Saturday, 31 December 2016

Happy New Year!

A picture of the stars from the car park at Hay Bluff, by Will Dowd, whose work can be found at http://instagram/will1dowd

Friday, 30 December 2016

Tree Felling Party

I've been worried about the tree in my back garden for a while. It's some sort of willow, which grows like a weed, and above it is an electric (or possibly phone) cable, stretching from a post on Heol y Dwr to the back of one of my neighbours' houses. That's to say, the wire is actually running through the branches now, as the tree has got so tall.
Until today, that is.
I had tried to tackle the problem myself, but I don't have the upper arm strength or the right tools to chop through the branches myself. I did for a while, but a wet summer meant that the tree grew faster and I couldn't get out to deal with it, and it got away from me.

Enter Brian, Jane, her friend who is staying with her, and a selection of loppers and tree pruning equipment.
We've spent the morning chopping through branches, and making a huge twiggy pile on the lawn. We looped rope round some of the branches to pull them to where we wanted them to go - with some success, though we all got hit by falling branches at some point in the proceedings. There was a suggestion we resembled the Three Stooges, but we quickly got better with practice and started working as a team. We were invited into next door's garden to tackle some of the branches from that side, too.
After a morning's vigorous work, the electric wire is safe, and Brian has a few more logs for his wood burner. He's coming back for more tomorrow!
I have some of the best friends ever!

It made me think - the last time I did anything like this was over 15 years ago, when I was helping to convert old farm buildings into a retreat centre in the middle of the Forestry plantations near Abbey Cwm Hir. In the evening, we had a bonfire, which meant moving a lot of green pine branches, after a day of pushing wheelbarrows of soil and hauling rocks around.
I was a lot fitter back then!
I don't even know if the retreat centre is still there.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Hedge

I picked up the latest edition of The Hedge in Hay Wholefoods with the last of my Christmas food shopping. The sub-title is "A fund of information and inspiration from the wild edges", and it's a collection of articles on "alternative" issues in the local area. So in the latest edition there's information on fracking, and compost making, the disappearing hedgehog, shopping locally, and poetry and more. It's a not-for-profit publication, and any profits it does make is given to local small charities, a different one each time. This time, it's the Hay, Brecon and Talgarth sanctuary for refugees. The paper is recycled, and the printers are a small, local ecologically minded workers' co-operative, Footprints.
The "shopping locally" article is about a new sort of Farmers' Market in Peterchurch, The Food Assembly, where food is ordered in advance, and brought to a central point for collection on a certain day, in this case 4.30pm to 6.30pm on Mondays at the St Peter Centre - there is also a pop up cafe, with music, talks and storytelling. It all helps to build a stronger community. It's an interesting read, and links up with things that are going on in the area which are sometimes difficult to find out about.
They have also just launched a digital version of the publication, at

Monday, 26 December 2016

Santa Sighting

Just before Christmas Day, Santa was seen in Hay - dashing up and down Broad Street in an American jeep decorated with tinsel and the Stars and Stripes!

Meanwhile in Hereford, a couple of days before, I saw three tractors decorated with white ribbon in procession near the bus station - a farmer's wedding?

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Ladies Who Lunch

I had to use up my holidays before the end of the year, so I took a day off to go round the Thursday market - I usually see them setting up, and when I come out of work for lunch, they're packing up, but this Thursday I had plenty of time to look round and get all the food I still needed to get for Christmas (including a pot of Christmas Pudding Ice Cream from Shepherds!)
On the way round, I met Emanation and Ros, and later bumped into Tracy, who was just on her way to Booths Cafe to meet Emanation and Ros, and invited me along. They all go to Stitch and Bitch with me.
Tracy said that Marion from Addyman's bookshop is retiring. She's been working there for a long time, so it'll be strange to go by and not see her at the desk anymore. Tracy was at the leaving party when a bin lorry misjudged the corner and reversed into the corner of the shop! When I went past the following day, I saw Ann from Addymans looking up at the corner, and wondered what she was looking at - it was the damage the lorry had caused!
I haven't been in there to eat for a long time, but I remember the food being good - and it still is excellent, and beautifully presented on the plate. I had the pancakes and maple syrup. I very rarely get maple syrup, and my pancakes tend to turn into frisbees you could use as weapons, but I do like it when it's done well! The cafe was full, and several people had brought their dogs in with them.
It was really nice to do something different and totally spontaneous, with three good friends!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Pilgrimage Down The Wye

Stephen Payne is a re-enactor, and this year he's decided to re-create a pilgrimage St Brendan took in the 6th century from Plynlimon (the source of the Wye and Severn) to Llancarfan Abbey on the South Welsh coast. St Brendan made his journey to get to Llancarfan in time for the New Year, which is why Stephen is doing it now, in authentic 6th century costume.
He will be walking part of the way, and paddling down the Wye on his coracle, which he will be carrying on his back when walking, and sleeping under at night if he can't find alternative shelter. He wrote to the Archbishop of Wales to ask for permission to sleep in churches along the way, as a medieval pilgrim would have done. He's also eating, as much as he can, food which would have been available in the 6th century.
He reached Erwood today, and should be coming through Hay tomorrow or the next day - look out for the man in the white "monk's robe" (though ordinary lay people wore the same sort of robes back then)!

Last year, he re-created a 14th century pilgrimage to Canterbury, wearing authentic medieval clothing, and staying only at places which existed at the time of the original pilgrimage - something which is a bit more difficult for the 6th century!

It's a fascinating thing to do, and he's chronicling his journey on Facebook. Of course, Hurricane Barbara has struck just as he's set off - but he has a thick wool cloak and sheep's fleece in his boots to keep him warm and dry!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Comparing Christmas Dinners

It's that time of year for Christmas dinners and this year I've been to two (eating out again!)
Earlier in the month, the ladies of Stitch and Bitch went to the Three Tuns for a Christmas lunch - that's where we meet on the First Thursday of every month, and sometimes in between (gentlemen are welcome, but at the moment it just happens to be all ladies).

We had a long table at the back, fourteen of us. I wore my scarlet Superheroine skirt that I made over a couple of sessions, and Sharon brought her neck wrap. She's been knitting it for three years, and it's finally finished! It is now an honorary member of the group in its own right! Chrissy, a new member this year, was quite excited as she'd got a stall on the Thursday market selling wool. I saw her out there - of course, the weather was atrocious for her first attempt, but she had plenty of room as a neighbouring stall holder didn't turn up and she was told to spread out.
The food was great, of course, the traditional turkey main course, with several different options, and loads of vegetables. I had the game casserole, and slightly regretted it when I saw the parsnips served with the turkey. The waitress was asked what would happen to the vegetables we didn't eat, and when she said they would go in the bin, several ladies asked for carry out boxes to take the left overs home. We didn't want good food to go to waste. There were even mince pies at the end, by which time most of us were so stuffed that we couldn't eat another thing, so we took those home with us too (I took two, to share with the Young Man when he arrived the following day).
And this week it was the Works Do, in the evening, this time at the Black Lion. There were eight of us in the area near the door, with a much bigger party round the corner from the Vets. Again, the food was excellent - the mutton melted in my mouth, it was so tender. One of us went for the vegetarian option, and he said it was excellent (he's not generally vegetarian - it was just what he fancied from the menu). We had plenty of time to pace ourselves through the meal, but we were still very full when we walked home. And there was Morlands beer, which I haven't seen for a long while, so I stuck to that while everyone else enjoyed the wine and prosecco.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Christmas Shopping in Hereford

One thing I needed to do while my Young Man was here was to get him to Doughty's in Hereford - the patchwork and fabric shop. He wants a new Jedi costume, but the only one he's seen online that he likes is $170 (plus p&p). Last year I made a Jedi librarian costume for myself, and it turned out very well, so I volunteered to make the surcoat for him. He already has the under tunic and trousers. And the light saber. Of course, he wants to be something unusual - a Grey Jedi, somewhere between the Dark Side and the Light. Fortunately, Doughty's had the perfect charcoal grey fabric, in a suiting weight. The lady in the shop even remembered me: "You're the lady who makes Star Wars costumes, aren't you?"
The fabric cost £20, and the costume will be tailored to fit (she says optimistically!). I've got until Easter to get it ready.

On the way through the Market Hall, we spotted another Hay friend, who has recently moved house, and now lives in the only thatched house in Hereford! She said that half her friends think she's mad, and the other half want to move in with her. I looked up a picture, and I'm definately in the latter category!

I had no idea this house existed (when I'm in Hereford I rarely get beyond the central shops). It once belonged to David Cox, who is considered to be (according to Wikipedia) one of the foremost English landscape artists. He lived in Hereford from 1814 - 1827, when he was the drawing master for Miss Croucher's School for Young Ladies in Widemarsh Street. He was paid £100 a year for two days work a week, which left him plenty of time to paint and take on private pupils. Cox Cottage was custom built for him in 1817 as a cottage-cum-studio, and he lived there until 1823.

