Wednesday, 26 November 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Alison Theobald


ALSION Theobald is joint chairperson of the Weymouth Business Improvement District. She was born in Middlesex and has lived in Weymouth since 1988. She went to school at Budmouth and then Weymouth College before going to work in the financial sector where she is now a fully qualified independent financial advisor.

WHY do you live in Weymouth? 
Because it is a beautiful place and this is where my business is.

WHERE do you go for your holidays? 
Somewhere different every year. My motto is that you never visit the same place twice. For my last holiday I went to the Maldives.

WHAT is your favourite time of the year? 
Summer because the weather is lovely and Weymouth is a fantastic location to be near the sea where you can make the most of your surroundings.

WHAT is your favourite film? 
War Horse because it is a great story which covers all emotions.

WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you? 
Coming face to face with a snake in a zoo when I was a child. It was not in a display but hanging round a woman’s neck who was showing it off to visitors. It was just in my face when I came round a corner and I screamed and ran off.

IF YOU could live your life again what would you be? 
The same as I am now because I am so happy with a lovely business and a lovely family.

WHICH people would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
Marilyn Monroe, so I could see what she was really about, and Winston Churchill because I just think he would be incredibly interesting because of the circumstances he lived in and the decisions he had to make.

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery? 
Pay all my friends and family’s mortgages off. There are no pockets in a shroud.

WHAT do you hope the future holds? 
Health, wealth and happiness. Those are the three things that matter.

Seventies shenanigans on the quayside

IT’S amazing what can come to light with the passing of the years.

All quayside quips at the moment are about the impending sale and demolition of the council offices and what will be built in their place.

I’d venture to suggest that every resident in the entire town should keep a stern eye on what is being proposed so we don’t have a repeat of damage to the historical environment which cast such disgrace when the council offices were built in the 1970s.

Several of my readers have kindly provided me with even more information about the goings-on four decades ago when plans were submitted for the new council offices which involved swatting aside poorly maintained Tudor homes as if they were ramshackle chicken houses.

There was a public inquiry, an event particularly generated by two conservation minded architects, Eric Ricketts and Ernest Walmsley-Lewis.

They highlighted the obvious and grievous loss of historic buildings and the street plan, but there were also considerable doubts about the "real" intentions of the council. 

Apparently the inspector conducting the inquiry specifically asked the council's barrister: "Was there actually room for the council offices, the public library and the health centre and all the associated car parking on the site," which the council was suggesting?

He was assured that there was which is why there is a small car park either side of the main council offices block.

But you can look there until hell freezes over and you won’t find hide nor hair of either the health centre or the library, underlining the council’s unique skill in providing their own special interpretation of provision of public services which continues to this day.

Eric Ricketts and Ernest Walmsley-Lewis may have lost the war but they made sure they won a few battles, scouring the demolition of the area to make as many sketches, notes and measurements as they could in the very short time available.

Of special interest was the Tudor harbour master's house where Eric Ricketts bravely went as far as entering the house during demolition and removing the staircase balusters.

They proved to be almost the only items rescued and they now form the alter rail in St Anne's Church at Radipole.

My bride and I actually stood there in St Anne’s when we married there in 1983 but it is only very recently that I have been sent details about the altar rail and its connection with the old harbour master’s house.

It seems the rail will outlive the council offices and quite right too. There is more historical worth in them than the entire council offices put together.

Bird baiting

WELL seagulls have really gone and done it now!

Mind you, squawking through the two-minute silence at Remembrance services was always going to be unpopular.

The result has been a certain amount of public criticism sent to councillors with some fairly innovative suggestions on how the seagulls can be dealt with.

One of the more aggressive ideas was to bring along a hawk to scare them away from the service area near the cenotaph.

But, as one councillor pointed out, that might just swap the squawking of seagulls for the screeching of the hawk!

I like my suggestion a lot better. Wait until five minutes before the service starts and then scatter a couple of plates of chips on the Pavilion car park.

About ten seconds later you’ll have every seagull in the place squabbling over scraps and the service can go ahead in relative peace. 

Problem solved.

Should the Council take the lead to move drunks?

