Sunday, 30 November 2014

Turning on the Christmas Lights

It's been the Winter Festival this weekend, and at the beginning of the Festival, the town also came together to turn on the Christmas Lights.
The local celebrities chosen to push the plunger this year were Vera North and Betty Weir, of the North Weir Trust, which has been helping local people to undertake special educational projects for over fifteen years.
I've known about Betty and Vera and the Trust for years. I've bought plants from them - it's one of the ways they raise funds. They also have coffee mornings and table sales, and fees for public speaking, and accept donations - but no grants of any kind.
They explained that, wanting to give something back to the community that had welcomed them, they wanted to put something in their wills. The solicitor asked them why they didn't do what they wanted to do while they were still alive, so they could get the pleasure of it, and that's how it started.
I had no idea, too, that the grants enable people to take up opportunities world wide. One beneficiary went to Nepal for three months, to care for disadvantaged children in Kathmandu. Another went to an orphanage in Tanzania, and another assisted at a clinic in Kenya. It's not all aid to the third world, either - one grant went to a student completing a mini-research project in the Nuclear Medicine Physics department of Harvard Medical School, another grant was used to have a school visit to London's theatreland, and another helped a student on a Farrier Access Course at Holme Lacy in Herefordshire.
So the Trust has had many and varied benefits over the years, and looks set to continue the good work.
Before the big moment, though, the tent (used for the rest of the weekend for the Food Festival and Hay Does Vintage) was open with local groups - there were tombolas and cakes and toys and some local shops selling a variety of Christmassy things - Dandelion Wishes flower shop, Eighteen Rabbit with toys made out of flip flops washed up on a beach in Kenya (it's something to do with the ocean currents - they get millions of the things), children's books from the Cinema Bookshop, The Thoughtful Gardener (with Castello de Haia soap). Sunderlands the estate agents were handing out calendars, and there was holly from someone's garden.
In the Buttermarket there was Santa's post box and mulled wine.
There was also the Community Choir singing a medley of Christmas songs, including one that was a mash-up of about ten together, starting with The Twelve Days of Christmas and including Frosty the Snowman and The Hills are Alive. They were followed by Hay School - I liked the one with actions, trying to convince Santa that they had been good all year!

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Small Business Saturday

Up in the main square, here's the fruit and veg stall.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Christmas Windows

There are some creative people in Hay!
This year, the Addyman Annexe has gone for a Christmas in the Trenches theme:

There's a roll of barbed wire, and First World War memorabilia.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Poetry Pop-Up, Remembering Nick Drake

