Friday, 28 February 2014

A New Look

It's only a couple of weeks before I go off to London to attend the London Super Comic Con, and I've nearly got everything organised.
Today, I went down to Jenesis hairdressers, with a copy of the Captain Marvel graphic novel Down, to show them what I wanted my hair to look like.
To her credit, the woman who cut my hair was totally unfazed by what must be a fairly unusual request, and she's done a bit of layering so I look quite different to my usual self - and actually pretty close to the picture I showed her. So I've been going round looking in mirrors all afternoon, just to get used to the idea of it, and I think it quite suits me. Not that anyone would actually mistake me for Earth's Mightiest Hero, of course.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


Jeremy Clarkson actually has a point when he makes jokes about the roads in Herefordshire on Top Gear - they are badly maintained and full of pot-holes.
A customer in the shop recently was complaining bitterly about the drive he'd had across the county to get to Hay, and today the pages of the Hereford Times are full of similar complaints. The present contractors who are supposed to be doing the work are Balfour Beatty, but they seem no better than the previous Amey or Jarvis contractors.
There's not really an easy way to get to Hay without crossing Herefordshire - I suppose you could swing north and come down the border from Shropshire - so that means that the decisions of Herefordshire County Council about their roads affect us in Powys - and we can't vote for them.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Project from Hay School

Every so often, I come across a crocodile of children from Hay School wandering around town with their teachers. A few days ago, it was the very little ones, making a map of all the different sorts of shops they could find in Castle Street. I overheard them trying to guess what each shop was selling.
It seems the juniors have been round town as well - Castle Greengrocers had a visit from them, and they'd all designed posters, which are now pinned up on the wall of the shop.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Dark Skies Festival

All the details are now up on the website at, and there are leaflets around town showing what events are on, over the weekend of 21st - 23rd March.
I've just ordered a ticket for the Friday trip to the Spaceguard Observatory near Knighton. I've wanted to go for a long time, but it's just not possible on public transport.
There are also trips up to Hay Bluff to observe the night sky from there, talks at the Swan, and a Planetarium at the school. There will be exhibits all weekend at the Swan, too.

Monday, 24 February 2014

International Beers

Derek at the Wholefood shop has extended his bottled beer range quite considerably. He was already stocking beer from a lot of little local breweries, but now he's gone international!
So I went up with my little beer carrier, and stocked up with Orval from Belgium, Brooklyn East India Lager and Flying Dog Underdog from the US, Fraoch heather ale from Scotland, and Kernel and FUBAR from London. Which gives me a wide variety to choose from when I fancy a bottle of something of an evening.
He's got beer from Germany in stock as well.
I asked Derek how his "dry month" was going, now all these new beers had come in. "Not very well," he admitted, but we agreed that it was his duty to sample them to see what they were like!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Hay Feminists Eat Curry

Usually, the Hay Feminists meet at the Globe, when I'm at work, but yesterday evening they decided to go out for a curry instead. It wasn't intended to be anything other than a fun night out with like minded people - I think the Globe meetings are a bit more serious in tone.
Seven of us turned up at Red Indigo - the booking had been online, and Liz wasn't sure if it had got through, but they found a table for us even though the place was packed, and the food was delicious, as always.
There was quite a mixture of people - among them the lady from Jones the Brewers, and people I knew from Stitch and Bitch and the Fairtrade group. Conversation ranged widely, including education - well, with a home educator and a teacher there, the subject was bound to come up! Everyone who knew anything about it agreed that Steiner schools were very strange indeed and Steiner himself had been barking mad.
Later on, a few of us went on to Tomatitos, where I found myself discussing hard science fiction and real ale, and trying to persuade the non-sf reader present that things had changed since the days of 1950s-style White Men in Space! And I must add Alistair Reynolds and Neal Stephenson to my reading list. The most recent good SF I've read is probably Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.
It's not often I roll home at midnight - it was a really good evening, and I hope they do it again some time.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Small Business Saturday

Lion Street Gallery - at the moment they have a life sized stag inside, made from driftwood! When I first came to Hay, this shop sold saddles and all sorts of horse riding supplies.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Cardiff on Match Day

I had a gift voucher for Marks and Spencers for Christmas - but when I looked in the Hereford branch, there was nothing that I wanted to buy.
Then one of my colleagues came into work wearing new boots that she'd bought in Clarks in Cardiff ("not the main one - the one by one of the entrances to St David's arcade") and she said they were the most comfortable boots she had come across, as well as looking just a bit Steampunk, with laces up the front.
So I thought I'd have a day out.

