Monday, 31 December 2007


I popped into Spar for a bit of shopping this morning. As I queued up to pay, I realised that the assistant was talking to the customer she was serving in Welsh.
Although Hay is technically in Wales, Welsh is not a language that is heard much here - so it was really nice to hear it spoken.
The assistant said that Welsh is actually her first language (something that's not usual round here).

Happy New Year!

Friday, 28 December 2007

Underhill's Garage Site

Nothing much has been happening on the site of the old garage this year. Just before the Festival, metal barriers went up, and there was a bit of fossicking about with diggers, but no sign yet that they're ready to build new houses there.
On the metal barriers, they did put up pictures of what the houses would look like, together with a website address that I've been unable to find so far. It was slightly worrying to see that one view of the houses showed floor to ceiling picture windows for the bedrooms - part of the design that was objected to when the original planning application went in, because the windows would be facing the river - not only would the light pollution disturb otters and other wildlife on the river, but anyone with a pair of binoculars could go over to the Offa's Dyke path across the river and look straight in.
And so matters stood until just the other day. Little additions have been made to one of the pictures - homeless people sitting on the pavements, and small placards saying things like "Too expensive to buy" and "Hay needs affordable housing". It's been cleverly done, and all to scale with the picture. Whoever did it makes a good point too - house prices are very expensive around here, and local youngsters can usually only find low waged jobs, which makes it just about impossible for them to stay in the area.
It will be interesting to see what the latest planning application is.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Islay and the revenge of the birds

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Islay was out on her morning walk when she caught a collared dove. She killed it instantly, and was so quick about it that it was dead by the time I turned round to see what the scuffling was.
I had two choices: I could sneak home and let her eat the body in the garden, or I could carry on to Spar and do my bits of shopping as I originally planned.
So I went to Spar. While I was in there, Jean Mar came in to find me. "Did you know your dog's got a dead pigeon?" she asked. "You'll have to get her wormed now, you know."
An old chap was at the till before me; not a local - he had a London accent. He went out and came in again as I was being served. "Did you know your dog's eating a pile of feathers?"
He was quite right. By the time I got outside, there was nothing left but a few feathers - and a very smug looking dog.

In the evening, I happened to be passing Marina's when she was seeing off her eldest daughter and the baby. They were spending Christmas Day elsewhere. She invited me in. Brock had been confined to barracks for a few days, with bad arthritis, so he was very pleased to see his girlfriend Islay.
So was the parrot.
I grabbed Islay's collar as the parrot climbed down from her cage and walked across the kitchen floor to inspect Islay. After the incident that morning, neither of us trusted her an inch with anything feathered. Islay didn't know what to make of the parrot's interest in her, and she started backing away. The parrot followed her, and kept following her all the time we were there. Marina said that she used to live in a house with dogs, and had been very friendly with a black and white dog. Islay obviously reminded her of her old friend, apart from the fact that she was making Islay very nervous indeed. Birds weren't supposed to come looking for her; she was supposed to chase them.
Parrot 1, Islay nil.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Boxing Day Hunt

The Golden Valley Hunt traditionally gathers at the Clock Tower in Hay on Boxing Day before they ride out. There were about fifty of them today, with the pack of hounds moving in and out of the crowd that were there to see them off. I always go down with Islay - not because I support hunting, but because I support traditions and I like the spectacle.
The Master of the Hunt gave his usual speech before they set off - this year he made the point that they would be complying with the law - but that they were still campaigning for the law to be changed so that they could legally kill foxes with the hounds again.
Karl Showler came up the hill pushing a wheelbarrow - ready to clear up after the horses and get some good manure for his garden.
I saw Brian and Molly with Belle, who had a new collar and lead for Christmas - a very girly pink, which looked a bit out of place on such a burly dog. Brian said how sad it was that so many people couldn't be here this year - I wasn't sure what he meant at first, but then he mentioned Mrs Showler, and Mrs Lawrence, and Coop up at the Chapel House - all people who have died this year. Most recently, there was a fatal head-on collision just outside Hay, on Saturday. A young man was killed.
I took Islay up the Offa's Dyke path after the hunt set off, about half past eleven, and I could hear the hunting horn and the hounds in the distance. We did a big circuit round, and ended up in the field next to Black Lion Green. Two men and a little boy were there, playing with a remote controlled helicopter, presumably a Christmas present.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

I saw Tinkerbell in the bank this morning! (I do believe in fairies!) She was wearing sparkly shoes and a sort of green tutu under her coat.
The shops were busy with lots of last minute shoppers (including me - I got a few presents I wasn't expecting, and dashed round for something in return).
And now it's pouring down!

Happy Christmas to Everyone!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Backfold Christmas Party

We took over the restaurant of the Old Black Lion last night. There were seventeen of us there, and even so some people hadn't been able to make it. There was no-one from Bedecked, and Joyce from Wool and Willow pulled out because she didn't fancy the long drive home late at night.
Of course, it was so long since we chose what we wanted to eat that we'd all forgotten, so Malachi had to stand at the end of the table with the list. "Yes, you're a tart - and you were a pancake. There were only two soups...."
This isn't the first time Backfold has had a Christmas party. Back when Mike ran the Sandwich Cellar, we twice managed to all cram into there for a meal - there weren't as many of us then!
I haven't been in the Black Lion for years, though I used to be a regular when John and Joan Collins ran it. When they came to Hay to take the pub/hotel over, it looked more like a transport caff, with formica tables, inside a black and white timbered building. George pointed out an alcove in the restaurant wall, and said that's where the dart board used to be - he'd scored his first ever 180 there in 1969!
The Collins's transformed the interior - Joan had a weakness for buying old prints and pictures, and they put settles in, and sent off specially to Sweden for smokeless candles for the dining tables.
They also transformed the menu there, and made it one of the top food pubs in the country, as well as a very pleasant hotel to stay.
When they retired to Poole, the new people continued with the reputation for good food, and the meal was certainly good last night, with plenty of variety for those who didn't want the traditional turkey dinner.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Window Dressing Competition

Every year the Chamber of Commerce runs a competition for the best Christmas window display in Hay, and the results are now public. The winner this year is Doll's House Fun, with their giant snowman. Second is Rose's, with Bill and Ben the Flowerpot men in the snow, and joint third are The Old Stables and The Great English Outdoors.
There have been some spectacular window displays in previous years - Marina next to the Wheatsheaf used to do elaborate ones involving stuffed animals, for instance - but for me, nothing really stood out this year. Lots of nice displays, but nothing really spectacular.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Japanese students

Something strange is going on in Backfold. A few days ago I saw a young Japanese man sketching in Backfold. I felt a bit sorry for him - he must have been frozen. Later, I saw him again, leaning over the low wall from the Castle, and measuring the roofs of the shops below with a long tape measure. The lady from Bedecked said he was a Japanese student and that this seemed to be some sort of project he was doing - but what can it be for? Is he making a scale model of Backfold - and if so, why?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Gentleman's Evening

Sigi's, the pretty lingerie and gifts shop by the British Legion, is holding a Gentleman's Evening on the 20th. The idea is that the men can choose gifts for the ladies in their lives, and Sigi's experienced staff will sort out exactly the best thing for them, and gift wrap it. The men get a glass of wine while they're choosing, too.
A few days ago, Sara went in there. Her friend Margaid had dragged her off on a shopping spree, and happened to have a voucher for Sigi's after she had to take a bra back. Sara is not overly vain about her appearance, and hasn't had herself measured for a bra for years - so it was a bit of a shock to find herself in a cubicle with the assistant showing her how best to put the bras on. "I looked down, and I had cleavage!" she said. "That doesn't normally happen!" She's so pleased with her new bra, and how good it makes her look, that she's looking for occasions to wear it now - and probably a new outfit to go with it!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Some local history

I was walking Islay when I got talking to a local chap. He'd seen us over on the Offa's Dyke path, in the woods there that he called Oliver's Wood, and he'd seen us around town as well. He told me that there are more otters using that part of the river now.
He asked me how long I'd lived in Hay, and when I said 15 years, he told me his family had lived in this area for 300 years. His grandfather, Thomas James Price, was the local stone mason, and he was born in 1860. When his first wife died, he carved her headstone, which can still be seen in St Mary's graveyard. She died in 1895, or thereabouts.
Some years later, he was persuaded by his son Joe to go to a party at Llanthomas Farm in Llanigon, where he met an 18 year old seamstress from Kent, who worked at the farm. He married her, and they had ten children together, as well as the five he had from his first marriage. The youngest daughter was the mother of the chap who told me all this, and all his aunties and uncles seemed to have lived to ripe old ages. One auntie died in 2006, aged 100.
He said that his grandfather used to carve a little face on his work, to identify it as his, but examples are rare.
I think it's time to go round the churchyard, to see if I can find the gravestone of Mr Price's first wife.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Going out on Tuesday night

I could have gone to two different events in Hay last night.

The one I chose was the talk in the Library - The Myth of the Mabinogion, by Lyn Webster Wilde. She teaches the creative writing course, and several people who have been on the course were there. In fact, most of the audience was female, with the notable exception of Rob Soldat who, as a storyteller, had a professional interest.
As we only had an hour, and the Mabinogion is a fiendishly complicated body of stories, Lyn concentrated on Math, Son of Mathonwy, which turned into the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes, which turned into the story of Blodeuwedd, lady of flowers - which is where she stopped. The Welsh myths are like that - a whole nest of interlinked stories that go off at tangents to each other. The discussion afterwards covered comparative mythology, and we considered the problem of Math's footwarmer, a young lady who had to hold his feet whenever he was not at war - what was going on there?
After the talk, I went down to the Crown with Alen and Rob and another lady from the creative writing course, to carry on the discussion. Alen was a complete novice in the field of Welsh myth, and wanted to know more - like what happened to Blodeuwedd? (The poor girl got turned into an owl at the end, after plotting to kill her husband and run off with her lover). Rob knows a lot about Welsh history, and told us about the Princess that the Mabinogion was probably written down for, after spending many centuries as oral legends. She was Gwenllian, whose father was imprisoned at Chester by the Normans, and who kept himself sane by telling himself the stories. Her son was the Lord Rhys, who began the first organised, regular Eistedfodds at Cardigan Castle - so an interest in literature ran in the family.
Lyn told us about the various versions of the legends that are available in print now, and said that her favourite was the Victorian one by Lady Charlotte Guest (though it does gloss over some of the sexy bits). It turns out that Revel Guest (sp?) is a direct descendant of Lady Charlotte, and she now lives in Clyro and helps to organise the Hay Festival!

