I didn’t oversleep. My alarm clock worked perfectly. There was no way in which the blame could be transferred from myself to some other, external cause. I simply stayed in bed for longer than I should have. It’s a habit that’s developed somewhat out of hand just recently. But I had to get to Marylebone Railway Station – and I had to get there pretty damn quick.
On that overcast morning of March 19th 2016 the UL had one aim: complete and total victory over our enemies. We were heading for The Battle of Amersham, where one of the National 12-bell eliminators was to be held. I myself was one of the twelve soldiers to be taking part in the UL band. Except that time was running out…
I changed at Oxford Circus to get to Marylebone, trying to get through the swarms of people as the minutes ticked by. Then I felt a friendly hand groping my shoulder. It was Simon Roberts who was to be ringing for the Southwark team. He was laughing about how we might miss our train. Then we saw Brian Spurling, also cutting it fine. “This is absolutely the last tube that we could have got!” laughed Simon as we approached Marylebone. The three of us ran as fast as we could up the escalators. Good thing that we were such healthy guys, who hardly ever drink. Then we saw a fourth person running ahead of us – Anthony Matthews, to be specific. But Lady Luck was smiling at us and we got to our train unscathed.
At Amersham there was a gathering of the teams and supporters in an upstairs parish hall. It was a typical scene of an eliminator – a long queue for the bacon rolls; familiar, stern faces from the other teams arriving; some of them knowing you vaguely but pretending not to notice you when they walked by; you doing the same to them. After a while we congregated into the church for the draw. Our team was drawn to ring first. Oh well, could be worse – Southwark were drawn to ring last! We performed a valiant and credible opening test piece, and were justly proud of our efforts. You can listen to it on the 12-bell website if you want to.
We packed ourselves into one of the charming, old-worldly pubs on the high street, along with most of the other competitors. However, a large group of Southwark and UL ringers went to a nearby swimming pool (this initiative was planned in advance, so they had swimming trunks, towels, etc, already with them, in case you were wondering.) Later on I sampled some of the cakes and much of the bacon in the parish hall – all quality fare, prepared by the church people.
I listened to the Southwark test piece. It sounded very good outside, and had a determined brisk pace (to put it mildly.) Then it was time for the results. The UL was graded 7th place, and Souhwark 6th place. (In other words, we didn’t qualify.) Victory had been snatched from our reach.
We downed a few more pints in the pub, to ease the sense of trauma and mourn hanging over us after the almighty battle. One of the men from the Southwark team grabbed me and gave me a hearty kiss on the lips, and we all trudged back up the hill to the station, stocking up on snacks and booze for the long journey home. James J Watkins looked extremely ill on the train and was given attention by Mrs Taylor, and then a merry Anthony spilt sparkling wine all down my clothes (don’t worry: sparkling wine in this context means sparkling wine, and is not some oblique reference.) By the time we got back to Marylebone we were singing and swaying,
picking each other up and collapsing again. What a sight to behold! A policeman watched us but was too scared or bemused to do anything.
We went to a couple of pubs in the suave streets of Marylebone. I accidentally spilt an entire pint of beer over poor Jemma Mills (a pint of beer in this context means a pint of beer, and is not some oblique reference.) Soon after this I decided that I’d had enough, and walked to Paddington Station to get a main line train back to my neighbourhood in West London.
We lost the battle, but perhaps not the war. Thank you very much to Chris Rimmer for organising the team and the practices. However, I think the final word should go to Chris Kippin. Earlier in the week, when reminding the email group that it was a Hart Street Sunday, I added that during our breakfast in the Crosse Keys we could well be celebrating a great victory. Afterwards, Chris replied: “…or not, as the case may be.”