Wednesday, 30 April 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Arthur Watson

ARTHUR Watson, along with his wife, Janet Watson, is the owner of the Riverside Restaurant in West Bay. The family has owned the restaurant since 1960 and Arthur and Janet took over in 1964, and they are now celebrating 50 years at the helm. Their grandson, Eli, works alongside them as part of the chef team, while their son Tom has his own restaurant in Switzerland on the shores of Lake Geneva. 

THE Riverside restaurant has been around for more than 50 years. Could you tell us a bit about its history? 
The early history of the Riverside was a simple café that catered for the demands of the locals and visitors, most of whom came by train or bus and camped out. Many coach companies used West Bay as a destination for day trips and the demand was for cream teas and simple meals. It was always a rendezvous for the local fishermen and the domino school lasted well into the night.

SO THE Riverside has played a key role in the local community during that time?
Yes. There has been a refreshment point on the site of the present Riverside since the 1920s. First of all a tent, then some sheds, then bigger sheds incorporating West Bay Post Office and finally, after the disastrous floods of the early seventies, the present building which was constructed in 1976 to a design from the CZWG architectural partnership. Additions have since been made. During the 50 years we have also been able to employ some 400 young people during the holidays to give them a taste of work experience and to earn money of their own. 

THE Riverside is now renowned for its vast selection of seafood and local produce. When did that start?
Everything changed in the 1980s when local people began to go abroad and wanted foods they had tasted on their holidays. Also the advent of second home ownership began. The traditional menu was no longer in demand and we turned to seafoods, as the finest quality was available on the doorstep.

BEING a well known seafood restaurant that sources many of its food locally, do you cater for other tastes? 
Yes, although seafood has remained our main theme ever since, we do provide alternatives for people who do not enjoy fish. Our theme has always been to buy locally wherever possible and more than 90 per cent of our raw materials are from local sources.

THE Riverside Restaurant has won the Taste of the West Gold award for the fourth time this year and featured in the Observer’s Top 10. Do you have any tips for success?   
We are all delighted to be awarded the Taste of the West Gold Star again. This award is based upon an unannounced visit from experienced judges and is hard to get. Customer loyalty has enabled us to keep going for all of our 50 years and our staff have built up great relationships with customers. Chilly, the manager has been with us for some 30 years, Sue our restaurant manager more than 20, Nick the produce buyer and chef nearly as long, and Tony, our highly skilled and inventive Head Chef is nearing 10 years.

THE Riverside also hosts themed nights. Do you have any coming up soon? 
We are holding two special themed menu nights in May. Both dates are for Friday evenings. Our event on May 9th is based upon Spanish Cuisine and on May 16th we will have local lobster dishes as the theme.

What can improve town’s economy?

EASTER prompted seafront businesses in Weymouth to say they were celebrating one of the best starts to a season they could remember.

Among things to do particularly well were inflatable killer whales, beach mats, drinks, food and, of course, buckets and spades.

So it is interesting that the council is looking beyond this traditional holiday income image of Weymouth and trying to diversify the town centre’s economy away from a critically important reliance on visitors to a future where all the eggs in its basket are not dominated by tourism.

This shows commendable foresight for trying to make the good ship Weymouth able to weather future economic storms, but I still feel tourism must be central to strategy for this and many future decades. It is, after all, what has made the town’s reputation.

The question is, if not tourism then what can Weymouth do to improve its economy?
Some of the answers have to lie with improved infrastructure. As one councillor said recently in committee, if global warming is going to create sea level rises then Weymouth must “think outside the box” because if the town centre does flood “then we can’t have car parking. We’ll have to have boat parking!”

There is also the question of fluctuating fortunes. Tourism tastes can change and Weymouth’s drawing power might not be so great in the future, not least if it can’t nail down some sort of enforceable agreement with ferry company Condor.

Whatever the future holds for the town’s economy then at least some thought is being devoted to it now rather than the authorities adopting an ostritch-like stance with their heads firmly sunk in Weymouth Sands.

‘Parasites’ strike again in shops

NEWS of my recent Parasite of the Week award to a woman who stole a handbag from a Weymouth charity shop seems to have generated a few bids for Best Supporting Parasite.

In hot contention for that dubious honour must be a group of teenagers who knew a criminal opportunity when they saw one.

They strolled into a seafront café and walked out again having only paid £0.25 for a lolly instead of £1.25.

And how did they manage to achieve that feat?

