FIVE weeks ago there was an official looking envelope on our doormat when we arrived home, headed ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’. My wife Jackie handed it to me with a stern look, saying “now what have you done!” And then she smiled.
At the bottom of the envelope, in bold letters and underlined, it said ‘Urgent. Personal. Cabinet Office’. Jackie’s smile got a bit broader. Inside there was a letter, marked ‘In Confidence’.
“Dear Sir, The Prime Minister has asked me to inform you, in strict confidence, that having accepted the advice of the Main Honours Committee, she proposes to submit your name to The Queen. She is recommending that Her Majesty may be graciously pleased to approve you being appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Birthday 2018 Honours List.”
Then it asked if this would be “agreeable” to me. It took a moment for it to sink in. Then it suddenly dawned on me that I was being awarded the MBE – for services to charity and the community of Lyme Regis.
By this time Jackie was beaming all over her face. And Francesca was looking a bit sheepish as well.
“You know about this, don’t you?” I asked. “We might do,” came the reply.
I had to sit down and I read the letter time and again. “Her Majesty may be graciously pleased….” “The Prime Minister would like to know if this would be agreeable to you…” If I was agreeable my name would be included in the Honours List published in the London Gazette and some national newspapers on June 9. Another sheet of paper confirmed it would become public at 10.30pm on Friday 8.
Over the years I have interviewed a number of people who have been honoured by the Queen and have always asked what went through their minds when they opened the letter. Many often replied that they thought it was a “stitch-up” by their friends. That question was now going through my own mind.
What did I think when I opened the letter? The first thing that came to mind was what would my Dad, long deceased now, would think. Council house boy. Grammar school. Working class – just like four other Lyme recipients of a similar honour, David Cozens, Barbara Austin, Bill Reed and Brian Larcombe. At one time we all lived within 200 yards of each other. Read into that what you will.
Now I am perfectly aware that I’m the Marmite Man of Lyme Regis. Some people love me, some people hate me, in fairly equal percentages as it happens. Of course, my family and close circle of friends – those who know I don’t have a big ego and don’t want to run this town – would be chuffed to nuts but there would be others lining up to knock me down a peg or two. I’m prepared for that. I have had over 500 messages of congratulations so there’s plenty of people out there who still like Marmite.
I have never considered myself to be a “do-gooder” although I hope I have caused some good along the way. Of all the things I have been involved in over the years, I never set out with any intention of being thanked or honoured for doing it. As my wife has constantly reminded me in 35 years of marriage – “Don’t complain. No one asked you to do it.”
And it’s an award that should be shared by many. I have always been fortunate in surrounding myself with family, friends and work colleagues in supporting all the things I have organised – and there’s always been one common denominator, we always have fun doing it.
One of the Marmite haters said to me this week, “I suppose now you’ve got an MBE, you will give it all up!” No way. I shall still give what support and help I can to those organisations that have honoured me by making me their president – the Royal British Legion, the football club and Lyme Regis Musical Theatre, as well as my other interests – Cancer Research UK, the Woodmead Halls and Uplyme & Lyme Regis Sports Trust.
The biggest challenge about all this was keeping it under my hat for five weeks. I told my immediate family – my wife, kids and my brother, who has been such an influence on my life. My son uttered just one word: “Blimey!”
And so we now look forward to the investiture at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle in the next two months. And no, I won’t be wearing a top hat. But we will celebrate in style.
No one asks to become an MBE and very few expect it. But there’s a huge amount of work over several years to see it through to the end. At first I had no idea who had put my name forward. I now know and have already been presented with a file with all the testimonials that I shall treasure for the rest of my life and hand down so hopefully my grandchildren may read it one day. They know who they are and they know how grateful I am.
I was actually in France when the Birthday Honours List was published – celebrating Lyme Regis Football Club’s 38th anniversary of its twinning with Normandy team US Creully/Commes. It wasn’t intentional – but I can think of few places where I would prefer to celebrate such an honour.
I was sharing a twin room with fellow Francophile Graham Paterson. We had managed to get to bed quite early for the Creully trip, around midnight, when Graham was flicking through the messages on his mobile phone and suddenly he screamed, “You’ve got the MBE! Why didn’t you say something?” Pitifully, all I could think of saying was, “I didn’t know what to say”.
Next morning, of course, all 34 members of the party and many of our hosts knew and made a real fuss of me. I’m not sure the French really understood why the Queen has two birthdays, shrugging their shoulders and saying “You Eeenglish!”
The trip was its usual great success and all the young players enjoyed it immensely and did our club and town proud. The hospitality was exceptional, as it always is in Normandy. Graham and I stayed, as we have many times, with the Longuet family. Head of the household, Michel, is a life member of Lyme Regis FC as he was one of then principal instigators when the twinning was set up in 1980.
Organised by the then manager David Cozens (MBE), 12 young men crossed the channel, most of whom had never been to France, for a game of football and a barbecue. I remember we all took our steaks back as they were dripping with blood as they came off the BBQ stand. I was a member of that first trip but didn’t play in the first game because I had my leg in plaster after breaking it in the Axminster Hospital Cup a few days before.
Michel’s wife Marie-Francoise must be the best chef in the whole of France. Her signature dish, Coquille St Jacques, is out of this world and I hold the record for eating the most – four – as a starter. On this occasion I could only manage two.
Marie-Francoise’s mother is the oldest resident of Cruelly and still has vivid memories of how their village was liberated on D-Day by the Royal Dragoon Guards. On each visit to Creully we always lay a wreath at the war memorial.
Next year, the 39th anniversary, the Creully players wil be visiting Lyme again, and then we are all looking forward to the 40th anniversary celebrations in France in 2020.
Oh, and by the way, I wouldn’t want you to think it was all about feasting and drinking. We won the football 1-0, courtesy of a Rhys Paterson goal.
Parking issues are driving people out of town
I TOOK a call from an angry resident last week – about the parking situation in this town. A resident of Fairfield Park, his temper was not improved by the fact his daughter had received a £100 parking fine for not paying in the NCP car park when the new meters were out of action. I have heard of several similar occasions.
The irate phone caller explained to me that they visited Lyme for a holiday and were so impressed with the sheer beauty of the place they decided to move here. They marvelled at the breathtaking views across Lyme Bay every day.
But life in Fairfield Park started to become frustrating to say the least, caused by the number of people who park their cars in the road, often obstructing the access to their houses.
But the main cause of complaint was the apparent inability of our local councils – Lyme Regis Town, West Dorset District and Dorset County – to deal with Lyme’s traffic problems.
This family are so fed up with dealing with the traffic jams and lack of parking in the town centre that they have decided to sell up and move on.
At Wednesday’s council meeting the Mayor, Cllr Michaela Ellis, sensibly suggested that they should forget about the Sidmouth Road park and ride scheme, recently turned down by East Devon Council, amidst a great deal of rancour between the authorities, and concentrate on other important issues in the town.
The town council is about to embark upon a summer-long traffic survey at considerable expense and it would be a good idea if the council are able to use this to put parking to the top of the list of matters urgent to the future prosperity of our town. Or do we just throw up our hands and say it was always thus!