My friend Cait died on July 5th. I’ve known her since 1970 when we lived near each other in Hampstead. She had her leg in plaster upto the thigh having been knocked off her scooter late at night by a newspaper van in the Strand. While still in recuperation she had an ovarian cyst that burst and nearly died but recovered and became pregnant with her partner Gerry within a few years.Gerry was printing his own magazine of Haiku inspired poetry on a hand press which is how i and my then husband Larry got to know her and Gerry, as Larry wrote poetry and heard about `Gerry from another Hampstead Poet. I had started etching and did some illustrations for Larry’s poems, and Gerry hand-printed one of his poems and i printed my etching above the poem on hand made Japanese paper. They had moved to an Essex village cottage as they had both tired of London’s over-crowdedness and when Cait received compensation for the accident she and Gerry bought an old farm building and land in County Kerry. I went to stay there with my ex husband Larry . It was very primitive with no sanitation and we collected water from a natural spring on the land. We had to dig a hole in the ground to go to the toilet and were allocated a place in the yard where chickens roamed. Cait had a friend J she’d met at art school and he had married a Chinese girl Sue and they decided they would move to the farm as well and they moved into a cottage nearby across a small stream. Cait was pregnant again and her daughter was a toddler. She and Gerry were very stoic and despite Cait’s health problem’s she walked quicker than me. I had intermittent sickness and diarrhoea probably from the water although i had sea sickness earlier on the crossing from Fishguard and didn’t recover properly. The chickens came into the house freely . Some goats were kept for milking and cheese which Cait made.There were a couple of cows for milk too., they hoped to be self sufficient and grew fruit and veg too. Cait made soda bread, which unfortunately didn’t agree with me.. They grew cannabis and smoked joints though Larry didn’t approve he would roll one as he smoked roll-up tobacco then. I did enjoy Cait’s company and when it was sunny and she had time we lay in the grass and chatted. i was very thin then and liked sunbathing and i took my top off sometimes, one day Larry came along with a camera and snapped us me bare chested and boyish and Cait in a bikini about 8 months pregnant. Cait told me that day that she and J and Sue had got stoned and went to bed together. She’d told Gerry and he just laughed. J always had a fixation about Cait and she thought him a bit unrealistic about her. She and Gerry’s plan was to have an Art centre and attract people like me an Larry to come.. Cait went on to have a total of 4 children. and later they sold the farm and bought one nearer to Tralee and were less remote. They did have a sort of Art centre, Cait had done a year at Art school and Gerry was/is a poet. I never went to stay with them in Ireland again and saw Cait only on her visits to London where her Mother still lived.Larry and I separated soon after our trip to Ireland and eventually he moved to Glasgow with his 2nd wife and son. He persuaded Cait and Gerry that Glasgow was the place to live especially for poets who got support from the Scottish Arts council etc. So they moved there around 1983 and seemed to settle and Gerry has thrived as a poet. In 1987 when I had completed my degree in Fine Art at Kingston I borrowed a Video camera which the head of fine Art reluctantly agreed to and said i’d have to pay for any damage.as it was uninsured. but it had been hogged by other male students during my course.I was very keen to video my Father when he visited me, he was then 85 yrs old ,he read some poetry which he liked to do. Another poet friend read poetry also. Then Cait was on a visit to her Mother in Kentish Town and she came to see me with her son Sam. She said she’d read from “Yuga Night” a book of poems she had written with Gerry and Larry for my Video. Each of them had written 5 lines and done an artwork unseen by the others then exchanged the work fortnightly so that each piece was only seen by it’s maker until the exchange. Thereafter each piece could and did refer to any preceding text and or image as well as existing in it’s own right. I was familiar with this as Larry and I had written group poetry with any visitors who came for supper, we’d write one line and pass it on to each other, not all our visitors wanted to participate. Cait read very well. She read the “Yuga Night” poems with Gerry and Larry at Art Centres in Glasgow,Edinburgh and London.I hope to get my video with her reading transcribed to a CD.
