VISIONARY DREAM - 2021
I awoke to find myself as a middle-aged man in the presence of a wonderful golden boy-child of about ten years old. My heart surged with an inexplicable affection for this shining child such that I felt I would burst from the overload of such novel and intense feelings, the like of which I had never before experienced.
We were sitting side by side on the steps of a large, ruined house which I somehow knew was my boyhood home. We looked out together upon a serene Arcadian landscape. Whilst all around us was calm and penetratingly pastel, in the distance we looked toward a violent sea, the setting sun engulfed by apocalyptic storm clouds.
The boy-child took my hand and led me towards the oncoming tempest until we reached the edge of a high cliff. The sounds of the roiling ocean rose up from far below, echoing repeatedly in a series of bewildering cross-rhythms. In my anxiety due to the extreme proximity of the terrifying precipice confronting me, I momentary forgot about the boy-child as I was compelled to lie down, paralysed with dread.
The boy, on the other hand seemingly oblivious of the ever-present danger before him, moved to the very edge of the abyss and peered over. As he turned to look me in the eye, his foot slipped. I instantly forgot my fear and still in my prone position tried to reach out and grasp his hand as he clung to the edge of disaster. Inexplicably my arm extended itself enabling me to stretch out and save him.
At first, he seemed as light as air itself. But as I tried to pull him back from the brink he grew steadily heavier. I felt myself begin to slip as an ever-increasing weight pulled me toward mutual oblivion. Just as the load on my extended arm became relentless, I became aware that my inexorable slide toward the cliff’s edge had ceased. A contrary force was pulling on my legs.
In my dream, I was able to look down from above and observe. My limbs had transformed themselves into tentacular roots, now firmly planted into the rocky terrain upon which I lay, solidly anchored to the Arcadian landscape of which I was now an indivisible part. My extended arm had become a sturdy bough onto which the boy-child clung. It was at this point that I realised that his fate was no longer in my hands.
As he let go, I felt everything that was “him” jump across the synapse which separated us. In the electrical epiphany of the moment, I realised the “he” was “me”.
Soon my life will be over. The end of winter is fast approaching. Now an old man at peace with the past, I sit in solitude upon those same steps leading up to the front door of my boyhood home.
A searing memory of that epiphanal moment drops unbidden into my mind. Having no agency to do any other, I turn and walk up the steps. For the first time since my prepubescent childhood, I confront that forbidding place.
Upon crossing the threshold, the crumbling interior quickly fades to black. Facing me at the end of a long corridor the old familiar backdoor stands provocatively ajar: willing me through.
Across the threshold, I see my mother and father as I remember them best, standing in an oasis of summer lawn surrounded by a wilderness of long-abandoned farmland. The Nepalese Himalayas dominate the horizon.
Between them stands a sparkling boy-child.
Maidstone is the county town of Kent and it stands on the banks of the River Medway. Maidstone’s oldest surviving building, the Bishop’s Palace, fronts the river beside the great medieval church of All Saints. Much of the town’s historic heart survives, including buildings such as the museum. Just a few miles outside Maidstone, at the foot of the North Downs, is Leeds village. It is where I was born on July 30th 1947 and is best known for its fairytale castle. In my childhood days, it was an attractive village living up to every modern romantic notion of what an old fashioned village should be. Back then there was a working forge on the main street where the blacksmith did every job from shoeing horses to making and mending things like wrought iron gates, grilles, railings, tools, and agricultural implements.
In the early 1950s, there was still serious food rationing in the aftermath of WW2. Thus the local butcher’s shop was no longer what it was in the pre-war years. Nevertheless, there was plenty of game hanging up in the window – rabbits, hares, ducks and pigeons. And under the counter? All manner of wicked things including pheasant and partridge poached from the estate
At the centre of village life was the post office. It was here that all the gossip took place; where the female servants and other domestic staff working in the houses of the well-to-do gathered to report on their employer’s “doings”.
In those days, telephone exchanges were manually operated, needing an “operator” to “connect you”. In these small rural exchanges, such as that which served Leeds, eavesdropping was irresistible. Nothing remained secret for very long. The doctor’s house was a favourite: From pregnancy to piles – cancer to alcoholism; no one could be ill without word getting around.
There were two pubs, The George and The Ten Bells. It was in the public bars of these pubs that the corresponding men-folk exchanged their news. And after hours? The parties got together at bedtime and compared notes, cross-fertilizing the fruit of the day’s intelligence-gathering; - thus replenishing the stock of tittle-tattle for another day. It was all very “Miss Marple”.
The village school educated “the village kids”. “Posh kids” went elsewhere. There was strict segregation maintained between the children of the well-heeled and the kids of the working classes. All contact was discouraged if not completely forbidden. From my side of the tracks, the parental concern was with things like head lice, disease and foul language. From the other side, it was stuff about not mixing with “your betters” and the risk of being made to take the blame from any likely trouble.
The village church of St Nicholas, whereas a teenager, I spent many maniacal hours thundering at the organ, was originally Saxon. A massive Norman tower was added in the 12th century. It contains a fine 15th-century rood screen. Inside the tower, the ringing chamber has seen regular strenuous activity for centuries. The ten bells are housed in an ancient oak frame, one of the earliest surviving ten-bell frames in England. My great grandmother and “Gramp” are buried there. Her first husband, my real great grandfather, is buried somewhere in India.
Leeds Castle has been the home of kings, queens and noblemen for almost all its history, and for three hundred years during which it enjoyed the status of 'The Ladies' Castle,' it was home to no fewer than eight of England's medieval queens.
Throughout history, Leeds village has been dominated by the castle. Once upon a time, the castle would have shared the local limelight with the great medieval abbey church. Alas, that was destroyed by Henry VIII's sweeping Reformation in 1536 and is only remembered now by my birthplace, Leeds Abbey Farm, a substantial medieval building in its own right located just a few hundred yards from the old ruins.
LEEDS ABBEY FARM
My connection with Kent, Leeds and the castle was my grandfather, Richard Boucher, who, having tried his luck in Australia during the depression, returned to England in the early 1930s, completely broke. With some help from his father, he somehow managed to obtain a lifetime lease on the three thousand acres Leeds Castle estate. He had one son, Robert (Bobby) and two daughters, Patricia, my mother to be and Rosemary. Robert and Patricia were born in Australia. Rosemary was born at Leeds Abbey. When war broke out in 1939, Patricia was sent to friends in America but returned as soon as she was old enough to enlist and she joined the Women’s Air Force.
My father’s story could not be more of a contrast. He was the product of Edwardian respectability. His father, Reginald John Godfrey, was strict even by the values of those days. A veteran of WW1, he was a banker on the board of Hambros Bank in the City Of London. He was obsessively prudent with money and took complete control of all household expenditures.
He had three children; my father, John, born in 1922 followed by my Auntie Pamela and Uncle Michael. He put his boys through the best education that money could buy, intending them to take their places within the ruling class of The British Empire. He sent them to Tonbridge, an exclusive public school in Kent, where he and his father before him had both been educated.
Unfortunately, he died young and unexpectedly when my father was just eleven, leaving my grandmother, Florence, to cope at a time when a gathering storm once more threatened to plunge Europe into another war.
Florence now found herself in control of a fairly large inheritance. Never having been allowed to touch or handle money, she soon made a number of poor decisions. In part, the Great Depression of the 1930s can be blamed; but not entirely. My grandmother, now liberated from the austerity imposed by her late husband, went on a binge. Whilst her two boys were tucked up in boarding school, taking her daughter Pamela with her, she embarked on a world cruise, sailing first class. That, the falling stock market, together with her many other extravagances, soon consumed her capital and by the outbreak of war, she had to get a job. There was virtually nothing left.
My father left Tonbridge School in 1941 and joined the Indian Army. After a brief spell of regular army duty, he volunteered for special operations. He became a V-Force commander operating secretly behind the lines in Burma. Before the war had ended, he was severely wounded in an action at Manpa on the Chindwin River. He was awarded the Military Cross for his trouble and spent the remainder of the war on the downs above Maidstone, training young men in the art of jungle warfare.
It was at this time that my mother and father met, fell in love and married. Initially, they moved into Leeds Abbey with my mother’s family and my father began working for his father-in-law.
Like his three younger brothers, my grandfather was a charming but naughty man, both sexually and financially. He had a nearby mistress called Edith. She was quite a bit younger; a land girl who lived on the estate. Although he was openly cheating on my grandmother, he pointedly looked after her material needs with utter dedication. He remained devoted to Edith until his death in 1983.
