Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A sad embarrassment for the council

MY first reaction to reading the weighty document which made up the adjudication by West Dorset’s monitoring officer after complaints about the behaviour of Lyme councillors was not one of shock or incredulity. I knew most of the gory details.

It was one of great sadness - sad that the situation had been allowed to go so far that a letter calling for police action actually ended up on the deputy chief constable’s desk. And a certain amount of embarrassment - embarrased that the council of which I was once mayor had to sink to this level. 

There is nothing that the current crop of councillors dislike more than 'yesterday’s men' like myself  saying: “It would never have happened in my day”. The fact is, however, that it would not have been allowed to get that far. Disputes between councillors and staff members are nothing new. Most mayors have had to deal with a few disputes during their term of office. 

I had one particularly difficult situation to deal with shortly after becoming mayor and the then town clerk, Philip Latham, insisted that I reprimanded the councillor concerned. I was just 34 at the time and I did not relish the situation. But we sorted the situation, the two indivuals shook hands and agreed to get on with the business in hand - running the town - without washing our dirty linen in public. But that was 30 years ago and these are very different days. Employees had very few rights at that time and never really wanted to rock the boat when it came to upsetting their boss. 

Since my days as mayor I have employed hundreds of people and that experience has taught me that you have to do it by the book. Seeking a solution behind closed doors is always the best way forward.

I have spoken to a number of former mayors and asked how they would have handled the current situation. They all say they would have attempted to solve the disputes in an adult fashion by getting the parties together behind closed doors rather than flinging claims and counter claims at each other.

The monitoring officer’s report makes disturbing reading whichever way you look at it, and it rather blows a hole in the rather smug view expressed by senior councillors at the annual town meeting when they pretended that everything was rosy in the town council camp and what a good job they were all doing. No wonder they had problems with their delivery.

The most distressing part of the whole debacle is that council staff have got embroiled in a public spat with their employers, leading to them calling for the resignation of councillors who have been voted in by the people. That has never happened in Lyme before.

One question many are asking is how much has all this cost? How much officer time has been spent on these silly disputes? How much has been spent on seeking legal advice?

At least the monitoring officer’s report has got the whole sorry saga out in the open. 

It’s time to draw a line and move on.

Stomper’s last walk through those red doors 

I’M a big admirer of the fire brigade. My father was a retained fireman in Lyme for 25 years and was devastated when he was forced to leave due to ill health at the age of 55. So much so, in fact, that he still went up to the Monday practice nights just to be around firemen and help sweep up.

His younger brother Reg, born in Lyme, was a full-time London firemen and I spent many summer holidays enjoying the excitement at Wimbledon fire station.

And my best mate for more years than I care to remember has been the incomparable John Stamp, who on Monday of this week bid an emotional farewell to the fire station in Charmouth where he has been station officer (watch commander in today’s parlance) for 30 years, having been a fireman for 38 years.
They gave him a touching farewell complete with Scottish piper as he walked out through those big red doors for the last time.

John, “Stomper” to all and sundry, a proud old-school firefighter, is not a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, but he was visibly touched by the send-off, attended by Dorset Fire and Rescue Service’s top brass, including the chief, Darran Gunter, and Fire Authority chairman Rebecca Knox. 

Knowing John, he will find something else to do on a Monday night but he is sure to miss the firemen’s life. Charmouth and the Fire Brigade owe him a great deal. The Chief Officer told me that  his 30 years in charge of a station is unique and unlikely to be beaten.

Mum Sheila and wife Pat were present to see that final walk into civvy street, dead proud of him, as am I.  

As would have been his dad, Tom, one of Charmouth’s great characters.

MANY thanks to Mayor Sally Holman for staging a civic reception for Lyme Regis Football Club to mark our best season ever. As club president I was proud to see players representing all our teams process into the Guildhall - a first for many of them - smartly dressed in club ties and white shirts. I think Sally is at her best when surrounded by young people and they certainly respond to her enthusiasm for all things of a sporting nature. The players (on their very best behaviour) lined up on the Guildhall steps for a photo with the civic party and regaled the Mayor with a chorus of 'Sea, Sea, Seasiders!'

A Walton family holiday

ONLY on a quirky holiday to Crete could you find yourself sat under trees by a fountain chatting with two elderly sisters who turn out to be direct descendants of Buffalo Bill Cody!

But that’s what happened when I took my family on a fortnight’s holiday to the resort of Stalis as part of celebrations for my 60th birthday.

The sisters, Stalis regulars, proudly detailed their family connection to the famous Wild West legend over a beer or three at the lovely Amazones apartments where we stayed.

It was not the first offbeat moment we had starting with our arrival which saw us battle our way down to a local taverna in winds gusting to more than 50mph. Our meal was a bit surreal as we tried to time conversation between the whap-bang noises of canvas walls being sucked in and out by the gale.

