Saturday, 29 September 2007

Not a Happy Puppy

Islay isn't well at all. She was up in the night being sick - which meant that I had to be up too, to let her out of the front door so she could run round to the garden each time.
She didn't eat breakfast (I don't think she has ever missed breakfast in her life before), and she spent the day in Backfold throwing up at intervals, with concerned passers by asking after her welfare. She drank a lot of water, put down by Joyce in the Wool and Willow shop, because she has a small washing up bowl in the shop. Now she's curled up on the settee looking sorry for herself - but at least she's stopped being sick. I went down to the vet's after work, but they don't do an evening surgery on Saturdays, so I just took their emergency number, in case she got worse.

Friday, 28 September 2007

News from the B&R

Panic buying of cemetery plots! Apparently the cemetery will be full in eight years, and they're about to buy some land to expand it - but in the meantime people are booking their places early.
The Chef on the Run has won another award, this time for the Great Taste of their whimberry and apple jam. They also got the prize for Best Welsh Speciality at the Great Taste Awards, and now they're working flat out to fulfill the new orders they've got as a result. The Chef on the Run also runs the Old Stables Tea Room.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Fabric of Sin at the Castle

Tracy must be very pleased - the main room of the Castle was packed out, and everyone enjoyed the cakes she'd baked for the occasion.
Richard Booth said something about the national economy of new books meshing with the international economy of secondhand books - and what a wonderful part of the world Phil Rickman was writing about. He also mentioned that they are hoping to do up the Castle (not for the first time) and that the Castle gate is the oldest in Europe (possibly - certainly the oldest in Wales).
Phil Rickman talked a little bit about his book, and what an amazing place Garway is. As one example, he said that the village used to have four pubs - called The Sun, The Moon, The Globe and The Stars.
And Rob Soldat, as Jacques de Molay, last Master of the Templars, expounded upon the importance of the number nine. Nine knights met to form the Templars, and they were recognised as an order nine years later - and lasted 180 years before they were wiped out by the French king, Philip the Fair. Jacques himself was burned at the stake on the ninth day of the ninth month of 1314 (which adds up to 9).
To continue the theme, The Fabric of Sin is the ninth in the Merrily Watkins series, and the launch was happening on the only day they could book the Castle - the 27th September, 2007. 27 is 3 x 3 x 3, or 9 + 9 + 9, in the ninth month, and 2007 adds up to 9.
"And there are 36 people in this room," Rob added, having just counted them.
"We're all doomed," Phil said. "Fortunately, we have Father Richard here to counteract the curse."
"Well, I'll do my best," Father Richard said doubtfully, from his position on the floor where he was making a fuss of Jimmy the Curate (who is a standard poodle, in case this gives the wrong impression).
"The only way to be saved is to eat one of the Templar cakes!" declared Phil, and sponge cakes with white icing and red crosses were duly handed round. He also said that they had thought of calling the book "The Power of Nine", "but that would have been a bit too 'Batman'. The Fabric of Sin is more sophisticated."
And with that, the signing began.
I slipped out early, clutching my copy and a very nice calendar showing scenes from the books, and went down to Wool and Willow, to sit in for Joyce so she could go up for a bit.
And later, Rob brought my sword back, well pleased with the day's work. He'd also done a bit of wandering round town to encourage people to go up to the Castle. On the corner by Addyman's, he met me coming one way with Islay and Alfie, and Brian coming the other way with Belle. Having admired the costume, Brian turned to me and said "You should have brought your sword."
Rob and I grinned. "That is my sword," I said.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Thursday at the Castle

I got a phone call from Rob Soldat the other night. "I know you've got a couple - can I borrow a sword?"
He's going to be dressing up as a Knight Templar on Thursday, while Phil Rickman is up at the Castle signing his new book, which involves Garway and the Knights. "Only lurex armour, I'm afraid," he said, not very apologetically (but if he'll fit into my chainmail, he can borrow that as well), "and I've only got a plastic sword - but if I can have a proper steel one, that would be much better."

