University of London Society of Change Ringers

Early Summer Tour 2016 – Sussex

One Hobby To Rule Them All by Ben Clive

Sammy Rider and her wife were dissatisfied. They lived a relaxing, secluded lifestyle with the regulation number of children in a regulation 3 bed house in East Croydon. Every Monday they took part in the regulation Morris dancing sessions at the church hall and listened to the bell ringing broadcast across the nation on their regulation radio. They had everything they could hope for and yet they couldn’t have been more unhappy.

One Friday afternoon, Sammy and Felicity were in a very much non-regulation restless mood. It was such a perfect sunny afternoon that they wanted to do something more exciting than sit in their small, perfect garden drinking Pimms and eating strawberries and ice cream. They wanted adventure!

On a whim, they headed to the station and boarded a Southern train to Lewes. They were a bit surprised to find there was no guard on the train but given the recent fuss on the government trying to take over the railway, that wasn’t completely unheard of.

On arriving at lovely Lewes, a small town renowned for its appreciation of the pure British government and their regulations, they wandered aimlessly until they spotted a B&B. Knocking the door and enquiring about rooms led them into a lovely 4 story townhouse.

After a brief discussion, they were escorted downstairs and presented with a cozy scene of other travellers and a large bowl of delicious spaghetti bolognese. Thanking their host profusely, whilst listening to the yearly tennis championship on the radio and munching on a truly massive 66% saturated fat cheesecake, Sammy and Felicity began to look around the room for the first time.

The room was furnished with a variety of furniture, a comfy looking sofa and a bunch of memorabilia. A small orange piece of card caught Sammy’s eye and she picked it up for a closer look. It looked as if it has been lost by someone a long time ago. The words “Lewes” and “Rye” were just visible along one edge. Flipping it over, there was a hand scrawled word on the back. After a brief discussion amongst the other guests, they decided the word said Hastings, a town just down the railway line. Quite taken with their discovery, Sammy and Felicity decided to explore the town the next day as they retired to bed at the top of the house.

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The next morning dawned and it was another sunny one. Sammy and Felicity descended the stairs to find the smell of bacon wafting upwards. On entering the kitchen, they discovered half toasted bread and more bacon than they could comfortably eat. Helping themselves, they began to plan the next stage of their adventure.

They climbed aboard the 9.42 towards Hastings. A brief interruption in the regulation railway normality left them running to catch a connecting train and then eventually stranding them on another village platform. Given that the next train wouldn’t be for a few hours, they went off to explore.

Westham turned out to be a small, centrally located village. The entire row of shops that it boasted were still shut so the couple wandered into the local church where there was a lively coffee morning. It would be rude (not to mention against regulations) to avoid such a pleasure so they both grabbed a slice of cake and admired the local bell ringers attempting something they called Double Dunkirk. It was very impressive.

Next, they decided to pass around what looked like a very old Castle and see Pevensey. Unfortunately for them, Pevensey also didn’t have anything open but the church. As they ventured inside, they saw some higher-ups from the government having a go on the bells. A little bell ringer was having a difficult time trying to appear composed as she hefted the wildly swaying rope around, and since there was no one else in the church apart from a short, happy little man, Sammy and Felicity headed back to the train station to avoid arousing suspicion.

It was turning out to be quite a pleasant day, although S and F had never seen so many Bellringers. They assumed it was a side effect of them living so far removed from the power hobbies that their presence seemed odd. They had never been career oriented people and, as such, had never learnt to Morris dance, bell ring or take part in any other quaint English traditions. Ever since the dreadful “Brexit” incident decades before, English traditions had started to take over until eventually they became the hobbies required to get a cushy government job. Sort of the equivalent of Eton, or so they had heard. Eventually, the College of Youths had gained so much power that they staged a coup and overthrew the Conservatives. Ever since that day (“beerday”) the Morris men had taken over the universities and bell ringers had become the people in charge. They began imposing many rules, including a recommending weekly minimum of alcohol consumption (14 units) and regulations to cover everything else that wasn’t method shaped.

Sammy and Felicity’s musings were interrupted at that moment as a very old man appeared out of nowhere who began to gesture profusely at them. Given that he had a hat, they assumed he was the guard and passed him the stub of orange paper that was their tickets. He then surprised them both by becoming quite animated upon receiving the orange stub and a huge smile spread across his face.

“This ticket is for Rye! You’ll need another!” he exclaimed. They looked worriedly at each other in shock. Had they got the wrong tickets?
“36 past the hour! Only one an hour!” he cried. He then shoved their wad of tickets back at them and disappeared.

Just as they were recovering from this incident, he bowled back into the carriage and thrusted another few tickets at them. “For Rye! On the house! I remember a group going this way before, years ago now. Didn’t know if they knew the train times, they looked a bit unreliable, but I told them! I helped them, they knew the train times once I was done with them!”.

He stopped, smiled happily at them once more, then retreated to another carriage with a look of glee etched into his features.

Sammy and Felicity looked at each other and burst out laughing just as the train pulled into Hastings. “36 minutes past the hour!” burbled the intercom as they stepped off the train.

Bewildered and amused, they realised they didn’t actually have a plan now they were here, so they stood around thinking about the possibilities for 10 or 15 minutes, making sure they’d considered them all before attempting to find some lunch, which had actually been their first thought.

Wandering aimlessly, they attempted to enter a slightly-not-regulation pub that served almost-regulation beer but found it to not serve any regulation food at all, so they turned back the way they came, filled with increased hunger and frustration. Adventures weren’t all the were cracked up to be when you have an empty stomach!

