My first memory of Kathleen was when a dog got into the playground and we chased it around as kids do. This young and exotic teacher emerged, scolded us and picked up the puppy. For all I know she adopted it: I seem to remember that she had a dog. Once.
Exotic- well now what is exotic in a teacher? Nowadays they look, act and dress like executives. In my school days, all teachers were ladies and pretty ancient ones at that: they had grey, slightly crinkly hair in a bun, usually worn low on the neck. They wore decorous but dull frocks in summer, and tweed skirts in winter. Stockings were lisle, shoes were sensible. Grey, grey, beige and grey. (Not that their characters were grey- but that's another story)
So a woman who sported green stockings, a blue skirt and delicate glass jewellery in all the colours of the rainbow, burst into our world as a multicoloured oddity. She had beautiful red gold hair in an immaculate bob and as I got to know her, I found her mind matched and overtook the wonderful eccentricity of her person.
Kathleen has always been eccentric, as truly gifted people are eccentric. Eccentric in the best ways.
She taught me Scholarship Level Latin at school when I was in sixth form, she learnt Welsh and Hungarian, she became a writer… and she shared my love of The Beano and The Dandy!
I went back to the school to teach. Kathleen was my head of department, and she became my friend.
That friendship has lasted, and changed- as friendship does, for over forty years, with gaps, high points and low points.
During the last few years there have been low points indeed, as the stroke that Kathleen had in 1994 started to take its toll, and she became prey to depression and delusion. During those dark years, she frequently referred to her "Furness novel" and asked me if I could help her "sort it out".
Finally, gathering all her strength and all her pages, she managed to bundle the manuscript into two large carrier bags- "bags for life" - a lovely irony. And she gathered enough courage and energy to meet me outside Burnt Oak station with the bags. I hadn't seen her for several years, and she didn't want me to see her: "I want you all to remember me as I was", she said.
She had a week or two of great energy and optimism, when she rode on the wave that had buoyed her up to gather her book together but it was a very brief upturn in what proved to be a rapid decline in her health and spirits. She had been neglecting the physical world of eating, drinking and sleeping until she was found wandering, far from home with a dislocated shoulder, and taken to the nearest hospital. Now, with proper food and warmth and care in sheltered accommodation she is regaining strength and clarity day by day and delighted that people are enjoying Moon in Leo.
The 29th of June this year is the anniversary of the day Kathleen handed me those two carrier bags. I want to celebrate by giving away the e-version of Moon in Leo. Keep checking the blog for the code. When I post it, you will have 24 hours to download Moon in Leo for nothing!