Friday, 31 July 2009

Changes at the Bookshop (and not for the better)

I met one of the staff at the Bookshop on the Pavement this morning. This is the shop that has just sold the lower part of the building - which is going to be antiques, apparently.
She was on her way to her last day at work there. Five of the staff have been made redundant - and the owners have managed to wriggle out of paying redundancy money. According to another source (I've been gossiping all morning, since I couldn't get into the launderette) the owners made everyone re-apply for their jobs, so of course for redundancy purposes, the clock re-starts there.
Out of the 12 staff who worked there last year, only two are left - all the rest are new - and the owners are bringing in two new supervisors from outside Hay.
(and I keep saying 'the owners' because I'm not sure who owns the Bookshop any more).
I don't think I shall be directing any customers down to that shop in future.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Fame Abroad

My mum lives in Cyprus now, and she phoned me up this evening - partly to tell me that she'd seen Hay on telly.
They get some sort of satellite TV there, which includes English programmes, and this particular one involved two people competing against each other to buy stuff from car boot sales and sell it on to antique shops, the profits going to a charity of their choice. The winner on the week mum watched it was a girl from Hereford - so naturally she chose to sell her car boot sale finds in Hay, with lots of filming of the Castle and the streets of Hay to set the scene. She made about £3,000 - but mum couldn't remember what the charity was.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A Day in the Life of....

The B&R do a weekly column on a day in the life of a local personality. These can be fascinating - there was a very good one on the life of a chap who looks after a local Quaker Meeting House, for instance.
This week, the local personality is Huw Parsons, who wrote Planet Hay and A Brecon Revealed, and took all the photos to illustrate the books. He talks about getting a letter from Prince Charles' private secretary after he sent a copy of his book to the Prince. He was very pleased about it, until a friend told him about a lady with learning difficulties who regularly wrote to the Queen, and got polite letters back.
He's also proof reading Letters From Ontopof Abroad, by Richie Gardiner, whose wife has the blog/website Hazelbell's World (where he's known as supercrew). It's the story of how he and Jackie got together, and his thoughts about the States when he went over there. So there's another talented local person!

Sunday, 26 July 2009


In our brief interlude of sunshine yesterday, I found myself leaning on the balustrade of the bridge looking down at the river. The swan family were making their way along the bank, sometimes swimming, and sometimes clambering out to walk for a little way along the grass. The cygnets are well grown now, about the same size as the ducks - but I only counted eight of them.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Good Luck at the Launderette

When Islay was a younger and a fitter dog, I used to put the washing in the machine and take her for a long walk, coming back when the machine had finished.
These days, I take a book, and Islay has a lie down.
So I was there when the German couple came in to do their washing. They were walking the Offa's Dyke Path, and after five days they felt the need for clean clothes. The machines in the launderette are pretty basic - as long as you know how they work, so I offered up some advice as they looked puzzled, and gave them a scoop of my washing powder.
The lady tried to give me some money for it, and when I refused, she dug into a pocket of her rucksack and brought out a little plastic folder full of four-leafed clovers.
"My husband has a very good eye - he finds a lot," she said, and gave me one.
I think that's a better reward than 20p for the powder!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Energetic and Generous People

There are a lot of them about in Hay.
Two chaps are about to paddle a canoe the 100 miles from Glasbury to Chepstow down the Wye, to raise money for Oxfam and WaterAid. The trip is also meant to commemorate an 18thC book about the River Wye, which was one of the influences that started off a more romantic view of the countryside. It was the era of the Romantic poets, like Wordsworth (who also visited the Wye, and wrote a poem about Tintern).

Meanwhile, Jo Lord and Annie Day are planning to raise awareness of their desert marathon - and get the local kids involved - by doing a sponsored run around all the local primary schools in the second week of September. They're also going to run with the children.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Not a 24/7 Society

A visitor asked me, the other day, if the Wholefood shop was open.
"It's Sunday," I said, "so I'm afraid not."
They seemed surprised.

I was outside the butcher's on Broad Street a few weeks ago. They'd closed early - it was about 3.30pm. I overheard a couple of visitors complaining bitterly - how dared they close just when the visitors wanted to buy meat?

"I don't think some of the shops in town want to sell books," said another visitor recently, complaining about how early some of the shops in town close. I tried to explain that some shops are one man bands, or have only a few staff - and they have homes to go to, and lives outside work. Some booksellers are very active in other areas of the community than just selling stuff.

"You still have half-day closing here?" some visitors say, in tones that imply 'how bizarre and archaic'.
Half-day closing is on Tuesdays, traditionally because people from Hay went into Brecon on that day to the market there.

