This page collates feedback from various members of the ringing community which has been submitted prior to the consultation meeting which is being held on 11th October 2015 in Southwark.
Replies to Methods Committee March 2015 consultation
There was a consultation document published in March 2015 which brought in 22 replies on the future of the Decisions. Peter Niblett has summarised the responses in this document.
Ringing Theory Rules Subgroup
A subgroup has been formed from the Ringing Theory list to canvas opinion from their members to put forward a proposal for an alternative to the current set of Decisions. The output of this subgroup has resulted in preparation of two documents:
- Descriptive Framework And Requirements For Method Ringing which outlines an alternative to the current decisions.
- A companion document which provides examples of applications of these new decisions, how they differ from the current decisions and some documentation of the discussions which led to the proposals.
This document summarises the consensus position reached by the subgroup which has been actively working on these documents since January 2015. The full discussion can be read online.
Responses from individuals
In addition to joining the chorus of respondents expressing hope that future consultations will be handled in a more transparent manner, and with more adequate advance notice, I just wanted to share a brief thought about the ‘Framework’ which Tim Barnes’ subgroup has prepared.
When it comes to what I take to be its main aim, that of simplifying and liberalizing the method definitions, I must confess that I have not studied its technical details to feel able to give a truly valuable response; and even if I were to put in the time, it’s quite likely that (as somebody relatively new to ringing theory) I don’t have enough expertise to do so yet! But I will just say that I am in agreement with its aim of handling things in as descriptive (rather than prescriptive) a manner as possible. It is useful to have a common terminology to use when discussing methods, but we don’t want to stifle the development of new methods which may look different from those of the past.
However, the framework (somewhat in passing, as it seems) would also redefine the word ‘peal’ in several ways which are likely to prove controversial; and although I look favorably on its liberalization of the method definitions, I would urge caution in changing the peal’s definition.
There are several changes which seem a bit shocking, such as allowing peals on simulators; but we each have our own particular hobby-horse, and I will focus on mine — which is that for me the notion of the extent seems to me to be the essence of change ringing, going hand-in-hand with our concept of ‘truth’. Divorcing the definition of a peal of triples from that of an extent would, in my opinion, be to miss the point, reducing a peal from something meaningful in itself to a mere impressive feat. (5000 is simply a round number, but on seven bells 5040 actually means something, a rare and precious quality in life!)
To my mind, rather than chipping away bit by bit at the definition of the word ‘peal’, it would be preferable to simply do away with rules and decisions altogether and allow a free-for-all. This has a certain beauty to it; but I presume that it is not within your committee’s remit!
So my point in writing is to suggest that it is perfectly possible to be bold and creative and open-minded in some areas, while being cautious and respectful of tradition in others. I would suggest that you adopt the former approach toward the methods, and the latter toward the notion of what makes a standard performance.
I read with interest that the Central Council Methods Committee has finally launched a ‘consultation process’ about Decisions on Methods, Calls and Peals.
However, the completely farcical lack of due process surrounding the consultation gives very little confidence that much needed, meaningful change is genuinely being considered. As a result, the reputation of the Central Council is yet further diminished.
Many ringers will rightly be wondering what any fuss is about, and why there is a problem. Ringing has many pressing current challenges – such as in teaching, recruitment and retention – and this is where the focus of the Central Council (CC) should be. It is a mad situation, and completely avoidable, that year after year after year so much of the CC’s time and attention is expended on needless, rancorous, arcane debates about ‘Decisions’ and method minutiae that most ringers neither understand nor enjoy.
So what is the problem? The CC’s Decisions on Methods, Calls, Peals and Extension are an outdated framework, overly complex, repeatedly patched up, and not fit for purpose. The fundamental problem is that these Decisions are based on a proscriptive mindset – they inappropriately set out in minute detail the properties of the methods we are allowed to ring. The very word ‘Decisions’ aptly conveys this, and is inappropriate.
Consequently, when a band completes some new change ringing which is true, looks like change ringing, sounds like change ringing and is change ringing – be it a 120 of a Doubles method, a peal of cyclic Maximus or whatever – it often finds what they rang being declared by the Methods Committee to be ‘nonmethods’, or a ‘non-compliant performance’ or other such dystopian, Orwellian words.
