LATE last night we received the news that Lyme’s two biggest events of the year – Lifeboat Week and Regatta & Carnival Week – had been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With Lyme’s calendar of events already decimated, the announcement was expected but that didn’t make it any less disappointing. I think I had been holding on to some small glimmer of hope that it would all be okay – summer would still go ahead.
Of course, the organisers have to put public safety first and the decision to cancel was the right one, although that doesn’t make it any easier for those who dedicate so much time and effort to these events – they are the heart and soul of Lyme.
Earlier today in his regular blog post, Dad wrote about the impact Regatta & Carnival had had on his life and it got me thinking about the way Lyme’s two major summer events had shaped mine too.
In some way, I think they’ve probably shaped everyone who grew up in this town or regularly visited for their holidays – creating lasting memories, forming friendships, summer romances, and not forgetting the hundreds of thousands of pounds they have raised for good causes over the years, which many local people would have benefited from.
One of my earliest memories of carnival is my older sister Zoe being crowned Mini Miss Lyme Regis 1994. I was five years old and remember being terribly jealous as she was fitted for her puffy peach dress, complete with tiara and sash. She had the grand honour of opening Gun Cliff Walk and the new sewerage works, which we were all then given a tour of. In hindsight she was probably a bit overdressed for that.
Growing up in Lyme Regis I wanted to spend every spare minute I had on the beach, and as kids during Lifeboat Week and Regatta & Carnival that meant joining in all the usual fun and games – sand sports, pavement art, sand castle competitions and dressing up in silly costumes for the annual carnival procession. One year I marched down Broad Street dressed as a strawberry in support of Lyme Regis Football Club’s ill-fated Strawberry Fields project. Looking back at the photo I’m not sure how Dad ever convinced me that was a good idea!
As we grew older my friends and I lost interest in running races, drawing competitions and silly costumes, and became far more intrigued by the evening events that were said to be for the “grown ups”. And there was one in particular we were desperate to attend – the open air disco.
At the time it was considered to be the biggest night of the year in Lyme Regis, the grand finale of Lifeboat Week that always sparked wild stories and rumours. But of course we were always that little bit too young to go.
My parents would take me down to the Cobb to watch the conger coddling (another favourite now also long gone) but I was then whisked back home just as the party got started while Zoe was allowed to stay out. Finally, when I was 16, I was allowed to go with friends and remember thinking we were such grown ups drinking a Smirnoff Ice among the all the noise and revelry that we’d always longed to join while listening from our distant gardens.
But that was it, the next year it was pulled from the Lifeboat Week programme having become so difficult to manage. So that was my one and only open air disco experience… and I was probably in bed by 10pm!
Setting sail in a bathtub
The following year, when I was 17, I started taking photos of the events in my summer holidays to help out Dad, who had just launched the View From Lyme Regis. I’ve covered Lifeboat Week and Regatta & Carnival every year since – always coming home from university to spend summer in Lyme – and then joining the family business full-time.
Fourteen years later, one of my favourite summer events to cover is still the annual bathtub race. After taking photos at the start line it’s a quick dash along the Cart Road to catch the winners – quite often the local firemen – on the final push through the harbour.
How do they get there so quickly? The one year I took part you could have gently strolled up and down the seafront six times before we reached the harbour mouth.
In 2009 I entered a team with friends from the View From office and for some reason we all wore T-shirts with my face on to promote my new ‘Summertime in Lyme’ column. I can’t remember where we got the bath or barrels from, but I do remember my sister and I sneaking around Lyme after dark stealing traffic cones to stick to the front of our raft, which was all looking rather flimsy until my teammate’s brother turned up at the last minute with his power tools and fastened the whole thing together properly. It never would have stayed afloat otherwise.
That year, Lifeboat Week had not been blessed with the best weather and the race was postponed early in the week due to rough conditions at sea, but I’m pretty sure it was just as bad when it finally went ahead. I bought a child’s size rubber ring from Rainbow for extra safety (it actually turned out to be quite a hindrance when getting onto the boat!) and we set sail with Mum looking on anxiously.
It took us so long to make the short crossing from Cobb Gate to the harbour that the tide had come in and Dad, who was cheering us on at the finish line, had to be carried off the North Wall for fear of ruining his suit.
A near miss at the tug o’ war
I was close to getting a soaking myself a few years ago while covering the tug o’ war across the harbour mouth. I always stand on the end of the Cobb so I can take photos of the lifeboat crew’s team across the water. But their opposition were so enthusiastic, when they successfully pulled the crew off the North Wall they all went tumbling back, knocking the crowd down as they went.
I was pushed over, right on the edge of the Cobb wall, and thought for sure I was going in. I accepted my fate, closed my eyes, held my camera up as high as I could and waited for a splash. But a second or two later I realised I was still on dry land and squashing one or two others underneath me (sorry about that).
The next year the crowd control was given much more consideration at the tug o’ war and barriers have been set up to keep spectators safe ever since. Well, at least if I went in the lifeboat crew were just a short swim away… I think the camera would have been ruined though.
Regatta & Carnival’s pram derby was another favourite which also required a mad dash along the seafront. After setting off from the Ship Inn and careering down Coombe Street, I’d chase after the entrants to try and catch a snap of the winners coming through the finish line at the Royal Standard.
Of course, I didn’t have to stop for the half pint at every pub which gave me a little time to catch up, although one year I did have to fight off a pirate wielding an inflatable mallet (only in Lyme Regis!) who thought I was a competitor in hot pursuit.
Dad says when he was growing up you weren’t considered a true Lyme boy until you had competed in the pram derby. I think that was back when they thought it was “not for girls”. Of course, many Lyme girls have given it a good go since then, but I think I missed my chance as this is another event that sadly fell foul of health and safety rules and was cancelled a few years ago.
A large cognac with Boycie
When Dad organised Regatta & Carnival during the 1970s, it attracted the likes of Tommy Trinder, Billy Dainty, Matt Munroe and Hope & Keen (he tells me they were all big stars), and in recent years Lifeboat Week has been given the celebrity touch too.
Last summer I turned up for the first day of Lifeboat Week and within minutes the crew whisked me up the road in a car with celebrity guest John Challis, aka Boycie. We took him to the Nag’s Had – the namesake of his favourite haunt in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ – for a quick photo opp and large cognac with landlords James and Rebecca before the official opening ceremony. A surreal start to another memorable week.
And then of course there’s Red Arrows Day. A day when Lyme is a buzz with excitement, bursting at the seams with visitors, when fish and chip queues are a mile long and cars are literally abandoned in the streets – it seems like a different world now.
The Arrows are always a challenge to capture on camera. I’ve given it a good go and managed the odd decent shot over the years, but in most the planes look more the size of sparrows – not Red Arrows! Instead I usually concentrate on crowd shots and leave the rest to the big guns – aka Richard Austin stood at the top of Langmoor Gardens with a lens longer than my arm.
There’s nothing quite like that sudden roar as the Arrows burst overhead and out into the bay for a spectacular display. Fingers crossed we will see them here again one day.
I’m not sure you can really call all that a job. Having fun in the sunshine every summer with a camera around my neck – doesn’t sound like hard work, does it? Dad says I must be one of the luckiest reporters in the country and I don’t think he’s wrong.
With almost all major events now cancelled or postponed, the challenges of this year have made me realise just how much I love my job and I’m already missing our local events and festivals terribly. Roll on summer 2021 – it’s sure to be a good’un!