Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A Tale of Two Tables

When I first moved into this house, I'd just come back from Greece, and I had no furniture at all. Fortunately for me, this was at the same time that my mum decided to stay in Greece permanently, and sell her house in North Wales, which she had been renting out fully furnished.
She needed to clear the furniture out of the house, and the easiest way to do it was to give it to me. All I needed was a van, and a couple of kind friends to drive and to help me load it up.
Mum had a big kitchen, and a big kitchen table with four chairs. It's always been a bit too big for my front room, especially when I also had two small settees which could only fit in by making it look like an old fashioned railway carriage. And a Welsh dresser.
Freecycle was a great help. One of the settees went to help furnish a granny flat some years ago.
After my success with the new bed, I decided it was finally time to get myself a table that would fit the room better. A drop-leaf table maybe, with chairs that folded away underneath. I saw just what I wanted online - but in the States, and they didn't seem to be making that design any more anyway.
So I went round the antique shops of Hay with a tape measure in my pocket, and once again, local shopping has turned out to be best. I am now the proud owner of an oak drop-leaf table about half the size of the old kitchen table, with barleytwist legs. It came from the new shop, the Basement (it used to be part of the big bookshop on the corner at the top of the Pavement). Even better, the chap in the shop carried it home for me!
Freecycle split into two groups some time ago, so I thought I'd advertise the old table on Freegle first (the Brecon side of the border). I've had six replies, and I'm just waiting now for the first person who asked to decide whether they want it.
My front room is already looking less cluttered, even with the table propped up against the wall with its legs off!

Monday, 30 December 2013

"Time to Remember the Poor"

...as the old Christmas carol has it.
Mike Sivier, who has a blog called Vox Political at http://mikesivier.wordpress.com, lives in Powys, and his MP is Roger Williams, who is also the MP for Hay. On 21st December, he wrote a post about the debate on food banks in the House of Commons, at which Roger Williams spoke. I'm sorry to say that he was not impressed with Mr Williams' performance. For instance, he was only aware of two food banks in Powys, in Llandrindod Wells and one which is about to be set up in Brecon. In fact, there are also food banks in Hay, Knighton and Ystradgynlais, with Rhayader being covered by Llanidloes in Montgomeryshire.
The phone number for Hay Community Cupboard is 07908 876978.

There were no food banks when I first came to live in Powys, but this year 60,000 people in Wales needed to be referred to them because they were in crisis.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Celebrating New Year in Cusop

Cusop Village Hall sounds like the place to be to see the New Year in - in a rather unusual way. Revellers will be gathering for a New Year lunch, from 11.30am on New Year's Eve, so they can celebrate New Year arriving on the other side of the world!
The lunch will consist of Maori and Asian dishes.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Small Business Saturday

The Green Room on Lion Street, which also has a quite charming little garden out the back, to display some of the garden ornaments it sells.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

St Mary's church, Cusop, in the snow, taken by Ros Brodie.

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Taste of the Raj

A Christmas treat the other night was to be taken out to Hereford for a curry at The Taste of the Raj. I think I was last there about fifteen years ago, also near Christmas, when they were frantically busy and short-staffed (those waiters deserved a medal!).
It was a lot more relaxed this time, with only a couple of small parties in.
I had a very nice dhall soup followed by lamb bhuna. They also do an interesting range of fish dishes.
On the way, we came into Hereford via the Roman Road. Seeing all the roundabouts and lights and so on still surprises me - I remember when it was a very narrow lane with passing places.
And on the way back, there was a wonderful view of Orion over the Wye Valley, with Sirius the dog star at his heels.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Small Business Saturday

CommuniKate - mobile phones on Lion Street. She also owns a race horse!

All Change for Christmas

There's some sort of obscure religious festival on Wednesday, and the Boxing Day hunt on Thursday, so the Thursday market in Hay will be happening on Monday, just in time to stock up for the festivities.

Friday, 20 December 2013

A Visitor to Hay

Rambles from my Chair can be found at http://scriptorsenex.blogspot.co.uk/
The blogger (Old Writer) lives near Liverpool, but recently he came to Hay, and his pictures can be seen on his blog, on 25th November.
He didn't have very good weather....