"Why is nothing open before ten o'clock?"
Actually, quite a lot of shops are open before ten o'clock in the morning - but for the rest, there's a traditional answer again. In the days that the railway went through Hay, the first train bringing potential customers to town came into the station at about 10 o'clock, so there was no point in opening before that.

There are plenty of opportunities to buy stuff in Hay - but Hay is not a city, and has its own natural rhythms.
And there's more to life than going round shops.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Jazz and the Vicar

Brecon Jazz is coming up in a couple of weeks time, saved from oblivion by Peter Florence at the last minute.
One of the events is going to be a jazz service at the Cathedral, with a New Orleans jazz band - and Father Richard has been asked to provide improvisations on the organ to go with it.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Hay's Bee Man

I had a look at the website of Cambria Magazine today. It's always an interesting read, covering Welsh landscape and politics and some very good history, and anything else of Welsh interest.
The summer issue has an article about bees (naturally) from Hay's very own Karl Showler, under the Nature section.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Huntington Fete

I had such fun there last year that I was very pleased to be asked back this year - and they gave me a chair, and a spot in the corner of the marquee this time! I was dressed up in my full medieval costume, including the wimple that makes me look like a nun until people notice the long dagger at my belt! Further down the marquee was a proper spinner, who had brought her wheel - I knew her from the Wool and Willow shop, so it was fun to show the public both sorts of hand spinning and talk about the differences between them (yes, a hand spindle is slower than a wheel, but a wheel ties you to one place - you can't go wandering off).
The vicar's wife opened the fete, the vicar being busy conducting a wedding. At the end of her speech, which we all clapped enthusiastically, a little girl came running to me and presented me with a posy of flowers. "How lovely! Thank you!" I said - and then noticed the little girl's mother, coming over with a slightly panic-stricken expression. I laughed. "These aren't meant for me, are they?" I said, and handed them over. The little girl had been told to give them to the vicar's wife, and she'd looked around the crowd and obviously thought I fitted the bill better than the smart lady in the mauve suit.
So it was another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon - I hope they invite me again next year!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

A-frame Sign Boards

In the middle of Broad Street, there's a T-junction leading down to the bridge, and Clyro. Opposite the opening, there's an old horse trough full of flowers, and some sign boards. Any car coming in from Clyro pretty much has to stop at that junction, so I suppose the reasoning is that they will notice the signs there. Open Door were the first to put a sign there, tied to the lamp post, but they only put it up when they're open, and take it down at night.
Today, there were two boards there, for the horse equipment place just outside Hay on the road to Clifford, and for the Globe. They'd been stacked to one side, and a small note had been put on both of them, with a message to the effect that local people were tired of having the boards there, and if they weren't moved by the owners, the residents would do it for them. "This is the street where we live - not a noticeboard for local businesses," it says.
It was signed "The Residents of Broad Street."
Well, some of them - nobody asked me for my opinion!
And now I think about it, I can see both sides of the arguement. The boards have never particularly bothered me, but they are cluttering the footpath up and I can see that some people would get fed up of having them there.

Friday, 17 July 2009

More on the water situation

I've heard various theories about the cause of the water being turned off yesterday - a sign on the door of the launderette reckoned it was because of a burst water main, and someone I spoke to in the street said there was something wrong with the mix of chemicals in one of the pumping stations - but I haven't heard a thing from Welsh Water themselves - or Daniel, the company which seems to be working for them, and which was putting out water tanks around town last night. There was one at the top of the car park, one by the clock tower, and another by Hay and Brecon Farmers, and there may have been others. I didn't see anyone using the tanks, and this afternoon they were taken away again.
Panic over, I thought, until I turned on the tap to get some water to cook dinner with this evening - and it came out milky white.
Dinner was made without the addition of water this evening, and we'll see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


...or rather, the lack of it. All of Hay - and some said Clyro, too - has been cut off this afternoon.
There was a lorry in the main car park handing out bottled water - they arranged that very quickly - and now the water is back on again.

Plenty of water coming from the sky this afternoon.....

