Dark Gardening

Contents:

Chapter One: The Empty Chair

Chapter Two: The Illumination Movement

Chapter Three: Marginal People

Chapter Four: The Lady

Chapter Five: The Girlfriend Experience

Chapter Six: Almost a Lifetime

Chapter Seven: Bargirls and Butterflies

Chapter Eight: The New Path

Chapter Nine: The Muse

Chapter Ten: Uncle Charles Ellis

Chapter Eleven: A Reunion

Chapter Twelve: The Message

Chapter Thirteen: Jenny’s World

Chapter Fourteen: An Awakening

Chapter Fifteen: The Bringers of Light

Chapter Sixteen: Here and Now

 

  ONE: The Empty Chair

 

It started with an email.

 “Hi Carl

 My name is Paul Collins. I work for New Century magazine. I have a proposal I would like to discuss with you. I won’t go into detail here, but it is something that will definitely be to your advantage. Please reply ASAP in order to arrange a meeting. Time and venue of your choosing.”

 I knew what it was about of course, even though it had been some years since the last journalistic approach. I quickly deleted it along with an offer of penile enlargement and a message from a deposed African Princess informing me that I had been randomly chosen to inherit her ludicrously inflated fortune. I continued with my mind numbingly dull workload until the oversized, slow moving office clock finally announced four-thirty. I headed for home, trying my best to forget my former status.

 The first phone call came two evenings after the email. I returned home to find Deborah at the stove cooking one of her deliciously pungent meals. Her back was towards me, her flowered, towelled dressing gown tied tight around her still relatively slim waist. Time was I would have embraced her and dragged her uncomplaining to the bedroom, or the living room sofa, or the hallway, or the stairs, or the floor, or the most secluded part of the garden, or simply took her there and then over the kitchen table, the smell of willing, lightly perfumed flesh mingling magnificently with that of home-made meat and potato pie. But ten years together, eight as man and wife, had inevitably diminished our passion and so I confined myself to a mumbled ‘Hi’, receiving an equally sexless reply in return.

 The evening adopted a familiar pattern. I showered and changed into my pyjamas whilst Deborah made the finishing, expert touches to dinner. We ate in near silence. I tidied the kitchen, Deborah, to my silent annoyance, later going over most of my work. After the rubbish had been taken out and the floor mopped, I settled down to a night in front of the television, whilst my wife disappeared upstairs to the study. For a long time we had hoped that this room would one day become the nursery, but due to mutual biological failure that dream had all but faded. 

 Deborah is an English teacher, but that has always been a poor substitute for her real dream of becoming a writer. Her times for writing are first thing in the morning before work, and again after dinner, before bed. She had written three novels by this time. Each one filed away unread by the world, including by me.

 “That isn’t the one, but it’s coming,” she’d say with a weary sigh.

 The call came in the empty gap between the two episodes of Coronation Street.

 “Hello, could I speak to Carl Patterson please?” The voice was posh with rough edges, or perhaps working class with an educated sheen.

 “Yes; speaking.”

 “My name is Paul Collins. I’m from New Century magazine, I emailed you earlier?”

  “Did you?”

 “Yes, I wondered if we might meet up, to talk about your time in the Illumination Movement?”

 “I think you’ve got the wrong man.”

 

We seemed to live in the park, my friends Andy and Alun and I, that first summer after leaving school more than two decades and a lifetime earlier. We were sixteen and a world of limitless possibility stretched ahead of us. I was in no hurry to embrace it, not yet. It was obvious, as it is to all teenage boys, that I would live forever and that I could be whatever it was that I chose to be. All it would take would be the minimum of effort. That, however, was for the future. The time for effort was not now.

 For the present, I was happy to at last be free of teachers and lessons, free to hang out with my friends, smoking roll ups and drinking cheap sherry, skimming stones across the duck lake, lying on the grass watching bright sunny afternoons turn into long warm summer evenings filled with the drama of youth. The giro cheque that dropped onto my parents frayed doormat every second Thursday was quite adequate for my simple needs, and when that money ran dry, there was Andy’s dole to fall back on, then Alun’s, then back to my own in a seemingly never ending cycle of cheap pleasure. Work was for others. We had earned our rest after eleven years of lessons. Besides, this was the eighties, the decade when Thatcher made youth unemployment respectable, almost a badge of honour to be worn with surly, adolescent pride.

