Audrey Elizabeth Kaulback née Howard
(25 Jan 1916 – 14 Aug 1994)
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Millicent’s address is always quoted as Little Tangley, Wonersh, Guildford and this latter-day estate-agent’s image is of Little Tangley Lodge, so it has a reasonable likelihood of being the one. It certainly has adequate room for a mother and five growing girls, if the daughters are willing to double-up!
I don’t know when she divorced her husband Henry (in those days, of course, it was an accepted fiction that the husband was always the guilty party, unless he was Henry VIII), except that it was during the years 1922-1931, which is hardly helpful.
But at the very least, Audrey was certainly six when her parents separated, though any emotional effect on her is of course impossible to judge, as fathers tended to be very remote family figures in that era.
St Margarets Bushey Herts
Even with an eventual total of five daughters, we can be pretty sure that Millicent ensured that they each learned their alphabet and could read confidently through a book of nursery rhymes, as any conscientious parent of those days would.
And when each daughter attained the age of five or so, there would assuredly have been, even in such a small village, a dame school that would competently further the educational process.
And in due course, at whatever age might have been considered appropriate, each daughter was sent to St Margaret’s, Bushey, Herts (always enunciated in a gabble within the family).
Subject: St Margaret's School and the five Howard sisters
I do hope that you might be able to help me briefly in connection with my Aunts-in-law, now sadly deceased. They were all in turn pupils at St Margaret's School, Bushey, Herts, and I'd very much like to establish the years at which they each arrived at the School and then in due course departed.
Diana Katherine Howard (1913 - 2003)
Pamela Evelyn Howard (1914 - 1998)
Audrey Elizabeth Howard (1916 - 1994), my mother-in-law
Rosemary Millicent Howard (1917 - 1986)
Joan Margery Howard (1921 - 2001)
My wife still possesses her mother's copy of The King's Daughters, the Prayer Book compiled by (Miss) Julian Margaret Boys, Principal at that time of course. It's inscribed 'Audrey Howard, Nov 1931'. Would it have been presented to Audrey when she left?
I would very happily reimburse the School for any search fee or overhead costs involved.
I received a very nice reply from the school administrator, regretting that there was no official archivist at St Margaret’s to whom the query could be directed, and that the School records had yet to be digitised – so couldn’t be searched electronically to answer that sort of query.
Of course, every organisation has its own priorities, but I did think wistfully of the comprehensive information about my Aunt Jane’s higher education that had been provided by Cheltenham Ladies’ College, for example.
But academic education is not a royal road to social success even today, and was even less so for girls in Audrey’s era. She once remarked that to make a good impression at a country house weekend, a gel$ needed to be at least moderately proficient at tennis, bridge and the piano.
$ gel (mid 19th century origin) = upper-class or well-bred girl or young woman.
Meeting the Monarch
Scrapbook: Meeting the Monarch
I’ve outlined elsewhere the principal feature of the social scene (until the late 1950’s, when HM Queen Elizabeth decided to abolish the custom) as being a presentation of appropriately top-drawer girls of marriageable age to the Monarch for approbation, following a process of application (by ladies who themselves had been presented to the Sovereign), and selective approval by Buckingham Palace insiders.
As Audrey and her sisters undeniably met these requirements, each of them, on becoming 18 or so, were duly Presented at Court. It was quite a brief affair, I believe - the débutante and her sponsor would be announced, the débutante would curtsy to the Sovereign, and then she would leave without turning her back.
Audrey’s moment was on the evening of 16 May 1934, and I’m quite sure that HM George V nodded with particular enthusiasm as she was introduced. To be honest, I don’t actually know whether Queen Mary would also have been present, as one only ever hears reference to “the Sovereign” in this connection.
In fact, as you can see from the Palace invitation, Audrey’s elder sister Pamela was also presented on that same occasion, though Audrey’s name appears first on their invitation. Also, in quite a breach of established protocol, their mother Millicent should have been designated “Mrs Millicent Howard” rather than “Mrs Henry Howard”, as she and Henry had been divorced several years previously! Even if Henry had predeceased her whilst they were still married, she should have been addressed as “Mrs Henry Howard”.
