Wednesday, 26 August 2015

When having fun is a serious business

GIVING to the collection after Regatta and Carnival Week fireworks, a visitor added: “Thank you – we’ve had a great week. You’ve all worked so hard.”

What could better capture the essence of Regatta and Carnival Week? “The spirit of carnival is deep within us all,” says committee chairman Andy Brown. “Creating a bubble of fun for everyone is important in serious times.”

Carnival has hard-headed purposes, too. The money raised stays in the town, helping local causes (17 last year), especially those that serve the young and the old, and that foster our community ethos. Over £80,000 has been shared in the last nine years.

It successfully promotes and works with the town’s businesses. These support Carnival through advertising, sponsorship, joining the procession and in events like ‘Spot the Window’ (over 100 businesses) and the imaginative new ‘Decorated Ducks’ competition (more than 80 ducks). The pay-back is a town full of visitors in a mood to spend money.

Many return every year, anticipating a special week safely mixing familiar and new activities organised by people they know and trust. Carnival’s emphasis on ‘fun for the whole family’ really works.

But this is also a truly community event, not simply about visitors and businesses. It draws together holidaymakers and residents, old and young, parents and children, and all those elements of Lyme itself which, occasionally, become unnecessarily parted. That togetherness (the ‘spirit of carnival’ again) was nowhere better experienced than among participants and spectators at this year’s procession.

The Carnival procession was typically Lyme – not too showy, nothing big or expensive, simply a cheerful mix of local people and organisations with children and young people to the fore. Taking over an hour from start to finish, spiritedly led by the Bournemouth Youth Marching Band, full of movement and variety, and attracting big crowds, its carefree atmosphere left the workaday world (and the traffic!) far behind.

Major events like the procession, the duck race, the beautiful fireworks display (sensibly moved to Thursday) and the Walk of Light are key fundraisers. Yet most Carnival activities are on a smaller scale, pitched directly at children and families: while raising less money relative to their organisational demands, these are crucial to Carnival’s purpose.

What lies behind it all? Essentially, volunteer team work absorbed into a feat of unpaid management that few towns could match.

Andy’s committee of ten works all year. Soon it will review Carnival 2015 and each event within it: value for money, participation, quality of organisation. Then it will invite applications to share the funds raised and agree on allocations. After each annual distribution the Carnival budget retains enough to cover next year’s insurance, licenses and modest working costs. Every other penny of profit goes to local causes. 

With their creative hats on, committee members will bounce around ideas for 2016, seeking to retain the philosophy, preserve the familiar and successful while keeping the programme fresh and evolving, develop the ‘family-friendly’ focus and involvement of businesses, add money-raising ideas... The hard graft of shaping the week’s activities – when the practicalities (not least, supply of volunteers) really bite – reduced some 40 possible new ideas for 2015 down to eight.

Then comes planning, booking and scheduling events, ready for the team that lays out, proof-reads and prints the programme, which this year contained 85 advertisements: a tribute to Lyme’s businesses, but also to the work of obtaining them.

Meanwhile there’s running the Christmas Tree Festival, Easter Bonnet Parade, May Day Fete and Solstice Parade – all under the Regatta and Carnival umbrella – before the final weeks of intense preparation.

Finally, each of Carnival’s nine days sees a core of the committee master-minding events, mostly on the seafront. Probably few of us truly appreciate the logistics and organisation lying behind intensively managing more than 60 events: planning, gathering and preparing materials, setting up, overseeing, and clearing everything up afterwards. No wonder these volunteer stalwarts can clock up 16-hour days.

Why do they do it? It’s worth listening to Andy and other key figures, whose answers are remarkably consistent. “This is such a welcoming community – you want to respond”, “People here put themselves out for each other, so you should take a role”, “It’s not your community unless you’re part of it.” 

And it’s about pleasure: “The enjoyment of seeing other people enjoying what you enjoyed”, “The reward of putting a creative stamp on events.” 

The shortest response – “Why not?” – is unanswerable if you think about it.

All emphasise the vital team factor. The committee relies on many other, more occasional, volunteers: supervising specific events, wielding collection buckets, helping behind the scenes... The procession alone used 44 people with collection buckets and 11 for road closure duty, quite apart from all those volunteer participants. So for Andy it was “wonderful to see people offering help – our volunteer list has grown.” He hopes that next year many more people will say, “I’m going to be part of it, too.”

“We’d love to have more, and younger, helpers; it would be great to have more people taking responsibility for an event and seeing it through; and our seafront team needs reinforcements.” 

With his hopes come reassurances. 

