Many years back, on the deck of a ship bound from Norway to England, I observed a man in rapt concentration. Sidling close, I saw that his eyes were riveted on a small book, its pages filled with rows of numbers. Being hyper-inquisitive (read, 'nosey'), I asked what it was. He told me he was studying a ringing method. From my blank look, he no doubt realized I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. So, for the next hour or so, he initiated me into the peculiarly English mysteries of Change Ringing (also called Method Ringing). I've been fascinated with the subject ever since.
My story, The Teller of Time, is largely concerned with the 'science' (or exercise, as it is called) of Change Ringing. I'm pleased for the opportunity to here explain some of the possibly obscure ringing terms in the story--and also to give a short introduction to ringing itself.
While writing Teller of Time, I imagined bells. I've included a number of links in this SBtS article so you can hear the bells I imagined. By the way, 'Teller' is a word for a tolling bell--usually the lowest pitched bell in a ring (note: a 'pack' of dogs, a 'sheaf' of papers, a 'ring' of bells).
The bells in a ringing tower, are mounted so they can swing a full 360 degrees (see http://www.mellorfamily.com/bells/AbRinging/AbRinging.html#ChangeRinging for a quick and dirty introduction) and are each worked with a rope--one person per bell. The towers usually have from three to twelve bells. Change Ringing involves ringing all combinations of the bells. For example, say the tower has three bells which we'll call bell 1, 2, and 3 (by convention, the highest pitched bell is 1 [the pitches go down as the numbers go up]). The highest pitched bell is called the Treble, and the lowest, the Tenor.
One could, for example, ring the bells in the following order:
For three bells, there are only six possible rows (a row is also called a change). The sequence of rows is a 'method'. There are multiple methods for ringing the bells through all their possible permutations (ringing their 'extent'). There is a constraint though: Bells are heavy. By pulling the ropes harder or by 'checking' the ropes, a bell can be made to ring one (and only one) position off from its previous ringing position (e.g. the two rows 123 and 321 can't be played sequentially since bell 3 would have to move two positions).
For three bells, ringing the full extent (six changes) would take about fifteen seconds. For seven bells, there are 5040 changes and that would take about three hours. Nine bells would take a solid week. Ringing the extent of twelve bells (479,001,600 changes) would take about 36 years.
Ringing methods have names, for example, Plain Bob Minor, Stedman Triples, Cambridge Surprise Major. The last word in the name (e.g. minor, triples, major) tells the number of bells involved in the method.
Singles - six bells.
Minimus - four bells
Doubles - five bells
Minor - six bells
Triples - seven bells,
Major - eight bells
Caters - nine bells
Royal - ten bells
Cinques - eleven bells
Maximus - twelve bells.
http://homepages.enterprise.net/apddatatree/BobDoubles.html gives and excellent animation (with handbell-like sounds and Tower Captain commands) of Plain Bob Doubles (five bells) with a sixth bell covering.
A few terms used in the story:
Rounds - repeatedly ringing descending scales. E.g. 1234567,1234567,1234567. Before starting to ring a method, rounds are generally rung until the rhythm is established and the band of ringers are comfortable handling their bells.
Sally - the tufted handgrip on the rope. The sally is a different color from the rest of the rope and gives the ringers a visual guide of the positions of all the bells. http://fortran.orpheusweb.co.uk/Bells/software/rounds.htm shows an animation of rounds being rung on six bells. The sallys are shown in red.
Look to. Treble's going. She's gone - When the ringing starts, the person working the treble bell (bell 1) says 'Look to', then pulls the sally. When the bell begins to move, he/she says 'Treble's going', and then, when the bell is falling, independent of the rope, 'She's gone' (or 'Treble's gone').
Peal - on seven bells the extent (5040 changes) or for other numbers of bells, anything over 5000 changes. There are also half-peals and quarter-peals.
Set - The bells are said to be 'set' when they're resting with their mouths pointing upward. A tug of a rope will then set the bell in motion. It takes some time and effort to 'ring up' the bells (to set all the bells). The tenor at Liverpool Cathedral, for example, weighs over four tons.
Touch - ringing less than a quarter peal (e.g. a touch of Plain Bob Minor).
Tower Captain - the conductor of the ringing.
Cover - the case where the tenor rings at the end of every change. It does not take part in the method. This gives a cadence to the ringing. In the story, Kip is covering.
The sounds of bells:
I live in Ithaca, NY, the home of Cornell University. Cornell has a bell tower but the bells are NOT mounted for change ringing. These bells are chimes. A manual keyboard (a set of levers) is operated by a single 'chimesmaster'. Pushing down on a lever causes a mechanical linkage to strike a bell. The ring of 21 bells can play music. http://www.chimes.cornell.edu/sounds.html gives two examples: the Cornell Alma Mater (which, when rung on bells is all but guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of any old Cornellian), and also 'Cornell Changes'. This latter, is played every day, in the morning, before anything else is played on the bells. While it is not change ringing, it is a two-minute evocation of same--the rhythm and sequencing of the bells (and it is a nice recording).
http://www.waltonparish.org.uk/TowerBells.html gives a 13 second example of change ringing from the Parish of Walton-on-Thames. (From that page, click on 'Hear our bells here!')
http://www.nagcr.org/pamphlet.html This page from the North American Guild of Change Ringers gives two terrific examples of the exercise: There is a 20 second recording of Grandsire Triples. There is also a video (warning: 6.55meg download) of about 30 seconds of a band of ringers in a tower performing a touch of Grandsire Caters.
http://www.stoke-poges.com/HTML/bells_title.htm (go to the bottom of the page) a touch of Grandsire Triples (with recordings from both inside and outside the tower) and also some Grandsire Doubles.
Note, in particular, 'Grandsire Triples-Inside the tower': After the captain says 'Treble's going, gone', the band plays rounds until the captain gives the signal to start the method. At one point, you can hear him say 'single'. A 'single' is a change of permutation order affecting two bells ('Bob' is another permutation method, this one affecting three bells). The reason for singles and bobs is that the method generally comes to an end before the peal is over. Bobs and/or singles are inserted so that the method is repeated, but with a different initial bell order--thus giving additional sets of permutations. With bobs/singles, properly called, the band will never repeat a change during a peal.
http://www.eccentrix.com/members/johnketteringham/index.html A few seconds of ringing from a very large number of different towers.
...Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells ...
From 'The Bells' by Edgar Allan Poe
(full text here, http://www.bartleby.com/102/88.html)
http://www.chaddesley-corbett.co.uk/tower_history.htm a very nice, brief introduction
http://www.ringing.info/frames.html a collection of Change Ringing resources
http://www.pghtower.org/Tower%20Handbook.pdf a very complete handbook on ringing from the Pittsburgh Change Ringing Guild (100 pages or so. PDF file)
http://www.cb1.com/~john/ringing/glossary.html A glossary of ringing terms
'Bell Ringing' by John Camp, David & Charles Press, UK 1974