Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Dogs and Hardware

Alfie broke two leads today. He tends to be a bit - excitable - when we first go out, which means he pulls a lot, leading to comments from passers by along the lines of "Who's taking who for a walk?"
This morning, screeching round the corner of Lucy's at a rate of knots (and trying to avoid the scaffolding poles as I shot past them), the handle parted company with the chain. Alfie, free at last, shot off down the pavement - thankfully only as far as the Riverside Walk, where he and Islay disappeared to a traffic free zone.
So, for the afternoon walk, I used the 'Medieval' lead I use for Islay when she has to be chained up at re-enactment shows. This time, the leather handle snapped.
The handle was easy to fix. I just plaited scraps of fabric together and tied them on to make a new handle.
For the modern lead, I went to Jones' Hardware.
Jones' Hardware is wonderful. They have everything you could ever think of for DIY, and the service is fantastic, whether you're buying garden machinery for hundreds of pounds or, as I was, a split ring for 25p. They also have a Cookshop, with everything you could think of for the kitchen. And they like Islay, who now has a lead that's as good as new.

Meanwhile the new St Michael's Hospice charity shop opened today. They support a local hospice in Herefordshire. They're using the shop which used to be a games shop - board games, fancy chess sets and so on - just down from the Blue Boar. So Hay now has three charity shops; St Michael's, the Red Cross and Oxfam.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Back to the Launderette

I passed the launderette last night, and peered in to see gleaming machines and not an 'Out of Order' sign in sight.
So today I went down with a load of washing.
I used the same machine that I'd used two weeks ago - and got the same result. The fault has not been fixed and I spent my afternoon handwashing the clothes in the bath, which was not what I had planned for the day.
So the saga continues....

Friday, 26 January 2007

Timbuktu evening

I didn't go for the whole thing - I think I can live without "Goffee and his amazing disappearing camel" which was on in the early afternoon to entertain the kids. Goffee was still there in the early evening, though, manning the Hay-on-Fire table. He's the man who started Hay-on-Fire, and this year the title is "Let there be Dragons".
Red Kite Theatre were there, too, and Hay Dial-a-Ride, the Bell Bank Club (for blind and partially sighted residents), the Warren (Hay's open space by the river), the Mother's Union and Haymakers (high class crafts).

I may well have missed someone out, but it was quite crowded, and most of the crowd were standing in rapt attention as the kora player performed. I wasn't sure what a kora would sound like, but it's not unlike a Welsh harp, except that he played it with his thumbs and it had a large round sound box at the bottom. I think he was a proper Malian griot, which seems to be their equivalent of a Welsh bard - a praise singer, though he did sing one women's song which was a lament about arranged marriages. While he was playing, a slideshow of pictures of Timbuktu was displayed on a screen to one side, and also a short film which showed people building a mud brick house.
Diana Jones was there in her genuine Welsh costume, too, and looked very smart in the tall black hat and flannel skirt.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening, and there was quite a positive atmosphere. It would be nice if the Malians finally decide they like us over Glastonbury or York.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Market Day

I thought about doing my writing homework around Hay market today - lurking around and observing - but I know too many people! Islay dashed off while I was looking at one stall, to greet Sally from Hardwicke and her husband. She likes Sally a lot, because Sally takes her (and me) off in a car with Poreg the Staffie and Maudie for Very Long Walks. They went off to the fish van (very good fish and game), and Islay went on to her friends at the plant stall, who always give her a biscuit, and her friend the Greek man, who sells olives and feta cheese, and always gives her a little lump of cheese. Then, while I was buying veg, she trotted off to say hello to the sheepdog at the stall that sells garden furniture and oddments.
The man at the tools stall was putting up a sign for his other interest, militaria. There's going to be a fair at the indoor market in Brecon at the end of February, the first in Wales, apparently, so they want it to do well.
There was a new stall by the clock tower this week, selling wooden statues, African masks and musical instruments, but apart from browsing there, I spent the whole time talking to friends.

Stitch and Bitch was called off again tonight. A couple of people turned up, but they couldn't get the heating working in the back room again. They assured us that it would be fixed for next week.
So Annette came home with me and we did a bit of knitting, and drank a wee dram for Burns Night, and I showed her the pictures of medieval tiles that are the basic idea for a set of wall hangings of a hunting scene that I'm going to make in applique (because a tapestry would just take too long).