Fortunately it was the worst weather we saw and long sunny days soon followed exploring the coast, mountains and plateau area near our resort.

There were the delights of rock cisterns, a 2,000-year-old tree and a church with a bell made from the recycled nose cone of a German bomb at Krasi or quaint churches, a ruined olive oil factory and top quality crafts at Mohos.

Both were reached using a contraption very similar to Weymouth’s seafront land train dubbed the Happy Train by its Cretan operators. Locals call it the Wally Wagon!

We tried to have one day doing something and one day relaxing, so other busy trips spaced out between siesta days included a stroll round the ruined Minoan palace at Malia, a fascinating tour of the open air museum at Lychnosta and a brilliant nine-hour jeep safari.

This last took us literally not just off the beaten track but off any kind of track at all as we followed breathtaking mountain path routes to see everything from Griffin vultures to ruined windmills and from ancient cave systems to a valley of goats.

Other days involved bus trips west to the neighbouring resort of Hersonisos or east to the chic resort of Agios Nikolaos with its central lake surrounded by restaurants.

And then there were the nights which provided superb meal after superb meal, all washed down with icy draughts of beer or devastating shots of Raki, a fiery spirit described by one jaundiced member of our party as being made from toe-nail clippings. You certainly didn’t get it on your clothes!

Appetites honed by fresh air and miles of walking were sated by mouth-watering lamb dishes such as kleftico or the stunning creation involved with a special mountain pork dish based on herbs with thick slices of potato packed in around it, the whole dish being gently cooked for four hours until it just melted in the mouth.

There were Greek salads with sharp feta cheese, famous traditional dishes such as moussaka, treats such as Greek yoghurt with rich thyme honey, grilled octopus, regional delicacies such as rabbit stew or an incredible array of fish dishes from red snapper and swordfish to Dorado, sardines and bass. The choice was endless.

One riotous Greek night at our favourite taverna, Hellas, saw all of us tuck in to mountain pork washed down on a wave of Raki to fuel a furious dance up and down the street led by the owner and backed by a top class bazouki player. And the reward for taking part? Everyone got a banana!

Shining throughout our holiday was the wonderful Greek hospitality I have come to treasure. If you dropped in at a restaurant to book a table for that night then there was no: “Thank you sir and we look forward to seeing you tonight.”

Instead you were warmly greeted, taken in and sat down for a chat while staff hurried to bring you chilled cherries and a glass of raki or fresh juice. By the time everyone had checked on each other’s health, commented on how hot it was and talked about what we’d all been doing then booking the table became almost incidental to relaxing among friends. I actually had to delay one booking while the chef brought out that night’s planned signature dish and asked me if I felt it needed a little more salt!

I took more than 500 photographs, bought everything from honey to tableware and from olive oil to a large ceramic lantern, made new acquaintances and was joyfully welcomed back to Stalis by old friends.

Five out of our seven-strong party had never been to Crete before. All of us vowed to come back again and toasted that sentiment in 25-year-old wine given us as a gift by our favourite taverna owner.

Everyone has holiday memories and this break to celebrate a landmark in my life gave me some wonderful sunny snapshots to fondly look back on when the rain is running down our windows and winter is snapping at our heels.


ORIGINALLY from a village in the Mendips, near Bristol, Andy Jones, 30, was recently attracted to Lyme Regis by the town’s world-renowned Boat Building Academy on Monmouth Beach, enrolling in a nine month course which covered a wide range of techniques. He previously worked for Babcock International in London, on behalf of the London Fire Brigade, covering the supply and maintenance of operational equipment, and he now hopes to put his new skills to use working with wood.

WHAT attracted you to the Boat Building Academy? 
Firstly to learn and new skills and gain a recognised qualification that will allow me to hopefully always find work anywhere in the world. Also to have a better understanding of boat building and working with wood and composites, and thirdly the location!

DID you have any previous experience in boat building? 
I have no previous experience, the course was totally new to me. I have been sailing before but was a rarity.

WHAT did your course entail? 
I enrolled up the full-time, nine-month boat building course, covering a wide range of areas. The main areas were lofting, key woodworking skills and joint understanding, boat construction methods, boat fit outs and rigging, painting and finishing, GRP and FRP methods, marine adhesive and methods for glueing up with the aid of vacuum pumps, to name a few.

WHAT did you hope to achieve from it? 
As boat building was new to me prior to the course starting, I hoped to understand all matters of boat building but also how to operate the machinery and tools in the workshop, which is a vital part of traditional and modern boat building. I have always wanted a hands-on skill and a skill that can be versatile and be used for all matters of woodwork, not just boat building.

WHAT did you enjoy about the course? 
To be honest, I have enjoyed the whole course and all areas covered. The course is laid out extremely well, I have enjoyed so much of it and the teachers make learning interesting and fun. I guess I enjoyed putting my new skills to the test when we advanced from the basic woodworking skills part of the course, onto the construction of the variety of boats built at the academy. The group breakfasts and lunches are pretty epic too!

