Not quite Hay on Wye – Potwell Inn on tour

IMG_20200128_111057I really fancied going to Hay on Wye today, for no better reason than it always makes me feel good. The downside is that it’s a two hour drive each way, and these days that seems like an extravagance of fuel for not much more than a stroll down to the river, a couple of coffees and more bookshops than you could afford to visit, and so we settled on Frome which is about 3/4 hour on the bus.  There’s a bookshop – a good one  – any number of cafes and a charming jumble of tiny hillside streets populated by the kind of boutique shops where you can’t afford anything more than a quick ogle at the windows.

But there was another reason for going there and that was that Madame had a childhood connection with the town as she was sent there during school holidays to keep her wealthy cousin company. I stayed there once later on and spent my entire time reading Mrs Beeton while Madame languished in bed with the flu. It was an ideal place to languish in – much nicer than our seedy flat, rather the kind of household that could afford a cook and housekeeper out of what seemed like an infinite inherited fortune that turned out to be quickly evaporating in the background.  We felt like two mongrels at Crufts but we wolfed down the experience.


So today we wandered off to the remembered quiet riverside road and discovered that it’s a bit of a rat run these days, the gardens have been sold off and developed, the old coach house is now  a bungalow and it’s a bit seedy to be honest, but there wasn’t time for too much schadenfreude because it was freezing cold with a west wind driving in from Canada and we wanted to get into the warm somewhere.


Frome has spread far from the medieval centre but we found an excellent stationers shop  full of wildly expensive notebooks for tourists like us to write that long promised first novel. You know the drill – new book, new pen, silence …….  We found a quiet coffee shop and ordered green tea and flapjacks.  There’s just no interest in being consistent with our food.  Rather than immerse ourselves in our mobiles – which a couple opposite were doing, we eavesdropped a marvellous conversation between two young men whose wives had just had babies by C section. they exchanged their newly acquired wisdom and experiences while one of the recent mothers sat treasuring and wondering at the baby.  Then, at her partner’s insistence he attached the baby to a sling that took more rigging than a racing yacht and he walked – and she hobbled – off into a future that however much longed for, didn’t feel like this.

The bookshop yielded a comic book for our grandson who doesn’t like proper books – good for him but bad for his mum and dad who are deeply envious that all his 7 year old  friends are reading Tolstoy – ah but none of them have raised £600 for the Australian firefighters! And I came back with Adam Nicholson’s book “The Seabird’s Cry” which had me in spasms of joy even while reading the introduction because he managed to work in two epic Saxon poems, Seamus Heaney, a bit of Plato, Robert Browning Hugh McDiarmid and Thomas Berry into two pages talking about seabirds.

When finally we got home after a faintly unnerving bus ride in the rain, the hail was now driving in from the west and it had dropped to freezing – as had we.  It was snowing in Hay on Wye. Like proper pensioners we usually leave the coal effect flames going on the electric fire because it’s cheap to run, but today we pushed the boat out and switched on the fan for ten minutes. Last night we went to the AGM of the local Labour Party.  We could see what was happening but what was going on was harder to get to. Thirty new members have joined since the election, many of them young people full of fire and enthusiasm. Some of the old guard seem to have given up and the younger ones are taking charge. My party card has had a postage stamp on it for ages, but we walked home feeling encouraged. Perhaps, like a deep wound, the healing of our politics will happen slowly and from the inside.





Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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