Thinking allowed

ringing in Philadelphia

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time in the USA. I had to be in Pennsylvania for a few days and took the opportunity to do a couple of other things too. One of them was to visit St Mark’s Church in Philadelphia. We stayed overnight a few miles outside the city and drove in on Sunday morning, finding a parking place just around the corner from the church (which is in Locust Street) — coincidentally right outside the Warwick Hotel where I had stayed on my only previous visit to Philadelphia in Summer 1976.

After the Sunday morning service (very high-church Anglican, with excellent choral music) I was able to join in ringing the bells — St Mark’s is one of only 43 active towers in North America. It was a pleasure to ring these bells, and to enjoy the hospitality of the Philadelphia ringers. Although several of their more experienced ringers were away we were able ring some call changes, as well as touches of bob doubles. The only tricky moment was when I pulled at handstroke and nothing happened, and then the rope ballooned and shot up — the rope had slipped off the wheel. Fortunately I was able to control the rope, which slipped back onto the wheel, and bring the bell back up and under control. The touch of course was lost.

A nice set of bells — but I’m glad that I don’t have to ring in that heat every week!


Cambridge Major

Finally a Wednesday night practice at which there were enough experienced ringers to try Cambridge Major, with a reasonable expectation that we could manage it. In fact there were even enough for one of them to stand behind and give guidance – not for me but for someone else who was not too sure about Cambridge.

So we set off, with me ringing the 3 — dodge 5-6 up, backwork, 5-6 down, 3-4 places down, and on we went, and eventually I got to 5-6 places up, dodge up and down and the back, down to the front, dodge down and up, and just about to start 3-4 places up, when the conductor, a visitor from another tower, called ‘go rounds’. I wasn’t sure what had gone wrong, and we were within about a dozen strokes of the end. How frustrating!

Later in the evening we had another go. This time I chose to ring the 2, just for a bit of variation  — start by dodging down with the treble in the middle of the frontwork, and then 3-4 up, double dodge up at the back and single dodge down, 5-6 down, 1-2 up, 3-4 up, places 5-6 up. And in the middle of 5-6 places up I got lost, wondering whether I had dodged with the treble or not. So I meandered up to the back, and hung around there a bit, and then wandered down to the front and dodge around there, and just about put myself right. Then 3-4 places up, and dodging with the treble in the middle confirmed that I was now in the right place <phew>.

So on to the backwork (bracketted by dodges up and down in 5-6), 3-4 places down, treble bob at the front, then at the back, places 5-6 down, dodge 3-4 down, 1-2 down, dodge 5-6 up, single and double dodges at the back, <nearly there now, just keep going>, 3-4 down, onto the frontwork, and here we are dodging with the treble, <steady> and <c’mon conductor> ‘that’s all’. Yes.

As usual, there’s a lot that I could do better — better striking, better dodging, better ropesight, especially in 5-6. And, especially, not getting lost! But on the whole I was quite pleased with myself.


calling Bob Doubles

Two little bits of progress to record, to do with calling touches of Bob Doubles.

A couple of weeks ago I called a 120 of Bob Doubles from the treble. When you do this you only have the basic framework of ringing to help you know where you have got to. You cannot call a 120 by simply calling ‘Bob’ whenever you are doing four blows behind, or by calling bobs at ‘in’, ‘out’ and ‘make’, because you never do any of these things. Instead what I did was to count leads. I decided in advance that I wanted the 2 to be unaffected, so I called a bob just as I rang a backstroke in 2nd place at the end of the second lead. Then I counted 3 more leads and called a bob again (at my backstroke in 2nd place); then 3 more leads and another bob, and finally when taking the 2 from the lead, call ‘that’s all’ as the bells come into rounds.

The difficulty with this is the two lots of counting that must be done: counting your own place, and counting the number of leads. It is all too easy to forget how many leads have been rung by confusing the two lots of numbers.

Then at last night’s practice I called a 120 of Bob Doubles while ringing the tenor cover. Here, there is even less framwework to help you as you are ringing in sixth place at every blow. Instead, you have to watch another bell. I chose to count the place of bell 2, and to call a 120 which affected that bell (make, in, and out), and then as it was about to make 2nds place the bells come into rounds. In order to do this you have to be able to continue ringing the cover bell whilst watching and counting what some other bell is doing. Ringing the cover bell (to doubles, at least) has become an almost totally automatic or sub-conscious process: my eyes and hands can get on with doing this while I follow another bell and call the 120. It’s nice to have reached this state: it’s not so long ago that ringing the cover bell itself was hard and not always accurate!


calling Bob Minor, and other progress

I finally got to call a touch of Bob Minor last night. Every fourth week a group of other ringers attends our practice, and this extra experience is just what a novice caller needs! With a less experienced ringer on 2, able to ring a plain course but not comfortable with bobs, I was able to ring the 5 and call a 120 – home and wrong with 2 as the observation bell; or from my own point of view, out, out, wrong, make. And it all worked. No one got terribly lost, and I remembered when to call the bobs, and was even able to tell another ringer to make the bob and then to dodge 5-6 down with the 2, and then to dodge 5-6 up with me.

