Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Spell it like you say it?

GOOD mawning children, wat a nice day and I hope yuu are reddy faw yaw spelling test.

We will get reddy with a few words to warm up with witch I hope you egrii will help.
There will be some nyuu words to widen yaw vijen but others will be the seym ones we have praktised.

All joking aside, it does take a bit of getting used to doesn’t it, but my rough attempt at phonetic spelling might soon be quite a serious part of school life in the Weymouth and Portland area if a national campaign to introduce phonetic spelling continues to gain ground.

I don’t agree with it because I feel it will debase our language but I’m not a teacher, I don’t have the task of educating children and some of those who do feel simplifying the way we spell would be a help.

Quite whether changing “exit” to “egzit” or “relation” to “rileyshen” is the way to go is still open to debate but it is being considered whether you like... sorry, “layk” it or not to “kwowt” some of the suggestions.

Hopefully it will never see widespread use but I flag it up because these things have a habit of creeping up and suddenly being there. So keep your ayes open.

Looking forward to some wassail jam

I THOUGHT you’d all like a bit of up to date news that the fruit harvest in Preston is now safe.

Yes, yes, I know wassailing is hardly fresh news because it’s been about since the Middle Ages, but it has been revived in Preston to ward off evil spirits such as developers from a piece of land recently planted as an orchard.

The idea is that you sing, dance, drink mulled wine, cider and fruit juice and sort of... wassail, blessing the fruit trees for a good harvest.

I’m all in favour of looking after anything which might produce  a decent jam or preferably cider.

And if making a bit of noise is part of that then I’m sure it is a lot more socially acceptable than drunks reeling home at 2.00am while treating the street to a chorus of My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean only using some less than bonny football chant words instead.

Wassail comes from an ancient Anglo Saxon phrase meaning “good health” and wassail was originally a drink made from mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar. Not sure about the curdled cream but the rest sounds OK.

It is an interesting example of how a suburban community can bring the countryside and its traditions closer to home and have fun at the same time.

Tough trading times persist

QUITE what Weymouth’s main shopping streets will look like by Easter is anybody’s guess but the talk on the streets is that some businesses may find it tough to survive.

Organisations such as Weymouth Business Improvement District are doing their best to attract more people into the town, but if there is nothing there to hold them then they’ll be leaving almost as fast as they arrived.

Much emphasis has been placed on higher footfall and more events and attractions to boost the town’s economy yet you can’t have shoppers without shops and there is a growing feeling that enterprises are being squeezed harder or actually forced to move or shut down altogether because their rent has been sharply increased.

At least four enterprises have talked to me about that so it is not an isolated occurrence.

The BID is already into its second year of five, council cutbacks and partnership savings continue and the era of austerity shows no sign of cutting anyone a bit of slack.

So it will be interesting to see how the shopping streets manage to fare over the next three months before the first “green shoots” of the new summer season start to appear.

Not so affectionate workplace nicknames

A WEYMOUTH man has contacted me about a few nicknames for people he has come across which, I’m sure, strike a chord with the rest of us.

That annoying man at work who always answers a direct question with:  “I’ll get back to you”? The Boomerang Kid.

The person who lets everyone down at the last minute? The Parachute.

Someone who constantly says: “Let me put you in the picture”? Rembrandt.

That person who washes his hands of any problems that crop up? Soapy.

Someone who always seems to be off work sick? The Yeti... because there are many unconfirmed sightings but no-one can prove he actually exists.

Finally – and perhaps my favourite – The Hostage. Why so called? Because every time you go to him for help he says: “Sorry, my hands are tied.”


BEAUTY therapist and former nurse, Janis Meeks, brought her Anti-Ageing Clinic to Axminster 15 years ago and now offers the best treatments available today with an associate doctor from the Knightsbridge clinic in London. Here she talks about how the treatments can benefit her clients...

HOW did you become involved in the Anti-Ageing Clinic?
In 2000 a client in my beauty salon asked if I could recommend a doctor who did cosmetic fillers. I realised that there was nobody offering injectable fillers in this area and that a client would have to travel to a city in order to have the treatment. I did my research and spoke to a lot of people in the industry and one name seemed to be coming up - Dr Rita Rakus. I visited her Knightsbridge clinic and asked if she would be willing to travel to the West Country to treat my clients and, fortunately, she agreed. Over the years Dr Rakus' Knightsbridge clinic has become a world-renowned team of highly-skilled, highly-qualified and experienced doctors. Fifteen years later, at our Axminster clinic, we are privileged to have an associate doctor from the Knightsbridge clinic provide the best treatments on offer today.

WHAT did you train in, and where?
Originally I trained and practised as a nurse in Manchester and then moved to Somerset where I trained as a beauty therapist and built up a very successful beauty business.

WHY did you choose Axminster for your clinic?
I had successful beauty and skin care clinics in Somerset and Devon with many regular clients. So much so that when I moved to West Sussex in 2006, the demand for the clinic was still very high, so I decided to keep the clinic running. I then looked for somewhere central for my existing clients and the Axminster Chiropractic Care centre at Pam Cottey House was the perfect venue.

WHAT treatments do you offer?
Initially we offered fillers and muscle relaxants. We now have a wider range of treatments on offer including Pelleve, Sculptra and Dermaroller. We have also recently introduced Aqualyx, a treatment that dissolves fat deposits on the body.

ARE the treatments popular in the local area?
Our clinic has built up a good reputation with many of our clients attending due to recommendation. Clients appreciate being able to have the treatments locally at a clinic that has been established for over 15 years. 

HOW do treatments benefit your clients?
In an ideal world, we would all accept and embrace the ageing process. Unfortunately stress, ill health, neglect, sun damage and genetic disposition can leave us with the face we don’t deserve. Feeling unhappy with one’s looks doesn’t mean we are vain, if we are constantly being told we look tired, then psychologically we feel tired. Many women have reported, ‘a new confidence and better self image’ by lifting the tired look with a little help from our sympathetic and skilled doctor.

HOW long do the benefits of treatments last?
This depends on the client, but injectables can last anything from four months whereas Sculptra can last up to two years.

SOME women can feel concerned about getting treatments such as botox - is there anything to be worried about?
Muscle relaxants have been used safely for many years in both medical situations and in the cosmetic industry. As with any invasive procedure it is advisable to speak to a doctor first, which is why all potential  clients have a free, in-depth consultation with our doctor to ensure there are no contraindications to the treatment.

WHAT do you enjoy about the job?
The people. The clinic is very professional and I enjoy the lovely, friendly atmosphere. I enjoy meeting clients both regular and new and get great satisfaction hearing how the treatments have helped clients feel better about themselves. I strongly believe it is important that our clients get the most out of their treatments so we make every effort to provide the best possible support.

HOW can clients make an appointment for a free consultation?
You can phone me on the 01243 374111 or 07906 786 246.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

THESE are challenging times for Axminster, and it is no wonder that an air of gloom has descended over the town yet again.

Having had to deal with the threat to the library and uncertainty over the future of the hospital, the town now learns that the long-awaited demolition of Webster’s Garage, an eyesore that has blighted the town for 30 years, is now not going to take place in a hurry.

It is a pity Property developers, Hallmark Estate (Devon Limited), had not come clean about their inability to fund the demolition costs to make way for a temporary car park, before the mural was taken down. 

Those of us who contributed generously to the painting of the mural in an attempt to tidy up the sight might have thought our money was being well spent after all. Now we are not sure.
Hallmark say they have already invested well over a million pounds in the site and we can only hope that their positive expectations that they will be successful on attracting grant aid will bear fruit - quickly.

It is fairly obvious that it will be a long time before the site will be developed as a shopping and town centre housing scheme - if indeed that plan is still on the cards - so the sooner the old garage is demolished and the area tidied up the better it will be for Axminster’s main shopping area.

* * *

FURTHER disparaging comments are heaped on the town in that the collapsed wall opposite the Guildhall, damaged by a falling tree in last year’s gale, has still not been repaired.

EDDC say they are waiting for funding for wider improvements but the work will start soon. Hurrah!

They point out that coastal damage caused in the storms has taken priority - and there was me thinking the inland towns paid the same council tax so should expect the same standard of service. Silly me!

But some good news to finish. Well done to Axminster Mayor Jeremy Walden for getting the forecourt to the town’s most important building looking like a proper Guildhall.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Council gets it right!

IT seems that the council feels the electric vehicle revolution is not for them at the moment.

You see, the authority has been sparking the idea of switching its fleet of cars to electric vehicles so it can make full use of solar power facilities at its Crookhill depot.

Councillors have now decided not to stick their fingers in the socket as it were because they fear it is “a bit of a shaky proposition to be first”.

They are worried that it might just be a ‘Save the Planet’ gimmick, that taking the plunge should only come when there is wider support for electric vehicles from the public and transport operators and that “the business case and timing is not right”.

This isn’t a case of dozens of future council vehicles driving through the borough trailing hundreds of miles of electric cable behind them. The principle is quite simple. You have an electric car, various charging points, and off you go on your journey.

The problem comes when the driver needs to put another ten pence in the meter... and that might happen an awful lot.

Clean energy is one thing but a report to council shows that such cars might have to be recharged after just 120 miles and that such recharging could take up to eight hours.

Just two or three trips across the Weymouth and Portland area can easily rack up 50-60 miles while a loop from the town centre to Easton on Portland, back to Chickerell and out to areas such as Littlemoor and Preston can be more than 25 miles on a single trip.

It means such cars being considered by the council might need a lengthy recharge after just part of a morning out and about making calls.

I’m a big fan of solar power but, in this instance and at this time and at current technology levels, I think the council has probably got it right.

Why are all the flowers here?

IF YOU can believe the experts then at this time of year there should be 20-30 species of plant in flower, but in 2015 they’ve recorded a staggering 368 in bloom.