Later, I took Islay out for her evening walk, and passed Kilvert's. It was packed out for open mic night, and someone was singing as I walked past.

Fairtrade - we're in the B and R!

It may be on an inside page, and I've been trimmed off the edge of the picture, but the Fairtrade 'demo' is in the B&R this week, together with a very good piece about Fairtrade and the campaign to make Hay a Fairtrade town. Powys has just become a Fairtrade county - and only three more towns are needed to make Wales a Fairtrade country!

Also in the B&R this week - XtremeOrganics came in the top three finalists for Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards, in the Best Take-Away category. Most of the organic meat for the takeaway comes from the owner's own farm in Llanigon - from farm to fork with no middlemen (and jolly nice curries).

Monday, 10 December 2007

On the Buses

The new bus station in Brecon - the Interchange - opened today, though they were still putting the finishing touches to the paintwork. On the way in, the bus took us into town and dropped us off at the ivy covered building opposite the Museum, but on the way back, I walked up to the bus station. It wasn't as far out of town as I thought it might be, but I have heard some grumbles from ladies who used to go in the Salad Bowl for a cup of tea before they caught the bus home. The cafe is just by where the old bus stop used to be, and they could sit in there and watch for the bus coming. They won't be able to do that any more.

Last week I was going the other way, into Hereford. On the way, we passed a sheepdog loose on the road, looking very worried and as if it might dart under the wheels. A little way further on, we met the other 39 coming the other way. Our driver stopped to warn him about the dog. I don't think that would happen in many places.

Sunday, 9 December 2007


The weather's been bad all week, but the worst (and most exciting) day was Thursday, when the river rose by at least 10 feet in the night, and broke its banks in places.
When I went out with Islay, I stopped on the bridge to look. Nearest to me, the canoe landing stage was completely under water, and the water had covered part of the path as well.
In the distance, there is usually a field that the river does a little detour around. Not that day - it went straight on through, and there was a little island where the field usually is. A little island with a flock of sheep on it. There was already one fire engine there when I was watching, and others turned up later - you could hear the sirens all through Hay. There may even have been helicopters involved - there were certainly a lot of them around along the river valley. At any rate, the sheep were saved.
The fire engines had also been pumping water out around the low lying areas of town.
I took Islay up the Wyecliff, where there's a good view of the Warren. The beach there, and the weir, had completely disappeared, and the water was up over the path in places. I should think the people who live in the house opposite the Warren were a bit worried as well. Last year, new flood defences were put in - this being a huge wall of boulders to keep the bank in place. The water was lapping right up to the top of it, and round the landward side of the house, the drive was covered by a small pond that Islay decided she didn't want to wade through. Large areas of the field were puddle, as well - not from the river this time, but from the stream cum drainage ditch that normally forms a little waterfall when it reaches the Wye, and now met it at the same level and was backing up.
The water has gone down a bit now, but it's still high - and it's still raining.

Fairtrade 'Demo'

I've been somewhat busy with 'Real Life' in the last week, but that doesn't mean that nothing was happening in Hay.
On the contrary, in fact.
Monday evening was foul - cold, raining, windy, and it was the evening of the Council meeting, so all the Fairtrade supporters turned out to huddle under the clock tower with our placards. It was actually a very good natured affair, and after a while Gareth came out to talk to us, and he invited us all up to the Council chamber to have our photo taken. He said that, obviously, he couldn't speak for the other councillors, but he was in favour, and had hopes of turning Hay into an eco-town. Most people stayed for the meeting. Someone from the Fairtrade group at Llandrindod Wells had come down to give a presentation to the Council, and Fairtrade tea and coffee was provided. I met Nigel Birch on his way up as I was on the way down, and he grumbled about having to drink the coffee.
I saw Elen at Backfold Books the next day, and she said it had all been very interesting. She'd never been to a council meeting before. The councillors voted in favour of Fairtrade status, though - and the day after that I got an email saying that all of Powys has just been declared a Fairtrade county. When all the counties are Fairtrade, Wales will be one of the first Fairtrade countries!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

School Christmas Fair and the Cheese Market

The Winter Festival isn't the only thing that's been happening this weekend. It was also time for the Hay School Christmas fair.
Mary tells me that they haven't counted up the small change yet, and the total raised for the school is already over £2,500! A lot of that came from a draw, and the rest on the day, from all the usual things that go on at school fairs.
They plan to use the money towards an environmentally friendly adventure playground, which is supposed to help children to develop their problem solving skills, as they work out how to move from one area to the next. Mary thinks that it will be the first one built in Powys.

She also told me that the Cheese Market is coming on the market. That's the building next to the Buttermarket. Originally, the town council met in the upstairs room, and the market stores the tables and so forth under the arches. It's needed extensive repairs for years, and the council can't afford to do it. Apparently, the Warren Club had a look at it to see if there was anything they could do - they renovated the Buttermarket some years ago. However, it's a very difficult building to find a use for, even without thinking of the amount of money it would cost to renovate it. Hopefully, someone will come up with a bright idea for it when it goes on the market.

The Three Tuns, meanwhile, is advertising for a second chef.
And the Mixing Bowl has changed hands so seamlessly that I never noticed.

More Winter Festival

I met Jane, dog walking, on Saturday evening. She told me that Ruth and the acapella choir had performed at the Buttermarket earlier in the day. This is the same choir that sang for the Timbuktu delegation at the twinning ceremony.
Later that evening, I passed the Buttermarket when people were clearing up after the Handmade in Hay show.
One of them was dressed as a reindeer. I have no idea why.
This is one of the things I like about Hay - a person can go about dressed as a reindeer if he wants, and nobody will bat an eye.
This morning, Gordon and his associates were busy moving into the Buttermarket for a Book Sale day.
None of them were dressed as reindeer.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Winter Festival and creative ideas

The car park is full, Handmade in Hay are in the Buttermarket with stalls for Christmas gifts, and people are wandering round town with maps in their hands, looking for the Drill Hall, where some of the talks are taking place. The Community Centre has an entrance canopy (which cunningly disguises what a tatty old building it is), and other events are taking place in the Swan. The weather hasn't been too bad, either.

One of the stalls in the Buttermarket was taken by Jane Meredith of Plant Dyed Wool. As well as making rugs and scarves and things, she runs courses on spinning, weaving, felting and dyeing from her home at Byford - something I'd like to do some time.
Meanwhile, at the Craft Centre, the large unit that used to be used by the woodturners has now re-opened for pottery workshops. They're called Fired, and they teach pottery, pottery painting and enamelling. You can just turn up off the street and paint a pot if you want to. I think it's a great way of encouraging ordinary people to develop skills they might not even know they have. They're having an open day next Saturday, 8th December, and if you take the Wye Local along, with the special voucher in it, you can paint a pot for free.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Turning the lights on

Well, it's done - the Christmas lights have been officially turned on, with help from Gareth the Mayor, Ken the Town Cryer, Red Kite Theatre, and the children of Hay School, who sang carols. There were minced pies and mulled wine at one end of the Buttermarket, and a low stage at the other, and the crowd spilled out of the Buttermarket and stood around the railings. A young lad from Hay School did the actual turning on of the lights, the evil Queen of Hay was prevented from smashing the dragon's egg by the Dragon Huggers of Hay, and Ken led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Gareth!
And the new lights do look rather nice.

On the Buses

I was in Brecon today, where I noticed that a new bus shelter is being built on the Bulwark - almost exactly where the old one was. I wish they'd make up their minds.
We won't be getting on and off the bus at the ivy-covered building opposite the Museum soon. On 10th December, the new bus station opens, just off the crossroads on the hill above Morrisons.

Meanwhile, back in Hay, the red wheelie bins that have appeared to collect plastic and cans are actually there as a result of the Ban Plastic Bags campaign - Hay officially goes plastic bag free today!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Events and bags

Hay Cat Rescue took over the Buttermarket today for their Christmas Fair - tombola, jumble, cat-related items and crafts. Islay was particularly interested in the refreshments table. They were cooking Welsh cakes up at one end, and had sausages and bacon at the other. Fortunately, I had remembered her lead.

Later, I was wandering the wet streets with Islay, who needed another walk, when I came across a lady with a big bag slung over one shoulder. She was stuffing cotton bags, and an explanatory letter, through every door. "Are you a resident?" she asked - and gave me a bag and a letter on the spot so she wouldn't have to do my house when she came to it. The bags have been provided by the Co-op, and they also give a donation to some project in Pondicherry, India.The lady who was delivering them was accompanied by her black lab, Hebe. I told her that I was involved in the Fairtrade group, and she was very pleased to be able to say that the bags were fairtrade, too.

Glasbury Village Hall are playing host to a performance of Gawain and the Green Knight on 15th December. Cat Weatherill, local storyteller and yet another local author, is telling the story, and Rob Soldat is playing the part of the Green Knight. He looks very impressive in make up.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Recycling and a claim to fame

Red wheelie bins have appeared around Hay. They are recycling bins for plastic bottles and drinks tins. I don't know if this is connected to the Winter Festival, but it seems quite a good idea.

Meanwhile, the gift shop and Welsh bookshop in the middle of Brecon is playing host to Derek the Weatherman tomorrow, who will be signing his new book there. "Will his mother be coming with him?" one of the ladies asked.
"I don't know," said the lady behind the counter, "but she came last time."
"I have a friend who used to make bara brith for him to give to his mother," said the lady.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Hay Festival Winter Weekend

Pemberton's, who are sponsoring the Festival, have put a display of Festival Tshirts in their window. I'm quite tempted, but which to choose?
They're all black or grey, with a small quotation across the chest, and there are four to choose from:

In my mind it replaces Christmas - Tony Benn

The Woodstock of the mind - Bill Clinton

Hay-on-Wye? Is that some kind of sandwich?

