Wednesday, 26 February 2014


CRAIG Womble, originally from Derbyshire, came to Dorset via the Navy where he served in a variety of roles over his service, including an aircraft handler and firefighter. His first draft ‘down south’ in 1982 was to Yeovilton, and his last sea draft was on the aircraft carrier, HMS Invincible. He joined up, he says, because it looked like an ‘interesting job’. It was in much the same frame of mind that he came to the Volunteer Centre, Dorset, initially to run the organisation’s volunteer garden help scheme on a part-time basis. After just a few months part-time Craig became full time and is now deputy manager at the organisation’s base in Dorchester, where he has now worked for over a decade.

WHAT attracted you to the job in the first place?
People, I like being around people, and like the Navy some of the skills are transferrable – organising my time and other people’s time to best advantage with a team. But of course it’s a little bit different and not so much results-driven, and everyone we work with is a volunteer, apart from a handful of paid staff in the office.

DOES it make any difference that people are volunteers and don’t have to do what they are asked to?
Not really. All the volunteers I have ever worked with are here because they want to be here and have a sense of purpose. They’re not here for the money and they want to get something else out of if. There are more and more people wanting to volunteer and most of them are looking to do something meaningful where their contribution can make a difference.

HAS the type of volunteer changed over the years?
To some extent – we are now getting more people from professional backgrounds, largely because of redundancy or taking early retirement, although the number of older volunteers has dropped off a bit lately. However, this has been made up for by an influx of younger people, often looking to get work experience.

AND what sort of work do people give their time to?
It can be anything – there is always a need for volunteer drivers, we can never get enough. Some offer general office support for organisations, some are keen to mentor older or younger people, many work with people with disabilities, some are active in marketing organisations and we still have a lot of hands-on roles such as the garden scheme, where volunteers help others who are not able to look after their garden any longer and can’t afford paid help.

AND I guess rules and regulations have tightened up over the years?
Yes, and quite rightly. Those working with vulnerable people need to have their backgrounds checked and we, ourselves, offer training in areas such as health and safety, first aid, mentoring and supporting people as well as customer service skills. For some of our volunteers, younger people in particular, these skills and the experience they have with us are useful in finding a job or setting out on a career. People do tend to move on and we want them to move on.

SO how many volunteers and  opportunities do you have across Dorset?
We used to have hundreds of volunteers and opportunities, now it’s literally thousands. We have about 12,000 volunteers on our books but people do move in and out of volunteering so the figure is quite fluid. We also have about 2,000 vacancies at any one time, but that’s never enough. Our biggest challenge is ensuring there is enough choice of opportunities for volunteers, spread across the county.

SO you’re a bit like a dating agency?
In a way… and of course the better we know the volunteer and the organisations we work with the better the match. We do expect the organisations we work with to have proper volunteer policies and to treat volunteers as they would their staff, that they offer training and induction and can offer expenses and have policies such as inclusivity and non-discrimination.

DO you have your own favourite projects?
I do like projects where we can see an end result. Personally, I still quite like to get hands-on and if I get a chance I’m quite likely to get out of the office and go and help. The volunteers seem to like it as well if you are working alongside them and it gives them a chance to talk about anything which they may be concerned about.

IF there was anything which would make your life easier at work, what would it be?
I would like to see more funding support. It’s very much hand to mouth here and without help from local councils and other organisations our life would be much more difficult. But of course, times are harder for them now as well, which is worrying, although the trend to use volunteers in organisations is growing and there is more and more people who want to volunteer.

AND outside of work, do you have hobbies?
I dabble in antiques, it’s been an interest for a number of years. I will often go to the events they hold at Shepton Mallett. I’m also keen on fishing -  coarse, sea and game and for eight years I was a football coach at the time my lad was playing from about the ages of eight to 16. I do go and see films, usually with my wife or daughter, although I wouldn’t describe myself as a film fan I like productions which have a powerful message - Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom was just superb.

WHAT sort of people would you like to have to dinner?
I like sporty people, especially those with a bit of character; Ian Botham I could sit and chat to for hours. I like people who have got strong opinions, someone who says it as it is, and who doesn’t take offence if you are critical of their views.

AND what would you eat?
Italian or Indian. My dad was born in India so we always had a lot of traditional curries, I like fish curries and meat. I’d hope my wife would cook, she’s a great cook, I usually do the easier stuff, curries or a stew.

