H A P P Y N E W Y E A R
I should have known that New Year’s Eve at the abbey would be a big deal, but I’m not very intelligent* about cultural ritual type things**, and I didn’t realise. I can’t even claim clueless Americanness since I’m accustomed (or possibly resigned) to people making a fuss about New Year’s. And the abbey is gigantic and a national frelling site of historical whatsit and so on*** so, yeah, okay, New Year’s Eve probably would be more than a few hard-core nerds pulling on the bell ropes.
I don’t actually like ringing New Year’s Eve. Worrying about it makes such a long day. A hideous threatening quarter peal for Sunday afternoon service ring, for example, is over by 3:30 and you still have half a day for ingesting compensatory chocolate and plotting your new, bell-free life.† New Year’s Eve . . . you’re lying on the sofa bestrewn with hellhounds and knitting magazines and you can’t even enjoy it.
It was rather ridiculously exciting driving into the abbey close for the first time tonight. I walk through it frequently but I’ve never taken a car in there—what for? I’d only have to do a three-point turn and scramble out again. The application for a parking permit which I still haven’t remembered to put through the office door makes a big fuss about how you must only park in marked bays. Well, you get in there at 11 pm on New Year’s Eve and it’s dark and very badly lit and covered in taken-down bits of Christmas and—just by the way—this is a medieval close and has adapted to the modern world only somewhat. I found a tree to park under which didn’t seem to leave Wolfgang blocking anything in particular, and went off to be intimidated by the vicar’s wife’s party. Yeep. The vicar was there too, in an ornate frock, and so was the mayor, wearing half a ton of chain††, and a smattering of lords of this and that and the new/old Archbishop of Canterbury’s mother-in-law’s milkmaid’s niece.†††
But the tower was no haven, because half the assembled followed us. How the ladies in their party frocks and high heels got up those stairs I have no idea, but several of them did.‡ And then they all stood around staring at us. Frell. I might as well have rung at Crabbiton, as I have done in years past, where the entire village comes and stares at you (it’s a ground floor ring): at least there aren’t lords and mayors in chains and the vicar’s frock is plain. Also, Crabbiton has only six bells. The possibilities for mayhem are limited.
After some alarming adventures like ringing plain hunt on a hundred and fourteen, the tenor—the almost two tons of the abbey tenor—is pulled off alone to toll twelve, and (theoretically exactly at midnight) the rest of us then pull off in perfect rounds behind the tenor striking that twelfth time. There were slightly more ringers than there were bells (amazingly)‡‡ and as we were all standing there in silence waiting for it to be time for the tenor to begin I very frelling nearly bottled out. Steady the Buffs. I stayed where I was.
And our rounds sounded pretty good. Celebratory, even. Better yet, when we descended from our eyrie, they in fact hadn’t locked the close gate—which every night of the year but New Year’s Eve is shut at ten—and Wolfgang was waiting for me under his tree. And the roads were empty coming home.
* * *
* Stop that laughing
** I said stop that laughing.
*** Which means that every time they need to replace a door-latch or hang a picture they have to ask English Heritage to send a team of conservationists to consult on how or if it’s going to be done. It’s a good thing English Heritage exists, or there’d be a lot less English heritage around, and big crumbly ancient buildings do need a phenomenal amount of upkeep, but I do sometimes wonder if about half the running costs aren’t about the running but about the arguing.
† It had not been a great day. I spent the morning thinking up new and unspeakable^ tortures for my printer while it jammed every third page—and once it has jammed it goes on jamming, even after you’ve not only removed the offending page but taken ALL the paper out, shuffled it, put it ALL back in again, reset the tabs that hold it in place, ritually slammed ALL the doors including the one defending the ink cartridges which has NOTHING TO DO with the paper feed, and offered the gods more chocolate. PAPER JAM, it whines. BITE ME. Sometimes it randomly varies this with PAPER TRAY EMPTY.^^ I’ve been working on my editor’s comments on SHADOWS on the computer but there’s a scene at the end where I think I have to take the pages and lay them out on the floor, supposing I can find a large enough piece of floor that can be made to remain hellcritter free. Siiiiiiigh. I should have let her send me a print-out. She offered. No, no, no, I said, it’s fine I can do it.
And then I decided to take the hellterror to run an errand in Mauncester and the shop in question had closed early half an hour before we got there. You could put updates on your web site, you know? That’s what web sites are for. To tell customers stuff like we’re closing EARLY on New Year’s Eve.
At least I’d brought the hellterror, so we were accruing SOCIALISATION from the experience. We went back to the car and I looked at the clock and thought . . . I could probably just about get to the monks’ evening prayer. And I did. With about twenty seconds to spare. And going the speed limit, which is always a plus.^^^ But I was the last person in and my footsteps echoed and everyone turned and looked at me. #
^ But howlable
^^ Bite me anyway.
^^^ Which was a good thing—as is that I wedge the hellterror’s crate carefully in place behind the front seat—when we had a Near Death Experience of a monster semi pulling out in front of us as we were bombing down the highway at 68 mph [speed limit 70]. JESUS CHRIST, I screamed as I stood on noble Wolfgang’s brakes, which is probably what I would have screamed more than three months and a half months ago too, but part of my new covenant with God is that I’m trying to clean up my language.+ I apologised, which is what I usually do on these humiliating occasions, about five seconds later, as the higher functions started coming back on line again, but I was also thinking that while not yelling his name every time you spill your tea is a good idea, really, when you’d urgently like him to intervene before you’re squashed like a bug on the windscreen of some thrice-blasted juggernaut, it’s quite appropriate.
+ And a frelling frelling frelling struggle it is too. Arrrgh. I am very grateful for ‘arrrgh’. And frelling.
# I put a blanket over the hellterror’s crate but really it’s so WARM. It’s RAINING, but it’s WARM.
†† I wonder if he has special padding sewn into the jacket(s) he’s planning on wearing his professional shackles with?
††† The most interesting part of the occasion was being accidentally included in a conversation between Ulrich and the vicar, about some of the practicalities of keeping the abbey standing. God? When they have a minute. And this isn’t worldliness and Mammon, this is just the truth about something this size with this much going on.
‡ Me? I was wearing jeans and All Stars. Clean jeans. The All Stars were a little muddy. But the world is a little muddy.
‡‡ And the really fancy ringers, like Albert and Scary Man, stood out, so us hoi polloi could ring.
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