Friday, 30 December 2011


There's a story in the B&R this week about the local canals.
To be honest, I tend to forget that this is a good area for canal holidays - even though the Brecon Canal comes right up to the edge of the town centre in Brecon, where Theatr Brycheiniog is, and I used to visit the Star at Talybont, which had the canal just behind it.
2012, it seems, is the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. It's 35 miles long, winds through beautiful countryside - and there are lots of activities planned to celebrate its bicentennial.
One of these, in conjunction with the B&R, is to find the canal dog of the year - all you need to do is take a picture of your dog along the canal and send it in. See the Brecon Beacons website for details. Other information about the year's activities can be found at

A little while ago, I met a couple who had been holidaying on the canal with the same company for 20 years. Last year, the original owner of the company retired and moved to Newport, so when they came on holiday with the new owners, they invited him up for a day to come on the canal with them.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rhydspence Remaining a Pub?

The Rhydspence, just outside Hay in Whitney-on-Wye, has a 600 year history as an Inn, but it seemed as if this was about to come to an end. The present owner wanted to retire, but the pub was on the market for a long time, and it looked as if it might be sold as a private house rather than an existing business.
The Herefordshire branch of CAMRA have been campaigning to save the pub, and the latest news (from CAMRA's national newspaper What's Brewing) is that the planning department have turned down an application to turn the Rhydspence into a private house, after evidence from the branch that it had not been offered for sale as a going concern at a price in keeping with the market value.
The owners of the Rhydspence are now seeking a tenant on a 10 year lease, and this is being handled through Sidney Phillips on 01981 250333.
So, if anyone would like to run a rural, half-timbered, 600 year old inn....

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Not Quite the Last Open Mic of the Year

There was a good showing from the Scott-Wilson family last night at Open Mic, both father and son. Malcolm played electric guitar, a guitar that had been converted into a mandalo(?), and an accordion, and recited Albert and the Lion in good Lancashire dialect, while Robin sang some of his own songs to the guitar.
Tim and Toby both sang, and one lady recited some of her own poems while her friend (visiting from Oxford, I think) sang a Billie Holliday song, and was persuaded to give an encore of a traditional Welsh song.
I kept up my reputation for weirdness by singing a version of the 12 Days of Christmas called Poacher's Christmas (it did seem a little bit odd to sing "my dog and I brought back" without Islay playing the part of the dog).
And of course, Dirty Ray was there with Bury Me Standing and Cherry Tree.
I left before the latest installment of The Green Book of Olwen Ellis.
Dirty Ray is playing again this evening at Kilvert's, and Toby is playing tomorrow night at Michaelchurch Escley, at the pub there.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Boxing Day Tradition

There was a good crowd for the start of the Boxing Day hunt around the clock tower.
I don't support hunting, and I'm glad the law was changed in favour of the fox - but I do love the spectacle. There must have been fifty or so horses there, all beautifully groomed, and some with the manes and tails plaited and decorated. There was a good crowd to watch, too. And, of course, Karl Showler was there, with his Santa hat and wheelbarrow, ready to clear up all that lovely horse manure when they'd gone.
Of course, there had to be one idiot - a young man in a car who tried to drive up past the clock tower through the middle of the riders, and hooted his horn before he gave up and carried on up Belmont Road. Very risky behaviour in the middle of a crowd of horses.

So, up the road I went to work - to find that the huge willow tree that overhung the road (in a manner that was starting to look distinctly dodgy) has been cut back drastically. It's surprising how much lighter it feels outside the cinema! And of course, it will regrow.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Peaceful Christmas

St Mary's does the big Christmas service at Midnight Mass, so there was a congregation on Christmas morning small enough to fit into the choir stalls - and it was a quick jog trot through the liturgy, as Fr Richard (and the holy hounds) had to be at Llanigon for the main Sunday/Christmas Day service at 11am. He was also doing duty as priest and organist, so had to keep dashing to the organ, playing the first verse of the carol, and then leaving the congregation to sing on unaccompanied while he went back to the altar.
Agnes the poodle howled daintily through the first carol, and then went to sleep.
It seems, by the way, that Fr Richard is building a shrine to Our Lady of Capel-y-ffin. Apparently a Norman lady had a vision there.