The 39 gets into Brecon Interchange about 5 minutes before the T4, which goes on to Cardiff, and I was able to use the same Explorer ticket for the whole day out - so £7.30 for the return trip. I usually get off at the Castle, because that's nice and close to Forbidden Planet. I've been getting more educated about comics/graphic novels lately, so that's where I wanted to start. Also, there are toilets at Queen's Arcade, which is an important consideration when you've been on a bus for a couple of hours.
To my great joy, I found the Green Arrow story Hunter's Moon, by Mike Grell, which is the follow up story to The Longbow Hunters. These are the stories I remember when they first came out - I used to go to a comic shop round the corner from New Scotland Yard, and read Green Arrow stories over my (frankly rather horrible, but cheap) vegetarian curry in the police canteen. It's great to see them again - and they are just as good as I remember. I also found a Captain Marvel comic to keep me going until the next collection of stories comes out.

I wasn't sure where Marks and Spencers was, but I was pretty sure that if I walked up and down the shopping area methodically, I'd find it. I blew my gift voucher on a couple of pretty blouses - and further along the road (is it still a road when it's pedestrianised?) I found a shop selling "fashions direct from France and Italy" which was having a closing down sale - everything was £5.
By now my bags were getting full, but I found another pretty top in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill sale, and I treated myself to Rivers of London and the next book in the series Moon Over Soho, by Ben Aaronovitch. I recently read something similar by Paul Cornell, a police procedural involving London and magic, called London Falling, - Ben Aaronovitch's take on the idea seems slightly less inclined towards horror, with a bit more humour. (It's always London - I suppose there's less of a market for Canals of Birmingham, or Irwell and Irk in Manchester).

Another fun place to visit when in Cardiff is the indoor market. There's a huge record shop on the balcony, with everything meticulously labelled, and downstairs I found more comics at the book stall. They had a run of Elfquest comics (another favourite from my 1980s comic reading past) from the first issue, with a few gaps in the sequence, but he only wanted £5 for 15 of them.
Another nice thing about Cardiff is that it's a city of covered arcades, which is very handy in the weather we've been having. I had a mocha with so much cream on the top I had to eat it with a spoon before I got to the coffee, at Le Rendezvous at the entrance to the Queen's Arcade.

The final port of call was the Goat Major pub, just across from the main entrance to the Castle - because it's close to the bus stop home, and the Brains is always excellent.
It was full of French rugby fans. There were women with red, white and blue curly wigs, and men in berets (some of them bearing badges with a cockerel on them) - and one chap looking absolutely resplendent in a black and gold tail coat, with epaulettes, white trousers and high boots, and a magnificent hat - a black bicorne trimmed with some sort of white fur, and further decorated with red, white and blue ribbons. He also had a France rugby scarf tied around his waist.

Back in Brecon, I'd missed the connection to Hay by about five minutes, but that was okay. I looked into the Brecon branch of Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which was having the same sale as the one in Cardiff, but with slightly different stock, and came away with two long cardigans. The Clarence advertises real ale, and they had three Wye Valley beers on handpump, so I sat in there for a while until it was time for the bus to come.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The International Brigade Archaeology Project

You never know who you'll meet in Hay!
Today I sold a book about Welsh participants in the Spanish Civil War to another bookdealer in town. Why were Welshmen getting involved in the civil war of another country? Well, they were joining the International Brigade, a fighting force recruited from all over Europe to fight the Fascists (sadly, the Fascists, under General Franco, won that war). It was a sort of prelude to the Second World War.
The other bookdealer is Salvatore Garfi, who has a unit in Broad Street Books - but he's also an archaeologist, and he's one of the team working on the International Brigade Archaeology Project. He's been recruiting volunteers for the project from the UK, for a dig in Spain in September. They will be going to the Aragonese town of Belchite, which was left untouched after the Spanish Civil War as a memorial to it. Obviously, they can only scratch the surface in two weeks, but it sounds like a fascinating project.
The International Brigade Project has been running since 2006, and their English language website is at