Elsewhere, I went to a Friday practice at ten-bell St Neots a week or so ago. I had rung there once before, at a district meeting, and went this time because I had a friend staying overnight and he’s a ringer. We watched them ring a course of Glasgow on 8 – way beyond my capabilities! But I did get to ring Grandsire Caters (i.e. on 9 bells with a tenor cover) and did not disgrace myself. My ropesight could just about manage with the extra bells, and I am just about comfortable enough with Grandsire to manage being affected by the bobs and singles.

Still not had another chance to ring Cambridge Major though. 


calling other touches

I’ve been calling Bob Doubles for some time now, and have become reasonably competent at it, especially if the other ringers are competent too. But my own band is not always as good as that, and so I have found myself trying to see what other bells are doing or should be doing, so that I can try to put them right. One of the side effects of this is that, if you are not careful, you start ringing what the bell you are thinking of is doing, rather than what you should be doing! That’s almost guaranteed to ruin a touch that you are trying to call. Still, it is good practice to be able to observe another ringer, and obviously helpful to a band if I can help another ringer complete a touch.

I have also been thinking about learning to call other touches. At our own tower on a Sunday morning we mostly get to ring Bob Doubles, but we are almost at the stage of having enough Plain Bob ringers to be able to ring Bob Minor, and it might be helpful to be able to call touches of that.

In Bob Minor, the variations from plain hunting are: dodge 3-4 down, 5-6 down, 5-6 up, 3-4 up, and make 2nds. A bob is like a bob in Doubles: run out, run in, or make the bob. If you make the bob, then next time you dodge 5-6 down and carry on from there (whereas in Doubles you would do four blows behind next time, but of course that doesn’t occur in Minor). If you are dodging 5-6 down or 5-6 up then you are unaffected by a bob.

In Bob Doubles there are four calling positions. i.e. places at which you can call a bob:

  • ‘out’ when you run out, rather than making 2nds place
  • ‘in’ when you run in, rather than dodging 3-4 down
  • ‘make’ or ‘bob’ when you make the bob, rather than dodging 3-4 up
  • ‘home’ when you are making four blows at the back, and you are unaffected

In Bob Minor there are five calling positions: ‘out’, ‘in’ and ‘make’ are the same as in Doubles. The two new ones are:

  • ‘home’ when you are about to dodge 5-6 down, and are unaffected
  • ‘wrong’ when you are about to dodge 5-6 up, and are unaffected

A simple touch in Bob Minor is to call bobs when you are dodging 5-6 down or 5-6 up and are therefore unaffected. If you do this four times, then it should come back to rounds at the appropriate point. If you are ringing the 6, then this means calling the following: wrong, home, wrong, home (and immediately that is rounds after the last bob). On 2, 3, 4 or 5 it is: home, wrong, home, wrong (which on the 5 is rounds immediately after the last bob, but on 2, 3 or 4 there are more leads before getting back to rounds). The difference is because on the 6 you reach the 5-6 up dodging position before the 5-6 down, whereas on the other bells you reach 5-6 down first.

That’s all very well if you are going to be the bell unaffected by the bobs. But in a band which has only just reached the number of ringers to try Bob Minor rather than Bob Doubles, it is better for the most inexperienced ringer to be the one who is unaffected by the bobs, rather than the caller. This ringer is quite likely to be ringing bell 2, so we need to call this touch (home, wrong, home, wrong) from the point of view of bell 2, whichever bell the caller is ringing; i.e., we must make bell 2 the observation bell.

We can do this by watching bell 2 and calling a bob whenever it is about to dodge 5-6 down or 5-6 up; but it is probably easier for the novice caller to work out in advance when this ought to occur and remember what their own position is at the corresponding point.

So, this is the order of work that bell 2 will do:

  1. dodge 3-4 down
  2. dodge 5-6 down
  3. dodge 5-6 up
  4. dodge 3-4 up
  5. make seconds
    and repeat.

So we need to call a bob at the end of the second lead, and the end of the third lead, and then again at the end of the seventh lead and the end of the eighth lead.

Now we need to work out what our own bell will be doing. Suppose we are ringing bell 5. Then we will do the following work:

  1. dodge 3-4 up
  2. BOB: run out (rather than making seconds)
  3. BOB: run out (rather than making seconds)
  4. make seconds
  5. dodge 3-4 down
  6. dodge 5-6 down
  7. BOB: dodge 5-6 up (unaffected)
  8. BOB: make the bob (rather than dodge 3-4 up)
  9. dodge 5-6 down
  10. dodge 5-6 up (which is rounds)

What you have to remember is the touch: out, out, wrong, make.

