Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Who dares gets battered!

I’VE always looked upon Colyton and Colyford as one community - and indeed it is.  I’ve always been aware, of course, that Colyford is an ancient borough but the village and town have always been run by Colyton Parish Council on which Colyford has  representation, currently four out of 13 councillors, although this is not a statutory right.

There has been murmurs for a long time, however, from Colyford that the village does not get a fair deal, which has encouraged the current Mayor of Colyford, Howard West to “bravely” raise the issue at a recent council meeting.

I say “bravely” because it takes a bit of guts to go against the grain at Colyton Parish Council meetings. They are, as demonstrated frequently in recent years, a close-knit group who close ranks whenever anyone dares to challenge their modi operandi.

This newspaper is the only one that takes any interest in Colyton Parish Council by sending a reporter to every meeting. Indeed, we have done that for many years.

From time to time, however, we have upset councillors by reporting on matters that they would prefer not to be publicised, despite such matters being discussed in open council, the inference being that we should only report on the positives and never the negatives. That view, of course, is contrary to the basic principles of democracy and we have resisted any attempt to stop us doing our job responsibly.

We really upset the council recently when we had the audacity to record their deliberations at a particularly controversial meeting, to ensure we got it exactly right. To do so was contrary to the council’s standing orders (rules). We had never been sent a copy of those standing orders and they are not listed on the council’s website, at the library, on the council notice board or any other public place.

The council threatened to report us to the Press Complaints Commission for contravening their rules but common sense prevailed and if we want to record meetings in the future we have to seek permission which, from time to time, we will do.

The parish council defended its commitment to Colyford at its last meeting and Howard West took a bit of a battering over his claims about the village not getting  its fair share.  

But it was his democratic right to raise the matter and he should not be unnecessarily castigated because he did not tow the party line.

Get off the open register if  
you don’t want the junk mail

THE Government has effectively ordered Weymouth and Portland council to open itself to ridicule.

Some might say this isn’t too difficult a job, but this time the council is the innocent party.

Thousands of us recently had a leaflet popped through our letterboxes entitled: “Your vote matters. The way you register to vote is changing.”

Now the council, no stranger to controversy, immediately spotted the ludicrous way the Government-backed leaflet had been written and contacted Westminster for permission to change the wording. That permission was denied and the council was forced to issue the leaflet as it was.

It told the residents of Weymouth and Portland that “you do not need to do anything else” over election eligibility because “you have been automatically re-registered under the new system”.

That’s all right then… but it isn’t.

Sadly, as with so many decisions the Government makes, all is not quite as it seems.
Lower down the same leaflet we are told our details are on an open register, an extract of the electoral register which is not used for elections but which can be bought “by any person, company or organisation”..... “to confirm name and address details”. 

Then comes the key sentence: “Your name and address will be included in the open register unless you ask for them to be removed.”

So, despite what the Government-backed leaflet says, unless you want an avalanche of “special offer” and charity mail pouring through your letterbox, you do need to do something.

Specifically you need to look at the bottom of your letter where there is a long security code of more than a dozen numbers and have that handy when you call 0800 197 2327 and ask to be removed from the open register.

I view the whole letter as a stealthy approach which could in many cases lead to businesses and charities being able to confirm precisely where you live and the only reason they can have for doing that is to send you “junk” mail or begging letters.

If you still haven’t made your mind up then more information on both registers is available at

But be warned. This, too, is top heavy on information about how easy the voting change is.
Only by going to Section 3 and pursuing that relentlessly do you finally arrive at what the open register is really about.

It includes a list of who uses the open register such as alcohol and gambling businesses, charities to help with fundraising, debt collection agencies and “direct-marketing firms when maintaining their mailing lists”.

So now you know. The Government says you do not need to do anything else. That’s fine for the election side of things but people who choose to ignore removing themselves from the open register only have themselves to blame if they then get a lot of unwanted mail.

