On why I’d really suck as a vampire …

vampire kit 14

I’d make a really rubbish vampire. Not because I’m particularly squeamish, or because I’m not actually hundreds of years old, living by night and afraid of crumbling to dust in the daytime. Or because I don’t have fangs. Just because I can’t quite get a hold on all that blood taking business.

Some time ago, I blogged about warfarin home testing in It’s only a little prick, sir…! and the frustrations I was experiencing in getting my GP to accept NHS prescriptions for a home testing kit. The good news is that after contacting my Clinical Commissioning Group, I was able to clarify that test strips for the machine are available on NHS prescription, as long as I have completed a ‘training’ on use of the machine and able to provide the Doctor with evidence. The good news is that I’ve completed the training. It lasts all of 20 minutes and is actually  me just doing the Haematology Nurse’s job for her – ie, taking my own blood through a fingerprick lancet device to test my INR to gauage how much warfarin I need. They train for years, of course, and I got 20 minutes. Which is how I know I’m not a natural vampire – I don’t have a knack for collecting blood. Since the training, I haven’t been able to get a single result at home, having now used up all the test strips I had.

It seems simple enough, especially if  you’re as butch as I am and don’t get squeamish about blood. You insert a lancet into the fingerprick device, prime it, stick a test strip into the meter, warm it, up and then dangle your arm to get blood flowing to the tips of your fingers. A gentle massage of your finger and then you have to whack in the lancet (without screaming) to prick the finger (quick, mind, as you only get 15 seconds  before the blood starts clotting) and then you squeeeeze the blood onto the test strip for a count of two. If successful, the machine beeps loudly  and hey-ho you get all sorts of wonderful magic test results. I haven’t managed this at all yet, and just spent an evening swearing and sticking plasters on finger after finger after finger until I ran out of test strips to play with. It looked like something out of Saw by the end of the evening.

I ended up having to go to hospital to get properly trained nurses  to draw blood out of me and do another test. Since then, I had a message  from the GP about my ‘test strips’. I rang back, armed with all the info from I’d got from the CCG, anticipating a battle  over the prescription again. They were just letting me know the prescription was ready – including a sharps box (I’ve always wanted a sharps box, it makes me feel like I’m in an episode of Casualty.) So, I’m going to have to try again.

Unless you’re a vampire, or a murderer, or a trained nurse/heath professional, it is actually quite hard to draw your own blood without making a complete and utter hash of it so that you either fail to get anything at all, or you end up spewing out blood like some crimson geyser. When I had blood tests before my chemoptherapy treatment for testicular cancer, someone accompanying me fainted and had to be looked after by the nursing staff. Guys, aparently, are much more likely to faint around blood than women, which is why they make you sit dwn when they take any. I have never fainted, dear reader, for I am a man’s man.

Vampires are a favourite for erotica stories, and series like Vampire Diaries and films like The Twilight Saga, contribute to an increasing popularity of their mythic status. I’ve always found vampires faintly ridiculous and don’t quite understand the fascination. I wrote a vampire strory, ‘The Ward’, for a collection of vampire erotica Blood Lust, and which is included in my own anthology A Happy Finish. It’s a modern take on vampires, and was based on my experience of heart surgery. You wouldn’t believe the amount of blood they take from you after surgery ! Well, it has to go somewhere …

I need to hone my vampiric nature as I’m not giving up on the home-testing. I’ve booked a long weeekend in Transylvania in the hope that on a dark night, on a lonely country road leading to a moonlit gothic castle, some handsome Eastern European aristocrat might seduce me with his vampiric charm…. MWAHAHAHA.

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.

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Yes, you can judge a book by its cover…

Lukas A-Happy-Finish_wbanner_hi-res

My publisher, Sizzler Editions, has recently chosen the cover of my anthology of gay fiction, A Happy Finish, as part of its Cover Cavalcade of ‘Loveliest Covers’. Now, it is indeed lovely for me to be part of such a delightful, saucy and sexy cavalcade, and to pick up an honorary ‘title’ of Loveliest Cover, but sadly this has got nothing whatsoever to do with me. I didn’t design or make any suggestions for the cover. The only comment I was able to make about it was to ensureg that my name was spelt correctly – at some point I’d become ‘Lucas Scott’ and I was having none of it. However, I will take the tiara for the title anyway, thank you very much,  and sit here with it on my head . Look at me, I’m a princess, wearing my invisible crown.