Normally, I go across the river to Clyro on a Wednesday evening, to the musical evening at Baskerville Hall, thanks to Brian, who drives. This week, however, I was tempted by the Poetry Pop-Up at Tomatitos. There's one at the end of every month, organised by Marva Lord. I don't know much about performance poetry, but I do know about Nick Drake, so I decided to go along.
There have been several events focussing on the work of Nick Drake in the area recently. On the Tuesday night there was a musical evening at the Castle Hotel in Brecon. Some of the people at Tomatitos had been there, and said it was a really good night. Another event was at the Tabernacle at Talgarth, an old Baptist chapel which has been transformed into a music venue, and was highly recommended by the chap who was talking about it.
We started late, waiting for two chaps who had been inspired to drive to Tamworth-in-Arden to lay flowers on Nick Drake's grave. It was a 170 mile round trip, and they thought it was totally worth it! The singer/songwriter died at the age of 27, while suffering from depression, partly brought on by the lack of interest in his music by the world at large. Today, he would probably have found his audience.
So we started off by chatting informally, and I had to admit that I hadn't heard of Nick Drake until I started reading Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins' series (though I was aware of his sister, Gabrielle Drake, who appeared in a purple wig in the early 1970s series UFO). One of the main characters in the Merrily Watkins series is Lol Robinson, a musician who is deeply influenced by Nick Drake's music (and becomes Merrily's boyfriend).
Marva led the conversation around to a discussion of song lyrics as poetry, and read out some that she thought were particularly good, including The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (which she brought up to date with some modern references), a song she chose because of the news from Ferguson, Missouri. She has a great knowledge of blues singers, something I'm totally ignorant about.
Someone else in the audience said that another singer who would be worth commemorating in the same way as Nick Drake would be Paul Robeson - especially in Wales, where he had seen the similarities between the black experience in the United States and the Welsh experience of English rule. He was a noted campaigner for civil rights as well as a singer with a wonderful voice.
Some of the other regulars had also brought poems to share. Chris the Bookbinder had brought the lyrics of a song he had written with a friend in 1979 - or at least, the lyrics he had reconstructed from hazy memories of the song he had written with his friend - called Ursula Was.
Another chap, ex-army, had brought along The Naming of Parts, reading the instructor's dialogue with an authentic military bark. He said he thought that the class who were learning the names of the parts of their rifle must have been subalterns rather than squaddies, because at one point the instructor says "Please"! I first heard this poem at school, when Mr Jones, the Classics teacher, read it out, (he'd served in the desert during the Second World War) and it had stuck in my memory so well that I could join in with some of the lines.
The second half of the evening was a performance by Llew Watkins, with songs accompanied by an autoharp, which is an instrument with lots of strings, like a harp, or a very tiny piano, and a bar across the widest part of the base with buttons like an accordian, which are pressed to get different chords while the other hand strums the strings above. He was reading his poems off his phone, because his printer had died! There was a set of haiku poems, each based on one of Nick Drake's songs, and several more of his own work. Chris had brought copies of the latest Quirk magazine along, and one of Llew's poems, the Griffin, was printed in there, so he could read that one off the page. Llew has come up to Hay from London, where he lives in Limehouse and is involved in the performance poetry and music scene. He was talking about a performance that is in the process of being developed, a one night only magazine. He's been making eight foot tall pages, using papier mache, some of which will have cut outs to show a performance behind them. He's taking the part of the contents page. It sounds like the sort of thing Tim the Gardener was telling me about, when the surrealists were doing strange things on stage in the middle of the First World War.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Transition Hay AGM

This year the AGM will be taking place at Cusop Village Hall, at 7pm on Monday 1st December.
There will be updates on what the group has been doing in the last year and campaigns they have been involved in, including the community gardens, the Hay Ho Sunday bus, the Hay Town Plan, the Affordable Housing group, the energy group and the woodland management group.
Anna at Drover Holidays would appreciate it if people who want to go to the meeting contact her so she has a rough idea of numbers to expect. Her phone number is 01497 821134, and her email is

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Lucky Seven

Saith Lwcus Y Gelli Gandryll.

Hay has a brewery! Lucky Seven Beer comes from Garibaldi Terrace, and is available at the Wholefood shop as a bottle conditioned real ale. The one I tried is a Pale Ale, brewed with Simcoe and Citra hops - very flavoursome, at 3.8%.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Small Business Saturday

Weobley Ash, local meat and apple juice.

