I am aware as I pass into the twilight of late
middle age that my mental processes have, in certain respects, taken on an added
dimension. I find that my memory, that most elusive and untrustworthy of
companions, has become a crystal clear reflection of the days of my youth, yet
fails with monotonous regularity to recall yesterday's events. Sights, sounds
and scents of long past flood back to fill my mind with warm nostalgia. (The
trivia of my youth take on a profound significance in allowing me to understand
and place myself in the passage of time).
In attempting to resurrect my earliest memories I stumble through murky flashbacks that possibly relate more to hearsay and imagination than to fact. I recall with clarity watching a flight of aeroplanes overhead whilst being taken by my parents, in the security of my pushchair, past the Lodge House to 'Lady Turners' on the Bethel Road before the cessation of hostilities in 1945. I also recollect quite vividly my placement in the Caernarfon Infants School and being allowed to sleep on 'camp' beds during the afternoons when wartime contingencies dispensed with statutory school starting ages to accommodate mothers who needed to be released to undertake employment at war work.
Substantive fact does not arise until my sixth year and the long awaited day when I graduated from 'Infants' to the Boys Primary School. The transition involved an epic journey of three hundred yards across the wasteland alongside the Band Room, a long, prefabricated wooden building which stood abreast a derelict ruin on the site of the present automated telephone exchange at the top of North Penrallt. That same wasteland was to see my participation in many an epic battle during the following five years - namely marbles. Prized 'ji-jins' were fibbled with great dexterity along the slopes and depressions whilst trying to attain champion status and coveted rare examples of the glass makers art. Conkers, pea shooters, elastic band propelled paper pellets and 'taflars' (catapults) each in turn became the medium by which status was to be gained or lost in the ever competitive world of primary school boys.
My academic progress fate decreed I be placed with outstandingly gifted classmates on whose shirt tails I was dragged towards the scholarship class of the late Miss Rowlands. Here I benefited from the ministrations of Angus McIvers bible of the eleven plus examination hopefuls, ‘A First Aid in English'. This book coupled with an absolute knowledge of the 'times tables' 2 to 12 and weekly general knowledge quizzes, enabled me to scramble my way into the Grammar School.
It is not however my academic progress that I recall with crystal clarity but a myriad of other events which to this day make up the fabric of my early memory bank. Lunch times at Primary school were an hours release with license to gain experience through participation and exploration in constructive, and occasionally destructive, pursuits. Ben Twt (Twthill), Cei Llechi (slate quay), the town park, Y Lladdu (slaughterhouse), Mr Jones the black saddler, Ifan Gôfs’ to name but a few, all suffered to varying degrees from my attentions.
'Ben Twt' was by far the most consistently visited venue during our lunchtime sojourns. Submarine Rock, Gwrachen Gam, Twt Bach, Hidden Ledge and the gun emplacement pit atop the hill were all venues which allowed young boys' imaginations to soar. I must also somewhat sheepishly admit to wanton damage to the greenhouses which used to grace the rear of the Royal, now Royal Celtic Hotel prior to the building of the 'relief road'. Being able to throw a stone (no mean feat) from Ben Twt into the above mentioned greenhouses helped establish one's status in the pecking order.
Many other lunch hours were spent aboard the 'Torpedo Boat' moored adjacent to the Ffatri Manton site at the upper reaches of the slate quay. The boat, part of a post war decommissioning exercise, was the preserve and pride of the local sea cadet establishment. However at lunch hours it became the venue for sea battles of untold heroism as the navies of Germany and Italy were ravaged alike! Came the day, whilst exploring the innermost depths of the engine room (the boats engines had long since been removed) we espied a large circular plate securely fastened to the marine ply floor by a series of large hexagonal nuts. Through a mixture of ignorance and persistent inquisitiveness we believed the 'torpedo room' to be the other side of the said steel plate. I still vividly recall the excitement and concerted efforts as we wrestled with a meter long spanner to release the plate which stood between us and our fevered imaginations. Persistence prevailed and, eventually all nuts were removed and we levered with unabated excitement at the plate to. allow access to our goal! Imagine however the absolute horror and panic that ensued when, on finally being released from Its time encrusted seating, the plate sprang loose and a distinctly muddy gush of bubbling water kept the offending plate rattling around its positioning bolts as the water level within the engine room rose with frightening rapidity. Brief attempts at re-securing were soon replaced by rapid evacuation and non stop flight back to the Penrallt haven where solemn pacts were sealed to tell no one on pain of untold group retribution. Well I remember, two fear filled days later, queuing to be served lunch at the hot plate, seeing through the dividing doors' quarter lights the top four inches of a policeman's helmet as he stood at Mr Jones' the headmaster's door and, knowing without a shadow of doubt, what prompted his visit. I am still slightly embarrassed to relate that I was the only culprit not to be brought to book for achieving in one lunch hour what the might of the German war machine had failed to do over a period of years!
I can however relate that the boat was little the worse for her excursion to the bed of the Seiont as all processes were reversed when the tide receded and the plate replaced with drainage of all but a fine layer of estuarine mud to denote our handiwork.
I have particularly fond memories of Mr Jones, the black saddler, whose workshop stood in Pool Hill. This kindly and gifted craftsman endured my weekly visits with great stoicism. I was awestruck and enchanted by his display of saddles, whips, cases, footballs and a myriad of other leather goods. It was to this repository of the saddlers art that 'Cert' soccer balls and boots were brought to be repaired and re-studded. My constant attentiveness eventually led to my being given ‘job'. The job consisted of waxing flax over a wall mounted hook by drawing a block of bees wax along the length of the flax towards me. This was continued until the flax would stand rigid. I marvelled, even at my tender years, as Mr Jones re-sewed panels in the leather balls using 'my' waxed flax and his 'saddlers palm'. The lacing of the ball, when repairing or re-fitting an inner tube, was a work of art. The yellow lace had to lie perfectly flat and evenly tightened before the finished article was passed to me to be 'dubbined'. I never remember being refused entry or being chided by Mr Jones, whose patience I must have sorely tested on many an occasion.
The local slaughterhouse, which resided at the Northern end of Balaclava Road, was a magnet to inquisitive young boys. Whilst entry could not be obtained to the buildings proper it was possible with a little ingenuity to view proceedings through a window in the alleyway that ran between the Victoria Mill and the back wall of the slaughterhouse. The particular window mentioned had a securing of four metal bars that, on the inside, were backed by a zinc-tinned, finely perforated, mesh screen. This arrangement no doubt allowed a flow of air through the building. It did however provide young voyeurs with a problem. It was only possible to see through the mesh screen by placing one's face tightly against it and shading the perforated surface with one's hands. Whilst this enabled us to see the slaughtering process in full it also exposed our presence to the working slaughter men, who would, on occasion: with great dexterity, throw pieces of 'lights' or livers at the mesh, which resulted in the unfortunate onlookers to retreat from their viewing point with what looked like an acute case of measles as they collected the penetrating blood spatters.
Another memory I will relate is of visits to 'Ifan Gôf' the local smithy. Ifan Gôf I knew quite well as he was a deacon in the chapel I frequented and I also knew him through 'shoeing' visits with an uncle of mine, who supplied milk by horse and trap around the town. Health and Safety regulations were still a far off piece of legislature when I was allowed to hold the horse's heads whilst Ifan Gôf plied his trade. Another much sought after duty was the working of the bellows lever in the dark recess of the cobbled floored ,area where the forge resided. The scent of burning hoofs and quenched horseshoes are still as keen as the coke fumes that filled the low one storied building.
Primary school in post war Caernarfon still served as a willing source of labour for the continuing post war effort. Two particular campaigns remain with me quite vividly. September saw the 'rose hip' campaign where pupils were rewarded with badges for the amount of rose hips collected to be processed into syrup to provide a source of much needed vitamin C for citrus starved Britain. I also remember the collecting of foxgloves, which I subsequently learnt were used for the extraction of digitalis, a heart stimulant. These campaigns were seasonal by nature and complimented the 'school savings' campaign, a very divisive fund raising scheme, where great kudos was achieved by pupils (and some parents) from the size of the amounts saved.
Caernarfon characters abounded. Fred Thompson, the virtually deaf shoe repairer, who lived on South Penrallt and whose premises sported a workroom in which all shoes in for repair were thrown in a large conical pile in one comer with no labelling used whatsoever. This however did not prevent Mr Thompson diving in with unnerving accuracy to retrieve one's repaired shoes on request.
Harry Cross a legendary stall holder on Caernarfon Square each Saturday, whose manual dexterity and non stop patter would enthral locals and visitors alike, as he sold his plates, bowls, cups and saucers. He had the ability to interlock a 21 piece tea set and display it in one hand - mind boggling!
Wil Pritchard (Wil Welsh Guards), who's imposing figure could be seen striding along the Aber foreshore to his employment as manager of the Council swimming baths. Many long hours were spent under his ever vigilant but benevolent eye as he taught me to respect water through my enjoyment of it.
Tramps, a regular and much feared feature by little boys in Caernarfon in the'40's and '50's, were often used as a threat by exasperated parents as a solution to bad behaviour. Tramps were often followed at a respectful distance but with great trepidation.
Many other 'personalities' such as Wil 'Sam' Bells,Dic Trombone, 'Jerry' and many others to numerous to mention provided the fabric from which the every day character of post war Caernarfon was built.
Before I complete my discourse on Primary School days I would be remiss if I did not mention a situation, which coloured our lives daily. This was the long standing and ongoing feud between ‘Ysgol Hogia’ and Ysgol Rad (National Church School). A deep seated antagonism born of class perception manifested itself in physical as well as verbal confrontations. To I venture past the doors of Hugheston -Roberts, Fellmongers, was a receipt for disaster during school hours. The boys Primary benefited from an elevated school yard surrounded by a high, un-scalable wall, which allowed us to taunt our academic neighbours from relative safety.
The idyll of Primary School education culminated in the sitting of the 11+ examination, a most divisive and often unfair method of segregating young minds by their perceived abilities on one appointed day each year. Well I remember being led to Ysgol Segontium with pen (pre-biro), pencil, rubber and ruler for what was to be the most important day of my short life. Emergence four hours later having tackled sums, handwriting, letter writing and general knowledge, which encompassed a little geography, history, nature study. I, sadly do not remember exactly how one's progress in the exam was released save that it was at the boys school and all successful pupils were accorded the privilege of being carried shoulder high to their homes to the rendering of 'Si lasi ba', a chant of indeterminate origin but meant to applaud the candidates success. On reaching the home of the celebrant it was customary for the proud parents to shower the gathered throng with handfuls of small coins, which were avidly collected as in those times you could purchase something of substance with even the smallest denomination of coin, the ¼ d (farthing). I still possess the hand tinted photograph taken of myself preceding my departure for the Caernarfon Grammar School (Ysgol Syr Huw Owen) in 1951.
Years 11 - 18 spent at the Grammar School were some of the most enjoyable and fulfilling of my life. The summer of basking in academic success was rudely disturbed on my first day at the upper school. Realisation came quickly as to my examination performance when I was segregated from most of my Primary School contemporaries by being placed in the 'C' stream class, a clear indication as to my academic prowess and standing. It was not news well received by my parents, who were banking on my carrying the family flag, as my elder and far more academically and intellectually gifted sister, had failed the exam due to a complete and utter inability to grasp number.
Being aware of my own shortcomings I quickly realised that I would have to play to whatever, if any, strengths I had. Thankfully I had been blessed with a modicum of physical ability and revelled in my ability to swim, throw and lift. I also had a reasonable ball sense, which coupled with a larger than average physical frame, allowed me to compete with not only my peers but also pupils in year groups ahead of mine. I soon realised that my adolescent physique had not settled down enough to reach a proficient standard at soccer so I opted for the newly introduced game of rugby. In the September of 1953 I turned out for trials for the school team competing with pupils two and three years my senior. Fortunately I took to the game with considerable success and actually made the first team at 14 years of age. Rubbing shoulders with fifth and sixth form pupils gave me a self perceived standing, which I was unable to match academically. Rugby had only been established at the school in 1952 by a Mr John and for the first three or four years we were the whipping boys of the North Wales circuit and our status within the school was considered to be far below that of the most successful school soccer team. There was a perception that the rugby team consisted of pupils not gifted enough to play soccer and this was probably true in most) but not all, cases.
Slowly but surely as our abilities improved an ethos of self-belief and a fun loving attitude assured the rugby team of its own niche in the schools social structure. Because rugby was sparsely played in North Wales our early encounters were against the H.M.S. Conwy Training Ship, Lindisfarne College Ruabon, R.A. Kinmel and Tonfannau Rhyl High School, Friars and Ysgol John Bright. Lindisfarne regularly beat us by 50 points plus, but it was a visit well enjoyed by us all. A strange anomaly persisted throughout my time at the Grammar School, that being that the girl's hockey team never travelled to away fixtures with the rugby team. It was deemed more seemly that they remain linked to the soccer team fixtures! My sporting interests also extended to the athletics field with some success but did not reach as far as the cricket team as one of the unspoken rules of participation was that you possess a set of cricket whites. My participation was prevented through lack of means more so than ability.
Whilst I just managed to keep afloat academically I immersed myself fully in the social and out of school scene that was developing in the town. My time was spent according to season, either swimming at the foreshore pool, Dinas Dinlle or Porth yr Aur. A favourite pastime on warm summer's afternoons, was to attempt to climb along the span of the old swing bridge to dive, with visitor impressing swagger, into the river below. It was an ongoing battle of wits between us and the officer in charge of the bridge, who I am sure only had our wellbeing at heart. Porth yr Aur likewise played host to our dangerous practice of diving off the wall as the tide receded. Greatest kudos was achieved by the diver who successfully dived into the receding water when it was dangerously shallow. It was not uncommon to surface bedecked with seaweed that had been ploughed through in the execution of our foolhardy pursuit. Dinas Dinlle was an after school venue reached by bicycle after five miles of furious pedalling.
