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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The delight of a Sixties steam train at Rhyl Station

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If you liked the previous post, you’ll love this one.

It is a summer’s day in the early 1960s, there is an engine simmering in the engine shed yard and the silence is broken by the metallic sound of the Tannoy voice.

‘The next train to arrive at Platform 1 will be the 11.17 train for Manchester Victoria, calling at Prestatyn, Mostyn, Flint, Chester (change for Liverpool Crewe and London Euston, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Patricroft, Eccles and Manchester Victoria. First class accommodation is at the front of the train. Platform 1 for Manchester Victoria.’

Such romantic names, Newton le Willows I thought of as a chocolate box pastoral idyll of a village with tea shoppes selling scones with cream and breakfast teas and Camp coffee. I was quickly dispelled of this image when I used this train regularly to travel onwards to university. By then it was a rattling corporate blue, anonymous diesel multiple unit. Newton le Willows was no rural idyll and would warrant prosecution under the Trades Description Act!

We’d stay on Platform 2 and stare through the heat haze beyond the H bridge to see the shimmering mirage of an engine becoming clearer . The signal gantry at the H bridge would be activated to show an engine on either the slow up line, or the fast up line taking the line for the platform. The signal arm at the signal box shown here would be pulled off to confirm the route.

By now we would be racing over the passenger bridge to race down Platform 1 to where the engine would stop just beyond the bridge and before the next signal gantry. If the signal had not yet been pulled it would indicate that the train was on or ahead of time and that might make the driver more affable to a request to join him on the footplate. If the signal was already off then he’d be impatient to be away and his fireman would be working hard to fill the firebox and adjust the injectors.

Sometimes the train would stop short so that it sat under the Vale Road Bridge. On these occasions we stood under the bridge with it, drinking in the magnificent aroma of live steam and hot oil and sulphurous coal. It made you giddy with excitement.

At the guard’s whistle, the driver would open the engine up and, if the rails were greasy from rail and the oil of previous trains the engine would slip and the wheels would spin, producing a cacophony of roaring slipping wheels and escaping volcanoes of steam which would envelop us. The driver would ease off to enable the engine to get a surer footing on the rails and move off to a succession of short sharp beats which gradually increased as the engine gained some traction.

The engine would move off at a quickly accelerating pace, the maroon carriages would then pass us by. The lucky people on the train were distractedly reading or lost in conversation or sandwich eating, not appreciating the wonder of their position on the train, a position we would have killed to occupy.

‘Look!’ we’d say, ‘at the mechanical wonder, of the scenery and sites, the other engines and the stations, the speed and the purpose, the adventures unfolding!’

But they’d simply give us urchins a glance and disappear behind their newspapers or relax into the sumptuous seating for a nap.

Train travel would look so much better with us on board!

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Memories of steam engines in Rhyl

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It is foolish to wish oneself older, but there was a time when I would quite happily have wished myself a decade older to have enjoyed for longer the marvel of steam engines on Rhyl station. As it was I caught the tail end of steam – it was all gone before my twelve birthday in 1968.

What I did witness, often with friends, was magnificent and endlessly exciting.

One of my favourite venues was Rhyl Railway Station, where for 2d  (2 old pence) in the red and cream platform ticket machine, you could while away the whole day. It was even cheaper if ‘uncle’ Harry Hughes was inspecting tickets – he would simply wave you through with a wink.

These pictures cannot do justice to this magnificent and long gone age. You had to smell the sulphurous oil and the hissing of the beast to really appreciate it. For those of us who were there, the sight of a steam engine is a transport of delights to simpler and more exciting times.

David Goodall took these pictures in 1957 and they show a Royal Scot and Jubilee   engines which were usually entrusted to the Euston Holyhead service and a Black Five which usually hauled the lesser services. Photos 1 and 3 are taken at the east end of Platform 1 where the trains to London, calling at Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Stafford, Nuneaton, Rugby, Watford Junction and London Euston. Or Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Eccles and Manchester Victoria (other routes were available!)

