Friday 25th September 2020

Richy's Blog

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Tuesday 22nd September 2020

It comes to something when the Prime Minster announces that weddings can only be attended by fifteen people, pubs will have to shut at 10pm and police will be out in force to ensure that people don’t meet family or friends in groups of seven with the kind of resources that haven’t previously been available for catching murderers and muggers and yet I felt relief. We can still meet others (albeit as children are still ridiculously included in this daft ‘Rule of Six’ rule that severely reduces our options for meeting others) and although it has been heartbreaking restricting Dad’s one and only send-off to thirty mourners, at least we haven’t been reduced further in that respect.

The Norman Tower. Guildford Cathedral, the South Front. - - 136670 Also, as far as I can make out, it shouldn’t affect ringing’s current guidance, but with Boris Johnson warning us that the new restrictions will likely be with us for another six months, it seems improbable that the restrictions on the art will be loosened before the spring, as I think most of us were expecting for a while now. That seems to put an end to any of the events that we might usually have in the first quarter of the New Year, including the George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition in February and in all likelihood the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Eliminators in March, one of which is due to be held at The Norman Tower. The former will probably have to be postponed until 2022, but after cancelling this year’s latter contest I imagine organisers will be keen to do all they can to save next year’s and at least ensure that the years of planning from Guildford’s ringers won’t go to waste as Sheffield’s did this year. Perhaps the eliminators could be moved back to April or May, but if not it may be held as a one-off final in a different format.

That all seems a very, very long way off at the moment though, however relatively relieved I felt today.

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Monday 21st September 2020

I took a nostalgic trip back to the late 1990s this evening. Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Ipswich Town actually had a very decent team and there was much excited anticipation of the looming Millennium.

None of this was what took me back over twenty years though. Over the weekend I finally managed to bring my peal records up to date, years after I lost them from a computer incompatible with just about every electronic device in existence. I was helped by having not added to them for seven months, but inspired when it became clear many of the blank gaps had been filled in on BellBoard by others over lockdown and that actually relatively few of my 631 peals were unrecorded in my records or on BB. Therefore, after my mother – presumably looking for something other than funeral arranging to think about – had got her copies of the appropriate years of Ringing Worlds down from the loft, I set about searching for the peals I hadn’t got details of.

Job completed last night and having resisted being sidetracked by the fascinating history detailed in the pages of the ‘Comic’ whilst updating records, I could hold out no longer, selected a year and delved in. 1999 just happened to be the year pulled out and offered a cornucopia of interesting stuff. Some of it was general, such as the first quarter-peal on English style tower bells rung in the Netherlands and probably on the European mainland, performed upon George Dawson’s mini-ring years before peal-ringing on the continent became as normal as change-ringing in some parts of the UK. Some of it was related to events I attended, such as David and Cecilia Pipe’s wedding and the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final in York, both fondly recalled by myself, if somewhat hazily! There was also plenty of interest from Suffolk. Such as the peal of LlanfairpwlIgwyngyllgogerychwryndrombwllllantysiliogogogoch Surprise Major at Mindinho-le-Tower in Newmarket that got me wondering if conductor David Salter had time to say “go” before the first call. The back page story behind the first quarter-peal of Sweffling Surprise Minor rung at the eponymous tower, as recollected by Stephen Bedford. And the pictures of past and current Guild officers when they were even younger than now! If you have that year’s RWs to hand then look out for Jed Flatters, Philip Gorrod, David Salter and Rowan Wilson.

Ironically though, the standout features in the 1999 copies were actually from 1998.

Worcester, All Saints. Sproxton. Claines.

One was the three record, long length peals rung in one day, featuring five ringers (Tom Griffiths, John Loveless, Alan Regin, Frank Rivett and Martin Whiteley) who rang in them all, whilst Andrew Mills ‘only’ rang two as he was otherwise engaged ringing 3hrs54mins on the 48cwt tenor at Worcester Cathedral behind to a 5015 of Grandsire Cinques before partaking in a 10032 of Lambeth Surprise Maximus down the road at All Saints, the final 10,000+ of a day that also included a 10000 of Broadheath Surprise Royal at Claines and 10080 of Ytterbium Surprise Major at Sproxton in Leicestershire that started just after midnight.

St Mary-le-Tower.The other was from within our borders though, with a report on how St Mary-le-Tower celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of the SGR, with peals of seven Surprise Maximus peals first pealed at 'The Tower’ – Yorkshire in January, New Cambridge in February, Superlative in March, Pudsey in June, York in July, Cambridge in September and Rochester in December during a busy year of twelve-bell ringing on the heaviest bells in the county. Author George Pipe completes the article by saying “It is our hope that the younger ringers coming through will be able to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Guild in a similar way!” There’s a challenge for 2023...

Not that such activity is going to be possible anytime soon with further restrictions expected this week, with one teaser being released tonight that pubs will be forced to close at 10pm in what feels like another random punt at delaying the inevitable. I can’t imagine 2020 being a year people take a nostalgic trip back to in the future.

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Sunday 20th September 2020

It was a day of trying to live around the ‘Rule of Six’ guidelines that came into force last Monday.

Personally, I find them frustrating. They seem arbitrary and unnecessarily restrictive whilst not offering up much more protection. For example, we went round to visit the new home of fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringer Laura Davies and her boyfriend Joe this afternoon. Except not all five of us could and so therefore we had to ‘jettison’ Mason unfairly, dropping him off at his mother’s before we travelled to our destination on the edge of Ipswich. Of course by this point he may have already passed coronavirus on to us having spent the entire weekend in the same house as us. Or if we have caught COVID from our BBQ with Laura and Joe then he’ll likely get it from us when he is due to return to share a house with us in a few days. But apparently, it would have been so much less safer for him to join us on this outdoor gathering in roasting sunshine that we could potentially be criminalised for it. It has only served to make life impractical whilst not making any of us any safer from an illness that we are far more likely to catch from our respective workplaces or seats of education. If it is even likely there in this vast county that is currently experiencing only a diminishing handful of cases. Of course we may yet be unlucky, but I doubt taking three instead of two of our children to the same place will have made an iota of difference.

Still, we aim to be law-abiding citizens and when it comes to ringing we are keen to contribute towards convincing the decision-makers that the exercise is able to act responsibly and within the rules. Therefore this morning, three couples – Claire & Ian Culham, Jill & Chris Birkby and ourselves – carried out socially distanced ringing for the maximum fifteen minutes, with hands sanitised twice (at the bottom and top of the stairs) before and afterwards, with masks worn from the moment we stepped into the church. Yet, what odds that if restrictions are further tightened – which seems imminently probable – that things like ringing are most at risk of being halted?

‘Rule of Six’ in action with SMLT ringers in Christchurch Park after ringing.Still, even beyond the act of ringing (which saw Mr Culham conducting and adding St Martin’s Bob to our list of Doubles methods rung here since the resumption of ringing), the illogical rules around social gatherings were still followed, despite making arrangements difficult. We needed to ensure that Mason, Alfie & Joshua were looked after whilst not putting ourselves in any illegal situations and to that end we were grateful to Karina. And afterwards, our now usual meeting in Christchurch Park was carefully planned to ensure that groups of no more than six gathered, sat far apart from each other, with South-East District Secretary Abby Antrobus very kindly joining our group.

By and large I don’t object to restrictions as we approach winter, as of course we don’t want things to get too out of hand before we can work out ways of reducing its risk, vaccine or no vaccine. However, it is all getting very wearing and mentally draining as we face up to a long winter where seeing family looks likely to be made difficult when support from a mental and practical sense will be much needed. Indeed, I am now getting far more worried about the restrictions than the virus, especially if they’re going to be trowelled on with no nuanced thinking. However, as things get tougher, it will be important not only for ringing to stick to the rules, but for ringers to stick together, to keep in touch. Use whatever online platforms you are able to, whether it is to ring on Ding, Handbell Stadium or Ringing Room or to meet on Zoom for a virtual pub, quiz and simply a chat. If you’re not internet savvy, then phone ringing friends and/or - restrictions allowing – meet up for a chat or handbell ringing. God willing we can still ring tower bells as we get through the coming months, even if it is in the current largely unsatisfactory form.

Even then, ringing’s return can be used as positive publicity, as was shown by the report on BBC News today, which also managed to put a youthful spin on our image at the same time!

Meanwhile, a Suffolk quarter-peal was rung on Ringing Room which was Alex Brett-Holt’s first on the platform inside and Lesley Steed’s first as conductor – well done Alex and Lesley. There was also ringing done at Grundisburgh in memory of Dick Pegg, conducted by his son-in-law and Past Guild Master Stephen Pettman.

And for all that it was a pity that the eldest boy couldn’t join us for our visit to Laura and Joe’s, we had a very pleasant few hours in their company as we brought our barbecue over and we had a guided tour of their lovely abode – thank you guys! Much ground was covered in conversation, including exciting plans for handbell quarters and peals in the near future, so watch out for that!

Providing restrictions allow...

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Saturday 19th September 2020

When I was Suffolk Guild Ringing Master, I used to sit at the top table, dressed in a suit and sporting the Master’s badge (usually given a quick iron by Ruthie beforehand!), in front of around a hundred ringers in vast spaces such as the village halls of Ixworth and Henley as part of an occasion that would see me running ringing sometimes for huge numbers of members (Chediston at the 2009 AGM particularly stands out!) and punctuated with opportunities to socialise in churchyards, over tea and in the pub.

We viewed today’s delayed, 2020 SGR AGM from the floor of Alfie and Joshua’s bedroom, just about the only space quiet enough we could find in the house with the children glued to the TV eating their tea when Alfred wasn’t delving into the world of piano playing downstairs. Although towards the end we were invaded by the younger boys and I got clobbered by a book at one point! It summed up this year in our household.

Sadly there was no ringing of course, no socialising (although there was some light hearted chatter beforehand) and no tea (though Ruthie and Alfred had made us cake as we broke the ‘no food upstairs’ rule just this once!) and there were some aspects unique to the virtual nature of proceedings. At first, no one knew who ‘thero’ was, although after some technical problems on their part it was figured out. My brother Chris sent a picture of us on his TV. Mother-in-law Kate Eagle joined from a campsite in Sussex on her holiday. There was the obligatory moments when people began speaking without unmuting themselves, to be met with cries of “unmute yourself!” And I thought Chairman Rowan Wilson did well considering she was required to do more talking than in the usual circumstances when it would be shared with other contributors able to chip in as and when needed.

For all this and that it went on longer than was expected after its blistering start, this was in the main a couple of hours I’m glad I spent out of my otherwise (now normally) less than busy Saturday. Especially after Dad’s recent death and all that has happened in the last few months, the minute’s reflection on the passing of members was particularly poignant. Jenny Scase from Debenham and Robert Rolph from Lakenheath were pleasingly virtually presented with certificates for fifty years membership whilst others were deservedly recognised for their long and significant contribution to the Guild. And I was delighted that Guild Webmaster Chris Garner was given Life Honorary Membership. Chris has constantly been on top of what I believe to be the best ringing website around and of course I am personally grateful to him for taking the time to put the blog up so promptly!

Virtual ringing and get-togethers were also raised, including the hope that the Districts will hold their ADMs online in the coming weeks, but in a sign that normality hasn’t entirely evaporated, Offton pipped Sproughton and The Millbeck Ring to the St Edmund’s Clapper, which prompted Rowan to reveal plans to revamp and boost the competition that could raise so much more money for the organisation. And plans for a hoped for future were revealed. God willing by the time the next AGM is due to be held on its usual date of the first Saturday in Easter – which in 2021 is 10th April – we will be able to meet in person in the South-West District, although there are also contingency plans to hold it later in the year again if needs be. Hopefully the North-East District will get the chance to hold the Guild Striking Competitions (as they should’ve done this year) on Saturday 15th May and it was revealed that a booking has already been made to hold the Guild Social at Horringer (as it was meant to be today) on Saturday 18th September.
Laxfield. Barham.Meanwhile, news was hot off the press that Laxfield had been awarded £66,600 towards the project to recast and augment the current six to an eight, which along with £12,000 granted to them by the SGR has meant that work to remove the bells can begin on Monday. PR Officer Neal Dodge also mentioned that there is due to be features on BBC Radio Suffolk in the near future on this and the project to augment the four of Barham to a six.

To top everything off, Christine Knight was able to impart more info on the much anticipated biography of George Pipe. I have been privileged to see a little bit of the book added to since his death in March, but Christine has been working closely with author John Loveless on proofreading what promises to be a fascinating insight into one of the greatest and most loved ringers on the planet and was able to reveal that an advert is due to go in The Ringing World in mid-October. There will apparently be 180 pages, a hundred photos plus illustrations and a wide variety of aspects covered. Christine teased us with some of the content which will feature sections on the Pye brothers, the wider Pipe family and other local ringing characters, as well as the story of how he and Howard Egglestone revitalised the Guild in the 1960s and 70s, his part in the formation of ANZAB and the ground-breaking peal at Washington Cathedral that he was invited to ring in. As well as that, the book will cover his many other skills and interests beyond ringing, such as writing, drawing, public speaking and church history and it is aimed to appeal to ringers of all abilities and even those who might not have known George. Terminology is explained and he was such an encyclopaedia of ringing and church history that this will be of appeal to anyone who is interested in such things. And all this will be available in a hard-copy book at just £18.50 including packaging and postage. Look out for the advert, watch this space and spread the word!

I’m not sure what George would’ve made of all of this, but I’m pleased that we managed an AGM today. Even if it was a far cry from past ones.

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Friday 18th September 2020

With a rapid increase of cases of coronavirus in the UK – though still not of hospital admissions and deaths and not here in Suffolk where cases have actually gone down this week – the likelihood of the distance between ringers in ringing chambers being reduced to one metre seems to have diminished, something mentioned in today’s weekly Friday update from the Central Council. According to a more expansive message on the CCCBR Facebook page, it is still on the table, although the developments nationally mean the suggestion is being approached by the Church of England with more caution.

However, although there are currently ominous noises being made about a second lockdown generally, Council President Simon Linford confirms that at least the current ‘Rule of Six’ – a frankly ridiculous rule IMHO – doesn’t affect the longer-standing guidance for ringing. Well not for most towers anyway, although the ringing at Guildford Cathedral will have to be scaled back!

Channel Islands Ringing Centre.It was interesting therefore to speak with Stephen Rossiter in Simon Rudd’s virtual pub this evening, as he is currently in the Channel Islands, where he has been ringing tower bell quarter-peals free of restrictions. Although – as the footnote in one of the quarters highlights – he did need to take a test to prove he was negative! He also imparted the interesting news that with the islands’ parishes switching to the Diocese of Salisbury from the Diocese of Winchester, the ringers are doing likewise, having recently voted to transfer from the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild to the Salisbury Diocesan Guild. Having experienced the troubles of getting members from Districts in the SGR to other Districts for Guild events when they share the same land mass, I have always marvelled at how apparently active the island ringers are in W&P events!

Meanwhile, there has been a tremendous, heartening response to our request for people to get in touch about Dad’s funeral. So much so that places are now full up. Sadly that does mean turning people away, a completely alien concept to me for funerals. The church should be filled to see father off, but instead we will be sparsely spaced out. There will be a recording of the service available afterwards and if anyone would like to be a part of the day to pay their regards, they are more than welcome to join us at the committal later in the afternoon, although that will be a shorter service. Numbers on this are also restricted though, so please let us know if you plan on coming. If you can’t, I am more than happy to send the link to the live stream to anyone who wishes to watch.

Although with the way thing are going, I can’t guarantee things won’t alter...

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Thursday 17th September 2020

Cotton.Any ringing at Cotton until last year was a rarity and particularly notable. However, today’s quarter-peal on the back six of this 10cwt eight rung from the open ringing chamber was a different level in the circumstances as a band rang the first QP on more than five church bells in England for six months. It was an idea of conductor Simon Smith inspired by the Theatre Royal doing ‘outside’ live performances in a tent, was within current regulations and was definitely approved by the incumbent Reverend Carl Melville as he rang the treble ahead of his installation as Rector of the Bacton Benefice which Cotton is a part of! Congratulations to all, especially the Past Secretary of the Suffolk Guild Carl. Perhaps a peal next?

Meanwhile, the notice of Dad’s death went on the Ipswich Star’s website today. Arrangements for his funeral are complicated by the restrictions on numbers we have to adhere to, which not as low as the poor souls whose final farewells – which should be witnessed by as many loved ones as possible – could only be attended by a handful at the beginning of lockdown, is still a depressing limitation. Mum has ensured that family and close friends have had the option to attend, but there are a handful of spaces, so if you would like to come then please do let us know as soon as possible. If you can’t, there will be a recording of the funeral and a live stream of the committal afterwards, so also contact us for details of that if you wish to watch it.

In what has become an almost daily update call between us, mother was also able to impart how George Pipe’s interment at St Mary-le-Tower went, in a ceremony attended by seventeen or eighteen and where five bells were rung by Owen Claxton and couples Chris & Jill Birkby and David & Gill Sparling.

It is a shame more bells couldn’t be rung for this giant of the exercise, who – like Dad, Dick Pegg and others – deserves so much more, but at least ‘proper’ ringing was going on somewhere within our borders.

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Wednesday 16th September 2020

It is precisely six months since the dreadful announcement that halted the active tower bell ringing scene in the UK in its tracks. Sadly I expect once we do get back to full-on ringing we will have lost ringers who have simply got out of the habit of going ringing, which is a big pity. I have always felt it is a privilege that I have ringing in my life, something which has introduced me to friendships across the country and the world, many with the type of people I would never have had the pleasure of mingling (dirty word that this is now) with, going to so many beautiful places I would never have gone, surrounded by history, giving me physical and mental exercise I don’t imagine I’d typically get and offered a regular social outlet that I probably wouldn’t have had, certainly not to that extent and definitely in parenthood. I met my wife through it and as many have reminded me with fondness recently I owe my existence to it due to my parents meeting through ringing! In the last half a year, ringers have been incredibly resourceful in ringing and socialising online and through handbells and we are at least able to ring tower bells again. But I can’t pop out to the myriad of practices and events whenever the opportunity arises and wonder who I might bump into on this occasion, such as a well established friend or maybe a new acquaintance. I can’t hone my striking or practice or add to my method repertoire.

Guildford Cathedral, the South Front. - - 136670 Depressingly, it is hard to believe the flexible, gregarious form of the art that made it so appealing to so many of us will have returned in a further six months, with spring and the return of warmer weather likely to be the earliest that restrictions will be eased again. As CCCBR President Simon Linford alludes to in his latest blog, that leaves a lot of uncertainty in the early part of 2021 for ringing. In last week’s College Youths monthly meeting, a report from the recent committee meeting for the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest suggested that the eliminators for next year may – like this year – have to be abandoned, which of course would sadly mean that The Norman Tower would miss out on being Suffolk’s first tower for three decades to host the biggest competition in ringing. Personally from afar it would make more sense - as a one-off in these times when everyone has had to be flexible with their diaries and what is normal – to prepare a slightly later date in April or even May to give them the best possible chance to go ahead, but there may be many insurmountable hurdles to such a scenario. In the scenario that the eliminators can’t go ahead – and it is merely understandable contingency planning at the moment as I understand it – then apparently there has been a suggestion that a Final in a different format could go ahead at Guildford Cathedral on Saturday 26th June (when God willing restrictions will be far more relaxed) to ensure their years of considerable planning don’t go to waste as the Sheffield Cathedral ringers’ sadly did this year. Watch this space I guess.

I also expect that the birthday peal for Mason’s fourteenth birthday in January and possibly even Alfie’s seventh in April will likely fall by the wayside, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that we can meet in some real life way for the Guild AGM on 10th April! For now though, a reminder to join this year’s postponed AGM from the comfort of your own home at 5.30pm on Saturday.

There will be members to be remembered at that, including my father, but also sadly Dick Pegg too after he died yesterday. Dick learnt to ring at Bramford nearly eighty years ago and although he hadn’t rung for some time, he was supportive of ringing, not least with his wife Daphne and their talented ringing family that includes their daughters Liz and Christine, their respective husbands Stephen and Peter and granddaughters Katie and Rosemary, as well as their other halves Tom and Martin, all of which includes a Past SGR Ringing Master, Past ASCY Ringing Master and an impressive collection of peal-ringing exploits. It is quite the family dynasty and our thoughts are with them at this sad time as they mourn the loss of a lovely, gentle man.

Indeed, through the Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson and following a suggestion of my brother Chris, I have asked that the SGR consider holding some sort of thanksgiving for those members lost who ringers haven’t been able to gather together at their funerals for to pay their respects due to the restrictions this year. Happily it was met with a positive response. Hopefully in six months’ time we will be able to say with more certainty that such things will happen later in the year, even if we aren’t ringing by 16th March 2021.

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Tuesday 15th September 2020

Ipswich, St Margaret.Look out for the tower of St Margaret’s church in Ipswich which houses the 14cwt eight restored and rehung a couple of years ago, if you are watching TV in a few months. Perhaps all individually by then when no one will able to go anywhere near anyone else, same household or not. For today the Antiques Roadshow was filming in the town’s Christchurch Park, much of it – judging by photos shared on social media – in front of the Mansion and beneath the aforementioned flint tower.

There was no ringing there today (not that I imagine it would’ve been particularly welcome on this occasion!), but there was ringing online, on handbells and on tower bells throughout the country marking the eightieth anniversary of Battle of Britain Day. Nothing in Suffolk and nothing by us on an otherwise unexciting day in this Munnings household. Or at least compared to being on the Antiques Roadshow!

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Monday 14th September 2020

It almost felt like old times today.

Although odd that it is in September and it isn’t the same as doing it in person, there feels something very nostalgic about encouraging members to attend the Guild AGM on Saturday. The agenda is available on this very website and whilst ringing is restricted currently, it is important that this important function of the Guild’s running is carried out effectively by as large a quorum as possible, that decisions which could effect the organisation’s and/or local ringing’s recovery post-restrictions are made with the approval of a sizeable proportion of the membership. This is usually a nice day out around the meeting itself, with ringing, socialising, worship, food and drink and so I’m conscious that this is essentially the least anticipated part of the day left! However, for all the endeavours to keep ringers together by Zoom, Ringing Room, handbells and localised ringing on tower bells, it will also be nice to see ringing friends that we haven’t had the chance to see for several months.

Meanwhile, the good work that has been done to keep the geographically spaced out St Mary-le-Tower band together since regular, unfettered ringing was last carried out in mid-March continued tonight with our first virtual pub. Despite host Stephen Cheek leaving us hanging on for such a long time that we thought he might have been mimicking the wait we used to have at The Cricketers, a handful of us enjoyed a chinwag over a now (for us at least) rare Monday night drink.

One of the subjects of conversation that came up was that with George Pipe’s internment taking place on Thursday afternoon and Diana understandably wanting bells for it, a way has been worked out to get five of the bells in this famous tower so synonymous with George ringing for the occasion, largely thanks to the reduction last Friday of the time permitted between ringing from seventy-two to forty-eight hours, but also to the tremendous support of the incumbent the Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin, who was very happy for the ringing to happen in three days time.

Ringing at SMLT twice in a week? It’s almost like old times.

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Sunday 13th September 2020

It was a generally positive day.

Ipswich Town started their league season with a win and on TV at that (which is almost unheard of!), although I listened on the radio with the lack of a crowd still making for an unnerving experience.

Birmingham, St Paul.Birmingham’s ringers managed to ring call-changes on the diatonic back octave of St Paul’s in the UK’s second city by ringing from two floors, with videos shared on the Bellringers Facebook page exhibiting some very impressive striking in trying circumstances.

And in Ipswich we again managed some superb six-bell ringing at St Mary-le-Tower which the rest of the band very kindly allowed me to dedicate to Dad at a tower he was a band member of and with friends who had all known him for years, with no likelihood of me being able to ring a quarter or peal for him in the foreseeable. We also enjoyed more socially distanced refreshments in Christchurch Park afterwards, but with gatherings limited to six people from tomorrow we will have to rethink what we do on Sundays. Although the new rules make life extremely difficult for a family of five (albeit that’s just at the weekend) and personally I think the number of six is an impractically low number before I even get onto the inconsistency of it all when more than six people who know less about each other (and in some cases are often complete strangers) can get together in various indoor venues whilst we can’t sit in the back garden with more than one other person from our own family, us ringers are determined to stick to the rules and not to flaunt them when so much trust is being placed on us by the church. However, it would be a massive shame not to continue some form of post-ringing meeting which has been a rare thing to look forward to in a year when we have all been deprived of just about everything we look forward to. Therefore, there was much discussion on how we can do something similar but within the rules and safely.

It was particularly nice for ourselves and especially Mum to have the company of friends after this week, albeit in a different part of the park with the space in front of the Mansion and beneath the tower of St Margaret’s church that houses the 14cwt which we usually sit in fenced off in readiness for filming of the Antiques Roadshow this week.

Grundisburgh.Meanwhile, thank you to the ringers at Grundisburgh and the Suffolk band who rang a quarter-peal on Ringing Room who also remembered father in their ringing and again to Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock and his fellow ringers at Potterhanworth in Lincolnshire for a mention of him in the footnote to their ringing this morning, whilst there was handbell ringing outside St Mary the Virgin church in Woodbridge as the congregation arrived and a cat apparently tried to conduct the ringing!

What a positive day.

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Saturday 12th September 2020

There were at one point a couple of options for how we might spend today.

One was for ourselves, my uni mates and their other halves and children to meet for a restrictions-friendly picnic in Warwick, but with the looming ban on gatherings of more than six it was decided to stay ahead of the curve and avoid such a gathering.

The other was to join our friends Charlotte & Gregory and their daughters Ava & Bea for a wander round Woodbridge’s churches on the day that Ride + Stride took place.

In the end though, both were usurped by wanting to visit Mum at the end of a difficult week, with her grandchildren offering light relief as we discussed various details about the funeral. That is due to take place on Tuesday 29th September at 1.30pm at Sproughton, followed by a committal at Seven Hills at 3pm. In normal times (and for all the desperate attempts to persuade us that the depressing current circumstances are a “new” normal we should all just accept, these are not normal times), we could just put that out there and allow those who wish to attend to come. However, we will be subject to the regulations that sadly limit us to just thirty at each occasion, which will mean many simply won’t be able to join us, although as we understand it there is nothing stopping those who would like to be there outside to pay their respects to do so, although there should be a live stream for those who can’t or would prefer not to. Anyone who would like to attend or watch online, please let us know as soon as possible so we can work out numbers.

Earlier we had visited father’s sister Marian who was taking in the latest edition of The Ringing World which included a feature on Exning ringer Jimmy Yeoman, whilst at both homes Mason was chuffed to show his great Aunt and Nanna his first published work, a piece in a book called Hunted – Beyond The Tale, a collection of short stories selected from entries into a competition for writers aged 11-18 from across the UK. And mother very kindly sought out her back copies of The Ringing World from the loft so I can finish updating my peal records.

It wasn’t what we had anticipated for today, but was nonetheless a nice one in the context of this week.

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Friday 11th September 2020

There were more much appreciated messages of affection for Dad and even some more ringing as friends and fellow Rambling Ringers Janet & Mike Dew rang some rounds at The Plantagenet Ring at Church Lawford in Warwickshire and dedicated it to father.

However, it was also nice to do some normal (or at least what has become normal in recent months) socialising via video as we partook in an upliftingly boisterous quiz with my uni friends and before that met Simon Rudd and others – including David Porter, a ringer from Charleston in the USA who was still in mid-afternoon – for a drink across the internet. It was mainly a lovely distraction, but also nice when Simon recounted fondly how he was present when my parents first met each other on Jim Pipe’s ringing tour in 1974.

Another much appreciated memory of Dad to join the other much appreciated memories and thoughts. We are very lucky to have such support.

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Thursday 10th September 2020

I returned to work today. There was no pressure on me to do so and indeed John Catt Educational were at pains to allow me as long as I felt necessary after everything, but yesterday was a productive day from a practical point of view and a boost psychologically, bar having to tell the boys which had been the aspect we’d been dreading most of all. I’m a people person though, which is a big part of what has made the last few months so wearing. However, the company of others can be uplifting at such times and with only a small number of practicalities to be carried out at Mum’s which brother Chris was able to help with, the boys at school and Ruthie at work, I felt my day was better served going in to the office.

Potterhanworth.It was a good decision, with plenty to catch up with to occupy myself and everyone being very kind, whilst meanwhile the messages of support for us and love and affection for Dad continue, as does our gratitude. Many kind words and thoughts were sent via Facebook, email and – unexpectedly given the current circumstances – with a footnote on BellBoard as Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock and his mother Yvonne very kindly rang a quarter-peal in father’s memory at Potterhanworth in Lincolnshire. Thank you Chris and Yvonne. And indeed, thank you again to everyone who has sent messages, it has been very much appreciated.

My thoughts were of course still very much of Dad and with Mum particularly, but the goodwill has helped. As did going back to work.

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Wednesday 9th September 2020

A bittersweet consolation to the death of a loved one is when it becomes clear how well thought of they were. Sadly it is rare for the opportunity to present itself in life for a simultaneous outburst of affection, but in the immediate aftermath of the loss it is usually a considerable comfort to those left behind. That has certainly been the case today with so many messages of love and support from around the world for my father Alan after his death last night. My Facebook profile and email inbox was teeming with thoughts from friends and acquaintances from all aspects of my life, most of who had also met my Dad and recalled him with much fondness. Naturally though the ringing family were most prominent, with many remembering ringing with him, the kind words of advice he offered to many and the kindness he generally showed to all.

They were all more appreciated than I can possibly express, but two summed up how important ringing and the ringing family is in life and death for those of us lucky enough to be absorbed in the art. One was from Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock who said how much the last few months and the passing of father had made him appreciate how important the Ramblers’ Tours in the summer and Reunion meals in February – and indeed it can be said of so many ringing events – are for keeping up with friends and how important it is that we never take that for granted, something that most of us have been guilty of in the past. And Jonathan Williamson highlights the bonds that ringing gives us all and how it helps in grieving loved ones. We are very fortunate to having ringing and ringers at this time, even if it is in such a restricted way which means that we can’t actually meet so many of them.

God willing that is a situation that will change soon and although following last night’s announcement that gatherings indoors and outdoors are to be limited to just six people, there was encouragement from a ringing perspective with the clarification offered today, with church services exempt and presumably allowing us to keep ringing with the precautions we have now got used to. And hopes were raised by Boris Johnson this afternoon with the potential “in the near future” of tests that would allow people to find out within minutes (rather than days) if they have COVID-19 and thus – so the theory goes – allow society to essentially revert to normal, including (although of course not explicitly laid out by the Prime Minister!) ringing, one hopes.

In the current refreshed normal, this would typically be significant news for me as I seek any light at the end of the tunnel that might signify the back of this depressing loss of the free and limitless art that usually gives us so much to look forward to and support through tough times like today. However, it was but a minor footnote to a day where my brother Chris and I descended upon our childhood home to help our mother Sally, both morally and practically. Both there and over a spontaneous lunch at The Swan in Westerfield, it involved much reflection on Dad’s life and discussion on the funeral, with mother-in-law Kate very kindly meeting us in the back garden with E.B. Button reassuringly overseeing the arrangements. And there were tough moments as I was involved in telling his sister and our Aunty Marian and an upset Mason, whilst Ruthie broke the news to his other grandsons Alfie and Joshua who – to differing degrees – understandably struggle to contemplate the exact meaning of what they were being told.

However, the boys, Ruthie and myself were happily distracted by the visit of Alfred’s Godmother and my wife’s best friend Fergie whilst on a visit to her hometown. And we were comforted by all the messages from everyone. Thank you to you all.

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Tuesday 8th September 2020

Alan J Munnings.Late this evening, I received a call from my mother Sally that we had been dreading, but expecting. Many will know that my father Alan has been suffering from cancer, albeit before lockdown getting better, but in the last week or two he has taken a real turn for the worst, with much of the last fortnight spent at Ipswich Hospital. Sadly, tonight at about 10.45, he died, mercifully in peace.

It is a source of sadness that due to restrictions he had been unable to ring for months. Bar the odd carefully planned visit and the recent uplifting gatherings in Christchurch Park after Sunday morning ringing at St Mary-le-Tower – which following tonight’s announcement banning meetings of more than six people from Monday we will presumably be deprived of – he hadn’t seen many of his friends. He hadn’t been able to go on holiday, we weren’t allowed to celebrate his seventy-fifth birthday in June properly and time spent with his sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren were restricted. His funeral will not be able to be what it should have been.

Yet that shouldn’t detract from the fact that this gentle, softly spoken soul was held in high regard, loved by many. At St Mary-le-Tower, Sproughton, Offton and other places he and Mum regularly contributed to before everyone was told to stop, as well as in the South-East District, the Suffolk Guild as a whole and on Rambling Ringers he was an invaluable and reassuring presence. He was a very content man, with no desire to consume himself always striving for something else, happy instead with the blessings he had, from family, friendship, ringing and travel. Although the day he retired was one of his happiest!

Laxfield.Of course, it overshadowed everything in our day. For all that the striking wasn’t perfect, you can tell why the work is being done to them and having not rung there for years I’m not sure how they complied with social distancing, but following the last few months it was lovely to hear the rustic, rural six of Laxfield ringing out on this lovely late summer’s evening via video link at 7pm, the last ringing on them before restoration and augmentation to eight. And I had enjoyed seeing fellow College Youths via the latest of the society’s virtual monthly meetings.

Family Quarter Peal.However, it was Dad and especially Mum who were foremost in my thoughts as we went to bed. Sadness, yes, but also happy memories. Holidays, birthdays, Christmases, ringing, the terrible dad jokes, the joy of seeing him so happy at mine and Chris’ weddings to Ruthie and Becky respectively, how good he was with his grandchildren and how he chuffed he seemed when I became SGR Ringing Master. And that family quarter-peal at Pettistree a few years ago.

RIP Dad.

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Monday 7th September 2020

With my father Alan still in hospital, Ruthie and I took the opportunity to visit him this evening after work, bumping into someone we knew being picked up after being discharged, on the day when an acquaintance’s child was being operated on after breaking their arm and a poor teenager from Kesgrave was taken to Addenbrooke’s Hospital after being shot on the way to the school. It was a busy day for the hospitals I’m afraid.

Not so much so for ringing. Details on how to join the Suffolk Guild AGM via Zoom on Saturday 19th September were imparted via an email from Chairman Rowan Wilson, which are important to read, especially if you have never used Zoom or attended a meeting on it.

However, there are no ringing performances recorded on BellBoard from within our borders and more widely just one peal, rung on handbells unsurprisingly. There wasn’t even anything particularly noteworthy on the various ringing social media pages, unless you are interested in applying for a job as a Mechanical Assembler at O’Shea Engineering in Weston-super-Mare. Oh and one ringer highlighted how they had kept up in the art on what looks like Ringing Room. Whilst in hospital of course.

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Sunday 6th September 2020

There was a change from the refreshed normal this morning as we stepped aside for others to ring at St Mary-le-Tower for service ringing, as Ruthie had been asked to sing at the service at St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge, which I watched from home on the church’s YouTube channel and which can still be viewed. Her starring moment as part of a quartet can be heard just after forty-five minutes into the feed.

Our den – no room for bells yet!She also rang handbells outside with some of the other local ringers, including Ringing Master Bruce Wakefield who later rang handbells with some of his grandchildren, but my wife’s burst of call changes on eight and Plain Bob Minimus in the shadow of the tower that holds the town’s 25cwt octave was all the ringing that our household was involved in today. Instead, my afternoon was spent with the boys playing football in the park and then building dens in the woods. Impressive as our structure was, I’m not sure it is sturdy enough to support a ring of bells yet!

Meanwhile, it was interesting to read the debate on the Bellringers Facebook page prompted by Julia Cater’s enquiry as to why some have joined The Ladies’ Guild and others haven’t. It is an organisation that thrives in these parts, to a large degree because of the work of Betty Baines who rings along the Norfolk/Suffolk border, but apparently that isn’t the case across the country, which is one of the reasons why some don’t join it. Others weren’t even aware of its existence, some hadn’t been invited. However, a substantial number didn’t want to be part of a single-gender organisation (although I didn’t spot any comments that denounced its existence) and I can entirely empathise. Personally I think that anything that singles out women in such a way is counterproductive to the aim of equality, but as some pointed out in the thread on FB, when The Ladies Guild was set up it was a necessary oasis for women for whom it was seemingly commonplace to be belittled on the basis of their gender in ringing chambers. One would hope that these days there wouldn’t be a need for it for that reason.

On the same social media page, I was also impressed by the ingenuity of the Carlisle Diocesan Guild who held their striking competition on Ringing Room, with seven teams ringing one hundred rows of rounds and call changes on six which had to include Queens (135246). We simply haven’t had the opportunity to get involved with Ringing Room, but this sounds a super idea and with the SGR holding its AGM virtually this year and another QP rung on the platform by six of the county’s ringers today, maybe a virtual striking competition might also be possible here in this refreshed normal!

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Saturday 5th September 2020

Normal for now was very much the prevailing mood of the day generally. The Central Council of Church Bellringers’ AGM which should have been held today in Nottingham was instead held online, as so many similar occasions have been in recent months and indeed the Suffolk Guild AGM is due to be in a fortnight’s time. And Ipswich Town and England’s footballers returned after half a year and nearly a year respectively.

The former was attended by CC Reps, work groups and officers via video where they could all participate, whilst everyone else could watch via YouTube. Things have vastly improved with ringing’s representative body in the last few years and even putting aside the unusual circumstances, this was a very different experience to when I used to attend these meetings as one of the SGR’s reps a decade and before ago. Granted, they have never been more needed than this year, but led superbly by President Simon Linford, they have carried out the task brilliantly, helping not only to guide the art through it’s most difficult period since the Second World War, but importantly in creating and building a dialogue with the church authorities that has allowed ringing on church bells to resume.

Unsurprisingly, the pandemic that was the reason behind the restrictions that have caused so much damage alongside preventing the multitude of potentially devastating unknowables when it first reached our shores was a running theme through the meeting. There is much that the CCCBR want to press forward with but largely couldn’t until restrictions are eased enough. Such as the Cast of 1000, which aims to achieve something that we tried to get going years ago locally of ensuring that there is a large pool of experienced ringers willing and able to go to special, targeted practices (like a Surprise Major practice for example) and ensure that sufficient numbers and expertise are present. Also, establishing support to help ringers going to college or university where there isn’t a student society set up. And the launch of Mobile Belfry 2.0, which is aimed at being easily transportable and erected, but to be rung like a church bell. Although apparently Taylors are planning on casting the bells for the ring shortly, free of charge!

The restrictions of the last few months haven’t been entirely bad for the organisation though, with an apparent underspend of about £1,000 due to not paying out for events that would typically have taken place this year!

That said, there is an understandable desire to get back to proper, full on ringing and there was discussion on how we move forward towards that. There was a suggestion that we all write to our local MPs and bishops extolling the virtues of the art, both personally and in society and perhaps more tangibly that we work closely with our local diocese as it seems likely that many future developments will be led more locally. Action is already being taken to get closer to the ultimate aim too, as in addition to the guidelines presently awaiting approval from the Church of England Recovery Group that would see the required distance between ringing ropes reduced from two metres to one, it seems that a move to reduce the current gap between ringing at the same tower from seventy-two hours to forty-eight hours is on the cards. Small steps, but in the right direction and good progress considering that substantial easing of restrictions in society generally as well as in ringing is unlikely before the spring. The whole occasion was an interesting snapshot of where the exercise is in these strange times, as demonstrated by what was probably the first time that the President had gone missing during the meeting! Nice as well that the Suffolk Guild got a mention towards the end as the planned hosts for the meeting in our centenary year of 2023.

I didn’t watch all of it avidly – one can’t when in a house with young children – and although I wouldn’t advocate watching it all on YouTube (though the slides make it fairly easy to pick out sections one may be interested in as you flick through) where both the first and second halves are available to play back, I was able to follow it whilst doing odd jobs in the kitchen and along with the Tractor Boys actually winning (that is hopefully a new normal!) along with the national team also coming out victorious, it provided a welcome distraction to what I did in between. Many are already aware that my father Alan’s health hasn’t been great this year, but even in that context it’s been a rough week for him that has seen him end up in Ipswich Hospital. This afternoon therefore, I took the opportunity to visit him, on my own, with only one visitor at a time permitted, although mine and my mother’s paths crossed.

Potterhanworth. Team 5 at Cheriton Bishop – l to r ; Alex Riley, Chris Woodcock, Bryony Dorrington, Richard Dorrington, Richard Munnings & Geoff Wells. (Susannah Scruffington-Smythe) Meanwhile, another quarter-peal of Singles was rung at Potterhanworth by Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock and his mother Yvonne, this time for the RR for a Past Master of the Society Reverend Richard Dorrington, whose ashes were interred in Cornwall today. It is nice that the Woodcocks were able to do that for a lovely man and it meant that that picture of the winning band in the 2018 Devon Call Change Striking Competition which featured yours truly – as well as Richard - got another airing!

The day was wrapped up in fairly dramatic style (for these parts anyway) as a fire nearby - that filled the village with the overpowering stench of smoke - coincided with a power cut and so whilst the children played with the neighbours children over the fence out back, we rang some handbells and tried to push ourselves on some Double Bob Minimus. Which for our level in hand is normal for now.

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Friday 4th September 2020

It was a big day for Joshua today, as our youngest son went to primary school for his schooling for the first time. It was just for the morning as part of a bitty few days as they also try and fit in some of the introduction period that he would normally have had last term, but he was delighted to get dressed into his new uniform and although apparently there were a few tears when he first realised he wasn’t going into the same classroom as Alfie, by all accounts he strode in happily chatting with his new teacher about his recent visit to the Harry Potter Studio Tour and spent the morning listening to stories, doing drawings and eating raisins!

I say “apparently” as sadly, unlike when his older brothers started school before him, I was unable to join Ruthie in dropping him off for this momentous occasion due to the current restrictions. Restrictions which also meant that today was the first day that any of the boys had been to their seats of learning since schools were closed in March. Truthfully, over that time and particularly at the peak of lockdown, it was often hard work all of us being stuck pretty much permanently under the same roof, especially for my wife who took the burden of schooling the youngest two, but it was also an unexpected bonus to spend so much extra time with them. Nonetheless, from an educational and a social perspective, it is absolutely vital that they now have as much of an uninterrupted school year as possible and it was a joy to hear their individual tales of their days which each of them had clearly enjoyed.

Potterhanworth.God willing they will all finish their year in July when they’re supposed to, by which point hopefully ringing will be back in full flow, but there was no new information from the Central Council’s weekly update. Still, there was plenty of ringing going on, with a brace of handbell peals and even a couple of quarter-peals at Potterhanworth in Lincolnshire, one on the front three and one on the back three, both by the double-handling Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock and his mother Yvonne.

Nothing in Suffolk however, although it was a big day in our little corner of the county, especially for Joshua.

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Thursday 3rd September 2020

The shortlist for the latest monthly Central Council YouTube competition, which on this occasion was looking for the best video demonstrating change ringing not on tower bells. As far as I can tell, there are no entries from Suffolk this time, but it is still a fine selection of ringing videos, including some from ringing friends and acquaintances, such as St Neots ringer Philip & Sheila George ringing their handbells back-to-back and with masks on, sometime Rambling Ringer Stephen Croxall and other Cambridge Youths demonstrating change-ringing at The Utrecht Festival of Music in 2015 and another Rambler James Ramsbottom explaining call change theory on pint glasses. I was also almost hypnotised by the plain course of Plain Bob Minor that was visually brought alive in a way rarely seen in the art before! We wait with bated breath for the winner to be revealed!

That was all very impressive, as was the peal in Bosham in West Sussex which was the first of twenty-three Surprise Major methods on handbells for the entire band. Well done to them all!

No such exertions for us, which left plenty of time to take in those videos!

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Wednesday 2nd September 2020

St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore.The school holidays seemed to have signalled a break from the various interesting video talks that had occupied many an enforced evening in over the lockdown, but as many children returned to their seats of learning for the first time in nearly half a year, tonight saw the return of the St Martin’s Guild webinar. Being centred on Birmingham they have of course the benefit of calling upon a vast array of ringing expertise to impart to ringers and today was the turn of Alistair Cherry. I don’t know Alistair personally, but I know of him and know him to be a tremendous young ringer. Since arriving in the premier ringing scene in the world from Lincolnshire in 2013, he has partaken in some of the most impressive performances in the exercise, such as the first peal of Maximus in Singapore, peals of multi-spliced Minor and long lengths including the longest peals on twelve and fourteen. And many peals of cyclic spliced Maximus, which was the subject of his absorbing talk this evening. As he himself admitted, this is a niche subject, yet in explaining it Alistair took in many of the basics of composing along the way and even if you never ring a peal of cyclic spliced Maximus – and let’s face it, most won’t – then it can be understood and is such a fascinating insight.

Earlier, we were visited by mother-in-law Kate, who came bearing gifts following her trip last week to Scotland, along with Alistair’s magnificent presentation helping to lighten another darkening evening as the nights rapidly draw in with autumn having started yesterday meteorologically. The return of schools is coinciding with more than just the return of interesting video talks.

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Tuesday 1st September 2020

Peasenhall.There was great excitement in Peasenhall today as buses began stopping for public service in the village for the first time in years. It reminded me that before lockdown I had been considering how getting about to ringing could be done in a more environmentally friendly manner. How one could continue to travel to the towers in Suffolk in beautiful but isolated locations to meet friends and ring bells without going by car.

The answer was that frankly, it isn’t possible, by and large. Before restrictions, if I wanted to travel even just to Aldeburgh to their weekly Monday night practice from Melton, there is no way I could without jumping into a car. Heck, as I have discovered when carless, I can’t even get to St Mary-le-Tower for Sunday mornings or Monday nights. It isn’t feasible for practice nights to be moved to during the day, thus excluding people working 9-5. Nor could they all move to weekends, where apart from competing against each other over a shorter period of time than the usual five night working week, they would all be competing against everything else that happens on Saturdays and Sundays. Again, it just wouldn’t be practical. The new bus going through Peasenhall – whilst welcome for the villagers and with expansion no doubt considered if it proves popular – further highlights just how impractical a means public transport is for getting ringers around our vast rural county, with the last bus going through this community by 6pm and not at all over weekends. The only peal on the 10cwt ground-floor six since the end of the 1980s was rung back in 2012 and only a handful of quarters have been rung there this century, so whilst they were rung for Armistice 100 on 11th November 2018, I’m not sure how regular ringing on the bells described as in ‘poor going order’ has been in recent years, but even if you could, you wouldn’t be able to at any normal time of the week on this new bus.

Still, I hope that won’t put District & Guild officers and QP, peal & outing organisers from taking us to the far flung corners and picturesque idylls of the Guild, once we are allowed to do such things again. Not many towers or groups function effectively with just ringers purely from walking or even cycling distance and so in most places within our borders we need cars to get participants together to further the art. However, perhaps when that time comes, more car-sharing can be arranged and/or timings of certain ringing could be organised with bus and train timetables in mind. Maybe the good old coach outing might make a comeback?! More than ever before we need to ensure as many ringers as possible can get to ringing events easily.

Perhaps it is something for the CCCBR to ponder too, but for now Simon Linford’s President’s Blog didn’t make any mention of it. Not that I would expect it to! Still, it is again an entertaining and interesting read. I especially like the notion of a website to answer the questions about compositions, conducting and methods. Not everyone understands all the terms as they learn (I certainly didn’t!) and this should help many to progress without being held back by misunderstanding and confusion.

Talking of progress, he also mentions the guidance awaiting approval about reducing distances between ropes being reduced to one metre and the 2021 Forward Plan, both of which will hopefully mean that those aforementioned hopes to meet together as we once did will happen as soon as is safely possible.

For all that, in present circumstances online platforms are doing a good job of getting some ringers together and that was in evidence here in Suffolk as Drinkstone was one of the locations for a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor on Ringing Room, along with Colchester and Sabarat in France, rung by a band with strong links to SMLT.

I can’t see a similar performance happening at Peasenhall though. At least, not with them getting there by bus anyway.

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Monday 31st August 2020

If I didn’t like football or enjoy all that ringing typically offers, I would say that life was pretty much back to normal with only minor caveats that fail to detract from my everyday experiences. Shopping at the supermarket is now downgraded from the apparently life-threatening, tactical event it was at the height of lockdown to just the plain old stressful and undesirable operation it always was before. Both Ruthie and I have been back at work for months, seeing plenty of people, albeit in carefully managed circumstances. We’ve been able to meet with friends, again with care. A holiday has been had. Pubs have been frequented by us and eaten at too. And we have been to a number of tourist attractions, such as Colchester Zoo, Dover Castle and today on this Bank Holiday Monday to the Harry Potter Studio Tour near Watford.

It was different from when we last visited over four years ago, quite apart from the fact that Mason and Joshua were able to join us and the major additions of a couple of attractions. There weren’t quite as many crowds, with numbers limited as they are at pretty much everywhere currently, but even this made for a more relaxed day. Although in keeping with all businesses it is hard to see how it would be feasible financially to continue in such a fashion beyond this year. And the magic of walking through the newly installed Forbidden Forest with frighteningly large spiders encroaching was somewhat shattered by a big blue sign warning everyone to stay two metres apart!

Sadly though, my two favourite pastimes of watching football and partaking in the limitless opportunities that ringing offers are still restricted in ways that make them far less pleasurable experiences to normal. God willing fans are due to be allowed back into football stadiums in just over a month, but even then it will be far from the bustling, noisy occasion that makes it so appealing to those of us who like going to watch the beautiful game.

Equally hopefully, the guidance to reduce the distances between ropes being used in our ringing chambers to one metre will gain approval from the Church of England Recovery Group, but still it will be far from the art that holds the interest of so many of us. I am chomping at the bit to go to places, ringing on all numbers at length with the abundance of friends and acquaintances that we are blessed to have made through the exercise. There is much ringing going on and it was interesting to watch some of the recording of the entire handbell peal rung on Thursday in Wedmore in Somerset featuring one-time Suffolk ringer Barrie Hendry, but as much as I enjoyed that and our day in the world of Hogwarts, it just doesn’t feel like we are anywhere near to normality yet.

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Sunday 30th August 2020

Recruitment in ringing is not easy at the moment. There have been encouraging tales of people learning to ring on Ringing Room and then subsequently on handbells, but by and large it is impossible to bring potential learners in currently. However, it is important that we keep ourselves in the minds of the public, partly as something for them to try out when it is possible, but also so they are prepared for more ringing as and when more is able to be done, as well as making them aware of ringing’s current circumstances.

Therefore, top marks to Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson and Campsea Ashe ringer Glenys Fear for their appearance about forty minutes into Luke Deal’s breakfast show on BBC Radio Suffolk which perfectly explained the restrictions on the art in the present moment, as well as the hopes for that anticipated reduction of social distancing in the ringing chambers of England to one metre. Although by her own account the early wake-up call wasn’t entirely to Rowan’s liking!

Campsea Ashe.Although Glenys makes the very valid point that ventilation in the gallery ringing chamber from where the 6cwt six is rung is excellent, but for now the two metre restriction that is applied in a blanket style across every ringing chamber of all sizes and situation across the entire country means that it is not possible for more than one bell to be rung at the village’s St John the Baptist church. However, with that distance cut in half, every other bell could be rung.

We have been blessed to get six bells ringing at St Mary-le-Tower over the last few weeks – albeit with an awkward to ring six with a vast weight range and a very odd sound – and we got that opportunity again this morning, this time with Ellie Earey undertaking her first ringing since before lockdown as she rang the seventh alongside her father Ralph on the eighth as we rang some call-changes and then Grandsire Doubles, before we again retired to Christchurch Park for takeaway Costa Coffee.

Woodbridge. Mayfield.Meanwhile at Woodbridge, where ringing in hand was carried out for service outside today, the frame has been painted and we had the pleasure of the company of the new vicar the Revd Nigel Prior this afternoon, who was very complimentary of the handbell ringing for his induction earlier this week and expressed his provisional happiness at the 25cwt eight – or whatever combination is possible – being rung again if and when the local ringers are happy to resume, which of course they shouldn’t feel pressured into. He appears amenable towards bells and bellringers and has a knowledge of the art, including – crucially – its current limitations, having still been present in his previous parish of Mayfield in East Sussex when the ringers of the 19cwt octave were given the go-ahead to begin ringing again last month. All of which is very encouraging.

Snape Maltings - - 229437 That said, our purpose in meeting was nothing to do with ringing, but rather in regards to junior church at St Mary the Virgin, as well as at it’s ‘satellite’ church at Great Bealings. It was held in the beautiful setting of the home of one of the JC leaders in Snape, overlooking the marshes and with our friends Gregory & Charlotte present, we had arranged to go for a drink afterwards, with our respective children in tow. And although our first choice of The Golden Key were unable to accept us for a drink as their dishwasher was broken, we were at least able to enjoy that drink at The Plough & Sail at the nearby Maltings before returning home.

It was a lovely way to end a day that started with such good PR for local ringing.

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Saturday 29th August 2020

This morning was set aside for a playdate for Alfie with his best mate from school Jed who he hadn’t seen since March, which doubled up as an introduction between Jed’s little brother and Joshua who are due to be starting at school together next week.

This afternoon though, I popped in to see my father Alan who has been a little under the weather recently and in the process was offered the opportunity to read The Ringing World. As we don’t subscribe and with visits to my folks being rarer in recent months for obvious reasons, I hadn’t read a copy of the RW since before lockdown and with a large proportion of a typical copy until that point made up of reports of quarter-peals and peals that have – for all the admirable endeavours of ringers online and in handbells – largely dried up since restrictions on ringing church bells, I had wondered what it was looking like these days. Editor Will Bosworth is to be congratulated for producing a publication that – judging by this week’s edition which I read today – has kept up enough content to be interesting. QPs and peal reports appear to have been rationed to stretch them further, with most of the columns filled with performances from February, but Will has done excellently in encouraging contributors to send in all manner of content.

The article that most caught my eye was what it seems is the first of a series of articles on gender equality in ringing. It confirmed the premise of the study, which is that whilst in the early stages of learning to ring – such as the levels of ART - there is generally a 50-50 split between male and female ringers, by the time we get to the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest (which the report itself points out isn’t the definitive peak of ringing excellence, but is indicative of it) the numbers of males taking part is considerably more than females, particularly round the back end and when it comes to conducting. Although the numbers are more even in the Ringing World National Youth Contest, which suggests that something happens as men and women get older rather than and/or as well as they progress through the exercise. Many will have theories on what that may be.

Still, it was interesting to compare to a letter republished a century on from its original publication in the RW that spoke of the need to encourage young conductors, which was a noble ambition but tellingly only referred to males. For all that this latest study has identified an imbalance between the genders, we have mercifully moved on from 1920!

That said, at least they could ring church bells one hundred years ago, but in the absence of the chance to ring any on this latest ringingless Saturday, at least we had some pleasant endeavours to fill the void!

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Friday 28th August 2020

It’s Friday and these days that means its time for the weekly update from the Central Council on ringing’s gradual path to recovery from the restrictions placed on it back in March. As with the last couple of weeks, there is no major change. Although there was clarification that ringing now doesn’t have to be for a service, all the other restrictions apply, such as the time limit of fifteen minutes, the wearing of face masks and distancing of two metres between ropes being rung or 1.5m for those hanging in a straight line. However, on that last precaution, the guidance for a reduction to one metre has been submitted for approval, but hasn’t been approved yet, so that remains as it has been for now.

Still, we were able to return to a couple of the nice habits we have developed since restrictions came into place, such as our Friday night video chats. One of those was another quiz with my uni mates, but preceding that was a chat with Simon Rudd and friends, including briefly Richard Carter and Neil & Nikki Thomas before they set off on an ultimately successful handbell quarter in North Burlingham.

Clare.There was also success in hand within Suffolk, as a 720 of Plain Bob Doubles was rung by Christine Knight, Alan Mayle and Maurice Rose in Poslingford in memory of Frank Gilbert who was Ringing Master of the South-West District between 1970-74. Impressive as that is (especially to someone like me who really struggles on handbells!), I’m sure that this trio of ringers would agree it is a pity that something more substantial to remember him simply isn’t possible at the moment, especially on the 28cwt eight of Clare where he once rang. God willing, one Friday update at a time we are gradually getting closer to being able to do ringing that will do justice to characters of the Guild’s history like Frank.

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Thursday 27th August 2020

Aldeburgh.Aldeburgh is well known within our borders and indeed beyond for the monthly second Sunday peals that are rung there most months of the year. I hope that when such things are allowed that these peals can resume. I know that peal-ringing isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for me it is a vital medium for raising standards and generating interest, giving many something to aim for and thus ensuring they stick with the art when otherwise they may have become uninterested. That is particularly the case here where for decades the skills of some of Suffolk’s best ringers have been honed on this lovely 11cwt eight and where – at least in the ones I have partaken in, but I imagine in the vast majority of others too – the quality is typically high.

It isn’t just peals that can help achieve this of course. At this time of year, Brian Whiting’s quarter-peal tour usually combines two aspects of the art that also help raise standards and generate interest, often – I’m led to believe from those who have rung on them, including my wife and my mother-in-law – leading to some extremely good ringing. In keeping with the utter wipeout that 2020 has been, this tour couldn’t happen, but they are trying their best to make up for its absence this week, with another handbell quarter rung for Plan B QPT at Moats Tye.

Meanwhile, I was prompted into my above thoughts as I wandered the vast churchyard of the aforementioned closed St Peter and St Paul on the coast whilst waiting for our chum Gregory and his daughters – and Goddaughters of Ruthie and myself – Ava and Bea for a picnic on the beach. It turned into a relatively chilly experience, but we all had fun, especially the children in this beautiful seaside town.

I can’t wait to return to ring the bells though!

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Wednesday 26th August 2020

When ringing on church bells was stopped in March, most participation in the art was done by households, in their house together, especially when no two households were supposed to mingle.

Worlingham.However, Geoff Cowling and Lynn Scales have managed to do most of their ringing – over twenty performances noted on BellBoard including eleven quarter-peals – from separate locations via Facebook Messenger. Meanwhile though, Geoff’s brother and Blaxhall ringer Mike seems to have been altogether quieter on the ringing front, with his last (peal) entry on BB being a peal he rang at Worlingham almost six months ago. Which is a pity, as having returned to the exercise four years ago, as well as being invaluable to the local ringing scene and indeed beyond, I expect he’s really enjoyed his return, where it has taken him, some of the stuff he has been ringing, much of it very impressive.

I was pleased therefore to see him join forces with his sibling today for what has been claimed (with considerable justification I imagine!) as the first QP rung on handbells by brothers over two hundred miles apart, as they scored a 1272 of eleven Minimus methods as Geoff sat in Herefordshire and Mike here in Suffolk. Well done all round!

More conventionally, (entirely) within our borders, another quarter was rung in hand in Moats Tye, whilst we were quiet on the ringing front. There’s no way we Munnings could compete with the Cowlings today!

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Tuesday 25th August 2020

The discussion on Mark Murphy’s breakfast show on BBC Radio Suffolk this morning about what Christmas might be like this year reminded me that typically this date gives me my first pangs of excitement over my favourite time of the year. I don’t get the tinsel out (although we have found bits of it dotted in and around the boys’ bedroom since last year for some reason), hoard mince pies (mainly because I really don’t like them) or even start planning my shopping (which will probably start at some point on Christmas Eve), but I just get a little tinge of anticipation at this point.

This 25th August though, I have lost all sense of time, with all the usual landmarks of the calendar lost until 2021 and not helped by a day that felt distinctly autumnal for a day leading up to the summer bank holiday weekend.

And it is difficult to get excited about a day where many of the best bits will probably be mainly stripped out and which is at the other end of precisely another four months of not being able to properly do what we enjoy, if we get to do them at all.

Ipswich, St Clement. Ipswich, St Lawrence. Ipswich, St Margaret. Ipswich, St Mary at Quay. Ipswich, St Mary-le-Tower. Ipswich, St Matthew. Ipswich, St Nicholas.

That includes ringing of course, of which there is much that adds to the season normally. As things stand that won’t be possible to anywhere near the usual extent. For example, the Christmas Ringing in Ipswich looks like it will be a very restricted, essentially invited event as it will likely have to be if restrictions are as strict as is anticipated. That’s if it happens at all of course. And there probably won’t be scope for gatherings at this or the other ringing that usually takes place on or around the 25th December.

Still, the wearing situation we find ourselves in is something that ringers have been getting to grips with admirably, including here in Suffolk, where for the second day running - despite some pretty dreadful weather – a couple of handbell quarter-peals were rung in Moats Tye.

Hopefully there will be much, much more before Christmas.

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Monday 24th August 2020

There may still not be any church bell ringing on a Monday for now, but there was nonetheless some ringing-related activity in Suffolk to report.

Barham. Bells being lowered from the tower at Barham. (Taken by Carl Melville) Bells being lowered from the tower at Barham. (Taken by Carl Melville) Bells being lowered from the tower at Barham. (Taken by Carl Melville) Bells being lowered from the tower at Barham. (Taken by Carl Melville) Bells being lowered from the tower at Barham. (Taken by Carl Melville)

Such as the four at Barham being lowered from the tower to Taylors in Loughborough for tuning, welding and the addition of two new trebles to augment to a six.

And such as Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson’s first quarter-peal in hand, impressively rung at the first attempt and one of two handbell QPs rung in Moats Tye. Well done Rowan!

Meanwhile, there was handbell ringing outside St Mary the Virgin church in Woodbridge by local ringers ahead of the induction of The Revd Nigel Prior as the rector here. It was a service that in normal times would’ve happened two or three months ago and which we would’ve hoped to attend, but instead we tuned into the live stream on the church’s website. Well, the first nine minutes and thirty-four seconds of it before the stream cut out anyway!

At least ringing news was able to fill in the extra space on our Monday evening, although I’ll be delighted when actual ringing does!

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Sunday 23rd August 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.More six bell ringing at St Mary-le-Tower on Suffolk’s heaviest and largest weight-range six this morning, with the returning Sue & Jonathan Williamson ringing three & four, Jill & Chris Birkby ringing seven & eight and myself and Ruthie ringing eleven and twelve as I called 120s of Doubles, first of Grandsire and then of Plain Bob.

Afterwards though, as we and others who had come along to listen gathered in Christchurch Park, much of the talk was of the possibilities once (or if, as one cannot be sure of anything at all these days) the distance between ropes is reduced to one metre as indicated by CCCBR President Simon Linford on Friday. Once again it is important to note that this is only an agreement in principle and that new guidelines are not in place or confirmed yet, but with a potential increase in permutations it is worth towers preparing for the possibilities now as we did this morning over hot drinks.

We weren’t the only ones in the county ringing, though again the ringers at Woodbridge are having to ring on handbells with the 25cwt eight out of action due to the frame being painted.

Meanwhile, Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson sent out an invitation to and agenda for this year’s AGM due to be held on Saturday 19th September, delayed from April and for the first time ever held remotely on Zoom. When originally postponed it had clearly been hoped that by being held later in 2020 that we could have held it together with friends, in person, but after it became obvious that wasn’t going to be possible, the only option was to hold it by video. As Rowan admits, this will preclude some from taking part, but hopefully it will give others a chance to attend who normally wouldn’t be able or even inclined to travel to take part. It has to be said that when I normally encourage people to come along to this event, the meeting itself is the least appealing aspect of a day that would typically take in much socialising, ringing and eating in the company of friends well established and new in wonderful old churches, village halls and often a timber framed pub, but from a purely charity perspective it is arguably the most important part of the day. Therefore, please do take the time to contribute and/or take in as the running of the Guild is more important than ever.

God willing by Saturday 10th April 2021 we can all be in the South-West District for the full show. And hopefully we will be able to ring more than six bells at St Mary-le-Tower.

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Saturday 22nd August 2020

It felt almost like a normal Saturday today. We did some shopping for the boys in the shops of Woodbridge and Martlesham and Ipswich Town were well beaten, albeit in a friendly away at Tottenham Hotspur, one of the best football teams in the country and indeed in Europe. Even the fact that we didn’t do any ringing wasn’t entirely unusual even by pre-restrictions standards. Particularly in recent years with the boys we’ve tried not to fill every Saturday with ringing and a quick glance at my blog confirmed to me that we haven’t done any ringing on the fourth Saturday of August for years. In fact, it was just what I might have considered a pretty mundane, dull Saturday, before the events of March occurred anyway.

However, of course it has wearingly become the norm to essentially just get through Saturdays finding something to fill the time of particularly our youngest, adorable yet demanding (!) boys, rather than breaking them up occasionally with ringing or football to attend. I miss the opportunity to go out to ringing events and for all that it is great that we can go to the pub, follow ITFC games (yes, really!) and pop down the local playground, it is frustrating that we are unable to enjoy ringing in the full freedom that makes it such an engaging pastime, albeit at least we can ring at all, which is preferable to the situation that existed until a few weeks ago.

The Bicycle Ring. Vestey Ring.To that end, after a ‘brainwave’ (just the one!) of mine, I wondered whether there may be scope for making the Vestey Ring safe to ring at length in the current circumstances. There have been an incredible - in current circumstances – twenty-eight quarter-peals on The Bicycle Ring in various outdoor locations around Gloucestershire over the last couple of months or so as restrictions have eased and although it is a very different set-up (as the photo shows), I did wonder if it was feasible to adapt the Vestey Ring for some safe sessions, quarters and maybe even peals. Therefore, yesterday I emailed the Vestey Ring Trustee Brian Whiting as well as the Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson and Ringing Master Tom Scase to explore the feasibility and their thoughts. They very kindly discussed and looked into it, but sadly the practicalities just wouldn’t work. The mechanism needed to bring the rope circle out to a safe distance would essentially make them unringable and as the bells are hung in pairs on the frame we would still be restricted to pairs of ringers from the same household ringing next to each other. God willing by the time more reliable, warmer weather comes round again in the spring we will be back to some kind of normality in ringing at least, but if not and outdoor restrictions are eased significantly then the Vestey Ring may give us extra options for those of us less proficient on handbells!

Alfred Grimes' handbells.Talking of handbells, I had a lovely little chat via Facebook with the manager of the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre Nikki Thomas about the 1344 of Plain Bob Major she partook in yesterday to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of ringing great William Pye, rung on handbells owned by Alfred Grimes that William Pye himself rang peals on. It is a fascinating link to the exercise’s past and although we ring on tower bells that are centuries old, there seems to be something much more intimate about handling the actual bells that one of significant characters of the art also once handled. It was also something interesting to think about on a very normal, mundane Saturday.

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Friday 21st August 2021

It is a sign of the times that Ipswich Town’s fixtures for the 2020/21 football season were released today, when the season would usually have been several weeks in, yet still before everything from the 2019/20 season has been finished (the Champions League final isn’t due to be played until Sunday) and the anticipation levels were considerably lower than usual with fans not being allowed into the stadiums that need to be occupied by paying punters for many clubs to survive. Although the latest dreadful (mercifully curtailed) season in the history of ITFC has probably also contributed to the levels of apathy in these parts. That the beautiful game has reached this point is progress though, from the soul-sapping absence of sport for those long, weary spring months.

Progress too for ringing, as Central Council President Simon Linford reported back on his meeting with the Church of England’s Recovery Group via the Bellringers Facebook page that a number of things had been agreed in principle for the exercise to move forward. This includes reducing the social distancing to one metre between ropes, which will allow more bells to be rung in most towers. Again in principle, it has been agreed for decisions on what can be allowed to be made on a more localised basis with geography and differences in ringing chambers, such as the size of the room, whether it is ground floor or rung from a balcony, ventilation, etc taken into account. In addition, issues such as same households being able to ring for longer and the use of simulators for practicing were raised. Face masks are still to be worn though and it is important to note that current guidelines still apply for now, with Simon not envisaging getting draft guidance to them until early next week, although there is apparently no need for this guidance to also be approved by the National Institute for Health Protection, Public Health England’s successor.

Positive times for ringing and football.

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Thursday 20th August 2020

Delia Thelma Hammerton.There is a lovely obituary of Rushmere St Andrew ringer Delia Hammerton written in the latest edition of The Ipswich Society newsletter and shared via the Suffolk Guild Facebook page today by Ipswich Deanery Rep Jonathan Williamson. When we ring with someone, it can be easy to forget that they often have a life beyond the exercise. Delia was admittedly one of those for me. She was Delia the ringer, someone who didn’t reach dizzying heights in the art, but did well enough. However, quite apart from being a lovely lady, as the kind words written by her friend Linda say, there was so much else she was involved in and clearly respected and loved for. As Debenham ringer John Taylor says in the thread that accompanies it on FB, it is such a pity that the restrictions put in place in an attempt to hold back coronavirus deprived her of a proper, well attended send-off.

Eglwys Gadeiriol Llandaf 01 Meanwhile, there was shocking news from Llandaff Cathedral where a ringer broke his arm during maintenance on the 24cwt twelve. By one account it involved some sort of slider malfunction during work on the clappers, but mercifully he was with someone else, which is why it is always so important that one never works on bells alone. God willing he will make a speedy recovery.

There was happier news to report today too though, with Guild Secretary Kate Gill partaking in a 720 of the newly named Margaret Howes Place Minor and the first course of Plain Bob Major rung on that same platform by The Norman Tower Sunday service band. As they say, a positive achievement by all – well done!

That was something nice to read about, along with that lovely piece on the much missed Delia.

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Wednesday 19th August 2020

The Wolery.It is precisely six months today since I last rang a peal. That is the longest I gone without ringing a peal for eighteen years, but that was at a time when due to circumstances I cut back on a lot of my peal-ringing. When the 2hrs 3mins of Elmore Surprise Major came round at The Wolery, thoughts were on what a very enjoyable peal it was and the date for the March attempt set. Even though coronavirus was in the news and had reached these shores, I don’t think any of us seriously expected that just a month later that ringing on church bells would cease and not return for another third of a year. Peal-ringing isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it is where I have experienced my best ringing and I miss the opportunity to gather with friends to achieve something. We simply haven’t had the chance to join in with the online ringing opportunities and frankly my handbell ringing is a million miles away from peal standard!

If the rumours that were being shared on some corners of social media today are to be believed, an event may imminently be happening that I and others would have wished to ring a peal to mark. God willing the suggestion that ‘Operation Forth Bridge’ (the death of the Duke of Edinburgh) is not as imminent as intimated, but at 99-years old and in frail health it is something that sadly wouldn’t be unexpected. The speculation was enough for the Central Council to share the guidance on the Facebook thread alluding to the situation, which was initially released last October for such occurrences, but of course was written in very different circumstances and led some to suggest that the rules should be loosened for such an event. However, for all that many view that the current restrictions in society generally seem OTT (and with numbers of people hospitalised and dying of the virus falling, even as society opens up, I am sympathetic of that viewpoint), it is important that we stick to the guidelines and the notion of breaking the ‘rules’ in such circumstances will seem illogical for most. Still, it may do as well to read up on the guidance and for your tower to be prepared for what may be considered a likely event in the coming years.

