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:

1xdouble dodge 5-6 up
1x 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
1xand double dodge 5-6 down
1xand 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:

x1start with a dodge 1-2 down
x1and dodge 1-2 up
x1make 2nd place
x1lead 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
x1make 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:

x1dodge 3-4 up
x1make 4ths place
x1make 3rds place
1xdodge 3-4 up with the treble
1xmake 4ths place
1xmake 3rds place
1xdodge 3-4 up
1xand continue

And secondly, Cambridge places down:

1xdodge 3-4 down
1xmake 3rds place
1xmake 4ths place
x1dodge 3-4 down with the treble
x1make 3rds place
x1 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!