As Islay became gradually less able to walk, so my walks became shorter and shorter - until they became trolley pushes. So this year I decided to head up Cusop Dingle in the afternoon (pleasantly full of game stew and plum and cinnamon sponge, and a wee dram of whisky). I got as far as Llangwathan Mill, which is one of my favourite cottages up at the top end of the Dingle, before I felt I had to turn back. I'm sadly unfit, so I'll be getting the maps out and planning a few more long walks in the New Year. It was a lovely mild day, and all my favourite waterfalls were looking beautiful.

All this, and Doctor Who in the evening. I cried - "happy tears", of course (you'll have to watch the episode to understand the reference....).

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Saturday, 24 December 2011


Yeo Valley butter and spreadable butter is back at Londis/Pughs "by popular demand"!
It was 'delisted' a little while ago. The spreadable butter is perfect for my baking, and it's organic, and if not local then at least regional. And they have brilliant adverts! Nothing else available in Hay seemed to quite compare, though the olive oil spread from the wholefood shop is perfectly good for baking.

And this morning a friend knocked on my front door to ask if she could leave her heavy shopping bag while she walked down to the Co-op to see if they had any national papers. She'd been in Spar and the newsagents already. The newsagents had a notice up saying that there were none in today "due to Smiths". Apparently, WH Smiths have bought up the lot! The Co-op had none either. "So, no cryptic crosswords this Christmas," she said. "We'll have to make do with jigsaws."

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Festive Open Mic Nights

I missed all the enjoyment of two Open Mic nights, one after the other. On the night of the first, at the Globe, I was at County Hall in Llandrindod Wells, and on the night of the second, at Kilverts (with Naughty Nibbles), my Young Man phoned me just before I was going to go out - and I put the phone down an hour later. By which time it was too late to go out, really.
I missed two very good nights, with performers (especially at the Globe) who don't normally come to Open Mic nights. There was Alan Cooper, a brilliant fiddle player, and someone "who sounded very much like Little Rumba" according to Tim the Gardener, who had come all the way from Presteigne (or possibly Knighton).
There will be another special Open Mic night at Kilvert's for New Year's Eve - and I really don't want to miss that!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Inside Monday's Meeting

Thanks to Plan B for Hay and Transition Towns for this information.

Here's the list of the people attending the meeting on Monday:
Councillor Gareth Ratcliffe
Jeremy Patterson, Chief Executive
Paul Griffiths, Strategic Director Communities Skills and Learning
Clarence Meredith, Strategic Director Law and Governance
Geoff Petty, Strategic Director Finance and Infrastructure
Parry Davies Strategic Director Care & Well being
Douglas Wilson, Head of Schools
Nygaire Bevan, Head of Adult Services & Commissioning

Andrew Cottom, Chief Executive Powys teaching Health Board

Hay & District Sports and Community Association – Robert Goldsworthy
Paul Elkington

Chamber of Commerce – John Evans (Chairman)
Ruth Hovmand (Director)

Town Council – Councillor David Gittins
Councillor Johnny Kramer

Hay-on-Wye Primary School - Mrs Fiona Gray, Chair of Governors
Mr Stuart Fiddes, Headteacher from January.

Plan B for Hay – Andy Fryers
Jenny Valentine


Also invited: Roger Williams MP
Kirsty Williams AM
William Powell AM

And here's what they discussed:

The meeting was minuted, this was as a result of the Flashmob, PCC had originally said that it was not going to be. We will circulate the full minutes when they have been received and checked for accuracy.

There follows a series of bullet points, which outline the key points of interest.