A RECENT visit to the cinema underlined the impact weather is increasingly having on all our lives.

We joined 30-40 other film fans who packed into the excellent Plaza Cinema in Dorchester to see Guardians of the Galaxy.

Our trip included £4 in town centre parking fees and nearly £6 inside the cinema for nibbles, tea and other drinks on top of our cinema ticket bill.

Then we relaxed in our comfortable seats and waited for the usual burst of colourful adverts to herald the start of the entertainment.

We were still waiting nearly 40 minutes later after several false starts of music but no pictures when the manager came out in front of the audience and said that regretfully, due to technical problems, everyone would have to leave and be given a refund or similar option.

It emerged that the problem was believed to have been caused by a lightning strike during a recent storm over the county town. Typical! There’s never a Guardian of the Galaxy about when you need one for a spot of projector repairing.

Check my name tag!

IT was a simple trip out to Bristol by a Weymouth man and his friends which all went horribly wrong.

He drove up to the city and they had a good time, but he didn’t know the place and set off home by driving the wrong way up a one way street.

Then to get out of trouble… he drove the wrong way up another one way street. And to get out of that dilemma… he drove the wrong way up a third one way street!

It is perhaps no surprise that police eventually spotted him and pulled him over. The officer asked him how old he was and the young man replied: “17.”

He was also asked if he had been drinking and he replied: “Yes, but only a couple of pints.”

By now the policeman was determined to check the young man out and asked if he had any form of official identification on him.

The young man thought about that for a while and then admitted that he didn’t but, before the policeman could speak, the young man’s face lit up and he said he had just realised that he did have some form of identification.

He then got out of his car, rolled up a trouser leg and showed the officer his name stitched to a label on the inside of his sock! The officer was still laughing when he waved the young man on his way!

A walk on the quiet (east)side

WE went for a walk along the prom on Sunday evening, as we often do. We usually stop, look back over Lyme Bay with Golden Cap in the distance and remark how lucky we are to live in Lyme Regis. I never tire of that view.

Only this time it was different. This time we were strolling towards Golden Cap, going east and not west.

The day before I picked up on Facebook that the new eastern promenade was now open to the public. 

And during the day a number of people contacted me to ask did I know the new seawall was now open to the public?

The wall is part of the £19.5 million project to protect homes, roads and infrastructure on the eastern side of the town from the effects of coastal erosion and landslips.

We weren’t the only ones to be taking a post-dinner stroll in the late August sunshine.
We met a number of locals all of whom had the same idea and commented: “Isn’t this wonderful?”

And indeed it is. 

Lucky Lyme, I say, for the new eastern walkway will undoubtedly be another big attraction for locals and visitors who want a quiet stroll by the sea without all the hullaballo of the commercial seafront. A walk on the quiet side.

I love Lyme in the summer (well I love it all year round, really) but sometimes, especially during August, you feel  how nice it would be to escape the masses.

I hope West Dorset District Council, which has led the project, will avoid the temptation to commercialise this new walkway with ice-cream concessions and the like. I’m pretty sure they won’t go down that road, having protected the Gun Cliff walk from the kiss-me-quick attractions.

As well as providing the ideal place for a quiet stroll, the new walkway will also provide better access to back beach. And I understand that local anglers have already latched onto the new seawall  as an ideal spot to cast their lines.

It will certainly be a big attraction for the hoardes of fossilers who frequent that area and who can now gain easier access to the rich pickings from Lyme’s crumbling cliffs.

As a local from that side of town, back beach was very much our domain as kids. We would spend many summer afternoons at weekends exploring the rock pools for shrimps (never prawns for some reason) which provided Sunday tea. Every shed in Anning Road had a couple of shrimping nets.

Phase IV of the ongoing costal protection scheme is not complete with some areas still fenced off for minor works to be completed. Landscaping and planting will be completed by Christmas and the walkway will be closed for three weeks in October for steps and a footpath to the Charmouth Road car park to be completed. Another big asset.