“Let’s demolish the idea that Carnival requires a heavy commitment. It’s horses for courses: people do what interests them and what their time allows. We work hard at making them feel welcome and valued. And volunteers have fun, too.”

A summer that never was

REGRETFULLY I’m beginning to wonder if 2015 is going to turn into one of those summers that never was.

Oh we’ve had a few nice sunny periods but we’ve also had a lot of cloud and some truly miserable days being battered to the ground by torrential rain.

Traders have confirmed to me that this year has definitely been a bit hit and miss, one day taking thousands and so rushed off their feet that they didn’t know where to turn and the next day deserted as an occasional hardy soul hurried by huddled into their coat.

We are told that one recent downpour delivered a month’s worth of rain in a single day which could actually have been an advantage against having the misery spread out over a longer period. It is all because the jet stream is over us instead of north of us, bringing in an endless procession of cloud and rain.

Elsewhere unusually strong winds and waves at the end of July and the beginning of August created banks of seaweed out at Bowleaze where channels were cut in the beach.

At the same time I have also never seen so many people wearing coats, fleeces, anoraks and pullovers on Weymouth seafront where the dress code is usually shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses.

It can’t all be climate change. Maybe we’ve just had bad luck this year. 

Whatever the reason, I’d welcome the chance to have enough sunshine to actually sit out and use my garden bench and picnic table for two days in a row.

Westham to finally get 20mph speed limit

AND so we could be getting a 20mph speed limit for most of the Westham area of Weymouth could we? About time too!

Ever since the Olympic sailing events were held in 2012 we have had a “legacy” of a sort somewhat different from that trumpeted by the Five Ring Brigade.

This legacy is very unwelcome, namely changed driving habits in certain parts of Westham including my own road.

That now gets used as a speedy rat run, a legacy from those nightmare roadworks claimed to give us 20 years of transport system improvements in a single year but which have proved about as helpful as a boil on the backside.

Drivers were forced into using our road while said roadworks were going on but – what a surprise – when the works were over they didn’t go back to their old route but stayed on their new one, rocketing past my home at speeds of up to 60mph.

The go faster stripes brigade with the tasteful dangling dice and love legend sunshades displaying “Wayne and Sharon” could previously be relied on to show off their driving prowess late at night or in the early hours.

But the works brought mainstream Weymouth and Portland past my door, from those driving a bit faster because they were late for work to careless clods who just put their foot down.

My street has a number of young children in it and doesn’t need any more hazards than it already has, so hopefully 20mph limits in the area will restore a bit of order.

Just one problem. The new limit – if approved – must be policed, either by the now very thin blue line or by the council which has become so impoverished it would struggle to sell tickets for fund free beer.

That leaves the ominous possibility of involving the community and that really will need careful thought. Watch this space.

Making friends

THIS week’s Growing Old Disgracefully spot looks at the social media outlet, Facebook, through the eyes of a pensioner.

He wrote to me – tongue in cheek – so he could explain to fellow elderly people who don’t understand Facebook that he felt it was a way of sharing your life with thousands of people and making new friends.

He added that he was now trying to make friends outside Facebook while applying the same principles.

He added: “So every day I go down on the street and tell passers-by what I have eaten, how I feel, what I have done the night before and what I will do tomorrow night. Then I give them pictures of my family, my dog and me gardening and spending time in my pool. I also listen to their conversations and I tell them I love them.

“And it works. I already have three persons following me.......two police officers and a psychiatrist!”

Seeing carnival from a different perspective

CARNIVAL struggled through a miserable rainy day and I felt very sorry for all the volunteers who had put so much effort and time into staging the event.

The main procession of floats at night struggled on gamely through drizzle and heavier bursts of rain, but the weather proved too much for some events with the showcase appearance of the world famous Red Arrows being scrapped as was a display by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight while many wet and bedraggled beach events saw poor attendance.

It was new ground for me. The first time I have been able to enjoy a full carnival since I came to Weymouth in 1980.

I suppose it was inevitable that I had to wear an anorak rather than suntan lotion, but it was great to see the town’s biggest day of the year from a different perspective, that of a spectator.

Let’s all hope that we get sunnier weather for Weymouth Carnival 2016. Oh by the way. I didn’t win the car!

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Clemmie Reynolds

CLEMMIE Reynolds, 27, is the new artistic director of the Marine Theatre in Lyme Regis, having taken up the role just under a month ago. Originally from Guildford, Clemmie plans to work with local schoolchildren and artists offering a varied programme and hopes to help restore the Marine back to its former glory.

WHERE did your love of the dramatic arts come from?
It started with performing in school plays and with my local youth theatre in Guildford. When I was studying for my BA in English at Bristol University I spent more time acting and directing plays than writing essays! After university I went to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London. After leaving drama school, I realised that as well as acting, I wanted to direct and produce plays too, so I set up my own theatre company called BurntOut Theatre.

