Ah, Lyme Regis!
I arrived there today, after a remarkably rapid journey along the A354 and A35 past Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Bridport and Charmouth. Dorset names. All on a clear sunny Monday morning, with Fiona tugging the caravan as if it were a feather - even though the whole rig, my wardrobe of clothes included, weighs three tons. We still whizzed along. Arriving at Curlew Farm, I even managed to reverse the caravan into position after only four attempts - very, very good for me! The sun shone even more, in a peerless blue and cloud-free sky. The view over to the west was panoramic (the farm is on a ridge) and crystal clear. I had a cup of tea, a ham sandwich, and a post-prandial kip. It was bliss.
Awaking at three, I went into Lyme, heading first to Monmouth Beach on the west side. This is presumably named after the Duke of Monmouth who on a dark and stormy night in the winter of 1673 (or some such year) invaded England by sea with an army, intending to depose the reigning monarch and become king himself. A doomed enterprise if ever there was one. I believe he got bogged down in Sedgemoor in Somerset and sank without trace.
Be that as it may - and of course I'm not quite certain of my facts - I wanted to go there (Monmouth Beach) and take a look at the Boat Building Academy. Now a little while back you may recall my visiting the lifeboat station at Selsey in Sussex, and getting into a conversation with a retired naval man about lifeboat construction, which led on to my possibly finding work with a boatbuilding firm. I did in fact follow that up with some research into Sussex firms, but it came to nothing. However, on BBC Radio 4 the night before, on Last Word (which relates the life stories of all kinds of interesting people who have recently died) I heard about a certain Mr Chipperfield, who was a renowned boatbuilder and the founder of this Academy in Lyme Regis. Naturally I wanted to find the place, and did. There was nobody to speak with, but inside (where I could not go, because of industrial-area rules) I could see two young chappies working on little fishing boats, and there were many other similar boats in various stages of completion. I picked up a brochure. Courses were residential, and you'd have your own study bedroom, with a communal kitchen and dining room. They offered a 38 week Boat Building course to a standard way beyond City & Guilds requirements; an 8 week Woodworking Skills course; and 1 to 5 day Short Courses. One could acquire an amazing range of skills! It wasn't clear whether you could enroll if you were an absolute beginner, but the brochure included girls and older women in the pictures of students, implying that you weren't necessarily looking for a career in the marine construction industry. The Academy accepted students aged 18 (sometimes younger) right up to eighty.
I felt tempted. At school I was a duffer at manual skills, especially woodwork, but then I hated school, was in the wrong school anyway, and you can be such a thing as a 'deliberate duffer' just to be perverse. For instance, I deliberately sabotaged my 11 year old singing voice to get out of being picked as a little maid for the 1964 school Gilbert & Sullivan production - The Mikado it was - which I suppose must prove that I wasn't hungry for any kind of limelight, whatever the joys of dressing up in a kimono and fluttering a fan. Perhaps I sensed that I'd look and sound just a bit too natural in the part, and would get endlessly thumped as a result. (All right, it was stage fright, pure and simple) Anyway... despite spurning (in like mood) the chance to excel in wood, l still secretly admired the skill and craftsmanship, the use and care of interesting-looking tools, the way that wood shavings curled off, and the smooth and shapely end result. No doubt about it, something that you make yourself does contain part of your soul, wooden boats especially. The Academy brochure said 'The [38 week] course is 'hands-on' - people learn by actually building boats. Each group works on a range of different construction types. The course offers some students the opportunity to build a boat for themselves... We celebrate the end of each course by launching the boats into Lyme Regis harbour.' Wow!
Lyme Regis is also famed for its fossils - you can find them simply by strolling along under the cliffs at each end of the town. And I did. I saw fossil clams. And I found a flat rock that had obviously fallen out of the cliff above. On its upturned face were the clear impressions of ancient ammonite shells, nine inches across. Wow again! I passed this information on to other people I met on my way back, who were also hoping to see fossils. I'll have to go fossil-hunting again. I'm here for a week, so there should be plenty of opportunity, subject to tides. Maybe it'll be a complete ichthyosaur next time?
On the Cobb, that ancient breakwater that the French Lieutenant's Woman couldn't keep away from, and the scene, no doubt, of more than one visit from the authoress Jane Austen, I saw two women tucking into fish and chips with undisguised gusto and pleasure.
Miss Melford: 'Good women of Lyme Regis! I perceive that you are enjoying your humble meal.'
The two women: ' 'Tis true, my lady, we'm be likin' it right heartily. We do reckon it be tasty enough for the grand old Duke of Monmouth himself!
Miss Melford: 'Might I enquire where such a meal may be obtained?'
The two women: 'Well now, you do see them old fishin' boats downalong? Well, bless you, there be an old fish and chip shop jus' beyond.'
Miss Melford: 'Thank you, good women. A very good day to you.'
The two women (curtsying): 'Why thankee, ma'am, 'tis no trouble for a lady like you.'
I love it. Lyme Regis is so quaint.