I did what?
So. Um. I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today. I rang a quarter peal at the abbey today. IT WAS ONLY ON SIX BELLS AND I WAS ONLY ON THE TREBLE. Still. I rang a quarter peal. At the abbey . . . *
Today kind of began last Friday. Gemma and Niall and I were ringing handbells, and Gemma and Niall were saying, and you’re going to come to New Arcadia tower practise with us after this, RIGHT? And I was saying, well, no, I’m not. The old tower politics are beginning to re-emerge from the shadows and show their teeth and while I’m delighted to realise how little of it matters any more, still, life is short, and I think I’ll stay home and polish the goldfish or knit or something. No, no, they said, come on, it’ll be fun, it’ll be fine. So I finally said, I wasn’t going to come to tower practise and therefore I haven’t given the hellhounds their evening hurtle yet. But I will listen, and if you’re short of ringers I will hustle hellhounds home, take them out again after practise, and come along.
They were ringing five. Five is marginally okay on Sunday morning when you’re usually short, but it’s pretty sad for a practise, especially when one of the ringers is a beginner. Sigh. So I hustled only mildly outraged hellhounds home again** and went along to the tower. And it was fun because Niall likes torturing us with peculiar methods.*** I also wished Niall and Gemma luck, because they were trying for a full peal on Saturday—yesterday—Gemma’s first.† I texted Gemma later saying to let me know how it goes, if she feels like it.
I didn’t hear from Gemma yesterday, so I thought, uh-oh.
Now tower practise is open, while Sunday service ringing is usually done by members of the home band. This is standard. But there’s also a feeling that if you attend a practise regularly, if you’re a low-level ringer who is using the practise for your benefit, you owe that tower something. If you can’t ring at their Sunday service because it’s at the same time as your own, you can at least say ‘yes’ if they phone you some day and ask you to ring for the vicar’s dog’s birthday on Saturday. I’ve been ringing Sunday afternoon service at the abbey because that’s when they’re short of ringers and I don’t like getting up in the morning. But that leaves me hideously available for, for example, New Arcadia morning service.
Never mind that the hellhounds are going through a serious anti-supper phase which means I’m catching up on a lot of old magazines at mmph o’clock in the morning. Given the somewhat touchy situation at New Arcadia, if I went to practise on Friday, I’d better frelling show up on Sunday morning.
Well, with me, we were six, so I was serving a useful purpose. Fine. Paying your dues is a good thing. And Niall told me they’d lost their peal yesterday. I’m sorry, I said.
But I went home feeling limp and soggy. It’s very muggy, I’m short of sleep, and bell-ringing, as I keep saying, is a demanding and complex skill . . . especially on Sunday morning. I had just settled down with a nice cup of tea and a new knitting magazine when Pooka started barking at me. I assumed it was Peter with a weather report††.
It was Gemma. What are you doing this afternoon? she said. How would you like to ring a quarter peal at the abbey?
WHAT? I said. ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY FREAKING MIND? —or words to that effect. I’m not the most reliable ringer at my best, and I’m a nightmare on the abbey bells.
Well, we can’t find anyone else, said Gemma, at the last minute like this, and you’d enjoy it, it’s a nice friendly band.
Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.
The thing is, Gemma went on, you know we lost the peal yesterday? Well it was for [insert standard celebratory life event here] and we were thinking, we could have a go at just a quarter . . . but we’ve only got five ringers.†††
Whuffle whuffle whuffle, I said.
We need you, said Gemma.‡
Siiiiiiiiiiiiigh, I said. Okay. Put me on the treble. I should cause the least damage there.
. . . We got our quarter. We did have to stop and start over—not my fault! Not my fault!—and there were a few hedgerows along the way that Albert had to drag people out of‡‡ . . . but the treble actually managed to hold her line when not everyone else was holding theirs.
And then Gemma invited us back to her house for tea.§ And somehow, I can’t imagine how, we found ourselves ringing handbells. And even more astonishing and inexplicable, it appears that Gemma and I have arranged to drive to Albert and Leandra’s house in Greater Footling on Wednesday so that we can ring more handbells.§§
I thought that August was going to be a desert of non-ringing.
* * *
** They possess such touching faith that I’ll make any shortfalls up to them. And I did. We went out for another walk while everyone else went to the pub. Never mind. It was a lovely evening and it turned out Peter had put a bottle of prosecco in the fridge at the mews.
*** Catch hold [of your rope] for Marmalade Zanzibar Fruitcake minor!
You can also torture your beginner much more effectively when there’s six of you, which is a proper method-ringing number. You ring on five if five is what you’ve got, but it’s a little bogus.
† I will never ring a full peal—I know, famous last words. But I pretty well can’t, I haven’t got the stamina. It’s three-plus hours of non-stop ringing, and the person with ME who folds in the last quarter-hour will be justifiably unpopular.^ It’s not that peal attempts aren’t lost all the time—they are: bell ringing is a complex and demanding skill, and maintaining your concentration for that long is difficult—but you want to start out with as much on your side as possible. I’m a bad risk. Also I can’t imagine not having a pee for three-plus hours.
Niall hasn’t given up on trying to persuade me to ring a full peal on handbells however. They go a lot faster than tower bells, you can sit down . . . and you can keep your legs crossed as necessary toward the end.
^ I realise this is poor-spirited but ringing a full peal doesn’t actually sound like a good time to me.
†† Saying, approximately, Get out NOW before the rain starts.
††† The peal had been eight. But not everybody wants to get back on the horse that threw them the very next day.
‡ Note that I have a strong suspicion that Gemma was doing a little boost-Robin here. It’s perfectly true that you are likely to have trouble coming up with a scratch band at the very last minute on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in August^ to spend forty-five minutes in a dark, hot, clammy ringing chamber getting blisters from sweaty hands on sweaty ropes . . . but it’s not impossible. I’m sure they had already gone through a lot of better ringers who turned them down. I doubt I was their last hope.
^ . . . during the Olympics
‡‡ You know how I keep banging on about the 3,211 bells at the abbey. It was very funny deciding which six bells we were going to ring . . . although some of this was my fault and I shouldn’t laugh. Albert had been planning on using the very frontest front six, but the two littlest bells are REALLY LITTLE and I’d yank my poor little thing right out of the belfry, because I overring anyway but the more nervous I am the more I overring. So Albert said, okay, fine, and we ended up ringing something middle-ish which actually sounded rather nice, nicer, I think, than if we’d been on the tinkerbells.
‡‡‡ Don’t tell . . . but it was fun. In spite of the almost-blisters.
§ And I ate about twelve pounds of gorgeous fresh cherries. I adore cherries, and the season for fresh ones is about six hours long.
§§ Bob major!^ Yaaaaaaay!
^ Four people/eight bells
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