Friday, 30 November 2007

Turning the lights on

Well, it's done - the Christmas lights have been officially turned on, with help from Gareth the Mayor, Ken the Town Cryer, Red Kite Theatre, and the children of Hay School, who sang carols. There were minced pies and mulled wine at one end of the Buttermarket, and a low stage at the other, and the crowd spilled out of the Buttermarket and stood around the railings. A young lad from Hay School did the actual turning on of the lights, the evil Queen of Hay was prevented from smashing the dragon's egg by the Dragon Huggers of Hay, and Ken led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to Gareth!
And the new lights do look rather nice.

On the Buses

I was in Brecon today, where I noticed that a new bus shelter is being built on the Bulwark - almost exactly where the old one was. I wish they'd make up their minds.
We won't be getting on and off the bus at the ivy-covered building opposite the Museum soon. On 10th December, the new bus station opens, just off the crossroads on the hill above Morrisons.

Meanwhile, back in Hay, the red wheelie bins that have appeared to collect plastic and cans are actually there as a result of the Ban Plastic Bags campaign - Hay officially goes plastic bag free today!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Events and bags

Hay Cat Rescue took over the Buttermarket today for their Christmas Fair - tombola, jumble, cat-related items and crafts. Islay was particularly interested in the refreshments table. They were cooking Welsh cakes up at one end, and had sausages and bacon at the other. Fortunately, I had remembered her lead.

Later, I was wandering the wet streets with Islay, who needed another walk, when I came across a lady with a big bag slung over one shoulder. She was stuffing cotton bags, and an explanatory letter, through every door. "Are you a resident?" she asked - and gave me a bag and a letter on the spot so she wouldn't have to do my house when she came to it. The bags have been provided by the Co-op, and they also give a donation to some project in Pondicherry, India.The lady who was delivering them was accompanied by her black lab, Hebe. I told her that I was involved in the Fairtrade group, and she was very pleased to be able to say that the bags were fairtrade, too.

Glasbury Village Hall are playing host to a performance of Gawain and the Green Knight on 15th December. Cat Weatherill, local storyteller and yet another local author, is telling the story, and Rob Soldat is playing the part of the Green Knight. He looks very impressive in make up.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Recycling and a claim to fame

Red wheelie bins have appeared around Hay. They are recycling bins for plastic bottles and drinks tins. I don't know if this is connected to the Winter Festival, but it seems quite a good idea.

Meanwhile, the gift shop and Welsh bookshop in the middle of Brecon is playing host to Derek the Weatherman tomorrow, who will be signing his new book there. "Will his mother be coming with him?" one of the ladies asked.
"I don't know," said the lady behind the counter, "but she came last time."
"I have a friend who used to make bara brith for him to give to his mother," said the lady.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Hay Festival Winter Weekend

Pemberton's, who are sponsoring the Festival, have put a display of Festival Tshirts in their window. I'm quite tempted, but which to choose?
They're all black or grey, with a small quotation across the chest, and there are four to choose from:

In my mind it replaces Christmas - Tony Benn

The Woodstock of the mind - Bill Clinton

Hay-on-Wye? Is that some kind of sandwich?

I don't do research any more. I just ask the audience at Hay.

Not being the sort of person to take notes as I wander round town, I have no memory of who made the last two quotations.

The Festival is over the weekend of 30th November to 2nd December, and includes local authors Jenny Valentine, Chris Hunter, Elizabeth Bryan, Rob Penn and Antony Woodward (I don't know the last three at all - I must look them up - ah, Elizabeth Bryan has written about her family's battle with cancer, and the other two have written a book about the British weather called The Wrong Kind of Snow).
They've also got Michael Wood the archaeologist, Jim Naughtie the broadcaster, Posy Simmonds the cartoonist, and Sue Kinsey who is campaigning against plastic bags - and others.
Should be a good weekend.
The shops will be open late, and the Christmas lights are being turned on as well.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A threat to our clock tower!

