Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Planet Hay - enquiries

Huw tells me that anyone who is interested in his book can contact him on peevishbeebooks@yahoo.co.uk

Celebrities in Hay

It takes quite a bit to impress me these days - I've seen stars of stage, screen and the book world wandering around Hay for the last twenty years, after all. Yesterday was something a bit special, though. I was told that Sir Keith Thomas was coming to see the boss - he brought some books to sell, and he also bought a couple of books, and he was very pleasant and polite. The name seemed vaguely familiar.
Later, Greg told me that he had an involvement with Oxford University Press, and that he had been Master of Corpus Christi. Well, that's something properly impressive. "And he's written books, too...."
Then it clicked. He was the Keith Thomas - the one who had written Religion and the Decline of Magic, which was one of the set books for the history component of my degree course! Now, that really is impressive!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Planet Hay

I've been wanting to talk about this for quite some time now. I met Huw Parsons last year, after a friend I'd been to writing class with suggested my name to him as a 'character' around Hay! We spent a lovely afternoon together, while he took lots of photos of me in my re-enactment costumes, and we talked. It was all for a book he was writing, and taking all the photos for. He'd already had some success with A Brecon Revealed, and wanted to do the same for Hay.
Since then, I've met him fairly regularly round Hay, and he's always told me how he's getting on.
Well, now the book is ready for it's grand launch and, since I like Huw, and I've seen the proofs (and been impressed) and I'm in it, I really have to publish his press release here:

Press Release………….

Local photographer and writer Huw Parsons has just completed his new book “Planet Hay.” Like its predecessor “A Brecon Revealed” it’s an ad hoc collection of photographs and essays about the interesting people he’s met, the places he’s seen and the events he’s been to in Hay on Wye, during the last ten months of the book’s production.
Throughout that time Huw has been helped by several local people, including Anita Evans, Rob Soldat and Father Richard Williams & Curate Jimmy, who have not only acted as advocates in “opening doors” in the community, but have also contributed written pieces of their own.
The book features annual events such as “The Festival of Literature” and “Giffords Circus” as well as the weekly Thursday Market. Huw has tried to make “Planet Hay” as inclusive as possible, with features on Hay residents such as Sir Arnold Wesker and colourful characters like Lesley Arrowsmith (“Elen the Terrible”) and Brian Wilding who sweeps up at the market and also does practical odd jobs around the town. The book also contains many amazing photographs, which on their own would show just what a fascinating place Hay really is. With the addition of text and Huw’s slightly quirky slant on the town, this book is destined to become a landmark publication………
The Globe Gallery is holding a party (which is open to the public) to celebrate the book’s launch on Saturday, May 16th, from 1 P.M. to 6 P.M. Entertainment will be provided by “Li Harding & The Gary Phillips Trio” the poet Jan Price (Wales’ answer to Pam Ayres, only sharper!) the Arabian Dancers “Boliau Llawen/Joyful Bellies” and Rob Soldat as “The Green Knight.” Huw will of course be at the event and signed copies of “Planet Hay” will be available at £20 softback and £25 hardback. An unmissable event – be there!

Huw Parsons was born and grew up in Llyswen, a village some ten miles or so west of Hay. He was educated at Brecon Boys’ Grammar School and Chelsea College of Art. He has worked as a painter, filmmaker, lecturer, antique dealer, watch repairer and more recently, with the publication of “A Brecon Revealed” in the spring of 2007, as an author and photographer.
In many ways Huw is neither “fish nor fowl.” Despite being immersed in the local community, he has lived away for much of his life and as a border person is someone who sees himself as neither truly English nor Welsh. If asked about photography, he will claim to have little knowledge or understanding of it and try to talk about painting and vice versa. As for writing, he believes that he has no particular gift, except for being observant and having an ability to listen to others and to write down what they say in simple, descriptive English……………..

