Friday, 31 December 2010

More Swans A-swimming

Thanks to Andy Poole for this photo of the swans on Boxing Day, showing just how icy the river was.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Betwixtmas Market Day

I picked up the word 'Betwixtmas' from Craig Charles on Radio 2 the other day, meaning that little bit between Christmas and New Year which is neither one thing nor the other.
So, off up town with Islay in her trolley to meet and greet (her) and do a bit of shopping (me).
I got some seriously delicious plum and mulled wine Christmas jam from the Women's Institute stall on the Buttermarket (I'm eating it on toast as I type this). Just near the entrance, a potter from Caerphilly was selling off some seconds, so I treated myself to a little beaker that I can use for medieval re-enactment. The potter is Gwynneth Rixon, and her website is
Down to Londis for some groceries, and when I came out there was a little boy dressed as Robin the Boy Wonder outside. "Where's Batman?" I asked. He ran a little way up the pavement.
"I'm Batman," said his grandma.
"Ah, you're in disguise," I said.
"Yes - we're looking for the Penguin," she said.
"If I see him, I'll let you know."

Funny how a good mood can just vanish instantly.
I pushed Islay's trolley round the corner, minding my own business as I walked down the pavement, when a big car started to park right next to and in front of me, up on the (narrow) pavement! I bent down to peer in the car window - he obviously hadn't even noticed me, and I hardly blend into the background, with my Sherlock Holmes coat and the trolley with the dog in it!
He parked giving me just barely enough room to pass, so I came round to peer in at his front windscreen. No acknowledgement at all - he was an older man, with a tweed jacket - so I waited for him to get out of the car - again, he completely ignored me.
There was a small group of people clustered just below me around the shop that used to be Horsewise. The Horsewise sign board was on the floor. "Look at that!" I said at random to one of the group. "Illegally parked, up on the footpath, hardly left me any room to squeeze past - and he doesn't care, does he?"
(I had twigged by this point that the older man seemed to be with the other group, whose car was also illegally parked on the double yellow lines and up on the pavement.)
None of them seemed inclined to apologise, though the lady I addressed looked a bit worried.
If this is what the people who are starting Lion Street Gallery are like, I can't say I'm impressed so far.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Famous in Japan!

A few months ago, a Japanese couple came into the bookshop and asked if they could take some photos. They said they were writing a guide book for Japanese tourists visiting the UK, and they said that they'd send us a copy when they'd published it.
(You know how people say that, and then everyone forgets all about it?)
This week, the book arrived!
The only word in the Western alphabet on the front cover was Yubisashi, with addresses of bookshops inside, the rest being in Japanese characters. Several bookshops in Hay are listed, and for the Cinema, there I am, sitting behind the front desk (it's a tiny picture, so you'll have to take my word for it!).

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Boxing Day Hunt

A bit of a disappointing turnout this year - we saw the pack of hounds passing the front of the Cinema on their way out from the Clock tower, with the chap blowing his horn, and four or five riders - and we waited....
...and that was it!
Usually there are thirty or forty riders - but the snow was still bad. It's thawed quite a bit now.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Swans A-Swimming

The Wye is frozen solid, right the way across, from the Warren down to the bridge.
Just below the bridge, all the swans that usually spread out upstream among the fields around Hay are huddled together in the remaining open water around the canoe landing stage. There must be about fifty of them. Even there, the stones under the water are sheathed in thick ice.
A couple of days ago, I was passing the flower shop on Lion Street when a wren flew out from among the Christmas wreaths on display. It hopped around on the pipes on the wall beside La Maison and then flew across to the windowsills above Phil the Fruit's shop.
In the garden of the Children's Bookshop, on the Clifford side of town, many different birds have been seen around the bird feeders. When I was visiting, several redstarts were perched in the hawthorn bushes (we had to look them up in the bird book), and a sparrowhawk flew down and grabbed one of the small birds as the whole flock of them took flight. Within moments, all the other little birds were back at the feeders as if nothing had happened.
Back in town, the recycling and trade waste vans managed to get round on Wednesday, followed by the black bag van on Thursday, so town was all clear of rubbish for Christmas. The men from the Council really have been working hard to keep the streets clear and safe. However, both public toilet blocks are frozen up - and so are the toilets at the Cinema!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Deep and Crisp and Even

