Friday, 09 March 2018
Events in March
We have begun the month well with another of Helen’s Training Meetings. This time, on 03 March, we met at Backford – an ideal tower for such a meeting – and then moved out of our Branch to Neston, having lunched at the Hinderton Arms first. Numbers were down somewhat; and perhaps the weather was a factor. It was certainly not the warmest of days, but we all managed. A few degrees down on the thermometer are not going to deter us, are they?
It was pleasing to see a concentration on treble bob hunting; and I am sure that proved to be useful. It is the next logical step after Bob Doubles or Minor, and it is something to which all you aspirational learners should aspire. Finding enough ringers to ring methods where the treble dodges 1-2, 3-4 and 5-6 (Treble Dodging Methods we call them now) is perhaps not so easy. I had better not allow myself to be sidetracked, but I’ll repeat my plea for more learning of simple Treble Dodging methods. They definitely do not all have to be Surprise! (See later for a recommendation.) Something for our Ringing Master to consider when he puts on one of his practices at a six-bell tower.
Advanced Practices continue, of course. A funeral kept me away from the last one, but by all accounts it was a success. I know that Simon thinks hard about these practices, and they have the potential to do a lot of good. This month we’ll be at Waverton on Friday 16 March.
Then, on 28 March, we are at Malpas for the Ringing Master’s Practice. You have already had the special notice; and very interesting it looks, too. And the bells are not bad, either! We cannot blame Ben on the cancellation of last month’s practice. This is a busy Branch, and there are plenty of busy and active ringers in it. There will be a Chester Team in this year’s National 12-Bell Striking Contest Eliminators at Selby Abbey. They are up against stiff competition, but we must all wish them well. I am quite sure they will all be trying very hard. Preparations have been very thorough, and on 24 February they had the opportunity to practise at Selby. Clearly they could not miss out on that. Unfortunately it meant taking out a few too many of the steadier ringers, and I think it was the right decision to cancel.
February Quarterly Meeting
We met in February on 17 February at Handbridge. Numbers were down a bit, and we did struggle. If people do not come in sufficient numbers what else can we do? You will be getting the usual minutes from Richard eventually, and can read what was discussed. Two points I need to mention, though. Payment for wedding ringing was mentioned. It does seem to be fairly general now that, essentially, the money comes from the couple or parents straight to ringers; and that has to be sensible. The point of paying young ringers a reduced rate and thus less than adults was widely rejected. Perhaps that was more prevalent in the past. It is clear that if they are doing the same job as the rest then they should be paid at exactly the same rate. All I can remember from wedding ringing during my teenage years is the 10 shilling note, quite a nice thing to have in the 1950s.
The important item of business was the election of our Branch Representative on the new Guild BRF Sub-committee. I am very pleased we had an election in the Chester Branch – the only branch to do it that way, I believe – and two very worthwhile candidates stood for election: Roger Boultbee and Ben Kellett. The Meeting elected Ben by a narrow margin. Besides being Guild Master, Chester Branch Ringing Master, and in charge of ringing at Malpas, he now has an extra task to perform. What it is to be young and full of energy!
A Few Trumpets Need Blowing
Well, you know I’m a modest unassuming sort of a chap; not a limelight grabber. But now I’m going to blow my own trumpet – not too loudly, of course, and that’s because I’ll be very happy to blow other trumpets, and especially one. Let me explain. Very many – practically all I should think – ring Plain Hunt. Usually we start on five bells, and I can definitely remember when I first rang it and it was so much faster than call changes. It is perhaps more common to ring with a cover – which is always good practice anyhow – and if eight bells are available then it is natural to progress to Plain Hunt on Seven. Just 14 changes, and that’s it. For learners it is quite a step, though; and needs to be rung often to achieve the required rhythm. Did you know it can be rung to a peal? It can, and there have been ten peals of it since 1926. Nothing recorded before that, but I would have thought that Grandsire, Union and Stedman Triples would be what were rung earlier. We celebrated the 300th anniversary of the first recorded peal – Plain Bob Triples rung in Norwich in 1715 – three years ago. What about Plain Hunt, then? A doddle surely. What is there to it? To get the required 5040 changes we need to have some calls, as obviously you can’t just ring those 14 changes 360 times. And the calls? A bell makes fifths, causing the two other bells above it to dodge. And singles are also needed: the bell which was going to make 7ths still does so, and then the bell which would have dodged with it makes 6ths. OK so far? That’s not too bad, but when calls come thick and fast – remember there are only two blows between calling positions – it gets a bit trickier. Especially so when singles are followed immediately by bobs.