Friday, 21 November 2014

The University of Cusop Dingle Discusses Dylan Thomas

The group met in the little sitting room to the side of the bar at the Swan. It was small enough to be intimate, but the group was large enough for a lively and wide-ranging discussion after the talk. This was given by Patricia Daly, who has been a fan of Dylan Thomas for years. The title was "Dylan Thomas: Famous for all the wrong reasons".
This is the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas's birth, somewhat overshadowed by the commemorations of the Great War, and Pat was talking about "brochure-culture", the way the Welsh Tourist Board's brochures encouraging people to visit Laugharne, where he wrote a lot of his work, superficially encouraged the myth of the drunkard poet who died a tragically early death.
The real man behind the myth was far more interesting, as is often the case, and he didn't drink himself to death - he died of bronchial pneumonia made worse by the mis-diagnosis and treatment he got in New York. As Pat said, if he had been in Britain with the NHS, he would probably have survived, but the pressures of an American tour and the lack of health insurance or anyone around him prepared to pay for treatment up front meant that it was far too late when he finally was taken into hospital.
It was an excellent talk, including extracts from Dylan Thomas's work, and several people in the audience said it ought to be published. It led to a discussion about the way a myth obscures the real person behind it, bringing in DH Lawrence as another example, and also Lawrence of Arabia, whose myth was written by a journalist who was only in Palestine for ten days! The background knowledge of the audience was impressive - I never knew that DH Lawrence's German wife was related to Baron von Richthoven! Lewis Carroll is another author whose myth bears little relation to reality, with an emphasis on the photos he took of Alice Liddell overshadowing the rest of his long and interesting life.
Then there was a discussion about outsiders and creativity - how Dylan Thomas may have felt he had to play the part of the "no good boyo from the Valleys" when he went up to London, for instance. It was noted that he didn't seem to need to drink when he came back to Wales, and Wales was where he did the bulk of his work. DH Lawrence, similarly, came from a provincial background and married "above himself" as they used to say then. Caitlin, Dylan's wife, came from the milieu in London in which he found himself, so she had the contacts that he didn't initially (and a gold designer swimsuit that cost £17!)
Nature vs. Nurture was another topic of conversation - apparently Dylan Thomas's great uncle was a Welsh Bard. His Bardic name was Gwylym Morlais (after a local stream) and Dylan's middle name was Morlais. Dylan comes from a character in the Mabinogion, the great cycle of Welsh myths. It would be interesting to see if there were any similarities in style or subject matter between the Welsh bard and the English-speaking poet, but it's something that could only be done by a Welsh-speaking scholar. Dylan's father, too, was a poet, but trapped by the need to make a living for his family as a grammar school teacher in Swansea. He nurtured Dylan's talent from a very early age, and it was pretty certain that Dylan grew up thinking himself to be something special. He was also given elecution lessons to get rid of that undesirable Welsh accent.
We also talked about poetry more generally, and how poets need to make a living to support themselves - difficult in Dylan Thomas's day (he needed the patronage of the Bohemian set in London, starting when Edith Sitwell recognised his talent), and difficult today, when there doesn't seem to be a large audience for poetry. The modern education system came in for criticism here; apparently Dylan Thomas is not taught in schools because the poems are "too difficult".
"And Shakespeare is easy?" one chap asked from the back.

Having said that, there is a regular Poetry Pop-Up event at Tomatitos. The next one is on Wednesday 26th November, and is based around the work of Nick Drake.

The University of Cusop Dingle will be meeting again in the New Year, on January 8th, at 7.30pm at the Swan. This time there will be a small charge so that they can hire a room. One of the people who has agreed to contribute a talk is Tracy Thursfield, who thought she might talk about Yeats and the influence on his poetry of the Golden Dawn society.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Midwinter of the Spirit

Good news for Phil Rickman and his fans!
Midwinter of the Spirit, the second of the Merrily Watkins series, will be made into a TV series. Filming on the three episodes will start next April, and the film company have said that they want to do as much filming as possible around Herefordshire. Merrily is the Anglican priest in charge of Ledwardine, a fictional village in deepest Herefordshire, though most of the other locations in the books are real.
This is the book where Merrily starts her Deliverance Ministry (which means she becomes the diocesan exorcist), taking over from the dour Rev. Dobbs. Some of the main cast of characters had already been introduced in the first book, Wine of Angels, which is more of a prequel. It was intended to be a stand-alone story originally, but has developed into a series which uses Herefordshire folklore and real places in stories of supernatural mystery, also featuring recurring characters including Merrily's teenage daughter Jane (here rebelling by becoming a practicing pagan); Merrily's boyfriend, musician Lol Robinson; Sophie, the secretary who serves the Cathedral, and DS Frannie Bliss and his boss Annie Howe on the police side. Here, much of the action takes place around the Cathedral - the Dean and Chapter are about to discuss whether they will give their permission to film there, according to the Hereford Times.
If the first mini-series goes well, more books could be adapted for TV.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Children in Need

Fund raising this year included a couple of cyclists in the Buttermarket, a local fireman and his son, their bikes fixed to one place, where they were intending to pedal for twelve hours to raise money. I saw them at about half past ten, but they started off at 4am!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Walking Up Cusop Dingle