There's something magical about coming out of Midnight Mass into a churchyard muffled in thick snow, with the stars clear and bright above us, and the moon almost full (why couldn't it have been this clear for the eclipse?). Then going to a neighbour's house for good whisky* and home made Christmas cake finished off the evening perfectly.
I rolled home about 2am.

*Ardbeg from Islay.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Christmas Cheer, Christmas Beer

I'd like to wish everyone Nadolig Llawen - Happy Christmas!

Over on Pete Brown's Beer Blog (see the bottom of the side bar for the link), Pete Brown has made a little video matching the perfect beers to Christmas dinner, from a champagne like aparatif to a port like stout. I mention this here because it's almost local - the film was made in the Morgan pub in Great Malvern, with Pete Amor from Wye Valley Brewery, which runs the Morgan (and their beers are available in Hay). So I can highly recommend their Dorothy Goodbody Imperial Stout, which has been brewed to celebrate their 25th anniversary as a brewery, and is made from ingredients which all come from Herefordshire.
Today, my loyalties lie across the border with the Breconshire Brewery, as my Christmas dinner is a venison stew, marinaded in Night Beacon stout. Gorgeous!

Friday, 24 December 2010


The Village Quire performed at the Globe last night, to a packed house. (I had to ask at the bar how to pay for a ticket, as the lady who usually sits at the door for events wasn't there).
One neighbour who was there had seen the Village Quire a couple of weeks ago, doing the same show, and was so impressed that he wanted to see them again.
The bad news was that the Mari Lwyd couldn't be there - the group that had her live in Llantrisant and didn't want to risk the snowy roads. Mari Lwyd is a horse's skull on a pole, wrapped with a sheet and bedecked with ribbons, which was traditionally carried from door to door in Wales. The party with the mare's head would engage in riddling competitions with the householders to win entry to the house.
The good news, though, said the conductor of the Quire, was that he had been offered a horse's head "and he wasn't a member of the Mafia!" So they may have their own Mari Lwyd for next year.
The evening was a selection of traditional songs, sung a capella, interspersed with readings about how Christmas was celebrated in the Welsh Marches, the Cotswolds and Goucestershire (with one reading from Parson Woodforde sneaked in from Norfolk!).
The songs were a mixture of West Gallery songs (originally sung in the West Galleries of parish churches), folk songs, wassails, medieval music, and plygain, which come from a traditional Welsh church service held before dawn on Christmas Morning.
But was that our Christmas Day, or Old Christmas Day? According to writers like Ella Leather, who collected the definitive book of Herefordshire folklore, many people would not accept the change in the calendar in the eighteenth century, and continued to celebrate Christmas twelve days later, on Old Christmas Day.
It was a wonderful evening of superb music and beautifully read passages from Cider with Rosie, A Child's Christmas in Wales, and various works of folklore. Another neighbour I met there said that this was the evening that he felt Christmassy for the first time this year.

Combines in Camera

Yesterday morning I wandered over to Broad Street Book Centre, where yet another local author was holding a book launch.
As soon as I walked through the door, I realised that I knew her - and that her idea of a good time really is going round looking at farm machinery!
Sue Morgan has taken photos of vintage combine harvesters, and has written about the history of the different models and the companies that made them. There are several books about tractors about, but I'd say that this book fills a niche that hadn't been looked at before. And the pictures are beautiful.
Sue has also produced calendars, with one combine a month, which she is selling in aid of the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.
While I was there, munching on a very good home made mince pie, Sue signed a couple of books for eager customers. The wellies and overalls made me suspect that they were actually local farmers. One chap said that he'd come all the way down from Rhayader - though the main point of his visit to Hay was to buy something essential from Williams Hardware just on the edge of town.
For anyone interested in combine harvesters, the book and calendars can be purchased from Broad Street Book Centre in Hay, or online from Japonica Press.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Astronomical Disappointment

