I rang Stedman Doubles at the abbey for service this afternoon.*
Now doubles is only six bells (five working bells and tenor-behind) so for service ring at an abbey with forty-nine bells and two accidentals** this is pretty pathetic. But in the first place the abbey rings with what it can get on Sunday afternoon which often isn’t much, which is why they let me live and pretend to be glad to see me, and in the second place there are two local festivals going on plus Wimbledon, the Tour de France, the frelling mass-media run up to the frelling mass-media Olympics, the Inter Galactic Big Truck Rally***, and the finals of the Guess How Many Pears a Partridge Can Eat competition which they’re running in 3D this year at a cinema near you. I was the third person through the door of the ringing chamber and when the fourth turned up he said lugubriously, we may be all there is: it’s the men’s finals this afternoon.
Gemma (who was not there) has said that the abbey, being an abbey and having face to maintain†, doesn’t ring at all if fewer than six rope-pullers show up. This afternoon we had seven—which is six with one left over: you mostly don’t ring on seven.†† So I rang some not-too-awful bob minor while Leandra stood out, and then I stood out while the rest of them rang Stedman Doubles. The thing about Stedman, which long-term readers of this blog may remember, is that it’s a bit of a holy grail—it’s not the only holy grail of ringing, but it’s one of them. If you can ring Stedman you can at least consider calling yourself a ringer.
I can ring Stedman Doubles in other towers. I can ring touches of Stedman Doubles . . . in other towers. I’ve even been known to ring a plain course of Stedman Triples (seven bells plus tenor-behind) when it’s offered. In other towers. Gaaah. Today Albert asked me what I wanted to ring††† and I, seizing my courage with both hands, said, there’s seven of us, give me a minder and let me try Stedman Doubles. I could see Albert considering whether this was a good idea or not—it’s not just that I’m a shaky and unreliable ringer, you can read it all over me that I’m terrified—and then he said okay. And then, bless him, gave me Wild Robert for a minder. Yaay Wild Robert. He comes to Sunday afternoons at the abbey when he’s not ringing at one of the frelling invitation-only towers in frelling London—but that doesn’t work out all that often in practise. But he was there today and just having him there—he who taught me Stedman years ago at Ditherington—is a steadying influence.
In terms of the method I rang it flawlessly. Yaay me. I can do this. Even at the abbey. I can. The accuracy of my striking . . . not so much. And Wild Robert nearly derailed me by having a pleasing but dangerous faith in my grasp of the method and therefore whispering sweet nothings about how to improve my striking. My striking did improve—somewhat—and I didn’t go wrong.‡
So then, of course, I came home and frolicked . . . and then Darkness didn’t eat his dinner. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAUGH.‡‡
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* I have this vision of all the knitters going, Bellringing! Aaaugh!, as all the bell ringers last night went, Knitting! Aaaaugh!
Sorry, you knitters. You might want to go catch up on some other blog tonight. I’m going to go on fizzing about Stedman Doubles at the abbey for paragraphs.
** I have always liked, since my first gruesome, brief, sausage-fingered venture as a piano student when I was a kid, the concept of sharps and flats as accidentals. They certainly were the way I played.
*** The Cardassians are tipped to win.
† How many months have I been toiling at the abbey rockface? But I still, driving in, every time, look out over the town with the abbey looming majestically up in the middle of it, and think, I ring THERE? You’ve got to be joking. And struggle with the impulse to turn around and go home.
†† Unless one of you is Wild Robert, who can ring two tower bells at the same time.^
^ And he doesn’t much like handbells. How frustrating is that?
††† A touch of Plastic Fantastic Ergonomic Quaternary Spliced Surprise. In my dreams.
‡ We finished with about five minutes of just ringing rounds on the back eight—with Wild Robert on the one and the two and me on the three. I am only slowly getting over being deathly afraid of ringing rounds at the abbey. The problem with rounds is that you have nothing to think about. Ringing a method, you’re at least busy panicking about where your next blow goes. Ringing rounds you’re standing there contemplating how paralysingly gigantic the space is and how you’re out in the middle of it^ and something really huge could be creeping up behind you^^ . . . and furthermore most of the bells are slightly oddstruck^^^ so following Wild Robert on two bells is even more confusing# than it is anyway.##
Yes. Since I quit New Arcadia I have spent rather too much time wondering why I do this to myself. And even if I wanted to keep my hand in ringing a bit, I didn’t have to choose to pursue the frelling abbey. Except . . . I did. I’d be bored rigid by only ringing (say) call changes for weddings. And the abbey remains pretty much the only tower in this area that can teach me stuff. Unfortunately . . . it’s the abbey.