On Saturday, I went into Hereford to see the Young Man onto the train back to London, and had plenty of time to go round the shops before the bus home. So I wandered into the cathedral, just catching the tail end of Carols for Shoppers. The nave was packed, with lots of people standing, and I got to hear the choir singing the last song of the service. All around the nave and into the side chapels were craft stalls selling all sorts of lovely things, as well as mulled wine and teas and coffees. I hadn't realised it was happening, but I'll look out for it next year for last minute presents.
On the way round the cathedral, I came across their new Christmas Crib, carved out of limewood at about half life size by Paul Caton, from Lingen (there was a leaflet beside the crib). He's been working on it for three years now. In 2014 he made the Holy Family and an angel; in 2015 he added a shepherd holding a sheep, a lamb and a sheepdog, and this year he did another shepherd and the Three Kings, who I kind of missed because they were lurking behind one of the craft stalls - they're not supposed to reach the Stable until Epiphany, so many churches have them separate, and gradually getting nearer over the holidays. The Bishop of Hereford is due to dedicate (bless) the Crib on Christmas Eve, during Evensong, at 5.30pm.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Good Food and Good Company

I waved the Young Man off on the London train yesterday, after a most satisfactory week.
One of the nice things about having him to stay is that we go out to eat and have coffee a lot, which I don't normally do.
On the day that he arrived, for instance, we headed to the Lichfield Vaults for a Greek platter, which was just right to share as a snack lunch. I think they've tweaked the menu slightly, but all my Greek favourites are still there. And it's the only place I know in Hereford that serves Adnams Broadside beer, too.
Several people in Hay who know the Young Man invited us out over the week, so we enjoyed good conversation while sampling Shepherds' wonderful mocha coffee a couple of times.
We were also invited out for a meal at Yak-y-da - and the Nepalese Mountain Lamb Curry, and the Kathmandu curry, were just as good as we remembered them. Bottles of Gurkha beer were also enjoyed. (I was chatting about the Yak-y-da today to a regular customer - as a good Welshman, he winced when he saw the spelling of the name, until I explained the Gurkha connection!)
On another day, we went to Brecon on the bus - which conveniently dropped us off at lunch time, which we spent in the Brecon Tap, eating their wonderful pies and drinking very good beer. The barman even remembered us from the last time we were there! Discussing which beer to try at the bar, another customer offered to let me have a sip of his pint, so I could see what the Yakima IPA was like (from Great Heck Brewery). It was complex, richly flavoured, and 7.4% - and it ran out just as the barman was filling my glass! Fortunately other wonderful beers were available, and we filled our beer carrier from the bottled selection before we left. It was a slight disappointment to find that they had run out of Discworld beers (all named for characters in the Terry Pratchett fantasy series), and when we were eating out at the Yak-y-da, our friends confessed that they had bought the last bottles only two weeks before!
As ever, we ran out of time before we did all the things we wanted to - there are cafes in Hay that we haven't yet been to together, and we never managed to get up to Beer Revolution (but the Young Man will be back some time in the New Year).

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Another Brilliant Christmas Window

The Map Man from the print shop on Castle Street.

Blogging will be intermittent for a while, as my Young Man is coming to stay!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Persimmon Homes Publicity

A young man in a smart suit bounced into the Cinema Bookshop this afternoon, full of bonhomie, to ask about putting a banner on the railings. He'd been sent to find suitable locations to advertise the Persimmon Homes site on the edge of town, and clearly hadn't been made aware of quite how controversial the development has been around Hay. In fact, he seemed to think I wouldn't be aware it was happening!
A little later, Hay's local French couple came in, with a glossy brochure they'd picked up at the site office when they went down to see what was happening in the field. It all looked very impressive on paper, though they couldn't quite work out from the map where the present lane to the Warren was.
They were more concerned about the Library, though. Unlike me, they had been to the Council Meeting on Monday, where the Library was discussed, and they had come away rather worried about the future.
And Francoise revealed her desire to read a Mills and Boon romance - because she'd heard of them and wanted to see for herself what they were like!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Christmas Shopping

Game hanging up outside Gibbons Butchers.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

A Streetcat Named Bob

I had a treat last night - I was invited to go up to Wyeside in Builth Wells to see the film A Streetcat Named Bob.
I already knew something of the story - I've been getting the Big Issue in Hay (from the chap who stands by Spar) and Hereford (from the lady who stands by WH Smiths), for a few years now, and the story was featured there, as it's a great success story for the Big Issue. James was a recovering drug addict and busker, whose life changed when Bob the ginger cat moved in with him. He also had a spell selling the Big Issue. The book about Bob, and how he changed James' life, was an instant best seller, and has given James financial security.

The film opens here, at Covent Garden, and shows streets I've walked around - a lot of the filming was done on location, including on London buses. I loved the way the camera came down to a cat's eye view of scenes, and Bob, of course, was played by himself. There were other ginger cats as stand ins, but a lot of it was Bob. It was also nice to see Anthony Head in the supporting role of James' estranged father, which I wasn't expecting, in a cast where some of the supporting characters looked vaguely familiar, but not enough to put a name to the face. It was also good to see a film showing how quite small problems can take on epic proportions when you're living in poverty stricken circumstances.
So I highly recommend the film, and I also recommend the Lamb pub, nearby, where we had dinner before the film. I had the beef chili, and the plate was piled high, and Susan had the fish and chips, with really chunky chips. It was a pity it was so quiet - we were the only ones in there.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmas Crafts at the Globe

The Globe was full of stalls - up on the balcony, in the main hall and downstairs, which has recently been remodelled for the arrival of Off Grid Gourmet. The bar at the back of the room is now a new cooking area with a big counter, and the original door and windows have been replaced with floor to ceiling windows. A new breezeblock wall has been built at the other side of the room, to screen off the toilets, and everything has been painted white.
There were felted animals, paper decorations, photographs and prints, wooden crafts (some lovely bowls), and lots more. I got some elegant wrapping paper and a card with a picture of a Native American camp on it.
I met one of the ladies from Stitch and Bitch, with her striped knitted hats, and she said she'd had a pretty good day.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Friday, 2 December 2016

Christmas Window

I think this is my favourite Christmas window so far this year - Eighteen Rabbit's dragon themed window, with stockings hung up for Puff, Soup, Smaug and Idris!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Well Done, Woodland Group!

They won! Here's Alan Powell with the Keep Wales Tidy Cleaner Communities trophy!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Last Night at the Rose and Crown

I started my evening at the Castle, at the Good Cheer Singalong - and I got a cup of mulled wine as soon as I stepped through the door! Basically it was a chance to belt out some well known carols, with readings like Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost and an extract from A Child's Christmas in Wales (performed by Malk Williams, who played Henry V at Cusop Church).
There were also solos/duets, from Catherine Hughes and Di Esplin (not playing a cello - she had a large recorder type thing for The Coventry Carol), and Justin, regular at the Baskerville acoustic sessions, did one of his own songs.
The Castle hall was a lovely setting for carols, with the beams and the big fireplace - but this will be the last event there for a while, as renovation starts in earnest in the spring.

Justin played again later, most of his regular songs from the Baskie, in the bar of the Rose and Crown. It was the last night for tenants Paul and Lin, before the new owner closes for renovations before re-opening as a sports bar. It surprised me to learn that Paul and Lin have been there for 16 years - I remember them coming to Hay (they're from Essex originally), but I hadn't realised it was that long ago!
More than one regular at the Crown is feeling bereft now, and looking for another local where they can get a similar mix of interesting conversation.
So all the regulars were there. They'd run out of real ale (Copper Beacons from Brecon Brewery) but had some Tanglefoot and Wainwright bottled beers in - and earlier Haydn had to go up to Tomatitos to get some more Guiness, as it ran out mid-pint.
I'd been to the singalong with Jane, who went home to wait for her friend to come up from Abergavenny for the Winter Festival. They decided it was better to stay overnight in Hay than to try to get to Hay in time for the talks in the morning. So they came in later on, and I ended up having a detailed discussion with the friend about Julian of Norwich. She was going to the talk the following day, but knew very little about Mother Julian, and I spent two years living close to St Julian's Church in Norwich, and attending Evensong and prayer meetings there - which led me into reading the Revalations of Divine Love, which Mother Julian wrote in the cell beside the church where she lived for over thirty years in the fourteenth century.
I saw a couple of people the following day who had been to the talk, and said it was very good - I was at work, which was why I wasn't there.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Food Fair and Winter Festival

I completely forgot to mention, yesterday, that the lovely French couple who now live in Hay generously donated prizes to the children singing in the school choirs - books, and the children were chosen by a draw. I even saw them walking through town with the parcels earlier in the afternoon, so I've no excuse!

