Getting roped in 1994

  January 1994 

  In the gloom of a January evening, I lurked outside the church of St John, Ranmoor, and pounced on the first ringers to show up for practice. Pauline Heath and Robin Story listened to my story - an American free-lance writer, living for a year within the sound of their bells, drawn by curiosity, thinking of writing about bell ringing - and invited me in.

  When practice ended, I felt I had about 15 new friends. I remembered some of their names, but my head swam with sallies and bobs. Over many practice sessions, with eager help from anyone sitting out a ring, some understanding dawned.

  Surprisingly, a downward pull on the rope didn’t sound the bell. Eventually I managed to pinpoint where the bell actually rang in that graceful sequence of motions. Non-bellsounds - the slap of ropes against their holes and muffled creakings from above-were startlingly noisy. With all 10 bells at work, the ringing chamber had the atmosphere of a three-mastered ship under full sail, all hands on deck.

  I expected to continue note taking quietly in a corner, but I reckoned without the bellringers’ passion for recruiting. During a short break one evening, tower captain Chris Bennett handed me a rope, ignoring my selfconscious protests. I found myself pulling a tailstroke under the watchful care of Peter Scott. I began to feel that I might be able to do this. After all, 1 was already doing half the stroke.

  Next session brought reality. I got to pull the sally while Peter took charge of the rest of the stroke. There was more to this than I thought. Expectations suitably lowered (if I could just ring the bell before leaving the country), I started lessons with Peter, his wife Elaine and their son Iain.

  Learning a motor skill in middle age is a humbling experience. It revives frustrating memories of learning to tie your shoe laces or drive a car. But an advantage of middle age is experience. I remembered triumphantly tying laces just after deciding I’d have to spend life in slippers. So, despite snail-like progress handling a bell, I was patient. (So were Peter, Elaine and usually Iain).

  And somehow one night I was (sometimes) controlling the timing. As often as not, my hands and fingers ended up in the right place on the handstroke. I felt as I had when my mother let go my bicycle for the first time and I wobbled away excitedly on my own.

  Don’t get your hopes up. recruiters. I still don’t quite believe I won’t drop the tail-end when I reach for the sally.

  I live far from any towers in the United States and what mystery writer Ngaio Marsh called the “orderly rumpus” of change ringing is well beyond me.

  But I have wonderful memories short subscription to the Ringing World, a towerful of friends and a story to write.

United States of America
(from ’Sprats’, Sheffield District Newsletter)

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