I was talking to Southdowner about this—she also rings, she is also not hugely naturally gifted, she is also stubborn. Really the downside of stubbornness is the way it makes you keep doing stuff. Which is also the upside. Eh.
^ I am still trying to convince myself that this is irrelevant. You don’t lean on a ringing chamber wall, and you wouldn’t like it if you could. But somehow I feel all flimsy and vertiginous on any of the abbey bells except about three near the front which are decently close to a wall.
^^ As I was driving in—as I was, in fact, belting 70 mph down the motorway—there was something tickling my wrist. I glanced down and there was a GIGANTIC FRELLING SPIDER WALKING UP MY ARM.
I didn’t run off the road. I hope you’re impressed at my fortitude. I can be brave when I HAAAAAAAAAVE TOOOOOOOOOOO.
^^^ Which basically means that their bong doesn’t come at quite the usual place in the stroke. The individual, unpredictable oddstruckness of bells is one of the things that makes ringing interesting.
# and vertiginous
## The other thing I haven’t told you is how Darkness pulled me over a few days ago, going after a duckling. AAAAUGH. This was always going to happen some day—the frelling ducks on our frelling river are way too tame because people from all over Hampshire bring their stale rubbish bread here in vast quantities and lower the vitality levels of our waterfowl with it like they’re supporting wildlife diversity and doing the biosphere a favour.+ In this case I was preoccupied with a grandmother and her six-year-old who is afraid of dogs and was not paying attention to the path in front of me. Darkness was paying attention. And he never could resist birds. Hellhounds haven’t pulled me over in YEARS. There was (human) blood everywhere because the frelling river path is frelling gravel . . . and I’ve kind of done one shoulder in, or rather, Darkness did, dragging me down the path++, and I’m sure the kid who’s afraid of dogs will be needing additional years of psychotherapy as a result of this incident. I just need a good sports medicine specialist to tie my shoulder back into place. I can still ring, just about, but . . .
+ Soapbox? Rant? Me?
++ A dog that weighs slightly more than one third what you do should not be able to drag you, dead weight as you are, full length on the sodblasted path as you are, anywhere. Tell that to Darkness.
‡‡ He did. Finally. But only after my hair was several shades greyer than it was yesterday and I had chewed one of the legs of my chair nearly through. Bleaugh. Varnish tastes really nasty.
The bride was over forty minutes late. And she was heard to say something to the effect of ‘gee golly gosh gorblimey I didn’t realise how long everything would take.’
Okay, generally speaking you don’t get married often enough to learn how long getting into a wedding dress and having your hair redone and your make-up trowelled on and your fake nails reglued and your hem where you’ve trodden on the train stapled back up and so on takes* but I find it impossible to believe other than that frelling most of these kittle-cattle just can’t be frelling bothered to jerk themselves out of their little stupor of total self-absorption** and remember that ordinary people with lives are contributing to make their one-off day special. ARRRRRRRGH.
I had a wedding to ring today. You may have gathered.
OF COURSE I had brought my knitting. OF COURSE. Although I’d brought the second green leg warmer, poor thing, it’s been crushed to the bottom of the Mobile Knitting Unit in the excitement of First Cardi. But I have to begin Shaping Armholes on First Cardi*** and I thought attempting this would probably be a mistake, waiting to ring a wedding, either because your ears are straining for Mendelssohn’s wedding march on the organ, which is your cue to leap to your rope, or because you are in a violent temper because the bride is late, and your mind might not be sufficiently free to concentrate on the arcane instructions of your knitting pattern.
So I found a nice bench in the churchyard with a nice view of the countryside and some nice wildlife to commune with† and knitted. Second green leg warmer is almost done.
But the wildlife part reminded me that I never finished our baby robin series.
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* Have I mentioned recently that we got married at a registry office? You show up at a scheduled time with your two legally required witnesses and it takes about ten minutes. Primping strictly optional, although I had a very nice dress. Which you can see by clicking the ‘about’ button on this blog. Which I assume you’ve already done at some point.
