No Guts, No Glory – Confessions of a Zombie Survivor

No guts No Glory - a zombie war cry

No guts No Glory – a zombie war cry

Last weekend, I was filming, darhling, sweetie, lovey. As a supporting artist, or a featured extra. Or ‘just’ an extra.’ But, ‘there are no small parts, only small actors’, as I was told when I spent three years studying drama. Make it your story.

It was my second attempt. The first was a disaster.  I’d answered a call for actors to participate in a zombie film (is there any other, these days?) and received all the details via email. Nice thank you for participating. No payment. Except the glory of the Big Screen. So I got up at 6.30am on a weekend, and drove myself (no chauffeured car, like Danny Craig probably gets) into the centre of Coventry. It’s not difficult to imagine Coventry as a zombie city, even at its busiest. It was, of course, the inspiration for Ghost Town by The Specials. And at 6.30 in the morning, even with a ring-road half destroyed for ‘roadworks’, there was no traffic to get in my way. Coventry has been described as  all ‘ring-road and car parks’ by many , although finding a car park now is difficult, even for a long standing resident. I was pleased to find one, get my ticket, and be informed that it was a cheap parking day (£2 all day).

Unfortunately, as the ticket barrier went down, I also realised that this car park was closed until 10 0’clock. And I was now caught between the closed ticked barrier and the car park shutter, which had been locked down. I tutted loudly, and tried to consider what a zombie would do in this situation. Fortunately, I found some buzzer that put me through to Coventry’s faceless Big Brother Traffic Control, who were able to tell me to reverse, as they re-opened the ticket barrier. I’m sure Danny Craig never suffered this sort of humiliation. Never mind, I thought, I can use that for my character. Zombies are probably often frustrated.

It got worse. I arrived at the filming location fifteen minutes early – I was always taught to be punctual for performances, it separates the professional from the amdram – and was surprised that there was no-one else who was visibly zombie-like or filmworldy. How unprofessional, I thought, wrapping myself up in thermal longjohns, vest, hat, gloves and coat, readying myself for a long cold morning of filming.

Then it dawned. Today was not going to be Zombie Apocalypse. As I looked down at the instructions I’d taken all the trouble to print out, I realised that I had turned up two weeks early. If I was Danny Craig, I could have blamed my agent. As it was, I’d made a stupid, stupid mistake. Never mind, I could use that for my character. Zombies are probably often frustrated. And stupid. Their brains have rotted. I sat down dejectedly on a bench, as Coventry’s tramps and drunks walked past me, sobbing ‘I want to be a zombie! I want to be a zombie!’

So this time, I’d double checked the date and time of filming, and checked out which car parks were open. I still had my thermal longjohns, vest, hat, gloves and coat, readying myself for a long cold morning of filming. And this time, when I arrived, there were people. With cameras and booms, and clipboards, and people milling around, which is what actors do. I was introduced to the cameraman, second director, runner, and a whole host of other Hollywood type people.

I sat quietly and prepared myself. I had very little information. And, technically, I didn’t have a character.  But, remember, there are no small parts, only small actors. So I invented my character, Lem, and took the billboard above as inspiration – No guts, no glory. Very appropriate for Lem, who clearly had some form of learning disability, was easily frustrated, and prone to depressive bouts of sobbing in public. I’d gleaned that the film was about some sort of virus affecting people and turning them into zombies. Although, technically, I wasn’t a zombie, as we’d sent in photos to be chosen to be ‘zombies’ or ‘victims’. If you hadn’t heard back, you were supposed to be a victim. I didn’t see Lem as a victim.

We got separated into two groups to do walking acting – this time milling professionally on screen. A couple of takes of ‘walking’ – some actors, apparently, were walking in French. Lem was walking to finish some Christmas shopping for orphans with disabilities in Coventry, because he had a Big Heart and an abused childhood.

Then we did walking from another angle, which is where it got Quite Complicated and I became Quite Confused (I decided Lem was also easily confused, which was probably part of his learning disability.) We were separated into ‘People Dying’ (infected with a virus, and taking a while to die dramatically), ‘Victims’ (people who just dropped dead because they’d been infected with the virus) and Survivors – people who ran away and survived. Now, I’d already established that Lem wasn’t a victim. So I didn’t quite understand why the director hadn’t chosen me to be in the Survivors or People Dying groups. There are no small parts, only small actors. And Lem had a story to tell.

