Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Running Round Like a Mad Thing

Bit of a hectic week this week.
I spent Monday evening in the Blue Boar, at the Fairtrade meeting. The Fairtrade movement in Hay seems to have developed a momentum of it's own, and we had a very productive meeting, including plans for a plant sale at Cwmbach in May (in association with a group which helps street children in Southern India), and a town picnic on the Warren later in the year. Watch this space! Or the Fairtrade Hay blog, for further details. Members of the group have also been talking to the Council and Chamber of Commerce, who have been very supportive.

We were at the Blue Boar kind of by default. The meeting was originally going to be at the Three Tuns - but we all forgot that the Three Tuns is always closed on Mondays. Then one of the group went up to the Globe, which had Open signs up, but was quite firmly closed, and so we headed up the hill to the Blue Boar. By this time, another member of the group had come down in her car - and Islay made a bee line for the open car door. If there was a lift in the offing, she was going to be in on it. She then spent the rest of the evening toasting her tummy in front of the real fire, and being fussed by complete strangers in the pub. She had a great time, and she wore her smart new collar (thanks, Carol).

Yesterday, I was at a sort of combined meeting, part of which was planning a future edition of Hay-on-Wire (with an emphasis on dog poo and boy racers), and part was working out what the Commonwealth of Hay, as an independant state, should do about the forthcoming General Election - and part of it was scurrilous gossip, much of it furnished by Boz, who knows all the stories that are unfit to print (as they used to say).

Tomorrow night I'm out with the Stitch and Bitch ladies - and then I can fall over for a bit!

And we've had snow today! Again! Are we ever going to have a summer?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

First Weekend of Spring

...and the town was bustling, hurrah!
Early in the morning, I passed by Half Moon Cottage. There was a man up a ladder between the cottage and the next house, and as I reached him, he was hauling a pair of white doved bodily off their nest. One of them fluttered across the alleyway and scrabbled against the opposite wall, as if it wanted to fly through the wall and on. The other landed close by - which would have been a death sentence in Islay's younger days. This time, she just ignored it (she knows her limitations). The man up the ladder was clearing the doves' nest out before they laid any eggs, and filling in the hole.
(Thinking back to the parishioners of St Mary's, this is definitely a town where doves are not welcome visitors!)

Later, the town was full of vintage cars. They were having some sort of rally on the school grounds. It may have been them who were wandering round with a quiz about Hay, too, looking for clues.

And finally, work has been done next to the two main bus stops in town to raise the kerbs to the level of the low floored buses, so wheelchairs and children's trolleys can get on and off easily.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

herbfarmacy opens its doors

The shop was so packed that I could only just sidle in through the door when I arrived. People were sipping elderflower drinks, trying the tester pots and chatting, with a steady stream of people heading upstairs to have a look at the treatment room.
It's not just going to be a shop - Helen Barnard will be doing facials and massages and manicures, and even waxing. And in the shop there's also Fairtrade tea, and art. There were some gorgeous pictures of ferns on the walls - I missed the name of the artist, though she was there. Then there's the stained glass that they exhibited last year, by Rowan McOnegal the herbalist ( ), and baskets made by Jenny Pearce ( ).
I saw Emanation, from the Stitch and Bitch group, there. She was worried that she won't be able to buy tinctures from herbfarmacy next year. Under new regulations, the cost of a licence to produce the tinctures will be prohibitively high, she said.
I treated myself to their luxury foot cream - I do a lot of walking about in my job, so my feet do get pampered.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Welsh Contemporaries Annual Exhibition

Geoff Evans runs the Oriel art gallery, which is in the old schoolroom of Salem Chapel at the top of town. This year he's got Rhodri Morgan, recently retired First Minister of Wales, to open his exhibition of 25 Welsh artists, many of them showing their work in Hay for the first time.
Geoff has been running this exhibition since St David's Day, 1989, so it's something of an established event, but it hasn't always been held in Hay. It started in Laugharne (famous for the Dylan Thomas connections), moved to London, and has also been held in Cardiff and Swansea. Rhodri Morgan has opened the exhibition before - in 1999, when it was held in Hammersmith, and other Welsh luminaries who have opened the exhibition include Sir Anthony Hopkins, Cliff Morgan, MPs Dr Kim Howells and Lembit Opik, and Sally Burton, widow of Richard Burton.
This will be the 21st Exhibition, and the opening will be held on Sunday 11th April, from 11am to 4pm. Rhodri Morgan will speak at 12.30.

