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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, September 14, 2003
    The bells
    Is it late summer or early autumn? Seems too hot for the latter, as the park is scattered with people, mainly young, playing easy games (catch-ball, frisbee), or just sitting in small groups soaking up the sun and the green under the ubiquitous blue sky. The view across the park from here is like a June scene; students at leisure. All that's missing are sleeping individuals resting their heads on open books, 'I'll do it later' revisioners at one with the context, not the text. None of that stress today, at the start of term.

    This afternoon we had the Maghull Handbell Ringers providing suitably joyful ambience as a hundred or more visitors walked around our eighteenth century church. This was part of the nationwide Heritage Open Days initiative, where places of cultural and architectural interest open their doors to the public, free of charge, generating all sorts of interesting conversations and plenty of goodwill.

    I loved the bells, they fitted our place - it was in the 18th century that the composer Handel cited the bell as the English National Instrument. The Handbell Ringers of Great Britain tell us that "Tower bell ringers started the art of 'ringing the changes' as long ago as the 16th century. This change ringing, practised in the frequently cold belfry, brought about a suggestion, according to some history books, 'Why don't you create some small bells which you can hold in your hand and take to the local inn to practise in warmth and comfort?'"

    Anything that connects church to pub seems worth encouraging to me. Our guests keep that old tradition going by spending Christmas evenings performing carols in parish churches, then touring eight Maghull pubs. They do old English folk, they do great classics, they do nursery rhymes, they do Elvis. It's easy to learn, a people's music, even I did ok on my first attempt today. Music in church minus pomp or pop pretensions. A gentle treat.