Eastleigh or bust

POLITICIANS promise voters the Earth but rarely deliver, so the forthcoming Eastleigh by-election could be a shambles.

Turnout will hopefully be better than the miserable record low 15 per cent for the recent Police and Crime Commissioners fiasco, but comedy rather than serious politics is likely to be the interest which will boost Eastleigh voter numbers.

 A jaded and long-suffering electorate needs some encouragement to spark enough energy to go down to the polling booths this Thursday.

If they haven’t already made up their minds, then when they get there they will face a bewildering choice of 14 different candidates.

Sadly voters’ efforts to shine a bit of light in to manifesto dark places are unlikely to illuminate any causes for hope with any of the main parties.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats carved the Government coalition cake up between them, but the knife used for that seems likely to be planted firmly in Liberal Democrat backs after Tories promised to fiercely contest the seat.

Conservatives have a greater control of Government than their partner, so this will count against them in the by-election as austerity-hit voters are unlikely to fancy too much more of the same.

By the same token, the Liberal Democrats would appear to be struggling for credibility since the seat is only up for grabs because ex-Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne stood down after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice.

Then there is Labour and its candidate John O’Farrell, a man who has said publicly that he wishes the IRA had done a better job with the Brighton bombing and was “disappointed” they didn’t kill then PM Margaret Thatcher. I’d suggest that comment comfortably shot his chances in the foot.

The United Kingdom Independence Party is still trying to paper over MEP Martya Andreasen’s defection to the Tories and her claim UKIP is “an old boys’ club” and that the Conservatives are the “true referendum party” for this country’s future in or out of Europe.

If voters are looking for hope then the remaining ten candidates promise to entertain them without seriously threatening to hold down a seat in the House of Commons.

People can take their choice from the usual Monster Raving Loony to a booking at the Heartbreak Hotel with David Bishop who is the candidate for the delightfully named Elvis Loves Pets party.

Others vying for votes include the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party, National Health Action, Peace and Wessex Regionalist, a collection of attitudes which are collectively unlikely to carry the day never mind individually.

So the only way forward that I can see of coming up with a platform which can be all things to all men, all women and all those in between is to take the plunge and vote for the Ballot Paper Spoiled Party.

It appears to be the only party in election history which has always got votes.

Go to any election and just before the result of a seat is announced you’ll see all the candidates pulled over by the Returning Officer and shown a little wire basket in which are a load of dubious, spoiled or dodgy votes.

These can range from political extremists who scrawl “Hope you all lose” across their paper to those political party supporters who are so ardent that they make two “Xs” to show the strength of their feelings, often in a box meant for another candidate.

Whatever the reason, these votes nearly always end up in the “spoiled papers” basket.

So, if you want to stand and be in with a shout, then form the Ballot Party Spoiled Party and you’re practically assured of some support.

It is too late to do so for Eastleigh, but let’s face it. With politicians’ seemingly endless addiction for sex, crime and rock and poll, it won’t be too long before another by-election comes along.



The Far Pavilion (s)

FANS of the famous book The Far Pavilions don’t have to travel to India to experience the epic because Weymouth is offering a saga with a similar name which is much closer to home.

The latest twist in the battle to save the town’s theatre complex has seen councillors formally approve its closure on May 31st.

But they have also tried to throw the Pavilion a lifeline by further approving that tenders go out to run the huge building with community groups favoured as the new owners.

There are some who might say that councillors have turned a cold shoulder to the popular arts facility and they’d be right…..a cold shoulder, cold hands and cold feet because the heating didn’t seem to be working too well when a full council meeting met to debate Weymouth and Portland’s 2013-2014 budget of which the Pavilion was a crucial part.

Everyone arrived and promptly took off hats, coats, scarves and gloves but, as a frequently passionate debate ground on and on, it was possible to see spectators and councillors alike slowly putting discarded clothing back on as the temperature left “comfortable” behind and headed inexorably down towards “chilly” and then “It’s a bit parky in here isn’t it?!”

So, while most of the early applause was heartfelt, it may well have been that later enthusiasm owed as much to clapping hands together to keep warm as to a popular point.

And there were plenty of points made during a sprawling and frequently bewildering debate with lots of “I refer you to big 2 little iii sub-section d” which often forced debate into a brief halt while a particularly obscure piece of councilese was simplified for the rest of us.

Every speaker and every councillor seemed to favour Option B, letting a community group take over the running of the Pavilion, but there was a series of running clashes between rival political groups on the council on just how the authority should work towards this desirable outcome.