* PCC and Gaufron both confirmed that there is no deadline when an option agreement needs to be signed by although they do not want it to be delayed if there are no alternative plans.
* PCC stated that they would welcome alternative plans, but had not received any yet.
* PCC confirmed that they had received legal challenges to the Option Agreement process and that they were still investigating the issue. They did state that they had already taken independent legal advice on the process from lawyers based in Leeds.
* PCC stated that the whole deal was like a pack of cards, if one element failed then everything else failed.
* Gaufron confirmed that it is a supermarket that they are looking to build on the school site.
* PCC stated that there was no money in the new Welsh Government schools funding allocated for Hay. Moreover they had included the developers’ contribution (£5 - 6million) in their original bid to WG as part of their match funding requirements. This was done around April 2011.
* PCC and Gaufron claimed that they have scoped out the needs of a new school for Hay, according to Gaufron " even down to the number of whiteboards needed". Neither of them has talked to the school at all about what the teachers or pupils want.
* PCC stated that Gaufron have not offered a cash amount but have said that they would build a new 240 pupil school if they are successful with their planning application on the existing school site.
* Both PCC and Gaufron state that the new school development is entirely dependant on planning being granted for the whole project.
* There seemed to be a little confusion in the Cabinet about the potential cost of a new school with a new figure of up to £8million being quoted by one member alongside the £5-6million by another.
* The care home seems to be a fairly stand alone development although it has been bundled up into this proposal to help fund the sports centre. It would be built Gaufron with input from PCC and the Health Authority at the developers’ invitation.
* In summing up, the leader of the council said that it seemed like a reasonable request to ask for a little more time however the cabinet would discuss the outcomes from this meeting and decide on the way forward. They were asked to hold a public meeting before any option agreement was signed and they agreed to consider this request. So no promises or commitments on anything.

There was another letter in the B&R today, too, from a gentleman in Swansea who is horrified at the thought of a supermarket in Hay, and talks about the destruction of his local high street in Morriston by a national supermarket opening nearby.


To everyone in Gypsy Castle - I really shouldn't have said that, and I apologise wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Dynamic Assembly Member

Kirsty Williams doesn't hang about - I've got an email from her about last night's meeting at County Hall already!
She didn't seem too impressed with the County Council. However, she did say that: "Council representatives did confirm that if the Plan B Group came forward with alternative proposals as to how the investment in Hay could be achieved without the supermarket they would consider any such proposals."
Which seems rather carefully worded, to me.
Kirsty Williams also said that she is emailing the Chief Executive of the County Council to make the following points:
"for a confirmation that the Council will now make a decision on a public meeting
for a commitment to proper community consultation
for details of the timescales under which the cabinet will make a decision".
The County Council still haven't agreed to holding a public meeting, but they haven't ruled it out either.

Monday, 19 December 2011

County Hall by Night

I bought a torch today. It's a little wind-up one in the shape of a ladybird. I thought that would be more appropriate than turning up with a sonic screwdriver (currently my only other torch!). I needed a torch so I could join in the protest outside County Hall in Llandod. The meeting between Powys County Council, the developers, Hay Town Council, the school, Chamber of Commerce "and others" was being held there (and may, indeed, still be going on as I type).
Unfortunately, the "and others" did not include some of the 'stakeholders' who had earlier been identified around Hay. The committee of Fairtrade Hay certainly weren't invited, and we had been asked if we wanted to be stakeholders.
In fact, it seemed that only a carefully selected few had been invited. This included two representatives of Plan B for Hay - they could hardly exclude that group, as it is the focus of the opposition to the development scheme.
So, the idea was to gather outside the council offices in Llandod and hold torches under our faces, silently, while the people who had been invited to the meeting went in. There were about fifty of us.
Of course, these things never go to plan. Gareth Ratcliffe and a couple of town councillors came in the front way - and Gareth came straight back out to talk to everyone, to ask them what questions they wanted to be raised in the meeting. Most of the other people at the meeting, however, had sneaked in the back way.
Once the protesters realised that, they started ambling in to the main reception area, where several men in grey suits appeared. The conversation had already started by the time I got through the door, but I did gather that Mr Patterson, the Chief Executive, was one of the men. They were busily explaining that this was intended to be a private meeting between interested parties, and none of the people who had turned up would be allowed in because they had not catered for a public meeting. Various people asked why not, since that was what had been requested - and furthermore, why hold it at 6.30pm, on the Monday before Christmas, in Llandrindod Wells, rather than in Hay? They also said that, because this was an informal meeting, no minutes would be taken, at which there was polite outrage from several quarters, not least the retired Town Clerk of Hay, who knows all about the legal requirements for minuting meetings, and who volunteered to take shorthand notes herself (she was turned down, of course). At length, the chap who did most of the talking promised to take notes and make them available to the public - but it was clear that he hadn't been intending to do anything of the sort until pressed.
They said that the people invited had been carefully selected for a balance of views, and that the protesters wouldn't be allowed in because they were all of one view - which is quite an impressive feat of mind reading. From the people I spoke to, I found a range of opinions around one central core - that no-one there wanted a supermarket in Hay - but there were many varied ideas about the way to achieve that, and also get a school, and community centre, which everyone agreed that Hay needs, and has needed for years.
They said that other people in Hay might have other views than the protesters, and they might not be as articulate in expressing those views as the protesters clearly were, and that their views had to be taken into account as well. But how does the County Council know what the views are if they haven't asked anyone, or released enough information on which to base an informed opinion? I'm taking a wild stab in the dark here now, and assuming that the County Council representative was implying that the protesters are mainly middle class, well educated, and incomers, and that he was trying to put himself on the side of the poorer and less well educated residents of Hay. [Edited to remove offensive comments - my apologies].
It was the man from the County Council who brought up the word "democracy" - at which there was much derisive laughter. One seemingly well informed gentleman countered this claim by stating that it was an oligarchy that ruled the County Council, in the form of the Cabinet, which is chosen by the Leader of the Council, rather than democracy.
So there it stands - and the original demand for a public meeting, in Hay, still stands, too. Preferably before anyone signs an option agreement - because after that, it will be too late to consider the other options which exist.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Hay School Development on the BBC

