November 2008

Fri, 28 Nov
What a pleasure it was to meet two Olympic heroes Paul Goodison and Jonathan Edwards. I was one of many people who'd been invited to celebrate the completion of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
What made the event special was the fact that the Academy is the first Olympic venue to be ready for the 2012 Games. An added bonus is that it's ahead of schedule and within budget. There was a real feeling of camaraderie between all the various parties. This achievement has been a team affair and will bring long-lasting benefits to the area.
 

 
Thu, 27 Nov
While walking down the high street in Swanage, I stopped to chat to a retailer. He was joined by a friend, who was clearly an intelligent but frustrated man, with two sons in the armed services. His list of complaints against this hopeless Government were very familiar. He was furious at Mr Darling's tax con, which this gentleman saw as nothing more than a bribe to the electorate. I reassured him that the public were not fools and that they'd see through Labour's smoke and mirrors. Recent polls would suggest they have.
 

Wed, 26 Nov
The people of Portland are very fortunate, in my humble opinion, to have such a lovely, cosy community hospital in their midst. I was shown around by ward manager Shirley Dow, who clearly leads a wonderful and professional team.
The place was spotless; a home from home. And when I met some patients doing some group therapy, I was not surprised to find a large amount of humour and happiness. The hospital just oozes both. I was glad to hear from some Primary Care Trust executives that the future of the hospital was secure, indeed growing. Community anything is the key to the future, as it's that community spirit which is so important and gives a place an identity.
 

 
Tue, 25 Nov
It's not often you are asked to open a miniature farm and exotic animal house. But that's exactly what Dave Burdett, the deputy head of science at Wey Valley School, wanted me to do. I'd heard the exotic animals included snakes and spiders, both of which I loathe, so it was with some trepidation that I approached my destination.
 
I needn't have worried. The students handled the animals with a familiarity which was most impressive. I was told that both the Corn snake and the tarantula could bite, but fortunately on this occasion they did not. We then moved outside to what in effect is a pets' corner. Here chickens, quails, guinea pigs and rabbits were being held, hugged and stroked. This whole project was started after headmaster Phil Thomas challenged his staff to Inspire and Achieve.
 
It was wonderful to see children working with animals. It was one of the points I wanted to highlight when some students from the school came on a visit to our farm. We must never lose touch with the countryside and animals. They are an essential part of any child's education.
 

 
Fri, 21 Nov
After lunch at the Haven Hotel in Sandbanks, I drove Michael Gove MP to Swanage Middle School to meet the head, Dave Pratten, governors and students. The shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families had kindly responded to my request to come and hear for himself some of the concerns being expressed, following the news that a review into education provision in Purbeck was considering moving from three-tier to two.
 
Naturally, many people are concerned, not least those in Swanage, who are very attached to their Middle School. Several issues were raised with Michael and I. They all sank in and we are going to do all we can to work with heads, governors and parents to ensure their voices are heard during the debate.
 
What's key is that whatever is decided must be the best solution possible for the children of the area. There was an acceptance that the status quo is not an option, but a properly co-ordinated approach with full involvement of all parties would help negate the worry that a decision has already been made.
 

Thu, 20 Nov
I arrived at Portland fire station in time to see the Watch do some physical training. It's a regular test they have to pass. Outside the sweat-shop, I met Station Manager John Stone, who's about to retire after more than 25 years in the service.
This station is manned by part-timers, but their professionalism is no less impressive than their full-time colleagues'. As you'd expect, the station and appliances were immaculate. Clearly very high standards are set here.
 
John showed me around and I met the crew. They were clearly dedicated to their job and to each other. It's very much a team business and the camaraderie was obvious. They told me they wanted to serve their local community, and serve it they surely do. For all of you on Portland, I can assure you that in the event you need rescuing, you could not be in better or more competent hands. 
 

Fri, 14 Nov
Our leader responded to my request to come down to South Dorset today, which was much appreciated by one and all. David Cameron met representatives from a variety of firms and businesses to hear their concerns about the deteriorating economic situation.
 
Mr Cameron met them all on the platform at Swanage railway station. The charity had generously allowed us to host the visit there, which was very kind. Colin Jamieson, the regional organiser of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), spoke to David first, explaining to him that the FSB was launching a campaign to keep trade local. After ten minutes or so, we moved across to the Conservative Club, where we were welcomed most warmly. David met the President, Clifford Churchill, Vice Chairman, Graham Dack, and Secretary, Maggie Wadeson, of the club, before moving across to shake hands with councillors, candidates and local party members.
 
