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Biography

 

Alex Askaroff

 

 

 

                Alex I Askaroff

 

I was born in the latter half of the 1950's in the busy bomb-blitzed seaside town of Eastbourne on the South Coast of England. Rubble still lay in places from the 11,000 or so buildings damaged by German planes. At Newhaven the old fort still had the empty shells and cartridges scattered around its gun emplacements.

 

When fishing from the concrete pier was poor we used to explore the endless nests of twisting tunnels of the forgotten stronghold. The fort was heaven to a band of rebel boys protecting the shores of England. 

 

As I grew my playground was soft green undulating hills of the glorious South Downs and as a wild child I promised myself I would move only when the hills did! I was an Eastbourne lad born and bred and whilst I would wander far from home I always left my heart where I was born. 

 

For me there was no finer point in any journey than when I turned for home even when I had a Forest Gump moment and cycled from Eastbourne to the tip of Lands End in Cornwall before turning my bike around.

 

My father was a proud Russian who had heard the call for men after the terrible losses of the Second World War. Igor brought his young Austrian partner to England to make his fortune. After the smog filled London streets he headed for the clean seaside air of Eastbourne. Here he brought up six strapping lads who were the scourge of the neigbourhood. And so my life began. 

 

I had grown up with a passion for my country and as I grew it became clear why. While I had a Russian Father and an Austrian mother, I also had deep British roots from my grandmother running right back to Anglo Saxon England.

 

Her family were a real surprise to me and when I traced them back a whole new world opened up. It also explained to me my deep-rooted affection for my country. As it turned out I was as local as could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My great grandfather was Stanley Carr Boulter, barrister and founder of the Law Debenture, he married Helen D'Oyly Carte of the Savoy Theatre and Savoy Hotel empire.

 

My great grandfather, four times along, was the British Dramatist James Robinson Planché. The most prolific playwright of the Victorian era. His dad was a personal friend of King George III.

 

His daughter Matilda Planche later to become the Mrs Henry Mackarness, my great, great, great, grannie was a prolific author. Over 40 of her books are still in print. My favourite is A Trap To Catch A Sunbeam. What a perfect title for a kids book.

 

A little further back I have a Bishop, John Fielder Mackarness, Bishop of Oxford, who had died here in Eastbourne in 1889.

 

Even further back is a tie to Samuel Coleridge, one of our most famous British poets and through marriage to the Bellew families who's names entwine through history with their brush to royalty.

 

My mixed heritage contains so many famous people, including Austria's most renowned painter Anton Faistauer, my Great Uncle, that it made my eyes boggle.

 

Tracing my family tree turned out to be a superb journey of discovery. I came to the decision that I was one of the most European people I had ever come across. I was like one of those jars of honey on the supermarket shelves...a product of more than one country. I was joined to East Sussex by some invisible umbilical cord for the further I travelled from my home the faster I always sprung back.

 

How I ended up writing

Well where do you start? From the beginning I guess so hang on to your hats we are about to go on a whirlwind of a ride.

My Mum was out buying fish from Bob Clarke the fishmonger when she realised that I was coming into the world. She shouted to Bob for help. He promptly picked up his cart and bolted off-down Eversfield Road as fast as his fat little legs could carry him!

My Mum managed to get inside to the settee and out I popped. Bob always used to laugh about the way he panicked. We still bought fish from him, so Mumsie could not have been too upset.

I was the number-three of six boys and the family was growing fast. My parents had a vast factory down one end of Willowfield Road in the small seaside town of Eastbourne on the south coast of England. To a child the factory seemed endless. It was around 20 to 30 thousand square feet in area (about 2500 m²) and that was before we bought an even bigger factory next door and joined the two.

My parents were business people so, along with my six brothers, we were part of the business too. By the age of five I was already modelling for company brochures and being whisked up to the great city of London for photo shoots.

The first time I was on the train to London I stared boggle-eyed out of the carriage windows. I knew that there were many people in the world. Now I found where they all lived.

My first attempt at modelling aged five. I got the job as my brothers were already too fat! I soon caught up...

Our factory had huge cutting-room tables where my nappy was changed. Automatic machines ran up and down them all day laying up miles of fabric. Then the cutters would slice the precious cloth into a hundred different patterns.

We kids ran amok in the factory. Crawling under sewing machines as the women worked, playing with the endless supply of cardboard rolls that the fabric came on. They made the best swords in the world. Each one was carefully selected for weight and balance, from the box behind the cutting room door, before bloody combat ensued.