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Y Gaer Roman Fort

I've known that there was a big Roman fort close to Brecon for years, but I've never actually visited it. My sister thought it might be a nice place to go on their last morning here, before they drove the camper van home.
The Tom Tom didn't help. It took us up to Bwlch before we realised we were going in totally the wrong direction and went back into Brecon.
Now, Y Gaer is marked on all the tourist maps, and has been for years. It's supposed to be one of the attractions of the area. So I was surprised to find that there was no leaflet about it in the Tourist Information Centre. The girl behind the counter was very helpful, and took a town centre map to draw out our route to Cradoc, after which we were supposed to look for Aberyscir Court.
We set off. We found Cradoc easily, but after that we must have gone up and down every country lane that led out of the village. We passed through Battle, and Aberyscir (without seeing any signboards for Aberyscir Court). We asked a local farmer, who gave us directions - but we still couldn't see anything.
I trained as an archaeologist. I know what a Roman fort should look like.
There were no signposts pointing to the fort.
Eventually we gave up.
I just wonder what the point of publicising the fort as one of the attractions of the area is, when it is then so difficult to find.
Next time we're going to Tretower.

In which I become a restaurant critic

I don't normally eat out in Hay, but this weekend my sister and her husband - and gorgeous two year old son James - came to visit, and we ate out every night.
The first choice was The Three Tuns. I recently ate there with my young man, and greatly enjoyed the food. We had the tagliatelli, and Mark had some sort of Asian meat loaf as a starter which he said was very nice, too.
Not being used to going out with small children in tow, I wasn't sure what the reaction would be, but they welcomed James with open arms. James was extremely well behaved, too (which must have helped). We had the steak, and it was so tender it fell apart on the fork. Peter had the lamb shank; he took a couple of mouthfuls, and said: "This has been cooking slowly all day."
On the following night, we went up to the Wine Vaults. Again, the staff were very welcoming - in fact, there were a couple of other small children in there when we arrived. Peter had the gammon and egg; I had the cottage pie, and I forget what Julie had, but she polished the plate. The Red Dragon beer was very nice, as well.
And finally, we went to Kilverts. The new owners have kept the menu more or less the same, so they're good on pasta and pizza, with an extensive specials board. Peter had pizza and I had lasagne, which meant we had to sit as far away from Julie as possible, as she is now very allergic to cheese. She had the fish cakes, and her plate was piled high. This was where we found out that James doesn't like olives. At each place we asked for an extra plate, and gave him little bits of what we were having. He's got a healthy appitite, when there isn't too much going on around him to distract his attention.
So, three tasty, successful meals - and I didn't have to cook once!

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Famous People

There was a half page piece in the Hereford Times this week about Coop, the jazzman who died recently. He was a member of the Temperance Seven, and when he and Jenny came to Hay, they bred deerhounds.
Marina was telling me that Coop bought a house in London, long before he came to Hay, which had belonged to Thomas Crapper, the toilet man. It was his grand-daughter, or great-neice, or something similar, who was selling, and Coop couldn't quite reach the asking price. The bank he approached for a mortgage would only lend the money if he modernised the property, which he didn't want to do - it was practically unchanged from Thomas Crapper's day. Fortunately for him, the lady took to him, and lowered the price - and he was able to keep it as it was. When he sold the house, the new owners did exactly the same, even to keeping the pink paint in one room that none of them liked - but it was original, or as near to the original as they could manage.

Meanwhile, Phil Rickman's new book about Merrily Watkins is out - she's the lady vicar who is also the diocesan exorcist for Herefordshire. The latest story is set arount the Templar church of Garway and the surrounding area. Garway was originally a round church, based on the Temple in Jerusalem, and when the Templars fell foul of the French King, the Knights Hospitallers (or Knights of St John) took over in Garway. It was one of their brothers who designed the dove cote, which can still be visited, and which has 666 chambers for the doves. Phil Rickman will be at Hay Castle next Thursday, signing his books. It's the first event that Tracy will be organising for Richard Booth. He'll also be signing books at Leominster and Waterstones in Hereford.

