Thursday, 23 October 2008

Preparing for Hallowe'en

Jackie at Broad Street Book Centre was pleased when I went in there - she'd just sold all the Hallowe'en decorations in the window to the lady from the Crown, to use at their Hallowe'en Fancy Dress party.

Meanwhile, at the butcher's, the builders are laying a new wooden floor directly over the old wooden floor.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Lots to chat about

How did I become this person who can have long conversations with anyone?
I used to be a shy little thing!

Last week, it took me an hour to get from the launderette to home (a five minute walk), and I spent most of my time in the launderette talking, as well.
One of the ladies from Stitch and Bitch came in at about the same time as me. Her house is being renovated, so she's using the launderette while the work is being done. She told me that she'd got so annoyed about the state of the launderette, with machines often breaking down and so on, that she'd got in touch with the owner and demanded a meeting with him.
"Do you know, he wasn't a bit like I imagined - utterly charming, and not defensive at all," she said. "He told me he'd had trouble getting hold of his mother's money, but when he did he had plans to do up the launderette."
(His mother used to own the launderette, and died a little while ago.)
(And call me cynical, but pushing a broom round the floor occasionally would be a step in the right direction).

Then I caught up with the news from Brecon Job Centre, from a chap I met when I was on one of the courses they send the long-term unemployed on. People on these courses tended to polarise into two groups - the youngsters with no skills who didn't really want a job, and the highly intelligent, over-qualified people for whom there were no local jobs available (which makes me sound rather snobbish, since I'm obviously not one of the kids with no skills - but my main point is that this chap certainly isn't). Anyway, he told me that one of the trainers on the course, who had been applying for more jobs than the unemployed people on the courses, had finally escaped, and was now much happier in a new job - and that the Job Centre itself was expecting cuts in staff.
He also told me about an A4e success story. When I was there, a lad with a criminal record was sent on the course from the Job Centre - despite the protests of the trainer, as the course was not set up for people like him. However, he was sent, and he was found a job placement - and he is now thriving. His new employers were impressed enough with him to take him on full-time, and are now talking about sending him to college on day release.

Later, on the way home, I met two ladies who I'd seen in the shop the night before. They stopped to make a fuss of Islay, and things went on from there, the conversation taking in Brother Cadfael books and Shrewsbury and all manner of other topics. They liked the idea of setting up a specialist science bookshop - one of the ladies was a mathemetician - but not with any very serious intent.
At one point, I asked them where they were staying. "The Bridge," they said, "and - this is not a criticism - but you do become surrogate grandmother to the children there, and when you come down in the morning, you're likely to find toys left on the stairs. It's like staying with a family more than a B&B."

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Oh yes he is!" "Oh no he isn't!"

The Brilley panto has started rehearsals. I forgot to ask what they're performing this year, but Jo has landed the part of panto villain - and demonstrated a wonderfully wicked cackle to prove it.
Derek Addyman is going to be the Dame - plenty of scope for over acting there! - and he and Jo are going to be doing the duet from Gigi 'Ah, yes, I remember it well,' with Derek presumably going for the Maurice Chevalier part. Though it would be funny the other way round.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

All Change at Williams' the Butchers

Yesterday was the last day in the shop for Mr Williams. For the next two weeks, the shop will be closed while it's refurbished, and then it re-opens under new management.
So good luck to Mr and Mrs Williams in their well-earned retirement, and good luck to the new people. It's good that there will continue to be two good local butchers in Hay.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Busy in the Swan

