I was about to drink my free pint of Orange Wheat (Greenjack) after my Folk East bar shift, when I noticed a foreign number come up on the phone.
I had to put the pint down when she said
‘This is Capps, Veronica Capps.’
She was staying with Tre and Gabriel the keepers of Magdalene in Southwold, and we met the next day – when I was somewhat hung over from too much gin that happened after the pint of Orange Wheat.
That shock of jet black hair would no longer be there, I thought as motored over. I remembered her walk, long confident strides down the East or West Wings, Idler shoes nonchalantly scraping the wood floor. She was, quite naturally, our heroine, the head girl with natural leadership, a dash of drama, and rebelliously naughty culminating in the 1970’s ball which went down in our school history.
We met at the Red Lion, Southwold, an orange scarf for identification, but somehow I didn’t need it. She was looking out and I in. With a pint and vaping, (‘Grandma Vapes’, her grandchildren proudly announce), she thought I smoked, and indeed I did feel like one then, rebellious, joining in, but we found plenty of common ground.
The cement and influence on her life of New Hall was palpable. Speaking of her infamous expulsion after the ball (for getting to know Adrien under the table) she said two things prevailed. The first was remembering word for word what SMChristopher said: ‘It will take every minute of every hour of every day until you leave to make up for what you have done!’ But it was the re-instatement that trumped the punishment – the fundamental belief in change, ‘That I am not this event or that person’ that has informed her life, certainly as a teacher for 20 years in a Community School in Tipperary, ‘I know that students are not their behaviour and I give my students every chance to move on from mistakes.’
After she left New Hall, to the shock and fascination of all of us, she returned 3 years later, and became a novice (gone that black hair behind a white veil), remaining within in the Community for 6 years. ‘My family say I have never left it’, she adds now. Studying at Cambridge for a Masters in Psychodrama she will see more of them as she comes over from Ireland for the study.
We walked the dogs on the beach, her long legs stretching out in that easy manner, watching us play stick. She was a keen observer and listener, I found, as we both unravelled the 48 years between our last meeting.
Now she was studying and practicing psychodrama, using drama to heal addictions of various kinds (alcohol, drugs) in young and older people. I wondered if she had some first hand experience, as we both had with nicotine – one year vaping and going well. As we all do, she’s circling – she’s living in the stables as her mother did, while her son is in the main house as she was once (with her husband who died). Her daughter, Tanya Harris, is is a sound artist fascinated in vibration and sound. She’d taken Ayahuasca and so I exchanged with of my good experience with Bob in Thailand.
‘Ayahuasca & the Geometry of Sound: An Interview with Artist’
She lives in Tipperary (and misses England): She was just walking from one place to another, when she came across a random conversation with a stranger.
‘Ireland envelopes me’, the woman said. Envelopes – that’s a odd word to use, like New Hall, and she wrote a note and put it on the woman’s car, and so it turned out she was Adelaide, and Veronica Wald was living with her now round the corner from Capps.
Capps was on her way to spend time with her fathers East Anglian family – stopping off in Southwold to spend time with Tressa, Gabrielle who were on holiday with Magdalene. We met them in a windowless garage playing a game, wrapped up in shawls against the summer cold. Their flat being on the first floor, this was the most practical place for Magdalene – in wheel chair now for a year after her stroke.
I took a photo – is not for publicising, we agreed.
A few days later they came to the wood. The rain did not come, the sun shone through the trees, Julia cooked a delicious frittata the second in as many days (Tinks Clive and the bee ladies came the previous day), we drank elderflower juice, and talked of many people from the past our connecting links and sometimes how was the present.
Tre managed it all, with her energy, her drive (literally and metaphorically), her can do. Where would they be without her. The softly spoken Gabrielle told us how she first came to New Hall from Glasgow. With some school contemporaries she had to attend a careers workshop in Glasgow. They were unenthusiastic, so she and her friends divided up the hall into sections for each to get on with. The Community – who then came on promotional tours – were in her quarter. Random.
Magdalene looked up at the wood. She knew the coppice cycle, the Hornbeam, the Oak. She’d lived on farms and woods in Switzerland, France and Suffolk.
The day I met Capps, the day I got back from Folk East still with gin, we had another reunion of old fishes – Mina rocked up for dinner, with Edward (who bought a book to read,knowing we’d gas). I am in awe of her energy and drive, her quirky ways, her banter with Edward. Edward, taking the Micky out of me taking the photograph by pretending to take one of me.