Goffee is famous locally - and I mention him because rehearsals for Hay-on-Fire have started. The Mad Morris Men were having their first rehearsal at Kilvert's on Thursday night. This year it's going to be called "Let There be Dragons", and as well as the Mad Morris Men there will be a torchlight parade to the Warren, where there will be "Thirty Foot Flames, Toppling Towers, Fire Trails, a Battle Re-enactment, Merlin, Crash Dragons, Fire Sculptures, and fireworks".

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Stoves and Mussels

The rug man has left his shop now, and the front window has been filled with a wood burning stove from FJ Williams. They run the hardware warehouse just outside town, and they have a stove fair every year. This year it's going to be held in the old rug shop, because they've bought the property, and they want to let out the shop and the flat above.

Meanwhile, the River Wye has been on the regional news on TV. Pearl mussels, which once were common in Welsh rivers, are now teetering on the edge of extinction, so a conservation programme has begun to save them. This involves men in waders holding glass bottomed boxes into the water so they can see the bottom, in order to collect the mussels they find. These are then transferred to a place near Brecon where the mussels will be encouraged to breed - and the new young mussels will be released back into the wild. They said it would take five years, but it was reversing a two hundred year trend.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Autumn - season of...

"mists and mellow fruitfulness"?
Round here, it's season of the potato tractors. I was talking to Anna at Drover Holidays yesterday. Her shop is just on the Blue Boar corner, and they were coming roaring round every few minutes. "Come to the countryside for peace and quiet!" Anna said, in one of the lulls when we could actually hear each other speak. It was like being under the flight path to Heathrow.

Autumn is also the season of fungi. I went down the little path by the Swan Well the other day. This is a spring that once was one of the main sources of water for Hay. The water from the spring runs a few yards into the Loggin Brook - which was once one of the sewage outlets straight into the Wye, and still has a Victorian pipe running down it (now unused) from when they decided to confine the sewage as it passed through the town. It's a lovely little corner now, hidden away behind the almshouses and opening onto the road opposite the church. There's a tree stump there, covered in Dryad's saddle fungi. They look like half a pancake stuck onto the trunk, and some of them are a foot across.

Across the river on the Offa's Dyke path, there's a cairn, and someone has left a teddy dressed as a ballerina propped up against it. She's got a little pink dress and shoes, and silk roses between her ears.

Down in the car park, the shed that houses the plastic recycling is being demolished. It looks as if someone has run into it.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Foot and Mouth, again

I passed by Hay and Brecon Farmers this afternoon, and they have old pieces of carpet soaked in disinfectant across the entrance again, as a precautionary measure. We all remember the last outbreak of foot and mouth - and the sight of pyres of animals being burned. Up on Hay Bluff, rare orchids bloomed for the first time in years because there were no sheep to eat them. Pwll-yr-Wrach nature reserve, just outside Talgarth, was closed because the men who were rounding up bullocks from the next farm stampeded them into the reserve instead. Farmers who had spent years building up herds lost them in a day, and one friend had her horses' bedding used to strew across farm gateways soaked in disinfectant.
Outside the HSBC bank the other day, I overheard a man talking into his mobile phone. "...thank goodness we moved the ewes when we did...."

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Changeover Day at the Limited

Today was the day that Richard Booth handed over the Limited to the new owners - and took all the staff off for a farewell party at the Rhydspence, a very nice pub/restaurant across the river. I'm told that the staff are going to get a welcome party from the new owners next!

