Welcome to the new normal

George Symonds, proprietor of the Amusement Arcade on Marine Parade, opened his doors after lockdown on Saturday with detailed instructions for his customers

BORIS Johnson described it as “Super Saturday” – the day that pubs and cafés were allowed to reopen after the easing of lockdown.

The day when we could pop down the pub again or dine out, sticking to the social distancing restrictions of course. In fact, what has now become known as “the new norm”.

I must admit, I rather liked the old norm but, like everyone else, I took that for granted. Never again. Our way of life in such idyllic surroundings will probably never be the same.

Being in that bracket of being over 70 with ongoing health issues, I stuck religiously to the lockdown advice. To try and stay focussed I started a daily blog, writing 1,000 words every morning on matters relating to coronavirus and how Lyme Regis was dealing with the crisis, much of which was repeated in the columns as the weeks progressed.

Having overdosed on the politics of the crisis, and depressed by the national 24-hour coverage, I bailed out after 76 days.

I tried hard to take a positive view and support the government, thinking it was important that we all got behind the Prime Minister and his senior ministers trying to deal with an unparalleled situation.

But I have to admit that as the days and weeks passed I became ever more frustrated by the daily press conferences from Downing Street, the often pathetic questioning from the national press and the government’s inability or refusal to answer the awkward questions.

It became difficult to support some of the government decisions and left me concerned about our ability to get on top of this terrible disease.

It is encouraging, however, to see that COVID-19 is in retreat with the numbers of deaths declining on a daily basis. We are so lucky that we live in this part of the world where the number of cases and deaths from coronavirus has been the lowest in the country.

So I understand those who are concerned about easing restrictions too soon, although I was critical of how some second-homers were treated.

As a businessman I also understand the necessity to get Britain back to work and so I was looking forward to Saturday when we could start to live normally once again.

There were fears that our town would be inundated with day trippers and holiday visitors and that our beach would become a mini-Bournemouth. Fortunately, the weather prevented this happening and whilst the town was much more busy than in recent weeks, it was by no means overflowing with those seeking a bit of R&R in our town.

We took a stroll along the seafront in the morning where it seemed to me most people were observing social distancing. Under overcast skies, the beach was by no means packed, although it did get busier when the sun came out later in the day.

We enjoyed a coffee and one of the lovely doughnuts in SWIM where every precaution was taken to adhere to government restrictions. I understand the pubs and cafés that did open, whilst much quieter than they would have been at this time of the year, were relieved to be back in business.

It seemed to me that all of them had gone to enormous lengths to conform with government instructions and all in all the weekend went off without too many dramas. So the new normal was not as strange as I envisaged. We can only hope that this time next year the old normal will at least be on the horizon.

This accolade is just the tonic we need

I HAVE to admit there have been times in the past three months when I wondered whether LymeOnline would survive coronavirus.

We lost 90 per cent of our advertising revenue but it was essential that we kept working, not only to provide a news service on our website throughout the crisis but also to maintain our editing contract with another publisher which helps to finance LymeOnline.

In doing so we missed out on the more lucrative government grants but were fortunate to get some financial support from the Google Journalism Emergency Fund and a discretionary grant from Dorset Council with great support from our MP Chris Loder to whom I’m hugely grateful.

We also decided to produce a fortnightly LymeOnline Extra for those people who were unable to access our digital edition on our website and delivered it to their door.

Another LymeOnline Extra came out on Friday and we will be publishing one more before the full printed version of LymeOnline will return on Friday, August 7. Hopefully by this time some of our regular advertisers will start advertising again and we can return to the new normal.

At the same time we have moved into a new larger office in St George’s House in Uplyme Road, formerly occupied by B Sharp. And then, out of the blue, we were informed that the LymeOnline website had been commended in the national newsawards 2020, the judges describing us as “a great example of home grown local journalism”.

If I was a football manager I would be saying we were “over the moon” and it was just the boost we needed after the uncertainty of the past few weeks.

The accolade is a massive feather in my daughter Francesca’s cap, having built the website with her sister Zoe when we launched two years ago and managing it from day one, which is pretty much a seven day a week job.

Francesca was also nominated for the Young Achiever of the Year award but this was not judged because of lockdown. Next year perhaps?

We were also amused to hear that we had won another “industry” award last week as the “family most likely to succeed”, organised by blogger and global journalist Alan Geere as a bit of fun.

He commented on the father-daughter duo behind LymeOnline, saying we looked “very well”on it. We’re not sure whether he meant we looked healthy – or fat! But you know what they say – “any publicity is good publicity”.

Had the newsawards 2020 gone ahead, I would have had to book a table at the posh awards ceremony in London which would have cost a couple of grand. When I worked in London I used to attend many of these sort of events, as does my son Darren who works for the company that publishes the Daily Mirror and Daily Express.

It would have been worth the expense had Francesca and LymeOnline been in line for the any of other awards for which we entered, seeing her called to the podium among journalism’s elite.

Thank you to all of those of you who sent messages of congratulations.

Woodmead Halls

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