Narvel Annable 




Scruffy Chicken


A Mystery set in Derbyshire 1965
ISBN 0 9530419 4 8

The year is 1965. Outside, it is dull, wet and cold. Inside the steam room of the Derby Turkish Baths, it is a hissing haze of hot, gurgling, boiling anger, a chamber of pea soup where visibility is down to an arm's length. Dimly seen, a man is resting in the corner, head lolling back, eyes closed, pleasantly soaking up the heat - or so it seems. Various bathers come and go. All regulars, they all know this ugly, effeminate man who frequently secludes himself in his usual corner. They all know the outrageous, the common Becksitch Betty, the local drag act, the acid queen who has inflamed so many passions in the nervous, closeted, gay communities of Derby and Nottingham. Nobody wants to bother this infamous bitch, left to doze in swirls of vapour, left to doze in a miasma of his twisted hate and jealousy.

It was the very last time this hated old hag was ever seen. Nobody saw him dress and nobody saw him leave the building. Becksitch Betty never returned to his mean little cottage in Belper and was never, ever heard of again ... until ... On July 12th in the year 2005, Simeon Hogg is celebrating his 60th birthday. By a fluke, he stumbles upon the truth and solves the old mystery of the disappearance of the infamous, the long-past Becksitch Betty. That same ugly old queen Simeon once knew when he was a scruffy chicken forty years before.

Narvel Annable delivers yet another cracking autobiographic whodunit, which begins in Detroit on the day before the assassination of President Kennedy. Eventually, it takes us into deepest Derbyshire, into a bitchy underworld of crones, queens, toads, goblins, gnomes, feral boys and social-climbing snobs of the mid-1960's - finally concluding just days after the appalling London bombings of '7/7'.

Follow the candid teenage Simeon as he cycles. Meander with him around the leafy lanes of Derbyshire and discovers a labyrinth; a secret, subterranean, fairytale world which could have been penned by Grimm. Meet his unique collection of curious characters, all taking shelter in their twilight existence; monsters, clowns, the high and the low, the pretentious and the pompous, the scented and the sneering, the common and the crude. They are all here, all inspired by real people, all warped by the vicious homophobic cruelty and bigotry of 1965.

"A rare pleasure I never thought I'd see: a gay thriller set in Derbyshire."

Matthew Parris The Times

Nineteen hundred and sixty five was the most eventful year of my life. The hilarious adventures, anecdotes and laughter still echo around my head. They now cry out to be preserved in these pages, hopefully for others to enjoy.

The following is a novel inspired by a summer cycling holiday I enjoyed in one of England's most beautiful counties. As a 19-year-old I encountered an interesting selection of some curious and colourful characters which constituted a rich experience. Sadly, most of them are no longer with us. These events took place in real places, in this book peopled by a fictitious cast.

Allow me to introduce you to these caricatured composites who are inspired by a selection of the types I met forty years ago. However real flesh and blood the original model, who actually ends up on these pages (after being processed through my brain) is very far from being any real person - alive or dead. The Peak District is the main setting, but my adventures also took me into Nottinghamshire and occasionally further afield.

Here follows a secret subterranean world which could have been penned by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Do you remember when you were very small? You were told that if you had enough faith, if you could feel at one with nature, believe in the magic of trees and peer into dark cavities formed by dense hedgerows, look into the caves of tangled root systems - you might just catch a glimpse of the fairies. Well, I did look; not under hedgerows, but in those special Derbyshire places where 'fairies' can be seen - if you know how to make contact.

Those strange types were invisible to the majority in that they were un-noticed.
You had to believe in them, be aware of them and want to meet them. I did. I met a goblin, a gnome, a talking toad, a talking ball, a cartoon character, a pantomime dame and a whole circus of confused gender. Here follows my painting. This was the world as I saw it, as I found it, to the best of my knowledge - hitherto unwritten.

This secret history of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, to be unfolded in the following pages, is largely oral and unwritten. For example, when I am dead, Edna will be dead. In other words, I may be one of the few who can recall any hearsay regarding Edna. Edna, an old Derby eccentric, spoken of in the 1960's, was notorious back in the 1920's.
No one has ever written about Edna. When the last person who can remember Edna is gone, Edna will be gone forever - and that is sad.

This is not intended to be a bawdy book. It will gain strength from between the lines,
from the unspoken and the subtle. It will be bitchy, happy and sad, snooty and snobby, pretentious and unpretentious but, most of all, it should be funny.

These people lived on the edge of a disapproving society. They took shelter in their twilight private world. They varied from the old, decrepit and grotesque, to the young, beautiful, fit and full of fun; from the pompous, punctilious pedant to the common, crude peasant; from the professional to the plebeian. These people dealt with the prejudices of mid-twentieth century Britain and coped with homophobic intolerance in their different ways.

Cruelty and bigotry shaped these individuals into their interesting forms which, in turn, influenced a teenager on a bicycle, who was coming to terms with a fundamental new self-awareness.

Four decades have now passed, old laws have been repealed, education is more enlightened, clubs have been opened, support services are available and society is a little kinder. The odd, craggy, quirky characters of yesteryear seem to have disappeared. We will not see their like again.

Scruffy Chicken is the book I have always wanted to write. I wanted to write it before I wrote Miss Calder's Children. This is another autobiographical book, another chance to examine and explore the characters who have shaped my life. The monsters, the freaks and the clowns - I met them all in 1965.

Scruffy Chicken is a social history of Detroit and Derbyshire, a comparison and contrast of the gay scenes of the US and the UK as they were in the mid 20th century.

Come with me. Meander with me on my cycling trip through the leafy sun mottled lanes during the summer of 1965 and let me introduce you to the secret world of a scruffy chicken as he discovers the curious characters of Derbyshire.



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A personally signed copy can be purchased from the author by sending a cheque
for 8.00 [this includes P&P]


Narvel Annable, 44 Dovedale Crescent, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1HJ
Phone 01 773 82 44 83

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