“When good Queen Elizabeth sat on the throne, ere coffee and tea and such slip-slops were known.....”
Not only, as the song continues, was the noble roast beef an Englishman’s food, but practically every man, woman and child in this fair land of ours drank copious quantities of good honest English ale. And we may surmise that ringers were always at the forefront of this national pastime. It is no coincidence that nearly every village church has a pub nearby; it was put there for the refreshment of the ringers.
Unfortunately this laudable tradition is not what it was. Although for many of us the mere act of descending a spiral staircase still induces a Pavlovian reaction whereby the feet automatically set off in the direction of the nearest alehouse, this is not universally the case. Nowadays, in some towers, not only are the aforementioned “slip-slops” brewed in the ringing chamber but worse, they have become a substitute for proper refreshment afterwards. How often have you been made welcome to a practice only to be told, on enquiring as to the whereabouts of the pub, “I’m afraid we don’t indulge” or “well, actually I’m going home myself; I think Fred might be going to the Rose & Crown”?
How came we to this lamentable state of affairs? I sometimes wonder if there is any connection with the equally deplorable tendency to install lighter peals of bells. After all, if you have striven for a couple of hours to coax some good music out of a majestic heavy ring, you know you have earned a pint or four, whereas if you have merely been tinkering with an ice-cream chime, perhaps subconsciously you feel a dollop of Mister Softee’s frozen hydrogenated vegetable oil is all you deserve.
Of course, there are social changes that mitigate against post-ringing imbibement, not least the dreaded breathalyser and the general decline in rural pubs. In some villages there is not even a pub to go to, but one cannot help wondering which is the chicken and which the egg: do the ringers not go drinking because there is no pub, or did the pub close because the ringers, the choir, the cricket club etc. didn’t use it enough? Alas, pub and church no longer enjoy their former status as the heart and soul respectively of the community.
The picture is not entirely one of gloom and despondency. In some of our High Streets there are now more pubs than ever before, many selling a good range of tolerably well-kept ales. And if you want to get from home to tower to pub and back again without attracting unwelcome attention, you can always invest in a bicycle as I did a couple of years ago. (It is, however, unlikely to help you lose weight; the calories obtained from the extra pints of beer you feel obliged to drink will far outweigh the additional exercise.)
So let us not neglect the social side of our art. As well as replenishing vital body fluids, a couple of pints provide the opportunity to relax, regale one another with amusing anecdotes, synchronise diaries and swap compositions. But it has to be beer. All other beverages, wine (good wine is for drinking with food anyway), triple-thick milk-shake, cappuccino – even the quintessentially English pot of tea – seem strangely at odds with the ethos of ringing.
Beer matters? Indeed it does, sir, indeed it does!
Reproduced by kind permission of The Ringing World.
Content © 2003-13