To make things even worse, on the invitation to the Countess of Winchilsea’s do the very next evening, the hapless scribe had just put “Mrs Howard” and had specified “Miss Howard” which technically referred to the eldest daughter Diana!
Though nobody present at that occasion could possibly have foreseen, the shy young Duke of York, and the gregarious Duchess, to whom the guests were being introduced, would on 11 Dec 1936 become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the new King’s elder brother Edward VIII having abdicated.
Scrapbook: The Season
From Audrey’s point of view, perhaps, there were two interpretations of this – purely social (such as presentation at Court, or attendance at Covent Garden, or Glyndebourne from 1934 onwards) on the one hand, and equine on the other. After a brief nod in the social direction, she returned to riding and race-meetings.
As I used to say to my children, “Never mistake me for an expert”, and the same caveat is applicable here. It was Naomi Royde-Smith (and not Ogden Nash as I’d thought) who said
I know two things about a horse
And one of them is rather coarse.
Which puts her two up on me – all that I knew about horses until now could have been accommodated on the point of a pin, with plenty of room for an uncountable number of angels.
I now know there are two types of horse racing, flat racing and steeplechasing. A flat race is all about speed, and the course is level and free from obstacles. A steeplechase (aka National Hunt race these days) is about a combination of speed, agility and courage, and the course contains a variety of obstacles such as hurdles, ditches, hedges, and fences.
According to the tote.co.uk website,
“Although there is generally jumps racing 12 months of the year, the majority of National Hunt fixtures take place in the autumn and winter months. The bigger meetings tend to start at the back-end of October, running through to April, the end of this month marking the official end of the campaign”.
So, as a rule of thumb, flat-racing March till November, National Hunt racing late October till April.
But of course there are other types of riding events besides racing, and the one that appealed particularly to Audrey was riding to hounds, more usually referred to as fox-hunting these days, or indeed just hunting. According to Wikipedia, the hunting season runs from early November until late March or early April – much the same as National Hunt racing, and for the same reasons of softer going and less likelihood of injury to horse or rider.
I’d imagine that as a spectacle, she would enjoy flat-racing but as a rider to hounds herself she would appreciate the challenge of National Hunt racing.
I’m labouring the point here of course, as regards the extent of Audrey’s incarceration indoors.
Presentation – May 1934
Racing – Aug 1934 / Jun 1935
Tumble – Mar 1935 / Nov 1935
Convalescence – Jan 1936 / Feb 1936
To be continued
Scrapbook: Goodwood 1934
There’s no clue as to the month of this prestigious Race Meeting, but I’d guess it could well have been August. That would have suited the impressive line-up of high-brow celebrities who were there to see and be seen, with no particular interest (except for Audrey of course) in the racing itself.
Edward James would have been host at and master of ceremonies for a leisurely weekend at West Dean, and Audrey’s pass shows the guests visited Goodwood – only a few miles away – on the second day of the meeting.
The autographs she coaxed from them are remarkably legible, and indeed the host and the guests themselves are household names to this very day.
- Diana Howard – the eldermost Howard sister
- Edward James – seigneur of West Dean and aesthete extraordinary
- Nancy Rodel – I don’t know
- Diana Guinness – Mitford sister, socialite and fascist sympathiser
- Lord Berners – musician, artist and writer, renowned for eccentricity
- Millicent Howard – Audrey’s mother, Edward James’ eldermost sister
- Robert Heber-Percy – Lord Berner’s toyboy, also highly eccentric
- Guillaume du Vair – 17th century lawyer and philosopher?
The second of the “Snapshops from the Course” cutting at the end is slightly odd however, referring as it does to a Mrs Mowbray Howard and her three accompanying daughters. She can only have been Millicent, Mrs Henry Howard, however, as her erstwhile husband did indeed have ‘Mowbray’ amongst his forenames, and she did indeed have five daughters to choose from. And it probably was quite an expensive day out for her!
Taking a Tumble
Scrapbook: Taking a Tumble #1
Though I never heard her mention it, it was understood within the family (well, my wife Sonia mentioned it once or twice over the years) that Audrey had sustained a badly damaged back in a fall from a hayloft as a teenager, and had spent six months or so more or less immobile while it healed. Was this entirely true?
The dates on the X-rays are 8 Mar 1935 and 6 Nov 1935 respectively, and you might well enquire as to how I know. The secret with any faintly-inscribed text is to take it into a totally dark broom-cupboard and shine an LED pencil-torch at it.