On an altogether happier note, well done to the Suffolk band who continued with their quarter-peal on Ringing Room yesterday, despite the loss of their tenor ringer Alex Brett-Holt partway through for very modern-day reasons! God willing that won’t be an issue in the next peal I attempt!

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Tuesday 18th August 2020

The replacement of Public Health England with a new organisation called the National Institute for Health Protection isn’t normally something that would be mentioned in this blog, but of course these aren’t normal times! Therefore, whilst ringing’s representatives haven’t been directly communicating with PHE, PHE have been involved in the process of approving ringing’s return and so I don’t expect I am the only ringer who has wondered how this may affect ringing’s resumption. Will they be keen to revisit the decision of the art starting again, will they be looking to micromanage considerations of any further easing of restrictions or will they be happy to essentially hand over future plans and decisions entirely to the Church of England who will know their churches best?

Whatever the consequences of this reorganisation, as CCCBR President Simon Linford reiterates in his latest blog shared today, we shouldn’t be expecting the current restrictions to ringing to be eased until more is known about the effects of schools reopening and coronavirus’ spread as the weather gets colder over winter.

Hitcham.However, as he also points out, there is still positivity in the exercise, as he highlighted a list on the new, improved Dove website that imparts the projects going on around the world, such as here in Suffolk at Hitcham, where the six are being restored, rehung in a new frame and augmented to eight. Although it doesn’t mention the project to augment the octave of Stowmarket to ten, so perhaps someone needs to inform Dove!

In addition, he speaks about the progress being made by ringers – himself included – through online ringing platforms, which last week saw the first quarter-peal rung on dumbbells rung from different locations and today a mightily impressive peal of twenty-three Surprise Major methods spliced was rung on Ringing Room. Difficult enough on normal towerbells, so very well done to them!

For all that though, I really hope we can get back to full on, ‘proper’ ringing as soon as possible even if that won’t be soon. Many stalwarts of the art, the driving forces of ringing here and further afield seem to have grown really disillusioned with the absence of the focus that practices, quarters, peals, outings and progress in the art offer and I fear that if it takes too long for normal ringing (or at least very close to it) to return that a huge chunk will have been ripped from this centuries old exercise that gives so many so much joy. God willing the changes at the top of the country’s health system will only hasten its return.

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Monday 17th August 2020

On Friday, a delegation of ringers is due to meet with the Church of England Recovery Group for the first time since the current guidance was agreed to discuss the path for the art in the coming months and Central Council President Simon Linford is keen to go equipped with the views of the ringing community. Most particularly in regards to whether we would prefer for social distancing to be reduced and thus allow more bells to be rung, but still only for a quarter of an hour or retain the social distance measures we have at the moment (no ringers from different households ringing any closer than two metres apart, or one and a half metres for ropes in a straight line) but increase the time we can ring for. Indeed, Simon has set up a poll on the Bellringers Facebook page between the two options, with the respondents thus far overwhelmingly voting for the former. I’m sure that he would be happy to hear views via email for those not on social media.

Mr Linford makes it quite clear that this won’t decide what might happen next (indeed, both might be possible), as ultimately we are entirely in the hands of what the C of E decide, who in turn are at the behest of Public Health England. They in turn are due to be disbanded by the government shortly, which highlights just how convoluted the whole process is and what an insignificant part ringing is in it all. Please do put your thoughts forward though, it will give them an idea of the wishes and priorities of ringers when they speak to the church in four days time.

That said, the CCCBR President points out that nothing at all is likely to change until the effects of children returning to school next month is better understood and it becomes clearer how the dreaded winter is likely to unfold in terms of coronavirus, normal flu and other traditional illnesses for the time of year. As suspected by so many (myself - increasingly - included), the chances of anything even resembling normal ringing before this dreadful year is out seem very slim.

This didn’t stop some (understandably) impatient contributors to the thread below the poll appearing to be getting a bit ahead of themselves on what might (or some perceive should) be possible, but some conceivable suggestions came about that may help form the basis of moving things forward when the time is deemed right. Such as testing before ringing, however fanciful that notion might seem at the moment. And perhaps more feasible in the foreseeable future, applying more flexible restrictions at ground-floor and gallery rings and/or in areas where the presence of COVID-19 is low, as it is mercifully so in Suffolk and East Anglia currently. Although again this would all need to be led by those above ringing in the pecking order and as part of such moves in wider society. Interesting times for all of us may lay ahead.

St Clement's Church, Cambridge, England - IMG 0650 Face coverings are – for now – benefitting the art by allowing us to ring under current guidelines, but there is another way in which they doing good for the exercise. For if you purchase a handmade, homemade mask from DingDongMerrily on Etsy, all the proceeds will go towards the £250,000 fundraising target for the exciting project to hang a new ring of six at St Clement’s in Cambridge, rung from the first floor and easily accessible for the public. If you haven’t got a mask – or fancy a spare – then this seems the place to go!

Our industrious efforts were focused on our respective jobs and looking after the children, with a Monday night without ringing sadly now the norm. Although God willing, the efforts of Simon Linford and co will hopefully mean that it shouldn’t be the norm for any longer than necessary.

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Sunday 16th August 2020

Generally I try not to point out successes that are gender-related, such as “first female band to...” or “first woman to...” and the like. Not because I don’t rate such successes, but in sense quite the opposite. By congratulating someone for being the first female or band of females to do something, I feel that I am being patronising, as if it wouldn’t be expected of them, that they are somehow inferior to males doing the same thing. The “not bad for a girl” syndrome if you like. In a world where we are all striving to achieve genuine equality regardless of gender, race, sexuality, disability and the like, it seems counterproductive to single out achievements that are considered achievements because the band is female. A peal of forty-one Surprise Minor is impressive for example, regardless of who it is rung by.

However, where there are inexplicable anomalies it is worth investigating and pursuing solutions. Such as why there is a roughly even number of males and females in the early stages of learning to ring, but when it comes to the more ‘advanced’ stages it becomes predominantly men who partake, such as in complex peals of spliced and in particular the ringing of heavy bells. On the face of it, there really shouldn’t be any reason why as many women as men shouldn’t be active in ‘advanced’ and heavy bell ringing. The notion of strength is really a very outdated one, as good handling of any sized bell is predominantly based on technique rather than physical prowess. On a regular basis – in normal times at least – I ring regularly with Laura Davies, Suffolk Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson, Amanda Richmond (whilst in full health), Katharine Salter and of course Ruthie amongst others who are all accomplished ringers on heavier bells, whilst even from a male perspective, Andrew Mills – one of the few people to have pulled the 82cwt tenor of Liverpool Cathedral in to a peal – is hardly a tall, muscle-bound beast. And of course they and other females are amongst the best change-ringers we have in the county. As with nationally though, when it comes to much of what might be considered advanced ringing (such as spliced in quarters and peals, ringing the heavier bells, etc), they are usually in the minority. Why should that be?

Finding out is why Julia Cater – at the insistence and with the support of the CCCBR – has set up a research group. However, for all the statistics and analysis, the best way of getting to the root of this anomaly is to hear the experiences of ringers from all backgrounds. Therefore, we are all – male and female – being encouraged to share our stories via the group’s website. Please do take part if you have experiences that you think would be relevant to this subject.

At St Mary-le-Tower we have a reasonable balance of genders in the regular band, but this morning we had a precisely 50-50 ratio, although that was mainly because we had three husband and wife teams ringing, allowing us to ring six of the thirteen bells, as we have done on the previous two Sundays. There was a slight change to what has become the norm as with the Williamsons absent, we welcomed Tessa & Ralph Earey for their first ringing since March, with none taking place at Sproughton yet. Jonathan’s absence meant that I was running the ringing which consisted of 120 changes of Plain Bob Doubles sandwiched in between some call-changes, having listened to four of the ancient five bells of St Lawrence being rung beforehand. Although we did get to hear Jonathan’s voice as he spoke about East Bergholt bells right at the beginning of and then about twenty-one minutes into the twenty-five minute the Fun With Bells podcast that is well worth a listen.

Great Bealings. Great Bealings bell. Great Bealings bell.

In another change from the current normal order of things, we didn’t join our fellow ringers in going to Christchurch Park to enjoy takeaway refreshment afterwards as instead we returned to Great Bealings for the monthly Woodbridge, St Mary-the-Virgin junior church service. On this occasion we were able to hold it outside with the boys having a chime beforehand, whilst afterwards I got the chance to go upstairs and take a look at this mixed ring of five bells dating from three different centuries from 1626 to 1910 and four different founders, before a picnic in the churchyard.

Euston.Elsewhere within our borders, BellBoard records that the first ringing at Euston since restrictions were lifted was done, that half of the bells at The Norman Tower were rung to 75 changes of Plain Bob Doubles and with the bells out of action at Woodbridge with the frame being painted, handbells were again rung outside.

Meanwhile, I was impressed by the ringing at Elstow from two floors – as can be watched on YouTube - and the peal in Reading where the band didn’t know what method they would be ringing from a selection of fifty-one different methods until the last half-lead of the previous extent. It was all very impressive, regardless of the genders of the ringers...

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Saturday 15th August 2020

The current situation the world is facing is tragic in so many ways, but it is nothing compared to what the world faced between 1939 and 1945 and particularly in Asia and the Pacific, where warfare was especially horrific for all concerned. And yet also relatively forgotten.

They weren’t forgotten today though, as the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day was marked, primarily by a moving ceremony at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, but also by the sound of church bells ringing across the world. Here in the UK that was in the restricted fashion that we have become accustomed to over the last month, but it was particularly pleasing after the traditional sound so associated with the celebrations of 1945 had been necessarily absent for the VE Day celebrations in May.

The ringers who rang the bells at Burgh, Clopton, Grundisburgh & Hasketon for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day enjoying some socially distanced refreshment afterwards at The Turks Head. The ringers who rang the bells at Burgh, Clopton, Grundisburgh & Hasketon for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day enjoying some socially distanced refreshment afterwards at The Turks Head. Mike Whitby and Chris & Mary Garner at Pettistree where they rang for the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

Here in Suffolk, they rang out either with change-ringing or tolling at The Norman Tower, Burgh, Clare, Clopton, Grundisburgh, Hasketon, Ixworth, Pettistree, Woolpit and I imagine other towers within our borders not noted on BellBoard or Facebook. Even if not at full pelt, it is still wonderful to see that the county’s bells and ringers were marking the occasion.

There were also handbells rung, with a personal performance from the Colman family at the cathedral, and another family effort in the town’s Westbury Avenue, whilst the Avis’ rang a 120 changes of Plain Bob Minimus in hand in Brantham.

Neither Ruthie nor I me had the opportunity to do any ringing, but my wife was up at dawn to join her mother and sister to travel to Melton Old Church where the boys’ grandad Ron played bagpipes at the grave of Mrs Munnings’ grandfather who was one of the thousands of Allied troops who suffered so horrendously as a POW under the Japanese.

For all that we are suffering currently, it really is nothing compared to how he and so many others suffered between 1939 and 1945 and indeed beyond. Today though, at least they weren’t forgotten.

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Friday 14th August 2020

Whilst speaking with my uni mates via video which since lockdown began has become a Friday night staple, one of our number introduced their new girlfriend and so as an introduction to myself ringing came up. She seemed more fascinated by the subject then anything else that occurred during the evening, especially when it was explained to her by my friends that they had always been intrigued by me disappearing on evenings and weekends to go ringing and returning having had quite a few drinks and seemingly a jolly good time!

It is a reminder on the day after A-Level results were released and ringers and indeed non-ringers get excited about the new chapters and new freedoms they are due to have in new places in the next couple of months how much the situation lends itself to recruitment to the art. I certainly found that my participation in the exercise moved from mockery to genuine interest when I made the friends at university that I still have and although things aren’t the same this year, as God willing restrictions ease further I would encourage ringers about to embark upon this new adventure of education to be proactive in promoting what we do.

Of course what we do is severely restricted at the moment, but at least it has expanded in recent weeks. Still, it is important that we continue to abide by the guidelines as we look to garner trust amongst the decision-makers who will play a big part in us eventually getting back to the freedom in ringing we had at the start of this dreadful year. To that end, the weekly Friday updates from the Central Council are useful, with today’s providing quite important clarification on the 1.5m rule in regards to ropes that fall in a straight line and those who are exempt from wearing face coverings due to medical reasons, with the guidance on the latter being that if you can’t wear a mask then you shouldn’t ring.

Handbell ringing in the beer garden of The Bull in Bacton (by Joan Garrett)Still, handbell ringing continues to flourish, including here in Suffolk where a 120 changes of Kent Treble Bob Minor were rung in the beer garden of The Bull in Bacton.

Not that Fridays have ever generally been fertile ground for ringing for Ruthie and me, but the restrictions prevented us from going anywhere for ringing. However, I did get out generally as I took another day of leave from work to look after the boys, this time meeting up in Melton Park with their friends and our Goddaughters Ava and Bea and their father Gregory before having lunch with them.

It was a social kind of day in the circumstances and perhaps more days like this may generate more interest in ringing!

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Thursday 13th August 2020

Felixstowe.It was another day off work to look after the children and the most fun one thus far, as having dropped something off in Felixstowe, the boys and I made a visit to the beach there off the cuff. Having parked up directly outside St John the Baptist church which houses the lovely little eight there, I approached with a little trepidation following reports from other seaside resorts in recent weeks (and indeed almost entirely throughout ‘lockdown’) and fully prepared to disappoint the boys if it transpired that the beaches were too busy in these social distance aware times.

On Felixstowe beach.I had nothing to fear as it happens, with the seafront busy but not crowded and so we enjoyed a paddle in the North Sea just beneath the pier and grabbed an ice cream, with both boys covered in blue from their bubblegum flavoured treats!

It involved no ringing, but others in Suffolk were partaking in the art on Ringing Room, with the 1320 of St Clement’s College Bob Minor being Alex Brett-Holt’s first quarter-peal in the online platform. Well done Alex!

And we did host a ringer, as for the second week running, fellow St Mary-le-Tower band member Laura Davies and her boyfriend Joe parked their car at ours whilst they undertook successful time trials on their bicycles in the Tunstall area and then joined us in our back garden for refreshment afterwards at the end of a day where many in Suffolk were anticipating thunderstorms that never came.

I’m just glad they didn’t disrupt our day of fun at the beach!

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Wednesday 12th August 2020

St James church, Dunwich - - 66684I got briefly excited when I saw the headline Dunwich Bells Ring Again on p14 of the local In Touch magazine that finds its way to our letterbox on a monthly basis. Alas, it wasn’t news that the single 4cwt Thomas Mears II bell of 1832 at St James is to be added to, but – as most of you will have almost instantly realised – is reference to the bells of the many churches of this once great port city lost to the North Sea due to coastal erosion across the centuries and which myth tells us ring out from beneath the surface. In particular, it is that folk band The Silburys have filmed a video to accompany their song The Dunwich Bells, which can be viewed on their website (or on Youtube).

Whilst the time that those bells actually rang is on a highway called History Road, I was on Memory Lane. This week I have noticed a number of my peals from my time ringing in Birmingham and with Birmingham ringers have appeared on BellBoard in recent months, primarily added by Owen Battye, Paul Needham and Andrew Warboys who have presumably been occupying their extra time over lockdown!

Memories immediately came pouring forth. Many were in the UK’s second city itself, where Monday night peals at St Philip’s Cathedral and occasionally on Tuesdays at St Martin’s-in-the-Bulling were almost as regular as many practice nights and featured ringing of all sorts of methods, with Stedman Cinques and Bristol Surprise Maximus typically the ‘safe score’, but others were further afield. My first peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus, rung on the back twelve of the Bullring, the series of Orion-above Surprise Maximus peals of Mintaka, Bellatrix and Alnilam that we rang at the Cathedral at the beginning of 2000, David Pipe’s comeback tower-bell peal at Kingsbury in Warwickshire after a two year absence due to injury, peals at Taylors’ Loughborough Bell Foundry Tower, Great St Mary in Cambridge and Peterborough Cathedral that were all part of fun, boozy weekends away, a 5016 of Stedman Cinques at York Minster and a 5001 of spliced Septuples and Sixteen on the only ring of sixteen in the country all stood out, but they were amongst so many more during a period of ringing I look back on very fondly. I was very much the weak link in most – if not all – of those successes and feel fortunate and privileged to have been a part of it, especially as I don’t know how I would fare in the current (before COVID-19 at least) world of elite ringing. In reality I was in the right place at the right time!

It was an altogether quieter day for me today though, certainly on the ringing front, with those days feeling a very long time ago now and this hot August Wednesday not anywhere near as exciting. Well, bar those few seconds when I thought the bells of Dunwich might be ringing again!

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Tuesday 11th August 2020

Ruthie & me in the Coach & Horses for our anniversary meal.Ruthie and I did something very exciting today – we went to a pub! Joyful an experience as going to a nice tavern nearly always is, this evening’s visit to the Coach & Horses in Melton was extra special for two reasons.

One, that it was the first time we’d been to a hostelry for almost precisely five months since we and several other ringing friends ate in The Lion Inn in Little Glemham at the halfway point of the Pettistree Quarter-Peal Day on 14th March, our last ringing day out and the kind of event really missed by me and I imagine others too.

The other reason was that this roasting hot Tuesday marked exactly eight years since we became husband and wife in a ceremony attended by many ringers and featuring much ringing on the day and around the country, which we were extremely touched by.

Therefore, with mother-in-law Kate very kindly looking after the boys, we ventured to one of our locals for what was a superb three course meal with a couple of pints each, which thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme and a voucher that my mother and father very kindly got me as a birthday present last year only ended up costing us £9!

What is more, for all the stories that have been in the news about overcrowded bars (typically in the large towns and cities of the UK), our venue tonight has got the set-up absolutely perfect. We had booked and it was lucky we did, as if we had gone there on the off-chance we would’ve had a long wait with all the tables taken inside and out when we arrived. Yet because they have used their outdoor space so effectively, there was never any point that we felt crowded in and with hand sanitiser on just about every available post, a window to order from the outside, face masks worn by all the staff and being sat down at a completely empty, wiped down table, we felt no more at risk of catching anything than we would have done before coronavirus rudely interrupted life here. Even though we were sat indoors, like our return to ringing, we felt totally safe.

St Mary-le-Tower. Evesham. Maidstone, All Saints.

Meanwhile, the group stages of the competition on the Bellringers Facebook page to find the most liked ring of bells weighing between 30 and 40cwt drew to a close with the vote on Group Eight featuring St Mary-le-Tower. Disappointingly SMLT were denied progression to the next stage by Evesham and All Saints in Maidstone, but that they finished as the best of the rest amongst some very strong contenders is reassuring confirmation for those of us who believe they are an extremely good ring of bells that we are normally fortunate to ring regularly.
For all that they and other church bells in Suffolk weren’t being rung today, there was another handbell peal rung within our borders, again of forty-one Surprise Minor methods in Bacton.

No ringing for us though and although I have been pleased to take them in since they went online after church bell ringing ceased, even I wouldn’t have been crass enough to sacrifice our anniversary meal to watch the latest monthly College Youths meeting and so for once I passed on that particular ‘pleasure’.

I’m glad I did though, as I had a lovely evening out with a very special lady to celebrate a very special day. God willing we can celebrate in a similar fashion in a year’s time, only hopefully it won’t be such a novelty by then!

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Monday 10th August 2020

Sadly Suffolk’s entries into the July CCCBR YouTube competition for Best Ringing on Eight Bells or More didn’t win, but the victorious video featuring Devon call-changes on the 10cwt eight of Bridgerule was worthy of coming out on top. And of course there is a new opportunity for SGR members to win with the August competition, with the topic being Best video demonstrating change ringing not on tower bells. This isn’t limited to just handbell ringing, so I imagine might feature ringing on Ringing Room, Handbell Stadium, pianos, etc. Get recording Suffolk!

Meanwhile, it was interesting to note that the peal in hand rung in Bromley in Kent was dedicated to the forthcoming 150th anniversary of the birth of William Pye, of whom more info can be found here. William wasn’t a ringer from within our borders, but has a place in the ringing history of our county, most particularly at St Mary-le-Tower where he not only partook in the historic first ever peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus, which was rung at SMLT almost exactly 112 years ago on 15th August 1908, but by some accounts – including Colin Salter’s excellent history of ringing here which can be found on the ringers’ website - was the one who suggested the idea. Of course it is harder to arrange anything at the moment, but it’ll be interesting to see if Suffolk’s ringers do anything to mark the anniversary of his birth on or around 14th August.

As it will be interesting to see what Suffolk’s ringers come up with for the Central Council’s August YouTube competition.

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Sunday 9th August 2020

After our return to ringing last Sunday, Ruthie and I were prepared to bide our time for our next turn, with St Mary-le-Tower in the fortunate position of having more ringers than bells currently. However, with the combination of three couples ringing three, four, seven, eight, eleven and twelve allowing us to ring the most number of bells possible under current guidelines, in the park post-ringing last week it was decided that it was best to continue with this set-up for the foreseeable future, introducing couples as and when one couple can’t ring.

Therefore, the same six ringers – Sue & Jonathan Williamson, Jill & Chris Birkby and myself & my wife – underwent the same precautions as seven days ago to ring the same bells. The only slight differences saw call-changes swapped out of our repertoire for some Plain Bob Doubles and having felt a little stifled by our reusable face masks last time out, Mrs Munnings and I tried some disposable ones. It has to be said that they felt a bit better, although pulling the 25cwt eleventh in to Doubles on a six with a 30cwt weight range on a roasting hot day is a hard job made even harder by not being able to breath as freely as one would like!

Christchurch Park. Me ‘parenting’ in Christchurch Park.Also in a slight change to the last Sabbath, Mason joined his siblings and other ringers to listen and then partake in some Costa Coffee takeaway in Christchurch Park, by which point we were joined by Colin Salter, who along with his mother and father Katharine and twice Past Suffolk Guild Ringing Master David had rung three of the six bells at St Clement. It’ll be interesting to see how our get-togethers in the park evolve as the weather gets cooler and wetter, but for now it is becoming a social gathering to look forward, not something we’ve had much of in recent months. There was plenty of entertainment as another Past SGR RM Amanda Richmond got the three brothers racing against each other, we all watched the local black cat climb and then try to get out of a nearby tree in the shadow of the tower that holds the 14cwt eight of St Margaret’s and I was squashed by my two youngest in a demonstration of parenthood in action.

According to BellBoard, elsewhere in the county the first ringing at Woolpit for twenty-one weeks was carried out for the resumption of services there, handbells were rung outside St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge in the absence of the 25cwt octave and extremely well done to Ruth Suggett who rang her first quarter-peal in hand on only the third occasion that she has ever rung actual handbells, having made the most of Abel and Ringing Room since church bell ringing was stopped in March. Phenomenal achievement Ruth!

We were less active this afternoon, instead taking advantage of the hospitality of mother-in-law Kate Eagle and the boys’ grandad Ron for our second BBQ of the weekend, which was certainly easier in these temperatures than hauling the eleventh at SMLT around! Thank you guys!

Meanwhile, St Mary-le-Tower is due to make its debut in the Bellringers Facebook page’s informal competition to ascertain the most liked ring of bells with a tenor weighing between 30cwt and 40cwt. The vote for Group Eight – which SMLT appears in with Evesham, All Saints in Maidstone, Leighton Buzzard and Cornhill in London - is planned to take place on Tuesday 11th August, with the two towers that get the most votes going through to the next round. Don’t let our experience this morning put you off voting for them!

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Saturday 8th August 2020

In this BBQ weather, it seemed eminently sensible to have a BBQ and so we did as we hosted Ufford ringers Susanne Eddis and Pete Faircloth to ours for some sausages, burgers and spicy kebabs that were too spicy Susanne!

Christchurch Park. Other ringers did manage ringing too, including locally where a quarter-peal was rung in hand in Ipswich’s Christchurch Park, whilst in Reading, six handbell peals were rung on six different sixes in six different unpealed rooms at the same address with all 42 Thirds Place Delight methods from the 147 regular Treble Dodging Minor methods.

Well done them, although I’m not sure it was entirely the activity for such BBQ weather!

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Friday 7th August 2020

There was a fascinating thread on the Bellringers Facebook thread (Started by Andrew Ellis.) inspired by a one-time Suffolk ringer this evening. It was on the subject of how far back in time you could be linked with just one connecting ringer. For example some reading this will have rung with at least someone (and probably several) who were original members of the Guild when it was formed in 1923.

Grundisburgh.It emanated from Warwickshire ringer Clarke Walters who said he had rung with St Mary-le-Tower ringer George Symonds who he was led to believe had rung with a ringer who rung for the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Clarke himself added he wasn’t 100% sure he’d got that right as he felt that another generation in between would make more sense. However, it does seem feasible. George Symonds rang his last peal aged 98 years and a month old (becoming the oldest ever peal-ringer in a record that I believe still stands) at Grundisburgh in September 1973, putting his year of birth at 1875. If he began ringing in his early teens, it isn’t inconceivable that he rang with some old boy or gal who had celebrated the Duke of Wellington’s historic victory 70-75 years earlier.

Meanwhile, clarification of guidelines for ringing for the seventy-fifth anniversary of another significant event in British history, VJ Day has been released by the CCCBR. There had been concern that the suggestion a bit back that ringing take place for this event at 11am on Saturday 15th August would contravene the guidelines for Sunday ringing as it wouldn’t be possible to leave the required seventy-two hours between ringing. However, as the clarified advice makes clear, if approved by the local incumbent, it would be in line with the guidelines for the same band to ring the same bells in face masks with all the other myriad of precautions on the 15th and then the 16th. And I imagine if bells aren’t yet being rung on a Sunday morning (perhaps because services haven’t restarted yet) then 11am on Saturday 15th may be a good opportunity to get the bells ringing again.

There was also the weekly Friday update from the Central Council on more general ringing, which on this occasion merely notes that their reference of face masks has been altered to face coverings in line with the wording in the Church of England and Church of Scotland’s own guidance, plus clarifying that where greater restrictions are reimposed – such as currently in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and, West Yorkshire – that this only effects the art in handbell ringing in people’s gardens and not on church bells. (Also ...clarify that ringing does not specifically have to be for a service, but should still be with the permission of the incumbent.)

And whilst we didn’t do any ringing today, we enjoyed Simon Rudd’s weekly video chat with him and others on a day when he had been busy on Ringing Room, including a SMLT QP also featuring David Stanford and Nigel Newton rung from across East Anglia. I wonder what George Symonds and the ringers who rang for the Battle of Waterloo would make of that? Or indeed them being discussed internationally via social media!

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Thursday 6th August 2020

Without the usual summer holiday activities for the children and child-sitting options largely unavailable this year and the latter unusually relied upon substantially throughout July already, I am having to be flexible with my holiday allocation this month and use some of it to undertake child-sitting duties myself. Therefore, today was the first such day and mercifully with lovely weather that allowed them to use the garden extensively.

It was lovely to spend so much quality time with them throughout the day, but equally I was delighted that Ruthie and I could welcome some adult company too this evening, as having let them use our driveway to park their car whilst they undertook time-trials on their bikes in the Tunstall area, fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringer Laura Davies and her boyfriend Joe returned for a cuppa out the back of ours before embarking on their journey home.

Having also had a cuppa with Ruthie’s gran after she’d very kindly briefly looked after the kids whilst I had to run an errand, it was nice to spend the day with people of all generations!

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Wednesday 5th August 2020

Westminster, St Margaret of Antioch.As Central Council President Simon Linford points out in his latest blog, even once we get to full ringing again, we are facing an uncertain future in the art. He says that he has heard of bands that won’t be returning because their members are too old to come back (although God willing there will be a time at some point when all can return with confidence to our ringing chambers regardless of age) and also highlights St Margaret’s in Westminster – home to a 26cwt ten – where the church is one of a number apparently closing for good for public services. Church closures are something we’ve been expecting for some time, but I imagine this current crisis will hasten what would’ve eventually happened, giving us less time to prepare for the loss of churches with rings of bells. There may be many in our rural county, so we perhaps need to think about what we can do to find new homes for bells or ways of ringing them after they close.

We have plenty to think about in terms of retention, recruitment and our relationships with our neighbours in the future and so now seems a good moment to point you in the direction of the recent announcement on Recruitment and Retention on the CCCBR website, something that has far more info than I can reasonably sum up on here, so please do have a thorough read and think about how your tower can get going again when we get the go ahead for a full resumption, whenever in the distant future that may be.

For now, handbell ringing continues to represent the exercise in Suffolk, with another peal of forty-one Surprise Minor methods rung in Bacton today.

If more churches close and bands disband following this crisis, then we may be relying on handbells to help ringing into the future.

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Tuesday 4th August 2020

More Suffolk representation in the monthly Central Council competition with the playlist of contenders for July’s search for the best ringing on eight bells or more. St Mary-le-Tower features twice with some eight-spliced Surprise Major and I suspect what was one of our half-courses of Cambridge Surprise Maximus rung in preparation for our participation in the eliminator at Walsall of the ultimately cancelled 2020 National Twelve-Bell Striking Competition.

Obviously I hope that one of these win, but there is plenty of high quality ringing on show, including at my favourite twelve of Towcester, a superb extract of a peal of spliced on the back eight at St Paul’s in Birmingham, the magnificent sounding Inveraray and the Devon Call-Changes on the ten of Christ Church in Swindon.

Meanwhile, Exning’s Jimmy Yeoman was ringing in a quarter-peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus on Ringing Room with his fellow Cambridge ringers. It’s nice to have had Suffolk representation there too!

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Monday 3rd August 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.The latest of Patrick Deakin and Jack Pease’s informal, just-for-fun, tournament-style competitions to find the most popular of certain categories of bells was announced today on the Bellringers Facebook page and again it features Suffolk representation. This time it is to find the “finest rings between 30 and 40cwt” and competing in Group 8 with Evesham, All Saints in Maidstone, Leighton Buzzard and Cornhill in London is St Mary-le-Tower. It is tough competition, but whilst for various reasons SMLT is often maligned locally, many beyond our borders recognise them as a fine ring of bells and we are blessed to be able to ring on them regularly, in normal times at least. Get ready to put your vote in!

They are arguably the most famous peal of bells in the county and a twelve that usually attract ringers from across the country and around the world and so those of us in the band do feel an obligation to ensure that they are run and looked after properly and the most obvious way we do that as a collective is through the annual AGM. Typically that would be held in April or May, either in the church or the ringing chamber, but of course that wasn’t possible this time around. However, now that the bells are being rung again – albeit in a very limited fashion as is necessary currently – it seemed a good time to hold the 2020 meeting. In theory we could do that in person outside, but practicalities necessitated that like most meetings this year – and as is the plan for the Suffolk Guild AGM on 19th September – it was held via video.

Twenty of us gathered in our houses (and in Amanda Richmond’s case, her car) for a meeting led as usual by St Mary-le-Tower’s vicar Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin and which covered various topics. One was whether membership of the Suffolk Guild should be a pre-requisite for being a member of the Tower band, which we agreed it should, whilst we also discussed the merits of a formal Deputy Ringing Master’s position. Meanwhile, the events that usually round off the calendar year and would normally see the dates rubber-stamped were discussed with varying degrees of resignation. There doesn’t seem to be any likelihood of the Tower Open Day that tends to be held in the autumn being held, ringing for the Christmas Tree Festival usually held at the end of November and beginning of December and the festive ringing on the final Saturday before Yuletide will largely depend on how flexible restrictions will or won’t be by then and even the most likely event to be able to go ahead – the curry night normally held on the first Friday of December – is at best “possible” with probably many more ups and downs ahead in the coming months.

For all that though, the main business was fairly straightforward, with David Potts voted in as Ringing Master & Tower Captain, Stephen Cheek as Secretary & Treasurer and Owen Claxton as Steeple Keeper and whilst the effects of coronavirus restrictions was the main theme running through much of what we discussed, George Pipe was of course also on our minds as we looked back on the fifteen months since we last held our AGM, with his passing in March another low point of a difficult year, although it has to be said the mood of those present tonight was largely upbeat and jovial.

God willing though, the next AGM will be held in happier circumstances and in each other’s presence and with the bells being fully rung again beforehand.

Meanwhile, another peal in hand was rung in the county, predictably at the centre of handbell excellence in Bacton, this time in the forty-one Surprise Minor methods in an impressive looking performance.

For us though, our main focus was the bells of St Mary-le-Tower. Bells that may be ‘champion’ bells soon”!

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Sunday 2nd August 2020

There are quite a few things I have got used to at various points over the last few months. Working from home. Football matches played in empty stadiums. Queueing outside shops. Wearing face masks. Even not putting any shoes on for days on end at one point. However, I’ve never got used to not ringing.

I have other things in my life besides ringing, such as football, history and of course a family that I have enjoyed spending much more time with since March. Besides loved ones though, ringing is the main thing in my life. It is the only thing I have really excelled at and have a modicum of respect from others for, it is what I normally spend much of my spare time doing, where most of my friends are from and how I met my wife. Indeed, it is how my parents met too and therefore I owe my very existence to it! Good ringing (and contrary to perceptions, a lot of what we do here in Suffolk is good) is so enjoyable to me whether I am partaking in it or not, in the same way as others enjoy good music, good fishing or a good film. Before lockdown, I would typically be ringing on a Saturday, a Sunday morning, Monday night and often Wednesday evening in various places with various people and so I have missed doing it immensely since I was forced – necessarily so – to stop doing it at all nearly five months ago.

Therefore I was delighted today to finally get the opportunity to ring on church bells again for the first time since 16th March at St Mary-le-Tower, the same tower I last rang at before leaving in much more subdued fashion as I arrived this morning. However, longing as I have been to get back, I am also anxious that my participation doesn’t ultimately kill someone and so I was also pleased to see the precautions taken to make this as safe as possible. The result was that with face masks on, hand sanitiser put on at the bottom and the top of the stairs on the way up and down (as well as the hand sanitiser we used before getting out of our car), social distancing adhered to, the short amount of time spent in the ringing chamber and the time elapsed since anyone else was in this famous old room, there was no point at which I felt any more at risk than any other time I’ve ever been in this or any ringing chamber.

Gathered in St Mary-le-Tower churchyard ahead of service ringing this morning. Precautions in place - hand sanitizer at the top of the stairs. Sue & Jonathan Williamson waiting by 3 & 4 to ring. Jill & Chris Birkby waiting by 7 & 8 to ring.

And the actual ringing was extremely pleasing too. With couples Sue & Jonathan Williamson ringing three and four, Jill and Chris Birkby ringing seven and eight and myself and Ruthie ringing the back two, we were suitably distanced from each other’s respective households, but it produced an odd sound. The call-changes and Grandsire Doubles were well rung nonetheless, especially given the unusually wide range of weights that made pace and striking less natural, even before taking into account that none of us had rung tower bells in at least 139 days and was well recorded for posterity, both outside by David Potts and Laura Davies (with the latter featuring on the Bellringers Facebook page) and inside by myself, as can now be listened to on YouTube. Although it got quite hot in our masks!

Relaxing in front of Christchurch Mansion after ringing.Beforehand we had arrived in plenty of time, in earshot of three of the ancient five bells of nearby St Lawrence being rung by Amanda Richmond, Colin Salter and Karina Wiseman, and left the boys with my Mum and Dad who kindly looked after their grandchildren whilst we rang (with no one but those ringing allowed in the ringing chamber of course) ahead of climbing the stairs one husband and wife team at a time and afterwards we gathered with our pre-ordered hot drinks with other members of the SMLT band in Christchurch Park in front of the Mansion beneath the tower of St Margaret’s, a social get-together itself well worth coming out for.

Handbells @ Woodbridge.Elsewhere in Suffolk, they also rang six of the twelve at The Norman Tower, four of the 13cwt eight at Ixworth and there was family handbell ringing outside St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge as past Guild Secretary Bruce Wakefield and his wife past Guild Librarian Gill rang with their daughter Alyson and granddaughters Poppy and Willow.

Berwick-upon-Tweed,Brass Bastion. Peal Band. Meanwhile, the peal-ringing tour in Northumberland saw Katharine Firman impressively become the first person to ring one hundred peals of Bristol Surprise Maximus in hand in a 5138 that was also her two thousandth peal in total.

Reading about handbell peals are something I have definitely got used to reading about!

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Saturday 1st August 2020

As I watched Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup Final in an empty Wembley stadium on the first day of August in what may be the answer to a quiz question in years to come, I was prompted to think where we might be come the next FA Cup Final. God willing it’ll be at its usual time in May, at a packed national stadium. Although it might be a step too far to even dream of Ipswich being there considering we’ve only won one game in the competition over the last decade!

In the process it also got me trying to imagine where we might be generally by then. Each announcement that something has been postponed during this dreadful year has almost invariably been followed by “but we’ll be back in 2021 bigger and better than ever before.” Arguably next year is the most eagerly anticipated year in the history of mankind and whilst most people have written 2020 off as a short-term measure, I wonder whether the populace will be quite as prepared to see everything called off and severely restricted next year. Or indeed if many businesses (especially pubs, restaurants, theatres, etc) could survive that long in the current form.

Yet we do need to stop the virus getting out of hand. It may not be in the numbers it was two or three months ago, but it is still killing people (although precisely how many seems to be open to debate), so we can’t simply go back to exactly the way things were, at least until a vaccine or effective treatment has been found. However, I have seen many suggesting that with or without a vaccine, a COVID UK in 2021 may see life return to pretty much normal, but hopefully with much better and regular testing, contact details taken everywhere you go, hand washing/sanitizing every time you enter and leave somewhere and obligatory wearing of face masks in public.

It will be interesting to see how ringing would fit in with such developments (which it has to be said are mere conjecture on the eternally unreliable social media), but of course it isn’t entirely up to us. We are – quite rightly – at the behest of the church, who are in turn taking their lead from Public Health England and the government and if we are to maintain the trust they have placed in the ringing family thus far, we have to continue doing what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks.

That means that ringing on Saturdays continues to be online or handbells, but at least a peal-ringing tour – which must be the first one embarked upon since church bell ringing was halted in March – to Northumberland is boosting numbers in a medium that has understandably been hit this year, with a brace of performances in hand in Berwick-upon-Tweed adding to a couple rung yesterday and contributing to five in total nationwide today.

Meanwhile, a video shared on the Bellringers Facebook page shows all six bells at Shirenewton in Wales being rung due to three ringers ringing upstairs and three from the ground floor in a tower where apparently they are designed to be rung from either.

Perhaps a few strategically drilled holes and lengthened ropes might see full ringing possible more widely next May, even if an FA Cup Final in a packed Wembley isn’t possible!

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Friday 31st July 2020

Temperatures soared to 37 degrees centigrade in the south of England today, far better conditions in which to take a tent down than the rain we usually get when carrying out this task and a world away from the weather when we settled down for our first evening on the outskirts of Canterbury six days ago. Not such great conditions for travelling home on the busy road network of the south-east of the country though!

We’re sorry to be leaving, as we generally are when we finish a holiday, but I think even more so this time. Our expectations were cautious in the current climate and yet we were able to have a largely normal holiday if you ignore the unnatural restrictions that we all have to follow. That said, I’m still sad that we couldn’t have been on Rambling Ringers this week. For all that we have really enjoyed riding on trains, occupying beaches, gawping at exotic animals and exploring castles (the type of stuff we try to incorporate into our ringing holiday anyway), I have missed the traversing of country lanes to obscure places and testing my ringing agility in new locations with friends from across the world.

God willing we will be able to do just that in 2021 in Leicestershire, but the announcement as we were travelling back to the homeland that the easing of restrictions is being halted with a rise (although it appears a fairly minimal one) in case numbers it still seems depressingly far away. The Central Council’s weekly update doesn’t seem to suggest this affects the resumption of ringing on church bells that is now well and truly underway, although it does confirm that the wearing of face masks for ringing will be mandatory from 8th August in line with the broader rules announced by the government today. However, whilst the easing of restrictions in Leicester on 3rd August should enable ringing to return there, the tightening of restrictions across much of the north of England may have the opposite effect on the exercise up there.

Mercifully, despite a predictable rise in cases across our vast county with more places open, the presence of the virus within our borders and quite far beyond remains barely detectable in the scheme of things. Whilst we have to remain vigilant and careful and of course have no choice but to follow the guidelines (as the CCCBR update highlights, if we don’t follow them the ringing family won’t be trusted and the chance of the art benefitting from any further future relaxation of restrictions will be reduced), hopefully ringing can at least continue as it is in Suffolk for now. Although the depressing warning from the now famous Chris Whitty that we may have gone as far as we can in easing restrictions whilst COVID-19 is still prevalent in our society suggests that we will be ringing in a considerably restricted fashion (if at all, depending on how things go) for some time to come.

Still, having got back to Melton this afternoon, we had plenty of time to enjoy the silver linings of our restricted lifestyles as we enjoyed a drink with Simon Rudd and many others and then a quiz with my uni mates (that was laden with nostalgia with the airing of some videos from our time together in our halls of residence!) via video. And thanks to Kate and Ron, we had a fantastic week away to raise the spirits, even in this roasting weather!

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Thursday 30th July 2020

View from the top of Dover Castle, featuring St Mary-in-Castro and in the distance the coast of France.Dover Castle is somewhere I have always wanted to visit. I love castles anyway and there is something fascinating about places right on the edge of a place and in this case particularly an entire nation. Therefore I had been looking forward to today’s trip immensely and although I was disappointed not to see the famous tunnels beneath it (which are closed until some point next month for the usual reasons that things are currently closed), this famous location didn’t let us down. Even though there were the now familiar restrictions that make such outings less relaxing than they once were, history was explored and spectacular views from the roof of the castle taken in across the English Channel and to the French coast, which was quite clearly visible on a clear, hot day.

Although Dover’s only ring of bells hung for change-ringing is at St Mary the Virgin down in the town (and which I once heard whilst wandering the town before catching the ferry on a Munnings family holiday in the 1990s), it would have been interesting to explore St Mary-in-Castro (where one bell is hung in the ancient tower) next door, but this too was closed to the public today. God willing I can visit it in the future though as I would love to visit Dover Castle again!

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Wednesday 29th July 2020

Apparently the Honeyguide Bird helps guide the Honey Badger to (you’ve guessed it) honey in a bit of teamwork that it would be nice to see applied more often amongst the human race!

It was a gem of information picked up whilst exploring this afternoon’s destination, Howletts Wildlife Park, a partner site to Port Lympne where Ruthie was a zookeeper for the day almost exactly a year ago. Visited after a leisurely morning on the campsite, it was a less stressful experience than our visit to Colchester Zoo recently, with more space to wander in beautiful sunshine, sunshine that led to a very pleasant evening back at base.

Back in Suffolk, there was no ringing within our borders or from any of our ringers as far as I could tell, but there was a performance from one former resident of and three regular visitors to our county, as one time Bramford ringer Christine Hill partook in 63 changes of Stedman Triples on Ringing Room to celebrate the recent anniversary of the birth of her husband Peter, along with the birthday boy himself, their daughter Katie and her husband Tom.

All great teamwork that I imagine the Honey Guide Bird and Honey Badger might appreciate!

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Tuesday 28th July 2020

Another day at the beach, this time with a particular purpose.

A day on the beach.Father Paul Blanch was vicar at what is now our parish church of Melton and the neighbouring Ufford where a peal was rung as a farewell to him and his wife Maggie when they left in 2005. In his time there they struck up a strong friendship with Ruthie’s mother Kate to the extent that we were invited to ring a quarter-peal in 2009 at their then parish of Wolstanton in Staffordshire on the way back from a trip to Scotland and prior to a very convivial meal very kindly laid on by them, and Mrs Eagle trebled to a 1344 of Hunslet Bob Triples for his induction as vicar at Kirton-in-Holland in Lincolnshire just under three years ago. Now though, he is priest at Holy Trinity in Ramsgate (sadly – for what it’s worth at the moment – without bells hung for change-ringing) and so my mother-in-law had arranged for us to meet Paul and Maggie for fish ‘n’ chips and ice cream (all extremely generously bought for us by our hosts) on the beach whilst the children built sandcastles and paddled in the English Channel, the outline of the French coast just visible from the promenade up above.

I expect for a while we’ll be experiencing more beach than bells, but it was a lovely day out.

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Monday 27th July 2020

Flying a kite on Whitstable beach.Today was a very coronavirus restrictions compliant day out as following a wet morning and with considerable gusts of wind continuing for the remainder of this summer’s Monday, we were able to enjoy some kite flying, a picnic and some ice cream in pretty much complete isolation across a vast swathe of Whitstable beach.

After a pleasurable day in the seaside town that is home to a 7cwt six and 3cwt eight, we returned to the campsite for a relaxed evening in sunnier but still windy conditions, stopping only for me to help a new neighbour to level up his caravan.

Not unusually for the current times, there was no ringing from Suffolk to report in our absence, with the only performances of the last few days noted on BellBoard again coming from the ringers of Woodbridge on handbells outside St Mary-the-Virgin as the congregation arrived for the service there yesterday morning.

God willing with more days like today over the coming months we may have more to report sooner, rather than later.

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Sunday 26th July 2020

RHDR, Green Goddess. Built by Davey Paxman & Co. of Colchester in 1925.It was interesting to compare a venue we visited last year to when we again visited it today in the COVID-inflicted UK. Almost exactly twelve months ago, we went to the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway as part of Ruthie’s thirtieth birthday celebrations. We had the freedom to go with her very ill grandfather, meet up with her school chum Lizzie and her daughter, enjoy a lunch by the playground whilst the children played and wander the model railway exhibition at leisure.

Today, we cautiously shuffled as far from others as possible as we (even the boys) and most others there wore necessary but alienating face masks, sat in compartments separated up by character destroying (but again necessary) Perspex partitions, the model railway exhibition was closed and we were only allowed to do one half of the delightful route. We chose from New Romney to Dungeness and back, with lunch at the latter beneath the lighthouse and amongst stunning scenery (if you ignore the looming power station!) a wonderful highlight that underlined how this was still a highly enjoyable day out, even in these restricted conditions.

As enjoyable as this all was, it meant that we missed out on the first change-ringing at St Mary-le-Tower since we all left post-practice drinks in the famous old ringing chamber on that depressing night in mid-March. Still, we got to hear a clip of Diana Pipe, David Potts, Colin Salter and Karina Wiseman ringing 1, 4, 7 & 10 in some socially-distanced and strictly no more than fifteen minutes bit of ringing, with them being the only ones in the room for that quarter-of-an-hour, wearing face masks and not touching other ropes. It is a weird, largely unsatisfying sound, but we know this is how it has to be for now. God willing it is but the initial steps to a full return to ringing that we once enjoyed, whenever that is, but as with so much else currently we have to take what we can for now and personally I’m delighted that the bells at SMLT are up and running again.

As I was to visit the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway again. Hopefully both bells and railways will be fully up and running soon.

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Saturday 25th July 2020

Today should’ve been the seventieth Rambling Ringers Tour, due to go to Leicestershire this year, but of course, like everything else in 2020 that anyone was looking forward to, it was postponed to 2021 some time ago for the first time in its long history. We had been intending on going, although we had also begun looking into non-camping options for this time round before lockdown made it all academic. It’s not that we don’t enjoy camping, but in recent years it seems to have been more difficult to get all the Ramblers together on a campsite next to each other as we used to do and thus, with us having to stay near our tent after the boys have gone to bed, it has been harder to join in with the socialising amongst fellow RRs, which is the main reason we enjoy it. Nonetheless, it would’ve been better than no holiday at all, which we had resigned ourselves to.

Therefore, when mother-in-law Kate – as restrictions were being eased – said she’d booked her caravan onto a campsite in Kent and asked if we wanted to bring our tent and join her and the boys’ Grandad Ron then we jumped (albeit more cautiously then we usually would) at the chance.

Our home for the week.As a result, we found ourselves putting a tent up in drizzle on the Camping and Caravanning Club site just outside Canterbury, before an evening of torrential rain. Whether on Rambling Ringers or not, it seems that some things on a holiday in pandemic Britain don’t change.

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Friday 24th July 2020

The video chats that have emanated from Simon Rudd’s very kind open invites on Facebook have been an uplifting experience at the end of the week (some of them pretty tough weeks over the last few months), giving us the opportunity to catch up with all sorts of characters of the art. This evening’s was a particularly jovial one though. David Sparling was buoyed by his first bike ride after his recent cycling accident, Nikki Thomas was chuffed with calling a handbell quarter earlier today, Nathan Colman showed off the impressive collection of violins he’d made and John Loveless was in high spirits as he prepares to send his biography on George Pipe to the Ringing World.

It came on the day of the death of Dennis Brock of Sunbury in Surrey, who at 101 years old was reputed to be the oldest living ringer. As much as over a century of life is something to be celebrated, his passing is nonetheless sad news, as is the fact that his passing can’t be marked by ringers in the way that it usually would be.

Eastwood, NSW, Peal Band. Sydney, St Mary's Cathedral. Bridgwater.

On a happier note though, I was impressed by the peal of Stedman Cinques rung in Australia with a lengthy list of achievements (which either preceded or followed a quarter-peal at Sydney Cathedral for most of the band) and pleased to see some of the first ringing on the new twelve at Bridgwater in Somerset, even if it was necessarily on four of them.

It was all very uplifting in fact.

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Thursday 23rd July 2020

Personally, today was largely as normal as it might have been without coronavirus. We both went to work and with it being the summer holidays the boys were looked after, whilst Ruthie was working late at the shop to change stock around, which would’ve made it impossible for her to go to choir practice or for us to go ringing, even if either were happening at the moment.

Meanwhile, the mandatory wearing of masks from tomorrow in many indoor settings seems to have prompted the Church of England to “strongly advise” wearing face coverings in churches too, apart from exceptions. This means that they will be needed for ringing in church towers, although judging by pictures I had seen so far most ringers have been wearing masks anyway and at St Mary-le-Tower it was already mandatory as soon as one steps into the church, so we intend to wear them on the planned resumption of ringing this Sunday.
For all that today suggested it, we’re not quite at normal yet!

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Wednesday 22nd July 2020

St Lawrence Jewry.I put my vote in for them, but sadly Lavenham were soundly beaten by Jewry in today’s round of the competition on the Bellringers Facebook page to find the best heavy eight hung for change-ringing in the world. It’s a shame, but all just a bit of fun of course!

As is reading CCCBR President Simon Linford’s blog, the latest of which I read today and in amongst various issues congratulated Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart on his victory in the Central Council’s June YouTube competition and reflected upon ringing’s recent restricted resumption.

Guildford Cathedral.That resumption hasn’t occurred just yet at St Mary-le-Tower, but it is due imminently on Sunday morning. However, it will be even more restricted than we initially imagined. We always knew that we wouldn’t be ringing all twelve or indeed anywhere near that, but twelves generally offer up a number of variations and I was certainly buoyed by seeing what Guildford Cathedral managed on the Sabbath three days ago. SMLT’s rope circle is relatively compact for a 35cwt twelve, certainly compared to places like Guildford and Winchester Cathedral for example and after Stephen Cheek and Owen Claxton had measured up in the tower, it was found that our options once social distancing is taken into account are very limited.

Therefore, a hastily convened meeting over video was called for this evening to run through what was possible and how we can maximise options in the forthcoming weeks. Someone quite rightly pointed out that the presence of coronavirus in Ipswich and Suffolk generally is (for now and God willing for the future) almost minimal, but we have to be subject to these nationally set rules and are determined not to take advantage of the goodwill of the authorities at the county town’s civic church. Much debate was therefore had, such as whether the third is in a straight line with the fourth and fifth (for ropes falling in a straight line social distancing can be reduced from 2 to 1.5 metres), but after deciding it wasn’t, focus mainly turned on what ringers from the same household (who would be able to ring side-by-side) could do and possibilities have been mooted for the near future. For now though, it was decided that the most important thing is that the bells are rung and the plan is for this Sunday that a combination of the treble, fourth, seventh and tenth will be rung. Like so much else in the ongoing mess of this tragic pandemic, it is far from ideal, but is still far better than nothing at all!

I can’t wait to focus on some actual ringing than online competitions about ringing.

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Tuesday 21st July 2020

It’s perhaps a good job that we’re not going out ringing (or indeed anywhere) in the evenings in the near future, as the discovery today that our dishwasher has broken down means that once back from work and having fed a family of four (five when Mason is here) and put to bed the children we will be spending most of our downtime in front of the sink!

Meanwhile, it was a good day for peal-ringing nationwide in the context of current circumstances as five were rung, all on handbells. And all by people presumably not side-tracked by a broken dishwasher.

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Monday 20th July 2020

Another fascinating talk via video this evening hosted by Simon Rudd on behalf on his fellow ringers at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich as former Gressenhall and now Western Australia ringer Roger Lubbock gave a presentation on his and his wife Pat’s road trip from their home near Perth to the most northerly point of the country over two thousand miles away. I know of Roger but don’t know him personally and yet I was engrossed in the pictures and information he imparted over an hour (from what was 3-4am for him in an impressive bit of dedication!) that occasionally made me feel I was in the outback Down Under. Of course many north and south of the River Waveney do know him, which drew a huge crowd of Suffolk ringers. Thank you Roger for an extremely interesting evening.

St Mary-le-Tower.The talks continue as although ringing has returned to East Anglia’s heaviest twelve on Sundays, Monday night practices are still off the table for the foreseeable future, as they are everywhere on the UK mainland. That is in part because of the seventy-two hour period needed after ringing has taken place and it has been pointed out that this time restriction would make it impossible for many places to ring at 11am on Saturday 15th August for the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day – as encouraged by the CCCBR and gleefully reported by me in this blog – and then ring for Sunday services the following day. I suppose if the same band rang the same bells on both occasions some incumbents would be happy with that, whilst it is possible that there will be some towers that for whatever reason can’t be rung on the Sabbath that may be able to be rung the day before. Either way, it is something to consider if you are planning on ringing church bells on 15/8/2020.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Lavenham will be up against Jewry in London in the latest round of the tournament-like informal, fun competition on the Bellringers Facebook page to find the best heavy eight. I have rung a peal at Jewry and can vouch for how good they are and I know some questioned how the 21cwt octave of St Peter and St Paul got more votes than Debenham in the group stages, but they remain Suffolk’s sole representative left in the competition and it would be great to see them do well!

It would also be great to ring on them again soon, but for now I’m happy enough taking in the weekly Mancroft talks!

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Sunday 19th July 2020

Offton.This afternoon should’ve been the Offton BBQ in the lovely spacious gardens that surround Brian and Peta Whiting’s beautiful old house set in the wonderful rolling countryside that surrounds it. Many who read this will know that it is one of our biggest highlights of a normal year. However, as you may have noticed, this isn’t a normal year and so instead of sitting beneath the wide (admittedly murky today) skies of central Suffolk playing bowls, enjoying a BBQ, the vast array of puddings and almost endless amounts of homebrew, we were at home trying to occupy restless boys whilst we awaited a friendly masked plumber called Norbert to stop our toilet from leaking and flooding the house!

If you’d told me at the start of the year that we would have to miss out on this fundraiser that usually sees the ringers of the 8cwt ground-floor eight winning the St Edmund’s Clapper, I would’ve been gutted, but whilst of course still disappointed we have long accepted that like anything else we’d been looking forward to in 2020 that it wasn’t going to be happening.

St Mary-le-Tower.Ironically it came on the most positive day from a personal ringing perspective since ringing on church bells was halted on that dreadful mid-March day four, long months ago. Although we hadn’t been given the go-ahead to ring at St Mary-le-Tower for this morning, handbell ringing was undertaken by some hardy souls in the drizzle outside the church as the congregation arrived for the first service since restrictions were eased. And via the video chat that the rest of us joined – and which briefly featured a ‘live stream’ of the aforementioned handbell ringing – SMLT Ringing Master David Potts was able to impart the brilliant news that ringing is due to resume there next Sunday! It has to be said that in difficult circumstances the Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin and the church have been extremely supportive of getting the bells ringing again and so we are grateful to them for allowing us to get (some) of these famous bells ringing again.

Clare. The Norman Tower. Beccles. Ipswich, St Lawrence.

Meanwhile it was heartening to hear that the treble, third, fourth and sixth of the 28cwt (also famous!) eight at Clare were rung and the treble, third, fifth, eighth, tenth and tenor of the 27cwt twelve of The Norman Tower also rang out for the first time in a third of a year, whilst three of the ten bells were rung at Beccles, three members of the Salter family rang a trio of the ancient five bells at St Lawrence in the county town and there were more handbells rung outside St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge where due to the lack of an incumbent and work by Taylors planned for the coming weeks the 25cwt octave won’t be ringing for at least a month-and-a-half, a similar timeframe to Horringer where there are no services until the end of August and the rector is self-isolating! It would be great to hear where within our borders have been able to get going again.

Further afield, an article in The Guardian highlighted that ringing was starting up again on some of the 48cwt twelve of Southwark Cathedral, the Hortons showed what can be achieved with a large ringing family at Smethwick with the first QP on church bells on the UK mainland since 20th March and it was fantastic to see that all six of the 28cwt six of Hoar Cross in Staffordshire were able to be rung as (unlike in the vast majority of UK ringing chambers) the ropes fall far enough apart for all six to be rung whilst socially distanced! I’ve rung a peal on these many years ago (when the entire band was taken there in Richard Grimmett’s people carrier!) and can vouch for the COVID-19 compliancy of this particular ringing chamber, but there is also video evidence, though not from today. YouTube also shows how the ringers of Eling in Hampshire have been carrying out ringing post-lockdown.

Great Bealings. Picnic outside Great Bealings church. Me chiming the bells at Great Bealings. Alfie and Joshua chiming the bells at Great Bealings.

And although we didn’t get to do any full-circle change-ringing on this occasion, I did have the opportunity for a tower grab! In the last year or so, St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge – where Ruthie usually sings in the choir and we occasionally attend church – joined with nearby Great Bealings and this morning it was the setting for a small scale junior church service as a means to reintroducing the little ‘uns and their parents back to a Sunday service. That was great and the outside offered a super place for the children to run about in at a venue I frequent drive past on the way in and out of Ipswich but have never stopped at, but the highlight for me was being asked to chime four of the five bells hung dead here via the Ellacombe apparatus, something which Alfie and Joshua also relished joining in with!
Additionally, an announcement today by Chelmsford Cathedral and former Ipswich St Margaret ringer and current CCCBR Public Relations Officer Vicki Chapman is encouraging us to ring – if we have the incumbent’s permission, as we always ought to seek anyway – at 11am on Saturday 15th August for the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day, in accordance with the guidelines of course. Having missed out on marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day with bells a couple of months ago, this should be a welcome opportunity to expand ringing’s resumption and God willing a further step towards feeling normal!

Or at least as normal as one can feel when the Offton BBQ isn’t being held!


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Saturday 18th July 2020

The Central Council of Church Bellringers last night released what is apparently now going to be a weekly Friday evening update to keep ringers in the loop on how the guidance is – or indeed probably for a while, isn’t – changing and was highlighted in an email to Suffolk Guild members by SGR Chairman Rowan Wilson. It offers further clarification, making it clear for example that the use of mitigating measures such as face masks doesn’t allow for a relaxing of social distancing, although where ropes fall in a straight line that can be reduced to 1.5 metres providing ringers of those bells remain facing the centre of the ringing circle.

It further underlines the cautious and sensible approach ringing is taking to returning. Hopefully it will also reassure those towers and/or vicars who are understandably awaiting an official ‘sign-off’ from Public Health England to give the ‘green flag’ to ringing, as that is unlikely to happen any time soon, if at all. CCCBR President Simon Linford has made it clear that they aren’t going to chase PHE up on this as they have an awful lot on their plate and ringing is a tiny part of everything they are dealing with, especially as PHE have described it as ‘approved guidance’, the Church of England are very happy with it and many towers have been ringing without objection or (although early days of course) without incident. Worth considering is the consultation and advice that has gone into painstakingly putting this guidance together, taking into account the advice of the church, those in the medical profession, those who are ringers and those in the medical profession who are ringers! This hasn’t been put together on a whim and although as with any guidance for anywhere or anything reopening after lockdown this won’t be 100% secure and has an element of hope as we all face these unprecedented times, it has been done in a way that severely minimizes the risk and I hope it convinces more towers and ringers to return and vicars to allow them, particularly here in Suffolk where mercifully the numbers of cases remain a handful across our vast county of 1,466 square miles. Although it is also very important that no one should be pressured into going back if they don’t feel safe in doing so (especially if they are considered vulnerable) and likewise incumbents should be allowed the right to be cautious in what they allow in their church. Safety has to come first, even if it can feel OTT and frustrating – these are difficult times to make such decisions.

Mercifully in other ways the easing of restrictions have allowed us to celebrate birthdays in a more relaxed and expansive way, albeit still not in the same way as we once did and this afternoon we welcomed some of Ruthie’s family for a celebration of the recent anniversary of her birth with a BBQ brought by her mother Kate and the boys’ Grandad Ron as a present! Thank you guys! Once my wife had built the gift we had a lovely afternoon in glorious sunshine.

God willing we’ll be able to gather together in a ringing chamber in the near future too – we may find out more next Friday.

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Friday 17th July 2020

Extremely well done to Alfie, who today won an award only offered to one pupil in his school a year for the respect he has shown to the environment in recent months. This has mainly been achieved by work he has done at home whilst out of school and so seems extra special. The only disappointment was that rather than being presented to him at an assembly which is obviously not possible, Alfred got the impressive shield not unlike a small version of the Mitson Shield via the head of the school dropping it off to me at work, but he was so pleased to receive it and hasn’t let it out of his sight since, even putting it on the shelf next to his bed at bedtime!

It was the highlight of another positive Friday that again saw us both at work, an enjoyable video chat with Simon Rudd and friends whilst we were sat in the garden and then hosting a quiz for my uni friends.

Meanwhile, the news that the government hopes for “significant normality” by Christmas suggests that the restricted ringing many have been able to undertake thus far since the Central Council guidelines were essentially approved – though not signed-off yet which is holding things up at St Mary-le-Tower and I imagine a number of other places – by Public Health England may be with us for the rest of this year at least.

However, as well as congratulating my children on their achievements, I’m still hoping to be able to congratulate Suffolk’s ringers on their achievements on church bells in the not too distant future.

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Thursday 16th July 2020

Happy Birthday to Ruthie, a wonderful wife, mother, aunty, singer, musician and of course ringer!

We celebrated by partaking in the fortnightly St Mary-le-Tower Ringers’ quiz via video and in some of the three bottles of gin (something we’ve really got into since lockdown came into force) that her mother and Ron got her, drunk from the gin glasses that I gifted her!

The quiz was a typically jovial occasion, albeit slightly more lowly attended than normal and featured rounds provided by multiple people that included one on the Suffolk Guild Annual Report. And we won again! If only we were so good at quizzes when you actually win something!

Beforehand I was able to watch a recording of half of Gareth Davies’ talk on the Churches Conservation Trust’s Facebook page and hosted by one-time SGR Annual Report Editor George Reynolds! It was a fascinating talk that importantly seemed to get rave reviews from non-ringing viewers that will hopefully have tweaked enough interest to get some new recruits!

All in all, I think Ruthie enjoyed her birthday!

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Wednesday 15th July 2020

I have rung a fair few heavy bells in my time and I think generally done alright at it. Indeed, I have pulled the 35cwt tenor at St Mary-le-Tower in to eight peals, some in quite trying circumstances such as the 5042 rung on a roasting hot June afternoon last year. However, the heaviest bell in Suffolk is the heaviest bell I have ever rung to a peal and I am well aware of place in the scheme of the tenor ringers of the country. I do alright, that’s it, so I was keen to catch Julia Cater’s talk this evening via video on the subject of ringing big bells.

Partly it was to check I am doing it right and I was reassured that I appear to have the right idea at least, even if I don’t do it as well as others! However, I know Julia to be one of the best ringers of heavy bells and as is always the case with those who are expert at something, knew that it would be a fascinating insight. And so it was! The 1hr 21mins talk highlighted how anyone healthy should be able to ring big bells, highlighting the example not just of herself, but also the likes of her daughter teenage Bethany and Rambling Ringers youngsters Jemma Mills (now Meyer) and Luke Riley, with the latter two filmed when they were young teenagers ringing the tenors Exeter Cathedral (72cwt) and Liverpool Cathedral (82cwt) (Luke ringing up Liverpool's tenor) – the two heaviest bells in the world hung for English style change-ringing – respectively. Well worth a watch and I hope that it encourages those watching who haven’t yet garnered the confidence to ring heavy bells to do so when we’re all up and running properly.

Thankfully it can be watched via the St Martin Guild’s website (as can John Warboy’s talk from last week) as apparently the one hundred person limit for Zoom meetings was reached minutes before the talk even started and it allowed me to catch it later as I had been unable to join it live at 7pm, due to a combination of the weekly shop, it being my turn to put the boys to bed and then getting a Chinese takeaway as part of an early birthday celebration for Ruthie.

I’m glad I did catch it and God willing I can put the tips collected tonight into practice on some big bells in the near future!

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Tuesday 14th July 2020

Congratulations to Lavenham which along with Bristol Cathedral progressed from Group C in the polled competition being run in the form of a tournament on the Bellringers Facebook page to ascertain the best heavy eight. It’s all just a bit of fun of course, but there were a few raised eyebrows that Debenham didn’t do as well in the same group!

Congratulations also to Norman Tower ringer Tim Hart whose ‘Tim Handbell Robot’ video has won the CCCBR’s YouTube competition for June which was searching for the Most Interesting/Unusual Video. And well deserved it is too! July’s competition is ‘Best Striking on Eight Bells or More’ – let’s see if we can get another Suffolk winner!

Meanwhile, a St Mary-le-Tower band were ringing a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Major on handbells in Ardleigh south of the Essex border and it looks like for now that it will only be through that medium that bells will ring out at SMLT on Sunday. With the announcement last night that face masks will be mandatory when in shops but not until 24th July, it was noticeable that most ringers recorded in photos and videos from ringing on Sunday were already wearing masks, despite being in more space than most shoppers will be. Along with the slightly disconcerting sound of strange combinations of bells, it further underlines just how cautiously and sensibly ringers are approaching this resumption and that is certainly the case at Ipswich’s civic church where the Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin is understandably awaiting the sign-off from Public Health England which frustratingly still hasn’t arrived. God willing it will come soon and we can ensure that the bells are fully established as part of this church’s resumption of worship.

Even in this atmosphere of ringing returning in a careful and restricted manner, traditional ringing gatherings and lengthier pieces still seem some way off and in the latest monthly College Youths meeting held by video reflected that as it announced that handbells were going to be the theme for the society’s peal weekend planned for the 19th & 20th September in the likely scenario that peals on church bells will still not be possible then. Uplifting though that details for events such as the Anniversary Dinner and Country Meeting were confirmed, even if they were for 2021 and 2022 respectively! And much amusement came on the subject of what will become of Bill Cook’s table. Which is apparently becoming a box for the London Twelve-Bell Competition.

We probably need to get back to ringing soon, at places like St Mary-le-Tower, Debenham and indeed the victorious Lavenham.

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Monday 13th July 2020

Throughout lockdown and especially in the depths of the restrictions, many people we know have reported that their alcohol content has gone up. Understandable when for long periods many have found themselves with a lot more spare time and a lot more depressing news to deal with. However, our drinking has actually reduced a little. We’ve always enjoyed a few at the weekend and then typically we will usually have a drink once or twice a week at The Cricketers and/or The Greyhound after the respective practices at St Mary-le-Tower and Pettistree. Without those practices though, we have stopped short at midweek drinking at home on our own.

We willingly made an exception this evening though as we watched fellow SMLT ringer and Immediate Past South-East District Ringing Master Jonathan Williamson give a typically fascinating talk on wine to the ringers of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, who have very kindly allowed us to gate-crash their highly interesting talks in recent weeks. Wine is literally his business as he co-runs Wines of Interest in Ipswich and there is practically nothing that he doesn’t know about the subject, which he also puts across in a truly engaging fashion. I am always absorbed when he gets talking on something that I enjoy very much but only have a surface knowledge of and the large crowd assembled via video seemed to be too, judging by the level of questioning afterwards! Thank you Jonathan for a very entertaining hour or so.

St Mary-le-Tower.God willing soon I will be able to tell him in person, something that seems a step closer following an email tonight. Although some towers were given the go-ahead by their incumbents to ring yesterday following Friday’s latest update from the CCCBR, nothing will be happening at St Mary-le-Tower until the official sign-off of the Public Health England guidance on ringing’s resumption that by all accounts is all but rubber-stamped. However, with the measures that will need to be put in place fairly straightforward and easy to implement and therefore hopefully not needing a lot of notice to set-up (in the main most of it is how people act on the day rather than any materials needed ahead of time, such as hand sanitiser) we ought to be ringing there this Sunday if the sign-off comes through in time and so a message was sent round asking for volunteers to ring should we be given the green flag within this limited framework. We have put one of us forward as of course the other will have to look after the boys who won’t be allowed in the ringing chamber in these circumstances, but God willing that one of us will finally do some actual ringing on actual church bells for the first time in four months.

One place it won’t be happening just yet is Woodbridge, partly because permission is needed from the incumbent which isn’t possible until The Revd Nigel Prior makes his delayed arrival to take up post, but also because the 25cwt eight will be out of action for five weeks from 10th August whilst Taylors repaint the frame. That said, the local ringers – including Ruthie – put on a much-appreciated display of handbell ringing yesterday morning and a couple of videos were shared on local ringer Jackie Shipley’s Facebook feed for those who are friends with her via that particular medium.

No ringing for us today though, as instead we turned our attentions to a spot of midweek ringing and that wonderful talk by Jonathan.

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Sunday 12th July 2020

Thank you to my brother Chris and his wife Becky for our Christmas present, which was a family ticket to Colchester Zoo. At the height (or perhaps that should be depths?) of the restrictions put in place to help control the spread of coronavirus, there was apparently a real danger that this staple of the East Anglian tourist scene wouldn’t reopen and so we were absolutely delighted when it did recently and even more so that we could redeem that yuletide gift. Therefore, having booked a 2-2.30pm arrival slot, we headed into Essex with considerable excitement for our first proper family outing since last year.

Ruthie and the boys at Colchester Zoo. The church at Colchester Zoo.And it didn’t disappoint. The usual collection of animals from exotic locations were appreciated, from penguins to elephants to sloths, the latter of which Alfie particularly wanted to see for some reason, whilst I was also extremely interested to visit the ruined church there for the first time. However, it was more stressful than one might usually expect as we herded three boys along the increasingly crowded pathways of this oft visited escape (usually) from the real world. For all their admirable efforts to make it as safe as possible in this new world (with one-way systems, hand sanitiser on almost every corner, there were simply – in our humble opinion – too many people around. The usual tactic of joining a crowd and going with the flow obviously wasn’t possible on this occasion and so there was lots of waiting around for people seemingly unconcerned about social distancing or standing behind the red lines painted to keep visitors from touching the glass that many would normally press their noses against to view the variety of creatures beyond.

