Dogs and Bells
Yesterday and today we’ve had several more interesting encounters with other dogs and hellhounds have not reacted so they haven’t morphed into little paranoia machines at least—at least not yet. Siiiiiigh. People are insane. The real wonder is that most dogs aren’t more insane. One of the more interesting encounters was with another of these frelling gigantic black Labrador things—I don’t know what the hell they really are, what they’ve been crossing proper Labs with to get these monsters, but I hate them. You do still meet nice old-fashioned Labs—it’s a bit like Alsatians. There are the old-fashioned kind that are probably nice and the hot new huge streamlined kind which probably aren’t. Gigantic Labs are bad news.
We saw this one at the far end of a long corridor of footpath. I cranked hellhounds in and we stopped, which some owners recognise as a request to put that damn dog on a lead.* In this case, okay, she did. But as she came abreast of us she said pityingly, oh, aren’t yours good with other dogs? —while hers was standing on his hind legs and clawing the air. Bloody thing is as tall as I am, and she could only hang onto it because she had it in one of those hackamore things that shut off its breathing. FrgggfffffrrrrrrGAAAAAAAAH PEOPLE. Granted I think it was more or less friendly in that cartoon way where the thing knocks you down and stands on your chest while it smothers you with licking . . . but LIFE IS NOT A CARTOON. Make a note.**
Meanwhile . . . I did drag myself in to the abbey this afternoon. Waaaaaaaah. I so didn’t want to. I didn’t tell you just how bad it was on Friday. But utterly humiliating doesn’t cover it. I had said to Albert on the way out that I was sorry, I seemed to have left my brain behind, and he was completely calm and said, oh, everyone has a bad night occasionally . . . which is a little like saying oh, everyone goes mad with an axe occasionally and destroys major international art works and maybe knocks out the power grid for a medium-sized town or two. BAD. IT WAS REALLY BAD.
Okay, here’s an example: I couldn’t ring rounds. I’ve told you the abbey has sixty-seven bells, and while at New Arcadia we might ring the front six or the back six, still, that’s all the permutations there are, since the middle sound funny by themselves. (Change ringing bells are still tuned by fairly standard western musical notation to sound nice together.) At the abbey there’s the front six, the light eight (which are not, in fact, the front eight bells, just to add to the confusion), the middle ten, the back forty-six (which are in fact the back forty-six but by then you’re too confused to appreciate this) and the second-sub-thoracic twelve which varies depending on if the moon is waxing or waning and whether a black cat crossed the path of the ringing master on his way to the tower. We were ringing rounds on some weird permutation or other of thirty-six, which means you have to hold up for a noticeable space of time till it’s your turn to ring again because thirty-six is a lot of bells. Holding your frelling bell in place is another of those distinct skills—pull it too high and it sets itself back upside down on its frame and you’ll waste precious time jerking it off again; don’t pull it high enough and it comes down on you (starts swinging back again and therefore sounds too soon). And I COULD NOT GET THE GAP RIGHT between my bell and the one in front of me so we were going Dong dong dong dong . . . dong dong dong dong, the . . . being me failing to be able to hold my bell in the right place: I wasn’t quite setting it, but I couldn’t get it to stay just below the balance ARRRRRRRRGH. I’d never rung this particular thirty-six before. I didn’t know I was going to have trouble ringing this particular fifth bell after this particular fourth bell. And the thing is . . . I have no idea which two bells those were in the grand scheme BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY BELLS. And if we were ringing on fewer than thirty-six my slight handling problem probably would not show. ARRRRRRRRRGH.
Anyway. Friday was bad. Friday was baaaaaaaad. I crawled out of there genuinely wondering if someone, possibly the Nice Man, would tell me (nicely) that it really wasn’t working out, and maybe I should take up boules or Bingo OR AT LEAST STAY AWAY FROM THE ABBEY,*** if I had the extremely poor judgment to show up again. It wasn’t so much getting back on the horse that threw you, today, as my characteristic obstinacy: Come on, it said, stop whining, we’re going to the abbey this afternoon, you know that, don’t you? We’re going to the abbey this afternoon. Whiiiiiiiiine, I said. I went up the gazillion and a half stairs like the firing squad was waiting at the top. I crept into the ringing chamber and sat down on the chair nearest the door, crouching over my knapsack, hoping no one would notice, I could just stay here in the shadows and knit for an hour. . . .
They were really nice to me. Albert, the Nice Man, applied the crowbar to get me out of my seat and said he was glad to see me and all these other lies . . . but the one thing that made it half true is that with me we were eight ringers, so we could ring stuff on eight—you don’t ring on seven, so without me they’d’ve been ringing on six. Six for service in an abbey with ninety-two bells is not good. Eight is acceptable. Albert called for Grandsire Triples and I shied violently and said, I’ll take the treble (which is the easy bell), and Scary Man—Scary Man! Who, while a really good teacher and minder who seems to know where you are before you do is not exactly notorious for patience and kindness to the mentally afflicted and the physically inept—said no, no, I’ll take the treble, you ring the two and I’ll shout at you. —Trust me, this counts as kindness. And that’s what we did. We rang some other stuff and I was not totally hopeless on the treble, but the two touches of Grandsire Triples Scary Man took the treble and I took the two, and he kept me in line. And I didn’t ring as well—cough cough well—as I have done occasionally on a good night, but the second touch was better than the first so I was at least going in the right direction again, dear frelling gods.†
The other thing about going today is that us abbey ringers, both the real ones and the grim hangers-on like me, are on holiday for August. This was my last chance of the summer either to finish falling on my sword . . . or decide not to fall on my sword. I left saying, See you in September, and both Scary Man and Nice Man said, See you in September!, as if this was normal. . . .
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*Although after our experience the other day with the quarterwit who let his dog attack mine by not bothering to hit the brake on the extending lead I have less faith in dogs on leads any more either.
** Although sometimes it is. I was wearing my Australian Wildflowers t shirt yesterday when a little group of people asked me for some local directions. I’m walking dogs, I’m a likely candidate for local knowledge. I told them what they wanted to know and as I was walking away I heard one of them say to another, she’s not English. No, said another of the group, she’s Australian. —I love this. I totally do not sound Australian. They could just be clueless, but I prefer to think they took in my t shirt without realising, took in my accent with another part of their subconscious brains . . . and made a not quite logical deduction.
*** I was reminded there is a further drawback to ringing at the abbey when I was at Curlyewe last time and heard one of the ringers there asking Niall where his home tower is. At the moment I haven’t got a home tower, so I can say that. But if the abbey does take me on . . . I will have to admit I’m an abbey ringer. And there is cachet to this, cachet I don’t deserve and frankly don’t want. I’m a middling mediocre ringer at my best. I ring at the abbey because it’s what there is in this area, having bailed on New Arcadia. Maybe I could make something up . . . I’m good at making stuff up. . . .
† I said to Nice Man that my tendency to take three steps forward and two point nine nine nine steps back was discouraging, and he said that he’s been ringing thirty years and he can remember entire seasons when he was taking three steps forward and four or five steps back. He is a Nice Man.
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