And yesterday was the Food Fair - I indulged myself, with some unusual beers from Brecon Brewery, and spicy chutneys and sauces - there was a stall there selling sauces from Borneo - - with recipe suggestions on a card. There was meat, and bread and cake and tea and cider and cheese... a good selection as usual. There was music from the Brecon Town Band when I was passing by. The stall run by Sikhs was back, as well, so I treated myself to samosa chaat for lunch. I had it last time they were here - it's a little bit of everything, with chopped up samosa and chickpea curry and sauces and pappodom crushed on top.
And in the Buttermarket there was a craft fair - I particularly liked the pyrography stall, Hectic Eclectic, with some imaginative designs - They told me that they lived down in the Valleys, not far from Aberfan, in a building which was once the pay office of a colliery.
And there were stalls in the Cheese Market, and in the Castle Gardens was a Flea Market - mainly the stalls which are usually in the Buttermarket on a Saturday. Fortunately for them, the weather was dry, but very cold!
There was even a gazebo outside the Cinema Bookshop, selling Christmas wreaths and artistic prints with a Welsh theme - they'd come all the way from West Wales.

There was one event in the Winter Festival that I particularly wanted to go and see. Pete Brown was talking about his book The Apple Orchard at St Mary's Church in the afternoon. He talked about mythology (with a slight wince at discussing Genesis in a church!) and how the apple adapts and becomes native everywhere it grows, so the English think the apple is a particularly English fruit, but so do the French, and the Spanish, and there's a good reason for the phrase "American as apple pie". It was the Greeks who learned to graft apples, so that varieties would breed true, rather than every apple tree being unique. He talked about Celtic mythology, and other myths around the world that mention apples, and also about the modern methods of harvesting, the "arms race" of pesticide against pest, and the complicated problem of GM crops.
He only had time to briefly mention that he visited a lot of orchards around Herefordshire, though he also managed to pick apples at an orchard under Glastonbury Tor, and in the questions at the end, he confirmed that Marcher Apple Network, which covers the Hay area and up into Shropshire, is mentioned in the book.
I was sitting with a friend, who has an old apple tree in her garden, and she wondered if they would be able to come and identify the tree. They have a website at
Needless to say, I came out of the talk with a copy of the book, which will go very nicely with my collection of Pete Brown's beer books.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Turning on the Christmas Lights

I'd been in Gibbons Butchers earlier in the day, and Geraldine told me that they would be opening late for the turning on of the Christmas lights, and serving beef and turkey rolls. So that was my first port of call when I went up to join in the festivities. When I got there, I found they were giving out mulled wine as well, and it was quite a festive atmosphere in the shop, completed by the hat worn (I think under protest) by one of the assistants, in the shape of a turkey, covered with sprouts, and with tiny Santa hats on the ends of its legs!
Up in the square, there were crowds, and the marquee was full of people too. The school was there, and several local businesses had tables, including the Cinema Bookshop (with children's books that seemed to be going well), the paper shop with toys, Londis with a hamper and Hay Vouchers, and the Thoughtful Gardener. There were games like Guess the age of the Christmas tree or the name of the soft toy, cakes, chutneys and jams, more mulled wine, mince pies, pancakes - and packets of reindeer food! At one side, one enterprising kid had set up Kai's Comics, selling off his surplus collection, and looking very professional! I started my Christmas shopping at the Fat Man Chili stall.

There was also a stall for Hay Library, manned by the HOWLS (Hay-on-Wye Library Supporters) giving out flyers describing what's happening so far and giving information on who to contact at Powys County Council:
Councillor Graham Brown
Deputy Leader/Cabinet Portfolio Holder
Member Support, Powys County Hall
Spa Road East
Llandrindod Wells, LD1 5LG
There will also be a fun event - Voices for Hay Library - on Sunday 11th December from 4pm to 5pm on the Library Green, corner of Chancery Lane and Brook Street, for carol singing, with free mulled wine and mince pies. There will also be an opportunity to sign up for a library card (an ideal stocking filler!). George the Town Cryer will be there to give a warm (and loud) welcome in Welsh and English at 4pm. And there will be a gazebo, just in case its wet!

Outside the marquee, the Community Choir was singing in the Cheese Market - and then, after a pause for photographs, the big moment. Andrew of 18 Rabbit thanked all the people who had made the evening possible, and then Ben Fogle gave a short speech saying how much he liked coming to Hay, followed by The Countdown. He pressed the plunger - and the lights went on all over town!
After that, the schools choirs sang.
It was a great evening!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Valeryan's Rolling Road

Here's something else I got ages ago, and only got round to listening to today!
Valeryan occasionally comes to the Wednesday night sessions at Baskerville Hall, and she does have a musical background. She was in the group The Settlers, who sang the theme song to Follyfoot in the 1970s, The Lightning Tree.
And more recently, she's made a CD called Rolling Road.
A couple of the songs on the album are ones she's sung at the Baskie - Betrayed by a Kiss, Never Shared the Wine and The Circle Line, for instance, though at the Baskie she plays the guitar as well as singing, and on the CD she has a variety of accompaniment, including backing vocals. Some are songs she's written herself, and she also does a good version of the traditional She Moved Through the Fair, and Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where the Time Goes.
Valeryan's website is

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Good News for the Castle

Hay Castle Trust has just had their planning application approved, for renovations to the Castle. They're hoping to start work in spring next year.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Jesse Jones and Her Violin

I feel a bit guilty about this - I've only just got round to reading The Strange Tale of Jesse Jones and the Violin, and I was given the copy (with accompanying CD) on the week of Brecon Jazz.
Jesse Jones herself, who has moved on from fiddle to saxophone, was playing at Baskerville Hall at the regular Wednesday night acoustic session. She'd come down to the area for Brecon Jazz.
And now I've finally read the story of how she became a musician - from a traumatic beginning in her school recorder group (which put her off music for years), to picking up a guitar, and after that, a violin. The book chronicles the difficulties of finding a suitable instrument, and a sympathetic teacher, in North Wales, and sees her attending music camps, and meeting a group to practice with, and learning bluegrass style fiddle and jazz. There are plenty of interesting characters she meets along the way, from Sid the music teacher to Carlo and Bruno the dodgy twins at the army camp where some of her musician friends live - and lots of musicians, many of them with good advice to Jesse to help her improve her playing.
And to really get the feeling of the music that's being described in the book, there is the CD, The Strange Tale by Outlaw Jones III - Jesse on fiddle, Jay Jones on guitar and mandolin, and Jimmi Jones on double bass and guitar. At different points in the book there are instructions to play a particular track from the album.
I enjoyed the story, and the music, especially the bluegrass version of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau at the end.
The Strange Tale of Jesse Jones and the Violin is available on Kindle.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Persimmon Homes

This is one of the designs for houses on "Readers Retreat" (or possibly Birch Grove), seen on the Persimmon website, where they are advertising the development of two, three and four bedroomed houses, with desirable amenities nearby.
I don't suppose they got much work done today on the building site - it was tipping it down!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Bronllys Well Being Park AGM

The Concert Hall at Bronllys Hospital will be the venue for the first AGM of the Bronllys Well Being Park group, at 7pm on Thursday 24th November, and it'll be more than just a committee meeting.
There's a keynote speaker, Chris Jones, who is the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Wales. He'll be talking about the opportunities for "citizens and the NHS to achieve better health and well-being outcomes by working together as equal partners" - as it says on the poster.
There will also be a fund raising quiz night to finish the meeting, run by "a popular local Quiz Master"!
All this and refreshments too!

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

"Save Our Hills"

I can understand, and sympathise with, the Water Protectors of North Dakota, who are peacefully protesting against an oil pipeline crossing Sioux reservation land at Standing Rock.
I'm right there with the Lancashire Nanas, who are protesting about fracking in Lancashire - fracking, like oil, has serious consequences for the environment if (or more likely when) there is a leak. And we need clean water more than we need oil.
But I can't understand the passionate opposition to wind power.

