Friday, 31 August 2007

Goffee cycles down the Wye

Goffee has a bicycle that floats on water. Over the Bank Holiday weekend he cycled down the River Wye. He was hoping to get as far as Ross, but in the end got to Hereford and stopped there.
He wasn't just doing it for fun. He was doing it to raise awareness and drum up sponsorship so that he can take a football pitch made of astroturf to Timbuktu this Christmas, together with football kits, boots, goals and whistles. Also involved is a Hereford based charity called Concern Universal, which works in development and emergency relief around the world.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

A film presentation from Offscreen Education

I was just expecting a quick meeting about the Timbuktu website when I turned up, but we had a treat in store first. A chap called Stephen had come along to tell us about the company he's a partner in, which takes kids from the UK out to the Middle East. This is far more than just a glorified school trip! The kids keep blogs, and make films, that are sent back via satellite link - and not just to their own school. 5,000 teachers were involved in the last trip they organised, to Oman, and they did geography projects, and artwork, and saw turtles coming to the beach to lay their eggs, and visited a mosque.... There was follow up in the way of educational packs for schools based on what the kids had done, too. They get as much sponsorship as they can, to keep the costs down, and they also keep the trips carbon neutral, and use solar panels to power their equipment and so on.

Stephen was in Hay because he had been talking to someone who comes to Hay Festival, who knows Ann Brichto, and the twinning of Hay with Timbuktu seemed to be the perfect opportunity to do one of these trips with Gwernyfed High School and Fairfield locally. Part of the package would also be bringing kids from Timbuktu back to Hay, so it would work both ways. Stephen had been up to Gwernyfed during the day to speak to the headmaster about it - and he cycled, borrowing a bike from Drover Holidays.
If it comes off, Hay kids would be heading out there in Jan 09, around the time of the Festival au Desert, which gives a lot of scope for music students, and the Timbuktu kids would come here around Hay Festival time.

It all sounds like a fantastic opportunity for both sets of kids, and it all came about by serendipity. If a thing is meant to work out, I find it often works this way, with opportunities arising that were never thought of when the whole thing started. Both communities would be able to contribute to the success of this project, and both would get a lot out of it - just from being able to see the other place at first hand, instead of being filtered through news programmes on TV, as well as the educational side of it - and schools all over Wales could share in that as it happens thanks to the internet. It's a bit harder to do it so immedieately at the Timbuktu end, as there are only about 40 computers in the whole city, but they can certainly make DVDs to show when they get back.

After that (and the beer, wine and nibbles that went with it - thanks, Luke and Anna), we got down to some discussion of the Hay2Timbuktu website. Not much has been done yet, not least because the man who set the website up is on an extended holiday in Marrakesh (Timbuktu's African twin) and only he knows the password to change certain things about the site. Which is awkward. But he'll be back soon.
We talked about the next newsletter too. The first one is going out hopefully tomorrow, and will be delivered together with Wye Local, the local magazine, so we were talking about ways of improving that and some of the content for it.
Anna had a customer in her shop, for instance, who saw the leaflets about the twinning and said "Is this a joke?" So we need to explain just why we think it's a good idea, and a realistic idea.
Matthew Engel, the journalist who used to live locally, wrote an article for the Financial Times which was reportedly a bit sniffy about the twinning (I haven't read it myself). Ann suggested that we ask him to do a short piece for the next newsletter, giving his point of view, to stimulate debate.
On the other hand, some local people get the idea already. Ann met someone from the Bell Bank Club, which is the local club for the blind and partially sighted, and she asked if there was a problem with blindness in Timbuktu, and how local blind people could get together with Malian blind people to share their experiences.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007


Julie at the Sensible Bookshop has made an heroic effort, and printed out questionnaires for every business in Hay, and she's collated them with the Chamber of Commerce newsletter and a Fairtrade leaflet.
All that remains is for someone to deliver them. So I took Lion Street and Brook Street this afternoon, and Jo took Castle Street. It's the first time I've ever been in the Con Club (I didn't even know it had two bars), and most people seemed at least vaguely interested. The lady at Horsewise commented that she thought all they sold was cheap, imported stuff, but at least it's given her something to think about. At the Poetry Bookshop, Melanie looked at the Chamber of Commerce leaflet first, and grumbled "They always call me Mel. It's Melanie." I'll have to remember that in future, too.

Evening walk

The couple from La Fosse were standing outside Spar with Charlie the Scotty dog. Islay went over to greet them enthusiastically. "Did you see the squirrel?" they asked. "It was running up and down Castle Street, and it tried to dive through the glass door of that shop over there. It must have been disorientated."

