Monday, 31 May 2010

More of Hay in the Festival

I walked up through town with William Shakespeare this morning. Well, really it was Tony from Birmingham dressed up as William Shakespeare, but he does look a lot like the real thing. He was off to mingle with the Festival crowds, just for fun.
As we parted company, a car pulled in and the egg lady leaned out. "Do you want any eggs this week?" she asked, and sold me half a dozen through the car window.
Later, I popped into Broad Street Books so that Islay could have her daily biscuit - she's been loving all the attention she's been getting - and Mary said that Gareth at the fish and chip shop had never had such a good weekend. There were certainly queues right out of the door every time I passed, and apparently there were five people in there serving - and it's not a huge counter.
Apart from that, I've been behind the counter all day, and met Irish, Welsh, Italians, Germans, Americans, and lots of English, including some who thought we were the official entrance to the Festival (no, that's further along the road - and a lot bigger!). It's been fun, and now my feet ache....

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Festival Weather!

Hay Festival is known for mud - not as much as Glastonbury, but mud, none the less. Experienced Festival goers bring wellies, and shops in town often sell out of these essential items. There's even a Festival umbrella!
So, today it was raining. The Festival bunting, strung up all over town, has not survived well. All down Castle Street there are empty strings across the road, and paper triangles scattered up and down. I mean - paper. They might have guessed that they wouldn't last long in this climate.

So today they had the Fair on the Square, with live music and a Victorian merry go round and a street performer with a unicycle. Vintage Visions has set up in the empty bit of Golesworthy's, some sort of women's group from Abergavenny selling vintage dresses and so on. Open Door at the bottom of town near the Globe has a photography and local crafts exhibition. The man who makes little windmilly things out of old tin cans is just across the river again; there are mini gypsy caravans and other wooden things over there too, but I haven't been able to get over to have a proper look yet. Artisans of Hay were in the Buttermarket today, with silk scarves and carved wood and fun sculptures of sheep and chickens and dogs, among other things. Marijana is showing her avant garde book covers at St John's. John Richardson has surrealist collages and sculptures at Oxford House Books. The Honesty Gardens are full of food stalls and all sorts of other stalls selling crystals and hemp t-shirts and doing massage, and playing chess, and there's a 'leading psychic', and the usual teepee, where they're doing face-painting for the kids.
And Islay got patted by lots of small children as I took her round this morning.

Friday, 28 May 2010

I Love The Festival!

It didn't really feel as if it had started until this afternoon. Then I got the bike out and cycled down to the Festival site. I met Tracy on the way - she was going to the Phil Rickman and Barbara Erskine talk too, and like me she'd decided to go down early to have a look around.
The first thing I wanted to look at was the Transition Towns garden, just by the front entrance, which I saw as I went to park my bike. They've fenced the area with hazel, and put up a little gateway/lychgate leading to a bark path and a little bridge over what used to be a pond, but is now dry. They've put plants in, and Goffee has done a willow sculpture of five figures standing on their hands while each is reading a book. It looks wonderful.
There are bronzes scattered around the Festival site, of people sitting and reading. There was also a bumble bee - or at least, a girl dressed up as a bumble bee, with what looked like quite a heavy backpack. She was giving out samples of Honeydew real ale (which is also organic).
Phil Rickman and Barbara Erskine were in one of the smaller tents, and they started off with a brief run down of why Glastonbury is such a special place. Quite co-incidentally, they have both just written a book set in and around Glastonbury. Phil Rickman's concerns Dr John Dee and a search for the bones of King Arthur, and he read an extract which leads up to Dr Dee losing his virginity! He introduced this extract with an email. He had talked to someone in Glastonbury about John Dee's love life, and getting the impression that he was something of a late starter in that area - and the chap went off with a pendulum to the house where John Dee used to live (or the remains of it) to ask him about it! A week later, Phil Rickman got an email from Dr John Dee himself, which mentioned an embarrassing incident while he was a student in Cambridge that put him off sex for years! (For those who don't know, the good doctor lived at the time of Elizabeth I).
Barbara Erskine's book also starts in Cambridge, with a woman curate who is also psychic and struggling to come to terms with it - so her bishop sends her off to Glastonbury! One of them said later that she should have talked to Merrily Watkins about it, Phil Rickman's series character who is a woman priest and diocesan exorcist for Herefordshire. Phil said "I'd have said yes (if Barbara had asked him to use her)." Part of Barbara Erskine's story also involves Jesus who, legend has it, went to Glastonbury as a young man with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea. She said that writing that part actually changed her spiritual views, having to think of Jesus as a real young man - "a sort of gap year student", as she described him.

