Preparing for Bristol Maximus

Our trip to Loch Sween House, formerly known as Dun a' Bhuilg and location of the second and third Scottish Association handbell peals, is coming up very soon. We will have nine good surprise royal ringers, so it's an opportunity to work on a 12-bell project and we have Bristol Maximus in our sights - at least to ring a plain course, and perhaps quarter peals.

In preparation, I want to write about the different pairs and their characteristics. My basic idea is to look firstly at how far apart each pair gets, and secondly at how often the bells are on opposite sides of the treble. This is inspired by the observation that the most difficult part for the tenors, which are usually close together, is when the treble is between them and they are doing offset wrong treble bob work.

So here's a diagram for the tenors, with the region between their lines shaded. Most of the shading is green, intended to suggest safety. There is one section of magenta, suggesting danger. I have only shown half a course, starting from the lead end at which the tenors cross in 2-3 and finishing at the half lead at which they cross in 10-11. This is along the lines of an earlier article about practising methods symmetrically. The magenta shading is around the point of rotational symmetry.

The magenta shading doesn't cover absolutely every region in which the treble is between the 11 and the 12. There are short sections where the treble is moving in the opposite direction from the two working bells, so that they pass it in turn - in most cases, one dodging with it and the other hunting past it. These treble-passing sections are the other tricky part of ringing the tenors, introducing little wiggles into the otherwise parallel paths. However, they don't introduce significant extra difficulty because the treble is passed in the same way as in Bristol Major - the only difference is that sometimes a wrong dodge sneaks in while the other bell is dodging with the treble. There are also sections in which the tenors become separated because one of them is doing treble bob work in 3-4 or 9-10 while the other one goes further away to do a point, but these also occur in Bristol Major and don't cause a problem in maximus. 

Overall we can see the idea of ringing the tenors by following a "fat line". Notice that the third column, which contains the magenta shading, is actually the first lead of the plain course. When ringing Bristol on the tenors for the first time, if you get through the first lead you can be pleased that you have managed the most difficult part. Its reverse occurs when the tenors are 4th and 6th place bells, which is the 6th lead (not the last lead, because the symmetrical lead doesn't occur half way through the course, which is because of the 1T lead end). 


Now let's look at the diagram for 3-4, which I would say is the second easiest pair. We can still see a fat line, although it's much fatter than for the tenors. It takes a little longer for the bells to pass the treble, and in most cases they either both dodge with it or both hunt past it. There are now two magenta regions, and two more in the other half of the course. Again we can see the offset treble bob hunting in the magenta regions. We could debate exactly where to start and finish the magenta regions, because for example the parts in which one bell is doing a fishtail while the other is wrong hunting before or after a point also occur in Bristol Major and are therefore not new sources of difficulty in maximus. But I decided to start and finish when one bell or the other passes the treble. Also, the green regions in which the treble is between the bells are larger now, but I have left them green because there are no offset wrong dodges in them.


Continuing the idea that the pairs become more difficult according to how far apart the bells are in the coursing order, the next pair to discuss is 9-10. There are now seven magenta regions in each half course. Three of them are relatively large, with the treble between the two bells and moving in the same direction. The other four are smaller, with the treble moving in the opposite direction to the two bells and passing them in quick succession - but slowly enough that there is a little bit of offset treble bob work. The green regions are even fatter now, but we can still see some patterns in relation to how far apart the bells are when they are doing simultaneous points.

Noticing that there are some intricate pieces of work in the green regions, we might start to consider the idea that the magenta regions in which both bells are wrong treble bob hunting are nice regular blocks that could actually be easy parts when the offset dodging has been mastered. 


Next comes 5-6. There are now 10 magenta regions, covering all but one of the times when the bells pass the treble. When the wrong dodges are taking place, usually both bells are involved.


Finally, 7-8. This pair is like 5-6 but even more so. Every lead has two magenta regions in which the bells do some offset treble bob work. Overall there are roughly equal amounts of green and magenta. The first time I rang 7-8, after ringing coursing and 3-4 a few times, it felt like ringing a different method. This diagram really illustrates the difference.


I should say that not all ringers would agree with my analysis that the pairs become more difficult with increasing separation in the coursing order. Some people prefer their bells to be further apart, because it enables thinking about them separately, and find it trickier when the bells approach each other. Certainly when ringing a separated pair in Bristol, I can make mistakes when my bells are rapidly coming together from opposite directions towards a point blow.

A couple of weekends ago we had a little Bristol Royal session with Matt, Jess and Julia. I don't think Jess had tried it before, and some of the others were ringing unfamiliar pairs. We struggled through one plain course, then rang a second course which was very much better. This makes me reasonably optimistic for maximus. Bristol lends itself to structural conducting because of the frequent landmarks. There are the lead ends, half leads and point blows of course, but also the wrong dodges are useful. When I was doing a lot of online handbell ringing during the pandemic, and intensively practising Bristol Maximus, we benefited from David Brown calmly murmuring "dodge above, dodge below, dodge above, dodge below". Each instruction synchronises four or six bells. There were also occasional frustrated cries of "keep the back bells in coursing order", but let's not go into that too much!

I have assigned pairs to people in advance, so that homework can be done. I'm going to ring 5-6, so my challenge is to be able to announce all the landmarks while ringing accurately. The tricky ones are the wrong dodges that I'm not involved in. These occur when one bell is dodging with the treble in 5-6 or 7-8, so it's a question of getting the right instruction on each of the handstroke blows. In the first half of the lead the sequence starts with a dodge above, and in the second half of the lead it starts with a dodge below.

Further landmarks to try to learn over time include the positions of all the roll-ups, and various places where the bells cross in pairs. Usually it's obvious when these are just about to occur, and then if someone is out of place, the roll-up or pair-crossing can be announced to bring the person back into line.

There are several ways of ringing practice pieces of less than a full course, in addition to the obvious possibilities of simply stopping after a few leads, starting from different lead ends, or practising individual leads repeatedly. One practice-night standard is to ring four leads, which gets the tenor to 11th place bell, then jump into rounds at the treble's backstroke snap. Another possibility is to ring seven leads and finish with a 2nd place lead end to bring up rounds. This is good practice for the simplest quarter peal, which is four homes (B S B S or S B S B) and not all the work. Taking that idea a step further, you can ring an 11th place half lead in the first lead, which jumps to half way through the fifth lead. Complete that lead and ring 2nd place at the lead end. Finally ring a normal lead, and you have a three-lead touch in which the tenors are a beautiful green throughout.