Handbell Ringing

I organised a handbell day today – this is something that other associations and guilds do, to promote and further handbell ringing in their local area. Although I’ve read about them, I’ve never been to one, so wasn’t sure how it would would (too much handbell ringing can sometimes melt your brain), but wanted to give it a go. So this was a bit of an experiment.

Luckily lots of friends also wanted to give it a go, so we met today in Coggeshall to see how it went. The important matter of cake was provided by Vicki Chapman and Gill Sparling, and David Sparling, Paul Cammiade and Simon Rudd provided patient and helpful guidance to us.

Ringing varied from Plain Bob to Kent TB Major, and we scored 2 quarter peals!



I know I’m biased, but I think it went really well – everyone enjoyed themselves, and I think that lots of us got something from it.

Watch this space – more to come later this year… Contact me at master@eacr.org.uk if you’d like to know more

Association General Secretary – we need you..!

Dear bellringer

The position of Association General Secretary becomes vacant at the AGM in May, and according to our rules, nominations should be received by the February Management Committee meeting (on 2nd February this year).

The role is an important one for the association, as the Secretary pulls everything together and keeps me, the treasurer, the rest of the management committee, and the districts organised.

Whilst there is a time commitment associated with it, it might not be as onerous as you imagine, and the duties associated with the job could be flexed to accommodate a keen person if necessary.

You don’t need to be an accomplished ringer. You don’t need to have held a district role. You don’t need to have been a member of the association for 20 years.

You do need to be organised, computer literate, friendly, open and welcoming, and to be interested in ringing.

About this time last year I was making up my mind whether to stand as Association Master, and was having the same series of conversations in my head and with my friends that a person interested in the secretary’s role might now be having. Any minor changes I might have made in my life to be able to carry out the Master’s duties have been so worth it – I’ve enjoyed myself enormously this year, and want to keep enjoying myself. I can’t believe that I almost didn’t take this opportunity.

As a budding secretary, that might be you.

I’m happy to talk to anyone that might be unsure but want to know more – contact me on master@eacr.org.uk. The job description is also on our website: https://eacr.org.uk/misc/job-descriptions/assoc-secretary.pdf

Please think about standing. The association needs its members to take part in the running of the show. It’s quite likely that you’d really enjoy it too.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress – Barack Obama

Some friends and I have been trying to ring a peal of the standard 41 surprise minor methods spliced together, all the work. It’s taking us quite a long time, and we’ve lost lots of attempts. Although it’s a reasonably difficult challenge, this post isn’t about fancy ringing or peals, but it’s made me think a lot about progress in ringing, and how we feel when things aren’t going right.

It feels like one step forward, two steps back at times, and losing peal after peal because we’re just not quite good enough yet is dispiriting for all of us.

When I lose peal attempt after peal attempt, it can feel like I’m making no progress at all, when in fact every time we ring, we’re getting little bit better, ironing out creases and becoming more familiar with the methods and composition. If I take a step back, I can see that month on month we’re gradually getting through more of the task, and doing it better each time, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve been at this point many times in my ringing life. I don’t remember much about learning to handle a bell (because I was a child and wasn’t thinking about what I was doing). However, I clearly remember feeling just like this when I was learning plain hunt, and just.couldn’t.work.it.out! Eventually I looked back and realised that I had worked it out, but for many months I felt trapped in a pit of plain hunt that I couldn’t climb out of.

I remember it when I was learning to make bobs in plain bob doubles and bobs and singles in grandsire doubles, when I would go wrong again and again and again, having to be put right constantly by my helpful tower captain.

I think lots of ringers feel like this about their progress; namely, that they aren’t making any, or that they should somehow be progressing faster. I’m sure it can’t be unique to me. With my learners, I encourage them to look back over a suitable interval to what they were ringing before (e.g. last year), and really unpick the improvement they’ve made. Using checklists (like the ones from Learning the Ropes) can help draw these improvements into focus.

Having a distorted view of progress is not unique to learners either, as I hope I’ve demonstrated with my account here – it’s always a challenge to be aware of.

What we all need to remember (my peal band included) is DO NOT GIVE UP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Progress isn’t something you can see easily from close up – you need to step back and gain perspective. We always get there in the end – sometimes it takes a bit longer than we’d initially expected, but we always get there.

Christmas Ringing

I’m just back from ringing at Midnight Mass at Goldhanger – we call it Midnight, but its always at 10 pm, apparently because its midnight somewhere, but also because its a lot more convenient than the late event. My friend Barbara is now off to ring for the real thing at Maldon (hard core..!), and most of our band also rang for the Christingle service this afternoon, for our village concert on Friday, and earlier this month for our village carol service.

