Time passes. This is such a banal statement that it hardly needs repeating. Yet repeated it is – loudly and irritatingly – by the incessant ringing of the bells here in Oxford. This city seems to have been designed to test the patience of its inhabitants in a particularly cruel way under the guise of quaint tradition.
Every fifteen minutes, throughout the week, wherever you are (unless, perhaps, you are miles away from the centre at St Hugh’s) you hear the obnoxious dong! dong! donnnnggg! of the bells. We are perfectly aware of how to tell the time by normal clocks – do we really need loud quarter-hourly reminders of the fact that fifteen more minutes have passed since the last bell and we are still procrastinating? What’s more annoying is that fifteen minutes is just about enough time to begin enjoying the quiet – you stop procrastinating, you resolve to write your essay and DONGGG – the bells interrupt once more and your motivation is gone.
Still worse is the din of the Sunday morning bells, which is in an entirely different league of infuriating noises. Unless you are a bell fanatic or an aspiring bell ringer, Sunday morning is hell. Say goodbye to a lie-in, a morning of work or anything really that might be disrupted by the cacophony of a million different types of bells ringing first one after the other, like some slow, aural version of Chinese water torture, and after a couple of hours all ringing together so that by lunchtime you feel like you are living inside a massive bell. Perhaps the worst part is that you don’t even see them – the sound just permeates the Oxford air and reverberates inside your head so that by the end of the day you’re no longer even sure whether the bells are still ringing or whether you are slowly going mad.
My tutor insists that after a few years you stop paying attention to the bells – but what is the use of that when after a few years, I’ll finish my degree? One of my friends has tried to console me with the claim that the bells “are really cheering and make Oxford that little bit more magical.” This is untrue – and if you, dear reader, would agree with my friend then you too have already been driven to insanity by the Oxford bell torture.