Thursday, 31 January 2008

Second success for Jenny Valentine

They say that the second novel is always the most difficult. Even Kipling had problems; The Light That Failed is probably his least known novel. So when Marina told me that Jenny Valentine was working on her second novel, after all the acclaim for the first, there was some speculation about what it would be about.
"I suppose it'll start where the last one ended," was Marina's opinion at the time.
Well, Broken Soup is out now, and is quite different from Finding Violet Park - and it's already been shortlisted for the Waterstone's Childrens Book award. In fact, I've seen both books mentioned favourably in the comments on the Daily Telegraph website, after the newspaper printed a list of 100 books that children should read. Broken Soup is about a teenage girl's experience of loss when her brother dies, and it looks set to garner as much acclaim as the first novel.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Good friends and neighbours

I've been ill for the past few days, and I couldn't have managed without friends and neighbours rallying round - walking the dog, getting bits of shopping for me, and checking in on me to make sure I was still alive! It's times like this that make me feel very lucky to live in a place like Hay, that has a real community spirit still.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

In Praise of Small Schools

I went for a job at Glasbury School last week. I didn't get it, but I did get to see round a lovely little school that any child should think themselves lucky to attend.
The school buildings themselves are right out on the edge of Glasbury, on a hill with a magnificent view of the Wye valley. Just above the road that runs above the school on the slope is Glasbury Common, where the children are taken out for walks regularly. Just below the school is woodland, with a path leading to a log circle where they can light a fire and toast marshmallows - there were photos on the hall wall. They also do what I would call nature rambles, looking for insects and collecting leaves and so on. The teacher I spoke to said that they try to do as much as possible outdoors. There was a row of wellington boots, neatly pegged together, outside the infants' class, and a notice on the door about the recent trip out with the National Parks.
There's also a little garden, where even the nursery children get to plant seeds and watch them grow.
There are only seven children on the nursery rolls, and not all of them come in every day. For even younger children, there's a playgroup in the hall once a week.
With such a small intake, it means that there are only about 40 children in the school, so they have one mixed-age infants class, and one mixed-age junior class. It's an English medium school, but they encourage Welsh, and work on the walls in the hall was labelled in both Welsh and English. One of the projects was on 'obedience' and 'signs you must obey' designed by the children. A theme running through these was 'No Kicking in the Playground', which must have been on the children's minds when they were doing it.
I actually went to a village school like this for a short time, (apart from the Welsh), in the 1960s. I didn't know that they still existed. I started off in the youngest class, and moved up to the top class with the eleven year olds pretty quickly because I was so forward with my reading. It's quite something to be three books behind an eleven year old when you're six!
The school itself was built in 1816, and was extended and restored extensively in 1991, so it's a nice mix of old and new - and it's a Church in Wales school, which means it's fairly safe from closure. Or at least, I hope so. Thank goodness it's not in Herefordshire, where the Council have just backed down from a plan to close or merge 37 schools after a huge protest from parents, staff, children, and just about everyone else. (Over 1,000 people - about one third of the entire population - turned up for a meeting in Bromyard to oppose the closure of their school).

Friday, 25 January 2008

Red Recycling Bags

I came to the end of a roll of red recycling bags a few weeks ago. We have a very good system in Powys, where rubbish is picked up every week, sorted into three bags. A black sack takes the rubbish, a clear bag with black writing on it takes the paper and textiles for recycling and a clear bag with red writing on it takes the cans and plastics.
So I asked for a new roll of red sacks, on the sticky form provided to stick on the sacks when you put them out.
I got a new roll of clear sacks with black writing.
So the following week I asked again. This time I underlined the word 'red' and added a note to say I had plenty of black sacks, thank you.
I got a roll of clear sacks with black writing.
So I asked again, with 'RED!!' and 'for the third time!' written on the form.
This time I didn't get anything.
So I asked again, this time on scrap paper with marker pen, because they hadn't left another sticky form for me. I was polite, and gave them the benefit of the doubt over the lack of bags the previous week - maybe someone else had picked them up - and again, nothing was left for me.
I was getting really annoyed now, and I happened to be in Hay for the day, so I went round the streets to see if I could catch up with the recycling van. Failing in this, I headed for the Council Offices (thank goodness they're still in Hay - otherwise I would have had to go all the way to Brecon to sort it out).
The lady behind the counter was very apologetic, and said; "I'm afraid there isn't a red bag left in Powys!"
I laughed. "Thank goodness for that!" I said. "I was beginning to think the bin men had a vendetta against me or something."
She explained that the manufacturers of the bags had let them down, and there wouldn't be any new ones for another three or four weeks.
I said it would be nice if they could tell people, or they'd be having more complaints - and the bin men would be blamed when it isn't their fault. They could get a piece printed in the Brecon and Radnor, for instance, "or leaflets, maybe," she said.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Local Amenities under Threat

