Monday, 30 April 2007

Travelling far afield

Good news when I visited the doctor's this morning - Dr Wrench completed the London Marathon in 3 hours and 9 minutes, which is pretty impressive.

I met Marina earlier in the morning. She spent yesterday in Bristol, visiting a 17thC house that belongs to the University there, and is opened to the public once a year. What she and Cassie, her daughter, really wanted to see was the shell grotto in the grounds, which took 27 years to build, with shiploads of shells from the West Indies, statues of river gods, and all sorts of other embellishments. Cassie is building a shell grotto for a big house locally, but hers is on a rather smaller scale.

Mandy and family spent the weekend in the Lake District, and Alfie had a wonderful time lolloping around the fells and swimming in the lakes.

The two ladies from Open Door are off to Russia in a couple of months, on a holiday with a Christian group. They start off at St Petersburg, with all the wonderful museums, and then travel by river boat up to Moscow.

And Ben and Suzy are just back from Egypt - a last minute decision while Suzy's daughter Amber was away at some sort of camp. I saw Ben in Spar, just long enough to say "You don't look very tanned!"
"Oh! I'll go back then!" he replied - but he did look as if he'd enjoyed the holiday.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Getting ready for the Festival

The traveller is back in the car park, neatly tucked into a discreet spot at the bottom, backing on to the strip of verge that's been planted with trees and bushes. This time he's put a kennel out at the back for his little terrier.

The programme for the Children's Festival is out now, but the main one still hasn't appeared. There are some good names there - Michael Morpurgo and Malorie Blackman, for instance, and lots of stuff for children to do while their parents are at more adult talks.

Di Blunt has been spending the morning hacking down the bushes that overhang the pavement near the old water trough, because it had got to the stage where they were hitting pedestrians in the face when they tried to walk by.

There's quite a bit going on round town that I could be talking about if I went out a lot in the evenings. There was a live band in the Blue Boar on Friday, and the film club is showing Pan's Labyrinth next week, and there's going to be a Bach concert at St Eigon's church in Llanigon, as well as a Griot Production next weekend (not sure what sort of music they're doing this time). There's going to be a Seven Churches Cycle Ride and Coffee Morning, too, to raise money for the local churches.
Of course, if I were organised, I'd carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere, and note down all the details.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

The things that make you late for work

The duck egg lady phoned me, so I went over to Broad Street to pick up my eggs. Rose was on the desk, and she wanted some eggs too. She tried some from the local garage, but the yolks were nearly white. These are a good dark yellow, lovely and rich, and the ducks are laying like mad.
Rose hadn't actually been late for work, but it had been a near thing. She lives near Kilpeck with her daughter, and early in the morning, her daughter rushed into her bedroom and said; "You've got to get up and look at this now!"
Coming down the lane in front of the house was a stag, a couple of hinds, and a few younger roe deer. They went in procession up to an open area further up the lane. Rose thought they were trying to get so some woods further on, but the way was blocked. They stayed there for some time, and then the stag led them all back down the lane and they disappeared.
This isn't the first time Rose has been nature watching instead of getting ready for work - they sometimes see a fox crossing the fields, and the pheasants are so tame they join her for breakfast.

Kilpeck is worth visiting for the church, which is covered with wonderful medieval carvings. And when I say covered, I mean it's like a gingerbread house - the carvings really are everywhere, inside and out. The most famous of them is the sheila-na-gig, a quite crude picture of a smiling woman opening her vulva with both hands - it's a fertility symbol, needless to say - but there's a huge variety of other sculpture there.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has been reporting on our pipeline. There are no problems in this area, but if I was living further south, I think I'd be deeply worried about it, as the local residents are.,,2066624,00.html

And finally, I heard that a group of Rumanian buskers were coming to Hay, having played at Presteigne yesterday, but I haven't seen them around.

