Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Marina and the parrot

Some time ago, Marina agreed to give a home to a grey parrot whose owners didn't want him. She likes parrots, and has kept them before, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, the parrot didn't settle in his new home. He started to pluck all the feathers out of his breast, and Marina was reluctantly coming to the conclusion that she would have to give the parrot back.
Then the parrot met Marina's friend Jumbo - and fell in love. To the extent of trying to have sex with his hat. Fortunately, Jumbo loves the parrot in return, so now he's going round every day to make a fuss of the parrot, and after a while, the parrot will move in with him. A happy ending for all concerned.

Meanwhile, the B&R did a feature on Hay-on-Fire this week, and they reckon 5,000 people were there, which bodes well for next year.

Monday, 29 October 2007


Celebrations all day on Saturday!
There were the conker championships and Apple Day in the Buttermarket, and at mid-day all the children who have been making dragons all week paraded round town with them. There were Chinese-style dragons, cloth-covered, with the kids underneath carrying them, and there must have been about a dozen of them, with sculpted faces, and some with flapping wings.
Shortly before six, a huge traction engine drew up outside the Wheatsheaf, and the procession formed up behind it, with a samba band in red, gold and black costumes, the cross-dressing morris men, morris dancers with flaming torches, more dragons, including one that had been made as a giant lantern, and lots of kids with lanterns that they had been making in the workshops during the week. There were crowds up the slopes of the castle watching us go by before they joined on the end of the procession. At various places along the way there were placards saying things like "Govt Denys Dragon Cull Plan" and "20% Dragons Now Obese". On the old Castle Mound opposite the Swan, there was a fire juggler. We went right down to Gypsy Castle, to the track that leads to the Warren, where we showed our wristbands or bought tickets at the gate. It was all very well organised, with floodlights at intervals down the lane, and on the Warren itself. The crowds gathered up the slope, with the action taking place on the level ground by the river. At the top of the slope, XOX Organics and another burger van were doing a roaring trade.
The story being told was of Vortigern's Castle (the backdrop to the action, made of wood and the same paper that the lanterns were made of). Vortigern had retreated from the Saxons to his Castle, and was appealing to the good people of Hay to help him defend his strong castle - a bit of pyrotechnics, and a tower of the castle promply fell down. "Good builders of Hay," Vortigern said. "Can I have a word? I specifically asked for a non-crumbling castle."
Soothsayers - the cross-dressing morris men - were called in and after their dance with flaming torches they told Vortigern that he must find a child without a father, and sacrifice him so that his castle would not fall down. They then scattered into the audience, looking for likely children, until Young Merlin appeared, to give his prophesy - he being the child without a father. The kid playing Merlin was brilliant. He's only 12, and he gave his speech with just the right amount of drama, telling that beneath the castle two dragons, one red and one white, were fighting, and one must defeat the other before the castle could stand.
The dragons were two old bangers, decorated with dragon heads and wings, and with flame coming out of every available place - and they had flame throwers. The cars chased each other round the arena, while a static firework display depicted two dragons fighting. When the red dragon was victorious, another display was lit, showing the red dragon of Wales, and then the rockets started going off from behind the castle. It was a very impressive display.
On the way back to town, I stopped to chat to Brian, who was one of the stewards. He was interviewing the kids as they passed: "What did you think of it? Ten out of ten? You can come next year!" He reckoned that three and a half thousand people must have passed him. We saw Ann and the Timbuktu delegation coming back up - Ann with the grin that's been a permanent fixture on her face all week, and the Mayor of Timbuktu in borrowed green wellies under his robes.
Back in town there were crowds outside all the pubs, and people eating fish and chips all along Broad Street, sitting on the wall. Islay liked that bit, when I let her out. I left her in the house because of the bangs and the crowds, but she needed a walk when I got back.
Next year, it's Giants!

Friday, 26 October 2007

"Je suis Matilda de Breos, c'est ma chateau."

