Restoring a country’s greatness: bell ringers, royal yachts, and low self-esteem

Don’t stop me to ask what greatness means when it’s applied to a country. Don’t ask if restoring greatness is like restoring virginity, or if greatness has actually been lost, or who’d pay the price (monetary or otherwise) for restoring it assuming it could be restored. Do not under any circumstances approach this claim as if it made sense. The idea is for a politician to make it and run so fast that no one will stop to reason it all through.

Ready? We’re going to restore greatness today. To not one but two countries. Because anything a cynical politician can do, I can do better.

Let’s start in the U.K. with a move by a group inside the Conservative Party that will restore Britain’s greatness by bringing back the royal yacht. The New York Times describes the move as “strong.”

Completely relevant photo: Fast Eddie has never lost his greatness.

Completely relevant photo: Fast Eddie has never lost his greatness. He attributes that to his ability to sleep 27 hours a day and still hunt at night. He assures me he’s never killed anything that didn’t need killing. This doesn’t completely reassure me, but you know how hard it is to argue with greatness. Eddie reminds me to tell you that an interview with him appears at Adventures in Cheeseland. Sorry I didn’t do that earlier–it’s been a little crazed around here and I let myself get distracted from the important stuff.

The Times writes, “ ‘I think we have to ask ourselves what sort of Britain we want to live in and what we can do,’ Jake Berry, a lawmaker, said Tuesday in Parliament, ‘to make Britain great again.’ His answer? ‘If Brexit is going to mean successful Brexit, it should also mean the return of our royal yacht!’

“The Conservative benches loudly murmured their approval.”

For every difficult question—or so the saying goes—there’s always an answer that is simple, appealing, and wrong. I’m not sure how appealing this one actually is, but it is simple. And that was probably the Conservatives murmuring, not really the benches. I just thought we should be clear about that.

For those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while, I should mention that the royal yacht, before it was decommissioned, was not named Boaty McBoatface. The new one, if it ever gets commissioned, will probably not be called that either. But I did hear a news presenter on BBC’s Radio 4 promote an interview with Sir David Attenborough by saying that Boaty McBoatface was named after him.

I can only hope the man has a sense of humor. Or at least that he doesn’t want his greatness restored after being talked about that way. It’s expensive, all the greatness restoration.

Next we jump to the U.S. for the news that Donald Trump—who wants to restore American’s greatness by saying whatever comes into his head and, incidentally, by putting Hillary Clinton in prison—has accused Clinton of taking performance-enhancing drugs to prepare for the third debate.

If you work your way through the accusation, you may find yourself wishing Trump would take get-to-the-point-enhancing drugs. But surely you saw Clinton lift off the ground and fly around the stage during the third debate.

You didn’t? The networks probably cut that bit. You know how biased they can be. Anyway, you have to ask yourself, how’d she do that?

I can’t leave the topic without quoting an acquaintance of Wild Thing’s, who explained his support for Trump by saying that Clinton is corrupt and a liar and has low self-esteem. We should probably make that criminally low self-esteem.

No wonder he can’t vote for her.

But don’t worry. Performance-enhancing drugs can also restore your virginity–or anyone else’s, since we’re on the topic.

Having clarified that, we return to the U.K. and the volunteer bell ringers of York Minster, who have all been fired. They weren’t told why, but the letter firing was headed, “York Minster invites everyone to discover God’s love.”

That left them feeling deeply loved. So much so that they went public with the story. In an interview on Radio 4, the cathedral’s dean said the firing had to do with health and safety issues. She mentioned how heavy the bells are.

And they are. Heavy enough that the bell ringers are unlikely to haul them around. Historically speaking, bell ringers dropping bells hasn’t been a problem, and throwing them has been even less common.

A more recent article says York Minster regards one particular member as a safeguarding risk, but the others had “consistently challenged” the Minster’s governing body. Whether a safeguarding risk means the bell ringer is a risk or puts other people at risk is anyone’s guess.

The weight of the bells wasn’t mentioned.