More seriously, he was a scoundrel. He became involved in the black marketing of grain and petrol during the war which continued thereafter. Inevitably, he dragged my father into these middle-of-the-night transactions. Dad was an honourable and strictly straight-down-the-line chap and he hated this aspect of his relationship with my mother’s family. Nevertheless, as I grew up amongst them, I thought my mother’s family, The Bouchers, a grand and classy family to be a member of. I did not recognise their snobbish bigotry for what it was. I took their nasty prejudices to be the norm – and it probably was.
The Leeds Abbey household was quite large. Altogether there were my grandparents, Richard and Ethel Boucher; Ethel’s mother (my great-grandmother) and her second husband, Gramp; my mother’s younger sister, Rosemary; my parents; me; two elderly Hindus and a live-in maid.
My parents’ closest friends were Peter Curry who was my Godfather and Joe and Monica Smethurst. "Auntie" Monica, as we knew her as children, was my Godmother. Monica had been my mother’s friend in the WAF. Joe was a buddy of my father. When my parents first met each other, so did Joe and Monica.
According to Monica, with whom I had a long conversation shortly before her death in 2006, I was a difficult and “clingy” child. She told me that after I was born my mother had had difficulty in feeding me. Apparently, she suffered from inverted nipples and found the process of breastfeeding difficult and painful. The consequence was that I virtually starved during my first few weeks of life.
Subsequently, my mother sank into postnatal depression and as a result, hadn’t wanted much to do with me. Once the problem with me had been diagnosed, the doctor recommended that a wet nurse be found if possible. Going straight on to bottle-feeding when I was at such a low ebb might push me over the edge. I have no memory of my wet nurse and I cannot recollect her name; or even if I ever knew what it was. All I know is that she was a young woman from the estate with a baby of her own who was able to do what my mother couldn’t. Once I was well enough to be bottle-fed, I went back to my mother and Leeds Abbey. Life went on.
THE GODFREYS & THE BOUCHERS
When I was about six months old, we moved out of Leeds Abbey into Park Barn Farm, a redundant farmhouse on the Leeds Castle estate. My mother took on a daily help in the form of the redoubtable Mrs Thorneycroft, the wife of one of the farm labourers. She and her family lived in a little cottage a couple of hundred yards from Park Barn. I called her “Norny”, and she became my de facto nanny. She bathed me, prepared my food and put me to bed. In the meantime, at roughly two-year intervals, my sisters Sally and Susan popped onto the scene. The strain on my mother became unbearable.
As I grew up, relations went from bad to worse between my grandfather and his brave, but naïve, son-in-law. As if to mirror this deteriorating relationship, my life went steadily downhill as the list of my transgressions grew in length. And I was very naughty – of that, there can be no doubt.
Monica told me that I was aggressive towards other children. At various times during my pre-boarding school days, I bit a little girl on the knee which left her with “a permanent scar”. I hit the policeman’s son over the head with a lump of wood whilst the family were watching my father play cricket. I nearly drowned a boy of my own age in a paddling pool by holding his head underwater. I could never stop touching things; - in shops, the farm machinery – the drinks cabinet – in the car – in church – at the table. I had an insatiable curiosity coupled with an unstoppable urge to investigate all things.
For a brief period as a toddler, I had my legs bandaged together like a mermaid during the night. For years afterwards I had assumed that this was due to some medical condition. My mother had always maintained that it was done on “doctor’s orders”. However, when I questioned her about this not long before her death in 1999, she admitted that although it was indeed done at the suggestion of the family doctor, it was in fact restraint; to stop me from getting out of bed and into mischief during the night.
My relationship with my mother had never been very good from the day I was born and it got progressively worse over time. She had what in modern parlance we now call, an “anger management” problem - a problem which caused her to be violent, capricious and emotionally unreliable. She was completely unable to control a vicious temper or cope with three small children. To make matters worse, my father was never around when we all needed him. I believe he was always faithful to my mother, and I am sure he loved her, but he nevertheless neglected her. He much preferred the company of men such that he spent as much time as possible with either the farmworkers (his platoon) or with his wartime mates at the golf club.
My response to my mother’s unpredictable behaviour was to become ever more clingy, needy and demanding. My mother was not the monster I paint her to be all of the time; - just some of it. She could flip like mountain weather; – a dark menacing tempest would descend upon the benign beauty of sunlit uplands, unlooked-for and unprovoked. Without warning, she changed from being an affectionate, generous and loving “Mummy” to a violent and lethal harpy.
Our relationship was preserved with a daily and obsessively observed ritual. Whenever she left the house to go shopping of to see my grandmother, she would give me a “kiss and a love” before leaving me behind with Norny. One day, for some reason our customary rite failed to take place. I remember seeing the back of her car disappearing down the drive. It is a measure of my insecurity as to what I did next. I ran after the car like a mad thing. Norny had to run after me and drag me back home. I refused her best efforts to console me; in fact, I behaved badly for the rest of the morning. When my mother returned, I was expecting hiding. But not this time. She understood perfectly what had happened and promised me a treat to make up.
My memories of childhood are patchy and for the most part pretty joyless. The most vivid recollections tend to be painful and traumatic. I am still haunted by the awful screams of Dandy, the dog I so loved, being savagely beaten one night by my father in the wood-shed; – by the sound of my own desperate panic begging for my mother’s mercy in the face of hiding which seemed to never end; – by the disturbing and incomprehensible sound of frantic sex emanating from my parents' bedroom; - the silent drowning of infant kittens so hurriedly stuffed into a pillowcase and plunged into the water-but outside the kitchen window. And not least, by the desperate efforts of a condemned wood louse trying to escape from the log it had made its home and which my grandfather had now thrown on to the living room fire. Its last frantic attempts to avoid the agony of its impending immolation still bring me out in a cold sweat when I think about it.
It is only in the act of writing this account of my life that I have been able to completely forgive my mother for the crimes she committed against me. And this is the tragic truth: - My mother was by nature kind and motherly: with all the instincts to nourish, nurture and protect. She was generous and lavish with her love for all living things in need. And though there is much I still live with; I do not want to say much more about her conduct.
And yet, there are joyful memories. There were islands of happiness. Christmas time and birthdays were always magical times. As were the endless hours spent “trespassing” in the grounds of Leeds Castle or the ruins of the Abbey Church; – The expeditions with my sister, Sally, through the never-ending bluebell woods at the end of our lane. Then there were the frequent visits from my Gran, my father’s mother, and the rides we would go for in her Austin Seven.
In summer, the idyllic post-war countryside was heavenly; filled with the smell of newly mown grass, the taste of blackberries, and the prospect of fresh rabbit for supper. As a small boy, my surroundings were a paradise full of forbidden attractions. The farm machinery was always a magnet as was the fearsome well at the back of the garden: - dangerous interests for an inquisitive wild child and his two younger sisters.
It helps to understand my mother’s scary behaviour when you discover that she had recently lost her brother, Bobby, in the war. He was her dearest friend and he was killed in action at Normandy. His body was never recovered. She had little or no support from her parents, who were each separately wrapped up in their own lonely grief to pay much attention to her. She was just left to get on with it. This was a tragedy made more so by the selfishness of others: For I learned many years later that it was my grandmother, Ethel, who was the root cause of the family’s emotional dysfunction. On Bobby’s death, she took to her bed for several months, cutting herself off completely from her family. It is perhaps indicative that it was at this time that my grandfather sought the warmth and affection of another.
Born in India, my grandmother andher sister had been brought up in the strict Christian straight-laced prudery of high Victorian respectability. An environment where even the legs of the furniture were considered rude if not covered! The idea that sex could or should be an enjoyable experience was a beastly notion and could only be understood biblically; either in the context of Sodom and Gomorrah or in association with the various harlots of the Old Testament. To her, sex was a necessary duty of being married and producing offspring. Yet she was kind, immensely generous and forgiving; if a little judgemental. Remarkably, she was an avid fan of professional wrestling. There was something telling about the way she adored seeing these gross near-naked men throwing themselves around or sitting on top of one another.
My grandmother may have been fucked-up about sex, but she was a true Christian in the sense that she did her best to live by the standards she believed in. I never really understood why my father disliked her so much. But then, perhaps like me, he was a misogynist?
For someone who usually enjoyed talking about her various illnesses and medical conditions, this pleasure was now in her last long illness to be denied her. In a cruel turn of events, she got ill in the one place she couldn’t talk about. She died of cancer of the vagina in 1987. Sadly I rather neglected my poor grandmother in her last years of life – a fact I deeply regret.
Time was marching on. I was almost five years old and going to a kindergarten in the neighbouring village of Bearsted. Mrs Jackson, the schoolmistress, was a nice old lady with grey hair tied up in braids across the top of her head. She was “no-nonsense” but kindly and managed to teach me to read, write and count with seemingly little effort. I liked school and unless someone is going to pop out of my past to tell me differently, I have to say that I cannot ever remember being in any serious trouble at this place. Surprising but true!