The twinning ceremony was held in the Market Square last night, and I dressed up as Matilda de Breos for the occasion. After all, as the builder of Hay Castle (in legend she carried the stones for the castle in her apron) she really should be there to see that everything was done properly. Accordingly, I wore my re-enactment bliaut (a medieval dress with 'angel' sleeves) and over dress, and the full length orange velvet cloak, with a white wimple and veil - so I looked not unlike an orange nun. Carrying a sword. Ann thought it would look cool. I don't normally wear a wimple - that's for respectable ladies like Matilda, and I'm normally a mercenary camp follower - not respectable at all. It does have the advantage of being nice and warm, and the disadvantage of restricting your field of peripheral vision - though not as much as Haydn's vision was restricted, in his full face mask. He was playing the Green Man, and carrying an enormous head made out of papier mache, on a pole.
Richard Booth decided not to attend the ceremony itself. Instead, he hosted a small reception up in the State Rooms of the Castle - with some very nice cakes made by Tracy. There was a little girl up there who was fascinated by my sword.
The delegation were taken down to the front entrance of the castle, where two vintage cars were waiting to take them round the corner to the square, where a marquee had been erected earlier in the day with a stage. I walked down, and ended up being interviewed on camera, along with Ann Brichto, explaining who I was in history and why I was there - and Ann added that the legend is that Timbuktu was founded by a woman, too, so that's one more thing we have in common. I have no idea who the lady with the camera was, but she was there in Cardiff with the coach as well. The BBC were there at the beginning, but left about half way through.
Then the vintage cars arrived, with Rob Soldat in medieval tunic and cloak in attendance, Haydn Pugh as the Green Man, and Dinah Jones in her Welsh costume.
A local choir sang a capella, and some kids from Red Kite Theatre performed one of the songs from Celt, the big show they put on a couple of years ago, with Derek Addyman improbably wearing a Tuareg head dress while waving an Iron Age Celtic sword at the back. There were speeches, with translations, and punctuated by announcements from Ken the Town Cryer. The Mayor of Timbuktu got quite animated and enthusiastic. It was a pity that it was difficult to follow what was going on from outside the tent, but there was a fair sized crowd in the square and up the bank of the castle.
After the document was signed and witnessed, children from Llanigon, Hay and Ffynon Gynedd schools sang the Welsh national anthem, and then older girls from Gwernyfed sang the Mali national anthem. Members of the choir that had sang earlier (all dressed in black with pink ties for the men and pink accessories for the ladies) also performed the Mali national anthem on brass instruments.
The fireworks, at the end, were most impressive - lots of rockets bursting over the Norman tower of the castle, with accompanying African drum music from the group that are running the drumming workshops for Hay-on-Fire.
All in all a successful and enjoyable evening, rounded off with a mini pub crawl in full costume.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How ordinary people can do remarkable things

I'm just back from Cardiff. A coach load of Hay people went down to the Senedd with the Timbuktu delegation. Well, the Malians went by car - you can't really expect the Malian Ambassador to Belgium and the Mayor of Timbuktu to go in a coach with the rest of us! There were a lot of familiar faces on the coach - Father Richard was there, and Mrs Jones and Mrs Pugh from the Tourist information office, and our Community Support Police officer, and a couple representing the Black Mountain Lions, Jenny from Hay Arts, Caroline from Community Support, the Deputy Mayor (Gareth couldn't get away) and Rob Golesworthy from the Council, and lots of others.
It was great fun! Unlike last week, we could see the scenery, and there was even sunshine. We got dropped off at Roald Dahl Place, outside the Millennium Theatre - which is a really impressive building, cased in copper.
I made sure I took photos of the big fountain - my boyfriend is a fan of Torchwood, the Doctor Who spin-off set in Cardiff, and their secret base is supposed to be right under the square.
We were treated to a tour of the Senedd building, which meant that we had the architecture explained to us this time. The great funnel in the middle, which is a really impressive feature, is supposed to represent a huge tree trunk, of the sort that people would gather under to have meetings. It also serves a practical purpose, as it provides natural ventilation and natural light to the Senedd chamber below it. Robert, the guide, told us that as much of the building as possible was built with Welsh materials - lots of slate, of course, and the framework is Welsh steel, with furniture made of Welsh oak. The curved timbers of the roof are Canadian cedar, and they should last for a hundred years - it's a wood that doesn't rot.
We just missed one of us being the half a millionth visitor - which happened yesterday. Not bad for a building that only opened on 1st March 2006. One of the impressive things about the building is that, despite the security at the door, there were loads of people coming and going - three school parties today alone, one of them from Flintshire - and the public gallery overlooking the senedd is often full. It's possible for the public to watch the committee meetings as well. They were also celebrating 100 years of the Caravan Club upstairs.
There were speeches - Rhodri Morgan spoke in English, Welsh and French, and one of the Malians - the Culture officer for Timbuktu - translated (not the Welsh bits). There were cameras everywhere - including the BBC. I'm told we're going to be on the news tonight. The Mayor of Timbuktu gave Rhodri Morgan a book, and introduction to Timbuktu, and the Malians got goody bags from the Senedd.
They went off for private meetings for a while (the important business of the day). Ann went off with them, which meant that Anna had to step in and give an interview on camera. She said she was really nervous, but she looked quite confident. Then there was a group photo on the stairs, followed by lunch at a nearby cafe, in their conference room upstairs. We were entertained by a British couple who are studying Malian music, which delighted the Malians. The girl sang while the chap played the kora. Meanwhile one of the Malians was considering how to find Father Richard a wife.
"I've got a dog," Father Richard said.
"No, a dog is not enough!"
There were more speeches, from the young chap who is acting as interpreter for the Malians - he's a Tuareg and he speaks 12 languages, but he never went to school. One of the things he said was that he asked, when he was a boy, why the Tuareg lived so far apart, and he was told that it gave them room to be themselves, and the people may be far apart, but the hearts are close. He said he hoped that would be the case between Hay and Timbuktu.
Ann said that she found it quite incredible to be there. "I'm just an ordinary bookseller, and last night I had dinner with the Ambassador, which is such an honour for me..." she said. That's what made me think - all the people in the room, the ones from Hay anyway, are quite ordinary people, but we are doing this remarkable thing of making contact with a completely different culture, with a different religion and language, and we are making friendships that will change both communities for the better.
The Malians went off to see the Big Pit after lunch - it's a World Heritage site, like Timbuktu, and a huge part of Welsh history, and then they're having dinner at the River Cafe. We had time to scoot round the gift shop in the Millennium Theatre before we caught the coach home. (There was a yurt in the middle of the concourse - I have no idea why).
When I got back to Hay, it took me about half an hour to walk home. I saw Marijana in the shop in Backfold, and Sue and Malachi at the Sandwich Cellar, and told them all about it. The delegation went round there yesterday, and Sue and Malachi had their picture taken with them. "They all managed to squeeze in here," Malachi said - and the Sandwich Cellar is not large.
Tomorrow they're going to the Health Centre - Sue is providing a vegetarian lunch for them - and the twinning ceremony in the evening, and on Friday they're going round the craft shops. Saturday is Hay-on-Fire, and on Sunday they get a bit of free time before heading to Birmingham for the first leg of their flight home. Meanwhile, the Ambassador is returning to Belgium on Friday.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Another local author

