This is the story of the first peal for three Nettlebed ringers, Lucy and Elinor (Eli) Bailey and Sarah Whittaker.
Lucy and Eli first featured on a peal board in 2001, but not as participants. Lucy had just given birth to Eli, so they had other things on their minds.
By early 2015, all the signs were that this would be a good year to rectify this omission. Eli had rung her first quarter during the Christmas holidays; the First Peal 2015 campaign had been launched; and, by coincidence, in February Nettlebed was hosting the AGM of the Oxford Diocesan Guild’s Reading Branch. Here, Steve Rossiter seized his opportunity. Over tea in the village school hall, Lucy and Eli were signed up, and Lucy strengthened her resolve by entering into an “I will if you will” pact with Sarah, a recent transfer from Little Missenden in the ODG’s Chiltern Branch. A date for the peal attempt – 26 September – was soon agreed, so there was now no turning back.
For some time after this, not much happened: often the case when a date far into the future is set. Then, in June, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta presented an occasion for a practice quarter. Which methods? Bob Minor was the obvious safe bet – but Nettlebed’s repertoire also includes Cambridge on a good night, and the Baileys have connections with England’s premier university city (OK, so does the writer), so it was decided to attempt a 720 of each method. Unfortunately, the Cambridge did not get far. Back to the drawing board.
At this point, the Reading Branch came into its own. The Branch Chairman, Ann Osborne, organized a special Cambridge training session for the Nettlebed ringers, held at the end of July and led by Giles Winter from Tilehurst, with helpers from both Reading and neighbouring branches. This was voted a great success, and the potential first-pealers left with a spring in their step.
Then, though, a variety of hitches came together: the holiday season, illness in the local band, other commitments. Result: no chance to consolidate the learning. It was decided, reluctantly, to file Cambridge away until another time and to focus entirely on Plain Bob. Giles Winter was enlisted again, with his wife Jo Druce, to strengthen the band for a practice quarter. This was rung successfully on 12 September and dedicated to Lucy and Brendan Bailey’s Silver Wedding anniversary: 1440 changes, longer than the average quarter, to boost endurance.
Just two weeks left: not long now. The morning of the 26th arrived promptly. Fortunately, so too did six ringers: Lucy, Eli and Sarah, plus Steve, the conductor, and Jenny Page and James Champion to make up the band. The early autumn weather was as if specially ordered for a first peal: bright sunshine to lift the spirits, but cool enough to dispel any fears that this might become too much like hard work. Two hours and 35 minutes, and seven extents, later: “This is all – Stand.” Arguably, the most beautiful words in the English language for a peal ringer, and three more had now heard them in this context for the first time.
Finally, out into the sunny churchyard, to be greeted with prosecco by Brendan, who also happens to be the Rector, and the Tower Captain, Ralph Elmes. “One of many peals”, said one of the three later, “for her!”, turning pointedly to one of the others.
By James Champion