373rd Anniversary Dinner
Saturday 6th November, 2010
(Report by Jennie Butler. Pictures by the Webmaster. Click on pictures to enlarge.)
It is lunchtime on Friday 5 November 2010. I am sitting in a café near Aldgate enjoying an end-of-the-week lunch with colleagues when the inevitable question arises…
“Has anyone got plans for the weekend?”
I stay quiet whilst everyone else answers in turn – the plans include firework displays, football matches, and the hotly anticipated next X Factor episode. Following a heated debate regarding the future of Liverpool FC and the merits of various X Factor contestants (consensus being slowly improving, and Cher to win, respectively), attention turns to me:
Colleague 1: “So, Jennie, what are you up to on Saturday?”
Me (condensing truth for sake of brevity): “Er, having dinner with friends”.
Colleague 2: “Sounds good. Where are you going?”
Me (still truthful, albeit selectively): “Just down the road”.
Colleague 1 (ever persistent): “How many friends?”
Me (resigned to providing a full explanation of the ASCY dinner weekend to a non-ringing audience): “Just over 300…”
Despite occasionally evading difficult questions from non-ringers for practical purposes, I believe that ringing and the experience of being a bellringer is something quite special. The annual dinner of the Ancient Society of College Youths, for me, encapsulates the very best of the ringing experience.
The College Youths are the change ringing society which takes responsibility for the ringing at several towers in the City of London, with a national and international membership promoting and supporting excellence in ringing around the world. From my perspective, it is a group of like-minded friends of all ages and backgrounds committed to supporting, progressing and most importantly enjoying change ringing, as well having a pint or two when the opportunity arises.
For one weekend every year, College Youths and friends travel to London from all over the world for a weekend of eating, drinking, ringing, catching up with old friends and making many more. The focus of the weekend is the dinner, held as a celebration of the Society and its achievements during the previous year.
The 373rd Anniversary Feast held on Saturday 6 November 2010 was no exception. 309 members and guests, aged between 19 and 94, travelled from such exotic locations as the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Scotland and, um, Reading and to join the festivities.
The fun commenced on Friday evening with several Society peal attempts in central London; ten Society peals were scored on Friday and Saturday in total. I enjoyed a rather soggy trip to St George in the East (a pleasant little 8) for a peal of spliced surprise major, particularly impressed that Immediate Past Master Peter Valuks successfully rang with only one hand owing to injuries incurred in a recent bicycle mishap. This was also my first experience of ringing during a Bonfire Night/Diwali fireworks display, the peal enlivened by loud bangs (not striking-related) and brightly coloured lights flashing through the window.
I returned to London on Saturday morning for peal number two, this time 12-part cyclic maximus at St Giles Cripplegate. The College Youths are the principal Society regularly ringing such cutting-edge compositions. After a hard but rewarding 3 hours 22 minutes, I was definitely ready for a drink (and not just the one). After a quick beverage, time was of the essence, with checking into our accommodation (the trusty Travelodge), shower and changing before we dashed off to the Guoman Hotel for the dinner handbell touch practice at four o’clock.
This practice involved working out where to ring in more ways than one – not only that the planned 16-bell touch would involve rather more concentration than the usual Z-course of Stedman, but also the surprising difficulty of finding a central point in the room with enough space for eight ringers and, importantly, a clear distance between us and potential troublemakers.
Practice completed, the bar quickly filled up and I was soon surrounded by familiar faces. Fear of handbell touch embarrassment meant I was working very slowly through my pint owing to self-imposed rationing. A highlight of the pre-dinner drinks was meeting Michael Stephens, celebrating 60 years’ membership of the Society. I congratulated him on this achievement, to which he modestly replied along the lines of “it’s nothing, all you have to do is live long enough” which I thought was an excellent response.
The doors to the dining room opened and I found my seat on table 29, in a prime position as far away from the top table as possible. Risk assessment is very important these days, and the organisers had seemingly identified the danger of my table – containing the youth of the Cambridge University Guild – heckling the Master, a prominent member of the Oxford University Society (OUS).
