WATCHING the field events at the London Olympics, the hammer throw was a little unnerving. The fellow builds up such momentum as he whirls the weight about. What happens if he forgets to let go in time? Does he go sailing off into the air with it? It's touch and go.
Much the same applies when ringing church bells. Hold on too long or, worse, get tangled in the rope and there you go - Splat! against the ceiling. You could easily lose an arm or a leg if it were tangled in the rope as it passes through the small hole up above, pulled by the weight of the bell.
The biggest bell in St Paul's Church, Durban, weighs 14 hundredweight, which is 1 568 lb, or 712.72 kg. When that turns over, the bellrope moves up smartly and there's no stopping it. So there's quite a bit of sweat and grunt and looking sharp involved in producing those delightful peals.
Such were my thoughts in the belltower of St Paul's the other evening. What was I doing there? Ringing bells, of course. I'd been invited along by the Durban Campanologists (bell-ringers) to see what they get up to, and try my hand at it in a small way.
The group ring the bells every Sunday morning at St Mary's, Greyville, then they move across to do the same at St Paul's, in the city centre. They also ring on request at weddings.
What draws people into bell-ringing? They come from a wide spread of backgrounds. In the belltower at St Paul's the other evening were Ringing Master Simon Milliken, who is also lead double bass in the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra. He's been ringing church bells since he was a boy in England.
With him were: a lady who makes arts and crafts novelties such as fancy Christmas crackers; a draughtswoman; a university lecturer; a retired naval officer; a signals manager from the railways; and two schoolkids who were learning the ropes (as it were). Absent that evening were a maths teacher and a lawyer. That's quite a spread of backgrounds. All are enthused with bell-ringing.
The trick is in keeping time as they pull at the bellropes and varying the order of the bells, so that the peal changes as it goes along. It's pretty complex, a mathematical formula. And that St Paul's belltower, which is built of brick, literally shifts and heaves as the bells roll.
Simon coached me solo for a bit. You have to get into an easy rhythm, not pull too hard, he says. In England where bell-ringing is an art form with something like 40 000 practitioners you can expect to be at it four-and-a-half hours at a stretch.
Sure enough, you do get into a rhythm, the bell does most of the work. It's a bit like milking a cow except it's more like pulling a bellrope.
The ringers (some of whom also row on the bay to make sure they stay in shape) are a very companionable crew. They invariably adjourn to wet their whistle after ringing practice, on this occasion to the Street Shelter for the Over-40s. Great fun.
A BURMESE python has been caught in the Florida Everglades, 17 feet in length and weighing 76 kg. It's the largest ever caught in Florida.
It points to just what a problem these escaped pets have become in the Everglades. They're putting pressure on the indigenous wildlife, eating even alligators. Scientists doubt whether they will ever be eradicated.
Perhaps the answer lies back in Burma itself, which the ruling military junta call Mnyanmar. The junta seem to have run out of ideas. Aung San Suu Kyi and her Democrats are making great headway.
Why not put together an exit strategy for the Burmese junta, relocate them to the Everglades and let them set about eating the pythons which by all accounts would be their natural instinct. As they are elderly gents, they are unlikely to breed to the extent that the alligators are threatened.
The balance of nature is restored in the Everglades and Aung San Suu Kyi takes over in Burma. An elegant solution.
Referee: "Penalty! Not binding!"
Front-ranker: "This bastard's blind!"
Referee: "What did you say?"
Front-ranker: "Bastard's deaf too!"
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all.