August 2016

Mental fatigue is a ringers biggest problem

As Simon has recently mentioned, we recently rang a peal of 23-spliced in hand with David and Henry Pipe.  Now, Simon has rung this now a few times, David Pipe probably a billion times, and I'm pretty sure Henry has now rung it at least five times.  This was my second time attempting this, and I thought it might be useful to share the experience of ringing right at the edge of your ability - again.

Simon is very quiet about this, but we had about two weeks notice of the attempt, and so I spent quite a lot of our summer holidays glued to Abel practising parts of the peal, practising individual methods on my phone, and carrying around my colour-coordinated notecards for quick reference.  Actually it all seemed a lot more familiar - and this was a problem.  It's hard to hammer in those methods when your brain is saying 'yeah yeah I've got it.'  But, in truth, it all did come together a little more easily. 

But did I ring better?

In our first attempt I spent several weeks going over each part, nailing down the different place bell orders, and focusing most of my attention on the sets of leads that I would actually be ringing.  When it came time to ring the thing, of course, I didn't have anything like enough leftover brain to remember all that information, but the endless rehearsal definitely helped.

This time, for the first few parts I felt very confident in the methods and my concentration was good too.  I was better able to get myself straight, but I grew trippier as the peal progressed, and embarrassingly, developed a tendency to swap my bells over.  I am usually very good at keeping them the right way around, so I was a little surprised at myself, and quite red-faced too.  My problem was mental fatigue.

Different types of fatigue

This is one type of mental fatigue:  you make a small mistake, which, in correcting, leads to a few more, and before long you are trying to avoid the Avalanche of Failed Peal Attempt.  Ringing in spliced is your friend because you get to start fresh with every new lead.  However, at this point the mental monologue goes something like this:

"Remember your place bells!  Got to do better! Come on, and concentrate!  Concentrate harder!"

All of that uses up valuable mental energy, and it is best not to have that particular monologue ever.  With practice, this can be avoided or at least minimised, by totalling compartmentalising past errors and continuing to think in the now and the immediate changes ahead of you. 

Here is the more insidious type of mental fatigue:  you know what you are doing, but somehow your reaction times start to slow.  As you get to a lead end, you are slow loading the next method, registering your place bells, and slow to start the next lead.  This causes trips and crashing, and you are constantly trying to catch up.  Which makes you more tired.  And so on.  It is the equivalent of your legs giving out under you. 

Conserving mental energy

Whatever level you ring at, if you are ringing at the edge of your ability, the effort of concentration is large.  The key to being able to ring for long periods of time is to find and use all those little 'easy' parts to rest your brain.  Of course, you can't get too relaxed because you need to be able to swing into high concentration mode as needed. 

Like everything else, it takes practice, and it means trying to ring for longer periods without stopping to build up your stamina.  Lots of learning and rehearsal on simulators help too.  Clearly I have some way to go to increase my concentration fitness - and I'm open to ideas!

23-Spliced Challenges

The week before last we were away on the annual "Hulliday", a big group of ringers with families who have been going on holiday together for a few years. These days the holiday doesn't involve much ringing (the amount of running is increasing steadily), but there is usually some handbell ringing. This year David Pipe suggested that it would be fun for me and Tina to ring a peal of 23-spliced with him and Henry, which we did (at the second attempt).

Norman Smith's 23-spliced has been rung almost 40 times on handbells, but there are other 23-spliced challenges that have been taken up much less frequently. Perhaps they would appeal to capable bands who are looking for something different.


The most obvious challenge is Steven Chandler's composition, which has much more difficult methods than Norman Smith's. It has become a popular test piece for very advanced tower bell bands, but as far as I can tell it has only been rung three times on handbells:

30/5/1992 by Paul Mounsey, Peter Townsend, David Brown and John Hughes-D'Aeth (silent and non-conducted).

7/5/2009 by Richard Pearce, David Pipe, John Hughes-D'Aeth (C) and Alex Byrne.

8/6/2012 by Thomas Hinks (C), Jennifer Earis, David Brown and Philip Earis.

It's remarkable that the first performance was silent and non-conducted. I remember being in Roger Bailey's office for a peal, when one of our ringers told Roger that this had been done. He immediately guessed all four members of the band.

These were preceded by a peal that was essentially Chandler's with two method substitutions (I don't know why):

24/10/1988 by Kathleen Baldwin, John Peverett, Roger Baldwin and Kevin Lucas.

The 25-method extension of Norman Smith's

This arrangement by Jonathan Porter and Roger Baldwin adds Belfast and Hereford. As it's all the work of 25 methods, it's slightly longer at 5600. It has been rung twice:

8/9/1988 by Tim Peverett, Alison Surry, Roger Bailey and John Peverett (C).

23/9/1990 by Tim Peverett, Alison Surry, John Peverett and Roger Bailey (no conductor published).

The variation of Norman Smith's with every lead different

This arrangement by James Taylor makes some method substitutions to eliminate repeated place bells (such as 3rds place bell in Cambridge, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Superlative). It has only been rung once:

20/12/1995 by Simon Gay, David Brown, Roger Bailey and Michael Trimm.

Don Morrison's compositions with Norman Smith's methods

Don Morrison has produced several compositions with the methods from Norman Smith's, but in a different order and with cyclic part ends. Some of them have variable hunt and are all the work for all eight bells. When these were published in the Ringing World several years ago, I thought they would become popular as an alternative to the original composition, but they don't seem to be rung all that often, and as far as I can tell, none of them have been rung on handbells. For the compositions that aren't variable hunt, the main challenge for an experience band would be getting used to having the methods in a different order, as the familiar calling has become so ingrained.


A few years after the publication of Norman Smith's composition, Tim Pett produced a seven-part all-the-work composition with an easier set of methods. Instead of Glasgow, Preston, Tavistock and Whalley it has Aldenham, Ealing, Ickleton and Ospringe. It might be considered a retrograde step to make Norman Smith's easier; nevertheless, this composition does not seem to have been rung on handbells.


A couple of days after our holiday peal of Norman Smith's, a band rang John Leary's composition on tower bells. This composition of 23-all-the-work is infrequently rung. In comparison with Chandler's, it has a greater variation in place bell orders, still with a challenging set of methods and with a combination of 4ths and 8ths place bobs. It hasn't been rung on handbells.