August 24, 2008

Do We Really Need Fast Ferry?

In a confused moment last week the ol' sailor reached for the dictionary to establish the meaning of the word 'community'.

He discovered seven different descriptions, starting with, 'people living in a specific locality', down to 'people unified by common interests'.

It would be nice to think true community life is about democratic harmony, where those elected to represent us consult fully about changes they wish to introduce.

What's he on about now, I hear you mumble!

Well, what's got my knickers in a twist this week is Stagecoach's 'fast ferry' trials later this month.

The bus company has been in business long enough, so it won't welcome the likes of me pointing out the pros and cons of operating a fuel-guzzling, high speed passenger craft from Torquay to Brixham.

Traditionally, it is difficult to accept visitors would want to dash from Torquay harbour to the ancient fishing port at x number of knots, disturbing local yachtsmen, swimmers and pleasure boats on passage.

Brixham Harbour, after all, is a tranquil place. There's really no need to rush across Torbay to explore it.

Believe me, the ancient quays, old boats, the uncrowded pubs and cafes will still be there if you arrive at a leisurely pace.

As for large numbers of Torbay commuters travelling to and from their places of employment... pull the other one, it's got bells on it!

Here's a fact: local ferry operators (already bruised by one of the worst seasons, weather-wise) were 'promised' a period of consultation, as were the local yacht clubs.

I believe these consultations didn't materialise. Here's another fact: the authority should realise that one week after the 'speed trials' begin, Brixham Yacht Club will be holding an important yachting event.

Seventy-five small boats, with something like 500 amateur sailors venturing boldly out on to Torbay's protected waters for some relaxing sailing.

Because of possible maritime conflict you'd think whoever sanctioned the Stagecoach trials would have consulted with the BYC on this matter.

Added to this conflict, with the end of the holiday season approaching, existing pleasure boat operators will be looking to 'late' visitors to fill their boats, spending a pleasurable voyage crossing the Bay 'the pretty way'.

More to the point, where's the money coming from to erect suitable landing and boarding platforms at Torquay and Brixham to MCA health and safety regulations?

If, and it's a big if, there's spare money in the kitty, surely the authority should concentrate on important repairs to Princess and Haldon Piers?

A bit closer to home comes the pilotage question.

The 'trial' vessel should be compulsory pilotage and as the Teignmouth pilots, between tidal commitments at Teignmouth, service Brixham, I don't see them being able to take days off to pilot the fast ferry.

They could of course ask the ol' boy to temporarily come out of retirement... joke!

IT'S strange how a 30-second bit of television film can draw back the years.

On Sunday evening the BBC news showed horrendous floods in parts of Belfast's slum areas.

It immediately triggered memories of another stormy night in that port's poor area... oh dear, was it really more than half a century ago?

On the TV screen I recognised Commercial Road and remembered a pub frequented by sailors and 'working' girls tucked away down a side street near the docks.

Barely 17 years old, after a night at the pictures, I'd call in to see if any of the older hands were there before going back to the ship.

Landlady Ma Carroll, the image of Old Mother Reilly, knew I was underage but turned a blind eye to my request for half a shandy.

After months of regular trading to the Irish port, the pub's friendly 'ladies' sort of took the young Devon sailor to their hearts.

There was never any funny business but lots of smiles and the occasional mumsy hug.

"Hello, nice to see yer again young Bobby!" (probably because of the choir-boy image and the dark curly hair.)

One night, just before closing time, one of the 'ladies' drew me to one side, saying, "Do me a favour young Bobby.

"I'm going back to a Norwegian ship with this sailor; would you see my daughter gets home OK? That's her sitting in the corner."

I could see a young girl, about my age, sitting alone in the far corner. She looked quite nice.

So I agreed. It wasn't until closing time I realised her coat was hiding the fact she was sitting in a wheelchair.

Chatting, we made our way towards the girl's home about a mile away, in a very rough area.

Sadly it was all up hill and the rain started to pour down. A gentleman would have called for a taxi, but I was armed with only one shilling and four pence. Keep pushing, sailor!

Three quarters of the way up the poorly-lit hill, soaked through and puffing badly, I spied three tough-looking hombres sheltering in a shop-doorway.

As they charged across the road, my thoughts were 'Curtis, you are a dead man!'

"Hello, Maggie. Yer Brit boyfriend looks in trouble, so he does!"

Together they helped me push the wheelchair up the rest of the hill towards the girl's home. Gently kissing her goodnight they shook my hand and headed off into the darkness.

Walking back downhill towards the docks, soaked through to the skin, I realised it's so wrong to judge people because of where they might live.

AT DANCING, I'm more Fred Flintstone than Fred Astaire. But I enjoy watching good dancers perform.

Which brings me to a great show programmed for the Brixham Theatre on Thursday starting at 7pm.

The Turmoil Dance Group presents a show entitled Summertime, and by all accounts it will thrill you silly. The whole event is in aid of the Jack Colburn Forget Me Not leukaemia fund.

Box office tickets at pounds6, concessions pounds4 or from 01803 853164.

Go, and enjoy a night of splendid youthful entertainment.

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