Tuesday 20th April 2021
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Road closures. Of the few silver linings to the very dark clouds of the last thirteen months, I’d like to think one of them is that I have come to realise such small things really don’t matter in the scheme of things. Yet I was delighted to have the chance to get annoyed about not discovering the road closure at Tuddenham St Martin until this morning when we reached the road closure at Tuddenham St Martin, with no signs that we spotted on the miles of lanes beforehand that only lead to this spot, warning of the road closure at Tuddenham St Martin.
Delighted, because it meant we were going somewhere, or at least trying to. And in the end, despite a considerable detour shared by other cars also unaware of the road closure at Tuddenham St Martin (did I mention there is a road closure at Tuddenham St Martin?), we were only a couple of minutes late for our ultimate rendezvous, which was St Mary-le-Tower churchyard for a spot of handbell ringing outside to welcome the congregation to the 10.30am service. The Plain Hunt on Six that I rang on 1-2 with Colin Salter on 3-4 conducting, Stephen Cheek on 5-6 and then my wife and Jonathan Williamson on 7-8 and 9-10 bonging behind turned out to be another useful experience in my tentative ‘progress’ in hand as we returned to another once-familiar venue for the first time in months.
Afterwards, we and those who come to meet up proceeded on to Christchurch Park for takeaway refreshment from Costa Coffee where we all strictly stuck to the regulations in groups of no more than six in front of the Mansion and beneath the tower of St Margaret’s church that houses a 14cwt eight. It was lovely to see friends in person again and for the boys to play safely in space and hopefully another step towards even greater freedoms, which will hopefully include socially distanced ringing from about a month’s time and then God willing unrestricted ringing side-by-side in just over two months time.
For now, there was more tolling for the Duke of Edinburgh in Suffolk at Eye by St John Perry. Since I wrote yesterday that fifty-two towers had tolled on the day of HRH’s funeral, that number has grown to seventy and Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge knows of around a hundred towers who have tolled at least once since His Royal Highness’ death. However, he is aware that it is likely that there are more not yet recorded on BellBoard and he would like to get the full picture of where has tolled so that he can share it with the Lieutenant of Suffolk and maybe even Buckingham Palace. Therefore, if you haven’t already sent up your efforts then please do and/or let Neal know. Apart from it being a nice thing to do and a wonderful record of local ringing’s reaction to a historic event, it shouldn’t do our cause in being fully allowed back into ringing chambers when it is safe to do so any harm to have the goodwill of friends in high places!
Meanwhile, BB was awash with handbell and online ringing, including
a half-muffled touch
of Plain Bob Triples on Ringing Room
by a Bardwell practice night band, also in memory of Prince Philip. Unlike most
Sunday evenings this year though, we didn’t attempt a quarter-peal on RR with
the Pettistree ringers after the collective decision of the band last week to
take a brief break from them and so it was a quiet night in watching TV instead.
And avoiding road closures at Tuddenham St Martin.
The eyes of the country and indeed the world were on Windsor Castle today as the funeral of Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh took place this afternoon. Whatever one’s views on the reaction to his death and indeed to him and the Royal Family generally, I think it was certainly right that ringing marked the sepulture of a man who supported the Head of the Church, the organisation for which our primary purpose is to ring for and whose Award scheme has benefitted the exercise over the years. And it certainly did that, at least as much as it was allowed. Up and down the country, bells tolled out for the considerably scaled down ceremony to see HRH off. That included here in Suffolk, with tolling carried out at fifty-two towers, as well as a half-muffled quarter-peal on Ringing Room by a band from the west of the county.
We didn’t do any ringing for His Royal Highness and indeed I missed the funeral, but that was because it fell during a Cast of 1000 session on RR that had been arranged some time ago, before the Duke’s death. There was a brief pause for the minute’s silence and one or two were a few minutes late because they had been tolling a bell, but otherwise, everyone had agreed to continue as planned, a decision vindicated by the ninety minute practice. These are intense, with usually nine or ten present for the Surprise Major repertoire drawn from Project Pickled Egg. It usually means that I find myself ringing every piece and with a high standard and a duty to be at one’s best for the learners, much concentration is needed in addition to that I need for ringing online generally. Add into that less familiar methods like Deva and they can be a mentally stretching experience.
It is entirely worth it though. They seem to be a great help to those we are helping and the ringing is very generally super and have been good for me too. And although they aren’t meant to be, they are nice socially, albeit the chat is saved until the end after the business of these professional sessions is done. Today’s was run excellently by Cambridge ringer Liz Orme, briefly saw us joined by CCCBR President – and speaker before the Guild AGM a week ago – Simon Linford and featured plenty of Cambridge, Suoerlative and Yorkshire spliced, Bristol and the aforementioned Deva. Very enjoyable and I would encourage SGR members who ring Surprise Major to join either as a learner or helper or if you know someone who could benefit to point them in its direction. Further details can be found on the Central Council website.
Ultimately, it contributed to a good day for ringing on a sad day for many. The art put itself in a positive light and hopefully gave the Duke of Edinburgh a farewell that he would’ve been pleased with.
There are two questions that are generally doing the rounds at the moment.
One is “Have you had a jab yet?” and the other is “Have you got a haircut booked?”.
The former is in response to the still rapid vaccination programme in the UK and in this household the answer is “no”.
The latter is in response to the reopening of hairdressers this week and the answer in this household is also “no.” However, that is mainly because Ruthie, Alfie & Joshua got their haircuts this afternoon after several months of growth!
It meant there was an unexpected delay in me getting Mason as they had the car and got back later than anticipated, but it was worth it for the boys being able to see and hear without having to brush back their hair! And that extra, unplanned time gave me an opportunity to sharpen my Surprise Major skills with Wheatley on Ringing Room ahead of a Cast of 1000 session planned for tomorrow. Most of the repertoire is second nature even after thirteen months of not ringing it as regularly as I have been and Cornwall and Lessness have become increasingly familiar thanks to RR in recent months, but these practices are essentially professional, set-up through much organisation, with great expectations on those helping to make them worthwhile for those learning and I am anxious to make sure that I don’t let anyone down. Therefore, I found myself not only brushing up on those methods but also Deva – which is the most unfamiliar to me – and importantly getting used to these on this platform, which is very different to ringing them on towerbells where the feel and momentum of a bell helps guide you through methods that are unfamiliar, as well as being guided by fellow ringers glances and body language. Hopefully it will enable me to contribute positively to proceedings.
Eventually my shorn housemates returned looking very smart and feeling a lot lighter, I collected Mason and we settled down for our Friday night, as usual kicked off with Simon Rudd and friends in his virtual pub, including former Halesworth ringer Maggie Ross and her partner Tim Palmer who were able to give us an insight into ringing at the Curfew Tower at Windsor Castle at the start of a weekend that will see the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral take place on the grounds.
I imagine that occasion will see much tolling – the most we can currently do on towerbells sadly – tomorrow, but there was some today, including here in Suffolk where the half-muffled tenor at Grundisburgh was rung.
Meanwhile, it is precisely a decade since Clare Veal and Neal Dodge’s first quarter-peal, which was one of two rung that day at Great Barton, with the second seeing Simon Veal ring his first, achievements noted in my blog entry of that day. It was notable at the time and significant in hindsight as they have since rung 529 QPs and 289 peals, as well contributing significantly to ringing in the county. Worthy of marking with a quarter-peal ten years on then, although I don’t expect they ever envisaged they would have to do it online as they did today with a 1260 of Doubles, which was David Howe’s first on RR, Neal’s first on RR inside and his 300th in total and Clare’s first blows on the platform. Well done and congratulations David, Neal and Clare!
I wonder if they’ve had a vaccine or haircut yet though...
Congratulations to Hasketon ringer David Stanford on winning the individual Innovation Award, an informal added extra to the revamped St Edmund’s Clapper competition. His victory for his fantastic The Offton Round Britain Tour quiz that took participants on a virtual coach tour of the British coastline was announced at Saturday’s Guild AGM, but he couldn’t be presented with it until he and SGR Chairman Rowan Wilson met yesterday for the successful handbell quarter in Moats Tye. I agree with the Guild Executive that he deserves his prize for what sounded like a fun idea at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to come up with different ways to make staring at a computer screen entertaining, but also worthy of mention was the runner-up, South-East District Ringing Master Jenny Scase on her Debenham Quiz and also Debenham Walk. Indeed, everyone who is working hard to raise money for the Guild and/or keep ringers in touch in innovative and interesting ways are to be given much credit for their efforts.
It is the type of thing being reported and encouraged in last month’s Recovery Champions’ meeting, a recording of which I came across in the Association of Ringing Teachers Survival and Recovery Toolbox during my lunchbreak. There are lots of good tips and ideas relayed, both for keeping ringers engaged currently, but also in identifying where help is needed and what to be aware of on, and how to prepare for the resumption of ringing. It is just a few seconds shy of 1hr38mins, but well worth taking the time to watch. And it is well worth keeping a regular eye on the Survival and Recovery Toolbox generally.
Also worth watching, is David Hull’s talk to the St Martin’s Guild from yesterday which is now available on YouTube. It is about change ringing and music and there can be fewer if any better placed to expound upon the subject. His compositions are amongst the most rung and admired, including the one used for the famous record peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus rung in Alderney in 2017. I have also had the pleasure and privilege to ring in a number of peals conducted by him to musical compositions (usually his own!), including one of Stedman Septuples and Bristol Surprise Sixteen spliced at St Martin’s in Birmingham back in 2000, which included tittums, eliciting much joy from the band - I seem to recall Stef Warboys calling it “outrageous” in a positive sense! When pushed on the subject of his favourite musical row in ringing, tittums on sixteen was what he replied with and having experienced it first-hand, I can certainly understand!
It wasn’t just the music of compositions and methods that he touched upon though. The quality of bells and striking were quite rightly deemed important and he reiterated a theory that I support, namely that – within reason – there is no such thing as a single ‘right’ pace for a peal of bells. Additionally, he explored ringing’s place in music, all of which was fascinating and presented with his usual dry wit and intelligence.
Meanwhile, I was also watching Yorkshire ringer Andrew Aspland’s debut in The Great British Sewing Bee from last night. I say watched. I’ve never watched it in my life. From what I did see, it seems a carbon copy of The Great British Bake Off in almost every respect and as I only usually watch that passively through Bake Off fan Ruthie, I’m not desperate to sit through another similar show. However, even though I don’t know Andrew, I am interested to see if ringing gets a bit of publicity from it and so I flicked through it on iPlayer until I saw him. As it happened, the main focus on him – albeit pretty brief – is about 25mins 30ecs in and doesn’t include any mention of the exercise, but (spoiler alert!) he wasn’t the one voted off and so he survives to potentially give the art some exposure.
We shall have to wait to see if he wins the competition, but at least we know for sure that David Stanford is a winner!
Pettistree practice hasn’t started with Grandsire Triples very often, unsurprisingly for a six. However, Ringing Room and an initially high attendance following Hilary Stearn’s latest quiz enabled us to try it without the need for Wheatley.
Sadly, it was to be the first of a number of pieces that didn’t finish due to internet troubles and fatigue-induced human error. RR has undoubtedly been one of the few positives of the last thirteen months, but there seemed a unmistakable sense that everyone wants to get back to proper ringing on church bells, alongside each other, instead of staring into a screen, battling latency. Of course, that isn’t happening until at least 21st June and whilst the usual form of gradually introducing bad news has meant that increasingly it has been suggested social distancing will linger indefinitely, I pray that ringing can find some way around this to resume fully in a way that is legal, satisfactory to the Church of England Recovery Group and most importantly of all, safe. If not on 21/6/2021 then shortly afterwards. Arguably it needs to on the basis of nights like this.
That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves generally. We were delighted to win Hilary Stearn’s usual pre-session quiz, despite knowing nothing about Game of Thrones and dodging a debate on whether the first organ transplant was in fact a skin graft as typically some ‘controversy’ was introduced! And it was great as usual to catch-up with ringers and indeed friends, even if we are longing for it to be in person in the ringing chamber and in The Greyhound afterwards.
Other ringers in Suffolk were doing the next best thing though, as a band rang a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Major in Moats Tye to celebrate Guild Peal Secretary Christine Knight’s birthday. Although she hasn’t had much to do in her role as SGR Peal Secretary since March last year and likewise hasn’t had much chance to ring in any peals, but she has always carried out the role diligently but politely (many an AGM has seen her give me a gentle prod for peal fees) and very amenable to travelling the county (and beyond) to help out in peals. Happy Birthday for yesterday Christine!
God willing we can ring together on real bells again before her next birthday, although I can’t promise Grandsire Triples at Pettistree!
Today was very much a College Youths day, as I read the online annual newsletter, took a survey as part of the Society’s consultation on whether online peals should count in their records and then attended the monthly meeting, a year after I attended the first one held via video.
Like the SGR’s Annual Report, the ASCY’s newsletter does well in looking back over a year where very much less ringing was carried out and there was reference to Suffolk too, most notably with Ringing Master Susan ‘Swaz’ Apter making special mention of George Pipe in her message from a year when two Past Masters – Andrew Stubbs and Paul Williams - also died, as she described him as “one of the ‘Greats of the Exercise’”. George is also highlighted as one of the proposers to getting the word ‘male’ removed from the membership rules in 1998 in a piece on the history of the Society’s relationship with women and even I appear as part of a photo of those who attended the Shrove Tuesday toast to Revd F Llewellyn Edwards!
Meanwhile, I was delighted to impart my thoughts on online peals for the Society, something that naturally wasn’t even considered a year ago. The general gist is that some would like peals rung on Ding, Handbell Stadium (it was a 5088 of Kent Treble Major rung on Dinner weekend in November which ignited the debate) and Ringing Room counted as any peal would be, whilst others feel that as they aren’t rung on real bells they would devalue peal-ringing for the organisation.
Personally, although I can’t ever see myself ringing a peal online (even a quarter takes a huge amount of sapping focus for me!) and I can’t see as many as the eighteen that have been rung in the last twelve months being notched up across a calendar again as God willing ringing on real bells opens up again, I am in favour of them being counted. The physical aspect is not as great as on towerbells obviously, but then neither is ringing on handbells and the fact we’re not ringing actual bells shouldn’t distract from the fact that change-ringing – which is the common theme that bonds ringing on church bells, handbells and (if you wish to distinguish them) mini-rings – is being done with all the thought processes that go into ringing peals on any bells. Providing a peal is rung through the teamwork of a band entirely consisting of humans with no extra help from computers (such as Wheatley ringing a bell or the pace set artificially by the platform) then I don’t see any problem with it. Additionally, whilst we all hope to return to ringing real bells to the extent we were pre-pandemic, even when we do it seems online ringing is going to stick around for training, allowing ringers vast distances apart to ring together and indeed for peal-ringing, even if not to the same extent as during the various lockdowns since March last year. In the original debate, someone said the Society would risk appearing out of date and stuffy by dismissing such peals as ‘not acceptable’, especially as another issue that is currently of concern is attracting younger members, and I am inclined to agree.
Come the evening and the meeting touched upon that consultation too, but otherwise there wasn’t much new to report on that would interest many outside of the Society, although it was good to see someone put forward for possible election next month as John Thurman proposed R Owen Battye and wonderful to see Swaz hosting proceedings after her recent stint in hospital.
And as the meeting drew to a close, an ASCY peal appeared on BellBoard as former Ipswich ringer George Salter rang his first peal of spliced on handbells in the impressive 5040 of forty-one Surprise Minor methods spliced in Somerset. Well done George.
Great to see others with links to Suffolk also having a College Youths day!
Five weeks after the first step of easing restrictions was made with no major effect on the numbers getting ill, ending up in hospital and/or dying of Covid-19, this morning saw the latest step made as we pray for an equably indiscernible deviation from the downwards trajectory of the those figures in the coming weeks. Pubs are now allowed to serve customers outside (indeed, some were open at one minute past midnight!), hairdressers can open and one can go to the poor zoos who have still had to feed their animals for the last thirteen months with practically no income.
Additionally though, it allows for young ringers groups to ring together in ringing chambers and God willing is the final step before at least restricted ringing can return, hopefully in five weeks time.
Meanwhile, The Ringing World arrived with us today and following The Norman Tower’s prominent feature on the covers of the journal a fortnight ago, this week sees Stonham Aspal on the front, courtesy of a picture from Norfolk ringer Neil Thomas and a unique photo overleaf, courtesy of my mother Sally. It says a lot that I even miss ringing on this 23cwt ten at the moment, for all their foibles and that they are a tough ring of bells, albeit far easier to ring these days after much work. They are the epitome of the variety that the exercise gives us and places it takes us to and I am chomping at the bit to go to such places again. Although I imagine the compact, fairly airless upstairs ringing chamber here won’t be amongst the first we will be able to utilise when we return, with ventilation very much a priority in those initial forays back into full-on ringing.
Inside the RW there were further Suffolk references, from a photo credit to Great Barton ringer (and extraordinary artist!) Ben Keating, to Bardwell ringer Ruth Suggett and Thornham Magna ringer Sylvie Fawcett’s table-topping quarter-peal on Ringing Room of 31st March featuring prominently on ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’.
What mainly caught my eye though was Past President of the CCCBR Chris Mew’s thoughts on ringing’s return. He makes some valid points, many of which have been considered in recent months but are worth reiterating. As he points out, when we do return, there will be many who are anxious and even unwilling and that has to be respected. Hopefully the return can be made as safe as possible to encourage as many as possible back and hopefully when we reach the point where we are given the go ahead it means the prevalence of the virus is minimal.
Will there – as Chris also muses – be anywhere to ring for some though? It has long been expected that an increasing number of churches will shut in the next few years - along with their bells – and it seems to be generally held that the pandemic has hastened and exacerbated this.
With the uncertainty over such things, he makes a suggestion that I have been making for ages - and which current Central Council President Simon Linford made in his talk before Saturday’s AGM - that local bands pool their resources, rather than struggle on with not quite enough to progress, often just a few miles apart, sometimes even on the same night. In the past, tradition, habit and routine have stood in the way of such collaborations, but now seems the best possible opportunity to rethink and for bands to work together to help the art’s recovery.
For now and for all the changes coming into force today, the ringing pretty much continued as it has done since 29th March, with at least one peal now rung every day since, including four today. They were all on handbells outside and amongst a number of performances in hand, but there was also more tolling for the Duke of Edinburgh. In relation to HRH’s funeral on Saturday, the CCCBR have announced that the Church would like a single bell tolled – preferably half-muffled if possible – in the hour (not necessarily for the whole hour) leading up to the ceremony at 3pm.
There was still much online ringing going on though, including in our household as we joined probably the best St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Room practice thus far. A course of Yorkshire Surprise Major and three leads of Bristol Surprise Major were extremely well rung and we successfully rang a bob course of Grandsire Caters and a course of Little Bob Royal in very decent fashion.
Still, I’m hoping that the next steps of Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap’ in five weeks and ten weeks time will be successfully negotiated and we will be change-ringing on real bells in church towers as soon as possible.
Sunshine, hail, wind, rain, sleet. There was even snow in some places. It was all too much for the gazebo temporarily constructed in the garden, which we needed to take down in a hurry. Yet still, change-ringing continued, even though the only way for it to happen on real bells is outside. In Suffolk, a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor in hand was rung at the Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, whilst further afield there were QPs of Royal and – for the sixteenth day running – a peal. Which in its own right was a significant one as it was the first of the standard one hundred and forty seven Treble Dodging Minor methods spliced to be rung strictly silent and non-conducted, meaning no instructions were given by anyone throughout. All three of the band just picked up their handbells, rang the peal without a word and then put them down again. Impressive in any circumstances.
Meanwhile, there was more tolling in the county in memory of the Duke of Edinburgh, by Veronica Downing at Chediston and Terry Eagle at East Bergholt.
There was no ringing on real bells for us today though. In the absence of a service at St Mary-le-Tower and therefore no handbell ringing outside and no social distanced gatherings of groups of six ringers in the park, we went to church at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge, before Alfie and I spent much of the afternoon playing the Ipswich Town FC Monopoly game that he got for his birthday yesterday.
We did do some online ringing though, as a Pettistree band met for our weekly Sunday evening quarter attempt on Ringing Room. For weeks we have been attempting to score one of Norwich Surprise Minor and have got close, but week after week we have ended prematurely. And so it was tonight. Ultimately we were helped on the way by an enquiry by the now seven-year old in our household who had otherwise been sitting very patiently and quietly and our laptop flickering unnervingly every few seconds, but whilst we generally rang very well, there definitely felt like there was a lot of fatigue creeping in to our efforts. Partly because Sunday evenings are not the best time for such attempts, although that is our fault as it is the only time we can offer any kind of guarantees on not getting interrupted by any children, ironic as that is after tonight. However, also because we have now been attempting these quarters for months staring at a video screen, listening to computer-generated sound. With the ropesight still not as natural as in real ringing chambers, even a QP is a feat of mental endurance when none of us feel entirely comfortable ringing in this way. I can’t hide my admiration for the way that RR has kept the change-ringing brains of ourselves ticking over throughout the last few months, but the suggestion after our latest loss to take a week off and try a different method seems a sensible one.
I don’t think any of us can wait to do our ringing together, indoors on real bells, where we’re not having to star at screens and it doesn’t matter what the weather is!
Mourning for the Duke of Edinburgh continued today, but with all due respect to him and those grieving him, today was one of celebration for us as Alfie reached the age of seven years. Seven years of watching him grow from that tiny, fragile being who I tentatively carried after he was handed to me moments after his birth at 2.04am to a personable, intelligent young boy who absorbs information in a way that I can only dream of and is fascinated in the way things work, space, science, football and is actually quite the comedian.
Of course, for the second year running we couldn’t mark it in the way that we would’ve wished. There isn’t a 5007 and/or peal of seven-spliced lined up and no partying with his peers, but there were loads of presents, plenty of messages sent (thank you to all who imparted felicitations), a Harry Potter cum Batman cake (after a last minute change of mind from the birthday boy a few days ago!), a phone call from his Nana and unlike last year’s birthday which had to be held in complete isolation, we were at least able to have his Granny Kate and Grandad Ron round to make use of the gazebo we’d helped them construct yesterday.
The former went on afterwards to Ufford to toll a bell at noon for Prince Philip and she was far from alone across Suffolk. We could clearly hear one of the bells at our nearest church Melton being chimed by the Reverend Paul Hambling, the sound floating across the village and I imagine beyond too. Elsewhere in the county, bells were tolled at Aldeburgh by Richard Rapior, Beccles by Chrissie Pickup, Cavendish by Chris Ward, Clare by Alan Mayle, Falkenham, Hasketon by Linda Garnham, Haughley by Janet Sheldrake, Hollesley by Peter Harper, Ipswich St Clement and St Lawrence by Katharine and Colin Salter, Parham by Jos Slade, Redgrave by Chris Davies, Sproughton by Ralph Earey, St Gregory in Sudbury by Pauline Brown, Theberton by Julia Brown and Tostock by Mark Steggles, whilst Norman Tower ringer Nathan Colman rang in a touch of 99 changes of Stedman Caters, as well as a 1269 of Cambridge Surprise Minor with his mother Cath, both on Ringing Room. An impressive response from within our borders, especially in the circumstances and I imagine there will be more in the coming days and then particularly next Saturday, when it was announced this afternoon that the funeral is due to happen at 3pm. Additionally though, this sad situation did at least offer an opportunity to put ringing in a good light and there was super PR garnered by a BBC news report that included mention of the Central Council and also Worcester Cathedral Ringing Master Mark Regan, who spoke at a fringe event at the Guild AGM at Henley a decade ago in 2011.
Talking of which, with all this going on, it might have been easy to forget that it was also Guild AGM day. We didn’t forget though and indeed we were the first through the ‘doors’ for CCCBR President Simon Linford’s talk on the future of ringing. Simon is a busy chap anyway, combining his considerable presidential duties with running his property development company Czero and The Woodman pub in Birmingham, but after Prince Philip’s death he has naturally been busier arranging ringing’s representative body’s response to the situation. However, he very kindly spared half-an-hour of his time to talk on ringing’s recovery, which was a fascinating insight from someone who has naturally been at the centre of the discussions with the Church of England Recovery Group to allow for what we hope will be the full resumption of ringing. Although he seemed to confirm what many are dreading, that despite proclamations of ‘freedom’ from 21st June, that won’t be strictly true as the intolerable social distancing will still likely be indefinitely lingering around, which of course makes normal ringing very difficult and close proximity teaching practically impossible. Everyday with social distancing in place damages the future of ringing. That said, he spoke positively of ringing adjacently to each other, making the most of large and/or ground-floor ringing chambers with good ventilation and he confirmed that when we return to restricted ringing on 17th May - at the earliest - we should be able to ring for longer than the fifteen minutes we were limited to last year, albeit socially distanced. Thank you Simon for a great talk!
Immediately afterwards, the meeting itself started, with an attendance of nearly ninety - plus a cat or two – and was led superbly by Chairman Rowan Wilson, again in difficult circumstances. As she herself pointed out, usually at these events everyone is easily visible and it is clear if anyone wants to say anything or contribute, but when everyone is muted and spread across three screens it can be harder to gauge the wishes of the ‘room’.
Nonetheless, much was sorted, most notably with the election of Katharine Salter as the new Ringing Master as Tom Scase’s five year term was completed. Rowan quite rightly pointed out how unfortunate it was that his last year in office was essentially washed out by the pandemic, highlighting how her husband Jed Flatters’ last year in the role was arguably his most productive and enjoyable of his half a decade and I concur that my last year in the job was likewise. For me it was an opportunity to do things and get stuff done that I hadn’t been able to in the previous four years, so I entirely sympathise with Tom. Still, he has achieved much and carried out the role superbly, with the SGR Peal Week a big success when we were able to do it and his was a rational, sensible voice to have around at the top of the Guild. He can come across as quiet and shy, but I’ve always felt it a more thoughtful approach and when he says something it is usually well worth hearing. And to boot, he is a very talented ringer who has used that ability to help many during his time as RM. He leaves the position with our gratitude.
His replacement is equally an extremely good ringer who has used her skills to benefit others and no doubt – when circumstances allow – that will increase. She is also very proactive and great at getting stuff done, which is always an appreciated attribute at the top table of a volunteer organisation! It also means that for the first time in the Guild’s near century-long existence, the top three roles of Secretary (Kate Gill), Ringing Master (Katharine Salter) and Chairman (Rowan Wilson) are women, all elected completely on merit without quotas or equality policies needed! We can have no doubt we have a very talented team leading us out of the current restrictions in the art, along with Treasurer Stephen Cheek, PR Officer Neal Dodge and our CC Reps, which now include Cath Colman who was elected as our fourth representative on the Council.
Katharine’s election as only the thirteenth Master of the SGR is historic as it means that she and her husband David become the first couple to have both held the role following his successful stints between 1994-1999 and 2003-2006, which is another plus point to our new RM, who knows exactly what the job entails!
On that note, it was appropriate that David was ‘presented’ with his 50 Year Membership Award during the meeting. I am delighted to see him receive this award as a good friend in the art, someone who has offered me so many opportunities in peal-ringing, along with many others and as alluded to he has done a huge amount for the Guild, not just as Ringing Master, but with his research into the organisation’s vast number of historical nooks and crannies. Congratulations David!
There was optimism displayed too, as Rowan stated the Guild’s intentions to hold the Social and Eight-Bell Striking Competition at Horringer on Saturday 18th September, an in-person GMC in October, possibly the Six-Bell Striking Competitions before the year is out and of course next year’s AGM with everyone present in the same room, on Saturday 23rd April. All with the usual caveats and apparently Plans B & C too!
Although regrettable that we had to hold the main event of the Guild calendar online again, it was an admirably upbeat meeting, with new members elected and news that the St Edmund’s Clapper competition had raised over £1,000.
For all the sadness around currently for various reasons, that was something to celebrate. As was our son’s big day.
Happy Birthday Alfie!
Earlier this week, the actor Paul Ritter died. I’d never met him, let alone known him, but I don’t mind admitting that I felt pretty sad about his passing. His starring role as the very deaf, shirtless father of the Goodman family in the sweary but hilarious Friday Night Dinner has helped cheer us up over these last depressing thirteen months. Therefore, despite the lack of any actual connection with this talented fifty-four year-old, it had an effect on us.
That’s why I can certainly understand and respect the sadness felt by so many for the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh this morning. Many perceive that he was a ninety-nine year old man who had spent most of his years living a life of privilege and the vast majority of the population had at best seen him from a distance amongst vast crowds (remember when such things were allowed?) and to an extent I sympathise. Although far from a Royalist, I have a fondness for the Royal Family and my late Aunty Janet used to work for them, but within hours I was a little fed up of the OTT coverage of his far from unexpected death (indeed, there seem to have been numerous occasions over the last few months when it was thought to be imminent) and found myself rolling my eyes at people describing how “tragic” it was that he hadn’t made his one hundredth birthday just two months away. Also, although eight days of mourning have been announced, I find it hard to credit that consideration was given to cancelling and postponing events as a sign of respect, however well intentioned. After the last year particularly, I’m pretty sure the man himself would not advocate stopping everything for him.
However, there is no denying that his passing is a significant moment. As the Queen’s husband he has been the main and closest supporter of the most famous woman in the world and of course the longest serving British monarch. And many ordinary people did meet him and had personal memories of him, even if most of them were fleeting. The Royals mean a lot to many and he was of course at the centre of that and therefore meant a lot, to a lot.
From a ringing perspective, there is a strong connection that the art cannot and should not ignore. His wife is the Head of the Church of England, for whom most bells are primarily rung and as the CCCBR pointed out, the exercise has benefitted through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme. Additionally, rumours occasionally surface that he did a bit of ringing himself, although I find it hard to believe.
As was always going to be the case when he died, the Central Council released guidance, which is complicated by the current restrictions. I expect that BellBoard would’ve been straining under the weight of quarters and peals being rung in remembrance of him and indeed there were some on handbells and Ringing Room, but it is a pity that the bells of church towers won’t be able to ring out fully for him across the country. Instead, the main focus of ringing’s response will be tolling, with noon on Saturday being the focal moment, but if that is too short notice then anytime would be suitable according to the guidance, especially on the day of the funeral. Although of course – as it should always be but especially in these current times – only with the agreement of the incumbent and/or those responsible for the church.
Indeed, many were quick off the mark today, including here in Suffolk, with BB noting that bells were tolled at Ampton, Great Livermere, Ingham and Timworth by Neal Dodge, Brandeston by Chris McArthur, Bredfield by Mike Pilgrim, Julian Colman in Bury St Edmunds at The Norman Tower, Buxhall by David & Lesley Steed, Drinkstone by Nigel Gale (who also participated in 99 changes of Double Grandsire Triples with friends from Sussex on Ringing Room), Grundisburgh by David Twissell, Hawkedon by Richard Knight, Horringer by Joshua Watkins, St Clement’s & St Lawrence in Ipswich by mother & son Katharine & Colin Salter respectively, Pettistree by Mary Garner, Poslingford by Christine Knight and Whepstead by Joan Garrett.
Whilst at the weekly Friday virtual pub with Simon Rudd and friends, Linda Garton revealed that she had got up her local tower at Campton in Bedfordshire to toll within minutes of the news that was announced at around midday, thus prompting a local farmer to check his phone to find out what had happened. An example of bells spreading news in a traditional fashion, but with a modern twist!
That chat had followed on from a visit to ours of the boys’ grandparents Kate and Ron to put up a gazebo ahead of Alfie’s birthday celebrations tomorrow, which of course have to be held outdoors, but it was nice to see more people in our garden.
Meanwhile, well done to Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart on ringing his first QP of London Surprise Major in the 1344 on Ringing Room.
When history looks back on today though, I expect it will only be remembered for the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. May all those who have recently passed away – actors, princes, ringers and everyone else – Rest in Peace.
I hardly saw Ruthie today, which was great! Not because I didn’t see her of course, but rather because after a day’s work for both of us, there was just enough time for a quick bit of tea before she went to St Mary-the-Virgin for a socially distant choir practice in the vast church and on her return from there she was straight into another room for a virtual session with the Illuminati Choir – singing is one of my wife’s greatest loves and she is wonderful at it, so it is great that she is able to dedicate more time to it again after a year where her evenings have been spent sat next to me on the sofa wasting her talents!
As with pre-Covid Thursday nights, it left no time for ringing, but others in the county were participating in the art, with North-West District Ringing Master Maureen Gardiner ringing her first quarter-peal of Norfolk Surprise Minor on Ringing Room – well done Maureen! Meanwhile, Grundisburgh were the latest tower in the county to turn to RR tonight, with my Mum Sally telling me all about it on the phone afterwards.
That call was primarily about Alan Ellis, a ringer from Vancouver in Canada who was very kind to my parents when they visited the city a few years ago, but who has sadly passed away and whose death has already been marked in some QPs.
It was nice to speak with mother though, especially as it still isn’t as easy to meet face-to-face and it helped make up for not being able to speak with Ruthie today!
If there are any left, regular readers of this blog will be aware that in addition to the church, family and of course ringing, Ipswich Town Football Club features fairly prominently in my ramblings. They are a big part of my life and despite the generally abysmal fare at Portman Road in recent years, it has been almost as soul-destroying not being able to go and watch them over the last year as it has been to not go ringing.