I don't do research any more. I just ask the audience at Hay.

Not being the sort of person to take notes as I wander round town, I have no memory of who made the last two quotations.

The Festival is over the weekend of 30th November to 2nd December, and includes local authors Jenny Valentine, Chris Hunter, Elizabeth Bryan, Rob Penn and Antony Woodward (I don't know the last three at all - I must look them up - ah, Elizabeth Bryan has written about her family's battle with cancer, and the other two have written a book about the British weather called The Wrong Kind of Snow).
They've also got Michael Wood the archaeologist, Jim Naughtie the broadcaster, Posy Simmonds the cartoonist, and Sue Kinsey who is campaigning against plastic bags - and others.
Should be a good weekend.
The shops will be open late, and the Christmas lights are being turned on as well.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A threat to our clock tower!

It was on an inside page of the B&R this week - a County Councillor, Graham Brown, objected to the amount of money that needs to be spent on essential repairs to the clock towers at Hay and Knighton, and suggested that they should be demolished instead!
Then he asked why the County Council should pay for the upkeep of the clock towers at all. That one was easy to answer - the County Council owns them, so has to be responsible for their upkeep.
Another councillor, Gwyn Gwillim, suggested that they should only repair the clock towers if the local councils agreed to take over the running of them afterwards. This was voted against, and the County Council can't force the local councils to take the responsibility on.
For the moment, it seems, the money has been agreed on, and the clock towers are safe - but it's worrying that this sort of thing can even be suggested. Hay clock tower is such a local landmark that it was used in the opening credits of the Antiques Roadshow. I don't know where Councillor Graham Brown was elected in Powys, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Hay (I know I didn't vote for him).

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Messages from the past

History isn't always about something big, like the Castle.
Sometimes it's written in pencil on a partition wall....

We had the first snow of the year yesterday. Combined with fog, the slush underfoot made things look pretty miserable. I came up into Lion Street from the clock tower in time to see Richie emerging from the cellar where the council keeps the Christmas lights. He was scratching his head and looking glum. "Don't think we'll get much done today," he said. Jackie was inside, and she called me over to see what they'd found the day before. There's a wooden partition wall just inside the entrance, and there's a message written on it in pencil, faint enough that you wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it.
It gives a name, and the date he started work in 1940 - and the date he left to join the Navy and serve his country in 1941. Jackie and Richie are going to see Eric Pugh, to see if he knows anything about the man who wrote the message. What Eric doesn't know about Hay isn't worth knowing. It would be nice to find out if the writer of the message ever came back.
As I was about to go, Richie asked "Have you ever been up the clock tower?"
I haven't - but everyone who has ever worked up there has left their name written on the walls, right back over a hundred years, including Jackie, who was very proud to be part of the tradition.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Cheerful window boxes

Today, it's been horrible weather all day - rain in the morning turning to sleet by the evening, and cold.
Yesterday morning, by contrast, was beautiful. A low sun over the hills lit up the thick frost in the fields, and the mist in the Wye Valley made it look as if you were looking at the view through thin gauze.
I came past the house on Oxford Road on the way home, on the corner opposite the Hereford bus stop. You can't miss it - it has a Victorian angel sitting on top of the porch. It also has lots of window boxes, and they've come up with a brilliant idea to brighten them up at this unpromising time of year. Each one now has eight or nine wooden spoons stuck into it, painted bright blue, and with a white flower painted on the bowl of the spoon.

The people at Barfield, up Cusop Dingle, have come up with another idea to make their house stand out from the crowd - they have a life sized bronze crocodile sitting outside!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Changing businesses

Wool and Willow is looking to have a re-vamp soon. Of the original three partners, one now has so many other commitments she can't spend the time necessary for the shop, and Joyce is waiting for a hip operation that would put her out of action completely for at least eight weeks.
They need new blood. So, they are looking for investors to put in around £1,000 each, and hopefully some time in the shop.
The original idea behind the shop was to give a shop window to all the marvellous producers of woollen goods in Wales, who also use Welsh wool. They want to keep that ethos, as far as possible. So far they have three or four people who are seriously interested, and they need up to a maximum of ten to carry the project forward.
So, if there are any 'angels' out there with £1,000 to spare for a worthwhile investment....

Meanwhile, Ticking and Toile opened its doors for the first time yesterday. They have taken over the whole building that used to be the Oriental Rug shop, and will be using the upstairs rooms as workshop and storage space. They've spent a year trading in Brecon, close to the big carpark, and have obviously been successful since they are now expanding. They are also providing local jobs - not just retail, but machinists to make up curtains and cushions, and all sorts of other soft furnishings, too.

And the Mixing Bowl is looking for a new owner, in the road just up from the Wheatsheaf and below Kilvert's.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Children in Need

Pam next door held a coffee morning for Children in Need this morning.
Very nice cakes - she ordered four from a lady that cooks for the WI stall in the market, chocolate, coffee, lemon drizzle and sponge - and a lady from Brecon brought a bara brith with her that she made last night.
Not only was Pam inviting people into her home - she was also running a delivery service! The phone kept ringing with orders for cake from the Post Office, and the Library, and the Red Cross shop.
Pam does this every year - it's the one charity that she really pushes the boat out for.

La Maison are hosting an event too, with 10% off goods bought in the shop and the proceeds being donated to the charity.

Stitch n Bitch evening

A lot of gossip last night!
One of the ladies has just come back from a trekking holiday in Katmandu, walking around the Anapurnas. She brought back a paisley shawl made of yak wool for us to admire - so soft and warm!
She also brought skeins of silk yarn, made from recycled silk saris, in gorgeous rich colours. She'd already knitted up a surprisingly sturdy little shoulder bag from it as a Christmas present. She had found the shop where she bought them two years ago, on her last visit, and this time the owner of the shop took her to his stock room, where he had huge sacks f ull of the silk skeins for her to choose from. The saris come from India to two villages up in the hills where the women tear them into narrow strips and then twist them into the yarn.
When she came home, though, that wasn't the end of her adventures. She was getting up one morning when she heard loud noises outside. At first she thought it was some agricultural vehicle going up the lane by the house. Then she went outside to the yard, and saw what had really happened. A ram had got out of a neighbouring farm, and found his way into her yard. He saw his reflection in the glass door of the barn - and charged it! There was glass everywhere, and a big hole in the door.
"Wow! That's never happened before - I charged my enemy, and he exploded!"
Fortunately, the ram wasn't badly injured - judging by the speed at which he departed, anyway, trailing shards of glass that had got caught in his wool. And the glass won't cost too much to replace either.

Joyce had brought something to show us, too. She told the story a few weeks ago - she had been friendly with an old lady, who she often used to visit, and shortly before the lady died, she gave Joyce a parcel wrapped in a plastic bag and said: "I want you to promise me something. When I die, I want you to burn this."
So Joyce promised, and some time later the lady died.
Joyce felt that she couldn't just throw all that plastic on the fire, so she unwrapped the parcel. Inside the plastic bag was a cloth bag, and inside that a second cloth bag, and inside that, wrapped up in cotton, was a teddy bear. She took one look at his little face, and thought "I can't burn you."
So she wrapped him up again, and spent years feeling guilty that she hadn't carried out the old lady's request.
So now she's brought the problem to us. She unwrapped the parcel, just as she had the first time, and we all looked at the teddy's sweet little face, and agreed that she couldn't possibly throw that on the fire.
"Maybe she's hidden something inside it," Tracy suggested. "Jewellery - or an engagement ring?"
"She never married," Joyce said.
So, we were all agreed that Joyce couldn't burn him, and she felt guilty about having him at home, so the best option, we thought, would be to get him valued, sell him and give the money to charity. He's obviously a very old bear. It was that or make him the mascot of our group, because we all fell in love with him.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Fairtade meeting

We gathered in Shepherd's yesterday, mainly to discuss what we were going to do for Fairtrade Fortnight next February/March.
We'd already decided that we were going to have a market stall on the Thursday markets, and we are going to try to get some reasonably local Fairtrade companies to come along too.
Julie went along to the Granary to give them their prize for filling in our questionnaire - and she had some difficulty in getting anyone to pose for a photo. They were delighted with the prize, though.
One of the things that's worrying Julie is that we haven't been able to get much publicity for the bid for Fairtrade status. So many other interesting things have been happening in Hay recently that our little story has been squeezed out. She said that one town was refused Fairtrade status for this reason - not enough publicity, so they couldn't demonstrate local support.
The next most important thing will be the Council vote on the 3rd December. One of the Fairtrade people from Llandod are coming down to give a presentation to the Council members and, still thinking about the publicity angle, one of the ladies on the committee said "We could have a demo! We could stand under the clock tower chanting 'What do we want? For Hay to be made into a Fairtrade town. When do we want it? As soon as possible!'" This is a lady who looks very respectable, and has just become a granny - and her equally respectable friend said instantly "I've got a couple of placards at home!"
So there we are - not a serious demonstration; just a bit of fun as the councillors arrive for the meeting, which will hopefully get us a bit of publicity in the local papers too.

Monday, 12 November 2007


I saw the first Christmas tree of the year today, in the window of Cotswold Collections. When I started looking around, Christmas stuff has started creeping into other windows around town already, too. There's a snowman in the window of the chemist's, along with a ski-ing duck and a robin. Up at The Olde Curiosity Shoppe, there are wine glasses containing red candles, and other Christmassy goodies.
At Chattels, though, they aren't thinking about Christmas yet. Instead, they have a poster up, offering a £250 reward for information about the "mindless vandals" who smashed their shop window on Friday night.