So when they shouted ‘action’, I went with the Truth of the Moment.Yes, technically, the direction was that I should just drop down dead. But, Lem took over me, and I looked around at people dropping dead, and heard the Survivors running behind me and past me, and Lem made a split-second decision to run. Lem ran through every take.

It was exhausting. Lem wasn’t terribly fit, and his shins and legs were aching and on fire after several sprints. And probably his immune system was trying to fight off the virus.

Other actors followed the direction more closely – some might say they were more professional. I just think they weren’t truly in character. Although I did complement one actor on his walking. Although, when I said ‘I like your walking’, he didn’t seem to take it as a complement.

So – spolier alert – Lem has survived, joined the Eco Warriors – and is now available to appear in the sequel, Lem – A Story Of Survival. I’m just waiting to hear from the Director ….

Lem will be coming to a screen near you as part of  the Coventry Film Festival in 2015. Unless he ends up on the cutting room floor.

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‘Mr Lucas, Are You Free ….?’ Tales from The Apprentice [guest blog]

anslows geograph-2234039-by-E-Gammie

Well, if it’s good enough for potty mouthed Jack Bloody Whitehall, it’s good enough for View From A Fridge. There’s A Thing about father and son collaborations – Dan & Jon Snow, Jack and Michael Whitehall, Scott and James Caan….so I thought I’d Jump On The Bandwagon and make a quick buck.

As i happens, my father has just given a speech at the launch of a book he’s been involvwed with on local history. Going To Town, which is published The Women’s Research Group (2013). Dad is not a woman, but did take part in their survey of shops in Coventry City Centre, including Fishy Moore’s, Owen Owen, Coventry Market – and Anslows, where he trained as an apprentice in the Soft Furnishings Trade.

The transcript I have included is of a speech he gave at the book’s launch, where he talks about some of his experinces as an Apprentice. There follows a tale of Girls, Rock n Roll, Bull’s Wool and Elephant Feathers. The speech includes memoris of  dear family friend, Des Fryers, who sadly died earlier this year. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present my father ….

I was honoured when Lynne asked me to contribute a small article for inclusion in the book that has now come to fruition.

To look down the list of shops and stores featured brought back many memories of businesses and friends long gone.

I was pleased and surprised when Lynne asked me to give a talk on what being an apprentice was like in those far off days. Why me? Maybe I’m the only survivor.

How many of us here were apprentices or trainees in those days?

You see, we were the tough ones.

Lynne asked me if I could keep this chat to about 90 minutes but I said I couldn’t keepawake for that long, so it got cut by a considerable amount.

Seriously,  I started as an apprentice at Anslows or, more correctly John Anslow Ltd. in 1954.

I must admit it was not my choice but Mother said “there’s a job in the paper, go and get it.’

So I did, you didn’t argue with Mothers in those days! After an interview with Mr Field, the General Manager,  I started my first job. What a shock!

There I was, a grammar school kid from Nuneaton who had no knowledge of the real

world, no experience of the opposite sex, suddenly thrust into this new environment.

I had no identity of my own, I was just ‘Lucas’,-if I was called anything repeatable – ‘do this,carry that, fetch this, where the hell have you been?’

For six months, I was really just a porter, unloading vans of furniture, bedding and carpets and humping them to the various departments -always by the goods lift,  and never appearing front of house. Apprentices were just cheap labour to be used as much as possible for menial tasks that needed no skills or brains.

Then after six months I was told I had successfully completed my probationary period and was now about to begin learning the furnishing trade plus a whole lot of other things. The furnishing trade, as it was called then,  was divided into four elements which in order of importance were: Cabinets (which was furniture and bedding),  Carpets, Soft Furnishings (which was the curtain department),  and finally what was called ‘Manchester Goods ‘, which included things like blankets, sheets and towels.

At Anslows,  we also had a Fancy Goods dept which carried lamps, picture, china and crystal ware. I was now part of a furnishing store that probably had no equal outside London.