Yet more talent around Hay-on-Wye! Chris Hunter is a bomb disposal expert who's worked in Afghanistan, and has been awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal. He's just written a book called Eight Lives Down, about his experiences. I heard him interviewed on Steve Wright on Radio 2 this afternoon.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Book meme

Cabezalana, a knitting blogger, had this. He said he wasn't tagging anyone, but if anyone wants to do it, be his guest. So, it's book related, and I thought I would:

1. Hardcover or papberback, and why? I get quite a lot of books from the Honesty gardens, the last chance saloon for books before the dump, so I'm quite happy with reading copies of any description. However, when I particularly like a book and want to keep it, its hardcover every time.

2. If I were to own a bookshop, I would call it.... Shuttlecraft SF. Which was the name of the unit in Broad Street Book Centre where my ex-husband and I started a business. For various reasons, it never worked out.

3. My favourite quote from a book (mention the title) Almost too hard to answer, but if I'm pushed, there is a quote from Cranford by Mrs Gaskell that I use quite a bit. "What does it matter what I wear when I'm in Cranford? Everyone knows me. And what does it matter what I wear when I'm in town? Nobody knows me!"

4. The author (alive or deceased) I would love to have lunch with would be.... Madeleine l'Engle, who died recently. I love her children's books, and I recently came across her Crosswicks Journals, which are memoirs, and which I intend to re-read until they fall apart. Everything I've read about her shows her to have been a lovely person, and a Christian in the best possible sense of the word.

5. If I were going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except for the SAS survival guide, it would be.... Well, on Desert Island Discs, you get the Bible (or religious text of your choice) and Shakespeare, which covers most options (and 8 records, of course). I think I'd have to go for Julian of Norwich's Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman, a reminder of happy times I spent in Norwich, and full of lovingkindness in a very medieval way.

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that.... Actually someone already has, but I haven't got round to getting one yet - I need something to put in the kitchen to hold cookery books open at the right page.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of.... Richard Booth's basement.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book it would be (mention the title).... I thought long and hard about this, and came to the conclusion that I'm a natural sidekick. So I'd like to be Helena Justina in the Falco novels by Lindsay Davis, or Evaine MacRory, daughter of Saint Camber, in the Deryni series by Katherine Kurtz. Helena Justina is patrician, intelligent, and goes to bed with Falco, and Evaine is a member of the nobility, a powerful sorceress, and has a husband and children she adores.