On the patch of grass beside the library, someone had set a barbeque up, with folding chairs beside the wooden bench. A man and a little girl were clearing up, but it seemed to have been quite a party earlier. Actually, the man was clearing up, and the little girl was waving an incense stick around. "You're too late," the man said to Islay, who had gone to investigate. "All the sausages have gone."

Monday, 27 August 2007

Ambling round Hay

I was in Broad Street Book Centre when a chap in a motorised chair came in and asked to see some of the Classical music. The unit is set up with a couple of carousels at the front, so only slim people can easily get past.
The assistant managed to trundle one of these out of the way, so that the chap could get his chair in close to the shelves. "And now," he said, "if I want to look at the top shelves, I can do this!" With that, he began to rise into the air as his chair elevated for him - brilliant! And he found the music he was looking for.

Later, I passed the pottery on Brook Street. The door to the workshop was open, and one of the potters was sitting talking on the phone - and I had to look twice, because the hand set looked as if it was made of clay. An occupational hazard of picking the phone up when they're working, I suppose.

Oddest book title seen today: A Century of Banking in Latin America

Coolest motorbike seen today: One of those with the front wheel way out in front and long handlebars, with "Black Bess" written in Gothic lettering on the fuel tank, and "Dick Turpin Highwayman" on the bit behind the handlebars, connecting it to the seat.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Sunny Saturday

It's been one of those days when the sun soaks into your bones, and it's impossible to move fast. Hay looks Continental, with cafe tables on the pavements. In the Buttermarket, St Mary's were having their Summer Fete, with the usual bric a brac stalls and refreshments, and every other person walking by seemed to have an ice cream cone in their hand. Islay lay toasting in the sun, occasionally flopping in the shade, and making her usual rounds of the cafe tables in Backfold.
Later in the evening, I passed by La Fosse guest house, and heard banjo music from the open conservatory window, where the chap who owns the place was practicing. Islay ran up to say hello to Charlie the Scottie dog through the window (sometimes she manages to jump right inside, but she didn't make the attempt this evening).

Marina has met the new manager of the Wheatsheaf, which is next door to her house. It's changed hands very quietly - she thinks to the same people who own the Maesllwch at Glasbury, which isn't far away. She's hoping that the Wheatsheaf will quieten down under the new regime - it's always had the reputation of being the 'rough' pub in the evenings.

Meanwhile, a new barbers' shop has opened on Castle Street, Harpers, where the art gallery used to be, and before that, Edward Foreman's bookshop. They've painted the woodwork a particularly vile shade of green, but that's not going to affect the quality of the hair cuts.

Friday, 24 August 2007


The Parish Hall was full for the film show, hosted jointly by The Screen at Hay and Hay2Timbuktu.

The first half of the evening was a presentation by Mamadou Kone, who runs a Malian NGO called Jeunesse de Developpement (you'll have to imagine accents on some of the 'e's - I haven't worked out how to do that yet).
He did it all in French, with a translator, and I was quite pleased that I understood at least a bit of what he was saying!
A few years ago, Jeunesse de Developpement was set up by young Malian professionals, many of whom worked outside the country, and it has become one of the biggest organisations providing aid in the country. It was good to see what an African organisation could achieve, for a change, instead of seeing one of the big British charities doing work out there.
They do work in education, especially with street children ('jeunes de la rue') and health education, especially re-productive health. Sex is a taboo subject, so there's a lot of mis-information about, but this initiative tells young people clearly how pregnancies happen and how to avoid them, and provides contraceptives, too. They also work with young men in the young offenders' prison, and have a project in the south of the country with two or three hundred women who have started market gardens.
Some of the work they do is funded by Comic Relief, and they feel it is important to have both men and women in positions of authority and doing the decision making - one of their projects is training facilitators and sending them back to their villages to start women's groups, where they can learn to read and write, but also to make decisions that affect their lives.

There was a break for refreshments, provided by Oxfam, and all Fairtrade, followed by a few words from the Fairtrade lady who had, I think, come down from Llandrindod Wells for the evening. In Mali, one of the most important crops from the Fairtrade point of view is cotton, and they are trying to encourage organic growing methods and find markets for them.

