Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quasimodo and Quasi-modal.


Chances are you won't recognise this diagram, or understand it, but you'll certainly have experienced its effect. It's a bell-ringer's chart.

If you live near a church, as I do, you’ll know all about the bells. You might bless them or curse them, depending upon the time of day and how you’re feeling (I happened to be ever so slightly fragile this morning) but you’ll certainly notice them.

To the untrained ear a peal of bells might sound like a random cacophony, no more structured than the noise from a hen-house. But it’s not so – or at least it shouldn’t be.

I used to do a bit of bell-ringing as a lad (anything to get out of school for a couple of hours) and whilst I’ve forgotten most of the little I learnt I can tell you that a peal of bells is as structured as a logarithm.


You have charts to follow, wond'rous complex, where you attempt to ring your bell at just the right moment - which will depend upon the bell before yours and whether that has been rung at the right moment. In the example at the top of this post, you are the blue bell, No.2. You can see that the order changes from round to round, and it’s your job to follow the bell that has just been rung.

Bell-ringing can be as physically dangerous as it's mentally taxing. This is the original heavy metal, after all, and trying to control half a ton of swinging bronze ain't easy. If you should hold on to the rope for a split second too long, you’ll find yourself whisked up to the ceiling and forced through a hole no bigger than a doughnut. No wonder campanologists have heads like traffic cones.

So next time you’re driven crazy by the sound of the bells (the bells!) spare a thought for the boys in the belfry, who are attempting the impossible – the Quasi-modal no less – on your behalf. Then curse them anyway, and put a pillow over your head.

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