Magic Potions

When they were younger, our children loved making magic potions. They’d fill jam jars with water, mud, my wife’s perfume, Fairy Liquid, etc. Then they’d seal the lid and put them on display on their bookshelves for weeks.

Is there a genetic urge that makes us want to do this, I wonder? I ask because, when I was a child growing up in Abergele, I used to love making magic potions too.

Ann Morris and I would pick rose petals from the front gardens along High St and crush them between two rocks and mix them with water in a jam jar to make ‘perfume’.

In late summer, we crushed blackberries, elderberries and bilberries to make ink. And we even used the juice of raw onions to make invisible ink. It brought tears to our eyes. To reveal the writing we had to hold the paper close enough to a candle flame to heat the paper without burning it.

We’d make stinkbombs by throwing lighted matches into an empty Haliborange bottle, then close the lid quickly and wait until the flame went out.

Unscrew. Sniff, sniff. Phew!

Killer Jar

We were fascinated by killing bugs when we were children and we devised some pretty cruel ways of doing the killing.

The smallest bugs we’d kill were those tiny red spiders – about the size of a full-stop – that dash along the tops of walls when it’s sunny. We’d fry those by focusing a tiny dot of on their backs with a magnifying glass.

The other bugs we killed we called ‘smack bottoms’. They were actually wood lice but Michael Hughes and I lifted logs, grabbed a handful of woodlice and gave them a … smack bottom.

The weirdest and most elaborate contraption we used to kill bugs was called a killer jar. We’d tear up laurel leaves picked from Bryn Aber and pop the pieces into a jam jar. We’d throw in a daddy longlegs, screw the lid tightly and watch the poor spider die slowly from the laurel fumes.

I’m ashamed now of the killing and I don’t know why I did it. Is it human nature to take pleasure in this?

Mildred in 1971
Mildred in 1971


One summer my brother and I were walking up the river Gele when we spied some older boys with guns. They each had a powerful air pistol. As they walked up the stream in the water they’d stop periodically, lift a rock and fire a shot into the water. At their belts they’d tied a bouquet of twitching dead eels.

Hoping they wouldn’t shoot us, we plucked up enough courage to go a talk to them. They said they were selling the eels to a local fishmonger and shooting them through the head was the fastest way to catch eels.

My dad had a scar on his finger from a bite an eel gave him when he was tickling for trout, with his arm up to his armpits under a rooty riverbank.

We hated it when eels fouled up our night lines. We set them to catch trout. Hoping to pull up a fat trout in the morning we’d detest it when a slimy writhing eel was wrapping itself in yards of monofilament.

Once we decided to cook one to see what it tasted like, once and for all. Gutting an eel is no fun. Having done that though, we cut it into one-inch sections to get it into the aluminium  billy can on the Camping Gaz  burner.

“Oh my God, it’s still alive!” I shouted to my brother. The sections of frying eel were twitching and curling in the pan.

The smell was hyper-fishy and as we nervously bit into the yellowish flesh, I can still remember that bony, rubbery fishy foulness that exploded in my mouth.  And I swear the beast gave one last wiggle as it slid down my throat.

1972 cook-out at Paul Watkins's
1972 cook-out at Paul Watkins's

Eyewitness account of Abergele rail accident

“The Fenians were supposed to have the secret of a mysterious combustible known as “Greek Fire” which was unquenchable by water. I think that “Greek Fire” was nothing more or less than ordinary petroleum, which was practically unknown in Europe in 1866, though from personal experience I can say that it was well known in 1868, in which year my mother, three sisters, two brothers and myself narrowly escaped being burnt to death, when the Irish mail, in which we were travelling, collided with a goods train loaded with petroleum at Abergele, North Wales, an accident which resulted in thirty-four deaths.

“Terrible as were the results of the Abergele accident, they might have been more disastrous still, for both lines were torn up, and the up Irish mail from Holyhead, which would be travelling at a great pace down the steep bank from Llandulas, was due at any moment. The front guard of our train had been killed by the collision, and the rear guard was seriously hurt, so there was no one to give orders. It occurred at once to my eldest brother, the late Duke, that as the train was standing on a sharp incline, the uninjured carriages would, if uncoupled, roll down the hill of their own accord. He and some other passengers accordingly managed to undo the couplings, and the uninjured coaches, detached from the burning ones, glided down the incline into safety. From the half-stunned guard my brother learned that the nearest signal-box was at Llandulas, a mile away. He ran there at the top of his speed, and arrived in time to get the up Irish mail and all other traffic stopped. On his return my brother had a prolonged fainting fit, as the strain on his heart had been very great. It took the doctors over an hour to bring him round, and we all thought that he had died.

“I was eleven years old at the time, and the shock of the collision, the sight of the burning coaches, the screams of the women, the wreckage, and my brother’s narrow escape from death, affected me for some little while afterwards.”

– Lord Frederick Hamilton, The Days Before Yesterday.

Danny and the George

Everyone remembers their first pint. Mine was a pint of sweet nutty Ansell’s Mild at the Pen y Bont pool bar and it cost me 28p. I won’t mention how old I was at the time.

Abergele being a market town had loads of pubs and each one had its own personality.

The Gwindy was a bikers’ pub.

The Harp was a farmer’s pub and drew an older crowd back in the 1970s.

The Bee had fab Welsh hymn singing every Saturday night.

After the Mormons left, The Bull became popular with Rotary and Round Table.

I didn’t drink in the Castle, but I always reckoned it was popular with Maes Canol dads.

The Hesketh, like many others, was two pubs in one – very young in the bar and much older in the lounge.

The landlords and landladies of Abergele pubs are what defined the pub and one pub that kept me coming back, time after time, is the George and Dragon, thanks to its landlords Danny and Mary.

For many years now, Danny’s been larger than life, with-a-hint-of-a-Scouse-accent, rugby supporting, fundraising Danny.

Apart from Royston :-), the George’s clientele has changed over the years: from the farmers of the 70s, the young crowd in the 80s and older drinkers in the 90s. There’s been one constant through the decades – Danny – one of Abergele’s shining stars.

George and Dragon pub Abergele
George and Dragon pub Abergele