Yesterday there was a stall on the market (and it was a grim, wet and windy day for it), with the slogan Save Our Hills on a chalk board, and a large map of the Local Development Plan for Powys.
The ladies on the stall were objecting to the shaded areas on the map, which have been designated as suitable for wind farms - and it is a large area of Powys. They don't like the way Powys County Council have decided on this without proper consultation. I pointed out that Powys County Council tend not to consult properly about any planning decisions (for instance Gwernyfed School and the other High Schools in Powys, or the library closures that still might happen) so there was nothing different about them making decisions about wind farms in the LDP. But I wasn't going to support their campaign on the grounds that Powys didn't consult. I think wind farms are generally a good idea.
They tried to convince me, showing me a letter to the House of Commons detailing all the disadvantages of wind power, all of which I'd seen before from other people who object to wind farms, so I wasn't convinced.
I mentioned my sister, who has visited a wind farm in Germany, and based on that experience would live next door to one any day. One of the ladies, rather bizarrly, I thought, tried to argue that a) wind farms were only sited next to main roads in Germany and b) Germany has an ugly countryside anyway - which I told her was rubbish. Germany is a beautiful country. And it has wind farms.
I was shown the LDP map, and the lady I was talking to pointed out that the Epynt was clear of shading, meaning that it was considered unsuitable for wind farms, and why couldn't they put the wind farms there?
"But that's Sennybridge," I said, "the military training grounds."
"But the Barracks in Brecon is closing," she said.
(So it is, in eleven years' time, which is probably why the military plans haven't been included in the present LDP).
But closing the Barracks in Brecon doesn't mean that the training ground will stop being used. And there's a more important reason why it's unsuitable for wind farms.
"But - it's got unexploded bombs on it!" I pointed out.

Another argument they were making in opposition to wind farms is the natural beauty of the area and the historical significance. Wind farms, they said, would discourage tourists from visiting the area. I mentioned this to the Stitch and Bitch group that evening, and Ros from New Zealand laughed, and said that in New Zealand (which anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings films will agree is a stunningly beautiful country) wind farms are a tourist attraction!
As far as the natural beauty goes - we are very fortunate to live in this part of the world, but George Monbiot would take one look at our bald uplands, swear about the bloody sheep, and tell us to plant more trees. The ladies pointed out that pylons would have to be built, marching across the countryside, to link up the wind farms to the National Grid. Here's a picture from the Guardian last year (Thursday 9th April 2015):

In the background is a traditional pylon, and in the foreground is a modern pylon which the National Grid is trialing, especially for use in hilly areas and where they want to minimise the visual impact of pylons on the landscape. I think they look rather good.

For the historical significance - well, I was trained as an archaeologist, and I know that the uplands are littered with small prehistoric tombs and standing stones. We even have a hill fort nearby, Castell Dinas, with a Norman castle in the middle of it. And there are more castle mounds along the Welsh Marches than anywhere else in Britain.
Archaeological investigation in the uplands where wind farms are given planning permission may uncover interesting prehistoric remains which are presently unknown - just look what they found on the hill outside Dorstone in Herefordshire! That was a student training dig which has changed our understanding of the Neolithic period in this area. So that's a possibility, but it's not something which will attract large numbers of tourists - while the information gleaned from prehistoric remains can be very exciting, the remains themselves are usually not much to look at. For instance, the Rotherwas Ribbon, discovered during road building outside Hereford, was terribly exciting for prehistorians and archaeologists - but it just looked like a bit of gravel path.
So I don't think the archaeological case is sufficient to oppose wind farms either.

And the benefits of wind farms are great. It's clean, renewable, and if a wind turbine goes wrong, it doesn't cause an ecological disaster like an oil spill or fracking chemicals getting into the water. There are also different designs of wind turbine which minimise the danger to birds. Scotland is certainly in favour - they even export energy from their wind farms at times. And here is a wind farm in Scotland:

In 2013, I wrote about the planning application for a wind turbine in Clyro, which was turned down, and made my views about wind power clear there. The blog post can be found by clicking on the link below, which will show everything I've ever written about wind farms.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Bank Closure

It's been happening in other small towns up and down the Welsh Marches, and now it seems it's Hay's turn.
The HSCB Bank will be closing on Friday 10th February, at 2pm.
The nearest branch will then be in Brecon.
The sign the bank has put up by the ATM machine, giving the details of the closure, says "We apologise for any inconvenience".
'Inconvenient' is usually a word to describe minor disturbances in a person's routine - and not really applicable to a branch closing forever, with all the customers needing to make alternative arrangements for their banking. My first response when I read that was: "Polite but inadequate."

All three banks in Hay have been cutting back on the hours they open, over a period of years. Barclays is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Nat West have restricted their hours as well - but this is the first actual closure.
It's not very long since the HSBC had a disabled access lift put in at the entrance (that caused 'inconvenience', but not for long - and was a distinct improvement for the disabled customers). The work must have been quite expensive, and now it will probably be obsolete - who knows what the building will be used for next!

Some towns, of course, have no high street bank at all now, so Hay is still doing quite well in that regard - but it's one more example of services being gradually chipped away.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Figure Drawing, with Life Models

Thomasin Toohey is running another art class at the chapel hall opposite the Drill Hall in Hay. It will run from 10am to 4pm on 3rd December, and the £40 cost includes lunch at Kilverts.
She will be looking at ways to incorporate figures into paintings, and thinking about proportions and so on, and there will be two life models there for students to draw from.
She can be reached at 07955 344958.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Gareth Ratcliffe's Statement to the Planning Committee

This is the statement that Gareth Ratcliffe, as Hay's County Councillor, is making the the Brecon Beacons National Park Planning Committee today. It's a good summing up of the story so far:

"May I first take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me to address this committee on such an important development for our community.

For many years now the need for a new school in Hay-on-Wye has been well documented. The community has been split on ways of delivering such development but united they have been in the need to replace the falling down school that is presently in place. A school that was built in early 1970s with a 20 year life span and was well over due when I left the school.

Over all the community FULLY supports the application and I only wish to make some comments for the planning committee to consider when approving this application. This would be to enhance the application to benefit the community and also to help the council and BBNP understand in any future developments the wider discussions that should be considered with a community to help understand the needs and issues to deliver a wider supported community on and off the site proposed.

I will go on and I hope these comments will Help

1. For many years the community have been promised a community focused school with sufficient community space to help mitigate the loss of our community centre. As the council has moved forward they have only worked with the school in the development and not extended it to the wider community in drawing up the proposals that have a wider community impact., The officer has said that LDP policy 50 doesn’t apply to this development in relation to the loss of community facilities so I would like pointed out that it is the previous decision by PCC to remove the community centre that is at the heart of the issue because what is being proposed in the school is the supposed “alternative and equivalent”. We believe it does apply and I would welcome the committees view?
2. I am pleased to see that the council is proposing to put the public Library in to the school but I’m a bit surprised as Powys are presently in discussions with the community on funding the future of the library. I am very disappointed to see council departments are not talking to each other to get a plan that may benefit more people and working in silos and consulting the community in peace meal sections. This could end up with the community having community sections of the building they may not be able to utilise fully and not afford. So I hope the planning application will allow flexibility in the future.
3. Swimming Pool. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the PTFA for taking the running over of the pool to save it from closure. This is something close to our hearts. I would like to see security in the application to support its viability and do not design restrictions that may hinder its long term objective.
4. The location/relocation of the recycling is also important to our community it is much used and needed facility but also, Hay carpark has beautiful views of the country side and consideration desperately is needed not to stain the image of Hay as the proposed siting at bottom of the carpark would be the first thing anyone would see entering the carpark.

I will finish now and hope the committee will take the comments on board and approve this application for the residents of Hay-on-Wye."


Monday, 14 November 2016

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Update on Hay School from Gareth Ratcliffe

Hay Primary School Update

Dear All

On Tuesday 15 Nov Brecon Beacons National Parks Planning will be discussing the application for the New school on the present school site. The recommendation to the committee is to permit. I have requested a slot to address the committee to put forward the communities comments. I have asked the Town council for comments and this post is a request to you all to PM me or talk to me over next 2 days so I can represent you with all comments that need to be aired. This has been a long time coming to this point and the community has been torn apart on some issues but all together we have identified and supported the desperate need for a new school in Hay. If you would like to read committee documents please follow link below.

I hope this time Tuesday we will be celebrating the granting of planning for our new school. I look forward to discussing with you.

Best wishes

Cllr Gareth Ratcliffe
Hay Ward

There is a link to the planning documents (54 pages of them!) at on Gareth's Facebook page.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Small Business Saturday

The Secret Garden cafe and units seems to have closed down.
I passed by today, and the room is empty, with the blinds drawn.

However, there has been some movement near the Clock Tower, where people have been seen in the empty shop between The Keep office and the antique gallery. The flat above the shop is also for sale/to let, and is reportedly quite roomy, on two floors, and with a small garden at the back.

Friday, 11 November 2016

We Will Remember Them

Poppies at Caernarfon Castle

This Sunday the annual service of remembrance in Hay will be starting at 2pm, gathering at the town clock. The parade march will start at 2.30 for the service at the church at 3pm, followed by wreath laying at the cenotaph in the square.
There are giant poppies attached to lamp posts along the route.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Council Meeting - Police, Persimmon, and the Woodland Group

We have a very cheery new policeman in Hay - Lee Garrett has arrived from Brecon, and is still finding his feet, so he wants local residents to tell him what they think is important. One of the things he's already involved in is doing talks, mainly for the elderly, to alert them to scams, along with social services. He said there's a chap in Brecon who is sending money to someone who has promised him £50,000 in gold from Ghana, for instance, and they're trying to talk him out of sending any more! He distributed a magazine called Senior Siren. There was a lot of interest, especially from the lady from Dial a Ride who was there. The whole council thought it was a good initiative, and should be better advertised, in places like the B&R and WyeLocal.