WHAT do you plan to do after the course? 
I hope to take my new knowledge of boat building into a boat yard and expand with experience. Eventually I hope to start my own business but possibly not building boats, but most definitely working with wood. 

WHAT are your other personal interests? 
DJing and music production, stand-up paddle boarding, wood craft, going to the gym, martial arts, travelling, fishing and, of cours,e now sailing is a clear interest of late and I have done much of it since I moved to Lyme Regis.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis? 
It’s a friendly town with lots going on. I started stand-up paddle boarding just before the course and it’s fantastic to get out of the water of the Jurassic Coast. The academy is a stone’s throw from the water’s edge, which just makes it so much more of an attractive place to come and learn. I was living in London before the course started and my job was pretty full on, so moving down to Lyme was the ultimate de-stresser and I have always been made to feel welcome. The pubs are fun and the local ale from the brewery in Bridport goes down well.

IF you could own any kind of boat, what would it be and why? 
It would have to be a tall ship as I am fascinated by the history and the old maritime tales of pirates. I’ve always fancied setting sail and exploring the world, and what better way to do it than the way it always used to be done?

WHERE’S your ideal holiday destination, and why? 
I am most definitely a beach bum so would probably say the Philippines. A dream job for me would be a restoration of a fishing boat on a secluded beach some where in the tropics. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

A total rethink is needed

WARNING after warning has gone unheeded and now the dangers predicted for Weymouth’s new traffic light system are starting to happen.

The town’s previous network of roundabouts did grind to a halt at peak summer periods but worked well enough for the rest of the year, yet authorities drunk on an Olympic cocktail of work they crowed was cramming 20 years of “improvements” into a single year ripped all the roundabouts out and put a widely hated traffic light system in its place.

So those same authorities shouldn’t be too surprised that drivers who dislike spending more than two entire days of their life each year stuck in their cars waiting for the new system’s lights to change are trying to cut down on that time.

The result is seeing thousands of drivers hurl their cars over the lights on yellow or even red, sometimes barely getting across before the next queue of drivers roars across the junction.

Police have already warned about the “racetrack” mentality the system is producing and it all came to a head with the first real burst of summer season traffic.

Drivers leaving town across the Swannery Bridge and waiting at the lights to cross over in to Abbotsbury Road found angry drivers coming down Weymouth Way were jumping the lights in a frustrated attempt to get in to Westwey Road.

But traffic was backed up from the Boot Hill-Asda lights so they suddenly found themselves forced to a halt in the middle of the Abbotsbury Road junction which meant waiting traffic couldn’t move an inch even when lights turned to green.

A few conciliatory waves and sheepish grins did little to cool tempers and the situation climaxed with blocked motorists actually having to drive towards Weymouth Way to inch their way round those cars blocking the way forward who had come on to the junction without first checking they could get off it.

If it sounds a bit snarled up then imagine what it was like being a driver in the middle of it!

Surely there must now be a total rethink on the system, a good start being to force the Brains Trust responsible for the lights system to actually spend a busy day experiencing it. 

They might then accept it isn’t working although I doubt it.

You need eyes in the back of your head

YOU really do have to have eyes in the back of your head in Weymouth recently to avoid ramming cyclists.

A journey along Abbotsbury Road saw motorists edge fearfully in to the side of the road until one cyclist had gone by and why not… he was riding at speed on just his back wheel, the front being deliberately reared up in true show-off style!

Then there was the excellent example set by one adult cyclist leading a boy cyclist who couldn’t have been more than ten years old the wrong way up a one way street in the town centre.

Add to this a scattering of cycling groups in all their colourful riding costumes festooned with various advertising messages, all bowling along riding two abreast, and you have a series of hazards enough to keep any car driver alert.

Fortunately very few cars are left now in the Weymouth area as they are mostly in garages having their springs repaired after negotiating recent roadworks at Greenhill and Preston Beach Road.

More than you think need help

THE work of the Salvation Army is legendary, but it also underlines just how important they are in Weymouth as a community lifeline.

The other day I was chatting with Salvation Army members and it emerged they cook and serve a regular Tuesday night hot meals to people living rough on the streets of Weymouth.

Commendable support for a few of society’s unfortunates, I hear you say, well there are a lot more “unfortunates” than you might think. I’m told that they recently served a staggering total of 73 such meals in just half an hour while 60 meals is common. That’s an awful lot of people living rough on the streets, a lot more than even I thought might be out there.

The Salvation Army’s only source of revenue to pay for all this is the generosity of its members, what they can raise from coffee mornings and some food generously chipped in by local supermarkets, so anything readers can do to help them with this work can be taken along to the regular Thursday morning coffee mornings in the Citadel at Westham Road.