Geoff has become slightly obsessed with the history of the chapel he's now using the schoolroom of. It may look fairly unprepossessing from the outside, but it's the oldest non-conformist chapel in Wales that is still being used for it's original purpose. There was an earlier one, at Ilson on the Gower, founded in 1642, but that is now a ruin. Salem Chapel in Hay was founded by the same chap, John Myles, who was the son of a Rector of Clifford Anglican Church, and it was built in 1647. He later had to flee to the United States, along with most of his congregation, and they founded a new chapel at Swansea, Massachusetts, where he is apparently still remembered.

Geoff's dream is to extend the present exhibition space into a fully fledged arts centre, with an emphasis on Welsh culture, including the recorded archives of Richard Burton, RS Thomas and Dylan Thomas.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

African Art at Addymans

A new exhibition opened last night at Addymans. Derek dressed the part, in a Malian tunic top, and the shop was full of Malian mud paintings and wooden sculptures. One of the artists was there too (on the second attempt to get a visa from Bamako).
As well as exhibiting the pictures and sculptures, Hay2Timbuktu have been going round local schools showing the children how to make mud pictures. They even brought the mud over from Mali!
It was also a chance to see how far they've got with putting the new shelves in the front room. The church they come from is (or was) somewhere in Eastern Europe - they're not sure which country, but they've decided that the original blue and gold paint scheme looks so good that they're not going to change it.
Lots of people were there, and I suppose the general description of the sort of people who attended (the ones I know anyway) would be something between "the great and the good" of Hay and "the usual suspects"! I saw Kate Freeman upstairs, talking about how she had been called an 'allogorical artist' rather than an abstract artist, and mentioning that she's branching out into figurative work.
I also saw Paul from Oxford House, with his empty wine glass between his knees while he checked out an interesting volume (I did offer to hold the wine glass for him!).
Apparently some people have said that they like to see art exhibitions at Addymans, because it gives them a better idea of what the art work will look like in their own home, rather than seeing it in some vast empty space of a conventional gallery.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Doves in the Belfry

I stopped to chat with a couple of people I know the other day, and one of them told me this little story.
He was passing the church when he saw Father Richard and a small crowd of parishioners looking up at the roof of the church. He went over and asked if they were having an open air service. They all looked very serious, and pointed up at the roof. Some white doves were perching there, and the parishioners wished they weren't.
"But surely they're God's creatures, and symbols of the Holy Spirit?" the passer by said. He went on: "and then they said some very bloody things about the doves. One of them was all for going and getting his shotgun!"
Father Richard put the case against the doves bluntly. "They're shitting on the bells," he said.
In the end, they decided to go for non-violent means of control - putting up fruit netting around the belfry to keep the doves out. They have to be careful, though, as it's also a bat roost, and the bats are protected and have to be allowed to get in and out.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Hay Girl in the Big City

