Bell-ringing

And this, gentle reader, is what happens when a grown man spends an entire weekend listening to Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ on repeat…

Illustration: Fat Roland

Bell-ringing. Has it really come to this? I’ve written 47,000 columns for this wretched magazine and the only subject left to talk about is bell-ringing? You’d love that, wouldn’t you? Me typing a column about bells while swinging from a rope in a crumbling cathedral spire like some kind of journalistic Quasimodo. I can’t believe you’re making me do this.

I have actually been actual bell-ringing, as it actually happens. There’s an ancient church near me that was built by the Mayans or something. It’s full of statues of old saints looking gormless. They never do a thumbs-up, do they, old statues? Miserable bunch. Anyway, this church has bell-ringing practice every week. So if you’re knocking about the neighbourhood on a Tuesday evening, scoring drugs or selling broken fridges or whatever it is cool kids do these days, you’ll hear the building burst into song. A weird song, mind you. Bell-ringing melodies make no sense. The dongs are all mixed up with the dings. It sounds like Squarepusher played by babies.

When a friend invited me to a practice session, I jumped at the chance. “I’ll sort out those dodgy dongs,” I thought. Turns out it’s quite difficult. You climb up into the belltower and there are these ropes. Lots of puzzling ropes. You’re meant to yank a rope and it peals a bell. A bit like pulling on a rhino’s tail to make it hoot. Never done that? You should give it a try. The first thing they tell you is that if you don’t let go after yanking, the pull of the rope will tear each of your 206 bones from your body. The second thing they tell you is how much the bells weigh. If they become dislodged and fall, you’ll be crushed into instant jam. And not even delicious jam like wild plum or something with cinnamon.

Everybody stands in a circle and you pull a rope in turn. The regulars wear sandals and Christian T-shirts. They’ve got big arms because of all the yanking they do together. I have normal Fat Roland arms, so my muscles start burning within minutes. You don’t get that with other instruments. No one has ever got repetitive strain injury from playing the triangle. And the practice session goes on for ages. We ring the bells in various formations and none of it makes sense. It sounds like a baby doing an impression of a baby doing Squarepusher.

What they don’t tell you about is the delay. When you tug, the bell doesn’t jizz instantly. The clapper has to do its clappy thing, so there’s always a second or two until it bangs its dong. These are official campanology terms, by the way. It’s infuriating because if you want to ring a bell, you’ve got to play it in advance. It’s like having a synthesiser plugged into Ableton, but the computer’s low on RAM so it lags like crazy. It’s like DJing on belt drive. It’s like having a delay filter overriding everything you do. It’s like pulling on a rhino’s tail, but then the rhino has to think about it before doing a hoot. I failed miserably. Could not get my head around it.

Bell-ringing is the worst instrument I’ve ever played. No wonder those statues look gormless. They haven’t got good gear like a Minimoog. Or a bass guitar. Or a kazoo. I offered to patchbay the church belltower, but the vicar just looked at me a bit confused and asked me to get out of the font.

There. A column about bell-ringing. Happy now?

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