Copyright: British Railways publicity department.
I had a conversation with a friend this week and we were talking about the evocative nature of smells which linger on the memory. It got me thinking about the smells associated with growing up in Rhyl…
My first is a general one which most of us shared up until August 1968 and that was the smell of sulphurous, hot oil and coal associated with steam trains stopped in the station at Rhyl. It was the smell of adventures as everyone in those maroon carriages was off somewhere, whilst I was stuck with a 1d platform ticket on the up line of the station. Luckily you can still re-live this in Rhyl by simply popping down to the Rhyl Marine Lake Railway and standing next to the engine before it sets off. Steam engines smell slightly differently today because they no longer have access to the Welsh steam coal which once powered ships across the globe.
The second is a more distinctly Rhyl smell, that of donkey poo on the beach or on the journey from the beach to their overnight quarters. It was a distinctly fragrant and sweet smell, not, of itself, at all horrible. It whiffed of summer, sun, jelly sandals and ice creams.
My third is the smell of fresh baking at Reeds on Vale Road. I well remember popping in regularly for a 1d Hovis mini loaf which had both novelty value and a rich malty texture and smell. It was the essence of the smell of baking for me. I never minded queueing up in Reeds as you got to snort in the baking smell which quickly had you salivating like a dog in a butcher’s shop! I later graduated to a regular habit of pineapple tarts which were sweet and tangy. I’ve never found any which came close to those from my youth.
You couldn’t think of Rhyl without smelling that concoction of caramelised onions, and candy floss that permeated the length of the west end. It smelt of summer adventures and fun. Possibly if you chose your ride badly at the fair, the Rotor or the Mad Mouse for example, you might get a second chance to drink in this heady aroma later in the evening.
At the Foryd end of the town on a damp day, the smell of the wet seaweed and the incoming tide with a foamy head was very evocative. I’ve dreamed of that smell and woken up feeling homesick. I missed it greatly when I lived away from Rhyl.
Whenever we had relatives come to stay, which was often, we always ended up walking up the promenade and visiting the Lifeboat House. When the boat and tractor were in and the mechanic was working on them, the smell of the heavy deep blue lubricating oil was a rich smell I’ve only smelt in other Lifeboat stations.
One of the least pleasant smells I associate with the town comes from the small beach next to the Foryd Bridge. I was drawn there one day, whilst playing along the river (and in the bushes between the river and the Marine Lake, from where my mother had warned me to stay away) by a horrendous smell. It was the smell of rot and decay, yet I was drawn to it. I found a large tope, a type of shark, some eight foot long with the colour drained away from it so that it was almost indistinguishable from the sand and line of seaweed. It had been caught as a fishing trophy and dumped there once a photograph of the proud fisherman had been taken. What a waste of the life of an awesome fish I thought. It was both scary and fascinating to be so close to this, by now eyeless, sea monster, the focus for millions of flies.
I spent an hour just looking at it and poking it with a stick to ensure it was indeed dead. The tope had probably been there for several days judging by the way the flies were entering a cavity opened up in the gut. There was little chance now that it was simply sunbathing. Eventually the angry flies and overpowering dank odour drove me away, but I remained fascinated that such a beast had been swimming off the beach of Rhyl.
Dank odours bring me to another distinctive Rhyl smell… the grotto that was the changing room at the open air pool on the promenade. The smell of wet mortar impregnated with almost fluorescent saturated moss was never forgotten. Those changing rooms were washed down by a firefighter grade hose pipe on a daily basis. The regular soaking the walls received only encouraged the tropical rainforest of moss and wet rot that climbed from the floor to every wall in each of the putrid cubicles. How I now miss that smell and the excitement it heralded.