9. The most overestimated book of all times is.... There are several books which were hugely popular in their day, but are almost unreadable today - who reads Forever Amber now? I have a suspicion that Dan Brown will go the same way.

10. I hate it when a book.... is badly put together, or has spelling mistakes in it.

So, like Cabezalana, I'm not tagging anyone, but if anyone would like to do this, consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Islay sits for a portrait

Wanders about for it is nearer the mark, followed by a lady with a sketchbook.
I met her in the morning, when she took one look at Islay, stretched out on her side and half asleep, and said: "That dog reminds me of a watercolour of one of the Bronte's dogs." *
Later, she returned. "I've got an odd request," she said. "Can I sketch your dog?"
I was delighted to agree. Islay got a bit bored after a bit and wandered off, but the lady did get some good likenesses.
She was staying at Rest for the Tired with a friend, a writer that I happened to meet outside the previous evening. She had come out for a cigarette, and Islay had made a bee line for some chips that had been dropped on the pavement nearby. While Islay completed Hoovering up operations, I chatted, and discovered that I was talking to Liz Whitaker, who writes childrens' fantasy. She's also involved in Cardigan Castle, so was quite interested when I mentioned the re-enactment group I belong to - when they want a show put on next year, she said she'd put Drudion's name forward.
Meanwhile, a lady with an Afghan hound came into the shop, looking for me. This was someone I'd got in contact with through Freecycle, and she was delivering a carrier bag full of Afghan fur for me to spin. It is gorgeous, so soft, and a lovely caramel colour, and it was nice to meet one of the donors of the fur, too, an extremely beautiful dog.

The second Timbuktu newsletter arrived on Friday lunchtime, beautifully designed by Anna, and I went round to Pemberton Minor to pick up a sheaf of them and distribute them around town. The Malian delegation are in London at the moment, visiting the House of Commons, and going on the London Eye, and other fun things. I saw Ann Brichto just before she set off to meet them, and she was bouncing. "We're going to be interviewed on Radio 5 Live!" she said, "and the World Service!"

*(The 'e' of Bronte should have an umlaut over it - two dots - but I'm not clever enough to do that).

Friday, 19 October 2007

In which it takes an hour to make a five minute journey

You can't just walk from one place to another in Hay. It's impossible. Sometimes you just have to stop and talk.
So I was going from Backfold to home, on market day. First we had to stop at the plant stall, because Islay always gets a biscuit there, and a bit of feta cheese from the Greek chap on the stall next door.
While I was talking to them, Ann Brichto came by, in imitation of a small whirlwind, and asked me about the Timbuktu newsletter which was just about to come out, and told me a bit about the twinning ceremony next Thursday. "We'd like you to stand on one side of the stage and look interesting," she said. "Rob is coming as a Welsh warrior - I don't know what he's going to look like - probably not dressed in much but a bit of woad! - and Haydn's being the Green Man."
No sooner had she gone, than Sue Newall from the Bear passed by. "You do know about the fireworks next week, don't you?" she asked. "Only, if you want to bring Islay...."
I assured her that Islay would be left safely at home. She's never been the same around fireworks since she panicked during the millennium firwork display, jumped into my arms, attempted to wriggle over my shoulder, and then dragged me all the way home at a gallop. She's not as bad as Brock, who needs to be given tranquilisers, but she's not happy.
Eventually, I managed to get away from the market square, and I went round by the Library. Richie was sitting on the bench there with his new lady, Jackie. "Ah, the very person I wanted to see - what are you wearing on Thursday?"
"I'm going to be Matilda de Breos," I said. Red medieval dress, orange velvet cloak, wimple...."
"Good," he said, "I'm trying to balance the colours across the stage." (He's in charge of the lighting).
He introduced me to Jackie, and as we were talking, Brian came by. By the time we parted, we'd been through atomic tests in the Pacific, the ignorance of young people about the Second World War ("Japan? I thought it was just England and Germany."), Vietnam, Kentucky coal miners, and much more.
I looked at the clock when I got through the front door. It was just over an hour since I left Backfold.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Knitting a Madonna bra - and plastic bags

This week it is both National Knitting Week and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to mark this, Bedecked in Backfold has thought up a novel fund raising idea. For 50p visitors to the shop can have a go at French knitting, and the lengths of knitted tubing produced will be made into one of those conical bras that Madonna made famous in her stage acts.

