Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Location, location, location?

IT is interesting to see how a major town centre scheme in Weymouth has come full circle.

When news first came out that Weymouth Fire Station at the bottom of Boot Hill was to close once a new one was built on Radipole Lane there were all sorts of ideas flying around for the prominent harbourside site.

It slowly emerged that retirement apartments was one option being considered to the horror of some people who felt sticking elderly people on one of the worst junctions in Weymouth right on top of a load of fumes, dirt and noise was an awful idea.

But the idea stuck, building work commenced and Harbour Lights Court has just been officially opened.

You might perhaps think that the development was a sales disaster waiting to happen since price tags of £201,000-£401-000 for the range of one and two-bedroom apartments would need a lot of selling, particularly with its notorious location. Far from it.

Unbelievably, half the apartments were claimed before the scheme even had a roof on it!
And when Harbour Lights Court was officially open there was a steady stream of interested potential buyers, some of whom actually reserved an apartment while I was interviewing the developers!

So it just goes to show. Never judge a book by its cover. The site may not be the greatest traffic wise, but its harbour views and proximity to town obviously carry more weight with potential buyers who clearly feel the site is attractive and suitable for their needs.

It will be interesting to see if the nearby council offices site proves as sought after when whatever homes-shops mix is chosen finally comes on the market.

Giving the fallen the respect they deserve

WE are in the middle of Armed Forces Week and crowds have already cheered veterans as they marched along the Esplanade after a seafront service.

Weymouth has a reputation as the premier venue outside London for such events and you only had to look at the crowds to understand why.

Much is made of our fallen abroad who lie in “some corner of a foreign field that is forever England” but, just as we value their sacrifice, then the sacrifice made by foreign servicemen on these shores is equally valued by their countrymen, not least because their corner of a foreign field happens to be Weymouth.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission shames many cemeteries with the immaculate way it looks after its graves. 

I recently attended a ceremony in Melcombe Regis cemetery which has a number of Australian and New Zealand war graves and they were in perfect condition. Even the grass around them seemed in better condition than other sections of the cemetery.

The Commission clearly believes that if someone makes the ultimate sacrifice then they deserve a resting place which is well looked after, something which was commented on by a number of dignitaries at the event.

Let us hope that Armed Forces Week and the care of all war graves continues hand in hand “lest we forget”.

A warm bed and free healthcare for pensioners!

A PENSIONER has kindly sent me exclusive details of a new national healthcare scheme designed to help elderly people who face having to sell their home to pay for nursing care.

Essentially the scheme gives every pensioner a gun and four bullets to shoot four politicians!
This means that the ailing pensioner will be sent to prison where they will get three square meals a day, free accommodation, central heating, air conditioning, Sky television and all the healthcare they need including new teeth, glasses, hips, knees, kidneys, lungs, heart. 

Whatever they need, it is all covered.

An added bonus of the scheme is that the pensioner’s children can visit as often as they used to and, while someone has to pay for all this largess, it will actually be the same government which had just told the pensioner it couldn’t afford to pay for their nursing care.

It’s a win-win situation.... and each pensioner gets rid us of four useless politicians while they’re at it. Not only that, because they are a prisoner, they don’t pay income tax. 

Apparently there is a long queue for the scheme! Great country isn’t it?!

Bit foggy in the car park?

WHAT is it about car parks in Weymouth that seems to provoke brain death among the drivers who use them?

Three times in the last fortnight I have been using the multi-storey car park and met drivers coming up the down ramp.

Why? It is clearly not the way to go, the regular descending stream of vehicles should give such drivers a hint not to commit such lunacy, yet still they do it.

Other car parking areas are not exempt from “challenged” drivers either with another classic blunder coming at the Pavilion end of the one-way Commercial Road.

A driver, who had been parked there, carefully exited his space and then turned and tried to drive up Commercial Road towards the Pavilion against the one-way flow of traffic.

Why? He must have seen it was a one-way street to get to his space in the first place, so he knew the only way he could go was towards Town Bridge. Still he tried to retrace his steps and got shirty with it when lights were flashed to warn him. Only gradually did it dawn on him what he’d done and realisation was followed by an angry three-point turn as if it was somehow the fault of the drivers who had warned him.

So keep a wary eye out. There are more of these “foggy” people out there and some will be heading your way.


ROBIN Hodges runs the Pinhay House Residential Care Home with his wife of 31 years Carole. Mr Hodges, 55, also runs the Saturday Morning Football sessions in Uplyme, encouraging youngsters to stay active and develop a passion for the beautiful game.

WHAT’S the aim of Saturday Morning Football in Uplyme?
The aim is to encourage children and young people to come along and try football in a friendly, non-competitive environment, and to help people make friends.

