Saturday, 31 March 2007

Bits and pieces

Congratulations to Jackie Andrews! She's won a prize in a competition on Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2.

There'll be a Political Forum at Talgarth Town Hall on 12th April at 7pm. One of the things they are going to talk about is local health provision.

My informant about Castle Street seems to have got it wrong. The workmen don't seem to have touched the pipes at all. What they have done is fill their trench with cement, which I suppose is meant to stabilise things.

George has finally got his dream house in Portugal! He's been trying to buy a place out there for a few years now, but now he's actually signed the deeds, and it's his. He said it was a very solomn occasion, with everyone involved sitting in a sort of board room - the notary, the translator, George's solicitor, the three sisters who were selling the property and their husbands, and George and his wife. They all had to sign the documents, and it took them nearly two hours. He won't be selling up and jetting off to the sun just yet, though he will be going out there a bit more often now.

"That's lovely celery - it is celery, isn't it?" I'd got a huge triffid of a head of celery at Charlie Hicks' Greengrocers, far more than I need for the recipe I was thinking of - I think I'll be doing a big session in the kitchen and freezing a lot of it. His vegetables are gorgeous, so I couldn't resist it - and they like Islay there, and always make a fuss of her.

Friday, 30 March 2007

"Oh, my God! People are reading this!"

In fact, people I know are reading this!
I know this for sure now because Ann Brichto stopped me in the street this morning to compliment me - and ask me if I would like to join her communications committee.
"If we had someone blogging in Timbucktoo as well, that would be great!" she said enthusiastically.
I'm not sure what this will involve exactly, but it sounds interesting.

New Knitters

Joyce was amazed. "I had someone in today asking about our knee blankets," she said. "How do people know about them?"
We giggled. "Come on - Hay runs on gossip," we said.
The lady was enquiring on behalf of her 92 year old mother, who had been knitting sweaters for Oxfam. She'd got the impression that they didn't want any more, and then she'd heard about the Stitch n Bitch project for the East Radnorshire Day Centre. Her daughter took away some written instructions and a couple of balls of wool.
Later that afternoon, a chap came in to browse, and admitted that he'd love to learn to knit, but he was a bit embarrassed to come along to Stitch n Bitch evenings. Joyce offered to teach him privately, if he knitted a few squares for the blankets in return.
So we have two more knitters involved.

Instructions for squares: cast on 1 stitch; increase by 1 stitch each row until you reach 40 stitches, all in plain knitting (garter stitch). Knit 1 row of 40, and then start decreasing by 1 stitch each row.

Meanwhile, Castle Street is now closed for the next couple of days while the workmen re-surface. The first thing they've done is to dig a trench down the middle of the road. Apparently bad weather has caused the pipes under the road to be dislodged, which has caused the slumping of the surface and the potholes so they're going to re-lay the pipes and then resurface.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

It's Quiet... too darn Quiet....

I saw Paul sitting on the step of his antique shop on the Bull Ring in the sun. He was polishing some silver.
"You expect to sell it before you have to polish it again, really," he said.
Islay popped inside the shop to say hello to his dog Blueberry while we chatted.
The plant couple on the market were equally glum. "All the other markets we go to are picking up for th summer, except this one," he said, as Islay begged for her usual biscuit - and feta cheese from the Greek chap on the next stall.
Rose at Broad Street Book Centre was busy cataloguing books for abe, but she'd only had one sale by the time I went in (Islay got a biscuit there, too).

Islay was meeting all her friends - we saw the vicar, with Jimmy the poodle, in the doorway of Shepherds, and David, who'd come in from near Builth to buy a horse-related birthday present from Horsewise for a friend, and to have a look at the canoe shop - he's very keen on canoeing.

Meanwhile, the traveller has disappeared from the car park, leaving no trace behind to show he was ever there - except possibly for a few tea bags in the hedge.

And the Harp at Glasbury is re-opening on 30th March. They even have a website now at
The Harp used to be the only pub in the area that sold Robinson's real ale, and always had a choice. The food was good, too. David and Lynda are now enjoying their retirement, and I last saw Lynda at the creative writing class I went to at Hay library.
I hope the real ale tradition will continue under the new management - which is a good excuse to go down there, have a walk on the common with the dog, and finish it off with a nice pint.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Red kites over Clyro!

"Have you got your little dog waiting for you outside?" I was asked as I went into the hairdressers' this morning.
I'd left her at home, so as soon as I'd been shorn, I took her out for a walk. We went over the bridge and, as she ran on ahead, I looked up. There was a buzzard circling - no, three buzzards. Then I saw the forked tails, and the much wider wingspan - two of them were red kites!
Red kites are common enough around Rhayader, where there's a feeding station that is open to the public at Gigrin Farm. It's a fantastic spectacle, and well worth spending an afternoon. There are walks round the farm too. Down here, though, red kites are still quite rare, so it's quite exciting to see two together - they may even be a breeding pair.

