02 December 2008

On Yorick

The news story today concerns the use (or not) of a genuine skull in the graveyard scene opening the final act of Hamlet (Shakespeare c.1600). The skull was bequeathed by a concert pianist, Andre Tchaikowsky.

I knew him, Horatio! No, actually I didn't; but one day in October 1972 I was visiting a student on placement at one of the world's most amazing therapeutic establishments for young men, Finchden Manor. Do read this site. I was not quite 28 years old; two years older than the oldest resident in the establishment at the time.

I was ushered into the presence of George Lyward, the charismatic founder and Chief of the place. No, it was not a "therapeutic community" as now understood and discussed in the literature. It was far too autocratic. I could go on and on about Finchden Manor on the basis of my limited acquaintance in Mr Lyward's final years, but you can get first-hand testimony from the website.

Mr Lyward was indeed charismatic (in the Weberian sense). But his charismatic quality was one I had never before (or since) encountered. He made me feel that he was privileged to meet me. I was a callow 28! An upstart tutor on a social work course who had never done any social work in his life. A fraud, basically (although not deliberately so; I was so naive then that I did even know that there were some things a degree in European Studies did not equip you for). And Mr Lyward was honoured to meet me. It was not an act.

This of course was even more disorienting than being interrogated and put down. However, from the room next door came wonderful piano music. Trying to make conversation in my blundering way (nowadays of course, I should not have to "make conversation". We would immediately have got down to the forms and reports and checklists), I asked about the hi-fi, as I thought it must be. "No," said Mr Lyward, "that's not a recording. That's Andre Tchaikowsky practising for his concert at the Festival Hall. He's an old boy of Finchden, you know, and he comes back here to practise when he has something big coming up." Tchaikowsky had come to Finchden to overcome some of his trauma from growing up in Warsaw in WW2 and the loss of most of his family.

(An aside; when I ventured to get down to the material for the placement report, I asked Mr Lyward what he had asked the student [Steve Williams--I remember you, and it's an episode for you to be proud of, too] to do. "DO?" he replied. "I don't want him to do anything. I want him to be." He would have stood no chance as a "practice teacher" nowadays.)

That's as close as I got to Yorick, and to some other things, too.

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