Project Pickled Egg - Cambridge

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The place of Cambridge Major in Project Pickled Egg has been the most hotly debated of all. Here are some of the comments that indicate the opposing views and strength of feeling:

“The pressure is building for dropping Cambridge. If you apply the selection criteria for methods, which no one disagrees with, Cambridge doesn't score many points!”

“Ha! When the *best* thing you can say about Cambridge is “its falseness isn’t too awful” you know you’re on shaky ground.”

“Has to be in. Almost everyone goes via Cambridge Minor, so they want something as simple to learn from that starting point as possible.”

“Cambridge only needs to stay if it can justify its inclusion, and I don't think it can. It is certainly too hard as a first method, and by the time you have included all the obvious methods, we are looking at it being the 6th or 7th method, by which point it doesn't offer anything new. If Cambridge stays in the new collection, then I think that Project Pickled Egg has failed in its objective.”

“Today’s pub consensus was that for Pickled Egg to be taken seriously and adopted universally, Cambridge must stay.”

“I understand all the arguments for dropping Cambridge, but my argument would be that it is a unique special method with implications for ringing on all numbers from 6 to 12, and on 8 it is part of the most iconic peal composition [Pitman’s 4] so I don’t think you can judge it simply as a method on 8.”

So it is not a shoe in!

Arguments for Cambridge’s inclusion based on the selection criteria are:

• It is likely to be the first Surprise Minor method learned so the basic structure, or at least elements thereof, will be known

• It teaches about extension because learners will know the Minor, and it extends well on higher numbers (but do you care at this stage?)

• It has a structure which provides many building blocks for other methods (same could be said of Yorkshire though if that came first)

• Every other ringer who knows at least one Surprise Major method knows it

There are as many arguments for its exclusion though. It is not particularly musical in the plain course. In terms of extension, Yorkshire has enough Cambridge Minor features to become a logical pathway, and it is easier to ring and keep right. It does have a clear structure but then so do other methods. The falseness is limiting, which means good compositions are more difficult to find.

Some of the perceived benefits of starting with Cambridge in the minds of more experienced ringers (e.g. easy extension from Minor) are not necessarily what is being experienced at the coal face. Although it has reassuring familiarity if you know Cambridge Minor, the long places are much more difficult to ring than short Yorkshire places, particularly in 56.

It has been forcefully argued that Cambridge is just not the best starting point, either as a Surprise Major method or indeed as a Surprise Minor method. Whose idea was it to learn Cambridge Minor first anyway? It’s not the easiest Treble Dodging Minor method – there are plenty of candidates for that crown. If for instance you learned Kent and then Norwich, your perspective on what made an easy first Surprise Major method would be very different. Cambridge Minor is a huge hurdle to leap, and Cambridge Major is a leap again.

However at the moment it will be very difficult for anyone’s first step in Surprise Major not to be Cambridge or Yorkshire simply because of available opportunity. It is all very well suggesting a different pathway, but until a generation of ringers come through who know something better, Cambridge is likely to stay, although it may fade in time. Going back to the larder analogy, we may have to continue to bake some cakes with ingredients in the larder until we have finished them, and replaced them with fresh.

On balance then, omitting Cambridge from a set of core methods is too big a leap from the status quo to make, and for Project Pickled Egg to succeed it needs to stay. The merits of starting the Surprise Major journey with something different, and from somewhere different, will however be explored in due course.

A version of this article was published in The Ringing World on 23rd February 2018.