Saturday, 31 January 2009

Plans for the Limited

I met the lady from Fleur de Lys going down to the bank yesterday.
"Are you on the Internet?" she asked. "Well, go and look at the Brecon Beacons site and see what they're going to do to the Limited. They want to make my shop into toilets! I was that upset! I mean, fancy finding out like that - they could have come round and mentioned it to me."
She rents her shop from the Limited, and came over to the new owners from Richard and Hope (who also never told her what was going on).
So I went and looked at the planning applications, and it was really quite interesting.
The property list for Broad Street is well out of date, though. June's Wool Shop hasn't been there for years, and neither has Brennan's Books.
The application for the Limited had some information on it that I hadn't known before. When the shop was built, in 1886, there were no windows in the front - there were wrought iron gates across instead. Williams and Sons displayed agricultural machinery there (that bit I did know) which is why the front of the shop is built as a ramp, to get them in and out. The windows came later. The plan is to replace the windows with double glazing, to look as much like the present facade as possible, which seems reasonable. They also want to put a passenger lift in, for disabled customers, and toilets, and some sort of skylights in the roof.
They put the application in in November, but it hasn't been passed yet - perhaps that's why they haven't told anyone so far.

Friday, 30 January 2009

What are we paying for our rubbish?

Last year, at the first Transition Towns meeting, Gareth Ratcliffe talked about the day he'd spent on the bin lorries, finding out what happens to our waste. He said then that Powys Council pays a fine of £200 a tonne for all the waste that is not recycled - and I asked why nobody knew about this.
Well, now the Council have laid it all out in black and white in their little magazine Red Kite.
The good news is that we currently recycle 41% of our rubbish.
The bad news is that, if we carry on at our present levels, we will have to pay something in the region of £30 million in fines over the next ten years.
The targets for recycling, set by the Welsh Assembly, are rising - to 52% by 2012/3, and to 70% by 2024/5 - and Gareth said himself that, at the current rate, the landfill site at Llanidloes will only last another 7 years, and where do we put it all then?
One of the improvements the Council plans is to collect glass at the kerbside, too - and food waste (all my food waste goes on the compost heap - but that's not possible for everybody).

Think what we could do with £30 million, if it's not wasted in paying fines.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Theft from St Mary's

The good news is that the church is going to keep the doors open for anyone to come in to pray, light a candle, or just look around. It would have been so easy after this to lock the doors.
The brass incense boat with spoon and brass sacring bells, which are rung at the moment of Communion when the bread and wine are elevated over the altar, were both in the altar sanctuary. They were discovered to be missing when Fr Richard went in for Evensong.
I could understand someone stealing candlesticks, but these items could only be used for a communion service in a High Anglican or Roman Catholic church - they can't exactly be easy to sell on, if that's what the thief wants to do.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Local Firm in Trouble

"Hey, have you heard about Likes?"
"They've gone bust!"
Likes Garage was a well established business when I first came to Hay, on the site that is now occupied by De Breos Court's new houses. Like's landrover business moved out to Three Cocks. I discovered from the B&R this week that they also had a Renault dealership at Tredegar, which has already closed with the loss of 19 jobs. They also own an off-road driving centre called JV Like Off Road Experiences. The administrators were called in on Monday and they're trying, with the co-operation of Land Rover, to keep the business going.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Digital Survey

I was just about to sit down to my lunch when there was a knock on the door. It was a lady with a woolly hat and a chunky laptop, and she was doing a survey on behalf of Offcom, to find out how much people know about the switchover to digital TV.
I have to say I haven't taken a lot of notice. I can't afford to upgrade my TV, I don't watch a lot of TV anyway, and I have no interest in getting new Freeview channels. So when my telly dies, I'll just watch videos and save the TV license.
Still, it was quite interesting to find out a bit more about it - and just how much had passed me by. I didn't recognise the little robotic creature, or the logo - though I had heard of Channel Dave.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Police cars and ambulances