When at ringing and ringing events on a Saturday afternoon between August and May, in the back of my mind I’m usually wondering how they’re getting on and in the days before you could simply check on your phone, it used to be part and parcel of an outing or at a tea and meeting for me to ask round for anyone who might have heard what their score was or to nip out to the car to listen to the commentary on the radio. Indeed, all the main elements of my blog came together when in 1992 after an afternoon’s ringing and a church service at Long Melford, my Dad Alan tried to liven up a typically lengthy AGM of its time (that then Guild Secretary Bruce Wakefield mentioned in that year’s Annual Report that the meeting came in at under three hours in an almost victorious tone, it gives you an indication how long the meetings used to be in the days before emails and social media allowed much to be resolved before getting anywhere near an AGM!) by announcing that ITFC had just been promoted to the Premier League.
When at just after 11am on this chilly but sunny April day it was announced that a group called Gamechanger 20 led by a Los Angeles businessman called Brett Johnson had taken over my favourite football team, meaning more money for a club very much in need of it and a change in attitude after thirteen years under Marcus Evans that has seen the Tractor Boys living on the footballing breadline tumbling down the football pyramid. For those of us who illogically tie our flag to such things, it offers hope. With the hope that as the year goes on we shall be able to ring side by side and freely see family, it also offers hope that by the time we get to next year’s SGR AGM pencilled in for Saturday 23rd April – almost precisely thirty years on from that fondly remembered day in Long Melford – we shall be celebrating an Ipswich Town promotion whilst ringing, eating, drinking and discussing business alongside family and friends.
None of that will be possible for this year’s AGM. Even if the ‘Superblues’ somehow managed to get promotion this season, it won’t be achieved on Saturday and of course the ringing business will be carried out via Zoom, meaning that we won’t be in a venue somewhere in the county ringing (albeit the North-West District are planning on ringing online), seeing family face to face, although with it also being Alfie’s birthday we hope weather conditions will allow us to see some of them earlier in the day.
One silver lining to the circumstances is that if required to travel across the country to us, CCCBR President Simon Linford might not have been able to join us for his pre-meeting talk which he is due to hold at 6.30pm. That is something that I have mentioned several times already and today offered another opportunity to do so as I read his latest fortnightly blog. On this occasion, he touches upon the importance of getting ventilation into ringing chambers, even creating new ways of getting fresh air in that might not have been possible due to conservation pre-Covid now that this issue has greater importance.
He also highlights the tremendous PR going on and gives an update on the ‘Recovery Champions’ who are looking at ways to get ringing back up to speed for its resumption, which God willing will be possible in a couple of months and hopefully that will include being able to go to Pettistree on a Wednesday evening for the weekly practice.
For now though, these continue online with the use of Ringing Room. However, periodically we have a social evening without any ringing, aware that not everyone in our number likes doing ringing via a computer and tonight was one such occasion. Regular quizmaster Hilary Stearn expanded upon her usual single round, which initially saw our household announced winners before the Harpers – whose computer had thrown them out of our gathering before they could impart their score – phoned in their tally, which was greater than ours! Most importantly of all though, a good time was had by all.
Hopefully today marks the start of good times for Ipswich Town too.
Ringers on the airwaves are often a good thing, presenting them as real human beings, even if they don’t talk about ringing.
That was the case with South-East District Area Rep Jonathan Williamson who was on BBC Radio Suffolk this evening, about 3hrs 13mins into Lesley Dolphin’s show this afternoon. Jonathan has been on local radio quite a few times and has spoken about the art before in the process and so although he was on today to explain why he and his business partner won’t be reopening their physical Wines of Interest shop just yet, many listeners will be aware that he is a ringer too and personally I think he gives a good impression of ringers with his informative but jovial tone.
Meanwhile, another ringer could be getting considerable coverage on national TV in the coming weeks, as Yorkshire ringer Andrew Aspland announced through the Bellringers Facebook page that he is a participant in this year’s series of sewing’s answer to The Great British Bake Off, The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC One. I know of Andrew, but don’t know him and I’ve never watched the show, so I don’t know whether I will tune in or not. However, the exercise gets a mention in his bio on the GBSB website and so I hope it gets plenty of mentions and some decent publicity from it whilst he is still in the competition.
Perhaps it’ll give something for The Ringing World to report on in the near future, but for now the latest edition that arrived with us today was still full of interesting stuff from the past and present, most particularly a great article looking back at the centenary celebrations for the publication a decade ago. As usual, there is Suffolk representation, notably in the ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’ section where Bury St Edmunds ringers Tim Hart and Nathan Colman featured for the 1280 of eight Surprise Major methods spliced on 26th March and 1296 of Cambridge Surprise Minor on 22nd March – both on Ringing Room – respectively, with the former also seeing Past St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Master Simon Rudd mentioned in dispatches for it being his three hundredth quarter-peal on RR.
Also included on these freshest of pages are the towers within our borders that tolled or chimed for the National Day of Reflection a fortnight ago, whilst there is a report on the Henry Johnson Dinner which Ruthie and I ‘attended’ in February.
Not unnaturally, CCCBR President Simon Linford also stars in this issue and allows me another tenuous opportunity to remind you that he is due to give a talk before Saturday’s Guild AGM, with entry to Zoom open from 6.20pm for a 6.30pm start. You should’ve received an email from SGR Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge on Sunday with further details including the link. And today, Chairman Rowan Wilson sent an email with the link – which is different to the one for Simon’s talk – for the AGM itself, with entry to Zoom for that open from 6.45pm. If you don’t have either or both of these emails, then please do get in touch with Neal and Rowan, who I’m sure will be more than happy to send them out to you.
Hopefully as many as possible will attend. It may not be quite the social occasion it is in person when the business is accompanied by a service, chatting to friends, tea, a pint or two and most importantly some ringing, and it may only be just over six months since the last one due to the quirks of the calendar caused by Covid-19, nor can anyone say it will be exciting. But it is still important that members who can, do join in to help not just reflect what the Guild has been doing and is doing and how it can help support its membership, but also as we – like ringing and so much else generally – face the vital first steps out of this dreadful period. Tom Scase’s five-year term as Ringing Master will be finishing and so I hope a large attendance can see him off with the appreciation he deserves and also to elect his successor. As outlined in the election table, that successor is due to be Katharine Salter, someone who is very good at getting things done in ringing, particularly in recent years with the bells of Ipswich’s redundant churches. Meanwhile, Cath Colman is being put forward to make up the quartet of Central Council Reps that we are allocated and having seen how at ease she has been with others from across the country and world on the open Ringing Room sessions I’m sure she’ll do an excellent job representing the Guild in ringing’s representative body. And item seventeen on the agenda may give us something to look forward to...
As snow fell this evening, I also contemplated that just about the only good thing about the meeting being held virtually is that the weather shouldn’t be a reason to prevent members attending. Although I can’t guarantee any stars of the airwaves.
Boris Johnson’s announcement today that the next step of the ‘roadmap’ in a week has been given the go-ahead is good news generally, including for ringing. God willing it is another step closer to a return of restricted ringing on church bells on 17th May and full-on, unrestricted ringing on 21st June. However, it does allow for ringing on church bells from 12th April for youth groups as part of the out-of-school settings aspect of the next easing of the restrictions. If there are any young ringers groups in the county that could benefit from this then do read the CCCBR’s guidance on this.
Interesting as well to hear chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s vague answer at the Downing Street briefing when asked about social distancing, which could either be them avoiding mentioning the indefinite continuing of this intolerable restriction or possibly could be read as suggesting that social distancing will be a more of a general behaviour that will hopefully allow people to use their common sense. Along with murmurings about using possible so-called ‘vaccine passports’ and more readily available lateral flow tests to allow places like theatres, pubs, restaurants and the like to function properly when they reopen, it appears to offer a possible route for a return to ringing where it would be far easier to track and trace people attending than the hundreds and even thousands cramming drunkenly into nightclubs for example. If ringing can’t fully resume in such circumstances at that point, when can it ever?
Although he hasn’t got the ear of the Prime Minister, Central Council President Simon Linford is leading discussions between the art and the Church of England Recovery Group and other churches in the UK and so he may be able to shine more of a light on how such developments might affect ringing when he speaks to us before the Suffolk Guild AGM on Saturday, which has been confirmed as being due to be held at 6.30pm – the Zoom room should be opening at 6.20pm – ahead of the 7pm meeting.
All of this has to be online as things stand currently, as does much else we do, even in these more open times. That included this evening’s weekly St Mary-le-Tower practice on Ringing Room, which despite Ruthie and me having to move rooms as our internet played up, others being kicked out of RR periodically and much fun and games getting Wheatley set up on the treble, saw us achieve some decent ringing, climaxing in three leads of Bristol Surprise Major.
Elsewhere on the platform, well done to Norman Tower ringer Nathan Colman on ringing his first quarter-peal of Lincolnshire Surprise Major and his first on eight on Ringing Room in the 1250 he rang in with ringers from across the country and indeed the world.
Despite the threat of snow that materialised to varying degrees and saw peal attempts that would’ve had to have been rung outside cancelled, some did brave the conditions to ring real bells, with another couple of peals – albeit one was in Australia – rung, ensuring that there have been peals rung everyday since we were allowed to meet other households outside a week ago.
We didn’t ring any real bells today, but we did at least get outside in the cold but sunny weather as we partook in a treasure hunt with an Easter theme run by St Mary-the-Virgin church in Woodbridge that started in the porch there and then took us on a pleasant walk around the Market Hill in the shadow of the tower that holds the town’s 25cwt eight.
After this afternoon’s good news, all being well we’ll be able to ring on the octave in the not too distant future.
Easter Sunday is generally considered the most important day in the liturgical calendar, with Christ rising from the dead being the cornerstone of the Christian faith. For all the ‘secular’ aspect of ringing, such as the limitless scope for pushing body and mind, the fellowship and the social aspect, as well as the scientific and mathematical interest it offers, church bells are mainly there due to the goodwill of the church and primarily to call people to worship or at least (acknowledging that no one these days really needs to hear the bells ringing to know there’s a service) to mark and celebrate church events and to give a vocal reminder of the church’s presence in their community. That is why it was felt important that as many church bells as possible ring out on this special day, despite the fact that we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Despite fast falling figures of cases, hospital admissions and deaths even weeks after schools have fully reopened and people have been meeting more regularly, coronavirus is still out there and caution is very much the byword currently and that goes for ringing. Therefore, it was nice to hear of ringing being done and that it all appears to have been done cautiously, including here in Suffolk. Brandeston managed four bells in their high-ceiling ringing chamber with Chris McArthur ringing socially-distanced from the Oswald household. There was also ringing at Grundisburgh and Hasketon and on three at Pettistree and I’m sure elsewhere across the county.
Meanwhile, the front four of the 25cwt eight at Woodbridge were being chimed by husband and wife Bruce & Gill Wakefield as we arrived for church this morning at the start of the busiest day of real-life that we have had for months and months. Usually on this day, St Mary-the-Virgin church is packed to the rafters and if I haven’t had the foresight to save a space somehow, there is nowhere to sit when I have descended the many steps from the ringing chamber here. Today of course, that wasn’t possible and instead people, households and social bubbles were dotted around this vast building. Yet it was great to be here, to see others (even from a distance) and the boys were delighted to see their Great Granny and get a chocolate egg each afterwards!
Later, we were out again to see more people, as we went to Pettistree where the ringing on the tower bells this morning was being followed by handbells for an outdoor service this afternoon, which Ruthie had been asked to help out at. In beautifully warm, sunny weather, the boys and I joined her in the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul whilst she, Mike Cowling and Mark Ogden welcomed the arriving congregation with some lovely Plain Bob Minor and the youngest two brothers ran around in their spacious surroundings.
In normal times, this pretty little village with its wonderful pub is almost like a second home, so it staggered me to realise that my visit today was the first time I’d been here for over a year, since – as far as I can best tell – February 2020. To be back felt wonderful, but not as wonderful as it was to actually see people that for much of that period have only been visible through small boxes on a laptop.
Our in-person interaction with other human beings didn’t end there though, as we then continued on to the sun-drenched garden of mother-in-law Kate where she and the boys’ Grandad Ron hosted an egg hunt for the siblings and then treated us to a curry before we returned home. Thank you guys!
How marvellous it was to have a day where much of it was spent out and about, where we had to actually plan when to cook our roast dinner, rather than just ask “shall we cook dinner?”, shrug our shoulders and say “might as well, we haven’t got anything else to do.”
There was still time to finish with some online interaction though, albeit ironically with people who we had all seen in-person throughout the day, as we went for our weekly Pettistree quarter-peal attempt on Ringing Room. Some very decent Norwich Surprise Minor was rung for about twenty-five minutes or so, despite occasional internet issues, but eventually collapsed after confusion following a bit of double-clappering!
They were having better luck in ‘Steed on the Hill’ on RR though, as a 1272 of Durham Surprise Minor featuring Buxhall ringers David and Lesley Steed which celebrated the birth of the former’s first grandchild. Congratulations David – Joshua approves of the name!
Whilst it was a pity that we couldn’t join them in the QP columns to mark Easter Sunday, I’m delighted that church bells were able to ring out on this important day for the church.
Another significant character of the Suffolk Guild celebrated a landmark birthday today. This time it was Past Secretary and current Membership Secretary and Safeguarding Officer of the Guild and someone who was a huge help during my time as Ringing Master (all in amongst a busy life as a singer!) Mary Garner who was celebrating her seventieth birthday. As with the special birthdays of other Guild notables David Salter, Stephen Pettman and Brian Whiting, we sadly can’t mark the occasion as we all would like to, but at least we got to see her this afternoon as we joined her and others for the South-East District Meeting. This was of course held via video and actually featured very little ringing-related content, bar the announcement of plans for the first Saturdays of the months ahead, with the ambition to do some ringing on Ringing Room in May on the 1st, some more interesting talks in June on the 5th, before the hope is that we can meet en masse in person for a walk – though as things stand, it’s thought unlikely any ringing – in July on the 3rd and God willing finally some ringing on actual church bells in August on the 7th. That final date still seems pie in the sky stuff after the last year, but it is feasible a month-and-a-half after the roadmap is due to complete on 21st June, with the thought amongst the SE officers being that they will hold initial real-life ringing in venues that can be well ventilated and those present can spread out at. Cotton was remarked upon, but being in the wrong district, places like Falkenham and Pettistree are more likely!
In the main though, today’s event was a social one, with a superb quiz hosted by Hilary Stearn and won by welcome visitor from the North-West District Mary Dunbavin and a friendly Easter Bonnet competition won by my mother Sally in the adult section and Alfie and Joshua in the children section to make me the only Munnings to enter without winning! Still, the main purpose of it all was as a means of keeping as many members connected as possible whilst enjoying ourselves and this certainly achieved that.
Further afield, Ringing Room was hosting the Virtual Call Change Ringing Festival, a CCCBR backed striking competition where the test piece was the Devon call change piece 60 on 3rds. Apparently inspired by a conversation that President Simon Linford (reminder that he is due to give a talk before the Guild AGM next Saturday) had with a band from Suffolk, I don’t know if anyone from within our borders entered, but by all accounts it was a superb event, with sixteen teams – four of them being young ringers teams – entering and the Beverley and District team winning. Congratulations to them and indeed all who took part!
Either side of our now familiar online activity, our day was bookended with real-life stuff, both at St Mary-the-Virgin church in Woodbridge. Morning saw us at a junior church event outside helping other families construct an Easter garden, which whilst another chilly experience turned into a very social occasion. This evening meanwhile, Ruthie returned to sing for a service in the candlelit church, as her busy weekend of choral duties continued.
Indeed, it is the kind of hectic singing schedule that Mary Garner might be familiar with! Happy Birthday Mary!
Happy Birthday ninety-eighth birthday to the Suffolk Guild. Well maybe. It has long been assumed that the organisation as we know it was born on 2nd April in Lavenham, but in their extensive research towards the planned publication on the history of the SGR, the Salter family of Ipswich have been unable to find any hard evidence that this was the case. They have been able to ascertain that it was founded in 1923, which means that God willing we will be celebrating the centenary of the representative body for the county’s ringers after the end of next year. Unless anything as catastrophic as the last year occurs, we should hopefully be able to enjoy a posh Anniversary Dinner, special quarters and peals and indeed anything else that could celebrate the occasion in a glorious 2023. If the last twelve months have proved anything it is not to take such ambitions for granted, but it gives us something to aim for!
We are taking what we pray are the tentative first steps towards a full reinstatement of the freedoms that would allow us to fully enjoy those celebrations, which saw a further four handbell peals rung today, three of them in this country, including a 5090 of Bristol Surprise Maximus in Reading that featured Exning youngster – and now Birmingham student - Jimmy Yeoman ringing and an impressive 5760 of 147 Treble Dodging Minor methods spliced Somerset that saw lots of firsts.
It also saw us take advantage of the latest easing of restrictions for the first time as we met Ruthie’s former work colleague Carol in Kingston Fields at the other end of Woodbridge, in the process also happening across another family from church. Wonderful as it was to finally go out and see people and unexpectedly bump into others, it was absolutely freezing! I can’t wait until we are all allowed to meet indoors again!
For now though, the only way we can socialise with other households under the comfort of a roof above our heads and central heating around us is via video and so we were delighted to join Simon Rudd and friends for his weekly Friday night virtual pub for more jollity and an account from some of their surprise visit to Brian Whiting to celebrate his seventieth birthday in his and Peta’s garden (as well as hearing about his battle with the authorities over car-parking in Bury St Edmunds!), whilst a quarter-peal was rung on Ringing Room to mark his significant landmark. I’ve commented before, but make no apologies for saying again, that I owe much of what I’ve done in ringing to Brian, from his help in getting me launched into Surprise Major and being a reassuring presence in so many peals that I have called. Plus he is great company and his and Peta’s Offton BBQ is the highlight of a typical summer and hopefully this year too! Whilst it is a pity that we can’t ring a 5070 of something to one of his compositions, Happy Birthday Brian nonetheless. And it definitely is his birthday!!
Sometimes the date of someone’s death sticks in the mind for one of a couple of reasons – because the date itself is significant and/or notable or because the person themselves was significant and/or notable. In the case of Rod Pipe, it is both.
This giant of the exercise died ten years ago on a date that stands out anyway as a day of fooling and on that morning precisely a decade ago, many of us were hoping news of his sudden, unexpected passing was some kind of cruel April Fools joke. Sadly, it wasn’t and ringing had lost one of its biggest stars and along with his brother George, arguably Suffolk’s most famous ringing export - having learnt to ring at Grundisburgh – without warning. It really was without warning too, as he hadn’t been ill – at least not in a way considered life threatening – and indeed he’d been down in London at the centenary celebrations of The Ringing World just a few days earlier. At just seventy, he might have been expected to have a few more years left of top class ringing, but it wasn’t to be and the art was deprived of several more years of ringing excellence that may even have been continuing to this day, as much as anyone could currently. The only consolation is that it is easy to imagine Rod and George together now talking ringing!
RWP was in my thoughts often today, especially as circumstances dictated that I needed to walk across town to fetch our car, allowing plenty of time to think. Memories of him naturally came flooding back as I wandered past landmarks that would’ve been familiar, including where he went to school. Memories such as his welcome to me when I first started ringing in Birmingham, his invaluable advice, the chats we had about Ipswich Town (I dread to think what he’d say about them now!), the numerous excellent peals we rang in together, the meal around his and Mary’s and the terrifying drive he gave Richard Jones (whose poem in memory of Rod was published in last week’s RW) and myself down to a peal at Exeter Cathedral!
His daughter-in-law Cecelia professed on social media that he would’ve hated the current situation, but again there were more signs today of in-person ringing coming out of its enforced hibernation, with more handbell performances such as the quarter-peal in Bacton. There were a further three peals, meaning that the total number of peals in 2021 in the UK thus far has been more than doubled in Holy Week, ironically a time when ringing’s output tends to dip as many church bells are traditionally silenced.
There is still online ringing happening though, including within our borders as Joan Garrett, David Stanford and Tim Hart rang a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor on Ringing Room, with one third of the band ringing from Hasketon. Which – with being a village that he could trace his roots to – seems appropriate as we remember Rod a decade on.
I have mentioned before the similarities between ourselves in the Suffolk Guild and our neighbours north of the River Waveney in the Norwich Diocesan Association before and so I took a keen interest when Nikki Thomas shared the results of their Survival and Recovery Survey on the NDA’s Facebook page today. It is not a huge assumption that the results would be similar if the same survey was carried out in the SGR.
Broadly it was asking the tower captains and secretaries of the Association’s towers and bands about their ringing situation before the pandemic, during it and their hopes, aims and fears for the future. Pleasingly, the majority of active bands that responded had maintained contact with each other in some form or another over the last twelve months and encouragingly nine towers had identified new recruits, but despite this and that quite a few towers have been unable to check their bells since March last year, the main concern seems to be that there will be a shortage of ringers, with a lot of towers expecting at least one member of their band not to return once ringing resumes.
Such worries are understandable when the comments shared – anonymously as they should be – include “Surprisingly, I haven’t missed ringing” and “I’ve had more time to relax, not rushing out three or four nights a week. Also have weekends back.” Hopefully such views will be in the minority. Even before Covid-19 decimated everything, I had always felt privileged and blessed that I was able to participate in something that allowed me to see so many different people in so many different places, locally and further beyond, sometimes just at the drop of a hat. Especially here in East Anglia, we are so fortunate that ringing – when we are allowed – takes us to wonderful churches in picturesque villages surrounded by beautiful countryside doing something that gives an opportunity for a lifetime of learning, often accompanied by trips to quaint halls and pubs full of character, welcomed into the communities of others. Whilst this year of lockdowns has clearly changed the mindsets of many in society as to their priorities and what is important, I had rather hoped that it would have reminded ringers of how lucky we really are to be absorbed in this ancient art. It is a pity that some feel it is a burden rather than a blessing.
Nonetheless, there is useful info to be taken forward when God willing full-on ringing resumes later this year. The bands asked have said what they would like asssistance with in the future, with most saying they’d like help and advice with recruitment and retention, amongst much else. I expect it is not dissimilar to what many bands within our borders also feel.
At least when we hopefully get to go back, we won’t have to rely on links to video calls in order to get in to ring. Although my attempts to get into the online Pettistree practice this evening could be compared to trying to get in the wrong door and then finding the actual door locked. A few phonecalls and a restart of the laptop later and the metaphorical door was unlocked and I was in, too late for the quiz by Hilary Stearn, but in time for the ringing which included some really well rung Plain Bob Minor, as well as some decent Grandsire Doubles, Stedman Doubles, Kent Treble Bob Minor and even some Durham Surprise Minor. I’m glad that I managed to get in.
Hopefully there weren’t such issues for the band that rang in the 1344 of Plain Bob Major on Ringing Room today that saw Sylvie Fawcett of Thornham Magna ring her first quarter-peal in hand and Ruth Suggett of Bardwell her first handbell QP of Major. Well done Sylvie and Ruth!
It was nice to see more in-person handbell ringing being done too, including a peal of Bristol Surprise Royal in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, as ringers continue take advantage of being able to meet up outside with people from other households.
Meanwhile, although we aren’t able to ring on towerbells yet (bar the cautious, very limited one-off ringing on Sunday), other aspects of life are beginning to start again, as Ruthie went to the vast St Mary-the-Virgin church in Woodbridge with her choral colleagues tonight to practice for a busy weekend of socially distanced singing over Easter. Although it meant her missing ringing, it was lovely for her to get out to do something else she enjoys with other people, something she hopes they will be able to do more fully in the coming months. As we can hopefully do with ringing.
By which point the exercise should be armed with plenty of information from surveys like the NDA’s to give ourselves the best possible start.
The latest issue of The Ringing World arrived with us this morning, sporting pictures of Bury St Edmunds on both covers, with the central tower of the Cathedral on the back and The Norman Tower which holds Suffolk’s youngest twelve on the front, taken by Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson and apparently featuring her bike! She has written a superb article that covers much info on the town, Suffolk Day, St Edmund, the county’s twelve-bell efforts of recent years and the George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition. Great publicity for the county!
As mentioned in the piece and on this blog on Saturday, the weekend should’ve seen the tower host one of the eliminators for this year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest, but of course with the competition cancelled for the second year running that wasn’t possible, which was a blow. I was therefore delighted when Julian Colman told us at the St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Room session last night that they will indeed be given the chance to hold one of the eliminators next year on Saturday 26th March, providing of course restrictions allow by then.
The county receives further mention in the gleaming new pages of the journal, with notice of the SGR’s AGM of Saturday 10th April on Zoom at 7pm appearing and in the follow-up article to the recent fascinating piece on detached towers which features on the debate that followed it’s publication, including whether Beccles should be counted as it is strictly speaking a secular tower owned by the local council and if Elveden is actually detached as it is joined to St Andrew and St Patrick church by a covered walkway.
There was also reminiscing of the RW’s centenary celebrations of a decade ago, including letters and editorial from back then that rejoiced that the publication was still going, but mixed with concern of how a printed journal of its kind could compete in a digital world. That it is still going and indeed innovating ten years on is encouraging. Even more so that it is doing so during a pandemic that has severely limited the art that it covers and reports on. God willing we’ll be remarking in a similar vein in another ten years!
Meanwhile, after the burst of ringing activity yesterday, it was a little quieter on BellBoard today! Still, there was more than a smattering of in-person handbell quarters and even another three peals as the exercise continues to wake from its enforced period online and hopefully towards a return of full-on ringing later this year.
And in the process giving The Ringing World something to celebrate.
Another anticipated date along the roadmap to ‘freedom’ and the most significant one in the process thus far for ringing as the reintroduction of the ‘rule of six’ allowed handbell bands to meet together outside and many across England were doing just that on a beautiful sunny, warm day, judging by BellBoard. Of the forty-three performances of a minimum of quarter-peal length rung at least in part on the UK mainland across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, only one was rung on real bells with real bell sound, which also happened to be the only peal of the three days.
Today though, ten peals were rung, the most in one day in the UK since 14th March 2020, the final Saturday before ‘Dark Monday’ when restrictions ended limitless towerbell ringing. That is as many as have been rung in this country since 10th February. When the ‘rule of six’ first came in during September, it was a depressing development - especially with the daft inclusion of young children in the six – as we spiralled towards more lockdowns as things got very much worse with infections and deaths. However, with the population rapidly (at least for now) getting vaccinated, things getting better (again for now at least) and the rules more relaxed on children than back then, this same restriction suddenly feels like a freedom! Hopefully just another new one on the way back to getting them all back.
It is all very uplifting and amongst the broad headline of mass peal-ringing returning, there were other headlines. Even on a day of bands of ringers being released into the community, one of those was a peal rung online, begun pre-dawn to minimise internet issues, as a 5040 of twenty-three PPE-friendly Major methods spliced (PPE= Project Pickled Egg.) was rung on Ringing Room. Meanwhile, Colin Newman teamed up with the Page brothers Daniel and Jack in Reading for a 7200 of 178 Treble Dodging Minor methods on handbells, picking up from where they left off with their impressive performances last year.
Of course for now, towerbells are off limits until 17th May at the very earliest, but before that there has been a slight relaxation on ringing restrictions for Easter Sunday this weekend. By the nature of giving broad information that is meant to guide rather than instruct, derived from rules that were never set up to be specific to activities like ringing, they are a bit vague and this has understandably caused some confusion. Today on Facebook, President Simon Linford – who is due to speak before the Suffolk Guild’s AGM on Saturday 10th April – tried to clarify. Broadly speaking, more than one ringer will be able to ring together on church bells for what is considered the most important day of the liturgical calendar, but only if the incumbent agrees it is safe and they are happy for it to go ahead. This would still have to be with social distancing, masks and hand washing. And what is safe? This appears to be where the real ambiguity is and why – with thousands of ringing chambers of different sizes, varying amounts of ventilation, different ways of getting in and out – local discretion is needed. Generally speaking it seems that chancel rings, ground-floor rings and gallery rings open to the church and/or with means of introducing considerable amounts of outside air would be considered as safe as possible at the current time for a limited number of ringers, whereas any ringing chamber fully enclosed and with little ventilation can’t really be justified as safe at the moment. I suspect the best approach is – however minimal the risk of ringing with others you know from a distance and wearing a mask – if there is any doubt, not to proceed and potentially jeopardise our potential full-on return in the summer.
That moment can’t come soon enough. RR has been a superb innovation and there is no doubt that without it ringing’s resumption would be starting from a much lower base, but it is getting quite frustrating ringing in pieces that are at the mercy of internet connection. This evening’s St Mary-le-Tower practice on the platform saw lots of good ringing spoiled by lag and lost connections, scuppering any notion of going for Bristol Surprise Major as we had planned to. Still, there was more well rung Cambridge Surprise Minor and attempts at Stedman Doubles, Grandsire Triples and Yorkshire Surprise Major, all of which featured some decent ringing before internet stopped play.
Thank goodness we aren’t entirely reliant on online ringing now!
A day of - God willing - lasts and firsts.
This weekend is the last one before a further relaxation of restrictions due tomorrow, therefore allowing the St Mary-le-Tower’s ringers to meet outside in groups of six from next week and thus hopefully making today’s video chat the last one we have to have on a Sunday morning. They have been a real lifeline in these times of lockdown, as have all the virtual catch-ups with ringers and non-ringers, but there is considerable fatigue at being restricted to seeing each other in small boxes on a screen and it would be fantastic to see everyone in person. All being well, there will be handbells outside SMLT on Easter Sunday ahead of what is considered by many to be the most important service of the liturgical calendar, as there was this morning in Woodbridge, courtesy of Bruce & Gillian Wakefield.
If it is the end of our Sabbath morn video gatherings, then Ruthie had already taken part in her final one before this morning, as she was absent whilst on her last day of this weekend’s first aid course for work, which she passed, returning brimming with invaluable medical knowledge!
Meanwhile, I joined the open weekly twelve-bell practice on Ringing Room for the first time, which was also my debut in change-ringing on this number with others in this online age and also saw me ringing Forward Maximus for the first time in my memory, along with Bastow Little Bob, Kent Treble Bob, Yorkshire Surprise and Erin Cinques in a useful session. Although I have been practicing Surprise Maximus on my own a little over the last week or so, nothing beats ringing with other people.
Later, I was again ringing with others on RR. Or rather one, in another first, as I gave my mother Sally an introduction to the platform. She is now registered on the site and rang some Plain Hunt on Six with myself and Wheatley very well, so all being well should now be able to join in with any Ringing Room ringing she wishes to.
She might have been useful (though unwilling I expect!) this evening when we experienced a stranger first for us, as we met short for our usual Sunday quarter-peal attempt with the Pettistree ringers due to technical issues. Here’s hoping that is a last too!
Today should’ve seen some of the best ringers in the world and hundreds of spectators gathered in Bury St Edmunds for the first visit of the world’s biggest striking competition to Suffolk for thirty years. The Norman Tower would’ve been a hive of activity and excited tension, surrounded by expectant and relieved participants (depending on whether they had rung yet) and churchyard judges, soaking in some superb ringing on what it turns out would’ve been a lovely sunny – if a little breezy – day, pint in hand, catching up with friends well established and new.
Of course it came as no shock when the eliminators were cancelled a few weeks back and also it is no surprise that there is no confirmation yet of if they will be held in the west of our county – and the other planned venues of St Michael Cornhill and Portsmouth Cathedral – on Saturday 26th March 2022. Although the final at Guildford Cathedral that was due to be held on 26th June this year has been pencilled in for Saturday 25th June next year, it is probably harder to plan for anything with much certainty until spring next year, so that is understandable.
Still, I hope the eliminators happen and that The Norman Tower gets to hold one of them next year. Whilst the final is THE big event (arguably bigger then anything else in the exercise), the eliminators are nonetheless on a completely different scale to your average striking competition, so it would be great to see it finally happening on our soil, especially with all the time and effort that the locals have already put into planning for it.
I’m not sure if Ipswich would’ve been there or one of the other locations, but I’m pretty certain we would’ve been competing, pitting our wits against the best and gaining invaluable experience in the process. Instead of that though, I was actually having a concerted focus on ten-bell ringing, the most I have done on this number since before the pandemic. As usual it was on Ringing Room and was another open session that saw me ringing with people from across the world, as well as my usual companion from within our borders on these occasions, Cathy Colman. It was great to test my ten-bell change-ringing brain on this, even getting to ring Bristol Surprise Royal, with Stedman Caters and four-spliced Royal also rung amongst much else in a useful session before I signed off to feed the boys lunch whilst Ruthie was absent on a First Aid Course for work. I believe that these are weekly practices on Saturday mornings, alongside Minor and Major sessions being run simultaneously in ‘breakout rooms’ and different ‘towers’ and so if you are looking to progress your ringing on any of these numbers or just to refresh and hone your skills, I would recommend joining this friendly bunch if you can.
Eventually my wife returned home after a productive day of socially distanced resuscitation on dummies with single-use lungs and bandaging heads, in time for homemade pizza and a quiz with our friends Kala & Nick and Toby & Amy via video, but my burst on RR this morning was the only ringing-related activity either of us did on a day that could’ve had so much more. God willing Saturday 26th March 2022 will see more happen, especially at The Norman Tower.
