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Janet read an article in the Observer sometime in 1979 about a new American psychological tuning up course named Insight, it sounded fascinating. The article was written by Ariana Stasinopolos it glowed in Janet’s mind and although it was rather expensive we decided she should do it. It lasted for 5 days in all, the weekend 2 full days and three long evenings before. She did it and came back so radiant that I, my sister Gemma, and her husband Alvin all immediately signed on for the next course.

The first evening I didn't really feel it was for me. Others also felt the same because they spoke out against the slick, American presenters, who dressed and presented themselves like smart hotel staff. But the last session in the evening was called “The Game of Life”, that struck home for me. By the end of the second evening I had participated and felt very interested. On the 3rd evening as I was walking home about half passed one in the morning I had the first spiritual experience of my life, a kind of waterfall of light coming down into me at a particular point in an ordinary street in west London. I still emote when I think of it.

The first spiritual experience is not entirely true because I'm not sure when probably in the early 60s Janet had introduced me to the Maharishi’s TM meditation, it was well before The Beatles got interested in him. Since before I knew her Janet was a member of a group called the Study Society it was roughly based on the teachings of Ouspenski who's book I had read. I used to go to the annual general meeting which included a lecture on philosophical subjects ; often by artists teaching at the RCA but I was never attracted to becoming a member of the group. However, the group became interested in the Maharishi and I was intrigued by what I heard from Janet.

The Maharishi held court near London Zoo and I went along with Janet and enrolled. This meant at a ceremony. I was given a mantra to repeat as a meditation ; the technique caught on with me very soon and and after a few months I had to ask myself the question - did I want to be a monk or a sculptor because I was spending so much time in meditation. The answer was clear that I wanted to be a sculptor and I gave up the meditation. I don't remember from that experience any one moment that could begin to compare with the cascade of light that I experienced that night. Doubtless there were rewards but of a much gentler kind. A kind of switching into  infinity rather than the usual time. One meditated with one’s back against the wall and I involuntarily started to bang my head gently against the wall, I told the Mahrishi of the problem, he said carry on. I did not carry on for long. Possibly this previous experience had opened the way for the experiences of Insight

The next morning at Insight I felt I had something special to say to three people. We were assembling about 9 and as I entered the building with the first person and I gave my message whatever that was I can't remember; then I'd hardly gone 10 paces when I met the second person who happened to be Gemma and I said to her - today it seems to me like magic, all I have to do - and I wave my arm like a magician and as my arm came down it encircled the waste of the third person who had just come up behind me! It truly was magical. If we had practised it as a play the precise timing would have been very difficult.

From then on I had a wonderful time and left the course in a highly elated state, which is not at all unusual for participants. I had obviously been noticed by the staff who were running the course because I was asked to speak at a recruiting meeting a week or two later, and I accepted. That meeting went off very well until someone asked me about the religious affiliation of the course staff. I knew that the course was run by an unusual sect called started by a Californian cop. The staff had been wonderfully supportive and certainly was not evangelising. I told the truth, I told them I was not a member of the sect but from that point on the atmosphere changed. I do not know how the recruiting went but I guess the mention of the sect put a lot of people off. It would have put me off too but what else could I have done?

After Insight One I signed on for the advanced course. I did it about 6 months later but didn't have a return of that magic that I'd found on the first course. Nonetheless, the whole experience certainly changed my life. The high state after Insight 1 really only lasted 3 or 4 days but I felt at that time that I could achieve anything and in fact it was that sense of confidence that allowed me to uproot myself from all that I knew and start a new life in Casole d’Elsa. They warn you against being over confident after a course and I did not uproot till two years later. Significantly, one of the exercises was to write down something you really wanted in life. We had 15 minutes to do it. After 10 mins I could not think of anything I really wanted and in desperation wrote down a farmhouse in Tuscany. And here I am in an ex-fattoria in Tuscany and have been here for the last 40 years!

Many years later I did a Vipassana, a 10 day Buddhist silent retreat the magic of which hit me 2 days after it ended. On the way home we had a car crash, I was not driving. The next day a course was assembling at the Centro and I was circling Colle for an hour in search of a group of students who had rung for a lift to Casole. I eventually found them enjoying drinks inside a bar without the slightest thought of their taxi. I was not pleased.

The magic began the next morning when I had the feeling that I could not put a foot wrong, nor could I. Instinct guided me in a way that it had never done before – or since alas. That experience lasted more than 2 very memorable days. I presume enlightenment is like that all the time. Pascal tells us all one can do to repeat such experience is to wait and hope. Certainly my attempt at a repeat by signing on for a second Insight was disappointing.

The other bit of magic that happened after the second course at Insight was a Spanish scientist who believed that he had cured cancer and was receiving a huge retainer from a drug company, dropped into my life within three days of finishing the course. At the time my second exhibition at Imperial College was going on. He came to the exhibition and made me an offer I was in no mode to refuse. He said buy yourself a new suit and come to Madrid and I'll arrange an exhibition for you.

