On my path in London for nearly 25 years, I attended groups at R D Laing’s house, in Eton Road, London. The very last group was held at Clifton Villas, about which I wrote the following article [published in ‘R D Laing: Creative Destroyer’ (1997). edited by Dr. Bob Mullan, Cassell Publishers, London]
I HAVE BEEN ASKED AT THE LAST MINUTE to contribute to this volume. With only two days to the publishing date, I wonder if I can write something my conscience will be okay with in the years to come. Yesterday when looking in my regularly kept diaries, I found the many references to RD Laing that I had made, and also came across 15 pages of notes that I had made on the last Tuesday group. He ran this Tuesday group for very many years, without a break. In fact that last evening had been especially impressed upon my mind. I hope that I can offer a fairly accurate portrayal of some of the events and atmosphere of that last evening.
It was about 6:50 PM on the 8 July 1986, as I went up the stairs of what was the last venue for the groups, at Clifton Villas. I was a little early, and as I came in I could see, through the half open door, Marguerita blow-drying her hair decorously, sitting on the floor in front of a large mirror. It was where Ronnie and Marguerita were living together. Ronnie welcomed everybody in as they arrived. In all I believe there were ten of us. After we had all settled in this large and very attractive rectangular room, Marguerita came in with a huge bowl of cherries and strawberries, going round everyone before placing the large plate on the floor. Group members had also brought a number of bottles of wine and some fruit juices for the evening. The windows were open with the blinds slightly lowered due to the hot sun. It had been a glorious summers day. I felt an aliveness in the room. Ronnie got up and walked over to the piano, sat on the piano stool, and began to play (the piano belonged to Mina Balaskas). He was wearing a rather curious combination of clothes I thought, but Ronnie had many faces, many mercurial changes and this seems so fitting. For those interested, he wore a very well-tailored fawn corduroy jacket, an old rose-pink pleated shirt, with a tie and some very smart cufflinks. He wore darkish trousers, polished soft leather shoes and silk socks. He also looked in fine form that evening, with a look of health about him. As he played, Marguerita sat on the floor by the piano stool, repeatedly twirling and winding her rather dark hair through her fingers, and I recorded in my diaries that she never looked up once throughout the whole time that he played this. She was wearing a rather ornate white cotton shirt, and a long skirt, and appeared to be basically without make-up. When he finished he sat back and looked very pleased indeed. I said, ‘That was beautiful.’ ‘Exquisite’, he resounded. He then said with emphasis, ‘It’s called, Le denier rendezvous.’ A few moments later he announced to the group purposefully, ‘You know music is the purest form of communication.’
Some while after this, Ronnie seemed to be irritated by some comments that a few people had made to others, and also to him. He also made some very provocative statements to two other people, both of them therapists. Suddenly at some point there was a volley of surprisingly angry outbursts, followed by an ongoing angry dialogue by a few members of the group. After a fair while, as quickly as it had flared up, so the air suddenly stilled again. I reflected that some of this tension might particularly relate to the unspoken feeling that this was likely the very last of the Tuesday Groups. This awareness had been in the air for a variety of reasons, but still the talk was of a resumption in the autumn. For some time, the air had become cooler and this was followed by a sudden squall in the weather. The wind picked up very strongly indeed, and the trees were swaying violently outside. It then started to rain and turned into a downpour. Marguerita went over to the wide-open windows and pulled the blinds right up, so that we could experience the rainfall. Eventually the heavy weather cleared. I could smell the fragrances of the wet leaves on the tall limes outside, the smell of the wet earth as it floated up from below and drifted through the open windows. Soon the late evening sun started to appear again. It was now around 8:30 PM. For the next hour or so, the conversation continued to flow around and around, and on towards the close of the evening. Ronnie got up and walked over to the piano and sat down. He paused a while and then began a second rendition of Le denier rendezvous. As he did so, he was leaning back, looking at us all and smiling. It was very intimate, and it was so clear this time, that in fact he was indeed playing this especially for us. He paused awhile after he had finished, then slowly turned round to face us, and with his head down, he announced, ‘It’s ten o’clock. I want you all to go.’
It was absolutely still in the room and nobody moved. It remained like this for quite a while and Ronnie just sat there, and I thought looked rather tired. For what seemed ages, still nobody moved, and it remained absolutely silent. ‘Go on, that’s it,’ he said, ‘I want you all to go now.’I have to admit that tears flowed freely down my cheeks, as I typed those sentences above. One by one we all got up, and as we passed near to him he held out his hand to each and every one of us in turn. We all had a few very personal words, and suddenly one woman, a friend of mine, impulsively hugged him fiercely. He looked quite taken aback for a moment, but composed himself quickly and responded warmly, and wished her well. When it came to me, I asked him if he would do me a favour. To my surprise he immediately said, ‘Yes’, and waited expectantly. I produced a volume of his recent biography, Wisdom, Madness and Folly, and asked if he would sign it for my family. He signed and also dated it. As he handed it back to me, I said, ‘See you in the autumn.’
He just looked at me and smiled, and that was it. I personally never saw Ronnie again, and I reckoned this was the same for most of the group.
As I walked home with all these feelings in my heart, I recalled the interview with him at his house, right at the beginning of my joining the group, in the autumn of 1985. I remember how he sat in his tall chair, and had listened to me for quite a while, and then how he had mysteriously beckoned me like a shaman with his hand. He had said nothing after this ritual action and had just watched me. He then lightly got up, and simply said,
‘See you Tuesday’
Published in ‘R D Laing: Creative Destroyer’ (1997).
edited by Dr. Bob Mullan, Cassell Publishers, London