In March 2020, the weekend before our normal lives were summarily curtailed, I attended the ART conference at Hilton, Derbyshire. There we talked, gossiped, listened, ate, drank, admired, awarded, greeted (hands were shaken) and made merry. Oh, happy days, when will we see you again?
And there I met a ringer who had developed an ingenious gadget which allows ringers to accelerate their learning without the need for a decent band and with no fear of annoying the neighbours.
Step forward Steve Farmer.
Steve is not one of those ringers who has been ringing since they were a teenager. I don’t think that he comes from a ringing family, although I believe that his partner is a ringer. He is a few years ahead of me on the ringing path and he seems to have thrown himself willingly into the fray, although his skills lie in technology and electronic engineering rather than chivvying random people to become bell ringers and organising teas. He realised that in order to make good progress, he needed access to a co-operative band, that was always available and that would not annoy the local population. 30 minutes with the tower captain before the start of weekly practice was not enough. Such a combination of a flawless silent band is rare indeed, so he developed a device that would allow an ordinary tower bell to be rung as part of a perfect band but without anyone other than those in the tower having to hear it. At the most basic of levels, learners need a bong to work out the correlation between pull and strike. Unlike the Ringing Room there is always a time delay, and until you can “feel” this delay, your striking will be rubbish. As they improve, learners benefit from “people” to ring with. Steve developed Simbell which meets both demands.
There is an interesting podcast to be found on the how’s and why’s of his gizmo –a wireless church bell simulator that can be attached via some very sticky tape to any wheel and then used in conjunction with a ringing app of choice – https://funwithbells.com/sf/ . Having seen it being demonstrated at the conference, I thought it would be a good investment for the Reedham band. As a group we cannot ring much other than the simplest of stuff unless we have outside help, but perhaps there are one or two of us who are ready to aspire to try more advanced things and would appreciate the chance to try out our plans with a perfect Abel band, on a proper bell rather than via a twitchy finger and a key board. Twitchy finger ringing is all well and good for learning a method, but it does not replicate the real life experience of trying to strike in the correct place once the method is learnt.
I had an old lap top with Abel already installed on it. It lacks the letter “e”, but who needs an “e” for this purpose ? We had raised more than enough money during 2019 via our sponsored ringing for the local community to afford the £150 set-up cost and hopefully we would recoup the money, over time, by charging a small fee for it’s use. Tying/untying the treble each time that we used it would not be a difficult job. I sent for our Simbell and it arrived in mid October 2020, just in time for the start of the 2nd lockdown. We set it up and 2 of us had a little play. It worked very well. Then, less than 2 weeks later, the church was shut up, the ringing chamber again out-of-bounds and the computer lay idle.
Now that things are beginning to be more normal we will have to dust it off and start to use it. I only hope that the sticky tape is still sticky and that we can remember what to do. A risk assessment no doubt will be required because a risk assessment is always required. I shall have to get writing one (another of my dubious talents).
In the podcast Steve mentions the possibility of developing a virtual reality headset for ringers. I am sure that would attract all sorts of younger people to ringing, but I think that I will give it a miss. I can’t even manage of pair of headphones.
(other bell simulators are probably available)