Tuesday, 14 April 2009
An Example to the Planners
In 1981 my life got fairly turned on its head - I met my present husband (yes, he had several predessors - well, they didn't actually die, but the marriages/ partnerships did, painfully) I won't go into too much detail (too embarressing) but I ended up unexpectedly staying with him in his little 2-up 2-down terraced cottage in Hay-on-Wye for 10 days or so, leaving my usual life behind for awhile. I don't need to tell you that was only the beginning, but not only that, we now can no longer keep away from Hay, it's like we are attached by an insistent elastic band.
Therefore, inevitably, we spent Easter in the general environs - he can't get enough of the nearby mountains, I can't get enough of the creative buzz in Hay, so we do both. Hay is a thriving town in the Marches of Wales and England, built on a commanding crag above the river Wye, surrounding a castle that dates back to Norman times. Only recently has it suffered the stifling hand of Planners, so it's a complex of wandering alleys and lanes, full of tiny, character-full buildings and people. It just added bits on to itself as the residents needed or wanted, thus creating a community that works, rather than a Plan that doesn't! (No, I don't like 'Planners', how did you guess?) Anyway, being a rural town, out in the sticks, it was suffering a bit of a crisis in the 1970s, as there was less and less work to keep the population going, and it was bleeding people to the cities. Cometh the hour, cometh the man . . . . in this case a second-hand bookseller with a gift for publicity, by the name of Richard Booth. His ideas for publicising Hay, and thus his business, were legion, including crowning himself King of Hay, and declaring independence!
Today, Hay is known as 'The Town of Books', has an annual Literary Festival sponsored by The Guardian newspaper and is one of Britain's prime tourist destinations - well done, Richard! Though some of the original residents still feel it's all a bit much, and who can blame them, at Festival time, or Bank Holidays, even residents can find it impossible to park! Not only are there more bookshops than you can shake a stick at, the tide of visitors has brought a following surge of small (and not so small) businesses to service their other needs, so there are wonderful places to eat, shops full of clothes to die for, and craft and gift outlets galore, as well as a rash of antique shops and B&Bs. But the town remains a true community, and the new shops have not been allowed to shove aside the butcher, baker and greengrocer, let alone the deli!
This is beginning to sound like an advert for the British Tourism Board, or whatever they call themselves these days! Seriously, it's an example of how towns can thrive in any economic climate, and the multinationals and Planners have nothing to do with it, it's all about individuals sticking to their own knowledge of what is right, and putting it into practice. Hay still supports, and is supported by, its surrounding rural community, and the world beats a path to its door. Is anybody up there listening?