Saturday, 30 April 2011

Cottage among the Trees

A friend is moving into a new house, in the countryside not far from Hay, and last week she invited me down to have a look at the progress they've made. At the moment it's uninhabitable, as they completely change what it's like inside, and they've also done away with the many terraces and paths on the steep slope in front of the house. Apparently the lady who sold the house to them is very unhappy about this, but they plan to make the garden much easier to maintain, with more natural planting. There are some apple trees that will form the basis of an orchard, and I helped to plant wild flower seeds along the drive while I was there. Islay didn't come with us - she sat near the car at the top of the hill and surveyed us from a distance. They have plans to extend the house with a turf-roofed room, too, like the house that Maureen Richardson lives in at Brilley, just across the river.
The house backs onto woods, and they have seen deer there, and red kites and peregrines, and there's a raven's nest not far away - and all of this really quite close to Hay. There are foxes and rabbits, as well, of course. And the views of the Wye Valley are stunning.
The house has some sad history, though. Many years ago, a girl was abused by her father there, and made pregnant, and he shut her in one of the bedrooms until the baby was born - and the boy was never quite right in the head. They're all dead now, but my friend said that her dog didn't like her to be alone in the room, and tried to pull her out. They're going to get a friend to do some chanting there, and Father Richard to go up to bless it.
When I was chatting to Tim the Gardener, later, he said that he thought he remembered going to a wild party at the same house, over twenty years ago!

Friday, 29 April 2011


I understand there's a Wedding going on in the Big City today.
Despite being an independent Kingdom, Hay has not been entirely immune from interest in the Royal couple. Here are some of the best window displays in town, from Mr Pugh's electrical shop on the Pavement, the Baker's on Castle Street, and the Chemist's.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Update on Brecon High

So much has been happening around Hay that I almost forgot to mention the other front page news in last week's B&R. To bring the story of Brecon High and the redundancies up to date - the headmistress has been suspended by the County Council, and the two teachers who were made redundant have been re-instated. So there'll now be an investigation into the management of the school, which could take some time.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Council Chambers changes

The lovely lady who works in the council office in Hay is retiring shortly. I suppose the Powers that Be thought that this would be a good time to save money by transferring all the things that she does over to the Library instead. ("Thus safeguarding the Library", which means "thus giving the Librarian twice as much work for the same pay" I bet).
However, the Council Chambers will continue, since Gareth Ratcliffe did manage to save it for the town when he was Mayor. It just won't have anything from the County Council in it.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Anybody Want to Buy a Castle?

I'd heard the rumours - but I'd heard rumours like that before, so I didn't take any notice. But now it's in the Hereford Times, so it must be true! Richard Booth wants to sell Hay Castle for £2 million quid!
Has Hope finally twisted his arm to retire?
He's quoted as saying he wants to concentrate on international booktowns now.
So, who will be brave enough to take the Castle on? Slightly foxed, bumped corners, some shelf wear....

Monday, 25 April 2011

RIP Geoff Evans

On Saturday afternoon, I decided to enjoy the sunshine by strolling up to Kilvert's to have a half. There were several interesting looking beers on the pumps, and I went for Rip Tide, a stout from the wonderful Hardknott brewery.
Outside, I joined Tim the Gardener and Mike at a table. They were discussing some sad news. Geoff Evans, who ran the Art Gallery at Salem Chapel, was found dead in his flat on Thursday when friends went round to see him. He had a drink problem, as well as other health problems, and he'd been pickled in whisky, sadly.
When I last saw him, he was about to visit his ninety odd year old mother for Mother's Day, and Mike had seen him walking around the town only a day or so before his body was found, so it was very sudden and unexpected.
I would imagine that this puts the future of the Art Gallery in doubt - Geoff put his heart and soul into that place, and though there's a committee, I don't think anyone could really take his place.
While we were talking, the sky darkened (so much for enjoying the sunshine) and thunder began to rumble in the distance - and then the rain came, hammering down, and the lightning flashed, and there were hail stones. It was alright for a bit under the canopy, but gradually the dry bits got smaller, and eventually we had to make a run for it into the pub - me with Islay under one arm! So, thanks to Tim and Mike for providing more Rip Tide when I was forced to take shelter!
When I examined Islay's trolley, when the rain had passed and I ventured out to take her home, I found that all four of the cushions were soaked through, even though I'd parked the trolley under a corner of the canopy!