Beginnings

My mother was a skilled Viennese seamstress and had a wonderful design ability too. She invented such things as the Raincape that simply pulled over a pushchair to keep the baby dry in the rain. Other things like the Top‘n’Tail, a changing-mat that baby could not roll off, with pouches at the bottom for such as talc and nappy-rash cream. These were items that were in daily use around Britain and then the world.

There were few babies that did not have one of our products if not many. The family business became the largest manufacturer of baby goods in Europe supplying every baby shop in the country.

My dad was born in Moscow on the first official day of the Russian revolution in October 1917, not a good start. His life seemed to be dramatic from then on. He was smuggled out of the country as a child. Some 30 years later, and you’d think two lifetimes of experiences, by his tales, he settled in the quaint seaside tourist resort of Eastbourne.

My dad, Igor (you can’t get a more Russian name than that even if he was half French) was able to sell just about anything, he was the most natural businessman I have ever met. By the time I came to know him as a child he had already made and lost several businesses.

At his factory in Willowfield Road he used to sit behind his large leather-topped desk signing papers and arranging deals before gliding off in his huge Jaguar. I remember him buying two new Jaguars in one year, wow! One was a Jaguar 420G known as the Banana Boat it was so huge. It seemed as wide as a bus and as luxurious as a five-star hotel.

The stair-well walls leading to the offices at the factory were lined with patent documents for many great ideas. Ideas that were produced in their thousands every week and went to the four corners of the world—from New Zealand to Iceland. We were supplying film stars and royalty alike. Harrods would place special orders for special people and even more special babies. It was a real thrill to see Princess Diana carrying our future King in one of our hand made Palm Leaf baskets.

For over 30 years the names Simplantex and Premiere Baby were synonymous with the best you could buy for your baby. We would see babies wrapped in our products being carried around by the rich and famous and on tv. With the import rights to such toys as Beatrix Potter no home was without our merchandise.

 

A few of the endless products

Growing up in such an environment, surrounded by continuous manufacturing and the hum of sewing machines, it was only natural that I became interested in machinery.

In our cellar at 7 Ashburnham Gardens stood a dilapidated old Singer treadle machine. On several occasions when I had been a monster, like the time I threw a stone straight through my parent’s plate glass mirror, I had the pleasure of incarceration with the Singer.

It had not been all my fault. Nik, my elder brother, had wound me up like a top before I had launched the pebble directly at him. I had no thought of the mirror behind. No thought, that was, until he ducked!

It went through the plate-glass like a bullet. The mirror had stretched from the floor to the ceiling. It all happened in slow motion. Even Nik running away laughing.

Had he planned the whole affair? I often wonder. He was far too smart for the rest of us.

So, I was back in the cellar with the old Singer. I often wondered what devious deed the machine had done to deserve life imprisonment down there. It turned out to be Mumsie’s first sewing machine with which she started the business.

Many years later I dragged that old machine out of the dungeon, like the Count of Monte Cristo, and brought it back to working condition. I placed it in the main hall at the factory for all our visitors to see. What a splendid sight that machine was and the topic of many a conversation.

As time rolled on and I grew up I undertook a four-year engineering course and, after several jobs, started in the family business. At the factory I had the best engineers teach me more about the sewing machines.

David Cowan, who ran the local shop in Seaside, took me under his wing and led me through the minefield of industrial sewing machines. Simon, who was the head engineer at Jaeger, spent his Saturdays training me further. Bob Stebbings, even good old Uncle Gordon, whose family had sewing machine shops almost from Victorian times, taught me trade secrets so dearly guarded.

Eventually the skill that I now have was ingrained into me. I became one with the sewing machine. I could walk across rice-paper with no trace! Whoops, there I go, getting carried away. Truthfully, I will be forever in their debt. Learning the trade in the UK was not without its dangers. For example, Simon who I am sure won’t mind me saying, had a nasty scrape while teaching me repairs.

It was a Saturday morning and he was going to teach me the basics about the teeth on a Brother industrial. This is a most important adjustment on a high-speed machine. A bit like the tyres on a car. The whole performance of a machine sewing over 5,000 stitches a minute depends on a good feed mechanism.

Well, we laid the head of the machine back onto its rest-peg so we could work underneath it. I said to Simon to be careful because I had noticed that the machine had no hinges securing the head to the table. It was like putting your head into a crocodile’s mouth.