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Dog-Sitting - and Customer Service

I've been away from the computer for a couple of evenings, dog-sitting for friends. It's been lovely - a delicious meal and a bottle of beer by a real fire, with a sweet young lurcher cuddling up to me (as well as a dog with such long legs and narrow body can cuddle) and a good book.
I was reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice, a sequel to the Sherlock Holmes stories where he teams up with a young woman after he has retired to Sussex to keep bees. And about half way through the book, while investigating a kidnapping case, they come to the Brecon Beacons (though Laurie R King, the author, is careful not to name any of the villages they pass through)!

Meanwhile, Athene English on Castle Street has been displaying some tweed jackets outside her shop for a week or two, and I was rather taken by a brown one. A couple of days ago, I decided to pop in on the way back to work from my lunch break to see if it would fit.
When I got there, the jacket was hanging outside, but there was a "Back Soon" sign on the door, which was locked. So I tried the jacket on in the street - and it fitted beautifully.
While I was waiting for Athene, or one of her assistants, to come back, Tim the Gardener came by to take her dog for a walk, so I told him why I was waiting. He went round the back to get in through the garden, but I had to go back to work.
About an hour later, Tim strode into the shop and tossed the jacket onto the counter. "Here's your jacket!" he said. When he'd got back from walking the dog (they went up Cusop Dingle a fair way) Athene and co. were back in the shop - they'd gone out for their staff Christmas lunch. So I paid Tim and back he went.
It's the sort of service you wouldn't get from a chain store!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Mabinogogiblog: Wind Turbine Controversy?

I think this is quite a fair assessment of the arguments around wind turbines, by a Green councillor somewhere near Stroud.

Mabinogogiblog: Wind Turbine Controversy?: I was spurred by criticism of wind turbines on a Green Party email list to review the controversy over wind turbines for my blog - somethi...

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Phoning BT - and some Whovian Excitement!

I wasn't online much yesterday - or rather, I was online, but I was spending all my time trying to sort out a problem with my virus protection - and eventually I had to admit defeat and call the BT helpline.
I got three different Indian men on the line, and they couldn't have been nicer. They were all incredibly patient, and helpful, and when we couldn't completely solve the problem last night, the chap I was talking to seemed genuinely sorry, and told me all the steps I needed to take to finish off the process. (Gosh, but I got my money's worth out of them yesterday!)
And it seems to have worked! I'm now back online and safe behind my little McAfee shield.

Meanwhile in the real world, we had a rather special customer in the bookshop last week. She was looking for leather bound books, and she'd come from Cardiff. She was collecting them for set dressing for Doctor Who! So some of our books may possibly end up in the Tardis Library! That's almost more exciting than being by Royal Appointment! (No, actually, it's a lot more exciting!). Knowing my fannish tendencies, Deb in the antiquarian department tried to get her to offer me a bit part. "But I'm a rubbish actor!" I protested, when they told me.
She was nice enough to give me the latest Doctor Who magazine, though, and we had a little chat about favourite Doctors (mine has to be Jon Pertwee, from the classic series - all those capes and velvet jackets, and racing around in Bessie the vintage car, and all the other vehicles that Jon Pertwee used to love driving).

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Small Business Saturday

The Keeper's Pocket, a recent arrival to Lion Street. They do antiques with an interesting line in taxidermy - in the window is the head and shoulders of a draught horse, stuffed around a hundred years ago by a loving owner.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Toilets To Be Proud Of

Last night there was a meeting in the Parish Hall about the future of the public toilets in Hay. It wasn't packed out, but there were still about 50 people there, and all of the councillors who could make it. Rob Golesworthy thought it was worth putting on his Mayoral chain for the evening.

Earlier in the day, the Chief Executive of Powys County Council, Jeremy Patterson, and Paul Griffiths, the Director of Powys Highways, came for a private meeting with Hay Council. They took them to see the toilets at the top of Hay car park, and suggested strongly that it would be a good idea to have a small levy on top of the car park charge to pay for them.
Then they went back to the Council Chambers, where a "small but vociferous" protest rally was being held outside the Clock Tower toilets. The petition against the closures started by Ellie Spencer gained 1,122 signatures, with an online version hosted by 38 Degrees and a paper version.

