Monday, 31 December 2007


I popped into Spar for a bit of shopping this morning. As I queued up to pay, I realised that the assistant was talking to the customer she was serving in Welsh.
Although Hay is technically in Wales, Welsh is not a language that is heard much here - so it was really nice to hear it spoken.
The assistant said that Welsh is actually her first language (something that's not usual round here).

Happy New Year!

Friday, 28 December 2007

Underhill's Garage Site

Nothing much has been happening on the site of the old garage this year. Just before the Festival, metal barriers went up, and there was a bit of fossicking about with diggers, but no sign yet that they're ready to build new houses there.
On the metal barriers, they did put up pictures of what the houses would look like, together with a website address that I've been unable to find so far. It was slightly worrying to see that one view of the houses showed floor to ceiling picture windows for the bedrooms - part of the design that was objected to when the original planning application went in, because the windows would be facing the river - not only would the light pollution disturb otters and other wildlife on the river, but anyone with a pair of binoculars could go over to the Offa's Dyke path across the river and look straight in.
And so matters stood until just the other day. Little additions have been made to one of the pictures - homeless people sitting on the pavements, and small placards saying things like "Too expensive to buy" and "Hay needs affordable housing". It's been cleverly done, and all to scale with the picture. Whoever did it makes a good point too - house prices are very expensive around here, and local youngsters can usually only find low waged jobs, which makes it just about impossible for them to stay in the area.
It will be interesting to see what the latest planning application is.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Islay and the revenge of the birds

On the morning of Christmas Eve, Islay was out on her morning walk when she caught a collared dove. She killed it instantly, and was so quick about it that it was dead by the time I turned round to see what the scuffling was.
I had two choices: I could sneak home and let her eat the body in the garden, or I could carry on to Spar and do my bits of shopping as I originally planned.
So I went to Spar. While I was in there, Jean Mar came in to find me. "Did you know your dog's got a dead pigeon?" she asked. "You'll have to get her wormed now, you know."
An old chap was at the till before me; not a local - he had a London accent. He went out and came in again as I was being served. "Did you know your dog's eating a pile of feathers?"
He was quite right. By the time I got outside, there was nothing left but a few feathers - and a very smug looking dog.

In the evening, I happened to be passing Marina's when she was seeing off her eldest daughter and the baby. They were spending Christmas Day elsewhere. She invited me in. Brock had been confined to barracks for a few days, with bad arthritis, so he was very pleased to see his girlfriend Islay.
So was the parrot.
I grabbed Islay's collar as the parrot climbed down from her cage and walked across the kitchen floor to inspect Islay. After the incident that morning, neither of us trusted her an inch with anything feathered. Islay didn't know what to make of the parrot's interest in her, and she started backing away. The parrot followed her, and kept following her all the time we were there. Marina said that she used to live in a house with dogs, and had been very friendly with a black and white dog. Islay obviously reminded her of her old friend, apart from the fact that she was making Islay very nervous indeed. Birds weren't supposed to come looking for her; she was supposed to chase them.
Parrot 1, Islay nil.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Boxing Day Hunt

The Golden Valley Hunt traditionally gathers at the Clock Tower in Hay on Boxing Day before they ride out. There were about fifty of them today, with the pack of hounds moving in and out of the crowd that were there to see them off. I always go down with Islay - not because I support hunting, but because I support traditions and I like the spectacle.
The Master of the Hunt gave his usual speech before they set off - this year he made the point that they would be complying with the law - but that they were still campaigning for the law to be changed so that they could legally kill foxes with the hounds again.
Karl Showler came up the hill pushing a wheelbarrow - ready to clear up after the horses and get some good manure for his garden.
I saw Brian and Molly with Belle, who had a new collar and lead for Christmas - a very girly pink, which looked a bit out of place on such a burly dog. Brian said how sad it was that so many people couldn't be here this year - I wasn't sure what he meant at first, but then he mentioned Mrs Showler, and Mrs Lawrence, and Coop up at the Chapel House - all people who have died this year. Most recently, there was a fatal head-on collision just outside Hay, on Saturday. A young man was killed.
I took Islay up the Offa's Dyke path after the hunt set off, about half past eleven, and I could hear the hunting horn and the hounds in the distance. We did a big circuit round, and ended up in the field next to Black Lion Green. Two men and a little boy were there, playing with a remote controlled helicopter, presumably a Christmas present.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Christmas Eve

I saw Tinkerbell in the bank this morning! (I do believe in fairies!) She was wearing sparkly shoes and a sort of green tutu under her coat.
The shops were busy with lots of last minute shoppers (including me - I got a few presents I wasn't expecting, and dashed round for something in return).
And now it's pouring down!