Meanwhile, on Castle Street, I saw a husky dog, tied to a post while it waited for its owner. It was wearing panniers, so it could carry its own shopping!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Silent Voices

The shop has been closed for nearly a year now. I've seen people painting the woodwork outside, but the interior has been shrouded in mystery and Venetian blinds - until last night. They had an evening of wine and nibbles to launch the art gallery, and I happened to pass by with the dog at the right time to peer in and marvel at the rather wonderful pictures of leaves, stained glass, and other artwork.
Some time soon, I'll have a more detailed look a round - but initially it looks very impressive.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

At the Swan

"All right, we give up - what's an 'American single'?"
The first arrivals for Stitch n Bitch were standing in the lobby of the Swan, and reading whatever was around - which included the room price list.
"It's a single room with a double bed," said the girl behind the reception desk.
She put the light on for us, so any further comments were forgotten as we got our projects out. One lady had brought a peg loom - but she wasn't happy with the way her experiment was going, and left early.
Partly, this was because we could hardly hear ourselves think! A private party was gathering in the main bar, all older men in smart suits, and the noise level was pretty high. The girl behind the bar told me it was some sort of agricultural society gathering.
It got very quiet when they all went in to dinner.

Sara had been thinking about architecture in Hay. When we wrote the book "...Nobody had Heard of Hay", I found references to No 20 High Town - but now the numbering only goes up to No 19, and nobody seems to know where No 20 was. Sara has been prowling up and down and examining the pointing on the whole row; "It's a wonder I didn't get arrested!" she said. She thinks that there was an extra house in there, and that the present 19 was originally 20. At some time in the past, two narrow houses must have been knocked into one.
I went and did my own prowling up and down later - and though I couldn't see any signs of it on the front of the buildings, there are two back doors for Oscars Restaurant, so she may well be right.

Today I have just been watching a lady trying to park her car - in a space that was shorter than the car. She tried three times, with two different people trying to direct her in - and none of them seemed to realise that there was no way the car would fit, however much she jiggled about.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Backfold and a general round up

It's been a quiet week. All the excitement has died down; the delegation from Timbuktu have gone home, and the shops have been quiet. About the most exciting thing I've seen has been the parsnip harvesting machine up in the big field across the river! Instead of the pickers pulling the parsnips by hand, there's now a long machine that digs them up, moves them up to a following wagon where the pickers are sitting, so they can sort them, and then a conveyor belt takes the acceptable parsnips sideways into big wooden boxes on the back of a trailer being pulled by a tractor along the next row.
Meanwhile, I was in Backfold last night, doing the evening walk with Islay, when I saw something moving near the China Tea Rooms at the end. It was about the size of a chicken - then it took off, and I could see it was a large brown owl!
This morning I was back there, to give Malachi at the Sandwich Cellar my deposit for the Stitch n Bitch Christmas Party. There are going to be around 21 of us, and we're descending on the Black Lion for the evening.
Pat Johnson was in charge of the Wool and Willow shop, and she was busy making felt in the middle of the shop. She said she liked to get people talking to her. Normally, she would do it outside, but it's been damp and drizzly all day.
Meanwhile in the market square, a nice young lady from Trading Standards was going round, checking that stall holders' scales were accurate and so on.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Marina and the parrot

Some time ago, Marina agreed to give a home to a grey parrot whose owners didn't want him. She likes parrots, and has kept them before, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the parrot didn't settle in his new home. He started to pluck all the feathers out of his breast, and Marina was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that she would have to give the parrot back.
Then the parrot met Marina's friend Jumbo - and fell in love. To the extent of trying to have sex with his hat. Fortunately, Jumbo loves the parrot in return, so now he's going round every day to make a fuss of the parrot, and after a while, the parrot will move in with him. A happy ending for all concerned.

Meanwhile, the B&R did a feature on Hay-on-Fire this week, and they reckon 5,000 people were there, which bodes well for next year.

Monday, 29 October 2007


Celebrations all day on Saturday!
There were the conker championships and Apple Day in the Buttermarket, and at mid-day all the children who have been making dragons all week paraded round town with them. There were Chinese-style dragons, cloth-covered, with the kids underneath carrying them, and there must have been about a dozen of them, with sculpted faces, and some with flapping wings.
Shortly before six, a huge traction engine drew up outside the Wheatsheaf, and the procession formed up behind it, with a samba band in red, gold and black costumes, the cross-dressing morris men, morris dancers with flaming torches, more dragons, including one that had been made as a giant lantern, and lots of kids with lanterns that they had been making in the workshops during the week. There were crowds up the slopes of the castle watching us go by before they joined on the end of the procession. At various places along the way there were placards saying things like "Govt Denys Dragon Cull Plan" and "20% Dragons Now Obese". On the old Castle Mound opposite the Swan, there was a fire juggler. We went right down to Gypsy Castle, to the track that leads to the Warren, where we showed our wristbands or bought tickets at the gate. It was all very well organised, with floodlights at intervals down the lane, and on the Warren itself. The crowds gathered up the slope, with the action taking place on the level ground by the river. At the top of the slope, XOX Organics and another burger van were doing a roaring trade.
The story being told was of Vortigern's Castle (the backdrop to the action, made of wood and the same paper that the lanterns were made of). Vortigern had retreated from the Saxons to his Castle, and was appealing to the good people of Hay to help him defend his strong castle - a bit of pyrotechnics, and a tower of the castle promply fell down. "Good builders of Hay," Vortigern said. "Can I have a word? I specifically asked for a non-crumbling castle."
Soothsayers - the cross-dressing morris men - were called in and after their dance with flaming torches they told Vortigern that he must find a child without a father, and sacrifice him so that his castle would not fall down. They then scattered into the audience, looking for likely children, until Young Merlin appeared, to give his prophesy - he being the child without a father. The kid playing Merlin was brilliant. He's only 12, and he gave his speech with just the right amount of drama, telling that beneath the castle two dragons, one red and one white, were fighting, and one must defeat the other before the castle could stand.
The dragons were two old bangers, decorated with dragon heads and wings, and with flame coming out of every available place - and they had flame throwers. The cars chased each other round the arena, while a static firework display depicted two dragons fighting. When the red dragon was victorious, another display was lit, showing the red dragon of Wales, and then the rockets started going off from behind the castle. It was a very impressive display.
On the way back to town, I stopped to chat to Brian, who was one of the stewards. He was interviewing the kids as they passed: "What did you think of it? Ten out of ten? You can come next year!" He reckoned that three and a half thousand people must have passed him. We saw Ann and the Timbuktu delegation coming back up - Ann with the grin that's been a permanent fixture on her face all week, and the Mayor of Timbuktu in borrowed green wellies under his robes.
Back in town there were crowds outside all the pubs, and people eating fish and chips all along Broad Street, sitting on the wall. Islay liked that bit, when I let her out. I left her in the house because of the bangs and the crowds, but she needed a walk when I got back.
Next year, it's Giants!

Friday, 26 October 2007

"Je suis Matilda de Breos, c'est ma chateau."

The twinning ceremony was held in the Market Square last night, and I dressed up as Matilda de Breos for the occasion. After all, as the builder of Hay Castle (in legend she carried the stones for the castle in her apron) she really should be there to see that everything was done properly. Accordingly, I wore my re-enactment bliaut (a medieval dress with 'angel' sleeves) and over dress, and the full length orange velvet cloak, with a white wimple and veil - so I looked not unlike an orange nun. Carrying a sword. Ann thought it would look cool. I don't normally wear a wimple - that's for respectable ladies like Matilda, and I'm normally a mercenary camp follower - not respectable at all. It does have the advantage of being nice and warm, and the disadvantage of restricting your field of peripheral vision - though not as much as Haydn's vision was restricted, in his full face mask. He was playing the Green Man, and carrying an enormous head made out of papier mache, on a pole.
Richard Booth decided not to attend the ceremony itself. Instead, he hosted a small reception up in the State Rooms of the Castle - with some very nice cakes made by Tracy. There was a little girl up there who was fascinated by my sword.
The delegation were taken down to the front entrance of the castle, where two vintage cars were waiting to take them round the corner to the square, where a marquee had been erected earlier in the day with a stage. I walked down, and ended up being interviewed on camera, along with Ann Brichto, explaining who I was in history and why I was there - and Ann added that the legend is that Timbuktu was founded by a woman, too, so that's one more thing we have in common. I have no idea who the lady with the camera was, but she was there in Cardiff with the coach as well. The BBC were there at the beginning, but left about half way through.
Then the vintage cars arrived, with Rob Soldat in medieval tunic and cloak in attendance, Haydn Pugh as the Green Man, and Dinah Jones in her Welsh costume.
A local choir sang a capella, and some kids from Red Kite Theatre performed one of the songs from Celt, the big show they put on a couple of years ago, with Derek Addyman improbably wearing a Tuareg head dress while waving an Iron Age Celtic sword at the back. There were speeches, with translations, and punctuated by announcements from Ken the Town Cryer. The Mayor of Timbuktu got quite animated and enthusiastic. It was a pity that it was difficult to follow what was going on from outside the tent, but there was a fair sized crowd in the square and up the bank of the castle.
After the document was signed and witnessed, children from Llanigon, Hay and Ffynon Gynedd schools sang the Welsh national anthem, and then older girls from Gwernyfed sang the Mali national anthem. Members of the choir that had sang earlier (all dressed in black with pink ties for the men and pink accessories for the ladies) also performed the Mali national anthem on brass instruments.
The fireworks, at the end, were most impressive - lots of rockets bursting over the Norman tower of the castle, with accompanying African drum music from the group that are running the drumming workshops for Hay-on-Fire.
All in all a successful and enjoyable evening, rounded off with a mini pub crawl in full costume.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How ordinary people can do remarkable things

