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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A few hours for Macmillan Cancer Care…

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Owen Hughes New York City Marathon 2019

 

Our younger son, Owen has taken to marathon running. It started with the London Marathon, and in his usual way, he set out to master the event. He is committed to completing the six main world events. He only has Boston and Tokyo to complete now and his time has fallen to 2hr 37m at best.

He recently took on the New York marathon and found that his time, which was meant to guarantee him entry, suddenly didn’t, due to the high number of runners who had made that time. He decided to take a charity option for entry and chose Macmillan Cancer Care. This meant he had £2500 to achieve in sponsorship.

He recognised that he’d struggle to raise such an amount by relying on the usual suspects, family and friends, and contacted local supermarkets to see if he could have a charity slot at the exit. We have helped by doing slots at the Coop in Southwell and the Morrisons store in Bulwell, Nottingham.  He and his girlfriend Dalia have completed other collecting days.

It has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

Fundraising for a cancer charity like Macmillan, and one which so many people have had cause to use, means that you are very well received. We’ve heard countless stories of how families have been helped at their darkest hour and how they have been supported and cared for in what has been a terminal, or more hopeful outcome.  As a family we have also been so grateful for Macmillan’s support in dark days.

A number of people have said that they were donating ‘just in case’ they might need the help and support of Macmillan in future.

I’ve had conversations with a number of really interesting people today about Macmillan, hobbies, interests and experiences, and laughs with customers and staff. It was good to get away from talk of the election.  All in all, on a dismal day weather-wise it has been a rewarding and fulfilling day and we managed to raise £174 for the cause in three hours.

Best moment of the day was a lady on crutches who must have been in her eighties who made her way slowly to me and produced a £10 note in what is one of the poorest areas of Nottingham. I told her that it was a £10 note, in case she was not aware. She replied,  ‘I know it is, but there are so many people who are so much worse off than me who need help.’ What an inspiration.

A really inspiring day all round thanks to Macmillan. Thank you to all who donated today and online.

If you get the opportunity to stand for a couple of hours fundraising for such a worthy cause I suggest you grasp it with both hands. You will come away with a renewed sense of optimism about the good heartedness and generosity in our communities in these difficult times.   (Other charities are available!)

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Bonfire Night! A warning from history…

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Bonfire night was always a major celebration in our family and our back garden was the  location for the annual festivities.

In the 1960’s the family bonfire party was the norm and the back garden was the venue. In all honestly we kids used to be purchasing and letting off fireworks from the time they became available in the local shops in late September. We’d go to different shops, often away from the Reso so that our firework purchasing would not draw the suspicion of the local shopkeepers. We would club together to extend our purchases from a single banger to a box of ten, and there would inevitably be disputes about who had contributed most, and who would decide where and when we would let off the fireworks.

On the Reso there were some houses which had a covered entry between the houses. We used to gather to light fireworks in such entries because the sound and awe of the bangers going off in such confined spaces was spectacular. The game was to stand next to the exploding firework and only then run and hide as the local house dwellers came storming out to investigate the deafening explosion. It was sometimes difficult to think coherently and run when you had been so close to the explosion and you could only hear the jabber of your friends as a high-pitched yet muffled rumble.

My mam was probably the most dangerous person I knew around fireworks. On the one occasion when my dad was working an afternoon shift and would not be home until at least 10.30, she took charge of the proceedings. It was mayhem!

The rocket which was designed to commence the proceedings was too large for the milk bottle in which it was placed. My brother and I pointed out the danger, but mam thought we were questioning her ability and waved aside our warnings.  As she lit the outsized rocket, sure enough the milk bottle fell over. Luckily, on the rough furrowed soil that my dad prepared at the end of the vegetable growing season, it fell facing into a neighbours garden. Had it fallen the other way it would have shot straight through our back room window and exploded on the dining table. As it was, it managed to penetrate the chain link fence and was caught miraculously in a large bra, injudiciously left on the line by our neighbour. Caught and held firm in the bra, the firework worked itself to a crescendo. Mam immediately urged everyone in, and suspended proceedings until she was sure the neighbours were not going to come out and complain. I was the only one who stayed out to see the rocket explode, closer to the ground than intended. In a crescendo of red and green stars one bosom of the bra was turned into a colander.

To her credit when both Ruby, the neighbour, and my mam were in the garden the next morning sorting washing for the line, she feigned innocence, being dumbfounded by the damage to the bra… ‘bloody kids, eh!’ were her words of commiseration to Ruby and her air ventilated left bosomed bra..

After a 15 minute hiatus, my mam reconvened the firework party and things started to approach normality. A succession of Roman Candles and a Vesuvius were successfully lit and we ooh’ed and aah’ed at their wonderful showers of colour and volcanic lava spurting.

My mam, emboldened by these successes, now proceeded to prepare a Catherine Wheel. Again we gave her wise advise to attach it to the washing line post, but she insisted it would look better pinned to the recently painted shed door.  She picked up a handily placed half brick and proceeded to hammer the Catherine wheel into the door.  It was clear what was going to happen and assuredly it did. Mam lit the holy firework and retreated as fast as her furry boots would allow her. The Catherine Wheel spluttered into life, but effectively nailed securely to the door, refused to turn, and instead expended its fiery fury down the paintwork of the door, burning a neat vertical line in the paint, which given the furious temperatures, continued to burn after the firework had expended its sparkling contents.

My mam was crestfallen that the Catherine Wheel had not performed as desired and immediately advanced on the door to pin a second wheel below the first. This time she summoned me into the house to  bring a small hammer from my dad’s toolkit. She tacked the pin very carefully this time, ensuring that the firework was able to spin freely. Like a surgeon, she handed the hammer back to me and instructed me to retreat as she lit this second firework.

