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Candlelight, A Runaway Train and A Bow Street Runner

October 21, 2012


It doesn’t look much like a time machine, this old yellow folder on my desk.  But opening it the other day and reading the typescript within, I found myself back in Leeswood and Chester forty years ago.  It was a nostalgic return…

Leeswood – or Coed-llai, to give this little Flintshire village its Welsh name – is where Stella and I lived after marrying in 1971, having bought a house there.  And Chester, eleven miles away, was where we both worked, myself in a local authority drawing office, Stella with a finance company.  My parents and family lived in the southern outskirts of the city, close to the Welsh border.

The forgotten typescript, which I prepared in 1988, was an edited version of my 1972 diary – my first effort as a diarist, now lost.

So here are a few extracts with notes for information.  You’ll see why I’ve called this ‘Candlelight, A Runaway Train and A Bow Street Runner’.  I’ll post further extracts another day if you like…   


FRIDAY 07/01/72

Driving sleet and streets full of jostling miseries – turned up collars, twisted faces, menacing brollies.  Mounting the Welsh hills, homeward-bound, we found the sleet turning to snow, a light, feathery fall, deepening rapidly.  By the time we reached our steep back lane, it was virtually impassable.  The car stalled but miraculously we got it going again and after much slithering and sliding eventually made it home.


FRIDAY 11/02/72

A ‘State of Emergency’ now exists owing to the miners’ strike.  From midnight it has been illegal to use electricity for advertising, display lighting or floodlighting for sport or entertainment.  And it has been a day of intensified power cuts.  Our office stricken from midday to 3pm.

Visiting Mum and Dad’s this evening, found Dad busy with preparations for ‘The Great Shutdown’.  From Monday, all industry with a demand exceeding 100kW will be restricted by law to a three-day working week.  The effects in terms of unemployment and lost production will be horrendous.


SATURDAY 12/02/72

Awoke to a power cut, which lasted until 10am.  To Chester after lunch.  Many shops candlelit.  Arrived M&D’s as they were leaving for Prestatyn, so had the run of the house and garage.  Fixed the car’s brakes and changed the oil.  Left for home 8:30pm, arriving to find Stella sitting by candlelight.  Grim times…


FRIDAY 18/02/72

Chester city centre blacked out 12 noon to 3pm.  Dined at the Plane Tree café.  Interior a dark cave, just a few pools of feeble light from calor gas lamps and candles.  Behind the counter, three calor rings kept the soup bubbling like something in a witch’s den. 


The strike, which had begun on 9 January 1972 due to a pay dispute between the miners and Ted Heath’s Tory government, ended with a return to work on 28 February following an agreement reached on 19 February.  The outcome was widely regarded a great victory for the National Union of Mineworkers.

The 3-day week, which began on 14 February, ended with the cessation of picketing on 19 February and should not be confused with the famous 3-day week of 1974, which was again brought about through industrial action by the miners.



FRIDAY 21/04/72

At M&D’s for our weekly visit, watched TV coverage of Apollo 16’s lunar landing.  Felt I was up there with Duke and Young, treading moon dust.  Thrilling. 


There had been four previous Moon landings under the Apollo programme but Apollo 16 was the first to land in the lunar highlands.

Commander John Young and Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke spent 71 hours on the surface of the Moon.  They took three extravehicular moonwalks totalling 20 hours 14 minutes. 



TUESDAY 09/05/72

Chester abuzz with accounts of last night’s rail drama.  A diesel freight train with several tank-wagons containing fuel oil came careering out of control into Chester Station and rammed head-on an empty passenger train standing at a platform.  The first coach of the passenger train was destroyed, the second flew onto the platform and demolished the refreshments room wall.  Fuel from ruptured tank-wagons ignited with a major fire resulting.  The Fire Brigade evacuated passengers from another train nearby before it too was engulfed in flames.     A part of the station roof was destroyed and it was past midnight before the fire was finally extinguished.  Miraculously no one was seriously hurt or killed.


The brakes of the runaway freight train had failed.  The driver escaped by jumping onto the platform before impact.



MONDAY 15/05/72

I was twenty minutes late returning to work after lunch.  The cause was a meeting I shall always remember – with historical novelist Raymond Foxall!  He was at Smith’s signing copies of his latest book, The Dark Forest.  This is his ninth novel, his third featuring Bow Street Runner Harry Adkins.

I commented that the research for it was quite a feat of detection in itself.  His blue eyes twinkled.  “Funny you should say that.  Five minutes ago, I was interviewed by a reporter who said the same thing.”

As he spoke I had a chance to study his appearance.  Late-fifties, pleasant oval face, distinguished side-whiskers and beard, a neat, conventional dresser.  Reminded me of James Robertson Justice. 

He told me that before writing a single line, he spends six months in preparation: researching mostly but also visiting locations.  I asked whether he did much rewriting.  “No,” he said, “I revise as I go along, line by line, paragraph by paragraph.”

I confessed my own interest in writing.  “You’re bound to have disappointments,” he said, “but keep going, don’t give up.”  He was quite insistent.  “Keep on writing.  Stick at it!”

I will, Mr Foxall, I will.


Raymond Foxall was the first author I ever met.  His other Georgian/Regency mysteries featuring thieftaker Harry Adkins (based on a real detective of the period) were The Little Ferret, Brandy For The Parson and The Silver Goblet



Copyright © Paul Beech 2012

From → Diary

  1. Angela permalink

    Brings those days back to life. Hope you have some more diary to share Paul. Angela x

  2. Thanks, Angela. Yes, plenty more where that came from! The typescript of my 1972 diary runs to 20 full pages with subjects ranging from a medieval banquet at Ruthin Castle to ‘The Giant Puffball Discovery’… It was a different world back then, and it’s refreshing now to view life again through the eyes of my 25-year-old self!

    Speak soon, Paul x

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