Gold star achievements

starHaving been a primary school teacher for more years than it’s reasonable to remember, I’ve  given out my fair share of gold star awards or their equivalents. I’m not starting back at school this September, the result of some re-thinking of life’s goals, what’s actually practical and my searching for greater fulfilment.

My better half has been clearing out the ‘Man-cupboard’, which is a whole other story, deserving of its own space (and I will tell that another time!). Yesterday he came across some poignant pieces of metal that I felt should have their stories told.

The award of a gold star can be perceived as duplicitous in motive – give something in order to get something else? It is occasionally seen by some as futile, even facile, a meaningless reward for some minor effort that anyone can manage. Teachers are bombarded on all fronts to give out more gold stars (or some such symbol) to widen their popularity (everyone likes praise!) or to better motivate their students. Teachers are also admonished for giving out their ‘rewards’ willy-nilly, rendering their value as next to useless. I’ve been on the receiving end of both extremes of criticism, as I’m sure has every other teacher in the entire world, at some stage in their careers.

But there can be no denying that some awards are heavily laden with great meaning, although this may at first glance seem rather obscure.

These two pieces of gold were awards that I achieved, at different stages in life; I’m still proud of them. For different reasons.

The first (chronologically) of these for me was the Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s award which I achieved in March 1980, some twelve months after completing the assignments and the infamous trekking that was involved. I was fortunate to attend a convent boarding school (St Hilda’s in Whitby) in the late 1970’s that used the Duke of Edinburgh’s program to instil a sense of well-grounded life values into its students, assisted I’m sure by Sister Judith Ellen’s reputed personal friendship with the man himself. It wasn’t hard to believe that Jelly (we had pet names for all the nuns… more another time!) would befriend the Queen’s husband, for she had a wicked twinkle that belied her status as a bride of God!Three years before, at the tender age of fourteen, we had all undertaken the Bronze level activities, involving a course on ‘Making the most of yourself’ (essentially how to apply lashings of blue eye-shadow without looking like a ‘lady’ of the night),  a first aid course (I could put a plaster on effectively), a report on my hobby of stamp collecting (I have no words…) and the highlight of it all, the eight-mile hike around the North York Moors which was an absolute joy.  Three cheers! All passed, certificates and badges awarded in assembly and hoorah for all concerned!

The next year saw most of us (one or two dropped out at this stage) pursue the Silver Award activities – much the same as the Bronze award, but I had changed my hobby by this time (thankfully for my status as a ‘cool dood’) to supporting my favourite football team – Man United (and in particular the legs of No. 7 Stevie Coppell, be still my beating heart!) and the walk involved a sixteen-mile trek around the Wolds, including an overnight stop at a youth hostel along the route. I loved this whole idea of outdoor life… so exhilarating to be so up-close to nature and feel the camaraderie of trekking with friends. There are many stories to be told of these events, but I’ll save them for another time. Silver Award gained, we were again applauded in the school assembly hall. Fond memories!

Finally, many of the original band weeded out for various reasons – some had left the school or else had decided that out-doorsiness was not for them, around fourteen of us embarked upon the Gold Award activities. As before, we needed a course to improve something about ourselves although at this juncture, some thirty five years later, I find I cannot recall what was improved just then, almost certainly it will have been something to do with punctuality as I could never find myself in the right place at the right time! First Aid had progressed to dealing with epileptic fits and broken legs (both of which I used successfully during a particularly brutal hockey match against the heathens at Scarborough College, I recall). My hobby by this time had become my artwork, which meant I could kill two birds with one stone and enter the same stuff for my A level course work. There was also an additional service element, which involved a week-long residential stint as a team leader for a group of underprivileged children whom the nuns ran a summer programme for each year. I adored this work, which seemed to me less work than pleasure, helping children who would never have such experiences otherwise to enjoy the benefits of countryside living, developing team spirit and having fun. I hadn’t realised nuns could have actual fun!

The crowning glory of this though was the Expedition, which meant four days and three nights trekking thirty-eight miles across the Moors, staying wherever we could find a friendly farmer to lend us a barn and sell us some milk. We had to plan a route, come up with a raison d’être for the trip and gather all necessary equipment and supplies. Being seventeen/eighteen year old girls, we naturally decided to study the signs that hang above inns and public houses along our route, which essentially meant a 38-mile pub-crawl across the Moors. We thought that idea was HILARIOUS!

Actually, it was a fun idea and with everything planned, all the eye’s dotted and tee’s crossed, the four of us, Claire Bannister, Wendy Bayman, Helena Braddock and myself embarked upon a memorable four-day adventure. There were inquisitive bulls, a variety of small rodents and mammals, a White Horse (on the side of Sutton Bank – what a vista!) and a couple of owls to enthral or terrify us at various points. The pubs were generally very amenable and I have to say I remember it all very fondly. The final day nearly broke us though, with sprained ankles, soggy clothing and frayed tempers to boot. Still, we had achieved our goal – to cross the North Yorkshire Moors somewhat inhospitable landscape and survive to tell the tale. Not bad going! The result of the award was to be announced in November that year, after we had all left school and so people were all notified by post and invited to attend the grand ceremony at Buckingham Palace, to be given the brooch by the Duke of Edinburgh himself.

Unlike my fellow participants I was unable to attend the same ceremony because my unique family arrangements at the time prevented me from receiving notification of the event. I missed my chance. But thanks to my wonderful boyfriend who had by then become my fiancée, I did receive an invitation for the following spring and duly collected my award from the Palace. This was almost as exciting as getting married!

Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award 1979
Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award 1979

So I am proud of this brooch, for what it represents: youthful energy, excitement and endeavour that kept me going for a very, very long time. Even now, when I look at it, I am reminded that when motivated, I can move mountains. It’s a good thing to remember.

So what’s the second one?  I hear you ask…

This one was achieved much later in life, when I had been playing hockey for some years in Hong Kong. My daughters had grown through their early teens and developed a love for the game, which I had shared with them. For a while we all lived and breathed hockey – and here I should point out I am talking about field hockey, not that skating around on ice with matchsticks, padded as Michelin Men that is played in Canada and other parts of the world. I have the greatest respect for those sporting giants, but do get a little fed up pointing out the field hockey came first, of course, and is a fantastic, gutsy game enjoyed by millions around the world.

I started playing with a local team to stay connected with my daughters, as we could all play in the same team. We played for the Hong Kong Police team first, which disbanded with the Handover in ’97 of course. Then we joined the Hong Kong Football Club, which was proud of its claim to be the foremost sporting club in Asia, and ended up playing on different teams. One of the benefits was that we had the opportunity to play in mixed teams – men and women together – which was an absolute hoot.

Gold medal for winning the HKFC's Easter 9s in 2000
Gold medal for winning the HKFC’s Easter 9s in 2000

I had the great pleasure of being one of the Rooster’s favoured goalies and was absolutely thrilled when we won the Easter Nine’s tournament in 2000. So this is my gold medal from that tournie. It’s not much – probably just a piece of gold plated tin, but to me, it symbolises all of that wonderful camaraderie and joy of playing together, with valued friends and of course, my girlies.


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