Shattered by bells*
The frelling Olympic torch has been dodging around Hampshire today, although I think it and its frelling cohort** are sleeping in Salisbury tonight. But a lot of local towers are ringing its passage up and down the country. Today this included the Forzadeldestino Abbey.
They’d been sweeping out the corners and under the carpet for volunteer ringers because it was the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week and most people are at work.*** So I put my name down. First hurdle: parking. I frequently miss the practical convenience of ringing at New Arcadia: parking is not an issue when you live a two-minute sprint from your tower. I drove in today over an hour early, ready to circle like a piranha or park in Dorset and sprint really hard. †
And then the torch was late. Of course. First we had the Group Photo(s) of the Olympic Torch Team, standing atmospherically surrounded by bell ropes in our ringing chamber, and then we had the phoning to variously placed external spies†† asking if anyone had seen anything yet. The abbey’s ringing chamber is way way way too large to sustain anything resembling claustrophobia††† but it’s true there are no windows, at least not any you can either get to or peer out of.‡
Finally, about forty minutes after we were due to start, there was a sighting in southern Oxfordshire of a milk float emblazoned with the Olympic logo so we stood to our bells. There were twelve of us, which, with forty-nine bells‡‡, is fewer than desirable, but it’s enough to make a loud bewildering noise and most people outside are not going to say, hey, doesn’t the abbey have forty-nine bells? I only hear twelve. But there were exactly twelve of us which, in the first place, means that I wasn’t being a pathetic wannabe by showing up‡‡‡, and in the second place it meant we all had to ring all the time. Which turned out to be thirty-five minutes without a break. EEEEEEEEEEEEEP. All we rang was plain hunt§ and call changes, although the call changes were a bit of a revelation to me as I didn’t think you could ring call changes at the abbey because of the AMBIENT NOISE. You have forty-nine—er—twelve bells going in a ringing chamber notorious for peculiar acoustics and hearing the conductor saying anything is challenging.§§
But we did it. Which is to say everyone else sailed gallantly through and by minute twenty-three or so I, who am still intimidated to mind-disintegrating terror by ringing at the sodding abbey at all, was thinking, okay, how much longer can I go on without screaming and/or falling over.§§§
I will however draw a veil of discretion over tonight’s practise, which was not one of my finest moments. I was tired, okay? Thirty-five minutes of extreme trepidation is very draining.
But the torch was rung.#
* * *
* With all due respect to John Betjeman. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Betjeman
And, more to the point, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summoned_by_Bells It should not be ALLOWED that you can write an autobiography^ called SUMMONED BY BELLS if it’s not going to have a lot of CHANGE RINGING in it.^^
^ In or out of verse
^^ Me? Blind fanatical prejudice? What are you talking about?
** There are like eighty-three support vehicles, cars, vans, buses, trucks, milk floats, pony traps and palanquins, and a regiment of human staff, drivers, navigators^, press release writers, media interface specialists, security personnel, osteopaths, foot-rubbers and tea ladies. Plus several dozen long-legged actors in fashionable brand-name running gear wearing their best earnest uplifting expressions, a crate of Olympic-style torch replicas and a hell of a lot of matches.^^
^ aka satnav disputers
^^ Me? Blind fanatical prejudice? What are you talking about?+
+ ALMOST EVERYTHING ABOUT THE OLYMPICS IS SO BOGUS~. I’m trying to decide which is more bogus, the Olympics or the royal family. It’s a tough call.
~ Chiefly excepting a lot of blood and sweat from a lot of the athletes. Which makes me sad. But the amount of tax money our precious government has shovelled into this tumefied spectacle makes me sadder.
*** And some of the ones that aren’t . . . wait for it . . . are out in the street, waiting to see the torch go by.
† And then found a spot at my very first secret-local-knowledge place. And had to go to the yarn store , which is in the right part of town, to kill some time.^
^ I didn’t buy anything! Really! But I had a great fondle.
†† I’m told that before there were mobile phones there were walkie-talkies. What the ringers did before walkie-talkies to find out when they should start ringing for special events I have no idea.
††† Although if you’re thus inclined, I do not recommend the final stair.
‡ Nor can you hear, for example, rain drumming on the roof. The weather is often a shock when you descend from your campanological hideaway and re-enter the world.
forty-nine bells and two accidentals
Um…is that literal? I have a bell-ringing (change-ringing and handbells) friend . . . and we were talking about you and the abbey and how many bells it had. Also I can’t visualize the room – I’ve seen bell-ringing chambers, so I can get the general atmosphere, but my visualization go from dots-on-a-football-field (either kind of football) to five feet of space behind (since you say it’s large – as opposed to some I’ve visited where it’s more like five inches…).
The abbey has a formidable number of bells, certainly, but I think Robin was trying to convey a picture of the seeming over-abundance of bells at the abbey compared to ‘normal’ church towers.
Hee hee hee. I’d like to insist on the forty-nine but . . . no. Ajlr is right. And I haven’t been in either Hereford or York Minster so I don’t know, and photos are often misleading, but the abbey ringing chamber looks bigger by some margin than either of the photos Ajlr posted links to. The abbey ringing chamber really is ridiculously large, even if I’m exaggerating a trifle about number of bells. I tell myself it’s better than ringing chambers where you have to breathe shallowly and keep your elbows pinned to your sides at all times (which gives you a very funny stroke) so as not to whack into your neighbours, but . . .
‡‡‡ I was also the only non-member of the abbey band present. They have to know by now I’m trying to cultivate them.
§ I cannot count that high.^ Periodically I’d find myself thinking, nine? Eleven? What?, and ringing by the pattern, which, in plain hunt you can do. Fortunately. And which consideration for the feeble among our number was no doubt also in our conductor’s mind.
^ You’re supposed to count your places as you ring (methods). So if you’re ringing on eleven (if the twelfth is the tenor-behind, as here, you don’t count it because it’s always last) you have to count your way through whichever method, up to eleven every row.+ Counting your places is one of the ways you learn to prevent yourself from going wrong. Well, that’s the theory.
+ Unless, for example, you’re ringing the treble to little bob royal, as I did tonight, where the treble only goes to fourth place every row and then back down to lead again, although there are ten working bells involved. Are you confused yet? Good.
§§ When you’re ringing a method you only have to hear him/her when he yells bob! Or, single!, which are those mix-up-the-frelling-line-further jollinesses in ringing.^ For call changes the conductor has to call every change in order, and you have to hear which bell he’s calling to do what because you never know when it might be you.
^ Or when he yells FOUR! DODGE WITH THE SIX AND GO DOWN TO LEAD! THREE! CLOSER AT BACKSTROKE! FIVE! A PINT OF BEST BITTER AND A DOUBLE ORDER OF CHIPS!
§§§ The answer is, thirty-five minutes, on a good day, when all I’m ringing is plain hunt and call changes. With twelve bells.
# Barely, as it turns out. The torch came by the abbey, finally, at about minute thirty-one, we found out later. But it had been sashaying around the town for a while by then so fine, whatever, we rang the freller.
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