Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Up there with the best

WITH the passing of Barbara Austin MBE, six-times mayor of this parish and fundraiser extraordinaire, it is understandable that people will ask who will take over her many and varied roles that played such a key role in the community life of our town.

In last week’s column I said we will never see the likes of Barbara again. 

Certainly, I don’t think anyone will beat her record of serving as the town’s First Citizen for six years.

Normally the mayor serves for a two-year term, and some get a second bite of the cherry, as has our current mayor, Sally Holman. But a third term? I can’t see it happening  and there are many in the town who are concerned whether the mayoralty will survive in years to come.

Having covered the affairs of Lyme Regis council on and off for more than 40 years, I am often asked who was the best mayor during that time.

That’s a very difficult question to answer and the only definitive answer I can make is that it certainly wasn’t me!

There are two strands to the job of mayor - one is attending all the town events and carrying out the civic and ceremonial duties; the other is to act as chairman of the council.

The former is always enjoyable, the latter is much more difficult, and there are those who currently sit in the council chamber who think the job should be split, as happens at Bridport, with a leader of the council chairing the meetings and acting as the main spokesperson on policy matters and the mayor acting as the public face of the council.

In these matters I am very much a traditionalist and I have gone on record in this column on a number of occasions saying that I do not subscribe to the latter view because I fear it will lead to the politicisation of the council. But alas, I think it may well be on the way, probably during the lifespan of the next council.

Most mayors bring their own perspective to the job and I think Lyme has been well served by its First Citizens down the years.

No matter who wears the chains, the town always shows great respect to the office and I have many happy memories of my own single term in office in 1984 when I was just 36.

As I say, the job of mayor is extremely enjoyable but chairing the meetings can be very stressful. When I was in office Stan Williams was at his peak. Say no more!

Being the youngest mayor ever has its drawbacks, however. Whenever I go into the Guildhall and see my name on the roll of honour, I am always drawn to the fact that every mayor before me is dead!

However, I am proud that my name is on that board in some exalted company and one day I hope I will be able to take my grandchildren into the Guildhall and show them.

There is no doubt that Barbara definitely enjoyed her years as mayor but it was extremely brave of her to take on the role. She was mayor elect when her husband Norman died and many thought she would withdraw.

But with her great friend Sheila Applebee by her side as mayoress, she went on to serve for five more years (in two terms).

And of all the post-war mayors, there is no doubt in my mind that Barbara was up there among the best.

Still plenty to look forward to in 2013

EVENTS tourism is key to survival for any small resort these days with more people spending their holidays in this country, the so-called “staycation” factor. Horrible phrase!

Last year was an extra special one for Lyme with the visit by HMS Edinburgh, the cruise ship Silver Explorer, the Olympic Torch relay and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, not to mention the Fossil Festival, Lyme Lympics, Lifeboat Week, the Regatta and Carnival an the ArtsFest.

It will be difficult to match such a hectic programme this year but I am pleased to hear that plans are afoot for a number of new events in the coming months, including crab and mackerel festivals, a major food festival hosted by top chef Mark Hix and a walking festival.

There has been some doubt about the future of the Jazz Festival but I understand that the event will go ahead with more involvement from the Marine Theatre.

And the town council is already in discussions about celebrating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014.

I MISSED the Lyme Lunge on New Year’s Day, having accepted an invitation to go and watch Yeovil Town play. 

But Francesca was there as always, capturing the scene for the View from Lyme Regis, and tells me that it was by far the most successful New Year’s Day swim, raising a fantastic £2,700 - more than double last year’s total - for ShelterBox and the RNLI.

When the event started a few years ago there was only around a dozen braves souls who took part, but since the Rotary Club of Lyme took over the organising it has gone from strength to strength. 

Lyme was teeming with visitors on New Year’s Day with the duck race in aid of the Christmas Lights Fund also attracting a big audience. 

The crowd on the seafront watching the Lyme Lunge was estimated at 1,500 and dozens donned fancy dress to dash into the sea in the cause of charity.

It always amazes me how many visitors support these events and join in the spirit of such occasions. 

The Lyme Lunge is now well established as one of the town’s iconic events over the festive season and the Rotary Club did their usual superb job in making sure the event ran smoothly and safely.

IN the cause of accuracy can we just clarify that the chalet on Monmouth Beach was not left “teetering” or “dangling” over the cliff after the recent land movement in the area. 

Worrying as it must have been for the owner, the chalet was in fact dislodged from its pillar foundations and left at a 30 degree angle and was the only construction affected by the mudslide, one of many in recent years,  that happened after the recent heavy rains.

Listening to television reports one might well have thought that the whole of Lyme Regis was about to tumble into the sea.

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