I had naively assumed I would be surrounded by a group of gastronomic connoisseurs supplying Masterchef-standard titbits of critical commentary which I could later slide seamlessly into this article. My illusions remained intact until the starter arrived (a beautifully presented “Duo of Smoked Salmon with Dill Sweet Mustard Dressing and Fried Capers”) and a debate ensued as to whether or not a caper was a type of fish. Puzzled, it transpired that there was some confusion on my table regarding capers and kippers. At this, I decided to release my friends of their food-critic responsibilities and let them enjoy their dinner in peace. The main course and dessert left everyone satisfied and I, for one, felt that the Guoman had once again achieved an exceptional level of service and quality, especially considering the large number of people present.
I’m not a big fan of long, dull speeches, especially when there are lots of interesting people I could be chatting to instead, but am pleased to report that the speeches at this dinner were all short, entertaining and perfectly suited to the occasion. Phil Rogers compered with expert flair and good humour, ensuring that proceedings flowed as smoothly as the wine from the (many) bottles at the OUS tables.
The Master, Martin Cansdale, opened by extending a warm welcome to the clergy guests, attending from St Mary-le-Bow, St Sepulchre, Cornhill, Cripplegate, Jewry and St Magnus. Martin thanked Revd Dr Peter Mullen, Rector of Cornhill, for his support in respect of the new ring of 12 bells to be installed there shortly, and this was met with resounding approval from the Society.
The Revd Katherine Rumens, Rector of St Giles Cripplegate, responded to the Master’s toast to the Church. She informed us that her instructions had been to deliver a “short, pithy and hopefully amusing” speech, which she undoubtedly achieved. I’ll admit to getting rather lost in translation towards the end of the speech when my French GSCE skills failed me, but the consistent chuckling from the audience throughout was a clear sign that Katherine had met her specified objective.
Now for the handbells. This year’s (16 bell) handbell touch was specially composed by Philip Earis and ably organised and conducted by Paul Mounsey. I’d like to make one thing clear – ringing this touch is scary. Ringing 16 in hand requires intense concentration from me at the best of times. An audience of 300+ who will instantly pick up on any slight inconsistency in the ringing might help to focus the mind, but does not make ringing any more relaxing. Oh, and we were also being recorded. Saying that, the ringing was a hugely enjoyable experience and I feel very lucky to have been involved.
The touch was designed to be exceedingly pleasant to listen to whilst relatively straightforward to ring. The 115 change touch comprised of a short link method to move the bells into the “mega-tittums” coursing order (DCBATE0987654532), a lead of Bristol Surprise 16, and another short link to get back to rounds. Whilst the composer would have no doubt enjoyed Rite of Spring-esque reception with rioting in the aisles following the 16-15 at the very first backstroke, the effect for me was more Einaudi than Stravinsky as the bells gently rippled up and down the change. I cannot comment objectively on the quality of the ringing given my attention was tied up with trying to ring my bells in the right place, but comments received from both dinner guests and hotel staff were all very nice. For those who would like to listen a recording is available here. Many thanks to Adrian Udal for producing this – it is greatly appreciated.
My work done (and other half dispatched to the bar to get the long awaited drink), I could relax and enjoy Alex Byrne’s proposal of a toast to the Society. Alex, a relaxed natural speaker with a stand-up comedian’s laid-back delivery, delivered a view of the Society from the distant vista of Reading. He spoke entertainingly, moving effortlessly from weddings to chiropody and even to a bit of prime number theory.
Alex observed that 373 (as in the 373rd dinner) is a prime number, an observation appealing to the more geeky members of the audience. He generously offered to buy a pint for the first person to tell him the next prime number (379) following his speech (a Mrs C E C Pipe of Willingham is currently awaiting its delivery). What Alex didn’t mention, perhaps to avoid confusing the large number of OUS members present, was that 373 is a particularly exciting kind of prime number – a circular prime number – meaning that all “bobbed” rotations of 373 (i.e. 337, 733) are also prime. Only three sets of three-digit numbers have this property. Now that really is exciting. I can only assume that this was highlighted at the 337th dinner in 1974 and hence Alex elected to omit this point to avoid unnecessary repetition.
