The Vault

"Recollections of My Uncle F.M.Alexander"

Marjory Barlow
Senior Guest Teacher.


I feel quite sure that I must be dreaming, to find myself here, not in the land of my father's, but in the land of my mother, my grandmother and a varying and great assortment of uncles, including FM.

The Alexanders Come To Australia

There is a village in Wiltshire, called Ramsbury, and in the early 1830's there was a family there called "Alexander"—quite a big family—and they were all craftsmen. They were people like carpenters; people who dealt with horses, of course, and, around that time, there was great trouble in England because the harvest had failed for about three or four years. The farm-workers were all starving and the owners started introducing machinery. Because everybody was in such a terrible state, they began to have riots, which were known as the "Swing" riots. I can't think why, anyway, that was what they were called. They weren't Luddites, they were a bit later than that and three of Alexander's family [two great-uncles and FM's grandfather Matthias] joined in these riots because they were very sympathetic to the farm-workers. The result of that was that in one afternoon something like 300 people were tried and condemned to deportation and the two Alexander brothers [Joseph and Matthias] were deported to Tasmania. Soon after they arrived, they were pardoned and given land, which was virgin forest really, up in the north-west corner of Tasmania but because they were craftsmen and had been dealing in wood all their lives, they somehow managed to deal with this problem of the trees and convert it into very good agricultural land. They were so thrilled with conditions in Tasmania—the life there, which was so much better than what they had come from—that they wrote home and another brother [John] came out. Anyway, by that time there were three Alexanders living in that part of Tasmania and it was known as "Alexandria". So, it is very exciting and strange for me to be actually here—to be on my way, eventually,—to see where they all came from.

FM's Early Days

There are many myths around these days about FM—what kind of a person he was—and this happens with everybody who has made a contribution in the world—and what I wanted to do was to talk to you about him, as I knew him, of course—from my childhood—and try and make you see that he was an ordinary human being. He talked just like everybody else. He wasn't a saint but he was an extraordinary man in that he discovered something, which we all know about, but which has made a very real contribution to humanity, and I think is going to make an even greater contribution as time goes on. It is very strange, having been in the first training course, but not at the very beginning, because I was still at school then, to see how the work has "exploded"—I think is the only way I can put it, because, when we started, there were, I think, about twelve of us—Erika, and a lot of the others of course, started from the very beginning. I think the great thing about FM was that he was an extremely humble person. I've heard it said, from people who read his books, that he was arrogant. That is not true.

I would like to take you back to the beginning, to his birth in Wynyard and I was told, as I grew up, that he was so delicate when he was born that the doctor actually threw him aside and said: "You'll never rear him," to my grandmother. Well, she managed to, somehow. She was a very remarkable person and I think that she probably had the greatest influence upon him of anybody. She was very tiny, quite, sort of, exquisite really, and I absolutely adored her. She had a great influence on me even though she died when I was about seven. She was very particular, very fussy about the way we spoke. We weren't allowed ever to use slang words and she was very particular about their handwriting—all of the Alexander children had beautiful handwriting—those of you who have seen FM's handwriting will confirm. So, he was brought up with this woman who wouldn't allow sloppiness of any kind and I think this had a great influence upon him.

He was very particular later on, very upset sometimes at the way the students treated the furniture in his house. He used to say: "Do you suppose they behave like this at home?" So, I think that was one of the contributing factors to what he was able to do with his life and, of course, being born in Tasmania, he had to be very self-sufficient. If the children wanted toys they didn't go to the shop and buy them. They took a piece of wood and pretended it was a boat or, later on, carved it into a boat.

So, that was his beginning. He was very delicate and all through his youth suffered a lot from ill-health and hardly ever went to school, as I expect most of you know. He had a friend who had a wonderful library of books and FM educated himself through reading, namely, (he told me) the poets, particularly Shakespeare, of course, for whom he had a great passion, and all the other poets. That's why his language in his books is like it is, I think. It is very interesting that, as far as I can remember, none of my family had Australian accents. Now, I don't know why this was, whether in Tasmania the accent isn't like it is in the mainland, I just don't know—but I don't remember them having strong accents.

