I was reminded of my early Ringroad performances the other day (May 2017) while chatting with Paul Spence at an informal, curry-oriented gathering of the old school clan.
When Paul mentioned that his extensive energy sector interests include nuclear power, I found myself reciting the Ringroad Windscale poem from memory – the first and last verse simply flowed as if I had read or performed it just the other day.
Paul asked if I had a copy of the poem. I said I probably did – see below.
I didn’t write the poem. I’m not sure who did. Possibly Frank Dillon; at least Frank would probably know who wrote it. I’d like to credit it if anyone reading this can let me know the name of the author.
That chat with Paul brought back a flood of memories about my sabbatical year summer and my first Ringroad performances.
Over the summer, Keele would get waves of Open University students passing through for short face-to-face courses. This was rich pickings for a depleted Ringroad troupe, as you could redeploy the same material, show after show, secure in the knowledge that it was new to the frequently-changing audience.
Further, the Open University audience had money. Ringroad was traditionally performed on an “entry free, pay what you like on exit” basis. Our own impoverished students would tend to chip in with a couple of bob at best (nothing at worst), whereas the OU students would happily toss 50p pieces or pound coins/notes into the hat. One OU performance could easily generate a week’s-worth of beer money for two or three performers.
Frank Dillon, who was a seasoned Ringroad writer and performer, was around that summer and we spent a lot of time with him. I guess I was the only sabbatical mad enough (or perhaps I should say keen enough on a bit of extra-curricular performance and beer money) to agree to give Ringroad a try with him.
I recall Adrian Gorst joining me and Frank in performing Ringroad on occasions that summer, but I’m pretty sure that my first attempt was just me and Frank, an idea possibly hatched by Frank because Adrian was away. Frank probably sealed the deal with me a couple of nights before:
Thursday 16 August…went to Burtonwood piss up with Frank in eve
John White was also around that summer but didn’t want to perform Ringroad. It was just a few days earlier (14 August) that John and I started doing Union discos together – I’ll cover the discos and much more about that summer in other Ogblog pieces.
Still, it seems that my first attempt at Ringroad went well enough:
Saturday 18 August…did Ringroad in the evening – good larf
Frank and I did it again the next day:
Sunday 19 August…spent afternoon going over Ringroad stuff with Frank. Performed Ringroad in evening.
But perhaps I was over-stretching myself taking on all this novel activity at the same time:
Tuesday 21 August…did Ringroad and disco – both went down rather badly.
I recall that the OU students had somewhat of a reputation in the eyes of the regular Keele people. Let me merely say that many an OU student’s ring finger would show evidence of very recent ring removal, especially in the evenings.
Indeed, had the term “cougar hunter” been invented back then, performing Ringroad to the OU students might have been described as, “like wielding a two bore rifle in a jungle densely inhabited by felines of a particular species”.
Not that I am suggesting that Frank Dillon and I were “two bores”. Far from it. Moreover, neither of us were interested in that particular fringe benefit.
In fact, I recall, after one of those early performances, Frank was relentlessly chased after the show by a very enthusiastic middle-aged OU woman who said she loved the show and clearly took a particular shine to Frank. I think it might have been the night that John and I also did the disco, so John and I only had limited opportunities to rescue Frank and help steer proceedings to a reasonably dignified conclusion.
If Frank had shown a more open-minded attitude to such matters, of course, he might have become President of France by now. Or at least Merseyside Metro Mayor.
Still, bunny boiling hadn’t yet been invented then either, so, as far as I know, no animals, (feline, lapine or indeed of any species) were harmed in the making of Ringroad that summer. Pady Jalali, our social secretary, a well-known protector of live fauna and carrion alike, will be much relieved to learn this.
Why did I recall all of this?
Oh yes, Windscale, Sellafield and the poem that I doubtless learned that first weekend of doing Ringroad and which has stuck in my brain ever since. The corn flake box which protected my collection of Ringroad scripts has long since disintegrated, but I have preserved the scripts as best I can in a file.
The author, if/when that person’s identity does come to light, might wish to explain their idiosyncratic spelling of Sellafield, but we’ll let that pass for now.