Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Is this a flock of birds or a shoal of fish?

NASTY home truths about local reaction to the Olympic Games are starting to haunt Weymouth and Portland.

I have warned before that local rows which previously stayed local could not continue to do so once world media began to focus on the borough and we’ve now had several tastes of that bitter pill - and there are still nearly five months to go.

National coverage has broadcast the disgruntled reaction of some local businesses to all the disruption for the Games - news features which have gone round the world - and one of the latest dollops of egg to be left on our faces predictably concerns the new relief road sculpture.

Quite how those who approved this monstrosity were stupid enough to think it was safe from instant ridicule is beyond belief.

At a time of national belt tightening, nothing was more calculated to start the sharpening of vitriolic quills than more than £330,000 being spent on putting some rocks on top of some metal pillars.

What few national hacks were still prepared to give the sculpture the benefit of the doubt rapidly changed their minds when told that “Jurassic Stones” is supposed to represent a flock of birds or a shoal of fish. In a pig’s ear it does!

The only birds it looks like to me are pigeons coming home to roost!

No wonder the nationals were baying about “waste on an Olympian scale” and calling for a hunt to be started to find the “idiots” who agreed to pay for it.

On top of that, the embarrassment of having to remove passenger information pods from bus stops because of noisy fans has travelled far enough to become a talking point in San Francisco.

Staying with the negative theme, a number of businesses have contacted me to say they don’t like the negative approach some outlets have voiced over arrangements for the forthcoming Olympic sailing events.

They say they feel this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a little inconvenience is more than outweighed by the fact that Weymouth and Portland will be showcased to the world.

They may still feel that way despite recent national and international ridicule for the borough, but some businesses are right to ensure they know where they stand, that they can still get deliveries in and that staff working won’t be hit and turn that golden opportunity into a lead balloon.

There isn’t any one size fits all solution to any problems with arrangements and local Olympic bosses are doing their best to talk personally to as many people with problems as they possibly can, hopefully to iron difficulties out quickly while avoiding some of the more sculptural pitfalls.

Be careful - you are what you eat!

WEYMOUTH food outlets sell millions of pounds worth of rolls and sandwiches every year, but perhaps hungry people don’t look closely enough at what they get.

For a start, many outlets just serve such items in a paper bag because they are often freshly made, so the only chance a buyer gets to really know the ingredients in what they’re eating comes when their roll or sandwich is packed with a label showing those ingredients.

I was peckish the other day and got myself a torpedo roll with salad from a reputable Weymouth outlet, but it wasn’t until I’d eaten most of it that I happened to glance at the ingredients label.

They included emulsifier E472, flour treatment agent E300, preservatives E202, E272 and E250, antioxidant E301 and E385, stabilisers E450 and E451, flavour enhancer E621, colour E160c and E160a, acid E260 and E330 and thickener E415 and E412 not to mention various other colours, emulsifiers and chemicals. Oh yes... there was also a bit of turkey, bacon and lettuce.

By now my snack didn’t taste so good and I can only hope that the ingredients listed above stayed within acceptable food controls as I’m no food scientist.

Regardless of this, it beggars the question what we eat in similar circumstances when there are no labels to tell us what might be in our snack and fast food since I doubt building site workers or shoppers grabbing a bite to eat in a hurry ask a sandwich bar for a detailed breakdown on exactly what’s in their fillings.

Where are our twin towns?

TIMES are hard at Dorset County Council where everything is under the microscope to see where cuts can be made.

Some shrewd individual made their contribution to cutbacks... by leaving the names of Weymouth and Portland’s twin towns of Louviers in France and Holwickede in Germany off new signs for Weymouth relief road.

That has undoubtedly saved ten pence worth of paint but how much will it cost the authority in man hours and communication response to deal with angry twinners who want the signs repainted with the names on.

It’s a case of Mon Dieu! or Mein Gott! as our twinning friends across the water might say.

Will Sally be mayor again?

WE are coming to that time of year again when we shall know who the Mayor of Lyme Regis will be for the new civic year, which starts at the end of May.

It has been the custom in past years for the mayor to get a two-year term, although there have been notable exceptions, the most controversial in recent years being Ken Whetlor’s failure to get backing for a second year, unfairly so in my opinion.

