November 24, 2011



In the first place, I had scrambled eggs, Nina had soy sausage* and Peter had leftover lamb stew.**

            But the real mood of thanklessness and festive unjollity was established earlier in the evening.  Colin is threatening to give up handbells.

            He’s been ringing handbells about two and a half years.  He’d had minor surgery that was going to keep him out of bell towers for a while and the idea of no method ringing at all was making him twitchy.  And I think he’d had it in the back of his mind that he was going to give handbells a go some time. 

            He picked it up instantly, of course.  That’s the result of forty years and four hundred million peals and keeping everybody else straight in the tower.  We—Niall, Colin and I—were ringing touches of bob minor by the end of his first evening on handbells.  They were a little ragged, but they were nonetheless genuine touches of bob minor.  It took me years to get to the ragged touches of bob minor stage. 

            The thing is, he’s never gotten a lot better.  He’s got some better, and he can bodge through anything on handbells because he can ring anything in the tower***—but he has never morphed into the fabulous handbell ringer that I had confidently† predicted he would be at the end of his first six months.  He still trips and hesitates—even on bob minor.

            But Colin with a pair of handbells in his hands does mean that Niall and I can ring handbells on Thursday evenings in New Arcadia.  Gemma?  Gemma—who was not there again tonight—is not going to make a handbell ringer.  She’s a doctor, she has a life and a family, she has too much else going on.  She doesn’t have the time—or, I imagine, the brain energy—to learn handbells.  Handbells are a difficult skill.  If Colin goes, that’ll be the end of Thursday evening handbells at Rose Cottage. 

            And tonight—okay, after derailing an attempt at a Thanksgiving quarter peal—out of the blue Colin said that he’d decided he was going to give handbells a final, make or break, shot—he’s going to try to ring a full peal on handbells with a couple or three tower-bell friends of his who are also demon handbell ringers.  I am a sort of bottom-level soggy-porridge handbell ringer, and even Niall is only demon third class, although he’s getting there.  Colin seems to think that his stratospheric friends will either shock him into precision, or confirm his decision that he is not a handbell ringer.†† 

            If we fold, it won’t be a disaster for Niall:  he already rings handbells three other nights a week, and is perfectly happy to drive to Vientiane for a full peal of quadruply spliced Doohickey Splendour Royal, and then drive home again.  I don’t have time either to drive to Vientiane, even if I’m hitching a ride with Niall, and I sure as frell don’t have the time to learn Doohickey Splendour.  Niall will doubtless—because he can’t bear the idea of even a soggy-porridge††† handbell ringer going to waste—try to find other opportunities to foist me on . . . I mean, to find another band for me to ring with.  But it’s going to take alchemy and transmogrification.

            And I’m already (justifiably) pessimistic about the tower bell situation in this area.

            Maybe Colin’s handbell peal will be a dazzling, exhilarating success, and he’ll come back to his next Thursday night with us on fire to ring . . . uh, Doohickey Splendour.  In which case as an offering to the Gods of Handbells I will learn it.  And maybe he was having a gloomy night tonight and he’s not quite as near the end of his tether as he says.‡ 

            But I do know what he’s talking about, about his handbell ringing.  I’d MUCH rather he rang than stopped—there’s also the little matter of him being a nice guy and easy to have around—and he only winds me up when he’s trying.‡‡  An awful lot of the good handbell ringers are very intense and just being in the same room with them makes me green and queasy—or they’re like the Mean Man the other week who wants perfection or he’s going to drop-kick you into the next county.  I’d rather ring with Colin.  And knowing he’s a bit erratic helps keep me in line. 

            But I understand how a hot shot tower ringer might not want to hang around indefinitely doing ringing that he’s not really good at.  It would be like me writing Sudoku or travel guides to Papua New Guinea or economics textbooks—I’m not built for it and I would not be good at it.  And it wouldn’t take me two and a half years to bail.

            But . . .


* * *

* She’s a vegetarian.  But they smelled really good and I’ll have the rest of them on Saturday when she and Peter are playing bridge.  

** Peter and I talked about Thanksgiving.  But . . . neither of us really eats all that much any more, it happens right after my birthday^, Peter’s birthday is in three weeks and then it’s Christmas.  And yes, there’s a turkey for Christmas.^^  So we talked about Thanksgiving and . . . 

^ Which when I was younger and on better terms with more calories just made it value-added:  coming to the end of the birthday cake was made much less tragic by the immediate prospect of pumpkin, mince and apple pies.  

^^ I have retained a few of my American standards, and a turkey at some late-year holiday is necessary.  

*** This is, you can believe, a source of deepest and wildest frustration to me.  I can only ring on handbells what I have spent hours and hours and HOURS learning^—since the advent of the bell-ringing programme on Pooka, I can at least put in my hours and hours and HOURS privately, without ruining anybody else’s day(s).  It’s still hours and hours and HOURS

^ Methods on handbells are harder than on tower bells.  Don’t let anyone+ tell you different. 

+ Niall, for example. 

† And despairingly 

†† The point about a full peal, for those who ring them, which would not include me, is that there is, or should be, in a peal that goes well, a long stretch after everyone has settled down when the band fuses into a single many-roped monster and the ringing really flows along.  You do get this effect to a much lesser degree in a good quarter peal—which I have rung on occasion—but it is (I’m told) more dramatic in a full peal because a full peal goes on so much longer.  It’s this stage that Colin wants to find out if he can reach on handbells.  If he does, then our Thursday nights probably have a future.  If he doesn’t . . . 

††† I am at least a soggy-porridge first class handbell ringer.  But the sort of thing Niall rings the other three nights of his handbell week are the equivalent of the Grand National when Pony Club gymkhanas still scare you to death. 

‡ Although he didn’t give the impression of being gloomy.  There are . . . perhaps more than the usual number of All Stars just inside the front door at the cottage at present, and I was doing my coming-back-ten-seconds-before-the-others-arrive^ trick tonight and didn’t have a chance to shovel them out of the way.  I was pulling harnesses off hellhounds when I heard Colin’s voice behind me saying, Robin, how many feet do you have? 

^ Which is still much better than the five minutes after they arrive trick. 

‡‡ See previous footnote. 

‡‡‡ Colin doesn’t have a date yet for Peal of Destiny.  I’ll let you know.


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