Master’s Dinner Speech 2018

To any of you that didn’t make our annual dinner this year, I’m really sorry that you weren’t able to come – it was great. Here’s a copy of the speech that I made.

Welcome again to the 64th Annual Dinner of the Essex Association of Change Ringers. Every year, the association meets to eat and drink, to reflect on the past year and our accomplishments, and to spend time with friends, old and new.

There are a number of key events in the association’s calendar which were made crystal clear to me when I first started considering standing as master. Among other things, these include organizing the 10 bell striking competitions, chairing the dreaded management committee meetings, and speaking at this, our annual dinner.

Having got the striking competitions out of the way, I turned my thoughts to the October Management Committee meeting. When I told my partner last week that I was going to a bellringing meeting, and that it might last for about 4 hours, he stopped what he was doing, looked at me incredulously, and said, “it’s bellringing – what is there to talk about?” Little does he know…

However, at the meeting I was given a very easy run by the trustees, and we pretty much sailed through the agenda.

So, I thought triumphantly last Saturday evening, just the annual dinner to go – how hard can that be?

I sought quite a lot of advice about this speech. Luckily, I can call on the assistance of no less than 5 past masters of the association, all of whom passed on nuggets of useful information.

Don’t make “in jokes”.
Don’t use lewd humour.
Don’t make political jokes.
Don’t encourage hecklers.
Don’t speak too long.
Don’t speak too quickly.

All very good advice, for which I am extremely grateful.

Luckily, once I’d taken out all the political, rude, in-jokes, this speech wasn’t that long anymore, so now all I have to do is speak nice and slowly, and I should have it cracked. By the way, good luck with the accent!

Although somewhat of a responsibility, being master has been brilliant fun so far. I’ve met ringers that I’ve never spoken to before and gone to towers that I might never otherwise have visited. As well as my usual haunts, thank you particularly to the ringers at Hornchurch, Saffron Walden, Great Bromley, Leytonstone, Sawbridgeworth, Great Easton and Thorpe-le-Soken, for letting me join your practices and for making me feel so welcome. I was reassured that, to those ringers at least, the association had relevance, and this is down to the extremely hard work that goes on in all of the districts to support ringing and ringers.

The annual district meetings in January elected a number of new district officers who are serving as trustees of this association. Inevitably, there are only so many of us to go round, so we often end up with the same faces round the table, so it’s particularly encouraging to see these new faces appearing.

The next major event in our calendar is the Essex Course.

The Essex course continues to flourish. As you know better than I do, it was conceived and launched by Adrian Semken, a man of vision that I sadly never had the opportunity to meet, but whose hand I would have shaken if I did. Not only is it a premiere training event, it is also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. Few territorial associations have an event of this calibre to call their own, and it is something we are rightly proud of. Mary Bone has magnificently stewarded this tremendous for 9 years, and on Hogmanay will stand down as ringing course convener. Please join me in thanking Mary for doing an exemplary job, and for helping to make the course what it is today.

The ringing course convenor’s job is not easy, but without course tutors and helpers, it would be impossible. We are lucky to have a number of individuals who have given up days and weeks of their own time, often taking annual leave from their jobs, to teach ringers on the course. I am very pleased to be able to present 2 ringers with a certificate honoring their long service as a course tutor. Please join me in thanking:

Roger Collins – 10 years
Steve Nash – 20 years

Essex was well represented in 3 premiere striking competitions this year:

  • the Ringing World National Youth Contest, held in London
  • the Ridgman Trophy, held at St Peter’s St Albans
  • and our own Essex Trophy, hosted by the Sussex Association and held at St Mary’s, Horsham.

Whilst first place was elusive in all, I was pleased with the standard of ringing that we produced, and I’m grateful to all members of all bands for giving up their time and managing their nerves for the association. Please join me in giving a special congratulation to our young ringers, who achieved a very creditable B+ score for their ringing, and who came joint 7thoverall from 22 teams. Well done Christina and your ringers.

It must have been almost impossible to miss Ringing Remembers, a joint campaign by the Central Council and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, supported by the Big Ideas Company. In case you have somehow not heard of this tremendous piece of work, the aim was to recruit 1400 new bellringers in this centenary year of the end of World War One, to honour the 1400 bellringers who lost their lives in that war. As a national recruitment campaign it has been highly successful, and at last report I understand that over 1700 people have signed up. In Essex alone we have received 121 new sign ups, more than any other association, which confirms what we all know, that we are best association in the world. They have been signposted to teachers and towers in the county by our Public Relations Officer, Emily Ashton. To Emily, and to all those that have taught, befriended, supported, or learnt as part of this campaign, thank you.