This had penalties, because a whole new code of dress and attitude was demanded. A dark suit, white shirt and a tie had to be worn at all times, quite a change for a kid from Nuneaton who had no hot water other than the copper on a Monday, an outside toilet at the bottom of the garden and a tin bath on the wall.

My first suit was bought from ‘Weaver to Wearer’ in the temporary shops in Broadgate.  It cost £6.19.6d in old money and got Dad in trouble because Mother had allocated £5.19.6d!

As an apprentice,  you had no existence of your own, you were the dogsbody and everyone’s servant.

Anyone who has watched Are You Being Served? has a very good and true picture of life at Anslows in that era. If a client came in for a three piece suite or a dining set they were dealt with on a seniority Basis – first came the Manager, then First and Second Sales. If it were a jar of hide food, they were mine.

As my name was Lucas, and long before the TV programme, it was “Mr Lucas, are you free?”The writers of that programme certainly worked in a similar situation.

Health and safety was never an issue – there wasn’t any. We had a device in the workroom that cleaned and re-teased the old flock and feather mattresses – even

Anslows customers had to economise after the war. Old Jim Spenser would load the innards of the mattress, stand back with his lit woodbine in his mouth, press the switch and disappear in a cloud of dust and fleas only to emerge a couple of minutes later coughing and sneezing but with his woodbine still alight and in place.

It was a similar thing with upholsterers, bag of tacks around waist, a handful were put in the upholsterer’s mouth, – rust, dust and all – and then individual tacks would be spat on to the end of the magnetic hammer and driven in to the piece being re-upholstered. God knows what happened if they coughed.

My first three months were spent mainly in despatch, and that was a learning curve

because most of the men in there had returned from serving in the war. Some had been at Arnhem, of Bridge Too Far fame, some had been P.O.W’s and had experienced all the horrors of the prison camp. All of them had obviously suffered and were changed  by their experiences but all were surprisingly good to the new teenager in their midst.

Despatch was organised by old Mr. Lenny. a character straight out of a Dickens story, he was about 5’2” tall in his brown cow gown and spent his time standing in front of a lectern which had a large record book on it. Every item that came in or went out of Anslows had to be recorded by Mr.Lenny in that book in the most impeccable copperplate writing, written with a nib pen and rust coloured ink. If it was not recorded by him in that ledger it did not exist.

Despite health and safety we learnt an awful lot as apprentices – things that stood us in good stead in later life and made our teenage lives interesting.

We learnt communication skills, we learnt how to assess whether clients were serious and prepared to spend money or whether they had come in to impress their friends.

Although we were progressing in our furnishing skills we were still the dogsbody, ‘Lucas, get me 20 Senior Service’, ‘Lucas go to Slingsby’s and get me a Penguin’, ‘while you are outnip into Welton’s the chemist and get a pack of Aspirin – you know the routine.

We also discovered GIRLS – yes, we had those at Anslows too. We had office girls and we had a dozen girls and mature ladies in the curtain workroom. We also had female sewers in the carpet workroom. A favourite trick with the new office girls during their call on the carpet department was to grab them and roll them in a carpet square. We had just done this one day when the General Manager appeared on the scene. Well what could we do? Only one thing for it – pick the roll up and stack it with the others! Unfortunately we got the carpet the wrong way up and poor Val spent the next ten minutes standing on her head. You can guess she was not best pleased with us!

Anslows had a basement that ran from High St. right through to the Golden Cross at the end of Hay Lane, and all the office records were stored down there. A rule was that if the office junior was sent to retrieve a record she had to be escorted by one of the four apprentices. Some of those records took an awful long time to find.

I wonder why?!

Today,  there are all kinds of regulations about working hours and holiday entitlements, not for us. Working hours were 9am till 5.30 Monday until Saturday with a half day on Thursday.Collar, tie and jacket had to be worn at all times – the only exception was at stocktaking when the store closed. No annual holiday the first year.

Apart from our work in store it was compulsory to attend art school, in Cope St on two nights a week, no time off in lieu or extra pay. One course was window dressing with Mr Richter, who taught most of the window dressers in Coventry,  and a course in design which was taken by Jim Henley. My friend Des and I attended both of these courses and we soon discovered if we finished at 9.30, left the College in Cope St, on the run straight into The Sydenham Palace, literally a spit and sawdust pub in Cox St, a quick half of Atkinsons mild, then a sprint to catch the last bus home from Pool Meadow.