YOU worked as a freelance director for a while, what is that world like?
It is exciting, especially working with excellent companies such as The Young Vic, Out of Joint and Chickenshed. It is also challenging and very competitive, but running my own company gave me the freedom to choose what I worked on. For three years I produced and directed open-air Shakespeare productions which I toured all over the South East and London to parks, gardens, city squares, even empty ornamental ponds! In the last two years, I developed a new play called “Muscovado” with support from Arts Council England and the V&A Museum in London; the play is set on a sugar plantation in Barbados in 1808 and earlier this year I toured it to cities across the UK with historical links to the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Considering Lyme’s links with Bermuda, and now Jamestown, it would be very interesting to bring this play to the Marine next year.

WHAT is the biggest challenge facing you and the Marine Theatre?
Our biggest challenge is that we have a hole in our roof that leaks water into the 120-year-old auditorium every time it rains! This will cost around £100,000 to repair, so I have my work cut out for me over the next few months!

HAD you ever visited the Marine Theatre before you took on the job as artistic director?
Yes, I was in the middle of a six-month UK tour performing in “Muscovado” and one of our tour venues was Bridport Arts Centre. On recommendation by our “digs” host, we drove over to Lyme and I was amazed by the town, enchanted by the gem of the Marine (I love old theatres and cinemas!) and decided in that moment that I wanted to move to Dorset. The following week, when I got back to London, I saw the job of artistic director posted online and applied.

DO you plan on working with local artists and writers in the area?
As a host venue for many of the Lyme festivals, I am looking forward to working with lots of  artists and musicians from the area. I would also really like for the Marine to be able to produce its own theatre productions, as well as receiving touring companies. These could involve many local artists, writers, performers and amateurs too. I’m keen to programme local performers as much as possible and would be delighted to receive recommendations – so if readers have ideas about who they’d like to see at the theatre, please pop in and let me know!

ARE there any plans to work with the local secondary and primary schools?
Yes! The Marine’s Youth Theatre LYT has just been selected to be part of Connections, the prestigious UK-wide festival organised by the National Theatre, so we are now looking for local secondary school students aged 14-19 to be involved, both on stage and backstage. As part of the festival, we will perform a fantastic new play for five nights at the Marine Theatre, and for one night on one of the largest stages in the South West (to be revealed soon). For children under 14, we will run three weekly youth theatre classes with lots of chances for performances throughout the year too. Contact the theatre if you want to join!

HOW has your first month in Lyme Regis been?
It has been very busy, with hundreds of new faces and names to learn! But I have loved it, especially being able to swim in the sea every day and looking out over the sea from the Marine Theatre office isn’t bad either!

AS artistic director, what is your goal for the Marine Theatre?
I’d love to see the Marine repaired and restored to its former glory days of the past 120 years, and enable it to continue to be a special and much-loved place in the Lyme community for the next 100 years. I want to programme an exciting mix of plays, music and comedy – so there is something for everybody!

AT your perfect theatre production what would you see and who would play the starring role?
I would travel back in time to 1937 and see Laurence Olivier playing Hamlet at the Old Vic opposite Vivien Leigh as Ophelia. A dream!

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

More pizza anyone?

DOES Axminster need another pizza outlet? I ask the question after reporting on the front page of our Axminster edition that whilst rumours that Domino's Pizza were taking over the The Castle site on Anchor Hill are not true (the brewery is looking for another tenant), the national pizza chain have confirmed they are looking for  an outlet in Axminster.

There’s two ways of looking at this. It is good news that a national chain wants to open an outlet in Axminster, demonstrating faith in the future of the town as a vibrant commercial centre, but is the town big enough to warrant another food outlet selling pizza?

Those who already sell pizza, understandably, would say the town is not big enough for an operation like Domino's. They may well be right.

It’s good to see that progress is at last taking place on the conversion of the former Webster’s Garage site into a temporary car park.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a little sitting out, grassed area is included? And it would be better still if there was some positive news about the former George Hotel which still stands empty in the centre of town.

There’s persistent rumours that Wetherspoons might be looking at The George but that’s not likely to happen as the company tells us the ground floor area at The George is not big enough for their requirement.

THANK you for the many messages from readers we received on the occasion of our eldest daughter Zoe’s wedding.  It turned out to be the most enchanting, wonderful day of our lives, after which Jackie and I took off for a week’s holiday in Amalfi in Italy, our first real break for eight years.

My loyal deputy James Coles kept the good ship Pulman’s afloat during our absence. He did such a good job, in fact, that I’m already planning our next break...