I'm just back from Cardiff. A coach load of Hay people went down to the Senedd with the Timbuktu delegation. Well, the Malians went by car - you can't really expect the Malian Ambassador to Belgium and the Mayor of Timbuktu to go in a coach with the rest of us! There were a lot of familiar faces on the coach - Father Richard was there, and Mrs Jones and Mrs Pugh from the Tourist information office, and our Community Support Police officer, and a couple representing the Black Mountain Lions, Jenny from Hay Arts, Caroline from Community Support, the Deputy Mayor (Gareth couldn't get away) and Rob Golesworthy from the Council, and lots of others.
It was great fun! Unlike last week, we could see the scenery, and there was even sunshine. We got dropped off at Roald Dahl Place, outside the Millennium Theatre - which is a really impressive building, cased in copper.
I made sure I took photos of the big fountain - my boyfriend is a fan of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off set in Cardiff, and their secret base is supposed to be right under the square.
We were treated to a tour of the Senedd building, which meant that we had the architecture explained to us this time. The great funnel in the middle, which is a really impressive feature, is supposed to represent a huge tree trunk, of the sort that people would gather under to have meetings. It also serves a practical purpose, as it provides natural ventilation and natural light to the Senedd chamber below it. Robert, the guide, told us that as much of the building as possible was built with Welsh materials - lots of slate, of course, and the framework is Welsh steel, with furniture made of Welsh oak. The curved timbers of the roof are Canadian cedar, and they should last for a hundred years - it's a wood that doesn't rot.
We just missed one of us being the half a millionth visitor - which happened yesterday. Not bad for a building that only opened on 1st March 2006. One of the impressive things about the building is that, despite the security at the door, there were loads of people coming and going - three school parties today alone, one of them from Flintshire - and the public gallery overlooking the senedd is often full. It's possible for the public to watch the committee meetings as well. They were also celebrating 100 years of the Caravan Club upstairs.
There were speeches - Rhodri Morgan spoke in English, Welsh and French, and one of the Malians - the Culture officer for Timbuktu - translated (not the Welsh bits). There were cameras everywhere - including the BBC. I'm told we're going to be on the news tonight. The Mayor of Timbuktu gave Rhodri Morgan a book, and introduction to Timbuktu, and the Malians got goody bags from the Senedd.
They went off for private meetings for a while (the important business of the day). Ann went off with them, which meant that Anna had to step in and give an interview on camera. She said she was really nervous, but she looked quite confident. Then there was a group photo on the stairs, followed by lunch at a nearby cafe, in their conference room upstairs. We were entertained by a British couple who are studying Malian music, which delighted the Malians. The girl sang while the chap played the kora. Meanwhile one of the Malians was considering how to find Father Richard a wife.
"I've got a dog," Father Richard said.
"No, a dog is not enough!"
There were more speeches, from the young chap who is acting as interpreter for the Malians - he's a Tuareg and he speaks 12 languages, but he never went to school. One of the things he said was that he asked, when he was a boy, why the Tuareg lived so far apart, and he was told that it gave them room to be themselves, and the people may be far apart, but the hearts are close. He said he hoped that would be the case between Hay and Timbuktu.
Ann said that she found it quite incredible to be there. "I'm just an ordinary bookseller, and last night I had dinner with the Ambassador, which is such an honour for me..." she said. That's what made me think - all the people in the room, the ones from Hay anyway, are quite ordinary people, but we are doing this remarkable thing of making contact with a completely different culture, with a different religion and language, and we are making friendships that will change both communities for the better.
The Malians went off to see the Big Pit after lunch - it's a World Heritage site, like Timbuktu, and a huge part of Welsh history, and then they're having dinner at the River Cafe. We had time to scoot round the gift shop in the Millennium Theatre before we caught the coach home. (There was a yurt in the middle of the concourse - I have no idea why).
When I got back to Hay, it took me about half an hour to walk home. I saw Marijana in the shop in Backfold, and Sue and Malachi at the Sandwich Cellar, and told them all about it. The delegation went round there yesterday, and Sue and Malachi had their picture taken with them. "They all managed to squeeze in here," Malachi said - and the Sandwich Cellar is not large.
Tomorrow they're going to the Health Centre - Sue is providing a vegetarian lunch for them - and the twinning ceremony in the evening, and on Friday they're going round the craft shops. Saturday is Hay-on-Fire, and on Sunday they get a bit of free time before heading to Birmingham for the first leg of their flight home. Meanwhile, the Ambassador is returning to Belgium on Friday.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Another local author

Yet more talent around Hay-on-Wye! Chris Hunter is a bomb disposal expert who's worked in Afghanistan, and has been awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal. He's just written a book called Eight Lives Down, about his experiences. I heard him interviewed on Steve Wright on Radio 2 this afternoon.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Book meme

Cabezalana, a knitting blogger, had this. He said he wasn't tagging anyone, but if anyone wants to do it, be his guest. So, it's book related, and I thought I would:

1. Hardcover or papberback, and why? I get quite a lot of books from the Honesty gardens, the last chance saloon for books before the dump, so I'm quite happy with reading copies of any description. However, when I particularly like a book and want to keep it, its hardcover every time.

2. If I were to own a bookshop, I would call it.... Shuttlecraft SF. Which was the name of the unit in Broad Street Book Centre where my ex-husband and I started a business. For various reasons, it never worked out.

3. My favourite quote from a book (mention the title) Almost too hard to answer, but if I'm pushed, there is a quote from Cranford by Mrs Gaskell that I use quite a bit. "What does it matter what I wear when I'm in Cranford? Everyone knows me. And what does it matter what I wear when I'm in town? Nobody knows me!"

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be.... Madeleine l'Engle, who died recently. I love her children's books, and I recently came across her Crosswicks Journals, which are memoirs, and which I intend to re-read until they fall apart. Everything I've read about her shows her to have been a lovely person, and a Christian in the best possible sense of the word.

5. If I were going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be.... Well, on Desert Island Discs, you get the Bible (or religious text of your choice) and Shakespeare, which covers most options (and 8 records, of course). I think I'd have to go for Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman, a reminder of happy times I spent in Norwich, and full of lovingkindness in a very medieval way.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that.... Actually someone already has, but I haven't got round to getting one yet - I need something to put in the kitchen to hold cookery books open at the right page.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of.... Richard Booth's basement.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book it would be (mention the title).... I thought long and hard about this, and came to the conclusion that I'm a natural sidekick. So I'd like to be Helena Justina in the Falco novels by Lindsay Davis, or Evaine MacRory, daughter of Saint Camber, in the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz. Helena Justina is patrician, intelligent, and goes to bed with Falco, and Evaine is a member of the nobility, a powerful sorceress, and has a husband and children she adores.

9. The most overestimated book of all times is.... There are several books which were hugely popular in their day, but are almost unreadable today - who reads Forever Amber now? I have a suspicion that Dan Brown will go the same way.

10. I hate it when a book.... is badly put together, or has spelling mistakes in it.

So, like Cabezalana, I'm not tagging anyone, but if anyone would like to do this, consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Islay sits for a portrait

Wanders about for it is nearer the mark, followed by a lady with a sketchbook.
I met her in the morning, when she took one look at Islay, stretched out on her side and half asleep, and said: "That dog reminds me of a watercolour of one of the Bronte's dogs." *
Later, she returned. "I've got an odd request," she said. "Can I sketch your dog?"
I was delighted to agree. Islay got a bit bored after a bit and wandered off, but the lady did get some good likenesses.
She was staying at Rest for the Tired with a friend, a writer that I happened to meet outside the previous evening. She had come out for a cigarette, and Islay had made a bee line for some chips that had been dropped on the pavement nearby. While Islay completed Hoovering up operations, I chatted, and discovered that I was talking to Liz Whitaker, who writes childrens' fantasy. She's also involved in Cardigan Castle, so was quite interested when I mentioned the re-enactment group I belong to - when they want a show put on next year, she said she'd put Drudion's name forward.
Meanwhile, a lady with an Afghan hound came into the shop, looking for me. This was someone I'd got in contact with through Freecycle, and she was delivering a carrier bag full of Afghan fur for me to spin. It is gorgeous, so soft, and a lovely caramel colour, and it was nice to meet one of the donors of the fur, too, an extremely beautiful dog.

The second Timbuktu newsletter arrived on Friday lunchtime, beautifully designed by Anna, and I went round to Pemberton Minor to pick up a sheaf of them and distribute them around town. The Malian delegation are in London at the moment, visiting the House of Commons, and going on the London Eye, and other fun things. I saw Ann Brichto just before she set off to meet them, and she was bouncing. "We're going to be interviewed on Radio 5 Live!" she said, "and the World Service!"

*(The 'e' of Bronte should have an umlaut over it - two dots - but I'm not clever enough to do that).

Friday, 19 October 2007

In which it takes an hour to make a five minute journey

You can't just walk from one place to another in Hay. It's impossible. Sometimes you just have to stop and talk.
So I was going from Backfold to home, on market day. First we had to stop at the plant stall, because Islay always gets a biscuit there, and a bit of feta cheese from the Greek chap on the stall next door.
While I was talking to them, Ann Brichto came by, in imitation of a small whirlwind, and asked me about the Timbuktu newsletter which was just about to come out, and told me a bit about the twinning ceremony next Thursday. "We'd like you to stand on one side of the stage and look interesting," she said. "Rob is coming as a Welsh warrior - I don't know what he's going to look like - probably not dressed in much but a bit of woad! - and Haydn's being the Green Man."
No sooner had she gone, than Sue Newall from the Bear passed by. "You do know about the fireworks next week, don't you?" she asked. "Only, if you want to bring Islay...."
I assured her that Islay would be left safely at home. She's never been the same around fireworks since she panicked during the millennium firwork display, jumped into my arms, attempted to wriggle over my shoulder, and then dragged me all the way home at a gallop. She's not as bad as Brock, who needs to be given tranquilisers, but she's not happy.
Eventually, I managed to get away from the market square, and I went round by the Library. Richie was sitting on the bench there with his new lady, Jackie. "Ah, the very person I wanted to see - what are you wearing on Thursday?"
"I'm going to be Matilda de Breos," I said. Red medieval dress, orange velvet cloak, wimple...."
"Good," he said, "I'm trying to balance the colours across the stage." (He's in charge of the lighting).
He introduced me to Jackie, and as we were talking, Brian came by. By the time we parted, we'd been through atomic tests in the Pacific, the ignorance of young people about the Second World War ("Japan? I thought it was just England and Germany."), Vietnam, Kentucky coal miners, and much more.
I looked at the clock when I got through the front door. It was just over an hour since I left Backfold.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Knitting a Madonna bra - and plastic bags

This week it is both National Knitting Week and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to mark this, Bedecked in Backfold has thought up a novel fund raising idea. For 50p visitors to the shop can have a go at French knitting, and the lengths of knitted tubing produced will be made into one of those conical bras that Madonna made famous in her stage acts.