Ringing Room has shared a survey, primarily based around this online ringing platform, but also to a certain extent the return to ringing. I filled it in this evening over a spare few minutes and it reminded me both how useful I have found RR, but also how keen I am to get back to proper, full-on ringing – when it is safe – later this year, God willing. Many of the questions were answered with unusual certainty by me, on subjects like whether I would be happy to go back into ringing chambers and how often I ring, but one did see me back to my usual form of sitting on the fence. It asked if Ringing Room had helped improve me as a ringer. Certainly I have had the opportunity to do more stuff that I wouldn’t typically get in my day-to-day ringing pre-Covid, such as PPE and – with the introduction of Wheatley as a full-time feature – handbell ringing (without trying the patience of others!) and Surprise Maximus methods like Bristol, but I don’t think I am ringing them as well as I would be on real bells and so I edged towards answering “maybe”.
One Suffolk ringer who can definitely claim that RR has improved his ringing is Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart, who hadn’t started ringing handbells until a year ago and today impressively rang his first of spliced in hand in the online 1280 of the ‘standard’ eight Surprise Major methods. Well done Tim!
Two of the ringers in the band– David Sparling and conductor Simon Rudd – were able to tell us about his achievements first-hand as we joined Mr Rudd at his weekly virtual pub, where the clientele came from across East Anglia and were able to give an update on their respective organisations’ return-to-ringing surveys and impart information on local sites of interest for adventurous couples!
It was as usual all a jolly hoot, as was the quiz with my uni mates that followed looking back over the last twelve months of Friday night video catch-ups.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times has decreed that Woodbridge is the best town to live in in the East of England, probably considerably aided by us moving out to Melton! Where we now lead a life of video calls and Ringing Room. Make sure you fill in the survey!
March 2021 sees two twice-Past Guild Ringing Masters celebrate their sixty-fifth birthday. A couple of weeks ago it was my immediate predecessor in the role David Salter. Today it is his immediate predecessor (and immediate successor from his first stint!) Stephen Pettman. Apart from the first RM Charles Sedgley, no one has held the role as long as these two stalwarts of the organisation and they are out on their own as the leading peal ringers and peal conductors for the SGR. It is therefore such a pity that their significant birthdays cannot be celebrated with peals as I’m sure they would’ve been.
It is no real consolation to them or those of us who have missed out on ringing with them over the last year, but the way technology has helped partially fill the yawning chasm left by the restrictions preventing us from the simple pleasure of gathering to ring towerbells has been incredible. Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room again enabled numerous quarter-peals to be rung today when otherwise nothing at all could happen ringing-wise and have been the main way that most ringers have got their fix since the introduction of the first lockdown twelve, long months ago.
However, arguably the most eye-catching has been the handbell-ringing robots Rosie and Richie, designed and constructed by College Youths Treasurer Graham Firman and last night he gave a talk to the St Martin’s Guild on his reasons behind building them, how he did so and what he hopes to achieve with them and new additional ringing robots in the future, which we watched on YouTube this evening, once I’d finished trying to get enthusiastic watching the England men’s football team playing in a deserted Wembley Stadium on the TV. Such is the way that evenings are these days.
Hopefully David and Stephen have still managed to enjoy their significant birthdays this month despite such limitations.
My working day was pleasantly punctuated with meeting ringers, before, after and halfway through on my lunchbreak.
First up was one-time local ringer Jasper Dickinson, who I happened across on the school run this morning. Although we’ve stayed in touch with this convivial, sociable chap, even before Covid-19 he had become somewhat lapsed, but he was a useful ringer to have around at Woodbridge, Ufford and also at Tunstall, where he was one of the merry band there when I moved into the village sixteen years ago, which included Ringing Master and fellow resident Richard Wilson, Jane Stearn, John Calver, George and Coral Fry and Susan Dalziel, the latter two now sadly no longer with us.
Later, having munched upon my sandwich and other goodies during my midway break from contacting independent and international schools, I reverted to meeting ringers in what has sadly become the usual way of video, as I joined a Ringing Room practice designed to follow on from last Wednesday’s session and others previous to that. The focus today was splicing Cambridge, Superlative and Yorkshire Surprise Major and although confidence seemed to be lacking whenever we went into Superlative, I hope it was a useful hour for those learning and it was nice again to ring with others from far and wide, as well as closer to home like Cathy Colman!
Then, after clocking off, catching up with Ruthie and the boys’ day and having tea, my wife and I met the Pettistree ringers for the weekly quiz and practice. Hilary Stearn’s quizzing was less ‘controversial’ than last week, but still good fun and won by the boys’ grandparents Kate & Ron with a record score of 10/13, but following that the ringing bore some resemblance to the sessions we were having in-person before restrictions stopped everything, with Primrose and Norwich Surprise Minor rung and Durham suggested for next week. Although the Grandsire Triples and Little Bob Major we also rung tonight wouldn’t be possible on the ground-floor six!
Meanwhile, there is a poll on the Suffolk Guild Facebook page set up by PRO Neal Dodge which it would be useful if as many as possible could partake in. As mentioned earlier in the week, Central Council President Simon Linford is due to give a talk on AGM day on Saturday 10th April and Neal would like to know at what time it would suit members for him to give it from a choice of 6.30pm just ahead of the meeting start or earlier in the day at 4.30pm. Being the anniversary of Alfie’s birth, I have plumped for the later option as the main festivities should be done by then, but the important thing is that the time selected allows the biggest possible audience and makes Simon’s time doing this worthwhile. If you aren’t on FB, then I’m sure Neal will be happy to note your preference by email or phone.
Talking of Simon, his latest blog entry was shared on the CCCBR website today. Typically it was packed with lots of interesting info imparted in entertaining fashion, including reiterating the Virtual Call Change Ringing Festival of Saturday 3rd April and the Westley Awards. He also mentions that The Guild of Clerical Ringers are hoping to play a role in building relationships between ringers and the clergy, which will be important as we will need to ensure that they are onside with allowing our return to ringing chambers as and when that happens. Additionally, Simon speaks of exciting developments in education and technology. On the former he explains about how ringing lesson plans from Jason Hughes are due to be tested in a primary school and secondary school in Worcester, which presumably opens up a whole new world of opportunity for recruiting and teaching young ringers.
On the latter, he speaks of the possibility of using virtual reality headsets in ringing, potentially as training aids. And perhaps as another way of meeting other ringers throughout the day!
For me personally and so many others, life became just surviving a year ago last week. Not just because the end of ringing towerbells, but pubs, restaurants, theatres and concert venues were effectively shut down by the government urging people to avoid them and as the week went on schools were emptied and a lot – myself included – began working from home. However, the official start of what transpired to be the first lockdown a year ago today seems to have been seen as a natural point to reflect on a dreadful period since. A period of death, considerable illness, separation of loved ones, lost businesses, a previously unprecedented withdrawal of normal, everyday freedoms. It has been a horrible year for most, some much more than others.
Therefore, Marie Curie led a National Day of Reflection and although not in the way we would like, ringing played its part by following the minute’s silence at noon with tolling. That included towers in Suffolk, with Mike Cowling tolling at Aldeburgh, Chris McArthur at Brandeston, Lesley Steed at Buxhall, Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson in Bury St Edmunds at The Norman Tower, Past SGR Peal Secretary Alan Mayle at Clare, Peter Summers at Dalham, Peter Harper at Hollesley, Mary Garner at Pettistree, Alan’s successor as Peal Secretary Christine Knight at Poslingford and Ray Lewis at Wickham Market and unknown but much appreciated ringers at Bures and Theberton. I expect there were many others.
No ringing for us, as work prevented us from tolling any bells, so the closest we got was taking in the latest issue of The Ringing World, which arrived in the post this morning. Plenty more interesting content, especially the article on the many peals rung at Great Ryburgh in Norfolk to remember each man from the village who lost their life in the First World War on the centenary of their death. Although north of the border, ringers from our county played a big part in the forty-six peals. Julian Colman, Ian Culham, Mary Dunbavin, Jed Flatters, Nigel Gale, Joan Garrett, David Potts, Amanda Richmond, George Salter, Jeremy Spiller, David Stanford, Mike Whitby, Brian Whiting and Rowan Wilson all took part in at least one, whilst a Suffolk band rang in the 5088 of Bristol Surprise Major at Wells-next-the-Sea (when there was more than one death to commemorate in a day then some peals were rung at nearby towers or on handbells) on 15th August 2018 and one was rung for the SGR on 4th March 2017. And Simon Rudd – who was one of those behind the project – used to be Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower. I was sorry to have to turn down an invite to one once, especially because of the cause, but also for the magnificent tea that was put on after every attempt!
Perhaps ironically on this day of the printed word and the now unusual activity on church bells, there was much consternation that Ringing Room stopped working for a while. It could be accessed from the North American server, but there was apparently some lag on that from here in the UK.
It is a symptom of the digital life we all have to live in currently and there will be more online ringing activity at the Guild AGM on Saturday 10th April. Today, Chairman Rowan Wilson sent through log-in details for the meeting, with the ‘doors’ opening at 6.45pm. If you haven’t received it then please do get in touch with Webmaster Chris Garner.
Meanwhile, on the Ringing Methods Facebook page, CCCBR President Simon Linford request for people’s nominations for a Treble Bob method that can “demonstrate such methods can be challenging, interesting and musical” prompted former Aldeburgh ringer Stephen Bedford to suggest the Major method named after his one-time town of residence. Surprisingly it has never been pealed on the eponymous 11cwt coastal eight where hundreds of treble dodging Major methods have been rung to peals on second Sunday afternoons over the decades, but God willing the opportunity to rectify that will have presented itself by the time the nation next reflects on 23rd March.
Tonight’s St Mary-le-Tower practice on F Ringing Room was a triumph of perseverance over adversity. We were beset by technical issues. Some well-rung Stedman Triples was brought to a premature end by one ringer’s internet stopping, as it apparently does once an hour, thus making quarter-peal ringing for them a bit of a tactical exercise. Wheatley was determined to ring Plain Bob Major when we were trying to ring Grandsire Triples (it does have a habit of reverting to PB Major when asked to ring in a new piece, but is seemingly being looked into). And a couple of pieces were brought round by our digital conductor saying “look to” when the wrong button was pressed!
Yet we had a very productive session with plenty of good ringing. The Cambridge Surprise Minor that we started off with was particularly well rung, with Yorkshire Surprise Major and Grandsire Caters also rung and even Yorkshire Surprise Royal attempted, although that was a step too far even on this successful night. It is a sign of growing confidence and ability that we have been challenged to be ready for Bristol Surprise Major for next week’s planned practice.
Amongst our number were Cath & Julian Colman, but they weren’t the only ones from their Bury St Edmunds household ringing on RR today, with their son Nathan ringing his first ‘towerbell’ quarter-peal on the platform in the 1296 of Cambridge Surprise Minor. Well done Nathan!
Meanwhile, there is an announcement on the CCCBR website about the Westley Award for Church Belfry Maintenance and Improvement, an award organised by the Stewardship and Management Committee for those who are “newly involved in belfry maintenance and improvement, developing their own skills and helping others develop their own skills.” If this sounds like you or someone you know, then do check out the details – there is £100 and a certificate in it for the winner, who is due to be announced at the AGM of ringing’s representative body in September.
Talking of the Central Council, I got word from PR Officer Neal Dodge that there is to be a fringe meeting at the Suffolk Guild AGM on Saturday 10th April where there will be a talk given by their President Simon Linford. When he was elected I believed he was a super choice for the role. He is most certainly one of the ‘elite’ standard of ringers, but like most other ‘elite’ ringers he does a vast amount for the grassroots of ringing, most particularly in his case with the Brumdingers and Birmingham School of Bell Ringing, which are both huge success stories. I always felt his part in pushing ringing’s boundaries would transfer to the job and I have been proven absolutely right, albeit in circumstances that none of us could have ever envisaged. He has been more visible and arguably more proactive and innovative than any of his predecessors, with no disrespect meant to any of them for taking on a job not many of us could do, least of all me! Simon is due to talk on ‘Returning to Ringing’ and – like the whole event has to be – it will be held online. Look out for more details on this and anything else happening on the day.
Let’s hope by then we can report on more triumph and perseverance than adversity!
In the course of a normal year, ringing gives you so much freedom. You could go to any open ringing session and in theory see any one of tens of thousands of ringers from across the country and indeed the world. And in turn, we could go to anywhere open ringing was taking place and join. In the process, we could go to a vast number of churches. In 2019 it was in the region of sixty and in previous years when we could commit to more ringing it was probably closer to a hundred. Even in 2020, we probably found ourselves in around fifteen churches.
Today, just eleven days before April is due to grace us with its presence, we entered a church for the very first time in 2021. Throughout Lockdown 3.0 places of worship have been permitted to open, but the majority have chosen not to. However, with the cautious easing of restrictions and sharp decline in recent weeks of cases, hospital admissions and deaths, they are beginning to reopen, with all the abundance of caution shown when services were held last year. This morning therefore, we entered St Mary the Virgin church in Woodbridge, masked-up, immediately sanitised, strictly guided from afar to our seats and at the appropriate moments to communion and back and out of the church at the end. There was no singing and amongst this vast, sparsely populated building we didn’t get anywhere near anyone and so it remained a largely unfulfilling occasion socially, but spiritually it was uplifting and mentally nice to be doing something that didn’t require staring at a computer screen, even if it was a pity that we couldn’t also fit in the weekly video chat with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers.
Of course, whilst churches are open, ringing chambers are not for more than tolling and so none of the 25cwt eight here were ringing, but there was the glorious sound of handbells wafting across the churchyard as we arrived as Bruce and Gillian Wakefield rang some very nice sounding and gratefully received call-changes on six, whilst standing in isolation.
Theirs was not the only ringing in Suffolk mentioned on BellBoard from this Sunday either, although it was the only performance carried out on real bells. That’s not to diminish the successful 1272 of Cambridge Surprise Minor on Ringing Room by a band from the west of the county for Lesley Steed’s birthday though – Happy Birthday Lesley!
We could’ve joined them on BB with a quarter-peal of our own on the same platform as we joined other Pettistree ringers for our usual attempt at the end of the weekend. Our initial attempts very quickly finished when conductor Mark Ogden had inadvertently failed to stop his eBell being overridden and a combination of his bell double-striking and singles coming out instead of bobs, but even after that was rectified it was clear that it wasn’t our night as our later attempts went further but nonetheless ended prematurely. Starting as late as we do isn’t ideal, but is the only practical way for Ruthie and me to participate as we have to get at least one of the boys to bed, lest our quarter is disturbed by one of us having to break up an argument or boisterous play between the brothers!
Still, it is a tiring experience ringing from a laptop at that time. I can’t
wait to returning to many, many churches to do my ringing!
Today is the International Day of Happiness, an event arranged by the United Nations. Despite proclaiming with no sign of irony in these current times when we can’t mix households, meet friends and many are struggling financially that the main ways to happiness are having chums living nearby, going out to meet a wide range of mates and having a salary of $75,000, I applaud the sentiments, even more so at the moment where we all need cheering up.
Therefore, I tried to approach today with cheerfulness and although Ipswich Town made their usual weekly attempt to bring my Saturday down and we didn’t leave the house, I think I largely succeeded in my ambitions for a cheery day, helped by news that more than half of adults in the UK have received their first coronavirus vaccine.
Primarily it was through reading the latest edition of the quarterly Tower Talk newsletter, whose editor Ruth Suggett is well known in Suffolk as Tower Captain at Bardwell and the driving force behind so much that is good in ringing recruitment and training within our borders. It is another superb issue and incredibly upbeat, which is just what is needed to keep ringers – and especially learners – enthused. Apart from Ruth, there are connections to our county with an article from the Patmore sisters, including Central Council PR Officer Vicki Chapman who rang for a while at St Margaret’s in Ipswich and mention of the talk on ‘Getting Started on Abel’ that Nikki Thomas and Past Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd gave to the Cambridge District of the Ely Diocesan Association last summer, which inadvertently featured pictures of sitcom characters popping up from the quiz that Ruthie and I were hosting at the same time!
There was much about online ringing, including a fascinating piece on the history of Ringing Room by its founders Leland Kusmer and Bryn Reinstadler and about Wheatley, the ringing Bot now integrated into RR and which I have been making full use of over the last couple of days. Of course, ringers have long been able to use Abel and indeed even Wheatley has been possible to install onto Ringing Room, but now it is integrated into the platform, it is the first time such technology has been available to ringers like me who are less tech savvy and have just never got round to going out of their way to take advantage of ringing with computers. The main benefit is obviously that one can ring whatever they like, whenever they like and so today – when I wasn’t doing the usual household chores, building ridiculously tall towers with the children or listening to the Tractor Boys losing in Portsmouth – I spent time trying to get better at ringing ‘in hand’ and refreshing my knowledge of ringing Bristol Surprise Maximus.
That was certainly something to be very happy about!
This morning there was an accident in Ipswich town centre involving a lorry carrying snooker equipment. There were cues everywhere.
Why did the bell go to the doctors? Because it wasn’t pealing very well.
The latter was adapted for this ringing blog by me from a quip involving bananas. Just two of the jokes relayed on BBC Radio Suffolk on Comic Relief Day which also saw the boys skip off to school in their normal clothes and sporting red noses.
Joking and laughter continued on into our weekly virtual Friday night drink with Simon Rudd and friends, but there was serious discussion too on the subject on when those present felt full-on proper ringing might return. Some thought 21st June, one even mooted a peal for Suffolk Day, which is of course on that very earliest possible day of freedom. Others estimated it may be October as they were dubious – as I am to a large degree – that the roadmap will go to plan, whilst still others think that many ringers will only very cautiously return and whilst I would have no qualms in going back if by that point we had been given the go ahead after what seems to be a very gradual, steady route towards restrictions being lifted, I tend to agree that will be a likely and understandable scenario. Personally, I’m sticking with a July return having committed to that a while back, but obviously none of us really know.
Meanwhile, the calendar is approaching Easter Sunday and apparently there have been well-meaning enquiries from incumbents about bells being rung on what is typically considered the most important date of the liturgical year and so the Central Council have released guidance for the occasion. It is a very cautious statement and quite rightly too. Even if the roadmap is going to plan we are due to still be very much on restricted gatherings indoors at that point. However, churches should be opening and so the CCCBR are pointing ringers in the direction of the informative recent article on transmission and ventilation in ringing chambers and suggesting that people use that to assess if it is safe and appropriate for more than the tolling on a single bell that is currently the accepted limit. They suggest that whilst small, enclosed ringing chambers are at the unsafe end of the scale, chancel rings ought to offer an open enough space to contemplate more than one ringer. I can’t think of any chancel rings within our borders, but there are quite a few ground floor and gallery-ring ringing chambers that may be deemed safe to use. However, any ringing with multiple ringers has to be approached with considerable caution and probably should only be contemplated at all if the incumbent has requested it. Quite apart from the safety issue, we don’t want to jeopardise the good work that has given limited ringing and full-on proper ringing the chance of returning in just two and three months time respectively.
For now though, online offers the only opportunity for most to maintain their change-ringing and progress, with a 1392 of Avon Delight, Bristol, Rigel and Strathclyde Surprise Maximus spliced rung on Ringing Room, whilst on the same platform, Bardwell Tower Captain Ruth Suggett rang a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor in hand.
Nothing so productive for us this evening, with the highlight after our video pub being Alfie’s joke as he went to bed.
“What do you get when you cross a snowman and a vampire? Frostbite!”
Simulators play a big part in ringing nowadays. In fact, they have essentially kept the exercise going over the last year. Today, all bar two of the sixteen performances recorded on BellBoard were rung with simulated sound, including a 1269 of Cambridge Surprise Minor on Ringing Room that was Bury St Edmunds ringer Catherine Colman’s first quarter-peal on ‘towerbells’ on the platform – well done Cath! And I got much satisfaction after work whilst the boys had tea by (eventually!) ringing a course of Plain Bob Minor ‘in hand’ on 1-2 and a course of Yorkshire Surprise Maximus on a single bell on RR with Wheatley’s help.
However, as Tewkesbury ringer David Bagley’s talk on ‘The History of Ringing Simulators’ last night to the St Martin’s Guild which I watched on YouTube this evening highlights, even if they have evolved to the current situation where incredibly ringers can ring in the same piece of ringing as other ringers on the opposite side of the world, simulators are not a new phenomenon. Indeed, David suggests that some of the first – such as the Carter Ringing Machine – would’ve basically been amongst the earliest computers. There are a number of towers in Suffolk with simulators at Bardwell, Helmingham, Hollesley, Little Cornard, Stowmarket and Stutton (according to Dove) and many will remember Ralph Earey’s famous demo bell of the 1990s and it was lovely to see mention of the late Roger Bailey, a fixture at St Mary-le-Tower on Christmas Day and member of the band that rang the Guild’s only peal on fourteen thus far at Winchester Cathedral in 2008. Even besides all that though, this was a fascinating insight into a remarkable aspect of ringing and one that is very important at the moment.
If I recall correctly, when such things were allowed, some ringers working in the centre of London were able to go to ringing sessions during their lunchbreak and I’ve always fancied being able to do the same. Today, I got as close as I’m ever likely to get as I helped out with a Superlative Surprise Major (one half of the methods Bristative, Superlol, Superier and Premlative as quartered in January, February, earlier this month and yesterday) practice on Ringing Room. I’ve never hidden my desire to get back into full-on proper ringing in actual ringing chambers, but it is still nothing short of amazing to me that I could spend my lunchbreak ringing with people from across the country (as well as Cath Colman in Bury St Edmunds!) without leaving our dining room! If anyone would like to practice their or help with others’ Cambridge, Superlative & Yorkshire Surprise Major spliced there is due to be a session focused on this from 1-2pm next Wednesday.
I was back on RR this evening for the weekly Pettistree practice, featuring London Surprise Minor, Norwich Surprise Minor, Grandsire Doubles and even a quick burst of the Triples variation, whilst the usual quiz by Hilary Stearn beforehand caused much light-hearted controversy (how far would you extend the Home Counties and what is the biggest island in the world?) before Peter Harper again won on a tie-break.
Meanwhile, Ringing Room is also going to be the host for a new ‘Virtual Call Change Ringing Festival’ from 1pm on Saturday 3rd April, an online striking competition teased by CCCBR President Simon Linford in recent weeks, but announced today by him. The Central Council website has all the details, but broadly speaking the test piece is the first part of ’60 on 3rds’ and based on the Devon call-change competitions that are so famous but rarely held beyond the South-West of England. Bands are to be made up of ringers who ring together - although if a band needs help to make up the team then other ringers can be brought in, within the spirit of the competition – and entries should ideally be in by 29th March, although entry will still be accepted after that and even on the day depending on numbers. I hope we see entries from Suffolk’s thriving online ringing community and who knows, even a winner!
There should be plenty of lunchbreaks between now and 3rd April to practice!
Precisely a year ago today, we were told to stop meeting to ring bells in church towers. For all that 23rd March was the day that we went into full-lockdown and is due to be marked in a week, including with the tolling of bells, it is 16th March 2020 that is seared in the minds of myself and other ringers as the day that this nightmare really began. Theatres apparently refer to it as ‘Dark Monday’ and I’m inclined to apply it to ringing. From that day, the pastime that allowed us to travel at will to ring anywhere that open ringing was happening, in ancient buildings magnificent, pretty and quaint, with limitless numbers of people we knew to varying degrees in all sorts of picturesque corners of our county, ended.
A year ago, nine peals were rung, six on towerbells. Twenty-five quarter-peals were rung, with just two of them on handbells and no online ringing performance in sight. Then Boris Johnson made his announcement that all non-essential travel should stop. I went along to St Mary-le-Tower practice where the mood was poignant as we did our final ringing on the twelve and shared one last drink together. Although I didn’t know it, I had already rung with my Dad Alan for the last time, who had decided to stay at home that evening. Our busy diaries were emptied. It wasn’t even the saddest day of 2020 (or even the second saddest), yet it was one of the saddest days of my life, an indication of just how dreadful last year was.
Naturally my thoughts have been of all that I have missed over the last 365 days. The Guild AGM, striking competitions in the South-East District and for the SGR, the Social, Ridgman Trophy and of course the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest that we had been looking forward to immensely. A year’s worth of ringing and socialising at SMLT and Pettistree has been lost, District Practices, quarter-peals, peals (especially those I would’ve attempted for the boys’ birthdays), Good Friday at the Salters’ house peal-ringing at The Wolery. The Christmas morning ringing circuit that helps make the day so special. Ringing for births, weddings and deaths, going on outings. Rambling Ringers were due to go to Leicestershire, we had been contemplating going to the College Youths Anniversary Dinner for the first time in years. There is so much more beyond ringing that has not happened since, but it is ringing that mainly offers the highlights of the year, punctuates the mundane everyday with events held across Suffolk and beyond our borders at twelves in cities and towns to fives and sixes in picturesque little villages, much of it allowing me to bring my family out and give the boys something other than TV and computers to take in. I miss it all so very much.
However, having wondered how I was ever going to fill a ringing blog when there was no ringing happening, there has been more to report than I ever imagined, often more than I can reasonably fit in on this blog. Online ringing has allowed some extraordinary achievements from bands sometimes from all over the world ringing together in the same touch, whilst there has been a healthy increase in handbell ringing. Teams and Zoom have kept bands, Districts and the Guild connected and allowed some activity to continue, with this year’s AGM due to be held by video for the second year running. We’ve been able to join in occasions that usually would’ve been impractical, such as the monthly ASCY meetings and the Henry Johnson Dinner, as well as going drinking with ringing friends on a Friday night. I’ve also been heartened by tales of ringers keeping in touch with and helping out fellow ringers who aren’t online or are shielding. Such stories have been uplifting. And we have at least been able to do some ringing, even if it has been in a largely unsatisfactory way, allowing us to get to grips with bellropes and see ringing friends in person.
Although I would’ve been horrified last March that twelve months on we are still in this soul-destroying situation, there is at least an end in sight, with over twenty-five million vaccinations given out now offering hope of a way out.
For now though, as with just about every evening of the last 365, we were both at home, allowing us the chance to spot that today was the 354th anniversary of the 10080 of Plain Bob Major rung at Debenham, as pointed out on the CCCBR’s Facebook page and marked four years ago with a 5250 in the same method at the same tower. Notable as the long length on 16th March 1767 was, it is perhaps better known as the performance that gave conductor James Wilson an alibi for a murder committed about twenty-five miles away in Bury St Edmunds, only for him to reveal on his death bed that he had been guilty all along, aided by a very fast horse, in a tale that must surely be worthy of a film!
No one suspects Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge of such deeds, but he certainly had an alibi for anything levelled against him from between about 10.30 and 10.50 this morning as he was speaking at length with East Point Radio about the exercise. Given the time to, he went in depth on the intricacies of the art and all that it offers, putting it across superbly and clearly holding the interest of the presenter.
Still, God willing Neal will have been giving media interviews on the resumption of full-on ringing by the time 16th March 2022 comes round.
When we had to cease ringing at St Mary-le-Tower twelve months ago, standards were high and rising. Our impending entry into the 2020 National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest seemed to have focused our efforts, as had the introduction of Hawkear, with which we were getting three and four star performances.
Tonight, at our now regular weekly Ringing Room session, we were satisfied with a successful half-course of Yorkshire Surprise Major and bob course of Grandsire Caters. Bizarrely, some Stedman Triples and Grandsire Triples didn’t go so well beforehand, but as with previous weeks, it served two important purposes – helping sharpen change-ringing brains that haven’t had as much practice as they usually would over the last year and allowing us to gather together to participate in something we enjoy doing. And with one ringer having computer troubles so bad they had to leave us early, I think that we did alright this evening with a form of ringing that is still far less instinctive than ringing towerbells, with ropesight on ten particularly challenging!
We aren’t the only ringers getting to grips with online ringing and it was noticeable to me that there were four platforms used for performances recorded on BellBoard today, with BelTower, Ding, Handbell Stadium and RR all starring in the columns.
When we eventually return to full-on ringing, I hope that they will have helped us all to return to the high standards of before.
Like Mothering Sunday 2020, Mothering Sunday 2021 was spent with many unable to spend time with their mothers. However, although this special day last year came early in lockdown Britain before most of us had got to grips with Teams and Zoom, at least today we could see our maters via video.
Indeed, we got to see my Mum Sally twice, first with the weekly St Mary-le-Tower virtual gathering and then on another video call specially arranged with my younger brother Chris.
Later, we also spoke with Ruthie’s mother Kate before and after a lost quarter-peal attempt of Norwich Surprise Minor with the Pettistree ringers.
And of course myself and the boys treated my wife. Or as much as we could in the circumstances. No wander along the River Deben and a pint in a pub to finish, but Alfie and Joshua had made cards, she got breakfast in bed and I got her a bottle of fizzy to mark the day.
Earlier, the aforementioned cuppa with our fellow SMLT ringers followed the usual format of Past Ringing Master of the Suffolk Guild Amanda Richmond giving everyone present the opportunity to impart what they’d been up to over the last week, revealing knee injuries, walks and the latest on Nigel Newton’s chocolate. Lovely as well to hear news of Reydon & Southwold ringers Don & Helen Price from Diana Pipe who had spoken with the latter and they are apparently doing alright in the circumstances.
Meanwhile, listen out for SGR Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge, who is due to be interviewed on East Point Radio on Monday at about 10.30am talking about the exercise as part of a series called ‘Culture Coast’, which they approached him about. This is a local station that even Neal and I – the Guild’s current and previous PROs – are not familiar with, so I’m not sure how many this reach out to, but even if one person decides to find out more about the exercise then it is worthwhile.
Elsewhere, others were having better luck on the ringing front than us, with a number of online, handbell and towerbell performances from across the world, including a couple of peals, one online and one in Australia. Ringing continues to keep its pulse going.
God willing over the next few months more will be rung in person, here in the UK, but we will need to consider how we do that and with that in mind those who don’t take The Ringing World may be interested to know that David Pouncey’s informative article from last week’s issue were put on the Coronavirus guidance section of the Central Council website on Friday and is well worth a read if we are to help ringing return to normal.
Hopefully Mothering Sunday 2022 will be celebrated with church bells ringing out freely.
There have been so many recollections of what was happening a year ago, unsurprisingly as it was the dying embers of life as we knew it and it was only really just dawning on us all the gravity of something that nonetheless has turned out even worse than most of us feared back then. My Facebook feed has increasingly been filled with fellow ringers announcing that it was twelve months since they last rang a peal and football fans revealing that it was a year since they last sat in a stadium to watch their favourite team. Indeed, it is now 365 days since the last peal was rung for the Suffolk Guild, a 5184 of Ealing Surprise Major rung over the Cambridgeshire border at Fulbourn and this weekend was the first after football had been halted. Bar the restricted ringing we were able to do over the summer and a handful of matches before Christmas with a maximum of 2,000 fans in even the largest of grounds, there has been no ringing of bells in most towers and no spectators on the terraces of professional footy games ever since.
At the North-West District Practice which took us from morning to afternoon today, they also reminisced that on this Saturday last year they held their last in-person District event, with a bumper crowd at Hopton. Additionally though, there was recognition of what an unexpected opportunity that the year of lockdowns has offered, allowing us to meet and ring with ringers far and wide who we wouldn’t be able to in the normal course of things through technology. And true, it was nice to catch up with friends from the opposite corner of the county on an occasion we more likely than not wouldn’t have been able to attend on a practical basis if we had to actually travel to the NW (although with a new appreciation with what we once had and God willing will have again relatively soon, we might make more of an effort in future!), especially Ruth Young. The ringing on Ringing Room was fun too and with the addition of Wheatley we were able to help with some well rung Surprise Minor of the Cambridge and London variety, Stedman Triples, Little Bob Major (a touch of which only came to a premature end due to the conductor’s finger slipping!) and Yorkshire Surprise Major.
A year ago on this Saturday, we participated in a quarter-peal day with the Pettistree ringers in what seems like a different, dream-like world and saw us ring our last QPs on actual towerbells, but as with how the North-West District have adapted so successfully, the wider ringing community showed a similar spirit with a Cast of 1000 quarter-peal day, all rung online and featuring lots of firsts and including a 1280 of Lessness Surprise Major with Woolpit ringer Nigel Gale in the band.
On the NW District socialising before ringing this morning, SGR Chairman Rowan Wilson followed up her recent email to members by imparting her hopes that Districts will be doing something for the AGM day on 10th April, with the North-West still planning on holding their practice at the same time. Hopefully other Districts will give some thought to doing something as well.
On top of the past being mourned and the present appreciated though, there was much hope for ringing in the post-pandemic future. The Horringer Community Centre is already booked for Saturday 18th September for the Guild Social, the possibility of the Eight-Bell Striking Competition also on the cards, with the ground-floor eight ideal if ventilation is still a major issue. Look out on the website, blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed, as well as keep an eye on your emails for further announcements when more is known.
I pray that things will be looking a lot better for ringing, football and everything else in a year’s time.
Beccles. Bramfield. Elveden. The Norman Tower. You could add East Bergholt. Apart from feeling like exotic far-off places we can only dream of visiting at the moment, they all have one thing in common which was highlighted in an article in this week’s copy of The Ringing World which arrived with us today. Indeed, a common theme that seems more abundant than any other county in England bar Herefordshire, depending on how you define the famous bell cage that houses the heaviest ring of five hung for change-ringing in the world, just north of the border with Essex. That theme – as most of you would have twigged immediately – is that they are detached towers with rings of bells and it was good to see the county mentioned in the two-and-a-bit-page piece by one-time Rambling Ringer Keith Fleming, as well as mention of Cecil, George & Rod Pipe. Cecil – or Jim as he was better known – also featured indirectly with replies to his letter on the ball bearing versus plain bearing debate of seventy-five years ago, both from the time and one from a modern correspondent!
