Letter to home…

 

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It is October 2nd 1975. Carrying heavily laden cases, I’m on my way to University in York for the first time. The A level results had gone particularly well and I managed to get into my first choice of University.

My mum insisted on coming with me as far as Manchester on the train, in part to check I don’t leave my cases anywhere, also to make sure I eat the stack of sandwiches she had made early that morning. My mum, in my lifetime, had never felt the need to travel to Manchester for some urgent shopping, but on this day she does. Perhaps it is the thought of the second born flying the nest.

I can’t work out if my trepidation trumps my excitement. I’m assuming the next few days will be difficult. The torrential rain as we arrive in Manchester Victoria does little to improve the mood and we both get soaked as I see my mum off the train. She is crying, which she claims is the rain. I have butterflies but try to sound breezy. In the minutes before the train’s departure she reels off a list of things to remember, of which the old chestnut of changing my socks and underpants every day features, together with the command to ring that night after seven, to be sure she is home to hear about my progress.

I wondered if my dad had received such lavish attention when he left home to fight in World War Two. I doubt he had as many corned beef and pickle and egg and tomato sandwiches as I was carrying, unless he was expected to feed his whole regiment.

All this comes to mind as we were discussing family history with my uncle Glyn this weekend. In honour of his and Janet’s arrival, I had blitzed the attic trying to find artefacts and photos from my parents, as he is the family historian. Eventually I was able to find a biscuit tin from my youth which dates from about 1960 and shows a little girl in a snowy scene wearing a red scarf and hat. The girl’s face has outlived its usefulness as it has been covered by my mum’s faded, yet distinctive writing on a heavily sellotaped piece of yellowed paper.

The Premium Bonds alluded to on the cover note have long since disappeared, but all the other contents, Army Records, Important Letters and the catch-all Bits and Bobs, were present and correct.

Amongst the salubrious company of the Important Letters were two written by me in my first weeks of University. As my mum had provided stamped letter cards, all I needed to do was to find time to write the one page letter and locate a letter box. It would have been churlish not to have completed those two tasks.

I had not seen the letters in over forty years, and did not remember writing them. Immediately on reading them though, I was back there on my first morning as a student following a restless night’s sleep in my new room. I can remember the emulsioned breeze block that cooled my back from the incessant heat of the central heating system, which had a default position of breathlessly hot, even when turned off. I’d grown up with ice on the inner windows of my bedroom and this central heating would take some getting used to. The letter was the first task after the morning shower as it gave me the opportunity to wile away some time with some purpose.

The letter was inordinately positive and breezy, which was not quite how I felt in those first few days away from home. I was going to be able to fully enjoy and indulge myself in student life, but for now the butterflies had not subsided and I was already exhausted from the charade of looking positive and confident when I felt the opposite.

It was a relief when I teamed up with my first university friend, Davy from Belfast,  who seemed to have both direction and momentum and was patently not lacking in confidence. I must have come across, or at least I hoped I did, as mean and moody in those first few days as I tried to re-orientate myself to this new life. In fact I was melancholy and disorientated in my new surroundings.

I suppose we have all experienced similar feelings on our first forays away from home.

What were yours?

 

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Rhyl 1960s a video compilation by Chris Turner

This shows a range of footage from different sources showing Rhyl as it was in the early sixties compiled by good mate and collaborator Chris Turner…  various copyrights…

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Rhyl Reflections… extract from a community film

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A few years ago I was involved in the development of a community film with TAPE which brought together memories of Rhyl in its heyday.

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See an insight into those times here… Rhyl Reflections 

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All images courtesy of Tape Music and Film
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The lost art of boredom… and the books to invoke it..

The Reso - A Sixties Childhood

Boredom is a wonderful and creative thing. When there are no expectations, the mind becomes clear for peregrinations in open skies.

When thoughts and speculations are allowed to meander some original thinking is developed, as well as an awful pile of meaningless dross.

I perfected the art of boredom as a primary school child in the 1960s. I could spend hours staring at the sky or the sea just mind wandering. Growing up on the coast gave me a massive watery canvas on which to work and a chant of waves to induce the trance.  Mostly I was just wandering, but sometimes, I fleetingly viewed a nugget of an idea which was streaked with genius.

Beyond the Reso

Short of a coastline, the best way to induce this trance like state is through books.

How I used boredom to profitable end, and the trouble it got me into, are outlined in my Reso trilogy of books. Some indication of their enduring popularity can be gleaned from the fact that the library in my hometown no longer stocks them as they are the most stolen volumes from their shelves- that is the ultimate in back handed compliments. Only the ‘I read your book, it was wonderful and hilarious and brought back those times so well. We’ve passed it round the family and all agree it is a superb read!’… you are allowed to buy more than one book… you could give it as a Christmas or birthday present for heaven’s sake!

The Reso begins the story in the 1960s, Beyond the Reso tells the seventies tale of secondary school, and Resolution focusses on the university years and beyond.

