When I got back from my holiday in Ireland I did exactly what the stranger had suggested to me. The flat was there as was predicted. It was part of a building society and the rent was reasonable. It was in Cambridge and not far from the centre. Rarely do I take advice, but so tired was I with not being able to make up my mind that I gave in and went ahead. Bob accepted my decision and I think it was a bit of a relief for him as well, although he did not want me to go. We had one of those amicable divorces. We agreed on everything. I gave back my half of the house and Bob gave me his share in the business.
The children accepted it as they had been aware of our difficulties. They loved us both and they wanted us to be happy.
I can’t say I was excited about the move but I knew it had to happen. We both needed to find out what this new arrangement would be like. Now I could make all the decisions in my business and trust only myself. Was I strong enough to manage it on my own? Of course I was. We got into a pattern, Bob and I, when we met regularly at his house. I could invite anyone I wanted to the flat and I did. I also had a small group of men friends but the thought of marrying again was anathema to me. My sense of family was as strong as ever on both our sides.
Bob looked after the bookshop for a bit longer and we were lucky enough to find a buyer for it as a going concern. Bob retired. I was busy building up the shop in King’s Parade and once I had changed it into a poster-shop things began to look up and I enjoyed doing exactly what I wanted to do without interference of any kind.
I kept a small number of old prints but nearly everything was new. The big windows glowed with colour. People began to pour in. Reps came in every week to show me their wares. I only bought what I liked, which was only a few and sometimes none at all. One particular rep was very pressing. He only had one idea in his head: “This is a good seller”. They were always the ones that I liked the least. I barely looked at them. I knew at once if I liked something or I didn’t. He said to me “You are the most arrogant woman I have ever met”. I laughed. He was describing himself, not me. I gave him short shrift.
One day a rep came in who was working for a Dutch business by the name of Verkerke. It was the best portfolio I had seen. They were very different from all the others. “Stop there!” I said. “That one is stunning!”
“That is by a new artist. No-one has bought any of hers yet.”
“I like the big one of the silver cat with an upside down mouse in its tummy. Give me six of them”
He was astounded. Why don’t you take one to try it out. It is very unusual.”
“That is why I like it” I said. “Give me six.”
I had four of them framed and I put them all in the most prominent position in the window. They sold in no time. I rang up the rep and asked him to come again. I ordered some of every design made by this artist. I asked him to find out her address. It turned out that she lived in a very old small village named Capena, near Rome. Her name was Rosina Wachtmeister. I wrote her a letter and asked if I could come to see her. I flew out to Italy as soon as she wrote back and said she would like to meet me.
I had never been to Italy before but I had a smattering of the language. She had adopted the name. She was born in Germany and brought up in Brazil and later moved to Italy.
If you look up her name on the internet you will find her striking work all over the place.
I gave her her first exhibition in England of original works. I loved them. There is no-one like her.
I still have a very big picture of hers that I bought at that time. It is one of my favourites.
Verkerke made her famous. I was the first one to recognise in this country just how unusually delightful her work is. This lady had been painting for years and had very little money when I first met her. Now her life situation is very different. But she still spends a lot of her time taking care of stray small animals.