I was pleased to be able to join the Northern district ringers at Shalford for their district carol service earlier this month, and enjoy the conviviality afterwards. On the same afternoon, there were also district services at Langham, Sandon, Hutton and Hatfield Broad Oak.

Tomorrow I go to Coggeshall for a peal attempt, which I’m quite excited about – I’ve never rung a peal on Christmas Day before.

Christmas is a busy time – it’s not just ringing, but there are parties, shopping, work (boo!), carol concerts and families and relatives to squeeze in. However, ringing always takes me back to being a teenager in the town where I grew up – even tonight, walking between my house and the church where I ring in the moonlight, I had a little reminder of the thrill that I always feel ringing at Christmas. It’s really special – something that we share between ourselves as a private pleasure, but also something that we share in a very public way with the rest of the world outside our churches and in our villages, towns and cities.

Enjoy Christmas ringing – there’s nothing quite like it. As I’m ringing tomorrow, I’ll be thinking about all of my ringing friends and acquaintances ringing at the same time.

Happy Christmas!

Master’s Dinner Speech 2018

To any of you that didn’t make our annual dinner this year, I’m really sorry that you weren’t able to come – it was great. Here’s a copy of the speech that I made.

Welcome again to the 64th Annual Dinner of the Essex Association of Change Ringers. Every year, the association meets to eat and drink, to reflect on the past year and our accomplishments, and to spend time with friends, old and new.

There are a number of key events in the association’s calendar which were made crystal clear to me when I first started considering standing as master. Among other things, these include organizing the 10 bell striking competitions, chairing the dreaded management committee meetings, and speaking at this, our annual dinner.

Having got the striking competitions out of the way, I turned my thoughts to the October Management Committee meeting. When I told my partner last week that I was going to a bellringing meeting, and that it might last for about 4 hours, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me incredulously, and said, “it’s bellringing – what is there to talk about?” Little does he know…

However, at the meeting I was given a very easy run by the trustees, and we pretty much sailed through the agenda.

So, I thought triumphantly last Saturday evening, just the annual dinner to go – how hard can that be?

I sought quite a lot of advice about this speech. Luckily, I can call on the assistance of no less than 5 past masters of the association, all of whom passed on nuggets of useful information.

Don’t make “in jokes”.
Don’t use lewd humour.
Don’t make political jokes.
Don’t encourage hecklers.
Don’t speak too long.
Don’t speak too quickly.

All very good advice, for which I am extremely grateful.

Luckily, once I’d taken out all the political, rude, in-jokes, this speech wasn’t that long anymore, so now all I have to do is speak nice and slowly, and I should have it cracked. By the way, good luck with the accent!

Although somewhat of a responsibility, being master has been brilliant fun so far. I’ve met ringers that I’ve never spoken to before and gone to towers that I might never otherwise have visited. As well as my usual haunts, thank you particularly to the ringers at Hornchurch, Saffron Walden, Great Bromley, Leytonstone, Sawbridgeworth, Great Easton and Thorpe-le-Soken, for letting me join your practices and for making me feel so welcome. I was reassured that, to those ringers at least, the association had relevance, and this is down to the extremely hard work that goes on in all of the districts to support ringing and ringers.

The annual district meetings in January elected a number of new district officers who are serving as trustees of this association. Inevitably, there are only so many of us to go round, so we often end up with the same faces round the table, so it’s particularly encouraging to see these new faces appearing.

The next major event in our calendar is the Essex Course.

The Essex course continues to flourish. As you know better than I do, it was conceived and launched by Adrian Semken, a man of vision that I sadly never had the opportunity to meet, but whose hand I would have shaken if I did. Not only is it a premiere training event, it is also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Few territorial associations have an event of this calibre to call their own, and it is something we are rightly proud of. Mary Bone has magnificently stewarded this tremendous for 9 years, and on Hogmanay will stand down as ringing course convener. Please join me in thanking Mary for doing an exemplary job, and for helping to make the course what it is today.

The ringing course convenor’s job is not easy, but without course tutors and helpers, it would be impossible. We are lucky to have a number of individuals who have given up days and weeks of their own time, often taking annual leave from their jobs, to teach ringers on the course. I am very pleased to be able to present 2 ringers with a certificate honoring their long service as a course tutor. Please join me in thanking:

Roger Collins – 10 years
Steve Nash – 20 years

Essex was well represented in 3 premiere striking competitions this year:

  • the Ringing World National Youth Contest, held in London
  • the Ridgman Trophy, held at St Peter’s St Albans
  • and our own Essex Trophy, hosted by the Sussex Association and held at St Mary’s, Horsham.

