Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Glassblowing in Hay

There's a shop on the Craft Centre that sells beautiful hand blown glass objects - vases and bowls and so on, in gorgeous colours. This year, they also offered something extra - courses on learning glass blowing.
I went to ask about them, but £99 for half a day's tuition was a bit too much for us. You have to be pretty sure that you want to do it for that sort of money!
However, the chap there was very helpful, and showed me round, even opening the furnace for me to see the molten glass swirling around inside. He said that it was a pity really that they were running the courses over the summer. On the one hand, it's when the visitors are in Hay, but on the other, glass blowing is really an occupation for cold winters' days! The heat from the furnace was fierce, and on one course they had nine people in the small space, so it was really sweltering!
The gallery website is at

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Medieval Costume

I was asked today whether I'd dressed up for the Hay History Weekend (of course I did!), so for those who are wondering, here I am in my medieval costume - with 13thC sleeves and 15thC velvet surcoat, which was the best I could do to approach the period of Agincourt!

Here I am in the Castle, with the scribe, a man who really does make his own ink from oak galls, and does beautiful work.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Russian Concert at St. Mary's

John Stark, who organises the music concerts at Booth Books and St Mary's, has really done well for the October concerts!
On Tuesday October 6th, at 7.30pm at St. Mary's Church, the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir will be singing! The perform Russian religious and folk music and have toured Europe and the United States.
And on Saturday 10th, also at St. Mary's, there will be a concert in honour of Sir Edgar Speyer, The Man Who Saved the Proms. In 1902, he saved the Promenade concerts from bankrupcy with his personal fortune. Hannah Grove (soprano),Olivia Gomez (mezzo-soprano)
John Hymas (violin) and Jeremy Fisher (piano) will perform works by Elgar, Debussy, Greig and David Lawrence.
Tickets are £12.00 from Booth Books.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Sunday Worship

I'm taking a break from Small Business Saturday, now that I've gone round all of Hay, so I thought for a change I'd feature a different place of worship every week. A little while ago, somebody said to me that it was a pity that the Open Door chapel was up for sale, and it would be nice to have a record of what it looked like before a new owner changed it. So that's my first place of worship.
The Open Door people were lovely - I used to live next door to them. They were Evangelical Christians, and they organised lunches for the over sixties, among other things. They also had a beautiful sensory garden at the back, which still looks pretty good.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Transition Towns News

The Transition Towns group in Hay is part of a national network which is holding their annual conference in Devon next month. So although not much is going on in Hay itself, they are aware of lots of things happening in the surrounding area.
I've been getting lots of emails over the last month (when I was somewhat distracted by visitors!), with details of a new timetable for the Hay Ho Sunday bus, for instance, which has secured funding for another year and a new, improved timetable.
There have been protests in Hereford about the proposed Southern Link Road (a project that has been talked about for at least twenty years and which would cross environmentally sensitive water meadows).
Fracking has also been a subject of much debate.
Up in Llandrindod Wells, local houses that have been adapted with environmentally friendly features are open to the public today - solar panels, heat pumps, rainwater harvesting to flush the loo, and more.

And coming up next week is, right across Herefordshire. Here's what the newsletter from New Leaf says:
"Come to the h.Energy Markets for creative hedgehog activities, storytelling, pedal powered egg frying, miniature chickens, master composting, energy saving and renewable energy advice, hands on activities for all ages, opportunities to try out crafts and rural skills … and lots of friendly advice, and opportunities to chat and ask questions."

There will also be talks on all sorts of sustainable subjects, about electric cars and green economics, the future of housing in the county and Zero Carbon energy.
There's also Queenswood Autumn Festival with all things woodland-related, and the chance to be a brewer for the day at Wye Valley, one of the Gold Sponsors of That's the first prize in the competition.
And there's a bee safari in Ewyas Harold, a clothes swap in Hereford, a community breakfast in Stoke Lacy, open eco homes all across the county, and lots more.

