Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Moving bus stops

I was surprised this morning when the 39 didn't stop in the usual place on the Bulwark in Brecon, but went on down the hill to just opposite the Museum. This will be the new bus stop for the service from now on, doubtless to the relief of the shops by the old bus stop, who have had to put up with people lurking outside their shops and cluttering the pavement up until now.
It's certainly a more pleasant place to wait, with seats in a little garden outside the large, ivy-clad building (I'm not sure what goes on in there - something to do with local government, I assume).

"The Bells! The Bells!"

Haydn is already working on his costume for Hay-on-Fire, at the end of October. He's going to be Quasimodo. He's making a fake hunchback and will be carrying a bell, possibly with a bat dangling from his shoulder, and a hideous mask that he found in Hereford. One thing that's causing him problems is the smock-like shirt (as worn by Charles Laughton in the film). He's been looking at ladies' dresses in charity shops, but so far he's been too embarrassed to try anything on.
Sadly, for the first time ever, Goffee may have to charge admission to the event - he's got to find the cash to put on the spectacle from somewhere, and local sponsorship can only go so far.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Timbuktu communications meeting

I turned up at Pemberton Minor last night to find some of the "usual suspects" on the committee (I'm one of them, of course!). Luke and Anna, of Drover Holidays, are new faces though, and very enthusiastic. They actually cycled across Africa before they set up the bike hire business.
Come September, we will have our own office in the Council Chambers - Gareth the Mayor is doing his best to rent out as much space as he can as an argument against the County Council closing the offices down. Ann was very frustrated with the Council officials she'd come across, though. She said that emails to Timbuktu were answered promptly, in French and English, and that things actually seemed to be getting done there - whereas here it's taking more than a month to move a couple of filing cabinets before we can move into the office.
There are plans to do things with the website, which at present is just a small slideshow and contact details, so that it can be used for FAQs (like "Where is Timbuktu, anyway?") and advertise upcoming events - one of which is a film show at the Parish Hall on 23rd August, 7pm, with a question and answer session, about a charity in Mali.
There's already been some interest on the web about the twinning - but some of it has been along the lines of "This is great and can I have a free flight out there?" Even Ann and Rosanna and the other organisers had to pay their own flights out when they went to visit - freebies like that just aren't going to be available, even with the (modest) funding from the Welsh Assembly. The Assembly is keen to encourage links with Sub-Saharan Africa, apparently.
The big event coming up will be a visit to Hay by a delegation from Timbuktu, from 22nd October. Before that happens, there will be at least one newsletter to publicise up-coming events and let everyone know what's going on.
Quick Timbuktu factoid: Hay and Timbuktu are on the same line of longitude -and some clever person has worked out that the line actually goes through Hardwicke Church!

Grand Opening of the Three Tuns - a triumph!

I wandered over on Wednesday night at about 10 past 7, thinking that it would still be pretty quiet.
It was three deep at the bar! And I'd missed Lucy pulling the first pint, which was a shame. There were plenty of other familiar faces in there, though, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Looking round, I'd estimate that there were at least 150 people in there - and the original bar was crowded with 10!
I saw Tim the gardener sitting out on the patio with his guitar - he was one of the old locals, and he used to bring his guitar along then, too.
They start serving food on 1st August, and when my young man comes to stay, I'll take him over there to try it out. The nibbles that were being passed around were certainly very nice.
I left fairly early, and later on I noticed that I couldn't really hear any noise, even though the place was still packed. It was really quite odd to see people through the upstairs windows.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Fairtrade Town