Custom and traditions do not command such importance in the council chamber these days so it begs the question whether Sally Holman will get a second year at First Citizen. 

I had my doubts whether Sally was sensible in accepting the mayoral role for a second term last May following a very fractious election. In the end, she was probably the only councillor who would have won enough support to be elected but it was never going to be an easy year with the new councillors finding their feet and determined to force through their agenda for change.

The rumour mill has been working overtime in recent weeks about whether Sally will be granted another year with some councillors being in favour of a downgrading of the position of mayor to a ceremonial one and the mayor’s dual role of chairman of the council being filled by a “leader”. Such a structure operates at Bridport Town Council, not with unqualified success.

Such a move would be strongly opposed by many in the town and would be viewed as a step towards the “politicisation” of Lyme’s fiercely independent local authority.

Although I have never asked her, I doubt whether Sally would be in favour of this course of action as she clearly enjoys the challenging role of chairing the council and taking a lead in the numerous initiatives which makes Lyme such a diverse community.

That is not to say she does not enjoy the ceremonial aspect to the job, as witnessed by her mayor’s announcements at a recent meeting. From December 7th to January 31st Sally attended no fewer than 23 separates events. These ranged from chairing the group planning the visit from a cruise ship in May to attending the Town Band Christmas concert.

During her second term as mayor Sally has received marvellous support from her sister, Jane Whittington, in the role of mayoress. During their first term I labelled them “The Civic Sisters”. I also like the way that Sally invites other councillors, and indeed former councillors, to accompany her at local events when Jane is not available.

When she took on the job Sally knew it would be a difficult year with so many strong characters joining the council with a fierce determination to force through change. She has been wise to navigate a middle course, steering clear of the petty squabbling which is declining as the weeks pass, and concentrating on leading and encouraging a number of groups, within and outside the council chamber, which will see Lyme staging an unprecedented level of events. 

These include the arrival in Lyme of a cruise ship and possibly a naval frigate, the organisation of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (a truly historical event), Lyme’s Olympic Day when the Olympic Torch relay will pass through the town, not to mention the usual summer celebrations, which the mayor always supports – Fossil and Earth Festival, Jazz Blues and Beer Festival, Lifeboat Week, Regatta and Carnival and the ArtsFest, the latter being particularly important to Sally as she is one of the founders.

I hope our councillors will take this into consideration when next month they decide on who will be the mayor elect.

Sure to make his own mark on the history of Lyme Regis

I CAN just about remember Goosey Gollop as Lyme’s town crier when I was a youngster. He was succeeded by George Norman, who I well remember, followed, of course, by Richard Fox and Phil Street.

Richard and Phil took this ancient position to new heights, both winning international and national  honours and in doing so generated publicity for the town on which a value could not be placed or afforded.

Both Richard and Phil were deservedly honoured for their services, Richard being awarded the MBE and Phil being made a Freeman of the Town.

On Saturday our new town crier, Alan Vian, stepped out in a smart new uniform for his first engagement, making a cry from Bell Cliff and receiving an enthusiastic reception as the town’s lifeboat for the last 14 years was paraded through the town before being replaced by a new rescue boat.

Part of Alan’s new uniform was made by Suzanne Whitemore, partner of macebearer Derek Hallett, and he certainly looked the part.

I have no doubt that Alan will join Richard and Phil in writing his own place in the history of Lyme. I believe he is the perfect successor to Phil Street.  Since moving to the town he and his supportive wife Lynne have thrown themselves into the community life of Lyme through the Baptist Church, Regatta and Carnival Committee, Lifeboat Week, Candles On the Cobb and many other groups.

Alan, a former headmaster, is also playing an important role in the organisation of the town’s celebrations to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and Lyme’s Olympic Day and he is always on hand to support civic events. 

He has established himself as the “Voice of Lyme Regis” through his commentaries during Lifeboat Week and the Regatta and Carnival and other community events. 

He carries out such duties with dignity and humility and that will be his hallmark of his years as the new Lyme Regis Town Crier.

Let’s hope the Americans are ready!

I JUST love the idea of the Lyme Bay Lovelies Red Hat Society ladies, who bring their sense of fun to many local events, acting as “ambassadors” for Lyme on board the cruise ship which will deliver 100 rich Americans to our shores in May. 

