Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year

Some book art from earlier this year - a Needle in a Hay Stack!

I saw some friends earlier today who had already finished their New Year's Celebrations. They were at Cusop Village Hall for an event that culminated at 12 noon here, but 12 midnight in Tuvalu on the other side of the world, so they had a party, did the countdown to New Year - and will be having an early night tonight!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Accident at Black Swan Cottage

It's a regular thing, at the turning onto Broad Street from Hay Bridge, to see large lorries getting stuck and having to manoeuvre carefully up and down to get round. Sometimes they don't have enough room to turn because a car is parked on the double yellow lines opposite the turning (those double yellow lines are there for a good reason!). Other times, they miscalculate the angle of the turn - and sometimes they hit one of the buildings to either side of the turning.
Which is what happened this morning when a Co-op lorry hit the little bay window on the side of Black Swan Cottage, on his way out of town. Fortunately, he realised quickly what had happened, and reported the incident to Head Office, so it was easy for the police to find out what had happened and get the insurance details to the owner of the cottage (who was very impressed at their efficiency!). It's rented out as a holiday cottage, so there's no-one living in there at the moment.
When I passed by just now, the window was being covered over with black plastic, until a replacement window can be fitted.

Thursday, 28 December 2017

A Quick Look at Bristol

My friend lives in the Cotswolds, but works in Bristol, so it was easier for her to take me with her than to get me back to Kemble to retrace my steps home.
So I got a very pleasant ride through the Cotswolds - we didn't have to start off too early because her first appointment was in the afternoon. What we wanted to do was to have a look at St Mary Redcliffe church, which is close to where she works (the houses look out over the river and harbour):

Bristol city centre was badly bombed in the early days of the Second World War, which the government tried to keep secret - so that the bombing of Coventry shortly afterwards got all the attention. So the centre of Bristol has a lot of new buildings, but Temple Meads station still looks like a magnificent Victorian castle, and the houses overlooking the harbour are Georgian - and there are apparently miles of tunnels cut into the cliffs beneath them.
And St Mary Redcliffe is still there. From a distance it looks like a fairly ordinary parish church, if a little on the large side - but when you get close up, the late medieval stone carving is superb. We had been reading that there are 47 Green Men carvings around the church, and we wanted to see if we could find them. However, a big funeral was just about to start when we got there, and we quickly retreated to the café in the undercroft.
I can highly recommend the broccoli and stilton soup.
Thus fortified, we had a look at the porch which was once a shrine to the Virgin Mary. The statue is gone now, but the stonework is wonderful:

And then it was time to take me to the station. The journey back was smooth and uneventful (I quite like the rebuilding they're doing at Newport, all curves), and I got into Hereford just in time to catch the bus back to Hay.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Lunch at Highgrove

The second day I was staying in the Cotswolds with my old friends couldn't have been more different to the first evening - we were booked in for a Christmas lunch at Highgrove, the Prince of Wales' house.
One of my friends works in the sales department of a hat factory which supplies the Prince's gift shop with tweed flat caps, and she was invited along to the Orchard Restaurant because of that. She and my other friend have been going every year since, and this year they invited me to come along with them.
On the way to Highgrove, we realised we had to turn back - I'd left my ticket in the house - so we turned round in the drive of Prince Charles' farm. The turning was marked by a giant carrot made of horseshoes. There had been a previous, wooden one, which was stolen (how on earth could the thieves re-sell that?). There's a shelter there with organic produce from the farm and an honesty box - two other vehicles pulled up while we were there, taking the opportunity to stock up with organic carrots and pumpkin.
We needed photo ID to get into the grounds, as well as our tickets, past a police officer with a machine gun and a charming chap who checked our names off the list and looked at our ID. It was tipping down with rain, but he still seemed quite cheerful. Another cheerful chap in a raincoat told us to leave phones and cameras in the car before we headed for the Orchard Room, where we assembled in an anteroom for a glass of champagne, while admiring the many water colours on the walls, painted by Prince Charles. He's really quite a good artist.
When around twenty people were there, a greeting from Prince Charles was read out (with an exhortation to buy things in the gift shop after lunch, profits to the Prince's Charitable Trust), and we were led through the first room of the gift shop to the restaurant, with the warning not to get too distracted - there'd be plenty of time to browse later.
The staff were friendly, and helpful - one of my friends is diabetic, so they sorted out a cheese board for her sweet rather than the sweet things on the menu that she couldn't eat, and the other friend hates the taste of butter, so they checked for her that the pan-fried salmon was cooked in oil. I had the beef, and it was deliciously tender, and the ice cream that came with the Christmas pudding cake was just superb. It wasn't overly expensive, either.
After the meal, we headed for the gift shop, which apparently gets bigger every year. This year it was spread over three rooms - the main one with general gifts, including the tweed flat caps and Christmas tree baubles, and books and so on, a room for garden related gifts (I bought a flower pot with a bee on the side), and a room for food and drink - teas and biscuits and chocolate and beer and wine. I got talking to one of the staff, who said she had been to Hay and enjoyed going round the bookshops, and she took me over to where they were giving a wine tasting for the Christmas Pudding Wine. It's kind of like a spicy port, and I'm sipping some now. I treated myself to a little jug with a running hare on the side, too.
And then we headed out - it was still raining, so very little chance to see any of the famous gardens, though we did drive past the main house at a distance.
As we were leaving, another lot of cars were arriving - they also do afternoon tea.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Solstice Celebrations with Druids

I went away for a few days before Christmas, to visit a friend in the Cotswolds.

