The Boss: Depths and Perspectives
Part Four — Adult Reality, Childish Hardball
The cook that came to work for the Hubbards at Saint Hill one week after I arrived there had to leave within a couple of months because her mother’s health had deteriorated. This quiet, modest, reliable young woman, no stranger to consistent work, had proved herself a decided asset in the household and a major pillar of support for me as I went about establishing myself in my new position as butler to L. Ron Hubbard, once able to leave the kitchen entirely to her. Mary Sue had appreciated her warmly. We knew we would miss her, but thoroughly supported her as a daughter. I don’t know that she was outstanding as a cook, or highly trained as one, but she was obviously equal to all the ordinary demands that were made on her by a family that did not look for more than rather ordinary meals. The cleanliness and tidiness of her kitchen were exemplary. There were no complaints against her. That Mary Sue was personally happy with her showed that her work was well received.
We had a succession of cooks over the next several months, none of whom lasted very long, and I believe (memory not being too clear) that most of them left of their own accord. A couple were temporary, in any case. After our third or so replacement, I was about to look for another when LRH gave me an interesting instruction: “Ask them if they like eating.” I supposed he’d had some food on his plate that made him wonder what the provider’s intention might be.
Most of the applicants came to us through a London agency. I used the agency because I didn’t have time to go looking or advertising, since the cooking for the household devolved back on to me if there was no cook in the kitchen. I had, or felt I had, to keep all of my other duties going as well as I could despite being tied to the stove and the meal schedule, so a day off to go cook-hunting on my own was not feasible.
The house was not over-generous in its wages. Whoever had got hold of that first cook had struck gold. It took us just more than a year to find as good a cook, as hard-working, and one as able to fit in with the working environment in that kitchen.
Thus, being in between cooks was not a happy time for me. Each new one seemed to be nervous about coming, nervous about staying, and soon eager to go. I had to hire the least-unlikely of the lot so as not to let backlogs in my own work build up. I’d start the new cook and get back to my own duties feeling that here was another one not going to last very long. In the end, John Henry came to us and came to my rescue. An older man from St. Helena, he managed his situation in the Saint Hill kitchen with great aplomb, and soon fell under MSH’s potent spell, she being by nature a thoroughly charming woman when relaxed. If encouraged by a welcoming response she would throw over the new acquaintance a happy cloak of cheery bonhomie. John Henry came to adore her and later followed the Hubbards to the big Scientology ship where he continued to serve them for at least a couple of years until he retired to sail back to his remote island home.
At the Manor, John Henry would spend his weekly day off in London, as I had when I first went to Saint Hill. One day, I happened to read the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph (not a regular habit of mine) and my eye fell on a small paragraph. In those days, in the sixties, the practice of homosexuality was still a crime. Men who cruised public places looking for male partners were arrested when caught by the police. The papers would report such arrests briefly and refer to the ‘crime’ as “soliciting” or “importuning.” This particular paragraph reported that a John Henry had been arrested for soliciting in a public lavatory and it happened on our John Henry’s day off.
There was no mention of Saint Hill in the paper, much to my relief. I couldn’t know if it was in fact our John Henry but was quite prepared to ask him about the report, should LRH advise or require it. John Henry had already given me an idea that he had some sort of connection with that orientation by virtue of some (harmless) stories that he had told me and the manner in which he had told them. These were stories of others he had known, and he spoke of them in homosexual relationships. The subject had some fascination for him but I couldn’t say that he’d ever gone farther than fascination. The report said not a word about what had actually happened to bring about the arrest. [There had been another recent story about an elderly senior cleric in the Church of England who’d been arrested on the same charge. The poor unsuspecting and innocent old fellow had a nervous tic that the zealous undercover policeman had completely misunderstood as he prowled that public lavatory.]
Of course, I reported this “John Henry” development to LRH at once, who appeared not concerned. He gave me no startling instructions, a little to my surprise, given how unsympathetic towards homosexuality he’d shown himself to be in one of his books [Science of Survival]. As John Henry had settled down in our kitchen, was performing very well, and had become one of the household, I was very all right with not losing him. There seemed to be no need to induce great concern over the two young boys in the family, Quentin and Arthur. Neither of them spent any time in the kitchen nor had made friends with John Henry, nor had he shown signs of wanting to closely befriend them (or anyone else, for that matter; his happiness in MSH was a given). This state of affairs between him and the two boys continued as before. Moreover, John Henry’s demeanour in the house had never given any indication of hidden intentions towards any part of the family.
[And that’s as far as that story goes. This little detour into cookery-procurement and into John Henry (with which I’ve entertained myself), has taken me well ahead of the tale I’m about to relate. It’s by way of explaining why I was so disappointed in LRH’s telling me, long before John Henry, to give the then-current cook a month’s wages in lieu of letting the man, newly employed, work out the notice he had given me the day before. This little scene, in which Hubbard tore off one of his veils, follows now. ]
Several weeks after the unhappy brush over the unlocked back door of the Manor and my supposedly bad thoughts about a possible invasion of the children’s quarters, I had again to quickly replace a cook. The cook in question was an older man who had come to us for a month’s trial from the London agency only a week before. His bona fides were fine. One could easily be taken aback by the way he presented himself. He was slightly swarthy, stocky and powerfully built, with a slight stoop. The abundant hair on his head and his bushy eyebrows were almost demonically black (but you wouldn’t think to look at him that he was a man who would think of dyeing his hair). He had a heavy black beard but did not shave closely. Unhappinesses had taken over his eyes and mouth, brooding there as though ready to erupt in sudden violent protest. The master of the house did not come into the kitchen to meet him but he may well have seen him or heard the children’s or their mother’s impressions of him.