In class, there was a little blonde girl with the most delicate silvery curls. I had often seen her in school but I had not really “noticed” her. Then I had a dream. I dreamed that she was sick – literally: I mean that she was vomiting: and in my dream, I felt so sorry for her that I wept and I went to her and gave her a “kiss and a cuddle”. Something unselfish had awoken in me. I had fallen in love for the first time and for a while this subtly beautiful little creature became my all consuming obsession.
At this stage of my development, my sexual senses were still sleeping and I was still oblivious of what was in store for me; but not for much longer. Soon, I began to experience the usual childhood stirrings in what my grandmother so amusingly referred to as “The Midlands”. I became captivated by the bodies of the younger farmworkers. Lads in their teens and early twenties – stripped to the waist – muscles rippling - fascinating bulges in their pants. I was as inquisitive as hell and I am pretty sure at least some of them realised it. I once spied on one of the younger ones having a lunchtime wank behind the old stables. Of course, I didn’t really understand what I was looking at the time – but it was an awesome revelation nevertheless – instinct told me not to ask any questions about what I had seen – I intuitively knew “The Midlands” was a prohibited zone.
It wasn’t long before I had my older sister’s knickers down in a series of evermore adventurous games of “doctors and nurses”. This clandestine mischief usually took place in a large airing cupboard on the landing. On one occasion, when I asked my mother if I could go out and play with my friend, Gary, the son of a neighbour, she retorted,’ No! You most certainly may not. His mother tells me that the last time you played together, you stuck your finger up his bottom. She doesn’t want you near him anymore and nor do I!’’.
When I was six, I was sent to Eylesden Court in Bearsted – a local preparatory school for boys. Eylesden was where the sons of the Kent upper-crust were educated. Amongst the most prominent people to have gone to Eylesden was spitfire ace Douglas Bader although his biography doesn't mention it. Nevertheless, the headmaster, Mr Fortescue Thomas was very sure he had taught him. (Anyone out there knows anything??)
My contemporaries included the sons of Godfrey Evans, (England wicket keeper) and Phillip Harrison, son and heir to big-time seed merchants and hop growers. Phillip was very blond and very lovely and I developed a strong friendship with him – well a crush, actually, which faded as quickly as it had come.
I started as a dayboy in junior school before becoming a boarder a year later. Classes started at 9 am. I was usually taken the three-mile journey by my mother. She had a little Austin convertible which was very badly behaved about starting in the mornings. Whilst Norny was giving me my breakfast and getting me ready for school, I would often hear her exasperated attempts to start “the damn thing” as the battery went flatter and flatter! Eventually, with the use of the crank handle, it would usually get going. On these “bad car days,” my mother was very stressy and I knew I had to tread ultra carefully!
Surprising as it seems by today’s practices, I was not collected at the school gates by one of my parents. Instead, I took a standard bus which dropped me outside Leeds Abbey. There I would watch TV with my grandmother until one of my parents collected me and took me home for supper. I gather I was often quite a handful on the bus, which in those days always had a conductor.
When I was seven, I became a boarder at Eylesden whilst my mother and father sought a way to get free from my grandfather. I do not know the ins and outs of it but the break came suddenly and without much planning. - The next thing I knew, Mum and Dad were living in a flat above the shop in Westgate-On-Sea, running a dairy business with “Uncle Joe” Smethurst.
After a couple of years and a lot of bad luck, that relationship came to a parting of the ways. My parents were somehow able to buy a 400-acre farm at a place known as Trosley, tucked in below the downs near West Malling. I don’t know to this day how it was managed. - My mother always changed the subject whenever I tried and find out. I suspect my naughty Grandfather had something to do with it.
THE BOY'S BOARDING SCHOOL TRADITION
My school days are a whole book in themselves and I will therefore leave you with the flavour but not the detail.
If my recollection of these institutions seems a little unbelievable, it is because enormous changes to the British way of life have taken place since I was a boy. It is true that they were harsh by today’s values. Furthermore, they served a completely different purpose to modern schooling.
Preparatory schools, as they were called, were there to prepare the sons of the ruling classes for entry into the public school system and from there to service in The Empire; Military, Civil or Political. It is also the case that both my parent’s generation and the one before that had been thrust into world wars. At the end of WW2, it was firmly believed there would soon be yet another war in Europe, this time with The Soviet Union. Our parents wanted us to survive. These schools were designed to toughen us up - to make men out of us. Discipline backed up by corporal punishment was paramount. There was lots of rugby and cricket – cross country running – boxing and the gym. All academic subjects were compulsory including spoken as well as written Latin.
And there was a darker, abusive side to the boarding schools of the 1950’s. Whilst bullying was not tolerated openly, it was sometimes unofficially encouraged against certain boys who were regarded as weak or sensitive. Furthermore, the quality of the masters was not all it had been in the pre-war years. In the post-war years, school governors had to take what they could get. Just as now, schools were a magnet for men who had a sexual interest in boys.
Considering how my life had gone thus far, it is not surprising that my schooling was a calamity. Having been previously expelled from a couple of apparently top-notch (expensive?) establishments, I was fast becoming a nightmare for both my parents and now the third rate little boarding school where I had ended up, Merion House in Sedlescombe, East Sussex.
In 1958 I contracted rheumatic fever. In those days, this was a serious life-threatening condition. I was hospitalised for nearly four months in St Helens, near Hastings in East Sussex. Whilst I was in hospital, the woman I loved most in the world, my darling “Missus” died. She was the elderly wife of the headmaster and she had befriended me – although firm, she gave me the steadfast unwavering love my own mother was never able to manage and I became very attached to her. The terrible news was kept from me until I had recovered and was out of hospital. Sadly, my mother was unable to hide her jealously as my grief ran its lonely course. I never really got over her death – I still dream of her and I wonder if perhaps one day, we will meet again.
REBELLION AND MAGIC
In January 1959, I returned to Merion House for the last time. Things came to a head in the late spring, when, after having been severely beaten for a minor crime, I completely flipped. I was sick and tired of being told to bend over and take it like a man; particularly when “bend over” could have meant one of two things. Then I took a momentous decision. I resolved that I would rather die before ever giving in to this kind of mistreatment again.
This was a “Road To Damascus” moment. This was my first truly enlightening realisation – Now the jackboot was on the other foot. I had not only discovered I was powerful but – and this was the enlightening bit; - I had achieved this power through the willingness to sacrifice my life. Heady stuff for an eleven-year-old.
I now declared war on injustice – on my school and my parents, and rebellious to the end, I fought them with a savage ferocity: with violence, fire and the most defiant language I knew – and having grown up in close proximity to “the men” who worked on the family farm – there was little in the vocabulary of vile invective left for me to learn!
After having been assessed by a psychiatrist at the child guidance clinic in Maidstone, I was made a ward of court and placed in the care of the “local authority”. Unbeknown to me, the “local authority” had told my parents about a place called Finchden and had arranged an “interview” for me.
And so: Sometime in the autumn of 1960, my parents and I got into the family car and set out for a small town on the edge of Romney Marsh called Tenterden. My father was in his usual driving mood – facial setting on “determined” whilst barking orders at other road users and driving slightly too fast for my mother’s peace of mind. If she complained, he put his foot down just a little further.
The weather was still warm for the time of year - As far as I knew, we were going to visit yet another school – another fresh start – maybe it would be an approved school?? I had heard rumours about “approved schools” or Borstal and I was steeling myself to more confrontation. I was frankly a bit nervous.
As we drove in through the old gates and into the courtyard of a dilapidated Elizabethan manor house with “Victorian bits”, I was strangely calm. My mother was stressy and fussing, whilst my father, with extreme decisive control of the gear lever followed by handbrake, firmly parked the car right next to a not so new black Ford Consul thus bringing us all to a gratuitous sudden stop.
As we all walked over to the main front door, I noticed a rather scruffy longhaired, bearded youth strolling across the courtyard. So did my father! His facial setting immediately changed from “moderately severe” to “severe”. He said in a just-too-loud-voice, so that the young man heard him, “What, in God’s name is that!” - And then in a muted aside to my mother something else. I just caught the one slightly raised word, “guttersnipe”.
It was at this point that I began to inwardly sing – my intuition told me that all my past troubles might be over and that something wonderful was about to happen. My father strode up to the front door and over-firmly pressed the bell, leaving his finger on the button for a completely unnecessary length of time.
Nothing happened. He was just about to do a repeat performance, finger poised, facial setting switched to “very severe”, when the front door opened. And then the miracle occurred – totally unlooked for - out of the blue. I was greeted by the biggest smile I had ever seen on a “grownup”. Arms outstretched and palms upwards, this shining old man beamed me a charismatic blast of love. He seemed to completely ignore my parents and gathered me into his arms. I found myself in a warm bubble of affection – outside time and space.