On the first evening, there was a Druid ceremony to mark the solstice.
I'm not entirely sure where it took place, but it was quite close to the River Severn - it took a bit longer to drive to than my friend had anticipated, and at the end we got slightly lost and had to ask dog walkers the way. There was a fiery orange sunset, just getting dark when we pulled into the farmyard to park, still not entirely sure we were at the right place.
I opened the car door, and could hear drumming and singing in the near distance. "I can hear them!" I said.
We headed for the sound. Just down the lane was an orchard, lit with flaming torches in a circle around a fire in the middle, with more torches further out, under trees at the four quarters. A procession of people, some dressed for the cold, some in patchwork cloaks and blankets, were coming to form a circle around the fire, where a cauldron steamed gently. We were invited to join the circle.
Mead was poured onto the ground as an offering. The men went off with the priestess's felted shawl to gather the mistletoe without it touching the ground, and without using iron, while the women gathered round the fire. The priestess explained that this was a male ritual, though there was no reason why women couldn't cut mistletoe. Dividing up the tasks between the sexes was in their tradition, but didn't imply that one sex was better than the other - the idea was to come together to form a whole.
When the men came back, they arranged the mistletoe on a frame near the fire, where it was blessed. Then everyone came forward in turn to ladle the mead in the cauldron (to which a sprig of mistletoe had been added) into a drinking horn, which was then passed round the circle. We were all invited to say a few words, if we wanted to, so I brought greetings from the Goddess of the Wye to the Goddess of the Severn (in Welsh mythology, the Wye and the Severn are sisters, daughters of the Sea God).
Off in the next field, an owl hooted - and when the talk turned to the original druid ceremonies that involved sacrificing a white bull, a cow across the lane bellowed!
We circled the orchard to bless the trees - and when the ceremony was over, we headed for the pub.

This was the Three Horseshoes at Frampton-upon-Severn - which was the CAMRA Rural Pub of the Year in 2016, and seems to be a meeting place for more than one Pagan group in the area.
They were serving Uley Bitter. I once went on a CAMRA trip to Uley Brewery, where we ended up down in the brewer's cellar, singing while he played the accordion, and drinking his excellent beer. This is normally only available in pubs quite close to the brewer, and sure enough, when we looked at a map, Uley was not far away. So it was an unexpected delight to see it there - and it was just as good as I remembered.

The Druids seem to be really lovely people, and I came away with a blessed sprig of mistletoe which is now hanging up to soak up all the negative energy that might come my way in the year ahead.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Christmas Jollity

Lots has been happening around town while I've been away (or too busy enjoying myself to blog).

This year's Christmas window competition was won by Hay on Wye Booksellers, with a window that incorporated a vintage sled, and lots of fir trees made of paper. They won a rose bowl. Other windows that I rather liked (but totally failed to get a picture of) included the traditional Christmas tree in the window of The End - decorated with fly agaric mushrooms (those red and white ones that often appear in children's books - the ones that make shamans think they can fly), the map woman in the window of Mostly Maps (another piece by Sarah Putt, who did their map man), and the Narnian landscape at Rose's Bookshop, complete with lamp post and furs hanging up at the back where the entrance to the wardrobe is.

This week's Thursday market included a visit from Santa, who was meeting people from his little shepherd's hut. There were two choirs singing, too, one of which was the Decibelles - I don't know who the other choir was. George the town crier was there, too, and he was also helping with the festivities of last weekend's Fairtrade Fair.

Down by the river, Want to Canoe? has been selling real Christmas trees.

Last night a male voice choir was touring the local pubs, singing carols and collecting money for a local charity (I think it might have been Mountain Rescue, but I wasn't really taking any notice at the time). [Edited to add: it was MacMillan Cymru and air ambulance] I saw them in the Blue Boar, where I was meeting some friends from work, including a few who used to work for the Cinema Bookshop. One of them was Troy Redfern, a local musician who also teaches guitar at the Globe on Thursday afternoons.

And a few minutes ago, a traction engine and trailer chugged down Broad Street, blowing its whistle, decorated with a reindeer's head at the front, giving rides around town. [Edited to add: the traction engine was actually leading the Fancy Dress Walk from the Rose and Crown to Baskerville Hall!]

The Rose and Crown are offering a special Boxing Day breakfast menu from 10am to 12 noon, to coincide with the traditional Boxing Day Hunt meet at the Town Clock.

