Thursday 23rd March 2017
First, perhaps I should give a warning. This report will contain scenes of strong language and nudity. Oh no, wait a minute, wrong report. This report will be long. In many places it will be extremely dull. But it will be worth reading. Not because my writing style will make it entertaining, I certainly can’t guarantee that. No, it’s worth reading as there is stuff in there you need to know about.
Enough of the warnings and encouragement, let’s get down to business.
This year's meeting was held on Monday 31st May at The Derby Conference Centre, an extremely glamorous location for an extremely glamorous occasion. OK, I exaggerate, but rarely will you find so many ringers together in one place, but that also means a lot of opinions and a lot of time hearing them. It all kicked off at 10am. Note the time, it’ll shock you later.
As with many ringing meetings there were prayers that the agenda would be considered carefully and that we would tread the right path, though in most member's minds the word ‘carefully’ was replaced with ‘quickly’. There were apologies for absence of course, but with an overall membership of well over 200, there was a lengthy list of absentees. The pace for the day was seemingly set.
Even more so as we reached something that truly bogged down last years meeting, the issue of honorary members and whether their influence or numbers should be reduced, whether there should be honorary members at all or where they should be kicked the hardest reared its head again. For those of you who don’t know – and for most of you there’s no reason why you should – honorary members are unelected members, not representative of a particular society, unlike myself, David, Stephen, Alan and hundreds of others who have been elected by a society to represent them on this stage. Their role has been viewed with some suspicion in recent years - rightly or wrongly – as many have considered them to be an old boy’s network and viewed almost like other unelected people in power such as Peter Mandelson. It has been suggested their presence was undemocratic, that they shouldn’t have voting rights and that they perhaps shouldn’t serve on committees. Others viewed them as ringers with valuable expertise and experience in specialist areas such as computers, engineering or child protection.
Last year a proposal was put forward to essentially reduce their powers. A majority voted in favour of it but not a big enough majority. With coalitions not an option here, it was brought back this year in a much tidier and tighter fashion, presented from the star of the Central Council Roger Bailey, always one to liven up the dull mist. As Roger put it, those with expertise were needed, but they would need ‘to sing for their supper’. Basically they would have to show their presence on the council was necessary. The massed members seemed to agree or at least had no appetite for another long drawn out affair and it was passed with no comment and no vote against in a room of hundreds.
There was hope. Something that I and many others feared would take an hour, maybe more to sort out was over in minutes, as was the voting in of those honorary members – soon to be renamed ‘additional’ and ‘ex-officio’ members - standing. Maybe, just maybe we’d be out by June.
Normally in these accounts I lump the committee reports all in together under the title ‘Time I’ll Never Get Back.’ This year committee members came up, proposed and seconded their report and we all raised our hands to accept. As we went on, bad habits did still creep in, but with there only once being enough candidates for committee vacancies to force a vote, this still substantial bulk of the meeting was incredibly done and dusted bar one committee report by lunch.
But my usual disdainful treatment of this normally dull procedure would be harsh this time around. There were notable things to mention over the course of the sixteen reports and elections, including the ironic cheers and rapturous applause for Barry Peachey’s final CC speech after thirty years sentence for a murder that everyone must have forgotten about and our very own David Salter being elected onto the Tower Stewardship Committee. The nationally publicised fight to move Hanley bells from the redundant church there to nearby Stone looks like being decided on over the summer we were informed. Variable-Treble – or as it was pointed out, Variable-Hunt – Grandsire Triples came to the fore briefly but largely uncontroversially, whilst much laughter was had as Robert Cooles tried to propose Alan Frost to a committee he was already a member of, having confessed to just waking up!
Most interestingly of all though and of entire relevance to all of us was the findings of The Ringing Trends committee. There is a very noticeable downturn in the youngsters ringing these days and it caused some consternation amongst the members, as it should’ve done. In line with the general perception of the Central Council in recent years though, these figures are hardly a surprise and indeed are very similar to the ones we were shown by the same committee last year. And the year before. And probably for the previous years right back to the committee’s inception at the council’s meeting in Bury St Edmunds in 2000. So the council has been a little slow on the uptake. But there was real determination for something to be done. No one was entirely sure what – though Barry Peachey suggested we consider linking ourselves more with folk culture than the church - which is why a motion was put forward for The Administrative Committee to look into ways of reversing the trends that for some reason shocked us this year more than last. It doesn’t sound very radical, but there is much to look into, much to mull over. Besides, it was the first motion I can recall at a CC meeting that actually had any relevance to everyday ringing.
Dancing pineapples then entered the room to be ravaged subsequently by salivating turkeys. Just checking you're still concentrating...
Following on from the committees came various reports from the stewards of The Carter Ringing Machine, Dove Database – there’s a 10th edition in the pipeline – the Rescue Fund for Redundant Bells and also for The Rolls of Honour. This is a record – in an apparently very nice pair of books which I’ve never seen – of ringers who have lost their lives in warfare. Alan Regin – the Rolls’ steward – is always on the look out for memorials to such ringers and even more so of any names he may not have, so if you can help on either front, please do not hesitate to contact Alan.