Hollesley. Ringing at Brewood this morning. (Steve Askew) Worcester Cathedral.

It all seemed a world away from the efforts of the country’s bellringers this morning as many resumed in the art in church towers for the first time in four, long months, reports of ringing on tower bells for Sunday service dominating BellBoard after weeks of online and handbell performances. That included social distant ringing on the treble, third, fifth and seventh at Hollesley, whilst there was a video on Facebook from Mark Regan of ringing on what it seems had been dubbed the ‘Covid Eight’ at Worcester Cathedral! Meanwhile, our fellow Rambling Ringer Steve Askew put a photo up of ringing in his home tower of Brewood in Staffordshire which gives a good visual indication of how what is being done to make a resumption of ringing as safe as it possibly can, with social distancing, face masks and hand sanitiser all on show. It is completely at odds with the scenes at Colchester Zoo and indeed most supermarkets, many high streets and countless beaches. It further reassures me that what we are doing with ringing is sensible as we aim to begin the lengthy journey back to full-time ringing.

As if to back up this necessarily cautious response by the art and the church, at St Mary-le-Tower the Rev’d Canon Charles Jenkin is very keen for the bells to be ringing again, but is understandably anxious that first Public Health England’s guidance is signed off before giving the go-ahead for the bells rung from this famous ringing chamber to ring out again.

Me in the garden on the St Mary-le-Tower video chat this morning.The subject came up in the weekly video chat for SMLT’s ringers that has replaced the post-ringing coffee that we once had and hopefully will have again in the not too distant future. It was slightly delayed due to an oversight by usual host Stephen Cheek that initially saw two separate meetings going on simultaneously before we eventually gathered together. It was all very pleasant as I sat in the back garden, but for the first time though, I was participating on my own as Ruthie attended church at St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge, where beforehand she partook in some rounds and Queens on handbells outside the church with the Wakefields and Alison Wintgens and then a course of Plain Bob Minimus with Bruce, after they had already rung some more rounds, Queens and Plain Bob Minimus ahead of her arrival.

She was back from a shortened service - with no singing, no communion wine and no shaking of hands at the peace, with an attendance of about fifty dotted around this large building, all having booked their place earlier in the week – in time for another outdoor video chat with some other fellow churchgoers.

God willing it is things gradually returning to normal in the long run, when I hope to feel more at ease at places like Colchester Zoo!

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Saturday 11th July 2020

Progress of sorts in the long-awaited return to ringing. According to a message from CCCBR President Simon Linford widely circulated on Facebook, the guidance from Public Health England that the art was waiting for has not been signed off, but the expectation is that they will be broadly in line with what the Central Council had put forward and indeed with a slight easing in regards to social distancing suggested by PHE themselves. Specifically that it can be reduced to 1.5m for ropes that are in a straight line and providing the people ringing them are facing forward and are at least two metres away from ringers opposite. It means we’re sort of OK to go-ahead, with Simon himself saying that “No one is telling anyone they cannot ring provided it is in accordance with the guidance.” (See Opening cathedral and church buildings to the public, p9 & Coronavirus (COVID-19)

It may be that it will be too late for many to make plans for ringing on Sunday, with some – such as ringers at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich – sensibly cancelling their ambitions to ring for service tomorrow. And it is important to note that not only will this be in a very restricted fashion, but it also won’t be possible everywhere, maybe even in the majority of towers. Partly this will be because a lot of ringers – however much they love ringing – will be very wary of taking unnecessary risks. This will be particularly true of older ringers and those whose health is vulnerable and absolutely no one should feel pressured into ringing. In many places it may not be possible due to those making decisions at their church. At Ufford for example (where services are only to be held every fortnight, alternating with Melton), those tasked with the daunting and unenviable job of cleaning the church feel unable to stretch to the ringing chamber from where the 13cwt eight are rung. This too is completely understandable and I expect entirely common amongst churches across the land that rely on – often elderly - volunteers. Hopefully this view will change in the next few weeks though, both of those ringers not comfortable on coming back and those churches unable to allow it for whatever reason currently. God willing the virus will be less and less prevalent (especially here in Suffolk where mercifully it is barely around for now) as we go along and also it is worth noting that this isn’t a gung-ho mass convergence to the ringing chambers of the UK. This is framed in a carefully constructed set of guidelines by ringers in the medical profession, encouraged by the C of E and approved and tweaked by Public Health England themselves, who if they thought there was any notable concern would’ve quick to shut this avenue down. That’s not to say that even in this restricted format that our ringing chambers would be 100% safe, which is why nobody should be made to feel guilty for not going back yet. However, nothing we do in life is 100% safe even before COVID-19 appeared and it is – in my humble and admittedly unimportant opinion - important for the mental well-being of many ringers, churchgoers and even residents (not to mention for the future of the exercise itself) that as restrictions in the Church of England ease that ringing does resume in some way, even if we have to accept it is this manner for the foreseeable future.

All that said, the latest news on ringing’s return was not the most important aspect of our day by a long chalk. That honour goes to Joshua, who today celebrated his fourth birthday. It is a running joke in our family that our youngest could be described as ‘strong willed’, but in all seriousness it has been a joy to see him grow from the tiny, fragile being he was four years ago today, to the boisterous, often joyous little lad whose way with words frequently has us in stiches.

Those celebrations were not as limited as his brother Alfie’s had to be back in April, but still not as free as they might have been as a succession of relatives had to visit at different times, with garden conversations and also an exchange of presents with my father as we handed over his birthday and Father’s Day gift. This was a beautiful drawing done by St Mary-le-Tower ringer Laura Davies done of St Margaret’s in Ipswich, where Dad has supported the ringing for decades and where his father Jack was Ringing Master. Thank you Laura! If you haven’t already seen her work, do check it out via her Facebook page!

Joshua waiting for a haircut in a 2020 COVID-19 UK! Joshua opening a present in the presence of his brothers. Joshua playing with a present.My father’s grandson enjoyed his big day, with a haircut (complete with face mask that he was very keen to wear!), lots of presents and lots of cake and (although he won’t appreciate it now at least) his mother and father even managed four courses of Plain Bob Minimus on handbells – Happy Birthday Joshua! Although nothing compared to the suffering coronavirus has afflicted across hundreds of thousands worldwide, I have found it sad that I haven’t been able to arrange peals of appropriate length and/or numbers of methods to mark the boys’ birthdays as I have managed to do for every birthday of all three of my sons, since the one we scored for Mason’s thirteenth back in January and whilst we didn’t have handbells to do anything for Alfred’s sixth three months ago, we are delighted to have done something for JB’s special day today, however small. I pray that I’ll be able to arrange peals for their anniversary of their births next year. All being well, today’s developments are the start of making that possible.

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Friday 10th July 2020

It is the end of my first week back at the office. It has to be said that working from home worked a lot better than I imagined it might and the extra time spent with Ruthie and the boys was a marvellous bonus to the otherwise far from ideal situation. However, although without the distraction of work colleagues I actually found myself being more productive in our abode, the actual mechanics of it all were a lot more cumbersome and so a return to my familiar desk specifically set up for the task – with the calendar still poignantly displaying dates in March as I’d left it all those months ago – was welcome on Monday, as was seeing some familiar faces not seen for a while, albeit only a very few in a sparse office.

With Ruthie now well and truly settled back into working at the shop, it is another large chunk of normality returned to our life. Apart from the boys going back to school and Ipswich Town depressing me on a weekly basis, the last major bit of life we need back is ringing.

However, that return is still not confirmed, despite hopes that Public Health England would’ve given us approval by lunchtime today. It therefore looks unlikely that ringing will be returning this Sunday, sadly. Still, safety first and as someone else remarked, we’ve waited this long, so another week won’t hurt.

For now then, we enjoyed our now usual Friday night video catch-up fix. The uni quiz didn’t happen tonight, postponed instead to next week amongst an array of tired workers and parents at the end of a week when many (teachers among them) have upped their workload. Not that it matters as with all of us distributed across the country this was all to be done by video and so we still ended up in the same place as we would’ve done anyway! And we still gratefully accepted the weekly invitation from Simon Rudd – fresh from ringing his fiftieth quarter-peal in Ringing Room (BellBoard makes it only 49! Ed.) with an intercontinental 1280 of Lincolnshire Surprise Major – to chat via a video, an invitation also accepted by Suffolk ringers Cath & Julian Colman and South-East District Chairman Mark Ogden, as well as fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers David & Gill Sparling. It is well worth joining in if you are friends with Simon on Facebook and it was a jovial way to finish a week mainly spent in the office.

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Thursday 9th July 2020

CCCBR President Simon Linford popped up on Facebook today asking the question of the most bells rung to a handbell peal by just one family and inevitably the Bailey brothers of Leiston and their peals of Maximus in hand about a century ago came up frequently and may well have answered the President’s question!

Simon also sent out another update on the subject (on facebook) of the resumption of ringing today, confirming that a huge number of people are involved in the process of giving it the OK, but that they hope to have guidance confirmed by Friday lunchtime. Even though the delay has been frustrating, it is nonetheless reassuring that thorough consideration is being given to it and proper dialogue (however longwinded!) is in place between those making the decisions on such things and bellringers who can relay the nuances of the art.

There was nothing from a personal ringing perspective to report though, with the handbells sat on the side on this occasion as my time was mainly taken up with preparing a suitable quiz for my uni mates tomorrow. I’m not sure that the question of what the most bells rung to a handbell peal by the same family was will quite cut it!

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Wednesday 8th July 2020

Orion Max Band. Suffolk flag.Yesterday I remissly overlooked the impressive 1344 of Orion Surprise Maximus which was the first quarter-peal in the method rung on Ringing Room and which not only featured St Mary-le-Tower ringer Colin Salter but also his elder brother and former SMLT ringer George, the latter of whom called it. Well done lads on flying the Suffolk flag so magnificently!

Ringing Room has rather passed us by with me working full-time, Ruthie home-schooling during the day and then the children often demanding of our time into the evening throughout most of its existence thus far, but we have been able to take in numerous interesting webinars in a more passive way that still allows for disruptions from the boys. The latest one came this evening as John Warboys gave an introduction to composing. I think he could have spoken all night and frankly I could’ve listened for that long too as he explained what can be a complicated part of the exercise in a careful and detailed fashion. I have been privileged to ring and socialise much with John, especially in my days ringing in the Midlands and always found his thoughts on composing and conducting fascinating and so it was on this occasion. As I said yesterday, there are few better qualified to give an insight into the subject. It certainly drew a large audience and rightly so, with mention made of a sequel!

For all that though, I still yearn for actual ringing on actual church bells, but we still await the go-ahead from Public Health England, who admittedly have a lot on their plate at the moment. Central Council President Simon Linford sounds unusually downbeat on the matter in his latest blog, although he does also mention the 20% discount offer for ringers who’d like to go Champing, if you’re looking to have some sort of holiday this year!

Meanwhile, some of you may have been following Patrick Deakin’s light-hearted (though heavily debated!) competitions on the Bellringers Facebook page that have seen people voting for their favourite twelves and then tens through a tournament style contest. Now he’s started one for the best heavy eight and Debenham and Lavenham both feature, appearing in Group C, so if you want to vote for them look out for the opportunity!

Whilst Ringing Room has given ringers like Colin and George Salter a platform for some impressive achievements, God willing we’ll get the opportunity to ring on bells like Debenham and Lavenham again soon.

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Tuesday 7th July 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.The National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest website has had a refurb and as part of that included a news report from BBC Look East about the 1991 Final, which was held at St Mary-le-Tower. It features an absolute abundance of younger versions of very familiar faces (including myself in my red stripy jumper near the end with Ralph Earey’s famous demo bell) from Suffolk and nationally, most particularly then Guild Ringing Master Amanda Richmond who was interviewed. Well worth a watch to see how many ringers you can recognise!

From the past to the future, as one of the participants that day is due to give what should be a fascinating webinar tomorrow. John Warboys – who was conductor for third place Bedford on that summer’s day twenty-nine years ago – is planning on giving an introduction to composing at 7pm on Wednesday 8th July. There is frankly very few better placed to give this than the man who cracked fitting the standard forty-one Surprise Minor methods into 5040 changes amongst so, so much else and I would strongly encourage all who can to watch by clicking on

And in the present there was a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor rung in Bardwell, although nothing from us personally today. Still, at least it left time to watch that wonderful report!

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Monday 6th July 2020

It is 111 days since I was last in the offices of my employers John Catt Educational. Very nearly sixteen weeks and not far off four months. It is a long time, although not as long as I have gone without ringing tower bells. Therefore, when I returned to the office today for the first time since we all left in mid-March with Boris Johnson’s urgent warning ringing in our ears, I was expecting it to feel almost like a new job.

Perhaps because it was such a familiar location prior to them or maybe because I have continued working full-time at home in the meantime, it felt remarkably normal to be there again. There was still a slightly strange feel to it all, with a peak of six there and only three of us by the end of the day in a two-storey office that is usually the workplace of the best part of twenty employees, but all seemed familiar.

St Peter Mancroft.God willing we will get that same sense in our ringing chambers soon, but we still await the go-ahead from Public Health England to even begin our very restricted resumption, so for now I was pleased to join the ringers of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich via video to listen to their vicar Rev’d Canon Edward Carter speak on his passion of board games (indeed he has made some!) during an entertaining hour in their company. Next week, St Mary-le-Tower’s Jonathan Williamson is due to chat about wine, so do look out for the link from Simon Rudd or the Norwich Diocesan Association’s Facebook feeds over the few days!

Maybe I’ll appreciate a glass of wine after a week of going into the office!

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Sunday 5th July 2020

St Mary-le-Tower. Bury St Edmunds Cathedral.God willing, in a fortnight we shall be ringing at St Mary-le-Tower for the return of Sunday services at Ipswich’s civic church, albeit in the restricted fashion that we all ought to be broadly familiar with by now. As we also ought to be aware of now is that ringing’s resumption in this country has been delayed as we await the go-ahead of Public Health England, hopefully this week. There was some ringing of church bells reportedly anecdotally, on social media and on BellBoard, but whilst it should be stressed that they were only going against guidance rather than breaking any laws, many ringers welcomed back churchgoers with handbells and even mobile mini-rings that allowed social distanced ringing outside. Well done to those who rang handbells at Bury St Edmunds Cathedral to a couple of touches of Plain Bob Minor.

For SMLT’s ringers though, we again enjoyed what has become a staple of our Sunday mornings for the last three-and-a-half months as we caught up via video, learning about Diana Pipe going viral, hearing about David Stanford’s first drink at The Turk’s Head since before lockdown and took in Abby Antrobus imparting important details of her toast.

There was a return to public worship at St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge this morning which we considered one of us attending (the notion of returning with the boys whilst social distancing remains is fanciful), but with it clashing with our chat with our ringing chums, we instead joined others unable or unwilling to go via a video chat later in the morning. And of course ringing on the 25cwt eight couldn’t resume just yet.

Hopefully there will be more to report from a ringing perspective over the next couple of Sundays.

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Saturday 4th July 2020

Today should’ve been the Ringing World National Youth Contest in York. Discussions about holding it there next year are apparently ongoing, whilst by one report it is already confirmed that all being well the 2022 competition will be held in Exeter. However, whilst there was no entry planned from Suffolk as far as I know (although reassuringly the notion of another entry was being encouraged in March’s GMC according to the recently approved minutes) and as we’re too old and the boys aren’t up to a standard (yet?) to compete we were unlikely to attend (although I’d like to go along in the future as it seems a jolly good day out!), this is a further reminder that so much ringing has been lost due to restrictions necessarily placed upon us since 16th March.

That said, today was ‘Super Saturday’ (as dubbed by the media) as pubs, hairdressers and churches reopen more expansively. That latter reopening was expected to include ringing, but as yesterday’s announcement from the CCCBR made clear, that has had to be delayed until next weekend at least. Although that message doesn’t seem to have reached the band that rang a 420 of Doubles and Minor in thirteen minutes at Old Marston with a performance that would’ve been perfectly legitimate (providing that it was for a service and the ropes are two metres apart) if it were only a week later! It is reasonable to assume that the last minute amendment to the date of ringing’s resumption (the CCCBR weren’t made aware until late on Thursday apparently) may not have reached everyone and I hope that is the case here as it would be a pity for our newly-founded relationship with the powers-that-be to be put in jeopardy. We as an exercise are going to need their full support if we are to make a full return to ringing.

No danger of us finding ourselves in a similar position as we were nowhere near a ringing chamber today. Instead, we enjoyed listening to some ringing with the playlist of entries for the June YouTube Central Council Competition, which had the theme of Most Interesting or Unusual Video. There is one featuring an outing within our borders (starting with ringing in the old ringing chamber at St Margaret’s in Ipswich) by the North-West District of the Essex Association, ringing at the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre on a joint SGR North-West and South-West District training morning from last year and Tim Hart’s brilliant handbell robot video. However, there are others well worth watching too, such as the ringing on twenty-four handbells at an event to celebrate the life and ringing career of Rod Pipe (who learnt to ring at Grundisburgh), his son David and grandsons Henry and Alfie doing some incredible blindfolded ringing on randomly selected pairs of handbells and of course that touch of Stedman Triples rung by Graham & Katharine Firman and their ringing robots! July’s theme is Best Striking on Eight or More, so get your entries in!

In this still online-heavy version of the art usually carried out in centuries old churches, well done to Maureen Gardiner of Stowmarket, Andrea Alderton of Felsham, Lesley & David Steed of Buxhall and Stephen & Lucy Dawson of Woolpit on ringing their first online quarter-peal through Ringing Room, which is also the longest bit of ringing in the county since the middle of March!

Meanwhile, ironically on a day when we couldn’t ring in churches but could go to a hostelry, we did ring but didn’t go to a tavern. The latter was because going to a pub with the two youngest boys in particular can be pretty stressful at the best of times, so the notion of us doing it currently doesn’t strike us as being particularly relaxing, which defeats the purpose of going! And the former merely saw us doing some more handbell ringing this morning to get the brains going for the day!

Orwell Peal Band.Others were doing more on handbells though, even within the county with another peal in Bacton, whilst Exning ringer Jimmy Yeoman rang in the 5152 of the ‘standard’ eight Surprise Major methods spliced in Reading and just over the Cambridgeshire border the first peal of Maximus for three-and-a-half months was rung in Orwell, featuring the editor of the Ringing World and some young ringers on a day when they might otherwise have been in York.

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Friday 3rd July 2020

Letter p1. Letter p2. Letter p3. Letter p4. There is a lovely letter in the Bury Free Press this week from a non-ringer that Guild Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge kindly shared on the SGR Facebook page. It says how much he missed the sound of church bells since it had ceased and how he was looking forward to hearing them again and it makes the art’s return even more worthwhile.

He also spoke of the George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition that he happened across in February and of George himself, further showing the respect and affection people had for GWP throughout not just the ringing family, but also beyond.

In addition, the project to augment Stowmarket bells was mentioned in his very nice letter, as it is in the approved minutes of March’s GMC meeting, which are now on the Guild’s website. Also mentioned in there is the project to augment the six of Hitcham to an eight, with a postscript to the notes seeming to indicate that the bells will be returned and work carried out about three months after Taylors resumed work, which should make that about the end of August by my calculations. Hopefully we will get the chance to ring on this brace of augmented rings – and other projects such as Combs, Fornham St Martin and Laxfield, which were also in progress when restrictions struck – before 2020 is out.

God willing that ambition isn’t overly effected by the announcement today that the return to ringing has been delayed slightly and now shouldn’t take place this weekend. It is disappointing as although I hadn’t got any lined up yet, I know of others in Suffolk that had. However, we are at the behest of the church authorities more than ever currently and the CCCBR have built up a really good relationship with those coordinating the reopening of public worship in England’s Anglican churches, so it would be a pity to endanger that, particularly at this delicate stage of proceedings.

For now we contented ourselves with Simon Rudd’s invite to chat which welcomed in another collection of ringers chatting casually about many topics ringing and non-ringing related and featured York ringer Tina Sanderson briefly from her town of youth Ipswich as well as a boozy quiz with my uni mates afterwards as our social life on Fridays continues to improve since restrictions condemned everybody to the same restrictions at the weekend as us. Although the pubs are due to open again tomorrow, so that may change shortly.

Hopefully the return of ringing will help our social life. And also make that contributor to the Bury Free Press feel better.

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Thursday 2nd July 2020

Your starter for ten.

Whilst being interviewed by BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy on Monday, did Neal Dodge say he was ringing for a wedding on Saturday at:

  1. Great Barton
  2. Great Livermere
  3. He didn’t say

It transpires it wasn’t answer a) as I had erroneously stated in my blog three days ago and whilst it is b) where the Guild’s Public Relations Officer is ringing for what must be one of the first marriage ceremonies in the country for months, the answer is actually c)! I guess I was just assuming!

Our luck with questions continued on into the fortnightly St Mary-le-Tower Quiz Night via video, where for once we didn’t win, much to the relief of everyone else! Congratulations to the Sparling family on winning and well done to Colin Salter on hosting a superb evening of rounds on strange laws and animal sounds amongst much else! All jolly good fun!

Meanwhile, following an apparently successful GMC meeting held by video on Sunday, SGR Chairman Rowan Wilson sent an email round to members confirming that this year’s main Guild events will be shifted to 2021, with the planned hosts for this year now getting another chance next year, meaning that the AGM will still be held by the South-West District, the Six-Bell Striking Competitions by the North-East District and the Eight-Bell Striking Competition and Social by the North-West District.

There is also due to be an AGM this year, held on Saturday 19th September via Zoom, as many ringing organisations have already had to do since restrictions on gatherings came into place. As Rowan herself points out, this may mean some probably won’t be able to join (although I imagine a sizeable proportion of those previously unable to do such things now can!), but even if regulations did allow for the usual numbers of around a hundred attendees, she is absolutely right to say it wouldn’t be sensible to expect members – a good number of whom will have been classed as vulnerable during this pandemic – to attend in person in a crowded setting. Hopefully the two months notice will give those not yet set up with the technology to get set up with it!

Mercifully the easing of restrictions has meant that an increasing amount of ringing has been achieved without the help of technology in the actual carrying out of the exercise, as shown by various handbell quarters and a peal in a garden in Reading. However, online ringing continues to be used to a substantial extent, including a QP of Plain Bob Minor featuring SMLT ringers past and present on Ringing Room and the first ever peal on the platform.

I wonder if that will come up in a quiz question one day?

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Wednesday 1st July 2020

At midnight, we will be precisely halfway through 2020. I think it can be said that the first half has been pretty dreadful. Thousands of deaths, businesses going under, people trapped in their homes and pretty much anything enjoyable abandoned, including ringing. I took a few moments to read my blog entry of New Year’s Day and it seems almost laughable in its upbeat outlook, but of course it was no different really to any other entry I’ve made on 1st January in previous years. The hopes for the AGM and striking competitions locally and nationally have been forlorn (although I guess there is some ambition to hold at least the AGM before 2021(Now set for 19/9/2020) comes along), Ipswich Town’s promotion (they didn’t even get to finish their season!) never materialised and that “enjoyable and progressive year of ringing” was cut short before we’d even got a quarter of the way through.

God willing the second half of the year will be better and the signs are encouraging. Football is back, Ruthie has returned to the shop and ringing is due to resume in many places in England this month. I would urge you to read and reread the guidelines sent out by the CCCBR. There are many points to note, including ones you may not have thought about, such as avoiding ringing heavy bells that would see more potentially harmful droplets expelled by the ringer of such a bell and ensuring that new learners aren’t amongst the returnees to reduce the risk of having to go and rescue them and thus increase the risk of any virus present being passed.

Fulbourn.I was also drawn to the halfway point last year when I spoke of the Guild’s peal totals since its formation in 1923. With its one hundredth anniversary approaching, I have always thought it would be lovely for the SGR to ring its 10,000th peal in time for its centenary. Providing that peal-ringing on tower-bells is restricted for months rather than years, the good news is that we remain on course to have rung 10,000 peals in one hundred years. The 5184 of Ealing Surprise Major rung at Fulbourn in Cambridgeshire on the 13th March that was the last peal rung in our name was by my calculations our 9,839th in our history meaning that even if there aren’t any more rung this year (and I’m perhaps foolishly optimistic in thinking we may get a handful in before 31/12/2020) we have two years to fit in 161 peals. Three years if we look to appropriately ring it during 2023. Even if we can’t hit the ground running in January 2021 and/or we have a total as low as 2019’s (which was our lowest for fourteen years) then that still seems eminently doable in the normal order of things. Although I appreciate we aren’t in the normal order of things and may not be for quite some time.

There were notable performances with Suffolk connections noted on BellBoard today though. A family touch of Oxford Treble Bob Minor involving the Hills featuring former Bramford ringer Christine Hill (and therefore - pre-lockdown at least - frequent visitors to the county) was rung on Ringing Room, whilst past Ringing Master of St Mary-le-Tower Simon Rudd was part of an East Anglian quarter-peal of Deva Surprise Major on the same platform.

For all that we have nearly finished the first half of the year though, it’s effects were still on show until nearly the end of this 183rd day of 2020 as we attended Joshua’s introduction evening in readiness for his planned start at primary school in September, which was done by video of course. It is the same school Alfie has been attending for the last two years (remotely for this last term and a bit), so mercifully in these uncertain times we are already familiar with the set-up, but we thought it important to keep up with proceedings, especially in the circumstances. When we attended the corresponding evening for Alfred a couple of summers ago it was in the school hall in the company of other parents in the same boat sampling the school dinners, so this felt a little more clinical than previously, despite the school’s best efforts.

Hopefully the second half of this year will see us move towards a return to these types of events being more like they once were.

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Tuesday 30th June 2020

Leicester being put back into a strict lockdown last night is a sign of how things may be for the foreseeable and although thus far Suffolk and East Anglia generally has mercifully been one of the lesser afflicted parts of England (despite newspaper reports that we could be in for an imminent local lockdown due to a 50% increase of new cases within our borders last week, it was pointed out that this was in fact from two cases the week before to three last week!), it shows how difficult it will be to plan anything.

However, as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech in my old neck of the woods Dudley this morning, we “cannot continue to be prisoners of this crisis” and whilst things clearly can’t just be business as usual for now, those words were ringing in my ears as I resumed giving thought to a peal attempt that I had already been planning for December at The Norman Tower to mark my brother’s fortieth birthday the month before. I have no idea if we will be allowed to by then, but the thought occurred to me that if we are given the go-ahead then I will need to get a willing band in place in plenty of time to be ready to go.

It also gives me something to aim for from a ringing perspective whilst I don’t have any to speak of from a personal perspective, other East Anglian ringers were partaking in the art with St Mary-le-Tower band members Nigel Newton joining Norwich ringers David Brown and past SMLT Ringing Master Simon Rudd with a quarter-peal of Cambridge Surprise Major on Ringing Room before Colin enters the world of work tomorrow. Good luck Colin!

Meanwhile, Exning’s Jimmy Yeoman was part of an impressive 1344 of Bristol Surprise Maximus on the same platform rung by a local Cambridge band.

There were also more handbell peals, including two of Treble Dodging Minor rung simultaneously in the same garden in Wilmslow in Cheshire. All done socially distanced of course.

On a sadder note, it was sad to see that The Black Bull in Frosterley in County Durham is not reopening, possibly never. Apart from being a pub fondly remembered on our one and only visit during the Central Council weekend of 2008, it is also the venue of a ring of twelve out the back. First and foremost it is a dreadful situation for the villagers and particularly those who work in and run the pub, but many ringers will be anxious to know what will become of the bells. Hopefully, like Leicester, it might open again one day.

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Monday 29th June 2020

It was good to hear from a couple of the Guild’s officers, as the voices of Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge and Treasurer Stephen Cheek resonated in our living room today, as the former spoke on BBC Radio Suffolk to presenter Mark Murphy 3hrs 36mins 30secs into his breakfast show this morning and the latter gave an enlightening chat on the subject of Morris Dancing – one of his other great loves – on the weekly virtual get together of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich’s ringers and friends this evening.

Great Barton.Neal did well in not only getting across why ringing has not been able to happen in church towers, but that ringing is God willing returning – for Mr Dodge that is due to be as early as Saturday for a wedding at Great Barton! He was also very careful to point out that this isn’t a full-on return as we all know.

He is doing something that all towers planning on resuming ringing should also be doing at a local level as we look to make a more regular sound in areas that have of course been living in silence for the last three months. Let neighbours know when you will be ringing and for how long. It may be too late to do that via newsletters, especially if you are planning on resuming this weekend, but most communities have a Facebook page and maybe you might consider sending leaflets round to local residents if that is practical. However you do it, please try and ensure that those whose support will be important as we look to increase our ringing are aware of what you’re doing.

St Peter Mancroft.The subject of resuming ringing also came up after Stephen’s webinar as it was revealed that – all being well – they will “probably” be ringing again on the heaviest twelve in Norfolk and East Anglia (albeit only select bells to maintain social distancing of course) on Sunday 12th July ahead of a 2.30pm service there.

However, the highlight of the evening was the talk that preceded it by St Mary-le-Tower’s Secretary Mr Cheek on a fascinating subject. I’ve never been tempted to partake and I have to admit to often feeling relieved that ringing doesn’t have to put up with some of the perceptions people have of it when promoting the exercise, but I confess to being very interested in the traditional activities of our land. And of course as Stephen pointed out there are similarities between the two pastimes, such as the drinking afterwards and socialising, as well as governing bodies that can generate much grumbling amongst their respective participants!

Good work Stephen and Neal!

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Sunday 28th June 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.If I’m honest, I’ve thought that some of the now usual Sunday morning video chats with our ringing colleagues from St Mary-le-Tower and fellow churchgoers at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge have become somewhat subdued on occasion as we have wearily lived through this lengthy period without ringing upon church bells necessarily forced upon us due to the rapid spread of coronavirus.

However, the recent announcements that churches are due to be able to reopen for services from next weekend and subsequently that ringing is a part of that reopening (albeit in both cases in a cautious and restricted fashion) led to a couple of very upbeat online get-togethers that moved beyond hope and excitement and into the beginnings of actual planning. The conversation with our non-ringing churchgoers reminded us that of course our return to ringing chambers are entirely reliant on the churches opening and that might not necessarily be the case everywhere with an issue raised that priests over seventy may not be allowed to officiate. At SMLT though, that shouldn’t be a problem, with its latest parish newsletter emailed to me suggesting that services are planned to resume from mid-July onwards. And in our conversations with the ringers at the county’s heaviest twelve feelers were put out for joining a rota of ringers to allow a safe resumption on these famous bells.

Not that there wasn’t plenty of ringing endeavour on show in the current absence of church bell ringing on the UK’s mainland, with four peals on handbells rung, three of them with a Suffolk connection as former Ipswich ringers George Salter and Simon Rudd ringing in a 5088 of Bristol Surprise Major in the eponymous city and 5056 of eight Surprise Major methods spliced in Norfolk’s Great Hockham respectively, whilst a 5040 of thirty-three Surprise Minor methods was rung spliced within our borders in Bacton. Mr Rudd even followed it up by partaking in the impressive first QP of Zanussi Surprise Maximus on Ringing Room.

Rosie & Richie Robot.That band included Graham and Katharine Firman who also appeared in the other standout performance of the day as they rang 111 changes of Stedman Triples with their handbell ringing robots Rosie and Richie in Bosham, West Sussex. It is a brilliant technical achievement and the video of their ringing is a must-watch!

Searching for coins in Woodbridge.We did some handbell ringing too, although our efforts were hampered by the children endearingly interrupting us, a visit to the churchyard of St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge searching for ‘coins’ beneath the tower that holds the 25cwt eight there and then a video chat with the boys’ Grandad Ron and his family on the occasion of his son’s birthday, although all interruptions were happily accepted!

As are the planned resumptions of services and ringing in churches, judging by our upbeat video chats this morning.

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Saturday 27th June 2020

Monk Soham. Bedfield. Cratfield. Laxfield . Tannington. Wilby. Worlingworth.
Tannington Peal Board. Tannington Peal Board.

Tannington is the type of place I have missed going out to since ringing ceased and our lives were necessarily restricted. It was lovely therefore to see photos from the Reverend David Mulrenan’s Facebook page featuring shots of the church and its surroundings. David is a lovely chap, a ringer and now one of the priests in the Four Rivers Benefice that includes the five of Monk Soham, sixes of Bedfield, Cratfield, Laxfield and the aforementioned St Ethelbert King and Martyr and the eights of Wilby and Worlingworth and his pictures included a couple of peal boards in the ringing chamber of the 10cwt ground-floor six. One recorded a 1992 peal conducted by the late Past Ringing Master of the Suffolk Guild J Martin Thorley rung for the 80th birthday of Daisy Jane Harvey, the other was one conducted by me in 2010 rung in memory of her during my time as SGR Ringing Master. That was after an early shift at work at a time when I had the energy following early shifts for such things on a lovely little six once pealed very often (over fifty times between 1969 and 1973) and even to some long lengths, with a 7320 (the day after Robert Scase’s first peal on the occasion of his 21st birthday!) and then a 10,200 in 1981, which were the longest peals of Doubles in the county and for the Guild.

David said that there has only been occasional ringing there in recent times, although the bells themselves are in good order and he himself rang for the first time for a while just before Christmas, so this may be one of those places that could benefit from a surplus of ringers helping out whilst we are ringing on a limited number of bells. Maybe something for the ringers of the area to get on to!

For all the progress of recent days though there is still no such activity for now of course, but I did see a ringer as Mason and I popped over to see fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringer Laura Davies and her boyfriend Joe for a socially distanced catch-up from their front doorstep and elsewhere it was encouraging to see at least one peal was rung for the tenth day running for the first time since the cessation of ringing church bells on 16th March.

Laura is also keen to get back to ringing, as am I. Perhaps we might even ring at places like Tannington in the near future?

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Friday 26th June 2020

We were awoken by a thunderstorm this morning, an ominous sign for a day that actually turned out to be largely positive.

Partly that was fuelled by the good news last night of plans for a resumption of ringing, which is all very welcome, albeit cautious and of course not for a week or so at least, probably more for the majority. Therefore, this Friday our interactions with ringers were carried out as they largely have been for the last three months – by video. We’ve really grown to enjoy Simon Rudd’s weekly open invites, which have enabled us to catch up regularly with some familiar faces such as Maggie Ross, David & Gill Sparling (the former of whom has had a rough week after an incident involving him, his bike, a pothole and a tractor, but he is mercifully OK apart from a few cuts and grazes) and Simon himself, as well as getting to know others such as Reading ringer Stephen Rossiter and Norwich ringer Ros Burrough. Last night’s announcement offered a subject for discussion and it was noticeable how encouragingly cautious everyone was about going back into the ringing chamber. I think the way that ringers and ringing is approaching the resumption of the exercise is entirely right. It is important for the art itself but also the mental wellbeing of so many ringers (and indeed also those within earshot of the bells who may have been missing the sound) that ringing starts up again, but it can’t be done in a gung-ho fashion and from all I’ve seen and heard thus far ringers will be taking this carefully.

Liver Bird.We followed up our ringing chat with a quiz with my uni friends, leaving little time for ringing handbells today, but elsewhere in the vicinity others were more active as the Wakefields rang 72 changes of Reverse Canterbury Minimus in Woodbridge in celebration of Liverpool becoming Premier League champions yesterday.

Perhaps the thunderstorm was for all of Liverpool’s rivals because our day was far from as ominous as its start had indicated.

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Thursday 25th June 2020

Only yesterday I noted that it had been one hundred days since we had been asked to cease ringing church bells and mused that it may be at least another one hundred days before we could ring again. Just before today came to a natural conclusion though, the announcement came from CCCBR President Simon Linford that ringing is set to return in the coming weeks (in July which was my original guesstimate, although that was never made with any expertise and I’d long dismissed that as likely!) as an integral part of the Church of England’s resumption of activity. Please read it carefully, as well as the link to the further information, for this isn’t a return to the art as it was straight away. It will be socially distanced, for a maximum of fifteen minutes and only for Sunday service ringing. For the foreseeable there will be no peals, no quarters, not even practice nights.

There is no doubt it won’t be as fun and as Simon says the novelty will probably wear off quite quickly. I imagine it will also be sporadic and more feasible for some towers than others and there will be a large number who will understandably be unwilling to come back yet, especially the more vulnerable. However, it is an important symbolic moment, especially as it had become apparent that the church hadn’t even thought about ringing until enquiries were made (well done to all concerned on putting us on the agenda!) and it will hopefully create a pathway to ultimately returning to full-on ringing. Personally I am chomping at the bit to get going again, even if it is on just three or four bells!

Guildford Cathedral.Appropriately enough, the announcement came at the end of a day when I had already been dreaming of a possible future. God willing that life has returned to normality enough by then, in precisely twelve months time it will be the Friday of National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final weekend and ringers will already be gathering in Guildford where the biggest ringing event in the world is due to take place the following day. After the cancellation of this year’s Final at Sheffield (and indeed the eliminators before them that we were to have partaken in), the anticipation for next year’s is already heightened, but the appetite was further whetted today with a video message from Phill Ridley on the 2021 Final’s Facebook and Instagram pages outlining the plans for the set-up at the Cathedral and its vast open space.

All being well, one of the three eliminators to determine who will join the hosts on the 30cwt twelve in Surrey in 366 days time is planned to be at The Norman Tower on Saturday 27th March. Of course there is much less certainty around that than there usually would be and depending on how the battle against coronavirus has gone and what restrictions may be in place at that point, it remains to be seen in what form the day will take. If it takes its traditional shape though, this will be a tremendous day out and I imagine the kind of thing that people should be itching to get out to after all of the abandoned events of this year.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Past Master of the College Youths Paul Carless, who this evening finished climbing Kilimanjaro. Well, sort of. Six and a half years ago, Paul was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia and ever since – alongside ringing seventy-three peals, mostly of a tremendously high standard and many rung from heavy bells - has been fundraising for Bloodwise - or Blood Cancer UK as they are now called - who carry out research of and support those with blood cancer. His latest venture to raise funds was to have been climbing Kilimanjaro, but of course that couldn’t happen, as with pretty much everything else in recent months. Undeterred though, he climbed the same amount (including taking into account the climbing and descending they would’ve had to do on the real thing to acclimatize) up and down his stairs at home over the last few days, in the process raising over £7,000 against a target of £2,500! He has a Just Giving page if anyone wants to donate further.

Nothing quite so noteworthy occurred in our household, with our evening family-related as I spoke to my brother Chris on the phone and then spotted my mother in a photo from her youth in Thrapston on the Peterborough Diocesan Guild Facebook page!

It is fun to look back as well as forwards!

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Wednesday 24th June 2020

It is one hundred days since we were all asked to cease ringing on church bells and we reluctantly rang the bells of St Mary-le-Tower down at the end of the weekly practice, had a poignant farewell drink together in the famous old ringing chamber and somberly made our way back to our homes which many of us have barely left since.

At the time, I wasn’t really expecting much to report on in this blog as bar a handful of households containing the equipment, talent and opportunity to ring handbells together it seemed there would be little ringing activity, particularly as attempts to ring via video seemed impractical. Jed Flatters, Tim Hart and Rowan Wilson’s attempt on that first Saturday was amongst some of the amusing results! I had wondered about stopping writing the blog altogether, but thought it would be a pity for it to end like this and so therefore I began using the Random button on BellBoard to bring up performances from the past to prompt recollections and connected tales (however tenuous!) to bulk up the content in what I imagined would be sparse times for a ringing blog.

However, with the introduction of some extremely clever online ringing platforms like Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room, the social interaction with ringers via video and the gradual easing of restrictions allowing for more handbell ringing (yesterday four peals with the bands together in person were rung in one day for the first time since that fateful 16th March announcement), it has sometimes clogged up my already rambling blog entries a number of times in the last three months, fascinating as it has often been for myself looking back.

Therefore, with the government making yesterday’s 5pm briefing their last daily one (I guess unless things get really bad again) and today’s performance from pushing the Random button on BellBoard the one hundredth in a row, it seemed like a good time to end this enjoyable habit. That’s not to say I believe that this whole sorry coronavirus saga is over or even anywhere near an end and even with the more relaxed attitude being displayed in society, I’m not convinced that we will be ringing on church bells for another one hundred days at least. However, the timing just seems right.

Great Barrington.The last performance of this century run of performances covers familiar ground. The 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles that was Mary Hardie’s one and only quarter-peal was at a Gloucestershire tower – Great Barrington – as many of the hundred have been. It featured ringing friends Dave Matthews and Simon ‘Swebb’ Webb as a good number have also featured. In addition, it was rung in 2012 which is certainly one of the leading years of the ton of performances, although even I haven’t had so much extra time on my hands to start analysing the stats of all the ones that have appeared. That it was rung on 16th May that year also put it in the middle of striking competition season, which has led me to lament the absence of these usual highlights of my ringing calendar occasionally over the last few weeks.

According to the blog, on that Wednesday just over eight years ago I was urging people to enter the Guild Striking Competitions that were held three days later at Blythburgh and Leiston in the North-East District. This is one of my most fondly remembered local contests, with the six-bell competitions held in one of my favourite spots in Suffolk, with an immense spread of food, a pint in the local pub and some different winners. And in the end, a total of eighteen teams entered from both sides of the county.

In the here and now, it was lovely to read the article on the East Anglian Daily Times website about the removal of Stowmarket’s bells ahead of their rehanging as a ten later this year, if all goes to plan. Good to see the tower captain Winston Girling featuring.

Sad as it is not to be ringing tower bells today though, I expect it would’ve been hot old work on the hottest day of the year that most want to get out of the way and forget as soon as possible, with even sitting at home working on the computer quite draining!

Pettistree. The Pettistree Greyhound.Still, I wouldn’t complain about being able to ring at somewhere like Pettistree on an evening like this, where the practice would’ve no doubt spilled out into the churchyard whilst some high-quality six-bell ringing went on inside and the beer garden at The Greyhound next door would’ve beckoned. That feels like a lifetime away, especially after one hundred days without church bell ringing!

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Tuesday 23rd June 2020

For all the easing of restrictions over the last month or so, today’s announcement on further lifting of restrictions from 4th July from the House of Commons by Prime Minister Boris Johnson seemed like the most exciting thus far. The reopening of pubs and restaurants is welcome and hopefully it will prove practical for us to pop along to one of the many magnificent taverns we have locally. Hairdressers being able to fling open their doors will be a relief to many, including Ruthie who will be glad not to have to cut the boys’ hair again! Being able to visit other people’s houses will hopefully make childcare easier in the coming couple of months. And the reduction of social distancing from two metres to one (although two is still advised if possible) opens new possibilities for ringing returning.

That still won’t be immediately as quite apart from the fact that many will still be understandably wary of gathering in some of the confined ringing chambers of the UK, meeting indoors is still restricted to two households at a time and of course we are at the behest of church authorities. However, churches are due to also reopen for services in eleven days and in today’s CCCBR President Simon Linford’s blog, he has revealed that thanks to the efforts of Mark Regan, ringing is on the Church’s agenda along with choirs and organs as they plan ahead for reopening churches. It is very important that coronavirus still represents a threat, but life needs to get going again in the long term and it seems right that gradual steps are taken towards that aim, especially as the virus seems to be as under control as we’re likely to get it without a vaccine or effective treatment. Caution is still the buzzword, but it will be interesting to see if more ringing might be done on private rings with bands of two households from 4th July onwards!

For now though, Ringing Room continues to offer opportunities for ringers, including some here in Suffolk. Well done to Guild Secretary Kate Gill on ringing her first quarter-peal on the platform (and in the process becoming the 500th person North Leigh’s Alison Merryweather-Clarke has rung a QP with) in a 1260 of Doubles and to Colin Salter on ringing his first quarter of Surprise Major ‘in hand’ in the 1280 of Cambridge.

For us however, the main highlight of the day was popping round to wish our niece Katelynn a Happy Birthday and taking in news that the interviews and unused idents from Saturday’s Not The Twelve-Bell Live – including John Loveless’ interview that features a considerable bit about George Pipe – will be put up on the contest’s YouTube channel over the coming days, as revealed by Matthew Tosh revealed in a message I watched this evening.

Stoke Minster.The lack of much actual ringing personally saw me pushing the Random button on BellBoard for the ninety-ninth day in a row, which brought up a 1296 of Oxford Treble Bob and Cambridge Surprise Minor at the Minster of St Peter ad Vincula in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire on 4th September 2011.

The Vestey Ring.That early autumnal/late summer Sunday saw Ruthie working at Boots as was pretty much the case every Sabbath at the time, but Mason and I were helping with The Vestey Ring at the Sutton Country Fayre. Might The Vestey Ring come into its own in the coming weeks after today’s announcement?

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Monday 22nd June 2020

Gradually, things seem to be getting back towards some kind of normal (I dislike the term “new normal” because to my mind it seems to be setting us up for permanently accepting a restricted lifestyle that frankly would be intolerable in the long term). Thus far that has mainly passed us by with work, education and pleasure, but today our household made its first steps back towards what it once was as Ruthie returned to working at John Ives.

What followed was a very different experience to when she was last there in mid-March, with limits in place of numbers inside, one-way systems, strict policies on where people can try on shoes and my wife had to don a very fetching plastic face visor.

With me still working from home, it meant that we have had to take advantage of our social bubble for child-sitting duties, although how feasible that will be in the long-term only time will tell. It was odd that after three solid months of being with the children, that I was working in a house of silence. That extra time spent with them has – as mentioned yesterday – been wonderful, but also exhausting and we have come to appreciate how important those breaks apart are for them as well as us!

Radway. Bletchingdon.For all this progress though, it was of course another Monday night without a St Mary-le-Tower practice and so I pushed the Random button on BellBoard again. This time it brought up a 5040 of Doubles at Radway on 24th April 2016, trebled to by Sue Marshall who inspired so many up until her death last July when she spent her last few months defying her ill-health by ticking off many wishes, including ringing her two thousandth peal in the 5040 at Bletchingdon in March 2019. As I said at the time of her death but am happy to reiterate here, she was a lovely lady, who I was privileged to know through my ringing on Rambling Ringers and in Birmingham.

On 24/4/2016 I was enjoying the company of other ringers, as we attended the annual St Mary-le-Tower dinner, an informal occasion that we look forward to immensely but which of course is one of so many events necessarily sacrificed in 2020. On that Sunday afternoon four years ago we went to Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club, as we did for many years, but last year we went to the brilliant brand new facilities at Fynn Valley Golf Club where we liked having a room to ourselves and we had been planning on returning in April. Hopefully we can go there in 2021.

For now though, ringers continue to adapt well as they have generally done over the last quarter of a year without church bell change-ringing. Eased restrictions have recently allowed for more traditional ringing on handbells and even mini-rings (albeit with huge ringing circles!), but technology has helped to aide ringing to continue, ringers to stay in touch and extra time has allowed us more time to take in many webinars put on by ringers. Ringing Room, Handbell Stadium and the like have helped with the first aspect and we’ve caught up with many ringers via video chats such as the Sunday morning chat with fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers and Simon Rudd’s Friday evening open invitations in regards to the second. The third aspect has been particularly interesting and personally I have enjoyed taking in some of the the talks hosted by David Richards via the Cambridge District of the Ely Diocesan Association, such as Mark Davies’ on composing, as well as separately Simon Linford’s first webinar on PPE to an international audience and last week’s presentation by Alan Regin on ringers lost in the First World War to the ringers of St Peter’s Mancroft in Norwich. This evening, Ruthie and I joined them again to listen to Simon Smith. He is one of their own, a superb ringer and an incredibly nice guy and over the strictest period of lockdown he set about taking photos of the city. For many years we have all been enjoying Mike Whitby’s wonderful photographs, taken using the kind of perspective that most of us wouldn’t consider, but Simon seems to have only really taken to photography as a way to occupy himself on his daily exercise. However, he produced a fascinating series of pictures documenting a place – that for all that I dislike their football team – is a beautiful one and it was very interesting listening to him talking through a selection of his near 2,500 photo collection in the company of friends from north of the River Waveney, as well as Norman Tower ringer Joan Garrett. Next week, Suffolk Guild Treasurer and St Mary-le-Tower ringer Stephen Cheek will be talking Morris Dancing, so look out for the link!

Stowmarket 5th being lowered through the trapdoor in the ringing chamber floor.Meanwhile, as SGR PR Officer Neal Dodge shared a YouTube link for Dr Maureen Gardiner’s interview with Lesley Dolphin from Friday, it was lovely to see that work has got underway removing the bells at Stowmarket ahead of work to rehang and augment them. Another hopeful sign that God willing things are gradually getting back to some kind of normal.

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Sunday 21st June 2020

Today was a notable date. It is the summer solstice. It is also Suffolk Day. And this year it is Father’s Day too.

On the latter I was treated to being bashed over the head with my own card by Joshua as he attempted to wake me up, but it was an endearing way to begin a pleasant day. It has to be said that whilst the last three months solid of looking after our children with no break has been exhausting, it has also been a wonderful upside of the dreadful circumstances that we have all found ourselves in that we have got to spend a lot of extra time with the boys and so I was already more aware than ever before entering this Father’s Day of how blessed I am.

Of course, with no pubs open the main treat I desired wasn’t available and nor was it possible to ring church bells, which is usually a lovely way to start the day off. That also meant that the fourth annual Suffolk Day couldn’t be marked in a way that we ringers would typically mark it, but there was considerable activity from the Guild’s members on Ringing Room and on handbells in Bury St Edmunds!

I was able to enjoy the company of ringers though, in the form of the weekly Sunday morning video chat with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers which was a largely upbeat affair that noted Colin Salter’s birthday and Karina Wiseman’s success at ringing Plain Hunt on six to handbells in Christchurch Park. She’s already better on handbells than me!

Worcester Cathedral.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard took me to 11th March 2012, a day when a quarter-peal at Worcester Cathedral featuring the now St Mary-le-Tower ringer Laura Davies on the second as well as Alison Regan on the third. Alison was an inspiration to many female ringers (Laura included I know), showing how unimportant gender was compared to style when it came to ringing heavier bells. Sadly, she was to die only four months after this QP, far, far before her time.

Grundisburgh. Pettistree.The venue is a famous one and one I have been privileged to ring at, although disappointingly my one and only peal attempt here was lost. On the day that the aforementioned 1346 of Cambridge Surprise Maximus was being rung in 1hr 6mins, I was succeeding with a peal of Maximus, albeit at the less grand Grundisburgh. However, our 5040 of Yorkshire was notable for being (now Dr) Alex Tatlow’s first of Maximus. It was also my 465th peal in a year that from a personal peal-ringing perspective was dominated by my efforts to reach my 500th by the time that 2013 started, hence my busy few days in the medium during that March week! Despite a fairly disastrous December for losing peals, I was ultimately able to just about scrape in my half-thousandth with a peal at Pettistree two days before the year was out. That also meant that I wasn’t sweating on the then traditional New Year’s Eve peal of Grandsire at Grundisburgh to succeed in my twelve-month challenge!

We finished the day off with a BBQ with the boy’s grandparents Kate and Ron late into the evening and yet still some time before daylight departed this notable date.

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Saturday 20th June 2020

Today would’ve been the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final at Sheffield Cathedral. Yet another highlight of the 2020 calendar stricken from our emptying diaries. We haven’t been to many in recent years and although we had been considering going (not least because as Ipswich had entered the eliminators there was a very slim chance we may even be participating!) there is no guarantee we would’ve been in South Yorkshire this weekend with hundreds of friends well known and new.

However, even if we hadn’t made it we would’ve endeavoured to watch the superb day-long coverage led by Matthew Tosh (but supported by an incredibly skilled and dedicated team behind the scenes) of the entire final from the draw through to the results several hours later. Obviously with no ringing there was nothing to cover, but we got the next best thing as the team produced the tremendous three-hour Not! The Twelve-Bell Live programme this afternoon featuring interviews of participants, judges and those who were part of its beginnings, as well as individual idents, including mine (about 1hr 31mins in)!

Among those interviewed were a number I have been privileged to ring and socialise with over the years (the beer consumption also frequently came up in conversation during the show!), including quite a few I rang with in the competition itself, such as Richard Grimmett, David Pipe, Stephanie Warboys and the legendary Fran Dodds who has rung in and won more finals than anyone else.

Also amongst the interviewees was John Loveless who spoke about George Pipe’s biography (about 1hr 4mins in) which is due for release in October and will be available via the Ringing World – watch this space! George came up in a few stories throughout this, unsurprisingly considering he judged and rang in three finals apiece and was such a big character in the world of twelve-bell ringing.

Suffolk featured in other ways too, directly and indirectly. David’s father and George’s brother Rod was inevitably brought up, Bury St Edmunds ringer Tim Hart was mentioned for his work on 3-D printed handbells and of course The Norman Tower is pencilled in for hosting one of the eliminators in next year’s contest, on Saturday 27th March 2021. Although nothing is certain currently, like much else arranged within the next twelve months and beyond.

The production was perhaps not as slick – which was entirely understandable in the trying circumstances – but it certainly helped fill the hole that the absence of the actual event left.

And although the only accompaniment to my day was an appointment at the tip (as it has to be currently) and a visit to my parents to drop Father’s Day cards off this morning, it was refreshing to see other ringers from our county past and present also managing some actual real-life handbell ringing face-to-face, with George Salter ringing 1-2 to seven Treble Dodging Minor in Bristol (rather than possibly ringing for Bristol today) in 1hr 57mins and seventeen Surprise Minor methods being rung in 1hr46mins within our borders in Bacton.

Ampney Crucis.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was a 1296 of Norwich Surprise Minor rung at Ampney Crucis in Gloucestershire featuring Dave Matthews and Simon Webb who I have done much ringing with and taking me back to 14th September 2011.

According to the blog, on that day Ruthie and I rang a peal of Iceland Surprise Major at The Wolery, home of David & Katharine Salter’s ring of eight at the top of the garden. Mrs Munnings – or Miss Eagle as she was then – was once a regular peal-ringer (indeed she and her mother Kate were leading peal-ringers for the SGR for a couple of years) and even though she hasn’t rung a peal since 2014 there are still only three people who have rung more peals with me. Mary Dunbavin, Tom Scase and David Salter for those who are interested and even those who aren’t. I hope one day that she will feel able to start peal-ringing again, partly because I miss her joining me for my peal-ringing, but also because she is an asset for any peal band, far more so than me! Sadly though, the longer she goes without ringing one, the less likely it is that she will I fear.

Our efforts that evening were preceded by a quick blast of three leads of Bristol Surprise Major recorded by their aforementioned son George and still on YouTube for the world to enjoy. Just as today’s Not The Twelve-Bell Live is. And God willing next year there will be coverage of the Final at Guildford (a reminder that they already have a Facebook page set up for it!) to enjoy on YouTube too.

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Friday 19th June 2020

The UK’s Covid-19 alert level dropped from four to three today. Exactly what that means seems fairly vague, but according to the BBC it means that “social distancing is relaxed”. At this moment in time, two things in particular seem to currently prevent a return to ringing tower bells in churches. One is that it is carried out in confined spaces where the illness is more likely to spread. The second is social distancing, with the gap between pretty much every rope in the ringing chambers of the country less than two metres apart. Of course today’s announcement doesn’t give the green light for Britain’s ringers to descend upon their local tower (even if they all wanted to at this point), but God willing it represents another positive step towards that aim.

Oake.For now though, I got my ringing fix from ways that have become familiar over the last three months. That included pushing the Random button on BellBoard, which today brought me to a 1260 of St Simon’s Bob, Plain Bob and Grandsire Doubles at Oake in Somerset on 29th November 2017. I don’t believe I have rung at the 8cwt five, although Oake Place Doubles has been rung in Suffolk, especially on handbells in Bacton where it has featured in twenty-seven peals there since 2013.  Nor do I know any in the band, although I have heard of some of them. And 29/11/17 wasn’t a particularly memorable blog entry (bar a few firsts), though a few days later the South-East District ADM at Brandeston saw significant changes with Mark Ogden taking over from Ralph Earey as Chairman, Abby Antrobus succeeding Jane Harper as Secretary and Tracey Scase taking the baton from Eric Brown in the role of Treasurer.

I also got to listen to Dr Maureen Gardiner talking to one-time ringer Lesley Dolphin 1hr 22mins into the latter’s afternoon show on BBC Radio Suffolk about the project to rehang and augment the eight of Stowmarket to a ten. Although like most things this year delayed by coronavirus, the three new bells have been cast at Eijsbouts in the Netherlands and are ready to be shipped to Nicholson’s in Dorset where the new frame will be constructed and the plan seems to be to have them being hung in the tower of St Mary and St Peter church in September. Importantly though, it was great PR for ringing in the county at a time when it is difficult to come across whilst none is happening. Some have used the angle of talking about online platforms like Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room to generate some publicity, but undoubtedly ringing PR is at its best when we have something to take the non-ringing public to, such as open days, events or just everyday practices and the like. These few minutes will hopefully help keep the art in people’s minds in the meantime though, so well done Maureen and everyone involved in the project!

In addition, we joined quizmaster extraordinaire Simon Rudd’s generous weekly invitation to a video chat to see who we might ‘bump’ into. This evening the aforementioned Mark Ogden was one of the attendees, so it was nice to catch up with him.

Our day was then climaxed by a 1990s quiz with my uni friends via video. It has been an irony that since others have been housebound every evening as we usually are on a Friday anyway, that our weekend social life has improved considerably. That’s one thing that we hope doesn’t change as the alert level drops.

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Thursday 18th June 2020

We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs Of Dover were the soundtrack of the day following the death of Dame Vera Lynn this morning, something which was marked by ringing today and stirred up a lot of memories for many people, especially those of an older generation.

St Mary Redcliffe.Likewise, pushing the Random button on BellBoard has stirred up several memories over the last three months and so it did today from a multitude of perspectives as it brought up a 1254 of Grandsire Cinques rung at St Mary the Virgin in Redcliffe, Bristol on 12th July 2015.

For a start the band featured some familiar names from various aspects of my ringing life, such as Jenny Pick and Matt Dawson from my Rambling Ringers youth onwards and Simon Webb and Tim Waller who I rang with occasionally during my days in the West Midlands and all the ringing that emanated from there, and since. The tower is a famous one of course and one which Ruthie and myself rang a peal at in 2007. And on 12/7/2015 I was on the way back from a memorable stag weekend for my brother Chris in Edinburgh with fellow ringers Ralph Earey, Alex Tatlow, Phil Wilding and his now brother and father-in-law Carl and Steve Munford, although the less said about the journey home the better!

In the here and now, more memories were stirred by hearing the voice of Ben Woolf 1hr 42mins into Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk show this afternoon. Ben learnt to ring at Sproughton with his brother Joel and father Stephen in the 1990s and indeed I worked on their farm for a couple of days during the roasting hot summer of 1995, even getting to drive a tractor! I was privileged to ring in Joel’s first and only peal (as I am to ring in anyone’s first peal) at the tower that they and I learnt to ring at in 1997, but all three of Ben’s peals were rung whilst he was at Warwick University with ringers such as Tom Griffiths and John Thurman. However, circumstances meant that the boys gradually drifted from the art as many do, although Ben did ring a quarter-peal as late as 2015 in memory of his father Stephen. Although not on the airwaves in relation to ringing – he was talking about his business Oak House Farm & Butchery ahead of Suffolk Day on Sunday – it was lovely to hear another ringer making their voice heard during these times when we can’t do it with church bells!

We heard – and indeed saw – a lot of other ringers via video as we joined with the fortnightly St Mary-le-Tower ringers quiz, this time excellently hosted by Simon Rudd. Again much mirth was enjoyed as we took on rounds about famous people, SMLT itself, music and even our social media posts, before a final dash around for objects chosen by our quizmaster. And although we won again, we were spared hosting the next quiz by an enthusiastic Colin Salter – thank you Colin! And thank you Simon for a wonderful couple of hours of entertainment!

Every couple of weeks these quizzes offer up a real highlight of the week, but it’s not the same as actually being with our ringing colleagues. God willing though, we’ll meet again...

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Wednesday 17th June 2020

Ipswich Town’s season down amongst the poverty-stricken nobodies of League One may have ended a week ago, but the Premier League returned this evening in the eerie silence of empty stadiums. Like most things returning it isn’t the same as before, but it is better than not having it and hopefully the first step back to complete normality at some point.

We hope for the same thing with ringing. I expect that when we are God willing allowed to ring, it will be in a partial manner probably far from satisfactory. From all that has been said and advised thus far and with the experience now of several activities outdoors and in reopening, I imagine it may be on a limited number of bells and with a maximum number of people, ringing the same assigned bells and with what will seem like an unnatural number of precautions making it far from as free and enjoyable as it was back in March. However, whenever that moment may come it would be better than not ringing at all and hopefully the first step towards complete normality.

Dorrington.Ramblers Winners.For now most performances noted on BellBoard are still being done online or on handbells. That included the impressive first Maximus done on Handbell Stadium and also a 1272 of Minimus tapped on handbells by current Ringing Master of the Society of Rambling Ringers Chris Woodcock and 72 changes of Plain Bob Singles (it would’ve been his 72nd birthday today) by him and his mother Yvonne in Dorrington in memory of the Ringing Master of the Society from 1973 to 1976 Reverend Richard Dorrington on the day of his funeral in Cornwall. We only really got to know Richard and his wife Bryony after they rejoined the Ramblers tours in recent years and found him a lovely man and one of my favourite memories of him was being in the same winning team in the fun Devon Call-Changes competition at Cheriton Bishop on the 2018 Tour to Devon, something that Chris also remembers in his footnotes. I was sorry to hear of his passing last month and also that his funeral – like everyone who has died during these times of soul-sapping restrictions – had to be held with limited numbers when I’m sure many would’ve travelled down to the far south-west of the country. RIP Richard.

In these sad times though, it is lovely to hear of happy news and that has come with the progress of the work to augment the bells of Stowmarket from eight to ten and this project was briefly mentioned by friend-of-ringing and one-time ringer herself Lesley Dolphin on her BBC Radio Suffolk show today where she mentioned that it is due to feature on her show on Friday afternoon, which is planned to run from 2-6pm – listen out for that!

Cowbridge.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor at Cowbridge, a 15cwt 1722 Evan II & William Evans eight, rung on 10th January 1988.

On the same day in Suffolk, quarter-peals of Grandsire Doubles (Annual Report 1988, p54) and Pudsey Surprise Major were rung at Polstead and the aforementioned Stowmarket respectively at the start of another busy year for the Guild. The AGM was held in Nayland, the Six and Eight-Bell Striking Competitions were held at Yaxley and Eye and both won by St Mary-le-Tower, the SGR Outing went to East London and the Anniversary Dinner was held at Woolpit in November, sixty-five years after the organisation was formed, all under the stewardship of Ringing Master Stephen Pettman, Chairman Revd Lawrence Pizzey (who my mother spoke to on the phone last week and is apparently doing well and getting frustrated with Americanisms!) and Secretary John Girt. A reminder that God willing (who knows after all that’s happened in the last few months?!) that in three years we will be celebrating the centenary of the Suffolk Guild.

That’s the goal...

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Tuesday 16th June 2020

This Saturday was due to have been the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final at Sheffield, the biggest competition – and arguably event of any kind – in world ringing. At this point I would probably have been considering who might win, wondering if Exeter might follow-up their shock victory of last year on home bells by winning up north this year, whilst noting that Birmingham haven’t gone more than a year without winning the Taylor Trophy since their incredible current winning streak began in 2000. I expect too that others such as the College Youths and Cumberlands would’ve been vying for the title and I would’ve mused over how well the hosts might have done, but of course with the eliminators having been cancelled back in March, we don’t know exactly who would’ve been competing in Yorkshire in four days time.

We hadn’t got round to considering if we were going to go before coronavirus stopped everything, although in theory we could’ve been participants, unlikely as that was in our first attempt for over a decade. However, even if we hadn’t gone I imagine we would’ve been tuning into Matthew Tosh’s excellent day-long, professional coverage of the occasion. That may not be happening with no actual event to cover, but Matthew is due to host a programme from 1-4pm on Saturday called Not The Twelve Bell Live on the Contest’s YouTube channel, which is planned to feature a look back over the history of the competition, with interviews and stories and should include an interview with John Loveless about George Pipe at some point.

Kenn.For today though, I worked, whilst Ruthie took the boys to visit her grandmother in her garden and then I read of the impressive efforts to ring forty changes of Plain Bob Doubles using dumb bells each rung in different locations and I finally took in the winning entries for the CCCBR’s May competition for best YouTube clips of ringing on six bells and under. Some very good ringing there and well worth a watch.

Worth.Meanwhile, when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard it took me back to Armistice Day 2016, a Friday when of course most people were at work and so 11am – although marked by me as I noted on my blog entry – will have been lost amongst the hustle and bustle of normal everyday life for many. However, ringers in Suffolk remembered with quarter-peals rung at Buxhall, Pettistree and Stonham Aspal, as they did in the performance I came across on BB today, a 1260 of Doubles on the 9cwt 1928 Gillett & Johnson six of Worth in West Sussex.

Earlier that year, the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest was held at Aston and not unusually was won by Birmingham. We followed that via Matthew Tosh’s excellent coverage. It won’t be the same on Saturday, but I’m hoping to watch what he puts together and would recommend you all endeavour to do so too.

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Monday 15th June 2020

Today was a day that saw much of British society not yet reopened allowed to fling open their doors in a very controlled fashion. Zoos, safari parks, drive-in cinemas, years ten and twelve at secondary school, ‘non-essential’ shops (including John Ives, though Ruthie remains furloughed for now) and churches were welcoming visitors, filmgoers, pupils, customers and worshippers missed for the last three months, but of course there is no return for ringing in churches.

Therefore, ringing in the UK remains restricted to handbell and online ringing, with Past St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Master Simon Rudd noticeably busy ringing quarter-peals in both mediums, with an ‘in-the-flesh’ 1296 of Plain Bob Major in South Walsham and then three on Ringing Room with a variety of ringers including current SMLT ringers Nigel Newton and David Sparling, or as much as anyone is a current ringer at any tower at the moment.

Simon then capped it all off with being host of the Mancroft talk via video being done by Alan Regin. Quite apart from being a superb participant of the art and prolific peal-ringer, Alan has done incredible work researching the names and in some cases lives of ringers killed in the First World War, which provided the basis of much of what ringing did to commemorate the centenary of the conflict between 2014-2018. This evening he predominantly spoke of those lost from Norwich and Norfolk (the talented band at Tibenham was particularly hard hit), but he also went through some fascinating photos and postcards (including a some of The Norman Tower and neighbouring St Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds) and detail of ringing and ringers of the time, such as Bertram Prewett, the most prolific peal-ringer lost to the terrible war of just over a century ago and who the ringing chamber at Ypres is named after. Alan also touched upon the 6cwt eight in the Belgium city, as well as hopes for a similar ring at the church in the French village of Thiepval in the shadow of the famous war memorial at the centre of where the Battle of the Somme was fought. A really interesting hour or so.

Hartlepool, St Aidan. Darlington, St Cuthbert.Meanwhile, I reached for the Random button on BellBoard again. Initially it came with some ringing from St Aidan in Hartlepool on 18th April 2018, both of which have come up on my forays into the past since lockdown. I’m beginning to wonder just how random this feature is! As if to underline that suspicion, when I pushed it again, it took me a mere twenty miles down the road and six years earlier to a QP of Plain Bob Doubles at St Cuthbert in Darlington on 18th March 2012, a singularly uneventful weekend from a ringing perspective personally. Although leisurely popping round to my Mum and Dad’s and then to Ruthie’s mater Kate on Mothering Sunday for a meal would be quite extraordinary! And it was the weekend that the three-part series How God Made the English was first broadcast, although mine and Ruthie’s appearance (ringing at St Lawrence with my mother and Peter & Jane Harper) in the series wasn’t until 35mins into the third episode broadcast a fortnight later.

However, the 1260 up north on that day was significant for being the first of eleven quarters for Jak Frost, all rung on this 18cwt 1937 Gillett & Johnston eight.

St Mary at Quay.Meanwhile, I was sad to learn today that Suffolk Mind are going to be closing their centre at Quay Place in December, better known to most ringers at St Mary at Quay in Ipswich, home to a 7cwt six in need of some TLC. Sadly however, although I always got the impression that Mind were happy to do something with the bells (there was even talk of augmenting to eight when the project was first mooted), lack of finance ultimately scuppered the plans. Quite apart from the sadness that a charity has been unable to make it work in a building that they did so magnificently to redevelop and bring back to life this wonderful old church, it makes the future of the bells very uncertain too. Much will depend on who takes it on next and in the current climate that may take a long time. Even if things are reopening today.

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Sunday 14th June 2020

Amongst admiration for Ian Culham’s moustache and Chris Birkby’s haircut on this morning’s St Mary-le-Tower ringers’ video chat, it was interesting to hear – via Diana Pipe – about how ringing is being done in Australia in these early days post-restrictions. Unlike in neighbouring New Zealand and closer to us the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man where they are currently completely free of the virus, the Aussies are undergoing a restricted return more akin to what I imagine we will have to do here in the UK when we are finally given some kind of go-ahead. It sounds like limited numbers are able to come along, ringers are assigned a rope that they have to stick to rather than ringing different bells as one would usually do, ringing is only being done on Sunday mornings and access to ringing chambers is more laborious with people unable to share the narrow staircases and corridors that a lot of churches have to upstairs rings. They are aided by having shorter social distancing than we have at the moment, although if ours is reduced to a metre as has been persistently called for (by those in the hospitality sector rather than bellringers!) in recent days, that will make a return to ringing before an effective treatment and/or vaccine for COVID-19 more feasible, but for now Mr Culham still seems to be right about being cautious in regards to organising the 2021 George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Striking Competition next February.

The opening up of churches is more immediate and on our video chat with fellow churchgoers at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge that followed on from our ringers’ chat, it was encouraging to hear of the plans to allow people to come in for private, individual worship from tomorrow and of course what happens in churches will ultimately have a bearing on when ringing in the same buildings may be able to safely resume.

Marston.For all that what the ringing family has achieved since ‘lockdown’ (especially in performances like the one on Ringing Room today that was rung with eight ringers from eight countries across four continents), change-ringing on church bells isn’t happening yet th and so to distract myself from that fact I pushed the Random button on BellBoard and came to a 1260 of Doubles on the 4cwt six of Old Marston in Oxfordshire on New Year’s Day 2018. What lay ahead in the following twelve months personally was a largely satisfying year, with Alfie starting primary school and Mason secondary school, both in successful fashion and we enjoyed England’s male footballers reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup. It was a year of thirteen quarter-peals for Ruthie and nine for me, as well as nineteen peals.