And at St Mary's, the First Mass of Christmas is on Christmas Eve at Capel-y-ffin at 6pm, with Midnight Mass starting at 10.30pm at St Mary's Hay. On Christmas Day the Mass of the Nativity is at 10am at St Mary's, with another at St Eigon's, Llanigon at 11am.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas Meals

I've been away for a few days, and since I got back, I've been out every evening (I'm even going out later this evening) - which is great for my social life, but not so good for the blog!
So here's a bit of catching up:

This year I've been out to two Christmas meals in Hay.
The first was organised by the ladies of the Stitch and Bitch group - as has become traditional, we went to the Black Lion. In fact, we were the very first Christmas lunch that they did this year. I went for the traditional options, and the turkey was lovely, with heaps of vegetables. One of the ladies is on a restricted diet for health reasons at the moment, but she still managed to have a decent meal, and said it was nice to relax her regime for a little while. Another lady, who has been working frantically on her Etsy shop (she hand dyes wool) even brought some knitting with her to do between courses.
So that started the Festive Season off very well.

This week, the staff of Hay Cinema Bookshop went to the Globe for our Christmas dinner. We had exclusive use of the café in the basement, and could watch the chef at work at the kitchen at the end of the room. We also had a young lady running up and down those steep stairs to bring a constant flow of drinks to the table. The red wine was very nice indeed (and not much of it splashed onto my skirt when the person across the table from me accidentally knocked a wine glass over - it mostly went on the floor!).
Again, the vegetables were provided in mountainous quantities along with tender meat, but we still just had room at the end for the sweet - I had a slice of something chocolatey which was just enough after such an enormous meal.
Meanwhile upstairs, the Open Mic evening was going on, and we could hear the singers and musicians.
At one point Justin, who also performs at Baskerville Hall's Wednesday evening sessions, came down to see if the kitchen was open. By that stage, the chef had made his farewells and left, to applause from all the diners because it was a really lovely meal. However, one of us had ordered cheese and biscuits and was struggling a bit to finish it, so Justin went back upstairs with the plate!
As the alcohol had flowed pretty freely, the people who lived out of town shared a taxi home - I only had to totter round the corner.
The following morning, one member of staff was heard to say that he felt like a Burmese python who had swallowed a young antelope!

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Hay Ho for the Holidays!

This is a public service announcement for the Hay Ho 39A bus!
Over the Christmas holidays, the Hay Ho bus will be running on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
Buses depart from Hereford at 10.15, 13.15 and 16.15, and depart from Hay at 11.25, 14.55 and 17.25.
Thanks to Les Lumsdon for the information.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Joys of Camping, 1930s Style

When I was at the open evening for the new school, I came across John Price, who told me about some interesting local history (he's the chap who was at the Cusop History Society evening, with the recording of the Ballad of Cusop Dingle).
I didn't have much chance to mention this before, because I like to report on events while they're still fresh in my mind - but now I've had a chance to sit down and enjoy the links that he sent me.

In 1933, May Morris and her companion Mary Lobb spent a month camping at Cockalofty, near Hay Bluff. May Morris was the daughter of William Morris, the author, designer, and leading socialist. She ran the embroidery department of Morris & Co from the age of 23, and was an artist in the Arts and Crafts movement in her own right. In 1907 she founded the Women's Guild of Arts, in an attempt to raise the professional status of the women who made their living from working in the arts and crafts, such as hand embroiderers. May was also prominent in the socialist movement, which brought her into contact with George Bernard Shaw. There were, it seems, passionate feelings on both sides, though May eventually married another socialist, Henry Sparling - though they separated four years later.

By the time she came to Hay, May was 70, and her companion Mary(who presumably did all the heavy lifting) was 55. Unusually for the 1930s, Mary Lobb always seemed to wear knickerbockers and tweed jackets. During the First World War, she campaigned for women to be allowed to do farm work and was one of the first to sign up to the Women's Land Army in 1917. The farm she worked on was quite close to Kelmscott Manor, home of the Morris family, and when she left the farm (under something of a cloud - it's not clear why she was dismissed) she went to work at Kelmscott as a gardener, and later became May's companion. George Bernard Shaw apparently thought she was terrifying, but she and May seemed to get on together very well, and stayed together until May's death in 1938. They even went to Iceland together - William Morris had been inspired by the scenery and the literature in his youth, and May wanted to see the places he had been to.

Camping holidays were still a little bit eccentric back in the 1930s - there were no organised camp sites, which is why the two ladies hired a field for a month to pitch their tent, and had their mail delivered to the nearby farmhouse. While they were there, they visited local farmhouses (praising the cider at Llangwathan!) and admiring the architecture. Details of their stay, from diaries, can be seen at Jan Marsh's blog starting with an entry in September and with more in November, including a not very complimentary review of the Hitchcock film Sabotage, which they went to see in 1937 in Llanidloes.
They came camping to Wales again in 1934, but this time close to the River Severn. They made winberry jam in the tent - but didn't manage to enjoy much of it. A sheepdog from the farm managed to get into the tent to get at the food, and they returned to find the jam all over the floor and the tent full of wasps!