And then the film, the main event of the evening.
A court has been set up in a courtyard in Bamako, with the people who live there wandering through to get water from the tap, babies toddling around, and even a goat that takes a dislike to one of the lawyers! The witnesses have gathered there to give evidence of how the policies of the World Bank, the IMF and multi-national companies have changed their lives. Meanwhile there is a sub-plot about a night club singer and her family - and even part of a Western seen on TV one evening.
It was mesmerising - at first confusing as the scenes seemed to have little relation to what had gone before, but gradually drawing you in - and the testimony was powerful. I think my favourite scene was where the old man who was told to sit down because it wasn't his turn to speak yet, at the beginning of the film, got his moment when all the eyes of the court were on him.
The final verdict of the court is never given though - you are left to make up your own mind after the passionate summings up.
It's one of those films I'd like to see again, maybe two or three times, to catch those moments that passed me by the first time.

Our wonderful postmen!

My parcel has arrived - a working spinning wheel that I bought off ebay (I'm so excited!).
The lady who sent it to me told me that she had some trouble fitting it in her car to get it to the post office, so I knew it was big.
So yesterday I was sitting in Marijana's shop in Backfold when one of the postmen came in. He checked I was the right person he was looking for, and said he had a huge parcel in the van, and where would I like him to put it? I didn't really want to clutter up the shop with it - and besides, it would be difficult to carry home, so I asked him to put it in the side passage beside the house.
When I got home, no parcel.
So I checked with my neighbour that it hadn't been left with her, and dashed up to the post office to see if it had been left there. No sign of it, but they promised to check in the morning for me.
This morning, success! There it was, exactly where I'd asked him to leave it.
At lunch time, a lady knocked on my door. She lives at the same number as me, but a different street name, close by - and she told me the other half of the saga. The postman must have got confused, after he left me, and left the parcel down her side passage way instead of mine - and then this morning he must have realised his mistake, and moved it to the right place! She had come to see if I'd got it safely. (She thought it might be an exercise bike!)
So now I'm quite excited about trying it out - I use a drop spindle for re-enactment, but I've never had a wheel before.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Talgarth hospital

Once upon a time, there were two hospitals to serve the local area. One was at Bronllys, and was partly for physical illnesses and partly a TB hospital, and the other, the mental hospital, was at Talgarth. A farm was attached to each hospital, and one produced meat and the other produced vegetables, for both hospitals.
That arrangement has long gone. Bronllys Hospital (no longer used for TB cases) is under threat, and Talgarth closed as a mental hospital in 1999.
The buildings remain, though, and they're in the news in the B&R this week. The company that owns the hospital now has locked a man out of the workshop he rents there after he refused to pay his rent. He says that the company didn't send him proper invoices and doesn't maintain the buildings properly.

I first saw the inside of Talgarth hospital when it was still a working hospital. It was a bit run down, because they knew they were going to close soon. I was there with a group that wanted to buy the buildings and set up a sort of alternative community and educational centre, promoting green solutions like permaculture, solar power and so on. At one of our meetings there, in the big hall, one of the patients came and sat at the back to listen - and she donated 50p to our cause!
We didn't get the hospital, of course - a company bought it and the best use they managed to make of it was to use it as dormitories for 250 Spanish workers who got bussed out to factories in South Wales.
It was then sold again - and last year I applied for a job up there.
I arrived at the old entrance hall, which I remembered as being rather like the reception area of a Victorian hotel, with lots of wood panelling. Most of the panelling was still there, but there were holes in the walls with wires hanging out, too, and puddles of water in the corridors. The room where I was interviewed was newly decorated and well maintained, but it was surrounded by dereliction. The man who interviewed me was new to his job, and seemed full of energy and eager to get the place on it's feet and providing workshop and office space for businesses.
From the story in the paper, he doesn't seem to have succeeded. The number of businesses renting space there has dropped from around 30 to 6.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

New Bus Station for Brecon, and a bus ride to Hereford

From the pages of the B&R this week - work has started on building a new bus station near Morrisons. This means that the buses will no longer have to pass through the Bulwark, which is often a nightmare of parked cars, lorries delivering to shops, and general congestion. The bus stops won't have to be moved during Brecon Jazz or the Fair that takes place on the streets of Brecon twice a year. It also means that bus transport is being taken seriously in the area, which can only be a good thing.

