Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Is Hay Ready for Revolution?

This is what the poster asks in the window of Addyman's Annexe. Beside it is another poster which proclaims "Off With His Head", with a picture of Richard Booth's crowned head rolling into the bottom corner of the poster. And there's a display of English Civil War books.
Time for me to be 'diligent against sedition', as it says on the list of Regicides.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Plans for the Church

I met Betty on the Warren this morning, and we walked back with the dogs together. It was a beautiful morning, with wonderful light effects over the town from the low-lying sun - the sort of morning when you wish you could paint in oils to capture it.
I mentioned that I'd taken Islay to church. "It's a shame they don't do more with that building," Betty said.
"Oh, but the Vicar has plans," I told her. I'd heard all this from Jackie over the Fairtrade lunch. One of the reasons she won't be able to do much with Fairtrade next year is that she's helping to fundraise for the church.
"You know the bit behind the pews?" I said. "They want to put a glass partition up, and have it for coffees after the service, and they want toilets put in, and a kitchen, and fire exit - and if they do all that, they'll be able to seat 200 people for concerts and things."
Betty made approving noises. "We need something like that in Hay," she said. "I'm involved in U3A*, and it's really difficult to find anywhere that seats over 100 people. I don't suppose that new Community Centre will ever get built. Sometimes we go to the Swan, which has a lovely dining room - but I don't find them very friendly. Still, it's best to have a foot in two camps, because the Golf Club is always up for sale, and we need to have somewhere in reserve if they ever do shut down."

*this is the University of the 3rd Age, which gives regular lectures and classes, and tends to be very well attended.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Fairtrade Christmas meeting

The Blue Boar was very busy when I arrived - the bar staff were rushed off their feet. I was being treated to lunch, and we were having a committee meeting while we waited for the food to arrive.* The main business was to fill in a form so that Ruth's name could be taken off the bank account and I could be put on. Jo had met Julie earlier in the day so that she could do her bit - and it wasn't too hard to fill in. Jackie had to sign it to say that she knew who I was - and I decided not to muddy the waters with pseudonyms when they asked if I'd been known by any other names over the past three years. I don't think 'Elen Gethin the Spinner' was what they had in mind.

Sadly, Jackie won't be able to do as much for Fairtrade next year - but she is involved in all sorts of other things around Hay, as well as her job, and she and her husband want to do some creative stuff as well, and there just aren't the hours in the day. She's active in Hay Church, and the local Carers, and puts together The Zimbabwean, a weekly paper that is distributed in Zimbabwe, and edited by an exile who currently lives in Southampton. By the wonders of computer, he can get the news stories together there, and then send them up to Jackie to put them in some sort of order - and then it has to be printed in South Africa somewhere and got across the border into Zimbabwe, which is often easier said than done.

Fortunately (or it would just be me and Jo!) Julia has said she'd like to come back to us now that her Fairtrade bag business is up and running, and there are a couple of other people that we're going to approach/armtwist/pressgang in the New Year.

*The sausages in onion gravy were good, and the prawns and salmon looked jolly nice as well - and I'll definitely have the chocolate mousse with ice cream again!

Saturday, 20 December 2008


Islay was very happy when we went round the Thursday market. We stopped as usual at the plant stall so she could get her biscuit and I could have a chat; she said hello to Rob Soldat on the fruit stall and Ben the sheepdog on the stall that sells old garden equipment and other good quality 'junk', and then we went down towards the Clock Tower.
Islay's whole back end started wagging - the Greek man is back, with his olives and feta cheese. He remembered her, too, and gave her a little square or two of his cheese.

*Greek for 'Good!'

Friday, 19 December 2008

Latest from the Brecon and Radnor

Hay isn't really what you might call a crime hotspot, so when something does happen, it's quite a shock.
This week major news on the crime page of the B&R was the assistant manager of Chattels, who helped herself to around £5,000 from the till, and some jewellery. Obviously, she's not the assistant manager there any more, as this actually happened last year, but has only now come to court. She won't be sentenced until the New Year.