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Hay Film Festival

The Film Society have been busy! They've got a great lineup of films for September, and Francine Stock is coming down as a speaker, along with a couple of the directors! The website is here -

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Public Information Announcement

Could the owner of the green VW parked down by the river please move it, as the chap from Chantic wants to do some work there.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Grant Applications

A reply has been recieved from the Brecon Beacons National Park to the letter asking for money to build a scaffold for King Richard. They seem to be taking the application seriously, as they apologise for not having the funding themselves for such an event, but have given the contact details of several other bodies the Council of State of the Commonwealth might like to try!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

"There's always something going on.... Hay."
I was talking to a lady whose just moved into Hay - she used to live in Llanigon. We were standing on the edge of the car park under the Castle, with a small crowd of people who had gathered to watch several Morris sides perform. Lots of hanky waving ensued, despite the drizzle that was just starting.
And in the morning, a procession of about half a dozen vintage cars pulled into the big car park. I don't know if they had anything to do with the event that was on in the centre of Hereford, but the big square there was full of vintage cars, and volunteers for the Acorn Trust with buckets for donations.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Building a Scaffold

The date of King Richard's execution has been set for 12th September, and the Commonwealth of Hay are starting to get organised. One of the first things the Lord Protector has done is to write to the Brecon Beacons National Park with a grant application - to build a scaffold on which to execute our deposed monarch.
His reasons are very logical - the execution will contribute to the body of myth that already surrounds Hay as an independant Kingdom, and will therefore be good for the sort of tourism we want to encourage. There's no point in doing the same things as other little towns - Hay has always been a bit different, and that's part of the charm, and it would be disastrous to try to move away from our core activity, which is selling second hand books, to promote other areas of tourist interest.
Paul puts it this way:
"Therefore we seek reassurances from the BBNPA that the constitutional and commercial history of our town is more important than any other single tourism 'driver' that other local or wider bodies might imagine, and perhaps an agreement from the BBNPA that to depart from our traditional profile towards a more momentary kind of 'fame', with an attendant drift towards the 'sameness' of general lifestyle tourism, cannot ultimately be beneficial.

Following his trial, the King of Hay - slightly overtaken by events - has argued personally with us that his appearance at his trial was made only following a promise that we give him further international recognition. Although such an undertaking was never made by us, we wouldn't wish the passing of an era to go completely unrecognised during these inevitable institutional changes in Hay, nor can we ignore entirely the responsibilities of the new order. Fortunately, the wishes of the King and the needs of the Commonwealth appear to coincide quite happily on this occasion. The Commonwealth thinks it is in the interests of Hay that the BBNPA associates itself with the most important ideas of our past, while helping to ensure the continuity of our history remains unbroken, before, during and after it is made....

...We are confident you will appreciate that to allow a gradual demise of royalty in Hay is not concomitant with a prosperous future for the new Citizens of Hay, and that we cannot allow the outside world's understanding of our 'sense of place' to be impeded at any cost."

We haven't had an answer yet....

Friday, 10 July 2009

Job Vacancy

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!

Let it be known that the Town Council of Hay-on-Wye are looking for a new Town Crier.
Ken Smith, who has fulfilled this role for many years, is now retiring, and we need someone to keep up the tradition. As well as crying the news of the day around the town, he also leads walking tours of Hay, and knows a lot about local history.
The person to contact is Lesley Moore, the Town Clerk.

And May God Save The Queen!

Monday, 6 July 2009

You couldn't make it up!

We certainly have some interesting customers!
A couple of chaps came in the other day, and told me that they are Tibetan explorers, looking for books on early explorers of Tibet. I told them where the section was, and then one of them added: "I also play the bagpipes. Do you have anything on that?"
So I told him where the music section was, and spent the rest of the morning fantasising about these two men, half way up the Himalayas with their pack-yaks and their Sherpa guides - and one of them coming out of his tent in the mornings to play the bagpipes before breakfast....

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Salem Chapel

I only went out for a pint of milk....

On the way up to Spar, I met Geoff, sitting on the bench outside the HSBC, watching the clouds in the evening light. He's responsible for the art exhibitions in the old school room of Salem Chapel, and because of this, the history of the chapel fascinates him. It is one of the oldest Dissenting Chapels in the country, and according to the research he's done so far, it all started with the Vicar of Clifford sending his son to an Oxford college. The son, John, didn't like it and ran away to London, where he fell in with radicals and dissenters. He wrote pamphlets for them, and came to the attention of Charles I's secret police. Afraid he was about to be arrested, he disguised himself as a woman and fled to Swansea, where he started the first ever Baptist Chapel. Later, he came back to his childhood home and started the chapel in Hay, with the school - so the Baptist congregation were all able to read and write, unusually for those days.
When Oliver Cromwell went over to Ireland and laid it waste, he came back via Swansea, where John met him, and persuaded him not to do the same to Wales, which was full of Royalist sympathisers.
At the Restoration of Charles II, he took his congregation to Massachusetts, where they built the town of Swansea, with its own Salem Chapel. Later, he sent his son back to Wales, to find his original congregations still thriving.
As a child (moving on through the centuries) Richard Burton attended the Swansea chapel, gaining early voice training by reading the lessons.
From there, via the filming of Cleopatra, the conversation moved on to Dylan Thomas, and memories of drinking after hours at the pubs in Laugharne

I finally got my milk, and then I ran into Paul from Bull Ring Antiques and Goosey Ganders, who gave me the sad news that his little dog Blueberry has died, at the age of 16. Blueberry was quite a fixture in the shop, with his own little cushion to sit on as he greeted the customers.