WHERE is it held?
On Uplyme playing field from 9am to 10.15am every Saturday from September to May. We play in Woodroffe Sports Hall from January to March. We started going there when the field was badly flooded and we couldn’t play for several weeks. It helps to guarantee football during the wet, winter months, and the kids love the speed of 5-a-side games.

HOW did you get involved with the Saturday Morning Football programme?
It was started about 17 years ago by Uplyme Church as a spin off from their “Friday Club” that was held in the village hall. A group of lads wanted to play football so they used to turn up for a kick-about on a Saturday morning. I got involved when my boys started wanting to play and as we attend Uplyme Church it was a natural thing to do.

HOW is it funded?
Purely by donation. We don’t charge to come along on Saturday mornings, it’s a service to the community of Uplyme run by the church. The only time we ask for a small donation is when we move into Woodroffe Sports Hall for the winter, as we have to pay to hire it. The equipment is provided by the leaders and Uplyme Church. We have been very lucky in the past two years, with some generous donations from the community. People obviously see it as a blessing to the village.

IS there an age limit for the children attending?
Well, it is aimed at 5-11 year olds, but we have children from about four years to lads of about 15 coming along. Everybody seems to get something out of it; we even have children from Chard who come along. We all warm up together and then split up into age/ability groups and play some football. Every now and again we mix everybody up and it’s great to see the older lads helping and encouraging the youngsters.

HOW has your role with the programme developed?
I started off just helping out on the odd occasion, however, as the years have gone by I took over the running of it. I have to ensure we have all the records and checks up to date, the risk assessments are done and we have first aid cover while we are playing. From being just a bunch of lads and a church leader turning up on a Saturday morning, we now have to be properly organised, although we are still the same at the core.

WHAT gives you the motivation to get out of bed on a Saturday morning?
I think it’s just the enthusiasm I encounter from the children that come along. They are desperate to join in and play some football. The parents often arrive all bleary eyed at 8.50am, saying that their child has been up since 6am with their football boots on asking if it’s time to go yet! We’ve had lots of kids go on to play for local teams, and a few that have been on the books of professional clubs. They all started with two left feet kicking a ball at Uplyme.

WHAT do you try to instil in the children?
It’s all about trying to be inclusive. It doesn’t matter if you can’t play or if you are blessed with great skill, being part of a group that values where you are is very important. I think the church background to the group leaders helps us to ensure we keep a “love thy neighbour” approach to what is happening. Everybody has something to offer.

YOU also run a business in Lyme Regis?
Yes, my wife and I own and run Pinhay House Care Home. We’ve been there for the past 27 years. Making space to do the football and other things in a “24 hour a day” business has been challenging, but I feel we manage it quite well.

WHAT do you do in your spare time?
I’ve been a member of Uplyme Church for 25 years and I lead the services there once a month. I’m on the Deanery Synod and the Diocesan synod as the churches representative for the parish and the vicar’s representative on the Bestic Trust that is progressing the building of the new school in Uplyme. Last year I helped set up, and now help run Seaton Memory CafĂ© for those in the local community who need help and support. It’s been going a year now, and we have 15-20 regular visitors each month.

The mystery of the shredded paper trail 

I’VE written about some weird and wonderful things in my years as a journalist but nothing quite as bizarre as this.

Having returned to the View From office from London last week, I opened an email from Lisa Tuck, clerk to Charmouth Parish Council, asking if I could shed any light on the paper that had been strewn throughout the village, from the top of the main street to the bottom, much of which was the View from Bridport.

I had no idea what she was talking about so I despatched Alison King, my girl-Friday, to investigate. She telephoned to say “you better come over here right away”.

Much of the paper littering the street had been shredded. Initially I thought perhaps the culprit was someone with a grudge against the View (it does happen). Remember the toilet paper incident at the Guildhall? And for months obscenities were scrawled into the dirt on our delivery vans about me. This being a family newspaper, I don’t feel comfortable revealing what they actually said about me. Let’s just say they were questioning my parentage! Don’t worry, I am used to it.

But as well as the View from Bridport, there were bits from The Sun and The Star (nice to be in such salacious company!) and various leaflets, thrown in the hedges and deposited by the roadside kerbs and in driveways. So we ruled out the grudge theory.

But the most unusual thing about this mystery is that we were informed by some of the locals that a similar incident happened at the same time last year and the year before.

We don’t distribute our Bridport edition in Charmouth so we checked our outlets in Bridport to see if loads of papers had been removed from the various dump bins in the supermarkets. But this was clearly not the case.

Why someone would go to the trouble of shedding dozens of papers and then scatter them in Charmouth, I just don’t know.

Lyme police were made aware of the incident and also knew that it had happened in previous years. They are investigating but they are as mystified as we are.