My parents simply did not know how to react to this. – My father’s “facial setting” was now all over the shop. I remember glimpsing him doing a sort of frowny smile - embarrassed, bemused and jealous all at once. My mother simpered and fussed self-consciously.
No sooner had the magical bubble formed than it burst, and everything went back to “normal”. But the world I used to live in had now gone – left behind in some parallel universe. My spirit had taken root in an altogether different future than the one I was locked into a moment ago. Now I noticed that Mr Lyward was making soothing noises to my parents as he ushered them into his large study, The Oak Room”. My father’s facial setting had gone into a mode I didn’t recognise, and I liked it. - He looked so young.
In the meantime, I was given into the company a member of staff, Sid Hopkins, whilst my parents and Mr Lyward discussed my new future. And to cut an even longer story short, that is how I became one of the boys who went to Finchden.
INTERLUDE – WHAT MY DAD WAS REALLY LIKE
The ridicule to which I have subjected my father reflects the way I saw things then: And he really was very funny. But with hindsight and the wisdom which one gains over time, I now see things quite differently. The truth is that dad was all show – he wasn’t really like he seemed. It was all front and bluster – covering up an over sensitive interior. In later life, I realised he and I were very similar. He was a sweet, tender, romantic man, and his story is worth telling.
If one word could sum up all the confusion surrounding my relationship with my Dad it would be Burma. The Burma I am talking about, is a region of the world at a time in history that gave rise to most of what I am - For my relationship with my father (or the lack of it), has been pivotal to my development as a person and Burma was the anvil against which my dear father had his future beaten into him and maybe his spirit beaten out of him.
During a period of three years between the beginning of 1941 and late 1943, he went from being a privileged rather frivolous fun-loving public schoolboy of eighteen without a worry in the world to an inwardly wise and tested man with little to say on the subject. So intense were the experiences of men like him that even to bring them to mind was just too emotional. And for all of his life, he remained almost mute about those experiences which had been so deeply embossed on his psyche.
In an attempt to try and make some sense out of where my life's journey has, at last, brought me, I have recently been visiting my father's life. I have become quite an authority on the war in Burma, one of the greatest yet largely untold stories of recent history. I have learned both about the very best and the very worst in men - war does that - for as it reveals our innate capacity for evil and extreme cruelty, so it shows us at our very best. War has the capacity to bring us as individuals, as near to spiritual perfection as we ever get. He died at Teignmouth Hospital on Sept 2nd 1989 of prostate cancer.
GEORGE AUBURY LYWARD (GAL) 1894 to 1973 - THE MAN AND HIS LEGACY
"Ideals are like the stars which guide the mariner" - Lawrence Hyde
In order to understand this tale properly, I now need to tell you in some detail about Finchden. The first thing that needs to be understood is that like all elitist establishments, Finchden could only help those who were able to take on board its ethos. In fact, it emerged over time that only those boys with well above average intelligence were able to have any hope of benefiting from being at Finchden. Yet the life's work of this unusual man has universal and wide-ranging implications for all who have dedicated themselves to the education and care of young people.
However one tries to interpret George Lyward’s legacy, to try and study it from the point of view of an academic would be to bark entirely up the wrong tree. Why? - Because ultimately, his great gift was that of a charismatic healer and his method, both actual and metaphorical was the “laying on of hands”.
Laying On Of Hands?
I remember one incident very early on in my stay at Finchden which particularly stands out in my memory. It epitomises the risks this extraordinary man was willing to take and the faith he had in his own creativity.
It was in the middle of the night. I was in a room (dormitory) which I shared with five others. One of these boys, David, who was then about fourteen, the same age as me, was having a severe asthma attack. He was fairly prone to them but this time it looked serious – even life-threatening. Accordingly, one of us went to wake a member of staff who immediately showed similar concerns. After a little bit of a confab, it was decided to wake up Mr Lyward – a very unusual thing to do in the middle of the night.
GAL arrived on the scene in his dressing gown. This frail man in his mid-sixties, sat David up in bed, slapped him just hard enough, and then held him at arm’s length by the shoulders and stared him out. Within a few minutes, David’s asthma subsided and as far as I know, he has never had asthma since.
I am not implying any kind of supernatural event here – this was no miracle. What I am saying is this: GAL was so sure of his ground – so sure that David’s asthma was psychosomatic and so confident within himself to be able to break David’s link with it that he risked taking the action he took. If the asthma attack had had a purely physiological cause, David might have died.
Our Various Lives
One way to judge what GAL left to the world, would be to look at the lives of all of us who went there - what we have done since and how our various lives have panned out. The trouble with this approach is that the experiences and memories of Finchden we each of us carry within us were tailor-made for the people we were, and have since become. That was the genius of the man.
Furthermore, these lives now largely led, have been extraordinarily different – some have been tragic and others blissful. Some are settled whilst others are troubled. Some have been creative and successful whilst others have been abject failures. Then there are also those of us who have taken to heart the spiritual messages embedded within the Finchden experience and lived our lives by it.
Some boys apparently made no progress and received no benefit at all from being at Finchden, even when their presence in the community had profound consequences for others. Some boys benefitted from being at Finchden without ever having gained an insight into what had happened to them whilst they were there. In many ways that was probably the most perfect outcome from GAL’s point of view. In fact, some of us had to wait many years for the Finchden to work its magic.
George Lyward had an elemental, sometimes even devastating effect on the psyches of those of us who were creative with a capital “C”. Seeds sown back in our Finchden days could abruptly take root in the present and bloom without warning. In my case, the consequential fruits took the form of a “creative overload” resulting in a special kind of Epiphany. - Always ecstatic, sometimes painful and almost always liberating.
A Better Way?
But perhaps a better way to explain George Lyward’s legacy would be to think of it as being more like that of a symphony by a great composer with its many contrasting yet complimentary themes. His methods were almost entirely intuitive and inspirational. Words like psychiatry and therapy were not part of his vocabulary except in a pejorative sense when talking about the failures of the professionals and institutions which lived by these terms and with whose flotsam and jetsam he was confronted.
He was a one-off - a maverick – a wolf rather than a shepherd. He was also one of the great creative thinkers of the early twentieth century and there has never been a time more than now, in our so-called broken society, when we need to hear the music of his message loud and clear.
Although George Lyward adopted an entirely secular approach to his work, he was nevertheless a deeply spiritual, even religious man. But a man who was plagued by spiritual doubts all of his life - apparently right up until his last breath. A close friend of mine told me the following: that an Anglican bishop, a friend of GAL, said after visiting him just hours before his death that he was “still raging against an angry God”.
An Educated Man
Prior to the circumstances in GAL’s life which ultimately gave rise to Finchden, he had been a young peripatetic school teacher. Although well educated in the arts, he had no qualifications in psychology or as an educationalist. Yet the irony of it is that he came to be deeply respected by many enlightened professionals in these fields.
Instead, his considerable intellect focused on the mystery of existence and the true meaning of love, (The Glue of the Cosmos, he once said to me). His main influences had been The Bloomsbury Set – The philosopher Lawrence Hyde and the new metaphysics concerning the interpretations associated with quantum mechanics which sprang up in the aftermath of WW1.
Here was a man steeped in the ritual of the church, who had sung in a church choir almost every day as a small boy and right on into adulthood – a man steeped in the arts – who played the piano – who wrote plays – had penetrating views on Jung, Krishnamurti and Teilhard de Chardin. A man who had prepared for ordination into the Anglican Church and rejected it; who had “preached” in Westminster Abbey and whose friends were mostly people with similar interests.
Like all great men of genius, he also had great shortcomings. He was mercurial and often unpredictable. He fell hopelessly in love with his female research assistant in later life. On his own admission, he neglected his son. He openly had favourites – acted on impulse, often to great creative effect. Inevitably he was an extremely manipulative man who broke all rules and conventions whenever it suited him. (Just like Beethoven)
Either way, he was the most generous man I ever knew. Over time I came to realise that this generosity was for him, an act of faith. He believed that generosity was the most enlightened form of self-interest and that in some almost mystical sense; you could gain for yourself everything you would ever need as well as most of what you wanted - by being unconditionally generous!
TOM ROBINSON'S FINCHDEN
Before going on with my own personal account of Finchden, I want to tell you about the extensive Finchden website run by BBC radio presenter, Tom Robinson, who spent time as a boy at Finchden in the final years before George Lyward’s death in 1973. Surprisingly, it gives no inkling as to what Finchden was really like or the creative and deeply spiritual dynamic which brought Finchden into existence in the first place.