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Small Business Saturday

Addyman's Bookshop - this is the main, and original, branch. It's worth going inside just to see the shelving that came from an Eastern European church! But they also have the best collection of SF in Hay, amongst other things.
Now, it's all bookshop, but I remember when the Addymans lived above the shop. For the second Hay-on-Fire, I was collecting for charity with a bucket, and the Addymans' kitchen was the place we all took the money back to, to be counted. The weather was appalling, and we were emptying the buckets of money by pouring them out over the sink into a big sieve! Strangely, we weren't given any banknotes that year!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Local Bank Branches

I got a confusing gas bill (but then, I'm easily confused), so this morning I went down to my local Barclays branch to find out what was going on with the direct debit.
I don't like direct debits, because I have no control over them, but I wasn't given a choice when I signed up to Good Energy, and I wanted to have renewable energy, so I agreed to it. So far it hasn't been a problem at all - and it may not be a problem now (I'm waiting to hear back from Good Energy now).
It was so nice to be able to walk down the road to talk, face to face, with a real person, who I know, to find out what the problem was, and show her the bills and bank statements. Ringing up or emailing is far more frustrating.
I told the lady in the bank this as I left, and she said that the Chief Executive of Barclays had been on the TV last night, claiming that it was okay to sack front line staff because people wanted to bank online these days.
Personally, I'd rather keep my money under the mattress and do without a bank altogether than do online banking - and while there's a local branch, I want to use it.
I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

On the Trail of Owain Glyndwr

Here's a reminder of drier, sunnier days, when Michael Livingston visited Hay during his trip around Wales last summer to look at sites associated with Owain Glyndwr. He now has a book out about the famous Welshman - Owain Glyndwr: A Casebook. The entry about his trip is dated 28th December, and started in Manchester (where he waved at Peveril Castle on the way to Llangollen). After zig-zagging across Wales, he went up to Leeds for a conference, and York, and spent a few days in Belgium and France, taking in the battlefields of Crecy and Agincourt. Then it was back to Wales, where he visited Pilleth battlefield (where I went at the beginning of this year) and other points down the border. He arrived in Hereford during the History weekend, so I may even have seen him wandering around while I was dressed as a medieval lady. His visit to Hay takes up only a couple of lines, but he visited a lot of interesting places, and I enjoyed following his trail - he even managed to squeeze in a whisky tasting course at Penderyn!
His blog can be found at

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Getting Prepared

It's still raining, with more on the way, so I thought it was time to make preparations. A friend told me that Golesworthy's (outdoor clothing and camping supplies and so on) are doing a special offer on little camping stoves.

I have fairly bleak memories of huddling round a weedy little primus stove, years ago when I was camping out while working on an archaeological dig. It used to take us about twenty minutes to get the water to boil for a cup of tea, while we sat freezing - and that was in summer!

I think they may have improved since then. For a start, this one comes in its own carrying case, so it's not going to wobble like the old ones did, and the gas comes in something that looks like a spray can.

So, I have candles, and a little stove, and books to read, and a decent bottle of whisky. I think I'm ready for the next power cut!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Wild Weather

There have been landslides covering roads into Hay, and trees down around Bredwardine. Children have been sent home from school early, and the buses haven't been able to run in places.

I went across the river on Saturday, onto the Offa's Dyke path, because I'd been told that one of the big oak trees was down in the first meadow when the path comes out of the woods. I thought I might make it during one of the rare sunny spells, but the rain was soon coming down again. The river isn't as high as I thought it might be - I've certainly seen it higher than that - but the little island in the middle is totally underwater, and I wouldn't like to fall in!

The tree was always on soggy ground - there was a spring that came up between its roots, and flowed down to soak into the grass at the bottom of the slope.

Later in the day, there were power cuts, some spreading as far as Abergavenny. I managed to cook my dinner in between the power failures, and spent the evening reading Hobson's Choice by candle light, with a tankard of Old Speckled Hen.