Friday is the day when the fate of the Wyeside Arts Centre is decided. So far, the online petition to keep it open has over 2,000 signatures on it, and more than 740 people have signed paper petitions to save it. In the Brecon & Radnor Express last week, the centre director, Guy Roderick, said that, over the last five years, Wyeside has managed to promote an average of 60 live performances a year for an average £4,200 a year in subsidy, and over 800 artistic and cultural events a year, with an average of 40,000 visitors a year - which has to be good value for money. The Centre also supports local arts, like shows by Builth Wells Community Arts and Mid Powys Youth Theatre, and exhibitions by Builth Wells Photographic Society. The Assembly Rooms above the original Market Hall were converted into a cinema in 1911, making it one of the oldest cinemas still in use in Wales.
If it closes, the nearest cinemas are in Brecon, or Newtown, both long journeys from Builth.

It's not the only local amenity under threat. This week's B&R has the front page headline "Council Cuts are in the air", with the news that leisure centres, libraries and youth centres are in danger of closure. Hay could lose the swimming pool at the school, and opening hours at Brecon leisure centre have already been cut.

And then there are the local post offices, which have been told to expect visits from officials drawing up a closure list at any time. Local communities wouldn't just lose the ability to buy stamps conveniently - most little post offices are shops as well.

And then there are the local hospitals, like Bronllys, which have been threatened with closure - and Brecon War Memorial Hospital has been threatened with down-grading several times over the last few years. Some cancer treatment has to take place at Cheltenham, which is such a long way away that some patients have refused treatment because they can't face the journey. This was taken up as a campaign for Hereford hospital to be able to offer the same treatment, by the Hereford Times.

And then there are the local schools - the Hereford Times reported last week that 37 small schools are to close across the county, despite strong opposition from parents.

So, arts centres, leisure centres, libraries, youth centres, post offices, hospitals, schools - is there anything left?

Saturday, 19 January 2008

More on the Hole....

... and the plastic recycling hut.

The hole that opened up at the bottom of Chancery Lane was duly labelled "Collapse" in red spray paint by a council employee, and a day or so after that, some men came to dig out the hole to reveal a big pipe that needed to be replaced. That's now been done, and the hole has been filled up again, but the road is still closed - it still needs to have tarmac put down on top.

Down in the car park, the new plastic recycling 'pod' has arrived - gleaming metal rather than the wooden hut that stood there before. So rather harder to vandalise.

Meanwhile, the Catholic church on Belmont has a new approach to their parking problems. There are about three spaces for cars outside St Joseph's, and often they are used by people who don't belong to the church, which means that the people who need to park there have to find somewhere else.
And the answer to this is - Catholic traffic cones! They've got a set of traffic cones which have been painted in black and white stripes, with a little white cross on each one. They almost look like little (headless) priests - hopefully, they'll do the job.

The river is up by 3 metres. There has already been flooding up at Glasbury Common. And it's still raining.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Curry Wars?

Passing the Swan on Wednesday night, I noticed their sign board. They, too, are having a curry night, and they're having it the night before the Wheatsheaf.

