The essence of a method

Oxford Treble Bob has been our handbell method of the week – on 8 bells not 6 and I chose to brave something other than the trebles. Because of my near total ignorance I asked for the tenors with little knowledge of what would happen if a call was made. Would I have to make a bob and end up in some unfamiliar pattern – 3-4 seemed likely and not welcome. Therefore I condensed the method down to the smallest amount of information that I could get away with to help should I get lost and it turned out that the smallest amount was quite small – lead ends and lead heads, so I would know whether I was making places because crashing around at that point in proceedings it is very obvious who is at fault and a bit embarrassing. A little reminder as to which leads were the slow work was also reassuring.  That was it. 14 pairs of numbers in 7 orderly rows. A few arrows to remind myself of the leads that repeat should a bob be called, and an anxious question mark over the other lead ends.

As I looked at my essence of Oxford a light dawned.  For some time our most experienced handbell ringer has been murmuring “hunt dodge, hunt dodge” at us/herself. I largely ignored her because it did not make sense to me.  I see a treble bob method as “dodge move on dodge move on” and because my grasp of a dodge is so tenuous, the dodge is 4 blows in my brain. At some level, I know that it is not. It is only one change, but a neat block of 4 helps me to stay straight. Therefore I think 3434 move on 5656 move on 7878 lie 8787 etc. I know that is incorrect, but it works for me. Therefore, most of the method is dodge and very little is hunt. This makes communicating with anyone else difficult which is inconvenient because being told “dodge with me” has a different meaning for me. Where exactly in my tidy block of 4 changes should I be dodging? I invariably make a hash of it and receive puzzled/exasperated looks. But as I stripped Oxford to its bones, I sort of saw what the “hunt dodge” thing is all about – more of it is hunt than dodge which may be transferable knowledge when it comes to tower bells, although I am not sure that I need it with one bell in each hand.

Now for the calls. I was reassured that no one would put in a call at certain lead ends and that I would remain in 7-8 throughout. “OK – let’s try a touch then” I suggested.

“But traditionally it would be called from the tenors, you will have to call it.”

“Steady on – I am prepared to try to follow the calls, but I can’t possibly make the calls. I have no idea where to put them.”

Pbppbppbp was proposed, and having scribbled the sequence down on a crib sheet I attempted to ring and call my first touch of Oxford TB Major.  If it had not been for a transatlantic technical hitch at the 8th lead  when a pair of bells froze, I would have managed to bring it round.

I find that surprising but it is certainly true, that the more you understand, the easier things become because there are only so many ways you can stir things up and then settle them down again. Understanding one thing helps one to understand something else, and as you build this file of knowledge, each new idea is less intimidating and more quickly  absorbed.

It really is quite fascinating.  But to think that I had to wait almost a lifetime to use my brain in this way. What a waste.


  1. Congratulations on your first touch of Oxford Major. Something to think about next time you call it is that this touch is normally described as “middle, before, wrong”. Middle means a bob at which the tenor becomes 6th place bell, before means a bob at which the tenor becomes 3rd place bell, and wrong means a bob at which the tenor becomes 7th place bell. In Oxford (and Kent), because of the repeating place bell when affected at a bob, this means that for the middle, the tenor becomes 6th place bell at a plain lead, then there is a bob at the next lead, making the tenor become 6th place bell again. Similarly for the wrong and 7th place bell. This makes conducting Kent and Oxford easier in some ways than Plain Bob. At the before, the tenor is unaffected, coming out of the slow work. In most cases it is much easier to think about a composition in terms of the work of the tenor (or another bell) at the bobs, rather than as a sequence of bobs and plains. Just as with methods, the key to working your way up the complexity ladder with compositions is to understand and recognise common structural elements.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s