She was delighted when this Catherine Wheel spun flawlessly, showering sparks in silver circles at a faster and faster pace until all the gunpowder was expended and a burning disk was all that remained. In the darkness and with our eyes overwhelmed by the sparky, mesmerising display, we could not see the full damage to the shed door.

My mam’s efforts had burned a large exclamation mark into the door, which would form the basis of a family argument the following day, in which, for my part, I repeated my advice of the night, which had been to use the washing line post for the Catherine Wheels, my dad nodded in agreement, and my mam gave me a withering look.

On the eve of the seventies, the popularity of the family garden firework display declined. This was in part due to the sheer volume of accidents which inundated hospital accident and emergency wards each Bonfire Night. It might also have been a signal of the weakening of family ties. either way, it seemed the future belonged to large organised displays. Ironically, at the first organised display I can remember taking place, on the promenade, a fireman was tragically killed by a massive firework detonating prematurely.

The organised displays comprise massive expenditure on spectacular fireworks, but the children are now passive onlookers, rather than active participants in the events of the night. As I was never hurt by fireworks, other than the odd burn, and temporary loss of hearing. I don’t feel so keenly the demand to control fireworks as those who were more grievously burned.

The pictures were taken last week at the annual Southwell Rugby Club display.

 

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A dampening note for potential writers…

 

Me aged 10

 

I have often been exasperated by the way booksellers classify my books. They tend to work to set parameters and the Reso can easily fit into several categories, so in some book listings it appears as fiction, young adult, in others as general fiction. I’ve even seen it in a section on social issues, young people!

In truth, all of these are technically correct. Others would be equally appropriate such as : fiction: Wales, fiction: historical (it is disconcerting to realise that what appears to you as your short life to date, is now generally considered as an historical timespan!) fiction: the sixties.

Unfortunately the way a book is classified can also have an impact on sales because readers tend to concentrate on the sections they know and will never find books in other sections, unless by recommendations. This is what makes recommendations so powerful and valuable. Thank you so much to all those people who took the trouble to write something on a website about how they enjoyed the books, it is the biggest compliment you can pay to an author and keeps me positive and writing.

A back-handed compliment which really frustrates me is the reader who tells me that they enjoyed the book immensely, and that they have passed it round the family and everyone else enjoyed it immensely as well! I’m not looking to make my fortune from writing, so few people do, but I would like some recompense for the hundreds of hours spent researching, writing, re-drafting and publishing the books. If you love a book, any book, try and encourage the author a little more by buying a couple of copies for birthday or Christmas presents.

Regarding making my fortune from writing, a few statistics will soon disabuse that notion. If you take all the fiction books published in the UK in a single year it amounts to almost a million. The average number of copies sold per book is 18! That means from JK Rowling, who sells millions, down to me who sells a few less, 18 is the number of copies that the average book sells.

There are few fortunes to be made in publishing your writing – so it is best to write because you enjoy doing so or because you think you have something important to say about humanity. I am in the first camp.

The top selling books tend to come from established writers with agents, big publishing houses and massive marketing budgets. There are also the best sellers from ‘celebrities’ ghost written for them to give them another income stream, and promoted shamelessly on television chat shows. Not that I’m bitter!

For the rest of us, it is rather like the lottery… you have to be in it to win it, but the chance of making a living, let alone a fortune from writing, is very remote indeed. I console myself with the thought that when I die, something will live on beyond me and will consistently fail to provide an income stream for the beneficiaries of my Will.

Having originally gone through a publisher to have a professional endorsement of my writing, I made the decision to self-publish through a company called Lightning Source, part of the Ingram Group. This allowed me to cut costs and to take out the publisher from the trough. Even so, I receive about £1.40 in pounds sterling for every book I sell, the rest is accounted for from set up and production costs.

There is a line of reasoning that suggests you should set the book cost level as low as possible so as to maximise sales. £5 pounds is often seen as a critical price point for fiction books, which is why so many retail at 4.99. However, this assumes that you have a budget to promote your book so that it can compete in the crowded £4.99 market. I don’t have a marketing budget. I am in the Catch 22 situation of knowing that to maximise book sales I need to market the book but I can’t market the book until I have generated enough sales to justify a marketing budget, which I can’t do until… round and round it goes!

That leaves this blog and sites such as Linked In on which to promote the books. The secret here is to segment the market by exploiting the different categories a book will appear in. My books are timebound to the sixties, the seventies and the eighties respectively so I would do well to find niche markets for such writing. Similarly my books have a Welsh setting and there are active Welsh communities overseas to which my writing is recounting their youth, or making a wider cultural connection.

In this context, no-one has been more helpful than Ceri Shaw and the team at Americymru and Eto magazine for bringing my work to a large expatriate community in the United States and Canada. The Welsh appear to be great networkers so that the Americymru connection has led to Australian, New Zealand and South African sales – just leaving the Patagonian market to crack!

There is support for Welsh writers in the form of bursaries and writing camps under the auspices of Literature Wales, but these, quite rightly, focus on writers writing in Wales and debut authors. I wish I had known that when starting out on my debut book!

For the most part this has been a dismal article of trials and tribulations, so I feel I must end on a positive note. Nothing quite prepares you to have people share their memories with you and tell you that you brought back to life things half-remembered or forgotten.

My favourite reader comment was from a Principal of a Welsh primary school. He could not have pleased me more when he said, ‘I see a lot of young Dylan Thomas in your writing.’ I assumed he was referring to stylistic qualities and not plagiarism!

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Friends in high places…

 

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