If there is anyone out there who can shed any light on this, we would be most grateful.

We did our best to clear up as much of the discarded paper as possible. I even had Ali out at 5.30am the next morning picking up the rubbish in Charmouth. There’s dedication for you.

The parish council did not expect us to do this but we felt obliged as most of the paper came from us.

We even trawled through the internet to see if someone had started some weird craze like “Tear Up Your Local Paper and Scatter It Down Your Street Day”. No luck there.

We will probably never know. To be truthful, I’m not even sure I want to know.

I HOPE our new council will find time to take a look at some of the town’s most scruffy areas and tidy them up.

They could do worse than to start at the head of the Marine Parade, the entrance to Lyme’s shop window, a phrase coined by the late Victor Homyer, fisherman cum-councillor.

The very least they could do is to keep the unsightly bus shelter clean and the rotunda advertising the Marine Theatre,  an ugly construction, also needs attention.

Cyclists go that extra mile for Candles On the Cobb

CONGRATULATIONS to the 35 cycling enthusiasts who completed the 174-mile sponsored ride from Land’s End to Lyme Regis to raise money for Candles On The Cobb, Lyme’s premier and most financially successful attraction.

The event was billed as “Land’s End to John The Bakers” and you will have had to live in Lyme for many years to remember the bakery in Coombe Street.

A big crowd gathered on the seafront late on Sunday afternoon to welcome the riders home, led down the town and along the parade by a grinning Mike Higgs, who founded Candles On The Cobb with his great friend Phil Street.

Before hitting on the Candles On The Cobb idea, former town crier Phil, who now lives and works in France, and Mike got up to all sorts of crazy fundraising ideas so I can imagine the “John The Baker’s” idea may well have been cooked up over a few pints.

The event took a great deal of organising and will have raised a considerable amount to help finance the next Candles On The Cobb, which takes place Sunday, August 30th, the sixth time it has been staged since 2000.

Having compered three of the six events, I know just how emotional the event can be with people buying candles in memory of their loved ones and then seeing their flickering flame lighting up Lyme’s most famous landmark. 

The sight of the Cobb illuminated by the candles makes for a very special occasion, witnessed by tens of thousands over the years.

To date, the six events have raised £76,000 for various national charities and local youth projects.  Half the proceeds from this year’s event will go to the Make A Wish UK charity  with local youth groups getting the rest.

Mike has a hard working and creative committee behind him and they are going all out to top the £100,000 mark this year which will be a fantastic achievement. 

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Letting the public speak

AS a critic of local government, people have often said to me “instead of moaning about it, why don’t you put up for council yourself”?

That would be a bit difficult in East Devon as I don’t live in the area - but I did try it once in my home town, serving for one four-year period and rising to the dizzy heights of mayor for one year.  In fact, I was the town’s youngest mayor at 34, a rather dubious record I still hold. 

It was much easier being a councillor in those days. There was very little politics around and there was much less consultation with - and scrutiny by - the public. If you did a poor job, you got voted out at the next election.

Today, the electorate have a much greater say, particularly during public sessions at council meetings where they have their own forum.

We like these sessions because they often produce better stories than the council debates.
But they often add greatly to how long a council meeting takes. The new town mayor in Axminster, Douglas Hull, has put his foot down and is allowing a member of the public to speak only on one subject, encouraging them to attend his weekly surgery and not allowing problems to fester for three weeks. 

Brave man!    

GLOWING tributes have been made this week from all quarters of Ottery St Mary following the death of John Gaffney, a true community champion.

As editor of the greatly admired Ottery Gazette community magazine, John provided a much needed service, giving superb support to the town’s many community groups.

When Pulman’s View launched into Ottery, we soon became aware that the Ottery Gazette was the bible as far as the town was concerned and we would never emulate its success.

The economics of running newspapers in this day and age make it impossible to compete with parish publications like the Gazette.

Hopefully, it will continue to fill that void.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

60 SECONDS INTERVIEW: Deborah Gildersleeves

STILLWATERS is a new therapy centre, based at The Elms, Charmouth, focussing on psychological wellbeing. The centre is run by founder, Deborah Gildersleeves, who is a fully qualified, registered and insured psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. Deborah has over 20 years’ experience working with the military community and can help clients with a wide range of psychological issues - everything  from relationship difficulties, bereavement, anxiety and depression to low self-esteem and phobias.

TELL us more about the therapy available at Stillwaters...
For the past eight years, I’ve been working with military casualties and I’ve gained specialist knowledge and experience in the field of post traumatic stress and issues around acquired disability. This has enabled me to help people who may be struggling to cope with traumatic events, or are dealing with a disability following an accident or incident.
Stillwaters Therapy Centre also offers a range of complementary therapies and workshops alongside psychotherapy and counselling to enable people to heal their mind, body and soul.