However, it was the gloriously long and roasting hot summer later that year that I remember most fondly from 2018 and particularly ringing in it. The Guild Striking Competitions at Earl Stonham and Debenham were marvellous as participants and supporters mingled in the sunshine and we even managed a pint in the beer garden of The Woolpack at the latter. Events like the South-East District Practice at Dennington and Framlingham (and another pint in another beer garden afterwards!), The Ridgman Trophy in St Albans (and to continue a theme, a pint in a beer garden afterwards) and the Offton BBQ (with much beer throughout!) were all enjoyed in weather conditions more akin to on the Mediterranean, although of course it all stopped the night before we went camping on the Rambling Ringers Tour to Devon! Which we still enjoyed.

In fact, it isn’t too dissimilar to the summer we’re currently having, but of course without any of the ringing. Or beer gardens. However, beer gardens are due to be back soon and as Australia is showing, God willing ringing should be back one day too.

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Saturday 13th June 2020

It felt almost normal today. A meeting with my parents to mark my father’s recent 75th birthday, which was very pleasant in a sunbathed garden, albeit not the celebration that would’ve taken place were it not for current circumstances. And then a BBQ in the garden of mother-in-law Kate, with our hosts, before a walk home. It was very enjoyable and in its own way remarkably normal after all we’ve been through over recent weeks.

Except of course, it wasn’t completely normal. Both occasions were far from as relaxed as they once would have been, with current regulations – eased as they are - leading to some anxiety, especially with young children around, who for all that they’ve been great in the weird circumstances we’ve found ourselves in since mid-March don’t instinctively practice social distancing. Although not all adults do either!

And – if we had been privileged enough to have been selected, we would’ve been in Boston in Lincolnshire representing the Suffolk Guild for The Ridgman Trophy, the annual ten-bell striking competition for the ringing organisations that border the Ely Diocesan Association and typically a highlight of our ringing calendar. Last year’s was held at The Norman Tower and personally I had been hoping to climb the many steps of this famous ringing location.

Kirkby Malzead.Alas therefore, although we spent the day in the company of ringers, we did no actual ringing and so I again turned to the Random button on BellBoard, which today brought up a 1269 of Norwich Surprise Minor rung on 15th July 2012 at Kirkby Malzead in North Yorkshire. There were familiar names in the band, but the 16cwt 1909 Gillett & Johnson six themselves are known to us too, as we went there only a couple of years after this QP on the 2014 Rambling Ringers Tour, on Yorkshire Day (1st August) indeed. There is even photographic evidence that we were in the ringing chamber where the treble and tenor were (and I assume still are six years on) rung from either side of a view-obscuring clock case, although according to the blog we were more preoccupied trying find somewhere to eat beforehand!

Ipswich, St Mary-le-Tower.However, on 15/7/2012, we were receiving the dreadful news that due to a fairly innocuous looking bulge in the side of the tower, ringing at St Mary-le-Tower had to be suspended. Although we were shortly after allowed to ring the front eight, it would be two-and-a-half months before all twelve could be rung together again. At the time it felt terrible to not be able to ring on all our bells, but when you consider it is pretty much three months now since we last rang at SMLT – or any other church bells – at all, it doesn’t seem as terrible. I would take only ringing on the front eight at the moment!

There was some change-ringing from a once familiar source in Suffolk recorded on BB today though, as a handbell peal was rung in Bacton. Indeed, it was almost normal.

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Friday 12th June 2020

Today should’ve seen the start of Euro2020, the four-yearly European Championships for the best teams on the continent, our fair land included. I would’ve taken in the opening fixture Turkey vs Italy with more relish than I normally would a match between these foreign lands, probably even taking in the opening ceremony. A wallchart would almost certainly have taken its place on the living room wall and after their performance at the World Cup two years ago I would have been eager to see England in action, with their first game in the tournament against Croatia having been pencilled in for this coming Sunday.

Alas, like pretty much anything planned for this year it couldn’t happen, even more so as unusually it was being held in multiple countries across Europe. It is due to go ahead on the corresponding dates in 2021 starting with what will likely be the most eagerly awaited meeting between the Turkish and Italians on Friday 11th June, but that seems a long way away, especially at the moment.

Much like the return of bell ringing seems, but it is interesting to note that on The Government’s website in the section about churches, bell ringing is mentioned – along with choir practices, Sunday school and the like – on a list of things that currently can’t be carried out in churches. A bit like when your destination starts appearing on road signs on a long journey, it actually raises hopes that at least we’re being considered. Of course though, it’s likely that government officials and maybe even the Church of England won’t fully understand the intricacies of ringing, ringers and where we ring, but I imagine that the Central Council will give guidance to them if they fail to give the go ahead when it might be appropriate for ringing to resume or even if they consider ringing has been given the go ahead too soon.

Therefore for now we contented ourselves with another of Simon Rudd’s Zoom chats. We’re getting into these as they bring in a random selection of people from the ringing family for us to catch up with, as well some familiar regulars. It was great to socialise with Maggie Ross again, as well as to speak to Peter Sanderson. And it was lovely to ‘meet’ Ben Keating, who along with Laura Davies is one of two astounding artists of churches within the Guild membership.

Quarter peal band.Simon himself was fresh from the first quarter-peal of Maximus on Ringing Room rung by twelve ringers, which appeared appropriate as just before I joined his chat I had listened to him and Nikki Thomas – who was also on the chat – speaking to BBC Radio Norfolk presenter Kirsteen Thorne 2hrs 39mins into her breakfast show on the subject of RR. It seems an excellent idea to promote this currently, especially locally, as it shows to a local audience that could be recruited that there is still a way into ringing even whilst we can’t ring church bells.

North Cave.Coincidentally, Suffolk Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge was on the airwaves on 12th April 2019 speaking to BBC Radio Suffolk, the day that the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was rung. That was a 1260 of Minor - consisting of 720 changes of Surfleet Surprise and 540 of Plain Bob – rung at North Cave in the East Riding of Yorkshire, an 11cwt 1919 Taylor’s ring of six.

It is a reminder of the simple act of ringing in such normal circumstances that we are missing, on a day that I was reminded of the special football we are currently deprived of.

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Thursday 11th June 2020

Happy 75th Birthday to my father Alan. For his 70th, 65th and 60th birthdays we had big parties and quarter-peals and peals were rung. Sadly none of that can happen this time for obvious reasons and a combination of work and bad weather meant a visit wasn’t possible, but I did have a chat with him on the phone (my parents still haven’t managed to get a camera set up for video calls!), allowing the boys to also wish him felicitations. Meanwhile my brother Chris had the opportunity to go round to see him and generally he had as good a birthday as one can have when nowhere is open to celebrate! It is a pity though, as for putting up with my younger sibling and I all these years, being a wonderful Grandad and father-in-law and for his dedicated, selfless service to Suffolk ringing. Happy Birthday as well to his daughter-in-law and our sister-in-law Becky. God willing we can celebrate together properly in the not too distant future.

Stanton in Peak.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today took me back to when we were celebrating another family birthday, namely that of Mason’s. For the 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor rung at Stanton in Peak in Derbyshire on 29th January 2017 was two day’s after my eldest son’s tenth birthday and so this was a weekend of celebration. On the Thursday we’d rung a 5010 of Plain Bob Major at Grundisburgh, his actual birthday on the Friday was marked with much opening of presents, Saturday with the visits of family and Godparents and then on 29/1/2017 he had a party at the now permanently closed down Flux.

Ashover.The QP in the Midlands itself also drew some memories of Alan McBurnie’s quarter-peal trips in the area. Richard Taylor – who rang the treble in this particular performance – and his father Peter were very welcoming to us and even rang in one success for us when Richard conducted the 1259 of Grandsire Caters at Ashover in March 2007.

Not the kind of thing we are able to do on the UK mainland, but it has been a different matter in Australia, New Zealand and the Channel Islands recently and presumably will now be possible on the Isle of Man with the announcement that after twenty-two days with no new cases, social distancing – essential, but the bane of hopes to return to ringing – has been scrapped.

Nonetheless, I expect some ringers there will still be interested in the talk that Cambridgeshire ringer Gareth Davies is due to give at 1pm on Thursday 9th July on the subject of ringing as part of a series of online talks and lectures being run by the Churches Conservation Trust. It should be a very interesting watch.

For now though, it was a fairly mundane day, belying its significance in our family.

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Wednesday 10th June 2020

Sizewell Beach.Baby steps and all that. The furthest anyone from our household has been since 14th March when we went on what these days would be viewed as quite an extravagant quarter-peal day and pub lunch that took in five villages, is the outskirts of Ipswich to visit my parents. Today though, whilst I remained at home to work, Ruthie, Alfie and Joshua travelled to Sizewell beach for a picnic with the boys’ grandparents Kate and Ron. On a chilly day for the time of year, there was never any danger of the crowded scenes we have seen on other beaches in recent weeks and so this seemed quite a safe way to test the water. Although they didn’t test the water in the other, literal sense. Well apart from Alfred who came back with a wet trouser leg!

This is how it’s going to have to be in the foreseeable future, because even if coronavirus does stick around without treatment or a vaccine (and it is likely to do so for months at least), society has to get back to as much normality as possible and that includes us. Ruthie isn’t due back to work until August and with myself still able to carry out my employment as effectively as one can in the current climate from our abode, I am sticking to the guidance to work from home for the time being and we don’t plan to send the boys back until September at the earliest. And I don’t expect ringing on church bells to return any earlier than that either. The risk will remain as we gradually return to the facets of our lives that existed previously, but hopefully it will be as managed as possible, with that risk reduced whilst still getting on with life. A first trip to the beach and journey more than a few minutes from Melton is perhaps an initial step in that.

Edgmond.Back in 2012 over the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend it was completely the opposite. It was hard to know where to go next with so much going on and the freedom to see so much and it was on the Sunday of that weekend that the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was rung. That was a 1344 of Plain Bob Triples rung at Edgmond in Shropshire, one of a staggering 1290 performances recorded on BB rung over that special – though cold and wet – four-day weekend.

Twenty-eight of those were in Suffolk and two of those featured myself, with a peal at Gislingham on the Saturday and another one at St Mary-le-Tower on the Tuesday. On 3rd June 2012 my ringing was limited to SMLT and St Lawrence in the morning, before I went to Pettistree for a superb event there and then an ad hoc street party under cover after the original plans had to be abandoned due to the dreadful weather that dogged pretty much the whole occasion.

St James Garlickhythe.On that day though, the most notable ringing was coming from a barge as the art played a huge and noticed part in the spectacular though drenched pageant on the River Thames, with a quarter-peal on the bells that now hang in St James Garlickhythe in London and a visit to the ringers from actor and presenter John Barrowman. It was superb PR for the exercise.

In the here and now though, ringing nationally is still restricted to handbell ringing and online ringing, with the latter enabling a quarter-peal on Ringing Room featuring a band from Hasketon and Ipswich, as well as Great Hockham north of the Norfolk border. I’m sure given time they will manage even more, but baby steps and all that.

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Tuesday 9th June 2020

In these odd times, Ipswich Town’s season today came to a premature end over a month after it was due to finish and a fortnight after they would’ve been involved in the play-offs if they had extended their season to that. Even before coronavirus reared its ugly head, this season had turned decidedly bad for ITFC and I have to admit I wasn’t desperate for it to start again.

Unlike ringing, once it is as safe as it can be until a vaccine or treatment is found. However, as repeated a depressing amount of times on this blog recently, that isn’t expected to be soon, so I am grateful to technology for keeping me in touch with the exercise and its participants. Although I simply haven’t had the opportunity to get involved in Ringing Room, I have been enjoying CCCBR President Simon Linford’s fortnightly blog which highlights how the online world is helping ringing and ringers, including how there is now a link to some of the many superb training webinars and videos on YouTube. He also speaks about the issue of pushing learners too much, saying that good call-changes ought to be a reasonable target. My personal view is that we ought to then encourage ringers to go beyond that, especially as some very talented ringers wouldn’t get beyond that without a gentle nudge in that direction! However, I suppose the main point is that we shouldn’t force ringers past what they are comfortable with – it is better having a ringer enjoying doing a good job of call-changes or Plain Bob Doubles and thus contributing, then putting them off and losing them altogether. Well worth too looking at The Accidental Ringer’s blog entry on this subject.

I’ve also enjoyed the monthly College Youths meetings currently being held online rather than in London where I can rarely get to on a Tuesday evening. This evening a member lost in the First World War but details of whom Alan Regin only recently found was remembered. He was Alexander Burnett Hurst who learnt to ring at Cavendish and also rang at Glemsford and Long Melford, but appeared to have stopped ringing after a very public argument with a ringer from Glemsford in Bell News.

Sad – but expected - news was relayed as Secretary Simon Meyer informed the ninety-four watching that the Country Meeting due to be held in Oxford next month has had to be cancelled. However, plans to move it to 2022 have been put in place, whilst the 2021 Country Meeting is being planned for 22nd May in Worcester. And although a considerable amount of negotiation has had to be carried out, the Annual Dinner is still pencilled in for Saturday 7th November at the now usual venue of Leonardo Royal St Paul’s Hotel, albeit expected to be with a lower than usual attendance. It was also good to hear from Phil Ridley on plans for next year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest in Guildford on 26th June and encouraged people to visit the 2021 Final Facebook page and Instagram page. The former of which I found, the latter of which I couldn’t.

That said, the new freedoms that have allowed handbell bands to gather outside continues to see more traditional performances appear on BellBoard, including three further peals, all of which means that there is plenty to report already without pushing the Random button on the same website.

North Perrott.Nonetheless, I did and when performance that came up was a 1260 of Doubles rung at North Perrott in Somerset on 16th July 2009 I felt I ought to mention it, as although rung for the sad reason of the passing of the tower captain of nearby Martock, Malcom Butcher the previous week, 16/7/2009 was actually a day of celebration for us.

Campsea Ashe.For this was the twentieth birthday for the lady who is now my wife. We celebrated with another event linked to the fundraising efforts for the project to augment the four at Campsea Ashe to six. Although the Summer Exhibition of Arts and Crafts held at The Old Rectory next door to St John the Baptist church wasn’t held for Ruthie’s birthday, the lovely evening at the height of summer in the vast garden overlooking the surrounding countryside and the debut quarter-peal we rang on the mini-ring that was the forerunner of The Vestey Ring helped us celebrate her entering a decade in which she got a degree, married, became a mother, took on a new job and bought a house. It is probably as good a juncture as any to reiterate publicly my gratitude for her love and support, particularly in recent months as she has taken on full responsibility for the difficult task of schooling the children and allowing me to continue in my work, all whilst wondering what the future might hold in her own job in these uncertain times, sadly as so many others in retail are currently. There is no one else I would have wanted to have been in lockdown with more! Not even Ipswich Town Football Club.

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Monday 8th June 2020

Gradually the positive days are increasing in frequency. Today (for us, tomorrow for them!) New Zealand lifted all their restrictions bar opening their borders and still encouraging social distancing after more than a fortnight with no new cases of the illness that has crippled the world, meaning that life is essentially back to normal there, albeit in the knowledge that there will be more cases at some point. That is good news for them, including their ringers, who have already been taking advantage of their greater freedoms in recent days.

Bromley Peal Band.It offers hope to us in the UK, especially in light of the ‘low’ numbers of deaths announced today, which at fifty-five are a long way from the thousand-plus we were getting at its worst thus far. Still, the usual caveats apply to weekend figures that they are usually lower and with all the large gatherings of the last couple of weekends, it will be interesting to see where we are in a few weeks with all this. Either way, although pubs may be opening their gardens for drinkers in a couple of weeks in another potential bit of good news today and another different band rang a handbell peal, it still seems unlikely that activities such as ringing in church towers carried out in enclosed spaces with participants close together will resume anytime soon.

Trumpington.Therefore I pushed the Random button on BellBoard again and on this occasion it brought up a 5056 of Bristol Surprise Major rung at Trumpington – which has already appeared before on these lockdown sorties into the past – on 10th October 1965 and featuring some legends of the art, including some I have had the privilege to ring with. In the case of the late Tudor Edwards that was largely limited to a single peal of Stedman Sextuples at St Martin’s-in-the-Bullring in Birmingham, but I did more with the sadly also late Sue Rothera along with her husband David and even more with John Fielden when I rang in Birmingham with him.

Henley. Benhall. Barking. Ipswich, St Clement. Lavenham.

However, this peal was almost exactly thirteen years before I was born and so I’m unable to call upon the blog or even personal memory. Thanks to the superb work of Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge and South-East District Chairman Mark Ogden though, the Annual Report from that year gives us an insight into Suffolk’s ringing fifty-five years ago. In his report (pp4 & 5), Guild Ringing Master George Pipe gave a typically impassioned plea for more to get involved in SGR and District activity and relayed how the Striking Competition – held at Cavendish in September 1965 – saw representation from all five Districts (as it was then before the Central District disappeared with the reorganisation of the Districts in 1978) with the young band of Henley topping the eight-team entry. On the same day in the mid-60s that that band was pealing just over the Cambridgeshire border, quarter-peals of Plain Bob Major were rung at Bures, Lavenham and Hollesley, but whilst there were no peals for the Guild on 10/10/1965, the seventy-five rung in the Guild’s name that year represented the best tally in four years. Among them were five involving my father Alan which included first peals for Martin Whittell in the 2hrs40mins at Benhall and David Derrick in the 2hrs50mins at Barking. It also featured an all-Alan peal at St Clement’s in Ipswich, although why when they had already rung one of Plain Bob Major at Lavenham a couple of years earlier for my pater’s debut I’m not sure!

An all-Richard peal is one I have yet to attempt, although a Suffolk one was being planned before injury to one of the band members scuppered it before we even tried and we never got round to doing it after then, but perhaps one day we will. And what a positive day that would be!

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Sunday 7th June 2020

East Bergholt. Cotton. For the fourth day running we were online talking to friends. As with every Sunday morning since the end of March, it took in a cuppa with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers and Woodbridge St Mary-the-Virgin churchgoers. In the former, Jonathan Williamson and David Sparling want to encourage people to send in recordings of a couple of minutes or so of their stories about curious rings of bells, such as Cotton or East Bergholt for an ART podcast. If you have anything you wish to share then get in touch with Jonathan.

Meanwhile, yesterday’s news that churches are to be reopened for private worship – rather than the resumption of services and the like in church – steered the conversation to making plans for what we might need for a return to ringing at SMLT. It was all discussed in the full awareness that it won’t be anytime soon, but this is the first relaxation of the restrictions surrounding the buildings which most of us do our ringing in and if previous announcements of lockdown easing (including this one) are anything to go by then when it does become safely feasible to ring in church towers again, it will be announced at quite short notice, so it is sensible to be prepared by thinking of hand sanitizers and how to safely use the spiral staircase, as was mentioned today.

Hollesley.For the second day running, when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard it took me back to a busy Sunday in 2008 whilst I was Suffolk Guild Ringing Master. On this occasion it was 17th February (though I attributed it the 19th in another blunder on my part!) when a 5056 of Plain Bob Major was rung on handbells in Willaston. According to the blog, I was juggling running the Sabbath morning ringing at the aforementioned heaviest twelve in the county and then helped out at it’s lightest, took a then one-year-old Mason to a birthday party, before returning to ringing with another lost QP attempt of Surprise Major spliced at the half-lead as part of the project I mentioned yesterday, this time of seven methods following a success in six methods on the same 16cwt eight the previous month. And it was all topped off by curry at Saffron, a once regular haunt for us.

Orford.It was also the end of SGR Peal Week 2008, although despite an impressive haul of eleven successes the final day was marked with a loss as sadly an attempt at Orford for local Ringing Master Richard Moody’s first peal. Happily he did succeed during the following year’s Peal Week in an effort I was delighted to be a part of and generally I think this annual focus on the medium has been really useful for encouraging such endeavours. Although that was Richard’s one and only peal (his work and the geographically isolated location of his home tower somewhat limited his opportunities), many other firsts during SGRPW have opened the door to a world of peal-ringing and therefore ultimately helped the progression of many a ringer.

As should Project Pickled Egg and this evening I was engrossed in a webinar given by the driving force of the project and author of a book on the subject due to come out this summer, Simon Linford, who entirely unconnectedly is now President of the Central Council. This is the initiative to specifically design a pathway for ringers from those just starting out on Treble Dodging Major rather than simply blindly working through the ‘standard’ eight which generally came together as a set by accident. Therefore, after much consultation over Facebook with eight-bell ringers of all abilities, a ‘core seven’ methods were selected for their familiarity, musicality, usefulness to composers and introducing different elements (such as points, wrong hunting, changing direction at the leadend, etc) which will give a grounding for learning more methods. Beyond those there are lots of recommended methods, that can do a similar jobs to the seven, such as Kenninghall and Turramurra Surprise Major, but this evening’s talk was mainly on the inception of PPE and the Core Seven, which actually aren’t radically different to the standard eight, with all bar Lincolnshire, Pudsey and Rutland retained plus Cornwall – which as Simon pointed out was first pealed at Helmingham in 1936 – and Lessness. The morning version of the talk that he did is on YouTube and is well worth a watch and there are plans for further talks, so watch out for announcements on that.

After all, I think a lot of our ringing fix will still be via video for a while.

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Saturday 6th June 2020

Exactly a year ago society and ringing marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the D-Day landings. It was done on a huge scale, even though it fell on a Thursday. How different things are for the seventy-sixth anniversary.

366 days ago world leaders gathered together with thousands of others – including frail veterans - shoulder to shoulder and shaking hands in scenes that would currently be viewed with horror due to their sheer recklessness. There were 177 performances associated with the occasion on BellBoard from 18th May to 16th June 2019, all bar a handful rung on church bells, from village sixes like Pettistree to cathedrals like Newcastle and Worcester as ringers travelled locally and nationally from multiple households to ring. This time round, as with the severely reduced VE Day celebrations a month ago, there will be very little if any change-ringing on church bells, although there was a handbell peal of Minimus rung in Hendon.

God willing in a year’s time, we can all look back on this and be grateful for regained freedoms, perhaps as we prepare for a 5077 of something on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Although, as this crisis has taught so many, you can take nothing for granted, as the CCCBR will testify looking back on the plans being put in place twelve months ago for the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day, which I excitedly revealed on my blog with no more idea then anyone else of the unprecedented events awaiting us in the near future.

Swan Bells. Vernet-les-Bains.Still, it is important to search for the light at the end of the tunnel and hope again comes from the Antipodes where they have been less badly hit by COVID-19 and thus seen restrictions ease more freely and has included a return to ringing for some long before it is likely to be the case here, despite ringing on church bells being suspended after it was in the UK. The 168 changes of Plain Bob Triples on Swan Bells in Perth is believed to be the first ringing on tower bells in Australia since lockdown was implemented and was the same touch as the last ringing on the bells on 22nd March. Hope also from France which has been hit hard, with ringing at Vernet-les-Bains on a spread out rope circle.

And although the wetter, cooler weather doesn’t seem to have curtailed the newly established freedom to ring handbells with others at a safe distance outside for some, with a couple of handbell peals in Reading and a 1280 of Yorkshire Surprise Major in Cumbernauld in Scotland, ringers have still been using online sites again to ring together, with the most notable performance in this respect on this latest lockdown Saturday being the first peal of Royal on Handbell Stadium on the busiest day of peal-ringing since normal ringing activity stopped in March.

Llangarron.Nonetheless, I felt drawn to the Random button on BB which on this occasion brought up a quarter-peal rung on 26th October 2008 at Llangarron in Herefordshire, an apparently nice 9cwt 18th century Rudhall six in a two-tier frame. According to the blog, on the same day meanwhile, I was in the depths of a busy Sunday, not unusually so at the time, as I ran the morning ringing at St Mary-le-Tower then put on my other Ringing Master’s hat (or rather badge) to Campsea Ashe for a ringers’ service in the midst of fundraising for augmenting the then grotty four with a dark ringing chamber hidden up the tower to the wonderful six they now are, rung from a specially built gallery taking in the light from the church and the west window. This was my first grab of the bells, but subsequently I rang in a fun striking competition (on another busy day of ringing!) as part of their annual Ringing Festival (exactly eleven years ago to the day as it happens) to raise money for the project, where the judges were non-ringers who judged which piece sounded nicest to them and then I rang in my first and probably only (unless our handbell ringing improves dramatically during lockdown!) peal of Minimus in the last on the bells before augmentation. After a brief respite on 26/10/2008 we were then out ringing later at Ufford for a lost QP attempt of the ‘standard’ eight Surprise Major spliced at the half-lead. This was part of a project organised by Alan McBurnie increasing the number of methods with each success that saw more losses than scores but was great fun and culminated in eventual completion of all eight methods in the same tower five months later.

No such activity today, but the day was bookended with some jovial video chats, firstly with the Reverend Paul Hambling and some of the congregation and fellow Messy Church participants from Melton, as well as from Ufford and then with our friends Charlotte and Gregory for a curry.

Hopefully in a year we will get to eat curry together in person!

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Friday 5th June 2020

Apsley End. Brightwell Baldwin.The performance that came up today when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard was a 5040 of forty-one Surprise Minor methods spliced rung at Apsley End in Hertfordshire on 10th March 2016, featuring the person who has rung more peals than anyone else in the history of ringing, Colin Turner. This was one of two peals that he, his wife Nicola, conductor Peter Ellis and Ian ‘Glint’ Fielding rang that day (the other being of another impressive thirty-five Delight Minor methods spliced at Brightwell Baldwin over the Oxfordshire border), during a year when he managed a record 334 peals. It was his 6,739th peal and just four years later he has reached 7,748 peals and even in this curtailed year of church bell ringing he has managed forty-six since 2020 started seemingly innocuously five months ago, all according to the marvellous Pealbase. It probably feels stranger to him than most of us that it isn’t possible to ring on church bells at the moment.

According to the blog, on 10/3/2016 we weren’t doing any ringing and indeed I was commenting on how it was virtually impossible to get out ringing on a Thursday with our parenting duties and Ruthie’s choral practicing, something which has since got even harder with the subsequent arrival of Joshua (who we were expecting at that point) and Ruthie joining an additional choir practice on Thursdays. However, others were busier, with Neal Dodge and Alex Tatlow ringing a brace of peals that day, one at Great Livermere and one at Whepstead.

Although I had rung a peal at The Wolery the day before (on 9th March 2016, not 2015 as I assigned it for some reason!), my peal-ringing that year was not as active as Neal and Alex’s, let alone Colin Turner’s. Indeed, in comparison to the thousand-plus peals that Colin has rung since then, I have rung just sixty and thus far this year a mere three. Whilst one of those was for Mason’s birthday as I had up to that point done for every birthday of each of my sons, I have sadly missed the opportunity to ring one for Alfie’s sixth birthday and it seems certain that I shan’t be able to mark the fourth anniversary of Joshua’s birth in July with a peal. Indeed, even a peal I had started arranging before lockdown for my brother Chris’ fortieth in November for December at the Norman Tower appears unlikely at this stage, whether that be due to social distancing, other restrictions or simply because people may not feel safe to come out and spend nearly four hours in an enclosed space with eleven others!

For now therefore, our interaction with other ringers – and indeed anyone – was via video on another otherwise social Friday evening. That included an online quiz with my uni mates, but before that I accepted another of past St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Master Simon Rudd’s open invites to a video chat. On this occasion it connected me with fellow Rambling Ringer Harm Jan de Kok live from the Netherlands and former Halesworth ringer Maggie Ross and generated much conversation. Harm Jan was naturally pleased by the video released today on Facebook of Matthew Higby playing the new ten due for Dordrecht, Simon’s fellow Norwich ringer Ben Trent relayed his week of delivering mail dressed in fancy dress for charity, Mr Rudd ran through his busy day of ringing that took in six different groups on Handbell Stadium and Ringing Room and Maggie informed me that the man that inspired her to call me ‘Rishi’ is now Chancellor of the Exchequer!

It was a fun evening and not a peal in sight!

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Thursday 4th June 2020

More fun and games with the fortnightly St Mary-le-Tower Ringers’ Quiz, which is fast becoming a real highlight in the absence of ringing. Having won the inaugural competition two weeks ago, it was our turn to host the contest this evening and so we found ourselves setting a sizeable number of participants questions on British sitcom characters, numbers, Suffolk churches from the air (inspired by Neal Dodge’s superb competition on the Guild’s Facebook page a few weeks ago), football teams nicknames and rude place names! Ultimately the winner was Simon Rudd, who joined us late after doing an excellent webinar with Nikki Thomas about Abel for the Cambridge District of the Ely Diocesan Association, which was interjected with pictures of sitcom characters popping up! The talk itself – which we watched afterwards – is well worth a view for the content, as well as pictures of Geraldine Grainger and Sybil Fawlty appearing just nine minutes before the end! Although having heard of Jonathan Williamson’s tale of winning the Offton quiz on Tuesday after arriving half an hour late, clearly a delayed entry is the way to win these things!

It came at the end of a day that saw the boys making fairy bread, me making sales and Ruthie making conversation with her sister from a distance in the back garden, as per the new regulations, although the cooler, storm-threatening weather conditions seem to have prevented more of the socially distant outdoor performances we have seen on BellBoard this week. Thank goodness therefore for the Pipe boys in Willingham for keeping peal-ringing going on this grey, cool day with their unique birthday compliment to new adult Ewan Hull.

Douglas. Peel.With an announcement today setting out plans to further lift restrictions on the Isle of Man – where there are no active cases of COVID-19 - on 15th June that is due to see bigger gatherings of people and a reduction of social distancing to one metre, I imagine hopes may be raised of a resumption of ringing on the 18cwt twelve of Douglas and 9cwt eight of Peel - similar to on the Channel Islands - in the near future.

Laughton, All Saints.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BB today was a 1320 of Old Oxford Delight Minor (Westminster Surprise Minor above the treble) rung at Laughton in East Sussex on 20th October 2011.

According to this blog, on the same day I was attending Mason’s parents evening and also taking a call from BBC Look East about Bailey Day, which was to take place two days later. That was an event held to mark the one hundredth anniversary since a peal of Plain Bob Major was rung at Leiston by a band made up entirely of the extraordinary Bailey brothers. At the centre of it all was a rerun of the original peal, rung at the same tower to the same method and same composition, which I was privileged to conduct, but surrounding that were quarter-peals rung on the day at Kelsale, Rickinghall Superior, Saxmundham, Southwold and Theberton, as well as on handbells in St Margaret’s church vestry, whilst the first QP of The Bailey Brothers Surprise Minor was rung three days earlier before Pettistree’s weekly practice.

In amongst all of this, there was an exhibition put on, free entry to The Long Shop Museum with a SGR badge and the East Anglian Daily Times sent a photographer and reporter, the latter of whom turned out to be someone I now work with and who can still recall the research he had to do into Plain Bob Major!

Although not as much research as we had to put in to this evening’s quiz!

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Wednesday 3rd June 2020

Following his recent appeal for a very good quality 1973 copy of the Ringing World with a front page featuring drawings of Suffolk churches by George Pipe for the fiftieth anniversary of the Guild, John Loveless has now been alerted to quite a few to scan and copy for the back page of GWP’s biography which Jake has written. He is very grateful for the response!

Like much else to do with ringing though, we can only anticipate this eagerly awaited book, although there was much ingenuity amongst ringers again, including by Phillip and Sheila George who essentially rang simultaneous quarter-peals of Plain Bob Minimus by swapping bells between two pairs – 1-2 & 5-6 for Sheila and 3-4 & 7-8 for Phillip. Pretty impressive, but it seems not something that they are looking to repeat! Meanwhile some St Mary-le-Tower ringers met out the front of Christchurch Mansion for some socially distant handbell ringing and spectating and David Kemp, Linda Garton and the aforementioned Mr Loveless rang a peal in John and Linda’s garden.

Birmingham, St Paul. Aston.No such shenanigans for Ruthie and I as we resumed our usual daily activities of schooling and working respectively and pushing the Random button on BellBoard again. This time it brought up a 5002 of Bristol Surprise Royal at St Paul in the Jewellery Quarter of Birmingham. This is a 12cwt ten that was completely new in 2005 and put in just as I was leaving the West Midlands, so I have never had the benefit of regular ringing on this superb ring. However, I had the pleasure of ringing a peal there the following year ahead of attending the wedding of Richard and Charlotte Grimmett in the same church and the associated festivities. Indeed, that was one of two weddings I had the pleasure and privilege of attending at that same church in the same year, with Michael and Victoria Wilby’s marriage ceremony taking place in July, an occasion also preceded by a number of peals, including one I rang in at Aston.

No weddings will be taking place in churches for the foreseeable future, although with churches due to reopen next month that offers hope for weddings, funerals and indeed ringing. Once we do get back ringing we may have a celebratory edition of The Ringing World to fondly look back at one day!

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Tuesday 2nd June 2020

We are due to be hosting the St Mary-le-Tower ringers’ quiz on Thursday evening after winning the inaugural contest nearly a fortnight ago. Therefore the last few days have seen an upsurge of putting our ideas together and we had great fun today – when I wasn’t working and Ruthie wasn’t schooling the boys – sourcing and considering photos for a picture quiz round.

There is talk amongst those fellow partakers of the art at SMLT of socially distanced handbell ringing outside for those in the Ipswich area and indeed others were doing just that across the UK (including a peal in Cheshire for the first time since lockdown) and there was another quarter-peal on church bells in New Zealand to give us ringers here some hope as they rang a 1260 of Grandsire Doubles in Auckland. The situation is very different there of course, but as with everywhere else, there is no vaccine and so hopefully it may show the way for the exercise to do likewise here when God willing things in this country reach a similar stage. Although that seems unlikely to be very soon.

Potterhanworth.Once upon a time we were able to ring side by side in the wonderful ringing chambers of Great Britain, as the Random button on BellBoard reminds me on a daily basis. On this occasion it brought up a 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor at Potterhanworth in Lincolnshire on 26th November 2005, conducted by a regular reader of the blog Chris Woodcock. Chris is also Ringing Master of the Rambling Ringers, whose tour is one of a vast swathe of ringing events not happening this year due to the pandemic and he is one who has to be particularly careful in the current circumstances. Therefore I was delighted that he was one of quite a few who have very kindly contacted me to say how much they are glad that I have continued the blog through these troubled times, which makes me feel better about my ramblings!

Grundisburgh.The day he was conducting that QP was pre-blog, but actually a day I remember quite well as it was when one my funniest memories in ringing occurred. For on 26/11/2005 I was ringing in a very well-rung peal of the ‘standard eight’ Surprise Major methods on the back eight at Grundisburgh when partway through conductor Mike Whitby – with a look of confusion on his face – questioned James Smith on whether he had swapped with the third. Cue a few seconds of James looking either side of him in utter bemusement before he replied, “I am the third!” Despite this brief aberration, we completed a super 5184 before retiring to The Dog across the picturesque (though dark on this autumnal evening) green in this lovely village.

No peal-ringing for us today, so more time for setting quiz questions!

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Monday 1st June 2020

For many of Alfie’s age, today saw a return to school after ten weeks away in what has been an incredibly difficult decision for parents, ourselves included. We have decided not to send our six-year-old son (yes, he is six, even if the lack of a peal to mark his sixth birthday means he isn’t officially yet!) nor his three-old brother Joshua back to their places of education for the time being. Things may be easing and I’m largely supportive of that and in other countries where they have returned children to school over the last month things appear to have gone as well as one could expect in the circumstances. And it has to be said that whilst Ruthie has done magnificently schooling the boys in these trying, uncertain times, it has been incredibly difficult and hard for them not to be getting the invaluable full-time education from professionals. However, the huge crowds massed together with little social distancing in evidence on beaches, parks and at UK protests over events in the USA over the weekend suggest that things may get worse again soon and with Ruthie furloughed until the end of July and me still able to work from home, it seems prudent for us to avoid taking more risks than are necessary. They’ll have to go back at some point and without vaccines and the like in place, as we will have to do with so much else including ringing, but as with not rushing back to ringing chambers at the first available moment, this just reduces the risks for as long as is practical.

That said, there was generally a sense of relative freedom today. Much handbell ringing was done involving ringers from different households in sunbathed gardens across the country (including a peal in Reading), as well as a 1296 of Norwich Alliance Minimus at the Alderney Ringing Centre, although there was also Ringing Room action including an East Anglian band of Nigel Newton, David Brown and Simon Rudd ringing a 1320 of Cotswold Treble Bob Minor and 73 changes of Plain Bob Minor for Adrian ‘Arnie’ Knights’ seventy-third birthday by Rowan Wilson, David Stanford and Brian Whiting. And we welcomed the boys’ grandparents Kate and Ron around the back at a social distance for morale boosting catch-up.

Barnes.There was no ringing for us this time though, but whilst my walk to the office is not a long one, not having to make it there and back twice a day does afford a little extra time on top of not going out in the evenings, so I enjoyed looking through the entries for the Central Council’s May YouTube competition (including the video I sent in of an extremely good quarter at Bredfield just before lockdown and of some mesmerising handbell ringing from Bacton) and was pleased that BBC Radio Suffolk presenter James Hazell’s request for people’s “worst noises” didn’t bring forth the suggestion of bells ringing! And again I pushed the Random button on BellBoard which today took me to another Mike Wigney (who you’ll recall is the inspirational ringer who has rung over a thousand quarter-peals from a wheelchair) production. This time it was a 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles at Barnes in Greater London on 22nd April 1989, which was a first inside for Patricia Chapman, who has since sadly passed away.

Hevingham.I was only very early on in my life as a ringer at the time and so there was nothing much to report from my own personal ringing annals, but on the same day a peal was rung for the Suffolk Guild at Heveningham which was a first of Blackburn Place Doubles for all the band and the SGR.

According to then Guild Ringing Master Stephen Pettman’s report in that year’s Annual Report (pp10-12) that month also saw the Guild Outing go to London to ring at Aldgate, Cornhill, St Andrew’s in Lambeth, St John’s Waterloo Road and the notorious Queen’s Tower at Imperial College, whilst the following month St Mary-le-Tower won the Guild Six-Bell and Eight-Bell Striking Competitions at Buxhall and Stowmarket respectively.
From a personal respective it was year that saw the maternal the death of mine and my brother Chris’ maternal grandmother and a peal arranged to her memory later in the year on the 14cwt eight of Thrapston – where she lived – involving a band from Suffolk and Northamptonshire. However, it was also the year that my future wife Ruthie was born!

And it was a year that George Pipe was still very much in his prime during a life that I enjoyed reading about in the copy of the Ringing World that my parents very kindly sent us and which features his extensive obituaries from David House and Laith Reynolds. It highlights just what an extraordinary life he had and further whets the appetite for John Loveless’ biography of him.

It may offer some material to help with the boys’ reading until they go back to their places of education.

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Sunday 31st May 2020

Usually Sunday mornings would be pretty busy for us. Ruthie would be singing in the choir at St Mary-the-Virgin church in Woodbridge, whilst I would be ringing, either upstairs on the 25cwt eight before joining my wife downstairs for the service or at St Mary-le-Tower and then Grundisburgh, with a trip to Costa Coffee in between and – if I was partaking in the art in Ipswich on the first Sabbath morn of the month – sometimes at St Lawrence too. All having got three young boys out of bed, breakfasted and dressed in time for the early start.

Since ringing at churches was suspended in March though, Sunday mornings have been less stressful, but not as fulfilling. The weekly video chats with our SMLT ringing peers and then fellow churchgoers afterwards have helped give something to focus on, but we – and particularly my wife – were delighted with a much more productive morning. Even before our ringing chat Mrs Munnings had already done a near two-mile walk before we then had a quick blast of Plain Bob Minimus on handbells for some mental exercise too.

At about the same time the Wakefields Bruce and Gill were ringing handbells across town, but the rest of our day was spent without the sound of bells as Mason, Joshua and myself took a walk around the nearby countryside in the hot temperatures beneath the clear, bright blue skies.

Hackney, St John at Hackney.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard took me to a 1360 of Kent Treble Royal at St John at Hackney on 2nd September 2018, which was another Sunday not all that long ago but in what feels like a completely different age. In fact that day epitomises much of what we have lost to the necessary but wearing restrictions of the last couple of months. This blog tells me that the main focus was football as Mason and I joined my brother Chris as we took in the Tractor Boys’ match against Norwich City, the big East Anglian local derby where nearly 30,000 people crammed into a tiny corner of Suffolk’s county town from across the east and beyond. None of which is possible at the moment of course, although the announcement last week that the Premier League is planning to start up again in mid-June – albeit well above ITFCs level (League One where we play is likely to be brought to a premature end shortly) and behind closed doors as they’ve been doing in Germany for the last fortnight very successfully – is a huge boost to the flagging morale of millions.

Hamilton Cathedral.Having travelled in by train (currently discouraged), we did manage some ringing at St Margaret’s where we were very kindly taken on a tour by Ringing Master John Girt of the new set-up further up the tower where this eight was previously rung from for centuries. Sadly, that is also something that we can’t do currently, but hope springs forth from the resumption of ringing on the Channel Islands this weekend and the quarter-peal of five Doubles methods rung in New Zealand today on what appears to be the front six of the 20cwt eight at Hamilton Cathedral. Both places have been far less affected by coronavirus than here in the UK, but it does seem to show – subject to what might happen in the coming weeks – that ringing in a COVID-19 world with no vaccine may be possible.

God willing those Sundays will again be as busy as they once were one day soon.

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Saturday 30th May 2020

With all due respect to those who rang the impressive 5088 of Yorkshire Surprise Major on Handbell Stadium last Monday, today saw the first ‘standard’ peal for three weeks as the Pipe boys from Willingham became the first band to ring a 5040 together in the same room on the same set of handbells since... Well, since the Pipe boys from Willingham rang a 5040 together in the same room on the same set of handbells on 9th May. It was also eldest son Henry’s one hundredth peal – congratulations to the great nephew of Ipswich’s very own Diana and of course George.

Meanwhile, whilst the launch of two astronauts from the USA were a nice distraction from coronavirus, we were enjoying the sunshine and later took in a very good report on BBC News about how ringers are using Ringing Room to continue ringing during lockdown. It was good to see some familiar faces such as Robin Hall and Mark Davies (who recently did that superb webinar on composing) and I thought it struck the right balance between showing the ringers ingenuity and that it isn’t meant as a future replacement for actual ringing on church bells.

Swaffham.I also clicked on the Random button on BellBoard again. On this occasion it brought up a quarter-peal rung at Swaffham in Norfolk on 11th November 2007 and featuring Beccy and Jonathan Dickenson. I used to do quite a bit of ringing with one or both of them in initial couple of years after my return to Suffolk, primarily with QPs arranged by former Pettistree ringer Paul Norris, including five in a day north of the River Waveney in October 2006. Both very good ringers who have sadly – for us in East Anglia at least – moved out of the area and good company and generally I enjoyed Paul’s arrangements which were worthwhile the long journeys, at least before our circumstances began changing.

Paul has also been present at one of the many key incidents that Ruthie and I used to have, that tended to see keys being lost and requiring some occasionally ridiculous solutions to either get us to where we needed to be or finding the lost keys. On the 11/11/2007 I found myself in the depths of such an incident when I discovered on that Remembrance Sunday morning that Ruthie had left early with my keys in her bag for a 1260 of four Doubles methods at Pettistree with her mother, leaving me stuck at the Eagle’s abode (where I’d spent the night after joining them for the Hollesley outing to Hertfordshire the day before) and unable to drive to St Mary-le-Tower where I was due to run the ringing on one of the most important Sabbaths of the year. The solution came from the unusual source of my now wife’s non-ringing sister Clare, who was very generously able to get me to SMLT via her boyfriend’s work and then had to sit through the morning’s ringing! Mercifully we seem to have become more responsible with keys, but with us currently leaving the house much less frequently it is less of an issue at the moment anyway!

Even with the easing on who we can see and where from Monday, I still can’t imagine we’ll be leaving the house too much more in the very near future either. Therefore I am still on the lookout for different things to keep us occupied whilst at home and have noted the Project Pickled Egg webinar that Simon Linford is planning on giving twice next Sunday at 8am and 7pm – I would encourage any Surprise Major ringer within our borders (or indeed beyond) to do likewise!

Hopefully we will have seen more peals rung by then too!

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Friday 29th May 2020

Responsible but upbeat messaging from the Stewardship & Management Workgroup of the Central Council today with guidelines on things to consider when returning to ringing church bells. And there is much to consider. Bells have not been rung and in most places won’t have had any maintenance carried out on them for two-and-a-half months and so before any ringing is done on them it will be essential that checks are made. Neighbours used to the silence will need to be primed. Perhaps the period before we do get going again may be useful for putting some form of sound control up (my personal thoughts, not those of the CCCBR), but certainly building or reaffirming relationships with residents will be more important than ever.

Exning.It is important to note that with social distancing of two metres still in place and people from other households still being discouraged from meeting together in confined spaces for all but the most essential tasks, bands generally gathering together to ring at churches is still a long way off I imagine, but with bellhangers and the like now allowed back into towers to work and these guidelines, we seem finally to be able to move in the direction of getting back to ringing, as outlined by Paul Mason and Andrew Mills testing the newly fitted clappers at Suffolk’s most westerly tower Exning and thus doing what is believed to be the first actual change-ringing on actual bells hung in an actual church tower since the practice was suspended back in March. Good to see one of our towers making the news!

Still, for now and the foreseeable, I found myself pushing the Random button on a still sparse looking BellBoard again and for the second day running it took me to the days following a very special event in our lives as it brought up a peal rung on handbells at Aldenham School in Hertfordshire on 18th April 2014 and featuring familiar names, including Samuel Austin who I have had the pleasure of doing much ringing and socialising with in the past. He is an extremely clever, quick-witted Scouser who is not only an extremely good ringer but also an excellent musician.

Ufford.Southwark Cathedral.The Wolery.However, after yesterday’s performance took me back to our wedding, today’s took me back to the birth of Alfie just eight days previous to the aforementioned 5152 of Lincolnshire Surprise Major in the Home Counties. I was still on paternity leave, although 18/4/2014 was actually Good Friday and therefore a bank holiday. Usually I would’ve been partaking in the brace of peal attempts rung at The Wolery either side of a fantastic spread from our hosts David and Katharine Salter. With Alfred’s due date being the day before though, I obviously couldn’t commit to them and indeed I refrained from peal-ringing for several weeks beforehand that saw me have to turn down an attempt at Southwark Cathedral, which had been disappointing, though entirely necessary. However, we did get to take the new born child along to Rectory Road to socialise and allow Mason to enjoy his usual Good Friday playdate with his peer Henry, as a brace of peals were scored in the blue shed at the top of their garden. And as with our wedding, we were touched with the performances dedicated to this life-changing event, culminating with a 5040 of Munnings Little Delight Major rung at Ufford through my sleep deprivation. Happy days fondly remembered!

That said, in the context of the current circumstances, today will be relatively fondly remembered. With everyone currently having to spend Friday evenings at home as we have had to spend just about every Friday evening for the last five years, lockdown has conversely drastically improved our social lives on the first night of the weekend. On this occasion both of us joined in with a game of Family Fortunes on my now usual weekly catch-up with my uni friends, but beforehand we also finally took up Simon Rudd’s invite to a video chat. Quite a few others from across the country and particularly Norfolk did too. It was lovely to reacquaint with some like Nikki and Neil Thomas and Simon Smith, as well as speak to others I don’t know so well. Lovely to hear that on the Channel Islands of Alderney and Guernsey where they have been less affected by coronavirus (indeed, they apparently have no infections currently) that ringing on tower bells is being cautiously restarted.

It was all a very upbeat way to end an upbeat day.

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Thursday 28th May 2020

Another day of good news. The relaxation of restrictions which will allow up to six people to gather in gardens so long as social distancing is observed is not only welcome for its main purposes of seeing family and friends in a more private and relaxed setting, but also widens the scope for getting handbell bands together from different households. Perhaps we might see quarters and peals on twelve with face-to-face bands in the traditional sense again?

Premier League football looks set to return in ‘just’ three weeks and the launch this morning of ‘track and trace will hopefully offer some reassurance to those who will be understandably nervous of returning to ringing chambers for health reasons when we are given the go ahead to go back.

Reedham.Nonetheless, nothing about today was much different to most of the weekdays (and to an extent weekends too) from the last ten weeks or so. Whilst that primarily meant work for me and parenting for Ruthie and what might be the tenth and final applause for the wonderful staff of the NHS, I did get the chance to enjoy the blog of The Accidental Ringer, who was reporting on the latest of the weekly video talks for the ringers of South Walsham in Norfolk. On this occasion it was given on “Big Bells and the ladies who ring them” and was given by Julia Cater, who is one of the best female ringers of heavy bells around. Having rung peals with Julia (including on the heavyweight bells of Exeter Cathedral and York Minster), I can testify that like our very own Laura Davies and the late Alison Regan amongst others, she shows that it is not size that matters but technique and so she would’ve been the perfect person to speak on the subject and apparently gave a very enjoyable talk.

That said, it is still the case that whilst there are more prominent female ringers at an elite level and ringing big bells than there once was, it still tends to be men who come to the fore generally. Partly that may be that young men in particular may be more prone to showing off by ringing big bells or complex peals to an extent that women don’t feel the need and perhaps even now in these times when it needn’t be the case that women are expected to be the primary childcare in a family and therefore get fewer opportunities. However, I don’t really see a reason why there should be fewer women then men at the top of the art and hopefully more will be given the chances to show what they can do.

Meanwhile, Simon Linford gave the latest on the 123rd Annual Meeting of the Central Council which is due to be held in September and entirely unlike any of the previous 122. Like most meetings social or business these days, it looks like it will have to be a largely virtual affair, although exactly how and to what extent is still being considered it appears.

St Magnus the Mertyr.And for today performances on BellBoard were either rung on handbells or mini-rings with a band from the same household or via the internet in one way or another. Therefore I reached for the Random button on the site, which on this occasion brought up a quarter-peal rung at St Magnus the Martyr in the capital on 16th August 2012. The bells here have been a tremendous resource for ringers of all abilities since being cast in 2008 and 2009 and then hung in this previously empty tower in the City of London during the latter year and which Ruthie and I rang at back in 2011 on the morning after the last time we attended the College Youths’ Annual Dinner.

On the same day as that 1260 of Plain Bob Triples was being rung though, we were in Ireland. More precisely in Limerick before moving onto Killarney whilst on our honeymoon following on from our wedding five days earlier at Woodbridge. It is a beautiful country that we would love to visit again one day when travelling is considered less reckless and is a trip that Mrs Munnings and myself still fondly remember, as we do of the big day itself of course. We were also touched by the various quarters and peals rung at the time to celebrate it. Although logistics didn’t allow for us to have everyone there we would’ve liked, it was a wonderful day shared with family and many friends and some lovely ringing.

God willing we will soon be able to spend more time with some of them soon.

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Wednesday 27th May 2020

Whilst the daily death tolls constantly remind us of the impact on health that coronavirus has had and why we find ourselves in these unprecedented circumstances and I haven’t touched a bellrope for seventy-two days, it seems to be when we come to days when highlights of typical year would’ve happened that the impact on life itself seems most stark.

Personally it has been difficult to miss out on taking the boys to Ipswich Town matches, a weekend away to celebrate the boys’ Grandad Ron’s birthday and so much from a ringing perspective, such as the National Twelve-Bell Striking Competition, the AGM day, South-East District Striking Competitions and Guild Striking Competitions.

The Vestey Ring.I haven’t been to the Suffolk Show for a few years (I’ve not got round to booking the time of work and re-mortgaging the house to take the whole family along and enjoy everything it has to offer), but I could certainly appreciate the sorrow amongst those who would’ve been at the first day of this year’s show today had it not been for this pandemic. Even from afar I love the atmosphere around the area with Trinity Park being less than ten miles away from us. And I do have fond memories of actually going to the event, not least from the last time I made it along in 2011 when I helped man the The Vestey Ring on a gloriously sunny day, even finishing with a historic quarter-peal at the end! We were popular that day, but I also had the opportunity to explore the hundreds of stalls, shows, food, drink and the marvellous atmosphere. Sadly the chance to promote the art here hasn’t presented itself since, which is a pity as it was magnificent PR. As I understand it the costs to have an individual stall are far beyond the budget of the Guild and so we have to find someone who is willing to let us tag along. The most obvious candidate is the Diocesan tent, but the impression I got nine years ago was that whilst the noise of the bells was enjoyed by and caught the attention of the passing punters it was a bit much for those who had to listen to them for two days solid! God willing a way can be found to make this happen again in the future.

Pettistree.That said, it was unlikely that we would’ve changed our recent habits and joined the anticipated 95,000+ total visitors in going along on either day this year and so in a sense today for us went largely as I imagine it probably would’ve done even without the current restrictions. It is half-term, so Ruthie would’ve been at home with the boys as she was today, albeit without having spent almost every waking hour of the last two-and-a-half months with them beforehand! My day was taken up with work, although of course still from our house. However, one of us would likely have gone to Pettistree’s weekly practice and probably The Greyhound afterwards – another treat that would usually have broken up the usual weekly routine currently though necessarily withdrawn from us in these weary times. Although it afforded the opportunity to read CCCBR President Simon Linford’s latest blog (#10).

Nonetheless, with not much actual ringing to report (bar an impressive QP of twenty-three Surprise Major methods on Ringing Room), I reached for the Random button on BellBoard again and on this occasion came up with a handbell peal rung on 29th March 2018 in Hitchin featuring John Loveless, who most will know set out in the exercise within our borders and is currently in the process of finishing off the eagerly-awaited biography of George Pipe. The 5152 of Superlative Surprise Major was particularly impressive for being rung silent and non-conducted, which meant that the band all knew the composition and rang it without any calls being put in verbally or visually. Indeed, it seems to have been a culmination of a project of ringing peals of the ‘standard eight’ Surprise Major methods – Bristol, Cambridge, Lincolnshire, London, Pudsey, Rutland, Superlative and Yorkshire – in such a way and are believed to have been the first band to achieve this in hand.

On that same day just over two years ago it was actually Maundy Thursday and my mind was predominantly occupied by the announcement that Mick McCarthy was going to finish being ITFC manager, but it also prompted me to consider the AGM at Bury St Edmunds that was at that point forthcoming and particularly the SGR’s own change at the top as Alan Stanley’s successful five-year stint came to an end. He was subsequently to be replaced with Rowan Wilson and I have considerable sympathy with her currently. She is very much a doer and very driven to do as much for the Guild as possible, so these must be very frustrating times for her in that sense.

Hopefully one day she – and the rest of us – will be able to get going again sooner rather than later and we can return to enjoying those highlights of the year!

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Tuesday 26th May 2020

Positive news today, as John Taylor & Co restarted operations after halting their projects and furloughing their staff when restrictions first began. The influence of Taylors can be found throughout Suffolk up its church towers and since the closure of Whitechapel a few years ago their importance to the art has increased (although they are far from the sole providers of the services they offer), so this is very good news for the exercise.

It is also an upbeat sign that God willing we are one day closer to returning to ring many of the bells they have cast that are hanging in church towers, but for now the 216 changes of Plain Bob Minor rung on handbells at a social distance across a lawn today indicates where we’re up to in this slow burning, tragic saga. Although no performances of London and/or Durham rung to reflect the main headline of the moment!

The Wolery. Helmingham.Meanwhile, after yesterday’s bank holiday I returned to working at home and despite it being half-term, Alfie did do some learning as we were blessed with another hot, sunny day and come the evening enjoyed watching the episode of Only Fools and Horses where scenes were filmed down Rectory Road (where The Wolery is) and at Helmingham church (right at the end), which by the power of TV is transferred to the seaside!
Worle.And pushing the Random button on BellBoard is still part of my daily ‘entertainment’ and today brought up a quarter-peal rung at Worle in Somerset last Christmas Day, aptly in St Nicholas Bob Doubles, which saw Martin Blazey complete the calendar to quarters, which means he has now rung a QP on every date in the calendar. Unsurprisingly I don’t need the blog to tell me what I was doing that day, as I was doing what I have broadly been doing on 25th December for most of my life – ringing and then spending the rest of the day with first Ruthie’s family and then mine, opening presents, eating, drinking and generally making merry. Although only five months ago, it seems a lifetime, yet despite it being even longer until next Christmas, it is still very much in the air (some may say very unlikely) that our day will be spent in anything like the same way as normal. Will we be able to ring? Will we be able to see family, let alone go into their homes or vice versa? Hopefully we will on all fronts.

Now that would be positive news!

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Monday 25th May 2020

I’m not entirely sure what we would’ve been doing on this Bank Holiday Monday if it wasn’t for the current restrictions. In the past for a brief while it meant going to the Central Council Annual Meeting, but I went to my last meeting almost exactly a decade ago in Derby and the meeting is now held in September anyway. Even further back it was when we went on the St Neots’ ringers weekend away, organised by the late, Tim Griffiths, whose son Tom is now quite rightly considered one of the world’s best.

More recently though, it has tended to be a quieter day from a ringing perspective, bar when St Mary-le-Tower have held their weekly practice. Last year I took the boys to Framlingham Gala Fest, but otherwise the day has often been spent pottering around at home and so it was actually not much different, although Ruthie may have been at work if the shop wasn’t still closed and there was still that sense that we were stuck at home because we had to be.

Therefore, there was plenty of reminiscing of days when we were less restricted. Primarily from a footballing perspective as BBC Radio Suffolk ran a programme celebrating the late May Bank Holiday Monday of twenty years ago when Ipswich Town beat Barnsley 4-2 in the Division One Play-Off Final at Wembley, the last time ITFC were promoted to the Premier League and indeed the last time the club achieved any success. It was a match that my brother watched having travelled down from our West Midlands base of the time on a wonderful day.

Grappenhall.However, pushing the Random button on BellBoard brought up memories of when I first moved to the Black Country when I went to university in Dudley in 1997, as it highlighted a quarter-peal of Titanium Surprise Major rung at Grappenhall (an eight replaced with a new ten last year) in Cheshire on 17th April that year. At that point I was weeks from taking my A-Levels which ultimately took me to the University of Wolverhampton that autumn and thrust me into the Birmingham ringing scene less than ten miles away and which I was to enjoy for eight years before my return to my homeland. I was blessed to have a way into the best ringing in the world through my connections to David and Rod Pipe and particularly the latter’s roots in Suffolk and within a few days of being greeted at the bottom of the steps to St Martin-in-the-Bulling’s famous ringing chamber by David before my first practice there, I was very kindly being asked in peals, although I wasn’t to actually score one until nearly two months in. That was a nerve-wracking 5040 of Newgate Surprise Maximus at St Philip’s Cathedral across the UK’s second city, which was still only my fiftieth altogether and seemed a long way from the peal of Minor at the familiar Sproughton for my forty-ninth! I am forever grateful for the opportunities I was given by the Brummies, but also in Suffolk, starting with the 8cwt gallery-ring of six where I learnt to ring.

Alfie having his first practice at cycling without stabilisers.Meanwhile, today was bookended by catching up with my father’s sister and former ringer Aunty Marian on the phone and a trip to the park to give Alfie his first go on his bike without stabilisers. Like our handbell ringing, it is a promising start, but God willing more is to come!

As I imagine there is from Handbell Stadium after the first peal was rung on this platform set-up specifically to meet the challenges of ringing under the restrictions of the last ten weeks, as a band from Cambridgeshire, Berkshire and Staffordshire rang a 5088 of Yorkshire Surprise Major. An impressive effort and a new way to spend a Bank Holiday Monday.

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Sunday 24th May 2020

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Dominic Cummings’ comings and goings over lockdown which are currently making the headlines, there is no denying that seeing family outside of your household is far from the easy arrangement it once was. And so it was this afternoon when seeing my parents from afar to see them in person for only the second time since all of this began. It was all very convivial and extremely good for the mental well-being of all concerned, but also very long distance and unnatural. Frankly I can’t wait for a time when we can somewhere near to family and friends and relax!

That they haven’t got the facilities to join in with calls (though not for the lack of searching) doesn’t help, but thank God for the technology that allows us to keep in touch with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers and then Woodbridge St Mary-the-Virgin churchgoers as has become the norm for a Sunday morning. With the former it was nice to hear from Abby Antrobus and Diana Pipe about their lockdown birthdays this week on a chat where the topic of ringing was conspicuous by its absence.

Rode.Therefore, bar the now usual collection of performances rung online (including what is believed to be the first transatlantic quarter-peal with half the band in the UK and half the band in the US) or in hand by households of ringers,  the performance that came up today when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard was the only the source of ringing-related content for this blog entry . On this occasion it was a 1260 of Newby Bridge Bob Minor rung at Rode in Somerset on 25th April 2018. On the face of it, quite an ordinary quarter-peal, but looking at the band (and these days there is plenty of time to check their ringing habits on BB!) they are extremely frequent quarter-pealers, with all bar one already having rung dozens in the medium in the short amount of 2020 that we were able to ring church bells, which suggests it would probably have been of a high quality. Only John West hasn’t got quarters under his belt this year yet, having – according to the footnote to his last QP in December - set off Down Under until March. Whether he got back or not isn’t clear, but I suspect if he has returned there wouldn’t have been time for much ringing in the UK!

The method they rang on 25/4/2018 was one of those dreadful methods that I dislike personally, with three blows in one place here and four blows in one place there, but ringing such unfamiliar though not complicated methods usually raises the concentration levels and I imagine that was probably the case here.

On the same day – so my blog says – my wife and her mother Kate were ringing with another band used to partaking in well-rung quarter-peals as they went to Pettistree for the weekly practice and rang in the QP attempt that typically precedes it. Unusually on this occasion it was not scored, although it was of the “Cambridge Twelve” Surprise Minor methods spliced and as usual they had a very enjoyable evening afterwards, climaxing with a drink in The Greyhound next door. Those were the days when spending time with friends and family was so much easier.

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Saturday 23rd May 2020

Ston Easton. Alderney, St Anne.If there is one thing that the cessation of ringing on church bells has allowed ringers to do more off, it is going into stats and it was a post on Facebook from John Thurman about the numbers of twelve-bell towers that he has rung peals at that inspired me to do similar. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, John and I were on not too dissimilar trajectories in our ringing generally, but especially peal-ringing. Indeed, we rang thirty-two peals together in a five-year period, most of them in Birmingham and/or on twelve or above. However, whilst I stepped away from regular peal-ringing for a short while, then moved to Suffolk and got distracted by parenthood(!), he continued regularly ringing at the top level. He is also a more talented ringer than me, as the successes such as the 25200 of 210 Treble Dodging methods spliced at Ston Easton last December and the 25,056 of Bristol Surprise Maximus at Alderney in 2017 testify, with it being highly unlikely that I would’ve been capable of either even if I had continued at that sort of level.

Therefore, it is unsurprising that I have pealed nowhere near the same number of twelves as JT, who at more than one hundred ‘big ticks’, makes my total rather paltry in comparison with just twenty-eight (thirty if you include the sixteens of St Martin’s in Birmingham and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which I’m not sure if one should or not) and whilst John rang peals at eighteen different twelves in 2001, the most I managed in a calendar year was in 2000 when I pealed five – Amersham in Buckinghamshire, Cambridge, Shrewsbury and the cathedrals of Exeter and Peterborough. And it is a while since I grabbed a new twelve - either 2012 when I rang my first one on twelve at The Norman Tower where I had already rung peals on the ten before augmentation or way back in 2008 when I rang peals at Newcastle Cathedral and Mike Dew’s private twelve in Church Lawford in Warwickshire.  It was all great fun, travelling somewhere new on a Saturday and sometimes making a weekend of it and I’d love to pick it up again one day (it would be great to ring a peal at Liverpool Cathedral one day to complete the heaviest five for example), circumstances permitting.

Runner beans/mini-ring frame.By “circumstances” I primarily mean when parenthood needs to be less hands on (maybe even when the boys might partake in it with me/us?), but of course at the moment and for the foreseeable future, nobody is adding a new twelve to their peal totals, let alone me. Therefore, although there was more online and handbell ringing activity recorded on BellBoard today, we spent this latest lockdown Saturday in the same way as many other ringers probably did, with more mundane tasks, although not necessarily unsatisfying. Ruthie was quite rightly pleased with her efforts to construct a frame for her runner beans so sturdy you could almost hang a mini-ring on it!

It was a positive development on a generally positive day and there was some positive news that the search for the 1973 Ringing World edition mentioned earlier this week has taken some encouraging turns and in the process given the Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson some ideas for the SGR’s centenary year in 2023 and revealed that plans for the Dinner that year are already under way!
Wellington Cathedral.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was on 11th February 2016 and rung on the other side of the world at Wellington Cathedral in New Zealand and was a 1320 of London Surprise Minor on what appears to have been the front six of this 27cwt twelve. My mother and father went to NZ a few years ago and it is somewhere I’d be fascinated to visit and ring in, having heard only good things about it.

Ufford.According to the blog, on the same day that our ringing peers in the Antipodes were quarter-pealing on the North Island, on the same day we should have been doing some ringing by popping along to the Second Thursday Surprise Major Practice usually held at Ufford but on this occasion being run at Hollesley. These practices have been extremely useful over the years, but just before the cessation of church bell ringing, Mike Whitby and Kate Eagle had laid out a plan to turn these into more focussed monthly QPs on the second Tuesday when there hadn’t previously been a session on the 13cwt eight of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary due to the WI meetings that were once held across the churchyard, but which had been freed up by those stopping.
Hopefully that will still be the case whenever things get up and running again, but on this occasion just over four years ago we were sort of self-isolating long before that became a thing, as illness spread through our household. At the time we always felt assured as one ever could be that other opportunities to ring were forthcoming shortly, so it didn’t matter too much, disappointing as it was at the time.  Of course now we have no real certainty of when we will return to change-ringing on church bells (some proclaim that it’ll never return, but God willing that doesn’t turn out to be the case), but at least handbells and technology allow it to continue to a point.

When we aren’t all going into our stats.

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Friday 22nd May 2020

Small things are big triumphs at the moment. Like managing a few extents of Plain Bob Minimus on handbells or getting Alfie and Joshua learning. Today’s victory was finally removing a fence post that the boys’ Grandad Ron had (very) securely fixed into the ground when we moved in and has certainly done its job, but which after the reorganisation of our garden was no longer necessary. I started digging it out during my lunchbreak yesterday and after Ruthie had periodically been continuing the dig amongst schooling the boys I helped her finally pull the monster amount of concrete that had been holding it very firmly in place in today’s lunch break before I returned to work for a rest! And the day was topped off with a game of Blankety Blank with my uni mates via video.

East Farndon.It was in all honesty a more productive day than the one I came across on 30th April 2016 after I had pushed the Random button on BellBoard, although I noted that many of Suffolk’s ringers were doing much ringing beyond our borders. The performance that took me there was a 1272 of Carlisle Surprise Minor rung at East Farndon in Northamptonshire featured a couple of familiar faces in the form of Pam Bailey – who is a good friend of my mother – and Paul McNutt, who is a very understated, but extremely talented ringer who I had the good fortune to ring nine peals with, all but three of them on twelve and featuring efforts of spliced Cinques and Maximus, a couple of Bristol Surprise Maximus and efforts in Avon Delight Maximus, Orion Surprise Maximus and Saiph Surprise Maximus. To underline his ability, even in the short period of time that we have been able to ring on church bells in 2020 he has managed a peal of Bristol Max and 5760s of eighty-three and sixty-four Treble Dodging Minor methods spliced.

That day was a busy day within in this branch, with four QPs rung in what is just one of ten branches within the Peterborough Diocesan Guild and I hope that such activity will be possible sooner rather than later – it is interesting looking at the PDG’s website that their AGM which had been due to take place on Saturday 13th June is now pencilled in for Saturday 19th September. Whilst that may prove to be optimistic, hopefully their AGM and our own AGM will be able to take place before 2020 is out.

Now that would feel like a big triumph!

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Thursday 21st May 2020

St Mary-le-Tower Ringers’ video quiz.This evening was possibly the most fun evening we have had since lockdown began as we joined in with the first online St Mary-le-Tower Ringers’ quiz, hosted magnificently by Sue and Jonathan Williamson. That we somehow won only added to the enjoyment as we took on rounds that covered pictures of cartoon characters, song lyrics, world landmarks from the air and a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-inspired round, all topped off with a scavenger hunt. As winners, we have now taken on the role of quizmasters, so we can’t guarantee it being as good next time!

There was some sad news that I learnt today though, as I heard of the death of Coral Fry. She was a lovely lady and I got to know her and George when I lived and rang in Tunstall on my return to the county fifteen years ago. Our thoughts go out to George and their family.

It is a sobering reminder of why things have to be as mundane as they have been and indeed today took on a familiar looking format of me working, Ruthie schooling the boys and the weekly applause for the NHS and other key workers, all without going any further than the top of our front garden. And of course I clicked on the Random button on BellBoard to see what metaphorical journey down memory lane it might take me.

Aslacton.On this occasion, it took me back to 1993 with a quarter-peal rung over the Norfolk border at Aslacton on 15th April, which was the most methods rung for Harold Turner and Anthony Sargent and featured some familiar names. Many within our borders will know of Paul Cattermole (who sadly passed away in July 2009) and Jeremy Warren, but it was the latter that I did the most ringing with, particularly around those earlier years of my ringing. In fact, Jeremy rang in my first peal inside later that year in the peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus on the morning of 11th September when that date was more synonymous with being the wedding day of David and Katharine Salter rather than events of precisely eight years later.

Along with their nuptials, it was generally a year of celebration for the Suffolk Guild as it celebrated its seventieth anniversary, had a great year of PR and won the Ridgman Trophy at St Neots in Cambridgeshire. When the SGR won it again the following year at Tollesbury in Essex, we had won it three times out of the seven times it had been held up until then and nobody had been victorious in it as often as us at that point. However, we haven’t won it since, despite coming close on a number of occasions. Ten bells is the only level I haven’t won a striking competition on (I’m rather conveniently glossing over the one-off four-bell at Campsea Ashe to raise funds for the augmentation there many years ago!) and therefore one that I am keen to get under my belt, but I shan’t get the chance this year with next month’s planned contest amongst the debris of destroyed plans.

Still, if we have more nights like this I can just about cope with all that we’re missing.

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Wednesday 20th May 2020

There isn’t much going on at the moment and when much is happening its generally not good, so it is natural to reminisce and there was definitely a massive dollop of that today.

It has been doing the rounds on social media over the last couple of days, but today I watched the ringers’ Songs of Praise from 1991 for the first time probably since it aired. Indeed, I had forgotten about it until it popped up on Facebook earlier this week, but it is a real gem of ringing history with the entire episode devoted to the exercise. St Martin’s-in-the-Fields in London was packed in a way that one can only dream of in these socially distanced times and whenever the camera panned across the congregation familiar faces leapt out and possibly many others that I didn’t notice due to the near thirty years taken off them! I’m pretty sure that I saw Woolpit ringer Val Mayhew in there and I definitely saw Andrew Wilby and his son Michael, as well as fellow Rambling Ringer Phil Ramsbottom. And George Pipe towers above everyone in every sense alongside Diana and is interviewed about 27mins 40secs into the 34minutes-long programme. It is also interesting to see filming at Melbourne in Derbyshire when the now twelve was an eight. Well worth a watch even (or perhaps especially) almost three decades later.