 There were always girls around the park too. A man’s teenage years are often years that flatter to deceive with respect to the ready availability of sex. These were not, on the whole, the kind of girls whom I would wish take home to meet my parents, other than as a means of demonstrating that I was, contrary to their probable expectations, growing into a normal, healthy, heterosexual young man with a normal, healthy heterosexual young man’s appetites. They were however, most definitely the kind of girls who were easily persuaded into the bushes by the old wooden bandstand for a quick grope and a fumble. More, if you first supplied them with the necessary quantities of booze and fags. It was also important to demonstrate a modicum of sexual responsibility. This was, after all, a time when AIDS was apparently poised to decimate the population of the earth, a ‘fact’ that made a packet of condoms in the back pocket an essential accessory for a sexually ambitious young man.

 Alun and Andy had been my best friends since the commencement of secondary school. Both of them were blonde, blue eyed, good looking, popular in their own that is our own, little world.

 We laughed a lot in that friendship, though I cannot now easily remember what it was that we laughed about. Looking back, I can see myself clearly in my mind’s eye, doing this, doing that, saying this, saying that. But it is almost as if I had no inner life at all; as though I were a void, an empty vessel, a blank sheet of paper waiting to be written upon.

 Maybe that is why I was chosen.

 Or maybe all Sixteen year olds are like that. At any rate, it’s a strange beast, destiny. I would see Andy years later, selling the Big Issue, his blue eyes now deadened and afraid, living on the fringe of civilisation, one of those people for whom it all went too wrong too early, before he’d developed the resources necessary to enable him to claw his way back. He didn’t recognize me and I felt it better, safer, easier not to acknowledge his diminished presence. As for Alun, he would join the army and die from an IRA bullet, not long before the peace process kicked in. I didn’t go to his funeral. I didn’t really know him by then.

 It was Andy who first pointed out the fat middle aged man with thick black, unruly hair and expensive but ill fitting clothes watching us from one of the benches that ringed the oval lake.

 “He’s always there, him; looking at us. Fucking old pervert,” he said before passing me the QC. We were taking refuge from the mid-afternoon sun beneath the large oak tree on the small hill that overlooked the vast expanse of flat grass that served as both football pitch and dog toilet. He was right, now he came to mention it. The fat man did always seem to be around, doing nothing, just watching. I laughed and shrugged and drank and moved on to the next passing amusement, putting the old guy down as a harmless eccentric, whiling away what little remained of his sad and empty life. 

 Some days later, Andy had gone off ‘baby-sitting’ with Mandy Haggerty, a girl with a long established and well deserved reputation. Alun had been summoned for a ’review’ at the job centre, always a dreaded occurrence in our young lives. I was sitting once more on the hill, counting my loose change, weighing up the relative merits of pie and chips and a half ounce of Golden Virginia, sporadically fending off insect attacks, a light buzz still evident from two recently drunk cans of Black Label lager. At first I paid no attention as the man whom I would soon come to know simply as ‘Uncle Charlie’ waddled amiably towards me.

 “Hello,” he said his voice gruff but friendly, his accent verging on what my dad would call ’cut glass’. I mumbled a disinterested, distracted greeting, dropping the jangle of coins back into my jeans pocket as I did so. The man smiled.

 “I’ve been watching you,” he said.

 This was back in the days before paedophile hysteria properly kicked in, an innocent time when Gary Glitter was nothing more than a faded pop star whose cartoon glamour added considerably to the gaiety of the nation. Nevertheless, I’d still heard about men like this.

 “Oh yeh?” I replied, striking my best adolescent pose. The fat man broadened his smile.

 “Don’t worry old boy, nothing bad, nothing at all seedy. I just wanted to ask you something, that’s all.”

 The ‘old boy jarred my ears, but I would soon grow accustomed to his curiously sub-public schoolboy mode of speaking.

 “Oh yeh?”

 I meant ’fuck off’ but was not quite bad boy enough to say it.

 “Yes. Do you realise that you are very, very different to your friends, different to an astonishing degree?”

 It was a strange question that caught me by surprise and I did not reply because I did not know how to reply. Instead, I busied myself attempting to construct a cigarette from the dust remaining in the corner of my home-made tobacco tin as the weird interloper continued his weird talk.

 “You see old chap, I see things; things that other people do not see. Strange, I know, but true. And I see something in you, young man. Something very, very special. Something, one might say, unique.”