AND when the day comes for you to take retirement – do you think you will find some time to volunteer?
Yes, I would probably come back as a volunteer if it was a practical role, assuming I could still do a practical role in a few years’ time! I like working with people and supporting people, and working with a team, so I can’t see me sitting around and doing nothing.

Oh, how we miss debate!

I attended last week’s council meeting in Lyme not because it was first to be held under the spectre of their new code of conduct but because Francesca was on holiday.

The agenda didn’t look very interesting, they rarely do these days, but there had been some exchanges on Facebook which indicated there might be a few fireworks. In the end, no more than damp squibs. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen the council so contrite.

Having agreed their new voluntary code of conduct at a previous meeting, good behaviour was certainly the order of the day.

I had commissioned former Fleet Street scribe Geoff Baker, probably the only person in Lyme who would challenge me for being the most unpopular man in the Guildhall, to write a sketch-type piece for this week’s View, similar in style to the vastly entertaining parliamentary sketch columns in the nationals.

Only eight out of 13 councillors (numbers are down by one due to Daryl Turner’s resignation) were present which begs the question, as an election approaches, whether Lyme actually needs 14 people to run the town efficiently.

Most councillors spent much of the 90 minutes in open council with their heads bowed and there was a distinct lack of debate. Ah debate. How we miss that.

Even the one subject I thought would spark a tasty quote or two - the dogs on the beach policy - was a disappointment.  Michaela Ellis opposed a review of the policy but no one defended the recommendation, not even Mark Gage who waxed so eloquently about canines being demonised in Lyme at a previous meeting.

I don’t think we should read too much into this. With only eight present, Mark’s majority had dissipated, even if only for one meeting, and I am sure that the argument over whether dogs should be allowed on Lyme’s beaches without a lead will surface again.

But Michaela seemed quite pleased. It was the first time she had managed to win a crucial vote for a couple of years!

BEFORE a brick is laid Lyme Regis town councillors are being asked by West Dorset to come up with suitable names for the three streets that will form the 46-home development planned for the Woodberry Down site.

Through their weekly briefing they were asked to come up with some suitable names. Quick to reply was Councillor Rikey Austin who suggested names linked to the town’s literary heritage such as Chesterton, Longfellow, Austin (sic), Tolkien, Blake, Hollis and Fowles.

I assume that will be Austen as in Jane Austen, spelt with an e and not with an i, as printed in the agenda report for this week’s Town Mangement Committee meeting when the matter will be considered.

Although many people in Lyme would be quite happy for a road to be named after an Austin with an i - that, of course, would be Barbara Austin MBE, six times mayor of this town who died last year.

The precedent, of course, has already been set with Applebee Close and Henry’s Way, named after two former mayors of this town - Dennis Applebee and the incomparable Henry Broom.

The minutes also record that Councillor Austin (with an i not an e) has recently discovered that Shakespeare’s  “The Tempest” is based on George Somers’ ship, “The Sea Venture” wrecking off Bermuda (a fact long known by those of us who have lived in Lyme all our lives) and has come up with a number of associated names - Prospero, Miranda, Caliban, Bermuda and Sea Venture. Councillor Lucy Campbell favoured links to fossils and put forward Ammonite Avenue and Lias Place.

Two dramatic days in the life of Lyme…

LYME’S main street remains as buoyant as ever with new names appearing above the shops regularly.

I was prompted to think about the changing face of our main street when I saw a photo  on the fascinating Lyme Nostagia site on Facebook, posted by Lyme boy Adam Austin, son of former mayor Barbara Austin, of the runaway lorry incident in Broad Street in 1960. 

It was the first time I had seen that dramatic picture for many years. I was 12 at the time and was shopping for my grandmother, who lived in Silver Street,  with one of my boyhood friends, Rikey Larcombe, who later moved to the Bournemouth area, cousin of Howard, Colin and Brian.

It was a very traumatic experience.  I distinctly remember hearing the commotion and, as we turned to look up the street, we could see PC Bill Habgood, throw his helmet to the ground and run down in front of the runwaway furniture lorry transporting Cub Scouts which crashed into The Shambles after colliding with several vehicles on the way down.

It was very frigtening and there were many casualties. We ran down the street and up the alley to the Masonic Hall to get out of the way.

The photo of the mayhen afterwards, which appeared on Facebook, was taken by the the late Alderman Douglas Fortnam from the top floor of the council offices and appeared in the national press the following day  and also won a photographic award. I Googled the pic and found there was just one copy available for purchase on eBay which I acquired from an American agency for $16. 