Lyme should be grateful for the manner in which these works have been handled by West Dorset, carried out with a minimum of intrusion and the minor inconvenience (considering the future benefit to Lyme) of losing a few hundred car parking spaces.

The scheme was made possible by a £14.6million contribution from Defra with Dorset County Council (£4.27 million) and West Dorset District Council (£600,000) chipping in.
Those who harp on about how little the county and district councils do for Lyme would do well to remember that.

The official opening of the scheme will take place before next summer when all works are completed and the extensive planting established.

Any ideas about what the new walkway should be called?

The stars who crowned our regatta queens

MY favourite radio programme is late on a Sunday evening when lyricist Don Black plays his favourite tunes on BBC Radio 2. It suits my mood.

Black invariably plays a Matt Monroe number. I think he managed the East London-born crooner at one time. So what has this got to do with Lyme, I hear you mutter?

Listening to a Matt Munro song on Black’s show during Regatta Week brought back memories when the singer, one of the most popular in the world of entertainment in the 1960s and 70s, came to Lyme to crown Miss Lyme Regis.

In those days all the big stars appeared in summer season at the  Weymouth Pavilion and the management always encouraged their clients to make as many personal appearances as possible in the area to boost ticket sales.  

Before I got involved in the Regatta (I was secretary for nine years), I can remember Anne Shelton crowning the Regatta Queen on Cobb Gate car park and an appearance by the Dagenham Girl Pipers, a big hit with the boys. During my time as secretary we managed to persuade a whole host of big names to come to Lyme. 

These included Tommy Trinder, Hope and Keen and Billy Dainty (who was the spitting image of Regatta President Ivor Curtis) and if all else failed we could always rely on someone from Westward  TV or BBC Plymouth - Ken Mcleod and Hugh Scully being firm favourites. We even had a visit from Miss World, although she failed to perform the crowing - but that’s another story for a future column!


SUE Worth has had three husbands in recent weeks, can boast making billiard nets for a living and has helped with the introduction of life-saving technology at the County Hospital. Recently retired she hopes to devote more time to her poetry, improve her costume-making skills and would quite like a home by the sea.

ARE you Dorset-born?
Yes, I grew up in Stratton, near Dorchester, before it went upmarket. In those days it was a typical Dorset village - we had a shop in Mill Street and a pub, The Bull, where, as kids we could go to a side door and buy ice cream. The shop had a packet of washing powder in the window which everyone thought had been there for many years and no one would have been daft enough to buy. We also had a village school where I started out before going to the Secondary Modern in Dorchester.

HOW did you get into your medical career?
I wanted to be a student nurse, but didn’t quite have the grades, so a couple of us went to see the Matron at the Dorchester Hospital and she said she would take us on, but we had to wait. It was very challenging and I later went back as an auxiliary on the geriatric ward, working nights, after having our daughter, Naomi, and in between I made billiard nets from home, when I could, to bring in some extra money. Later I went back to college and did a returner’s course. I’d also learnt some IT skills which they picked up on, and I was set to work in the critical care unit doing clinical audits. Before I retired I was working on the VitalPAC system which can provide an amazing amount of information for patients in critical care.

BUT you were also involved in hospital life in other ways?
I had been a staff governor for about three years and really was able to express staff concerns, and a union rep’. It was interesting to be able to work with people of widely different views.

DO you think you are ready for retirement and do you have any plans?
I loved my work but last summer I noticed I was beginning to look out of the window more and more and thought it was time to go, that was in March. I knew the first six months were sorted – Andy ( husband) and I were committed to the Community Play, which was a fantastic experience, and now with the New Hardye Players we’ve been involved with Wessex Scenes, which is about to start its autumn run…hence having three ‘husbands’ in the space of a year! I made most of the costumes for it and would love to know how to get better at it – mine look ok from a distance but when you see the work of some other costumer makers theirs have all the detail, as well.

