Thursday, 1 December 2011

It’s too early to be so festive!

I HAVE a reputation in the office of being a bit curmudgeonly in the run-up to Christmas. This is the result of 40 years of almost impossible deadlines and as far as I am concerned Christmas does not start until the last edition has gone to press.

So it’s usually Christmas Eve before I start thinking about buying some presents and in the past this has presented a few problems.

One Christmas in particular sticks in my memory. I was editor of the Sidmouth Herald at the time and I went into the office in East Street to clear my desk. It was my intention to do my Christmas shopping, have a nice lunch and then go home to wrap up the presents whilst listening to Nat King Cole’s Christmas collection.

But I’m afraid I made one fatal mistake of taking a stroll down Old Fore Street and past the Anchor Inn, where I was a frequent visitor. Just as I was passing the front door Danny Gauntlett and Johnny Owen, from Sidmouth Football Club, invited me in for a “quick” Christmas drink. I thought it would be churlish to decline their kind invitation but stressed it would have to be “just the one” as I had a lot of shopping to do.

Four hours later I emerged from The Anchor, slightly unsteady, blinking into the December
twilight with most of Sidmouth shops about to close for the Christmas holiday.

I have no recollection what I bought or how much I spent. But I clearly remember the sheer panic of realising it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I was facing the embarassment of going home to my parents for Christmas Day with no presents. It was a lesson learned!

Any rate, as I was saying, I’m usually a bit grumpy about this time of year - but I have to admit I really got into the spirit of Christmas much earlier than usual on Saturday, one of our busiest times of the year reporting-wise, when I had eight jobs to cover. I gave Francesca the day off as it was her graduation ball at Southampton.

By 10.30 am I had three jobs in the camera having visited the FORCE Christmas coffee morning in Colyton, Colyford Village Hall’s Christmas fair and a similar event at Axminster Hospital organised by the League of Friends.

By the time I arrived at the hospital Mervyn Symes had the Christmas carols at full blast and there was a real jovial atmosphere and lots of happy faces.

I went back over the Dorset border to cover more Christmas events, including the switching on of the festive lights in Lyme (go and see them), finishing up having a drink with Geoff Baker, Paul McCartney’s former PR man who once worked for me as a reporter and is always good company.

I’m now looking forward to the Festive Friday Christmas evening in Axminster on December 9th and have promised myself that although we have to get out another 52 editions (honest) before Christmas Eve, this year I’m going to be full of festive cheer.

IN this job you come across many people who do so much in their community - but they run a mile when I turn up with my camera.

Octogenarian Phil Pitman is one of those. In 40 years or more of covering local events I have never been able to persuade Phil to have her photo taken.

But on Saturday I finally got her, being hugged by the matron at Axminster Hospital where Phil was running the League of Friends cake stall. There was only one place that picture could go - on the front page. Phil will never forgive me.

Why our hospitals are the envy of the civilised world...

THE National Health service, despite being the envy of the civilised world, comes in for a lot of stick. But when you are ill you quickly realise that our NHS is one of the great institutions and treasures of our land.

No one likes going to hospital but we are lucky in East Devon to have four community facilities in Sidmouth, Honiton, Seaton and Axminster in which the standard of care is exemplary.

There have been many changes and threats to these establishments over the years but they continue to play such an important role in improving the quality of life in East Devon.

And much work goes on in the community to support our local hospitals - no more so than in Axminster where the League of Friends have raised an incredible £3 million over the past ten years to improve facilities for patients.

Much of that money emanates from bequests but the level of support that comes from the friends means that they are continually fundraising.

Saturday’s Christmas Fair was typical of the hard work that sees volunteers and hospital staff come together to ensure that patients continue to receive the very best in care and comfort.

Moving on through the darkness

SIGHT is perhaps our most valuable sense and this was dramatically brought home to me during a recent visit to my optician.

I’d already had to cope with my glasses being taken away for cleaning ahead of my sight test, so navigating to the examination room was slightly awkward.

Everything was out of focus... then suddenly everything was pitch black!

Apparently a rarely used piece of equipment had been plugged in and it had promptly cut electricity to the entire premises.