There was a complete lunar eclipse early this morning, the first to be on the Winter Solstice since 1638 - and I missed it. Thick cloud covered Hay, though I'm told they had a good view in Scotland.
And the snow continues to fall. I went up to the Cinema to collect the bough of mistletoe I'd forgotten yesterday, in the rush to get away early. I told my colleagues that I was now looking for a man to go with it! "You should try your luck going through town," said Julia - and I'd only got a little way along Castle Street before another neighbour came along and said "Give us a kiss!"
The Council have been brilliant, digging narrow little paths all over Hay, and my new neighbour was out early too, digging a path for the removal men who are bringing the rest of the furniture (though they haven't managed to turn up yet).
I attempted to make a snow cat with the pile of snow she made. About half way through I almost gave up and called it a snow Glastonbury tor, but with a bit more sculpting it now looks like - a wierd shaped lump. Oh well.
While I was out there (and before Mr Pugh was about) I dug out his path for him.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Big Freeze

More snow - I've been let out of work early, and on my way through town most of the other shops were shut too. Some people weren't even able to come into town today, from the surrounding hills where gritters fear to tread (or at least, don't go very often). The buses have stopped running, too.
Never mind - I have supplies, and the heating cranked up to full, and my new Snuggie, and a warm dog (and a decent bottle of whisky), so I shall be all right!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

More Snow

I came home from doing a bit of shopping yesterday to find Mr Pugh clearing a path to my door through the snow. He'd come out to do his own path, which includes steep steps and cobbles, so none too safe in slippy weather, and while he was at it, he cleared paths for the three cottages as well.
Mr Pugh is over eighty.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Time's Legacy

This May, I went to the event at Hay Festival where Barbara Erskine and Phil Rickman read extracts from their latest works in progress (co-incidentally both about Glastonbury) and talked about their work. Barbara Erskine's novel, Time's Legacy, is now in the shops, and it's just been reviewed in the Church Times. This is because the main character is a woman priest and, like many other Barbara Erskine heroines, she becomes involved in time-slip events, this time in Glastonbury around the time that Jesus visited with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, according to the legend. The reviewer is Dr Natalie K Watson, a theologian and writer, and she seems to have enjoyed it, but not been hugely impressed. Her conclusion is:
"Time's Legacy is a good and, at times, even entertaining read, somewhere between Susan Howatch and Dan Brown."

Friday, 17 December 2010

Christmas Windows

There's a lot of artistic talent in Hay when it comes to decorating shop windows, especially for Christmas - just look at this wonderful picture of Booth's Bookshop, taken by Suzy Davies! It's all done with paper - the Ice Queen, her mask and crown, and the rabbit and raven at her feet.
There's also a white peacock (stuffed) in the window of The End on Castle Street, a Jan Pienkowski-style nativity (all done with silhouettes, which I can't spell) at Addyman Annexe, and penguins searching for the Antarctic at The Bookshop on the Pavement (with one holding the map upside down, and a polar bear lurking in the background).

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

More Archaeology

Following on from my visit to Cardiff Museum, I've found some pictures of the things I was looking at.