 

Much against the better judgement of my sponsor Angus, an old school AA type who believed that any recovering alcoholic who enters a pub is subconsciously willing a relapse, I often passed an hour or so with a pint of refreshing coke and the evening paper in the Clown after work. It gave me time to unwind after the dull rigours of the day, and provided Deborah with the space in which to crack on with the evening meal after returning from her didactic labours. Besides, I knew that Angus – as much as I was grateful for his past assistance and continuing presence at the end of a telephone – was wrong: staying off the booze is a matter of will, not location.

 The pub was virtually empty. In residence were just a trio of withered old drinkers who looked as though they had been there since the dawn of time, or at least since morning opening; a solitary middle aged peroxide blonde sipping her G and T at the table by the door, cigarettes and lighter at the ready in front of her; and a smattering of my fellow post-work office types enjoying a pint or three before returning home to their clinically dead marriages or lifeless, gadget laden bachelor pads.

 I picked out Collins immediately from the thin crowd: about thirtyish, designer stubble, smart but dishevelled clothing. He looked like a New Century journalist should look and was of a type that some shallow, misguided women might find attractive. I don’t know if he recognised me through my youthful press cuttings or by mere intuition, but he soon made his approach as I disinterestedly scanned the television page of the local paper.

 “Paul Collins,” he said, extending a hand that clearly, not unlike my own, was a near stranger to manual labour. “We spoke on the phone, I emailed you before that?”

 I nodded in vague acknowledgement of his presence.

 “Do you mind if I..?” he continued, indicating the chair opposite me.

 “Free country; relatively,” I said.

 He sat down, placing his delicious smelling JD with ice on the table in front of him.

 “Look, whatever it is you are selling, I’m not interested,” I said.

 Collins sipped his drink lightly. “Not selling; more buying really,” he said, fixing me with his dark, relaxed, sleep eyes.

 “Whatever,” I replied, using a modern phrase that I profess to hate. 

 “Like I told you in my email, I work for a magazine called New Century; maybe you’ve heard of it?”

 I noticed the shape of a cigarette packet in the top pocket of his blazer and briefly wished that I still smoked. Nicotine had been the last of my major vices to pass into history.

 As it happens, I had heard of the magazine; had even read it from time to time. It was basically at the top end of the ‘Men’s market’. It featured long articles on music and film interspersed with reviews of cultish books and slightly politically incorrect essays that never really offended anyone too much. All of this mid-brow pontificating was made palatable to the masses by the inclusion of multi-page photo’ spreads of beautiful women in sparse, expensive underwear, all shot in a tasteful, post-modernistic, knowingly ironic fashion, of course. I shrugged.

 “No, I can’t say I have.”

 Most of Collins’ next sentence was rendered inaudible by the sudden interjection of the juke box, Queen’s ‘Another one bites the Dust’ exploding into life at the instigation of the plump middle aged peroxide blonde, a woman who looked as though she would once, in her long faded salad days, have had her pick of men. The journalist leant forward, invading my space, half-shouting as the glasses on the table trembled and shook with the opening bass riff.

 “As I said, I’d really like to talk to you about your time in the IM, the Illumination Movement. I’m planning a story, a Big Story, about it and I’d really like to get your side of things, your angle. There’s money in it, maybe a lot of money.”

 I leant back, away from his drink and smoke tinged breath, rapidly downing my drink to the dregs, deliberately keeping my voice small in defiant refusal to compete with Freddie Mercury.

 “And like I said, I think you’ve got the wrong man.”

 Collins fished in an inside pocket and produced a small rectangular card. It was embossed with the New Century logo and contained his professional contact details.

 “In case you change your mind,” he said, handing it to me before rising.

 Even as I bid him my curt goodbye, I knew that my past and my present were soon to merge. Truth is I was tired; tired of airbrushing from memory a large chunk of my life. The mention of money was also a factor. A man in my position could not afford to ignore such talk. None of this meant that I was about to roll over and play dead quite yet. I had too much pride for that; too much pride and too much fear. But I did know that I would soon be meeting with Collins again.

 

 I have often reflected on why it is that I didn’t just tell Uncle Charlie what to do with his odd questions and oblique suggestions straight off that first afternoon. Maybe the reason is no more esoteric than that all teenagers like to think of themselves as ’special’, as being somehow different to and above the norm. At that age enough of the magical innocence of childhood remains to allow one to be able to fully embrace the new and unusual, to hitch oneself to an adventure and run with it, before the weight of adulthood leaves one mired for life by self-doubt and existential terror in the face of the unknown.

 Whatever the reason, I didn’t make a bolt for it when he offered to buy me coffee and tell me more in the wood-shack café that stood guard at the entrance to the park. Instead, I merely informed him that I would much prefer a pint.