Meanwhile, the bid to ban plastic bags continues. They have a launch date at the beginning of December, for the Hay Festival Winter Weekend, and the idea is that retailers around town pledge not to buy any more plastic bags, and to use up the ones they already have in stock. Biodegradable bags made out of corn starch will be available through the Wholefood shop, to be sold on at 5p each, and a Hay-on-Wye Fairtrade cotton bag is being launched on the same weekend. Some shops are also using paper bags. The inspiration for this campaign came from the Devon town of Modbury, and there's also been a recent campaign in Presteigne.
Here's a statistic or two for you - between 500 billion and one trillion plastic carrier bags are used annually worldwide. Each one is used for an average of 12 minutes, and takes around 500 years to decay.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Gold Star Communities

Six of us from the Timbuktu twinning initiative went down to Cardiff yesterday, for the launch of the Gold Star Communities project at the Senedd.
"There are lovely views when it's not raining," Ann said, from the back seat. Luke and Anna were there from Drover Holidays, looking very smart, and Peter Lloyd the Deputy Mayor, and Chris Armstrong from Haymakers, Ann Brichto and me.
We got into Cardiff Bay at about half past five, and it was still raining. As we hurried along Mermaid Quay, a man in a reflective jacket gave me an umbrella! It was a publicity thing for the Quay, he said - and very welcome!
At the Senedd Chamber, we had to go through the same sort of security check that they have at airports. Ann was already talking to people she knew in the queue. Inside, the Senedd was still sitting - you could see them from above, through a window around the great wooden mushroom shape that came down from the curving wooden ceiling. Peter the Deputy Mayor was impressed with that - "the amount of steaming they must have done to get all those curves right".
We were pleased to see there were sandwiches and other nibbles, and drinks, provided. Five thirty to seven thirty, with an hour and a half drive either side of it is a bit awkward if you want an evening meal.
There was another reception going on downstairs, for Ty Hafran. Rhodri Morgan said that this was the sort of thing that they hoped that the Senedd building would be doing, the Senedd at it's best.
There are five Gold Star Communities - the first of many, Rhodri Morgan hoped, in his speech (in which he spoke in Welsh as well as English). They are all Welsh communities which have twinned, or formed a partnership with, a place in Sub Saharan Africa. Brecon is twinned with Molo in Kenya, Brynycwm with Yirgachette in Ethiopia, Pontypridd with Mbale in Uganda, Crymych with Hlotse in Lesotho, and us, twinned with Timbuktu in Mali. As well as being a celebration of the links, this was an opportunity to meet other people who were doing similar things to us, and the people who had expertise in turning the ambitions into reality. A chap from Oxfam Wales was there, for instance, and a tiny lady from Zambia who called herself a Welsh-African and has started a charity to help empower Zambian women - she gave the speech after Rhodri Morgan, which got the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
We also have the blessing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as we were told by the last speaker of the evening. "The work you're doing in communities in Wales and Africa on the Millennium Development Goals is marvellous. Keep your passion going, and you will change the world!"
Some of the people there already have - one lady was mentioned in relation to a health project that has already saved 1,800 lives.
Somewhat to Chris Armstrong's surprise, the partnership between Haymakers Gallery and the craftsmen of Mohamed's village just outside Timbuktu is seen as "ground breaking". They've sold most of the Touareg jewellery and leather boxes now, and raised £2,000 for the village - "one f ifth of the school!" Chris is going to send a list of items that went well to Mohamed, so that he can bring more, and the village will continue to benefit. Trade, not aid in action.
Music for the evening was from Love Africa, on drums and other percussion instruments - and they were very good.
"Did you notice?" Ann said, as we were leaving. "All the people there are really nice, and right on."
It was still pouring down when we got outside, and all the way home. Anna kept us amused with stories of eating out in Africa, when she and Luke cycled through the continent - the elaborate menus that looked very impressive, until you asked what they actually had (which was rice, usually), and the places that insisted you paid in advance for the meal, because they then had to nip down to the market to buy the ingredients - and the 'salad' that turned out to be rice and marmalade sandwiches!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