The Methods Committee thus chooses not to keep consistent, searchable records of the new methods they don’t like, and sometimes implores bands to describe what they rang in different, contrived and inaccurate ways just so it better fits their broken Decisions.
Now, the main issue is clearly not that people are physically prevented from ringing things – it’s hardly the case that there are ‘method police’ at the tower door stopping bands ringing what they want to. But the Decisions do choke innovation, do leave some ringers very hacked off, and do render most of the ringing community puzzled. The reputation of the CC certainly suffers as a result. What is gained by being so proscriptive? Would ringing degenerate if there was liberalisation?
The tragedy is that the problem is completely avoidable. The CC simply needs to take the approach that there should be a descriptive framework to change ringing, describing (as clearly, concisely and futureproof as possible) what bands choose to ring rather than endless proscribing of what they view as acceptable.
Many ringers have been calling for this change in mindset – to a descriptive approach – for a long time. It’s not an impossible problem, it’s not a question of lack of brain power, or of laziness. As with many things, here the challenges comes down to people problems and organisational intransigence.
The Methods Committee has for years consistently rebuffed any meaningful change, whether from within the committee or from the constructive input of a wider body of ringing theory experts.
This new ‘consultation’ only came about because the Methods Committee was mandated, at the May 2014 full CC meeting, to consider a possible fundamentally new approach, with high priority. The motion came from the floor and was carried by a large majority. The minutes of the meeting record one person speaking vehemently against it, saying, as reported by The Ringing World, ‘this motion will cause … very little change … I think this motion is a serious mistake’. The person saying this was Tony Smith, a prominent Methods Committee member / Chair / Central Council President / Admin Committee Member for over 30 consecutive years.
How the Methods Committee responded to the motion being adopted is instructive. Firstly, it seemed to bury its head in the ground and do nothing, missing the suggested deadline of successive CC Admin Committee meetings to present meaningful updates. Then, it apparently appointed one Tony Smith to lead the consultation exercise. The obvious conflict of interest of appointing someone with a long-standing close association with robustly defending the status quo, who had openly stated that a review was a mistake, and also that no change would result from it seems to have been quietly brushed aside.
In January 2015 there was finally something visible resulting from the motion: a new page appeared on Tony Smith’s personal website to seemingly initiate a consultation. The page contained ‘possible changes’ to Decisions. Unfortunately the page doesn’t seem to have been publicly announced anywhere, and the ‘possible changes’ were 99.3% identical to the existing Decisions. Hardly a fundamental rethink. The page disappeared in murky circumstances a few days later.
We now fast forward to Peter Niblett’s letter in the RW of 6th March (p.230). On the positive side, Peter has actually informed the ringing community about a consultation, states that it will be fundamental, and that responses will be listened to, writing, ‘We will incorporate a summary of the comments received in a report to the upcoming CC Administrative Committee Meeting’. This appears welcome progress.
However, readers may not be aware that the deadline for reports to the forthcoming CC Administrative Committee Meeting also just happens to be 6th March … so we have the amazing, farcical situation where a technical consultation is made public on the very same day the report resulting from it has to be received! It is hard not to view this ‘consultation’ as a sham.
It gets worse: the 17-page Consultation document Peter refers to is a very defensive attempt at justifying the broken status quo, in stark contrast to the agreed motion. The whole spectrum of options should be considered in the mandated fundamental review – from no change to a complete fresh start.
Very sadly, the consultation document does not adhere to this, but very much tries to twist the debate to be based around the current Decisions. Most of the document is a list of the current decisions, along with defensive comments about why the author(s) feel they are supported. Bizarrely, the Committee admit that they do not know why some of the current regulations are in place, with their repeated justifications beginning “This is presumably …” or “We assume that …”. If the rationale of rules is questionable even to their defending custodians, it well illustrates their broken nature.
Of course, to lead to progress there has to be a meaningful new alternative on the table, and it is appropriate to take care to get things right. In response to the Method Committee’s repeated failure to address the problem, Tim Barnes has been leading a detailed, collaborative, calm, open-to-all exercise to produce a descriptive framework for methods, calls and peals. By starting from first principles, engaging with experts and looking for broad consensus on fundamental principles some good progress has been made. The ongoing working document produced provides a better basis to refine and for ringers to join behind.