Meanwhile, foundations have been dug around the back of the Three Tuns, presumably for the rumoured extension.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Cones in the Car Park

The car park is being re-surfaced this week, quite a difficult job when it's still being used, so orange cones are everywhere. This means, of course, that it is also being re-lined, so we will no longer see the ghost of the old lining system underlying the new and trying to break through, like the wallpaper pattern in that creepy short story The Yellow Wallpaper.

As I went past the Blue Boar on my way home, I peered into one of the little shops that run along the Oxford Road side of the building. There are three, and at present one is an ice cream shop, one sells dolls' house miniatures, and the third and biggest is empty. Empty as a shop, anyway, since The Old Curiosity Shoppe moved up to bigger premises at the Castle. Today there were two artists working in there at easels.

On Castle Street (which could use some re-surfacing, too) I met Athene English. She has the shop that sells leather goods and Welsh blankets, and similar things. She told me she's off to Patagonia next week - that enclave of Welshness in South America.

Meanwhile, it was writing class day, and this time there were only eight of us meeting in the afternoon, a much more manageable number. Our exercise today was on Memory - what our classrooms were like when we were seven. The world has changed completely; we all remembered days of free school milk and heavy wooden desks, and even dipping pens into ink wells. Homework this week is to go out to a public place "and basically hang around and wait for something interesting to happen". Observation without embroidering the facts is what's required of us. It seems to me that the Timbuktu meeting might be a suitable venue to try this out - I can always mooch around Brecon next week if nothing interesting turns up to write about there.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007


Work continues over the road as the Three Tuns pub is slowly rebuilt.
It's the oldest building in Hay, apart from the Castle (the church was largely rebuilt in 1838). Along with the Old House next door, it was once one large house, and until recently it was one of the best loved pubs in Hay. It even gained a national reputation, after it was discovered by journalists attending the Hay Festival.
The reputation was not for the quality of the beer - or cider. Lucy, the landlady, had been known to pour dregs back into the barrel, and cider remained on tap until the barrel was empty, no matter what it tasted like. On the occasions it had turned into vinegar, you spent the evening sipping politely. Somehow, nobody ever complained. The glasses were of dubious cleanliness, too - one regular always brought his own beer mug.
Yet Lucy's had a loyal band of regulars, and holidaymakers who had experienced an evening there came back year after year. Lucy held court as if the bar was her own living room - which it almost was; she was born in the pub and lived there all her life. She got everyone talking and everyone always seemed to have a pleasant evening.
As Lucy got older, Haydn Pugh often helped behind the bar, and I think it was his influence that started the belly dancing evenings. It was a tiny bar, so the belly dancer had about a square yard of space to perform in, and the spectators were crammed against the walls, but they were popular evenings.
Once, Lucy opened up the room opposite the bar, which no-one had ever seen, for a slide show about the Arctic. Most of the room was taken up by a huge round table; the dust of ages covered the mantlepiece. The speaker, his slide machine, and the audience all squeezed into the corner by the door. I think there were eight of us - there was no room for any more.
Another regular occasion was St Lucy's Day, modelled on the Swedish festival, in which Lucy dressed up in a long white dress (which may have been an old nighty) and a crown of candles for the evening.
Then came the fire.
I was having breakfast....'Bit misty outside - no, it's Lucy's chimney. It's smoking a bit. Actually, it's smoking a lot...." It was at this point that I phoned the fire brigade, one of three calls they had.
Lucy wandered out, quite unconcerned, when the fire engine arrived. The people at the Old House were already removing items that would be affected by the smoke, and taking them across the road to a neighbours' for storage.
The fire engines were there for most of the day. The story was on the front page of the B&R. Blue tarpaulin was put over the roof, and for a year or so, nothing happened.
Lucy moved into another house she owned in Hay. The regulars, led by Haydn Pugh, hired a minibus weekly for a while to go out to the Hollybush, with Lucy as guest of honour.
Finally, there was an auction, and after that the builders moved in. They've rebuilt the main chimney stack, the seat of the fire, replaced burned beams, and put a new slate roof on. They've knocked down the jumble of sheds in the back yard. At the moment, half the back wall has been removed completely. There are rumours that the new owner wants to put an extension on the back and turn the pub into a reasonably priced bistro. (There are always rumours in Hay; it's the local entertainment). The builders seem to be doing a good, careful job, and it'll be interesting to see what it finally looks like.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Spring is in the air?

