Snowy conditions bring out the best in people

WITH Francesca enjoying glitzy snowy scenes in Venice for a short break last week, I was forced out into the white stuff on Friday morning to ensure we had enough pictures for our Photo Gallery.

We went out early when Lyme was eerily quiet. Little or no traffic was passing through the town and the sidestreets were impassable. There was at least a foot of snow in places and the sidewalks were treacherous after the overnight freezing rain. Storm Emma had clearly delivered one of the worst snow conditions in living memory.

After getting a few pretty pictures and enjoying community craic in Broad Street as more ventured out as the day progressed, I decided to write a tongue-in-cheek snow blog when I got home.

I chose as my theme “Never seen it this bad before”, which is what most people said as we exchanged greetings. As I write this, to date 1,921 people have read that blog – which must tell me something about the success of the LymeOnline website.

I ventured to suggest that 1978 was the worst ever snow in living memory, but of course it wasn’t. Those baby-boomers among us will recall that it was almost certainly 1962-63 when the big freeze lasted several weeks, starting before Christmas and not thawing until early March.

Local schools were closed for a number of weeks, fish were frozen to death in the sea and, over in Charmouth, Cedric Edwards rode his bike up the frozen River Char from the shore up to the caravan park. I’m told he still has the picture.

The generation before me will probably say 1947 was the most severe, but I wasn’t born then. That year the month of February was particularly vicious with record low temperatures.

Cold and snowy conditions tend to make people more sociable and I commented in my blog that people said “hello” and stopped to chat when normally they would pass right by without speaking. Perhaps that’s why the people of Canada – and so many other snowy places – are said to be so much more happier than the British.

There were many reports of kindnesses around town, with people helping out the elderly and infirm, so typical of Lyme. One surprising hangover from our two days of snow – two whole days – was that there was suddenly a world shortage of bread. In France that would have caused a riot!

Back where it all started – delivering as well as writing the news

WELL, I started my newspaper career as a paper boy – and it looks very much like I might end it in the same manner. For me, the wheel has certainly turned the full circle.

Before I started my first job as a cub reporter in 1965 on the Express & Echo in Exeter I used to deliver the Echo every night around Lyme. About 30 copies, as I recall.

Lyme was on the far extremity of the Echo’s circulation area and as there was no reporter covering the town for the Exeter evening paper I also wrote a few bits and pieces for them.

The first time I walked into a newspaper office was the year before when I spent the whole of August on work experience at the Bridport News when the paper was based above Frosts in West Street. I loved every minute of it and during this month the office was severly damaged by fire when the editor, Bill ‘Foxy’ Harris, who used to ride around the town on a motor bike with the word ‘Editor’ stuck to his crash helmet, tapped out his pipe into a dustbin on the office landing.

When we arrived back from lunch, probably spent on West Bay beach, flames were shooting out of the office window and Foxy was telephoning the story from the kiosk across the road to the Salisbury head office as it was deadline that afternoon.

I was disappointed I could not start my career at the Bridport News. I was offered an apprenticeship at the Salisbury Journal but was pleased to get a job on the Express & Echo.

We couldn’t find anyone to take the Echo paper round in Lyme when I started work. I used to travel into Exeter every morning on the six-clock Puffin’ Billy out of Lyme station and then onto Exeter. For a few weeks after starting work, I brought the Lyme papers back with me and delivered them on the way home. Eventually, local footballer Ronny Bastone took over the round.

I spent three years on the Echo and my last story I wrote for the paper was the main front page story, one of just three that I had during my three-year apprenticeship. I officially ended my employment with the Echo on a very stormy Friday night and was looking forward to joining the Somerset Gazette Series in Taunton on the Monday to launch the Axminster News.

That Friday night was one of the saddest I can remember – the night local lifeboatman Nimmer Jefford lost his life trying to claim salvage rights for a vessel that had broken free from the harbour. He was tossed into the sea and swept towards the seawall at Cobb Gate. Great efforts were made to save him with a rope thrown out to him and a number of locals trying to pull him to safety. But a huge wave smashed him against the seawall and his body was discovered on back beach the following morning.

