence-payers’ money.

His annual income from the BBC is equivalent to all one year’s licence fee income paid by more than 750 households. He gave the short-lived director general George Entwistle – (his own choice – a man who was, to any outside observer, clearly a mediocrity who shouldn’t have been trusted with crossing the road), a marvellous parting gift for failure of £450,000. This sum is the BBC’s annual income from nearly 3,100 homes – or in local terms, roughly one third of all the households in Beverley.

On top of that he has defended a regime of extremely generous pay-off and redundancy payments to senior managers (who were obviously surplus to requirements in the first place) . One, Mark Byford, the former director of journalism, received all the licence fees paid by Bridlington last year while Caroline Thompson, the former chief operating officer at the BBC, was given all the income from Driffield and surrounding villages, merely for failing to become the next Director General. Ah, diddums. And all this in a period when local radio, which many people would regard as a cornerstone of the organisation’s public broadcasting brief, is under constant financial pressure.

The internal inquiries into Jimmy Savile (cost roughly equivalent to the fees from another 6,000 homes) led to various expensive managers (total annual cost equivalent to another 6,000 ) not being fired. These were the same people who, the enquiry concluded, “produced a “critical lack of leadership and co-ordination” at the BBC, which was hampered by internal rivalries and “personal animosity”. There were unnecessary “Chinese Walls”, which meant information was not properly shared.”

And yet they are still in expensive BBC non-jobs.

In their rarefied, privileged and highly protected sector of society these Great High Panjandrums  rarely suffer bad consequences flowing from lousy judgements. The organisation protects them as a group and hides the identify of whoever made the decision.  Yet ifyou or I make a mistake we can’t dodge the shrapnel.  I have been brooding on the deep injustice of it all and have concluded that the next Peasant’s Revolt is long overdue.

And, coincidentally, wasn’t most of the 2012 BBC Christmas output (apart from Doctor Who and repeats of ancient programmes) complete and utter cobblers? I suspect the two issues are related.

Oh dear, I hope the doctor lets me get back to work soon because I don’t like the unforgiving person I’m (re)turning in to. Happy New Year.

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