We were then introduced to the Hereford Diocesan Guild which takes in Hereford, South Shropshire and - shock, horror - parts of Wales. They will be holding next year's meeting - something I shan't have to worry about.
We were on the home straight now and after being informed that 49 societies - ourselves included I'm glad to say - had been fully represented this year, contributing to an official attendance of 204 with 21 absentees, it was time for those magical words - 'any other business.'
You might think that with so many interests and organisations represented here, there would be a long stream of AOB. But in fact, it was a lot shorter than the AOB at the end of this year's Suffolk Guild AGM!
There were some points of interest - though admittedly to a narrow section of the ringing community, though you may be part of that - including the fact that The Pit Rivers Museum in Oxford have announced they will shortly be unable to house The Sharpe Collection, which includes various bells, books, rubbings and other ringing-related gubbins that might interest our members. So if you have any ideas where it could be housed I'm sure Tim Pett would be delighted to hear from you. Gillian Wakefield now has a lot of extra space...
It was also pointed out to us by Ashley Fortey that 2013 will see the 300th anniversary of the death of Fabian Stedman. Whilst I'm sure more will be mentioned about this closer to the time, it's perhaps worth members preparing themselves to mark this notable occasion.
The very last bit of business was from our own Stephen Pettman who wanted to put forward a motion for the way we name methods to be reviewed and preferably changed. It all stems back to the 1440 of Roncobello Place Minor. This was rung as a 1440 as at the time Mr P and James Smith hadn't come up with a 720. However, it transpired that because it had not been rung as 720, he couldn't name the method. Essentially, more was less. Whether the revolution has begun, time will tell...
You might recall sometime ago, when you were much younger and your lunch break was in it's infancy that I told you the meeting started at ten. The meeting was closed - relatively early compared to previous years - at 4.15pm. That's right. Over six hours later. Consider that next time you grumble at how long an AGM or district meeting goes on for. It even puts GMC meetings well and truly in the shade!
To be fair to those who are protective over this occasion, that time frame included lunch and the Ringing World Meeting, bringing it to a more 'respectable' four hours plus.
But in itself, the Ringing World Meeting can be a little dire, full of financial figures and stats on subscriptions. This year it was slightly more interesting as the directors announced plans to celebrate the publication's centenary in 2011 in London which includes a service at Westminster Abbey, mini-rings as far as the eye can see and a young ringers striking competition. Saturday 26th March is the date you are scrabbling to put in your diary and should genuinely be an occasion worth marking. More details will be available soon.
It wasn't all peace and love however. There were some strong criticisms, led by Stephen Pettman again - he was surprisingly lively after lunch - as he justifiably pulled them up on their failure to publish Rosemary Hill's article on his trip to Italy last year, despite it being sent in November! Their response was essentially along the lines of 'we can't comment on specific cases', but it seemed to be duly noted, so we may see it soon!
Stephen wasn't the only one miffed with the RW as his complaint seemed to stir Roger Bailey, a man who has actually worked in The Ringing World offices as he labelled them as being akin to 'a parish magazine' and criticised their marketing. All lively stuff to awaken members from their beer-induced slumbers.
This meeting had been straight after lunch and the main CC meeting continued after it. However, having finished the CC Meeting, there was still more to come. More?! I can hear your cries of anguish. At least you can stop reading.
I'm a big fan of The Ringing Foundation. But having got through the main event so 'quickly', to then hang around for another half-hour for their meeting was a bit much and indeed I noticed the room was a lot emptier once we'd returned from our tea-break.
Nonetheless, as always it was very interesting. Their premise is a fantastic step forward, particularly in light of the earlier anguish over The Ringing Trends Committee's findings. And they've already handed out grants to two projects - one a teaching centre, the other a school based club. Apparently another school based club is in the pipeline. These are the sorts of projects they are looking to fund and it is important to note they don't set up such projects but rather look for people to put forward their projects to be considered for financial support. However, Brian Meads expressed his disappointment that more projects hadn't come forward. Perhaps something for us here in Suffolk to consider?
Again with the good came the bad - I shan't comment where the ugly were - and my counterpart from Essex was scathing about what he called the 'abominable standard of teaching' in ringing. He has a point and it is something we need to address here in Suffolk as much as anywhere else.
The whole occasion ended on a positive note as Pip Penney - the main thrust behind the very successful Kids.Ring.Out group - announced the dates of various talks happening around the country in the autumn, though sadly none are very close to us.
Eventually we escaped. And I for good, unless I am caught out again and persuaded to represent the Guild on the Central Council again. As much as I have been honoured to do so and Ruthie has been very supportive - as she always is - I suspect if I did volunteer to do it again my funeral will precede my next meeting...