I have to admit, I wasn't overly enthusiastic at the prospect of being the Suffolk Guild's CC Rep when the issue first came about. Apart from the fact I was replacing such a dedicated and well-respected rep as Alan Smith, I'd heard dire stories of nine-hour meetings and technical nitty-gritty dragged out to the nth degree until it was voted on by the majority of those still awake by that point. I distinctly remember saying, 'I don't mind if someone else wants to do it. Really, I don't.' To make matters worse, the first meeting that I was to go to was to be in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, about as far away as they could put it without ANZAB hosting it.
However, once the brochure and other information had begun coming through and Mr Salter had co-opted me into a couple of peals, I pointed out to Ruthie that it might actually be a nice weekend away. She still needed convincing, citing that she'd be left to occupy herself as I rang these peals and sat in the meeting all day.
Nevertheless, come Friday, 23rd, May, the beginning of a long Bank Holiday weekend, we were in the North-East, both happy to be there and settled into our accommodation.
The Durham & Newcastle Association had done a fine job of making sure people had something to do or somewhere to go to should they so desire and even those of us who had arrived three days before the meeting had been sent a list of towers that were practicing that night.
For myself and David however, we rang a peal at St John's in Newcastle city centre, as police cars and scantily clothed ladies noisily passed the open belfry window. It seemed they'd thought of everything.
Ruthie had busied herself sleeping and showering back at base, so I returned from the heaving nightlife of Friday-night Newcastle and gratefully joined her for a pint or two in our nearest pub.
Once again, there was plenty laid on throughout the Saturday for visiting ringers, with the 'Metro' Tour being one of two tower grabs held in the North-East for CC Reps and hangers on.
Whilst not taking advantage of either of these, it was much appreciated by those who did go that the locals had gone to so much effort. They'd also put on a Carillion demonstration at one of the civic buildings in the city.
We'd had a lay-in, followed by a grab (for Ruthie) and a peal (for me) at Newcastle Cathedral, followed by an evening in the Black Bull Ring, a mini-ring in a building adjoining the pub of the same name in Frosterly, a village not too far from Durham. We appropriately rang some Newcastle Surprise Minor, one of the many Surprise Minor methods we could've rung. Of the standard 41, Durham, Hexham, Berwick, Allendale, Alnwick, Morpeth, Northumberland amongst many other local names would've been appropriate to go along with Ipswich, Cambridge, Stamford, Bourne, Hull and York which were all passed on the way up and Carlisle which was well signposted from this part of the world.
Sunday could've seen us go almost anywhere, as most towers in the
Association were listed for Sunday morning ringing. There was also evensong
ringing at Newcastle Cathedral as well as a dinner in the evening.
We happied ourselves with ringing at Durham Cathedral after climbing the hill AND the 325 steps to the belfry, before being kindly guided to St Oswald's, a nice little eight on the other side of the looping river running through this extremely picturesque city.
Having done our ringing, we did the touristy bit of looking round the city prior to returning to base. Were it not for a bout of illness (not alcohol induced I'm sad to say), we would've probably taken advantage of our neighbouring pub in Barrasford, The Barrasford Arms. Instead, we contented ourselves with a takeaway curry from nearby Hexham, perhaps - in hindsight - not the best meal to have the night before sharing a room with hundreds of other bellringers for a day.
Ruthie and Katharine busied themselves with the three Salter boys, taking them to Lindisfarne as they undertook abandoned other-halves role. Others, such as Andrew Mills' wife Sharon, took their kids to the Beamish Museum. Somehow, I don't think us reps got the best deal as the sun shone relentlessly in utter contrast to the abysmal weather endured down south. Still, others actually chose to sit in on the meeting at the back, although not allowed to take part.
The meeting was a mixture of both the expected and unexpected.
All the new members (myself included) had their name read out and had to stand up and do a twirl (well the twirl was optional) before the real business got going.
Everyone has to quote who they are and who they're representing and
because of the huge size of it all (there were over 200 people present),
anytime someone wanted to speak, there was an army of local minions ready to
hand them a microphone and then a microphone that worked. Relatively amusing
in the stuffy surroundings.
It was primarily taken up with the reports of the many CC committees (such as the Education Committee, Tower Stewardship Committee and so on and so on) and then the long and unnecessarily laboured election process for those same committees. Essentially, the chairperson of each committee puts forward how many members they want (usually between 5 and 13), various names would be proposed for a place along with varying lengths of explanation as to why they should be elected. Someone would then second them and if you like the sound of them, you write their name on the ballot paper sent to you weeks in advance. The idea then is that, at the end, the helpers would come round and collect your paper, they'd be counted and the exact amount of reps desired would be elected onto whichever committee they've been put forward for. The reality was that either not enough would be proposed to fill all the spaces and therefore they'd be automatically elected on or one or two too many would be put through and the chairperson would then normally just say 'we'll have a couple extra then,' so actually very little voting was done. Sound tedious? You didn't have to sit through it.
This process apparently happens every three years on the first year of each triennium, when the new reps such as myself attend their first meeting. Reps are selected and elected every three years as are the committees.
The one thing that lead to any serious amount of debate was a proposal from Roger Bailey that was designed to end this once-every-three years bore-athon. He proposed that every year, a third of each committee stand down and elections for that third take place at the meeting. Without boring you with all the technicalities, practicalities and arguments against (some of which were valid), it would essentially mean that the elections that all take place in one meeting normally would be spread out over three meetings of each triennium. Not only would that reduce the length of meetings (though slightly lengthening the other two) it should mean an end to the 'old boys' network, a criticism that has been levelled against the CC.
The long and short of it was that this motion was passed, so a third of all committees will stand down next year, rather than all the committees continuing through until 2011. I hope you're keeping up, it took me a while.
There were a couple of other motions passed uncontroversially, including one to merge the Peals Analysis Committee and Records Committee, something that's unlikely to make any difference to the normal ringer.
Tony Smith, from The Winchester & Portsmouth Guild was made president, replacing Derek Sibson, Kate Flavell from The Surrey Association was made vice-president, whilst a good friend of mine from my Birmingham days, Andrew Stubbs was made a Life Member.
It was all split up by lunch, breaks and The Ringing World meeting (very dull) and the inaugural Ringing Foundation Limited, meeting chaired by Brian Meads in the absence of the actual chairman, David Hull. This was quite interesting, if brief and I can see it being one of the most useful tools for moving the recruitment and training of ringing forward.
I left early, a long, long journey ahead of us - I wasn't alone - but left feeling that in the main it had been worthwhile me coming. Yes, it was blinking miles, yes, I'd felt poorly, yes, the meeting was mainly incredibly dull and yes, I didn't say a lot in it. But this was a massive learning curve, time to take things in. Everything was new, I can safely say I've never been to anything like it. I learnt a lot about how the council works and I have to say it doesn't work as well as it should. However, there were the first signs of change this year. It may take a while, but things are moving in the right direction.
Next year it's Worcester. Practically on the doorstep...