I don’t know the cover artist for my book, and don’t really know what decisions they made or why,  in creating the cover image. But I do really, really like it. (Of course, I should point out that’s not my torso on the cover – I wish! And the snow topped mountain in the background isn’t where live, or write – again, I wish!) Yet, it can’t be an easy job coming up with any image for an anonymous author, whose selection of short stories sprawls from vampires to butchers to full moons and London buses  and science fiction clones. What I like is that there is a sense of mystery and beauty  about the image which I would hope is part of my work, an eroticism that encopasses  place as well as person. there’s an exciting and passionate naure to the cover which, again, I like and recognise in what I hoped to achieve in the stories themselves.

Authors rarely get any say in their cover images. And, to be frank, that’s probably as it should be. We can be precious, and contrary, and – well, quite illiterate in the Art Of A Good Cover. Only rarely have I been involved in choosing a cover picture for either my fiction or my non fiction work. And, yes, some of the covers I’ve hated. But, really, my job is to write the damned things, not wrap them up to sell. My publisher and the artist know much, much better than I do what is likely to sell, or what makes a good image. That’s their job. To be honest, for A Happy Finish I couldn’t even come up with the right title. Originally,  I’d sugested something clever, and wittty, and self-referential, and then my editor gently and sagely suggested something much simpler – like the title of a story that was actually in the cllection.

I chose not to go down the self-publishing route for A Happy Finish because I know there are other, more professional , more knowledgable and more experienced people who  have better insight  into the ebook trade than I do. On average, an author needs to write 48 books a year just to make the minimum wage! So you will see why it’s important to seduce you, dear gentle reader, into cooing and whooping at my sexy, exciting, intriguing covers as you browse through endless novels and books on the interweb, and for that cover to catch your flirty eye and poersuade you to part with your hard earned cash (or credit card, or bitcoin).

Some writers may well be control freaks, and want absolute say at every stage of the publishing process. In which case, you probably do need to self publish, and good luck writing those 48 books a year, or waving the magic wand that creates an overnight bestseller. For most of us, we need to recognise that you, gentle reader, most probably do judge a book by its cover, and then also decide if you like the writing .. or not.

Do feel free to tell me of your ‘lovely covers’ . In the meantime, A Happy Finish is available direct from sizzler .

And yes, I’m still wearing my invisible crown.

The End Is Nigh – on (nearly) completing a novel

the-end

I’m coming to the end of my novel. I’ve known for a while that I was hitting the last 10,o00 or so words, as I aways had a target. But, more than that, the story has been told, and a journey has come to an end- for me, for the story, for my characters. We’re all a little relieved, and a little upset. Voices in my head are telling me to tie up a few loose ends, to make sure that I don’t forget to mention this or that. Most of the characters have survived, and a good few haven’t. There are, I hope, good reasons why.

It’s my fifth novel, and the whole process has been very different to any of the previous ones. Usually, I’m very disciplined, and can write 3-5000 words a day without much problem. It’s tough, but I haven’t found it too difficult to actually reach my self-set – or publisher imposed – targets and deadlines before. And so it’s hard, and disappointing and frustrating, to find that I haven’t been able to work that way with this particular novel.

But, it’s also been exciting and frightening and enjoyable. You never learn to write ‘a novel’. You can only learn to wrie your current novel. And every time is different – hoepfully beacause each story is different, and needs to travel a different landscape. This one has been through illness, and fear, and anxiety, and self-doubt. You can read about some of that on other pages of this blog. It’s also been a lifeline and a crutch for me. It’s filled my days and demanded my time and commitment when I really didn’t want, or feel able, to write.

And it needed to be that way, for the story to find its true nature. The other day I had a real revelation about the central protagonists, a genuinely surprising  realisation that I would have missed if I’d travelled any faster towards the end. The story is much, much better and richer  because of it.

I’m so not finished. There’s the difficult plotting and tying up of plotlines at an end, and then starting again right at the beginning to edit and rewrite.  It’s a hard slog and demoralising as you question every line, every word, of something that seemed perfect as it was pouring onto the page first time round.

And then, I have to persuade editors and publishers and agents and readers that it’s as good as I thought it was when I was in the middle of that unreal,  hallucintary trance of writing the first draft.

No-one else knows the story yet. It’s lying there, waiting, for you and your imagination to bring it to life. But it’s not quite ready yet. It lies mewling and seeking attenion somewhere between my mind and the computer. Which is another story, as I’ve just bought a new computer but simply dare not move my documents over in case something awful happens and it’s gone forever.

