To spend some time up at Avatar’s Abode while Francis was there was to quickly become aware that Francis was very particular about the serving and making of his tea. Method was all; I don’t recall that he was at all fussy about having fancy brands or quality. The old adage ‘Take the pot to the kettle and not the kettle to the pot’ was observed. As soon as the pot with the correct number of spoonfuls of tea was filled it was covered with a tea cosy. Both pot and cup were warmed before being filled. Francis wanted his tea hot and fresh. I recall once a lady who was a casual visitor to the Abode offered to make the tea which she did in a casual fashion and Francis sipped and then surreptitiously fed it to the thirsty earth – not up to standard.
It strikes me that this was all part and parcel of Francis’ stress on doing things properly and with disciplined attentiveness to the task. If you put a broom away you made sure the brush side was uppermost. If you used a spade you held it properly not to waste effort and when you put it back in the shed you made sure there was no dirt still on it. Perhaps from his own days battling on the farm or perhaps from his Sufi training in Picton with the Baron or in Fairfax, California, this insistence on scrupulosity was a real life lesson for me and I should think for a number of others.
Francis came down to Brisbane a few times for work on his books, staying several weeks at 78 Hampstead Rd, Highgate Hill. May Lundquist, who lived down the road, came evenings and weekends to do the typing for him.
During one stay, Francis delicately indicated that the alcohol restrictions at Avatar’s Abode didn’t apply at Highgate Hill and he would be happy to have a glass of wine with dinner (usually cask wine or flagon)!
During his stay in Brisbane, Francis sometimes and charmingly got a little confused and talked as if he was at home at, for example referring to the Rouses as the people “down the hill”.
Francis lived simply and frugally, usually had tea and toast for breakfast, a cheese sandwich for lunch, and stew for dinner. If anyone cooked for him it had to be done, however, with care and attention: freshly cooked, hot and on time. He enjoyed special dishes once in a while, but suggested to the cook to keep it simple next time.
Francis one day during a weekend dinner started talking about the significance in Islam of the crescent moon with a star between the points of the crescent. I stupidly and idiotically interjected saying this was a physical impossibility.
Francis didn’t care to refute my comments, but simply refused to continue the story. From this incident I learnt to keep quiet and listen, and to this day I (and all others who were present) do not know about the significance of the crescent moon and star.
Francis occasionally took people to task. One day, for example, while afternoon tea was about to be served, he was unhappy that someone was opening the packet of biscuits another person had given him as a present.
When visiting Avatar’s Abode on weekends, I was always eager to do physical work, but Francis told me to balance this with reading spiritual books while being there. I particularly enjoyed reading Francis’ copy of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
During rehearsals for a second performance of A Singing to Meher Baba the Eternal Beloved by Francis Brabazon – while the sound and words were reverberating through Baba’s House – he commented to me with a rueful look in his eyes: “A minor work [of mine]!”
The first two couplets of Francis’ Ghazal 127 from In Dust I Sing go like this:
“The ship is sinking, but no one can tell the captain,
He has left the bridge and locked himself in his cabin.
The first mate writes letters patching up family wars,
The bosun mumbles, the purser recounts cricket scores.”
One day it was rehearsed to music by Sam Saunders. The singer was jumping around the stage with gusto to the lively, catchy tune. Francis said to me with a sad look in his eyes that this Ghazal dealt with a very serious matter.
This comment stuck with me, and over the years I could sense how difficult the time must have been in the 1960s with Meher Baba being in strict seclusion, the world seemingly going to pieces with the threat of nuclear war, and Francis being unable to talk to anyone about it (the first mate, bosun and purser in the above couplets are understood to refer to the men mandali Eruch, Pendu and Padri).