It was my birthday, and my treat was to go up to London to see my Young Man and do some sightseeing.
It was a wonderful weekend, and we kept getting unexpected bonuses wherever we went.
I wanted to go to Liberty's, because it's such an amazing timber building, and it's about 20 years since I was last in there - and they had a quilt exhibition on, in association with the V&A. The quilts were hanging over the third floor galleries, and looked amazing. Then there was a rather fine pub round the corner called the Clachan, which did free tastings of the real ales on offer, including Signs of Spring, which is available in the pub at Erwood near Builth - and is green!
Mark wanted to take me to a little hidden away pub near the Borough Market, full of excellent real ales. It's called the Rake, and on the way we stopped at the beer and wine stall in the market, with beers from all over the world (I think my favourite was 'Hebrew, the chosen beer'). We ate sausage inna bun outside Southwark Cathedral, and popped in to say hello to the William Shakespeare memorial.
I'd read on another blog about All Hallows by the Tower, a church with models of ships hanging along the sides of the aisles, which was also quite wonderful (I don't remember whose blog I saw it on now, but their recommendation was perfect). There's a little museum in the crypt, that includes a Roman mosaic pavement in situ, and there's a Saxon arch under the tower - this church was old when William the Conquerer was eye-ing up the field next door for his White Tower.
On the way up Cheapside, to meet a friend of Mark's at Bart's, we saw about half a dozen men dressed in red and green robes trimmed with fur - the sort of thing a mayor might wear, some with chains of office. Mark said they were Freemen of the City, and they were just walking along the road.
The following day, we went up to the Greenwich Observatory - and saw the little tea rooms that had been mentioned in the blog Unmitigated England just the previous week! I didn't think I'd be visiting it when I read the post. On the way, we went over Shooter's Hill, where duels were once fought and highwaymen lurked, and through the oldest woodland in England, Oxleas Wood.
The Observatory is fascinating, and we were there at just the right time - a woman does a dramatic presentation about the life of Ruth Belville, the Woman who Sold the Time to London, in the Octagon Room, and we got there just in nice time to see it. She used to walk around London with an accurate chronometer, set at the Observatory, to give the correct time to clockmakers, and department stores "and my two millionaires in Mayfair" and so on, at a cost (in 1908) of £4 a year per customer. Only the Second World War stopped her, and she was in her 80s then. We were also in time to see the red ball drop at one o'clock, which was the signal for the ships at the Docks to set their clocks.
Walking down through the park, we found a very nice Vietnamese restaurant, called Saigon - which may have been a mistake, good though the food was, because we then went round Greenwich Market, where you really can eat your way round the world! There were stalls selling Portuguese food, Brazilian, Jewish salt beef, South African biltong, Caribbean stews, Ethiopian Vegetarian food, all sorts of Asian meals - all crammed into one small space.
Moving on, we found the remains of the Cutty Sark, covered in scaffolding and plastic as they rebuild it from the keel up, and wandered through the Old Naval College, where we could hear musicians practicing from various windows. There was also a rather fine pub called the Old Brewery, which actually has the brewery in full view at one end of the room. They also have Michael Jackson's beer collection in glass cases (the beer writer, not the musician).
And we ended the tour in the Maritime Museum, where we saw Nelson's coat, with the fatal bullet hole.
On the last day, I was taken out for lunch at a local place called Sidcup Place, which was once the home of Ethel Smyth, who wrote the anthem for the suffragettes.
I travelled up from Hay by National Express, and I was most impressed - comfortable, plenty of leg room, and you can even use your laptop these days! And they were on time all the way.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Transition Towns AGM

I went up to the Council Chambers last night - and they were packed out. There were people there from Cusop and Clifford and Painscastle, as well as Hay. The actual business of the meeting didn't take long - electing new officers and so on - and the main body of the evening was taken up with a presentation about the Green Valleys project.

It all started with two men in a pub.... They disagree about whether they were drinking beer or cider - but they agree on the idea they had, and the competition they went in for. I think they were slightly surprised to be one of the ten finalists, out of 355 entrants, and even more surprised to be one of the three winners. By that time, they weren't just two men in a pub any more....
The Green Valleys covers the Brecon Beacons area, and is a properly set up company with a board of directors drawn from five communities. They've decided to concentrate on two main areas of expertise, at least to start with - hydro-electric power from mountain streams (they already have several power plants up and running) and woodland management. They've talked to landowners all over the Beacons, and have made at least one farm carbon negative. Never mind carbon neutral, or cutting emissions by a small percentage - they're ambitious, and it seems to be working.
They've also been behind a group that has created 46 new allotments, and having won the original competition, and a further grant of £300,000 from NESTA, they have serious money to put into community projects, which they hope to make more money, to further invest. The people at Talybont have already gone on to a second stage by buying an electric community car (called Blue Bell) and one that runs on bio diesel (called Mr Chips). Another group have formed a bidiesel co-operative, and buy it in bulk from somewhere up the Heads of the Valleys, made from old cooking oil.
For the hydro electric schemes, they also put a percentage of the earnings aside for upland conservation and saving peat bogs, which are drying out at an alarming rate, and for which there is no grant funding at the moment. The speaker said that climate change really comes home to people when you show them arial photos of their own local mountain taken twenty years apart.
The speaker (Greville Ham?) said that what they provided was seed money, support and contacts - suddenly it's not a lot of little isolated groups doing it on their own - they're a Beacon's wide movement, with expertise and knowledge that can be shared.
They have a website at