That represents more than one in seven of all the flowering plants in this country and includes the likes of gorse which shouldn’t flower until April or May. I’ve got five plants in flower in my garden right now.

It lends weight that, even in mild areas such as ours, the effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent.

The Met Office said 2014 was the warmest year on record. We’re having our fourth mild winter in a row and there just haven’t been the frosts to kill early flowers off.

The most common bloomers have been daisies and dandelions and climate experts are saying that human influence could contribute to temperature records being smashed, but there is a down side.

Dorset is famous for its carpets of spring flowers, but if we get very cold weather in February then plants in unseasonal flower might be badly hit.

Enjoy the winter splashes of colour everywhere but be prepared for a floral graveyard if winter hits back.

Widgets, grommets and doobries

IF YOU have widget A (i) and screw B in front of you, why can’t they be fitted into hole C as it says in the instructions?

The answer, of course, is that some of the chest of drawer parts you are trying to assemble seem to have found their way into the box from a train wreck.

I raise the horrors of flatpack furniture construction only because so many people have raised it with me recently as they battle to put together special Christmas purchases or that now thrice damned bargain you bought from the January sales.

To be quite honest, I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Instructions such as “Place the back ‘10’ into the rabbet of the top ‘1’ and the side ‘3’ and ‘4’. See fig. 11.1” couldn’t be clearer, could they?

The fact is that all flatpack manufacturers must produce a set of assembly instructions capable of being easily understood by three ordinary people. They’ve just chosen Einstein, Turing and Hornby (he invented meccano) as their three ordinary people. The rest of us have to play catch-up.

Experience has shown that the easiest way to tackle assembly is to clear a room, lay all the pieces out on the floor first and consult the check list to work out which bits are missing.

A few insulting phone calls and it shouldn’t be more than six weeks before the missing parts are posted to you.

Next take an extremely close look at the screws. These are wilful fittings which often require not just different types of screwdriver but different sizes as well and you will always reach a critical assembly point to discover that the right screwdriver is still in a box inside the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Eventually, all challenges overcome, you can stand back and look at your completed piece of furniture... a mutant nightmare which belongs in the Tate Modern or one of the scenes from Transformers which was left on the cutting room floor to avoid upsetting children. 

Well done.


CATHY Harvey is the co-ordinator of Bridport’s Allington Hill Volunteer Group, affectionately known as the Allington ‘Hillbillies’, and has lived in the area for most of her life. She works in retail and is married to Jon, who worked as a member of the local police team before retiring. Cathy became involved in the ‘Hillbillies’ group soon after it was formed in 2011 and has been part of the committee ever since. Over the last four years, Cathy has worked tirelessly alongside a dedicated team of volunteers to improve the state of Allington Hill and Cooper’s Wood, two of Bridport’s best-loved green spaces.

HOW long have you lived in the area?
I have lived in the area for about 30 years, moving to North Allington 22 years ago. I’m happily married to Jon who was the local bobby until he retired. I’ve worked in retail all my working life - and I’m very much a people person, so it suits me down to the ground, except that I’m stuck indoors!

HOW did the ‘Hillbillies’ group get off the ground?
The Allington Hill Volunteer Group was started by the Woodland Trust in January 2011 with the first working party laying a hedge. The state of the hedge had bothered me for ages and I had moaned about it every time I walked past, so felt duty bound to go along. They held a meeting several months later and I offered to do a bi-monthly newsletter – I think I’m just about to send out number 26!  To raise funds for the hill we had to form a committee. Many were willing to sit on the committee but none would take on the role of chair. It seemed I had no choice and reluctantly took on the role. We have a great team, with a broad base of talents, including keeping me under control! I often get told to stop thinking. Since then, Allington Parish Council has taken over the lease on part of the area known as Cooper's Wood and Field. The community has really got involved in all the events that take place. They are often community-led and we involve local people whenever we can.

WHAT was it that drew you to the group?
There were two reasons why I joined the group. Except for the local shop, North Allington has no community facilities, such as a hall or school, that can bring people together. 
I was brought up in a small village and lived next to the village hall. One of my lasting memories was the year that we were snowed in and the village lost its electricity. My Dad visited everyone in the village and told them to go to the village hall where he had lit the log burner. They brought food with them and my Mum cooked a massive meal on our Rayburn. 
Everyone stayed warm and was well fed – it turned out to be quite a party too! I felt we needed a community focal point and this was it. Secondly, the Woodland Trust still used chemicals on the hill to control ragwort and nettles. We now do this by hand and work closely with the trust to make sure this is a chemical-free zone.

WHAT is the next event or project for the Allington Hillbillies?
Last year we applied for grants for the community area, Cooper’s Wood and Field. A First World War memorial bench is being made by Stan Toombs from solid oak, and this will be installed and trees planted nearby, supplied by the Woodland Trust. We also have grant money to improve the access to the hill for all the community. We are working every Sunday morning – weather permitting – to restore the boundary line in Cooper’s Field.