I appreciate that the Red Hat Society was founded the other side of the Atlantic, but are the American cruisers really ready for the Lyme Lovelies?

60 SECONDS INTERVIEW: Charlotte Gush


IF YOU were to meet Charlotte Gush and ask her ‘What do you do?’, you might be surprised at her answer.

Charlotte is a Shaman. She runs a busy and successful shamanic practice, bringing ancient healing traditions and rituals back into the lives of her clients.

In a world where nature is often to be found moving further and further away from our doorsteps, Charlotte talks about how one of the oldest spiritual practices in the world can hold many answers to modern day questions.

Charlotte is 37 years old and lives in Weymouth with her two sons. Visit her website for further information.

HOW do people react when they find out you are a Shaman?
I get all sorts of reactions. Mostly it’s ‘Uh?’, or ‘What’s that?’, or ‘Hmmm!’ I went to do a talk once and a woman was very disappointed because I didn’t have a bone in my nose or feathers in my hair. A lot of people’s ideas about what a Shaman is comes from Cowboy films – the ‘Medicine Man’ who would cast the bones and do the dances. I get lots of really positive reactions too, and it’s great to meet people who are open minded and curious about Shamanism.

SO, what is Shamanism to you?
For me, it is a way of life. It is an earth based practice and it’s about being present and being here, now. Working with the cycles of nature, being part of the world as opposed to just taking from it. Although it’s an ancient tradition it is very relevant today. I have gone through a full Shamanic training but this is a life long journey. It doesn’t have to be a way of life for everyone who is interested in it though, you can still use the tools and rituals to help you be in right relation with your soul purpose.

WHERE does it come from?
Everywhere. The traditional role of a Shaman within any indigenous culture was the ‘bringer in’ of the new. He or she would attend the births, they would oversee the spiritual wellbeing of all members of the community throughout their lives. They would conduct all sorts of rituals and ceremonies; healings, coming of age, fastening of hands. Then they would be there to safely guide the dead out to the land of the ancestors. It was a big job, but very much a normal role within society. As with a blacksmith or a farmer, a Shaman was just another role in the community.

WHY do you think it is still relevant today?
It is my belief that Westerners, specifically, find life so hard because they generally live in their minds. The mysticism, spirituality and ritualistic practice has gone out of our lives and with it has gone the sense of purpose, being at one with nature. For example, in the Shamanic tradition we take prayer sticks, use them to process emotional difficulties out in nature, burn them and feel release - that’s got to be better than Prozac, too much coffee and road rage.

WHAT kinds of ceremonies and rituals do you do?
Every month I do Full Moon Fire Ceremony on top of Colmers Hill in, Bridport. Last month it was about minus five degrees centigrade, but we are not fair weather fire goers, if the moon is up then so are we. Everyone is welcome to come along. It’s a chance to offer up your wishes for the month ahead and give thanks for what you’ve received. 

AND what about healing practices?
Throughout many Shamanic traditions is the thread that the Shaman works in three worlds; the world below our feet - the Underworld, the physical world that we live in - the Middle world, and then the realms of the ancestors and spirits - the Upper world. My job in a healing session or workshop situation is to be the bridge between all those levels. If you would like to learn about those tools and practices, I do regular workshops at the Chapel in the Garden in Bridport.

CAN you tell us about a favourite book, a film, and a person who you have found influential in your life?
My favourite book is ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola-Estes. It is all about the essence of what it is to be a woman; rediscovering and embracing the ‘wildish’. As for a film, The Last Samurai is a great account of a man’s journey from chaos to peace through spiritual practice. It’s a great reminder that everyone has the potential to be amazing. The people that are most influential in my life are my friendship group. Ordinary people living extraordinary lives.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Great loss to sporting community

ONE of the great benefits of being sports mad, either as a participant or a spectator, is that you come across people who soon become your hero. Occasionally they become your friend.

I spent a number of years in sports publishing and was privileged to have attended some of the top sporting events in the world. 

They were unforgettable days and I also met my fair share of sporting heroes. But I soon learned that no matter how good they were with a football at their feet or a bat in their hand, outside the sporting arena you really didn’t want to be that close to them.

