When Michael Stone's boss told him he needed to move halfway around the world to New Zealand for the job, his first thought wasn't of the weather, or house prices, or even the laidback lifestyle of his new home.

Instead it was only, "Do they have bells?"

"I checked there were bells here and then said 'okay'," Stone told the Herald from the tower of Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City.

Giant bells in church towers, and the ability to ring them, that was the deal-breaker back in the 1980s for the now 80-year-old, who has been a bell ringer since an uncle, quite literally, showed him the ropes aged 11.

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Michael Stone, right, works as part of a team of volunteer church bell ringers at Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Dean Purcell
Michael Stone, right, works as part of a team of volunteer church bell ringers at Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Photo / Dean Purcell

When so much in the world is now mechanised, it is still muscle — physical and memory — that powers the bells inside churches, such as St Matthew's, which retain the tradition.

And creating that chorus of ding dongs isn't as easy as just pulling on a rope a few times. For one thing the bells are heavy — the largest of the eight bells at St Matthew's weighs just over a tonne — and the unskilled could find themselves flung into the air.

But bell ringers like Stone must also learn long number-based compositions which can keep them ringing for hours.

"This is our music, but you don't have it in front of you, it's all up here, in your brain."

Working as part of a team was like being part of a big family, and that extended to sharp rebukes if someone stuffed up — no exceptions, Stone said.

"If the Queen was ringing and she made a mistake she would get yelled at too."

ROTORUA DAILY POST
12 Dec, 2018 2:00pm
6 minutes to read
Michael Stone inside the bell chamber at Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Stone has been ringing bells since 1949. Photo / Dean Purcell
Michael Stone inside the bell chamber at Auckland's St Matthew-in-the-City. Stone has been ringing bells since 1949. Photo / Dean Purcell

One of the longest compositions was known as a "full peal", it included 5040 changes — where the bells' order is varied — and took about three hours.

Stone has done a full peal about 1500 times and described long hours in the bell tower as "relaxing".

"You've got to concentrate, you can't think about other things. It's a discipline."

Despite the effort and concentration of those involved, not everyone was a fan — there were sometimes complaints from the public, including one pyjama-clad man who climbed the steep and narrow spiral staircase to share his colourful language-laden fury with those in the bell tower one Sunday morning.

Stone wasn't bothered — the bells had done what they were supposed to.

"I said 'we've done our job, we got you into church'."

I'm the person who ...

Monday: Makes fireworks

Tuesday: Helps people bungy jump

Yesterday: Looks after the animals at the zoo

Today: Rings the church bells

Tomorrow: Maintains the outside of the Sky Tower

Saturday: Police via jet ski

Sunday: Destroys your wrecked car