Monday, 31 August 2009

Secular Sundays

For a change, I wasn't working on a Sunday, and I noticed that there was a talk on at the Globe in the afternoon that sounded interesting. It was under the heading of Secular Sundays, but it was a talk by a member of the Pagan Federation - so not exactly my idea of secular. The Pagans have all manner of gods and goddesses to worship, so maybe 'secular' just means 'non-Christian' in this context.
Only about half a dozen people turned up to listen to Richard Fox, though more drifted in and out for parts of the talk. He gave a general introduction to what paganism is, and the different varieties that have grown up, from the original Gardnerian Wicca just after the Second World War, through druids and shamans and the Northern tradition of the Norse gods. He was also honest about the varieties of paganism that he hadn't personally had experience of, when asked questions, which was good. He wasn't trying to pretend he knew everything.
One young couple who came along were walking in the area, and looking at historical monuments. After the talk, they asked about the motte in town, and I told them the story about Gerald of Wales, when he was touring Wales with Archbishop Baldwin, preaching the Crusade. He preached to such good effect in Hay (he said modestly) that the men of Hay surged forwards to take the Cross, to the horror of their wives, who tried to haul them back by their cloaks and shirts. Eventually, they had to take cover from their angry womenfolk inside the castle!
The couple decided to walk out to have a look at Mouse Castle, too, just outside Hay (the name is a Welsh pun on 'look-out').
Chatting after the talk, I found that Richard and I knew some people in common in the archaeological world, so he and his lady, Audrey, ended up coming round to my house for a cup of tea.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Latest from the Brecon and Radnor

Can it be true?
It's on the front page.
"Community centre given go-ahead.
A long delayed youth and community centre in Hay-on-Wye has finally been given the go-ahead."
Which sounds good until you read the second sentence.
"Brecon Beacons National Park Authority's planning committee granted conditional consent for the centre, which will be built on the town's western approach."
It's the 'conditional' that bothers me.

Way back, before the Millennium, Hay needed, and wanted, a new community centre. I know of two consultations that were done, both at great expense. Nothing happened.
One of the sub-committees formed to celebrate the Millennium for Hay was concerned with lobbying for a new community centre, such as the one Clifford had recently gained, but the talks with the County Council petered out.
There were plans for a combined community and sports centre near the doctors' surgery - but the combination complicated the applications for grant money to such an extent that the idea was dropped.
Then, a little over a year ago there was a big meeting in the Parish Hall, with new plans that included a hall with a stage, a cafe, a new school over to one side, moving the council offices into the new building, and a youth centre. There was great support for it, and I remember Mary Fellowes saying that we had to push for this one, because it was going to be the last time for many years that money would be available for such a project.
And everything went quiet again.

Until now, with this piece in the B&R. The plan seems to be the one that was unveiled at that last meeting, with the community centre built next to the doctors' surgery, and partly on their car park - though there is provision in the plans for 163 car parking places to serve a community hall, foyer/cafe, secondary hall, youth lounge, and meeting and office rooms. The plans also incorporate sustainable features such as solar panels to provide hot water.
There have been objectors, of course - there always are. There are those who don't want the doctors' car park to be built over, and those who think that 'troublemakers' will use the footpath round the back of the existing houses and old people's bungalows. Which means 'kids', presumably, as the committee was told that the new centre would provide a focus for the energies of young people, and it was unreasonable to tar all of them with the brush of 'troublemaker'.
Leon Morelli (on behalf of the Sports Association to the back of the doctors' surgery) and Gareth Ratcliffe, are both in favour of the plan, and the plans were passed with a number of requirements to be met, such as the creation of a green travel plan (whatever that is) and something to do with the opening hours of the proposed cafe.

So we'll wait and see....

Friday, 28 August 2009

Open Door Sign

Friday rolls round again, the day that Open Door put their sign out to show that they're open.
Now, the other businesses that have had signs by the horse trough, especially the Globe, all have other ways of advertising themselves, but Open Door don't, and if the sign isn't there, people think they're closed, and don't go down.
So I got to thinking that I didn't want to see the sign being messed with again.
I went round to all my neighbours (except Mr Pugh, who I didn't manage to catch) and all of them were sympathetic to Open Door, and all of them like Jean, who runs it, and most of them were annoyed that someone had objected to the signboards in their name, without asking them.
So I dropped a note round to Jean telling her what I'd done, and that we'd all thought it was a good idea for her to move the sign down a bit and tie it to another post, if she wanted to, and we would all say she had our permission to do that.