Well the counter displayed a small bowl containing, among other things, £1 in staff tips… not any more.

Said staff only discovered the theft after their opportunist visitors were long gone, but it still left a nasty taste in their mouths and probably in the mouths of anyone reading this who still has a spark of decency left in them.

We may well be a dying breed if the handbag and the staff tip incidents are anything to go by.

The great poop debate

A GREAT steaming heap of horse manure provoked a flare-up recently in the argument over people cleaning up after their animals.

The pile lay there in a residential street right on the driving line between parked vehicles which prompted one pedestrian to talk about gardeners popping out to shovel it up for their roses!

But his conversation quite rightly turned to how, if a dog owner had allowed their animal to poop in the road and then walked off without cleaning it up, there would be uproar and a possible prosecution.

The fact that a horse evacuates about 20 times as much as a dog seems to make the sense of cleaning it up obvious, but there are counter arguments.

Firstly there are countless more dogs using the streets as a toilet than there are horses so there are rightly controls for dogs, secondly dog faeces are a greater danger to health than horse droppings and thirdly the street in question was fairly close to open fields and it could be argued that horses and the baggage that goes with them are a rural pursuit which people who live in rural or semi-rural areas should be relaxed about.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt for horsemen to carry a bag and a small hand shovel since horse manure is often sold.

I can think of at least two places that do that within a mile of my home. Not sure what the going rate is for a large bag of horse manure. I think it’s a pony!

Mind the tourists

ALL residents need to practice their walking in the road skills now that the tourism season is cranking itself into gear.

Only the other day a woman I know who lives in Weymouth was walking along a pavement carrying shopping when she was initially forced to stop and then go out into the road and round a group of  tourists decked out in beach mats, cameras and wind breaks who insisted on blocking the pavement.

There were eight or nine of them in two raucous family groups, children doing pretty much what they liked and the adults rubbernecking what they could see without paying attention to what was happening right in front of them.

To give credit to the woman, she took it in her stride in the manner of someone who has seen it all before, but it merely underlines what I have felt for many years that, regardless of whether it is Weymouth or Ayia Napa, people on beach holidays often seem to leave their manners and their brain cells at home.

Still, only 17 weeks to go and it will all be over.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

No longer the town’s council... we are the council’s town

AS the last witch trial in Dorset was held 314 years ago during the reign of William III, you can imagine my surprise to see Lyme Regis Town Council reviving the practice in The Guildhall last Wednesday.

Merrily we had gone along to bear witness to the ancient custom of mayor-mongering, the selection of a First Citizen for this old and honoured town. Avidly we looked forward to the traditional rite when councillors, without venal favour or political agenda, would choose fairly from this year’s popular contenders, the winsome Mayor-in-office Sally Holman and the fetchingly-feisty Michaela Ellis.

Like all good citizens of the Regis, we expected a game and dignified debate which would end with the crowning of a new mayor and much rejoicing in the town.

Instead, we were horrified to watch Michaela put to the stake to plead a desperate case for the importance of rules as, around her, panicking councillors booed and jeered like frightened peasants in a Hammer horror film and, once again, our bitching town council demonstrated that the most glaring example of “Lyme Backward” is their rows.

And yet it all looked like the perfect plan. The word was of The Gun Cliff Pact, that Sally was expected to walk away from the evening still in possession of the mayor’s daft hat because her not-previously-known-to-be allies, the Leftist Gang of Five, had oddly decided to ditch a long-held plan to get the mayorship for one of their own, Chris Clipson, and would switch their support to Sally instead, thus ensuring her fourth reign on the trot.

Like Siamese quins, the block-voting Gang are joined at the hip, lip and whip on key council matters but it was not clear why they were shifting their weight to Sally’s side. Were they afraid of Michaela, by Lyme birth a redoubtable Emmett, one of the town’s least push-over families? Had Sally been spied reading “Das Kapital” whilst out sailing? 

Or had the Gang, like Sally, all fans of Lyme Regis Development Trust, decided that as the trust’s work had shrivelled to the extent that its chief executive now only does shifts one day a week, Lyme is no longer being Forward? Had some other, actual but hidden, power rattled the council cage? There are, after all, grandees in the hills who disapprove of torpor.
Who knows? Perhaps Sally had simply won the Gang’s support in a darts game at The Nag’s Head. 

