It has been a while since a ‘report’ as such has featured on our district page. I’ve been so acutely busy ringing recently, I just had to get down in words what has been going on in district ringing since 2019 new year!
As many of you will be aware, I have been bitten by both the lesser-spotted quarter peal bug, and the greater striped ringing fever. It is wonderful to be given so many opportunities to gain valuable rope-time and partake in something as close to sporty as I shall ever get. (Apparently gossiping is not an Olympic event).
January saw the re-installment of the district Quarter Peal Club hosted by our Vice-Chairman, Polly Osborne at Minstead. It was a valuable opportunity to treble at length to a minor method (St. Clement’s). Here I happened upon a friendly and familiar face to me now, Jack Pease, who has often conducted in the past, but tonight was having a rest and Jimmy Hodkin took the reigns.
Jack was most kind, complimentary, and remarked that trebling to minor seemed “a bit too much within my comfort zone”, and insisted that I ring treble to a quarter-peal of triples in the near future with him, and also attend the minor course Jack was running at Bere Regis.
I felt much happier leaving Minstead tower, than I did arriving, partly because I managed to arrive at Minstead village in the pitch black forest in heaps of time, but then got dreadfully lost within the village for half an hour, and ended up in a strange place called Emery Down, and was then horridly late. Not the greatest first impression really of myself, appearing to new people, gasping from running at the top of a ladder poking my head through a trap door.
Jack’s Bob Minor Course on the Friday morning was a bright and early start for me, even the New Forest ponies were still sleeping instead of trying to get into my rubbish bins. We headed to Bere Regis, to a delightful ring of six that went very majestically. Was a good learning curve to ring at a more relaxed and steadier pace. I started the course mainly trebling where I felt secure, but as the morning progressed, and as I got to know the band a bit more, I ventured round the circle ringing plain courses on the 3 and 4, and eventually a touch. I did try the 5 but alas it was a step to far turning in a much heavier bell to method work.
I came away from Bere Regis course refuelled with plenty of kindling to take back with me to my home tower, and many useful tips and tricks, handed down from our brave leader (Jack) and the other helpers. It was a really relaxed atmosphere too which lended itself to a great learning experience.
Saturday lunchtime saw yet another quarter peal at Sacred Heart, Bournemouth in celebration of Kim Matthew’s retirement from her position as Librarian of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. I shall fast forward to the shock I was in after the quarter peal had finished, when I truly discovered what ‘splicing methods’ actually meant! I can only compare it to when school used to make me attempt the hurdles…you just have to keep going, even if you knock them all down! I understood splicing methods to be a few methods rung one after the other after several touches/courses of each method, NOT methods running concurrently, and switching to and fro like an over-excited American pin-ball machine! Ross made an amazing job of calling this complex quarter, which I can only imagine akin to being like reciting the Bible from memory…..backwards. I was most fortunate to have Angie Jasper by my side on the 4 sorting my stumbles out very swiftly and efficiently.
From Sacred Heart, I had to hot foot it to Christchurch Priory, for our annual district meeting. Here I had been roped in (excuse the pun), to playing the little box organ for the Evensong service in the Lady Chapel. It was a very special atmosphere, especially as the incredible acoustics in there took the little organ and accompanied singing into the rafters. I wish they would stop putting carpets down in churches. Kills acoustics! I faced two problems here. One that the organ had been placed next to the ringers tea table that had enough cake and sandwiches to fulfil even Paddington Bear, and had all been thoroughly wrapped in foil so having a sneaky sausage roll from the kitchen of Rob Skerton, mid service, was impossible. The second problem was the lady that pulled on my arm during the exit voluntary, to stop me playing, which I dutifully did as I expected there to be an emergency…no such luck…it was an announcement about the toilet, and that vegetarian sandwiches were located on a separate table. At least that meant this year the egg and marmite sandwiches were nowhere near the salmon paste! I was also so pleased to matriculate from Acting Webmaster to Webmaster. I was really very touched when so many raised their hands when asked for nominations. I’m very much looking forward to arranging the district outing, and the skittles evening post striking competition at Fawley.
The next day was the forboding quarter peal of Grandsire Triples, and was confirmed by the band around me the evening before. Off I headed to St. Michael’s Southampton in my Mystery Machine (ongoing joke, as you never know where you’ll end up….especially when I leave the handbrake off and head up tower). St. Michael’s really is a fascinating place indeed. Jack shoo’d me up the wooden spiral that winds its way through the innards of the organ (definitely needed going over with my DustBuster TM- poor pipes), and I entered the poshest, loftiest and most spacious ringing chamber I have ever been in. I later found out that the church is the only medieval structure left within the city walls of Southampton, and that the Luftwaffe used it as a mapping point to their targets, so it never got bombed!
The band were all incredibly friendly and supportive. St. Michael’s has a gorgeous ring of 10, with a lovely bright Gillet (bell founders) sound. As a musician, sound is a vital factor to me, and it was a great help to hear each clear bell as I coursed up and down. We only used the 8 bells for triples, would have loved to hear all 10 going. The void across the ringing chamber floor between myself and the tenor was such that I thought I was going to have to send up smoke signals to communicate! Again, it was another tower I left from with a spring in my step, chased back to the Mystery Machine by winter’s icy blast from the docks! Mother told me to put a hat on….why are they always right?
Finally, on Tuesday, I hared across the county to Cerne Abbas for the Hampreston Monthly Quarter Peal Day. This month’s was arranged superbly by Angie Jasper. It’s an incredible set up. I’m unsure what the collective noun for bellringers is, but we all gather in an area with our rosters, and head off to various towers, interchanging bands, some ringing first attempts, crazy methods (Percy’s Tea Strainer Triples, Mental Block Minor etc), practice conducting, trebling, tenoring, ringing inside the method, and break for lunch, then do it all again at churches in deepest countryside for the afternoon shift. Seven quarter peals were rung that day between about 15 people. Incredible.
I feel very honoured to be made welcome into this group in my early career as a ringer, and there’s always something for me to have a go at and push me. Finally managed to negotiate my way through 1260 changes of St Nicholas Doubles (failed attempt at Christmas), and the afternoon shift saw me tenoring at Hilton to Eynesbury Doubles. Sadly we didn’t get the attempt. Really tricky bells, plain bearings, and keeping the tenor at the back and ‘up’ was a tough job, seeing use of blue inhaler. Just to round the day off in true Murdock-Saint panache, I managed to fly base over apex down the last part of the tower stairs, my ankle currently doing a wonderful impression of the aurora borealis….well worth it however. Driving home the 40 miles was interesting on the clutch, fortunately the petrol station had bagged ice for parties, which I strapped to the ankle with a towing rope. Even though we did not get the attempt, we used the time to ring through a few different touches of the method, and it was great learning experience in handling a big and difficult tenor!
I would like to thank especially the following people in no particular order:
Kim Matthews, Polly Osborne, Ross Bradley, Angie & Mike Jasper, Sally Jenkins, Jimmy Hodkin, Jack Pease, for arranging these incredible opportunities in particular for new ringers. The bell ringing community is really like a second family. I must also thank my home tower teachers, David Lay, John and Liz Davey, Tim Kettle for their unending patience, understanding and time.
Looking forward to ringing with many of you over the coming year,
Over and out
Title photography by Jack R. Pease.