The one, genuinely useful thing the Methods Committee does is to keep updated, accessible libraries of methods. Ironically, this isn’t in the Committee’s terms of reference. Having a Committee with not much to do but ponder regulations inevitably will lead to more, and more complex regulations. A positive, and needed, reform to the CC would therefore be to abolish the whole Methods Committee, with its valuable work in keeping method libraries (which can be mostly automated) to be transferred to the Records Committee.
I ask the Methods Committee to consider this my response to their ‘Consultation’, and I look forward to learning the results of the Admin Committee’s deliberations. I feel this is the last chance they have to show that the Central Council is capable of any reform, and of representing ringers rather than being an ineffectual puffed-up and self-regarding talking shop. Kicking the can yet further down the road is not appropriate. If this opportunity for reform is not grasped, formal schism will surely result.
The Council should provide services to the ringing community. The services needed include:
- A common set of definitions and concepts to facilitate communication about methods, calls and compositions
- A repository of method names to help ringers know whether what they ring is the same as what others ring.
- A declared set of norms about performances that can simplify performance reporting while still enabling ringers to know what was rung and how it was rung.
- Records of ringing performances so that ringers can know what has been rung in the past, and where appropriate can make comparisons.
The current Decisions (and associated records) perform these functions but they have a number of significant shortcomings, many of which stem from the Decisions prescriptive origins. They have been revised to remove some restrictions but they still define a subset (albeit a larger one) of what is possible, with performances of anything outside the subset, or anything described in a way not already codified, being deemed non-compliant. This is at odds with the expectation of the modern ringing community and also enforces a ‘Catch 22’ on anyone wishing to innovate. The disputes associated with these shortcomings bring the Council into disrepute – both with high end innovators who are frustrated by the arbitrary constraints and by rank and file ringers who see the disputes about Decisions as evidence that the Council does not care about their needs.
The fundamental review the Council has requested is long overdue. It should be ‘fundamental’, ie it should start by establishing what descriptive services are needed, what performance norms should be declared and what recording services should be provided, without undue influence from what is currently provided (though an awareness of history will obviously inform the process in terms of what works and what should be avoided).
The subsequent implementation should in essence start with a blank sheet of paper to produce a new set of definitions, constructs, norms, etc. It should not be seen as ‘editing the current decisions’ though obviously there will be many places where existing component wording can be re-used – providing it meets the newly agreed requirements.
The work done by Tim Barnes (to which I and others have contributed) has gone a long way to demonstrating that it is possible to produce a coherent structure based on a permissive rather than a prescriptive model. It has been guided by the principles that its authors believe represent the needs of the modern ringing community as a ‘proof of principle’ but because it was generated ahead of the high level consultation on some points it is based on reasonable guesses of what might be a consensus on underlying principles. It is therefore quite likely that it will not be ‘the final answer’, but I believe it is much closer to ‘the answer’ than the current Decisions. It should thus form a useful starting point for developing what is needed based on the principles elicited by consultation.
The consultation itself should not be based primarily on either the current Decisions or on the document produced by Tim Barnes, though elements of both may be used to illustrate points. It should focus on principles (such as: Whether quarter peal ringers should have comparable status to peal ringers in terms of naming methods. Whether a peal using types of method that have not previously been described should be considered non-compliant. Whether a peal that is true should be considered non-compliant because some of the methods rung would not be true if rung in whole courses, and so on). The group that conducts the consultation (by default the Methods Committee though it may be appropriate to form a group drawing on a wider pool) will need to compile a list of such points.
I disagree with aspects of the philosophy underlying the current decisions but I would like to pay tribute to the amount of intellectual effort that has gone into developing them. I hope it can be redirected towards revised goals.
Re-stating the goals from my document of last October, the review should aim for:
- Balanced consensus – Absolute agreement on everything is unlikely. The aim should be to understand the range of views on each topic and to achieve a balance that will receive widespread support or at least respect.
- Change where required – Where there is a good reason for change it should be made, despite the status quo.
- Continuity where practical – We should not ignore what we have inherited, so although change should be made where needed, continuity should be providing it doesn’t conflict with the agreed principles.
- Simplicity – Where possible use fewer words. Favour general cases over with special cases.