HOW can therapy help? 
Everyone will experience things at some time in their lives which will leave them feeling confused or emotionally vulnerable. Counselling offers a safe and secure environment to explore those thoughts and feelings. It can help you make sense of what has happened so you can cope better and go forward.

WHY is your wellbeing so important?
Psychological and physical wellbeing are important as if we’re feeling okay within ourselves, we are able to form healthy relationships, make decisions which are good for us and realise our own potential.

WHAT type of treatment is available?
A counselling relationship is very much an equal partnership and, as such, the number of sessions will depend upon the issues being experienced. It’s essential that someone feels they have time to build trust and rapport with their therapist.  You are then able to explore where the therapeutic pathway is taking you and when you both feel the work is complete. I also believe in being as creative as possible. One size does not fit all, so I’ll tailor the therapeutic approach to fit with the client. I can offer one-to-one or couple counselling sessions, whatever works best for you. And group workshops and support groups are being planned for the near future.

WHAT about costs?
My psychotherapy and counselling costs around £40 per hour. Other individual therapists at Stillwaters will be able to discuss their own rates with you. Counselling and complementary therapy rooms are also available for therapists to hire from £35 per half day and the meeting room rate is negotiable, subject to availability.

WHY did you choose Charmouth?
I’m often asked why I’ve set up the therapy centre in Charmouth. I’ve loved West Dorset and its natural beauty for as long as I can remember, and I’ve observed how many of my clients were able to find solace in being by the coast - so it seemed to be a natural choice. The opportunity to take clients out onto the beach to teach them mindfulness strategies to cope with their symptoms is very special and unique.

HOW do you keep yourself well and healthy?
I take full advantage of living and working in such a beautiful part of the UK. And having just adopted a ‘miniature’ great dane called Lunar, I’m walking the cliffs at least twice a day. It’s a perfect way to unwind and meet lots of people.

HOW can I get in touch?
For more information or appointments, please contact Stillwaters Therapy Centre, The Elms, Charmouth, Dorset DT6 6LN. Call 01297 561463 or 07585 173854.

‘Yes’ always easier than ‘no’

YOU just can’t trust a government to keep its promises exactly as they were made, and the forthcoming referendum on whether this country should pull out of Europe is no exception.

In the run up to the general election the Conservatives promised that, if re-elected to power, they would hold a ‘yes-no’ referendum on leaving Europe.

That referendum is still very much on the cards but its marketing has been radically changed with the emphasis for proposed vote wording switching from ‘Should the UK leave the EU?’ to ‘Should the UK remain a member of the EU?’

Not much of a change you might think, but history shows that undecided people offered a ‘yes-no’ positive-negative voting choice are more likely to vote ‘yes’ and quietly go with the flow.

This will suit the powers that be just fine and leave those who campaigned for a referendum because of concern at Brussels interference feeling they have been short changed.

It is also – and what a surprise this is – far easier to campaign for a ‘yes’ positive vote than for a ‘no’ negative vote, rigging the scales in favour of this country staying in Europe.

So the mind games have clearly started even though there are still more than two years to go for us actually to get a chance to put our X in a box.

And which way will I vote? Well, I’ve never had much time for Brussels ponderous and increased meddling in our affairs.

It might humourously be summed up as: “Pythagorean theorem, 24 words; Lord’s Prayer, 66 words; Archimedes Principle, 67 words: 10 commandments, 179 words; Gettysburg Address, 286 words; US Declaration of Independence, 1,300 words; US Constitution with all 27 amendments, 7,818 words, the St James’s bible’s wedding ceremony, 688 words and finally, the EU regulations on the sale of cabbage... 26,911 words!

Empty shops and shattered dreams

THIS column has commented before on empty shops in Weymouth town centre, how unsightly they are and how they drag down the resort’s image, but things may have got better.

Certainly survey work by retail experts now puts Weymouth in a much more positive light with barely one in 14 shops empty as against some neighbouring towns where as many as one in six stand empty.

Regardless of whether there are fewer empty shops, it is still interesting to stroll round and see the remains of various dreams which are a collective epitaph of Weymouth’s recent trading history.

Current empty premises range from crafts to cash credit and from lingerie to even the closure of a charity shop.

Some empty premises do find themselves ’under new management‘ and this trend has to be encouraged if the town centre master plan is even to stand a chance of getting past ‘Go’.

As always, the acid test will not come now as the summer season swings into top gear but at the end of September when the first miserable storms of the autumn  send a chill through cash registers all over the town centre. That’s when we’ll find out how strong Weymouth’s recovery is.

Chalets were built to last

CHALET users are breathing a sigh of relief after their future and that of their buildings took on a slightly more optimistic future.