It was on an inside page of the B&R this week - a County Councillor, Graham Brown, objected to the amount of money that needs to be spent on essential repairs to the clock towers at Hay and Knighton, and suggested that they should be demolished instead!
Then he asked why the County Council should pay for the upkeep of the clock towers at all. That one was easy to answer - the County Council owns them, so has to be responsible for their upkeep.
Another councillor, Gwyn Gwillim, suggested that they should only repair the clock towers if the local councils agreed to take over the running of them afterwards. This was voted against, and the County Council can't force the local councils to take the responsibility on.
For the moment, it seems, the money has been agreed on, and the clock towers are safe - but it's worrying that this sort of thing can even be suggested. Hay clock tower is such a local landmark that it was used in the opening credits of the Antiques Roadshow. I don't know where Councillor Graham Brown was elected in Powys, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't Hay (I know I didn't vote for him).

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Messages from the past

History isn't always about something big, like the Castle.
Sometimes it's written in pencil on a partition wall....

We had the first snow of the year yesterday. Combined with fog, the slush underfoot made things look pretty miserable. I came up into Lion Street from the clock tower in time to see Richie emerging from the cellar where the council keeps the Christmas lights. He was scratching his head and looking glum. "Don't think we'll get much done today," he said. Jackie was inside, and she called me over to see what they'd found the day before. There's a wooden partition wall just inside the entrance, and there's a message written on it in pencil, faint enough that you wouldn't notice it unless you were looking for it.
It gives a name, and the date he started work in 1940 - and the date he left to join the Navy and serve his country in 1941. Jackie and Richie are going to see Eric Pugh, to see if he knows anything about the man who wrote the message. What Eric doesn't know about Hay isn't worth knowing. It would be nice to find out if the writer of the message ever came back.
As I was about to go, Richie asked "Have you ever been up the clock tower?"
I haven't - but everyone who has ever worked up there has left their name written on the walls, right back over a hundred years, including Jackie, who was very proud to be part of the tradition.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Cheerful window boxes

Today, it's been horrible weather all day - rain in the morning turning to sleet by the evening, and cold.
Yesterday morning, by contrast, was beautiful. A low sun over the hills lit up the thick frost in the fields, and the mist in the Wye Valley made it look as if you were looking at the view through thin gauze.
I came past the house on Oxford Road on the way home, on the corner opposite the Hereford bus stop. You can't miss it - it has a Victorian angel sitting on top of the porch. It also has lots of window boxes, and they've come up with a brilliant idea to brighten them up at this unpromising time of year. Each one now has eight or nine wooden spoons stuck into it, painted bright blue, and with a white flower painted on the bowl of the spoon.

The people at Barfield, up Cusop Dingle, have come up with another idea to make their house stand out from the crowd - they have a life sized bronze crocodile sitting outside!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Changing businesses

Wool and Willow is looking to have a re-vamp soon. Of the original three partners, one now has so many other commitments she can't spend the time necessary for the shop, and Joyce is waiting for a hip operation that would put her out of action completely for at least eight weeks.
They need new blood. So, they are looking for investors to put in around £1,000 each, and hopefully some time in the shop.
The original idea behind the shop was to give a shop window to all the marvellous producers of woollen goods in Wales, who also use Welsh wool. They want to keep that ethos, as far as possible. So far they have three or four people who are seriously interested, and they need up to a maximum of ten to carry the project forward.
So, if there are any 'angels' out there with £1,000 to spare for a worthwhile investment....

Meanwhile, Ticking and Toile opened its doors for the first time yesterday. They have taken over the whole building that used to be the Oriental Rug shop, and will be using the upstairs rooms as workshop and storage space. They've spent a year trading in Brecon, close to the big carpark, and have obviously been successful since they are now expanding. They are also providing local jobs - not just retail, but machinists to make up curtains and cushions, and all sorts of other soft furnishings, too.

