I spent the rest of my first Saturday in Hay doing grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, and generally sorting myself out in preparation for the coming week. I went to bed early and slept late into Sunday morning. I rose at about 9:00 a.m. to get ready to attend church-I had passed by the Evangelical Church in the week and had decided to go there.
Working nights must have been affecting me in a funny way, though, because what I had not noticed when I passed the church was that it was not actually in use! Perhaps too, it was partly due to the fact that the building was on a fairly small lot, squashed in to some extent by the buildings on the lots on either side of it. So, I didn’t notice the dug out trench going around the church, and what had registered in my mind as a locked gate was actually builders fencing to keep people out. I was annoyed with myself because I could have stayed in bed had I known.
I did notice now, though, the sign that indicated where the services were currently being held-Lion Street, I think it said. But since I had no idea where Lion Street was I decided to go home and forget it for this week. Another nap would not go amiss anyway.
Later, that afternoon, curious to know what the people of Hay did on Sunday afternoons, I decided to take a walk into the town. From where I was staying, town was literally around the corner, not more than two minutes walk away. It was a sunny day, pleasantly warm, and ideal for Sunday afternoon strolling, especially in a touristy place like Hay-on-Wye.
The town looked as busy as it was during the week. Shepherds Ice cream Parlour was doing a bustling trade: a nonstop stream of people filed through its doors, reminding me of the many times in Jamaica when I’d watch a steady line of ants, coming from seemingly nowhere, being drawn to a crumb of cake or some such tasty morsel that someone had dropped on the floor.
Opposite Shepherds, I made my first stop to look at an extensive display of colourful printed art. The pieces were all roughly postcard size and were pinned up against the wall beneath the Cheese Market (Gentle reader, they don’t sell cheese in the Cheese Market. On the contrary, the Cheese Market was originally built as a court room, though it did have a market hall beneath it, and at different times during its history it had been used as a furniture showroom, a Masonic Lodge, a school and a Roman Catholic Church.) Today, its outside wall was serving as an art gallery.
The artist was one, Tom Goddard. Despite his excellent work, Tom did not call himself an artist. He hated the internet; and when I asked if I could take a photo of the display for my blog, because he was so against the internet, he said I could but he would pretend he was not looking. (I daresay, gentle reader, our Tom could quite easily be a politician too!)
I spent a good twenty minutes chatting with Tom about his art. Each piece was created on the front of an envelope, and constituted an elaborate scene, the focal point of which was a postage stamp; and each scene told a story. I think Tom has given every British stamp ever put out one of these artistic treatments.
I moved from envelope to envelope, attempting to decipher the meaning of each. Some things I could guess at; others were alien to me; and it was intriguing to listen to Tom unravel the many layers of each-it reminded me of poetry classes and other English Literature classes where I was always amazed to see the depths of meanings that authors could weave between their words. Tom was doing the same thing primarily with his pictures.
As he explained the story behind each piece, I tried to find the stamp in the picture. Many were so well merged with the pictures that they were difficult to find, and he had to point out quite a few of them for me.
Tom had also addressed some of the envelopes to himself and posted them so that he got them back with the post office’s stamp, and that contributed to the overall effect of the final work.
It was soon time to say good bye, and Tom, charming old Tom, gave me a little token for spending so much time at his display: one of his art envelopes which he took from his box of tricks that stood in the corner. I was pleasantly surprised. I was to address it to myself and post it as Tom had done with several of his. This is the one that he gave me:
In the depiction above, the play is on King Richard and Queen Elizabeth, as each celebrates major milestones in their royal reigns. In this case, King Richard is Richard Booth who opened his first second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye in 1962. Thereafter, Richard Booth systematically transformed Hay-on-Wye from a little backwater town into a thriving tourist destination known throughout the world today as the Town of Books.
In 1977, Richard Booth, who was a master of publicity stunts, declared himself King of Hay and proclaimed independence for the town from Britain and the E.E.C. The publicity rocketed around the world, spiraling further with the issuing of Hay-on-Wye passports, an edible currency, and knighthoods and other titles which could be bought for cash. People from around the world have visited Hay-on-Wye as common folk and left as gentry because these titles can still be bought today.
And even though Richard Booth established the Kingdom of Hay on 1st April, today Hay-on-Wye is no fool’s paradise. Instead, it is testament to the claim that when they are acted on, creative ideas have the power to transform and re-position entire societies and economies.
Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, even though she is no longer Queen of Hay-on-Wye, she still has every right to celebrate her 60th year as Queen over the rest of the United Kingdom. Note how the stamp is cleverly placed to form her head in the scene. And what could be a motor way sign that she is resting her arm on is where I shall put my name and address before posting this off to myself some time later this week.
With a smile on my face, I bid Tom farewell and sauntered off along the high street, browsing along with Hay’s many other Sunday afternoon strollers; and when I’d satisfied myself that I’d adequately topped up my vitamin D levels and that I hadn’t missed any other fantastic personalities around town, I turned around and headed back to the house.