Whilst first place was elusive in all, I was pleased with the standard of ringing that we produced, and I’m grateful to all members of all bands for giving up their time and managing their nerves for the association. Please join me in giving a special congratulation to our young ringers, who achieved a very creditable B+ score for their ringing, and who came joint 7thoverall from 22 teams. Well done Christina and your ringers.

It must have been almost impossible to miss Ringing Remembers, a joint campaign by the Central Council and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, supported by the Big Ideas Company. In case you have somehow not heard of this tremendous piece of work, the aim was to recruit 1400 new bellringers in this centenary year of the end of World War One, to honour the 1400 bellringers who lost their lives in that war. As a national recruitment campaign it has been highly successful, and at last report I understand that over 1700 people have signed up. In Essex alone we have received 121 new sign ups, more than any other association, which confirms what we all know, that we are best association in the world. They have been signposted to teachers and towers in the county by our Public Relations Officer, Emily Ashton. To Emily, and to all those that have taught, befriended, supported, or learnt as part of this campaign, thank you.

She is very modest about this, but we are honoured to have the brains behind the whole operation in our association. Vicki Chapman, one of the Essex Association Central Council Representatives, leads on this initiative in her work with the Central Council, and I am very proud to see her, and by association, Essex, leading the way in recruitment and promotion of bellringing.

I was given the double honour this year of being able to see the association 8 bell competition held in my own tower in Goldhanger, and the 6 bell at Great Totham, also a tower close to my heart. Both of these events were ably run by the SE district – thank you Christina and your team for making them such memorable events, not just for me, but for everyone who attended and enjoyed the sunshine listening to good ringing. And congratulations again to Chelmsford Cathedral, winners of the 6 bell trophy, and to the SE district, winners of the 8 bell trophy.

I’d like to make a personal call out to the ringers from Willingale. They competed in the 6-bell trophy. To me, they were initially remarkable for their state of undress, as they sunbathed in Great Totham churchyard waiting for their slot to ring. Their laid-back attitude was even more remarkable when Ian Kirwin confided in me that they had only completed the test piece once before. It is for bands like Willingale that this association exists. There is a perception that the association serves an elite squad of ringers, which I refute. Admittedly, a high standard of ringing is a worthy aim, and we do lots to further this aspect of our art. However, I think we have a greater responsibility, to create and protect the future of ringing, to ensure that it survives in a fit state for future generations. By joining our forces and working together, we can achieve much much more than the sum of our parts. Well done Willingale, and all bands like you. I worry sometimes that learner bands feel awkward and out of place at association events, but it is primarily for you that we are here. Earlier this year, a past master told me with glee about a group that assailed him at the conclusion of an association dinner, slurring “We’re crap ringers, but we know how to party”. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a crap ringer (with which I know that particular past master would agree), they were spot on. It’s all about the party.

In my day job I am a director in a central London teaching hospital. Recently I have spent a lot of my time worrying about diversity and inclusion. I feel a great responsibility at work to make sure that I am equitable and fair, and that I ensure that everyone has the same chance to progress through their careers. I often reflect on ringing as I do this.

Ringing is almost unique in hobbies in that it will take anyone on, train them from scratch, usually free of charge, and will then support them as part of a multi-skilled band of ringers in whom it’s the turning up and taking part that’s most important, rather than the skill. Yes, good ringing can be more rewarding than lumpy ringing, and yes, sometimes we want to stretch ourselves in more demanding methods with a selected band, but Sunday Service ringing is much more of an egalitarian affair. Ringers come from all walks of life, rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, all ethnic backgrounds, and from every social class. We make extensive provision for disabled ringers (including mental and physical impairments). I’m not saying that prejudice is entirely absent from ringing, but to my perception it is a lot less prevalent in our circles of friendship than in the world at large.

It would be easy to think that we only do this because we are desperate for new ringers, to preserve our art, but I have a different theory. I think that there is something deeply inclusive about ringing itself, that leads us to be more accepting of difference than we might be in other parts of our day to day lives. Maybe those of us that are a bit different are led to the exercise because it is inclusive and judges less than the “outside world”? I don’t know why it happens, but I know that I value it, and I celebrate this aspect of ringing every day.

