In three years time, Stratford will be the centre of the world's attention as the 2012 Olympics get underway. On Saturday, 4th July, 2009, St Paul's Cathedral was the centre of the ringing world's attention as the National 12-Bell Contest got underway.
The sight of the rising Olympic Stadium just before we got to Liverpool Street on our journey from Suffolk stirred the spirits and added further fuel to our excitement. Quite simply - in my humble opinion at least - the Olympics are the greatest sporting show on Earth and the 12-Bell Final is the greatest ringing show on Earth. Hundreds (it wouldn't surprise me if the total attendance nudged a thousand, though I don't know what the figures were) of ringers from all over the country were present from the moment before we entered the crypt just before the draw right through to the results and beyond.
We'd already taken advantage of the bacon butties being served in the pub for the day, The Paternoster, with John Camp (he who reports on the ringing chatrooms in The Ringing World) already enjoying a pint at 10am! Bumping into familiar faces was the order of the day as just about anyone who is anyone in ringing circles attended and we instantly bumped into John Loveless and then Alex Britten who South-East members will recall judged our striking competition recently.
The draw itself was made by the Dean in front of a crowd that dwarfs the average attendance to your normal Guild or district striking competition. His only instruction was that he didn't draw the home team out first, a slot that only one team has ever won from and generally considered a big disadvantage. Predictably St Paul's came out first to howls of laughter - the Dean's resignation letter is apparently in the post...
The full draw made, we came back up to brilliant sunshine and the arrival of Adrian Knights and Brian Whiting, adding to the Suffolk contingent of myself, Ruthie, Maggie and our esteemed Chairman. There was only ever going to be one destination after that...
For those neither with the capabilities and/or desire to get boozed up on what is an incredibly social day, there was lots else to do. Many listened to the bands from beneath the tower - though the bells could be heard from The Paternoster - whilst others took advantage of free entry into the cathedral with their bellringers stickers and still more took some time to explore the sights of London.
Most of you will have guessed where we spent the day, though we did take some time to listen to the Cumberlands ring, whilst some went along to St Mary‑le‑Bow round the corner where there was some open ringing. By this point the Suffolk group had been swelled by the arrival the Suggetts, Knights, Claxtons, Nigel Newton and Tom Britten as I also enjoyed catching up with and introducing Ruthie to many friends from around the country. Many will remember Paul Bibilo and Franny Dodds from Birmingham who have judged our Guild striking competitions in recent years and they were in their element here too.
It was nice to catch up with the likes of John Warboys, Philip Earis and David Pipe and I didn't even get the chance to chat with Rod Pipe, Steph Warboys and many more. Essentially there are too many people to go through, but it is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with such alumni.
I am very privileged and lucky to have rung a peal at St Paul's Cathedral and won two 12-Bell finals and frankly I didn't envy any of the ringers who had to enter this incredibly intimidating belfry and produce the fantastic ringing that we heard emanating from this challenging ring of bells and after a long day for those who had to wait until the end of the day to ring, the time eventually came to shift to St Mary-le-Bow for the results.
Again, the crowd was huge, with people (including us) climbing ledges to get a decent view! The tension and anticipation was - as always - amazing and was built further by the four (yes, four!) judges giving comments and then the results, of course in reverse order. Surprises along the way included the York band (used to ringing a 56cwt 12) ringing the fastest, leading the judges to assume 'this was a band not used to ringing on heavy bells!' Also, Melbourne from Derbyshire who have a short history in this competition achieved 4th place on bells more than four times the weight of their own!
Ultimately though, the biggest congratulations have to go to St Paul's Cathedral who despite their undesirable draw won the Taylor Trophy, being only the second team ever to win it having rung first. Maybe the Dean's job is safe after all...
Ruthie and I decided to catch the next train back, more a reflection of the unpredictable nature of public transport on a Saturday evening than a lack of willing to stay on, but many did remain at The Paternoster whilst others went for meals or caught shows.
One day, I hope that Ipswich will be
partaking in this grandest of occasions as it has done in the past, but
perhaps more importantly, this sort of event can encourage more people to
get involved with our own district and Guild competitions. If people -
ringers and non-ringers, participants and cheerleaders - can enjoy what is
the closest to professional ringing there is and which is taken extremely
seriously, there is no reason why people can't enjoy our own fun
competitions, whether they're ringers or non-ringers and regardless of if
you're taking part. Yes, we haven't got St Paul's Cathedral to entice
people, but the 12-bell Final gets this size of crowd every year, no matter
where the location. It's just they fully appreciate the social element that
is available to all of us in ringing. So go on, make your way to the next
district or Guild event. Maybe even consider making a weekend of it in
Crediton, Devon, where next years final will be held on
Saturday, 26th June!