Anyway, all looked to be going to plan; augmented by the new signings of the mayor, deputy mayor and Lorna Jenkin, the Gang of Five was clearly going to mutate into the Knot of Eight and Sally was twinkling. 

But so was Michaela, bouncy even.

The nominations were proposed and seconded but just as the councillors were about to vote, Michaela cast her curse... Err, sorry to be a party pooper but it says in the rules that no mayor can rule for three terms, not if somebody else wants a crack at the daft hat.

'We were horrified to watch Michaela 
put to the stake to plead a desperate 
case for the importance of rules as 
councillors booed and jeered.'

Bang! Michaela may just as well have turned the town clerk into a frog. 

You can’t do that! What rules? What black magic is this? Pointy finger, waving paper, much leaping to feet...

Well it says here that in 1979 the council made this rule.

1979! The world didn’t exist in 1979! None of us had even moved to the town!

Yes, I’m really sorry but the rules say... look, I’ve written it down.

This is the Devil’s hand! Smite her! Burn the witch! Howl and grumble, seethe, seethe, fetch a torch! 

But the rules….

Rules! Do not talk to us of rules! We make our own rules! Smite her! Howl, howl. Break her broom.

Sally had gone white.

As the Knot went up and down like a Mexican wave with livid objections to this honest threat to the artful plan, further fury was ignited as Stan Williams and George Symonds tossed in warnings of the possible illegality of not abiding by the rules. 

More demons! The witch has summoned Belial and Beezelbub! Horror, horror. Somebody call an exorcist. Town clerk, fetch garlic, hammer and a pointed stake!

And then, in a display of puerile petulance the like of which I’d not seen since games of King of the Castle at the old junior school, the Knot decided, Well then, ya, boo, sucks, we’ll just change the rules. See how you like that!

And they did. They just mass-voted a rule change to suit their own agenda. 

Never mind “no mayor serving more than two terms”, now a mayor can reign for the rest of eternity. 

In fact, why don’t we just re-name the town Lyme Mayorus, as not since Vladimir Putin changed the terms of the Russian presidency has anybody seen such a thing as this malarkey.

George Symonds stormed out, people in the public gallery yelled “resign” and “stand down” at the Knot. Stan hollered “it’s selfish” and was himself shouted at by the mayor to “Be quiet! You’re out of order!” It was ugly.

As I left the meeting, shortly before Michaela herself stormed out, saying “I’m bloody fuming”, and shaken members of the public stood around outside saying things like “shocking”, “disgusting” and “a new low”, I realised a sad truth in this new “we’ll rule as we please” behaviour – they are no longer the town’s council, we are now the council’s town.

It will be interesting to see how many of the Knot of Eight attend the annual town meeting at the Woodmead Halls on Friday to defend this grave new world to their serfs. 

Do we need 14 council members?

WHEN Lyme Regis town councillors implemented their own code of conduct after being boldly warned by town clerk John Wright that they had to start behaving themselves, there was hope among many that the waring factions would put their animosities to one side and get on with the important business of running our town.

At the first meeting after the new code was introduced, our councillors looked positively chastened with stilted debate and barely a cross word all night. 

But the peace was short lived. I missed last week’s mayor choosing as I was preparing for an awards ceremony promoted by our sister paper, Pulman’s View from Axminster.

But like dozens of others, I have read the full transcript of the debate which we recorded and put up on our website. An abridged version of that debate is published in this week’s issue (see pages one and five). It was too long to print in full. I have also had a succession of people coming into the office and the general opinion seems to be that our esteemed elected representatives reached an all time low at last Wednesday’s meeting.

It seems to me the town has had enough. 

In covering council meetings in Lyme for 40 odd years I can’t remember another time when there were shouts of “stand down” and “resign” aimed at the mayoyal chair from the public gallery.
And the town certainly expects more of its councillors than the shouting of oafish comments like “bring it on”.

Mayor Sally Holman warned councillors to behave themselves but she made little impact.
District councillor George Symonds was so disgusted with the proceedings, questioning the legality of the whole process, that he walked out.  And I understand that former mayor Michaela Ellis, who was nominated to stand against Sally, also left the chamber in a “furious” state after the council went into committee.

The big discussion point was whether a resolution going back to 1979 that the mayor could only serve for two years if there were other councillors who wanted to stand was still valid.

Some councillors claimed they did not know such a resolution existed. Many of them were not even living in the town then so how could they know? There is a simple answer to that question. They should listen more carefully at the annual town meeting. 

