DING DONG

In 1970, as a young teacher in London, I used to read with great enjoyment the clever, scurrilous and satirical rag, Private Eye.  It was there, in a regular comic strip, that I first came across that quintessential Australian, Barry Mackenzie.  I loved him.  He was not only funny; there was something authentic about his coarse innocence and outlandish escapades.  I am sure he helped influence me, many years later, to come to live in Australia.  An unlikely evangelist for the Land of Oz.

 

When eventually I did arrive in Australia, about seventeen years ago, I spent three months as an assistant priest in the parish of Ararat of which later I became Rector. On my first morning I made my way over to church to say matins and to celebrate the Eucharist with my Rector and a local retired priest.  Before going in to church I went over to the bell gantry and gave the big church bell twelve good rings. 

 


This was something I did with such meticulous regularity on the Island of St Helena that many islanders maintained they used to get up in the morning by the bell's ring.  I liked to think that those hard working souls who, as the author of Ecclesiasticus says, maintain the fabric of the world, and whose prayer is the handiwork of their craft, were reminded by the bell's daily ring that their parish priest was offering prayer and the Eucharist on their behalf and for their welfare.  Only once did I fail to ring the bell on time.  That was on the morning that my St Helenian daughter, Elizabeth, was born.  As good an excuse as a married priest could ever find for dereliction of duty.

A Local Harridan

On my second morning in the Australian parish of Ararat, as on the first morning, I again gave the bell twelve good rings.  Just as I finished, the door of a nearby house burst open and the raucous voice of a local harridan, a female equivalent of Barry Mackenzie, ripped the air apart and poured appalling abuse and calumny upon my head for so disturbing the peace!   My Rector refused to let me call the harridan's bluff and so Ararat, sadly, never grew accustomed to being woken by the tolling of a Matin Chime.

 

I love bells.  So did that most attractive of Anglicans, John Betjeman.  His blank‑verse autobiographical poem is entitled Summoned By Bells.  I too have been summoned to worship by a glorious peal of bells in lovely English country towns many times.  Bells peal throughout Betjeman's verse, one of his poems is called On Hearing the Full Peal of Ten Bells from Christ Church, Swindon, Wilts., an admirable mouthful of a title for a poem, but bettered by that of another of his splendid verses:  Church of England Thoughts Occasioned by Hearing the Bells of Magdalene Tower from the Botanic Gardens, Oxford on St Mary Magdalene's Day........

A multiplicity of bells,

A changing cadence, rich and deep

Swung from those pinnacles on high

To fill the trees and flood the sky

And rock the sailing clouds to sleep.

 

A Church of England sound, it tells

Of "moderate" worship, God and State,

Where matins congregations go

Conservative and good and slow

To elevations of the plate.

 

And loud through resin‑scented chines

And purple rhododendrons roll'd,

I hear the bells for Eucharist

From churches blue with incense mist

Where reredoses twinkle gold....

 

 

Sabotage


The bell of my theological college chapel was an awkward brute with a mind of its own. All students were required to take on a weekly stint of chapel‑bell ringing in turn.  To ring the Angelus properly on the College bell, without unwanted grace‑notes, required great skill and was a matter of some pride to anglo catholic students at least.  Those of a more protestant persuasion used to delight to make a hash of it!  One student in particular took too great a pride in his efforts and so a prankster climbed the chapel's roof and tied fishing line to the clapper.  The Angelus began: dong, dong, dong.... The first nine rings were meticulously rung,  there followed the customary devotional, reverential though proud silence,  and then suddenly a frenzied d.d.d.d.d.d.d.d.dong, on and on and on!  How we, and I hope the angels, laughed. 

I once repaired the rope attached to the clapper of the bell on St Helena with the help of a large jubilee clip, and some judicious drilling.  A difficult job of which I boasted to Edwy, a bass in the choir and the ringer of the five minute bell.  At Evensong the following Sunday, Edwy rang for only three minutes of the requisite five.  He then appeared with blood trickling from the bridge of his nose and a reproachful look.  My proudly boasted jubilee clip had detached itself and conked him one!  Thus, perhaps, my laughter at the sabotaged pride of an Angelus rung many years previously was appropriately avenged!

 

People were summoned to worship in the mission station churches of my youth, in Africa, not by a tolling bell but by the clang of a piece of railway line dangling from a tree branch being banged with a large bolt.  This was not a memorably musical sound, but simply to recall it to jot down in this journal has filled me with nostalgia.  Not so much for the noise itself, I think, as for the vibrant African worship it promised.  So perhaps means have not quite become ends and my love of bells might well be part and parcel of my love and worship of God.