Getting in with the in crowd

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ulrike Speyer offers holiday tips to soul seekers, not sunseekers. Manager of the Inner Journeys travel agency in Neal's Yard since it opened in 1991, she directs her customers through the maze of new age holdiays and personal development courses.

'There is a saying that wherever you travel you always take yourself with you. We help people explore the inner landscape of the self,' Speyer somewhat poetically explains.

And the landscape of the soul is diverse indeed. Glossy colour leaflets offer outward bound to the inner-bound: travel to Ireland and swim with a dolphin from about pounds 300; give your 'inner-critic' a holiday and release your expressive self by singing for a mere pounds 6 on a Sunday night in London.

Inner Journeys mails information to more than 4,000 people from across Britain a month, and Speyer estimates about 200 people visit to browse every week. The shop offers courses, weekend breaks, holidays and, of course, workshops.

For instance, take a typical Tuesday evening in the basement of the agency, once home to the Monty Python sound recording studio. Nudge nudge and wink wink have been supplanted by a voyage into Biodanza, 'a system of human integration and growth stimulated by music, rhythm and emotion'. The pounds 5 two-hour workshop provides what Speyer describes as 'a taster' before a commitment is made to the pounds 85 weekend.

Patricia Martello is the sleek and supple Argentinian Professor of Biodanza. The therapy combines South American music, t'ai chi and mild unease for the socially inhibited. The workshop has attracted 11 women and nine men. Martello's invitations to 'express the love inside' by staring deeply into strangers' eyes are accepted with enthusiasm. Soon, we are looking so much deeper into the eyes of the stranger. So much more full of love. So much further on the road to the self. So much for only a fiver.

Among many, there is a fierce commitment to the exploration of the inner self. 'This is a spiritual journey I am taking,' muses Jurek Madryzk, 47, a Neal's Yard regular. 'It's the kind of journey that will last the rest of my life. Instead of going to several countries and admiring the sights, there comes a time for everybody when they have to journey into their selves. I don't know exactly where I am going. Not even Inner Journeys really knows what kind of destination is being sold.

It was 'synchronicity' that brought Ann Moon, 56, from Barnes to Neal's Yard. 'I read an advertisment in an old newspaper in a motorway cafe and I knew I had to come. It has been a wonderful journey this evening. This place helps people on their road to self-discovery and self-love.'

Among the visitors there is a fervour. A spark. A cause. A cult? 'Absolutely not,' insists Speyer. 'We are about self-development. There is no sense of obligation. We do not badger people. We are just here to advise.'

Indeed. Speyer has hastily refused offers for workshops. 'From people with made-up names. One chap who called himself Mr Famous. People with no experience. There was one man who wanted to do a series on women's sexuality. I chected his qualifications. They didn't exist.'

There is even more of a struggle to define the species of holiday seeker that approaches the agency. 'We get people looking for something different in their lives. Things are often not going well and they are not very happy. We get a lot of people who are unemployed or about to be made redundant.' After much deliberation, Speyer states triumphantly: 'Explorers. I suppose we get explorers.'

There are, she admits, certain destinations that attract more visitors to the agency than others. 'Housewives tend to be more interested in things like the psychic and colour therapy. Business people are interested in personal development. They want to be bettter bankers or ad men.'

Some inquiries still surprise. 'I once had a motorcycle policeman come into the agency. He was dressed like a knight in shining armour. He was looking for information on aura photography. That was a bit different.'

The motivations of Ute Leusch, 26, a visitor from Germany, are more mundane. Experiencing an inner journey in Neal's Yard is better than simply going round London to see Big Ben and the Tower. 'Well, at least when you take this kind of holiday you don't have to write a postcard,' she says.

The Travel Agent for Inner Journeys,

14 Neal's Yard, Covent Garden WC2 (071-379 0140).

(Photograph omitted)

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