If I was a bit taken aback to be plunged suddenly into total darkness then so was my optician who rapidly found himself exploring the world of DIY as he fumbled for a torch and scrabbled around in a cupboard behind me until he was able to locate the master switch and restore the lights.

Just goes to show how much people take their sight for granted until suddenly they have to cope without it and it also shows how much optical technology has advanced.

My first sight test more than 40 years ago consisted of a series of boards about the size of a paperback book each covered in spots. Within those spots was concealed a number. How many of them you could see apparently determined how your eyes were. We’ve come a long way.

Hope yet, for the rest of us

PEOPLE find themselves having to do a lot of home maintenance during their lives, so it can be reassuring to get advice from the experts.

It is their example we try to follow, whether our efforts are good, bad or indifferent, and it might be anything from repairs, to electrics, plumbing, carpentry or simply buying the right tool for the job.

So I have to say that I found it difficult not to laugh during a recent visit to B&Q in Weymouth, surely one of jewels in the DIY crown and the sort of place you’d expect to be on top of its game.

But I spotted a horrible mistake they’d made almost immediately. That doesn’t make me a super expert or some genius at DIY. Anyone could have spotted it.

The embarrassing fact was that part of the store sign had gone missing and staff must have been too busy to replace it, that or the relevant letter hadn’t been delivered yet, so it was quite amusing to see a national DIY chain seemingly unable to practice its own philosophy. There’s hope yet for the rest of us!

No more mutant zombie snowmen

CHRISTMAS is getting closer and closer and panic buying is starting to set in.

Electrical goods, clothes, cosmetics, DVDs and CDs are really starting to move, but the items which are the current red hot buys are candied peel and cherries for Christmas cakes.

I had a hugely successful stab at this last year, getting ten out of ten for my cake and nought out of ten for my artistic snowmen which some members of the family thought looked like mutant zombies.

This year I just haven’t had the time and so we’ve bought a lovely home-made iced Christmas cake from a local bazaar.

It’s perhaps just as well really because you have to be ruthless to go out and get cake ingredients because that sort of shopping is not for the faint hearted and you need a sharp elbow and a long reach if you are not to be trampled underfoot in the rush for sought after fruit.

My family said there was another advantage to buying a cake this year. There was no chance of my mutant zombies putting them off what they were trying to eat.

Sat nav consigned to the bin!

A WEYMOUTH man found himself caught between a rock and a hard place when he went on a shopping trip which took him into the countryside just outside Yeovil.

Road signs in that rural location were rare to non-existent and, keen to get home without being marooned, he turned to modern technology and the satellite navigation facility on his mobile phone.

His trip then began to introduce him to parts of this country he had never seen before culminating in a roundabout.

A sign on it indicated one exit for Dorchester but his sat nav indicated a different exit for the way home.

Indecision was solved by the weight of traffic behind him and he decided to follow his sat nav’s advice - only to end up some time later on the road to Sherborne!

This did not amuse the driver who had to hack his way home as best he could and considerably later than he’d planned.

I understand that the sat nav had been violently switched off some miles from home and the fuming driver has no plans to use it again any time soon!

Event of the Week

Now for the streaking Santa

EVENT of The Week is elevated to the top of the column this week, for the first time ever.

The reason? Quite simply because the switching on of Lyme’s Christmas lights on Saturday evening, proceeded by the lantern workshop and parade, was such a marvellous event.

It was 11 years ago that Barbara Austin, the First Lady of Lyme, decided something had to be done about Lyme’s pathetic Christmas illumnations.

She formed a committee, started raising money and persuaded the town and district councils to give generous donations.

Since then, Lyme has had, arguably, the best Christmas lights for miles around with the switching-on ceremonies attracting hundreds of visitors to the town.

For hundreds, now read thousands. I can’t remember too many occasions when I have seen more people in Broad Street than there were on Saturday evening.

And it was absolute bedlam at the Baptist Church where 70 children took part in the lantern making competition, twice as many as the previous highest number.

With the Majorettes giving some stunning displays as they marched down Broad Sreet, followed by their new troupe members and cute mascots, the fire engine in attendance and Father Christmas distributing sweets to the kids in the crowd, it all made for a very special atmosphere.

As soon as the parade was over, I posted a tweet on the success of the event and received a number back from people outside of the town commenting on how Lyme was one of the few places left with such a special community atmosphere.