Ale Voice Choir

Beer Revolution's Christmas window display

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Cusop History Society Christmas Meeting

Later on Saturday afternoon, after the Carols from the Front service, I went to the Cusop History Society's Christmas meeting.
Quite a few people are doing research on local history, such as the floods of the early 1960s and how they affected Dulas Terrace. There are photos showing the height of the water in Eric Pugh's book, Old Hay.
Another chap has done a lot of work on Victoria Terrace in Cusop Dingle, built on land auctioned off from the Llydyadyway Estate (this was also mentioned by the chap from Hereford Archives who came to speak a little while ago). He lives in one of the houses, and has been able to find out who lived there back in 1901, and who all the neighbours were, thanks to the National Census (a timber feller, with his wife and six children!). He was able to access the population census free on a PC in Hay Library, and he had a handout including maps and a poster advertising the auction, held at the Crown.

Then we settled down with wine and nibbles for a short film (well, half a film, as they couldn't get the second half to play on the computer), showing the glories of Welsh tourism sometime in the early 1970s. There were some good shots of Brecon Beacons from the air, and Cardiff Castle, and quite a bit from the Eisteddfod, with choirs and druids, and a cattle market.

Another member had brought a recording along of the Ballad of Cusop Dingle, recorded in the early 1970s (so about the same time that the film was made), in one of the local pubs, which brought back a few memories for some of the members.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Carols from the Front

On Saturday afternoon I went up to Cusop Church for a carol service with a difference. Organised by Kelvyn Jenkins of the British Legion, it was themed around the First World War, to raise awareness and money for the proposed statue of Herefordshire's only winner of the VC, Lance Corporal Allan Leonard Lewis, who died in September 1918.
On the way into church, we passed several people in First World War uniforms, including one German officer.
Inside, the church quickly filled up until it was standing room only.
There was a small brass band up near the altar, which had come all the way from South Wales for the occasion, and the St Andrews Singers were also there.
Rev Jane Rogers began the service with a prayer, followed by Once in Royal David's City - we were singing some of my favourite carols throughout the service - In the Bleak Midwinter, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and finishing up with Hark the Herald Angels Sing. In the middle of the service the St Andrews Singers sang Silent Night in English and German, which I thought was a nice touch.
Between these were some quite sombre readings. Rev Charlesworth read a poem called Christmas in the Trenches, and talked about the terrible loss of life. The poet said something along the lines of - at Christmas, the soldiers at the Front were not encountering the innocent baby in the manger but Christ in agony, crowned with thorns.
Other poems were the famous Flanders Field, and Rudyard Kipling's poem My Boy Jack, written after his son died on the Western Front, after he had been instrumental in getting Jack a commission even though he was medically unfit because of his bad eyesight.
The second half of the service focussed on Lance Corporal Lewis, with a poem about him, the VC citation describing what he had done (singlehandedly taking out a machine gun nest and taking the surviving German soldiers prisoner, thus enabling his battalion to advance), and Dawn Lewis, the Lance Corporal's great niece, said a few words.
After that, Captain Lyndon Davies was supposed to sing White Christmas as a solo, but first he said he'd been asked to sing something else - Keep the Home Fires Burning, which everyone joined in at the chorus, and everyone joined in with White Christmas, too. He said he'd served in Afghanistan over Christmas, at Camp Bastion, so he knew exactly what it was like to be serving in a war, far from home, at Christmas.
At the back of the church, after the carols, there was tea, mulled wine, and mince pies, provided by the Co-op and the Swan Hotel, and the opportunity to see the artist's sketches of what the statue will look like. Part of the display also showed a pub in Neath which has been named the Allan Leonard Lewis - before he joined up, he worked in Neath for the GWR.

In the run up to Christmas at Cusop, there will also be a Carols and Candles service on Sunday 17th December at 4pm, suitable for young families, and on Christmas Day there will be a Family Communion led by Bishop Michael Westall.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Winter Wonderland

This morning on Broad Street

A Thank You Note

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Council Meeting - the Future of Welsh Politics?

Some good news from the Miles Without Stiles project - work will begin on the Bailey Walk in the New Year to make it more easily accessible. There was also a good meeting with the Warren Trust and the National Park - the car park at the Warren will be improved, too. The Woodland group are also happy to get involved, with things like cutting back overhanging bushes.
As ever, though, the Town Council needs to know what the County Council are doing before they can make more concrete plans....

Down at the Gliss, talks are progressing and compromise solutions have been proposed and rejected between the Town Council and residents who are all claiming the same bit of land. The Land Registry has yet to make a decision - they're even slower than the County Council.
Meanwhile, Welsh Water needs to do work soon on electrical cables which run right through the disputed area.
And while they were on the subject of the Gliss, someone asked about the plans of the Globe for a bridge across the Dulas for their festival next year - it seems this will not be built after all.

Everyone was very pleased with this years' Winter Festival - apart from various parking problems. The car park at the sports pavilion, for instance, was closed to the public for a football match, so that the footballers could park - but the sign is still there, and prevented other people from using the car park over the Festival weekend.
Attendance figures for the Turning on of the Lights were double previous years. There was a suggestion of incorporating fireworks next year - rockets over the Castle timed for when the lights are switched on would be pretty spectacular!
However, there were queries about the huge sum the County Council charges for closing roads - Castle Street was closed for the evening, and Gibbons' the butchers burger van was parked in the middle of it. Town councillors thought that the least the County Council could do would be to man the road closure to make sure cars were diverted.

