19th June at St Mary the Great, Cambridge
For one behind the kettle, a striking competition involving thousands of travelling man miles, nine 10-bell bands, a city centre church in a city renowned for Saturday traffic snarl-ups, is an invitation to Worry on a generous scale. Add to that, the frictions generated by the challenge of finding local ringers when the principal local band is already distracted by the imminent 12-bell striking competition left the tea sub lieutenant looking forward rather to the end of the day than the beginning.
Still, Saturday 19th June dawned bright and clear, as families from all over East Anglia and neighbouring counties prepared to make their way to Cambridge. It didn't stay that way of course. By the time the judges, Paul and Kate Flavell arrived, leaden skies and a brisk northerly wind were already suggesting what might be done in the way of weather if it really tried. The judges were shown along an extraordinary sequence of narrow corridors to very pleasant rooms loaned for the day by a Fellow of Caius College. Sadly the plan for our judges to recline in deckchairs on the adjacent roof was not an attractive option, and the Flavells graciously settled for shivering by the open door. The bells, with sound control full shut out of respect for neighbours about to endure five hours of ringing, were clearly audible, if only just. One great Worry over.
The judges installed, attention turned to the tea support team. This was most efficiently captained by Sue Binns, recent Secretary of the Cambridge Youths who were hosting the event. The competition began in earnest. The narthex had both doors open to King's Parade, ringers and tourists alike taking shelter from wind driven rain kept the cup washers busy.
It was never probable that all ninety ringers would make it to the city centre at their appointed times, and indeed there were a couple of close calls, largely through the random irregularities of the Park and Ride system. Two bands rang their practice touch with reserve members, but all the test pieces were rung by the chosen bands, with latecomers successfully dodging tourists on the tower stairs to arrive at the ringing chamber before the appointed times for the test piece to start.
The matter of shepherding each team through the process of signing the book (supervised by Barbara Le Gallez), team photographs (Alan Winter behind the lens, complicated by unwitting tourists wandering through as the shutter clicked) and proceeding efficiently up the tower in spite of a heavy flow of tourists wishing to see the view from the top required a complicated choreography involving a traffic warden (Adrial Walton) on the stairs to prevent unwanted ingress of tourists at inconvenient moments.
The Revd John Binns welcomed the ringers in the church for the announcement of the results. The Flavells had marked the test pieces by scoring two points for each perfect change, and one or no points for a flawed change. The test piece being five leads of Cambridge Royal, a perfect score would be 400 points. Bill Ridgman presented the trophy to John Peverett of the Hertford County Association, clear winners by a margin of 21 points.
There were generalities to be drawn from the commentary on the test pieces. One is that if one wishes to win striking competitions, it helps if method mistakes can be avoided. It is not just a matter of the points lost through the corrupted changes, but the unsettling effect that a mistake has on the band can persist for a lead or two. Secondly, points were often lost through apparently rushed leads, although the fault could sometimes be laid to a slowing of the previous change. In this particular competition, I wonder if this effect might have been exaggerated by the particular properties of the new Great St. Mary's bells.
The bells are acknowledged to be a great success, easy-going and very sonorous, very suitable for a noble church in a great city. They are lighter than their predecessors, and the expectation might well be that they would therefore settle to a comfortable ringing speed that is faster. However, to my ears, such is the sonority of the bells that they seem to settle best when rung rather more slowly. Certainly the top teams did tend to ring more slowly. Less confident teams struggled to find unanimity on the matter of pace, resulting in rushed leads or an unsettling rallentando at the end of a change, or both.
Following the judges' report, thanks were given to those who had made the day happen: to Reverend John Binns and Great St. Mary's Church, to Liz Orme and the Cambridge Youths, for the use of the bells; to Alan Winter and the Ridgman committee for their work organising the event; to Paul and Kate Flavell for taking on the difficult task of judging, and presenting the very well thought out and encouraging commentary; and to Sue Binns and others behind the scenes for ensuring the smooth running of the day.
And the judgement on the day from the day's end, as viewed from behind the kettle? It wasn't a day. It was a year, one of dogged dedication to the purpose of fostering ten bell ringing in the diocese. It was nine quarter peals, including six firsts in methods, and three firsts on ten. It was fifteen dedicated ten bell practices. While I would have been delighted to see the home team further up the leader board, a part of me is not at all sorry that some of the a team were unable to take part; as a consequence, two ringers were representing their diocese for the first time in the competition.
One comment heard afterwards says it all: "I know I can ring Cambridge Royal now; I'm definitely going to go for a quarter of it".
This is a one-sided and opinionated view; I cannot speak for other guilds and associations. For us, the value of the day as the generating force behind the year's ten bell ringing activity so far outweighs the worries of organisation that they may be regarded as negligible. To all involved, whether on the end of a rope or behind the galley or the e-mails, job done. Job well done. Turn over a new page in the Ten Bell Practices log, and keep on ringing. St. Mary le Tower, June 2011, here we come.
Marj Winter (Text also published in Ringing World 5175-0661)