Project Pickled Egg - Part 10

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Lessness Surprise Major

I have a list of foods which I don’t like but which I have never tried. Last Thursday, I ate one of the items on the list for the first time – a pickled egg. It wasn’t the best example of a pickled egg according to the local cognoscenti, but it was a pickled egg nonetheless. I can now at least see why they divide opinion.

I can’t change the name of Project Pickled Egg though – it has already stuck. Whether the pickled eggs are the methods that are in or out will have to remain a source of confusion!

Lessness is the next method for consideration. This has become a popular method in recent years, perhaps due to having been included in the Nottingham 8 in the 1990s, and regularly used in peal compositions of Spliced in preference to other similar methods. It is one of a group of methods that are generally referred to by their backwork, i.e. Uxbridge.

Lessness has a number of positive points to justify its inclusion as a core method:

• New backwork that is not too difficult

• Backwork is a gateway to lots of other methods

• Musical in the plain course

• Familiarity of Yorkshire elements on the front

• Relatively well known, popular and already used by composers

Including a method with the Uxbridge backwork ticks the need for PPE methods to show some progression as it is the basis of so many methods. So why not just choose Uxbridge? After all, the backwork is named after it, and many ringers have learned Uxbridge because it comes so early in Norman Smith’s composition of 23 spliced. (Both methods were first rung around the same time - Uxbridge first pealed in 1936 and Lessness in 1937.)

Some analysis of the quarter peal and peal statistics over the last 10 years is interesting. The relative numbers of quarters of the two have stayed about the same, although with Lessness now edging ahead. Peal ringers however have increasingly plumped for Lessness and there are now more than three times as many peals of Lessness than Uxbridge. This year so far there has been one peal of Uxbridge and nine of Lessness!

Which is odd in a way because although Lessness has a more musical plain course – on the basis that a couple of 5678s off the front tend to be more of a crowd-pleaser than anything in the plain course of Uxbridge – peal compositions can generate similar music in either method. Lessness’s popularity probably stems from its inclusion in the Nottingham 8, which came to prominence as a peal composition but hasn’t really penetrated into quarter peal or more developmental ringing. The quarter peal community may now be on trend.

Choosing Lessness over Uxbridge is pretty marginal, but Lessness is now the more rung method, and as I am expecting these methods to be learned and rung in plain courses and short touches of Spliced, having the method that has a better plain course, and some familiar blue line elements, is a better choice. Uxbridge would be a retrograde step.

In Dustbin Week we waved goodbye to Rutland, but not before acknowledging its usefulness in short courses of spliced with the b group methods (e.g. Cambridge, Yorkshire and Superlative). Lessness has the same lead end order as Rutland so can take that role, and some keen PPE’ers have also discovered that ringing Cornwall with a 2nds place lead end achieves the same thing (have a look at that if it is not obvious to you).

There is a nomenclature issue with Uxbridge/Lessness. The phrase ‘Uxbridge backwork’ is used to mean the line starting from 5ths place bell in Uxbridge and comprising 5ths 7ths and 8ths place bells. There are lots of methods with this backwork but a different frontwork, i.e. different 2nds and 3rds place bells (and their reverses). That is not quite the same as saying a method is ‘Uxbridge above’ which is a structural description of a method that has the same place notation as Uxbridge above the treble. Ealing Surprise Major for instance has Uxbridge backwork, but is not Uxbridge above, because the place notation starts x58x (like Bristol) rather than x38x (like Uxbridge).

A criticism of methods with Uxbridge backwork (as opposed to Uxbridge above) is that they are relatively static, i.e. you spend four consecutive leads working in the front half of the change, and three consecutive leads doing the backwork with all the four-pull dodges. We therefore considered another method with Uxbridge above, called Ytterbium.

Arguments for the inclusion of Ytterbium as an alternative to Lessness:

• It has better musical properties

• Easy falseness makes it easier for composers

• The lead end order is different to others in the core group

• It is a less static line, with more movement front to back

• It is a nice method for introducing a little wrong-place work in the interior of the lead without adding too much spikiness

The better method overall looks to be Ytterbium, but Lessness wins on the grounds of the momentum it already has as a popular non-Standard 8 method. It also works as a replacement for Rutland as an f group method for short touches, and with an initial group of six or seven methods for Project Pickled Egg, an f group method is an important inclusion. Ytterbium is therefore recommended as a ‘try also’ rather than a core method.

Finally there are three other candidates for the ‘try also’ list. Uxbridge is worth knowing given there will be other experienced ringers who know it – learning both will do no harm, and Uxbridge is included in Norman Smith’s iconic composition of 23 spliced which we don’t seem to be able to shake off. Also worth trying is Ealing – it is essentially Lessness above and Cornwall below, with 6ths and 3rds place bells being the same in both. And yet another good option is Ely, which has the Uxbridge backwork with wrong hunting on four on the front work, giving 2x 5678s and 8765s when the tenor is 2nds place bell. For the core method though, Lessness is the proposal.

Next week one more method will be added to the six that have been discussed already, and then there will be a round up of where we have got to, and where we will go next.

P.S. Before you think of ringing a quarter peal composition of Rutland to Lessness, try ringing PPSSPPBx6. The part end is 14238765, so this generates 18 each 5678s and 8765s off the back and 12 each off the front. You won’t look back.