We celebrated what would have been Walter Carrington’s 100th birthday this week at my Alexander Technique training school. Walter and his wife, Dilys, ran the school for many decades and I was so lucky to have trained with them – they were well into their 80s when I started my teacher training.
The school in those days was in Holland Park, London, in a huge Victorian terraced house where Walter and Dilys had lived since the 1960s. As well as doing my teacher training, I also worked on the reception desk, managing Walter’s diary. Visitors regularly came from all over the world to spend time in the school and/or to have lessons with Walter. These appointments were like gold dust. If there was a cancellation, we had a box file with over 200 names on the waiting list for a short notice lesson. There was always someone who was able to hot foot it over to Lansdowne Road. Walter was one of the key figures in the world of the Alexander Technique. His knowledge and experience were of the highest order.
The main teaching room at the school was a large bright room with huge windows at either end. It would have probably been the lounge in normal houses. There was a conservatory at the back of the house leading from the lounge via glass doors and occasionally squirrels nested in the roof spaces of this. We spent most of our time in these two rooms where we’d either be lying down on one of the 3 wooden tables or else working at the chairs, sitting and standing. It doesn’t sound like hard work but the mental focus and ‘rewiring’ that went on used to knock me out during the first year and I’d often go home and sleep soundly for an hour.
Days were filled with the sound of laughter and Walter’s belly laugh rang out above everyone else’s. We were always cracking jokes. His laugh was described by an erudite colleague as a Rabelasian one. It’s taken me 15 years to look this up – Rabelais was a French satirist known for the ‘riotous licence of his mirth’. Rabelais also collected plants and curiosities and France can thank him for the melon, artichoke and carnation. Whilst I’m not aware of any botanical leanings, Walter was had a huge range of interests and read widely on many different topics.
Walter trained with FM Alexander in the 1930s and in 1941 qualified as a pilot in the RAF, serving in the Pathfinders. His plane was shot down in Hungary in 1944. He and his crew survived but were taken prisoner. He had broken many bones, including his pelvis and had to relearn how to walk.
Despite various hip replacements, he loved horse riding and continued to ride thrice weekly until his late 80s, stopping only because his horse, Badger, was being retired. We went on a group outing to see him riding one day. Other Alexander Technique colleagues were also giving dressage demonstrations and it was fascinating to see the horses dance round the stable. But Walter was the main attraction for me. This elegant gentleman of about 87 years, wearing a shirt and tie and bowler hat, was riding on an enormous horse with the joyous smile of a 5 year old. What a sight to behold.
Walter loved horses. His teaching room/study was filled with prints and statues of horses. There were also piles of books, largely about the Alexander Technique, but also about learning computing.
Every day he would read to us from one of Alexander’s books, often breaking off to explain particular points or to offer observations. Many of these impromptu discussions have made their way into print, notably The Act of Living and Thinking Aloud. This is fortunate as, try as I might, I don’t know if I ever once managed to stay awake for the whole half hour. His voice lulled me into total relaxation every day. On Tuesday at the party, a recording was played of one of Walter’s talks, with all of the mumblings and laughter going on in the background. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I went to get up when I heard the old doorbell in the background.
Walter was a very kind man, calling everyone “my dear” and having a ready smile upon his face. Happy Birthday, dear Walter. Thank you for all that you taught me. Much love.