Bell ringers’ injuries

In last week’s post, I mentioned that York Minster had fired its volunteer bell ringers. It was a small part of the post, but the comments it provoked have been fascinating. So first—because, admit it, you don’t actually read every golden word I publish, although I can’t think what else you have to do with your lives—let me draw your attention to a few of the comments.

John Evans wrote a first-hand explanation of bell ringing, and that was followed by several other comments that are also worth reading, for both the mechanics and the politics of it all. I won’t give you a separate link since they’re all grouped together.

John also sent a link to a bell ringers’ publication. What could I do but follow it? I was rewarded with a statement from the York bell ringers, setting out their side of the story. John did say bell ringers are a tight-knit group, and this seemed like proof.

Who knew bell ringing was so interesting?

Irrelevant photo: Blackberries in October. Folklore holds that you shouldn't eat them after October 11 because the devil spits on them. Or in some versions of the tale, he pees on them. Yum.

Irrelevant photo: Blackberries in October. Folklore holds that you shouldn’t eat them after October 11 because the devil spits on them. Or in a different version of the tale, he pees on them. In yet another version, the date is October 10–Old Michaelmas Day (the date changed when the calendar was reformed, back in way-back-when, hence the word old). It’s also called Devil Spits Day. Yum yum yum.

Then on Google+, which I’ve never understood but manage to use very marginally, Anita wondered about the sort of injuries bell ringers might get. Since York Minster cited health and safety concerns as a reason for firing the bell ringers, the question made sense, although I had cheerily assumed that since the bells are on one end of the rope and the ringers are on the other, everything was pretty much foolproof. But Anita’s question sent me to the internet, the source of all things informative and bizarre.

It turns out that if you punch bell ringers and injuries into your friendly local search engine—well, actually I don’t know what’ll come up on yours, since search engines gear themselves not only to what country you live in but also to what they think you want to hear, thereby confirming every reckless and ridiculous belief you may hold, political or otherwise.

So instead of talking about what you’ll find, let me tell you what appeared on my search engine. And let me state for the record that as far as I know I haven’t demonstrated any beliefs, rational or otherwise, about bell ringing and injuries in any places where search engines would pick them up, so we can pretend that what I found is completely free of prejudice.

I mean, yes, I’ve voiced a reckless and ill-informed opinion or two, but not in a search engine.

But no one’s entirely out of sight anywhere these days, are they? And whatever you believe about that, a search engine can help you confirm it.

Anyway. PubMed reports that “Seventy nine injuries [among bell ringers] were identified both from review and by advertisement in Ringing World. The incidence of injury among 221 ringers identified by postal questionnaire was 1.8% a year.” It concluded that “Although sonerous, bell ringing can be dangerous and occasionally even fatal. Doctors should be aware of the dangers to which campanologists expose themselves.”

And medical researchers should be aware of the danger of not using a proofreader, because that should be sonorous. And seventy nine should be hyphenated. Take your questions about injuries to these people, but don’t ask them about spelling.

That incidence of injuries is probably why the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers takes the trouble to explain which bell ringers have liability coverage where and under whose insurance. I’d explain it to you, but I became comatose early in the first paragraph and only survived because one of my faithful dogs brought me back to consciousness by insisting on being fed.

After I fed the dogs (the other one got interested when he heard the sounds of chow being dished out), I found an article about a group of bell ringers in Somerset who had to run for it after a bell broke loose and crashed through two floors of the bell tower. They’d noticed that one bell—the big one, which John Evans tells me is called the tenor bell—was hard to ring, so they gave its rope a good hard yank.

Which turned out not to be a great idea. Remember that, everybody.

It’s not a great piece of journalism, but the picture of the bell stuck in the ceiling beams is impressive.

Next up was an article about a bell ringing captain who fell off a bell frame while trying to fix a frayed bell rope. She had to be winched to safety. After that came one about a bell ringer who caught her trousers—if you’re American, that’s pants; if you’re British it’s also pants, but not literally—in the rope and ended up dangling three feet off the floor with a broken collar bone. She had to be lowered through a trap door.

I know this stuff isn’t funny, but having typed up accident after injury after warning, I can’t help wanting to giggle. It’s like watching cartoons. Tee hee, look what happens next.

Sorry, everybody. I’ll get a few of my worst instincts back under control and go on.

That bit about the trousers needs an explanation if you’re American. Or possibly if you’re any other sort of not-British. In the U.S., pants are what you wear over your underpants. In other words, they’re outerpants. In Britain, pants are underpants and you wear them under trousers, which are what you call your outerpants if anyone actually used the word outerpants. But if you want to say something’s lousy, you can say it’s pants. So getting your trousers caught in the bell rope? Yeah, that’s pants.

It’s probably funnier without the explanation. .

D. and D. just informed me that women’s pants are called knickers. Usually. If I live in this country a hundred years, I’ll never get it all sorted out.

But enough fun. We have work to do. I also found a site about safer places of worship. It covers bell ringing, bouncy castles, cyber cafes, and face painting, along with a bunch of other stuff. Religion’s a dangerous business. No wonder people kill each other over it.

And that exhausted my limited patience. I did look up face painting injuries, but most of what I found explained how to paint injuries onto a face, not how to prevent them. Maybe it’s all more hazardous when a church gets involved.

Now, before we pick up our toys and go home, kids, let’s ask ourselves what we learned today.