Previously Weymouth & Portland council’s approach bore all the hallmarks of a sort of hokey-cokey where chalet users were told they were in, out, in, out and shaken all about.

Their long running battle at Greenhill to achieve some sort of stability now finally seems to have borne fruit with a council agreement for renovation, repairs, extended leases and a much more sympathetic and realistic approach to both the chalet users’ problems and those of the authority.

However, this is the council we are talking about so the whole thing was couched in the sort of archaic and non-committal language last seen when Noah admitted it might be raining.

This time around councillors – who are slowly getting the hang of asking awkward questions – didn’t just accept a report that the chalets’ condition was deteriorating but that they were still in a relatively sturdy condition.

Councillor Andy Blackwood set his stall out and specifically tried to pin down an answer as to exactly what that meant and was told that the structure was still so solid that it “wasn’t going anywhere”.

This was useful information for members worried that someone might try and attach wheels to the chalets and tow them away for landfill, but the optimism behind such confidence was scarcely touched on.

Apparently the reason why the chalets weren’t “going anywhere” was that they’d been originally built by railway workers who didn’t mess around with anything as flimsy as a bit of two by four covered in chipboard... oh no!

Their approach was to assume what a sturdy structure was and stick a nought on the end of it, a building method which means the chalets are so strong they may only be vulnerable to hot air from a particularly long council budget debate.

Certainly the iron used in the chalets’ skeleton is nothing like at the end of its life and, while deterioration cannot be stopped, it can be managed, which is good news for the chalet users as they slip leisurely into a seafront summer.

Friendly Guildhall times are here again!

WE'VE got our town back! This seemed the overriding impression from many who attended last week’s ceremony in which Owen Lovell was installed as mayor.

I’m not sure we ever lost our town, although sometimes it seemed like it. Let’s just say we mislaid it over the last four years.

Attendance at the mayor-making ceremony was one of the largest for many years. In recent times we were told that numbers had to be restricted because of health and safety issues. Strange they were not implemented last Wednesday.

It was definitely a much friendlier atmosphere than had been experienced  in the Guildhall of late with a good deal of humour in the speeches. The toast list consisted almost entirely of locals,  which was probably deliberate on Owen’s part to ensure a few laughs. Having sat on both sides of the press bench, over the years I have proposed all the toasts.   

On this occasion I was given the task of toasting the town of Lyme Regis which gave me the opportunity to  pose the question: what makes a great town?  I settled for three main attributes: its location, its organisations and its people.  As far as location is concerned, Lyme is fortunate and sits way out in front. With 60 or 70 organisations in the town, community spirit is always going to be strong and on the people front I was able to dispel recent talk of incomers (a horrible word) being discriminated against.

I was able to emphasise that Lyme benefited greatly by those who retire to the town to use their life skills to enhance the quality of life in Lyme, specifically mentioning people like Denis Yell, who heads up the Community Land Trust, David Edwards, running the Marine Theatre Trust in difficult circumstances, and Chris Boothroyd, who virtually single handedly raised £200,000 to equip the new Jubilee Pavilion. I was sure they never felt discriminated against.

And I had a special mention for town crier Alan Vian who with his wife, Lynne, does so much, especially during the summer months, to make Lyme the place that it is. 

These people make a real difference to their adopted town and could never be considered to be outsiders.

Acceptance speeches at mayor-making ceremonies are usually fairly uncontroversial but Owen pulled no punches,  making it clear that examples of recent “bad business practices” would not be repeated on his watch.  

And he made it crystal that when councillors fall out - and they will - there would be no recriminations. Good to hear.

From an organisational point of view, the evening went splendidly well and for that town clerk John Wright, administration officer Adrianne Mullins and their staff deserve every credit.

The new council will soon be appointing four co-opted members to get back to 14- strong. They will be faced with a number of challenges over the coming weeks but if mayor-making is anything to go by, Lyme council will surely be back on song.

LYME’S new Church Cliff Walk - the name for the new seawall protecting the eastern cliffs of Lyme - will be officially opened next Wednesday.

With the project being pioneered by West Dorset District Council, it is only fitting their new chairman, Cllr Peter Shortland, should perform the honours. They’ve done Lyme proud.

With Phase IV of the coast protection scheme now completed and adding greatly to the amenity of the town, Lyme Regis looks forward to the Cobb getting similar attention.

Celebrating 35 years of friendship in sport...

IN 1980 a party of footballers from Lyme Regis and their manager crossed the English Channel to play a game of football against a village in Normandy we had never heard of.

We knew very little about Creully. For many it was the first time they had trodden on French soil.  

We played our game, enjoyed a barbecue and were introduced to the evils of Calvados for the very first time.