Persimmon Homes have started building on the edge of town, and have opened a new entrance to the field. The name on the signboard is "readers retreat", which the councillors thought was a daft name. They have, however, been given the opportunity to choose a new name for the development. It was felt that this was a good opportunity to name something in honour of Nigel Birch, who died recently and was on the council for many years. Birch's Way was one suggestion (because Nigel always did things his way!), but the eventual choice was Birch Grove.

The Woodland Group has been shortlisted for a Tidy Wales Award for their work on dog fouling and the public litter pick they did. They'll get £250 if they win, and they get something just for being shortlisted.
On the subject of dog fouling, there was some discussion over whether it was time to start spraying offending dog poo with brightly coloured (safe!) paint again - highlighting the problem in that way did work in getting poo cleared away. There's also a poster competition going on for children, being judged by Hay Vets.
There was also some discussion about clearing out the old garage by the Sports Pavilion for the use of the Woodland Group. At the moment it's got old sports stuff in it, like goal posts and nets, which could do with a clear out, and the Woodland Group need somewhere to store their tools. It was agreed to try the arrangement for a year.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Council Meeting - Library and Council Chambers

I arrived at the Council Chamber in the middle of a minute's silence to remember Dai Ratcliffe, who died recently.
And then it was on to the questions from the public, which is the regular five minute slot at the beginning of the meeting. A representative of HOWLs was there, to read out a statement supporting the Town Council, which she said had been put in an invidious position by the County Council. HOWLs are demanding a proper consultation process, which has not been followed by the County Council in this case (rather like what they tried to do with Gwernyfed School). They want other options than closure to be considered.
Fiona Howard thanked the speaker, and said that the Town Council have forwarded a list of proposals to the County Council already - but haven't heard anything back yet.
The Welsh Assembly are also involved, giving extra options to the County Councils with budget restraints. It was also pointed out that libraries can be used as a first point of contact with social services, which would save money for the County Council.

Later in the meeting, the Library was on the agenda as the Town Council discussed the condition survey. Apparently, routine maintenance has not been done for years, and the Library building needs £260,000 worth of work doing, including work on the ramp, the flat roof, the gas and electricity, and more. Again, the County Council have not made any response when asked about this.
Even if this work was done, though, the County Council still wants to cut the library staff.
The HOWLs representative said that they had seen various statements from the County Council, and the figures quoted were inconsistent, and seemed to count different things in different statements for things like how much the library costs to run.
HOWLs will be putting an article in the next Wye Local explaining what the state of play is so far. The Council are also due to put an article in Wye Local, but after some discussion, they decided to concentrate on good news for Hay rather than their views about the Library.

Near the end of the meeting, Fiona was talking about the meeting she went to in Crickhowell about the library service, where she was told about the "cluster council meetings" they hold, involving all the small communities which are close to Crickhowell for issues like the library, which they all use. It was thought that this would be a good idea for Hay (rather like the old days of the Hay Urban and District Council), and could include Llanigon, Glasbury, Velindre, Gwernyfed - and across the border in Herefordshire with Cusop, and as far afield as Dorstone (residents of Dorstone come to Hay for the sports facilities).

Meanwhile, negotiations continue on the handing over of the Council Chambers to the Town Council. There have been inconsistencies and mistakes in the documentation here, too, with the public toilet block included in the plan with the Council Chambers when it should be completely separate (though the block was built on land which was originally the house's garden). There are also queries about the allotments at the back of the Council Chambers. Councillors said that the document drawn up by the solicitors didn't reflect what was agreed at the meeting they had with the County Council.
In view of this, together with the uncertainty over the future of the Library, the councillors felt that they were not in a position to make a decision about the future of the Council Chambers until there was clarification about what, exactly, was being agreed to.
It was also noted that the County Council have not yet released any of the money due to Hay Council from the car park takings, which was the agreement - and the councillors want the money due to them in the Town Council's bank account.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Book Launch at the Poetry Bookshop

While other people were thinking about Bonfire Night, I popped round the corner to the Poetry Bookshop for the launch of Land-Music/Black Mountains by Ruth Bidgood.
It's a double sided book that meets in the middle, and contains poems about the local area. The newer ones are under the title Land-Music, and the rest, Black Mountains, are chosen from a body of work that spans forty four years.
The Poetry Bookshop was full for the readings, with Ruth Bidgood enthroned in one corner. Introductions were made by the lady from Cinammon Press, who published the book, and then she read three poems, to a room in rapt silence, followed by more from two other readers. Along the way, she mentioned the Eppynt, Blanche Parry the nursemaid of Elizabeth I, Thomas Treherne the mystic priest - and her friend talked about a day out when they had a picnic in what they thought was a churchyard, gradually realising that it was, in fact, a private garden - but they were invited into the converted little church, and a lovely poem about the juxtaposition of old monuments with a modern kitchen was the result.
It was a very enjoyable evening, and I was very pleased to have such a pleasant introduction to a poet who was new to me.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Friday, 4 November 2016

Help for Refugees At the Globe

There's a benefit dance at the Globe on Friday 11th November to raise money for the Calais Refugee Community Kitchen. Although the refugee camp at Calais has now been demolished and the residents dispersed, there is still a need for the Kitchen to continue its work. There will be live music from Juliet Noble and Rebecca Plato. Tickets are £8, and anyone who wants to help can also contact Juliet at Shepherd's Ice Cream.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Winter Festival

It's not long now....
Hay Winter Festival will be held over the weekend of 25th to 27th November this year. Guests include Owen Sheers and Ben Fogle, and Pete Brown (usually) the beer writer, whose new book is called The Apple Orchard.
The Festival bookshop and gift shop will be based at The Swan.
The Christmas Lights will be switched on at the beginning of the weekend, and there will be a marquee in the car park for the Food Festival on the Saturday.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy Hallowe'en!

Not the best picture in the world, but I have my pumpkin head to scare away demons, my bat and a flight of ravens!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Small Business Sunday

So it's goodbye to Stuart, and hello to Kieron at the Castle Greengrocers.
Kieron has, in fact, been Stuart's right hand man for quite a while at the greengrocers, and he's just taken over the ownership of the business.
Under his management, I'm sure the shop will continue to be the most photogenic greengrocers' shop in Wales (with an excellent selection of fruit and veg, of course)!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Sir Roy Strong at the Castle

Sir Roy Strong will be giving the Winter Lecture of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust at Hay Castle this year. The date is Saturday 19th November, at 2.30pm, and the cost is £10 including refreshments.
The subject of the talk is The Quest for Shakespeare's Garden, and he'll be talking about Elizabethan gardens generally as well as Shakespeare's own garden in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Hero of the Zulu War

A book came into the shop recently called Zulu War VCs. Greg, the manager, remembered that there was a local connection, and showed me the pages relating to a local hero.
Robert Jones was a farm worker before he enlisted in the 24th Regiment South Wales Borderers - and he was at Rorke's Drift when the Zulu War began in 1878.
His job was to defend the patients in the hospital - in a desperate battle in which Robert Jones was wounded by Zulu assegais three times after he and his companion Private William Jones had run out of ammunition. They managed to get six patients to safety through a window, and Robert Jones was returning for a seventh man, Sergeant Robert Maxfield, only to see him being stabbed in his bed. The building was by then on fire, and Robert Jones got out of the window just before the roof collapsed. He was awarded the VC for his actions.
When he left the army, he moved to Peterchurch in the Golden Valley with his wife Elizabeth. They had one son and four daughters. Robert worked as a groundsman for Major de la Hay at Crossways House, and the family lived in Rose Cottage. As well as gardening, he was apparently a talented amateur poet.
However, one of the wounds Robert had recieved at Rorke's Drift was to his head, and he continued to suffer from pains in his head. In 1898, he borrowed the major's gun and shot himself in the garden.
The inquest was held at the Boughton Arms in Peterchurch, where it was decided he had committed suicide while of unsound mind. He was given a military funeral, and a marble headstone was erected, which can still be seen.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Poetry Book Launch

The Poetry Bookshop is hosting a free booklaunch at 5pm on the 5th November.
Ruth Bidgood will be reading from her new collection, Land-music.
According to the Poetry Bookshop Facebook page, Ruth Bidgood has had quite an eventful life: she was born in Blaendulais, near Neath, educated at Oxford, and worked as a coder in Alexandria, Egypt in World War Two. She has lived in mid-Wales since the mid-sixties. The author of several prize-winning volumes of poetry, she also writes local history.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ponds, Rivers and Poultry

There's some concern about plans to put up intensive chicken sheds across the river just outside Clyro, so this would seem to be a good time to talk about the implications.