Alex’s most pertinent observation was perhaps his thanks to the older generations for allowing new ringers to “stand on their shoulders” and move on to new heights, building on past achievements.
The Secretary, John Hughes-D’Aeth, then delivered an overview of the previous year with his usual panache and good humour. His expressions of thanks and congratulation are too numerous to list here, but particular thanks went to Martin Cansdale for ensuring the continuance of a healthy, thriving society in his year as Master. Congratulations went to bands achieving notable peals during the year (56 atw spliced royal, 147 atw spliced minor) and to the Master and Becky Sugden on their recent engagement. My congratulations also go to Becky on what was definitely the best hair-do of the evening! The Master took wine with those celebrating 50 and even 60 years membership of the Society, with Philip Hudson and Michael Stephens happily present to celebrate their “diamond jubilee”.
John concluded his speech with a topical and serious message, underlining the vital role of both the young and old of the Society in ensuring that the Exercise continues to flourish. He observed that the College Youths is a Society in which the relationship between the young and the not-so-young is symbiotic. The young learn from the experience of not-so-young whilst the more mature members stay young at heart through exposure to the youthful exuberance prevalent in the Society.
There is no lack of young talent in the College Youths, and dozens of young ringers were present at the dinner. John noted that our challenge is to ensure that the Society continues to welcome other young, talented ringers into the fold, offering a superb platform to reach the height of their ability and push the boundaries of ringing achievement, whilst also encouraging them to give back to the Exercise as whole. Aspiring to achieve high standards of ringing should not be confused with elitism: the Society also welcomes with open arms all those who will contribute to and benefit from the opportunities it can offer.
Turning away from the dinner I strongly suspect there are many young ringers out there thinking either (i) “why I am doing this, there are no other young people at my practice, no one goes to the pub and I’d rather go out with my mates than go ringing”; or (ii) “this is boring, I’ve been ringing the same methods for years and there’s nowhere else to go with this”. I’ve been there and would recommend that you get keen, learn and maybe invent new methods (and persuade your band to do so too), go to training courses, make friends and contacts, join your university society, get down to the ASCY practice on a Tuesday and suddenly life will become a lot more interesting. I know numerous competent ringers who have given up on the basis of the two points above, and this worries me greatly. Ringing really is an excellent hobby – just stick at it and you’ll make the best friends for life and go to the odd decent dinner or two as well.
Speeches (and my ramblings) over, we toasted the fragrant memory of Masters past and remembered Members who had passed away during the year.
The rest of the evening blurs somewhat from that point on. Before I knew it, nine o’clock in the bar had turned into one o’clock and, following two peals, a handbell touch and a considerable amount of investigative journalism, I hit the wall, as they say. Eschewing various whisky party and 1980’s clubbing possibilities floating around the room, we stumbled out into the night.
My thanks to everyone involved for continuing to make the weekend so special, particularly John Hughes-D’Aeth for his commitment and expert organisation. I, for one, am counting down the days (and ticking off the primes) until next year’s Dinner.
The Senior Steward, Master and Junior Steward. Our guests: Rev George Bush (Rector St Mary le Bow), Rev Katherine Rumens (Rector St Giles Cripplegate), Peter Harrison (Master SRCY), Rev Philip Warner (Cardinal Rector of St Magnus the Martyr), Lynn Mullen and Rev Dr Peter Mullin (Rector St Michael Cornhill & St Sepulchre), Canon David Parrott (Rector St Lawrence Jewry). The handbells, lined up for use later.
The handbell touch, composed for the occasion, comprised 115 changes on 16 bells incorporating Bristol Surprise 16 rung in the "mega-tittums" course.
1-2 David Pipe
3-4 Jennifer Butler
5-6 Tom Hinks
7-8 Paul Mounsey (C)
9-0 John Hughes-D'Aeth
11-12 Alex Byrne
13-14 Graham Firman
15-16 Philip Earis
The Master presents certificates to those reaching 50 years' membership. The handbell touch. Click here to watch a video of the touch. Click here to listen to a recording of the touch, specially recorded by Adrian Udal.
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