Tag Archives: Writing

Wales: Land of myths and legends. St Winifred, Caradog and a domestic!

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Wales has a strong culture of the Arts. Today that can be seen in the International Eisteddfod and a continuing oral and musical tradition stretching from Male Voice choirs, to harpistry to internationally popular musical bands.

Each area has its own myths and legends and this story comes from Holywell, a few miles from Rhyl…

Mad, bad or humble? 

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The ‘best room’.

Graham 21st birthday

The core of my family with the green bamboo wallpaper in our Front Room in June 1969

 

A characteristic and perverse feature of working class houses, despite frequent overcrowding, was reserving a room to be used only on special occasions. The front room or best room was a feature of my and all my friend’s houses on the Reso.

In our house, regular visitors would be shepherded into the back room which served as dining room and general meeting place. There was method in this though. The house was heated by coal fire, and the back room had the boiler behind the fire so it made sense to only keep one room heated rather than going to the expense of lighting two fires.

This back room was full of comfortable, if old furniture in green patterned designs, which brought to mind the sort of material that the British Railways carriages were upholstered with at the time. The dark wood table had leaves which folded down after meals to give more space.

When not entertaining friends, the chairs would all be angled to face the television and we lived most evenings from the 6pm News through to its reappearance at 10pm held in thrall to its grey glowing tube.  We laughed heartily at the comedies, concentrated open mouthed at the documentaries and wondered at the nature and travelogue programmes about places that we could never imagine visiting. We even spent time during intermissions staring at the test card or a soporific potter making a clay plot. If before 10pm  the box went dark it was as much a crisis as the heart monitor flatlining in a hospital. I cannot remember a day in my youth when the television wasn’t on in the evening, unless it was requiring urgent repair. It brought us both great news and bad, the 1966 England World Cup victory,  a Rhyl win in It’s a Knockout, the Death of President Kennedy, breaking news of the Aberfan disaster of 1966 and of course Blue Peter.

There was no television in our front room, but there was a large and ornate wooden radiogram which, taste of the future,  combined both a radio and a gramophone in a single unit the size and weight of a Pharaoh’s  sarcophagus.

The furniture in the front room was all Remploy, as my mum was keen to support those with disabilities and was purchased from John Brookes and Sons of Vale Road. Unlike some, who will remain nameless, all our furniture was bought cash on the nail. Not for my mum and dad the ‘never-never’ and the constant worry you might, by force of circumstance, find yourself falling behind on the payments, or worse, would have your furniture repossessed in sight of the neighbours. My parents never lived far from contemplating what we now call ‘the worst case scenario’ or what my parents called a ‘streak of bad luck’. I suppose first hand experience of the Great Depression and six years fighting the war against Fascism changes your outlook fundamentally. I was always surprised that there were others on the estate who, having lived through the same experiences took a ‘devil may care, live for today’ attitude, but that was never for us.

My parents were always trying to save. They did this in a green metallic cash box labelled with gas, electric, rent, insurance and food. Each heading had a slit in the lid of the box in which to save against that element. Once a month my dad , with his sharp pencil would consult the bills kept in the box in anticipation of the new bill coming in and do a calculation of how much the tin was up or down on the anticipated bill. If we were down on the anticipated bill there would be sacrifices made and things foregone.

In this way, and after many years delay,  a luxurious three piece suite was purchased in a red and grey tapestry pattern wit well lacquered wooden arms. Complementing this was a Remploy cabinet which held the beer and wine glasses placed on a liner of old Christmas wrapping paper, as well as precious biscuit tins containing the insurance policies and family photos in the main cabinet and domestic detritus and my dad’s brown leather gloves in the top  drawer designed for cutlery. The other two drawers to the right hand side of the main cabinet contained an assortment of scarves, souvenirs, old coins, badges and important white A4 envelopes containing precious documents which,  taken  together, could only be classified as miscellaneous.

