Much of my fortunate and fascinating life, when I’m not at the Forest Hermitage, is spent in prison. I’m usually out about three days a week teaching Buddhism and meditation in up to five or six prisons. Some I go to regularly and some as the need arises. Lately I’ve been going back to the Isle of Wight, to a couple of prisons now clustered as one, that were amongst the very first I went to in 1977 when all this prison stuff began for me. It might seem a long way to go but it’s not a bad drive, then a pleasant cruise on the Solent, and an afternoon of agreeable company practising and discussing the Dhamma, before another cruise and the drive back. Not bad really!
There are naturally departures from this routine, for instance attendance at meetings of the Prison Service Chaplaincy Council and times when I’m teaching in other places, like Khun Peter’s restaurant on the first Sunday of every month and during term time, every Monday evening at Warwick University. I’m also the longest serving chaplain at Broadmoor Special Hospital and lately I’ve started going to Wellington College.
I’m also occasionally reminded of my formative years at Drama School, that’s especially been the case in the last week or so because tomorrow, on September 30th, it will be fifty years to the day since we opened Drama Centre, London. By then I’d already been a drama student for two years. I’d been accepted at what is now the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama a week after my seventeenth birthday and there I spent two amazing years studying with the most extraordinary combination of teachers. We were utterly devoted to all of them but one of them, Yat Malmgren who is almost always known just as Yat, we held in special esteem. Then shortly before the conclusion of our second year, with one more year expected to go, we were dealt a cruel and unexpected blow. I can still to this day vividly remember the Principal, a rigid, unbending woman with one glass eye, which meant you could never work out who she was looking at or talking to, telling us that she had dismissed Yat and that John Blatchley, the Director of our Stage course and the rest of that extraordinary team had in consequence resigned. We were just expected to accept this and carry on with whoever else they managed to employ for the following year but we were having none of it. Furious, we met together and decided to ask Yat and John, if we could find the place and the means, would they give us our final year and they said, yes. So we left Central and set about the formation of what was to become Drama Centre, London. Since leaving a year later and since a small company that some of us formed collapsed, I have had practically no contact with my former fellow revolutionaries. Most of them I’ve never seen again. But two days ago I met one of them in London. A couple of years ago, Patricia Grant, was googling the people who had meant most to her in her life and came upon a piece about Yat, which I had written and published on my blog. And so she found me. Since then we’ve been in touch and now while she’s over visiting from Canada where she lives we’ve met again and on Friday we paid a nostalgic visit to the old building, the previous Methodist church in Prince of Wales Road, Chalk Farm, that used to house the Drama Centre.
This weekend, yesterday and today, at Wat Buddhapadipa in Wimbledon, there have been ceremonies and chanting to remember and honour, at fifty days after his death, the late Somdej Phra Buddhacharn (Somdej Kiew), the Abbot of Wat Saket in Bangkok and Chairman of the monastic panel acting on behalf of the Sangha Raja, the Supreme Patriarch. Somdej Kiew passed away on August 10th. He was 85. I had known him for almost forty years and he had been very kind to me so I was both honoured and pleased to be there yesterday and to be asked to say a few words as a tribute to him and the kindness he exemplified.