The second story that caught my eye is not really connected with Hay, but I used to live up near Erwood, and I used to enjoy visiting the craft centre at the old railway station there. Mr Cunningham, who ran the centre, was taking part in a concert at Talgarth Town Hall when he collapsed and died. He'd been playing the violin, and was turning the pages for the pianist when he died. He really made Erwood Station a wonderful place to visit, and his family have said that they will continue his work, promoting arts and crafts throughout Wales.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Raising the Profile of Hay

News of the Revolution has reached Private Eye, which published a little article last week - for more details look down the links on the side bar for Paul at Oxford House. There'll be another meeting of the Revolutionary Council of Ministers at the Council Chambers on the evening of the 18th December - I can't go, unfortunately; I shall be enjoying myself at the Three Tuns with the rest of the Cinema staff.
And when I bumped into Boz the other day, he said he was going to be the Revolution's Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. "I'm going to get myself a Shetland pony and go around looking for witches," he said. He didn't say what he'd do if he found any!

Meanwhile, other developments are stirring. There was a big meeting in April at the Granary, to discuss the prospects of getting more publicity for Hay and the surrounding area, and now they're ready to move on, with another meeting on 14th January at the Globe, at 10am. It's being organised by a chap with the wonderful name Punch Maughan. He's the Director General of the Brecon Beacons Tourism Group.
He sent me the minutes of their last meeting for this area (they moved on to Llandovery after Hay), and it makes some good points.
The website, they said, is dated and not user-friendly.
Fewer visitors are coming, and this is partly because Richard Booth is no longer so proactive in getting publicity, partly the credit crunch, more people are buying books over the Internet, and the Festival is not in the centre of town any more.
While the Festival is good at raising the profile of Hay, when the visitors are here, it takes a bit of an effort to move out of the Festival site up to the town.

On the plus side, we have a lot to offer besides the books - the Wye Valley Walk, Offa's Dyke Path, Golden Valley nearby, the Black and White Village Trail and the National Park. We have good parking, and visitor-focussed businesses are open all the time.

I won't be able to go to that one, either, but I'll be interested to hear what's said - I'm sure I can find out from Mary!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

And the Winner is...

Ann Brichto was pleased when I saw her yesterday - Addyman's Annexe won the Christmas Window Competition, with an intricate cut-out townscape. "It took us hours to cut it all out," she said.
She did think that Derek's window down at the main shop was better though - he's done Christmas in the Trenches, with real sandbags and barbed wire.
Meanwhile in Rose's window, Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, who arrived last Christmas and have been re-dressed throughout the year, have been swept away and replaced with some penguins.
At The Bookshop, the murder mystery window, complete with headless corpse covered with a bloodstained sheet, has been made more Christmassy by the addition of snow, and several books on How to Survive Christmas, propped up against the corpse.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

First Fairtrade Fair

And if Chris Armstrong has his way, it will be the first of many! He's already booked a weekend during Hay Festival for us to do it all again!
It wasn't an auspicious start, with the day dawning wet and drizzly. Adele from Nepal Bazaar contacted us in a bit of a panic the night before, saying that her husband (who was going to cover for her) was ill and she had to go to a funeral - so could we please mind her stall? The funeral was for Romy, who used to exhibit her paintings in the little shop under Nepal Bazaar which is now Spellbound. She died very suddenly of cancer, on the night of the Nepal Bazaar fashion show, which was in aid of the Macmillan Nurses because of her.
Adele brought along some rather nice gingerbread and chocolate biscuits to say thank you to us.
LoveZimbabwe phoned Chris at about 9.30pm, saying that they could come after all - because the latest consignment of pottery had literally just arrived. She came with another Zimbabwean lady, who was selling jewellery to fund orphans.
And it's a bad weekend for funerals, because we didn't get the Mayor either. Mary Fellowes, the deputy mayor, turned up instead. She said she and Peter had tossed for it, and he'd gone to Dickie Elkington's funeral in Hay church.
The samba band gave her a good introduction - and they were really pretty good, all kids from Gwernyfed School.
"It's like the United Nations in here," Mary said in her speech, looking round at stalls representing Timbuktu, Zimbabwe, Georgia, Indian quiltmakers, Nepal, Zulus with Zimele, Burmese - some lovely scarfs sold by Athene, and Tear Fund covering pretty much everywhere else.
Hay School were there, too, as they have Fairtrade status. The children had been making biscuits, and newspaper bags like the ones from India which Nepal Bazaar were selling. Some of the children spread out on the floor and made some more there and then. Doing it in class seemed to have got them thinking, from the display board, where they were talking about what it must be like to make lots of bags every day, and how bad you'd feel if you didn't make enough and couldn't feed your family.
The mulled apple juice and mince pies went very well, all made with apple juice from Chris Armstrong, topped up with a donation from Maureen Richardson in Brilley.
Jo and Noel brought masses of mistletoe, all from one crabapple tree in their garden, and just about all of it sold. Noel had a wonderful sign up, saying that the mistletoe was local, organic, sustainably grown, didn't contain nuts, wasn't GM... and was grown by the Brilley Druid Co-operative. At the bottom it said "Naturally toxic."
Jo was fresh from first night triumph in the Brilley panto, Babes in the Wood, and slightly worried that the make-up for her moustache hadn't entirely come off! Ann Brichto drew it on for her, as the villain, and Derek was playing the pantomime dame. "There were two hundred people there!" Jo said - and they're doing it all again tonight. One little girl asked her in the interval if she was going to kill the Babes in the Wood - and when she didn't that night, was she going to kill them tomorrow night instead?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Denny Parry's old shop in Castle Street

