You could join people like Alan Titchmarsh, Victoria Wood, and Jo Brand in a fascinating and extremely sociable hobby which really keeps the brain active and helps to stave off those “senior moments”.
So why not try your hand at bellringing? Not only are church bells the world’s loudest musical instrument, it’s not often you get to use extremely expensive equipment completely free! You don’t need to be particularly fit – so long as you can stand on your own feet for a few minutes and move your arms, that’s all you need. A sense of rhythm and / or the ability to see and learn patterns would be an advantage but are by no means required. As Jo Brand pointed out, it’s also not necessary to be a church goer – in fact in our band only a quarter of the ringers ever stay for the church service.
Bellringing brings a degree of physical activity together with a chance to exercise your brain. The first step is to learn how to handle a bell. Your instructor will help you do this in a series of stages, so that you build incrementally on the skill learned to date. It’s not particularly difficult but like learning any new activity, it requires concentration and practice. If you remember back to when you first started to drive, it’s rather like learning how to get the feeling just right on the clutch. With ringing you need to get a feel for the bell and unlike many activities, you can’t exactly practice this one at home!
Once you’ve acquired the physical bell handling skills, it will be time to move on to learning to ring with others. Up until this point most instructors tend to keep a beginner on their own, so that they can concentrate on building up the handling skills without worrying about other ringers. Now, however, you’ll start to ring with the band and have to adjust your timing so that your bell strikes in the right place. It’s now all about teamwork.
The next step will be a big one, although your trainer will help you through it in smaller stages. This is where you start to learn how to ring methods. Methods aren’t tunes as they are based on patterns so you will gradually work your way up to learning a pattern and then making your bell ring in the right place every time the clapper strikes to bring that pattern to life. This is the stage which may make you feel like you are having to rub your tummy and pat your head simultaneously. Don’t worry though, all your fellow ringers have been through it at some point and will be helpful and encouraging as you make progress.
Method ringing is great for the brain. You’ll need to memorize the pattern of each method away from the tower, repeating it to yourself over and over again until it flows naturally in your mind. You’ll then have to remember this and recite it to yourself whilst ringing the bell, controlling it so you can ring faster or slower to make it sound in the right place in the pattern. This does get easier with practice, particularly when you can handle your bell smoothly on “automatic pilot” thus leaving thinking space for your method ringing.
With bellringing, the number of challenges is pretty well unlimited. Once you’ve learned to ring competently on 5 or 6 bells, you can move on to 8 or 10 and then up to 12. Learning a 12 bell method is a whole new experience and will definitely test your memory!
Ringing is a very sociable activity and very cross-generational. Lots of towers have social activities outside of ringing, and not all of these involve visiting the pub after practice is over. I have been on several bellringing focused holidays, visiting Eire, the Isle of Wight and many areas of mainland UK too. Ringing is something you can do without needing a partner or any prior knowledge. The skills will be taught to you – all you have to do is be willing to come to practice sessions and learn. It’s really easy to join a band of ringers – many bands are short-handed and are looking for new recruits. To find a band of ringers near you, as a starting point have a look on the website of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers. Or, of course, you can always pop along to your local practice night when you hear the bells begin to ring and say you’re interested in having a go. Some towers hold open days or evenings thus giving people a chance to see what ringing entails and even to have a go themselves.
It’s fun, it’s challenging, it’s sociable, it’s good for your memory, so go on, give it a whirl!