Anyhow, a peal (which had no fewer than 586 calls) with all those features was rung in our Branch on Tuesday evening. It had three Branch members in it, and above all the conductor was from our Branch. Please check this link to see all the details: http://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=1220353
Not my most flattering photo. I was chewing a toffee at the time. If you’ve looked at the composition you’ll have noticed there is quite a bit to learn. My part in the peal was not hard: my main task was to do the same thing (120 times) and not fall asleep. Ben and the other inside ringers had far more to do; but the hero of the hour was without any doubt our conductor (and composer): Paul Hunter. All seven of us were quite clear at the end that we had taken part in something very special, and we were in the extremely capable hands of a brilliant conductor: always in control, a voice that never faltered; and it was a privilege to be in the band. I just do not know how he did it. He composed the peal, and then had to learn the composition, and – the hard bit – call it accurately (remember, just two blows between many calls). Quite amazing. And he’d done it after a day’s work. He also has a young family; and as well as looking after ringing at the Cathedral he had the North West Striking Competition to organize earlier in the year and now he’s leading his band in preparation for the 12-Bell Eliminators. I have no qualms whatsoever about blowing Paul’s trumpet. Of course, he’s not unique and bell ringing keeps throwing up talented conductors – Ken Lewis was one such example in our Guild – but it is just impossible to explain to non-ringers just how high the skill level amongst some ringers can be. Well done, Paul; and thank you very much for inviting me to ring in something the like of which I have never before experienced during 60 years of ringing bells. Nobody will ever forget that peal.
It was announced recently in the Ringing World that Robert Hinde, a ringer in Kent, had died. He actually began his ringing career here in the Chester Branch. He learned to ring at Christleton, and in the 1950s he rang a few peals – including some in new Plain Major methods – in the area, before moving away. That is another link with the past gone, and one remembered by fewer and fewer people.
I mentioned above the high skill level that can be achieved by ringers. Not by all of us: let’s be realistic. We can all improve, though; every single one of us. Don’t let people tell you ringing bells is not to be taken seriously, and all it involves is pulling on a rope and making a great lump of metal go bong. It is a proper and serious art form. It is not music as those who play in orchestras or any kind of musical groups recognize; but we all know that music comes into it. After all our bells have been tuned – even though it perhaps doesn’t always sound as if they have. And as well as applying your skills to produce the best possible sound you can from the bells, you can also derive much fun from ringing. You are all doing something very worthwhile, very enjoyable – and it is something woven deeply into the fabric of our society here in the UK. Back to skill, however. Looking at the featured performance on BellBoard – don’t begrudge an old bloke’s bit of self indulgence – I noted another one. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iUCCv3mpyA
As it tells you on the video, don’t try it at home, unless you really do know what you’re doing. We are in Birmingham, where some of the best ringing in the world can be heard. These people are really very good; very good indeed. There’s a former CDG ringer amongst them, by the way.
Before I close this item I really ought to address myself to the many (majority?) of you who might be asking yourselves: ‘just what has this got to do with us? We turn up on Sundays, go to a few practices, ring for the odd wedding. There are more things in life, you know? We’ve got sort of a hang of a few bits and pieces of methods. Won’t that do? You stick to your fancy stuff and we’ll carry on keeping our bells as we always do.’ Fair enough. I don’t disagree with you about keeping bells ringing. That’s vital. I also believe – I am sure I have written this before – that bell ringing stands a better chance of survival if it’s driven by change ringers. But that West Country tradition is strong – and I’ll never forget those Devon Call Change Ringers who came to Old St Mary’s a few years back. All I ask is that you strive to keep your bells ringing in the best way you can, and that you never become complacent. And, please, enjoy your ringing. At all levels there is much enjoyment to be had.
I am fully aware that it is some time since I set these questions. Not really your typical quiz offering, I know; more matters to get you thinking and to allow me to explain a few points about methods.
1.Regular and Irregular Methods
I’ll make good use of The Tower Handbook (Central Council, 1998) for some of my answers. The definition on p.46 reads:
‘One with the same lead heads as Plain Bob (or Grandsire in the case of twin hunt methods).’ That immediately raises another question: ‘what is a lead head?’ In Bob Minor, when the treble first leads at backstroke in the plain course that is the lead head; but for most ringers – and you hear this a lot when things might be getting a bit erratic – that is the ‘lead end’. At that first backstroke lead the bells ring 135264; and then 156342, 164523, 142635. If the first lead head of a plain course of a Minor method – Plain, Little, Treble Dodging, Alliance, etc. – is one of those rows then it is deemed to be a regular method. Other lead heads are quite possible, however. For instance 136245 would work. Moreover, these irregular methods have been around for a long time. Let me give an example: Morning Exercise Delight Minor. This has Oxford above the treble, and Cambridge below; so, we can call it Boatrace. The version with Kent above the treble is called Oswald, but Kent places are not very elegant, are they? Oxford is a much better method to ring, and thus – certainly in my opinion – Boatrace is much better than Oswald. Yet, if you ring a 720 you will tend to find 65s at backstroke come up, and many find those very unattractive. Also, familiarity with standard callings can be comforting, as the same old combinations of bells keep coming up. These are missing with irregular methods and personally I find that a bit disconcerting. I would, however, like to recommend a nice simple irregular Treble Bob Minor method: Snowdrop. It too has Oxford above the treble. I always use this site for getting a diagram: http://methods.ringing.org/
Another thing that might make a method irregular is if a bell strikes more than two consecutive blows in one place; although Bob Doubles, Triples, etc. are OK, and so are bobs in Kent, and singles in Grandsire. Ringing London Minor with a bell making four blows in 6ths place at the end of the lead is fun, though. That’s called Water.
