Ex-fireman Graham Ashworth has turned his hand to writing, and his debut novel follows the life, loves and losses of the man who sits in the same seat in the same old pub…
Time to go Ray!” The tired landlord nudged the bleary-eyed, yellow skinned man in the ill-fitting suit. “You’d nodded off.”
So begins Graham Ashworth’s first novel, a gritty story tracing one man’s life from his Jack-the-lad youth to his later years as a defeated casualty of fate and his own folly.
In the years between, Ray Taylor lives a chaotic life of womanising, family break-ups, personal enmities, poverty and plenty, local politics and scandal…and always returning to the same pub.
In the words of the old Fleetwood Mac song, he is a ‘Man O’ the World’, but it’s only a claustrophobic small-town world.
Like the author, Ray has worked as a fireman, but Graham says that’s where the resemblance ends.
Born in Rochdale, Graham lives in Rossendale with wife Dawn. He worked as an engineer before embarking on a 31-year career with Greater Manchester fire service. Using his skills at telling a story, he based Ray Taylor and the novel’s other characters on his many years observing human nature.
The book opens with a scene-setter in the present day, chatting idly with the landlord in a pub that has seen better days…
“Taking the effort to survey the room he added, ‘Quiet, isn’t it?’ ‘Yeh, not really worth opening on Mondays and Tuesdays any more,’ he wearily replied.
“Ray could remember when he would revel in the company of others any day of the week. But the ageing town centre pubs, once his playground, were shutting down at an alarming rate. Once, he
would feel it his duty, over the seven days of the week, to be seen in as many as possible and in turn he would be fondly known in whichever he chose to frequent.
“Constantly he would recall the smoky, stale alcohol stench of the now tom-down, slum-like hostelries. In their heyday, even these hovels would be run by licensees with an iron fist. They would make their entrance at around 10pm on a weekend evening to greet their appreciative public. Landladies in particular were a hard, no-nonsense type and woe-betide anyone who crossed them. ‘Done up to the nines,’ with a heavy layer of make-up and a bouffant hairstyle, the landlady would take her seat at the bar, not unlike royalty. Her cronies would then gather around with flattery in abundance, in order to hopefully be invited for A.T.’s, (after time drinking.)
“The riff raff and other undesirables would be singled out to leave at closing time, leaving the clique to carry on drinking behind closed doors. But home for Ray is a cold, lonely, empty place these days. The lifestyle he chose, as a ‘man o’ the world’ would see to that. The entertainer, joker, story-teller’s audiences had all but gone.”
Flashback to 1961, when teenage Ray is a would-be man about town, who fancies himself as a pop star type…
“Pausing at the hallway mirror. Ray liked what he saw. His efforts to simulate the look of his idol. Billy Fury, were beginning to have a large impact on his life.Closing the door behind him, leather
jacket over his shoulder, a confident swagger led him down the red brick council estate avenue.
“Humming and whistling, combined with a poor vocal rendition of ‘Halfway to Paradise,’ did nothing to detract from his new image. The re-creation had also not gone unnoticed at his destination; a fifteen minute walk to the large detached houses across town which would see him at a place he could once, only have dreamed of.
“Lorraine Faraday couldn’t actually believe what was going on. The scruffy, uncouth kid who had left the no-hopers school only twelve months ago had taken her breath away. And that was not
all; her dream of moving into womanhood with fairytale romance had been uncontrollably scuppered. It should have been one of the Elliott twins; tall, blond and the object of desire of almost every girl at St Catherine’s Grammar School.
“All through her three years of flirting and occasional dating with one or the other, she had managed to save herself for the right moment. But that didn’t arise as planned. Just one date with Ray ‘bloody’ Taylor and wham barn, gone! But still, she herself had discovered this re-designed, if a little rugged, diamond of a young man and would refine him accordingly.”
Lorraine Faraday is just one of many of Ray’s conquests over the years; years in which he makes friends and enemies, drifts into a marriage, is banished from seeing his own son, gets pursued by a loan shark’s heavies, and eventually finds himself in a TV documentary about the decline of pubs after being put forward as ‘a pub character.’
Ray’s journey through life is punctuated with very strong language and period references such as winklepicker shoes, John Collier tailors, the new upstart group The Beatles, Screaming Lord
Sutch, Ford Anglia, Carry On films, Shergar, Polaroid pictures, the Millennium. and so on.