Thinking allowed

quarter peal, aged 9 1/4

A year which has seen, for me, three failed quarter peal attempts has drawn to a close with a suc­cess­ful quarter peal on the last day of the year. This was my third quarter peal, and the second in which I have rung ‘inside’, but the not­able thing about this one is that it was the first for the treble, Adam, who is aged just 9. We rang 1260 changes of Plain Bob Doubles, and apart from a glitch in the middle when I almost lost my place, was gen­er­ally unevent­ful. A nice way to end the year, and tonight we shall ring in the New Year at mid­night – a good way to start 2006.

On Sat­urday morn­ing, 31 Decem­ber 2005, at the Church of Saint James, Hem­ing­ford Grey, Cam­bridge­shire, a Quarter Peal of 1260 Plain Bob Doubles was rung in 49 minutes. 
Weight of Ten­or: 11–2‑13 1/2 in G# 
*Adam Saf­ford Treble Simon Ker­shaw 4
Steph­en M White 2 Michael V White 5
D Tom Cruyfft 3 Robin Saf­ford 6
Con­duc­ted by Michael V White
* First Quarter Peal, at age of 9 years
Rung on the con­duct­or’s 70th birthday
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Simon's Tip for Stedman

I’ve been ringing Sted­man for about a year now, and can gen­er­ally keep my place — even in touches of Triples. I was quite pleased with myself last night because I was able to put right anoth­er ringer. I had dodged 6–7 up with him, and then when I star­ted to dodge 6–7 down he was still hanging around in 6–7. ‘4–5 down now, M,’ I called, and then a dodge or so later, since I thought he still wasn’t sure where he was, ‘Down to the front, now.’ I had to phrase it that way because I had no idea wheth­er he should have gone in quick or slow. But at least it kept the ringing going, and we man­aged to com­plete the touch.

That got me think­ing, how­ever, about how to know wheth­er to go in quick or slow in Sted­man, a per­en­ni­al prob­lem for Sted­man ringers. Steve Cole­man calls it Stedman’s Greatest Prob­lem, and offers a num­ber of tips for remem­ber­ing or work­ing out wheth­er, after you have dodged 4–5 down, you should go in as a slow bell or a quick bell.

One of the sug­ges­ted tips is to use your feet, mov­ing one foot for­ward if you go out quick, and then when you are about to go in, look­ing at your feet and remem­ber­ing that this foot (or is it the oth­er foot?) means some­thing or oth­er. And if a bob is called you have to remem­ber to swap which foot is forward.

But if you are going to put anoth­er bell right then you want to know wheth­er each six is a quick six or a slow six, not just the one where you go down to the front three. What you need to do, then, is to keep track of each six as you ring, or at least as you double-dodge your way to the back and down again.

My first idea was that as you do each double dodge you think, as a back­ground thought: ‘this is a quick six’ or ‘this is a slow six’. But it can be quite hard to keep this in mind — you need to keep it rather near­er the front than the back.

So, this is what I came up with, though I haven’t had a chance to put it into prac­tice yet. I don’t claim any great ori­gin­al­ity for it, but it seems to me to be suf­fi­ciently simple to cope with all cases, and with as many bobs as may be called.

All it entails is that as you count your place when double-dodging up to the back and down again, you append to each pos­i­tion the word ‘quick or ‘slow’. The same word will apply through­out the six blows of a double dodge, and when you move to the next double dodge you swap to the oth­er word.

So, if you have gone out slow, then you would count:

4th quick, 5th quick; 4th quick, 5th quick; 4th quick, 5th quick;
and then
6th slow, 7th slow; 6th slow, 7th slow; 6th slow, 7th slow;
7th quick, 6th quick; 7th quick, 6th quick; 7th quick, 6th quick;
5th slow, 4th slow; 5th slow, 4th slow; 5th slow, 4th slow;
and so go in quick.

If a bob (or a single) is called then you simply move onto the next six:

6th slow, 7th slow; 6th slow, 7th slow; ‘BOB!’ 6th slow, 7th slow;
6th quick, 7th quick; 6th quick, 7th quick; 6th quick, 7th quick;
7th slow, 6th slow; 7th slow, 6th slow; 7th slow, 6th slow;

and you have auto­mat­ic­ally kept track of what’s going on.