I’ll drink to that. In fact, I did afterwards in a packed Royal Lion with Geoff Baker and his partner Gill Newton, an enjoyable hour during which we discussed some crazy ideas for attracting more people to Lyme over the Christmas period.

I’m not sure Geoff’s idea of a streaking Santa race down Broad Street will meet with wide approval - but it would certainly attract the crowds!

The cost of this year’s lights came to around £6,500 and it becomes increasingly more difficult to raise that sort of money, year in, year out. The town and district councils give generous grants but Barbara and her team still have to fundraise throughout the year.

The last year has been a very difficult one for Barabra, health-wise, but with sterling support from people like Judith Pothecary, Alan and Lynn Vian, and a few others, the money was raised.

I’m notoriously curmudgeonly in the run up to Christmas, the result of 40 years of impossible deadlines.

I don’t start thinking about Christmas until the last edition goes to press (and that’s usually the day before Christmas Eve), but I must admit to be in a surprisingly festive mood on Saturday, having covered eight events during the day, including St Michael’s Christmas bazaar earlier in the day where there was a lovely atmosphere.

Lyme traders, led by town councillor Rikey Austin, are now about to embark on the organisation of late-night shopping events on the four Fridays leading up to Christmas, the final one (December 23rd) being on the same night as the Rotary Club’s Christmas Carols Around The Tree, my favourite Lyme Christmas event.

It is doubtful these will attract anywhere near the numbers we saw on Saturday but I hope their efforts will be worthwhile and will add to the overall seasonal spirit in the town.

MY admiration for the Royal British Legion is well known to regular readers of this column and I’m pleased to report that the Lyme branch is in fine fettle, despite declining Legion numbers nationwide.

It was interesting to hear long-serving President Cecil Quick recall at last week’s annual meeting how Lyme was judged the third best branch in the country back in the 1960s, urging his members to keep working hard to maintain their reputation as one of the most active branches in the country.

It was also good to see that Poppy Appeal organiser Sylvia Marlar received the coveted Jack Loveridge Trophy for her services to the branch over the past year.

The Legion, of course, is working all year to support our Armed Forces, not just at Remembrancetide.

You no longer need to have served in the British Forces to be a Legion member these days.

It costs just £13 to be a member of the Lyme branch, a relatively inexpensive way of supporting the Royal British Legion in all they do.

Update on the battle to save Lyme from the sea

THE creeping cliffs of Lyme Regis still loom large in the work of West Dorset District Council’s engineering department.

I went along to last week’s meeting of the Coastal Forum when district engineer Nick Browning, a good friend of Lyme Regis over the years, gave an update of phase four of the ongoing coastal protection scheme to protect Lyme from the ravages of the sea.

The meeting also saw the return of a familiar face - former district engineer Geoff Davies, who now works for a firm of consultants advising the district council on the plans to stabilise the East Cliff area of Lyme.

The £20 million-plus scheme to build a new seawall and stabilise the eastern cliffs is deemed necessary to prevent that whole area from falling into the sea, including the disappearance of Charmouth Road, over the next 50 years.

Government funding is crucial to the whole scheme and a decision on this is expected next March. If favourable (the alternative does not bear thinking about), work will start in 2013 and should be completed within two years. Nail-biting times.

60 SECONDS: Neville Causley

LANDLORD of the Hunters Lodge Inn, Neville Causley, has been running the pub and restaurant between Lyme Regis and Axminster for eight years with wife Sarah, who also runs the Karizma Majorettes. The couple have two young sons, Jake and Harvey.

Neville has been a member of Lyme Regis Lifeboat Crew since he was 18. He also organises the annual charity Santa sleigh, which tours the streets of Lyme Regis every Christmas, bringing much excitement to local children, and which is this year celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Here, Neville talks about why he loves the festive season and how he would like to see Lyme Regis developed in the future.

WHAT do you enjoy about running The Hunters Lodge Inn?
It is truly different to a normal job, it is a way of life. We have had some testing years, but we have achieved a great deal in that time. We have put an enormous amount of effort (and all of our money!) into this venture. I am a very “hands-on” landlord and always have somebody to talk to. It is very hard work, and involves long hours, but is also very rewarding to hear so many good comments about the food, and the welcoming atmosphere here at the pub. I am proud of what we have achieved.