This was just 36 years after D-Day when memories of the war were still very raw in Northern France.  Creully was one of the first villages to be liberated.

We were taken to the Normandy beaches, an experience which had a profound effect on many of us. We learned of  great suffering experienced by the people of Normandy during the invasion.  

On many occasions since we have honoured the young men of the Allies who gave their lives to free Europe from tyranny.  On our last trip to Creully we visited some of the war graves of the men of Lyme, some of whom played for Lyme Regis Football Club, who made the ultimate sacrifice.  It was a moving experience.

Thirty five years later – in this the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe - this unique twinning arrangement is as strong as ever. 

During that time many friendships have been made which have lasted the test of time. We have enjoyed many happy occasions and some sad times. After so many years we know our bond will not be broken and we know our friendship will endure. 

So with these thoughts in mind we welcome our French friends to Lyme Regis again this coming weekend for the 35th anniversary of our twinning.

We will mark the occasion  with a celebratory dinner at the golf club.

And we will drink a toast or two - probably more - to 35 years of friendship in sport.

Owen’s Mayor Making was a lot more fun and a lot more Lyme!

THEY should have called it the Mayor Mating, but then I suppose that might have given some people the wrong idea.

Yet in truth it was very matey in the Guildhall last Wednesday, when the room was packed with the biggest gathering of, dare I say it, Old Lyme since they stopped doing jumble sales at the Church Hall. 

The chamber was stuffed with locals, everybody trying not to do little glee hops, and a grin so big on the face of deputy mayor Michaela Ellis that if it had got any wider her head would have fallen off. 

You know like in those old Hammer horror films when at the end the villagers all gather raucously in the pub, everybody rosy-cheeked and wassailing because the Curse of the Mummy is lifted? It was like that.

I’ve been to other Mayor Makings and they’ve seemed a bit like going to school; a bit serious, a bit more proper. But when they made up Owen Lovell as mayor on Wednesday it was a lot more fun and a lot more Lyme.
For starters, there was the outfit. Although she was rather fetching in the mayor’s robes, being so tiny, Sally Holman always looked like she’d been caught playing in her mum’s dressing-up box.

In contrast, when Owen made his happy appearance in the white gloves and Nelson hat, I thought it was Ronnie Barker rehearsing for the Christmas panto. 

And well done him for grinning through it. Who cares if the tailor who said “one size fits all” sold us a kipper, how very Old Lyme is it to have a mayor who can do pomp without pomposity?

I’m not suggesting that Owen will not take his new and greatly-deserved promotion seriously – I was a teenager in Lyme when he was a local bobby, I know very well how seriously Owen can take things – it’s just that he made Mayor Making rather jolly.

Like the moment when he suddenly stopped the proceedings “for a top-up”. 

That’s what he said. Making his very first pronouncement as mayor, Owen rose to say “we’re just going to stop for a top-up”.

A top up? We were only two toasts in, but as only Lyme could deem that eleven toasts are entirely necessary for a sober occasion, everybody was knocking it back like there was no tomorrow.  

“Only Lyme”, the phrase kept coming back to me all evening. Where else, for instance, would anyone [Pip Evans] hilariously propose the toast to the town in the style of Bob Monkhouse, saying that he’d checked the toilet paper in the loo because he didn’t want anyone going home with his name on their bottom.

Where else would a senior councillor [Daryl Turner] respond to Pip’s toast by reciting a self-penned poem the length of “The Faerie Queene”, based on Baz Luhrmann’s spoken word song “Everybody’s Free”? In my day, Owen would have had you cuffed and drug-tested for behaviour like that.

And yet, Daryl’s epic toast was perfect for its honest sentimentality which we all share.
“Be kind to your town, or you’ll miss it when it’s gone,” he said. “Don’t mess too much with your town, because when you need her, she’ll be there.”

Lyme, Daryl had said several hundred stanzas earlier, was “the greatest place you’ll ever know”. Pip had made the same point – “nothing raises your heart more than that view of the Bay” – and it was echoed too in a theme which ran through all of the toasts of Cheryl Reynolds, Michaela, Anita Williams, Chezzie Evans, John Wright, John Broom and Dave Cozens.

And that theme was pride; a pride in how Elliott Herbert’s team of hard-grafting council boys keep Lyme looking beautiful, a pride in our history and a pride in our spirit.
And it was very good to see that pride back in The Guildhall.

“Chivalry and order has returned to the town again,” said Owen, articulating the relief of everyone.

“There will be differences of opinion ahead, but there will be harmony after the storm.”

And as he heavily hinted that the Skatepark is going to happen, the new team is off to a flying start. Long may the new popularity continue. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Money is God in ‘beautiful game’

I WORKED in football publishing in the dim and distant past and met many of my boyhood heroes. 

