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Lessons with Miss G: #9, People and Places

Miss Goldie and John Skinner, an Australian teacher trained by FM and then later his secretary, shared premises in Soho Square, next to the French Protestant Church. The waiting room (shared with Skinner, who had his own teaching room in another part of the building) and her teaching space had been one large room and was divided with stud-walls. A climbing plant of some sort had been trained all around the picture rail. Although there were lots of chairs, I think I only once or twice encountered another person – waiting for a lesson with John Skinner. The stud walls, as mentioned in an earlier post, provided hardly any sound-proofing.

In her teaching room, the smaller half of the divided space, the furniture all seemed tiny; a writing bureau, some chairs, a small couch in one corner for the extremely rare lying-down turns, a portrait-style photograph of FM on one wall, a small ‘attic-type’ window looking out at the adjacent London buildings; sometime later there arrived on the floor beside her bureau a rather large doll of Mrs Tiggy Winkle – the hedgehog washerwoman from Tales of Beatrix Potter – who stared at you surrealistically while you were trying to ‘not react’.

On the third or fourth floor of the building was a men’s washroom which was usually locked. On one occasion I fortunately found it open and went in. There was a ‘seriously suited’ elderly gentleman in there, looking very much like one of Charles Dickens’s less loveable characters; one thought of Mr Murdstone. He glared at me suspiciously. “I suppose you have a key?” he challenged me. “Well no I don’t, actually” I replied. “Hmm! Then whom are you here to see?” he growled. “Miss Goldie” I answered.

His manner then changed entirely; Mr Murdstone disappeared and there before my very eyes stood none other than Mr Pickwick. “Oh, Miss Goldie!” he said. “Well that’s all right then. Take your time and I’ll send someone to lock up. Do have a good lesson…. but I am sure you will. Good day!”

I believe the gentleman owned the business which leased the building and that he gave Miss G and John Skinner their rooms at a very favourable rate. Some years later, however, the lease expired and Miss G and John Skinner had to go. They moved to the Bloomsbury Alexander Centre in Southampton Row near the British Museum. Several of Miss Goldie’s pupils helped her to relocate, and it was pleasant to see her in another context than ‘the lesson’. I drove into Soho Square to take some things in my car to Southampton Row. My then girlfriend Elena, who was also having lessons with Miss G, came too. There was a touching moment as we parted from Miss G when Elena, being Spanish, moved towards Miss G to embrace her. Then, just as Miss G moved forward in response, Elena hesitated – thinking that she oughtn’t to – Miss G hesitated … and the moment had gone.

Rumour had it that MIss G had brought her vacuum cleaner in with her on the underground to make sure she left the old place clean. I don’t know if it is true, but it would not surprise me.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Being With Erika: #13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

After Christmas and New Year with her family in Edinburgh, Erika had a few more days in London before her flight back to Australia. The book she gave me as a Christmas present reflected many of our conversations about Taoism and Zen over the past weeks. She was particularly fond of the story about the Taoist master who – when asked, “What is the Tao?” – replied, “It’s nothing special”.

It’s time to drive her to the airport and we are, for some reason, behind schedule. Before I know it she is off downstairs with her heavy suitcase.

“Erika!” I exclaim, “Let me carry that for you!”

“It’s all right” she replies. “I’m not carrying it. It’s just hanging from my arm.”

Then we are in the car and up onto the flyover of the motorway.

I’m anxiously checking the time and calculating how long it will take to get to the airport, find a parking space and walk to the terminal. Erika is watching the planes flying parallel to us on their approach to Heathrow.

“Erika, don’t you get nervous when you are late for a plane?” I ask her.

“What’s to be nervous about? I am just sitting in a car watching the traffic or the planes … and that’s all!”

A couple of weeks later I was very surprised to receive a phone call from her in Melbourne. She was a wonderful correspondent and I am one of several people with a great collection of letters from her (will they ever be published?) but, calls being still very expensive at that time, she practically never phoned.

“That book I gave you…” she said, “…it’s on page 29. That’s what Alexander was trying to teach us. You can’t separate things.”

I found the quote and read it over to myself, recalling several conversations we had had about making the link between Alexander work and daily life. They are words I often come back to:

“All practices are carried out at once: there is no before or after, and no in between.” 1

1. Zen Dawn: Early Zen Texts from Tun Huang, translated by J. C. Cleary, Shambala Publications Inc, London and Boston, 1986, p29

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#10,  A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993

Being with Erika: #12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993

At the end of that very intense fortnight, I wanted to give Erika all the money that people had paid for the workshops. There was a considerable sum. I pulled out a wad of banknotes and handed them to her.

“Oh but you must take half of that for all the work you have done in organising everything and looking after me.” she said.

“Oh no Erika!” I replied, taken aback. “I couldn’t possibly take any of this money.”

Erika was very quiet. She looked at me – right into my eyes, right into me – and said, “You’re worrying, aren’t you!”

“But Erika” I protested. “It simply isn’t right!”

She wasn’t interested in any of that. Here was a ‘teaching situation’. She was already aware of my propensity to worry, and this was her chance to show me something.