Nice also to see our recent quarter-peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor on Ringing Room appearing in the performance columns to continue Suffolk theme in the ‘Comic’.
Later, we were actually able to participate today in the art this nearly 110 year-old publication celebrates, as we joined fellow Rambling Ringers on an hour long Ringing Room session convened and run by Susan O’Neill from the USA that saw us using Wheatley (a robot that can ring bells with you that was previously possible to install and is now built into RR) to enable us to ring some really well rung Cambridge Surprise Minor (despite the unwitting Geoff Wells bidding farewell at length as he couldn’t hear us!), Yorkshire Surprise Major and Kent Treble Bob Royal before George Dawson joined us and did impressively well at his very first go on the platform with some Little Bob Major, once he’d worked out how to register onto the site!
We continued our virtual Friday night in with ringers as we joined Simon Rudd and friends for a drink and conversation, including a recounting of a visit that David Brown, Gill Knox and our host once paid to Gill & David’s local pub that probably isn’t for repeating in a public forum. And certainly not in The Ringing World alongside articles about detached towers.
It is still at least three months away, but preparing for the full-on resumption of the exercise were the main ringing feature of my day.
John Pladdys has rung more peals than many, having been in 3895 successes – notably with 3332 of them of Stedman - according to Pealbase. Yet when he openly asked on the Bellringers Facebook page today how many older ringers in particular were feeling nervous about returning to ringing and especially peal ringing, it seemed to intimate that even he was trepidatious after a year away.
In the hundreds of responses from young as well as old, it became clear that many were concerned about their physical capabilities (state of their now soft hands, strength in their arms, standing on legs for three hours, etc) and psychological responses to returning. By the time we are given the go-ahead to return to full-on ringing, we should be assured that it is as safe as it possibly can be in response to the go-ahead of a now understandably cautious government and the always (correctly so it seems) cautious Church of England on the back of a vaccination programme that ought to have given protection from hospitalisation and serious illness to the vast majority of the adult population, and an increasing number of apparently very effective treatments for those who do catch it that will hopefully render it barely more dangerous than flu in our everyday life. However, with social distancing and isolation from crowds having been the most effective way of keeping Covid-19 at bay up to this point, the compunction to keep our distance from others and avoid gatherings of more than a handful of people – let alone indoors – is so ingrained in us all now that there is bound to be some anxiety and discomfort at putting oneself in such a situation, however largely unfounded it might be. Those chomping at the bit to get straight back into proper ringing – and I count myself as amongst the most enthusiastic of these – have to be mindful of those less willing to rush back. No one should feel forced into ringing again.
Perhaps last night’s talk by Warwickshire ringer Lucy Gwynne to the St Martin’s Guild which I watched on YouTube this evening will help alleviate such worries. She gives some exercises to help with the physical action of ringing a towerbell, but also advice on the mental and emotional aspect of ringing again after such a large break from it. Sensibly, she suggests breaking oneself in gently and it is a message that even I agree with. If – and that is still a massive ‘if’ – we return on Monday 21st June, I think that a runout at St Mary-le-Tower for the first practice back (if we’re given the go-ahead by the CofE and/or the supportive but naturally wary Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin who is vicar there) might be more the order of the day, rather than a 5040 or even a quarter-peal. I have hopes of picking up the birthday peals for the boys again for the fifth anniversary of Joshua’s birth in July which God willing I can do, but there are so many possible hurdles to it happening, not least whether I can find a tower willing to host it and enough ringers to ring with me, that I haven’t seriously given details much thought yet!
For now though, the most adventurous I got was a trip into Woodbridge town centre over my lunchbreak, in the process chancing across a masked Mike Whitby from afar in the street, having only moments earlier also had a chat with his daughter-in-law Emma. Good to see both of them, particularly Mike who I have missed ringing with on a weekly basis with him not so keen on Ringing Room and Zoom.
I pray that we can indeed ring together again properly in around fifteen weeks time and that there are many, many others happy to join us.
There is something very atmospheric about bells ringing out on a dark and windy evening. Or at least, that’s what I imagine when I’m ringing them in such conditions, pleased that I’m indoors ringing, rather than out there listening to them. It’s not the same when doing it on Ringing Room, but I still had that same sense of relief that I was inside ringing as the wind howled viciously around the outside of the house at the end of a day of miserable weather.
Storm blowing outdoors or not, tonight’s session with the Pettistree band was decent enough, even with one member having to leave for work before we even got started, Ruthie missing the beginning with listening to Alfie reading and then getting him to bed and me ringing from behind our cat throughout much of the first lead of a course of Kent Treble Bob Minor. It didn’t effect my cat’s ears though...
Whilst Stedman Doubles just wouldn’t go, we followed it up with some reasonably rung Grandsire Doubles, Norwich Surprise Minor and St Clement’s College Bob Minor either side of Mark Ogden sharing some of ringing’s most impressive YouTube videos, such as the video of Henry Pipe ringing a course of Plain Bob Minor on handbells following his first quarter-peal at the age of six, Simon Melen ringing four-in-hand to Bristol Surprise Maximus after doing so for a peal and the spectacular performance on twenty-four handbells at the event to celebrate the centenary of The Ringing World almost exactly a decade ago.
Our ringing was preceded as usual by an excellent quiz by Hilary Stearn that was won by Peter Harper and tested our knowledge on an eclectic range of topics from Watership Down to vitamins to the indigenous tribes of the USA beginning with C.
And we weren’t the only ones ringing in the county. Well done to Joan Garrett on ringing her first quarter-peal in hand and to Ian Holland on his first in hand “for a long time” in the 1260 of Plain Bob Minor by a Norman Tower band. Also well done to Marion Knight-Dixon and Trevor Smith of the Bardwell band on ringing their first of Plain Bob Major having never rung it on towerbells.
Happy Birthday as well to their Tower Captain Ruth Suggett. Ruth was the first person to approach me at the 2006 AGM in Bury St Edmunds when I became Suffolk Guild Ringing Master offering help and ideas, an indication of the enthusiasm and energy that has considerably benefitted ringing at Bardwell and Ixworth, the North-West District, the SGR and beyond, such as being editor of Tower Talk, the superb newsletter for ringers using Learning the Ropes. Many happy returns Ruth!
Meanwhile, the latest Blog entry from CCCBR President Simon Linford is another great read. Like many, he is reflective of what was happening this time last year as we contemplated the possibility of ringing events being cancelled. We weren’t to know it at the time, but we were less than a week from the cessation of ringing on 16th March, which was when life as we knew it really stopped. However, it was a week later on 23rd March that full lockdown came and to mark the first anniversary of that depressing landmark, the Church of England and Marie Curie are planning on having a National Day of Reflection and ringers have been invited to toll a bell at 12.01pm following a minute’s silence at noon.
Ringing has also been asked to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the NHS on 7th July. The last twelve months has really reiterated what an invaluable – indeed priceless – institution this is and so I hope that the exercise will do its bit, especially as God willing by that point we might be able to fully ring properly on our church bells.
Simon also announced that in between those two dates on Holy Saturday – 3rd April - there is due to be a Call Change Competition on Ringing Room, with more details to come apparently. Hopefully there will representation from within our borders, whatever the weather outside!
If this evening’s monthly College Youths meeting is looked back on in the future without a date attached to it, there would be little doubt as to when it was held. In a meeting held by video, the report from the Peal Recorder Richard Allton noted that the Society had registered its fewest number of peals since 1997-98 and (notably for an organisation more used to ringing complex peals of spliced Maximus methods) amongst the leading methods rung were Major staples more akin to decades and even centuries past, such as Plain Bob, Kent Treble Bob and Yorkshire Surprise. And the Country Meeting originally planned for the 12th of that month in Worcester will now be on the 18th September following the announcement of the ‘roadmap’ since the last meeting.
Likewise, the CCCBR AGM of September could also be dated very easily and can now be read about on this website with the report from Suffolk Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge – thank you Neal for the mention of the blog!
Grateful as we have been of the technology for these important events to go ahead, God willing the end of such things as a necessity is in sight and I was encouraged somewhat by the words of England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government Patrick Vallance when they spoke to MPs on the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee today. Between them, they reiterated that we ought to reach a point where the level of infection and sadly deaths too will be low enough as to be ‘acceptable’ in the same way other illnesses are, such as flu and that we won’t be waiting until we’ve eradicated Covid before getting society back to normal. Sobering as that thought is, with ringing likely to be amongst the last activities to get back to normal, it is good news for the exercise. Also good news for us is that whilst they said that some measures like test and trace, hand hygiene (surely that ought to be a given anyway?) and masks in crowded situations may be needed next winter, it seems that social distancing – the major hurdle to the resumption of full-on ringing - might not be a policy as much as it innate, which I hope will make it easier for us to continue when it gets to that point.
Meanwhile, it was interesting to see the photo on the SGR’s Twitter feed of the sixth at Bardwell just after it was recast by Ipswich’s Alfred Bowell in 1935 and that the grandson of Hector Ruffles – whom the bell was in memory of – is a ringer there now! A wonderful link between the past and present.
As was the video that appeared on the Bellringers Facebook page of the unique bells of East Bergholt being rung in the 1970s in a piece which was apparently regularly repeated on the children’s TV programme Play School and featured David Culham on the fourth. David is still ringing these days (at least as much as any of us are at the moment!), whilst his son Ian is part of the current St Mary-le-Tower band. Another wonderful link between the past and present.
Entirely in the present, well done to Tim Hart on again achieving on Ringing Room, with his first quarter-peal of Pudsey Surprise Major in hand, in a success that could be very easily dated to these times.
A wonderful day today as the boys return to the school for the first time since before Christmas. After two hard months where their formal education was restricted to whatever a poor, longsuffering Ruthie could motivate them to do and where they barely left the house, let alone saw their friends and peers, one cannot overstate how necessary the resumption of a proper teaching by trained teachers in buildings set-up for the task was for all concerned.
Therefore, this relieved father took two very excited young brothers back to their teachers and chums and with my wife having her first full day in her new job, I returned home to work in a house that I had to myself (bar occasionally our also relieved looking cat!) for the first time for months. It felt very strange, for all that the reasons for my family’s absence were welcome.
The reopening of schools is part of a wider, but slight relaxation in restrictions, which allow two people from two different households/bubbles to meet recreationally outside. That in itself doesn’t really change much for ringing, apart from possibly increasing the variety of bands for in-person handbell performances of Minimus (or Minor if four-in-hand specialist Simon Melen is involved!), but it starts a process that God willing ultimately sees full-on, limitless ringing as before return, if not on 21st June then as soon as possible after that.
Meanwhile, it is worth noting a couple of occurrences from Saturday that I remissly overlooked in the blog.
One was that the ART Awards, which were held virtually but still highlighted much of the good work being done throughout the exercise, even in the difficult circumstances of the past year. Although missing out to the developers of Ringing Room Bryn Marie Reinstadler and Leland Paul Kusmer for the Award in the Development of Technology in Teaching, well done to Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart who was a runner-up with Simon Gay, Graham John and Ben Johnson for their eBells.
Even closer to home, I should really have mentioned that we elected a new member at the South-East District Meeting at the weekend, which following the release of the latest edition of the Annual Report further exhibits how the Suffolk Guild hasn’t stood still over the last twelve months, even whilst for the main part its members have been unable to ring on towerbells in the county. That is why the AGM is still an important event to attend this year and today the agenda for it was shared on this website. It confirms it is due be held online, with the Zoom ‘room’ opening for the occasion at 6.45pm on Saturday 10th April. Granted it isn’t likely to be exciting, but it isn’t meant to be and with a greater understanding of holding online events since it was last held, I have heard whispers that other stuff might be going on, either officially or ad hoc connected to it all, so it might be worth keeping your ear to the ground and eyes on the SGR’s various communication channels for anything anyone might be organising.
If Ringing Room ends up playing any part in proceedings, many will be far more proficient on this platform than they were by the last AGM, including us as this evening we gained some more experience on this marvellous innovation by attending the weekly St Mary-le-Tower practice. Although not much came round, the repertoire was almost what we might expect at SMLT itself on a Monday night when a little short on numbers and there was much decent ringing on a medium that is still quite unfamiliar to some. Stedman Doubles (Ruthie was quick to leap onto the tenor to bong behind this week!), Yorkshire Surprise Major (good practice for Cathy Colman ahead of a later half-course of the same method on RR for World Women’s Day by an all-female band) and Grandsire Caters were persevered with, with varying degrees of success. Importantly, it was fun and it helps keep our change-ringing brain ticking over until we can ring fully on church bells again, possibly at the end of the process started today in schools across the country.
When the Suffolk Guild Annual Report is published, it is usually the starting pistol for a race against time as Districts attempt to get copies out to as many (ideally all, but I’m not sure that’s ever been achieved!) members as possible before the AGM a few weeks later, complete with the practical hurdle of Holy Week where traditionally ringing stops for a week at a lot of towers. This year of course, the hurdles are bigger, with members not able to meet in person both in the lead-up to the meeting and for it.
However, technology allows us to still complete that race, even if not in the way that we would wish. On the day itself, the business will – like last year’s – be held via Zoom and there may be opportunity for fringe events such as talks and hopefully ringing on Ringing Room. And yesterday the Annual Report was made available to download via this very website and was the perfect reading for a Sunday afternoon in lockdown.
Editor Mark Ogden and all those who have helped him are to be congratulated on putting together a Report in difficult circumstances reflecting a difficult year. Chairman Rowan Wilson sets the tone perfectly in her Foreword, not dodging the fact that 2020 was a terrible year for the art, but also that much has still been going on and that the county’s ringers have adapted tremendously. That theme is generally continued through Tom Scase’s final report as Ringing Master and the reports from the Trustees, BAC, Secretary Kate Gill, PR Officer Neal Dodge, Membership Secretary Mary Garner, Librarian Abby Antrobus and to varying degrees from the District Secretaries(NE, NW, SE, SW). Peal Secretary Christine Knight had a tough job making anything out of the mere two-and-a-half months of peal-ringing the Guild enjoyed, although she was able to point to the successful Peal Week and it was interesting to see how they interpreted the various online quarter-peals, some of which were only partially rung from within our borders, with another rung today to add to next year’s Annual Report. Well done to Alexander Hibbert who rang in the 1344 of Plain Bob Major from Ipswich in what was his first in hand. Meanwhile, I was naturally drawn to the obituaries that included the one I wrote for my Dad Alan.
We later found ourselves in the virtual company of Mark this evening for the now weekly Pettistree QP attempt on RR. Last Sunday saw us valiantly lose a very decent quarter of Norwich Surprise Minor very near to the end, but tonight we never really got going in our efforts and so instead we chatted, with Mike Cowling imparting that he had been invited to a quarter-peal weekend at the end of June. With the way things have gone over the last year, I remain deeply sceptical that we shall suddenly find ourselves able to ring freely come 21st June, but it is uplifting to hear of such plans being made.
God willing that is for the future, but we got taken down memory lane this morning during the St Mary-le-Tower video chat, as Ralph Earey showed us a light hearted video he had put together for our delectation. Set to his hilarious commentary, it was based around an interview he and Jonathan Williamson did with John Eley on BBC Radio Suffolk just under thirty years ago when they had begun teaching a new band at St Matthew’s in Ipswich and the tug-of-war teams that featured Ken Tew from that band, as well as familiar faces, many of whom appeared in the (occasionally embarrassing!) old photos that were interspersed throughout the film! Ruthie was particularly amused by one of me from my teenage years!
It’s just a pity that there isn’t a function to insert it into the Annual
This week’s copy of The Ringing World arrived this morning, with the only direct Suffolk link that I could find being a letter from Cecil ‘Jim’ Pipe from seventy-five years ago extolling the virtues of plain bearings over ball bearings.
However, most interesting in this issue, was David Pouncey providing some expert medical context to what may or may not be possible for ringing’s resumption over the coming months. He imparts a word of caution on expecting the mass vaccination of the population – including ringers of course - making everything immediately safe, although of course it should make the risk acceptable when we look to resume. One positive is that it has been learnt over the last year that the risk of transmission from touching surfaces is pretty minimal and so when we do return we can be more relaxed about touching surfaces and even ringing on different ropes, especially with sanitised hands, which will be a major difference from our ringing exploits of last summer when there was much anxiety of touching anything that someone else had touched and we had to strictly stick to only ringing ‘our’ bell.
The main focus of his insightful article though, was that of ventilation. There are ringing chambers that will be safer to ring from this perspective, such as ground-floor rings and those rung from galleries open to the church, but many upstairs rings may struggle, especially as very few of them are that well ventilated. It is planned to resume the carbon dioxide measurement trials that had to be stopped when Lockdown 2.0 again stopped ringing on church bells, which will hopefully give us a more precise idea of how safe different ringing chambers are from a ventilation perspective in the context of coronavirus, but there is the worry that masks (and even more depressingly) social distancing may restrict us in carrying out ringing. This is all new ground obviously, so we don’t know for sure, but it is reassuring for the exercise to have the expertise of David – a relicensed doctor who is working for the NHS111 Covid Clinical Assessment Service and in the immunisation programme – to hand to help guide us.
One tower that might be considered to be better ventilated than many is St Margaret’s in Ipswich, the scene of the last South-East District event to be held in-person on the first Saturday of last March. A year on, it is pleasing that the District is still meeting, but it is in a very different way. Photos of a crowded ringing chamber from that day seemed almost dreamy when compared with just under thirty people staring out from their tiny video boxes at this afternoon’s proceedings, but that’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable occasion. Although there was no ringing involved (and for all that I hope as many ringers do as much online ringing as possible to prepare us for the resumption of full-on ringing on church bells, I can understand why some just don’t want to), it was an example of the District adapting to the circumstances. For having done some online ringing last month and a quiz in January, this time we had a couple of fascinating talks that kept us entertained for an hour or so, as first Clopton Ringing Master David Stanford followed up his recent superb article in The Ringing World on the life of a JOAT (Jack Of All Trades) with a talk on the same subject and a video tour of his workshop, and then Hoxne ringer Claire Whiting – fresh from her appearance on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning as the expert on the Gardening Hour from about 2hrs30mins to 3hrs 30mins into Sarah Lilley’s show – gave us a presentation on beekeeping, even fitting in a reference to ringing and a blast of the bells being rung at Buckfast Abbey! Thank you to them both for their time.
Meanwhile, there was some ringing going on today, with two peals rung on the same day for only the second time in 2021, as one was rung in hand in Great Longstone in Derbyshire and another on Ringing Room fitted the standard forty-one Surprise Minor methods into 5000 changes with the help of a new method called Cheeky Little Surprise Minor, with a composition rung for the first time.
For those aspiring to the latter performance, Central Council PR Officer – and one-time ringer at the aforementioned St Margaret’s – Vicki Chapman’s blog Bells, Bakes & Bettering Myself should be of interest as yesterday’s entry includes Possibly the Most Useful 41 Surprise Minor Table Ever. Do take a look, both at the blog and the table.
And whilst you’re at this reading malarkey, have a read of The Ringing World too!
Therefore, when my wife started a new job today, in our corner of the world – which is by large the only one we’ve seen for a few months – it was a big deal. In fact, she didn’t just start a new job, but a new career. No longer a world of shoes and foot measuring for Mrs Munnings. Indeed, just over twelve years after she started behind a till in Boots, no longer a world of retail and trying to fit in ringing around weekend working. For today, she was beginning a new life as an ‘Early Years Educator’ in a Playgroup.
This change of direction came a little out of the blue. My wife has enjoyed working with the good folk of the shoe shop in the centre of Woodbridge over the past six years, so she wasn’t looking to leave. However, whilst they have done an incredible job of continuing to thrive over the last year, there is no hiding the fact that retail generally is a very uncertain area in which to rely on one’s income currently and so when she was approached by some friends of ours who are running the playgroup to see if she would like to apply for a job going there, she jumped at the chance. Or at least by her standards. Ruthie’s general approach to change is to approach with caution and due diligence, with her considering not just the effect it would have on ourselves, but also the colleagues she was leaving behind at John Ives. In the end though, it was a no-brainer.
Today was a short induction day, but still saw her there until after lunch and so I took a day off to mop up what remained of the boys’ schoolwork on what God willing is the last day of homeschooling they or us will ever have to be subjected to. We pray that from here on in that their education is completed in the institutions that are designed around giving children everything they need for their formal learning, rather than from our dining room table! It has to be said that my better half has done magnificently in keeping their education going for six of the last nine months of the academic year.
She has certainly earned the Friday night drinks she enjoyed tonight and it would’ve been rude for me not to join her and as has become the norm since the pandemic struck, we drank them in the virtual company of others, as a catch-up with my uni friends followed on from our usual end-of-week video chat with Simon Rudd and other ringing friends where this evening we heard about the eclectic Minimus repertoire of the ringers at Singapore Cathedral, the weather in Yorkshire and the bellhanging work that Neil Thomas has been doing this week.
Technology has really come into its own over the last year with such socialising, but also with ringing itself and that was highlighted by the 1295 of Cambridge Surprise Minor on Ringing Room which was Allison Devine’s first quarter-peal since 1992. The footnote also seems to suggest that online ringing has enabled her to return to the art after a break of twenty-five years and I have heard of others who have been drawn back into the exercise with Ding, Handbell Stadium and RR, as well as new recruits who are yet to touch a bellrope and yet are ringing methods! It hints at an exciting new world of opportunity for ringing.
Very appropriate as Ruthie starts out on a world of exciting new opportunity.
Since ringing on church bells was effectively banned almost a year ago, there have been understandable parallels drawn to when it was last banned during the Second World War. In the main this has been in passing and based on the broad knowledge and general perception that ringing was stopped during the conflict so that bells could be used to sound a warning of invasion from the Nazis.
However, Robert Wellens has gone one step further – much more than that actually – and researched the similarities and differences between the two situations in depth, particularly that which ringing faced precisely eighty years ago. This has led to fascinating articles in The Ringing World and last night an absorbing talk to the St Martin’s Guild which I watched on YouTube this evening.
I learnt quite a lot of really interesting detail to fill in the gaps in my understanding on the period. Vaguely I knew that ringing had stopped through the war, but I hadn’t realised that it was ‘only’ three years of the six-year conflict. Also, the use of the bells as a warning mechanism wasn’t quite the straightforward ‘see a German, ring the bells’ instruction I had thought it was. Rather, who would ring them, when exactly they’d be rung and for whose attention seemed to change throughout that period, causing much confusion! In addition to hoping that our current restrictions wouldn’t last beyond this June, let alone for a further two years, technology has allowed us to ring almost whenever we like through Ding, Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room, even if for much of the last twelve months ringers haven’t been able to meet in person to ring handbells as they were during WW2. And whilst ringing is just another activity restricted currently, the focus bells were given during the war by those in power right up to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury was incredible to learn!
As Robert highlighted though, there are some uncanny echoes of that time in the times we are currently enduring. On both occasions, the threat ebbed and flowed, allowing for ringing to be allowed in restrictive, unsatisfactory forms, with the level of threat also appearing to correlate with levels of disgruntlement amongst ringers. At its worst, the ringing community seemed – as it seems to now – to begrudgingly accept that the cessation of ringing church bells was necessary. Again like now though, when the danger appeared to have subsided, there was considerable disapproval that ringing still had to be subjected to such restrictions. Although more positively, as during this pandemic, the ringing family of wartime made efforts to try and keep their bands together. Hopefully this time though, the return of full-on, unrestricted ringing of church bells won’t be delayed unnecessarily as it seems it was in the 1940s. God willing, when restrictions are fully lifted on 21st June at the earliest, they really will be and social distancing will be truly and completely consigned to history, I pray never, ever to return to blight our lives, rather than being left to linger indefinitely as some kind of compromise that worryingly some in wider society appear willing to accept, despite the devastating effect its prolonged presence would surely have on more than just ringing.
Ultimately though, as Robert points out at the end of his wonderful presentation, we can be heartened that after what – ought to – have been even greater disruption to the art than coronavirus, it recovered and thrived. Hopefully the parallels will be easily drawn in this aspect too.
On the first anniversary of his death, I don’t expect I was alone in having George Pipe in my thoughts today and especially with Diana. She herself admitted it would be a tough day, especially as she hasn’t been able to give him the huge send-off he deserved.
Still, John Loveless’ superb biography of him Shake my hand and I’ll show you the ropes is a fitting tribute to him and as Diana pointed out on Sunday’s St Mary-le-Tower video chat, George would’ve hated living through the last year. After all, he was the ultimate people person and with Di enjoyed welcoming visitors and visiting others. He also loved listening to church bells and handbells ringing out and whilst I think he would’ve admired that change-ringing has been kept going during the pandemic to the extent that it has with online ringing, I can’t envisage him ever having got involved in it.
I’d like to think that he would be pleased that despite not being able to ring their bells for twelve months, the Pettistree band that he helped teach thirty-five years ago was still strong and enthusiastic enough to not only be meeting on Ringing Room for a weekly practice, but progressing with Surprise Minor at the forefront of the repertoire. This evening from our dining room, we were able to help Hilary Stearn have a go at Norwich and Primrose, which went well even with an attempt at telepathic conducting!
I’m sure also that he would be pleased that we have tried to keep going the social aspect that has helped maintain the numbers and high standards of this rural band for decades. As with each week, the ringing was preceded with a quiz hosted by the aforementioned Hilary and won this time by the Garners and afterwards we put in motion plans that we hope will ultimately lead to the annual ringers’ dinner being held in person at The Greyhound after restrictions are God willing lifted in June. What joy to even contemplate such arrangements and all being well it gives us something to look forward to!
We pray that it will be just one of a multitude of ringing occasions we can fully enjoy by that point, even if days like today remind us that we shall be missing dear friends and family at them.
It was an unusually great day to be an Ipswich Town fan. An exciting sounding takeover that could potentially reverse years of misery is apparently imminent, an extremely good manager appointed at lunchtime and a win tonight which was a third consecutive win in a real rarity. With our new manager Paul Cook being the fourth out of our last five managers to be called Paul, one fellow Town fan said he hadn’t been so excited since “two Pauls ago.”
I was glad of the football to interject a spark of difference into another day of sameness in a period of many days of sameness, especially as there wasn’t anything particularly different to note from the day’s ringing. We didn’t do any ourselves today (although that is less the norm these days) and what there was didn’t include any peals and was again predominantly online, which is understandable as we are still in lockdown.
The latest Survival and Recovery Newsletter did give me some distraction from the football and offered particular focus on call-changes. There is greater encouragement being offered to call-change ringers by the CCCBR, seemingly inspired by the superb Devon Call-Changes that featured prominently on the monthly YouTube competitions last year, but also because there is a worry that ringers are being put off by being forced into method-ringing when they are perfectly happy just turning up to ring call-changes. That doesn’t mean we should simply sit back and not proactively encourage progress, otherwise the art becomes stale and ultimately we will lose ringers, but we will need as many ringers as possible to help get ringing back on its feet when we are able to return to full-on ringing and as has been said by others, well-struck call-changes rung by happy willing ringers are preferable to methods being rung badly by reluctant ringers. With that in mind, do have a read through the newsletter to see how call-changes can help the art and indeed for the other content, which includes a piece on getting physically fit for ringing via Zoom and an example of how to maintain and build a good relationship with your church in these days of remote ringing.
It was all pretty upbeat, which fitted in well with the general upbeat vibe of the day. For Ipswich Town fans at least.
One of the many things I enjoyed about ringing before the pandemic was on a nondescript weekday evening that would otherwise have been spent passing time sat in front of the TV, one of us (and indeed before parenthood, both of us) could pop out where there was ringing and be in the company of friends. The actual undertaking of ringing is almost a perk of meeting ringing chums. Sometimes there were loads of people, sometimes just a handful, but there would still be a chance to catch-up with those present and feel like you’d done something with your evening. For me, it is close to a USP of the exercise. Many hobbies are confined to a restricted local group on a regular basis, but in ringing, it is perfectly possible – in normal times – to go out on every night of the working week to join with five entirely unique groups of ringers and then cram your weekend with ringing with other friends near or far, if so desired.
Gradually, that sensation is creeping back. We can’t go out anywhere to meet ringers at the moment of course, but although goodness knows we could all do with properly getting out of the house, Ringing Room has allowed us again on a dark weekday night on the cusp between winter and spring to see pals from the art and ring with them, whether that be with those at St Mary-le-Tower on a Monday, Pettistree on a Wednesday or the South-East District on the first Saturday (as we hope to do this Saturday), the North-West District on the second Saturday or the Guild AGM on 10th April. As alluded to, tonight was – as pre-Covid it was for decades – SMLT practice night, albeit only our fourth one on RR. Sadly it was a little less well supported than the last couple, meaning we peaked at eight-bell ringing, with Nigel Newton ringing two and Ruthie forsaking putting her feet up after another tough day homeschooling the boys. Despite all this, there was some decent ringing, although we discovered how tricky Stedman can be on this platform!
One of those ringing with us was David Stanford, who also features in the latest issue of The Ringing World in the ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’ section for his impressive quarter-peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major in hand on his own with Abel. Suffolk also gets a mention, as CCCBR President Simon Linford says that a chat with a band within our borders was one of the motivations for instigating a national call-change competition, of which he promises more details at a later date.
Meanwhile there were ringing connections 2hrs 53mins into this morning’s Today programme on BBC Radio Four, as Theatre Royal Wakefield’s Executive Director Katie Town and the famous composer and musical theatre impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber were interviewed about the hopes of reopening theatres as the ‘roadmap’ hopefully progresses. However, my interest in it wasn’t theatres, for the ringing interest was two-fold. It wasn’t mentioned in this interview as of course it wasn’t relevant, but Katie is a ringer and an extremely talented one at that. Indeed, she is a Past Master of the Ancient Society of College Youths, holding the role from 2014-2015. What is more, Mr Lloyd Webber’s in-laws Adam and Gillian Gurdon learnt to ring on the ground-floor six rung from the porch at Burgh, with a memorial service held for Adam at Woodbridge in 2019 marked with a peal on the 25cwt eight.
Both Katie and Andrew sounded reasonably upbeat about the prospects for theatres later in 2021 and hopefully we can be upbeat about the prospects for ringing too. As much as technology has helped, I really want to get out and ring with our friends in person again.
Our ringing in February (pretty much all done online of course, but actually quite a lot of it compared to previous months during the pandemic) finished on a bit of low note tonight, as we lost a quarter-peal attempt of Norwich Surprise Minor on Ringing Room at the last call. Frustrating as my slipped finger three weeks ago, but like that, this was just one of those things and at least we didn’t have a wasted journey to somewhere to lose it! Even more so as Ruthie was carrying a nasty toe injury accrued by the accidental kicking of a stray box this morning!
By that point, we had already participated in a thoughtful weekly Sunday video chat with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers, as Diana Pipe expressed what a difficult week this will likely be, with Wednesday being the first anniversary of George’s passing. Hold her in your thoughts. Hopefully some ringing can be done in Suffolk to remember him, although of course it will be harder in the current circumstances.
However, it was still nice to meet with them, even if it was virtually. Although Paul Lambert losing his job as Ipswich Town manager this evening came too late for Simon Rudd and myself to chew the fat over it, the conversation was largely upbeat as David Sparling and ourselves recalled last night’s Henry Johnson Dinner and provisional hopes of meeting in groups of six in the park on Easter Day were mooted.
Even if we are able to do that in five weeks, we may well be going for quarter-peal attempts online for quite some time yet. And maybe losing them too.
Perhaps naturally with more time on our hands and a yearning for what we once had and took for granted, I have found myself looking back a fair bit in recent months and my blog allows me to do that very easily.
What I discovered today, was that my blog entry of exactly a year ago was the first time that I’d mentioned coronavirus on this platform. It had been in the news of course and had arrived some weeks earlier, but it really hadn’t impacted on our everyday life and judging by my (in hindsight ludicrously) dismissive tone towards the virus I didn’t really envisage it doing so in the future either, at least not in a major way. I do recall beginning to consider that there may be events cancelled or postponed and there might be some disruption, but I think I imagined it would be something more akin to that caused by a heavy fall of snow. Infuriating, but not anything particularly life-changing.
Yet a year on, life is still on hold and therefore so is ringing. However, an end seems tantalisingly in sight. Astonishingly for something that I didn’t feel moved to even mention until twelve months ago, over twenty million vaccines to help combat it have been given out and God willing keeps us on course for a return to full-on ringing on 21st June, albeit I think many of us wouldn’t bet on things getting back to normal ‘on time.’
And this evening we attended an event that in all likelihood we wouldn’t have gone to in normal circumstances. The Henry Johnson Dinner is the annual dinner of the St Martin’s Guild in Birmingham, traditionally held on the nearest Saturday to the birthday of the eponymous local renowned ringer and composer who died in 1890. When I lived, studied, worked and rang in the West Midlands, I went to the HJ eight times, all in the magnificent Council House in the centre of the UK’s second city, but I last went to it in 2005 just before I moved back to Suffolk and the opportunity to go again hasn’t really presented itself since. Held every year since 1889 through wars and whatever else has been thrown its way, it couldn’t be held in its normal grand surroundings this time round and there was concern that that impressive record of continuity would be broken. Cue the kind of spirit demonstrated by so many since last March that led to the 133rd Dinner to be held via video tonight, in line with pretty everything else in the last eleven months. Not anywhere near as good the real thing, but nonetheless an opportunity for me to take Ruthie to an event that I enjoyed many times, even if it wasn’t in its traditional form.