- Future-proofing – Provide a framework within which future innovation is possible without undue obstacles.
Avoid arbitrary constraints. Provide clear separation between describe what has already been done and requirements for what it may be done in the future.
I would however like to fully support the proposals put forward by Tim Barnes [of the Ringing Theory Rules Subgroup]. These proposals significantly simplify matters and explain in plain English the why’s and wherefore’s. These proposals were arrived at after a lot of discussion on the R-T list, as I’m sure you are aware, and contain input from a key group of ringers with an interest and knowledge of the topics.
I am also very concerned about the apparent blackmail that took place in respect of the methods collection during the Central Council meeting and hope that the Methods Committee has now taken steps to ensure that no repetition of that is possible.
My thoughts – in a rush on Friday afternoon!
I don’t see much need for a change – some of the innovations have made it harder to explain to beginners / outsiders what ringing is about. Some simple rules, then deviations thereafter, or a rationale, or some simple examples of standardish peals might help.
The achievement of ringing an extent (of triples) starting an ending in rounds is what started peal ringing.
Therefore maintaining a whole number of extents for peals < 7 bells is a good thing. I wouldn’t mind peals of 80640 of major – a double extent.
Variable cover was a waste of time.
I have rung mixed doubles and minor – just a 120 of Stedman before a minor peal, but it didn’t seem that important an innovation, so I wouldn’t mind losing it.
Tower bell peals should be audible, and all record peals should be arranged to let people listen.
Restrictions on minimus peals in hand – the restrictions are not cleanly expressed as a tower peal of minimus double-handed is allowed.
The problem is ensuring hoax peals are more easily detected – a 3 person conspiracy is harder to achieve than 2 or 1. (Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead, so watch out for posthumously submitted peals!)
I would restrict peals to at least 3 people present – either 3 ringers, or 2 ringers + umpire or 1 ringer + 2 umpires (no doubt the null change proponents would like 3 umpires for a null change null peal!). This also allows hand-bell minimus – either 4 ringers with a single bell, or 3 with 2 ringers with a single bell, or two ringers+umpire etc.
It disallows tower peal of minimus double-handed unless an umpire is present, but that seems reasonable. It also disallows 4-in hand major or minor without an umpire.
In the past ‘illegitimate methods’ were talked of, later changed to ‘irregular’. If a fundamental restriction is removed such as truth or non-null changes then I suggest we have mathematically gone from an n > 0 to n = 0 case and the appropriate term would be ‘degenerate methods’.
Blocks seem a bit of a ‘dustbin’, though ringing all 162+ minimus extents (extended by including reversals or rotations to make a peal length) would be an achievement.https://www.math.ubc.ca/~holroyd/minimus.html
Allowing falseness in the plain course causes problems for method extension, and also distinguishing methods from each other. e.g. a double length plain course of an existing method.
Categorisation too soon is a problem, especially as people delight in finding things which haven’t been thought of.
Have rules for everything that is standard
Have rules for things which aren’t counted as definitely not worth doing.
Have a bucket for anything in between – describe these with words if necessary. Once the bucket is full, adjust the rules include and exclude to categorise most, then repeat.
‘Any shift or error in ringing shall be corrected immediately (in a peal)’ I’d like to see a consensus on what this really means. Some discussion in the ringing world, or recordings with voting on the acceptability would be great.
Another committee should start a library of audio recordings of peals – as a historic record.
Record length peals in a single method with lots of different calls doesn’t seem quite right – some of the challenge should be in the composition. Two calls seems usual – possibly reversed at the half-lead for double methods, but using a funny single to insert a course seems a bit off.
I’d like to see the methods committee select some ‘worthless methods’ for condemnation at the CC meeting. There must have been some rung over the years, and it would be quite fun to hear this debate.
That in the opinion of the Council the publication of palpably false compositions and worthless methods reflects discredit on their composers.
Indefinite extension for methods could be a problem – though I don’t follow the extension rules in detail. The engineer’s approach would just to try extension up to a few thousand bells – that might be good enough.
I do see a point in stopping other people counting as peals things that are really different from what I do – I don’t want to compare my peal total against someone pressing a key on a computer keyboard for 3 hours. If you count jump changes then next people will want concords (see Campanalogia) or Grandsire doubles where 1-4 or 2-5 or 3-6 ring together when adjacent.