FM's Training Course

Now, to come on to the training course, which I was in, I think it is very important that FM had us in a group, sitting in chairs. What we had to do during the class was to focus on a stimulus, inhibit it, carry on, and follow out the movement—under his eye. Now this was very helpful because working on oneself, on one's own, is very difficult and one often doesn't know what's happening quite. So, he would go around and give us each a turn, but we were supposed to work on ourselves during the rest of the time and the fact that we were doing it under his eye—he seemed to have eyes in the back of his head—meant he knew what everybody was up to. I think this is a really important tradition to carry on because you cannot give out what you haven't got, and if you haven't done that work on yourself, which everybody has to do, if they are going to really use the Technique, you haven't got it to give to other people. Now this is a process that goes on, as far as I can understand, all one's life. One is always learning, there is no end to it. This is what makes it so wonderful, such fun. So, when I started training people, I'd had quite a lot of experience in FM's training course. Because that was my main work when I was with him, I carried on that tradition and I found that it took every minute of three years to train people, with them just doing work on themselves and being worked on. He used to take quite a long time before he allowed us to use our hands. This is another thing. I am just trying to give you the traditions as I had them when I was learning. He used to say that "If you start to use your hands too soon, you'd just be incorporating in your teaching your bad habits". I remember one day somebody asking him—"What about good habits?" FM said: "You have plenty to do dealing with the bad ones, leave the good ones alone. If you've got good habits, hooray. That's fine." I think nowadays many of the training courses introduce a lot of things, which I approve of in themselves but I think they waste good Alexander time. I am being very frank with you and telling you exactly what I think.

FM's Books

Now I wanted to talk a little bit about FM's books, because he had the greatest difficulty in writing. He told me that himself. It didn't come easily to him but he said that he had to write down what he knew, in case "none of us was any good", and that "the work might die out". If the books were there, somebody might be able to work out the practical procedures from what he had written. So, I know they are criticised a lot but he used to say that people have forgotten how to read, except the simplest things, and I think that is one of the dangers of life today—that we are brought up on television and we like things in small parcels, rather than be prepared to do a bit of work on our reading. Now, one of the things that FM insisted on very much was working on oneself. He used to say that if we didn't do what he had done, gone through that whole process, nothing would happen and that is perfectly true. You can't give to your pupils what you haven't got yourself and this is a progressive thing, as you go on, working on yourself, so more things are revealed. So, with the books, the more times you read them, you have this experience of thinking: "That wasn't there the last time I read it", but your understanding has improved, so you are able to get more out of them. They are not easy but they are very well worth studying and I used to tell my students, when in doubt, to go back and find out what FM actually said about the work and what he actually discovered.

Alexander's Philosophy of Life and the Technique

The other thing about FM was that he was great fun—had a great sense of humour and really enjoyed life. One of the two things I treasure particularly about him when he was in his 80's—he said to me one day: "You know dear, I am always happy". Now that was an extraordinary thing for him to have said because he had a very, very hard life, a great many difficulties, but he had something inside himself which kept him steady, no matter what happened. You see, we have got no control over what happens to us but we can control, to a certain extent, how we react to these things. The other thing he said was: "I never stop working, I dare not." Now, what did he mean? He didn't mean having lessons from other people. He didn't mean being given the good experiences. He meant using what he discovered. The ability to use his brain to connect with his body, and that's what this work is really about and it is an extraordinary thing about these words—you see it took him a long time to refine the orders down to what we know today, but they have a magical effect—for some reason, the nervous system seems to understand those words. It is made much easier, of course, nowadays because, as well as learning to give those orders, we have the teacher's hands which put meaning to the words. I think that's the best way of putting it. The other thing he used to say to me was: "Never let a day go by without going back to those words." So, that is a very important thing to remember. I've heard it said that to give orders, or direct, is old-fashioned. Well, what else have we got? What else did he have? It is an extraordinary achievement really that he was able—it took him a very long time of course, as you all know—but he was able to find out what was wrong. That's what this work is all about. We are all very frightened of being wrong, you know, and I always say to people: "Just assume that you are wrong, and as you go to do the next thing, try and not make it any worse." And that does do something about getting rid of this fear of getting it wrong. Trying to be right is the most hopeless thing that we can engage in, it really is. So, the thought for the day, "Don't mind being wrong". He used to say that the only thing you will ever know in this world is when you are wrong, because there is no such thing as right anyway—it's the direction in which you are going.


Marjory Barlow's work is now mostly with other teachers or students who are in the various training courses. She writes that she still finds this work "...very exciting!".

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