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Holiday high jinks are in full swing

WELL in to the school break now and plenty of evidence of unsavoury holiday high jinks. Weymouth’s shopkeepers are battling to keep their heads above water and definitely didn’t need one annoying six-year-old boy who grabbed a sandal from a pavement stand display as he walked by a shoe shop and danced along St Thomas Street with it on his head.

His mother then shouted at him to join her further up the street, so he simply let the sandal drop to the pavement and ran off to join her. She didn’t tell him off for taking the sandal nor did she tell him to replace it or make the effort to replace it herself. Good parenting.

Elsewhere those leaving the multi-storey car park were startled to see a woman in a people carrier emerge on to Commercial Road having driven the wrong way down St Alban Street! Always nice to see a motorist doing their bit to keep other drivers on their toes.

Then we had mobility scooter madness with pedestrians having to leap out of the way when an ageing speedy Gonzales suddenly decided to turn sharp left in a crowd. A few promising ballet stars revealed there.

Finally there are the “Un-Dead”, those visitors whose minds haven’t just been put on holiday stand-by but have been switched off altogether.

An absolute classic example of this came at Weymouth Railway Station where a couple, suitcases by their side, were engaging in a lively conversation.

Nothing wrong with that unless the conversation was conducted while they stood in the middle of the only available public car parking spaces seemingly oblivious of several drivers politely waiting for them to move out of the way. They only got the hint when one driver drove into a space and almost right up to them.

Be on your guard. These challenges are out there and they don’t take prisoners.

Not such a secret military mission after all

THE American military, eh?! Overpaid, oversexed and over here giving ordinary English residents a hard time.

A Weymouth woman was in a car driving along a country road in Dorset when a weird machine came overhead and proceeded to hover over a field to allow soldiers to abseil down. The plane then landed and the soldiers were taken on board, the procedure being repeated.

The unusual aircraft, tentatively identified as an Osprey, has propellers which act like a helicopter to lift the aircraft into the air. The propellers can also swing into their traditional position on a wing to propel it forward.

Naturally such an unusual occurrence saw the woman’s car pull into a layby to join a number of other interested onlookers.

Enter the American military – guests in this country – who then proceeded to order onlookers not to photograph the aircraft and the operation as it was secret, classified or some such nonsense.

Only the Americans would have the gall to suggest that something displayed and carried out next to a busy public road was secret.

If it was secret then hold it in a remote place and cordon it off, but don’t go round telling ordinary residents what to do in their own country when you are a guest.

As a footnote, the Americans walked away and shortly after that a man with a large camera lens took great pleasure in snapping off dozens of photos.

Perhaps he could sell them to the Americans’ PR department which clearly isn’t that busy!

Hidden history at museum

WEYMOUTH’S Chapelhay area is well known for suffering houses reduced to rubble because of bombing during the Second World War but it actually has much older ruins.

In fact, the remains in question go back nearly 2,000 years to the time of the Romans. Invading legions scorned using Weymouth’s boggy location for anything other than a supply port to serve the seat of power they set up in what is now Dorchester. No change there then!

But as time went by at least one leading Roman felt the effort to live in Weymouth was worthwhile and had a town house or a small villa built in what is now Chapelhay.

We know this because a section of mosaic laid down in one of the rooms is actually on display in Weymouth Museum at Brewers Quay.

Even the colours are still striking despite the passage of nearly two millennia and it provides a fascinating window on just how mosaics were made.

It just goes to show what you can discover with a stroll round your local museum.

‘Must have’ for OAPs

WALKING canes are the subject of this week’s Growing Old Disgracefully spot. Apart from helping to prevent pavements being strewn with overbalanced pensioners, a little bit of adaptation can turn a walking cane into a very useful weapon for the elderly in this age of assaults on vulnerable people.

Get approached by some cocky street thug asking if you’ve “got any spare change” and it is a delight to watch his smirk dissolve in a cloud of MACE released from the bottom of the cane by pressing a simple button on the handle.

Other uses include twisting the cane handle to pull out a sword to help create space in queues at the chemist and another button which activates a concealed flatulence horn, so useful in clearing people away from tables in a busy cafe.

Yes, the walking cane is this year’s “must have” for OAPs. Don’t leave home without it.


JOANNA Smith is a teacher and writer and has been teaching creative writing in Lyme Regis and Uplyme since 2008. She has written three films that were shot in Southern Africa and her book ‘Lesser Known Lyme Regis’ was published by Roving Press last year.