Sunday, 24 April 2011


"I knew you'd buy that!" Ros was standing just behind me as I picked up the Viking board game from the table at Saturday's car boot sale. The board is a piece of leather marked out in squares, and the wooden counters come in a little leather bag, and all the rules for Viking, Medieval Welsh, Old Irish and Anglo-Saxon versions of the game were with it too.
I couldn't resist, even though I won't be doing any re-enactment this year (Islay is too old and decrepit to go camping any more, or to cope with the pack of hounds that usually goes along).
Ros's husband Tudor reckoned that he'd be buying all his veggies from the car boot in future, but I was being frivolous again - apart from one of those kitchen whisks with a little handle you whizz round. My blender is starting to smell of burning occasionally, and make distressing noises, so I think its days are numbered. The hand whisk will be a good back up.

On the way home, I passed by the Buttermarket - and the Cat's Protection League were having a jumble sale there. So I had to go in....

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Music at Booth Books

There's a new group in town, Hay Music, and this is the second concert they've organised at Booth Books. The first one was last week, and was apparently very successful.
This time it was the turn of Aquarelle Guitar Quartet. They'd come down from Manchester, but Rory Russell is local to Hay, so he was delighted to be playing in his own local area. "The others were a bit iffy about being invited to play in a bookshop," he said, "but this isn't just any bookshop!"
They started off by holding us spellbound with Bach and Rimsky Korsakov, and then moved into more modern pieces. Guitar quartets are quite a new thing, they said, so there isn't a lot of music composed especially for them. This means they either have to adapt a piece themselves (Vasilis Bessas of the group wrote the arrangement for a traditional Balkan song and dance in the second half), or they commission composers to write a piece for them, like the Dancas Nativas by Clarice Assad, also in the second half. This was a Brazilian piece, and they seem to like Brazil because one of their CDs on sale was all Brazilian music. For some pieces, they were even using their guitars as drums!
It was a magical, spellbinding evening - I'd certainly make an effort to see them again.
And right at the end, (after the encore) they were each presented with a long-stemmed white rose - in true Hay Festival tradition! The lady doing the presenting said that she'd got them from a firm that swore they were the same roses that would be used for the Royal Wedding!
Hay Music are looking for ideas for future concerts, talks and films, and can be contacted through Booths Bookshop or at

And for other fans of classical guitar music, a lady was passing out flyers in the interval for a concert at St Eigon's Church, Llanigon by John Mills on classical guitar, with Mai-Britt Waghild, a mezzo-soprano. Funds raised by the concert will go towards the ongoing renovation of the marvellous organ at St Mary's, Hay. It's on Saturday 21st May, and tickets are available from 01497 820477 or 820423 or 821003.
The organisers of last night's concert

Friday, 22 April 2011

I bumped into Tim the Gardener in the Post Office the other day, just as he was running off copies of his Open Mic Night News. It sounds as if I missed a good night - Dirty Ray enjoyed it so much he came back again (and sang the same set "but does it matter when performance quality is so high?" Tim wrote), and the bar was packed full. They also got Tim and Penny White, who will be playing at the Baskerville Hall Hotel on Wednesday 11th May. " is the spacious sun-drenched feel of the desert that characterises her songs", says Tim, of the couple who say they are from Wales and Arizona. And there were poems, and Chris read from his book, and Briar and Jake Hughes sang, so there was plenty of variety.
Tim finished the evening, somewhere near midnight, pushing a wheelbarrow full of books up the hill to the shack where he'll be spending the summer.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Getting ready for the Festival

The Festival brochures are out - and Brian Cox is already sold out!
I've got my eye on a couple of the less charismatic events - but do I go for Romans or Anglo-Saxons at 4pm on Friday 27th? Both seem promising - as does Phil Rickman with two other crime/thriller writers, one of whom sets their books in deepest Norfolk. I'll be trotting up to the Festival office tomorrow to see what's still available.

Meanwhile, others around town are preparing for the Festival in their own ways. Shelley will be cooking evening meals. "Just for four," she said, but she's doing a lot of the cooking in advance, which means her freezer is now full to overflowing. I met her coming up the road with a couple of big containers wrapped up in silver foil. A friend of her's has freezer space, but they weren't going to be meeting up today - so she asked Tom the butcher if she could use some of his freezer space. He was quite happy to accommodate her, so she was taking the meals round when I saw her. "You wouldn't get that at Waitrose," she said.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Well Done, Herbfarmacy!

Front page news in the B&R! Our very own Herbfarmacy have won a Natural and Organic Award for their Organic Facial Skincare product, Just Eyes eye cream, and were runners up for their rose and echinacea toner/spritzer.
Carol and Paul look very pleased in the picture.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Is there any 21st Century Civilisation in Hay?

