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IMG_2660Audrey’s funeral was a few weeks ago. In the pub afterwards someone I hadn’t seen for years asked if I have any family and it got me pondering later on what family actually is. My brother was with me at the pub and my mum and dad had also been at the crematorium earlier. They are family in the usual sense of the word. But it’s fair to say that when me and my brother and sister were growing up in the seventies and eighties the couple who lived next door, Audrey and Alan, felt like part of our family too and for years we referred to them as aunt and uncle.

They were several years older than my mum and dad and despite not having kids of their own had all the time in the world for other peoples’ children, including their neighbours. Me and my brother would regularly go round there in the evening after school and mess around while Audrey would be baking something and Alan was invariably in the garage creating something out of wood or metal. She’d make us a sausage sandwich, a bowl of soup or dish up a door-stop sized piece of one of her latest pies. Very often she’d bake something and bring it round for us. Typical of someone brought up in the ways of The Salvation Army and who always wanted to help others. I was too young then to properly understand what the “Sally Army” was but that keenness to give up time for and help others is the thing I most remember of Audrey.

Sometimes I’d go round on my own and sit at the dining room table and read the paper or try to do the crossword in the kids’ section of the Sheffield Star. Other times we’d sit and watch the telly; The Two Ronnies, Secret Army, Open All Hours and Opportunity Knocks were particular favourites. When Audrey laughed she’d always turn to see if we were laughing too. I remember finding it mildly annoying but looking back it was just Audrey being Audrey – if she was enjoying herself then she wanted others to be doing the same.

Often they’d take us on trips out, invariably somewhere in the nearby Peak District countryside, to give my mum and dad a break. The first time I remember eating out at a restaurant was with them; strange looking back as it’s something that many kids do on a reasonably regular basis these days. And there were the occasional gifts; like when she bought a copy of Brian Hanrahan’s book about the Falklands War “I Counted Them All Out And I Counted Them All Back” for us. In hindsight, I think reading that book may have sowed the seeds of my lifelong pacificism but I’m not sure that was the intention! New places, new people, new experiences; they enriched our young lives at a time when life could be a struggle. It wasn’t just us kids next door whose lives Audrey touched. At the pub after the funeral service there were others who looked on Audrey and Alan as family. It spoke volumes.

In recent years I generally only saw Audrey and Alan once or twice a year usually at Christmas when I’d pop round with a card and some biscuits, chocolates or wine. Somehow it never felt like anywhere near enough after everything they’d done for us as kids. I last saw Audrey just over twelve months ago just before Christmas in 2014. At 81 years of age then she was as sprightly as ever, almost childlike in her eagerness to keep everyone happy. She always asked about my partner, about Manchester Yoo-ni-ted and how I was getting on at work. Her warmth was infectious.

Audrey worked for many years at the Department of Health and Social Security office in town and was awarded the Imperial Service Medal in 1993 for twenty five years graft in the civil service. No mean feat at a time when the industrial base of towns like Chesterfield was crumbling and there could be hostility from some to the idea of women going out to work. By the early nineties I had left home and was working in Cambridge a short distance from the village of Soham where Audrey lived for a time in the fifties before she got homesick and returned to Chesterfield and settled down with Alan. It can’t have been easy back then being a young single woman living far from home. Audrey and Alan were married for fifty eight years.

A few days after the funeral I searched for Audrey’s name on the internet. On social media barely a day goes by without thousands of people RIPing about someone in the public eye who they’ve never met. Sadly, I could find only one mention of Audrey; the briefest of obituaries on the website of a local newspaper that mentioned how she enjoyed baking and cooking and holidays in Cornwall. For me, it told a mere fraction of the story, so I’ve written this in the hope that in future if someone, somewhere wishes to find out a little more about Audrey Barnes and what a wonderful, warm human being she really was then they might stumble upon this instead. RIP Audrey and thanks for everything.


From → Personal

  1. That’s a lovely tribute, to one of the ‘ordinary’ people who make other people’s lives better, without ever making a wider public impact.

    • Thanks Catherine. You’re right, one of the many special people who enrich our lives just by being themselves.

  2. Beautiful peace

  3. Sharon permalink


    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Everyone should have an Audrey in their life

  5. ameremancunian permalink

    A lovely read and clearly a very lovely lady. Cheers for sharing.

  6. A great read and a lovely tribute.

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