Other seasonal pursuits were bird's egg collecting, mushrooming, hazel nut collection and fishing by hand in the Cadnant River. Great lengths were gone to attain coveted eggs such as herons, spotted fly catcher and the piece de la resistance of my collection; a cross-bills egg, which I purloined from a nest in one of the pine trees still growing in the field containing the bardic circle stones on Priestly Road. It was many years later that I fully realised the full * * * of this youthful practice.
The period '51 - '53, which preceded my teens, saw the slow awakening of hormone led interest in the opposite sex. The earliest manifestations were the adolescent teasing of our female counterparts on the school field in the hope of attracting their favourable attention. This gradually developed into a more introspective state of affairs when shyness brought about by the combination of adolescent physical and emotional changes and almost obsessive interest in one's appearance. Acne was a constant source of embarrassment and concern as it was not a feature of common affliction amongst my peers. Dress sense which had played no part in life to date suddenly attained a seriously large significance and certain articles of apparel were essential if one was to 'compete' successfully. Dunlop Green Flash plimsolls, which were then state of the art footwear, became prerequisites along with a liberal supply of Melatoian White to maintain their dazzling appearance. These were the precursors of today's ubiquitous 'trainers'. A complimentary form of footwear which also denoted status were Veldtshoen brogue shoes and, for reasons which still elude me, moccasins which were purchased in kit form to be carefully stitched together before wear.
Clothing, being more expensive than the aforementioned footwear, was slower to change due to wartime restrictions and a proportionately higher unit cost. Cravats became the vogue in the early fifties along with cavalry twill trousers. I also well remember the brilliant advertising ploy used by Lord Kagan to sell his 'Gannex' coats. It consisted of a continuous flow of running water directed at a sample swatch of Gannex material to demonstrate its waterproof qualities. I stood for many a minute outside the window to G.O. Griffiths looking at this marvel of synthetic engineering.
Because of my love for water, related activities were a natural progression as I made less destructive acquaintances with things that floated. The slate quay held only a few boats in comparison to today's fleet. Many boats I remember well especially those used and owned by the then harbourmaster and his brothers. 'The Vida, 'Togo' and 'Viking' spring to mind immediately. Others such as the 'Boojum' and 'Selador' both owned by the late I. Ap. Hughes were sleek sailing craft though the 'Boojum' never saw the north side of the Aber bridge until it was purchased and totally renovated by a sailing aficionado from over the border. I believe the Schofield family had the only cabin cruiser to grace Caernarfon for many years though her name escapes me now. One of the highlights of a summer holidays morning was to be allowed to accompany Mr Robert Jones, the harbour master, and Edward, his brother, aboard the 'Viking' to meet the tanker which waited patiently for pilotage at the bar buoy. After setting Mr Jones safely on board the tanker we then sneaked a couple of hour's mackerel fishing before returning to the quayside.
I have always enjoyed fishing and still do. I have sampled virtually all methods (legal and illegal) over the past fifty years. There was little I enjoyed more in my formative years than to watch the salmon fishermen at Traeth Bach or Ty Calch plying their hard, back breaking trade. Selwyn Jones, our local artist of high repute, has captured their labours most skilfully and his prints are all we have as the profession capitulated to the combined pressures of pollution, drift netting off Ireland, the advent of cheap salmon from the Scottish fish farms and the financially crippling licence fee, which I still believe was levied to exorbitant levels due to pressures exerted by the fresh water salmon fishing fraternity. It is rather ironical to note that mullet and bass caught in the nets were often discarded as not being of commercial value. How times and tastes change!
Whilst waiting eagerly between 'shoots' and hauls I did for a time become a pearl fisherman. The large mussels that abounded between the 'Baths' and Ty Calch often produced pearls of reasonable size (large seed) if not of regular shape or colour. I well remember collecting a Swan Vesta match box full over the course of a summer, which I coveted greatly without having any notion what to do with them. Was this the start of my materialistic development?
Bait collecting became a lucrative pastime for a young boy. There was a regular cohort of shore fishermen who divided their attentions between the old town pier and the 'battery' (Caernarfon Sailing Club) and who would, on occasions, pay for a tin full of 'peeler' or soft crabs. I sat and watched their efforts for hours untold with covetous eyes as I studied rods, reels and terminal tackle which hauled in large flounders with what seemed to be monotonous regularity. Probably the most skilful and successful of these fishermen was the late Arthur Jacks. Mr Jacks had a very high strike rate and his stoic patience was always extended from his sport to persistently inquisitive young admirers. His prowess was not confined to shore fishing only. In partnership with his good friend the late Arthur Thomas, they developed spinning for bass to a fine art. It was not uncommon to see them pushing their bikes up from the Victoria dock, where their 12'. clinker built open dory was moored, with at least ten good bass apiece slung from handles and cross bars respectively. Their generosity was very much appreciated in the streets where they lived, where bass steak became a welcome variation was for most people a staple but rather monotonous diet.
It was in 1952 that I acquired my first fishing rod. It was a 10' three piece green heart rod 'custom' made for me at my parents request by Mr Roberts, the woodwork teacher at Ysgol Segontium, who was a charming man and a committed fisherman of many years standing. I remember with crystal clarity the reel, line and fishing flies I purchased at Hamers, a general store and pawn brokers sited at the present Weatherspoons public house. A current rod licence purchased, I cycled with an ever mounting sense of expectations to Bont Rug. My ham fisted attempts at casting were regularly interspersed with paddling forays to retrieve my precious set of flies from trees, boulders and riverside greenery. Far more by luck than skill I eventually hooked and successfully landed my first rod caught fish, a seven inch luckless trout that somehow I had manage to deceive. Once landed and dispatched I immediately packed bags and cycled back to town as fast as my legs would carry me to show my prize to my mother. It was duly gutted and pan friend and I feasted forthwith. My passion for fishing has never abated and I still visit waters both costal and inland as often as I can to indulge my passion. Early attempts at trying to deceive small wrasse (torgoch) under the piles of the old pier to delving in holes, pipes, nooks and crannies in and under the town and oil wharf walls for lurking conger eels, which we extricated by means of a gaff and a lot of youthful resolve. Another fishy pastime well remembered was summer afternoons wading through glutinous mud up the Seiont from the bridge feeling for late departing flounders in the receding tidal waters .and spearing the said. flounders by means of home made harpoons, ingeniously crafted from knifes or forks securely bound to wooden and more latterly TV aerial lengths.
With the acquisition of my first fishing rod it was not long before the mysteries of the gasworks pools, Llyn Du, Bont Sipsiwus, Llyn Crwn and all points south became revealed. To see the rafts of steel blue sewin congregating in the lower reaches to await the summer flash floods was a sight to behold and alas one no longer visible as a combination of pollution and commercial netting have decimated their numbers. Amidst the patiently waiting sewin were scores of mature salmon returning to their spawning grounds. Little success was achieved in attempting to lure these fresh new fish by whatever legal (and occasionally illegal means) as their whole being was totally committed to running the river to its headwaters. It fell to the anglers fishing the upper pools such as Llyn Doctor, Garnaij, Criw, Glanrafon, Crawiau and Marddwr Cwm to eventually tempt the resting fish and thereby end their existence at the back door of a local hotel.