Meanwhile, Dr Wrench is looking for sponsors. He's going to run the London Marathon again, to raise money for Llewelyn Ward in Bronllys Hospital. This is the ward that he raised money for before, for the bed which he took to Cardiff with other protesters when the possible closure of the hospital was announced. Judging by the wave of protest that greeted the closure announcement, I don't think he'll have any trouble finding sponsors who want to keep the hospital open.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007


I went into Brecon this morning.
When the bus pulled up at the Craft Centre, one man got off. I've seen him round Hay quite often. He always wears a long black leather coat and carries a wicker basket with a little teddy bear in it.
The woman I was waiting with said; "I'd love to ask him why he carries that around with him, but I don't dare."
The bus driver hadn't noticed. "Maybe he wants it to talk to," he suggested.
We realised that none of us had seen him talking to anyone, apart from paying for his busfare.

The pipeline has got as far as Glasbury now. The speed they're working is certainly impressive.

When I came back from Brecon, the man in black was at the bus stop waiting to get on. The teddy bear was sharing his basket with the shopping. Ginger was there too, on her way to her volunteering at the RSPCA shop in Hereford. Her hair is short and grey/white now, but when she was a girl she wore it in a long red plait, and the nickname has stuck all her life.

Friday, 23 March 2007

Auf wiedersehen, John Rogers

I had a phone call the other night from John Morton, someone I know through the LETS system in the area. He told me that John Rogers, one of the founders of the system in South Powys, is leaving to go to Germany. I was the membership secretary of Splets for a while, so I used to know John Rogers reasonably well.
LETS is basically a barter system. Local Economic Trading System (I think - I can never remember). The idea is that people join the group, and they then have access to all the other members' offers and skills, and have all those people to trade with. The trades are recorded on a central computer in a local currency. Here in South Powys, the currency is called Beacons. In Manchester, they used Bobbins, and I think Stroud, one of the first systems in the country, uses Acorns.
Through the system, I've discovered new skills - like putting floorboards down when I was helping to restore a barn to use as a retreat centre - and I've traded patchwork rugs, and books, and met all sorts of interesting people. I'm not a member of the system any more, as it's difficult to trade without transport in this area - and if the person I want to trade with is in Crickhowell, or Llandrindod Wells, I can't do it. Some systems cover a single housing estate (there's one in Wrexham, for instance), but the population in South Powys is very spread out.
Without John's hard work and enthusiasm, this whole network of like minded people would not exist.
I don't know what he's going to be doing in Germany, but I wish him well.

Meanwhile, Castle Street is about to be re-surfaced. A group of workmen were there last night, and today the road surface is covered in mysterious symbols and numbers in green and red and yellow and white. Tonight, I think they start the actual work.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Beavers, watermills and a visitor from Mali

Beavers in the Brecon Beacons? I think it's a brilliant idea! The National Park is considering plans to re-introduce beavers, which would encourage eco-tourism, and benefit the local economy - as well as being a rather wonderful thing to do in its own right. Beavers were common in Wales in the Middle Ages, and were finally hunted to extinction in the early nineteenth century.
Gerald of Wales, who knew everything about everything (or thought he did) mentioned beavers in his works, and how they were hunted for their testicles. Gerald repeats the story that a hunted beaver would bite off his own testicles in order to escape the hunters or, if they had already been removed, would lift his leg to show that they were gone, so the hunters wouldn't bother him again! Gerald does add that he has never seen this for himself!
They were also much in demand, of course, for their fur. Now the demand is for the impact they would have on the local environment, by building dams to create and maintain sustainable wetlands, thus creating living space for other species to move in with them. When talking about the possibility of local objections, Derek Gow, the Scottish expert on re-introducing species to the wild, said "Do we really need to worry about a floating, tubby hamster?"

Meanwhile, in Talgarth, they're thinking about another sort of re-introduction - the restoration of an old watermill which closed in 1943. It's right in the centre of the village, next to the Town Hall and opposite the Tower, which is medieval, and it would be wonderful to be able to stand on the little bridge over the Ennig there and see the mill wheel turning again. The plan is to use the wheel to generate hydro electricity, and to use the listed building as a museum.