No, that’s a good guess, but it’s not that pants are funny. It’s that bell ringing’s dangerous. Don’t try it at home.


And finally, an update on the York bell ringers’ firing. A recent article reports that the lead bell ringer was suspended from his job as a teacher after claims of indecent assault. The police initially said no charges would be filed but later applied for a sexual risk order. The application was dismissed last December. The minster banned him from its bell tower in July. The bell ringers weren’t happy about it, and from there on everything just escalated.

I have no idea what did or did not happen, but everybody involved seems to have lawyers.

41 thoughts on “Bell ringers’ injuries

  1. I watched one episode of Midsomer Murders that was all about bell ringers and bell ringing competition. 2 bellringers of one parish were murdered. The competition was a very important event and it was so tight some guy resorted to murder to eliminate the rival. That was hardcore.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And, I’m guessing, a bit improbable.

      Interesting you should bring up the show, though, because it’s been on my mind lately. A year or more back, there was a public flap because one of the central people–the director? someone on that level, anyway–said the reason the cast is all white is because that reflects rural England. I recently read that, ironically enough, the pub they were using to shoot parts of the show was owned and run by an Asian man. In rural England.


  2. > I did look up face painting injuries, but most of what I found explained how to paint injuries onto a face, not how to prevent them.

    Classic ambiguity. Let’s talk through it.

    You were looking for a compound noun. That’s a noun phrase (groupe nominal in French, I believe) in which a noun is modified by another noun. In this case, your intended interpretation was…holy crap, this is fascinating! I have to go away and think some more about how to analyze the two options, but please know that you have made my Toussaints (All Hallows) weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll add bell ringing to the list of professions I’m glad I didn’t pursue. As for pants v trousers, I learned that lesson after my British friend David commented on a post I wrote about buying pants (trousers). Several other people commented at my blog and on Facebook about how they weren’t interested in reading about my underwear.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. OK I laughed out loud. I trust I’ll never meet the woman who caught her clothing (note dodge) and thus dangled. Perhaps there’s a comedy script here. Re facepaint: Right here in boring Minneapolis there’s an event called the Zombie Crawl. People spend a lot of money and time on painting themselves to look dead. I happened to be in the emergency room with my daughter the night of one and one of the doctors on call said it was the worst night of the year. Turns out it takes about 45 minutes to wash the faked injuries off before the doc can determine if there are any real injuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As ever Ellen, your post was not pants … I laughed out loud, ,several times, which, when I’m reading, only the late Terry Pratchett makes me do. As for ‘campanology ‘… that’s far too dangerous a hobby for me, I’ll stick to reading your blog thank you very much … that never gets my knickers in a twist.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So bell ringers are in cahoots with ambulance chasers? I guess it is befitting since the ringers experience high instances of injury. I do love the way your mind works, Ellen. I am curious how bouncy castles & face painting are companions to places of worship. The wonder of the Internet. As always an amusing post!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on steelcityman and commented:
    Note from the U.K …. an excellent blog from Ellen Hawley, a writer of note and an excellent wordsmith with a killer sense of humour. I urge you to read more of Ellen … she will certainly brighten up your days and “ring your bell” !!!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This was the funniest thing I’ve read in quite a while. Thank you. I nearly wet my knickers. But I’m American so I call them panties, which, by the way, you should never call your sons’ underwear by accident. Apparently it’s akin to questioning their manhood even though you changed their diapers and know they’re male.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’d lost you no thanks to wordpress. But some level of telepathy must be at work ’cause I spent a good part of last week explaining the difference between chimes and bells tolling (long story, but if you must have some kind of explanation, go to Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”). So after reading your post I’m curious: which would lead to most bell ringers’ injuries?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, glad you’re back. I just left you a note on your About page. And I haven’t thought about “Chimes of Freedom” in an age. I should give it a listen.

      Most injuries: I’m not sure–I didn’t see anything that hinted at that. But the bell falling? That would surely have led to the most serious ones if it hadn’t caught in the rafters.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ellen this is so funny even for a foreigner like me. In 1970 I went to Eccles Manchester to stay with “my British Family” friends of my mother to work in the Danish restaurant. Josey the mother thought I could be fun for me to try bell ringing in Monton close by. I went there and saw a crowd of girls standing at the church door. I felt so foreign and never said hello but returned home. I wish now so many years later that I had given it a chance.
    The pronunciation was the local dialect where you hear the G very clearly in Bell rinGing

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Now I have an image of Superman with his underpants over his overpants (I always thought they were tights (or pantyhose? Hose… isn’t that something that we water the garden with?) eating a Knickerbocker Glory and avoiding bells ringers flying through the air after their bells… sounds like a Monty Python plot.

    Talking of which, I came across this (which you might already have seen) that I thought might amuse you (but which has nothing whatsoever to do with bells or bell ringers). Help Jeremy the ‘lefty’ snail find a mate….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do love an irrelevant story, and that’s a good one. Now, about Superman and what he’s wearing his underpants over. In the U.S., those would be tights. Or they would’ve when I was young. These days, what with leggings and jeggings, who knows? Tights are (or were) opaque and heavier than pantyhose–or before they were invented, plain ol’ stockings. And always had some color or other. We did not, under any circumstances, wear our underpants over them. The country may have gone insane, but I don’t think that’s a style yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: British and American pronunciation, and other ways of getting in trouble | Notes from the U.K.

  13. Pingback: Getting back on track… last !! | steelcityman

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