Well you can guess what happened. A few minutes into the tricky operation, while Simon’s head was right inside the machine, the head slipped. It pinned Simon by his head to the table.

Wow! I knew it hurt. I was cringing like when you see something horrible on TV but are laughing hysterically inside at the comic situation.

It took a few seconds of watching Simon desperately trying to reach round his head to push the Brother machine off before I sprang to his aid. He had a nasty cut and his glasses were broken but, being a true professional, he carried on with the operation. Those were the days! Young and innocent. I learnt from that and to this day have never repeated the mistake.

Back to work

I was the first of the six boys to start in the factory. I worked downstairs with the cutters. Dad was always off to a business meeting here or there. Eventually, after he retired, my mother had a go at running the business.

By now Nik and my younger brother Sam had joined the firm. Nik’s influence was explosive. The company that had spent three decades growing to around a quarter of a million annual turnover suddenly started to expand at an amazing rate. The sewing machines that most summers were lent out to other factories such as Jarvis Leather Goods were soon being used non-stop.

The long holidays we used to have, due to lack of orders, soon disappeared and the ever-increasing workload meant all work and no play. Nik turned our seasonal business into a powerhouse of manufacturing. For a businessman this is paradise. It was because Nik, like our Dad, was a natural businessman. Phone him at 3 am and talk to him about business and he is happy.

I, on the other hand, did not take to it so well. My fishing trips came less and less while my working hours went up and up.

Within a few years, under Nik’s influence, the firm was exceeding two million pounds a year turnover and, remember, this was back in the eighties. If Nik had stayed at the business I could only imagine the size it would be today.

Mum took the opportunity to retire and the rest of us just put our heads down and worked, worked, worked. The company or, by now companies, were like a monster that had to be fed constantly. I felt like the little sparrow that had to feed a cuckoo in its nest. There was no stopping, no rest, just work. In each five-day period we had to manufacture £40,000 of goods just to break even.

Think about it. On Monday we would start the machines to lay and cut. By Friday thousands of items in hundreds of different shapes had to be sewn together, checked, packed and shipped. We imported the best raw materials from around the world. Corduroy from China, lace from Switzerland, woven fabric from Austria, hand-made palm-leaf baskets from Africa. Everything we needed to make our goods. Our price list contained over two thousand items.

We organised shows in London, and around the country, where we would show off our latest products. Things like Beatrix Potter soft toys or the latest musical potty that played a tune when you tinkled. I never did understand why that did not catch on, it worked brilliantly on my kids and you could not get them off the potty!

Maybe that was the problem? Come to think of it, by now there could be many adults all over the planet that would only pee to music.

We mingled with the very top of our trade. Lunches with Maclaren, visits to Nottingham lace factories where machines that had made lace for over a century were thundering out new reels of lace for our products. We toured the famous Silver Cross pushchair factory where they were still hand-building the Rolls Royce of pushchairs. I watched with quiet admiration as an old man ran a perfect blue stripe along the carriage of a new pushchair earmarked for a young prince of the realm. He had been painting the same stripe for 30 years with a sable brush. A true craftsman.

Money was flowing, business was fantastic, we were top of the heap. Gradually however, things that used to give me great pleasure seemed no longer important. Things like having a suit tailor-made by a Saville Row tailor and having three fittings to get it just perfect. Or being announced at the Ritz.

Staying in hotels like St Ermins, where a steak would cost a day’s wages. St Ermins, a superb hotel, was the unofficial meeting place for spies, just around the block from MI5 and the base for allied intelligence during the last war. Our parties were the envy of the trade shows. I remember the company spending £10,000 on one night, the equivalent of £35,000 today.

We booked the entire top floor of the Kensington Roof Gardens in London . What a place it was, with flamingos wandering around beside the fountains. It used to be the Biba Centre, a huge boutique store selling such makes as Mary Quant. In the Swinging Sixties, along with Petticoat Lane, the Biba Centre was the hottest place in town. Stars that were about to burst onto the fashion scene, like Twiggy would rush down there to spend their hard-earned cash. On our evening the men were all dressed in dinner suits, the women in ball gowns draped in their finest jewels. A live band serenaded us throughout the night.

They were super times but the pressure of work for me was mounting. I was like the stoker on an old steam train. Back when the train was quiet it was good fun. Now I was stoking the boiler non-stop. More coal, faster, faster, faster. I became a slave to that boiler and the more I shovelled the more the monster wanted.