Out on the Warren this morning with Islay and Alfie, I saw the first primroses of the year. They were in a pretty sheltered spot, but they're very early all the same.
Later, I decided to attempt the launderette again - always a good thing to do when I have two dogs with me. I can give them a half hour walk while the washer is going, and another twenty minute one while the dryer is on. This time we went up the Offa's Dyke Path up Cusop Dingle as far as the point where a side path leads past cottages onto the road up Cusop Dingle - and there were periwinkles in flower against the stone wall there. Again, they were sheltered, but terribly early - and the forecast is for the weather to turn colder very soon.
The machines in the launderette worked for me this time - but three out of the five washing machines are out of order.

Friday, 19 January 2007

"Hey, ho, the wind and the rain...."

We got off pretty lightly in the big storm, though Castle Street was closed in the afternoon, after the market had packed up, because tiles were flying off the roof of one of the shops there. It used to be Grants, one of the oldest businesses in Hay, and the main newsagents'. At one time they even had their own printing press. John Grant and his wife died a few years ago, though, and the nearest relative was in Australia, so the shop was sold, and is now Number Two Shoes, with the fashion shop Number Two just along the road.

One bright spot in the day was my first sight of snowdrops this year. It's something I always look out for. We moved to Hay at the end of January about 15 years ago, and the first thing that we noticed was the snowdrops everywhere. They quickly became my favourite flower.

A less bright note was this week's Stitch n Bitch, held for the first time at the British Legion. Or rather, not held, since only I turned up. I suppose the bad weather had something to do with it, but it was a bit of a disappointment all the same. The back room is a good size for our purposes, though they'll have to get the heating sorted out - the girl on the bar didn't know where the switch was. The lady who runs the place said she'd put it on in the morning, but the radiators were stone cold when I arrived - and when I left; fiddling with the thermostat had no effect either.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Solicitor Scandal

I was quite shocked when I opened the B&R today (that's the Brecon and Radnor Express, our weekly local paper). Jeremy Langworthy, a local solicitor, has been fiddling his books to the tune of £100,000! Apparently he didn't want to admit that he hadn't been able to negotiate compensation claims properly, so he stole from the accounts of people whose wills he was administering to pay them. It's been going on for seven years, and he's been sent to prison for it.
I knew Jeremy to say hello to when we were both working for the Hay Millennium Society. I was on the Book Committee and he negotiated the contract between the Society and the man who was going to make a film about Hay. I always thought he looked a bit anxious, even then - and the contract turned out to have something wrong with it. I can't remember the details, and I wasn't on the Film committee anyway, but I do remember that the man who made the film ended up pocketting all the proceeds instead of any profits going to the town, because I remember going round to shops, on behalf of the Millennium Society, to try to persuade the shop owners to withdraw the video from sale.

A Writer's Journey

The first session of the creative writing course was this morning at the library - and there were so many of us that we are splitting into two classes for the rest of the term. Lyn Webster runs the course, under the auspices of Bristol University - and she must be doing something right, as several people in the class have been to previous classes she's taught.
I took the course last term. I was encouraged to try types of writing that I hadn't considered trying before, which boosted my confidence when I found that I could write differently, and it was great to be able to talk about writing to other people on the same journey as me. The group varies widely in experience, from a couple who haven't written anything in twenty years to people who have published non-fiction works, and a lot in between. This time there are several poets in the class, as well as the lady who runs the Hay Writers' Circle, who is looking for new ideas for her group to try.
This session, we were asked to think about the audience for our writing, and if it makes a difference when you are writing for a particular person, a wider audience, or just for yourself.

Monday, 15 January 2007

The Launderette

We used to have a very good launderette in Hay. The lady who ran it kept it spotless, and when machines broke down, they were promptly repaired. Sadly, she died last year and her son, who took over the business, seems to take no interest in it. The floor is dirty, the bin fills to overflowing before it's emptied, and 'Out of Order' signs take longer to disappear.
I saw the lady from the British Legion in there this morning. "I've been up here," she said, "with a mop and bucket, cleaning the floor. I even bought one of those wire scrubbers to clean the mess off the machines."
When I came back from walking the dogs to take the washing out of the machine and put it in the drier, I found that they hadn't actually been washed at all. All they'd had was a cold rinse and the powder was still sticking to my sheets in patches. I had to wring them out before I put them into the drier, and most of them will have to be washed again.
What really annoys me is that there's no alternative. I can't afford to buy my own washing machine (I don't actually want one), and the nearest alternative launderette is a bus ride away, at Bronllys. The owner has a captive audience, and it gets very busy with visitors in the summer.
While I was sitting there fuming, someone I know came in to tell me that he's leaving Hay forever. His girlfriend threw him out last week - and next week he's leaving everything behind him and moving to Illinois. It was a bit of a shock - they've been around Hay for years and always seemed happy together.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

First Lamb!