Bristol, Christ Church.Coincidentally, when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard on this hot May Wednesday, it also took me back to the start of the 1990s with a peal rung at Christ Church in Bristol on 16th November 1990. Not that it was a particularly happy time as this was the month that my paternal nana Lillian Munnings passed away, but as ever the response of the ringing family was a big comfort, particularly to a twelve-year-old me. Either side of that 5040 of Bristol Surprise Royal in the south-west of England peals rung at Hadleigh on 10th November and at St Mary-le-Tower on 17th November were dedicated to the memory of my father’s mother. She was a lovely grandparent and great supporter of ringing events, so she certainly left her mark on the art locally!

Happier football memories were brought to the fore as well this evening as I took advantage of ITV showing the legendary Euro 96 tournament in full to watch the best England match of the competition (many argue one of the best ever from our national team) as they beat the Netherlands 4-1.

The Wolery. Pettistree.That doesn’t sound like it left much for the here and now and in a sense you’d be right, in the sense that in the present nothing much happened personally or from a wider ringing sense that was any different to the last couple of months. Instead of going to The Wolery or attending Pettistree practice and going to The Greyhound afterwards, my Wednesday evenings are now for our weekly shop, whilst more broadly the ringing recorded on BB was restricted to various online performances and handbell ringing (bar a quarter on The Waikato Mini Ring in New Zealand where the restrictions seem to easing more than here) and for the eleventh day running no peals anywhere in the world were recorded since the Pipe boys (who along with the Perrins family of Australia had been keeping peal-ringing going on their own!) rang a 5040 at their home in Willingham way back on 9th May.

Even peal-ringing seems like something to reminisce about.

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Tuesday 19th May 2020

John Loveless’ biography of George Pipe is an eagerly awaited publication. It’s launch has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, but the extra time has allowed Jake to make some amendments and additions which became necessary following George’s sad passing a couple of months ago. Primarily this is in the form changing the tense of much of what he has written and adding the incredible reaction from across the world to George’s death, but he is also looking for help in the back cover. He has in mind – very fittingly – to use the front page of the Ringing World edition of 6th April 1973 (issue no. 2332) which features seven Suffolk churches all drawn by GWP. He is hoping to find a copy of good enough quality to scan, which his own copy isn’t after nearly fifty years and whilst Will Bosworth is planning on searching for a copy at the RW offices in Andover when he next goes in and we have Guild Librarian Abby Antrobus on the case from our end, if anyone has this copy in very good condition then let me know and I’ll let John know.

Whilst former Bures ringer Mr Loveless is busying himself with what is sure to be a fascinating book, our activities today were rather less fascinating. More home schooling and home working, all of which was very important and worthwhile, but not very exciting. Although some home ringing for Alfie and me was rather more fun!

Waterloo Tower.Therefore, I reached for the Random button on BellBoard again to see what it would bring up this time to bulk up today’s blog. On this occasion it took me to a 1260 of Plain Bob Royal on the back ten of the 15cwt twelve hung in Waterloo Tower, a free-standing, secular tower in Quex Park in Kent on 1st May 2010. A QP at QP if you will. Apparently it was used as a film location in Blake’s 7 (it first appears just over five minutes into the episode titled ‘Bounty’ and frequently after that if you’re interested), but it has long held a fascination amongst ringers, especially before mini-rings increased the numbers of places to unusual locations to ring from and as a boy learning to ring I was intrigued when I first visited there on a ringing outing. I think it was a Guild outing in the 1990s, but my memory may be playing tricks on me!

On the same day as Elizabeth Shearman and Benjamin Legg were ringing their first quarter of Royal on this novelty venue, Ruthie and I were partaking in the South-East District Striking Competition at Sproughton. Although poorly attended, it was a typically enjoyable day that even allowed us to have a pint in the now shut (and was before COVID-19 became an issue here) Wild Man, with St Mary-le-Tower coming out on top this time in the ringing.

We are in the midst of what would’ve been striking competition season, locally and nationally and I have missed the fun of these days. They are a misunderstood medium, with many people thinking a bit too much about them, whether they are fair, what the judges are there for, how good you need to be to take part, but for me they are first and foremost a fun, important way of helping to raise standards, not just on the day but generally. I think George Pipe found them very important too and having judged three National Twelve-Bell Finals and rung in a further three and won countless competitions regionally and locally, I imagine striking competitions may get a mention in his much awaited biography!

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Monday 18th May 2020

‘Stick With It Suffolk’ is the new mantra announced today and is appropriately timed. The temperatures outside are rising, the sun is shining, some restrictions have been eased, the county has one of the lowest infection rates in the UK and the handbell quarter-peal from Hamilton in New Zealand offers a tantalising glimpse of what the next stage in ringing could be one day here.

However, essentially things haven’t changed. We still need to be careful and restrained in the hope that ultimately something approaching normality will return sooner rather than much later.

Therefore, we played it as safe as possible, as we have tried to do ever since restrictions were introduced a couple of months ago, working, schooling and ringing from home, although not fundraising from home as Grundisburgh ringer Gillian Twissell is, for which she was interviewed by Luke Deal about 1hr 53mins 50secs into this morning’s BBC Radio Suffolk Breakfast Show whilst she was sat in the bath! And with lots of extra time in the evenings and plenty of ingenuity from others online, much ringing related is still happening on the internet. Today I personally enjoyed watching the maths lesson led by ringer Emily Russell with the help of fellow ringer Dale Winter using change-ringing as the basis of the tutorial!

Chirk.Of course, the digital world has also allowed my mind to wander through ringing’s past by pushing the Random button on BellBoard and on this occasion it brought up a performance that on its own was largely insignificant, but was part of a wider significant response from ringing to a notable event, albeit one that I - like many others – were slightly bemused by. When Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was engulfed by fire on 15th April last year it was a shocking sight, particularly for any of us who appreciate churches and cathedrals. Yet it was just a building and it all actually turned out a whole lot better than it could have done as at one point there was apparently a very real danger of the towers and possibly therefore most of the cathedral collapsing altogether, and mercifully nobody died. Therefore, the call from then Prime Minister Theresa May and the Archbishop of Canterbury to ring bells in solidarity with the fire-damaged building and the French people was met with a good deal of consternation, especially as it was Maundy Thursday (when most church bells would typically not be rung) and no such call had been made for when many had died in Grenfell Tower just a couple of years earlier, although many ringers did mark that tragedy sporadically and off their own backs. To give the Archbishop and PM their dues, they may not have been awoken to the ability of ringers to respond to events in such numbers until the incredible display of mass ringing to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War just five months earlier, but whilst clearly well meaning, it was a decision that was to be scrutinised further later that weekend when a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka killed many in churches celebrating Easter and yet which received no similar call to ring in solidarity, although again ringing did mark it.

Nonetheless, many, many towers rang with what I could describe best as “questioning obedience” and rang in one form or another, including eighty-five performances within our borders and the random performance that I came across from BB when the 7cwt tenor at Chirk in Wales was tolled. That one of the six was merely tolled did demonstrate the logistical challenge that there were more bells to ring nationwide than ringers to ring them all at the same time and indeed neither of us joined in as Ruthie was at choir practice and therefore I was at home looking after the boys, although my wife did hear the bells of Woodbridge ringing for the occasion as they rang some call-changes on the back six of the 25cwt eight.

Of course ringing can’t react to the terrible consequences of the coronavirus pandemic or indeed anything else for that matter, but it has been heartening to see bells being tolled from private rings – including from Janet Sheldrake and Gordon Slack with The Milbeck Ring in Shelland – and with handbells for the now traditional applause for the NHS and key workers at 8pm on Thursdays.

Hopefully it is a sign that although we can’t ring as we wish to, we can stick with it for as long as is necessary.

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Sunday 17th May 2020

The Swan Tower.Despite international problems with Zoom, we still managed our now traditional Sunday morning video chats with fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers and then St Mary-the-Virgin Woodbridge churchgoers. Although those issues meant that some on the former could be heard but not seen and meant we missed out on Diana Pipe’s company altogether, we were encouraged by news that the ringers at Swan Tower in Perth in Australia are planning on starting to ring again next week. It may be in different circumstances to here in the UK where we have been hit harder by coronavirus, but it gives hope that one day change-ringing at churches will resume, whenever that may be.

Some thought was being given to that return online, albeit with tongue-in-cheek, as it was suggested that ‘open air’ ringing chambers could be created by knocking a few walls through. Inevitably Cotton and East Bergholt came up...

Barrow Gurney.Meanwhile, BellBoard clearly wants me to take notice of Barrow Gurney in Somerset as for the second day running a performance on the 11cwt eight appeared when I pushed the Random button today. I don’t think I’ve ever rung there, but Mike Whitby rang his one thousandth quarter-peal there back in 2008 and it is a place familiar to a few Suffolk residents who have ended up in or near there in recent years. Robert Beavis (if he’s still reading this after his Facebook message yesterday!) and Alex Tatlow have both rung twelve peals apiece there, whilst Philip Moyse, George Salter and Molly Waterson have all rung two each.

However, none of them featured in the QP from 17th December 2015 that BB offered forth on this occasion. According to the blog though, I wasn’t do any ringing. Rather, I was talking to BBC Radio Suffolk presenter Lesley Dolphin about one of the highlights of the ringing calendar locally, the Christmas ringing around the churches of Ipswich that was to happen a couple of days later.

Perhaps it will happen again this year, but as with anything planned for 2020 and indeed beyond, there is uncertainty over whether it will at this point.

At least in our household we can do ringing of some sorts with our toy handbells, which have given us much needed exercise for our ringing brains, especially when we are rarely available when Ringing Room invites arise. Having generally got the hang of Plain Bob Minimus (even with Joshua telling us not to be “so noisy” and then storming off with the bells!), we started on Double Bob this evening, picking it up surprisingly quickly!

And it was probably easier than trying any ringing over Zoom today!

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Saturday 16th May 2020

Yoxford.This afternoon should’ve seen a goodly number of folk gathered outside the rarely visited 11cwt ground-floor six of Yoxford in the North-East District for the Suffolk Guild Six-Bell Striking Competitions. I expect I would’ve spent the last couple of weeks or so encouraging as many as possible to enter and make this as big an occasion as possible, extolling how accessible the village right by the A12 and twenty minutes walk from Darsham Railway Station is in the rural context of our beautiful county. Probably pointing out that the two pubs in the community of The Griffin and The Kings Head would be open to enjoy a drink or two, urging even those not ringing to come along to take it all in.

Ruthie cutting Joshua’s hair.I’ve always desired this day to be as much like the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest Final as is practical. Well this year, it has succeeded. As those who were planning on going to Sheffield for the competition for the Taylor Trophy next month will find on 22nd June, those of us planning to be at St Peter today had to find other more mundane ways of passing the day. In our case, that was in much the same way as every Saturday for the last two months, as we pottered around getting jobs done about the house that admittedly wouldn’t have got done and have been useful to do. Although haircuts for myself and the boys and an alleged hit and run accident at the Melton traffic lights just before I walked past on the way to the shop for some essentials and the subsequent emergency services presence made things a little different to what we have become accustomed to.

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have been panning out sixteen or seventeen miles up the road. The response to my post on the SGR Facebook page asking who had been hoping to enter the competitions for the Mitson Shield and Lester Brett Call-Change Trophy gave an indication of sorts, but I imagine – judging by recent years – that there would have been between ten and fifteen teams. St Mary-le-Tower may have entered a couple of teams to allow as many of our large band at different stages of ability to partake. I’m pretty certain that the most recent winners of the method competition Pettistree would’ve been keen to defend their title, whilst also from the South-East District typically Debenham have become contenders in recent times, whilst Hollesley have moved from the call-change competition and will be better for the experience. And with Clopton entering at a Guild level in the call-change contest for the first time last year they would hopefully have been looking to continue their improvement with another entry this year. It would have been nice to see Offton and Sproughton back in the competitions, although they didn’t last year.

Being held in their backyard, there would have been representation from the NE after their absence last May, with Past Guild Chairman Philip Gorrod indicating in my unofficial FB poll that Halesworth were planning to be there, whilst the Rendham & Sweffling band have been regulars previously. Hopefully others in the area would have considered entering. At the other extreme and having the furthest to travel, past experience suggests that there wouldn’t have been any teams from the South-West District bar Woolpit, who having finished runners-up in three of the last four competitions must have fancied their chances this time. And from the North-West District Great Barton have put a team into both the method and call-change competitions for the last few years, winning the latter on the last two occasions. Wonderful as well that Thurston have entered the contest for the Lester Brett Trophy the last couple of years and I’d like to think that they would be travelling over to this side of the county in hope and expectation. Meanwhile, 2017 joint winners Pakenham would also have been heading over with justified confidence.

Whatever the results (and to my mind it is becoming more and more open with each passing year and the standard higher), it would’ve been interesting to see how the new format without the Eight-Bell Competition for the Rose Trophy (which has been pencilled in for Saturday 19th September at Horringer, but as with everything else in 2020 is subject to circumstances beyond the organisers’ control) afterwards would have effected the atmosphere. I have to admit I was a bit of a fan of having the six-bell and eight-bell on the same day, giving something else to go on to, but there is no denying it felt a little like ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ and made for a long day for the judges in particular, which as I found out when I was Guild Ringing Master sometimes made finding a pair for the role quite difficult!

Barrow Gurney.In fact, so much so were the striking competitions in my thoughts that when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today and it brought up a quarter-peal of London Surprise Major rung at Barrow Gurney in Somerset on 29th January 2004 my first thought was about that year’s contests. Three and a half months after the 1280 that completed QPs of Surprise Major methods from the ‘standard’ eight for Thomas Longridge and Paul Mason, the SGR Striking Competitions were again in the NE District at Reydon and Southwold with SMLT the winners in both (there wasn’t a call-change competition in those days). Although I wasn’t there as I was still living in the West Midlands, the North-East are superb hosts (the vast feast at Blythburgh in 2012 immediately springs to mind!) and I’m sure it would’ve been a great day out.

As I’m sure today in Yoxford would’ve been.

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Friday 15th May 2020

If this pandemic hadn’t forced this year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest to be cancelled, I suspect the news today of a fire at Sheffield Cathedral where the final had been due be held next month would have caused quite a few palpitations amongst organisers. Mercifully those with local knowledge suggest that this wasn’t a big fire and was far away from the main cathedral and the tower that holds the 34cwt twelve that had been expected to be rung by some of the best bands in the world on 20th June.

Although terrible (especially as the affected area was the base for a homelessness charity), from the perspective of ringing’s biggest event it is now academic, with a cessation on ringing on church bells called two months ago tomorrow. As other restrictions have been lifted this week, the question has inevitably been asked about when and how a return to ringing might take place and so the guidelines sent to College Youths members this morning by ASCY Secretary Simon Meyer was most welcome. It is the most comprehensive guide specifically aimed at ringing and ringers and has been drawn up by ringers Andrew Kelso – who along with Brian Meads judged the Suffolk Guild striking competitions at Polstead and Lavenham almost exactly a year ago – and Philip Barnes. The latter is recently retired Executive Medical Director and Consultant Neurologist and the former is currently a Consultant Neurologist and Medical Director of Newham University Hospital and are both experienced, active ringers, so they know their stuff when it comes to the safest return to ringing whilst coronavirus is still a widespread danger to so many. Please read their advice. (Central Council guidance & advice.)

Much of it has been mused online in recent weeks and is common sense, but also a confirmation of our worst fears that until social distancing is relaxed and/or a vaccine found, ringing will be a very restricted, largely unmusical affair. Until such a point and only from when it becomes safe to do so (therefore not now or for a while yet!), ringing on church bells will be reduced to short periods (no quarters or peals), with constant cleaning and hand-washing in ringing chambers removed of clutter and entry only permitted to a set number of people, climbing spiral staircases one at a time. With almost every rope in UK ringing chambers hanging less than two metres apart, ringing on adjacent bells shouldn’t take place unless by people from the same household, although the suggestion of plastic shielding between ropes (albeit the safety of such a measure would need to be tested before implementing). Striking competitions are out the window for now, as are people sitting out – so the boys aren’t coming ringing anytime soon – and those with underlying health conditions would be encouraged to consider very carefully whether they should return to ringing in such circumstances. As I think most of us have feared for a while but perhaps suppressed, it looks like we won’t be returning to anything resembling the way we carried out our ringing before 16th March until 2021, but at least there is a clearer path mapped out for getting back into ringing chambers to ring when it is deemed safe and appropriate. Thank you Andrew and Philip for their time in putting it together.

Eyam. Newcastle Cathedral.For now though, I again pushed the Random button on BellBoard which today brought to the forefront a 5040 of Plain Bob Minor at Eyam in Derbyshire rung on 9th January 1983. This was the first peal at the first attempt for Charles Hunt and Mandy Palmer (although it was the former’s only peal and the latter rang just two more, both of which were later that year) and conducted by Paul Flavell, another who rang in that peal at Newcastle Cathedral over the 2008 CCCBR Meeting weekend.

Euston. Harkstead. Offton.

Here in Suffolk meanwhile, it was the start of busy year of ringing. The Diamond Jubilee of the Guild was celebrated with a Dinner at Ipswich Town Hall and the AGM was held at Debenham High School, with Stephen Pettman taking over from Martin Thorley as Ringing Master. An impressive 153 peals were rung for the SGR, with first peals for sixteen members including Ralph Earey, Richard Rapior, Tracey Scase and my mother-in-law Kate Eagle and firsts as conductor for Simon Curl and James Smith (1983 Guild Report, p10). Euston and Harkstead were augmented from five to six and Offton from six to eight, the Guild outing went to London and the first SGR Eight-Bell Striking Competition was held at Clare, with the South-East District coming out victorious.

No striking competitions in 2020 though it seems. One way or another it just doesn’t seem the year for them.

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Thursday 14th May 2020

I never thought that I would be discussing antibodies in this blog, but the news today that a reliable test for whether someone has had coronavirus has been approved by Public Health England gives hope – albeit heavily caveated - that it may help in easing the lockdown process and from our point of view get back to ringing church bells. Even when it is deemed safe to ring in churches again, there will undoubtedly and understandably be a number wary about returning, but perhaps this sort of test may offer reassurance of some kind. Of course, it might not, but the longer this goes on, the desperation for positive developments increases.

Rise. Newcastle Cathedral.Whatever the significance or otherwise of this news, ringing and ourselves continue as we have done for the last seven or eight weeks, with home-schooling, home-working and home-ringing. And I again pushed the Random button on BellBoard, on this occasion stumbling across a 5040 of Stedman Doubles rung at Rise in the East Riding of Yorkshire on 5th April 1994. I don’t remember much about the 1904 Taylor’s five that – if I recall correctly – I rang at the following year on the forty-fifth Rambling Ringers Tour, but Dinah Rhymer (who has since become Dinah Donovan) and Neil Donovan were both in the peal of Yorkshire Surprise Maximus I rang at Newcastle Cathedral during the 2008 Central Council Meeting weekend that has already been mentioned on here a couple of times during lockdown.

On the day that they were ringing in what at the time was officially Humberside, David Salter was four days away from becoming the Suffolk Guild Ringing Master for the first time at the AGM at Dalham, the start of a twelve year period where he held the role for eight years over two stints either side of Stephen Pettman’s second time in the job, before I became SGR RM at the 2006 AGM in Bury St Edmunds. It is a role that David and Stephen carried out superbly and I hope that I did it justice over my five years. I certainly enjoyed it, with it giving me the opportunity to travel our beautiful county meeting lots of new friends and acquaintances and catching up with well-established friendships and I imagine current Master Tom Scase is frustrated at not being able to do the same.

God willing, with the help of science such as revealed today, we may all be able to do that again someday in the not too distant future.

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Wednesday 13th May 2020

Alfie & Ruthie doing science in the garden.More people started going back to work today, following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Sunday evening. At the moment though, it is those who can’t work from home who aren’t in what is considered essential work but deemed useful, such as construction workers, garden centres and even estate agents. Therefore, with John Ives falling into the category of places that won’t be opening until next month at the earliest and me being able to work from our abode, nothing much has changed for us. Ruthie tried to teach Alfie fractions (my comment that a quarter was a fourth of a peal wasn’t considered helpful by my wife for some reason) and had better luck doing science with him and I continued to communicate with a myriad of clients also still working from home rather than schools.

Nice as well to speak with my mother and father Sally and Alan on the phone, who are well, occupying themselves with occasional walks and with a jigsaw puzzle club that seems to work around other ringers Abby Antrobus, Dick & Daphne Pegg and my brother Chris and his wife Becky, as well as trying to find a camera to allow them to join in with video calls!

Hexham Abbey.Meanwhile, when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today, it brought up a 1344 of Rutland Surprise Major rung at Hexham in Northumberland on 7th September 2010. It was rung for the arrival of the Revd Mike Slade to The Chollerton Benefice nearby which has no change-ringing towers within it, hence the QP on the back eight of the 21cwt ten.

He has since retired apparently, as has the Reverend Canon Kevan McCormack from St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge where in normal times my better half would be singing every Sunday morning and I would typically be ringing the bells every other week. The arrival of his successor The Revd Nigel Prior from Mayfield in East Sussex has been delayed by the current situation and it is unlikely we will see him for a couple of months at least, but according to the blog, on 7/9/2010 we were meeting his predecessor ‘Kev the Rev’ in the early stages of planning for our wedding.

Framlingham. Wickham Market.It was also a significant day for Mason as he started nursery, but we did manage some ringing as we first rang a 1250 of Yorkshire Surprise Major at Framlingham and then helped at the weekly practice immediately afterwards. Helping at places like this and Wickham Market – as we did for a few weeks - have been amongst some of my most satisfying moments in ringing. So many ringers are restricted to whatever the handful of other ringers who usually go to their home tower can ring. I would always encourage such ringers to branch out to other practices, District and Guild events and the like if they can, but I know it isn’t always possible and so it is also important for more experienced ringers to pop along to such towers to help out when they are able.

Today though, ringing across the country was again restricted to handbells in households with a set of bells and ringers, and online platforms, including a first QP on ReBel and an East Anglian effort on Ringing Room featuring St Mary-le-Tower’s Nigel Newton and Norwich’s David Brown and former SMLT Ringing Master Simon Rudd ringing a 1320 of Duke Of Norfolk Treble Bob Minor.

People may be going back to work, but whilst easing restrictions on ringing are still a way off, there is still plenty that can be done through ringing.

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Tuesday 12th May 2020

I recently mentioned that Colin Salter had shared a history of ringing at St Mary-le-Tower with his fellow bandmates and now it is on the SMLT ringers’ website, so do check it out. Written well and fascinating – well done Colin!

Gloucester Cathedral.Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was a 1282 of Cambridge Surprise Royal rung at Gloucester Cathedral on 3rd June 2008, a first of Surprise Royal inside for Ben Gooch. He has since rung a further seven QPs of Surprise Royal, but that belies the phenomenal quarter-pealing output of Ben who had already rung an impressive sixty-nine quarters in the short time this year that we had before ringing towerbells ceased almost two months ago.

Marlesford.According to the blog, on the same day as this early landmark for him, Ruthie and I were ringing, which was unusual for a Tuesday. In the absence of my better half’s mother Kate and the use of Ufford bells which my now mother-in-law looks after and runs the ringing of, my then girlfriend Miss Eagle and I were helping out at the weekly practice, which was happening at nearby Marlesford.

Parham. Hacheston.Present that evening was Simon Cottrell. He was the driving force behind the augmentation of Parham’s bells mentioned yesterday, as well as that at Hacheston a few years earlier and always willing to offer advice and expertise on other similar projects. He was also charming, witty and wonderful company, he enjoyed the art immensely, always looking to improve. It may be almost a decade since he passed away, but he is still fondly remembered, especially with his son John now learning.

His ringing – in the normal way at least – is on hold for now, as it is for everyone of course, but although over the last day or two things on BB have been quiet even by lockdown standards, as Central Council President Simon Linford highlights in his latest blog, Ringing Room passed one thousand users a day recently, so the ringing community continues to be engaged in the art, encouragingly.

That included with the College Youths, which for the second month running ran its monthly second-Tuesday meeting by video this evening, again led by Ringing Master Susan ‘Swaz’ Apter. Somewhat inevitably, UK20 – the ringing tour of the country for overseas members held in August – has been postponed to 2021 and there were obituaries, but largely this was a positive, upbeat occasion in the circumstances. George Pipe was remembered in a letter to Secretary Simon Meyer from Alan Potts, who fondly recalled a ringing tour to Suffolk and Norfolk George many years ago, prompting Simon to hope that Alan might send more letters as he was missing the wonderfully crafted letters of GWP! And those of us ‘present’ also got to do an online vote – a first for the Society – which saw Tessa Simpson re-elected as the ASCY’s representative on National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest committee.

Even in the absence of ringing church bells, there is still plenty of ringing to engage with, including Colin Salter’s history of the art at St Mary-le-Tower!

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Monday 11th May 2020

Confusion reigned from Boris Johnson’s statement last night, but to all intents and purpose life for us continued as normal today as we set off into another week of increasingly weary lockdown. I can still work from home for John Catt Educational and John Ives remains shut, so Ruthie still has nowhere to go. Alfie is in one of the year groups that may go back to the school on 1st June, but for now he – like Joshua – has to be educated from our property. And of course a time when ringing at churches with our friends still appears months away, backed up by essentially reiterated guidance from the Central Council released today.

Boston Mass., Church of the Advent.Therefore, I pushed the Random button on BellBoard for the fifty-sixth day running, which today brought up a 5088 of Yorkshire Surprise Major rung at The Church of the Advent in Boston in the USA on 3rd November 2007. I’m always impressed with what bands in towers in places like the US – where change-ringing is practiced in isolated spots compared to here in the UK – manage, with QPs and peals usually giving a good indication what a ringing group is achieving.

For the second time in recent days it takes me back to an early time in this blog. It was a day when my now mother-in-law Kate Eagle was attempting to call her first peal in an attempt on the lovely 9cwt ground-floor six of Otley. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, although she did manage it just three months later during Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2008 at her home tower of Pettistree and a quarter was managed immediately after our loss on 3/11/2007.

Parham.Later in the day, Ruthie, her mater and myself journeyed on to Parham, which at that point had only very recently been augmented into the enjoyable little six that they are now. Initially we were ringing for a wedding but then an unsurprisingly busy South-East District Practice on this then rare ring at a time when Mrs Eagle was the District Ringing Master.

The new bells of Stowmarket. (by kind permission of Stowmarket Bells Facebook page)Hopefully when we come back to ringing we may have another augmented peal of bells in the form of the ten of Stowmarket and today I got my first glance of the new front three bells with pictures of them shared on the Stowmarket Bells Facebook page.

A welcome good news story in these difficult, confused times.

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Sunday 10th May 2020

The 9.45am Sunday morning video chats with our fellow St Mary-le-Tower ringers have been useful for getting us up. Otherwise, without the need to log in to work by 9am during the week and of course nowhere else to get to at the moment, I expect that our awakening would be a bit more gradual or as gradual as one can expect with young children in the house!

However, our more focused, earlier start was nothing compared to that made in the Willingham household of the Pipes where father David and sons Henry and Alfred were up at 2am to start a handbell attempt of forty-three extents (30,960 changes) of Treble Dodging Minor methods. Unfortunately that was lost after just over 19,000 changes in the twenty-seventh extent, but it was still met with much admiration from those of us not able to contemplate such attempts at the best of times, let alone in a lockdown. I suspect another will be happening soon.

Also on a suitably busy Sabbath morn for bellringers the first ten-bell quarter-peal on Ringing Room was rung with an impressive 1280 of Bristol Surprise Royal, which was followed up with the first all-the-work (i.e. every inside bell ringing every bit of the method) on ten ‘bells’ on the platform with a 1260 of Plain Bob Royal.

Vestey Ring.There was a sad note too as on our ringers' chat this morning we remembered Sproughton ringer Delia Hammerton who sadly died earlier this week. She herself claimed not to be as proficient as others around her, but she was certainly a lot better than she ever owned up to and was dedicated and enthusiastic, qualities we will need in abundance if ringing is to come back stronger after this time. She also partook in a significant bit of ringing as she trebled to the first QP on The Vestey Ring, rung in trying circumstances at end of the second day of the 2011 Suffolk Show as everything was being packed away very noisily around us!

Hanwell, St Mary.Funnily enough, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard was rung precisely two years later on 2nd June 2013 when a quarter of Grandsire Triples was rung at Hanwell in Middlesex with the immediate past editor of the Ringing World Robert Lewis bonging behind.

On the same day though, Ruthie and I were experiencing a first, although we weren’t to know it for sure until a couple of days later. For on the 2/6/2013 we rang what we thought had been a peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus rung in very hot conditions at Chelmsford Cathedral, but which transpired to be a false peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus rung in very hot conditions at Chelmsford Cathedral. The conductor had miscalled it and fudged it so it came round at the right point, but in the process we had repeated rows, which isn’t allowed of course. Having spent the days afterwards double-checking, they informed us later in the week that it was indeed false and so despite our efforts it didn’t count. Peal-ringing history is littered with false peals, especially the further back in time when checking of compositions was harder without the help of computers, but this was the first – and as far as I am aware the only thus far – that either Ruthie or I had been involved in.

No such likelihood of it happening again soon (for all our newfound enthusiasm for handbell ringing, any peal attempt, let alone a false one isn’t on the cards!), something reiterated by Boris Johnson’s statement this evening that says that depending on a myriad of factors “some hospitality businesses” may open in July at the earliest. If that even reaches fruition, then it sounds like it will still be in a limited and restricted fashion and therefore the notion that ringing on church bells will take place at the same time (which was my most optimistic guestimate) is clearly a non-starter.

Nonetheless, and even with the windy chilly weather that quickly descended on us this afternoon to replace the glorious weather that remained just this morning, we enjoyed our daily exercise with a walk through the woods. Which was worth getting up for!

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Saturday 9th May 2020

After yesterday it was back to what we’ve had for the last month-and-a-half, which was spending the day largely doing nothing of note, although we did have a lengthy video chat with the boys’ Grandad Ron on the occasion of his significant birthday, along with others from his family.

And elsewhere the Pipes in Cambridgeshire again provided something for the peal columns, apparently ahead of what is due to be a “monster marathon length” attempt tomorrow.

There was also good news from Stowmarket where they announced their new bells have been cast in readiness for the augmentation at St Peter and St Mary from eight to ten, although when the timeline from here still hangs in the balance due to current circumstances, as far as I am aware.

Marston.Meanwhile, the performance that popped up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was a 1260 of five Doubles methods rung at Marston in Oxfordshire on 20th May 2012, rung on the original five after they met short for Minor. It can be frustrating meeting short and I have been the victim of and cause of quarters and peals meeting short. However, as this band almost exactly eight years ago showed, it is still possible to do something.

On the same day there was a variation on that theme as a third Sunday practice at St Mary-le-Tower had met too short to be of use and so instead a quarter-peal for our learner Sean Antonioli was rung, although with a poorly five-year-old Mason in tow it was lucky that there were more than enough for a QP attempt, which was ultimately scored.

That was Sean’s first on eight and was rung on a busy day of firsts in Suffolk, as Clare Veal rang her first quarter of Major in the 1264 of Plain Bob rung at Stowmarket, Sue Bowerman rang her first quarter-peal in the Plain Bob Doubles at her home tower of Hollesley and the first ever QP of Maximus rung at The Norman Tower was completed with a 1346 of Yorkshire Surprise.
Such activity isn’t possible at the moment, so it is nice to reminisce about such busy and productive days!

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Friday 8th May 2020

In recent days we have watched one of the multitude of programmes on the Second World War and it is a reminder of just what a dreadful period it was. Currently we are in the midst of another pretty dreadful period and there have been many comparisons between now and then. There are ways in which we appear worse off. At least during the war they had the comfort of seeing family and friends in person and going down the pub for a drink to escape the situation. Nor did every trip to a shop or walk feel like a daring raid, something to be done as quickly and carefully as possible.

However, although the deaths from coronavirus are tragic, the daily loss of young lives that would never otherwise have happened that soon and the fear of a bomb dropping on your house is incomprehensible, even in these times. And of course our ancestors had to live with the war for six, long years. God willing, even in the current worse case scenarios, our way of life will be disrupted for a couple of years at the most.

For now though, it meant that we couldn’t mark VE Day in the way we would have, but we still had a socially distanced street party and ringing marked it as best it could with two handbell peals and numerous other performances including pieces of Plain Bob Minimus in hand in Suffolk in Brantham with Pam and Neil Avis and Woodbridge with Bruce and Gillian Wakefield, with Bruce following up on his ringing Bastow Little Bob Mimimus yesterday.

With all this going on, I don’t really need to bulk the blog up with the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard. However, having had mused on whether a peal conducted by Bernard Groves would appear for a third day running, I was mildly amused that instead a peal conducted by one of only six ringers to have conducted more peals – Barrie Dove - appeared. Indeed, the 5088 of Bravo! Surprise Major rung at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Anne in Leeds on 27th December 2018 was C Barrie’s 3175th peal as conductor and into the bargain the band included another of the six, Peter Randall. Two of Mr Dove’s peals as conductor featured myself, both in Newcastle over the Central Council weekend in the north-eastern city in 2008.

According to the blog meanwhile, on the 27/12/2018 the boys and I were occupying that strange time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve by visiting my parents in the company of Mason’s friend Henry Salter in the immediate days following his father’s stroke when his mother Katharine was going to Addenbroke’s and back daily. David’s subsequent impressive recovery - like VE Day - gives us all hope of better times after dark days.

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Thursday 7th May 2020

For the second day running, the Random button on BellBoard coincidentally brought up a peal conducted by Bernard Groves. Although the odds on that happening must still be pretty long, it’s also not entirely surprising as he has conducted 3072 peals, a total surpassed by only six other ringers – Barrie Dove with 3297, John Pladdys with 3432, Michael Mears with 3452, John Mayne with 3780, Peter Randall with 3846 and Derek Sibson with 4014. My forty-five as conductor is paltry in comparison! Thank you to Andrew Craddock’s superb Pealbase for those figures.

Grundisburgh>Only one of Bernard’s impressive tally was with me in the band, rung almost exactly eleven years ago when Anthea Edwards very kindly asked me to ring in a peal of Cambridge Surprise Maximus at Grundisburgh, but the performance that I came across today was one of Wetherspoon Surprise Royal Yorkshire bar places being made instead of the 3-4 dodge in sixths and ninths place bells – on handbells in Reading on 19th November 2007.

At that time I was making one my earliest blog entries and if you think they’re bad these days you should look at them back then! Nonetheless it relays my struggles to balance parenthood and running St Mary-le-Tower practice, whilst also trying to find new employment. It is a reminder that for all the uncertainty of our current times, things are a lot more settled for me personally these days.

Still, it is a pity that due to the current restrictions that we won’t be able to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day tomorrow, especially with ringing, but with a socially distanced street party planned outside ours tomorrow we enjoyed colouring in some bunting for the occasion. For all the restrictions it will hopefully be a lovely day and I look forward to seeing if a Bernard Groves peal will appear on BellBoard’s Random button again!

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Wednesday 6th May 2020

One feature of having BBC Radio Suffolk as my companion whilst I work at home in isolation from my similarly home-working John Catt colleagues is spotting the bellringers appearing on the station and today saw another one appear as Hollesley ringer James Mallinder spoke to Mark Murphy about 3hrs 54mins into the latter’s four-hour morning show. It was in his important role as Cabinet Member for the Environment on East Suffolk Council and the return of green bin collections and so ringing wasn’t mentioned, but without being able to get out to see friends and acquaintances in the exercise it is nice to hear voices of fellow participants in the art.

Although I am one of those ringers who has been on there in recent weeks, there was no appearance from me across the airwaves on this occasion as the day took on a pattern that has become very familiar since ‘lockdown’ began.

Allendale.Therefore I reached for the Random button on BellBoard again and got a peal that was rung on the August Bank Holiday Monday of 2005 at Allendale in Northumberland. The method named after this far northern village is familiar to those who ring lots of Surprise Minor, but I don’t know too much about the place.
However, a few in the band are familiar to me featuring as it does fellow Rambling Ringers Andrew Mills, his mother Christine and the late Denis Mottershead. Denis in particular is a fondly remembered character from our early days of going on Ramblers with lots of eccentric quirks, but a very good ringer with high standards which still permeate through the Society to this day.

At the time of their 5120 of Bristol Surprise Major I was just settling back into Suffolk and my little pink cottage in Tunstall, having only moved back after eight years in the West Midlands the previous month, with ringing helping me to do that. Only a couple of weeks earlier I had rung my first peal with Ruthie in a peal at Woodbridge to mark the sixtieth anniversary of VJ Day (which is marked by a peal board in the ringing chamber behind the rope of the sixth and was rung in record time that saw considerable mutterings from Arnie next to me!) and I was shortly to ring a peal of Superlative Surprise Major at Grundisburgh which - if I recall correctly – I did extremely well to get to only slightly late having slept in and been woken up by a call from conductor Stephen Pettman who was stood outside the church with the rest of the band waiting for me!

No such problems for the Perrins family of Australia I imagine, who were again flying the flag for peal-ringing in these restricted times with another impressive effort on handbells from their own home. However, whilst our efforts on handbells weren’t quite as impressive, we were still chuffed with our efforts at Plain Bob Minimus as I rang the tougher pair of 3-4.

I don’t think our efforts would be worthy of the Central Council’s competition for the best ringing on YouTube, but there is still plenty of good stuff out there and the CCCBR is encouraging people to send in recordings to be judged, with this month being for six bells or fewer. Do check it out – it would be great to see an entry from here taking the £200 prize!

Brewood.Meanwhile, a great idea from fellow Rambling Ringer Steve Askew from Brewood in Staffordshire who had been requested by the local community for the 21cwt eight to ring for the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. Obviously that isn’t possible at the moment and so rather smartly he has shared a recording of the bells on the village’s Facebook page for people who wish to play. Perhaps an idea for towers within our borders, especially if they have had a request for bells on Friday. Or indeed for any occasion.

If people in Suffolk haven’t heard enough of ringers already recently!

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Tuesday 5th May 2020

I have been critical of the Central Council in the past, but in recent times reforms seem to be making them a more relevant organisation and with Simon Linford they have an absolutely superb President, with all due respect to previous Presidents who have carried out an extremely difficult and unenviable role in the past.

It is in the coronavirus crisis and the cessation of ringing that they have really come into their own though, IMHO. Ringers are a varied bunch in terms of abilities, ambitions, opportunities and indeed involvement in the art and the current situation has effected them in different ways, so having a central body to advise and guide the wider ringing family has been useful. No more so in terms of what we should and shouldn’t be doing in these unprecedented times in regards ringing. Whilst Boris Johnson’s announcement on 16th March made it pretty clear to most ringers that gathering from different households to ring towerbells had to stop, that it didn’t (understandably of course!) specifically mention ringing appeared to place doubt into the minds of some and so the CCCBR’s subsequent announcement immediately afterwards helped to ensure that the message was clear to all UK ringers. And thus, bar a few straggling quarter-peals and the odd bit of tolling, no ringing on church bells in this country has occurred since.

However, with hopes rising that restrictions throughout society generally will start to be eased very soon, there has been much debate as to when we might all be able to return to ringing. Despite generally unwavering support amongst the British public over the last few weeks, there is a sense of spirits flagging and a fear of what toll it is taking on mental health and other health issues and like football fans (myself included) keen to see some football (even if it is only on TV), ringers are understandably desperate to return to the art for some physical and mental exercise. That aforementioned varied ringing family have many different views on what point in the gradual easing of the lockdown that return should and could occur and with ringing chambers in numerous different settings (some open, some very enclosed, some with big social-distancing friendly rope circles, some accessible from outside a church, etc), we can’t really rely on guidance from government or even the Church of England who will probably be unaware of the peculiarities of ringing.

Therefore, today’s statement from ringing’s ‘governing’ body is most welcome. Essentially the CCCBR are using ringing medical knowledge – in the form of ringer and former NHS Consultant and Medical Director Dr Philip Barnes – to review the health implications of a return to ringing in regards to COVID-19, which is due to be published on the organisation’s website this week and in the next edition of the Ringing World. The plan seems to be to review that at least monthly and as and when any relevant developments occur. Watch this space!

Redenhall.For now though, I find myself pushing the Random button on BellBoard again, which today took me to 23rd October 2013 and just over the Norfolk border to Redenhall, where a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Triples was rung featuring a number of Suffolk residents.

According to my blog entry it was on a busy day for ringers and bells within our borders. We were in the depths of a very successful South-East District Quarter-Peal Fortnight and there was a peal rung at The Wolery, whilst I was straddled across both mediums as I lost a peal attempt of Ashtead Surprise Major on the front eight at St Mary-le-Tower that was already fraught after traffic troubles in and around Ipswich, but scored a quarter-peal afterwards. Long before lockdown I was missing taking part in the monthly Wednesday night Surprise Major attempts at SMLT, but it got to the point that it wasn’t really fair on Ruthie that I was getting home from work to a household where she has been looking after at least one child all day and then immediately leaving for the entire evening for some peal-ringing!

I suspect that whatever the Central Council advice is in the coming weeks and months, that is still one thing that I won’t be returning to when we all get back to ringing!

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Monday 4th May 2020

Normally the first Monday of May would’ve been a bank holiday, but this year that has been moved to Friday to coincide with the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. I’m sure that would’ve been a wonderful day of celebration with bells playing a big part and there are apparently still well-meaning though misguided requests for bells to be rung. However, it is important to note that apart from essential maintenance and the like, no one should be entering ringing chambers as restrictions currently state:

...The Central Council’s guidance to ringers is that currently it is too early for any return to ringing and that the current suspension of all ringing of any kind should remain in place. This includes chiming of single bells and the use of Ellacombe chimes.

Being a ‘normal’ Monday though, I found myself working from home, whilst Ruthie home-schooled the children. With the news suggesting that even with the hoped for easing of some restrictions that people like myself who can work from our abode will continue to be doing so for months to come, and the earliest that children won’t be returning to their places of education until 1st June at the earliest – and that likely to only be certain year groups and/or in shifts and smaller groups – we may have a lot of Mondays like this come in the coming weeks.

Perhaps we’ll also get more bellringing dance tracks along the lines of the one set to some Stedman Caters simulated from the sound of bells of Edinburgh Cathedral which we had a listen to tonight. Even if the style of music isn’t your type it is a very clever use of change-ringing and well worth a listen!

Trumpington.Meanwhile, the Random performance from BellBoard today was a 1260 of Grandsire Triples rung at Trumpington rung on 31st July 2010. This nice 10cwt eight just outside Cambridge is what might termed a ‘peal factory’, where I believe effective sound control allows for annual peal totals frequently in double figures. It is isn’t just the quantity that this tower is well known for, but the quality and it has seen many impressive peals of Major down the years, featuring many of the superb ringers that have rung in the neighbouring university city.

We last rang there on the 2016 Rambling Ringers Tour, which is a reminder of the sad news confirmed earlier this week that this year’s Tour has – like so much else in 2020 – been postponed until 2021 (what a year that could be!). Friends, the freedom of travelling the country’s marvellous countryside between some hidden gems and some brilliant ringing will all be much missed.

Funnily enough 31/7/2010 was the first day of that year’s Tour to South Wales, but we weren’t to join it for a couple of days. Instead ours was a ringing-free day, although ringers were present at ours as we held a BBQ in the times when one was allowed to do such things.

It is unusual these days that we did more ringing than on a blog entry from the past, but that was the case today, as we took advantage of our new handbells with some more (mixed) attempts at Plain Bob Minimus. We don’t want to go overboard, but it is fairly addictive after weeks without doing any ringing and it is nice to feel like we’re actually achieving something beyond merely surviving! And to do something other than just working and home-schooling on this not bank holiday Monday!

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Sunday 3rd May 2020

Alfie & Ruthie with 3-4 & 1-2!We have handbells! With the knock of the door from a masked delivery driver and the sound of his footsteps rapidly making an escape – as is the norm these days – we were in possession of some colourful toy bells! Not overly sophisticated, but they are good enough for what we need whilst on lockdown and with no towerbell ringing available to us. Primarily the ambition is achieve some Minimus change-ringing for Ruthie and me when we can get the opportunity (which we did this evening, even completing a few courses of Plain Bob out of several attempts), but the new toys were attractive enough to entice Alfie into some rounds on six and even Plain Hunt on Four before he got distracted by playing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. At the moment, we’re a way off emulating the efforts of the Stevens of Sweffling (as featured on Facebook) or the Pipes of Cambridgeshire today!

Dordrecht.It is all jolly good fun, but I still found time to push the Random button on BellBoard, which brought up a peal rung at Dordrecht in the Netherlands on 14th January 2012. This light eight has been one of ringing’s biggest successes, providing a focal point to many a trip away on the continent and has its roots in Rambling Ringers. It was on Ramblers that Paul de Kok did most of his early ringing and Paul who was the driving force behind this first permanent ring of bells on the continent to be hung specifically for change-ringing. It was a predominantly Ramblers band that rang the first peal on the bells back in 2008 and the de Kok family followed Paul in learning the art, mainly on those wonderful fortnight-long summer tours.

That 5088 of Uxbridge Surprise Major was rung at the start of a busy year for ringing, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics offering much focus, but on that particular day we didn’t do any ringing as we celebrated birthdays and I was a week into recovering from a kidney stone!

Wheathampstead.Mercifully no such issues for me currently and so this morning we caught up via video with our ringing friends from St Mary-le-Tower (where the new edition of the parish magazine Inspire featuring an excellent piece by David Potts was mentioned) and afterwards church friends. With both chats, the reopening of churches in Germany gave hope of something similar happening here in the coming weeks and in respect to ringing whether that could signal a return to some ringing chambers. I suspect that could be possible at some places such as ground-floor rings with large ringing chambers (the infamous – in a ringing sense - Wheathampstead has been picked out as ideal in recent days!) if given the go-ahead, but I suspect in most cases social distancing will make it unfeasible to return any time very soon.

I think we may need those handbells for a while yet!

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Saturday 2nd May 2020

South-East District Striking Competition day. Or at least it would have been, but of course like everything else it wasn’t. Which is a pity as it is a lovely afternoon out.

Pettistree.On this occasion the morning was probably much the same as if the contest had gone ahead, as we enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning watching Minions, but after that we would’ve made the short journey up the road to Pettistree for the 2020 contest. Whereas the results of the cancelled National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest eliminators a few weeks ago were guessed by a vast social media audience missing a day out of bells and booze, there probably isn’t quite the same appetite to predict how proceedings at the ground-floor six would’ve gone this afternoon and we can’t be 100% sure who would’ve entered. Still, I couldn’t help but look out the window at the occasionally sunny - albeit breezy - conditions and ponder how in normal circumstances things might have been unfolding just four miles away.

The bells are easy to ring and so I imagine that there would’ve been a high standard of ringing and that it would’ve been a close contest. However, like all peals of bells, they have their little quirks and so I suspect home advantage would’ve counted for a lot. That said, St Mary-le-Tower can never be discounted in such competitions and I always feel that the Debenham band are never far off winning the Cecil Pipe Memorial Bell Method Competition – how appropriate might it have been for them to win at Jenny Scase’s first SE Striking Competition since becoming District Ringing Master?

Last year, SMLT won the David Barnard Memorial Trophy Call Change Competition at Sproughton, which we entered for the benefit of our learner Karina Wiseman and it certainly served its purpose of boosting the confidence and enthusiasm in the art of the young ringer. I expect this time round though, she would’ve probably have been ready for taking part in a method ringing entry and so therefore there wouldn’t have been a team from ‘The Tower’ in the call-change contest. Who would’ve taken the trophy then? Hollesley have a good record both at a District and Guild level, but again Debenham have decent pedigree here, whilst I’ve sensed that Clopton are improving year-on-year. I’d like to think that there might have been returning entries from Offton and Sproughton and maybe even a new one from Holbrook where learners had been enthusiastically attending District events earlier this year until everything stopped.

Whatever the results and whoever exactly partook, I’m sure it would’ve served its primary purpose of progressing ringers and being a great social occasion, perhaps with a drink enjoyed in The Greyhound next door afterwards and I am sad that we couldn’t enjoy it this time round. Again though, there is far worse going on currently and God willing everyone will come out the other end ready to compete whenever the competitions are next held!

And others were pursuing the art in lockdown in impressive fashion, with Linnet Tutcher and Julian Howes ringing the most Minimus methods rung in a peal, coming in at 105, including one called Iken! Who’d have thought there were that Minimus methods?

Ashford.Glemsford.Ipswich, St Margaret of Scotland.Stowmarket.The Norman Tower.Offton.Preston St Mary.Ipswich, St Matthew.

Meanwhile, the performance that came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today was a QP of Plain Bob Triples rung on  16th December 1969 at Ashford in Kent, just before they became the ten they are today. It wasn’t a particularly active day in Suffolk, with no quarter-peals or peals recorded on this winter Tuesday. In terms of the former it fell between a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor at Glemsford on the 14th and a 1296 of three Minor methods at St Margaret’s in Ipswich, whilst with regards to the latter it came after the 5056 of Plain Bob Major on the then newly restored eight of Stowmarket which was Joan Muxlow’s first peal and before a busy Saturday of peal-ringing for the Guild as three were rung – one at The Norman Tower, one at what was then the six of Offton and one at Preston St Mary, which was notable for being the first peal for Richard Knight. He has since rung a further 548 peals with 392 of his total being with the SGR and six have been with myself, with work, injury and my time living out of the area preventing us from ringing more together, although I have always found him willing to help out if he is able. He particularly showed this spirit when despite an injured hand he valiantly rang in a peal of Ipswich Surprise Minor at St Matthew’s in Ipswich as part of a band of Ipswich Town fans in memory of Ipswich Town’s greatest manager Sir Bobby Robson. Quite apart from his peal-ringing though, he has been a tremendous servant to the South-West District and the Guild and I hope we can ring together again soon.

And I hope I can partake in striking competitions again soon!

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Friday 1st May 2020

I guess if your car is going to pack up it might as well pack up when you haven’t got anywhere to go. Therefore, our car failing to start can perhaps be considered almost a plus, but the bill when we get it back from the garage – where I managed to get it to today – may not feel so much so!

Last time we had major car trouble it was whilst we were on the 2017 Rambling Ringers Tour to Derbyshire, but our vehicle is not to be tested on a similar trip this year as the postponement of seventieth annual tour due to go to Leicestershire at the end of July and beginning of August to 2021 was announced via an email from the Society’s President – and St Mary-le-Tower ringer – Chris Birkby this evening. It is sad, but predictable and I have to admit that we’d given up searching for accommodation a while back in anticipation of such an announcement.  However, the good news is that Secretary Geoff Pick has already planned the tour for next year (in what must be a record amount of forward planning for a tour where the location is only usually chosen twelve months ahead of time!) and there seemed little prospect on being able to travel across the country, let alone then around dozens over towers across a fortnight to ring bells in just three months time.

And as we all know very well, there is much worse going on in the world currently, although there are still relatively positive vibes emanating from businesses and governments here and worldwide, at least in these dire circumstances.

The Perrins. SE District Ringing Master's letter.Apart from Ramblers being postponed though, such vibes could also be applied to ringing. Of course we can’t ring church bells at the moment and for all that we might have a much better idea of when we can again when the restrictions are reviewed in the next week, I expect South-East District Ringing Master Jenny Scase is correct in her letter to SE members today that it’ll be months rather than weeks before we return to the art, at least at a District level. Yet ringers continue to be resourceful, as they have been since ‘lockdown’ began and the month began with another handbell peal from the Perrins of Australia as they rang a 5400, which is the longest peal of Stedman Doubles yet rung. And Jimmy Yeoman ensured some ‘ringing’ was going on in Suffolk today with his part in the Ringing Room 60 of Stedman Doubles.
Meanwhile, Grundisburgh ringer Gillian Twissell was mentioned about an hour-and-a-half into Lesley Dolphin’s BBC Radio Suffolk show this afternoon for her efforts to raise money for Brooke, Action For Working Horses and Donkeys by singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow in the bath every day for twenty-six days! Her JustGiving page can be found by clicking on here. Good on you Gill!

Brill.My efforts were less notable on this first day of May and apart from working was restricted to pushing the Random button on BellBoard which today brought up a 1260 of Grandsire and Plain Bob Doubles rung at Brill in Buckinghamshire on 17th December 2016, a day when Christmas ringing around Ipswich was taking place, but we were in fact at a junior church event back in Woodbridge. They tend to enjoy themselves once out at ringing events despite protestations when we try to drag them away from the comforts of home, but we try not to overload the boys with ringing and on occasions like this if there is an event specifically for their enjoyment on at the same time we will often go to that instead. Such is the balancing act for active bellringing parents of young children, as others will no doubt testify!

On the same day though, there was a reminder of what was the biggest ringing story of that year and arguably – until the current situation – the biggest ringing story ever, as the banished ringers of York Minster put a statement on their website in response to the various reports that had not only been circulating online but also in the national news. I have no desire to stir up old debates on the subject, but the events surrounding this frequently led me to ponder how I might feel if I found myself unable to ring at St Mary-le-Tower for example. It’s not quite the same, but I am now – and just about every other ringer on the planet is too – discovering how they must have felt and it isn’t a pleasant feeling.

Not that we could go ringing currently anyway, even if church bells were being rung!

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Thursday 30th April 2020

And so the emptiest month in ringing’s history draws to a close. There has been no change-ringing on church bells anywhere from the 1st up until this day. Some households – particularly the Pages of Reading, Perrins of Australia and Pipes of Willingham, but also Linnet Tutcher and Julian Howes in Batheaston – have managed to ring peals and even a long length on handbells and various ringing platforms (the latest I have spotted being used is Ding) have sprung up, but generally it has been a depressingly quiet April for the art. Although in the context of the tens of thousands of deaths from coronavirus across the same period it is the very least of anyone’s concerns currently.

However, as the month draws to a close, things certainly appear more positive than when the month began. Whereas at that point we were only just setting out on a bleak, lengthy period with nothing to look forward to and with no obvious endpoint and completely the opposite to what we had all been accustomed to, people – ourselves included – have generally adjusted our expectations of life for the foreseeable and thoughts now seem to be turning to coming out of this lockdown, even if it is in limited fashion. The returning Prime Minister Boris Johnson – fresh from his own recovery and the birth this week of another child – thinks we have “passed the peak” of coronavirus in the UK and promised a “comprehensive plan” next week for a hoped for exiting of lockdown, with many businesses already making concrete plans for a (albeit limited) return to trading. Although the resumption of ringing still seems some way off – especially to the extent that we have been used to doing it – it is welcome progress back to some sort of normality.

Meanwhile, it has been difficult to mope around recently when watching Captain – now Colonel – Tom Moore raising staggering sums (up to more than £32m today!) for the NHS and the celebrations of his one hundredth birthday today – which was marked by pretty much every performance on BellBoard on this wet and windy Thursday) certainly help raise the spirits.

Quite apart from the extra time spent with Ruthie and the boys, one positive from the last month and indeed since ringing ceased on 16th March, has been the metaphorical journeys (in the main, what other type of journey is there these days?) I have gone on from the simple act of pushing the Random button on BellBoard.

Edenham.Today’s has taken me to 2005 and to the Peterborough Diocesan Guild and a 5000 of Haceby Surprise Royal rung at Edenham in Lincolnshire on 21st September. The PDG is an organisation I am fond of and holds almost as many fond childhood memories as the Suffolk Guild as on our regular visits to our maternal grandparents in the Northamptonshire (the county it mainly covers) market town of Thrapston we often partook of some ringing down that way.

The Norman Tower.The peal itself was rung at a time when I had only just returned to Suffolk from studying, working and living in the West Midlands for several years and although my peal-ringing was still relatively infrequent at that point, I had rung in a 5040 of Cambridge Surprise Royal for the College Youths at what was still the ten of The Norman Tower only four days previously. September 2005 was certainly a busier month of ringing than April 2020 has been.

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Wednesday 29th April 2020

The Central Council of Church Bellringers have had bad press over the years, not least from myself, but in recent times it has improved and in the current circumstances where towerbell ringing is currently not possible, my opinion of them has risen further. They have been informative but also upbeat, especially with President Simon Linford’s Blog, the latest (#8) of which I read today. Despite revealing the news that September’s CCCBR annual meeting would now need to be done virtually, he also spoke of lots of positive developments, from Handbell Stadium, residential courses, planning for ‘Mobile Belfry 2.0’, video tutorials# and even a YouTube competition. Do have a read, please.

Sadly it was confirmed that past Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich – and therefore past President of the Suffolk Guild – the Right Reverend John Dennis recently died of coronavirus. The news had been doing the rounds on social media at the time, but I hadn’t seen anything official until today. Another sad loss.

On a happier note, Suffolk appeared in the columns of BellBoard for a while with Joshua Watkins’ participation in the Ringing Room quarter of Plain Bob Minor which is believed to have been the first QP rung from five different counties.

Wickwar, Holy Trinity.Meanwhile, the performance that came up from pushing the Random button on BellBoard took me to a 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles rung at Wickwar in Gloucestershire on 9th June, which was a first quarter-peal for youngster Richard Usherwood. He has been busy since, ringing many more QPs, conducting some, ringing handbells with the Earis’ and a peal. Clearly a talented lad.

On the same day. One of our talented young ringers and top export George Salter was impressively ringing the 72cwt tenor at Exeter Cathedral – the second heaviest bell in the world hung for change-ringing –behind to a 5004 of Stedman Cinques for 4hrs 16mins, but we weren’t doing any ringing ourselves on this hot Saturday amongst that long, glorious, roasting summer of two years ago. Instead, whilst Ruthie worked I took the boys to Rendlesham Forest before we eventually ended up at a beer festival at one of our nearby pubs The Coach and Horses. The sight of this usually thriving tavern deserted on the sunny days of recent weeks has been one of the most visually sobering (in every sense!) reminders of how society has shut down, but many much-missed inns have been doing takeaways of food and drink.

It is lovely to see pubs being so resourceful. As it is to see ringing doing likewise.

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Tuesday 28th April 2020

As the nation paused at 11am to remember the NHS and care workers who have died whilst putting themselves right into the heart of the country’s coronavirus outbreak and thus helped others live through it, it was a reminder as to why this current lengthy lockdown is more important than people going to football, work and most certainly ringing.

However, God willing we will be able to ring on towerbells again in the relatively near future (although as the Page family in Reading have shown yesterday and today, there is still much to achieve on handbells in the right circumstances with a peal of firsts on both days) in one way or another and I enjoyed today reading The Central Council announcement highlighting how ringers have kept their toes dipped into the exercise in various safe ways whilst also encouraging people to look to the future and get involved in their Ringing Returns campaign. They are keen for ringers to learn something new in the art and whilst mine still remains to get somehow competent in handbell ringing, others are learning Bristol Surprise Maximus in readiness for whenever our return to ringing at St Mary-le-Tower will be, whilst others may have been inspired by Mark Davies’ talk on composing last week and are perhaps now busy filling their days with new compositions! If nothing else, please try and stay in touch with other ringers, especially those you would usually be ringing with on a regular basis.

If and when we do return, we may have to be mindful of neighbours who will have been getting used to the greater peace and quiet that pretty much every community in the UK has been experiencing over the last few weeks. Hopefully the sound of church bells ringing will be a welcome sign of normality gradually returning for most, but communication with neighbours will be important and as I have always tried to encourage towers to do, consider sound control to give you greater flexibility.

Beoley.Meanwhile, the performance I came across when pushing the Random button on BellBoard today was from 10thOctober 1993 with 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles rung at Beoley in Worcestershire, another performance from AJ Barnfield who came up in another Random performance recently.

At the time I was just five days from my fifteenth birthday, less than a month after I had rung in my brother’s first peal – and indeed only my third peal – in a 5040 at Sproughton where we’d both learnt to ring, but still more than two months before I rang my next peal, which was the first of the fifteen New Year’s Eve peals I have rung at Grundisburgh. There was a peal rung in the county for the Guild on 10/10/1993 though and being a second Sunday it won’t surprise many that it was a peal at Aldeburgh, in a method new to the Guild’s peal columns, which on this occasion was of a musical-looking Yorkshire-above method called Newhey Surprise Major.

Aldeburgh.Apart from a couple of the summer months and the odd other occasion, a peal has been attempted on the second Sunday of pretty much every month for decades at this coastal 11cwt gallery-ring eight, but most will recall when they made the national news when a complaint was made about them in 2008. As mentioned above, we have to be considerate of our neighbours, but this is a well-known and regular event and so it was surprising and disappointing, yet heartening that it was met with an overwhelming wave of support from the general public locally and further afield and soon blew over.
For now though, it was quite refreshing to listen to a phone-in on Radio Suffolk about noisy neighbours without worrying that church bells were going to be singled out, although I did wonder if someone might bemoan that the folk next door had suddenly taken up handbell ringing!

Not an issue for our neighbours (yet?) as without any handbells currently we did no ringing, as has been the case for the last forty-two days and so instead our day was mainly full of schooling the children and working from home, only this time with the chilly wet weather preventing poor Ruthie from releasing the boys into the garden as she has been able to do with the lovely wall-to-wall sunshine we have had over the last month. In the circumstances though, we feel blessed.

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Monday 27th April 2020

If I recall rightly, there wouldn’t have been a practice at St Mary-le-Tower this evening anyway as there was due to be a concert on, but it still doesn’t make me (and I imagine others) miss the weekly Monday night dose of twelve-bell ringing, socialising and a drink any less. We’re not alone in missing something we enjoy, with the cancelling of Latitude today, but of course for a lot of us the lack of ringing is a big deal, even if not the most important thing.

There was an opportunity to join in with a SMLT session in Ringing Room at 5pm, but as you can imagine with Ruthie taking the brunt of schooling the boys (and doing magnificently at it!) all day whilst I work, the period between clocking off and getting the boys to bed is a fairly full-on experience for me currently as Ruthie takes a break and the children turn their focus to me!

Not unexpectedly during these quiet times for ringing, there wasn’t much ringing going on elsewhere in Suffolk either - at least not that was mentioned on BellBoard - although immediate Past Guild Secretary Reverend Carl Melville got a mention about half-an-hour into Lesley Dolphin’s afternoon show on our local BBC radio station in regards the food bank in the Bacton Benefice, which he recently became Rector of.

Westminster, St Clement Danes. Mike appearing up the tower, carried by Ben.Meanwhile, the Random button on the site brought up a 1282 of Cambridge Surprise Royal rung at St Clement Danes in Westminster on 1st November 1987. It was a first of treble bob on ten for J Ross on the treble, a first of Cambridge Surprise Royal for Jane Ambler The tenor ringer and conductor is an example of what can be achieved in ringing as nearly twenty years ago he was paralysed in a fall whilst climbing in the Alps and yet he returned to the art despite the obvious obstacles to ringing towerbells from a wheelchair. And not just returned but been thoroughly active, ringing his one thousandth towerbell quarter-peal from a wheelchair just over three years ago.

According to that year’s Annual Report (thank you again to Neal Dodge and Mark Ogden on getting the Annual Reports scanned for the website, they’ve been an invaluable resource at this time!), QPs were being rung at Beccles (1259 Grandsire Caters), Lavenham (1280 Cambridge Surprise Major), Long Melford (1272 London Surprise Minor), Polstead (1260 All Saints Doubles) and Sudbury, St Gregory (1260 Stedman Triples), whilst Stephen Claridge and Persephone Booth were ringing their first peal in the 5040 of Plain Bob Minor at Brandeston. That was Stephen’s one and only peal, but Persephone rang four in total over eleven years, is the tower correspondent at nearby Kettleburgh and – as far as I am aware – was still ringing in the local area until the cessation of the exercise.

Brandeston.Kettleburgh.St Paul's Cathedral.St Mary-le-Tower.

At that point I was learning to handle (some may say still am!) and at the very start of something that has given me many happy memories from places like Brandeston and Kettleburgh to St Paul’s Cathedral and St Mary-le-Tower. And which I am missing at the moment.

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Sunday 26th April 2020

Over the last couple of days there has been an interesting thread on the Bell Ringing Facebook page from someone asking the question that many of us have been considering as murmurings about lifting the general restrictions have begun surfacing in recent days – at what point do we think that we will be allowed to resume ringing?

Of course, no one can really say. Generally though, the consensus seems to be that either ringing will have to wait until a vaccine is found – therefore probably not for a year or eighteen months at least, which is a dispiriting thought – or with restricted numbers and/or at towers where social distancing can take place. It may be in line with when places like pubs, restaurants and the like can reopen and/or churches are allowed to open again. If we are allowed to return before a vaccine is found (and let’s pray it is found for reasons more important than just ringing resuming) then it is likely to be with a lot of measures in place, which might involve testing (if that is possible), protective gear such as gloves and masks and/or even protective shields between ropes similar to that which have become familiar in shops and supermarkets. Someone suggested that people could ring amongst a ‘bubble’ of people as has been suggested for wider society, although I imagine this could be logistically difficult, especially if people also have to work with other people and/or need to help family. And one imagines that over-seventies and those with underlying health issues will have to wait longer. We have to accept that as much as many of us are desperate to get back to ringing towerbells, it will quite rightly be lumped in with other non-essential activities which are likely to be among the last to have restrictions lifted. My estimate (based on nothing more than what others more qualified than me have themselves guesstimated) has for a while been that ringing may be able to return in July, but I haven’t kidded myself that this isn’t optimistic at best. As highlighted by the number of times I have used ‘and/or’ in this rambling paragraph, there are still so many uncertainties involved.

Still, in the absence of regularly meeting in ringing chambers, I have been impressed at how connected ringers of all ages have been able to stay connected, either directly through technology or indirectly. Diana Pipe’s presence on our weekly Sunday morning St Mary-le-Tower ringers’ video chat has provided some amusement as she has tried to grasp it, but also most welcome, whilst it has been good having Sonia Docherty joining in and looking well, having been very unwell even before this pandemic took hold in the UK. However, it is also nice to hear of other ringers not able to join us in our twenty-plus group. Amanda Richmond passed on the wishes of former learner John who came across on her daily exercise earlier in the week, as well as Richard Weeks. Meanwhile, Di and Amanda were both able to report on conversations they have recently had with Reydon ringers Don and Helen Price, who are being well looked after by family, although Don’s health generally isn’t very good sadly. It was lovely even in these times of isolation to be able to send our best wishes to them.

Our new ‘patio’.In between laying some slabs out in preparation for laying down a patio in our newly-gained bit of garden, I also had the pleasure of having a text conversation with Framlingham ringers Granville and Lyn Lindsay who had been in touch to confirm that the Rachel who appeared on the radio on Friday does indeed ring with them on the 16cwt eight. Lovely to confirm that, to hear that they are well (although concerned that they’ll need SatNav to find the tower when they can go ringing again!) and that they are reading the blog! Indeed, I have been heartened to hear from quite a lot of people across the county and even the country who seem to be enjoying the blog and encouraging me to keep it up. When this all started, I had wondered if it would be worthwhile with no ringing happening, so I am delighted that it seems to be serving a purpose of some sort!

Gislingham Peal Band, 2/6/2012. Gislingham.One thing that has helped (me at least) is discovering what the Random button on BellBoard has revealed, but for the third time since I started this, it has brought me to 11th November 2018 when we memorably marked the centenary of the end of the First World War. However, on this occasion it took me to one of the many performances from Suffolk that day, with the Devon Call Changes rung that day at Gislingham. Since its augmentation fourteen years ago, this lovely 14cwt ground-floor eight have been a real success story for this county’s ringing. Handled carefully from the start with residents not then used to regular ringing, more and more people have been able to ring quarters and peals on them, including myself during the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. That day I was delighted to partake in the first peal and first peal inside for locals Alan Stanley and Kay Lucas respectively and that local band has been part of the success generally, with Alan even going on to serve for five years as the SGR’s Chairman before handing over to current incumbent Rowan Wilson at the 2018 AGM in Bury St Edmunds.
God willing they’ll be able to ring regularly on their bells again soon, whenever that may be!

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Saturday 25th April 2020

For all that this is a dreadful situation, there are some positives. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with the family, the environment is breathing a sigh of relief and generally people seem to be nicer. Personally I have also grown to enjoy seeing what the Random button on BellBoard brings up. Initially it was just a tool to fill the blog with something ringing-related whilst not much new ringing-related stuff was happening, but it has taken me on some fascinating virtual journeys from some of the most unremarkable performances recorded on BB.

Minchinhampton. Ashbocking. Barking.Today’s was a perfect example. There was nothing obviously notable about the 1272 of Cambridge Surprise Minor rung at Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire on 17th April 2017, which was Easter Monday that year. I don’t know any of the band, though I think most of them ring quarter-peals together regularly, so I imagine the standard was high. The tower is also unfamiliar to me, but putting the name of the 12cwt six into the search box on the What’s New section of this website led me to two peals rung for the Suffolk Guild in 1966 featuring an Alliance Minor method of the same moniker. One was at Barking (1966 Guild Report, p34) of an impressive 134 methods, which at that point was the most methods rung for the SGR. Even more impressively, the same band then followed that up just a fortnight later with a 5040 at Ashbocking of 148 methods (1966 Guild Report, p36), which at the time was the most methods rung to any peal, anywhere. Although that record has since been surpassed (as far as I’m aware the record stands at 1053 rung on handbells in Cambridge in 2005), it is something that we can be chuffed was achieved within our borders for our Guild and I imagine if BellBoard had been about back then it would’ve been liked enough to get to the top of the leaderboard!

On 17/4/2017 meanwhile, it was a typically busy Easter Monday of ringing, though not for us as I took Mason along to our best day out watching Ipswich Town in years and especially for my eldest. In glorious sunshine we met ITFC legends Kevin Beattie (the finest player in the club’s history) and Roger Osborne (scorer of the winning goal in the 1978 FA Cup Final) before the Tractor Boys beat the shortly-to-be-promoted Newcastle United.

Sadly such precious memories are unlikely to be repeated for quite some time, with football set not to return for weeks at least and to be without spectators for months and maybe not even for another year or more. It is similar with so much else, with Mark Regan announcing that the DAC Bell Advisors’ Conference that was due to be held in Leeds in June has been cancelled, whilst we were supposed to be in Brighton visiting Ruthie’s best friend Fergie for what would’ve been a gorgeous weekend to be on the south coast.

There has been some good news this week though, with the project “to repair and regenerate the church as a thriving community hub at St Peter’s in Sudbury – which includes bringing the ringing chamber down to a wheelchair-accessible gallery – awarded a £226,000 grant from the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership and today David Pipe and his sons Henry and Alfred rang twenty-one Treble Dodging Minor methods in 15,120 changes on handbells in Willingham just over the border in Cambridgeshire.