I believe Mattersons the ironmongers are mentioned in the book. At the college, we met a girl who was apprenticed there andI believe that she was the first female apprentice in the ironmongery trade.

Of course life was not all misery and drudgery. There were some fantastic times,

particularly whenI made friends with the other apprentices. At that time, there were four apprentices, one for each department, – Willie in bedding,

Maurice,- who always reminded me of The Saint,  tall and always elegant, Don in carpets who was totally crazy. He was an outstanding painter with a studio on the top floor in Barras Lane. He used to persuade the girls at the shop to get their portraits painted, so he’d send them up the ladder to his “studio”. He claimed he had to stay at the bottom to steady the ladder’.

Then there was Des, who was to become my best and longest friend. I met him

whilst he was still in the RAF and came in on a visit. He was going to see the workroom girls on the top floor, spoke and that was that. Fifty nine years on we were still in touch until he died earlier this year.

We apprentices used to gather after work in Farmer Giles, a café in The Burges,

hoping to meet with the girls from Owens. It was a warm and friendly place where we

could get a cheap meal and a warm drink on a winter night. We spent about three years trying to get Andy, one of the staff, to stop shouting ‘one sausages’ down the hatch when ordering sausage and chips. He never did get the hang of singular and plural.

Friday night was Willie Night, because Willie was married, he had a flat and on Friday nights Willie’s wife Flo would provide tea, after which we lads would play cards until about 1am. Although we played for pennies it was an unwritten rule that no-one lost more than a couple of bob. We also had some fabulous parties there.

At one time, Des and I were not popular there after we sat in the garden in the afternoon and shot all the heads off Flo’s tulips with Willie’s air rifle.

At the end of our night we had to hitch our way home and I never had to walk more

than 2 or 3 hundred yards on my way back to Nuneaton, someone would always stop and I would make my way home in small stages in different cars. The other day I asked a friend, Ray, who did the same trip, if he would like a walk along the Foleshill Rd with me. You can guess his reply.

 It is hard to believe now but in the days before fitted carpets became universal, carpet squares were the norm. If we had a delivery we opened the list of clients who were waiting, rang them up and said something like ‘we have a red 12 x 9 square, do you want it?’ A straight yes or no was all that was required, if they didn’t say yes the next one on the waiting list was phoned. For the more wealthy, fitted carpets were the answer, these were made up from 27′” wide body carpet,  seamed and cut to the shape of the room.When it reached this stage it was put on the big van for delivery to the customer, and then within a couple of days the fitters would follow to lay and secure it.

It seems odd today to think that the fitters would travel to the client either by bus or by bike, their toasting fork-like carpet stretchers strapped to their crossbars.

Anslows also had a very busy curtain department that was run by the rather eccentric Wally Sleath. You were never sure what was going to be said or done next.

At that time there was a very large business done in the recovering of eiderdowns, and part of the process was to replace lost stuffing. Wally’s trick with elderly clients was to ask if tyhe would prefer the filling to be bull’s wool or elephant feathers. The invariable reply was, ”whatever you recommend Mr Sleath”

On the top floor of the shop was the curtain workroom where about 12 seamstresses were resident, of various ages from young girls in training to the most experienced and qualified sewers. Apart from wandering in to chat to the girls we learnt how to make all the various styles of curtains and pelmets.

You will perhaps begin to appreciate the complexity of the furnishing trade and the amount of learning that apprentices had to endure, it was never ending, and 60 years on the learning process continues.

By the time we had done our stint in all departments we had knowledge of all the

furnishing trade, but there were often other aspects of  this. Because we dealt with all types of furniture, we learnt the styles of Adam, Hepplewhite and Chippendale and the times in which they worked. We learnt the types of carpets and from where the designs originated, that it could take up to six weeks to set up the designs on a jacquard Axminster loom, and the number of tufts per square inch in an A1 or A0. Also included was the history of carpet design and the origin of traditional designs such as Bokhara and Isfahan.