There is one further issue that comes to mind — when to actually say the word ‘bob’. This should be done at the backstroke lead before the treble leads, a whole pull’s notice of the dodge itself. For an out bob, this is when you are ringing the backstroke as you lead, and for make it is as you ring a backstroke in 3rd place (or just fractionally before). But for home it needs to be called at the backstroke lead before your own backstroke in 6th place, which is immediately after you have rung your previous blow, the handstroke in 6th place. For the wrong bob, the call should be between your handstroke in 4th place and the backstroke in 5th place — a little earlier rather than later, since that is when the bell which will run out is making its backstroke lead.

That’s enough to keep us busy for a while I think, especially if the caller is trying to ensure that another bell is in the right place. On that topic, more anon.


Ringing Cambridge Major

It’s four weeks since I started trying to learn Cambridge Surprise Major. I reckon I have the ‘blue line’ fairly well memorized — in theory. But putting it into practice is not so easy.

In the first place, actually getting enough others who can ring Cambridge Major is itself quite hard. Of the four practices since I began, at two of them there have not been enough experienced ringers to even try Cambridge Major. At the other two it has just about been possible to find 6 other ringers capable of Cambridge plus one who can treble bob on the treble.

But on each of these two occasions we have managed to get about half way through a plain course before it goes horribly wrong. The annoying thing from my perspective is that this has not been my fault, but mistakes by other ringers. Both times, I have been ringing bell 2, the first time with another ringer standing behind me, and each time, as I was completing the backwork some of those ringing in front of me have got mixed up. Sigh. I’m not blaming them — it’s a reasonably hard method after all. But it is frustrating when I am trying to learn the method myself.

Next week is Ash Wednesday, so it’ll be another couple of weeks before I can try again.


Cambridge Major

It’s quite a while since I began to learn Cambridge Minor, and my teacher asks me each week whether I have looked at Cambridge Major. I keep replying (truthfully) that I haven’t had any time. So this week he had me ring Cambridge Major with another ringer standing behind me and telling me what to do. This is not ideal, but it works tolerably well, since the extensions from Cambridge Minor are not too complicated — it’s just a question of knowing when to do them. Later in the practice we did the same thing again. Neither time did we quite complete a plain course, and that was partly because I managed to lose my place. Not having the big picture of the method, so to speak, does make it harder to ring.

However, having done this, and having briefly glanced at the blue line and Coleman a couple of times, it began to impress the method in my head, and I found that as I drove home from the practice I could just about remember and/or reconstruct the method. So now I am at that state of learning a new method: when over and over again, at the interstices of routine, I find myself reciting the different pieces of work involved — when stuck in a traffic jam, or brushing my teeth, or sitting in a not-too-exciting meeting. This is an important part of learning a new method — committing the pieces of work to memory, so that they can be recalled without effort when ringing it.

Previously I have also committed to memory the actual position at each pull. This time, I have not (yet) tried to do so, partly because just remembering the order of work is sufficiently complicated without adding anything else, and partly because the difficult bits of work (frontwork, backwork, and Cambridge places up and down) are essentially identical to those of Cambridge Minor, and therefore already reasonably well known. The differences are the obvious ones when ringing on 8, rather than 6, bells — the backwork is done on 7 and 8, not 5 and 6; and places up and down must be rung in 5-6 as well as in 3-4.

So, from memory, this is the order of work in a plain course of Cambridge Major:

dodge 3-4 up

dodge 2-and-1 at the back
dodge 5-6 down

lead and dodge
dodge 3-4 up

5-6 places up
treble bob at the back

treble bob at the front
3-4 places up

dodge 5-6 up
dodge 5-6 down

3-4 places down
treble bob at the front

treble bob at the back
5-6 places down

dodge 3-4 down
dodge and lead

dodge 5-6 up
dodge 1-and-2 at the back

dodge 3-4 down

And we can use this information to construct a nice table showing a single lead end of Cambridge Surprise Major. This table is constructed by selecting a bell, e.g. the 2, and tracing its course through a lead. The 2 begins in the middle of the frontwork (having just made 2nds over the treble, so to speak), just as in Cambridge Minor. At the end of the lead the 2 ends up in 6th place, and so we continue by tracing the work from the top again as bell 6. At the end of the lead bell 6 becomes the 7th place bell and we continue from the top, becoming successively the 3rd place bell, 4th place bell, 8th place bell, and finally the 5th place bell, which ends by making 2nds over the treble in the middle of the frontwork, which is where, as the 2nd place bell, we started.



No doubt I shall find myself continually repeating the order of work over the next week or so, and we shall see next week whether I have learnt it well enough to ring a plain course.

Not that that’s the only difficulty with ringing Cambridge Major. Another problem I found last week was ropesight, especially when dodging in 5-6. It’s not easy to see 4 or 5 bells below you at this point. Hopefully, this too is something that will improve with practise.