** And it’s not that accidents don’t happen. They do. Cars break down, trains don’t run, people fall downstairs.^ But I’ve rung close to a hundred weddings at this point—not all of them were late, of course—but I don’t recall any tower I’ve rung at ever receiving a letter of apology from a late bride. This is the sort of thing a tower secretary would be extremely punctilious about passing on to the troops—tower secretaries want the troops in a good mood toward the successful outcome of future engagements.
^ Or pour boiling water over their feet the night before they’re due at the registry office. It didn’t work. I married him anyway.
*** I spent last night in the bath reading up on knitting language. Have you ever tried to READ a pattern? Iiii aj dork fescule 65 [101 212 4306] drm gggdp sts at each end. Farg. Work 9 [808 9542 12833] 1 zunk each bllg dom tyrpx ending with arrrgh. Cast off in patt.^
^ All patterns insist that you use their yarn. I’m sitting here staring at the large bold caveat on this particular pattern—and no, I’m not using their yarn, I don’t like THEIR yarn—which reads: ZINGOBIBBAB CANNOT ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE RESULT OF USING ANY OTHER YARN. Wait a minute. You mean they are going to accept responsibility if you make a howling botch of their yarn?
† I tried to get photos of the pleasing wildlife but failed. The most pleasing, if not very wild, was a donkey, but he would stay in the middle of the field, invisible to his ears in tall June grasses.
The deed is done. I bought myself a bird feeder today. And some frelling bird seed. We’re cutting back on the live mealworms* which, even allowing generously for relative body weight, cost more than frelling organic cereal-free hellhound food. But I have spent nearly sixty years resisting Feeding the Birds and have now finally succumbed to . . . two robin nests in about two months.**
I bought my shiny new bird feeder on line so it’ll be a day or two arriving. I went for something squirrel resistant, which, in this case, means that the tube of bird seed is surrounded at a little distance by a tempered steel cage whose holes are (theoretically) too small for anything but a robin or a tit or a sparrow or thereabouts to get through. The thought of feeding the local population of rats with furry tails is one of the things that has stopped me getting caught in the feed-the-birds trap before this.
I’m having a little seizure of anti-on-line shopping however and with a car that runs I might revert to doing a little more of it in three dimensions, even if this means I can’t do it at three o’clock in the morning.*** But I’m tired of web sites that were stuck together by rather stupid demons using wallpaper paste and the blood of people who tick NO to the free newsletter, updates, special offers and more fun things to clutter the hell up your inbox option.† The bird feeder site says, YOU HAVE TO CREATE AN ACCOUNT!!!!!, if you want to, like, order anything . . . BUT YOU’LL REALLY LIKE HAVING AN ACCOUNT BECAUSE WE SEND YOU ALL THESE GREAT OFFERS! How often do you buy a new bird feeder? I thought I might at least order their FREE bird feeding guide but . . . you have to create an account. Apparently you have to create another account, because I’ve already created one so I can buy the frelling feeder. So I’m going to receive TWO copies of the fabulous newsletter and all the special offers?? I don’t think so. Never mind the dazzling nuisance of filling out your name, address, phone number^^^, and your new secret doodah password^^^^ all over again.
So I declined. I can get my bird feeding regime from the http://www.rspb.org.uk/
But the current pinnacle of on line shopping fury was reached a few nights ago when I was trying to buy . . . socks. I want colourful cotton socks, not black, navy blue and beige creepy weird fabric socks, and this is apparently going a little far, at least for the British market. There’s a big lower-limb underwear chain over here whose web site is a nightmare. I keep not going there because after about ten minutes I’m losing the will to live. They have videos. Videos of SOCKS? WHY? And if you are scrolling wearily down the long series of Hello Kitty and Robert Pattison socks, because the awful truth is that lurking among the rest there are Colourful Cotton Socks, and you SEE WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR and click on the brand thumbnail, for every different colour you look at within that brand, you will have to come back through that individual screen again before you return to the home screen. Let’s say there are two different greens, and you’ve clicked back and forth two or three times to compare—? Yes. And let me add to your burden of comprehension by further explaining that, probably because of the video option, EVERY PAGE TAKES SEVERAL SECONDS TO LOAD.