Last year former councillor Ken Gollop asked Anita Williams, who chaired the meeting in the absence of the mayor, why that resolution was not adhered to last year when Sally broke with tradition and accepted a third  year despite another nomination for Chris Clipson.

Anita Williams said she was unable to answer the question and advised Mr Gollop to talk personally to the mayor.

To solve the matter, the council at last week’s meeting quickly rescinded the 1979 resolution, having been told by the town clerk it was perfectly legal to do so.

With shouts of “resign” from the public gallery, Sally looked totally shocked and admitted “it was not a comfortable position to be in”.

She also stated that no one had bothered to ask why she wanted to serve a third term or given her the chance to explain.

Well, in the interest of fairness,  we have. Sally explains her reasons on page five of this week’s paper, the gist of which is that there are various important projects and initiatives she has introduced which she wishes to complete.

So where is all this going to end? If the social networking sites are anything to go by, this Friday’s annual town meeting at the Woodmead Halls (starting at 7.30pm) is going to be an uncomfortable one for Sally in particular. Commitee chairmen have to attend to report on their year’s activities but other councillors do not have to be there. 

I have a number of concerns about this debate and the general behaviour of the council.  I have written before in this column about the low standard of debate, probably the worse I have witnessed, and the continual sniping among councillors if they don’t agree with each other. There is very little respect in the council chamber and the treatment of veteran councillor Stan Williams is nothing short of a disgrace. If anyone wants to listen to our recording of last week’s debate, we will be happy to provide a copy and you will know what I mean.

The dispute about the mayoralty will only add weight to the view of some that such a position is now outdated. Retaining the town’s traditions is a battle which has yet to be waged. But probably the most disturbing consequence of all is that such behaviour does not encourage other people to stand for council.  I know of a number who said they just did not want to be part of it.

Which begs the question. When Lyme goes to the polls next May will there be enough candidates to fill the 14 places? 

I have been told that only four of the current crop are likely to stand again, certainly I think at least half of the present council will not seek re-election.

So I ask yet again: does it need 14 people to run a small town like Lyme and is it time that number was reduced to 12 or even 10?

Who will be running who in proposed three-council partnership?

IT’S a bit like buses, isn’t it? For years you get used to one council and then three come along.

We’ve all had to cope with Weymouth and Portland being taken over by West Dorset in a so called “partnership” of working practices with a council based in a town of 18,000 people ludicrously holding the whip hand over a council in a town with 60,000 people.

Now it appears that North Dorset could be joining the party to create a three-way approach to providing key services.

This must seriously concern Weymouth and Portland and particularly West Dorset since if Dorchester can somehow boss Weymouth then what chance does the county town stand of preventing Blandford – which only has a population of about 11,000 – becoming top dog in the partnership.

And while we’re talking of tails wagging dogs, all three of them had better watch out if Purbeck joins the show to make a fourth council because I’ve heard that Coombe Keynes – population 79 – is a hot candidate to rule us all.

The one thing this whole process has perfectly illustrated is that the very last people you want in charge of a political situation are politicians.

Just because Dorchester has historic county town status does not entitle West Dorset to lord it over Weymouth and Portland in the manner that it has.

Now I’m absolutely positive that those in partnership power will say this is not the case and that it is an even handed partnership.

Well, if that is the case, then the partnership is giving a brilliant impression that West Dorset is where the powerbase is.

Not only has the partnership decimated Weymouth and Portland’s council structure but, of three hot favourites for relocated staff once North Quay is sold off, one is at the Mulberry Centre in Weymouth but the other two are at Crookhill Depot in Chickerell and South Walks House in Dorchester… and they’re both in West Dorset. Weymouth may own the depot but the land is under West Dorset’s control.

Even the shared services joint advisory committee – three West Dorset and three Weymouth and Portland councillors – is testing the water for “some decision making powers in respect of joint functions for the partnership”, notably “where both councils cannot reach initial agreement on service levels”.

That approach is qualified by a promise that recommendations would go to Weymouth and Portland’s management committee and West Dorset’s executive committee, but it is still quite clear that God is on the side of the Big Guns backing partnership working which has its main roots in Dorchester not Weymouth.

Finally there is the fact that this so called partnership is almost incredibly starting to affect some aspects of the official flow of information coming out of its joint communications department.

Only the other day I was sent a press release whose key point was that Weymouth and Portland was now being taken on board a certain initiative.

