The 42nd Annual Dinner - February 6th - 8th 2009
Report by David Maynard and a selection of photos taken by Matt Hilling. [Please send more-Ed.]
A Night to Remember (or not in some cases)
Waking up to the news of severe snow in the West Country did not improve my mood on the morning of Friday 6 February. After all; getting a bonus day off work because of adverse weather is all well and good, but not getting to the primus inter pares of the annual dinner circuit is quite another matter!
Fortunately the vast majority of people succeeded in battling through snow and ice to Exeter, the prize for perseverance going to David Macey & Dom Meredith who endured getting stuck in a snowdrift on the A303/A358 to arrive beleaguered and unbeaten at 3am ready for the weekend's frolics. The activities kicked off with a peal of Plain Bob Royal on Ian Campbell's shiny new handbells. As Friday evening progressed, people began to gather in the Imperial for the customary "night-before-the-dinner session" The reserved area was a big success, although it did deprive people of the sport of scaring off "normal" people who tried to infiltrate our sphere of influence. There was an excellent selection of beers available which were enjoyed with appropriate levels of moderation this year. By closing time, only a hardened core of senior members and the London delegation remained, the current students having retired early to be fresh and alert in the morning. Unfortunately the cold and fragmented nature of people's departures prevented the suggested snowball fight on the Imperial's lawn.
Sauvignon Blanc (well almost), Snowballs and Sellotape - The Outing
The first tower of the ringing tour was the magnificent new 12 at Crediton. Soft, crisp and understated with a subtle suggestion of warm fruity sweetness, these bells have to be ranked as one of the best light 12s around. David and Matt argued that they could do with being a tiny bit louder in the ringing chamber, but agreed that you can still hear every bell from anywhere in the circle. So what do they know about it? This adventure into the mystical world of 12-bell ringing was a great success, with some of the current students achieving their dodeca-jangular debut. Call changes, Plain Hunt and Grandsire Cinques were followed by a sizzling portion of Cambridge Maximus - all of a very respectable standard. The car park, which had been a treacherous mass of compacted snow and black ice on our arrival, had been thawed by the irresistible synergy of persuasive mellow percussions and the bright winter sunshine of this perfect morning.
Most people decided to play it safe and make their way to the next tower, the - err - ring of ten at Thorverton via the main roads. Those who did brave the byways were treated to some stunning winter scenery and a few scary moments! The ringing at Thorverton was mostly good, despite the decision by some of the more experienced ringers to decamp to a local alehouse. Meanwhile the rest of us enjoyed some good ringing at Devon's leading peal venue and made a little snowman outside the door.
At this point, it is worth making mention of the Gnome. After doing a sterling effort carrying Gnobby around South Devon on last year's outing, Martin had the dubious honour of looking after the society mascot for a second year running, the new gnome-keeper being absent. I have to say that after making such a good start, young Martin didn't exactly cover himself in glory in the execution of his gnomic duties on this occasion. The gnome was duly taken up to enjoy the ringing at both Crediton and Thorverton, but was then (rather carelessly, it has to be said) left unattended in a car while he tucked into his lunch...
The Lamb Inn at Silverton is a most Brucing pub. We had all pre-ordered our food and after taking our seats in the dining room, it was delivered to us with military efficiency and discipline. Certain people could, perhaps, learn a thing or two from this shining example of punctuality, politeness and reliability... A good selection of food and local ales were enjoyed, providing some much needed sustenance ahead of the afternoon's exertions. A casual observer might have been forgiven for mistaking the table of people that were engrossed in trying to steal chips from each other's plates to be the current students. They would be wrong though, wouldn't they Peter? Under the cover of this bad behaviour, word was passed about the fate of the gnome; who, unbeknown to his guardian had been gnome-napped at the previous tower. In the excitement of the moment, the unfortunate Gnobby had been dropped and sustained significant trauma injuries, reminiscent of past UBSCR aggression. Blissfully unaware of the protracted damage wreaked on his fragile charge, Martin finished his meal and headed out into the snow...
There was a lot of snow outside, and coupled with the convivial, happy mood and the lack of any snowball action the night before, it was only a matter of seconds before the first chilly projectile was launched. Even those who had forgotten to bring their gloves and attempted to stride on in splendid isolation from the escalating melee were not spared and either had to get their hands cold or hurry out of range.