Four of us turned up for the first meeting, at Shepherd's, to discuss making Hay into a Fairtrade Town.
Looking at the official requirements, it seems that we more than exceed them already - so we are already a Fairtrade Town in fact, if not in name. The clincher is to have the Town Council pass a motion accepting this, and the status is ours. Julie, from the Sensible Bookshop, is going to present the information to the Council at the September meeting. In the meantime, we're going to do a survey of the businesses in town to find out just what is going on behind the scenes - how many businesses use Fairtrade tea and coffee for their tea breaks, for instance? How many B&Bs serve Fairtrade products to their guests? Gareth, the mayor, is keen on the idea, though there are a few contrary voices amongst the councillors at the moment.
The plan is to produce a directory of Fairtrade businesses in town - and the eventual aim, with the backing of Kirsty Williams, our AM, is to move Wales along to become the first Fairtrade country.
We're not neglecting the local producers, either - when Garstang became the first Fairtrade Town, they found it was very important to include the local farmers and producers in their plans - and Hay is well placed to do that as well, with our local bakery and butchers selling local meat, and Charlie Hicks (and others) stocking local organic produce - not forgetting the market stalls on Thursdays, like Primrose Organic Farm.
Charlie Hicks is already keen on the idea of selling Fairtrade fruit and veg, if only he could get hold of some! At the moment the supermarkets have cornered the market, and there is very little available for independant shops.
One small problem we came up against was how to define Hay - do we include Cusop, which is more or less a suburb of Hay, even though it is over the border in England? If so, then the Co-op can be included in the number of businesses that supply Fairtrade products - and may even be willing to supply some cash to produce the directory. Julie is in contact with the Fairtrade officer for Powys Council, who can clear up questions like that.
We're hoping to get enough momentum going to be able to produce the first directory for Fairtrade Fortnight, at the end of next February. Jo, who is also a member of the Film Society, and lives across the river in Brilley, said that, quite by coincidence, the film they were showing next February was China Blue, about a sweatshop in China producing goods for the West, and they planned to have a Fairtrade stall when they showed the film - which would be a good start to Fairtrade Fortnight.
So, this afternoon (when the rain stops) I'm off to talk to the lady at Nepal Bazaar about the clothes they sell, which are certainly fairly traded, but may not have an official rubber stamp. This morning, after the meeting, I went into Oxfam to look at the range of products they sell - and I ended up coming out with a bottle of African chilli sauce, a length of woollen cloth I can use for costume, and a big ball of wool.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Dragons and Hedgehogs

I met Haydn while I was taking Islay for a walk the other day, and he had news of the next Hay-on-Fire. The theme this year will be dragons - and he said he's looking forward to seeing me in my knightly gear!
As a historical re-enactor, I have various costumes, including full warrior's kit - chainmail, nasal helm (like the Normans in the Bayeaux Tapestry), and sword. Haydn has organised a World Conker Championship at the Buttermarket for the past few years, and he did ask me to turn up as Wiliam the Conker-er last year. Sadly, I was already booked for another show elsewhere - but this year I might be able to make it.

I headed down to the bottom of the car park then - and came upon a baby hedgehog, not quite as long as my hand. It kept very still indeed while Islay sniffed it, but when she wandered off, it plucked up the courage to scuttle away under the hedge.

Friday, 20 July 2007


I went up to Brecon the other day, and I asked the bus driver what had happened to the bus shelter on the Bulwark. Apparently a National Express coach ran into it! So presumably there will be a replacement at some point.
The Talgarth Relief Road is now open, meaning that traffic for Abergavenny no longer has to negotiate the tight bends in the middle of Talgarth, and the old mill is now safe from the car transporters and other lorries that used to smash into the front of the house with depressing regularity.
And there is a new bus timetable coming into force on Monday. It's going to take a bit of time to get used to, especially as some buses will be 5 minutes earlier than they are at the moment - so the 10 o'clock bus to Hereford is now going to be the 5 to 10 bus. On the other hand, some buses will be 5 or 10 minutes later - so the 5 past 10 bus to Brecon will now be the quarter past 10 bus. One good thing is that the first and last buses of the day, which had been dropped on Saturdays, will now run on Saturdays as well.
When I went up to the Tourist Information office to pick up the new timetable, I passed Joyce from the Wool and Willow shop, having a hot chocolate in the Sandwich Cellar - before she went home. The weather is dreadful again, and there's no-one about in town unless they really have to be.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

"Barking mad over bus ban"

That's the title of an article in the Hereford Times this week, about Yeomans Canyon buses refusing to carry dogs. When I posted on the Hereford Times forum about it, the story was picked up by one of the reporters on the paper. It's a very fair article - but I don't suppose Yeomans Canyon will change their minds.

More about the Council Offices

Cllr James Gibson-Watt has a letter in the B&R this week, saying that the Council offices in Hay will not be closing. At least, he says that the County Council and Town Council are in negotiation "over an inovative scheme to try to sustain the current area office until the proposed new youth and community centre on Forest Road is constructed."
This is all well and good, but building hasn't even started on the new community centre yet. It's still the surgery car park and a field. Hay has been wanting a new community centre for about 10 years to my knowledge, and several plans have been put forward and then come to nothing - so I'll believe that it's happening when they start laying the foundations.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Sneak Preview!