There's going to be an open meeting on 29th October, from 10am to 3.30pm, at Llanigon Village Hall, to discuss the impact of intensive poultry production in Powys on our freshwater ecosystems. It's being organised by the Brecon and Radnor Branch of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales. The cost includes refreshment and a buffet lunch, and will be £5 for CPRW members and £7.50 for non-members, to be paid at the door.
They have invited Professor Steve Ormerod from Cardiff University, who is also the Chair of the RSPB Council and a leading expert in freshwater ecosystems. He'll be speaking in the morning along with Richard Ninnes from Natural Resources Wales, Julian Jones from Radnorshire Wildlife Trust and Kate Adams from the Wye and Usk Foundation.
In the afternoon, the speakers are Peter Powell of Severn Rivers Trust, Barbara Brown of OPAL Open Air Laboratories and Viv Green of the Countryside Restoration Trust.
So it sounds as if there will be a lot of very knowledgeable people there!

Monday, 24 October 2016

More on the Library

The situation with the Library seems to be moving quickly. Here's what James Gibson-Watt had to say on Facebook on the 21st October.

"To put it mildly it looks as though negotiations between Hay Town Council and Powys County Council over the future of Hay Library have not gone well. There is now the very real prospect of Powys CC publishing a statutory notice of its intention to close the library, unless Hay Town Council agrees to take on the running of it and fund half the annual costs by 31st October. This is akin to 'holding a gun to the head' of the Town Council and I and my council group believe the County Council's Cabinet is quite wrong to proceed in this way in Hay and also a number of other towns across Powys. There are a host of unanswered questions still to resolve, e.g. whether Town Councils can legally fund a statutory public facility to this extent and why the 50% burden should fall solely on Hay council taxpayers, since 2/3 of Hay Library users live outside Hay, many of them in England! If a Notice of Closure is issued by Powys CC a period of public consultation will follow. It is vital that as many people as possible respond to that consultation to show their support for Hay library. Public pressure worked well to help save Gwernyfed High School. Let's do it again for Hay Library. The Town of Books without a library? Ridiculous."

Meanwhile, Francoise Verger sent a letter to the Brecon and Radnor, also on the subject of the Library, but when they printed it, they left off the postscript. Here is the letter in full:

"Libraries protected by law

SO "the clock is ticking for a number of small libraries across Powys" which are threatened with closure (Letters, October 12).
Powys and other councils would be well advised to read 'Public Library and Other Stories', by the writer Ali Smith.
On page 42, it is indicated that "the importance of libraries was recognised by the Public Libraries Act 1850 and affirmed by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964". These laws clearly mean that public libraries are a statutory service. Therefore councils have a legal duty to provide them.
On the jacket of Ali Smith's book, a quotation by Doris Lessing (Nobel Prize in literature 2007) reminds us that the library "is the most democratic of institutions".

PS This book was published in 2015 and found on the shelves of the Hay-on-Wye library."

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Day of the Dead

I'm easily confused!
There are TWO Day of the Dead celebrations this year. The first is on Friday 28th October at the Old Electric Shop, which will be a sit down feast of Mexican food, with cocktails and music. Tickets are £25, to include a drink on arrival.
And then on 4th November, at the Castle, there's another Day of the Dead celebration, with music, food, face painting and tequila! This one is organised by the Chamber of Commerce and is raising money for the Christmas Lights. The cost of the evening is £8.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Save Hay Library - Who to Contact

The new group HOWL (Hay-On-Wye Library - for the HOWLs of protest!) has shared the email of the county councillor responsible for library provision in Powys.
It is
and his address is:
Councillor Graham Brown, Deputy Leader/Cabinet Portfolio Holder, Member Support, Powys County Hall, Spa Road East, Llandrindod Wells, Powys LD1 5LG

He's the one to write to with any comments, for Hay and any of the other libraries under threat.
And it's probably best to keep copies of any communications, so they can be used again in the official consultation process.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Remembering Aberfan

Today is the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

picture taken from the Landslide blog, which has been posting about the disaster all this week.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Saving Hay Library - Live on Radio Wales!

At work, I'm often the first person to pick up the phone when it rings - and this morning I got a BBC researcher for the Jason Mohammed programme on Radio Wales, who was looking for a view from one of the bookshops on the threat to Hay Library.
So I agreed to speak, and was connected to the programme, where I could hear Fiona Howard, the Mayor, giving an extremely good defence of the library service, and why the Town Council couldn't step up to fund it. I hope I added something useful to what she said - to be honest, I was too nervous to remember what I said (though I think I sounded calm and fairly articulate at the time)!

Meanwhile, Gareth Ratcliffe has been questioning the County Council, and got a reply, which he put up on his Facebook page. Here it is:

"With regard to Hay Library, the intention is to move the library onto the new primary school site when it is built next year, which will reduce the building related costs, and we continue to work with the Schools Service on this. At the same time, we have been having discussions with town councils and others across the county, with a view to creating local partnership arrangements which would fund at least 50% of the controllable running costs of the local library. Two alternatives which we have been exploring are community delivery (where another organisation takes on the running of the local library with our support and 45% grant funding to them over a 5 year period), or a model where the library service continues to run the service as is, with a 50% contribution from a town council or other sources. We remain open to other proposals as well.
As yet, we have been unable to conclude any agreement in Hay, not least because so many of the library customers are from outside of the town, which understandably, makes the town council reluctant to pay for a service for others.
Powys County Council's Cabinet have given us the deadline of 31st October to conclude our discussions over the 2 alternatives outlined above, after which they will be withdrawn. The only option remaining for us then in Hay will be to reduce opening hours in order to make the running costs fit the remaining 50% of the budget from 1st April next. As I am sure you know, Hay Festival have been very generously fundraising for the library for the last 2 years, preventing the 20% reduction in hours which was introduced across all Powys libraries from April 2015, and we are extremely grateful to them for their support, which was agreed for a 2 year period.
This is a basic outline of the current position, and I am very happy to meet with you to discuss further, if that would help."

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Save Hay Library

Yesterday, I posted a short video of the protests outside Hereford Shire Hall, to show what's happening with libraries on the English side of the border.
Here's what it looked like in Hay Library earlier on Monday evening:

I was sitting on the floor underneath the tree in the corner.

The meeting was called by Anita Wright, who felt strongly enough to do something when she heard about the plans of Powys County Council. She is now part of the steering group of the campaign to save the library (which may be called Friends of Hay Library, or possibly HOWL - I'm not sure yet). She'd invited a member of the Friends of Crickhowell Library to talk about what they'd been doing to save their library. They were set up well in advance of Powys County Council's plans, so they had time to plan what they could do about them. We have something like two weeks before the County Council intends to run a consultation on closing the library, one of eleven libraries around the county (which will leave Powys with six libraries).

Fiona Howard was at the meeting, from the Town Council, and she told the meeting how Hay had got together with eight other local councils to form a united opposition to the County Council. Previously, the County Council have been trying to pick the libraries off one by one.
Fiona Howard also said that the County Council want Hay Council to take over the running of the library, as they have already done with the toilets and the sports pavilion - but they need to find £18,000 a year to run it. In order to do that, Fiona said, they would have to raise the precept (Hay's portion of the Council Tax) by 44% - which is illegal.

At Crickhowell, they have been fund raising for small things for the library, and they've also been drumming up support for the library, and putting on events in the library. They've also been forging links with the local primary school and, most importantly, the secondary school, which is due to take over the running of Crickhowell library shortly, bearing 50% of the costs. They are also just about the only local library in the county which has produced a business plan, which has been accepted by the County Council.

There have been plans in Hay to move the library to the new school building - but building work hasn't started yet, and that solution to the problem is a long way off. In the meantime, it's important to keep the library open - once it closes, it's gone forever.

However, there is a legal requirement for county councils to provide a comprehensive library service, in the 1964 Public Libraries Act. However, the wording is vague, so it's open to interpretation just what a comprehensive service means in practice. In Wales, there is an extra layer of legislation on Library Standards, which can be found on the Welsh Assembly website under Libraries Making a Difference. They have plans for a library card that would work in every library in Wales, for instance, and to streamline the administration across Wales instead of duplicating effort in each county. Where library use is declining in England, in Wales library use is increasing.
But again, this is some way in the future, and consultations on the future of the libraries will begin on October 31st.

The feeling of the meeting was that a library is far more than just a room with books in it - it was emphasised that what is needed is a continuation of the library service, which means the retention of trained librarians like Jayne in Hay. It's not something that volunteers can duplicate. It was also the feeling of the meeting that cutting the hours that the library is open means that large sections of the public will be unable to access the library services - anyone who has a full time job, for instance, if the library no longer opens in the evenings. At the moment, Hay Library is well used, with over 20,000 books loaned last year.
Hay Library also has a unique connection to the Hay Festival, with the annual Library Lecture, and the Festival has raised money to support the library in the last couple of years. However, local fund raising will not be anything like enough to run the library.

