As you may have deduced, I am a church bellringer of many years’ standing. And as was, of course, Remembrance Sunday very recently, the ringers at our tower met to ring for this special day.
It’s traditional to ring in a manner known as “half muffled”. What happens, is that a leather pad or “muffle” is attached to one side of the clapper, so that when that side of the clapper strikes the bell at the end of its swing, the sound made is muffled and therefore somewhat fainter than the strike from the other side of the clapper. This makes for a very mellifluous sound which can be really rather soporific. I love ringing half-muffled as it tends to feel much more rhythmic than usual and is almost hypnotic. A greater degree of concentration than usual is needed so you don’t nod off!
The YouTube clip below is from Westminster Abbey so you can have a chance to hear some half-muffled ringing. It’s rather good!
In the parish where I ring, there is a ceremony of remembrance at the war memorial, situated halfway between two villages. Although the church is not close to the memorial, we tend to ring after the conclusion of the two minutes’ silence, generally for about half an hour. We ring half-muffled to mark the difference from usual Sunday service ringing. I always find it a solemn occasion but really worthwhile. I feel it’s really important that we all remember and honour those who gave their lives for their country and ringing the bells half-muffled on Remembrance Sunday is my small contribution.
Ringing at this time of year in my tower brings certain challenges. The main structure of the tower consists of wooden beams and these are home to many flies over the summer. But as soon as the weather starts getting colder, and particularly when we begin to get frosts, they start dropping, well, like flies! You walk up the wooden spiral staircase with steps smothered in dead and dying flies – with the occasional wasp for a spot of variety – and then in the ringing room, there’s a layer of them all over the carpet and window ledge. Each week has to start with a major vacuuming session before we can get round to the business at hand. Then when you are ringing, the odd dead, or dying fly, drops out of the beams to land on your head, hair, or if very unlucky, down your T-shirt. It makes for a very itchy evening.
Some years, we come up the stairs to ring to find we have acquired a swarm of ladybirds. Hundreds and hundreds of them clustered on the wall around the window. It’s quite a sight to behold. And then one day, they’ve gone.
Thinking about other inhabitants of our tower, we have had the odd visit from a murine friend. One ringer suddenly spotted a small, whiskery face peeping out from underneath the clock casing but it took fright and scuttled off. We have to be careful and make sure all sweetie wrappers (well, you need an energy boost of a practice night) are firmly in the closed bin, otherwise we’ll find a pile of well chewed papers on our next visit.
We have, just the once, had the traditional “bat in the belfry”. On arrival, it was spotted clinging to the ladder but it soon made a quick exit and we’ve never seen it since. A robin once greeted us one Sunday morning but very sensibly found the window we opened up for it and headed out into the wide blue yonder.
This year, we decided to leave the bells half-muffled until after our practice night ringing and it certainly brought a new dimension to the evening’s ringing. Ringing like this highlights every little mistake or trip in the ringing and so can be a boon to those who find it difficult to hear their own bell. Back to usual next week. Here’s hoping we have enough people available to ensure we don’t have to cancel our practice.