Several years later one of the first big stories I covered as a young reporter was the runaway lorry which crashed into the London Inn in 1965, another highlytraumatic event.

Please can we have spring?

EVERY one of us is an expert on rain coming down but just recently one scene in Weymouth town centre made people an expert on rain going up.

So strong was the wind – clocked locally at nearly 80mph – that it was whipping the surface off large puddles in Bond Street and slashing water in to shoppers’ faces.

Torrential rain added to the misery by coming down so heavily in great drops that the force of them hitting the pavement bounced water into the air.

That briefly presented people with a sort of haze around knee height which was then snatched away by monstrous gusts of wind strong enough to knock pedestrians over.

To add insult to injury, the whole lot packed it in about half an hour later and sunshine broke out leaving me literally steaming in the car on the way home.

We had to open windows to quickly disperse condensation and more joy awaited me when I got home where the by now fierce conditions had started to rip the roof off our small side extension.

Only a wooden hammer and some hasty work on a large section of lead flashing which was starting to flap about saved the day… during which it poured with rain.

My neighbour solicitously asked how I was doing, so I told her. She left it at that, wished me well and retreated back indoors.

I hate being wet and worse was to follow when I had to get up in the middle of the night and repeat my wooden hammer repairs two days later when a colossal storm badly smashed up our garden and again threatened to tear the side extension roof off! 

Please can we have Spring?!

Celebrating Commonwealth Day

WEYMOUTH and Portland will be celebrating Commonwealth Day soon, an event which can trace its roots back more than a century.

Empire Day as it used to be called was first introduced in Canada in 1898 and in the UK in 1904, a celebration usually marked by fireworks or by people attending community bonfires.

It was not until 1958 that Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day and it was another 18 years before Canada’s proposal was adopted by all Commonwealth nations to generally unify celebrations on the second Monday in March.

Weymouth and Portland will be marking the occasion by raising a flag outside the council offices on North Quay.

This year’s theme is Team Commonwealth while previous themes have ranged from Music to Women as Agents of Change.

No wonder shops are empty

WEYMOUTH shops have not had the easiest of Christmases while January has been something of a disaster, so it is interesting to hear the council’s role in one tale of woe. 

Trying to make a bit of money to support their other business, a local couple rented out an empty town centre shop for seven weeks in the run up to Christmas to sell seasonal gifts.

They didn’t make a lot of money but at least enough to cover their rent and make a small profit to reward their long hours in pretty difficult trading circumstances.

But no sooner had New Year come and gone than the couple had a nice letter from Weymouth and Portland council dropping through their letterbox asking them to pay business rates for the seven weeks they had had temporary use of the shop.

Now I value my readers’ safety, so I want you all to sit down before you read the next bit as I don’t want you falling over and hurting yourself because you’ve fainted.

When the couple opened the letter they found that the business rates bill the council wanted them to pay for just seven weeks was £1,800.

It devastated their profits and they are still trying to work out if they’ve actually made a loss.

And the council’s response to this delay in payment? Well, they’ve threatened to take the couple to court for non-payment. No wonder Weymouth as a shopping attraction is on its knees!

I’m just a dedicated follower of fashion!

ANYONE been following the Spring fashions? No, neither have I.

Waterproofs are more my mark at the moment, but there were sharp intakes of breath in Weymouth town centre when a confident young woman briefly stepped out in a stylish dress which the gusty elements gave her a few problems with.

She was only in sight for about 15 seconds before diving into a shop, but her departure sparked keen interest among the women who had spotted her outfit.

Wonder where she bought that, I heard one woman ask her husband, as if he should somehow have such vital facts at his fingertips.

A couple of others both liked what they saw and said she was brave to risk hypothermia by wearing it in the cold and blustery conditions, but it was the men’s reactions I treasured, a sort of mass joyous disbelief followed by a furtive look sideways to make sure their obvious appreciation hadn’t dropped them right in it.

Naturally, of course, there was no danger of my own observations getting me into any hot water… well at least not until my wife reads this. 

I’m sure she’ll accept my explanation that it was purely for literary purposes and a wish to keep her up to date with the latest trends. 

On second thoughts, perhaps she won’t believe me.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


HEIDI Davies is a joint leader at the Gundry Lane Baby and Toddler Group in Bridport. The group closed in 2012 because of a lack of volunteers, but with the help of other parents, Heidi got it up and running again last year. The group received a donation of £500 from Bridport Round Table last week which has gone towards providing much-needed equipment to improve the safety and comfort of facilities for the children.