It was around this time that I made what was, to me, an amazing observation. My life was disappearing.

Let me try to explain. Ten years or more had passed in a blur. I had eaten, slept and even dreamt about work. It was an all-consuming passion. A thousand deadlines on a thousand products. I was aware that during a conversation with other people I did not know anything about the most basic goings on, for example local gossip.

What was happening outside of my immediate circle became irrelevant. I was unable to measure time. Most weeks, or months, even years, were the same. Rush, rush, rush.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like the period at dawn when you have not quite woken. You look at the clock and it says 6 am, you glance again only seconds later and it reads 6.30. I could not distinguish much about any month or any year. Work was silently and efficiently stealing my life.

This is how you can understand it. It is not Einstein’s Theory but, to me, far more important. Imagine you are in a racing car speeding around a track. The track is life. You see very little, except the track immediately ahead. A moment’s diversion leads to disaster. Like the time when, in my rush, I dropped ten rolls of Viennese lace into a bag needing Swiss broderie anglaise material. No problem, that is, until you see the result. Hundreds of cot quilts that were cream with peach lace.  The machinists never questioned the work they just put it all together. They looked awful and had to be sold off cheap.

A single second’s mistake that cost us thousands. These mistakes only occurred when concentration slacked. So, no slacking!

Now imagine if you got out of the racing car and got into a normal car and just doodled around the track of life. Suddenly you can notice things. Now get out of the car and get on a bike. Suddenly you feel the wind in your hair. You notice the birds twittering and see other people.

Well, I wanted to jump out of the racing car and bloody-well walk. I could not stop time but I could slow it down.

Second thoughts

I wanted to smell the grass and touch the flowers. To make idle chat with people that I didn’t know. I did not want to be able to tell the time, almost down to the minute, by the sound of the factory. I wanted to stop my children’s childhood disappearing through my fingers like grains of fine sand.

So there I was the engine-stoker on an old train that had grown beyond anyone’s imagination. Nik on the other hand wanted more. He had decided that the firm was just not big enough. To start a chain of Premiere Baby shops to be franchised across the country. Another factory making toys down in the West Country. More, more, more.

One day after a huge show at Earls Court I looked at my children and thought enough was enough! I had missed so many important things.

That day I had arrived back from London just before midnight and here I was unlocking the factory gates before 6.30 the next morning. I had to plan my escape or my life was going to disappear. One day I would be asked into the office, patted on the back and handed a gold watch!

Giving it up was not going to be easy. The so-called good life traps you with chains of gold. Nor can you take out an integral part of a mechanism and hope it will still work. As an engineer I was well aware of the stormy waters that I would have to get through to reach the safety of shore. Money, big houses and fast cars surrounded me. All were going to be lost if I jumped ship. The Rolls Royces and BMWs would have to be exchanged for a van with a tool kit. The paid holidays and pension would be lost. The champagne life would have to go if I was to be able to slow down and smell the roses.

It would be a great leap. I suppose a leap of faith. I was going from the security of a business that had never failed into the unknown. Away from a business that had clothed and supported me for so long. The only person I would have to blame for failure would be myself.

Each day, at the factory, I had the responsibility for around a hundred people. This would change to be just one person, me. The problem with dramatic changes, where you go from a lucrative life to a simple one, is that I had made no provision for it. Had my revelation of time hit me sooner in life I could have prepared for it, but not now!

So here I was, on the engine platform of the family steam-train, hanging on like grim death looking out into the dark abyss that was my future. Certain in the knowledge that I had to make the jump but with no idea of what lay in my path.

Coincidentally, just before I jumped, Nik had left for greener pastures. Whereas I wanted to slow down he wanted to build his empire unhindered by petty family politics. Therefore he did.

As the time drew near I sold my shares to my younger brother Sam. After massive taxation because of my high tax bracket I was left with just enough money to settle my debts and buy my van and tools.

On the final day I parked the BMW in the factory yard, made a few goodbyes and walked down the long drive to the factory gate. As I passed the gate I stopped and looked at the lock that I had unlocked so many times for so many years. I turned and took a final glance back at the factory too. I knew I would never be back.

The yard where I had played as a child, where my friends and I had played football, where I had parked my first car, the view that was so familiar, were all to be no more. The great times, like when the factory girls and an even more enthusiastic boy thought they might like to strip me naked before Christmas lunch, were all now in my memory. That time, after a frantic chase, I had had to dive out of a back window like a rabbit down a hole with my clothes hanging about my person in bits.

