Last Sunday afternoon at the abbey I was the second person into the ringing chamber.* The first person was Albert, who is Someone with a Key to the tower, and I was very glad he was there first, because it’s a life-threatening wind tunnel, waiting for Someone with a Key at the foot of the tower stairs. You could find yourself in Madagascar with hypothermia (and very messy hair).
Albert said, We’re due to do a local quarter** next Sunday, and I wondered if you’d like to ring in it?
Okay, drop back and regroup. I don’t ring quarters because I’m an easily overwrought coward with ME. I have stamina issues anyway and as soon as I’m stressed about anything—like, for example, worrying about getting through a quarter peal, because if you mess up you’ve ruined it for the entire band—my brain goes all lalalalalalalala and I start having to lean on things and sit down a lot. Arrrgh. But I’m longing to ring more at the abbey first because I just need more PRAAAAAAACTISE and also ringing quarters is a bonding thing and I can’t forget that I’m not really abbey material, it’s just the abbey is going through a thin time when they need all the hands on ropes they can get, and have to let people like me in if we want to come. If I can ring even a stupid baby quarter without screwing it up too badly I will feel a little less hopeless. It also occurred to me several months ago that in terms of my erratic stamina, service QPs at the abbey are a better bet than they were at New Arcadia because they’re earlier in the day—the New Arcadia service quarters are rung at 5 pm, after you rang that morning—and I don’t even try to ring morning service at the abbey.
Yes, I said to Albert. I’d love to.
The man first offered me bob major. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Er, I said. The first touch of it I’ve ever rung successfully was at the education day a couple of weeks back. I don’t think I’d get through a quarter.**
Oh, okay, said Alfred. I can see how you’d want to work on it a little more first.
Mmmrrrggmmph, I said.
Bob minor? said Alfred.
Oh, yes, I can do bob minor! I said, hoping I was telling the truth. I jolly well ought to be able to ring bob minor, upside down, asleep, or in the abbey, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I can.
Fine, he said. We start half an hour early when we’re ringing a quarter, just in case anything goes wrong.
I assumed this meant in case it fires out, there’s more time to start over and have a second try. Okay, I said, Two o’clock next Sunday. Thanks.
My pleasure, said Albert.
At Wednesday practise Scary Man had me ring a touch of bob minor as a little warm-up, which is very sensible and all that. But we were ringing on the front six which are TINY bells and eezum cheezum they go, as the saying is, like the clappers. My hands were smoking, and my brain felt like a hellterror trying to catch a fleeing hellhound. We don’t have to ring on the front six on Sunday, said Albert and Scary Man. We have an assortment of sixes—you can choose.
Not the front six, I said. Something a little heavier so we don’t go quite so frelling fast.
I have, of course, been WORRYING ABOUT THIS QUARTER ALL WEEK.
Today, finally, my life is or is not going to end. I’ve been TRYING TO TELL MYSELF that if we fire out—no, if I fire the rest of the band out—it is NOT the end of the world, I will NOT die, etc. But I don’t believe me. I’d like to get the quarter, but I chiefly DON’T WANT IT TO BE ME IF WE FIRE OUT.
It’s now officially the run up to Christmas, and there are frelling craft fairs and trinket stalls and blah and blah littering the landscape. I allowed myself fifteen extra minutes for finding parking. When I hit the beginning of the abbey’s medieval town’s one-way system there was a tailback to Dorset. I turned the other way. I had TIME. I could park at the edge of town and lollop the rest of the way on foot.
The multi-storey car park was closed.
The other multi-storey had its top two floors closed.
The other other multi-storey had so extreme a tailback—farther than Dorset, maybe Cornwall—I didn’t even bother to try.
It took me thirty five minutes to find . . . the LAST parking space anywhere in town, ‘in town’ being used fairly loosely, since it was nearly a quarter-hour sprint to the abbey. Those quadruply-frelling stairs to the ringing chamber ARE EVEN MORE BOUNDLESS AND IMMODERATE when you’ve just sprinted a quarter-hour across town.
I fell across the threshold and gasped, it took me thirty-five minutes to find a parking space!
Don’t worry, said Albert. Leandra and I only got here about five minutes ago for the same reason.
Gasp, I said. Gasp.
Sit down and catch your breath, said Scary Man. We have time.
Which was nice of him, although we only sort of had time. We did ring on the thrice-blasted front six . . . because they go faster.
Well, I wouldn’t be telling you this story like this if it didn’t have a happy ending, right?
WE GOT THE QUARTER.
. . . It was even not too bad. I was even not too bad. I am so much better on six bells, which is what I’ve mostly rung in my life so far, and which comforts me that I MAY YET EVENTUALLY LEARN to ring on eight and ten and forty-six, which us abbey ringers are expected to do. And there is absolutely no way I’d’ve survived forty-five minutes of bob major after spending thirty-five minutes looking for a parking space, fifteen minutes sprinting across town—and having wound myself up into a complete frenzy in the process. And if we hadn’t theoretically been starting half an hour early we wouldn’t have had time for a quarter, even on the front six.
* * *
* Pant, pant, pant, pant, pant. You have to REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT^ to ring bells to climb all those FRELLING stairs on a regular basis. GAH.
^ Infinitive splitting is allowed under stress of extreme emotion.
** Quarter peal. The abbey band rings a quarter for Sunday afternoon service about once a month, I think, although I don’t pay attention beyond checking the web site to see if I should turn up or not, since quarters never concern me. And visiting bands clutter up the schedule ringing quarters on Sunday afternoons with some frequency. It’s all part of the NATIONAL CONSPIRACY to prevent me from getting enough time on a rope to LEARN anything.^
^ There’s been a mixed response to our bob major half-day a fortnight or so back. One of the helpers left early, almost in tears, saying that it was too confusing and she couldn’t hold her line through the method. I’ve heard from several other helpers that they were having difficulty holding their place because there were too many learners per touch—there were as many as four learners ringing an eight-bell method. This does not, it’s true, offer good critical mass for keeping the whole shebang moving in the right direction—and yes, once we got beyond plain courses and were trying to ring touches we crashed and burned kind of a lot. Yes, it was pretty shambolic.
Was it worth it? Yes. Absolutely. The point is IT HAPPENED. And those of us who only learn ANYTHING by grind had time on a rope. There were enough helpers—ie people who knew the method really well—that there were spares for minders—standing at learners’ shoulders while they rang. No, it was not beautiful. But IT HAPPENED. Education days and half-days are a big tiresome pain to organise, and people have lives, and as a result there aren’t nearly as many education days as us grinders want or need. So full points to the organisers.
*** SIIIIIIIIGH. The problem is that the very best way to finish learning something is by ringing a quarter of it. Forty-five minutes non-stop of a specific method really does grind it into your synapses. But you need to know it well enough^ to have a prayer of surviving forty-five minutes. I don’t think I have more than about half a prayer of surviving forty-five minutes of bob major even under optimum conditions. Forty-five minutes pulling on a rope is a long time, especially if you’re a stress freak.^^
^ ‘Know it well enough’ means have rung it enough that you have some familiarity and a few clues to fall back on if you have a brain failure and suddenly have no idea what you’re doing, including where you are and why you have a rope in your hands. ‘Enough’, however, varies from ringer to ringer.
^^ Three and a half hours is even longer, which is about what a full peal takes, but I’ll never ring one so it’s a bit moot in my case. I flatly don’t have the stamina. Colin, on the other hand, is only interested in full peals. He thinks quarters are boring, and will only ring them if someone is short a ringer.
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