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1943: When the Chips were Down

© Robyn Mackenzie |

In Amlwch during the Second World War, there was little by way of entertainment for us children - except of course that which we created for ourselves. 

Saturday nights, when great numbers of the rural population came to Amlwch, was the night that saw us visiting the local amusement arcade - if a miscellany of tacky stalls gathered together in an old gutted garage could be rightly called such.  Nevertheless it suited us and the many who wound their way there along the blackout-darkened streets.

There were the usual Victorian slot machines, a coconut shy (where did they get coconuts in wartime, I wonder?), a shooting gallery run by a Mr Parker, and the cigarette stall, where the punter was required to throw a penny cleanly onto one of a number of widely spaced packets of cigarettes (without it touching the board) in order to win the packet it landed on. 

We boys, all inveterate smokers by then, became good at this, so much so that when Alice Newsome, who ran the stall, saw us coming, she used to give us a free packet of five Woodbine cigarettes before telling us to go away and not come back.  The site is now occupied by Cliff Davies's garage.

Cliff, one of my oldest friends despite the difference in our ages, was an inveterate poacher in his younger days who used to regularly take me with him on his numerous forays in to the local fields and woods. I have often wondered since then if his altruism had anything to do with the fact that I was the local Police Sergeant's son. Perish the thought. 

There were three fish-and-chip shops in Amlwch during the war - a misnomer no doubt, for I cannot ever remember one of them having fish on the menu. There was Figoni's, run by an elderly Italian and his family in Parys Lodge Square, and a second run by the Thomas family in Salem Street. 

No matter what else we did as boys on Saturday nights, we invariably visited one or other of the establishments to spend whatever was left of our pocket money, having first attended to our smoking needs of course.

Thomas's were renowned for their "penny mixes," which were small conical paper bags containing both chips and mushy peas, onto which in my case were added copious amounts of vinegar.  The trick was to time the eating of the mix in order to savour every morsel before the pointed end of the bag leaked, denying one the chance to suck out its flavoursome contents beforehand. 

The third chip shop was down in Porth Amlwch, where one night we boys gathered up greasy old chip wrappers and with the aid of a stick pushed them as far as we could up the shop's downcomer rain pipe before setting light to them.

The loud roar of the flames as they swept up the chimney brought out the furious owner, and as we ran away as fast as we could into the blackout, we heard a loud bang coming from the direction of the shop. We were being shot at! 

The gunshot was the talk of the school the following day and our "street cred" skyrocketed - before it was discovered that the noise had been the sound of the cast iron pipe cracking along the whole of its length due to the heat.

So much for being in the firing line. Our 'street cred' very quickly turned to cruel derision - children can be so capricious!


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