The Mighty Jasper Fforde

That's what the poster said, anyway! I didn't know until last night that Jasper Fforde was a local author. He writes the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series, and he gave a talk in the library last night.
He was a little bit late, and while the audience settled down, Jane the librarian announced: "He's not coming - hands up anyone who's written a book - you'll have to take over!" There were actually two published authors there - Val Tyler was sitting on the table at the back with her husband. "We're in the dress circle," she said ("breaking all sorts of Health and Safety rules - you'll have to sign a disclaimer," said Jane) and Celia Boyd was in the back row.
He was a very entertaining speaker, and gave some very good advice about the publishing business, and how it works. It took him ten years to get an agent interested in The Eyre Affair, and it was his sixth novel, I think he said. He said publishers like it if you mention you've written four or five unpublished novels (and probably unpublishable novels) because it shows stickability, and he said that he had improved enormously from his first novel to the one that got published.
He talked about copyright, too - and how he was advised that he couldn't use Eeyore, because Disney owns the rights.
And he talked about how his plots come to him. He's not one of those authors who outlines carefully and then follows the outline - he has ideas as he's writing that lead him off on strange tangents. Like the Welsh Socialist Republic. He wanted his villain to live in an airship originally, but his editor didn't like the idea very much, so he invented the Welsh Socialist Republic out of thin air, sort of like Poland in the 1970s with choirs and rugby, with the capital at Merthyr Tydfil. Then he dug around a bit in Welsh history and found that it had almost happened in real life!
At the end, there were flapjacks - very tasty ones, too, and Jasper signed a few books and stayed to chat.
He has a website full of interesting and odd things - like Spot the Hamlet, and the Seven Wonders of Swindon, and he's writing his next book at the moment.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Geodomes and farming

Just above Hay, across the river, there's a house in quite a large, tree-filled garden. The people who live there have a business hiring out geodomes, which are quite wonderful space-age constructions, and can be used as marquees and so on. They have their own geodome chicken run in the garden - I have to keep an eye on Islay when we go past on the Wyecliff path, in case one has gone walkabout and she gets a bit too interested.
At the moment, they're in Scotland - the Isle of Muck, to be precise. Apparently a lot of market gardening goes on there, and they're keen to extend the short growing season as much as they can. Polytunnels are difficult to use there, because they also get great storms, but geodomes are more stable, and so the people here have gone up there to build some, and see how they perform. They're hoping for a really good storm while they're there, so they can see the domes in action.

Meanwhile, a minibus full of pickers has arrived to harvest the parsnips in the field just below the geodome place. They've done one strip so far, the full length of the field and about three feet across - and at the present rate it'll take them a month to get across the field to the other side.
In the big field by the riverside, the potato crop has been harvested, and was immediately replaced by winter wheat.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Stitch n Bitch at the Swan, and a walk up Merbach Common

Our first evening at the Swan was very successful, and very enjoyable - they even opened the bar early for us. Eight of us were there, including two new ladies. I'd seen Sara a few days before, and gone to have a cup of tea with her. She told me she'd started to do cross stitch kits, and showed me one she'd just got from the Old Curiosity Shoppe, of a black cat and poppies. She also said she felt the need to get out more in the evenings, rather than just slump in front of the telly. So it was really nice when she turned up, and had a good time, and got a bit done on her embroidery.
Sally came because she'd got talking to Joyce in the Wool and Willow shop, and decided she wanted to knit a Moebius scarf - a loop with a twist in it. I was glad to see her there, because she'd phoned me earlier to arrange a walk with the dogs, and I'd missed her when I phoned back.
Another of the ladies came along with a basket of chutney to sell. She said she'd made 700lbs of jam this year!
Next week, the room off the bar is being used by someone else, but the lady at reception said we were welcome to come again, and use the back bar - and she might even come along and see what we get up to!
"Be careful of this lot," Sara said. "They've got pointy sticks and they're not afraid to use them!"
Joyce was very pleased - we don't have to think about stacking chairs for the Sandwich Cellar at the end, and there's much more room to spread out.

Later, I took Islay out for her evening walk, and ran into Rob Soldat by the church. He told me that he'll be going out at the weekend with the lady from National Geographic, to show her a walk or two, and he thanked me, because she found out about him from this blog. He's also going to give a talk for the National Park, to B&B owners and hoteliers, about the history in the area which would be of interest to tourists.