I remember the first time I met Tom Robinson. It was probably in the summer of 1966. - A rather self-conscious public schoolboy with cute curls, John Lennon style spectacles, acne and a Dutch type cord hat. He walked into the Finchden dining room where I was practising a Chopin etude on the Finchden Bechstein and paused at my shoulder. I said “Hello – who are you?” He said, “I’m Tom”. I said “Do you play?” He nodded and so I got up and sat him down at the piano. After making the usual excuses in advance for any wrong notes he might play (we all do it) he gave me a very accomplished impromptu concert of Beatles songs. Since then I have, on and off, had a fair bit of contact with him.
Like many other Finchden alumni, I am truly grateful to Tom for his efforts in keeping the Finchden story alive. In fact, if he hadn’t done it, maybe no one would have and then there may have been nothing.
Tom Robinson has a reputation amongst his friends for being extremely generous, charming and very helpful to young musicians struggling to find a way into the music business. Nevertheless, it has to be said that his motives for taking on the role of explaining Finchden to the world at large seem complex to me.
I say this because the site confines itself to carefully selected eulogies, “on message” personal interpretations and “respectable” opinions. This censored version of Finchden: The written documentation – the cautiously phrased appraisals - the already published material and the more recent journalise, seem to conspire in avoiding the true reality – the controversial nature of Finchden and the fantastic place it was.
At the time of writing, there have been no personal accounts from the boys, save his own; and as far as I know, he hasn’t asked for any – yet there are still those of us alive who would be in a position to make substantial contributions if asked to do so.
So - although informative in its way, Tom has clearly aimed his Finchden website more in the direction of the chattering classes –“intellectuals”, “pyschologizers”, “professionals” and “programmers”.
I suspect that his excuse would be that he is protecting George Lyward’s reputation, and by association, his own, from being characterised as “cranky”.
Thus the “visionary” and the “mystical”; spiritual and religious; - the elements so important to a balanced understanding of GAL’s life, are essentially sidelined as an embarrassment whilst the very things that GAL dismissed as largely irrelevant to understanding Finchden are given undue importance; things exemplified by words like therapeutic, behaviourism and educationalist together with all the academic rubbishy jargon produced by modern educationalists, social scientists and commentators.
GAL often said how much he disliked "isms". - The tidy labelling of human misery as a substitute for deeper understanding. You have only got to look at modern society to realise how barren these over politically correct establishment beliefs are. Have they served us well? No, they have not.
In my view, Tom’s website is maybe a little too “media-friendly”; framed in such a way as to fit in comfortably with Tom’s celebrity status as a broadcaster and journalist. Personally, I cannot quite avoid the impression that www.finchden.com is, at least in part, a vehicle for his own self-promotion when it could be an honest attempt to reveal the full story of Finchden. Pity.
Nevertheless, I urge you to read what is there, because that coupled with what I am telling you will lead to a deeper and more powerful description of what, for me became a small miracle.
GAL - THE PRIVATE MAN
"Members One Of Another" - St Paul
Finchden Manor, itself, was divided into two main dwellings. The smaller of the two was occupied by GAL and his extended family whilst the bigger half was where we all lived. There were connecting doors on all three floors between the two. There were also a number of outhouses and separate self-contained smaller dwellings within the grounds.
Although not a point discussed on Tom Robinson’s website, it is a well-known fact that GAL had a rather unorthodox though totally honourable private life. There has been much speculation over the years about the details of the rather atypical arrangements which existed in his household.
I think the explanation for this is that he adopted a Modus Operandi to accommodate the sometimes very eccentric needs of those whom he loved and loved him. I am particularly thinking of his GAL’s wife, Sadie, and the extraordinary Sid Hopkins, who had formerly been a boy at Finchden in the 1930s and had more or less “stayed on”. He was nominally on the staff at Finchden but his role was not like that of any other Finchden staff.
By the time I met Sid in 1960, he was in his early forties and living with GAL and his wife as part of his family. He was apparently semi paraplegic as a result of some never completely explained incident and crawled around everywhere on his knees. After the death of Sadie in the mid-sixties, with whom he had had an unfathomable and strong attachment, he decided to start walking, got married and went on to write the much-acclaimed novella Mister God – This Is Anna under the nom de plume of Fynn. He died in 1999.
I never accepted that there was anything physically wrong with Sid, at least, not one so serious as to explain his extraordinary behaviour. Rather, I believe his condition was psychological. I was not alone in this speculation and there is much anecdotal evidence to back this up. Recently, I have had my beliefs about Sid confirmed.
I have always wondered how GAL felt about the relationship between his wife and Sid. In the past, I tended to think of it as yet another example of GAL’s creative generosity of being able to continue to give Sid the love and environment he needed to develop, even if this meant him having to embrace the consequential impact it had on his life. But is this right? If I have implied a ménage à trois, I have to tell you that I have it on the best authority that this was not the case.
It is hardly ever appreciated just how much GAL depended on Sadie. He could never have created Finchden without her and the importance of her role in his life cannot be overestimated. The relationship between Sadie and Sid caused GAL a great deal of anguish from which it appears there was no escape.
FINCHDEN MANOR – A PLACE OF HOSPITALITY
George Lyward always insisted privately that Finchden was not an “institution” but rather “a place of hospitality”. Those who have tried to place a definitive label describing Finchden have come unstuck. Yet GAL often used a variety of such labels himself. So Why? Answer – Funding.
His was a pragmatic approach informed by necessity when confronted with the needs and requirements of the state in connection with funding. George Lyward wore a different hat for any and every eventuality to keep the various funding sources happy.
As far as parents who were paying privately were concerned, their difficult son was being sent to a “progressive boarding school” or an “experimental educational establishment”.
Boys who were introduced through and/or funded by a local authority were either being sent to a “therapeutic community”, if they came down through the psychiatric route (Child guidance or mental Health) - “a special school” if referred down through the local education authority and a “care home for the maladjusted” as an alternative to prison or Borstal when caught up in the criminal justice system.
Yet Finchden had no domestic staff, no academic staff, no formal provision for academic work, no curriculum; it had neither locks nor gates nor uniforms. No caning – No punishments – No regimented control over our conduct. No policy concerning sexual contact between the boys. No mandatory sanctions of any kind. There were few general rules or regulations and those that existed were inevitably broken, as often as not by the man himself.
The Great Composer?
So much for what Finchden wasn’t – that is the easy bit. The difficulty in trying to put into words what Finchden was like is a bit like trying to describe Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to someone who has been deaf from birth.
You can say an enormous amount to no avail. Even for those of us who actually lived and “grew up” there, there still remains a profound mystery surrounding this extraordinary man.
MY TIME AT FINCHDEN - HOW I BECAME A PIANIST AND THE BIG WIDE WORLD
Whilst I was at Finchden, my main preoccupations were sex, the piano, church organs, reading and cricket in that order. I stayed there until 1966 when I left to take my place at the Royal College of Music (RCM). From that time onwards until the end of Finchden in 1974 I was never away for long. Whenever I could, I would visit – and it was in these years after I left Finchden that my friendship with GAL really matured right up until he died.
Now it is the right moment to tell you about how I first became a musician - a part of my life about which I have never until now been particularly frank - it is an unlikely little story.
As I have already mentioned, I had an extremely turbulent childhood which resulted in me going to Finchden - This really was the most unexpected and luckiest outcome for my so far troubled little life. I had landed in the net of one of life's great angels - a man of extraordinary insight and intelligence - At Finchden, there were no more beatings - cruelty and abuse were out - Love, Intuition and Creativity were in. I completely fell under the spell of George Lyward, the greatest man I have ever known. In his hands I found myself and I trusted him completely.
It was here, at Finchden, that I first discovered my talent for playing the piano - I had had the usual music lessons at boarding school and was able to bash through a hymn tune on the piano - but unlike some of the small boys at boarding school, I showed no particular interest or ability at that time - I had liked the loud powerful organ music which always accompanied the obligatory church services we attended on Sundays and liked listening to classical music on the wireless, but I had no inclination to “do music” at that time.
It was when I got to Finchden it all changed - the why and the how of it go right to the core of my life.
There were a number of similar influences on me that made me passionate about the piano and these all involved people who played the piano well - some of them brilliantly. There was one member of staff called George Harwood. He was in his late twenties and had tried to be a concert pianist in his teens but was prevented from it because his hands were too small - nevertheless, he was pretty dammed good - I had never seen anyone actually play these virtuoso pieces by Chopin and Liszt - it was like magic.
On top of that, a frequent visitor to Finchden was the then well known young polish pianist, Andre Tchaikovsky. He was the real thing and I quickly developed a hero worship thing for him.