It was like being a guest on Grand Designs.
Iain Burgess, from the Three Tuns, offered to show me round last night.
Men are still working all over the place, and there's a little marquee up on the back patio for carpenters' tools and so on, but the bulk of the work has been done. The bar has been moved from under the front window to where the old kitchen used to be, and they've used floorboards they managed to save from upstairs as the front of the bar. Iain told me they plan to stock 4 real ales, 3 ciders and a variety of lagers. I saw the first barrels of Wye Valley's Butty Bach going in that lunchtime. The kitchen, in the new extension, is huge, and gleaming, and the restaurant will be partly upstairs. The original staircase survived the fire. Looking up from the bar, you can see through perspex panels into the restaurant above, with all the original woodwork retained. The Three Tuns was probably built around 1600 in it's present form, and the builders have stripped everything down to the original materials - huge cruck beams either side of the big fireplace/chimney, and the Victorian fireplaces have all gone, stripped down to the original stone. Iain showed me the space where Lucy's bathroom used to be - now a semi-private space to be used for those intimate dinners for two in a corner of the restaurant. They've even kept some of the original wattle construction exposed, on the stairs - though this is split oak slats (probably oak) rather than thin twigs.
The modern part of the building has been kept very simple, and blends in with the original building surprisingly well, and they've put small lights round the outside of the building pointing straight up and down, which illuminates it very effectively, without being at all garish.
On Friday, they're having a trial run for the kitchens, to do a dinner for the builders, who have done such good work, and on Wednesday 25th is the grand opening, with Lucy as Guest of Honour.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007


A couple of things coming up at the end of the month - ACES are having a jumble sale at St John's on the 28th July. This is to raise money for street children in El Salvador. The prime mover behind this is Bron, a lovely lady who goes out there regularly, and has done for years.
On the same evening, Open Door are having their usual Songs of Praise service, but this time they are playing host to a group of schoolchildren who are going to put on a little play about the missionary Gladys Aylward. There was a film of her life, and how she saved the children in her care in China, starring Ingrid Bergman. The play won't quite be on that scale, but Jean was saying that it would be nice to get a good crowd in to encourage the children.

Monday, 16 July 2007

How things Change

He told me once that he'd been a Desert Rat.
He was peering through the front window of Brook Street Pottery when I passed by, and he turned to me and said: "How things change. They used to keep the post vans in here."
He pointed across to the patch of grass beside the Library. "There was an electric shop just there, and between that and the Poetry Bookshop there were three houses - and nine houses going down where the Library is."
He shook his head at the Library. "Why did they have to put that there?" he asked. "And that grassy bit, just going to waste - they could have built old people's flats here. They'd have been just handy for the middle of town, instead of stuck out where they are now, that's too far to walk in."
The Library is a fairly modern building, but it's been there since before I arrived in Hay, yet there are still people who disagree with the decision to put it there. Some visitors to Hay are surprised to find a Library here at all - if they find it at all, tucked away down a side alley as it is. Why have a library when the town is overflowing with books? Yet the Library is well-used and well-stocked, and there are no plans to move it, as far as I know.

The Council Offices are a different matter, however. The County Council has decided to close the Hay offices, and presumably sell off the Victorian house by the Clock Tower where they are at the moment, and move the offices to the Community Centre. This is a far from ideal location, as the Community Centre needs a lot of work doing to it - it hasn't been done up for years. What the new owners would do with the impressive disabled toilet - which was built, for reasons known only to the Council, on the first floor, where no disabled person could get to it - is uncertain.
This will be happening in other small towns as well, and the Llandrindod Wells offices have already been moved.
There were plans to incorporate the Council offices in the new Community Centre - but at the moment, plans are all they are. There's no sign of anything actually being built to replace our existing crumbling buildings, for all the enthusiasm there was at the public meeting last year. (There was one dissenting voice - Anne Addyman, who disagreed with the plans for a small theatre as part of the community centre because she thought it should be bigger and have better facilities to be able to stage the sort of big community plays that Red Kite Theatre has been perfoming since the Millennium).

Meanwhile, the Inland Revenue wants to close the Brecon Tax Office and move everything to Cardiff. This idea has been put about before, but nothing happened last time. Kirsty Williams, our MEP, is against it. As she pointed out, in a column in the B&R last week, Cardiff is booming. Brecon isn't. The people who work in the Tax office here won't all be able to move down to Cardiff, and they won't be able to find comparable jobs in the Brecon area. They also have considerable local knowledge. When I ran my own (very small) book business, I always found them very helpful - and they understand the oddities of the book trade. This local knowledge would be lost, or at least diffused, if everything moved to Cardiff.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Specialist Music Shops

I've been earwigging again - this time in Broad Street Book Centre, where a customer was saying how difficult it is to find specialist shops for music - books, scores and CDs. He knew of 4 in the whole country; one in York, one in Bristol and one in London - and Hancock and Monks, in Broad Street Book Centre.
They used to have their own shop, near the clock tower. When Rose's children's bookshop expanded, it was into the shop they had just moved out of. They find it more convenient to be part of a larger shop, which they don't have to staff full time - especially since they live somewhere near Llanwrtyd Wells (a town famous for bog snorkelling and for having a statue of The Sospan Fach of the Welsh song - that's a very big Little Saucepan). Jerry has recently branched out into selling plants as well, on shelves outside the shop.