And whilst we were obviously sorry not to be by the seaside with our bridesmaid, the enforced time at home saw us clear our bedroom of the junk that had accumulated in there and enjoy a video curry with our friends Charlotte and Gregory.

In the circumstances, it has been a pretty positive day.

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Friday 24th April 2020

Croydon Minster.A 1263 of Stedman Caters rung on the back ten at Croydon Minster on 20th May 1993 was what came up when I pushed the Random button on BellBoard today. Shirley McGill is amongst the 525 different people I have rung at least a peal with, whilst Past Master of the College Youths Andrew Blacklock joined us on Rambling Ringers tours for a while, whilst I also arranged a Suffolk Guild peal at nearby St Peter’s in South Croydon thirteen years ago which was a first peal inside on twelve for Maggie Wolverson, who is now Maggie Ross and has since rung quite a few more inside on that number including of Stedman Cinques, Avon Delight Maximus, Bristol Surprise Maximus and spliced Maximus. Not bad for a non-peal ringer!

However, the date itself actually made me think more about what we usually do in mid-May, as five days earlier (I expect, unless the date has changed in the intervening years) the SGR Striking Competitions, with Stowmarket winning the Mitson Shield at Rougham (retaining the trophy they’d won the previous year at Tannington) and St Mary-le-Tower winning the Rose Trophy at Horringer (also retaining that trophy after winning it at Worlingworth in 1992 and indeed in 1991 at Stoke-by-Nayland). After what would’ve been the Guild AGM last Saturday, I expect in normal circumstances I would now be encouraging as many bands as possible (most importantly featuring as many different ringers as possible) to put entries in for the competitions at Yoxford on 16th May, although the Eight-Bell was always due to be held at a later date this year to be part of the Guild Social at Horringer on 19th September. Last year it was a pity that bar a competitive entry into the Mitson Shield from Woolpit of our hosts the South-West District, the contests were essentially just North-West District vs South-East District, both at Polstead and Lavenham. There is a lot of talent out there which would only serve to make the competitions even more open then they have become in recent years! Whilst with the AGM being constitutionally important to the Guild I imagine the plan is to hold that later in the year if and when circumstances allow, I hope that we also find time to fit the striking competitions in as they are (IMHO) an invaluable aspect of a ringer’s experience as a ringer – if you don’t normally enter a team, perhaps have this as an aim for when you return to ringing!

For now though, I was working from upstairs at home, whilst Ruthie was doing sterling work home-schooling the boys downstairs and in the garden, both of us ignoring Donald Trump’s advice about using disinfectant as a cure for coronavirus and trying to work out if we know Rachel from Bruisyard who was partaking in the ‘Pop Tarts’ quiz about 1hr 35mins into James Hazell’s mid-morning BBC Radio Suffolk show and said she was a change-ringer. Perhaps our ringing friends in the Framlingham and Saxmundham area can help?

Meanwhile, it was lovely to hear from Past Ringing Master David Salter who was able to confirm that Essex ringer Mick Edwards – who sadly died last week – had edged past the late Frank Arnold of Norfolk as the leading non-resident ringer of peals for the Suffolk Guild.

They are part of the Guild’s history on a day when that QP of 1993 prompted me to consider the part that striking competitions have played in that history. And I hope will do so again as soon as possible.

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Thursday 23rd April 2020

St George or St Edmund? England’s patron saint or Suffolk’s patron saint? There has been a push to promote the latter to the former, as indeed he once was. That has – as many will recall – some pretty impressive efforts from the county’s ringers, especially since BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy asked us to be a focal point for the local saint’s campaign to take the national job in 2008.

Of course today is St George’s Day and although even in normal times not much has been made of the occasion, I wondered if with people not busy racing round to work and whatever else would usually consume their daily life and the current day-to-day life in desperate need of something to make it stand out if more might be made of it. It is harder to tell though, with ringing restricted and therefore fewer performances – although what was rung was predominantly dedicated to George – and not being able to get out into society to witness what may be happening, but BBC Radio Suffolk - my now usual companion during working hours - did make a big deal of it.

However, the main effect was to make me consider where we might be when St Edmund’s Day comes round on 20th November. God willing, firstly we will still be alive, but beyond that, hopefully able to ring for the event, especially during the this year which is supposed to be packed with events to celebrate the one thousandth anniversary of the founding of the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds, but of course has thus far been largely cancelled or postponed. Figures appear to suggest that we are over the worst of the pandemic’s nasty effects in the UK and so whilst no one should feel it is over and done with, it gives hope of some restrictions being lifted in the coming weeks. As mentioned previously by me and many others, ringing and other non-essential activities are likely to be amongst the last things to be allowed again and so I still can’t picture ringing being back before July and even then probably in a more restrictive sense to before, especially in regards to ringers over seventy years old and/or with underlying health issues, but I’d like to think that we will be able to mark 20/11/20 with towerbell ringing, providing we’re not back in lockdown.

Some nice news was Katharine Salter announcing the plan that the bells of St Clement’s in Ipswich will ring a course of Little Bob Minor every Thursday at 8pm to coincide with the applause for carers and NHS workers, courtesy of an electronically operated clock chime.

Barnes, St Mary.Meanwhile, the performance that came from my pushing the Random button on BellBoard today is the oldest yet, coming almost a century ago on 1st October 1922 with a 1260 of Grandsire Triples rung at Barnes in Greater London. Although the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese which the SGR is aligned with was already eight years old by this point, the Suffolk Guild wouldn’t be formed until the following year, but by this point – according to the fascinating history on this very website – one of its forerunners the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocesan Association was in existence.

It was also a time when society and ringing was recovering from the First World War and – aptly for this current time – the Spanish Flu Pandemic and so offers hope that one day we can return to normal and ring at our churches for St George’s Day.

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Wednesday 22nd April 2020

I was so sorry to hear today of the death of Essex ringer Mick Edwards last week, one of the tragically vast numbers of those dying due to Coronavirus. For those of us who knew and rang with him, he is more than a mere statistic of this dreadful pandemic. Despite being from south of the River Stour, he rang 440 of his 1079 peals for the Suffolk Guild and was a trusted treble ringer in circumstances where the treble ringer needed to be in the right place, such as peals of spliced Surprise Minor and unfamiliar Major methods at Aldeburgh and The Wolery in particular. It was at the latter that Ruthie and I did much of our ringing with him (all bar three of my wife’s fifty-four and three of my 103 with him were rung in the Salter’s shed) and he was a reassuring presence, as well as good company before and after. Sadly, due to the current restrictions, only small numbers of close family members will be able to attend his funeral on Wednesday 6th May, but they have suggested that any donations are sent to Essex Air Ambulance, the Stroke Association, British Heart Foundation and/or any approved COVID-19 related fundraising. They are also hopeful of ringers remembering him through ringing once we can again.

On a happier note, whilst I was going through the now usual routine of queuing outside the local shop to top up supplies ravaged by hungry boys now at home all day every day, I had a chance conversation with local ringer Adrian Craddock. He had been away from the art for quite some time after injuring himself, but had managed to return briefly until we all had to stop! Hopefully we can meet again in a ringing chamber again soon!

Not today though and so again I reached for the Random button on BellBoard, which brought up a handbell quarter of Kent Treble Bob Minor in Thatcham, Berkshire on 13th February 2018.  The band included William Butler, who I have rung one peal with. That came at St John the Baptist church in in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on my first experience of being on the Central Council, which ties in nicely with my blog entry of 13/2/18 as I was extolling the virtues of Project Pickled Egg (or PPE before that came to be better known as something else in recent weeks), a project led by current CCCBR President Simon Linford. It was a project that through seeking – with the input of ringers of many abilities - on what Major methods (mainly Surprise, but not exclusively) could be used to broaden the average range of methods from just the ‘standard’ eight of Bristol, Cambridge, Lincolnshire, London, Pudsey, Rutland, Superlative and Yorkshire through assessing aspects such as their simplicity/complexity and musical attributes, although other issues such as silly names came into it in some debates!

This has ultimately led to some of the standard eight falling by the wayside (Pudsey and Rutland for example have long been derided by some!) in this context, but has brought other methods to the fore, such as Kenninghall and Venusium Surprise, Cooktown Orchid and Mareham Delight. Importantly, this hasn’t just been a theoretical exercise, but has encouraged and motivated bands across the world to ring more of these methods, especially since the first peal of the ‘Core Seven’ was rung in Oxford just under two years ago. It is projects like these that help prevent ringing become stagnant and keep the art alive and I would encourage as many as possible to use the extra time most currently have to learn some of them in readiness for the return of regular ringing, whenever that may be!

Simon Linford’s PPE book in progress!What is more, Simon is publishing a book – and judging by the picture on the PPE’s Facebook page is coming along nicely - on the subject which should be fascinating and according to the man himself is due to be ready for 30th June, although with everything at the moment that may change, so watch this space!

It is something nice to look forward to though, when there is so little to anticipate and so much sadness around.

RIP Mick.

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Tuesday 21st April 2020

We are just over a fortnight away from the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day, the day that signalled the end of the Second World War in Europe and much ringing was planned amongst the vast celebrations lined up across the UK. Sadly, with the restrictions not due to be even reviewed until the specially moved bank holiday weekend is upon us and it being pretty much definite that things as unimportant as ringing and the like are given the go-ahead, that will not happen. Hopefully ringing can do something in some form to mark the occasion – some managed to mark the Queen’s ninety-fourth birthday in isolation for example - and which could be offered forward as good PR, although in what form is challenging. Unfortunately, it won’t be in the form of church bells ringing as hoped for by Darren Aitchison the Chairman of the Felixstowe Branch of the Royal British Legion when he spoke to Mark Murphy just over 3hrs 11mins into the latter’s BBC Radio Suffolk Breakfast Show this morning. The advice is clear from the church and The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers – do not go to a church to ring bells, even on your own. As has been suggested, VE Day celebrations will have to wait until VJ Day in August, restrictions allowing.

Snapshots of Mark Davies’ online talk. Snapshots of Mark Davies’ online talk. Snapshots of Mark Davies’ online talk.

I may not have done any ringing today (though we don’t tend to do any ringing on Tuesdays normally anyway), but I did get my ringing-related fix as I listened to Mark Davies’ Introduction to Composition. It was fascinating to get a deep insight into the thought process of one of ringing’s top composers and explained in a way that was fairly straightforward, but illuminating. Well worth watching it on YouTube if you have a spare hour-and-a-half or so. Which most of us will currently!

Middleham, SS Mary & Alkelda.We have a number of conductors of note within our borders too, including Brian Whiting, who does a particularly good line of special lengths. For example, if you want a composition of 5062 changes to celebrate someone’s sixty-second birthday, it is likely he’ll have a composition or will be able to come up with one. He also features in the Random performance on BellBoard that I came across today, which was from 26th September 2013 with a 1260 of Stedman Triples at Middleham in North Yorkshire. This was with a predominantly Suffolk band on one of Joan Garrett’s quarter-peal tours that are typically held in September/October time around a far-flung corner of the UK and whose participants always testify are great fun! I hope this year’s tour will be able to go ahead, as although it would be some months away, will entail getting agreement from tower correspondents and churches in uncertain circumstances.

There were no such issues back in 2013, although according to my blog we weren’t doing any ringing on 26/9. There was significant ringing in the county though, as Colin Salter became the youngest Suffolk born ringer to ring a hundred peals, which at the age of fifteen years, three months and four days beat his mother’s record by six months!

I’m not aware of any young ringers from his homeland who are likely to beat this record, but if there are (and unless they have the opportunity to ring lots of handbell peals!) they will have to wait for now. As will ringing towerbells for the anniversary of VE Day.

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Monday 20th April 2020

Yardley, St Edburgha.Tuesday evening offers an opportunity to listen to and learn from one of ringing’s cleverest composers, Mark Davies as he is due to give an introduction to composition at 7.30. He is incredibly innovative, with many cutting edge and much-rung compositions to his name, with the one that always comes to mind being his one-part twenty-three Surprise Major methods spliced – known as ‘The Mythical Beasts’ – which was rung in 2016 at Yardley near Birmingham. ‘Normal’ compositions of the twenty-three spliced, such as Norman Smith’s, are already impressive feats, but split into seven parts where the methods and calls come in the same order and usually contain several methods that are oft rung and can be considered familiar to ringers who tend to attempt such peals. Mark’s is one part, which although not random is not broken down into repetitive chunks which are arguably easier to learn and remember. What is more, all bar one of the methods – Lessness – unrung and unnamed before that incredible success just over four years ago. He explains the background to and his thought process behind developing the composition in a piece that even if you perceive it to be beyond your comprehension (and I have to admit my simple brain nearly explodes when I read it!) is a fascinating read and whets the appetite for tomorrow night! There is a link to register to watch and I would certainly encourage people to do so, especially if you are a budding composer!

I have never done any composing, though I do occasional dabble with a little experimental and completely dead-end composing when I have a quiet moment, but whilst others are finding far more extra time during this period of lockdown and isolation, that isn’t the case for myself. Today there wasn’t any time to do any composing in between working from home and attending to the children’s adorable though constant demands!

However, I did – as I try to on a daily basis to give myself something other than work or childcare to focus on – push the Random button on BellBoard and today brought up a quarter-peal at St Cross in Oxford from the 1st May 1978. Hard as it is to believe by my youthful looks (stop sniggering at the back), this was the year of my birth, but although I was still fermenting at this stage (although therefore ‘present’ as my parents watched Ipswich Town win the FA Cup five days after the selected 1296 of Beverley and Cambridge Surprise Minor), it was still five months until I was born and welcomed by a peal at Stutton and even mentioned in John Girt’s Secretary’s Report in that year’s Annual Report (p20).

God willing I might have the chance to ring for my birthday this October, but for now I’m hoping to listen to Mark Davies tomorrow!

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Sunday 19th April 2020

Sunday now seems the day of video calling. There is the odd one during the week and an hour-and-a-half tends to be spent in a virtual pub with my uni mates every Friday night, but it is the Sabbath on which we seem to be doing most of our catching up. Today we ‘met’ up with Kala (Mason’s Godmother), Nick (Alfie’s Godfather), Toby (Mason’s Godfather), Amy (Joshua’s Godmother) and their children, including my Goddaughter Maddie after speaking with some people from church and to kick it all off we met our ringing peers from St Mary-le-Tower Society of Change Ringers for what has become a lovely weekly virtual trip to the coffee shop. This morning we were joined by ‘special guest’ (with much build-up from Amanda!), Owen Claxton. Eventually. Again, it is no substitute for the real thing, but it was great to see everyone.

And there are also opportunities to join in ringing of sorts. Someone on Facebook was openly asking for people to join him on Ringing Room, whilst Graham John is inviting people to join him for a general practice in Handbell Stadium on Monday at 8.30pm. He says:

I am scheduling another time to meet up and split off into various practice sessions when I will be on hand if there are any questions or feedback. Make sure that you have downloaded the software as described in the top announcements post and have your controllers at the ready. Meet on the Changeringing Discord Server in General (voice) or Handbell Stadium general-chat (text) channel. We can then split off into the Discord voice rooms (Minor #1, Major #1 etc) with a band that joins the same room on Handbell Stadium. It will reduce problems with feedback if you use a headset.

Woolwich, St Mary.Meanwhile, the Random performance I came across on BellBoard took me back to 1996 once more, with a 5056 of Plumstead Surprise Major rung at Woolwich in Greater London on 13th July that year. It was rung for the University of London Society, an organisation that features amongst its membership Halesworth ringer Alex Rolph. On this occasion they were in the midst of celebrating their fiftieth anniversary year, which of course means that next year should be their seventy-fifth anniversary year. All being well, I imagine there will be much celebrating done!

West Stow. Horham. Although neither I nor the Suffolk Guild rang a peal on 13/7/1996, it came in between a peal of St Martin’s Bob Triples I rang at Horham three days earlier and one of three Minor methods at West Stow I partook in just over a week later.

The former was a first in the method for all the band and the SGR, as well as a first of Triples and an eighteenth birthday compliment to Hannah Kidger, a ringer from Stowmarket who went on to ring with the Manchester University Guild and returned to the area before gradually disappearing from ringing with her last (recorded) quarter-peal being in 2011.

The latter was rung with the late, great Frank Arnold, who I believe is still the leading non-resident ringer of peals for the Suffolk Guild and a lovely old boy and also featured – as did my effort from eight days earlier – Robin Allum, sadly also departed but again a lovely chap and good ringer. Both are much missed.

Back in the here and now, we did something else that ringers tend to enjoy – brewing beer! After a quick trip to the local park for our daily exercise and collection of the main ingredient of our beverage, we began the process of attempting to brew nettle beer. What else are we going to do in isolation? Apart from video calling people that is.

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Saturday 18th April 2020

Apart from in 2008 when I was Suffolk Guild Ringing Master and it would’ve clashed with a planned (but sadly ultimately aborted) Ipswich entry into the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest and was thus pushed back a week, the SGR AGM has for years been held on the Saturday after Easter.

Drinkstone.Today would’ve been the 2020 AGM in Drinkstone. I know a lot of people can’t bring themselves to enjoy it, but whilst the meeting itself is rarely a highlight of even my day, let alone year, the day that surrounds it is always a favourite in my calendar. Usually around a hundred ringers, many familiar, many that I don’t see often enough and quite a few new friends, ringing at somewhere different, with a nice tea and – children allowing – a pint in a pub afterwards.

Having done a tour of the county’s towns over the last few years and dragged reluctant children across various urban centres from wherever we have been able to dump the car, I had particularly been looking forward to the rural setting for this afternoon’s proceedings. Ruthie would’ve been working on this occasion and so I would’ve had the boys on my own and would no doubt have been grateful to take them somewhere to let them stretch their legs and see other people. Mason would’ve probably have been able to meet up with his peer Henry Salter and having become well versed in such circumstances, I would’ve refused to let Ipswich Town’s latest disappointment put a dampener on my enjoyment of the occasion.

Once it is safe to do so (whenever and to whatever extent that is), there are many things that even I will be rushing to do ahead of attending the Guild AGM, but I hope that whenever we can hold the next one properly that everyone appreciates just how lucky we are to have occasions like this to gather with friends and acquaintances from across the county to do something we enjoy doing in places that currently seem as far flung and exotic to us as the Maldives and the Amazon do normally!

Chairman's letter.An appropriately timed letter from Chairman Rowan Wilson was shared via those on the Guild’s email list and suggests that the AGM may be held later in the year, providing of course we are able and God willing it will happen, but for now on the day that the AGM should’ve taken place, I did at least see a couple of those who would’ve been there too, as I dropped off some essentials for Mum and Dad and had a socially distant conversation from the car whilst they stood on the pavement outside their house. My father in particular is in the high risk category and so he hasn’t been anywhere bar a daily walk for weeks, whilst mother has only been out for shopping, but they were both very cheery and upbeat and it was nice to see them, even if it was from afar!

On what was one of the busiest day of peal-ringing for weeks with a brace of them rung (albeit both at the Pipe’s residence in Willingham, though with the ‘shortened’ one father David wanted to ring a 20,160 before one of his sons was overcome by the smell of mother Cecilia’s cooking!) the Random performance ironically takes us back to what was before all of this the only day in decades when no peal had been recorded anywhere in the world – 1st March 2018, in the depths of the ‘Beast from the East’. The snow that this brought had been enough to bring the UK to what we then considered a stop, with events called off, including the 95th Anniversary Guild Dinner in Woolpit.

The random performance was therefore a quarter-peal, rung on handbells in Sandhurst in Berkshire and a taster of what has now become the norm, but at least that was just for a few days. As we make our way into a second month of ringing restrictions in the here and now though, some are doing magnificently in entertaining us online, including Bury St Edmunds ringer Tim Hart, who hot on the heals of his brilliant ‘Tim Handbell Robot’ video from earlier in the week has produced a similar – though slower – simulated sound of The Norman Tower’s bells ringing Bristol Surprise Maximus and which is very relaxing to listen to!

All being well we’ll be doing the real thing later this year and maybe even attending the Guild AGM.

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Friday 17th April 2020

With the legal stuff sorted out, one of the positives of the lockdown is that it has allowed us and our neighbour (well primarily our neighbour, with a little help from us when needed) to get on with a bit of rearranging of our gardens a lot quicker than initially anticipated and so weeks ahead of schedule, from today we have an extra area of garden to enjoy! Silver linings and all that.

Beckington, St George.Sadly no ringing to partake in or listen to (we have occasionally heard the 11cwt six of Bredfield on the breeze on light Friday evenings in days of yore when sat in the garden) and so I pushed the Random button on BellBoard again. Today, it brought up a 1260 of Plain Bob Triples at Beckington in Somerset on 20th September 2013. It is a 16cwt eight I don’t think I have ever rung on (my tower records are up to date until I went to uni and regrettably lost motivation with other things in ringing to do!), but thanks to my blog and mother-in-law Kate Eagle’s report on the trip, I know I dined at The Woolpack Inn in the pretty village whilst on Alan McBurnie’s Quarter-Peal Week of March 2008. These were extremely enjoyable trips pre-24/7 parenting mixing food, drink, ringing and good company in ample doses of each!

Clopton quarter peal band plus two.On 20/9/13 we weren’t doing any ringing though as it was a Friday (typically a quiet day for us from a ringing perspective), but it was a significant day of ringing in Suffolk. Twin sisters Claire and Rebecca Last – part of what was then quite a large cohort of young ringers at Sproughton – rang their first QP in a 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles rung at their home tower, whilst the first quarter was rung on the then newly rehung – and lovely – 12cwt six of Clopton, which was also Mike Whitby’s 1200th as conductor. With the four that he conducted on the Saturday just before towerbell ringing ceased on our last big day out, BB suggests he has now conducted 1682 in the medium, mostly at Pettistree, but also mostly to the benefit of many other ringers.

Meanwhile, the band at Clopton was still going strong before lockdown and wonderfully led by David Stanford who has done so much to teach ringers there, Burgh and Hasketon among other towers over the years.

It is a pity that Mike and David’s good work can’t be continued currently, but hopefully they are enjoying their gardens as much as we’re now enjoying ours!

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Thursday 16th April 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.It is precisely a month since towerbell ringing was ended, bar the odd rogue quarter and bells being rung down for the duration. A month since we lowered all twelve at St Mary-le-Tower at the end of the practice night that started just after Boris Johnson’s devastating statement and finished with a poignant final drink together.

I miss it very much. We don’t have a set of handbells in our possession and with the current restrictions it is difficult to see how we could find any and so I can’t even start concertedly practice this aspect of the art that I have never grasped and I miss gathering in the pretty places that we go ringing at in Suffolk – especially with the gorgeous weather we have been having – with friends to do something we enjoy doing. And I miss having events such as the Guild AGM – which would’ve been happening this Saturday in normal circumstances – and the Striking Competitions to look forward to.

There has been much worse going on of course. The hundreds of deaths a day from an illness that we don’t yet have a way of combating properly, which has included ringers such as Andrew Stubbs. The terrible tales of anguish, the pressure on those in the NHS, the worries that many are having in regards to their livelihoods, but beyond hoping that we all make it through alive and financially stable, I am most anxious to be back ringing as soon as it is safe and possible.

When that will be is still largely unknown. China is now partially open, many European countries are loosening some restrictions and just across the channel France is hoping to do so on 11th May, but with the lockdown here extended for a further three weeks and being behind some of those countries, any let-up here seems unlikely until the end of May at least and in all likelihood June. Even then, with going to pubs and restaurants and other non-essential activities likely to be one of the last things to be allowed again, it seems difficult to imagine bells of our churches being rung before July/August time. Indeed, with one scientist advising the government suggesting that social distancing will need to be maintained until a vaccine is developed for mass use (which by all accounts is at least a year away) I am left wondering whether there will be anything much we can do in that time, including ringing. Personally I believe it is essential that we protect particularly the most vulnerable from COVID-19, but from the perspective of mental well-being and the economy it seems hard to believe that the government could expect to keep an entire population restricted to that extent for that amount of time.

Therefore I’m praying that ringing can resume in the next three or four months, though I imagine not in the same way as before. Will numbers be restricted? Will those over seventy and with underlying health conditions be allowed back at that stage? Will we only be allowed to travel certain distances to do it? Will we all be wearing masks and gloves? The art will have to place itself in the context of the lifting of restrictions generally as I can’t imagine specific government guidance on ringing being imparted!

For now though, we will have to wait for any sort of towerbell ringing, but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom for the last month. There have been lots of silver linings and we have been much more positive about the experience in our household than I imagined we would be. It has (in the main!) been great for Ruthie and me to spend so much extra time with the boys as well as with each other, the weather has allowed lots of play in the garden where along with our neighbours (at an appropriate distance of course!) we have got lots done on a project. Through video calling we have kept in touch with our ringing colleagues from SMLT and caught up with lots of people more easily without the need to fit meeting up around busy diaries. Via text, email and Facebook I have had lovely chats with people like former Halesworth ringer Maggie Ross and current Rambling Ringers Ringing Master Chris Woodcock for example.

Worcester Cathedral.And I have enjoyed seeing where the Random button on BellBoard takes me and today it takes me back to 2011 and 9th January when a quarter-peal of Stedman Cinques was rung at Worcester Cathedral. Rung by what looks like a local and very good band led by Mark Regan – who some will recall spoke extremely well at the fringe event of the SGR AGM at Henley later in the same year – I imagine it was of an extremely high standard. Sadly my one and only peal attempt here was lost, but I enjoy the opportunity that ringing gives us to climb into the often unseen depths of the country’s magnificent cathedrals.

On the same day I was ringing a peal at Stonham Aspal with the Winchester & Portsmouth Diocesan Guild in an attempt arranged by Roy LeMarechal as part of his aim to ring peals on every ten and which was a re-run of an attempt the previous year which came to grief after just eight changes due to a slider malfunction! Roy is always good company and through the exercise we have enjoyed socialising with many of the band, even joining Graham Wright for his birthday celebrations in London almost exactly eight years ago in what was Mason’s first pub crawl!

It is a great shame that such memories can’t be made currently, but God willing we are one month closer to being able to do so again.

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Wednesday 15th April 2020

Hartlepool, St Aidan.The performance I came across by pushing the Random button on BellBoard is a real oldie. Pre-blog, indeed pre-me, pre-Mum and when my Dad Alan was just two-and-a-half years old, it is a 1260 of Grandsire Triples rung at St Aidan church in Hartlepool on Boxing Day 1947. At a time when some countries are tentatively planning and even setting into motion a move out of these current dreadful circumstances that have been compared to the Second World War, it is timely reminder that God willing there should be a time when we come out of the other end of this and all join together again to ring.

It is difficult to find out much about the band as they are referred to by their initials only, but it seems the band weren’t particularly big on peal-ringing, even by the standards of the day. Apart from T Cooke - who with a bit of detective work via Andrew Craddock’s superb Pealbase seems to be Thomas Cooke - who rang 165 peals from 1946 onwards, the rest of the band who rang this quarter-peal rang only a handful of peals between them and at that only during the late 1940s, although G(eoffrey) Dalton seems to have rung a QP as late as 1984. Pealbase also seems to suggest that two of Thomas Cooke’s peals were rung for the Suffolk Guild at Beccles in 1960 and Pakefield in 1962, the latter of which he conducted. Was this the same Thomas Cooke?

1947’s SGR Annual Report makes interesting reading, as do all of them, particularly the seven-page report (pp 9-16) of the Secretary and Treasurer Cecil Pipe. In it he mentions much, including how much he was “surprised” by his eleven-year-old George calling a peal of Plain Bob Major at Ufford, which was his the boy’s first as conductor. Interesting also to hear that he thought Stowmarket may be being augmented to ten (seventy-three years before it is actually now happening, albeit on hold like everything else currently!) and spoke of his frustration that six at St Mary-at-Quay in Ipswich – which were seemingly awaiting a new home – couldn’t be transferred to the then empty tower at Felixstowe. Fascinating stuff, especially in hindsight.

Again no ringing for us and many others today, although when I wasn’t ‘at’ work I was able to help our neighbour – at a social distance of course - with some of the work needed to reshape our gardens and Ruthie took the boys on a short and safe walk in the sunshine. Although they have been out in the back garden lots and we’re allowed a daily walk, this is the first time the boys have left our property since they were last at school and nursery nearly four weeks ago.

Meanwhile, please do watch Bury St Edmunds ringer Tim Hart’s hilarious but very clever video of him – or rather ‘Tim Handbell Robot – ring Bristol Surprise Maximus on handbells at 2hrs 5mins peal-speed! It definitely gave us – and many others I suspect – a good chuckle. Though I’m not sure what that band in 1947 would’ve made of it...

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Tuesday 14th April 2020

I haven’t been to a monthly College Youths meeting since myself, Ruthie and a two-month-old Alfie travelled down to London to second the proposal to elect George Salter to the ‘superior’ society nearly six years ago and I have been to a handful of previous meetings, but over the years time, finances and/or circumstances have prevented it from being a regular commitment.

College Youths Officers on meeting via video link.However, the current restrictions perversely gave me the opportunity to attend this evening, as the ASCY held it’s usual second-Tuesday meeting via video link, led by current Ringing Master Susan ‘Swaz’ Apter who I have considerable sympathy for as the bulk of her one and only year in the role looks certain to be wiped out by coronavirus and its effects.

It was a stripped back affair understandably, with much not occurring that would usually occur, but minutes of last month’s meeting – including tributes to George Pipe – were read out by Secretary Simon Meyer (who along with his son Andrew judged last year’s George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition at Saffron Walden) and plans for events planned for later this year such as the UK20 Tour and even the anniversary dinner in November discussed with determination but uncertainty. And I enjoyed listening to tributes for Andrew Stubbs (who was Master in 1968 and Treasurer for a staggering twenty-five years from 1981-2006), especially the one read on behalf the St Martin’s Guild about his time in Birmingham, which is where I knew him best from. Notice was also given of another extraordinary handbell peal attempt by the Pipe boys in Willingham, so look out for that!

Later I also read Central Council President Simon Linford’s latest blog, which mentions all sorts of things that are useful to note in these current times. Do have a read please.

Earlier in the day and after appearances on BBC Radio Suffolk from myself and fellow ringers Jonathan Williamson and Alison Wintgens in recent weeks, this morning as Suffolk Guild Patron George Vestey spoke to Mark Murphy about 3hrs 36mins 20secs into the latter’s Breakfast show. He was speaking about a very generous donation to a food bank and it has to be said I always enjoy listening to George who speaks extremely well and is very supportive of the SGR’s activities, even turning up to the Guild Striking Competitions on the last couple of occasions!

Kings Somborne.Meanwhile, the random performance that I plucked from BellBoard today was rung on 20th August 2006 at the unfamiliar – to me at least - King’s Somborne in Hampshire, but with a familiar band including one-time Walsham-le-Willows ringer Claire Monk (now Roe). It looks like it was part of a wider (and very busy!) quarter-peal tour to the area involving mainly Essex ringers and featuring Bernard Fairhead. Bernard will have been very familiar to many ringers within our borders, attending the Guild’s five-yearly dinners and having to put up with my brother and me on the coach throughout the only Stephen Pettman ringing trip to Italy I joined in October 2005. He was such a good ringer, softly spoken with a super sense of humour and following his death in March 2009, St Leonard-at-the-Hythe church in Colchester was packed out for his funeral the following month. Even now I can’t help but smile when I remember him.

Of course today wasn’t as busy on BB as that week in 2006, but it was nice to see a handbell quarter-peal over the Norfolk border rung by the Ann and David Webb who have done and still support much ringing south of the River Waveney.
It’s great to see ringing making the best of difficult circumstances, especially on this occasion the College Youths.

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Easter Monday 13th April 2020

Handbell Stadium. Dummy Handbells.The Monday of the Easter weekend is traditionally one of ringing being set free after the silence of many bells over Holy Week, with outings and peals usually particularly prevalent. This time though, there was very little, albeit including the introduction of a new platform for these times of ringing through social distancing as a 1250 of Yorkshire Surprise Major was rung from Berkshire, Cambridgeshire and Staffordshire using Handbell Stadium.

Certainly no outings, with the closest most will (or at least should) have got being a walk as part of their daily exercise or a trip to the shops for essentials. For those over seventy or with other health issues they won’t even get that.

And on Facebook, Michael Wilby bemoaned that he now wouldn’t be attempting a peal on the magnificent 31cwt ten at Lichfield Cathedral this afternoon. Anthea Edwards responded that she should’ve been pealing at Gloucester Cathedral, whilst others listed Richmond in North Yorkshire, Pier Head in Liverpool, Redcliffe in Bristol, Worcester Cathedral, Heavitree in Devon, Wakefield Cathedral, S Paul’s Cathedral, Durham and on the other side of the world in Sydney as places they were due to attempt a peal at today.

Not that we had any plans to abandon. We might have gone out to the park in normal circumstances, although with today being a lot chillier than the balmy days leading up to today I expect we would just as likely have pottered around the house, which is what we ended up doing anyway. Although we did hold another chocolate hunt for the boys and I enjoyed reading the latest College Youths Newsletter, which includes George Pipe’s obituary, but also a ‘Down Memory Lane’ feature with him. And we wished one-time regular and still occasional St Mary-le-Tower attendee Paul Bray on his significant birthday. A good ringer (even if he doesn’t agree!) and superb company.

There might also have been a practice at St Mary-le-Tower – there hasn’t always been one held on a Bank Holiday Monday as numbers can be far more unpredictable than a typical Monday – but like the previous three Mondays that wasn’t the case.

Cuxton.Meanwhile, the daily Random performance from BellBoard seemed even more random than ever, plucking out a 1320 of Plain Bob Doubles rung at Cuxton in Kent on 7th October 1990. This was the first – and as far as I can ascertain – only quarter-peal for Lisa Watkins and was rung just eight days before my twelfth birthday when my ringing was still in its infancy. Indeed it was still be six months until I rang my first quarter-peal, which was a 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles on the ‘middle’ six at St Mary-le-Tower.

It allowed for a little reminiscing on a quiet Easter Monday though.

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Easter Sunday 12th April 2020

Happy Easter!

It is the most important day of the Christian calendar and whilst it was sad not to be able to ring for the occasion or go to a packed St Mary-the-Virgin church in Woodbridge and listen to Ruthie sing a solo, we made the most of technology to get a taste of what might have been as we first had a video chat with our peers from the St Mary-le-Tower Society of Change Ringers – including a most welcome debut appearance via this medium from Diana Pipe, with a little help from her son Steve – and then friends from church Charlotte and Gregory.

Joshua collecting Easter eggs!There was much normal about this Easter Sunday though, with an chocolate egg hunt for the boys in the back garden and a roast dinner and although not in the form that it would usually occur, there was much ringing recorded on BellBoard, including 120 changes of Plain Bob Minimus rung on handbells by Gill and Bruce Wakefield in Woodbridge.

Stow, St Mary.Appropriately today’s Random performance from BB was also from an Easter weekend, this time in 2007 on the Bank Holiday Monday  - 9th April - when a quarter-peal at Stow in Lincolnshire was rung. Pleasingly it linked in directly with Suffolk ringing as it was rung for the thirtieth wedding anniversary of Janet and Stephen Clarke. Janet learnt to ring at Henley and is sister of current South-East Ringing Master Jenny Scase and therefore aunt of current Guild Ringing Master Tom. Happy forty-third Wedding Anniversary for Thursday just gone by Stephen and Janet!

St Mary Redcliffe.On the same day that they were ringing that 1344 of Yorkshire Surprise Major meanwhile, Ruth Eagle (whatever happened to her?) and myself had set off very early in the morning for Bristol and a peal of Swindon Surprise Maximus at St Mary-the-Virgin, Redcliffe. This was another peal with friends from Nottinghamshire, including fellow Rambling Ringers Chris Woodcock (although I believe this was the first time either of us had met the young ringer who is now the Ringing Master of the touring Society) and Andrew Mills, the latter of whom was immense on the 51cwt tenor in what for this famous twelve was a brisk 3hrs 38mins.

As well as being Mason’s first Easter, it was a highlight of that Easter weekend thirteen years ago and although this particular one won’t go down as the best for all that we haven’t got or can’t do, we felt blessed on this Easter Sunday for all that we have got and could do.

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Holy Saturday 11th April 2020

Two sorry but entirely expected announcements on the Central Council’s website came to my attention today. One is in regards to this year’s CCCBR and Ringing World AGMs due to be held across the first weekend of September in Nottingham. It is some way off but a sign of the current uncertainty that the events surrounding this have had to be scaled back – with the Roadshow that was going to be held as part of a bigger weekend now cancelled – and may be scaled back further, with getting speakers and exhibitors booked understandably difficult during these uncertain times. And whilst the AGMs are currently planned to go ahead – albeit in a different venue from what I can make out – the announcement recognises that it might have to be done by video link depending on how everything unfolds.

The other announcement was even more expected as it was in regards to the celebrations for the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day that were planned for just a month’s time. This was an event I and many others were looking forward to, with much ringing lined up. However, the message from the organiser of the UK’s celebrations as a whole suggests moving arrangements to the weekend of 15th & 16th August around the seventy-fifth anniversary of VJ Day, so God willing we can all do something around then instead!

Both messages featured upbeat tones in suggesting that there will be opportunity later in the year to still do something and fits in well with a third announcement about the Ringing Returns campaign, which is encouraging us to think about how to celebrate ringing’s return – whenever or however that comes about – and how we can build upon the good work that so many have done to keep ringing in some shape or form since restrictions came into place nearly a month ago. Including another impressive handbell peal from the Pipe family.

Winchester Cathedral.In the absence of any handbells there was no ringing in our household today and again the closest I got was reading about the exploits of other ringers and pressing the Random button on BellBoard. Today’s performance comes from 26th November 2006 when a 1346 of Yorkshire Surprise Maximus was rung at Winchester Cathedral. The band featured the entire Hill family of ringers who most will know have strong links to Suffolk. Conductor Christine is mater of this talented quartet, one time ringer in Ipswich and part of a sizeable ringing family from within our borders, with her, her husband Peter and daughters Katie and Rosemary (and these days their other halves Tom and Martin who are also immensely skilled in the art) regular and most welcome visitors to the area.

At the same time as they were ringing this quarter-peal, I was now happily settled back in my home county and six months into my five years of being Guild Ringing Master. Although it was pre-blog, I vividly recall as part of the role attending the South-West District ADM at Hadleigh the day before with Ruthie – who I was going out with by then – and being made extremely welcome. The Saturday previous I had partaken in a brace of twelve-bell peals with the Southwell Diocesan Guild (as it was called then) of Swindon Surprise Maximus at High Wycombe and then of Grandsire Cinques at Luton, which was particularly memorable for us trying to fit the peal into 3hrs10mins before a 7pm concert in the church on bells that typically take around 3hrs 25mins!

Although I enjoyed listening to a recording by umpire Richard Angrave made of a course (which he described as “some of the best 12 bell ringing I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing”) of the 10,082 of Avon Delight Maximus rung at Birmingham Cathedral almost precisely five years ago featuring one-time Suffolk ringer John Loveless, there was no such fun today as instead we made the most of current circumstances during this Easter weekend by joining other junior church parents via video to make an Easter garden. These are tough times, but we all have to make the best of it – God willing there are better times ahead soon!

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Good Friday 10th April 2020

Good Friday would typically see me in Old Stoke to attempt a peal either side of a fantastic spread for lunch from our hosts David and Katharine Salter whilst Mason played with his peer and their youngest son Henry, albeit we only rang the one peal last year with David still recovering from his stroke of a few months earlier.
Alfie blowing the candles out on his cake.Today would’ve been different though as it is Alfie’s sixth birthday and so the days was going to be one for him on this occasion. He has been asking to go to watch Ipswich Town again and so we had earmarked this afternoon’s fixture at Portman Road against Bolton Wanderers for that particular ‘treat’. I imagine that at some point today and/or over the weekend he would have celebrated with his friends and family and I had already started arranging a peal attempt of six Surprise Major methods spliced at Orford for tomorrow morning when it was made clear that ringing had to be abandoned for the time being. Of course, none of that is possible, which is very sad for the gregarious boy, but hopefully he still enjoyed himself with the superb weather that would’ve made an afternoon at the footy absolutely glorious allowing him and us to go out into the garden. Presents were opened and played with, a cake made by Ruthie (with much tension over making the chocolate Batman symbol on the top!) and messages received via text, email and Facebook, even if not via footnotes on BellBoard. Thank you to all who sent their wishes, it made his day!

There was ringing of sorts and in part from the county today, as Joshua Watkins took part in multi-county quarter of Plain Bob Minor in Ringing Room, but otherwise – as we have become accustomed in recent weeks – it was a quiet day from a ringing perspective both here and worldwide.

Bodiam.Meanwhile, today’s Random performance from BB took me back almost precisely three years to a quarter-peal rung at Bodiam in East Sussex on 4th April 2017. We visited the nearby castle just last year, but didn’t ring at the 7cwt six, nor do I know any of the band, so there’s not much extra I can impart about this 1260 of four Doubles variations. And according to this blog it wasn’t a particularly exciting day, although it did feature the pre-practice QP at Offton.

However, I was anticipating the Suffolk Guild AGM that was to be held eighteen days later at Beccles and was a wonderful day with much ringing and much food with many friends. Although this year’s at Woolpit and Drinkstone won’t be held (unless there are plans to hold it later in the year), I hope that everyone has saved the date of next year’s AGM for what will hopefully be fuller 2021 diaries. Which incidentally should be precisely a year’s time when it will be the seventh anniversary of Alfie’s birth. God willing we can celebrate it in better style and with more people than the sixth anniversary of his birth.

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Maundy Thursday 9th April 2020

For better or worse (in the circumstances we feel blessed not to have been touched directly by coronavirus and pray that we won’t be), Maundy Thursday 2020 was sadly like pretty much any weekday of the last three weeks, as I spent much of it working upstairs whilst Ruthie occupied the boys downstairs. It was broken up a little for the weekly shopping ordeal where the queues were going around the car-park, but which was in itself broken up with a chance meeting (social distancing et al of course!) with Ufford ringers Pete Faircloth and Susanne Eddis, whilst I also had the pleasure of picking Mason up.

Today would also have been George Pipe’s 85th birthday, one sadly not reached, but it did bring a smile to our faces as we recalled how exactly six years ago whilst my wife was in labour at Ipswich Hospital we jokingly contemplated whether it would be better for shortly-to-be born Alfie to share a birthday with the great man or to hold off until the 10th so that Alfred’s big day wasn’t overshadowed!

It is a time of significant birthdays for two other stalwarts of the Suffolk Guild though, John Girt and James Smith. The former has done so much for St Margaret’s in the county town, the South-East District and the SGR, the latter of which we was secretary of for a staggering fifteen years between 1974 and 1989. His is a voice still much respected when he speaks. The latter meanwhile is an incredibly talented ringer and extremely convivial company and thus when he has been living and working in the county (and indeed the country) he is one of the first to be invited to ringing around here. He is held in high esteem beyond our borders and far and wide too.

Dordrecht.Although understandably in the circumstances there was no ringing on towerbells for their landmarks today, there was towerbell ringing, albeit in the Netherlands as Rambling Ringer Wilhelmina de Kok rang her first quarter-peal in the 1272 of Plain Bob Minimus in Dordrecht with her fellow Rambling family members and for a lovely cause. Well done to them all, but especially Wilhelmina! And lovely to see the story of 101-year-old ringer Dennis Brock being this year’s oldest recipient of Maundy money from the Queen, although of course he couldn’t receive it in person.

Back her in Blighty, we took advantage of the collection of programmes featuring ringing on YouTube as recommended by the CCCBR during this cessation of general ringing and watched Marcus Brigstocke’s Trophy People for the first time in years. This is the documentary which follows the preparations of the Birmingham and College Youths’ bands for the 2006 National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest at Worcester Cathedral, as well as the day itself and I think it is done really well and captures some of the essence of the competition and the occasion, as well as many familiar faces to us and others reading this!

Knighton.Meanwhile today’s Random performance from BellBoard was rung on 3rd February 1996 at Knighton in Powys. I actually ended up working in this border town for a short while, but I have never rung on the 9cwt eight. However, one or two names in the band are familiar, not least that of A J Barnfield who is almost as famous for his letter writing in the Ringing World as for his ringing exploits!

That 1280 of Preston Surprise Major was rung the day before I rang my twenty-eighth peal, which was a 5056 of Bristol Surprise Major on the back eight at Grundisburgh. There were some names still familiar in ‘current’ peal-columns. It was conducted by Stephen Pettman of course, though from the tenor (a rarity these days!) and the treble was rung by Brian Whiting with Joan Garrett also in the band. However, these days Iain Mitchell lives and rings in Derbyshire with his wife Jayne and Stephen Bedford is in Worcestershire with his wife Penny, arriving in that part of the world as I was leaving – nothing personal Stephen! Sadly, we don’t see Don Price these days due to ill-health and I believe the same is unfortunately the case with Offton ringer Kevin Hohl.

Interesting as well to read through that year’s Annual Report which touched upon the AGM at Lavenham where a group photo was taken and debate was held on bringing up the subscriptions from £7 to £10 and subsequently required a Special General Meeting in the October! Also, Ring in 2000 was raised in Ringing Master David Salter’s report where he also spoke of the birth of his son George and his hopes that he may one day be ringing peals. His eldest has since rung a few...

There has been tentatively positive talk (green shoots merely) in recent days of coming out of this situation, but I fear it will still be a while before George, David or any of us are ringing anymore peals, on towerbells at least. I imagine we may have many more days like today to come. God willing better days will be here sooner rather than later.

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Wednesday 8th April 2020

With life generally on hold for most people, it is tempting to delve into the past, for comfort and/or curiosity. In part it is why I have been pushing the Random button on BellBoard to see what it brings up and what I can connect to the performance itself or the time it was rung in.

Frank Mack Portable Ring. Grundisburgh. Today’s was a quarter-peal of Bourne Surprise Minor rung on the Frank Mack Mini-Ring at Kingsteignton in Devon on 5th February 2011, which was the first Saturday of the month and therefore a South-East District Practice. According to this blog, I was on this occasion not expecting much from a session being held on a dark winter’s evening at Grundisburgh but was pleasantly surprised by a decent turnout that offered invaluable experience on ten and twelve for many members who didn’t usually get the opportunity to ring on such numbers. It was all followed by refreshments in The Turks Head in Hasketon after finding The Dog across the green from the little wobbly red-brick tower packed. I maintain that such events can be really useful if enough ringers of all abilities take the (short amount of) time to attend just once a month. They allow learners to progress where perhaps opportunities are limited at their home tower, whilst for more experienced ringers it gives the chance to discover new ringers who could potentially support their ambitions. Indeed, these events can offer the chance of good ringing with a top band typically scattered across a District and as showed by that evening on 5/2/2011 they can be super social occasions. God willing when we can return to ringing people will not take these occasions for granted and support them as much as possible.

However, someone else from the St Mary-le-Tower band has also been looking back in the day, with Colin Salter sending us an article that he is working on about the history of Suffolk’s oldest and heaviest twelve. It is just a draft currently with the intention being to but it on the SMLT ringers’ website and therefore not for public consumption yet, but it already makes for fascinating reading, taking in the competitiveness between the band and those of the Sproughton Company at the start of last century, the considerable ringing achievements of Phyllis Marriott and Sylvia Pipe, the (admittedly tenuous) link between the bells and Ipswich Town Football Club and the incredible distance from which the bells could be heard before the louvres were bricked up! Good work Colin!

With the 120 changes of Plain Bob Minimus rung on handbells by Pam and Neil Avis in Brantham today in memory of a relative who has died due to COVID-19 reminding us of the troubling times we are presently living in, it’s nice to look back a little.

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Tuesday 7th April 2020

In the absence of any human contact bar the occasional phonecall to client or the odd welcome visit upstairs from a family member (especially when accompanied with a cup of tea!), my only companion whilst I continue working from home is BBC Radio Suffolk. It is a nice backdrop to my work currently and it has been nice to hear familiar voices, not just of presenters such as Lesley Dolphin (who learnt to ring as part of the BBC East Big Skill Award in 2009), but also of ringers. Since I briefly soiled the airwaves a couple of weeks back, Ipswich Area Rep and immediate Past Ringing Master of the South-East District Jonathan Williamson was interviewed in regards to wine and today at about 2hrs 28mins into James Hazell’s show (Mid-morning), Woodbridge member Alison Wintgens was interviewed about a food bank in her town of residence. Especially good to hear in the absence of any ringing news to share with our friends and supporters from the Beeb!

Skibbereen.It isn’t just within our borders where it is quiet of course, with the entire world of towerbell ringing brought to a stop for weeks now and probably at least weeks more and there was very little reported on BellBoard today. Therefore I reached for the Random button as has become part of my daily routine now and was met with Perry O’Donovan’s first quarter-peal, rung at Skibbereen in Ireland on 18th December 2011.

On the same day the blog tells me there was much preparation for Christmas going on, as one might expect for a week before what is for many – myself included – their favourite day of the year. As with currently, there wasn’t any ringing at the aforementioned 25cwt eight of Woodbridge, albeit due to work that was being done to the tower, but unlike currently there was ringing going on elsewhere.

In these earlier days of my blog I didn’t highlight every performance rung in the county, but rather just those with firsts or landmarks and so my entry of 18/12/2011 belies how much was happening within our borders, with four QPs and a peal rung on Suffolk’s bells that day, as well as that peal at St Magnus the Martyr in London featuring Louis Suggett and a number of young ringers now established stars of the art!

Nothing that worthy of mention on the radio just over eight years on though!

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Monday 6th April 2020

Judging by the numbers going out to parks to sunbathe over the sunbaked weekend and the comments of some in recent weeks, there are a sizeable number who are sceptical about the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak. I admit to being cautious about leaping straight into restrictions that would strip us of the free lifestyle that we typically enjoy, probably coloured by the fact that I detest being stuck in the house even for just a day, as Ruthie will testify to anyone who asks. That’s not because I object to the company of my family. Quite the opposite in fact, with one of the few silver-linings to the current situation being the extra time spent with them. It’s just that I would prefer to be out and about with them, seeing friends and family and going to different places, especially in the beautiful countryside that surrounds us, whether that be for ringing or something else.

However, although I broadly agree with the staggered approach that the UK has taken to tackling the pandemic and still sympathise with those who are reluctant to be tied to their home (especially those not fortunate enough to have plenty of space to be isolated in), the gravity of what is happening has pretty quickly hit home. Perhaps none more so than in the last few days, with the Queen broadcasting a rare televised message outside of Christmas last night, the Prime Minister is in intensive care and now the confirmation that fellow bellringers are now dying from COVID-19. Although assumptions couldn’t be made, it was no surprise to learn that the passing of eighty-year-old Andrew Stubbs was down to the virus and apparently it has also claimed the life of Stephanie Willcox from St Albans, who had apparently – although I didn’t know her – been unwell for some time already. It is all very sad and reminds us why we aren’t ringing on towerbells and are unlikely to be so for weeks and probably months to come. Although of course, this is Holy Week when many towers wouldn’t have been ringing anyway.

Harpenden, St Nicholas.That’s not to say there isn’t change-ringing going on and the Perrins family Australia again starring with an impressive handbell peal eight Surprise Major methods rung from their home in Eastwood in New South Wales, the first peal recorded on BellBoard anywhere since they rang their last peal a week ago. Without any bells to hand in our Melton abode though there was nothing to report personally. Therefore I reached for the Random button on BB again, which brought up another performance from almost precisely a decade ago with a quarter-peal of Liverpool Street Station Surprise Major rung at Harpenden in Hertfordshire.

Woolverstone. Woolverstone ringing gallery.On the same day I was having what then constituted a quiet day from a ringing perspective, but which nonetheless took me to Ipswich High School for work, next door to St Michael’s church in Woolverstone, home to a nineteenth century ring of three. Threes are not really my thing, but I have rung here a couple of times, once for the South-East District Outing to the Shotley Peninsula in 2009 and then in 2011 at the District’s Quarterly Meeting and I have often pondered what a nice isolated spot it would be for a little light six that could be used regularly and easily for training and unlimited peal-ringing!

Maybe something for another time. We have other things to deal with at the moment.

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Sunday 5th April 2020

When the country was ushered into isolation, I feared that we wouldn’t have a proper catch-up with friends from any aspect of our life, but especially ringing.

I needn’t have worried. Video calls have enabled us to keep up and indeed, without having to negotiate busy diaries it has been easier to find the time to sit down and chat with chums. On Friday night I was able to enjoy a virtual pub with some of my friends made at uni who are scattered across the country and who I haven’t spoken with for years. Our chums for church Gregory and Charlotte have been easily accessible at pretty much any time. And via their WhatsApp group, St Mary-le-Tower’s ringers – with Ruthie my representative – have been regularly communicating over the last two-and-a-half weeks and in the last few days have been running a competition between themselves where they try to guess a ringer from among their ranks via a childhood photo of them.

This morning, that group and others gathered together on Zoom for the second Sunday in a row when we would otherwise be meeting in Costa Coffee post-ringing. In the main it was all very jovial. Ian Culham looked like he was on the set of Stars in Their Eyes, Ralph Earey got a dressing down from his wife Tessa for exaggerating his gardening activity and we all chortled at the message written on the bottom of Alex Tatlow’s mug. However, we were pleased to hear that Sonia Docherty and her husband Phil are recovering well, we all agreed as a tower to donate to Pipe Family Trust Fund (where funds are for the encouragement of beginners) and we agreed that the tower AGM will be pushed back to later in the year (whenever we are able to hold it) rather than via video which would’ve excluded those members without the technology. Although a pity that it wasn’t accompanied by any ringing, it was uplifting to catch up with everyone.

Interesting meanwhile to note that the 1996 peal at Pettistree that I only added to BellBoard yesterday for this blog has been viewed twenty-two times and already ‘liked’ by six people and thus climbing the leaderboard, where numbers are lower due to an absence of stellar long-lengths or spliced Maximus peals. I wonder how far it could go?

Cambridge, Great St Mary.The lack of ringing was fairly universal today bar those isolated with a set of handbells and another handbell ringer and so I was again drawn to a Random performance on BB. When that brought up another one from 11th November 2018 and the centenary of the end of the First World War and that one at a tower and by a band that I knew nothing about, I pressed it again and came across a 1346 of Cambridge Surprise Maximus in Cambridge itself on 28th November 2004. This was significant for being Matthew Dawson’s first of Maximus. Having mentioned him only yesterday I shan’t reintroduce him, but he is an extremely well-established Maximus ringer sixteen years on, having rung 123 peals at that level (and one of Cinques and Maximus spliced), conducting sixteen of them.

Being pre-25th October 2007, it predates the blog and indeed my return to Suffolk altogether, falling during my relatively fallow period of peal-ringing. Precisely three weeks earlier I had already rung my fifth and final peal of the year, which was a 5076 of Stedman Cinques on the back twelve of St Martin-in-the-Bullring in Birmingham. Incidentally, my previous peal to that was on Stuart and Liz Hutchieson’s mini-ring in Armitage in Staffordshire with Matthew Dawson’s father George.

It’s a small world ringing and I’m to report despite current circumstances, still well connected!

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Saturday 4th April 2020

It was a beautiful day today. Bright sunshine, warm temperatures. At any other time I would consider it nothing but a blessing. On this occasion though, it was bittersweet. Partly because I feared it would draw those who seem to think that this is a holiday rather than a medical crisis and that the beaches and parks would be filled with people mingling in numbers and potentially adding another few weeks onto this dull but necessary lockdown. Also though, because it would have been wonderful conditions for the South-East District Ring and Walk Outing around the Shotley Peninsula which we should’ve been on today.

Joshua & Alfie picnicking in the garden.Nonetheless, it allowed us all to get out into the garden, with Alfie and Joshua electing to have their lunch outside and Mason and I to take our daily exercise by getting rid of some glass at the bottle bank and take a wander in the beautiful countryside that we are blessed to have just a few minutes walk away from home.

Bristol, St Philip & St Jacob.Meanwhile, one ringer was practicing change-ringing from Suffolk as Jimmy Yeoman joined others from North Yorkshire, Surrey and West Sussex in to ring an extent of Plain Bob Minor, whilst today’s Random performance features a Suffolk connection for the second day running, with former Debenham ringer Robert Beavis ringing the sixth to a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Major at St Philip and St Jacob in Bristol almost precisely a decade ago on 10th March 2010 and which was a first on eight for Carolyn Wilson. The band also included Matthew Dawson who was a youngster on Rambling Ringers when the Munnings family first joined the tour in the mid-1990s and who I have had the pleasure of ringing with a handful of times in the last few years, most recently in the peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus at the Norman Tower in November. Beavis periodically returns to his home county, most recently peal-ringing within our borders over the first weekend of the year and it is nice to catch up with him when opportunity allows. He is always fun company!

Pettistree Peal Board. Pettistree.On that same day just a few weeks over ten years ago, I was ringing in a successful quarter-peal of Peter’s Tree Surprise Minor prior to the weekly practice at Pettistree. This is a tricky little blighter, something that took us a few attempts to successfully quarter and peal. However, our ultimate score of the 5040 just before the end of the year is now recorded on a peal board along with previous peals of Pettistree Bob Minor in 2006 and Pettistree Delight Minor in 1996, dedicated in December 2011 and now hanging between the tenor and treble ropes in the ground-floor ringing chamber of this familiar six. Sadly the Surprise Minor method couldn’t be named Pettistree as there was already a Pettistree Surprise Major that doesn’t ‘legally’ extend from the method we were ringing, but the band here is still quite rightly chuffed about this trio of peals.

No such activity is currently possible of course – which has hit this extremely active tower more than most – but Ruthie and I at least occupied ourselves by eventually working out the second round of Suffolk ‘towers from above’ quiz that SGR PR Officer Neal Dodge put on the Guild’s Facebook page.

It was great fun, but I hope Neal doesn’t mind me saying that I would’ve preferred to have been out ringing in this beautiful sunbaked county of ours today.

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Friday 3rd April 2020

In line with previous mentions in the absence of ringing to mark the occasion, Happy Birthday to Mary Garner, who has done so much for the Suffolk Guild but whose help and guidance during my time as Ringing Master when she was Secretary was invaluable. She has been a good friend in ringing and a regular peal companion (including our forty-one Surprise Minor spliced project) and along with Mike Whitby the driving force at the success story that ringing at Pettistree is.

Holbrook Quarter Peal Band & Geoffrey Clement.Appropriately, she also features in today’s Random performance from BellBoard which comes from within our borders on 23rd October 2009. That was the day that ringing Reverend Geoffrey Clement got married in his parish (or one of them) of the time, Holbrook. It was celebrated with a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor on the 8cwt six conducted by mother-in-law Kate Eagle and also featured Sandra Pereira (Mary’s predecessor as SGR Secretary) and her husband John, as well as John Malster and Alan McBurnie. I owe a lot to Geoffrey who helped me out a lot at a difficult time, but he is now down in Oxfordshire leading the Wychwood Benefice and sadly not ringing as much these days. Although none of us are I suppose!

On the same day we didn’t do any ringing, but it was a busy day of quarter-pealing in the county, with a 1272 at Ashbocking, a 1296 of St Clement’s College Bob Minor at Rushmere St Andrew, whilst my father Alan and brother Chris rang a 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor at Sproughton before the latter set off on Stephen Pettman’s ringing trip to Italy and Plain Bob Doubles was rung at Wissett in thanksgiving for the life of Peter Eagle-Bott who had been so instrumental to the rehanging of the wonderful ground-floor ring in a round tower.

In the here and now, Simon Rudd shared an impressive effort on handbells that is well worth watching, but of course such activeness in ringing chambers is not allowed currently, to the extent that the Central Council has felt the need to release a statement saying that even single-bell tolling at churches at Easter is not possible. Disappointingly – though entirely rightly – bells will sit silent this year at a time when usually they will be breaking out in joy after the traditional silence of Holy Week.

And unfortunately they are also silent for Mary Garner’s big day. Happy Birthday anyway Mary!

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Thursday 2nd April 2020

In the absence of any quarters or peal to mark the occasion, Happy Birthday to Brian ‘Bunny’ Whiting, Suffolk Guild Chairman from 1998-2003 and current Trustee of the SGR’s handbells and The Vestey Ring. His compositions of particular lengths are mightily useful for marking birthdays and anniversaries, but beyond that are generally much rung across the world with a composition of Yorkshire Surprise Royal used for a peal in the USA at Washington Cathedral earlier this year. More personally he has been instrumental in my learning of the art from helping me craft my skills in Surprise Major on Tuesday nights at Offton in my ringing youth to being a reassuring presence when I have called peals.

The Millbeck Ring, Shelland.It is also the ninety-seventh anniversary of the formation of the Guild, which means it is just three years before we are due to celebrate its centenary. God willing we will be well over our current traumas by then and I imagine arrangements for five-yearly dinner are already underway for such a big once-in-a-lifetime event as hopefully we will be keener than ever to celebrate after this is over. It may still a seem some way off, but if experience is anything to go by it will be here before we know it and as I mentioned yesterday it is important to have something to look forward to in these current times of indefinite sameness. Albeit today that was broken up by Pettistree ringer Daphne Rose’s appearance 3hrs23mins into Mark Murphy’s BBC Radio Suffolk show and the applause for the NHS, that in Shelland even involved Janet Sheldrake and Gordon Slack ringing the back four of The Millbeck Ring!
Highclere.In these times of sameness I have also found myself looking back as well as forwards and today’s Random performance from BellBoard took me back to 8th September 2009 via a 1320 of Cambridge Surprise Minor at Highclere which was rung as part of the Andover District Quarter-Peal Fortnight. On the same day we were having one of those ‘dull’ days that now seem quite exciting, with MOTs, trips to Tesco and bumping into work colleagues. It was an even more thrilling day for Naomi Shaw and Maggie Ross – who it was nice to catch up with this evening - who were ringing and calling their most methods in a QP of Doubles at Halesworth.

Meanwhile, in the here and now, there was more sad news – though not connected to coronavirus as far as I am aware – as it was announced that Past Master of the College Youths Andrew Stubbs died today. Particularly during my time ringing in Birmingham but also many times since, I have enjoyed the company of a man with a quick, dry wit who was a well-spoken charming gentleman and a super ringer too. I remember his gentle jesting of me when I forgot to take any paper or pens to my first Central Council meeting amongst much else. Already a sad occasion, that we can’t properly see him off at the moment makes it even sadder.

All being well, in the not too distant future we can properly celebrate his life, as well as the formation of the Suffolk Guild and the birthdays of people like Brian Whiting.

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Wednesday 1st April 2020

The general premise of an April Fools prank is that it is essentially ridiculous, but eminently believable to anyone caught unawares.

Although announcements made that ringers would get their own personal tailend to take around with them for hygiene reasons and the 32cwt ten at All Saints in Maidstone were to be augmented to twelve with a flat sixth and extra treble proved to be seasonal japes and humour is perhaps needed now more than ever, the general consensus seemed to be that no April Fools prank – however elaborate – could top the current situation where billions of people worldwide can’t leave their house, no towerbell ringing has occurred in the UK for a fortnight and today it was confirmed that the most famous tennis tournament on the planet at Wimbledon has been cancelled for this summer.

So much has been cancelled or postponed in the coming months, including the Ringing World National Youth Contest in York. There was some rather harsh criticism that this hadn’t been done earlier as indeed I heard there was of the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest committee for what was perceived by some to be a late abandonment of that competition. The latter was trying to prevent a highlight of the ringing calendar that so many had spent months (and in the case of the hosts, years) preparing for at a time when the advice from the government was nowhere near as strict as this and when it was harder to gauge exactly what was and wasn’t safe to do weeks later. To put it into perspective, it was still cancelled two weeks before the contest was due to take place and at the same time as football in this country was suspended.

The demands for an immediate abandonment of the former seemed even harsher, considering it was still three months away, was something that hundreds of young ringers were looking forward to and – like all ringing events – requires no presence of or distracting preparation from the emergency services, which is a big reason of why bigger events even as far ahead as the Christmas Market in Bury St Edmunds eight months away have been cancelled. It was always accepted that the RWNYC was in all likelihood going to have to be cancelled (or at least postponed, which seems to be the hope of the organisers), but at some point we’re all going to need something to look forward to and I hope we’re not unnecessarily cancelling events that could be cancelled further down the line if and when it becomes obvious that it won’t be safe to go ahead and might otherwise have been able to go ahead. Stopping the disease spreading so quickly and on such a large scale is absolutely imperative and unless a much needed vaccine comes far sooner than anticipated we’re likely to need to continue with restrictions on and off and proceed with care for probably at least six of the next twelve months. However, it has been recognised that mental wellbeing is also important and so as soon as it is safe we need things to look forward to, both in ringing and beyond.

Padiham.For now though, I was pushing the Random button on BellBoard again and this time bringing up a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor at Padiham in Lancashire on 30th June 2014, which was a first quarter-peal inside for Simon Butterworth. It was a notable landmark for him on the way to ringing many more quarters and peals, but on the same day Ruthie and I went to St Mary-le-Tower practice.

In those early months of Alfie’s life, we took him out with us on Monday nights with his Granny Kate whilst Grandad Ron went to bagpipe practice across the town. Sadly we couldn’t join our fellow ringers at the pub afterwards as The Cricketers doesn’t allow under-eighteens in after 9pm, but we were welcome at The Mulberry Tree where George and Diana Pipe’s son Stephen was behind the bar and so that became the norm for a few months, although on 30/6/2014 we were unable to stop, but it was definitely a snapshot of our circumstances at the time.

Meanwhile back in the here and now, Ipswich Area Rep Jonathan Williamson was on BBC Radio Suffolk on friend-of-ringing Lesley Dolphin’s show talking wine and just about fitting in before the 3pm news! Guild PR Officer Neal Dodge managed to occupy us this evening with his quiz on the SGR Facebook page that asked people to guess the identity of Suffolk’s churches from shots of them on Google Maps. And take a look at Ringing Room, a site that allows ringers from separate locations to ring together. There has been much experimenting via Facetime, Skype, Zoom and the like to ring handbells, but the time lag has proved difficult to cope with and so although this site isn’t using actual bells, it has been allowing for a number of performances on BB, including two multi-continent touches of Plain Bob Minor and Major, which were also unique for being rung with band members in different days as New Zealand was already on 2nd April!

Incredible stuff, providing it wasn’t an April Fools!

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Tuesday 31st March 2020

There have been better months. George Pipe’s passing, coronavirus and then the subsequent cessation of ringing and indeed just about everything else have all occurred over what has felt liked a tortuously long March. What began with the positivity of a successful quarter-peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus at The Norman Tower, ended with us stuck at home working and home-schooling as we have had to almost a fortnight now, in the process missing George’s funeral which had to be carried out in the presence of a few close family members.

Heywood, St Luke.Unsurprisingly BellBoard was extremely quiet and so I reached for the Random button again, this time calling up a 5152 of Ytterbium Surprise Major at Heywood in Lancashire on 24th June 2009. It was the fiftieth peal on the bells for Robert Pettifor (who has since rung a further five there) and conductor Andrew Sibson’s 1350th peal in total (he has now rung 1,565).

On the same day, we were ringing at Pettistree amid a heatwave, but otherwise it was a fairly unremarkable day personally and probably more widely. Indeed, it is the following that would be far more remarkable as that was the day that Michael Jackson died. Indeed it was to be a week where his death was to dominate the headlines, whilst we were to attend the funeral of Guild member John Banks and I rang a quarter-peal at Orford in memory of eighteen-year-old Thomas Marshall from the village, who had died in a an accident a fortnight earlier.

It seems this month hasn’t got the dominion over being dreadful.

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Monday 30th March 2020

Five Rings Triples Band.Aldeburgh Festival today became the latest event to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Although we’ve never strictly been to the festival which is actually based around Snape Maltings six miles away from the coastal town the festival is named after, I have actually partaken in it with a quarter-peal of Single Oxford Bob Triples on the 11cwt eight of St Peter and St Paul in 2012, as well as a plain course beforehand of Five Rings Triples, a method composed as part of the celebrations of that year’s London Olympics. And of course the second Sunday peal there in June is usually rung for it. It is another sad reminder of how much is being lost to Covid-19, before you even consider the loss of life.

Pipes.Ringers are becoming increasingly ingenious in keeping the art going whilst we are being isolated from other ringers though. Two families are leading the way due to ability and the good fortune (if one could call it that) of being quarantined in the same house as a readymade handbell band, with the Pipes of Cambridgeshire ringing a peal of Stedman Triples on Saturday and the Perrins of Australia ringing one of seven Surprise Major methods spliced today.

The Firmans & Rosie.However, if you ‘only’ have three handbell ringers in the house, what do you do? Why, create a robot of course. At least if you are the Firmans, as Rosie Robot joined Jennifer, Katharine and Graham in ringing sixty changes of Plain Bob Minor down in West Sussex. I’m not sure how it is being done exactly and it is currently ‘just’ one handbell, but judging by the explanation in the footnotes on BellBoard and YouTube it seems it is due to have a left arm, presumably allowing the three of them to then ring on eight. Clever stuff!

Funnily enough, the Random performance from BB today is also a handbell performance, albeit a more traditional one with a 5040 of seven Minor methods rung in Longthorpe by a trio of ringers including the talented Emma Southerington who I rang one peal with, of Bristol Surprise Maximus at Saffron Walden in 2007.

On 7th December 2010 when she was taking part in her 1hr50mins in hand, we weren’t doing any ringing. Being before 24/7 parenthood though, we were going out socialising together not something we can do very easily these days. Indeed it isn’t something that anyone can do at all in the UK at the moment. Including those who like to go to the Aldeburgh Festival.

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Sunday 29th March 2020

Technology has certainly made quarantine more bearable. One wonders how we would’ve all have coped even just twenty years ago with a situation like this. For all its faults (and there are many), social media has allowed for constant interaction with people across the world, including the ringing community. Email and the internet has allowed me to continue to earn a living from home. And today it allowed us to speak face-to-face via video to people we would typically see on a Sunday morning.

Zoom chat with other St Mary-le-Tower ringers (Laura Davies).It allowed us to catch up with our friends from church Gregory and Charlotte and their daughters – and our Goddaughters – Ava and Bea when we would usually be enjoying a cuppa and biscuits together in St Mary’s Church Centre, but earlier we joined in a mass chat with other St Mary-le-Tower ringers at the same time as we normally gather at the currently-closed Costa Coffee following service ringing on the 35cwt twelve. It was arranged by our learner Karina Wiseman and featured some who ring elsewhere on the Sabbath morn, but who are all part of regular ringing at SMLT, apart from Simon Rudd who was once Ringing Master there and who was calling in before joining a similar virtual coffee with those he rings with at St Peter Mancroft in Norwich.