HOW long have you lived in Bridport?
I have lived in Bridport all my life - 34 years. 

WHAT do you like about living in the town?
It has a nice close-knit community - when you are out and about you always see someone you know. The events that happen through the year like the carnival, torchlight, Christmas cheer night and hat festival, are all good fun and are enjoyed by all the family. It is lovely being so near to the beach and having lots of nice countryside around – it is great for the kids.

WHAT do you do for a living?
I have always worked with children in various different settings. I was a nanny for a local family before working in a nursery, then I worked at a school and also as a childminder. But now I am currently being kept busy with my own three children and helping to run the family business.

WHEN was the toddler group set up?
Gundry Lane Toddler Group has been running for over 30 years by various different volunteers but when the group closed in 2012 due to lack of volunteers we really missed it and felt that there was not really any other parent/child activities in the area on a Thursday. So in January 2013 some friends and I decided to get it up and running again.

HAS it been a success so far? What benefits does it bring for children and parents?
The group has been very successful and we have been really busy. It is a friendly and relaxed environment in which children can have fun and play with others. It gives parents, grandparents and carers a chance to meet and chat with other adults. The hall is a good size so is great for the children to be able to use up some of their energy, especially when the weather is not good enough for outdoor activities.

DO parents provide all of the equipment? How important are donations like the one you received from Round Table?
The equipment we have is bought using funds raised from our entry fee and fundraising events. A lot of the toys/equipment have been built up over the years, and as some of it is quite dated and well used, we are trying to replace things as and when our funds allow us to. The funding we received from the Round Table for the new mats was brilliant because we would never have been able to afford to buy them otherwise and they were desperately needed to make the play areas safer and more comfortable for the children.

WHAT is the biggest thing you have learned from being a mother?
The biggest thing I have learned from being a mum is to take time during the chaos of day to day life to enjoy those special moments with the children because they grow up so quickly, but those special times together will be the happy memories that they remember.

Make the punishment fit the crime

WEYMOUTH has recently had to endure another attack by Neanderthals on one of its cemeteries.

Much has been made about how such vandals don’t seem to have the mentality to realise the anguish their damage is causing to the relatives and friends of those whose graves they attack, but I take a different view.

I feel these people just don’t have any mental grasp of life full stop.

You don’t need to attend a Government training course to learn that smashing up graves is inherently wrong. It should be self-evident.

Take that a step further and, if vandals can’t grasp that grave bashing is wrong, why should we expect them to be able to grasp and appreciate the distress felt by those who visit and tend those graves? They just don’t care. Only the buzz of destruction matters, not side issues such as people’s feelings.

Accordingly I suggest that we don’t turn the other cheek as perhaps Christianity demands because nearly 40 years as a journalist has taught me that such scum will merely slap that one as well.

No, let’s fight fire with fire. A man in America was given seven years for defiling 57 graves in a Jewish cemetery while one in New Zealand escaped jail for spraying swastikas on Jewish graves only because the Jewish community forgave him.

Another vandal escaped with probation for taking a sledgehammer to gravestones because a woman wouldn’t go out on a date with him.

Perhaps the single most graphic incident which supports my stance happened in Scotland where three teenage vandals who wrecked nearly 90 graves were given three months, two months and two months respectively in a young offender institution.

The Sheriff told them they were “fortunate my powers of sentencing are restricted to a maximum of three months” and this is my point.

Make the punishment fit the crime. I am not saying we should go to the extremes of American sentencing, but justice demands that such vandals receive more than a slapped wrist, more than a token community sentence, more than “you’ve been a bad boy. Don’t do it again”.

Overhaul the law. Allow judges and courts to impose jail sentences which reflect the severity of the incident because, until there is a real deterrent, this sort of unsavoury crime will continue.

Who would want to celebrate celery day?

EASTER eggs are now with us from glutinous cream concoctions to: “Mummy, I want that one. It’s the biggest!”

To read this you’d think chocolate delights were just starting to make their appearances, but the industry has been touting its wares since October.

This column has commented before on the blurring of the seasons with Christmas on sale in the summer and nothing seems to have changed.

Someone very kindly bought me six cream eggs as a “get well soon” after my recent hospital exploits so, because my appetite is still trying to recover, my children were only too happy to help me polish them off.

But I had to draw the line at going out for “refills” because I want to stay away from doctors for a long, long time.