The Caergwrle boat comes from the BBC website, contributed by Cardiff Museum, and the Red Lady comes from Cardiff Museum's own website.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Culture in Cardiff

Down to Cardiff for a day out at the National Museum and Art Gallery.
As I'm dependent on public transport, there were two ways I could do this. One was to get up at the crack of dawn for the early bus from Hay to Brecon, change there for the Sixty-Sixty bus to Cardiff, and come back on the early bus from Cardiff. The other was to take the later bus into Cardiff, but risk missing the last bus from Brecon to Hay on the way back.
I took the early option. I don't want to look at my watch at Libanus again and realise I should be in Brecon bus station at that point (even if I did manage to catch the bus to Hay that time).
It was a lovely run down - the reservoirs were iced over, and there were frozen waterfalls by the side of the road up in the hills, and spotlights of sunshine turning the bracken orange on the moors.
The bus stop is just by Cardiff Castle, and the Art Gallery and Museum is just round the corner. A couple of weeks ago, a lady came up to Hay with leaflets promoting the Museum, which gave me the impetus to visit - they've just refurbished the art gallery, which has quite a good collection of Impressionist art. I've taken much more of an interest in Impressionist art since the Doctor Who episode featuring Van Gogh - there was one of his later works on show (and I'm sure I recognise the staircases in the Museum from that episode, when the Doctor and Amy were on their way to the Paris exhibition!).
The big thrill, though, when I got there, was the Monet. They have several pictures and, up close, they tend to look kind of blurry. Then I remembered an artist who used to try to sell his pictures of sailing ships at craft fairs when I lived in London - quite successfully, because of his patter, which went along the lines of "You really see it at it's best from about ten feet back...." So I started walking backwards, and sure enough, got to the point where the individual brushstrokes faded away and the picture sort of came into focus. My favourites were San Giorgio Maggiore by twilight, and Charing Cross Bridge, London - they also had several water lily pictures.
I happened to head for the ladies' at the same time as a school party of seven or eight year olds. "Oooh, these are very posh!" said one little girl as she went down the marble stairs in front of me. It sounded like the highlight of her visit!
From there it was a short step to the Evolution of Wales - some good little films of the formation of the Earth and the movements of the continents, lots of fossils, and films of volcanoes exploding, followed by dinosaur skeletons and a cute woolly mammoth that moved and trumpeted.
After a reviving cup of coffee and a toasted tea cake at the cafe (they also have a restaurant downstairs, but I only wanted a snack), I went into the Origins gallery.
This really was the highlight of my visit, starting off with hominid skulls and moving right the way through to an archer at the time of Agincourt. I found a lot of 'old friends' in there! As an archaeology student, I studied the 'Red Lady' of Paviland (who is actually a chap from the Mesolithic period, and red because of the ochre that was scattered on the body at the time of burial) - but I'd never seen the actual skeleton before. Likewise, I'd seen a copy of the Bronze Age Caergwrle boat (a gold and shale model which looks like half an Easter egg) but never seen the real thing before. They also had a Roman donkey mill from Clyro, just over the river! (The stones were moved by a donkey walking round and round). And there were more bronze axe heads than you could shake a stick at, and some lovely flint arrow heads, and an Iron Age cauldron.... I had great fun.
There was just time for me to wander round the Cardiff Christmas market (with singing Big Issue seller) before it was time for the bus home.
One small hold up was the sheep on the road just outside Cardiff. We watched in admiration from the bus as a policeman leapt the barrier in the middle of the road to chase the sheep - but it was finally cornered by a minibus full of soldiers who jumped out to help, and was last seen lying on the central reservation surrounded by police and soldiers.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

National Politics

Roger Williams was in the B&R this week, apparently about to do himself out of a job. He supports the proposals to change the method of voting in General Elections, including the proposal to change the constituencies from the present 650 to 600 of more or less equal numbers of voters (I think it's around 76,000).
In spite of its great size, 78 miles from top to bottom, Breconshire and Radnorshire are sparsely populated, with about 53,000 voters. So either the Brecon and Radnor constituency grows to become impossibly huge, or it gets dismembered amongst the surrounding constituencies.
Meanwhile, I see that Roger Williams has stuck to his Lib Dem principles by voting against the bill to raise students' tuition fees.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

"If you want to get ahead...."