There was the memory of all the workers making Father Christmas outfits for the annual lunch. The sight of a hundred red and white costumes racing up the road to the restaurant is something that I will never forget.

The three-mile walk home from the factory was a short one. I was carried on wings of air. Subconsciously I knew I had made the right decision. I knew that my life was going to change in a million ways but they would be the right ways. Nik and I had left the family business that had grown for four decades in the safe hands of my four other brothers. Well, we thought we had…. However, that’s another story.

Disentanglement

The next few months were the trickiest. Estranged from my family that I had been with for over 30 years. They had taken the leaving of the family firm as an intolerable insult. Funnily, I thought I would miss them but the acrimonious meetings and backstabbing was something that I found I could live without.

Power, money and big families. What a mixture! I had left them all behind squabbling like children over the last cake at a party. I was so relieved. I felt like Caesar who had somehow cheated death on his way to the Senate and then escaped from Rome and was living in a retirement flat in Eastbourne .

Things went well until, completely out of the blue, a huge tax bill hit me. It was for rollover-tax due from money paid to Directors in years past. This tax was something that I knew nothing about and certainly for money that I had never had, but I was apparently liable.

I went to see my accountant. He looked through the details and sent me to a solicitor. There was no getting out of it. Pay the tax or prove I never had the money. Easier said than done. The thought of doing battle with the Family was a nightmare. It would open a real can of worms.

To pay or not to pay? That was the question.

It was a dilemma with no easy answer. I decided to pay the bill. It was crippling. The money that was to see me through the hardest months at the beginning of my venture, my safety net, was gone.

One of my friends, Eddy Graves, whose children I had babysat many years before was in the car trade. He found me a lovely little Renault van and let me have it at a price that I could afford. I strapped some extra car seats in the back for the kids and off we went.

Having no money at all makes you keen. I chased every penny that was available. I would travel far and wide fixing machines and sharpening scissors well into the night. I had to build up a customer base for repeat business. Although I had many contacts and plenty of suppliers I knew that I had to get the businesses in my area.

Luckily many fantastic friends gave me endless support and my wonderful wife, Yana , who had stood by me through the good times and bad, was my rock.

I had slid from the top of the ladder to the bottom without hitting anything in-between. When the money was not enough to cover our week’s expenses Yana would do boot sales on the weekend—a bit like garage sales in America but on a larger scale. She would sell things that we could spare or do without.

I knew things were really bad when I cut up the four-poster bed and made a table using the posts as the legs. I sold that and many other things to get us by.

The kettle was fibre-glassed up when it leaked and the kid’s clothes lasted as long as they could be patched. In the winter we piled on three jumpers rather than turn the heating on.

Besides my home, and a few sewing machines that I had collected for years, I had one other possession that was dear to me, my 1966 Daimler car. I had lovingly restored it over many years and it was the last valuable thing that we had that could be sold. I had rebuilt her from a rusty shell to a beautiful, near pristine condition, work of art. I booked her in at the local auction rooms and dreaded the trip.

However fate played another hand. Yana, who was coming back from a shopping trip, misjudged the garage wall. She hit the front of the Daimler, scraping the wing against the wooden door. Well now, most people would have stopped but, in a very feminine way, she decided that as she had gone so far and she might as well continue into the garage.

The result was that she scraped the car along its entire length, from the front bumper to the rear. The damage meant that the car had to be resprayed. During the weeks that this took our fortunes changed. Money from the schools and factories had started to roll in and for the first time we had money in the bank. Therefore the Daimler was safe. I could not afford to pay the road tax or even insure it any longer but it looked great in the garage. Now, years later, it is back on the road restored to her full glory.

Things were still tricky. As I called on customer after customer I had to learn how to deal with complete strangers in a friendly manner. This was so important because I was meeting them in their homes and fixing their machines. No more shouting out orders across the factory floor.

Now, all these years later, I almost feel as if I know the person before they open the door. This may be because we all fall into very similar patterns. As humans we are all individuals but we have a thousand similarities. Eventually I became totally at ease with people. One of the secrets of success.

Looking good

After the third year of running Sussex Sewing Machines we had our first holiday. One of my very close friends from school days, Andy Russell, lent us his car and we had a relaxing week driving around England. What a fantastic holiday that was. So special because it meant we had done it.

