The web pages of Stephen Penney

MUG Guest Speech, 2002

When Clive asked me to come and speak at the Manchester dinner, it took me back to my A-levels. Manchester was my first choice of university, but unfortunately I did little more preparation for my exams than I did for this speech (which those that caught a glimpse of me writing it during the AGM will testify is not a lot), and so I was sent to suffer unspeakable torment at the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd.

All was not lost however, as I joined the bellringing society of the Cardiff students. They took me in, brought me up as their own, and gave me the name "Percy".

Unfortunately, Cardiff doesn't have much of a society at the moment, as student numbers are pretty low. To be honest there isn't anyone. I gather Manchester has had similar trouble in recent years. Interestingly, Cardiff seems to have much in common with Manchester: It's a large and industrious City, like Manchester; It has some great rings of bells, like Manchester; the local ringers are friendly, like Manchester; and it's a clean and pleasant place to live....

It seems to be a generall problem across the country that not enough young people are taking up bellringing. For some reason, standing in a gloomy belltower for hours on end repeating the same patterns over and over again, when any mistakes you make can be heard for miles just isn't an attractive option to the over-demaning, spoilt youth of this nation. And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is up to us to make it interesting. We've got a job to do, and it's our job to do it. We need to adapt our hobby to make it interesting, fun and exciting.

I thought we could start by taking a look at some of the activities people do find exciting, and how we can match their appeal in ringing. In fact, on the way up here there were two young boys on the train wearing martial arts gear. I asked them what martial art they did. One of them replied "I do Karate, and my friend here does Judo". I thought about this for a moment, and asked "What exactly is the difference between Judo and Karate?". His responce was "You can't make Bagels out of Karate."

So I thought "What is so good about Martial Arts?". Apparently it's a good way of taking out aggression. Well I thought, we have this in Bellringing! There's no better way of taking out aggression than trying to get a touch of Stedman Triples round with the Welsh Colleges!

So what about football? Lot's of youngsters seem to enjoy this. Can we match the thrill of cheering on your favourite team on Saturday? Well, it's not quite the same thing, but we do have striking competitions....

So what are young people doing nowadays rather than bellringing? A rather cycical answer might be 'taking drugs'. But hang on, what do we all do after ringing? We go to the Pub! I'm sure there's far more harmful chemicals in ten pints of beer and a chicken vindaloo than you're likely to encounter at an nightclub!

So I've come to the conclusion that ringing is exciting, we're just not advertising ourselves in the right way. So what is a good way of getting the message across? I remember when I started at Uni, I don't think there wa a single student bedroomin the land that didn't have a "Trainspotting" poster on the wall.

To sidetrack a moment, talking about films, I had a dream last night that I actually wrote "The Lord of the Rings". It turned out I was Tolkein in my sleep.

Anyway, back to Trainspotting. You may remember the famous "choose life" sppech from the film. Perhaps we could have a similar thing for ringing, something that would grab people's attention. I came up with this:

Choose Bellringing. Choose a method, choose a touch, choose a teacher, choose a big tenor. Choose stays, sliders, sallys and tail-ends. Choose a peal composition by Paul Needham. Choose a town with a twelve bell tower. Choose a strugging band and take them over. Choose service ringing and wondering what one earth you are doing on a sunday morning. Coose ringing with that band, watching people being shouted at in mind numbing, spirit crushing fire-ups. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable peal of Bob Doubles, nothing more than an embarrasmnent to the selfish brats you ring for. Choose your future. Choose Bellringing.

I chose not to choose bellringing, I chose to stay down the pub most of the time. However, it gives me great pleasure to stand here before you tonight to toast your great society, which I know will be around for a long time to come yet. So Ladies and Gentlemen, if you'd be upstanding :- The Guild.