And the Timbuktu twinning committee has not been resting on its laurels. Village chief Mohamed Alherag Almihdi has been visiting local schools here, to talk about the Malian way of life. Mohamed is also a conservator of medieval manuscripts, and works in Timbuktu during the week at the Ahmed Baba Centre, where they are trying to recreate the medieval university there.

(If the Brecon and Radnor Express had a website, I could link to the stories there, but these are too interesting to keep to ourselves in the local area, so I've posted the bare bones of the stories here.)

Monday, 19 March 2007

Travellers and pipelines

There's been a traveller's caravan parked in the corner of the carpark for a few days now, close to the recycling bins. He has a truck loaded up with scrap metal, which is obviously his business.
I'm not going to complain. He's not in anyone's way, and he's not causing a mess - and it's very difficult for travellers to find anywhere to park these days.
When I first came to Hay, there were a lot more travellers about, mostly young New Age travellers. Richard Booth let some of them camp out at Brynmelin, and had another group at the Castle. I suspect his main reason for this was to annoy the neighbours, especially at Brynmelin, but they were mostly nice people. One group ended up moving to Ireland, where they got a lot less hassle than they did in England, and they set up a market garden there. Another girl is now doing quite well in the Library Service in Hereford.

Meanwhile, I met one of the pipeline men, who has been staying at Rest for the Tyred. He recommended pipe laying as a sight worth seeing - the steel pipes are one km long, and 48 inches in diameter (and this was an engineer mixing his measurements), and they lay them, he said, like a piece of spaghetti, all in one go. He said that, when you look at the pipe up close, you wouldn't think that they could bend like that!

We got the edge of the snow over Hay last night, with some hailstone yesterday and today. It's been a lot worse over towards Malvern, though. Marina had to abandon her trip to the Flea Market.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Preparing for the Festival (already)

I saw Marina last night, loading her car up ready to go to Malvern Flea Market. She said it was about time she showed willing, and started to empty her shop. She wants it to be mostly clear by the Festival, so she can open it as the Old Mad Cow Tea Rooms, to invited guests. She's keeping a pair of cow's horns on a shield to put up on the wall, and an ox skull is coming for the window.
She told me that Sage Femme has just moved out of one of the units in the Antique Centre, wanting more space, and I did notice that the Antique Centre is advertising for new unit holders.

Last night, my young man was celebrating St Patrick's Day in London with some Irish friends, so I said I'd join him in spirit by going down to the Crown and having a Guiness with Jameson chaser.
No-one in there was interested in St. Pat. The rugby was on, and it was Wales against England - and Wales was winning. The pub was full of Welshmen in rugby shirts hugging each other, and Englishmen pretending the game wasn't really important anyway.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

New shop in Hay - and good news in Bronllys

I was walking up by the clock tower this morning when I noticed a clutter of antique type objects at the side of the road. It seems that La Maison, the dress shop (which also does a fun line in animal egg cups!) has managed to rent out their cellar area, to a shop which is called Sage Femme, selling vintage French articles, including linen. (Looks like we're getting our own French Quarter!).
My husband used to wax lyrical about wearing silk next to the skin, but I far prefer linen. One of the best buys I ever made was my 'medieval' linen undertunic, which is actually a turn of the century French shift, from Marina when she had the antique shop next to the Wheatsheaf. I also got a wonderful Hungarian shirt from her. Warm when it's cold, cool when it's hot, and looks fantastic with my skirts from Nepal Bazaar!
The cellar has a separate door, down steps from the road, and it's had several different uses over the years. The first I know of, other than ordinary cellar, is that this is the place that the performing bear with the fair used to be kept when the fair came to Hay. More recently, it's been a very good little coffee bar, when the shop upstairs was a restaurant.

The sunshine today has brought out the first busker of the year (that I've noticed, anyway), a young lad with a guitar who is playing in aid of Oxfam.

Meanwhile, good news for the Bronllys ambulance station. The money has been found to upgrade their premises, with a special sluicing area to clean the instruments used in the ambulance, and showers. The alternative would have been to move the ambulances to the other station in Brecon, which would have had serious consequences for reaction times to emergency call outs towards Hay.
I hope that this is a sign that the Powers that Be are starting to think again about closing Bronllys Hospital, which would also have serious consequences for this area, and for the surrounding hospitals which are already overstretched.

Trip to the Big City

I went to Hereford yesterday.

The pipeline is getting closer to Hay. For a while now, there's been a huge pile of yellow pipes, with Works Access signs, just past the Hardwicke turning. Now a long swathe of fields has been fenced off, heading parallel to the road on the downhill side, towards the river. Just past Hawkwood farm, it crosses the road (which will be fun when they actually get to the stage of laying the pipes) and heads towards Cusop Dingle. I'm not entirely sure what the pipeline will be carrying when it's finished. I think it might be gas.