Given that eating sub-regulation food was problematic, they settled on the government pub chain, a ‘spoons. Guaranteed to serve exactly regulation food at all times, they wandered in, ordered their usual and sat down. This particular ‘spoons was one of the rare ones that used to have a “Wether” before it, before the prefix was eliminated back in ’34.

Freshly fed and watered, they headed for the beach, then went North through the old town after taking in spot of seagull feeding by the local Ice Cream shop, and stumbled onto another church and set of government officials. Quite bewildered, they ran away quickly before the heavy and apparently quite hard bells started up again. There were only so many officials they could take in one day.

They hadn’t gone 5 steps before they remembered the guard’s warning – there was only 15 minutes before the train to Rye! After a very hurried trip across Hastings, they boarded the train and arrived in the pretty town. Here, they spotted an old, dilapidated coffee shop that looked as if it had just been bought by a tea company, as well as, obviously, the church which appeared to be offering tours up to the top.

Deciding that the local government might appreciate them taking part in the tour, and therefore hopefully lowering their beer requirement due to good behaviour, they headed up. Shortly after ascending the first set of stairs, they encountered a very slim passage, a very loud clock and a very eccentric man talking loudly about bells being up or down or both in some order that he didn’t seem to quite understand.

Quickly recovering, they asked him about going to the top and he ushered them up after slipping them a piece of paper. They thanked him, headed up and opened the paper once he was out of sight. It was an old photograph of a bunch of young people looking happy and beautiful on a lovely summers day on the top of this very same church. Feeling inspired, they took a quick “belfie” at the top of the tower, took in the view and headed down quickly, ready to catch the train back to the B&B.

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On arrival, their hosts were just firing up a bbq so they settled in, helped themselves to a very large glass of gin, and had an enjoyable evening with the other guests discussing the extremes of regulation towns, flower arranging competitions and sleepy villages.

On Sunday they rose with a sore head and high spirits. They got up promptly to listen to the regulation Sunday morning bell session from the local church and set out to wander some country lanes for a morning. After they had got good and lost were forced to ask for directions and flagged down the first vehicle that headed their way. Unfortunately for them, it was a truck of Morris dancers heading to a festival.

“What’ya doin’ wanderin’ round these roads, lassie? Yer in the mid’le o’ nowhere!” he cried out the window, jangling gently. “We’ll give yer a lift to the next government spot o’er that hill!”.

Thanking their drivers, they got out hurriedly after a short, hair-raising drive round the Sussex countryside. Felicity had always disliked Morris dancers. She only took part in the weekly class back home because it was that or bell-ringing and she didn’t much fancy being one of those people.

Looking around, the local government centre was, unsurprisingly, a church, with a large double car park and a luscious looking garden off to the left. It must be quite a high up official to have such a nice place!

They stepped through the oak doors and were immediately met by a large glass walled waiting room. They took their seats, were asked difficult questions about things such as names of various methods which they didn’t know the in’s and out’s of, all whilst being stared at by people through the glass.

They felt a bit trapped, like wild animals in a cage, and were very relieved when they were finally met by a very jolly lady who gave them directions and set them free. While she walked them back to their car, she told them they had given the best answers to the method questions since a young group had showed up, years ago, to ring the bells there. She even had some old CCTV stills from their monitoring system, and to their surprise they recognised the same group from the picture on the top of the church in Rye! Asking about them, the jolly lady told them they were a group of pre-Brexit incident bell ringers who did it for fun rather than power. Apparently they had been down for the weekend, visited many towns and were keenly remembered by all the locals as some of the nicest people they had met before the hobby was taken over by bureaucracy and elite power struggles.

She seemed almost nostalgic as she told them this and they had to ask what else she knew about the group. She stared off wistfully into the sky for a bit before recalling that they had next headed to a small set of bells in a small garage. Their interest perked, they asked for directions and set off across the fields to finish the story of the set of bell ringers they had unwittingly followed in the footsteps of. The quest was nearly over and they had only just discovered it had begun! How exciting!

The garage had since become a museum of English Traditions, filled with memorabilia, artifacts and memories. They explored extensively discovering quaint items including some kind of slow running bell, a box called “Becca” and some slanty pieces of wood that matched the floor. There was also a collection of morris bells, plenty of photos and a delicious chocolate cake to be consumed! While they muched they asked the owners about the group of happy bell ringers that had travelled through all those years before. The owners immediately broke into the blissful look Sammy and Felicity had some to associate with the travelling group as they regaled them of stories of how “Becca’s box” came into being and their memories of the group.

Before they knew it, they’d been chatting to the owners for hours and the sun was beginning to set. They hurried back toward the station, turning down further offers of cake, and were just in time to catch the train home to East Croydon. On the journey home, they reflected on their adventures around Hastings, Rye, Lewes and all the villages in between. Seeing all the happy, smiling faces of the locals as they discovered more about the roaming band of bell ringers had given them a new appreciation for their government, for the hobby of bell ringing and all the old English traditions that were forced upon them by the new regime.

They both silently resolved to take up bell-ringing, but to do it for fun, for the laughs and for the friends they would meet along the way. They would also do it for the challenge. The establishment needed shaking up and England needed to be returned to the relaxing, friendly, accepting and diverse place it used to be. They could do it, they decided, as they entered their regulation house with regulation garden. Making themselves a cup of tea, Sammy and Felicity Rider settled down to plot some very much non-regulation treason. What an adventure it had been!

By Ben Clive