Bedtime Story

Mo and Bill use continental quilts since coming back from Canada. They’d emigrated and returned to Abergele with crew cuts. We’d been happy with sheets and camberwick  blankets. They’d kept us warm even on nights so cold you could scrape iced condensation from the glass of the single-glazed sash windows in the bedroom. The frost burned under my nails.

My brother and I shared a bedroom and kept each other awake for hours talking in the light of the hall bulb shining through a square hole above our bedroom door.

My friend Huw Davies  from Abertridwr in south Wales makes me laugh when he tells me about his games with his brother in their shared bedroom. They used to play ‘Who can be the last to fall asleep’:

“Yeah Glen.”
“You asleep yet?”
“Neither am I.”
“OK … g’night.””
“Glen? You asleep yet Glen?”
No answer.
“I won.”
“Another pause.
“Ha ha, only joking. I’m still awake.”

young brothers

Monkey Boots

“Make sure you’ve put on clean socks Gareth, I’m taking you to have your feet measured after school today,” said Mum.

Last time, it was a shiny tape measure bound around my socked foot; this time it was a device with moving walls which closed in around my feet. It was scary and reminded me of that room with spiked walls in Batman with Adam West. What if the walls kept squeezing in?

However high-tech foot measuring became, it was never something I looked forward to – like having a haircut or a filling.

The only thing that kept me going was the possibility of getting a pair of Tuf shoes with a magnetic compass hidden in the sole.

As we grew older, we were tempted by Clark’s Polyveldts and Nature Treks. I had two pairs of Nature Treks. They smelled gorgeous but the soles split all the way through on both of them.

After reaching Size 5, I waved goodbye to The Shoe Box and started going to Colwyn Bay Indoor Market to buy my own choice of shoes – Monkey Boots. A perfect match for those drainpipe denims, ex-army top and a trip on the train to Eric’s  Liverpool to see Stiff Little Fingers in 1978.

The Shoe Box
The Shoe Box

The Abergele Visitor

The Abergele Visitor was pushed  through our letterbox every Friday. It was printed in Abergele, in a room with lino on the floor above the Visitor Office newsagents, next door to the Bee.

Our neighbour Gordon Hughes was the printer and the noise of the rolling presses made it difficult to hear him speak as he explained how he set the lead type mirror-imaged for each week’s edition.

The paper’s chief photographer was Mr Sumners who had his office and darkroom between the Visitor Office and Woolworth’s. Mr Sumners seemed to be at every wedding, summer fete, sports day and chapel parade. He’d develop his own  photos and put prints of his latest shoots in his shop window, giving passing shoppers a good idea of what had been going on in Abergele that week.

Nowadays many local and regional papers are owned by bigger and bigger companies, based further and further away from their readers. But there’s something really cosy about remembering the days when  the stories of Abergele were told by the people of the town itself. People like Gordon Hughes and Mr Sumners.

Advert for Mr Sumner's Photography from an old map of Abergele.
Advert for Mr Sumner's Photography from an old map of Abergele.

This Little Piggy

Abergele is know as a market town because there used to be a livestock market here every Monday in the 1960s and 70s.

The town filled up with land rovers, tractors and trailers and farmers wearing flat tweed caps and holding shepherd’s crocks.

The market tradition is one that stretched back in time and there are old postcards that show that livestock trading used to take place on the main Market Street itself.

As you look today at Abergele Tesco, it’s hard to imagine that site was once full of corrugated iron sheds and animal pens, with the sounds and smells of prime Welsh livestock.

The sound of piglets squealing still sends a shiver down my spine. I’m back there now. I feel my hand being held tightly by my dad’s hand as he takes me there to see the pig sale.

“Gees, gees, gees!” he’d shoo some piglets out of our way. The smell’s overpowering. The auctioneer is pacing along planks placed between the pens, selling animals to the highest bidders.

The next time you buy a pack of shrink-wrapped pork at Tesco’s Abergele, remember that on this site, pigs once did squeal.

Abergele Livestock Market. Painted in 1969 by Harry Gee.
Abergele Livestock Market. Painted in 1969 by Harry Gee.

Abergele’s Old Windmill

We’ve already lost Abergele Market, Rhyl Watertowers and Colwyn Bay’s Astra Cinema.

If you walk up Chapel St to Mynydd Seion and turn left at the flat-roofed building that sells tiles (previously a printers and a laundrette before that), you’ll  come to a red-bricked warehouse. This warehouse used to be taller and it used to be attached to an old whitewashed stone windmill.

I don’t know how that old windmill at the junction of Chapel St with High St came to be demolished, but it’s a shame it’s gone because we’ve lost one of Abergele’s important landmarks.

My grandfather Harry Gee was a watercolourist and loved painting that old windmill while it still stood. As they say: “when it’s gone, it’s gone”, and now all I’ve got to remind me of this old piece of Abergele is my grandfather’s painting of it.

The Old Windmill, Abergele. Painting by Harry Gee.
The Old Windmill, Abergele. Painting by Harry Gee.

Lewis’s Sale

Twice a year there’d be an ad and a pricelist in the Abergele Visitor announcing Lewis’s Sale, Lewis’s was the men’s clothes shop next door to the Gwindy.

The owner had a name that really suited her personality: Jolly Much – a lively and kind woman.

Jolly would have a start date, tempting pricelists available for days beforehand, balloons and limited launch offers to build anticipation. She’d also stick paper on the windows to cover up the bargains until the ‘reveal’ on the first morning of the sale.

Skinny ribbed polo necks were in fashion and mum bought me a mustard one that was a bargain. I wanted to look like Illya Kuryakin from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

In the 1970s, underpants were generally sold individually, but Jolly would bundle up the pants and socks so you’d get five pairs for 50 new pence.

Yes, the Abergele shop owner who really knew how to stage a sale was Lewis Bros’ Jolly Much.

Lewis Bros ghost sign
This ghost sign next door to the Gwindy Abergele is all that remains to remind us of Lewis Bros

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

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