And the Mixing Bowl is looking for a new owner, in the road just up from the Wheatsheaf and below Kilvert's.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Children in Need

Pam next door held a coffee morning for Children in Need this morning.
Very nice cakes - she ordered four from a lady that cooks for the WI stall in the market, chocolate, coffee, lemon drizzle and sponge - and a lady from Brecon brought a bara brith with her that she made last night.
Not only was Pam inviting people into her home - she was also running a delivery service! The phone kept ringing with orders for cake from the Post Office, and the Library, and the Red Cross shop.
Pam does this every year - it's the one charity that she really pushes the boat out for.

La Maison are hosting an event too, with 10% off goods bought in the shop and the proceeds being donated to the charity.

Stitch n Bitch evening

A lot of gossip last night!
One of the ladies has just come back from a trekking holiday in Katmandu, walking around the Anapurnas. She brought back a paisley shawl made of yak wool for us to admire - so soft and warm!
She also brought skeins of silk yarn, made from recycled silk saris, in gorgeous rich colours. She'd already knitted up a surprisingly sturdy little shoulder bag from it as a Christmas present. She had found the shop where she bought them two years ago, on her last visit, and this time the owner of the shop took her to his stock room, where he had huge sacks f ull of the silk skeins for her to choose from. The saris come from India to two villages up in the hills where the women tear them into narrow strips and then twist them into the yarn.
When she came home, though, that wasn't the end of her adventures. She was getting up one morning when she heard loud noises outside. At first she thought it was some agricultural vehicle going up the lane by the house. Then she went outside to the yard, and saw what had really happened. A ram had got out of a neighbouring farm, and found his way into her yard. He saw his reflection in the glass door of the barn - and charged it! There was glass everywhere, and a big hole in the door.
"Wow! That's never happened before - I charged my enemy, and he exploded!"
Fortunately, the ram wasn't badly injured - judging by the speed at which he departed, anyway, trailing shards of glass that had got caught in his wool. And the glass won't cost too much to replace either.

Joyce had brought something to show us, too. She told the story a few weeks ago - she had been friendly with an old lady, who she often used to visit, and shortly before the lady died, she gave Joyce a parcel wrapped in a plastic bag and said: "I want you to promise me something. When I die, I want you to burn this."
So Joyce promised, and some time later the lady died.
Joyce felt that she couldn't just throw all that plastic on the fire, so she unwrapped the parcel. Inside the plastic bag was a cloth bag, and inside that a second cloth bag, and inside that, wrapped up in cotton, was a teddy bear. She took one look at his little face, and thought "I can't burn you."
So she wrapped him up again, and spent years feeling guilty that she hadn't carried out the old lady's request.
So now she's brought the problem to us. She unwrapped the parcel, just as she had the first time, and we all looked at the teddy's sweet little face, and agreed that she couldn't possibly throw that on the fire.
"Maybe she's hidden something inside it," Tracy suggested. "Jewellery - or an engagement ring?"
"She never married," Joyce said.
So, we were all agreed that Joyce couldn't burn him, and she felt guilty about having him at home, so the best option, we thought, would be to get him valued, sell him and give the money to charity. He's obviously a very old bear. It was that or make him the mascot of our group, because we all fell in love with him.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Fairtade meeting

We gathered in Shepherd's yesterday, mainly to discuss what we were going to do for Fairtrade Fortnight next February/March.
We'd already decided that we were going to have a market stall on the Thursday markets, and we are going to try to get some reasonably local Fairtrade companies to come along too.
Julie went along to the Granary to give them their prize for filling in our questionnaire - and she had some difficulty in getting anyone to pose for a photo. They were delighted with the prize, though.
One of the things that's worrying Julie is that we haven't been able to get much publicity for the bid for Fairtrade status. So many other interesting things have been happening in Hay recently that our little story has been squeezed out. She said that one town was refused Fairtrade status for this reason - not enough publicity, so they couldn't demonstrate local support.
The next most important thing will be the Council vote on the 3rd December. One of the Fairtrade people from Llandod are coming down to give a presentation to the Council members and, still thinking about the publicity angle, one of the ladies on the committee said "We could have a demo! We could stand under the clock tower chanting 'What do we want? For Hay to be made into a Fairtrade town. When do we want it? As soon as possible!'" This is a lady who looks very respectable, and has just become a granny - and her equally respectable friend said instantly "I've got a couple of placards at home!"
So there we are - not a serious demonstration; just a bit of fun as the councillors arrive for the meeting, which will hopefully get us a bit of publicity in the local papers too.