 “Ok, a pint it is then, old chap,” he said, either unaware or unconcerned by the fact that I was still two years below the legal age to drink. He pulled out a cigarette packet from the side pocket of his large, loose trousers and offered me a John Player Plain. I gladly accepted, happily dispensing with my thin lip-scorching roll up before leading him in the direction of the nearby Wheatsheaf, an establishment famed within my peer group for the lax attitude of the bar staff to issues of youth identification.

 The first of the three pints that Uncle Charlie would stand me that first afternoon was nearing completion when he finally cut to the chase.

 “When I said that I see things that others do not see, what I meant was that I see people’s auras, a kind of spiritual outline that surrounds each and every one of us. One‘s aura develops as life progresses, according to the choices made in that life. The point is…”

 Most of what he said went straight over my head as I drank his booze and smoked his fags and eyed the bevy of short-skirted student lovelies at the next table. And yet a part of me was listening to every word; a part of me was in fact revelling in my newly acquired special status, even if that special status was, for the moment, being bestowed upon me only by one single, fat, middle-aged and possibly sexually predatory male.

 “…that an aura is a mixture of negative and positive qualities that are visible to only a few, to people like me. Some people have mostly positive aspects to their aura and some have mostly negative. That is, we are all, generally speaking, a mixture of good and bad. The actual ratio of positive to negative can fluctuate throughout life according to one’s actions and efforts. In the East this process of cause and effect, of change and transformation according to one’s interaction with others and with the wider environment, is known as Karma. Very occasionally a person comes along whose aura is wholly negative; a Hitler perhaps or, might I venture, a Margaret Thatcher. Serial killers such as the Yorkshire Ripper and the Black Panther are other, more recent examples. Such people are thankfully rare, but rarer still are those individuals whose auras are absolutely pure. These individuals bring light to humanity: Jesus; Buddha; Lao Tzu; Rumi; Madame Blavatsky; Gurdjieff; Krishnamurti; Swami Prabhupada and others whose names have now been lost to us. About twenty years ago, I was told that I, and I alone, would know when the next Great Teacher, the Light Bringer of the modern age was at last amongst us. It would be my job, once I came upon possession of that knowledge, to nurture and guide that person until the time was ripe for him to at last reveal His presence to humanity.”

 He broke off from his long monologue and looked intently into my eyes.

 “I know that this will sound crazy to you my dear chap, but the person that I have been waiting for these past two decades is you.”

 I left the pub pleasantly half- pissed, putting the whole thing down as a great lark which could later be recounted to the hysterical amusement of my friends. Except I didn’t; I didn’t tell anyone. I went home and slept off the beer and awoke feeling oddly different. I didn’t go to the park the next day, I merely stayed in my room smoking and fantasying about my new found destiny, staring into the mirror, hoping to catch a glimpse of my dazzlingly pure and beautiful aura. I saw nothing, but as Uncle Charlie had explained, it’s visible only from the outside, and then only to those who, like him, have been blessed with the eyes to see.

  My new mentor didn’t make any more appearances in the presence of Alun or Andy. Rather, he seemed to materialise as if by magic only when I was in the park alone. Always we would head off in the direction of the ’sheaf where he would provide me with more free lager and smokes, talking endlessly whilst I listened, still attempting to affect an air of youthful disdain.

 I can’t remember much of the detail of what he said at that early stage, most of it has fused in my memory with the hundreds of talks that came later. The crux of it concerned the inadequacy of the existing organized religion’s of the world, how these, all of them, are merely imperfect expressions of an Absolute, Primal Spirituality that man had once known but had now long forgotten, a state of affairs that had left us in a permanent state of feeling that things were not quite right, a feeling of incompleteness akin to going out without one’s keys or phone. It was to be my role, as the World Teacher, the Light Bringer, the actual fucking Messiah, to lead humankind back to this Original Source and, by so doing, to bring about wholeness within the soul of each and every man and woman on the planet. This in turn would usher in a new Golden Age, a time when war and suffering and poverty would become nothing more than a bad memory from the infancy of our species.

 Did I think that he was insane? Like I say, it’s difficult to reconstruct my thought processes after the passing of such an eventful expanse of time. I did, in spite of myself, like Uncle Charlie. I was impressed by the fact that he drank and smoked and had such a libertine attitude, at least at this stage, to my doing likewise. Such earthly activities set him far apart from my almost wholly negative pre-conception of what it meant to be religious. OK, so what he was saying was on the face of it complete and utter madness. But he had an easy charm, an unusual manner of speaking that kept me listening; a calmness and serenity that made him easy to trust. You can’t help but be attracted to a man like Uncle Charlie.