Sometimes I feel as if I need to clone myself....
Usually on a Thursday, I finish work at 7pm and walk straight across the road to the Swan to join in the Stitch and Bitch session, which starts around 6pm, so I can get in an hour or so of knitting and chatting - and a much needed drink! It's the start of my 'weekend', after all.
Yesterday evening, I went over with my knitting, as usual. I would have got a drink, but there was a party waiting to go into the restaurant, and they were about three deep at the bar. They go to the Swan bi-monthly for a meal and a speaker, from all over the Wye and Usk area. They've tried other hotels and restuarants, but this one suits them best.
After about half an hour, Jo arrived from the Fairtrade group, and I scurried off to take minutes (as it turned out, 'making elaborate doodles' was nearer the mark). It was the only time enough of us were free to have a meeting, and we were also meeting up with Chris Armstrong from Jump4Timbuktu. They have already booked the Buttermarket for a Christmas Fair for the 13th December, and asked us if we wanted to be involved in organising it as a Fairtrade event.
It was a very pleasant evening, as we discussed the merits of mulled wine (for which we would need a license, so we plumped for mulled apple juice instead), the best ways of making Fairtrade mince pies, and looked through leaflets that Chris had picked up from the recent event at Abergavenny for who we could invite. Tools for Self Reliance was mentioned, and Love Zimbabwe, who were at our Fairtrade Fortnight event in February with some wonderful pottery and craft work. Jump4Timbuktu will be selling Tuareg jewellery and so on, of course.
Chris used to organise the Haymakers/Handmade in Hay Fairs, so he has plenty of experience at this sort of thing. He even offered to supply some of his own apple juice - he has it made at a place near Ledbury, where he's involved in the running of a woodland. His 'day job' is making wooden furniture.
He's also found a lady who sells Fairtrade bags, and will ask her to come along - Julia, who used to be on the Fairtrade committee and also sells Fairtrade bags, had already committed to the Leominster Victorian Christmas Fair on the same day. She may get back to me to borrow a cloak - she's trying to think of a costume that will be practical for unloading and loading the car, and warm. Meanwhile, I am in charge of the Lucky Dip, which went down very well in February.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Regional Transport Plan

Something interesting inserted in the B&R this week - the TraCC Regional Transport Plan. TraCC apparently stands for Trafnidiaeth Canolbarth Cymru, and the area it covers is really quite large - down to Ystradgynlais in the south, Cardigan to Porthmadog along the Welsh coast, and up to Blaenau Ffestiniog in the north, and taking in Welshpool and Newtown and Knighton and Llandrindod Wells. I'm not sure from the map if Hay is included or not - it must be at least on the fringes.
The Welsh Assembly now has powers to plan and improve the transport system in Wales, and they want to improve bus services (hooray!), and rail services, and improve accessibility for tourism, with half an eye on the idea that car use needs to be reduced if possible to reduce carbon emissions. There's a questionnaire included.

I'll be watching with interest - I've been banging on for years about the need for an evening bus service between Brecon and Hereford. The local bus service is fine as far as it goes, but the last bus to Hereford is quarter to five in the afternoon at the moment, which is not helpful when I go off to re-enactments, and it can be difficult for my young man when he comes up from London to see me - the taxi fare from Hereford is about £40.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Husband Creche!

Passing Kilvert's this morning, I noticed a small sign by the entrance. The gist was something like this - for all the women who were tired of their husbands complaining when they went shopping, why not leave them at Kilvert's and shop in peace?

In my experience, though, it's usually the other way round. I hear a lady say "I've lost my husband," roughly once a day at work. They've had enough, and are ready to move on, while hubby is hidden away somewhere deep in the shelves, happily going through the railway books or similar.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

More on street lights

It's certainly got people talking - and it seems that the scheme, of leaving certain street lights in darkness to save money, could still do with some fine tuning. Some of the comments I've heard:

"Why are they lighting the dustbin area at Carlesgate? Who on earth takes their rubbish out at dead of night?"
"There's one stretch where there are four lights off and then three on in a row - why not do them alternately?"
"There's a junction with two lights on it, and they've turned one light off. That's sensible - but if there's enough light to see by from one, why did they put two up in the first place?"

Friday, 10 October 2008

War Memorial

I was walking up through town this morning when I saw Gwen from the British Legion scrubbing at one of the War Memorial's brass plaques. The area around the cenotaph was wet, where she'd already been down on her hands and knees scrubbing the flagstones. "They get moss," she said, as she took a piece of fine sandpaper to the plaque. It was coming up beautifully shiny. "Do you know, I've been here all morning," she said. "Mr John from Oscars came by, and he gave me a gallon of bleach. I've been doing this 40 years. No-one else wants to know. They'll all come for a drink at the Legion, but that's as far as it goes. The Council are supposed to do it," she continued, warming to her theme. "I asked James Gibson-Watt, when he was in charge, and they sent a man with a power hose. Well, he hosed it down and went away again - that's not what's wanted." When she'd finished the plaque on the front of the cenotaph, there were two others on the sides and two more mounted on the wall behind it. "I'm not doing those," she said. "My son's doing them. I'm not supposed to climb ladders. I've got two plastic shoulders and a metal rod up my leg - and I'm waiting to go in for my knee at any time. That's why I'm doing this while I can."
As we were talking, Richard Booth came past. "You should get an OBE for this, Gwen," he said, in greeting.
"Will you send off and get me one, Richard?" she asked.
He actually wanted to talk to her about the rooms at the back of the British Legion, which he's interested in buying. The phrase "military museum" was mentioned, and Gwen is one of the trustees responsible for the sale. "I don't mind as long as you don't want me cleaning in there," she said. "I've done enough of that over the years."

