Tight writing deadlines in the last few months have meant I’ve got way behind on my blog – so please excuse me if I now have a quick catch-up to shoehorn in two articles I wrote for the Tetbury Advertiser in November and December, before I run out of 2022! This article was written for the November 2022 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser. I’ll post the December one tomorrow.
A recent free concert at St Mary’s, Tetburyby the St Cecilia’s Singers provided a lightning tour of four hundred years of Anglican choral music, from Tallis to Tavener. Listening to the music, I gazed up at the soaring windows and ceiling, remembering from school history lessons that Gothic architecture was designed to draw the eye heavenward. St Mary’s high box pews reminded me, as box pews always do, of earthly coffins. Memento mori all round, then.
In this month’s Hawkesbury Parish News, as new bells arrive at our parish church, I’m reflecting on bell ringing and bell ringers in English churches and explaining why I’m taking up bell ringing.
Ever since I learned that my great-grandfather, born in 1873, was an accomplished bell ringer, I’ve felt an affinity to church bells, but never had the chance to learn to ring them. Now that I’m training to ring the new bells of our parish church, I’ve been finding out some fascinating facts about bell ringing – or rather, sounding the depths of my ignorance.
I’d never realised that each church bell has to be tuned to a precise musical pitch. I hadn’t even classified bells as musical instruments. Now I know they are the loudest musical instrument of all.
Nor had I appreciated that in other countries bells are commonly hung and struck in a different way. I thought “carillon” was the name of a tune played by bells, as in Bruges’ Belfort. Now I’ve discovered it’s the name of the musical instrument used to play tunes on the bells. It’s strung a little like a piano, and each key activates a wire that strikes hammers against the outsides of the bells. A single operator sounds all the bells.
By contrast, in so-called English-style bell ringing, bells are mounted on a headstock allowing them to swing through 360 degrees. Each bell is operated by an individual person, and when the ringer pulls the rope, the clapper strikes the inside of the bell twice during each full rotation.
Not for English-style ringers the dainty tunes of the carillon. We make life more complicated for ourselves by defining complex and varying mathematical sequences. Each variation in the sequence is known as a change, hence the expression “ringing the changes”.
My family still has my great-grandfather’s certificates and press cuttings for completing eight- and twelve-bell peals of over 5,000 changes apiece in churches in Bedford, London, Middlesex and Kent. The peals bear unfathomable names that characterise English-style change-ringing, such as the Treble Bob Maximus, Stedman Cinques, and the New Cambridge Surprise Major. (I’d love to know what the surprise was!) Each complete peal took at least three hours, even if the ringers did it right first time. One certificate wryly notes completion on the fifth attempt.
My great-grandfather died three years before I was born, and he passed on his musical genes to my grandpa, who served for many years as choirmaster in the church where my parents were married and where I was christened. It’ll be a long time before I can tackle a peal of the complexity mastered by my great-grandfather. On the dumb bell in Colin Dixon’s barn, I’m still learning how to control a bell and how to ring it consistently and evenly. But the first time I ring in St Mary’s, I’ll be thinking of my great-grandpa and grandpa, and ringing for them.
Like to know more about St Mary’s and its new bells?
Find out more about the beautiful ancient parish church and idyllic setting of St Mary’s, Hawkesbury via our website: www.friendsofstmaryshawkesbury.com (I’m on the Friends of St Mary’s committee and manage this website.)
I’m planning to write a story featuring bells at some point, but in the meantime, I’d like to recommend one of my favourite novels that centres around church bells, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers – a hugely atmospheric traditional mystery in which a dead body is found in the bell tower of a village in Norfolk, and the iconic amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey investigates. As you can tell from the battered state of the cover, I’ve read it many times. And yes, I named my heroine Sophie Sayers after my writing hero Dorothy L Sayers – and I have a cat called Dorothy!
In case you missed it…
My column for last month’s Hawkesbury Parish News, entitled “Trust Me, I’m a Bell Ringer“, includes a photo of me practising on the dumb bell with an anecdote of how my new hobby almost got me in trouble with the law.
In this month’s issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News, I share cautionary tales about buying and selling our family cars.
When buying or selling a car privately, it pays to be wary of would-be scammers, so when last month we decided to part with a vehicle we no longer needed, I braced myself to fend off shady dealers.
