Whether by chance or by destiny, some people seem to act as catalysts for us, and by interacting with us our lives are changed forever. My old Druid teacher, Ross Nichols, was one such person. Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who started the Fellowship of Isis in Ireland, was another. And Douglas Lyne, a man who stubbornly refuses to conform to any convenient labeling, was a third.
Douglas recently threw off the old raincoat of his body, which was 88 years old, and is now laughing in his mischievious way with his friends heaven-knows-where. The last few times I saw him he said he was looking forward to meeting Ross again, who died back in 1975. My dad will be with them too I reckon.
With my dad Douglas shared a common war history – they had both served in Italy. With Ross he shared a love of Druidry, and it was Douglas who – thirteen years after Ross died – rang me out of the blue to say that he had to see me on February 14th 1988. He appeared in our flat in Primrose Hill with two friends to ask me to lead the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids, which had dissolved soon after Ross’ death in 1975. A few years previously, in 1984, Ross had appeared to me in a meditation and had asked me to do this, but although I had begun preparing the teachings as he requested, I held back, waiting for the signal Ross said would come. And then, four years later, Douglas appeared, knowing nothing of this, to trigger the Order’s rebirth.
Years later I discovered that there was another way Douglas had intervened in the rebirth of the Order. A few days after Ross had died Douglas dropped into a pub in Covent Garden, which he had never visited before. There at the bar he recognised a Druid friend, who also had dropped in by chance. (The Apple Tree Tavern in Covent Garden was said to be the birthplace of revived Druidry in 1717. The story is almost certainly apocryphal, but it’s still a nice coincidence that a Covent Garden pub should play a seminal role in Druidry’s story). They shared their news of Ross, and then Douglas advised the friend to make sure the Order archives were safe, because in his experience when single people died, unless one was careful, the lawyers would just throw out most papers. The friend thought this unlikely, but promised he would convey this information to the folk who rented rooms in Ross’ house. Lo and behold, a little while later, the lawyers visited and a pile of black rubbish bags appeared after their visit, sitting on the pavement waiting for the rubbish collection. Glyn and Michael nipped outside, saved the bags and gave them to me years later when they heard that the Order had been revived.
This story typifies Douglas for me – acting as a mercurial figure – darting around London in his old mac with a briefcase full of papers and palimpsests that he would pull out and get signed at every opportunity. When he was de-mobbed he was apparently torn between a desire to be a film director and the urge to become a priest like the charismatic ‘Father Damien’ (whoever he was – perhaps the Father Damien described here). The novel that he wrote featured a Hollywood director, and although ‘The Ordinance of Time’ was never published, Metro Goldwyn Mayer expressed interest in it, and the Walt Disney office in London commended it to Sam Spiegel.
At his wake we each got a bound proof copy of the novel – a lovely way to remember him, a good gift to take from a wake. For a writer a book is like a packet of seeds – full of ideas and images that can populate your landscape. I’d like everyone to get a book after my funeral I’ve decided. Books grow books and Sydney Davies, who was there to remember Douglas too, has just sent me his ‘Walking the London Scene: Five Walks in the Footsteps of the Beat Generation‘. In it, he tells the story of Douglas who – after reading The Naked Lunch – contacted William Burroughs to ask for his signature on his copy of the book. They met in a pub and drank all evening. Douglas recalled: ‘He was an absolutely arresting figure, very charming and knew what he was talking about.’ They met again and Burroughs borrowed a quid off him and later sent him a postcard from Tangier.
It was Douglas who encouraged us to hold a bicentennial celebration of the Gorsedd held by Iolo Moganwg on Primrose Hill in 1792. In 1992 we held an enormous affair with Druids from all over the world congregating on the hill, complete with TV crews, and the investiture of the Order’s Patroness Dwina Murphy-Gibb. There was then a big conference at Conway Hall that lasted the rest of the day. Douglas’s interest in Iolo resulted in him playing a key role in the founding of the Iolo Morganwg Fellowship.
Another Welshman also engaged much of Douglas’s attentions: his ancestor Father Ignatius of Llanthony, who built a monastery at Capel-y-ffin, where monastic life continued for forty years until just after his death in 1908. Douglas was Honorary Archivist for the Father Ignatius Memorial Trust, whose symbol is a cross and Awen. Every year a pilgrimage from LLanthony to Capel-y-ffin is undertaken. Douglas invited me numerous times to this and to the Welsh National Eisteddfodd. I wish I had gone.
The Order of Service produced for the funeral included the Awen – the Druid ‘Three Bars of Light’ – and a woodcut of Douglas’s childhood home. His dad was the Mayor of Bristol, and the family home looks lovely – I’ll paste the woodcut in here. The notice concluded with the word MARVELLOUS printed in capitals. I asked his daughters about the significance of this: “Dad always used to say this – it was one of his favourite remarks.”
Thomas Daffern, a mutual friend and founder of The International Institute Of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy, suggested the idea of a Festschrift for Douglas. The family are planning a Memorial Service later this year and are keen on the idea too. (Technically a Festschrift is done while someone is alive, a Gedenkschrift (memorial publication) when they’re no longer with us, but let’s not split hairs! Festschrift has a more celebratory feel to it). So if you knew him, do send your contribution to email@example.com
Let me finish with an enduring memory of Douglas, which conveys his humanity and why we were so fond of him. He is sitting by the fire in our room in Primrose Hill telling us about his plan for a book on ‘The World’s Twelve Greatest Failures’, who include Jesus (whose mission to bring love to humanity failed spectacularly) and Einstein (whose discoveries led to the atom bomb). Stephanie passes the pizza she has made on an enormous oven tray, having scored it into about eight sections. She expects Douglas to lift out one section, but no. He takes the tray, hangs on to it, and eats the lot. And then he cries as he tells us of his experiences during the Allied attack on Monte Cassino.
No wonder he spent the rest of his life campaigning for peace and reconciliation.