MANY congratulations to Weymouth Police for reducing the frequency of drunks slumped on the steps of the railway station.

They are hardly the first impression the town wants for visitors arriving here, but neither should they be the second impression for visitors walking into town along the seafront.

There were eight inebriates squabbling over whose turn it was with the cider bottle when I walked by the other day.

To be honest, if people want to get wrecked at 10.30am in the morning that’s their business provided it doesn’t impact on others, but when there are families about with children then neither the behaviour nor the language should be tolerated.

Certainly one mother being pestered by her daughter about what had happened was at her wits end to answer questions about why the men – and women – involved were slumped in the shelter or actually lying on the ground.

Fortunately her own daughter bailed her out by saying: “Are they tired?” to which mother gratefully replied: “I’m sure that’s it.”

Perhaps that explains the origin of the expression: “As tired as a newt!”

Whatever the reason, it may be time to consider more permanent measures to deal with these people since moving them on from the railway station merely seems to be switching the same problem to a different place.

Police are stretched enough as it is so this may be a social nettle that the council might have to take a lead in grasping, perhaps through a few more effective bylaws than those which are currently in place.

Can UKIP bring the party to East Devon?

I’VE OFTEN heard my boss remark in the build-up to a general election, that you “could tie a blue ribbon to a pig around here and it would get in”.

I’m sure a reader will correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think any MP other than a Conservative - regardless of constituency boundary and name changes over the years - has served our part of Devon since the party was founded in 1834.

With all respect to the two Conservative MPs that represent Pulman’s Country (Neil Parish for Tiverton & Honiton and Hugo Swire in the East Devon constituency), the editor is right - their seats are as safe as houses.

At least, that’s what I thought until the UKIP bandwagon continued it’s seemingly unstoppable roll by winning the Rochester & Strood by-election last Thursday.

Now, I know by-elections are very different beasts to general elections, with protest votes far more likely ­– especially when you’re safe in the knowledge that in less than six months time you’ll be able to recast your vote.

But Rochester & Strood was the second seat UKIP has won in six weeks, with Mark Reckless following Douglas Carswell’s victory in the Clacton by-election last month. 

Yes, both were Tory defectors with good reputations in their own backyards, but they still managed to sway the electorate from blue to purple.

Where as UKIP were very much once seen as a fringe party, only attracting any real attention in the build-up to the European Parliament elections - how many purple signs declaring support for UKIP did you see in Pulman’s Country last May? - next year they will have to be taken seriously and, yes, even treated with respect.

Now, with Messrs Parish and Swire both boasting majorities of 17 per cent, I don’t think either of them will be quite quaking in their boots - but no one will be able to take anything for granted next year. It really feels like anything could happen. 

The Rochester & Strood constituency was as low down on UKIP’s list of general election target seats as 271. 

To quote leader Nigel Farage: “If we win this, looking forward to next year’s general election, all bets are off and the whole thing is up in the air.”

Enough said.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A parade of maps and hats, trumpets and trades

LAST month I described how volunteers in past decades helped reinvigorate ‘Lyme’s shop window’ – its seafront. Let’s spot some examples of people freely giving time and talent to keep that seafront vibrant today.

At Cobb Gate, the Fossil Festival, of course. Growing from Marcus Dixon’s resourceful imagination, this education-fest draws huge numbers – the absorbed, excited faces of children busy with all the hands-on activities being the greatest of its many pleasures.

Organiser Kimberly Clarke reckons the festival relies on around twenty volunteers, whether in preparation or during the weekend, with help ranging from marketing to stewarding. If you haven’t yet dipped a toe in the volunteering waters, try taking the temperature with this admirable event.

Next May Day weekend (the tenth festival) the theme is ‘Mapping the Earth’, marking the 200th anniversary of the world’s first geological map, by William Smith. His background, qualities and experiences with the scientific establishment share much with his near-contemporary Mary Anning. She discovered her Ichthyosaur four years before Smith’s map appeared; he was finally recognised by the Geological Society, awarding him the first-ever Wollaston Medal, in 1831 – eight years after Mary found her Plesiosaur. Simon Winchester’s The Map That Changed The World tells his gritty story well.