Here's the link to the BBC news page with the latest story about Hay School and the development project.
I see that they report that Simon Hoare, the spokesman for Gaufron Developments, has said that Plan B for Hay is "not fully informed". If that's his concern, maybe he should have thought to fully inform the people of Hay of their plans?
Apparently, the meeting between Powys Council, the developers, the town council, school governors, the Chamber of Commerce "and others" will take place on Monday.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A Trip up the Borders

I've been a bit preoccupied this last week - my stepfather passed away suddenly last weekend, and I had to get up to Wrexham today for his funeral.
On the plus side, this meant a train journey through some of the loveliest scenery in Britain, through Ludlow and Shrewsbury and up until we crossed the River Dee (several times - it's a very meandering river) and came in to Wrexham General. Then I got a lift up to the village outside Wrexham that dad retired to. I lived there for a while too, but I had difficulty remembering much of it.
It's the first time I've ever been to the graveside at a funeral - most of the previous services I've been to have been cremations - and as the church is quite close to the cemetery, we walked down behind the hearse, with the cars for the less mobile members of the family behind. And the hailstone came in horizontally - everyone said dad must have arranged it specially!
And then we went to the pub - well, one of many pubs in the village - where there was a buffet and a tab behind the bar. Egg sandwiches. You've got to have egg sandwiches at a funeral. And ham. And little sausage rolls. (It was like going back in time to the 1970s!). The real ale on offer was Jennings Redbreast, which was quite pleasant. And I got a chance to chat to members of the family I hadn't seen for maybe twenty years.
On the way back to the station, my memory started to come back, as we drove cautiously down a very narrow lane which was in the process of being re-surfaced. There was the hall where I'd given blood (and was given orange juice afterwards, instead of tea, because I looked much younger than I was). And there was the bowling green where the Zulu dancers practised for the National Eistedfodd one year.
I was surprised how easy it was to get to Wrexham by train - I was there by 11am after catching the College bus from Hay at crack of dawn. It was just a shame I had to get back early so I could catch the last available bus from Hereford to Hay.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Latest News on New School

I got a letter from Roger Williams, MP, today. I wrote to him, along with many others, about the development proposals for the school site. As a result of the letters, he requested a public meeting with Powys County Council. Mr Patterson, Chief Executive of the Council, has now replied to say there will be a public meeting (date still to be decided).
Here's his full answer to Roger Williams, which was included with my letter.

