Peter lived a rum sort of
life. It was not by any means unique - for a substantial number of people,
particularly, in the south east of
Residing in Bedfordshire,
Peter had to travel almost 40 miles to work each day in
Thus Peter might easily spend, in addition to his time in the office, some two extra hours every day just trying to reach his destination and a similar period attempting to journey home again. Sometimes it was longer. Road traffic is unpredictable and any kind of accident or breakdown could mean congestion backing up for miles. Arising from such bitter encounters, Peter had systematically sought out all the ďrat runsĒ, those alternative routes along minor roads, so beloved of commuters, which help to bypass the bottlenecks. More often that not, it was just as effective to stay away from the main arterial routes altogether and, instead, to meander slowly but uninterruptedly along half-forgotten Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire lanes.
Throughout the winter
months Peter saw his home in daylight only at weekends. Leaving in the darkened
mornings, by the time he returned home night had fallen. So he felt himself
caught up in a kind of twilight world, glimpsed largely through the car
He didnít particularly miss or overly crave female company - there was little enough time for that - but, having plenty of opportunities whilst at the steering wheel to think, Peter did begin to wonder if there might not be something which he was missing. A feeling - almost imperceptible at first but, over time, growing in strength and depth - eventually permeated through Peterís whole being, resulting in the firm conviction that there was definitely something, somewhere, which was passing him by. At times it felt very close, almost calling to him, seemingly drawing him towards it but, always just beyond his reach, he was never quite able to pin it down. What was it?
- - - - -
One Wednesday in early
December, Peter was just about finishing off at work when his colleague Mike
asked if he would like to go for a drink. In truth, Mikeís wife had been away
that day on business and wasnít returning for a couple of hours so he was at
something of a loose end. Peter accepted the invitation readily enough; he got
on quite well with Mike in the office, was grateful for a little socialising and
it would be a good excuse, by delaying his homeward journey, to see the volume
of traffic die down. Thus it was that six oíclock saw Mike and Peter on their
way to the Cricketers Arms, not far from the office, ready to enjoy a well
earned pint of the finest. Having lingered over the first drink, chatting about
numerous work-related matters, Peter reciprocated Mikeís round and, in a
similarly unhurried manner, eventually finished his second and final pint.
Parting at the door in the chill air, Peter bid Mike goodnight and prepared to
set course for home.
- - - - -
Completely unknown to him,
some forty miles to his north west, two people whom Peter did not even know
existed were at that same moment discussing their evening ahead. A little while
later, whilst Peter was circumnavigating the delights of St Albans, these two
could be observed walking together through the little Bedfordshire
- - - - -
Peter had a good run across
the two counties that evening.
Around 8.30pm, reaching a
T-junction in the
He realised that what he had seen were the silhouettes of the bellringers, hauling their ropes aloft and back down again, producing that sweet cacophony of noise, emanating from the top of the tower. With the road junction now upon him, Peter turned away from the church for the final leg home. Yet the sound of the bells did not diminish; if anything, unfettered by surrounding buildings, they seemed to follow him.
Something compelled Peter
to bring his car to a halt, switch off the radio and listen. Opening his car
window, what he heard was much more than a cascade of notes, a juxtaposed
pattern of high and low harmonics, a rhythmic dance of jangling tonal intricacy.
Calling out to the village and to the Bedfordshire countryside beyond, the bells
were triumphing forth their voices; they were speaking.
In a trance, Peter
restarted the car, turned it around in the road and returned to the junction,
retracing the few yards to the entrance of the churchyard where he once again
stopped and listened, the car window still open to the cold evening.
Shortly they ceased.
At that moment, Peter knew without question that the bells were speaking to him, imposing their will on him, calling, pulling, clawing, dragging on his every fibre. He had to respond.
Peter walked carefully
through the black churchyard towards the sound, helped a little by the lights
glowing through the windows of the church before him. Reaching a large wooden
door, he located a circular handle and watched his hand turn it.
At that moment, Peter realised he had found it.
- - - - -
Within a few weeks Peter
had learnt to ring those very same bells and on one occasion noticed the shadows
he and the other ringers were casting on the tower window as the bell ropes were
hauled up and down. He wondered if any vehicles happened to be passing by at
that moment, observing this phenomenon. Already, many times, Peter had looked
back to that first Wednesday, acknowledging that if he had left work at the
usual time, or had left the pub at a different time, or had taken an alternative
route, or had happened to arrive at that road junction in Stanbridge a few
minutes earlier or later, or had simply pressed on to home without stopping,
then he might never have come to know those bells, come to know what they
represent, come to recognise at last what he had been searching for in those
earlier times. For it was now as clear as crystal that what had always seemed to
be just beyond his reach was faith and it was faith he had found that first
He was blessed in another
way, too. Stepping inside the church that very first time, Peter had met
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire March 2016