Among the various reports I’ve received of New Year celebrations, this one stands out for me. It’s from a Swiss friend, a young man in his forties who, although his name is David, could audition for the role of Goliath: standing six foot four in his socks, and built like a Rugby forward, black bearded David is a gentle giant. He lives with his tiny wife halfway up a mountain in eastern Switzerland in an old farmhouse with a typically spectacular view.
Boxing Day brought them half a metre of snow that stayed throughout the holidays, but having to shovel a tonne of snow to make a path is no reason to be housebound. Both Christmas and New Year are occasions they like to celebrate with their friends at the village church in the valley below, and this year was no exception. One disappointment at Christmas was that the largest of the peal of bells was out of action due to a broken clapper, and a new one wasn’t available for several weeks.
For David, this was absolutely unacceptable. He was determined that the New Year’s midnight peal would feature the big bell as usual: the sound is heard echoing from the surrounding mountains for miles along the valley, and New Year is simply not right without it. So David donned his earmuffs and instead of grabbing a bottle of champagne, he took his sledgehammer and set off down the hill, ploughing his way through the snow. Accompanied by his little goddaughter, also wearing earmuffs and armed with her phone camera, he sneaked into the church and up into the bell tower, where he took up his position.
At 10 minutes to midnight he made sure that the big bell added its resonant voice to the peal ringing out the Old Year, and again at 10 past midnight ringing in the New Year. At midnight, since this New Year is 2015, he added three extra strokes just in case anyone had forgotten what year it now is. That, he says, was the toughest hammering he has ever known – and both he and his goddaughter were glad of their earmuffs! – but also the most wonderful turn of the year he has ever experienced.
Did the villagers realise what was happening? Probably not, but I’m sure they all appreciated the beautiful sound. Did David have a well-deserved peaceful lie-in on New Year’s day, following his pounding? No, far from it: he was up on the slopes enjoying the powder snow.