The table and four chairs was of a light walnut design, mirroring the sideboard. These dining chairs, unlike the ones on the back room had padded seats and back rests in a green eiderdown type design and were more than adequately upholstered.  If I had been asked to find an adequate adjective in Mr Jones’ class I think I would have described them as ‘sumptuous’ and he and I would have been content with the description.

The last item of furniture in the room was a delicate glass display cabinet with engraved glass and a chinois silk pattern in the back plate. The four glass shelves were full of China, small pictures, more souvenirs like wooden clogs from Belgium from my dad’s time on active service in North Western Europe. There was a set of China which was literally Chinese – a large teapot with a red and golden dragon head forming the spout and the tail forming the handle. This impressive pattern was repeated on all the plates, saucers and cups. This magnificent tea set has been acquired and transported home by my Uncle Eddie, or Wink as he was known, from his national service posting manning 40 mm Bofors guns in Hong Kong to ward off a massive Chinese incursion. I was never sure which was more impressive, the fact that Uncle Eddie managed to transport this and a second set for my Auntie Doris around the world with no breakages, or that he was sat in Hong Kong for two years with nothing more than a 40mm Bofors gun to defend against the hordes of Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

The Chinese tea set never left the cabinet. My mum explained that it was ‘mostly decorative’ but it turned out that it was wholly decorative. At no point in my or her life did it leave the cabinet to make and serve a brew.

The last piece of furniture in the room was an occasional table which my dad had made and varnished to a very high standard, as he did all his projects in wood. Whether it was a bedside table in formica and plywood, a dropped ceiling in 2be1 and hardboard or a shed for Snowy the rabbit in marine laminated wood the result was always painstakingly executed and beautifully finished. I asked my mum why it was called an occasional table and she replied that it was because we only used it occasionally, and usually on a family occasion… this seemed to cover all the bases.

My dad had gone to particular trouble to wallpaper the room following several visits to local paint and wallpaper emporiums in the town because my mother could not quite see something she liked. Samples were brought home and laid against the wall only for my mum to declare that she liked the pattern on one, but the colour on the other. The impasse was only broken when he stormed off to the Labour Club for a pint, insisting that by the time he got back she had made a final decision. After much deliberation she went with the red semi flock which was all the rage at the time.

After meticulously measuring up, my dad made his way to town to purchase eight rolls of the chosen paper, only to find that it was out of stock. He had set aside his two days off this week to complete the decorating, and was not prepared to wait for the next delivery to come in.  So he settled on a green bamboo pattern paper instead. My mum was happy enough as she confessed she was having second thoughts about the red flock anyway.

I loved the decorating and was fully entrusted with a small wallpaper scraper, a bucket of warm soapy water and a demand that I clear up all the mess as I went along. It felt illicit peeling off strips of paper as I was usually told not to touch it. I often over-watered the old paper hoping that I could work the scraper all the way to the top, but this rarely happened. More often I was left stripping the wall one postage stamp size piece at a time.

When I thought I’d finished my dad had other ideas. He washed down the walls with sugar soap… one of the packages and jars he kept in the shed and which he warned me, under pain of death not to touch with stories of death and poison. He then went over my work, removing slivers of spent wallpaper which I’d considered too insignificant to remove. The exhortation at this time was always the same ‘The secret to hanging wall paper is all in the preparation!’

Once he was happy that the walls were adequately prepared, a papering table would be brought in and all the adjacent carpet and lino covered with old sheets. A plumb line was set up in the correct position in the room. Despite being told numerous times I could never remember if that was next to the door, on the wall opposite the door, or the wall opposite the window. I would have started in a corner, but my dad started in the middle of the wall with the fireplace in it and centred the first piece of wall paper so that it would have an even number of drops to each side heading to the corners. It was only now that I realised from the faint after smell that he had already painted the skirting board and door. He must have completed this overnight whilst I was asleep… such was his meticulousness.

