A "Virtual" Handbell Quarter Peal

Thank you to Peter Richards who rings with the Moorland ringers 

Since early on in the lockdown, Mike and Jill Wigney and Peter Richards have been meeting regularly on Ringing Room for simulated handbells. For those that are not aware, Ringing Room allows you to create a virtual tower with other people where the bells can be rung either with your computer keyboard or with handbell simulators. We were using our computer keyboards and, as usual for handbell ringers, rang two bells each. The website essentially contains the bells which then ring for everyone on the page, but a separate audio is required for the ringers to communicate.

On 27th May, we finally achieved a quarter peal, ringing "the Cambridge 6" spliced surprise minor. The performance record can be viewed on bellboard at https://bb.ringingworld.co.uk/view.php?id=1365907  Mike and Jill were both "ringing" from their sitting room in Bovey Tracey, on separate laptops and with headphones to avoid any interference between the computers. Peter was ringing from his home near North Bovey.

We first tried Ringing Room shortly after the lockdown began, with an experimental session. Due to slow internet speeds, particularly for Peter's remote location, hopes were not high but a plain course and then a touch of plain bob minor showed that the delay, although noticeable, was manageable and it was still possible to ring normally. We used Zoom for the initial session but the 40-minute timeout made it unsuitable for a quarter peal attempt and thereafter we began using Skype for Business, with voice but no video enabled.

In our next few sessions we began ringing Cambridge Surprise Minor and gradually increased the number of changes before firing out. The slight delay between pressing the key and the bell sounding made ringing quite a challenge, especially with occasional glitches such as short (c. 1 second) losses of connection thrown in meaning that some rows completely fired (and some bobs disappeared). Sometimes, the delay was so great that ringing was simply impossible.
Before long, we decided to see whether splicing methods would be possible and a touch of the Cambridge 6 came round. Add to the mix the possibility of the audio breaking up when the change of method is called!

The length we managed continued to creep up and when we returned to rounds at the 720, the possibility of achieving a quarter peal seemed much more realistic. Sadly in the next session a pop-up after around 900 changes put a premature end to the attempt.

The final sessions were marred by technical issues on Peter's part as he had destroyed his laptop by pouring a cup of coffee over it. He struggled to join the Skype for Business call on the replacement laptop- at first this was resolved by joining on his phone (but being unable to transmit, only receive audio) and then by using Microsoft Teams, although this created feedback and therefore only worked if Peter's microphone was muted, so again he could not transmit audio. It was under these circumstances (and with a worse than average delay) that the quarter peal was achieved- hence the relatively slow speed for a handbell quarter.

The band are looking forward to being able to meet in gardens with the new easing of lockdown restrictions, even sitting 2 metres apart. An unexpected advantage to ringing online was that the bells could be controlled with two fingers from the same hand leaving the other hand free to browse the refreshments.

A fine example of ringers refusing to give up, whatever. Thank you for sharing that with us, Peter.