A combination of factors, namely my acquisition of a car and the return of a sibling for the weekend, have lead me to take up the role of chauffeur. I’m not yet tired of the novelty of driving so I don’t really mind and I used to get ferried around enough for me to have no leg to stand on even if I did want to complain. The fact we live in the middle of nowhere though, does mean that if some one wants to go somewhere for an hour or so, it is often not worth going home between dropping them off and collecting them.
It is for this reason that this message is brought to you from a Co-op car park to the sound of church bells.
The church bells are no coincidence either – they’re the reason I’m here. It all (well, not all, but this story at least) starts about ten years ago. As I said, we live in the middle of nowhere about a mile outside a village of maybe 100 houses. When the church began looking for new bell ringers, there wasn’t a huge amount of choice and our family seemingly en-masse filled the gap. First my mother and eldest sister, and then, when we were old enough, my younger (still older than me) sister and I also joined. For a church with five bells, this wasn’t a bad turnout from one family. Even when my mother changed jobs meaning she could no longer ring and the first sister moved out. The two of us would continue to go and sit in a freezing church for an hour or two each week. There were times when I hated it. It was freezing and (mainly at the start when we were learning and there were more people than bells) we would spend most of our time sitting staring into space.
Later on though, I did grow to enjoy it. Those two hours provided a way to step back completely from normality and take part in something that no one else (family excepted) seemed to do. The walk into the village itself was part of the enjoyment too. In winter it’d be dark. There were two sorts of dark on this walk.
The first was when it was cloudy-dark. Then it would be properly dark. Not dark in the ‘some body turned the lights out, it’s a bit gloomy’ way. Not ‘everything has an orange tint from street lights’ way either. This was proper ‘I can not distinguish between my eyes being open or shut’ type dark. The sort where after five minutes of your eyes acclimatising to it, you can still only just make out the difference between the ground and the sky.
The second was the clear dark. Being away from the rest of civilisation means that our skies are (relatively – it isn’t Hawaii) unaffected by light pollution. When we get stars we get stars. In the UK this is getting to be a rarer and rarer experience. On a clear night with no moon the entire sky can be filled. There are no areas free of stars only those that provide the dimmer stars that make the others stand out so brilliantly. The milky way is no longer a concept from science text books but a bright swathe of light running across the sky. On a night when there was a moon, it’d often be bright enough to see clearly by. On a clear night with a full moon you’d have been able to read by it. Colour was starting to come back to the world and you have a clearer shadow than you would on most days of a british summer.
It was beautiful. That walk was amazing every time I did it, and that’s from someone for whom walking is an inferior way of travelling when there are things like bikes available.
But I digress. When I finished school and moved to uni. I also moved on from ringing. I neither missed it nor was glad to see the back of it, it was simply not a going concern for me any more. I took up rowing and thought no more about it. It was only at the end of the year I found that my sister on the other hand had stuck with it. She’d found a bell ringing society at uni (there really is something for everyone) and from there joined the group at one of the local churches. She’s now moved on up from the small church in our village. She recently rang for a service in York Minster. Now she’s back for the weekend she’s finding places to keep the ringing going. So here I am. Waiting and reminiscing about the evenings spent in churches (places I avoid at all other times) and the afternoons climbing around the tower fitting muffles to bells.
It may not be a common or even useful skill in today’s society but when the time comes (and I’m sure it will – it has to, hasn’t it?) that the world finds a need for people with such abilities I will be able to stand up proudly and serve my country as few others can. I’ll file it next to unicycling.