Similar to when we ‘attended’ the College Youths Anniversary Dinner in November, we prepared a dinner from a suggested menu – or rather my wife did – as we tucked into broccoli & stilton soup, chicken wrapped in pancetta, and apple crumble all prepared within our household and joined proceedings, along with others with Suffolk links such as John Loveless and David Sparling. David even got mentioned in one of the speeches, which weren’t as numerous as they normally are, but were part of an hour’s worth of entertainment that included a musical interlude by fellow Rambling Ringer James Ramsbottom and his fiancée Casey McLellan and - where handbells would usually be - a montage of the online and in hand ringing that Birmingham’s young ringers the Brumdingers (who have been a huge success story before during and hopefully after the pandemic) have been doing over the last few months. Clare McArdle chaired it all superbly too. It was all topped off with a montage of photos from more recent dinners, featuring the late, great Rod Pipe who learnt to ring at Grundisburgh, but also others from our county past and present, such as Laura Davies, Simon Rudd and Louis Suggett. Great fun given the circumstances and nice to get dressed up, even it was only from the top half up!
Ringing in Birmingham is something that I remember fondly. Not just for the standard of ringing, the constant progress and variety, but also because the ringers are lovely people who were very supportive in difficult times and a hugely sociable, so it was great to see so many familiar and friendly faces.
Normally there would be ringing on the morning of the event, which I have participated in previously, ringing in peals at Walsall in 2001 and Northfield in 2004 and 2005, but of course that was limited today. Still, there has been ringing on Ringing Room, another example of ringers adapting in these strange times.
There were further examples – lots of them indeed – with a huge number of towers seeing tolling carried out on the day of the funeral of Captain Sir Tom Moore, including within our borders at Hollesley by Peter Harper.
Of course this is the only ringing that can be done on church bells currently and with just one peal – rung on handbells and a handful of quarter-peals rung online, BellBoard looked very different to what it did a year ago. I pray that if I get to look at it in a year’s time that it will look a bit more familiar again.
In amongst all the excitement – for the local media and those of us interested at least – about recent rumours of Ipswich Town being taken over in the near future gaining a degree of credibility, my attention was also caught by the eagerly anticipated update to the CCCBR guidance to go alongside the ‘roadmap’ announced by Boris Johnson at the beginning of the week.
Generally it is what most anticipated, like ringers from different households being able to meet up outdoors to ring handbells from 29th March, restricted, socially distanced ringing – similar to that which was managed by many over last summer and at Christmas – from 17th May and full-on, unrestricted ringing from 21st June. Additionally though, from 29/3/21, up to fifteen young ringers (presumably under-eighteen-years old) could meet outdoors to ring handbells and those same youngsters could then meet together to ring following the ‘out of school setting’ guidance, albeit it is expected with social distancing. And from 21/6/2021 it is possible that facemasks might still be necessary.
Importantly though, those are of course the earliest dates these stages will happen and with ringing apparently already being planned for late June and ringers being asked whether bells will be possible for weddings at that point, there is a warning that making plans for shortly after the much anticipated Midsummer’s Day should consider that those plans might have to be amended, moved or cancelled. We are used to that caveat these days though...
However, as President Simon Linford points out, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Therefore, in keeping with the good vibes such high hopes engender, today was one of celebration, the type of which God willing we can celebrate properly within the next few days, as my mother Sally marked her birthday in the subdued fashion that so many have had to over the last year. Being the first since Dad died, it would have been lovely to actually celebrate it with her in person, but we at least spoke to her on the phone, with the boys each passing on their felicitations in their individual styles!
It would be nice to meet up with our ringing friends too, but in the circumstances we were again delighted that technology allowed us to catch-up with them by video as a number of us from Suffolk, Norfolk and beyond joined Simon Rudd for his weekly virtual pub where the assembled mainly reminisced on exams amongst much else. Although with Ipswich Town supporters and enthusiastic, and active ringers present, surprisingly not football club takeovers or ringing roadmaps.
Magic Blocks. For some they won’t have heard of them. To others it will be a mysterious aspect of the art. And for many the perception is that it is far too complicated to contemplate. In each case, I would strongly encourage them to watch David Pipe’s video talk to the St Martin’s Guild last night, which is now available to view on YouTube and kept me enthralled for just over an hour as Ruthie sang with her choir in the next room and when I wasn’t constantly telling the boys to get to sleep!
There will be a number for whom this may understandably seem inconsequential to their everyday ringing, especially at the moment where several will be considering if they will still be able to ring Grandsire Doubles when we eventually return to full-on towerbell ringing! Yet like so much that is considered ‘elite’ ringing and even out of touch from ‘grassroots’ ringing, it offers a way of actually making one’s path through ringing simpler. I have often spoken of how I and most others who ring touches, quarters and/or peals of multiple Surprise Minor methods spliced learn all those methods, sometimes up to forty-one and indeed more in one performance. That we only need to know a handful of those methods to then know many, many more. If you know Cambridge, you should easily be able to ring Primrose (which is the same but for a bell making sixths at the lead-end instead of a bell making seconds), Ipswich (which is the same but for a bell leading full at the half-lead instead of a bell making fifths) and Norfolk (which is both). Even Ebor, (where a bell makes fourths at the lead-end) and King Edward (where a bell makes thirds at the half-lead). Newall is Ebor with a bell leading full at the half-lead. And Queen Mary is King Edward with a bell making sixths at the lead-end. Wells is merely London with a single change of place notation. Westminster has a long frontwork which can be varied only slightly to become Allendale and Fryerning. Much of the rest can be worked out by knowing the below work (in the places underneath wherever the treble is on its path to and from the back) and the over work (naturally in the places above where the treble is) of a few methods. For example, if you know Carlisle, the above work for that is the same above work as Alnwick, Chester, Munden, Newcastle, Northumberland and Sandiacre, as well as the various versions where a bell makes sixths at the lead-end. Before you know it, you have all the methods in your mind, with the only other bit of memory needed being to put the right names to the right variations. However, it becomes easier the sooner that you learn the structures of methods. If Mr Pipe’s talk can prompt a learner to consider that the reason that they have to dodge at the lead-end in Plain Bob to allow a bell to make seconds to the treble and thus prevent it from being Plain Hunt, or that you have to make thirds in St Clement’s College Bob because two bells are dodging on the front continuously throughout a lead, then it will have served a purpose to even those just starting out in change-ringing.
For although even David admits that some of the language and the in-depth aspects of his presentation may well bamboozle you, he shows that by knowing method structure you can take the way in which many of us learn multiple Surprise Minor methods outlined above a stage further by knowing relatively few under works and over works to ring an extent of Treble Dodging Minor in up to sixty methods by changing above works and below works essentially assigned to when a bell makes either seconds at the lead-end or fifths at the half-lead, meaning you can be changing works every half a lead. Exhilarating stuff I imagine, especially when rung at speed on handbells! Additionally, it releases the burden of remembering the names of methods, thus allowing DJP, Andrew Tibbetts and Philip Earis to ring a 20880 of 1053 Treble Dodging Minor methods in 2005!
Do watch if you can and stick with it. No one would expect you to be ringing Magic Blocks of dozens or hundreds of Treble Dodging Minor methods (although it could be a fun exercise on Ringing Room!), but I hope it gives you a new way to look at how you are learning methods and that it enables you to hasten your progress.
Talking of progress, as mentioned yesterday, today saw the new eight for Laxfield arrive in the village and hanging begin, all of which can be viewed on the project’s webcam and which I watched a little of during my break from work. I imagine there will be more to watch in the coming days.
There was also that anticipated piece on Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk show this afternoon, which featured reporter Luke Deal interviewing local ringers Fiona Shuttle and Robin Woolward, as well as the vicar the Reverend David Burrell and some of the excited villagers who gathered (socially distanced I’m assuming!) to see the octave’s arrival, all of which was great PR for local ringing.
Although I suspect that the listenership of our local BBC radio station wasn’t ready for Magic Blocks yet.
If there was ever a day that makes us yearn for the starting up of proper real life, it was today.
Such were the exhausting struggles that Ruthie had trying to motivate two young boys - clearly struggling to get going in their homeschooling again after their week off for half-term – to do the work set by their teachers, that I ended up being called upon to help out (yes, things had got that desperate!) at lunchtime and after work. Their return to actual school planned for the 8th March to resume their proper full-time education can’t come soon enough.
And on the evidence of our attempts on Ringing Room for the weekly online Pettistree session this evening, neither can full-on change-ringing on actual towerbells. Not because of a lack of ability on this occasion, as we didn’t get far enough to test that. After another excellent quiz from Hilary Stearn – won by the boys’ grandparents Kate and Ron after a thrilling three-way tiebreaker between Peter Harper and ourselves that saw us grossly overestimate the number of gold medals that Team GB won at the 2021 Olympics – that was beset with unusual but considerable internet issues for a number of us, those issues continued into the ringing afterwards, where it only took a few rounds and a couple of changes of Norwich Surprise Minor to realise that we weren’t going to get any useful practice tonight. Therefore, Hilary impressively rustled up another quiz – won this time by Mike Cowling – and once we’d tried the Norwich again, only to find the same problems as earlier, we called it a night.
Still, hope of better days ahead was rekindled by the photos shared by Suffolk Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge on the SGR Facebook page of the new eight for Laxfield that is due to be delivered to the church tomorrow, with . All being well, there will be a piece on Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk show tomorrow afternoon between 2-6pm and via the project’s superb website there will presumably be the opportunity to watch proceedings on the webcam. It might be worth keeping an eye on their Twitter feed, Facebook page and Instagram account too. Additionally, he also mentions a permanent exhibition on the bells and ringing to be created in the Laxfield and District Museum as part of the project.
Something else to make us yearn for the starting up of proper real life.
Nice bit of ringing PR on the East Anglian Times website and 2hrs 23mins into Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk show this afternoon, with the ringing of the 15cwt six at St Clement’s church in Ipswich for the 250th anniversary of the death of Sir Thomas Slade, who designed Lord Nelson’s flagship at Trafalgar HMS Victory and is buried in the churchyard of this redundant church. They weren’t rung in the usual sense of course, but rather maritime tunes chimed remotely in an operation arranged by Katharine Salter and she is mentioned both in print and on the airwaves. And whilst not about change-ringing, it was an innovative way of keeping bells in the public eye whilst they can’t ring out from church towers in the way we would like them to.
That’s not to say that Ringing Room doesn’t offer opportunities of progress for the county’s ringers. Well done to Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart on ringing his first of Superlative Surprise Major in the 1280 rung with Past Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd and current SMLT band member David Sparling.
Meanwhile, CCCBR President Simon Linford’s blog was published today, with an ambition to put updated guidance on the Central Council’s website by Friday to reflect yesterday’s announcement by Boris Johnson. However the two main themes were young ringers – including mention of an as-yet unnamed organisation for ringers under the age of twenty-five – and QP ringing on RR.
After achieving a fair amount ourselves on the platform over the last couple of days, there was no ringing for us, but we were glad to hear of other ringing going on within our borders.
Never has 22nd February ever been so anticipated by so many at once, but of course today was the day that Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the hoped for 'roadmap' out of the dreadful purgatory of coronavirus restrictions. It was framed with lots of entirely necessary caveats and warnings that dates revealed for the various steps in lifting restrictions are only "at the earliest" dates, whilst - as I've mentioned before - the default position of myself and many others is "I'll believe it when I see it".
Personally we were delighted to hear that the boys will be back at school - where they really need to be - on 8th March, whilst handbell ringers are already arranging peal attempts for the 29th March when God willing six people or two households can meet. Many in the exercise will be keen to drink outside a pub from 12th April if all goes to plan. The first date that stands out for ringing towerbells though is 17th May, which is pencilled in for allowing mixing indoors and seems to be the point where circumstances will be most like when we had the restricted ringing we have had periodically since the pandemic struck. And then the date that will be the most eagerly awaited for many in parts of society, 21st June, when the dream is that we will be able to throw off all the shackles that we have been weighed down with for nearly a year now and fifteen months by that point. Might we be able to return to full-on ringing for Suffolk Day and beyond? Or will the soul-destroying social distancing rule still be hanging around once the review of that is made? And if it is, is there any way that ringing would be able to get going more fully?
The truth is of course that we can't say for sure, which is why everyone is being so cautious about this. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that I would be absolutely staggered if we actually see all restrictions lifted in June, but at least it gives us something tangible to aim for and I expect the Central Council will be able to give more information on how exactly ringing fits into this four month process in the coming days, once they have digested the information and discussed it with the Church of England Recovery Group. Keep an eye on their website!
For now though, Ringing Room remains mine and Ruthie’s only real means of getting our change-ringing fix with others and this evening we were on there again, this time for the weekly St Mary-le-Tower practice, which again proved fun but productive. Abby Antrobus couldn’t pull the second off, Nigel Newton attempted to contact us from beyond through the medium of bells when others thought he had gone, whilst there were plenty of the glitches we have become used to as we get to grips with online ringing, such as double-clappering, a single accidentally being thrown in by a slipped finger and confusion over who had been assigned which bell. Yet we still made progress, with some Plain Hunt on Eight for Abby that I called, touches of Grandsire Triples and Plain Bob Major and the first ringing on twelve most of us have done since ‘Dark Monday’ as we rang some rounds.
Meanwhile, it was very moving to see the commemorations in New Zealand to mark the tenth anniversary of the earthquake that hit Christchurch, destroying the Cathedral’s tower that housed its 24cwt twelve. A video on the BBC website shows the interior of the Cathedral and lays out plans to rebuild and reopen it by 2028, a plan that seems to include the return of the bells, with a mention made of them in a quote from Prince Charles on the homepage of the project’s website and a section in the FAQ section, complete with a couple of superb videos, one focusing on how the Cathedral’s ringers have been coping since the events of 22nd February 2011 and one covering the history of the bells before and after. All of which offers hope.
Let’s pray that today’s announcement comes good on the hope it offers.
Ringing Room is apparently a year old today, marked on this mild Sunday by a number of performances on the platform, including a 5760 of 147 Treble Dodging methods, whilst appropriately Past Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd – who must surely have rung more quarter-peals on RR then anyone else – rang a trio of QPs, including his 250th on there. Meanwhile, here in Suffolk, seven residents ringers helped Val Hewer of Canada ring her first quarter with a 1344 of St Martin’s Bob Triples that was also a first in the method for her sister Andrea Alderton, as well as for Lucy Dawson and Tony Mason. Congratulations Val and well done Andrea, Lucy and Tony!
We too were also succeeding on Ringing Room on its first anniversary, with a 1272 of Cambridge Surprise Minor with our fellow Pettistree ringers, a success all the more impressive for various interruptions from Alfie wondering when we’d be finished and what else he could eat! It was a well rung piece too, helping to make up for the disappointment of a fortnight ago.
I have to admit to being surprised to find out that this wonderful innovation has been around for twelve months already. Whilst coronavirus was in the news on 21st February 2020, I don’t recall even considering that ringing would be restricted at all, let alone stopped altogether as it was less than a month later. Plans were still being made, including for Ipswich’s first entry into the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest for thirteen years and indeed on this very Sunday a year ago we were in the northern West Midlands town of Walsall practicing for the competition on the bells of St Matthew where we were due to compete, a sign that actual contest was pretty imminent.
However, as we all know, all such plans were shortly to be completely decimated and meeting with our fellow SMLT ringers reduced to video chats like this morning’s nonetheless jolly get-together. Therefore, the fact that Leland Kusmer and Bryn Reinstadler had the foresight to develop Ringing Room is something that ringers need to be eternally grateful for. For all that there can’t be many – if any – ringers who would prefer ringing online to ringing on real handbells or towerbells and that it took Ruthie and I several months to give it a go, in the absence of being able to gather to ring together in person (almost certainly not fully in church towers until much later this year at the earliest, despite today’s stated aim to offer every adult the UK the vaccine by 31st July) it has – along with Ding and Handbell Stadium to a lesser degree – enabled change-ringing to continue when it just simply wouldn’t have for all bar a relatively small of households of handbell ringers for much of the last year. Happy Birthday Ringing Room!
I did my bit for getting society generally and full-on ringing in particular up and running this morning, as I took my mother Sally for her first vaccine dose. It was purely precautionary that I took her, just in case she had an immediate reaction (she had heard of someone fainting straight afterwards!), but as it turned out it was an incredibly routine and efficient procedure that should be reassuring to anyone wavering about having a vaccination that is going to be the only way we are going to get back to normal. And the trip out to Gainsborough Sports Centre was what equates to a day out these days!
That sensation was perhaps reiterated by the Ringing Room Handbell Extravaganza that saw an incredible fifty-nine quarter-peals rung today on the platform, but we didn’t participate in any of it. Instead, we enjoyed the more traditional aspect of the art as we read the latest issue of The Ringing World which arrived today, complete with a superb Mike Whitby photo of the little wobbly red-brick tower at Grundisburgh in the snow on the back cover.
After that though, our evening was back online and non-ringing related as we virtually met with our friends Kala & Nick and Toby & Amy for a quiz on world leaders, alcohol, films & TV, Disney and the questions that Bradley Walsh couldn't get through without laughing on The Chase. Great fun, but still not as much fun as if we could've met in person.
God willing Mum's vaccine this morning is one vaccine closer to us meeting together and also quarter-peal days on real bells.
I never envisaged I would write it on this blog, but today marks precisely a year since I last rang a peal. The 2hrs 3mins ringing together in a shed with seven other people from outside my household would currently be viewed with an amount of incredulity and disgust previously reserved for various heinous criminal acts, but of course back then it was entirely normal and innocent, just a bunch of keen bellringers doing what they enjoy and benefitting from each other’s company.
It is the longest period I have gone between ringing peals since the sixteen months between my first and second peals and my mind can’t help but wonder about the peal-ringing missed out on and the socialising and satisfaction that often surround them. Quite apart from the monthly attempts in Old Stoke followed by tea, biscuits and typically intriguing insight into East Anglian ringing’s past, the brace of attempts there on Good Friday are typically a highlight of my ringing calendar, as well as for Mason as he gets to spend the day with his contemporary Henry Salter whilst I play on bells. Birthdays of all three sons have gone unmarked with peals, something that I have been particularly gutted by as the plan had been to mark their birthdays throughout their childhoods with something that they can God willing look back on with gratitude that people have taken time out to celebrate their big day and as something last lasting to remember. Undoubtedly a peal for Dad’s seventy-fifth birthday in June would have been attempted, as would one for his death in September. I had already started arranging an attempt at The Norman Tower for my brother Chris’ fortieth birthday towards the end of 2020 which obviously had to be abandoned. There would’ve probably been others too, such as the usual December attempt at Pettistree to mark the anniversary of the bells’ rededication and the subsequent first peal on them and as with the week during which that 5056 of Elmore Surprise Major at The Wolery was rung, this week would’ve been Suffolk Guild Peal Week, Tom Scase’s final one as SGR Ringing Master.
That success 366 days ago was also the last one for our host Katharine Salter and George Thoday and having noted in the footnote of his first peal of 2018 that it was the sixty-first consecutive year that he had rung a peal, I expect he is keen to ring at least one before we get to 31st December so that he can say he’s been peal-ringing for sixty-four consecutive years!
I’m keen to ring a peal in 2021 too. Peals aren’t the be-all and end-all of an exercise that offers so much from practices to quarter-peals to outings and to holidays to open days to striking competitions and far more, but some of the best ringing I have done is in peals. I miss being able to have a concerted focus on a method and/or striking and rhythm and I think peal-ringing will – or at least should – have an important role to play in getting ringing up to speed to high standards once we’re allowed to on towerbells.
When I mentioned it on our weekly virtual pub with Simon Rudd it prompted discussion with those present about when they last rang a peal too, but it wasn’t all ringing-related chat. Books, vaccines and the number of bathrooms that David Stanford has taken apart were amongst the topics that kept us entertained, usually with much hilarity! These have really been something to look forward to at the end of weeks where often there hasn’t been much to look forward to. Especially peals.
On a quiet evening unusually without any video chats or ringing on Ringing Room, an article on the East Anglian Daily Times website caught my attention. The general gist was that many people have discovered throughout months of enforced winter lockdown that they aren’t quite as keen to retire as they were before. They have – so the theory outlined goes – realised that they quite like the structure and focus taken from those unable to work and without children to school, whilst not being able to indulge in as much outdoor activity with the weather at its most unappealing.
Even putting aside that God willing by future winters (hopefully from next winter!) there will be much more to do and places to go then in these times when all but that considered the most essential of services are closed, the notion that retirement means there is no longer anything to do grates me almost as much as the old whine that there’s nothing for children to do in communities surrounding a band of ringers crying out for new recruits to an inexpensive enthralling lifetime hobby.
In normal times there is loads to get into if you really want and ringing is one of those. As we know, it offers that structure and focus all year round and an opportunity to always have something new to learn. The mental exercise is accompanied by physical exercise and a potentially huge circle of new friends. Some may sniff at teaching more mature learners, citing that they will offer fewer years of service and are often harder to teach than younger learners. However, they will help us ring as many of our bells as we can and could still offer many years of help and progress, with the one example that springs readily to mind being that of the much-missed Susan Schurr who learnt to ring at Pettistree in her seventies and yet rang many quarter-peals and offered so much to ringing at the ground-floor six until her death a decade ago this year.
When ringing resumes, there will likely be gaps where ringers don't return, so all new recruits will help the exercise get back on its feet quicker, and I'm hoping we can make ourselves known to retirees who don't know about us.. Indeed, with Ringing Room there is the chance to attract learners now!
Meanwhile, on another local media medium, Claire Horne (Whiting) was on BBC Radio Suffolk talking about honey around 2hrss20mins into James Hazell's show. Whilst ringing wasn't mentioned, it was nice to hear another ringer on the airwaves!
Nice also to see a Suffolk band ringing a quarter-peal of Annable’s London Surprise Minor on Ringing Room, which was North-West District Ringing Master Maureen Gardiner’s first in the method – well done Maureen!
As mentioned though, it was a day without ringing for us as instead I pondered if there will be ringing on Mars one day as I watched news coverage of Nasa’s Perseverance rover landing on the red planet, with an enthralled Alfie. Exciting stuff and a lovely way to pass a quiet evening!
Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent and traditionally a time when some Christians will be embarking upon forty days of depriving themselves of something that they perceive that they perhaps overindulge in. This time round though, it may be that after a year when most have been deprived of much of what they once took for granted, I wouldn’t be surprised if fewer feel it necessary to go without something else!
Still, it remains an important part of the liturgical calendar, as well as an important part of the ringing calendar normally, especially in this county. Usually the period of Lent is completed with Holy Week when many church bells stay silent, but unless the pace of restrictions being lifted is carried out much faster than anyone currently anticipates then that won’t be an issue for the second year running. However, after being delayed to September in 2020, 2021’s Suffolk Guild AGM is planned to take place on the Saturday after Easter ass usual, which this time round is 10th April, albeit on Zoom of course. I expect more details will be released closer to the time, but keep the date free!
There may be online ringing for the occasion in the absence of real-life towerbell ringing, especially as increasing numbers of SGR members appear to be giving Ringing Room a go. The latest tower that we have heard of joining in is Hollesley, which Ringing Master of the 16cwt eight Peter Harper informed us of having won tonight’s pre-practice quiz (with an admirable 9/10!) set by Hilary Stearn for the Pettistree ringers. The session that followed was indicative of the progress that we have made in four months of ringing on RR, as amongst other things we rang some well rung Surprise Minor of the London and Norwich variety and a decent plain course of Grandsire Triples on a successful evening, especially as one of the participants was having considerable trouble with their broadband speed!
Present at the practice was Mike Cowling, who was fresh from a quarter-peal rung on handbells with his brother Geoff two hundred miles away in Herefordshire via video, whilst across the country and indeed Europe, it was another busy day of ringing online, whilst a comment on Facebook seemed to suggest 30,000 ringers are now registered on Ringing Room. That seems a lot, but if true is a good sign if we want as many ringers as possible to be change-ringing sharp when ringing resumes. And hopefully we should be able to ring on there during Holy Week too!
On the face of it, the postponement of this year’s Women’s Tour cycle race that was due to climax in Suffolk in June to October 9th is just another bit of bad news, another event that people can’t enjoy in yet another sparse-looking summer. However, the silver-lining is that it possibly offers an opportunity for ringing – maybe even our first for a long time – to do some ringing for a special occasion, whilst at the same time garnering some positive publicity. October might be a lot chillier than June, but can you imagine the carnival atmosphere of crowds lining the route, finally allowed to do such things, whilst bells ring out freely without restriction?
These days it goes without saying that massive caveats are attached to such hopes. Even if the race can go ahead – and in the context of the last year, that is far from certain – then there is no guarantee that ringing will be allowed in an unrestricted format in the autumn, with depressing worse-case (for now?) scenarios still persisting that social distancing may remain until 2022, but there is a far greater chance that we could be able to ring side-by-side in eight months time then there is in four months time. Therefore, hopefully the Guild’s ringers will mark the date in their diaries currently bulging with Ringing Room sessions and Zoom chats with a possible chance to ring actual towerbells properly, especially as it is a Saturday. At the moment, the route is understandably vague, but is due to run from Haverhill (home to a 12cwt six) to Felixstowe (where one can find a 7cwt eight) and on a radio interview the organiser mentioned that Sudbury (with its brace of octaves at All Saints and St Gregory and 20cwt ten at St Peter), Stowmarket (hopefully with its new 20cwt ten by then), Wickham Market (and its 12cwt six) and Woodbridge (where there is a 25cwt eight) would be along its way from near the Cambridgeshire border to the coast, so all being well there should be plenty of opportunity to ring as the peloton goes past.
I have to admit when we rang a quarter-peal at Grundisburgh as the men’s race sped past in 2017, we were disappointed that the only bit of the race through the village that was cut from the highlights show later was when the bells would’ve been heard, but with ambitions for this race to be shown live on TV, the hope will be that the bells stand a chance of being heard if rung.
Currently such adventures seem as distant and remote as it can possibly get, but it is good to see ringers making the most of what they can do at the moment, including within our borders where David Stanford rang a quarter-peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major with his friends Abel, Abel and Abel!
No ringing for us this evening though, although after enjoying Pancake Day with the boys and Ruthie, I joined the ASCY for a tradition that goes back years, but which I have never had the chance to join. When Society member Rev. F Llewellyn Edwards died in the 1950s, he bequeathed a fund so that at 8pm on Shrove Tuesday other College Youths present at that night’s practice could have a free pint from the fund. It is a tradition that has been maintained ever since, even if due to shrinking interest rates and rising beer costs the pint has gradually dwindled to a half-pint and then a jug between them, despite occasional top-ups!
Of course members couldn’t meet up to do that on this Shrove Tuesday, but as with the monthly meetings it was moved online, thus allowing me to join them too to raise a toast to Reverend Edwards and listen to Master Swaz Apter talk about him, whilst Chris Rogers reminisced about meeting him with his father the late Harold Rogers who learnt to ring at Chediston. And afterwards it turned into quite a social occasion where many of the more established members and Past officers chatted fondly about old currency in the week where the fiftieth anniversary of decimalisation was remembered. It was quite fun being able to mingle with ringing friends that I didn’t get to catch-up with often even pre-Covid. Norwich City sympathiser David House even got the opportunity to have a little friendly dig at Ipswich Town’s latest depressing evening!
Meanwhile, after my recent pontificating on how ringing and ringers can do more to be environmentally-friendly, it was interesting to catch a video that suggests some within the Church of England are thinking along similar lines and so it may be something that is asked of us when we return, especially if the relationship between the church and ringing comes out of the pandemic closer.
Hopefully that relationship and improved circumstances will allow for ringing as women’s finest cyclists cross the county on 9th October.
More fun and progress on Ringing Room, this time this evening with the second weekly St Mary-le-Tower RR practice. There was a little disappointment after last Monday’s maiden session that more weren’t present then, but after a little more convincing of the merits of the platform (and a reminder to one member who had forgotten about it seven days ago), a decent gathering of ten appeared onscreen for an hour of improving ringing that climaxed with a touch of Grandsire Triples and even some ringing on ten. Even with the additional online ringing experience of Nigel Newton, it was still impressive progress with two first-timers and one second-timer there. We might not reach the standards we were capable of on the 35cwt twelve a year ago, but perhaps in time (and all the indications suggest that it will be some time before full-on ringing resumes), we may get some invaluable practice on higher numbers during a period where otherwise there would’ve been nothing.
Meanwhile, a message on the project’s Facebook page today announced that work in the tower at Stowmarket in anticipation of the arrival and hanging of their newly augmented ten has had to be stopped due to an outbreak of Covid “at the works”. Normally this would be a massive setback to a job like this, but whilst we are all eagerly anticipating hopefully being able to ring on the returned bells as soon possible, even if it all ran to time we likely won’t be allowed to ring them (in all their glory at least) for a few months yet and so in the context of the backdrop to which this project has been running it is actually quite a minor interruption to proceedings!
Further afield, Gail & Matthew Lawrence – a lovely couple who I often rang with during my time living and ringing in the Midlands – were again busy adding to 2021’s sparse but increasing peal totals with an incredible 161 Treble Bob Minimus methods on handbells in Shropshire.
Progress for them and perhaps quite good fun too!
Love was in the air.
Being Valentine’s Day, couples were marking the day of romance, most of them probably in much the same way we did as we went out as far as any of us are currently allowed for a meal – to our dining room. A self-prepared three-course dinner and some fizzy once the boys had gone to bed is as much as one can hope for at the moment!
There was a lot of love for the announcement that fifteen million people in the UK have now been vaccinated, God willing bringing normality and full-on ringing even closer.
Judging by the number of likes for each performance (forty-five between them when the day ended), there was also much love for the 5040s of forty-one Surprise Minor methods spliced rung on Ringing Room and fourteen Surprise Royal methods spliced rung in Sydney, which combined saw the first time in 2021 that two peals have been rung in the same day.
Tenuously linked to this theme, there were a number of couples on the weekly Sunday morning video chat for our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers that we joined again today, where the main headline was Nigel Newton – after much nagging from Amanda Richmond - finally breaking into a box of chocolates he got at Christmas!
After weeks of homeschooling, Ruthie was loving having the chance to finally read John Loveless’ biography of George Pipe, Shake my hand and I’ll show you the ropes. A reminder that copies are still available from The Ringing World Shop, if you haven’t already got a copy.
Ringers also seemed to love suggesting what ringing events they’d go back to if they could turn back time. One suggestion from someone to return to Ipswich in 1500 to “to see what ringing on the 1st complete 5 was like & what they rang” is tempting, but I have to admit that I couldn’t pinpoint a particular moment in ringing history that I would return to. I did contemplate going back to various peals and quarters I’ve miscalled or caused to end prematurely, but as in life mistakes and misjudgments are inevitable and should lead to making one a better person, such occurrences in the art should make one a better ringer. If I could, I guess the easiest answer is to return to my ringing childhood and the sense of adventure that travelling Suffolk to various ringing events carried.
Travelling our beautiful county ringing in my carefree youth? What’s not to love?
Rambling Ringers represents the ultimate in ringing adventure in a typical year. The summer tour goes to places as far flung as Cornwall, Kent or Yorkshire and many areas in between, taking members down country lanes, over hills and along coastlines to around eighty towers in all sorts of places across a fortnight. Usually fifty-seventy come and go, from a few rings of bells to the entire two weeks, from across the country and indeed the world. We nearly always make new friends alongside renewing old friendships, discovering village pubs, going in and out of each other’s tents and caravans at the campsite and ringing a huge variety of methods. Even the Reunion Dinner held annually at this time of year – but which we haven’t been able to attend for a few years – can be a wonderful social weekend away of ringing, eating and drinking in another part of the country.
All in all, Ramblers is the exact opposite to what we have had to endure for much of the last year. Still, it was lovely to be able to meet with many fellow RRs this evening in place of the Dinner which like just about everything else over the last eleven months wasn’t able to go ahead, even if – again like just about everything else over the last eleven months – it was restricted to a screen on our dining room table. In keeping with the vast geographical spread of the Society, those present logged in from across the UK, as well Jersey, France, the Netherlands and the USA, where our convener Susan O’Neill lives and rings. Although with it being the middle of the night there, we were understandably not joined by one member currently based in Singapore!
There had been a Ringing Room set up in case people wanted to ring, but in the end everyone was enjoying just catching up with each other on an upbeat session, although St Mary-le-Tower ringer and Rambling Ringer President Chris Birkby imparted on a rare downbeat moment, the chances of the Tour going ahead this year are rapidly dwindling.
Closer to home (or rather further from home in these strange times), Neal Dodge shared photos from Neil Thomas and Matthew Higby of the 5cwt six of Troston being removed after nearly sixty years sat in the nave, ahead of their rehanging in a new frame by Matthew Higby & Company Ltd.
Meanwhile, our meeting with fellow Ramblers was part of a day that took in a walk around nearby Bromeswell – home to a 5cwt two - and a read of The Ringing World which arrived this morning and features a letter from Suffolk ringer Claire Whiting from Oakley, an article about a ‘tower grab’ inspired by Reydon and Southwold ringer Helen Price and a mention of the Bardwell band in ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’.
