A Fear Of Heights by Jim Webster #BlogTour

That extremely talented Jim Webster has another release coming up, and has kindly written a story for us here on But I Smile Anyway!

Smallfield, Frederick; The Ringers of Launcells Tower; Royal Institution of Cornwall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-ringers-of-launcells-tower-14469

The Bells!

I have mentioned before that here at the Shrine of Aea in her Aspect as the
Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm we have had trouble with bell
ringers. Once you are known to have bells, bell ringers will descend on you
from all over the place, desperate to play a ‘new peal’. If you are not firm
you can be overrun with them. Now I wouldn’t personally describe them as
‘vermin’ but in all candour I have known some use stronger terms. Especially
when kept awake at night by an attempt to play out a full peal with all the
I am not sure how other shrines manage the problem. There are doubtless many
winning strategies, but my suspicion is that all will revolve around the
need to ‘domesticate’ the bell ringers you have. ‘Your’ bell ringers appear
to adopt a possessive attitude to ‘their’ bells, and will work to control
interlopers. The most important person in this regard can go under a number
of names. I’ve come across Tower Captains, Ringing Masters, and Tower
Leaders. If you get a good one, cherish them.
Now I cannot judge this select few from the point of view of an ordinary
bell ringer. Similarly I have no opinion on how they maintain order in their
campanological swarm. I have heard rumours that some achieve their position
of dominance through divide and rule. They maintain order by playing various
cliques against each other, achieving harmony through division. Others I
have seen strike me as avuncular types. By being everybody’s favourite
uncle, aunt, or kin of similar standing, they keep their musicians in order.
This can involve keeping their bell ringers fortified with everything from
strong liquor through to cake. Whether one is more effective than the other
I cannot really comment although it has been pointed out to me that the camp
of bell ringers fortified with strong drink tends to pull with more vigour
than niceness of timing and the results are discernible to the cognoscenti.
On the other hand I’ve even heard of Tower Captains who rule through fear,
maintaining the firmest discipline and perfect order.
Yet, between ourselves, when one hears the mathematically wrought cacophony
produced, even the most discerning listener struggles to tell the difference
between the differing leadership styles.
Now lest people think that I am disparaging campanology, I will state that I
rather like the sound of bells. As I sit in thought on the barge, pondering
a verse, the sound of a distant peal can even be helpful. Ringing out across
the city in a measured manner it weaves music into the very fabric of the
municipality. I am not too proud to state that the bells have, on occasion,
inspired some of my finer verse.
So my advice to the temple wardens of other shrines that happen to possess
bells is to find a competent Tower Captain who you can work with, and
domesticate them. Admittedly this domestication is an uncertain process.
I’ve known temple wardens who approached the matter methodically. They felt
you had to use both carrot and stick. I know in one case where the tower
captain and his camp of ringers were asked to play for a wedding. Apparently
the bride felt it would be romantic. To be fair to the young lady in
question, up unto a point, she was right. The point was when it became
obvious that to the ringers, their appointment to ring to introduce a
touching service lasting barely half an hour, was merely an excuse to ring a
full peal lasting at least three hours. In this case, a nameless lady temple
warden handed the bride’s mother a horse whip, opened the door to the
ringing loft and let the furious lady have at them. Apparently she cleared
the loft in less than a minute, and was greeted with a standing ovation from
the wedding guests when she returned to her seat.
But it is often said that wild creatures are better tamed with kindness. It
could well be that the truculent demeanour of the senior temple warden
induces a healthy respect within the camp. Should another temple warden then
make positive comments, arrange for bottles of beer of dubious provenance to
be provided to quench the thirst of the ringers, and generally become their
friend, there appear to be no limits to the cooperation that can be
achieved. In all honesty it has occurred to me that this is why shrines have
even numbers of temple wardens. It allows you to have both the cantankerous
grouch and the genial acquaintance on hand and you can deploy whichever
seems appropriate.
But once you have domesticated your tower captain, then cherish them. Do
not, under any circumstances, have anything to do with the lesser lights
within the camp. Otherwise you will get drawn in to all sorts of internecine
strife and conflict as factions rise and fall and attempt to bring down the
tower captain in the process. I well remember when one bell ringer, aspiring
to displace her tower captain by guile, told Maljie that it had been decided
to change the practice night. Maljie merely looked at her and commented that
she was used to discussing policy with the organ grinder, not some small and
only sporadically continent ape kept to please the crowd.
Now it may be that you lack Maljie’s personal presence. This is not to be
wondered at. Reputations have to be built up over the years, nurtured like
some delicate potted plant. But even Maljie had to start somewhere, even if
none of us are quite sure when. So when dealing with bell ringers (or other
wandering undesirables such as archhierophants or those creatures who dwell
deep in the property department of the Office of the Combined Hierophants of
Aea) decide on your approach and stick to it. In forty years’ time you will
thank me. 
Still I seem to have drifted from the topic. Cherishing your tower captain.
The problem with these otherwise splendid figures is that they lack
permanence. Whether they are overthrown and devoured by their camp, abscond
with the funds or flee in the arms of a lover (I confess I’ve never really
understood that latter allusion. Surely you must flee faster if not
embracing? Or perhaps you hand the technicalities of flight over to your
coachman and thus embrace in the coach as it hurtles through the night?) you
will lose one captain and will be forced to acquire another.
My personal preference is to allow the camp to bring forward a leader from
within their ranks. But beware, out there in the dark there are ‘tower
leaders’ who lack both tower and camp. They are drawn inexorably to a tower
with no tower leader and will attempt to inveigle themselves into a position
of control. Under these circumstances there is no point in being avuncular,
reasonable or open to discussion.
For the lesser temple warden there is only one recourse. Memorise the line,
“Ah, but you don’t want to talk to me, you need to discuss this matter with
the incumbent.”
That is all you need to say.
Now when it comes to the incumbent, they too have no need to worry about
these matters. They merely need to say, “Ah, that’s a temple warden matter.
You need to take it up with Maljie.”
At the last count, of four who were directed to Maljie, three abandoned
their quest then and there. With regard to the fourth, there are mendicants
who are willing to swear in a court of law that they saw that individual
leave the shrine carrying his head under his arm.

