The man having lunch with me is a paedophile. Although at the time, I only know him as Max Clifford, the publicist for high profile celebrities like Simon Cowell and O J Simpson. A mutual friend has put us together to see if there’s any benefit in him representing me.
We’re in an expensive restaurant in Guildford Surrey, England. He tells me about his disabled daughter and the day trips he arranges for her school friends. We order lunch.
I ask him what he can do for me. He takes a sweeping look around the restaurant and asks me if anyone here knows who I am, I say no. He tells me that within a year, everyone in the restaurant will know who I am. It sends an excited but terrifying shiver down my spine.
How? I ask. He tells me how he puts clients together, finds mutual matches, creating fake news that gets people talking.
He says that newspapers will carry a story about how I am using hypnosis to help athlete Linford Christy, and how I am also helping one of the Spice Girls with stage fright. He tells me I will be photographed leaving night clubs with the Spice Girls and how I will be seen to be dating one of them, and who knows, it might happen anyway. I get another excited but terrifing shiver down my spine.
He seems like a nice guy, despite his reputation as a media manipulator, and I am touched by his stories about his charity work. But I have already decided that this isn’t for me… I’m out of my depth.
We finish eating and I get the bill. As I fumble with my wallet, he asks who’s going to pay for his services. I jokingly tell him that he is, with the income he will generate for me. He says it doesn’t work that way, he wants £10,000 a month up front, with a minimum one year contract.
We shake hands and I tell him I will be in touch. That’s the last that I see of him.
Several years later in 2014 he is convicted of sexual assault on underage girls and is jailed for eight years.
Last weekend he died while in prison. Will he rest in peace? I doubt it.
The year is 1959 and there’s someone knocking on the door. It’s 6.30 on Monday evening and I’ve been home from school for two hours. My mother is in the kitchen, she’s made a trifle, but without the sherry because I’m only eight years old. I hear the door knocker bang bang bang again and so call my mother.
She’s halfway through setting the table and asks why anyone would knock at this time of night. My father is away working nights and he left a few minutes ago to work in the chemical factory that turns him yellow every time he comes home, and will one day kill him just after he retires.
I open the door to find a gypsy holding a sprig of heather and with a rough canvas bag over her shoulder. She gives me a stare which makes me hold my breath as she points at my face. I’ve never seen anyone like her before, a long pointed nose, piercing eyes and untidy hair, as if she’s woken from a long sleep.
My mother is very superstitious. She’s the kind of woman that throws salt over her shoulder if she spills some, and avoids ladders, even if it means stepping onto a busy road. So rather than shut the door she listens to the gypsy offer her sales pitch.
She’s probably from the camp up near Nine Wells on the outskirts of Cambridge, our hometown. Nine Wells is the name of a group of fresh water springs that provided Cambridge with its water a few hundred years ago as it traveled down into town along channels that ran through the streets. There’s been a gypsy camp up there for the last three or four years. My father told me never to talk to gypsies yet here we are on our doorstep talking to one.
She looks at me and then up at my mother and back at me again. She seems to be trying to piece together words that are hiding just out of her awareness. She points at my face again and comments on my blue eyes. She looks back at my mother who is waiting in anticipation knowing there’s going to be some kind of spell or prophecy – hopefully not a curse.
“Is this your son my dear”? she says, my mother nods unable to speak. “One day”, she hesitates “he will be an important man.” Another pause and I notice that it’s starting to rain – a flash of lightning and heavy thunder in the distance. “He will be a lawyer, or a doctor… I think he will be a lawyer.” There’s another clap of thunder, louder this time, closer to the house. “You mark my word my dear, you must prepare him for this.”
I’m only eight years old and my life is my school friends, my family and my toys, but here on my doorstep, is a crazy woman, pointing her long dirty fingernail at my face and telling my mother that I will be someone important.
I realise I’ve slowly been backing away as she’s been talking. It’s those eyes and that pointing finger. Suddenly, as if on cue, she bursts into a cackling laugh, and without saying anything further, slowly reaches down into her grubby canvas bag.
Will she bring out a knife, I think to myself. Slowly and dramatically, she brings out a handful of wooden clothes pegs.
So my mother, maybe out of fear or appreciation, turns to the kitchen to get her purse and I’m left alone again with this woman as she strokes my cheek with her dirty hand. “You’re a very pretty boy my dear” she says. My mother returns and looks expectantly at the gypsy. “Half a crown my dear.” My mother pays and looks at me nervously.
It’s raining now as lightning fills the evening street. “You mark my word” she says again as she turns to leave pulling her paisley head scarf over her head. A huge clap of thunder shakes the windows of our small council house, and as we close the door I rush to the window and close the curtains. Through the gap I watch her leave our front garden without closing the gate, and float across the road and into the distance.
“If you don’t pay them they’ll curse you” my mother says. But this isn’t what’s on my mind. I’m thinking about her words and wondering what they mean.
I sleep deeply that night, and in the morning as I leave for school, there’s a yellow man at the door. We say nothing to my father about the gypsy. In fact it is never mentioned again until I am 55 years old and reminiscing about my life with my mother, the day before she dies, and she reminds me of the story.
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When Cliff Richard introduced his version of Elvis to the UK in the late 50’s it stirred things up a bit, but not to the extent that Johnny Hallyday did in France. Back then the French government had very strict controls on the use of Americanisms in language, French culture and everyday life.
