When ringing goes wrong

At last night’s practice there was some discussion of what to do when things go wrong.  We were ringing Call Changes and had just called the band into (for example) the row 54312 when things went bad very quickly, the 5 called out “I’m on the wrong stroke somehow, should I cut or hold up?”, and the band had to be called to stand.  What happened?  What should have happened?

In an ideal ringing world, we would have sounded this sequence, with evenly-struck blows and a clean handstroke pause:
(Red numbers represent handstroke blows, black backstroke blows.)

In the 4’s view, the 5 (a less-experienced ringer) had gotten ahead, and so the 4 had left space for the 5 to fit into while the 4 continued ringing at the “correct” pace:
The 3, treble, and 2 followed the 4.  The 5 realized something was wrong but didn’t know what, and within a couple of strokes it was no longer clear whether the 5 was half-a-stroke ahead or half-a-stroke behind.

Another view could be that the 4 had failed to follow the 5’s lead, and drifted off behind taking the 3, treble, and 2 along as they followed:
Which was correct?

Of course we don’t know, and one can convincingly argue that it doesn’t matter or that both are correct;  what mattered was that the band got so scrambled that we had to stand to restore order.  We’re all in this together, and except when ringing specific exercises the overriding goal is to keep the band together and coordinated.  The only time we “leave space” rather than following is when a new ringer is learning to ring in rounds;  a new ringer is going to be striking blows all over the place so we ring steady and wait for them to get back in place.  The 4 should have followed the 5’s lead;  if that lead was clearly off, the 4 might have “averaged out” the error by striking somewhere between in-rhythm-with-the-earlier-blows and exactly-one-place–behind-the-5, but every ringer’s duty is to follow the bell in front and ring in the rhythm of the band.

If the 4 had followed the 5, despite the 5 running ahead (if that was what was happening), there would still have been some pulls that were not well struck and a couple of clashes with two bells striking at once:
but the band would have been ringing as a unit.  All it would take to straighten things out would be for the 5 to get back under control or the conductor to call “5 lead wider off the 2”.

The moral of this experience (subject to correction by more-knowledgeable ringers) is:

  1. Ring in your place as best you can, keeping in mind that
  2. Precisely when your place occurs is a fluid constantly-shifting thing that ultimately depends on when everybody else has just struck and is getting ready to strike, so
  3. The right place is the one that keeps everyone together.

Follow the bells in front of you as cleanly as you can, unless the conductor calls for you to do something else.