I did just that. All that he promised there, that is – not one but three exhibitions and a number of commissions came to pass. The most memorable of the commissions was portraits of the King and Queen of Spain. This is sounding like a fairy-story and for a man of 48 having not really got very far in his career it was a fairy story. I had a retrospective exhibition of over 100 pieces of sculpture and some drawings in the largest, smartest gallery in Madrid, with a handsome colour catalogue and a poster both of which where out of reach of most artists at that time because the cost of such a catalogue was very much higher then than it is today. The exhibition was a huge success with lots of press coverage and good sales; the portraits of the King and Queen were of course the centre piece. The success was mainly the result of my patron’s fame but I also had become famous in Spain by then due to a huge publicity campaign.

The Royal Palace, that is where the royals lived, was out in the country, perhaps 7 miles from Madrid. It was rather disappointing, no more than a millionaire might live in. It was set in a bleak Spanish desert, it took ten minutes to drive from the military checkpoint to the palace itself. The surrounds were depressingly desert-like. I was balancing prepared portraits in clay in the back of the car. I had done them from drawings I made from many photographs as preparation; they turned out to be pretty good.

We set up work in their sitting room, they were sitting on the sofa, not the most convenient height for the sculptor. I suppose I spent about an hour on each while they spoke in English mainly to my patron. I really liked the King, he seemed to be utterly unpretentious, rather boy-scoutish in his simplicity. The Queen was rather more reserved. The King offered another sitting which I would have been keen to accept but my patron immediately said no that would not be necessary, thank you.

At the time the King was up for the Nobel Peace Prize for the way he had brought Spain through the transition from Franco to democracy. I made the Royal couple in the guise of Noah and his wife, Noah was launching the dove of peace. Alas, he did not win it so I had to remove the hands and dove before the exhibition. Had he won, the sculpture would probably have been put on a stamp or coin. Such is life. I gave the bronze hands and dove to my cousin Lorna who had moved to Spain near Alicanti.

I had chosen to live outside Madrid in a little village (Aganda del Rey) because it had a big bronze foundry in it. I had a very good time there. The foundry was set in a garden and the family who owned it offered a lunch every Sunday to all the sculptors, the lunch was usually a delicious paella, the wine flowed as did the conversation, of which I gathered little. I cast a lot of new work. The difference in speed of production in those few months with real money and the wind in my sails was tremendous. The quality of the bronze work was very good. I liked the family very much. There were 2 sons in the business and when I returned unexpectedly from England I found my Tiranti sculpture stand in pieces; they were making copies for themselves.

A few months later we followed the Madrid success with a bigger success in Barcelona, sales broke the record for the gallery, a branch of the same gallery. I spent the time of the exhibition in Barcelona and had a great time, particularly visiting Gaudi's monuments. Barcelona boasts a number of other splendid treats of museums, the Ramblas and shopping around Barcelona, a glorious city.

The Cohns drove out with Janet and Hannah and we had a holiday after the show, north of Barcelona. There was a bull-fight advertised not far away. Hannah was keen to go. I made inquiries and it seemed very expensive as two of the fights were to be on horseback. I reported back but Hannah aged 14 said “I think we should go regardless of expense” – so we did. I must admit the horseback fights were absolutely thrilling. The horses were totally magnificent in looks and courage, so were the riders. They placed daggers in the bulls neck as they rode by and the bulls horns missed the hamstrings of the horses by inches as they chased after. The foot fights were disgusting. I am glad we went, the experience has stayed with me. I had not realised that those long mains in Velásquez’ Royal portraits were true. The beasts must have been worth a fortune. The experience turned none of us into vegetarians.

Around this time my patron must have heard that his recipe may have cured rats in the laboratory but did very little for human beings. He did not tell me, I worked that out afterwards. We did complete the three exhibitions but I never went to Salamanca and when the accounting was done there was virtually no more than a handful of cash to take home which just covered the cost of a new kitchen-unit we had ordered during the bonanza. As we parted he promised me a fairly handsome annual stipend while I prepared to go on to Paris and New York. I went home still full of expectation but the monthly payments never arrived. I tried to sell my work on the strength of my new “international” reputation but no good came of it. It was at that time I decided to take off for Italy. Spain had reminded me of how pleasant life could be in the Mediterranean but Italy seemed a deeper cultural centre to attract students and maybe even buyers.

I am a rationalist and a realist. I see no reason to believe in astrology or anything of that sort, nonetheless I have to admit that on the very rare occasions that astrology has entered my life either because Janet insisted on some astrological marriage guidance or because Nancy wanted her special astrologer to read my chart, the readings we're remarkably accurate. In the case of the marriage guidance the astrologer asked me if I had a very big house; the truth was that I had at that stage three houses. Then she asked me was one of them abroad the answer was no. I owned two in London and one in Stert. She told me I very lucky in estate deals; I could not argue with that but a farmhouse in Tuscany? and here I am in an ex fattoria, that is a central deposit for the product of 92 farms once owned by a Count Albertis. It is enormous.