And not only have you kept track so that you will know what to do when you arrive at the front, but you also at any stage know wheth­er a bell going in should go in quick or slow too. So you have more chance of being able to put them right.

Wheth­er this works in prac­tice remains to be seen. One pos­sible dif­fi­culty is the tongue-twist­ing nature of some of these phrases. But you don’t actu­ally have to say them aloud or par­tic­u­larly accur­ately — just good enough not to get lost. Stay tuned!

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finally ringing Cambridge Surprise

So finally, some two months after it was sug­ges­ted that I go away and learn Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor, my chance to try ringing it arrives.

After sev­er­al months away, my ringing teach­er is now back, and Wed­nes­day prac­tices at Hem­ing­ford Grey (which we some­times struggled to main­tain in his absence) are once again more com­plex evenings.

Tonight I walked into the ringing cham­ber: there were 6 oth­er ringers, about to ring Bob Doubles for someone still learn­ing the meth­od. ‘Right, we’ll ring Bob Minor instead,’ the cap­tain said, and pro­ceeded to call a touch. I was slightly taken by sur­prise at the first lead end, because I had been expect­ing a plain course, when he called a Bob. Anoth­er ringer arrived, and with eight present we rang a touch of Grand­sire Triples. This went quite well, but some­where along the line the cap­tain and I swapped places, pre­sum­ably when we were dodging and he was telling me what to do.

Then, after some oth­er ringing, ‘We’ll ring a touch of Kent next.’ Hasty revi­sion of what hap­pens at a bob in Kent. If you’re com­ing out of the slow or going into the slow you are unaf­fected; if you are just mak­ing 3rds & 4ths up for the second time, then imme­di­ately add 4ths and 3rds (so you make 4 blows in 4ths) — this is places down the first time. And if you are at the back then add anoth­er double dodge in the place where you are already dodging. I rang bell 4, so made an extra blow in 4th place and 2 in 3rds — 4ths & 3rds down the first time. Then at the next lead end: ‘Bob!’. I was just mak­ing places down the second time, so I was unaf­fected and went into the slow work at the front. And as I came out of the slow, dodging with the treble, anoth­er bob was called, and again I was unaf­fected, mak­ing places up. So we car­ried on, mak­ing places up the second time, and then ‘Bob!’, so just about to imme­di­ately do places down, but instead ‘That’s all!’ and we had rung three leads of Kent.

Again after a bit more ringing, we turned to Cam­bridge. I offered to ring the treble, and then added ‘I’d like to have a go ringing inside after­wards’. And so it came to my turn to try Cam­bridge Sur­prise. I chose to ring the 3, and the treble was rung by someone just learn­ing to treble bob. We set off: I did the back­work, and Cam­bridge places down, dodged in 1–2, up to the back, dodge 5–6 up and double-dodge 5–6 down, and down to the front­work. And as I made 2nds in the middle of the front­work, it was clear that some­thing had gone wrong, and the treble was lost, and ‘rounds’ was called. We tried again, this time put­ting an exper­i­enced ringer on the treble, and the per­son who had been stand­ing behind the treble came and stood behind me, but we went wrong even quick­er this time. Again it hadn’t been my fault, and we tried again. Back­work, places down, dodge and lead, one and two at the back, front­work (con­cen­trate, con­cen­trate), two and one at the back, lead and dodge, places up (is he going to call a bob?!), ‘That’s all!’. We had made it, and I had rung Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor at essen­tially the first attempt.

My mind­er made two com­ments: that clearly, I had learnt the meth­od; and that it was a good job I had not missed the sally or I would surely have broken the stay. This was a com­ment on the brute force with which I had been ringing and con­trolling the rope. And it was true, I had been pulling hard and check­ing the rope at slmost every stroke in order to keep my place. I can remem­ber that when I first learnt to ring I would use this brute force tech­nique to ring the ten­or, but it’s not some­thing I have done much since acquir­ing bet­ter bell con­trol. Must try and do bet­ter next time.

All in all a pretty action-packed prac­tice night.