Meanwhile, Kilvert's are going for more music and poetry evenings, starting next Tuesday. I saw Tim the Gardener on Offa's Dyke path when he was walking Athene's dogs, and he told me he'd be there with his guitar.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Plastic bottles (and stuff)

Some time ago now, the plastic recycling hut in the main carpark was vandalised, and had to be removed.
Now, Councillor James Gibson-Watt has gone down on bended knee to the County Council, and a new one (better, stronger, faster) will be delivered soon.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Hunting the Haggis and other local pub news

But first, Snowdrop Watch. I saw my first open snowdrop of the year today, at the top of the Wyecliff.

The lady at the hairdresser's seems to have her fingers on the pulse of Hay gossip. I passed the Wine Vaults last night, and there was a big chalk board outside, with the words: "Last weekend ever at the Wine Vaults. Pints all £2". So they're certainly closing as a pub.

Up at Painscastle, the Roast Ox Inn is celebrating Burns' Night by holding a haggis hunt. This shy and elusive creature is rarer than it's Scottish cousin, and prefers Welsh tweed to tartan. The hunt will be on the 26th January, and the hunters will search for clues before enjoying a haggis dinner at the pub. Money raised will go to the County Air Ambulance. They chose this charity because the pub runs outdoor pursuits courses as the British Outdoor Professionals Association, so they may occasionally have to call upon the services of the Air Ambulance. Entry fee is £20, to include food, prizes and a donation to the Air Ambulance.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Wyeside Arts Centre - and Curry

No sooner have I said that there's nowhere to get a sit down curry in Hay than the Wheatsheaf advertises a Curry Night!
They've done it before, in the run up to Christmas, and this one will be on Thursday17th Jan.

Meanwhile, the Wyeside Arts Centre seems to be in deep trouble. It's in Builth Wells, but it's still reasonably local if you want to see a show or a film. Coming up in February, for instance, there's the Pink Floyd tribute band Darkside, a stand up comedy night, Rodney Bewes doing his one man show based on Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat, Theatr Powys doing Little Red Riding Hood, Moishe's Bagel (Eastern European folk), and Buddy Holly and the Cricketers. That's quite a wide variety for a smallish rural venue, and if it was forced to close down, it would be a great loss to Mid Wales.
That seems to be on the cards, though. It's been run on a shoe string for years, and now the Arts Council of Wales is seriously considering cutting funding still further. The decision will be made on 25th January.
Their website is

Friday, 11 January 2008

Where to go for lunch?

Sara and Margaid decided to treat themselves to a lunch out yesterday.
It was harder than they thought it would be.
The Swan and Kilverts are both closed for renovations; the Chinese takeaway was closed at lunchtimes; Margaid doesn't like the Three Tuns, and they didn't fancy the menu at the Wheatsheaf. The Wine Vaults was closed too.
They ended up at the Black Lion, which has a new snack lunch menu. Sara was a bit taken aback by the sun-dried tomato in the bread that came with her soup, and Margaid got white bread with her whitebait when she was expecting brown, but apart from that, they said it was very nice.

Meanwhile, they had a brand new rumour about the Wine Vaults - it may be about to become an Indian restaurant! The lady in the hairdressers said so (so it must be true!).
It would be nice if there was some truth in the rumour - Hay has never really had an outlet for Indian food. The XOX Organic takeaway does some very nice baltis and so on, but it would be nice to get a sit down meal out. The alternative at the moment is to drive to Brecon or Hereford.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Local Roadworks

There's a little alleyway called Chancery Lane that goes up beside the solicitors' office, past the Library and up to Brook Street. Half of it is open to cars, and the other half is pedestrianised.
Yesterday, a huge pothole opened up right at the entrance to the alley way from Broad Street. It's now got barriers round it until the workmen come to mend it, but that means that road traffic can't get in (or out - several houses have parking spaces up there), so they have taken the bollards away from outside the library, and from the top of the alley way at Brook Street. A bit of a pity, that - the bollard had only been cemented in again after someone ran into it just before Christmas, and now it's lying on the grass to one side.

