Last Saturday was the monthly bellringers’ district meeting. I’ve not been to one of these before (though I had intended to go to last month’s), but this time it was at Bluntisham, whose bells have only just been rehung so that they can be rung and only a couple of miles down the road. Bluntisham is where Dorothy L Sayers spent her childhood, and where her father, the Revd Henry Sayers, was Rector a century ago. It was here that she watched an earlier restoration of the Bluntisham bells, though not one that enabled them to be rung. Perhaps this stuck in her memory when she came to write her masterpiece, The Nine Tailors. In that book, Lord Peter Wimsey, superhero, takes part in a 9 hour peal of Kent Treble Bob Major. And so Kent was to be the ‘special method’ at this meeting. And as I have had a couple of attempts at ringing Kent I thought that I would have another go.
The bells have been hung lower in the tower than before, in order to reduce the strains in the tower, and ringing is from the ground floor. When I arrive, the bells have just been rung up and are ringing merrily. Inside the church they seem very loud — you’d want to wear ear plugs if you were ringing a peal. A lot of people have gathered for the meeting, from some of the new beginners trying to form a band for the Bluntisham tower, through to experienced ringers. Some people have come from around the country to ring these ‘new’ bells — very few people will have rung them before — from Worcestershire and other far-flung places. That’s a day trip to spend half an hour ringing at Bluntisham before it’s time to head home!
The ringing alternates between Kent and other methods, such as a touch of Bob Major, and simpler ringing, including rounds and call changes. I stand around, listening and watching (and talking to other ringers as I am trying to arrange a band to ring on Wednesday). Eventually, the leader looks at me and says, ‘You haven’t rung yet, what do you want to try?’ ‘I’d like to have a go at Kent,’ I reply. ‘In theory I can ring it.’
So we ring ‘three leads of Kent’, a shortened form of Kent in which a bob is called at each lead end so that it comes back to rounds after just three leads. I had never rung bobs in Kent, but I had done my homework before going to the meeting. Once again I chose to ring on bell 6, which with hindsight was perhaps not the most interesting bell to ring. At each lead end a bob was called and instead of making Kent places down (4ths then 3rds) I did an extra two dodges in 5-6 down. If I had chosen the 4, then at the first lead end I would have been unaffected by the bob and would have gone into the slow (making 2nds place over each of the other bells in turn), and at the second lead end I would have come out of the slow and, again unaffected by the bob, made 3rds and 4ths up, and then at the the third lead end made 3rds and 4ths up again (which is rounds).
I quickly found that the ropes were rather long, and I had to move my hands further up the rope, so that I had perhaps 15 inches of the tail end below my hands. This is not ideal, as I kept getting smacked in the face by it, and I could still have done with taking in a bit more. If I had known this before I started then I could have tied a knot in the rope, or tucked the tail end up on my little finger. But as it was it reduced my control over the bell.
I think the best that could be said was that I didn’t get lost, that I knew exactly what I was meant to be doing, and that I didn’t need the instructions from the expert ringers around me — ‘lead now’, ‘dodge with me now’, and so on, helpful though such comments are. But I clearly need to concentrate on my striking: that is, on making the bell sound in exactly the right place. Although I didn’t get lost in this method, that doesn’t mean that I was placing my bell just where it should be, and I could tell this from my own hands, and with my ears, listening to the bells as they rung. The other ringers were, of course, much too polite to tell me how bad my ringing was.