EVERYONE is getting ready for the big veterans event in Weymouth and Portland this weekend. One of the main commemorations will be for the start of the First World War. My grandfather fought in that hell of mud, trench, shot and shell and walked away from it all at the end having survived relatively unscathed despite enjoying the horrors of the Somme and Passchendaele. The family tell me he never really talked about his experiences which are now marked by a small box of medals at the back of a drawer. I barely knew him but I shall be thinking of him during centenary events for the Great War. 

BERNARD Critchley has lived in Crewkerne for the last four years after living and working in Norwich and coming back to the West Country with his two sons, Arthur and Matthew. Bernard has spent over 30 years working as a tax specialist with various accountancy firms but now works for Tax Help UK - a charity set up to help the elderly – based at the Pineapple Business Park in Salwayash, Bridport.

YOU are currently working for Tax Help for the Elderly UK. What inspired you to do that job?
I joined Tax Help to be able to use my knowledge and experience to help people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to pay for professional help.

YOU were granted the Freedom of the City of London... how did that come about?
I became a member of the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers in 2002 (a City of London Livery Company) and as a result, in 2003, I was able to apply for Freedom of the City of London. It doesn’t unfortunately give me the right to drive sheep and cattle over London Bridge or to carry a naked sword in public as is generally believed. However, I have twice taken part in the Lord Mayor’s Show, where we dressed up to represent taxes through the ages. I dressed as entertainment tax and juggled along the length of the procession.

I UNDERSTAND you enjoy magic and performing tricks, could you tell me a bit about that?
I did a circus skills evening class in the 1990s and learnt how to juggle.  I can juggle four balls, or three clubs/rings and I can also walk a tightrope. I have been doing little magic tricks since I was a child and used to entertain my own children with some tricks.  When I started lecturing in tax for professionals I also used magic tricks to illustrate my talks.

DO you have any other hidden skills, interests or hobbies?
I am a qualified cricket umpire and travel around Somerset, Wiltshire, Bristol and Gloucestershire during the summer months. I collect political autographs and have 15 US presidents, 11 US Vice-Presidents and every British Prime Minister since 1900 in the collection. I also collect cricket memorabilia.

IF you won the Lottery, what would you do?
I would give 10 per cent to charity, pay off my debts, give some money to my children to help set them up and complete my set of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack (a cricket reference book) from 1864 to date as I still need a further 91 copies.

WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Thomas Jefferson as he is by far the brightest politician ever to be President of USA. Dylan Thomas who turned writing in the English language to an art form not seen in the 20th Century with the possible exception of TS Eliot. Eric Morecombe as he could see the funny side to anything and could liven up any dull part of the evening.

IF you could live you life again, what would you be?
If I had my life again I would like to have been either a maths teacher or an actor.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Is anyone listening?

WHAT is going on with major public service telephone numbers?

Dial the number for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and you get a 45 second advert extolling the delights of the Dorset For You website which you’re told can do just about everything but cure Athlete’s Foot.

So you stand there fuming until the plug ends, but you still have to wait for another 45 seconds to sift through a mind-numbing list of option numbers and that’s before you face another wait if you want to speak to a member of staff assuming one is available.

Then we come to the delights – and I use the word advisedly – of a relatively new animal on the telephone block, the nattily named medical Choose and Book system which, when I used it, didn’t allow me to book!

I dialled the number provided and then had to endure a different plug and a warning that times were “busy”, something I know from power company calls is included on messages to the caller even when they are shut.

So I waited and waited… and waited and eventually got through to a very helpful woman who immediately matched me up with my choice of surgery… only to tell me the surgery had not provided this phone call booking company with any current appointments!

It got better. Having waited two and a half weeks to get a medical letter urging me to use the phone booking system to arrange my appointment, I was then told that the surgery would now have to be contacted about me so it could write back to start arranging an appointment.

How long, I asked. Oh, you should receive a letter in the next two weeks, I was told.
So, to sum up, having waited two and a half weeks to get a letter and facing another fortnight wait to get a possible appointment date – which may or may not match an available gap in my life – I face the prospect of a five-week wait to be offered an appointment.

This in turn may not meet my needs… despite the plug for the booking system saying: “You can choose a time and hospital to suit you.” This may be true, but by the time you can actually arrange a time and hospital to suit, you have probably recovered or you’re dead!

It all makes me pine wistfully for the days of talking to human beings, days when you were quickly dealt with at the council’s front desk counter, days when you saw your doctor and, if he or she felt you needed a hospital appointment, they just picked up a phone and rang and made the appointment there and then.

But modern phone systems are now so packed with plugs, adverts, options and delays that the caller almost loses the will to live to get even close to what they made the call for in the first place before numerous sidelines set in.

Oh, and just one more thing. I’m still waiting!

Will fuel run out?

FINALLY, finally it has happened and, of course, the Government and fuel experts have immediately rubbished the findings.