WHAT inspires you most?
I get my inspiration from my mum and dad. The older I get the more I realise how much they have shaped my life. I’m a farmer’s daughter, even though my dad gave it up in the 1970s. He was a traditional farmer and hated what we were doing to our countryside with all the pesticides and chemicals. He said we were killing the countryside. He has been proved right and I’m now trying to do my bit, in a very small way, to restore the damage. Another inspiration of mine, and someone who many people may remember, was Memeikia Jellicoe – an inspirational lady who I will never forget. She was a lovely lady who I started gardening for. She had taught in South Africa and traveled widely. She told me about her adventures and the people that she had met, and always said that language is no barrier. If you really want to do something, you will make it happen. 

DO YOU have any ambitions in life?
My hope is that one day I will be able to afford to travel. Other cultures fascinate me. I have been to China and the raw culture there that has not been westernised or made a tourist attraction was so varied. They are desperately trying to hold on to the many varied cultures and religions within the country. I would also love to learn to play a musical instrument, but I can’t even clap to a rhythm. I often wish I could play the guitar, but it would be beyond me.

DO YOU take part in any other community organisations or groups? 
Unfortunately I find I just don’t have enough hours in the day!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The cost of three nurses?

WHEN I heard that the NHS Trust, so determined to close hospital beds in Axminster come what may, had gone back to the High Court to achieve that goal, the first thing I did was to instruct reporter Anders Larsson to ask how much the legal proceedings were costing.

We half expected the Northern Devon Healthcare Trust to come back saying that this was sensitive information they could not release.  Had that been the case, we would have used the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much they were spending on seeing through their plan to close in-patient beds in Axminster and move them to Seaton.

We were surprised therefore to get a prompt answer from chief executive Dr Alison Diamond confirming that they had allocated “precious NHS” resources - her words, not mine - to “defend themselves in cases like this” amounting to £75,000 to legally enable them to “maintain a safe service for patients”. 

Defend themselves from what?

We are talking about the temporary closure here for the winter months, not the long term plan to shut the beds  to save £500,000 and put a question mark over the future of Axminster Hospital. That decision will not be made until the extended period of consultation expires in February. There is great suspicion in and around Axminster that that decision has been made. 

So the NHS is expecting to spend £75,000 on justifying their temporary closure. I don’t know how much a nurse earns these days - but seventy five grand would probably cover the cost of three nurses, certainly one supervisor. 

Has the world gone crazy?

Every day we read that the NHS is virtually bankrupt, haemorrhaging money, and here we are spending £75,000 on legal advice on a temporary closure when Axminster League of Friends have offered £300,000 to keep the beds open. We all accept these are difficult days for the NHS and no one doubts the sincerity of health officials to do what is best for patients. 

But spending £75k on legal advice is a bitter pill to swallow in such circumstances.                                       

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Let the workers get on with the job! 

A CENTURY ago, American diplomat Dwight Morrow advised his son: “The world is divided into people who do things and people who get the credit. Try, if you can, to belong to the first class. There’s far less competition.” 

Despite having namesakes now in Charmouth, Mr Morrow couldn’t have reached Lyme Regis, so well-supplied with his ‘first class’, such as all those volunteers peopling these columns last year. My explorations among some 30 varied groups – a fraction of the total – uncovered over 500 current volunteers, though many pop up in two, three, four or more places.

A gentle note to the admirably vigilant Geoffrey Mann, who understands that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance”: not one of those is a loose cannon subverting democracy – each is accountable to some lawful, properly-governed body.

Could Morrow observe Britain today, he might re-phrase his premise: “The world is divided into people who do things and people who pass judgement.” 

Fewer and fewer people do creative, productive or useful work, while more and more tell them what to do and how to do it – or what they’ve done wrong and how they must change. 

Take just two examples. Education is inspected to death by Ofsted (so many of these parasites’ names – Ofqual, Ofwat, Ofcom, etc – echo Stalin’s USSR: Orgburo, Orgotdel, Partkom ...). 

Ofsted’s empire, exploding over two decades beyond schools, now includes children’s social care, childcare, fostering, adoption, teacher training, nursery education, further education colleges, adult education and training... meanwhile, the Care Quality Commission ranges over adult social care, nursing and care homes, community provision, home care, GPs, dentists, clinics and hospitals.   

We must assume that the legions of inspectors required for all this comprise experienced, well-qualified leaders in their fields – how else could the system be credible? So let’s imagine these thousands of experts back actually doing the jobs – teaching, caring, doctoring – while leading by example from within and sharing the front-line challenges. 

What a boost to the quality of those public services! Imagine the money now spent on their office buildings, travel, accommodation, support staff and reports returning to the places of real work!

Inspection hasn’t improved quality

Our assumption may, though, be false. Evidence lies everywhere that ceaseless inspection, with its bureaucratically-defined ‘standards’ and jargon-stuffed robotic reports, hasn’t improved the quality of what is inspected. Perhaps the inspectors aren’t so brilliant? 