It's been a busy afternoon for the emergency services - I saw three ambulances shooting through Hay, one after the other, all the lights flashing and sirens blaring. Since I only found out the other week that there are five ambulances for the whole of the county, that's an awful lot of ambulances going to one incident, so it must have been serious.
And while one of the ambulances was passing, I was serving a customer, who said that he'd just been up on Hay Bluff - and there were something like ten police vans up there, and a digger, so goodness knows what's going on up there!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Swan Cottages

I was chatting to Elizabeth the other day, when she said, almost out of the blue: "Of course, it's still within living memory that a donkey was kept in the back garden of my cottage. It had to come in and out through the house, because there's no way round the back."
Jessica, who used to work at the garage, told her some of the history of the cottage, because she used to stay there as a child with her grandparents. Her parents lived on an outlying farm, and it was easier for her to get to school if she stayed in the village during the week, and only went home at weekends. In those days, there was no Aga in the cottage - Jessie's gran used to cook in a little tin shack out the back.
The cottage nearest the Swan used to keep pigs in the back garden, too - and they had to come in and out through the cottage, too.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Buddhist meditation

The new posters are out for the Buddhist meditations held at Health Matters on Broad Street. I had a chat to the chap who was bringing them round, and he said that they will be weekly rather than monthly from now on. This surprised me, because the chap who had been running them came all the way from Swansea - and the fees he collected must have barely covered his petrol costs. Now they have a chap from Brecon to lead the meditations, which makes it all a lot easier.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Transition Town meeting

"Nice to see you here, missing Stitch n Bitch again!" Simon (one of the organisers) said to me.
I grinned. "They'll have forgotten what I look like!"
This was, I thought, a bit more important than getting a few more rows of my shawl knitted in pleasant company.
As it was, I was one of the last people to come in, and there were only a couple of seats left down in the basement of the Globe. Peter Lloyd, the mayor, was speaking - he's very much in favour of the movement - and then he handed over to Simon.

They had three short films to show us first. One explained simply what Peak Oil is (and even more simply, it's the point when half the total oil in the world has been used up. From that point on, we've had all the stuff that's easy to find, and it gets more and more difficult to extract. At the same time, we have become so dependent on oil that demand will continue to rise - so it gets more and more expensive.)
The second showed an unlikely advocate for green issues - Jeremy Clarkson, talking on a clip from the BBC website about the terrible state the world is in, and how the really bad stuff hasn't even started yet.
The third showed places like Stroud and Totnes - and Brixton - where people have begun to do something about the problem. Stroud and Totnes are always at the forefront of anything to do with green issues, but Brixton impressed me, digging up the rather miserable lawns outside flats to make raised beds and grow veg.

Then we heard from Steve Rawlings and Alison Colebrook, who had come up from Chepstow, where they've been working towards Transition for a while now. Chepstow is bigger than Hay, and mostly a commuter town, so some of the things that would work there wouldn't necessarily work here, but it was interesting to see what they thought was important and why. They're aiming to be the Most Insulated Town in Britain, amongst other things, and their pilot scheme increased home insulation in that area by 92%!

Here in Hay, we discovered that, with 10 people on the waiting list for allotments, the Council are about to provide some more near Warren Close. I think if there are more than 6 people on the waiting list, the Council are obliged to act - a hangover from the Dig for Victory days of the Second World War. The transition team have a few ideas to try out over the coming year - bread and sausage making workshops, for instance, and planting apple trees. As Hay already has a plastic bag banning campaign, they don't need to do that, as the Chepstow group did, and they're keen to work with other groups, so there aren't two or three little schemes all trying to do the same thing in isolation from each other. They want to find somewhere local for green compost to be made - the recycling bins at the car park and the Co-op are well used, and get trucked off at the moment to I don't know where. Talgarth is also going for Transition Town status, and they have the Porthamel Farm biodigester - though I understand there is still local opposition to the plant in Talgarth. And they're keen to work with Talgarth and the Golden Valley, and other places in the area, on cycle routes.
They're starting off by trying to do two or three things well, rather than trying to spread themselves too thin, but further down the line, Simon is keen to get Stitch n Bitch involved, both to keep old handicraft skills going, and to help people to repair or reuse clothes instead of just throwing them away.
For anyone local who would like to get involved, you can contact Simon on 01497 831225 or Dave on 01497 831624. There will also be a meeting at the Swan on Wednesday 11th February, 7.30pm, just something informal so people can talk about what needs to be done.