All this knowledge enabled us to suggest design schemes for all ages of property.

Then CONTEMPORARY came in, G PLAN appeared on the scene, ROCK AND ROLL became all the rage and the world changed. Light woods, bright coloured upholstery, swirling skirts and loud music. Suddenly apprentices of that era had discovered their world and were part of it at last.

So what was life like as an Anslows apprentice in the 50’s?

It was hard. It was cheap labour where men’s work was done by boys paid at the cheapest rate possible. There can be no question that apprentices were exploited, whatever their trade.

However, we must not forget or ignore the benefits. As a furnishing apprentice, we actually learnt a number of trades. To start with, we learned  Respect, both for ourselves and for others, and we also developed confidence and communication skills. We could fit carpets, make and fit curtains and were able to hold a job in any retail establishment. We had the knowledge and ability for interior design.

As for myself, I was able to manage carpet departments and was employed by the largest carpet manufacturer in the world.For nearly 50 years I have run my own business in carpets and curtains and have carried out work in all levels of society from Coventry to Knightsbridge in London, and have met many people of many races, colours and creeds, most of them absolutely wonderful

people. There were of course,  some B&$$&**$

My apprenticeship has stood me in good stead. It has provided me with a reasonable

living, some wonderful and some strange experiences, but after the initial shocks I think those years with good teachers and great examples have been more than worth the effort.

Thank you John Anslow. And thank you for listening.

It’s only a little prick, sir …!

One of the side effects of heart surgery and having a loud, mechanical valve thumping away in your chest,  is having to become a long term user of rat poison/warfarin. As I’ve written before, it deprives me terribly of cranberry juice,  and  leaves me a ‘responsible’ drinker (with my reputation!). The medication is aimed at preventing nasty blood clots, thinning my blood to an INR range (no idea what it means) of 2-3. According to my dentist, they are now looking to replace warfarin but all alternative treatments are ‘too expensive’. It needs regular monitoring, which has meant frequent and inconvenient trips to the hospital. The Haematology Unit there is able to conduct a short fingerprick test, which is less painful and less complicated than a full blood test which becomes necessary if you opt to go anywhere else. I’ve had so many blood tests recently, my veins have become quite difficult to access and the warfarin itself means I bleed like a stuck pig. Dignity, always dignity.

So it seemed like a great idea when the haematology nurse suggested ‘investing’ in a home test fingerprint kit. No more hospital visits. No more needles. Much as I loathe the notion of an NHS becoming privatised – which is what a scheme such as thiscould become the start of – I am willing to invest in my own health. So the manufacturers, Roche, offer a home test machoine for the *bargain* price of £299 – at a reduction of £100 – which can be paid for in 24 interest free monthly installments. Now, that ends up being cheaper than having to pay parking fees or bus costs over the same period, so it is becomes appealing, particularly for a life-long ‘condition’. There is a catch – your GP has to agree to prescribe the testing strips on the NHS, otherwise you wind up having to pay 6o odd quid for those also.

That doesn’t sound a problem, right? Quick chat with GP, strips on prescription, I can order the machine and life becomes so much simpler. But, gentle reader, what a world of fantasy you inhabit! Initially, I was told by GP reception that I have to get the strips from the Haematology ward. After a call to them, I’m assured that isn’t the case and it’s the GP who prescribes them, but am urged to contact the maufacturer Roche for all the details. I speak to a helpful lady there who tells me it’s a clinical decision by the GP, but that most of them ‘see the benefits (which sounds a little Orwellian). She kindly sends me a fancy-pants glossy brochure and expensive dvd advertising the testing kit, delivered in a box far, far too big for its contents. So I go back to the GP, who’s very helpful with everything else (I went bcause my scar had started bleeding and I needed some magic antibiotics) but on this matter she’s been told by the Practice she ca’t prescribe them without ‘Something from the Haematology Department. It’s not, I’m told, just a problem with the surgery – perish the thought! – but a ‘Coventry wide problem’. ‘Is that noise your heart?’ she asks , drawing attention to  my Thumping Mechanical Valve. ‘I thought it was a clock’. Tick. Tock.