A little longer yet, I tell myself. A little longer yet, and then it really will be

THE END

Now Was Not Like That Then

outrage impertinent decorum growing up positive

Once upon a time, in a universe far away, I landed my first writing contract. It was all terribly exciting. Getting a real book into print, ad being commissioned. I was a post-grad student terribly excited by ‘gay theatre’ and ‘gay drama’,  the new ‘queer politics’ that had emerged in the 1990s and which seemed to inhabit different areas of my life – politics, friendships, relationships, culture. I was in the process of trying to make sense of all this when Cassell started its own pioneering ‘queer studies’ publications list, and I was invited to be in the first round of authors to contribute. My research enthusiastically – and probably, naively – coalseced around an idea of ‘gay theaterical manoeuvres’ – the notion that sexual identities are created through our body, our language, and the spaces we inhabit/invade. A clumsy, but idealistic way, to try and marry some of my lived experience as a young queer writer and activist following a backlash from the AIDS crisis, and new(re-emerging) prejudices and homophobia. No equal age of consent, no equal marriage, no gays in the military, no ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.

What strides, what leaps there have been since then. And, for me, that book – Impertinent Decorum – was published in 1990, and I was then  offfered a second commission, for a collection of oral histories on the theme of ‘Young people and HIV/AIDS ‘- an area I was doing work in as a dramatist, activist, and writer.  I got the opporunity to write another book, and to sit and listen to many inspiring life stories. ‘It’s like talking to a counsellor’, one of them told me. Which is what I also eventually became.

My third commission from the same supportive editor/publisher was to document the rise and history of the direct action group we both belonged to, OutRage! I had lots of chats, listened to a whole load of gosssip and rarguments, from people I barely knew and people I knew well – ‘including ‘the busiest gay man in London’. Even then, we found we were looking back at a world that was changing and disappearing, hence the title of my introduction to the book ‘Now Was Not Like That Then’, after a comment from a vociferous anti-gay contributor on a television talk show. Much of the time we were being vindicated and ‘str8’ society was coming round to a rather more liberal  (or assimiliationist) vision of ‘equality’. It wasn’t exactly the ‘Queer’ agenda we’d started off with, but if that got the police to investigate homophobic murders rather than hanging round toilets trying to entrap gay mean, it seemed an imporvement. OutRage! was published in 1998, at a time when the organisation itself was changing and diminshing, but before the real impact of its arguments and campaigns saw fruition. Many will argue that OutRage’s direct action was counter-productive and it was the more measured politicking of groups like Stonewall that were responsible for the change.Wotevs.

It was kind of exhausting  wirting non-fiction about things I felt so strongly about. Writing the books was a way for me to re-imagine, but also to record, what was happening around me. After those books, I took to greater flights of fancy with queerotica and sci-fi. But it was glorious to have a commision, and to have space, simply to write,with a supportive publisher backing me.

As with gay rights, publishing has moved on and Now Was Not Like That Then. My publisher was acquired by a much larger publisher, so I find myself strangely housed within the Giant Halls of Bloomsbury, who have recently confirmed that they will be e-publishing those early books. E-publishing! My edior and I talked about such a thing in the 1990s and we both thought there might be something in it, but at the time the publishers themselves weren’t so convinced. All that business about licenses and formats seemed too complicated. So I continued to take a train down to That There London and the gleaming and daunting publishing houses, with a big fat print-out opf my latest 200 page book, Ofcourse, I LOVED going down to the Big City with a physical print-out of my latest  book. It was so …. heavy and impressive. And, even better, to get the print copies or proof-copies through the pose, so I could hold MY BOOK in my hands. Mmm, Precious ….

I still write. Mostly, these now get e-published in the first instance. Which is equally exciting, for me, but it’s rarer to go to a bookshop in Vancouver or wherever I travel and find one of my books on the shelf. But, for me, those first three titles remind me of the many thoughts, conversations, arguments and struggles of a young writer. I’m welcoming their return, and hope I can forgive myself the mistakes which will be so evident to me today.

My first published words were It’s Cool To Be An Artichoke which have also been quoted in the blog. Recently, professional footballer  Thomas Hitzlsperger and Olympian Tom Daley have come out. Moves are foot for equal marriage. Now was not like that then. Later today, I have an appointment with a space station. Funny where your writing and (re) imagination can take you …

more beautiful for having been broken

kintsukuroi

Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold paste, ‘to repair with gold’  has also been described as ‘more beautiful for having been broken’, or the beauty of being broken. It’s been part of this year’s blog experience for me as rogue and queen (from the Eartha Kitt song All By Myself, also about becoming beautiful through painfulexperience.) The proof of its fragility and its resilience is what makes it beautiful.  I even like the fact that the gold paste used is potentially poisonous – repair itself is dangerous.