Friday, 27 April 2007

The man from St Malo

I went into Hereford yesterday to get some bits for my computer, and I got talking at the bus stop to a Frenchman who had been visiting Hay. He was on his way to Bath to a book fair for a few days, and was going on to Salisbury after that. He lives in St Malo, and has been coming over to Hay for years. He knows everyone, which I saw demonstrated when Haydn Pugh joined the bus queue, and they were obviously old friends. Then Pete of Boz Books came past just before the bus came, and it was handshakes all round.

It is officially summer in Hay now - I saw the first camera crew of summer outside the Post Office! Some people count summer as starting from when the first swallows arrive - we look out for the camera crews.

I met Betty on the Riverside Path this morning. She went to a meeting to start a U3A group in Hay last night. This stands for University of the Third Age, and is for older people who want to exercise their brains. About a dozen people turned up, which is not bad for a town the size of Hay. Apparently the U3A in Brecon has been running for about 20 years, and has over 300 members.

I think I'll stick with Stitch n Bitch. We had our usual session last night in the Wool and Willow shop. The lady who makes beaded jewellery asked if she could display some of it in the shop, even though it's neither wool nor willow, and the idea has grown slightly. Joyce and Myra are now keen to have a small area for local crafts, which would include the jewellery. Joyce was laughing that one of the best sellers in the shop at the moment are the decorated tea cosies, because Marijana across the road can't stand seeing them in the window. Just as Joyce was changing the window last Saturday, and replacing the tea cosies with felt chickens, two ladies rushed into the shop. "Have you sold them all?" they asked. Joyce showed them where she'd put the tea cosies, and they beamed with relief. They'd found the shop the previous evening, when it was closed, and spent some time peering through the window picking out which tea cosy they wanted.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Batteries for Mrs Fairs

When I took Islay out for her evening walk, I met Jane and Maddy, her dog, just outside Spar. She said hello quickly and dived in, and I stood outside, making a fuss of Maddy.
A moment later, she was back at the door; "Have you got any money I can borrow? I've only got £4."
I handed her a tenner, and she disappeared again.
A moment later, she was back. "Here's your change - I owe you 50p." She waved a pack of batteries at me. "They're for Mrs Fairs - I was just round at her house, and the remote's given up. I thought I might just have enough in my pocket. I would have gone to Havard's if they were still open - they'd let me owe them."

Several people visit Mrs Fairs to make sure she's all right. She's in her nineties, I think, and she's the widow of Geoffrey Fairs, who wrote the definitive local history book of Hay, now quite sought after. Marina used to walk her spaniel, Brandy, until he died (a horrible dog, and never house trained - it was a relief to everyone when he went).
Mrs Fairs' previous dog was a little Yorkshire terrier. In those days she used to get about by pushing a child's pushchair in front of her, and the dog used to sit on the seat. Later she got a walking frame. When the dog died (of old age, and greatly missed) she found that suddenly, no-one stopped to talk to her when she went out. Before, everyone had stopped to make a fuss of the dog, and have a chat to her. So she went out and bought a life sized cuddly toy Yorkshire terrier, and sat it in the seat of the pushchair - and suddenly everyone started talking to her again!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007


I saw Jenny in the launderette yesterday (one machine wasn't working again).
She's just come back from a big Deerhound Show - over 200 dogs there, including some that she's bred herself, that had come over from Germany. Jenny breeds deerhounds and sends them all over the world, and is rarely seen around Hay without a couple of huge shaggy grey beasts in tow. They worry Islay - she's a lot smaller than them, and they have treated her as if she were prey once or twice.

Meanwhile on the Festival site, the first marquees are going up. The programme isn't out yet though. In fact, there's a sign on the door of the Tourist Information office, so they must be tired of being asked. The Festival programme always comes out at the very last moment, because they're working round the commitments of so many guests.

When I was crossing the bridge this morning, I saw the first egg in the swan's nest!

Monday, 23 April 2007

Hotel California?

