Nativity Play, Ysgol Emmanuel 1967

 

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The nativity play was a real rite of passage in British primary schools and this one took place in my last year in Ysgol Emmanuel, 1967.

My earliest friends are all on this photo, but I’m struggling to identify them for three reasons, a grainy photo, a grainy memory and the cunning Middle Eastern disguises many of them have adopted.

I was relieved to be picked by Mr Williams to be one of the narrators, as in a previous production on that stage I had played the King of Hearts. My tights split when we had to ‘all fall down‘ in the final scene. Apparently is was felt to be a ‘tour de comic force’ by the audience. It was seen as the most embarrassing moment of a fledgling acting career by me and I determined never to darken the boards again with a theatrical presence. I have not spoken of that event from that day to this.

Then I was given the script …76 foolscap pages (in the age before the reign of the A4 format) from the smelly roneo machine that lurked in Miss Hasting’s office. All the letter o s had been inked in by the machine. I was told that I had to learn all my lines by heart as I would not be allowed to take the script on stage on the nights! He relented in the end and it was some comfort to have the words to refer to.

I am in the top left of the picture in the dark shirt. I was very tall for my age, which tended to enrage many older, yet smaller boys. ‘You think you are dead tall don’t you!’ was the regular preamble to a fight. Well, I say a fight, more accurately it was me getting a punching.

Coming out on to the stage that first night, with several hundred expectant parents gazing upward from an almost black auditorium and a blinding spotlight focused on me, did little to settle my nerves. I had been told to speak loudly and slowly, pausing at every comma to draw breath and to count to three between each sentence. Apparently I had gabbled my way through practises and the dress rehearsals. It seemed such a difficult thing to do, even with the most sympathetic of audiences willing me on. I have struggle to speak coherently and slowly ever since.

And lo, it came to pass…’ were my first words and I remember thinking that we had been told never to start a sentence with ‘and’. I wondered which was correct, the Bible or Mr Williams. I decided on this occasion to follow the Biblical words to the letter… on all other occasions I followed Mr Williams’ grammatical rulings… it made for an easier life.

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Faded Glory : Tales of old Rhyl

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If you are quick you can catch this on BBC Radio 4.

I’m not sure how relevant this is to the direction Rhyl is now taking, as the story is one of all seaside resorts over the last two generations, but might bring back a nostalgic tear or two…

Faded Glory

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The Geufron

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You could easily miss the Geufron if you passed along Prince Edward Avenue. It was the square of houses on the north side of the road. It had clearly been built at a time before cars were a consideration as the road which reached the houses was ridiculously narrow. The broken pathway, on which cars had been parked,  was also narrow and an untended thorn hedge on the other side of the road was the source of many a burst Frido and  World Cup balls.

There was a large grassed making up the middle of the square The square itself was designed for more genteel times. It had been set out with four entrance points that were simply breaks in the hedge. Paths linked these entrances and there was a circular pathway in the middle. Had it been a country park, then strolling round this path might have been a Sunday afternoon pursuit, but that circular walk was no more than 50 yards, so without making a dizzying number of circuits it could hardly be considered a ‘walk’.

The council had laid crazy pavement on these paths. Crazy paving was, at one time,  all the rage and gave the council an outlet for all the broken paving stones which otherwise would have gone to waste. At forty five degrees to the straight pathways were four privet hedges planted in a U shape and some five feet high.

At one time, in each of these green recesses there had been a bench seat. This enabled you to take the sun or the shade and avoid any accompanying wind. I’m sure that at some point these little verdant shelters would have been a favourite venue of what, at the time, would have been called ‘courting couples’… people who were ‘stepping out’ or any other epithet for what would now be described on social media in the more prosaic and accurate form as ‘in a relationship’.

When I was using the green regularly, some of the benches had gone, having previously rotted, or the slats having broken. All the local kids would gather in the recesses for a chat about what we’d do next. It was only later that I realised that the layout of the green was designed to prevent the playing of ball games. Whichever way you set up, there was no way you could have a football match or cricket game without the crazy paving or the hedges intervening. Behind whichever goals you set up were the thorn hedges which prematurely ended many a game.

A further hazard were the deposits left be itinerant incontinent dogs which used to wander the streets casually when I was growing up and which are such a rarity now. We would have to hope that they were regularly fed a diet of butchers’ bones, the remains of which formed a distinctive white poo which did not smell and was of a powdery consistency. Pity the footballer slipping on the poo of a dog which had canned meat.

