Transcribed by Emily Watts
ELIZABETH: A lady ringer at a ten bell tower, wearing a long floaty skirt. Suddenly, the rope catches the hem and her skirt goes over her head. The chap opposite is so taken aback by the sight of a white petticoat that he misses his sally.
[Bells ringing rounds]
CATHY: Hello. This is the Fun with Bells podcast and I’m Cathy Booth. In this episode we’re going to learn about what ringers should and shouldn’t wear, including some cautionary tales. First there’s a story from Deb Margason-Baker, and then I interview Alex Linton who tells us about his experiences. Next, it’s Elizabeth Johnson, who tells us about what you need to consider when deciding what to wear at the tower. And finally, Michaela Nadal, who tells us about fashion through the ages and how that has affected ringing. First is a story from Deb M.B.
DEB: A while back now and on a practice night, I wore hip hugging trousers and also they had a crisscross lace instead of a zip. I volunteered to ring our tenor. I think it was for a practice for a quarter. It all started off well enough, but gradually I became aware of my trousers loosening and when I looked down, the rope had very cleverly flipped the lace and undone it. And with every hand and backstroke my trousers were making their way southwards. I clamped my knees together, which only slowed their progress and to be honest made me look like I needed a comfort break. I looked to the closest ringer, Barry, who saw my panic, ran over, and after I’d quickly explained my trousers were hanging off my hips bravely stood behind me, grabbed my belt hoops each side, and held them up until the end of the method. Not sure many of the other ringers could see for tears of laughter by then anyway, but my blushes had been spared.
CATHY: Thanks to Deb for sending in this story. Next, I interviewed Alex J. Linton. Alex, tell me a little bit about yourself.
ALEX: I’m an interesting breed of ringer, I would say, because not only am I young, I’m 18 at the moment, but I’m Scottish. There’s not many Scottish ringers, or certainly ringers who are born and bred Scottish. And I ring in Edinburgh and I suppose my journey into bell ringing was quite interesting. I think a lot of younger people, when they get into ringing, it’s usually in most cases I think because they perhaps know somebody who’s ringing, maybe it’s a relative or perhaps it’s a neighbour or it might be a friend. But I don’t have anyone that I know outside of my fellow bell ringers who is actually a ringer. And I got into it because I used to go up on holiday a lot to Perthshire and people who have been up there might know that there’s a ring at Dunkeld Cathedral, which is a lovely light set of six. And I walked past one day, I heard the bells and I thought, “Well, that’s a nice sound.” which led to a Google search, which led to another search and I found this term change ringing. I thought, that’s interesting. And then I found those bells in Edinburgh. I thought, I will go and try them there. And I’ve been ringing since January 2020. So a large part of my training, if you will, was done online on Ringing Room, which was quite interesting because when I started in January, I was in for maybe a few weeks and then everything went online. So by the time we went back to ringing, which was a year and a half later in Scotland, I had gone up to I think double Norwich and Kent major, some major methods and I hadn’t even rung a physical bell. I had, but not on my own at that point. I was still getting used to the control. My journey in ringing is definitely interesting so far and I hope it stays interesting from here on.
CATHY: And with the physical ringing. How far have you got with that? Are you ringing those methods now or is that a little bit too ambitious?
ALEX: What was interesting when I came back to Ringing, which in Scotland we came back around September last year, so almost a year ago and I’m surprised that I remembered in terms of the feeling and the muscles in the arms of how it felt. You would think that maybe a year and a half after having not rung a bell, especially if I’m not used to ringing it entirely on my own, then I might be a bit rusty, but I got back into it fairly quickly. So at the moment I’ve been ringing on my own for quite a number of months now and I ring on Sundays now and I’ve rung a couple of quarter peals as well. So I’ve got quite far, but I’m not quite up to ringing methods like Double Norwich and Kent and Oxford or those kinds of methods at the moment on a physical bell. Because when I went back to ringing and then I learned to handle the bell again. We had to go back in terms of just simpler methods like Plain hunt, Plain bob, Grandsire, Steadman and gradually work up. So I’d learned a lot of complicated methods and then I had to come back a little bit. But I’m catching up now.
