Central Council logo, a circle of overlapping bell shapes

President’s blog #86

(Where we meditate over knitting and method structure, using history to learn from success, the worth of ambition and whether we can be decent human beings)

Lately I have been doing quite a lot of stranded knitting – which is knitting with two colours, usually using a chart.  For me it gives the same kind of meditative satisfaction as bellringing.  There is a nice mindless element of moving the stitches along the needle, but you also have to concentrate enough to keep the pattern correct.

Most common charted patterns (and there a lot of books of them) have a lot of symmetry, so while shifting the stitches along, I have been thinking about the way that each pattern repeat is a bit like a place bell.  I’m too lazy to tick off the rows on a piece of paper, so I tend to check my accuracy from the stitches in the row below – like fitting my work around the other bells.  Better knitters than I can just keep the whole ‘grid’ in their head and work the pattern based on the fact that they know how the pattern works.

Feels like a long metaphor in development?  It came out a bit in an interview I did for my alma mater, Kalamazoo College.  My interviewer asked what it was about ringing that made it special.  And I was a bit lost for words (I know, pick your jaw up off the floor).  So I’ve been thinking about it since, and a small part of the answer is how knowing about ringing gives me tools for thinking about and understanding other things.

There’s thinking and there’s doing.  In my last blog I mentioned the nearly 90 (at last count) ringers volunteering their time to make things happen directly for the Central Council.  So many more are working to improve ringing in other ways and closer to home, whether it be recruitment or training or mentoring.   The Annual ART Awards are a good way to celebrate some of that work and dedication, and nominations are now open.

It’s a chance to call out and celebrate the good things people are doing. A nomination is recognition of someone’s hard work and success.

The process is very easy – I speak from experience, and if you think you might like to nominate a person or a group and aren’t sure quite how to do it, ask ART.  They are more than helpful, and always delighted to encourage new nominees.  https://bellringing.org/art-awards-2024

I love documents that are in plain English and get to the point.  The recently released Code of Practice for ringers is just that – brief and simple to understand, and a perfect piece of broad guidance.  Like all things that look simple, it took a lot of work and quite a few review processes to get it pared down to it’s present form.  This came out of a Safeguarding review in 2021, and I want to congratulate Ann White and Dave Bassford for leading that and for getting the recommended actions underway.

Do we need telling how to be decent human beings?  asks Robert Lewis.  I’d hope not, but the reality is that we probably need some reminding. The code is a template that any tower or association can use if it helps them to recruit, make new ringers more welcome, and generally be clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour.   It’s part of our efforts to help associations with templates and boilerplate documents.  Initial feedback since announcing it has been positive, and I know of one diocese that is considering adopting it for their own use.

I’ve been diving into another online project that has just been released – history.cccbr.org.uk.  This is a collection of historical links and resources relating to ringing.  It is a key bookmark for those interested in ringing history, and worth taking a dive into for curiosity’s sake as well.  This doesn’t belong to a select few historians, but to all ringers.

Doug Hird has done much of the heavy lifting on this, and it has been some years in the making.  It was instigated when much previous historical data became archived with the launch of the new CCCBR website.  Disappointing as it no doubt was at the time, it did create an opportunity to rethink presentation and content, and it is all the better for that.

It’s worth diving into our history, so that sometimes, we can repeat it.  After a nudge from John Loveless, I’ve been reflecting on the ringing of the extent on Major:  40,320 changes of Plain Bob Major.  Behind that successful performance lay the many previous attempts and build-ups, not to mention the compositional challenge posed.  Once that barrier was broken, the possibility of other extended ringing challenges opened up.

What I like is the ambition behind it.  This was an endeavour with a serious risk of not succeeding, each time it was tried.  Taking a few goes at something ambitious isn’t failure, it’s training.  The other day we were talking in the pub about whether it was preferable to go for ‘risky’ peals, or go for a reasonably certain ‘score’.  It was a lively discussion without any real conclusion.

So I loved seeing the recent NUSCR all-female band peal hit the top of Billboard, with a good fistful of firsts as well.  There was risk there.  Performances like this can open up new opportunities for all the ringers who participated, and possibly inspire a few copycat performances around the country?

I have targeted ‘firsts’ in the context of peals, but Linda Garton made the point, in the most recent Fun with Bells podcast, that a first is a first and worthy to celebrate.  By broadening the definition of what makes a ringing achievement, and celebrating each one, the Bedfordshire Association saw an increase in motivation and enthusiasm, and more people able to aspire to things like peals and quarter peals.  A pretty clear example of a supportive environment bringing tangible performance benefits.  Just saying.

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