Pity also the unsuspecting person who walked past Danny’s Alsation prowling in the yard behind the classic Jaguar hiding under the tarpaulin. ‘Tim’ would launch himself at the substantial gate designed to keep him in, all frothing frenzy and razor sharp teeth, like the very hound of Hell.

There was always a sense of belonging when playing on the Geufron green. People tended not to move from these council houses, indeed several were passed between the generations. The houses had been constructed just after the turn of the century, and I can picture most of the families named here. Some were related, but all knew me , my parents and my grandparents. My grandparents were the Conways  in No. 5. My mum was the eldest daughter and I’m sure all my uncles, Elwyn, Tim, Aneurin Edward and Glyn, would have had the same complaint about the football playing limitations of the green.

Indeed. I  remember  a Friday afternoon when my Uncle Elwyn volunteered to come and play football on the green, only for the football to make a decisive impact with the thorny hedge. There was nothing to be done, so we both made a decidedly deflated exit from the green, shoulders slumped. ‘That wasn’t such a problem when I was a kid,’ Uncle Elwyn volunteered by way of consolation, because we played with leather case balls.’ It wasn’t much consolation because the remains of my plastic World Cup ball was now only useful for wearing as a comic swimming cap.

Reso Terror 64

 

When I was growing up, the gap between houses 7 and 8 led to a hay field. The field had a stake and wire fence which stood no more than one metre high. Despite the easy access this afforded, someone had seen fit to build a full size house door into the fence and to build a supporting frame around it. This proved a great platform from which to attempt diving somersaults from when the hay had been cut and was stacked high to break our fall. The hay field has long gone, a victim of progress, when the bulldozer came to level the ground for the building of 24 garages for the use of people who grew up never believing they would own a car. My dad had one of them and I never went there without thinking the garages were a poor replacement for all the fun we had in the hay field.

From what I’ve said, it might seem that the Geufron was  like any highly localised community and a little parochial. That idea was dispelled by Mr Hagin in No.10. He was a West Indian Canadian who had settled in the town after World War One when large numbers of Canadian soldiers were housed at the nearby Bodelwyddan Army Camp. Whilst waiting for passenger ships to return them to Canada, Mr Hagin had started dating a local girl who he eventually married, not to return to his pre-war home in Nova Scotia. For many of his fellow Canadian soldiers the early post war was not such a happy times. The delay in shipping them back caused frustration and, what was to become an even bigger killer than the trenches, the flu outbreak of 1919, broke out in the camp. Being confined to camp intensified the chance of the flu outbreak spreading and led to rioting. A number of Canadian soldiers lost their lives in these riots and are buried in the beautiful marble church, across the road from the camp.

Mr Hagin went on to father a number of children, of whom the youngest was called Nova after his old homeland. Her daughter Lesley was my girlfriend in the 1970s, so the inter-generational link with the families continued.

Me aged 10

After all this time, I am still in touch with a number of the children or grandchildren of   the families mentioned here, such are the wonders of social media. Even the youngest are now middle aged, but I still see them as I remember them as a boy, chatting and laughing on the park benches, playing truncated games of football until the ball popped, or jumping off the door-post into the hay.

The green has now been totally remodelled. There is a dedicated children’s play area which was familiar to my younger cousins in the 1980s. The family home, No.5 was one time owned by one of the Hagin daughters, and next door to them were their cousins.

The houses, for the most part are no longer council houses – the right to buy made great inroads into the houses owned by councils. The houses are no longer painted a uniform colour as determined by the council, but sport a range of styles and colours reflecting the preferences of their owners. Unfortunately, they have not been replaced in the housing stock by substantial family houses that were good quality and affordable by young people setting out on their lives.

Geographically the Geufron is in the very heart of Rhyl, yet, unless you have cause to visit, you would pass it by without a second thought. An unremarkable square of 14 houses and families who have laughed and cried, and celebrated and mourned together. For me, and many others, it is the epicentre of our existence, the font of our being. It is where we come from.

I don’t doubt that many others feel the same about their small communities.

Guefron

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A Man called Horace and other Saturday morning Odeon Tales!

I have many happy memories  of the Odeon Cinema on the corner of High Street and Brighton Road.

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Induction into the fantasy of film started early with us. The Odeon Cinema cleverly had a Saturday morning Mickey Mouse Club and for the princely sum of 6d (2.5 pence) you could gain entry into a world of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and the firework capers of Flash Gordon and his unfeasibly good-looking girlfriend, pitted against the Oriental looking Emperor Ming whose every thought was dastardly!