Once you've lived in Hay for a little while, it's almost impossible to leave for good.
Richie has come back from the States to wait for his visa, and yesterday I saw Thomas and Susannah, who used to live in Broad Street. They were visiting their old house (which has the builders in at the moment).
Susannah worked for the BBC, and Thomas had the most sophisticated computer any of us had ever seen at the time. He's American, and he developed a taste for English real ale - to the extent that he would buy a barrel at a time, direct from the brewery. I have a rather blurred memory of going round one evening with my husband, to help him finish off a barrel before it went sour. We watched The Matrix. I think it was a good film....

Meanwhile, a flood of political pamphlets dropped through the door this morning.
UKIP want to abolish the Welsh Assembly and leave the EU.
Labour want to 'Build a better Wales' and point to their achievements so far (things like free prescriptions).
The Green Party wants local communities to thrive, mentioning post offices and public transport but not (perhaps strangely) anything about farming.
We have an Independent, Gwynoro Jones, who used to be a Liberal/SDP MP for Carmarthen. He seems to be mostly interested in changing the way the Assembly works from within.
And Plaid Cymru mentions hospitals, education, farming and the environment, in English and Welsh - in fact all the leaflets are bi-lingual.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

More local politics

There's a lonely Labour poster at Clifton House now, among the orange tide, and a Conservative poster at Black Swan Cottage - no surprise there; the cottage belongs to Mary Fellowes, and she's very active in the local Conservative party.

Meanwhile, Dr Wrench is running the London Marathon today. The weather forecast said it would be unseasonably hot, at around 20 degrees, but here it's just started to rain.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Cuddle a pipeline worker today!

I wondered why Islay was so insistant that she wanted to go out just after 8 o'clock this evening. Then I saw the line of men eating fish and chips all along the wall. All Islay had to do was look cute, and chips suddenly appeared in front of her. Also bits of batter, and sometimes actual fish.
I pretended I wasn't with her.

On the way back, a few of the men had crossed the road and were outside the Rose and Crown. One of them asked me about Islay's breed (always a good conversation starter). I'm not sure how we got from there to cuddles, but he was happy-drunk, and a long way from home - and I did mention that I had a young man just before he got to the stage of inviting himself home with me!

Friday, 20 April 2007

Back from holidays

I've been away for a few days, so I haven't had access to either Hay gossip or a computer.

On the way back, I was waiting for a bus in Hereford Bus Station, and I saw a cab labelled in English and Polish! The Poles are our largest local minority. There are two shops now in Hereford where you can get Polish food, and you can also get Polish newspapers very easily.
Travelling through Herefordshire, I saw more Green party posters than anything else, and a few Conservative posters that were blue shading through to green, just to be confusing. If the posters are anything to go by, the Greens seem to have a real chance to get a seat there.

Now I'm here again, I've taken Islay for one of her favourite walks, across the river. If you stop on the bridge and look down at Booth Island (on the downstream side) there's a really good view of the swans' nest. They come every year and raise their cygnets here.
Booth Island is not the official name. It doesn't actually have an official name. It's just that it's a little scrap of land that is claimed neither by Breconshire nor Radnorshire, which makes it a bit like the Independent Kingdom of Hay, which was founded by Richard Booth (with himself as first King).
I saw Richie wandering down Broad Street, too. Last time I saw him, he was very agitated, and about to go off to the States with a policewoman, having been thrown out by his long term partner. Now he looks a lot more relaxed, nicely tanned, and says he married the policewoman. Now he's back in this country to wait for a visa to join her permanently.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Laurie Engel Fund

Part of Marijana Dworski's shop window is given over to a display of Extracts from the Red Notebook, by Matthew Engel. This is being sold to raise money for the Laurie Engel Fund, which was set up in memory of Matthew's son Laurie, who died of cancer aged only 13. The fund is intended to raise money to improve facilities at the Birmingham Children's Hospital where Laurie was treated.
Matthew Engel used to be a Guardian journalist, and now writes for the Financial Times, and is the editor of Wisden, the cricketing bible.

Meanwhile, more election bumf - Councillor William Powell is the Lib Dem candidate for Mid and West Wales, and he's been active in the Save Powys Hospitals Campaign. Nothing from the other parties yet.

