My life as a bell ringer . . .
IS NOT OVER. You will be glad to hear. Well. You are probably blinking slightly, having not realised there might be a question that it was over. Let me repeat: last Wednesday’s practise was really, really, really bad. Bad bad. Bad to the bone. B-b-b-b-bad. I’d been planning to go to the pub after and . . . I told you I ran out of there. I ran out of there because I couldn’t face the rest of them. Granted I’m a trifle thin skinned about things. Still. It was bad. And I really did come home and wail and moan and wring my hands and consider spending more time on origami.* Gemma was a little late to handbells on Friday, so I had time to do a Sarah Siddons** at poor Niall, who was feeling a bit low himself for having been (according to him, although I’m not sure I believe him) instrumental in losing a (tower) quarter (peal) the previous Sunday. We had got to the point where we were about to swear off tower bells forever and cleave exclusively to handbells, and in another few minutes we’d probably have nicked our fingers and made a blood pact, but fortunately Gemma showed up. She was quite startled at my Lady Macbeth imitation.*** She must be a fabulous family doctor†: she does that calm, patient, rational-as-if-you’re-rational-too-and-just-had-a-bad-minute-there thing superbly. She very nearly cheered me up. And she did at least convince me that my ignominy Wednesday evening had not been complete.
As previously (often) mentioned, I sometimes think my single virtue is frelling obstinacy.†† Sheer mindless persistence I can do. So there was never any real doubt that I would show up at the abbey for Sunday afternoon service ring . . . but I can’t say I was looking forward to it. The not looking forward was getting pretty disagreeable by last night and by the time I got out of bed this morning I wanted to change my name††† and run away. It’s a beautiful gardening day.‡ I could stay home and garden.
What if I turn up and they stare at me in disbelief and say, For pity’s sake go away? —Even if Gemma keeps insisting this isn’t going to happen.
In the first place there were only, and exactly, eight of us. Including me. Which meant that with me they could ring triples. Without me they could ring doubles or minor with the seventh sitting out. Triples is much better. So yaay. I’m useful. (Which has been one of Gemma’s strongest arguments right along: they need Sunday afternoon ringers. You get lots of brownie points if you ring Sunday afternoon service. As well as more time on a rope.) So we rang Grandsire Triples—with me (relatively) safely on the treble.
But the best thing was that I had a chat with Albert. I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t be there for practise next Wednesday‡‡ but that after last Wednesday I thought I should probably revert to doubles and minor till I had adjusted a little more to the (frelling) abbey’s (frelling) bells. And he looked surprised and said oh no, you don’t have to do that, everyone has trouble getting used to these bells, they’re not the easiest bells anyway, the ringing chamber is huge, and the sound is muddy and erratic.
Well . . . yes.
And, he added, last Wednesday was a bad practise. People who have been ringing Grandsire Triples for thirty years were going wrong. It wasn’t your fault.
Oh. Um. I had actually thought there was a little variability elsewhere, but . . .
But the thing he said that really sent me away with a song in my heart if not precisely on my lips, was that when he’d first been ringing here he’d had trouble focussing on each bell rope because, the blasted room being so big, the ropes were so far apart.
Focus. Yes. That’s exactly the right word, and it hadn’t occurred to me (so not a word person as I am), because it’s counter-intuitive. Ropesight is the ability to see which bell you should follow next by PRECISELY where the person ringing it is in their stroke (since everyone ringing will be in a slightly different place than everyone else). Part of the problem at the abbey is that since it has ninety-seven bells, if you’re only ringing six or eight or ten or twelve, you’re in more of a queue than a circle, and you have got used, in smaller towers with fewer bells, to ringing in a circle,‡‡ and your ropesight has probably developed from looking around a smallish, more or less circular, group of bellropes. You would think that having them more spread out would mean each comes into much sharper individual focus but in practise, as I have dreadfully discovered, it seems to have the opposite effect: they all blur together.
So Albert and I have something in common besides being bipedal air breathers with opposed thumbs. Yaaay. And then he said, let’s ring a couple of plain courses of Grandsire Triples, and you ring inside, and you can practise looking. So we did that.
I may still have a future as an abbey ringer. . . .
* * *
* I was just writing to a friend that I’d bought a couple of books on basic origami to remind myself what folding feels like, for SHADOWS, since Maggie is a folder, and a couple of books of extreme origami to see what the . . . er . . . extremists can get up to, and that I could feel the attraction of another obsessive-friendly activity but that I didn’t have time for any more all-consuming pursuits and would probably stick to cranes, which are hard enough, frankly, if you are over-equipped with thumbs. The mere fact of possessing twelve thumbs wouldn’t stop me, you understand, since I don’t hold out for things I have some talent for. See: bell ringing.
*** Out, damned bell rope! Out, I say! One; two: why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky, just like my ropesight!
† Which is what she is
†† Not just plain obstinacy. The frelling kind. Which is much gnarlier.
††† Possibly to K MacFarquhar. Hee hee hee hee hee hee.
‡ Old Blush is out. Barely the middle of May is early even for her. It’ll be another fortnight or so before she’s in peak hurrah, but she’s got three roses full out now. And I have two robins again, so there must be a second nest in prospect. Robin #1 was rushing around yesterday dispensing mealworms but robin #2 sat in the apple tree and stared at me as I galumphed haphazardly, potting things on and swearing. Robin #2 is gigantic. I am not seeing anything about size differential between the sexes in robins—having just hit three robin-info sites^—but if it’s true that dad sticks around to feed the fledglings, the gigantic one is mama. And she’s probably deciding if she wants to risk me. I don’t know if robins re-use their nests? I won’t clear this one away till the end of the year so it’s available at a very reasonable rate, not to mention all the mod cons, like trays of mealworms on the balcony.
^ One does mention that robins are so crazy about mealworms they will take them from human hands. That does, however, mean that the human hand has to be holding the mealworms. I will pick mealworms up when I drop them+ but the idea of standing there . . . um. Peanut butter for the chickadees back in Maine was less lacerating to one’s delicate sensibilities.++
+ And did you know they CLIMB? You want to be certain of your containment vessel.
++ When I first moved over here one of the things I missed the worst was all the wild critters I was used to. Chickadees were very high on that list. It’s hard not to love something that little and cheeky. British robins are out of the same box: little and cheeky. And the funny thing is that I feel that I’ve always lived with British robins.# I know my love of skylarks and brown hares and beech trees is only twenty years old. British robins . . . I can’t imagine life without them.
# American robins are fine. But British robins are the real deal.
‡‡ Fiona and I are going to get into trouble. Unfortunately there were only tickets available for trouble on Wednesday evening.
‡‡‡ Mind you there are some fairly strange layouts in small towers too. But the small part does limit the grievous possibilities.
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