Back home, I arrived just in time to see our new town cryer, in full rig-out, locked out of the house where he lives and ringing his bell to try and summon someone to let him in!
Walking up a little way, I found the plant lady who has a stall outside Monicas. She was outside herbfarmacy, with her chap, and they were building a little enclosure around the slate monolith that's just been put up there, and filling it with plants. "People have been saying it's a bit phallic, so we thought we'd better soften it up a little," Carol (the herbfarmacy lady) said. We were joined by Mary from across the road, who had just been up to the Globe to see the exhibition there - the artist was her mother's second cousin.
On round the corner to find that the exhibit on the sculpture trail has been installed on the Library Green, a wooden garden seat with cruck built shelter, very solid looking, with lovely wide boards.
Round the corner again, and the doors to the back of Booths were open, with people spilling out onto the pavement. At the very last minute the carpenters' workshop has been transformed into exhibition space for the Hereford students who took photos around town in February. The pictures have been beautifully framed up, and the first person I met was Adam, the photographer who took my photo with Islay, with his girlfriend. Islay was in her element here - she went off to meet and greet while I looked at the photos. I saw her having her photo taken again, and getting lots of fuss, and one chap said it was about time she got herself an agent!
So it's been a wonderful evening, and most of it was serendipity.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Zeppelins O ver Hay!

Well, a little barrage balloon, anyway! It's advertising Red Indigo Indian restaurant.

It's the first day of the Festival, and the special buses from Hereford Railway Station are running, along with the little shuttle buses around town to the Festival site. Blue Bell Tents have sprung up just across the river, and I'm sure the usual teepees will be somewhere about - I just haven't come across them yet.

Meanwhile, the new sign has gone up over what used to be the Sensible Bookshop. Adela's Dress Agency is moving from across the road. It's bigger premises, and the shop has sold clothing before, back in the days when Antique Annie sold her vintage clothes there. That was a fun shop. Up on Castle Street, Rohan outdoor clothing is opening up where the barber's was for a while. Which means that Hay is rather well off for clothes shops at the moment, with more outdoor clothing just across the road, Focus and Number Two and the one that used to be Field's greengrocers just by the Castle Gardens, The Old Curiosity for antique clothing up at the Castle and Nepal Bazaar by the Castle gate, woollens at Wool and Willow in Backfold, more vintage clothes down at Sage Femme, and yet more at La Maison and Cotswold Collections, not forgetting Golesworthy's on the corner by the Clock Tower. And there are the three charity shops for those of us who get our clothes 'pre-loved'.

And finally, a bit of an experiment as I attempt to display a poster for Marijana Dworski and Clare Keil's exhibition of Russian and European avant garde book covers:

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Pleasant Evenings at Kilverts

Saturday was one of those golden, glorious days. I spent the morning in the garden, and the afternoon at the garden party in Cwmbach in aid of street children in Mysore (for more details see the Fairtrade Hay blog). Islay thoroughly enjoyed the garden party - I don't think I saw her for an hour as she went round meeting and greeting like the Queen Mother!
In the evening, I took her out for one last trimble around town, and ran into Tim the Gardener. "Come up to Kilvert's and I'll buy you a glass of wine," he said.
We arrived some time later, Islay being rather slow these days, and I joined Tim and a few others for a pleasant evening of wine and conversation - everything from Robert Graves to elm trees.
And, speaking of elm trees, I ran into Tim again a couple of days later. "Did you mean it when you said you'd like to borrow that book?" he asked. "I know how it is when you're chatting and drinking...."
I said I would be interested, so he said he'd bring it along to Kilvert's that evening to give it to me.
It was Open Mic Night, though there wasn't a mic - we all just sat around at one end of the bar and there was no need for amplification. The lady from the house by the bridge sang some lovely folk songs in Welsh, including Calon Lan, with accompaniment from Arthur's Dad on harmonica, and I followed it up with a comic song about failing at Welsh history. There were a couple of guitar players, too, as well as Tim and his friend Dave on an African drum sitting outside.
So now I have Epitaph for the Elm by Gerald Wilkinson to read - and I'm looking out the words to a few more songs!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Sculptures arrive

"Dragon head-butted me," David complained as he came inside. He'd been helping the sculptor set up his exhibits around the tent (which is all clean and shiny again). The dragon is looking out through the railings, and the other two carvings are in the tent. There's a large hand with a butterfly perched on the end of one finger, and a spiral with a snail crawling up the inside of it.
So, for the next couple of weeks, Here Be Dragons!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Yellow Car