So, is it all wasted money but otherwise harmless – like the ‘Energy Performance’ inspector assessing our home, umbilically-attached to his government-provided computer programme, who reported our need for floor insulation? There’s 200mm of the stuff but, being under the floor, he couldn’t see it so wasn’t allowed to record it.

No, it’s far from harmless. Across swathes of public life, absurdly prescriptive guidelines from ivory-tower regulators, plus ‘compliance’ enforced by inspectors with checklists and clipboards, create a self-limiting cycle. Trapped in the middle are human beings with brains, skills and commitment. But those twin pressures attack their capacity to think for themselves, to act according to the challenges in front of them, to judge their effectiveness – in sum, to be responsible. Top-down diktats aim to turn thoughtful individuals into de-skilled automatons. Nit-picking inspections distort priorities; they create unwarranted stress, demoralisation, and sometimes minor fraud. 

This infantilising process is catastrophic: it undermines self-respect, self-reliant confidence, and trust. Then, as things increasingly go wrong, come the calls for enquiry. Could anyone count them now, or the variety of topics? Whether it’s over-running railtrack repairs, or the Iraq War (four enquiries, with the Chilcot report still unpublished), or phone-hacking or historic child abuse (enquiry into enquiries, there), dozens – no, hundreds – are running at huge cost in money and skilled people. The recommendation in so many of their reports for ‘co-ordinated multi-agency working’ becomes routine, as does the response that “lessons will be learned” – but aren’t.

Of course some are important, not least for those who have suffered – take Hillsborough. But how about fundamental thought to reducing failures in the first place? 

Which returns us to properly-educated, thoroughly-trained, intelligently-led, morally-secure, self-motivating people and teams working in a climate of trust, respect and approbation. And that means putting regulators and inspectors back to proper work, if capable, or into their little boxes.   

For local variants of the imbalance between those who do and those who talk, look to the NHS. The threat to Axminster Hospital’s in-patient beds has absorbed the attention of the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group (22 board members) and its Eastern Locality (a 17-strong board), which together commission the North Devon Healthcare Trust (a board of 14) to run Axminster Hospital. Those three boards include 22 qualified medics, mostly doctors; why aren’t they treating patients instead of sitting in meetings? Three costly public consultations (one acknowledged as improperly-run) give no confidence that alternative public views are admitted. 

In Dorset, the CCG is paying management consultants McKinsey a reported £2.75million to review clinical services. Stop! That’s £2,750,000. Think! What could that do for real services here – more doctors, nurses, opening hours...? GP-led CCGs were introduced in the belief that local GPs would understand the clinical needs of patients in their own areas. If true, they don’t need McKinsey to tell them for £2.75million of our money. If not true, why have CCGs?    

Bossyboots in offices alienate volunteers, too. Those many locals whose efforts these columns recorded last year are committed, responsible and self-motivated. Like teachers, carers and medical staff, their motivation is precious. With volunteer work increasingly necessary for society to function, authorities from national government and its quangos to the humblest town council must support, not impede and discourage, voluntary effort.   

So set the workers free. This won’t eliminate failure, for “to err is human.” But smaller, localised problems, amenable to self-correction, are as nothing compared to the systemic disasters wrought by our present remorselessly negative, distrustful, culture.

Who are rail bosses trying to kid?

SO rail fare rises have been held at their lowest level for five years have they?

That won’t cut much ice with Weymouth commuters to Dorchester, Bournemouth or even London because local wage rises simply haven’t kept pace with fare rises.

Much has been made about commuters breathing a sigh of relief that increases haven’t been higher, but it is a cold hard fact that all rail fare increases in recent years have been above the level of inflation and well above the level of wage rises.

So how on earth are travellers supposed to cope? They only have one wage cake and, no matter how many slices you try to make from it, the cake is still the same size.

That means if a larger slice goes to pay for commuting then another slice of the wage cake destined for a different bill must be short-changed to cover that extra spending.

On top of that there is the delightful news that massive engineering works are being planned for months ahead which will affect those using both the Weymouth to Waterloo line and the Weymouth to Bristol line, adding delay insult to financial injury.

I’ve been very lucky. Of the five addresses I have lived at over the past 40 years, all of them have allowed me to walk to work. It may have been a long walk in some cases which I didn’t care much for when it was raining but I wasn’t reliant on rail or any other form of public transport.

Many people are not so lucky and need trains to get to work, so they are no doubt wondering what lies in wait for them if this year’s 2.5 percent rise is being hailed as good. I’m pretty sure it won’t be less for 2016, so all rail commuters had better hope their wages perk up a bit to cope with it. 

Yeah... I saw the pig fly by as well.

Where’s winter?

LATEST figures show that Weymouth has just had its second sunniest year since records began way back in 1894.

Certainly there was precious little inkling of that when we were all getting drowned or blown away at the start of 2014, but the summer was a good one and this winter has been anything but chilly.

