Reasons to be a bell ringer… by Ben Clive
…by Ben Clive from page 1002 of The Ringing World, September 30th, 2016 – SUGCR edition
There are many kinds of ringer. All of them are brilliant, clever, friendly and fantastic people. Some of them like to show off, some like to cruise along at a steady pace and some like to have a little drink. Each of them has different things they enjoy from a practice night and from ringing events.
Socialising and bell ringing go hand in hand. Sometimes it’s a smile during a missed dodge, other times it’s an offer of a drink but a strong social side is probably the most important factor of a good practice. Without it, everyone would be home and in bed by 10pm and they wouldn’t know their fellow bell ringers half so well!
Through a wealth of experience, it has been factually established (i.e. debated over a pint) that the University societies are best at this. Some of the shenanigans that take place amongst their ranks put all others to shame (yes, even you Southwark!). There is something explosive about a group of friends being given a bunch of money by the government, free reign over their lives, a lot of spare time and a weekly, dedicated meeting point. Mayhem can ensue.
Now I will convince you to join your university society in September. You should. It’s great: you make life long friends, have an absolute blast, see some interesting places and just possibly find your future wife and/or husband. Personally I would recommend Southampton, but I’m a bit biased (take that, UL!).
Why Southampton? Well they have the whole thing sorted out. They may not have that many great beer pubs, but they have a few absolutely superb ones, each other, and Drinking Club.
Yep, you heard that right – There is a drinking club. Drinking Club was a catalyst for friendship and gave me a love of beer and good company. It was founded after a Thursday night practice ended too soon, so arrangements were made to come back on the Friday evening and continue. There were even grand plans for drinking jacket based attire that never materialised and a pool table for some friendly competition.
But I digress: Being a bell ringer is good fun. Ringing is a challenge as well as intellectually stimulating, etc. but what makes it really great is the company, the camaraderie and the continually relentless social calendar, much of it revolving around beer.
Have you ever wondered what would happen without beer (or cider, I don’t judge!)? Lets hypothesize…
Practice night. The bell ringers travel from work to the tower, stopping briefly to collect some food and sit down outside until the captain turns up. Once he/she arrives, everyone files up the stairs in silence, tired after a long day at work. The bells are rung up, the captain calls for some Stedman. The muttering stops as a band is placed. No talking during the ringing please!
The time passes slowly, the evening concludes, and the bells are rung down and fall silent until Sunday. The bell ringers say their goodbyes and head home. A pleasant evening of ringing, with much progress being made.
Hmm, does that sound fun? I’m not so sure. Lets inject some beer (don’t share needles) and see what happens…
Practice night. The bell ringers leave work early, head to the pub for a swift PPP (pre-practice pint) before the captain turns up and joins them. At close to the right time, everyone heads up the tower apart from a couple of merry makers with a pint left over. The burbling and laughter slow down as there is a request for a couple of people to ring up the tenor. It’s hard work and there is a small cheer (hurray!) as it is finally set.
Once they’re all up, Stedman is called for. A new conductor makes an attempt and the touch comes round at a decisively called “magic bob”! After a brief discussion on the particulars of magic bobs vs magic singles, more touches are called for. As the last band is being placed, the opportunistic ones disappear downstairs to return to the pub from whence they came.
After the bells are all lowered, the remaining few have a bit of a faff downstairs and then head across to join the ones who left early. The captain ends up in a round with 4 other people and tells stories about the previous national 12 bell trip. Before long, the beer round comes round and they head off before things get too out of hand. The laughter is raucous as they make their way out the door and part ways. Until next week!
Ah, much better. I personally believe that beer, a relaxed practice and steady progress make for the most interesting and people-retaining towers. Maybe a drinking club isn’t required but I would heartily recommend it!
So what changed? What could be done to improve your practice night?
- PPP – A pre-practice pint makes everything slightly more relaxed. A must-have in London where you can’t necessarily get home to eat between work and the practice.
- Relaxed practice nights – Placing every band, enforcing silence and not allowing any chatting will not make a friendly atmosphere. Mix it up, or try something I personally enjoy: ring some silly methods every once in a while. Cambridge and Stedman spliced is good fun: the treble isn’t always who you expect it to be…
- Post-practice pub – A drink or two with your ringing buddies promotes camaraderie and storytelling. Everyone loves stories.
- Extra-curricular activities – Tours, 12 bell competitions, treasure hunts. You name it! Some of my best memories are from what happens outside a tower.
Disclaimer: I don’t think every practice needs all these things. In fact, some definitely wouldn’t work for some towers. It depends on the tower, the band and, of course, the local pub! I think these are just common elements that I, as a self declared social ringer, have enjoyed immensely from different practices. Good luck, tower captains. You can buy me a beer in thanks another time! Cheers!
by Ben Clive