And whilst I loved rubbing shoulders with some of the game’s top players, doing business with professional football clubs was not a pleasurable experience. Quite the opposite,  in fact.

I soon came to realised that football stopped being “a beautiful game” many years ago. Money was - and is - the God and the least important people in the game are the supporters.

No one connected with the game at grass roots level were a bit surprised when FIFA imploded with the news that several top officials had been arrested by the FBI after a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at the very top. 

The sums involved are obscene – but much about the way the sport we love is administered is obscene.

One wonders how badly behaved a player has to be before he gets banned for life. If eating an opponent didn’t bring a lifetime ban, what will?

Whilst headlines about the obnoxious head of FIFA Sepp Blater were breaking all over the world, down at the new Chard Road football ground in Axminster chairman Ray Self and his team were putting the finishing touches to their new ground in readiness for next season .

This is where the true game is at its best. In Crewkerne, they’ve worked their socks off for new facilities in recent times and in Ilminster the same it about to happen. 

Football lives in its truest fashion at local level where securing funding of relatively small sums to allow young people to play in a secure and enjoyable environment is often an exercise akin to hari-kari.

Axminster got their ground by doing an astute bit of business with a property developer, although it was a lot more complicated and stressful than anticipated. A fraction of the bungs and bribes dished out to and by the so-called leaders of our game could make such a difference. 

But who wants their tainted millions?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Steph Garner (Bridport Music)

STEPH Garner and her husband Piers have been at the helm of Bridport Music for the last 35 years. Born in Kent, Mrs Garner, 57, grew up in Southampton and lived in Scotland for five years before moving on to study biology at Sheffield University. Married in 1980, the couple have three children, all of whom now live away from home but regularly return to the area. Bridport Music has become a focal point of the town’s thriving arts community, and its annual Record Store Day celebrations in April attract visitors from across the South West.

WHEN did you first move to the area?
I moved here in 1980 when I married Piers, who had by then been managing the shop - then called Bridport Record Centre - for a year. Prior to that I had been conducting a wildlife survey on the grounds of Warwickshire College of Agriculture with another graduate.

WHAT do you like most about Bridport? 
The town has a great atmosphere, especially on sunny market days. It's the ideal combination of coast, countryside and interesting shops.  I can't imagine not living here now.

HOW did Bridport Music come about?
I've been a partner in the business for about 30 years. The business was started by our brother-in-law in 1976 (we think) at the premises he then owned - H. E. Bell, a general store located further down South Street. So we're coming up for a big anniversary next year!

DO you have a background in music? 
I have no musical background at all but I’ve always loved listening to music and watching bands live. I listen to BBC Radio 6Music as much as possible - it's the best place to hear new music.

WHAT was the first record you bought?
It was either Deep Purple’s ‘Black Night’ or Dave Edmunds’ ‘I Hear You Knocking’, both on seven inch vinyl of course.

RECORD Store Day has proved a very successful event over the last few years. Why do you think it's so important that vinyl lives on?
You are more likely to listen to a whole album properly all the way through on vinyl, which is most likely what the artist intended you to do - those that put out the physical product anyway. The sound quality is much better than on MP3s too.

BRIDPORT has a thriving arts community. Why do you think its independent venues and shops have been able to survive, unlike other towns in the South West?
We have weathered several recessions by a combination of ‘hanging on in there’ and diversifying. We've gone from selling just vinyl, cassettes and videos to CDs too and now musical instruments, radios, music books and related accessories. Stocktaking is certainly a challenge! It's hard work but we love what we do and it's our living.

WILL we see you on the festival circuit this year, or will you be watching from in front of the TV?
Sadly we are unable to get away from the shop to go to festivals so TV it is! We used to be able to get Sunday tickets for Glastonbury but that's almost impossible now.

DO you have any life lessons that you stick to?
If I have a particularly daunting task or problem ahead of me I don't try to tackle it all in one go. I nibble away at it until when I absolutely have to complete or solve it I've almost done it and it doesn't seem so bad after all. Like this interview - it's taken me three attempts!

Magna Carta: a work still in progress? 

JUNE 19th is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Not the first, nor most important, nor most admirably unselfish, and certainly not the last of the battles to put legal restraint around centralised power, it has become, over time and in many parts of the world, a symbol and reference point for the rights of the governed. A little celebration is due.

It’s worth asking how well we live up to what Magna Carta represents. Historians, lawyers and politicians don’t always agree on what that is. So to celebrate, try your own definition. My starter for ten? “Magna Carta stands against a minority ruling in its own interests while excluding others.” 