I went to stay with Cait and Gerry in Glasgow on a break from treatment for breast cancer in 1993. All seemed well, the two daughters were well behaved (the boys away) I was impressed the children had a rota for helping with chores.A year or two on I was shocked to hear from Cait that she and Gerry were separating. She had told Gerry she was Gay and probably always was … hard to take but not totally true surely with 4 children.. bisexual yes.Anyway Gerry took it badly, he wanted her to stay with him and she could continue seeing her new girl friend. She said no way and so they sold their house, not much over when the mortgage paid, Gerry insisted Cait was an unfit Mother and he wanted and got custody of their youngest daughter who was about 11 going on 12yrs a vulnerable age. The other children were at college or working. Gerry got a council flat for him and his daughter who then became distant from Cait, who was homeless for a while and stayed with her friend and her ageing Mother. eventually she got a ghastly studio flat in a Tower block where the neighbours were drug addicts. She wrote me desolate letters from there and i saw her when she visited her Mother in Kentish Town. Gone was the long hair and hippy flowing clothes, now she had a boyish haircut and look.We went to the black cat pub in camden..she still smoked roll ups.She told me her new friend like to drink too much and Gerry had written a whole book of poems “A Measure”. Cait (until then Kate, now preferred the Gaelic: Cait) thought that it was mainly expressing his disgust and loathing for her at her telling him she preferred women. I read it at the time , the first poem does express his anger and contempt at her apparent change towards him but some of it is about his intense love for her. He’d had it published so anyone who knew them in Glasgow would get the picture. I was shocked on reading “Damn any lover ” when I got a copy via the local library. But I think a lot of it is about his pain at his loss of her.He dedicated it to her and used a small drawing she did on the cover. Cait became ill and went to the doctor who arranged tests and it was discovered that she had liver damage from a blood transfusion she had when she had a burst ovarian cyst..She’d had hepatitis B for some years and not known. She asked about better accommodation and was given a small cottage in Greenock near her friend. By then her children were grown up and 2 sons taught English as a foreign language and one lived in South America. Cait managed to visit him in Peru. I was surprised and pleased when around 2006 Cait said she’d got a small flat in Cambridge (a complex of flats for people with health problems) Her son Sam who’d lived in Peru was now living in Cambridge and Cait wanted to be near him, and was able to visit two other children and their families who lived in the South.I was able to visit her for the day and she visited me 2 or 3 times a year.Her oldest daughter Nancy lived in Dubai for a while and Cait was able to visit her there. Then, sadly for Cait her daughter moved to Australia with her family and i know she missed her a lot. She often mentioned her youngest daughter who lived with her family on the South coast and how she still felt estranged from her. I was glad when she told me she’d been to stay with her in Cambridge. (a couple of months before she died,) I think she’d told her daughter she had terminal cancer.
She managed to get an open University degree studying comparative religions, I was interested as I’d done a dissertation on” the overthrow of the pagan Goddess and the rise of the patriarchal God’ for my fine art degree. She ran a women’s poetry group for a time. I realised her health wasn’t good, though I’ve had cancer twice myself, she had to sit and wait while i was still going round an exhibition. Last time we met was to go to Kew Gardens, we both loved plants and trees, and Cait had studied horticulture in Glasgow, we went to see the vegetable garden and the herbs at Kew Palace. She had given me books about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath previously and I’m glad that on that day, I gave her a copy of “Period Piece,A Cambridge Childhood” an entertaining book by Gwen Raverat an artist,about her family life, Charles Darwin was her Grandad, her father his son and they lived by the Cam, site of Darwin College? I never had time to check it out.After Kew Cait and I walked over the bridge to the Cafe Rouge near the river and had our last supper together, Cait had fish and chips ,batter with beer. After eating we got the bus to Richmond where she got the tube to Liverpool street and the train to Cambridge.She never told me she had cancer when she learnt a few months later.She knew i was still having tests myself and perhaps wanted to spare my feelings and she had her children for comfort. I will miss Cait, I felt relaxed with her and we confided in each other easily as only real friends can. She’s left a space in my life not easily filled.