Tuesday 29th April 1997
Leaving behind the Millennium Bridge in his imagination and the dark fortress of Tate Modern Daniel walked further on the South Bank, passing the OXO Tower which he recollected had been the host to an exhibition in the ground floor gallery, mind out for mental health, and then past Gabriel’s Wharf, rather more casual and bohemian that it was to become but still home to the Gourmet Pizza Company. And the British Film Theatre beneath Waterloo Bridge, the National Theatre, and the Festival Hall. He carried on past City Hall, the space where one day they would erect a huge wheel which was to become known as the London Eye, then over Westminster bridge…along Parliament Square and St Mary’s Church, in front of the QEII Conference Hall, to the yard outside Westminster Abbey.
Here he caught a glimpse of Dan ahead of him, walking through the archway into St Andrew’s Yard. Few people knew about this entrance, and this was before the Abbey had begun to charge admission. He tried to get Dan’s attention by shouting and waving, but his voice just came back over him and his waves appeared invisible, no one around noticed him. He focused on Dan, on the moment and in his mind called out his name. He could see Dan pause, look round, uncertain, there was nobody there, but Dan thought he’d heard a voice.
Daniel spoke again and this time asked if he could join Dan inside the abbey? Dan was stepping over the threshold into the dark, morning cool of the cloisters. He wondered if it might be God speaking to him. But, he thought, why now? He never has before! He heard the voice again ‘don’t be upset, I am your voice twenty years from now.’ Prove it, Dan muttered, making sure he was far enough away from other visitors and couldn’t be heard.
Remember, this was before people could be seen every day walking down the street talking loudly, apparently to themselves, but through earpieces on their mobile phones. Few people had a mobile phone in 1997. No one a smartphone. Daniel said, ‘don’t worry! I know about Groundswell, I know you want to go to St Faith’s chapel, I know you’re thinking of taking most of the day off work without telling anyone. And I want to help you, help you survive. I’m asking you to trust me, and listen.
Dan was silent and carried on into the cloisters to the museum entrance and the side door, finally into St Faith’s chapel. Here he was alone. Utterly and completely alone in the huge silence of this high vaulted space, a few chairs, a tiny nave and an altar. He knelt, resting his arms on the small chair in front. Daniel stood behind him. ‘You can do this, Dan. You can do this without me, but I’m asking you to listen, to feel and to follow your bliss, as I whisper to you, as I become the still small voice, nudging you in your decisions, taking pride in what you decide to do, what you choose.
Ok so what’s your advice, here, now, this morning, in this chapel? I want to stay here all day! Daniel said, ‘It is good here, very good, and there is a lot to be learnt, in the history and spirit of this place. But you do need to be aware, that while you’ve been late because of the trains and the bomb alerts you need to check in with your boss at work and apologise for being late and tell him that you’ll be there within the hour, before lunchtime’.
‘So much for the freedom of choice you mentioned’, Dan replied. ‘But, Ok, I will listen, I can’t guarantee that I’ll always do as you suggest, give me options. I’ll get back to work and leave being here for another time, another day – very soon. Because, I’ll never forget this abbey, especially this chapel. Remember Dad was here once, in Poets’ Corner? There was a photo in the Sunday Times, on the 15th December, 1974.’ ‘You were always good with dates’, Daniel smiled as Dan waved a vague goodbye.
Daniel watched him leave, let him get ahead a little, then followed at a distance. He trod in a puddle by mistake but noticed that there was no water mark on his trousers or shoes, it was as if wherever he went, there was no trace of him left behind, no trace of him being there. Only Dan. The footprints, conversation, rubbish, all were clearly Dan’s, he had his friends, companions, and they all knew him, his heat, his body, his ice cool breath, from continuously sucking Polos. There’s a brand that’s hardly changed.
Daniel knew there wasn’t much time. These next few weeks would see changes in Dan, significant changes, and unless things changed Dan would be in hospital by July. Daniel thought back to that first meeting in the summer of 1995 at St James’ church Piccadilly. He imagined himself there, focused on the timing, late one Saturday morning. And he was there, a fraction before Dan stepped into the building from Jermyn Street.
The cool, stone space was familiar to Dan, as he left the heat of an August day behind him.
The church was the home of the Association of Creation Spirituality as it was then known (to become GreenSpirit, later that year). Dan had been there for a series of talks on ethics and spirit, including speakers such as Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. One discussion concluded that the key to systemic change was the Media. We have to change the Media, they said. It occurred to Dan at the time, that this might mean spiritual media, as if communicating with ancestors to influence futures. Daniel reflected, ‘Well you weren’t so far off there Dan, if a little carried away…’
Dan had written to the rector about his proposal for a spiritual event to mark the turning of the millennium and the letter had been passed to Simone. She got in touch, to arrange a meeting. Dan asked someone who looked like a church warden, stout with a bristly white beard, near the bookstore, where to find ACS and was directed across the yard to an outbuilding, up some outside steps to a small office on the first floor.