At the meeting with the councillors, a few concessions were made. If Hay Town Council sends a letter of intent to take over the toilets, the Cabinet may delay the closure to April 2014 to enable them to get the funding in place. They also agreed to look at the possibility of a levy on the car park, first of all to see if the idea was legal, and then (if it is) at a mechanism to get the money to Hay. They are considering raising the car parking charges across the county anyway. A levy of 5p per ticket would raise £14,000 and a 10p levy would raise £28,000, based on the number of cars using the car park last year (280,000). Hay doesn't get the car park money because in 1974 the town council gave responsibility for the car park over to Powys.
The toilets are expected to cost £13,393 for the ones at the car park and £6,373 for the clock tower toilets - Rob had a breakdown of the figures from the county council, including water, sewage, electricity, rates, cleaning and toilet rolls, and a climate levy of £13 a year. There's also an annual health and safety inspection charge, which has to be done by law.
They will give their answer early in the New Year. The town precept (which is the amount of money Hay gets from the council tax to run everything they are responsible for in the town) is £13,900 and Hay council have to set the amount of the precept that they need by the 24th January.

If the Cabinet don't agree to these things - what then?
Rob Golesworthy was adamant that the toilets would not be closed down, even if he has to clean them himself! They are too important to the future of the town.

Dawn Lewis, one of the new councillors, has been in touch with someone at the National Park - I think it was the Sustainable Tourism Manager, and she also mentioned a Mr Tyler who is the Director of Countryside. They are concerned about what the county council are doing, but feel it is not their place to lobby them. They agreed that Hay is the jewel in the crown of the area as far as tourism is concerned, and raises a lot of money.

The Disabled Access Group are also looking for a meeting with the county council, as they want to ensure that disabled people are able to get to toilets when they need them. There may be a legal issue with closure, as disabled people are a "protected group" which needs to be catered for.

The other options the town council have are to ask volunteers to clean the toilets, to start charging for the use of the toilets, to find another local body willing to fund the toilets, such as the Chamber of Commerce. This could start off on a voluntary basis, like paying for the Christmas lights.
Another possibility would be to increase the precept, meaning that the council tax payments for everyone in Hay would go up by around £10. But this would mean charging the people who, on the whole, don't use the toilets, rather than putting the cost onto the visitors who do.
There is a grant available of £6,500 a year from the county council to run the toilets - but this doesn't remotely cover the cost.

The use of volunteers was considered to be a bad idea - it might start well, but people would drop out and leave others to carry the load, and it would be better to hire someone to do the cleaning, because then there would be someone to hold to account for the state of the toilets. One suggestion was that if Hay, Talgarth and Glasbury got together, the cleaning of all those toilets could be the basis for a start up business for someone.

At a recent meeting in Glasbury, a group of volunteers have come forward to run the toilets themselves (they are trying to set up a Trust), and the meeting was practically unanimous in agreeing that the precept in Glasbury should be raised to pay for the toilets. But as Anna of Drover Holidays pointed out - they don't have a car park to raise money from.

There were worries about vandalism - some towns that started to charge for their toilets found that people were breaking the locks and causing damage. However in Llandovery, vandalism went down. Luke of Drover Holidays pointed out that the problem with vandalism wasn't whether the toilets were free or cost money, but anti-social behaviour generally, and if it wasn't the toilets, it would be something else in town that was damaged.
Rob said that the last time the toilets at the car park were seriously damaged, it was by adults from out of town. They were caught on CCTV. There's also a problem in that one of the gent's toilets by the clock tower is broken, and the county council will not mend it.
One of the ways to combat vandalism would be to lock the toilets earlier, around 5.30pm, but there are people around town in the evenings who can't always go into pubs to use the toilets, such as the boys who ride their BMXs around. It could also be a problem for walkers and canoeists who come to the town out of business hours.
Just recently Hay became a "Walkers Are Welcome" town, and the early closure of the toilets in the evenings might jeopardise that status. Talgarth and Crickhowell are also "Walkers Are Welcome" towns, and it would be worth getting in touch with them and working something out together.
Another suggestion for raising money would be to sell advertising space in the toilets. Gareth is going to look into the cost of turnstiles and coin operated locks. Anne Brichto suggested that booksellers could leave some surplus books in the toilets - "spend a penny and get a free book".
Another suggestion was to turn the toilets into "eco-loos", with solar panels for the lighting, and cisterns that use less water.
If anyone else has ideas - the council would love to hear them!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Castle Tap