WHAT do you like about living in the Lyme Regis areas?
I have spent my whole life within a seven-mile radius of Lyme Regis. It provides good schools for our children and I love being around the sea - it has a calming effect on me. There is a good community spirit in Lyme Regis, something that my parents encouraged me to acknowledge from a young age. Lyme is lucky to have a lot of willing people who give up their time to help others. Like any small town, it has its faults, but there are a lot worse places that you could be living in.

WHAT would you change or add to the town?
Affordable housing would be top of my list of improvements for Lyme. We were lucky that we had some savings to start us on our housing ladder, but many young people who wish to stay here are forced to either rent or live with their parents. Although I know it’s a controversial subject, and I realise it is dear to a lot of people, I would sell off the Marine Theatre and like to see it redeveloped into a state of the art Jurassic Heritage/Visitor/Educational Centre. As it stands at the moment, it seems to be in need of such huge scale modernisation which I would imagine would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

WHY did you start organising the Santa Sleigh?
I moved to Seaton for two years. Whilst we were there we had a visit from Santa’s sleigh run by the local Lions Club. My wife and I decided that when we moved back to Lyme we would start a similar thing. One of our friends told us of a disused sleigh from a carnival float which we could have on a housing estate in Honiton. We went to get it, and contacted Virgil Turner (Lyme’s Mr Christmas) got some of the lifeboat crew and friends together and took Santa and his sleigh out for five nights. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, I don’t have so much time on my hands now, so Santa has to complete his visit over two evenings!

WHAT do you enjoy about it?
I love the Christmas atmosphere. Wherever we go, around every street, children’s faces light up with smiles and happiness (and grown-ups too!), and to top it off we raise some money to help somebody else. I strongly believe that helping somebody else is one of the best feelings in the world.

WHAT are you looking forward to this Christmas?
A day off! And some quality time with my family.

WHY did you join the lifeboat crew?
I remember as a child hearing the maroons, and watching the lifeboat go out from our loft window, shouting to my parents “the lifeboat is going out!” It is something that I wanted to do from an early age. I remember nervously peering around the old boathouse door being greeted by Paul Wason and Jim Thomas and being welcomed in for my first training session, and I’ve been there ever since.

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
I’m sure we would have a few holidays to places we would like to go. I would buy my wife a car, and Harvey a camper van, as he is always going on about them! I would also start a zoo up for Jake, who is very passionate about animals, and then we would set up a charity of some description, as there is such a huge difference that could be made with the sums of money people win nowadays.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Stand by for another record

IF you thought this year’s Axe Vale Festival was good, just wait until next June. The 2011 show was a record-breaker with the organising committee reporting this week that a fantastic profit of £43,000 had been achieved - but, as they say in the most refined circles, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

The 2012 festival, which will be the 18th annual event, promises to be a real bumper affair and will feature a showcase marquee to celebrate Axminster Tool Centre’s 40th year in business, as well as Axminster Carpets marking their 75th anniversary.

To this add a 100 feet track and train from Pecorama, likely to be a big attraction, and a mobile bowls mat which Cloakham Lawn sports centre plan to bring along to the festival to promote their activities.

The festival usually attracts between 14,000 and 15,000 visitors but that total will surely be exceeded next year.

The friendly festival has come a long was since its very first show in 1994 which was organsed to raise money to help finance the Flamingo Pool in Axminster. Up until last year the pool had received £166,000 with a further donation being made this week.

With the £23,000 allocated to worthy local causes at the annual meeting this week, the festival has now raised a staggering £300,000 since its formation.

Many of those who served on the organising committee have been with the festval since its inception and that is probably one of the reasons why the show has been such a storming success.

They have got it down to a fine art and the Axe Valley Festival is not only one of the most popular one-day shows in Devon - it’s also one of the best organised.

Ron Cross stood down as chairman at Wednesday’s annual meeting, having seen the show reach new heights under his stewardship, but will stay on the committee. The role of chairing the festival committee now falls on the capable shoulders of Claire Morgan who has been a festival helper for many years and has served the Axminster community well in many capacities.