Meanwhile, the bid to ban plastic bags continues. They have a launch date at the beginning of December, for the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, and the idea is that retailers around town pledge not to buy any more plastic bags, and to use up the ones they already have in stock. Biodegradable bags made out of corn starch will be available through the Wholefood shop, to be sold on at 5p each, and a Hay-on-Wye Fairtrade cotton bag is being launched on the same weekend. Some shops are also using paper bags. The inspiration for this campaign came from the Devon town of Modbury, and there's also been a recent campaign in Presteigne.
Here's a statistic or two for you - between 500 billion and one trillion plastic carrier bags are used annually worldwide. Each one is used for an average of 12 minutes, and takes around 500 years to decay.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Gold Star Communities

Six of us from the Timbuktu twinning initiative went down to Cardiff yesterday, for the launch of the Gold Star Communities project at the Senedd.
"There are lovely views when it's not raining," Ann said, from the back seat. Luke and Anna were there from Drover Holidays, looking very smart, and Peter Lloyd the Deputy Mayor, and Chris Armstrong from Haymakers, Ann Brichto and me.
We got into Cardiff Bay at about half past five, and it was still raining. As we hurried along Mermaid Quay, a man in a reflective jacket gave me an umbrella! It was a publicity thing for the Quay, he said - and very welcome!
At the Senedd Chamber, we had to go through the same sort of security check that they have at airports. Ann was already talking to people she knew in the queue. Inside, the Senedd was still sitting - you could see them from above, through a window around the great wooden mushroom shape that came down from the curving wooden ceiling. Peter the Deputy Mayor was impressed with that - "the amount of steaming they must have done to get all those curves right".
We were pleased to see there were sandwiches and other nibbles, and drinks, provided. Five thirty to seven thirty, with an hour and a half drive either side of it is a bit awkward if you want an evening meal.
There was another reception going on downstairs, for Ty Hafran. Rhodri Morgan said that this was the sort of thing that they hoped that the Senedd building would be doing, the Senedd at it's best.
There are five Gold Star Communities - the first of many, Rhodri Morgan hoped, in his speech (in which he spoke in Welsh as well as English). They are all Welsh communities which have twinned, or formed a partnership with, a place in Sub Saharan Africa. Brecon is twinned with Molo in Kenya, Brynycwm with Yirgachette in Ethiopia, Pontypridd with Mbale in Uganda, Crymych with Hlotse in Lesotho, and us, twinned with Timbuktu in Mali. As well as being a celebration of the links, this was an opportunity to meet other people who were doing similar things to us, and the people who had expertise in turning the ambitions into reality. A chap from Oxfam Wales was there, for instance, and a tiny lady from Zambia who called herself a Welsh-African and has started a charity to help empower Zambian women - she gave the speech after Rhodri Morgan, which got the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
We also have the blessing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as we were told by the last speaker of the evening. "The work you're doing in communities in Wales and Africa on the Millennium Development Goals is marvellous. Keep your passion going, and you will change the world!"
Some of the people there already have - one lady was mentioned in relation to a health project that has already saved 1,800 lives.
Somewhat to Chris Armstrong's surprise, the partnership between Haymakers Gallery and the craftsmen of Mohamed's village just outside Timbuktu is seen as "ground breaking". They've sold most of the Touareg jewellery and leather boxes now, and raised £2,000 for the village - "one f ifth of the school!" Chris is going to send a list of items that went well to Mohamed, so that he can bring more, and the village will continue to benefit. Trade, not aid in action.
Music for the evening was from Love Africa, on drums and other percussion instruments - and they were very good.
"Did you notice?" Ann said, as we were leaving. "All the people there are really nice, and right on."
It was still pouring down when we got outside, and all the way home. Anna kept us amused with stories of eating out in Africa, when she and Luke cycled through the continent - the elaborate menus that looked very impressive, until you asked what they actually had (which was rice, usually), and the places that insisted you paid in advance for the meal, because they then had to nip down to the market to buy the ingredients - and the 'salad' that turned out to be rice and marmalade sandwiches!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Mighty Jasper Fforde

That's what the poster said, anyway! I didn't know until last night that Jasper Fforde was a local author. He writes the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and he gave a talk in the library last night.
He was a little bit late, and while the audience settled down, Jane the librarian announced: "He's not coming - hands up anyone who's written a book - you'll have to take over!" There were actually two published authors there - Val Tyler was sitting on the table at the back with her husband. "We're in the dress circle," she said ("breaking all sorts of Health and Safety rules - you'll have to sign a disclaimer," said Jane) and Celia Boyd was in the back row.
He was a very entertaining speaker, and gave some very good advice about the publishing business, and how it works. It took him ten years to get an agent interested in The Eyre Affair, and it was his sixth novel, I think he said. He said publishers like it if you mention you've written four or five unpublished novels (and probably unpublishable novels) because it shows stickability, and he said that he had improved enormously from his first novel to the one that got published.
He talked about copyright, too - and how he was advised that he couldn't use Eeyore, because Disney owns the rights.
And he talked about how his plots come to him. He's not one of those authors who outlines carefully and then follows the outline - he has ideas as he's writing that lead him off on strange tangents. Like the Welsh Socialist Republic. He wanted his villain to live in an airship originally, but his editor didn't like the idea very much, so he invented the Welsh Socialist Republic out of thin air, sort of like Poland in the 1970s with choirs and rugby, with the capital at Merthyr Tydfil. Then he dug around a bit in Welsh history and found that it had almost happened in real life!
At the end, there were flapjacks - very tasty ones, too, and Jasper signed a few books and stayed to chat.
He has a website full of interesting and odd things - like Spot the Hamlet, and the Seven Wonders of Swindon, and he's writing his next book at the moment.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Geodomes and farming

Just above Hay, across the river, there's a house in quite a large, tree-filled garden. The people who live there have a business hiring out geodomes, which are quite wonderful space-age constructions, and can be used as marquees and so on. They have their own geodome chicken run in the garden - I have to keep an eye on Islay when we go past on the Wyecliff path, in case one has gone walkabout and she gets a bit too interested.
At the moment, they're in Scotland - the Isle of Muck, to be precise. Apparently a lot of market gardening goes on there, and they're keen to extend the short growing season as much as they can. Polytunnels are difficult to use there, because they also get great storms, but geodomes are more stable, and so the people here have gone up there to build some, and see how they perform. They're hoping for a really good storm while they're there, so they can see the domes in action.

Meanwhile, a minibus full of pickers has arrived to harvest the parsnips in the field just below the geodome place. They've done one strip so far, the full length of the field and about three feet across - and at the present rate it'll take them a month to get across the field to the other side.
In the big field by the riverside, the potato crop has been harvested, and was immediately replaced by winter wheat.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Stitch n Bitch at the Swan, and a walk up Merbach Common

Our first evening at the Swan was very successful, and very enjoyable - they even opened the bar early for us. Eight of us were there, including two new ladies. I'd seen Sara a few days before, and gone to have a cup of tea with her. She told me she'd started to do cross stitch kits, and showed me one she'd just got from the Old Curiosity Shoppe, of a black cat and poppies. She also said she felt the need to get out more in the evenings, rather than just slump in front of the telly. So it was really nice when she turned up, and had a good time, and got a bit done on her embroidery.
Sally came because she'd got talking to Joyce in the Wool and Willow shop, and decided she wanted to knit a Moebius scarf - a loop with a twist in it. I was glad to see her there, because she'd phoned me earlier to arrange a walk with the dogs, and I'd missed her when I phoned back.
Another of the ladies came along with a basket of chutney to sell. She said she'd made 700lbs of jam this year!
Next week, the room off the bar is being used by someone else, but the lady at reception said we were welcome to come again, and use the back bar - and she might even come along and see what we get up to!
"Be careful of this lot," Sara said. "They've got pointy sticks and they're not afraid to use them!"
Joyce was very pleased - we don't have to think about stacking chairs for the Sandwich Cellar at the end, and there's much more room to spread out.

Later, I took Islay out for her evening walk, and ran into Rob Soldat by the church. He told me that he'll be going out at the weekend with the lady from National Geographic, to show her a walk or two, and he thanked me, because she found out about him from this blog. He's also going to give a talk for the National Park, to B&B owners and hoteliers, about the history in the area which would be of interest to tourists.

This morning, Sally picked me up to go for a walk on Merbach Common, just towards Hereford. It was a perfect walking day, nice and mild, and wonderful views over the Wye Valley from the top. We found puffball mushrooms, and harebells, and the dogs had a great time failing to catch pheasants.
On the way back, we passed Arthur's Stone, the ancient tomb just above Dorstone (and far older than Arthur), and we stopped at a local farm to buy eggs. The farmer actually went into the hen house as we watched, and got the eggs fresh, and warm, from under the hens.
Sally is the sort of person who asks when she wants to know things, and takes a genuine interest in people - and she had most of the farmer's life story in about five minutes flat (I can't do that - I have nothing but admiration for the people who can). He was born on a neighbouring farm, and has lived there all his life, and they got the hens mainly so that his wife can use the eggs for her bakery business. She supplies cakes to Longtown Stores, and the WI Market in Hay, and other places.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Meeting in Shepherd's

I was at Shepherd's this morning just after it opened. I met Julie, of the Fairtrade group, on the way up there.
As we got to the counter to order, some of the Creative Writing group came in as well. Lyn asked me how my writing was going on - and said that they're thinking of having an evening class after Christmas, for people who work and can't get to the Library during the day.
Jo, Ruth and Jackie joined us at our table in the corner, and we discussed the progress so far, and what our next moves were going to be. We went round the churches last month (Open Door were very keen), so this month it's local schools. My job this month is to find out about Welsh translation for the Fairtrade Directory we want to put out - hopefully we can lift quite a bit wholesale from the Brecon Directory. We're also hoping that the Co-op can help with the cost of producing the leaflet, as they do support this sort of community project. We'll be going round the local printers asking for quotes.
We also held the Grand Draw for the winner of £20 of Fairtrade products, from the businesses who returned the questionnaires we went round with last month. The winner was The Granary, and we all chipped in to buy the prize from Oxfam.
I scribbled something for the press release as we sat there, which will go with what Julie has written, and will be distributed to the local papers.
Next time, we'll be discussing events for Fairtrade Fortnight next year - Ruth is booking the market stall for us, for two Thursdays running, and the Film Society are putting on the film China Blue, and we're thinking about a music gig with one local and one African band - but we need help with that, from someone like Mel at the Poetry Bookshop, who has done this sort of thing before.
On a related note, there's a meeting tomorrow night at the Drill Hall to talk about alternatives to plastic bags for Hay.