There's a short length of public footpath that goes up past Garibaldi Terrace and feeds into the Offa's Dyke Path as it heads up Cusop Dingle. I took Islay up there this evening. Just inside the first field is a small barn - the sheep had been penned up there, and I just caught a glimpse of my first lamb of the year between the legs of the ewes.
The rain has stopped, more or less, now, and it's ridiculously mild for the time of year. Last time, it seemed to be horribly cold until May, but this year the bulbs are already pushing up green shoots, and I'll be going out looking for snowdrops very soon now.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Happy in Hay

"Are you from Hay? I thought so by the way you're smiling."
The speaker was a Red Cross volunteer called Omar, standing out in the miserable weather to tell passers by about his organisation: "A hundred and forty years old this year. I don't look a hundred and forty, do I?"

He was quite right about the smiling. Hay people do tend to smile more than people who live in bigger towns. Maybe it's because Hay is a fairly stress-free environment. We do tend to nod hello to complete strangers in the street, too, which is how I ended up talking to him. You can't buy that sort of relaxed attitude, the feeling of being in a real community where everyone knows everyone else, at least by sight, without crossing the line into nosiness. No twitching of lace curtains here, but we are likely to go over to ask if we can help.

I saw Joyce today. She has a dentist's appointment next Thursday - and dentist's appointments are like gold; you grab them when you can get them. So I'm hosting Stitch n Bitch next week - to which end, I now have a large bag of wool for anyone who wants to knit squares for knee rugs for the pensioners of Presteigne. Joyce has finished one with a narrow border and almost has enough squares for a second.

Friday, 12 January 2007

More on the power cut

When the lights came back on, I saw all the bits I'd missed painting - so I spent this morning going round and touching up.
I saw Jackie from The Bookshop this morning. They were one of the few shops that opened yesterday, with a candle on the desk, and she said they'd taken more money than the previous three days put together! They even had tea - Jill had a camping stove and ran home to get a saucepan so they could boil water.
Stitch n Bitch was cancelled, because of the weather and the power cut - we had no idea when the power would be restored, of course. So our first meeting of the year will be next week.
The power cut affected about 80,000 people, all across Mid Wales, and seems to have been caused by a tree taking power cables down near Crickhowell.
And the rain and wind continue....

Meanwhile, I admitted defeat in the matter of preparing Rob Soldat's little book for the printers, and gave him a disc with everything on it to date, and he's going to ask Andy from Logaston Press for advice.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Power Cut

When I took the dog out for her usual morning walk, I didn't notice anything unusual until I got to Spar. They had a notice on the door saying they were closed because of the power failure in Mid Wales. Then I started to notice that other shops were in darkness.
Back at home, sure enough, no power, and no radio either, even on my little battery radio.
Judith rang me from the Children's Bookshop to ask if there was power in Hay - her shop and house are a little out of town, so she thought it was just her power that was out at first.
It didn't affect my day too much - it just meant I didn't have any music while I painted the window ledge, and the power came back on at about 4pm. I have nothing but admiration for the engineers who go out in the wind and the rain to fix things.
The first thing I did was have a cup of tea. The second thing I did was go online.
Meanwhile, the wind and the rain continue.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Visiting Hay

Someone I know only from his posts on a book discussion website, www.ibdof.com, is coming to Hay in the summer with a group of students from London. Since he knows I live in Hay, he emailed me for advice on where to stay - preferably somewhere cheap.
So, he's now armed with a list of small B&Bs and bunkhouses, and I hope to see him in June.

Meanwhile, back in Hay, the Wildlife Trust are giving a talk in St John's Rooms on 24th Jan, on 'Wildlife and livestock - our mutual friends: grazing for conservation'.

Post Offices under threat

We have a very good Post Office in Hay. I would have liked to have used it to pay my TV licence, as I have all my adult life, but that's no longer possible. Hay Post Office is a life line for many of the book businesses in town. We have to send a lot of parcels, all over the world.
So our Post Office probably isn't under threat at the moment - but the other little local Post Offices are, in villages like Clyro and Glasbury. Our Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams, and our MP, Roger Williams (no relation), are campaigning against closures across Breconshire and Radnorshire.