There were legendary figures who yearly extracted two score or more of these kings of fish by superb artistry with fly or artificial minnow. Jei, Dick and Tommy Lovel, Brian Evans, Ty Com, Wyn Eban, Mr McCullock and Ifan Peris to name but a few. They were, and a couple still are, masters of their craft. Alas my total score before leaving to find workafield as I reached my majority stood at (and still does) three of these king of fish, but suffice to say I remember with absolute clarity all the details as if it were achieved today.
I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to a mentor whose patient and benevolent encouragement fostered my love of the sport. Mr Hughie Price, who was by trade a watch repairer but by inclination a fisherman. It was at his tiny shop in Twthill Square that I went to collect amongst other fishing paraphernalia a regular supply of maggots. By constant pestering and promises we badgered this kindly soul to take us on evening fishing forays to Crawiau and Llyn Carters Glanrafon.
In hindsight his patience and kindness must have been stretched to near breaking point by out inept riverside activities.
If, as on rare occasions, the maggot supply did not materialise my life long fishing accomplice and I would, of an evening ,climb over the large gates of Hugheston Roberts Fellmongers to forage amongst the discarded animal ears and tails for suitably 'blown' appendages. These were then carefully shaken to extract the coveted bait. When regular supplies were proving difficult to procure it was not unknown for us to secrete a suitable set of ears and tails in the back yard of a well known Caernarfon chapel where my fellow fisherman's parents acted as caretakers. Here they would be viewed daily in total secrecy for the emerging maggots to appear. The accompanying odour regularly gave rise to questioning comments but I do not recall our entrepreneurship ever being rumbled.
Before I conclude this chapter I wonder how many readers will remember the warm summer evenings at Porth Yr Aur where, with yearly regularity, one could watch the annual spectacle of porpoise working their way along the straits in methodical manner as they herded shoals of salmon together before exacting a deadly price. To watch salmon leaping spectacularly in all directions as they tried to evade the irresistible finality of the hunt was awe inspiring. Alas, the demise of both salmon and porpoise has left the Caernarfon waterfront a poorer place.
Caernarfon in the middle and late fifties offered little by comparison with today in the way of meeting places for young people. True there were three active cinemas in the town but cost precluded all but a Saturday night's visit weekly. I suppose the earliest of venues preceding the advent of coffee bars were Ifan Ganwyll's ice cream parlour in Palace Street (now Carters) and the Majestic Café in the upper foyer of the cinema on Bangor Road by the same name. Ifan Ganwyll's had the added attraction of being open on Sunday afternoons and having a back room away from the prying eyes of passers-by. In both these establishments I spent a great deal of time and portion of my allowance.
There were also two young peoples clubs in the town, which, were closely akin in ethos but miles apart in their membership makeup. Namely the Aelwyd in Church Street and Y.M.C.A. on Bangor Road. The former of these two in general terms attracted young people from the north and east part of town, whilst the Y.M.C.A. received support from the other quadrants. Although there was no animosity or ill feeling whatsoever there was never any cross fertilisation between the two clubs. They both stood as separate or distinct entities quite amicably co-existing. As a resident of the north east quadrant of the town I automatically gravitated to the Aelwyd, where I learnt to play table tennis and snooker and the rudiments of weight lifting under the watchful eye of Dorino Misarotti and Powell Jones the doyens of the weightlifting fraternity in the town. A modicum of control was exercised over our exuberant youthfulness by Mr John Roberts, the Warden, who patience and good sense often verged on the saintly.
As non aligned clubs which required little or no pre-ordained loyalty they functioned very well and provided much needed havens for a more demanding teenage generation.
Over and above these two clubs there were a number of other more aligned movements, which young people could access, namely the Sea Cadets, Army Cadet Force, Air Training Corps and the Scouts. I did for a time become a member of the A. T .C. but my motivation was purely sport orientated and I found the pre-requisite training in all matters aerial to be of little or no interest to me, hence my rather foreshortened career once the rugby season finished. I did not have the effrontery to attempt to join the Sea Cadets for reasons already narrated.
It was not until the middle '50's that the cultural revolution arrived in Caernarfon. Suddenly the younger generation had spending power and far sighted entrepreneurs seized the opportunity with both hands. I suppose the opening of the first coffee bar ,'The Mantico', heralded the 'new age' so to speak. Situated in a prime site opposite the main Castle entrance it soon established itself as the young people's cultural centre in town. Espresso coffee served with access to a juke box proved to be a magnet for the youth of Caernarfon and its surrounding villages. So popular was its appeal that on busy Saturday evenings Mrs Hibbard, the proprietor, restricted 'drinking time' so as to enable a higher throughput of paying customers. This practice was not well received by many and there appeared a growing band of discontented youngsters, mainly from outlying villages, who were 'banned' for abusive protest at the practice. Caernarfon young people however were more circumspect as they realised that to be 'banned' would ostracise them from the focal point of teenage society with its subsequent ramifications. In responses to 'The Mantico', or possibly complimentary to, the Starlight Café opened on Bank Quay. For reasons I have yet to understand the Y.M.C.A.- Aelwyd phenomenon transpired again in respect of these two coffee bars, although I must admit there was more cross fertilization of frequenters than had been in the youth clubs. The success of these establishments was quite phenomenal and heralded, I suppose, the era of financially independence amongst the post war generation.
Sport in Caernarfon in the '50's was very limited in provision and diversity. Outside the school structures, soccer was the prime mover with Caernarfon enjoying varying degrees of success at the Oval. Attendance at matches was higher than present day returns indicate and the teams, as of now, were constituted of a mixture of mature past professional players and local talent. This combination helped nurture a number of very proficient and successful soccer players who were native born. Gwynfor Jones, Ken Barton, The Whalley Brothers, Brian Orritt, Wyn Davies, to name a few.
Rugby though up and running at school level had not been established in the town at senior level.
The rare exceptions were 'friendly' games staged at Christmas time when the first generation of Grammar school pupils who had graduated on to universities along the length and breadth of Britain returned home for the festive season. Thanks were due exclusively to the late Harold Greenshields of Tyddyn Whiskin, Caeathro a regular in the Llandudno rugby union club who arranged a Caernarfon v Llandudno encounter to be played on Boxing Day, initially at 'Cae Top' and latterly at the Grammar school fields on Bethel Road. I well remember the early encounters at 'Cae Top' in front of a very partisan but totally naive audience who were first and foremost soccer aficionados but who supported their "town team" with unabated fervour. Names that spring to mind as participants in those early encounters were Alun Roberts ( Carlton) John Roberts (Glangwnna) Eddie Bond (Peblic) Ian Trew (McKenzie & Brown) the late Ken Williams (Effie) Gareth Edwards (Seaboots) Owen Parry (Min y Nant) Moi Evans(Moi Coch) Rob~ Jones (Robin Fawr) Tony Parry (Rhosbodural) John Baird, Maldwyn Parry, Gwyn Evans (Ty capel Seiloh) and many others who slip my mind. The days festivities were concluded by a visit to Tyddyn Whiskin for 'refreshments' followed by a dance organised in the 'Blue Room' of the Royal Hotel where both teams carried on the reveries late into the night. The boxing day match became a regular fixture of a number of years prior to the formation of the town team under the guidance of the late Des Treen,------Hewer and -------Evans and with the total commitment of the individuals such as the aforementioned Alan Carlton and Moi Coch whose unflagging persistence rewarded the town with the present day rugby club up at the Morfa.