This lunch time I went into Flow to buy candles - the box containing my emergency supply was nearly empty. The woman there said that candles had been selling very well in the past few days.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Citizens Advice Bureaus (and Kirsty Williams)

Kirsty Williams, the local Assembly Member, is making a visit to Hay on Friday 14th, though it hasn't been very well publicised. She'll be holding a surgery at the Parish Hall from 10.30am to 11.30am.

Meanwhile, back at Powys County Council: they've decided to defer the closing of the public toilets until next year, but they're going to close all the Citizen's Advice Bureaus in Powys, making a saving of around £93,000. There are offices in Newtown, Ystradgynlais and Brecon. Last year, the Citizen's Advice offices managed to help over 6,000 people. They made sure that 2.2 million pounds of benefits went to the people who were entitled to it - unclaimed benefits (because the people who are entitled to it don't know about it, or don't know how to claim it) stood at 1.3billion pounds last year for the whole of the UK.
So closing the CABs will directly affect the poorest people in the country, who have no other place to go to for help. It will also mean that Powys will be the only county in Wales without a CAB office. They also give advice about tax, debt, housing, legal problems, employment issues, immigration and consumer rights, amongst other things.
I have only needed to go to the CAB once, but when I did, I really didn't know where else to turn for the advice I needed. I was leaving my alcoholic husband, and later dealing with his premature death. The staff at the Brecon CAB were very helpful and patient, and I really don't know what I would have done without them.
Modern life is so complex no-one can know the right thing to do in every situation, whether it's complaining about a broken sofa or finding out about widow's pensions, or getting the money you're entitled to as a welfare payment. I wouldn't be at all surprised if closing the offices cost the Council more than keeping them open would do.
Anyone who is concerned about this has until 18th February to write to Councillor Barry Thomas, the leader of Powys County Council. There is also a petition at

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Small Business Saturday

The Cutting Room, one of several hairdressers in Hay.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Council Meeting - Mobile phones and disabled access

I had been completely unaware, as I don't have a mobile phone, but reception around Hay lately has been rubbish, with one network down completely for ten days.
Steve Like brought this up at the council meeting. He was incensed that Vodaphone and Orange were so useless, and wanted a letter to be sent, protesting in the strongest possible terms, to the Chief Executives!
He was concerned that small businesses that depended on using mobile phones had been losing business over the period when they were uncontactable, and that there could have been problems with emergency calls for ambulances. He was reminded that it might seem a bit strange to the public for a councillor to be making such a fuss for better mobile coverage so soon after all the trouble about the siting of the new mast up Forest Road - and emergency calls can be picked up by any network, so it doesn't matter if one is down for that.
At the moment, Kirsty Williams has a campaign running to make mobile phone network providers more accountable, so it was thought that the best course of action was probably to forward all the information about the loss of signal to her so she could take the most appropriate action. Apparently the mast at Clyro was vandalised recently.

There was also concern about Peter Lloyd, who was brought back onto the council despite his illness, and has been unable to attend recent meetings because he can't manage the stairs. There is a legal requirement to make council meetings accessible for all members of the public who wish to attend (as well as all councillors), but Rob Golesworthy seemed to think that this did not apply to an old building like the Council Chambers, which would be difficult and expensive to make accessible (someone mentioned the ridiculous disabled toilet on the same floor of the building as the council chamber, which no-one in a wheelchair could ever get to). Other public spaces in Hay are also mostly inaccessible, so moving meetings would also be difficult - and some of the councillors are very much wedded to the tradition of having the council meetings in the dedicated council chamber and nowhere else. Second hand chair lifts were mentioned. Steve Like said that, if the meetings were held in the school, he would resign because he refused to spend a whole evening sitting on a children's chair. The Library is accessible, but there is an issue with holding a public meeting there because people might walk off with library books.
(However, if I remember rightly, this will be exactly the situation when the new school finally gets built, because the design shows that public meetings will be happening in the same space as the library).

Other matters discussed were the Hay Hotfooters race in March, which will be starting from Kilverts, with one mile, three mile and six mile options. Members of the council usually support the race, which is sponsored for charity, but Steve Like admitted that last time he walked the one mile course, while having a couple of fags on the way!

