GAL - THE PRIVATE MAN
"Members One Of Another"
Finchden Manor, itself, was divided into two main dwellings. The smaller of the two was occupied by GAL and his extended family whilst the bigger half was where we all lived. There were connecting doors on all three floors between the two. There were also a number of outhouses and separate self contained smaller dwellings within the grounds.
Although not a point discussed on Tom Robinson’s website, it is a well known fact that GAL had a rather unorthodox though totally honourable private life. There has been much speculation over the years about the details of the rather atypical arrangements which existed in his household.
I think the explanation for this is that he adopted a modus operandito accommodate the sometimes very eccentric needs of those whom he loved and loved him. I am particularly thinking of his GAL’s wife, Sadie, and the extraordinary Sid Hopkins, who had formerly been a boy at Finchden in the 1930’s and had more or less “stayed on”. He was nominally on the staff at Finchden but his role was not like that of any other Finchden staff.
By the time I met Sid in 1960, he was in his early forties and living with GAL and his wife as part of his family. He was apparently semi paraplegic as a result of some never completely explained incident and crawled around everywhere on his knees. After the death of Sadie in the mid sixties, with whom he had had an unfathomable and strong attachment, he decided to start walking, got married and went on to write the much acclaimed novella Mister God – This Is Anna under the nom de plume of Fynn. He died in 1999.
I never accepted that there was anything physically wrong with Sid, at least, not one so serious as to explain his extraordinary behaviour. Rather, I believe his condition was psychological. I was not alone in this speculation and there is much anecdotal evidence to back this up. Recently, I have had my beliefs about Sid confirmed.
I have always wondered how GAL felt about the relationship between his wife and Sid. In the past, I tended to think of it as yet another example of GAL’s creative generosity of being able to continue to give Sid the love and environment he needed to develop, even if this meant him having to embrace the consequential impact it had on his life. But is this right? If I have implied a ménage à trois , I have to tell you that I have it on the best authority that this was not the case.
It is hardly ever appreciated just how much GAL depended on Sadie. He could never have created Finchden without her and the importance of her role in his life cannot be overestimated. The relationship between Sadie and Sid caused GAL a great deal of anguish from which it appears there was no escape.
FINCHDEN MANOR – A PLACE OF HOSPITALITY
George Lyward always insisted privately that Finchden was not an “institution” but rather “a place of hospitality”. Those who have tried to place a definitive label describing Finchden have come unstuck. Yet GAL often used a variety of such labels himself. So Why? Answer – Funding.
His was a pragmatic approach informed by necessity, when confronted with the needs and requirements of the state in connection with funding. George Lyward wore a different hat for any and every eventuality to keep the various funding sources happy.
As far as parents who were paying privately were concerned, their difficult son was being sent to a “progressive boarding school” or an “experimental educational establishment”.
Boys who were introduced through and/or funded by a local authority were either being sent to a “therapeutic community”, if they came down through the psychiatric route (Child guidance or mental Health) - “a special school” if referred down through the local education authority and a “care home for the maladjusted” as an alternative to prison or Borstal when caught up in the criminal justice system.
Yet Finchden had no domestic staff, no academic staff, no formal provision for academic work, no curriculum; it had neither locks nor gates nor uniforms. No caning – No punishments – No regimented control over our conduct. No policy concerning sexual contact between the boys. No mandatory sanctions of any kind. There were few general rules or regulations and those that existed were inevitably broken, as often as not by the man himself.
The Great Composer?
So much for what Finchden wasn’t – that is the easy bit. The difficultly in trying to put into words what Finchden was like is a bit like trying to describe Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to someone who has been deaf from birth.
You can say an enormous amount to no avail. Even for those of us who actually lived and “grew up” there, there still remains a profound mystery surrounding this extraordinary man.