Common sense dictated that, if this was the case, then any quote provided should clearly come from a Weymouth and Portland spokesman since that was the new angle for the initiative, but it didn’t. The quote came from a West Dorset spokesman.

There are many other niggles which pose serious questions such as the balance of the partnership.

West Dorset staff ended up with the lion’s share of key positions during the shake-up for the partnership and West Dorset is certainly central to much of the process of council transition in Weymouth and Portland where almost its entire planning department is now based in Dorchester.

Again this will be denied by the partnership, but I have been a local journalist for nearly 40 years, most of them in Weymouth and Portland, and my extensive contacts at councillor level, officer level, worker level and union level are not happy at a growing perception that they are increasingly dancing to West Dorset’s tune.

At the end of the day this is a partnership looking after an awful lot of lives and those people need to have confidence that their interests in their area are coming first and they are not playing poor relative to their neighbours.

To stand up for Weymouth and Portland requires councillors to take a tougher stance in defence of their territory before they don’t have a territory to defend. Some tell me they are already doing this by speaking out in committees to highlight their concerns. More need to do so.

Bargain sales are not always bargains

THREE months of the year have gone already and we have yet to enjoy a week without a sale.

Spring sales in winter, summer sales in Spring, autumn sales in summer and winter sales in autumn carve the year up nicely.

Then there are the “Closing Down!” sales for stores that aren’t, the “Bargain Sale” which isn’t and the “Unrepeatable Offer!” sales which will be.

And, if there are any gaps in the year, then we have the “For One Day Only” sales which must end the day after tomorrow.

Every trick in the retail book is used to attract customers, never more so than now when the economy is trying to get off its knees.

So I will remind you that there are bargains and bargains. Just make sure your choice really is value for money.


WATERSPORTS enthusiast Jake Patrick, from Lyme Regis, will be taking to the stage rather than the sea this May when he stars in the Operatic Society’s production of “Mame”. Originally from Brixworth, a village near Northampton, Jake, 21, attended Moulton College as part of the Rugby Academy before moving to Lyme Regis in 2012. He now lives right by the beach and works at Boylos watersports shop on Marine Parade.

HOW did you get involved with Lyme Regis Operatic Society’s production of “Mame”?
I was in a play in January that Jenny Wiles directed for the Between Courses theatre group, “The Lost World” at the Marine Theatre. Nicky Sweetland from the Operatic Society asked whether I might be interested and I figured I would give it a try.

TELL us about your role in the production…
I play Patrick, Mame's nephew. Mame travels with her love in the middle of the play and when she returns, Patrick is all grown up - that's where I come in. I'm torn between an upper class sophisticated life with my fiancée and a life of enjoyment with my Auntie Mame. There's a fair bit of drama and suddenly I have to choose!

WHAT do you enjoy about performing on the local stage?
It puts me out of my comfort zone. I've not been on stage since I was at school and then I did the two Between Courses performances and now “Mame”. I love a challenge, although normally it's in sport. It's great to try new things, you never know how much fun you can have until you try.

WHAT do you enjoy about working at Boylos? 
Working at Boylos is a dream for me. For as long as I can remember, growing up I always wanted to work in a surf shop and live by the sea. Now I do! There is a great watersports scene here and I am really trying to promote it. My view from the "office" each day is to die for and the people I meet are great. There's not really much to dislike!

HOW did you get into watersports?
My grandfather takes the credit for my life in the water. Way back in the 1960s and 70s he was shaping surfboards in his back garden in Northampton. He obviously got my dad into it and, between the two of them, they have introduced me and my siblings to surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, swimming, waterpolo and more. Nowadays, I teach paddle boarding and windsurfing and do both of them myself, plus surfing and body boarding when the waves and wind are right.

WHAT are your other personal interests? 
I pretty much live on the water but I love skateboarding on my longboard to and from work and cruising with the local skate kids. I also mountain bike in the summertime, it's a great way to get outside and away from the crowds.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis?
I really like the community feeling that Lyme Regis has, it's the biggest selling point for me. Of course, the coastline is fantastic too! 

WHAT do you think the town is missing?
The skatepark is what’s missing in Lyme, it will be great when it's built. People don't realise what a massive influence a skatepark can have on a community - somewhere to go and chill and enjoy yourself without annoying people on the pavement is going to be great! 