HAVE you been a Hardy fan for long?
I’ve always loved his poetry but didn’t take to his novels when I was younger. Someone said it was best to come to Hardy when you are older and I think that’s right.

WHAT do you get out of performing on stage?
I think I just wanted to get a bit more confidence and be more comfortable in my own skin and with appearing in public. I’m hoping to be able to perform more of my poetry, although I also write some prose as well. Many of my poems feature a play on words and I particularly like the local accent and dialect which, of course, has become much less pronounced than it was in Williams Barnes and Hardye’s time. I’m now hoping to write more and possibly perform as well. I think poetry needs and audience, although it used to make me a bit annoyed when people laugh where I’m not expecting them to.

HOW else do you plan to spend the extra time you now have?
I’d like to travel more; I  love the Mediterranean where people refuse to move at a modern pace. I like swimming in the sea and I would like to do some more snorkelling.
I’ve also taken on a part-time job as a guide at Shirehall which is a fantastic building with a fantastic history and has so much potential for drama and other things. I just find it staggering that the Tolpuddle Six and their families had the courage to stand up for something they believed in and would fight for a real principle. 

AND is there something you would stand up for?
The NHS. I’m worried about it because you can see the way it’s going. There is so much temptation from people who want to make money out of it, to make us pay for more and more of it. But is doesn’t work. We all know how badly run the American care system is. My grandfather used to say that the day the Government doesn’t look after the NHS is the day he would stop putting his hand in his pocket to pay his taxes.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

And it seems like yesterday

THIS column usually takes a two-month break during the summer months and in the past has been replaced during July and August by Francesca’s Summertime in Lyme column.

This arrangement has allowed me to take a few days off to recharge my batteries and also gives the town councillors a few weeks without taking a battering from me.

With Francesca now editing our Lyme edition as well as looking after a part of East Devon for our Pulman’s View series, we have abandoned her Summertime column, much to the disappointment of many, and Lyme Matters returns a little earlier than usual.

I’m coming up to the 50th anniversary of my first job in journalism - a cub reporter on the Exeter Express & Echo.

The first big story I covered was the runaway lorry which crashed into the London Inn, the horror of which I can remember as if it was yesterday.

I was tempted by the bright lights of London which took me away from Lyme and was fortunate to work for an international media group which took me to many places around the world that seemed a million miles from Anning Road.

I’ve loved every minute of it, although it’s been a bumpy ride these past few years as local papers have had to deal with a dramatic decline in advertising revenues and competition from the digital media. But I get as big a kick today when a good story breaks as I did when I was that slim young man who thought being a reporter was the most exciting job in the world. I still believe that.

Journalistic opportunities for young people are few and far between these days and as I gallop towards retirement my greatest satisfaction is to see my young reporters develop into first rate journalists.  I am, of course, very proud, like any Dad would be, that Francesca has followed in my footsteps. She works tremendously hard and has developed a love for her home town which is demonstrated every week in her commitment to Lyme through the columns of this newspaper. 

It’s not easy being my daughter in this job. She often gets the backlash of my rantings in this column but she’s developing a thicker skin and a more cynical attitude so essential for any journalist.

With my lower profile in Lyme at this time of year, she is constantly asked if her Dad is well (I am, thank you) or retiring. 

Not quite yet!

Lyme looks blooming great again

MY new-found interest in gardening, revealed in my last column, has caused much mirth among my mates. 

One of them has resorted to calling me “Percy Thrower”. For those of you under 50, he was the Alan Titchmarsh of our youth (Percy, not my mate).

But I’ve really got the gardening bug and I’m already planning how I can improve and extend my floral displays next year.

And whilst on the question of horticultural matters, a big pat on the back for the town council’s outdoor staff, under head gardener Barry Trott, who have once again done a splendid job in making the town look so attractive this summer with the various displays in the public gardens, Marine Parade and Broad Street. 