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Street Lights

I'd noticed a couple of stories in the B&R about how Powys Council are shutting off some of the street lighting across the County to save money, but I hadn't really paid much attention. Some residents of an estate in Brecon (I think) had complained that they didn't feel safe at night, but that didn't seem very relevant to Hay.
Until the other night, that is, when I took Islay out for a late night walk. I'd been taking her out at around dusk, but that night it was nearly ten o'clock by the time we set off.
That was when I realised that the street light opposite my house wasn't on (great powers of observation, me!). However, it was light enough to navigate down Broad Street, and really, the Powers that Be seem to have got it broadly right - the places that need to be lit are lit, and only some side alleys are completely dark.
As I came by the Library, I looked up and saw the Plough. Before, when I've wanted to go out and look at the stars, I've gone out to Nantyglasdwr, with the fields around me (but just enough light for me to study the Ladybird book of the Night Sky from the few houses along there). Now I can just go outside and look up.

Monday, 6 October 2008

More from the Transition Towns meeting...

... but nothing to do with Transition Towns.
I did a lot of talking that night, some of it with the man I sat beside to watch the film. He now lives in Clyro, but was involved in the Transition Town movement before he came to live here, in Worcester. His son is now in the Sixth Form at Gwernyfed, and is looking forward to a trip to Timbuktu in the next few months. Apparently, there will be a BBC film crew tagging along as well!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Athene's Pigeon

At the Transition Towns meeting the other night, I got talking to Athene. She'd headed off to Dorstone that afternoon, to take her son to a music class - at least, that was the plan.
There was a white pigeon sitting on the roof of the car, and it wasn't moving.
"Never mind - we'll set off slowly, and it'll lift off and fly away."
They moved off. They looked up through the sun roof. The pigeon was squatting as close to the roof of the car as it could manage with its wings spread, as if it was trying to hold on.
"Oh, this is silly - we'll have to stop."
The pigeon was quite happy for Athene to pick it up - and then it huddled itself on her shoulder. And stayed there all the way to Dorstone (her son drove).
When she got back, she went round to her sister's. "I know you like animals...."
"I've got cats."
"So you wouldn't want...?"
She did provide some grain for the poor bird, though, and when Athene went out for the meeting, the pigeon was eating quite happily, and looked as if it had moved in for good!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Brecon Beacons Food Fest

A day out in Brecon today, for the Food Fest.
We've had a Food Fest in Hay a couple of times, and they were really quite fun, with entertainment as well as amazingly wonderful food, so I was expecting something similar in Brecon.
It was a lot bigger. Stalls filled the Market Hall, and at the far end, when I was there, a chef was demonstrating on stage. The Secretary of State for Wales, Paul Murphy was there, and Kirsty Williams and Roger Williams, our AM and MP, were around somewhere as well, with Derek Brockway the BBC Wales weather man, and the Aberhonddu Male Voice Choir. There was meat, cheese, bread of all sorts, chocolate and fudge, wine and beer and cider, and cakes. Outside on the Struet and up to the end of St Mary's Church on the Bulwark, the stalls continued - poor souls; the weather was awful, but at least they had some shelter. By the church were the arts and crafts, pottery, leather bags, knitted hats and so on.
Then, down the other way was the Green Fair. Here you could find out all about solar panels, thermal fleece for insulation, lime wash and natural paints, wood burning stoves and biodiversity.
It was all very interesting, and it's a pity the weather wasn't better for them.

Friday, 3 October 2008

"It's not the technology - it's the human relationships."

The first meeting held by the new Transition Towns group happened last night in the Parish Hall, with at least 50 people there - some familiar faces, some new, and very few of the Usual Suspects who get involved in everything. Which is probably a good thing, because most of them are rather too busy already.

So, what's a Transition Town, and why should we want to be one?
Basically, it's all about oil. Our present civilisation is based around oil - take oil away, and the whole thing collapses - no petrol - so no travelling, no fertiliser for crops, and so on.
Peak Oil is the idea, based on the work of oil geologists, that there is a finite amount of oil on the planet, and we're about half way through using it. From here on in, oil becomes gradually more and more scarce, while demand keeps going up.
So the Transition is to learn how to live with a minimum of oil, before it all runs out and we have no choice.

