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Memoirs of a long-term AT enthusiast

by Jill Payne
(First published in STATNews, January 2012) 

On the 28th April 2011 I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Philippa Castle of Snettisham, Norfolk, who took her first lessons with FM at Ashley Place in the early 1950’s. Now aged 84, she has a positive outlook on life and looks extremely well, despite suffering severe spinal problems most of her life.  She has had an eventful and hardworking life, giving birth to one son, working as a nurse, hotel manager and schoolteacher, finally teaching deaf children until her retirement.  Her experience of the Technique spans over sixty years. She told me her story:

"I started lessons with F.M. because I’d had trouble with my back when I was nursing at St. Thomas’s and Norfolk and Norwich Hospitals -the problems came from breaking in horses as a girl -and I’d had to give up nursing altogether.


Later when I was expecting my son, Richard, I was sent to London to see specialists for their opinions if I should even have the baby. One said a definite ‘No’ and the other, ‘Maybe’. My own doctor sent me to a gynaecologist who thought that, with care, I would be alright. They said a caesarean would be the answer, but the baby was induced at eight months, and having the baby made me wish I had died many times that night. Years later a neurologist told me that he thought it was the cruellest thing he had ever heard.


Six weeks after having the baby I had a laminectomy. At that time it was a very invasive operation -immensely painful -and I was unable to walk for months. I was lucky that I lived at the hotel; the staff were wonderful to me and my husband was incredible. He was told I might not walk again, but over many months I learned.


By the time Richard was six years old we were running the Shap Wells Hotel in the Lake District. I was twenty-seven or eight then and, while I felt quite healthy, I still had immense bouts of pain in my back. Browsing in Smith’s in Kendal one day I came across "Inside Yourself -The New Way to Health Based on the Alexander Technique" by Louise Morgan. I bought it (10/6), wrote to F.M. and arranged to go down to London and see him.


I remember F.M. looking like a benign version of Mr Punch. He sat me in lovely Chippendale chair and then took me out of the chair in a completely effortless way.  He talked to me, explaining what he was going to do and how it was going to help. I was intrigued, wanting to so much to get my back, and everything else about me, working properly again. I remember the lovely feeling of lightness. Learning to use the body correctly seemed much better than trying to put things right with surgery.


Sadly it was not to come about. Money that had been left to me and my brother when my father died was mistakenly paid to my mother (about £600).  I did ask to borrow it but we were made to feel awful about this and, by the time it was all sorted out, it was all too late. Our salaries at that time did not cover living in London and paying for lessons so I could only see F.M twice. That’s a great regret.


Not until the 60’s when I went to live in the Cotswolds did I go for A.T. lessons again. I went to one of the Oxford colleges and had lesson with Mrs Dusseck.  She was a most charming person and I so enjoyed my lessons with her.


Later I went to have lessons with Miss Goldie at Bladon or Woodstock.  She was small, very neat and very efficient. She was obviously a gifted teacher but rather forbidding.  I never quite thought that she rated me as a pupil -perhaps I tried too hard. I remember her telling me that she had a pupil who had gained two inches -very impressive. Although I could feel the lengthening of the spine, I didn’t ever feel that I was going to be her star pupil!


I had trained as a teacher after being in the Cotswolds. The back stood up to things fairly well, although I did think I was immensely lucky that it did not "crack up" altogether because fairly soon afterwards my husband, Hugh, was so ill that I became sole breadwinner. My son, Richard, was then going to university.


I didn’t take any lessons for a long time after this but I did see Mrs Peacock when I went to Shrubland Hall Health Clinic. She was very pleasant but not near enough for regular lessons when I was at home.


After Hugh died (when I was in my forties) I eventually went back to Norfolk to teach. and then was seconded to Oxford for a year to train as a teacher of the deaf.  The back packed up at one point but I think this was because I was so exhausted, but I managed to stay the course. I then taught deaf children until I retired. 


After I retired I went to live in Blakeney and had lessons with Hannah Birley in Norwich, who was such a good teacher.  Eventually I moved back to King’s Lynn so was not near enough to any teacher to go on having lessons. Sadly this has been the case for quite a few years. I did once go on a weekend course at Hengrave Hall near Bury St. Edmunds. The course was run by Jenny Daisley and I came home feeling on top of the world. The sense of euphoria lasted for days and it gave me a real incentive to try to find another teacher and help myself in "the use of the self.


Since then I have had some heart trouble, a hip replacement (I so wish I had had more lessons and avoided that), thyroid cancer and COPD -I had always been told my breathing problems were because I had asthma. Bad news does keep appearing, doesn’t it?


Although I have not been able to have lessons for some time now I do feel that the lessons I had through my life have helped a lot. I will be walking along and then ‘tune in’ and give myself instructions; I feel better at once and it reminds me to use myself in a better way.  When I think how very, very badly damaged my spine was, I think that I am very lucky to still be standing!!"


Mrs Castle now lives near to her son and his family in Norfolk.  I am pleased to report that since she recorded this interview for STATnews she has begun receiving regular visits from one of the Norfolk teachers.  She still has her copy of the book by Louise Morgan, along with a hardback copy of ‘The Use of the Self’ given to her by F.M. These form part of a large collection of self-help books, reflecting her truly inspirational approach to life.

Sincere thanks to Mrs Castle for sharing her experiences with us.     


 © Jill Payne 2012


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