Happy Christmas to Everyone!

Friday, 21 December 2007

Backfold Christmas Party

We took over the restaurant of the Old Black Lion last night. There were seventeen of us there, and even so some people hadn't been able to make it. There was no-one from Bedecked, and Joyce from Wool and Willow pulled out because she didn't fancy the long drive home late at night.
Of course, it was so long since we chose what we wanted to eat that we'd all forgotten, so Malachi had to stand at the end of the table with the list. "Yes, you're a tart - and you were a pancake. There were only two soups...."
This isn't the first time Backfold has had a Christmas party. Back when Mike ran the Sandwich Cellar, we twice managed to all cram into there for a meal - there weren't as many of us then!
I haven't been in the Black Lion for years, though I used to be a regular when John and Joan Collins ran it. When they came to Hay to take the pub/hotel over, it looked more like a transport caff, with formica tables, inside a black and white timbered building. George pointed out an alcove in the restaurant wall, and said that's where the dart board used to be - he'd scored his first ever 180 there in 1969!
The Collins's transformed the interior - Joan had a weakness for buying old prints and pictures, and they put settles in, and sent off specially to Sweden for smokeless candles for the dining tables.
They also transformed the menu there, and made it one of the top food pubs in the country, as well as a very pleasant hotel to stay.
When they retired to Poole, the new people continued with the reputation for good food, and the meal was certainly good last night, with plenty of variety for those who didn't want the traditional turkey dinner.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Window Dressing Competition

Every year the Chamber of Commerce runs a competition for the best Christmas window display in Hay, and the results are now public. The winner this year is Doll's House Fun, with their giant snowman. Second is Rose's, with Bill and Ben the Flowerpot men in the snow, and joint third are The Old Stables and The Great English Outdoors.
There have been some spectacular window displays in previous years - Marina next to the Wheatsheaf used to do elaborate ones involving stuffed animals, for instance - but for me, nothing really stood out this year. Lots of nice displays, but nothing really spectacular.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Japanese students

Something strange is going on in Backfold. A few days ago I saw a young Japanese man sketching in Backfold. I felt a bit sorry for him - he must have been frozen. Later, I saw him again, leaning over the low wall from the Castle, and measuring the roofs of the shops below with a long tape measure. The lady from Bedecked said he was a Japanese student and that this seemed to be some sort of project he was doing - but what can it be for? Is he making a scale model of Backfold - and if so, why?

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Gentleman's Evening

Sigi's, the pretty lingerie and gifts shop by the British Legion, is holding a Gentleman's Evening on the 20th. The idea is that the men can choose gifts for the ladies in their lives, and Sigi's experienced staff will sort out exactly the best thing for them, and gift wrap it. The men get a glass of wine while they're choosing, too.
A few days ago, Sara went in there. Her friend Margaid had dragged her off on a shopping spree, and happened to have a voucher for Sigi's after she had to take a bra back. Sara is not overly vain about her appearance, and hasn't had herself measured for a bra for years - so it was a bit of a shock to find herself in a cubicle with the assistant showing her how best to put the bras on. "I looked down, and I had cleavage!" she said. "That doesn't normally happen!" She's so pleased with her new bra, and how good it makes her look, that she's looking for occasions to wear it now - and probably a new outfit to go with it!

Friday, 14 December 2007

Some local history

I was walking Islay when I got talking to a local chap. He'd seen us over on the Offa's Dyke path, in the woods there that he called Oliver's Wood, and he'd seen us around town as well. He told me that there are more otters using that part of the river now.
He asked me how long I'd lived in Hay, and when I said 15 years, he told me his family had lived in this area for 300 years. His grandfather, Thomas James Price, was the local stone mason, and he was born in 1860. When his first wife died, he carved her headstone, which can still be seen in St Mary's graveyard. She died in 1895, or thereabouts.
Some years later, he was persuaded by his son Joe to go to a party at Llanthomas Farm in Llanigon, where he met an 18 year old seamstress from Kent, who worked at the farm. He married her, and they had ten children together, as well as the five he had from his first marriage. The youngest daughter was the mother of the chap who told me all this, and all his aunties and uncles seemed to have lived to ripe old ages. One auntie died in 2006, aged 100.
He said that his grandfather used to carve a little face on his work, to identify it as his, but examples are rare.
I think it's time to go round the churchyard, to see if I can find the gravestone of Mr Price's first wife.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Going out on Tuesday night

I could have gone to two different events in Hay last night.

