18th June at St Mary le Tower, Ipswich
There is a pleasant rattle of tea cups behind me overlaid with conversations over cakes all against the background of the test piece of the last team. Even without the added challenge of being hosts (as last year), there is a sense of spreading relief that the day is coming to a successful close, that the hundred little strands of plans on which the arrival of eight teams at their appointed times with the appointed members had all held fast or fast enough. It’s Ridgman ten bell competition day again.
St Mary le Tower is a superb setting for a Ridgman. Majestic bells, a city centre with a good heart, a capable crew behind the tea urn, and a pleasant churchyard in which to listen or chatter in between the April showers (which, being a little tardy this year, have only just arrived in June).
Grandsire was an appropriate choice for a 35cwt ring; easy to ring but not necessarily easy to strike – none of the comforting dodging – second bite at cherry – that Stedman offers. The touch too ((1,s3,4)x2) was straightforward, easy to call, but not entirely trivial to strike with the 9876 roll-ups midway. It served the purpose well, being accessible to bands adjusting to ten-bell ringing from eights and sixes, and still requiring the more experienced bands to exercise their ears.
The day ran smoothly, teams showing up generally in good time. Ipswich Park and Ride delivered its customers promptly, partial closure of the A14 actually failed to stop any competitors, the only close call being the late arrival of the youthful contingent of the Cambridge University Guild, scampering from the train station slightly out of breath but only a few minutes past the assigned meet at the foot of the tower. The late cancellation of one team allowed for a “visitors” session – which featured a half course of Cambridge Maximus and a bob course of Grandsire Cinques, giving some who don't often ring on twelve a golden opportunity on a very fine twelve.
Promptly at 5pm, the Ringing Master of the Suffolk Guild, Jed Flatters, introduced our judges, Jeremy and Ann Pratt. Jeremy spoke in general, complimenting the teams on a very satisfactory standard of ringing; no obvious method mistakes, generally avoiding the usual novice error of the front bells clipping the back ones, and generally accurate and confident leading. Perhaps the greatest challenge was achieving consensus as to the speed. Both slower speeds and faster speeds of ringing “worked” – as long as there was agreement. It was also evident that for all teams the improvement between the practice and the test piece was considerable. Perhaps the standard was a whisker short of outstanding – that perhaps requires a band with a long history of ringing together on similarly substantial bells. This is not what the Ridgman is about. The competition explicitly encourages associations to enter bands that are representative of the entire association, bring ringers together. It’s a different challenge altogether for a diverse band to meet briefly, with perhaps a few practices, and possibly none on comparable bells, to accommodate the bells and each other in short order and produce a creditable performance. It’s what ringing prides itself on; the ability to join with others from wherever and make a goodly noise.
So much for the common features of the test pieces. The distinction between the touches depended for the most part on the ability of the band to achieve consensus on speed and avoid the accelerando or rallentando within changes consequent upon failure to do so.
A very hearty congratulation to Norwich taking the trophy for the first time and thanks to George Pipe for presenting it to Simon Rudd.
Beyond the matters of scores and victories, the miracle of the day seems to me the extraordinary convergence of eighty ringers. I am not referring to man miles travelled. I am talking about the evolutions of the bands. Some associations have had the solid backbone of a local band into which ringers from other towers could be slotted easily, for others the Ridgman served as a magnet to bring ringers together to ring on ten, sometimes for the first time. For such teams, which may not come top of the results, the Ridgman will have enduring positive consequences.
It’s a winner thrice over. First, it hurts none of us, from the most experienced to the newest competitors, to sharpen our ears and spend a day dedicated to the detail of the placement of each bell in each change. Second, if the effect in some areas is that ringers whose primary experience is on six and eight find themselves counting to ten, that is a significant bonus. We need these ringers, and we need this Saturday in June to bring us all to the same place, to meet those we meet every year and those we have never met before, to reinforce those links made frail by distance and the passing of time.
Society is fragile, and ringing society is no exception. It requires work. Its foundations are built on tea, scones and cakes. The team in the galley – Marion Holland, Diane Pipe, Adrienne Sharp and Sally Munnings – did a splendid job. During the committee meeting, there was some discussion on ways of inducing bands to come and make a full day of the event, rather than arriving just for their test piece and leaving. The observed truth was that while teams might not all have arrived early, many lingered after their test piece. The reason ?Some very fine scones and cakes accompanied by tea and coffee.
The Ridgman once again has served its purpose well. Thanks indeed to Suffolk Guild, to St Mary le Tower, to the team in the galley, to the committee, to Alan Winter for shouldering overall responsibility for the event. A lot of work went into it. It is worth it, every time. The bells tell the story; good ringing, well done all round.