It did, however, spark a thought that these splurges are always for things which aren’t really good for you. You never seem to see a celery day or a cucumber festival. 
Just as well too. A stick of celery is the last thing I want after a mouthful of cream egg.

Has it been raining?

WELL, what a surprise that was! Last month has been so wet that Weymouth has set a new January record for rainfall since records began in 1886.

Little hints such as gardens turned into lakes, roads left underwater and traffic wardens forced to swim to give submerged cars a parking ticket were all signs that January was going to be an exceptional month for rainfall.

I spent most of it in hospital in Slough, but the journey home to Weymouth was like watching excerpts from Waterworld.

One section of road had water on both sides as far as the eye could see, we saw livestock cropping a few square yards of grass completely surrounded by water and I lost count of the “Flood” or “Road Closed” signs we saw along the way.

Back in soggy Weymouth, my garden was like a giant earth-coloured bowl of porridge while the Radipole and Lodmoor reserves looked like inland seas.

It has all proved too much for some people whose properties have been battered about so much that they have stopped trying to repair them.

One home, its wooden panel fence torn apart, had solved the problem of what to do next by simply leaning two stricken panels up against each other and nailing one central point to the remains of a post!

So, as we all try to dry out, I offer this thought to console you all with. How long will it be before the first drought story of the year?

Continuing a fine tradition

COASTAL damage during the storms prompts a couple of thoughts. What insight into the forces of nature, what skill in design and construction those builders of the Cobb had centuries ago! 

Its encircling arm hasn’t always stood firm to save Lyme from a battering, but it has protected the town pretty well over the years. Bruised by the latest onslaught, it did the job - we still have a harbour.

And how well their successors today continue that engineering excellence. Other cliffs, beaches and coastal towns have suffered severely; Lyme less so. The Marine Theatre, Buddle Bridge and Cobb Gate still stand, thanks to Phase I of the protection scheme. Phase II has again proved its worth, the shingle moved and reshaped but absorbing the sea’s destructive energy; the Cart Road and Marine Parade survive.

Even the work-in-progress on Phase IV escaped lightly. Contract supervisor Clive Evans is phlegmatic in describing how the haul road for machine access has to be re-made after storms. Work has been rescheduled due to landslipping above the east end of the seawall construction: “When the rain stops, we’ll be back in there.”

The photograph shows the new wall doing its job in high seas, throwing back the waves and minimising “over-topping” in exactly the way predicted by the wave tank modelling.   

Despite the weather, Phase IV will open to public access by the end of July, with work finished on constructing the seawall, creating ramps and steps for access, making a turning area (complete with decorative ammonite!) at the east end for emergency vehicles, and building the promenade with rear splash wall along the top. 

Draining and consolidating the land above, reinstating the allotments, and establishing the footpath from Charmouth Road car park with viewing area at the top, will have been completed. Only landscaping and planting will remain for the late summer.

It’s not just for protecting Lyme that the schemes since 1995 are so important. Together, they create a wonderful seaview walk between Charmouth Road Car Park and Monmouth Beach - potentially re-orientating the town to face confidently and proudly seawards, rather than having to turn a shoulder to huddle nervously inwards. The new walkway will be another front door to Lyme (will someone have the sense to signpost the Tourist Information centre from below Theatre Square for visitors approaching this way?).

Behind the big machines and cheerfully muddy people on site lies an equally impressive, if less obvious, brilliance. West Dorset District Council’s long-term advance planning phased the work meticulously. How many of us recall, for example, that the roadway below Theatre Square, above the sewage “cavern”, was built with sufficient strength to carry the heavy machinery now needed it for Phase IV almost 20 years later?  

Research and analysis of the physical forces at work on the town’s sea frontage, detailed design and planning, environmental constraints, the political and bureaucratic challenges of gathering in the funding before time ran out, public liaison, devising working methods that minimise disruption to the life of the town - all this and more is intellectually complex and technically demanding. 

We owe them a lot: the WDDC team led by Nick Browning, main contractors Dean & Dyball with project manager Chris Hill, Clive with supervising engineers Halcrow. These modest and earthy engineers with their charts and calculations, and the workforce with their strong machines and skillful hands, are worthy successors of the old Cobb builders. They well justify the opening of their Royal Charter: “The profession of a Civil Engineer, being the art of directing the great sources of power in Nature...”. They’ve certainly done some magnificent directing here.