From sheet #1, her anxious parents clearly consulted a Mr B H Burns of 19 Upper Wimpole Street, a favoured haunt of expensive medical or dental practitioners, and there’s a cutting of his headed notepaper dated 21 May 1935, following the initial X-ray. In the meantime however, Audrey was able to photograph a family group$, including her uncle Edward James, at West Dean. Admittedly, there’s also a picture of a vertiginous drop, which would do nobody any good whatsoever.
LHS: Mr Sturdy, Joan (Howard), possibly Pamela (Howard) kneeling, Edward James, Millicent (Howard) and Audrey herself, plus others
RHS: Mr Sturdy, Joan (Howard), Edward James, Millicent (Howard), plus others
Scrapbook: Taking a Tumble #2
Sheet #2, some seven months later, shows a rather equivocal indoor scene, with no apparent connection with the earlier one – but perhaps this was the top of the drop down which Audrey had fallen? And perhaps the picture above it indicates that all this had happened at Wonersh Kennels, rather than the stable implied by the family version of events.
Seven months separate the X-rays, and it seems that Mr Burns had decided that Audrey was now able to go out and about, However, she was regarded as being much in need of sea air and sunshine to complete her recovery, and this was duly arranged ...
Scrapbook: Convalescence #1
Scrapbook: Convalescence #2
There’s no doubt that Audrey hugely enjoyed the 8 week cruise to the Caribbean and back. Her photographs, and those of her, are naturally a bit short on narrative but her natural joie de vivre is very evident throughout.
Much of her time was spent cosseting the deck-chairs, mostly elderly men who had made their careers somewhere ‘Out East’ plus a sprinkling of elderly wives with none of the sparkle and zest of the young ‘Howard gel’ but not seeming to mind.
She also mingled with the younger fitter element, of course, though with due regard for her recuperating back she’d doubtless have avoided anything boisterous herself. One person above all with whom she had a natural affinity through her love of riding and horse-racing was Edward Dudley Metcalfe, always known as ‘Fruity’.
His unusual soubriquet had originated at school, and must have had certain connotations, which always remained purely speculative as far as I know. But he and Audrey would have hugely enjoyed each other’s company. He was an ex-cavalry officer, tall, good-looking, amusing, and very knowledgeable about horses.
His knowledge of horses had elevated him to the position of senior equerry to the Prince of Wales, and his loyalty to Edward/David had made him the shoo-in choice as best man when Edward married the avaricious Wallis Simpson (though that still lay several years ahead).
Riding to hounds
A fog of nescience surrounds the circumstances in which Audrey and Ronald Kaulback first met. Bill Kaulback’s diary says that Ron spent Christmas 1939 with Bill (and by implication Violet) in the village of Martin, and apparently by chance ‘so was Audrey’ – whether as a house-guest, or staying nearby with friends, isn’t at all clear, nor indeed meeting him for the first time. But the romance took wings – Audrey and Ron were married in Mar 1940, just three months later.
By this time Ron was an instructor on the Directing Staff of the Small Arms School, Heavy Weapons Wing, Netheravon, and presumably he and Audrey found congenial accommodation close by. Their elder daughter Sonia was born in Mar 1941, and their younger daughter Susan followed in Aug 1942. In 1943, however, Ron (newly promoted to Lt Col) was assigned to the Far East, working behind Japanese lines in the Lashio area of Burma.
They would not be reunited until VJ day had come and gone in 1945. The scrap-book heading ‘Netheravon’, and the dates of the family autographs, seem to imply that Netheravon was Audrey’s base until Ron’s demobilisation and return to ‘Civvy Street’. However, Sonia has a persistent recollection (aged ca 3 or 4) that the family background had moved from Netheravon to Chichester at about that time.
After the jubilation, a decision then loomed as to where they would live – Ron opting for Canada, his birthplace, and Audrey preferring England, where she had been brought up. And so they decided to compromise by relocating to southern Ireland, still officially the Irish Free State, but effectively an independent republic by then.
Ron systematically worked his way from Dublin and round the southwest coastline for a property of suitable size and location for the project they had in mind – to open a country hotel.