I was talking about this with Molly and Brian, as we walked up past the Limited from the Clock Tower. Islay had seen them from across the road, and had to go over to say hello. Molly is now on a stick instead of a crutch after her knee operation, so we were ambling slowly along. As we passed Addyman's, we met Paula, who asked how Molly was getting on - she was working there before her operation.
As Paula went in the shop, Mrs Jones came past and stopped. Brian told her that he'd left something for her on her front step the night before. "I was just arranging it artistically when I thought that it might be dark when you got back, and then you'd trip over it and sue me for everything I haven't got," he said, "so I moved it to the side."
I didn't find out what the thing he'd left was, because JA came by at that moment, and asked me how my book was getting on. It's at an agent's at the moment, about to be read so that they can decide whether they want to represent it or not. She wished me well, and told me she was about to go off on holiday, finishing her trip with a visit to Mary Smith, who used to live on Heol-y-dwr before she moved to Norfolk.
As the group broke up to go their different ways, I went up by the Buttermarket, where a toddler was staggering down the slope towards a lady - he hardly needed to duck as he went right between her legs, before tottering up to an older boy, chuckling even when he fell over, with his parents watching from just outside the Antique Market.
Just an ordinary evening - and why I love living in Hay.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Continental evening - and Bats!

It was a warm evening, and people were spilling out of the pubs onto the pavements all round Hay. You turned a corner, and there was the buzz of conversation in the air, or music from an open window, or someone leaning out of an upstairs window to talk to his friends down in the street below.
And bats - several of them flying up and down Castle Street, and one that had made the pavement opposite the Cinema his own private hunting ground. He (or she) went backwards and forwards, at great speed and with great agility, between the streetlamp and the scaffolding up against one of the houses, not a yard from my head every time, where I stood watching with delight for about five minutes. Bats are wonderfully aerodynamic creatures.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

A Big Breakfast - and not quite a snake!

Cancer Research took over the Buttermarket today for their Big Breakfast ("just follow the scent of frying bacon"). They turned out to be very enterprising - at lunchtime they went round all the shops to see if the staff wanted a bacon roll, and delivered them, and did very well.

Meanwhile, it was the very last day for the rug shop, with the Closing Sale finally coming to an end. It'll be interesting to see what takes its place.

In the afternoon, as the weather got sunnier, I went up Cusop Dingle. There's a lovely waterfall there, just below the Brynmelin Mill, and there on the side of the road was a slow worm! I was able to crouch down right next to it, and it tried to hide under my basket. Slow worms are harmless, and not even true snakes. This one was dark grey with a thin black line along its body and a very wide pink tongue. It was about 9 inches long. Islay went for a paddle in the stream above the waterfall, and when she came back, I scared the slow worm off the road onto the verge - and they can actually crawl quite fast!

Market Day Robin

The couple who run the plant stall under the wall of the castle were feeling a bit low this week - they've been feeding a robin every week with biscuit crumbs (which Islay often tries to hoover up when she goes to visit them) but it hasn't appeared for about six weeks now, and they think something must have happened to it.
While we were standing there, the chap said "Are your feet sticking to the ground?" They were; we worked out that it must be sap from the sycamore that overhangs there. They said they'd been told that the tree would be cut down soon - but since it's Richard Booth's tree, 'soon' could be any time in the next ten years!
Down near the clock tower, a new stall has arrived, making and selling peg loom rugs with unspun wool. It's nice to see someone actually making the thing that's on the stall.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Stitch n Bitch and a New Face at the Castle

Stitch n Bitch met for the first session of the autumn in the Wool and Willow shop this evening.
One of the regulars, Tracy, had some news for us - she's giving up her job with Addyman's Bookshop and becoming Richard Booth's PA.
My first reaction was: "Are you mad?"
Ann Brichto, Tracy's boss, actually told me this first. She was a bit upset about it - but it was pointed out that Richard has a Castle, and that's something that Derek and Ann can't offer! Tracy is really looking forward to it. She has three more days at Addyman's Annexe, a short holiday, and then starts at the Castle on the 24th - and on the 27th, she's responsible for holding a book launch at the Castle for Phil Rickman, whose latest Merrily Watkins book is coming out. Tracy has been lucky enough to get an advance copy, which she's reading avidly now, but she didn't give anything away.
Joyce had news for us too - she and Heather are looking for a new owner for the business. Joyce is on the waiting list for a hip replacement now, and that will mean ten days in hospital followed by at least six weeks not driving, so she won't be able to get to Hay to man the shop; Heather and Myra live even further away than she does, so it's just not practical to keep it on. They're looking for a local buyer, someone they can help out when Joyce gets back on her feet, because she does have a huge amount of knowledge about the wool producers in Wales.
The Wool and Willow shop isn't the only business in Hay about to change hands. The Wine Vaults is for sale, and so is Kilvert's again. The Globe Gallery has just been sold, and Andy Cooke has reportedly bought the Sensible Bookshop - the business, not the building, which is up for sale with the flat above it (once lived in by April Ashley, one of the first people to have a sex change, and once the Queen of Hay). Where this leaves Julie of the Fairtrade committee, I don't know.

