July 2008

Wed, 30 July
It was a relatively early start to the day as I prepared to head off to Dorchester to meet members of the National Farmers' Union (NFU). I had a most useful meeting with two group secretaries. The plight of the farmer and all the accompanying rural issues are a big concern for me. Farmers have been hit left, right and centre by one thing after another.
And now Labour has backed down from a badger cull, despite good, sound evidence from emminent people showing  that these animals do spread TB, which has and is devastating the farming community. In my view this is cowardice. No one has suggesting killing all the badgers in the country. It would only be in the areas worst affected. Some sort of vaccine is suggested as a compromise, but I understand this is years away from being produced.
Afterwards, I headed down to Weymouth to meet Peter and Janet Blakey, who run the threatened post office at Broadwey. What a lovely couple they are, who've devoted the past eight years of their lives running this vital community service. They are deeply shocked that their post office has been selected for closure, especially as they have met all the performance indicators set them by the Post Office itself. And I understand that Broadwey was not on the original list of closures. Odd that, isn't it?
I was delighted to hear, too, that the sitting MP is also fighting to save this post office. It was after all he and his Government which voted to close it and countless thousands of others round the country. A bit ironic, really. Still, we the Conservatives are doing all we can to help to keep this post office and others under threat in South Dorset open. They are an integral part of our community and heritage. And once gone, we are very unlikely to get them back. Then, in the evening, I attended a fun drinks party at a most charming house in Stoborough. Peter and Sue could not have been nicer and how kind it was of them to open their house for us. There were several new faces, which was a pleasure to see, and I found spirits high as we all watch Labour implode as only it can. The view of all of us is that their day is well and truly over.

Mon, 28 July
What an intriguing few hours I had at Weymouth Hospital today. My tour was organised kindly by Dorset NHS Primary Care Trust, whose chairman Anne Thomas was one of several people who accompanied me. I could fill this diary page with compliments, as I was most impressed by what I saw and heard.
Clearly the staff there are dedicated to their jobs and to providing the best service possible to the local community. That came across loud and clear when I chatted to many people on my way round. One young nurse I met was called Kirstin Young. She was a most impressive lady and chatted to me about her role with relish. Another lady who impressed me was Lesley Benhem, who runs the award winning Melcombe Day Hospital. This caters for people with mental health problems, many of whom are seriously ill. Handling patients like this can't be easy, but I was enthused by Lesley's approach to it all, with the help of her capable staff. I must add that her boss Roger Bishop was also on hand to explain the wider mental health picture and plans he has to expand the service.
We ended the tour in the garden, with a cup of tea and a huge plate of scones, which were very tempting. The interim chief executive, a charming man called Robin Smith, also accompanied us. His enthusiasm too was infectious. And he has ambitious plans for the hospital which will ensure its longevity. And chatting to Anne over tea, I was relieved to hear that the future of the minor injuries unit at Swanage is very much to the fore and everyone is working together to secure its future.
It was an enlightening visit and I am grateful to all those who gave me so much of their valuable time.

Sat, 12 July
You always get a better view of the countryside on a motorbike. And when you are travelling through Purbeck, the view is particularly stunning, as all local people know. So it was that I motored down to Langton Matravers to visit the relatively new farmer's market, which is located at Put Lake Adventure farm.
I spent a fascinating hour or so, talking to the charming local farmer, Alfie O'Connell, and meeting the various stall holders, some of who I knew. There was a wide range of delicious, wholesome food on display - lamb, beef, venison, vegetables, cakes, jams, crab and seasonal fish. My mouth was watering instantly and I could not resist buying some lobster and crab, my favourite. These sort of markets are an excellent idea. We have so much delicious food around us and where better to get it than a market. This, I believe, will be the future, as more and more people hunt for locally grown food which they know has been produced in a certain way. Our local farmers and producers are a vital part of our community, to be nurtured and encouraged. So for a few short hours, rural bliss was king, and a tiny part of our great country relished our unique inheritance.

Thu, 10 July
Mercifully, the rain took a break today, allowing the Cherry Tree Nursery to enjoy its Open Day in the sun. And what a morning it was. Many of the volunteers were there, so too a number of mayors and other VIPs, who'd come to support this marvellous charity, which caters for those with mental health problems. And, of course, the manager, Jess Davies, looked radiant, hosting the event in great style and making everyone feel at home. If you haven't visited this remarkable nursery, can I suggest you do. You'll experience two things. First, you will witness goodness in its purest form and you will feel uplifted when you leave. I guarantee that. Second, you will see the most superb range of plants displayed before you, all of which have been grown and nurtured by the volunteers. So, it's a win win all round.

Fri, 4 July
As the wind howled past my motorbike helmet, I wondered what was going through the minds of those who' d organised Corfe Castle First School's evening fete. I soon found out. Placing my helmet and orange jacket on a chair, I wandered out on to the playground to hunt for the headteacher, Nigel Beckett. I soon spotted him, directing youngsters on the bouncy castle. A whirlwind of energy and positiveness, Nigel brushed aside the gale and impending rain and said he was delighted at the turnout. And, indeed, there were many parents there, some helping at the various stands, others managing their children.
The scene was a very happy one, and I was again struck by the impact Nigel's had on this small school in the short time he's been the head. I met and chatted with several parents, children and staff and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Then, the rain really did set in, and it was all hands to the pumps as stalls were quickly manoeuvred into the classrooms. Another classic British summer day!

Wed, 2 July
Today, I went fishing. Well, not quite with line and bait, but I certainly learnt a thing or two about the business side of this important employer. I met with Ken Lynham, a well known and respected figure in the area, down near the port in the morning. We were soon joined by three others. Maldwin Drummond, President of the Shellfish Association, Dr Antony Jensen, a highly respected marine biologist, Stella Stride and Paul Wilson, a local fish merchant.
Our first stop was a visit to an entrepreneur called Nick Assirati, who runs a crab processing plant within the port. Like all entrepreneurs, he started with nothing but an overdraft. He and his brother have worked long hours to build their business to what it is now. They sell crab direct to some of the top restaurants in London, and business is booming. Mr Assirati's looking to expand, which will mean more jobs. He's passionate about his business and sees it as an integral part of the community, especially the fishing community.
After a delicious lunch at Southwell Business Park, it was off on a fiishing boat to visit the mussel farm just inside the harbour wall. This, too, is proving to be a great success story. Mussels mature on long ropes which hang down into the water. They're picked when ready and sold. I was fortunate to be given a small bag of them and later in the evening enjoyed sampling some of the most delicious mussels I'd ever eaten.
The point of my visit was to see for myself how these particular businesses fit into this busy coastal resort and to understand the benefits they bring and the problems they face. It was a most informative day.