It was my job, as youngest ringer, to climb up into the belfry and untie the clappers before practice began. Why it should be thought necessary to secure the clappers in the first place I can't say. I mean it's not as though they were likely to be going anywhere.
So I had to go up a dark and winding stone staircase, with my puny little Osram torch, and then creep among the belfry beams undoing all these leather straps. Very creepy indeed. The worst of it was, once the ringers down below figured I'd had enough time to do the job they'd make a start. Standing next to a half-ton bell when it swings into action is no joke. Apart from the fear of being crushed in the darkness, the noise is like nothing else. No wonder Quasimodo was deaf. The sound waves would actually shake your body. I'd come flying down that spiral stairway pretty much bouncing of the walls. The only time I've ever hear anything come close to that volume was in the St Pauls area of Bristol at carnival time. They'd put these great bass speakers out on the streets for the reggae, and if you got too close to one of those it'd shake you up a bit. Still not as loud as the bells though.
It all seemed worth it at the time, just to be out of school for a couple of hours at night, and to be able to walk back through the town and buy a bag of chips.
Buying a bag of chips was a risky business in itself though. It was against school rules - like talking to girls, going into pubs, smoking, all the fun stuff. You were suppose to wear your school cap all the time, so that people knew not to serve you.
I did go into a pub once, one Saturday lunchtime after lessons were over. There were about half a dozen of us. We must have been mad. I mean you could get shot for something like that, more or less. We maybe shared a half of bitter, I don't remember, but just as we were coming out our deputy headmaster was coming in - and bumped straight into us. Now this was a man with a furious temper and a merciless nature, so we knew we were done for. The sack, no question.
What saved us was the fact that he was already drunk, swaying on his feet, very bleary. He looked at us, and you could see that he knew that something was terribly wrong, desperately amiss. But he couldn't figure out what it was.
It seemed as though we stood there for a month, waiting for the anvil to fall. Finally it came. The old soak whacked the kid next to me over the head with the palm of his hand and roared, "Boy! Boy....you haven't got your cap on!"
Then he disappeared into the bar, and we never heard any more about it.