The one I chose was the talk in the Library - The Myth of the Mabinogion, by Lyn Webster Wilde. She teaches the creative writing course, and several people who have been on the course were there. In fact, most of the audience was female, with the notable exception of Rob Soldat who, as a storyteller, had a professional interest.
As we only had an hour, and the Mabinogion is a fiendishly complicated body of stories, Lyn concentrated on Math, Son of Mathonwy, which turned into the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes, which turned into the story of Blodeuwedd, lady of flowers - which is where she stopped. The Welsh myths are like that - a whole nest of interlinked stories that go off at tangents to each other. The discussion afterwards covered comparative mythology, and we considered the problem of Math's footwarmer, a young lady who had to hold his feet whenever he was not at war - what was going on there?
After the talk, I went down to the Crown with Alen and Rob and another lady from the creative writing course, to carry on the discussion. Alen was a complete novice in the field of Welsh myth, and wanted to know more - like what happened to Blodeuwedd? (The poor girl got turned into an owl at the end, after plotting to kill her husband and run off with her lover). Rob knows a lot about Welsh history, and told us about the Princess that the Mabinogion was probably written down for, after spending many centuries as oral legends. She was Gwenllian, whose father was imprisoned at Chester by the Normans, and who kept himself sane by telling himself the stories. Her son was the Lord Rhys, who began the first organised, regular Eistedfodds at Cardigan Castle - so an interest in literature ran in the family.
Lyn told us about the various versions of the legends that are available in print now, and said that her favourite was the Victorian one by Lady Charlotte Guest (though it does gloss over some of the sexy bits). It turns out that Revel Guest (sp?) is a direct descendant of Lady Charlotte, and she now lives in Clyro and helps to organise the Hay Festival!

Later, I took Islay out for her evening walk, and passed Kilvert's. It was packed out for open mic night, and someone was singing as I walked past.

Fairtrade - we're in the B and R!

It may be on an inside page, and I've been trimmed off the edge of the picture, but the Fairtrade 'demo' is in the B&R this week, together with a very good piece about Fairtrade and the campaign to make Hay a Fairtrade town. Powys has just become a Fairtrade county - and only three more towns are needed to make Wales a Fairtrade country!

Also in the B&R this week - XtremeOrganics came in the top three finalists for Radio 4's Food and Farming Awards, in the Best Take-Away category. Most of the organic meat for the takeaway comes from the owner's own farm in Llanigon - from farm to fork with no middlemen (and jolly nice curries).

Monday, 10 December 2007

On the Buses

The new bus station in Brecon - the Interchange - opened today, though they were still putting the finishing touches to the paintwork. On the way in, the bus took us into town and dropped us off at the ivy covered building opposite the Museum, but on the way back, I walked up to the bus station. It wasn't as far out of town as I thought it might be, but I have heard some grumbles from ladies who used to go in the Salad Bowl for a cup of tea before they caught the bus home. The cafe is just by where the old bus stop used to be, and they could sit in there and watch for the bus coming. They won't be able to do that any more.

Last week I was going the other way, into Hereford. On the way, we passed a sheepdog loose on the road, looking very worried and as if it might dart under the wheels. A little way further on, we met the other 39 coming the other way. Our driver stopped to warn him about the dog. I don't think that would happen in many places.

Sunday, 9 December 2007


The weather's been bad all week, but the worst (and most exciting) day was Thursday, when the river rose by at least 10 feet in the night, and broke its banks in places.
When I went out with Islay, I stopped on the bridge to look. Nearest to me, the canoe landing stage was completely under water, and the water had covered part of the path as well.
In the distance, there is usually a field that the river does a little detour around. Not that day - it went straight on through, and there was a little island where the field usually is. A little island with a flock of sheep on it. There was already one fire engine there when I was watching, and others turned up later - you could hear the sirens all through Hay. There may even have been helicopters involved - there were certainly a lot of them around along the river valley. At any rate, the sheep were saved.
The fire engines had also been pumping water out around the low lying areas of town.
I took Islay up the Wyecliff, where there's a good view of the Warren. The beach there, and the weir, had completely disappeared, and the water was up over the path in places. I should think the people who live in the house opposite the Warren were a bit worried as well. Last year, new flood defences were put in - this being a huge wall of boulders to keep the bank in place. The water was lapping right up to the top of it, and round the landward side of the house, the drive was covered by a small pond that Islay decided she didn't want to wade through. Large areas of the field were puddle, as well - not from the river this time, but from the stream cum drainage ditch that normally forms a little waterfall when it reaches the Wye, and now met it at the same level and was backing up.
The water has gone down a bit now, but it's still high - and it's still raining.