And to close the meeting, there was the good news that the National Trust wanted to put a demonstration allotment in on the Hay Festival site, and needed a local partner to run it and maintain it. Gardeners from the Wier Gardens near Hereford will plant it up, and all the locals have to do is look after it, and harvest the crops. Which sounds like a very good interim project while they get the permissions for new allotments up the road to Clyro, just over the bridge.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

New Shops and suchlike things

Coffee Shop Isis on Castle Street are taking good advantage of the closed off road - they've spread a carpet on the road and set out tables there!

Meanwhile, down Backfold, the shop that used to be Bedecked is now Vintage Mercantile, with various old or old-style goods for sale. When I passed by the young man from Builth Wells who is running it was thinking about slapping another layer of paint on the door. It used to be grey, and he's changed it to light blue, because grey can be so energy draining.

And down in Broad Street, the shop sign has gone up for herbfarmacy, a long banner style thing, ready for the grand opening at the end of the month.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Dogs and Religion

Islay has become a Buddhist - or maybe she was a Buddhist all along and just didn't have the opportunity to demonstrate it before!
My friend took her off to Hardwicke to have a good time and, as it was quite cold, she dug out one of her old dog's coats for Islay to wear, and she tied it on with one of those Buddhist scarfs that monks give as a sort of blessing.
Her neighbour used to be a Buddhist monk, and on this day they went round to visit. Islay walked straight up to his altar and sat down in front of it.

Islay has been coming to Mass with me regularly over Lent, but I'm afraid she finds the service rather boring - and she has to be given a leg up to sit on the pew. She will be continuing to accompany me, because she does like Father Richard and Jimmy the Curate, but in future, if she's seen sitting in the window, she will in fact be meditating. I think that the Japanese call meditation 'sitting', and she's very good at sitting!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Short Story Competition

The Hay-on-Wye Short Story Competition is running again - this year it's being sponsored by Booths Bookshop. The theme is Avarice, stories must be up to 2,000 words long, and the closing date is 31st July. It's all in aid of Hay and District Community Support, from whose offices anyone interested can get an application form. It's next to the dentist's.
There's also a website, but they forgot to put the address on their advert in the Writing Magazine! I dare say it's easy to google.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Angels over Hay

Adele Nozedar at Nepal Bazaar has been collecting anecdotes about angels for some time now, and her book has now been published. It's called The Magic of Angels: How to recognise and harness your own Angelic Powers. She's got a typically idiosyncratic write up by Nigel Evans in the Brecon and Radnor (complete with picture of Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life).
Sounds intriguing.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Real Ale Round-Up

As a former member of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, I take a keen interest in the availability of real ale in the area.

So I was very pleased to see an advert in the latest WyeLocal for the Tower at Talgarth. They have just opened their own micro-brewery, Rotters, and will be serving their own ale alongside their guest ales. What with this, and the Thai restaurant, and the county market they hold regularly, going to Talgarth seems like a much more enticing prospect than it used to!

