This week we had all five of us for a handbell session, which was the first time for a while. We had planned to practise Sgurr A' Chaorachain, but decided first to ring a quarter of Cambridge in memory of Andrew Johnson who died last week. We rang a satisfyingly good quarter which felt like a fitting tribute.
Andrew was a year ahead of me at university, and although I didn't keep in close contact with him over the years, we did meet from time to time. Tina and I went to his wedding, which partly came about because Theo, his wife, is from Raleigh, North Carolina, where we are frequent visitors to Tina's parents. Another occasion I remember was David Brown's last Munro, which just happened to coincide with a visit by Andrew and Theo to Scotland during which they stayed with us for a couple of nights.
Andrew is best known for composing bobs-only peals of Stedman Triples. Just in case any readers don't know, the question of whether or not a peal of Stedman Triples could be achieved without singles was unresolved from the origin of change-ringing in the 16th century right up to 1995. The solution was found independently by Colin Wyld and by a collaboration between Andrew Johnson and Philip Saddleton. Colin Wyld had discovered the key and produced a composition, which was being attempted secretly by a band from the Society of Royal Cumberland Youths. Word got out that this was happening, which spurred Andrew and Philip to also discover a similar solution. In ringing, performance is everything, and a band from the Cambridge University Guild managed to ring Andrew and Philip's composition before the Cumberlands succeeded with Colin's composition. The reason why it was not straightforward to simply ring the peal was that the compositions are extremely difficult - one-parts with bobs at about three quarters of the sixes and no discernable pattern. I was invited to ring in the peal, without being told what it was (it was very hush-hush), but had to decline because I was already booked into a different peal on the same afternoon. During our quarter of Cambridge, I made one of the few mistakes by drifting off into remembering all of that.
Andrew continued to work on Stedman Triples and subsequently produced an easier 10-part composition, not an exact 10-part but vastly simpler than the original compositions. More recently he discovered other compositions including exact 2-part and 3-part peals.
Andrew's death is a tragic loss, and very hard for his family of course. The children are just a little younger than mine. He will be missed by a lot of friends.