Wednesday 20th January 2021
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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 draft 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.