Establish purpose before action: the Council exists to serve ringing, not regulate it–what services are ringers asking for?
They certainly want the wonderful collection of methods the Methods Committee provides. They want Bellboard and The Ringing World to publish reports of their performances.
But have you ever heard any ringers say “we want more rules that tell us what to ring, or how to ring it”?
It is hard to see what service the current body of rules, oddly called “Decisions”, provides. It mostly provides impediments. That these rules are called “Decisions” reinforces the notion that a small body of individuals is making choices they expect others to live by, which is the antithesis of the Council serving ringers and ringing. If the entire body of Decisions were simply wiped clear, I see no way in which ringing would suffer. Most ringers would continue to ring the same things as always, though a few hardy souls would ring things a little differently, and innovate more freely; which would be healthy growth, not any sign of suffering. In thinking about this, note that no rules are required to determine what is or is not reported via Bellboard: no harm has been done to ringing. Similarly, the quarter peal community is vibrant, and lives without anyone telling it what rules it must obey.
If, as sadly seems likely, simply eliminating all the Council’s Decisions is just too radical, at least start from the position of “if we had no rules, what rules do ringers want to create?” and only have those. And don’t guess, ask. This meeting is an excellent first start at asking, but I fear that only a few voices of the most active, and least jaded, will be heard. Actively seek people out who do not join in this open meeting, and ask them their opinions of what rules they feel they need.
At a more detailed level, unless there is a clamoring from the ringing community that they feel a need to have themselves regulated and told what they may or may not do, do not phrase things as rules or decisions, or even official definitions. While I have been an active participant in Tim Barnes’s public creation of a collection of definitions, I do not think they are the correct direction. They seem to start from the view that the body of rules we have today is roughly the sort of thing we need, they just need to be made broader, more flexible and more liberal. While clearly an improvement on the status quo, I think that starting position is mistaken. Sadly, while much of them aims to be less prescriptive, much of them remains overly prescriptive.
What Tim’s effort has shown, however, is that an open process can work. Doing things electronically, using email, has been an excellent approach. Anyone interested can see and contribute. This is exactly the process I have seen work repeatedly with a number of technical standards. Sadly the current Council’s Decisions have been constructed by a small body of men, working behind closed doors, and only at the eleventh hour exposed to light for comment, typically only a few months before they are scheduled to be voted on by the Council. In no case that I can recall has that comment resulted in any changes to the proposal, it has at best simply informed the opinions of those asked to give it a thumbs up or down as a whole, at the Council meeting. This is an absurd process, and must be abandoned. Whatever is done, should be done openly. Tim’s effort has demonstrated that this is entirely practical.
One further, positive change Tim’s effort has shown is that at least the first part of the result is cast as definitions, not rules or decisions. If we must have such things, do cast them in such a light. And do not say “these are the definitions ringers must use”, say “here are some possible definitions we propose for the use of the ringing community, if they find them helpful”.
Finally, if we must have rules, keep them to the minimum. If whatever we end up with is even 25% as long as the current massive collection of rules (called Decisions) we have failed. This is another way in which I feel the result of Tim’s efforts, while clearly an improvement on the status quo, is no where near where we need to get to: it is far too large.
There have been a number of times over the years that I’ve received emails from Tony Smith pointing out that various new methods we’ve rung were non-compliant as submitted. Always there would be some helpful suggestion of how they could become compliant – most often by changing the lead end notation to something that did not reflect the way it was rung. More recently with the particle peals, the solution has been to deem some of these methods not as methods but as blocks. To my mind, this puts them in a separate category, the implication being they are not worthy of being called methods.
I have always composed peals for their musical merits. Compliance is never part of the composing process – and surely this is how it should be, otherwise this would be a hindrance to innovation. In the past 20 years, the decisions have been patched a number of times, often in response to the latest compositions being rung. This method of progress surely isn’t satisfactory either for the committee or for ringers.
I don’t have specific suggestions for change – there are others who have given the matter far more thought than me. Having read the descriptive framework and requirements for method ringing which has been produced by a subgroup of the ringing theory list, I believe this approach has a great deal of merit.
I sincerely hope you have a productive and useful meeting that paves the way for a framework that can support the advancements in ringing.