Later this morning, I was interviewed for an article in National Geographic! The lady who rang me up said some very nice things about this blog, and asked me about Hay, and the creative people who live here. She'll be talking to Rob Soldat, and Ken Smith the Town Cryer, too, and the article is due out next May. It takes a long time to get an article into print!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Music and ponies

Quite a few of the horseboxes stayed overnight in the car park. This morning there were ponies being loaded, small dogs (and a standard poodle) running round, and people brewing tea before they set off for home.
Mary told me that she had the B&B full of horsey people, while Black Swan cottage was full of musicians. Mr Babb, the conductor, had persuaded her to put them up for free. The concert, by the Rochford Ensemble, was at the church last night, and celebrated the 150th anniversary of Elgar's birth with music by Vaughan Williams, Delius and, of course, Elgar. The proceeds of the concert were split between the church and Hay School.

A couple have been going round town today asking locals to fill in a questionnaire. They are thinking of buying one of the pubs that are on the market here, and want to do some market research before they commit themselves - which I think is a very good idea. Among other things, they're asking which pubs are most and least favourite. For me, it's the Three Tuns (which is lovely to go in now, and has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere) and The Wheatsheaf - not because it's a bad pub, but because it's where the younger crowd tend to hang out. I'm more of an oak beams, open fire, good real ale sort of pub goer.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Selling books to the bookshops

There was a big pony show at the Beast Market today - one horse box in the car park had come all the way from Kirkham in Lancashire.

Very slow day in the shop - the only people who came through the door, in the morning at least, either wanted to buy particular fiction books ("I'm looking for The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat....") or wanted to sell books.
We don't sell any fiction at Marijana's, and I'm not the buyer, so I couldn't even look at their books, even when they'd come all the way from Llandudno specially. It really is worthwhile phoning ahead to make sure there will be someone there to look at your books, if you want to sell them, and that you're going to the right shop with them. The first thing I say when someone comes in to Marijana's with a box or a couple of carrier bags is "Are they travel or language books?" and quite often they're not, and they need to go to another shop which might be interested instead. The second thing I say (or often the other way round) is "I'm sorry, but I'm not the buyer - and I'm afraid you can't leave the books here."
When I worked for the Children's Bookshop we did that once or twice, and we just got into a mess with them - books that Judith was considering had to be left in the shop, and other customers would rummage through them and scatter them round the shop if we didn't keep an eye on them, thinking they were for sale. Or Judith would decide that she didn't want to buy them when she saw them, or only wanted to buy two or three out of a box full, and then had to wait for weeks for the owners of the books to return to pick them up - and sometimes they never did. So we didn't allow any more people to leave their books for sale. Sometimes people were just trying to dump their books on us - didn't even want any money for them - but that meant that we were then left with the problem of disposal of unsaleable books (and I'm talking about books without spines or covers or even, occasionally, mouldy books). If Judith was there, she did the deal straight away, and if she wasn't, then she'd lost the chance to buy whatever books the person had brought in, and they had to try elsewhere.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Stitch n Bitch

We've found a new venue! The Swan Hotel have said that they'll let us have the little room at one end of the bar, which has a big table to sit round, and will fit up to 20 people - which is a lot better than the shop. More than half a dozen in there, and we're sitting knee to knee. So next week, we'll be there, in our new spacious surroundings.
We also have a new gentleman in the group, who knits his own jumpers. He said this will give him a bit of impetus to finish off the three different projects he's got half-finished at home. It's nice not to be an all female group - as Joyce said, why shouldn't men knit as well?
Val Tyler is running around the country doing publicity for her books. On Sunday 11th November, though, she doesn't have to go any further than Glasbury Village Hall. She'll be there with Jenny Valentine, another local children's author, to be interviewed by local teenagers. Val wrote The Time Wreccas, and Jenny Valentine wrote Finding Violet Park, about a kid who finds the old lady's ashes and tries to find out more about her life. Jenny has a lot more to do than work on the sequel at the moment, though. She's just taken over the Wholefood shop from Mandy.
Tracy, meanwhile, is enjoying working for the King. She went with him to the U3A lecture on life under Stalin last week, and after the success of the Phil Rickman book signing, she's been approached by someone who wants to launch his poetry book from the Castle. Richard will be involved somehow in the visit to Hay of the Timbuktu delegation, and Tracy will be doing her best to organise him. What she really likes, though, is working in a real castle! She's learning to weave - she showed us a lovely shawl/scarf that she wove from her own handspun alpaca and silk mix - and she'd like to weave a wall hanging for her office in the Castle. We've made her promise to show us her new felt hat, too - which is conical with a twist up it to suggest the unicorn's horn, and has a crenellated brim.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

In vino...Press Release!

A very pleasant evening at Pemberton Minor last night, as the Timbuktu Communications Committee thrashed out the text of a press release for the visit of various Malian dignitaries to Hay for the official signing of the twinning agreement. Michael, who set up the Hay2Timbuktu website, came round to discuss better ways of accessing it for Anna and Luke, who need to get in to change things without necessarily going through Michael. He's also heavily involved with Hay-on-Fire (I saw him helping to put a banner up under Henry VII on the Cheese Market building earlier in the evening). They're selling Tshirts this year to help fund the festivities, as well as having to charge for the finale for the first time ever.
The Malians are going to be busy while they're in the UK - visiting the House of Commons (unless Gordon Brown calls an election, in which case the place closes down until after the election happens), visiting the Welsh Assembly and meeting Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, and probably getting totally confused by Hay-on-Fire. The Morris Dancers in drag are going to take some explaining.
The Conker Championship happens in the Buttermarket at the same time, which is something else odd for them to be confused by! Haydn isn't involved this year - he said he wanted a bit of time out when I saw him.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Is it a Turner?

The picture valuation at Oxfam last Friday may have turned up something quite exciting. A lady from Herefordshire brought a watercolour in, and the valuer thinks it may be a Turner. It needs further research, but if it is, it may be worth around £25,000! Not bad in return for a £1 donation to Oxfam.

From the B&R - Rats!

They say that you're never more than ten feet from a rat in this country. I thought that probably only applied to cities, until I saw two stories in the B&R over the last couple of weeks.
First it was the nice bungalows down Forest Road - rats were burrowing around their gardens from a broken sewer pipe, and they didn't dare open the back doors in case the rats got into the houses. Now Dwr Cymru are mending the sewer pipe, which will hopefully solve the problem.
This week it's more rats moving into Newport Street, at the other end of town. It took five visits from the pest control man to sort out that infestation, but they seem to have gone now.
Any more stories like that, and we'll be getting a visit from a chap with a German accent, in red and yellow motley, playing a recorder.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Update on Islay

Good news - she stopped throwing up, and after a long sleep she managed to eat about half her breakfast. She's still a bit subdued, but much, much better.

Things I didn't get round to mentioning last week - Oxfam had a picture valuer in on Friday, so that people could bring their paintings in and see if they were worth anything, the the local firemen were raising money with a charity car wash in the main carpark on Saturday.

Coming up on the 27th October will be the Conker Championships in the Buttermarket. This year they're sharing the space with an Apple Day. People can bring their mystery apples along to be identified - there are thousands of varieties out there.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Not a Happy Puppy

Islay isn't well at all. She was up in the night being sick - which meant that I had to be up too, to let her out of the front door so she could run round to the garden each time.
She didn't eat breakfast (I don't think she has ever missed breakfast in her life before), and she spent the day in Backfold throwing up at intervals, with concerned passers by asking after her welfare. She drank a lot of water, put down by Joyce in the Wool and Willow shop, because she has a small washing up bowl in the shop. Now she's curled up on the settee looking sorry for herself - but at least she's stopped being sick. I went down to the vet's after work, but they don't do an evening surgery on Saturdays, so I just took their emergency number, in case she got worse.

Friday, 28 September 2007

News from the B&R

Panic buying of cemetery plots! Apparently the cemetery will be full in eight years, and they're about to buy some land to expand it - but in the meantime people are booking their places early.
The Chef on the Run has won another award, this time for the Great Taste of their whimberry and apple jam. They also got the prize for Best Welsh Speciality at the Great Taste Awards, and now they're working flat out to fulfill the new orders they've got as a result. The Chef on the Run also runs the Old Stables Tea Room.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Fabric of Sin at the Castle

Tracy must be very pleased - the main room of the Castle was packed out, and everyone enjoyed the cakes she'd baked for the occasion.
Richard Booth said something about the national economy of new books meshing with the international economy of secondhand books - and what a wonderful part of the world Phil Rickman was writing about. He also mentioned that they are hoping to do up the Castle (not for the first time) and that the Castle gate is the oldest in Europe (possibly - certainly the oldest in Wales).
Phil Rickman talked a little bit about his book, and what an amazing place Garway is. As one example, he said that the village used to have four pubs - called The Sun, The Moon, The Globe and The Stars.
And Rob Soldat, as Jacques de Molay, last Master of the Templars, expounded upon the importance of the number nine. Nine knights met to form the Templars, and they were recognised as an order nine years later - and lasted 180 years before they were wiped out by the French king, Philip the Fair. Jacques himself was burned at the stake on the ninth day of the ninth month of 1314 (which adds up to 9).
To continue the theme, The Fabric of Sin is the ninth in the Merrily Watkins series, and the launch was happening on the only day they could book the Castle - the 27th September, 2007. 27 is 3 x 3 x 3, or 9 + 9 + 9, in the ninth month, and 2007 adds up to 9.
"And there are 36 people in this room," Rob added, having just counted them.
"We're all doomed," Phil said. "Fortunately, we have Father Richard here to counteract the curse."
"Well, I'll do my best," Father Richard said doubtfully, from his position on the floor where he was making a fuss of Jimmy the Curate (who is a standard poodle, in case this gives the wrong impression).
"The only way to be saved is to eat one of the Templar cakes!" declared Phil, and sponge cakes with white icing and red crosses were duly handed round. He also said that they had thought of calling the book "The Power of Nine", "but that would have been a bit too 'Batman'. The Fabric of Sin is more sophisticated."
And with that, the signing began.
I slipped out early, clutching my copy and a very nice calendar showing scenes from the books, and went down to Wool and Willow, to sit in for Joyce so she could go up for a bit.
And later, Rob brought my sword back, well pleased with the day's work. He'd also done a bit of wandering round town to encourage people to go up to the Castle. On the corner by Addyman's, he met me coming one way with Islay and Alfie, and Brian coming the other way with Belle. Having admired the costume, Brian turned to me and said "You should have brought your sword."
Rob and I grinned. "That is my sword," I said.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Thursday at the Castle

I got a phone call from Rob Soldat the other night. "I know you've got a couple - can I borrow a sword?"
He's going to be dressing up as a Knight Templar on Thursday, while Phil Rickman is up at the Castle signing his new book, which involves Garway and the Knights. "Only lurex armour, I'm afraid," he said, not very apologetically (but if he'll fit into my chainmail, he can borrow that as well), "and I've only got a plastic sword - but if I can have a proper steel one, that would be much better."

