[r-t] Shades of truth

Richard Smith richard at ex-parrot.com
Wed Sep 30 17:59:45 UTC 2009

I've been thinking back to the long discussion here last 
summer when we tried (and utterly failed) to come up with a 
new set of decision that we could all agree on.  One of the 
bigger stumbling blocks was the meaning of truth, in the 
context of a piece of ringing.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that the 
key realisation is that there is no single 
unambiguously-correct definition of what constitutes a true 
piece of ringing.  Instead, what I think we have is a 
variety of different definitions that are used in different 

For example, we might start by saying that a true round 
block is one which:

   [U] includes every row at most once; and
   [R] starts and ends with the same row.

(The initials are for 'uniqueness' and 'round block' 

At a single stage on eight or more bells, that's sufficient. 
While touches that have intentionally satisfied only one (or 
neither) of these are sometimes rung (e.g. a short service 
touch of spliced that the conductor knows to be false), I 
imagine few people would want to describe them as in any way 

But the idea of a complete extent is clearly also relevant, 
as, on lower numbers, it's fundamental to all long touches. 
For reasons that will hopefully become clear shortly, I'm 
going to define an extent as a touch that in addition to 
satisfying [U] and [R], also:

   [C] includes every possible row an equal non-zero number
       of times.

(C is short for 'complete extents'.)

If we drop down to triples, the vast majority of peals 
satisfy all of [U], [R] and [C].  But there are interesting 
cases of peals (or things claimed as peals) that satisfy any 
two of these.

   - Long lengths clearly cannot satisfy [U], but they are
     required to (and do) satisfy [R] and [C].

   - The College Youths recognise a 5014 of Grandsire rung in
     1862; likewise apparently the St Martin's Guild
     recongise a 5026 (or 5025?) of Grandsire rung at a
     similar time.  Clearly they did not satisfy [C].  I
     don't know whether the compositions have been recorded,
     but I strongly suspect they would have satisfied [U] and
     [R] much as a peal of major does.

   - And wasn't there a bobs-only peal of Grandsire rung in
     the Birmingham area in which all 5040 rows were rung
     (if the opening rounds are counted), but that did not
     return to rounds at the end?  If so, that satisfies [C]
     and [U], but not [R].  Even if such a composition hasn't
     been rung, something similar is an interesting enough
     idea and definitely would be noteworthy.

Today, for a single stage peal to be true it must satisifies 
[R], and either (on major or above) [U] or (on triples and 
below) [C].  But historically this hasn't been sufficient. 
Multi-extent blocks are a recent innovation -- originally a 
peal with several extents had to be comprised of single 
extent blocks.  Specifically it

   [S] is completely divisible into one or more
       non-overlapping blocks consecutive rows such that each
       block individually satisfies [U], [R] and [C].

The impetus for relaxing this restriction came with Bankes 
James' 2160 of treble dodging minor.  This 2160 can be 
divided into three 720s each of which contains every row 
exactly once, but does not produce rounds at the end of each 
720.  I don't know precisely how the CC decisions were 
changed to permit this, but the notes at the end of the 1961 
minor collection suggest that [S] was not initially dropped 
entirely: rather it was weakened to only require the touch

   [B] is completely divisible into one or more
       non-overlapping blocks consecutive rows such that each
       block individually satisfies [U] and [C].

(S and B stand for 'single extent blocks' and 'Bankes James 
blocks' respectively.)  Even now that neither [S] or [B] are 
required, it's not unusual to choose to ring compositions 
that satisfy them.  For example, the standard 41 minor 
cannot be rung in an ordinary length while satisfying one of 
these, but a peal in all 41 that additionally satisfies [S] 
is somehow more elegant than one that 'merely' satisfies 

Similarly, when multi-extent touches which are only [U], [R] 
and [C] are rung, it's not uncommon to want some other, 
additional structure.  For example, it is sometimes claimed 
that there are only three true 240s of Grandsire Doubles. 
But what's actually meant is that there are only three true 
240s containing each row once at each stroke.  Likewise 
there is a tricky 10,080 of Stedman Triples by Rod Pipe with 
this property.  I'd argue that this is just another, 
stricter form of truth.  As the archetypal composition with 
this is Morris' 240, lets call this [M] are require that the 

   [M] includes every possible row an equal non-zero number
       of times at each stroke.