The Town Council is sent a mountain of paperwork (well, email, but it's all a lot of reading) and there was a suggestion that the various subject areas could be divided up between the councillors so that they didn't all have to plough through everything - and then anything important could be brought to the attention of the others. So on Monday they were dividing up the subject areas between them. Rob Golesworthy instantly volunteered to do UFOs!
Next August, a piece of legislation, the Wales Bill, will be debated in the Welsh Assembly - and it will affect the future of town councils all across Wales. This is one of the important things that is easy to get lost in the mountain of paperwork, which Richard Greatrex brought to the Council's attention.
Richard went to a meeting organised by One Voice Wales on the Wales Bill, as a consultation exercise. Questions they were asking went right back to basics on what Town Councils should be doing - what responsibilities should they have? What is the best way for them to operate? What standards should they be held to? How will they best represent local people?
The general feeling seemed to be that Town Councils would be taking on more and more responsibilities in the coming years - Solva, in West Wales, is already running an adult care home - but town councillors are not professionals, and they aren't trained for this! Meanwhile the county councils have the staff and resources, but seem to be doing less and less....
There is a theory that the Welsh Assembly want to do away with County Councils altogether, and go back to the old system of District Authorities. So, could Hay be rid of the County Council and all those problems - or would it be a case of even more headaches in the future?
Another area which will be of great importance is Health and Social Care, considering the problems the County Council are having with funding social care at the moment. They are asking the Welsh Assembly to step in to help. There are department heads missing in the social care department of the County Council, including one who has gone on sick leave for a scheduled knee operation.
Meanwhile, the full County Council will be meeting at the end of January to debate the budget - but they need to know what precept has been set locally by the 21st January, before the town councils know what the PCC is going to be doing.
The quote of the evening came at this point: "We're finding it very difficult to get responses from Powys".
It could be the Hay motto, inscribed on all official paperwork!
And not only Hay, of course - at the meeting about the Wales Bill, Richard met the Mayor of Knighton, who said they have similar problems with Powys.

Trudi, meanwhile, has been asked to sit on a committee on how to draw up Town Plans - somebody is impressed with the Town Plan for Hay! She will also be opening the Fairtrade Fair on Saturday 16th December, and will be attending the St Michael's Hospice service on the 17th December. She will also be at the Christmas in the Trenches service at Cusop Church on Saturday 9th December, at 2pm. She will also be doing a video - in French! - in reply to the one the Mayor of Timbuktu sent to Hay for the tenth anniversary of the town twinning.

One issue came out of the Open Evening at the new school - the County Council want to use the space where the old school now stands as car parking - but as an extension to the public car park. The school wants the space to be for the school only.

After a short discussion of Affordable Housing, I was asked to leave, as the council had something secret to discuss....

Friday, 8 December 2017

Council Meeting - Transfer of Assets, Library and Community Centre

The Town Council have finally lost patience with the County Council, after yet another letter they have sent which has not been replied to. They think it's time for legal action, and were discussing solicitor's letters and contacting the ombudsman, as well as the Welsh Assembly and One Voice Wales. At this stage, they said, there is no point in worrying about upsetting Powys County Council. The last communication they got from the County Council was from someone called Clive Pinney, who told them that he was "awaiting direction from the Cabinet" on the issues around the car park etc.

Meanwhile, the Library will be moving into the room in the new school building in the New Year. Trudi, the Mayor, went to the Open Evening at the new school, and was told there that the school would be moving into the new premises in February. They would take a while to get settled in, and then the Library would move across in about April.
This has consequences for the Town Council, who will not be able to meet in the old school hall in February, and cannot meet in the Council Chambers because of the stairs. They also, of course, cannot meet at the Swan, because of the sale of alcohol there.
There's a possibility they may be able to meet in the new Library room later in the year.
Meanwhile, Trudi has written to the County Council department in charge of property, to express an interest in the old Library building, before the Cabinet meeting the following day. She was quite prepared to withdraw the interest if that was what the Town Council wanted. There was some confusion over who was eligible to apply for and expression of interest, but it seems that Town Councils qualify under the heading of "third sector organisation".
There is still, of course, the problem of how to pay for the old Library building, without the rental income they get from the Council Chambers, and on the whole, they thought there was more chance of them being able to hang on to the Council Chambers, as the County Council have already said that they can only have one building. It might even be possible to restructure the Council Chambers so that there is disabled access and a downstairs disabled toilet (instead of the one on the first floor that nobody with a disability can get to).
In any case, if they were to try to take over the Library building, they would need a detailed business plan, with costings and so forth, which they do not have. (Readers of this blog may remember that HOWLS tried, and failed, to get accurate figures from the County Council so that they could prepare a business plan).
At present the Registrar's office, suitable for weddings, is on the ground floor of the Council Chambers, but the County Council is moving over to a system of sending registrars out by appointment rather than having an office as a base - this already happens in Talgarth. What happens to the records without an office to store them in is unclear.