It really is a very good book, and a fun look at a lot of the different elements that go to make the town the slightly quirky place it is.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

First day of the Season

It really felt like summer today - beautiful sunshine, even if there was a bit of a nip in the air. And Hay was full of people. At least 30 bicycles were stacked around the Granary at lunchtime and there were lots of motorbikes around. A local girl was busking with her guitar outside HSBC, and people were sitting on the grass around the Castle.
At least one of the booksellers was looking at it all with a jaundiced eye, though. "You can tell they're not going to buy anything when they browse with their hands in their pockets," he said.
I missed the Morris dancers - a group with big sticks and blacked up faces, and yellow flowers all around their hats. I passed through the square just as they were packing up. They must have been really going for it with the sticks, though - there were splinters of wood all over the ground where they'd been dancing.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Planning the Trial

I need a gavel - and possibly an egg-timer, so that the prosecution and defence counsels don't go on too long.
We met last night to plan out the rough shape of the trial, subject to improvisation on the night.
Richard has been invited, but if he doesn't choose to attend, there will be a symbolic empty chair.
"He should get Regal Aid," quipped Boz.
John Evans, from the Chamber of Commerce, came along, and had news about the new Tourism committee. I wasn't the only one to send them an email after they invited comments: the entire Chamber of Commerce came down on them like a ton of bricks. The brand image - the reason Hay is known all over the world - is Books. As John said, even if every bookshop closed down tomorrow, the town would still be known as the Town of Books for the next thirty years. It's something to build on, not ignore.
Yes, by all means say "We have Books - but look at all the other cool things we have as well," but the books always have to come first.
As was recognised by Private Eye this week, who have run another story. Paul has it on his blog Hay-on-Wire (see side bar for Paul at Oxford House Books).
Filled with enthusiasm for his new role as Master of the Commonwealth's Musick, Tim has written a poem, complete with Shakespearian allusions, and he plans to disseminate it round the town, after a rousing first performance in the Council Chambers.
Meanwhile, Haywire has been disseminated for the past week or so, and is really rather good, with the main story being King Richard's imminent beheading. Doug was so enthusiastic he's planning another issue, to come out a fortnight before the Festival. "I'll print 800 copies for that, instead of 500," he said.
It's not just about the King, either. There are a couple of letters from people complaining about the high cost of food in the pubs and restaurants around Hay - rightly so; eating out in Hay is expensive, and some of the beer prices...! There were comments at the meeting that, twenty years ago, the pubs catered for the locals as well as the tourists - but now they are not serving the tourists as well as they could, and the locals can't afford to eat out at all. The tourists and locals used to mingle in the evenings, but there is a danger that the locals will all congregate at the Con Club and the British Legion, and the two groups just won't interact at all, which misses out on part of what makes Hay special to visit.
Other news in Haywire concerns the building of a new theatre space with 70 seats in Booth's bookshop. Celia from Hay Arts told me that they have £2000 in their kitty, and they are thinking of giving it over to Elizabeth at Booth Books because she will be able to make the best use of it. (Booth Books now has nothing to do with Richard, who still owns the Castle - the new owners of the Limited kept the business name). Celia also has a book of her own out at any moment - another in her Civil War series.
And Doug is annoyed with Cusop Church for putting up "Private Parking" signs at the church car park, half way up the Dingle, a site which is convenient for walkers to park and use the various footpaths - except they now feel unwelcome there. He's hoping to get an unguarded comment or two from the retiring vicar about it.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Best Laid Plans....

I was planning to go to the Transition Towns talk tonight on Climate Change - or possibly take in the Irish band at Kilvert's and a Guinness or two.
Instead, I've been hunched over the sink with a sink plunger in my hand all evening....

Still, lunchtime was more cheerful - a car pulled up behind me as I was walking home and a lady from Stitch and Bitch gave me a big bag of wool oddments that will come in very useful.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Silversprite comes to Hay

One of the blogs I follow is called Silversprite, written by a librarian on the Scottish island of Berensay. Find it here, http://www.silversprite.com/ , and scroll down to 13th March, where he describes his recent visit to Hay! There are some good pictures of the bookshops - and since I'm technologically challenged, and don't do pictures, this is a good way of showing what the town looks like without any extra effort on my part!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Rebuilding the Wall

"Bane of my life, ivy," said the man who'd come to rebuild the wall. It fell down last summer, right across my neighbour Mr Pugh's garden, and right on top of his poor tortoise. Ivy was about the only thing that was keeping it up, it seems, until the owners of the garden backing onto Mr Pugh pulled some off.
The tortoise is crawling around Mr Pugh's living room at the moment, still without the use of its back legs. They were told not to let it hibernate this winter. It's eating well enough, though, and as far as you can tell with a tortoise it seems to be happy.
The wall is going to take four weeks to rebuild, and they're stacking up all the fallen stone to use again.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The GM Debate Rumbles on