Meanwhile, back in Hay, Kilvert's is all set for National Cask Ale Week at the end of the month, with local brewers and guest speakers on March 29th, followed by other events throughout the week.
Sometimes it's worth getting the Hereford Times.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Fairtrade Poetry Competition

This year, for Fairtrade Fortnight, we involved the local Fairtrade schools by running a poetry competition. Each school chose the best poem from their children to go forward to be finalists, and all the finalists were displayed in Hay Library (thanks, Jayne). Then Mel from the Poetry Bookshop judged the finalists.
The winner was six year old Patrick Morgan, from Clifford School, who got a book of poems and some book tokens, and yesterday morning he had his picture taken at the Library by the nice man from the B&R, with as many of the Fairtrade committee as could come. His mum and his sister and his gran were there to support him, too.
Mel chose the poem because it was happy, all about him eating his Fairtrade banana and thinking of the farmer buying rice and making his house nice, and Mel said that happiness was what Fairtrade and poetry should be all about.

The B&R photographer had rather cleverly also invited Fiona Howard along for a photo call - she arrived at the Library with a plaque under her arm, celebrating Hay's Gold Star status for the twinning with Timbuktu. I think they said that the plaque will be put up in the market square. There was a second plaque, too, but I don't know where that will end up (maybe it's going out to Mali?).

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Age of Stupid

Off to Booths last night to see the Transition Towns screening of The Age of Stupid, starring Pete Postlethwaite.
They hold the screenings upstairs at the moment (the custom built cinema is still in the process of being built), and they had coffee and tea and flapjacks on offer at the back.
Pete Postlethwaite holds the whole thing together, as the man in 2050 piecing together what went wrong with the world. All the news footage was real, a lot of it from the BBC, together with several shorter films interspersed with each other. There was an 'American Hero', who saved a hundred people after Hurricane Katrina, and lost everything himself - and who turned out to work for an oil company. He was a nice man, and proud of his job; it wasn't his fault that the oil that he helped to find is wasted in such profligate quantities.
There was an Alpine guide, a sweet old man of 82, who took an English family to see the local glacier. When he started as a guide, you could just step out from the path onto the glacier. Now you have to climb down 150 metres of ladders to get to it.
The English family was headed by Piers, who builds wind turbines, and he was followed through the protests about a wind farm he wanted to build - the protests being led by a frankly scary woman - and the project was eventually turned down because it would spoil the view.
Then there was the cheery Indian businessman who has started a cheap airline in India, so that anyone can afford to fly. He was positively evangelistic about it, and said something about it being his 'higher purpose in life'.
There were the Iraqi children, refugees in Jordan, who sell shoes that they have mended - shoes which come from America and the UK in containers. "Americans throw their shoes out if there's only one little thing wrong with them," the boy said. American soldiers had killed the family donkey, and "the best dad in the whole world".
There was the Nigerian woman who wanted to be a doctor (we saw her at the end being accepted into college), who talked about the impact of the oil companies on her home. She took the camera crew to a nearby village which had been wiped out by soldiers after a dispute with the oil company over a piece of land they wanted to drill on. The woman there showed the remains of the compound where her grandfather had died when it was burned down, and talked about the children who had died from drinking polluted water.
The problem - one of the problems - seems to be the disconnect between what we do in our everyday lives and how it affects the planet. One person interviewed said that the effects of what we do now won't show up for 30 or 40 years - what we are seeing in the climate now is the result of what happened 30 or 40 years ago.
At the very end of the film, there was a little note on the screen expressing the hope that the Copenhagen talks would be successful - and we all know how that fell apart in disarray.

After that, to cheer us up a bit, there was a short Welsh film where an environmentalist takes his old pal round local projects to try to encourage him to change his unsustainable lifestyle. At one place, where local schoolchildren were planting seeds, the organiser said something about them growing the food themselves and then cooking it for Sunday lunch, as if this was a new and amazing concept.

And then there was a discussion at the end, with talk of solar panels and government incentives - and somehow the subject of the giant dairy farm in Lincolnshire came up. A couple in the audience said "We live in Lincolnshire," and told us how they didn't know where the milk from this enormous farm was going to be processed, because the dairy in Lincolnshire had shut down just a few weeks before. Local dairy farmers were spraying milk onto their fields because they were unable to sell it, while cheap milk was being shipped in through Hull.