During the short interval, I found that I'd sat down next to Richard Booth, who is now (obviously) back from Egypt - several weeks in Luxor, apparently. He was quite keen for the transition town group to use the Castle lawn, in return for bartered vegetables - and he said he was thinking of introducing a local currency called the Bootho, which would be better than the Euro.

After the question and answer session, I went to get some of the tasty soup on offer (local ingredients) and got talking to Athene, who is in Friends of the Earth. They're having a seed swap at the Globe on Saturday 21st February - it all fits in together, making Hay more self sufficient and encouraging the community to work together.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Chinese New Year

It's coming up soon, though you wouldn't know it at the Chinese takeaway.
Bullring Antiques, however, have put on a lovely window display, with Oriental bowls and Chinese lanterns. It's all the more appropriate because this year is the Year of the Ox - which happens to be the Chinese year I was born in, so I'm hoping for good things this year!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Ambulance Service

From the front page of the B&R this week, which the lady in the paper shop was reading when I went in - 'Fear for Powys ambulance' was the headline.
It seems that the ambulance which is at present stationed in Ystradgynlais, in the south of Powys, could be moved to Carmarthen by the Welsh Ambulance Trust.
Carmarthen? That's not even in Powys - and when you read on in the article, the Ystradgynlais ambulance has regularly answered calls all the way up to Rhayader, in the north of the county - and Powys is a big county.
Only 44.6% of ambulances made it to the scene of the emergency within 8 minutes, which is the target time, according to the National Assembly's Statistics department - but I don't see how moving one of the five ambulances providing emergency cover even further away is going to help at all.
It's an impossible target in Powys anyway - the county is big, the population is spread out, and a lot of the roads are narrow and twisty.
"What was wrong with having an ambulance at Bronllys, like it used to be, anyway?" the lady in the paper shop demanded.
And if the Ystradgynlais ambulance answered calls in Brecon 26 times in May, June and July last year - and the Crickhowell ambulance answered 87 calls in Brecon over the same period - what was the Brecon ambulance doing? Is there a Brecon ambulance at all?
It all seems very unsatisfactory.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

XOX Organics

No chance of a takeaway for a while there - when I passed this morning there were clouds of plaster dust coming out of the door as major re-fitting is taking place.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

A Night Out at the Pictures

The Film Society were showing Into Great Silence last night at the Parish Hall. It's a film I've wanted to see for quite a while - and I wasn't the only one. There was a capacity crowd of 82 people - and one lady had walked all the way from Clifford in the rain to see it. She got several offers of lifts back, partly because it would have been past midnight when she got home if she had to walk back.
It's a very long film, at nearly 3 hours, and it follows a year at the monastery of La Grande Chartreuse, which is the mother house of the Carthusian order, the most austere order of monks in Europe. It's also, like the order, almost silent.
And it was wonderful.
There was an interval about halfway through, for leg stretching and toilet break, and everyone who wanted to brought their own drinks and glasses. And cushions. There were tables dotted about among the rows of chairs with little candles on them, which makes it all a bit more of an occasion than grim rows of seats facing the screen.

The Film Society put on a huge variety of films that are not available at the local multiplex - or in our case, the Odeon in Hereford or the cinema in Brecon (also the Odeon, I think).
Coming up next is a Bollywood extravaganza called Devdas, a Romeo and Juliet type story for Valentine's Day, with Indian sweetmeats and snacks available. That's followed by a 1964 Hitchcock movie, Marnie, starring a very young Sean Connery, and the following month, it's Mandarin with subtitles for the Chinese film Lust, Caution, set in wartime (1942) Hong Kong and Shanghai.
So we're not exactly a cultural backwater here!

Friday, 16 January 2009

News Updates

I walked Islay past the Wheatsheaf yesterday evening. "Oh, the Wheatsheaf's open," I thought vaguely.
Then there was the double take: "Hang on! The Wheatsheaf's open!"
And there was the sign saying they were under new management, and looking for bar staff.