Maps are wonderful things, fitting the pieces of reality (and ideas) together. GPS, Sat Nav, Facebook and Twitter focus minds on “Where I am, now”. The more important questions, “Where have we been?” and “Where might we go?” lose out. Maps, in their broadest sense, trace answers and illuminate the nature of such journeys. A contextless humanity without grip on time and space does not bear contemplating, morally or practically.

But let’s cheer up with the Lyme Regis Town Band, whose popular summer concerts in the Shelters’ Performance Area are quintessential Lyme: “We’re a concert band, not a contesting band,” as bookings secretary Val Mahoney puts it, firmly. “And it’s a special delight when small children dance spontaneously on the Parade around us.”

With around 25 volunteer members aged from 13 to 80 and from many walks of life, rehearsing two evenings a week and engaged for around fifty performances each year, this friendly band certainly keep busy. It sustains a mixed-age training band, too, tutored by members, which keeps the flow of musicians alive. The training band will have some numbers at the Town Band’s Christmas Concert on 12th December (8.00pm in Woodmead Halls) so you can hear the present and the future.

Above the Performance Area we might hear jollity and mirth from the Langmoor Room – the Red Hat Ladies getting together. Don’t think I’m stretching the definition of ‘volunteering’ here – “Why, they’re a social club, entertaining themselves!” True, in part. But they add to the gaiety, if not of nations, then of the town: without them, in their red hats and purple clothing, where would Broad Street processions be? (OK, still in Broad Street, but less fun.) Without taking themselves too seriously they contribute, like many other groups from Community Lunches to the U3A, to the important job of fostering the wellbeing of a significant section of Lyme’s residents.

Red Hat Ladies originated in California (where else?) in 1998, inspired by the opening of a Jenny Joseph poem:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.

The movement spread, bursting on Lyme Regis nine years ago “to keep ladies of a certain age young” as one expressed it. (The ‘certain age’ must be over fifty; the ‘keeping young’ is achieved by enjoying themselves and doing interesting things.) When the Lyme Bay Lovelies ‘chapter’ reached capacity, the Jurassic Gems formed a second, still growing. Each chapter has a monthly social event and regular outings, called ‘hoots’, the name telling us much about their spirited style. Why don’t Lyme Regis men do this sort of thing – could the Montagu Lodge join the Jazz Procession in canary yellow suits and pink berets?

Moving quickly on ... to the Jubilee Pavilion, where for a seven-month season over fifty volunteers welcome and advise those who’ve missed the Tourist Information Centre. The huge Jurassic Coast map on the back wall outside draws people magnetically, while inside are six different maps of Lyme and its neighbourhood. But it’s the conversations with volunteers (and re-direction to the TIC as necessary) that particularly help those from out of town to ‘map’ and plan a satisfying experience in Lyme Regis – conversations that are pleasurable for the volunteers, too.

Since the Shelters re-opened mid-season in 2011, nearly 85,000 people have tapped the volunteers’ friendly store of local knowledge; compliments about the town’s attractiveness abound in return. Such a free visitor service, supporting official provision, is rare along the coast. Users appreciate it, which can only add to Lyme’s welcoming reputation.

Last stop: the National Trust shop. Manager Gill Melly, three part-time and three casual staff work with around sixteen volunteers, most doing a weekly three-hour shift. A small professional staff supported by volunteers – the model we’ve met several times before – is an ideal combination.

The Trust benefits from a loyal, experienced team interested in the shop’s purpose and performance, and contributing to its development. Costs are reduced, enabling this popular shop to keep running. And a variety of enthusiastic residents with local knowledge are ambassadors for the town as well as for the Trust.

In turn, they enjoy a sociably interesting role in a beautiful spot, with the personal reward of helping a valued charity and our community. Under the ‘staff-with-volunteers’ model they train professionally on the job, learn the retail ropes, and come to understand the Trust nationally and locally – for all the profits from its Lyme shop support work within the Trust’s West Dorset area.

In a few hundred yards that’s quite a variety of volunteering – science and music, map-work and laughter, selling and guiding, one-off tasks and regular duties... and all with a sea-view.