Although I had officially left the Echo, I drove into the office on Saturday morning and wrote my last and most tragic story for a great newspaper. The circulation department sent a man over to Lyme that afternoon to sell copies at the top of the parade – many more copies than the 30 I brought back with me every evening.

And now – 53 years later – I am back delivering newspapers. To get the LymeOnline print version established, and to give advertisers the best exposure possible, we decided to deliver the paper to as many easily accessible letterboxes in Lyme, Uplyme and Charmouth, as well as having copies available at various pick-up points around the area.

Lyme is not the easiest of places with its steep hills so it has been a bit of a challenge. We were unable to recruit sufficient deliverers to cover the whole area so there was no alternative but for Francesca and I to cover some of the more difficult rounds ourselves. That’s how we spent most of last weekend.

Saturday was a particularly difficult experience. We decided to concentrate on the top of the town towards the Uplyme border – the morning after the official launch of LymeOnline where the wine and gin flowed a little too liberally (thank you Mr Stamp) when the speechifying was finished.

Walking up Clappentail Lane on Saturday morning – with a bag full of papers and a thumping headache – seemed like climbing the north face of the Eiger.

So my eternal thanks to those kind people, anxious to see Lyme’s only real community newspaper survive, who have volunteered to deliver copies in their road. Any further offers will be gratefully received.

Traders should have strong voice in community

I’VE always believed that traders should have a strong voice in the community and in days now long gone the Chamber of Commerce fulfilled that role in Lyme Regis.

They were consulted on all matters relating to the town centre, particularly parking and traffic issues, perennial problems that are as important today as they ever were.

It’s a fact, however, that bodies like the Chamber of Commerce are struggling in most small towns and I applaud Lyme Regis Town Council for trying to kick-start an effective traders’ organisation to have a say in some of these crucial debates.

Initial discussions with local traders have not been met with great success but I applaud the council for trying to ensure the traders have an effective voice. It would have been a step too far, however, had they agreed to a suggestion – not from the traders – that the council should fund shopkeepers’ fees for affiliating to the Chamber of Commerce network. Sensibly, councillors did not go down this avenue.

If the traders want to have some influence over matters that effect them most, then they have to be responsible for their own financial arrangements.

No stopping Cheryl!

WHEN Cheryl Reynolds won a seat on West Dorset District Council I warned her that as an Independent she would find it most frustrating with the liklihood that she would not be able to get a place on any of the council committees.

She gave me that look she’s flashed at me so many times before – “that’s what you think”.

True to my prediction, no committee place was available until the Lib Dems came up with a remarkably generous offer – “you can have one of our seats”.

And so Cheryl has just received confirmation that she is now officially a member of the influential Overview and Scrutiny Committee (me neither!).

Cheryl won’t mind me saying this (actually she probably will), but she’s not the easiest to control at committee meetings when she’s in full flight. A challenge for any chairman – who just happens to be her brother Daryl!

Tea room treat

ONE advantage in working at the top of town – we have a new bijou office among friendly folk in the Uplyme Road Business Centre – is that it’s only a short walk to the wonderful Black Dog Tea Room.

I remember the Black Dog well when it was a pub, especially when it was run by local lad John Govier, who went on to find fame with BBC Radio Devon.

I have many fond memories of using it as our HQ when a few members of Uplyme Cricket Club, led by entertainer Richard Digance, organised a week of theatre shows supported by Richard’s showbiz pals, to raise £30,000 in a bid to save Lyme Hospital in the early 1980s. We failed to save the hospital but had a lot of fun and the money eventually went to the medical centre.

I have to admit I’d never been into the tea room before this past week – what have I been missing? Rod and Sonia serve a dazzling array of snacks and lunches, all homemade with locally-sourced, healthy produce. I chose Rod’s Rustic Rarebit – historic, bordering on the biblical! We will definitely make the tea rooms our once-a-week-lunchtime-treat.

Woodmead Halls
About Philip Evans 326 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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