Our next appointment was with the fantastically full-bodied 8 at Silverton. Sensuous, spine-tingling and sonorous, this is one rhythm factory to write home about. Imagine standing above some great, echo-inducing void and slowly letting sound-seeds trickle through your fingers. As the seeds burst, tumbling wreaths of flowering music shoot upwards in the quivering air, punctuated by the plumy growl and rumble of tenor. If Crediton are a Sauvignon Blanc; crisp, delicate and effortlessly cool, then these bells surely weigh in as Devon's answer to Multipulciano d'Abruzzo. After knocking out some 8-spliced, Grandsire Triples and call changes, we restored the bells to their state of slumber and headed out to lob some snow. This snowball fight was probably the pivotal engagement of the weekend, with virtually everyone seeing some action in the snowy churchyard. As the skirmish spilled out onto the street, the heavier artillery lumbered into action. Seizing his opportunity to strike a decisive blow, Bungle "the Merciless" picked up an entire snowman from someone's garden and burst it over the unsuspecting (but not innocent) Martin. Scattered by this ferocious onslaught the group broke up, retreating to the cover of walls or cars.
In the midst of this confusion, several people knackered off home to watch the rugby. I hardly need tell you how disappointing this was. Only when the company regrouped at Pinhoe church did the full extent of our losses become apparent (complete list of deserters available on request) and the valiant remainder set about getting some jangling going. Call changes, Bob Triples and Plain-hunting were machined out in spite of the casualties and we all enjoyed watching people who should have known better struggle with some of the flighty front bells. Their humiliation was amplified when Claire rang her first rounds away from St David's, where she has been learning for the past few months in fine style. Take note boys; she'll probably be shouting at you next year!!!
Dinner @ The Royal Clarence
Turning up to the Royal Clarence Hotel on Cathedral Close, it really felt as if the ECG was going up in the world. We were met by a welcoming committee of the two Secretaries Hazel and Kathryn, both looking lovely, and Tom. These delusions of grandeur were swiftly shattered when, after taking in the superb dining room and private lounge-bar overlooking the Cathedral, the usual collection of smartened-up bellringers clutching pint glasses and bottles of wine swarmed into view. Each table had been given a name after one of the Cathedral bells. I looked at my table and decided that the name "Doom" didn't auger well and decided to behave myself. This decision was reinforced when I saw what was written on my personalised place name. A lot of time and effort had clearly gone into thinking these up!
The food was every bit as good as expected and most of the tables went very quiet as everyone tucked in. Once everything had been gobbled up, Matt stood to welcome the assembled members and guests to the dinner and proposed the Loyal Toast. As I raised my glass to my lips, the image of a piece of lightly grilled bread scampering at my feet with unquestioning trust and devotion provoked a little chuckle. Surely someone else has had this thought before? Tom then rose to introduce our guest speaker - the legendary handbell honcho, James Croft. James entertained us all with his reminiscences of growing up in a handbell ringing family, with his story about ringing a peal in an outside toilet striking a particular chord. James went on to congratulate the current undergraduate band on their achievement of a peal of Plain Bob Minor earlier in the week - our first handbell peal by an all undergraduate band since 1968! So, appropriately enough, and to rapturous (?) applause, Martin, Tom and Rob stood up and rang a stonking 120 of Bob Minor (YouTube link) to show us how well struck and confident the peal doubtless was.
Rob then took the floor and delivered his Master's speech, reliving the highlights and achievements of the past year. This was followed by the Old Boys handbell band (James, David, Matt, Tom and Ian) who rang a course of Little Bob Royal (YouTube link) with the customary waving, laughter and associated flourishes. Matt then introduced David Maynard, who gave the daffodil toast, including some (historically inaccurate) theories about its origins and a few culinary daffodil tips from resident ECG gastronome, Bungle.
We all chomped our daffodils.
Matt made a few closing remarks and with that we wandered through into the bar while the decks were cleared for action. Five Bar Gait soon struck up a merry tune and the first dance began with great enthusiasm. Concerns that the room might not be sufficiently large to accommodate our energetic dancing style were proved groundless and the dancing was particularly enjoyable.
There was a surprisingly good (and alert) turnout at St David's on Sunday morning, with some joyful jangling laid on for the benefit of the neighbours. After this we ensconced ourselves at our table in the Imperial and tucked into some much needed greasy sustenance. While we were enjoying the faintly nostalgic, hung-over energy of the morning after the dinner, we made up a little song -
B B B B B B B B Bungle Bell
More coffee and cakes at the Boston Tea Party ("Its bostin mate") and some lunch and beer (oh no, not more!) enabled us to refocus our energies for afternoon ringing at Exeter Cathedral. The ringing was pretty good this year, with some of the recent arrivals getting their first go on this fine ring of bells. Some of the keeno undergraduates had wanted to ring a quarter peal at St David's in the evening, but the sleeepy bunnies decided it was all a bit too much so went for tea at the Bungalow as a compromise. Roll on 2010....