Then there was the wondrous Barnaby - a super-intelligent eighteen year old, haughty, arrogant and definitely the best pianist at Finchden - (George Harwood was better, but he was staff) - Anyhow, I instantly fell in love with Barnaby - well perhaps it was a crush - it felt like love at the time - and no matter what, I wanted to be better than him - to impress him - to make him jealous of me - to make him want me. As it turned out, he did want me.
You have to understand what Finchden was like - there were no formal classrooms - no lessons - no rules - no domestic or cleaning staff - in fact, most of the people who looked after us (staff) had been Finchden boys themselves.
I started playing the piano whenever I could - luckily, Finchden wasn't short of pianos to play which meant that I could play from dawn to dusk if I wanted to - and I did want to. Initially, I was self-taught. Of course, I got indirect help from George Harwood - we played Mozart duets and I watched him like a hawk.
The sad truth is this. I am not a natural musician at all - being dextrous on a keyboard does not directly equate to being a musician. Whatever musicianship I have acquired over the years has not come easily - I am not a natural musician in that my ear is poor - I have always had difficulty with this - I am clearly not tone deaf but nor am I anything to write home about. My talents were largely a kind of animal instinct for the piano whereby I became sort of joined to the instrument and let my feelings run riot. I am and always was a terrific improviser but lacked the discipline to learn how to harness those outpourings and fashion them into any permanent form - an affliction the dogs my steps to this day.
I had to work hard to get to where some gifted people get with little real struggle. To me - learning music theory and form has been like learning Latin irregular verbs!
Prophetically, in 1961 I went to the cinema to see Gary Cooper's latest and last film, The Naked Edge. It is a Hitchcock type thriller with the murderer creeping around a big old house while the victim, his wife, is nervously watching television. As the film builds to its climax, she flicks between BBC and ITV, the only two channels available in those days. On one channel there was a tennis match - constantly being match point and then being deuce. Very tense. On the other channel, there was this dashing young blond pianist reaching the final apotheosis of the Rachmaninoff third piano concerto. It was at that moment that I knew what I thought I wanted. I wanted him - to be like him - to be in his place. I became obsessed with this film and went to see it three times just for that two-minute sequence at the end. I became a classical music groupie!!
As you can imagine, I went straight out and ordered the music! However, I was already preoccupied with something else by the time the music arrived. Barnaby had just acquired a recording of the soviet pianist Sviatoslav Richter "doing" the Brahms second piano concerto - a composition new to me. I really fell in love with it. It had everything I liked - it was massive - dramatic - emotional - deep - expressive and fantastically hard to play. I launched myself into it with a determination new to me.
It was soon after that, - when I started learning the Brahms, - that a decision was made to get me a piano teacher. Being still officially in the care of the state (local authority) they needed to be involved, as did my parents who would have to pay. I duly went through a series of interviews and tests with the county music advisory panel who decided to provide me with a teacher who could visit me at Finchden.
I just can’t remember her name, but she was really great - she had been to The Royal College of Music and studied with Arthur Alexander, one of the great teachers of his time - a man who had taught some of Britain's finest pianists of the thirties and forties. Anyhow, she came to Finchden once a week to give me my piano lesson.
After about two months she told my parents that she had taught me as much as she could and that I needed to be taught by someone with a firmer hand and more experience with boys like me. She was clearly excited with my progress, for by now I was nearly sixteen - I had learnt the Brahms concerto and now needed to learn to play it properly - for in her opinion, I was more than capable of being a professional concert pianist, if that is what I wanted but only provided I could find the self-discipline required. I think I was too much for her to cope with.
In retrospect, I don't really think I knew what it meant – to be a concert pianist - all I was trying to do was to be as good as George and André - I had never given a thought to what a life playing the piano would be like - what it might entail - eventually I would have to face these questions but not just then.
I started going up to London once a week to study with professor Arthur Alexander - he had retired some years before from his position as professor of piano at The Royal College but still took on private pupils. It wasn't long before I mentioned the Gary Cooper film to Arthur and he said: "Oh yes. That is Malcolm Binns - I taught him." - I was flabbergasted and started getting all excited. I asked all sorts of questions about Malcolm which seemed to irritate Arthur for some reason.
However, I did find out that Malcolm was a piano professor at the Royal College Of Music. I simply had to get there and this became my next challenge - yet how was I going to be able to - I had none of the seemingly obligatory qualifications required?
Nevertheless, in 1964, I auditioned for a place at The Royal College Of Music and somehow I was accepted - God knows how - I think it must have been the sheer hubris in daring to play great big chunks of the Brahms concerto I had been learning - apparently one of the hardest pieces of piano music in existence. I didn't play very well, that I do know! Perhaps dear old Arthur Alexander pulled some strings - in fact, I am sure he did.
Anyhow, I was awarded a place at the RCM to study piano with guess who?? - Of course, - Malcolm Binns, my adolescent hero of the piano - it had to be him otherwise the story I am telling you wouldn't be a story!
But I never became a concert pianist. Very simply - my life and everything I was doing in it up until I actually went to the RCM at the age of eighteen was a fantasy. When I had to face reality, I couldn't do it - I didn't want it. I didn't want to embark upon a largely solitary life; a life with just me and a piano in it.
To lock myself away for the rest of my life with an instrument I quite often hated as much as I loved? You see, I had never considered what my life would have to mean - what it would take in order to be a concert pianist - If I had kidded myself that I would be able to get by with a couple of concertos, a few Beethoven sonatas, and a selection of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff - I soon had a rude awakening.
I woke up to a thing called repertoire - Even if I specialised in romantic music, which was my strength, I would still have had to learn to play a vast number of works by a range of different composers. And I was and still am a slow ill-disciplined learner - it takes me ages to learn a piece properly. Not only that, I would have had to keep them all in a fairly ready state to perform, faultlessly, - on a stage in front of an audience.
Yet, this is what concert pianists do and that fact, which began to dawn on me after my first term at the RCM, is the one for which I knew I wasn't cut out. I only functioned with people around - boarding school - care (Finchden) - I had never been lonely in my life - unhappy, yes but never lonely - not until then.
So instead of doing my work - preparing for my next lesson with Malcolm, I started investigating the swinging London scene - the music clubs - the gay bars - I soon got myself plugged into a fantastic group of artisans and began to meet all kinds of interesting people - I was having fun - my music suffered but I was happy.
As for what Malcolm thought about it all. He was a really sweet man - a highly intelligent one at that - I am sure he knew me better than I knew myself. Furthermore, I sensed he was no more really interested in being a piano teacher than I was in being a student and he left the RCM about that time.
I was eventually thrown out of college for non-work and being a bad influence on other students (drugs, drink and parties). Malcolm stuck up for me with the registrar and made my expulsion from the RCM a little less painful than it otherwise would have been. But I am sure he thought it was for the best. Nevertheless, I learnt an incredible amount from Malcolm - far more than he was ever able to realise at the time. As I said, we had had a teacher in common. Arthur Alexander, who had been a pupil of Tobias Matthay.
Malcolm Binns not only has an absolutely immaculate technique, he is also a musician of great depth. Whilst he has all the best features of the Matthay method, he has clearly added his own dimension to this and his playing is a synthesis between yoga and a martial art - completely relaxed and always expressive. Yet when called for, a fire and a fury - and then again - a lightness and delicacy of touch which only comes from reserves of enormous physical strength and control - he is a complete marvel. At least I picked someone worth worshipping!!
I left the RCM in disgrace and I had to some extent shot myself in the foot for being sent down from college also meant being sent down from London. My parents were livid - facial settings “purple” - and embarrassed at having to tell people that I was a failure. I was now facing life either working on my grandfather's farm at Leeds Castle driving a combine harvester or helping my parents with their hotel business down in Devon. Argggghhhhh!!!
I couldn't have this, so I promised my father I would be good from now on and I went the study with another Matthay pupil, Vivian Languish, this time at the Royal Academy of music.
Of course, I had no intention of doing anything other than continuing my life of fun in London, but I did behave just well enough to remain at the Academy until it suited me.
And then the summer of love happened - the Beatles - Jimi Hendrix - Pink Floyd and the Middle Earth. - I decided to give up playing the piano and be a rock musician - it was easier and something at which I might even excel.
Although I thought it had, this particular story involving Gary Cooper, Malcolm Binns and the Rachmaninoff 3rd Concerto didn’t end there. Like a sleeping dragon, it awoke thirty-five years later in the most astonishing way. That is a story in itself and I will tell it at the appropriate time, near the end of this journey.
My Steinway piano initially went to GAL and was installed in The Oak Room. Later, it went down to my parent’s house in Devon and there it remained until it was destroyed in a fire in 1973.
In 1969, I joined Barclay James Harvest in Yorkshire, and pioneered their first concerts, with a full piece symphony orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall - Free Trade Hall (Manchester) - Usher Hall (Edinburgh) and Birmingham Town Hall.
