Sunday, October 01, 2006

The bells...the bells....


Woke up this morning to the sound of that great sixties soul classic, Sam and Dave's 'You Don't Know Like I Know'.

It wasn't coming from one of my daughters' music systems, though, or from the drubbing speakers of some pimped up BMW outside in the street. It was the bells.

Yes, the church bells from old St. Bart's down in the town had somehow escaped their normal Sunday duties - dull paeans to the Almighty - and stumbled upon the Devil's music. You...don't...know...like...I...know...You...don't...know...like...I...know... Round and round it went - a gleeful peal.
And why not? Sam and Dave were probably from a gospel background in any case, come to think of it.

It didn't last long, and the bells were soon whipped back into line - the usual tuneless and arhythmic tangle. For a moment, though, it had sounded like they'd made a wild bid for freedom.

* * *

I was once a bell-ringer. It was only for a short while - when I was about thirteen, I suppose. I was at boarding school then, and bell-ringing was a way of getting out of that prison for a few hours on a Wednesday evening. Oddly enough the church where I used to go for practice was another St. Bartholomew's.

Bell-ringing is difficult, and it can be quite dangerous when you're learning. It's a bit more complicated than simply pulling on a rope. That rope goes up through the ceiling and into the belfry, where it wraps around a huge wheel to which the bell is attached. The bell starts from an upright position. When you pull on the rope, the wheel turns and the bell swings downwards with huge force, travelling in a circular motion all the way round to an almost upright position again. There's a furry section of the rope called the 'sally' and it's this bit that you grip in order to begin ringing. You pull on the sally, and down it comes, but then, as the wheel turns its circle the sally shoots up into the air - fifteen feet or so - disappearing through the ceiling and up into the belfry itself. You have to remember to let go of the sally. If you were to hang on to it, which all your novice's instinct tells you to do, then you'd be whisked heavenwards and rammed through a three-inch aperture in the roof. OK if you happen to be a bat.

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