And in a remarkably short space of time, Audrey and Ron arrived in Bantry in the autumn of 1945 with two young daughters, a full-sized billiards table, a labrador called Ben and a horse called Irish, to take possession of a large, dilapidated family house called Ardnagashel ... though to start with they lived in Glengarriff Lodge while Ardnagashel itself was being renovated.
The autographers are rather a mixed bunch, in some ways simply confirmation that Audrey remained in Netheravon throughout the war. I’ve stuck my neck out with Brian Urquhart, but the attribution is by no means implausible.
- John Hanbury-Tracey (21 Sep 1942)
- Elsa and Erik Douglas-Dufresne (23-25 Jan 1943)
- Millicent Howard (12-22 Jul 1943) – Audrey’s mother
- Rachel E Illegible (17-19 Jul 1943)
- Susan Marriott (11-13 Nov 1943)
- Alfredo Huntington (8-9 Jan 1944)
- Brian Urquhart (Jan 1944)
- Pamela and Ian Karslake (21-23 Feb) – Audrey’s elder sister and brother-in-law
- Penelope Illegible-Illegible (18-20 Feb)
Messerschmitt at 9 o’clock
Following the postwar resumption of manufacture, Messerschmitt AG was obliged to beat its swords into ploughshares, and this wonderfully frog-like 1953 KAR 175 was snapped up by Audrey for getting around in a hurry, with maybe a Labrador to the vet or the twins to a birthday party. Often enough there might even be a fishing rod sticking out through the rear window.
As per her generation, Audrey would never have needed a driving test in England or Ireland. I don’t suppose she had much opportunity behind the wheel – petrol being strictly rationed during the war – until she, Ron and the family moved to Ireland in 1945.
The two fastest drivers I’ve ever encountered were John Hatt-Cook and Ron Kaulback, but Audrey was hardly less terrifying when the tiny Messerschmitt was replaced by a Ford Taunus estate car.
The local Garda took a paternalistic attitude to her occasional mishaps, at least one of which involved extraction from a ditch:
“Hello Mrs Karlback, we’d been expecting ye, can we lend ye a hand now?
And now Mrs Karlback, there’s just the little matter of a fine for exceeding the speed limit.”
And when in due course her funeral cortège wound its way along the coast road from Glengariff, the general consensus was that “Ardrey Karlback has never driven to Bantry as slow as this before!”
Messing about in the river
It was said to be Col Salvin Bowlby of Coomhola who introduced Audrey to the intricate skills of fly-fishing for salmon. But I believe that it was Maj Philip Ironside who was always happy for her to exercise them on the Inishannon stretch of the Bandon River to which he had the fishing rights.
Complete ignoramus that I am about almost all outdoor pastimes of the sporting classes, I’ve just made slight amends by checking on the internet as to the difference between angling and fishing.
(I’m with the nervous curate in the famous Punch cartoon who sympathised with a sporting Colonel, confined to his house by gout, that there was so little that one can kill indoors. But admirer though I am of Dr Johnson, I can’t go along with his notorious definition of a fishing rod.)
Anyway, I do now understand that while anglers sometimes return their catch to the water after weighing it for the record book, or sometimes keep it for supper that evening, true fishermen (inland or offshore) invariably fish for food to eat for themselves or to sell at market the next day – Audrey was indeed fishing for the table, but also (I think) for the primaeval satisfaction of self-reliance and survival, those instincts hard-wired into our DNA.
One summer holiday in the mid 1980’s, Audrey suggested that Nick might like to bring one of his friends over to stay at Ardnagashel for a week or so, and enjoy all the adventurous outdoor possibilities for which it was renowned. The lucky friend was Stuart Thomas; they travelled over together pretty confidently and Audrey met them at Cork Airport, in a textbook grandmaternal sort of way.
After that, the story gets complicated, and grandmotherly supervision seems to have flatlined. The two boys had the run of the house, and the grounds, with all the metropolitan excitements of Bantry and Glengariff available at breakneck speed, without benefit of seatbelts of course, whenever Audrey decided on a change of scene.
It was Bevis and Mark, Swallows and Amazons, and High Wind in Jamaica, all day and every day. Two aspects which did get reported back to base were the maiden voyage of the cellar door, and the steady consumption of Audrey’s collection of miniature liqueurs each evening.