Before Hallyday there was no ‘weekend’, ‘burger’ or ‘rock n roll’ in the French language. But of course now these Americanisms have been absorbed into the French language and culture.
I remember back in the 80’s how the French Government fought McDonalds’ attempts to set up outlets in Paris, saying they were not French enough. Several years later they finally allowed a French burger chain to open, but it was still many years before McDonalds were finally allowed in.
Had Hallyday been an American living in France, he would not have become a rock and roll legend and none of these changes would have happened, but as he offered a very French interpretation of America at a time when the youth of the sixties were demanding change after the war, he became the voice of the young.
Serge Gainsbourg was similar, in a way, in what he represented, but on an intellectual level – he challenged the system with words and cigarettes. Hallyday didn’t ever go over the heads of the kids on the street – because he rocked, and he rocked for everyone.
Looking at the mourners on the streets of Paris yesterday, I have a feeling that the real person they are mourning is not Hallyday, but themselves – the loss of a rebellious part of their own identity.
The seeds of change that were sown back in the 60’s when Hallyday introduced his interpretation of America to France, have finally blossomed and become part of French culture as we know it today. Almost everyone from politicians to road sweepers owned a Johnny Hallyday record, and as the world looks on, wondering what all the fuss is about, and wondering who this man was, France mourns, and I do too. Because he made a difference, and that means something.
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In the 1970’s I lived in a small terraced house in Chelmsford England. I had just started practicing as a hypnotherapist and each day I would drive to nearby towns and see clients in hotel rooms, community centers, Quaker meeting houses and YMCA’s. I did this for 12 years seeing 9 clients a day, 5 days a week.
As I learned to help people I started to change. I became more accepting of others, more compassionate and genuinely wanted to make a difference. All of my clients during this time were unknowingly planting small seeds inside of me, and these continued to grow and blossom in many ways – something I will always be grateful for.
The photo below shows the garden shed I built at the bottom of our garden one year before we moved away. I built it to last many years and from the photo it still seems to be there.
When I built it, I placed a secret letter inside the roof and included my name, date and a message.
The message says ‘My name is Stephen and I built this shed. By the time you read this it should have given you many years of use. I want you to know that I didn’t just build it for myself, I also built it for you, because although we’ll probably never meet, I want you to know that long ago I was thinking about you and wishing you a happy life. So if at any time, you feel a bit down, please remember that a complete stranger cared enough about you to write this letter. With love – Stephen.’
Read more "HOW OTHER SEEDS ARE SOWN"
It is 1974 and I am sitting at the feet of the16th Karmapa of Tibet, one of the most important figures in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy. The appearance of the 1st Karmapa, was predicted by the historical Buddha Shakyamuni in the Samadhiraja Sutra, and the 5th Karmapa started the tradition of the Black Crown Ceremony which has been performed by successive Karmapa incarnations up to the time of the 16th Karmapa, who sits before me now.
He is about to perform this rare and sacred ceremony, yet I am feeling frustrated and confused about what I am meant to feel.
I ask a Buddhist monk to explain what’s about to happen and he tells me that if I see the Black Crown I will become an enlightened being. I misunderstand him however, and think he’s said that I will never be enlightened if I see the Black Crown. So I desperately and naively hope that it will be invisible to me.
I participate in the ceremony and I see the Black Crown. I feel I’ve been cheated, my ego is deflated and over the coming months I lose interest in Buddhism.
It is now 1993 and I am sitting with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. I dare not mention the Black Crown ceremony but my life has changed considerably, I have already decided to meditate in the jungles of northern Thailand in the hope that I will discover a way to integrate Buddhist principles with psychotherapy, but this will not happen for a few years yet.
I abandoned Buddhism after that ceremony in 1974 but inexplicably something has been growing inside me and I don’t understand what it is, why or how. I only know that I wish to love more, and this has motivated me to keep searching.
It is now 2017 and I am browsing the internet. The 16th Karmapa passed away in 1981 and the Black Crown ceremony has never been performed since. In fact no one knows the whereabouts of the Black Crown, it has disappeared from Tibetan Buddhism. So I find a web page about the Karmapas and read an article about the Black Crown ceremony:
“The ceremony is a display of His (the Karmapa’s) Compassion and Wisdom. The crown signifies his power to benefit all sentient beings. It is said that anyone who witnesses the ceremony will undergo a transformation of the heart, within which a seed is planted, which will bear fruit as Wisdom and Compassion. It is further said that the ceremony creates a bond with the Karmapa, and that the witness cannot fall into the lower realms for the next seven lives.”
Tears are now streaming down my face. I feel so grateful for not knowing about the gift I had been given, grateful that I did not have the chance to attach to the gift way back in 1974. Back then I was too young and proud to receive this gift, so it has sat within me slowly growing without my awareness. And of all of those times when I asked myself “why me?” I now know why, and so more tears flow, and I feel I have much to repay.
Read more "How Seeds Are Sown"
Every moment of an interaction is precious. Within that short time frame you have the opportunity to improve someone’s life, and often what you say or do can be life changing.
But this can only happen if you first observe and listen.
The intention to make a difference starts with you hearing what people say, verbally and non-verbally, and then handing it back with your heart in a way that initiates change at the deepest level. The language of the heart is a universal language that everyone can understand, because it’s something that is felt, not heard.
Teaching at Roehampton University 2008Read more "We are all teachers"