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
I would sort my parents and grandparents out with an awesome home and pay their bills. They've given me everything I have today so I would really want to give them twice as much back. I'd also throw money at the skatepark and make it awesome and I would pay to build an artificial reef in the bay that would work on the prominent south-westerlies we get here in Lyme. Head high barrels in front of the shop, that would be so cool!

WHERE’S your dream holiday destination, and why?
My dream holiday would be south west France through September. The surf is huge there that time of year and the water and air is warm. I'd love a gang of us to have campers in the car parks and take a few weeks exploring beaches.
  • Lyme Regis Operatic Society’s production of “Mame” will be held at the Marine Theatre from Tuesday, May 13th to Saturday 17th, with performances at 7.15pm and a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets costing £12 or £5 for under 16s are available at Fortnam, Smith & Banwell in Lyme Regis – call 01297 445666.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mayor making - or baiting!

FROM what I am led to believe we could be in for another lively session at tonight’s council meeting. Get there early!

Main item on the agenda - the appointment of mayor for  the coming year.

Until a few days ago those who  take an interest in council affairs (a dying breed) thought we would definitely be having a different, if not new, First Citizen.

Last year Councillor Chris Clipson was defeated on the casting vote of Sally Holman, who won a rare third year in succession. Would Councillor Clipson try his luck again?

Then it emereged that Sally was considering a fourth year, which had only happened on one occasion  before - back in the 1970s with Henry Broom serving for a similar period.

A former mayor once told me that the first year was enjoyable, the second year tolerable and a third “bloody awful”.

Sally has certainly had a difficult year and has presided over the most controversial periods in the history of Lyme Regis Town Council. I think many of us assumed she would be relieved to relinquish the reins. But she clearly feels there is unfinished business.

Things were very different when I became mayor in the 1980s. The process of selecting a successor was a more friendly affair. The outgoing mayor would seek confirmation of those whom wanted to stand and then sound out the other members. 

The mayor would then ask those with the lowest support to withdraw so that the appointment of the successor was invariably a happy and unanimous one. Then we all went for a drink!

It hasn’t been like that for some time.

Sally will be challenged tonight by Michaela Ellis, who served as mayor for two years in 2009-2010.
Both have served the town well over the years but, whoever gets the job, they will surely be in for a rough ride as the current split council attempts to repair its poor public image before the elections in May 2015.

Broad Street’s looking swell

SOME glorious  days have given us a taste of what we might expect in the coming summer months, I hope, and Lyme was teeming with visitors as soon as the sun poked its head out. Kids were actually playing in the sea on Sunday afternoon.

Broad Street is looking a lot smarter with the arrival of Seasalt, the Cornish-based clothing company, and other new arrivals, Lyme Gifts (which has moved from the Coombe Street Emporium) and the highly innovative Pug & Puffin.

The latter’s owner, Martin Wiscombe, and I grew up just a few doors away from each other in Anning Road, and he has recently returned to his hometown after a glittering career in the art world.

I popped into Pug & Puffin with Francesca for a glass of fizz for the opening on Friday evening  and was delighted to meet up with Martin’s father, Dave, again, one of the area’s most prolific bee keepers. Dave and I played football together yonks ago and he still keeps fit and well. I’m sure his son’s new shop, with a distinct doggy flavour, will prove to be a huge hit with souvenir-hunting visitors.

I think all three new businesses enhance the shopping experience in Broad Street and I’m pleased to report that in the next few weeks we will be launching another series on Lyme’s main street in the 1950s and 60s. Any photos from that era will be appreciated.


I ATTENDED my first Civic Night in the late 1960s when it was first introduced by Alderman Douglas Fortnam and his wife Lydia. It was a very grand affair and in those days called The Mayor’s Ball. I remember wearing a Simon Dee roll-neck silk evening shirt and was a little concerned I would not be allowed in as they were very strict on the dress code in those days.

Surprisingly, I can’t really remember my own Civic Night but as a former mayor I’ve always purchased tickets for this annual gathering of the town’s civic and community leaders and have always enjoyed the occasion. Civic Nights are now much more relaxed and informal and dress codes have been all-but abandoned. There are conflicting opinions on whether that is a good thing or not. I stuck to tradition and wore a dinner jacket.

In past years all councillors made a special effort to attend Civic Night in support of the position of mayor rather than the personality wearing the chains. This, too, is very much a thing of the past. 
With the council now irreparably split (they only have to tolerate each other for another year), only four councillors bought tickets for Saturday’s event - Stan and Anita Williams, Michaela Ellis and Ann Bradbury.