This leads me to the Church. Another solidly inclusive organization, the Church has a unique perspective on ringing, and an umbilical connection to our art, because most of the bells we ring are located in churches or other religious buildings. The connection between church and ringing is strong, and both flourish when it is nurtured and sustained. Those of you who read my blog may have read my thoughts on the beautiful relationship between the church and ringers at St Peter Mancroft, who were so supportive of their efforts to provide a teaching and training centre for new and learner ringers, as well as preserve the history of their wonderful bells. This is a special relationship – I promise, that’s the closest I’ll get to transatlantic politics in this speech! This special relationship is not unique – it exists in many churches around the country. We recently held our annual bellringers service, where our small congregation joined us to hear a bellringing-related address, sing some hymns that we knew, and to remember why we turn out every Sunday at 9am.

But as I reflect on our successes, our friendships, our inclusiveness, and our association, I am routinely brought back to the church, who keep us grounded, who remind us of our humanity and the contribution that we bring, and who are as much a part of ringing as we are of village Sunday mornings.

To the Church.



Dinners and diners

Well – that’s that.

I’ve been stressing about the association dinner for weeks now, and all of a sudden its over and in the past. I’ve had nothing at all to do with arranging it (all ably coordinated by Andrew Brewster and his social committee), but I do have to make small talk all night, make sure the guests are looked after, and deliver a speech. Those that know me might be surprised, but the speech bit has caused me some anxiety. I’m more than happy talking in public (a bit too happy, some might say), but I’m not used to thinking of something to say, and I’m terrible at telling jokes. I had a major case of writers block. As usual, the deadline had the desired effect and forced me to put pen to paper – finally, something resembling a speech was forming in front of me. But would people want hear it?

As it turns out, it seems that they did. The dinner overall was a good event, and everyone that I spoke to seemed to have enjoyed themselves. It was great to talk to some first time diners – coming to the association dinner can be a bit daunting, and I think a few myths were busted last night. When I suggested to my local tower that we might have a table a few years ago, one of our locals said “no thanks, it’ll just be that Chelmsford lot…” I’m not sure what he had agains the “Chelmsford lot” (I’ve always found them perfectly lovely), but I think he was describing a phenomenon that I’ve observed before – the perception that not all ringers are created equal. Well, they are, as my speech described.

And for those of you that didn’t or couldn’t make it:

a) See you next year, and
b) I’ve published this year’s speech here in this blog


Mancroft and ringing relations

Four of the peal boards at Mancroft have been beautifully restored to their former magnificence

As I write this I am on the train home from the dedication service and opening of the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre. They can tell you better than I can what this project has been about, but in brief, they have created a new ring of 8 training bells (dumb bells with a simulator) underneath the magnificent ring of 12 bells in the tower where the first ever peal was rung (at the same time as moving the ringing room up the tower creating a dizzying and spectacular view of the roof). They aren’t the first tower to do something like this (Worcester are another good example), and there are lots of other towers where the original bells can be silenced and rung with a simulator.

However, two big things stood out for me tonight.

The Mancroft ringers and congregation have endured significant disruption to their church, in part to a project that will never be directly heard. This project has the explicit aim of preserving and promoting ringing for future generations, by providing a dedicated training environment where new and experienced ringers can learn and develop their skills, thus ensuring that ringing itself has a future. The bells of Mancroft, Norwich, East Anglia and the whole world will continue to ring in part because of this project and others like it. They’ve done all of this because they care about the art, not for their own pleasure (although they are a lot of fun to ring). As I’ve already alluded, my comments aren’t meant to take away from the magnificent efforts of ringing teachers all round the world who are doing the same thing in varying circumstances, and with varying support – I salute you all. I was just taken this evening by the scale of Mancroft’s ambition, foresight and dedication.

Note the green middle sections on the sally – much easier where to work out where to catch if you are learning
Interior of the new raised ringing room at Mancroft, with the large feature window under the church roof

I said that 2 things stood out for me. I was also impressed by their relationship with the church. All too often we talk about strained relations with the churches that we ring at, that have nothing to do with liking or disliking bells, but which can cause no end of pain on both sides of the conversation. St Peter Mancroft and the ringers have a wonderful relationship, that was uplifting to see (even to jaded old ringers like me). The church was heavily supportive of their project, seemed delighted with the results, and were undeniably proud of their own ringers. I’m not a religious person, and I wasn’t brought up in the church. I didn’t start ringing because of the church – like lots of us, the church is just where bells happen to be. But over the years I have developed a strong affection, admiration and respect for the church and its core aims, and through this have developed my own better understanding of their needs, compared with my own. Tonight put it into focus for me. I want to be like Mancroft. The church and the ringers all want the same thing – for each other to be happy and successful, and are prepared to support each other in that.