The second picture shows a Royal Scot in Platform 2 heading west. The picture was taken from near where the Bee Hotel stands. across the lines that led to a landing stage and from where the ‘Red Dragon’ set out to Llandudno. This train will be calling at Abergele, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction (change for Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog) Conwy, Llanfairfechan, Penmaenmawr, Bangor, (change for Caernarfon, Afonwen, Nantlle and Bethesda) Menai Bridge, Llanfair PG, Gaerwen (change for Amlwch) Valley and Holyhead.

The signal is not yet off for the Black Five 44696 so I’ve time to give my best pleading look to the driver and ask him if I can cab him (get up on the footplate). Back in a mo!

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A 1907 railway journey down the north Wales coast…

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I couldn’t resist this 1907 film of a journey along the North Wales coast by train. So much has changed, yet so much is refreshingly familiar.

I’ve previously published some stills from this film of Rhyl station with a London express arriving.

Watch the film

 

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Rhyl Visitor Reminiscences

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It has happened three times this week, which is by no means exceptional.

I suppose the fact that I spend a fair few hours each week wandering around with the dog and engaging in casual conversations tends to bring it on. At times, I’m wearing my Rhyl FC jacket, or what my mum used to call a ‘windcheater’ (I’ve not heard that word spoken in many a long year).

Anyway, whenever the name of Rhyl is mentioned, invariably the person I’m talking to recounts heart-felt reminiscences of happy times spent in the old home town.  The memories often go back several decades, in some cases to before I was born, and the narrator cannot stifle a smile whilst recounting them.

Inevitably the memories include the beach and the fairs, the focus of family holidays, day trips or august Sunday School visits.

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This week I came across an aged couple who were originally from Birmingham on an unseasonably warm February walk across the local orchard and golf course with Iolo. They spotted Rhyl FC on my jacket and it triggered a flow of memories of summer train rides from Handsworth. They recounted their first view of the sea, or rather the Dee Estuary near Mostyn, the hurried eating of the picnic sandwiches so that they would not have to carry them, or to waste time eating them once in Rhyl.

After Birmingham, they said one of the greatest delights was to smell the salty, fresh sea air when getting off the train. The sun was always shining and that meant that the sea was always blue and the sand golden. Nothing seemed to blight their memories. They were just as the posters at their local railway station advertised. They were never disappointed, or at least not with sixty years of rosy memories to fall back on. They also went from Birmingham by train to Weston Super Mare, but  was glad to hear that Rhyl was always their favourite because it was more brash and exotic, being in a foreign country!

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The second person to accost me this week was in an old people’s home in the Forest of Dean.  That I was Welsh came out first , followed by my precise location of origin. This lady, in her nineties also recounted fond memories of staying with an elderly relative in Rhyl just after the war, when rationing and hard times put paid to most pleasures, but that the seaside holiday remained as sparkling as ever in those grey times.

She remembered going to three different cinemas in the town in one week, The Plaza, Odeon and  the Regal, eating candy floss along the Promenade and the twinkle of fairy lights from the dainty illuminations on the East Parade. Later she said she had gone dancing in the Queens on a fantastic sprung dance floor, and I was able to tell her that the dance  floor still existed, for now!

 

The third person I met was younger than me and had visited Rhyl in the eighties. He too reckoned he had seen Rhyl in a golden age. I suppose for each of these people the golden age was not a specific time, but when they were young and everything was exciting. He spoke of the Sun Centre and the Pavilion Theatre, blissfully unaware of the older domed building.

It is quite a tribute to our old town that so many have so such great memories of the town that our parents created. You don’t get that sort of spontaneous and lasting affection for inland towns. No-one, I imagine, waxs so lyrical about the seasonal merits of Tamworth or Tewkesbury or Tonbridge. Burnley, Batley or Basingstoke were never such golden repositories of memories.

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How lucky we have been to be a part of this kaleidoscope of memories..

 

 

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