You can perhaps look for too many points of reference in a piece, still it’s an interesting fact that the Rink Ballroom was open for exactly the same amount of years as I have been on this planet. Either I am very old or my impression of its lifespan is effected not so much by the building or even the people I have met who passed through it, but by its place in a wider world context.
It began life as a roller rink for pleasant Sunday excursions and local pageants, a place for Victorian families to loosen up a bit. Pretty soon it was billeting first world war soldiers and the skaters were soon up to their knees in Belgian mud and futility. Bit of a break for general societal re-ordering and the demise of the servant class. Votes for all but no real change in the Great British class structure. Then another world war; the disillusioned now given a more noble cause to fight for. You really would be pissed off if you had been unlucky enough to have to fight in both of them though. How easy us baby boomers have had it in that respect.
Moving swiftly on, post war you actually get a health service, a dwindling empire and a little hope on the horizon for better days ahead (even though the majority are still in comparative post war poverty). You make it through the fifties into a generational revolution where all previous values are turned on their head and for a brief moment love and peace prevail as a plausible concept at least. You have to say that’s quite an accelerated burst of history going on there. From servant to soldier to master of your own destiny.
By comparison what has taken place in my lifetime? On the surface technological development has been exponential. We brits have been blessed with avoiding compulsory war. You can of course still follow it as a career route. We have seen the rise of consumerism as god, and the idea that year on year growth is the only possible model for mankind; so we have obligingly consumed as much as we can. I was lucky enough to come from a back street in Leeds, go to sixth form and then art college without too much pressure to conform to previous employment or obvious class models . I did my own thing. I am a product of relative societal affluence and freedom. Even when I hadn’t a bean to my name I felt positive about the future. There was a safety net of sorts.
As far as I can see the biggest change in my lifetime has been the explosion of information and the challenge of what to do with it all. We exploded a communications bomb and got buried in data fallout. Our ability to evolve as a bunch of people who can all get on together doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere fast though. We just have more and more background noise. Jaw, jaw is only any use if you speak the same language. We are still somewhat in need of metaphysical interpreters.
So I look at the sad black and white photo of the Rink Ballroom with its windows boarded up. It’s difficult to appreciate the journey it has been on. I talk to the people who made the building come alive and I am impressed by the diversity of their lives, but it is my imagination powered by the background of documentation from earlier times that puts it into context. It is actually quite annoying that early BBC television broadcast tapes were typically erased for re-use, but in another way that lack of total documentation allows other forms of reconstruction.
This piece is about how a grain of sand can make a pearl; about making magic from the not obviously magic. It requires that you see it through both a macro lens and a wide angle. My own life seems to have been uneventful in comparison, but maybe future generations will be amazed by the fundamental shifts in world order and perception my generation have (albeit grudgingly) had to adapt to.