The Ancient
Society of
Est. 1637

377th Anniversary Dinner — a view from continental Europe
1st November 2014

(Report by Clive Smith, Brian Diserens, and Harm Jan de Kok. Handbell recording by Adrian Udal. Pictures by the Webmaster)

The Master accompanied by his Stewards.

Throughout the Friday afternoon I noticed many ringers Facebook news feeds were filling up with comments about how they were travelling to London and as evening fell these were supplemented by pictures of Tower Bridge. As one prominent ringer remarked, "It's that time of year again"; time for ASCY members from around the country (some travelling into the very far reaches of east Herefordshire) and, for your scribes, mainland Europe, to gather for a weekend best summed up by the words used so often in Dordrecht: "Good ringing, Good food and Good company". This has been a year with more international events than usual for the society, and for those of us who live outside the UK this is important in upholding the value of our membership. The UK14 trip helped very much towards achieving good ringing, cemented good company around the globe and had involved lots of good food (and drink). For the first time this year, there were peals in Dordrecht for the society peal weekend where mainland Europe based members were pleased to welcome those from the UK– hopefully the first of many such weekends further strengthening our links and widening the base of the Society.

In addition to the usual pictures on social media of Tower Bridge there were also many of the remarkable and thought provoking art installation "Blood Swept Lands and Sea of Red", better known as the poppies, reminding us of another international Society event this year, the war graves trip. Indeed it was fitting that one of the guests at the dinner this year, in his role as SRCY master, was Alan Regin who had guided members around the cemeteries.

I'll pass over to Brian who will take us up to the dinner itself.

For me, it all started two years ago, at the College Youths' Dinner 2012 and booking Cornhill bells for a peal attempt this year. So at that point it was clear that I was coming...

Roll forward 18 months, and now that I've decided to come, I have to figure out: how to buy the ticket, how to get to London and where to stay while I'm there. Buying the ticket is not so straightforward – the UK is still using Sterling, so transferring the money direct from Euros is subject to costs and errors in conversion, and we haven't used cheques in Germany for twenty years. Fortunately a solution arose when I was in York on holiday in the summer, and getting someone else to buy it for me was the way to go.

Next problem was how to get to London – thank God for the Internet! A quick visit to Expedia and a choice of Lufthansa or British Airways; City or Heathrow Airport – a few clicks and €150 off my credit card and it's all booked.

Lastly: where to stay. Again back to the Internet – I normally share a room to cut costs, but finding a good deal on a twin room is not so easy, so I resort to the deal at the Guoman and book two nights – the advantage is that there's no moving on Saturday and I only have to crawl up to the room after the small tipple imbibed at the dinner.

The Master, Simon Meyer, with his family.

Friday 31st October arrives and I'm leaving work in a shared taxi to Frankfurt Airport – I've given up on the Friday-night peal attempts, it's just too stressful to ensure getting there in good time. So I'm relaxed, I arrive in good time on a flight into City Airport. From there, there's the DLR to the City and in only a few minutes I'm wandering into the Crosse Keys pub in Gracechurch street. What an enormous pub. I find my friends after circling the central bar for ten minutes. However, there's only three hours to closing time! So I'm quickly into my first pint of beer and settle into catching up on the news and gossip. As the evening progresses, old friends pass by and friendships are renewed, lubricated by pint after pint. All too quickly it's closing time and I'm off to the hotel to get a good night's sleep ready for the next day's peal attempt.

The day itself dawns and a hearty breakfast – I meet up with some of the peal band and we take a brisk walk to Cornhill for the peal. On the way we battle through the crowds visiting the poppy display around the Tower of London. I must admit that I was quite moved by the sight of all those poppies, one for each commonwealth serviceman killed in World War One. It brought back memories of the tour of ASCY war graves we joined back in July. Living as I do in Germany amongst neighbours whose grandparents were on the other side emphasises to me the futility of all those lives lost.

All assembled at the tower, the band is placed and we start. What a marvellous peal of bells!! However, half-lead calls in Cambridge Maximus proved too much for the band and the attempt was lost after two hours twenty minutes. Ah well, on to the pub. The Crosse Keys was just round the corner and on the excuse of looking for a lost sweater we popped in for a quick pint. Then on to the official afternoon watering hole – The Chamberlain in Minories. Having finished early and the tower not being far from the pub, we were some of the first there. We find a table in the back room and start on the drinking again. Over the course of the next few hours, many peal bands roll in along with others making a day trip for the dinner. The pub is crowded with ringers and there is a real buzz as so many old friends and acquaintances meet and new friendships are made. Each time we go to the bar which is in the front of the pub, there are more and more ringers. I make a mental note of a few who I especially want to talk to sometime during the day. With some I succeed, but many I don't - there are just so many to talk to. The evening approaches, and we must leave the pub, back to the hotel to shower and change ready for the dinner. The glad rags on, and go downstairs and start (you've guessed it) drinking beer again. More old friends to meet and greet – and time to hand over Clive for The Dinner itself.

The continental European members were pleased to find the dinner followed the "Good food, Good ringing and Good company" format we are so used to in Dordrecht, although there were a few differences. After the traditional processions of the officers and guests and followed by the master and his stewards (bearing the society mace on a new pole donated by the master) the Rev George Bush of St. Mary-le-Bow, to which the master has a special link, said a humorous rhyming grace ending with a reference to "our dear master, Simon Meyer".

The handbell band ringing spliced Cinques.