It’s a daunting task but with such an experienced and committed committee behind her, I have no doubt that Claire will be a worthy successor to Ron and the festival will continue to go from strength to strength.

The 2012 festival will undoubtedly be yet another record-breaker.

Celebrating a long and fruitful life

I MADE sure I got to the church early for Marjorie Rowe’s funeral at The Minster in Axminster on Monday. I arrived a good half hour before the thanksgiving service was due to start and virtually every seat was taken by then.

Rector John Streeting said he had never seen the church so full and the large attendance was recognition of the esteem in which Mrs Rowe was held.

I had seen the church as full but only on one occasion - the funeral of Mrs Rowe’s husband Frank in 1994. Frank, of course, was “Mr Axminster” and a large attendance was expected.
It was good to see that Mrs Rowe, who concentrated on bringing up their three children whilst Frank built his auctioneering and cattle market business, made her own impact on the community.

It latter years, of course, she was not only the matriarch of the Rowe family but also revered in the local agricultural circles, not only in Axminster but in the Bridport area where she lived in latter years, allegedly to “keep an eye on son Jim”!

Son-in-law Mike Harvey did a splendid job, delivering a touching but humorous eulogy, and afterwards the congregation were invited back to the Guildhall where Mrs Rowe’s long and fruitful life was celebrated in suitable fashion.

THIS week, as reported on page three, we intoduce a fourth title to our stable of Weekenders in East Devon with the launch of our Ottery St Mary edition.

More good news next week; we are splitting our Axe Valley Weekender with separate editions for Axminster & Colyton and Seaton & Beer to provide an even better local news service as well as introducing more dedicated pages for our Honiton and Sid Vale papers.

This week also sees a record 64 pages, another milestone in what has been an hectic 2011. Thanks for your continued support.

Winning back some favour for Weymouth

JUST a week or so and it will be time for us all to collect a rebate on our annual bill for car parking in Weymouth and Portland.

That is because we're are all being given several hours free parking on eight days in December at all council owned car parks and on-street sites.

The council committee debate that awarded this seasonal windfall made much of handing back something to the community and no one can say this is not a laudable sentiment.

But cynical old me did raise a wry smile at one snippet of the debate which dwelt on the boost to the town from its new relief road.

One councillor beautifully summed it up by saying that the relief road has been hailed as a vast improvement to allow people swifter access to shop or visit the town . . . but it also provides people with a faster way to get out of town!

It seems that those fed up with never-ending roadworks and a new traffic light system which impartially delays everyone are now increasingly voting with their feet and dumping Weymouth in favour of going shopping in Dorchester.

The road to Dorchester — if not Hell — is clearly paved with good intentions and the town may yet rue the road and Olympics work.

Giving people several bites of free parking in the run-up to Christmas will help long-suffering residents and traders have welcomed the move, but it will take more than a few hours free parking to heal the wounds in residents’ memories from what has gone before.

Don’t tarnish the image of the torch

WHEN I first saw details I thought it was some sort of sick joke being foisted on this country’s long suffering public.

It seems that the purity of the Olympic ideal has now been bastardised so much that the torch relay for the Games can be hijacked into the script of Eastenders!

Is nothing sacred? I appreciate that, for millions of discerning viewers, the antics of various cast members perfectly reflects modern life, but there are limits.

If a sacred symbol such as the Olympic torch can now be viewed as something commercial to cash in on - and that has to be the reason for storylining it since ratings will rise sharply for that episode - then where will it end?

Can we all now look forward to Weymouth and Portland’s Olympic sailors appearing on Masterchef to whip up a quick omelette cooked over the Olympic torch?

The possibilities seem endless in a world where everything is there to be exploited and God alone knows I’ve sat in on enough recent meetings where Olympic marketing opportunities were discussed.

But the question is this. How far do we allow marketing to go? I’d suggest using the Olympic torch in a programme like Eastenders cheapens its image.

It tarnishes the majesty for which the torch stands because, whatever else Eastenders may stand for, majesty it does not. BBC take note.

Mind the gap!

IT is the measure of a determined politician that they can soldier on even when faced with a complete lack of support.

Such was the case with Weymouth and Portland management committee chairman Councillor Mike Goodman, a seasoned veteran of life and many a political clash.