For the future, the Friends of Hay Library need a vision of what the library can be - it's not enough just to defend what we have. So it would be good to have a new room built onto the library for meetings and consultations, and then local groups would be able to meet at the library (such as some of the groups who used to meet in the Swan until the new management decided they didn't want that to continue).

So the new campaigning group will be doing something like the group campaigning to save Gwernyfed School did - pointing out where the County Council are failing in their statutory duties to provide a library service, and where they are failing the Welsh Library Standards, as well as pointing out the negative effects that the closure of the library will have on the local residents - all those people who rely on the library to use a computer, for instance, as well as school children (I needed my local library as a child - there was no way my parents could have kept up with my reading habits without it). There is, in Powys, no schools library service, so Hay Library is the provision for school children in the area. And running a library with volunteers and no paid staff does not meet the Library Standards.

As Hay is on the border, some of the people who use Hay Library actually come from Herefordshire - Cusop and Clifford, for instance. About 30% of library users live in Hay, the other 70% being from surrounding villages - and those community councils need to be involved in the fight to keep the library open too.

The meeting ended with the formation of a steering group, and just about everybody at the meeting signing up to recieve emails about the progress of the campaign and what they can do to help.

The contact email is

As soon as I know the details, I'll publicise the people in the County Council to write letters to, but Gareth Ratcliffe warned that the County Council will discount letters that are sent outside the formal consultation process, so people will think they have voiced their views, only to find they were not taken into account. He recommended keeping copies of letters and sending them again for the official consultations.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Chamber of Commerce - Independence Celebrations, Day of the Dead and Christmas Lights

It will be the 40th anniversary of Hay being declared an independent Kingdom next April 1st, and there will be a meeting on Tuesday evening at 6pm at Tomatitos to discuss how to organise celebrations, called by the Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber is also deeply involved in raising money for the Christmas lights around Hay. This year they are holding a Day of the Dead celebration (fancy dress optional) at The Old Electric Shop, on 4th November, with Mexican nibbles on offer, and music. The price of hiring contractors to put the lights up has gone up considerably since last year.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Good News for Gwernyfed

John Fitzgerald, who has been running the petition against the closure of Gwernyfed School on Facebook (and writing to Powys County Council on the subject) posted an update on Facebook on the 13th. There's no point in me summarising it - he says it all far better:

"Over the last 18 months I have been the bearer of negative messages and general bad news about Gwernyfed High School and it is therefore wonderful to be bringing a lot of good news. The start of the new term has brought a very different picture beginning of course with Powys CC announcement to abandon the closure plan which brought so much relief. Since then good new has been coming from a variety of directions:

1. The open evening for parents and students who were considering where pupils should go next September brought in a record number of people to the school from various parts of Powys. All the good news about this year’s exam results, the incredibly improved ranking for the school by Estyn and the ending of the uncertainty had filtered through. Encouragement for the future of the school indeed.

2. The First Minister in the Welsh Assembly Government has signed off an Outline Business Case (OBC) which includes funding to rebuild Brecon HS and £6 million to develop Gwernyfed HS. Now one has to be a bit wary because Powys have not worked out a detailed plan but appear at the moment to be consulting the school. However, we know from experience that trusting this LA is not sensible (ask the people of Hay) so we will need to keep a close watch on their every step. For example, the idea of a two site, one school proposal has been removed but there is a degree of ambiguity elsewhere in the OBC so we do need to keep a close watch on this bunch.

3. Kayleigh Hughes, deputy head of the arts Faculty at Gwernyfed HS has been appointed as an Arts Champion for a joint Welsh Government and Arts Council initiative to work with schools to inspire and increase creativity in all subjects, not just the arts, and to form networks between schools and arts organisation. Kayleigh will work with schools across Mid-Wales but will retain her role at Gwernyfed HS. This is brilliant news for Kayleigh and the school so congratulations to both.

4. Following on from the above it has just been announced that Gwernyfed HS has been appointed a “a pioneer school” by the Welsh Government to support other schools implement the “Donaldson Report” which if successful will radically change for the better the way education is delivered in Wales. Again brilliant news for the school and a recognition of the quality of the staff and available education.

5. Shane Jenkins the head of science at Gwernyfed HS has just been given a fantastic award. Every year the Institute of Physics identify six teachers from across the UK as physics teachers of the year, Shane is one of the six for 2016. The citation describes him as “an inspirational, enthusiastic and committed teacher “. Isn’t that amazing both for Shane and the school?

What all this says of course is something we have known all along, the plan to close Gwernyfed HS was fatally flawed, but what is so impressive is how the school and staff have achieved all this despite the efforts of Powys CC to batter the school into submission.

We have reached a stage where we will shortly have to close the petition but I will down load contact details so that if Powys start misbehaving we can contact you again. It therefore only remains for me to thank you for all the support you have given the school over the last 18 months and wish you well."

Friday, 14 October 2016

Local Archaeology and History events

I was upstairs at the Three Tuns last night, at the History Group meeting, because they had advertised that they would be talking about the finds from the test pits that were dug in various gardens around Hay during the history weekend.
It turns out that the area around the Cinema Bookshop was more interesting than I had thought. It seems there was a flannel mill somewhere there, next to George House, and one of the test pits was in one of the gardens at the back. They also moved next door, to where the neighbour was putting up a garden shed, and dug a pit there as well! One pit provided evidence of a ditch, possibly drainage.
The finds themselves, mostly pottery and bits of clay pipe, are not as exciting as a Viking hoard, but they do build up a picture of what was going on, and the history group are hoping to add to this information over time. Jane at Berry's Cottage has offered to have a test pit in her garden when they do it again, and she has some archaeological experience herself, which helps a lot - she's got some idea of what a digger should be looking for. This time, the professional archaeologist was supervising work at the Castle, and dashing out to look at the gardens, which wasn't ideal.

More recently, there has been a small excavation in the Castle at the back of the stable block. Eventually, in the plans drawn up for restoring the castle, they want to put a patio there as part of a cafe - so first they have to investigate the bank. This was made more difficult by the roots from a nearby beech tree, which they had to dig round without damaging. They also had to cover the trenches with hessian to protect the roots before backfilling, which should be happening today. When I went up there, this is what it looked like:

The lump covered in black plastic at the centre is the spoil heap, which will be used to refill the trenches. At the nearest ends of the trenches, they didn't need to go down very far to find an earlier ground surface. There will be more information on the Hay Castle website for this and the history weekend digs.

One of the chaps who runs the model railway exhibition in Salem Chapel was at the meeting, and he reported that the chapel roof has finally been fixed! However, there is some dispute with the insurance company about paying for the work. It looks a lot better now, though:

He also said that the model railway volunteers had treated themselves to a day out on the Severn Steam Railway.

There was a fair bit of discussion about history and archaeology events further afield - Hay History Group has a good relationship with the Brecon History Forum, so it's easy to find out about things like the 350th anniversary of Penpont House, which several people at the meeting went to, and enjoyed. Many people at the meeting went to events organised for the history weekend, and brought back ideas about how Hay could do things better for future events - such as changes to the times and frequency of the Hay Tours history walks.
There's very little knowledge of what's happening on the Herefordshire side of the border, though, and everyone wanted to improve on this. The dig at Dorstone, for instance, should be in the diary of anyone who's interested in archaeology - run as a training dig for Manchester University, they've discovered some fantastic information about the neolithic. There's also a community dig going to happen in Longtown, which is a very interesting place, being a medieval planned town that failed - too high, too remote - with a pretty good castle. Work is also planned at Snodhill Castle.

The annual Smith-Soldat talk will be on abandoned houses of the Black Mountains - a chap called Christopher Hodges wrote a book on the subject a couple of years ago, and has agreed to come and give the lecture. This will be part of the Hay Winter Festival, so they do all the publicity, tickets and so on, while the History Group provide the speaker. The History Group will also need to provide bed and breakfast accommodation for the speaker this year, and were appealing for anyone with a spare bed to come forward.

Back to Hay, and one of the ideas for the future is to have a trail of "blue plaques" around town for people to follow, some of which will have historical information on the buildings ("This was the site of the Red Lion pub" for instance) and some of which would be more light hearted ("This is where Brian sits with his dog Lucy"). Other topics for consideration included the Dentist's Siege on Lion Street!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

History Group

The next meeting of the Hay History group will be at the Three Tuns on Thursday, 13th October, at 7.30pm. They'll be discussing the finds from the archaeology weekend, when several test pits were dug in gardens around Hay, as well as at the Castle.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Council Meeting - Fairtrade signs, Regional AM, Planning

Fairtrade Hay are organising signs to be put up in Hay, to publicise the fact that Hay is a Fairtrade Town. They are going to pay for the signs. The councillors wondered where the signs would be situated, and whether the National Parks and the Highways Department should be informed. They added that Hay is the gateway to Powys and the National Park, and this should be promoted - and maybe the County Council should spend a few quid on designing a suitable sign.
Meanwhile, there is the old, cast iron Hay sign, which needs to be sandblasted and painted. It's 4' x 6', and the suggestion was that it should be erected on the lawn in front of the Council Chambers.

