Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Audrey Shaw RIP 25 June 1930 - 14 April 2020

Auntie Audrey
Last night, at 8.18pm, my beloved Auntie Audrey embarked on her final journey, to whatever lies beyond this life.  Audrey was my mother's younger sister, the youngest of six children of James and Anne Fanning, my grandparents. Five years younger than my mother, she was born relatively late to my grandmother. Her eldest sister Margo was already almost an adult by the time Audrey appeared on the scene. Until Audrey appeared on the scene, my mother had been the apple of my grandmother's eye, but the new and perhaps unexpected baby usurped her from this role. I remember having a long chat about this with my mum. Although she wouldn't admit it, she was clearly fiercely jealous of Audrey when she arrived. This lasted through the 1930s until the start of the second world war. At this point, Audrey and my mother were evacuated to Kettering. Audrey, who was only nine at this point was suddenly torn away from the loving care of our grandmother. My mother realised that she had the responsibility to make sure Audrey was ok, found herself to be fiercely protective of her younger sister. My grandparents had very different characters. My grandfather, an Irish immigrant and veteran of the first world war was a cynical, very socialist survivor. My grandmother was a very kind, sweet lady. I never met her, but my elder brothers and sisters described her in saintly terms. I came to realise that my mother had her fathers character in many ways, but Audrey had her mothers. As such, my mother always felt that she had to look out for Audrey, as Audrey was in my mum's eyes, a little too nice for this world

The last time I visited Audrey, last year, we discussed the evacuation. She said how kind my Mum was to her, always putting her first and making sure she was alright. It was not a happy period for either, but they bonded and would always look out of each other after that.  After the war, Audrey found herself back with her mother, living at 56 Milling Road, Burnt Oak. After a couple of boyfriends deemed unsuitable by my mum (who told me how she literally chased one off), she met Michael Shaw. My mum confessed to me that when Audrey met Michael, she was relieved, as he was a good man and she knew his intentions towards Audrey were honourable.

Audrey and Michael married in the late 1950's and soon had a daughter, Gabrielle. She was followed by another daughter, Anita, then another daughter Julia and finally, yet another daughter Hilary. In 1960, when my grandmother passed away, Audrey and Michael bought the house in Marion Road, Mill Hill, that my mother and her siblings had bought and were renovating for my grandmother. This house became a place of great joy. Whereas my mum, perhaps due to her experiences of poverty in Oldham, was always a bit of a skinflint when it came to shopping and her kids presents, Audrey was someone who saw the kids as her life and no expense was spared. Whereas we were given marmite and told it was good for us, the Shaw girls got chocolate spread. When I was at St Vincents School, I soon realised that I could spend my bus fare on sweets at Lambs ( a small shop by Angel Pond), I would then walk back to our house, stopping off at Audreys for a cup of tea and a chocolate spread sandwich. As Audrey had no boys, she'd always welcome me with open arms. Her house was full of music. When I was a toddler my mum had a piano, but she gave it to Audrey when she realised that I wanted to play it. The noise of me tunelessly bashing the keys was driving her mad. Audrey took the piano and paid for her daughters to have lessons.

I had been born in August 1962 and my cousin Anita was born two weeks later in September. As I was premature, I should have been born in October, but I somehow leapfrogged her and ended up in the year above. Being dyslexic (or thick as it was described in the 1960's), I had the indignity of having Anita as my cousin, who was always top of her class. The only downside of a trip to see Auntie Audrey was that I had to listen to how well Anita was doing, and hear of all her achievements and awards. It was worth it for the tea, the biscuits and the chocolate spread sarnies. Audrey was perhaps the proudest Mum I've ever known. We recently found my grandmothers family were originally Jewish refugees and had changed their name and religion to avoid persecution. I always thought Audrey would make an excellent Jewish mother, with her pride in her daughters. When I watch 'Friday Night Dinner', I can imagine Audrey if she'd had boys.

In the mid 1970's, my eldest brother went through a divorce and for a while, Audrey looked after his son Chris. Audrey confided that this was perhaps the happiest time for her. Although she loved her daughters, she would have dearly loved to have a boy. Chris was a beautiful baby and the girls all doted on him. When eventually Chris returned to live with my brother, Audrey was heartbroken. Chris visited Audrey recently, before her illness. He spent a day chatting and looking at photos. Audrey excitedly rang me to tell me how thrilled this had made her.

Audrey was a very bright and astute woman. She worked for many years in Lloyds bank in Mill Hill. As the family prospered, they moved in the late 1970's to a bigger house in Goodwyn Avenue. Audrey was a stalwart supporter of the Sacred Heart Church. She used to manage the red charity boxes for the church, using her skills as a bank teller. She would also count the collection. In my last conversation before her illness, she went through all of the church volunteers and told me which ones were any good at counting money. There was one chap who she held in high disdain, as not only was he slow, but he always got it wrong. Audrey was a very organised person, she also contributed one of the most read blogs on this site, detailing the changes in Mill Hill Broadway between 1959 and 2010.

This was another trait of Audreys, one that used to intensely irritate my mum. She was an inveterate gossip. She loved a bit of scandal. My mother hated gossip and would often tell Audrey off for passing on some salacious titbit she'd learned. The number of times my Mum would announce "You'll never believe what Bloody Audrey told me today". I'd say "what was that Mum?". She'd say "I can't possibly tell you, I told her not to say such things!". Of course, being a bit of a gossip myself, I'd go straight around to Audreys, and she'd fill me in on the scandal, cautioning "Don't tell your mum I told you, she'd get very cross". Through Audrey, I learned of all the third cousins, twice removed who were having illicit affairs, etc.

Audrey was very much a peoples person, she hated solitude. When her husband Michael had to have an operation on his leg, she rang me up to say that the telly wasn't working and could I nip around and fix it. By this time all her daughters had moved out of Mill Hill. I nipped around, and realised that there was nothing wrong with the telly, she was just a bit lonely. We had a cup of tea and a biscuit and she said that the previous night, with Michael in hospital, was the first night she'd ever spent in a house alone in her life. She said that she'd always been with her mum and her family, then with Michael. She told me that her biggest fear was loneliness. Towards the end of his life, Michael suffered severe dementia and became difficult. Shortly before she moved to Whitstable, to be near her daughters, I asked if she was coping. She told me that although Michael was difficult, she couldn't stand the thought of being alone.

When Michael passed away a couple of years ago, I was really worried for her. I was pleased that when I last saw her, she told me that she'd adapted and that she was pleased to be able to resume her life, which had pretty much been put on hold towards the end of Michael's life.

At the start of the year, I determined to undertake a project. It occurred to me that there are many elderly people around who have the most amazing memories of how our community has evolved and changed. I made a list of those. I determined that in the summer, I would make a film of their memories, interview them and get them to talk about their lives. Audrey was the very top of that list.

Sadly that film will now never be made.

My nephew Chris, now a wold famous, BAFTA winning animator and director of the Clangers, made a video of my mum's 75th Birthday party. I had a look at it this morning to remind me of better times. There is some lovely footage of Audrey at 36 seconds and 23.11.  So many of the elder generation are gone. We will not see their like again.

My thoughts and prayers are with Gabrielle, Anita, Julia and Hilary. As Audrey had Covid and there is a lockdown, they couldn't hold her hand as she left to rejoin Michael. I guess the small blessing is that with technology, they were able to sing, prey and pass on our messages. They were lucky to have such a lovely mum.

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