Although my Rugby playing days led me far afield in search of a game, being involved with London Welsh (where North Walian players had little or no credibility whatever their standard of playing prowess) Wimbledon R.U.F.C. (where four most enjoyable seasons were spent in the company of the late Ken (Effie) Williams and twelve other Welsh ex-pats as the clubs first team reps. I do recall that the first XV full back was the only English player although his name escape me. Short involvements with Sefton ****** and Waterloo Park R.U.F.C. followed before returning to North Wales and re-kindling my affiliation with Llandudno R.U.F.C. for whom Ken (Effie) and I had played as schoolboys, often playing an afternoon game for the club following a mornings efforts for the school. The ever enthusiastic Harland Greenshields would spirit us along the A55 from rendezvous at Castle Square to fulfil fixtures at exotic locations such as Saunders Roe, Beaumaris, which at the time was Bangor R.U.F.C’s home ground, R.A Tonfannau a windswept and soul destroying venue on cliff tops above Cardigan Bay, R..A. Kinmel where we were always soundly beaten by teams that boasted professional rugby league players who were given special dispensation to play the Union code as they were conscripts in Her Majesty's Forces in the days of National Service.
As my playing days gradually headed towards a sunset I was 'headhunted' to play a season with Caernarfon R.U.F.C. to help support and encourage the newly formed town team. Having come full circle it was I think an apt conclusion to my regular playing days although I managed to stave off the march of time until my 49th year when I made my swan song appearance for Llandudno Veterans in a tournament held at Colwyn Bay R.U.F.C. I do not admit to being retired but am 'in recovery' from that last appearance in 1989!
Other notable sporting venues were the swimming baths along the aber foreshore and the tennis courts which graced the space, along with the towns bowling greens ,now occupied by the block of offices between Bangor Road and the town' ill conceived by-pass. The former of the two aforementioned venues was a regular haunt throughout its open season when I learnt the rudiments of swimming and life saving under the watchful eye of Mr. Will. Pritchard (Welsh Guards) whose word was law and evenhandedness a by word. These were the days before 'mouth to mouth' resuscitation.' Silvester Broch' and 'Holger Netlon' were the accepted methods of patient resuscitation. Hours of practice at 'methods of release' and 'towing' led one eventually to be examined at Bronze medallion level of the R.L.S.S Award. I still possess my first medallion gained at the foreshore pool along with a collection of five of six other bronze medallions collected over the years as one's currency only lasted 3 years before having to be re-examined. Stalwart supporters of the swimming club included Elwyn (Post Bach) Tom Jones and Walter 'Salmon' who worked unceasingly with councillor Jack Thomas to ensure that the pool facility was kept available for Caernarfon youngsters to learn to swim.
The pool itself was a Victorian edifice, crescent shaped and 80yards in length. It was filled by tidal flow and the depth of water within depended to a great extent on the height of the tides in the straits. In the early days it boosted a rickety diving board (later replaced by a safer one) and an infamous "greasy pole". This piece of emasculating appendage consisted of a wooden ships' mast wedged horizontally into one of the overflow ports in the I wall of the pool at about 3feet above water level. The challenge being to be able to walk along this 15 foot pole successfully and diving off the end. It remained a constant source of hilarity as participants lost balance, with often devastating results, which they invariably tried to mask when eventually surfacing.
In my early days at Caernarfon baths as they were known, there was little or no filtration of the water as it entered via the inlet pipe from the sea and often one could find crabs, shrimp and blennies abounding in the recesses the 'deep end'. Chlorination did not arrive until the late 50's and was often the case of severe eye irritation as the incumbent bath manager tried to stabilize the flow of added chlorine to acceptable levels. I still pause and view the vestiges of this haven of schoolboy memories as I walk the foreshore now and recall myriads of happy days and I must admit occasional nights when I scaled the pool wall and enjoyed a session of 'skinny dipping' with other like minded youngsters.
I would be remiss if I did not recount the annual gala held at the baths. This was a popular and very well supported event and one which I looked forward immensely to participating in. Came the year (around 1954-1955 I think) a group of French Moroccan students took up residence in Caernarfon for the summer. They quickly sought out the local swimming baths and I must admit their aquatic prowess was far superior to our seasonal local talent. Our dismay was compounded when we found out that they had entered 'en mass' the local gala competitions. Great consternation was shown by organisers and competitors alike when trophy after trophy seemed destined for warmer climes. I well remember the plate diving competition, a great favourite with onlookers and competitors alike. It entailed a dozen enamelled tin plates being thrown from the platform of the diving board the object being for competitors to dive in an collect as many as possible on one lungful of air; the winner being the competitor who managed to collect the greatest number of plates. I still blush with embarrassment when I recall the plate throwing official exclaiming in our native tongue that this trophy was 'not for export' before proceeding to disperse the said plates to the far comers of the pool for our poor Moroccan visitor to try and collect. Had he possessed his countryman's latest model of aqua-lung I doubt he would have found let alone retrieved the plates. When my turn came to compete the plates were fluttered gently into a small area beneath the board making retrieval easy and complete. The smile of satisfaction on the "officials" face was indicative of what he thought was a job well done. What price parochialism.
An extension of the baths activities was the cross straits race inaugurated in 1954 I believe due to the foresight and hard work of councillor Jack Thomas and the late Cemlyn Williams. I tried without success to persuade my father to allow me to attempt the crossing but to no avail. My first attempt was parentally sanctioned in 1956 and I remember with clarity attending a pre swim medical conducted by the late doctors Roberts and John Griffiths in the Aelwyd building. The August evening was chosen carefully for the race to take into account tidal conditions and all competitors were duly ensconced in powerboats at Porth yr Aur for the journey across the Straits to the Mermaid Hotel on the Anglesey shore. The direction of the swim allowed for a grand finale and finishing line to be viewed by hundreds of locals and visitors who lined the quay wall from "Battery" to Porth yr Aur.
On arrival at the Mermaid Pier we were each allocated an accompanying boat and a whistle was our starting signal. I believe there were about a dozen competitors that year and as we lined up we were amazed to see the late Gilbert Harding (glass in hand) and Diana Dors, then every schoolboys dream, standing on the small dock wall to view the proceeding. The Mermaid Hotel circa 1955 was probably the premier watering hole on Anglesey and a "get away from it all" bolt hole for many a media celebrity. A shrill blast and we all dived into the fast flowing and rather bumpy straits and struck out for Caernarfon pier, which we had been advised was the mark to aim for. I was comfortably abreast of the lead swimmer by half way across when, without warning, he suddenly changed gear and quickly outdistanced me leading me in to Porth yr Aur by a good 100yards. The swimmer in question was the nephew of the late Arthur Roberts a prominent local plumbing contractor. In the changing room after the races completion I congratulated him on his victory and his comment was he had never been so frightened in his life. Apparently his sudden spurt at mid swim, was caused by some unknown object brushing along his leg. Being a South Wales swimmer and fresh water pool trained, he did not realise that the straits carried a great deal of loose seaweed in flow to and fro and that his encounter was probably so caused. He admitted to just shutting his eyes, burying his head and swimming like a demented man for the safety of Caernarfon shore. I believe it appropriate to note that my close friend and swimming partner W.E.M.Jones who lived at "Cliff End" on Priestly Road also partook of the swim and successfully completed the crossing although to Caernarfon Pier as he was in the initial stages of hypothermia but would not allow himself to be pulled into his accompanying boat until the crossing was completed. All twelve competitors completed the crossing and received certificates to denote the achievements.
