'They could write a book about this place. It would be a best seller'. This old saying about being at work is what inspired former St Helens born draughtsman Geoff Lee to write six novels and put his fictional Lancashire town of Ashurst firmly on the literary map.
'One Winter' is set in 1962 and 1963 during one of the worst winters in living memory and has a background of romance, rock 'n' roll and rugby league. The main character is the young draughtsman Alan Greenall who works in the drawing office at the Wilkinson Engineering Works, which is locally known as Butlins since it often seems more like a holiday camp. His workmates include Charlie, the office comedian from Thatto Heath and a big friend of Alex Murphy, Stan the war hero, Len the trade union man, Anne the fastest tracer in the west, Les Earnshaw, who leaves to become an author and write material for Brookside and The Bill along with Sam Holroyd (Yorky) from Mytholmroyd. His presence in the office ensures that Lancashire/Yorkshire banter is ever present throughout the series. Other characters include Big Joan and Rita who run the print room, the tea lady Joan from Leigh and spreader of much gossip and scandal, and the mysterious Welsh girl Thelma (Freckles), who works in the Planning Office. Away from work, various older members of the Greenall/Holding/Tabern family play their part and particularly Alan's grandparents with their many stories about the 'good old days'.
'One Spring' spans the years 1972 to 1976 by which time Wilkinsons had been sold in strange circumstances to an American firm from Ohio. Alan and Thelma are now married and have two children, Rebecca and Robert, a distant relative is discovered on the east coast of Australia, the guitarist John Rigby and one time friend of John Lennon, returns to Ashurst with many stories about his time working in London and out of the drawing office window, with the aid of a pair of binoculars, much hilarity is observed and described in the chapter called 'Hanky Panky in Smart Street'.
'One Summer' runs from 1979 to 1984, which was a time when many of those who worked in engineering lost their jobs, the author included. 'Our man in Brazil' and 'A strange story from America' show that some of its content comes from far afield. On the field, Alan and Charlie continue to follow the Saints and argue at work with Mick, the Wiganer from Platt Bridge. 'Beware the Pattern Shop girls', 'Horse manure and a large fan' and 'The spy who came in with a cold' indicate that humour at work continues as Basil Wilkinson, now back in charge, becomes involved in highly dubious dealings on the other side of the Atlantic.
'One Autumn'. By 1992, many of the original characters have retired, moved away or died. The firm is now a shadow of its former self and owned by a company based in Amsterdam, from where a number of story lines emerge, with the appearance of Dietra van Poofen and Hugo van Dijk. There is much less about work and much more about what is happening in Ashurst. Thelma and Joyce, the wife of the now retired Yorky, become fed up with what the Government and Ashurst Council are doing and decide to set up the Ashurst Womens' group. But before they can arrange to have their first meeting in Bell Lane library, they hear that the Council have decided to close it. They organise a campaign to keep it open, and leave Councillor Franshaw with egg on his face, in the chapter called 'The little bar steward'.
As the novel draws to a close, Ashurst, like all the other towns around it, has changed greatly from what it was like back in 1962. Most of its factories and many of its famous old buildings, including the railway station, the Fleece Hotel and most of its cinemas, have been demolished and replaced by car parks, health centres, a featureless shopping mall and a new bus station. But one thing that has not changed is the humour of its residents. The novel ends with the chapter called 'Scott's last day', Scott being the likeable but gullible apprentice on whom many tricks have been played but later in life he proceeds to fool some of the greatest brains in the land.
'Two Seasons'. The fifth novel is set during 2002 and 2003 with the company much smaller
still controlled from Amsterdam. At the age of 63, Alan is now in charge of the Drawing Office
staff that includes Jennifer, the office expert on tariff metering.
Away from work she is involved in The Anti Gap League, an organization that campaigns against the gap in health and wealth that is now growing throughout the land. A former character from One Summer, their former tea girl Hazel also reappears on the scene. She now teaches at St John's Academy and has become a very vocal opponent of the war in Iraq.
Alan and Thelma still live in Silkstone Street and remain in regular touch with their former work mates Charlie and Sam, and his wife Joyce, all of whom are now getting on a bit.
As before, much of the content of this novel is acted out in South Lancashire but some story lines stretch out as far away as Drax Power Station in North Yorkshire, Devon, Greece, Portugal, and Sweden and the novel ends in a way that make readers ask themselves “Is there any future after this?” 'Three Good Years'. See later page...