ALTHOUGH I am clearly not one to let the cat out of any bag, you ought to know that an almighty clash is coming up at the town council as Jeff Scowen does his damnedest to unseat Cheryl Reynolds as chairman of the Tourism, Community and Publicity Committee.
In what stands set to be the biggest battle hereabouts since the women of Lyme manned the ramparts to beat off Prince Maurice during the Siege of Lyme, Jeff is planning a campaign to seize the chair and take control.
But Cheryl will give no more of an inch than the town’s women did when they bravely fought alongside their menfolk to defeat Bonnie Prince Incomer in 1644, and so we are assured of a right ruck when the chairmanships of the town council’s committees come up for election in the spring.
In fact, this is poised to be such a good fight that I am currently attempting to capitalise on it by trying to persuade Gabby Rabbitts at the Marine Theatre to allow me to stage a boxing match between Jeff and Cheryl’s champion Alan Reynolds. Can’t imagine who might win that one.
I like Jeff. I know that his relentless self-publicity is not everybody’s cup of tea, but his shouty, Cillit Bang-style videos, in which he raucously promotes all aspects of the town with the subtlety of a flying mallet, amuse me, and he does bring a bit of a spark to the place.
But as Cheryl was the original inventor of the spark, when these two worlds collide it should result in the best explosion since a drunken out-of-towner once walked across the pool table at The Ship Inn and told Richard Austin, who was playing at the time, to eff-off. That was good.
Cheryl has done much for the town since she was elected to the council with what I believe still stands as a record majority, and her massive popularity is largely built on the undeniable fact that she cares passionately about the people of Lyme and fights like a tigress to defend them.
Without Cheryl, this Lyme in which many are elderly and where 22 per cent of residents do not own a car would not have a town bus. It was Cheryl who battled to get the bus back when regular service was dropped and scores were seemingly condemned to never being able to easily do, and carry, their shopping again.
It was also Cheryl who was largely responsible for our children and grandchildren getting the best-ever play park equipment at ‘The Swings’ on Anning Road and her sterling work as chairman of the town’s residents’ association resulted in the authorities over-turning protests by local misery guts who wanted to prevent the building of much-needed new homes at Timber Hill.
I have no doubt that Jeff would similarly fight on behalf of the town’s needy given half a chance, probably with the same passion that he displayed in his failed attempt to preserve The Rotunda.
But that he almost matches Cheryl for civic zeal is not the point of why it is best for the town that he be disappointed in his bid for the chair of the tourism committee.
The reason why Cheryl should remain in the chair is because she has the “in” that Jeff doesn’t. As we know, a lot of what happens in Lyme is decided by West Dorset District Council, which has a long history of knowing better of what is good for us than do the people who actually live here. Many have been the decisions of WDDC which have infuriated the town, the most recent of these being West Dorset’s genius idea to allow dogs to run free on the front beach at Easter when our town councillors knew that won’t work.
Cheryl is Lyme’s representative on WDDC, Jeff isn’t. She has also just achieved the never-before-heard-of distinction of getting elected by WDDC’s Lib Dems to the district council’s powerful Overview and Scrutiny Committee – even though she’s not a Lib Dem, she’s an Independent. Jeff is also not on the Overview Committee and, as a non-district councillor, could not be.
Therefore, it is far more effective for the town’s best interests if the chairman of the town’s tourism committee can personally and immediately represent those interests to West Dorset, instead of having to keep on coming back from WDDC to run this and that proposal by another chairman, i.e. Jeff.
Jeff’s time will come
Personally, I think Jeff’s time will come; he is far too effusive to be ignored for long and I know he has many ideas for how to better the town which he does not yet “get” quite as well as Cheryl. We all have to earn our stripes in Lyme.
Jeff has lived here for about seven years, not quite matching Cheryl’s 70, and in that time he has admirably mixed in and got involved in community events. But the time for him to control the shape and manner of those events is not yet; it’ll come, but not yet.
However, I have spied a committee which is just crying out for him to take charge of it; the Christmas lights committee. According to the town council’s excellent website, there are only three council members of this committee – Derek Hallett, Owen Lovell and Stan Williams. All of these are excellent gentlemen and committed councillors, but I hope that they will forgive me for noting that, like me, none of them are ever going to be described again as young.
But Christmas is a time for the young and judging by the crowds that come from all over the shop to see them, crowds which have become hugely engorged in recent years, Lyme’s Christmas lights have become one of the town’s premier attractions for the young and their parents.
That’s good, but as some of us have been saying for some time now, so much, much more could profitably be made of Christmas in Lyme; we could have braziers up and down Broad Street, stalls, strolling minstrels, flaming torches, funfairs, markets, and, here’s a novel idea for traders other than Pug & Puffin, Ammonite Foods, Ginger Beer, Serendip and a very few others, the revolutionary concept of shops being encouraged to stay open for Christmas later than half past four, especially when there are 5,000 potential customers crowded on the pavement outside.
Jeff – who lives pretty much on-site anyway, down the posh bit of Teneriffe Path, which his friendly and community-minded neighbours have now organised to forbid access for us local peasants – would be ideal as the town council’s chief lead on the Christmas lights committee. Lyme would profit from his enthusiasm if he was to focus it on making Christmas in the town more imaginative than just being very pretty.
As I say, Jeff’s time as tourism guru will come and I’ll have a fiver with anyone that it will come in tandem with the other racing certainty that will happen in not many years from now, when Cheryl is deservedly made mayor.