As it turned out this morning, Jean put the sign in the usual place, because that was what she was advised to do by the police. Once the objector actually removed the sign completely (which he did last week), rather than stuffing it down the back of the horse trough, he was committing an offence, and the police could get involved.
She put a little note on it along the lines of "Please do not remove this sign, because if you do you are committing an offence. The police would like to speak to you."

It's been there all day.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Anarchist Knitters in Town!

At least, that's who I think they are!
Little pieces of crochet are appearing all round town, on hand rails and benches, and wrapped round one of the posts of the new shelters in the Honesty Gardens. There's a little plastic tag attached to each one with a picture of a ball of wool and 3 knitting needles shaped like an 'A' on one side, and a website address on the other - which I can't find now I go looking for it, but is
I imagine they take photos of their handiwork and put them on the blog, so it's a pity I can't see for myself.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Cinema Window Competition

I sorted out some books on British Cinema yesterday, to put in our front window. The Film Society are running a competition, in conjunction with their Film Festival, for the best bookshop window with cinema books, and Francine Stock is going to judge it.
(Mind you, we've sold two out of the window already, so I hope there are some left when she comes round to do the judging!)
Jo, from the Film Society, was delighted we were taking part. So delighted, in fact, that she got Steve a bit worried! (He was behind the desk at the time). "I thought she was going to hug me - or kiss me - or something!" he said.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Saving Lives, Saving Memories

A few weeks ago, a lovely old gentleman phoned up the shop where I work, all the way from California. He'd just written a book about his wartime experiences, and wanted to know if we would stock it, as he'd spent some time in the Hay area in 1944.
We don't normally stock new books, but he had a chat with one of the managers, and was kind enough to send us a couple of copies.

The book is called Saving Lives, Saving Memories: a 19-year-old Ambulance Driver in the Wake of Patton's Army, by Jim Sanders as told to Martha Loeffler.
He talks about his training in the States, and coming across the Atlantic in the Queen Mary. Then his company were posted just outside Hay for some extra training, and to wait for the D-Day landings. He says they were staying at Camp Moor, which was the Army name for it. He doesn't remember the actual name of the castle-like big house where they were stationed, but he was told that Oliver Cromwell had lived there. (This is unlikely, as Oliver was an East Anglia man, but he might have stayed there for a bit).

He remembers that there were two companies of US soldiers stationed at opposite ends of Hay - one company was black and one was white, as the US Army was segregated in those days. The white soldiers got upset that the local girls were as happy to go out with black soldiers as they were with white ones - no racial prejudice around here in those days! - and the white soldiers started a riot because of it!

He also remembers that a local girl accused one of the white soldiers of rape, and his entire company had to line up for an identity parade along the main street (probably Broad Street?). He was quite relieved that she didn't pick out anyone from his company.

He also remembers that there were three pubs in Hay. He mentions the Blue Boar, which was being run at the time by a woman and her two daughters - both of whom later became GI Brides and went to the States to live.
I would imagine that the other two pubs were the Three Tuns and the Black Swan, as I know both of them were open during the War, though there may have been other pubs open that Jim Sanders didn't remember.

There were also, he says, a 'tea and tart shop' and a fish and chip booth - the tea shop usually ran out of food about an hour after opening, and the fish and chip shop never had many fish! There was also the cinema for entertainment.

Jim and his ambulance went over to Normandy six weeks after the D-Day landings, and followed the advancing army right across France, through Germany, and ended up in Czechoslovakia. In fact, they celebrated the end of the war in the brewery town of Pilsen! On the way, he was one of the first ambulances into Buchenwald concentration camp, and another, smaller camp.

The last chapter talks about his life after the war, back in small town California. Then, when he retired, he saw a vintage ambulance at auction which was the same model as the one he drove. He bought it, renovated it, and took it round local schools talking about his experiences. He's also been back to Europe, to attend the 50th Anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, and to the Normandy beaches, where he was able to find the exact location where he drove his ambulance up off the beach! He also met one of the concentration camp survivors that may have been carried in his ambulance!

It's a fascinating story, from a unique point of view, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Signboards Again - getting serious

I took Islay down the hill past Open Door this morning for her walk. Their sign was propped up against their front door, and taped to it was another note.
This one looked far more 'official' and serious than previous notes, though it did contain the phrases "this will not be tolerated," and "People live here." It quoted the relevant sections of the Highways Act, and mentioned fines of up to £200, and started with a long list of the types of signs that "would not be tolerated", including posters for one off events, such as the Llanigon Show (that one was thrown in the bin, I think).