On Saturday night, I went up to the Castle for an evening out. It was a mini beer festival, with beers from several local small breweries, as well as ciders (and wine). The tickets included 2 pints of beer, food and the band Lonesome Stampede, all for £10. It was all to raise money for Hay and Clyro Schools.
I was a bit cheeky at the bar, and asked if I could have four halves instead of two pints, so I could get round as many beers as possible (two pints is getting close to my limit!) and they were very good about that - I had some Abigail's Party from Jones the Brewers, Oliver's Twist (quite citrus-y and refreshing) and Auntie Myrtle's. The organisers had gone for fairly hoppy and light beers on the whole, but a variety of strengths.
Food was being cooked in the Castle kitchen - I got a sausage, beefburger and salad, in a bun, from a man with a sweatshirt emblazoned with the slogan "Heisenburg's Cookery School". I asked him if this meant he was uncertain about what he was cooking.*
Lonesome Stampede are a good local band, and they will also be playing Tomatitos on Saturday 21st December for their Winter Solstice gig.
The Castle was packed out - and when I saw one of the organisers yesterday evening he told me they could have sold the tickets about three times over. Also, they ran out of beer! They raised £400 each for Hay and Clyro Schools, and they will certainly be doing it again!

*It's a science joke - Heisenburg's Uncertainty Principle

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Christmas Dinner

It's that time of year when groups book Christmas lunches and dinners in restaurants and pubs, and on Friday I went with a group to the Black Lion.
I just want to say that their rice pudding with fruit compote is possibly the best rice pudding I have ever eaten in my life! And the rest of the meal was pretty good, too. The squash and apple soup for starters was delicious, and there was plenty of meat for the main course (I had beef rather than the traditional turkey) - it was all very tasty.
And there was good conversation too.

Monday, 9 December 2013

More Council Discussions

The Two Towns One World project is just finishing, thankfully on target after some problems along the way. Now it remains to wind down and do an audit (which could be expensive in itself). Steve Like pointed out that councillors put a lot of their own time and effort into things like the recent visit from Timbuktu - such as Fiona Howard driving a minibus to the airport and back - and in future that sort of thing should be written into the costs of a project rather than donated for free by the councillors. Hay-on-TV now has a second film channel dedicated to Timbuktu.

Problems continue with the plans for the new Hay School. The provisions for the Council in the new building are not adequate nor appropriate, with the council meetings having to share space with community groups doing yoga and the town clerk having to share an office with the registrar. There are also concerns about the County Council's plans to sell the Council Chambers and the Library (which will also be moving into the school building). It would be nice to know where the money from those sales is going to go.
Fiona Howard, who couldn't be present at the meeting, had said she was going to work out a business plan for the Council Chambers so that the town council can continue to use it. The rent from the offices is enough for the day to day expenses, but some serious maintenance work needs to be done and there is no money spare for that. The roof will need replacing soon, for instance. The present lease from the County Council has expired, and it was suggested that the best plan at the moment was to ask for a further five year lease, by which time the school might actually have been built, and councillors would have a better idea of their options.
If the town council have to move, one suggestion was that they should move into the present Library building when the Library moves to the school.

Apparently, there is £200,000 in the bank which is supposed to be for the benefit of Hay, but which the town has not been able to touch. It was put to one side by the County Council in 1996, when there were plans to extend the main car park. So someone is going to investigate the terms on which the County Council will release the money to Hay.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Hay Council Meeting

I've already taken a couple of points of discussion out of the notes I made at the last Council meeting - about Hay's toilets and the wind turbine - but plenty more was discussed as well.
And at the beginning of the meeting, two new councillors were welcomed.
As there were two vacant places, and only two people came forward to fill those places, Dawn Lewis (of the LDP Plan Action group) and a lady called Helen (Davies? Sorry - I didn't catch her full name) there will be no election and the council is now up to strength again.
Also at the beginning of the meeting, Rob Golesworthy invited all the councillors to the Conservative Club after the meeting for Christmas drinks - if they finished in time for last orders!

The Woodland Group have been doing some clearing along the railway line path - I met Anna from Drover Holidays last night, who was one of the volunteers, and has been working her way up from saplings to cutting down really quite big trees as she gets more practice. They are waiting until they have enough waste there to get a chipper in from Powys, and it was suggested that they wait until January, and then they can get people to come down with their old Christmas trees to dispose of them.
Although the Council put a request in for fruit trees from Powys, they haven't managed to get hold of any. The County Council say they were inundated with requests. Councillors wanted more information about why their request failed, so they can put a better application in next time the offer is made.

PC Fion Thomas was there to give his police report. The police are doing an anti-shoplifting patrol in the run up to Christmas, and have been testing local licensed premises on whether they sell to under age drinkers along with the Trading Standards people. It's also been magic mushroom season up on Hay Bluff recently, and 8 people were dealt with for drugs offences ("They tend to bring other things with them as well," he said). The brass plaque from the British Legion Club has been stolen - and of course, it's not the British Legion any more; it's now a social club.