Last meeting, a letter was sent to HADSCO (the Sports Association) to ask about the money that was raised a few years ago for a new community centre. The council has now had a letter back saying that they still have plans to build (though not under the auspices of the County Council, which is going down the route of combining community facilities with the school) and could they please have the £15,000 they were offered by the council? It was pointed out that some money had been given to the Sports Association at the time because they had spent so much of their own cash on planning matters, but the rest had been held in reserve and was intended to be for running costs, not the costs of building.

Dog poo is a perennial problem, and Gareth reminded everyone that every public litter bin in Hay is able to accept dog poo bags, so there's no excuse for not picking it up.
The dog poo baskets on the railway line were removed because they were too successful, even unto overflowing!

And by that time it was nearly quarter to eleven, and I was doodling to stop myself nodding off!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Council Meeting - Bronllys Hospital, Communication and Toilets

There was a meeting at Talgarth Town Hall the other week about the future of Bronllys Hospital, and about sixty people turned up. There were lots of ideas about how to develop the site, but the stroke unit is still going to be moved to Brecon.
The B&R put the story on their front page (under the incomprehensible title "Charity bubble speak is burst" which seems to refer to the bubble diagram of different ideas which was shown at the meeting). One option that was not on the diagram was a community hospital, which is what everyone in the room wanted - one man pointed out that Builth Wells has lost the cottage hospital there, and the replacement services are not to anything like the same standard. At the moment it's a case of watching to see what the NHS do next.

The report of the communications sub-committee went through various options - a new notice board, for instance, and the possibility of paying for a website rather than the present situation where the Council's page is hosted on Giles' Hay-on-Wye website. A stand alone website would cost £109 for two years, and comes with several new email addresses. They greatly admired the Welshpool website, and hoped to get something similar together for Hay. It would, of course, be cheaper to stay with Giles, and they have had a meeting with him where the different options were discussed. Hay Council has been given a grant of £500 which must be spent on a website, so the money is there whatever they decide.
One thing they had decided against was tweeting.
A little later in the meeting, the chap sitting next to me on the public chairs showed me his mobile phone. It was displaying a tweet which said that the Council's refusal to tweet was "short sighted".

There's good news about the toilets though - well, two cheers rather than three, as the County Council have agreed to continue to keep them open for another year, after which time it's all up in the air again. Councillor Barry Thomas, the leader of Powys County Council, came to Hay to meet with local councillors and was talking about investigating the legality of putting a levy on the car parking charges to pay for them across Powys.
On 20th January there was a special meeting of the Hay Council to set the precept - the amount of money they could raise from the local council tax. At that time they didn't know whether they were going to be responsible for the toilets or not, so they decided on an increase of 10% on last year. Now that the County Council are retaining the management of the toilets, they have agreed that the local councils can look at their precepts again to see if they want to change anything, but it must be done by Friday. Steve Like suggested lowering the increase to 5%, which would raise a total of £1595 for Hay, which is very similar to last year's budget.
Looking further into the future, Steve suggested that it might be a good idea to approach Herefordshire County Council to buy four of their stainless steel multi-sex toilet cubicles, which they closed last year.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Council Meeting - Hay Together

