My Books in Print

I’ll have an e-reader, Bob

Four Point Plan.

We’ve just had the first piece of General Election tat in the post, and it’s from local estate agent and current Tory incumbent, Chris Davies. At least, I think it’s from him. There’s a picture of him sitting next to the Rt Hon. Member for Maidenhead and Wargrave, but his actual name only appears in the rubric in a 6pt font.

It outlines his ‘Plan For Brecon and Radnorshire, which I thought I might address. It has four points.

1. Vastly improved broadband. Everyone would like that, I’m sure. But at Number One on the list? No NHS, for example?

2. Rising employment. Davies claims that in the year before he was elected, unemployment in the constituency was 3%, and now, after two years of Chris, it’s down to 1%. If this is true, it is certainly nothing to do with him, and undermines the argument that immigrants are coming here to take ‘our’ jobs. It also disguises the truth that the population of the constituency is falling, and that young people are not looking for work because they have moved away. An increasing number of people in the constituency are not looking for work because they have retired.

3.Supporting our rural economy and communities. Chris says, (and I quote) ‘Agriculture is an iconic industry in Wales.’ Mate, in your constituency, don’t know if you’ve noticed, it’s pretty much the only industry, and this is how the Welsh Farmers Union are feeling.

I love the implication that he will have some say over Brexit negotiations. As Phillip Larkin wrote, ‘In a pig’s arse, friend.’

4. A tourism hotspot. Really. He really says that. Let’s think about tourism in Presteigne. Twice a week, a coachload of pensioners descend on The Judge’s Lodging, and then go back to Wolverhampton. Twice a day in summer, someone wanders past our house looking for the stone on the bridge which marks the border. Cyclists sometimes arrive and go to Elda’s. Posh people come for a few nights for the Presteigne Festival and the Vintage Sports Car rally. They go to Elda’s too, and also The Duck’s Nest. They stay in the hotel. And, er…

Let’s face it, you’re not going to take the kids to Radnorshire for a fortnight, are you? Day One; drive round The Elan Valley. Buy the kids an ice cream cone from the van, if he’s there. Take them to the museum about the Elan Valley. Day Two, feeding the kites. Day Three, Judge’s Lodging. Day Four, visit The Pales Meeting House in Llandegley, and then look at the Llandegley International Airport sign. Day Five, taking the waters in Llandrindod etc.

What fucking tourists? Has he ever driven on the A44 on a Bank Holiday in summer? Has he never noticed that there is never any traffic? Does this not strike him as unusual in a ‘tourist hotspot?’ You might get walkers in Brecon, but they don’t really come here, despite our proximity to the Offa’s Dyke Path. Hay is already a hot-spot, but that’s no thanks to Chris Davies, but thanks to a thriving community and some remarkarkable individuals, all of whom probably despise what he stands for.

I was e-mailed today by the Radnorshire Liberation Front, with their own plan, which I reproduce in full.

1. Increase the population.

2. Balkanise Powys.


This picture is from about 1890/1900, taken from Wales, and looking into England – the bridge marks the boundary. The first house on the right is ours. You can see that the track in front of our house leads down to a ford, at that time still in use, parallel to the Lugg Bridge. There was also a second parallel ford on the other side, where the wagon is parked.

Not much has changed. The shutters on the end of the house have been replaced by a window. The houses have TV aerials. Cars are parked on the street. Other than that, the scene could have been taken at anytime over the last 100 years.

A few years back, Duncan James, a local architectural historian, asked if he could look round, and we trailed around after him as he explained the difference between adze marks and pit-saw marks on the beams, and as he examined the wattle and daub wall in the attic. There were a few rafters in the attic which especially caught his eye.

‘This is medieval work’, he said. ‘You see it sometimes in the oldest houses. When Glendower came through, he burned Presteigne down, and when it was being rebuilt, they used timbers from the old houses.’

‘So how old?’ I asked.

‘Let’s say early 16th century. Could be a bit older. But no later than, say, 1520. It’s one of the oldest houses in the town, no doubt.’

