What does "3 is coursing ahead of 4" mean?

During our quarter of Aardvark, I had occasion to say "3 is coursing ahead of 4". I was finding it difficult to see whether or not 3-4 were the right way round, so I was trying to delegate to Tina the task of checking that she hadn't swapped her pair over. It turned out afterwards that the instruction was unclear to begin with, but at the time I made it worse by adding what I thought was a clarification: "I mean, 3 is coursing ahead of 4 in terms of your place bells". After finishing the quarter we had quite a discussion about what on Earth I was trying to say.

I can now think of at least three interpretations of "3 is coursing ahead of 4".

  1. In the coursing order, 3 and 4 are adjacent (that is, 3-4 are in the coursing position) and 3 comes first. For example, the coursing order might be 56234 or 34256.
  2. At this moment in time, 3 and 4 are hunting in the same direction, ringing with one bell between them, and if they continued, 3 would reach the front or back before 4.
  3. Thinking about the line of the method, 3 is one place bell further ahead than 4. For example, in Bristol, 3 might be 8th place bell while 4 is 7th place bell.

What I actually meant was (1); (2) was not true at the time (in fact the opposite was true); (3) was suggested by a misinterpretation of my comment about place bells, and also wasn't true, although if we had been ringing Bristol instead of Aardvark it would have been true.

Confused? So was the band. Let me explain.

The point about (1) is that if you are ringing a coursing pair, your place bells are either 7-8, 5-7, 3-5, 2-3, 2-4, 4-6 or 6-8. The bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that would lead first if you were ringing Plain Bob. If your place bells are 6-8, 4-6 or 2-4, then the bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that is nearest the front. If your place bells are 2-3, 3-5, 5-7 or 7-8, then the bell that is coursing ahead of the other, is the bell that is nearest the back. What I meant by "3 is coursing ahead of 4" was "at the next lead end, if you become 5th and 7th place bells, make sure that 3 is nearest the back, and so on".


London: bells reaching the back in reverse coursing order (www.ringing.org)

When ringing Yorkshire, around the lead end, (2) is the same as (1). An adjacent pair in the coursing order is treble bob hunting in the coursing position. But in London and Aardvark, around the lead end, bells are reverse hunting. This means that if a coursing pair is heading towards the back, the bell that's ahead in the coursing order gets to the back last. This is what makes it harder to check whether a pair of bells is coursing the right way round. In the diagram, the bells get to the back in the order 235786, which is the reverse of the coursing order. So what I meant by "3 is coursing ahead of 4 in terms of your place bells" was that point (1) applied even though 3-4 were (reverse) hunting with 4 ahead of 3. 

Finally, point (3). In Bristol and London, a coursing pair of place bells occur consecutively in the place bell order: 7th place bell is followed by 8th place bell. And the bell that's coursing ahead of the other (8 in this case) is also ahead in the sequence of place bells; it is ahead on the line of the method. However, in Aardvark (or Plain Bob), the situation is reversed: the bell that's behind in the coursing order is ahead in the sequence of place bells. In Yorkshire, consecutive place bells aren't in the coursing position, they are in the 3-4 position. Before our discussion, I hadn't thought about point (3) as an interpretation of "3 is coursing ahead of 4", and probably I will continue not to think about it that way. But it is true that in any method, there is a natural handbell pair that follows each other through the place bell order, so that one bell does the work that the other bell did in the previous lead, and this can be helpful.

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