Red biodegradable dog poo bags are now available free from the Library (cue all the dog walkers in the room waving one which happened to be in their pocket!). Dog waste can be put in any of the bins around town, and the wicker baskets that were woven over the summer are filling up.

Mr Gittens has offered to shot blast and paint the old Hay sign to make it ready to put up on one of the approach roads to Hay again, possibly by the bridge, and Alan Powell has framed the Timbuktu sign ready to be put up by the Tourist Information office.

The old Hay fire appliance has been offered to someone else to restore, but at present is buried in a barn under a load of stuff. When it's cleared out, the owner will inform Alan Powell so he can go down and take photos. A similar Shand-Mason Horse Drawn Fire Appliance is at a museum in Worcester.

The bungalow by the school is still not ready for the Youth Group to move into it - there seems to be some problem about change of use.

Claiming ownership of the Gliss for the Council with the Land Registry is not as straight forward as it first seemed. There is some dispute about the land just in front of Chantic, one of the houses that faces the area, and fishing rights do not seem to be included. The situation is also complicated by the railway that used to pass through the land (and in fact through Chantic's front room!) and by the responsibility for maintenance being split between the council and the National Park. Hay Council should have the fishing rights, which they bought along with the railway line, and the River Authority will be contacted for clarification.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Small Business Saturday

Golesworthy's, selling good quality outdoor wear, hats, shoes, knives, and even archery equipment, for something like a hundred years. Rob Golesworthy is currently Mayor of Hay.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Clyro Wind Turbine

Clyro local council have objected to the development of a wind turbine at Cold Blow (which is about the most apt name you could have for the site of a wind turbine) after a meeting where something like 170 residents were against the project and only about five (being the family who own the farm) being in favour. Apparently someone in the audience had done their homework, and demolished the case for the turbine.
Maybe they would have liked it better if it looked like this:

This is the windmill at Lytham St Anne's, near Blackpool, taken from the blog John Burke's A-Musings. When I was a kid, my family used to take the Yelloway coach from Bury to Blackpool, and spotting this windmill on the outskirts of Blackpool was almost as exciting as being the first one to spot Blackpool Tower!
So I've always rather liked windmills.

A leaflet was put out advertising the public meeting in Clyro, and also mentioning the opposition website at http://no2clyrohillwindturbine.com
The main - in fact the only - argument against the turbine made in the leaflet was basically that it would spoil the view. It will be 84 metres tall(about the same height as Big Ben). They warn that the presence of this turbine will encourage others to apply to build turbines, and this will have a bad effect on tourism in this unspoilt area.
Now, I get my electricity and gas from a company called Good Energy, which provides 100% renewable energy. This includes wind farms in Cornwall, solar panels dotted all over the place, and biogas. Recently a survey was done of tourists in Cornwall. They were asked if the presence of wind farms had made any difference to their decision to come and holiday in Cornwall, and having seen the turbines, would they come back and holiday there again? Overwhelmingly, the tourists said that the turbines had made no difference at all to their holiday plans, and would make no difference to their plans to holiday in Cornwall in the future. The press release talking about this can be found at (again, sorry for the long url):


So I don't really see that a walker who wants to walk the Offa's Dyke Path, for instance, will be put off because he might possibly see a wind turbine in the distance.
The last time I came back from Hereford on the bus, I noticed a wind turbine above the village of Dorstone. In fact, I had to look quite hard to see the wind turbine, as it was almost invisible against a grey sky. In the B&R this week, on the front page, there's a story that claims that the Clyro wind turbine would overshadow Rhosgoch and Painscastle as well as Clyro. All I can say is that the Dorstone turbine does not overshadow Dorstone.
Far more obtrusive in the landscape are the Madley radio telescope dishes. They must have been a huge shock to local people when they were first built, but now they are an accepted part of the landscape, and I've never heard anyone complain about them, or suggest that they have harmed local tourism.
And we don't even notice the vast army of electricity pylons striding across the landscape everywhere in the country any more.
A lady in Rhosgoch is worried about the impact on her small airfield - the dangers of hitting the turbine, and turbulence. I'm not sure how far away from the turbine her farm is, but as far as hitting the turbine goes, in Rugby the huge radio masts on one side of the town used to have small red lights up them at night, and no aircraft ever hit them (I believe that they became obsolete and were taken down, and some people in Rugby were rather sorry about that, because they liked to see them on the skyline).
I can't say anything about turbulence, because I don't know enough about it - but it seems unlikely to me that it could have such a large effect over a wide area.
The piece in the B&R also mentions noise pollution. I understand that wind turbines do make a sort of humming noise. I've never been close to one, but my sister and her husband visited a wind farm in Germany on their holidays - the Germans are far more enthusiastic about renewable energy than the British - and they said that they couldn't see what all the fuss was about. They could still hear the birds singing even when they were standing right under the turbines.