For the current circumstances, it was a pretty adventurous day.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m often wary to go overboard on achievements when the achievement is simply because it is a first for someone of their race or gender. I worry about sounding patronising, such as congratulating a band for the first peal of forty-one Surprise Minor methods rung by a band entirely made up of women when each of the band have rung several peals of forty-one Surprise Minor methods (most of them more than me) before. Many ringers of both genders have shown what all ringers – male or female – can achieve. However, the work done through the Women in Ringing project has shown many women still don’t get the same opportunities in the art and unbelievably in some cases still face some of the same perceptions and discomfort in ringing chambers that most female ringers of decades ago would recognise.
That said, today marked an anniversary that reminds us how far women in ringing have come as the exercise celebrated the first peal rung on towerbells by a woman, rung by fifteen-year-old Alice White at St Michael’s church in the Hampshire town of Basingstoke precisely one-hundred and twenty-five years ago when she trebled to a 5040 of Grandsire Triples. She was very much in the minority of that band as female ringers generally were at the end of the nineteenth century and yet today her performance was celebrated (entirely online in another aspect of ringing in 2021 that I expect that Alice would’ve struggled to envisage) by various female-only and female-predominant bands, including by Suffolk ringers, as Bardwell ringer Ruth Suggett rang 1-2 to a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor and Woolpit ringer Nigel Gale knocked behind to a touch of spliced Triples, both on Ringing Room.
Linda Garton didn’t do any ringing today to mark the event as she was otherwise unavoidably detained, but quite apart from being at the forefront of much of the progress of women in ringing, she has been writing some brilliant articles in The Ringing World on the subject of ladies’ peals in recent months and so it was nice to see her and husband John Loveless this evening at Simon Rudd’s weekly Friday virtual pub, where children’s jokes seemed to be the order of the night!
Linda also gave that talk to the St Martin’s Guild on Wednesday and that and the first peal on RR of a Magic Blocks composition rung yesterday are good reminders that the next talk to the SMG on Wednesday 24th February (then presumably available on their YouTube channel after that) is due to be by David Pipe – son of Rod Pipe who learnt to ring at Grundisburgh and therefore nephew of George & Diana - on the subject of Magic Blocks.
It is an example of achievements in the art to be celebrated, regardless of gender!
We don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future, but we are all hoping for a speedy and safe return to normal in our lives and in ringing. When and how are dependent on factors out of our control but return to ringing we will and we want to do it well.
The opening paragraph of Issue Three of the newssheet from the Survival and Recovery Team sums up perfectly ringing’s position at the moment. We can’t do anything about when we return to full-on ringing, but we can do something about how well prepared we are for it, whenever it comes. There will be the loss of ringers, bands and even churches themselves and so those ringers who want to return to the art and to see it thrive ought to be looking at ways they can keep themselves and other ringers they used to ring with connected. This issue features contributions from Suffolk ringer Claire Whiting and Past Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd extolling the virtues of online ringing and I would echo their sentiments. However, whilst Ding, Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room at least allow ringers to progress in their change-ringing (I for one have enjoyed getting more familiar with methods like Cornwall and Lessness Surprise Major on RR) - even if it is starting from a lower base to where you started - and therefore it is by far the best way available to us currently to keep our ringing brains sharp, those who prefer not to get involved with the online ringing platforms, can join in with video gatherings or simply phoning other members of their band or ringing friends, as many in Suffolk already are.
That said, as this issue highlights, there is considerable “pandemic fatigue.” The novelty of meeting others by Teams or Zoom wore off some time ago and it is difficult to find new ways of making staring at a computer different or interesting, so the Survival and Recovery Team are also looking for ideas to share.
One thing we have done lots of since were first confined to our homes nearly a year ago but which we haven’t got bored of yet are quizzes. The variety of topics and the effort that quizmasters have put in have helped keep these pretty fresh and entertaining and so it was tonight as we and a number of others joined our ringing friends in Bury St Edmunds for their inaugural quiz on what would’ve been the Norman Tower’s practice night, if ringing on church bells hadn’t been stopped just before they moved their weekly sessions from a Tuesday. Sadly computer problems prevented my mother Sally from joining us, but a goodly number did participate as rounds on Suffolk, breweries, bells and other subjects eventually led to the aforementioned Mr Rudd coming out victorious. Great fun and thank you to the Bury ringers for a great night.
Whilst one fellow quizzer then went off to join another quiz ‘in’ Portsmouth, Ruthie and I sat back and took in Linda Garton’s talk to the St Martin’s Guild from last night and which is now on YouTube. The subject (From Hats to Bikinis: the history of ladies' peals) – in keeping with her superb articles in The Ringing World in recent months – was the history of ladies’ (or should that be women’s?) peals that took in so many performances, familiar names and faces and many wonderful photos of bands taking us through from the small (and it has to be said in amongst much patronising!) beginnings of women ringing peals to the modern day where the very need for ladies peals is being questioned. Super stuff.
Meanwhile, the CCCBR announced today that National Lottery Grants for Heritage have re-opened and it may be worthwhile those within our borders fundraising or planning to fundraise for ringing projects to take the time to read in case it might be of use. It would be wonderful if such funding could help Suffolk’s bells to be ready for the future, even if we don’t have a crystal ball to predict what that might look like.
Simon Linford’s blog as President of the CCCBR continues to inform and entertain with entry twenty-seven appearing on the Council’s website today, but it’s perhaps reassuring to see that much of what he covers has already been mentioned on my blog in recent days! There is still additional content worth noting, such as his thoughts on making finding ringing information on the internet easier to find, marmalade, “Survival & Recovery Champions” and the Gloucester & Bristol Diocesan Association Winter School.
Meanwhile, the draft minutes from the latest Suffolk Guild Recruitment & Training Committee meeting a week-and-a-half ago highlight the work going on behind the scenes here even whilst the county’s church bells can’t be rung. Progress with the ‘Golden Bottle’ simulator project at Felixstowe and application from Troston is heartening and should benefit SGR members in the long term. And whilst it seems there is still a lot of work to be done to convince ringers in some areas to get involved with video calls and online ringing platforms like Ringing Room, Ding and Handbell Stadium in order to keep bands together and change-ringing ‘fit’, it is encouraging to see that many are and that the intention is to get Guild-level ringing sessions going online.
There was a handbell peal, albeit far from our shores in Australia, but a notable one that might prompt Suffolk’s ringers to remember that Friday will be the 125th anniversary of the first peal rung by a woman.
Whilst former St Mary-le-Tower ringer Gerry Bacon rang a quarter-peal on RR as he trebled to a 1296 of Beverley Surprise Minor, there was nothing on BellBoard indicating that ringers within our borders were ringing, but I’m sure many were.
Ruthie and I were doing our own bit of ringing on the platform for what is now the normal weekly online Pettistree practice, again following on from the entertaining appetiser of a Hilary Stearn quiz which this week was won by Chris & Mary Garner following a thrilling tie-break with Joanna Crowe! As Hilary later pointed out, we have come a long way with our virtual ringing, with the repertoire of Stedman Doubles, Cambridge Surprise Minor and Norwich Surprise Minor more in keeping with what we were ringing at the actual practice nights on the ground-floor six up until a year ago. Although we wouldn’t have managed Grandsire Triples on them as we did tonight!
None of which one would expect to feature in Simon Linford’s blog, but is definitely worthy of mention in mine!
It is tempting to look ahead to next year. Once it was apparent that the rest of last year was going to be null and void, much of 2020 was spent thinking about doing things in 2021. Into its second month, it seems increasingly likely that the rest of this year too will be a write-off and so thoughts are naturally turning to 2022. God willing we won’t be sitting here in twelve months writing 2022 off and looking ahead to 2023!
I noticed that the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final at Guildford – already moved to next year to a date TBC – will be held on Saturday 25th June 2022 (although no announcement yet on whether the towers that were due to hold the eliminators this year including the Norman Tower will be lined up to hold them in thirteen months) and I came across a website for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee due to be held a few weeks earlier and all being well will offer ringing opportunities aplenty. And I even put some tentative feelers out for the use of one of Suffolk’s peals of bells for a peal attempt or two for the Guild’s Centenary Year.
There is stuff going on at the moment too. As has become the norm for the second Tuesday, this evening was spent following an Ipswich Town defeat in an empty stadium and the monthly College Youths’ meeting online, where amongst a sadly lengthy obituaries section there were memories of Rothwell ringer David Kingman, someone who I remember from ringing when we visited our grandparents in Northamptonshire in my youth and who was an excellent ringer of tenors.
In the main the business was pretty rooted in the present, with a recent mysterious donation of £100 raising curiosity and progress on the consultation about online peals reported, but there were also instances of trying to plan ahead in what is another very uncertain year. Dickon Love said he has been approached by the City of London about the ringing of bells as part of the City’s reopening, whenever that may be, whilst Secretary Simon Meyer warned that they may have to postpone the Country Meeting in Worcester – currently planned for 12th June – until 18th September, the Saturday of the Society’s Peal Weekend, depending on how the rules and guidance evolve.
Making the most of what we have currently, many ringers were ringing online today (it was interesting to note that all yesterday’s performances on BellBoard were online), including Tim Hart, who was again achieving on Ringing Room, ringing his first blows of Lessness Surprise Major in the 1280 of it. Well done again Tim!
Hopefully by next year he will be achieving on actual bells though!
A couple of interesting news items of the CCCBR’s website.
One is about how the Dove Bell Register has now become the primary store for bell and bell frame data in an agreement reached by the Central Council and the Church Buildings Council of the Church of England. It may all sound a bit dry, but it is a further indication of the strengthening relationship that the Council has formed with the C of E from a point where ringing was apparently not even mentioned when the reopening of churches was first being considered last year. Particular credit on this occasion have to go to Mark Regan, but also Chris Pickford and Dickon Love.
Meanwhile, the CCCBR are encouraging as many ringers as possible to fill in a survey from the University of York on behalf of the Church of England, Historic England, the Association of English Cathedrals, the National Churches Trust and the Historic Religious Buildings Alliance to get the thoughts, needs and insights of those who use churches as they look to plan – as much as anyone can currently – for the future post-pandemic. In keeping with the work done to bring the exercise into the thoughts of those making decisions for the C of E, it would be great to get a big response from ringers to ensure that it is a part of any recovery and considered when action is being taken moving forward. I’ve done my bit, let’s make sure they know we’re here!
Putting that into practice is some way off and so tonight we continued our efforts to keep our change-ringing brains sharp with a once familiar practice in a very of-the-time guise. Yesterday morning at our weekly Sunday catch-up with fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers, a chance remark about Ringing Room prompted the suggestion that in the absence of being able to go to SMLT itself on a Monday evening for nearly a year and probably for the best part of a year to come at least, that we try an online session tonight. There was a slight disappointment at a low turnout, but in a sense that was understandable. There is wariness at starting out again in a new way in something that many of us have got pretty proficient with and for all that I have really got into RR after my own first reluctant forays into ringing on this platform, it isn’t anywhere near as good as the real thing.
However, we had lots of fun tonight. Unlike mine and Ruthie’s debut in the medium amongst almost an entire band of debutants that wasn’t particularly satisfying for any of us (although also fun!), there was plenty of experience to help first-timer Chris Birkby tonight. Apart from our own modest efforts, Nathan and Julian Colman joined us fresh from their quarter-peal yesterday, along with their mother Cathy who has also been a regular at the open practices on Ringing Room. Meanwhile, David Stanford and Stephen Cheek have also had experience of ringing on the platform, whilst Colin Salter has rung four QPs on RR, including one of Orion Surprise Maximus.
Therefore, for all the hilarity elicited from mishaps that can often occur through online ringing, this was a decent start to what I hope will be a regular fixture, albeit with more present. Once we ascertained that Mr Birkby was actually very capable in a medium he’d never tried before, we managed plenty of Plain Bob Major, including a very decent course on handbells that I hasten to add didn’t include me!
Whilst on the subject of Ringing Room, there is an opportunity for ringers of all ringing and technical abilities to give it a go or build on what they’ve already done, with a North-West District Practice planned for 10.30am on Saturday.
All being well, the aforementioned efforts to build a closer relationship with the Church of England will see us able to resume ringing sooner than if we were still off the radar. It would be fantastic if as many of us as possible were ready to dive back in with sharpened ringing brains!
This morning we were greeted by what has been dubbed the ‘Beast from the East 2’, a comparison with the ‘Beast from the East’ of three years ago. And it was very similar to the snowfall of 2018, laying deep, driving society indoors and children out as snowmen were built and snowballs thrown.
Of course, the Suffolk it fell upon today is very different to the world that it fell upon back then. Whereas the predecessor to today’s ‘Beast’ saw major disruption to the normal order of things, with events called off, schools closed, offices shut, the ninety-fifth anniversary Guild Dinner postponed and on one day no peals rung anywhere, which was as extraordinary at the time as it is the norm now.
Now the normal order of things is what we were reduced to then. There are no events to call off, the schools are closed anyway, most of us are working from home now and no one should be travelling out to ringing.
Indeed, although vaccinations were disrupted for others, today panned out probably i n much the same way as if the white stuff hadn’t fallen, only more fun with the boys enjoying getting out into the garden to play! Additionally, with all ringing online or in hand in households lucky enough to have the tools and ability under one roof, it was still a productive day of ringing. There was even a rare peal – only the sixth of 2021 and the first for almost a fortnight - as fourteen-year old Adam Turner rang his first peal in the 5040 on handbells in Cardiff.
Within our borders, well done to son and father Nathan & Julian Colman on ringing their first QP on Ringing Room and fellow Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart on his first in hand as conductor in the same 1260 of Plain Bob Minor.
Snow falling outside, we met with other St Mary-le-Tower ringers via video and Ruthie and I also managed some handbell ringing – although nothing worthy of mention on BellBoard – and we would probably have scored a RR quarter-peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor with our fellow Pettistree ringers this evening if it wasn’t for my finger slipping at a bob which caused irreparable confusion four courses from the end after some very good ringing. It was such a minor action and on actual church bells it would’ve been easily sorted out, but I still felt very annoyed with myself. Nonetheless, the rest of the band were very kind. I suppose at least none of them had to travel through the snow to get there and back.
Ringing and ringers are going to need to get onboard with online ringing. Even with vaccinations being given at a phenomenal rate and seemingly doing everything and more that was expected of them, the general vibes being given appear to indicate that the hugely damaging yet most effective social distancing will be with us until at least September, with some experts even warning of it being around until (and even well into!) 2022. Therefore, even if we can resume the restricted ringing that we made do with last summer before the autumn, most change-ringing will likely be on platforms like Ding, Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room for a minimum of six months. If we want to give the art a fighting chance after a gap of eighteen months or two years, we will need as many ringers regularly engaged in change-ringing as possible and bar handbells (whenever eventually households can meet again to partake in that), for most that will have to be online.
Admirably, many seem to be holding weekly practices on RR, such as the bands of Bardwell, Debenham, Great Barton, Pettistree and Rushmere St Andrew to name just those I have heard of. However, as with in normal times, those bands are restricted by whatever their number there can manage. Normally, District and Guild events can help those willing to expand their experience in this limitless hobby as can quarters and peals, but without these, Ringing Room (which seems to be the predominant online ringing platform) can offer a place to do this. Indeed, it offers even greater flexibility, without the need to arrange bells or travel there, although I – and I imagine many others – long for the days when we can go out into our beautiful countryside to ring and socialise.
The main problem is that it is unfamiliar. It isn’t the same as real ringing and it can feel very alien. Many newcomers – ourselves included just three or four months ago – relay the concentration needed to sit there and count painstakingly through the row. Ropesight in the same way as when ringing on church bells does improve with regular practice though, and as such I would encourage all members to do as much as they can on this flexible medium. If you are looking to get started on Ringing Room, see if your local band is willing and able to have a go. Failing that, ask around to find who you might be comfortable joining as a starter.
For those more familiar but perhaps currently just ringing with their local band and wanting to branch out, have a go on one of the open sessions advertised via the Ringing Room Take-Hold Lounge on Facebook. These are a friendly, accommodating bunch and generally large in number, which expands the boundaries of what you can try.
Then there is the Cast of 1000, the Central Council initiative to run sessions for those looking to progress in Treble Dodging Major, matching them up with a handful of more experienced ringers. This afternoon, I helped out with my second one of these, which was not only useful practice at the ‘Core Seven’ Surprise Major methods of Bristol, Cambridge, Cornwall, Lessness, London, Superlative and Yorkshire for a learner from Devon and another from the USA, but also a nice opportunity to catch-up with other ringing friends from beyond our borders, such as Sue Marsden and Philip and Liz Orme, the latter of whom ran proceedings excellently.
Pretty much straight afterwards, Ruthie and I joined another avenue of access to online ringing for Suffolk’s ringers, as we participated in this month’s South-East District meet-up that on this occasion saw the group split into two ‘towers’ – one for learners run by District Ringing Master Jenny Scase and one for those wanting to ring more ‘advanced’ stuff, run by District Chairman Mark Ogden. The former managed Plain Hunt on Six with Lesley Barrell ringing on RR for the first time, whilst in the latter we rang some Grandsire Triples, St Clement’s College Bob Minor and Norwich Surprise Minor, the last piece of which was one of the best bits of online ringing I’ve rung in.
Either side Jenny and Mark imparted hopes for the months ahead, including talks, quizzes that take one on a virtual tour of the county, walks in the summer (if allowed) and more ringing, online of course. They also shared their thoughts on possible practices for Guild members aimed at Surprise Minor and Surprise Major. It’ll be interesting if anything comes of it!
This afternoon’s online ringing showed what is possible even when we can’t ring church bells full-on. A variety of methods rung with a variety of people. It isn’t as good as the real thing and given the choice between ringing in an ancient church tower in a picturesque location shoulder-to-shoulder with other ringers and sat in front of a laptop pushing buttons, I’ll always choose the former without hesitation. We don’t have a choice though and we won’t for quite some time yet, so in the meantime I urge as many of you to use Ringing Room as possible.
These are tough times for all of us, including children, whose education is being compromised with every passing day that they have to necessarily stay at home and who are missing out on precious times with friends. Lovely therefore that a video chat between Alfie and his classmates was arranged for them by their teacher today. There was much excited anticipation and although at times it seemed to heighten his sadness at not being able to be with his friends in person, he seemed happy to see them.
I have to admit to similar emotions. Not actually being with ringing friends – and especially not being able to ring with them – is very sad, but the regular virtual meet-ups with them are nice occasions. As was this evening’s weekly Friday night drink with Simon Rudd and what has become a regular cohort of ringers from across the country. Great to hear an interesting insight about the impressive progress of Singapore’s ringers – who are apparently pretty self-sufficient despite the disruption of the last year – from John Loveless and Linda Garton who join them via Ringing Room every week and an update on the bells of Troston, but also people who had appeared on Google Street View!
Meanwhile, this week’s copy of The Ringing World arrived, jam-packed with content. That includes much mention of Suffolk, especially on the Keltek Trust’s report. The Keltek Trust is an organisation that essentially finds homes for unwanted or unneeded bells. Or as BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Lesley Dolphin once said, “a dating site for bells”! Amongst the good work they did in 2020, they make mention of the projects at Combs, Fornham St Martin, Hitcham and Laxfield, whilst St Margaret’s in Ipswich is given a shout out as the old treble went to Buckhorn Weston in Dorset to become the second of the 11cwt six and old third has gone to Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire. Additionally, our quarter-peal on Ringing Room a fortnight ago makes it into editor Will Bosworth’s ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’ section, so thank you for all the likes!
It is little things like that helping us through these tough times.
More interesting reading via the ‘What’s New’ section of the Suffolk Guild’s website with the Trustees’ Annual Report for 2020 added. It give an overview of how the SGR has coped with an extremely difficult year for the county’s ringers, as it has been for the vast majority of the UK’s population.
Additionally though, it points to the future, especially the projects to restore, rehang and augment rings of bells within our borders that will hopefully help recruit, train and progress members. Barham and Hitcham are completed, whilst Laxfield and Stowmarket are progressing and the report mentions Combs, Fornham St Martin, Hoxne, Troston, Framsden and Drinkstone are in the pipeline, which combined with the way technology like Ringing Room and Handbell Stadium could support teaching, ART and hopefully a pent-up demand to get back into our ringing chambers, will God willing offer exciting times ahead for ringing here.
For now though, although the report actually paints a surprisingly upbeat picture on the finances, funding for such projects, PR and training will be needed against potentially diminishing income. Many understandably have more pressing issues then paying a subscription to the Guild, whilst there haven’t been any peal fees since March and there are unlikely to be any for at least a few months more. Therefore, if you are in a position where the £20 (less if you are in full-time education and in your seventies) sub won’t cause you any hardship, then please do support the organisation and ideally as soon as you get the opportunity.
Some involved in the aforementioned projects may be interested in watching Buckinghamshire ringer Gordon Breeze’s talk from last night to the St Martin’s Guild on his research into bell tower dynamic motion at his local tower Wingrave, which I watched this evening on YouTube. Much like last week’s presentation on mathematics in change-ringing some of it was a bit over my head, but as with Mark Davies then, Gordon’s clear enthusiasm and expertise on this subject got me hooked and I found it an interesting hour and twenty minutes to wile the time away whilst Ruthie sang online with her choral colleagues elsewhere in the house.
I followed this up by joining tonight’s open session on Ringing Room, which featured much from Grandsire Triples to Yorkshire Surprise Royal and then a touch of the ‘standard’ eight Surprise Major methods at 11.30pm, almost certainly the latest I have rung in some eight-spliced! I called it a night at that point, but many of those present from across the world – including Norman Tower ringer Nathan Colman – looked set to be ringing on, having already been going since 7.45pm. However, the beauty of these practices are that you can come and go as you wish and they are a friendly bunch who are willing – as they showed on this occasion with a newcomer – to ring whatever those present are comfortable with and give everyone a fair go. Additionally there are practices for those just starting out on the platform, so if you are looking to get used to RR or want to expand what you are doing currently on Ringing Room then look out for practices being advertised on the Ringing Room Take-Hold Lounge on Facebook or – if you aren’t on FB – contact me and I’ll be more than happy to impart details of forthcoming practices.
Some within our borders are taking advantage of RR, especially today, with Trevor Smith ringing his first touch of Plain Bob Triples, whilst in the 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor by a Suffolk band saw SGR Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge ring his first online quarter-peal. Well done Trevor and Neal!
Hopefully more and more Suffolk ringers will use platforms like Ringing Room, Ding and Handbell Stadium to keep their change-ringing skills sharp or even to improve them and next year’s Trustees’ Annual Report will be reporting on how well the Guild’s members have taken to returning to full-on ringing!
Ringing Room today showed how it could still play an important part in the exercise even once we are allowed to resume full-on ringing on church bells, with a performance of 40 changes of Plain Bob Doubles rung on the platform from Singapore and Malaysia. The new twelve at the Cathedral in the former and the band being taught there were among the most notable projects in the art before coronavirus stopped change-ringing, but thanks to technology, teaching has clearly been possible even over the last few months of restricted travel, with Linda Garton and her husband John Loveless – who learnt to ring on the anti-clockwise Suffolk eight at Bures and is of course author of George Pipe’s biography Shake my hand and I’ll show you the ropes – overseeing today’s achievements in the Far East from the comfort of their home in Bedfordshire!
As showcased by Marion Knight-Dixon and Trevor Smith with their participation in Erin Triples at the Bardwell practice (well done Marion and Trevor!), RR has already shown its worth in teaching learners and even completely new ringers to change-ringing since its introduction last year and whilst we’re yet to see how easily those skills can be transferred to actual church bells, I see no reason why it can’t be used to help with recruitment and training in the future, alongside efforts on simulators and on bells themselves.
Hopefully our limitless return to ringing chambers, the pub afterwards and all the other freedoms we once had will be all the sooner for the news of how well the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine seems to stop the transmission of the virus and that over ten million people in the UK have received their first jab, but for now life remains predominantly online.
This evening was the weekly video gathering with our fellow Pettistree ringers. Among our number are some who prefer not to do Ringing Room and so on a monthly basis we have a social, which tonight sort of substituted for our annual ringers dinner. Typically this would take place beneath the wonderful low ancient beams of The Greyhound, but as with every other pub in the country they are closed and of course we can’t gather anyway. However, there was much hilarious playing around with backgrounds and Mary Garner imparted a few words, telling us that the louvres on the south side of the tower had been fixed. A staple of the event is the presenting of Mary’s ‘Monthly’ Plate to a member of our group who has stood out for their efforts and/or contributions towards the band. Although it couldn’t be physically passed from the current holder Mark Ogden, the deserving winner this year is Hilary Stearn. Her quizzes have kept us entertained for months and helped encourage us to keep coming back each Wednesday, including this week’s which Alfie, Ruthie and myself won!
It has been a tough year since last year’s dinner and I imagine there will be a few further difficult months before God willing we can meet for next year’s, but hopefully Hilary’s quizzes and Ringing Room can keep us going!
We aren’t going anywhere ringing at the moment and probably won’t be for a period likely measured in months rather than weeks, but when we do start – God willing this year – returning to travelling our beautiful county to ring at the many rings of bells of ancient buildings in picturesque locations we were once blessed to participate in the art at regularly, it would be nice to work towards doing it in a way better for the environment than just jumping in one’s petrol or diesel car, especially as the art itself is pretty environmentally friendly.
Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson and Past Ringing Master of the SGR Jed Flatters have led by example in the past, often attending District events on the other side of Suffolk from their Bury St Edmunds base via train and bike and if you are a cyclist then that would be the most obvious way of getting to ringing without leaving a carbon footprint. However, whilst I quite like the idea of maybe one day cycling or walking to local ringing at places like Pettistree, Ufford, Woodbridge or even Hollesley, I can’t envisage it being entirely practical with Ruthie and me trying to drag often reluctant children out with us! And I don’t expect I am alone in not being overly keen to travel out on the cold, dark nights of this time of year on a bike!
Therefore, perhaps an electric car might be the way forward for the likes of us and others, a thought prompted (as was this entire theme) by a debate on BBC Radio Suffolk about the subject of electric cars, on in the background as I worked alone in my ‘office’ at home. That same debate highlighted the numbers of hurdles to making that practical, primarily the prohibitive costs for most people (ourselves included), range, time to charge and availability of charge points. Later I searched out a website mentioned on air that has a map of charge points and currently it shows how impractical it would be for ringers within our borders to jump into their electric cars and traverse Suffolk to ring. For us, it appears there are a handful of charging points in Melton, but then absolutely nothing east of us and a huge black hole of charging points to the north-west incorporating places like Ashbocking, Cretingham, Helmingham and Monewden where we might ring quarters, peals and for District events in normal times and indeed across this vast rural county it seems it is only the towns that mainly have charging points.
That said, most distances within our county would – I imagine – be within range of a charge-up and with the policy nationwide being that from 2030 only electric cars can be sold new, one assumes that range should become greater, the time to charge shorter and the number of charging points more in the coming years.
I’m not sure what tangible steps the Guild can take towards helping making travelling to ringing more environmentally friendly and so therefore it is going to need to be us as members to do what we can without taking out the travel that is not only a pleasure in its own right a lot of the time but is also vital in supporting bands who need physical numbers to help.
In the here and now the main news headline was the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore, who was remembered in a number of performances, whilst the main ringing headline was an impressive 1298 of Avon Delight Maximus in hand on Ringing Room, rung first thing today. Well done also to Norman Tower ringer Joan Garrett on ringing her first quarter-peal on Ringing Room with the 1280 of Cornwall Surprise Major. For us though, it was another day of home-schooling for Ruthie and the boys downstairs and John Catt Educational business for me upstairs.
Meanwhile, the agenda for the GMC meeting planned for Sunday gives an insight into how the SGR’s business still continues, even in the absence of ringing on the county’s church bells. Applications for grants, the St Edmund’s Clapper Challenge, subs, the history of the Guild by the Salters, planning for ringing’s return and a Service of Celebration for members who have died and not had a proper farewell due to restrictions are all amongst the items to be discussed. Also on there is confirmation that the plan is that the AGM will be held via video again, but on its traditional date on the Saturday after Easter, which this year is 10th April. There is much to consider, including a new Ringing Master, with Tom Scase’s five year term ending. I have heard of one candidate, whose election would make a bit of history, but there may be others, which would be welcome I’m sure. Please do tune in – at least you won’t be damaging the environment as much by going!
As mentioned in CCCBR President Simon Linford’s most recent blog, there is a noble scheme to help fund eBells for young ringers under the age of twenty-five, started by The Whiting Society whose sponsorship has already funded twenty-six pairs. However, their funds are understandably limited and so the Central Council and ART are now asking for donations to help purchase more. Apparently the subsidy for one pair is around £75, but any donations would be welcome and if you feel you can give to this worthy cause then please email firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll point you in the right direction!
With the main focus of our evening being a somewhat farcical attempt to get our TV working which took nearly two hours, it is perhaps telling of current expectations that there was a spike of excitement to receive an email with links to another virtual event, which on this occasion was for our intention to join the Rambling Ringers on what would’ve been their annual dinner. It is actually part of a busy couple of Saturdays more akin to what they used to be like up until just under a year ago, albeit all in front of a computer screen of course, with a ‘Cast of 1000’ session booked in for me this Saturday immediately before we plan to join the South-East District Practice.
Whilst today was most exciting for us for what God willing lies ahead, for other ringers it was a day of ringing, even if pretty much all of it was online. Probably with eBells in many cases. If you can, please donate to help young ringers to do the same.
One month into 2021, God willing one month closer to freedom. Although reports saying that the necessary but soul-destroying policy of social distancing will have to remain for the rest of this year suggest that full-on ringing may not be on the cards until 2022, I pray that this is a worse-case scenario.
Still, we know that we will probably be living a predominantly virtual life for a few months yet and so Sundays like today are likely to be the norm, at least in the mornings where meeting with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers via video offers us a gratefully received social outlet. Attendance continues to be in the twenties and largely upbeat, with things getting better at Alex Tatlow’s hospital, word of university students going back and more reports of vaccinations amongst the assembled and other ringers, albeit all framed in a weary but understandably cautious mindset.
We did briefly manage some wholesome outdoor activity this afternoon, with a walk alongside the River Deben nearby (we are blessed to have this in our locality, especially in these times when we are largely restricted to our local areas), but come this evening we were back in front of a screen with those who in normal times we ring with at Pettistree. Having broken our duck last Sunday by scoring a 1440 of Kent Treble Bob Minor, we returned to Ringing Room to attempt a quarter-peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite go, but it did allow us a chance to practice some more afterwards and for Mike Cowling to do a bit of conducting, once he’d worked out which buttons to press! Very enjoyable and all the more so as we head into another month of restrictions.
It was interesting to hear from Annual Report Editor Mark Ogden about this year’s difficult edition. This will probably be thinner this year, with much less ringing since the last one. Next year’s Report might not be much thicker. Whilst still impressive in the circumstances, worldwide there were just 400 quarters rung this month, most of them online, whereas last January 1387 quarters were rung across the globe, 35 of them in Suffolk. Eight have been rung from within our borders this year, some partially. One of those was rung today, on RR of Doubles, which was Alex Brett-Holt’s most methods to a QP. Well done Alex!
Meanwhile, peal-ringing has been particularly hard hit. Although between them a decent haul of 222 methods have been rung, just five performances of 5000 or more changes have been scored in the last thirty-one days, compared to the 354 successes across the corresponding period twelve months ago. And of course, whilst there were already nine in the medium on the Guild board by this point in 2020, there are none on it in 2021 thus far.
With the news today I wonder if there will be any at all this year.
Nice to have a video chat with my bother Chris and our mother Sally, an opportunity to sit and chat in a manner as close to naturally as is possible currently.
Likewise, precisely a week later at 4pm next Saturday, there will be a chance to meet other ringers and even ring in a way as close to normal as we can get at the moment, with the South-East District holding a monthly practice that will allow for socialising and ringing on Ringing Room. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider having a go at RR. It isn’t as good as the real thing, but we have found it great at keeping our change-ringing brains sharp and has satisfied our need to ring with others. More broadly too, it will hopefully help the art when full-on ringing does resume as the more ringers who have been actively ringing methods over what is likely to have been a near-eighteen month period without doing it on towerbells for most, the quicker the exercise will recover. There will be two ‘towers’ open, one for those experienced and one for those less so. This is open to Guild members of all Districts and if you didn’t receive an email from SE District Secretary Abby Antrobus on Wednesday, then do contact her to find more details, including links.
Also trying to keep ringers connected in these times of necessary isolation is The Ringing World and we again received our weekly copy on behalf of the Pettistree band on a Saturday morning, giving us further interesting reading material for the start of a weekend. There isn’t much Suffolk-related this week, with our only representation being an entry from Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge in the letters section, but I was again impressed at how much content appeared in the main journal of the art during a time when – other than during the Second World War – there can never have been less actual ringing going on!
And it gave me more stuff to talk to Chris and Mum about!
According to a study, there is less exercise being taken and more TV being watched in this lockdown compared to the first lockdown. Hardly surprising of course. It is colder, the weather is nowhere near as pleasant (albeit today was actually quite bright at first) and although there is hope on the horizon due to vaccines (another one was announced this morning) and the strict and debilitating restrictions are in place for all the right reasons, there is an understandable weariness of our lack of freedom, better as that is to the alternative currently.