One of the biggest fears voiced by spectators and many councillors was that sorting out tenders and other minutia would take so long that it might torpedo a community group’s efforts to get in and run the Pavilion before they even started.

The best comment on this during the entire night came from Councillor John Birtwistle who pointed out that “manana” was a Spanish word meaning “not today”, wickedly adding that the council did not actually have a word which conveyed such urgency!

Attempts to instil that urgency into handing over the Pavilion were defeated, the prevailing argument being that the tender process needed to be done once but done properly to ensure whatever group takes over the Pavilion is given the best fighting chance to succeed.

At the moment, that group would appear to be Weymouth businessman Phil Say’s Save the Pavilion which got huge support from among nearly 150 people in the audience who had braved a bitter night to make their voices heard about the need to save the facility not bulldoze it.

And when the dust settled Mr Say was delighted but also cautious, promising to submit a tender once he could find out what that required.

Some common sense had been exercised about the evening’s proceedings because, rather than leave packed public seating twiddling its thumbs until the Pavilion came up on the agenda, the meeting took that budget item first.

That dealt with, there was a brief lull for cheers, back-slapping, optimistic comments about “a bright new future”….and a max exodus from the building by almost the entire audience.

Yes, the council certainly knows its audience and the half dozen spectators left when the budget debate resumed scarcely had an important decision to wonder at apart from councillors backing the sale of the entire council offices on North Quay, the town’s historic Guildhall, herculean measures to deal with harbour wall repairs and…oh yes, £100,000 knocked off the CCTV budget.

Bearing in mind that CCTV offers the forces of law and order a chance to nip crime in the bud or catch criminals almost as soon as they’ve committed the town centre assault-theft-vandalism-drunken act, it should be interesting to see how that dovetails with closing the Pavilion complex on May 31st.

If the Neanderthal assault on buildings left empty for ten years ahead of finally constructing Weymouth’s new town centre was anything to go by then the council had better pray that it can find a word to convey speedy action and quick.

If it can’t, then smashed in windows and doors, ripped out fittings and perhaps a small fire or a bit of skilful toilet flooding may turn a building that debate referred to as “the jewel in Weymouth’s crown” from a Far Pavilion to a Too Far Gone Pavilion and the bulldozers will win the day.


Unbridled fears over horsemeat burgers

WE had chicken tonight because my wife was concerned at the sound of neighing followed by sneezing coming from our freezer.

There has been a lot of fuss made over horsemeat being found in burgers which were supposed to have been made from beef.

Some say there is nothing wrong with horsemeat because it is perfectly edible which it is, but what concerns me and quite a few others are the drugs pumped into horses.

It is one thing to unsuspectingly eat a different kind of meat without realising it and quite another to ingest powerful anti-inflamatory drugs which do God knows what to the system because they were designed to help horses not humans.

Criminal connections making a quick buck have been darkly hinted at, but surely what is slowly being uncovered goes deeper than that.

At its simplest it is carelessness on a vast scale and at its most complex and worrying it is light being shone in some very dark places in our food chain.

For if horsemeat is regularly appearing in beer burgers, lasagne, mince and other meals then what else might there be that we simply have no knowledge of?

What about organic products which aren’t, Halal meat which isn’t or products guaranteed free from pork which aren’t?

This whole situation has opened a can of worms and caused a complete crisis in consumer confidence.

Suddenly local butchers are doing a roaring trade on the grounds that their product is more trustworthy than some anonymous national supermarket chain which has no bleating idea where its goat goulash is really sourced from.

Rampant suspicion now exists. Before that, anyone scrutinising a food product label and wondering what “caballus” meant might just have shrugged andt dropped the item in their shopping basket, but now they may well investigate and find the word means “inferior quality horse”!

The simple solution seems to be to exercise a bit of common sense, rein in your panic and don’t saddle yourself with any meat you’re not happy with to avoid any food nightmares.


Keep it a Civil War

YOU can’t move at the moment for Royalists and Parliamentarians who have taken Weymouth over for their annual re-enactment of the Battle of Weymouth in 1645.

Having a pike rammed up your left nostril, a musket dropped on your foot or sword sharpening going on all around you takes a bit of getting used to.

The Old Town Hall and the new Weymouth Timewalk Heritage and Visitor Centre have been welcoming scores of visitors to see costumed re-enactors do a nice bit of seamstressing or to hear about the famous battle and the events surrounding it which have become known as the Crabchurch Conspiracy.

