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.

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