Viv Nobbs rings the bells.
THIS ISLAND LIFEI APPROACH this column with measured, nay reverential, tread. My head is bowed in veneration, my eyes closed in supplication and if I were still blessed with a forelock I would be tugging it repeatedly.
Indeed, were I wearing a kilt, I would probably attempt a curtsey, for I am following in hallowed footsteps.
My body is contorted in this 'I’m not worthy’ sort of way because it’s shuffling along a dainty trail first blazed by La Hofton about 12 years ago, when she agreed to learn the basics of bell-ringing in order to take part in a millennium peal.
Island campanologists are obviously suckers for punishment, because they cast around for a new victim in their 'teach a hack to pull’ campaign and my name must have come floating into their ambit.
The Queen’s jubilee is the reason this time and it’s why every Tuesday evening at precisely 7pm for the past month and a half, Ryde School pupils (and anyone else living in the immediate environs of All Saints’ Church) will have been saying to themselves: "Hark! He’s at it again.
"How unusual it is to hear such a dissonant and irregular clangour emanating from the nearby belfry to spoil our supper and ruin enjoyment of Emmerdale.
"And wouldn’t Victor Hugo be the first to appreciate the exquisite irony of a situation in which Quasimodo is ringing the bells but everyone else is getting the hump?"
All of which brings me to the first problem. You will have noticed the clumsy pun, so brace yourselves for more because the terminology of bell-ringing is riven with innuendo, which would not have been apparent to its pious exponents in 18th-century England but is frighteningly obvious now.
So I expect you to read this column as grown-ups and not titter and cackle whenever you stumble across what may appear to be inappropriate phraseology.
First we should dispel some of the myths about this ancient craft.
Despite some of the bells weighing in at more than a ton, ringing them is a unique combination of rhythm, touch and elementary physics — and practitioners do not require excessive amounts of height and weight to become adept at it.
This was proved conclusively by the cellar-dweller who, though she has many qualities, would not have been first pick for the school basketball team.
Indeed, were height and weight the prime prerequisites, I might have become quite proficient. But they aren’t and I haven’t.
Myth number two is that bell-ringing is so easy you simply turn up at the nearest tower when the mood takes you, tug away for half an hour then hang around to receive a generous gratuity from the bride’s father and a hug of gratitude from her tear-stained mum. But bell-ringing is like every other skill — it looks deceptively simple in the hands of experts.
These people are the commandos of manoeuvres ecclesiastical. They are thoroughly trained, occupy their own discreet corner of HQ, have a tower captain and a number of loyal lieutenants, arrive quietly, carry out their official duty effectively and efficiently, speak a language only they understand, then fade unnoticed and, I suspect, largely unappreciated, into the surrounding countryside.
This means they tend to develop a unique camaraderie and many remain in the service of the bells for much of their adult life.
Take Graham and Viv Nobbs, for example, who between them have been pulling away for more than 85 years — yet their enthusiasm remains undimmed.
Both showed admirable stoicism during the individual lessons they provided for me and showed hardly any irritation at all as I snatched arthritically at the sally, or kept dropping the rope during the backstroke.
For herein lies the nub of the problem when it comes to my own campanological aspirations. Even if I manage to grasp it, I won’t be able to hold it, if you see what I mean.
I now realise I suffered a repetitive strain injury years before they had even been invented.
I’m not a touch typist as much as a thump typist, so 45 years of bashing various keyboards while using index fingers only has left them buckled, bent, bandy and distressingly inflexible.
This means they are not in prime condition to grab a sally while simultaneously clinging on to a rope — and this is the least of the skills required if you wish to devote yourself to the demands of the belfry.
However, I have no doubt there are many reading this who are ideally equipped to take up this pleasing and fulfilling pastime and, by happy coincidence, churches Island-wide are on the look-out for new recruits.
So if you’re anywhere near Newport Minster tomorrow (Saturday) between 10am and 4pm, pop in to meet this cheerful crew, see what is involved and have a go for yourselves.
They will show you how it should be done and I’ll be there about 11am to show you how it shouldn’t.
If you are unable to make it, contact Viv and Graham Nobbs on
firstname.lastname@example.org or give them a call on 01983 530920. They will arrange for you to be introduced to the pleasures of bell-ringing.
In the meantime, my thanks to them and Jill Taylor, tower captain at All Saints’, Ryde, for their help and forbearance.