CATHY: Has that been frustrating or rewarding?
ALEX: It’s an interesting one I think because I’m not sure how I feel about it. I think because this is just, I guess my experience. I’ve not had of course the experience of that other ringers maybe have when they’ve learned to ring. And I think that it can be, I wouldn’t necessarily say frustrating, but it’s unusual to think that I’ve been ringing, I say that I’ve been ringing since January 2020 and it’s now summer 2022 and I’m still on what I think a lot of ringers would consider relatively simple methods. But just because of that pause, which can be, as I say, not necessarily frustrating, but it’s unusual to think about when I stop and think about that.
CATHY: I see. Our topic for the day is What Ringers Wear. Can you tell me a little bit about what you found out about what ringers should be wearing?
ALEX: Well certainly when I started ringing, when I learned to ring back in January 2020, I think my initial thought about what I should wear was more how I present myself rather than how I’m going to physically manage. So I think my sense of fashion is terrible, but I think I’ve always dressed more sophisticated. I’d say sophisticated, but I usually like to wear a polo shirt with a thin jumper on top. That’s just how I dress normally. But when I started, I didn’t really consider how I would manage to ring the bell. So I went with something that was actually quite restrictive around my shoulders. It was like a smart-shirt, if you will, because I think because what I wanted to do, because I’d never met these people before, I’m going to turn up to this tower. “I want to make a good impression. So I don’t really want to look like a tramp,” if you know what I mean. I want to make a good first impression. And I didn’t consider certainly stretching up, particularly at backstroke. Now I’m quite a short person, which is okay for ringing some later bells, but I think when I’m starting to learn and I’m not used to that physicality, if you will, of stretching my arms quite high up, I didn’t really consider that I maybe shouldn’t have something that’s restrictive around the shoulders. And I do have very vivid memories of being pulled up right onto my toes unexpectedly the first few times I did it, which is always a little alarming, you think, oh has the stay gone? Or have I done something. No, it’s just I’m short and I can’t stretch up.
CATHY: So what do you wear now?
ALEX: So now I actually stick to what I wear generally. I decided to go back to wearing a polo shirt and then a jumper on top because I find that certainly polo shirts, at least the ones I wear, are not restrictive around the shoulders, which is great for somebody like me who’s quite short. It means that at backstroke I can stretch up more because of course being short, I really need all the height I can get in my arms. So I wear something like that.
CATHY: And you had another anecdote that you told me about on Twitter.
ALEX: I wear glasses, and this was a very minor incident that happened back when masks were a requirement during ringing. And the glasses that I wear are made of a sort of shiny plastic, at least the frames are. And the masks, of course, weren’t great, as I’m sure many ringers will know because it’s a very physical exercise. But when I had the glasses on, once I pegged the mask over my nose with the glasses to stop them steaming up, which was fine but it meant that the glasses weren’t as secure on my face. And I remember this one incident where I was ringing, and I still to this day have absolutely no idea how or why this happened. But I just remember pulling down on the rope and the glasses came flying off of my face and just about took out the ringers of the third and the fourth. I was on the second at the time, and I think I got more of a shock than they did. But perhaps the worst part of that was having to do the walk of shame into the centre of the circle, just really sheepish and pick them up. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Did I get you? Are you hurt? And yeah.
CATHY: And were the glasses okay?
ALEX: The glasses were fine. The glasses were fine. I think I came off worse than the glasses did.
CATHY: At your tower, do people wear the same things at all ever?