A word of praise also for local traders who have enhanced their premises with some magnificent displays, especially the Nag’s Head and Royal Lion.
Lyme does not enter the Britain In Bloom awards any more, which I think is a shame. 

Many moons ago I was editor of the Sidmouth Herald and organised a reciprocal trip for our readers to visit Harrogate in Yorkshire, which had won the Britain In Bloom large town category, Sidmouth having been adjudged the best small town.

Entering the Britain In Bloom contest engendered great community spirit and has proved to be a big tourism attraction for Sidmouth over the years. 

Seaton and Beer also pull out the floral stops and have also reaped great benefit from their efforts. Is Lyme missing a trick here?

Guildhall gossip

I WAS stopped in the street last week by a regular reader of this column and asked: “What’s going on? It’s all gone a bit quiet in the council chamber, hasn’t it?” 

Not before time, I thought.

As far as their public face is concerned, it does seem that our waring councillors have settled into a more respectful mode following the town clerk’s plea for them to “move on” after Tweetgate.

Behind closed doors, however, there is still, a great deal of animosity between the two factions. At a recent “in committee” meeting I hear that there were several very caustic exchanges which prompted one senior member to say “I have never heard anything like it in 40 years” after one councillor used some choice language out of pure frustration.

T'was ever thus.
  • DOES Lyme Regis need 14 councillors to run the town?  The neighbouring town of Seaton is bigger than Lyme but does it with fewer members. Of course, it’s not a question of how big the town is, but the duties it performs and Lyme council has greater responsibilities (and a bigger staff and budget) than its neighbours. The idea of reducing the number of councillors in Lyme was floated at a recent meeting but comprehensively rejected. With confidence in the council at an all-time low, as I’ve said before,  Lyme’s biggest challenge will be to attract 14 candidates at next May’s election.

Persistence pays dividends

THE decaying frontage of Woolworth’s old shop has been a blight on the shopping centre of Seaton for too long.

Woolworth pulled out of this prime trading site before the recession started to bite so there’s been little hope of finding a new tenant for such big premises. Business rates alone are said to be £25,000.

With the appointment of local agents (Richardson Gill) there is renewed hope that a new tenant may be found, especially as the landlord has agreed to free rent providing the business rates are covered.

That they have taken this unusual action is very much down to the efforts of John and Rita Buckley, comparative newcomers to Seaton who recognised the town was looking a bit tired and decided to do something about it.

Showing great persistence, Mr and Mrs Buckley set about trying to get the High Street conglomerates to improve their premises. Lloyds Bank and Boots redecorated their buildings, encouraging other independent traders to do the same. 

And their sheer determination has spawned a refreshing community action which tomorrow (Wednesday) will see a group of volunteers turning up outside the unkempt frontage of the former Woolworths building armed with buckets and mops, brushes and paint, to give the eyesore a makeover it needs so desperately.

East Devon District Council are also doing their bit by power washing the front of the building.

There are those, of course, who believe that landlords should be forced to keep their premises in pristine condition. In an ideal world that would be the case and it would seem that most small towns suffer greatly through the neglect of premises once they stop trading.

With all other efforts to smarten up Marine Place having failed, at least the people of Seaton, led by the indefatigable John and Rita Buckley, are trying to do something about it.
I applaud them.
  • On Saturday I went to Whitford Show, 48 years after I first covered the village’s annual flower show. That was on World Cup Day 1966 and they installed a black and white television in the village hall. Whitford Show is still going strong, a microcosm of traditional Devon Life at its most charming.  Long may it continue.

Desperate times call for desperate measures

AN emergency sale of surplus council objects is to be held as part of desperate attempts to fund the town’s economic recovery and repairs to the ailing harbour walls.

Star item at a forthcoming auction will be a 1933 signed copy of the great economist John  Maynard Keynes’ work, The Means to Prosperity, which the council apparently no longer needs.