It's taken two weeks, but this week there were two letters in favour of GM crops in the B&R.
It's been a busy week all round on that front. On 10th March, Paul Benham held a screening of The World According to Monsanto at the Swan (an anti-GM film) and on 12th March Mr Harrington, the farmer who planted the GM maize, was one of the speakers at a talk at the Globe called Top Ten Ways to Feed the World.
Sadly, I couldn't be at either event, but it does show what an interest in the issue there is in this area.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Vikings at Hay School

It all started when I chatted to Boo at work about how much fun Living History is, and how my friends who run Raven's Wing Vikings go into schools to spend the day with children - this is, in fact, their day job. As Rowan isn't keen on doing 'girly things' with the children, I get called in when the school wants spinning and weaving, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
So Boo mentioned this to the headmistress of Hay School, where her daughter goes to school. The headmistress was organising a History Week for the whole school - and Raven's Wing Vikings (plus me) was booked for two days.
Unlike most schools, where we stay with one year group for the whole day, at Hay we were seeing every class over the two days, from four year olds in reception to eleven year olds - which is quite a spread of abilities!

The first day started well - Rowan and Callum got lost on the way to Hay - there's a new road system round Stretton Sugwas, and non-existant signposting. When they did turn up, no-one seemed to know where we were setting up - could we do it all in the tent? (No, the tent's not that big, and besides it looked as if it was going to pour down). Could we move from classroom to classroom throughout the day? (Not easily, with all the stuff we had to cart around with us). Eventually we got set up in one classroom, and the children were sent to us, which made it much easier. It only rained a bit, in the end, too, so Callum could take groups outside for his arrow talk and to see the tent.
And it was great. I did weaving with everyone over the age of seven - and managed to find other wool related activities for the littlies. Boo came in to help (I lent her my all-purpose peasant dress, which has been everything from Iron Age Celt to medieval) and helped the children to bake bread and make butter. We also had the quern stone out (made a lovely mess on the classroom floor) to grind flour, another group made candles, and then there were the arrows and the swords and shields and axes and chainmail and helmets....

On the second day, Rowan and Callum didn't get lost - but the littlies who were supposed to be our first group did! They were nearly half an hour late! We set up in the infants' area, by the sand pit and the run for the school rabbit and guinea pig (which Callum claimed to have eaten at lunch time - cue lots of indignant little girls, until they went to check and the rabbit was still there). They made so much bread that I had to run up to Spar at lunchtime to get extra flour - in costume, which confused the poor Big Issue seller.
Boo was a bit disappointed that the younger children mostly came to us on the second day. Her daughter is five, and she wanted to see Lola do everything with us - but on Wednesday afternoon she had to shoot off to let the Writing Group into her house, and then she could only come back to school for a short time before she had to go again. Still, she really enjoyed herself with all the other children - and the children all seemed to have a great time, too.
Maybe they'll invite us back....

Thursday, 12 March 2009

A Happy Commonwealth

Another meeting of the Revolutionary Council last night, where we greeted Tim the Gardener as our new Master of the Commonwealth's Musick - he has a guitar and has composed a song for us (which nearly got him lynched when he tried it out on open mic night at Kilvert's - the audience was clearly composed of Royalists).
We were talking about the press release for the advert for an executioner, and thought we should have a seperate press release for the protest song next week.
And at some point, Paul said, "we must have 'Down Your Way with the Witchfinder General'!"
At which Boz came out with several juicy morsels of local sexual scandal - all of which I have now forgotten.
The trial date is coming up soon, too, and Paul should have booked the Council Chambers by now, for the evening of April 1st. We don't expect Richard to turn up in person, but we are hoping that he will have an eloquent defence advocate in the shape of Rob Soldat the story teller. Rob said that he was mainly a Royalist because the Puritans were so boring - but Tim said we should make our Commonwealth a happy one, with more people wearing bright colours and eccentric clothes, like Hay used to be. He also suggested that we should have a Repository of Anecdotes about Richard, sort of along the lines of a Book of Condolences, but for anyone to record their memories of silly or funny stories about Richard.
Boz, as Witchfinder General, is going to be the prosecutor at the trial, and I've agreed to be the Judge!
We're having another meeting next Wednesday, by which time Paul should have the makings of a costume as Lord Protector (but, golly, lobster pot helmets are expensive!).

