Peggy Williams: Going Up in High Point
One of my closest friends was the first person I heard coin the name ‘the surgeon’ for Peggy Williams.
“She puts her hands on me and they feel enormous, like I imagine Alexander’s did. She just opens me up. I call her ‘the surgeon’. She can put me right in two minutes”.
With PR like that, how could I resist…!
I had been teaching for a couple of years and still did not know very much. I was already having lessons with Margaret Goldie and with Patrick Macdonald, but my friend assured me that Peggy’s work was something different again.
Peggy lived in High Point, an upmarket 1930’s modernist apartment block (designed by Berthold Lubetkin) in Highgate, London. She was always very welcoming, but definitely didn’t like anybody arriving late.
Standing in front of ‘the chair’ on a thick rug in my stocking feet, I felt her ‘enormous’ (yes they felt like that) hands arrive on my shoulders and start to press them down. The more they released, the more I went up!. It seemed as though my whole frame was going up from the inside and that there was no end to it. With a prod at my hips, my knees went forward and then I was in the chair. I went on going up.
Getting out of the chair was easy if you kept the back back; something Alexander insisted on, she said – adding that many young teachers coming to her would ‘lurch forward’ as soon as they felt the slightest pressure on their backs.
Then she would put me on the table, still chatting throughout; her ‘surgeon’s hands’ would go to work, opening up my whole body. Under those hands everything just let go, and I knew then what my friend had been talking about.
The lessons mostly followed that pattern, and at some point she would always ask “Well, any news?” She loved to hear what was going on in the Alexander world and always had some good gossip to exchange.
There was a lovely flow of direction as she worked, and she kindly commented once that it was a pleasure “to work with someone who knows how to direct”, adding that giving me a lesson was like receiving a lesson, because I had so much direction. She would often make supportive remarks like that, which was very encouraging for a young teacher. When I was grumbling once about some persistent difficulty, her response was “Don’t worry! It must come right in the end, because the direction is there”.
Mostly she would stimulate the upward response of the anti-gravity mechanisms with her hands on my (troublesome) shoulders, or with one hand on my head and the other on my back. Once though, coming off the table, she took my head forward and up with such clarity that I can almost feel it as I write now, some 25 years later.
I continued to see Peggy every couple of months for about three years between 1986 and 1989.
I was very glad to have had that experience, particularly from a senior teacher not only trained by Alexander but also strongly associated with the Constructive Teaching Centre, where she taught for 17 years.
An Interview with Peggy Williams, by Glen Park, is very helpful reading for all teacher-trainees.
© 2013 John S Hunter
Lovely, lovely to be reminded of Peggy’s work, and yes, those amazingly ‘HUGE’ hands! I can feel them now as I type – thanks, John! I went for lessons about once every 2-3 months for many years; my treat to me (an important treat of course) as I lived about 2 hours away. I much respected her timing too; in the door at (say) 10am, welcomed as we walked to the little room, onto that rug, hands on and away she went…. And up off the table (under those lovely mobiles!) and into my shoes, diary out, cheque written, to the door and out, at bang on 10.30…. Peggy’s direction was powerful in every event. I remember her saying (which I quote often and remind myself frequently), “Don’t worry, you’re going along nicely; the first fifty years are the hardest!” Along with ‘that twinkle’ of hers…. So, I still have 18 years to go!! 🙂 Thank you for the reminder and ‘re-stimulus’.