Magnificent view from the new ringing room, Mancroft

I’ll find it hard to sleep when I get home – lots of food for thought.

Good ringing in the sunshine

I don’t know about you, but I had a fantastic time this weekend. You may have noticed a striking competition theme to my blogs recently – it’s definitely “that” season.

We were hosting the Association Striking competition at Great Totham and Goldhanger (my home tower). Meticulous planning by Christina Brewster and Jo Elliot (District Master and Secretary) in collaboration with the local bands meant that the day ran exceptionally smoothly. Great Totham churchyard was turned into a sun-bathing area (most of the Willingale band seemed to have their tops off topping up their tans), and deck chairs littered the shady areas. Tea at Goldhanger was stupendous – it was like a scene from Harry Potter, with plate after plate of sandwiches and cake brought out by an endless supply of helpers. Barbara Wilson, who coordinated much of it, deserves a medal!

The end of the day was particularly memorable. I spend a lot of time walking back and forth across Goldhanger churchyard in my weekly ringing life, so to see it filled with all my friends, listening to excellent 8 bell ringing at dusk, was special beyond words. And although the master is always officially impartial, the ringer of the 6thfor the SE band (me) was particularly pleased with the end result.

This weekend typified everything that I regard as important in ringing – friends, home and enjoyable ringing.

A warm Saturday drinking tea in the shade…

This week I went to a foreign land (Kent) to judge a striking competition. Despite being VERY FAR AWAY, they were quite like us. They were friendly, they liked tea, cake, sausage rolls and other things that you only ever get at a bellringers tea, and they enjoyed ringing. I felt very much at home.

David Hengeli (SE District Deputy Master) accompanied me and supplied all the soundbites for the results. It was his first (but I’m sure not last) go at judging a striking competition, although he is a veteran competitor. He was quite pleased to get out alive, following our comments, but we were very kind.

The ringing was great (nothing better than sitting in the shade of trees with a cup of tea, listening to good Erin Triples), and the top 3 bands rang excellently. Luckily we were in agreement on the winning team (Rochester) – congratulations to them for an excellent performance.

Inevitably, on the drive home we were both thinking about our own striking competition finals in a couple of weeks. The 6 bell competition is due to be held at Great Totham (just down the road from me) and the 8 bell final at my own manor, Goldhanger. I was horrified when I discovered that our steeple keeper had put a new (elastic) rope on the 6tha couple of weeks ago, but some stretching with a heavy weight has sorted that out, and it’s behaving normally now. I’m really looking forward to seeing all my ringing friends in my own village (nothing to do with becoming Master – this was arranged before my appointment) and introducing them to the Chequers Inn (where I occasionally visit…).

See you all on the 14th– it’s going to be a great day!

Striking competitions and learners

It’s been a lovely ringing week this week.

On Tuesday I was welcomed warmly to the practice at Saffron Walden. They have a great local band there, ringing regularly on 10 and 12 bells to a good standard, reminding us that when we are enthusiastic and dedicated to what we do, we can achieve great things. They have fun, they ring well, and they get on well with each other – what more could you ask for. I’m looking forward to a return visit.

On Wednesday it was my own practice night in Goldhanger. Two learners from a neighboring village (Tolleshunt D’Arcy) have recently started coming to our practices because their own bells are out of action. Keen as mustard, they are happy just to stand and watch all of us ring, but I know that to keep them engaged they’ll need more than that. We met early on Wednesday for some dedicated practice time, during which they made good progress ironing out wrinkles in their style and one of them managed rounds on 6 for the first time. New ringers are essential to keep our art going – it’s delightful to have such keen learners to work with.

I had to leave Goldhanger early to go to Terling and practice in my own district band for the 8 bell competition. We had a good run at the method, which boosted our confidence. Striking competitions can be nerve wracking, but in my opinion, they need to be fun and we need to enjoy ourselves (as much as we can when performing in public) – otherwise, what’s the point?

On Saturday, I’m off to judge a competition for one of our neighbouring associations. Accompanied by David Hengeli, we’ve been preparing ourselves, refreshing our technique by reading Simon Linford’s excellent book on the subject, and I’ve been inspire to write out proper marking sheets and everything. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I look forward to seeing as many of the association as possible at the finals in Great Totham and Goldhanger on the 14th July. The tea’s going to be brilliant, the ringing will be top notch, and other people tell me (ahem) that there’s a really good pub in the village…