On Friday 25th April 2014 eight of us, including two long suffering wives, sat down for a celebration meal at the White Hart in Longham, our regular haunt after Hampreston practice night. Nothing particularly remarkable in that except that the evening had been planned more than three years earlier!
One night in early 2011, recuperating in the pub after a successful quarter peal, six regulars from the Hampreston, Dorset, practice night band first took up T’s suggestion that we should ring an alphabet of minor methods. We decided that we would ring the methods in alphabetical order within two years, that all the methods rung should lie outside the normal repertoire, and we should not have previously rung a whole quarter in any of them. We also planned to try and splice all 26 methods into a 2013 date touch.
Once we had completed the alphabet quarters, just within the two years we had allowed ourselves, T composed the touch. It was in two sections: the first, of 1008 changes, comprised the 13 plain and alliance methods we had rung; the second, of 1005 changes, comprised the treble bob and treble place hunt methods. Each section would also form the basis of a preparatory quarter peal of 13 spliced.
Not all had been going smoothly. In April 2013, after a couple of months’ practice of the second section, we tackled the first. We soon realised that this was going to be the most challenging part. A lot of the method changes come only 12 rows apart and there is a lot of switching between forward and backward hunting methods. It took us 6 months, with a number of abject failures, to achieve our preparatory quarter in the plain and alliance methods.
At this point one member of the band withdrew from the project as he was not really enjoying the challenge of multi-spliced ringing. Another member had gamely continued ringing with us throughout, despite having been diagnosed with cancer and successfully undergoing several months of gruelling treatment. Then in September 2013 disaster struck our home tower when the 5th bell suddenly developed a large crack and had to be silenced. A culture of humour in adversity grew up amongst us and we had great difficulty in not breaking into our alphabet methods when ringing more standard lines, especially when several of our members were in the band!
We kept ourselves going throughout the project, especially the last year of struggling with the splicing of the methods, with comments such as “We are doing this for fun!” and “We really enjoy doing this!”
Having failed to ring the Date Touch in 2013 a small adjustment was made to the composition. By shuffling the order of the sections, and with the judicious use of what we christened a “Harris Single”, we were able to extend it to 2014 changes.
Another experienced Hampreston ringer was then co-opted to enable us to continue the project, and in about two months we managed to achieve a quarter based on the second section. It was a real accolade for our co-opted member, to get her head round these new-to-her methods so quickly. She was now faced with the task of learning the 13 plain and alliance methods, whilst keeping the other 13 in mind. Our first practice of these part 1 methods went very well, giving us the confidence that we would soon achieve our objective.
After our 2nd practice at the whole date touch we all agreed that the plain and alliance method section was the more difficult to ring. In all of this the treble was most important in giving guide points to the inside ringers. He had five different patterns of work, and had to know which pattern went with which method name.
Our first serious attempt to ring the Date Touch ended at 940 changes, when we went into a wrong method, but was we thought a valiant attempt, having almost completed what we considered the more difficult plain and alliance section.
The Date Touch was finally rung on 22 March 2014, thus completing our “Alphabet” project, it having taken 3 years 2 months and one day.It left us all mentally exhausted and agreeing with friends, who had been saying it for some while: “Yes, we are mad!”