VT Coughtrey

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Chapter 56: First time at last!
Chapter written 2004 & last revised 2013

There are no notes for this chapter yet.  Some of the notes on other pages are based on info YOU send me.
Robin Sidgwick, meanwhile, had made the acquaintance of a cinematography lecturer at Brighton Poly. I shall rename him Geoffrey.  Geoffrey was a powerfully‑built man in his thirties, possessing rugged good looks, a fine and powerful voice and an impossible degree of self‑assurance.  He boasted of endless sexual conquests and there were plenty of witnesses to confirm that he wasn't lying.  He was completely obsessed with sex, to the point of living mainly on undercooked steak and garlic, in the belief that this diet increased your potency.  Men got on well with him, especially since he was in the habit of relating intimate bedroom secrets involving various women we knew.  Woman almost universally claimed to hate and despise him, yet you kept discovering that his most vehement detractors had not only slept with him already, but were definitely in the queue to do it again.  The fact is that he had an automatic ability to charm women into bed.  I say automatic, because he certainly put no effort into it.  His opening gambit was invariably "Are you on the pill?"
I was introduced to him and became a friend.  He seemed to be fascinated by me and my life history up to that point, and invited me often to his flat, where I turned down offers of rare steak and garlic but listened as eagerly as everyone else to details of his latest exploits in the next room.  He had a semi‑regular girl‑friend who masochistically tried to cling to him, but it was understood that she was welcome only on nights when he had failed to get anyone else (but in fairness, this was the late sixties).
Geoffrey's women tended to be a lot younger than himself (one was a fifteen-year-old runaway, in fact). Janie was a post-graduate biology student of 22, the Marxist daughter of a junior minister in the Wilson government, and she was the only one of Geoffrey's one-nighters to have a good word for him.  She found him amusing and vulnerable.  He described her scathingly as a "nympho", meaning that she had seduced him - not the way round it was supposed to be for Geoffrey.  Before long I met her at a party. Remembering what Geoffrey had said, I had a few drinks, then went and sat on her lap.  The only thing I remember her saying is "Your place or mine?"  For some reason, I decided on mine.  Having squeezed into my single bed, we both promptly fell asleep. However,the next morning, despite a hangover, I finally lost my innocence, at the age of 25.  I kept up a friendship of sorts with Janie, but only to go on local demonstrations about Vietnam or to attend Marxist meetings at the university.
Geoffrey, meanwhile, had offered to make a publicity film about dossers in Brighton.  Robin and I got very excited about this and conducted Geoffrey to all of the known dosser hang-outs in the town, including some very dangerous derelict buildings, where Geoffrey shot a few reels of super-8 (remember it?).  There was no sound-track on the film, but we were accompanied on some days by Barbara Fanning, a reporter on Radio Brighton, who had borrowed a portable tape recorder from the BBC and she and I took turns at interviewing many drunken and often aggressive Irishmen.  The idea was to play the tape simultaneously with the film.  Geoffrey got permission for a room of the college to be used for the premiere of this great work and Mike Taylor invited the press and anyone else he thought might be interested.  The tape-recordings turned out to be impossible to sync with the film, so it was decided that I should give a live commentary as the film was being shown.  I wrote the commentary and rehearsed it with the film for hours.  The snag was that no-one had considered the difficulty I would have reading the commentary in the degree of darkness required at the public showing.  Consequently, no-one had brought a torch on the big night.  I had therefore to improvise the commentary as best I could.  I seem to remember that it was a disaster.  In fact, Geoffrey and Mike said as much.
However,the reviewer from the Brighton Evening Argus was very sympathetic to the cause and from the review that appeared in the paper the next day, you would have got the impression that we had unloaded a great masterpiece on the world.  This review brought in some money, but it had a more exciting consequence than that - the offer of premises rent-free to use as a hostel.  The offer was made by a Mr Gurney who owned an ironmongery shop at 105 Islingword Road.  He had retired and closed the shop, but was in no hurry to sell it.  His offer was accepted immediately.
It was a three-storey building with a total of about ten rooms, mostly used for stock.  Mike Taylor decided we must do everything above board, including seeking planning permission from the Corporation.  He thought it only fair to hold a public meeting to consult the residents of the road and hired a church hall for the purpose.  He then set about producing a leaflet advertising the meeting and explaining who we were and what we proposed to do with 105.  He was confident, as was the Vicar of Hove, that the good people of the area would be only too happy to approve and even assist in such a worthwhile venture and would certainly back the planning application.  I was a little unhappy about some of the sordid details about dossers that Mike had seen fit to include in the leaflet, but he assured me in his usual authoritative manner that these were stout working-class folk who had known hard times themselves and would be sympathetic rather than shocked.  I was detailed to deliver the leaflets, which I duly did, and was told that I would have to be the main speaker at the meeting, being the prospective warden of the future establishment.  The Vicar of Hove agreed to chair the proceedings.
The date fixed for the public meeting (which I can actually remember as being 28th August) was still some way off, and the Planning Committee of the Corporation was unlikely to reach a decision for several weeks after that meeting.  In the meantime, said Mike, it would be a good thing if the good people of Islingword Road could see that the man who was to run the hostel was an ordinary working‑man, just like them.  Therefore, he said, it was important that I should get a job until the hostel was opened.  Possibly Mike and his committee had realized how much of the Brighton Hostel Fund was being lost to the pubs and curry houses and had for that reason conspired to give me something else to do before I could take up my post as warden.  For some reason, I didn't rebel against this idea.  It was still possible to get a job within hours of deciding to do so, and I got one - just for the asking - at the Shoreham gasworks.
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