He didn’t allow lack of support to affect his commitment to the items being debated by his committee and manfully stuck to his position in the seat of government despite very trying circumstances.

So what point of view was he propounding that saw him get so little support?

Well, it wasn’t so much a view as the fact that his chair was collapsing around him.

Perish the thought that Mr Goodman might have a weight problem – which he doesn’t – but I have to confess to a certain morbid fascination as I watched the joint in his hardwood chair take on softwood proportions.

Wider and wider gaped the gap, Mr Goodman being saved by the closure of the meeting if not the joint of his chair. It was clearly one piece of furniture missed in the recent “minimalist” upgrade of Committee Room Number 1.

Number one son

WELL, my son is now officially a graduate and entitled to have the letters BA (Hons) after his name.

Fatherly (and motherly) pride was much in evidence when we attended the awards ceremony at Worcester Cathedral whose stunning stained glass interior was packed with close to 1,000 people.

Son’s ten seconds of fame was just that... ten seconds, because hundreds of others were also graduating that afternoon and the degrees fairly rattled along.

Still, that ten seconds meant all the world to his parents who had ruthlessly arrived early to get good seats, guarding them carefully for nearly two hours in the run up to the ceremony.

Well done, son, for three years hard work and well done Budmouth for seven years schooling ahead of his degree.

A true philanthropist

MUCH interest has been aroused by the piece in this column last week about the possible renaming of the central pavilion in the regenerated Marine Parade shelters.

The matter came to the fore when the working group organising the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June wrote to the council asking if the pavilion could be renamed after Her Maj in honour of her 60 years on the throne.

Town councillors were not over-enamured with the idea, pointing out, quite rightly, that as a big chunk of the £1.3 million shelters cost would be paid for by the people of Lyme Regis, they should be the ones who decide whether the pavilion should be renamed.

Quick to put pen to paper was Geoffery Mann to sugest that the pavilion should be renamed 'The Owen Pavilion' after town councillor Owen Lovell, the only councillor who questioned spending so much on the revamp of the shelters.

A more serious suggestion came from Bernard and Molly Spencer who have an interest in all matters Lyme. They suggested that the pavilion should be named after an 18th century philanthropist who did much for our town but has never been recognised.

Molly and Bernard wrote as follows: “This gives the town council a wonderful opportunity to honour a man who did so much for Lyme Regis but is neglected to the extent few people remember him. I write of Thomas Hollis, 1720 - 1774, the man who gave us the Marine Parade and the Assembly Rooms.

“Lyme Regis owes a large debt to Thomas Hollis for he did much to improve the town. He cleared away the old buildings on what is today, Cobb Gate, enabling an area attacked by the sea to be rebuilt. Purchased and cleared the old buildings in the centre of Broad Street and in Pound Street. Cleared and paid for the site of the Assembly Rooms; handing them to the town. Paid for the removal of the old fort that blocked the seafront, putting in railings and steps to the beach; all of which made the Marine Parade possible. And so much more.

“He was also a benefactor of Harvard College in America and sent the struggling university shiploads of books. Harvard thought so highly of Hollis they named their Information system in his honour - “The Harvard On Line Library Information System.”

“Thomas Hollis was a true philanthropist. Lord Chatham wrote of him that ‘he is the happiest of beings by dispensing continually happiness to others’.

“Another friend, Augustus Toplady, composer of the song ‘Rock of Ages’, is recorded as saying that, ‘Thomas Hollis went about doing good and helping the poor for all of his life’.”

Their letter concluded: “Perhaps Thomas Hollis has been passed by in the past because he apparently referred to himself as a Republican?”

So this is a suggestion that could win the support of at least two of our town councillors.
I must admit I had no idea who Thomas Hollis was or how much he did for the town.

We’re all doomed if it snows in January...

STROLLING along the seafront on Sunday afternoon it was difficult to imagine that this time last year the town was gridlocked by snow.

Many were out enjoying the winter sunshine and there were kids galore playing on the sand.
Lyme, unusually, has been hit by heavy snow three times in two years and the inadequacies of our preparedness for dealing with snow was very evident.

To their credit, the town council have got their act together and provided many more grit bins and supplies of salt.