I got out my knitting to avoid killing all the neighbours and laying waste generally to New Arcadia.
I was on this frelling site nearly an hour. And at the end, I had finally laid down my needles and was making my way through the checkout when . . . THE SITE TIMED ME OUT, THREW ME OFF, AND WIPED MY ORDER.‡
Fortunately the pet shop here, which already orders cereal-free hellhound food for me, carries a liberal selection of bird food.
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* Unless there’s a third nest. I suppose I should clear out the old ones. There wasn’t a lot of free space in my greenhouse before the robins found two imaginary gaps to wedge two real nests into.
** One of my Twitter followers said thank you for the photos,^ that most people don’t get to see this. It’s funny how quickly something amazing becomes normal: it doesn’t necessarily become less amazing—and I will be crushed if the local robins never build a nest in my greenhouse again^^: don’t we have a tradition?^^^—but it still becomes established routine.
^ Which reminds me, I have to finish the series. Not tonight. I’ve spent too much time ranting.
^^ Although it would be nice to have the next nest where I can see it without the assistance of a camera-tipped gorilla-length arm.
^^^ Including live mealworms
*** Arguably the best feature about going to Bowdoin College thirty years ago was that the flagship Freeport 24-hour LL Bean is about a quarter of an hour away. Back in my college days LL Bean was not yet . . . fashionable.
† Which might explain the being gruesomely, headachingly tired so much of the time. Here I thought it was the ME. Hmm. And I still get an awful lot of special offers.
†† 00000000000. Most web sites created by stupid demons don’t pick this up.
††† I hate passwords. I have unique ones for bank accounts and things, but for a site that sells bird feeders? Give me a frelling break. And then there’s the PROVE IT stage of paying on line. PayPal, for example, is one of my unique passwords, so then I have to remember what the sodblaster it is . . . but one of my credit cards demands that you choose a Memorable Name of more than ten letters, and then every time you use the frelling card you get a screen that wants a specific, if random, three of the Name’s letters. THE LETTERS HAVE WORN OFF TWO-THIRDS OF THE KEYS ON MY OLD LAPTOP. I can type, because I’m not thinking about where individual letters are: I’ve been typing on a QWERTY keyboard for fifty years [sic]. But tell me to pick out three specific letters from a lot of blotchy black keys? Are you KIDDING?
‡ It’s almost enough to make me rethink knitting socks.^
^ NOOOOOOOOOO.+ Cardigans! I want to knit cardigans! And jumpers! And waistcoats! And things that show that you’ve gone to all that knitting trouble!++ And that don’t get holes in them just because you wear them to walk in!
+ I wrote this web site a little email, expressing would-be-customer dismay. Four days went by. Today I received your standard gloppy gormless infuriating robo-letter saying nothing at all at considerable length. I felt my blood pressure rising again and answered it saying, this is gloppy, gormless and useless and proves that your customer relations is as rubbish as your web site.
I got an answer! And it was just as gloppy, gormless and useless!
++ And made all these knitting mistakes. Maybe not-showing has something to be said for it.
I am skronking a blog entry together here even later than usual, having been working on SHADOWS till a depraved hour, having also decided this afternoon that it was over time to do you my fabulous Second Nest photo essay . . . and always forgetting that photo blogs take JUST AS LONG as text blogs because of all the choosing and cropping and rechoosing and recropping and fussing and making lists and changing my mind. I fuss slowly. In this case complicated by the fact that I have extraordinary numbers of . . . ahem . . . not totally excellent photos to fuss over.
Now this is the first nest, and you see that it was not divinely situated for photo taking. I could see it fine–and I can tell you there are five baby robins in there–but since I didn’t want to shoot off the flash in their little fluffy faces I was a bit stymed on the photo front.
Now this is the second nest, beautifully open to sunlight and photography . . . except for the little fact that it’s over my head behind a wall of pots and paraphernalia and that I took this and all the following photos (and a great many more you are spared) standing in a highly precarious manner with my feet on two loose bits of timber propped up on bricks and holding the camera at full arm’s length pointing down to where I know the nest is, on the far side of the aforementioned wall, and my other hand frantically grasping anything it can, to keep me (relatively) steady for shutter-clicking. The things I go through for this blog.
By the way, to give you some idea of scale, the width of those upside-down pressed-compost pots leaning on the edge of the nest is two and a half inches. Baby robins are very small.