The AGM of Hay Transition Towns will take place at Cusop Village Hall on Wednesday September 30th at 7.30pm

Friday, 25 September 2015

Entertaining my Mum at the Basky

Wednesday night is acoustic night at Baskerville Hall, of course - I always go with Brian if I can, and I thought Mum would enjoy it too. She was telling me about a similar evening where she lives in Cyprus, when they were entertained by a group called the Mazokists (the village is Mazetos).
Mum had a great time - I sang a couple of Girl Guide songs that she'd taught me, which we would sing in the car when we were going on family holidays, and another girl joined in with the harmonies because she'd learned them at Brownies (You'll Never Get to Heaven and Quartermaster's Stores). Huw Parsons performed a poem about the North in her honour, too. And Malcolm Scott-Wilson performed the sequel to Albert and the Lion, Albert's Return (in which Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom almost get their hands on the insurance money for Albert....).
That was the night that Baskerville Hall was host to an international mathematics convention, and several of the mathematicians came to join in - one very good violinist, who was American, and a French girl who needed a bit of encouragement. Later in the evening, a Dutch guy got up and declaimed a speech from Shakespeare about the perfect woman.
Bob Evans, by the way, who organises the evenings, now has his CD out, with several songs which regulars to the Basky know well enough to sing along to, including the only song in the world with the word "quinquereme" in it, The Drum. (It's an Ancient Greek warship). He is accompanied on the CD by Alan Cooper on fiddle, and Di Esplin, the Lady with the Cello. It's a bargain - only a fiver!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Timbuktu Celebrations

It's Mali Independence Day tomorrow, and Hay2Timbuktu are marking the occasion with celebrations at the Globe. Andy Morgan will be talking about his recent trip to Timbuktu, and the effect that the Islamic rebels had on the music scene there. He will also be previewing clips from a soon to be released Malian film "They will have to kill us first".
There will be kora music from Mosi Konde (it's the Malian version of a harp), and there will be African themed food on offer.
Before the celebrations, starting at 6.30pm, will be the Hay2Timbuktu Annual General Meeting, which is open to all.
Tickets for the celebrations are available from the Globe.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

A Visit from my Mother - with good local food!

I've been neglecting the blog for a while because my mum has been staying with me - and we had ten years' worth of talking to catch up on!
I waved her off for the next part of her Grand Tour around the family this morning, so now I'm as back to normal as I ever get.

So we've been eating very well while she was here.
On the first evening we went up to the Blue Boar and had a lovely chilli.
We've eaten Welsh Dragon sausages from Gibbons on Castle Street, and gorgeous lamb chops from the Small Farm butcher on Broad Street, with veg from Stuart the greengrocer.
We got chips to go with our meal from Terri's Takeaway, and Mum was very complementary about how good they were.
There was delicious boiled ham and roast beef from Londis. I had mentioned getting sausage rolls, so Mum was looking at the sausage rolls there (they're nice, but nothing unusual). I steered her away. "We're not getting sausage rolls," I said. "We're getting Sausage Rolls!" The ones at the Wholefood shop are a meal in themselves. We had the leek and sage ones, which I suggested was a "gateway drug" and Derek preferred to describe as the "gateway sausage roll", to encourage people to try the other varieties. Sadly, there were no black pudding sausage rolls (my favourite) - but this week Mum will be going to Bury Market in Lancashire, the home of black puddings. We've checked - the black pudding stall is still there!
Mum had a special meal she wanted to cook, something she cooks in Cyprus where she lives now, so I set foot in Waitrose in Hereford for the very first time to find the broad, flat spaghetti she needed to go with the mince (local, organic) and bechemel sauce.
There is now a Patisserie Valerie in Hereford. In the corner of Debenhams, to be precise. I couldn't just walk past it! And there we found a very superior double-decker vanilla slice - something that Mum had been really looking forward to eating again, because she can't get them in Cyprus!
On Wednesday night, we had chips at the Baskerville acoustic evening.
We had sticky cakes from the stall in the Cheesemarket.
On Saturday night we went to Yak-y-da, the Gurkha restaurant just outside Hay. Glasbury taxis took us there and back in a minibus because their car had broken down - though that was better for Mum, because she has a bit of difficulty climbing into, and out of, a car these days. She had a Thai chicken curry, and I had the Mountain Lamb curry because I always enjoy that. Both were delicious, and the ice cream we had for dessert was really rich and creamy.
And the final evening meal of her stay was a venison casserole with meat from the Broad Street butcher again, with leek and mushroom and the special sauce that the Young Man brought with him when he came on holiday last.