Three leads of Kent

Last Sat­urday was the monthly bell­ringers’ dis­trict meet­ing. I’ve not been to one of these before (though I had inten­ded to go to last month’s), but this time it was at Bluntisham, whose bells have only just been rehung so that they can be rung and only a couple of miles down the road. Bluntisham is where Dorothy L Say­ers spent her child­hood, and where her fath­er, the Revd Henry Say­ers, was Rect­or a cen­tury ago. It was here that she watched an earli­er res­tor­a­tion of the Bluntisham bells, though not one that enabled them to be rung. Per­haps this stuck in her memory when she came to write her mas­ter­piece, The Nine Tail­ors. In that book, Lord Peter Wim­sey, super­hero, takes part in a 9 hour peal of Kent Treble Bob Major. And so Kent was to be the ‘spe­cial meth­od’ at this meet­ing. And as I have had a couple of attempts at ringing Kent I thought that I would have anoth­er go.

The bells have been hung lower in the tower than before, in order to reduce the strains in the tower, and ringing is from the ground floor. When I arrive, the bells have just been rung up and are ringing mer­rily. Inside the church they seem very loud — you’d want to wear ear plugs if you were ringing a peal. A lot of people have gathered for the meet­ing, from some of the new begin­ners try­ing to form a band for the Bluntisham tower, through to exper­i­enced ringers. Some people have come from around the coun­try to ring these ‘new’ bells — very few people will have rung them before — from Worcester­shire and oth­er far-flung places. That’s a day trip to spend half an hour ringing at Bluntisham before it’s time to head home!

The ringing altern­ates between Kent and oth­er meth­ods, such as a touch of Bob Major, and sim­pler ringing, includ­ing rounds and call changes. I stand around, listen­ing and watch­ing (and talk­ing to oth­er ringers as I am try­ing to arrange a band to ring on Wed­nes­day). Even­tu­ally, the lead­er looks at me and says, ‘You haven’t rung yet, what do you want to try?’ ‘I’d like to have a go at Kent,’ I reply. ‘In the­ory I can ring it.’

So we ring ‘three leads of Kent’, a shortened form of Kent in which a bob is called at each lead end so that it comes back to rounds after just three leads. I had nev­er rung bobs in Kent, but I had done my home­work before going to the meet­ing. Once again I chose to ring on bell 6, which with hind­sight was per­haps not the most inter­est­ing bell to ring. At each lead end a bob was called and instead of mak­ing Kent places down (4ths then 3rds) I did an extra two dodges in 5–6 down. If I had chosen the 4, then at the first lead end I would have been unaf­fected by the bob and would have gone into the slow (mak­ing 2nds place over each of the oth­er bells in turn), and at the second lead end I would have come out of the slow and, again unaf­fected by the bob, made 3rds and 4ths up, and then at the the third lead end made 3rds and 4ths up again (which is rounds).

I quickly found that the ropes were rather long, and I had to move my hands fur­ther up the rope, so that I had per­haps 15 inches of the tail end below my hands. This is not ideal, as I kept get­ting smacked in the face by it, and I could still have done with tak­ing in a bit more. If I had known this before I star­ted then I could have tied a knot in the rope, or tucked the tail end up on my little fin­ger. But as it was it reduced my con­trol over the bell.

I think the best that could be said was that I didn’t get lost, that I knew exactly what I was meant to be doing, and that I didn’t need the instruc­tions from the expert ringers around me — ‘lead now’, ‘dodge with me now’, and so on, help­ful though such com­ments are. But I clearly need to con­cen­trate on my strik­ing: that is, on mak­ing the bell sound in exactly the right place. Although I didn’t get lost in this meth­od, that doesn’t mean that I was pla­cing my bell just where it should be, and I could tell this from my own hands, and with my ears, listen­ing to the bells as they rung. The oth­er ringers were, of course, much too polite to tell me how bad my ringing was.

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Church Times articles

Over the last few years I have writ­ten a num­ber of pieces which have been pub­lished in the Church Times. These have appeared on their monthly com­put­ing / inter­net pages, and have included reviews and sur­veys of web sites on vari­ous topics.

The most recent of these art­icles is now avail­able on the Church Times web­site: a pre­view of Apple’s new Mac mini com­puter. You can read the art­icle here

[Foot­note, 12 April 2005: Apple today announced that the next ver­sion of Mac OS, Mac OS X 10.4, code-named ‘Tiger’, will be avail­able from 29 April. So, now is the time to go and buy that Mac mini, safe in the know­ledge that you will get the latest ver­sion of the OS. I placed my order for a Mac mini this afternoon!]