ALEX: Uniforms. We don’t really wear ringing uniforms in Edinburgh. I am aware that some other towers in Scotland do because I’ve seen photographs of ringers with, I guess almost like a uniform. They all have jumpers with the specific tower logo on, but we don’t in Edinburgh and I think that maybe just comes down to how the band feel or if somebody, the band might pipe up and say, oh “we should get our own jumpers.” But that’s never really happened. I’m not aware of the bands in Edinburgh ever having a uniform that they all wear. I do know that the Cathedral St Mary’s in Edinburgh, they used to have badges, which I think you talked about with Simon Eaves on a podcast previously, which is a really interesting story. So I think if people are interested in that, they should definitely go back and have a listen. But that’s, I think, from what I’m aware of the closest thing that we’ve ever had in the history of ringing in Edinburgh, at least towards a uniform.
CATHY: Okay, good. And then another question. It gets quite cold up there, I think. Do people ever wear hats?
ALEX: I know that somebody I think occasionally wears a hat, but I think that’s not necessarily because it’s cold. I think that’s just their personal choice. They prefer to wear a hat. But sometimes I remember that when we were ringing in the winter, one of the towers in Edinburgh for people that have been there, who’ve rung in Edinburgh, they might have rung at St Andrews and St George’s, which is where I learnt to ring. And for those who haven’t been there it’s a very big space and the ringing circle is on the landing and there’s windows on either side and at that point in the winter or in the colder months at least this year, the requirement was that there needs to be an airflow, just for the safety because of the virus. And I remember that it did get chilly in there because it’s such a big space and you get the airflow through. And I do remember having to pop my jacket on just very briefly in between bursts of ringing to keep warm.
CATHY: Do you have any other anecdotes to do with what people wear? Anything that you’ve seen, other people or any other thoughts?
ALEX: It’s something I tried actually just fairly recently was actually wearing gloves. And I know that might shock some people, but I get quite a bad problem when I’m ringing sometimes with damage to the skin. And of course, like like almost every ringer I end up with blisters frequently, but I tend to find that my skin gets torn quite badly. And I think that’s just me. My skin’s kind of always been quite fragile, if you will. So I thought, “I’m sure I’ve seen videos somewhere or pictures at least of somebody wearing gloves when they ring.” And I thought, “I wonder if I put gloves on, will that help?” And in a way it did but I think the issue is that some of my fellow ringers did say to me and would agree with this from when I tried it out, is that if you have gloves, you run the risk of slipping down the rope, which isn’t great, especially when you’re running backstroke, because you could run the risk of slipping right off the tail end, which you really don’t want to do. I didn’t find that was a huge problem, but I did notice I would slip down a bit and yes, it did make me think maybe I should reconsider ringing with gloves. Do I want to slip off the rope and risk some damage or do I want to ring without gloves and risk the damage to my hands?
CATHY: So what do you do now?
ALEX: I’m still trying to decide. I haven’t rung with gloves that much at the moment, at the time of recording. So what I’m probably going to do is get a bit more experience with ringing with gloves and then make a proper decision once I’ve had more experience and think, okay, I’m going to abandon the gloves or I’m just going to continue.
CATHY: And what type of gloves?
ALEX: This is the interesting thing because I thought I need a pair of gloves that are not thick so that it doesn’t really disrupt my handling. And one of the things I do outside of ringing is I play a lot of golf and I was out on the course one evening and I thought I just noticed I wear a golf glove when I play and I thought, this is actually really thin. This might work. So I went into the sports shop and I found a pair of thin golf gloves. So I thought maybe that will work with a rope, which it does, but it doesn’t work as well.
CATHY: Are they fingerless or not?
ALEX: The ones that I have fingers. I’m sure some people might ring with fingerless gloves, but I prefer to have gloves that have got fingers attached to them because that’s usually where the most damage to my skin seems to happen when I ring.
CATHY: Now I’m interviewing Elizabeth Johnson. Elizabeth, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
ELIZABETH: I’ve been ringing in St John’s, Alresford since 1980, but I did learn to ring in Kent from 1956 as a teenager and then moved to London to do a physio training and gave up for quite a long while. And then we moved to Alresford and I started ringing and have been ringing here ever since and enjoying it.