During my life the real sporting heroes who have impressed me most are those who are good people and not necessarily good athletes.

One such man was Martin Leach.  He could have made it to the top as a professional footballer until a serious road action curtailed his sporting exploits. I can remember watching him play at Sector Lane when I was a kid and he was still a young man and he was simply exhilarating. 

It was many years later that I got to know Martin when he came home to Axminster in the late 1990s and I had recently returned from London. We immediately hit it off and spent many hours in the intervening years talking about sport, watching sport.

He threw himself into the local sporting and social  scene with gusto and whilst he was always Axminster through and through, he never let the partisanship of local rivalry cloud his recognition of local talent.

He loved seeing youngsters excel, not just at footbal, but in all sports, especially cricket.

To say Martin Leach was a highly social individual would be like saying Gazza enjoys the occasional bevvy. Butthere was much more to him than exercising the right arm.

I got to know him particularly well when I was asked to join the Axminster Hospital Cup committee, which he chaired at the time. Meetings were always great fun, especially when Any Other Business was completed and we adjourned to the bar.

That’s when I really appreciated that there was much more to Martin the man than Martin the social animal.

Martin died on Saturday, a year after his beloved mum, Bertha. He looked frail at her funeral and as the months passed he clearly missed her greatly.

Like all of us he had his foibles but I never tired of his company. The sporting community is a poorer place for his passing (and so is Axminster) but there will be no shortage of sporting folk around the area who will be proud to say: “I knew Leachy”.  

Hard to swallow

THERE has been doubts over the future of Axminster Police Station for many years and now we hear plans are afoot to move down the road to share a new purpose-built building with the Fire Brigade.

Combining emergency services - police, fire brigade and ambulance - makes sense in these cost-conscious days and has been introduced successfully in many other towns.

Axminster Police Station is rarely if ever opened to the public and there has been talk in the past of opening a town centre office. I suspect many would prefer that option to a shared facility in Lea Combe.

News that Axminster is to share a police sergeant with Seaton will also be greeted with further suspicion over the policing of Axminster.

The police authority is undoubtedly sitting on a valuable piece of land in Lyme Close and will no doubt cash in on their asset. 

Some of these decisions, inevitable in austere times, are hard to swallow when members of the fire authority vote themselves a 25 per cent increase in allowances.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

I CAN think of no one better than Michael Steer to represent Axminster at the Queen’s  Diamond Jubilee church service being held at Exeter Cathedral in June, followed by a garden party in the garden of the Bishop’s Palace.

Former mayor Michael’s name was one of three nominations and was pulled out of the hat at last week’s town council meeting.

No one extolls the virtues of Axminster more than Michael and no one will be more proud to carry out this ambassadorial role.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Medical centre: never again

IN an interview with Marcus Dixon this week, the Lyme Regis Development Trust supremo gives a thought-provoking and candid assesment of the recent troubles at the town’s medical centre.

He describes the “unpleasant struggle” for control of the medical centre, which went on for 15 years and ended up in the High Court, resulting in Dr Ian Conway being given notice to quit the practice,  as “shocking”  and that it “should never be allowed to happen again”.

There is no doubt that the legal wrangle split the town for many months and proved to be greatly distressing for the key personalities involved and supporters on both sides.

It was also a hugely worrying and uncertain time for the 80 people who work at the medical centre.

In the end, Dorset NHS had no option but to appoint Dr Forbes Watson, who runs the Lyme Medical Practice at Kent House, to hold the fort whilst going through the process of appointing new operators for the £4.5 million a year contract.

It would seem that there is at least a period of stability at the centre whilst NHS Dorset plan for the future.

The reason Mr Dixon has spoken out so strongly about the future of medical services in and around Lyme Regis is to encourage local people to make sure they have their say on how the medical centre is run in the future. 

There has already been a meeting between the Primary Care Trust and local bodies and now the public are being invited to a meeting on March 8th to put forward their views and question NHS officials on their plans.

Mr Dixon puts forward ll key issues which he believes the residents of Lyme should be calling for to ensure that people are put before profit.

Mr Dixon rightly recognises that the medical centre is “a wonderful and unique asset to the town and surrounding areas” but comments on the fact that little has been said publicly to date about the future and that “we seem to be sleepwalking into an uncertain future”.

The people of Lyme, who own a chunk of the medical centre through the League of Friends,  could have a big influence on that future and that is why it is important that there is a good turn out at the public meeting on March 8th.

Burly bodyguards baffle Broad Street

IT was not the sort of tip-off I usually receive. “Get up the town quick. There’s four burly bodyguards in Broad Street,” said my informant. Usually tip-offs go something like this: “Do you know there’s a coffee morning on at the Masonic Hall?”

So I shot up the town (actually a slow amble might be more accurate). And lo and behold, there they were. All dressed in dark suits with black ties, speaking sereptiously into their sleeves and clearly wired up with earpieces. 

Broad Street was agog. “Who are they?” people kept asking. “Who are they protecting?” I thought it might be a reccy for a royal visit but clearly not. 

Whoever they were protecting was doing a bit of retail therapy. A middle aged woman emerged from Liberty & Family Ltd and was hustled into a waiting non-descript car. A Vauxhall. No limo and definitely no tinted glass. I didn’t recognise her and not wishing to be unkind, she was not dressed in a fashion that would lead anybody to believe she was anybody.

I approached one of the bodyguards and asked whether he could tell me what they were doing. I got short shrift.

The car, with an grey-haired chap in the back, sped off with two more following. They went for lunch at Largigi on the seafront and then went over to Bridport where there were more sightings.

I appreciate it’s the job of a newspaper to inform and chase these things down but we have not been able to find out anything about this bizarre interlude. Someone suggested they were on  a training exercise. But who are “they”? 

Not the foggiest.


I’VE written many times in this column about how lucky Lyme Regis is to have such talented stage performers. 

The two shows presented by the Operatic Society (Me And My Girl) and the Pantomime Society (Sinbad The Sailor) last year were among two of the best amateur shows I have ever seen - and believe me I’ve sat through some rubbish over the years. And we all know that the dramatic society is capable of performances of a consistently high standard. Add to this the recent contributions of Between Courses at the Marine Theatre and I would venture to say that there are few towns in the West Country with more theatrical talent.

Last week I covered two pantomimes - one in Honiton and one in Lyme (which to be candidly blunt is a bit beyond the cause of duty). But to be honest I quite enjoy reviewing local amateur shows, not only in Lyme but around the area. The other local papers don’t seem to bother much these days so it gives us an edge.

Whilst the Lyme Panotime Society’s version of Little Red Riding Hood didn’t reach the heights of Sinbad The Sailor the previous year, it was nevertheless a good old fashioned panto and one that the kids in particular seemed to enjoy.

I appreciate those who who perform on the local stage do it because they have so much fun - but they also provide much enjoyment for those who enjoy a night out at the theatre and we should be grateful for that. 

In the absence of a community hall, the Honiton panto was staged on the stage at the local school. Which made me think how lucky Lyme is to still have the Marine Theatre where artistic directors Tim and Harry, manager Nigel Day and the Friends of the Theatre are working so hard to give the Marine a long-term future.


JONNY Hoskins is an entertainer who specialises in clowning, stilts, and living statue performances.  

He trained at Manchester University and École Jaques Lecoq in Paris before working at the National Theatre. 

Jonny has played London’s West End, toured the UK and Europe, and appeared in feature films and on TV. 

He currently teaches as part of Bridport Art Centre’s Junior BACstage and has lived in Bridport for three years.

DO you have a particular style of acting?
I’ve done a lot of stylised and physical pieces, and a lot of comedy, but I have also done straight stuff. Nearly all of my work has been on stage, but my ugly mug has also graced the big screen at Cannes and in your living room. My particular niche is physical, and when I teach I encourage people to find a power of expression and stage presence through opening and engaging their body, with a commitment to a precise thought and emotion. I also really like clowning.

WHAT is physical theatre?
That’s a great question. It’s been said that until actors can enter the stage without their bodies, theatre will always be physical. Having said that, there are approaches to theatre which use a less cerebral approach, are less intellectual and more physically dynamic. I watched a Romanian Richard III once. It was great. And although I couldn’t understand a word, I knew exactly what was going on because of the acting. I’d say those actors were very physical, and their voices were spectacular. Any voice teacher will tell you that the voice is all about the body. Eastern European and Russian actors are traditionally more physical than British actors. In Grotowski’s school in Poland, the training included hanging upside down for ages and other extreme techniques for accessing a powerful expression of emotion and psychology, including sleep deprivation. Through history there have been some very physical styles, for example the medieval Italian Commedia dell’Arte. A family would pull up on a cart in the market place wearing half-masks and entertain the crowd with music, acrobatics and bawdy stories. Really, physical theatre is a catch-all phrase which covers almost anything except the traditional stand-and-deliver style of stage acting which prevailed in 19th century Britain and America.

WHAT made you get into physical theatre?
When I was at university I wanted to be an actor so I applied to drama school. I got a place in London, but it was really expensive and someone suggested Lecoq in Paris, which is part-time, so you can work to earn money while you are studying. Maybe it was my destiny, but I really liked movement and physical theatre, so going there suited me very well. Jaques Lecoq’s international school researched the world of movement and how it could be applied to theatrical language. It was not all straight mime.  We had to be trees and pasta and toothpaste and stuff like that.

WAS Jacques Lecoq himself inspirational?
Yes, he was amazing to watch in his seventies, and if you can find any footage of him it is well worth it. His training also included mask, clown and some acrobatics.

DO you ever get stage fright?
Almost always. If you are not nervous beforehand, your performance becomes less alive. As long as you don't let it grip you, it's great. It gives you a buzz. 

WHAT are good qualities to have in a performer?
I was telling the youngsters at Junior BACstage the other night that if they wanted to become successful actors, rich and famous, and enjoying a glamorous lifestyle, the first skill they need is to shut up and listen. What a good teacher I must be.

THE clown you play, what is he like?
He is fun, naive, optimistic, playful, forgiving, curious, inventive, loving, and very prone to getting in a mess.

HAVE you ever slipped on a banana peel for real?
Yes! But the worst time was in the streets of Paris carrying a box of groceries and I slipped on something a careless dog-owner had left behind. The groceries and I went up in the air and came down all over the place. 

HAVE you ever forgotten your lines while acting?
Yes, it is horrible. Unless you are a clown, in which case it is a wonderful discovery.

WHO are your favourite performers past or present?
Buster Keaton, Catherine Tate, and the Sloth in Ice Age.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A pleasure not forgotten

WELL, he’s beaten me to it. Solictor Nigel Cole and I had always joked that we would retire around the same time and then spend all those missed opportunities to share a beer in our dotage.

When Nigel started his career as a solicitor around the magistrates’ courts of East Devon in 1971, I was an eager young reporter spending hours in draughty court rooms.  We have been chums ever since.

But now Nigel, senior partner at Beviss & Beckingsale, has decided to exit the legal profession which has changed greatly over the past 40 years. Me? Well retirement holds no attractions at the moment (although I am a little envious) and we will have to wait a bit longer before we get the chance  to while away the hours, putting the world to rights and reminiscing over the good old days in Axminster over a beer or two.

Not that Nigel intends to put on his slippers and put his feet up. After an appropriate time for reflection, and the chance to see more of his grandchildren, he will be using that huge experience of life gained in building one of the area’s most successful legal firms over four decades to good use. I have no doubt about that.

As well as being a friend, Nigel has also looked after my legal affairs over the years, both personal and for the various businesses I have been associated with. In newspapers we very often run close to the wind so a good brief is pretty essential.

There have been good and bad times and Nigel’s wise counsel has been hugely influential in my life.  One factor has remained constant through the periods of elation and desperation - Nigel’s kindness. 

Sat in the magnificent meeting room at Beviss & Beckingsale this week, we recalled many of those occasions and I departed feeling that Axminster would not be quite the same without seeing Nigel’s office lights burning bright late into the night.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was trying to revive Pulman’s Weekly News and burning the midnight oil several nights a week, invariably Nigel was still at his desk, piled high with files, when I went home.

There are many in and around Axminster who have benefited fom Nigel’s kindness and sound advice over the years and it goes without saying that he will be greatly missed, not least by his colleagues in Silver Street and the other B & B offices, but also by all his clients.

For the time being, however, our plans to drink beer and chew the fat will have to be put on hold, a pleasure deferred but definitely not forgotten.

Honiton ‘Babes’ pull out the stops

HATS off to Honiton Pantomime Society for their production of “Babes In The Wood” this week.

Honiton was where I started my journalistic career so I have a special affection for the town. But I have never covered one of their stage shows before so Thursday’s visit to Honiton Community College was a first. I was not disappointed.

I sat in a row with four kids and they had a brilliant time - laughing their socks off throughout. That’s always a good sign.

Now in their 26th year, the Honiton societyseems to be going from strength to strength. With over 40 in the cast, they coped marvellously well with the restrictions of the Honiton College stage and produced a show that had all the ingredients of a successful traditional pantomime - lots of singing and dancing, brilliant costumes and loads of corny jokes. The audience also did them proud, rarely missing a boo or hiss.

And a special word of praise for Barry Simmonds who stepped into the shoes of Honiton’s “Dame Extraordinaire”, the wonderful Max Pipe, in playing the role of “Nurse Jemima Jollop”.  Not an easy task but he did it with all the excesses expected of a man mature of years dressed in outlandish wigs and caked with make-up. 

The panto season is drawing to a close (we’ve covered three others this week) but I hope to return to Honiton for their “End of The Pier” show in August.

WITH miserable January out of the way and spring approaching fast, thoughts are turning in all communities throughout East Devon to one summer event we can all look forward to - celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Most towns and villages in Weekender country are well advanced in planning their celebrations and if you want the widest possible publicity please make sure you let us know what you are up to.

I attended last week’s meeting of the Axminster steering committee, set up by the town council, at which there was great enthusiasm for their expanding programme of events.

With all the gloom and doom over the grim financial situation that dominates the news agenda at present, having another good old royal knees-up will do us all good.


CORNISH Pilot Gig Rowing has seen a massive revival over recent years and is no longer confined to the fishing villages and towns of Cornwall.

Kate Goodwin came to the sport some seven-years-ago when she moved to Dorset. Weymouth Rowing Club was one of the first gig clubs to spring up on the Jurassic Coast and as secretary of the club she is still as enthusiastic about the benefits and delights of gig rowing as she ever was.

This year is set to be an exciting year for the club with the World Championships to look forward to, and a place secured in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames this summer.

As the Olympics grow ever closer, there has never been a better to time to put the spotlight on Weymouth Rowing Club.

WHAT got you interested in gig rowing in the first place?
It was all down to a friend of mine who was a member of the club when I moved to Dorset from Cumbria some years ago. I’d seen gig racing in the Isles of Scilly and when I went along to Weymouth Rowing Club for a ‘come and try it’ session I was instantly smitten. Not only because the boats themselves were so beautifully made and I enjoyed my first row, but also because I remember seeing how all the rowers were having such brilliant fun together.

HOW has Weymouth Rowing Club developed during the time you have been a member?
The club was founded in 2000, and I joined in 2004. It’s grown alot. We currently have around 150 members. Fundraising has been a huge area of development, each boat costs around £20,000 and there is nothing we haven’t done for fundraising. Also, we have developed a really strong youth section. The thing I really care about is that the original founder members always had the attitude that everyone should feel able to come and row, no matter how old you are, what size you are, or how fit you are. There are all sorts of different levels within the club from the super fit A-Crew rowers to the older rowers like me.

THE World Pilot Gig Championships are coming up in May. Will you be going to that?
Absolutely, yes. The championships started on the Isles of Scilly about 21-years-ago. The islands are stunningly beautiful and to row there is amazing. The start line is more than a mile long and there are over 120 gigs all lined up. It’s extraordinary, not just the sight of it, but also the sound of the start, when 600 oars all hit the water at the same time, 120 coxs shout their orders and the crews grunt and groan. The races are incredibly closely fought, not just between the elite crews who are way up at the front, but equally the fight between say the 80th and 81st boat is just as real in terms of competition. Then afterwards, no matter what happens on the water, everyone gets together to celebrate.

HOW has the prospect of the Olympics rubbed off on the club?
We really want to ensure that people know about gig rowing. It’s obviously nowhere near to being an Olympic sport but it’s very much a West Country tradition and we just want as many people as possible to see the beautiful boats.  On the one hand they are finely crafted works of art, and on the other hand they are working boats that stand up to the most brutal sea conditions. 

WHAT other events are in the pipeline?
Our youth team have been successful in getting to take part in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames. We selected a very special junior crew, a group of young ladies and we are really proud of them. They rowed for us in our junior competitions last year and we wanted to recognise how hard they’d worked and encourage other young people to come and have a go.

IF YOU were adrift at sea, which three famous people would you like out there with you in the boat?
That’s easy, but they’re only famous in the gig world, and there are four of them. I’d take the four Lyme Regis rowers who have just rowed across the Atlantic. They did it in 48 days, one of them is 67 years old. I think they are fantastic!

The joys of reporting on local democracy

DEMOCRACY at work is a wonderful thing but there are times when I feel like giving it a hefty kick up the backside.

A perfect case in point was a recent Weymouth and Portland full council meeting which gave a brilliant impression of passing itself off as a farce.

Given that a simple agenda still took way longer than it should have, it was perhaps inevitable that the final item – a Notice of Motion – took longer than the whole of the rest of the meeting put together.

Press and members of the public followed first with some interest and then with disbelief as a truly awful debate unfolded the like of which I haven’t seen for years.

There were arguments about procedure, about speakers, about legal issues and, believe it or not, there was even debate about whether there should be a debate and whether it should be on the night or at a later committee meeting.

Some people actually walked out in disbelief while others were reduced to shaking their heads like unwilling zoo animals trapped in an environment they didn’t understand and didn’t want to be in.

Chairman, Weymouth and Portland Mayor Councillor Graham Winter, became so frustrated that at one point he said he was “losing the will to live”.

Proceedings eventually became too much even for him and he wisely called for a five minute “comfort break” during which legal opinion was sought in a bid to untangle the logjam of woolly words.

Ironically the debate on whether to overturn a decision not to grant the Marsh area Queen Elizabeth II Field status ended with a narrow decision to leave things as they were.

And as everyone stumbled out of the Guildhall for a much needed breath of fresh air even councillors told me they couldn’t believe what had just gone on.

It was definitely not a night for civic pride, but the icing on the cake belonged to Dorset County Council who failed to liaise with borough colleagues and so held an important Olympic public meeting in the Pavilion at the same time as full council which didn’t go down well at all. Left hand, right hand perhaps?

Are you wading through your waist-high grass?

GARDENERS are now entering that fraught seasonal time known as the “if only” period.

With flowers starting to peep out and buds already beginning to swell, there is something else which is starting to be full of the joys of an early spring.... lawn grass!

Leave cutting until early March and gardeners risk trying to mow their way through a dense soggy mass of grass which is tougher than a Michael Howard interview.

The result is that weekends increasingly throb to the sound of swearing and spluttering lawn mower engines.

If only I’d had it serviced last autumn, goes a chant which is being repeated all over Weymouth and Portland and quite right too.

Prevention is better than cure and I had my mower given a mechanical once over before Christmas, but even with that it was slow going because the thick wet grass kept choking the mower outlet despite my having mowed in November.

Professional lawn people advise me that gardeners should occasionally mow their lawn right through winter to prevent a huge build up of grass which a first cut finds very difficult to deal with.

Well, my lawn has had its first short back and sides of the year and I can potter about outside, my good spirits fuelled by volleys of curses from some of the gardens around me where gardeners are finding their mower either won’t start or, if it does, can’t cope with the long grass. You’ve been warned.

Where did you get that hat?

WEYMOUTH and Portland’s recent brush with Siberian weather has turned friends into total strangers.

The week before it was possible to recognise people on the streets who were some distance away, but bitter cold transformed them in to colourful blocks of insulation as people swathed themselves in coats, scarves, hats and gloves in a desperate attempt to stay warm.

It led to some amusing exchanges between shoppers including one where two well wrapped elderly men were window shopping side by side for some time before realising they were friends.

One said to the other: “Didn’t recognise you. The hat makes you look younger!”

His friend replied: “I might have guessed it was you. Where did you get that awful scarf?!”

Another incident showed it was not just men who have personal problems with cold weather.

Two women were chatting together in the street when one broke the conversation off and said: “I’ve got go, love. I need the loo and I don’t want to take anything off until I get home in the warm!”