So that's the state of play at the moment. I think the next move is up to Open Door.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Folk at the Globe

That's all I knew from the sign - folk sessions starting from around 8.30pm, but I felt like treating myself, so I went along.
It turned out that there was only one folk singer there, Jack Harris - and he was fantastic! In his hands, you could really see what a versatile instrument the guitar is. He sang mostly his own work, with a couple of traditional songs thrown in, and since we're such a literary lot here in Hay, he included two literary songs.
Where does the Brown Bear Go? was based on a children's picture book, and incorporated the entire text of the book into the song! ("Don't worry, it's not a long book.").
For the other literary song, he was asked to take part in a commemoration of Sylvia Plath's life and poetry (a bit different from the picture book!). He thought of doing something terribly literary and obscure and clever - but then he thought that some of Syliva Plath's best poems were about motherhood, so he wrote Sylvia Plath's Lullaby instead.
He comes from Builth, but is living in London at the moment - and I highly recommend going to see him if he's performing. He also has a CD out, Broken Yellow, and a website,

Friday, 21 August 2009

Now you see it....

I met Jean this morning, putting up the sign for Open Door by the horse trough. Then I went off to the launderette - and when I came back, the sign had gone again. This time it wasn't even stuffed down the back of the horse trough. It had gone completely.
So I went down to Open Door to tell Jean. "I thought we hadn't had many people in," she said, and went to the police.
When I passed by an hour later, the sign was back again.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Welcome to Hay!

I met our new neighbours the other morning, so welcome to Carol, Paul and Muttley the dog!
They run herbfarmacy, with their own herb farm at Eardisley, and they've moved to Hay from Hereford, so they haven't come far. They're hoping to set up a shop in the front room, like Country Pie was for a while (the Harrises left the shelves and counter behind, too).
I thought I'd seen them somewhere before - they had a stall at one of the Fairtrade events at the Buttermarket.
I've added a link on the side-bar.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Helpful and Friendly Service

A friend of mine had her nephew and niece over for the week, and took them around the area to give them a good time - which led to the little girl spraining her wrist at the Play Barn in Hereford (nobody's fault - just one of those things). She had a bandage put on at the time, but by the time she'd been wearing it a couple of days, it had worked loose.
That was the day that my friend decided to bring them into Hay for the day, so she took the little girl into the local chemists'. They decided against deep heat cream, as the little girl is only seven, so the shop assistant suggested a tubular bandage. She got it out of the packet, and fitted it on the little girl (and all the time my friend was fidgetting, and wondering how much it would cost).
And the grand total was £1.95 for the bandage, and nothing for the service - and one much happier little girl.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Mentioned in the Church Times

It's not all news about the Church of England in the Church Times - there are light hearted articles too, such as the column on pastimes, which last week was about collecting books. And there, in the middle of the discussion of well loved old school stories, was a mention of Hay.

"You can spend days browsing second-hand bookshops for that elusive volume. In Hay-on-Wye, a town bursting with excellent bookshops, I once found a pristine book I had been searching for, priced at just 50p."

And then he spoils it all by adding:

"But this is time-consuming, and, these days, the internet can match buyers and sellers of the most obscure tomes in seconds."

Ah, well, at least he mentioned us!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Latest from the B&R

Lots of stories about Hay and area this week, starting on the front page with "Jazz is Back". Brecon Jazz, under the leadership of Peter Florence for the first time, seems to have been a great success.

So was the Steam Rally on Sunday, with around 4,000 people attending, and traction engines and vintage cars seen around the streets of Hay.

Eddie Izzard has been running through the Brecon area, on a fund raising mission for Sport Relief, waving a little Welsh flag.

The old steam engine at Erwood Craft Centre, which was once Erwood Railway Station, is about to be renovated.

And - could Cusop Hill, overlooking Hay, become a windfarm? Conservative Assembly Member Nick Bourne thinks it might be, and doesn't like the idea.

Meanwhile Lib Dem MP Roger Williams held a Big Ideas talk at the Globe on Thursday, with a talk about how big ideas affect people's lives, followed by a question and answer session.

So lots going on.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Honesty Gardens

New signs up round the Gardens - after more than twenty years, they've put their prices up! It's now £1 for a hardback and 50p for a paperback (though the mouldy ones are still lurking out there after the recent rain).
In another exciting new development, an attempt is now being made (again, after more than twenty years) to shelter the books from the rain with a little verandah affair. Of course, they haven't got very far with building it yet, but the thought is there.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Swan update

No sign of the cynets for a while now - but four adult swans have been hanging round the island. I have no idea whether two of these are the parent swans, or whether they're all completely different swans who have driven the original family away.