My journey this year has been through cancer, strokes, heart surgery and loss of lovers and loved ones. The picture above is of something I chose not to repair, as it reminds me of my best friend Mary Harlot, who I wrote about in another blog entry Betty Bones And Mystery Of The Phantom Clipper Knicker. Mary was my oldest, oldest, oldest,  schoolfriend and I bought him the candle holder  as a birthday present to keep on a lovely glass table in his beautiful scarlet papered front room in his home in South Wimbledon home (once used as a setting for a hovel in an episode of The Bill which caused me no end of amusement.) At some point, in drunken revels, he broke one of the glass candle holders. He died suddenly and tragically over ten years ago and I read a poem , shaking like a leaf, at his funeral. When his parents cleared out his flat, they offered me the opportunity to take something away as a momento and I chose the candle-holder. When my Mum saw it, her immediate reponse was ‘you can get that fixed.’ I told her I didn’t want to fix it. Dad understood, but she didn’t – she wanted to repair it, as she always wantes to make things better. I keep it broken, because I like fragile things, and resilience. Not quite kintsukuroi, as it’s not mended with gold, but certainly more beautiful for having been broken.

This year, I’ve written two novels Second Moon and Endlings (which, to be honest, I should be working on finishing now),  and a collection of short stories A Happy Finish. Both novels have touched on my experiences of being broken, or beautful fragility and resilience. Earlier this year, I had a very polite thank you/but no thank you rejection for an earlier romance novel The Leading Man I had published a while ago which I was looking to re-publish. It was also written after a period of illness and brokenness.  Fortunately, as a writer, I’ve had very few rejection letters, but know it is part of most authors’ experience, and we have to believe in the beauty or resilience of our writing to carry on. I encourage myself, and other authors, to treat rejection with politeness and gratitude – not only might you need the contacts again, but someone has taken the time to read your work and respond, and you can learn something valuable both from their criticism and the experience.

We’re all broken. We’re all beautiful. I remind my counselling clients of The Power Of Gratitude – reflecting on the things we can be grateful for, however difficult or painful the experience might be. Often, they will choose to create Gratitude Lists – reflections on what is positive in their lives, as an antidote to the Negative Chatter we often experience. Gratitude often allows us to accept, to look beyond and through the pain itself, and move on.

I hope your experiences of being broken reveal your beauty in 2014.

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Hot On The Trail v.2 (#HotT) – “A sizzling bedtime read” (Attitude)

Hot On The Trail by Lukas Scott #HotT

Hot On The Trail by Lukas Scott #HotT

Bacon in the pan

Coffee in the pot

Get up an’ get it

Get it while it’s hot!

– old Cowboy song

..And so began my first queerotica novel, originally published by the Virgin/Idol imprint in 1999. This week, I signed a contract with RandomHouse/Penguin to drag those cowboys kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by publishing it as an ebook. Blowing some life into a couple of old friends, as it were.

The Midwest, 1849. Hot on The Trail is the story of the original American dream, where freedom is driven by wild passion. And when farmboy Brett skips town and encounters dagerous outlaw Luke Mitchell, sparks are bound to fly in this raunchy tale of hard cowboys, butch outlaws, dirty adventure and true grit.

Find out how wild the West really could be … a place where men were men and pleasure was theirs for the taking.

It was a hugely exciting time to write about and research. The ’49ers’ embodied the idealism of The American Dream, goldhunters who gave up everything in their pursuit of liberty and happiness. It wasn’t difficult to add the notion of sexual feeedom into the story, and #HotT is as much a story about Gay Liberation as it is about the American Dream. It’s a coming Out story on an epic scale.

I hadn’t read gay erotica before, although I had written short stories in the genre. A novel was completeley different – an opportunity to follow an emotional, as well as erotic, journey, and to rewrite history. There can be no dubt there were gay cowboys, and they’re a staple in gay porn, erotica and fantasy. And why not? Rugged men in big hats and tight fitting clothes looking for trouble, breaking the rules. No wonder Village People included them in their motley collecion of gay archetypes.

And I really wanted to write a novel. I’d spent the first few years of my writing careeer writing and researching worthy academic gay/queer books – most of which documented the political and social struggle of gay life in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s hard work, and I ended up with a lot of homophobia in my head and around me. Much of the stories I was telling were about changing the fiuture, and I also wanted to change the past. They re closely related. Time past, present and future. What if it wasn’t always like this? Where are the gay histories? The gay voices from our past?What if the world wasn’t straight?

Somewhere along the way, Brett and Luke befriended me by their campfire and told me how they’d met, and the adventures they’d had. Some of those were together, and ome of them  during the times they’d been forced apart. Hot On The Trail is their love story more than anything. Not in the sense of them wanting or needing to get married or live happily ever after, which is where a gay romance would have taken them.  Their story was grittier, harder, dirtier. Bad boys who just happened to find each other and hit it off. More like cowboy fuck buddies. Making Brokeback Mountain look like The Waltons. Bear Grylls gone badIn a good way …

Brett and Luke will be coming at you digitally probably early in 2014. I’ll let you know when and we can set the campfire up and glug a few fingers of  bourbon. Just don’t tell the sheriff ….

‘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.