And I can imagine someone might go further and, say, look 
for a 30,240 of Erin Triples where each row appears once in 
each position in a six, or a bobs-only 30,240 of Stedman 
Triples where each row appears once in each position of the 
appropriate parity.

If there are lots of ways of achieving a particular effect 
it seems natural to add an additional restriction so that 
that is not the case.  That's not just true when it comes to 
truth, but also methods (we allow arbitrary blows in one 
place in minimus, as many as four in doubles, but rarely 
desire more than two at higher stages) and compostions (c.f. 
the desire for bobs-only extents of various triples 

But equally, if it's impossible to do what we want within 
the constraints, we tend to relax them until it becomes 
possible.  For example, the desire of quarter peal ringers 
to be able to ring convenient lengths leads to a weakened 
version of [C] in quarter peals:

   [Q] there exists an integer n such that every possible row
       either occurs n times or (n+1) times.

Another example is Little Bob which I'm sure is sometimes 
rung in quarter peals without either splicing it with an 
alliace method or using variable treble.  But equally, I 
would guess an attempt to ring a 'true' quarter is still 
made -- effectively by adopting a get-out clause:

   [L] in a little method, rows with the principle hunt bell
       outside of the positions visited in its path are not
       deemed 'possible rows' for the purpose of [C] or [Q].

When this topic was discussed last year in the context of 
replacement decisions for peals, I think we made a 
fundamental mistake -- instead of trying to describe 
existing practice we tried to produce a single prescriptive 
definition.  When previously discussing methods and 
compositions, I think we have largely been in agreement that 
such an approach was wrong.  Shouldn't the same be the case 
with truth?  Far better to simply categorise existing 
practice and try to provide a flexible vocabulary that 
allows us to talk about the truth of corner cases.

Inevitably there will be dissention as to what constitutes 
and acceptable degree of truth for peal, and I think it's 
likely that if the CC ever recognises quarter peals, the 
standard of truth there will be different.  Personally, I 
can't imagine ever wanting to play the [L] get-out-of-jail 
card in a peal, but can imagine ringing a quarter that was 
only true with [L].  But equally I don't think it's any of 
my business (or the CC's business) to tell others that they 
mustn't ring [L] peals.

At present, if I ring a peal that doesn't conform to the 
decisions, in theory, at least, the CC includes it in their 
analysis but identified as non-compliant.  (In practice, it 
doesn't always work like that because the RW sometimes 
refuses to publish them as peals and the CC is not required 
to then include them in the analysis, but that's a separate 

We've rehearsed many times the reasons why this stifles 
innovation -- and one major problem is the tarring of 
everything different with perjorative term 'non-compliant'. 
If instead the CC simply recorded against every peal in what 
way it was true, this could be different.  This would be 
especially the case if 'normal' peals, at any given stage, 
fell into several different truth categories.  And in this 
respect, retaining something similar to [S] and [B] would be 
helpful.  A significant minority of peals are not currently 
[S] or [B], including most complex peals of minor.  Once it 
becomes accepted that, at a given stage, there are different 
classes of truth that are all accepted by ringers in 
general, perhaps it will become more accepted to ring more 
different things.

I haven't made any effort to draft these into a form that 
could be slotted into last years' attempt at a revised set 
of decisions on peals.  But I think that this is the right 
way to head.  Clearly the case of peals on multiple extents 
needs thought too.  But by adopting multiple definitions, 
and treating them as descriptive rather than prescriptive, 
we can hopefully avoid last year's problem that we couldn't 
agree where to draw the line between true and false.


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