So. I’ve got some wall photos. Remember the wall?
That’s Phineas’ house you’re looking through the hole at, my semi-detached neighbour. The cottage is hidden behind the greenhouse.
So I wasn’t going to ring bells either yesterday or today. Because I had this book to finish again, in this case dealing with my editor’s queries. This is the stage, I find, where a good 90% of everything you do you throw out. Because the book by this time is pretty much The Book and it doesn’t take kindly to your meddling. I know this going in and therefore morale is not high. Plus there are those delightful moments when your editor—okay, my editor—finds those places where you—I mean I—had a brain spasm and cut out something crucial or inserted a few random phrases while you, I mean I, was under the influence of the Gflytch transmitting station on Venus. And so there’s a little note in the margin saying, um, what is going on here? And you—I mean I—have to do something.
But, you know, my mere career isn’t going to keep me from bell ringing.** But the weather will. Yesterday afternoon I cancelled going to Glaciation that evening because it’s kind of a long way, as I count long ways, and on twisty little back roads, and it was supposed to snow and sleet. Whereupon frelling Niall rang up at about an hour before time, while I was in the throes of chapter divisions***, and started leaning on me to come to the once-a-month practise at Old Eden. ARRRRGH. He knows me too well: my ringing life feels to me chiefly notable for long languishing periods where I don’t actually learn anything either because the practise is too busy and there are too many people that need to get their hands on ropes during the course of the evening, or because the practise isn’t busy enough and can’t provide the band I need—I who only learns by ENDLESS FRELLING GRIND. I therefore really hate the idea of beginners not getting their grinding because there aren’t enough ringers to make a band. So Niall, grinning evilly, picked me up at the mews and brought me in triumph to Old Eden, where Vicky, looking up in surprise, said, Ooh! The cavalry! And while we had eight ringers for six bells . . . only three of us were proper method ringers, Niall and Vicky and me, so yeah, I served a purpose. Oh, and then the weather did not plunge below freezing, the roads stayed dry, and I could have gone to Glaciation after all.
Tonight is the twice-monthly ‘improvers practise’ at Fustian, and I emailed tonight’s ringing master—Bailey and Nestor swap, like Scary Man† and Albert do at the abbey—that I would be there barring sleet. I was there. It did not sleet. And—speaking of grind—they let me ring two plain courses of Cambridge minor which I am going to learn before I die of old age, I am, the problem being the GRIND thing again, how long have I been trying to learn it?? But I don’t get my grind.†† I don’t get my grind, I don’t learn.
There weren’t very many of us tonight, so we were all having a break while Bailey stared thoughtfully at the whiteboard. QP next week, he said.††† Are you here? he said, one by one, to the others assembled. I kept my eyes on the floor, because I’m a visitor. They don’t owe me anything: it’s nice of them to let me come to their practises, but generally speaking you only get invited to ring quarter peals at other towers if you’re good.
A pair of shoes appeared in my field of vision. Robin, are you here next Tuesday? said Bailey.
Eeep, I said. Um. Sure.
Would you like to ring a quarter peal? pursued Bailey.
Um. Sure, I said.
He nodded, and wrote my name on the whiteboard.
WHAT A GOOD THING I’VE FINISHED THE BOOK (AGAIN). Which is to say I don’t think the wretched thing will have been through copyediting by next Tuesday. . . .
* * *
* May I just say I hated the movie. Talk about fear of female power dear loves-both-genders-equally God. A witch who falls in love loses her witchcraft? And the so-called romantic lead decides to take her back WHEN HE FINDS OUT SHE LOST HER POWER WHEN SHE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM?^ This is my era, okay? It came out in 1958 and I saw it in the late sixties some time when I was a teenager, and was already having trouble with the fact that none of the women on STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL LAUGHFEST ever did anything except show their legs and fall in love, and I had already been marked for life by Walt Disney’s SLEEPING BEAUTY. Why am I a feminist? This is why.
^ Note that I’ve always loathed Jimmy Stewart anyway. It’s a Wonderful Life makes me throw up. Frelling sue me.
** Or singing. I had my voice lesson yesterday and went in moaning first about not singing in the Muddles’ concert and second about how the halfway okay noise I can (sometimes) make singing exercises—which is a lot of why I like exercises, as I used to like Hanon when I was playing the piano regularly—GOES AWAY as soon as I try to sing a song. Nadia was nodding before I got halfway through this latter plaint. Yup, she said. Normal. Get used to it. And it just goes on like this however good you get. Cecilia Bartoli probably feels exactly the same way.