This morning I went down to Hay School for a training and jobs fair - local colleges, the Open University, Herefordshire and Powys Councils all advertising what's available for this area. It's nice to see something like this on our doorstep, instead of having to trek into Hereford or Brecon for it (or even worse, Abergavenny! That takes hours on the bus.)

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Meeting Betty and other news

I saw Betty on the Riverside Path this morning. She said there had been quite an unpleasant incident on the Warren on Easter Monday. A man, not a local, had taken his two alsatians up there. There are sheep on the Warren at the moment, but that's not a problem for those of us with dogs that are trained to ignore sheep - and they tend to ignore the dogs, or just amble out of the way.
Not this time. The two alsatians caused a stampede into the river, and the fire brigade had to be called with their inflatable boat to fish sheep out. I don't know if any sheep were killed but I hope the fire brigade catches up with the man with the alsatians.

On a happier note, Betty was enthusiastic about the Hay Arts meeting last night. They have been approached by a writer, illustrator and poet to help to apply for grants to produce a book about Gerald of Wales, who visited Hay while preaching a Crusade with the Archbishop of Canterbury in around 1180. Betty said that the poet read some of his work out, and he had such a lovely lilting accent (being originally from the Caribbean) that she said they ought to do a CD as well!

The Old Stables Tearooms has been secretly inspected by the Tea Guild, and have passed with flying colours. This is something like getting a Michelin star in the tea shop world, and the owners are delighted!

Western Power spent the day digging up the road in front of the Three Tuns. I think they were putting new cables in for the pub. All is back to normal again now, though for a few hours there seemed to be building work going on everywhere you looked, with the Country Pie having a new window frame put in, and council workmen removing a lamp post behind the Library.

I went round to help Doug with his computer, and found he's become the Lib Dem candidate for Golden Valley North. He shares a house in Cusop Dingle, which is over the border into Herefordshire, so he's eligible to stand as a councillor. Apparently, he said he'd help, and then the original candidate for the council fell ill and there seemed to be no-one able to replace him. Doug has now learned that he has a good chance of winning the seat! I left him designing his campaign leaflet.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Local Elections

Election season is upon us, and leaflets have started to appear for elections to the Welsh Assembly. Several houses already have orange posters in their windows.
The first through the door were the Liberal Democrats. Their candidate is Kirsty Williams, the present AM, and she is promising to fight Labour's plans to close local hospitals, and save local post offices. She also wants a better ambulance service and more community support police officers, rather than ID cards.
The Welsh Conservatives were next off the mark. Susy Davies wants to fight Labour's plans to close local hospitals, and save local post offices. She also wants to help local small schools, listen to the farmers and help small businesses.
Brecon and Radnor usually goes Lib Dem. When it doesn't, it goes Conservative. We're too close to the Border - and very few people speak Welsh here - to be a Plaid Cymru stronghold, and Labour never does very well either. One General Election, there was a sweet lady campaigning for the Greens, who rode around on a bicycle decorated with flowers, but not many people voted Green, either.

Monday, 9 April 2007

Bird's eye view

I went up Cusop Hill today with Sally and the dogs.
Years ago, I'd gone up to Capodolwyn, the white cottage all alone on the hill, with my husband. Back then, the last tenant had only recently moved out, and anyone could have moved straight in quite comfortably. Sadly, the windows now have lost their glass, and are all boarded up, and the doors are boarded over too. The roof is still mostly sound, so it could be brought back from the brink of dereliction. The views are amazing - right along the Wye valley, and high enough to look down on the RAF jets that fly here regularly.
We went higher, and I got to the top of Cusop Hill for the first time ever. It's fairly bleak sheep pasture up there, with small old quarries dotted about. There were larks everywhere, singing. We found a little pool, and the dogs ran in and out, and even swam (Maudie fell in, but she just paddled round to where she could scramble out, shook herself, and she was fine). From the edge of the hill, we could see up and down the Wye valley, with Hay laid out below us, and the pipeline snaking across the countryside, looping up Cusop Dingle, and heading off towards Glasbury.
Sally took me down to Hardwicke after that, and we spent a highly enjoyable afternoon building a bonfire, with the dogs mooching about the garden. As I type this now, Islay and Alfie are semi-comatose, one on each settee.
Tomorrow, we plan to do it all again.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