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Y Gaer Roman Fort

I've known that there was a big Roman fort close to Brecon for years, but I've never actually visited it. My sister thought it might be a nice place to go on their last morning here, before they drove the camper van home.
The Tom Tom didn't help. It took us up to Bwlch before we realised we were going in totally the wrong direction and went back into Brecon.
Now, Y Gaer is marked on all the tourist maps, and has been for years. It's supposed to be one of the attractions of the area. So I was surprised to find that there was no leaflet about it in the Tourist Information Centre. The girl behind the counter was very helpful, and took a town centre map to draw out our route to Cradoc, after which we were supposed to look for Aberyscir Court.
We set off. We found Cradoc easily, but after that we must have gone up and down every country lane that led out of the village. We passed through Battle, and Aberyscir (without seeing any signboards for Aberyscir Court). We asked a local farmer, who gave us directions - but we still couldn't see anything.
I trained as an archaeologist. I know what a Roman fort should look like.
There were no signposts pointing to the fort.
Eventually we gave up.
I just wonder what the point of publicising the fort as one of the attractions of the area is, when it is then so difficult to find.
Next time we're going to Tretower.

In which I become a restaurant critic

I don't normally eat out in Hay, but this weekend my sister and her husband - and gorgeous two year old son James - came to visit, and we ate out every night.
The first choice was The Three Tuns. I recently ate there with my young man, and greatly enjoyed the food. We had the tagliatelli, and Mark had some sort of Asian meat loaf as a starter which he said was very nice, too.
Not being used to going out with small children in tow, I wasn't sure what the reaction would be, but they welcomed James with open arms. James was extremely well behaved, too (which must have helped). We had the steak, and it was so tender it fell apart on the fork. Peter had the lamb shank; he took a couple of mouthfuls, and said: "This has been cooking slowly all day."
On the following night, we went up to the Wine Vaults. Again, the staff were very welcoming - in fact, there were a couple of other small children in there when we arrived. Peter had the gammon and egg; I had the cottage pie, and I forget what Julie had, but she polished the plate. The Red Dragon beer was very nice, as well.
And finally, we went to Kilverts. The new owners have kept the menu more or less the same, so they're good on pasta and pizza, with an extensive specials board. Peter had pizza and I had lasagne, which meant we had to sit as far away from Julie as possible, as she is now very allergic to cheese. She had the fish cakes, and her plate was piled high. This was where we found out that James doesn't like olives. At each place we asked for an extra plate, and gave him little bits of what we were having. He's got a healthy appitite, when there isn't too much going on around him to distract his attention.
So, three tasty, successful meals - and I didn't have to cook once!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Famous People

There was a half page piece in the Hereford Times this week about Coop, the jazzman who died recently. He was a member of the Temperance Seven, and when he and Jenny came to Hay, they bred deerhounds.
Marina was telling me that Coop bought a house in London, long before he came to Hay, which had belonged to Thomas Crapper, the toilet man. It was his grand-daughter, or great-neice, or something similar, who was selling, and Coop couldn't quite reach the asking price. The bank he approached for a mortgage would only lend the money if he modernised the property, which he didn't want to do - it was practically unchanged from Thomas Crapper's day. Fortunately for him, the lady took to him, and lowered the price - and he was able to keep it as it was. When he sold the house, the new owners did exactly the same, even to keeping the pink paint in one room that none of them liked - but it was original, or as near to the original as they could manage.

Meanwhile, Phil Rickman's new book about Merrily Watkins is out - she's the lady vicar who is also the diocesan exorcist for Herefordshire. The latest story is set arount the Templar church of Garway and the surrounding area. Garway was originally a round church, based on the Temple in Jerusalem, and when the Templars fell foul of the French King, the Knights Hospitallers (or Knights of St John) took over in Garway. It was one of their brothers who designed the dove cote, which can still be visited, and which has 666 chambers for the doves. Phil Rickman will be at Hay Castle next Thursday, signing his books. It's the first event that Tracy will be organising for Richard Booth. He'll also be signing books at Leominster and Waterstones in Hereford.

Goffee is famous locally - and I mention him because rehearsals for Hay-on-Fire have started. The Mad Morris Men were having their first rehearsal at Kilvert's on Thursday night. This year it's going to be called "Let There be Dragons", and as well as the Mad Morris Men there will be a torchlight parade to the Warren, where there will be "Thirty Foot Flames, Toppling Towers, Fire Trails, a Battle Re-enactment, Merlin, Crash Dragons, Fire Sculptures, and fireworks".

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Stoves and Mussels

The rug man has left his shop now, and the front window has been filled with a wood burning stove from FJ Williams. They run the hardware warehouse just outside town, and they have a stove fair every year. This year it's going to be held in the old rug shop, because they've bought the property, and they want to let out the shop and the flat above.

Meanwhile, the River Wye has been on the regional news on TV. Pearl mussels, which once were common in Welsh rivers, are now teetering on the edge of extinction, so a conservation programme has begun to save them. This involves men in waders holding glass bottomed boxes into the water so they can see the bottom, in order to collect the mussels they find. These are then transferred to a place near Brecon where the mussels will be encouraged to breed - and the new young mussels will be released back into the wild. They said it would take five years, but it was reversing a two hundred year trend.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Autumn - season of...

"mists and mellow fruitfulness"?
Round here, it's season of the potato tractors. I was talking to Anna at Drover Holidays yesterday. Her shop is just on the Blue Boar corner, and they were coming roaring round every few minutes. "Come to the countryside for peace and quiet!" Anna said, in one of the lulls when we could actually hear each other speak. It was like being under the flight path to Heathrow.

Autumn is also the season of fungi. I went down the little path by the Swan Well the other day. This is a spring that once was one of the main sources of water for Hay. The water from the spring runs a few yards into the Loggin Brook - which was once one of the sewage outlets straight into the Wye, and still has a Victorian pipe running down it (now unused) from when they decided to confine the sewage as it passed through the town. It's a lovely little corner now, hidden away behind the almshouses and opening onto the road opposite the church. There's a tree stump there, covered in Dryad's saddle fungi. They look like half a pancake stuck onto the trunk, and some of them are a foot across.

Across the river on the Offa's Dyke path, there's a cairn, and someone has left a teddy dressed as a ballerina propped up against it. She's got a little pink dress and shoes, and silk roses between her ears.

Down in the car park, the shed that houses the plastic recycling is being demolished. It looks as if someone has run into it.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Foot and Mouth, again

I passed by Hay and Brecon Farmers this afternoon, and they have old pieces of carpet soaked in disinfectant across the entrance again, as a precautionary measure. We all remember the last outbreak of foot and mouth - and the sight of pyres of animals being burned. Up on Hay Bluff, rare orchids bloomed for the first time in years because there were no sheep to eat them. Pwll-yr-Wrach nature reserve, just outside Talgarth, was closed because the men who were rounding up bullocks from the next farm stampeded them into the reserve instead. Farmers who had spent years building up herds lost them in a day, and one friend had her horses' bedding used to strew across farm gateways soaked in disinfectant.
Outside the HSBC bank the other day, I overheard a man talking into his mobile phone. "...thank goodness we moved the ewes when we did...."

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Changeover Day at the Limited

Today was the day that Richard Booth handed over the Limited to the new owners - and took all the staff off for a farewell party at the Rhydspence, a very nice pub/restaurant across the river. I'm told that the staff are going to get a welcome party from the new owners next!

I was talking about this with Molly and Brian, as we walked up past the Limited from the Clock Tower. Islay had seen them from across the road, and had to go over to say hello. Molly is now on a stick instead of a crutch after her knee operation, so we were ambling slowly along. As we passed Addyman's, we met Paula, who asked how Molly was getting on - she was working there before her operation.
As Paula went in the shop, Mrs Jones came past and stopped. Brian told her that he'd left something for her on her front step the night before. "I was just arranging it artistically when I thought that it might be dark when you got back, and then you'd trip over it and sue me for everything I haven't got," he said, "so I moved it to the side."
I didn't find out what the thing he'd left was, because JA came by at that moment, and asked me how my book was getting on. It's at an agent's at the moment, about to be read so that they can decide whether they want to represent it or not. She wished me well, and told me she was about to go off on holiday, finishing her trip with a visit to Mary Smith, who used to live on Heol-y-dwr before she moved to Norfolk.
As the group broke up to go their different ways, I went up by the Buttermarket, where a toddler was staggering down the slope towards a lady - he hardly needed to duck as he went right between her legs, before tottering up to an older boy, chuckling even when he fell over, with his parents watching from just outside the Antique Market.
Just an ordinary evening - and why I love living in Hay.