On a craft hardly more buoyant or seaworthy than its famous predecessor, with Granny Audrey offering advice and encouragement from the safety of dry land, with not a Competent Crew certificate between them, the two intrepid eleven-year olds set off for America.
The Long Rock by now completely submerged, like the raft itself, the participants retired to the safety of the first-floor drawing room for the inquest. And that of course was where Granny’s unrivalled collection of rare and exotic miniature liqueurs came in handy... as indeed it did every evening of that week!
Audrey's funeral had naturally been in Bantry, but her memorial service was held in the church at West Dean.
Memories of Audrey
She was my grandmother ... my granny ... but an unknown person for me ... I’m the eldest grandson ... all my life in Spain ... but always needing and wanting the presence of my granny ... I found her grave in 2005 ... I could say her ... hi granny what a wonderfull place are you living ... here I am ... REST IN PEACE.
Dear Bryan Kaulback,
I knew your grandmother during her later years at Glengarriffe and she left a profound and lasting impression on me. A truly modern lady who was so enthusiastic about all that is good and interesting. I cherish the memories I have of her ever-vigourous delightful presence and think of her often. In fact at the time of this message I wondered if there was any trace of her memory on the net. I am delighted to see that someone has made the effort.
I remember one of her divine dashounds was called Precious.
May Mrs. Kaulback rest in peace. I think of her often.
I have extremely fond memories of The Ardnagashel Hotel, Ron and Audrey Kaulback and their twin sons, Peter and Bryan. I was about 13 or 14 I suppose when we stayed there in the 60′s for our annual summer holiday, myself, my brother Tim and my parents, Aubrey & Jackie Ridley-Thompson. It was a magical place – the Kaulback’s were fantastic, and I was entranced by the 2 badgers Milligan & Fogerty!! It was here in Ardnagashel that our family met the wonderful american couple, Peter and Wendy Verstappen, who remained firm friends of all of us until first Peter died, about 6 years ago, and then Wendy a couple or so years ago.
The times my brother and I had playing bar billiards before dinner each evening – we were too young to go into the bar, back in those days it was not allowed to have children in a bar ... how ridiculous!! We spent many happy years for the next 3 summer holidays at Ardnagashel, playing in the woods, on the beach, swimming and fishing off the rocks. It was devastated to learn that Ardnagashel had burned down.
I have such fond memories of the Kaulback’s, with their exciting habit of never wearing shoes! I was very much impressed by Audrey stamping on a wasp and getting stung and just passing it off as if it were nothing, it must have hurt like hell! The food was amazing – I remember the delicious irish soda bread in particular. I fell in love with Ireland during these 3 summers, and had the pleasure of returning to the Bantry area about 15 years ago for a holiday with my husband. We visited the cottages at Ardnagashel, and I was thrilled to see the bay still looked exactly as I remembered it.
I remember visiting Ardnagashel in the mid sixties when I was about 14 or 15... . My parents decided to stop of to see Ron and Audrey as Pa had known Ron out in Burma and Ma had known him for many, many years. My Mother was born Hilda Hodgkinson Butterfield and Ron wrote to her from at least one of his expeditions and brought her back a present of Tibetan Tea Cups! My Mother’s older sister, Mary Gertrude Veronica Anne Butterfield, known as Bronnie, used to stay at Ardnagashel with her son, Anthony, in the late 40s... . Many family memories...
There’s at least one other version of this article, which we had framed back in the 1990’s, but it’s up in the loft and I don’t feel like venturing up there at the moment!
Soupy, sickly, saccharine? Actually, it’s not nearly as bad as I had thought at first. I’ve changed the font, corrected the typos, and paragraphed more liberally. Errors of fact or implication are highlighted in orange!
Audrey Kaulback a sensitive soul –
had no alternative but to survive
In some ways, Audrey Kaulback, once mistress of Ardnagashel House near Glengarriff, has had a wonderful life; in others it has been devastating. She has seen her fashionable and elegant country house hotel gutted by fire. She has endured the sudden and painful separation from her charming explorer husband, and she has eventually been obliged to leave the beloved house she had rebuilt. Here on her own initiative, Audrey Kaulback talks to Sandra Woolridge about how she has finally survived the painful times.
