Message from the Master – July 2020

Four months have passed since lockdown silenced our towers, four months in which much has happened and, simultaneously, very little.

We are making small steps to returning to ringing, but certainly not as before. There are still copious guidelines to be followed including restricting the number of ringers in a tower to comply with social distancing requirements, the length of time we can ring and the need to take many precautions to keep other ringers safe from viral contamination. All the details can be found on the Latest News drop down on our website home page. Please read the information, consult with the priest in charge too, because they may not be familiar with the guidance for bell ringers and it is their responsibility to ensure the safety of church workers.

Enough of the gloom! For, as we expected, ringers are energetic, enthusiastic and inventive. The plethora of handbells and Ringing Room activity has honed skills and continues to develop an eclectic range of entertainment. These are the ringers who will return to church bell ringing with the energy and probably enhanced skills – well done to everyone!

There are also many ringers who, for different reasons have not embarked upon such projects and are waiting, quietly, until they can return to the ringing room to take hold of the sally and be rewarded by that glorious, resonant sound that has summoned worshippers for centuries and cannot ever be confused with handbells or simulation. (Yes, I am putting my hand up and admitting my preferences; this will come as no surprise to those of you reading this who know me well – please do not resort to grumpy emails because I support you all and remain in considerable awe of everyone who can ring two bells at once. And my mobile ring tone is Little Bob 20 in hand, so it can’t all be bad.)

Sadly, and inevitably, there will be bands where ringers will not return; the habit may be broken, interest declined, other activities prioritised. The ODG has an ageing membership and many weeks of inactivity may have an impact on physical abilities and so prohibit further ringing.

The future for the Church and State remains unclear; we have unknown obstacles to overcome, ringing will return to different towers at different rates. I believe some good must come out of these exceptional circumstances; so, let us make sure we provide support, encouragement and guidance to one another as we work together to rebuild our ancient art and historic culture. There will come a time when we can reunite and I am certainly looking forward to that day.

Katie Lane

Website updates

On Tuesday 14th July, a number of changes will be made to the Guild website. No downtime is anticipated, but you may find things look a little different. Please be patient with us while we make these changes. If you have any questions, please contact the webmaster.

The Mystery Bell

Readers of the Ringing World may have read Matthew Higby’s article and the subsequent letter about the Westcroft Park Campanile near Chobham. What you may not have spotted was the connection with the ODG. Back at the end of March, just after the lock-down, I was in the garden admiring a couple of pheasants that happened to be wandering through and I heard the “Nine Tailors” blowing across on the Easterly wind. A quick dash to Shrivenham St Andrew’s found the church locked and the churchyard deserted. What was going on? It was a substantial bell that I heard. After some hasty local research the sound was eventually traced to the local Defence Academy of the United Kingdom in nearby Watchfield. So started a very interesting bit of research which just happened to coincide with the Westcroft Park research and the researchers met each other in the middle of the story! I won’t spoil the story for Ringing World readers who will shortly see the article on “The Mystery Bell”. After it has been published, I shall put up another article here on the ODG website for the benefit of those folks who can’t see a Ringing World while we are locked-down. In the meantime, here is a video of the bell being sounded by the Army Chaplain. (By the way; you can’t see the device inside to ensure it is not “clocked”).

https://www.facebook.com/shrivenhamandashbury/videos/612102296185965

Tony Crabtree (Tower Captain – Shrivenham).

ODG Six-Bell and Ten-Bell Competition Certificates

The striking competition certificates are normally presented at the Guild AGM later in May. However, now the AGM is to be held as a “virtual” affair, it becomes impossible to do the presentation. Until such time as the lock-down is eased and we can meet again, here are the certificates for all to see and the successful teams to celebrate.

Six-bell

2019_10_05-6_Bell_Third-0p1

Ten-bell

Ringing World YouTube competition

The Ringing World of last week saw the launch of a YouTube competition that will run from now until Christmas. Details can be found here https://cccbr.org.uk/youtube-competition/, where there is also a link to a YouTube video on how to make a YouTube ringing video (should we be back in our towers before Christmas).

This competition could be of particular interest to those ringers who do not use traditional media for their ringing news, particularly young ringers.

Ringing Room

What a few weeks it has been. Like everybody else, I had been slowly descending into madness with the lack of opportunity to ring. It was especially bad timing for me personally, because the lockdown was announced the night before I was due to return to work (and by extension society) after my self-imposed isolation with what turned out to be no more than man flu. I know what nearly half the population are now thinking- I’m lucky to be alive…