She is very modest about this, but we are honoured to have the brains behind the whole operation in our association. Vicki Chapman, one of the Essex Association Central Council Representatives, leads on this initiative in her work with the Central Council, and I am very proud to see her, and by association, Essex, leading the way in recruitment and promotion of bellringing.

I was given the double honour this year of being able to see the association 8 bell competition held in my own tower in Goldhanger, and the 6 bell at Great Totham, also a tower close to my heart. Both of these events were ably run by the SE district – thank you Christina and your team for making them such memorable events, not just for me, but for everyone who attended and enjoyed the sunshine listening to good ringing. And congratulations again to Chelmsford Cathedral, winners of the 6 bell trophy, and to the SE district, winners of the 8 bell trophy.

I’d like to make a personal call out to the ringers from Willingale. They competed in the 6-bell trophy. To me, they were initially remarkable for their state of undress, as they sunbathed in Great Totham churchyard waiting for their slot to ring. Their laid-back attitude was even more remarkable when Ian Kirwin confided in me that they had only completed the test piece once before. It is for bands like Willingale that this association exists. There is a perception that the association serves an elite squad of ringers, which I refute. Admittedly, a high standard of ringing is a worthy aim, and we do lots to further this aspect of our art. However, I think we have a greater responsibility, to create and protect the future of ringing, to ensure that it survives in a fit state for future generations. By joining our forces and working together, we can achieve much much more than the sum of our parts. Well done Willingale, and all bands like you. I worry sometimes that learner bands feel awkward and out of place at association events, but it is primarily for you that we are here. Earlier this year, a past master told me with glee about a group that assailed him at the conclusion of an association dinner, slurring “We’re crap ringers, but we know how to party”. Aside from the fact that there is no such thing as a crap ringer (with which I know that particular past master would agree), they were spot on. It’s all about the party.

In my day job I am a director in a central London teaching hospital. Recently I have spent a lot of my time worrying about diversity and inclusion. I feel a great responsibility at work to make sure that I am equitable and fair, and that I ensure that everyone has the same chance to progress through their careers. I often reflect on ringing as I do this.

Ringing is almost unique in hobbies in that it will take anyone on, train them from scratch, usually free of charge, and will then support them as part of a multi-skilled band of ringers in whom it’s the turning up and taking part that’s most important, rather than the skill. Yes, good ringing can be more rewarding than lumpy ringing, and yes, sometimes we want to stretch ourselves in more demanding methods with a selected band, but Sunday Service ringing is much more of an egalitarian affair. Ringers come from all walks of life, rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, all ethnic backgrounds, and from every social class. We make extensive provision for disabled ringers (including mental and physical impairments). I’m not saying that prejudice is entirely absent from ringing, but to my perception it is a lot less prevalent in our circles of friendship than in the world at large.

It would be easy to think that we only do this because we are desperate for new ringers, to preserve our art, but I have a different theory. I think that there is something deeply inclusive about ringing itself, that leads us to be more accepting of difference than we might be in other parts of our day to day lives. Maybe those of us that are a bit different are led to the exercise because it is inclusive and judges less than the “outside world”? I don’t know why it happens, but I know that I value it, and I celebrate this aspect of ringing every day.

This leads me to the Church. Another solidly inclusive organization, the Church has a unique perspective on ringing, and an umbilical connection to our art, because most of the bells we ring are located in churches or other religious buildings. The connection between church and ringing is strong, and both flourish when it is nurtured and sustained. Those of you who read my blog may have read my thoughts on the beautiful relationship between the church and ringers at St Peter Mancroft, who were so supportive of their efforts to provide a teaching and training centre for new and learner ringers, as well as preserve the history of their wonderful bells. This is a special relationship – I promise, that’s the closest I’ll get to transatlantic politics in this speech! This special relationship is not unique – it exists in many churches around the country. We recently held our annual bellringers service, where our small congregation joined us to hear a bellringing-related address, sing some hymns that we knew, and to remember why we turn out every Sunday at 9am.

But as I reflect on our successes, our friendships, our inclusiveness, and our association, I am routinely brought back to the church, who keep us grounded, who remind us of our humanity and the contribution that we bring, and who are as much a part of ringing as we are of village Sunday mornings.

To the Church.