That still left the rest of the day to occupy ourselves without leaving our property though, a task hindered by weather that veered from sunshine to wind, rain, hail and even snow. Welcome back to British Summer Time, whatever that is worth currently!

April Challenge.There was much available online to occupy ringers in the coming, ringingless weeks. The norm at this time of the month would be for me to encourage readers to take a look at What’s On to see what ringing events they could support in the following month. Sadly of course there isn’t anything for April and almost certainly not for May either. Today, Jennie Paul – who I did much ringing and socialising with during my time in the West Midlands  - very kindly shared with the Bellringers Facebook page the April Challenges their band has been set. There is something for all thirty days from writing out a method and taking a selfie of one’s self practicing handling at home to finding a bell related pub and sending in a photo of your local church. Well worth trying, particularly if you have a band you are trying to keep together at this time.

Bishops Lydeard.For this twenty-ninth day of March though, I found myself again pushing the Random button on BellBoard, which today found a 1260 of Plain Bob Triples at Bishops Lydeard in Somerset rung on 12th July 2016. It was a first on eight for Neil Escott, but otherwise there isn’t much I can say about the QP itself, other than it being a notable achievement during the Bath & Wells Association Quarter-Peal Month that saw an impressive thirty-six successes. However, it is a date that I didn’t need to look up on this blog as it was the day after Joshua was born. Therefore, it was one of getting used to our new circumstances and greeting family, including the ringing ones like my mother and father and my wife’s mater Kate.

Meanwhile, thank you to Bruce Wakefield for pointing out another Suffolk article in this week’s Ringing World, with his piece on the Reverend Canon Kevan McCormack’s recent retirement as Rector at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge, for which we rang a couple of quarters for recently.

Something that is now easy enough to read about, with or without technology, however great that is currently!

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Saturday 28th March 2020

Walsall, St Matthew.If someone hadn’t eaten bat soup in Wuhan and thus started the spread of coronavirus (thus goes the popular, though completely unsubstantiated theory) across the world and if everything had gone to plan, Ruthie and I would have left the cherubs sleeping peacefully at mother-in-law Kate’s where we would’ve just spent the night and set off at 6am for Walsall to ring for Ipswich in our National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest eliminator. In the real world probably a bit later! Either way we needed to be there by the 11am draw, but would hope to make it for the bacon butties being offered up by the extremely hospitable locals from 9.30-10.45am, whilst perhaps taking in the ringing between 10.15-10.45 for the judges David Dearnley and Ian Hill to get a feel of the bells they were judging other people’s efforts to ring upon and to test the recording system.

In the absence of anything actually happening at the venues that also included Aston and Chester, some resourceful ringers did a virtual draw and on the basis of that we would’ve been ringing second at noon, meeting a quarter-of-an-hour before as the Birmingham team were showing us all how it should be done. During our half-hour slot we would have up to fifteen minutes of practice and then fifteen minutes to ring our test piece of half a course of Cambridge Surprise Maximus. If we rang as well as we did when we practiced there just over a month ago we would’ve been pretty chuffed with efforts and essentially fulfilled our brief of at least putting in a good show.

From my experience there would be relief that we had done our bit and that we could now take advantage of the bar, which would’ve opened at 11.30am. I daresay we would’ve partaken in some lunch, probably from the baguettes, sandwiches and cake available in the church. Much catching up would’ve been done with fellow participants and friends from across the country whilst listening via a feed to competitive ringing continued upstairs on the 25cwt twelve. At some point after that I expect my wife and I would’ve checked into The County Hotel a few hundred yards from St Matthew’s where we would all be gathered.
Results would’ve probably been announced around 4ish, with the Brummies, Cambridge and St Paul’s Cathedral qualifying for the final at Sheffield Cathedral and us finishing fourth (according to the virtual results!), before the bar reopens. Result. Those sticking around may have ended up in the superb Black Country Arms which we thoroughly enjoyed and which seemed to prove a favourite with other teams who had managed to fit their practice in before the country ground to a halt. Curry was mooted and I expect we would’ve partaken before eventually retiring to our overnight accommodation.

Some of the competitors and friends that we might have expected to meet up with today was the Cambridgeshire branch of the Pipe family who instead used the free-time and isolation in a household of four accomplished handbell ringers to ring a peal of Stedman Triples at home in Willingham in memory of David’s Uncle George. Incidentally, it appears that my report on the George W Pipe Trophy is in this week’s Ringing World, which I sadly had to change with George’s death. I hope it does him and this wonderful competition justice.

Meanwhile, we found ourselves sorting out the garden and pushing that Random button on BellBoard, which today brought up a peal of Surprise Minor rung on the Woodlands mini-ring in Keele on 1st December 2010, which was the 250th peal rung on the bells for the North Staffordshire Association. I did fair bit of ringing in the south of the county, particularly at Cannock where fellow Rambling Ringers Geoff and Linda Pick have run the ringing very successfully for many years, but the north was not somewhere I tended to venture (bar a lost peal attempt at Newcastle-under-Lyme), so I can’t really tell you too much about this 5040.

However, as the blog points out, on the same day I was ringing at another mini-ring, The Wolery. On this occasion the usual reliable treble ringer Michael Edwards was unable to make it due to the snow and so a younger George Salter was called upon at the last minute to ring behind to 1hrs39mins of eleven Doubles methods in only his seventh peal. I recall this happening on a couple of occasions at least and of course George has gone on to some phenomenal achievements in the art thanks to his tremendous ability and his considerable proactiveness, but I hope he feels these early efforts helped set him on his way.

I don’t know if he was due to be in Chester supporting his fellow Bristol ringers in their eliminator, but I know I certainly wish we had been in Walsall.

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Friday 27th March 2020

There was freedom of sorts in our household today.

Having injured his paw earlier this week and subsequently taken medicine and undergone his own isolation, it was finally safe for Charlie our cat to be released outside into the sunshine.

Queueing at Aldi. Queueing at Tesco.Also though, after completing my week-long quarantine from the rest of the human race (bar Ruthie and the boys), I could now go out, which was fortunate as we were in considerable need of more food. I’ve never felt so nervous about going to a supermarket, from wondering if I would be stopped by the police to what would await me when I got there. Through the news there have been many tales of empty shelves and crowds of people not social distancing, some of which had led to arguments and even fights. There was none of it on my trips to Aldi and Tesco today though. Both saw huge, spaced out queues with only limited numbers of customers allowed in, but it was all very orderly and I was able to get pretty much everything that we needed and it was frankly far less stressful than every previous trip I’ve made there with the children!

Still, for all this, it was otherwise largely a day trapped on our property, although again the nice weather allowed for plenty of outdoor time for Alfie and Joshua in the garden.

We had intended to have been at George Pipe’s funeral at St Mary-le-Tower this afternoon of course, as so many others had. Many from across the world did reminisce about George from 1.30pm (when the funeral was held) via Zoom in an online gathering organised by Past SMLT Ringing Master Simon Rudd and although we couldn’t join in due to work and children, our thoughts were definitely of George and with Diana and the family today. As has already been announced, it is planned to hold a celebration of his life when circumstances allow, so watch this space!

I imagine in ordinary circumstances there would have been much ringing dedicated to GWP, but as usual in these times BellBoard was sparse, with the most notable performance being a quarter-peal of eight Surprise Major methods spliced on handbells by the Perrins family in Australia. However, the 1272 of Plain Bob Minimus in Shropshire which was a first QP in hand for Gail and Matthew Lawrence caught my eye too, having done much ringing with this lovely couple during my time living, learning, working and ringing in the West Midlands. Well done Gail and Matthew!

St Woolos Cathedral.Again though, I am drawn to the Random button on BB, which today brought up a 1253 of Grandsire Cinques at St Woolos Cathedral in Newport in Gwent. It features some characters familiar to me, such as Matthew Higby and Robert Caton, the latter of whom I have fond memories of from trips to Lundy Island. One name which will be most familiar to most readers though is Molly Waterson, who was ringing locally with her brother Ben and mother Gill when I learnt to ring and who has made some welcome visits back here in the last eighteen months or so since Gill sadly passed away.

However, I can’t tell you much about what I was doing on 19th September 2002 when this quarter in Wales was rung as it is pre-blog, but I know I was still in the Black Country and it was a time that was quiet for me from a ringing perspective for various reasons. Indeed, at this point my previous peal had been some five months earlier on 13th April with a 5184 of Double Norwich Court Bob Major at Kinver in Staffordshire and it would still be two months until I would ring another peal which was a 5008 of Stedman Cinques at St Philip’s Cathedral in Birmingham on 16th November.

Meanwhile, President of the CCCBR Simon Linford’s latest blog is worth a read. Whilst recognising the current situation, it is an appropriately upbeat piece, touching upon the installation of a ten at Dordrecht in the Netherlands and an exciting project to develop “the next generation of mobile belfry” in readiness for 2021. When God willing we will all be enjoying new freedoms.

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Thursday 26th March 2020

Ringers are finding all sorts of ways of staying connected with the exercise whilst we aren’t allowed to travel to ring with others.

Alex Tatlow's towers.Today saw Alex Tatlow run a competition on the Suffolk Guild’s Facebook page challenging members to identify four towers from the drawings he did  of them and jolly popular and amusing it proved too!

FB was also host to a challenge from Matthew Higby to recognise the towers in one hundred and fifty pictures on the Bellringers page that even as a prize of £25 for the person who guesses the most by 1st April or first names them all!

On BellBoard, in addition to some call-changes on her piano by Lesley Barrell here in Suffolk, there were two separate performances of Plain Bob Minimus with just one ringer each ringing four handbells (Fairwarp, Hayes). Perhaps by the time restrictions are lifted Simon Melen might be joined by today’s performers Michael Shaw and Graham Long for a performance on twelve. Although a rerun of Simon’s peal (YouTube video) of Orion Surprise Maximus of December with just the three participants may be a bit ambitious!

And I came across a page from the Cambridge District of the Ely Diocesan Association online which lists a number of activities to watch and/or partake in that is well worth looking at if you want something ringing related to pass the time.

Plain Bob Minor.There is so much fun stuff to do and useful things to undertake in preparation for a return to ringing, God willing in the near(ish) future. Such as constructing methods by place notation. This is the framework of a method that outlines which bells stay in place in each change and thus affect the order. For example, Plain Bob Minor is x16x16x16-12. That translate as every pair of bells crossing over (x) every other change/row and in between the bells in first and sixth place stay where they are for that change/row, a pattern that continues until the treble gets to the back. The dash (-) just means that pattern is reversed until the treble gets back to lead and the 12 after that tells you that at the lead end when the treble leads the bells in first and second place stay where they are for that change/row. You can construct any method in this way (such as the aforementioned Orion Surprise Maximus), so have a play around either with the Visual Method Archive or better still with paper and pencil.

Alfie & Joshua in the garden.For today we were occupying ourselves in a variety of ways, although rooted in the now familiar routine of me working upstairs whilst Ruthie home-schooled the boys downstairs (incidentally she has been doing incredible work looking after them day after day in trying circumstances). A new sports centre (for want of a better phrase) delivered today courtesy of mother-in-law Kate was a welcome focus in the sunbaked garden and doubled-up as PE and the day was rounded off with an encouragingly raucous applause for NHS workers at 8pm.

Twineham.And again I found that – even if not of interest to whoever (if anyone) is still reading this now that its main subject matter has been stopped – finding out what the day’s random performance from BB gave me some small sense of anticipation. Today, it was a 1296 of three Minimus methods with the tenor behind at Twineham in West Sussex from 3rd December 2011. Initially I was slightly confused by the footnote until I looked back even further and found that Jo Worsley and Alfred Kimble had previously rung quarter-peals of call-changes.

On the same day – so the blog tells me – we were attending the South-East District ADM at Hollesley when the controversial Martin Creed ‘All The Bells’ Project was a topic of conversation. This was an ill-thought-out attempt to get bells ringing all at once for the then forthcoming 2012 Olympic Games in London, but seemed to have been set-up without any dialogue with the Central Council and potentially dangerously seemed to be offering ropes to any Tom, Dick and Harry anywhere just by signing into the project’s website. Mercifully it was adapted under much pressure from ringers and the CCCBR and by the morning of the opening of the Games nearly eight months later provided some decent PR for the art.

The ADM on the 3/12/2011 was more notable for handing over of the SE Ringing Master’s role from my wife’s mother Kate Eagle to Tom Scase. Tom has since become the Guild’s RM and whilst Mrs Eagle isn’t able to get out to District or Guild events as much these days, the is still active as Ringing Master at Ufford and a regular at Pettistree and through her child-sitting duties has allowed us to make much ringing and indeed was due to look after Alfie and Joshua this weekend whilst we were in Walsall for the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now there was much needed good news with the birth of a daughter for Offton ringer Caroline Goodchild and her husband Will yesterday. Congratulations to them both!

I think I know what will be occupying them at this time!

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Wednesday 25th March 2020

Grundisburgh.Many Happy Returns to Stephen Pettman. Not only has he been Suffolk Guild Ringing Master twice, but for years has represented us on the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers and has helped many a local ringer progress, especially through peal-ringing and I’ve enjoyed marking his significant birthdays of fifty years with a peal of Yorkshire Surprise Maximus at Grundisburgh followed by a curry at Saffron - once a regular haunt for us - and sixty years with another peal at the wobbly little red-brick tower, followed by another curry, this time at Bombay Nite in Felixstowe. God willing we can celebrate his sixty-fifth in a year in similar style.

St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney.No ringing for the occasion this time of course though and again very little to report on from BellBoard. Therefore I found myself pushing the Random button on the site and today came up with a 1376 of Yorkshire Surprise Major rung at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney in Australia on 6th March 2013. I think we often take for granted having so many towers and so many ringers really close to hand, especially as in places like Australia and the USA where the nearest tower and band can sometimes be several hours away, but thanks to the likes of George Pipe there is some impressive ringing that takes places from these far-flung corners of the ringing world.

According to my blog, on the day the aforementioned QP in the Antipodes was being rung, we were reflecting on the life of Barry Pickup the day after he passed away. He is much missed on the ringing scene in the county, especially for his considerable skills on the end of a bellrope.

Meanwhile this afternoon saw a bit of a break from the new norm as I briefly featured on BBC Radio Suffolk. This station has been a massive supporter of local ringing, but on this occasion the exercise wasn’t the purpose of the conversation with presenter James Hazell 3hrs 40mins into his show. Instead, I’d been invited on after responding to requests for song choices via Facebook a couple of nights ago and choosing One Day Like This by Elbow, the song that Ruthie and I had as our first dance to on our wedding day.

It was an upbeat day therefore, with a lot of happy memories.

Happy Birthday Stephen!

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Tuesday 24th March 2020

With restrictions in the UK now limiting gatherings to no more than two people (bar of course households where more than two already live, such as ours) following last night’s announcement and BellBoard expressing a wish that the void left by a cessation of tower-bell ringing isn’t filled with performances rung with the help of a computer, today’s columns were remarkably sparse, although a Page family handbell peal of Plain Bob Minor showed what is possible if you are quarantined in the right house!

Boughton under BleanWe’ll have to get used to this for the time being obviously, so time for another random performance, which today comes courtesy of a quarter-peal of Grandsire Triples at Broughton under Blean in Kent. It was an achievement laden effort, being a first of Triples as conductor for Ali Ducker, first Triples inside for Kate Bispham, first Triples away from cover for Brian Coleman and first as cover for Mike Rannard.

It was rung less than a year ago on 17th May, a largely unremarkable day from a personal ringing-perspective as the vast majority of Fridays are. Although once this vast period of nothingness is over (please let it be over one day!) I hope I never grumble about being bored again! There was a 1260 of Doubles on the county’s most westerly ring of bells at Exning, but otherwise for me it was no doubt a day of anticipation (remember that?!) for was to lay ahead the following day.

For that was the day of the Suffolk Guild Striking Competitions at Polstead and Lavenham, the last to be held in the familiar format of the six-bell and eight-bell on the same day, with a new layout planned for this year of the Mitson Shield and Lester Brett Call-Change Trophy being competed for at Yoxford on Saturday 16th May and the Rose Trophy on Saturday 19th September at Horringer, nominally as part of the SGR Social. Obviously that has all been thrown up in the air and with today the Olympic Games – which were due to start on 24th July – in Tokyo postponed for a year and more pertinently the Ridgman Trophy cancelled due to coronavirus and the peak of the bug here anticipated to still be some way off, it seems hard to imagine anything in May going ahead.

I pray that whether they be held later in the year or simply abandoned until 2021 like much of 2020 has been, the striking competitions are approached with a renewed enthusiasm from across Suffolk by a membership who may now be realising how fortunate we were to have the opportunity to partake in such occasions. Last year’s was a marvellous occasion and hopefully the next one will be, whenever it is and providing more than two of us can gather together!

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Monday 23rd March 2020

For all that we are bored, hankering for going to places and missing people, football, singing and ringing, we are extremely fortunate in the current circumstances. John Ives has now shut for the ‘duration’, but Ruthie has been assured that she will still be paid. Although my work selling advertising space to schools here and across the world has not been hampered by the mass shutdown of my clients, I have still been able to speak to a few either by phone or email and can do my job from home and hopefully some of those I work with in the Far East will be returning in the next couple of weeks or so. And although it’s far from ideal for the boys to be missing out on their regular education and particularly that Joshua’s vital final last few months before he is due to start school has been severely disrupted (indeed maybe even curtailed), at least we haven’t got children who were meant to be taking important, life-changing exams in the next couple of months. Ultimately though, it is for the right reasons, even if the restrictions – especially the near-lockdown measures announced by Boris Johnson – appear OTT to some.

Alfie.However, having the entirety of what is left of our lives for now being carried out in a three bedroom house does lead to some very strange overlapping of these aspects of life. At one point whilst busy working away in what is currently doubling up as our bedroom and my office, Joshua burst into the room, threw his toy badger at me and ran off giggling. With Charlie our cat also injuring his paw this week with impeccable timing, I also had to have a brief break from international educational marketing to help my wife to force-feed him his medicine. Meanwhile downstairs Mrs Munnings was busy educating the boys, joining Alfie for some cosmic yoga and baking cakes.

It all helped to pass the time, but of course what wasn’t helping us pass the time was ringing. The St Mary-le-Tower ringers have kept in touch via WhatsApp (with my younger, tech-savvy wife being my representative!) since the shutdown a week ago, but in the end it is no replacement for gathering in the famous old ringing chamber to ring, socialise and drink together as we would normally have done.

Quite when we will return is open to wildly differing conjecture, but if it is in the next twelve weeks (which whilst an absolute age still seems optimistic currently), we shall have to do it without our peers who are over seventy years old, as those in that age-bracket begin to self-isolate for that lengthy period of time.

Deerhurst.Thus, I may be offering up daily random performances from BellBoard for some time. Today’s is a reminder of the magnificent fundraising effort Bellringers Strike Back Against Blood Cancer, led by ringer Julie McDonnell who was sadly diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia and which raised millions of pounds. The performance that leads me to the subject on this occasion is the 1346 of Julie McDonnell Delight Minor rung at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire – conducted by Simon Webb who I have done much ringing and socialising with both when I was living in the West Midlands and when he has come to Suffolk after I returned here – on 6th December 2017.
The Wolery.On the same day according to this blog, I was bonging behind to a peal of Plain Bob Triples at The Wolery, whilst Ruthie was helping set up the sale at the shop and mother-in-law Kate took the boys to a carol concert, the type of activities that feel like a different world right now. Ringing in the little blue shed has been stopped like at everywhere else and as with the few months at the start of last year when not much ringing was done in Old Stoke whilst David Salter recovered from his stroke, I shall miss it. When on song, the ringing here is amongst the best I do, a real pleasure, but I have to admit my 5040 blows in eighths on 6/12/17 gave me thought to contemplate what I had done in peal-ringing and what else was being done across the UK during that Advent week of just over two years ago. Which was of course a heck of a lot more than we are doing currently.

God willing we will return in the relatively near future and for now we can count ourselves lucky if a lack of ringing is the worst that occurs from all of this for us.

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Sunday 22nd March 2020

Generally this week has been odd. Today though, has felt the oddest for us ringers. Gone was the usual rush to get the boys ready and out the door to get to ringing this morning, whether that be at St Mary-le-Tower or Woodbridge. I love a lay-in and there is a sense that whilst we’re asleep it is eating into these excruciating hours of not being able to go anywhere. However, we missed seeing people. Ruthie missed singing. I missed ringing. And of course it was a particular pity that we couldn’t celebrate Mothering Sunday properly, although I did speak with my mother on the phone.

Ampney Crucis.Of course we weren’t alone in not being able to do any ringing. Although there were quarters rung in Australia (including one at Adelaide Cathedral in celebration of George Pipe’s life and featuring Matthew Ball who rang with us in Ipswich for a while in the 1990s), across the UK thousands of towers which would normally be ringing out stood silent, as did the churches they ring out for. In complete contrast to the day that today’s random performance on BellBoard comes from, with the quarter-peal of Cambridge Surprise Minor at Ampney Crucis in Gloucestershire being rung on 11th November 2018. I didn’t need the blog to tell me that this was the day that ringing remembered the one hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War. Here in Suffolk all bar three of the county’s ringable towers were rung in a spectacular effort, with us helping out at the aforementioned SMLT and Woodbridge and later at Iken in its wonderful setting.

Today couldn’t feel more different.

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Saturday 21st March 2020

This afternoon I should have been attempting a peal of Stedman Cinques at St Mary-le-Tower in memory of George Pipe, with a very good band that organiser Ian Culham had done extremely well to get together in such a short space of time. It is the first of many ringing engagements that were on our now sparse-looking calendar to be cancelled in the wake of coronavirus’ devastating spread in the UK, which has now killed 233 on these shores. A peal attempt at The Wolery on Wednesday has been called off for example and next week of course we were due to be in Walsall for the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest eliminator, the week after I had intended to partake (at least as much as children would allow!) the walking ringing outing on the Shotley Peninsula for the South-East District which had the potential to be a wonderful day out if the weather is good. The Suffolk Guild AGM at Woolpit and Drinkstone has been postponed and one suspects in May the SE District and Guild Striking Competitions at Pettistree on the 2nd and Yoxford on the 16th will also fall by the wayside, all of which I had hoped to attend. I had rather ambitiously begun arranging a peal attempt for the sixth anniversary of Alfie’s birthday next month, which is upsetting not to be able to do.

God willing at least some of these can be revisited later in the year in one form or another, but of course it is hard to plan anything at the moment. The latest forecasts seem to suggest that the best case scenario may be that we go through these lengthy periods of social isolation and distancing off and (mainly) on for the next year to eighteen months. Maybe longer. Perhaps ringing will be possible in the times when restrictions are lifted, but who knows how much warning we would get of that and how long those periods of blissful relative freedom last, meaning that even as I consider arranging peals for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the birth of my father in June, the fourth anniversary of Joshua’s birth in July and fortieth birthday of my brother Chris in November with a peal in December and the SGR considers (if it is) putting on the AGM and Striking Competitions (the Rose Trophy was already planned to be a separate event to the six-bell and combined with the Social on 19th September at Horringer) later in 2020, there is huge doubt as to when or even if we will be able to so with any sense of certainty.

It is all early days and on this first Saturday since the restrictions were put in place, BellBoard was not filled with extraordinary peal successes (with others around the country apparently planned in memory of GWP), but rather more performances involving ringers being industrious in getting their ringing fix. That included the first on BB from Suffolk since the different world we were living in last weekend, as Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson celebrated her birthday with a 256 of eight Surprise Major methods spliced rung accompanied by Abel and twelve changes of Plain Hunt on Six over zoom with Tim Hart and Jed Flatters, complete with a video that showed them doing pretty well in the circumstances!

Tewkesbury Abbey.Meanwhile there was another fine bit of ringing from YouTube doing the rounds online, again of the Birmingham band, this time at Tewkesbury Abbey from a month ago as part of their preparation to regain the Taylor Trophy, which of course they won’t get the chance to do.

Sonning.And today’s random performance from BellBoard is the most recent to date, with a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor with cover on the back six of the 20cwt eight at Sonning in Berkshire, rung just two years ago on 1st April, which in 2018 was Easter Sunday. According to the blog, on that day I was privileged to take a phone call from George Pipe about my article in the Ringing World on the inaugural twelve-bell striking competition named in his honour. However, the aforementioned QP offers little of interest to Suffolk ringing, bar very tenuously that the only peal of Sonning Surprise Major rung in the SGR’s name was at Lavenham on 25th October 1995 and featuring none other than George W Pipe. He is a man who features at almost every turn in the county’s ringing and had such a positive effect on ringing here. Which is why it is such a pity that we couldn’t ring a peal for him on the county’s heaviest ring of bells today.

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Friday 20th March 2020

With a few coughs and sneezes in the house and after today no nursery or school for the boys for the foreseeable future and Ruthie off work next week anyway, we took the precaution of all staying at home today. For me that meant another day on the bed trying to contact schools around the world and in the UK who are either already closed or preparing to close because of the coronavirus pandemic, with the only light relief being picking Mason up for the weekend.

However, apart from that and all the various developments in this whole sorry saga, George Pipe featured very prominently. One was in a sad sense as John Loveless emailed myself and Suffolk Guild Public Relations Officer Neal Dodge (who’s role is harder or easier than ever before depending on how you look at it!) to confirm that the book launch of his eagerly anticipated biography of George which was to have taken place on 30th May has been postponed, with the plan being to coincide it with a service of thanksgiving for the great man, whenever that might be able to happen.

Yass peal band.On more upbeat notes though, it was lovely to see a peal rung on the 6cwt six of Yass in Australia rung in memory of GWP and accompanied by an amusing tale, whilst I also found myself corresponding with Ringing World editor and ringing friend Will Bosworth about the article I have sent in about last month’s George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition. With the quarter-peal and peal columns - not to mention reports on most ringing activity – due to dry up soon, these are are going to be tough times for the RW. Will has been pleased with the response for content to fill the gap, but is understandably worried – as so many are about so many things – that if this drags on it will be difficult to expect the ringing family to keep coming up with stuff, especially with nothing much actually happening on bells. Still, he is determined that it won’t go under and frankly I believe that they have an extremely good man in charge to ensure that it won’t. That said, please help if you can in the coming months, even if – like me – you don’t subscribe. This is still a valuable window on the art, especially for those who don’t have internet access, so please do support it if you can. I plan to contribute if I am able.

Perhaps it will be filled somewhat from what has become the norm this week, such as handbell ringing, performances across multiple locations and people using modern day technology, including fellow Rambling Ringer Steve Askew who between him and computer programme ‘Beltower’ rang a 5152 of the ‘standard’ eight Surprise Major methods.

Meanwhile, today’s random performance from BellBoard is the closest to home thus far in the ringing wastelands of my COVID-19-era blog, being as it is from Essex and most specifically Rayleigh and a quarter-peal rung on 30th October 2011 which was Simon Smith’s first of spliced Doubles.

According to this blog and BB, I was ringing in the first quarter-peal for Sean Antonioli on that day, a learner who I had a big part in teaching. Appropriately it was at St Mary-le-Tower where he had learnt after he and his now wife Louisa were drawn in by the sound of St Lawrence bells, which at that point had just been rehung. Eight months after his first QP – rung during that year’s South-East District Quarter-Peal Fortnight – I was absolutely honoured to call his first peal, also at SMLT and incidentally featuring George Pipe. Understandably the birth of his children and growth of his family eventually saw him drift away from the art, which was a pity as apart from being a really nice chap, he was picking the exercise up really well.

Perhaps when we exit (or transition from more likely) this age of overcautious reactions to coughs and sneezes and we can ring again, Sean and/or other talented ‘lost’ ringers could be tempted back in?

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Thursday 19th March 2020

The consequences of coronavirus’ spread across the UK have unfolded at an incredible speed. Just a week ago I was writing this blog in a tone that appears almost incredulous that football and ringing should be disrupted and I think I was. Whilst accepting that things would change a bit and that some quite dramatic actions might eventually be taken, I don’t think I ever imagined that just seven days later that I would be working from home, John Ives where Ruthie works would be on reduced hours, football here had been stopped (until at least 30th April as announced today in the second date given for a possible resumption since last Friday) and ringing would have ceased completely for all bar those with Mobel on their electronic device, able to ring handbells across Skype or have a household of ready-made handbell ringers.

From what Prime Minister Boris Johnson was saying in what has become a daily 5.15pm press conference, he hopes that we will be turning a corner in twelve weeks if everyone does as they should, but even if that were the case (and many might argue that is optimistic) then I expect things will still be some time off returning to anything resembling normality. Or at least what was normality up until about a week ago.

That of course likely means no ringing until well into the summer at least, but the Central Council have compiled some ringing films and documentaries on YouTube which can hopefully help fill the void a little.

Curfew Tower, Windsor Castle.And another day of no ringing also calls for another daily random performance from BellBoard, which today is from 1st January 2014 with a 1260 of Grandsire Triples at the Curfew Tower at Windsor Castle. These are the bells one hears on the television coverage of big royal events at the residence that the Queen escaped to just today as she looked to get out of a London that is apparently due (although not according to the PM this afternoon) to go on lockdown. Events such as the weddings Prince Harry to Meghan Markle (remember them?) in May 2018 and Princess Eugenie to Jack Brooksbank five months later and various royal birthdays and occasions for example. This one from six years ago was of course rung for New Year, but also in memory of two band members who had passed away not long previously.

From my blog I can see that we went to practice at Pettistree and retired to the Garners’ afterwards with The Greyhound closed as it usually is following the festive period and I was musing on what the year ahead might bring, including the birth of Alfie. And getting it not too far off. Although of course 2014 was a lot more predictable than 2020 is proving thus far...

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Wednesday 18th March 2020

With this year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest cancelled at the weekend and Euro 2020 postponed by a year yesterday, today saw the Eurovision Song Contest and sadly the Suffolk Show struck off the calendar for May. Although ringing hasn’t been represented at the latter since the 2011 show, it is further evidence that just about anything that anyone could be looking forward to is understandably abandoned. Unless you look forward to months of living like a hermit.

Lindfield, NSW.Internationally there were signs that it isn’t just ringing in the UK that is coming to an end due to this global pandemic, with the peal at Lindfield in Australia – the only one recorded on BellBoard in the entire world today – the first on the bells, but the last ringing on the 2cwt five until further notice.

1260 Plain Bob Doubles at Wotton Lodge.Even in the UK, what is hopefully the last rogue quarter-peal band have decided to bring their non-essential activities to an end two days after most of the rest of the country with their 1260s at Ruishton and West Buckland in Somerset both referencing it in their footnotes. Although it seems that ringing continues on what they believe is the virus-free Alderney. Elsewhere there were more handbell performances of Minimus – something I think we’ll have to get used to seeing – and others were getting around the restrictions (including one that includes a link to an interesting article on ringing by video link) to achieve ringing in various ways, such as the 1320 of Plain Bob Cinques and a 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles by the Joynsons and a ringing simulator in Gloucestershire. Others highlighted another ‘piece of the day’ with a showing of Birmingham’s practice visit to St Mary Redcliffe in Bristol for their entry into last year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest eliminator, which was uploaded onto YouTube a year ago today and is well worth a listen, especially in these ringingless times. A superb bit of controlled, well struck ringing.

Here in Suffolk though, it was the absence of ringing that was most noticeable, as having achieved a 100% success rate with pre-practice quarters in 2020 thus far (and indeed barring Christmas Day a record going back to mid-October) up until a week ago, there was nothing from Pettistree where the bells at this extremely active tower – like everywhere else – sit silent for the foreseeable future.

It also meant another evening in the house at the end of a day that I spent the entirety – bar a trip out to the bin – in our abode as I started what could be a lengthy period working from our house. I have done some working from home in the past, but only really just to keep on top of things when I have been out of the office unexpectedly either looking after a poorly son or if I myself have been ill. This was completely different and I wasn’t sure if I was going to manage or not and indeed it took a little while getting into my stride figuring out how my laptop does things differently to my Mac at work which is set up for what I do at John Catt on a daily basis. It was also a little odd working from my bed, being the only spot I was ensured some peace and quiet with Ruthie and Joshua quite rightly having the run of downstairs. Still, I was getting quite used to it by the end, which is fortunate as this may be the norm for some time, especially with the announcement that schools and nurseries throughout the country are to close indefinitely after Friday.

For all that it was unfamiliar surroundings to earn my salary from, I was keen to stick to familiar timings for starting, finishing and lunch as much as possible, which allowed for some time to select my daily random performance from BB. Today’s is the 5024 of Bristol, Cambridge, London and Superlative Surprise Major spliced rung at East Farleigh in Kent on 12th August 2003. Obviously too early for the blog which didn’t start until 2007 so I couldn’t tell you what I was doing on that day (I was still living in the West Midlands, which is about all I can tell you!), but I can tell you that a young(er) George Salter listened to another peal there when he went down to the area for the 2014 Central Council of Church Bell Ringers’ Annual Meeting in nearby Maidstone, at least according to his excellent report of the trip on this website. That performance over sixteen years ago was notable for being Michael Birkbeck’s three hundredth in the medium. Since then he has been busy in peal-ringing, with the 5089 of Glasgow Surprise Major at Horton Kirby on Saturday being his 762nd according to the magnificent PealBase.

Unfortunately of course that is likely to be his last for some time as coronavirus continues to wreak destruction upon people’s plans. Sadly that includes George Pipe’s funeral on Friday 27th March. One of the countless sad consequences of COVID-19’s alarmingly fast spread is that George’s death has been overshadowed somewhat by subsequent events. Friday afternoon next week should have seen hundreds of ringers – including countless numbers of the finest on the planet – converging from across the country and probably the globe to ring at St Mary-le-Tower and St Lawrence and to celebrate this great man’s life, but now it has had to be downscaled to a shortened service with his close family only. God willing a service of thanksgiving incorporating the launch of his biography by John Loveless will be able to take place when circumstances allow, whenever that may be.

As with so much else, we just have to wait.

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Tuesday 17th March 2020

These are not good times for someone trying to write a daily ringing blog. Even ringing-related events such as the Quiz Night of Saturday 28th March in aid of the Stowmarket Bells Project. However, hopefully keeping abreast of developments with our reaction to coronavirus and how that might relate to ringing and more pertinently when we might be safe to start again may keep it vaguely of interest. “Why start now?” I hear some of you ask.

Besides, it will be interesting to see how ringers use their unwanted free time when they would have otherwise have been ringing. The CCCBR guidance last night gave ideas of what one could do and I would certainly recommend looking through those, including the YouTube clip from 2009 of the St Paul’s Cathedral Guild producing some hypnotic Bristol Surprise Maximus in New York. Personally I am considering finally getting to grips with handbells, if I can get my hands on a set. I am fortunate to have a wife who is proficient in the medium and who knows, maybe a son or two might give it a go, but we haven’t all got a family of Surprise Major handbell ringers in the same house as the Cambridgeshire branch of the Pipe family have, although 60 changes of Plain Bob Minor were rung in Glasgow, 48 changes of Oxford Treble Bob Minor in the city of the same name and a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minimus was rung by the Westmans in isolation in Derbyshire all on handbells.

Meanwhile, full marks to Matthew Blurton who used Mobel on an iPad to ring 120 changes of Westminster Surprise Minor while in lockdown in Tenerife and to those who rang a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Minor through Abel from three different locations in Oxfordshire. And for amusement value to whoever put up the comedy ‘performance’ of Covid Nonuples!

It’s harder to know how to feel about the towerbell ringing today though. I can’t judge them and I won’t. I would like to be ringing too, even though I wouldn’t usually be ringing on a Tuesday anyway and we are in unprecedented times where there is still uncertainty about what exactly we can and can’t do and what is actually safe. However, as alluded to yesterday, with businesses taking significant financial hits (though hopefully helped in the long-term by announcements made today) and others working from home – myself included tomorrow as I was asked to do by John Catt Educational today - in order to stop COVID-19 spreading too fast for the NHS to cope with, it probably isn’t a good look for ringers to be travelling out for ‘non-essential’ social gatherings, seen to be defying medical advice on a serious life-threatening illness for many, potentially infecting places that wouldn’t otherwise have been infected. All done with no intention of causing harm I’m sure, but we have all really got to consider minimising risk where we can.

It did at least give me something directly ringing-related to mention on today’s blog, but I might not be so lucky in the coming weeks. Therefore, I’m hoping to start a daily look at the first performance that comes up for me on the Random button of BellBoard. Today’s is a 1320 of Norwich Surprise Minor rung on 9th June 2012 at Aldford in Cheshire, which was Patrick Deakin’s first of Surprise Minor as conductor. On the same day – according to this blog – I was ringing for a wedding at Grundisburgh and commenting on the welcome return to the art of Joanna Crowe, all whilst Ruthie was having her hen do. Patrick has meanwhile become a very talented ringer since, judging by BB and Pealbase, having conducted peals of Bristol Surprise Maximus, spliced Minor and spliced Major, so his effort nearly eight years was a notable one in his progression and I’m glad to highlight it today.

Nonetheless, these aren’t going to be good times to write a ringing blog!

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Monday 16th March 2020

Monday 16th March 2020 – the day that ringing stopped. The day indeed that just about everything in UK stopped.

With the announcement from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson this afternoon that all non-essential travel and contact in the country should stop, ringing – along with many other activities such as going to pubs, restaurants and theatres – really had no choice but to collectively cease for now. Until when, nobody knows, but weeks or months seems likely. In these unprecedented times though, who can tell?

The updated advice from the Central Council was essentially as close as you are going to get to an order not to ring or the first ban on the art in peacetime. Of course its not actually and even the government guidance is not binding in a legal sense – for now. Ringers can still ring if they want and I expect some stubborn ringers might. I can understand that. I hate this idea, much like I detest everything stopping when a flake of snow falls. Still the reaction of some to this is annoying, but there is a very real danger to a large proportion of our membership and I think in every sense it would be unwise to continue, both from a health perspective and also in how it appears – it wouldn’t be a good look for the art if the general population were sacrificing going out socialising and to work if we continued, even with hygiene precautions put in place. We have to take this seriously, as each daily update of the number of deaths is given. Please, please do take notice of this.

St Mary-le-Tower practice is likely to have been some of the last regular ringing to have taken place in the UK for some considerable time. By the time the news had been digested some were already committed to going along and the attendance was noticeably devoid of over-seventies, my father included as they prepared for their twelve-week isolation in the coming days.

Enjoying the fellowship of ringing – for now – at the makeshift bar in St Mary-le-Tower ringing chamber after our last practice for a while. Enjoying the fellowship of ringing – for now – at the makeshift bar in St Mary-le-Tower ringing chamber after our last practice for a while. Enjoying the fellowship of ringing – for now – at the makeshift bar in St Mary-le-Tower ringing chamber after our last practice for a while. Enjoying the fellowship of ringing – for now – at the makeshift bar in St Mary-le-Tower ringing chamber after our last practice for a while.

Even before this evening’s latest turn of events we had decided that after ringing we were going to avoid going to The Cricketers – or indeed any pub – for our post-ringing refreshments and so having climaxed the practice with some nicely rung Cambridge Surprise Maximus (one of the many – albeit completely insignificant – disappointments of all of this is that we have really progressed in our Surprise Maximus ringing in recent months) and ringing all twelve down for the foreseeable future (including ringing the back ten down in peal, ending with me having the final word on the tenor, as captured on Mike Whitby’s Facebook thread), we cracked open the beer left over from last month’s George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition held here and reminisced about ringing as if it was consigned to history for good on a poignant evening. We then bade farewell, promising to learn Bristol Surprise Royal and Maximus for when we return and to keep in touch, but of course unsure when we would see each other again.

It is an extremely sad day.

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Sunday 15th March 2020

These are strange times indeed.

This morning at church we were met with compulsory hand sanitising, the Peace was done with waving and gestures rather shaking hands and we took Communion without wine, whilst the boys were disappointed that the usual tea and biscuits had been forsaken, although we placated them with our own tea and biscuits when we got home.

Then later in the day we were at St Mary-le-Tower practicing for a striking competition that isn’t going to take place. Not that the inevitable news that the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest has been cancelled for the first time in its forty-five year history had been confirmed when we practiced. It is a dreadful shame for all concerned, especially the hosts who were very excited about hosting and in our case at Walsall we found to be extremely hospitable and of course having taken the plunge to enter for only the second time this century that the event is now not happening is massively disappointing. Ultimately though, I think it is the right decision in these extraordinary circumstances.

At least it meant that we had done some ringing today as having met Kate to take Alfie and Joshua back from her after their sleepover at hers last night and service ringing at Pettistree this morning, I was too late to ring ahead of the aforementioned service at Woodbridge. And for all that in a competitive sense it is to no avail, we were delighted with our efforts this afternoon as we got our first four star twelve-bell performance on Hawkear, with the potential for the contest not going ahead prompting us to realise just how much it had served its main purpose of raising standards here. Thank you to my Mum and Dad for looking after the boys whilst we rang.

Across in west Suffolk meanwhile, well done to Ben Keating on ringing his first quarter-peal of Double Norwich Court Bob Major in the 1312 rung at The Norman Tower and to the entire band who rang their first blows of Beaconside Bob Minor in the 1260 rung at Buxhall as despite some places in the UK stopping ringing, the exercise continued within our borders.

However, each day brings something new with coronavirus and particularly in regards to how society deals with it and today brought news that over seventies are going to be asked to isolate at some point in the coming weeks, with the period of isolation bandied about being four months. For all that there are lots of youngsters doing lots of exciting stuff in the art, this would deprive us of a sizeable proportion of those who regularly ring. I hope I am wrong, but it also appears to make it less likely that the Guild AGM will take place next month. COVID-19 is and will be bringing much devastation to big and especially small businesses, before we even mention that people are dying from this and so ringing is incredibly unimportant, but it will be a huge pity if ringing has to be scaled back so severely. Whatever needs doing has to be done though. Watch this space.

After all, these are strange times indeed.

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Saturday 14th March 2020

With everything happening (or not happening in many cases!), we had a reassuringly busy day today on the Pettistree Quarter-Peal Day. This was a change to our original plans of an outing to Norwich (nothing to do with coronavirus, but rather because the main focus of our visit to Norfolk’s county city was the Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre – which today won the ART Award for Excellence in Recruitment or Retention – was already booked up), but an extremely enjoyable and productive day of ringing closer to home as we travelled the South-East District, with hand sanitiser constantly at our side and much more hand washing carried out than on a typical ringing outing.

Ringing at Bredfield on the Pettistree QP Day. Ringing at Bredfield on the Pettistree QP Day. Ringing at Bredfield on the Pettistree QP Day. Ringing at Bredfield on the Pettistree QP Day.

Accompanied by some general ringing, there were four quarters, although we didn’t ring in all of them personally. An excellently rung 1272 of Norwich Surprise Minor at Bredfield was in its latter stages as we arrived and after that came round touches of Stedman and then Grandsire Doubles were rung upon this 11cwt gallery-ring six.

A gentle meander along winding lanes through beautiful countryside and quaint, isolated cottages (perfect in current circumstances I imagine) and then whilst mother-in-law Kate looked after the boys and their cousins in the church both of us rang a 1250 of Wells Surprise Minor at Brandeston which Hilary Stern rang superbly and which the band very kindly agreed to dedicate to the birthday yesterday of former ringer Aunty Marian, sister of my father.

Lunch at The Lion Inn, Little Glemham.With any good morning’s ringing we took a lunch break at a pub, which on this occasion was The Lion Inn. Sat right on the A12 but in the heart of this village, this an entirely unpretentious hostelry with inexpensive, proper grub and a really lovely atmosphere. In fact, perfect for the halfway point of a day’s ringing and so we continued on to an old stomping ground of mine in high spirits.

When I returned to Suffolk fifteen years ago, it was a little pink cottage in Tunstall overlooking fields and just a few hundred yards down a road with no pavement from St Michael’s church. The 7cwt six there were once a regular haunt on Tuesday nights and occasionally Sunday mornings with Richard Wilson leading a band with lovely characters like John Calver, Jasper Dickinson and the late Susan Dalziel who lived in the house behind me. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be a band there currently, but these are still lovely bells and very enjoyable to ring on.

QP underway at Tunstall on the Pettistree QP Day.Not that I actually rang on them today as the general ringing was just being wrapped up as we arrived having rounded the children up from their lunch, but my wife did at least get to partake in a very well rung 1296 of Cambridge Surprise Minor here, whilst Mrs Eagle and myself attempted to keep the children relatively quiet downstairs.

On a day of ringing on familiar bells, the day was climaxed at one the most familiar to our merry band as an extremely well struck 1280 of five Surprise Major methods – Rutland, Superlative, Yorkshire, Cambridge and Lincolnshire in that order – spliced rung at Ufford, with it being my turn to ring as Mrs Munnings took all the little children back to her mother’s, where Kate, myself and Mason – who very patiently sat in on our quarter – ended up for tea and Alfie and Joshua ended up spending the night for a sleepover with their cousins.

Elsewhere there were other QPs rung on the county’s bells today. Well done to Rachel Waldron on ringing her first in the medium on a working bell in the 1260 of Plain Bob Doubles at Redgrave and to Ainsley Gilbert and Emily Vallow on ringing their first quarter-peal of multiple numbers of methods with six Doubles methods rung at Hinderclay following on what appears to have been a hugely successful North-West District Practice at Hopton. And across the country plenty of peals were still being rung and still roughly on par with the numbers of peals from the second Saturday of March in 2019.

Yet the effects of COVID-19 are tightening and the affects are now starting to be felt in ringing. Although I’m not aware of it being the case within our borders, some ringing events have been cancelled and one tower has stopped ringing altogether due to what seems to be tenuous following of advice from the Church of England (Links to Suffolk Guild and Central Council advice). And an email sent out to participating teams has put forward a proposal aimed at ensuring that the National Twelve-Bell Striking Competition eliminators still go ahead but with minimum risk. Currently the plan – as with all previous competitions for the Taylor Trophy since it started forty-five years ago – is for the draw to take place at 11am, much socialising to be done over several hours whilst ringing takes place, followed by the results and likely more socialising afterwards, all seeing large numbers of ringers gathered together – particularly for the draw and results – indoors. The proposal is that the draw is done ahead of the day, teams turn up to ring and go and the results are then announced online, with all the catering and drink that was going to be laid on now not happening. It will be a pity, not just for those of us looking to a day of catching up with friends not often seen, but also for the hosts, especially at Walsall where they had been extremely hospitable when we travelled over for our practice a few weeks ago and were clearly looking forward to welcoming everyone. However, although the numbers will be well short of those considered a ‘mass gathering’ which look likely to be banned as soon as next weekend and which are mainly being stopped to release the emergency services that the Twelve-Bell doesn’t require, this seems like an eminently sensible move. Even then though, with doubts about whether the Final due to take place at Sheffield Cathedral on Saturday 20th June will be able to go ahead and a meeting of the committee planned for tomorrow and of course a quickly changing situation, it’s far from certain whether even these measures will be enough to save the 2020 competition, especially with far more important considerations to take into account.

It’s all very sad for so many reasons, but even if the National Twelve-Bell Contest doesn’t go ahead, I pray that today isn’t the last day of its kind that we can enjoy for a long time.

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Friday 13th March 2020

Until yesterday, coronavirus wasn’t really having much impact on life in the UK. The odd closure, the occasional cancellation or postponement. Even that new guidance from the government twenty-four hours ago appeared to maintain normality to a large extent.

However, today professional football – mercifully including Ipswich Town given their current miserable form – was suspended until 4th April and most other sports followed suit, if they hadn’t already, as participants begin catching the bug and concerns about the policing and protection of mass gatherings in the near future were voiced. With the perceived wisdom apparently questioning whether football or anything similar will be back as soon as three weeks time, it is conceivable that there won’t be any major sports here and in much of the world for a couple of months at least.

Quite where this will leave ringing over the next few weeks is unknown, but I wholeheartedly agree with Suffolk Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson’s message sent out to members today which reiterated that there is still only one confirmed case in the county – even on a day when nationwide the numbers of new cases grew by more than two hundred - and not to panic. As she points out, a good number in the SGR may be considered to fall in the ‘at risk’ group when it comes to the most serious reaction to catching COVID-19, but she also encourages ringers to follow the guidance given out and adapted it for ringing too. Try to avoid swapping ropes too much, wash hands before and after going to ringing and don’t spit on your hands before grabbing hold.

Obviously everyone needs to make their own choices – especially those who feel particularly at risk of serious health issues from catching this – and ultimately we will all have to go by official guidance (or even instructions), but I really hope that we are all offered the opportunity to attend ringing events such as Saturday’s North-West District Practice at Hopton or the North-East District Quarterly Meeting at Yoxford, the Helmingham Monthly Practice in a week or the South-West District Practice on the afternoon of Saturday 28th March.

I’m glad to see that others were doing just that today, with Rowan leading by example in a peal of Ealing Surprise Major over the Cambridgeshire border at Fulbourn and the FNQPC were successful at Henley, but particularly at Worlingham where Rona Sporle was ringing a quarter-peal of Norwich Surprise Minor as conductor for the first time. Well done Rona!

For us though, it was a quiet evening in, contemplating how much more I might enjoy my Saturday afternoons’ ringing without any football to ruin it. If we’re allowed to do any soon that is.

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Thursday 12th March 2020

I don’t mind admitting that I have done much eye-rolling in recent days as coronavirus has begun spreading through the UK. Some people appear absolutely desperate to be seen to be involved with the big news story of the moment, much like when a flake of snow falls. People have demanded that schools close, despite children seemingly being relatively – on the basis of evidence collected thus far – robust in their reaction to the bug. That sporting events, concerts and other mass gatherings be cancelled, despite the fact it won’t stop many of those people still gathering together elsewhere (although admittedly would take some pressure off the stretched emergency services in theory). That businesses shut down, even though that action would be financially crippling to a large number of small companies and the self-employed. An increasing number are sporting face masks, despite the fact that they are more effective as a fashion accessory in the current climate than protection against COVID-19. Others have been selfishly stockpiling hand sanitiser, toilet rolls - even though that end is not affected by the illness - and huge amounts of non-perishable food, leaving supermarket shelves empty for those less well off and/or in greater need. That despite it being easier than ever before in human history to have shopping delivered to your doorstep.

However, despite this being an affliction that for the vast majority of those who catch it – and that number is still only a tiny percentage of the total population – will only present mild symptoms, I’m not entirely dismissive of its seriousness. There are elderly members of my family with underlying health issues, so extra care needs to be taken around them. However, as with most things it seems common sense, much hand-washing and increased hygiene would be far better than stopping everything and like many I have been washing my hands more aggressively (often humming ‘Happy Birthday’ twice at the same time!) and more regularly.

Events may overtake us all, whatever our personal opinions as we have to follow the expert medical advice. Today the government changed their approach from ‘containment’ to ‘delay’. Mercifully that hasn’t signalled anything too drastic at the moment. Schools will remain open for now, much to the disappointment of many children. Football matches won’t be played behind closed doors for the time being either. Much to the disappointment of what’s left of the Ipswich Town fanbase. Instead, it will be much more difficult to see your doctor if you need to and anyone with a new “persistent” cough or a high temperature will be expected to self-isolate. Closer to home, at John Catt Educational we were asked how feasible it would be to work from home if needed. In my case it is pretty straightforward with very little disruption, although it is getting harder to speak with schools about what in the circumstances may seem the trivial matter of advertising, especially those around the world such as in China and Italy where places of education are already closed down.

So for now life goes on, albeit with greater caution and more thought than is usually needed, which includes ringing. That was particularly the case at Worlingham where there were a brace of first quarter-pealers to celebrate, as well as at Redgrave where a third was ringing their first QP. Well done to Kate Bungay on making her debut by bonging behind to Grandsire Doubles and to Dave Goldstone on making his knocking behind to Plain Bob Doubles at the former tower and to Alison Colchester on entering the world of quarter-peals at the latter.

The fear though is that ringing – like everything else – will end up being severely curtailed if and when tougher measures are brought in. Whilst not many ringing events will reach the required numbers to be banned (500-1,000 seems to be where the line has been drawn in other countries), when jumble sales are being cancelled it seems hard to envisage that at least some ringing events in the coming weeks won’t fall victim. Most immediate concerns lie with the National Twelve Striking Contest eliminators on 28th March, with hundreds of ringers gathering together from around the UK, including at Walsall where Ipswich are due to enter the contest for the first time for thirteen years in sixteen days time. An email was sent out earlier in the week by the organisers with the kind of guidelines that most of us will be familiar with by now, but reiterating for now that it is still going ahead, but if greater restrictions are applied it is easy to imagine that this will be revisited. Although today’s government announcement suggested that the reason for cancelling mass gatherings is less to do with any medical benefits which would apparently be negligible and more to do with freeing up emergency services, which wouldn’t be an issue for this or any ringing events.

It has been pointed out that ringing appears to be the ideal breeding ground for this bug to spread, with people gathered together in confined spaces taking it in turn to grab hold of the same ropes, but of course it has always been that way and we’re not constantly succumbing to illnesses. If we aren’t instructed to stay at home collectively then hopefully the best way forward will be for people to continue coming out to support ringing, although people – especially those classed as vulnerable – should make their own choice as they see fit and those who do come out should carry out all the suggested hygiene guidelines, as the Central Council have now advised.

I can imagine doubt creeping into members’ minds as to whether they should attend the Suffolk Guild AGM at Woolpit and Drinkstone on Saturday 18th April or even the Mitson Shield and Lester Brett Trophy Striking Competitions at Yoxford on Saturday 16th May, but God willing the weather will be warmer, the pressures less on the NHS and the peak reached. Unless it becomes completely impractical or impossible to hold them though, my humble opinion – and only mine with no medical expertise it should be noted – is that they should be held to give people the choice and if anyone feels it is safer for them personally not to go then they shouldn’t go.

For all the worries and fears, the sombre press conference with the Prime Minister and the country’s medical experts and Coronavirus now officially being pronounced a pandemic (whatever difference that makes practically), life was going on today, in our household at least. Although that didn’t involve any ringing on this occasion as Ruthie went to her two choir practices this evening, in the process discovering that it is planned for the Revd Nigel Prior to be installed as rector of St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge on Tuesday 9th June, God willing with the 25cwt eight ringing out in celebration. Providing we’re not all quarantined by then!

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Wednesday 11th March 2020

As excitement and anticipation builds towards our planned entry (coronavirus permitting) into this year’s National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest in our eliminator at Walsall on Saturday 28th March, it is worth noting that the competition’s website today confirmed on its Future Contests section that which has been common knowledge for a while – that one of the eliminators for next year’s Contest will God willing be held at The Norman Tower on Saturday 27th March 2021. Even without the current uncertainty around travelling in the coming weeks I can appreciate travelling to the West Midlands to soak in the atmosphere of the biggest competition in ringing and showing support to only the second entry from Suffolk of the twenty-first century (although your presence would be much appreciated, especially in the current circumstances!) may not be appealing, but I hope that bringing this famous contest to our doorstep will encourage Guild members of all abilities to enjoy the day. Therefore, please keep the day free.

For now, Ruthie was brushing up on her six-bell ringing on the bells of her home tower Pettistree at its weekly practice, which was preceded as usual by a quarter-peal as this ground-floor six maintains its 100% record for pre-practice QPs in 2020!

Exciting times there at the moment.

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Tuesday 10th March 2020

The 1250 of Superlative Surprise Major I partook in at Ufford this evening was primarily arranged to remember George Pipe at the tower where he rang his first peal, almost seventy-five years ago on 1st December 1945 and very pleased we were with our efforts as we rang the musical Richard Allton extremely well. We hope George would’ve approved.

However, it is also the start of a change on this 13cwt eight. Since practices were held on a Tuesday here, it hasn’t been possible to hold one on the second Tuesday of the month as that was when the Women’s Institute held their meetings at the hall across the peaceful churchyard. In more recent times Mike Whitby has run a Surprise Major Practice on the second Thursday of the month (although of course the second Tuesdays and Thursdays weren’t always in the same week!) which have been very useful for a good number of people, although with parenthood and Ruthie’s choir practices on the same night we haven’t been able to take full advantage of them over the last five years or so.

The cessation of the WI’s meetings have freed up those second Tuesdays though and seems a natural point at which to stop the Surprise Major practices and instead attempt a quarter-peal on those second Tuesdays. God willing they will be a very helpful progression from the practices and tonight’s effort is hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Our performance wasn’t the only dedicated to George of course, with more from across the country and another QP before the practice at Offton rung for him.

It was pleasing to ring a quarter for him today, but also to start something new that we pray upholds and progresses the art he so loved.

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Monday 9th March 2020

St Mary-le-Tower.We haven't had the privilege of George Pipe's presence at a Monday night St Mary-le-Tower practice for a long, long time. Yet at the first one since his passing his presence felt reassuringly close as we rang - and recorded in the tower book and on BellBoard - an entire course of one his favourite methods, London (No.3) Surprise Royal to climax the session.

He would have been livid at our first attempt and indeed the three or four attempts at Stedman Cinques but I imagine the perfect gentleman afterwards. And I imagine he would've enjoyed Sue Williamson ringing some Stedman Caters and Karina Wiseman ringing the treble to some 'Bisto' of the Caters and Cinques variety on a pretty productive night topped with a convivial drink in The Cricketers, all in the company of Diana who it was lovely to see.

George would've enjoyed it.

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Sunday 8th March 2020

Even by my standards I was running late for ringing at St Mary-le-Tower this morning, not helped by having to turn back for Joshua's potty. Such is our life at the moment!

Still, once there I nonetheless contributed to a couple of pieces of ringing, including some superb Yorkshire Surprise Royal.

It was lovely to be greeted by some returning regulars who for one reason or another have been missing recently. Immediate Past South-East Ringing Master Jonathan Williamson - clearly encouraged by ringing at nearby St Margaret's yesterday - was back ringing at SMLT for the first time since he was put in plaster. Amanda Richmond continued her return to the art. Most pleasing of all though, was the presence of Diana Pipe after a trying few weeks and of course a tough week. She seemed understandably tired, but after some ringing and a drink with us at Costa Coffee afterwards she appeared to be regaining some of her sparkle, which was lovely to see.

She was also able to tell us that George's funeral is planned to take place at St Mary-le-Tower at 1.30pm on Friday 27th March. Judging by ringing's response alone - and the affection for him goes far beyond the exercise - then there will be a lot of people there. There were many more performances dedicated to him today from across the world, including here in Suffolk with a quarter-peal at The Norman Tower and some call-changes on eight by the local band at Woodbridge.

Meanwhile, the second Sunday peal at Aldeburgh was also successful and as usual a first in the method for the band and Guild, with the method on this occasion being Watercress Line Surprise Major.

On this sunny Sunday (nice not to be blown about by the wind at the weekend for once!) I made it up the park with the boys, but the only other ringing I partook in was service ringing at Grundisburgh where we managed call-changes on ten with numbers boosted by the visiting Martin Cansdale and also the returning Ruth Symington. Ruth was once a regular ringer round these parts when I was learning, but it is many years since I last saw her.

It was well worth getting out this morning, however late I was.

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Saturday 7th March 2020

The first Saturday of March used to be the day for the first South-East District Quarterly Meeting of the year. They're unfashionable now of course, but I enjoyed them with a sense of occasion and more opportunities to socialise than at a practice. And of course plenty of food!

However, the meetings seemed to put off many and so apart from the ADM in December the District abandoned the format a few years ago.


This afternoon's SE gathering at St Margaret's in Ipswich felt a little like a halfway house between a practice and full blown meeting as around forty members met for about an hour-and-a-half's ringing on this wonderful gallery ring eight, with cakes, biscuits and hot drinks downstairs in the church, before Chairman Mark Ogden led a short meeting.

Ringing Master Jenny Scase ran things superbly with much catered for from call-changes to Surprise Major rung. It was nice to ring with a different Salter as I rang in some Plain Hunt on Seven with David and Katharine's youngest son Henry and nice to ring with Jonathan Williamson again as he did his first ringing since his recent injury, with a boot giving him the support to do so.

The meeting remembered George Pipe of course as did ringing with more performances dedicated to him across the world.

Meanwhile, although a peal attempt at Beccles appears to have been lost, there were successes within our borders, with a peal rung at nearby Worlingham and a quarter-peal rung at Rougham in the west of the county.

A first Saturday of March well used me thinks!

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Friday 6th March 2020

There was a slight feeling of déjà vu this evening, as Ruthie and I rang seven and eight at Woodbridge to a quarter-peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major to mark the retirement of the Rev’d Canon Kevan McCormack as Rector of St Mary-the-Virgin, less than a month after Ruthie and I rang seven and eight at Woodbridge to a quarter-peal of Yorkshire Surprise Major to mark the retirement of the Rev’d Canon Kevan McCormack as Rector of St Mary-the-Virgin.

Ron.One crucial difference was present this time though, as the purpose of our ringing came to listen, took in Ron playing the bagpipes in the church, had a photo with the band and then bought us a drink each in The King’s Head across the Market Hill. He appeared genuinely moved by all our efforts and was in fine form in the busy hostelry afterwards as he got an insight into bell ringing organising and spoke of his friendship with George Pipe, another indication of how GWP went far beyond his incredible achievements in ringing.

Talking of George, a touch of 84 changes of Grandsire Triples – a change for each year of his life – was rung immediately after our QP came round and was rung in his memory and along with the bells being half-muffled for Lent was another more sombre difference to our previous success here.

Of course, our efforts were not the only rung to remember him and celebrate his life from across the country and world, but also here in Suffolk with the 1260 of Grandsire Doubles at Earl Stonham which was Matt Newson’s first in the method. Well done Matt!

Meanwhile, word came through that the programme for which filming of ringing at Kersey was recently carried out – Hilary Mantel: Return to Wolf Hall – is due to be broadcast on Saturday night at 9pm on BBC2, so do look out for that. Although as Neal Dodge points out and is often the case when ringing appears in such things, it is impossible to say how much it will feature.

Still, it ought to be an interesting watch and God willing we should be at home to watch it. For this this evening though, we were grateful to my wife’s gran for looking after her great grandsons whilst we went out ringing and then socialising, as she did when we last rang a quarter-peal at Woodbridge. It was déjà vu for her too!

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Thursday 5th March 2020

With the usual caveat that I’m aware it isn’t an exciting read (and sub-caveat that it isn’t meant to be!), every year I look forward to seeing the new Guild Annual Report and the majority of time that I have been an SGR member I and the majority of my peers have had to wait until it was printed and Deanery Reps and other volunteers have managed to distribute it to every corner of the county, usually in a mad dash before the AGM!

Now though, technology allows us to see it before it even gets to the printers and today I got to read Mark Ogden’s superb debut as Report Editor – with gratefully received from his predecessor Michelle Rolph alongside the many others such as David Salter and Brian Whiting – as he emailed it to the membership to read online.

Of course, so much of it is pre-empted online, but yet again there are snippets of useful information that I wasn’t aware of, such as plans to restore the 13cwt five of Hoxne that is already seeing a local band being taught at nearby Bacton and Oakley and the consideration being given the augment the gallery-ring of six at Buxhall to an eight. Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that all four Districts took advantage of the wonderful Mancroft Ringing Discovery Centre in Norwich during 2019.

I still eagerly await my hard copy, which is always nice to hold and flick through and easier for the boys to look through as they take an increased interest. Indeed Alfie was using the 2017 Annual Report only yesterday morning as a distraction from getting ready for school!

Whether as a PDF or in print, please do acquaint yourself with its content before the Guild AGM is due to be held at Woolpit and Drinkstone on Saturday 18th April and get motivated to join your fellow members in that beautiful part of the world!

It seemed quite poignant reading the Annual Report in the week that George Pipe dies and which features him in places, but whilst the AR was produced and recording a period before his sad death, ringing was continuing to remember him today, with a touch of Grandsire Triples rung at the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Sydney in Australia where he is fondly recalled rung in memory of him, as were the quarter-peals at the aforementioned MRDC in Norwich and on handbells in Wedmore in Somerset and the peal of Stedman Cinques at South Croydon. And here in Suffolk the 1260 of Double Oxford Bob Minor at Tostock was rung in memory of him.

And thank you to George Vant for sharing a couple of videos from YouTube of GWP, one of him blessing young Mr Vant’s handbells, the other of him speaking at the inaugural George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Striking Competition at Bury St Edmunds. Lovely to hear the great man’s voice again.

No opportunity for us to remember him through ringing though, as Ruthie’s new two-choir Thursday evening left no time for ringing for either of us whilst I looked after the children at home.

At least it gave me the chance to have a proper read of the new Annual Report!

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Wednesday 4th March 2020

George W Pipe.Expected but sad, sad news came out today as it was announced that the great George W Pipe died yesterday. The last decade or so has marked a gradual but sorry decline in his health, not helped by the sudden death of his brother Rod in 2011. His last peal was a 5010 of Stedman Cinques at Great St Mary in Cambridge in December 2012, his last quarter was a 1385 of Grandsire Caters at Leek on Brian Whiting’s Quarter-Peal Tour of 2016, it has been some years since we have had the privilege of ringing with him and indeed now some time since he was last able to join us in the ringing chamber at St Mary-le-Tower where he was more synonymous with than anyone else, until he was sadly not even able to come out to meet us at all. He was particularly missed at the Twelve-Bell Striking Competition named after him last month.

There was much said today and there will be much more said in the coming days about him from across the world and if I were to go into depth of all he has achieved there would be about a year’s worth of blog in this one entry! And yet on this Guild website it is important to stress just how much he did for ringing locally, nationwide and globally and what a gem we had in our midst.

At SMLT he took a band that was apparently just ringing Plain Bob Doubles, led the project to get the bells rehung and many of them recast in 1976 and turned them into a band ringing local peals of Bristol Surprise Maximus and reaching the National Twelve-Bell Final on multiple occasions.

For the Suffolk Guild he was the Ringing Master from 1964-69 (incredibly only the third RM in its history!) and Chairman from 1974-77 and was a driving force behind its success over many years.

Nationally he was hugely respected, in part exhibited by the peal boards across Suffolk that record how many of the biggest names in the exercise were willing to travel here to ring in peals with him and saw him a part of the country’s ringing ‘elite’.

Internationally he was best known and most fondly remembered for being instrumental in forming the Australian and New Zealand Association of Bellringers (ANZAB), but he also rang in the first peal at Washington Cathedral in the USA in 1964, which in those days was a huge deal and contributed to his status as a ringing superstar.

Quite simply, he was one of the most well known and most loved ringers on the planet. Countless stories abound of ringers from within our borders travelling the country and indeed the world and once their hosts realised where they were from would be met with the questions “Do you know George Pipe? How is he?”

He was gently teased from time to time, particularly around the extremely rare occasions he went wrong, including most memorably with the ‘Tower’ entry into the 1990 Rose Trophy Eight-Bell Striking Competition at St Margaret’s across the county town, when the touch of Stedman Triples was too short! He was always more than happy to laugh at himself though, once going wrong in something at SMLT and chuckling afterwards that it “will be around the county soon!” Yet he was a rock you could rely on in everything he rang, especially on higher numbers.

Personally I have wonderful memories of him, especially from my youth. Even before I started ringing he was an imposing yet kind figure and when I began ringing I aspired to be just like him. I got nowhere near of course, but through observing him, ringing with him and listening to his advice I became a far better ringer than I otherwise would have. He struck fear into the hearts of ringers, lest they went wrong in a piece he was ringing in, yet he was a gentleman when the ringing finished, always happy to guide and advise.

Beyond ringing he was also a good friend to our family. He was one of the first to phone us when the boys were born, he was Godfather to my brother Chris and he and Diana always gave the children presents at Christmas.

His artwork adorns many a ringers’ walls, including ours with a drawing of St Mary-le-Tower he very kindly did for our wedding nearly eight years ago. The huge archive of information and history on ringing and churches both physically and from his mind and which were frequently recounted to captivated audiences are invaluable to ringing and beyond, with the exhibition at the 2015 SGR AGM in Felixstowe absorbing. Although it is sad he won’t be there with us at its launch on 30th May, thank God for John Loveless’ biography of him which immortalised a man who at times appeared immortal. Sadly it wasn’t so and thoughts are with his family and especially Diana. They say that behind every great man is a great woman and rarely has this been more the case than here!

Ringing reacted in its droves to the news today. Social media was awash with heartfelt messages and footnotes began appearing on BellBoard to his memory. Four were here in Suffolk, with the QPs of Double Norwich Court Bob Major at Bardwell and Elveden dedicated to him, as were the 120s of Grandsire Doubles at St Lawrence – the rehanging of which and subsequent regular ringing of is another achievement of his – and Ipswich Surprise Minor at Pettistree, whilst beyond our borders he was remembered with the 1344 of eight Major methods spliced at Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge and the handbell peal of Lessness Surprise Major rung at Lower Broadheath in Worcestershire. I imagine much more will be rung for him in the coming days and arrangements are already underway for a peal attempt at St Mary-le-Tower.

I imagine that Pettistree – where George played a big part in getting the very successful band up and running in the 1980s – will be ringing a quarter-peal for him on another occasion, as tonight’s pre-practice quarter was already clearly earmarked for the Silver Wedding anniversary today of one-time local ringers Iain and Jayne Mitchell ahead of a session which Ruthie joined her mother on a night where again much was rung from Grandsire and Stedman Doubles to Wells and Morpeth Surprise Minor before retiring to The Greyhound and after we’d been to Joshua’s parents’ evening at nursery.

However, it was George and Diana on our minds today with this expected but sad news.

RIP George W Pipe.

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Tuesday 3rd March 2020

The theft of a 300-year-old bell from Bremilham Church – purportedly the smallest church in Britain – in Wiltshire made the news today. Although not one hung for change-ringing, the stealing of this nearly 2cwt bell from the oak beam it was mounted on is a reminder of how closely we must watch bells, including those which are displayed on church floors in between being removed and rehung.

It also came on a slow news day for Suffolk change-ringing, with no performances recorded upon the county’s bells on BellBoard, including at Offton where indeed there was no practice at all due to a lack of “human resources”.

It is always a disappointment when a weekly session can’t go ahead, but at least they still have all their bells. As much as a long-shot as it might be, here’s hoping the church of Bremilham will have their bell back soon.

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Monday 2nd March 2020

On the way into Ipswich for ringing on a Monday evening, I usually have BBC Radio Suffolk on in the car and the show that is usually on is one called Belongings, typically focused on certain subjects in regards to belonging to the cultures and communities in the county. Tonight’s was about the sense of belonging generally and how important it is to belong to groups of people with something in common, whether that be a friendship of two or something larger, such as a dog-walking group. It wasn’t mentioned whilst I was listening and I couldn’t text or call in myself of course as I was driving, but it struck me that ringing deserved a mention. This is a wide family where close and special friendships are formed over county and country borders and across the globe to an extent that very few hobbies of a similar ilk can lay claim to. All sorts of diverse personalities from all sorts of backgrounds and across class bonded by a shared enjoyment of ringing means that ringers can usually rely on much support in their times of trouble.