I had to use a pen-name as David Hughes is perhaps the ultimate beige name in Wales – several hundred of them are already in print! I chose the surname of a particularly fondly remembered teacher, John Ambrose, and my mum’s maiden name. The name has garnered hoots of derision over the years, but it tends to be memorable.

The books are particularly suitable for a school age readership from upper primary onwards and deal with many of the trials and tribulations of school, as well as the transition to the world of aspirations and careers beyond school. 

They are suitable for anyone who has had a childhood, particularly those who can’t remember it, or those who can.

The books are available to order from all good bookshops, or online here  

Resolution

 

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Thoughts on VE Day from my Uncle Glyn…

I was amazed to receive this today from my Uncle Glyn Conway. It was written for his grandchildren.

As well as being a beautiful testimony of VE Day in the community of the Geufron in the town of Rhyl, it also shows two images of my mum which I have never seen before. In the first image I did not even recognise the girl as my mum! In the second if was unmistakably like her.

Twenty seven years later I was sitting on those same seats behind the Pavilion, shivering with my girlfriend Lesley and looking out on a grey sea. Coincidentally, Lesley’s mum was part of the Hagin family who had also enjoyed that VE day party!

Thank you for sharing this Uncle Glyn. x

This week is the 75th Anniversary of VE Day and the ending of the Second
World War in 1945. I thought you would be interested in some of my
recollections of that time since most people are now too young to remember
these events. I just asked Gran/Granny Jan could she remember some of
these things and she said ‘No of course not. I wasn’t born until 1947!’

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I was born in 1938 so I was still a baby of 18 months when war broke out.
The photo above shows me in the pram soon after the outbreak of war with
my eldest sister Ceridwen and my brother Eddie. It was taken on the Rhyl
Prom. My brother has his bucket and spade so we must have been on a
beach outing. Behind are a group of soldiers who were stationed at an army
barracks near Rhyl.


I remember the great excitement by the public that the war had ended and
that in many families like myself people who were serving their country in the
military would soon be home again. My eldest brother Elwyn serving in the
Royal Marines came home from Germany and my sister Doris in the ATS the
Women’s section of the Royal Army returned from Belgium. My mother I
remember used to encourage me to eat my carrots as they would help my
eyesight. It was said that pilots during the war did the same. My Dad was too
old to be called up but he did his bit for the country by being a soldier in the
First World War twenty years earlier. We still had to wait another three
months before complete world peace when Japan surrendered after the
dropping of the atomic bomb in that country. That day in August 1945 was
known as VJ Day (victory over Japan).


Like all other schoolchildren I received a special souvenir illuminated
certificate signed by King George V1, the father of our Queen Elizabeth II.
Special street parties were arranged for the children and I remember sitting
on chairs from our homes around a long table in the street and enjoying
sandwiches, cakes and jelly served by our mothers and other relatives. One
strange thing I remembered was an argument in the street by two families. I
can’t remember the reason for it but young as I was I did think at the time it
was the very opposite of what the party was all about!


Cinemas showed how the war ending was celebrated all over the country and
how children who had been sent from cities to the country as refugee children
for their own safety were allowed to return to their families. At the end of all
cinema performances everybody was expected to stand for the National
Anthem before leaving though some of us children tried to escape before it
was played to quickly get back to our games such as playing football, cricket,
marbles, rounders, conkers, hop scotch or swimming in the sea. One of my
favourite games was playing soldiers at war but it was always difficult to get
my friends to be persuaded to be German soldiers! My brother brought back
a German soldier’s helmet which for many years was placed at the top of our
garden shed.


This is me at about the end of the war outside our house – together with
Ceridwen, the same sister who you saw pushing my pram in the other photo.
During the war everyone had to do something to help the war effort and she
worked for the National Laundry in Rhyl.

 

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The VE Day party was held near our local Air Raid Shelter which had been
built for people to escape into if there was a bombing raid. We were not
bombed in Rhyl though a German aircraft involved in the bombing of
Liverpool crash landed nearby I remember. My brother Tim served as a fire
watcher in case of raids by the Germans. I still have his badge. I remember
various concrete bunkers with small square openings were dotted about the
coast in which soldiers could defend the country should German Landings
happen. These together with the Air Raid Shelters were a feature of the
landscape for many years after the war.


All these memories are in my mind at this special time of commemoration.
Things gradually got back to normal and whilst life was difficult during the war
years, it made us thankful for the things we took for granted. It’s a bit like this
lockdown period; things will improve and we all look forward to brighter days
ahead.

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The Joy of Books…

Amidst a week of global uncertainty, one positive note for me … both my education based books are in the best sellers list, Future Proof Your School on Amazon, particularly the Kindle version, and Re-Examining Success in Blackwells the education bookseller.

Perhaps some teachers inexplicably have some more time on their hands at the moment?