This morning, Sally picked me up to go for a walk on Merbach Common, just towards Hereford. It was a perfect walking day, nice and mild, and wonderful views over the Wye Valley from the top. We found puffball mushrooms, and harebells, and the dogs had a great time failing to catch pheasants.
On the way back, we passed Arthur's Stone, the ancient tomb just above Dorstone (and far older than Arthur), and we stopped at a local farm to buy eggs. The farmer actually went into the hen house as we watched, and got the eggs fresh, and warm, from under the hens.
Sally is the sort of person who asks when she wants to know things, and takes a genuine interest in people - and she had most of the farmer's life story in about five minutes flat (I can't do that - I have nothing but admiration for the people who can). He was born on a neighbouring farm, and has lived there all his life, and they got the hens mainly so that his wife can use the eggs for her bakery business. She supplies cakes to Longtown Stores, and the WI Market in Hay, and other places.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Meeting in Shepherd's

I was at Shepherd's this morning just after it opened. I met Julie, of the Fairtrade group, on the way up there.
As we got to the counter to order, some of the Creative Writing group came in as well. Lyn asked me how my writing was going on - and said that they're thinking of having an evening class after Christmas, for people who work and can't get to the Library during the day.
Jo, Ruth and Jackie joined us at our table in the corner, and we discussed the progress so far, and what our next moves were going to be. We went round the churches last month (Open Door were very keen), so this month it's local schools. My job this month is to find out about Welsh translation for the Fairtrade Directory we want to put out - hopefully we can lift quite a bit wholesale from the Brecon Directory. We're also hoping that the Co-op can help with the cost of producing the leaflet, as they do support this sort of community project. We'll be going round the local printers asking for quotes.
We also held the Grand Draw for the winner of £20 of Fairtrade products, from the businesses who returned the questionnaires we went round with last month. The winner was The Granary, and we all chipped in to buy the prize from Oxfam.
I scribbled something for the press release as we sat there, which will go with what Julie has written, and will be distributed to the local papers.
Next time, we'll be discussing events for Fairtrade Fortnight next year - Ruth is booking the market stall for us, for two Thursdays running, and the Film Society are putting on the film China Blue, and we're thinking about a music gig with one local and one African band - but we need help with that, from someone like Mel at the Poetry Bookshop, who has done this sort of thing before.
On a related note, there's a meeting tomorrow night at the Drill Hall to talk about alternatives to plastic bags for Hay.

Later this morning, I was interviewed for an article in National Geographic! The lady who rang me up said some very nice things about this blog, and asked me about Hay, and the creative people who live here. She'll be talking to Rob Soldat, and Ken Smith the Town Cryer, too, and the article is due out next May. It takes a long time to get an article into print!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Music and ponies

Quite a few of the horseboxes stayed overnight in the car park. This morning there were ponies being loaded, small dogs (and a standard poodle) running round, and people brewing tea before they set off for home.
Mary told me that she had the B&B full of horsey people, while Black Swan cottage was full of musicians. Mr Babb, the conductor, had persuaded her to put them up for free. The concert, by the Rochford Ensemble, was at the church last night, and celebrated the 150th anniversary of Elgar's birth with music by Vaughan Williams, Delius and, of course, Elgar. The proceeds of the concert were split between the church and Hay School.

A couple have been going round town today asking locals to fill in a questionnaire. They are thinking of buying one of the pubs that are on the market here, and want to do some market research before they commit themselves - which I think is a very good idea. Among other things, they're asking which pubs are most and least favourite. For me, it's the Three Tuns (which is lovely to go in now, and has a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere) and The Wheatsheaf - not because it's a bad pub, but because it's where the younger crowd tend to hang out. I'm more of an oak beams, open fire, good real ale sort of pub goer.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Selling books to the bookshops

There was a big pony show at the Beast Market today - one horse box in the car park had come all the way from Kirkham in Lancashire.

Very slow day in the shop - the only people who came through the door, in the morning at least, either wanted to buy particular fiction books ("I'm looking for The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat....") or wanted to sell books.
We don't sell any fiction at Marijana's, and I'm not the buyer, so I couldn't even look at their books, even when they'd come all the way from Llandudno specially. It really is worthwhile phoning ahead to make sure there will be someone there to look at your books, if you want to sell them, and that you're going to the right shop with them. The first thing I say when someone comes in to Marijana's with a box or a couple of carrier bags is "Are they travel or language books?" and quite often they're not, and they need to go to another shop which might be interested instead. The second thing I say (or often the other way round) is "I'm sorry, but I'm not the buyer - and I'm afraid you can't leave the books here."
When I worked for the Children's Bookshop we did that once or twice, and we just got into a mess with them - books that Judith was considering had to be left in the shop, and other customers would rummage through them and scatter them round the shop if we didn't keep an eye on them, thinking they were for sale. Or Judith would decide that she didn't want to buy them when she saw them, or only wanted to buy two or three out of a box full, and then had to wait for weeks for the owners of the books to return to pick them up - and sometimes they never did. So we didn't allow any more people to leave their books for sale. Sometimes people were just trying to dump their books on us - didn't even want any money for them - but that meant that we were then left with the problem of disposal of unsaleable books (and I'm talking about books without spines or covers or even, occasionally, mouldy books). If Judith was there, she did the deal straight away, and if she wasn't, then she'd lost the chance to buy whatever books the person had brought in, and they had to try elsewhere.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Stitch n Bitch

