I was born William Geoffrey Akhurst in Blackpool on 1st March 1949, which happened to be Shrove Tuesday, as well as St David’s Day. Being a quiet child, I recall dreamy washing days with Mary, my mother. Max Bygraves was always on the radio with Ovaltine for ‘elevenses.’ My father Basil; also known as ‘Akki’ was a Building Surveyor/Architect/Cartoonist and had been a Japanese POW.
St Columba’s Primary School in Bispham gave me extra milk in the vain hope that ‘Half pint’ might put on some weight and attend more to what was happening within the classroom. I had no difficulty in learning basic skills and general knowledge; but when it came to sums and clever stuff I was too dreamy by far.
So I failed the 11+ and was sent to Montgomery Secondary Modern School, which had been opened the previous year by the Field Marshall himself. There I flipped from top stream to second and back again, which gave me contact with a broad range of classmates from different social levels but also a number of personal challenges from having specs and not being very tough; but I always enjoyed playing soccer.
Leaving school without any GCEs meant that I had to look to my creative side in order to try for a career. Taking a Foundation Art Course, I chose Graphic Design as the main option; completed the course in 1969 and found a low paid short-term job near Stockport. However I was not able to progress further so ended up back home in Blackpool, to work as a waiter at a hotel.
I enjoyed music, from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Cream, Traffic, Jazz and Blues and many more. I was reading Science Fiction/Fantasy and ‘digging’ the Liverpool Scene Poets (McGough, Henri and Patten) hopping over to Manchester occasionally to see bands and visit clubs. In Blackpool, pubs and discos were the places to go and although I enjoyed dancing, I would invariably end up staggering home in a drunken state; not having found the girl of my dreams. Then after sliding into a state of depression, it was a caring ‘aunt’ who encouraged me to try to return to college and train as a teacher. So it was through her help that I went to night school and picked up the exams I needed; as well as securing my first real girlfriend.
It was during a Wednesday afternoon ‘Liberal Studies’ class at College that I joined an ‘Encounter Group’. This had a profound effect on my mind. Not only did I recognise the concept of ‘Ego’, but the teacher also introduced me to Eastern Philosophy through sharing some of the teachings of Meher Baba.
The concept of religion and God had always been alien to me; but I was now studying Sociology, Psychology and Modern English Literature; which broadened my view of the world and I began to see a new set of possibilities.
It took two years for me to get the necessary results and be offered a place at Swansea Art College for Teacher Training. In the meantime I did some travelling around Germany, Denmark and Holland with two friends from home. This opened up new experiences of meeting people from other cultures and tackling strange languages.
Leaving home and moving to Wales in 1973 was like finding ‘Shangri La.’ Not so much exotic and mysterious, but just being ‘free’ and independent. After 24 years of living at home I was at last starting to make a life in the ‘Real World’. However I still had a lot more growing up to do. After first being in digs, and settling into College life I was soon to discover that a few of my fellow students had joined a group called the Divine Light Mission, whose leader was an Indian boy called Guru Maharaj Ji. They practiced Meditation and held meetings to share their ‘Knowledge’.
I became close friends with them; so when they told me they were going to see their Guru in Copenhagen during the summer break, I decided to travel with them. When we reached Denmark I was amazed to find that we would be camping in exactly the same place I had stayed in the previous year. I was so impressed that before the end of the trip I sat with a group of eager souls to be shown how to meditate by an ‘Initiator’ (‘Mahatma’ or Pure Soul).
Back in Swansea I joined others in a shared house with a Hindu-based Ashram lifestyle. It was a good way to find inner peace and soon I was blessed by going deep into ‘The Light’. This had a profound effect on my consciousness; so much so that after a short time I had an awakening into the awareness of the oneness of all things. In other words I began to grasp the concept of God in my own mind and felt reborn in a deep spiritual way.
After finishing College and working in various educational placements, the association with my fellow ‘Premies’ (Lovers of God) began to change. I made regular trips to see ‘The Living Lord’ in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Florida. But with this full-time commitment and other obligations (poverty, chastity and obedience) and my resolve to live an ascetic lifestyle began to weaken as my understanding grew and I wanted to live a more ‘normal’ life. So I (along with a few others) caused something of a stir by rebelling against what we felt was becoming a ‘Personality Cult’ and that Maharaj Ji himself was merely a teacher of Raja Yoga with limited influence in the world at large. So after a short while we left and went our separate ways.