Monday, 12 November 2007


I saw the first Christmas tree of the year today, in the window of Cotswold Collections. When I started looking around, Christmas stuff has started creeping into other windows around town already, too. There's a snowman in the window of the chemist's, along with a ski-ing duck and a robin. Up at The Olde Curiosity Shoppe, there are wine glasses containing red candles, and other Christmassy goodies.
At Chattels, though, they aren't thinking about Christmas yet. Instead, they have a poster up, offering a £250 reward for information about the "mindless vandals" who smashed their shop window on Friday night.

Meanwhile, on Castle Street, I saw a husky dog, tied to a post while it waited for its owner. It was wearing panniers, so it could carry its own shopping!

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Silent Voices

The shop has been closed for nearly a year now. I've seen people painting the woodwork outside, but the interior has been shrouded in mystery and Venetian blinds - until last night. They had an evening of wine and nibbles to launch the art gallery, and I happened to pass by with the dog at the right time to peer in and marvel at the rather wonderful pictures of leaves, stained glass, and other artwork.
Some time soon, I'll have a more detailed look a round - but initially it looks very impressive.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

At the Swan

"All right, we give up - what's an 'American single'?"
The first arrivals for Stitch n Bitch were standing in the lobby of the Swan, and reading whatever was around - which included the room price list.
"It's a single room with a double bed," said the girl behind the reception desk.
She put the light on for us, so any further comments were forgotten as we got our projects out. One lady had brought a peg loom - but she wasn't happy with the way her experiment was going, and left early.
Partly, this was because we could hardly hear ourselves think! A private party was gathering in the main bar, all older men in smart suits, and the noise level was pretty high. The girl behind the bar told me it was some sort of agricultural society gathering.
It got very quiet when they all went in to dinner.

Sara had been thinking about architecture in Hay. When we wrote the book "...Nobody had Heard of Hay", I found references to No 20 High Town - but now the numbering only goes up to No 19, and nobody seems to know where No 20 was. Sara has been prowling up and down and examining the pointing on the whole row; "It's a wonder I didn't get arrested!" she said. She thinks that there was an extra house in there, and that the present 19 was originally 20. At some time in the past, two narrow houses must have been knocked into one.
I went and did my own prowling up and down later - and though I couldn't see any signs of it on the front of the buildings, there are two back doors for Oscars Restaurant, so she may well be right.

Today I have just been watching a lady trying to park her car - in a space that was shorter than the car. She tried three times, with two different people trying to direct her in - and none of them seemed to realise that there was no way the car would fit, however much she jiggled about.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Backfold and a general round up

It's been a quiet week. All the excitement has died down; the delegation from Timbuktu have gone home, and the shops have been quiet. About the most exciting thing I've seen has been the parsnip harvesting machine up in the big field across the river! Instead of the pickers pulling the parsnips by hand, there's now a long machine that digs them up, moves them up to a following wagon where the pickers are sitting, so they can sort them, and then a conveyor belt takes the acceptable parsnips sideways into big wooden boxes on the back of a trailer being pulled by a tractor along the next row.
Meanwhile, I was in Backfold last night, doing the evening walk with Islay, when I saw something moving near the China Tea Rooms at the end. It was about the size of a chicken - then it took off, and I could see it was a large brown owl!
This morning I was back there, to give Malachi at the Sandwich Cellar my deposit for the Stitch n Bitch Christmas Party. There are going to be around 21 of us, and we're descending on the Black Lion for the evening.
Pat Johnson was in charge of the Wool and Willow shop, and she was busy making felt in the middle of the shop. She said she liked to get people talking to her. Normally, she would do it outside, but it's been damp and drizzly all day.
Meanwhile in the market square, a nice young lady from Trading Standards was going round, checking that stall holders' scales were accurate and so on.