It's not really surprising that she had a bit of trouble fitting into clothes that she thought were her size when we went shopping!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

More of the History Weekend

Here's the French knight (from Heroes of Chivalry) on the parade around Hay yesterday afternoon. Mari Fforde took the photo.

This morning a Pop-Up Museum of Hay has been set up in the main hall of the Castle, with lots of photos and documents - a performance of the Mikado, the Hay Territorials in Aden and India during the First World War, and various views of Hay. There are maps, too, and a flag that was a present from somewhere in Canada. Books on local subjects are also available to buy - and some of the authors are there, too, doing the organising.
In the entrance hall, Mrs Jones has her Welsh costume on, and a display of Welsh flannels and shawls.
And there's tea and cake - they were busy all day yesterday (and the cakes are delicious).

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Hay History Weekend

What a wonderful day I've just had!
I've been up at the Castle all day, being medieval, and talking about spinning and weaving and dyeing (and a bit about arrows) in the main hall of the Castle.
Just up the corridor from me, near the kitchen, was a rather good calligrapher, who makes his own oak gall ink. He and his wife had come up from Tintern.
In the original entrance hall of the Castle, they were serving teas, and they were busy all day - the cakes were delicious, too.
Upstairs, there was a sword and shield decorating workshop for the kids - and there were a lot of children going round with shields, cardboard swords and crowns.
Down in the Honesty bookshop, there was sword fighting with rubber weapons, and in the afternoon the Foxwhelp Morris dancers performed there, followed by a local production of Henry V, starring Derek Addyman.
Out on the lawn at the other side of the Castle, the Freemen of Gwent had their tents, each displaying something different - a suit of plate armour, arrows, medieval board games, and a great wheel for spinning (oh, how envious I was - but I'd never get one in the house, let alone on a bus to an event!). I was also envious of the double beds they were sleeping in - each tent was dressed in sumptuous medieval style. The Turnham Green woodturner was there as well, with some of his lovely spoons, and letting people have a go on his pole lathe.
In the morning there were carriage rides around Hay, and in the afternoon a display of swordsmanship from two film stuntmen (they've worked on Arthur and Game of Thrones among other productions). So it wasn't medieval swordsmanship - they were quite up front about it being the sort of swordplay that is used for film - but they put on a good show, and later they led the parade around town on two beautiful horses, one dressed in the French fleur-de-lys and the other in the cross of St George for England.
Some people just turned up in costume - there were two bishops, one male and one female, wandering around, and there was a lovely lady from near Builth Wells who had come down on the bus in full kit. She keeps geese and had brought goose feathers to give to whoever wanted them. I had some (so that I can use them when talking about arrows) and the calligrapher had some too. She had also trimmed some of them into quill pens, and was giving children the chance to try writing with them, and then giving them to take home. Yesterday, she came down for the Castle Tour, again in full costume, and gave out quill pens to the other people on the tour.
Castle Tours were going on throughout the day as well, and attracted quite big crowds.
Half of Hay was there as well, some of whom admitted that they had never been inside the Castle before! I saw a lot of people I knew - I was talking non-stop all day!
I even had my photo taken by the photographer from the B&R, weaving on my backstrap loom.
This evening Professor Anne Curry is giving a talk about Agincourt, and tomorrow the Pop-Up Museum will be in the main hall of the Castle.
And everyone I spoke to has had such a fantastic time!
At the end of the day, I packed up my basket and went round to Beer Revolution, where they were serving mead. In fact, the chap behind the counter there said he wouldn't serve me anything else while I was in costume!

Friday, 11 September 2015

Oxford Road Open Studio Weekend

Or - what a lot of talented people we have in Hay!