The new regional Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, Eluned Morgan, has said she has an interest in public service delivery, and it was suggested that she should be invited to visit Hay. She has also said that she wants to strengthen the rural economy. (Rob Golesworthy protested that he hadn't voted for her - but I understand that the regional members are chosen from a list).

The plans for the new Hay School are changing - with more drainage needed in one part of the site, and the appearance of the walls to be changed from brick to render (or wattle and daub? Rob Golesworthy asked). None of the councillors were happy about the idea that they should look up the details on line - they wanted paper plans to be delivered to the Council.

Lamb House, which used to be the vets' surgery, has recently been refurbished, and now they have finished the building work on the main building the owners want to build a new house on the small car park across Wyeford Road from Lamb House. There was some concern that a fence along the boundary would narrow the lane which is used by vans towing canoe trailers, and some questions were asked about environmentally friendly features of the building, such as solar panels.

The next Council Meeting will take place on 7th November.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Council Meeting - Timbuktu and Tim the Gardener

The visitors from Timbuktu had a meeting with councillors to discuss the present situation in Timbuktu (still unsettled, with French peace keepers on the streets) and the projects that groups in Hay support in Timbuktu. They were also comparing the councils in Hay and Timbuktu, coming to the conclusion that Timbuktu council is more like Powys County Council in responsibility and powers. They are grateful that Hay has continued to support them through a difficult time - other twin towns seem to have lost touch with them, whereas Hay has maintained a constant line of communication.
One of the projects supported by Hay is building toilet blocks at schools, so that families have no excuse to keep their daughters at home, saying there are no facilities for them. Just doing that has improved girls' education in Timbuktu.
There was a suggestion that a week's taking from the Hay public toilets might be donated to this project, which would also create good publicity for Hay. (There have been a few problems with the toilets in Hay - the regular cleaners are great, but the weekend cleaners have been less good recently. Healthmatic are dealing with this, and also with the problem that some of the "validators" in the coin machines broke, despite the equipment being still quite new.)
There was also a suggestion that it might be a good idea for Hay councillors to visit Timbuktu, when the situation there is safer. The Mayor of Timbuktu would like to visit Hay, as well.
On April 1st next year, Hay will be celebrating 40 years of Independence, and ten years of twinning with Timbuktu through the Hay2Timbuktu group.

Some of the signs that were put up for the Timbuktu Trail around town need replacing, and councillors are going to contact Christina Wright, who painted them originally.

Thirteen people turned up for the defibrillator training course, which lasts about two hours, and is apparently very good. There is a defibrillator by the Clock Tower now.
The day after the course, Tim the Gardener collapsed in the car park, and there were people on the scene who knew exactly what to do because they had been to the course the previous evening! They certainly saved Tim's life. This has resulted in more enthusiasm for training, and another course will be arranged soon.
Tim spent ten days in hospital in Cardiff, but he is now back in Hay. I saw him yesterday, and though he says he has to take things slowly, he seems very well, considering. He's even been re-arranging his books at his shelves at Tinto House, bringing new stock down in his wheelbarrow.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Small Business Saturday

I've just discovered that Shepherds now have completely recyclable cups for their takeaway coffee. They have the slogan "I'm a Green Cup" on the side, and can be put in the compost after use, just like the plastic containers at the Deli for stuff like hoummus.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Council Meeting - Sports Pavilion and Library

So the Transfer of Assets of the Sports Pavilion to Hay Council is almost complete - apart from one document that needs to be signed, and the County Council have said that they will not release any money that goes with the transfer until it is signed.
Steve Like was very annoyed, and said that this amounted to bullying by the County Council. However, a special meeting will be called as soon as possible to sign the document and to inform the sports clubs that use the pavilion of the new situation.
When the document is signed, Hay Council will become liable for any repairs that need to be done, but they will also have the ability to look for grants to cover the cost of those repairs.

The County Council have also been discussing the future of the library services in Powys, and they're meeting with some stiff opposition. It was Nigel, Hay's Town Clerk, who suggested that Hay contact other local councils in a similar position, and now there are eight local councils united in fighting the cost cutting measures that the County Council is proposing. This includes closing some libraries, and getting "volunteers" to run things in other places.
At the meeting this week, the Talgarth councillor spoke on behalf of the local councils affected, as James Gibson-Watt was not available on the day.
The County Council has taken legal advice on their proposals, but they have declined to share that advice with the councillors concerned about their local libraries. It is a legal requirement that County Councils must provide a comprehensive library service. One Voice Wales has also been consulted by the local councils and they say that Powys is in the wrong on this.

On the subject of libraries, the Friends of Hay Library are having a meeting at Hay Library on Monday 17th October from 6.30 - 7.30pm. Elaine Wigzell of the Friends of Crickhowell Library will be there to explain how they set up their group and answer any questions.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Council Meeting - Police Update, Parking and Town Plan

I've been missing Council meetings, for various reasons, most of the summer, but now the nights are drawing in again I'm getting back into the swing of it. This month, the Council was only just quorate, with five councillors turning up. They are launching another appeal for more councillors - there are three vacancies at the moment - with the proviso that it only needs to be for six months, as there are elections due next year, so anyone interested could try it for a limited time to see if they liked it.
One of our local policemen was giving an update on police - and criminal - activity when I arrived. He's involved in reviving and updating the Neighbourhood Watch scheme, and also mentioned Farm Watch. Technology means that information can be shared much more quickly in these days of emails and smart phones. He's looking for volunteers to be a part of the new Neighbourhood Watch schemes. There's also SpeedWatch, for speeding motorists. Local training for volunteers will be available.
He pointed out that criminals are no longer deterred by the presence of cameras - they just put their hoodies up and carry on, and they come into areas of low crime like the Hay area from surrounding areas. Crickhowell has been having something of a crime wave recently.
He also talked about the problems with motorbikes on Powys roads - there's a death just about every week, though most bikers are sensible (and most are middle aged).

There was some concern that the Residents' Parking trial seems to be just carrying on without an end in sight. Powys County Council have now said there won't be a review of how it is working until the end of next year, and there seems to be no one in the County Council taking responsibility for the scheme. Despite this, and the fact that there are some issues with the scheme that need to be addressed, Powys wants to roll out the scheme across the county. Hay Council will be writing to the County Council to remind them that a review is needed.

The Town Plan has been officially adopted by the National Park, and will be used as supplementary planning guidance. This means that the views of local people will be taken into account, as stated in the town plan, before any planning decisions locally are made. One of the good outcomes of this is that there is a strong case for proper community facilities within the new Hay school building (as seen in the last lot of plans which are no longer being used) when the school is finally built.

Monday, 3 October 2016


Seasonal Mallyfest:

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Opening an Account with a Building Society

The Co-op Bank branch (aka Britannia Building Society) in Hereford is closing.
They sent me a nice letter telling me that I could switch to Online Banking.

I don't think so.

The reasons I opened a savings account with the Co-op were:
a) It's in Hereford, so I would have to make a special trip if I wanted to take money out of the account, thus making it less likely that I would dip into my reserves on a whim.
b) The office is manned by actual human beings, who can explain things should I need it.

If I switched to online banking, all I would have to do to access my money would be to sit down in my living room and turn the computer on, and there would be no helpful human beings to interact with.

Over the time I've had my savings with the Co-op, I've found that I don't actually have the desire to dip into the savings all that often, so I probably don't need to have my account in an office a bus ride away.
But I still want the interaction with actual human beings.

Fortunately, the Yorkshire Building Society office is just across the road in Broad Street, staffed by the lovely ladies who also work at Beales the Solicitors. Now, I'm a good Lancashire lass, and there is historic rivalry between the two counties, but I reckoned that this would be the best place for me to open an account.

So I closed my account with the Co-op, and took the cheque down to the Yorkshire.
It did amuse me that, while I was proving my identity with passport and utility bills, one of the ladies from the solicitors came in to use the photocopier and said "Hello, Lesley, what are you doing here?" But the rules are that I have to prove that I'm not an international money launderer, with specific documents, and it doesn't matter if I know the staff personally.

The other good thing is that they are a traditional building society, with an interest in charitable giving. At the moment they're running a Small Change Big Difference campaign, for members to choose a local charity, to which the Society will give £100.

I think the Yorkshire is going to suit me very well.