I've been trying to do more walking, and Saturday was fine and mild so I decided to head up Cusop Dingle. I have memories of collecting a delicious mushroom called The Prince from Cusop Churchyard - it's a brown capped mushroom - but that was twenty years ago, and there were none there when I looked this time.
I looked into the church while I was there. It's good to see that it is still kept open - and it was lovely to see that they have a kettle and tea and coffee there for anyone who wants to make a hot drink, too.
I came out of the lych gate and down the footpath beside the earthworks of Cusop Castle, just a mound now, but once part of a group of local castles with Hay, Clyro and Mouse Castle, who would signal to each other with beacons when danger approached.
At the bottom of the hill is the mill that was converted, around 1910, to produce electricity for Brynmelin, the house above it on the next hill along, and one of the first houses to have electricity in the area.
The Dingle is still an area where home owners are keen to generate their own power - there are lots of solar panels on roofs, and one of the houses takes part in, the Herefordshire week of celebrating green energy. They have a little water wheel/generator in the Dulas Brook. The brook used to power quite a bit of industry - there was a paper mill (and there's still a Paper Mill Cottage, with a lovely garden), and there was a brick works further up the Dingle.
Near Ty Coch farm, I ran into the Hay Walkers, who had been doing a circular walk from the church - they were heading back as I was going up, and said they had had a very enjoyable walk.
There's a cottage I've always liked, a bit further on. You can only get to it across a footbridge over the Dulas Brook. It used to be screened by trees on this side of the stream, but they've all been felled. It must have been done quite recently, because the field is looking very raw now. I don't know what they're planning to do with the ground. On the other side of the road, though, the trees were looking beautiful in their autumn colours. That's where I stopped this time and turned back.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Singing Old TV Themes

"Aren't they famous? They look as if they ought to be familiar." We were talking about a couple who came along to sing at the Baskerville last week - obviously professional musicians, because they were performing, unlike people like me, who just like to sing occasionally. They called themselves Valeryan and Thunderclap.
The last song I sang that evening was White Horses, which I can do from memory because I learned it from the 1960s TV series about the Lippizzaner horses, and it made me start thinking about other TV themes I could sing, just for a bit of fun. I'd also sung a song in honour of the Philae lander which touched down on the comet this week.
"Ground Control to Major Tom?" Bob guessed, when I said I was going to sing a space song.
"Older than that," I said, and launched into Fireball XL5.
So I remembered The Lightning Tree, which was the theme song to Follyfoot in the 1970s.
I looked up the words, and found that the song was the big hit of a group called the Settlers.
And then I got a Friend request on Facebook from Valeryan - who turns out to have been a member of the Settlers (so she was famous, after all!) along with her singing partner Thunderclap. She said that she wasn't the first singer for the group (that was Cindy Kent, who is now a priest in London according to Wikipedia!), and she learned the words to The Lightning Tree in the back of a van on the way to Taunton, where she was singing it that night on stage!
And because it was so close to Remembrance Day, several of the songs from other regulars were on that theme - one haunting song was about a reluctant soldier in the Second World War who ended up helping to liberate Belsen, from a chap who usually sings comic songs.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Small Business Saturday

Still down near the Clocktower - the lampshade stall.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Beer, Books and Antiques

There's a lot of moving around at the moment, as local businesses flit from one shop to another, and new shops open.

First of all, a new shop - Beer Revolution will be selling craft beer at the Castle Cobbles from next week. They're taking part of the building that used to be the Old Curiosity Shop (the other part is now the Thoughtful Gardener). It's already possible to get some really good beers in Hay. Londis do Wye Valley and several other real ales as well as good local ciders, and there's a very interesting range in the Wholefood shop - at the moment I'm sampling the Left Hand Brewing Company, which is American and does some really good dark beers. So I'll be interested to see what craft beers the new shop will be stocking.
Also up at the Castle, on the 6th December, will be another Castle Tap mini beer festival. It's sponsored by Jones the Brewer, and there will be music from 16 Tambourines and Desmondo Lopez. The first one was very successful, and a lot of fun.
And while we're still up around the Cobbles, Hay Together wasn't the only place that got broken into the other weekend. Sadly, and just before their second birthday party, Eighteen Rabbit were also broken into - but they say their suppliers have been really good, and they got up and running again very quickly.