Yesterday, the 1st of May, the housemartins came back. On the day of the first sighting, it’s usually just a few scouts – the main body turns up two or three days later. The male martins who colonize our house, and this end of the town generally, were pretty much all born here, though their brides can come from colonies several kilometres away. I wonder how long this colony has been here? On the High Street, you see swifts. There are swallows in Presteigne too, but the housemartins only come to this bit of town; perhaps a dozen or so houses. I saw nests on Chuch Close last year, the little cul-de-sac of new build houses a few hundred metres up the road, so they clearly don’t just use old houses. Is it a fair assumption, therefore, that the colony has been coming here for hundreds of years? And that when this place was new, they quickly built nests under the gables?

Also yesterday, I got an email from a family historian with whom I share a great great grandfather, the splendidly named Elkanah Marchant, asking me for any information. Amongst other things, I sent him this, my ‘line of descent’ from my earliest traceable ancestor, William Marchant, who was born and died in Preston Village, now a suburb of North Brighton.

Ian Marchant, born Guildford 14 Mar 1958

Alan Marchant, born Farnham, 13/12/1931, died 6/05/2010, Waterford, Ireland

Charles Jesse Marchant, born Bramley, Surrey, 29/03/1904 died 20/09/1984

Thomas David Marchant, born 1871, Hurstpierpoint, died 1928.

Elkanah Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 9 Feb 1841, died Dec 1931

Thomas Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 1 Jan1807, died 2 Sep 1872 Bridge Farm Cuckfield

John Marchant, born 1786, died Brighton Workhouse 22 Apr 1848, buried in Hurstpierpoint

William Marchant, Surgeon to His Majesty’s Powder Mills,born 1759, died Waltham Cross 13 Dec 1790

Thomas Marchant, born 1731, died Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1802

William Marchant, born Hurstpierpoint 26 Oct 1701, died Hurstpierpoint 16 Dec 1776

Thomas Marchant, diarist, born 23 Mar 1676, died Hurstpierpoint 14 Sep 1728

William Marchant, born 1648, buried Hurstpierpoint 17 Aug 1706

Thomas Marchant, born 1615, buried Albourne 4 Aug 1686

Richard Marchant, born 1584, buried 14 Nov 1625, Horsham, West Sussex

Miles Marchant, born 1545, Preston, Brighton, buried 13 Dec 1605, Edburton, West Sussex

William Marchant, born 1520, died 18 Dec 1558, Preston, Brighton

It struck me that old William was born in 1520, ie, the latest date that this house was built.

I can’t say for sure how long housemartins have been coming to nest in our gables, but I like to imagine that it is 500 years,  roughly since my ancestor was born; and that the nest-builders are descendants of an ancient colony.

We live in the house now, and on several rather important levels, we own it. But it is the martins place too; I see them as co-owners, with just as much right to be here as us; if not more.

New book now only 9 months away.






Deep in a wood in a valley in the Marches of Wales, by an abandoned railway line, there lives a 75 year old man called Bob Rowberry. His home is an ancient school bus whose engine has died and whose wheels have fallen off.

A Hero For High Times is the story of how he ended up in this broken down bus, on this abandoned line, in this forgotten part of the world. It tells of how, along the way, Procul Harum were named after his cat, how he sold Owsley acid to RD Laing, of how he annoyed Saddam Hussein and the IRA, and how he was freed from jail in Mexico by a popular uprising of the peasantry who had come to know him as ‘El Maestro’

It’s also the story of his times, and the ideas that shaped him. It’s a story of why you know your birth sign, why you have friends called Willow, why Yoko Ono affected how we eat much more than Linda McCartney ever did, why sex and drugs and rock and roll once mattered more than money, why dance music stopped the New Age Travellers from travelling, and why you need to think twice before taking the brown acid.

It’s the story of the hippies for those who weren’t there – for Younger Readers who’ve never heard of the Aldermaston marches, Oz, Illuminatus, The Angry Brigade, The Furry Freak Brothers, The Divine Light Mission, the Little Red Schoolbook, The Pink Fairies, Throbbing Gristle, Sniffing Glue, Operation Julie, Crass, John Seymour, John Michell, Greenham Common, The Battle of the Beanfield or Swampy, but who want to understand their grand-parents’ stories of turning on, tuning in and not quite dropping out before they are gone forever. It’s for Younger Readers who want to know how to build a bender, make poppy tea, and throw the I-Ching.

And it’s a story of friendship between two men, one who did things, and one who thought about things, between theory and practice, between a hippy and a punk, between two gentlemen, no longer in the first flush of youth, who still believe in love.

A Hero For High Times is my new book, to be published by Jonathan Cape on January 4th, 2018.