The rain has been constant again today - but it doesn't seem to have dampened the spirits of the performers at the Music Festival, who could be heard giving it their all as I passed the Castle. I saw the Man from ELO, Phil, going in with his guitar case. Yesterday evening, there was a group of people around the bench outside HSBC, chilling out with a guitar - no chance of that this evening!

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Feedback - and the Music Festival

I took Islay for an early evening walk, up by the Castle and round the car park.
After the unrelenting rain of yesterday, we've had warm sunshine, and there was a lovely relaxed atmosphere in the Castle grounds for the Music Festival. I could hear a band playing all the way up Backfold.
Down at the bottom of the car park, I came across the lady from Fleur de Lys antiques, dropping off some recycling. "Do you have a blog?" she asked. "I thought it must be you - I had a customer in today from London and she said she'd read about me on the Internet! And I'll tell you who else reads it avidly - the lady who's bought Booths."
One day I'll work out how to put a Stat Counter on here, and then I'll know how many readers I get.

Meanwhile, Ricki is selling his van. He's been driving it around Hay as long as I can remember, a big white thing with a green stripe down the side, and a cow bell clanging at the front. At the moment it also has signs up around it saying "Designated smoking area" and "Quiet, Performance in Progress". Maybe he's settling down at last.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Grand Re-opening of the Three Tuns

(Can't seem to get the titles to work....)

The end of the restoration is in sight - and a date has been set for the Grand Re-opening of the Three Tuns, with Lucy Powell as special guest. It will be on 25th July.
Peering through the windows, it does seem to be close to ready - there's a new bar counter where they've taken down the old wall between the bar and the kitchen, a new red tiled floor in the newly built part, palm trees in pots in the new patio area out the back, which has all been paved, and cobbled near the new iron gates, too. It's looking fantastic, but at the same time they have stripped the building back to original features of stonework and woodwork.
I'll be there, of course.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Hay School had their Fete yesterday - and had pretty good weather for it, too. They had a fancy dress parade from the town clock in the afternoon. I think it must have been a success, because there were still plenty of people in the school grounds at about 9pm.

I was talking to one of the governers of the school. They had an Ofsted inspection recently, and they had to remove any books in the school library that weren't on the approved reading list. I thought that widening the range of children's reading would be a good thing, but obviously not.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

I've got the front door wide open, and Islay is asleep on the front step. It's sunny! It's warm! Amazing!

I've also got the July/August edition of British Archaeology, partly because I once was an archaeologist and I like to pretend now and then that I'm still involved, and partly because there's a big article on Timbuktu, which also mentions the recent twinning with Hay-on-Wye. It's written by Timothy Insoll, one of the few archaeologists to have worked there. Most of the finds from his trial excavations come from the 18thC or later though Timbuktu has a history stretching back much further than that - the city had a university as early as the 13thC. Due to the nature of the climate there, it seems that earlier deposits may be buried under many metres of sand from sandstorms, and flood deposits from the River Niger.
There's also a note warning prospective purchasers against buying Malian antiquities. There's been a lot of looting of archaeological sites there, for things like terracotta statuettes and beads. The Malian authorities are doing what they can to stop this, but the best way is for there to be no demand for the product of the looting.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Journey to Brecon

Off to Brecon on the bus the other day. There are major roadworks at Three Cocks - and the bus shelter on the Bulwark in Brecon has disappeared! When I got there to go home, all the regular passengers were lurking around the shop windows instead of sitting in the shelter.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Boatside Farm

I took Islay out for her evening walk last night - and when I came through the Craft Centre overlooking the car park, there was a rainbow right across Cusop Dingle. Glorious!
Earlier in the evening I went up the hill to Radnor's End camp site. Just by the entrance there are two big signboards now, advertising the sale of 129 acres of farmland - which I imagine is Boatside Farm. That certainly explains the three people I saw last week on Offa's Dyke path, carrying glossy estate agent's brochures.
It's an interesting area. Not only does it have the River Wye along one edge of it, making it a Site of Special Scientific Interest, but also the Offa's Dyke Path, and a Roman camp just up on the ridge. It was here that the local tribe, the Silures, trashed a Roman legion, early in the Roman invasion of Britain. There's not much information about the battle - the Romans didn't like to talk about it.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

"I love the sound of breaking glass"

Walking up the Pavement this morning, I couldn't miss the sight of the huge hole in the window of Cranborne Books and Stamps. There was a board over the hole, and I could see Tommy, the owner of the shop, inside with someone else, looking over the damage.
This isn't the only shop window that's been broken this year. Just before the Festival, the glass door at the Limited was broken, and is still boarded up, and on Thursday someone walked through the window of Llewelyn and Co! He's in hospital, apparently, badly cut up.