I fell out with BJH in 1971 and returned to London where, after a failed attempt with a band in Cheltenham, I obtained a recording contract with Charisma records.
SEX AND FINCHDEN
I raise the subject of sex and Finchden, firstly because it is commented on elsewhere and secondly because one might otherwise be left with the impression, when reading between the lines, that homosexuality was totally accepted or even encouraged at Finchden. This was not the case. The position was much more subtle.
Everyone understands that all young men are randy. Yet Finchden had no regulations concerning homosexuality. On the other hand, our male-only institutions such as the country’s boarding schools, armed services and youth organisations all tried to enforce a strict taboo backed up with severe penalties. Any sexual activity which took place under these circumstances was clandestine and secretive, often abusive, leading to guilt and denial.
In contrast, Finchden did not take a position. In fact, it could not do so and at the same time maintain its integrity with regard to its general ethos with regard to self-regulation.
One could argue that there would have had to have been some things that were beyond the pale even at Finchden. Well, there were – bullying was not tolerated; neither was violent behaviour or theft from each other. Of course, all of these things happened from time to time, but they were soon stamped on – not by GAL or his staff, but by the boys, themselves.
Nevertheless, homosexuality was not regulated in this way – the community took the view that it was harmless and inevitable and that was that. It was as if the Finchden community, intuitively distinguished between that which was truly damaging and that which, although may offend against common mores, was at least in the context of Finchden, benign.
And so it followed that this state of affairs produced a potentially powerful mix of desire and opportunity coupled with an ethos of “it’s ok if you want to”. And people often realised that they did want to and could do so without fear of being condemned.
It is hardly surprising that there was lots of sex at Finchden. All of it was consensual, most of it affectionate, none of it abusive. Some of it took the form of romantic friendships with a sexual dimension. Some of it was no more than mutual relief. There was very little if any sodomy. No sexual contact between the staff and the boys was allowed or tolerated.
Almost none of the people who had these experiences were in fact homosexual, and these types of experience usually ceased once they had left “to take their place in society”.
As for the boys like me: Well, I knew what I wanted long before I went to Finchden. And when I got there, I had a whale of a time. I was very young, willing and in demand and truly happy for the first time in my life.
UNCLE JACK AND THE NANCY BOYS - AN APT ANECDOTE
It was just after I had left Finchden and was back with my parents in Trosley. It was harvest time andI was preparing to start my first term at the RCM. John Stevenson, a friend from Finchden, was staying with me – partly to help out with the harvest but also to help me adjust to not being at Finchden anymore.
One day my father and Uncle Jack, one of his chums, were sitting in our living room gossiping over a nice single malt when I overheard Uncle Jack say something about “Nancy Boys”. My father was chuckling.
I had always suspected Uncle Jack of being a bit fruity. I was annoyed and I decided to have a bit of a wind up.
‘Dad?’, I said slyly. ‘Can I ask you something?’
‘Yes Rob’, he replied – facial setting on “relaxed indulgence”
‘Did you ever come across any Nancy Boys at Tonbridge?’
With the merest twitch of his moustache, Dad’s upper lip went into ultra mode. It was like an aircraft carrier. You could have landed a Wellington bomber on it.
With a facial setting on “steely caution” he said quietly, ‘Nope. Never came across it at all, Rob. Not once.’
‘Oh come on, Dad!’, I said, with all the sincerity I could muster. ‘You must have done? What about in the Army, then? - During the war? What about all those nice Ghurkha boys? Surely someone must have fancied one of those?’
His moustache did a ferocious side-to-side swiggle and with a facial setting of “red + absolutely furious” he shouted, ‘Certainly NOT!! The Army doesn’t tolerate that sort of thing – never has and never will’.
I turned to Uncle Jack, and trying to sound as serious as possible I enquired. ‘What about you, Uncle Jack?’ Then going in for the kill, I added. ‘Have you ever had any dealings with Nancy Boys?’
At that moment, my mother walked in and sensing a frisson, she demanded, ‘What are all you boys talking about?? ’
‘Nancy Boys!’, said Uncle Jack, blandly. (Touché!)
My friend, John, who had been quietly observing all this from a quiet corner of the room, suppressed a giggle.
‘And what are you laughing at, John-John?’, inquired my mother, as she shot me one of her most forbidding looks.
Years later my mother told me a story that made me regret the way I had wound up my dad in this way. My father had gone straight from school to an officer training college in Lahore, one of the great old Mughal cities of India – (now in modern-day Pakistan). In October 1941, he passed his exams and became a commissioned officer in The Indian Army.
On obtaining his commission, he had joined a cavalry regiment. This meant tanks, other armoured vehicles and General Transport. Collectively this was known as the Indian Armoured Corps (IAC). Tanks and transport do not operate as independent formations but are “attached” to various regiments and battle formations as required.
My father was initially attached to a General Transport Company. Although he amusingly tried to play the part of a retired general after the war, he was in fact, a mildly insubordinate emergency commissioned lieutenant, a rank above which he was never promoted. I think he became bored, pissed off with all the pointless discipline and in trouble with his superiors - definitely not regular army material. Furthermore, whilst he was still training, he broke his ankle falling from a horse and was henceforth not considered fit enough for active service.
He wanted a more informal life - some adventure and excitement. Thus, he put himself forward for special operations and joined the then highly secret V Force as a platoon commander.
After the war, my father always maintained that he was with the 1/7th Ghurkhas. He spoke Ghurkhali and his old army uniform displayed Ghurkha buttons. However, the 7th Ghurkhas have no knowledge of him and herein lays a mystery. Why would my father lie about a thing like this? He had no obvious motive – he was a war hero with his picture plastered all over the local press.
I think the answer is this. He never did have an official connection with The Ghurkhas – but rather an actual and emotional one. By the time of the action in which he won his military cross on Dec 24th 1943, he had been in the Indian Armoured Corps on attachment to V Force for quite some time. The V Force platoon he commanded contained Ghurkhas probably on attachment from 1/7th serving with 17th Indian Division (The Black Cats) and I think it was in V Force that my father’s love affair with the Ghurkhas began.
Every officer is given a batman. A batman is a special soldier whose job is to be an officer’s personal orderly and look after him. His role would include acting as a "runner" to convey orders from the officer to subordinates; maintaining the officer's uniform and personal equipment as a valet; driving the officer's vehicle, sometimes under combat conditions; acting as the officer's bodyguard in combat and other miscellaneous tasks the officer does not have time or inclination to do.
My father’s batman was a young Ghurkha. According to my mother, he formed a very strong attachment to his batman. He was with my father throughout his war in Burma. He was by my father’s side when he was wounded at Manpa. In fact, he had saved my father’s life. He helped carry him out of the jungle and stayed with him all the way to the hospital in Kohima where he nursed him back from the brink.
One of my father’s legs was torn to pieces by shrapnel and badly infected; it was also full of maggots. The surgeon wanted to amputate but his batman persuaded him to leave the maggots where they were and give the leg another day or two.
The leg started to improve, the maggots stayed on and my father was moved to Calcutta where he was put on an Australian hospital ship bound for Liverpool. All this time the devoted young Ghurkha stayed with him.
After many weeks at sea, their ship eventually docked in Liverpool. In spite of my father’s wishes, his batman was told that he would have to return to his regular regiment and go back on active service. He returned on the same ship and in due course rejoined the 7th Gurkhas. In the meantime, my father was taken to a hospital first in Manchester and then after some months to another in London.
In the fullness of time he was well enough to take on a new responsibility. He was attached to the Queens Regiment and placed in charge of training recruits for active service in the Far East.
It was shortly before he took this new posting when he got the sad news that his devoted friend had been killed in action near Mandalay on the banks of the Irrawaddy. My mother told me that he was heartbroken.
THE BIRTH OF THE ENID
It was in warm the afterglow of George Lyward’s life, when Finchden itself was fast fading into the shadows – when the sense of loss that we all felt and the impending demise of the community was fast approaching, that The Enid was born.
When the news of Georges Lyward’s death came in 1973, I had just completed my album for Charisma, The Fall of Hyperion. Very quickly, I began to concern myself with Finchden’s fate. Naively, I imagined that the problems facing John Lyward, GAL’s son and heir, would be purely financial and concerned myself with trying to raise money to put the place on a sound footing. Of course, this was not the case.
During the long death throws, I began to spend more and more time at Finchden and soon realised that money would not solve the problem of Finchden’s continuation. John Lyward was determined to close the community and that was that.
At the time and for years to come, I blamed John Lyward for what I regarded as a weak and selfish decision. I completely failed to see, at the time, how silly my attitude was. Thankfully I have made my peace with John Lyward and acknowledged the wrong I did him in my heart and the pejorative comments I have made over the years.