A young man recently asked where the nearest toilets were while I was at work. I pointed across at the door, clearly marked 'Gentlemen' - and watched him wander straight out of the front door.
A few moments later, he was back. "Er, I couldn't find it," he said.
I pointed across at the door, clearly marked 'Gentlemen'. "It's inside" I said. (Hay may be quaint, but we have managed to get to the stage of having indoor toilets).
Also recently, a lady asked to pay a very small amount with her credit card. I looked a bit dubious, and she said she had no cash on her. "I've come up from London, and I didn't want to carry a lot of cash on the train," she said.
There was a short pause. Then I said, "We do have cash machines in Hay." (They do exist outside the M25).

(In re-enactment circles, these are known as MOP stories, short for Member of Public - and while doing living history we have been asked "Is that a real fire?" "Are you really going to eat that?" and have been told emphatically, "They didn't have babies in those days!")

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Nature red in tooth and claw

I was sitting in the back garden yesterday evening, chatting to my neighbour, when a flurry of wings made us look up.
Just a few feet above Pam's head, a sparrowhawk dived at a white dove, narrowly missing it - and then chasing it across the gardens towards Heol-y-dwr. At one point, it was within inches of the dove's tail, before it decided to give up the chase and flew instead to the vantage point of the chimneys above one of the Heol-y-dwr houses.
A few days ago, it was luckier - we found a spread of white feathers across the lawn, and Pam saw the sparrowhawk dragging the body to a safer place to eat it.
Considering that we're close to the middle of Hay, I think it's quite exciting to see a sparrowhawk going about its business with a total disregard for the presence of humans.

Friday, 15 April 2011


I got a copy of Herefordshire & Wye Valley Life today, to have a look at the inevitable article on Hay Festival (Chris Evans is on the cover - he's going to be doing his Breakfast Show from the Festival, and announcing the winners of his short story competition for children as part of Hay Fever). There's a picture of our mayor, Mary Fellowes, lurking beside a vase of daffodils - that's what the photographer was doing when he went to visit her, then.

However, it was cycling, and the dangers of cycling, that was making front page news in the Independent - and when I looked beyond the article about Hay in the magazine, I found that cycling seems to be a theme running through.
In Ledbury, the 'Walkers are Welcome' website has been joined by 'Come Cycling', at, launched by the Ledbury Area Cycle Forum. It promotes cycle routes, bike hire, tourist attractions and places to stay - and more - in the Ledbury area which are accessible to cyclists.
It's a great idea - it's just a pity that it's in place of all the tourist information centres in Herefordshire that are being closed because of the cuts.

Meanwhile Presteigne, it appears, is the electric bike capital of Britain! OnBike, the local electric bike shop, runs the Tour de Presteigne, which will be taking place on 8th May this year. It's a bit shorter than the Tour de France, and with fancy dress. More details can be found at
It's almost made me want to pull my bike out of the shed - though these days I'd need a trailer for Islay (I don't think lashing her trolley to the back would really work!).

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Kids Today!

Just look what they're getting up to!

Sixth formers from Brecon High School have been protesting about the compulsory redundancies of six of their teachers, by having a demo in Bethel Square, and having a petition - and their parents have demanded a public meeting to discuss the cuts. A sign saying "6th Formers Concerned About Our School" may not set the world on fire as a slogan, but it does indicate what they think is important, and the big banner saying "No to Compulsory Redundancies" says it all.
The chairman of the school governing body has resigned over the way that teachers were told that they were going to be made redundant (according to last week's B&R they were summoned from classrooms where they were teaching to be told, and were expected to go back and finish the lesson afterwards).
It would seem that the headmistress is the most unpopular woman in Brecon at the moment.

Meanwhile, Jack Bradley from Llanigon, who used to go to Gwernyfed High School and Christ College, Brecon, is about to walk nearly 200 miles to raise money for charity. Macmillan nurses have been supporting his father, who has cancer, so he and his friend Reuben Skibneiwski-Wood are doing the walk to raise money for the Macmillan Nurses. They can be sponsored at

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Open Mic Night Again

I don't spend all my spare time down at Kilvert's, honest!
This was a quiet night. I treated myself to a Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and as I sat sipping it (it's a 10% brew, so not one to just knock back), I was joined by a visitor to Hay from Doncaster, who was wondering what people in Hay did in the evenings, and where did they all disappear to? Hay night life is not much like the night life in Doncaster, apparently.
It's a pity the pub was so quiet, because we were joined by Dirty Ray - I've seen him play at the Globe - and later a lad called Jake sang some very good songs of his own, accompanied by another lad playing a small dustbin and a melodeon (not at the same time).
Tim the Gardener commemorated Yuri Gagarin's journey into space by singing Rocket Man and Back in the USSR. He also read from a biography of Augustus John, about how he cracked his head open on a rock while diving into the sea, and became a much better artist thereafter (though it's not a method of improvement I'd recommend).
There was poetry from Brian, the Poet Laureate of Hay, and another young man - and I did The Writer of Children's Books by Joyce Grenfell.
And Chris the Bookbinder gave us the latest installment of Olwen Ellis.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Election leaflets

Campaigning has begun, with the Conservatives and Kirsty Williams for the Lib Dems leafletting here so far.
Islay would just like to make it clear that the dog featured on the Conservative leaflet, above the caption "Cleaning up our streets" is not her - she has white eyebrows. (and on a scale of 1 - 10, where 10 is the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I don't think dog mess even counts as a 1 as an "environmental crime").