And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that
I’ve just published a full Tallis Steelyard novel. Yes the rumours are true.
Tallis Steelyard, the man who considered jotting down a couple of anecdotes
to be ridiculously hard work, and considered the novella form to be the very
pinnacle of literary labour, has been cozened into producing a novel.

It is, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’

In this novel, recounted by Tallis Steelyard in his own inimitable manner,
we discover what happens when the hierarchy plots to take control of the
Shrine to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Tempered Enthusiasm.
Will the incumbent be exiled to a minor fane in the far north? Will Tallis
end up having to do a proper job? Does ordination and elevation beckon for
This story includes the Idiosyncratic Diaconate, night soil carts,
Partannese bandit chieftains, a stylite, a large dog and some over-spiced
food. On top of this we have not one but two Autocephalous Patriarchs and a
theologically sanctioned beggar.

Available both for kindle and in Paperback.

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: *Press This* A Fear Of Heights by Jim Webster #BlogTour #180 | Its good to be crazy Sometimes
  2. robertawrites235681907
    Apr 05, 2021 @ 18:26:27

    A splendid tale about the bell ringers, Ritu.

    Liked by 3 people


  3. Trackback: The Bells! – Tallis Steelyard
  4. OIKOS™-Editorial
    Apr 04, 2021 @ 21:13:58

    I never had learned so much about history! Thank you, Jim! Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 3 people


  5. Stevie Turner
    Apr 04, 2021 @ 17:57:00

    Ah, I love the sound of the Quarter Peal, which often rings out in our village. Some of those peals have wonderful names – we have one called ‘Old Bob’. Great story, Jim.

    Liked by 2 people


  6. Chris The Story Reading Ape
    Apr 04, 2021 @ 15:12:32

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:

    This Port Naain tale has a ring to it 🛎🎵🎶🎵

    Liked by 2 people


  7. willowdot21
    Apr 04, 2021 @ 12:51:49

    Brilliant as ever aye Sis. You and I will have to visit Port Naain some day☺️💜

    Liked by 3 people


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