He measured and cut half a dozen drops with a pair of scissors of a size and weight which were enormous. He pasted each drop thoroughly and evenly and using the old wooden step ladders offered them to the wall. and let the weight of the paper fall to the level of the skirting board with no more than a couple of inches to spare at top and bottom. The wallpaper grabbed the wall and stuck first time as he made minor adjustments before giving the new paper a good massage with the wallpaper brush. He’d step back and check his work and then he’d be pasting the next sheet. Up it would go the same process as with the first. He returned to the first sheet and eased out any bubbles that had formed before trimming the top and bottom neatly. He worked without pause, not quickly, but like a runner taking on a long distance – in a measured way.

Dad was immune to my pleas to paste or hang a piece of paper.

‘Your time will come son, your time will come, for now just watch and listen and keep quiet unless you have a sensible question! A cup of tea wouldn’t go amiss.’

He was as good as his word. After several such sessions, four years later he let me wallpaper a room. He helped me set up the first drop with the plumb line and then left the room saying he was looking forward to seeing the result. I was determined to show my worth and remembered all the tips he had given me. It worked out well for me, and even better for him. He never had to do more than a quarter of the decoration in the next decade as I was challenged to decorate each room in turn.

The front room, now fully decorated and complete, was the scene of the best and worth of our family history. It was the place when the whole family gathered at times of crisis, like when my Nain had a heart attack and was not expected to last the night. I always sensed trouble when adults talked in hushed tones.

It was also the scene of joyous occasions such as the New Year’s Eve Parties where you could hardly move in there for the sitting and jiving and talking and drinking and incessant laughter.

It literally was the place where the vicar was entertained to tea and cake, especially when the said vicar was none other than my Uncle Glyn, my mum’s youngest brother.

Amongst my favourite memories of the room was the Christmas of 1964 when, with Auntie Margaret staying over, we decanted into the room which was full of the Christmas tree decorated with tinsel and paper lanterns and bells and crepe paper trimmings, in two colours no less, all merging at the glass lamp shade in the centre of the room, expertly created by my dad.

At mid morning, with the smell of turkey and stuffing cooking in the kitchen, we all decanted to the front room to open the presents and having searched the upstairs cupboards previously I knew I was having several Airfix kits, as requested as well as a steam engine, some carriages and wagons and an oval of track. My happiest memory was lying on the patterned carpet with my railway and my Airfix soldiers set up, a sparkling Corona lemonade in the small frosted glass, that only came out at Christmas, and a warm glow from the family and the fire, as Christmas dinner reached perfection. I could have burst with contentment.

These are the only tangible remains of that glorious Christmas of 1964, the rest is all now dust… my dad’s Christmas and New Year’s beer mug and the last of the set of little sherry glasses … my favourite was the blue one, there were also red and green topped ones.

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Where to find the Reso Trilogy Books

BtR

If you are looking to buy a Reso Trilogy book, ake sure the publisher is JLB Learning Innovation.

If it shows Kings Hart Books, my former publisher, the company stopped trading a few years back and the book will be unavailable through them.

Probably the cheapest route to buying them is through Amazon marketplace, but nothing beats ordering them from an independent publisher.

Resolution

 

Having been vindicated by a publisher picking up the books, which for me suggested there was some value in them, and it wasn’t simply a vanity project, I decided to embark on self-publishing on a print on demand basis. I would recommend it for new writers as the big players like Ingram Spark cover all the incidental costs and help with marketing.

In theory, my books should always be available as long as you look for them under the publisher JLB Learning innovation. If you look under Kings Hart, you are likely to be disappointed.

The Reso - A Sixties Childhood

 

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Photomaton portrait of the author as a young sniper…

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In an age before selfies, this was as close as you got. Five pictures for ten pence or two shillings in old money… and this was definitely in an age of old money. This was from a Photomaton booth on the Promenade in Rhyl… this is what I chose to do with a sacred two shillings which otherwise would have been spent on an Airfix kit.

The year is 1969. I’m with my best friend of the time, Ted Henderson. We’d met in the first term at Rhyl Junior High School. He’d gone to Ysgol Llewelyn so we met for the first time in the lottery of form room allocation in the big school.