I love engineers. They’re logical, methodical, businesslike and attentive to detail - for physical and material forces are unforgiving of sloppiness, and one small technical error in an engineering project can be catastrophic. There’s no ego and no waffle; they calmly analyse, plan, and do it. Yet they’re also imaginative and adaptable as circumstances change, and easy to work with. 

What a shame it is that, as a country, we tend in our public life not to promote the values and qualities of the engineer. How lucky we are that in Lyme they’ve done us proud. 
And now, on to Phase V - the Cobb, where it all began...

CHRIS Boothroyd is donating his fee for this monthly column to Amnesty International

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Margaret Morrissey

MANY, in and around the Dorchester area, will know of, or have met Margaret Morrissey, OBE. Editor of the parish magazine, active with the church, a former lay schools inspector and chair of the Poundbury Residents Association, Mrs Morrissey is also often quoted in the national press and regional and national broadcasters for her views on education and parenting. After years as chair and then spokesperson for National Confederation of Parent Teachers Association she founded her own organisation, Parents Outloud, when she ‘retired’ several years ago. And apart from all this Mrs Morrissey is more than active with her seven grandchildren, five of which live locally, and can often be seen being ferried around in a car which would otherwise be far too big for her and retired hotelier and publican, husband Patrick.

DO YOU have a problem saying ‘no’?
I agreed to do this interview, so yes! It is one of my problems – I often see something which needs sorting out and end up getting involved.

WHEN did you first come to Dorset?
About 1980 when Patrick took over the Worgret Manor Hotel at Wareham. We had met in Weybridge where he was a hotel manager, but he had always wanted to branch out on his own. We later moved to Poole and then came to Dorchester in 1990 at the Junction Hotel. I hated Dorset at first, after living in London, but I soon grew to love it.

AND what did you do before starting a family?
I trained as a nurse, did some agency work and also worked for Securicor for while. I was at Queen Charlotte Hospital working on the unit where they pioneered changing a baby’s blood, which was very exciting and very cutting edge at the time. Our first child was born at Barts which technically makes her a cockney and gives her the right to drive sheep over Westminster Bridge, although she hasn’t tried it yet.

HOW did you get involved in educational matters?
The head at the nursery heard me complaining about a zebra crossing and told me I was just the person she needed. Before I knew it I was a school governor and on the PTA…that was the start of it and I never looked back from there. Her name was Mrs Grubb, I won’t forget her, my husband says she has a lot to answer for. I used to go along to the Inner London Education Authority and speak up on a number of issues.

AND how did your involvement continue in Dorset?
At the Worgret Manor some of the local persuaded me to stand for the town council in Wareham. Later David Jacob’s came to Swanage to broadcast “Any Questions” from the Mowlem Theatre. I put in a question about the teachers strike affecting my daughter’s education and he made a quip that with a mother like me, she ought to do just fine. The next day the phone didn’t stop ringing and myself and a few others called a meeting at the Purbeck School and started the All Dorset Parents Action Group. We used to hold breakfast meetings and ran a number of campaigns which often led to us going to London to lobby MPs and the Minister. Eventually we became the Dorset group of the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Association and I became involved nationally with the organisation as chair and later as spokesperson.

AND did you get to know many of the key players nationally?
Yes, but it’s a sad indictment that in 30 years or so of meeting with secretaries of state for education there was only one, John MacGregor, who seemed to genuinely care about children, and he only lasted a few months in the post. David Blunkett was very nice and used to phone me quite often until he became a Minister and then all I would get in response were letters addressed to Mrs Morrissey. John Patten even described me as a ‘Neanderthal’. Luckily I bit my lip and thought about my response when I was asked by the press what I thought about his comments on me. I also got to know all of the national paper journalists who write about education and many from the TV and radio, some of which still phone me today for my comments.

I GUESS you were quite academic at school?
Far from it, but I used to run church services, was the sports captain and was busy with lots of other things. Somehow I think everyone, including me, forgot about my education. There used to be a time when bits of paper weren’t that important but if I had my time again I might have made more effort. It certainly true now that you won’t even get a job interview for most things without the paper to prove you can pass an exam. 

HAS the church always played an important part in your life?
Yes, I started going to church as a child. It would be Sunday School in the morning and church in the evening. I’m not even really sure if I’m a believer, but I do believe in insurance.