CATHY: So what I’m going to be asking you about, is what ringers wear or shouldn’t wear when they’re ringing. So first thing, what sort of issues do you think you have to consider when you’re thinking about what ringers should wear?
ELIZABETH: Probably there are about four issues. One is safety. Making sure what you’re wearing is not going to impinge on the ringing. One is comfort, which is very important. Decorum it’s more than off putting to have big bits of midriff or whatever and dress malfunctions. I have a couple of stories of how inappropriate dresses sometimes.
CATHY: So if we start at the safety issues.
ELIZABETH: I think this is very important that people should be aware that ringing is potentially dangerous. Men should not wear ties because it’s easy to get your hand caught in the tie or the rope caught in the tower. Similarly, the ladies shouldn’t wear scarves around their necks, long dangly earrings maybe, or long necklaces. And sometimes I’ve seen keys caught on a rope that are hung from gentlemen’s belts, which is a bit of a problem. Shoes are quite an issue too, because you’re clambering up quite awkward staircases sometimes and if you’ve got high heels or slippy shoes, that can be certainly an issue. And long skirts are a problem on stairs as well. That doesn’t apply to the men, but it’s the ladies that it is quite dangerous with long skirts and stairs.
CATHY: I’ve sometimes heard of brides ringing for their own wedding. How do they manage that?
ELIZABETH: With difficulty I should think. You just need to be very careful. You have to lift your skirt up so you don’t tread on it. It’s alright if it’s a ground floor ring, that’s ideal. But sometimes I’ve seen pictures of brides in towers that you’ve got quite a few steps. So I think they’re probably experienced ringers and know how to deal with a long dress. And maybe when they’re having the dress fitting they make sure that they can raise their arms above their heads and they aren’t going to trip over it and have five feet of train trailing behind them. So maybe they’ve had a bit of pre-thought as to what they should wear.
CATHY: So the next issue you thought of was comfort, wasn’t it, to be comfortable when you’re ringing.
ELIZABETH: Again, this is important that you’re comfortable when you ring that you haven’t got shirts with tight sleeves that cut in or cuffs that don’t let you raise your arms above your head. But I think for ladies, it’s really important to have a well-fitting bra that doesn’t cut in. Sometimes you have the metal adjustment thing at the front, and if you’re continually ringing for say, 3 hours, you can chafe on the little catch that alters the strap. Be aware the lionesses sports bra looked perfect for ringing in. So maybe we should take a leaf out of their book.
CATHY: That’s The Lioness, the recent-
ELIZABETH: The recent football winners. For all of us, trousers. Just making sure that the trousers fit comfortably. And if the ladies wear skirts, make sure that they’re not going to get caught in the rope because if the hems too long, it’s quite easy for the rope to catch and they’re also a danger on steps as well because you can easily stand on the front of them. Glasses can be a hazard as well. I’m not sure how you cope with that. If you can’t see to ring without your glasses and you’re ringing with a long tail end, it can flick the glasses off, which is a bit annoying, but I don’t know how you solve that problem. Shoes should be comfortable because if you’re standing for 3 hours for a peal, you need to be very sure that the heel is the right height and so your feet don’t cramp up. And also they’re safe on awkward staircases as well. So high heels are not a good idea, but everybody can ring what they’re comfortable in. There are no laws. Well, there is actually. There’s the ringers rules which says, but if you ring in spurr or hat sixpence you pay. Be sure of that. So there is one rule, yes.
CATHY: [laughs] Does this one still apply?
ELIZABETH: I haven’t seen anybody lately ringing in a pair of spurs, but I’ve seen people ringing in hats. But baseball caps I shouldn’t think a good idea because they would flick off with the rope too.
CATHY: So I think your next issue was decorum, wasn’t it?