This could be termed a sad story, but in a way it is not. It is not about success. It is about being brought to a position from where there is no possibility of return; no glorious re-ascending; a place in which acceptance is the only healing. But it is also about the vulnerable nature of emotions, the slow healing of time, and the delicate achievement of a sensitive soul who had no alternative but to become a survivor.
She sits now at the big window of a large, almost mock-Tudor, dark-timbered sitting room overlooking the sea, surrounded by a few pieces of good old furniture retrieved from the fire. A few slightly charred books and pictures have been saved, too, and on the wall hang two small mirrors in baroque gilded plaster frames. Just one month ago, the turning point came: she decided that she could live in this house [Rossdoon, Glengarriff], and that Max and she would become friends.
Audrey bought this “horrible little house and three acres of jungle”, just one year ago [probably 1989, note from the editor]. It is within a few miles of Ardnagashel House. Max is a Golden Labrador, a recent gift. She is not sad, she is bright, and as she sits sipping a just-opened bottle of cloudy 77 Moulin-à-Vent in which the sediment swirls towards the bottom of her long-stemmed glass, she laughs her racking, throaty laugh, and pronounces the wine over the top. It is slightly acidic, but nice and dry; fine for the misting drizzle of a June afternoon. The sensual laughter turns into orderly, resigned coughing: “Cigarettes”, she says briskly, holding one to her lips with red-painted nails, and expecting no sympathy. She enjoys the joke that she and Ron once had the best wine cellar in Ireland. Her offer to open a better bottle is refused. It will settle.
She has a way of muddling through in terrific style, and in her company, everything is OK. It is the same with the sandwich. There isn’t much in the house, she apologises, making it seem an adventure. She has been eating out a lot, lately, she says.
Ron and Audrey came with two little daughters to Glengarriff in 1946, to open a country house hotel in their own special fashion. It was to be a fun place, run in the style of a house party, in which guests were introduced, and hosts joined in, or led the entertainments. Good food and wines were to fuel the shooting, fishing and riding, and nothing but good times were to be had. It worked, and for the first six years Ardnagashel House was open all year round. Guests were not asked for money and there were no hotel rules. They just lived there and had a long party. The tricky bit was presenting the bill at the end, but it was often done over a civilized lunchtime brandy and ginger.
“He’d wanted to go home to Canada, where there are lots of Kaulbacks and I’d wanted to go to Scotland, where my grandmother was from,” she laughs, “but Ron said ‘“Scotland? Where the men wear skirts, and they eat terrible things like porridge?”’ So we came to Ireland, and I have been here for 44 years. I shall die here.”
Yachts berthed outside the waterfront house and it became vogueish. It was the place, celebrated widely, and always full. The couple were witty, entertaining and game for the amusements. Ron knew a lot about wine, and installed an enviable cellar whilst Audrey’s haute cuisine was exotic and spared no expense. She drove a two litre Ford Capri convertible. They often went without shoes and Audrey adopted two badger cubs [much later], regally extending to them total freedom of the house and lands. Trees and shrubs were planted in the 200 acres, and gardens were made. Twin sons were born [in 1948].
Ronald Kaulback has two snakes and a lizard bearing his name. In the thirties he collected Asian fauna for the Natural History Museum, and mapped territories in Tibet for the Crown. His book Salween describes his quest for the source of the Salween River in the Himalayas, and he wrote another called Tibetan Trek. He was awarded a Murchison Grant by the Royal Geographical Society, and he has an entry in the British Who’s Who.
Audrey Elizabeth Howard met Ronald in 1934, the year she came out as a debutante. With the Duke of Norfolk as head of the Catholic branch of the Howards, not-too-distant relative, Audrey Elizabeth is listed in Debrett’s Peerage, a sort of aristocratic Who’s Who, based on blood lines.
Her father was a country gentleman, but not terribly rich. Even so, Audrey is to-day able to live on the money inherited from her mother. The house she was raised in, near Guildford, is now a boarding school.
For twenty-two years the hotel thrived, closing in the winter after the first six years to allow for family life. In 1968, whilst the family were away in Morocco, Ardnagashel House was gutted in a terrible blaze. Beautiful antique furniture, rare books, and most of their possessions were lost. It was the beginning of the end. They moved to their nearby courtyard and started a bar and restaurant. The kitchen was no fun any more, and with Ronald manning the bar, the couple were separated by their respective jobs.