Down around the Pavement, the shop that used to be Hay Baby is about to become an antique shop. Bullring Antiques is moving, and they will be renaming themselves Timeless Treasures. They're due to open in the New Year.
And down under La Maison, where Barnabee Books used to be, a group of unit-holders from Broad Street Books will be setting up together - they've been busy down there building shelves over the past few days, and should be open soon.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hay Ho Bus

My Young Man needed to go home on Sunday - so we were very grateful to the campaigners who saved at least half the route of the Sunday bus service to Hereford. Now it starts from Hay and makes three round trips.
When we got in to Hereford, we found that engineering work on the line meant that the Young Man had to go by bus to Great Malvern - and when I'd seen him onto the bus, I found that the Hay Ho was still having a little break, so I could hop back on and come straight home instead of spending a couple of hours in Hereford. I discovered later that the passengers at Great Malvern had around half an hour to wait for the train to London - but the toilets at the station weren't open. They were sending people out of the station to the public toilets several minutes' walk away! Not really an option when you're loaded down with luggage, and don't want to miss the train.
One of the people organising the Hay Ho bus was on board, chatting, and he said that all the local councils along the route had given £50 towards the continued service, except one. Madley Council said that no-one from Madley would use the service - which was odd, because we'd picked up one woman from the bus stop there on the way in. The chap said that, if they don't make a contribution next year, when the precept is set, the route might change to miss them out, and the shortened route might mean they can squeeze an extra journey into the day.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


"I've been coming here nine years, and I've never been in Oscars," said my Young Man. We'd got up late, and were thinking idly about breakfast, so we decided to see what Oscars had to offer.
It's the cafe opposite Oxfam, and next to Llewelyn and Co. They had some quiche in the window, thick and chunky and with a choice of meaty or vegetarian. It was supposed to go with a salad as a lunch, but the girls behind the counter were quite happy to serve it up to us separately, with our coffee, and it just filled us up nicely.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Party at the Old Electric Shop

The Old Electric Shop used to be the Jigsaw and Teddy Bear shop, so it's a big place with lots of alcoves - one of which has now been transformed into a cocktail bar. The rest of the space is filled with vintage clothes, and an illustrator's studio and art and vintage furniture. The name comes from the fact that they started out at the old SWALEC shop in Castle Street (now House of Vintage), and moved down the hill later. They have a license for occasional sale of alcohol, and Emanation took advantage of their cocktail happy hour to have her birthday party there.
In fact, Bluebelle, at the bar, created a shot just for Emanation, made with absinthe, red vermouth and marmalade syrup. It was delicious (and I'm really not a cocktail drinker)!
There was a DJ as well, and Emanation was given her very own disco light ball to hang around her neck as a birthday present!

Monday, 10 November 2014


The church was packed. There were tables at the back where "Vampires' Blood" (wine) and fruit juice were being sold, and quite a jolly atmosphere. I saw quite a few of the usual Sunday congregation in attendance, too.
The film was introduced by Jo Eliot of the Film Society, who helped to make the whole event happen. She was putting the film in its context for us, of 1922 German Expressionism - so it's not "hammy acting", the director was making a conscious choice to film it in that way, because he wasn't striving for realism, but to make a certain effect.
The lights went down, and Father Richard came down the side aisle in his cloak and sat at the organ - and improvised beautifully. There were nice little touches like a bit of Morning by Greig when the hero woke up. So our innocent young hero, Hutter, left his charming wife and little German town to travel to Count Orlok's creepy castle.
And in the second half the Count travelled by ship (with his coffins and his plague rats) back to the German town (with a little bit of For Those in Peril on the Sea woven into the music there).

During the interval, several people slipped outside for a fag break (under a full moon, in the graveyard). I overheard Father Richard saying that he hoped to do more silent films in the future - but next time, he'd go for full make-up. Black lipstick, whitened cheeks...."just an ordinary Friday night at the vicarage!"