And finally, I saw the first potato trailer of the year last night!
There's a big collection depot at Dorstone, and at this time of year tractors towing trailers full of potatoes converge on it from miles around. Quite a few of them come through Hay.
It's not the only agricultural machinery I've seen in Hay recently, either - I've also seen three combine harvesters and a muck spreader in the last week or so.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

And they do all this for free?!

I went to the Council meeting last night, as a bit of moral support for Julie, who is a brand new councillor, and was putting forward the idea of Hay being a Fairtrade Town to the meeting.

I came away with huge respect for the councillors, and the work they do for the town. Gareth, the mayor, is brilliant! He kept the meeting moving briskly on (though it still ran over time because of all the stuff they had to get through), and he has saved the Council Offices for the town! The legal stuff still has to be sorted out, but he has an agreement with the County Council that the Town Council will take over the running costs of the building, pay a peppercorn rent to the County Council, and will be allowed to rent out office space to pay the bills. Gareth already has someone interested in the 'Back Room', a separate building that once was the nerve centre of Hay Festival, until they outgrew it. I remember going in there to buy tickets one year, and saw Stuart taking phone calls with a head set over his long dreadlocks - his friends were calling him D'Argo, after the character in Farscape, and I could see why.

Traffic management was a main topic of discussion, from boy racers and what to do about them to parking spots to the perennial problem of the turning from Broad Street over the bridge, between the Three Tuns and Black Swan Cottage. There's going to be a meeting with the Highways Department where they actually go round town and look at the problem areas.
CCTV cameras were also discussed. It seems I've been tucked up in bed when the real problems start, in the early hours of the morning, so maybe they are a necessary evil, after all. No-one was really enthusiastic about them, but no-one could think of another solution to the problem, either - and the CCTV camera at the Craft Centre cut vandalism almost to nothing when it was put in.

More cheerful topics were the disabled fishing platform, which has been well used, especially since a tree trunk washed up just beside it, which is a perfect seat. New Christmas lights are going to be bought, and Gareth asked the opinion of the four members of the public (including me) who had turned up to watch - combined with the best of the old lights, it's going to look really nice, and they'll have the cellar of the Council Offices to store them in now, as well. And everyone agreed that the Council newsletter had been a great success, which will be repeated before Christmas.

There were letters from members of the public and other official bodies to be read out. Lesley, the brand new clerk, was doing a sterling job - and she went away from the meeting with lots of letters and emails to reply to.
A city in Western Siberia wants to twin with Hay - someone local visited the city. Rob Golesworthy, who seemed very good at spotting what was really important, suggested that the council didn't reject the letter out of hand, because it could have benefits for the town, even though the twinning with Timbuktu was going ahead. The twinning with Le Redu, the book town in Belgium was brought up as a cautionary tale - which seems to have fizzled out. This was one of Richard Booth's bright ideas.
Mr Golesworthy was also very keen for an environmental study to go ahead in the gardens of the houses in Newport Street. There was a gas and coke works there once (and possibly naptha, too) and there has been a cluster of cancer cases which may possibly be linked to the old contamination of the soil.
Twinning (of any sort) was opposed by Nigel Birch, especially since the Timbuktu committee have asked for £200 towards putting on the celebration in October when the Timbuktu delegation come over. Sue, who is a councillor and on the Timbuktu committee, wasn't there at the meeting, so there was no-one to answer any objections, but the council voted to give the money, after they had checked that it was legal to do so (they have to be very careful about keeping within legal guidelines).

