GP interview - The GP dance master and bell-ringer

Dr Steve Ollerton performs in a Morris dancing side and is a national-standard bell-ringer.

Bell-ringing is an unusual hobby, how did you start?

I started bell-ringing at the age of 13. I heard the bells ringing at my local church in Southport and fancied having a go myself.

I became competent as a ringer in my first five years, but joining Leeds University set me on the road to national-standard ringing.

I joined Leeds Parish Church and started ringing with some of the best ringers in the north of England.

Our Leeds team started competing in national bell-ringing competitions and we still do. We came fifth this year in the national finals at Ripon Cathedral.

What skills do you need to become a bell-ringer?

Bell-ringing does not require musical ability, which is good, because I don't have any.

It is much more a team hobby, as you are only as good as the weakest ringer in the band. You need to be able to follow patterns of numbers and have a good sense of rhythm.

Practice makes perfect and I usually ring two to three times a week. A good piece of bell-ringing requires everyone in the team ringing to a steady and even beat.

This is the challenge and it is surprisingly hard to achieve. Most often we end up in the pub afterwards to discuss how we did.

You also Morris dance, how did that come about?

I started Morris dancing about six years ago. I have always liked folk music and ceilidh dancing, so fancied trying Morris.

Again, this is a team hobby. A dance only looks good if everyone is in step and moving correctly during the dance.

I really enjoy attending folk festivals with my wife, Ruth, who is also a dancer, and my three children, who play percussion in the band.

My eldest, Samuel, is seven and he is itching to start dancing with us. I think this year he will.

We dance in the north-west clog style with Wakefield Morris. We use clogs and sticks with bells on. We practise once a week and generally dance at festivals and village fetes during the summer months.

We usually dance to music by melodeons, fiddles and a trombone.

Morris dancing certainly requires a level of fitness because there is quite a lot of jumping and jigging about. By the end of a practice, you need a shower and a cold drink.

It's not really something you see elderly people doing. But if you enjoy dancing and socialising, I would recommend it.

Have you had any memorable moments ringing or dancing?

It was most surreal during the Holmfirth Folk Festival this year, when I bumped into our local MP, Jason McCartney.

I was dressed in full Morris dancing kit, but he still recognised me.

There were quite a few patients who spotted me as well.

From a bell-ringing perspective, you don't get seen by people because you are up in the church tower.

I would say the highlight of my ringing career was being invited to ring at Westminster Abbey for the New Year service in 2011. This is strictly invitation only, offered to nationally recognised bell-ringers. We rang very nicely for them too and I felt very proud to be part of that.

How do you manage to find time for dancing and ringing?

There's never a dull moment, I can assure you, as I am also a half-time GP at Skelmanthorpe Family Doctors in Huddersfield and half-time clinical leader of Greater Huddersfield CCG. My family keeps me busy and we have an allotment.

The key to fitting all this in with family life is no television at home. My wife and I made this decision long before our children came along and are sticking by it.

With all of these activities and access to the internet, you don't need a television at all.

Also, I find if you have regular weekly commitments, you know when you get home from work you cannot just laze on the sofa. You eat your tea, get the kids to bed then head out dancing or ringing. Failing that, I can always go and dig up some weeds on the allotment.

If you had to give up ringing or dancing, which would it be?

I have no intention of giving up either of these hobbies.

I am currently the dance master of Wakefield Morris, so have to give that my full attention. The way it's looking, my kids are more likely to become dancers than ringers, but we shall see.

I will keep both going for as long as I can still perform to a high standard. I think that's a good piece of advice for anyone.

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