..."get a hat," as they used to say, and I've just sold my hat!
It was the day of the Fairtrade Fair in the Buttermarket (for more details go to the Fairtrade Hay link on the side bar). I was wearing my coat with a cape, a la Sherlock Holmes, and to go with it I had my deerstalker with a Fairtrade badge. Well, I had to get the hat to go with the coat. We were just packing up when a chap came into the Buttermarket and offered to buy my hat for charity! He offered me £25, and said something about raffling it for a charity of my choice.
He went off wearing it.

(Must get another deerstalker now).

Friday, 10 December 2010

Hereford Times

I don't often get the Hereford Times (reminds me too much of futile job searching in the days when I had to do that), but this week there were two reasons for buying it. The first was to see if there was anything advertising our forthcoming Fairtrade Fair (though that was covered last week), and the second was to see what hereford Times reporter Jess Childs wrote about the meeting on Monday about the Globe. She has, after all, sung at the Globe on occasion (and she's got a very good voice).
As it turned out, there are all sorts of stories about Hay in this week's edition. On the Globe, the article was entitled "Meeting Called to Iron-Out Arts Venue Gripes". Then there was "Market Appeal is no Victim of Fashion", on a recent fashion show put on to raise money for the Cheesemarket. Eighteen independent shops took part, and raised nearly £1,000 to restore the building. More fundraising events are planned, the next being an auction at the community centre next March.
The Old Stables is one of ten countywide winners in this year's Talking Local Food and Drink competition, put on by the Welsh Assembly.
We have a new local author, Lynette Gallagher, who has written a children's fantasy set on the Begwns and called The Buggins. They are little creatures who care for the world, and the plot concerns the building of a beacon to celebrate the investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969 (which really happened). The book is on sale now at Booths Books and Pembertons, and there's something going on at the Library, too (sorry, I forget the date).

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Magical Artwork

I've been footling about on the web this evening, and stumbled across a website of rather wonderful photography which includes images of the Brecon Beacons and the Malverns (which are almost local), as well as some mystical and magical artwork.
The artist is Angela Jayne Barnett, and her website is at
I was so impressed I bought one of her calendars.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Globe: Matters Arising

"There have been rumblings," Mary said to start off the meeting (she being Mayor, and in the Chair).
So to clear the air, the Town Council were facilitating a public meeting for all the problems to come out and be talked about. Mandy and Jo from the Globe were there, several councillors, Gareth Ratcliffe the county councillor (who had to crawl under the table to get to a chair) and PC Thomas.
After Mary took her letter round to the neighbours of the Globe, the Council got 17 letters in reply. Nine were complaints, but the rest were in support (though two of the supporting letters came from further afield).
The complaints could be broken down into parking, and noise. Mandy said that, in future, when they knew they were going to get a lot of deliveries, they would try to stagger the timings better so Heol-y-dwr wasn't blocked by lorries or cars, but that was pretty much all they could do, besides saying on the website and publicity that there was no parking for customers at the Globe. She also agreed with the audience that there should be a resident's mailing list to alert neighbours to potential problems.
PC Thomas broadened it out a bit and said there were four areas around Hay that he got most complaints about with regard to parking: the area opposite Bridge Street, the corner around the Blue Boar at the other end of town, and around the zebra crossing on Oxford Road, and along Castle Street, where people sometimes overstayed their time. The new road down to Millbank was mentioned, but that hasn't been adopted by the Highways Authority yet, so there's very little the police can do yet. He said that if there are problems, then the number to ring is 101, the police non-emergency number (I didn't know about this number before tonight, but it seems a lot better than dialling 999 for some trivial problem like the woman on the national news who had her snowman pinched!).
As far as the noise was concerned, PC Thomas has been keeping an eye on the place to make sure they kept within their licencing agreements - which they have done. He also said that Trading Standards have been around the town doing test buying, and the Globe passed. Which means that someone under age tried to buy a drink and the Globe refused to serve them.
Another noise issue was that groups of people had tried to go into the Globe after they'd come on from other pubs and had been refused admittance because it was after 11pm, in which case the Globe had acted properly, and it wasn't their fault that the people in the street had been rowdy.
Privacy was a particular issue for one neighbour, and Mandy said that they would be planting trees along the edge of the new patch of ground that they've bought, which should also reduce noise.
Another neighbour brought up the safety problems of the road, with no footpath - and small children go to events at the Globe at times. This turns out to be the responsibility of the Highways department, who have been to look at the junction, but who have no money at the moment to do anything. It's too narrow to put a footpath in, and other options include making Heol-y-dwr one way, or changing the priorities so that cars coming up Newport Street have to give way to those coming out of Heol-y-dwr. But that's not going to happen until a bit of money materialises.
On the plus side, both Fiona Howard, as headmistress, and PC Thomas, mentioned that the Globe's events for children and young people mean that kids that would otherwise be hanging around and possibly getting into trouble were, instead, sitting in the Globe watching a film, which has to be a good thing.
As I was leaving, there was a little cluster of people round the bottom of the staircase talking about sending letters to the Highways Department to get them to do something to improve safety on Heol-y-dwr. There may be a campaign starting there.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Brilley Christmas Fair

