Tag Archives: creative writing

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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Great prices on the Reso Trilogy… ideal Christmas present for children and those who love their nostalgia in technicolour!

 

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I’ve not seen better prices than these quoted on Amazon!

Check here

 

 

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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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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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