Perhaps that’s still to come, but not according to weathermen who are forecasting January in Weymouth to be a bewildering mix of rain, strong winds, a bit of sunshine and more very mild conditions for this time of year.

We all know that Weymouth has its own micro-climate but it does seem that winter no longer has the teeth in it that this season is supposed to display.

Perhaps we’ll get a cold snap in February because it is genuinely needed to kill off some of the bugs and beasties which otherwise will live to thrive when spring and summer come calling.

But only 2010 in recent years has produced anything approaching winter-like conditions, so we’ll have to wait and see if 2015 brings any of the white stuff.

Only 15 more weeks of this...

IT’S enough to make you spit but political parties didn’t even have the decency to allow Christmas to fade before launching their general election ‘vote-for-us’ campaigns.

Some of you may be new to the foggy world of politics, so here is a brief guide to the political parties.

Conservative (Colour – blue)
The party boasting that “We’re all in this austerity together,” and can anyone lend them a fiver. Famous for old boys and networks.

Labour (Colour – red)
The party boasting that it represents the working man. Will need more than his single vote to win. Famous for flying red flags and leader Ed what’s his name.

Liberal Democrat (Colour – gold)
The party boasting that only it has the gauge of public temperature. Looking a bit feverish. Famous for not being a government since 1915.

UKIP (Colour – immigrant blues)
The party boasting a strong affinity to the lemming. If it succeeds in its aim to get us out of Europe it will cease to exist. Famous for defector MPs and the winsome smile of combative leader Nigel Farage.

Green (Colour – well... green)
The party which champions the countryside rather than the country. Famous for ‘tree hugging’, wellington boots and annual meetings in a field near Tiverton.

Now if you’ve read all this and been paying attention you should be ready for the tricky task of deciding which of these deserves to get your X.

That didn’t take much time did it. You’ll be voting for the one party which has taken the ‘P’ out of politics: the Monster Raving Looney Party! Just a white coat away from power.

God help us all on May 7th because it will be the blind trying to lead the blind.

Tax trials & tribulations

I WONDER how many drivers are enjoying the trials of renewing their car tax?

The latest revenue advance claims that such renewals have never been easier now they can be done online. No fuss and no trouble we’re told. Naturally reality is a bit harsher.

When I tried my renewal was rejected because it fell on February 1st and my MoT runs out on January 27th. It will have been renewed by then but the new system doesn’t know that hence the rejection. 

I now can’t renew until the system is happy my new MoT exists, so this new tax thing really is a bit taxing.

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Heather & Peter Foster

HEATHER and Peter Foster’s voices will be known to thousands who have visited a local hospital over the years. For almost half a century they have been behind the microphone in Weymouth, Dorchester and even Bournemouth. Many will have seen Peter whispering into a microphone at most of the county town’s bigger events, bringing “the outside in” for patients. Others will know the couple for their involvement in the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust – the couple can often be found running the station at Harman’s Cross on the Swanage Steam Railway.

YOU were both brought up in Dorchester. Peter was a Thomas Hardye Pupil and Heather at St Genevieve’s. Where did your paths first cross?
Heather: We were working in the health service as clerical officers at the time, in the NHS Executive Council for Dorset, which was then in High West Street in the building now occupied by the Natiowide Building Society. Peter cornered me in the cloakroom and asked me out. We had a few trips out and about but it wasn’t long before he invited me along to hospital radio which then became a regular feature in our lives.

HOW did the interest in hospital radio start?
Peter: I have always loved radio, from Children’s Hour and the Toy Town Plays. I saw an advert for volunteers to join the new hospital radio at Dorchester County Hospital, when it was in Princes Street. I applied and a man came to see me at home with a large ferrograph tape recorder and asked me to read a request out, which didn’t go too well; then I read some news items which he quite liked and after that a formal letter was sent asking me to come along for some trial sessions and training. I’ve been doing it virtually every day since then.

AND has it always been at Dorchester?
Peter: Mostly, but we were at Weymouth Hospital from 1968 to 73; Bedside in Bournemouth from 1973 to 86 and for a short spell at Herrison.
Heather: It was usually Dorchester on Wednesdays and Thursdays after I became involved and Bournemouth at the weekends. We are both keen on classical music so we would also go along to various societies as well, and then he got me interested in railways as well through the Somerset and Dorset Railway Trust!  We’ve been involved with that formally since 1981 and have been running the Dorchester group since 1987. We started as volunteers with the Swanage Steam Railway in the mid-1980s when they were looking for more helpers. We always seemed to be busy.

WHAT skills do you both bring to the things you do?
Peter: Heather’s far more technically minded than I am and she’s taught me a lot about computing. She’s also vital for what we do as she drives and I don’t. It was just something I never got around to.
Heather: I like to dabble in things and try and keep up to date – although I’ve never seen the point of Twitter. It took us a while to get a mobile phone, but I got one before Peter… and he still can’t text!

