In the run-up to the Royal Wedding, I was trying to think of something to do that would more than justify my lack of interest in the wedding itself. Something witty, clever, hilarious. So when people say “So, did you watch the wedding?” I could riposte with “No, I did **** instead”, and they’d go “Wow – that’s awesome – I wish I’d thought of that.”
Except, of course, I couldn’t think of anything like that. I suspect that my high level of cynicism, combined with a helping of indifference and a healthy dollop of disdain all combined to erase any vestiges of brilliance I might once have thought I had. Even searching the net came up with nothing better than “Teach yourself some new vocabulary”. Which is just sad. And so I settled on two rather uninspiring plans. If the weather was nice, I’d cycle down to Stratford-upon-Avon again. Perhaps stopping along the way at the villages en route to see how their street parties were getting along. And if it wasn’t so nice, I’d go explore a town a little further away.
Given the glorious sunny weather of the past three weeks, the latter option was the obvious favourite, and so it proved to be. Overcast, windy, a nippy 10°. So I settled for a walk around Worcester. Which was fantastic, for various reasons. One is that it’s a great place in its own right. Also, I had the town pretty much to myself. Hardly anybody was about. Must all have been off somewhere doing something else, I imagine. I could peruse the Cathedral, wander along the banks of the Severn, traipse about Diglis basin drooling at the barges, all without having to worry about treading on anyone’s toes.
But what I really enjoyed was the peal that the Cathedral put on. They have one of the best sets of bells in the world (so they say), and they rang it for four hours today – from an hour before the wedding, to two hours after. Magnificent, it was. I’ve never heard decent change ringing before, and while the musical attraction of it is something I may take a while to get used to, the mathematical permutations certainly appeal. Once the noise factor subsides a little (those bells are loud – in the cloister garden they were somewhat deafening), you start to pick up the patterns, and then how the patterns are changing. It’s a small step from there to trying to predict what the next ring order will be, and then it really becomes enjoyable.
And now, having returned home and done a bit of research, I can see what they were trying to do. The changes in ring order are subtle – just a switch of two bells each time. To the untrained ear it sounds a bit monotonous – as though they’re doing the same thing over and over. But the result is that the sound slowly morphs from one form to another. I must admit that it’s rather fascinating. Particularly when considering the mathematical constructs. For example, taking the alphabet, and combining V and U, and I and J gives you 24 letters, or three groups of 8. Transposing letters in each according to a set pattern (Plain Bob Minor, perhaps), and stopping at a given step would allow a simple (yet effective) code to be set up. Particularly if a different step was used for each letter translation, and a different pattern were used for each set of 8 letters.
And so, while all this wasn’t quite enough to make me want to take up bell-ringing, it certainly was enough to satisfy my desire for something worthwhile to do while Big Willie and Waity Katy did their little thing. And, as it turned out, I did catch two short glimpses of the wedding, while going to and from my lunch table at the excellent Farriers Arms. One was the wedding couple alighting from their carriage, and the other was some loony woman wearing a set of antlers on her head.
And I think that that is all I needed to see.