Meanwhile, the main road at Glasbury is being resurfaced. The roadworks run from right at the edge of the village, past the Harp and past the turning for the bridge. The men with the Stop/Go signs have radios as they're too far away to see each other.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Solar first for local hospital

I came across some interesting information when I was fossicking around on the web the other day.
It seems that Bronllys Hospital is the first hospital in the UK to make extensive use of solar panels. They have 485 of them, and they provide 5% of the hospital's energy needs. This may not seem like very much, but they seem to be very pleased with it, and it means that the money that they would have been spending on electricity can now go towards patient care - always a good thing. Other local businesses have seen their solar panels in action and are thinking of fitting their own - or have actually gone and done it - so it must make business sense.

This, of course, is the hospital that the Powers that Be want to close down.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The Bull's Head at Craswell

I happened to buy the Herefordshire Life magazine this month, and there was an article in it about Herefordshire pubs by Matthew Engel. He used to write for the Guardian and he started the Laurie Engel Fund after his young son died of cancer.
In the article, he mentioned that the Bull's Head at Craswell has closed down, which is a great shame. It's a very remote pub, halfway up Hay Bluff, and for a while it had quite a good reputation for food.
I remember visiting it before it changed hands and became a pub restaurant. We'd been out walking, Allen and I, and our friends Huw and his wife and little boy, so we stopped in at the Bull's Head to warm up a bit at the open fire and have a glass of cider - they didn't do food then. There was no bar - you knocked on a little hatch in the wall, and an elderly lady opened it, took your order, and passed it through. She poured the Weston's cider straight from the bottle. We were on our own in the bar, and started a wild game of bar skittles - which was interrupted when twenty pony trekkers suddenly burst through the door, covered in mud. There was no room to carry on - not the way we'd been playing it, anyway - and the pony trekkers were obviously expected, as glasses of cider and plates of cheese and pickle sandwiches started appearing rapidly through the hatch. When we went outside, all the ponies were tied up in a row along the hedge, and it felt like going back in time.
As far as I remember, the pub was run by an old couple who had a handicapped son - Down's syndrome, possibly - and the time came when they could no longer carry on. When the pub went up for sale, 95 acres of hill farm went with it.
That was when it blossomed as a food pub - and the pub side of it was expanded into what had been the living quarters. (There had been an Under Eighteens Bar, with a snooker table in it, just down from the main bar, and the outside toilets were just beyond that).
And now, it seems, it's all boarded up. However, Matthew Engel reports that there are prospective buyers - and they really, really want to run a pub, so maybe the story isn't over yet.

Friday, 4 January 2008


The funeral of the young man who was killed in the road accident was held yesterday, with a reception afterwards at the British Legion. By the time I got back from Brecon, there were people in black all over the road in front of the Legion (smoking) and outside the Wheatsheaf, too. The wake went on all evening.
Early this morning, I was out with Islay, and the road outside the Wheatsheaf and the Legion was covered with cigarette butts. One of the road sweepers had just arrived to clear it all up.
These men are really unsung heroes of Hay - they do a huge amount of work to keep Hay looking tidy.
A pity the same can't be said of the bin men this week.
Last week, I wasn't really expecting the bin lorries to come round, though the ordinary bin lorry did come round at least part of Hay. None of the re-cycling bags were collected.
This week, everyone put their bags out as usual - and they're still sitting there. It would have been nice if the bin men could have told us when they were likely to turn up to collect - at the moment, we're all guessing that they'll arrive tomorrow, but who knows?

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Re-scheduling Stitch n Bitch

Oops! I told a couple of people I met over the holidays that I'd be down at the Swan for the first Stitch and Bitch of the year, this evening. What I hadn't realised was that the Swan is closed for renovations until the 11th January. So, the first meeting of the year will actually be on the 17th January.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008


This time last year, I was doing a lot of moaning about the launderette in Hay.
I went to do my washing today, and I looked round the launderette - all the machines were working, and all seemed to be going well.
Then I opened the door of the dryer, and found that my clothes were just as wet and cold as they had been when I put them in, twenty minutes before.
So, some improvement, but not much, and my washing is now drying in the bathroom on racks.