What’s any of that got to do with restoring lost greatness? It’s at least as relevant as the royal yacht. The world, my friends, has officially gone insane and satire is dead. If you don’t find me particularly funny in this post, it’s only because reality has outstripped me.

But since no country can be truly great until an automated system recognizes its existence, let me tell you a tale about Wild Thing and the Netherlands, which desperately need their greatness restored.

Wild Thing’s traveling this week, and she’s making a stopover in Amsterdam. It’s only a couple of hours, but she wanted to make sure she could use her credit card. Just in case. So she called the phone number on the card and punched the buttons for Update Travel Plans.

An automated voice asked where she was going.

“The Netherlands.”

“Did you say Venezuela?”

“No. The Netherlands.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Did you say Senegal?”

Et cetera, through a couple of even more likely spots.

Wild Thing thought she’d try Holland.

“Is that Holland, Michigan?”

Cue the sound of breakables being thrown against the wall opposite Wild Thing’s computer.

“Amsterdam,” she said when she’d run out of breakables she was willing to sacrifice.

“Did you say Sri Lanka?”

I am increasingly worried about what’s going to happen with self-driving cars. Forget restoring a nation’s greatness. How are we going to restore the passengers who get whisked off to South Korea when they thought they were headed for Slough?

62 thoughts on “Restoring a country’s greatness: bell ringers, royal yachts, and low self-esteem

  1. I used to be a bell ringer (albeit a not very good one). Having seen at first hand how good the best bell ringers are – and I’m sure the ringers at York Minster would be very good indeed – I’m at a loss as to why the Dean of said minster would see fit to dismiss the whole bell ringing team at once. I’ve just read the BBC and Guardian news articles on the subject, and the whole affair looks very machiavellian to me. I see that in this case, once again, unspecified “health and safety” concerns have been cited by an unaccountable “authority” – the Dean in this case – as the reason for the sackings. It’s bullshit of course – bell ringers know more about health and safety when ringing than any Dean would (unless the Dean is also a bell ringer, which appears not to be so). Has the Dean any understanding of the need for openness in public decision making these days? It appears not. As for the anodyne statement “The Chapter of York is committed to having a fully trained, motivated and engaged body of staff and volunteers by 2020.” Well, anyone who thinks it will be possible to recruit and train by next Easter a brand new team of ringers who would be capable of safely handling those bells is clearly in la-la land. I see the tentacles of management consultants behind all this – the worst kind of management consultants who convince their gullible customers that they (the consultants) know all, and yet they know nothing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I assumed it was cathedral politics, but you may well be right. As a guy I once worked with liked to say, “Have you ever heard of a
      consultant who came in and said, “Everything looks great. You don’t need me”?

      I do understand that bell ringing is a highly skilled thing, but I don’t understand why. To a complete outsider, it just looks like pulling on a rope. Any chance you could explain?


      • The key is when to pull the rope. There’s a complicated thing called “ringing the changes” where you ring the bells in sequential patterns working through all the possible permutations of the order. A full peal is ringing through every possible sequence, which is 720 rounds with six bells, and gets crazy big really quickly if you have more.

        Here’s an article on this:

        (I have a friend who is a bell ringer at the National Cathedral in DC!)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ubi Dubium has given you half the story. The other bit is that actually handling a bell properly in order to ring changes, or even ring it at all, is a hard won skill, and it takes tuition from experienced ringers and then lots and lots of practice to do it well.

        When you pull on the rope, you make the bell swing all the way round until it’s almost vertical, with its mouth facing upwards. You hold the bell in that position for a brief second, just by using the tension of the rope, and then pull the bell back down again and let it rotate until it’s once more facing upwards. Then you hold it, and pull it back round again, and so on, and so on. This is not an easy thing to do – the bell is a big lump of metal with lots of momentum once it gets going, and it’s at the other end of a long piece of rope, and you can’t see it, you can only feel it. Anyone who tries to ring a church bell for the first time (under strict supervision from an experienced ringer) is usually terrified when they feel that big bell just wanting to snatch the rope out of their hand.