Some of the earli­er pieces can be found in this list


End of an Era

Today marked the end of an era for ringing in Saint Ives. This after­noon saw the funer­al of Les Fish­er. He was a small child when, in March 1918, the tower of Saint Ives church was hit by an aero­plane.

The pilot was killed, and amongst much oth­er dam­age, the bell wheels and frames were smashed, the bells them­selves fall­ing to the bel­fry floor. It was over 12 years before the bells were ringable again — apart from rebuild­ing the spire and repair­ing all the dam­age to the church, it was decided to place the bells lower in the tower than before, at the level which had pre­vi­ously been the ringing cham­ber, and to ring the bells from the ground floor of the church. In addi­tion the bells were melted down and recast as a some­what light­er set of eight. Not until Septem­ber 1930 was the new ring ded­ic­ated by the Bish­op of Ely.

It was around this time that Les Fish­er learnt to ring, and just a few years later, in 1935, he became a mem­ber of the Ely Dio­ces­an Asso­ci­ation of Church Bell Ringers, remain­ing a mem­ber until his death 70 years later.

Les was for many years the Tower Cap­tain in Saint Ives, main­tain­ing the ringing through the incum­ben­cies of sev­er­al vicars. In 1985 a peal was rung to cel­eb­rate his 50 years mem­ber­ship of the Ely DA, and it had been planned to ring a peal this year to mark the 70th anniversary. Sadly, this peal will instead now be rung to cel­eb­rate his life.

Many ringers were present at today’s funer­al, amongst them George Bon­ham, Chair­man of the Hunt­ing­don Dis­trict of the Ely DA, who cap­tained the ringing before and after the ser­vice. The bells were rung half-muffled, a tra­di­tion­al sym­bol of mourn­ing, and a rather eery sound, in which the hand­strokes sound nor­mally, and the back­strokes as a muffled echo.

Les will be remembered as the back­bone of St Ives ringing over more than half a cen­tury. He will also be remembered as the donor of a mod­el bell, which, with a mod­el frame added by Bob King, enables us to demon­strate how a bell moves when it is rung. At the moment this mod­el is not on dis­play, but we hope to provide a suit­able table and pro­tect­ive case so that it can be left on gen­er­al view, both to encour­age an interest in ringing, and also as a memori­al to Les Fisher.

May he rest in peace!


Surprise, surprise -- putting it all together

So, we have looked (first here and then here) at the main sec­tions of a plain course of Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor. Now we have to stitch those bits togeth­er. This is how it works. We will con­sider bell 2, which starts in the middle of the front work, as if it had just made 2nd place over the treble. We con­tin­ue with:

  • the second half of the front work
  • plain hunt towards the back
  • double dodge in 5–6 up, two blows behind, one dodge in 5–6 down (‘two and one’)
  • plain hunt down towards the front
  • lead full and dodge in 1–2 up
  • Cam­bridge places in 3–4 up, fol­lowed by…
  • the back work, and then…
  • Cam­bridge places in 3–4 down
  • dodge in 1–2 down and lead full
  • plain hunt towards the back
  • dodge in 5–6 up, two blows behind, double dodge in 5–6 down (‘one and two’)
  • plain hunt towards the lead
  • and begin the front work

The tricky bits here are remem­ber­ing the extra dodges at the front and back, and the order in which they come.

We can now do two things. We can trace out the entire plain course of a single bell. Or we can write out a single lead end for all six bells. In fact these are equi­val­ent things, as we shall see in a moment, and the single lead end is a more com­pact format.

This is what the lead looks like:



At the end of each lead what we have done is to change the order of the bells, and they then do the work that the bell in that place did in the just-fin­ished lead. For example, if we trace bell 2 through a single lead, then it will end up in 6th place, and that means that what it does next is whatever bell 6 did in that lead end. It has become the 6ths place bell. So we can con­tin­ue tra­cing the path of this bell by fol­low­ing the 6 through the lead end. We can do the same for each place bell, not­ing where it starts, and which place bell it becomes:

2, or rather seconds place bell: second half of front­work, dodge ‘two and one’ at the back; become sixths place bell

sixths place bell: down to front, lead and dodge; places up; become thirds place bell

thirds place bell: straight up to the back and do back work, dodge 3–4 down; become fourths place bell

fourths place bell: make 3rds place at start of places down; dodge and lead; up to back and dodge 5–6 up (start of ‘one and two’); become fifths place bell

fifths place bell: two blows behind and double dodge 5–6 down (end of ‘one and two’); down to lead and begin front­work; make 2nds over the treble to become the seconds place bell

One oth­er point is per­haps worth not­ing. In Kent Treble Bob, we always dodged and made places with the same bell in each dodging pos­i­tion (except when the treble was there) — in Kent when you are mak­ing 3rds and 4ths up (Kent places) anoth­er bell is mak­ing 3rd and 4ths down at the same time. But in Cam­bridge Sur­prise, the dodges and places are made with a dif­fer­ent bell each time — and only one bell is mak­ing (Cam­bridge) places at any one time. It’s a much more com­plic­ated dance, all together.


Surprise, surprise (continued)

In learn­ing the blue line for Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor we have looked first at what hap­pens when you make ‘Cam­bridge places’. Next we will look at the back work and the front work. (The warn­ing giv­en before still applies: if you are read­ing this and try­ing to learn Cam­bridge, then don’t assume that the instruc­tions here are right. I am doing this from memory as part of my own learn­ing process.)

The back work in Cam­bridge is like this:

double dodge 5–6 up, lie behind, dodge 5–6 down with the treble, make 5th place (below the treble), dodge 5–6 up with the treble, lie behind, double dodge 5–6 down.

And we can draw this in dia­gram­mat­ic form, like this:

1x- double dodge 5–6 up
1-x two blows at the back
—-1x and dodge 5–6 down with the treble
—-x1 make 5th place below the treble
—-1x and dodge 5–6 up with the treble
—-1x two blows at the back
1-x- and double dodge 5–6 down
-1-xand con­tin­ue

Next, we come to the front work, which is some­thing like this:

dodge 1–2 down, lead full, dodge 1–2 up, make 2nd place, lead full, dodge 1–2 up with the treble, make 2nd place over the treble, dodge 1–2 down with the treble, lead full, make 2nd place, dodge 1–2 down, lead full, dodge 1–2 up, and continue.

Got that? Per­haps a dia­gram will help:

-x1- start with a dodge 1–2 down
x1- lead
-x1- and dodge 1–2 up
-x1make 2nd place
x-1lead again
1x—- dodge 1–2 up with the treble
1x—- make 2nd place over the treble
x1—- dodge 1–2 down with the treble
x1—- and lead agan
-x-1make 2nd place again
x1dodge 1–2 down
x—-1 lead
-x1 dodge 1–2 up
x1 and onward

Now we have each of the com­pon­ents of Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor. We just have to put them togeth­er, along with a few more dodges and some plain hunting.


Surprise, surprise

I went yes­ter­day to prac­tice at Hem­ing­ford Grey. Although the tower cap­tain there is away on an exten­ded hol­i­day, this is still a weekly gath­er­ing of more exper­i­enced ringers. At the end of the prac­tice I was asked, ‘What meth­od are you learn­ing at the moment?’ Hmm, I thought, ‘Noth­ing really, busy run­ning prac­tices and teach­ing some begin­ners.’ Back came the sug­ges­tion ‘You could start hav­ing a look at Cambridge.’

So, I had a quick look at Cam­bridge Sur­prise Minor in Steve Cole­man to see what is involved. I also glanced at Cam­bridge Sur­prise major, and quickly decided that I’d con­cen­trate on Minor for now. If the Hem­ing­ford cap­tain were around he’d prob­ably throw me into the deep end with Major (as he threw me into Sted­man Triples and Kent Treble Bob Major without first try­ing Doubles and Minor).

Any­way, after read­ing what Cole­man has to say on the sub­ject, the next step is to com­mit this to memory, and part of that pro­cess is to regur­git­ate it here. (Warn­ing: if you are read­ing this and try­ing to learn Cam­bridge, then don’t assume that the instruc­tions here are right. I am doing this from memory as part of my own learn­ing process.)

We can divide a plain course of Cam­bridge into sev­er­al pieces of work: the front work, the back work, and the places, which com­bined with a couple of oth­er dodges, and some pieces of plain hunt, make up the method.

