Michelle La Bellringer
The noise of the bells draws me out the door.
The sky is charcoal and scarlet at the same time. There is no-one on the street - no passers-by, no cars, no stray terrier.
I have just posted a jocular photo of Cardinals lighting cigarettes with a caption of “Smoke, you say” on facebook when they announce on the radio live from the Vatican that they have white smoke. Now I know why the bells are pealing, and they are so appealing that I run across the street, through the car park where I stand sentry on Saturday, over the worn steps of the Transept and up the belfry stairs. I have left my hall door wide open and only have my phone in my hand, as per. I run up step after tiny step until my laboured wheezing, and the clipclop of my boots draws a brace of faces over the hand rail to peer down at me.
You may remember the bould Frank asked me a number of weeks ago to ring the Angeles at the Friary, but they were being a little misogynistic about it.
“You’re too small” they said.
“You’ll be dragged skywards” they said.
“It will be too heavy for you to pull” they said.
The only thing I may be is tiny but what I lose in height I replace with girth so there was no way in Heaven a mere rope could lift me.
It is an all male enclave in the Bell Tower too.
Vincenzo, and the duo of Beary’s are sweating like choc ices in the sun.
I am beside myself to get a go.
I am also beside them.
They laugh at me and in my general direction for a while and then they realize I am serious.
I wonder if I will have to jokingly seize the rope from the mans hands and hit him with the knot in the face if he won’t release his grip. They either take pity on me or realize that the lady is not for turning.
“Watch me” says Vincenzo.
I am determined to follow his advice as the last thing I want is to be hurtled skywards and traumatize the tiny Beary child looking on. Did I mention I was wearing a dress?
*feed it down, wait, pull hard, wait, let it go when you feel it pull*
Piece of cake.
It may in fact have been the myriad of cakes I have consumed that will keep me bolstered to the ground. I don the gloves.
“Are you right?”
My stomach gives a little twinge.
“As I’ll ever be” I quip and take the rope.
I am lifted 3 feet into the air on the return. I come to the conclusion that it would be remiss of me to remove my gloved hand to smooth down my dress or I may in fact go higher like some monstrous child in a Willy Wonka movie.
“Habeus Papa” shouts Vincenzo as I get into my stride.
It dawns on me that I am ringing the massive bell. People are listening to this all over the town, the ones glued to the tv sets live from St Peters Square, the ones watching The Simpsons, the ones listening to the radio, the ones driving home to light the fire with a Cd of Joni Mitchell on, the dogs are barking and whining. I am part of telling the people that something has happened. I am following in a tradition that started here in 1265. I am but a link in a chain of men who have rung this bell.
In times of Invasion or Siege, when Cromwell laid waste to the Franciscan Friary, when people were be-headed and the streets according to history ran with blood, a Friar ran to this tower to ring this bell, in times of celebration a Friar walked through the gardens to this tower to ring this bell - I may in fact be the first woman who has rung this bell.
Friar “Tuc” Biscuit.
I am still jumping up and down on the rope and trying to remember the view and the history and to keep my dress down all at one and the same time. I simply cannot stop. Over the din I see the hand waving to signify that my work here is done. I release the rope and drop back down to the platform as the last echo of the bell fades away on the breeze.
Only Gerwhoonlytalkstomen sees me walk away from his perch near the corner.
At home I call my 83 year old Father to ask him has he heard the bells. He is wearing 2 massive hearing aids that surely belie the term “hidden hearing” and cannot hear over the din of the crowd in St Peters Square.
He lives in St Peters Square too but he means the TV.
I live on the Street named for its Friary, so it is Francis Street.
The Pope, looking overwhelmed at the spectacle, but looking stronger than his 76 years, a Jesuit, a Philosopher, an Argentinian, bows his head and prays for guidance.
I am not ashamed to say I bowed my own. I wish health and long life to him, and that he may be assisted in this momentous task, that he may be a shining beacon to all who have placed their trust in him, that he may never be swayed and that he may lead his church into the 21st Century. For the good of all and harm to none.
His Name is Francis.