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Changes on the Offa's Dyke Path

When the re-enactors came over for weapons practice, we had to climb the stile to get into the meadow by the river on the Offa's Dyke Path, just as I'd always had to do ever since I first walked the path.
Now there's a gate - and all the other stiles have been replaced by gates, too, as far as I've been able to walk.
We don't often get the chance to go a really long way on that path now - a combination of having to work for a living and Islay's arthritis - but a few days ago, she had a burst of energy and just wanted to keep going, and I had the time to indulge her. We went as far as the big tree with the mistletoe, which fell down over the winter, along with a nearby tree on the river bank. I was ready to turn back then, so I stood for a moment to take in the view.
There was something not quite right about it.
Then I realised - the big old hedge that bordered the next stretch of the Offa's Dyke Path, over the stile that had now become a gate, was gone!
Well, not gone, exactly - most of it was in pieces scattered across the fields on either side.
The hedgelayer was there, and he'd done a really good job on it. He was about to start on the hedge down the other side of the field, towards the river, which also hasn't been touched for years.
He said what a pity it was that people didn't seem to want to take the time to do things properly these days - the farmer who had hired him just wanted to burn all the cuttings from the hedge in a big bonfire. "Now, when I did a hedge up Brilley way," he said, by way of contrast, "the farmer took a day to go through it all, and he must have got £1,000 of good firewood out of it."

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Fairtrade Fortnight Finale

Panic among the Fairtrade committee as we found out that Alex Valentine had come down with pneumonia - so obviously wouldn't be singing on Friday evening. Fortunately, a substitute was found - Jess Childs, and her guitarist Julian, a local singer/songwriter who recently played at the Hollybush. And very good she was, too. We also had films about Fairtrade producers playing upstairs, and stalls for Nepal Bazaar (Adele is just back from Nepal, and they managed to get into Tibet, too, which was fascinating, but also quite harrowing as they met several people who had been tortured by the Chinese), Julia with her Fairtrade bags and toys, and Jump4Timbuktu (Chris is just back from Timbuktu, with some marvellous photos and more silver jewellery).
I had a lovely long chat with the Mayor's wife Ann, who belongs to several local choirs. Peter Lloyd said that he felt that he should come along to events like this one, to show encouragement for all the good things that are going on in the town.
There weren't quite as many people as we'd hoped for, but it was still a respectable turnout, and a good time was had by all.

Friday, 6 March 2009

More from the B&R - Brecon Market

I was going to post this last night, but phones and credit card machines across Hay weren't working, including mine. It all seems to be fixed now though.

Roy sells tools on Hay Market. He also goes to Brecon Market, and he's written a wonderful letter in last week's B&R in reply to some rather disparaging comments about Brecon Market. He points out that some people in Brecon don't even know they have a market! He talks about the difficulties of getting a decent sign showing that the market is there, what with the Council and National Parks 'reviewing' the matter, and considering such difficulties as altering a listed building and bilingualism. Really - how hard can it be?
"Abergavenny Market can be identified from space. You'd miss Brecon Market from Woolworths." he says - and for anyone who doesn't know Brecon, Woolworth's (as was) is practically next door.
The original letter writer seemed to have been disappointed by the goods on offer at the market, and Roy goes off into a wonderful flight of fancy, imagining what it should be like for visitors: "packed wall to wall with Welsh speaking farmers, clay pipe smoking farmer's wives in their stove pipe hats surrounded by boxes of eggs, wheels of cheese and boxes of butter, wrinkled grannies up to their knees in wool knitting socks for shepherds whilst her right leg is tethered to a pig. Kids chasing chickens and ducks whilst grandad is drunk as a skunk, throttling geese in the corner and all he found was tools, second hand books and imported clothing."

