The Central Council has a bad name, if people care about it at all. On the evidence of the 2009 meeting, it's not hard to work out why.
For those of you reluctant to join the GMC or even to go to the Guild AGM because of the meetings, you should come along to the CC meeting to put those meetings into perspective. At least at the GMC and AGM, things that are relevant to everyday ringing are discussed and decided and things are all over within a couple of hours at the most in the main.
This year's Central Council meeting began at 10am and we were finally released just before 6pm and frankly there wasn't an awful lot relevant to the normal ringer whether they be from Suffolk, London, Scotland or Australia.
The meeting actually started fairly well, with the announcement that 65 societies, guilds and associations were represented by 198 members. In total, including honorary members there were 207 in attendance. The usual apologies for absence, deaths of past council members, minutes from the last meeting, accounts, etc were recorded without too much fuss and Ian Oram received a gift and a standing ovation as the day was his last meeting as secretary after eight years in the post. Mary Bone beat Barrie Dove to become his replacement. A couple of amendments were made and ushered through as was the election of Robert Lewis, Jackie Roberts and Jane Wilkinson as Honorary Members. All very nice, predictable and uncontroversial.
From here on in though, things went downhill. The Biographies Committee is responsible for recording as much detail about council members as they feel is relevant. A long-winded and frankly quite dull proposal to widen their remit to try and record the achievements and details of all prominent ringers, not just council members led to an incredibly long and boring debate on what would constitute a prominent ringer, whether it was too much for the committee to take on, whether guilds, associations and societies would play ball and even whether anybody would be interested. In the end the motion was passed, but the picky, dull and infuriating tone for the day had been set.
This was followed immediately by a proposal from Laith Reynolds, a good friend of the Suffolk Guild regarding the status of Honorary Members that descended into more extensive debate, a welcome amendment and various nit-picking of rules, regulations and wordings that eventually ended in defeat for Laith despite a majority in favour, as that majority was less than two-thirds present. Are you still awake? Not everyone was as we were over two hours in and all that had been talked about was internal CC procedures and definitions.
Eventually we reached something that might actually affect most ringers and towers. Child protection is already quite rightly taken very seriously by bellringers, but Chris Mew gave a lengthy but necessary rundown of how the phasing in of The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act in October will affect ringers. It came in the early stages of the reports and elections of the long list of committees that took up the vast majority of the remainder of the meeting, thus rendering it the only bit of the meeting vaguely linked to the outside world of ringing in the whole meeting.
The idea behind the elections is that people serve three years on a committee and then step aside for new blood to come in. However, in reality it seems that the old guard is nearly without exception re-elected and so the status quo remains - one of the biggest complaints made against the council. In the main the voting was minimal as there were often more vacancies than nominees and so they were often all elected without a ballot.
The reports are also made available before the meeting, thus meaning that the meeting can be kept moving by a simple proposal and seconding of the report. This though is the Central Council, full of people who like the sound of their own voices far too much. I tired very quickly of all the people who said 'I have nothing to add' before launching into an often dull overview of the report in front of us, obviously for the benefit of those that couldn't read.
Even when we got on the home stretch and the final couple of items on the huge agenda, things were excruciatingly dragged out with more unnecessary overviews of things we had already read.
One of the saving graces of the day was that the meeting was broken up by the mercifully short meetings of the Ringing World - for which some concern was muted for what appears to be a frightening drop in readership - and the Ringing Foundation, still in it's infancy and still - by their own admission - trying to find a direction. I would urge people to find out more about the Ringing Foundation on their website as if the foundation works, it could be a radically positive influence on the future of ringing.
Of course the social aspect - when there is the time - is great and the chance to chat with many, many friends from across the country and indeed the globe - including Howard Egglestone, a man whose abilities and personality are much missed in Suffolk - makes the journey worthwhile.
Next year we're in Derby and although this year was a major disappointment, there seems a substantial movement towards improving things. However, those much more experienced than I in the ways of the council inform me the process could take sometime. I guess we'll have some indication of how long next year...