WHAT have been the highlights of your times behind the microphone?
Peter: We always love going up to London for the Mayor’s Show. This year was one of the best ever, and the Royal events are always lovely. At the 50th anniversary of the Coronation I was stood commentating and Glenda Jackson was just behind me. I wondered if I should talk to her, but decided I would and she chatted for quite a while, which was amazing. Overall all sorts of people have been generally very cooperative over the years and the Dorchester area is such a good place for event.
Heather: More often than not we find ourselves with more to do than hands available to do them.

DO the pair of you ever get a day off. I hear you were working on Christmas Day?
Peter: Very rarely. Christmas Day is usually one of our longest days. This year we were in from 10am until 6pm, but we did have a pre-recorded programme in the middle of the day so we found time for lunch in the Damers Restaurant.  We’d recorded the morning service at St Peter’s and Heather edited it for broadcast in the afternoon. The Mayor came in during the morning; we had a Weymouth lunchtime concert and ‘Carols by Train’ which we had pre-recorded at Swanage with other volunteers, the Wareham Town Band in the luggage van and carols from the platform.

HAS the station changed much over the years?
Heather: Technology has made our job easier when it’s working alright, but when it goes wrong life can get a little tricky… there’s no wind-up back up these days we can turn to if things go wrong, but overall there has been very few occasions when we have been forced off the air. Having said that our computers now need new hard-drives and the mixing desk is getting to the end of its life so we will need to find the money, from somewhere, for replacements.
Peter: And just at the moment we’ve got a very strong team of around 25 volunteers, including a few outstanding youngsters, one of which is about to start a BBC engineering apprenticeship, although it’s fair to say most of us are in the older age-bracket.

SO does that mean you will be planning your retirement?
Heather: Peter has been saying he’ll retire from this at 40 years, at 45 years and so on, so we’ll wait and see.
Peter: It will be the 50th anniversary of hospital radio in Dorchester in September 2016 and I have said that’s the time I will be out of the door.

AND would the pair of you find enough to do if you did stop?
Peter: We’ve got plenty to do. There’s always the railway, the recorded music society, an archive of cuttings and I’ve started writing a book about my 50 years in broadcasting although I’m not sure anyone much would want to read it.
Heather:  I dabble in many things but I’ve been doing a family history for many years, which is fascinating, and I’ve often thought I could make a career out of it.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Another twist in this tale

GREAT disappointment in Axminster that despite herculean attempts to make the North Devon Healthcare NHS Trust see sense, the decision was made to temporarily transfer all in-patient beds at Axminster Hospital to Seaton.

Great anger as well – especially over the manner the NHS Trust meeting was conducted last week, with a number of claims of the discourteous manner in which campaigners were treated. 

Following the four-page supplement on the fight to save the Axminster beds in last week’s Pulman’s View, this newspaper has been accused of showing bias towards Axminster. 

What we failed to make clear, and I apologise for this, was that the four pages were paid for as an advertisement and the content submitted was not written by our own editorial staff.  

However, I don’t think any of the content was overtly critical of Seaton and it was made clear that the best solution would be to return both Seaton and Axminster hospitals to 16-beds apiece. 

This column has repeatedly stressed that no one wants to see a battle between two admired and well run hospitals so in the final analysis I reject the complaint that there was any great bias towards Axminster.

It seems ironic to me that whilst elsewhere the National Health Service is on the point of collapse, there are three very fine local hospitals (Ottery included) that are underused and could be taking the pressure off the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.

The argument that has prompted the temporary closure of the Axminster beds that it’s difficult to get staff is proving to be a bit of a red herring. As reported in our front page, several qualified medical staff have come forward to say they are prepared to work at Axminster and this has led to the NHS Trust setting up a committee to urgently look into  staffing matters. 

This in turn has given the local campaigners the hope that the decision to transfer the ten beds from Axminster to Seaton to can be reversed whilst the battle to save the long term future of the beds continues.

So there may well be another twist in the sad tale.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Kev 'Ballonatic' Hart

KEV 'Ballonatic' Hart was born in Bournemouth and grew up in South London, running an entertainment agency before coming to Weymouth where he is now famous as a balloon-making entertainer.

WHY do you live in Weymouth? 
Because it is probably one of the most awesome places I have ever been to. I have a great affection for Weymouth because when I was 17 I was a Blue Coat at Pontins at Osmington Bay.

WHERE do you go for your holidays? 
It is too nice in Weymouth to go anywhere else so I am really on holiday all the time.

WHAT is your favourite time of the year? 
Summer because I do like the sunshine and the festivals. It is the busiest time of the year for me.

WHAT is your favourite film? 
The Shawshank Redemption because Morgan Freeman is one of my favourite actors. He was amazing in the film.

WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you? 
I do stiltwalking and I fell off them and landed on cobbles. That was scary because I was off work for eight weeks and it took a lot of nerve to go back up 12feet and do stiltwalking again.

IF you could live your life again what would you be? 
I would be a musician because I have always wished that I had some musical talent. I would love to play the drums.

WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party? 
Edward Lear because of the amazing imagination he had creating all those limericks, Alice Cooper because he is one of the greatest showmen and rock stars and because I was in the film Dark Shadows with him. My third dinner guest would be Harry Houdini because he was the first man ever to make magic and escapology famous. He’s the name that everyone remembers.

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery? 
I don’t think that it would change me much. I would use the money to help people who are a bit less fortunate than me.

WHAT do you hope the future holds? 
I hope that I can continue to spreads smiles one balloon at a time.

Stand by for an ‘eruption’ in the Guildhall

IF I had paid attention to more than just the girls’ legs when I was at Woodroffe, I would know my Latin and could tell you whether 2014 was an annus horribilis for Lyme Regis Town Council or whether it was the year in which the council fell on its annus, horribilisly.

Either way, it was a rough old time in the Guildhall and veteran council-watchers tell me that it was the worst year to be a councillor, what with all of that messy business of accusations, resignations, apologies and the howling over Mayorgate, Darylgate, Twittergate and Bicyclegate – let alone those controversial bailouts of The Royal Bank of Hubland which established a new world-first for the English language, that an “error” is not a “mistake”.

Stroll on. At times it’s been better than watching Buster Keaton. 

Who’d be a Lyme Regis town councillor these days, eh? It’s bad enough getting it openly in the neck with professional nit-pickers like me taking point-scoring to the level of religious fundamentalism, let alone getting defamed as some sort of hole-in-the-wall desperado on a poster commissioned by Cobb Gate’s Scarlet Pimpernel.  

But here’s the good news – if you thought the whole Chipperfields Circus of 2014 was lively, the word on Broad Street is that we ain’t seen nothing yet. For 2015 is set to be Lyme Regis Town Council’s annus eruptus.

Although Val at Boots can usually sell you something for that, rumour has it that we can look forward to a new blow-up; a volcanic power-struggle of such intensity that I’m already in negotiations with the British Boxing Board for the TV rights – for the talk in the town is that the council’s current ruling clique is going to be challenged by a completely new group, which I’m dubbing ‘the Lyme People’s Party’ as there’s no name for them yet. 

If the rumours are right, you can forget the “Gang of Five”, as the gangbusters are gathering and they are said to be offering no quarter to Lyme’s most popular quintet.

Although I am not one to put the cat amongst the pigeons, according to a highly-placed source within this new group, ‘a significant alliance of the Lyme-born and the town’s business elite’ are putting together an ace team of popular local personalities to stand against the radicals at the council elections in May.

“We want to get Lyme back for its people; we’ve had enough of the reformist agenda and we’re going to go back to the old tradition of doing things Lyme’s way,” is the sort of thing my source would say if I hadn’t lied when I promised not to quote him.

Apparently there is great concern among the Lyme People’s Party that elements of the council are believed to have their eye on authorising a massive development of the Monmouth Beach area, which would start with shifting the Bowling Green up to Strawberry Fields in order to free-up space for a huge double-deck car park. 

Ignoring the associated but wildly-optimistic trust that downhill bowling will catch on, clearly such an eviction would kill the sport in the town stone dead, ruining the enjoyment of many of the elder community. 

But that’s presumably OK because a Cabanya Carbuncle would give the council more money to do important stuff like fund the legal advice which appears to be sought every time that anyone in the right-on Guildhall says boo to a goose.

“But we’re not going to let it happen,” says my source within the LPP, “a lot of people in Lyme are fed-up to the back teeth with all of this argy-bargy in the Guildhall and they want to retain the traditional look of Lyme.

“We want a council that has the town’s respect, not its derision. We will stop all of this republican talk to replace the office of Mayor with an all-powerful Leader of the council, we will block any move to change the civic traditions and we will put up as candidates the sort of people who will ensure that.”

Oo-err, fighting talk.

Apparently, the LPP has plans to stop the not-exactly-transparent practice of committee chairmen meeting to discuss agendas before they are put to the rest of the councillors and it will end the council’s obsession with conducting so much of its meetings in secret, when the electorate are ejected like children shooed to bed before a re-run of The Exorcist.

The new group says it will also commit to put the needs of 42 per cent elderly majority of the town first, stop the whacking up of council rents because, stupid, that obviously drives up commercial rents and thus causes local inflation, disallow any arbitrary action by the staff and make it a lashing offence to permit a dog to pee in Manor Avenue.

I made up that last one, but you get the point; the LPP cavalry is coming and the battle at the election “to bring the power back to Lyme’s people” is going to be better than Harry May’s fireworks. 

My source says “several” well-known Lyme personalities are being groomed by the LPP to stand for the council and others are willing to throw their names into the hat if another rumour is true - that the massively-popular clique-smiter Daryl Turner is going to make a comeback and stand for the council again.

So, the questions that will now be burning holes into half-pint pots at The Nag’s Head are who is behind the Lyme People’s Party and who are the worthies now readying to stand for the seats that six of our current councillors are said to be wanting to give up? 

I wish I could say but I promised that I wouldn’t write a word…