We had started our own business and survived. The future was looking good.

As the business grew, and with it our prosperity, the thing that I had dreamed of most was coming true. I was getting enough time to smell the roses. I would spend time chatting to strangers that would become friends.

During my travels I came across people that had wonderful stories to tell and I was ready to listen. I also had time to play with my kids before they went to school and help them with homework after school. Well, to try to anyway.

Now, in a new millennium, my business is responsible for millions of pounds of machinery and around 7,000 customers in our area. I look after anyone and everyone with a sewing machine: schools, laundries, hospitals, hotels, factories and homes.

It seems like another life back at Simplantex when dozens of women on piecework and bonuses were screaming for their machines to be fixed. I had left behind the monster and lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, in Nik’s and my absence, the monster had rolled over and died. A sad fate for what had been a superb business that should have lasted forever, I mean kids have a way of popping up all the time don't they.

Deja vue

One day I had a call from the new owners that had bought the family giant. When I arrived at the factory what a shock it was. The day I had left the factory it was a heaving mass of humanity. They had a full order book and the future was bright. The good thing about babies is that there are always new ones coming along. The miner’s strikes in the 1970s that caused the blackouts during the evenings led to one of the first baby booms. No tv meant everyone was getting up to something else.

When I had left, everywhere you looked there was noise and commotion, cutters, sewers, checkers, packers and office staff running here and there chasing orders.

I parked in the yard that I had not been back to for nearly a decade. It was empty save for one flashy sports car. The cutting rooms lay silent where cutting machines had ploughed the room all day. The sewing rooms, where there used to be so much noise you could not hear yourself think, had just a handful of machines left. They looked so sorry for themselves all alone.

I was on a ghost ship. The silence was dreadful. It was as if they had all perished. The canteen where we sat and had so many laughs as we swapped tales and jokes over a sandwich and drink was the saddest place of all. I felt a lump in my throat as I walked around. No one had come to greet me. I wandered—lonely and thoughtful.

The rooms where we used to hide as children were full of dusty junk. I walked about, stopping to look at the place where there was a hole in the floor. At the tender age of twenty I was rushing through the factory with a new Brother industrial machine. The wheels of the trolley hit a lump in the floor and tipped. The machine rolled off the end of its table. As the heavy industrial head hit the floor it was like a cannon exploding.

In a split second a busy factory fell silent. Every eye was on me. All the machinists looked up from their machines. The packers and checkers all stopped. There was the sound of the cutters running up the stairs to get a look, then silence: complete and utter silence.

Suddenly a huge round of applause and whooping and shouting erupted spontaneously from everyone. The boss’s son had made a big booboo. I turned a bright shade of pink, picked the machine up, bowed to my audience and trundled off with it as fast as my legs could go.

Times like those were brought back to me as I stood on the deck of my ghost ship. I felt tears well up in my eyes and had to look up and cough to clear my throat as one of the new owners walked towards me. He had no idea of the connection I felt to the old place. He just wanted to know if I was interested in the last few machines that they were getting rid of. I bought them and left. It was a sad day.

A new beginning

Luckily my youngest brother had listened to me before I left and split part of the business away from the parent company. This firm is still going strong so a part of the original has survived. Who knows, one day it may grow as large as the firm that it broke away from?

To begin with, in the early years of my business, many of the local factories were suspicious of me entering their premises. Whilst they were desperate to have someone with my ability to tune a machine they were also aware that I could manufacture almost anything I saw.

One factory was so cautious that they took the precaution of shielding their entire production from me. As I entered the factory I was guided along the corridors to the machines that needed work. Each door that could be closed was closed. Every opening was blocked with sheets or boxes so that I could see nothing.

Now, years later, we laugh about those precautions. I roam about with a free hand, often being given the keys to be able to start early.

As I travelled around my southeast corner of England I became more aware of its beauty. There were places that I had passed a million times and never noticed. Once I was off the beaten track I would be transported in time. Back to an England that only survives in books—or so I thought. Places like Ashdown Forest , the home of 100-acre Wood, where Winnie-the-Pooh came to life. The same forest where Henry viii hunted deer.

Eastbourne was just the most perfect Victorian seaside town. It was designed and built by people with vision in an era of elegance. I have loved it and wandered around it since childhood. I saw it grow into the bustling holiday resort it is today.