The Warren

I went down to the Warren this afternoon. There were people playing ball games, people walking dogs, and people skimming stones across the river. Flotillas of canoes were on the river - we could only just get past the canoe landing stage. That's me and two dogs who were interested in meeting everyone - "and are you going anywhere interesting, and can I get in the car with you?"

Back in town, I met an old chap who was about to sell the organ music that had belonged to his late wife. He was looking for somewhere to park when he brought the four boxes of musical scores to be looked at. "I used to come here in a pony and trap," he said. "We always left it at the Three Tuns - the horse inside and the trap outside. Then we got a car, and once I ran into the Castle wall. My aunt," he continued, "was one of the last two people to cross the Toll Bridge when it was a Toll Bridge. There's a photo of her in her pony and trap."

Down at the Globe, they're having a "Posh Sale" next weekend. It was a "Posh Boot" but the 'Boot' has been painted out on the signs. The building is up for sale. It has gallery space upstairs, where the chapel once was, and a quite large flat in the basement, where the Sunday School was once held. When I first came to Hay, the basement was rented out to one of the antique dealers in Hay as a store room. Then, when the chapel was first converted into an art gallery, the lower rooms were gallery space too.
I remember going to a party for Hay Arts there. Every now and then, one person would sidle up to another and whisper "Have you been downstairs to see the shed yet?" When I finally went down, one of the downstairs rooms had a very ordinary garden shed in it. Then you went inside the garden shed - and saw the stained glass windows. There was a lot of pink, and bodies in some very interesting positions....
Then I went upstairs, sidled up to a friend, and whispered "Have you been downstairs to see the shed yet?"

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Easter weekend

The car park was full for the first time this year on Good Friday.

The book map has one or two differences this year - it changes slightly every year. There's a little mention of our new twin town, Timbucktoo, for instance. The garage at Clyro has started to sell motoring books, too. They're under fairly new management.
Karl Showler's bee books have gone now, though. He's still around and still bee keeping as far as I know, but it seems he's retired from bookselling.
Mark Westwoods has become The Hay Book Company, selling general books - so there's no longer a shop with a scientific bias in Hay.

When I was passing the florist's yesterday, I was stopped by a loud whistling noise inside. Being nosy, I bobbed my head inside the door to look, and they now have a green parrot in a large cage amongst the flowers.

The Three Tuns is now advertising for staff, and say that they plan to open in July. The front is all newly painted, with new sash windows, but they're still building at the back, so there's a lot to do before they're ready to open.

And Ian McMillan, on The Verb on Radio 3 last night, said he'd be coming to the Hay Festival.

Friday, 6 April 2007

New Map

I saw Derek Addyman this morning, delivering boxes of the new Booksellers' Map around the other bookshops. This comes out once a year, at Easter, and Derek co-ordinates it. It shows the locations of all the bookshops, starting with the Children's Bookshop at No.1, because they are a little bit outside town, and it also gives details of what each shop specialises in, and contact details. It's about the only thing all the booksellers have always agreed on - on other matters, getting booksellers to agree is like herding cats!

Castle Street is newly re-surfaced and painted now. It took a couple of days longer than planned, but it looks good.

The busker outside HSBC today is playing Irish jigs on a penny whistle.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

It must be Spring....

they've started to put books out on the Honesty shelves! This is Richard Booth's outdoor bookshop, in the Castle Gardens and, for obvious reasons, the shelves are cleared for the winter. In the summer, the books go out until someone takes pity on them and buys them, or they go mouldy in the rain, when they are periodically cleared from the shelves and sent to the dump. It really is the Last Chance Saloon for books. There's a sign up suggesting a price of 50p for hardbacks and 30p for paperbacks, but there's no-one there to check whether you put any money in the box in the wall - hence the name Honesty.