And it was bright yellow. You couldn't miss it. Unless you were a big lorry trying to get round the Three Tuns corner from the bridge, in which case it was exactly in the way. When I passed it on my way to lunch, there were two notes under the windscreen wipers saying that the car was parked dangerously and illegally, and that it had already brought Hay to a standstill. The third note under the windscreen wipers was the parking ticket, and the traffic warden was hanging around waiting to talk to the driver.
He was still hanging around an hour later when I walked back up the road, and I was told that the car had been there at least an hour when I first passed it. I noticed one or two people up and down the street who were looking out to see what happened when the driver finally turned up. I know I wasn't the only person who walked past, saw the notes, and said "Oh, Good." Watching lorries, and coaches and tractors with trailers and all the other big vehicles that have to come across the bridge into Hay as they struggle round the corner may be a spectator sport along Broad Street, but it's one where we're all on the side of the lorry drivers and against the selfish, inconsiderate people who park on double yellow lines.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Why Do They Phone Us?

It's been one of those odd days at work. We had a phone call this morning from someone who had been given our number by the Tourist Information ladies (I have no idea why they thought we could help!).
"I'm enquiring about the Book Fair," the lady said.
"Um, what Book Fair?" I asked.
"The one that's on at the same time as the Festival," she said. "They're specialising in books about Wales."
"I don't think so," I said. "There isn't a Book Fair in Hay at the same time as the Festival." (where would they put it, with the town bursting at the seams already?)
"Oh, but there is," she said. "My husband saw it on the TV."
"Sorry, but no - the bookshops are all open, and there's a bookshop on the Festival site selling the books by the Festival speakers, but there isn't a Book Fair as well."
But she was adamant; her husband had seen it on telly so it must be true.

Later, we got: "Hello, there's a B&B close to you, isn't there? What's it called?"
"That would be The Firs," I said.
"Can you give me their phone number?"

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Sculpture around Hay

I've just been reading the flyer for the Fair on the Square. They've done this for a couple of years now, in the square under the Castle - but this year there's something extra. They've set up a sculpture trail meandering from the Festival site to the middle of town, with sculptures displayed in various places that don't usually get noticed by the visitors. So there'll be something in the garden of Cartref old people's home, and in the Swan Hotel garden. A chap came to the Cinema today to talk about setting his sculptures up there, under the tent - though there isn't actually a tent there this week, as the canvas has gone away to be cleaned.
There's more at Mason's Yard up at the Castle, and Drover Holidays near the top of the big car park, at Oriel Gallery by Salem Chapel and on the Library Green (if there's room with that skip and its hoarding stuck in the middle of it - at least they've painted the hoarding green so it blends in a bit). Herb Farmacy and Booths Bookshop are having interior displays, and Tinto House is opening up its garden again. Nearly all the exhibitors are local, too.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a burst water main outside the Cinema - so that's more road works, just when we thought it was all over.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Quote of the Day

"You know, I often see people going into Oxford House Books, but I never see them coming out. What do you think happens to them?"

Well, either Paul is eating them, or they are using his bookshop as a portal to L-space* and coming out of a different bookshop altogether!

*L-space was invented by Terry Pratchett. Basically, he theorises that every bookshop or library (hence L, for Library) is linked to every other bookshop or library in the universe, and it is possible to travel between them magically.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Quotes of the Week

The first one comes from a lovely Dutchman, who pretty much cleared us out of paperback fiction in Dutch. He said that paperback fiction in Dutch in the Netherlands is quite expensive, because it's a fairly small market, so he was very pleased to see it cheaper overseas: "And it's great to find one of the great works of Dutch literature next to a book on tax returns!"

The second was a lady who picked up one of the Hay Festival brochures from the desk. As she was flicking through, I told her that a lot of the events were already booked up. "Oh," she said, "you can't just turn up, then?"

Thursday, 13 May 2010

New Local Book

Huw Parsons has done it again. He's the author of Planet Hay, which combines photos of the town with comments and interviews and information. His first book did the same for Brecon, and now he's written Brecon Fringe, which obviously just concentrates on the Fringe Festival. The launch party is on 12th June, so after that it will be available in all good bookshops (in Brecon, anyway) including the Museum and the Cathedral Shop.
Nigel Evans from the B&R likes it. He says: "Huw's love for his home town, of spectacle and of grass roots culture shines through on every page."

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Beaver Scouts

The other night, I was chatting to Brian and Belle in the middle of town* when a lady wandered by, looking lost. She was looking for the new Beaver Scout group in town, and she was obviously some sort of official figure, as she had a scout scarf under her coat.
All she knew was that she'd been told that there was some parking by a church, and the leader was called Ellie - so we sent her off in the direction of the Catholic Church, which has a few spaces outside. I think we sent her in the wrong direction, though. According to the B&R today, the Beaver Scouts meet at the Masonic Hall on Brecon Road. At the moment, all the Hay Beavers are girls, and they're looking for some boy members.
Apparently, Beaver Scouts are from 6 to 8 years old (didn't they used to be called Cubs?)