AND apart from the church and Patrick what else is there that fills your time now you are retired?
The parish magazine takes quite a lot of time, there’s ten editions a year and the deadlines come around remarkably quickly. I do try and be organised and put items aside as I go along, but the biggest thing in my life is the grandchildren, all seven of them varying in age from four to sixteen. At the weekend I had all five of them and was exhausted when they went home, but I just love it.

ANY hobbies?
Knitting, but I’m reaching the point where the grandchildren tell me they’ve got enough cardigans! I also like reading poetry and gardening but I don’t really read novels or listen to music.

SO WAS your mother the biggest influence on your life?
Yes, she was a dressmaker and worked hard but she was always there when I got home from school. She was the nearest thing, in my eyes, to being a saint. It would have broken my heart to know that I had upset her, so I didn’t.

The code that says you must behave!

TONIGHT town councillors in Lyme Regis will vote on a new code of conduct. Not before time.

Clearly a huge amount of work has gone in from the town clerk’s office to make sure every possible angle has been covered.

The point is, however, will they adhere to it?

The year 2013 will go down as one to forget for Lyme Regis Town Council.  A year in which the Mayor Sally Holman and town clerk John Wright had to publicly reprimand councillors for their unacceptable behaviour in the council chamber. 

I cannot remember that ever happening before.

In fact, if Lyme Regis Town Council had been a school it would have been put into special measures. 

Some of the behaviour - particulary the lack of respect for those with differing  opinions - was shameful.

Democracy is about opinions and there have always been disagreements and grudges in the Lyme council chamber. But there has never been such a lack of respect between the warring factions.

But that is behind us. After tonight’s meeting, the councillors will know exactly where they stand - what they can do and what they can’t.

Now if there is a case to answer when a councillor steps out of line, and West Dorset District Council decides a breach has occurred, the matter will be referred back to the town council for action. The council will then be able to impose sanctions limited to censure, an apology, training and a reprimand.

Further voluntary sanctions can be imposed which includes suspending a member who is deemed to be in breach of the code for up to six months.

By voluntary I assume the offending councillor will have to agree to the suspension.
In an ideal world, of course, none of this will ne necessary because all councillors will engage in robust debate but accept the majority decision of members and move on. 

This current council has 14 months to put their “annus horribilis” behind them and pledge to act in the manner in which the electorate expects and deserves.

There have been a few spats between councillors and council staff this past year. Again, nothing new but in the past these have always been handled in house without becoming  a public spectacle. A new protocol will be put in place tonight to eliminate a repeat of such scenes.

There is little doubt that the new codes will be adopted by the council and they can then go about their business of running Lyme Regis - hopefully in a new spirit of co-operation.

Or am I being naive?

It was James Cagney who entertained the GIs

LAST week I wrote about the excellent programme of events, led by the town council and fronted by Royal British Legion stalwart David Manners to commemorate the 70th anniversary ofthe D-Day landings.

I referred to the relationship that was established between the people of Lyme Regis and the US 16th Infantry Regiment based in the town in the run-up to the invasion, many of whom lost their lives. 

I also mentioned the big names appearing at the Marine Theatre these days, including comedians Jo Brand and Alan Carr, and commented that they would be following in the fotsteps of some big names, making particular reference to Hollywood star Mickey Rooney entertaining the GIs at the Marine Theatre when it was the Drill Hall. 

But of course it wasn’t Micky  Rooney - it was James Cagney - and a number of you wasted no time in letting me know. My apologies for such an elementary error.

Among the first to do so was local historian Ken Gollop whose legion of fans will soon be queuing up at the Woodmead Halls for another installment of his wonderful “Under Shady Tree” talks on Sunday, March 2nd when he will be throwing the spotlight on the Cobb Gate area.

I THINK I wrote my first story on the possibility of Lyme Regis getting a skatepark in the early 1970s after local sports enthusaist Royston Davies suggested to the old Borough Council that the Anning Road playing field would make an ideal location.

Here we are 40 years later and at last tenders are being sought for the construction of a skatepark in the Charmouth Road car park. 

The project is going ahead after countless sites were rejected and much debate and argument in the council chamber. It is being made possible by the generosity of Lyme Regis Town Council who have committed £150,000 towards the cost and the energetic Cheryl Reynolds, who has fronted a fundraising campaign which has brought in £11,000 in the last year. There’s still the planning process to go through but a skatepark in Lyme Regis in now virtually a certainty. Hurrah!

New skateparks are also being built in neighbouring towns. Axminster has launched an appeal to raise £160,000 to replace the existing facility at Cloakham Lawn and a £90,000 project is underway in Honiton.