Friday, 14 August 2009

"I want to ride my bicycle...."

And Transition Town Hay is organising an event to make it easier for us, in conjunction with the Chamber of Commerce. Glasu, the Green fund raising body for Powys, is also involved, as is TRaCC - the transport consortium for Mid-Wales.
On 19th Sept, the event will take over the Buttermarket and Market Square. They're calling it Celebrating Tomorrow's Transport, and it will include a sponsored fancy dress bike ride from the centre of town to the Warren (fancy dress for the kids, and optional for adults).
There's going to be a circus performer, too, riding a mountain bike with stilts (!) and information on electric bikes and cars, community taxis, car sharing, and other ways to minimise car use.

Meanwhile, they're also encouraging local people to get a household energy survey done. Contact details are:
01588 638738 or

Phoebe Boulanger can be contacted for more information about new allotments on

and there's a possibility of a food security project in association with Presteigne - for more information contact

Finally, on Thursday 8th October, at the Parish Hall, the Chamber of Commerce and Transition Hay are holding a meeting aimed at local businesses, and what steps they can take to ease the problems of ever more expensive oil.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

"Writing the Path With Heart"

I got my regular Writing Magazine a few days ago, and what should drop out of it but an advert for a writing course in France? A writing course that will be run by Hay's (well, Brechfa Pool's) very own Lyn Webster Wilde!
From 5th - 12th September, she'll be leading a writing course somewhere in the depths of the French countryside, with Tai Chi, meditation, relaxation and lots of writing. The website is and there's also a chance to win a free holiday course retreat.
Lyn's a very good writing teacher - I've been on several of her courses at Hay Library, and got a lot out of them..

Monday, 10 August 2009

Things to do on Saturday

I see that Anvil Productions are coming back to the Castle with their production of the Tempest - first performed here during the Festival. I really enjoyed it when I went to see it with Islay.

And as Shakespeare isn't to everyone's taste, the '2 Stubborn Women', Jo and Annie, are holding an Arabian Nights evening at Jo's house, with Moroccan food from Mata Hari's kitchen (I never knew she was into food - I thought her talents lay in a more horizontal direction!). There'll also be belly dancing and an Arabian souq - and Arabian cocktails. This is to raise money for the Macmillan Nurses and the North Wier Trust - further details available from the Wholefood shop.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Signboard Saga Continues

"They're at it again," I said to the lady from the print shop who lives close to the junction between Bridge Street and Broad Street.
"Who are?" she asked.
"'The Residents of Broad Street', so called," I said. I waggled the leg of a signboard that had been stuffed down the back of the horse trough. "They've done it again, leaving a snotty note and hiding the sign."
The print shop lady knew nothing about it, and hadn't even noticed the disappearance of the previous signs.
This one was from the Globe, a new metal one painted red with green legs.
The sign on it was longer than the previous sign - A4 - and the gist of it was that, two weeks ago, local businesses had been warned not to put their signs up opposite the junction any more. "What part of go away don't you understand?" it went on. "Next time this goes on the bonfire - get it?"
Which seems a bit pointless, since it's a metal sign, and also probably criminal damage.
No longer pretending to speak for all the residents of Broad Street, this note wasn't signed at all, but it is in the same type face as the previous missive.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

An Evening at Kilvert's

Yesterday afternoon, I was walking through town when I heard buskers in the square - two young men singing a capella folk songs very well indeed. They had a hand written sign propped by their hat that said: 'Walking Around Britain Singing for our Supper'. I don't usually give to buskers in Hay (I'm a local after all, and I consider the buskers to be there to entertain the visitors) but these two were so good that I dug into my purse.

That evening, I saw them sitting outside Kilvert's - they'd obviously made enough money to buy supper there. They were singing quietly, for their own amusement and for practice, and consulting maps to see where they would go on to tomorrow.

I was at Kilvert's to meet a friend, one of the ex-employees of the Bookshop on the Pavement, for a quiet drink. Actually, I felt rather like an investigative journalist about to meet an informant! Being so recently made redundant, obviously she had an axe to grind, but I'm sure she was being truthful.
And what she told me made me wonder what the owners of the Bookshop are thinking of. I already knew that they'd got rid of just about all their experienced staff - but it seems they've also made decisions about their Amazon listings that severely reduced the number of orders they were getting.
I'm glad now that I didn't take up the offer of a part-time job there a couple of years ago, and can observe from afar!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Keeping the Customers Happy

Adele, at Nepal Bazaar, was noticing that often, when couples came up to the shop, it was the woman who wanted to browse, while the man moaned and wouldn't go in.
So she had a bright idea. She put a newspaper outside for visitors to read. So the chaps could sit outside without being disgruntled, and the women could spend longer browsing.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Tortoise News