New sorts of wind turbine, which are more efficient than the present model, are being developed. Maybe the people of Clyro would prefer something like this?

Because at the moment, their electricity probably comes from somewhere that looks more like this:

(This is - or was - Stuart Street Power Station in Manchester, where my grandad used to work).

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Save Hay's Toilets!

At the Council meeting on Monday evening, there was some discussion about the recent decision by the County Council to close all the public toilets in Powys (or nearly all of them). They had managed to buy some time by suggesting to the County Council that the Town Council might be willing to take over the running of the toilets, but they have nothing like enough money in their budget to take it on.

Just a little while ago, there was a big public meeting in Glasbury, where they have a toilet block which is on a layby where people park to go walking or canoeing. The meeting had a turnout of around 200 - and Glasbury is a lot smaller than Hay. There was 100% support for keeping the toilets open, and 100% support for increasing the council tax in the village to pay for it, even though the amount they pay locally would have to go up from around £7 to around £27. They are also willing to provide volunteers to clean the toilets.

One of the problems with the funding is that the County Council have only supplied approximate figures for the costs of running the toilets - they must know what it costs exactly, since they are running them, and have been for years, but they're not giving out accurate figures.
The Chief Executive of the County Council is coming to Hay to meet with the Town Council next week. One of the things he's going to be asked is whether he will allow a levy to be added to the car park charges which would be used to fund the toilets - at least the toilets by the car park - but it seems he will be unlikely to agree to this. The County Council are offering a grant of £6,500, but this is only part of the total cost.
Another suggestion was to start charging for the use of the toilets, but in other places the money collected has only really covered the cost of the person collecting it, and there hasn't been enough left over for maintenance - and there have also been problems with vandalism where people have forced their way into the toilets without paying. Which costs more money to fix.
The National Park authority hasn't been consulted, and they are concerned about the effect on visitor numbers, but have been so far reluctant to get involved. And the toilets are running out of time. They will be locked up for good on 1st January unless something can be sorted out before then.
One of the ways to challenge the decision to close the toilets is by going down the equality route - lack of toilets will adversely affect vulnerable groups such as the elderly and disabled - and this could be the basis of a legal challenge against the County Council.
The Town Council are going to have an emergency meeting on Monday evening to discuss what they can do.

So there is going to be a public meeting, at 7pm at the Parish Hall on Thursday 12th December. Barry Thomas from the County Council has already said he will not attend a public meeting (though it's the same day he's meeting the Town Council), but other county councillors will be invited, and so will Roger Williams, MP and Kirsty Williams AM. John Evans of the Chamber of Commerce has offered to chair the meeting, as it's a subject of great importance to local businesses, but it may be Gareth Ratcliffe or one of the Town Councillors instead.

There is also a petition hosted by 38 Degrees, set up by Ellie Spencer. I know it's a long url, but here it is:


As of Thursday evening at 8pm, the petition has 456 signatures, and needs a minimum of 500.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Magus of Hay

Phil Rickman's new book is out - the twelfth in his Merrily Watkins series, about the Diocesan Exorcist (also known as Deliverance Ministry) of Herefordshire - and it's about Hay.
I went to see him speak as part of the Winter Hay Festival on Sunday evening, in the castle (which features in the book), being interviewed by Peter Florence. One of the questions from the audience was why had he waited so long to come to Hay for a story, and his answer was that he was saving it, because Hay has so many good stories associated with it of the sort that he can use for a Merrily Watkins plot. Like Ken Ratcliffe's story of seeing Cusop Dingle lit up as though from within, just for an instant, when he was a young man, which features in the story.
After the talk, I got my arm twisted (they didn't have to twist very hard!) to have dinner at Red Indigo, where Eklim greeted me by saying I was wasting away because I wasn't eating enough curry! The Lamb tikka masalla was very nice indeed, accompanied by good conversation.