ELIZABETH: Yes. I think one’s got to be careful what you ring in that you’re not distracting other ringers by having a t-shirt that’s far too short. And as your arms raise up, it goes through exposing a big piece of midriff. So I think that’s really it. Just be aware of what you look like to other ringers, certainly in the comfort, going back to the comfort thing. I’ve stood in front of the mirror with a t-shirt or a shirt on, raising my arms over my head to see whether it was comfortable and whether it looked okay because sometimes you think the t-shirts long enough and actually it leaves several inches of midriff or so.
CATHY: So we’ve covered safety, we’ve covered comfort, we’ve covered decorum. And then the last one was malfunctions.
ELIZABETH: Wardrobe malfunctions. Seen a district practice at a cathedral, forty or fifty ringers of all abilities ringing rounds on twelve, so a lot of people. And one gentleman struggling a bit with ringing on so many bells, his trousers gently descending to reveal a fetching pair of boxer shorts. Be careful gentlemen, to make sure your trousers are tight enough. Myself I did have a problem with a shirt, I was staying with my sister in London, lived in Brick lane and knew they rang at Spitalfields, so I thought I’d go and have a ring on Sunday morning expecting just to be ringing a quick service touch or two. But I was asked to ring in a quarter peal of Yorkshire major. By the end of the quarter my armpits were bleeding because the shirt I was wearing was too tight. So that’s why you need to be very careful about the shirts you wear. And another story that I’ve just been told, was of a lady ringer at a ten bell tower wearing a long, floaty skirt. Suddenly the rope catches the hem and her skirt goes over her head. The chap opposite is so taken aback by the sight of a white petticoat that he misses his sally. Said Lady Ringer managed to get the skirt off her head and ringing commenced. But ladies, beware of long skirts again.
CATHY: Ah, yes. So in conclusion, there are four things you need to think about. Do you want to remind us?
ELIZABETH: Safety, so that you don’t damage yourself or other people. Comfort, that you are comfortable ringing because if you’re not comfortable ringing, you won’t ring well. Decorum, think about how other people look at you. The consequences of what you wear and make sure that these dress malfunctions don’t happen to you.
CATHY: So I’m now interviewing Micki Nadal. Micki, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
MICKI: Yes Cathy, I ring at Stockbridge and King Somborne in Hampshire where I’m Tower Captain. Nobody else being there to do it. I come from a bellringing family, so I’ve been around bellringing even before I was able to ring. So sitting up, watching people ringing and rang in my youth until I had a gap in the eighties and started again in the 2010s, coming back to ringing after a very long time. So I’ve seen quite a few changes from stopping and starting again.
CATHY: Very interesting. First of all, I understand that you’ve asked around about this theme of what people wear when they’re ringing. Can you tell me a little bit about what you found out?
MICKI: Yes, I’d hoped for lots of anecdotes. In fact, there were anecdotes, quite a lot of them people remember, were the reminiscent of the saucy seaside postcard or carry on film, which involved men’s trousers falling down. And it seemed some were accidental and some where they were rather mischievous people who carried on calling touches on and on until the trousers had actually fallen down, flies being done, similar things to that. So I thought there needed to be another way to look for some different stories about clothing.
CATHY: What did you do then?
MICKI: First of all, I thought I’d look back to the very early days. So the First Lady’s Peal in 1912, I found some photographs in an old book of my Dad’s, and they looked very self contained, very polite ladies, all in high necked white blouses and tailored skirts with a little discreet tie or a lock. In fact in the book it was quite funny, really. It’s a very interesting book, The History and Art of Change Ringing from the early thirties. Women come under cleric, family, name and unique peals, and women come under unique peals with the very old, the very young, physically disadvantaged, chimes, clocks, accidents and deaths. And there are women amongst them. So they’re all beautifully dressed but very sober, and of course, they had corsets on and long sleeved and high neck clothes and heavy woollen skirts. It must have been quite difficult I think, if they were ringing in that. And of course it would be interesting to find out how uncomfortable they were because a band of ladies recently dressed up in almost identical clothing as those ladies from 1912, and I’m sure they’d be able to tell a tale about how difficult it was to ring in such restricted garments.