 Whatever the reason, when he announced, at our fourth or fifth meeting that he felt it was now time for me to meet his group, the local Chapter of the Illumination Movement, I didn’t hesitate.

 

 I arrived at the Clown early to find much the same clientele as last time in evidence. I ordered my chaste pint of coke and waited by the bar whilst the blonde, unsmiling, big breasted barmaid prepared it. I was spoilt for choice for seating, but nevertheless sat myself down at the same table as my last meeting with Collins. After a gap of perhaps ten minutes during which I half-heartedly studied my morning broadsheet and periodically considered breaking the near silence by firing up the nostalgia packed juke box, Collins arrived. He acknowledged my presence with a nod before flirting quietly with the suddenly smiling girl behind the bar as she served him his JD with ice.

 “Ok, straight to the point,” he began after a desultory and quickly abandoned attempt at small talk, “as I’ve said I’m doing a story about the Illumination Movement. It’s a good story, I‘ve already done a fair bit of research. What I like most about it is that it isn’t your standard shock horror, mad cult type of stuff. Nothing really bad happens, not on the scale of Heaven’s Gate or the Peoples Temple or Waco. To be honest with you, that sort of story has been done to death, excuse the pun. I‘m not interested in mass suicide or mass murder. I’m interested in people; and this seems to me to be very much a people story. Your part in it is key. In fact, without you, as far as I’m concerned, there is no story: ‘The mistaken Messiah’; ‘The World Teacher who never was what happened next’? Sorry, I’m just pulling out potential tag lines off the top of my head; a bit tabloid I know. It’s you who will direct the way the story goes. It’s your authentic voice that I’m after.”

 He reached a natural pause in his persuasive verbal flow. I looked beyond him to the jiggling, loose clothed barmaid as she flapped at empty tables with a damp cloth in the distance. Collins took a sip of his drink and returned it carefully to the table, the toxic liquid now barely covering the shrunken ice. He said nothing. We both allowed the silence to build until at last he cracked and filled it.

 “I’m hoping that my editor will commission me for a series of articles, but it’s a book I’m really interested in. We can even put your name to it if you like. I’m happy to be a ghost writer, if that‘s what you prefer. We can split fifty-fifty. Like I said, there is money in this. Maybe only a grand or so for the articles, but if the book takes off, who knows? We could be talking film rights. Maybe not Hollywood, they’d want to tag on a mass suicide at the end, just to get asses on seats. I see it more as a BBC adaptation, BBC 2 or BBC 4; something classy with proper actors. Think about it. All I need at the moment to get things moving is an interview. The story is going to get written anyway; be a shame for it to appear with no input from you. I know that you’ll probably need time to think it over, talk it over with your wife; Deborah isn’t it?”

 He’d clearly done his research and I nodded slowly in a partial act of surrender.

 “Ok. I’ll think about it. Don’t hold your breath.”

 I took the scenic route home through a pleasantly refreshing summer drizzle, passing through wide, tree-lined, near empty streets before joining the smattering of dog walkers and sinister looking teenagers in the park where it all began. The offer of money was tempting, no getting away from it. Despite the decade long presence of the fiscally steadying influence of Deborah in my life, my finances had never quite recovered from the wild and wilful years that had followed my departure from the Illumination Movement. Active alcoholism is an expensive business. It’s not just the actual cost of the booze, a man could and can still obliterate the need to think, to plan, to take responsibility for his life remarkably cheaply. But there is also the whole erratic mode of living that accompanies the drinking, ‘the sheer bloody insanity’ as Angus had said a million times at a million meetings. The precise form of this lunacy varies from drinker to drinker. In my case it had been the mad impulse buys, the credit card holidays, the exotic whores and the grandiose acts of generosity that led me further and further down the road of debt. If I was at last ready to re-visit my bizarre past, why not make some decent money out of it?

 Problem was that I’d told Deborah nothing about this period of my life; and I wasn’t at all sure that this was the time to be dropping such a bombshell. Over the last year or two, as the prospect of children had become ever more remote, I had began to silently harbour the distinct impression that the two of us remained together merely through a mutual fear of being alone. All it would take to break us would be the arrival in either of our lives of an acceptable alternative.

 Or perhaps the revelation that I was not, and never had been, quite as I seemed.