Acorns to oak trees

I was born in a small corner of the United Kingdom, a tiny part of the world that had built the greatest empire our planet had ever seen. What had made this possible was the people that lived here. Their vision, character and, often-bloody, history had made our country. Each day I would visit descendants of those people. Everyday people, people that grow from a soil so rich and a history so full.

Through these people runs the blood of an empire.

My love for writing poetry allowed me to describe what I had seen and the people I met. As the weeks became months, then years, I started to collect priceless anecdotes and stories from my customers. They are stories from all over the world but mainly from Sussex Folk; from meetings with explorers that had been to the heart of the Amazon to people that knew Rudyard Kipling, all fascinating.

In the stories on my site and in my books you may get some idea of the affection that I have for this unique spot on our planet.

A success story

When I started to put pen to paper who could have ever imagined what would happen next! All I contacted advised me that writing a book was a dangerous game. Lots of time and money invested and little reward. Out of the thousands who try only a handful make it. How wrong they all were. My first book sold out so fast that I had over 250 pre-paid orders for the second edition before I could get them printed.

If I could have bottled the printers face when I turned up asking for more I could have sold it.

From an interview for BBC

“My books are about local people, local history, local folklore even ghost stories plus photos thrown in for good measure. Why so many people have bought them from all around the world I am still unsure. We have posted out over 2,000 copies to America . Last year I had a couple sitting on my doorstep from Canada ! I have also had visitors from Australia and Mexico as well as local people. Its all a bit of a shock to someone like me." 

" Someone once described my books as a nostalgic trip down an old Sussex lane with cream tea thrown in. I loved that.”

“I know people say that my writing is very James Herriot you only have to read a few pages of mail I have put on my review page on my website to see." 

Reviews read some amazing reviews...

"After I finished Patches of Heaven and started to get such incredible feedback I went out and bought one of Herriot's books to see what they were talking about. It is to my shame that I had never read any of Alf Whight's great stories about Herriot. There are similarities but one is fiction and East Sussex is very different to the Yorkshire Dales and far more appealing to me."

"Down here we really are walking in the footsteps of history from pre-Roman times when the great forests of Anderida stretched across the southeast. When Neolithic man tied an antler to a stick and started clearing land for cattle and pigs. Thousands of years had gone by before William decided to have a go at running the country in 1066.”

East Sussex has got to be one of the best places on this planet for history. For example, we have a higher concentration of medieval churches in this area than any place on earth! Birling Gap is in the top ten most beautiful but endangered places on this planet."

" I have simply put a lot of this history and information into my books from great battles to anecdotes about Rudyard Kipling from people who actually knew him”

“Since my second book, Skylark Country I have been on BBC radio, appeared in countless features and talked till my voice was hoarse. In fact I have had so little time to write that the third in the trilogy, High Streets & Hedgerows, has taken ages to finish. I even turned down more radio shows and talks just to concentrate on writing.”

“Since I started writing I was asked by a publisher to write a travel guide, another even knocking on my door, I declined. I write stories that touch people’s hearts, which make them laugh and cry. They are all from the people I have met in my travels around this little piece of heaven in which I was born."

" I have to admit that the books have been great fun to write. The fact that they have been described as the most successful trilogy to come out of Sussex for a decade is just a nice pat on the back." 

"If I had the time I would do it all again. I ignored all the experts, probably through stubbornness and ignorance, but proved it was possible. The years have flown by since those early days on the road with my first tool kit. Now as I write in 2013 I am already working on book nine. The journey has been a great one, as exciting as any blockbuster, and the ride of my life. I must add a quick thank you to so many who have inspired all my stories, you are awesome."

Alex I Askaroff

*****

Alex Askaroff Books

If you fancy a good read on a lazy summer afternoon or to relax before bed my books are now available at all good bookshops.  Simply quote the details below or visit my books page for the entire list of publlications.

Read a sample story: Ena Wilf & the one-armed machinist

Random Threads Trilogy by Alex Askaroff

1. PATCHES OF HEAVEN ISBN 0-9539410-4-3

2. SKYLARK COUNTRY ISBN 0-9539410-2-7

3. HIGH STREETS & HEDGEROWS ISBN 0-9539410-3-5

Books retail @ £9.99

Email me for detail of how to order:alexsussex@aol.com

 

News Flash, all Alex's books are on: www.crowsbooks.com

 

is now on sale

 

 


 

 

 

 

Where have all the years gone?

 
     
     

 

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