The Community Space in the new school will be controlled by the school - the school will control the bookings, and the first priority for the use of the space will be for the school. Money from bookings will go to the school.
The Town councillors queried how this was, in any way, community space if this was the case. As it seems to be set up, it's just a room in the school which the school lets out occasionally. It's certainly not a replacement for the old community centre, and calling the school a "community school" is meaningless.

Under planning policy, when Wales and West Housing Association took on the site of the old community centre, an equivalent community space had to be provided for the town. This clearly hasn't happened. The Town Council will therefore challenge the County Council, and include the National Park in the discussion.
At the moment, there is only outline planning permission on the old community centre site - there are various problems with access and so on before full planning permission can be granted.

And while all this is going on, HADSCAL have put forward their latest plans for a hall and changing rooms on the land they own by the playing fields, which could also be a community centre. This plan has history going right back to the millennium, when grand plans for a community/sports centre came to nothing - but they are trying again. They have sent copies of the plan of the proposed building to the Town Council, and have asked for a representative of the Town Council to sit on their committee. Three councillors are also part of HADSCAL (they left the room while this was being discussed).
They have enough money to take this to the planning stage, but need to raise more money to actually build the hall, and they provided two sets of plans. Depending on funding they could start with a basic phase one, and possibly move on to a bigger phase two. I'm not sure about the legalities surrounding this, but it seems that, if they do manage to build it, HADSCAL are not able to manage the building.
However, unlike the "community space" in the new school, this hall would be suitable for weddings, funeral teas, youth club, local theatre group, and so on - and for playing badminton and other indoor sports.
There was some discussion of the pottery group which used a room in the old community centre, where they could also store their work between sessions - this would not be possible in this new hall, and it certainly won't be possible in the "community space" at the new school.
Somebody mentioned the Salem Chapel, and how nice it would be to use that space for the town.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Council Meeting - Citizen's Award, publicity

I happened to meet Alan Powell on Monday lunchtime, which is the only reason I knew that the Council Meeting for that evening had been put forward to 6pm - because council meetings have been going on to 11pm regularly, and councillors wanted to finish at a reasonable time.
There was no way I was going to be there for 6pm, though - I finish work at 6pm, and I really needed to have something to eat and a cup of tea before I sat in at the council meeting for the rest of the evening.
So it was almost 7pm by the time I got to the school, and the council was in the middle of a discussion about a Citizen's Award. I gather they are able to choose someone from the local area, and offer £100 - the winner chooses which charity to donate it to.
The idea was to present the award on the same weekend as the Independence Celebrations, which will be over the weekend of 1st April next year. However, it was pointed out that Hay Independence started as a bit of a joke, and the Citizen's Award was a serious award - so should the Council really present it on that weekend?
Then there was the problem of who qualified? Richard Greatrex had just been to an Old Time Music Hall performance in Clyro, in aid of the dementia club. Although the organiser lives in Clyro, the club benefits many people in Hay, so might they get the award? The consensus seemed to be that the winner should be someone on the electoral roll of Hay.
And then - what charity would the money be given to? If the winner had totally free choice, they might decide to give £100 to Sinn Fein, or some jihadist group! So it was agreed to limit the choice to local charities.
Apparently, in Llandrindod Wells, the award is given at a charity dinner, organised by the Lions - but nobody wanted to take on the job of organising a charity dinner.
This is meant to be an annual affair, so there is going to be a Roll of Honour, and there is a company in Hereford that produces the wooden boards, and provides the lettering to add to it each year.
Anyone in Hay can nominate a candidate for the award, and it will be publicised by the Town Council in January.

Peter Florence has asked what he can do to help the Town Council, and they all agreed that it would be a good idea to take up his offer of an event at the beginning of the next Hay Festival, probably in the evening of the schools day, where the Town Council can publicise what they are doing, such as the Miles Without Stiles scheme.

On the subject of publicity, the discussion turned to Facebook. Jim is not a fan of Facebook for offical council business, but several people pointed out the usefulness of it to reach residents. For instance, the letter about the Town Council's position with reference to the Library has been seen by 800 people. There were some reservations about comments - people who only commented to nit pick wording, for instance - but they also agreed how useful Gareth Ratcliffe's Facebook page is at keeping local people informed about what's going on.
The reason Alan Powell was talking to me at lunchtime was also related to Facebook. An oak tree sapling, a Charter Oak, was recently supplied by the Woodland Trust. It was planted by members of the Town Council, the Warren Trust, and the Woodland Group, on the Warren. Within 24 hours, it was gone. News of the loss was put on Facebook straight away, and was the fastest way to spread the news locally.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Hay History Group Day Out - The Thomas Shop and Abbey-Cwm-Hir Hall

