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I have finally run out of interviews, so here are my own answers.

Where are you based?

Glasgow, Scotland.

When and where did you learn to ring handbells?

I learned the basics from my dad, Phil Gay, in my early teens. Up to Plain Bob Minor, say. I don't remember exactly when.

Who has influenced your handbell ringing?

Lots of people during different periods of my life. My dad in the beginning, and then we did some ringing with Brian Burrows and rang a few peals of minor. Steve and Sue Coleman were regulars at the Keele ringing courses in the late 1980s and early 1990s and we did lots of late-night handbell ringing, which got me up to Yorkshire Major as well as Kent and spliced Plain and Little Bob on higher numbers. As an undergraduate in Cambridge there was regular handbell ringing at a Plain Bob level, as well as intensive practice of the "dinner touch" of Stedman Cinques. So quite a lot of people could ring Bob Minor and Stedman Cinques but not much else. Things really took off when I moved to Imperial College London for my PhD and started ringing handbells with Roger Bailey. That led into lots of exciting peals of spliced surprise major with Roger, David Brown, Lesley Belcher and then Mike Trimm. We rang the sixth handbell peal of Norman Smith's 23-spliced and the second handbell peal of Horton's Four (London, Bristol, Glasgow and Belfast) as well as Richard Crosland's series of spliced up to 12 methods. Tina and I also had a regular band with Steve Mitchell, Peter Felton and Philip Saddleton, mostly ringing Grandsire and Stedman, as well as some visits to Bill Jackson's house in Norfolk (sadly after he was no longer able to ring) with David Brown, Mark Regan and Joan Summerhayes. More recently there has been a lot of mutual influence among our band in Glasgow, with Tina, Angela Deakin, Jonathan Frye and now Peter Kirton. During this phase I have mainly developed my conducting. During the pandemic I significantly advanced my 12-bell ability by ringing online with the Five o'Clock Club. Ringing Stedman again with Matt and Jess Durham and Julia Cater has also been fun.

Blue lines, place notation or structure?

Mostly it's what Philip Earis has described as "blue lines plus" - that is, blue lines as the foundation, but taking advantage of whatever structure is useful. When I first started ringing surprise major it was by place notation, and I rang a few peals that way, but eventually I decided it was too difficult to recover from mistakes. I ring surprise minor by place notation though. Generally speaking, as the number of bells increases, lines get easier and place notation gets harder. There are some parts of some surprise major methods that I find it easiest to step through by fitting around the position of the treble, which I suppose is a grid-based approach. Examples would be the long places in Superlative or Cray.

Trebles or tenors?

In the Imperial College days I generally rang either the trebles or the tenors. When we started ringing in Glasgow, I rang the tenors so that conducting would be easier. More recently I find myself ringing working pairs so that others can ring the tenors. Tenors are easiest though, but I always watch the treble closely so you could say I am ringing the treble and the tenors.

Quarters or peals?

With the Imperial College band it was always peals. These days we ring far more quarters, partly because it's easier to get a band together slightly later in the evening. The drawback of ringing peals less frequently is that they seem like major events, become a bigger challenge and losing them is more disappointing. Ringing a peal is the real test of whether a method has been mastered - you have to ring it comfortably and sustainably rather than struggle with maximum concentration in a way that's possible for a quarter.

What is the most unusual place in which you have rung handbells?

I've rung peals in Lisbon (twice) and Paris but the locations weren't remarkable. I've rung on the summits of Scottish mountains a couple of times: Mike Wigney's last Munro (Ben Lomond) and David Brown's last Munro (Meall nan Eun, which has a nice-looking surprise royal method named after it). Also a quarter on Peter Felton's boat - it should have been a peal but we were short of time.

What is your favourite handbell-ringing anecdote?

When I was writing about the handbell house holiday this year, I spent a bit of time looking into the career of one of the ringers in the original peal, Rupert Richardson. He liked ringing handbell peals in unusual places, which were all carefully reported - you can find them on PealBase. Examples include "Surfleet, Lincs, in the Bulb Shed", "Arabian Sea, SS Barrabool", "Cranwell, Lincs, on the Fuselage of a Handley Page" and "Surfleet, Lincolnshire, in a rowing boat on the River Glen". One peal was rung in bed in a hotel room. It was Rupert's room, so when the peal came round the other ringers had to return to their own rooms while Rupert simply lay down and went to sleep.

Any further comments about handbell ringing in general?

These days, handbell ringing usually gives me more stimulation and satisfaction than tower bell ringing. One thing I enjoy very much is ringing regularly with the same group of people. Glancing round the circle, I know that each person is always going to look exactly the same as they always do, and there's something reassuring in that. 

 

Next time: who knows? Will there be a next time? Send more interviews!

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