There is a clock tower outside my bedroom window, about twenty or thirty yards away, i would guess. It’s quite well known, one of the features of the small town i live in; it was erected some hundred and thirty years ago, as a memorial by the townsfolk of the twentyfirst birthday of the son of the local nobs (a man who delighted in a triple-barrelled surname, Vane-Tempest-Stewart). Recently it has been refurbished, spending something over a year shrouded behind scaffolding and green fabric, paid for by a seemingly interminable community drive and some money from the National Lottery. And it looks quite impressive now, clean, visible carvings, a pleasing sandstone structure at the centre of town.
What i’m interested in today, however, is not the appearance of the tower but the sound of the bells it contains. As i mentioned, i live close to it, close enough to hear it every time it chimes, which is four times an hour, as is common (as a completely irrelevant thought, why do we mark the quarters of an hour, not the thirds? Couldn’t we have clocks that chime on the hour and at twenty past and twenty to?). When i first moved here the clock was undergoing its refurbishment and the chimes did not work properly. As a matter of fact, i think that there was a period when they did not sound at all. At some point, possibly even from the beginning, they worked, and that working is my subject.
It is a set of two bells, as far as i can tell from listening. One chimes on the hour, ringing the appropriate number of times to tell which hour it is; on the quarter hours both toll, one then the other, once, twice, or three times each, depending on which quarter of the hour has just passed. The odd thing, when i first started hearing the chimes, was that they did not tell the time in any intuitive way, so i thought they must have been broken; remember, the whole clock was being repaired at this time. The logical thought would be that they would give one double chime at a quarter past, two at half past, and three double chimes, six bells in all, at a quarter to the hour. What they actually did was three doubles at quarter past, one at half past, and two at a quarter till. As i said, non-intuitive, but i learned to understand it and, with a little thought, know what time it was if i woke up and heard the bells. Then it changed.
In fact, shortly after the scaffolding and fabric came down i noticed that the clock was now chiming in what i describe above as the intuitive way. Naturally, i made the assumption that the chime mechanism had also been repaired. I think that that was a correct assumption, as it stayed that way for a month, or maybe two. Then another change to the ringing. Well, a change back, to be honest, to the strange ringing they had been doing previously. Then they changed again! Again telling out the time in the intuitive way i expected. That lasted no more than a month, maybe less. Since then (October, it being February as i write this) they have been fairly steadily telling the time with three, then one, then two chimes. Until about a week ago.
Another change, this time evidently more serious, as they were already chiming oddly. In fact, the timing of the bells seems to be migrating, such that they are no longer always ringing in pairs on the quarter hours. The most common pattern is three or five rings at a quarter to the hour. Bizarrely the missing chime seems to have taken up residence on the hour, as now there are frequently six chimes at, say, five o’clock ~ which one of them being the “wrong” bell, the one which is only supposed to be part of the pair. I thought i was dreaming the first time i heard this, it was early in the morning and i could well have been but, no, i have heard it several times since. So the question now before me is, Do i try and find out whom to speak to in order to correct this behaviour, or do i wait, fascinated, to see just what new permutations of wrongness the town clock might come up with?