There are warning signs up at the top of Backfold, and the retaining wall there is swathed in warning tape - a large crack has appeared where the wall has started to come away from whatever is behind it, and it'll need to be completely re-built. Until then, it's probably best not to jump up and down anywhere near it.

Rob Soldat is giving a talk in the Library on 16th April, at 6pm, on King Brychan of Brycheniog and his fabulous daughters, and it's free. I saw Rob this morning, and he said that he'd gone into the library for something else, got talking to the librarian, and came out with a booking! His guide book of Hay is teetering on the brink of being published, and he's doing research into the Black Lion for a TV company which wants to make a programme about it.

I'd just got back from Brecon when I saw Rob, and the road is much clearer now - the Bronllys and Talgarth bypass is finally open, so all those roadworks have disappeared. There are still roadworks on the way into Talgarth, and on the corner by the Talgarth beast market, though.

As Islay couldn't come to Brecon with me, we went for a long walk when I got back. Toothwort is out on the Offa's Dyke Path - a slightly macabre plant that is supposed to look like the grinning teeth of a skull as it grows.
On the way back, we passed by Di Blunt's house, and Islay came nose to beak with a fledgling blackbird just by the path. It's very lucky to be alive!

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Bats over the Wye

The sunshine yesterday afternoon tempted me out to give Islay a really long walk by the river, along the Offa's Dyke path. Among the trees, there were golden celandines and white wood anenomes everywhere, with the odd sprinkling of purple violets, and leaf buds opening everywhere. As I got to the fields, I could hear larks singing, and I watched a couple of long-tailed tits in a tree by the river.
In winter, I often have the path to myself for the whole walk, but yesterday there were families with small children down on the pebble beach by the river, other dog walkers, and the proper walkers, with proper boots, and maps. Visitors are starting to arrive in Hay now, and there are a lot of walkers and cyclists among them.
There was something flying low, to and fro over the river. At first, I thought it was a swift, but it's still early for them. When I got closer, I saw the round furry body, and realised it was a bat, out in broad daylight, quite happily hawking for insects over a narrow stretch of river. I've never seen a bat out in full daylight before, and it was a big one, too.

Meditation in Hay

It's been a long time since I did any meditation - a few years ago, I used to go into Hereford with Annette and David to a Buddhist teacher at the Quaker Meeting House, but it was a rush to get there after work, so we tended to arrive quite stressed from the journey - it wasn't really conducive to a calm and relaxed attitude, so we gave it up.
Then I went up to the Skreen Centre, close to Erwood, near Builth Wells. This was much better, being a lot closer to where I lived, and was Christian meditation based on the work of John Main. I only gave that up when I moved away.
So now there's a meditation class in Hay. I'd seen the posters round town, but not taken a lot of notice of them. It was the ad in WyeLocal that finally decided me to give it a try. After all, it was only down the road at the Boardroom.
This was the third monthly meeting they'd had, and a couple of people couldn't come because they were lambing, so there were four of us and the teacher, a young man who'd come up from a Buddhist centre in Swansea, He was talking about the mind, between sessions of meditation, and I have to say I came away feeling wonderfully relaxed, and I still feel relaxed this morning. It was well worth the £4.50 we were asked for at the end "to cover expenses". He also has a class in Brecon, and in Neath, and his group are trying to start a Buddhist centre in Cardiff. Their main centre is up in the Lake District.
This is not the first time there's been Buddhist meditation in Hay. An American chap called Kurt lives up above Llanigon, on Wenallt, and he's turned his place into a Buddhist centre. Real Tibetan monks visit there occasionally, and a couple of years ago quite a high ranking monk came to do a weekend course in the Parish Hall, which was very well attended. There was a reason why I couldn't go - I think I must have been working - but I did meet the monk in the street when he was being shown around Hay by his hosts, and he seemed delighted with everything he saw.