18th July 2012
LYME REGIS: Cobb pub to sponsor return of iconic event
EXCLUSIVE by Geoff Baker and Philip Evans
COBB Arms landlord John McClements is to host the return of conger coddling for the first time in seven years – with all money raised from the hugely-popular event going to the RNLI.
Mr McClements has agreed to host the conger competition after becoming embroiled in a food fight with Lyme restaurant rival and top chef Mark Hix which has shocked the town and embarrassed the RNLI.
The row erupted after the Cobb Arms opposed the Slipway site of a planned food festival organised by Mr Hix and other food experts, which was planned to be a Lifeboat Week fundraiser on the patch of the Cobb area’s three food-serving pubs.
The Cobb Arms objected that Mr Hix’s big tent cordon bleu cookery demos would cause a loss of trade. Despite the investigation of alternative sites on the seafront, none were found suitable and Mr Hix has had to cancel the food festival. The RNLI has expressed great disappointment at the enforced cancellation and loss to its fundraising.
The “Foodgate” row – as locals have dubbed the clash – has rocked the town and a number of Lyme’s leading citizens have expressed fury at the Cobb Arms’ part in the dispute.
The social websites Facebook and Twitter have been peppered with angry posts about the incident which is feared could cost the RNLI the loss of thousands of pounds in donations from visitors drawn to Lyme by the food festival.
This week a spokesman for Palmer’s, the owners of the Cobb Arms, refused to comment on the spat between one of their most lucrative pubs and the high profile chef whose own labelled beer they brew.
But now the Cobb Arms, long-time the lifeboat crew’s local, is set to bounce back into the good books by hosting a comeback of the hugely-popular conger coddling competition.
The conger coddling event was one of Lyme’s biggest crowd-pullers for 30 years until it was dropped in 2005 when the RNLI HQ in Poole became concerned that the event had upset animal activists.
Attracted huge crowds
However, investigations have revealed that the only protest against the traditional game – in which a long-dead conger eel bought from fishermen who accidentally catch the fish in nets is swung on a rope to knock down human skittles, like bar billiards – came from a woman from London who bought a second home in Lyme and who has since left the town.
The last time conger coddling was staged in Lyme, it drew huge crowds that were reported at the time to number 3,000 people.
The game is being revived by organisers of the Lyme Lympics, a series of madcap beach games aimed at drawing extra visitors to the town.
The Lympics team last week approached Mr McClements with a request that the Cobb Arms host the conger coddling.
A Lympics spokesman said: “We are hoping that the games, in particular the conger coddling, will draw visitors, press and TV to the town, which will boost the weather-battered local trade and help raise money for local charities, the lifeboat and the Candles on the Cobb event.”
And already, the Lympics dream has had a big hit – with a request from TV comedian Rory McGrath to enter the conger coddling comeback – and film the return of the traditional game for his new TV series.
Mr McGrath’s production company has approached the organisers of the Lyme Lympics to ask if he can join one of the conger coddling teams.
Mr McGrath wants to film his own participation in the messy game for a new series of his “Champions of the World” show, which will be screened nationwide on Channel 5 next year.
Lympics organisers are to meet Mr McGrath’s producer to discuss filming the conger game.
The game has been described as “the most fun a person can have with a dead fish.”
A Lympics spokesman said: “We are thrilled that Rory McGrath wants to enter the conger coddling. We are hoping that the double-hit of the Cobb Arms hosting the comeback and the coverage of a networked TV show will help to revive Lyme’s weather-devastated economy.’
“We have discussed the ins and outs of reviving conger coddling at length and as talks have revealed that a TV star, the mayor’s office, numerous councillors, traders and many residents of the town would like to see the return of conger coddling, we have decided that this matters more than the view of one wealthy incomer.”
The 12 games of the Lyme Lympics will be held on the main beach from 5pm on Wednesday, August 1st – between Lifeboat Week and Regatta and Carnival Week.
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