Sure enough, the first offer was what I’ve since discovered to be a classic case of overpayment scam:
Via email, the buyer offers your asking price without even viewing the car and asks to pay online, in this case by Paypal.
You then receive an email confirming his payment – but of a higher amount.
The buyer emails again, regretting his silly mistake and asking you to refund the difference direct to his bank account.
Then he disappears without trace, taking your refund with him, while his original payment to you bounces.
Suspicious when his supposed proof of payment went straight into my spam box, I called his bluff, rebuffing and blocking him without paying a penny.
The next offer came from a much more plausible source: a lady who told me she lives in Chipping Sodbury and works for Marks and Spencer.
What could be more respectable? I thought, before realising that was exactly what a scammer might expect me to think.
Last year I came close to committing an unintentional but plausible scam myself. At a dealer near Wells, we viewed and made an offer for a car, and I set up a bank transfer to pay for it. When I dropped my husband off to collect it and drive it home, the salesman was pleased to see us. “We’ve received your money, thank you,” he beamed, but his face fell when he double-checked. “Oh no, that’s from a different Young.”
“But I’ve paid from my Marks and Spencer bank account, and they told me it would be in your account by 5pm,” I replied. It was already gone five. “But I must dash – I’ve got to get back for bell ringing practice.”
Even though the money had not arrived by the time the dealership closed for the evening, the trusting young salesman let my husband drive the new car away. His nerve almost failed at the last minute.
As he handed over the keys, he said: “You realise if the payment doesn’t come through by the morning, I’ll have to report you for car theft.”
When I checked my bank account the next morning, the money still had not left my account. When I phoned to ask why, I was told it had been stopped it as part of a routine check for money-laundering. The transfer eventually went through, but it cost the salesman a sleepless night.
Only with hindsight did I realise my bell ringing practice would have made a great cover story for a scammer, second only to wearing a clerical collar. Or indeed living in Chipping Sodbury and working for Marks and Spencer.
Fortunately my Marks and Spencer lady turned out to be as genuine as my bell ringing practice, but I fear I may have put the car dealer off bell ringers for life.
A Note about the New Bells of St Mary’s
This month, our local parish church of St Mary the Virgin will take delivery of a wonderful set of eight new bells, which have been cast especially for us, after a mammoth fundraising effort by the Friends of St Mary’s. I’m on the Friends’ committee, and I also run their website.
For more information about this exciting and historic event in the life of our village, visit www.friendsofstmaryshawkesbury.com, where over the coming weeks we will be sharing the story of their blessing, installation and inauguration.
More About Money-Laundering
I’m lucky to have a friend who is an expert on money-laundering – or rather on the prevention of money-laundering. If I ever have any qualms about the trustworthiness of a deal, I know I can count on Susan Grossey for advice. She is the author of a series of books and numerous articles on the topic, which have also inspired her to write an excellent series of mystery novels about historical financial crime. It’s kind of heartening to know that dodgy deals pre-date the digital age and online banking! I highly recommend her Constable Sam Plank series, which kicks off with Fatal Forgery – read more about Susan’s books and where to buy theme on her website: https://susangrossey.wordpress.com/
In Other News
Meanwhile I’m gearing up to launch my next novel, Murder Lost and Found, which is due to be published on 23rd May – a date I chose as auspicious because it will be my daughter’s eighteenth birthday! One of the themes of this story, which kicks off when a dead body is found in the village school’s lost property cupboard, is the deceptiveness of eyewitness evidence, a dilemma encapsulated by the quote from psychologist Elizabeth Loftus in Psychology Today:
“Eyewitnesses who point their finger at innocent defendants are not liars, for they genuinely believe in the truth of their testimony. That’s the frightening part – the truly horrifying idea that what we think we know, what we believe with all our hearts, is not necessarily the truth.”
I’ve had great fun writing this story, the seventh Sophie Sayers Village Mystery, which sees Sophie gain new confidence as she reaches the end of her first year in the village of Wendlebury Barrow. I’ve introduced some fun new characters too, including a trio of mischievous workmen and Anastasia, a beautiful young intern that to Sophie’s horror Hector has appointed while she was away on holiday.