Roger’s nostalgia diaries: Holidays

02 May 2023 | Written by By Roger Davies

In this week’s instalment of his ‘Nostalgia diaries’, Roger reminisces about the kinds of holidays he would go on as a child, growing up in the ’50s and ’60s…

Nowadays, it is not a real holiday if you don’t use a passport. (Assuming you can get one with the latest strikes). Back in the ’50s though only rich, posh people went abroad. We normal people went to the seaside. For my family this meant Black Rock.

I need to put in some background. My family, the Davies, had connections with other Wrexham families through business and politics. My grandfather was an Alderman and his brother John Albert was a councillor and was Mayor of Wrexham in 1956. The Crowe family were green grocers in the same market where my grandfather and later my uncle had a shop. (Part of the Crowe family went off to Australia, where a certain Russel Crowe became quite famous). In a similar way, another family that was friends with ours were the Marubbis; they had a café near to our family shop. The family patriarch, Albert Marubbi, had come to Wrexham from Italy, I suspect in the pre WW1 period. He started off in the road haulage business before he branched out into selling ice cream and running his café.

The business was by this point run by his son. He also had a caravan site on the coast of the Llyn Peninsula at Morfa Bychan, just past Portmadog. There was nothing there but the caravans, a few houses, a golf course, a post office, a café, and of course miles and miles of golden sandy beaches, overlooked by the glorious mountains of Snowdonia. This is where we went every summer.

Old Mr Marubbi had a little wooden chalet at the top of the site, which had an old cast iron, pot-bellied stove. This was used for cooking as well as heating. He cooked traditional Italian food and he was always happy to give some to us children. So even though we did not go abroad I was introduced to authentic foreign cooking of a high standard at a very early age. Other things that
stand out was Mr Marubbi had a pre-war old motor bike and side car, which he used to take us boys for joy rides in. We would go charging round the lanes of the Llyn Peninsula at high speeds, hair flying in the wind. Mother did not like this so we would have to sneak off without her knowledge. Mr Marubbi’s Grandson and my elder brother later became leading lights in the North Wales motor bike scene – leather jackets and winkle picker boots and all.

Looking back the sun always shone for these holidays. Within a few days, we would all be bright red. Then mother would slather calamine lotion over us to ease the soreness. This dried a bright patchy white. Then we would “peel” as the skin came off in sheets. Sun tan lotion was not a thing back in those days. (That reminds me, I have to go back to hospital next month to have the latest basal cell carcinoma removed. Number six). However, some days the prevailing south westerly airstream would bring in the June thunderstorms, then the caravan site would be inundated with torrential down pours. The solution was for Mr Marubbi to get out his long handled shovel and clear drainage channels in the field. We were sometimes allowed to help.

Even though there were no modern facilities, the cafè near the caravan site, had a Walls ice cream fridge where we could buy an ice lolly and the Post Office sold sweets. The problem was – after our pocket money was spent – how to get more. The solution was to become more environmentally conscious. We went out to the beach, which was backed by huge sand dunes, and litter picked. Specifically we searched for abandoned pop bottles. We then took these back to the café and claimed the tuppence a bottle refund. We could earn up to half a crown on a good day.

Father was a keen fisherman and took his rod and tackle with him on holiday. He did not use a beach rod but fished off the rocks, at either the Black Rock or Samson’s Bay end of the beach. To get bait we would wait till the tide was out – and it went out miles here – then go to the water’s edge look for the sand castles then dig out lug worms and rag worms with a spade. Then when the tide came in we would go to the other end of the beach to fish. When we were a bit older when the tide was completely out, father discovered some posts embedded in the sand. He strung fishing line between them, with short leader lines and baited hooks attached. These were left overnight and next morning, when the tide went out again, we went and collected the catch. Most of the hooks had fish on but many had been “got at” by the seagulls, but we still had a good catch. Mother hated this. Guess who had to cook the fish on a small caravan stove? (To say nothing about the gutting and cleaning.) I am not keen on fish from that day to this.

Our other food foraging included digging out cockles from the sandbanks at the Samson’s Bay end and shrimps from inside the caves at the Black Rock end, when the tide was out. You had to keep your eyes open because when the tide turned, it came in very fast. We are not that far from Morecombe Bay here and cockle picking on the sandbanks there turned into a tragedy. Father would cook the proceeds out on the sands.

Looking back on all those halcyon days and realising that one of the reasons we went to Black Rock for weeks on end is that Criccieth Fair is held in late May and early June every year. So father would take the whole family to the caravan for a month or so at this time, every year. Then he would go back home and load up the wagon and work some markets and then go to the fair returning to the caravan which was only 5 miles away from Criccieth. The head and teachers at our schools seemed to have no problems with our absence from school.

At this time vehicles were allowed on to the beach – via a track made from old railway sleepers – and once you were past the soft, dry sand the hard packed sand below the tide line made a great road to travel up and down the beach, which was two to three miles long. In fact this beach was seen by the wartime government to be so good for an invasion force to land on, that it was covered in concrete tank traps on the tide line. In amongst the sand dunes were pillbox strong points to hold the defending forces. These made great places for kids to play games in. Who needs expensive Disney World theme parks when you can defeat the whole German army with nothing more than a smelly old pillbox, a stick for a rifle and a vivid imagination? (They really were nasty and smelly because in the 1960s there were no public toilets anywhere on the beach.)

By the early sixties I became more adventurous in my choice of holidays and decided I wanted to do something different. My friend Gareth and I were allowed to go “camping” at a campsite just down the road from the caravans, so we were set up in a tent with our little camp stove for cooking on. Though we did join the rest of the family, who were in the usual caravan for most meals.

All went well for the first few days, then a large group of German tourists arrived. They set up an encampment of sleeping tents and a huge communal bell tent for eating and meeting in. When my father next arrived and he saw the Germans, he went weird. We were told to stay well away from them and have nothing to do with them. However, we were fascinated and watched them with great interest. It is only with hindsight that I realised what was going on. Less than 20 years before father had landed in Normandy and had been fighting these same Germans – he never did tell us what had happened there.

The next night one of the regular June thunder storms happened. The rain poured down and the campsite started to flood. Just as the water started to inch into our tent, father appeared with his bait spade and dug a little drainage channel all round our tent. In a very short time all our equipment was safe and sound.

The Germans, however, were in trouble. Their tents were flooding and all they had was a little child’s sandcastle trowel. Father watched them struggle for a few moments, then with a visible shrug marched over to their encampment and started digging. They then took it in turns to dig round each of the tents till they were all secure. The Germans were suitably thankful and later presented me and Gareth with three huge tins of potato salad with frankfurter sausages in. I had never eaten anything like it before. I thought it was wonderful and am still partial to a good potato salad to this day.

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