And again last night, I found I could see to walk down the steps at the front of my house - the street light on the opposite side of the street has been turned on again.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

More Revolutionary Action

There was another meeting at the Council Chambers this evening, where Paul produced the charge sheet against King Richard for treason.
Unfortunately, Richard is not back at home yet. He's back from Egypt, but has a chest infection, so he only got as far as London - he's expected back next week. At which point, Paul will approach him and tell him what we intend to do.

In the meantime, there have been other developments. Eve, Richard's book keeper, has written to Private Eye in support of the King. Here's the relevant text:
"Not one of them has the guts or the charisma to take his place. Long live the King, I say, and down with the Commonwealth.
Hay Festival and the multitudes of bookshops, antique shops, trinket shops have been parasites feeding on his success.
When Richard comes back in the spring, hopefully he will be able to give them all a Royal pardon, otherwise I think there will be a great deal of bloodshed in Hay, and I will be there with my knitting."

I saw Boz the other day, and he confirmed it tonight - he's sent a reply to the letter to Private Eye, in his persona of Witchfinder General, saying that he's going to examine Eve for sorcery.

The plot thickens....

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

From the B&R

Hay news is all over the front page of the Brecon and Radnor this week.

The ex-assistant manager of Chattels has been sentenced for theft and given a suspended sentence, and, just a little late, the winner of the Christmas Window Display competition is featured, with a nice picture of Anne Brichto recieving the certificate for the window of Addyman's Annexe.

The lady at the paper shop was dispensing gloom and despondancy this morning when I picked the paper up. "You know about the winter of 1947?" she asked. "It got really cold about the end of January and didn't get warm again till April. Well, that's what's going to happen this year - they're saying the temperature will go down to -15C."
I'm sure she's got some Marshwiggle in her ancestry.*

*From CS Lewis's The Silver Chair - a race that was only really happy when they were being miserable.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Wheatsheaf closes its Doors

There's been a 'To Let' sign over the door of the Wheatsheaf for some time now, and they seem to have been having trouble in finding a new landlord, because the pub closed its doors on Saturday night, and has been shut ever since.
So, if anyone fancies running a pub in the middle of Hay, there's one going begging.

On the bright side, there was the most perfect rainbow right over the middle of Hay this lunchtime.

Monday, 12 January 2009

First Signs of Spring

I took Islay up the Wyecliff this morning, and there, sheltered under the bushes, were the first snowdrops, just starting to open. That's always the first small signal that spring is on the way for me. I love snowdrops, and snowdrops were blooming everywhere when I first came to Hay.
As we walked back across the bridge, I looked down at Booth Island. The ice has all gone now, but there was something white on the water - the swans are back! Two signs of spring in one day.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

New Buildings

I walked up past the doctor's surgery this morning, and noticed that the little bit of land between the surgery and the new house is now all fenced off, and the old wild hedge has been grubbed up. A digger and two dumper trucks are parked in the middle of this. I think there were plans to put more houses there when the first house was built.
Meanwhile, in the big field behind Black Lion Green, work has been going on for some time. I thought at first it was more new houses, but then I saw a poster about the new Cusop Village Hall - so it's much more likely to be that. I went and had a nosy round a week or so ago, and the foundations do look more hall-like than anything else, with space for a car park at the front, and the little road, and pavement, being extended round the corner of the last old people's bungalow in the row. They 've put in one of those big ball shaped things for the sewage just down the slope, too.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Lots of meetings