In the autumn of 1973, Finchden was in the throes of closing up for good leaving many of the boys with nowhere to go.
It had always been the custom to mark the various changing of the seasons at Finchden with an event involving the whole community. A Summer Dance – The Christmas Party and most importantly, the annual play.
Every year a play would "happen". It quite often took nine months to get everything ready – a script had to be chosen or written - the stage had to be built in the hall – a set had to be designed and built – costumes had to be made - a cast had to be chosen – lines had to be memorised and rehearsals had to take place.
Sometimes it was Shakespeare – sometimes a thriller – sometimes a musical. Occasionally, someone would write something specially and a marvellous home-grown effort would come into being and live like a pagan king for a year before dying on the altar of memory, never again to be resurrected as itself but living on in the hearts and memories of those who were there. And the swansong of Finchden was just such a thing - Finchden’s final theatrical production, "The Quest for the Holy Grail".
My contribution was that I was there. I was in a position to lend certain pieces of musical equipment but I played no part in the creative effort. The two composers of the Grail Music were Francis Lickerish and Stephen Stewart and that is how I got to know these two young men well.
The whole thing seemed to come out of nothing. It emerged organically from within our midst in the most exquisite way – there was no single author and no single director. Instead the production grew like the tree of life from a seed sown long ago. The subject matter was highly emotionally charged and spiritually deafening.
Altogether, there were five performances over five nights. They were given in front of the Finchden community, plus parents, friends of Finchden, and invited guests.On the eve of the final performance, the atmosphere in the house was tingling with potential. Like a summer storm, it had been building all day. As the, by now, familiar opening music began, played by Francis Lickerish, Steve Stewart and David Williams, this atmosphere increased by an order of magnitude. What had started out as a piece of homemade entertainment transformed itself into a medieval ritual of salvation.
As Finchden drew it last breath – as Naciens greeted the Grail – the heavens broke and waves of hysterical emotion swept us up in maelstrom of numinous abandon. Some thought they actually saw the grail appear on stage, others wept – some went wild – some withdrew into themselves.
For me, it was an unforgettable, life changing experience.
In the wake of the final performance, people began to get scared – a tentative date in June 1974 had been marked as the official closing date. Shortly after that, I formed a plan to build a band around The Grail Music, and the people who had composed it. As it turned out, neither Francis, Steve or David Williams had made any definite plans for the future, none had a place to go and it was an easy transition.
On June 1st, 1974, the four of us moved to a rented semi-detached house in the Kent village of Cranbrook. We were not yet calling ourselves, The Enid – in fact it would be sometime before we finally took the plunge over a name.
These early days were mainly taken up with making demo recordings of the grail music more or less, as it existed at that time alternating with Bridge games to six in the morning. I also composed two new works of my own - The Lovers and Ondine.
Although I had some money coming in from my existing recording contract with Charisma records, things didn’t really get underway until the late summer. That was when, my rich cousin, Angus Boucher, came in with an offer of management, some substantial cash for equipment and a proper home for us to live in. Effectively we had a manager in waiting. This turned out to be a dangerous double edged sword, and its significance will emerge later in the telling.
Being in the band in those days was always going to be a compromise for me. Also, I was still young, idealistic and more than a little naïve. Although I was a little older than the Steve Stewart and Francis Lickerish, the direction of the band and the creative themes which informed it had to be those around which we could all coalesce.
Like me, Francis was extremely
opinionated and stubborn. It soon became clear that unless we could find some kind of common ground, we would not be able to work together. Although I had received a formal education at The Royal College of Music, whereas the then members of the band were all self-taught, this proved to be almost irrelevant. What made this essentially a non-issue was that they were without exception, highly intelligent creative people and collectively more than a match for me.
It was within this highly charged atmosphere that the future Enid took root. Therefore the common ground, I mention above, was by consensus restricted to mysticism, fantasy, mythology, allegory, The Renaissance and nineteenth-century romanticism. And though Francis and I held antithetical views with regard to how we, as human culture, were supposed to interpret all this stuff: so long as we kept our counsel, we were able to cope with each other. The downside of this for me was that politics, psychology, social issues, religion, science, intellectual rigour and philosophy concerning the real world were no-go areas.
I had realised at the outset that the band stood little chance of making it big unless we were able to find and absorb a potent frontman with a distinctive and romantic voice. I knew just the man – he had visited Finchden a couple of times in the late sixties as my guest. He was someone I had met indirectly through The Royal College of Music. His name was Peter Roberts and he was trying to make his way as an actor.
I had talked him into joining the band in late November 1974 and he had paid us all a brief visit just before Christmas. The plan was for him to finish the Christmas panto role he had in Brighton and join us all in Maidstone where we now all lived, in the New Year.
On New Year’s Day, Peter committed suicide. To this day, I don’t really know why, but this disaster put everything on hold, as far as I was concerned. I couldn’t see us finding anyone else to replace him - nor could I see how we could do without him.
The rest of the band didn’t really take in the significance of Peter’s death – none of them knew him well – to them he was a future potential which wasn’t, after all, going to happen. I decided to press on as we were. In fact, we did not yet have the full or right complement of musicians – in particular, we needed a drummer. We advertised for one and got Dave Storey.
David Williams, on the other hand, had next to no ability as a bass player and I knew, having met his family that he would probably drift away sooner or later. He was eased out in circumstances that I am not proud of, particularly as my motives were tainted. I will always be able to justify why David had to go, because there were genuinely good reasons and it was the right decision. It was obvious that he was never going to be right for the band on musical or personality grounds – but – I had other reasons for wanting him out – reasons I don’t really want to go into, shameful as they were, to protect the feelings of others. Let it be said that my conduct was pretty reprehensible.
As David Williams left, my friend, Glen Tollet arrived. I had met him in the summer of 1972 in Devon, where he was on holiday with his parents. He was an amazing musician, a multi-instrumentalist and very clever with chords – he had perfect pitch and very good looks and dare I say it very well endowed. Now we were ready.
THE FOUNDER MEMBERS
Strictly speaking, the founder members of The Enid were John Francis Lickerish - Peter Roberts - Stephen Stewart - David Storey - David Williams and me; six in all. The new member, Glen Tollet replaced David Williams.
HOW WE CAME BY THE NAME – THE ENID
I have told so many lies and half-truths about this over the years that I hardly know the truth of it myself anymore. I think this is about as near as we are going to get to it.
The name came long before the band was even the merest twinkle in the eye of the future: During the late sixties the phrase “The Enid” arose from a very tall story I told to my closest Finchden friend, Nick Morse concerning an “Enid” I had met in Oldham.
Somehow, “Enid” or “The Enid” dependant on context became a brief but potent byword within the Finchden community. Its meaning was non-specific – a Joker in the pack - a “lost for words” word. Like Humpty Dumpty said: 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
“The Enid” was a Humpty Dumpty word that was either used as a substitute noun or to exemplify any adjective or verb which needed spicing up. - A silly piece of fraternal amusement. Now, our nascent band had reached a stage where it still had no name and the situation demanded a decision.
When the band’s manager (cousin Angus) reminded us that he was paying the bills and told us all he would impose a name he had thought of and liked. When we asked him what it was, he proudly enunciated his truly appalling idea: “Thanksgiving”!! - We puked – toyed with “The Famous Five” and wholeheartedly embraced “The Enid” as the winner. Now you finally know the truth. Well - not quite!
There was no Enid in Oldham - Enid was actually the name of a great aunt and not a girlfriend at all. Ever seen the film Strangers On A Train? - Like Alfred Hitchcock, I got a great deal of amusement out of these rather silly middle-class middle-aged women, with fake “connections” to the aristocracy, and nothing better to do than spend their whole time talking about money, their racehorses and arranging their social lives.
Such was my auntie Enid – Queen of Sittingbourne. My mother’s family were full of that stuff. Mostly crooks who profited out of the misery of others during WW2 whilst passing themselves off as financers, tycoons and landed gentry. As is often the way with a family who have made the transition from the gutter to Rolls Royce in a single generation, they tended to be posher than posh. It is where Cousin Angus Boucher's money came from. He certainly didn’t earn it. The family made it and I spent it! Poor Angus; he was weak, a bit of a dunce but a fundamentally very decent guy indeed. His feelings for his family were not that different from mine.
On the other hand, his father, Eric Boucher was true to form and a bully. My mother told me that Eric once worked out how much an hour it cost to keep poor Angus at Harrow and used it as a stick to beat him with. I am not sure whether taking his money makes me a hypocrite or an avenging angel as he eventually lost the lot.
To be continued
Copyright Robert John Godfrey