A recent post on Twitter made me smile. It suggested that the person who has authorised the silencing of Big Ben for the next four years is competing for the No Bell Peace Prize.
Apparently, others have been less relaxed about this recently-announced development and have complained that it is happening as the Elizabeth Tower and its clock are refurbished.
I cannot comment on the justification of silencing Big Ben but this does prompt me to reflect on how easy it is for us to take familiar blessings for granted.
It is always easy to complain.
Sometimes this is justified, and sometimes – more often – it is not. I just wonder, for example, how many of those who have been making a fuss about the silencing of Big Ben have ever made the effort to express gratitude to the Palace of Westminster for providing this globally-recognised and appreciated service.
I wonder why I have never done so.
After all, my daily listening to the BBC would be diminished if the sound of Big Ben and its complementary Westminster chimes were to be lost.
One of the great advantages of living next door to Ripon Cathedral is the benefit of the quarterly Westminster chimes day and night.
In a way, I am pleased that people have been expressing disappointment about the silencing of Big Ben; it shows that this nationally-significant feature is appreciated.
It also reminds us that, over the centuries as a people, we have come to love the sound of bells, not least from churches and cathedrals.
There is a sense in which those who express impatience with the very English tradition of change ringing (‘tune’ ringing) reveal themselves to lack respect for our heritage. And occasional complaints by a small minority about the sound of bells is nothing new.
Dorothy L. Sayers, writing in her 1934 novel The Nine Tailors, could comment, “From time to time complaints are made about the ringing of church bells.
“It seems strange that a generation which tolerates the uproar of the internal combustion engine and the wailing of the jazz band should be so sensitive to the one loud noise that is made to the glory of God.
England, alone in the world, has perfected the art of change ringing and the true ringing of bells by rope and wheel and will not lightly surrender her unique heritage.”
Indeed! And we all know, unhappily, what public unrest is generated when bells of cathedrals or churches are silenced.
Perhaps acknowledging this should prompt us to do what we can to support ringing in our local cathedral and churches.
The Ripon Cathedral ringers, a very friendly group providing great service to both cathedral and city, are always very pleased to hear from people who would like to try their hand at bell ringing.
The same is true, I am sure, for the teams in our parish churches across the region.
Surely, it is better to support than to wait until the bells are silenced and then complain.
I must confess some personal interests in relation to bell ringing.
As the Dean, I am keen to hear bells being rung at the cathedral and across the diocese, sounding God’s praises and calling people to worship.
Bells help, as someone once said, to keep the rumour of God alive.
Long may that last! But I also know from personal experience that bellringing gives a wonderful opportunity for making friends and developing a hobby that provides physical and mental exercise.
And, yes, I did meet my wife when we were fellow student ringers at Durham University.
Writing on our wedding anniversary, I can honestly say that I have never regretted learning to ring!