The model for this is Cuba, and a film was shown about how they have adapted to their changed circumstances. Their oil supply, from the Soviet Union, was cut off in about 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed and turned into Russia and associated republics. Cuba went through a very difficult time, but they have come through it with great creativity. Anyone who saw Monty Don going round the world's gardens will have seen organic vegetable gardens, almost small farms, in the middle of Havana.
It's not just food, either - there used to be 7 universities in Cuba. Now there are about 50, decentralised, so it's easier for the students to travel to them. And they imported half a million bicycles from China, and got some of the old farmers to train the younger ones in how to use oxen instead of tractors.
And even in this very difficult time, when the average Cuban lost 20lbs in weight because of the food shortages, they still managed to maintain the same life expectancy as the USA, and they also have 11% of all the scientists in Latin America despite having only 3% of the population.

In the question and answer session after the film, someone made the point that Cuba could do all this very quickly partly because they had to, or starve, but also because they are a dictatorship. On the other hand, it's the sort of thing that we in Britain had to do during the Second World War, and we managed it then very successfully.

The first speaker of the evening, though, before the film, was Gareth Ratcliffe, our County Councillor. Recently he's been out with the bin men, learning just what happens to all the stuff we throw away. On the day he went round, the bin men collected 12 tons of rubbish from Hay. 2 tons were recycled, but 10 tons went into landfill - and the County Council had to pay a fine of £200 a ton because of that. Over a year, they pay £250,000 just in fines - our Council Tax just thrown away! Think what we could do with that money!
It was the most shocking fact of the evening for me - I had no idea that this was going on.
Even worse, the landfill site will only last, at the present rate of use, for another 7 years. After that, as Gareth said, what do we do? Start shipping our waste to China? Because that's one of the alternatives, and why should we dump our rubbish on someone else?
There is a bright side to this though - Gareth also went out around Newport and Welshpool, where they are collecting food waste separately in the rubbish collections to fuel a bio-digester. It's a win-win situation - the food waste doesn't go in landfill, and is used to make electricity.
So there are things that can be done.

Presteigne has been doing things for a year now, and one of their organisers, Richard Pitt, had come down to talk to us. At their big launch meeting, last March, they got 90 people, including 7 local farmers. They've been doing carbon audits to help local people reduce their energy use, and worked out what the carbon footprint is for the whole community - and how much land they need to be self-sufficient.
They're starting car sharing and a hitching scheme - the cars taking part will have a token in the window, and the hitchers will hold the same token to show they're genuine locals who want a lift.
They've started an oral history project, getting older people to share their knowledge of how things used to be done in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Out of that they're starting storytelling sessions.
They're also looking into a community agriculture scheme and a community orchard, and getting people with gardens who haven't got the time or ability to look after them together with the people who have the time and ability and want a garden. They're about to launch a Seed Swap scheme - someone mentioned that vegetable seeds outsold flower seeds for the first time ever last year, so people generally are thinking more about growing their own food.
He was very keen to stress that they haven't been doing this all on their own. Where there were groups already doing this sort of thing, it would have been pointless to re-invent the wheel, or set up a rival group. What they have been doing there is finding out what people are doing already, and putting them in touch with one another - they're not in the business of telling people what they can and can't do.

Back to Gareth, who said that the Local Council, County Council and National Park - and possibly the Welsh Assembly too - are already interested and supportive, and seven out of the thirteen major towns in Powys have either already started a scheme or are interested in doing so.

In the question and answer session, Gareth mentioned that the farmer in Talgarth who applied to build a bio-digester has been given permission this week, and there was a brief discussion about the technology, for those of us who know about bio-digesters only from listening to the Archers.
A farmer in Presteigne has one up and running - someone in the audience said they'd be interested in visiting one - and he also makes bio-diesel which is sold at the garage in Bishop's Castle.

To finish up, Gareth reminded us all of the recycling bins in the car park. All the money made from those comes back to the local community in the form of grants for good local causes, so we're already benefitting there.

Athene English put in a plug for the new Friends of the Earth group, too, who are also interested in things like carbon audits, seed swaps, and litter. Their next meeting will be on October 30th, 7.30pm, at Kilverts.

And the evening concluded with some very nice soup and fresh apple juice.

(The quotation in the title, by the way, was a quotation from the film The Power of Community).