        In a set of change ringing bells, the largest one (which therefore has the deepest note) is called the tenor. I once rang the tenor at Winchester Cathedral, and that was some bell. A little research (Wikipedia!) has revealed that the tenor at York Minster weighs 3 imperial tons – that’s why you don’t just yank the rope and hope it’ll chime! To handle a a beast that big, you’ve really got to know what you’re doing.

        And all the above explains why I said in my post above that “anyone who thinks it will be possible to recruit and train by next Easter a brand new team of ringers who would be capable of safely handling those bells is clearly in la-la land.”

        Bell ringers are a clannish lot anyway, and if the Dean of York Minister has decided, for whatever reason, to pick a fight with the Minster’s bell ringers, said Dean will probably find that none of the other ringers in the York area, or anywhere else for that matter, will be prepared to ring the Minster bells,or to teach anyone else to ring them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow. To all of that. I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to have that many tons of metal pulling back at you. Sort of like singing harmony with it, only through a rope. Or–well, the metaphor’s gone a little haywire so never mind, but it sounds like an amazing experience.

          It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the story and see if they have to end up installing a recording up there.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It is an amazing experience, but also rather scary the first few times you do it. It’s also curiously addictive, in the way that knitting is, which is probably why so many bell ringers make it an integral part of their lives. The ringing community even have a weekly newspaper, The Ringing World. These days it’s a website at “

            Liked by 1 person

            • I just followed the link and the front page is given over to a response from the (former) bell ringers of York. You’re right about it being a tight community. Here’s what they said:

              “The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, delivered a statement this afternoon regarding the York Minster bell ringers.

              “In this statement he referred to Chapter’s decision earlier this summer to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds. He also stated that “some of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have consistently challenged the Chapter’s authority on this and other important matters. Repeated disregard of the Chapter’s attempts to fully implement the Church’s national policies for safeguarding, health and safety and security meant that decisive action was required.”

              “The York Minster Society of Change Ringers (YMSCR) would like to clarify that, whilst we have challenged the Chapter on the fairness of some decisions, we strongly refute any suggestion that we disregarded the implementation of any of their policies. All of Chapter’s policies have been implemented in full, at all times. YMSCR take health and safety, security and safeguarding with the utmost seriousness. The Dean and Chapter have not been able to point to any evidence that suggests the contrary.

              “Individuals within YMSCR have privately expressed concerns to the Dean and Chapter over whether due process was followed during their action regarding a member of the bell ringing community. As a direct result of doing so, the entire team had their volunteer agreements terminated. This demonstrates that York Minster do not tolerate any questioning of their decisions, or of the processes by which these were made, even when that questioning is conducted politely and in private.

              “If this was the reason for the Dean and Chapter’s decision to dismiss the band last week, we do not understand why this was not communicated to us at the time, and why the Dean and Chapter misled the public by releasing several statements contradicting this. We are deeply disappointed that Dean Faull and Archbishop Sentamu have decided to release their statement this afternoon without any prior communication or consultation with YMSCR.

              “Now, more than ever, we feel the need to sit down and talk in private with the Dean and Chapter of York Minster to discuss these issues. We make a direct appeal to Dean Vivienne Faull and Archbishop John Sentamu to make contact and to arrange this meeting.

              “Update: Please note that, contrary to some reports, to our knowledge, there is no ongoing investigation into any member of YMSCR, past or present.”


  2. I was already forming s comment about Boaty McBoatface when you stole gif punch line :( It’s ok, I mean it’s your blog and all. Still, ghst might be all I had for this post. I know Jimmy Carter sold out yacht. I’m not sure if someone commissioned a replacement. Maybe thats what Donald has in mind – if there’s such a place as mind in the empire.

