Patrick Macdonald: #3, “…at this game for quite a while”, Lewes, 1988
Patrick Macdonald contracted a serious illness whilst teaching in New York in the late ’80’s and retired from running his school in Victoria, London. However, he continued to teach from his home in Swanborough near Lewes, East Sussex and soon attracted visitors from all over the world.
A trip to Swanborough was quite a ritual; meeting two or three colleagues at Victoria Station, a journey of an hour or so to Lewes, then a taxi ride out of the town and into the countryside. Most of the taxi drivers knew where to go if you just said “Mr Macdonald’s in Swanborough”.
His wife Allison would answer the door. Mr Macdonald, if he wasn’t working, and their two large dogs would come and greet you.
Mrs Macdonald liked to chat, but after a minute or so he would say “Come on then, let’s start to work” and lead you into an area of the living room – with a view out into the garden – right beside his aviary, which had a floor-to-ceiling plate glass window through which one could see the birds chirping away. Not that one was there to look at the birds, and if one’s attention got distracted, Mr Macdonald would soon bring you back.
As soon as his hand touched the back of your neck, he knew your level of experience.
“You’ve been at this game for quite a while, haven’t you” he said.
His illness – a viral infection that had got into his brain – had affected him rather like a stroke; some of his mobility was impaired and he did not communicate very much. His hands and his “work attention”, however, had lost none of their force.
It was as well to go with colleagues as otherwise the continuous movement in and out of the chair could become tiring. On one occasion, thinking I might gain some respite, I asked him to do “hands on the back of a chair” with me. “Yes, all right” he said. A colleague brought another chair over, Mr Macdonald quickly placed my hands on the back of it and, with my hands still there, resumed getting me in and out of the chair……
The most rewarding part of the experience, though, was putting hands on each other under his guidance. Then, you were in the crucible ….. and there was no escape.
© 2013 John S Hunter
The last time I saw Mr Macdonald was also 1988. During the International Conference that year in Brighton, groups of his graduates would drive over to his house in Lewes to share an hour lesson. He was so ill by then he didn’t remember our names or where we’d come from, asking the same questions of us several times during the session. He would also repeat sitting and standing until we asked for something else.
Though he seemed rather collapsed and his attention was mostly distant, his direction was very clear. It allowed me to consider that direction may persist even when consciousness is impaired.
I’m very glad I had that experience. In my teaching room I have a photo taken of Mr Macdonald and me during that lesson. I love talking about it when students ask about the older man in the picture.