I passed up the chance of a quiet pint with Sara, who was sitting outside the Rose and Crown with Eddie the dog, as I'd had quite enough beer at the Beer Festival that afternoon, but I did stop for a chat.

I got home over an hour after I'd gone out.

Isn't Hay wonderful?

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Visit to the Big City

It was the day of the Hay School Fete today - American themed for the 4th July - but I'd already arranged to go into Hereford for shopping, the Magna Carta at the cathedral and the Beer Festival.

An added bonus was the Farmer's Market in the square - lots of interesting stalls. There were buskers around too, the best in my opinion being the bagpiper, in a kilt, outside All Saints.
Coming up the alleyway towards the cathedral, I found a new yarn shop called the small gallery, selling some more unusual yarns like linen, nettle and hemp alongside the usual wool. Definitely one to go back to.
The cathedral green was covered with picnicking families, and there were some young men juggling with diablos. And some mad people abseiling down the tower.

In all the years I've lived in Hay, I've never been to see the Mappa Mundi before - I suppose because it's on my doorstep and I could go any time, but over the summer the cathedral are advertising the showing of their copy of the Magna Carta too. Since the signing of the Magna Carta happened right in my re-enactment group's period, and Llewelyn the Great was actually there at Runnymede to witness it, I thought it was something I had to see.
It's so short! Habeus corpus, rule of law, setting standard weights and measures, and a clause about fish weirs that was still being referred to into the twentieth century - and it covers just one side of one sheet of parchment.

The Mappa Mundi, on the other hand, looks like it was drawn onto the skin of an entire cow, with lots of little pictures including the standard "Here Be Dragons" that everyone thinks of when they think of ancient maps.
They also had the Saxon sword on display from the dig that preceded the building of the Mappa Mundi Building. I actually met the man who discovered that - I knew the archaeologists at the time, and even got invited to the end of dig party (mostly I remember chilling out around a bonfire, and a sheepdog. At eight o'clock in the evening, the sheepdog was desperately trying to get anyone to throw his stick. At two o'clock in the morning - he was still at it, without stopping once all evening!). I do remember that, at the time, the archaeologists were really happy to find anything that wasn't a human bone! The dig took place right over a charnel pit where the remains of hundreds of people were buried.

And so to the Rowing Club. Whereas last year the signs for the Beer Festival were small and inadequate, this year they were non-existant. Luckily I knew the way. The weather was better than last year (which wasn't hard!) but there was no entertainment while I was there. The beer, however, was excellent. My favourite of the day was Alchemist's Ale from Pictish Brewery - which, despite the name, is brewed in Rochdale, Lancashire!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Property Changing Hands

The big window that looks out onto the Pavement was being cleared last night. It normally holds a display of children's books, and the children's department of The Bookshop (that is, the one by the chemists) is behind it. Originally, I think there must have been two buildings knocked into one.
Well, now they're going back to being two buildings again, with the entrance on the Pavement, because that's the bit that's just been sold. Above the children's and art and craft departments, there are offices and, I think I remember the staff room for the shop being on the top floor. Looks like they'll have to squeeze all that into the top building now. It'll be interesting to see what the lower building becomes.

Meanwhile, one of my neighbours is moving. They're doing it by private sale, with a website at

Thursday, 2 July 2009


A chap came into the shop (and on this hottest of hot days, he was carrying an umbrella). He was looking for sponsorship for a book he'd written. He went away empty handed - it's not really the sort of thing we do here - but it did cross my mind that he would have done better if he'd followed a few simple guidelines:

1. Phone ahead - make sure you're not wasting your time or the shop's time.
2. Dress smartly if you want people to trust you with their money.
3. Don't tell the whole reception area about your messy divorce.
4. Appealing to random customers is not going to help your cause.

And - telling us that you've been to the Hay Festival, even as a guest, is not going to impress us. We live here, after all.

(Maybe I'm just in an uncharitable mood today.)