But the county council are refusing to budge when it comes to extending their griting programme in Lyme. Only the main road through town will be gritted in inclement weather, despite the fact there were several accidents in Woodmead Road and other steep hills last year.

And now we hear that Church Street will be closed for eight weeks in January. That means that Woodmead Road will provide the only by-pass to the town centre.

We can only hope and pray we have a mild January.

Local talent to the fore

WEDNESDAY evening of last week was spent in Axminster Guildhall where the local operatic society were staging Irvin Berlin’s 'Annie get Your Gun'.

I’ve covered Axminster Operatic Society shows, on and off, since 1968 and on this occasion I was reviewing 'Annie' for our Axe Valley paper - The Weekender (see it on our website -

I gave it a good write-up but at one time I thought I was watching Lyme Regis Operatic Society.
The more accomplished singers in our area travel around taking part in the various shows and there were many familiar faces on stage.

Two of the leading parts were taken by Lyme residents Nicky Sweetland and Brian Rattenbury, who were both brilliant as usual, and I was delighted to see two stars of my Lyme’s Got Talent shows - Ben Hills and Amy Street - also being trusted with principal roles.

They did us proud, I can tell you that.


CHARMOUTH born Tom Summers returned to his Dorset roots last year after escaping from seven years in the London rat race.

As a child, Tom attended Charmouth Primary School and Colyton Grammar School before, inspired by the Heritage coast, going to Reading University to study Physical Geography.

After finishing university Tom found he wasn't qualified for much so moved to the capital where he fell into a career in marketing, working for the likes of Red Bull, Innocent Smoothies and Magners Cider.

After enjoying the excess of his London lifestlye for seven years, Tom returned to the area to help his mother with her own business venture, Felicity’s Farm Shop in Morcombelake. Tom is now Deputy Manager of the shop or, as he puts it, general dogsbody and minion to his mother.

On his return Tom became Chairman of Charmouth First Cubs and Scouts group and has recently ventured into the realm of pig keeping with his Uncle, John Summers.

WHAT made you return to your Dorset roots?
I'd had enough of being in the rat race and, when you're born here, the West Dorset countryside just gets into your heart, it’s such a beautiful place to be. I can't really explain it but it just has a real magnetic draw for me, it’s home.

YOU'VE been back for a year, do you plan to stay longer?
I think so, my mother has done a really good job setting up the farm shop and I’m sure she doesn't really require me anymore but if she'll have me, I'll stay. I have responsibilities now, I’ve got the pigs to look after, so we shall see where the future takes me.

ARE you pleased with how the farm shop has developed in its first year?
I'm really pleased, mum and her staff have worked really hard. Our customers have been really supportive and lovely and our suppliers have really been understanding, patient and lovely as well.

WHAT do you think is the secret to its success?
I think the staff. Hopefully we all radiate a happy positive vibe and make it a nice place for people to come. We like to think we are part of the community, a place where people can roll up for a chat, to hang out and have fun with us.

YOUR first batch of pigs will be ready for Christmas, will you be sad to see them go?
I try to be brave and not think about it. It is tough because they are so happy to see you, probably because you turn up with the food, but that is life and the nature of the business unfortunately. I will be sad to see them go but life goes on and we will get more pigs. My comfort is knowing that they have had a fantastic life, they've got a huge paddock to roam around so they are happy pigs.

WAS it sad to see the first Charmouth Cubs and Scouts struggling?
It was because it was a huge part of my upbringing here, it gave me a huge sense of community involvement and a sense of adventure. From the age of seven I was in the Cubs and we used to go camping, kayaking, orienteering and just having good fun really. Loads of the guys and girls from the village were part of it and it was a great way to mix with people of all ages.

ARE you glad to see them going from strength to strength now?
I'm really glad, but I can't take any of the credit for it, The hard work has been done by the scout and cub leaders. Kevin the scout leader and, Tony and Maggie, the cub leaders have done a wonderful job. They have done wonders planning a really good programme, they've doubled the cub numbers and really put some energy into it, it’s a great service for the youngsters of Charmouth.

WOULD you recommend it to all young people?
Absolutely, it's free to try it out so just pop down for a couple of sessions. In the last few weeks they have entered a go-karting competition, they took part in a swimming gala in Bridport, there is a 24 hour camp coming up next year and all sorts of Christmas parties and fun activities.