WHERE did your love of writing come from?
It’s hard to say! I started scribbling stories as soon as I could hold a pencil. Like most people though, I just stopped writing fiction as soon as I left school and poured all my writing energy into letters and journals and the odd newspaper article. It took me a couple of decades to get back to fiction.

WHAT were you doing before you moved to Lyme Regis?
I did a degree in English literature in London, a postgraduate degree in education from Cambridge University and taught English in Tanzania and Leamington Spa before arriving in Mozambique in 1994. I stayed in Maputo for 13 years, teaching literature at the university, training teachers and writing film scripts. It was a really interesting and positive time to be there – when I arrived the civil war had just ended and people were very keen to start rebuilding their lives. There was a great sense of possibility and so much to get involved in. 

WHAT was it like working in the film industry in Southern Africa?
I started writing English subtitles for the major film company in Mozambique and was asked if I’d like to try writing a script. What a dream! The company gave me lots of valuable feedback and were extremely encouraging – conditions that were perfect for waking up my dormant creativity. I’ve tried to replicate this kind of environment in my writing groups. 

YOU also wrote “Lesser Known Lyme Regis”?
Bee Painton at Serendip suggested I should write it, as she didn’t have anything up-to-date and reliable to offer visitors. I loved getting to know the town really well and interviewing people for the book – there are so many passionate and interesting people in Lyme. It took ages to write though, as many of the best stories (anything to do with smugglers and underground tunnels and hidden chambers) were so hard to prove. I lived in fear of perpetuating myths. In a way, it was a relief to return to fiction!

WHAT inspired you to set up the Black Dog Writing Group?
I came to live in Lyme with my five-year-old daughter and so my first priority was to find work that fitted around her. For the first year I worked as a carer but missed being around people involved with books and writing. My main loves were teaching and writing fiction so I decided to put these together and teach creative writing. 

HOW does one join the writing group? 
I currently run five groups and see some writers individually. I teach a structured course, introducing the elements of fiction such as plot, dialogue, point of view and characterization. We also work hard on developing a writing habit and ignoring the mean snipings of our inner critic. Creative writing is a wonderful subject to teach as people gain in confidence and ability remarkably quickly and the groups become very close. You get to know and trust each other very well when you share writing. I also see several individuals who can’t join a group or who are more interested in working on a specific project such as a novel or memoir. 

HOW often do the groups meet?
We meet once a week. Every year I teach three blocks of ten sessions, following the school terms. I start a new group every January and then the group stays together. If anyone would like to go on the waiting list, all the details can be found on my website: Each block costs £100. 

THE writing group has released several books? 
I produce a book of “Stories from the Black Dog” every December. This year will be the sixth volume. All the students submit their best work;  it’s a real thrill for everyone to see their stories in print and the book makes a very handy Christmas present!

WHICH three people would you most like to discuss literature with?
I tend to enjoy books by people I’d like to meet; wise people who I feel could teach me about life as well as literature. My current top three are probably Marilynne Robinson, Elizabeth Strout, Tove Jansson and Sarah Waters. (Sorry, maths was never my strong suit!) 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

The complexities of social media

AXMINSTER Town Council never seem to be too far from controversy these days. 

The latest incident to ruffle the feathers down at the Guildhall concerns, what was to me, a somewhat innocuous tweet. 

Said communiqué from Councillor Hayward referenced a lyric – “It’s gettin’ hot in here” – from a track by American rap artist Nelly. 

Now, if you were to hunt down and watch the accompanying video to the song – ‘Hot In Herre’ – you’d find it contains a fair share of naked flesh and that it’s unlikely to be shown on daytime TV anytime soon. 

So, said tweet came with the hashtag warning #NSFW – meaning “Not Suitable For Work”. Which perfectly sums up the ‘Hot In Herre’ video. 

Was it inappropriate for a councillor to be referencing said track in a council related tweet? Probably. 

Was it a bit odd he chose to do so in the first place? Definitely.

But fellow councillors went on to accuse Councillor Hayward of sending a tweet “of a pornographic nature” – is that really true?

For starters, a hashtag isn’t really a link at all - it’s a label used on social media to group together messages with a similar theme. 

And, bearing in mind this hashtag is used to signify material “Not Suitable For Work”, what do you expect to find if you search for examples of tweets marked #NSFW?

Whether or not you deem Nelly’s video as pornography, the fact is the offending tweet didn’t include a traditional hyperlink to either that video or anything else for that matter.

Now, if all this talk of tweets and hashtags is making you feel very old and yearning for the simpler, more innocent times of the 20th century – I’m with you. 

But if you obviously don’t understand something, why pretend you do and accuse someone of something so serious? 

In my mind, all Councillor Hayward is guilty of here is making me recall a rather annoying Top Five hit from 13 years ago.