I swam again in the race the two following years but better trained swimmers of greater ability allowed me only to secure third place on both occasions. As an addendum to the chapter I do believe I am one of the few swimmers to have swam the straits both ways. It was in 1959 or 1960 that I was sought to accompany Eifion Williams, who sadly lost his life in a car accident at Griffiths Crossing in 1965, to help him achieve a long cherished ambition to completing a crossing. The appointed day arrived when tidal conditions and times were favourable and two of our friends, who shall remain nameless, agreed to row accompaniment as a safety precaution. Starting time was to have been ten a.m. but unfortunately the weather was inclement and our safety boat and crew remained wedged under the old Aber swing bridge sheltering from the rain. No amount of cajoling or cursing would stir them and it was 10.45 when eventually we struck out for Anglesey shoreline. I was fully aware that we had missed 'slack water' and it was soon evident that the tide was on the ebb and we were being gently swept downstream towards Abermenai. By concerted efforts we eventually grounded just west of the Tan y Foel stables and an elated Eifion was rowed back towards the welcoming security of the 'Lee Ho' slipway - mission accomplished!!
The tennis courts which I have alluded to were not generally accepted as a 'general use' sporting facility for Caernarfon Youth. There was a totally misconceived class barrier that engendered a belief that this facility was restricted if not physically then socially to a select band of young people from the professional section of Caernarfon society. The same stigma applied with regard to the Golf Club and neither facility became truly 'de segregated' so to speak until the late sixties and early seventies.
Prior to the expansion of the coffee. bar scene, social interaction between young people in Caernarfon was limited to the Saturday night promenade around the centre of the town, repeated to a lesser extent on a Wednesday night (dydd Sadwrn bach). The young male population would circle the town in groups of two or three in clockwise direction to confront groups of females who would walk the same route counter clockwise. This activity usually took place after the release of the 1st house cinema audience at about 7.30pm and continued until 10p.m. when Caernarfon square became a hive of activity as buses to all outlying villages departed on their final journey of the evening. The only other opportunity for social interaction between the sexes were at Drill Hall Dances and at school socials. The latter activity was a highly structured social evening held within the confine of the school hall and rigorously policed by teaching staff members. Every pupil was allocated a 'house' on entry to the school and remained a member until leaving day. I well remember being in Arfon house much to my annoyance as the female of my undying affections was allocated to Segontium house, which entailed that; I could never be able to practice my amorous advances at a school social. The present day socialising in public houses was a non-starter in the climate prevailing the 50's.Occasional forays were made to the back room of the Anglesey Hotel and, on occasion, the Gors Fach Inn Llanddeiniolen; but such excursions were furtive and irregular and consisted mainly of supping half pints of mild or tots of Q.C.Sherry surreptitiously purchased at Morgan Lloyds' off licence and drunk in great secrecy.
It was during the middle to late 50' s that keg beer was introduced. Watney's Red Barrel was a precursor of many similar beverages and was only challenged in those early days by McEwan's Tartan Bitter. Larger was still very much a nonentity as far as drinking public was concerned. By far the most popular beverages were draft bitter and mild although the latter always languished under the misconceived idea, popularly held by young people, that it consisted of all the slop / drip trays and was very suspect. Ladies drinks consisted virtuall,exclusively of Babysham in which a red cherry was deposited. Over indulgence at public houses was, I believe, even more prevalent in the 50' s and 60' s but the age group involved was significantly older than today's abusers. C'fon has lost many watering holes in the past half decade 'The Newborough', 'Mona Hotel', 'County Hotel' and 'Hole in the Wall' to name but a few. A memory I have is of a group of 6th form female pupils, considerably senior to myself, being accused of secreting alcoholic beverages into the sixth form on a 'social' night and being discovered (with rumours of expulsion from the school bandied about). I never actually heard the whether it was the truth or not, but I recall the rumours circulating like wildfire!
'Culture' during my grammar school days was a three pronged exercise. It consisted of (a) the school Eisteddfod (b) cinema visits (school arranged) (c) and last but by no means least the annual visit of the. Bangor Trio. The first of the above threesome. was an interhouse competition at instrumental, vocal and poetry recital ability, initially held around St David s Day at the Guild Hall Cinema, it was a highly competitive occasion with great kudos being heaped on individual successes. Alas I had no gifts in any of the set fields of endeavour but was and enthusiastic supporter came the day. The cinema visits were self explanatory and consisted of afternoon performances to a school audience of such films as Julius Caesar and Shipwrecked.
The annual visit by the Bangor Trio was an attempt to compulsorily instil in plebeian pupils an appreciation of classical music delivered on piano, violin and cello. The recital was held in the school hall and was policed with military like efficiency by teaching staff to ensure that boredom, ignorance and misdemeanours amongst the totally musically untutored pupils was not allowed to show or disrupt proceedings. Suffice to say, total acquiescence was rarely achieved and contagious giggles often resulted in tutors diving into the assembled throng to extricate perceived transgressions for dispatch to J. I. Davies to be thoroughly disciplined. Release at the termination of a two hour recital was a merciful one to many. How Mr Frank Thomas (Piano), Miss Valentine (Violin) and -----------?(Cello) managed to complete their planned programme without any display of awareness of the underlying mayhem defeats me to this day.
Caernarfon has long been synonymous with nick names and school life often bestowed a life long nick name. Names were often a result of physical appearance i.e. Fawr, Bach, Dew, Fatty etc. Family association or residence .i.e. Tai Hen, Cae Haidd, etc. And thirdly through a corruption of names .i.e. Philly (Phillps), Skiw (Evans) and Toon (Terry). There are a few names which over the years I have forgotten their derivation .i.e. Feathers, Pegs, Ping Pong, Didi, Snakes, Sea Boots etc. No doubt there is a semi logical explanation for all names bestowed. I trust no offence will be taken by anyone recognising any of the above nick names. Likewise all the staff at the grammar school had either nick names or diminutives of their given surname .i.e. Tots Art (Tudor Owen Thomas), Cem Bach (Cemlyn), Tom El (Ellis), Ma Humphs etc. Other I recall are 'Sally', 'Bunk', 'Gwens'. The latter names I shall refrain from identifying " to avoid possible embarrassment. In defence of the above partial expose I am willing to admit to my nickname of 'Killer' for at least two thirds of my teaching career.