But the reality I found in working with this new cook was that he was a sweet, gentle, dignified old man regardless of his unusually ruffian, pirate-like appearance. His work was all right but he, not being happy at the Manor, soon gave notice. I immediately informed LRH and told him I would get a new person in. The following day, LRH told me it would be better to give the man his month’s wages and to let him go at once. I reeled, not happy to have the cooking to do again, and so soon, along with the stress of recruiting yet another new cook.
LRH noticed my reservation, of course, and he proceeded to enlighten me as to his reasons—in his own way of enlightening. He said he had his concerns about the man, remarking that said concerns entailed something difficult for most people to confront. I took that to mean that since I didn’t know what he was talking about, I was the “most people” having difficulty in confronting whatever it was that LRH hadn’t yet made clear, for the reasons that he was not only so brilliantly clever to think about it but also so good in confronting such dreadful possibilities. Also understood was that dumb me didn’t know what was going on. Dumb me could see, nonetheless, that he wanted to get on with the enlightenment: his vastly superior understanding of the state of affairs demanded that he make himself, at last, understandable, no matter the cost to me.
“It’s the children”, he explained heavily, and with just a suspicion of quiet triumph.
Again, he shocked me to my core, and for the second time over this same subject, but this time completely reversing the reality of our previous roles. In the prior instance, I’d brought something to his attention he was not minded to take seriously in that moment. Evidently, though, the question had buzzed about in his mind; he’d recognized that a point had been made (the possibility of an attack on his children), the making of which had put him on the back foot.
His solution to this unwelcome stance, I assumed, was to take over the whole thing as being of his own initiation rather than admit that another (me) had prompted him into self-examination and adjustment of view. Yet I was that other and I’d forgotten nothing, particularly that accusation to the executives that I’d somehow willed harm on the children. The unwillingness of the new and nasty-looking cook to stay, and the chance that he was harbouring some resentment about the family, gave the master the perfect chance to put me on my back foot with a bit of my own medicine. He could imply that since I hadn’t thought the nice old man capable of horrible crime, the possibility was something I was not able to confront.
But in actual fact, what was not easy to confront here was the perceived petty sleight of mind with which the Boss, a man highly respected by Scientologists all over the world for personal integrity and empathic acumen, had persuaded himself that he could now turn the tables on me to his own imagined advantage. At the same time, he blanked out from his awareness (normally so keen) that since I was party to the first encounter on the matter I could easily figure out what he was doing. I understood clearly. I was speechless. And very angry with him.
I bowed my head slightly to acknowledge my understanding of his instructions and went my way, accepting what would be of no use to resist, and to reflect on how I would deal with this insight into one of L. Ron Hubbard’s trouble-making thought patterns. I gave the cook his wages and off he went. Back to the stove went I.
The volte-face on my boss’s part of delivering a slap in my face when he might have given the slap to himself, was my first clear indication of how dangerous association with L. Ron Hubbard could be and of how thin the ice around him. Accordingly, I developed a thought process of my own that helped me navigate my relationship with him…
Take care; take nothing for granted; watch both his steps and your own; by no means ever give him reason to suppose you’re trying to trip him up—not that you’d want to but if he got that idea into his head, no knowing what he’d do; he is evidently familiar with that mode of behaviour. When he’s operating on vanity, reason is absent. [There, but for the grace of God, go we all.]
For sure an unpleasant development, it didn’t push me to consider either having a go at challenging his vanity (a non-starter, really, always) or leaving him. Although I was more watchful around him, my respect for the better side of him and for his work remained. If he as demi-god had a human side, well, he had a human side. No surprise there; the unpleasant surprises were firstly in how low, relatively, he allowed himself to stoop in human-ness, and, secondly, in how easily he persuaded himself that I wouldn’t have eyes with which to see what he was doing so openly to me and to himself.
At school, I’d read about the Earl of Strafford, a man of high principle (but, like so many men of that kind, also heavy-handed and partisan, making powerful enemies for himself), who had supported Charles I in the latter’s deadly struggles with the English Parliament (for domination and money) prior to the English Civil War in the mid-1600s. Strafford was executed at the insistence of his enemies in Parliament in one of their moves against the King. The warrant for his execution had to be signed by Charles, and Charles signed it; he’s said to have stated, as he reluctantly did so (having personally promised the Earl that he would come to no harm), that the Earl’s fate was happier than his own. In his turn, Strafford is said to have grimly declared, on receiving the news that the King had signed the warrant, “Put not your trust in Princes.” For some reason, that injunction struck a chord within me when I first read it as a boy. I felt I knew what it meant. Twelve years later, as a young man, I suddenly had a deeper and clearer understanding of the adult reality of the position: Around L. Ron Hubbard, my head, figuratively speaking, would be no safer than Strafford’s.
It was a lesson I never forgot throughout my years close to Hubbard, even though, as the months went by, his treatment of me at Saint Hill was, on the whole, without question remarkably friendly, cheerful, and kind. He looked after me, in fact, so generously, as one human to another, that to this day, I remember his Saint Hill persona fondly and with great gratitude. This, I believe, was part of his basic and true nature.
End of Chapter Six, Part Four, The Rending of a Veil
© Kenneth G. Urquhart, 2018