I popped in to see Marina in the shop she's renting over Christmas - partly so that Islay could see that Jasper the spaniel isn't there any more, and neither is Denny Parry with the dog biscuits.
The shop is up for sale, but it needs an awful lot doing to it. There's no water or sewerage at all, and when I looked up the stairs, I could see ancient wallpaper hanging off the walls. The stairs need a bit of work, too - the bottom three steps used to be under Denny Parry's counter, and then turned to go further up. Now those steps have been taken out completely, and Marina has piled some of her stuff up the remaining visible stairs as display space, so it's more or less impossible to get to the upper floor.
It's never been a big shop, and it's a bit of an odd layout, with the ramp across the middle of the floor, and two boarded up fireplaces hidden in the wall, one for each of the two rooms that it once was. Marina said that, before Denny Parry had it, it was a cycle repair shop, and the partition wall was where the ramp now is. The front part was the shop, and the repairs were done at the back. The back part has a concrete floor, but nobody's looked under the carpet yet to see what's going on at the front.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Visas - or lack of them

Our Brazilian friend, and his local girlfriend, are still in Brazil, as he's been refused a visa to come back to the UK - which just goes to prove that we don't let anyone in. Even getting married hasn't helped them. Apparently, they're considering travelling on to either Amsterdam or Transylvania....

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Re-enactor's Banquet

I've been away this weekend for the Drudion Christmas Banquet, up at the farm just outside Cradley, near Ledbury. It was nice to meet up and chill out for the weekend - and it would have been a lot better if I'd been able to take Islay with me.
She gets on very well with the dogs on the farm (now four of them), and everyone loves her. I once went to bed there, leaving her on the settee with the lads, watching a werewolf movie (honestly, she was really fascinated!) - safe in the knowledge that, when she was ready, they'd quietly let her into my room so she could come to bed with me.
Getting her to the farm would not have been a problem. Stagecoach do a 50p dog ticket, and all the drivers know Islay.
It was getting back on a Sunday that was going to be impossible, since Yeoman's Canyon don't allow dogs to travel any more. For no good reason, since every other bus and train company I've ever travelled on allows dogs. The exception is National Express - but that doesn't matter so much because there is always an alternative to using their buses when I have the dog with me. For the Hereford to Hay route, on a Sunday, there is no alternative. Yeoman's Canyon is it.
So I had to get my neighbour, who is a wonderful person, to pop in over the weekend to feed Islay and take her for walks. If she hadn't been around to do it, I might not have been able to go away for the weekend at all.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Diary of the Revolution

"Day the First: Betook me to a meeting of the Revolutionary Council of Ministers, to speake together of how to overthrow that Wicked Tyrant King Richard, and so end the Sadde Declyne of this Good Town of Hay...."

I went along to the meeting at the Council Chambers last night, thinking that it was going to be a discussion about how to put the eccentricity back into Hay. When I got there, I found that Paul's idea of putting the eccentricity back into Hay was to depose the King!

Most of the people at the meeting have known Richard Booth for years, and some people who couldn't be there had made their opinions known, too. Boz is in favour of stuffing the King, rather than beheading him, and displaying the body in a glass case in the middle of town. Others favoured a bloodless coup, and the establishment of a Commonwealth (though Paul said that there was one thing wrong with the name - the original Commonwealth had come to an end).

All of us there acknowledged that, without Richard, Hay would not be anything like the town it now is - but we also have to face the fact that Richard isn't as young as he was, and has had a brain tumour, and we need new ideas for Hay to evolve, especially in the current difficult economic climate.

