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We do not often hear of failures; it is human nature to keep them quiet. I have written before about the working and challenges of ringing competitions, each time prompted by yet another triumph of an All Saints band. Over the last three years we have swept nearly all before us in the Deanery and the Diocese. In September, yet again, we won the Sonning Deanery 8 bell contest but only two weeks later, the Diocesan 6 bell contest went as we would never have expected.
This is the stiffest competition in the Guild. Al1 350 or so towers in the Diocese can enter the initial heats and very few towers have ever won the final twice. We only won it for the first time last year, though by a large margin. To expect to win it again was ambitious to say the least, but driven by the desire to excel we practised hard.
Egged on by past successes we drove confidently North and comfortably won our heat, but in the final, only a few changes into the test piece, disaster struck. A small mistake escalated into a major mix up and the conductor stood the bells. In ringing jargon, we fired out. Standing the bells disqualified us, but we had already accumulated more faults than we would expect in the whole piece. It was also kinder to the listeners.
Why should I bother to tell you all this? Why not just keep quiet until next time we win?
It was 6pm when we walked silently from the tower, and we remained together for the rest of the evening, (including a very good meal on the way home). During those five hours, there were no recriminations, but we learnt a lot about each other, about ourselves, our abilities and our feelings. Many of us had never really thought about how we actually managed to ring came with practice and dedication, because it had done so far.
It is hard to explain to non ringers just how improbable such an event is for an experienced band or what it felt like when it happened.
Good ringing, like walking, demands rhythm and coordination. Like walking too, we don’t succeed by concentrating on each movement, or looking where we put our feet, but by relaxing and letting subconscious skills do the work while we think about where we are going. Most of us walk confidently over rocks or steps, but have you never tripped over something tiny like the edge of a carpet? And when you do, is not the fall dramatic, just because you placed such faith in your walking skill?
The parallel with ringing is quite a good one. Both rely on many skills of which we are not directly aware. We have to trust them to use them, but like all human skills, we must accept the risk that however good, they may fail us. It can come as a shock when something as close to the self as the perception of what is happening and what one is trying to do breaks down for a few seconds, as many who have been involved in a road accident could confirm.
This has been an odd report to write, but I wanted to show you another side of the real people up there on the end of the bell ropes.
Ringing is not just about heaving on a rope. Far from it. Done well it stretches people to the limits of their skills, but above all, it is a team activity. We share the striving to improve our art, we share the successes and we share the failures too.
John Harrison (Nov 1987)
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