“Yes” she said. “But you’re worrying!”.

Then I got it. I was, for a moment, quite separate from my ‘worrying’, and could see it. In the seeing of it I became momentarily free from it. I laughed, she laughed. We agreed on a division of the money we were both happy with – and moved on.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#10,  A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

Being with Erika: #11, Hands, London 1994

Although she did not express it very much, Erika was concerned about the way that Alexander’s work had developed over the fifty years since she had been at Ashley Place. I will try and put into words in another post what she conveyed to me over a period of several years, but I recall that when on one occasion the subject of “hands” came up. I told her the story Margaret Goldie had told me, about FM saying after the class one day that “They are all in such a hurry to use their hands. I’m waiting for the one who isn’t”.

She was visibly shaken. This was obviously of quite some significance to her.

“Then why didn’t he tell us?” she exclaimed. Of course, I could not answer.

Soon afterwards she had the opportunity to speak to Walter Carrington about it, and asked him if it was indeed true that FM had said that. Walter replied that it was true.

“Then why didn’t he tell us?” she asked.

Walter’s reply was: “FM didn’t believe in telling people what to do”.

This whole incident had particular resonance for Erika because of the division of the students into two groups in the first training course and all that had ensued from that.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#10,  A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

Lessons with Miss G: #8, Hands

A friend of mine went for her first lesson with Miss Goldie. Being from out of town, my friend was staying in the house of another teacher in London. When my friend got back to her digs, her host asked her, curious about the lesson with Miss G, “What were her hands like?”

My friend, to her and her host’s surprise, heard herself saying “Oh, she didn’t use her hands”.

She later explained to me that of course Miss G had used her hands, but what she experienced in the lesson was not about “hands”; it was about what was going on in her brain and nervous system.

Another colleague, speaking of his lessons with Miss G, once said that “she grabbed your throat with her bony hands and you thought she was going to throttle you, but in time you learned to love those hands”.

Some people I knew, quick to judge according to their own criteria, never returned after one lesson – not finding the soft, direction-giving hands they associated with learning the Alexander Technique.

It is true that Miss Goldie did not ‘give directions’ in the way most of us were used to. Sometimes she hardly used her hands at all – just a light tap from time to time as a reminder to ‘think in activity’; at other times she might be very firm in indicating a direction – particularly to the back.

My own impression was, like my friend’s, that the hands were almost incidental; there was a contact on another level taking place which called forth a different quality of attention.

She told me that Alexander, speaking of his students after the training course one morning, complained that ‘They are all in such a hurry to use their hands. I’m waiting for the one who isn’t”

© 2013 John S Hunter

Being with Erika: #10, A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993

Whenever Erika was staying with me I was always keen to get her to talk about her insights into the Alexander Technique and the key individuals involved in its discovery and transmission. Sometimes this became a distraction from actually ‘entering into the moment’.

Erika taught me a lesson, without words and without touch.

After dinner one evening I was washing up. Erika picked up a tea towel and began to dry the dishes. I was impatient to go and sit down and talk about the Alexander Technique. Erika was living it. The more I rushed, the more contrast I sensed between my movements and the freedom with which her arm would appear from somewhere behind me and pick up a plate or bowl or cup. But still I carried on along my furrow of end-gaining.

Then the hand stopped appearing. I turned a little so I could see her in my peripheral vision. She had “stopped”; not ‘frozen’, not ‘paused’ but ‘stopped’. Sometimes when one was with Erika, one became aware of her thought processes. She had stopped, and was giving herself a choice. I felt at that moment that she was perfectly free to put down the tea towel and simply walk out of the kitchen, or to remain quiet and still, or to carry on drying the dishes. She chose to carry on.

By now I had got the message; not only about my own rushing, but more critically about the difference between ‘pausing’ and ‘stopping’. Stopping opens a door into other options.

Even a seemingly mundane activity like ‘doing the washing-up’ could be a medium for teaching.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

Marjory Barlow: #2, “The Only Freedom We Have”, London 1984

Some years after that first experience of ‘magic’ with Marjory, I began to see her regularly for lessons. It was during my last term of teacher training,

Her approach was very much to emphasise ‘saying no’, ‘giving orders’ and to work with the basic procedures. She talked of ‘orders’ rather than ‘directions’ and the ‘orders’ were given with the idea that they might bring about some change later. She once described the process as rather like laying telephone cable: no messages can get through until the cable reaches its destination; if you don’t feel anything happening, it doesn’t mean nothing is happening; just go on ‘laying cables’ and be patient; eventually the messages will get through.

Marjory would often say. “I’m doing exactly what F.M. did. I haven’t changed anything.”

In one lesson she said to me, “My use might be a bit better than yours; that’s only because I’ve been working at it for longer. But when it comes to saying ‘no’ to a stimulus, we are all in the same boat. That never becomes easy or automatic.”

She also said – and it was one of those moments that really stay with you “the space in between stimulus and response is the only freedom we have“.

© 2013 John S Hunter