To start the second half, Jo explained that we were lucky to be seeing this film at all. When it came out, the very first film made by that German studio, the estate of Bram Stoker sued them for breach of copyright in court - and won. Changing the characters' names and moving the action to Germany wasn't enough to keep them out of trouble. The studio were supposed to destroy every print, and had to pay such a big fine that they immediately went out of business. However, some prints of the film had already been sent out, and could not be recalled, so those were copied and kept over the years, or we would have no idea of the masterpiece that had been made.
And it is still a fascinating film, with some genuinely creepy special effects (like the Count's shadow coming up the stairs with his long fingers reaching out....).
And at the end, Father Richard got a well deserved standing ovation for his music.
CDs will be available from the church (raising more money for the organ fund) and they hope to do it again, with another film, for Hay Festival.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday

I was just in nice time to see the parade forming up at the clock tower for the service at the cenotaph at half past two. It was led by the cadets, with the British Legion banner, and the St Mary's Church banner (and the Mother's Union), veterans, Town Council, Chamber of Commerce, school children and the Fire Brigade bringing up the rear.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Events this Month

On the same evening that I was listening to ghost stories at Booth Books, with Phil Rickman and Barbara Erskine, Hay Castle was hosting Malloween, a Hallowe'en party which was intended as a fundraiser for the next Mally Fest in the summer. The organisers are hoping that they raised around £2,000, according to the story in the B&R.

Sadly, over the weekend at the Castle, the Hay Together office was broken into and a laptop was stolen. Hay Together have said that no personal details of volunteers have been taken, though.

Tim the Gardener is gradually emptying the barn where he lives, and bringing the contents down to Tinto House to sell. These are books that belonged to Rob Soldat, and he thinks there may be a few antiques lurking in the corners, too. Rob Soldat did a bit of book dealing when he wasn't storytelling. Tim will be at Tinto House, doing the garden, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, with the books in a shed there. At the moment he's got some horror, SF, history and children's books.

This Sunday is the Remembrance service at the Cenotaph.

The concert at Booth Books on 12th November will be of Hungarian music, by Dragonfly.

And the booklet for Hay Winter Festival is now out! This year the weekend is that of 28th to 30th November, which is also the weekend that the Christmas lights are being turned on at the Buttermarket (with the Community Choir, stalls and Santa's letter box). The celebrity guest to turn on the lights this year is one of the ladies who runs a local charity, the North Weir Trust, which gives educational grants. Also on that weekend is the Hay Food Festival and Hay Does Vintage in the square, Cheese Market and Buttermarket. They're even having a pub crawl, five historic pubs with time for a half in each as the history is related - easier to do now than when Hay had 41 pubs!
The Smith-Soldat lecture this year is on Waterloo, as it will be the 200th anniversary of the battle next year.

So there's quite a bit to look forward to!

Things will be quiet on the blog for the next few days, as the Young Man is coming to visit.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Council Meeting

Normally, I'd be taking my notebook and pen up to the Council Chambers this evening, but since I've been in bed all day with a stinky cold, I thought I'd better keep my germs to myself.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Big Skill

Stalls were crammed into the main room of the Globe yesterday for the Big Skill craft fair. There was felting and knitting, and a charity that cannibalises old books to make notebooks, and Adele Nozedar's book about sweets. On one side there was a chap splitting the bark off a hazel rod, surrounded by split hazel baskets, and just beyond him there was a maker of traditional instruments. He was stringing a little mandolin-type thing when I saw him, but on his table was a medieval Welsh crwth and a pipe made with wood and sheep horn that I didn't recognise at all.

These are not his instruments - I found the picture online. The one standing up is a crwth, played with a bow like a violin, though the instrument maker said that he had found that the bowing technique is entirely different. The idea is more to make a sort of droning background sound, over which other instruments like the pibgyrn are played. This is the pipe, which he said was like the chanter of Scottish bagpipes, and could be played attached to a bag as well. The wood is elder, and it was something shepherds could make while they were out on the hills.
I wish I was musical.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Small Business Saturday

Alex Gooch's bread stall - only a few loaves left!