I've just come back from a very pleasant evening surrounded by artists, and friends of artists. Over this weekend two studios will be open - the front room of one of the houses facing the Castle (not the one with the scaffolding - the one with the big sign outside!) and Cae Mawr Studio down the lane to the side of the houses, where the Offa's Dyke Path goes into the field below the main car park.
I've voted on which way round the picture of the fish and the moon should be hung (I think it looks slightly sinister with the moon at the bottom of the picture), and admired the picture of Borough Market in Southwark with two different roofs amalgamated into one picture (Adrian Crick likes to make you think about the way you view his work), but my absolute favourite was the view from the Castle down Backfold, with the Bluff in the background (as it really isn't in real life!). The detail on that one is incredible. Adrian also has a thing about painting water, and several of his pictures have a very calm feeling of being by the water.
Down at Cae Mawr Studio, the artists are Tracy Thursfield (weaving, silk scarves and woodcuts - and a very limited edition of a booklet of poetry on hand made paper. I think she said there are only three in existance.), and Gaynor and Georgina Funnell, whose studio it is. They paint local views, flowers, and birds against industrial backgrounds, and there was a lovely little portrait of Daisy the dog (Tibetan terrier?), which could be directly compared with Daisy herself, who lay down beside the card rack all evening.

They'll be open from 11am to 5pm over the weekend - and tomorrow I'll be up in the Castle from around 10am being Medieval for the Hay History Weekend.

And down at the Old Electric Shop, there's going to be a beer and food pairing event on Saturday evening. Five courses, prepared by chef Eamon Fullalove, paired with five beers, chosen by Tom Hutchings of Brew by Numbers. The bar will be open throughout as well. This event costs £42, and starts (promptly, says the poster) at 7pm.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Dancing Floor

I was up at the Castle last night for an evening of Welsh magic!
Lyn Webster Wilde has just launched a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo, to raise £40,000 to start to make a feature film called The Dancing Floor. It's soaked through with references to Welsh mythology, as half-Welsh, half-Indian Sita returns from London to her uncle's house in Wales to unravel a mystery.
Fifteen minutes of the film have already been shot - we saw the short film last night, and it was just beautiful, with a drone camera flying over Brechfa Pool and swooping above the actors, including the little girl playing Young Sita who was there at the Castle with her parents and brothers. A star in the making!
Also there were Gill Stevens and Dylan Fowler, who provided the music for the film, and who played on crwth (a medieval Welsh instrument something like a fiddle), pipes and guitar. I've never seen a crwth played live before - Gill Stevens used a bow and plucked the strings, showing what a versatile instrument it is. They also accompanied the storyteller, Wayland Boulanger (I think that's the right spelling), who told the story of Llew Llaw Gyffes from the Mabinogion - or a much shortened version of it, as the full version includes many stories, including Blodeuwedd the Woman of Flowers, and how Llew got his name and his weapons from his unwilling mother Arianrhod.
A special treat was a short talk by the great-great-grand-daughter of Lady Charlotte Guest, who translated the Mabinogion from medieval Welsh into such beautiful English that even Tennyson was impressed! She also ran the biggest iron works in the world, in South Wales.
I discovered, over wine and nibbles, that my next-door neighbour was the producer of the short film, though I don't think she will be doing that job for the full length feature film!
There are opportunities for local people to take part in the film as extras and behind the scenes, and perks for supporters of the crowd funding include copies of Lyn's book Beyond the Enchanter and CDs of the music - and spending a day on set for people who give more substantial sums.
For more information, visit and follow the film's progress at Lyn's blog

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Supporting Refugees

Hay has a history of helping refugees. During the First World War, according to the extracts from local newspapers of the time which were posted on the railings of the Cheesemarket (before being incorporated in the recently published book about Hay in the First World War) was a story about a Belgian family, displaced by the fighting, which was offered rent free accomodation in Hay.

Now, the refugee crisis in the Middle East has come into sharp focus because of the photo of the poor drowned child that has been in the news, though refugees have been coming to Europe for several years. But now seems to be the time to do something about it. In Hay, Liz Meres held a meeting at the Granary last Friday, and was overwhelmed by offers of help. The newly formed group will have a stall on Hay Market tomorrow, with information about the refugee crisis and a petition to sign to be sent to the government.
In Brecon, a group has been meeting with the Dean of Brecon Cathedral to discuss how the church and local groups can work together to help. They will also be having a market stall, on September 12th.
The Hay Festival Box Office, at the end of Lion Street, is now a drop off point for contributions to help the refugees - they are looking for good quality clothing and camping gear to be distributed throughout Europe.
More information can be found at and they also have a Facebook page.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Barrels Beer Festival

The Young Man arrived in Hereford on Bank Holiday Saturday - which co-incidentally was the first day of the 28th Barrels Beer Festival. It opened at 1.30pm, which just gave us nice time to trundle his suitcase down to the pub from the railway station.