It's been warmer than previous days - and much more treacherous underfoot, as rain fell on the packed snow and glazed it over with ice. Islay decided she didn't want to go out, and I didn't blame her after I'd got a few yards.
However, up in the Buttermarket intrepid souls from Brilley had come down from the hills to sell their handicrafts - and they'd brought three alpacas with them! They were in a pen in the corner of the Buttermarket, on straw, looking quite unconcerned. There were two caramel coloured ones and one dark chocolate - and so fluffy!
There was mulled wine, mince pies and cakes, a badge making machine, a make your own Christmas star stall for the kids, patchwork, Christmas wreathes, mistletoe and holly. There was even someone selling organic potatoes! I bought a forked hazel walking stick, and I needed it on the way home!
The men from the council were out in force, though, gritting the paths with a dinky little hopper on wheels that sprays the grit out from underneath.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Stitch and Bitch Christmas Lunch

I haven't been in the Old Black Lion for a few years (and that was for a Christmas do, too). The last time I went in there regularly, they still had a stool by the bar for Bruce Addyman, who lived next door and liked to go in for a quiet pint now and then. We'd got friendly with John and Joan Collins, previous owners, and used to chat to their visitors about the area and generally make them welcome.
They'd set up a table for us in the corner near the fire. Ten of us managed to get there, and that included Elinor who'd come all the way from Newtown!
The food was excellent (and there were rather too many vegetables!). I chose the melon and prawn starter, expecting a big smiling slice of melon - but it had been carved into little balls, dotted around the plate, with the prawns and dressing in the middle. Ros had the tomato soup, and that nearly filled her up on its own.
I went for the traditional options for the rest of the meal - turkey and Christmas pud. Both were delicious, and plenty of it. The trout looked gorgeous, too, and so did the vegetarian option, leek and mushroom pancakes. Other sweets were pannecotta and a big, fluffy cheesecake with enormous blackberries.
The conversation flowed freely, too, moving from an anti-Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer (like the anti-Christ - "Rusifer!") to the novels of Terry Pratchett and Phil Rickman, and meandering over crochet, weaving, geckos, the wonders of double glazing, having your hair dried in a mangle (!), unpleasant vicars - and fun vicars like Father Richard, and much more. Elinor said we were much more interesting than the Builth Stitch and Bitchers!
In short, a good time was had by all.
The group is going to try to meet again on 16th December between 6pm and 8pm at the Swan, or failing that on 4th January.

We did think of having our meal at the Swan, as we meet there, but different ones of us asked at least three times for a Christmas menu to look at, and the only one they came up with was for Christmas Day itself, which we didn't want at all.