*** I loathe chapters. If it were up to me there would be no chapters, just line breaks and part one and part two etc if necessary. Like I got away with in SUNSHINE but this doesn’t work very often. And since I don’t write in chapters I have to go back and put them in later. Arrrgh.
† I really have to give poor Scary Man a name.
†† Catherine, on the forum, who wrote two guest blogs about her first experience of bell ringing last September has already rung her first quarter peal inside. ARRRRRRGH. Listen, honey, if you ever come to one of my signings, don’t introduce yourself because I will crush you underfoot with extreme prejudice. First quarter peal INSIDE after FOUR MONTHS? Kill me. Kill me now.
And do goad your conductor into posting it. Your first QP is IMPORTANT!
††† The Tuesday system is two ordinary practises for people like me, one gruesome brain-melting practise for people whose idea of ‘improving’ is something you need a magnifying glass just to read the line in the method book because it wiggles so much, and a quarter peal.
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.
Even I admit this pales in comparison to getting SHADOWS sent in and the decision on who is to be my bull terrier puppy** but it’s still big news to me:
I’M AN OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE FORZA ABBEY TOWER RINGERS. YESSSSSSSSSS.
Last Wednesday week** at practise, and entirely out of nowhere, I had two different people say to me, perhaps not quite in these words, you’re here all the time, why don’t you frelling JOIN? The first one, Landon, hadn’t realised I’d quit New Arcadia—well I’m not ringing at the abbey Sunday mornings so I might very well be ringing at New Arcadia, except that I’m not. And I said, I’d love to join, but I’m not really abbey material, and he said on the contrary, you keep showing up, we need ringers, and as you know perfectly well you’re not the only sub-Doohickey Dingdong Frabjous Super-Maximus ringer in the band. Um, I said.†
But only a few minutes later Pardulfo got up on the big tenor box†† to exhort us to vote in the abbey council elections, because bell ringers are under-represented in abbey council deliberations. All you regular visitors! he said. You should join. And then he looked straight at me, and said, You! You should join!
Eeep, I said. Certainly. Happy to. Er—how?
I’ll email you the paperwork, he said.
And then he didn’t.
A week went by. I sighed a lot. Last Wednesday practise I sidled up to Pardulfo and said, um, you were going to send me the paperwork about joining the band—?
He looked stricken, and rushed off to consult the tower captain who—I thought, watching, while standing in the middle of that FRELLING GIGANTIC BALLROOM FLOOR and feeling about two inches tall—looked at me and the expression that crossed his face might politely be described as nonplussed.
Oh well, I thought.
He did send me the paperwork the next morning. But it was all about getting put on the abbey rolls††† and voting in the elections and nothing about being accepted as a tower ringer. Oh well, I thought again, and, elections being imminent, printed everything out, filled in the forms and posted them that afternoon. Brooded for a bit, and then emailed my putative future tower captain back, saying that I’d done as instructed, but my real goal was to join the tower, and there must be some further document involved.
He didn’t answer.
. . . And then over the weekend I discovered the self-addressed stamped envelope you’re supposed to include to receive the postal voting form still on my desk at the cottage. ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH. Since I’m trying hard to be a good doobie here, which does NOT come easily, I decided I’d go in today‡ and vote in person.‡‡ Shining with prospective virtue, I turned my computer on this morning . . . and there was an email from the abbey tower captain, welcoming me as a member of the band, and wishing me many happy years ringing with them.
So I also went to evensong after voting and stuffed a little money in the ‘retiring collection’‡‡‡ as a thank you. §
I HAVE A HOME TOWER AGAIN. §§
* * *
* These things go in threes, right?
** http://www.puppytext.com/view25364MAZRGW With thanks to Peter for finding puppytext.com in a silly-item-round-up in the GUARDIAN of all places.
*** So two Wednesdays ago
† They rang Cambridge surprise major on Sunday, and I went to stand by the treble and watch. The treble does something called treble bobbing for—well, all the surprise methods I know about, it wouldn’t, ahem, surprise me if there were exceptions—and while I can treble to surprise minor (six bells) trebling to major (eight bells) requires that you count higher and dodge more times and seven, as you’re counting your place in the row rhythmically to yourself, has two syllables. One-two-three-four-five-six-SVN-eight. I’ve never trebled to surprise major but anywhere but the frelling abbey I might, at this point, have a reasonable shot at it.^ But ring Cambridge major inside, when I can barely limp through a plain course of minor on a very good day? Forget it.
Wild Robert, on the three, said, Never mind the treble. Come stand by me.
^ Maybe I’ll ask to try it some time at Fustian, if all continues to go well there.