This now brings me to the Bahá’í connection. It so happened that I had met Bahá’ís through Interfaith meetings and at ‘Firesides’ at Alfred and Margaret Morse’s house in Morriston during the 70s, along with Gladys Parker, Denver Morgan, Bryn and Jan Fussell and Joan Phillips and others. While I remember liking the readings, I was averse to the concept of prayer and the fact that they had no specific ‘Living Master’ as a teacher.
The years had dealt heavy blows to my ability to keep a regular job, so I bought a van to try to make money and took on a regular round of delivering whole-foods in the South West Wales area. On these rounds I delivered flour to (and collected eggs from) the farm of Richard and Sheila Swan at Peniel near Carmarthen, but I was not to know until a little later that they were Bahá’ís. The eggs ended up at a stall in Swansea Market where I struck up a friendship with a woman who worked on a neighbouring stall. This was another Bahá’í called Josie Bishop who re-introduced me to the lovely Margaret Morse; who was by then widowed and in poor health. Josie took me under her wing and with a little prompting I declared as a Bahá’í before our wedding in Swansea on 4th April 1987.
I was soon elected to the LSA, and I have served on it for all but one year ever since. Together we travelled to Vancouver (our honeymoon); attended many national events and visited believers all around Wales. We attended deepenings and gatherings, mainly in Caerphilly (Eric and Beatrice Kent), Cardiff (Kathryn and Ramiz Delpak), Newport (Viv and Rita Bartlett), with occasional conferences. We saw Rúhíyyih Khánum in Manchester and went on a nine day pilgrimage in January 1992.
Although we are no longer married, we had 18 happy and busy years together; regularly holding Monday evening firesides. I had since become a taxi driver and my main task was to ferry innumerable contacts ‘to and fro’ in my car; often dropping an overseas student volunteer off at the Swans’ farm in Carmarthen after making a number of stops locally. The stories associated with this would take a book the size of ‘Lord of the Rings’ making almost as fascinating reading! We were also involved in Interfaith and Racial Equality group meetings.
Most memorable visitors included Sadiq Merhaban and Meherangiz Munsiff, David Hofman and Philip Hainsworth, not to mention all the special Bahá’í students at Swansea University or College, who added spice to our community. These included Nadim Rohani, Madhu Nair, Simon Batchelor, Dave Netherwood, Kenny Baxter, Stephanie Bouju, Ilaria Quattrone and our late special brother Ben Lockwood. My apologies for those I have omitted to mention, but I thank everyone for being here to help build our community.
For about five years Josie and I produced ‘Dayspring’ children’s magazine which was printed by John Butler in York. When his printing business closed, John moved to Swansea and has worked with the Cyrenians Charity, which I have been happy to support in their ‘Unity in Diversity’ project, by befriending and helping Asylum Seekers from many countries, now that Swansea is designated as a City of Sanctuary (and the first in the UK)
Nowadays I like to visit and support the Llanelli friends and involve myself in their Multicultural events when I can; taking many photographs in the process. I have also been to Kenya, Florida and Rhodes, meeting Bahá’ís and enjoying the hospitality and love of the people. Most of all I feel happy for the progress of the Faith and take great pleasure in serving the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh; supporting the teaching process wherever I can.
I am now officially retired from work but still have a lot to do and a long way to go. Teaching the Faith is more lively than ever and I am grateful to have found so much love and satisfaction in His service here in Wales. Great things are happening in our community and my happiness continues to grow. It is good to serve the Cause of God in this beautiful but challenging world.
September 2012 / revised February 2014
Editor’s note: Geoff passed away on 31 August 2015.
Josie Akhurst passed away in early 2017. Bill Jenkins writes:
Josie Akhurst arrived in Swansea over 30 years ago and instantly felt that she had found her spiritual home. She was a stalwart of the community, including serving as secretary for the Local Spiritual Assembly for many years. Together with Geoff Akhurst, she edited and compiled the Dayspring magazine for children for many years.
The packed firesides in her home in the late ’90s and early ’00s led to several declarations, and she also conducted a children’s class with Nadim Rohani in Morriston 16 years ago, just 100 metres from where the current class is now attracting more than a dozen children from the local neighbourhood.
Josie suffered from dementia in the final years of her life, and spent her last three years in a residential care home. She was visited regularly by two Swansea Bahá’ís, and even on days when she had not said more than two words of conversation, would still mouth the words when her favourite prayer was said. And she still had “a face wreathed in smiles”, which brought joy to all the staff.
I know you will all join me in remembering her in your prayers, and draw strength from the awareness that all our efforts to serve in Wales build on the spiritual foundations laid by those who served before us, and who still assist us from the next world.
Bill Jenkins, February 2017