(As usual, this is a "personal view", not an official account.)
On 7th March, the Central Council Methods Committee met at Chilworth, Surrey. These days, you have to be "Web-aware" or you're nowhere. Accordingly, the Chairman had brought along his laptop computer so that we could all have a preview of the new Web-enabled Central Council method collections. Officially launched at The Ringing World Roadshow, the new structure makes it much easier to search online for your favourite method (or principle, or whatever) without having to download a very large file, such as the Surprise Major collection, which is a weighty 764Kb in size. There's no such thing as a free lunch; the penalty for faster searching is that adding one method to the collections means reconstructing the index for all methods of that type, and that means a big upload to Imperial College behind the scenes. But, hey, this is all is about serving the customer better - I'm sure the Chairman's email box has been flooded with deeply thankful messages from all parts of the ringing globe.
First up for discussion was the extension of Brocket Treble Place Minor to Major. This is one of an unusual group of methods where the treble does a complete plain hunt (from lead to back and back to lead again) in each half-lead. In Brocket Minor, the first quarter-lead (i.e. as the treble hunts up to the back) is Plain Bob and the second quarter-lead (as the treble returns to the front) is Double Oxford (give or take some twiddles as the treble leads and lies). Applying the same principles to Major produces a perfectly workable and musical method; the question was - should the result be called Brocket Major?
The man in Clapham tower, or wherever, would no doubt say "yes", but the agreed Central Council formula on extension is quite restrictive in that the extended bit has to be inserted into the half-lead at just one place, with the rest shifted up to make room if necessary. In Brocket, two extra bits would be necessary, one in the Plain Bob part and one in the Double Oxford, so reluctantly the committee's decision had to be that it did not fit the extension rules. The band had somehow suspected this might be so and had offered the alternative name of "Brocket Hall", so we gratefully accepted.
The committee felt that some more work on method extension would be a good idea, to include a shopping list of improvements. One of these would be the Brocket-like methods with unusual treble paths, where the current decisions are alarmingly vague ("[the formula] also applies to some other forms of Alliance and Treble Place methods".) Another might be to accommodate asymmetric methods and perhaps we could also abolish the rule that says an extension of a method with Plain Bob lead-ends has to have PB lead-ends. The trouble with extension is that, if you draw up the rules to produce the results you want (e.g. to make Bristol Royal a valid extension of Bristol Major) you tend to end up allowing a whole lot of stuff that no ringer would recognise as an extension.
This must be one of the most esoteric topics in the ringing business and discussions tend to be marked with outlandish statements such as "the work from Bristol Royal doesn't disappear in Major, there are just zero instances. ..."
A rather easier giant step forward was the proposed addition to the CC rules to allow "Differential" methods, where the bells are split into two (or possibly more) groups and each group does a different type of work. There was no argument about the basic idea, but dotting the "i"s on the CC motion took a while. One problem is that we will now have three types of "method" (using that term very loosely) - instead of the current two (methods and principles). We really badly needed a new name for methods (i.e. things that are not principles and not differentials), but couldn't come up with a good one. The suggestion of "hunters" received the derision it deserved. The proposed wording seemed "too authoritarian" to some, so there followed the kind of discussion on "if"s, "but"s and "shall" that makes committee work such a delight, and committee members the envy of all those who don't get to spend their Sunday afternoons on this kind of treat. At the end, Tony Smith (Chairman) said "so who wants to second the motion?" Frank Blagrove volunteered and instantly Tony produced a sheet neatly typed with Frank's name for his signature. Surely he didn't have one ready for each member? Oh yes he did!
The committee's paper publications took up the rest of the time. A new version of the Plain Minor collection was ready and had gone to the Publication Committee in January. The 4-way table of Minor methods is still problematic because we can't work out how to print on such a large sheet of paper. The low-tech solution of printing lots of smaller sheets and glueing them together doesn't really work because they don't join up accurately. Also difficult was the 3-yearly issue of the collection of Rung Surprise (etc) methods, which is now the Methods Committee's responsibility. The Publications Committee were worried about the cost of satisfying a declining market for the complete printout. Now collections are readily available from the Web and elsewhere, sales of the paper version have understandably fallen off a cliff. However, the committee was not ready to go paperless just yet, so a brainstorming session came up with a number of ideas to save space (and hence cost), for example by eliminating the multiple indexes in the current version.
After a quiet moment of reflection to remember the victims in the stirring days of the Great Variable Cover Debate, the last meeting of the committee's 3-year term ended. Some went home and others opted for a complete change of scene - at Evensong ringing.
The Ringing World, May 21, 1999, page 495