STEVE Davies is the owner of Dinosaurland in Lyme Regis. He  went to school in Bristol and a teacher brought him to Lyme Regis on a geology field trip. He said: “On the beaches under Black Ven I found a large golden ammonite and this was a life changing moment. I couldn’t believe that something of such beauty could be found so easily. I knew in that instant that I would work with fossils. I was lucky enough to realise my dream and became a palaeontologist. I worked all around the world but kept coming back to Lyme whenever I had the chance. There is something really special about the beaches and fossils around Lyme. I finally got to come to live here in 1990.”

ARE you married and do you have children?
I have been married to the long suffering Jenny for 31 years.  As part of the wooing process, I brought her to Lyme Regis one winter. We stayed at the Bay Hotel looking out over the sea. I think it helped convince her that I was worth the trouble. We have three children - Chris is a doctor in Birmingham, Ben is a Project Manager in Nottingham and Mairi administers a language school in Seville.

HOW did you first become interested in geology/palaeontology? ?
I studied Geology at Oxford University and then Micropalaeontology at University College, London. I joined BP as a palaeontologist and travelled the world using fossils to help explore for oil and gas. Those were heady days. I got to work on the early discoveries in the North Sea and Arctic Alaska. I was in the first group of foreign experts sent to China in the days when the country was more like North Korea is today. It was all a big adventure. Eventually I became chief palaeontologist for BP looking after all their fossil interests. But one day I decided I had had enough of industry and resigned. I naturally headed back towards Lyme to consider a new direction.

WHEN did you take on Dinosaurland?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is housed in the former Congregational Church on Coombe Street. This is where Mary Anning was baptised and where she worshipped for most of her life. You couldn’t write a better script about where to house a fossil museum. I was able to buy the building in 1995. The initial collection consisted of a humble 113 fossils.

WHAT sets the museum apart from other attractions/what's unique about the museum?
Dinosaurland Fossil Museum is a traditional museum with more than 10,000 specimens on permanent display now. This abundance of specimens certainly sets the museum apart. There are more fossils on display here than in all the other museums in south west England put together. It is important that my visitors can see a wide range of material. They can read my discussions of what is on display. But ultimately they can muse over it themselves and come to their own conclusions.

DO you have any particularly special items on display?
All the fossils on display are particularly special to me. They are all individuals with their own specific characteristics. I find the humblest belemnite just as interesting as the grandest Ichthyosaur. Different visitors pick their own special specimens. I suppose the greatest response comes for a collection of 460 million year old trilobites from Russia with an extraordinary display of spines. But there is the male and female Jeholosaur dinosaurs from the feathered dinosaur quarry of China. Or the Diving Ichthyosaur where a dying creature managed to bury itself in the mud nose first with the rest of the body crumpled up on top. My younger visitors tell me that the 73kg lump of dinosaur dung is the best.

CAN you tell us about the latest additions to your collection?
I was pleased to get a piece of the Chelyabinsk meteorite. This is the meteorite that struck Russia recently, injuring thousands of people but being caught for the first time on film.
I am just finalising a display about Fossil Lake in Wyoming. This is where the millions of fossil fish on sale around the world come from. The display aims to show why the lake was so prolific and illustrate the less popular fossils from the lake, like the Palm Flower I am holding in the photograph.

ARE there any plans to develop the museum and its collections in the future?
In the short term, I am putting the finishing touches to a wonderful new Ichthyosaur that has come from Germany. The Ichthyosaurs in the museum come from various locations around the Jurassic Sea. They are all telling a slightly different story about what life was like in that sea. Longer term I expect to spend as much time as possible out on the beaches this winter collecting the new exhibits. The wonderful thing is that I have no idea what is waiting out there to be discovered.

WHAT are your personal interests/hobbies?
My all consuming interests are the fossils. I find that the more I work with them, the more interesting they become. 

WHAT do you like about the local area?
If you like fossils like me, then Lyme Regis must be close to paradise on Earth. But I love the narrow alleyways and mysterious hidden gardens of the Old Town around the museum. And I love the diversity of the countryside around Lyme. There is such a contrast between say the Undercliffs and Golden Cap yet all within relatively easy walking distance.