History records that Charles I needed a south coast port through which he could land French Catholic soldiers to help him win the war, but Royalists lost the Battle of Weymouth and hundreds of soldiers lost their lives.

As the attempt to take Weymouth faltered it was left to a brave Irish rearguard to buy the Royalist army time to escape at the expense of their lives.

There was a certain ghoulish glee from re-enactors as they recounted the bloody end of 250 Irish soldiers, caught between two blocks of pikemen who slowly forced them into the harbour where they either drowned or were shot by the Parliamentarians. Lovely stuff.

Of course, all this re-enactment huffing and puffing is thirsty work and the historic Boot pub is doing brisk business with Royalist and Roundhead alike, some of whom amusingly bring their own tankards with them suspended from their broad leather belts on a piece of string. Now that’s being prepared!

If you can keep out from under the feet of various Civil War groups then there is plenty to see.

Hope Square today and tomorrow will see various drills and displays, Pilgrim House is also a Civil War hotspot and the new Visitor Centre can be a startling place for visitors greeted by the sight of swordsmen lounging about, assembling ancient weapons or talking about the merits of black powder.

This afternoon will see a pitched battle on the beach staged between the two sides complete with musket firing and the obligatory screams of wounded and dying.

Finally there will be a joint Royalist-Roundhead march tomorrow from Sandsfoot Castle first to the Boot and then along North Quay to Holy Trinity Church where Weymouth and Portland Mayor Councillor Margaret Leicester will take the salute.

As if all this were not enough, popular local group The Dolmen will be appearing and performing at Weymouth College Bay Theatre tonight where historian Professor Ronald Hutton and author Kit Berry will also be dipping into history.

So successful are the town’s re-enactment events proving several more big historical extravaganzas are now being planned.


You want the Pope’s job? Don’t be so RC!

NEWS that the Pope is going to stand down has created a veritable stampede of applications for the post.

Up until now being Pope was literally a dead end job with incumbents staying in the position until they died.

But Benedict XVI’s resignation, the first Pope to do so for 600 years, has sparked keen interest among the unemployed.

It didn’t take long for a job card to go up in the Vatican dole office. It reads

WANTED: Ambitious person with knowledge of religion. Must have copy of bible.

Bound to attract a few applicants isn’t it, but the key thing here is not who applies but what they can now expect if they are lucky enough to get the job.

Resignation has opened the floodgates on a more modern approach to the papacy and with modern times comes a modern remuneration.

The new Pope will be able to drive a much harder salary bargain although even modern employment law requirements may be unable to save him from having to work on Sundays.

On the other hand, he will still have the whip hand when it comes to his contract which is bound to include tax deductions for all the robes he has to take down to that little laundrette on the Via delle Fomaci.

Then there’s all the wine he gets through. Being able to do a discreet deal with the European mountain of surplus wine could be a nice little earner with Pope’s Pinot and Vatican Vin looking like sure fire over the counter winners at the St Peter’s off-licence.

And if Popes can now resign in their 80s then why not in their 60s while there’s still time to enjoy life a bit?

His contract could stipulate a golden handshake and a luxurious bullet-proof villa on Capri where he can relax in his twilight years, happily available for a few after dinner or last supper speeches.

The possibilities are endless with proper negotiation and you can bet your bottom Euro that the Vatican is not short of a few legal eagles who know how to make a pontiff’s pay prosper.

The only thing that may limit a modern Pope’s free time is one billion Roman Catholics, a frustrating requirement of the job and one which, if he spent a second in prayer on each of them, would take him about 30 years before he could say “Amen” and that’s without food, sleep, toilet breaks and the occasional mass.

So, all things considered, this is actually a job which requires commitment above self, so when you see smoke coming out of that little chimney above the conclave of cardinals you might spare a thought for whoever they choose and offer up a prayer that the job is not too hard on him.


Bus routes gone, taxi prices up

I’M sure it’s only a coincidence, but isn’t it strange that taxi fares have gone up in Weymouth and Portland at the same time as bus giant First has cut several services and altered a lot more?

As from March 24th you’d better not live in Southill, Sutton Poyntz or parts of Wyke Regis because, unless you drive, it’s a taxi or Shank’s pony for you.

There increasingly seems to be a sea change in this most public of services from the sepia tinted transport lifeline provided for communities to a much more business-is-business approach.

I’m sure passengers aren’t exactly laughing about the situation, but I’m certain that there were a few incredulous smiles when First said that one of the reasons some of its services were being altered or axed altogetherr was that its drivers found it difficult to negotiate narrow roads!