The event clashed with the 50th wedding anniversary party of Councillor Lorna Jenkin and her husband Keith, attended by the gang of five (Councillors Gage, Campbell, Clipson, O’Grady and Austin) but not before they popped into the Woodmead Halls, much to the surprise of many,  to shake the mayor’s hand and have a quick drink before departing for what they considered to be the better gig in town.

But Lyme’s organisations turned out in force, as they always do, making it another enjoyable evening for those who want to see such traditions preserved.
But for how long is anyone’s guess.

Times are hard (and doesn’t the mayor know it)

THE whole future of Weymouth and Portland’s mayoral services goes into the melting pot again this autumn when councillors meet to start debating budget measures and cuts for 2015-2016.

There are fears that Weymouth would be devalued as an historic town and have its prestige tarnished were it to downgrade or even scrap the post of mayoral chauffeur, limit mayoral regalia and functions and use the cash for something else.

Fortunately those in office have been training just in case cuts are made and I went down to chat to them about possible new approaches to the mayoralty.

It was raining when I found the Mayor and his chauffeur taking off their bicycle clips having chained up the new mayoral tandem to a handy lamppost.

He was hosting a civic event at the Pavilion where mayors from all over Dorset were already pulling up in their chauffeur driven limousines ahead of being officially welcomed by our Mayor.

I asked him, didn’t he feel a bit shabby and out of step with other mayors, having to attend his own civic event on a bicycle?

He replied: “It is a bit embarrassing, but you soon get over that. These waterproofs are really good and my chauffeur pedalled me here quite quickly.”

Once inside the Mayor apologised for being late and took his guests for coffee at a vending machine where they only had to pay £1.90 for a cappuccino. All proceeds will go towards new saddles and a pannier for the tandem.

Then it was on to view artwork by local students who had skillfully recreated plaster versions of several pieces of civic silver. The originals were sold off recently to buy the tandem and a stainless steel handlebar clamp to grip a small mayoral flag.

All joking aside, most will hope that any changes to mayoral life don’t drag this important civic office into farce, but times are hard and who knows what might be suggested next.

Whatever the future holds, any decision which devalues this historic position will reflect badly on the whole town.

If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys

WHAT a pickle Weymouth is in over its crumbling harbour walls.

Years of neglect suddenly came home to roost when the ferry berth wall cracked and required millions to repair.

Now it appears that other sections of harbour wall also need urgent attention, placing the council in something of a dilemma.

Do they go for an expensive quick fix, an expensive middle course which will last a few years or an expensive long term approach which will last perhaps half a century.

Yes, the council must cut its cloth to what it can afford, but there are such things as false economies and I’ve always been a supporter of the view that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.

It may really hurt the authority to go for the 50-year repair option, but surely doing it properly allows the council to move on wheras any low cost choice will bring back the spectre of spending almost before the work has finished.

If a sensible approach is now being taken with significant amounts of harbour revenue kept to foot harbour upkeep bills then I feel the council must take its medicine, pay for the best repairs and claw the money back over a long period of time.

AS if motorists don’t have enough hazards and delays to cope with they recently faced another… a goose walking down the road!

The goose, as geese normally are, was in no particular hurry and waddled happily along taking time to see what the world was doing in front of it.

Behind it death was approaching at a rate of knots when one car driver pulled round a parked vehicle only to have to slam his brakes on a bit sharpish when presented with a feathered obstacle.

The goose survived much to the delight of children in several other cars which pointed the brash bird out as their vehicles slowly overtook the bird blockage. Makes a change from dodging seagulls.

You asked for it now use it!

A NEW facility could be opened in Weymouth and Portland to test the eyesight and intelligence of cyclists.

You would have had to have spent the last four years living in Outer Mongolia to have missed the never ending series of roadworks devoted to creating a new network of safe cycle routes across the borough.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds if not millions have been poured in to creating the network which is now so extensive it is possible to enjoy a ride from Portland to Dorchester without risking tyre marks down your spine.

So explain to me why many cyclists are spurning comfort and safety in favour of continuing to risk their lives by riding along busy and dangerous roads just a couple of bike lengths away from a perfectly good cycle path.

I’ve been held up in traffic queues behind cyclists riding in the road at half a dozen spots where there was a practically pristine cycle path right next to them.