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There would be cowboy serials featuring Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  and more modern films made in the fifties and early sixties that featured childhood stars who would go on to feature as staples in seventies and eighties TV. People like Dennis Waterman and Richard O’Sullivan.

These British Film Institute youth films always involved middle class children from comfortable homes and well off parents discovering spies, whilst flying their radio controlled planes, or spotting bank robbers whilst casually sailing along the estuary in their dinghy. Not the sort of thing that happened on the Reso.

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The short and longer feature films were punctuated by an intermission when the lady with the tray of ice cream would appear and fight her way to the front. The tubs of ice cream were out of reach for me if I was to buy a Beano on the way home to complete my weekend expenditure of my pocket-money, so I settled for the latest fad, the Zoom Lolly which looked a little like Fireball XL-5 and had traffic light colours.

In the intermission, young punters were encouraged to take to the stage and show their talents. Besides the fact I did not have any talents, I wouldn’t be seen dead trying to entertain the assembled masses. Duncan and Andy had no problem with warbling their hearts out though. As they finished there was a second’s amazed silence, followed by rapturous applause. I wish I had the courage!

I had been a Mickey Mouse Club regular for a couple of years when I caught the eye of the management for what seemed the right reasons. Apparently the manager wanted to interview me. My first thought was that I was suspected for some heinous criminal offence, like opening the exit doors nearest the toilets to let our mates in.

It turned out my name had been forwarded to him as a reliable sort of lad for an important mission. Perhaps I had become middle class and a radio controlled plane was on the way, or otherwise there were spies operating in the area? It was none of these escapades, but a position of great responsibility was being thrust on my shoulders, or rather round my rather feeble upper arm.

I was being made a member of the Committee, which I thought might involve both riches and status. It conferred none of these, but merely a command to arrive no later than 9.45 on a Saturday morning, and to don a Perspex badge to be worn on the left arm saying COMMITTEE. When I enquired what the remuneration package for the role was, the manager was taken aghast, saying it was a great honour, a position of responsibility and would be the making of me. He also said that I would get in free on Saturday morning.

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It only occurred to me three weeks after accepting the role, that I now spent Saturday morning walking around the cinema, most usually with my back to the screen, telling people to sit down and stop ruining it for the rest of the audience. Saving sixpence in return for abuse and sore feet seemed little compensation once the swagger of wearing a Perspex badge, like some latter-day one horse town sheriff,  wore off.

Week four was the crunch point. I quickly realised that the secret to this job was to do a cursory tour of the stalls so that the manager saw you and then loiter around the stairwells head up to the balcony where the older children congregated.  Given a little luck, I could drift into the high seats on the left hand side of the auditorium so that my badge would not be visible and settle in for the main feature.  Even better if some of the girls from my school were there we could call it an informal date (you know who you were).

I was, like with Watch With Mother, sitting comfortably and about to begin,  when the Manager caught me. I was taken out to the corridor next to the Projection room, and with the flickering and clicking of the Projector as the backing track, was given a right dressing down. The manager seemed under the impression that he was still fighting the War and used a number of military adjectives to describe my dereliction of duty.  Apparently he knew my dad, and would not relish having to tell him what a towering disappointment his son was to the Odeon Organisation!

He watched me return to the Upper Circle and immediately address a couple of lads with their feet on the seats in front, a common occurrence. Flustered from the altercation and with the crescendo of the film blinding and deafening me, I didn’t realise who I had addressed my ‘Get your feet down, lads!’ to. At that point the film froze and out of the darkness came a terse reply… ‘Or else?’

I’d made the mistake of addressing the Cardno brothers.

If I learnt two things whilst living on the Reso, the first one was the TV jingle about mints which went ‘Never Hurry a Murray!’ the second which came from experience, was “Never hassle a Cardno!’

My badge went back at the end of the shift and in the following weeks I resorted to bunking in from the queue at the Fire Exit, by way of compensation for a near death experience.

As to a Man Called Horace, when we were teenagers, my cousin Tim and I went to see a Richard Harris film about a guy captured by Native Americans who came to appreciate their ways. To prove himself, he went through terrible rituals involving eagle claws and needles and being suspended by ropes by tender parts of the anatomy. Tim had mistakenly thought the film was called A Man Called Horace. We still laugh about it almost fifty years later. A Man called Horse is still a remarkable film.

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Copyright: Alamy, United First Artist Pictures and Odeon Cinemas. Used under Creative Commons Usage.
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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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