Ring in the new year and shed a few pounds in the process
YOU have to let go, as they say in the best psychology and bell-ringing circles.
I bore this very much in mind as I found myself on the end of a three-quarter-tonne bell, soaring belfry-wards. Thus began my introduction to campanology on a bell-ringing experience at Gorseinon's St Catherine's Church.
I am very much accustomed to this church. I have attended it all my life for special events and occasions and my family have links going back generations. And while I have always loved the cry of the bells which can be heard from my house on a clear day, I have never been into the bell tower or had any idea how the bells work.
By the time I climbed a steep vertiginous flight of stairs to the ringing room, I could a hear the cry from tower captain Allan Richards calling various routines of numbers.
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I don't think I knew what to expect.
I had been told by one pal it was great exercise and a fantastic way to shed some of those post-Christmas calories.
"Give it a go," she urged.
So I did! Of course it's not without its own potential dangers.
Tony Toft, 62, who has been ringing the bells for around two years, says there have been some close encounters with the bell ropes.
"I have had my glasses knocked off a few times " he says.
"If people make mistakes, many of which I admit are often mine, it can be quite funny. Thankfully nothing too bad has happened."
Another member tells me she has been whipped by the rope on many occasions, especially if someone loses control of it.
I think back to my first contact with Allan's wife Ingrid, who told me there was a £12 compensation in case of a bell ringing death.
"I don't think it has ever happened," she says.
"Although I did break my fingers on the rope."
At the back of my mind I was slightly fearful and apprehensive of the rope, but as Allan says: "It's about respecting the rope and the bells just as if you are using dangerous machinery."
First I had a demonstration.
Five ringers pulled down on their ropes and skilfully caught them again before they whipped off. The bells pealed out in a series of rounds — a thrilling sound. Next, a sequence of joyous changes resonated throughout the small room and into the community of Gorseinon and beyond.
It looked exhausting especially having to keep full concentration for usually 20 minutes a go or more if its a wedding. Pity them when a bride is late.
"You have to concentrate at all times," says Juliet Morris, 55. "You can't start thinking about what to put on your shopping list! Once you lose the routine playing catch up is difficult.
"It can get tiring especially if the bride is late as you have to keep ringing until she arrives and there are always a few moans 'is she here yet?' especially if it is a hot day as it can get very hot up in the bell tower."
I will bear that in mind when it comes to my own big day at the church.
I knew bell-ringing would be challenging, involving timing, control and co-ordination.
Before I started pulling for real, I scrambled up a further succession of steep, narrow steps into the belfry, where eight bells rested upside-down, their potential power held in place by stays to prevent them rotating, their weight restrained against a stop, or slider.
Campanology is another language.
I began learning the ropes with the "backstroke". You pull on the tail end and let go at your peril. The rope will whip round on you like a rattlesnake.
I tried a series of backstrokes, with varying degrees of success, before Allan considered it safe to move on to the handstroke or sallystroke (the sally being the tufted, stripy grip on the rope).
"The next bit is more difficult," he says with a smile. "I'll tell you when to let go and when to catch the rope."
Allan was a sympathetic instructor.
The bell was going mad in the belfry and Allan leapt into action to stabilise it. It all seemed good fun and is also good for your fitness by working your entire core.
"Some days after practice or an event, my body is aching especially if you have not done it for a while," says Juliet. "It does improve your concentration as well."
Allan who has been a bellringer for 15 to 20 years says: "It is not too physically demanding as the bell will do most of the work but it does work your upper body and you do feel it the next day.
"Anybody can be a bell ringer as long as they have the physical strength."
Laura Rees, 29, of Bryngwyn Vilage, Gorseinon, is one of the youngest regular bellringers at the church: "My mum got me into bell ringing," she says.
"She has been doing it for a while and I was curious.
"My first time can only be explained as nerve wracking! I was petrified that I wouldn't be able to catch the rope or the bell would crash down on my head.
"I really enjoy it and it is a social activity. People may have a stigma about bellringers, but you don't have to be deeply religious to ring the bells!"
All the peels have colourful names Bob Double, Tittums and Queens for example — it is quite confusing and very much like playing an instrument or driving a car — once you know the method the easier it becomes.
"Next year, which is the church's centenary year, a specially composed peel will be rung in the church by a group of visiting bellringers," Allan says.
"It is like driving a car, once you get used to it, its easier. It is challenging and you set your own goals. It is good fun."
St Catherine's Church bellringers meet every Wednesday at 6.30pm. Anybody is welcome to try.