"Good food" was then served in the form of a starter of seared scallops and crabcakes, a very tasty Barbary duck breast and a dark & white chocolate mousse. This was well received, indeed one of the society's members, well known for sharing his culinary creations on social media, proclaimed it as "the best mass catering food I have eaten". During the meal the treasurer, in his usual entertaining role of compere for the evening, invited various groups of people, often associated with the master's ringing career or society events during the year, to take wine with the master, in contrast to Europe where we have evolved this into taking port with the president! Those for members of 50 and then 60 or more years membership received sustained applause, as was the case later in the evening when the master presented those who had achieved 50 years membership in the past year with commemorative certificates.

Following a short break to refuel (or create some space) the toasts commenced with the master proposing a drink to The Queen. He then proposed The Church by recalling his past and present connections with churches and church people from Wisbech to London via Liverpool and Sussex. One of those church people gave the response, this was Rev Steven Brookes, now the Chaplain to the Royal Hospital but who had previously been Rector of Liverpool, Pierhead, during which time an extra treble was added with his name inscribed on it. Steven informed us that, in the past, the Liverpool ringers had been subject to fines for non-attendance and intoxication; it's maybe fortunate the latter no longer applies! He concluded by stating that villages, towns and cities would be the poorer without bellringers.

The handbell touch:

Clare Griffiths and Susi Deane display their work.

At this point an interlude for ‘good ringing’ is traditional and this year we were entertained by a high quality touch of spliced cinques that captivated the room and included some of the latest fashions in ringing music which delighted one of our clerical members whose wife "had experienced the mega-tittums position for the first time". I'm sure she found it very pleasurable.

It then fell to Ann White to propose The Society and she started by expressing a debt of gratitude, felt by all present I am sure, to the officers of the society over the years. Her speech entertained us well and in response The Secretary thanked her and made particular mention for Ann's contribution to the 12 bell competition over the years, another of the ringing calendars great social occasions. He also remarked how good it was to see George Pipe at the dinner. Finally the Society was given the chance to show its appreciation to Clare Griffiths and Susan Deane who have been updating the Society peal book which was on display and much admired by members before the meal.

This concluded the formal part of the evening and the Society continued to enjoy the "good company" late into the evening, resisting the efforts of the bar staff to close up. Gradually though we dispersed back home or upstairs to sleep, although at least one person was spotted having a power nap in the dining room much to the satisfaction of those who like to see traditions upheld.

On Sunday morning members spread across various city towers for morning ringing and several then assembled in the Watling for a convivial few hours, some looking rather better than others who were perhaps discovering the wisdom of not accepting a peal invitation for the day after the dinner!

Back to Brian for a few final thoughts: I'm lucky that my wife is so sympathetic to my ringing – the overall cost is so high. I don't get much change from €500 once flight, hotel, beer, wine, lunches and the dinner ticket itself are included. Having been to the dinner herself she appreciates what a special event it is. For that reason I come back every year. I know that I am not alone in this sentiment and all the active ASCY/CEA members feel the same way. The evening itself runs so smoothly – I know that's down to a great deal of hard work by the officers – and it leaves us free to really enjoy ourselves. This year was no exception – and I'm already looking forward to next year.

We were pleased that our youngest continental ASCY member, Harm Jan de Kok, was able to attend his first dinner, a key part of his ringing education - here are his memories of the weekend:

The last time a Dutch ringer had been to an ASCY dinner was 27 years ago. So to change these statistics my 18th birthday gift was a weekend away to the ASCY dinner. To start the preparations for a weekend away we had look at last year's Facebook photos to see if anything in my wardrobe would suit this event, nothing did. This lead to the challenge of buying my first suit and we found out later this would bring some international shoe fashion to the dinner.

The weekend started off in good style with few pub sessions on the Friday, followed by a peal on the excellent bells of Garlickhythe on the Saturday morning. The afternoon was spent catching up with friends, ringing for a wedding and getting ready for the dinner.

Ann White proposes 'The Society'.

The first thought I had when I walked into the pre-dinner room was: "Wow I have never seen so many well-dressed ringers before. After pre-dinner drinks after we went to our table and were passed by a parade of society officers and guests walking to the top table. A great dinner with high culinary standards was served, follow by a handbell touch with equally high ringing standards. The speeches where slightly interrupted when a Herefordian ringer whilst walking back from the bar decided he didn't like position of the loudspeaker. A society member for 50 years had to help him to get it back into position.

As the official part of the dinner was now over, we continued the evening as it started by having a drink, talking and having a good time!. The night ended when people started going to bed, some at a more sensible time than others, staying until after the bar was closed. The following morning after walking out of the breakfast restaurant ready to go out service ringing we saw a large queue including several ringers, all agreeing to how good the previous night was but unable to agree about they were feeling that morning!

  • Colin Parker, Jill Galloway, and Michael Williams.

  • Fr Michael Childs and Claire.

  • The Master presents a certificate to David Friend marking his 50 years of membership.

  • The Master presents a certificate to John Owen marking his 50 years of membership.

  • The Master presents a certificate to Anthony H Smith marking his 50 years of membership.

  • The Master presents a certificate to Roger Powell marking his 50 years of membership.

  • Lizzy Stokoe, Katie Lane, and Rachel Mitchell.

  • Tim Holmes and Chris Rimmer.

  • Dave Bassford and Heather Kippin.

  • Post-dinner conversation.

  • Anita Heward, George Pipe, Lucinda Woodward, and Becky Sugden.

  • Paul Tiebout tries a change of footwear.

  • Jill Galloway and Becky Sugden, with top bombing by Luke Smith.

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