Although Audrey was the only child of Teddy and Ethel, she was never lonely. She was surrounded by love and kindness, not only from her parents but also from her grandparents and aunties and uncles; her best friend Margaret and a little later her two young cousins, Freddie and Graham, who treated Audrey as their big kind sister. It was so important for Audrey to know that people didn’t suffer sadness, and to every new person she met, she would search their faces for smiles and ask them if they were happy.
Audrey was a schoolgirl when war broke out in 1939. She attended St Michael’s school, and although she loved reading and writing, was always pleased when the air raid siren interrupted a particularly tough arithmetic lesson. Out of the classroom she would dash with her friends, gas mask over her shoulder, into the shelter where she might share in the excitement with her school mates and be watched over by kindly adults. Audrey was never frightened during those years of war. Indeed, she had fond memories and looked back on it as a time when everyone was kind and caring to each other.
Audrey was always smartly turned out – one might say she had a passion for dressing up. So it is not surprising that, after leaving school at the age of 14, she became an assistant in a dress shop called Flax situated on Deansgate in Bolton. Her wealthy employer saw how beautiful she was and promised he’d secure her a place at Lucie Clayton’s modelling school if only she would give up her penchant for cream cakes. But Audrey was quite stubborn and looked forward to her lunch breaks, when she would sample the delicious bakes on offer at Laidlaw’s bakery on the high street. It would have never been Audrey’s intention, you see, to deprive herself of life’s little pleasures.
Nothing seemed to mar Audrey’s happiness in those early years of her life. She was loved and cherished by her friends, watched over and protected by her parents, admired and appreciated by all who knew her; her days were serene and content, and then – crash, bang, wallop – she met George.
It was George’s looks that dazzled Audrey, he displayed everything which she desired in a man: blond and blue-eyed, clean-shaven and handsome. Even better – he could sing like Frank Sinatra.
|George Gradwell, far right|
|Audrey on the right. Her wedding day.|
Soon after their third child was born, Audrey and George moved into their first home together – a prefab situated in Tonge Moor. Toward the end of the 50s they moved into a bigger house in Tonge Fold and along came their fourth child, Edwin. In 1964, Audrey gave birth to her second daughter, Wendy, and in that same year she lost her dear father, Teddy, to lung cancer. Audrey’s sixth and last child, Thomas, was born in 1967.
At intervals, throughout the marriage, Audrey tried to leave George: she would arrive with her children and an overnight bag either at her mother’s house or her auntie Bessie’s, but always found herself back home after a couple of days. Audrey’s leaving was such a regular occurrence that the family found a name for it – it was referred to as: “Operation Pike-off”.
And then, a few years after her mother died, Audrey found the courage to leave George forever. Audrey and her two youngest children, Wendy and Thomas, were the first inhabitants when Fortalice (a refuge for women suffering from domestic abuse), opened its doors in November 1977. Under the guidance and care of wonderful volunteers, Audrey gained her independence, and was proud that she maintained that independence right up until the last few months of her life.
Audrey moved into her new home with Edwin, Wendy and Thomas in February 1979. And so No. 4 Lenham Gardens became Audrey’s lifelong achievement. It was a home filled with music, love, laughter and tears. The doors always open to welcome her children’s friends and later her grandchildren.
Audrey was such a wonderful mother and carried an almost mystical empathy with her children. Sometimes this would manifest itself in strange ways. For example, on one occasion when her youngest son, Thomas, had a wisdom tooth removed which resulted in an aching swell to the side of his face – Audrey’s cheek swelled too. She shared so completely in her children’s pain, be that pain emotional or physical. She also shared her children’s joy and often said, “When my children are happy, I’m happy too.”
She was loved and cherished by her grandchildren. To Zollie, Daniel, Giles and Josh she was their “Grandma” who would join in their games and afterwards they would be charmed by her many wonderful stories. To Lucy and Peter she was their glamorous “Grandma Beads” and to Becky, Audrey’s little miracle, she was simply “Granny”.
Audrey achieved a true and lasting contentment and happiness. This radiated from her being, and displayed itself in that incredible smile of hers. A smile which made her blue eyes sparkle, a smile which none of us will ever forget.
Audrey had but one wish for her funeral and that was for Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to be played; the lyrics of the song echo Audrey’s amazing strength of character and belief in herself. Frank sings:
But Audrey went just one step further than Frank and told us all that she had no regrets - none whatsoever.
Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention.