I was born and grew up in Bath. I had a twin brother and also two older brothers. My father was a Barrister and then a publisher after the war, and my mother managed us, a huge vegetable garden and our many pets. I had a very free childhood, loved all our animals, and at my grandfather’s farm I milked cows, reared the calves and chickens and was always around for anything being born. Being a passionate horse lover I exercised all my friends’ horses until being given my first pony by my grandfather at age 14 which was my dream. My cousin was married to a racing trainer so I loved to ride out on the gallops. As a child I wanted to be a circus trapeze artist (I was a county gymnast until the age of 11) or a circus bareback rider.
I had two loving grandmothers. On my mother’s side the family were Quakers and my other grandmother was very keen on the science of mind. My mother took us to church (Church of England) and to Sunday School, and was very interested in Healing. Both grandmother and my parents had strong Christian values. She had a group of friends who liked to discuss spiritual things and this fascinated me. I loved all my grandmother’s stories abut Harry Edwards* and his wonderful healing which led me to study this too. My childhood definitely led me to continue searching spiritual philosophies.
I am hazy about the dates and details, but it must have been at the beginning of the seventies when, after a time abroad in Italy, I was visiting my parents and somehow found myself with a friend at a Bahá’í fireside near Chippenham, at the home of Terry and Barbara Smith. I remember being fascinated by the story of the Bahá’í Faith that Terry told us.
About a year or so later I was in Geneva in an area called Champelle, living in a basement room in a block of flats as an au pair. It was quite a hard time, as au pairs were not always treated well so, on my days off, I would go to the canteen at the university where I would meet young people from all over the world and make new friends. One of these friends took me to the home of, I believe, the Samandari family and there I heard once again about the Bahá’í Faith. I was really interested in the unity aspect, as the year before I had been studying at an Italian university in Perugia with students of all nationalities and I had recently returned from a trip to Morocco which I had spent with another au pair from Norway. Her boyfriend, who lived and worked in Switzerland, had invited us to his home in Fez, Morocco and we stayed first with his Jewish family and then with another friend’s Muslim family. He took me to visit the Berbers in the mountains. This was the first time I had begun to understand that religion was not just for church on Sundays, but was the whole part of these people’s lives and came into everything. I was very moved by this. Previously I had also stayed with a Greek family and then worked on the farm of my Norwegian friend’s family, so my eyes were being opened to different cultures which I loved. I went regularly to these firesides in Geneva and I remember most the kindness and affection of this family.
My next adventure was a move to study French at another foreign university in Aix en Provence, in the South of France. Again, Ingunn, my Norwegian friend, was with me and we shared a room in Rue d’Aude, above a little nougat factory, owned by an elderly couple who had once been in the French Resistance, who regaled us with fascinating stories. Another French couple, Monsieur and Madame Dumas, became our French adopted parents and fed us wonderful meals. We had been picked up by them six months earlier hitchhiking to Spain and they had promised to find us lodgings if we returned, which we did. They taught us so much about Provence. This is where I met up with Anna Hinton, the sister of Phillip Hinton who, with his wife Ann, now live in Australia. Anna had recently become a Bahá’í, and at that time I was fascinated by the White Eagle writings. We spent a huge amount of time together. She had a room at a farm in the hills. We used to pray together and had wonderful adventures going to meet the Bahá’ís in Marseille. They had a Bahá’í centre there and she used to travel in her ancient Deux Chevaux. The passenger (me) had to hold the clutch down by hand to change gear. It is amazing what you remember. At this time I was very attached to the idea of reincarnation, but this slowly changed as Phillip Hinton, who then lived in Epsom, England, used to write me wonderful letters all about the Bahá’í idea on this subject, until it began to make great sense to my heart. At this time I had my wisdom teeth out, and because my face was too swollen to eat, I was taken to the home of Gilbert Robert in Cannes, where I was fed soups through a straw by his sweet wife, and it was here I gained even more understanding about the Faith while my French was improving all the time. Soon after this I decided to become a Bahá’í myself.
A few months later I returned as a pioneer to Switzerland, and on arriving at the airport I was told I was the final person to complete the goals of the Nine Year Plan, as I made up the nine members of the community of Grand Lancy, so I must have just turned 21. I had magical experiences here and spent a lot of time with an American Bahá’í called Susan George, who I understand is still in Switzerland and working at the UN. This is just the beginning of all the exciting adventures I have had since then. It has taken me to Malta, the Shetland Isles, Northern Ireland, Eire, India, Winchester, Ipswich, the Netherlands and finally back to my roots in Bath and Bradford-on-Avon, so near the place at Chippenham where I first heard about the Bahá’í Faith. So I found it is a small world.
Writing this, my son has been doing youth work and music for a few weeks in the Shetland Isles with Holly, the granddaughter of Terry Smith. Never would I have imagined that this could happen all those years ago.
Juliet Grainger, Wiltshire
* (Harry Edwards, 1893-1976: a well-known spiritual healer, teacher and author who had a career of nearly 40 years)