I started reading the book (obtained from Addyman's Murder and Mayhem) on Tuesday night, and it was one of those un-put-downable books right from the start. Phil Rickman brings in a couple from an earlier novel, the Crown of Lights, as a pair of beginner booksellers in Backfold. He's added a couple more shops down there, backed up against the Castle wall - and the advice the couple are given about bookselling is absolutely spot on! He mentions Derek Addyman in the credits at the back of the book, and I suspect this is where he got his information from - and being an ex-journalist, he has obviously listened very carefully!
And then he goes and puts his first murder victim in the pool of my favourite waterfall on Cusop Dingle!
Sadly, Jane, Merrily's teenaged daughter, is away learning to be an archaeologist in West Wales, and Lol, her boyfriend, is out on the road performing his music, so Merrily is very much on her own in this story - Phil Rickman said something about not wanting the series to turn into something like Heartbeat!
He has some scathing things to say about Hereford, too. On page 71:
"The City of Hereford seemed to be dying, the way a venerable tree died, from the centre outwards - long-established businesses left to rot while councillors turned away to nurture their doomed, peripheral shopping mall, hand-feeding it with taxpayers' money badly needed elsewhere.
Most people were saying that, but nothing came to save the city."
Which is a concise summing up of the present situation.

Having started the book, I started seeing Phil Rickman's name elsewhere, too. I follow tor.com, which has all sorts of information about SF and Fantasy novels and films and comics and TV, and one of the books recommended in a recent round up is December, a non-series book about musicians playing at a ruined Welsh abbey, with paranormal results.
And in SFX Magazine, one of the reviews of paperback re-issues is for The Man in the Moss, Phil Rickman's book about a remote village in his native Lancashire. It's one that I enjoyed very much, partly for the bog body itself, and partly because of the traditional brewery that is involved in some of the action. "Featuring well-drawn characters, this is a powerfully atmospheric read." says the reviewer.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Glorious Food

The morning after the lights were turned on (and the donations for mulled wine and mince pies raised around £700 for St Michael's Hospice, which was the charity Mac Eager chose), the marquee was filled with stalls of local food and drink. I always get something from Jacobi Brewery - I never see their beers anywhere else - so this time I took one of their cardboard beer carriers with me, and chose bottles of Red Squirrel, Winter Warmer, and Dark Roasted Ale. The chap at the stall was so pleased that I'd brought one of their carriers back that he gave me a 50p discount!
I got some elderflower and gooseberry jam, too ("Grown up jam," the lady at the stall said; "the children go for strawberry.") and some bread from Caroline's Patisserie.
I also thought it was about time I bought a tile in the Cheesemarket mural - for £10 I now have a small piece of the river, and my name inscribed in a book which will be kept in the Library. It's all to raise money for the renovations, and produce something interesting which will last for many years to come.
There were a few craft stalls in the Buttermarket as well, and stalls round the outside of the marquee too. In the afternoon, the Brecon Town Band played in the spot where the choirs had been the night before.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Turning on the Lights

"What sort of carols are those? They're not the old sort we used to sing. They're in another world!" The old farmer in the audience didn't think much of the Community Choir's selection of songs - they were singing the Boar's Head Carol at the time, which is medieval and partly in Latin, and later they did Gaudete (also in Latin) which was introduced as being by Steeleye Span, though it's also medieval.
I saw the farmer again later - he'd bought light up devil's horns for his grand children, and he needed help to switch them off.
Later the Hay School choir sang seasonal songs about shopping and Baby Jesus, with lots of waving at parents in the audience, and the littlest children dancing around at the front. And everyone could sing along to White Christmas and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer!
In the marquee, there were lots of local stalls. Deb was there with children's books from the Cinema Bookshop, and there was fudge and hot chilli and Hay School doing raffles and games - I got a bunch of holly from them, and spent the rest of the evening pretending to be a shrub. Gwyneth was there with some lovely Canadian-style mittens she'd knitted (which really are toasty-warm), and Pugh's were doing hampers.
Outside Jackie and James were sharing a stall between Castello de Haia soaps and The Thoughtful Gardener, and Stuart the greengrocer was selling festive fruit.
In the Buttermarket there were mince pies and mulled wine, and Karl Showler was acting as Father Christmas - it was lovely to see him back in Hay.
Mac Eager (celebrity for the night) was looking very smart, and pushed the plunger to turn on the lights to great cheers.