It seemed like a great idea at the time – buying Big Wilf’s muffles for the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey bells. It would save lots of time and prevent the frustration of struggling with the buckles, or ringing on the wrong stroke when a muffle slipped… and when the first set arrived, in its unique embroidered storage bag, we loved them! There was just a little proviso – the clappers had to be treated with anti-slip paint before the muffles could be used.
The paint was duly ordered – red, to match the frame at Bermondsey and the existing clappers at Rotherhithe – and arrived, together with pages of instructions about its use, some of which we even read. A date was arranged for the grand application and Andrew L and Morag duly met at Bermondsey to begin the task. The installation of bollards across the churchyard entrances meant that Andrew, who’d come by car, spent the first 15 minutes or so driving round trying to find a parking place, and the next 15 (slight exaggeration) trying to open the church door with his key.
Eventually we were both in the bell chamber, together with extension lead, inspection light, masking tape, blu tack, wire brush, large screwdriver, cleaning spirit, cloths, brushes, paint – and a flask of coffee. When we finally managed to lever the extremely tightly fitted lid off the paint, we were ready to go. One person scrubbing the clappers clean followed by the other adding masking tape and covering the strike points with blu tack, and painting could start. It would have been helpful to have had a friendly contortionist to hand, as getting under the Bermondsey bells requires more flexibility than either of us felt comfortably with. Nonetheless the first coat was – at length – applied, and we made our way to Rotherhithe, carrying all the equipment with us (well, mainly Andrew carrying them actually). Life was somewhat easier there, as there is much more headroom beneath the bells, and we soon developed a routine, facing each other beneath each bell and applying the paint from both sides at the same time.
Trying unsuccessfully to clean the drips of paint which had inevitably ended up over both pairs of hands, we referred back to the application instructions – which mentioned the fact that the paint would “bond to skin” and be next to impossible to remove… our red hands verify the truth of this comment.
A sandwich lunch break gave the Bermondsey clappers time to dry out enough for the second coat to be applied, and this time, with a routine well established, we got off to a great start – working in tandem, one moving the paint pot while the other organised the lighting, then settling down to treat each clapper in turn. We had almost reached the end – the tenor was in sight – when disaster struck. Morag – carrying the paint pot – stood on one of the loose planks, which turned, allowing her foot to slip through the gap and the resulting jerk to spray paint upwards from the pot onto her face and neck. Not wholly reassured by Andrew’s comment that she now looked as though her throat had been cut (Protectakote red paint recommended for anyone wanting good – semi-permanent – Halloween make-up), she attempted to rub it off with a handy cloth but just succeeded in spreading it over a wider area. The good news – it might have looked like an impressive spill, but there was still plenty of paint left in the pot to finish the job!
Taking recourse once again to the instructions the word “acetone” seemed to leap off the page, and Morag rang home for supplies of nail varnish remover, while Andrew painted the tenor clapper. He was then also left to do the entire second coat at Rotherhithe unaided, as Morag returned home to continue scrubbing at her red skin with yet more nail varnish remover.
An eventful day – but all the clappers have now been treated; by Sunday the paint should have fully cured and we’ll be able to remove the masking tape and blu tack and be all ready for our first ring with the new muffles.