Having followed on the teaching career, post Sir Huw and Bangor Normal Coll, an area of deep concern to me personally was the various levels of sanctions employed at school to punish or pull back into line recalcitrant or anti social pupils. During my time at Syr Huw these ranged from at the bottom end of the tariff, the handing out of interminable pages of lines "I must not" to physical caning and the threat of suspension or expulsion at the upper limit. I do not recall either of the two latter sanctions being employed during my school years. Between the two extremes mentioned the sanctions of detention, loss privileges (invariably sporting), parental involvement and public castigation during school morning assembly. All of the above were' official' sanctions so to speak.
Outside these parameters lay the unofficial sanctions, which ranged from personal verbal abuse to at times serious physical assault. Although not common I did witness extreme examples on more than one occasion metered out by highly respected masters who resorted to physical abuse to impose their will. In today's climate more than one of my schooldays tutors would have faced serious legal action as a result of their behaviour.
Being sent to the headmaster for punishment was always a journey of considerable trepidation it invariably involved a loose cohort of pupils who challenged the system in whatever way to invoke the retribution of being sent to the "gaffer" for punishment. To my knowledge J. I D. never questioned the validity of any particular mentor or staff s action in sending pupils up for punishment. All that was asked of the transgressor was, why? who? where? Discussion or mitigation was never countenanced. A selection of canes was accessed from the corner of the headmasters study and the order was given to hold out a hand. The number of strokes administered never seemed to be related to the transgression but more to the master or mistress involved and / or the "pedigree" of the pupil in question. "Regulars" seemed to invoke far higher numbers of strokes or 'cuts' than the first timers. I never recalled a pupil being returned to class, having been sent to J .I D. for punishment, without being caned. In my seven years at Syr Huw punishment metered by J. I. D was only challenged to my knowledge by one recipient and his parents. The 'shockwaves' engendered were far reaching and possibly heralded a re- thinking of punishment and sanctions codes which eventually took place when the school became a comprehensive.
Having ventured into what I realise is a delicate and possibly still sensitive area of school life, I must hasten to add that insupportable behaviour by school staff were rare exceptions and having experienced high levels of provocation during my teaching career I can understand, if not condone, the excesses which occasionally occurred.
Attaining the status of sixth former bestowed on one a much sought after standing and a limited amount of privileges. Attaining prefect status was signified by the presentation by a lapel badge denoting the fact. Similar badges were awarded for attaining 1st team status at Cricket, Rugby, Soccer, Athletics and House Captain. Great kudos was achieved on attaining three badges and virtual sainthood if one aspired to four or more.
School uniform was standard with one exception throughout my seven years attendance Navy blazer, white shirt, grey trousers, school tie and black shoes was the order of the day. The one digression occurred during my 5th year at school when J.I.D conceived the idea that school caps would raise the perceived status of the school and make pupils easily identifiable outside the confines of the school grounds thus lessening possible misbehaviour on the journey to and from the school premises. The uproar and resentment of virtually all pupils was totally ignored and the dress code was forced through. Prefects were subjected to the inclusion of a tassel to crown the headgear which prompted untold ridicule from virtually all quarters. I suffered the indignity of being exempted from wearing a cap for the sole reason that my head exceeded the largest model available. The subsequent leg pulling was only ameliorated by my physical stature which was not inconsiderable at that stage. This ill conceived attempt to raise the school to public school status sartorially was an unmitigated failure and was abandoned after a short number of years.
One of the few privileges bestowed on 6th formers was a sixth form study where members could retreat to when they had free periods and were not subject to supervision. The rooms in question (segregated sexually) were situated above the main entrance door cloakrooms, accessed by a narrow staircase. The room was very small and pokey but a haven where considerable horsing about took place in relative safety as entry was pre warned by footsteps ascending from the floor below. Being a prefect bestowed unlimited access to the school milk allocations and also the responsibility of doling out the food at table during lunch. Abuses were common with young first form 'sprogs' receiving the brunt of prefects greed when well like meals were on the menu.
The autonomous power wielded by the schools headmaster countenanced little or no opposition. Having spoken to past teachers it was a 'tablets of stone' situation and more than one excellent teacher moved on rather than accept the status quo. Two staff members in particular were known to have openly challenged management but received short shrift as were quickly closed and their positions made untenable in consequence.
The fabric of the grammar school on my entry in ' 51 was poor. The school, a late Victorian edifice was terribly dated and inadequate. Toilets were open air and adjacent to the school bike shed at the rear of the school. The school gymnasium was small and ill equipped and the tuition in its limited usage was virtually non existent. The art room was situated in a clap board hut without any heating. There were similar classrooms which were designated for the use of 5 G (general), the less academically able pupils. Changing rooms and showers were a mockery of sanitary standards and would have fallen foul of all health and safety standards implicit today. As I progressed through the school I did witness a building programme take place and a new gymnasium, hall and science facilities were erected within a short period of time. To disappear was the 60' x '20 steel water storage tank which bordered the main road where the new block entrance now stands. This tank was I believe an emergency measure to provide sufficient water if the school suffered bombing damages during the hostilities of the Second World War.
A footnote worth recording was the status of the Memorial Room at the school. As its name implies it consisted of a room set aside to commemorate past pupils of the school who perished in the two great wars. Their names were inscribed for posterity on wall mounted tablets within this holiest of sanctums. Access to the memorial room was a rare privilege extended to upper 6th students alone for contemplative study. It's only other use I recall was for the annual inspection by the county appointed school doctor and nurse. Lower school pupils were in total awe of this room and would not contemplate entry under anything less that direct instruction by senior staff. The sombre, atmosphere was of foreboding and deference, respected by all pupils alike.
Transport to and from school was for locals by Shanks' pony. Pupils however from outlying villages were bussed in by a variety of small rural coach companies. The only exceptions being pupils from Port Dinorwig who, because they were entitled to access Friar's school due to catchment area boundaries, chose to be educated at Syr Huw. These pupils travelled on service buses and I forget if the cost was subsidised. Few pupils rode bicycles to school and none that I remember had the luxury of motorised transport. Many staff did not possess vehicles in the early '50's but there were notable exceptions. Two I remember well were 'JÔs Woody's' car, an open M.G tourer in pillar box red (exotic colours were at a premium in post war Britain) and a Fiat 500 car of miniscule proportions which transported Mr.Gibson to and from his Colwyn Bay home.
The school caretaker throughout my education was a totally bald headed gentleman by the name of Mr. Stubbs, whose abiding passion was golf. Countless hours were spent on summer evening driving golf balls up and down the length of the school fields and using the high & long jump pits I as makeshift bunkers. I have little or no recollection of him in working mode within the school itself.
School trips were the prerogative of the favoured few could offer the high price of a berth on the cruise ship, where they were accompanied by no less a personage than Mr. Mansel Williams, county Director of Education in addition to the school staff. It was in essence and educational cruise around the near Med.ports, with, in all honesty, lip service only being paid to the formal education aspect. I must admit however I was envious of my fellow pupils who were fortunate enough to go but alas the only school excursions I was able to avail myself of were the annual pilgrimages down to Cardiff to watch Wales perform at the Arms Park. An overnight run from C'fon Square to Cardiff and back in a day, eagerly awaited and immensely enjoyed irrespective of Wales' performance although a win was always savoured with relish, especially against the "old enemy". I was fortunate enough to represent the county on at least three occasions at athletics. This entailed journey down to Caerleon, Maindy (Cardiff) and Haverfordwest respectively to compete with little success but great enjoyment mixed with a fair modicum of awe at the seemingly professional aptitude and abilities of our South Wales cousins.