Their scorn was directed at a recent report claiming that all this country’s fossil fuels will run out in not much more than five years time.

Now maybe the report is wrong and maybe it isn’t, but the concept of fossil fuels being finite is indisputably correct. The only question is when sites such as Dorset oil and shale deposits will run out.

What I found amusing – if such a scenario can ever be amusing – is that the Government hatchet job on the report also included a “Yah! Boo! Sucks!” comment that, in any case, Britain didn’t need to be totally self-sufficient on energy.
Is that right?! Surely creating most if not all our own energy through solar, wind and wave measures has to be critically important if we are not to find ourselves buying in energy from those countries which did take energy needs seriously.

It all smacks of that famous scenario so beloved of politicians, namely rubbishing warnings that something bad is going to happen and, when it does, accusing everyone else of not paying heed to those warnings.

Dorset is better off than most counties to do its bit for alternative energy with well above average sunshine levels and a coastline capable of being harnessed for wind and wave power. The question is not whether it will happen but whether it will happen too late.

Chilli assault

IN time honoured fashion I must warn my readers that those of a sensitive disposition should read no further.

If you are, then at least I gave you advance warning about this tale related to me in Weymouth about a woman left in agony because she was… cooking herself a meal.

She was busying about, chopping this and stirring that, wiping her face in the hot and humid conditions.

But she suddenly became aware of a stinging sensation in her eyes and realised it might have something to do with the chillies she was chopping.

By now the pain was quite bad but, because of the chilli juice on her hands, she couldn’t rub her eyes.

Worse she wore contact lenses and the microscopic flecks of chilli juice were getting trapped and distributed behind them!

She was eventually able to flush her vicious attacker away, but it underlines that you don’t have to be on the front line in Afghanistan to suddenly – and unexpectedly – find yourself being assaulted.

D-Day shows Lyme at its best

NOBODY does it better! How many times do we hear that from visitors when they arrive in Lyme and see one of the town’s numerous attractions in full swing.

Many such comments were certainly made this past weekend as Lyme pulled out the stops once again, this time to commemorate (not celebrate, as one other local newspaper headline disgreacefully described it) the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Top marks to the town council for getting the arrangements off the ground and then handing things over to a voluntary committee. It’s been proved many times throughout the years that it’s much better when such matters are left to volunteers rather than councillors.

Unfortunately, I missed the civic parade and plaque unveiling on the Sunday as I was attending a wedding in London, probably the first major Lyme event I have not been present at for 40 years. But Francesca tells me what a special occasion it was, presided over by Mayor Sally Holman whose term of office has included so many special occasions.

The blistering heat caused a few problems but I understand these were dealt with quickly and sympathetically.

As always, the town turned out in force to support this unique occasion and it was good to hear that the majority of councillors gave their support.  This is how it should be and it is to be hoped that the curent council continue in this vein for the rest of their term of office. It’s what the town expects.

The 6am service on Church Cliff on Friday was attended by well over 100 people and was a fitting start to the programme of events designed to honour those brave young men, many of whom who were based in Lyme on the run up to D-Day, who took part in the invasion.

There was good support also for the ancillary events, including the concert party at the Woodmead Halls, organised and compered by Les Loveridge, and the swing dance at the same venue on Saturday evening when a nuber of those attending donned 1940s-style fashions to add some authenticity to the occasion.

David Manners, vice-chairman of the Lyme Regis branch of the Royal British Legion, chaired the organising committee and he and his helpers deserve great credit for the energetic way they went about their task.

A special mention must go to Matt Puddy and Geoff Baker who worked so hard on making sure the town looked so patriotic with so many flags and colourful bunting, with much help coming from council operations manager Elliott Herbert and his team of workers.

Well done also to town crier Alan Vian who looked after many of the arrangements during the weekend, especially for Sunday’s parade and plaque unveiling in his usual enthusiastic manner.

The staging of such events underlines the need for Lyme to acquire a public address system which will make life so much easier for those organising the events and certainly more enjoyable for those attending and listening to the proceedings.

So Lyme does it again - a good example of the town council and  community working together for the benefit of all.

May that always be the case.

The days when you could speak to your bank

SAD to see the HSBC Bank closed down this week and the “For Sale” sign going up.

There has been a bank on this site since the 1920s and we can only hope that the prime site location of this unique building will attract much interest from new businesses and that it will soon be reoccupied. 

Banking is a much diferent business than it used to be when I first opened an account with the old Midland Bank 50 years ago.

Those were the days when your bank manager was a pillar of society and had the authority to sanction overdrafts, etc.

Which was just as well when I was mayor for one year. In those days the mayor’s allowance was a stingy £350 and it was something of a tradition to have the post-match party for mayor-making at the Royal Lion.

I went up to the Lion the following the morning to settle the bill. It came to £340, leaving me with ten quid for the rest of my civic year!