The bus route to Hereford meanders, and takes almost an hour - and I could see magnolia bushes in full blossom almost all the way. I love those huge, pink, waxy flowers.

What I needed was a new ink cartridge for my printer. You can get one basic type in Hay, but of course my printer has to be different. I go to the Recycled Cartridge shop near the Dinosaw Market in Hereford, which is cheaper than buying new every time, better for the environment, and the service is excellent. For instance, I handed in my old cartridge yesterday, and the young man took it away - and then came back. "This is still half-full," he said. So he fiddled with it, did a couple of test prints, and gave it back to me, for no charge - and now it's working fine again.

There was a girl with a harp busking in the big square in the middle of Hereford. She played beautifully.

Just off the big square is a coffee shop that I used to go in all the time when it was called Elgars. They did lots of different varieties of coffee, and it was just beside the bus stop, so I could have a leisurely cup of coffee with toast and marmelade after my shopping.
Now the road has been pedestrianised, and the bus goes by a different route. Even worse, Elgars closed down and was replaced by something more trendy, with less good coffee.
When I went past yesterday, though, I saw that it's been taken over again - by Shepherds, who have the coffee and ice cream parlour in Hay.
I think I might start treating myself there again when I find myself in Hereford.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Nature Notes

A beautiful spring day - it really feels as if winter is over! I saw a butterfly on Broad Street, and there are white violets down on the Riverside Path. Primroses and daffodils and celandine are blooming everywhere, and there are even a few bumble bees around. There's a lovely stand of white flowers on the Riverside Path. They look a bit like giant snowdrops, but the chap who walks Binky the white bull terrier (one of Islay's many boyfriends) says they are lucandrum "Snowflake" and not related to snowdrops at all. He says they are a wild flower, and not a garden escape.

Meanwhile, in Backfold, there's a card going round for Graham's family, being signed by all the people who knew him. He was a quiet chap, but he will be missed.

While I was in Backfold, I met a couple from Wootton-under-Edge. They told me that the local shops are closing there, but two art galleries are doing quite well, and they're considering suggesting to the town council that they should offer empty shops to other art galleries, to make Wootton an Art Town in the same way that Hay is a Book Town. A nearby town is already full of antique shops, so it would go together quite nicely with that.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Mark Westwood - and stiles

Mark Westwood's shop has now closed for good - but only in Hay. A notice on the door says that he is re-locating to Sedburgh, in Cumbria, and there are pictures of a bookshop that looks spacious and comfortable to browse in.

Meanwhile, I took Islay and Alfie up to the Wyecliff walk. When you cross the bridge out of Hay, you walk up the hill rather than turning down into the Offa's Dyke Path. I don't normally go up there with Alfie because of the way he pulls on the lead, but I was getting bored with Offa's Dyke - and Alfie was being very good.
As I crossed the road (always a bit of dicing with life or death on that corner) I noticed that the stile had been replaced with a smart new gate - much easier to get the dogs through quickly on that stretch of road. It's not busy, but the cars do fly along - and then brake heavily when they come to the bridge. Across the field, that stile too has been replaced with a gate. This is good news for my boyfriend, who is not a country person at all. I once took him on this route; he was wearing a long leather coat, and when he climbed over the stiles he looked like a Gestapo officer come to view the mass graves.

The path here is over an organic farm, and the field borders on the land of the people who hire out geodesic domes as marquees. They have one as a chicken run ("Mmm, chickens..." "No, Islay - don't even think about it!").

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Bob the Greyhound

I met Betty Maura-Cooper walking her dog Cookie, and her first question was "Have you heard about Bob?"
I had, because I met his owner the night before, walking back home from Spar without him. The poor dog has been unable to stand due to something pressing on a bundle of nerves near his spine, and he's had to have an operation. Keith seemed to think it had been a success, as he'd gone up to Spar to get a celebratory bottle of wine. So we hope to see Bob up and about soon. (He's one of Islay's many boyfriends).

Meanwhile, good luck to Wim Huijser, who is writing a book about Hay in Dutch. Hay has always been popular with Dutch visitors, and one of the booksellers used to be Dutch (he's gone now). I forget his name, but he was known to be knowledgeable about first editions (though he wouldn't pay a lot for them if he could help it), and he had a tendency to let off fireworks at random times of the year, to the terror of several nervous Hay dogs. He was also keen on naturism.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Networking in Hay

This counts as a fairly typical morning:

I went out to do a bit of shopping. Rob Soldat happened to be cycling past. He stopped, and asked me if I could do some typing for him on his new guide book to Hay.