After thanking the club and welcoming David, I handed over to our leader, who spoke for a few minutes. Then it was time for a cup of coffee and some photographs before he was off to his next engagement.
The visit was a great success and we were all grateful to David for dropping in.
 

 
Thu, 13 Nov
I've spent two days walking with a remarkable young man from Weymouth. Accompanied by his collie Flash, Seb Green has walked more than 2,500 miles around Great Britain. He should be home by Christmas, or at least that's the plan.
It's hard for you and I to realise just what this 18 year old has achieved. But for two days this week I joined him along the Devon and Cornish coast to experience just a little of what he's been through. As a former infantry soldier, I can assure you that I have walked many miles with a lot of weight on my back, but I have never had to walk day in, day out for months on end and in all conditions.
 
The coastal path is not one easy ride, either. It goes up and down, backwards and forwards and on many occasions leads you away from your intended target - the coastline is not straight. The going ranges from grass tracks to boulder strewn paths, with a lot of mud flung in the middle. And Seb takes it all in his stride, with his faithful hound never more than a stone's throw away.
 
His story is truly inspirational. And I was humbled during my two arduous days with him. He never complained, was always smiling and full of interesting ideas and issues he wanted to chat about. It sounds corny, but the Seb today is a very different one from the boy who left Weymouth nine months ago.
His target is to raise £20,000 for charity. He's got £13,000 in the bag, but needs our help and support to reach his goal. So to anyone reading this diary column, do please contribute if you can. All the information is on Seb's website www.sebsodyssey.org.
 
Seb is a remarkable young man and I am sure he will receive a huge welcome when he marches back into his home town before Christmas. But even then his story won't be over. He's destined to be a leading light and inspiration to many people who are perhaps a little lost in their lives and need to find their way. Seb's proved this is possible and more besides.
 

Sun, 9 Nov
No one should ever forget this day. Remembrance Sunday is a time to stop, ponder and give an hour or two to those who died to keep us free. And of course there are those who are still doing that today, many of whom are being killed and horribly injured in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
This year, I attended the parade on Portland. Despite the blustery conditions, it was well attended. Rather extraordinarily, the rain held off until the service had actually ended. I say extraordinary as we were surrounded by rain, but none fell on us until the final prayer was said.
 
The service was most moving in its simplicity and modesty. And I always feel a lump in my throat when I hear the Last Post. As a former soldier myself, I remember the friendship, fun and fear we all shared together on many occasions. It was a wonderful life I would not have missed for the world. My respect and thoughts remain constantly with all those serving in our Armed Services today. They do us proud and we must never forget them.
 

Thu, 6 Nov
A trip to any Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB) is always an illuminating experience. And today I popped into the office which looks after Purbeck. Based in Wareham, the CAB nestles in a small, listed building behind the Rex Cinema.
 
I was met by Caroline Buxton, a highly impressive lady who runs the office. She introduced me to her staff and then gave me a tour, ending in a Portacabin adjacent to the house. It rather highlighted the need for larger premises, but Caroline and her dedicated team appear to cope extremely well with what they have.
 
The CAB is a charity, which I think many forget. The organisation has a broad remit and helps people with a huge range of problems. We must never take the CAB for granted. It fulfils a vital role, especially for those in remote areas where advice and help sometimes appears inaccessible.
 

Wed, 5 Nov
I was very honoured to be asked to a council meeting of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain at the Fishmongers' Hall in London. After the meeting, we moved to the splendid dining room for lunch. The morning was a memorable one for the Council as its President, Mr Maldwin Drummond OBE, stood down after 22 years at the helm. However, I wasn't enjoying all this splendour for no reason.
 
I was there to meet many businessmen in the shellfish industry who are fighting red tape and the EU in order to safeguard their livelihoods. The Council represents the shellfish industry across the land, including South Dorset, where fishermen feel under threat from rising fuel prices, European boats and an active conservation lobby, which is not always sympathetic to fishermen.
The day gave me a chance to put our case to those in the industry and to listen to some very distinguished speakers, who are passionate about the industry. As an aside, if you ever get the chance to visit the Hall, take it. What a truly wonderful building.