On the rare occasions when I spend a night in Oxford, the keeping of the hours by the clock towers in New College, and Merton, and the great booming of Tom tolling 101 times at 9 pm at Christ Church are inextricably interwoven with memories and regrets and lost joys. The sound almost sends me mad, so intense are the feelings it evokes.
When Christians start thinking about Jesus, things start breaking down, they lose their faith. It's perfectly possible to go to church every Sunday and not ask any questions, just because you like it as a way of life. They fear that if they ask questions they'll lose their Christ, the very linchpin of their religion.
In the past, I used to counter any such notions by asking myself: 'Would you really want President Hattersley?' I now find that possibility rather cheers me up. With his chubby, Dickensian features and his knowledge of T.H. Green and other harmless leftish political classics, Hattersley might not be such a bad thing after all.
It would no doubt be very sentimental to argue - but I would argue it nevertheless - that the peculiar combination of joy and sadness in bell music - both of clock chimes, and of change-ringing - is very typical of England. It is of a piece with the irony in which English people habitually address one another.