WHAT do you think it's missing?
The ‘official’ website for the town tells you that there is one museum in Lyme Regis but it is not my museum. The tourist information centre refuses to display my advertising leaflet. I do not want any help for my museum but it would be nice to see some sort of acknowledgement that I actually exist.

EU rules make problems for Santa

TODAY there are just five weeks to go until Christmas Eve, so you’d better get those presents ordered now.

Worryingly this warning has nothing to do with Christmas getting closer and closer, and everything to do with those nice regulators in the EU.

They have somehow decided to decree that lorry drivers now require a Certificate of Professional Competence.

You only have to go on a reasonably lengthy drive to realise that those behind the wheel of lorries that you meet are usually in their 40s and 50s and they’ve had enough practice.

This latest piece of cutting edge EU legislation is proving to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back because it is seeing drivers leave their profession in droves.

Too many regulations, too much red tape, too much paperwork. It all adds up, so lorry drivers are retiring early or taking up other professions and all that is creating a shortage of drivers to haul Christmas goods.

This in turn has created a battery of warnings for consumers not to leave their orders to the last minute or even the last month because they may not get what they want delivered in time for the festering season.

Leaving an extra letter for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph won’t solve this particular problem and it will be interesting to see how the big shopping chains, transport firms and supermarkets react. You have been warned.

We’ll keep right on remembering

THIS year more than almost any before there was an upwelling of public memory and connection for Remembrance Sunday.

It came in a year which marked the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI and the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, but it was more than that.

The whole commemoration of everything just seemed to strike a chord with everyone. The weather was fine, there were big crowds of young and old alike and there were cheers and applause for the veterans taking part in the service and big parade.

No veteran of the First World War, also known as the Great War, is still alive today and if the same passage into history follows with those who fought in the Second World War then all those service people will be gone by Remembrance Sunday 2039.

But the tradition of “lest we forget” will continue on because conflicts since have included Korea, the Falklands and Iraq and remembrance respects will continue to be paid even if the world can somehow gather all its countries into peace.

Sleep trashed

COMPLAINTS rumble on about the new rubbish collection measures in Weymouth and Portland, so here is another.

In our road we previously could set our clocks on a Friday to just after 7am when the rubbish lorry used to come down the road.

The new regime has seen our collection date change from Friday to Thursday, but it is the change in collection time which is starting to be a bit annoying.

Sometime after 7am didn’t bother me too much because I’m a morning person, but I’m not that much of a morning person to somehow welcome the new collection time which has consistently been about 6:05am-6:10am.

Now that is early and when you add to that the sounds of glass, tin and plastic waste cascading into hoppers there is precious little chance of going back to sleep after ten minutes of that.

My question is this. If our rubbish could be happily collected at about 7am why the need to wake people up at 6am.

I’m not complaining too loudly because any new system needs time to bed in, but if this unwelcome “dawn chorus” still continues in say six weeks time then I’ll be asking questions with slightly more of an edge. I’ll keep you all posted on how I get on.

Charity takes the mickey

WE all know that you get what you pay for, but this may no longer be so.

If figures available for a forthcoming London charity event at a top hotel are accurate then some of those attending from Weymouth may need smelling salts.

Naturally the service will be “absolutely top drawer” and I’m sure the chef masterminding the meal will have more stars than the Milky Way, but you reach a point where the basics have to be considered.

Those basics include a scallop on a lettuce leaf for the starter, a piece of cod of between two and four ounces enhanced by five or six artistically placed chips, and a dessert.

Now you might be prepared to pay £14-£15 for a meal of that nature in Weymouth, but this is London where everything is much more expensive, so adding a 50 percent increase to bring the bill up to £22 probably won’t surprise you.

What may surprise and, I venture to say, probably shock you is that the actual bill being charged for this meal is an appetite-losing £220 each! Still hungry?

Charity begins at home and if I was facing that sort of bill for that sort of meal then that is where I’d stay, spending the £20 on a decent meal out in Weymouth or Portland and buying a week’s holiday abroad with the £200 I’d saved.

Bet most of you would too!