You may remember I discovered the presence of the nest when I dropped some of these pressed-compost pots on sitting mama robin’s head. I had to clear them away without being able to see what I was doing either, and these last few were inadvertently left behind. And then when the photos revealed their presence I was afraid to try to move them because I didn’t want to freak anybody out. Mum and dad remained dubious about me (despite all the mealworms) but the kids were so used to this ticking black rectangular thing swooping down at them from overhead every day (just about the time the mealworms arrived, in fact) that I could probably have decorated the nest with ribbons and pinwheels and they wouldn’t have batted an eye. Although I’m sure mum and dad would have disapproved.
They are all mouth at this age–with its beak open you feel like you can see the back of a baby robin’s skull, not just its throat–on these tiny wavery little necks.
Feed me, revisited. They’re even beginning to make some effort about feathers.
I think it’s only four. But there are always slightly more bulges than four robins decently need, and I never saw them live directly either–just the photos. Maybe the fifth one is shy. Note beaks still as big as their heads.
If you look carefully in the gap in the centre, you will see a tiny little red head, its eye clearly staring suspiciously at the photographer.
TO BE CONTINUED. . . .
It’s sheeting. I’m not complaining. I MUCH prefer deluges to hot—and the worst of hot and dry is the fact that you’re out there watering your garden constantly. Constantly. Especially if you have a little potted-plant problem. Especially if you have a little potted-plant problem and you’re a snob and prefer terracotta pots to plastic. Although I’m getting over this one by sheer force of . . . wanting to be able to do something besides water the garden in hot weather.
But today it meant we didn’t go to Wisley. Sigh. Wisley is the big flagship R[oyal] H[oticultural] S[ociety] garden in Surrey*, and not impossibly far from here, but far enough that I keep chickening out in case we get there and I realise I can’t drive home. Especially because you have to drive on the motorway**. There has been a rumour about a back way for years but no one has ever found it. And the rescue team sent out after the last expedition also disappeared. Wisley exists in a super-dimensional bubble surrounded by foaming toxic desert. Invisible foaming toxic desert. When we were still a two-driver family and still going up to London fairly often we used to make a loop for Wisley pretty regularly.*** That was a while ago. And now. Unh. But I have been having quite a good patch for driving and their roses will be coming out† so we had made plans to meet friends there today.††
Then the weather, which has not been kind to the four days of the Diamond Jubilee, decided it was going to rain some more today. That’s RAIN. None of the peekaboo doodah we’ve been having here lately††† but serious, sky-opening ‡ RAIN. I might have gone anyway because I was all primed for it, but Peter pointed out there were going to be a lot of people on the fourth day of their four-day holiday saying exactly the same thing, and the tea room, the glasshouse and the plant sales were going to be jammed with these determined-to-have-their-outing-so-we’ll-bring-our-life-preservers-what’s-the-problem? folk. Sigh. So we cancelled.
I was in the throes of a serious sulk‡‡ when Penelope rang and said that if we had cancelled Wisley due to meteorological inclemency she had a small alternative to offer. Very small: about three months old. Their youngest daughter lives in Mauncester and has lately produced her first baby. Possibly due to never having been in a position when I couldn’t give it back, I have retained my fondness for babies, and have expressed an interest in meeting Brunnhilde if the opportunity ever presented itself. Brunnhilde was on her first excursion to New Arcadia this afternoon.
So we went round to inspect. I can report her a very satisfactory baby, which is to say that I held her for quite a while and she (a) smiled and (b) didn’t throw up. ‡‡‡
Meanwhile . . . I’d booked my dogminder for this afternoon and I don’t like messing her around—especially since I seem to end up messing her around anyway—so she was still taking hellhounds out for a (wet) hurtle this afternoon. I got back to the cottage about the time I was expecting her to be returning. I am neurotic and I hate being at any of my/our three houses without my hellhounds.§ Well, Mavis hadn’t come back yet. Whimper. So I washed the dishes and put out some more mealworms for the robins and watered all my indoor plants and folded the laundry and listened to the silence§§ and . . . Mavis still wasn’t back with hellhounds. I started to feel Rather Anxious.