Axminster is not expecting to take 40 years to deliver their skatepark. With support from East Devon District Council and the appropriate grant making bodies, they say it will be open in 18 months with approval but no financial input from Axminster Town Council.

NEXT week this column will be handed over to Chris Boothroyd, who last year wrote two brilliantly pieces for the View from Lyme Regis. Once a month Chris will be offering “Another View” and has been given a free reign over content.

You will not be disappointed.

Music vandalism brings tears to my eyes!

WHEN I heard this yarn it almost brought a tear to my eye at the tragic music loss involved.

I was certainly prompted to check my own store of old 78 records almost for reassurance that they were still there because this is a tale of playfulness and the cost involved for a few seconds of fun.

The scene is Littlemoor in Weymouth some years ago and a bunch of feisty kids out in the countryside.

There were no such things as Frisbees in those days but similar inventiveness was richly available and the youngsters had simply grabbed a few handfuls of old 78s and gone out to skim them across the fields with the inevitable smashing results.

SMASH! went one of Glen Miller’s finest, CRASH! went Elvis and BASH! went Frank Sinatra, recordings which now must be worth considerable sums of money.

So you might think the youngsters committing this music vandalism had no sense of value, no appreciation for music… but you’d be wrong.

One of those children - now a 56-year-old - said they did keep a single 78 “because we were kids and we didn’t want anything to happen to it”. The recording in question was Sparky’s Magic Piano. Well, they were kids!

Islanders furious at precept proposal… and so they should be

IF Portlanders needed something to stir them up then suggesting their council tax precept should go up by 1,000 per cent was bound to provoke a strong reaction.

Already firmly convinced that Portland doesn’t get the same crack of the whip that Weymouth does, islanders are furious at the precept proposals to boost coffers even if the money is destined for island use.

When all is said and done I can understand their feelings because paying £32 for a pint of beer, £70 for a taxi in to town or £60 for a simple haircut is only the same style increase as that being proposed for the precept, up from £14 to £150.

A town council meeting tonight must sort this one out, but islanders are seething and a few hangings in effigy can be expected not to mention some very vocal offerings at the meeting.

Not for the first time, the way this concept has been carried out has seen councillors come in for heavy criticism and surely those in power have to wake up sooner or later to the fact that the way they sometimes carry things out is flawed and needs changing.

Lack of communication has been at the root of many past complaints and it has reared its head again over the precept. Something has to be done to rectify so simple a failing but I’m not holding my breath.

I think tonight’s people power may drive the point home and it seems likely that proposals for just a two per cent precept increase may win the day.

Anyone for nuts?

ANYONE for peanuts? Surely someone out there must want some?

Well, to be honest, someone out there doesn’t want peanuts because they’re throwing them out to feed squirrels who need no second invitation to boost their winter food stores.

Unfortunately squirrels are also notorious for burying their snacks ready to be retrieved when winter times get hard.

We watched in disbelief as one squirrel came into our garden and right up to the window, bold as brass, where it inspected our pots of flower displays before selecting one to bury its peanut in.

A couple of indignant bangs on the glass sent it hastily packing, but this is just one squirrel we happened to spot. How many more of them are there out there that we’ve missed seeing burying peanuts in our garden?

I know it happens because last summer, busily weeding the vegetable patch, I pulled up a plant I hadn’t seen before to discover it had sprouted from a squirrel’s buried peanut. 

Thank God they don’t have sequoia seeds at their disposal!

Marmalade or chutney?

PREGNANT women have been known to crave weird dishes such as fish cakes and custard and finicky children can sometimes be coaxed into having something to eat using unusual ingredients.

But I’ve never come close myself to being served one of these concoctions… until now.

I’m currently recovering at home from a cancer operation and one of my diet requirements is to eat small and varied portions for my meals so surgical wounds in my stomach are not strained by too large amounts of food.

All had been going well until a breakfast incident made me openly laugh, not a good idea as it provokes certain bodily reactions we won’t go in to here.

The reason for my laughter was that my wife, heroically caring for me and fighting life on all fronts practically on her own, is well known for not being at her best in the early morning.

So this morning in question she had brought me my toast and marmalade….but she had to turn round, take it back and produce another lot for me.

Why? Well she’d been on bleary auto pilot and it was only as she brought the toast in to me that she realised that the jar of marmalade she’d used had actually been a jar of pungent chutney!

If I’d consumed that I’d have had no problem going to the loo for a while!