I think a lot of people who saw the film went away frustrated, and angry, and wondering how little people like us can change such a huge, mad system.
But doing nothing is also a choice, which puts that person on the side of the madness.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Car Accidents

It's been a bad week for car accidents around Hay.
On Monday, a lady was driving down to Abbey Dore to have lunch with her friend, in her gas powered car. As she came through Hay, the car began to belch smoke, and she got so alarmed that she stopped near to the Dulas bridge at the top of Cusop Dingle, and called the fire brigade. On the other side of the hedge from where she had parked is the accountant's offices - and they had to be evacuated in case the car exploded! "Poor souls," my informant said. "No coats, no bags, just straight out. They were outside for two hours and they couldn't even go for a coffee because their money was inside!"
The car didn't explode, but the heat of the fire was so intense it melted the tarmac under the car.
Fortunately, the lady from Abbey Dore turned up to get her friend home.

I took Islay across the bridge a couple of days after that, to find that one of the panels of railings had been banged into - some of the railings had sheared away at the bottom and were bent out. A temporary barrier has been erected until it can be mended.
I wonder if this would be a good time to think about painting the railings, which have looked a bit of a mess for a long time. I sometimes think it would be fun to get a painting day organised, when anyone could come along with their left over paint and transform the bridge in rainbow colours! Of course, it wouldn't be as easy as just slapping a bit of paint on - the rust would have to be rubbed down first.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Patriotic Yarn Bombing

Look out for the crocheted daffodils outside the Granary and the Wholefood shop! Just right for St David's Day.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I don't use many batteries. I've got a portable radio, a couple of clocks, the remotes for the TV, video and DVD player, and that's about it.
When they run out, I don't really like putting them in the black rubbish bag, knowing about the toxic chemicals that can, and do, leach out of batteries in landfill sites.
So I was delighted to see that Spar now has a container for recycling batteries in the shop. I shall be using it very soon.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Local Business Round-Up

The Wheatsheaf didn't have a very good week last week. One of their neighbours told me they'd had a chimney fire, with the firemen there for over an hour, and the following day they were closed because of trouble with the water mains - 'fire and flood'!

Meanwhile, it's the season for re-furbishing before the hordes of eager customers descend on the town (we all hope!).
Shepherds is being painted.
The kitchen of the Wholefood Shop is closed, and the little down-the-steps bit where you usually get takeaways is closed - soon to re-open as A Moveable Feast.
Addymans have re-shelved and painted one room, and put out all their children's books, and now they've moved on to the front room opposite the till. They've got some amazing woodwork to fit in there, that came from an old church. "It's the Hackney Empire, isn't it?" said Richie, who is helping to do the work. Eventually it will all be painted a sort of 'old gold' colour, and it will look rather fabulous.

And finally, Phil the Fruit was complaining about the perils of putting trays of vegetables outside the front of his shop - the blackbirds have been coming down and eating his apples and pears!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Sycamore Housewarming

The last time I went to a housewarming party, it was quite an intimate affair (and Carol had to keep urging people to try the nibbles, because they were too busy talking).
This time, it seemed as if half of Hay were there!
Lucy was enthroned on the sofa in the front room, with minions bringing her plates of food and drink, and it was a good job Susie and John had asked people to help out by bringing nibbles, because it looked as if the gannets had gathered!
John looked very smart in an evening shirt and bow-tie, and Susie looked elegant in an evening dress.
I'd been downstairs in the house before, when Di Blunt had the house, but John and Susie were allowing people to have a nose around upstairs as well. It's a very elegant Georgian house, and apart from a bathroom having been put in on the first floor, it's very little changed from what it must have looked like originally. Strangely, on the outside it seems quite a broad house, while inside it seems much narrower and taller.
One lady who was there remembered the house when it belonged to Robert Williams and Co. In those days the accountant had his study on the ground floor.
Sandra Havard said she wished she'd brought her events diary with her - she'd taken three booking for the Travellers Club during the evening!
It was a wonderful evening - I'd say the house is well and truly warmed!