During that year I ran up a £1,000 overdraft without authority or discussion with my bank manager. However, he clearly kept an eye on the situation for on the morning of the day following the end of my year in office I got a letter from him asking what I was going to do about my overdraft.

Clearly, he didn’t want to send that letter whilst I was the town’s First Citizen. But he wasted no time once I was out of office!

No ordinary Joe in front of goal…

FOOTBALL club presentation nights are usually boisterous affairs - and Friday’s bash at the Golf Club was no exception.

But we did have a great deal to celebrate, the past season being one of the best in the club’s 129 years of history with honours spread right across our senior teams.

The function weas graced by the presence of our Mayor, Sally Holman, a big supporter of the club, who was accompanied by Councillor Terry O’Grady who had some kind words about Lyme Regis FC at a recent council meeting. I think both of them enjoyed the occasion and Terry commented afterwards that there was a real “family” atmosphere about the club.

Footballers definitely know how to celebrate and eagerly look forward to the presentation of the various trophies.  

It was a big night for first team striker Joe Bond whose 31 goals this season secured him two awards. With a long career ahead of him, and 100 goals already in the bag, he will surely end up as one of the Seasiders’ all-time great marksmen.


DORCHESTER Royal British Legion President Les Cuff has his worries about the future of the Legion in the county town, despite a successful D-Day 70th commemoration in the past week. Les lost both his parents at an early age and, after a brief period with his grandmother, went to live in children’s homes in Salisbury and Weymouth. It was from there that he watched the build-up to D-Day in and around Weymouth and Portland. Eventually, he followed his older brothers into the armed services but was stopped from seeing front-line service, literally at the last minute. He has worked on farms in and around the county, has a passion for tractors and steam engines and has been involved in many aspects of life in the county town – including the now-closed Conservative Club.

WHAT are your memories of your older brothers and their military service?
I remember them coming to see me two days before disembarking. They brought me a black ball and a fire engine which was a real beauty. I was the envy of all the other kids. I don’t suppose at the time I really realised what was happening to them... my elder brother, Harry, who was known as “Bubbles” was captured and spent three or four years as a prisoner of war. He never spoke of it until six months before he died. My other brother, Eddie, was 73 when he died. He spent much of the war in hospital with shrapnel in his head. They never removed all of it because it would have been too dangerous.

AND how much of D-Day do you remember?
I was in a children’s home in Weymouth so we could see the build-up going on. We lined up on Portland Road and the troops marching past us would throw us their money and bars of chocolate. It is something I will never forget.

WAS being in a children’s home tough?
I suppose it would be considered that now – but it was what we were used to. We had gardens to grow our own veg and, of course, we were expected to work. We weren’t treated roughly, nothing like the abuse you hear about in some places, but we had to do what we were told. We had to make our own beds and darn our own socks and, of course, there would be regular inspections to check our nails and make sure we’d washed behind our ears.

AND I suppose you, like almost everyone else, left school at 14?
Yes. The home found me a job in a paper shop in Fordingbridge. I was only there a week, I just couldn’t stick it and the owners got fed up with me moaning and crying. I was then found an apprenticeship with Jack Jolliffe in Weymouth as a painter and decorator where I stayed until my call-up papers came. I wasn’t impressed with the idea but I had to go. They put me in the Medical Corps, probably because I’d been in St John Ambulance in Weymouth.

HOW did you get on?
It wasn’t too bad to begin with but it knocked some of the others back a bit, being told what to do by a snotty Corporal. I was eventually posted to Tidworth Military Hospital but I couldn’t stick working on the wards all the time. Then, one day, they called for volunteers to be parachute medics. I couldn’t say “thank you” quick enough. I went basically to get out of the hospital but I also wanted to see some action.

AND did you?
No, the nearest I got was the Suez Crisis. I got the papers and got to Brize Norton via the train at Salisbury. We were all loaded up in the plane with the engines running all ready to go when the pilot got the call that it was being aborted... my friends all went abroad but I never got out of the country.

HOW did you get involved with the Legion?
I first joined at Stapleford, near Salisbury. My elder brother had always said that if you were in the forces you had to be in the Legion, but it wasn’t until I came to Dorchester to work at Lower Skippet Farm that I really got involved. At time it was in High East Street, in the old brewery building. We had hundreds of members and the building was nowhere near big enough so we moved to Fordington, but that eventually went in the early 1990s and we ended up meeting wherever we could, usually in pub skittle alleys.

AND what state is the Legion in today?
Basically there’s only a handful of us left; many members have died and others drifted away, mainly because we had no “home”. We’ve tried to get younger members but to no avail. We have 40 or 50 members on the books but really there’s only a few of us who take an active part, but I’m going to carry on as long as I can.