Monday, 8 January 2007


Today I have Alfie. He's a collie/spaniel cross; very sweet, but with no road sense at all. He belongs to Mandy at the Wholefood Shop, but there are some days that he can't be left at home, and then he comes to me.
Alfie's hobbies are long walks - and more long walks. He gets on very well with Islay, but she's a middle-aged lady compared to him, and she certainly sleeps well when he's gone home!

We went up Nantyglasdwr (Nan Tee Glass Door, more or less, for those who find Welsh spelling confusing), on the English border of Hay, and from there we went a little way up Cusop Dingle. According to the Rev. Kilvert, our local Victorian diarist, this was the last place in England where fairies were seen. When you get up to the far end of the lane, where the tarmac runs out and the lane degenerates into a track and then a footpath, it's easy to believe, and yet this was once an industrial area, with a large brick works. A lime kiln can still be seen, half-ruined, among the trees.

Last night, I took Molly out with Islay. She belongs to Di Blunt, a near neighbour of mine who runs Pemberton's Bookshop, the only bookshop in Hay that sells new books. She wasn't sure if her lodger would be around to walk the dog for her, so she asked me to look in and give Molly a bit of a run. It was only a bit of a run, too - the weather was foul last night, and the river is high today. The Wye often floods at this time of year, but so far it's only lapped at the top of the banks.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Hay and Timbuktu?

So, what do Hay-on-Wye and Timbuktu have in common?
A love of old books, apparently. The people of Timbuktu want to be twinned with a town in the UK, and Hay is on the shortlist with York and Glastonbury!
The Malians are coming over later this month to have a look at all three towns, and there will be a party in the Parish Hall, with Welsh and Malian music, local groups and our AM, Kirsty Williams, in attendance.
That's on 26th Jan, from 3.15 to 8pm.

Rob Soldat

Rob Soldat came round last night. He's Hay's storyteller, and he's writing a booklet of walks around Hay which will hopefully be ready for the Festival this year. He had the photos for me to scan in to the computer. Being totally technologically challenged, he's getting me to do all the typing and computery stuff for him, and then it gets turned over to Logaston Press to be properly published. He's doing this with the backing of Hay Arts, a group that is the spin off from the Millennium projects that were done in Hay. The other (much more successful) spin off is Red Kite Theatre, which began from the community play (about the Red Kite, obviously) and has been producing a play a year, with lots of youth involvement, ever since. However, Hay Arts is still getting a steady revenue from the Hay book, "...Nobody had Heard of Hay", and they want to produce more local books.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Broad Street Book Centre

As I passed Broad Street Book Centre, I saw Mike Hobday and John Thomas taking Mike's glass cabinet out of the shop. Mike was one of the first unit holders in the shop - it's shared between about eighteen people - and the cabinet, full of Dinky toys and model trains, has been there since the beginning. Now he's decided to concentrate more on books about railways.

Time to chat

It took me half an hour today to get from the bus stop to my house, normally a five minute walk.
First I had to pop into the Wool and Willow shop to see Joyce, to tell her that I'd booked the back room of the British Legion for Thursday 11th Jan, when the Stitch n Bitch group will be meeting again. We've been meeting in the shop up to now, but it's long and narrow and we end up sitting knee to knee - and if more than eight people come, we're in trouble! The room at the British Legion is free of charge as long as we buy drinks at the bar, and there's a side door for anyone with mobility problems, with no steps.

Then I was beckoned into The Bookshop (by the chemist's) by Jackie. Could I help with her daughter's art homework? Ros started at the Cathedral School in Hereford this year, and seems to be really enjoying it. She needs pictures of gargoyles. We agreed in the end that the best thing to do would be to visit Kilpeck Church, which is famous for its carvings.

Friday, 5 January 2007

Welcome to Hay!

I've seen lots of snippets of blogs written by visitors to Hay-on-Wye, either on holiday to buy books or attending the annual Literary Festival.
This is a blog written by an insider.
When I first came to Hay, I thought that the whole town was slightly skewed out of normal reality. Now I've been here for fifteen years, I'm sure of it.
Hay is unique. We have a population of about 2,000 and 36 bookshops. There are other booktowns scattered about the world, but Hay was the first and is still the biggest. People have been coming here to buy books for over 30 years. They come to the Literary Festival, held towards the end of May every year, and they also come to fish the River Wye, and go canoeing and walking and pony trekking. The Offa's Dyke Path goes through Hay.

Now the Christmas decorations are being taken down all over town, and it seems like a good time to start to describe what it's like to live in the Town of Books.