Going on a bit further, Doug, who runs Haywire, crossed the road to speak to me.
"Do you understand computers?"
"Well, a bit."
"I need to know how to get a photo into an email."
"Oh, I can do that."
"Is it hard?"
"No, but you need to have the photo in the computer."
"How do I do that?"
"Have you got a scanner?"
"No. Are they expensive?"
It was about at this point that I decided it would probably be easier if I did it for him. He's coming round some time this weekend.

I'd got as far as the antique shop on Brook Street when the lady there dashed out and headed up the road.
"Could you do me a favour? Could you hang around outside the shop for two minutes for me?"
"No problem."
When she got back, she explained that she'd just got a Victorian shoe scraper, which she had put outside on the pavement - but she didn't want to leave it unattended in case someone walked off with it.

I did get my shopping eventually.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Rallying Round

I've been away for a couple of days, being a Viking in schools, so I got back this morning on the ten o'clock bus, and took the short cut through Backfold home.
Marijana called me into her shop as I passed. "Go in to see Joyce," she said. "She's just had a fall and she's a bit shaken up."
So I went into the Wool and Willow shop. Joyce had been shopping at the market before she opened up, and when she was walking back along Castle Street with her bags of shopping, she turned her ankle on a pothole and fell over. She twisted her ankle, and sprained her wrist. Fortunately, Marijana saw it happen, and took her and her shopping round to the shop. Then Sue at the Sandwich Cellar came round with a reviving cup of coffee, on the house. Someone else in Backfold went off and bought a pack of frozen peas, so Joyce could sit with it on her ankle to keep the swelling down, and later on, one of the other Backfold ladies walked up to her car with her to put her shopping away, so she wouldn't have to struggle on her own at the end of the day.
She was still there to open up for Stitch n Bitch, but she went home as soon as everyone had arrived, leaving the key with me, so I could lock up and give it to Sue so Joyce could pick it up from her on Saturday morning. She phoned the shop as soon as she got home, to let us all know she'd arrived safely.

This is what Hay is like. Everyone rallys round.

Goodbye, Uncle Graham

I heard today that Graham, who used to run the pet shop on Backfold, died suddenly the night before last. He was only 53. We used to call him Islay's Uncle Graham, because he gave her pig's ears, her favourite treat, when I was working in Backfold and she mooched up and down the alleyway all day. She would hang around Graham's shop, looking cute, and passers by would go in and buy her treats. When I stopped working in Backfold, Graham came to ask for compensation, for loss of earnings, now that Islay wasn't there to tempt people into his shop!
He gave the shop up to concentrate on his taxi work - and because his father, who manned the shop when he wasn't there, refused to spend another winter there, huddled over a gas fire. It does get freezing cold in winter, being partly underground. Whenever I saw him around town, Islay would greet him like a long lost friend.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Moving Little Houses

Hay's second doll's house shop has moved, but only round the corner. Little Houses is no longer in the little shop to the side of the Blue Boar on Oxford Street, and is now in Castle Street, in the shop that used to be Edward Foreman's bookshop.
Edward doesn't have a shop in Hay any more. I haven't been up to Builth Wells for a few years, but he may still have his Emporium there. However, despite his recent serious illness, he has kept up his parcel service. He or his wife come round the bookshops twice a week to collect parcels for a service that is quicker and cheaper than the Royal Mail for certain heavy parcels, usually going overseas. Its a good way for Edward to keep in touch with people in Hay, too.
When Edward gave up the shop in Castle Street, it became an art gallery for a while, but it will be nice to see the building used as a proper shop again.

Meanwhile, The Crown is shutting for re-furbishment for a couple of weeks, and re-opening on Tuesday 13th March.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Happy Saint David's Day

...and the daffodils are out!
I saw some violets down Nantyglasdwr this afternoon, as well.

Meanwhile, the scaffolding has come down around the Three Tuns, as they've finished replacing the roof. There's still a lot more work to go before it's a usable building again, though.

The Hourglass Gallery are having an art exhibition, of local artists, upstairs. The opening night is this evening.

No Stitch and Bitch for me, tonight - too many other things to do before my young man arrives.

I've put a link in to the Drudion website - this is what I get up to when I'm not in Hay. Yesterday I was in Broadwas Primary School, with some wonderful kids, demonstrating spinning and weaving while dressed as a Viking - Raven's Wing Vikings is one part of the group, portraying Vikings, while Drudion portrays 13th century Welsh mercenaries, and Those Flamin' Squirrels do fire breathing, and poi, and all sorts of silly things with fire (children, do not try this at home - no, really, really, don't!).