I can only recall one of Syr Huw pupils being victorious at National School's level, that being Heather Parry, an extremely talented sprinter, who lived in the Twthill area. As with most sports at national level the complete lack of facilities, coaching and administrative structure plus the geographical barriers meant that athletes from Mid & North West Wales had to rely on exceptional natural talent only if they were to access national squads and teams. On returning to teach in Gwynedd fifteen years after leaving Syr Huw I was not surprised to find that little change had taken place in the intervening years. The one ray of light that did prevail was the success of athletes from the Bangor (Friars) area at national level. This was due entirely to the efforts of the late Ted Stubbs who coached, encouraged and secured training facilities. This at least: gave Gwynedd athletes a chance of competing on a more' level playing field' so to speak with our South Wales counterparts. The same was true in respect of the other major team games. 'Ieus' Hughes, Llangefni' worked tirelessly for the schools soccer talent as did the late Des. Treen for schools' rugby. Unfortunately there was little continuity when these stalwarts left the coaching arena and in consequence success at national level suffered: It is only now that a modicum of parity, representation wise, is achieved at National level with regard to population demography and in honesty, this is still not in all arenas of endeavour.
On my return to Gwynedd to teach in the early 70's I was immediately struck by the absolute dearth of outdoor education instruction offered in local school. It seemed quite anomalous to me that 95% of the young people I came across in our National Parks were from schools and clubs from the other side of Offa's Dyke. To mention names such as Carnedd Dafydd, Pen - Yr Olan Wen, Elidir Fawr, Y Garn, etc. to most local pupils illicited only blank ignorance, yet visiting schools and clubs demonstrated an educated knowledge of not only the names and locations of our major hills and mountains but also their ability to navigate by map and compass over & around them. I had always had a love of the mountains and whilst teaching in Liverpool had brought many groups to the cities' Outdoor Centre at Pontllyfni for adventure weeks. On returning to Wales in '71 I was, as already stated, struck by the dearth of such activities within Gwynedd schools. There were I must admit very small pockets of interest but C'fon and later Gwynedd Education authority did not wake up to the need and value of such education to an ever increasing leisure orientated society, until well after its English counterparts.
There was a firmly held belief that Snowdonia was in our backyard therefore there was little or no need to make specific provision for educational awareness of the environment within the county. As small rural schools within the heart of Snowdonia were closed for reasons of fiscal jurisprudence coupled with a falling rural population, these properties were allowed to be sold to authorities from over the borders for peppercorn prices and were subsequently developed as outdoor centres. A classic example was the primary school at Betws Garmon. When the property became defunct as an educational establishment it was transferred / leased to the county youth service and it staggered on with no financial backing until the early seventies when the moratorium on expenditure was at its most stringent. At this time all the youth clubs in Gwynedd were circulated enquiring as to what their wishes were re. the school's future. It was unanimously decided that the school should be kept and only the minimum amount necessary be spent to ensure its' survival, albeit non operationally, until such time as finances became available to enable the school to be repaired and refurbished for future use by the Youth Service and Education alike. Within a fortnight of the county being appraised of the Youth Services wishes the school was sold to a private buyer without any further discussion, notice or explanation being given re, the decision.
Eventually in 1974 the county woke up to the need and set aside the primary school at Rhyd Ddu and, in partnership, refurbished the premises for environmental and outdoor use. It was a breath of fresh air immediately grasped and fully utilized by myself and John Robert, a teaching colleague, having attended the inaugural familiarization weekend for interested staff a: users. I was fortunate enough to be able to book first week available and there followed a five year continuous use of the centre until escalating costs of transport and booking fees made it more feasible for my own school to purchase a property of their own to accommodate the growing interest and involvement of young people in outdoor education. I am glad to report that both the above mentioned centres are still functioning at the time of writing.
Perhaps the greatest omission in the field of schools outdoor education in Gwynedd was the total failure to grasp the value of the Duke of Edinburgh Award when it was inaugurated in 1956. As a pupil at Sir Huw it was not canvassed at all and this state of affairs, to the best of my knowledge, prevailed throughout Gwynedd with the exception of Woodlands school, Deganwy, a residential school owned by Liverpool Education Authority for special needs pupils. Having been involved with the award and its promotion for the past 25 years I am still astounded that opposition is still encountered on nationalistic grounds although the award is accepted in over 40 countries world wide and is based on complete freedom from any requirement of race, creed, colour, physical handicap, or social background. Perhaps in the not too distant future adults will put aside their personal prejudices and encourage young people to access an award that offers so much in educative and social development.
In looking back over the last half century the changes I have mentioned- are but a microcosm of the changes that have actually taken place. I am not in a position to pass judgement on Caernarfon today as I have no real knowledge of present day life within the town. At the risk of falling foul of the old adage that 'comparisons are odious', it does grieve me that my home town seems to have been dealt a dud hand in so many facets of present day development and I constantly hear C'fon being described as a shabby, underdeveloped town with a myriad of social and economic problems. I had hoped that the securing of Objective I status would have sparked an upturn in the town's fortunes but evidence of such movement is little evident. To see my town languishing in the field of development where it blatantly shows the potential to be a jewel in the Welsh crown fills me with sadness. May I suggest that consideration be given to the following suggestions?
1) Any town having such a wonderful viewing point as Twthill without ever having given thought to its utilization verges on the criminal in my mind. Look what the vehicular railway did for Aberystwyth and the cable car did for Llandudno.
2) Develop the maritime attraction in the town by expanding the Victorian Dock to use its full capacity.
3) Provide a decent slipway so that trailered boats will come to C'fon because the facilities are attractive. One needs to look no furtherthan Ty Calch on the Aber foreshore to see how private enterprise has grasped the nettle.
4) Ensure that the swing bridge is made capable of allowing motorised transport to be carried across the river mouth; there is no town in N. Wales with a more scenic foreshore.
5) As councillor Kirk has recently gone into print over - sort out thetraffic problems within the confines of the old town. An attractive, user friendly, town will attract commerce. It is not enough to be retro active. Become pro active and economic expansion will follow.
6) Do not allow empty premises within the heart of the town to appear derelict ( Harpers, Ddraig Goch, Lloyds Bank, Plas Beaumont etc) The council should ensure that at least a façade of tidiness be projected even if it is at the rate payers expense whilst legal procedures are enacted to insist that landlords be made responsible.
7) Fly posting should be heavily punished financially and with vigour.
8) Encourage and facilitate a C'fon Heritage Centre in the heart of the town where our excellent archives can provide an educational experience which would prove attractive to visitors and locals alike.
9) Provide guided tours of out town so that its hidden gems (see C'fon Dafydd Iwan) can be given the prominence they deserve.
10) Find a 'peg' to hang the town's hat on, an attraction that would be synonymous with C'fon and the one that would appeal to all ages and social status within the community.
Having read Colin Jones' letter "My Story", there is one small mistake. He mentions 'Dic Trombone'.