The Tower Handbook

13.5: Learning ropesight [162]

a: What is ropesight?

Ropesight involves looking at the ropes as a whole, and picking out useful information from what you see, for example:

At first, your main concern will be 'seeing which bell to strike over' (the first in the list) but try to see more than just that. For example, you have probably been told you can hunt up by 'following the bell that follows you' (which is the second in the list).

Ropesight is important. It is the main source of prompts and checks about what to do next, and clues about how to correct mistakes (which is where the other things on the list come in).

Some people treat ropesight as a mysterious skill that you either have or you do not. Some people acquire it without any help, but others have great difficulty.

The secret is to resist the temptation to look at individual bells. Keep all the ropes in view, see the pattern in the way they move up and down, and how the movement of your own rope fits in with them. People explain ropesight in different ways and in practice, most people probably use a combination of several different techniques anyway.

b: If ropesight is important how can blind people ring?

Ropesight is extremely good for seeing what is happening, picking up clues about what to do next and putting yourself right when you make a mistake, but it is not necessary for good striking. It can even become a hindrance if you rely on it instead of ringing rhythmically and listening carefully.

If you know the method thoroughly and don't make mistakes, then you don't need ropesight. But when you are a little unsure, or when anyone else goes wrong, ropesight comes into its own. Blind ringers are often good strikers because they have to rely on rhythm and listening, but we can make things very difficult for them if the rest of us go wrong and cause confusion. Even so, they can probably pick out by ear a lot of things that most of us can only do by ropesight, like seeing where the treble is or seeing another bell trying to dodge with us.

c: Why do people with glasses have problems with ropesight?

The natural human field of view is almost 180_, so we could (just) ring in the middle of three ropes in a line (see section 11.9e, the middle diagram) without the need to turn round. Those who ring wearing glasses are less fortunate. The angle visible through the lenses is probably only 90_. The outer field of view may be obstructed by the frames and will be out of focus. How much out of focus depends on how strong the lenses are. Ropesight does not require things to be very sharp, but if those in front are sharper than the ones at the side, they will be more noticeable. If you can walk around satisfactorily without glasses, you can probably ring without them too.

d: How does ropesight work?

Ropesight is a visual skill and describing it is therefore difficult. The descriptions in the next section are based on some of the ways people make sense of the pattern of ropes they see. But first an analogy:

Think of a race with swimmers swimming up and down their separate lanes. How do you see which swimmer is in the lead? How do you see which is third? How do you see whether the swimmer in lane 1 is just ahead of or just behind the swimmer in lane 5? And when some of the swimmers are coming down the lanes while others are going up, we need to take account of this too.

Ropesight is a very similar problem, with ropes replacing swimmers but there are important differences:

This is what makes ropesight more difficult than watching swimming races, but the techniques are essentially the same. Unless the order is very clear, our brains need to draw a mental line across the swimming pool to make the comparisons. In the same way, you can compare the position of two bellropes by imagining a horizontal line across your field of vision to help you. You can imagine a fixed line (like the end of the pool) which the swimmers come up to one after the other, or you can imagine a line moving with one swimmer (which will only be crossed by another swimmer when overtaking).

e: What are the techniques for ropesight?

Although ropesight is something you do 'as a whole', when developing it, it is helpful to think about the different sort of information you can get from what you see. If you had to describe how you did each, it would be slightly different. We have picked out three techniques, each of which has a specific use while you are ringing.

You can combine these basic techniques in different ways. In practice you will switch between them, or use more than one technique at once, for example:

These are just examples. Remember that ropesight is all about seeing what is going on around you. If you can do that, you don't need so many rules for what to do.

f: How can I improve my ropesight?

Be sure to look at all the ropes, not just at one or two. Don't move your head around too much because that will probably move some ropes out of your field of view.

Practice whenever you can, including while you are standing out. Don't just stare at the other ropes (it is impossible to maintain concentration like that) but give yourself specific tasks to do, for example see section 11.9g for some exercises. While you are ringing, try to see more than just the bell you are following, for example

g: Does ropesight always work?

It depends what you use it for and what you mean by 'does it work?' Nothing is perfect and occasionally you will find your brain can't quite unscramble the information coming through your eyes.

If you are using ropesight to see what is happening around you, you will have a more confused picture as the information degrades (like driving through patches of mist). If it is not your only source of information, and you keep a cool head, you should be able to cope with this, but you may make more mistakes.

If you rely on ropesight to tell you which bell to follow, with no other way of knowing where to strike, then any failure of ropesight can be drastic. Worse still, if you rely on it to tell you how far over a bell to strike, it will often mislead you, especially with odd struck bells (different rope movement at the two strokes). The natural timing difference between light and heavy bells can mislead you too. Heavy bells generally speak later relative to the movement of their ropes. On bells with a big weight difference this effect can be enough to alter the rope order you see so it is different from the order in which the bells strike.

h: Why is ropesight harder for higher numbers of bells?

It is worse on every count. There are more ropes, so it is harder to see them all at once. The differences in height between ropes of bells striking in adjacent places are less, so it is harder to spot the order. You can be further from the front and the back, making it harder to see at a glance how many bells are beneath you or above you.

i: Can I allow for harder ropesight on higher numbers of bells?

If you know the order you expect to meet the bells (at least most of the time) you will be less dependent on pure ropesight for seeing what is happening. Even so, the closer gaps between the bells mean you will not be able to place your bell by waiting for the rope you are following and pulling after it [167]. You will need to use rhythm to anticipate. This can be unnerving in confused striking as it is hard to pick your bell out to check where it really is striking [168].

Being aware of your course and after bell (see section 13.8k) is also useful in methods with plenty of hunting, or where there is lots of parallel dodging like Stedman or Kent. You continue to course between the same pair of bells for quite a while, even if some of the other bells are not in the right place, and because there are two places between you and each of them, there is little risk of the ropes appearing to move in the wrong order to confuse you.

j: Why does ropesight become harder if I get out of place?

If you are in (roughly) the right place, then when you look at the other ropes they will 'fit in'. Those that are supposed to be just in front of and just behind you really will be, and will therefore be easier to spot. It is a bit like being able to see a faint path walking across rough ground. When you are on the path, you can just see the line for many yards ahead, but if you stray far from it, all you see is grass with no sign of a path.

k: What is 'ringing by eye'?

People often talk about ringing by eye as opposed to ringing by ear. These are slightly misleading since a good ringer makes use of both eyes and ears (and rhythm), but uses them differently. Ringing by eye would more properly be called striking by eye, ie trying to use the movement of the preceding rope as the main cue for when to pull, and hence strike, your own bell. This approach is unlikely to produce good striking. See section 3.4c-d.

l: From which bell is it easiest to see what is happening?

This depends partly on the rope circle, but also on how involved your own bell is in what is going on. In method ringing, whichever bell you ring, it is easier to see what is happening immediately round you, rather than at the other end of the row. Many people find it easier to see what is happening in call changes from the tenor which is 'out of the action'. Paradoxically, you may find the reverse when ringing a method. Being involved gives you extra clues to what is happening and helps you make sense of what you see. Keeping an eye on a specific bell is normally easier from the cover bell, because you can ring your own bell by rhythm with negligible need of ropesight.

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