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Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing…


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Rites of passage: Mumps


I came across this forlorn picture of me hidden in some old family photos.

It was October 1965. I am standing in our best room at Gwynfryn Avenue with the floral curtains closed in the daytime to keep out the light. I hardly recognise myself.

I am recovering from Mumps – which explains my chubby features – I look like Fatty Arbuckle! It is a few days after my birthday on the 9th. I’d spent the whole day in bed, in a darkened room, too ill to get up. In the late afternoon of an unmemorable day, Auntie Doris had come round with a big bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate and I’d been too ill to eat it.

I can remember my mum closing the curtains to take this picture, fearful that I might suffer blindness as a side effect of the Mumps if I was exposed to bright light.

I remember the metallic scrape of the wheels of the curtain fitments on the metal curtain pole, encased in the wooden pelmets my dad had made to neatly contain the poles.

I remember the all too comfortable winceyette striped pyjamas. They matched the winceyette sheets of my bed, which made it real torment to get up some mornings as it was too comfortable. I remember the heavy itchiness of the tartan dressing gown, with it’s silky cord that made me look like a young Sherlock in a smoking jacket. I seem to remember all the lads on the estate had one similar which was only used on the coldest of mornings, or when we were ill.

I must have been feeling better as this was the day I polished off the half pound bar of Cadbury’s chocolate – it tasted fantastic after not having eaten for the best part of a week.

I remember it all as if it were yesterday.

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The last day of operation of Rhyl Signal Box, Friday March 23rd 2017.

For those of you who never had the experience of visiting Rhyl’s signal Box (and I am unfortunately in that category) Alan Roberts gives a silent walk through of the box which lies just beyond Platform 1 and before the Grange Road Bridge. It backs on to the car park.

You get some impression of how important Rhyl was as a railway site from the number of levers in the box. The red levers control signals, as does the yellow lever – which covers a distant signal (traditionally a yellow semaphore signal with a black band and a notch cut in the end. The black levers control points and blue ones control facing point locks. The white levers are signals that have been taken out of operation.

When you consider that there was a second box at the other end of platform 1 of a similar size which controlled the old engine shed and the sidings, as well what was until the late sixties a four track mainline,  you get some impression of the complexity and responsibility that the signalmen and women had to control.

Alan Roberts, a Rhyl signalman, and Adrian Schofield, took these pictures on the last day of operation at the box on Friday 23rd March 2018. Alan worked the 0600 to 1800 shift.

Over the weekend all the old semaphore arms will be taken out of use and the lines will in future be controlled by the coloured light signals shown in the final picture.

Thank you Alan, and  all your colleagues who have kept this section of track safe over the years.



















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The end of the line (or at least the signals!)

Since it opened in 1848, the North Wales line has been controlled from signal boxes, spaced every few miles along the coast. The line has enjoyed a very good safety record thanks to the efforts of these signalmen and women.

On Friday 23rd March 2018, all this history comes to an end as the signal boxes will be finally switched out, to be replaced by one of the regional signal boxes. Eventually all the lines in the UK will be controlled by just 10 boxes.

I’d just like to thank all those who have provided for our safety over the years.

I’ve always been fascinated by what happened in those boxes, the pulling of levers, the ringing of bells. I remember when Rhyl had large gantries of signals by the Grange Road and H bridge . These could be seen for miles and would be in action every few minutes in summertime. Rhyl No 1 and Number 2 boxes were responsible for them and all the movements in the shed, carriage shed and the yard.

Robin Harrison has put together this video, based on some of the local signal boxes.


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