WHAT do you make of Dorchester’s recent developments?
I don’t think a lot of it is good for Dorchester. There’s shops and other businesses out of the town centre which should be in the town centre. We need to keep the town centre alive. If they don’t watch it they will ruin Dorchester with all the extra development. The new council offices have taken up too much parking space and the traffic system needs sorting out.

SO where would you live if not in Dorchester?
I’m not likely to leave Dorchester but if I didn’t live here I would like to try New Zealand. It seems a tranquil place and they never seem to have any trouble.

DO you have any hobbies?
I used to do up vintage tractors but I’m a bit too old for that now, although I do collect model tractors. I’ve got one for every tractor I’ve ever worked on.

The only things I don’t like are celery, sweetcorn and salmon – but I’ll eat pretty much anything else!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A dangerous walk along trail

HE WAS clearly doing more than 30mph, others were not going much slower and it was all an obvious danger.

Incredibly I am not talking about motorists exceeding the speed limit and putting people’s safety at risk but about cyclists whizzing along the Rodwell Trail in Weymouth.
We went out for an evening walk recently, the first along the trail for some time, and the difference we noticed was startling.

Certainly the route is much smoother and much more user-friendly, but not for ordinary pedestrians just out for a stroll as we were.

The speeding cyclist in question appeared out of nowhere, shot past us and was gone almost before we realised he had arrived. 

Other cyclists coming up behind also startled us because, with one exception during a half hour walk, not one of them bothered to ring a bell or shout to warn us they were coming past.

Adding to our nervous “watch your back” feeling were joggers. We often missed their soft-shoed approach and, while our safety wasn’t at risk from them, our nerves were.

All in all, the route offers a lovely stroll in the evening sunshine, but authorities have got to do something about the speed of some cyclists and ram home to them they must alert pedestrians to their presence.

Hold on to your Euros or it could cost you

IT has been said that the only people to be able to afford a truly exotic foreign holiday are figures in the finance industry.

And it is easy to see why since holidaymakers in Weymouth and Portland don’t have the same currency problems facing tourists planning a trip abroad.

A simple check at a variety of finance points from banks to travel agents and the Post Office revealed some startling facts including just how important it is to keep an eagle eye on the rises and falls of the currency you are interested in.

For the beginning of the week in question £3,000 would have bought you 3,348 Euros, but just three days later exchanging the same amount would have given you 3,600 Euros, a staggering gain of 252 Euros.

But the real money making – for the banks, travel agents and the Post Office -- comes when you arrive home from holiday with spare Euros you want to change back into pounds.

One classic example is provided by the Post Office. It was prepared to sell me Euros at a rate of €1.18 to the £1 but was only prepared to buy them back for pounds at a rate of €1.39 to the £1. Translated, it means that buying £400 worth of Euros gets you €472 but returning the identical amount – €472 – would have seen the Post Office offer you less than £340 for your unspent holiday cash, so you effectively lose more than £60 which is their gain.

Nice work if you can get it which is why it pays to shop around if you must exchange back or, if you can wait, hang on to the Euros for your next holiday and ensure you lose nothing.

Seize the moment

IF there was ever a perfect illustration for the expression – Seize the Moment – then this tale has to be among the frontrunners.

A Weymouth woman was just getting all fluffy and warm in her night gown after a late night bath when someone knocked on her front door.

Her husband answered it to discover a neighbour outside wanted them both to come round to his greenhouse even though it was nearly 11pm.

Mystified but intrigued, they both got dressed and went round to his garden where they were shown a special orchid in full flower.

The urgency came from the fact that it took this orchid a number of years to flower once briefly and tonight was the night.

They were duly impressed and it was just as well too. The orchid flowers were dead by morning but the memory of that night still lingers on.

WEYMOUTH railway station appears to be too much of a challenge on three counts for some visiting motorists.

The first aberration I saw during a recent visit involved not one but two drivers parking to block a barrier in front of which was written on the roadway in large yellow letters: “EMERGENCY VEHICLES”. They missed or ignored the warning right in front of them despite the fact it was clearly visible to me 50ft away.

A train passenger then getting in to one of the two same cars clearly didn’t bother about litter laws because they bent down and put an empty soft drinks can in the road before being driven off, leaving the can in the middle of the parking area. Why not try something ground-breaking and take the can home?

Finally three drivers did their best to crash into each other by all reversing out of spaces at the same time. You had to see it and even then you couldn’t quite believe the simultaneous stupidity being shown.

I made absolutely sure no one was going to execute a handbrake turn or drop off some luckless passenger by hurling them out of the door as they shot past before I risked pulling away to the safety of the open road. No wonder they encourage people to take a train. It’s too dangerous to go anywhere in a car!

A lesson from Lyme for Michael Gove

FORTY-FIVE years ago a 15-year-old student of mine wrote: “I never volunteer for anything. If you volunteer, you have no margin for error; I need a very large margin in which to err.”

