This ‘lesson’ highlighted for me one of the downsides of advertising.
When I first started teaching I used to advertise in the local paper offering a free introductory lesson. The adverts would appear in the personal column, sometimes finding their way under HEALTH, sometimes ALTERNATIVE THERAPY, sometimes TUITION.
I expected to have calls from people who had no idea what the Alexander Technique was; and from those who thought they knew, but didn’t; but for some reason I never anticipated interest from the readers of newspaper personal columns whose primary interest is in those apparently common, occasionally coded references to discreet sexual practices.
I particularly remember one visit from a man who travelled over fifty miles to see me. I had disliked the sound of him from the first moment of answering the phone – he sounded so sibilant, I might almost have been speaking to Gollum – but having offered a free lesson, and having tried and failed to put him off, I had little choice but to agree a time for an appointment.
He arrived on the hour, in a flashy car, and stepped across my threshold with a look on his face that seemed to suggest he was game for anything. It crossed my mind that he was as nervous as me; but I supposed, half jokingly, that if he really thought the Alexander Technique was a strange and secret sexual practice, and if his interpretation of what I had said on the phone was simply that the form those practices took was too extraordinary to be explicit about, he had reason to be nervous.
We went into my small teaching room, where there were two chairs, but no couch. He looked around, but didn’t seem unduly surprised I studied him more closely. I suppose in many ways he was an ordinary looking man, even if he did have too many rings on his fingers, one of which held a semi-precious stone as large as a pullet’s egg; and as I began my usual pre-introductory lesson spiel, I started to think I had been mistaken.
After talking for some time I said if it was okay with him I would put my hands on his body and show him how I worked. He reacted nervously.
"No, no, don’t touch me. Don’t for heaven’s sake touch me. Just explain."
I thought I had already explained; perhaps he was waiting for the secret teachings: the code to decipher what I had already said. He was, I noticed, fiddling around with something in his trouser pocket. Was it his handkerchief? I didn’t want to stare; I didn’t want to look at all. Turning to his face, it reminded me of grainy black and white picture I’d seen of Alaistair Crowley on a bad day.
I stepped back and asked him what, in particular, he wanted to know.
"Just talk. I like to hear you talk. Explain this…this technique…"
I sat down and talked. I rabbited on, staring glassy eyed at the wall behind his head, every now and again casting glances at the man’s groin, my wall clock, the enormous ring on his finger. As for my "use", the best I can say is that I was unaware of it.
Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, after he had sat silently for at least fifteen minutes, and I had pretty much assumed he was simply a harmless nutter, who for some obscure reason had travelled fifty miles on busy roads to hear something he could have easily have got out of a book, he spoke.
I was so stunned by what he said that I asked him to repeat himself. He did, very calmly and distinctly. The atmosphere in the room changed. Sweat burst out of all my orifices. He repeated himself for the third time, staring at me lewdly as he did so. The passage of time has dulled my memory of his words. All I know is they were crude and to the point. His was truly an indecent proposal, and it was directed at me.
There seemed no doubt he meant what he said. I started to wonder if he had a knife or a gun; he was certainly bigger and stronger than me. His fingers, I suddenly noticed, seemed pudgier than when he had arrived, as if they were swollen with lust. The independent movement in his trousers I could no longer ignore. I found myself incapable of responding, even when he reached across to me and almost expertly gave my genitals a testing squeeze, as if he was a shopper testing fruit.
What I consciously intended doing next I have no idea. I was trying to maintain the pretence that the introductory lesson was still going on, and that what he had said and done hadn’t really happened, and certainly didn’t matter. Then I heard myself speak, in what sounded like a high, squeaky voice.
"I’m sorry, I’m not like that".
Incredibly, my wife and children chose that moment to arrive back in the house. The noise they made, opening the door and piling through it, which I normally found so exasperating when in teaching mode, I lapped at as if it was a healing draught. Again, the atmosphere in the room changed. A shadow passed across my client’s face, and he rose without a word, rearranging his groin as he did so.
He was perfectly civil. We shook hands. He thanked me for my time, and I accompanied him to the door. As he got into his car, possibly anticipating the drive home, he cast me a tiny glance of what looked like resentment, but overall I thought he took any disappointment extremely well. I was disappointed, too, but only at the ease with which I had been thoroughly discountenanced.
I heard subsequently, from a masseur friend, that it is an occupational hazard of "body workers" to be inundated with calls from people seeking "relief" at their hands. In retrospect, I am only glad my client wouldn’t let me put my hands on him, though I still can’t understand why one sort of touch should have been anathema to him while another was apparently so very much to his taste.