Pickled Eggs: getting ahead

Instead of waiting to comment on each instalment of Simon Linford's analysis of Surprise Major methods as candidates for a new standard repertoire, I'm going to get ahead by discussing some candidates of my own - from a handbell perspective, of course.

One way to come up with candidate methods is to look at classic compositions of spliced, on the assumption that their composers gave some thought to the choice of methods.

Pitman's Four

This ever-popular composition of London, Bristol, Cambridge and Superlative has been around since 1947, with a second version in 1968. Tina and I rang it on handbells in 1998. I thought about learning it for our peal with Julia next Monday, but instead decided to focus on learning Graham John's one-part composition of the Nottingham Eight; so we are going for Bristol on Monday.

Simon Linford has already decided that Cambridge is in the selection. There seems to be discussion of Superlative on Facebook at the moment. Let's have a look at each method.


I don't think Simon will manage to exclude Bristol from any credible proposal for a set of standard methods. Apart from being a much-loved method on 8, it leads to Bristol Royal and especially Bristol Maximus, which is the touchstone for measuring progress as a 12-bell ringer, at least on tower bells. From the handbell point of view, Bristol is good for developing a structural approach to ringing, with its synchronised points at the front or back four times during a lead, and its blocks of four-bell forward and backward hunting. There's a huge range of musical compositions, as well as several easy compositions for handbells (for example, the ones I discussed here).


I think London is also hard to exclude because of its classic status. It's a real challenge on handbells, and certainly the hardest of the Standard Eight. However, it has good structural features: whereas Bristol is anchored by the points, in London it's all about the fishtails. There is also some good coursing order around the lead end (albeit reversed) and the half lead, which helps with conducting. On higher numbers, the fishtails involve more bells, which helps stability. If we think about the extension route to London No.3 Royal and then Newgate Maximus, the backwork gets filled in with treble bob hunting and the frontwork consists of longer periods of wrong hunting on four. Although Newgate isn't much in vogue these days, it does have a similar frontwork/backwork structure to Phobos and Zanussi, so it can be seen as a pathway towards the modern Standard Eight maximus. My vote is for London to be in the repertoire, but there is scope for discussion of which methods should precede it as gentler introductions to wrong-place work.


Despite its presence in Pitman's Four, I don't think Superlative has enough merit to be included. Its inclusion in the Nottingham Eight is perhaps as a legacy from Pitman's Four. It does have a clear regular structure, as the place notation within each half lead consists only of 36, 14 and 58. This is good for those who like to ring by place notation. Indeed, even after I had given up ringing purely by place notation, I found it so awkward to ring 3-4 places and 5-6 places simultaneously in Superlative that when I found myself ringing, for example, 4th and 5th place bells, I would step carefully through the place notation for half a lead and then pick up the lines again afterwards.

One of Simon Linford's criteria is to have a progression of methods that introduce new concepts or new skills. I don't think Superlative does that. Like Cambridge and Yorkshire, it's right-place; it has the same place bell order; it's a double method, but that's also true of Bristol, and in any case the double structure is not always helpful when learning methods. Another argument against Superlative is that its extensions aren't popular. There are two versions of Superlative Royal: Superlative No.2 is usually preferred to Superlative No.1 in compositions of the Standard Eight Royal, but both of them seem peculiar, and Superlative Maximus is hardly ever rung (although it has occasionally been used in the National 12-Bell Striking Contest).

In conclusion, for my preference, London and Bristol are in, but Superlative is out.