My Friend Pat, by Ros Beauhill

Its getting to deadline time for Sistershow Revisited, and things are hotting up. At present I’ve been working on the exhibition catalogue, getting it ready to send to Jan for the end of the week. Massive thanks to Jane for judicious and efficient editing.

As well as information about the exhibition, the catalogue will include extra pieces that relate to Sistershow or the people involved in it.

One of these is the text below, written by Ros Beauhill. It details memories of her friendship with Pat VT West in the 1990s and the years leading up to her death. I find this such a beautiful, emotional and revealing portrait that I wanted to share it here. Enjoy……

My Friend Pat by Ros Beauhill

I knew nothing of Pat until Monica Sjoo encouraged her to join the small group of Bristol women engaged in organising a feminist aspect to the international Anarchist festival being planned for October ’94 in London. There was quite a tension between her and Monica, and I quickly noticed Pat’s abrasive manner and challenging, even confrontational, style. Nevertheless, during that time Pat and I laid the foundations of a good friendship.

The next stage of our association revealed a very different side to her nature. William had just gone off to university and Pat came round to see me in a state of great distress. She had convinced herself that he was gone forever and was somehow lost to her. It was almost impossible to reason with her in her state of grief. Tea and sympathy, followed by distraction were my offerings, but Pat showed me a neediness and vulnerability I’d not been aware of before, but which manifested again and again over the years of our friendship. Of course, that Christmas William returned with his music, general noise, dirty washing and own life with friends coming and going. Pat realised that not only was he still clearly in her life, but that she’d begun to enjoy the peace and quiet of the flat to herself, and could even feel irritated by the intruding whirlwind.

For a year between March ’95 and March ’96 I was away from Bristol, travelling in Brazil and the Andes. During my journey I wrote a set of poems in which Pat showed great interest when I returned. She had begun her 2 year MA course in Feminist Performance Art and was busy with visiting her mum in Eastbourne, who was finding it increasingly difficult to manage her life alone. Nevertheless, Pat never stopped writing poetry and taking an interest in the work of others. She not only offered me advice and criticism but suggested that we should do a joint performance of journey poetry, using my exploratory poems of South America in search of my roots in the Amazon and hers of her recent meditations on her relationship with her mother and her childhood in Eastbourne. We planned to do this as part of Bristol Poetry Can Festival and we went ahead, booked a venue, planned the programme, made flyers and then had to cancel in the face of Pat’s Mum’s death and her increasingly impossible work load.

Pat had put a huge amount of emotional energy as well as physical strain into helping her mother cope with the difficulties of old age and incapacity. After her Mum died she continued visiting Eastbourne regularly and staying in the old family home while she sorted out her mother’s things. She found it very difficult letting go.

During the late 1990s Pat had a full and busy life of poetry: writing, publishing, organising events, teaching and generally encouraging the women of Bristol to write their own poetry. She also ran reading circles, had a lively social life and tended her fully organic allotment and roof garden.

For a year before I moved to Spain in 2000 I lived without my own home and spent the first 3 months of that period in Pat’s spare bedroom. Our friendship deepened and she was one of my first visitors when I finally moved to the mountains of Alicante. She loved it there and came several more times, even during her illness. We would usually manage a trip away from my house for a few days too. Pat loved to drive, a skill she gained late in life and experienced as a great liberation, so we would always share the cost of a hired car, one time driving across Spain for many hours in storming rain to Granada in the south, to visit the Alhambra. Her favourite trip was to Teruel and the ancient Moorish town of Albarracin one autumn.

I was visiting Pat when she first learned the gravity of her illness and was faced with making terrifying decisions about treatment. She loathed the idea of a hysterectomy for obvious reasons. During the years I knew her, Pat frequently voiced the feeling that life was unfair to her and she certainly felt this about the ovarian cancer. However, she finally decided she could trust the surgeon/consultant at St.Michael’s hospital and submitted herself to his advice and the knife.

Throughout her illness Pat never gave up her love of life. She refused to allow the cancer to define her. With the strong support of Rohan and William she always took a lively and critical interest in her treatment and felt lucky in her Redland location which afforded her such a good hospital alongside all sorts of alternative support, including the Cancer Help Centre and of course her many friends. She carefully maintained her good looks and well groomed, statuesque bearing. Somehow her attitude helped her to look extraordinarily well much of the time too.

She did not enjoy the idea of preparing to die in any material sense, but spiritually she entered more and more into realms opened by meditation and her love of planet Earth. She gradually improved her relationship with Monica, who was also ill with cancer at this time. One day, only a couple of weeks before Monica’s death at home, Pat and I took her in Pat’s little car on her very last outing. Monica wanted to go up to the Sea Walls on the Downs. We all had 99 ice creams (soft with a chocolate flake) from the van, and then went on to a favourite chip shop to indulge another taste fancy.

When Monica died it was Pat who gave the oration at her funeral, which she then adapted for her obituary in the Guardian.

Pat was exceptionally brave through those final years. Despite her well documented faults and at times very difficult behaviour she still gave and received great love and loyalty from most of us involved in her life. Not only a powerful, gifted, imaginative and demanding woman, but a very human humanbeing.

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