-bringing ideas to life







Forward and Away: A Memoir
Elisabeth Walker. Publ. Gavin R Walker, UK, August 2008, pbk, 232pp, ISBN 978 09 559493 0 2. £15.00 + p&p: UK £2.00, Europe £4.50, USA $40.00 total. Available from Gavin R Walker, ‘Columba’, 4 South Parade, Seascale, Cumbria, CA20 1PZ. Tel. 019467 29463. E-mail gavinstaffa@btinternet.com
Review by Francesca Greenoak


This is a story of a long life. It is the life of one of the oldest and best-loved of Alexander’s early students, but though the Alexander Technique threads in and out of the history, it is not the main theme. Elisabeth Walker’s stated intention was to write about her early years so her grandchildren would know what her and her family’s life was like in the early 20th century. She has included a large number of interesting photographs, and the book is perhaps best read as if one were looking at a family album with the matriarch beside you: "This one is the house where I was born, … those people who look as if they are in fancy dress are my aunts in their party clothes."

The young Elisabeth is a revelation: a smiling open face and a springy upward carriage. She rows and dives -making a lovely straight line into the water -and generally has a great childhood on the river Great Ouse. As she grew into adolescence some photographs show a rounded back but once she has met, and fallen in love with, Dick Walker in 1937, the following pictures show her beautifully up. Whether this is the effect of being in love or her first contact with the Alexander Technique and having her first lessons, it is difficult to say -the effect is often much the same. Dick Walker was a serious golfer and taking lessons from F.M. in order to improve his game.

At this time Elisabeth was a radiographer in the early days of the discipline. She did her training at the Middlesex Hospital where she "studied anatomy, physiology, photography and advanced engineering" and where she worked afterwards. In 1938 Dick and Elisabeth were married; they had decided that they wanted to study the Alexander Technique and joined the training course at Ashley Place. They were unusual and enterprising people in a conventional middle-class setting who were prepared to follow the courage of their convictions.

Their first two children were born during the war years, and the transition to civilian life in 1946 was made easier by the fact of living near the Barlows and their two young children in Hampstead. Dick began teaching as an assistant at Ashley Place. The next year, unexpectedly and tragically, their eldest child Julian died after a routine tonsillectomy. Elisabeth particularly remembered that during the time after this event Alexander himself was most supportive. In the following short chapter, which is about Alexander and his work, she writes, "I found F.M. to be a very compassionate man."

Belatedly, the Alexander students got back together and Elisabeth finally got her qualification. Irene Tasker, who was teaching in Johannesburg, decided to leave and suggested to Dick that he and Elisabeth teach there. They made the tricky journey overland by lorry which meant three months away from the children, who would join them later. It was an eventful trip. They adjusted to life in South Africa, three more children were born and the teaching practice thrived. Only after twelve enjoyable years in South Africa did the Walkers decide to come home, after the shock of the Sharpeville Massacre. By this time Dick was working against the apartheid regime headed by Verwoerd, and more active friends were being imprisoned.

Back in England, it was a struggle for the children to adapt, but Richard found that he had an affinity for horses and began to develop a skill that would result in his becoming a top-level rider. The pictures of him on horseback show a young man beautifully in tune with the horse, and the horse clearly loving being ridden by someone with such good balance and rapport.

The album takes us on through more travels and developments, the start of the training school in Oxford in 1985, and thence to Dick’s death in 1992 following a hip fracture. Elisabeth now found the Alexander Technique a support in coping with the bereavement after 57 years of marriage. Her children -particularly Lucia, also an Alexander teacher -and the work with private pupils and at the training school helped her through.

Since then Elisabeth has found a new confidence in herself as a teacher and travelled round the world to workshops, training schools, congresses and conferences and is a well-known figure to many teachers. This whistlestop tour of her life to date is a great gift to her children and grandchildren and also to those who know her and have worked with her -and it does, as she hoped, give us a glimpse back into the ways and ideas of the 20th century.

© Francesca Greenoak 2009




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