There was planning permission to look at for various properties around town, and an anonymous letter complaining that there wasn't enough affordable housing. One of the other letters was from one of the book sellers, complaining at length that he had recieved a parking ticket! There was an email from a visitor to Hay, too, complaining about the dog mess on the riverside path, and the lack of decent benches to sit on ("Ah," said Gareth, "another Council meeting, another discussion about dog mess.") And on the subject of benches, three just disappeared from the Cemetery - it turned out that they had been taken to Brecon because three benches had been vandalised there, without the County Council actually asking, or telling anyone, and we want them back. The County Council are also responsible for cutting the grass - about which there have been complaints - and cutting some hedges around town - ditto - and when are they going to move the pile of sand that's been blocking the railway line path since they put the disabled fishing platform in? The County Councillor wasn't at the meeting either, which was a pity. For the maintainance work that the Town Council is responsible for, they are looking around for a local handyman.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Odd sights in Hay

There was nothing immediately unusual about the man going into the bookshop. He was wearing a rucksack, which is fairly normal round here - but there was a blue tube coming out of the rucksack, with a mouth piece round the front. It was probably for water, but it looked as if he was an alien who needed to breathe their own air occasionally in order to survive on Earth.

Then there was the group of girls walking down Backfold - one of them holding a giant, inflatable penis....
Where were they going? What was it for?

Saturday, 1 September 2007

In Memory of Graham

Graham Lord died very suddenly two years ago. He ran the pet shop in Backfold and was also a taxi driver.
Last night, a small group of his friends got together for a little memorial to him in Backfold.
It was organised by Haydn Pugh, who is good at this sort of thing. Graham's parents were there; the rest of the family couldn't come because of a sudden illness, so Karen Smart said a few words instead. She used to run the Pine Cellar in Backfold. George was there, from Greenway's Books, and Nancy and Ann from Nepal Bazaar, who took over the pet shop as their store room when Graham gave it up to concentrate on taxi driving. The other reason he gave it up was that his dad, who sat in the shop for him, refused to do another winter there - although it was tiny, it was impossible to keep warm. Alen from Backfold Books was there, too - about 15 people in all. And Islay. Islay had to be there - she used to sit outside Graham's shop all day when I was working in the Children's Bookshop going "I'm cute, and you can buy me a biscuit just here." When I moved up to the main Children's Bookshop out of town full time, Graham said he'd sue me for loss of income!
There's a little patch of grass and bushes at the top of Backfold. Richard Booth put his wooden statue of 'man shooting himself in the foot' there (I think it's supposed to represent the Welsh Development Agency). Now a yellow rose bush has been planted there (yellow was Graham's favourite colour) with another bush with yellow flowers to twine through it. Haydn put a brass label on the bush as part of the ceremony, and Graham's mum brought a little container for a bunch of flowers to put by it. Graham's parents seemed quite surprised that he had been so well thought of that so many people turned up to remember him.
We were also remembering Coop, who planted the rose bush, and lived just round the corner. He died only a few days ago - his funeral is on Tuesday, at St Mary's Church, and around 400 people are coming for it. He was a well known jazz musician, one of the Temperance Seven.
There was a very good buffet, with George and Alen keeping their shops open for teas and coffees, some very nice sandwiches - and the cheese twists went down very well. Islay particularly liked the sausage rolls.
The lady from the crystal shop in the Craft Centre was telling me about a standing stone near Crickhowell that she wants to go and find - a bit of a quest, since it's supposed to be somewhere overgrown.
I got talking to Karen, as well, who runs a cat rescue centre that specialises in Persians. She also gets rung up by the RSPCA for re-homing of other rare breeds of cats and dogs. She told me that, when a cat is re-homed, the owners often keep the fur that they brush out, and when they have about two carrier bags full, they send them back to Karen, and she uses it to make felt, blended with wool, which she then makes into slippers for the new owners.
It was a very nice evening - Graham died so suddenly that the funeral was over before some of us realised it, so it was nice to be able to have an occasion to get together like that.