What a pleasant afternoon it was! Here's the Young Man bringing beer from the bar - set up in what I remember as the brewery building. Wye Valley Brewery have expanded somewhat since those days, and now it houses a long bar. There were around 30 real ales, and 20 ciders and perries. The ones we sampled included Cwtch from Cardiff's Tiny Rebel (which I understand has just won a big award), Ledbury Dark, Black Knight from Ludlow, Directors (the Young Man likes to have a Directors wherever he finds it), Rudgate Ruby Mild, Dorothy Goodbody's Wholesome Stout and Timothy Taylor's Boltmaker. I may possibly have had a Robinsons' Twisted Sister as well. So a good mixture of beer styles, from mild to stout to hoppy bitter.
Entertainment was by Slippery Slope, a folk band that included a steel drum - and very good they were, too. I was told later that the set they played at the Barrels was only the first of a long day - later in the afternoon they played at the Sausage and Cider Festival across Hereford, and went on to play at a birthday party at Grosmont in the evening, finishing up at the Angel pub in Grosmont for the end of the night!
And then we trundled up to Maylord Orchards, just at that pleasant stage of happy inebriation, to catch the 39 back to Hay.

Monday, 7 September 2015

A New Venture for Brecon Brewing

So, my Young Man got on the train this lunch time, after a week's holiday in Hay - we had a wonderful time, and of course, I was far too busy doing other things to do any blogging.

While he was here, though, we did notice something interesting on Facebook.
Buster Grant is the brewer at Brecon Brewing. His beers are fairly easily found in the area - Kilvert's usually has one of them on the bar, for instance. The brewery has been doing well since they started in 2011 - so they've decided it's time to try something new.
They want to open their own pub. It will be called the Brecon Tap, and will stock beer from Brecon Brewing as well as guest beers (mainly from Wales). They also have friends in Wales who produce spirits, so will be stocking them, too - and good quality wine as well, because they will also be offering food, with local ingredients, including their "soon to be famous" Brecon Pies.
And they will have a Tap Shop, to sell bottled beers (and those pies).

It all sounds wonderful, and would be something a little bit different in Brecon town centre - and they want to raise the money to do it with a Kickstarter campaign.
Contributors to the campaign (there is a minimum amount of £100) will benefit by having a loyalty card which will entitle them to goods worth 50% of the amount they have given each year for a period of five years. They do have commercial financing available to them, but say that they would rather spread the benefits among their customers.
For more information, they have a website at

and here is Buster himself, with some of his beer.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Gwernyfed School Latest News

It seems that Powys County Council, in their deep hole, are still digging.
Here's the latest letter from John Fitzgerald (of the campaign to save Gwernyfed School - and improve Brecon High School) to Councillor Thomas, with a few ideas about how he could get out of the mess the Council has created, while following the legal guide lines that were ignored first time round.

Dear Cllr Thomas

Re: Gwernyfed and Brecon High Schools

Thank you for your letter of 21 August. What is particularly interesting about your letter is how much you have ignored of the original correspondance. However, let me see if I can help you.

1. You refer to the recommendation to establish a Beacons Learning Campus to include both schools.
• I have re-read the submission to the cabinet on 24 March and however you view the contents of the paper submitted it is clear a decision was made to close Gwernyfed.
• In addition 10 days before the cabinet meeting the school was directed to inform, parents, students, staff and unions that Powys County Council planned to close Gwernyfed in August 2017. If all you were dealing with was making a recommendation why did your officers act in this way?
• Five days after that the local authority issued a press release announcing the planned closure.
• After the cabinet meeting on the 24 March an outline Business Case (OBC) was submitted to the Welsh Government for funding to build a new school and college in Brecon which had been prepared in consultation with Brecon High School and NPTC but not Gwernyfed.
2. You then refer to the intention to follow Stage 2 (p19) of the school review process contained within the Schools Transformation Process Policy 2014, but Councillor how can that happen? It should have occurred before the decision on 24 March AS HAS BEEN THE CASE IN North Powys.
3. To compound the shambles your Portfolio Holder for Education stated in July that a) in the light of informal representations and the submission of a judicial review the plan to close Gwernyfed was to be withdrawn, b) later in July that the plan was not being withdrawn and c) by the beginning of August the plan was to be reviewed. It gives the impression that no one inside the local authority understands what is being planned or the direction of travel.