†† Big tenor bells tend to have big tenor boxes for the ringer to stand on. He, or she, is less likely to get enmeshed in the 1,000,000,000 miles of rope to go around a big tenor wheel, when the ringer is above floor level. The abbey’s tenor is humungous, so the box is correspondingly humungous.
††† I noticed they want all your details which no doubt means I’m going to be harangued for donations for the rest of my life. But it takes oceans of money to keep something the size of the abbey not merely open for business, but the walls vertical and the roof nailed on—and yes I think it should be kept alive and running so, fine, whatever.
‡ And possibly stop at the knitting store for a pair of 7 mm needles. I used to reject automatically all patterns calling for any needle smaller than 4 mm because I’m still too twitchy a knitter to deal with anything that finger-tanglingly teeny. But since I have yet to get gauge on anything smaller than one or two or even three needle sizes larger than suggested my attitude has changed. It is of course possible that now that I’ve FINALLY GOT SHADOWS TURNED IN^ my knitting will LOOSEN UP A LITTLE.^^
^ Even if I’m still working on it
^^ Although not, please fate, in the middle of anything I’m knitting right now.
‡‡ And it’s a good thing I did, since they had no record of me or any of those painstakingly filled-in forms. By which we learn that however lofty the abbey spiritual attainments, bureaucracy rules there too in its usual bumbling fashion, down here at grub level.
‡‡‡ Ah, the British. In America, you go to church, some body passes a plate while you’re still trapped in a pew, and glares at you. All right, I have attended C of E services where they pass a plate—or, more often, a little bag, the better to disguise how much or how little you’re putting in it—but in this case there was a discreet tray at a tactful distance from the exit from the small enclosed area where the service was held into the vaster territory of the abbey generally and it would have been easy to miss it.
§ The bell tower, after all, is part of the fabric of this ginormous churchy building that needs to be kept upright and working, and our membership dues are pathetic and, furthermore, some organising body—and I am embarrassingly uncertain whether it’s the C of E admin or the central bell council admin—will pay it for you if you don’t jump in the breach and wave money.
§§ I have really hated being ‘unattached’ as it’s called. Makes me feel utterly lost and alone in a hostile universe^. Bellringing is a team activity. You need to belong somewhere, even if you ring elsewhere too.
^ Just like the SWD, although I don’t tell sad stories of the death of kings with my tail much.+
+ Note that Kes does not share my allergy to Shakespeare.
I rang at a new tower tonight.
The main problem with the frelling abbey, aside from the fact that it scares me to death and I ring accordingly, is that ringing, especially ringing for the low-level ordinary grind like myself, keeps getting cancelled. If the United Pipe Fittings Orchestra and All Girl Guttering Ukulele Band aren’t having a concert in the cloisters, then the ringers who actually know what they’re doing and can count to forty-eight while they’re doing it* are ringing a quarter peal of Cantankerous Saturnalia Quadruple Maximus, as they did this past Sunday.** And I need time on a rope, because I am a SLOW LEARNER and TWITCHY*** with it.
I think I told you, a few weeks ago, my first Sunday back on the job at the abbey after the August break, when I tied Grandsire Triples in a knot and then broke it, and was having one of my regular attacks of I AM GIVING UP RINGING FOREVER, AND FURTHERMORE I AM DONATING ALL MY ORGANS TO SCIENCE THIS AFTERNOON, one of the women who lives locally and often comes Sunday afternoons when she knows the abbey is short-handed but is a member of the Extremely Scary† and High Level Fustian band, told me that Fustian had extra practises. For stupid . . . I mean, for less advanced ringers,†† on Tuesdays. She said, it’s for anyone, you can just come along. And we ring lots of Grandsire Triples. Will you be there? I asked, doing my pathetic thing again†††, and she said that she was there most weeks.
Open practises are the first and third Tuesdays of the month. As I recall Fiona and I were up to no good a fortnight ago, but I had written ‘Fustian’ in my diary for tonight . . . and spent all day trying to bottle out.
I left New Arcadia early so I would have time to get lost and fail to find a parking space and so on and then had no trouble whatsoever so I had to sit in Wolfgang for about ten minutes knitting frantically‡ before I crept out to lurk in the churchyard. I took a lap around the church itself and it has something like twenty six doors so how am I supposed to guess which one to loiter at? I chose what I thought was a promising tomb for leaning against (and knitting), where I could keep an eye on both the main door (despite being fairly sure that wherever the ringers entered it would not be the main door) and the door to the actual, you know, tower.
Naturally it was neither of these. Furthermore on Tuesdays they ring on the simulator so if you’re hanging around in the churchyard waiting for symptoms of ringing practise to manifest, the sound of the bells going up is not going to be one of them.