Ted lived near my auntie in a new build bungalow that was close to the railway. His mum and dad were smashing, as was his younger brother. What was there not to like.

We seemed to spend a lot of time walking around the place. We had matching wind-cheater jackets, by coincidence rather than design, and we must have looked like two people trying to start a mod based, bad haircut cult. I don’t know what that haircut actually represents, but I’d asked for it to be feathered and layered at the fashionable hairdressers upstairs on Wellington Road. I returned to Bill the Barber’s on Vale Road not long after due to the cost of this, so-called fashionable haircut, and the stream of invective I received from my dad. He recounted how if I had been in the services the drill sergeant would stand behind me on the parade ground and say,

‘Am I hurting you laddie? Because I should be, because I’m standing on your hair! Get it cut.’

Ted had clearly had the same tonsorial experience.

They were generally happy but frustrating days. I always felt that something good was going on, just out of our reach. Like the girls we phoned from my auntie’s phone to arrange a date that never happened.

I remember we spent a lot of time shooting air pistols at paper targets. That was until I lost the firing pin, which screwed into the barrel, by dropping it into the Cut.

My second pistol was confiscated and broken up by my dad.

I had been firing it from my bedroom at a metal target at the end of the garden. The target was the lid of a broken washing machine. This was all that remained of the washing machine my mum had told us to take down to Rifkin’s scrap yard, adding that we could keep the money they gave us as scrap value. I was already spending the money in my head when Mr Rifkin, in no uncertain terms, told me that the washing machine had no value and to kindly remove it from his premises.

We ended up carrying it all the way back home. My mum’s suggestion was that we buried it deep in the garden and digging the hole took a couple of hours.  Living by the seaside meant that we reached a water sodden sandy layer before we had dug the height of the washing machine. As we didn’t want to carry on digging in quicksand, we had a sit down and a drink of squash to fathom the problem.

In the end, after much heated conversation we decided to change the shape of the hole so that we could bury it on its side. The whole exercise reminded me of the Bernard Cribbens song ‘There I was, digging this hole.’  I look forward to the day when the Time Team are excavating in Rhyl and ‘Geo-Phys’ throw up some very exciting pictures of a large metal object, which could be a chest of some sort, buried on its side a few feet below a garden patio.

Anyway, the lid was all that remained and I used it as a target. Firing upwards of 500 pellets at it over the course of a fortnight. It must be stated that the pellets barely reached the target but did make a satisfying ‘ding’ when they hit the metal.

The ding was what alerted a distant neighbour, who shouted from about six gardens down that he’d have the police on me as I could kill his little girl or have her eye out. He clearly had me down as a sniper in the league of the Jackal in the eponymous ‘Day of’ film. The idea was so preposterous that I ignored him and he was perplexed that he could not get a clear look at me as I shot from behind the less than grassy knoll of my bedroom curtains. There were some school books in my room, but it was hardly the Repository Building in Dallas.

I ignored him the second day as well and continued to register satisfying dings every thirty seconds or so, right up until there was an insistent knock on our front door. I guessed it was my vocal accuser and climbed out of the bedroom window and down to the outside toilet where I placed the pistol on top of the cistern, in its usual hiding place.

I quickly set up the dart board on the coal hole and assumed the demeanour of someone who had been playing darts for some considerable time.

Within seconds the back door opened and my enraged dad and a florid, bald-headed man appeared demanding that I hand over the pistol. I thought for no more than a couple of seconds and realised that I did not have a story cunning enough to talk myself out of this one. I retrieved and handed over the pistol for my dad to remove the screw pin and throw it in the bin and dismantle the barrel and hand the spring to the irate man.

That put paid to my career as a sniper.

As for Ted, we drifted into other friendships and I have not seen him since about 1973. I hope, unlike me, he managed to get his hair sorted out and that he still displays glimpses of the same sartorial elegance we managed to muster in this photograph.

 

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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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