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Which stands for Hay Open Mic Night News. Tim the Gardener (here calling himself Old Compost) has started writing a single sheet newsletter to publicise what goes on at Open Mic Nights at Kilvert's. He has a nice turn of phrase, and I'm sure he won't mind being quoted here:
"Old Compost at 9.10 playing to 1 adult male, 4 pretty women and the barman. He compensates by playing for the spirits present. They are less formal than the corporeal, they dance, wear outlandish clothes and pull faces."
The bar filled up somewhat after that, with live people rather than spirits - and hopefully will do again next Tuesday at 8.30pm. I have foolishly volunteered to do my Joyce Grenfell impression....

Saturday, 9 April 2011

It must be Summer!

It's been a glorious day - the first day of the year that I've been able to wear a summer dress - and it was also the first Wye Local/Hay School Car Boot Sale.
Lots of variety in the car boots. I was utterly frivolous, and came away with a Venetian mask and a limited edition beer glass, as well as a few videos. I went round with Ros and Tudor, and met quite a few other people I knew, hunting for bargains.
Everyone was out in the garden, it seemed, later on - it's lovely to be somewhat communal out the back. Lungwort and forget-me-nots are blooming, and lots of other plants are sprouting up.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Old buildings are fascinating

In one of those meandering conversations that often seem to happen in the mean streets of Hay, I seem to have piqued Phil the Fruit's curiosity. We were talking about Clifford Castle, home of Fair Rosamund who was once the mistress of Henry II, and I happened to mention that no-one knows where the kitchen was - but there must have been one somewhere. Now Phil wants to find a plan of the castle, and is getting fascinated by medieval history.
Meanwhile, Brian has been studying the houses on Heol-y-dwr which were made from a converted Napoleonic grain store, and discovered that the wooden bit on the front, where once a winch took the bags of grain up to the top floor, is called a 'lucum'.
And I got a birthday card with a colourful picture of a cockerel on it, taken from the shop frontage of one of the shops in town. I didn't know which shop - until I was told to look up as I passed Shepherds.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Is Bookselling A Dangerous Business?

A colleague sent me a link to a blog called A Secret Fire, at, which is written by a chap called Martin Langfield to publicise his second novel, of that name.
Part of the plot concerns a book auction at Sotheby's in 1936, which really happened, though the rest of the novel is fictional (I hope!). A representative of Francis Edwards booksellers bought a manuscript written by Newton for the princely sum of nineteen pounds and ten shillings - and no-one knows where it is now.
This is especially interesting to me, because the antiquarian section of Hay Cinema Bookshop is Francis Edwards, and they were certainly around in 1936!
In the book, the hapless bookseller is hunted down by Nazis, and killed - but could that elusive manuscript still be lurking amongst the antiquarian treasures? Or did the Nazis get it?
Maybe I'd better be a bit wary of any customers coming in with dodgy German accents!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Changes for the Rose and Crown?

Walking past the Rose and Crown the other night, I noticed one of those little planning permission signs. It all sounded quite serious - two major internal changes to the building, and one external change were being proposed.
The first thing was to divide the living accommodation upstairs into three flats. Then they wanted to change the downstairs bar into a restaurant and takeaway outlet.
Finally, they wanted new signage outside, consisting of a large yellow 'M' and a picture of a man dressed as a clown....
That's when I started laughing, and noticed the date on the sign - April 1st.

(Phew - thank goodness the Rose and Crown is going to stay the same!)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Dinner at Kilverts

Thanks to the lovely ladies of the Fairtrade (and Terry and JA) who took me out to dinner the other night.
Much red wine was drunk.
We thought we'd go for a pizza, but the pizza oven wasn't on, so neither were the pizzas. Of the usual evening menu, the chicken pie and the stirfry prawns were off, but cassoulet was an extra. It was like no cassoulet I've ever tasted before, but it was very nice! Jo had the haddock fishcake, which was enormous, and topped with a poached egg - but she did say the balance of flavours was somewhat in favour of the potatoes rather than the haddock.
Kilvert's has a new French chef, hence the cassoulet, so it will be interesting to watch the menu.