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
Being with Erika: #05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
There were two training courses in Melbourne in 1991: Vivien Mackie’s school at Melbourne Trinity College and Duncan Woodcock’s Melbourne Alexander Teacher Training School. Although both of these courses were from a different “line” or “tradition” to mine, the work seemed somehow familiar and I enjoyed my visits. What was it, though, that was different about Erika? And for that matter about Margaret Goldie? I could not really put my finger on it, but I wanted to find out.
At the end of my first week in Melbourne Diana came back. I had plenty of time still before I was due to start teaching in Sydney, and so I was pleased to accept her invitation to stay longer. I had the chance then to catch up with Valerie and David Rich, whom I had also known in London and, of course, spend more time with Erika.
I invited Erika, Diana and Jacqui to lunch at a well known Melbourne landmark, Jean Jacques by the Sea; a characterful restaurant in a refurbished bathing house. The conversation was alternately light and serious and everyone was having a grand old time. Erika’s stories were, as with all octogenarians, somewhat repetitive, but she was always alert, poised and full of life.
We were sitting at a window table and outside was a patio area with more tables. There seemed to be quite a lot going on at the one just the other side of the window, where a family was sitting. At one point I made a comment about something I had noticed. Erika then told me everything about that family: there were three children; the eldest was very serious and the middle one liked to joke around; Mum was trying to get the youngest one to eat something and Dad was beginning to think it was getting late; and so on and so forth. Erika had taken all that in without noticeably seeming even to look at them at all.
Her attention danced, while at the same time she kept her inner state collected. If ever one wanted a lesson in how to apply the Alexander Technique in life, the solution was to spend a few hours in Erika’s company.
Through our conversations I was beginning to realise that Erika had a very different perspective on what had happened in Ashley Place in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s; and in particular during the first teacher-training course which began in 1931. Over the next ten years pieces of this fascinating jigsaw began to fall into place.
I left Melbourne and flew to Alice Springs. I was treated to a rare phenomenon at Uluru; a setting sun, a full moon and then a lightning storm. Little waterfalls appeared overnight on the rock, and all the desert plants had the dust washed off them, so they appeared greener than green against the darkened red sand.
Then I was off to Sydney and back to my twin roles as “teacher” and “chairman”. Little did I know what a political minefield awaited me there.
© 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
#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
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994