LIANNE: Hi, my name’s Lianne. And on the 2nd of July, we dressed up as Edwardian ladies for the year 1912 to ring at Desford Saint Martins for the Desford Heritage Festival, which I believe was a centenary thing, was a brilliant weekend. We did some ringing for the crowds. We were able to do it in costume because some very clever tech showed people downstairs would be able to watch us on a screen ringing. So I was wearing a long black skirt with a tight belt and a very frilly shirt with a brooch at the collar. And it was done all the way up to my neck. And a straw boater, which I removed for the ringing. It was quite difficult. The main problem was the shirt, the cuffs would you believe were quite tight. The style of sleeve was the leg of mutton. So we had to leave the cuffs quite loose because when you put your arms up, the cuffs move up your arm and you wouldn’t have been able to do it. It would have ripped the shirt. I usually ring in jeans with quite a tight belt and a long top to avoid any wardrobe malfunctions when we’re ringing with the skirt, I was just a little bit worried that I might have a wardrobe malfunction, in that it might fall down. So I put some cycling shorts underneath just in case. We really got away lightly with the type of dress that we were wearing because although it was a really hot day, and the shirt was a problem. I think when the Edwardian ladies rang, they must have had corsets and stays, as well as probably undergarments that we weren’t wearing. I’m sure it was really, really hot for them and quite difficult to ring in that kind of attire. But on the whole it was a really enjoyable experience, but not one I’d like to ring all the time in that kind of attire, really.
MICKI: There was another very interesting photograph dating from the late twenties of another ladies band who rang the first surprise method and they look much more relaxed with legs on show and much more loose clothing, bobbed hair rather than long hair. But I’m not sure if that was their ringing outfit or not because they were all very relaxed sitting on a tiger skin rug, which seemed rather interesting. And photographs from a very few of women’s bands. There’s the odd photograph of the odd woman appearing at a Central Council meeting where you can see the woman. She has a hat on and at a very large ringers rally in Croydon, where there were nearly two and a half thousand guests for tea. You could spot the odd hat and the odd jacket.
CATHY: So you reviewed the book. And then I understand that you also asked around.
MICKI: Yes. I started off with relatives, friends who I’d known for a very long time from my original home tower, which was in Marlborough. And a dear friend who was born in 1938, learned to ring when she was thirteen. So this is the very early fifties. And she remembers quite clearly that if she went to Sunday service ringing, she had to wear her school uniform. There was no question of that. And all her life, she has only ever worn straight skirts or frocks, with a blouse or a sweater and flat shoes. She has never deviated from that in all her ringing life. And that reminded me of my mother, who I can remember as a young girl, my Mother always wore very simple, straight dresses or skirts, never trousers. She never, ever wore a pair of trousers to ringing, and on ringing outings when there was a ladder up to the ringing chamber, my Father always followed her up the ladder and I tended to think he was being very chivalrous and in case she fell. But I imagine it was also to preserve her modesty so nobody would see her knickers. In those days, health and safety was not even considered, so there was some pretty desperate places one had to get into. I went to my sister next because she was a teenager and into her early twenties in the late sixties and early seventies, which was a quite a changing period socially. And she remembers that she always had to wear smart trousers, never jeans. That was, I think my Dad probably, especially for Sunday services you had to wear something that looked reasonable, which was quite funny because I certainly remember out of church and out of ringing in hot pants, mini skirts and later on long Indian dresses because she was a bit of a rock chick going to festivals, so it was a bit of a change for her. My Dad, I don’t think he ever changed his style and nor did his fellow male ringers. It was always a sports jacket, smart-shirt, cavalry twill trousers or something similar and a tie for Sundays. But for practices, they would relax that with no tie and very highly polished shoes. But that’s continued I think, for a lot of men because in the early 2010s, my lovely former Tower Captain Gerald, really lovely man. He was still wearing the same combination of clothes as my Dad had worn when I was a little girl, so that hadn’t changed. Although he did alarm visitors to the tower because if he was staying to the Sunday service, he would very discreetly, partially undress to tuck in his various items of clothing before he dashed down to the church to act as sides person. Which could surprise people a little and I also remember for men braces back in the day were really helpful. If you think of circus clowns for the more rotund man, the circus clown would have trousers that sort of went round the equator of where the waist should be. They would never fall down because they were suspended by the braces, so they were always really useful. I think perhaps some men might find those quite useful now rather than what you see.