We've found a new venue! The Swan Hotel have said that they'll let us have the little room at one end of the bar, which has a big table to sit round, and will fit up to 20 people - which is a lot better than the shop. More than half a dozen in there, and we're sitting knee to knee. So next week, we'll be there, in our new spacious surroundings.
We also have a new gentleman in the group, who knits his own jumpers. He said this will give him a bit of impetus to finish off the three different projects he's got half-finished at home. It's nice not to be an all female group - as Joyce said, why shouldn't men knit as well?
Val Tyler is running around the country doing publicity for her books. On Sunday 11th November, though, she doesn't have to go any further than Glasbury Village Hall. She'll be there with Jenny Valentine, another local children's author, to be interviewed by local teenagers. Val wrote The Time Wreccas, and Jenny Valentine wrote Finding Violet Park, about a kid who finds the old lady's ashes and tries to find out more about her life. Jenny has a lot more to do than work on the sequel at the moment, though. She's just taken over the Wholefood shop from Mandy.
Tracy, meanwhile, is enjoying working for the King. She went with him to the U3A lecture on life under Stalin last week, and after the success of the Phil Rickman book signing, she's been approached by someone who wants to launch his poetry book from the Castle. Richard will be involved somehow in the visit to Hay of the Timbuktu delegation, and Tracy will be doing her best to organise him. What she really likes, though, is working in a real castle! She's learning to weave - she showed us a lovely shawl/scarf that she wove from her own handspun alpaca and silk mix - and she'd like to weave a wall hanging for her office in the Castle. We've made her promise to show us her new felt hat, too - which is conical with a twist up it to suggest the unicorn's horn, and has a crenellated brim.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

In vino...Press Release!

A very pleasant evening at Pemberton Minor last night, as the Timbuktu Communications Committee thrashed out the text of a press release for the visit of various Malian dignitaries to Hay for the official signing of the twinning agreement. Michael, who set up the Hay2Timbuktu website, came round to discuss better ways of accessing it for Anna and Luke, who need to get in to change things without necessarily going through Michael. He's also heavily involved with Hay-on-Fire (I saw him helping to put a banner up under Henry VII on the Cheese Market building earlier in the evening). They're selling Tshirts this year to help fund the festivities, as well as having to charge for the finale for the first time ever.
The Malians are going to be busy while they're in the UK - visiting the House of Commons (unless Gordon Brown calls an election, in which case the place closes down until after the election happens), visiting the Welsh Assembly and meeting Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister, and probably getting totally confused by Hay-on-Fire. The Morris Dancers in drag are going to take some explaining.
The Conker Championship happens in the Buttermarket at the same time, which is something else odd for them to be confused by! Haydn isn't involved this year - he said he wanted a bit of time out when I saw him.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Is it a Turner?

The picture valuation at Oxfam last Friday may have turned up something quite exciting. A lady from Herefordshire brought a watercolour in, and the valuer thinks it may be a Turner. It needs further research, but if it is, it may be worth around £25,000! Not bad in return for a £1 donation to Oxfam.

From the B&R - Rats!

They say that you're never more than ten feet from a rat in this country. I thought that probably only applied to cities, until I saw two stories in the B&R over the last couple of weeks.
First it was the nice bungalows down Forest Road - rats were burrowing around their gardens from a broken sewer pipe, and they didn't dare open the back doors in case the rats got into the houses. Now Dwr Cymru are mending the sewer pipe, which will hopefully solve the problem.
This week it's more rats moving into Newport Street, at the other end of town. It took five visits from the pest control man to sort out that infestation, but they seem to have gone now.
Any more stories like that, and we'll be getting a visit from a chap with a German accent, in red and yellow motley, playing a recorder.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Update on Islay

Good news - she stopped throwing up, and after a long sleep she managed to eat about half her breakfast. She's still a bit subdued, but much, much better.

Things I didn't get round to mentioning last week - Oxfam had a picture valuer in on Friday, so that people could bring their paintings in and see if they were worth anything, the the local firemen were raising money with a charity car wash in the main carpark on Saturday.

Coming up on the 27th October will be the Conker Championships in the Buttermarket. This year they're sharing the space with an Apple Day. People can bring their mystery apples along to be identified - there are thousands of varieties out there.