I recall this precisely, right down to the semi-colon (yes, Mr Gove, we did teach those in the 1960s). She’s probably retired now, volunteering like crazy while erring all over her margins.

Her youthful wisdom spotted a truth: volunteering, freely offered, can be as freely withdrawn, yet done well, it’s an obligation as strong as any binding contract. Relying on self-discipline, it’s a mature form of work. 

I’ve been learning about three youth organisations - the majorettes, youth football and B Sharp - through which the young mature. Outwardly different in nature and tradition - the first two with over 30 years each behind them, B Sharp relatively new - they depend not just on adult leaders but also on senior trainees, while every young member is a volunteer, too.  

Over 60 boys (plus three girls) from 7 to 16 years old are members of Lyme Regis Youth Football - self-governing, affiliated to Lyme Regis Football Club, and playing competitively in three age-based leagues. About 60 majorettes, aged between four and 17, perform regularly across the region. B Sharp’s core group is also about 60, in four mixed-age sections, expanding for special projects such as B Sharp Voices in schools, and B Sharp Collective (a mixed ensemble) in the summer holidays.

So what have I learned of the qualities shared by these three organisations?

They’re magnets, attracting young people not just from Lyme but from across West Dorset and East Devon. Why? Because they are known for excellence. Conversely, they expand horizons by performing, playing and mixing with similarly high-quality groups further afield, melting the parochialism that can affect small towns, and representing Lyme’s youthful face positively and proudly.

What creates that excellence? From leaders and participants the sense of purpose leaps out. This is much more than “something for young people to do” - B Sharp, for instance, though it began as a response to teenage disaffection, soon moved far beyond that. It’s quickly clear that all three develop interests and skills in a spirit of enjoyment. 

Equally obvious is energy and commitment, self-discipline, growing confidence and self-esteem. Watch, for example, the physical effort and intense focus of young majorettes training. (“They don’t smile when performing!” carp some critics, but they’re young, concentrating fiercely on complex routines - give them a break!).

Weekly training and practice (what we might call the private and internal) fuse with performance (the public and external). These feed off and reinforce each other - without the weekly graft there could be no public performance, and performing is the challenge that motivates the graft. We outsiders see the public side but it’s what goes on out of sight that truly stretches them.

Strong collective responsibility

Social skills grow, too. The mixed-age musicians and majorettes each make The Hub buzz when they train. Underpinning the relaxed friendliness are mature relationships among the members, and between them and their mentors. A strong collective responsibility develops, for a team match or a display troupe or a Big Mix music festival depends on everyone being committed.

Above all, I’ve observed first-rate education. They learn by doing, by working together, benefiting from each other’s skills, being role models and exemplars, helping and stimulating each other. B Sharp musicians write much of their own material, the majorettes help choreograph their routines and out on the pitch, young footballers must themselves build the team’s effectiveness. 

This self-reliance is spelled out in B Sharp’s core work, “The Young Music Leaders Project”. Training cascades from a professional, through assistant music leaders like Jacques Verhaeren, Chloe Stratt a and Matt Hartnell, and onto 10 or more upcoming trainees - a seamless cycle of learning and teaching. 

Similarly, leaders Olivia Miller, Emma Tappin and Zoe Robbins were all majorettes in their time, while a key ingredient of youth football is coaching by current or recent senior players like Mark Bailey, Julian Simier, Stuart King and John Matthews, with Stuart himself having worked up the youth football ranks as a child.

While growing their future young leaders, these organisations thereby also help their members move confidently into adult roles. Youth footballers, for example, who join the Seasiders already feel at home. There’s a fine record of progress into professional music and higher education based on B Sharp work portfolios.

“This type of progression through recreation is hard to find elsewhere,” says B Sharp “graduate” Dom Kirtley.

The passion of the adult leaders who enable all this is immense. Stuart Fowler, chairman of the youth football, oozes enthusiasm and “pride in their performance.” Olivia says directly: “I just love it.” And for Fran Williams, director of B Sharp: “It’s so rewarding, when you believe in people, to see them finding the best in themselves.”

In turn, they pay tribute to the adults behind the scenes - the trustees and parent committees that manage, fundraise, transport, equip, supervise and support. “Without them, it would simply stop,” as one leader put it.

It mustn’t stop. For the abiding impression is of quality, in ways of learning and in performance - the majorettes invited to 25 events a year, the under 16 footballers winning the Dorset County Cup and topping their league, and B Sharp’s Coastal Voices, busking festivals, and popular Big Mix. Together, organisations like these have, in Dom’s words, “created countless opportunities for young people and changed the social landscape of the town.”

For Lyme has other excellent youth groups; I’ll catch up with them later. Meanwhile, these three examples illustrate the truth about commitment that my former student so wryly noted; they show Lyme Regis achieving way beyond what we have any right to expect of a small town; and they provide true collaborative education with high standards. 
Michael Gove should visit, and learn.