WHAT were some of the highlights of your marketing career?
It was outrageous, it was rock and roll and completely daft, but great fun. We went skidooing in Antarctica, partying in Moroccan palaces, rally car driving, I learnt to wakeboard on a lake in Austria. Lots of good fun and hi jinx, but it’s lovely to be back here, it feels a bit more real. I couldn't go walking in London, I couldn't climb golden cap or keep pigs, it’s not better or worse it’s just a different chapter of my life that I want to embrace.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Heartening to see such support

I MAKE no apology for the comprehensive nature of our coverage, on several news pages this week, of the Remembrance Day events throughout East Devon.

I am also proud that we had a representative present at all the parades and services in the 12 main towns covered by The Weekender and our sister View From papers in Dorset.

I have never served in the Armed Forces but I am a member of the Royal British Legion. And it’s one of my favourites organisations, as important as it’s ever been in this dangerous world.

Wherever we had reporters there was a record turn-out for the Remembrance activities, surely a reflection of a greater appreciation and understanding that our troops are putting their lives on the line every day in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

I went over to Colyton on Sunday morning to attend the Remembrance service in St Andrew’s Parish Church, followed by the laying of wreaths at the War Memorial in the churchyard.

As you would expect in Colyton, the church was full to capacity with a large crowd also witnessing the wreath laying by representatives of local organisation. It was the same story at Seaton, Beer, Honiton and Sidmouth.

Among the wreath layers at Colyton was 37 year-old Steve Collins, a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, first son of John and Monica Collins. Steve had just come back from his fifth tour of Afghanistan and wanted to be present at his home-town ceremony.

Ironically, Steve left Colyton to join the Royal Navy 20 years ago, leaving Axminster station at 11 am on November 11th (Armistice Day).

The Poppy Appeal this year is expected to top £40 million for Royal British Legion funds, a record. Despite the fact the it has been 66 years since the cessation of World War Two, the work of the Legion goes on unabated and often unrecognised.

It is a sobering thought that there has been only one year - 1968 - when a member of the British Armed Forces has not been killed in the service of their country.

It was heartening to see so many people supporting the Remembrance Day services and parades, especially the young, a clear indication that all those who made the supreme sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Always striving for stage excellence

I’VE waxed lyrical in this column before about the plethora of talented stage performers in this area. How lucky we are.

A visit to Axminster Guildhall on Wednesday to see Axminster Operatic Society’s production of 'Annie Get Your Gun' has not persuaded me to change my opinion.

The first show I saw performed by Axminster Operatic Society was 'Carousel' in 1968 and down the years they have always been prepared to stretch their talents to the limit by staging the big musical shows, rather than sticking to the more traditional operettas.

I thought last year’s production of 'Showboat' set new standards; it was one of the best amateur shows I had ever seen.

That, of course, put pressure on what to stage this year and I think 'Annie' was a good choice. I’m not sure it was better than 'Showboat' but as I say in my review in our Life section, it was a close-run thing.

I didn’t particularly like the big screen but admire the society’s desire to try out new things. I just did not think a show of this calibre required any gimmicks.

The standard of those playing the leading roles was quite remakable yet again, bordering on the professional, with great support by an enthusaistic and happy chorus line.

CASTING my eye down the list of officers elected at the recent annual meeting of Axminster Cricket Club, I was struck by the fact there was one familiar name missing - Phil Spong.

Phil has been one of the driving forces in the cricket club and at Cloakham Lawn sports centre for several decades.

An excellent all-round cricketer who went on to play for Devon Over 50s, Phil dedicated much of his adult life to the promotion of cricket in general and Axminster CC in particular.

He has received many accolades over the years from the cricketing authorities, particularly in relation to his groundsman skills and the promotion of youth cricket, and has held many club posts down the years.

I will never forget his sheer commitment and hard work put into the day the Lord’s Taverners sent a team to Axminster a few years back.

Philip is now at an age when he has decided it’s time to step away from the game and club which has played such an important role in his life. But his contribution cannot be underestimated.

Phil will not appreciate me making these comments - that’s the sort of bloke he is - but some things have to be said.