Forty minutes after I’d got back to the cottage I phoned her mobile. We’re on our way home now, she said. I’m only just back in signal range. We’ve been out in the wood beyond the Warm Upford common and I got lost. —This is wholly plausible, by the way. The common wood is mostly plantation, and the tree-harvesters are always rearranging the footpaths and you can find yourself . . . on the mythological back route to Wisley, trying to demaze back out of the wood again.§§§ Furthermore in these days of mobile phones, Warm Upford is a dead zone. It’s pretty interesting how quickly you assume you can rely on can useful technology: Mavis was quite freaked out by the fact that she hadn’t been able to phone for help.
But I have my hellhounds back. Whew.
And Niall and Gemma and I ran late, ringing handbells this evening, because our final touch, which we already didn’t have time for but it would break down in a minute or two anyway, ran twenty minutes and came out to rounds at the end. Yaay.#
* * *
** Any British person who wants to tell me the A3 is not a motorway can stick it in their ear. The A3 is a great big fast ugly scary road and as far as I care it is a motorway.
*** We had stopped for lunch and a stroll at Wisley the day we came home and discovered the World Trade Center going down in flames. Just by the way.
† You know the real reason it’s raining just now. My Souvenir de la Malmaison is trying to bloom. She’s in the cottage garden now cackling maniacally and turning into wet grey-brown wodges of mouldy, matted tissue paper. Sigh.
†† So Peter will have someone to talk to while I take notes on the roses.^
^ No, of course I’m not finished yet. Can’t you go have a cup of tea or something? What? Well, go have another cup of tea then.
††† If they’d had the Jubilee flotilla on our river they wouldn’t have got nearly so wet. Although it would have pissed the swans off. But almost everything pisses the New Arcadia swans off.
‡‡ Although it was not at all a bad thing that I was not doing extreme driving today. Siiiiiiigh. I’ve been pushing it the last couple of days and the quality of last night’s shatteredness was ominous, as was the getting out of bed this morning. Getting . . . what? Out . . . what? Unnnnnh.
‡‡‡ I don’t mind screaming tinies so much. The whole birth thing is a ratbag, I understand it takes a long time to become accustomed to the new system. It’s when they get old enough to look at you, and their faces break into an expression of disbelief and outrage before they start screaming, then I start feeling that boarding school till they’re about twenty-five is an optimal plan.
§ The positive way of looking at this is, you have your domestic fauna for company, right? So why shouldn’t you want them around? It’s what they’re for.
§§ Relative silence. There’s an awful lot of chirping going on in the garden. Mealworms! More mealworms! We want mealworms!
§§§ In one of my prior lives as a horse rider I used to get lost in these woods on horseback too.
# We wasted some time over tea and biscuits discussing how we’re supposed to pick up more tower recruits. The arcane-secrets-and-you-have-to-be-crazy aspect of bell ringing is amusing, but in the present day when we need more ringers I think it does us more disservice than service. But we’re at least one up in the recruit department. Katsheare from our very own forum has finally succumbed . . . to being belted about the head and ears with this very blog going on and on and on about bell ringing and is going to give it a yank herself. Yaaaaaaaay. And here is a really good debunking page that she posted the link to: http://allsaintswokinghambells.org.uk/AbRinging/Myths/Myths.html ^
^ Although I like the British understatement of ‘. . . even become quite addictive’. Snork. Also note: ‘The modern Church supports many activities that involve the community outside its own members.’ Yes. There are churches, and probably some of them have bell towers, which are only concerned with their own tithe-paying members, and there may even be some towers that only allow, which is also to say can afford only to allow, church members to ring the bells. Generally speaking it’s a much wider remit. I’m not a Christian, but I do believe in community.
I wouldn’t say that having a stay break, the bell topple over the wrong way and the ringer hanging on to the other end of the rope carried briskly toward the ceiling is vanishingly rare. It happened to me. (Urgent cries of: Let go! Let go!) I’d say that the important point is that while bells are big heavy objects and must be treated with complete and unvarying respect, accidents where anyone gets hurt really are vanishingly rare. (I was not hurt. A little startled, but not hurt. And someone else had broken the stay. But I was enough of a beginner still to need a stay—and the bell fell over backward through the cracked stay.)
And if you’re ringing down slightly faster than you can, it’s quite useful to allow yourself to be lifted tactfully off the floor by the weight of the swinging-down bell . . .