    Holland, Michigan is nice this time of year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, dear, me Dearie….I had many, many comments regarding the ringy-dingies, the fallen arches at Boaty MacTrump, the uncanny resemblance of Sir David Attenborough to, well…himself. The more coherent thoughts have been sidetracked (think East Sussex trains) with mind-altering yet enhanced full-strength 12-hour relief Paracetamol.
    I know. I know.
    You are most welcome…..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, my. You are so right that reality has become so much more bizarre than anything we could possibly make up. Have the effects of too much mind-numbing television finally caught up with us? I would never watch a show about a psychopath ruthlessly seeking to become emperor, and here I am IN that show (admittedly as a non-paid extra in the crowd scenes, standing there in open-mouth disbelief). Still … hoping it will be canceled once and for all on November 8. Perhaps our failed emperor could decorate your royal yacht…it gives me a sinking feeling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have any personal experience of either Trump’s taste in decorations or the royal family’s, but I have a hunch they wouldn’t be a perfect match.

      Or maybe they would be. What do I know? Maybe after he’s done raising hell about being cheated by an election that doesn’t go his way (she said in a moment of optimism) he could apply for the job.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. David Attenborough for US President? Sounds good to me. He used to run the BBC Two TV channel. That’s more of a credential for the post than being an idiot millionaire.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Perhaps this fancy-schmancy yacht-that-was can be re-commissioned, tastefully decorated, filled with politicos from both sides of the pond, and set off to sail into an active whirlpool, never to be seen again?

    And the bell-ringers can sound out their send-off – after being properly medicated with performance-enhancing drugs.

    I’m doing a write-in vote on November 8, BTW. I think Fast Eddie would be a stellar Mr. Prrrrrrsident.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eddie’s asked me to say that he’s flattered but that he’s not running, and that if elected he will sleep through his entire term of office. Except when he’s hunting. Or eating. This may or may not make you reconsider your vote.


  7. I don’t seem to be able to “like” the various comments here that I do in fact “like” very much. As a musician in my former life I’m thrilled to hear about bell-ringing and its complexity and nuance. As always I enjoyed your post much. Moscow, Idaho is also very nice this time of year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure Moscow, Idaho, is lovely, but it’s not a great place to practice my Russian. Which needs all the practice it can get, believe me.

      I’ll check on the Like buttons and see if they’ve disappeared somehow. The comments about bell ringing are fascinating and deserve all the Likes they can get.


      • I can see the Like buttons, but when I click on one I now get a pop-up asking me to log in to WordPress. I don’t have a WordPress account and am unlikely to create one. Looks like some configuration for your blog site has changed. Or maybe WordPress want more business so they’ve decided to try and entice users in through this crude mechanism – like Microsoft with sneakily trying to get users to create a Microsoft account when their newly-installed Windows 10 starts up.


  8. Ellen- This piece had me snickering . Boaty McBoatface? What a regal name befitting of the royal yacht. Exactly how is reinstating the yacht going to assist with Brexit? I have not been following the debates but Trump and his Tang hair are batshit crazy. Performance enhancing drugs? What is Hillary? Secretariat? Barry Bonds? Did she suddenly start playing for the NFL? Trump is a daft prig. I really feel for Wild Thing’s episode trying to update her travel plans. I had a similar episode trying to get through Sprint’s automated IVR of hell. Good times! Thanks for the chuckles.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For all my jokes about driverless cars and where they’ll end up (sat navs take people some interesting and bizarre places around here), I do actually worry about it. My partner’s got wet macular degeneration and can’t drive anymore. Driverless cars sound like an ideal solution, only I’m afraid she’ll step into one and I’ll never see her after again.


  9. To me, the ‘Greatness’ used to indicate respect. For instance, in the past when I’d tell someone I was from Britain, the response was usually something positive. Nowadays it’s more likely to be “oh fuck!”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Just checked out Cheeseland, and Fast Eddie makes more sense than all the politicians put together. My mother voted for Brexit because she ‘wanted our country back’ – now she’s regretting it. Why do people still believe the meaningless brain farts that come from the mouths of politicians?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wish I knew. I’m afraid all those people who wanted their country back are going to get it back in pieces by the time the government’s done disassembling everything. It breaks my heart. I may have to join Fast Eddie and deal with it by taking a nap.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Bell ringers’ injuries | Notes from the U.K.

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