Here's hoping that his letter gets someone in authority interested in revitalising the Market, which used to be a major shopping destination for the local area. Bus fares on Tuesdays (market day) used to be cheaper so people from the surrounding villages could get to market. Hay still has half-day closing on Tuesdays for the local shops, because at one time everyone was shopping in Brecon so there was no point in staying open - and now there are people who live in Brecon who don't know they have a market on their doorstep!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

GM Debate Rumbles on in the B&R

This is actually from last week's B&R - so much has been happening recently that I've only just got round to looking at it properly!
There haven't been any letters in favour of GM or the farmer who planted them - but there was a big article last week on Primrose Earth Awareness Trust. Paul Badham, who runs it, was known as 'Organic Paul' when I first arrived in Hay - he's been farming organically, and had a stall on the market, for years. The farm where the GM maize was planted is only half a mile from his farm, and if any pollen gets that far, it could ruin over twenty years of hard work, as Primrose Farm could lose its organic status, through no fault of their own.
Paul Benham plans to show a film called 'The World according to Monsanto' (who are in favour of GM crops - they provide the seed technology for 90% of GM crops). He hopes to show that GM crops are a bad idea, and small, organic farms like his, which are incredibly productive for the amount of ground they cover, are a better way forward to feed the world.
Mr Harrington, the GM farmer, will be speaking at a meeting at the Globe next week called 'Top Ten Ways to Feed the World and Wales Too', on Thursday 12th March at 7.30pm.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

The Heol-y-dwr Turning

The traffic lights have gone again, but they were outside for some time, where Broad Street, Newport Street and Heol-y-dwr meet. What they've done is to extend Heol-y-dwr slightly by means of two sort of traffic island bits, built out from the base of the wall under the Globe and Poplar House. This has narrowed the main road, but provides better visibility for cars turning out of Heol-y-dwr.

Funny, though - when the builders wanted to knock down the cottage opposite the turning originally, the reason they gave was that they wanted to widen the road at that point to make it safer.
Of course, they didn't need that excuse to knock the cottage down any more when they decided it had subsidence.

Monday, 2 March 2009

A Smashing Time

Oscars front window is covered with cardboard and plastic today - someone smashed the window on Saturday night. A panel of the door of Londis is also broken, with police tape across it.
I suppose we're lucky that this is usually the extent of crime in Hay.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Hay Tourism Meeting

Well, the minutes have been circulated, so I now have a better idea of what went on at the meeting.
There were representatives from many local groups there (Giles from pixelshifters sent his apologies, but he does tend to be Mr Elusive). So there, gathered together, were the Brecon Beacons Tourism association, Hay Tourist Information Bureau, the Town Council, the National Park, the Festival, Wye Local magazine, Marches TV, Community Enterprise, and the Chamber of Commerce. Quite a crowd.

Now I'm going to shamelessly pluck sentences out of context from the "Comments from the Floor" section, on the grounds that these were the points I answered in an email to Anna, who is co-ordinating matters:

"Can we work towards profiling the town on TV (Countryfile, Holiday programmes, etc.)?"

"The town needs to promote the fact that it is 'not just a load of old books'. 'Town of Books' image is strong but may be damaging tourism prospects. Desire to make more of diversity on offer in the town & immediate environs."

"Genealogy - create churchyard indexes and open churches to attract visitors. Genealogy growing in popularity and needs to be profiled."

So this is what my response to those points in particular was:

Hi Anna,
Just thought I'd make a couple of points now I have the minutes (thanks for sending them to me, and sorry I couldn't be there in person).
The first thing is the TV coverage. There was a period through the early 90s to just a few years ago when you knew spring had arrived because you saw the first film crew in Hay, kind of like the first swallow of summer. Why did they come? The bookshops.
Second and related point - what is Hay's unique selling point? When a family in Birmingham, say, is deciding where to spend their summer holidays, what will make them think of Hay as a destination? If they want pony trekking or canoeing or walking (or cycling), there are many, many places they could choose - why pick Hay? The unique thing about Hay is the books - you could go almost anywhere else for a pleasant country holiday that Hay could provide without the books.
The genealogy point is interesting too - the Cinema Bookshop presently has a huge collection of books and pamphlets about Genealogy in stock, and the most interesting people have been coming to buy them.
I think I can sum up my feelings by saying that you ignore or downplay the bookshops at your peril - they are what makes Hay special. By all means develop the other activities for tourists; diversity is always good - but don't forget the books.
Lesley Arrowsmith