I hit Rhyl on the home straight of a tour of Shit Britain, by that stage feeling pretty much immune to blight and decay, along with hypothermia, e. coli and WKD Blue. I’d even primed myself with two nights at Pontin’s Southport, entertained by Keith Harris & Orville and drunk children throwing up into the snow-dusted fag bins. But Rhyl was something else. There’s nowhere grimmer than a town that was purpose-built for having a good time, and now absolutely isn’t. Particularly in February. Failing to rise to the twin challenges of its bleak, silly name and being on Liverpool Bay, Rhyl has skulked away into the shadowy overlap that exists between the melancholy of a faded seaside resort and the heavier shit of hardcore urban degeneration.
The ranks of weathered white oblongs gave Rhyl’s outlying static-caravan belt the look of a neglected war cemetery. In the unpeopled streets beyond them, the only spark of life was a price war being fought out amongst takeaways (CHEAPEST CHIPS IN RHYL) and pound shops (EVERYTHING NOW 98p). Most of the hefty old guesthouses on the sea front were boarded up or burnt out. Those that weren’t, I’d been told, are now occupied by rehoused Liverpudlian opiate enthusiasts, though I thought better of confirming this with a door-to-door survey. (Rhyl became Smackhead-on-Sea thanks to a 14-year-old Mr Big, who kept his stash in those plastic capsules out of Kinder Eggs, and was driven around in a limo by two heavies: it sounds like Junior Apprentice for class-A drug dealers.)
The one thing almost worth looking at – the deep brown sea – had been hidden from view by a massive concrete wall. Most of the streets leading away from it appeared to have been cluster-bombed. Courtesy of a predictably catastrophic Seventies makeover, the Edwardian pier and theatre had given way to a gigantic corrugated shed that would soon be hosting Go West – the 25th Anniversary Tour, and exuded all the ritzy, vibrant appeal of a Chernobyl bus depot. The weathered plastic barn beside it was the Rhyl Sun Centre, opened to great fanfares in 1980, but now less like a climate-controlled aquatic paradise than somewhere you might find yourself losing an argument with customer services about a faulty leaf blower. Rhyl’s core customers must have been pretty difficult to alienate: they were from Wolverhampton. You have to salute the tireless dedication with which Rhyl’s elders have made their once lovely and popular town so impressively unlikeable.
From residents to erstwhile holidaymakers, it’s now almost impossible to find anyone with a good word to say about the place. ‘My aunt is the Mayor of Rhyl,’ began my favourite onslaught, ‘but family loyalty aside, it’s the most awful place I know.’
Tim Moore based this entry – if you hadn’t already gathered as much – based on his book You Are Awful (But I Like You) – which is essential reading for all fans of crap. Beautifully written, funny, affectionate, and full of shit-holes. It will make you feel a little bit sad – especially when you read about the industrial decline in Hull – but also very happy. I loved it. Run out and buy it!