Monday, October 10, 2011

The Bells, The Bells

One of the pleasures of working within a market town is the relative sense of peacefulness that exists even during the course of the working day. This in turn allows me to have my consulting room window open and thus appreciate another pleasure; the ringing of the bells from the nearby parish church.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been particularly conscious of the bells; not despairingly like Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, but in a manner appreciative of the different styles of ringing. Whilst life with all its challenges has been passing through my surgery, the church bells have lent their own musical accompaniment; reflecting life and death, happiness and sorrow, as various dramas have been played out beneath them.

It is not the first time I have had cause to muse on such a subject. In 2006, I wrote a poem called Life’s Refrain. Published in 2008 as part of my first collection, A Journey with Time, the poem is written in the form of a Chaucerian roundel, and reflects on how bells punctuate the path of life:

Life’s Refrain

The church bells rang for you today.
As water poured upon your head,
‘I name this child,’ the vicar said.

Betrothed, then vows without delay.
To tell the world that you have wed,
the church bells rang for you today.

‘For this departed soul we pray.’
The priest, in solemn homage, led
the mourners who prayed for the dead.
The church bell rang for you today.

For me, such sounds are pleasurable. However, for some people the sound of bells and ringing-type noise is nothing more than a perpetual torment. The word tintinnabulation describes a ringing sound, taken from the Latin ‘tintinnabulum’ meaning ‘tinkling bell’. From the same word we derive the medical word ‘tinnitus’, meaning a ringing or buzzing in the ear.

Tinnitus occurs from within the ear, and can be caused by a variety of conditions and diseases, from ear and nasal infections, ear wax, respiratory allergies, fluid in the middle ear, ruptured ear drums, head injury, tumours of the inner ear, exposure to sudden or sustained loud noise, congenital defects of the ear, side-effects of medication, and the process of ageing. Of these, exposure to loud noise is the most common cause.

Affecting one or both ears, tinnitus can take many forms, often being described as ringing, buzzing, whining, hissing or a continuous tone. Stress often makes the symptoms worse. Even without stress, tinnitus can vary from a mild distraction to a distressing and life-destroying affliction. The treatment depends on the cause, but is often unsatisfactory, and patients may have to use ways of masking the noise with more pleasurable sound.

Tinnitus is definitely a case of ‘prevention is better than the cure’. Avoiding exposure to loud noise and the wearing of ear protection where necessary is a good start. The latter includes when using hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, garden machinery, power tools, firearms, and riding motorbikes. Musicians are also at high risk, with professional musicians now being advised to wear special acoustic ear plugs that allow normal hearing but at lower decibels.

Tinnitus from a noisy workplace is considered an industrial injury for which you may be able to gain compensation. Your solicitor will be able to advise you further in this respect. Whatever the cause (with the exception of the parish church), if bells are disturbing your peace further assistance can be obtained from the British Tinnitus Association at

(First published in the Scunthorpe Telegraph, Thursday 8th September 2011)

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