 If I’d told her right off, in the first days and weeks after I wandered aimlessly into the creative writing class where she was already the star pupil, still raw and fragile in the early days of my sobriety, then it wouldn’t have been a problem. She accepted my alcoholism without so much as a lightly batted eyelid, a recovering drunk could not have asked for a more understanding partner. In recognition of this I had not touched a drop for the entirety of our relationship. After all, if Deborah was prepared to enter into the wreck of my life, to take on the long term and potentially hazardous task of salvage, then the least that I could do was to avoid making the operation still more difficult by revisiting the source of my misery.

 Except of course that my problems did not begin with alcohol; to find their true origins you had to go further back, to a strange meeting in a park, to my past status as the Divine head of a movement of whom Deborah had almost certainly never heard. Telling her about the booze had been relatively easy; the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age and the growth of rehab’ culture had made addiction almost socially acceptable. But to explain the Illumination Movement and my place within it just seemed so difficult. And, as is always the case, the longer I put it off the harder it became.

 Yet now, as I strolled through the beautiful, damp, ghost-filled park, a place that still often drew me as a place of refuge and reflection, I knew that it was a task that I was at last ready to face.

 

 Uncle Charlie was a man of ample girth and, from the appearance of his large footballer style detached house on the outskirts of the city, of still more ample means. He drove me there in his aged but still impressive dark blue BMW, through winding country lanes that I had never previously had either cause or opportunity to venture. I felt nervous, apprehensive for the first time about what my curious young mind might be getting me into. Uncle Charlie did his best to reassure me.

 “They’re nice people; good people. Nobody expects anything from you; just be yourself and you’ll be fine, old chap.”

 The house was set at the end of an unfeasibly long drive way. It wasn’t quite a mansion, but to me, brought up as I had been in a two bedroom council house, it might just as well have been. Uncle Charlie opened and unlocked the large wooden front door with a suitably huge set of jangling keys fished from the inside pocket of his unseasonal Parker coat. After first depositing our shoes into the first shoe organizer that I’d ever seen, he led me down a narrow passage way that resolved itself into a room that was almost as large as the entire ground floor of my parent’s house, including the back yard.

 The room was populated by a disappointingly small number of people, sat haphazardly upon round black cushions perched upon matching square mats scattered around the wooden polished floor. The room smelt strongly of fresh flowers and incense, the aroma wafting from a small wooden table set out as an altar at one end of the room, a dining chair empty at either side. As well as the flowers and the incense, the altar contained a small serene, slim young Buddha; a wooden figurine of Christ upon the cross; a print of an ancient looking oriental gentleman; and, unbelievably, a photograph of me sitting upon my favourite hill in the park, staring out faux-poetically into the distance.

 Uncle Charlie had taken the photograph a few days earlier on an antiquated box style camera that he carried in a small leather case slung tourist style around his neck, for the purpose, he explained, of ‘preparing the movement’ for my arrival.

 The group itself were a mixed bunch: two or three twenty-something, hippy-chick, social worker types; a similar number of young men of roughly my age who would prove to have only an insignificant, peripheral role in my story; a slightly older, well dressed, gentleman with intense, burning eyes whom I would soon learn was would be rock star turned mystic Nigel Smith; next to him his former lover, the beautiful, fair-skinned, fair-haired Jenny Masters who would prove to be the most loyal of my followers; and seated front and centre Mary Henderson, formerly Shu Fang Wang, an attractive Oriental woman in her early thirties whom I would soon get to know very, very well indeed.

 All present looked up with expectant curiosity as I entered the large space, nervously following on behind Uncle Charlie’s rotund figure. Then, as though responding to an invisible, inaudible command, they rose as one before prostrating themselves before me, foreheads and palms against the cold, hard floor. They repeated this act of devotion three times in all, before silently re-positioning themselves straight backed and alert upon the cushions as though nothing at all unusual had occurred.

 Uncle Charlie, who had watched the whole display with a proud, serene smile, seated himself upon one of the empty chairs by the altar, lowering his large frame carefully into it whilst beckoning wordlessly for me to take my place upon the other. I was shaking and sweating and felt like fleeing in terror, but I did as he asked, depositing my thin, young frame nervously and inelegantly as Uncle Charlie began to speak.

 The origins story of the Illumination Movement as told by Uncle Charlie was a story that I was to hear recounted many times during my period as its spiritual head, often enough for me to be confident that my re-creation of it from memory is essentially accurate.