My early years in the School of Practical Philosophy. Durban. KZN

By Diana Himsworth

Philosophy classes were on offer from 1968.
Two small children prevented my attendance at that point.
However, a few years later whilst driving along Musgrave Road I noticed blue and white posters advertising a new Philosophy term.
I drove straight to a friends home. I told her that I was going to join a Practical Philosophy course that evening, at the YMCA on Durban’s Victoria Embankment.
She simply said ‘I’ll come too’
The fee was R4 per term.
I was 27 years of age.

Mr Lawrence Stretton, the School Leader, was always well groomed and beautifully dressed.
He spoke a lot about awareness.
I wondered how anyone could possibly be interested in awareness.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one.
There was very little student/tutor interaction that evening. With long awkward intervals.
Yet despite this, I knew, without any doubt, that I had found what I had been searching for – from a young age.

Now establishing a Philosophy School in our country was not an easy process simply because everyone was welcome!
Which clashed with our notorious Group Areas Act.

I clearly remember Mr MacLaren – Founder of the School of Economic Science as it was known in the UK – visiting us at our school house – 200 Montpelier Road, Morningside.
He was sitting in a room upstairs, taking a break before addressing the Durban students.
We were all excited and dressed in our best!
There was a loud knocking on the front door, and as I was the closest I opened the door.
It was two burley policemen dressed in shorts, with guns at their waist.
A neighbour had reported ‘a racial issue’.
They had come to terminate our celebration.
I will never know what prompted me to invite them upstairs.
I explained the problem to Mr MacLaren.
Without hesitation he said ‘Gentlemen do come in and take a seat’.
Mr MacLaren listened to what they had  to say.  His answer was along the lines of ‘It is important for you to do your job. Please feel free to enter any room and to speak to anyone on the property.’
They looked relieved.
And were about to leave when Miss van Oyen (also from London) floated into the room – bedecked in exquisite silk from head to toe.
‘Could she offer them any refreshments?
The policemen were momentarily transfixed.
For several moments.
‘Nee dankie. Baie dankie’
They left shortly thereafter – after a brisk walk around the house and garden.
We enjoyed the most wonderful lecture with refreshments thereafter.

Despite the Government of the day we soldiered on.
This was the 1970’s and 1980’s.
We, however, were expected to lead a measured life; dress in long skirts; eat fresh food; be punctual and keep the School building and garden in pristine condition.
We met in our groups once a week, and generally in pairs on another evening to serve tea to other groups – and wash up.
Every teaspoon needed to be put  back in its rightful spot!

Meditation is key to our Philosophical studies. The School follows an Ancient Tradition. This is something which is hugely valued, and honoured.
Singing, Sanskrit, Calligraphy,  Geometry, Plato studies etc were on offer too.
And a Saturday School was established for children between the age of 4 – 12 years.

We had two residential weekends a term for extra study.
Our weekends began at 5pm Friday – 10pm Sunday.
We also had 2 study Sundays a term.
I was extremely fortunate in having amazing parents who took care of the children when required, and a husband who only occasionally put his foot down!!

We were also offered a 10 day residential each year when Mr MacLaren would be in attendance along with other overseas tutors – who came at their own expense.
At that time these were held at Oakford Priory.
Johannesburg and Cape Town students joined us too.
Ah….Oakford Priory!!!!
The elderly shiny-faced nuns loved having us.
And their love of God and devoted service inspired us.
However, the Priory was far from clean. They had very little help but it certainly sparkled by the time we left.
And we smiled as we were always handed a list of ‘missing items to be replaced’. The list got longer every year.
We always obliged.

I can recall that at some point the school  in London got bad press. A book was published. This filtered through to our newspapers.
Friends and families were concerned, and some people left. But not many!
Our own problems included wayward behaviour by a few students and a costly Court case in regard to……street parking!

But for those of us whose hearts had been touched by the Good – turning our backs on all that we had received was never an option.
It was obvious that a School of this nature required a firm foundation!
And I have to say that the love, care and support of School Leaders to their students to this day is a constant…..non-critical, open hearted and helpful.

We have always been nourished by the finest Philosophical literature – in an array of different forms.
Uncovering the truth about ourselves, and everyone else, and everything else, is an extraordinary journey.

We travel this path with friends – who become family.
The bond is unbreakable.
The School has a new name:
School of Philosophy and Economic Science (SPES)
My friend and I remain in the same group.
I am now 75 years of age.

(Images from Facts about Durban)