The Reso trilogy continues to bubble along in anticipation of great sales when the feature film / TV series is released… Unfortunately, after ten years, we still don’t have a firm release plan for that, nor a production come to that. However, waiting in the wings are some very talented people keen to make that happen.

Writing books is, apart from a few exceptions, seldom a way to find a fortune, but I’m glad I’m ahead of the curve – the average number of books sold by all the titles published in the year in the UK is 18 copies. Given that the publisher usually gives you five copies, that is not a high hit rate. I must have reached more than 19 with all my titles to date!

 

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The Queen’s Building in Rhyl… a place of delights for the town for many generations.

Rhyl developed as a tourist resort really, there was very little in the area that became the town before the railway from Chester to Holyhead arrived in 1848. Before that there was the large house called Ty’n Rhyl and a few scattered farms, one of which can still be seen at low tide between Rhyl and Prestatyn, swallowed by the sea.

The town quickly developed as a coastal resort when the railway arrived and there was a massive building programme which included hospitals and sanatoria as well as private schools, of which the town had many.  Other than the railway station, which was further expanded in 1900, the most impressive building was undoubtedly the Queen’s Building.

The Queen’s Building occupied a commanding position at the top of the High Street and faced north onto what was being turned from a beach with sand dunes, into an extensive promenade. The building developed quickly into what we might now describe as a leisure complex. From its opening in1902, it provided a host of facilities to keep both locals and holidaymakers amused.

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Initially the building had a large glass dome in which an exotic zoo was housed and a tower above in allowed visitors an unbroken view towards Snowdonia, Blackpool Tower, and some say the Isle of Man. I can remember a small  but engaging exotic zoo on the second floor of what later became the Queen’s market. The zoo had such exotica as piranha fish and large snakes, all presented in the semi gloom. I remember looking for what I think was a python, only to find that it had moved imperceptibly to within a few inches of me behind which I hoped was unbreakable glass.

Looking down from the balcony, which also housed a fortune teller, one could see the full extent of the Queen’s dance floor, a beautiful sprung floor which rivalled, and some say exceeded the floor at the Blackpool Tower. John Jones in his book Rhyl: the Town and its People (1970)  reckoned the floor could accommodate 2000 couples. Certainly in the war years it was full to bursting with the troops, Canadians in the first war and Americans in the second who were based at Bodelwyddan Camp a few miles away.  My mum and her friends had tales to tell of nylons and sweets readily available there, often in return for a dance. Delly Hagin told me of the excitement of dancing there and the disappointment of choosing a boyfriend for his looks and not his dancing ability, which resulting in her abandoning her dancing stilettoes, and walking home barefoot with her sore feet.

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There was also a theatre which accommodated all the stars of the day from the music hall acts to more modern singers like Cliff Richard. My uncle was lucky enough to meet Laurel and Hardy there and was presented with a  book in recognition of his creative writing.

The first talking picture shown in Rhyl was shown at the Queens Show Boat being followed by The Singing Fool and All quiet on the Western Front. Much of this part of the complex closed as a cinema in 1960.

I have only one memory of one of the two night clubs at the Queens. That was sneaking in whilst still at primary school in 1968 with a friend who crept between my legs to avoid paying. Being tall, I was not questioned about my age, although I doubt they would be happy to have known that two 11 year olds had gained entry. It was the first time I’d heard live music from a local band called the Purple Chapter and we placed ourselves next to the enormous speakers. It was several days before we could hear again.

In latter days the building experienced a rapid decline and only recently has it been purchased for development from the Parker family who have owned it for a number of years.

All the various elements and entertainments mentioned so far are as nothing when compared to the original building, much of which was destroyed by fire in 1906. It was rumoured that the original facilities extended to a large aquarium which was situated, appropriately at the road now called Aquarium Street, where my girlfriend used to live. That is a distance of almost half a mile from the initial Queens building. It was said that the sites were connected by a Venetian style canal with gondolas and gondoliers imported from Venice!

Many people have shown a great interest in what became of these underground canals. Certainly my cousin Gerald, has seen the entrance point to the canal system over fifty years ago when it was in disrepair. My friend, Rhyl Historian Stuart Jones, has become intrigued by the canals and set up a social media group to ‘Save Rhyl Queen’s Building!’ in the hope that some of the building could be restored to its former glory.

There have been documentaries and historians covering the canal system and it is part of the local mythology. The fact that the Parker family were so intent on keeping people out of what might remain of the system on safety grounds, only added to the mystery, with some people saying the system was intact, whilst other claiming that it had been filled with concrete and that there was nothing left to see.

The building is in the process of re-development and probably little of the original building will survive the process.

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Stuart and another local entertainment guru, Karen Woodham, were recently granted access to the building by the developers. Certain parts were off limits due to safety concerns, but here is their report of what they found of the former splendour of the building…

Queens Building Rhyl, a last visit to the building by Karen and Stuart.

 

 

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