Many discussions were taking place on Facebook and other portals about how to fight the boredom with no access to tower bells and very limited access to handbells (like many people, I suffer from being the only ringer in my family, and the thought of attempting to teach my parents how to ring from scratch was bringing me out in a cold sweat). This naturally turned to the possibility of setting up virtual ringing meets, with an online ringing circle and a way to coordinate ringers to come together. A group of 4 of us tried to come up with a solution by using Abel to ring our own bells, and a separate video call to communicate and hear everyone else’s bells. However, we had limited success with this due to the fact most video conferencing apps are not set up to allow every participant to be heard at all times, and focus is on one participant. The switch from one person to another was too slow to keep up with our ringing (swapping 7 times per change, taking approximately 2 seconds per change), and so it was extremely difficult to hear every bell being rung, if they even came across at all. This was a problem common to every app we tried, and even when changing the devices being used. We tried Facebook Messenger and Discord (a dedicated gaming video conferencing app, renowned for providing very fast communication as needed for many modern games), and tried on our phones and computers, but all combinations resulted in the same issues. A lead of Plain Hunt on 8 was the best we could muster, and that was only by assuming gaps in the audio were caused by the unsuitable technology (rather than our incompetence- an assumption with questionable validity). This was not a viable solution, but it did give us hope, since the lag in audio (gap between one person ringing and everyone else hearing it) was not so great as to be terminal to a piece of ringing.

Whilst we attempted to come up with a more workable solution, a band in the US had taken things one step further, and created ‘Ringing Room’, an online belfry that could be used to ring tower bells and handbells alike, with a remote band of other bored ringers. Fuelled by a desire to be the first UK band to take advantage of the new opportunity and score our own quarter, the 4 of us reconvened. A Messenger video call was set up and a ‘room’ was established. The controls are very similar to those of Abel, and as such we all got the hang of it pretty quickly. That didn’t necessarily mean it was easy to ring though, and our first few attempts ended almost as soon as they began. At this point I must sound like I’m just making excuses, but it was in large part due to connection problems caused by slow broadband meaning the signals were not getting through as they should, leading to firing of the bells rung during the time the connection was dropped. Luckily, we were all used to ringing with the occasional row (or lead) being fired, and eventually we were able to get past these sticking points. We finally scored our quarter with the time approaching midnight, having started our first attempt at 8pm. What we lacked in competence, we certainly made up for in persistence, and became what we believe to be the first band to ring a quarter peal whilst in 4 different UK Counties.

The internet connection was variable throughout the successful attempt, but it was noticeably better than the previous attempts, and that no doubt played a major role in our success. By the time my internet connection decided to slow down (only one course from the end), we had got into a good enough rhythm that we were able to power through the final changes. However, a more stable connection would have meant a less stressful ‘home straight’ for all of us.

Our use of a video chat proved very useful indeed. Whilst Ringing Room is set up so that you do not need any other communication to ring (barring a separate chat to organise bands for touches), having the conductor able to shout instructions in real time was vital in my opinion. As brilliant as the app is, there is not yet a button for telling two bells to swap back after a mistake, and even the best touches generally require something more than just calls of ‘Bob’ and ‘Single’. Having a video call as well as audio greatly helped me as well, because seeing other people’s faces as they rang in the wrong place was extremely reassuring, meaning the gap I was intending to fill was still probably the correct gap to fill! We had rung some successful touches with just audio communication, so it is possible to ring successfully if your internet connection is too slow to allow video calls alongside Ringing Room, but it is a substantially easier when making ‘eye-contact’ is possible.

We have had a few more attempts since our scored quarter, though unfortunately none have been successful. However, it does not look like the lockdown will be lifted any time soon, and as such I am sure there will be many more attempts in the weeks to come. I also look forward to seeing many other bands coming together and attempting to score their own isolation quarters, and I am sure it is only a matter of time before a band goes one step further…

Message from the Guild Master – March 2020

How quiet everywhere has become, not just the absence of our beloved bells, there are far fewer vehicles on our roads, no shrill playground noise, no one stopping for a gossip on the streets, no happy camaraderie at closing time, even the houses seem shut up and silent.

Many ringers are highly inventive and are trying to keep their skills alive in a variety of ways, some more curious than others.  There is plenty that can be done; learning methods is an obvious diversion, planning a virtual outing including pubs could be another, having a go at composition or simply doing certain Pilates exercises to keep the right muscles trim!

It’s early days; even now I can see how we are looking out for our ringing friends.  There are up-lifting newsletters, Facebook amusements, Facetime conversations, emails and text messages and, most of all, welcome, friendly phone calls which do much to lift the spirits and to hear another voice, especially for those who are self-isolating on their own.

These challenging times have left us stunned and quiet, giving us unexpected time for reflection. How often do we wonder, when was the last time …. I cut the grass, called auntie, had a haircut, dusted the house, tidied up the shed and so on?  And of course, we can’t quite remember.  But I expect every ringer would be able to say exactly the last time they rang a bell and enjoyed the company of other ringers.  We have to hold on to the memory of those more carefree days.

I have a friend who has decided to learn a poem every day; John Betjeman’s Uffington seems to suit the time and mood:

Uffington

Tonight we feel the muffled peal

Hang on the village like a pall;

It overwhelms the towering elms –

That death-reminding dying fall;

The very sky no longer high

Comes down within the reach of all.

Imprisoned in a cage of sound

Even the trivial seeks profound.

It would be amazing if we had been allowed to ring during this curfew, we would have been heard, and noticed, far and wide!  That is just a dream, but hopefully when we come away from these distressing days, we WILL be able to celebrate and ring out loud and clear for all the world to hear!

 

The best of wishes to you all.

Katie Lane, March 2020