The Bells!

I have mentioned before that here at the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm we have had trouble with bell ringers. Once you are known to have bells, bell ringers will descend on you from all over the place, desperate to play a ‘new peal’. If you are not firm you can be overrun with them. Now I wouldn’t personally describe them as ‘vermin’ but in all candour I have known some use stronger terms. Especially when kept awake at night by an attempt to play out a full peal with all the changes.

I am not sure how other shrines manage the problem. There are doubtless many winning strategies, but my suspicion is that all will revolve around the need to ‘domesticate’ the bell ringers you have. ‘Your’ bell ringers appear to adopt a possessive attitude to ‘their’ bells, and will work to control interlopers. The most important person in this regard can go under a number of names. I’ve come across Tower Captains, Ringing Masters, and Tower Leaders. If you get a good one, cherish them.

Now I cannot judge this select few from the point of view of an ordinary bell ringer. Similarly I have no opinion on how they maintain order in their campanological swarm. I have heard rumours that some achieve their position of dominance through divide and rule. They maintain order by playing various cliques against each other, achieving harmony through division. Others I have seen strike me as avuncular types. By being everybody’s favourite uncle, aunt, or kin of similar standing, they keep their musicians in order. This can involve keeping their bell ringers fortified with everything from strong liquor through to cake. Whether one is more effective than the other I cannot really comment although it has been pointed out to me that the camp of bell ringers fortified with strong drink tends to pull with more vigour than niceness of timing and the results are discernible to the cognoscenti. On the other hand I’ve even heard of Tower Captains who rule through fear, maintaining the firmest discipline and perfect order.
Yet, between ourselves, when one hears the mathematically wrought cacophony produced, even the most discerning listener struggles to tell the difference between the differing leadership styles.

Now lest people think that I am disparaging campanology, I will state that I rather like the sound of bells. As I sit in thought on the barge, pondering a verse, the sound of a distant peal can even be helpful. Ringing out across the city in a measured manner it weaves music into the very fabric of the municipality. I am not too proud to state that the bells have, on occasion, inspired some of my finer verse.

So my advice to the temple wardens of other shrines that happen to possess bells is to find a competent Tower Captain who you can work with, and domesticate them. Admittedly this domestication is an uncertain process. I’ve known temple wardens who approached the matter methodically. They felt you had to use both carrot and stick. I know in one case where the tower captain and his camp of ringers were asked to play for a wedding. Apparently the bride felt it would be romantic. To be fair to the young lady in question, up unto a point, she was right. The point was when it became obvious that to the ringers, their appointment to ring to introduce a touching service lasting barely half an hour, was merely an excuse to ring a full peal lasting at least three hours. In this case, a nameless lady temple warden handed the bride’s mother a horse whip, opened the door to the ringing loft and let the furious lady have at them. Apparently she cleared the loft in less than a minute, and was greeted with a standing ovation from the wedding guests when she returned to her seat.

But it is often said that wild creatures are better tamed with kindness. It could well be that the truculent demeanour of the senior temple warden induces a healthy respect within the camp. Should another temple warden then make positive comments, arrange for bottles of beer of dubious provenance to be provided to quench the thirst of the ringers, and generally become their friend, there appear to be no limits to the cooperation that can be achieved. In all honesty it has occurred to me that this is why shrines have even numbers of temple wardens. It allows you to have both the cantankerous grouch and the genial acquaintance on hand and you can deploy whichever seems appropriate.

But once you have domesticated your tower captain, then cherish them. Do not, under any circumstances, have anything to do with the lesser lights within the camp. Otherwise you will get drawn in to all sorts of internecine strife and conflict as factions rise and fall and attempt to bring down the tower captain in the process. I well remember when one bell ringer, aspiring to displace her tower captain by guile, told Maljie that it had been decided to change the practice night. Maljie merely looked at her and commented that she was used to discussing policy with the organ grinder, not some small and only sporadically continent ape kept to please the crowd.

Now it may be that you lack Maljie’s personal presence. This is not to be wondered at. Reputations have to be built up over the years, nurtured like some delicate potted plant. But even Maljie had to start somewhere, even if none of us are quite sure when. So when dealing with bell ringers (or other wandering undesirables such as archhierophants or those creatures who dwell deep in the property department of the Office of the Combined Hierophants of Aea) decide on your approach and stick to it. In forty years’ time you will thank me. 

Still I seem to have drifted from the topic. Cherishing your tower captain. The problem with these otherwise splendid figures is that they lack permanence. Whether they are overthrown and devoured by their camp, abscond with the funds or flee in the arms of a lover (I confess I’ve never really understood that latter allusion. Surely you must flee faster if not embracing? Or perhaps you hand the technicalities of flight over to your coachman and thus embrace in the coach as it hurtles through the night?) you will lose one captain and will be forced to acquire another.

My personal preference is to allow the camp to bring forward a leader from within their ranks. But beware, out there in the dark there are ‘tower leaders’ who lack both tower and camp. They are drawn inexorably to a tower with no tower leader and will attempt to inveigle themselves into a position of control. Under these circumstances there is no point in being avuncular, reasonable or open to discussion.

For the lesser temple warden there is only one recourse. Memorise the line, “Ah, but you don’t want to talk to me, you need to discuss this matter with the incumbent.”

That is all you need to say.
Now when it comes to the incumbent, they too have no need to worry about these matters. They merely need to say, “Ah, that’s a temple warden matter. You need to take it up with Maljie.”

At the last count, of four who were directed to Maljie, three abandoned their quest then and there. With regard to the fourth, there are mendicants who are willing to swear in a court of law that they saw that individual leave the shrine carrying his head under his arm.


We’re still on the road with the blog tour promoting ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’ This you can find at, but today we’re with Ritu Bhathal on her blog.

Ritu is a poet and a novelist. You might want to check out not only her blog but also

2 thoughts on “The Bells!

    1. I have been told by veteran churchwardens that the art of bell ringing is the art of managing your bell ringers : They may not be entirely unbiased in this 🙂


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