Paul was reminded of a time when he worked for Richard, and accompanied him to the US on a business trip. They were having dinner, and Richard had got to that stage of drunken-ness where he was weaving about in his chair. "I'm not bothered about the money," he said, "I just want a hundred booktowns." And he fell forward into his plate of food.
The waitress came over to see if he was alright. "It's okay," Paul said. "Jetlag - been a long day," and the poor girl had to help carry him out.
He's pretty much done that - there are booktowns all over the world now - but the state of the Castle Gardens (still full of mouldering books long after they used to be taken in for the winter) shows that he's starting to lose his grip.

None of us want to do anything that would really hurt or upset Richard (who is away in Egypt at the moment) but at the same time, there is a general feeling that it's time for him to step aside and make way for new blood.
Deifying him was thought to be one option (well, it's a step up from being King) - and we definitely want to organise a statue in his honour, preferably made by a well-known artist with some Welsh connection, and possibly made out of pulped books.

When Richard returns from his sojourn in the Land of the Pharaohs ("Is he looking for his mummy?" Haydn quipped when I saw him the next day), he will find that the Commons have risen against him, on account of his neglect of his once great kingdom. We think that the logical thing for him to do would be to summon all his nobility around him - all those people who bought peerages over the years that Hay has been an independant kingdom.
We also thought that Church and State together would have a better chance of toppling the King, so Anne is going to approach Father Richard, who presently holds the rank of Archbishop, and offer to make him a Cardinal. We should also offer Jimmy the Curate an important post in the new Cabinet. Dogs are going to be very important in the new regime.

We also want to have a new flag for Hay designed, and new currency. And the irony of discussing a revolution in the Council Chambers was not lost on us.

Paul has contacted Private Eye, which has maintained an interest in King Richard over the years, and they seemed quite interested in running the story. Let's face it, we need something lighthearted just now, with all the doom and gloom in the news.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Badgers on the Roads

The closed road just outside Hay is open again - and it was something to do with badgers, but at least it didn't take a month to sort out as Marlene at the pet shop feared.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

They Want a What?!

I'd like to start by offering condolences to Ruth's family. She was a member of the Fairtrade committee, and she died suddenly last week.

Our treasurer phoned up the Co-op Bank, where we have our account, to inform them, as Ruth was a co-signatory of the Fairtrade group's cheques.
"Of course, we'll need to see the death certificate," said the young man at the other end of the phone.

The what?!!
The last thing a grieving family needs at a time like this is the members of a voluntary committee, that the deceased just happened to be a member of, coming round to ask for a copy of the death certificate!

"I couldn't possibly do that," our treasurer said. The young man consulted his supervisor.
Fortunately Julie, who started the whole Fairtrade movement in Hay, was still on the books as a co-signatory even though she had resigned from the group. Eventually the Co-op agreed that Jo and Julie could sign something together saying that Ruth had died. Her name could then be taken off the cheques. Julie's name would also be taken off the cheques, and then the group would need to find a new co-signatory. Which would be me - there pretty much isn't anyone else.

We've got about £300 in the Fairtrade account, not a fortune by any stretch of the imagination - we're hardly going to be laundering drug money, or funding terrorists, or whatever they think we might be doing. We're just a little voluntary organisation - so are the rules that the bank were applying really appropriate? It seems like a disproportionately strict application of the rules to me.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Plastic Bag Campaign

It doesn't seem like a year since this got started, but here we are, and there are the ladies of the plastic bag campaign leafletting the town again to report on progress.
They're pleased with the availability of paper and cotton bags around Hay now, and they're also encouraged by changes nationally. The Welsh Assembly is on the verge of introducing a plastic bag levy, and over 130 towns are trying to become plastic bag free, including Abergavenny and Crickhowell (fairly) locally.
In the Cinema, we now charge 10p for a plastic bag, which is actually what they cost us, and it's surprising how that small charge makes people think. Surprisingly, it has been the older customers who object most - just the people who should be able to remember a time before plastic bags. One man stomped out of the shop saying that we'd all be painting ourselves with woad next! Other people come prepared with their own bags, though, and we've even been given our own bags back to use again!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Something new at Denny Parry's

I was passing Denny Parry's old shop in Castle Street, which is now up for sale, the other day, and I saw some things in the window that seemed vaguely familiar - kind of like the sort of thing Marina had in her shop by the Wheatsheaf. There was a chair, and some linen, and stars made of straw stalks, and a stand with pots of cyclamen displayed on it.
A couple of days later, I saw Marina herself, going into the shop with a tin of paint in one hand.
And now there's a notice up - Marina is opening the shop there over the Christmas season, starting from Wednesday 3rd December.
I hope it's warmer for her than the old shop!