The first item on the agenda last night was a presentation from Hay Together. There's been quite a bit of confusion about what Hay Together actually does, and what it is, and this was an attempt to clear things up.
One of the prejudices against Hay Together, voiced by several of the councillors last month, was that it is just Plan B rebranded, and since they disagreed with Plan B, they disagreed in principle with Hay Together without finding out any more about it. Rodney Mace was speaking on behalf of Hay Together, and he explained very carefully that Hay Together is NOT Plan B. In fact, Hay Together came out of a meeting called by Gareth Ratcliff as an attempt to heal the divisions in Hay caused by the Plan B campaign against a supermarket. It was also influenced by the passing of the Localism Act 2011(which applies to England, but still has useful things to think about for Wales) and a book by Jesse Norman called The Big Society. Some individuals who were part of Plan B are now part of Hay Together, but that doesn't mean that Hay Together is the same organisation as Plan B. I attended those first meetings, and reported on them, and those reports can be found easily by clicking on the "Hay Together" tag at the end of this post.
Another prejudice against Hay Together has been that they took over the volunteer services from Community Support, as if they were responsible for Community Support closing down and Sandra Havard losing her job. In fact, Rodney explained that Community Support had closed down, and then PAVO approached Hay Together to ask them if they would take on volunteer services for Hay. They did not put themselves forward to do it, and they have started from scratch again, though some of the volunteers who worked with Community Support now work with Hay Together.
Rodney said that they now have an office at the Castle, a community noticeboard, and a little covered area with a huge map of Hay on the Cobbles at the Castle. They have attended meetings about the Local Development Plan, and they have been trying to put together a community plan for Hay, in collaboration with as many other local groups as possible. They've also been involved in meetings about the Hay Sustainable Tourism plan. They are looking at ideas for local car sharing and bulk purchasing of oil and gas, which would make it cheaper for group members, and they are campaigning for super-fast broadband to come to Hay. They also support the Affordable Housing group and Totally Locally. They would like members of the Council to attend their meetings, and to have closer links with the Council - and Rodney stressed that they have no intention of trying to take over the functions of the Council. Several councillors pointed out that they have been elected by the people of Hay, and are the statutory body for Hay, while Hay Together's committee has not been elected by the people of Hay as a whole.
Rodney also said that the good thing about a community organisation like Hay Together is that it can bring together the different statutory bodies for the area so that they can work together for the common good - for instance, getting Powys and Herefordshire County Councils and the Brecon Beacons National Park talking to each other.
Steve Like brought up the issue of openness - he had written an email to Hay Together asking for minutes of their meetings and enquiring about members of Hay Together, and was refused that information. Rodney said that he would refuse any private email on the grounds of Data Protection and confidentiality, but it would be a different matter if the Town Clerk wrote to him in an official capacity. Ellie Spencer pointed out that the Council has been invited to attend meetings (in which case they would get minutes of the meetings) several times, but with no interest on the part of councillors.
There was also a problem with the Hay Together website, which is apparently displaying incorrect information about the last Council election, even after Hay Together were informed of this - though the Brecon and Radnor Express published the same figures, and also failed to give a correction when written to.
Gareth Ratcliff said that his hope was that every local group would get involved with Hay Together, and Rob Golesworthy said that he could see a future where the Council and Hay Together worked together, as long as everyone remembered that the Council were elected.

Sunday, 2 February 2014


One of my friends on Facebook linked to a site for a new brand of ecologically friendly cleaning products. I've been using Ecover for years, and I'm very happy with the brand, but I always forget about refilling the bottles. Splosh starts off by selling you the bottle and a sachet of concentrated washing up liquid (or whatever) and then you just send off for the refill sachets and keep the bottle. So instead of shipping large plastic bottles around, they are just sending out the small, light sachets, which reduces the impact of transport on the environment. The ingredients are also plant derived, safe for septic tanks and not tested on animals. They reckon that, if everyone in the UK switched to their system, it would stop 100 million plastic bottles a year from being made, used once and then thrown away. They are based in Hay, which means even less transport, so I thought I had to give them a try.
I sent off for their starter pack, with washing up liquid and laundry detergent. It's very easy to get started - you just run your hot tap, and fill the container with the sachet inside. I've started to use the washing up liquid now, and it comes up lovely and bubbly, with a strong grapefruit scent (they also do lime and pomegranate). The bubbles die down fairly quickly, but they get everything just as clean as the Ecover does. I'm still using up my Ecover laundry powder, so I have yet to try their detergent.
After I'd sent off for my starter pack, I noticed that Splosh products are on sale at the Wholefood shop, which makes it even more convenient for me.
They can be found online at

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Small Business Saturday

Hay Wholefood shop, with a little cafe/takeaway to one side.
When I first came to Hay, the premises were across the road, where Lion Antiques is now. It's gone through several changes of ownership, including Jenny Valentine who is now a well known children's writer, and is now run by Derek.
Every time my Young Man comes to Hay, one of the first things he does is go into the Wholefood shop and breathe in deeply (and then buy a few choice items). He says that the only other place he knows with a smell like that is the food hall in Harrods!