I could go on but I’ll just finish by saying that everything is much more permissive now, which is the way it should be. Good taste will always be there, of course. That too is the way it should be, but after this year’s Central Council Meeting we’ll see a lot more things are going to be tolerated.
I asked if you could name a new method Brexit. It does not exist – yet; and perhaps it will not get rung. We’ll have to wait, I suppose. But if you want to come up with a new method and call it that go ahead. It might be irregular, but nobody will object. Many methods are named for something special, and do not get rung again. I somehow doubt Cheshire Regiment Alliance Major, which was rung at Old St Mary’s in 2014 especially for the Centenary of the Battle of Mons will be rung again. If a new method is really good – and not too complicated – then it stands a better chance of becoming rung more often. Now we are in new territory, but it should be obvious to most of you – often just by watching what is rung at meetings and practices – that our tastes in methods are very conservative.
Traditionally it would have been necessary to ring a whole peal of our Brexit Delight to claim the name, but again rules are a bit more relaxed. You would have to publish what you did somewhere, though. And then the Central Council would recognize it, and add it to the ever growing lists of methods.
I did ask last month about method names. We are also more relaxed about names these days; but in more conservative times, when it was felt dignity should be preserved, eccentricity was not in favour. Silly names were not felt to be appropriate. I seem to think there were objections at one Central Council Meeting to the name Barry Peachey’s Dog Little Surprise Major, which presumably was not considered a fitting name. All I can say is I wish I’d been the person who said that it came Home at the end of the lead. I don’t know what Mr Peachey thought about this method, or even his dog; and I hope Mike Orme, whose work for the Central Council over many years has been exceptional, does not bear the person who named a method Great Orme Little Delight Major a permanent grudge. It was all to do with a rule about the number of non-CDG members in a peal which arose when he was the Peal Recorder. That rule was later rescinded.
Silly names abound, and some are long. No doubt some of you will have your own favourites. Just after a quick glance at some Treble Dodging Minor methods, regular and irregular, I have noted:
Ringingwithoutanaccountantis a Delight Minor and Accountancyisa Delight Minor.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia Surprise Minor
A Fishmonger and Judith’s Hat Surprise Minor [There must be a good story there.]
Slippery When Wet Delight Minor [named after a sign spotted on entering the church?]
Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged Delight Minor
And so on. There are no bounds to the creative spirit, or eccentricity and unadulterated silliness. I’ll wait to see if anybody comes up with any names of their own before I launch into the theme of names I might like.
I am once more not going to give answers to all the January questions. I have prepared something about method definitions; and also about asymmetric methods. I’ll return to them next month.
Cartwheeling we can deal with quite quickly, though. This is simply ring with a closed handstroke lead all the time, and not leaving a gap before pulling off at handstroke. Leading is not easy and needs practice. A dropped lead will upset the rhythm, and if you’re not getting it right expect to be told about it – and often in no uncertain terms. On six bells, for example, remember to ring in thirteens: 123456123456 – pause for a bell to fit in, which is like an unheard no.13 – and then the leading bell starts off again at handstroke. This is something for all of you to work on, and surely at your practices there is no harm done by simply practising leading. But in some parts of the country they prefer ringing cartwheel. Just like those Devon Call Changes this is another tradition which should not die. Go to certain towers near Barnsley and you’ll find cartwheel ringing is still thriving on six bells. It is in this part of Yorkshire where many irregular methods were first rung and named. Some of them have a bell making 5ths away from the treble; and thus 65s at backstroke will come up often. With cartwheeling, though, does this really matter so much?
All sorts of things happen in bell ringing, and if somebody wants a special effect a touch might be started at backstroke. I am quite sure most of you have never done it. I do remember calling a quarter of Kent Minor once which started at backstroke. I’ve never done it since, and have never been remotely tempted again. It will never catch on.
I am still in the mood for asking more questions; I have very many in my head but I’ll wait until the next Newsletter, after I’ve completed the answers to the January Newsletter Quiz.
No Smell of Bruised Horseflesh
Finally, I shall bring one matter I have mentioned several times to a close. Clearly there is no enthusiasm for a Striking Ladder, and we shall not have one.
It is a bit early but it will occur before the next Newsletter: A Happy Easter to you all. And keep your bells turning over and enjoying your ringing.
Saturday, 10 March 2018