Return to New Arcadia (sort of)
When I quit the New Arcadia bell tower back the beginning of the year, that was, I knew, the end. I quit knowing that I was not going to be able to ring my bells again, that the foremost irony of the situation was that I was quitting, finally, over the staggering mishandling of my (rejected) attempt to contribute to the bell restoration fund. So I was not only not going to be ringing my bells, I was not going to be ringing my beautifully renovated, refurbished and restored bells. And, because I live two garden walls over from the churchyard, I was going to have to hear them ringing—every Sunday morning, anyway,* even if I was careful to arrange to be down at the mews with the doors and windows shut on Friday evenings.**
And I started ringing at the abbey. Which unequal struggle has been well documented here.
But my understanding of human groups is not very good, partly because I’m just stupid about human groups but partly because I haven’t actually had a lot of experience of human groups. I’ve spent most of my life dedicated to staying out of any occupation that requires teamwork because your average human is as daft as a brush*** and daftness rises geometrically when constrained in groups. I do know the ringing world is a small one and (inevitably) the local ringing world is even smaller. But . . .
But I wasn’t expecting my other ringer friends not to lay off talking about New Arcadia.† I wasn’t expecting to be asked to ring for a few occasions when New Arcadia were short-handed, although I was grateful to be invited to ring at the two funerals of people who meant something to me too. Probably most of all I wasn’t expecting the sheer bloody-minded persistence of Niall.†† He has this misleadingly mild-mannered affect, but he is a [censored. Censored censored]. Mind you I was very very grateful that the ringing master of New Arcadia was still talking to me at all††† but . . . shut up, Niall. Shut. Up.
I’m not sure when I decided okay, whatever, I’d come to tower practise again . . . some day. But the abbey goes on holiday for most of August, and it’s mid July already‡, and I need somewhere to ring. I’m not even sure when I decided this was the week for a dramatic return, but when Niall pointed out that it was Friday the 13th . . . clearly this was an omen, and I had to come. ‡‡
And then . . . as when I’ve been there on invitation . . . the admin said hello immediately, so that was all right. And then . . . you know how every now and again the fates throw you a chocolate chip cookie instead of a flaming brand? ‡‡‡ I had a really good evening. I’d been assuming I’d be fairly paralytic with anxiety but was hoping that I’ve been ringing enough years for pity’s sake to get through some basic method or two without total humiliation, whereupon the First Return Jinx would be over with and I could go on from there (or not). And then . . . well, insofar as an essentially mediocre, wrong-shape-of-brain, rhythm-challenged, jerky middle-aged ringer is ever golden, I was golden.
It was great.§
On my way out I heard Vicky saying (to someone else) that they were going to be short on Sunday. Nooooooo, I thought, let’s not rush into anything. But I actually found myself up and dressed this morning and halfway through a cup of sustaining caffeine when, if I were going to ring at New Arcadia, I’d need to be putting my shoes on. Nooooooo, I thought, let’s not rush into anything. But I heard the bells going up—five. Oh, well, five, I thought. Five’ll do.
And then one of them went away. They were ringing minimus! Four bells! Four bells is sad!
I put my shoes on. I sprinted for the tower, as I have sprinted so often before. Vicky started laughing. Minimus, she said, means ‘Come. And. Help. Us.’ Bong. Bong. Bong. Bong. The missing ringer returned.§§ We rang doubles and minor.
I had a good time.
I have no idea where this is going, except that I still want to join the abbey if they’ll have me—if they’re desperate enough for ringers who will show up to ask me.§§§ But if there’s a way to ring informally, unofficially, dismemberedly, at New Arcadia . . . without anyone getting in anyone else’s face . . . I’m up to give it a try. I’d like to give it a try. That tower is still two garden walls over from my cottage, and those are my bells.
* * *
* Sunday mornings have been bad. Even after I learned to sleep through the ringing—mostly—with my bedroom door shut, the bathroom window closed, and a pillow over my head.
Not bad enough, however, to make me ring early service at the abbey. There are limits to self-inflicted trauma. And Gemma does keep telling me that early service is reasonably well attended. It’s the afternoon service ring they’re chronically short for. Which suits my getting up in the morning style very well.
** Which of course didn’t work, especially after we started ringing handbells at the cottage Friday evenings right before tower practise. The tower bells are ringing by the time I’ve put stuff away, washed the tea mugs and stuffed hellhounds into harnesses to hurtle back down to the mews—and the sound hurtled after us. I tried simply fleeing out the door immediately after Niall and Gemma left, but then the Marie Celeste quality of the untouched post-handbells cottage when we got back again at bedtime was too depressing.
*** Which deliciously insane phrase is another reason to . . . well, maybe you don’t have to live in England, but you have to be English enough one way or another to use this phrase without looking . . . erm . . . as daft as a brush?
† Indeed Colin came closer to major blood loss on one or two occasions than perhaps he realises.
†† Whose head I really did take off at the shoulders fairly soon after I left, in response to an ill judged remark.
††† And—ahem—ringing handbells with me
‡‡ I was planning on slinking in behind Niall and Gemma and then Gemma came up with this meretricious plan to visit her mother. Couldn’t she have visited her mother on Saturday?
Niall thought it was very funny I wouldn’t go up to the ringing chamber in front of him. Feh.
‡‡‡ And you almost drop it because you were expecting the flaming brand.
§ We started with St Clements which I barely know. It’s not difficult and I ought to be able to ring it, but that doesn’t mean I can. And we cracked through a beautiful course of it. Roger was positively startled.^ They had a good turn-out^^ so we got to ring triples and major (seven with tenor-behind, and eight working bells). I rang a FLAWLESS^^^ touch of Grandsire Triples. YAAAAAAAAAAY GRANDSIRE TRIPLES. I rang a plain course of bob major, which is another of these things I ought to be able to ring but# . . . I rang a plain course of Stedman Triples.
I live. I am a ringer.##
^ In a good way.
^^ One of Niall’s moans is that the band is so weak. I keep saying, every time I hear you you’re ringing something fancy on eight, don’t give me the poor mouth. And he says they’re entirely dependent on their visitors. Okay. I see what he means.
^^^ . . . what passes in my case for flawless. I was in the right place all the time and my striking wasn’t too dire.
# “It’s just like bob minor only with two more bells”. Uh huh.
§§ Niall is on call. He managed to convince whoever it was that no one was going to die and that his bell tower needed him worse.
§§§ It seems to me however that the moral to my story is that ringing at the abbey is very good for . . . my ringing elsewhere. Sigh.
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