Such comments clearly do little to turn the heat down on people’s simmering pot of resentment that big companies, regardless of what they provide, are increasingly only interested in profits.

What irks many people, particularly those in Southill, is that First claims a lot of its problems keeping routes viable lie with the poor level of subsidy it receives for bus passes.

That may have a grain of truth in it, but more than 200 people attended a huge protest rally in Southill today and the message which came out of that loud and clear was that many were prepared to pay something to get their currently free passes.

But, when the area’s county councillor suggested this to First, the company didn’t even bother to reply.

Far be it for me to suggest that perhaps cuts were always on the agenda and it was merely a question of how they could be eased in with the minimum of flak and bad publicity.

What everyone’s main concern has to be now is that — assuming First makes good its proposed changes on March 24th — what are all its inconvenienced passengers going to do and how can the rest of the community make sure that the elderly and the most vulnerable affected by these proposals suffer the least possible inconvenience?

The answer is neither simple nor obvious.

Sure, taxis are available, but as one octogenarian told me, she can afford one or two but not a daily taxi to match her daily use of the bus, so something will have to give.

Perhaps the simplest solution would just be for us all to move and live next to a giant supermarket built next to a doctor’s surgery, hospital, pub and restaurant.

That way we wouldn’t really need a bus for any of those pursuits which would give First an opportunity to save even more money by shutting down the rest of its bus services across the borough and investing the savings it would make in a new venture…such as a taxi service!




Shakespeare…who’s he?

A TEMPEST could be brewing in Weymouth and Portland after a national survey revealed that 30 per cent of children under 13 didn’t know who Shakespeare was.

The much ado about something may not be as you like it for scholars but, measure for measure, it perhaps hints that schools may be facing a comedy of errors in the way they try to make sure that the Great Bard makes a memorable impression with pupils.

Shakespeare appears to be a bit of a midsummer night’s dream for some youngsters and the figures seem to show that teachers have a lot of ground to reclaim before they can say that all’s well that ends well.

And all you adults shouldn’t be getting too cocky either since more than a quarter of us said we’d never read one of his plays while an incredible 12 per cent didn’t know Shakespeare was British….and it gets worse.

Apparently five per cent of people aged 18-34 thought that Shakespeare’s most famous play was Cinderella while two per cent actually thought he was fictional!

I’m sure that Weymouth and Portland’s teachers have done a good job and our youngsters are not representative of the survey, but it is still a bit of a winter’s tale for education.


Tudor houses demolished

A SEAWEED-covered mound of rubble in Weymouth Harbour off North Quay was once historic housing.

The ramshackle buildings, at least one of which dated back to Tudor times, were demolished more than 40 years ago at a time when conservation was not what it is now.

I bemoan the historical loss from a site now graced by an ugly box-like council building, but I have been told by Weymouth Civic Society which doesn’t just reveal building attitudes of the time but also that not all those historic materials may have been lost.

Dealing with the materials first, they were initially pushed into the harbour until someone intervened and the rest of the stone was saved, much being used in the restoration of the Elizabethan manor house at Kingston Maurward, so all was not lost.

What I’ll deal with now, courtesy of Civic Society records, is the grim death of the superb Tudor house at No 4 North Quay known as the Harbour Master’s House and formerly the Queen’s Arms Inn.

Modern Weymouth planners would fight tooth and nail to save such a gem in 2013, but there was a very different attitude after the Second World War.

In 1950 the Tudor house was threatened by a new council plan for the area which proposed demolishing it and every other building along the quay.

The Civic Society fought to save it, enlisting support from the likes of the Ancient Monuments branch of the Ministry of Works but, when it came to a council decision, 30 councillors voted to demolish the historic building and only six to save it.

The battle was still not lost and more support emerged from the Royal Fine Arts Commission and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings with cash being raised to convert the Tudor house into a club for the elderly.

Several inquiries were held, but the council won the day because it wanted to not only build the now municipal offices on the site but also a public library, car parking and space for an extension.

Having triumphed despite accusations of “overdevelopment”, many people’s worst fears were realised when it took nearly 30 years to find a central library site which had nothing to do with North Quay.

By then, of course, the harbour seaweed had a firm grip on much of the Tudor house remains which now serve as a visible reminder that when you demolish history it is lost for future generations.

Ironically, the council’s monstrous office building, a key fact in the Tudor house’s demise, is now itself facing being sold off under council budget proposals.

This could then see the offices demolished ahead of redevelopment….unless a campaign is launched to save the offices! So far I haven’t heard a whisper of support.