We are blessed at the moment in our circumstances to both have jobs, the family’s health, space (even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it when the youngest boys are at their most boisterous!), handbells and a vast ringing family to meet up with via video and Ringing Room. Even in our household though, exercise is not as abundant as last spring and screen time is definitely up.
As such our day was once again dominated by activity looking at screens. Work sees me sat for hours on end looking at a computer. On iPlayer we’ve been watching The Night Manager this week (there’s lots of stuff we’ve seen in recent months, years after they were big!) and in the process discovered that Tom Hiddleston – now a huge Hollywood actor and who plays the role of the protagonist in the series – is from the Vestey family, who are big supporters of the Guild, funding our mobile mini-ring and as Patron of the SGR George has wonderfully been very visible, coming along to the last two Guild striking competitions to speak.
Meanwhile, The Dig – a film about the famous archaeological dig at Sutton Hoo just a few minutes walk from our home – was released on Netflix today, prompting much publicity. Sadly it couldn’t be accompanied by any of the fanfare and local buzz that might have seen the stars of the film Ralph ‘Voldemort’ Fiennes (I imagine massive Harry Potter fan Alfie would’ve been delighted to come across him on one of the bike rides and pub crawls he is purported to have taken locally as part of his preparation for the role) and Carey Mulligan across the River Deben from us, but the various news about its launch on BBC Radio Suffolk was a nice backdrop to my day’s work. Nice as well to hear of the part that Charlie Haylock – who spoke at the Guild’s 85th Anniversary Dinner in 2008 – played in ensuring the Suffolk accent was spot on, especially for Mr Fiennes, who was also interviewed by one-time ringer Lesley Dolphin.
Later, we took advantage of the network of friends ringing and non-ringing we have as we joined with Simon Rudd & friends for conversation on bikes, cravats and news of more ringers having the vaccination and then my uni chums where the topics were more headphone hoarding, children and pets.
There was also the joy of Mason arriving for the first weekend since he turned fourteen, thus meaning much opening of presents and cards, including a TV to play his computer games on. More screen time coming up...
I won’t lie. It was a little over my head in a lot of places, but Tuesday night’s talk by Mark B Davies (the man behind Methodoku which was another superb Christmas present) to the St Martin’s Guild which I watched on YouTube this evening was still an interesting insight into a key aspect of change-ringing – mathematics. Mark is an enthusiastic speaker who drew me into an area where I lack expertise to the extent that he offers and I was amused by the notion that the likes of Fabian Stedman (unwittingly) discovered Group Theory a century before mathematicians, to the extent that early change-ringing is apparently of much interest to modern day studiers of maths! There was also a fascinating explanation of the maths Andrew Johnson used to work out the first ever bobs only peal of Stedman Triples and in his attempts to find a bobs only 5040 of Erin Triples, even if I didn’t understand a lot of it! Many will though and whatever your level of maths, this is worth watching and like so many of the marvellous online talks that have kept ringers occupied and absorbed whilst we can’t go into church towers to ring, it helps to show the many different aspects of the exercise that make it accessible to all sorts of people. As if to further highlight this, next Wednesday’s presentation will be by Gordon Breeze on ‘Bell Tower Dynamic Motion’, whilst the following week’s will be by Linda Garton on the story of ladies’ peals.
It was part of an evening that was quite busy in a 2020/21 kind of way, with my mother Sally calling me back after I’d initially interrupted her as she chatted via video with other ringers who would in normal times be at Grundisburgh on a Thursday evening, whilst in the next room Ruthie was singing online with her Illuminati choral colleagues, all done without leaving the house.
As was the case for ringers across the UK today, with numerous performances rung on Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room, including Suffolk ringer Tim Hart who rang his first of Cambridge Surprise Major in the 1280 on the latter platform. Well done Tim on an achievement in something that I suspect Mark Davies in particular would have found mathematically interesting!
Happy Birthday Mason. At fourteen, he continues through his teenage years with no signs yet of the stereotypical grumpy, disrespectful behaviour that teenage boys are perceived to display. Although he has revelled in not having to go out during the various lockdowns that have been the dominant feature since the last anniversary of his birth and thus he has spent much more time in his room playing computer games than we would wish, he has remained courteous and well-mannered and generally a very likeable young chap.
Of course, like Alfie and Joshua’s most recent birthdays, I have sadly been unable to add to the collection of peals that I have built up for years for every single one of their birthdays until restrictions prevented me doing that (seeing as my skills on handbells simply aren’t up to peal-ringing), but at least we were able to dedicate our quarter-peal on Sunday to my eldest’s big day (keep ‘liking’ it!) and although I couldn’t see him today due to current restrictions, I did have a good chat with him and imparted felicitations as he chomped down on his birthday pizza!
Meanwhile, CCCBR President Simon Linford’s latest blog was released on the Central Council’s website and makes brief mention of our Cast of 1000 session on Saturday afternoon, celebrates Past Ringing Master of St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd’s extraordinary contribution to QP ringing on Ringing Room, encourages us to use online ringing platforms like RR and Ding to entice lapsed ringers back and talks about blind ringers and efforts to create a group for them and those who have taught them. He also importantly highlights The Whiting Society’s sponsorship for ART to provide eBells (which Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart is involved in making) to ringers under twenty-five years old. If you know any young ringers in Suffolk that would benefit from this then please email email@example.com.
Buoyed by our own aforementioned contribution to RR’s catalogue of achievements, we rejoined our fellow participants from our 1440 on the platform for the weekly Pettistree practice. Following on from another quiz hosted by Hilary Stearn, it was a useful hour or so too, with Minor of the Cambridge & Norwich Surprise and Kent & Oxford Treble Bob variety and (much to Ruthie’s disapproval!) Stedman Doubles.
As part of the wider online ringing community, all of this reflects the tremendous resourcefulness of ringers worldwide as we try to keep the art going during these times, but obviously we would prefer to be back ringing church bells, even though we can’t for very good reasons. Therefore the news that the target is to start getting children returning to school on 8th March “at the earliest” not only offers a light at the end of the tunnel for millions of struggling parents like Ruthie but also gives a hoped-for timeline for everything returning gradually after that, including ringing. If experience from the last ten or eleven months of unpredictable twists and turns has taught us anything (the latest being that the Chelsea Flower Show that I reported was planning to go ahead in May was today postponed until September), then it is that we should take such ambitions with massive pinches of salt (and to be fair this announcement was framed with numerous caveats) and I shall be staggered if the 8th March does see pupils back where they desperately need to be in their seats of education, but so far it still fits in with my (almost certainly wildly optimistic!) guestimate that we will be back ringing in July! Again, keep an eye on ringing announcements from the CCCBR and Suffolk Guild (through Facebook, Twitter and this blog) and make sure Chris Garner has your up-to-date details for emailing important announcements and guidance to you.
Who knows where we might be by the fifteenth anniversary of his birth, but for today, Happy Fourteenth Birthday Mason!
A tough day, with the boys unreceptive to homeschooling on a grey chilly day when the UK passed 100,000 Covid-related deaths since the start of the pandemic and there was yet another home defeat for Ipswich Town on a wet night.
Still, we cheered ourselves up by watching the amusing bellringing episode of Midsomer Murders - Ring Out Your Dead - and on further positive notes Suffolk ringers past and present were taking advantage of Ringing Room as Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart rang his first quarter-peal of Lincolnshire Surprise Major ‘in hand’, with Past Ringing Master at St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd (one of three rung by him on a typically busy day in the art for him), whilst Anne Brechin – who learnt to ring at Burgh, the ground-floor six rung from the porch -conducted a 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor from her current country of residence, Scotland. Meanwhile, it was pleasing to hear of the first peal in 2021 on church bells and a very impressive one at that, as a 5040 of fourteen Surprise Royal methods spliced was rung on the back ten of the 34cwt twelve of St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney for Australia Day, with an admirably conciliatory footnote for an occasion that is apparently quite divisive. An incredible performance (although it pushes our efforts on Sunday down the leaderboard on BellBoard just as we were approaching the top five!) that I expect George Pipe would’ve found staggering in his early days ringing in the country!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom today!
Burns Night isn’t an occasion that is particularly marked by ringing and ringers, although it was marked by three quarter-peals and a peal a year ago. Apart from a 120 of the appropriately-rung Caithness Place Minor rung on Ringing Room, there wasn’t much to celebrate it this year either.
However, it offered forth a good excuse for some ringers to virtually meet with a Scottish theme, as we again joined former Halesworth ringer Maggie Ross and her other half and former fellow Birmingham ringer Tim Palmer, Norfolk ringers Neil & Nikki Thomas and one of my favourite ringing characters Graham Wright from Bishopstoke in Hampshire for a convivial and highly enjoyable evening. Whilst the rest of the assembled tucked into their vast whiskey collections, we – not really being whiskey drinkers – had a sip or two of Edinburgh gin as we exchanged various tales of lockdown, ringing trips to Scotland and Lundy Island and football without fans, amongst much else.
Meanwhile, our QP from yesterday is motoring up the leaderboard on BellBoard, so please feel free to ‘like’ it and make this a memorable Burns Night!
Hurrah! Never has a quarter-peal of Kent Treble Bob Minor been so celebrated in this household, but the 1440 we rang on Ringing Room with our fellow Pettistree ringers this evening felt a real achievement. And indeed it is, strange as it may seem to say about a band proficient in a multitude of Surprise Minor and Major methods. We have only been doing online ringing for three months, it still isn’t as instinctive as ringing on towerbells and we have been building up to this for pretty much the entirety of that time, so the atmosphere afterwards was quite rightly euphoric!
It was a strangely slow attempt, with the first extent taking 39mins (4hrs33mins peal speed!) and the overall time was just 17mins shorter than my quickest peal (a 5040 of Doubles at the Wolery twelve years ago), nearly half-an-hour longer than the fastest ever peal (a handbell peal of Minimus from 2003, albeit non-compliant of the CCCBR rules of the time) and less than an hour quicker than the only peal of today! However, whilst that made it tougher on the concentration and fingers, it didn’t really matter, as it was well-struck throughout and it did speed up as we got more confident. Lovely as well to be able to dedicate it to the fourteenth anniversary of Mason’s birth on Wednesday, especially as I’m unable to ring a peal for the occasion as I would usually attempt, so my gratitude to the band for that. Congratulations also to Rushmere St Andrew ringers John & Linda Sager on the birth of their granddaughter, another happy event we noted in the footnote. And well done to all the band on their focused performance in a first for all of us, especially Mark Ogden on conducting it.
Our success topped off a productive, but busy (for us at least) weekend of RR, so I passed on the late night open practice on the platform and instead we watched St Mary-le-Tower ringer, South-East District Secretary and Guild Librarian Abby Antrobus’ talk from yesterday about Bury St Edmunds and its Abbey (having missed it live as I was ringing), which is now available on YouTube and is a fascinating hour or so. I love history (especially local history) and it was great to hear an interesting subject being discussed by someone we know.
Earlier, Dr Antrobus was among a large crowd that joined us on the SMLT ringers’ weekly Sunday morning video chat where we were also joined by Norman Tower ringer Julian Colman and – for the first time for a while – Diana Pipe on an upbeat chat helped by the increasing list of people known to the assembled gathering who have had their first vaccination, including a number of ringers.
God willing, it is another reason to celebrate!
Having received the 15th January issue last week without any sign of the previous week’s, I emailed the RW about the missing edition on Tuesday and just four days later the replacement copy dropped into our letterbox along with this week’s!
It meant that there was plenty of reading material in our household, with more Suffolk-related content across both editions. Haverhill and Withersfield’s ringing Priest-in-Charge Reverend Maximilian Drinkwater wrote the Thought for the week in the 8th January issue, whilst in the latest one Clopton Ringing Master David Stanford magnificently fills two pages amusingly recounting his life as a JOAT (Jack Of All Trades), Woodbridge ringer Bruce Wakefield gets a mention in What’s Hot on BellBoard, a ladies’ peal on the 9cwt six at Higham in the South-West District featuring Sylvia Bowyer (later to become Sylvia Pipe) appears in Linda Garton’s latest excellent article on the subject and her husband John Loveless gave an update on sales of his biography of George Pipe, Shake my hand and I’ll show you the ropes, expressing his gratitude to Guild officers Neal Dodge and Christine Knight, as well as very kindly myself. Those thanks for yours truly were for my plugging of the book through this blog and I’m more than happy to do so again. I loved reading it and whilst it might seem like everyone in the world of ringing has a copy, with 500+ sold worldwide (although of course one copy can serve more than one person, such as in our house), there must be many who haven’t got a copy, a good number of whom would really enjoy it. Anyone who has met GWP and/or lives within our borders will find this fascinating on so many levels. And if you’re looking for a present for someone’s birthday, Burns Night or Valentine’s Day (I know, what a romantic I am!), then look no further!
Also interesting to see the review by Michael Uphill of a book on another ringing superstar who learnt the art in our county, Harold Rogers. I didn’t know Harold anywhere near as well as I did George, but I always felt speaking with him was a privilege which I enjoyed and was – and remain – in awe of his ringing exploits generally and particularly in his later years, especially in peal-ringing, with his eighty-five peals rung in his nineties a record. Three of those stood out, two of which were rung in his native Suffolk – the peal at Huntingfield in 2008 which he rang precisely seventy years on from his first peal (rung on the same bell!), the 5040 in 2009 which was the first on the restored and rehung ground-floor six of Chediston where he learnt to ring and the 5021 of Grandsire Caters at Isleworth – where he became synonymous with – where the age difference of eight-one years and fifty days between him and treble ringer Thomas Keech is very probably the biggest between two participants in a peal. I imagine the book is a fascinating read.
After a morning of reading and considering the printed word, the afternoon and evening were a return to the technological world we have become accustomed to.
First up was my most intensive ringing since ringing on church bells stopped ten, long months ago, as I made my debut in the Central Council’s superb initiative Cast of 1000. These are sessions set up to enable those keen to progress their ringing in the ‘Red Zone’ with more experienced ringers so that they can get concerted practice in ringing that they wouldn’t necessarily get in the normal course of things. Ultimately the plan is that there will be at least a thousand experienced ringers willing to help at such a practice once or twice a month in local towers with local ringers, but for now of course it is all being done on Ringing Room, which allows for ringers from across the country and indeed the world to ring together, as was the case on this occasion.
I was there primarily as a more experienced ringer, but having done only relatively limited ringing since March and still not being as comfortable on this otherwise wonderful medium as I am (or at least was!) on real towerbells, for me it was also an extremely useful hour-and-a-half of Surprise Major that included spliced taking in Cornwall and Lessness, all in the company of Simon Linford. Without wanting to start rumours, it is the first time a CCCBR President has been in my bedroom!
With the aforementioned circumstances, I don’t mind admitting that I was slightly anxious that I didn’t let anyone down, not least Nikki Thomas the Manager of the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre in Norwich who was slightly nervous at running one of these for the first time, but who did absolutely brilliantly. However, I also didn’t want to want to let down those who had taken the time to attend, which numbered ten and included Ruth Suggett of Bardwell who did really well in a touch of spliced that included London.
This is something that I would encourage – indeed urge – as many Guild members as possible to get involved with. For all that it is a wonderful development that has helped keep ringing going in even the strictest of lockdowns, I am the first to admit that Ringing Room is nowhere near as good as the real thing, but in the absence of full-on ringing still likely several months off, this is as good a substitute as it is possible to get currently, for those of us not proficient in handbell ringing anyway. It is helping maintain change-ringing brain cells and this afternoon allowed those same brain cells to learn more at a time when otherwise there would be absolutely no method-ringing occurring at all, bar those lucky enough to have more than one handbell ringer in their household. More details are available on the CCCBR’s website, but I simply emailed firstname.lastname@example.org, was asked what I could ring and my level of experience on RR, filled in the form they sent in reply saying when I was available to ring and then received an email with a date to attend and even what methods were going to be rung. At the moment all the practices are on Saturdays at either 2.30pm or 6pm and last ninety minutes. Despite a lot of good work by many, there is naturally going to be a loss of a lot of ringers once we do return, but hopefully that will be minimised by initiatives like this and mean that we can hit the ground running once back on towerbells.
After such welcome intensity, my brain was grateful for a more relaxed evening as we caught up virtually with our friends Charlotte and Gregory for some drink and chat that took us into the early hours.
All the more impressive therefore that I found time to read two copies of The Ringing World!
Friday night virtual pub with Simon Rudd was a lively affair this evening as we celebrated Linda Garton’s significant birthday complete with a video message from Barry of Eastenders fame! An occasion also celebrated with a couple of quarter-peals (1320 Cambridge Surprise Minor. 1312 Bristol Surprise Major) on Ringing Room too!
Meanwhile, there was more useful grant news from the CCCBR website today, with the announcement that grants of up to £10,000 are available “for the conservation of bells and bell frames in Anglican parish churches in England” from The Church of England, in partnership with The Pilgrim Trust, with a closing date of 22nd February for applications for a decision in May.
Otherwise though, it was quite an ordinary day for the current times for us personally.
Thank goodness for Friday night’s virtual pub then.
On a day more akin to the despair of 2020 than the hope of a better future in 2021, this January Thursday was one largely dominated by the cancellation for the second year running of two big events planned for the last weekend of June.
One was Glastonbury, the other was the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final.
Both are now due to take place in June 2022, with the latter pencilled in to be held by Guildford who were lined up for this year’s showpiece ringing event, although there may yet be a twelve-bell event held on Saturday 2nd October 2021 at a venue to be confirmed. No word yet on whether the venues that were to hold the eliminators in two months – but which were cancelled last month – will get the opportunity to try again in March next year, including The Norman Tower.
For all the expectation for this year, it is another blow, albeit far from unexpected and with some of those advising the government today saying that hospitality shouldn’t reopen before May, it seems unlikely that anything resembling full-on ringing will be happening before the summer.
That said, it was also imparted today that more than five million people in the UK have already been given at least their first vaccination and locally the Maverick Festival at Easton Farm Park announced with relative confidence that they plan to hold this year’s festival on the first weekend of September (later than normal), suggesting that my total guestimate of ringing resuming much more meaningfully in July is still just about possible and that God willing we ought to be able to hold big ringing events in the autumn at least. As with everything over the last ten months though, much could change, so keeping watching out for announcements nationally and locally, imminently and/or in the coming weeks!
For now though, I shall endeavour to continue enjoying the many fascinating online talks, including the Wednesday night ones from the St Martin’s Guild. This evening I watched last night’s talk by Chris Pickford on the history of John Taylor & Co on YouTube whilst Ruthie met with the Illuminati choir virtually in the next room. There are few if any – bar perhaps George Dawson – with a greater knowledge of bell history than Chris, although it was nice that the late Ranald Clouston from Suffolk – who also had a staggering knowledge on the subject – also got a mention. Well worth a watch.
However, for all that many have embraced technology since we were first thrust into lockdown at the end of last winter, many have been unable and understandably unwilling to, including members of the Guild. I know of other members who have kept them in the loop via phone – and when we were allowed – visits, but it is a pity that we no longer have the excellent Awl a’huld, the SGR Magazine that ran from 2010-2017. Especially as it would have been a good example to put forward for the CCCBR’s new initiative, Newsletter Showcase. Are there any ringing newsletters at a more local or District level that we can showcase from within our borders?
After all, on a day when the best bit of news I can report on this blog today was the delivery of our new dishwasher exactly six months on from our old one ceasing to work, it would be great to hear of newsletters round here delivering even better news than more cancellations!
As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, there are a number of projects in the county to restore and/or augment ongoing or recently completed, considerably helped by the Suffolk Guild’s carefully considered but generous grants. With 50% of the subscriptions – which were due on New Year’s Day to jog people’s memories – going towards the Bell Restoration Fund, it sometimes raises eyebrows with the perception that it is expensive compared to subs for comparable associations, guilds and societies (although it is worth noting that £20 for a year’s worth of support for a Guild that in turn offers so much support to ringers and towers is pretty affordable in the scheme of things), but it allows the Guild to financially contribute to projects that can be great publicity and often help with a recruitment to and progress in the local area, as has been seen so many times in recent years.
However, that sort of support – rightly or wrongly – isn’t always available in other ringing organisations, so I imagine that the announcement that the Central Council are inviting applications for grants from their BRF is very welcome to many looking to get projects going, especially in these times when usual donors may not be able to due to the current difficult times.
It has all been made possible by a generous legacy from John Barnes, a member of their Bell Restoration Committee for many years and who – also in keeping with yesterday’s blog – I was privileged to chat with at length at the celebration of the completion of the project at St Margaret’s in Ipswich nearly three years ago and for all the generosity of the SGR BRF, I’m sure those looking for funding for current or future projects within our borders will be interested in this fund. Applications need to be made by the end of next month and forms are available from Ian Oram on email@example.com.
God willing ringing and peal-ringing on bells benefitting from the fund will be possible in the future, but right now it is only possible on handbells with bands from the same household or online, such as the performance of Alan Reading’s 5088 of twelve Major methods spliced which was rung ‘in hand’ for the first time when it was scored on Ringing Room in another very early start, as is the norm for such successes! Additionally, it is well worth watching the accompanying video of some of the superb ringing.
My own attempts on RR this evening weren’t anywhere near the same standard, but I was fairly pleased with them on a busy evening of ringing on the platform. Having won Hilary Stearn’s latest quiz beforehand, we got going on the Pettistree practice where the ringing wasn’t quite as good as last week, but still saw some Norwich Surprise Minor rung and Mike Cowling, Mark Ogden and Ruthie do a spot of ‘handbell’ ringing.
After that, I stayed on Ringing Room for the open session with ringers from around the country where – having started with a super course of Norfolk Surprise Minor after a few attempts foiled by technical issues - I got some more Project Pickled Egg in, with some Cornwall and Lessness Surprise Major. At over four hours there is a pleasing fluidity about these, as I briefly saw fellow Rambling Ringer Phil Wild at the beginning and then got to ring with Norman Tower ringer Cath Colman before I eventually signed off at 11pm, the practice still going strong, even if I wasn’t!
Hopefully it’ll keep us sharp enough to ring those bells that the Guild has generously contributed towards.
One of the features of working from home during the lockdown was listening to BBC Radio Suffolk for some passive companionship whilst Ruthie busied herself schooling the children downstairs and over those three months or so hearing a number of ringers appearing on the airwaves. A couple of weeks into this period of homeworking I hadn’t heard any until 3hrs 11mins into Mark Murphy’s Breakfast Show when Hollesley ringer James Mallinder was being interviewed about food waste in his role as Cabinet Member for the Environment and Chair of the Suffolk Waste Partnership. Ringing wasn’t mentioned (nor would it have any relevance bar how ringers’ teas usually avoid too much food waste!), but again it was nice to hear the voice of another ringer!
Meanwhile, it was also fascinating to read an article added to the website yesterday written by John Girt and David Evans on the project to restore and rehang the eight of St Margaret’s in Ipswich, which also includes photos and videos of the last ringing on the bells before their removal and three of them were recast, the task of removing them, a visit to Nicholson’s, their installation and the new ringing, as well as linking you to an extensive page on the church’s website that has additional photos and information. It all highlights the immense visual and audible changes at a venue that is very special to me and my brother Chris as it was where our Grandad Jack rang for much of his life and where a lot of our early eight-bell ringing was done. Nice as well that the video of the final ringing shows our father Alan ringing the sixth and Delia Hammerton – who also sadly died last year – ringing the third. It all brought back many happy memories of ringing in the old cramped room, although also reminds me what a wonderful job has been carried out here and what a vast improvement they are now!
Additionally, it is a reminder that there are many projects newly completed or in progress that God willing we will have the opportunity to ring on in the not-too-distant-future, maybe even later this year in some cases. Places like Barham, Combs, Fornham St Martin, Hitcham, Laxfield and Stowmarket. Perhaps these will appear in the news (some already have!) in the coming months and we’ll be hearing more voices of ringers on the airwaves.!
Blue Monday. That’s what today is apparently, always on the third Monday of January because – so the reasoning goes – many people haven’t been paid for a couple of weeks and it is still another fortnight or so until the next payday, we’re in the depth of the cold, dark winter, yet now without the anticipation of Christmas and at the start of the working week. This year of course, it might be considered the bluest of Blue Mondays.
Although there is something intrinsically depressing about a Monday in mid-January, it is generally nonsense with no basis in scientific research, but seemingly originating from an advertising campaign from a travel firm to get folk thinking about booking their summer holidays. However, it did get me trying to frame my day in as cheerful a way as possible and consider how even in these tough times how blessed we are.
The children can’t go to school and Ruthie can’t go to work, but the latter has at least allowed my wife to teach the boys and at least we both still have jobs. We can’t see family and friends in person, but technology has allowed us to keep in touch easily with them. Indeed, it is easier than it was before lockdown first became a thing in the UK.
And yes, we are missing ringing and personally life won’t be back to anything like normal until we are allowed to freely go to ringing chambers whenever we like with as many people as we like for as long as we like, but we are lucky to live in a household sporting a brace of handbell ringers that has allowed us to do a bit in hand and we’ve got on alright with Ringing Room.
Not that we did anything ringing-related this evening on what is now a pleasingly rare evening without any live interaction with other ringers, but I did come across the newsletter of the Eastern Branch of the Norwich Diocesan Association, The Striking Example. Partly because – in common with many others in our Guild – I have friends in that part of the world, but also because I have a fondness for a lovely area that includes towers in stunning locations such as Happisburgh and of course a handful from Suffolk. Interesting to note that they have vacancies in certain roles such ass Secretary and Ringing Master, which less reflects badly on them (even when not in the circumstances we are in, filling some roles is an eternal struggle for most rural ringing organisations) than it reflects well on our Districts for managing to consistently fill such roles.
Another reason to feel cheerful on this Blue Monday!
Modern day ringing frustrations.
This evening, we went for another attempt at a quarter-peal of Kent Treble Bob Minor on Ringing Room with some of our fellow Pettistree ringers. When we rang a 720 recently, it was called round at that point because there were signs we were flagging. As we approached the end of the extent tonight though, there was no indication of a similar fate. The speed was relatively stately, but the striking good, with the standard retained throughout. Until an internet spasm of some sort for one of the band brought our efforts to an end.
Still, it was all useful practice and great for the brain, allowed us the chance to chat a bit more afterwards and gave us the opportunity to watch today’s new episode of Antiques Roadshow. This was the one filmed in Ipswich’s Christchurch Park in September. Cue lots of drone footage of the Mansion and the green in front of it, a space that I used to look out over whenever I went ringing on the eight at St Margaret’s – which also features regularly in the show - next door in the old ringing chamber further up the tower. And more recently it was where St Mary-le-Tower’s ringers gathered on Sabbath mornings throughout the summer when ringing resumed in its restricted form and we were allowed to gather together outside afterwards. Except for the Sunday before filming when the area was already cordoned off in readiness for the arrival of the programme’s presenter Fiona Bruce, their team of experts and crew on the following Tuesday.
We all know such gatherings are not permitted at the moment inside or outdoors and so this morning we did so as we have done for the last few weeks. There was a large crowd that was in a generally upbeat mood (including a report on how Adrian ‘Arnie’ Knights is getting on and his cheese and biscuit eating exploits!) which helped set us off on a mild sunny day that encouraged us all – including a usually reluctant teenage Mason – to go out for a walk (locally of course!) through the woods.
Meanwhile, do take the time to read the minutes of the Guild AGM and October’s GMC meeting, especially if you weren’t present. Not very exciting granted, but they’re not meant to be and in these times when we haven’t been able to get out and about with our fellow ringers in the county’s towers, they are an important way of keeping in touch.
Amongst those minutes, there was reluctance to commit to this year’s AGM being held in person on 10th April and the news today seems to validate that caution. The main headline is that the plan is for every adult in the UK to be offered their first dose of the vaccine by September and whilst we’re all extremely cautious in believing such predictions, if it all goes to plan it at least gives us a timeline of sorts. Exactly where ringing’s full resumption fits into that is naturally unclear given its niche nature. However, although our art is always likely to be one of the last activities to have restrictions lifted, having (entirely by luck) successfully guesstimated last year’s return to the exercise, my cautious hope (again based on nothing more than my gut feeling) is for July by which point I pray the risk may be reduced to something that is comparable to just about every other virus, illness and disease that already exists, but of course I just don’t know. That would mean that events like the AGM are likely to be moved to later in the year, but as we are now familiar with, much is likely to change in the meantime and so I imagine the Guild’s officers are sensibly waiting for the situation to clarify to confirm what will be happening with our showpiece event and Striking Competitions. Therefore, keep a close eye on this website, the SGR’s Facebook page and Twitter feed and if you haven’t received any emails from the Guild or your District in the last few months, then please check with Chris Garner that you are on his email list for the purposes of sending news and important information out to members and that he has your correct details. Those details would not be shared with anyone else.
Further afield, as disappointed as we were with our loss on RR, it was nothing compared to that which must have been felt by the band who lost a peal of spliced Major in the penultimate lead today on the same platform due to a power cut!
Modern day ringing frustrations indeed.
For a while now we’ve been anticipating snow and The Ringing World. This morning, we got both.
The former saw the boys briefly outside throwing snowballs at our window and of course had less of an effect on ringing plans today then it normally would. Indeed, it probably had no effect whatsoever, with most ringing being done online and the rest made up of handbell ringing involving people from the same support bubble. It even allowed for just the second peal anywhere this year and first of Minor with the 5040 of Plain Bob in hand at Great Longstone in Derbyshire.
Also featuring today, was 80 changes of Minimus on handbells in Woodbridge, rung by the Wakefields to celebrate Bruce’s eightieth birthday. What a pity that more can’t be done for a man who was Suffolk Guild Secretary for ten years from 1989-1999, as well as my predecessor as Public Relations Officer and a great help in that role when I was SGR Ringing Master. Additionally he was on the Belfry Advisory Committee and has led ringing on the 25cwt eight in their town of residence for many years, not an entirely easy task on the heavy octave with a lengthy draft and at the top of a long staircase, although the climb is worth it, particularly for the view from the tenor box which in my humble opinion is the finest from any bellrope in the county! Happy Birthday Bruce, I hope you had as good a birthday as one can at the moment.
Meanwhile, the arrival of the RW was welcome, but actually earlier than most copies that we have received since we began taking delivery of them on behalf of the Pettistree band, as it was the 15th January edition. Still no sign of the 8th January edition though! Still, it was another interesting read, with plenty of stuff I hadn’t seen on the internet, plus a mention for local ringer Mike Cowling in the ‘What’s Hot on BellBoard’ section.
Mind you, I only really got to have a quick read of it as in the circumstances it was a fairly busy day, predominantly during daylight with the setting up of and then participation in a Gruffalo party (or as much of a party as one can have with just people from your house) as the climax of Joshua’s school project this week, but then this evening with another quiz on video, this time with good friends Kala & Nick and Toby & Amy that of course Ruthie won. This is a monthly pleasure that on this occasion saw questions on subjects from famous people known by different names to what they were born with, to windows & doors!
Along with maybe more snow and that missing copy of The Ringing World, we wait in hopeful anticipation for next month’s get-together.
Wikipedia is twenty years old today apparently. It is a treasure trove of information - even if in some cases the accuracy of that information can be considered dubious – and features pages and pages on change-ringing. And that includes a page on the Suffolk Guild, a superb addition to the SGR’s presence in public, set up by our PR Officer Neal Dodge!
There wasn’t much to add to it today though, although it might be interesting to look back in the future on this time and how technology may have helped the Guild’s survival, as it continues to help its members stay connected and ringing together. Although we didn’t do any of the ringing element, we were staying connected with other ringers, including fellow Guild members, as we joined Simon Rudd at his weekly virtual pub, where John Loveless regaled us of his click and collect adventures and Gareth Davies explained how many kilometres it took him to ring a quarter-peal on Mobel!
Not to be confused with the various other Gareth Davies’ on Wikipedia.
2023 seems a long way away, as indeed does anything that doesn’t just involve sitting at home and/or avoiding other people! However, providing we all make it, I imagine it’ll be here before we know it and the centenary of the Suffolk Guild will be upon us.
As I understand it, plans are already well underway for the big anniversary dinner, which hopefully will be allowed to be a memorable occasion shared with as many SGR members as possible. This evening though, I found myself laying the foundations for doing something to mark this special year myself. It is all extremely embryonic and may not come to anything, but it is still nice to even contemplate organising ‘proper’ ringing!
In the here and now, some of the county’s ringers were doing ringing in the only style available to most, as a North-West District band rang their first quarter-peal of Moomintroll Bob Minor in the 1440 on Ringing Room. Well done to them all!
Such news was most welcome, on a day that was ordinary even by current standards, with me working upstairs and Ruthie trying to teach the boys in often trying circumstances downstairs.
God willing 2023 will be much more enjoyable though!
In the most optimistic estimates we might be fully ringing – or something more like fully ringing – after Easter, but it is much more likely to be the summer and quite possibly the autumn. It is better than the prognosis of even just a few months ago when there was no end in sight and although every new variant (the one from Brazil is the latest one) makes people twitchy, God willing the vaccines impressively developed in a short period of time will hopefully mean we will be ringing shoulder-to-shoulder in the various ringing chambers of our beautiful county later this year. However, that still means probably at best another three or four months without ‘proper’ ringing and potentially the next two or three months will proceed without ringers being able to meet in person to even ring handbells together.
