General articles

Room at the Top? - Part 1

In a new series Simon Linford takes a look at some of the thorny issues surrounding celebrity and hierarchy in ringing.

Introduction

When a short letter appeared in The Ringing World following the report of the National 12-bell striking competition, its author probably had no idea how much thought and debate he would provoke, or that his words would be a catalyst for a series of articles I hope you will enjoy reading.

The letter asked a simple question, but made a significant and serious implication. The question was “How many participants were back ringing call changes and Bob Doubles at their local towers the following Sunday morning?” The underlying implication was that the participants in what is generally regarded as the premier change ringing competition are not involved in grass roots Sunday service ringing – that the worlds of “celebrity” 12-bell ringers, and of call changes and Bob Doubles, only mix when reported in the same journal.

No one replied to the letter, but it did spark subsequent correspondence. A peal of Surprise Maximus at Quex a couple of weeks later carried a footnote along the lines of “after meeting too many for Bob Doubles.” A letter followed taking great offence at that, further fuelling the implications made by the initial letter.

More recently we were treated to a patronising letter from an experienced ringer after two pages of The Ringing World were too devoted to another ringer’s quest for a new Doubles method, written by someone for whom this was a big achievement. It was probably an article of great interest to a lot of readers not versed in simple method construction, but was crushed like an English batsman daring to walk out at Perth.

I started thinking about some of the underlying issues involved, fascinating issues about the dynamics of ringing groups, the structure of ringing teaching, and the way in which ringers progress in the art of change ringing. The more thinking I did the more questions I had, and the more questions I had the less I felt I knew the answers.

The questions…

Why did someone feel it necessary to question publicly the activities of those good enough to ring in the National 12-bell Striking Competition? Were they saying that the ‘real’ contributors to the Exercise are the 99% of ringers who ring on eight bells or less for Sunday service? Or were they just jealous of ringing’s top performers?

Why do some less-experienced ringers believe that those who have reached the dizzy heights of maximus ringing (and above), or who are in the leading peal-ringers list, do not put anything back into ringing? Why do some ringers resent those who are able to do complex or ‘flashy’ ringing?

Are those near the foot of ringing’s learning curve really not interested in reading about those breaking new ground at the top? In most other activities, people of all abilities are interested in the extremes or their activity, in people who break records, in national competitions, and in the activity’s ‘celebrities and stars’. But in ringing there is disinterest, and even sometimes resentment and antagonism. What makes ringing different? Or is it the style of reporting that puts people off? Does The Ringing World actually accentuate the problem by implying that certain ringers are celebrities when in fact they are just good ringers?

Why did an experienced ringer feel it necessary to patronise a valuable Ringing World contributor who knew less about method construction than he did? Where does the Editor pitch the content of the journal? The contributions of the less-experienced get ridiculed, experienced ringers think there is little in The Ringing World of interest to them, while many less-experienced ringers think the Ringing World is only aimed at the peal ringing ‘elite’. No one thinks this publication is aimed at them!

Over the course of the next few weeks I will explore these questions and present what I now believe to be the answers. At least 20 other people have contributed thoughts to help me. After an initial e-mail shot to elicit comment from a broad spectrum of ringers, I kept talking about and refining the questions until I stopped getting different answers, and kept talking about and refining the answers until people stopped disagreeing with me. Common themes emerged, and it became clear that a very interesting subject was under discussion.

Many of the issues revolve around differences between the ability and experience levels of ringers, but at the same time the terms we use to indicate ability and experience are inadequate. Already in this article I have used the words ‘experienced’ and ‘less-experienced’ because these are quite commonly used in ringing to grade ability. But I have got into trouble for that before, from someone who considered herself to fall under the ‘experienced’ category because she had been ringing Grandsire Doubles for twenty years! A fair comment, exposing the particular way in which ringing uses the word ‘experienced’. And what do we mean by ability? Unless ability is combined with opportunity a potentially great ringer will not develop.

I am careful of the way in which I refer to peal ringers, a grouping which is considered by many to be synonymous with ability. It is true that the most complicated ringing is done in peals and some of the best ringing is achieved in peals, but quantity and quality do not necessarily go hand in hand. Some of those who have rung hundreds of peals are still looked down on by those who are either better method ringers or better strikers. Peal ringing is merely an activity within the Exercise.

In next week’s article I am therefore going to introduce my own grading system based on the average progression of the majority of ringers. Not only will this help with subsequent articles, but it raises interesting questions in its own right. As a teaser I will reveal that my system involves three groups called Blue, Red and Black, and I will need logarithmic graph paper to explain them. This will probably be controversial in itself!

SIMON LINFORD

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CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers