Thursday, 16 February 2012

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!”

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