Therefore, online resources are going to be extremely important, such as Tower Talk (edited by Bardwell ringer Ruth Suggett), the Survival & Recovery Newsletter and CCCBR President Simon Linford’s blog. Between them they show what is being and can be done by bands to keep together and individual ringers to continue progressing and give themselves the best possible chance to come out the other end in – or near – the same position as when we entered restrictions almost a year ago. Maybe even in a better position!
All three highlight activities that ringers can participate in even in these darkest of times, such as the photography competition that Simon mentions in his blog put on the Central Council’s website today. Along the same lines as the YouTube competition they held last year, it may be something that Suffolk’s ringers could be successful in as Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart was in last year’s competition. Time for the likes of Mike Whitby to shine perhaps!
Pettistree’s ringers are doing their best to keep connected and keep ‘ringing fit’ and indeed judging by tonight’s Ringing Room practice we are doing very well at it. Joined by Mike Cowling who had already been doing some cross-country handbell ringing with his brother, a 120 of Grandsire Doubles rung as if on a 40cwt six but very well struck started a session that also saw Cambridge Surprise Minor, London Surprise Minor and Oxford Treble Bob Minor rung well, the latter two for the first time since we began ringing on this platform. All the more impressive for there only being eight virtually present and confidence is certainly growing, with Norwich Surprise Minor and Cambridge-variants Ipswich (without the half-lead dodge), Primrose (without the lead-end dodge) and Norfolk (without either dodge) Surprise Minor mooted for next week.
Beforehand, we were again treated to one of Hilary Stearn’s entertaining and informative quizzes, which we again won! These are very enjoyable, which is lucky, as we may be doing them for a while yet!
Postal delays were in the news today, with unsurprisingly the rapid spread of coronavirus cases the main reason, with many postal workers off ill or isolating. It means that we still haven’t received the Pettistree copy of The Ringing World which we are taking delivery of and which has typically arrived at the beginning of the week after it was printed at the latest.
No such issues online of course, where we joined other ringers from the aforementioned ground-floor six for a virtual quiz against Stowmarket’s ringers, with Adrian Edwards superbly hosting proceedings with questions on bells & towers and food & drink. With each round, the competing towers were sent off to separate ‘breakout rooms’ with a copy of the questions, where we were able to confer without being overheard and I have to say it worked very well, even though our friends from the west of Suffolk won, in part due to their greater knowledge on large champagne bottles! Well done Stowmarket! Perhaps it is the first of more and if that is the case I certainly wouldn’t object after a very enjoyable hour or so.
It even finished in time for me to join the first monthly meeting of The Ancient Society of College Youths for 2021, one which was pretty much dominated by an in-depth debate on whether the Society should accept peals not rung on actual bells – such as on Handbell Stadium or Ringing Room – with a view to voting on a motion on the subject. Lengthy pleas – mainly against the proposal that they shouldn’t count in the Society’s records – were made by the likes of Philip Earis, Phillip Barnes and Central Council President Simon Linford, before it was agreed more thought needed to be given to the matter. Largely those speaking both out loud and in the chatbox seemed most concerned that it might be rash and appear backward-thinking to simply dismiss such performances, although the proposer John Hughes-D’Aeth and seconder Philip Rogers were at pains to point out that they weren’t seeking to diminish the achievements on the likes of HS and RR, but rather didn’t think that they should be counted as peals as they weren’t rung on bells. This all contributed to Ringing Master Swaz Apter having to check we all wanted to continue past 10pm, but again I was pleased to be a part of something that wasn’t possible much of the time before it moved online.
And at least I didn’t have to wait for it to arrive in the post!
Even though peals are thin on the ground, Pealbase continues to be a fascinating resource.
There is now a vast list of topics to explore on the site, with one that has particularly caught my eye being County Champions, a section that lists the ringers who have rung peals at the most towers in each different county. Naturally my attention was drawn to the counties of East Anglia and particularly Suffolk and unsurprisingly ringers from within our borders feature prominently. Readers will be not be staggered to know that twice Past Guild Ringing Master David Salter comes high on the lists of our county and those that border onto it, as do Jeremy Spiller and Alan Mayle. St Mary-le-Tower band member Ian Culham tops the table in Essex with 141 towers.
In Suffolk itself, David leads on 202, just two towers ahead of his wife Katharine, whilst having rung at seventy-four towers within our borders, I share forty-eighth place with Mary Garner, Jonathan Stevens and another two Past SGR Ringing Masters Lawrence Pizzey and Amanda Richmond, Ruthie comes in at a respectable (considering she hasn’t rung a peal for over six years) joint eighty-fifth place on fifty-four towers, while current Guild Peal Secretary Christine Knight and Ringing Master Tom Scase will be keen to get their hundredth tower in the county under their belts once peal-ringing on towerbells in the UK resumes, with both of them currently sitting on ninety-nine towers!
An email to its owner Andrew Craddock – who spoke superbly at the Guild’s 90th Anniversary Dinner in 2013 – also got an impressively quick answer to a query that has been prodding me in recent days. In the first few days of each January I often look out for the first peal of the new year by the Suffolk Guild. Sometimes that comes on day one, but naturally from an organisation that would typically ring around a hundred peals a year, it sometimes comes a few days in. Of course this year it is likely to be even later than that, although we’re still to get to the latest date of a year’s first peal in ‘normal’, non-war years, which was the 21st January in 1955 and 1967 and some way off usurping the record set in the famously bad winter of the first few months of 1963 when the SGR took until 23rd February to notch its first score in the medium.
However, many of you will probably have noticed that until today’s impressive 5040 of 145 Minimus methods by Gail and Matthew Lawrence in Shropshire, there hadn’t been a single peal rung anywhere in the world. By this date last year, 123 had already been rung. I wondered therefore when was the latest date in a year that the first peal of the new calendar was. Sending Andrew an email yesterday, I assumed that perhaps during the war when the ringing of church bells was banned that the first peal of the year was maybe quite a way in. Very kindly replying within a couple of hours, Andrew imparted that since 1931 (which is as far back as he has complete/near complete data), only three years before this one didn’t see any peals rung on New Year’s Day – 1941, 1942 and 1961, with the middle year featuring the latest debut peal, coming in at 5th January. Thank you Andrew for that info.
Meanwhile, it was interesting to hear Lesley Dolphin’s ‘sofa’ guest (although like everything else it was being done remotely) on her BBC Radio Suffolk show Claire Horne (just after an hour-and-a-half in), a recognisable voice to regular listeners to the station as she offers advice on it’s gardening hour every now and again on a Saturday morning. Ever so briefly she mentioned how much she was missing bellringing. Nothing more was mentioned about it and so I’m unsure to what extent she does it or where, as she doesn’t seem to appear on BellBoard anywhere, but it is nice to hear of another ‘celebrity’ ringer, especially one within our midst!
She may have to wait a while to appear on Pealbase though.
Another day in lockdown, another day of painting, although it has to be said it was only Ruthie doing it today as I held the paint tray whilst she did the high bits, whilst I wasn’t making the tea, doing the washing up and attending to the children’s delightful whims, the latter of which my wife has to do all through the week at the moment.
The decorating was sandwiched between some more virtual meeting.
First up was the weekly Sunday morning cuppa with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers where the chat was generally upbeat as Stephen Cheek showed off his new haircut and Amanda Richmond thought David Sparling was calling her ‘smelly’ when he greeted my mother Sally! It is good that folk are keeping their chin up as of course these sometimes awkward meetings will likely be the norm for at least a few weeks and we were reminded why, with the news that a couple of our ringers are having to isolate because of positive cases in the family of one them (and we are also aware of another local ringer who has tested positive themselves) and Dr Tatlow’s latest grim update of the situation at his hospital.
Later in the day then, it was time for the first ever Munnings family video call, as my brother Chris and his wife Becky joined us to chat with Mum. It is reassuring that we have this new avenue of communication with her as we aim to reduce risks and yet make sure she isn’t abandoned and this afternoon’s hour-long catch-up was almost like old times, even if almost every aspect of the conversation was inescapably framed by the current circumstances. Nice as well that in addition to joining the SMLT virtual get-togethers that she is also meeting with Debenham and Offton ringers online.
Elsewhere in the county, they were also online, as a quarter-peal of Primrose Surprise Minor was rung by members of the North-West District on Ringing Room and I was on there myself this evening for another open practice whilst Mrs Munnings played Call of Duty opposite me. There was a big crowd on this occasion, some of whom were fresh from a 1296 of Little Bob Royal on the platform, but also including Norman Tower ringer Cathy Colman and then later her son Nathan. Such a large attendance not only meant that we were split into two ‘towers’ to make numbers more manageable and allow those present more opportunities, but saw an eclectic range of methods rung, such as Norwich Surprise Minor, Stedman Triples, Cambridge Surprise Major, Superlative Surprise Major, the standard eight Surprise Major methods spliced, Erin Caters and even Yorkshire Surprise Royal, my first Surprise Royal for ten months.
I was well chuffed with my efforts, as Ruthie was with hers on Call of Duty at the same time and her painting earlier!
We went to St Mary Mead. Where and how, you may ask.
Many fans of Miss Marple will know that it is most famous as being the fictional village that the make-believe murder-solving spinster lives in, but this morning it was the name of the Ringing Room that Ruthie and I were ringing in with members of the North-West District for their virtual practice that they very kindly allowed us in on. When I was Suffolk Guild Ringing Master we often travelled the county to District events and this was probably the aspect of the role I enjoyed the most as we went out meeting friends established and new in all sorts of wonderful places. Therefore, even though we can’t travel to the pretty communities we are fortunate to have within easy travelling distance, we were delighted to catch-up with some familiar faces and others we had never met before, including a goodly number from Buxhall where things seem healthy!
The actual ringing was good fun too and I think useful for many, including us, as we continue our learning curve on this medium we hadn’t tried until three months ago! Those present were split into two groups, one for learners and one for us ‘more advanced’ ringers. At one point, I was amused when having gone downstairs to make a cup of tea to come back upstairs to hear my wife saying “you’ve stitched me up” in my general direction - having handed the laptop over in anticipation of some Cambridge Surprise Minor, Stedman Triples had been called for. As we know, Mrs Munnings’ views on Stedman are less then complimentary...
Her favourite principal was but a part of an eclectic range of methods that stretched from Plain Bob Minor to Norwich Surprise Minor to Little Bob Major and Kent Treble Bob Major. Not everything went, but I’m yet to have come across a RR session where everything has and I thought NW Ringing Master Maureen Gardiner ran things excellently in a productive hour-and-a-half of ringing.
It also broke up another long day in, bar quickly nipping out to get some essentials like bread and milk and some pre-ordered paint, which was subsequently used to continue our decorating efforts.
Further afield, it was uplifting to see that the new ten in the tower of the Grote Kerk in the Dutch town of Dordrecht, with photos from long-time Rambling Ringers friend Paul de Kok sharing photos on various ringing Facebook pages.
God willing we will get to ring on them in the near future, but for now we
are happy to accept invites to fictional villages!
Even in these unprecedented times, we are living in a strange period where despairing news is being released simultaneously with messages of hope on exactly the same subject. Today, a major incident was declared in London due to the capital’s rising case numbers, whilst here in Suffolk we were told that Ipswich Hospital is full (and thus having to send non-COVID cases elsewhere) and deaths attributed to the virus were the highest ever for this country. It is grim and further reiterates why gathering together to ring in person just isn’t possible and regrettably I imagine won’t be for months.
Yet this cold, grey January day also saw the announcement of the approval of a third vaccine that most importantly God willing will see fewer people getting ill and dying, but would also allow us all out of this dreadful purgatory and back into the church towers of our wonderful county. Additionally, although the case and death totals still grow alarmingly, it is also nice to see running totals of how many people in the UK have now been vaccinated, a figure that has now reached around 1.5m people. And whilst – unless something unforeseen occurs – Ruthie and I will have to wait our turn until probably the second half of this year at least to be vaccinated, for now we can enjoy moments of positivity that we wouldn’t necessarily get if we weren’t all stuck under one roof for the foreseeable. Such as Joshua’s performance of The Gruffalo with the lollipop puppets he made of the characters for his schoolwork!
Meanwhile, although ringing in person seems some way off, ringing and meeting online is helping to keep ringers connected and ringing minds sharpened and although we participated in no ringing ourselves today, this evening we virtually met with others who had, with members of the bands who had rung in the quarter-peals of the standard eight Surprise Major methods spliced and Yorkshire Surprise Major on Ringing Room joining us in Simon Rudd’s weekly virtual pub. It was a pretty upbeat gathering too, with admiration expressed for how ringers have adapted to the circumstances of the last few months, especially with Tim Hart’s eBells and in regards to the efforts of the band in Singapore whose ringing had barely got underway when they too were stopped by restrictions.
Earlier, Ruthie and I were watching today’s edition of the quiz show Pointless, which featured a student ringer called Freddie from Oxford, who despite his underwhelming endorsement of the art can be found on BellBoard still ringing as much as most are at the moment! He had a good chat with the host Alexander Armstrong (about 6mins 30secs in) about ringing peals, including the interesting information that his grandmother was the first woman in Scotland to ring one!
History of ladies peal-ringing on primetime BBC? We are living in strange times.
Daytimes have taken on a pattern familiar from last year. Although Alfie in particular is already missing school and his friends a lot, Ruthie has done magnificently keeping the boys learning, whilst I work upstairs, my only companion – apart from the occasional visit from my curious sons, the cat curling up nearby from the cold outside and my wife bringing me gratefully received cups of tea – being BBC Radio Suffolk running in the background.
This afternoon’s ‘Dolphin’s Dart’ (a competition to find a place in the county through three clues) on friend of ringing Lesley Dolphin’s show took listeners to the villages of Bradfield, where apparently sixteen other church towers can be seen from the top of the tower at St George, according to Simon Knott’s superb Suffolk Churches website. It got me thinking later how many towers with bells might be included in the sixteen. Whilst the 9cwt five here are unringable, I imagine the 15cwt six at Rougham is in one of the towers, as might be the five of Hessett and maybe Felsham. Can Drinkstone, Rattlesden, Thurston and even Woolpit be seen? Perhaps those local to the area may know more?
I also wondered how many of those bells might be heard from Bradfield St George, but that experiment will have to wait, so for now ringing continues to take advantage of technology to keep going, including Mike Cowling who rang another handbell quarter with his brother Geoff in Herefordshire via Facebook Messenger today.
Technology enabled me to ring tonight too, as I joined another open Ringing Room practice with ringers from across the country and beyond, allowing me to ring some Stedman Triples, Surprise Major (including Bristol, Yorkshire and the ‘standard’ eight spliced), Grandsire Caters and Little Bob Royal to varying degrees of success. It was all very worthwhile and enjoyable and great to keep refreshing the ringing brain.
Meanwhile, Guild Librarian and South-East District Secretary Dr Abby Antrobus is giving a talk on Facebook on the subject of The Relationship between the Abbey and the Town - with the town in question being Bury St Edmunds – later this month. There are more details available via the SGR’s Twitter account, but the time and date for your diaries is 2-3pm on Saturday 23rd January, so do tune in!
It should be a nice break from the our weekly daytime pattern!
Continuing on from yesterday, it was lovely to move forward in planning some potential ringing in the near future, albeit online of course.
One was in the form of links to Zoom and Ringing Room for a virtual gathering for the Rambling Ringers Reunion Dinner next month, which God willing should see us meet up virtually with ringing friends from across the country and beyond, with the host from the USA.
The other is in regards to the CCCBR’s new initiative, the Cast of 1000. They are looking for volunteers to offer some time to help out at practices with specific purposes, particularly Treble Dodging Major, based around Project Pickled Egg. Whilst this will be via Ringing Room whilst we can’t go out and about to church towers to meet up in numbers, ultimately the plan is this will happen with physical, in-person sessions that – if they get enough volunteers – will see the helpers (or the ‘Cast’) hopefully be able to share the load between a number of others and in theory only be needed for a practice or maybe two a month. If you know someone who might benefit from attending such practices or you would like to volunteer your services to help, then please do email firstname.lastname@example.org.
That is just what I have done and today I was sent a very short and straightforward form to fill in sent by a long-time ringing friend of mine Stef Warboys who with Council President Simon Linford is co-ordinating this exciting project and hopefully gives me an opportunity not just to help but to progress myself, especially in PPE, where in the past geography and lack of time have prevented me getting much of a chance to expand into this area.
I have already been getting plenty of practice on RR since we first had a go back in October, often through the open sessions advertised on the Ringing Room Take Hold Lounge on Facebook, but mainly with our fellow Pettistree ringers on at least a weekly basis, regularly twice a week. However, we also recognise that it isn’t everybody’s cup-of-tea and so for those of our regulars who’d rather not ring on this online platform it was decided as a collective to put one Wednesday aside each month for a purely social gathering to allow them to feel more comfortable in joining in.
It certainly worked tonight, as we were greeted with some new faces on the virtual circuit as Suzanne Stevens (and briefly her son Richard too) and former local Bill Lloyd joined us and it was lovely to see them both and hear how they are getting on. Many will be familiar with Suzanne, a ringer at Sweffling and Rendham who is always useful to have in a band, but perhaps fewer with Bill, who learnt to ring at the ground-floor six of St Peter and St Paul, ringing a number of quarter-peals and his first – and thus far only – peal here, which I was privileged to ring in. Since he moved down to Somerset just over five years ago, we have been delighted to see he has kept up ringing, including further QPs, although like so many he hasn’t done any ringing since March.
Sandwiched in between much catching-up, Hilary Stearn hosted an expanded quiz that was as usual very enjoyable, especially as we won again! Despite seemingly somehow becoming masters of quizzing since it all moved online (and no, we don’t cheat!), we have never had any luck in organised quizzes where you win actual prizes and so after our latest victory we treated ourselves to a prize of a box of chocolates originally meant as Christmas gift for one of Joshua’s teachers at school but never handed over as he had to isolate from school before the end of term and hasn’t been back since!
We enjoyed the chocolates whilst distracting ourselves from the staggering yet sad scenes in Washington DC at the seat of government for what was once the beacon of western democracy, by watching yesterday’s lecture by Professor Sarah Hart on Gresham College’s YouTube channel on The Mathematics of Bell Ringing. At an hour long it is too short to do it justice as she herself acknowledged, but she still manages to pack an awful lot in. Much of it is very mathematical, as you would imagine, but even though I’m not blessed in the subject of maths (as Mary Garner will testify having had to guide me to achieving a pass in the subject for GCSE!), it was fascinating seeing her as a non-ringer put the exercise through her expert mathematical explanations. Well worth a watch if you get the opportunity.
I was certainly pleased to find the time in my increasingly hectic online diary!
It is still the norm – and I expect still will be for a while – the norm to receive news of cancelled events and the latest came via an email this morning from Rambling Ringers’ Secretary Geoff Pick informing members that the annual Reunion Dinner that usually takes place halfway between the summer tours in February is definitely cancelled next month. Even Geoff recognises that it comes as no surprise and such was the assumption that it would be that plans to meet and ring virtually on the night were started a couple of months ago, whilst actually we haven’t been able to attend for a few years, but it is still a sad indication of the times we are living in. As is that whilst the plan is still to hold the seventieth tour in Leicestershire a year after it was originally lined up, there is still a considerable degree of uncertainty as to whether it will go ahead or not, with a definite decision expected by the end of May. Like so much planned for 2021, it is ‘watch this space’.
Meanwhile, it was interesting to hear that the Chelsea Flower Show is due to go ahead between 18th-23rd May, even though the Suffolk Show abandoned any plans to go ahead a week afterwards many months ago, which gives hope that the Suffolk Guild Six-Bell Striking Competitions may be able to go ahead on Saturday 15th May in the North-East District.
Much has to go right with the vaccinations to get to the that point, so none of us will be counting any chickens at the moment, especially as we’re just about as far from that point as it’s possible to get right now. Unless they are fortunate enough to be in the same household or support bubble, ringers are not allowed to gather together in person to ring and so today was another one of online ringing, which from the perspective of the exercise is the biggest difference from that first lockdown. Apart from some ‘rogue’ towerbell ringing, the first day of that one on 17th March was limited to a QP on handbells by wife and husband Anne and Neil Westman and one via Abel, plus a handful of touches in hand and a course of Westminster Surprise Minor by Matthew Blurton on his iPad using Mobel. Today though, saw ten quarters rung, seven online (including first quarters for Caroline Prosser-Lodge and Hilary Smith in the 1260s of Plain Bob Doubles and Grandsire Doubles respectively on Ringing Room, as well as a 1344 of Bristol Surprise Maximus on the same platform), one via Facebook Messenger and one in hand by the Pinks (the twelfth day in a row they have rung a quarter-peal). Online ringing is nowhere near as good as the real thing, but mercifully we have come a long way in the last ten months.
Although not me, as today I returned to working from home, in our bedroom and initially again on our bed. I have been working in a sparsely populated office building since I first returned from the first lockdown in July, apart from when we had to isolate when waiting for the result of Joshua’s COVID test at the start of October and when he had to isolate in the lead-up to Christmas. It felt perfectly safe and it is certainly more effective me working at my desk set-up for the task, but last night’s announcement quite rightly saw John Catt Educational insist we all work from our abodes. And thanks to the efforts of Ruthie, this afternoon I was able to work from a desk, albeit the top of her electronic piano, which my back will probably thank me for if I end up doing this for the next seven weeks or so!
I shall miss the human interaction of my work colleagues, as I will of seeing my fellow ringers in person, but as I can work remotely there are plenty of opportunities to ring and socialise with ringers remotely too and I would certainly encourage ringers to seek out as much as they can to help keep you in touch and – mentally at least – in shape. Close to home, the South-East District has events lined up on Zoom on the first Saturday of each month at least until March, whilst God willing the North-West District are hosting a practice on Ringing Room this Saturday. More broadly though, the Ringing Room Take Hold Lounge on Facebook advertises open practices and The Ringing World’s Virtual Hub also gives details of online events and activities.
It’s not the same, but at least it is all helping make up for the cancellation of ‘real-life’ events, even if just a little.
For all the joy of leaving 2020 behind, 2021 has actually been a worse year generally thus far.
Lockdown 3.0 announced this evening by Boris Johnson in a statement that even Alfie sat and watched with a degree of understanding that has come from nearly a seventh of his life thus far being under this cloud and his education disrupted by the ever-changing circumstances, comes against a backdrop of more being ill with coronavirus and hospitals struggling more than at any point during the pandemic. All very depressing, but the closing of schools again (although Alfie and Joshua didn’t go in today as their school - in keeping with many others – was closed for a Professional Development day for the teachers) and urging of people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary until probably mid-February at least, seems entirely necessary judging by the numbers imparted and what we have all heard from inside hospitals. As unimportant as it is in the scheme of things, it also means that we will have gone longer without any ringing on church bells – bar the brief burst on Christmas Day – then following Lockdown 1.0. It feels as if we’ve gone back in time to last March, only worse, without the nice weather.
However, as we all know, we are in a very different situation now. There is light at the end of the tunnel with vaccinations being given out and so there is still hope that we will be ringing unrestricted later this year. And of course more of us are far more familiar and proficient with Ringing Room and Handbell Stadium, which means that although we can’t ring church bells and handbell bands can’t meet from different households or support bubbles, there is still a relatively long list of performances on BellBoard from this first Monday of the year. They were all rung online of course, bar a couple of quarters in hand in Australia and another by the Pinks of Crowhurst in East Sussex, but that is what we ringers will have to get used to for the foreseeable.
God willing there is plenty of time for 2021 to get much better.
2020 may have been left behind, but the effects of all that mainly came to fruition during its time are still being felt in 2021, as we knew they would.
As Boris Johnson confirmed that Alfie and Joshua would still be returning to school this week (not them specifically of course, but you know what I mean!), he also warned menacingly of tougher restrictions. Speculation suggested making people wear face masks in more places, a return to two metres for social distancing, imposing another national lockdown, closing schools after all and banning people leaving the house for more than an hour even for exercise, which is a grim prospect even in a wet, windy, cold January when our instinct is often to stay cosied up indoors with the heating on full blast.
However, on this morning’s weekly Sunday morning video chat for St Mary-le-Tower ringers we got a sobering insight into why with this new variant of coronavirus we have to roll with these crippling restrictions, as Dr Alex Tatlow gave an idea of the numbers of people in his hospital in Guildford with Covid-19 and how much of his annual leave he has had to sacrifice to help out. With such a grim situation, it is hard to imagine shops opening anytime soon, let alone ringing resuming and in the scheme of things that is the way it should be.
Our virtual gatherings for tea and coffee are also something that has carried on over from last year, but there were some new faces from our usual group. Most notably my mother Sally has finally been able to find a camera for her PC and so was able to join us. From a family perspective it is great to know that she will now be able to participate in the online socialising that looks likely to still be the norm for some weeks and possibly months to come, but also it will allow us to see each other without taking unnecessary risks. She wasn’t the only newbie though, as an invitation to the ringers of The Norman Tower who usually support ringing at SMLT in normal times was accepted by Julian & Cath Colman (who have had to put up with us a lot this week, the poor souls!) and Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson.
Rowan was able to give us an update on the projects to augment the four at Barham to six and the six at Hitcham to an eight, both of which have coverage on websites, with the latter also sporting a superb video. Apparently both are pretty much complete and should be ready to ring when the exercise resumes and if maximum ventilation is still necessary at that point, the locations of their ringing chambers are well placed too, in the porch (much like Burgh for those who have rung there) and from a new gallery (like Tostock, amongst many others) respectively!
Meanwhile, David Stanford’s interview with Rowan in the current bumper Christmas and New Year edition of The Ringing World can now be found on this website, as can an article from the RW in 1932 about the recasting of four of Debenham’s bells, one of several fascinating snippets relating to the county’s ringing from that year’s publications that Katharine Salter very kindly showed us all at yesterday’s South-East District Meeting.
Our ‘gathering’ this morning was a mere precursor for the Colmans as they later helped their son Nathan to ring his first quarter-peal in hand with the 1260 of Plain Bob Minor in Bury St Edmunds. Congratulations Nathan and also local ringer Barry Dixon (a big help when I used to organise the Guild Peal Weeks during my time as SGR Ringing Master) and his wife Eileen on the birth of their granddaughter.
No ringing for us though, as instead we took the boys out for a walk whilst we’re still allowed and Alfie then helped me with Mark B Davies’ marvellous Methodoku Mayhem on a leisurely afternoon that this time involved no shifting of tables! I even got time to listen to the recording of the 36cwt six of Queen Camel from BBC Radio 4’s Bells on Sunday, a lovely sound the like of which ringers will have to wait just a while longer to hear live, even if we have left 2020 behind.
We spent a considerable amount of time manoeuvring a dining table through a gap that was very narrow once all the angles were taken into account. Apart from demonstrating how these active bellringers are now spending what were once often our busiest day of the week for ringing, it briefly tenuously linked to ringing as I contemplated if bellhangers ever have the same trouble, whilst we twisted and turned the aforementioned furniture at various heights! I suspect not..
Mercifully, there was ringing-related activity for us to enjoy today as we joined fellow South-East District members for their monthly meeting, which although currently being held on the once unfamiliar Zoom, are happening on the familiar first Saturday of each month, as they were before Lockdown 1.0 last year. Personally I feel it is a canny move from the SE, as although we can’t go anywhere and do ringing on actual bells together, I think it is important for Districts to reintroduce normality into their calendar, if they aren’t already, so that when ringing returns members get into the habit of when their District’s events are happening so that these can be as well supported as possible when they become in-person occasions again. The North-West District seem to be doing the same, with a practice on Ringing Room and Zoom planned for next Saturday between 10.30am and noon. Please contact NW Ringing Master Maureen Gardiner for further details and the links.
The South-East’s event was a lovely occasion in the circumstances, with Katharine Salter very kindly sharing some of the Suffolk-related news she had found from 1932 editions of The Ringing World either side of a fantastic quiz set by Hilary Stearn (once she had remembered to join us!), which - rather typically for quizzes when one doesn’t get a prize – we won! Thank you Hilary for a great quiz, which was jolly good fun.
Although it wasn’t a business meeting, conversation did turn to District and Guild matters, such as that subscriptions are due. With many people’s finances stretched and jobs lost, furloughed or uncertain, this year it will understandably be difficult for some to justify spending money on something like a bellringing subscription, even if at a top rate of £20 for a whole year it is far cheaper than subscriptions for many other things and so I hope that all who can afford to will pay their subs as soon as they are able to help the SGR in these troubled times.
How to attract more to these events also came up and Chairman Mark Ogden, Ringing Master Jenny Scase and Secretary Abby Antrobus are keen particularly to hear from those who didn’t join us this afternoon, as to what might encourage them to in the future as we aim to keep the ringing family together in these times of isolation. Over twenty joined in, which wasn’t terrible with routine for many people turned upside down and such technology not everybody’s cup of tea, if they have the means at all, which also led us to consider how we can stay connected to those unable or unwilling to use the internet in such a way. Some present gave examples of how they are already keeping in touch with such members primarily by phone and it became apparent that it is best done locally, but could be tied in with and helped by a paper newsletter of some sort, although it was noted that distributing such a publication at a time when we should only be making essential journeys might not be possible in many cases. Any ideas would be much appreciated!
Mark also imparted that Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson is keen to find out what towers have been using Ringing Room and have – when restrictions permitted – rung handbells and church bells and admittedly it would make for a fascinating snapshot of this most unusual period in our near-hundred year history, so if anyone has, then please do let her know.
Elsewhere in the county, others were participating in actual ringing, albeit on Ringing Room, as a NW band rang a 1296 of Queen Mary Surprise Minor, which is the sixth place version (meaning that a bell makes sixths at the lead-end and everyone between them and the treble plain hunts, rather than making seconds over the treble and everyone else dodging) of King Edward Surprise Minor, which in turn is the same as Cambridge Surprise Minor, except that a bell makes thirds at the half-lead instead of a bell making fifths under the treble.
Still, although it didn’t involve any actual ringing, we enjoyed our catch-up with friends, including Anne Buswell, who having been over to the Covid-free Isle of Man recently had even rung some Plain Bob Triples on actual church bells! It was in the circumstances a lovely couple of hours.
And it at least meant I had more to report today than moving a table!
2021. Never has a year been so eagerly anticipated. Nor one so uncertain.
With two vaccines now being given out there are high hopes that whereas 2020 saw freedoms lost, that this year will see them regained.
However, the uncertainty comes from when those freedoms will return and how much society will have recovered from the dreadful shock of last year.
More pertinently to this blog, when will ringing resume? When the government say things will “begin to return to normal in the spring”, is that early spring or late spring? How will that relate to ringing? Will we be ringing bells socially distanced as we had to when restrictions were relaxed last July and for Christmas Day? Might we be able to hold the Suffolk Guild AGM in person in the South-West District on 10th April? And the Six-Bell Striking Competitions in the North-East District on 15th May? Or will those events have to be held later in the year?
God willing things will have returned enough to normality for the Rambling Ringers Tour to Leicestershire to go ahead in the summer and maybe the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final at Guildford on 26th June will go ahead in some format, even though the eliminators – including the one that was due to take place at The Norman Tower – have already been cancelled.
That striking from the calendar of the eliminators that were to take place on 27th March is a reminder that for all that we have left 2020 behind and that vaccinations should God willing return things to normal, we still remain in the grips of a very difficult winter that makes full-on ringing extremely unlikely for the first three months of the year and so sadly events like the George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition pencilled in at Waltham Abbey on 20th February is almost certain not to go ahead.
I have also long resigned myself to the fourteenth anniversary of Mason’s birth later this month being the latest of my son’s birthdays to go unmarked by a peal of appropriate length and/or numbers of methods. It had been my intention to ring such a peal for each of the boys’ birthdays at least up until their eighteenth birthday as something for them to hopefully look back on with pleasure later in life and so not being able to do that (neither my handbell or Ringing Room abilities are anywhere near peal-ringing standards) for Alfie and Joshua’s birthdays last year was one of the things that I was personally saddest about being prevented from doing. Amongst my modest ambitions for 2021 along with simply being able to ring in unrestricted conditions is to ring a peal of either seven methods and/or a 5007 for the seventh anniversary of Alfred’s birth in April, even if it has to be outside on the Vestey Ring!
Also amongst my modest ambitions is using my new Ringing World Diary more and pleasingly it was nice today to fill in some dates in it, albeit mainly for online events. Indeed, for all the hopes of a new start with a new year, today was very much like most days in 2020, spent at home, enjoying the efforts of other ringers (especially the latest video from the Ringing Robots built by the Firmans in West Sussex, this time ringing the musical Rapid Wrap Major) and come the evening chatting to friends from afar by video. These virtual gatherings were another rare plus from last year, allowing us to meet regularly with ringing and non-ringing chums that we would usually be able to, such as tonight’s weekly drink with Simon Rudd that saw ringers from Suffolk and Norfolk joined by others from Bedfordshire, Hampshire and Lincolnshire and where the conversation veered from birds to a University of London Society calendar and their dress sense at the 1983 National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final at Evesham!
Meanwhile, here in Suffolk, wife and husband Gillian & Bruce Wakefield were ringing the bells at Woodbridge before a church walk, with the ringing mentioned as part of the plans in an excellent bit of local PR and a good sign from the new Rector Father Nigel Prior.
Hopefully there will be much more ringing on this 25cwt eight and elsewhere in 2021.
The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Suffolk Guild of Ringers.