MICKI: My own memories of what I wore when I rang were a bit sketchy actually, because when I was going through sort of twenties and whatever, we just wore jeans, I suppose it was corduroy or coloured cotton jeans and long Laura Ashley dresses, but I don’t remember wearing any long Laura Ashley dresses for ringing. I think that would be a bit too dangerous. But when I came back to ringing in the 2010s, things were really quite different. And I think that’s because a lot of ringers no longer went to church services. The distinction between practices and Sunday service ringing, if you could escape without being seen, it made everything more casual. I do remember actually when I was a girl going back a bit, our curate was a fanatical bell ringer and he used to just come up ringing in his sort of simple black robes, and then he would pelt down the stairs at a rate of knots through the vestry, grabbed his odd bits and pieces and raced down the aisle to take the service, which I’m not sure they were really very pleased about that, but he was very keen on bell ringing. Those of us who, I don’t stay for church services every week, but for those who do, the occasional time I stay.
MICKI: You have to think really hard about what you’re going to wear because you dress very casually when you’re ringing now, most people do. It’s easy in the winter because you can just bung a long wool coat over the top because the church is quite cold so you can get away with a lot. But in the summer and I have a fellow ringer, a lovely lady who’s over 90, who solves the problem by having a very smart summer jackets that she puts on over the top. So nobody really cares what she’s wearing underneath. But we do feel, both of us, because we spend a lot of time looking for tops that are quite long. So when you raise your arms, they don’t reveal bits you’d rather not have revealed. There is a fortune for someone who designs longer tops which don’t come up. So if there’s an entrepreneur listening now, invent some longer tops that are nice. But I think of the people I do ring with and have rung with over the past few years. And recently when I came back to ringing and I have absolutely every admiration for them, I’ve rung with women who can ring confidently and elegantly in the shortest of dress, the lowest cut of top, tops with buttons that can come awry and they ring perfectly and they have no problem. And I put it down to my poor bell handling that I don’t do the same because I tend to channel bag lady under Waterloo Station arches I think for my practice clothes, not very elegant. And I think all women who I’ve spoken to recently, they’ve all had experience of wearing tops that are too loose and get caught as you’re ringing, skirts that are too floaty, that get caught when you’re ringing and get whipped up and you end up having to tuck them between your legs and keep your legs very still. But the other perennial topic that came up when I was talking to various lady ringers were bras actually, and one ringer remembers a time, quite a long time ago, when these beautiful stretchy fabrics were not available and bras were made of cotton, so had no stretch in them at all. And the body would move and stretch, but the fabric wouldn’t. So you ended up with a kind of ridge of roughed up fabric around your breastbone, leaving your bosom below, not providing any of the support when it was needed. So they all welcomed stretchy fabrics. And I think modern fabrics for sportswear has been an absolute game changer for most women, and they’ve made things really a lot easier.
CATHY: So women wear sports bras now?
MICKI: A lot of women wear sports bras now, yes. And absolutely swear by them because they’re technologically they’re really very advanced now and we’re benefiting from that. And the other garment that a couple of friends mentioned are the fabric leggings, which they have little skirts or one of them describe them as a little pelmet attached, which are really comfortable and stretch with you and breathe with you. And they’re perfect for older and younger ringers. But I suppose the best thing was everybody said it’s all happened to them, they didn’t really mind and ringers are good people. They certainly ignore it when it’s happening. They may talk about it afterwards, but they do ignore it when it’s happening.
