SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
When Will Hodgkinson was a kid just outside of London, his whole family was laid low after eating some bad chicken risotto. His father Neville, a well-regarded science writer, was especially sick. He took months to recover and during that time, rethought his life and put it back together in a way that upended his happy family, but may have enriched them in other ways; we'll leave that for his son to ponder. Nev Hodgkinson joined a group called the Brahma Kumaris. Their mother Liz became an increasingly strident social critic, especially of men. The way the childhood of Will and his brother Tom changed from upper-middle-class security in 1980s London to a home filled with chanting, incense and meditating women preparing for the end of the world is Will Hodgkinson's new book "The House Is Full Of Yogis: The Story Of A Childhood Turned Upside Down." Will Hodgkinson, rock critic for The Times of London, joins us from our studios there. Thanks so much for being with us.
WILL HODGKINSON: Thank you.
SIMON: Looking back, it wasn't just the risotto, was it?
HODGKINSON: Well, I think we talk about this a lot. We always say with Nev was it inevitable? And I think it was. He got ill, and he did reassess his life. But once he found the Brahma Kumaris, and after the, you know, the kind of rigorous questioning that you'd expect from a science journalist, he then absolutely threw himself into it. I mean, to the extent that he turned up to my school to give a lecture on the joys of meditation without telling me, and he was wearing white robes. So that was the kind of thing that I had to put up with on a daily basis.
SIMON: Yeah and switched rooms with you, right, too to...
HODGKINSON: That was when he turned my bedroom, which had a Scalextrics, which is a, you know, racetrack set, into an all-white meditation chamber. And the only thing in the room was a red-golden egg which represented the divine light of the soul in which we all had to meditate. And I remember the first meditation session, my mom who's never a great fan of meditation and, you know, always thought it was a waste of a good outfit, said - you know, she sat there for a bit, and she said am I really having to miss "Coronation Street" for this? "Coronation Street" being a very popular soap opera.
SIMON: Oh, we know it here, sure.
HODGKINSON: You know it here, OK, yeah.
SIMON: It also - reading the book, it suited her evolving view of feminism at that point.
HODGKINSON: Well, that was exactly it. She came from a very working class family. She married at 21 and you've got to remember in '60s Britain as a single woman, you weren't allowed to take out a mortgage; you weren't allowed to buy a car. You know, it all had to be done in the name of a man so she didn't really have any choice. She was really, really ready for a change. And so although the change came in a very unexpected way, she was unusually open-minded to it in a way that none of our parents' friends were. They all thought that my dad had been taken over by a weird cult, which of course he had.
SIMON: I understand why people, perhaps yourself included, would refer to the Brahma Kumaris as a - what did you say, a weird cult?
HODGKINSON: Well, I mean, I'm saying that in a slightly facile way. I mean, I like the Brahma Kumaris very much but it's...
SIMON: Well, I just wanted to note I was astonished to discover they have about a million adherents...
HODGKINSON: Oh, it's huge.
SIMON: ...And 26 study centers in the United States alone. I love the scene in here of a family trip you took down the River Thames.
HODGKINSON: Wow, my mom had discovered feminism in a big way. This is before Nev became a Brahma Kumari. And she got so annoying; they were fighting over being the captain of the ship. Now, of course neither of them knew what they were doing. Anyway, my mom kept running her ground. She had a captain's hat which she insisted on wearing. And then one time she was pushing away from the lock, and she turned into a sort of human bridge. So if you imagine her hands were on the side of the lock and her feet were on the side of the boat, and she went too far out, and she started screaming oh-no, oh-no. And at that point, we were all really, really fed up with her. And I'd like to think we could've saved her in time but, you know, no one could get there. But then she popped up and, you know, my mom was very much a '80s woman; she looked a little bit like Cher. But when she came up, she looked more like Alice Cooper...
HODGKINSON: ...Because she had all this eyeliner running down and the black hair was sort of tangled. And then she said oh, throw, throw, throw, throw me something, throw me something. And my brother looked around and, I'm not joking, he threw her a chair, which obviously just sank so that didn't do much good. We fished her out, she was fine, but that was a low point in the Hodgkinson family.
SIMON: Well, I bring that up now because to read that section now makes me laugh, but it makes you squirm a bit because, I hope I can say this, you know, to your face electronically.
SIMON: Your mother was borderline cruel to your father.
HODGKINSON: She was, she was. She was borderline cruel to all of us. But the funny thing about my mom, this is what my dad always says about her, is that she's one of those people who presents herself as very tough. She hated the idea of being seen as a mother. She was very much that first wave of feminism where, you know, she used to say things like don't expect me to be cooking you meals, I'd rather be out drinking in a cocktail bar or whatever. And, you know, and that was true. But the funny thing was when it came down to it, the house ran well. You know, it was very much like a kind of - if you imagine a well-run suburban home, that was our home; it just happened to have a lot of meditating people inside it.
SIMON: (Laughter) And it must be said that on a few occasions, your wry sense of humor notwithstanding, you have been with your father at Brahma Kumari centers and have found some comfort, too.
HODGKINSON: I never got that incredible, blissful feeling that my father got that made everything - he didn't care about women, he didn't care about possessions, he didn't care about anything because he got this incredible feeling of pure spirituality. I never got that, but I did get a sense of calm and kindness and a sort - a feeling that the Brahma Kumaris were offering something without taking. And I think that was quite important. And I felt that - I also felt that my father had sort of never judged me somehow in the way that fathers do. And I think, you know, I think it had a lot to do with the Brahma Kumaris. I think because he'd gone off on his own path, he was never saying, well, you should be a doctor or you should be - you should do this or do that. He really let me be myself, and so in a strange sort of way, I think I do have the Brahma Kumaris to thank for that because he was looking at life on a deeper level.
SIMON: Will Hodgkinson. His new book "The House Is Full Of Yogis: The Story Of A Childhood Turned Upside Down." Thanks so much for being with us.
HODGKINSON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.