Ah, can there ever be anything as great as an old friend, in particular, QBS’s very own Golden Girl? Audrey Young is my friend. In that old adage, ‘people come into your life for a reason, a season or for life’ Audrey manages to fit into all three categories. I first met her at the start of a new school year, at the end of August 2001. Everyone shuffled in to the start-of-term staff meeting; I was all agog because I had been asked to take on the Year 6’s (the final year of primary school for our children – a year of preparation for ‘Big School’), a step that represented a significant degree of success in my teaching career. Which, up to that point had been distinctly mediocre as far as markers of success were concerned. But that’s another story.
Maria (Serafim – the head of the Upper School department) had spoken highly of her. They had worked together before and she kept reassuring me ‘you’ll just love her, she’s a real game old bird!’ – another one of those Aussie sayings that get right to the heart of the matter without offending, in spite of outward appearances. We knew that Audrey had come from Canberra, with her husband Adrian, to work with us in Hong Kong for two years and that she had been teaching for many, many years and was in fact fairly close to retirement. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but Audrey turned out to be exactly as described.
I’ve never met anyone with as much zest for life, as much wisdom, as much plain old common sense and ability to cut to the heart of what needed to be done then go right ahead and do it. And do it fabulously. With fifteen bells on. Audrey exudes joy and brilliance and love in a way I have never experienced before. She quickly became my favourite person ever, (apart from my family of course!) who shared a love of all things ridiculous and of mathematics (although, there are many who believe them to be one and the same), an unshakeable dedication to the children we teach and the ability to recognise and admire qualities in others that they fail to see themselves. Audrey was just much better at seeing these than I was and gradually over those two years I began to learn this skill from her, just by observing her in action. She is, in short, simply The Best.
I cannot remember how it all began, but we had a number of occasions when every child in the class had ‘disappeared’ – called out of class by Audrey on some pretext or another to carry out an ‘errand’ – until I was left with only a handful of students or, better still, not one single student. I would then wander down the corridor, towards Audrey’s classroom looking for said lost students, somewhat troubled by their lack of corporeal presence, considering my options for elaborate explanations to the Head and the children’s parents… only to find them all in Audrey’s room. As I opened the door and sixty heads would turn to face me, there would be a chorus of ‘And where have YOU been?’ as if I were the errant body who had been MIA rather than the other way round. I returned the favours of course and each time, the ante had to be upped as we had to be sure to strike when least expected.
Life at school became a great deal of fun, Audrey knew how to take the monotony out of the routine, how to make us all appreciate the importance of each moment, devour each learning opportunity greedily and make the most of whatever the day brought. Our children learned to fly that year, soaring so high above what had been expected of them that they were magical stars launched into the firmament and I felt as if I finally had begun to ‘work’ in ways I had never dreamed before. Our end of year production in which all 120 children starred was entitled ‘Pandemonium’, a musical feast based on the gods of Ancient Greece and their responses to the opening of Pandora’s Box. I still have the certificate awarded to me by Maria which reads ‘Hellenic Honours 2002 are awarded to Mrs (Dream-Maker) Gregory for creating the most technically advanced ‘pandemonium’ on Earth!’ I revel in that thought of celebrating my eclectic eccentricities, for it was really the first time that I felt I belonged somewhere and with real people.
When she left QBS in 2003, we made her a video of some treasured memories from children who had graduated to the Big School and from colleagues who would miss her dreadfully. She became known as The Golden Girl, partly in reference to the eighties US sitcom of the same name, but mostly because her of her ability to shine through all the nonsense that teaching brings and stand out like a golden star.
The phone rang on Tuesday lunchtime; it was Audrey. She sounded far away, which isn’t surprising as she lives in Canberra, Australia and I live in North Yorkshire in the UK. In fact, she wasn’t in Canberra at all, but in Flamborough, which is considerably closer to me. Could she possibly call in to see me sometime this week at all? I consulted my crammed schedule of activity (an appointment on Thursday afternoon, but otherwise free as a bird all week) and squeaked with delight ‘Please come tomorrow! We’d love to see you!’ She said OK and we agreed she’d call back with details. ‘I’ll bake a cake’ I promised.
Wednesday morning passed in a blur of frantic house-cleaning and baking and levering the teenage boy out of his pit long enough to hose him off and spray his room with something that has a more pleasant aroma than the usual teenage boy stench. I love him dearly, but why DO boys have to be so revolting so much of the time? I digress.
The phone rang again and Audrey was asking for directions – we are way, way out in the countryside and not the most easily located venue, it has to be said – and sure enough ‘ere long, here she was. I haven’t seen her for over ten years, but she looks exactly the same. I think it’s the broad smile that is permanently affixed to her face that does it! Catching up with such a life force was always going to be the very best therapy anyone could muster.
Having completed the tour of the house and garden, we embarked upon lunch which I have to say was greatly appreciated. It was just a simple lunch of chicken and chorizo flan, a bit of salad and bread followed by my cake du jour – cardamom cake.
The Hellenic gods were smiling on me today – I managed to not incinerate either the cake or the flan – and everyone enjoyed the meal. It was simply wonderful to be able to sit, enjoy the food and chat. I was even persuaded that I might overcome my arachnophobia and visit them in Oz one day soon.
Before leaving, we spent a few minutes marvelling at the mad colony of butterflies and bumble bees that have possessed my buddleia and George (Audrey’s friend) taught me the difference between Red Admiral’s and Tortoiseshell butterflies. It was glorious. On one spear alone we counted four butterflies and a bee and each spear had at least two or three creatures engaged in a furious feeding frenzy.
I can’t tell you what having a friend like Audrey means. She has managed, in one all-too-short visit to restore my spirit and remind me of who I am. Everyone should have an Audrey in their lives. I’m happy to able to share her with you. Thanks pal!