Meanwhile, my erstwhile cousin makes enquiries at her hospital, and it’s clear this shouldn’t be a problem. I’ve now got my gander up (which you wouldn’t want to see. It’s like a camp Incredible Hulk) so decide I’ll take the fight straight to the Dark Tower itself and write to the newfangled NHS commisioning board/group/body, the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG):

 I am a long term warfarin patient and was recently given details by Walsgrave Haematology Unit of the option to buy a home testing kit. My GP has said coventry surgeries are ‘not allowed’ to prescribe XS test strips unless they have a letter from haematology instructing them to do so. I have contacted both the haematology dept and the manufacturer, Roche, who have said it is a clinical GP decision. In addition, I understand that you have allocated a budget to help facilitate this Both my GP and haematology nurse consider home testing useful, both because I am a long term warfarin patient, and because fingerprick testing is better for me than blood collection through a needle, which can be more problemmatic for my veins. I am frustrated that I am not being supported in an exciting and cost/time effective initiative which will bring me huge benefits, and which I am willing to self-fund through investment in the self-monitoring Meter. Additionally, I see benefits in this freeing up NHS testing resources.Can you clarify how I can access these test strips on prescription and what your guidelines on this are?

I’m convinced this will be lost in the bureaucracy of the NHS but lo! am pleasantly surprised a couple of days later to receive a helpful and clear reply:

 

Dear XX

I have been asked to respond to your query regarding coaguchek testing strips. Firstly apologies for any delay but this message has only just come through to the CCG.

Coaguchek XS strips are now allowed in Coventry on GP prescription but, with agreement with the haematologists, who wrote the protocols, only when the GP is supplied the guarantees that the patient has received the appropriate training and that the machine is going to be regularly maintained. We have to insist on this as we must ensure that testing is appropriate, as getting the dose wrong can result in significant patient harm, and that the test results are accurate at all times.

 There should be no reason why your specialist should not have provided this and I will contact them to ensure this. In the meantime please ask your specialist again.

 I apologise for any delays.

 Kind regards

XX

Which, aside from the odious ‘kind regards’ signature, settles things ONCE AND FOR ALL.

I have appointments with both my GP and the Haematology Unit on Thursday. So we’ll see how they respond in the light of my Flaming Torch of Knowledge…..but for the moment, I’m feeling heard and vindicated. And wondering what The Training they refer to might be. I hope it doesn’t involve role-playing, or Name Games. Or some sort of blood testing exam. With any luck, they’ll just give me another copy of that swanky brochure and expensive dvd…

 

links:

ACSMA is the Anti-Coagulation Self-Monitoring Alliance and campaigns to support self-testing, and for home slef testing to be provided on he NHS. It lists the benefits for individuals and theNHS on its website, and suggests how you might help.

What?! No boobies?!

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Coventry has just welcomed its giant 2012 Olympic puppet mascot of Lady Godiva back into the city, wearing her Zandra Rhodes designer dress.

Which I find disappointing. The story of Lady Godiva is that she rode naked through the city in protest at the imposition of additional taxes on Coventrians. The story behind the story is that this was as an invention many years later to discredit a wealthy and successful woman landowner – a political smear to make her appear cheap and tawdry.  The citizens of Coventry decided she was a hero to be celebrated.

I like my heroines dirty. Forget princesses and virgins. One of the reasons for writing erotica is seeing sex and sexuality as potential sites for resistance, revolution, redefinition. A battleground for pleasure and empowerment, sex positive reimaginings in a world of increasing commodification and fetishisation.

Godiva is still a powerful narrative, whatever the true story. A naked revolutionary using the political power of her sexuality and gender. The Pussy Riot of her day.

It seems such a shame to cover her up. I want a naked puppet with huge wooden nipples defiantly on display. She looks quaint but powerless. She could be anyone.

Today, London demonstrates against Russia’s latest homophobic laws as Sochi prepares to host the Olympics. How brilliant would it have been if Coventry’s Olympic mascot had ridden naked in support of her Russian sisters and brothers, defying a convention that worships the Olympic Ideals of corporate commercialism above human rights.

In my mind, she did. Here’s to the true revolutionary spirit of Lady Godiva, and dirty heroines everywhere.