Thursday, 28 May 2009

The bells, bells, bells

Norwich is full of mediaeval churches and as I wandered along Pottergate this morning and heard nine o'clock chime I supposed the sound to emanate from one of them. In fact the tolling bell was in the clock tower of City Hall, a 1930s construction apparently much admired by Hitler and complete with prominent leopards doing his trademark straight-armed salute.

I have many associations with bells but have never seriously considered campanology. Ever since I damaged the hearing in one ear listening to a rock band rehearse I have found myself very sensitive to loud noises. I have enjoyed hand-bell performances but otherwise keep my distance. And until today I had been unaware of Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem. The closest I had come was Viv Stanshall's wonderful line 'Edgar Allen pot pourri of Eldritch foul imaginings' from Sir Henry at Rawlinson End.

But my own favourite memory is of walking up the steps of a friend's house to call on him. I was fifteen and in an artificially-induced state of heightened (or altered or both) awareness. The instant I pressed the button on his door-frame the bells in the church across the road began to peel in those complex and evolving descending patterns. The time it took me to establish what had just happened was long and delicious.


  1. My first morning at Cambridge Uni I was excited and woke early, and having nothing else to do, took my bike into town on a cool, misty, Sunday morning. As I rested against the kerb outside King's, admiring the architecture throught the mist, suddenly all the church bells started ringing, and I stopped to listen, entranced, for what seemed ages.

    Never again in my time there did I get up early enough to hear them :)

  2. (You don't say how often you stayed up long enough to hear them.) I've never seen Cambridge so early in the morning before the crowds arrive but perhaps now I'll make a point of it. Like so many places it is becoming a victim of its own beauty but I still get a thrill every time I visit.