It was a small group that set off for the Thomas shop on Wednesday morning - but we had a brilliant time!
The Thomas Shop is at Penybont, near Llandrindod Wells. It was a shop owned for many years by the Thomas family, and it sold all sorts of things. The shop museum has recreated an impression of what it must have looked like.
The owner gave us a talk about the shop while we were sitting in the café (the Victoria sponge was delicious, and made by his son, who also does the laser cut keyrings and so on that were for sale). He said that they're not actually sure what the original shop, set up by Edward Price in 1730, sold - or why it was set up in that particular location. There was no village then, though they may have been selling goods and cider to the drovers. His son John Price built up the business, and did so well that he built Penybont Hall (and a pub called the Fleece), and became a member of the local gentry. He was also one of the first bankers in Wales.
Later the Thomas family took over the shop, and took advantage of the growth of nearby Llandrindod Wells by opening another shop there, the Central Wales Emporium, and a steam laundry in 1905. The Central Wales Emporium was the largest department store in Wales, and William Thomas had 8 tailors working for him at the Thomas shop. Twenty people worked in the laundry. Where we were sitting, in the café, had been the main room of the laundry, with a trap door in the ceiling where the clothes were sent upstairs to the pressing room. The entrance, where the counter is, originally held the steam engine which powered the machines in the laundry.
The pressing room is now the Wool Emporium, with all sorts of knitted and fabric goods for sale.
We were allowed to wander wherever we liked in the shop, and inspect all the things on display - many of which have been donated. We were also shown the Meeting House, which is now used for self-catering holidays. The main house, at the other end of the range of buildings, is a B&B. There's also the drying room of the laundry, now divided up into workshops.
Entrance to the Thomas shop is free, and it really is worth a visit. You have to be quite sharp eyed to spot the signs, though - there's a narrow alleyway to a car park at the back of the buildings. We shot past and had to turn round at the edge of the village.

It's only a short drive from Penybont to Abbey-Cwm-Hir Hall, which was built just up the hillside from the medieval abbey - you can see the ruins as you turn up the drive.
There was a coach there when we arrived, and another party which came round with us. They do guided tours of the entire house, and the cost is £16, or £14 for parties of more than eight. Children under 12 are charged £5, and it's also £5 to see the gardens only.
The main attraction at this time of year is the Christmas decorations. The house has 52 rooms, and each one is decorated in a different style - and they allow visitors to go everywhere, even though it's also a family home. The Hall is carpeted throughout, apart from the Victorian tiles in the entrance hall - and the first thing they ask you to do when you arrive is to take off your shoes. BRING SLIPPERS! We had not been warned about this, so went round in our socks. Shoes and coats are kept in the Garden Room, a modern addition to the house round the back, which is also full of things that the family have collected, and is also a café.
They have tried to restore the house to its original Victorian glory as much as possible, and I found it interesting that previous owners included a Victorian cotton manufacturer from Manchester, and a Mrs Chamberlain from Birmingham (related to the 1930s Prime Minister). From one window, the original local school can be seen - but the owner at the time didn't like the noise the children made, so built a new school further away from the house!
They have collected a lot of interesting things - old advertising signs, tobacco tins, dolls' houses, interesting furniture - and china. Lots and lots of beautiful china - the owner used to work for Royal Doulton. They have also done most of the work on the Hall with local craftsmen - the lady taking us round said she came to make curtains for them, and never left!
There are also 12 pictures of the Hall through the ages around the walls, by a local artist who mainly does pen and ink drawings of wildlife, some of which were also on view. More pictures, upstairs, were of ocean liners and Second World War aircraft - the owners saw one for sale when they stopped at a café and bought the artist's entire collection!
I think my favourite room was the snooker room, with an enormous snooker table in the middle, and an Arthurian theme around the walls, with two suits of armour (though one is pierced with holes to put a light inside) and various taxidermy animals. There's also an impressive collection of vintage children's books with pictorial bindings in the study, quite a few of which came from Hay. In fact, they said they visit Hay quite a bit, and in the cellars (also carpeted) was a life size ceramic standard poodle in bright pink which I recognised from one of the antique shops in Hay.

Although the owners have saved a lot of things that would otherwise have been thrown away, some of their choices shocked members of our group. For instance, they painted a mahogany table white!, and in the master bedroom, they cut the front posts off a four poster bed because they couldn't see the telly! (They kept the posts, just in case they wanted to put them back, and the top of the bed is now attached to the wall with chains).

The house is set in 12 acres of grounds, in the narrow and steep sided valley - though we didn't get to see them while we were there - the gardens are only open from March to the end of September. They also close for the whole month of October - it takes them that long to decorate all the rooms for Christmas! And they close from 7th January to the end of February - to take the decorations down again (though that doesn't take as long as putting them up!).

So we had a fantastic day out - and drove home with the most amazing vivid orange sunset over the hills.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Small Business Saturday

Welcome to Haywain Antiques, who have moved into the shop recently vacated by Underwhere. For a while the even older Bullring Antiques sign was visible.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Hay Library: The Town Council's Response to the HOWLS Statement

As with the HOWLS statement, there's no point in me paraphrasing this letter, which can be found on the Hay Town Council Facebook page, so here it is in full:

It was at a council meeting in July 2016 that the Town Council were first informed that the library service in Hay was under threat unless the community could commit to providing 50% of the running costs with effect from 1 April 2017. At this point, there was no prospect of the library even being moved to the school without this funding contribution. We were told that a mobile library van once per month was what we could expect.
The Town Council’s income comes from the precept. The carparks in the town are owned by Powys County Council who promised us a small percentage of the income if we were to take over running the public toilets and recreation facilities. To date we have received none of the car park income owed to us. So, we have no income that could be used to cover the cost of the library service. Additionally, we could not legally fund the library service to the amount that was required as Town Councils are prohibited from using more than a set amount of their income (the equivalent of just over £8 per person on the electoral roll) for all grants that they distribute.
Given the financial issues our reaction, therefore, was to challenge the closure decision; how could the ‘Town of Books’ not have a library. So, whilst HOWLs acted as the public face of the campaign to save the library, representatives from HTC were meeting with other councils in Powys affected by the library closure decision to see if we might, by working together, pose a legal challenge to the PCC decision. This was unsuccessful as PCC refused to talk to us as a group and instead dealt with each council individually ‘picking them off’ one by one.
On 30 November 2016 at a meeting with officers from the library service and the Chief Executive of PCC, the Town Council proposed taking over ownership of the library building and developing it further (into a community and business hub), to maintain and grow the services offered from the building. In addition, the Town Council wished to retain the Council building to maintain it as a base not just for the council, but also for the various business, community and voluntary groups that use it.
The response to this proposal was that it would not be accepted by the Powys Cabinet because PCC needed to sell assets to fill their funding gaps. If we were to have ownership of two buildings transferred, the process of filling the financial gap would be jeopardised. At a further meeting with the Powys Cabinet in September 2017 it was reiterated that we could not have two buildings transferred to us and that we might end up with none, because “some town councils don’t have any buildings”.
In April 2017 following the HOWLs campaign and much behind the scenes work by our Town Clerk (Nigel), councillors, County Councillor (Gareth), and with Hay Festival’s financial help, Powys eventually agreed to maintain the library service at its current level and gave the community until the end of December 2017 to come up with a business plan that would enable the library to stay in its current location, otherwise it would move to the new Primary School and the service be reduced to 12 hours per week.
The town council has met with HOWLs several times to discuss a partnership approach. Although the plan put forward by HOWLS for the library building was attractive, there was no outline business plan and no firm financial plans to make the idea a reality other than HTC paying around £12,000 per year to run the building. This is not affordable for the Town Council as it would mean allocating around 25% of our annual budget to maintaining this building when we have a number of other financial commitments. So, it was with regret, that we declined to be involved.
However, we did state that we were very committed to working with HOWLS and supporting them to grow the library service at the school. We have already had discussions with third parties to gain financial support for this, so that there would potentially be no drop in hours once the library moves to the school.
The Town Council has always been committed to maintaining a library service in Hay. The fact that the work of HOWLS and the Town Council has saved the service, albeit provided in a different location, should be viewed as a positive.

St Mary's Church

St Mary's church has a beautiful new website!
The link is now on the sidebar.
They're planning lots of musical events over the coming year, including jazz concerts, and the chap who told me that the website is now up and running said that they want to make the church more of a community hub, without ramming religion down anyone's throats.
Anything that builds up community seems like a good idea to me!

Open Evening at Hay School

The place was packed!

Wires were trailing everywhere, but all the concrete floors are down, and it was fairly easy to get an idea of what the school is going to look like when it's finished. Some of the furniture has even been delivered - mainly drawers and cupboards in pale wood, piled up along the edges of the wide main corridor - which will also be used as a teaching space - the plans have groups of tables and chairs marked along it. It's also laid out with the youngest children at one end of the long corridor, and the oldest children at the other end, with each year group zigzagging from one classroom to the next until they reach the far end.

There were little groups of people everywhere in the building, talking, and lots of kids running around. I passed one little girl, looking round with a serious expression and saying: "Where's Year 2 classroom?"
"They're all identical," I said to her mum.
"Yes," she said, "but it's very important to her that she finds the right one."

Nobody I spoke to was much impressed with the "community space". "Ooh, think of all the things you can do in there," said one person, with great sarcasm. "The pottery classes, the parties...."
"Well, at least community groups can use the school hall," another person said. But community groups used to be able to use the school hall and the community centre - and there's no possibility of pottery classes in the school hall.
Another person was pleased to see the separation between the library/community space and the classrooms, with the school hall between the two - there have been some concerns about security issues with a public space being part of the school.
Someone else was concerned that there will be no caretaker - so nobody to make sure everything is cleared away and clean after a group has used the space, and nobody to make sure the school is locked up when everyone leaves.
Other people were annoyed that the County Council had obviously decided on what they wanted to do with the Library four years ago - so everything HOWLS did was futile, because they weren't going to change their minds whatever local groups wanted.
Someone else asked where the Town Council were going to meet - they had the impression that the Town Council would be moving into the new school building too. This may have been a memory of the previous plans for the school, which were widely consulted on, and which were rather more extensive than the one which is actually being built.

Another mother was concerned that there were no girls' changing rooms for PE.
I've been looking at the plan I was given by the builders as I went in, and there don't seem to be any changing rooms at all - but when I went to junior school, back in the Dark Ages, we all changed for PE in the classroom, and all the girls just went down to our vests and navy knickers. The boys wore shorts, but I don't ever remember seeing them change into the shorts. I don't know what happens over at the swimming pool - I've never been in there, not being a great fan of splashing about in water.