Catriona on May Day Morning

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I remember my friend Ian telling me that he and Catriona had risen in the dark of May Day and driven from their home in Caerleon to Oxford to be present in time to hear the choristers of Magdalen College choir singing Hymnus Eucharisticus from the Great Tower. The adventure would have been a seed sown by Catriona and made into a reality by Ian, her champion, life companion, lover and organiser. The journey would have been carried out in the spirit of delight and celebration for all things green and renewing. But the weather was not great, and Catriona later recounted that far from the rapturous experience she’d imagined, all youthful voices ringing through the crystalline spring air in the city of dreaming spires, instead a desultory crowd huddled against the damp grey morning, straining to hear the distant, muffled and not terribly enthusiastic account of the music given by the sleepy boys, dragged from their beds and herded up the tower to signally fail to sing out glory. All a bit of a damp squib, she mocked, and hardly worth the bother.

This was the Catriona I loved and admired. She was a romantic in spirit but she wouldn’t make a pretence when things failed to measure up. The notion of the Magdalen Tower tradition, she claimed, was so much better than the event. It was this refusal to pretend that made her such entertaining and bracing company. That said, she would delight in small things, gilding the everyday with insight and her ability to appreciate. While the May Morning recollection made her scornful, she could wonderfully describe her memory of taking a nap in the crogloft of our cottage one peerless summer afternoon, drifting in and out of sleep to the distant sound of children playing and dogs barking on the beach, and stirring herself to the noises of preparation in the kitchen below. She said there was no sound sweeter than waking to the low murmur of voices she loved, and the tinkle of china cups and spoons being laid for tea.

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In her final year, when the illness that would take her from us had her in retreat and yet she was still well enough for Ian to bring her to join Peter and me at Aberporth, Catriona and I – plus Jack – would sit on the bench in front of the low, whitewashed cottage, and listen to the birds, observe and greet passers by and wax lyrical over the burgeoning garden, so many plants of which she and Ian had brought to us and planted. Intolerant of puff or any form of self aggrandisement in herself or others – and she could be merciless in her lambast when roused – yet she could make you see the transcendent in ordinary things. The old bathtub at the cottage that I’d determined to change because of a dislike of coloured baths, was forever transformed for me when Catriona cast her eye over it for the first time, exclaiming on the beauty of its pale, washed-away blue, ‘Oh how lovely. Taking a bath in here will be like taking a bath in the sky!’ And so it’s there still, and is still as blue as a sky washed after rain.

Catriona died on May Day 2005. She came into my life when I was lost, and held me fast until the moment had passed. She changed the way I see the world. I miss her still, every day.

Catriona Urquhart was the author of The Mare’s Tale, a series of poems that she wrote about my father, Trevor, who she knew and loved in his later life. At the core of the series is Trevor’s childhood encounter with an apparition that terrified and thereafter haunted him intermittently for a lifetime. The book was published in a numbered edition by the Old Stile Press in 2001, designed and printed by Nicolas McDowall and with illustrations by me. It was the only book of poems by the writer published in her lifetime. Copies are still available from the Old Stile Press, signed by us both in pencil on the colophon page. You may find it:

HERE

Catriona Urquhart, 1953 -2005.

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11 thoughts on “Catriona on May Day Morning

  1. Although ‘better to have loved and lost than never loved at all’ has become rather hackneyed these days (sorry Mr Tennyson!) it remains true that even a lost love has sweet bells & whistles attached to it, while the one who has never loved a friend like that is still too cold and smoothed-over to be truly alive….sad for them even though they have no idea of their, albeit painful, loss….. ‘Alas for those who never sing but die with all their music in them’….Catriona sings out in your words to those of us who never knew her and she lives on in the love of those who loved her xx

  2. Clive, what a lovely tribute to Catriona. Strange to say, on 1 June I will be climbing the Magdalen tower, my friend Heather is married to the President although they moved to Magdalen after Catriona’s time. I too always loved the thought of the May Day chorus! Wendy Sent from my iPhone

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  3. I can feel the great depth and miracle of your friendship. Having lost a savior, a liberator, like Catriona is a grief never lost, only polished. What a gift that you had each other at such a time in each of your lives. This posting such a beautiful testimony. We will be seeing you very soon to give you our hugs and kisses in sympathy and love and recognition.

  4. Just sending love as ever and always from a freezing Folkestone, holding my own few memories in heart & mind.
    Bxx

    • Our poor, just-coming-into-leaf walnut tree, has been blasted to kingdom come by the late frost. It will recover, but it has had quite a setback. I love that tree, given to us by Catriona and Ian.

      Don’t freeze my love. Wrap up and stay toasty!

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