CATHY: Ah Yes. So I have a couple of wild questions.
MICKI: Yeah, sure.
CATHY: What do you think about band t-shirts with matching logos?
MICKI: They actually are quite useful, I think for ground floor ringing for weddings. And certainly one of the towers I ring at is ground floor at the back of the church. And for weddings we would all tend to wear the same polo shirt with the church logo on and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. And for PR purposes, if it’s something for a public exhibition, I would wear a polo shirt with the Guild logo on and I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. You’re trying to promote what you’re doing and polo shirts with little logos on they’re fine. I’m not quite sure what other sort of shirts you were thinking of.
CATHY: I was just wondering. So when I was advertising this on Twitter, some people commented on things and they said about these band t-shirts, do they bring the band together? Was one of the questions.
MICKI: I guess they could do. And I think one thing I noticed they had the the youth ringing competitions month or so ago, didn’t they. And they all had their band shirts on and I think that was a really good idea. It gave them a sense of identity and purpose in what they were doing. I don’t think I’d get my lot ringing in a band t-shirt for a Sunday service, but certainly for weddings, if you’re on public viewing, we don’t in one of our towers because we don’t have to go through the church at all. So we wouldn’t wear it. But I think they do have a good purpose designed ones. Yeah, I suppose there’s a sense of identity if that’s what you’re trying to promote. I think that’s a good thing.
CATHY: And do you think the band needs to be cohesive before they will want to buy them?
MICKI: That’s an interesting one because the church where we have a ground floor ring and we ring for weddings, the t-shirts belong to the band and were bought for the band from band fees. There are tower fees and they’re laundered and they’re borrowed. I’m not sure whether people would go out of their way to buy them just for themselves. I think for the youth competitions and things that I guess they’re provided, I don’t know, or they have to buy. I don’t have enough knowledge about that, but I think it would depend on how keen they were, someone who will just do Sunday service ringing and that’s enough of then might feel that they have no need to buy them.
CATHY: So another one off question is, bell towers can be draughty cold places in winter, especially following the requirements to ventilate them following Covid. What do ringers wear to keep warm?
MICKI: As much as possible that allows them to move basically. And once you’ve started ringing and if there’s only a few of you there and you’re just ringing and ringing, then you soon warm up. But I have been regularly to practices in towers where it is perishingly cold and if you forget to ask the church warden to put the heating on, it is just appalling. So everyone stands around shivering and when they get ringing that’s fine. I personally would go for a t-shirt with a kind of cardigan or something over the top, and then you can take it off. And some people go for these padded gilet, sleeveless ones. If you overload yourself with clothes, you can’t stretch and you can’t move. But I suspect there are quite a few thermal vests around underneath tops and things. The best solution to that is to ring as much as possible and then you do warm yourself up. And sometimes towers which have cold rooms beneath them, your feet can get really cold as well if there’s not a decent carpet. Good socks.
CATHY: What about hats?
MICKI: I have known people wear woolly hats, but never resorted to that myself. I think anything to keep warm really, fingerless gloves I’ve seen.
CATHY: So have you got any particular advice for men on what they should be wearing?
MICKI: Only that if you have something of a tummy, best wear your trousers above the equator line rather than below it. But no, I think the fact is we’re too busy ringing to really notice very much at all. So people have developed their own styles of doing what they want to do and they’ll carry on doing it. I just love the eccentricities of some people and they will maintain their individual style of what they’re going to wear and why they wear it. It’s because it’s comfortable for them.
CATHY: I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. My thanks go to my guests, Deb Margason-Baker, Alex J Linton, Elizabeth Johnson, Lianne Brooks and Micki Nadal. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it. This podcast was put together by a team, special thanks go to Ann Tansley Thomas, Emily Roderick, John Gwynne, Emily Watts, Lesley Belcher and the Society of the Cambridge Youths for the recording of their ringing.
[Bells ringing rounds]