Being among the world’s fortunate few inhabiting an elective democracy, we naturally ask “So what’s a minority?” – a question best examined at the familiar, local level. Lyme Regis, while no doubt a democracy, isn’t currently elective, so our closest example is West Dorset District Council.

97,731 votes across the district at the recent council election were shared like this: Conservative 45 per cent, Liberal Democrat 30 per cent, Green 13 per cent, Labour eight per cent, UKIP three per cent, independent two per cent. That looks like six differently-sized minorities.

What happened to those votes when they turned into councillors? Thirty Conservative councillors (71 per cent), 12 Liberal Democrats (29 per cent), none others. That looks like a hefty majority, with one minority, while four other groups – together embodying a quarter of all votes – are cast into outer darkness, sharing that gloomy region with 21,912 people, another 28 per cent of the electorate, who chose not to vote.

The council’s alchemy goes beyond turning six minorities into King John Conservatives faced by Baronial Lib Dems. Lest the latter re-enact June 1215, the magic majority is made exclusive by gathering power into a cabinet of seven Conservatives.

With any centralised control, those not in the centre feel excluded. Yet West Dorset’s cabinet firmly shuts out councillors representing over half the votes.  

This may please some local Conservative electors. On reflection, though, they might think, for example, of like-minded Londoners whose Conservative votes last year brought them nothing in Haringey (Labour 48, Lib Dem nine) or Islington (Labour 47, Green one). Some sympathy for such fellow voters? Perhaps, therefore, a little understanding for those friends and neighbours here who gave 55 per cent of votes to others than a Conservative candidate?

An energetic challenge to West Dorset’s cabinet system comes from the non-party-political Public First group, part of its campaign for local democracy. Of 501 attenders at its public meetings in Dorchester and Bridport earlier this year, just four voted against replacing the cabinet arrangement with the committee system used until 2007. This more democratic  structure would give all 42 councillors a role in policy-making. The official response so far has been the classic one: ignore the groundswell and don’t deal with the arguments. Perhaps some Barons-in-Arms are needed. 

West Dorset could, and should, scrap its cabinet tomorrow. But the deeper problem is our ‘winner takes all’ electoral system which, locally and nationally, strengthens the powerful and weakens the powerless.

Government should be for the good of all, not a vehicle for the wishes of the ‘winners’. Politics, Geoffrey Mann recently wrote in this paper, is “conversation and negotiation” rather than “dominance and control.” Replace ‘politics’ with ‘democracy’ or ‘government’ and he’s still correct. 

The general election results undermine “conversation and negotiation.” Post-election maps show swathes of Conservative and SNP territory, blobs of Labour strongholds, Lib Dem fingerholds, scatterings of Welsh and Irish interests, a solitary UKIP flag-bearer. 

Fractured nation?

These maps suggest a fractured nation. But people living in each part of the map incline, in differing proportions, to the values of all parties and none. Across the land we have more in common than the maps pretend. Government should foster what we share, not what separates us. 

Our new Conservative government has a majority of MPs, just as its West Dorset counterpart has a majority of councillors. But the voting patterns in both cases tell a subtler, more complicated story, one that heirs to Magna Carta should respect.

Unfortunately, politicians mostly behave as if the maps, not the votes, tell the truth. The district’s cabinet system is one symptom. Another is the rejoicing among many Conservatives that, unconstrained by coalition, they can forge ahead with a manifesto  supported by around 11.3 million people – just 37 per cent of the votes cast and 24 per cent of the 46.4 million eligible to vote. Ignoring minorities and disenchanting non-voters (28 per cent locally, 34 per cent nationally) damages social cohesion, whether in Dorset or nationally. Such ‘forging ahead’ will mean one thing: a real, not just a pictorial, fracturing of the United Kingdom – led, but not ended, by Scotland. 

Electing our representatives should do two things. It should enable us all, not just those in the 100 or so constituencies (out of 650) that aren’t ‘safe’ seats, to know that our vote counts. And it should produce fair, proportional government. Anyone valuing the continued unity of the kingdom should see in this the only way to stop it breaking up. Yet of those who argued against Scottish independence, both Conservative and Labour parties oppose a proportional system of election. That is astonishing logical confusion (or putting party before country).    

A recipe for chaos? The last century saw several capable minority and coalition governments; our recent coalition governed without falling over. Germany hasn’t done too badly with proportional representation and routine coalitions (plus national reunification along the way, while we carelessly contemplate separation). 

Nothing would get done? Not true, though government-by-negotiation might mercifully think more and do less. The Poll Tax and the Iraq War came from governments that didn’t stop long enough to listen or to think.

Listening and thinking in West Dorset needs its own Magna Carta. Public First is calling for a local referendum on the cabinet system, which by law must be held if five per cent of the district’s electorate sign the petition and the result is verified. Go, not to Runnymede, but to