Now the Festive season is safely behind us, all sorts of groups are brushing themselves down and getting ready for a new year.
Last night was to have been the first Stitch and Bitch of the year - but we hadn't realised that the Swan would be closed, and didn't have a plan B. So we'll be meeting to decide what demonstrations to offer and skills to share, and to show off finished projects, next Thursday at 6pm instead - with plan B being the Blue Boar if the Swan is still closed.
Tonight is the first Fairtrade meeting of the year, with some newly interested people coming along to see what it's all about. This one will probably end up in the Blue Boar, too, as we'd originally decided on the Swan (I'm not complaining - they have to have a holiday sometime!).
On Jan 14th, there's a meeting at the Globe at 10am to discuss tourism in the area - I won't be able to get to that one, though it sounds interesting.
On the evening of Jan 15th, the Revolutionary Councill will be up at the Council Chambers again, fomenting revolution. I think it's probably 8pm, but I need to check, since I'm supposed to be there.
On Jan 16th, the Film Society are screening Into Great Silence, the film about Grande Chartreuse monastery, 7.30pm for 8pm. I don't normally go to the film society, but this is a film that I've wanted to watch for a long time. They say to bring a bottle and a cushion!
On Jan 22nd, the Transition Town people are holding a meeting, again at the Globe, at 7.30pm. The mayor will be there, and there will be short films, discussions and local food and drink, as well as a couple of visitors from other transition towns. There was a lot of interest in the first meeting, so this should be an interesting one.

There's also going to be a talk about Madagascar, and Wassailing with Foxwhelp Morris at Preston-on-Wye on the evening of the 17th, which looks like great fun.

So, plenty to keep us busy!

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Treasure Hunt

Little signs have appeared in shop windows all over Hay, marked with the logo of Hay School.
"Not in here. Look in a shop with clocks and watches."
"Not in here. Look in a shop full of stories."
And so on.
I can only assume that children from Hay School are being sent out all over Hay to peer into shop windows and see what they can see.
I wonder what the prize is.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


I took Islay down the riverside path this morning. Looking down on the river, I could see thin ice extending from the bank maybe ten feet into the river, and beyond that static edging, rafts and plates of thin ice, floating in stately fashion down the glass-smooth water.
I don't think I've ever seen so much ice on the river before.

Monday, 5 January 2009

There's more to it than just selling books

We got a phone call at the shop today, inviting us to a funeral.
A regular customer, a delightful old gentleman, died over the Christmas holidays, and his relatives were organising the funeral - and thought we would be suitable people to invite.
It got me thinking - I bet they weren't ringing round the old chap's local butcher, or greengrocer, or the staff of the local supermarket. Books are a different sort of commodity - and when you get a regular customer, it's not just a commercial relationship. Book sellers and book collectors share an interest - I've had the most fascinating conversations with some customers about the books they want. Sometimes they buy something, and sometimes they don't, but it's always interesting.
When I first started working for Richard Booth, he told me to think of books as 'lumps of coal' - but they're not like that at all.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Haggis Hunting

I know this is Wales, and not Scotland, but we apparently have some feral haggis living in the Begwn hills around Painscastle.
The Roast Ox at Painscastle is holding an invigorating haggis hunt and a celebratory supper of haggis, neeps and tatties on the 17th January, with the proceeds going to the Air Ambulance.

Friday, 2 January 2009

More Graffiti

I only saw the first bit of the new graffiti on the Millbank hoardings yesterday. There's more, in the same hand, further down.
It starts off:
Ugly Houses for Uglier People
and continues:
Designed by Morons
£ -> Passed by 'Planners'
Bought by Idiots

Oi, Mister, can we have our garage back?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year

Bitter cold, with the frost thick on the hills, but not yet coming down into town.
Colin saw seven long-tailed tits on his bird feeder.
There have been a lot of wrens around too - at this time of the year that Hunting the Wren is traditional.
I took Islay down to the Warren, where I saw my first lambs of the year - about half a dozen of them, up on the top part of the meadow. As I walked down past the main gate, Malachy and Sue and some friends, and a whole pack of dogs, were getting out of their cars, so I was able to tell them where the sheep were, and we all walked down the other way.
Coming back through town, I met Brian and Belle, and he asked me if I'd seen the wall of the Wheatsheaf. A couple of weeks before Christmas, someone bashed into the front wall of the Wheatsheaf in their car, which knocked a big lump of plaster off - and revealed that the wall wasn't brick or stone at all. Inside, it was wooden lathes, with plaster over them. They've mended the hole temporarily with plywood - and someone has written across it "Parking for Jasmine Thomas Only", so I presume that's who was driving the car.
More graffiti on the hoardings around Millbank - "Ugly Houses for Uglier People" - so there's still some simmering resentment there. I don't think they look that bad - nothing outstanding, but I've seen new buildings a lot uglier than these.