This cycle path, I might add, had also been created specifically for their benefit against a backdrop of moans about how authorities always favour the motorist over the cyclist.

So, if you are a cyclist, practice what you’ve been preaching and use the facility you have been demanding. That’s what it is there for.


GAVIN Dixon is an experienced finance broker who recently moved back to Bridport, where he went to school, to take up the position of managing director in his own business, Gavin Dixon Finance Solutions. He lives in Bridport with his long-term partner.

YOU came from a traditional farming family - how did you make the switch to finance?
My dad was a dairy farmer and has owned a couple of his own farms. He also was the estate manager at Ashley Chase Estate in the Bride Valley, which was why we moved to Bridport. I was unsure what I wanted to do in life but was sure I did not want to milk cows 24/7 so I thought that going to university would give me more options in life. I was applying for jobs in my final year when I saw a job advertised working for BNP Paribas Lease Group in their farm division. It seemed to make perfect sense to me as I knew farming and I knew finance, so putting the two together was a logical step. I have been working in business-to-business finance ever since.

CAN you give us a brief summary of what service your business provides?
Gavin Dixon Finance Solutions Ltd. is an independent finance broker business which assists local business in finding finance from funders who are not on the high street for the purchase of assets. In simple terms, if a farmer was looking to buy a new or used tractor we can help that farmer get finance for that tractor to make it more affordable, and it also helps companies protect their cash flow. I can help all companies find finance, whether they are farmers, builders, haulers and so on, as long as there is an asset, we can find the finance.

YOU moved back to Bridport after working for companies in London - what was the reason behind the move?
The reason for the move was that I changed my role at Hitachi Capital Business Finance and became a national broker manager. Part of the deal of taking the job was that I had to relocate but the company did not mind where I moved to. As I have always classed Bridport as my hometown and have a lot of friends down here, I chose to move back. After three years of driving the length and breadth of the UK and spending four nights away a week, I decided to set up my own business. 

IN what ways is your job different in Dorset compared to the capital?
The basics of the job are the same - I am helping customers find the most competitive finance to suit their business. However, my previous role was to assist the brokers to ensure they gave me the business rather than giving the business to any of our competitors. Now I am dealing with local dealerships and the customers who are buying the equipment and my old customers, the brokers, are now my competition. 

IS business in Bridport strong? Was it a motivating factor to try and help business in your hometown?
There is a lot of business in Bridport and some local businesses have been very supportive. However, like in any job I have struggled with some of the larger companies in the area which seem unwilling to give me the time of day. When starting my business my main aim was to give something back to the community that had welcomed me when I was 11 and now class me as a local lad who has a funny accent! Helping other local business is definitely my main goal and in time as the business grows then recruiting local people into my business will also be very important.

WHAT do you like about working in the industry?
Working in finance is a very interesting role as you get to meet lots of different people and lots of different businesses - some businesses you have never heard about so you get to learn lots of new things. It is also very rewarding to know you have helped a business buy a new machine which will then in turn assist them in growing their own business. Indirectly my business can help lots of people and businesses grow and meet their full potential.

HOW challenging was it to set up your own business? Do you prefer working for yourself?
Starting my own business was challenging as I have never done it before but the process is fairly simple, as long as you get the right advice from a good accountant and also from friends or acquaintances who have set up their own businesses. The scariest element of setting up your own business is not knowing when your next pay cheque is coming in - after being employed for 13 years and being paid on the same day of every month to suddenly not knowing if you are going to be able to make a mortgage payment is very unnerving. 
If you stay focussed, work hard and never give up you will always be able to make things work and 11 months later I am still here and loving every minute of running my own business. I can honestly say I do not think I could ever work for anyone ever again - being your own boss and reaping the benefits of your own hard work is so rewarding. My only regret in life is that I did not do this sooner.

DO you have any ambitions for the future?
My long term goal is to be able to buy a farm or small holding and set up a charity so that disadvantaged and/or disabled children can come and enjoy a farm experience, my partner looks after disadvantaged children and my sister fosters children, and with my Dad’s farming experience I believe we can run a successful charity and help lots of children.

ARE you settled in the area now, or do you think you will move again in the future? 
I cannot see myself leaving the area but you can never say never as you do not know what life can throw at you. I came back to Bridport beacuse I love being in the beautiful countryside and so close to an amazing coast. In my 34 years I have lived in a lot of places - cities, towns and villages - and not one of them comes close to Bridport for me.