Meanwhile, I was going in the other direction today, to meet someone at Hereford Bus Station. Roadworks at Belmont meant that the bus was half an hour late getting in, but fortunately my friends had waited for me.
Mr Lawrence got on the bus with me, and he was there for the next bus back with me as well. He and his wife went on a coach trip to Aberystwyth yesterday, and he left his coat on the coach, with all his keys and things in the pockets. When he phoned up to tell them, the coach driver said he'd leave the coat in the cafe by the bus station for him to pick up, and he'd just been in and found everything safe and sound.
Also on the bus going home was the Dutch lad who used to come to Stitch and Bitch. He was working at Primrose Organic Farm, and he left there to go to Manchester. Since then he's been travelling around, and he just came back from Ireland by ferry and train last night - sitting up all night with a group of German girls who were travelling round Europe on Railcards, so he didn't get much sleep! He's going to go back to Primrose Farm for a while to work there again.

Monday, 13 August 2007


I overheard a conversation in the Post Office today - one of the ladies was saying what a pity it was that the wild rabbits in the churchyard seemed to have all died. Myxomatosis was blamed, and there was even some speculation that it had been deliberately introduced to the area, after being absent for some years.
It would be a great pity if the white rabbits were wiped out by this - and I haven't seen any of them for some weeks.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Busy Weekend in Hay

Someone told me that there were five weddings in Hay on Saturday! There was certainly a lot of confetti ,and rose petals, near the church - and two geodesic domes have been put up just across the river by the Start. The wedding guests for that one seem to be camping by the river.

The Buttermarket was done out in flags on Saturday evening, too, with lots of tables and chairs put out, and a bar, for the Warren Club Draw. The Warren Club was originally set up to raise funds to maintain the Warren as a public space for the people of Hay, though the membership of the club now seems to have very little relationship with the users of the Warren. The Warren is actually one of Hay's best kept secrets - it's only really accessible by foot (though it is possible to drive down to a little car park if you know where you're going). It has a pebble beach on a curve of the Wye, and is a beautiful place for a picnic, or a paddle, or to walk the dog.

Further along the river, under the bridge, someone has been playing now that the level of the river is low enough to wade across. Before there was a bridge, there was a ford across the Wye here. There are three flat bits of concrete between the piers of the bridge - I'm sure they have a proper name, but I have no idea what it is - and pebble sculptures have appeared on each one. Furthest from the Hay side, we have three stones - big, middle and small. In the middle, there's a teetering pile of stones, and nearest to the Hay side a heap of pebbles is supporting a long stick. So there's a budding Andy Golesworthy out there somewhere (if I've got the spelling right, he's the artist who works with stones and leaves and wood, out in the countryside).

Thursday, 9 August 2007

New look at Kilvert's

The wooden picnic tables are gone, and round tables with mosaic tiles in blue and white have taken their place, along with matching chairs that even have square blue cushions to match. It all looks very smart.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007


When Cranbourne Books and Stamps re-opened, after their front window was replaced, it had re-invented itself as Hay2Go Travel Bookshop. This appears to be an offshoot of The Hay Book Company, which took over Mark Westwood's shop by the Buttermarket.
Marijana Dworski isn't too happy about this development, but at least she has the more academic language books, as well as the coffee-table travel books and travel guides which the new shop seems to have most of.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Book Launch

The second book in Celia Boyd's series about the English Civil War comes out this month, and there's going to be a book launch party at the Old Forest Framing shop in the Craft Centre on 14th August. The book is called A Daring Resolution, and follows the fortunes of the surgeon hero first met in First Dry Rattle. The overall title of the series is A Reason From the Stars, and Celia's historical accuracy has already been praised.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Council News - a welcome step for local democracy

The Wye Local magazine came today, with the first ever Council newsletter tucked inside.
I saw Julie Freeman earlier this morning - and her first comment about it was "Don't look!"
As the newest councillor, her picture is on the back, complete with glowing red eyes.
I think it's quite a good idea to have a newsletter - unless you go out of your way to find out what the Council is doing, you often don't have a clue, and if you don't have a clue, why should you be bothered to vote?
So now we can learn that there's been a 50% reduction in thefts and a 100% detection rate for violence and disorder, but vandalism is on the increase. The Council are considering a CCTV system (is that really necessary?) and taking a Zero Tolerance stance on fly tipping - with the helpful reminder that the Council will collect up to 5 large items for a charge of £20. They also mention the fishing point for disabled fishermen, the first in the Upper Wye Valley, and the introduction of a Good Citizenship award. They are using the money they raise from recycling in Hay Car Park to provide grants of up to £500 for projects around Hay, and are supporting the campaign to save Bronllys Hospital from closure.
And speaking of closure, the County Councillor is adamant that Hay Council Offices are not closing until there are new offices to move into. In fact, the County Council wants to extend services available in Hay. When the offices are finally moved, and the building is sold, he says he will ensure that "a fair proportion" of the money will go towards the new youth and community centre planned for Forest Road, by the Doctors' Surgery.
There are contact details, too, for anyone to let the Council know what they would like to see achieved around Hay, or sorted out - suggestions welcome!