I might have eventually crept away defeated but fortunately I took another lap around the church and met someone striding purposefully toward the twenty seventh door which is almost frelling invisible in its dark and shadowed niche, and I squeaked, Bell ringing? And she said yes, yes, right this way.
It was not too bad. The first thing was that I was sure the simulator would completely derail me. Physically you ring as usual, but the real bells in the belfrey are all muffled and the sound you hear in the ringing chamber is off a computer hitched up to go ‘dong’ when the bell ropes are pulled.‡‡ It is disconcerting—but the disconcertingness wears off pretty quickly. The second thing was that I never do well at new towers because I am an easily panicked twit. The third thing was . . . what if Melinda was WRONG?
But Melinda doesn’t seem to have been wrong. I was greeted with a disarmingly convincing display of cordiality, and asked what I ring: Grandsire Triples, I said humbly, Melinda said you ring lots of Grandsire Triples. Certainly, said the ringing master, anything else? Oh—well, I said, daring greatly, maybe a plain course of Stedman Triples?
There were also a couple of learners even learnier than me, and you really don’t want to be the least and worst in a tower you’re visiting for the first time, so that was good too. And the two known-by-me Fustian Scary People went out of their way to say something friendly to me‡‡‡. I got out of the tricky ‘where do you ring’ question by saying that I was trying to ring at the abbey and finding it an uphill struggle, and everyone rolled their eyes and said, oh, the abbey. Even one of the Scary People said that the business of ringing in a queue in the middle of a ballroom-sized space (the Fustian ringing chamber is relatively small and the circle of ropes is circular) is not ideal.
And not only did I get my Stedman Triples . . . it was a touch, not a plain course. I was ‘unaffected’—which meant that the other bells changed places while I kept my plain-course line—so I was getting off easy. But the ‘unaffected’ racket is an old teaching trick to make sure the learner is ringing the line and not just slacking off by learning where she’s going to meet which bell: which is to say has done her homework properly. I have done my homework properly. Yaaaay.
And everyone said, please come again.§ So I will.
I am making no predictions about my brilliance at the abbey tomorrow however.
* * *
* And back down again. I can usually go up while pathetically ringing plain hunt on too dragonfired many bells. It’s coming down where I am liable to come unstuck. NO FRELLING BODY WHO HAS BEEN RINGING AS MANY YEARS AS I HAVE HAS ANY EXCUSE WHATSOEVER FOR EVER COMING UNSTUCK ON PLAIN SODBLASTED HUNT ON ANY NUMBER OF BELLS, UP TO AND INCLUDING 1,000,000,000,000. ARRRRGH.
** One of the women at tonight’s practise had rung in it and told me in an off hand manner, like you might say ‘nice day’ or ‘I like your leg warmers’^ that it was enjoyable. She would probably enjoy strolling over Niagara Falls on a tightrope. She would probably enjoy the view and the bracing air.
^ I am wearing my leg warmers. They are performing their function. KNITTING IS USEFUL. Pass it on.+
+ I know, I know. You sock people have known that forever.
*** Twitchy is bad on the end of a bell rope.
† I rang a wedding at Ditherington on Saturday.^ Ditherington doesn’t have its own band any more, so a band ringing a wedding there is always a jumble. One of the women whom I had not met before learnt at the abbey, and knows Scary Man (who has been there forever) and referred to him as Scary Man. Not even ‘the scary man’ but Scary Man. I only didn’t fall down laughing because I didn’t want to stab myself with my knitting needles.
^ The bride was thirty five minutes late. Just saying. Fortunately I had my KNITTING.
†† I wouldn’t go to a proper Fustian practise unless someone held a gun to my head and I might just tell them to shoot me.
††† Going ALONE to a NEW TOWER is VERY DAUNTING. You don’t even have to be pathetic to think so. Melinda is also a very good ringer and very nice, the kind of person you’d always be more inclined to say ‘yes’ to an invitation to ring if it included her.
‡ I also realised that I was sweating with terror and therefore removed my leg warmers.
‡‡ I’m not sure what is happening in the belfry—whether you’re pulling the bells or the simulator. Next time I’ll ask.
‡‡‡ Granted there’s going to be some self-selection for niceness at a practise specifically aimed at the lacking and the lousy.^ Still. There are some seriously grim and intimidating people who feel it is their duty to put in time bringing beginners on, but they aren’t enjoying it and you can see them not enjoying it.
^ When I was discussing the possibility of going to the extra Fustian practise with some other ringing friends we were sniggering over the names of certain Fustian ringers who would not be there. And they weren’t.
§ This is good ringing manners. But they wouldn’t have had to sound like they meant it.