Sadly, Mr Pugh's tortoise - the one the wall fell on last year - died yesterday while sitting out on the lawn in the sunshine.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Gym and Tonic

They've moved!
I wondered what the chalk marks meant, with arrows pointing downhill from Castle Street to Broad Street, and the word 'gym' next to them. Then I saw the sign up on the side of the chip shop, and realised who has bought the old Y Gelli Book Auction Rooms. They're behind the Rose and Crown, and you get to them up the alley way between the chip shop and the butcher's.
I used to go in there occasionally when it was used for book auctions. The people in charge were very sweet; when Islay discovered that she could do a run and then skid to the end of the room on the parquet flooring, they let her!
The parquet flooring itself was put down when the building was a dance hall. Legend has it that Lucy of the Three Tuns was a fine dancer, and would often be seen there in her younger days.

And now it means extra space for the people of Hay who want to get fit - and there are quite a few of them. I've often walked Islay round town in the evenings and seen little groups of people jogging round the car park, or doing exercises against low walls together - and they usually seem to be enjoying it!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Backfold Creative Solutions

I got chatting to Malachy in Backfold the other day. It seems that the shopkeepers there are fed up with the amount of dog dirt that's left up and down the alley way, especially as part of it is a cafe area.
So they've come up with quite a good idea - they've put dog poo bags up at strategic places along the alley, so dog owners have no excuse. There's a plastic bag to hand when it's needed.
I hope it works.

Monday, 3 August 2009

"Which way is Peterchurch?"

It's happened twice now - I've happened to be crossing the road by the Three Tuns (and it takes a long time to cross the road now that Islay is so slow!) and a couple of touring cyclists have come up from the bridge, turned towards Clifford, stopped, consulted their maps, and looked confused.
So naturally I ambled over and offered to help.
Both lots of cyclists were trying to get to Hereford via Peterchurch and the Golden Valley, which is a lovely picturesque run - but the sign at the junction pointed to Hereford along the Clifford road, which joins up again with the main road. Not such a lovely run on a bike.
So I pointed them off up the hill, and started wondering if the Council should ask for an extra sign down by the horse trough, pointing to Peterchurch. After all, who knows how many cyclists have got hopelessly lost because there wasn't anyone there to ask when they came round the corner?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Merrily's Border

I wish I'd known about this a bit more in advance - I love Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins series of books, and I love Kinnersley Castle, and this event combined the two.
A new book of photographs of places mentioned in Phil Rickman's books was launched today at Kinnersley Castle. Rev Merrily Watkins is the diocesan exorcist (though they prefer the term 'Deliverance Ministry' these days) for Herefordshire, and the books take her to picture postcard villages throughout the county, all of which harbour dark secrets. Most of the dark secrets are based on real local folklore.
Which makes Kinnersley Castle an interesting choice for the launch, as it has associations with Dr John Dee, the Elizabethan magician, and I don't think Phil Rickman has written about him yet.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

More on Signboards

I was having breakfast yesterday with the door open, so Islay could see down the street, when Jean from Open Door came up. "Do you know who these 'Residents of Broad Street' are?" she asked.
I told her that nobody had come to me about the signs at the junction.
Jean had just been fastening her Open Door sign to the lamp post, as she does every Friday. Last week, when she came back for it, she found it stuffed down the back of the horse trough with one of the notes on it that had been put on the other signs (all gone now).
"You know, I spent that day helping a girl who'd been sleeping under the bridge for three days," Jean said. "If they came and talked to us and found out what we do, I'm sure they wouldn't want us to move the sign."
She'd gone to the police, who told her that the 'Residents of Broad Street' had no right to move the signs or even to demand that they be moved, and said they would keep an eye on Jean's sign for her.

None of us can work out who has been putting these notes on the signs. We don't think it's Di Blunt, because her sign to sell her house was moved too. John Harris has just left town in a fleet of removal vans*, so he's not involved any more, and the person I saw stacking the signs one day told me it wasn't anything to do with him - he was just putting them tidy after they'd fallen over.

It seems to me that a far better way of going about it, if these mystery people really are so upset, would be to take the signs back to their owners and talk to them about the problem - not just leave snotty notes about destroying the signs.

*John Harris and his family have moved down to Frome in Somerset, to be nearer the rail network and the TV studios for his work. We all hope they'll be very happy there. They got a good send off from Hay, anyway, and Mary is looking forward to using the champagne for the 'topping off' ceremony when her new house is built.