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Sunday, 7 October 2012

What Carolyn Cassady could do with right now is a campaigning activist with a great contacts list.

I don’t have a huge number of readers on this blog, and most of them are in the USA; but I want to share this with you, because it’s worrying me. It’s about the plight of Carolyn Cassady, the last remaining link - the last intimate link, I should say - with the ‘holy trinity’ of Beats, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and her late husband Neal Cassady. All of those are dead, but Carolyn, who nurtured and loved them in many ways - and suffered a deal of pain as a result of their actions - is still around. She lives alone in a secluded spot in the south of England. I visited her - not for the first time, hopefully not for the last - just a few weeks ago. Why? Well, because we became friends, back in about 2004 after I'd spent three months in the Kerouac house in Orlando, Florida, as a writer in residence. I happened to ask Bob Kealing, whose drive,  interest, and passion ignited the scheme whereby the old place was conserved, bought, and used to give writers like me time alone to write… I happened to ask Bob whether she was alive. When I found that she was, I emailed her, corresponded for some time and finally visited her. I continued to visit over the years. Indeed, when I worked at Royal Ascot (the race meeting) I used to stay with her for the week. So… we have a history.

Carolyn in now 89. She is quite alone. And, as you might imagine, she is getting frail. She gets a taxi to Tesco once a week for her groceries, but other than that never really leaves the house. She busies herself with an awful lot of correspondence - from fans, from PhD students, from journos and filmmakers, and from a handful of friends, mostly miles and miles (and oceans) away. She can no longer look after her Japanese-style garden, and she finds a simple job like taking out the rubbish a trial. She has no desire to return to the USA, and in any case isn’t strong enough to go through the ordeal of flying. She needs help.

So, you might ask, what about her family? Well, one daughter is effectively estranged. (It happens, doesn’t it?) Another  is pretty well tied up with grandchildren. That leaves her son, John, who has been very attentive over the years, frequently flying over to be with her. Right now, naturally, he would like to spend time with her.

Only one trouble: last time he came, early in April, he was bounced by the Immigration authorities here: locked up behind razor-wired walls at Harmondsworth prior to being sent home. Yes, he screwed up; yes, he announced that he wanted to stay more or less indefinitely; and, yes, he arrived with a one-way ticket and few funds. Well, he’s had his troubles, and along the way he’s lost his house, and his job, and given his car to his sister. So you can see where the Border Agency are coming from.

However….  There may be rules, but there is also basic humanity. As it happens, Carolyn is perfectly able to support her son for as long as he cares to stay here. She has been selling off her remarkable archive of letters, etc, over the past few years and in that respect isn’t doing so badly. So maybe, when the Border Agency are apprised of all the facts they might see their way to rescinding the banning order, or whatever they call it these days, on John Cassady.  

The trouble is, Carolyn contacted her MP months ago - and has had no help whatsoever. John is starting an appeal from California - and is bogged down in red tape. All he gets from the authorities is a sort of 'don't call us, we'll call you' response. Meanwhile, the clock ticks, and, naturally enough, Carolyn becomes less able to cope by the month. Add to that the distress and worry that all this causes her and it’s not a good picture at all.

Well, I’ve shared what I know. Maybe that will help prompt someone to act. All I have managed to do so far is talk to a journalist at the Daily Telegraph, Mick Brown, who has persuaded his editors to commission a piece about her, which may appear this week. I have an awful feeling that it may turn out to be yet another story about ‘the Beats’, and that film they’ve put out of On The Road. But… fingers crossed.