Nancy’s astrologer read my chart and found that I was a triple fire sign. That too has some resonance insofar as as I have been a foundryman for at least 20 years and even at prep school many of us were in quarantine for some childhood disease and therefore had the run of the very big gardens attached. The headmaster had left a bonfire dying at a good distance from the house; we found it and I managed to keep it going for at least a week by excavating a very old tree stump which was damp and mainly underground. I kept embers going for the the 14 or 15 hours we were away asleep or eating breakfast. Even now I live with wood burning stoves or fireplaces because I enjoy them.

There is one rational way of accounting for the partial success of astrology that rigorous tests have shown to exist; that is by being born in a cold time of year means one makes ones first moves into the world in summer and this would predispose one to have a sunny temperament, as I have; and vica-versa. Another possibility is those who favour astrology remember the successes and tend to forget what did not conform as predicted. Perhaps the dark matter that we cannot observe but of which 60% of the universe consists is responsible in some way; who knows.

Another amusing possibility, not astrology but similar, is that one hears in bird-song a message in times of stress like the present corona virus outbreak, words that answer one’s inmost thoughts. I hear a tit crying “Paracite” with an Italian pronunciation, emphasis on cit. At 87 I am not allowed out to help in any way but it irks. I must have heard that bird many years but never heard those words before.

Another encounter with a bird was with a white owl who flew into my windscreen as I was driving towards a large show of my work in Florence. Being of an optimistic temperament I interpreted that as a good omen. It was not, the show was at the smartest riding centre on the periphery of Florence and the weather was the hottest June for a century. No one went riding and the reviews were obviously concocted from previous reviews. Good photos, no sales.

We made a holiday of the search for a place to run holiday courses. At that time I did not expect to spend all my life in Italy, just the summers. We spent a good deal of the holiday looking at places which seemed incredibly expensive by comparison with Spain. In Spain at that time you could buy a farmhouse that you could walk into and live in reasonably for £250 sterling. In Italy miserable places cost at least 50 times as much. On the penultimate day of our holiday I told the English lady who had been showing us round that I was sorry but I had found nothing and was sorry I'd wasted her time. She rang around and.

On the final day she showed me the ruined barn in Casole that I decided upon. Janet thought I was completely mad. I sympathised but felt that in Italy things were so casual that one could get by with building as I thought fit. I was wrong about that, the bureaucracy of building in Italy is even worse than it is in London. I had done quite a bit of flat conversions in London to supplement the pittance that I earn from sculpture; so I was not entirely a beginner in the enterprise I had undertaken. I had visited Italy three summers running as a student and felt that in three months I would speak the language fluently. I was wrong about that also. In Spain they thought I was speaking Italian but in Italy they knew it was Spanish. There is a button in my skull labelled “foreign” I cannot distinguish one foreign language from another, the part of the brain that learns languages dies early. Ironically my brother Gavin has a real gift for languages, he lives near Bolton Lancs - and I live and work abroad.

During my previous travels in Italy I had never visited the countryside. It was the main tourist cities – Florence, Rome, Naples and Venice which had attracted me. I am an art fanatic. The experience of a small village in Tuscany was altogether new, exciting and overwhelmingly positive.

Janet asked me if the experiment only lasted 5 years would it have been worthwhile? My answer was a resounding no! I have now been here for nearly 40 years and it has been very, very worthwhile. Much of the Mediterranean-style life I enjoyed in Spain was repeated, and more so here in Italy. There are other advantages too in living abroad, fewer friends of course, but offset by fewer social obligations. This gives a lot of extra time for private thoughts. Having the village of Stert to compare with life in Casole I am often reminded how quickly and completely Italy has cast off the yoke of feudalism (only since the early 1960s) where England 500 years after Magna Carta is still suffering from a formidable class-consciousness which undermines inter-class relationships. Italy suffers in many ways unknown in Britain but it’s embedded humanity easily outweighs its problems.

Where the name Machiavelli is synonymous with Satan in England, here they name secondary schools after him. Ancient cultures tend to give much greater credit to cunning than is the case in Britain. As an example our rival contrada (district of the village) was led by a president who was cunning (furbo) -Mario Dei. His contrada won many times, whereas ours never won. But one year we had the very best of horses. That year there were 7 false starts in which our horse ran half the course on each false occasion before it could be pulled in. On the final accepted start our horse was eating grass in the background – furbo! There was such bad feeling as a result that the next year our lads were saying we are going to win this year even Mario Dei says so! And we won with a very average horse; another demonstration of Mario’s power; extra important in Italy.

In the Siena Palio there is much more money involved and much more furbo. Nearly always the richer contradas win but that does not diminish by one iota the passion involved. The Sienese live and die for the Palio; you become a contradaiolo from birth and are expected to contribute to contrada funds generously every year, how else can you expect to win but by bribery? I have seen tears of joy spurt a metre from the eyes of a boy after his contrada won. There are many stories to illustrate the passion involved in Siena, a little old lady was caught with cannon balls in a bowl of fruit she intended to throw at her wounded jockey whom she was sure had pulled his horse for a bribe. But there are very seldom scuffles on the day, full of pageantry. If you are a member of a contrada that has won 55 times, then you are expected to march around the city singing your contrada song 55 times for 55 days!

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