Fairtrade 'Demo'

I've been somewhat busy with 'Real Life' in the last week, but that doesn't mean that nothing was happening in Hay.
On the contrary, in fact.
Monday evening was foul - cold, raining, windy, and it was the evening of the Council meeting, so all the Fairtrade supporters turned out to huddle under the clock tower with our placards. It was actually a very good natured affair, and after a while Gareth came out to talk to us, and he invited us all up to the Council chamber to have our photo taken. He said that, obviously, he couldn't speak for the other councillors, but he was in favour, and had hopes of turning Hay into an eco-town. Most people stayed for the meeting. Someone from the Fairtrade group at Llandrindod Wells had come down to give a presentation to the Council, and Fairtrade tea and coffee was provided. I met Nigel Birch on his way up as I was on the way down, and he grumbled about having to drink the coffee.
I saw Elen at Backfold Books the next day, and she said it had all been very interesting. She'd never been to a council meeting before. The councillors voted in favour of Fairtrade status, though - and the day after that I got an email saying that all of Powys has just been declared a Fairtrade county. When all the counties are Fairtrade, Wales will be one of the first Fairtrade countries!

Sunday, 2 December 2007

School Christmas Fair and the Cheese Market

The Winter Festival isn't the only thing that's been happening this weekend. It was also time for the Hay School Christmas fair.
Mary tells me that they haven't counted up the small change yet, and the total raised for the school is already over £2,500! A lot of that came from a draw, and the rest on the day, from all the usual things that go on at school fairs.
They plan to use the money towards an environmentally friendly adventure playground, which is supposed to help children to develop their problem solving skills, as they work out how to move from one area to the next. Mary thinks that it will be the first one built in Powys.

She also told me that the Cheese Market is coming on the market. That's the building next to the Buttermarket. Originally, the town council met in the upstairs room, and the market stores the tables and so forth under the arches. It's needed extensive repairs for years, and the council can't afford to do it. Apparently, the Warren Club had a look at it to see if there was anything they could do - they renovated the Buttermarket some years ago. However, it's a very difficult building to find a use for, even without thinking of the amount of money it would cost to renovate it. Hopefully, someone will come up with a bright idea for it when it goes on the market.

The Three Tuns, meanwhile, is advertising for a second chef.
And the Mixing Bowl has changed hands so seamlessly that I never noticed.

More Winter Festival

I met Jane, dog walking, on Saturday evening. She told me that Ruth and the acapella choir had performed at the Buttermarket earlier in the day. This is the same choir that sang for the Timbuktu delegation at the twinning ceremony.
Later that evening, I passed the Buttermarket when people were clearing up after the Handmade in Hay show.
One of them was dressed as a reindeer. I have no idea why.
This is one of the things I like about Hay - a person can go about dressed as a reindeer if he wants, and nobody will bat an eye.
This morning, Gordon and his associates were busy moving into the Buttermarket for a Book Sale day.
None of them were dressed as reindeer.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Winter Festival and creative ideas

The car park is full, Handmade in Hay are in the Buttermarket with stalls for Christmas gifts, and people are wandering round town with maps in their hands, looking for the Drill Hall, where some of the talks are taking place. The Community Centre has an entrance canopy (which cunningly disguises what a tatty old building it is), and other events are taking place in the Swan. The weather hasn't been too bad, either.

One of the stalls in the Buttermarket was taken by Jane Meredith of Plant Dyed Wool. As well as making rugs and scarves and things, she runs courses on spinning, weaving, felting and dyeing from her home at Byford - something I'd like to do some time.
Meanwhile, at the Craft Centre, the large unit that used to be used by the woodturners has now re-opened for pottery workshops. They're called Fired, and they teach pottery, pottery painting and enamelling. You can just turn up off the street and paint a pot if you want to. I think it's a great way of encouraging ordinary people to develop skills they might not even know they have. They're having an open day next Saturday, 8th December, and if you take the Wye Local along, with the special voucher in it, you can paint a pot for free.