"Hay on Wye - Development Proposals

Thank you for your email concerning the above. I confirm that the Cabinet has not yet signed an Options Agreement in relation to the development of a new school in Hay. The Cabinet has agreed that a Stakeholder Meeting consisting of a range of representatives from the Community would be helpful in formalising views on the way forward. Such a meeting will allow a full explanation of a project to be provided with opportunities for questions and comments to be made. It is proposed to hold such a meeting during December/January and a date will be identified shortly. The Cabinet has agreed such a meeting will take place prior to any decision being taken in respect of an Options Agreement.
As has already been widely acknowledged an Options Agreement would in effect be a Statement of Intent subject to a range of other issues being resolved, not least of all a Planning Application. As such an application would be handled by the Brecon Beacons National Park, this will allow further detailed scrutiny of the project by a wide range of Stakeholders. Given that this exercise would be undertaken by the National Park and not the Council's own Planning Department, it is considered this would be an extremely robust mechanism for testing any development proposals."

A couple of things strike me from this email. The first is that the meeting proposed is a "Stakeholders meeting", not a public meeting. I know that various local groups, including the Fairtrade group, have been asked if they wish to be Stakeholders - but surely every parent in Hay should be considered to be a stakeholder. And an explanation of the project with opportunities for questions and comments doesn't seem to leave much room for alternative plans to be put forward or considered.
The second thought is that any planning department can only consider the plan in front of them, and not whether that plan should ever have been presented to them in the first place, nor whether there might be a better plan.

I also got the B&R this morning, and two stories caught my eye. On the front page is the headline "£78 million for schools". It seems that Powys County Council will be getting £78 million from the Welsh Assembly towards new school building projects. Okay, it will be spread across seven years, and needs to be match funded with savings and borrowing on the part of the Council - but if this amount of money is available, why do we need a deal with a supermarket - or a developer - at all?

The second story concerns Mid Wales Hospital in Talgarth, which has been bought by a man from Pontrilas called Phil Collins. The paper says he has forty years experience in the building industry. He wants to build affordable homes and retirement homes on the site - so here is someone in the industry who thinks that it is feasible to build houses rather than "retail developments". He also wants to build a 60 bed care home. Since the plans for the new school site in Hay also include a 60 - 80 bed care home, just how many care homes do we need locally?
Mr Collins, unlike Powys County Council, seems to have kept local people informed of what he's doing, with an exhibition and talks with local people, before he is ready to submit the planning application to the National Park.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Christmas Shopping

It's been a madly mild day - I saw roses blooming on a traffic roundabout, in December!
I was leaving the Winter Festival in Hay behind to go to Hereford for the day.
What I actually wanted, boringly, was printer ink from the refilled cartridge place - and once I'd got that, I wasn't sure what I was going to do. I've been incredibly organised this year, and got most of my Christmas presents already, locally. Then I ran into Amo near the Cornish Pasty shop. She was on her way to a local beekeepers' Christmas dinner (she started keeping bees this year), but she'd just come from the Steiner School Advent Fair at the Shire Hall. (Thanks, Amo!)
I don't think I've ever been in the Shire Hall before. It went back a lot further than I expected, with stalls all along the main corridor, and then a flight of stairs to the main hall. There were children's activities, a puppet show and a Snow Queen, refreshments up on the stage, and lots of lovely crafty, presenty things on the stalls. I was very impressed with the rag rugs - which reminded me that here was a craft I'd like to get back to. There was pottery, too, and leather goods, and Christmas wreaths, and Fairtrade clothes (including some made with giant nettle fibre), and hand spun wool and wool for felting, and recycled sari yarn.... I had a lot of fun going round, and I eventually emerged, blinking, into the sunlight clutching a variety of wooden spoons and spatulas for the kitchen, all hand made, for about the same price as plastic tat that wouldn't last five minutes.
The Saturday market was on in the main square, too, which made it pleasantly busy - including a live barn owl on one Owl charity stall.
So I came away with a few ideas, and a bag full of things I hadn't set out to buy (but which will come in very useful), with just enough time to buy a magazine from the shop near the bus station, and peruse the beer shelves of Morrisons (mmm, Adnams, and Batemans, and Old Thumper, and Rosy Nosy....) before the bus was due back to Hay.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Strange Animals

There's a horse in Lion Art Gallery.
Well, to be perfectly accurate, there is a life sized statue of a horse, made out of wire and wool and other stuff, standing with its head towards the door (probably the only way they could get it in!). It's by Sally Matthews, who is really extremely good at that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, in Hourglass Gallery, there's a museum standard resin model of a sabre tooth tiger skull. Again, it is really extremely good.
Just as long as the two don't meet....