Sunday, 5 August 2007


A few weeks ago, Karl the Bee-Man went into Wool and Willow to buy a pair of slippers for his wife's birthday. Betty isn't so well these days, so he'd brought along one of her old slippers to compare.
The following day, he was back - the new slippers were too tight.
Wool and Willow didn't have any others in stock, so they got in touch with the lady who makes the slippers, and she has made two new pairs for Betty to try.
Karl took them home a couple of days ago; Betty chose the pair she wanted, and Karl brought the others back to the shop.
You wouldn't get that sort of service from a chain store!

Meanwhile, Richard Booth is out of hospital after his stroke. He's supposed to be taking things easy.....

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Please look after this ... elephant

We were walking round the bottom of the car park the other evening when I noticed a wooden elelphant perched on top of one of the recycling containers. With it was a note:
"He has no home - not after what he did on the rug!"

I went back the following night, but someone had taken pity on the poor homeless elephant, because he was gone.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Free Screening

The Screen at Hay and Hay2Timbuktu are getting together to put on a film at the Parish Hall on 23rd August. It will start at 7pm, and it is free but ticketed. Tickets are available from the Addyman Annexe on Castle Street.
The film is called Bamako, and it is set in the capital of Mali, where the World Bank, the IMF and Western corporations are put 'on trial' by the people whose lives they affect. It's in French and Bambara, with English subtitles, which all sounds very worthy and hard work, but the reviews are promising:
"The film enchants and engages, offering a moving account of a usually silent majority" - it says on the poster.
As well as the film, there'll be a chance to meet Mamadou Kone of Jeunesse de Developpement, a Malian NGO which works with Comic Relief and The Malian Development Fund in Southern Mali.
There will also be Fairtrade tea, coffee and snacks - but you're invited to bring your own bottle!

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Snippets from the B&R

A front page pin up of Lucy, of course, pulling the first pint at the Grand Opening of the Three Tuns, and looking very happy about it.

From the inner pages, Karen Smart has been very busy during the flood crisis. While most people have focussed on the human suffering, Karen thought about the animal sanctuaries that needed help, and started collecting bottled water to be delivered to RSPCA shelters and independent shelters. Morrisons and Brecon Carreg mineral water have donated supplies to her, and she's set up a collection point for donations at the Southern Vauxhall garage on The Watton in Brecon.
I first met Karen when she ran the pine furniture shop in Backfold. Her husband is a builder, and he built what is now the opticians, with two flats above - the last building to be built in Hay in the old millennium. Hidden away on an inner wall, written in the cement, is the date 1999. This was originally Karen's pine shop, with a "Secret Garden" tucked away at the side, and run by her daughter.
Karen got a white persian cat, which came to the shop with her - it even had its own little four poster pine bed in the window!
I'm not sure whether she was already interested in cat rescue, or if the possession of the persian gave her the idea, but other persian cats started appearing, and finally Karen set up Smart Animal Rescue, and she's been tireless in promoting it, and raising money for it.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

New Art and Owls

Backfold was looking more colourful than usual yesterday. The little shop under Nepal Bazaar, which they use as a store room, was open, and various bits and pieces were on display on the pavement outside it. The lady in charge has been allowed to display her paintings in there, as well as selling a few of Nancy's things, and she also has some rather wonderful carvings of owls and hawks in wood. A lot of the paintings are of members of the lady's family - there's a magical one of her father, holding a glowing orb. There are also landscapes, and one picture solid with small portraits of 1920s men, which she took from an old photo of Wall Street.

Later in the evening, I went down to the car park, and noticed that the Top Vet's has closed down. That's the nickname - not because it was the best vet's practice, but because it was at the top end of town, to differentiate it from Lamb House, at the bottom end of town. In fact, the two seem to have combined forces, according to the notice on the Top Vet's gate.

There was a group of teenaged girls in the car park. They'd got a shopping trolley from somewhere (it's a long way to push one from the Co-op, but that's the closest shop that has them). So, empty car park with a long slope, shopping trolley, and giggling girls taking turns to whiz down to the bottom, screaming as if they were on the Big Dipper....
All this time, there was a group of teenaged boys up at the Craft Centre, with a grandstand view - except they were all studiously ignoring the girls.