Thomas is leaving in a couple of months and working to teach the ringers what they need to know before he does. One important thing it appears none of the local ringers knew was how to get a loose rope back under control. Now three do: Anne, Carroll, and Nancy all went through the training today.
Thomas came early to set the ringing chamber up for safe training: a single rope down, with the others sheepshanked up in the intermediate chamber out of the way; furniture cleared away to give an open area; and tarps (thank you, Barbara for this loan!) wrapped and clamped around everything the rope might catch on (the ladder up to the intermediate chamber, the railings of the spiral stairs, and that useless threaded rod sticking out of the wall between the treble and the tenor). We worked with the treble because the area around it could be cleared most effectively.
We began with skills that help get the intervener in tune with the needs of a panicking ringer and with the timing of the rope, and ideally can prevent the situation from progressing to a loose rope; then moved on to taking the rope and finally catching a loose rope. The best outcome is the one requiring the least intervention: ideally reaching in for a stroke or two will let the ringer in trouble take care of it themselves; if that doesn’t work, taking the rope forestalls a situation in which the rope gets loose; in the worst case, you can catch the loose rope and get the bell back under control. Fortunately the third case is quite rare if you handle the first two cases expeditiously and effectively. To the best of Thomas’s recollection a rope has been dropped only once (by a confused learner) during his nearly two years in Miami.
- Don’t help a ringer that doesn’t want it. Thomas forgot to go over this during the class, but it’s important. If the ringer has asked for help, then help them. Otherwise, if you think they need help, ask “Do You Need Help?” and wait for “yes” before doing anything (unless you are expert and the situation is truly dire). The things you say to a ringer in trouble are capitalized to remind you that you’ll only have time to say a few words and thus must make those words very clear.
- How to reach in and help a ringer in trouble, taught first with handstrokes (easier) and then with backstrokes. It is important to catch their eye, establish communication, and get the ringer under control as well as getting the rope under control. Thomas recommended saying “I’m Helping This Stroke“, timed so that you’ve said “helping” before you reach in to help, to ensure they don’t think you are taking the rope. Also, be sure to let go at the bottom, soon enough that you don’t tug their hand to the side at the bottom: that might also miscue them to give you the rope when you aren’t taking it. It’s best to reach in over their hands as that way you are between them and the bell and have complete control. This is almost always possible, even with a tall ringer and a short intervener, because a ringer in trouble has usually let the bell ring down and has not moved up the tail so their arms would be high at the top of each stroke (if they had they probably wouldn’t be in trouble).
- How to take the rope from a ringer in trouble. First, help them for a few strokes (unless the situation is truly dire); with help they may stop panicking and be able to get the bell back under control themselves. If that isn’t going to happen, catch their eyes if possible, reach in on a backstroke, and as soon as you have a firm grip on the rope’s tail order them “Give Me the Rope!” and keep the tail. If they hold on, don’t have a tug of war; instead, say “Give Me the Rope!” again. It is important that the thing you say to take the rope sounds very different from the thing you say to help with the rope; a ringer in trouble is distracted and not thinking clearly, and you want communication to be quick and unmistakable. You may also need to tell them “Step Back” to give you room if they didn’t do so spontaneously after giving you the rope.
- Finally, how to get a loose rope under control. It’s not difficult, but it does require prompt and definite action, and not getting it right endangers everyone in the room, especially you. The catcher must keep feet flat on the floor or skimming just above the floor, to reduce the chance that the loose rope will get under a foot or wrap around a leg. It’s essential to act quickly because the rope’s dancing and whipping cover a rapidly increasing volume of space; after it is dropped (backstroke zero), the rope behaves itself during the first backstroke on the loose, spreads out during the second, and starts to whip about the room during the third. We never let the rope get beyond the fourth backstroke out of control, even as a demonstration, and the students typically caught on the first or at latest the second backstroke (i.e. about as soon as possible). I won’t explain the technique here because for safety it should only be taught with supervision.
If a rope gets loose, everyone should be setting their bells and (except for the person who is getting it back under control) moving back flat against the wall. We had everyone but the student and instructor standing out of the way at the head of the spiral stairs.
A student asked “who should go help a ringer in trouble?” Good question. Each band can establish their own rules, of course, but I would suggest that whoever is running the ringing session is the one who should go help. As a general rule a junior ringer should not be dashing over to help. Now that we often have more than eight ringers, we may have a senior ringer sitting out, and in case of trouble that ringer may be the one to give help, since they don’t have to stand their bell first. It’s desirable to avoid a traffic jam of people rushing to help a ringer, for one thing, and also desirable not to have less-experienced ringers mistakenly decide someone is trouble and rush to interfere.
We had allocated 15 minutes per student; this was optimistic. We averaged 20-25 minutes per student. For safety we always had at least three people in the room: instructor, student, and someone to call 911.
During the class, Judy stopped by to drop off a doormat for people to wipe their feet on before climbing the spiral stairs.