The Bell

La Selve is an old sandstone farmhouse, and just outside the kitchen door is the bell (cloche), a ship’s bell.

The bell was bought in the summer of the Millennium, in June 2000. It was bought at a chandler’s (les vendeur de matériel pour bateaux) in the South West of England, in Fowey [pronounced like ‘boy’, but with an ‘f’], which is a small harbour on the south coast of Cornwall. Several bells were tried, several times, before the right bell was chosen. To the amusement of some, though not all, of the other customers, but this was a serious matter.

The bell at La Selve

The original idea was that when somebody arrived at the house, they would ring the bell. However, that rarely happens; the natural instincts of Rocket and Sapphire are such that we invariably know that somebody is coming, long before they arrive at La Selve.

Traditionally, the day at sea is divided into ‘watches’ (quart), marking the periods of work, rest and meals. There are seven watches, five of four hours, and the two shorter ‘dog watches’ of two hours. A ship’s bell is rung (sonné) every half hour, adding one ring each time. So after the first thirty minutes of a watch, the bell is rung once (un coup de cloche). At the end of the first hour it is rung twice, and so on, until eight bells mark the end of one watch, and the beginning of the next. To make it easier to count the number of bells, the bell is rung in ‘pairs’, so ‘ding ding … ding ding …ding’ is rung to mark two and a half hours of the watch.

At La Selve, the time is only rung if Ted happens to be passing the bell on the hour or half hour. More frequently, the bell is used to signal that a meal is ready, and that everybody should make their way to the table. This signal is three successive rings, but without any pause between the second and third bell.

The bell is made of brass (laiton), and weighs two pounds, two and a half ounces [982 grams]. Every Sunday evening, Ted polishes the bell, and he firmly believes that the sound of the bell is better, clearer, when it has been polished. It has a loud, but pleasant sound, or so we believe.

Come and decide for yourself …