4. Put all this together and it demonstrates that the local authority has breached (and remains in breach) of its own Schools Transformation Policy 2014, the statutory Schools Organisation Code, the statutory Schools Organisation: Consultation with Children and Young People Code and the local authority’s duty of care to all service users and staff. The authority remains open to potential judicial review actions (you should now understand that is a real possibility) if the local authority does not change course, is at risk of again having a Strategic Outline Case turned down for a third time and in the case of a failure to exercise a duty of care leaves the county council open to being sued by an awful lot of people!

5. In point 3 you refer to an “impact assessment”, does anyone in Powys CC know how to do this? Sitting in County Hall and writing one out of a senior officers imagination does not count but the schools Organisation Code details the process including the local authority responsibilities towards community organisations effected by decisions, of which there are 34 at Gwernyfed. Point 4 refers to draft recommendations to be submitted to cabinet and then, and only then, will pupils, parents, staff, governors, and other key stakeholders be consulted. Sorry Councillor that breaches the Schools Organisation Code, especially as the cabinet meeting papers of July 2014 state that “Once it is decided to proceed with the plan” only then will the formal consultation under this code occur. That process should have occurred before the decision to proceed. This has all the hall marks of people realising they got it all wrong first time around and are now trying to salvage the situation by pretending they are using correct processes when they are not. So very different to the way matters are being dealt with in the North of the county which brings me to points 5 and 6 of your letter.

6. To blame the consultants carrying out the review in the North for the process being used is at best lame. You must know that whatever process is used, even if it is suggested by the consultants involved, has to be approved by the authority first (unless of course your commissioning processes have completely broken down) and ultimately it is the local authority that is responsible for any decision made by an employee or an agent. The fact is the situation in the North is no more complex than in the South had you looked at that area as a whole instead of picking off Gwernyfed. You have two schools with serious problems in the North as we do in the South.

7. We now have all the correspondence relating to the breakdown in the authorities relationship with Neath Port Talbot College (NPTC). We know there were internal discussions about how to solve the Brecon problem from the autumn onwards with no mention of Gwernyfed until the beginning of February this year. The game for the local authority changed when NPTC announced the establishment of 22 new A-Level courses in Brecon in January without any consultation with Powys CC. In the space of five weeks the local authority went from having no plan to one involving the closure of Gwernyfed, hardly well thought through was it? Therefore, whatever you may say, had you tried that stunt in the North, the five cabinet members from that area would never have agreed.

8. Before closing a piece of legal precedent which might help to focus minds. In 2013 the Secretary of State for Health in England decided that in order to salvage a failing hospital trust he would order the closure of services at a neighbouring high achieving trust and transfer, services, resources and patients. In a subsequent judicial review the judge ruled that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully because no public body (in this case the government) has the power to close effective organisations in order to transfer services and resources to the failing body and that it was for the public body (in this case the government) to sort out the failing trust. The ruling applies equally to all public bodies including local authorities. Translating this ruling to this situation, Gwernyfed has an academic record that matches Chrickhowell and Newtown (both in the top 10% in Wales) and it cannot be closed to salvage a failing school. With this in mind the cabinet needs to go back to the drawing board as far as Brecon is concerned (and we want to see a resolution of this schools problems) but without Gwernyfed tacked on.

I have been given to understand that the Famous Five (North Powys councillors) are upset at the criticism of unfairness from the South of the county. Well, I am sorry councillors you feel so aggrieved but you have brought it on yourselves. There is a way of stopping the criticism and that is to withdraw the plan to close Gwernyfed and concentrate on the much needed plan to help Brecon High School. There are a number of people with the right skills who could help you in this area and there are alternative plans but it requires the authority to recognise that it has to stop charging on with a flawed plan first.
Best wishes/ Cofion Gorau
Yours sincerely