Other meaningful memorabilia include a rare sepia print of the town centre without a traffic queue, historic 2011 documents from when the authority was master of its own destiny and two threepenny bits found down the side of the chief executive’s sofa.

Sadly, while these items may raise a groat or two here and there, you wouldn’t hold out much hope of it meeting the bill for all harbour wall repairs which could be up to £70 million depending on which wild-eyed council accountant you are listening to.

There are even those grimly smiling council critics who suggest that the authority should practice what it preached at Castle Cove, accept it can’t afford the repairs and allow nature to take its course and reclaim the harbour.

Certainly those using the harbour at the moment, such as fishermen, face the unusual prospect of attaching their mooring ropes to a structure which could easily be somewhat less stable than their own vessels and which has more holes in it than a Swiss cheese.

The only solution not yet touched on is to resort to tried and trusted methods and use convict labour to carry out the repairs.

With a bit of co-operation from police it should be possible to rush through a few bylaws to harness the current rush of tourists, charging them with having too good a time but offering to spare them jail if they donate a couple of days labour heaving a few stone blocks into place or doing a spot of sheet pile riveting.

Desperate times call for desperate measures so, if you’ve got family or friends in another part of the country, invite them down for a few days!

THIS column has commented before on the ludicrous situation of cyclists choosing to ride in the road when they have a perfectly good cycle path right next to them.

It appears that the situation has not got any better and my thanks go to several readers who have contacted me about their experiences.

Of particular note is one driver’s comment about Weymouth Way, scene of two recent tragedies.

He was frustrated at a cyclist he couldn’t get round because of oncoming traffic, vehicles being backed up behind the rider because he chose to pedal along in the road and not on the new path nearby which had been specifically provided for cyclists at great cost.

It was a similar tale on Portland Beach Road where another cyclist headed a giant queue of fuming drivers also unable to get round him because of heavy oncoming traffic.

This cyclist seemed oblivious to the fact he was riding right next to recognised cycle routes on to the island.

I think authorities are going to have to campaign to highlight the need for cyclists to make use of the facilities provided for them because some of them are clearly not going to do so without a nudge or three.

Steve joins cyclists on the Tour de France

WELL-known Weymouth council events manager Steve Davies is never happier than when he is on a bike, so he jumped at an opportunity for a brief break up north during which he could see several stages of the world famous Tour de France.

Inevitably he wasn’t content with just watching and was actually able to join a number of other amateur cyclists riding up one steep Tour climb called Holme Moss.

He was absolutely amazed by spectators two or three deep along the entire route and said: “It was the only time I have been cheered by crowds in my whole life!”

The whole get-away was a revelation for a man steeped in Weymouth tourism life because it was like experiencing the scale of Weymouth Carnival crowds everywhere he cycled.

Even Steve, no stranger himself to the bizarre, couldn’t believe what he was seeing at one point when he met a “French” cyclist decked out in beret, onions and striped shirt on an old bike going up Holme Moss by pedalling backwards to thunderous applause.

A bit of a breather was needed later, so Steve dropped in at a hospitality area....which had been set up in the forecourt of an undertaker’s business. Only in Yorkshire!

Wash your hands!

DON’T read this if you are about to have a tasty meal or a much needed snack.

Gone are the days when pub goers were treated to free little bowls of peanuts and crisps.

That loss was bemoaned in a recent pub conversation in Weymouth where staff in the hostelry were asked what had caused landlords to stop making such popular offerings. The reply when it came caused a few looks of disgust.

Apparently such treats were withdrawn after Health and Safety tests on the remnants of such snacks revealed traces of 17 different types of urine in one bowl alone!

It seems that some drinkers were going to the pub loos, coming out without washing their hands and were then dipping straight in to the snacks, adding a certain piquancy to nibbles consumed by pub goers who tried the snacks after them.

Worryingly, publicly available research reveals the same problem with things such as children’s play equipment and cinema seats! Not surprising when figures show one in three men and one in eight women don’t wash after going to the toilet.