Ardnagashel House was rebuilt, but was then sold together with the lands, to a Dutch firm [Bofinex], with a proviso that the family would have life tenure. The restaurant was closed. Ronald had a heart attack in 1974, and two years later came the separation.
“I left the door open day and night”, she remembers, “and waited in case he might leave her and come back”. Her gravelly voice has that British no-nonsense quality, that never-say-die bravura, but its depth also has an emotional rattle; a cracked poignance; a bitter-sweetness which proclaims, under the fun-loving spirit, that the hurt remains. Yes, she says, it does. After four or five years she gave up waiting, “but by that time I’d got used to having the door open”, and she is laughing again.
For thirteen years she remained alone in the house, getting involved in the Friendship Force Club, Bantry Life Boats, and golf. She was involved with dendrology, too, and collecting seaweeds for cataloguing. She did gross-point tapestry for Fota chairs, her days of eye-straining petit-point work being over.
At first she called the Samaritans. “They were marvellous, because really all I wanted was to jump in the bay. It was right outside. All I had to do was jump. I don’t think I pestered them much. Then I felt I couldn’t be as stupid as that. I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up. It was the grandchildren who kept me interested in living, and they are all super.” She has nine now, misses them but sees them sometime these days.
About a year ago, Ardnagashel House was sold by its owner, completely demolished, then rebuilt. Audrey, now in her late seventies, stayed with friends until she found a suitable house. The ordeal of moving house, she said, this time nearly killed her. But true blue, she rallied. She began to travel alone, going last year to see her son Peter in Canada. “I panic a bit, looking through my handbag. Have I got my passport? have I got my traveller’s cheques? have I got my money? digging away into my bag.” She talks rapidly, laughing at herself; mocking of her own lack of sophistication, but it is a worldly-wise chuckle. “I am getting better at it,” she grins, still game.
She hated that secluded little coastal house at first; thought she would never settle. “I am not a modern bungalow girl, and I couldn’t live in a row. I had to be near the sea.” She watches the swans and the oyster-catchers; the tides; the seagulls gliding low across the narrow sound in front of the house. Wasting time, she calls it, this Ex-lady President of Bantry Golf Club, and Friendship Force President, mocking herself again.
Three days after she got back from Canada, her pet dog was killed on the road. She was given the pale Max, who was a wildly ill-mannered mutt at first, and she began the process of training him. Now he will wait for permission to take the nightly biscuit she places on top of her shoe for him. At first he would nearly taken her hand off, she says. Then just recently, the turning point. At last the coming to terms; the learning how to shut the door. She is not sad because she can hold her head up, she says. She has lots of friends. “Look at these postcards from everywhere.” She reads one out. It praises her way of life, her charming little house; her dog. She takes off her reading glasses, and looks towards the bay.
“I still hate the idea of the winter coming,” she smiles quietly, “the days getting shorter and the nights longer. The worst months are January and February. I must think of somewhere to go this winter. I hate the idea,” she muses, looking down at Max, “of putting the dog in the kennels.” The glass has been drained of fine wine and only sediment remains. Audrey Kaulback is no longer mistress of Ardnagashel House. She once was, though, and says that her heart is still there. Briefly here, in black and white, is her story. She is very brave. There is no point, she says now, in bottling things up. Better to tell it. Please God it will help her to lay those few remaining ghosts.
While I did every effort to locate the newspaper and the author of the above article I didn’t find them. Please contact me if you own the copyright to those lines! [email@example.com]
In an attempt at strict veracity on my part,
$ “Audrey Elizabeth Howard met Ronald in 1934, the year she came out as a debutante.”
She and Ron might well have glanced approvingly at one another at one of the jollities subsequent to her presentation, but as recounted in the section Netheravon above, Bill Kaulback didn’t suggest that there had been any prior buzz between them.
$ “The house she was raised in, near Guildford, is now a boarding school.”
Of course it could still (2021) be a boarding school or it might have reverted to residential use as per my hypothesis in the section Little Tangley above.
Note to self re activities and good causes to mention: golf, lifeboat, flower festival, Bandon 10k in 1990, Friendship Force.