‘Dancing at the Asylum’ by Marilyn Ricci

This is a poetry project which explores the concept of mental health, those enormous and dour mental institutions which used to dot the countryside until the turn of the last century, and leaves one wondering anew what happens to the people who used to be committed there, who are now cared for in the community.

The hospital in question is Carlton Hayes, which operated between 1908 and 1994. They buried their dead in an unmarked mass grave in the nearby cemetery of Narborough. To be mentally ill (or, sometimes, not even that – see below) was to be effaced from society.

I remember another of these institutions: St Lawrence’s Hospital just outside Bodmin, in Cornwall. It was purpose built as an asylum in 1818. It had patients until 2002. Some of them (and it was, quite rightly, a scandal when this came out) were young girls when they went in to have their illegitimate babies – and eventually died in there as old women. There were rumours of ill treatment of vulnerable and elderly inpatients.

Foster Hall, inside St Lawrence’s, had a generously equipped theatre and well sprung dance floor, just like Carlton Hayes. We staff of Wadebridge & Padstow R D C performed Mother Goose and Aladdin in Foster Hall in the Seventies, one night for the patients, the other nights for colleagues, friends and blow-ins. The patients were strange to play to: they tended to cry at the funny bits and become hysterical at the sad bits. St Lawrence’s was, I always felt, a sad and forbidding place. Many years later when visiting a creative writing student of mine in Aylesbury Prison, I was often reminded of St Lawrence’s. There was the same vigilance, the same obsession with signing in and out, with keys and locks. Unsurprising in a prison: more alarming in a hospital.

Marilyn Ricci is a poet, playwright and editor living in Narborough, Leicestershire. For many years she worked for the Open University. Her poetry has been widely published, including a pamphlet Rebuilding a Number 39 from HappenStance Press, and Night Rider, a full-length collection published by Soundswrite Press.

Ricci’s new pamphlet is illustrated by her daughter, Amanda Ricci. On the back cover the artist has drawn the old asylum. It is very like the one I knew, although more grey stone than red brick.

The poet imagined two ‘typical’ inpatients and has created a fictitious Admittance Report for each of them. From there she imagines their lives in the institution, high points and lows, interests and woes, culminating in the hospital’s Christmas Ball of 1966 where they become, as we say now ‘an item’. Their evening is a delightful one. We are left to wonder what happened to them after that.

This pamphlet is available from Amazon UK or from the publisher: website here https://www.quirkypress.co.uk/

All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to MIND, the mental health charity.


Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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