St Mary-le-Tower.There was plenty of that in evidence at St Mary-le-Tower’s weekly practice tonight. Since her accident over Christmas and the New Year, Past Guild Ringing Master Amanda Richmond has made a remarkably quick recovery, no doubt aided by visits from ringing friends, messages of support from throughout the exercise and a couple of handbell quarter-peals and I have been asked by many beyond SMLT how she is getting on. Well this evening, very well as she came to her first practice and did her first towerbell ringing since her accident, including some Plain Hunt on Eleven which climaxed the session on this occasion.

Although not present tonight, Nigel Newton has also been helped in his recovery through ringing friendships and the actual act of ringing, but we are also now missing Ipswich Area Rep Jonathan Williamson and Sonia Docherty as they recover from their injuries and in the case of the latter family illness too. They did apparently make it out to post-ringing refreshments yesterday morning and in notices we got messages from them saying how much that get-together and the support of ringers means to them. The funeral of 105-year-old Lilian Caudle a week tomorrow (2pm at SMLT on 10th March) was a reminder of how much the sound of bells and the friendship of bellringers helped her and her daughter Rosemary over the last few tough years in particular. And of course there was much support in this famous ringing chamber for Diana Pipe with her husband George back home but really very unwell and in need of carers.

The ringing itself was a mixed bag, but useful nonetheless. Stedman Caters took four attempts to get started, Yorkshire Surprise Royal didn’t go very well, Little Bob Maximus struggled, yet Karina rang the treble really well to it and we rang London (No.3) Surprise Royal better than most provincial bands could hope to ring it on a night when quite a few regular Surprise Royal and Maximus ringers were away.

It was all topped off with a drink in The Cricketers afterwards, the fellowship of ringing giving us all belonging.

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Sunday 1st March 2020

Twelve-bell ringing in rural counties such as ours takes a certain amount of dedication, commitment and willingness. The miles needed by most to reach a twelve-bell tower is considerable, but necessary as twelve ringers are obviously a bare minimum, unless we have some especially talented double-handlers!

Naturally – as with most ringing in Suffolk and similar areas – that ebbs and flows. Around the late 1980s and early 1990s for example, a number of peals were rung on twelve – often far – beyond our borders and the St Mary-le-Tower band regularly entered the National Twelve-Bell Striking Competition, even featuring in three finals. Over the last twenty years though, twelve-bell ringing has diminished somewhat in these parts, with fewer peals and the difficulty of getting a band together to consistently ring well on such numbers has increased.

Things do seem to be heading back in the right direction though. The introduction of the George W Pipe Striking Competition has really encouraged bands and individuals and we have benefited from the return and influx of young ringers who have been regularly ringing on twelve at a high standard such as Laura Davies, Colin Salter, Louis Suggett and Alex Tatlow has injected new enthusiasm. And the entry of an Ipswich band into the National Twelve-Bell Competition for only the second time in twenty-two years has brought some much needed focus.

Striking is important of course, but method repertoire is also, in part because I believe it helps with striking in methods that suddenly seem much more familiar and even simpler, but also because it helps draw in more of the best ringers more regularly.

At SMLT we have been trying to do just that. One can never say we have Cambridge and Yorkshire Surprise Maximus licked, but generally we ring them very well, as we showed at Walsall a week ago, but there is always a danger that if that was all that we rang then boredom sets in, we get stale and the quality goes in the opposite direction. We have been ringing Lincolnshire in recent weeks and this is a natural and achievable progression, but I hope in the near future we may be able to throw Bristol into the Max mix.

That is easier said then done of course and so Ruthie and I immensely enjoyed our opportunity to ring it this afternoon in a quarter-peal at The Norman Tower. It has to be said that it was understandably unsettled to begin with, but improved and although it was done with the help of ringers from across East Anglia and Messrs Suggett and Tatlow who we shall both be losing shortly as they embark upon the next exciting chapters of their lives, it was overall a useful exercise for a number of resident Guild members. Hopefully it will transfer to more in the county.

There was no twelve-bell ringing for us this morning though, as I rang at Woodbridge prior to attending the service downstairs. Only the front six were rung on this occasion despite eight ringers being available, but that was due to the late arrival of many regulars, including myself and Susanne Eddis as we entered the churchyard with some half-muffled ringing on four already underway.

The bells are half-muffled for Lent, as they typically are on this 25cwt eight and from a ringing perspective it is a reminder that Holy Week is on its way and falls on the week beginning 6th April. As usual that will mean some towers (St Mary-le-Tower included) won’t be holding their weekly practices, whilst others may hold theirs elsewhere and others will continue as they usually do. Either way, it is best – as it usually is, but especially that week – to check before attending a session you don’t normally go to or indeed before not joining one that you regularly attend!

It is also a reminder that the Saturday – 18th April - after Easter, the Guild AGM is due to be held at Woolpit and Drinkstone. Personally I am delighted after years of holding it in urban centres that it is going somewhere that will show off the beautiful countryside we have here, God willing in lovely spring weather. It will be more challenging to get there, especially by public transport, but carsharing may be an option for some and of course these picturesque villages are only just off the A14 and in a central location between Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket. Get planning your way in now!

I hope that Alan Mayle gets a mention in dispatches during proceedings in forty-eight days time as he deserves it for reaching his two thousandth peal, rung today, appropriately at Clare. After twenty years as the SGR’s Peal Secretary he has certainly served the organisation impressively and through his peal-ringing here has benefitted many Suffolk ringers over the years, myself included. Congratulations to Alan on reaching this landmark and on his 750th as conductor!

The rocket we had to bring back after leaving the boys with their gran and grandad whilst we went ringing!Our own meagre efforts today were made possible by the generosity of mother-in-law Kate and Grandad Ron for looking after the boys whilst we went of ringing – thank you guys! We now have a huge rocket made from cardboard taking up much space in our living room in exchange. Such is the dedication needed for twelve-bell ringing.

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Saturday 29th February 2020

Previous 29th Februarys offer a snapshot of life’s evolution. In 2000 I partook in a peal of Bristol Surprise Maximus on the back twelve of the Bullring in Birmingham, one of eighteen peals in the method that I rang within a three-and-a-half year period. In 2008 I was doing temp jobs and going to job interviews. In 2012 we were in a position to go out for a drink to watch football after ringing at Pettistree. And in 2016 a late shift at work meant I didn’t make it to St Mary-le-Tower’s weekly practice but I did take a pleasant call in my role as Guild Public Relations Officer.

2020’s 29/2 won’t go down as a particularly memorable one, but it again gave a pleasant snapshot of our current circumstances. I was invited into a peal being attempted today, but with much ringing being done at the moment by us both, time spent with the children was willingly taken and so instead we spent the afternoon shepherding three boys as we visited my parents to deliver some flowers for her recent birthday and then popped in to see my father’s sister and one-time ringer Aunty Marian.

Of course it is the rarest of dates and unsurprisingly there were plenty of quarters and peals rung as people took the four-yearly opportunity to ‘grab’ a date for their records, as well ringing appropriately named methods, with five peals of Leap Day Delight Major alone rung today.

Our day didn’t involve any ringing on this occasion, but for others in Suffolk this leap day did. Well done to all who rang their first quarter-peals of Carisbrooke Delight Minor, Wath Delight Minor and Leap Year Surprise Minor at Kettleburgh, Parham and Tunstall respectively and to David and Lesley Steed and conductor Stephen Dawson on ringing their most methods in the 1440 of forty-two Doubles methods spliced at Campsea Ashe. Also, congratulations to Stephen on making Parham his two hundredth different tower to ring a quarter at.

Meanwhile a 1328 of Double Norwich Court Bob Major was rung at the ground-floor eight of Offton, with congratulations to Alex Tatlow!

Hopefully it makes for a memorable 29th February for him to look back on.

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Friday 28th February 2020

Friday nights have always been my favourite night of a typical week. The end of a school or working week, it was once an opportunity to go out with friends for a few drinks. That isn’t possible currently and I dare say I would enjoy doing that again if and when circumstances allowed, but I have to admit that I love my Friday evenings as they are at the moment. The entire family – including Mason – is gathered for the weekend and two days of freedom from the time constraints that comes with most jobs ahead of us God willing. A couple of leisurely drinks and a spot of escapism TV such as Doc Martin (we’ve really got into that in recent times). Not exciting, but involving much contentment.

It has to be said that it is laced heavily with routine, but that was changed slightly today as Alfie went to Colchester Zoo on a school trip. Not that this itself impacted upon our Friday evening, as it was all due to take place during school hours. Rather that the coach that took them there wouldn’t start when they came to leave and eventually they got back at 5.30. It’s good job I hadn’t got to get to a peal this evening!

Still, he had a fun day and we were lucky to have mother-in-law Kate available to help out, especially as she and Ron have only just returned from a trip to Poland and hearing about their exploits over a cuppa was a bonus of our change of plans.

Mercifully other ringers in Suffolk didn’t have their plans disrupted by such issues as there were three peals and a quarter-peal rung within our borders today. Well done to Kate Gill, Sal Jenkinson, Chrissie Pickup, Sarah Plummer and conductor Philip Gorrod on ringing their first QP of Norfolk Surprise Minor at Blythburgh and to Stephen Pettman, Christine Knight, Joan Garrett, Brian Whiting, Jed Flatters, Julian Colman and Rowan Wilson on ringing their first peal of Kenninghall Surprise Major in the 5120 at Horringer and to SDP on (finally!) completing the Surprise Major alphabet as conductor, which means that for every letter of the alphabet there is a Surprise Major method that begins with that letter which the twice Past Guild Ringing Master has called a peal of, from Armistice to Zelah.

It was a busy day of peal-ringing in the county in fact, ironically perhaps just five days after the end of Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020, with a further brace of peals rung on the county’s bells – one of seven Surprise Minor methods at Metfield and one of seven Treble Dodging methods at Rumburgh.

I hope they all enjoyed their Friday night afterwards too!

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Thursday 27th February 2020

Barring us all being quarantined with coronavirus (and it is worth noting that even with the trio of additional cases announced today, there is still just enough sufferers in the UK to ring all sixteen bells at the Bullring if they wanted to and could) or any other currently unforeseen circumstances, there should be much opportunity to get out and about ringing in Suffolk over March, once the four-yearly leap day has been negotiated on Saturday.

Starting with the Beccles Ten-Bell Practice on the evening of Wednesday 4th, the plan is that the South-East District will hold their monthly Practice between 2-4pm on Saturday 7th at St Margaret in Ipswich (with tea and biscuits too!), there will be an Eight-Bell Practice at Bungay from 7.30-9pm on Monday 9th, Second Tuesday Ringing will be at Long Melford and Cavendish the following day, Saturday 14th will see the North-West District hold a Practice at Hopton in the morning and the North-East District hold their Quarterly Meeting with a bring and share tea at Yoxford in the afternoon and the Helmingham Monthly Practice will run from 7.30-9pm on Friday 20th, before the South-West District Practice is held at Bures on Saturday 28th to round the Guild’s ringing programme off for the month.

Providing nothing dramatic happens in the meantime, we shan’t be able to join the ringing at Bures as we are due to be partaking in the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest for Ipswich at Walsall on that day. It is a long way to travel and admittedly the West Midlands won’t be everybody’s idea of a destination for a day out or weekend away, but if anyone would like to cheer us on (don’t worry, you won’t be made to ring if we meet short as we can only use those already named in our squad!) then it would be much appreciated. It is an easy place to get to by road and rail and the church is sat on top of a hill overlooking the town so is easy to spot and reach! Beer and other refreshments will be laid on in the church by the locals, who we have already discovered to be extremely hospitable, so you would be made most welcome. And regardless of what we do, you are pretty much assured of hearing some superb twelve-bell ringing, especially with teams like Birmingham, Cambridge and St Paul’s Cathedral taking part.

For all that there is much due to be going on next month, Thursdays are usually quiet from a personal ringing perspective and now appears to likely be the case for the foreseeable future as this evening Ruthie joined another choir! In addition to singing with St Mary-the-Virgin choir in Woodbridge on the evening of the penultimate working day of the week, she will follow that up by joining the Illuminati choir which she had an audition with tonight before they welcomed her in with open arms! Anyone who has heard my wife sing will know what a wonderful voice she has and she enjoys it immensely, so I am very pleased she has been able to expand upon her participation.

However, it is a good job there is plenty more ringing planned for March!

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Wednesday 26th February 2020

Happy Birthday to my mother Sally.

Trapston, St James.Quite apart from being a wonderful mother and now nana, she was the one responsible for teaching my brother Chris and me to ring and is well known in the Peterborough Diocesan Guild for her teaching exploits on the 14cwt eight of Thrapston, the town where she was born and bred and where incidentally she also gave her two sons their first handling lessons on visits to our maternal grandparents at the ages of seven and nine.

However, she is well known beyond her homeland too, such as on Rambling Ringers since we as a family went on our first Tour in 1994 and for whom she was Secretary for a few years. Here in Suffolk she and my father Alan are a regular, familiar and welcome sight at pretty much every Guild and South-East District event, the latter of which she was also Secretary for and they have been great supporters of ringing at St Mary-le-Tower, Offton, Debenham, Sproughton and Grundisburgh. The art could do with more like them.

It has been a rough year or two health wise for my parents, but that situation appears to be improving slightly and so hopefully they both had a lovely day, especially Mater.

Sadly we didn’t get a chance to see her today and although I tried to call the birthday girl I didn’t speak to her, so I was all the more delighted to be able – and grateful to my fellow participants - to dedicate the pre-practice quarter-peal I rang in at Pettistree this evening to the anniversary of her birth.

The benefit of ringing methods like Cambridge and Ipswich Surprise Minor spliced (and one of the reasons that John Warboys’ popular compositions of many-spliced Surprise Minor methods sees blocks of methods with the same above work put together) is that you have at least half a lead to work out what you need to do next before it changes from what you are already doing. For example in this, regardless of whether you are ringing Cambridge or Ipswich, at a change of method you just carry on ringing the method you were ringing until the treble lays at the back.

That doesn’t mean it is easy though and Chris McArthur seemed anxious beforehand as he contemplated going out of his comfort zone ringing something he was quite unfamiliar with. Yet after a shaky start this 1440 evolved into a very decent quarter at quite a slow pace. Whilst that slower pace made putting the fifth in the right place that much harder (and hence why I usually tend to race off on it like a dog after a cat!), I think it helped Chris to settle into the ringing and was therefore well worth the extra pulling!

Not bad from a personal perspective either as I only knew I was ringing twenty minutes beforehand as an exhausting day looking after Joshua meant that Ruthie handed over the Munnings ringing representation to me at the last moment. I was glad though, as I immensely enjoyed the QP and the session that followed and which included an eclectic repertoire from Grandsire Doubles and Plain Bob Minor for Hollesley ringers Sam Shannon and Margaret respectively and Cambridge Surprise and Munden Surprise Minor for fellow Hollesleyites Jenny Lloyd and Jane Harper, to Wells Surprise Minor for Elaine Townsend, whilst there was also some Stedman Doubles and spliced Doubles and Minor.

It was topped off with refreshment in The Greyhound, although – bar a cameo from Ray Lewis who hadn’t made it to practice – Sam and myself were the only ones who made it to what I personally find an essential part of a good evening out of ringing.

Meanwhile, there was other quarter-pealing success within our borders, with a 1280 of Ashtead, Lindum, Uxbridge and Yorkshire Surprise Major spliced at Grundisburgh and a 1260 of Plain Bob Minor on the back six at Bardwell, the latter of which was Joanne Crouch’s first in the method inside. Well done Joanne.

And Happy Birthday Mum!

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Tuesday 25th February 2020

During our hour-and-a-half practice at Walsall on Sunday, our ringing was recorded. This evening, with no ringing, Ruthie and I had a listen to the five half-courses of Cambridge Surprise Maximus that we rang upon the 25cwt twelve on that blustery Sabbath afternoon in the West Midlands. As I understand it, we have the option to have up to three of those pieces marked by Hawkear, but for now there is none of the analysis accompanying it that has been of such use and interest with recent sessions at St Mary-le-Tower and The Norman Tower.

Still, it was useful to listen to, as with the extensive sound piping at the tower we are due to compete at on 28th March, we suspected the sound would differ on the recordings made from microphones amongst the bells to that we experienced just over forty-eight hours ago in the ringing chamber and so it proved. In one piece a bell appears to be clipping quite consistently throughout a lead or two and yet I don’t recall experiencing that at the time. My ringing seems much slower than I recall. We could tie ourselves up in knots trying to adjust the sound that Hawkear and the judges will hear, but there are elements that we could adjust accordingly, further adding to the usefulness of our 300 mile round trip at the weekend.

Meanwhile, it was a quiet day on BellBoard for Suffolk ringing generally, bar what must have been an emotional family touch for the Gale’s for the funeral of Elisabet Lynn at Polstead.

Elsewhere in the county, hopefully the usual Tuesday evening practices went ahead and were useful and productive for all concerned, recorded or not.

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Monday 24th February 2020

Until a few years ago, we and anyone else at St Mary-le-Tower on church business had use of the car park outside the old social services opposite this famous landmark of Ipswich. Despite the spaces being too small for modern cars, it was a useful place for ringers to park in the midst of a town centre full of time-restricted and/or paid parking, especially on Sunday mornings and Monday nights when let’s be honest it is impractical, if not impossible for most to travel in and out on public transport.

However, it was used by chancers popping into town for shopping and the like and sensibly it was decided that something needed doing. Quite rightly that took the form of permits and saw us using the adjacent car park behind the Citizens Advice Bureau and – for service ringing on the Sabbath morn – in the car park for the Ipswich & Suffolk Club across the road. Sadly though, it also saw us having to pay for the permits, albeit only £5 for a year and instead of just making the spaces a little bigger in the ‘social services’ car park, they reduced the number of spaces to just a handful, some reserved for people holding certain roles in the church, in the process wasting a huge amount of space. Done for the right reasons, but personally I believe in the wrong way.

However, in the main it hasn’t been as much of an issue as I thought it might. There’s usually space available and we can be assured that spaces aren’t going to be nicked by people with nothing to do with the church. On occasion though, something else might be held at the church on a Monday night and that was the case tonight. Frustrating, but fair enough. Just because we practice on a Monday night and have done for decades, it doesn’t mean that it is ours alone on that night and nor should it be. Indeed, there won’t be a practice on 26th April due to a planned concert in the church. It was annoying this evening though not to have any advance warning that our usual parking was going to be filled up by other permit holders for something else on the church’s grounds. Personally I would have perhaps taken a different route in or passed some parental duties to Ruthie to get out earlier.

Instead, I spent half-an-hour driving around the town looking for parking. That also meant I missed out on half-an-hour’s ringing and the practice missed out on my ‘help’, for better or worse. Similarly with my parents. And I saw at least one ringer also driving around in search of a space who didn’t appear in the ringing chamber and so presumably gave up and went home.

Whether it was connected or not, the ringing suffered a little tonight, with fewer ringers than usual present and some of us exhausted after our extensive searching for somewhere to legally rest our car! Nonetheless, we still managed a repertoire that included Stedman Caters and London (No.3) Surprise Royal before the bells were lowered (the back ten in peal) ahead of an inspection from Taylor’s tomorrow.

It was all happily topped off by a drink in The Cricketers afterwards as our trip to Walsall yesterday was recounted with a degree of understandable satisfaction.

Meanwhile, a peal of seven Minor methods was rung at Polstead in memory of Nigel Gale’s mother-in-law and Associate Member of the Suffolk Guild Elisabet Lynn ahead of her funeral tomorrow, whilst Alastair McArthur rang his first quarter-peal of Grandsire in the 1260 of the Doubles version at Woolpit. Well done Alastair! I hope you didn’t have any problems parking beforehand.

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Sunday 23rd February 2020

After years of being a near pipedream, there are a number of events that are making Ipswich’s entry into the National Twelve-Bell Contest feel increasingly real. One was putting in our application in the first place. The next was the draw being made including our name. Today has made it feel more real than ever though, as fourteen of us travelled from East Anglia to deep within the industrial West Midlands to practice upon the bells of St Matthew in Walsall, where we are due to compete on Saturday 28th March against Cambridge, Hursley, Southwark, St Paul’s Cathedral and the competition’s favourites and winner of the Taylor Trophy more than anyone else by miles, Birmingham.

It was this visit that gave us the first opportunity to get a feel for our surroundings on the day, from the exposed windswept position on top of a hill overlooking the town to what I imagine might be the pub where us and our fellow participants, hangers-on and ‘spectators’ might gather for the social element of proceedings. Most importantly though, it gave us a feel for the bells, both individually and as a band, to get a feeling of the right kind of speed to ring this 25cwt twelve and of the nature of any oddstruckness.

Very successful it was as an exercise too. We rang five half courses of the test piece Cambridge Surprise Maximus and from the off handled this easy-going twelve extremely well, almost as if we rang there every week. On the day I imagine the standard of ringing will be extremely high, especially from the Brummies who will be more familiar with these bells than most partaking, but with our ambitions set modestly at putting on a good show, we would have been happy with any of these pieces on the day, barring the odd method mistake that naturally occurred across the hour-and-a-half session.

Laura, myself & Ruthie at Corley services. (Laura Davies) Ruthie, Laura & Colin making their way to the church from The Black Country Arms.  In the ringing chamber at Walsall.  In the ringing chamber at Walsall. In The Black Country Arms after ringing. Ipswich squad outside St Matthew in Walsall after ringing. Minus Nigel Gale who was taking the photo. (Nigel Gale)

Quite apart the ringing itself though, it was a jolly nice day out. With my Mum and Dad very kindly looking after the boys from after morning ringing at St Mary-le-Tower (where the fare was decent, despite Diana Pipe wanting to ring the third from the second’s spot where I was about to ring in an amusing incident!) right through to our arrival back at my parents’ abode at 7.30pm, we were responsible for ferrying Laura Davies and Colin Salter from Suffolk’s county town to the north West Midlands and back. And that we did with much laughter, chatter about ringing (but also much else too) and stop-offs at Corley service station for lunch and The Black Country Arms a few hundred yards down a steep hill from the church for liquid refreshment either side of the practice, which is a marvellous hostelry that I expect a number of ringers may find themselves in at some point in just over a month’s time! The local ringers are also to be congratulated on their superb hospitality – which bodes well for the eliminator itself – as they welcomed us with tea, coffee and biscuits and joined us for a drink in the pub afterwards. As the first of the teams to practice here for the competition, there is a lot of hospitality to be given out!

On the way there our journey was shortened somewhat by the wonderful new stretch of the A14 after Cambridge which meant that we didn’t need to turn off from the Whitehouse junction until we came off at junction seven of the M6. That said, the trip back was longer with work still ongoing on the rest of the new road meaning it was shut coming home and meant a convoluted diversion along country lanes with hundreds of other cars – well done Laura on guiding us through it!

Meanwhile back in the homeland, Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020 came to a close with a 5040 of Yorkshire Surprise Royal at Grundisburgh which was a first of Royal for Abby Antrobus – well done Abby!

Well done also to SGR Ringing Master Tom Scase too on a successful week which saw nine peals scored at eight venues by thirty-seven different ringers achieving twenty-three firsts, a hundredth peal and a most methods rung. It seems to have succeeded in its main aim of getting members trying something new in the medium and hopefully in progressing their ringing and that of the Guild generally.

Not to be outdone though, quarter-pealing was also doing its bit within our borders. Although rung at Norwich Diocesan Association tower Lowestoft by an NDA band, credit is still due to them all on ringing their first blows of St Barnabas Triples, but in the SGR’s territory well done to Carl Munford on ringing his first on eight and Ben Keating on ringing his first in the method in the 1288 of Little Bob Major on the front eight at the Norman Tower, whilst a 1260 of St Clement’s College and Plain Bob Minor was rung at Kersey.

Ringing’s rich tapestry all on display in one day, both here and in Walsall.

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Saturday 22nd February 2020

It was a day that started with sadness but ended with laughter.

The death of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Simon Warr this morning has very little to do with ringing, bar tenuously as a familiar voice on the radio as we have travelled the county ringing on Saturday afternoons over recent years and an employee of an organisation that has given the art much invaluable support and publicity locally, but it was a subdued way to start the day as I listened to the station as I usually do.

We finished it rolling in the aisles though, as we used a pair of tickets that mother-in-law Kate very kindly got us at Christmas and went to see Ardal O’Hanlon at The Corn Exchange in Ipswich, performing on his The Showing Off Must Go On tour. He is best known to many as Dougal in Father Ted, the hilarious sitcom of the late 1990s, but he is also an incredibly funny comedian and we thoroughly enjoyed an evening preceded with a drink in the Swan & Hedgehog opposite the venue and followed by a return home to relieve Ruthie’s sister Clare who had very kindly looked after the boys whilst we were out.

In between the start and end of our day, we spent a pretty mundane though pleasant and productive day pottering around the house doing some much needed jobs and giving the car a spring-clean ahead of it being pencilled in as a taxi service tomorrow. We even found some time to play in the garden with Alfie and Joshua before the weekly wind drove us indoors.

However, elsewhere ringers within our borders were more active in the exercise as Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020 picked up again after a couple of barren days. Well done to Robert Scase on ringing his most methods to a peal in the 5040 of seven Minor methods at Monewden today. And Happy sixtieth Birthday Tuesday Robert!

It is a happy note to end a day of sadness and laughter.

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Friday 21st February 2020

When I used to do regular early shifts for the international campaigns at work, quite apart from fulfilling their main purpose of me being able to contact schools on the far side of the world whose working day is drawing to a close as many of us here in the UK are only just stirring, they had the added benefit of having time in the afternoon to do other things, including ringing.

I have stopped doing those shifts now, mainly because my body couldn’t cope with the constant one-week-early-one-week-late shift pattern for months on end, but also because it is not really necessary these days with much of my work now done by email anyway. However, it does limit opportunities for ringing, which would’ve come in particularly handy with Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020!

This morning though, I did go in for a slightly early shift at John Catt Educational. Nothing drastic mind. No pre-dawn start as I have done previously, but early enough to reach some of those schools a few hours ahead of us. And early enough on this occasion to take in a bit of parenting.

During this half-term, Alfie has been going to holiday club on the days when both Ruthie has been at work and this afternoon it climaxed with a performance with his chums. This mainly consisted of some pretty nifty robot dancing that myself and his Granny Kate enjoyed immensely.

There wasn’t any time for peal-ringing though and indeed that may have been the case on a wider basis across the county on another blank day for SGRPW20, although elsewhere others found the time for a handbell quarter-peal in Ipswich as Amanda Richmond continues her recovery. Well done to Colin Salter on ringing his first of Oxford Treble Bob Major in the 1312.

No such opportunities for me though. There wasn’t enough time left after work and parenting.

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Thursday 20th February 2020

Thus far on Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020 seven peals have been rung in a pretty decent start, but it had its first blank since Saturday, although a quarter-peal of six Surprise Minor methods spliced rung at Tostock is worthy of mention.

However, more was happening beyond our borders on the peal-ringing front, most particularly in London where the same band rang a brace of peals of twenty-three Surprise Major methods spliced – one at St James Garlickhythe of Chandler’s composition and one at Spitalfields of Smith’s composition. Primarily they appear to centre around the former being Alan Regin’s fiftieth of the composition and the latter his one hundredth of that composition, but even taking into account the familiarity that those partaking must have with the compositions and the methods, it is still a staggering achievement to ring both in a day, featuring forty-one different methods across the 10304 changes and precisely six hours of ringing over the two peals. Nice to see Past St Mary-le-Tower Ringing Master Simon Rudd ringing and indeed conducting Norman Smith’s composition, in amongst a band that also featured the likes of David Brown, Central Council President Simon Linford (a reminder to catch his blog on the CCCBR website to see how such a thing should really be written!) and Paul Mounsey, who of course was one of the judges at Saturday’s George W Pipe Striking Competition in Ipswich. Impressive stuff.

No such exertions for us unfortunately (a peal of twenty-three spliced Surprise Major methods remains one of my ringing ambitions) as instead Ruthie went to choir practice, whilst I looked after the boys as I eagerly awaited news of the next SGRPW20 peal!

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Wednesday 19th February 2020

The Wolery.Ringing at The Wolery does draw some disparaging remarks from time to time, albeit often in jest, but I’ve always maintained that when the ringing goes well there, it is probably the very best ringing that I partake in currently. Brisk, flowing and hypnotic, you can easily drift away floating on a cloud of effortless striking, although that can be dangerous of course!

We may have all struggled to remember the name of it beforehand, but Elmore Surprise Major – the method for this evening’s 5056 – was a musical construction and rung to a musical composition it certainly induced some of the dreamy ringing described above, although as also alluded to, a near handling malfunction close to the end of our 2hrs3mins of ringing caused everyone to wake up from their trance and led to a slightly unsettled finish! It wasn’t enough to spoil what was an extremely enjoyable performance to ring in, all topped off by cake, tea and news of Colin Salter’s plans now he has a job!

And our success meant that I have contributed to Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020, even if it is only a little bit. With my decision to mainly work regular daytime hours at John Catt for our latest international campaign, busy weekends either end of the ‘week’ and the usual logistical challenges when trying to arrange peals around parenthood, this was going to be my one and only shot at helping out on SGPW20, so I am delighted to have scored this!

Two members of tonight’s band – Mary Dunbavin and SGR Ringing Master Tom Scase – were earlier in another success for this event that I am so glad I reintroduced in 2007 and has since given opportunities to many ringers, much to my pleasure. That includes Louis Suggett who called today’s 5120 of Superlative Surprise Major at Ixworth and Barry Dixon, for whom this was his first in the method. Interestingly, the 5186 of Cambridge Surprise Major rung at Dalham during SGRPW07 an incredible thirteen years ago also featured Mary Dunbavin, as well as Barry ringing his first in the method and a young(er) Louis ringing his first of Surprise Major altogether. Fair to say he’s done a fair bit since! Well done to Barry on his most recent achievement!

Sadly someone who isn’t going to be partaking in peal-ringing or indeed any ringing anytime soon is Ipswich Deanery representative and immediate Past South-East District Ringing Master Jonathan Williamson whose pursuit of a shoplifter at his business Wines of Interest on Monday saw him rupture an Achillies tendon. Impressively he made it out to St Mary-le-Tower practice on Monday night, but after his diagnosis yesterday and subsequent plastering of his foot, it looks like we will be missing his ringing skills for the time being and following injuries to Amanda Richmond and Nigel Newton in recent months has prompted conspiracy theories that one of our rivals at Walsall on 28th March is trying to nobble Ipswich’s entry into the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest!

God willing there doesn’t appear to be such bad luck at Pettistree, where the practice was preceded by a quarter-peal, maintaining a 100% record on Wednesdays before the sessions thus far this year.

Whilst her mother Kate rang in that, there was no opportunity for Ruthie to do any ringing as instead she found herself looking after four children as the boys’ cousins came round for the day during this half-term. I think she quite enjoyed it, but I can imagine there may have been moments where she imagined herself floating on a cloud of effortless striking...

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Tuesday 18th February 2020

Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020 had its best day thus far, with a brace of peals rung for it today. Both were of Surprise Major, with a 5088 of Cornwall rung at Bardwell and 5280 of Lincolnshire rung at Henley. Well done to Nikki Thomas, Ruth Suggett and Mark Ogden on ringing their first of the method in the former and to David Everett on ringing his first of the method in the latter.

They weren’t the only performances in the county recorded on BellBoard today. Indeed, they weren’t the only peals as a 5152 of twenty-three Surprise Major methods spliced was rung at Ixworth for the Ely Diocesan Association.

Meanwhile, there were also three quarter-peals rung within our borders, as a 1312 of Glasgow Surprise Major was rung at Gislingham, a 1250 of Ealing Surprise Major was rung at Hopton and before the weekly practice at Offton, a 1296 of Oxford Treble Bob and Cambridge Surprise Minor was successfully rung on the back six.

No such activity for us though, with the extent of the excitement for us being Ruthie’s sudden urge to make a banana cake!

Thank goodness the SGPW20 is more active!

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Monday 17th February 2020

I have commented before that the National Twelve-Bell Contest is the closest that ringing comes to professional sport. Expansive PR, its own website, Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube channel and its live broadcast at the final, a set of guidelines for hosting an eliminator or final, the extensive history and stats that are almost akin to Sky Sports, all following some incredible ringing excellence.

However, this evening there was a pleasant reminder that it is still a friendly ringing competition though, as at St Mary-le-Tower’s weekly session we were joined by Jonathan Spencer, part of Southwark’s squad in the contest and therefore due to be in direct competition with us at Walsall on 28th March.

Of course he was made more than welcome in the ringing chamber – even helping us practice the test piece of Cambridge Surprise Maximus – and then afterwards in The Cricketers.

Quite apart from this demonstration of the close ringing family in action, it was nice to get out tonight after a day cooped up in the house with a poorly Joshua as I had to take a day off work to look after him. It was quite nice to spend some unexpected extra time with him, even making it to the garage at one point for something minor on the car to be fixed, which enthralled the three-year-old, but it was lovely to make it out later!

Meanwhile, Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020 notched up another success, this time with Hilary Stearn ringing her first peal on eight in the 5152 of Plain Bob Major at Grundisburgh – well done Hilary! Another reminder of what a friendly family ringing is!

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Sunday 16th February 2020

Yesterday’s George W Pipe Striking Competition done and dusted and now reflected upon with much satisfaction, focus returns to Ipswich’s planned participation in the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest at Walsall on Saturday 28th March.

Looking at the results from Hawkear at St Mary-le-Tower at the practice. Looking at the results from Hawkear at St Mary-le-Tower at the practice. Therefore, twenty-four hours after the GWP ended for this year, Ruthie and I were back at St Mary-le-Tower for our latest practice for next month’s event, switching from the Kent Treble Bob Maximus that was the test piece for the East Anglian competition to Cambridge Surprise Maximus, which is the test piece for forty days time (according to the competition’s website’s countdown clock) in the West Midlands. For the first time for such a session on our own bells, we were able to refer to Hawkear for three of the four half-courses we rang this afternoon (it only failed to record our final piece!) and we tried to use it to maximum effect. There can be a tendency to take on too much information from the abundance of data the system gives and of course the intricacies of our own 35cwt twelve bares little resemblance to the completely different intricacies we are due to face with the 25cwt twelve we are planning to compete upon, but Hawkear is growing on me more and more, offering useful guidance and even motivation, as we push ourselves to better each performance by the results that the computer gives us. And there is much confidence gained when there is definitive evidence that we are improving, as was the case on this occasion.

It all seems to be getting very real now and any practice we can get of the test piece is invaluable, but arguably the most important practice will be the one we are pencilled in to have at Walsall itself next week and this afternoon arrangements for car-sharing and even ringing at an additional tower were being made for our trip out there. God willing we have a more productive trip than our friends from Norwich did this afternoon, as they made the 300miles+ roundtrip to Aston – where they are due to compete on 28th March – to the twelve there in an area already heaving with over 40,000 Villa fans watching their team lose to Spurs at the football stadium just a few yards away, only to have the tenor rope break on them! Earlier the Guildford band had also been there to practice and apparently questioned how long the offending rope was going to last, but it seems odd that a tower selected for ringing’s most prestigious contest should suffer a malfunction such as this which should be so easily avoided. There will be much nervousness that such an occurrence won’t happen on competition day, but for now it must be most galling for our chums north of the Waveney that their invaluable practice has been lost and an entire afternoon and much travelling wasted.

Our travelling was less expansive today, as apart from our relatively short journey into Suffolk’s county town after lunch, we merely travelled into Woodbridge, where we again rang all eight before a service that Ruthie sang for, the boys and I joined and the Revd Canon Kevan McCormack’s successor as rector at St Mary-the-Virgin was announced as Nigel Prior. Nigel is currently at Mayfield in East Sussex, whose ringers - by their own admission - struggle to man their 19cwt eight for method-ringing in a situation not too dissimilar to where he is due to take charge in later this year, so hopefully he will be familiar with the needs of the ringers amongst everything else. Indeed, when I spoke with him at the ‘meet-and-greet’ a few weeks ago he seemed very amenable to bells and ringers. We pray for a rector-ringers relationship as successful as that of the last twenty years here!

Elsewhere in the county he will be gearing himself up to move to, it was a busy day of ringing beyond our own exploits. As is the norm, the monthly peal at Aldeburgh was a first in the method for the band and the Guild, which was a Cambridge/Yorkshire-above-the-treble construction called Dylan Surprise Major. On this occasion though, it was moved from its usual second-Sunday slot to this third Sunday of the month to kick-off Suffolk Guild Peal Week 2020. Hopefully the next few days will see firsts of all sorts, as well as the number-crunching that also maintains interest amongst peal-ringers and ultimately – directly or indirectly – helps to progress the art.

That said, quarter-peal ringing is also a very important component of pushing the exercise forward and offering ringing opportunities and today there was plenty of that too, with the 1260s of Tillington Bob Minor and Number Of The Beast Bob Minor rung at Buxhall and Great Barton respectively being the first blows in the methods for all those taking part. Well done to them all!

Meanwhile, mother-in-law Kate was ringing a QP of Plain Bob Minor on the back six at Hollesley as a farewell to the departing Reverends Ruth and the Michael Hatchett, with the former also being a ringer. Happy Birthday to Jenny Lloyd too!

Mrs Eagle then returned to her abode where we met her after our own ringing and where Grandad Ron had prepared a roast dinner for our consumption whilst also keeping an eye on the boys as I rang at SMLT – thank you Ron and Kate! It was a lovely way to end the day as we took a break from striking competitions.

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Saturday 15th February 2020

Last week it was Storm Ciara, this weekend Storm Dennis is visiting the UK. Cue much disruption, with the Orwell Bridge closed again, public transport timetables out of the window and various events cancelled or postponed.

Other things did go ahead though, including Ipswich Town’s match against Burton Albion, which they won 4-1, an incredible result by recent standards. And about a mile across the town centre at St Mary-le-Tower, the third annual George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Competition was already underway, as a record turnout of six teams partook for the increasingly sought-after shield. When Ian Culham – who devised the contest and has magnificently organised it since – first set this up in 2018, its main purpose was to encourage teams and ringers who didn’t feel able to commit to the National Twelve-Bell Contest and so he sensibly initially restricted entry to teams from Essex and Suffolk who may have been put off by entries from Cambridge and Norwich who are well-established entrants to the contest for the Taylor Trophy nationally. Such has been its success though, that the ringers of St Peter Mancroft were keen to get involved and with the likes of Chelmsford, The Norman Tower, Saffron Walden and Waltham Abbey now confidently producing superb ringing over the last two contests, the time seemed right to introduce our friends in Great Yarmouth and Norwich in Norfolk, with the latter accepting.

Tea, coffee & cake at the George W Pipe Striking Competition in St Mary-le-Tower church. Ian Culham speaks to the assembled crowds at the start of the George W Pipe Striking Competition in St Mary-le-Tower church. The ringing order at the 2020 George W Pipe Striking Competition.

Thus we gathered for the draw in the church at 10am and half an hour later our team photo had been taken and we were in this famous ringing chamber ready to ring. Having taken the plunge by putting an entry into the national competition, we felt that we shouldn’t be asking all the squad planning to ring in that (and thus due to be making two trips to Walsall in the next few weeks amongst other practices) to also commit to this, although some of us are ringing in both. Besides, it was also a good opportunity to give some of the lesser experienced twelve-bell ringers such as Sue Williamson and Abby Antrobus and it felt in the spirit of the contest.

However, there were a few worried looks as we struggled through the practice piece. Being on our own bells, we were keen to put on a good show, but a lot of nerves were on display. Often, doing well in striking competitions is getting nerves under control as much as the actual striking itself.

We needn’t have worried. The metaphorical butterflies were got under control, a pep talk given by conductor David Potts and the test piece of 288 changes of Kent Treble Bob Maximus – six leads with a bob at each lead-end apart from at half-way and the end where a single is made by five and six in 5-6 – was completed in a very decent fashion, with Sue and Abby coming out of it with much credit.

The beer being started in St Mary-le-Tower Church House. Queues for bacon & sausage butties in St Mary-le-Tower Church House. The ‘bar’ at St Mary-le-Tower Church House at the 2020 George W Pipe Striking Competition. Diana Pipe speaks to the crowds ahead of the results at the George W Pipe Striking Competition in St Mary-le-Tower church. Judges Paul Mounsey (on the left with the microphone) and Alban Forster (on the far right) giving their comments and the results either side of Ian Culham at the George W Pipe Striking Competition in St Mary-le-Tower church. Rowan Wilson presented with George W Pipe Trophy on behalf of the victorious Norman Tower band by judges Alban Forster and Paul Mounsey in St Mary-le-Tower church.

From there, we turned from participants to hosts. Ruthie and I were at the ready to help if needed to serve tea, coffee and cake in the church and we aided in money collection and moving furniture, but frankly our meagre efforts were dwarfed by those of others, especially Tessa Earey and Claire Potts on the aforementioned tea and cake table, the still-injured Amanda Richmond and band-member Abby on the sausage and bacon butty counter in Church House, Tessa’s husband Ralph on providing the invaluable signage, Peter Davies on taking team photos, whilst Stephen Cheek, David Potts and Jonathan Williamson did much directing of proceedings in the lead-up to, during and after.

The Results.As for the ringing itself, I was impressed by what I heard and the general opinion seemed to be that all the bands acquitted themselves splendidly. Ultimately it was The Norman Tower – the band can be found on BellBoard - who won in a close result, the first team to win the shield twice, but everyone can be pleased with the standard produced.

Pretty much everything about the day was a success, with a huge attendance enjoying each other’s company, the refreshments from beer to butties were just plentiful enough as the numbers were estimated perfectly and there were lots of smiles on a day that we were very grateful to the church for the use of the facilities.

Well done Ian on his continued organising of what has become a real highlight of the ringing calendar in these parts. To get judges of the quality of Alban Forster (who along with his father Chris also judged the Mitson Shield and Lester Brett Call-Change Trophy competitions at Hasketon in 2010) and Past College Youths Ringing Master (1981) Paul Mounsey was a masterstroke and due to work commitments he already has a couple of superb judges lined up for next year, which is due to be held at Waltham Abbey. However, generally the feedback from everyone I spoke with was that this has been a marvellous innovation.

The only downside to the occasion was that George W Pipe himself couldn’t be present. Indeed, he isn’t very well at all, even by the standards of ill-health he has suffered over the last decade or so. He is now back in hospital, struggling to swallow and apparently unable to talk, a dreadful thing for someone who even in his frailty of recent years has held entire halls and churches captivated with his speeches. It was wonderful that his wife Diana could be there today, but it was sobering news on this day of celebration of East Anglian twelve-bell ringing which he has done more than anyone to progress. We all hope for a recovery that enables George to return home soon and maybe even out and about.

Still, I am sure that he will be pleased to hear of how well today went and that it put one over Storm Dennis!

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Friday 14th February 2020

Valentine’s Day. The fourteenth 14th February that Ruthie and I have spent together and we’ve never gone particularly overboard on celebrating it. No grand gestures, although occasionally we have got each other presents. Indeed, we have rarely gone out for the occasion, especially in recent years with children to look after and with lots of child-sitting credits being used up currently for peals, quarter-peals and twelve-bell practices tonight was never going to be one where we bucked that trend!

Still, we enjoyed ourselves with a three course meal at home in between getting the children to bed and my wife baking a cake for consumption at tomorrow’s George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Striking Competition at St Mary-le-Tower.

Talking of which, there was a great bit of PR for local ringing on BBC Radio Suffolk over my lunchbreak as Ipswich Deanery Representative Jonathan Williamson spoke to friend-of-ringing Lesley Dolphin about the competition. It is nearly ten minutes of glorious publicity just over half-an-hour into her show and also touches upon the technicalities of ringing itself and an appeal for more ringers across Suffolk.

Sudbury, St Peter's.Meanwhile, ringing also features in a video about the project to refurbish St Peter’s church in Sudbury, home of a 20cwt ten that are a big part of the plans. The ringing that appears on the video is from last Friday which George Reynolds had asked for ringers for and although brief it is nice that the efforts of those who could help out has contributed to a professional looking video.

Beyond our borders, congratulations to Guild Chairman Rowan Wilson on ringing her one hundredth peal in the 5100 Valentine’s Day Surprise Major – appropriate in both length and method name -rung at Toppesfield for the SGR in Essex. Not bad at all considering she took a twenty-five year gap in the medium between 1991 and 2016!

What a lovely way to spend Valentine’s Day.

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Thursday 13th February 2020

It is a big week for the Revd Canon Kevan McCormack as his time as Rector at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge – and indeed his life as a priest – draws to a close.

On Sunday he presided over his final morning service, followed by a farewell meal. On Monday, a quarter-peal was rung on the 25cwt eight at the church where he has spent the last twenty years in charge. On Tuesday there was an article on the East Anglian Daily Times website about him. And tonight, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday – and therefore his very last day before his retirement – eight of us rang another QP for him. As with our efforts three days ago, we again rang Yorkshire Surprise Major as a nod to his county of birth, but this time we were at Ufford ringing an appropriate length of 1270 changes which required a different start to usual. This initially caught us out and we had to restart immediately, but after that a very decent performance was produced and having only replaced a tired Ruthie just beforehand, I was delighted to have been able to take part, especially for Kev the Rev’s big week.

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Wednesday 12th February 2020

Ruthie was out at Pettistree this evening, ringing Chester Surprise Minor, Wells Surprise Minor, spliced and much else after singing at a funeral at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge earlier in the day, but for me it was a quiet night in.

The practice that was attended by my wife was preceded by a 1296 of London Surprise Minor and was dedicated to the ninetieth birthday on 9th February of Don Price. Sadly family circumstances and ill-health mean that many of us haven’t seen Don much for a couple of years or so, but up until then he had travelled the considerable distance from his home in Reydon to Grundisburgh twice-weekly to support the ringing there on Sunday mornings and Thursday nights and was often willing to come out to support ringing miles from home as well as in the Southwold area. It wasn’t just his dedication and loyalty that we appreciated though. He brought with himself his considerable ringing skills (his peal history and lengthy membership of the College Youths over many decades is very impressive!) and occasionally his carpentry skills too. Happy Birthday for Sunday Don – we all hope to see you again soon!

That quarter-peal wasn’t the only ringing success on bells in Suffolk recorded on BellBoard today, with a peal of twenty-three Treble Dodging Minor methods rung on handbells in Bacton, as others were enjoying time out ringing!

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Tuesday 11th February 2020

Following our busy evening of ringing last night, neither of us touched a bellrope today, with the main focus post-work being Alfie’s parents’ evening at school, where he seems to be doing well on writing, words and – encouragingly for any potential ringing ambitions – numbers, although as one would expect at this stage of his education with room for improvement. I imagine his academic skills come from his mother, although I can’t think where his “little bit of cheekiness” that sometimes threatens to go too far comes from...

Elsewhere in Suffolk, other ringers were ringing, with the pre-practice quarter-peal at Offton successful – on this occasion with a 1296 of Cambridge Surprise Minor on the back six – whilst we returned home to another ringer as we showed our gratitude to Ruthie’s mater Kate with a cuppa and took our time with no ringing to get to.

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Monday 10th February 2020

Like Coca-Cola with Lemon, tonight was familiar but with a twist.

Joshua was collected from nursery, but in darkness as they suffered a power-cut (mercifully at the end of the day!) and then we returned home where we were met by Ruthie’s gran for an evening of child-sitting of the boys as their parents were unusually going out ringing together.

From here our evening was in two parts.

Woodbridge.First up, a quarter-peal at Woodbridge to mark the Revd. Canon Kevan McCormack’s retirement this week. Sadly, due to complaints over the 5040 of Grandsire Triples in June, we are unable to ring a peal for the occasion, which would have been most appropriate. Personally I believe it would’ve been perfectly fine to ring a peal at this time of year, with windows shut and the sound of bells drowned out by wind, rain and the indoor noises of TV and radio sets, as opposed to last summer’s efforts where windows would’ve been open, residents in their gardens and the sound of the bells audible across the town in the stiller conditions. However, Kevan was understandably wary of causing upset to the church’s neighbours before he left and we must always be considerate of those who live and work within earshot of the bells. Hopefully this won’t be a permanent situation as this tower has a tremendous history of peal-ringing, but clearly if peal-ringing is to resume – as it should – then timing will be all-important, as will informing local residents well in advance and in the long-term sound control needs considering.

For now though, I am pleased we were able to ring something for ‘Kev the Rev’s’ twenty years here and his support of the bells and to ring it so well, as we did. Although Yorkshire Surprise Major was appropriately requested in honour of where the retiring rector was born and bred, this band could have rung something much more complicated and so the high standard is to be expected, but on a heavy eight it isn’t as straightforward as it might appear. The emphasis on ringing at the back bells’ pace is even greater and whilst the temptation is to hold the little bells up and ring very slowly, on a personal level I find it immeasurably easier when I’m ringing a big bell if everything is moved on so that I haven’t got to heave it right up over the balance each and every stroke. It really needs the whole band to go along with you and I was delighted that everyone did on this occasion, especially Ruthie on the seventh, which isn’t easy!

Just under half an hour after Mike Whitby called stand on the 1250 changes and the rounds at the end, my wife and I were sat in the ringing chamber of St Mary-le-Tower listening to a course of Little Bob Maximus being rung, having already been greeted by Stephen Cheek and David Potts outside as they looked to consolidate their thoughts on where best to sit the judges at Saturday’s George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Striking Competition being held here.

I really would encourage people to come along and take in the atmosphere and ringing at this contest which is really settling down into a tremendous event. There will be beer and other refreshments, good ringing and plenty of ringers with a record entry of six teams as teams from Norfolk have been invited to join their counterparts from Essex and Suffolk for the first time.

It is as preparation for ringing at this which brought Mrs Munnings out with me to a practice night that is familiar to me, but not usually with my better half accompanying. Most particularly we were there to run through the test piece of six leads of Kent Treble Bob Maximus, but of course we also partook in other ringing there, including some Grandsire Cinques and Cambridge Surprise Maximus, on a night where the attendance was boosted by the visit of Alex Tatlow.

Elsewhere in the county meanwhile, I was sorry to see they were short on numbers at Hopton for their practice night, although pleased that they used the occasion to ring a QP as a 1260 of Grandsire and Plain Bob Doubles was rung with the only six ringers who made it to this eight in the north of the Guild.

Perhaps they went for a drink afterwards, but we didn’t, as we returned home to relieve my wife’s grandmother of her duties of looking after her great-grandsons for which we were most grateful, as my familiar Monday night ended with an unfamiliar twist.

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Sunday 9th February 2020

There was a real end of an era today. The Revd Canon Kevan McCormack – affectionately known as ‘Kev the Rev’ – isn’t officially retiring until his seventieth birthday on Thursday and even has a funeral to take before that, but today was his final Sunday morning service at St Mary-the-Virgin in Woodbridge after twenty years as rector at this landmark of the town and indeed area. And it was marked in style.

Including by the bellringers, with all eight rung and rung well, although a mishearing did lead to an amusing conversation mid-ringing.

Conductor to ringer of the third; “Are you happy to ring Grandsire Triples?”
Third ringer; “Yes.”
Seventh ringer; “I’ve never rung Grandsire Triples.”
Conductor; “Go Grandsire.”

Cue lots of crashing (although said seventh ringer gave it a decent go with some guidance from me on the tenor!), before order was restored and the good ringing continued!

Downstairs afterwards, we were met by a packed church for a service tinged with sadness but upbeat, with applause for the retiring priest after his final sermon and as he walked down the aisle at the end of the service. And following the usual post-service tea and biscuits two hundred people headed over to The Abbey School next door (a place that holds fond memories as it was the location of our wedding reception) where a tremendous meal was held with a free bar and a ‘guess the wine’ competition on the ‘Red Wines of the World’ table (one of many tables themed on aspects from Kevan’s life, with us being on a table called ‘The King’s Head’!), all followed by speeches, including from the star of the show recounting an amusing anecdote of a conversation with the Queen during his time as one of her chaplains!

I have already said on here about how special Kevan has been to us in marrying us and Christening Alfie and Joshua and although he made a quip in the service about not being woken by the bells in the future, he has been a big supporter of the ringers, a photo hangs prominently on the wall of the ringing chamber of him with the band from early on in his time here and there were many ringers present, including Ringing Master Bruce Wakefield and his wife Gillian and mother-in-law Kate. He will definitely be missed by the ringers.

Having walked into Storm Ciara on the way to church, we were grateful to Ruthie’s mother, to Ron and to her grandmother for collectively returning us home where we rewarded them with a warming cuppa, but elsewhere, other ringers were also braving the blustery conditions, with a quarter-peal of Erin Caters rung at The Norman Tower for Evensong at the cathedral.

Back home out of the wind meanwhile, we were warmed by a video of a four leads of Bristol Surprise Maximus rung at St Mary-le-Bow in London yesterday, rung not only for the wedding of Jemma and Ben Meyer, but featuring them side-by-side in their finery. In a wider context though, it is an excellent example of how twelve-bell ringing should be done, with all ringing at the same pace, the little bells tucked in at the back, the speed brisk but not racing away, all led by the tenors. We are getting better at St Mary-le-Tower, but I hope it is a video that all in the Ipswich band for the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest take the time to watch to inspire us to make our entry at the Walsall eliminator on 28th March the start of an era for SMLT in the competition.

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Saturday 8th February 2020

This morning I should’ve been ringing in a peal of Maximus at Chelmsford Cathedral, primarily as part of preparations for Ipswich’s entry into the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest. However, earlier this week it was understandably cancelled due to injury and dropouts, highlighting the difficulty I spoke of a few days ago of getting bands together for twelve-bell peals locally. I don’t get many opportunities for peal-ringing on twelve these days and so I had been looking forward to this.

It was disappointing, but it did at least have the massive upside of allowing me to spend the morning with the family and particularly to join them at Messy Church in Melton and although numbers were down it was still a highly enjoyable alternative to peal-ringing in Essex.

Afterwards we were shifting churches to St Mary the Virgin in Woodbridge where we helped set up tables and decorations in The Abbey School ahead of a meal tomorrow to mark the Revd Canon Kevan ‘Kev the Rev’ McCormack’s final Sunday service. It looked stunning with themed tables and dozens there helping.

For this evening though, we had another meal to attend as we went to The Greyhound in Pettistree for the annual ringers’ dinner. This is truly a celebration of a successful tower, home to the current holders of The Mitson Shield, where – despite a relatively poor 2019 on this front – more quarter-peals are rung than anywhere else in Suffolk and all held together by a tremendous social side. It is appropriate that it is now standard for this occasion to be held in the hub of the regular social activity of the band.

Pettistree ringers and groupies at The Greyhound for the annual dinner. Mary Garner with her ‘Monthly’ Plate at The Greyhound during the Pettistree Ringers’ Dinner. Mike Whitby speaks at the Pettistree Ringers’ Dinner at The Greyhound.

Thirty gathered in the ancient inn – reputedly the oldest in the county – for an evening of good food, good drink, good company and good (and short!) speeches as Mark Ogden was awarded Mary’s ‘Monthly’ Plate ,which has long been awarded annually at this event! As was said by Mrs Garner and Ringing Master Mike Whitby, Mark’s return to ringing a few years ago with his considerable abilities has been a great benefit to ringing at this ground-floor six, but also to the South-East District which he is currently Chairman of, the Guild and peal-ringing here and beyond our borders. A well-deserved award.

Ringing at Great Barton for the NW District Practice. (taken by Neal Dodge)Elsewhere within our borders meanwhile, it appears to have been a successful North-West District Practice at Great Barton with twenty-eight present and a QP of St Simon’s Bob Doubles rung. Well done to Sally Veal and Serena Steggles on ringing their first in the method!

It wasn’t the only success in the county either, with a peal of forty-one Surprise Minor methods spliced rung at the 21cwt six of St Mary-the-Virgin in Newmarket for the Cambridge University Guild and featuring local ringer Maximillian Drinkwater and new Ringing World editor Will Bosworth.

Back beyond our borders I was also delighted to see that the wedding of Jemma Mills and Ben Meyer went well down in the capital today. Although we hadn’t seen her for a few years until she and Ben joined us for a day in Norfolk on last year’s tour I’ve known Jemma all her life, since she was brought on her first Rambling Ringers tour as a baby by her parents Andrew – well known throughout the exercise for his tenor ringing exploits and considerable ringing skills - and Sharon and it has been a delight to see her grow up into a lovely young lady who stands out in her own right for her ringing abilities, having become a member of St Paul’s Cathedral Guild. Unsurprisingly, much ringing has been done for the occasion, including a family touch of Grandsire Cinques after the ceremony (some post-nuptial ringing is on YouTube) and an impressive peal of six Maximus methods spliced this morning (including two new methods named in honour of the bride and groom), both at St Mary-le-Bow where the marriage took place.

Congratulations to Ben and Jemma and also to the peal band on getting a peal of Maximus today!

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Friday 7th February 2020

Haxey.It has been interesting following the application of the ringers at Haxey in the north of Lincolnshire to augment their 18cwt six to a ten. Not because of any particular affiliation, tenuous link or memory. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to the place, let alone rung there. Indeed, it is an area I haven’t really ever explored. However, it may be a useful benchmark by which to ensure any future projects in Suffolk are successful. Or indeed not worth pushing.

The general gist is that they would like to augment to ten to allow them to have a more manageable, lighter six. I’ve often thought Woodbridge would benefit from something similar, whilst I imagine there is a similar thinking in augmenting Stowmarket to ten. I can therefore appreciate the benefits, although I’m slightly uncomfortable at their suggestion that the bells are unmanageable for anyone other than a man and on the face of it the application seems reasonable.

There are those who have advised against it though. Barring the apparent local politics which it has been suggested has coloured the opinion of a particularly prominent character of this episode, that includes the now sadly defunct Whitechapel Bell Foundry and those who are on this side of the debate suggest that a rehanging of the six would be better as ten bells would be too much for the tower and would involve seemingly unacceptable meddling with a carillon.

Ultimately it went to the Ecclesiastical Law Association who decided against granting a faculty and whether right or wrong it was their report on it that I spent much of my spare time digesting this evening, whilst elsewhere other ringers in the county were ringing a 1307 of St Clement’s College Bob Minor at Earl Stonham and a 5094 of Yorkshire Surprise Major at Ixworth. The latter was rung in thanksgiving for the life of Ernie Bishop who recently died aged ninety-four and who learnt to ring here and seems a very fitting tribute to a man who joined the Suffolk Guild in 1949. And congratulations to Rowan Wilson on ring her fiftieth peal for the organisation she is the Chairman of.

No such interesting activity for us on this sunny Friday though, as you can probably work out from my choice of reading this evening!

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Thursday 6th February 2020

No sooner had ringing dodged a metaphorical PR bullet over ‘Bells for Brexit’ and all that, then another publicity pothole has come into view as today a story appeared about the plan for the bells at Westminster Abbey to be rung for the sixtieth anniversary of Prince Andrew’s birthday on 19th February. There isn’t anything unusual about ringing for special Royal occasions at this Royal Peculiar and indeed the art has been viewed in a very positive light from previous peals on this 30cwt ten, but with the Duke of York having stepped back from official duties recently and rightly or wrongly being viewed in a very negative light for reasons that pretty much everyone will be aware of, this story was set to a backdrop of councils refusing to fly the Union Flag for the occasion and in a tone that suggested that the bells maybe shouldn’t be ringing this time.

Of course the Queen’s second son hasn’t been formally accused of anything and denies everything that he has been informally accused of and it has to be noted that the ringers would only be doing as they have been instructed to do by the Abbey who in turn will have been requested to ring by the powers-that-be above them, but such is the strength of feeling amongst many – including some ringers – that this has the potential to put the exercise in a very bad light. Hopefully it won’t and it’ll be interesting to see what – if anything - happens next.

There was no potentially controversial ringing in Suffolk today as far as I know though and indeed nothing recorded within our borders at all.

Nor did we do any ringing personally. Instead we kept our heads down and tried to stay out of the news!

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Wednesday 5th February 2020

When I was a resident of the Black Country, twelve-bell ringing was pretty easy to come across, even without a car. I was within a bus, train and/or tram journey of seven twelves and a sixteen within the West Midlands alone. I partook in most Monday night peals of Cinques and/or Maximus at St Philip’s Cathedral for a few years and enjoyed fairly regularly trips out on Saturdays with my Midland peers to places like Bolton, Exeter, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Peterborough, South Petherton and Leeds (although I never made it to there due to oversleeping, thus causing much asking around for the organiser to make up for my absence on the way up there!) for twelve-bell peal attempts. So it is for those in and around London and there is a large network of incredibly good ringers nationwide who meet up at twelves around the country for twelve-bell peals, most of them very complex. The likes of Louis Suggett and the Salter brothers Colin and George have successfully infiltrated that network from within our borders, but it takes an amount of time and confidence that many in Suffolk don’t have and/or talent that only relative few in the country have.

Although once SGR bands travelled to ring twelve-bell peals, these days, the opportunities for twelve-bell ringing are more restricted and sporadic, with only three twelves across 1,466 square miles, a vast rural area that twelve-bell ringers – especially youngsters and those without cars – can struggle to negotiate to ring regularly on twelve. A peal of Maximus planned for Saturday at Chelmsford Cathedral has this week been cancelled, highlighting the difficulty of getting twelve peal-ringers together and in addition arranging twelve-bell peals at our twelves isn’t easy. The Norman Tower is booked up for its monthly attempts some time ahead, St Mary-le-Tower’s typically have to be on Saturday afternoons (which can be psychically hard and logistically difficult to get people for as it cuts right across the day) and Grundisburgh are... Well Grundisburgh are there. Although not always easy to ring on twelve, especially for inexperienced twelve-bell ringers.

The long and short of this is that the only place in Suffolk currently to regularly ring Stedman Cinques and Surprise Maximus tends to be SMLT on a Monday night. The augmentation at The Norman Tower in 2012 has helped generate more opportunities on twelve for ringers in the west of the county, but with their practice being on a Tuesday it has prevented a number of skilled and potentially skilled twelve-bell ringers at places like Debenham and Offton – who also practice on Tuesdays – from joining to help and be helped on higher numbers.

Last night’s decision to move their weekly sessions to Thursdays – starting from 7th May at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend – should therefore have a beneficial effect on twelve-bell ringing in Bury St Edmunds and beyond. If this shift now enables you to go along to the 27cwt twelve when before you couldn’t, then please do go along and support them.

One place where the practice is not planning on changing (as far as I know anyway!) is Pettistree and so this evening I popped along to there for a fantastic evening of ringing, from the pre-session quarter-peal of Fryerning Surprise Minor that was superbly struck and with minimal and immediately-rectified errors to the pieces afterwards ranging from Grandsire Doubles for Sam Shannon to treble to and Elaine Townsend to call to Stedman Doubles to various Surprise Minor methods such as Beverley, Cambridge, Ipswich, London and Westminster to a touch of spliced Doubles and Minor all rung really well and carried out in a jovial atmosphere in the presence of a sizeable attendance. And of course all topped off with refreshment and much catching up in The Greyhound afterwards, where we heard about the encouraging growth and progress of the Hollesley’s band.

Across the evening, various topics came up and not just The Norman Tower’s change of practice night. Such as Saturday night’s planned ringers’ dinner which as always is much anticipated, George Reynolds’ request for ringers at St Peter’s in Sudbury at 2pm on Friday for some filming about the £2.5m regeneration project there (which includes a new ringing gallery) and Hollesley and Ufford ringer Jenny Lloyd’s attempts to learn Cambridge Surprise Minor when she was actually learning the much harder Cabmirdge Surprise Minor! It was an amusing night out.

Meanwhile our 1272 wasn’t the only success within our borders recorded on BellBoard today, as two QPs of Surprise Major spliced were rung, with four methods at Ixworth and eight methods at Elveden.

On the basis of today, I’d say the opportunities for six and eight-bell ringing in Suffolk are plentiful!

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Tuesday 4th February 2020

Following our St Mary-le-Tower practice at The Norman Tower on Sunday in preparation of next month’s planned entry into the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest eliminator at Walsall, the analysis from HawkEar of our ringing was emailed through. We did take much time looking at it in between pieces at the time, but all twelve of us were sharing a screen on the ancient walls and we did want to do some ringing too! Therefore tonight was our first opportunity to look really in depth at the results.

The point of these are certainly not to show up people’s mistakes, but rather to help pinpoint areas where improvement could be made that might not have been so obvious in the actual ringing and although the intricacies of the second heaviest twelve in Suffolk will be different to those of the similarly weighted twelve of St Matthew in the West Midlands, it should highlight ringing habits to work on and points in the half-course of Cambridge Surprise Maximus that is the test piece where issues occur, such as the places or leading.

Ruthie and I weren’t putting our discoveries to the test today though as there was no ringing for us, but others were, some beyond our borders, such as Louis Suggett who – along with Past SMLT Ringing Master Simon Rudd – was ringing in a peal of Bristol Surprise Major at Much Hadham in Hertfordshire. Meanwhile back here, the pre-practice quarter-peal at Offton was of Cambridge and Yorkshire Surprise Major spliced.

I’m sure if they had analysis reports afterwards they would’ve made very good reading!

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Monday 3rd February 2020

There was a mixed bag at St Mary-le-Tower practice this evening. With quite a few absent due to injury, holidays and work, we were stretched, with Yorkshire Surprise Maximus a step too far on this occasion and yet we also rang some decent Cambridge and Yorkshire Surprise Royal spliced and a faultless touch of eight spliced Surprise Major methods on the front eight was coming to its conclusion on the front eight as I arrived.

Despite a smaller crowd than usual, a sizeable crowd still retired to The Cricketers for post-ringing refreshments and discussion on arrangements for the forthcoming George W Pipe Twelve-Bell Striking Competition just twelve days away. Please do come along and see what’s going on at this increasing popular contest with six teams from across Essex, Suffolk and – for the first time – Norfolk.

Meanwhile, Amanda Richmond did her first ringing since her accident in the Pyrenees over Christmas – albeit on handbells – as she rang a quarter-peal of Plain Bob Major with friends, before lunch at The Swan in Westerfield.

God wiling we’ll have her back on tower bells helping us at SMLT soon!

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Sunday 2nd February 2020

Mason’s sudden handling progress continued this morning at Grundisburgh, as he again rang both strokes. He needed to pull a bit more and it was very kindly pointed out to me that he needed to stretch more at backstroke (all advice gratefully received!), but taking his time with just backstrokes and taking it all in from the sidelines over the last few years has given him a good grounding.

God willing he will take to it and benefit from even just a fraction of the joy and experiences that ringing has given me and places it has taken me to. Having taken me to the beautiful rural isolation of Monewden yesterday, over the next few weeks the art is due to take me to Walsall, part of the huge industrial, urban sprawl of the West Midlands to practice for and then take part in the National Twelve-Bell Striking Contest for Ipswich.

The St Mary-le-Tower band analysing the results of a piece of ringing on Hawkear at The Norman Tower this afternoon. The St Mary-le-Tower band analysing the results of a piece of ringing on Hawkear at The Norman Tower this afternoon.Part of our preparations included this afternoon’s session at The Norman Tower where the 27cwt twelve are much more similar in weight to the 25cwt location where we are pencilled in to compete at on Saturday 28th March. In addition, we had use of a fully established HawkEar that enabled us to get a more technical appraisal of our ringing and generally speaking we were pleased with our efforts, which improved as we went along and provided much interest in between pieces! We were grateful to my brother Chris and his wife Becky for looking after their nephews and making muffins with them whilst we were ringing in town and we enjoyed having a cuppa and a chat with them afterwards, with ringing naturally coming up in the conversation!

Of course, previous entries into the competition have been considerably enhanced by the presence and indeed leadership of George Pipe, but sadly his poor health has prevented him from doing any ringing for several years now. However, his contribution to ringing at St Mary-le-Tower, in Ipswich, across Suffolk, throughout the UK and beyond these shores remains legendary and not unsurprisingly John ‘Jake’ Loveless - himself a giant of the exercise – has written a biography of GWP. Ever since Jake mentioned this at last year’s Twelve-Bell Striking Competition at Saffron Walden named after George, I have been eagerly awaiting its release and all being well I don’t have long to wait, for on Saturday 30th May at 3pm in St Mary-le-Tower, it will be launched. I hope lots of people can come along to celebrate this great man and hopefully see him in full flow!

Amanda Richmond watches on in horror as I drink my hot chocolate at Costa Coffee. (taken by Jonathan Williamson.He wasn’t well enough to join us at the county’s heaviest twelve this morning as some of us carried out service ringing, nor at Costa Coffee afterwards, but we were joined by another Past Guild Ringing Master Amanda Richmond as she continues her recovery from her horrific accident at Christmas with her usual cheery disposition. Although she was horrified by my calorie-laden hot chocolate!

Elsewhere across the county, it was a busy – and significant – day of quarter-pealing. Well done to Tony Mason on ringing his first of Single Oxford Bob Minor in the success at Great Finborough, whilst there were also quarters of Doubles and Minor at Poslingford and Rougham respectively.
The band who rang the last quarter-peal at Stowmarket before augmentation.However, the headline act of the day was at Stowmarket where the 1260 of Plain Bob Minor on the back six was the last QP to be rung on the bells before their removal. This is a big, exciting year for the ringers of what is currently the 20cwt eight of St Peter and St Mary with the bells due to be augmented to ten in the next few months, whilst the word is that the hanging of another ring of ten just outside the town at Combs is apparently back on.

According to a bizarre article on The Times’ website today though, they will both be electronically rung and we shall all be out of a hobby! An embarrassingly lazy bit of writing gives the impression that the fitting of an electronic chiming system – hardly a new development – in a Roman Catholic cathedral is a signal that all change-ringing by human beings is about to cease due to a lack of numbers. I’m looking forward to their story about the invention of the car seeing an end to horse-riding...

There is no doubt that there is a decline in numbers taking up the art, but there is much positivity, as the numerous reports of peals rung by youthful bands and university societies testifies. As indeed does Mason’s newfound enthusiasm for the art.

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Saturday 1st February 2020

Monewden. My father Alan ringing the 3rd at Monewden during the South-East District Practice. Ringing at Monewden during the South-East District Practice. Ringing at Monewden during the South-East District Practice. Ringing at Monewden during the South-East District Practice. Ringing at Monewden during the South-East District Practice.

This morning’s South-East District Practice at Monewden was everything that one of these events should be. There were plenty of learners – encouragingly from various locations, such as nearby Cretingham, but also far off Holbrook – getting the opportunity to ring call-changes, Plain Hunt, trebling to things and inside to Plain Bob Doubles, but also lots of experienced ringers, such as James Smith, David Stanford and Guild Ringing Master Tom Scase, enabling us to ring Surprise Minor, including some superbly rung London to round the ringing off at this lovely little gallery-ring six.

Enjoying biscuits in Monewden Village Hall following the South-East District Practice. Enjoying biscuits in Monewden Village Hall following the South-East District Practice.