*he'd just been to Pilleth, the site of a great Welsh victory, and the other great longbow battle (the obvious one being Agincourt).

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

watchthatcheese Plans to Visit Hay

There's a lady in New Zealand who is about to move to the UK, and one of the first places she wants to visit is Hay-on-Wye! She has a blog at and the relevant post is for April 24th.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Oriel Gallery

The little art gallery at Salem Chapel has just announced their exhibition for the Hay Festival period. It will be recent work by Penny Hallas and Stewart MacIndoe. Showing my ignorance here - I have no idea what sort of art they produce, but I'll be going along to have a look.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Another House Well and Truly Warmed!

In this case, Inglenook, opposite the Cinema, recently acquired by Deb (I go to all the best parties!). The way she'd got the house set up for the party was impressive, with projectors and glitter balls and fairy lights. Some hardy souls even went out in the garden, which was decorated with tealights - there were plans for a bonfire but I don't know if that happened or not as I had to leave early.
It's a wonderful house, and every window seems to have an amazing view of the hills.
I thought it was lovely, too, that Deb invited the people who bought her old house - they've been in Hay a month now, and they're loving it so far.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Save Gwernyfed High School

I've seen a few posters up round town saying that there's a threat to the future of Gwernyfed High School. I haven't taken much notice of the recent articles in the B&R, because I don't have kids myself, and I don't know any kids who go to Gwernyfed, but I do know that it's a school with a high academic reputation and it is the nearest secondary school to Hay.
It seems that the County Council wants to re-organise all the secondary education in Powys - which basically means saving money by shutting schools, as far as I can see. Now, Powys is a huge, spread-out area, and kids already have to take long bus rides to school. Centralisation would make that even worse, and larger schools always mean that there are kids who get overlooked and lost in the system. It also seems crazy to want to shut schools with a good academic record - surely those are the ones that should be saved!
There is a Facebook page - Save Gwernyfed High School - and a new website at

By the way, there are still people around who remember the days when a child from Hay could only attend Brecon High School if they boarded in Brecon during the week and only came home at weekends - the journey was too long to do every day.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

General Election

Fairly low key in Hay. I went up to the Community Centre early to vote, with Islay hobbling along behind me. She was very good, and sat at the door to wait for me, gaining the admiration of Gareth Ratcliffe, who was telling on the door. He had a long day, too, as I saw him again at the chip shop at 9pm clearing up.
And that was about it - all we can do now is wait for the results.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Vintage Machinery

I noticed that the new estate agents on the Pavement, Sunderlands and Thompsons, had opened their doors for business this morning, a little ahead of schedule. Apparently, this is because the new manager there is in charge of a big sale of agricultural machinery over at Baskerville Hall, starting at 11am on Saturday morning.
Now, I have no knowledge about old tractors whatsoever, apart from remembering that John Archer was killed when a Fergie fell on him! A lot of people are very knowledgeable, though, and this is a sale which will be attracting people from all over the country - there are around 500 lots on offer already, and it's not only tractors; it's all sorts of vintage farming equipment. Seems like a good way of starting off in a new job.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Waiting at the Corner...and Waiting...and Waiting....

When I went out this evening with the dog, there was a little cluster of people outside the Three Tuns wearing the sort of life jacket you get when you're canoeing. They'd been waiting an hour at that point for the lady from the Hollybush to pick them up in a minibus. They asked how far it was to walk, and I warned them it was a couple of miles of not terribly safe narrow road.
When I came back from the walk, they were still there, after several phone calls to try to find out what was going on. This time they were supposed to be waiting for a blue Vauxhall and a man called Gary. He arrived while I was standing there with them - about two hours after they were supposed to have been picked up.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Farewell to Ken

Today was the day. After 27 years loyal service as Hay-on-Wye Town Cryer, Ken Smith retired in style.
Two visiting Town Cryers were there at the ceremony, from the Guild of Town Cryers, in very grand costumes. One of them said town crying had been in his family for four generations!
Fiona Howard, the mayor, thanked Ken for his service, and welcomed George as the new Town Cryer, in a fine red uniform newly made for him. The tricorn hat suits him. Several previous mayors of Hay were in the audience.
Two children from the school presented Ken with his retirement present - something flat and square, maybe a picture? and flowers for Ken's wife ("behind every Town Cryer there is a supporting wife...."). The flowers were presented by a little girl who was the great-grand-daughter of the Town Cryer before Ken!
And George did his very first official cry, and led the crowd in "For he's a jolly good fellow".
I hope Ken enjoys his retirement, and I hope George enjoys his new vocation.