Simone greeted him enthusiastically, invited him to sit down and offered him a cup of tea, or coffee, or something lighter? He chose coffee, never minding instant, just as it came. He was taken in by her deep, black pupils, which appeared almost fully dilated. For a moment he forgot why he was there, spirit, yes, focus on spirit! ‘Yes, focus on spirit Dan’, Daniel said.
Well, it was lovely to receive your letter, Daniel. ‘Daniel?’ Daniel queried. ‘Please call me Dan’, Dan added swiftly. They talked about the origin of the Association, about Derek, the rector and changes afoot, until Dan blurted out: ‘So what do you think about the millennium and spirit is there some mileage here? ‘Mileage?’ added Daniel.
Surely there’s got to be an alternative to celebrating a screw as part of the mile high club as the clock ticks over on the cusp of a New Year, the most significant for a thousand!? That’s what the papers are saying isn’t it, where are we going to fuck at midnight on the 31st December 1999?! Simone appeared slightly taken aback, but Dan continued,
‘I want to link up all those organisation that care for the planet and the future of humanity. I want to bring people together, to celebrate the turning of the millennium in the best of spirits to bring hope to everyone, for positive change.’ ‘Steady’, whispered Daniel.
‘Yes Dan. A tall order!’ Simone responded, ‘have you had any other replies?’
‘I had a letter back from Charles Secrett, Director of Friends of the Earth, he seemed keen to be involved, and wanted to know more.’
‘Great! Well, I’ve a few contacts’, Simone said, ‘I’m friends with a guy, Paul, at the New Economics Foundation. I thought we could invite people who may be interested to a meeting, to gauge whether who, if any, would like to be more involved’.
‘By the way, I love the name, Groundswell. In fact, I came across a letter from someone in Bath, who’s into marketing and calls his outfit, Groundswell. I think you should meet…’
Robin lived in Bath. Dan enjoyed the trip across London on the Bakerloo line, departing from Paddington. Robin’s home was a short walk through town from Bath Spa station. A substantial Georgian house over three storeys high. Robin’s wife, Gayle, greeted him at the front door and lead Dan to the basement – a cosy, kitchen, dining, playroom (for their three children) kept warm all year by a large range to one side.
They took coffee up some winding stairs, to Robin’s office in the ‘loft.’ Robin introduced Dan to his ‘piling system’ which consisted of a huge stack of papers precariously balanced in a tower at one corner of the room, with correspondence and projects located, as if in geological strata, as opposed to being filed alphabetically. The piling system marked the passage of time since being received and parked there for possible future reference. Robin demonstrated his knowledge of where things were, exclaiming generously to himself when he found something he was looking for.
At Dan’s request, Robin began telling the story of his Groundswell. How he’d left a high flying job in marketing and advertising in the City of London, to focus on things he really cared about, like the environment, like spirit. There were moments in their conversation when they shared exactly the same ideas and caught themselves experiencing a mutual flurry of goose pimples as if for a moment united in space and time and thought, a feeling they came to describe as synchronicity.
Robin said he’d written to Prince Charles seeking approval and possible funding towards a number of his environmental projects. He suggested that Dan do the same for Groundswell, and offered him his bold, purple, recycled paper letterhead for the purpose. ‘Keep it brief, to one page only, and remember to use the greeting ‘Your Royal Highness,’ he said.
Daniel knew this was a pivotal moment and one which meant much for Dan. Robin was quickly becoming a true friend. Daniel was happy that Dan was in good hands. Dan was feeling lighter and more self-assured at having met this companion who seemed to share his vision, and even shared the name, Groundswell. He had no idea that this would be the first of many meetings, in London, in Brighton, in Tunbridge Wells.
Even now, with great affection, Daniel foresaw Robin laughing in the Druid’s Head, in Brighton.
Robin owned a 5 series BMW and drove with a certain flamboyance, ‘Transitional Ethics’ was his motto…Dan thought he might be working for MI5. ‘Remember, Dan, he’s a City marketing guy, gone feral, no need to be suspicious’, whispered Daniel, knowing that his younger self could hear, a voice which Daniel, himself, had once chosen to ignore.
On the journey home, Dan felt curiously liberated, as if only a few words between him and Robin had ignited a whole possibility of futures, for everyone. Daniel gently reminded him to simply accept the moment, and let go.