Cole­man calls the places the most dif­fi­cult bit, but they looked fairly easy to remem­ber to me (though per­haps not so easy to remem­ber when ringing, of course). Places are made in 3–4 up and in 3–4 down. Cam­bridge places in 3–4 up work as follows:

dodge 3–4 up, make 4ths place, make 3rds place, dodge 3–4 up, make 4ths place, make 3rds place, dodge 3–4 up

That’s it. Cam­bridge places down are the exact oppos­ite of this:

dodge 3–4 down, make 3rds place, make 4ths place, dodge 3–4 down, make 3rds place, make 4ths place, dodge 3–4 down

If I remem­ber cor­rectly, then the dodge in the middle of the places work is made with the treble.

So, we can build a skel­et­on dia­gram of this, show­ing the treble and the bell mak­ing places.

First, Cam­bridge places up:

x-1- dodge 3–4 up
x1- make 4ths place
x-1- make 3rds place
1xdodge 3–4 up with the treble
1xmake 4ths place
1-xmake 3rds place
1xdodge 3–4 up
1x- and con­tin­ue

And secondly, Cam­bridge places down:

-1-xdodge 3–4 down
-1xmake 3rds place
-1-xmake 4ths place
x1dodge 3–4 down with the treble
x1make 3rds place
x-1 make 4ths place
x1 dodge 3–4 down
-x1 and con­tin­ue

That’s enough for now. Next we’ll look at the front work and the back work, and then we’ll put it all togeth­er.


teaching and learning

For the last few weeks our ringing teach­er has been away on an exten­ded hol­i­day. This means that I have to run prac­tices, and that I have to deal with learners. Of course, we are all learners, and there are vari­ous ringers in the band at dif­fer­ent stages.

One of the band, R, is just at the stage of being able to plain hunt on the treble reas­on­ably com­pet­ently, and begin­ning to take the step of try­ing to ring Bob Doubles on bell 2. At one prac­tice where we had just enough com­pet­ent ringers I stood behind R and helped him count his place. Learn­ing to count one’s place is a big step — mov­ing from the secur­ity of fol­low­ing known bells in a known order to hav­ing to acquire ropesight and see which pos­i­tion you should be ringing in. The very concept of ‘place’ can be dif­fi­cult to get hold of, let alone move to. So the two of us sat down after prac­tice and went through some of the the­ory of places and blue lines. When I was doing this myself I gradu­ally made sense of it by read­ing and try­ing to under­stand the the­ory and then try­ing to ring it. Week by week I made a little pro­gress until it had clicked into place. We shall have to see wheth­er this works for R.

Some of our oth­er ringers can just about ring a plain course of Bob Doubles on bell 2, and now they need to move to a dif­fer­ent bell, so that between us we can ring Plain Bob more often (as well as aspire to great­er things; but Plain Bob Doubles will do for now!). One thing that helps them get through a plain course is to be reminded what action they need to take each time the treble leads. When I am ringing bell 5 for a plain course the ‘part­ner bell’ is num­ber 2. This is the bell that is dodging 3–4 down when you are dodging 3–4 up and vice versa, and is mak­ing long fifths when you are mak­ing 2nds, and vice versa. So it is fairly easy to tell this ‘part­ner bell’ what to do: either dodge with me, up or down as I am dodging down or up; or stay at the back when I am stay­ing at the front (and when they make 2nds that’s rounds).

A little bit harder is to tell one of the oth­er bells what to do, since they are busy dodging with a dif­fer­ent bell. This morn­ing I was able to tell bell 4 each time what they should be doing. I knew that at the first lead end they needed to be mak­ing long fifths, and was there­fore able to work out, as we were ringing that at the next lead end they should be dodging 3–4 up, whilst at the same time not for­get­ting that I needed to be mak­ing 2nds. And then at the next lead end they should be mak­ing 2nds and I should be dodging 3–4 down. It’s nice to be able to have time to think about what anoth­er bell should be doing whilst hav­ing enough time to remem­ber what to do myself, and at the same time still be count­ing my own place and ringing in that place. For a long time when I first saw this done I was amazed at the abil­ity of the con­duct­or to keep these dif­fer­ent bells’ courses in his head. Now I find that I can do a little of this too, even if it is only one oth­er bell in a plain course of Bob Doubles!