La Faîs’sie d’Cidre 2021

For 363 days of the year, Hamptonne Country Life Museum is an oasis of tranquillity. Tucked away in the lanes of St Lawrence parish, even many Jersey people scratch their heads in negotiating their way to the site. Holidaymakers – often elderly – are dropped off the no.7 bus every hour and proceed to head into the narrow lanes, taking wrong turnings, asking for directions, before finally arriving at the ticket office and shop. Most are then more eager to be shown where the toilets and café are rather than the other delights of our site, curated by Jersey Heritage.

Once settled, our guests can relax in a unique Jersey environment, a real throwback to the days when the only sounds to be heard in the country were birdsong, animal talk, the occasional smatter of the ancient Jerriaise language and perhaps the clank and creak of primitive farm machinery. Within minutes the heart rate steadies. A slow walk through the orchard clears the mind, the children delight in interacting with the chickens, sheep, pigs and Jersey calves. Of less interest to them, but fascinating to our adult visitors, are the three historical buildings which once consisted a working farm. And Lauren Hamptonne himself became the first person to proclaim – in Jersey’s Royal Square – the young Charles II as the new king of England after his father was executed.

But in mid-October, for a weekend, this all changes. Even during the Middle Ages there was room for high days and holidays and Jersey has its Cider Festival, a hark back to the days when cider production was a major Island industry. Just for two days. See the horse operating the apple crusher? The pictures are by Jersey Heritage.

Don Dolbel is 96

And let me tell you that a day on the front desk at Cider Festival time leaves one as drained as any farm worker 😃

The Found Child

Dawns rise high over the cliff and green tinges the branches when her people feel the urge to move again. The furred who live nearby have grown wary, leave no prints to follow. The tiny body that she pushed herself inside out to birth stayed thin, sucked only weakly. Eventually it stopped, went rigid like dried tendon. Yet still she carried it, as skin shrunk around stick-like limbs and stretched over shoulder blades. Now the group gathers things to leave, and she feels the pull to join them. But putting down her burden is frightening. Inhaling her infant’s heady birth-smell, still caught in its dark hair, she crouches at the shelter’s edge. The clutched bundle is lowered to the ground and, for the first time, lies apart from her body. The others approach curiously, reach out to prod, pull, stroke; to know. Yet beasts will come later and this precious thing must be protected. She scoops a hollow, slides the already dusty form down, covers it. Embraced by the soft dirt full of their stony leavings, she draws back and joins the people to walk on.

Skies flicker as the days, years, centuries pass. Soils condense and hold the delicate bones tight. Others come and go above but eventually the vibrations of footfall stop. Even icy tendrils from heart-aching cold cannot penetrate to the tiny skeleton. Tens of thousands more winters, then deep thumpings murmur downwards. The weight lessens. Voices come: new people are building a house where none have lived for so long. Patten-shod feet clatter up and down wooden stairs over the small remains, a lullaby of life above death. In a blink, the house too is gone, then sediments shiver and shift as hands pull at the dirt. Clods crumble, and a chink of early summer sunlight grazes the white shatter of eggshell-thin skull. A voice shouts out, ‘Arrête! Os!’ Rough yet gentle hands – like those that last touched this lonely little one – reach down, after so long, to pick it up.

Rebecca Wragg Sykes is as far away from the common preconception of an archaeologist as the Neanderthals are seen as – in her own words, ‘Shambling around in bearskins waiting to become extinct already.’ Her scholarly but highly readable Kindred has each chapter prefaced by a piece of creative, yet relevant, fiction. Ms Sykes reminds me exactly how I fall short as a writer. I’m only part way through but this book is hypnotic. Get it here or at your national Amazon store.

A tale of deportation

In September 1942, during the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, an order was received that non-nationals of Jersey were to be deported to Germany. At very short notice an English-born retired sea captain, his wife and five children were ordered to report to the harbour with a limited number of personal belongings. The wife describes in her own words the panic that ensued.

Parcels of larger size new suits and woollies and new pairs of shoes were untied.  String and newspapers were strewn about the floor.  By the window stood seven piles of clothing, but so far, no suitcases.  Exhausted, worried and full of foreboding for the future, I knelt down, flung my arms above my head on to the bed and cried, ‘Oh God!’  At that very moment, I saw behind my right shoulder, and very near me, the tall figure of my maternal grandmother.  She was calm.  She said, ‘It will be alright.’  This she repeated.  My grandmother had died in 1939.  Somehow, I flung my body, fully dressed, upon the bed.  I became unconscious.

The apparition was of the Charlotte of Lowestoft, mother of Caroline, referred to in my previous post. The family were reprieved at the last minute and continued to live in Jersey through the Occupation.

Lowestoft, Suffolk to Grouville, Jersey

Family trees, by definition, are names linked by familial relationship. Often the names have dates attached – birth, death, marriage. At its most basic, that’s it, a science of tracing the links via documents and registers.

Much more interesting and intriguing are the stories that are sometimes attached to those names. They illustrate, illuminate and bring to life the individual, but often the life and times of those around them. Let me give you an example from a little writing assignment I’m presently engaged in.

In 1872, George and Charlotte welcomed the birth of a baby girl, Caroline in Lowestoft, Suffolk which is on the English east coast. Having trained as a nurse, young Caroline was engaged by a certain Algernon to tend to his brother Robert, who was dying. Upon Robert’s death in 1895, Caroline heard of a need for nurses at the British Seamen’s Hospital in Algiers, north Africa. She applied and was accepted. Whilst in Algiers, Caroline was engaged as companion to a Lady Cole, wife of a British diplomat. Eventually Lady Cole returned home to Edinburgh, accompanied by Nurse Caroline.

Nurse Caroline

Wishing to visit her family, Caroline took the train and waited on the platform at Thorpe Station, Norwich for the connection to her home town Lowestoft. There she was, totally by chance, recognised and hailed by members of Algernon and Robert’s family. Her address was ascertained, correspondence ensued between Algernon and Caroline and, well, the rest is family history.

The other day I took a diversion in my planned run, to La Croix cemetery here in Jersey. Here lies Caroline who, having followed her daughter to Jersey later in life, died in 1963.

Final resting place, far from home

Shades of opinion

I do have opinions, points of view. These opinions generally fall into two broad categories. Those that are obvious and coincide with most other people’s opinions e.g. Islamic State and climate change are bad things, and those opinions which may be contentious but where I can see and accept the POV of the other side.

Generally speaking, I tend not to impose my opinions, my beliefs on others. Sure, if a subject comes up in conversation I’ll say my piece but without announcing that what I say is the last word on the matter and that everyone who disagrees is wrong. And most certainly I never shout my mouth off on social media where one can be dragged into an inescapable vortex of people baying and shouting into the void where there is no pretence or hope of arriving at a consensus.

But I suddenly became a militant the other day. Sitting in my car, negotiating a long diversion to reach my destination, then crawling back through town at a snail’s pace (this was in the middle of a working day, who was doing the work?) I became a member of the anti-car militant front. One way or the other this has to stop. Jersey has more registered vehicles than people. In many families every adult owns a car. Virtually every piece of land not otherwise designated is full of parked vehicles.

I don’t have the answers, who does? The small measures that are being taken to encourage walking, cycling, public transport and to make town less of a polluted hellhole are the subject of outcry from those who presumably think the present situation is quite OK. It is not OK.

And from one cause to another. All my (long-ish) life I’ve eaten pretty much what takes my fancy including meat and fish and other animal products, the staple of most diets. Recently, and under guidance, I modified my diet and lost a fair chunk of weight. On looking at my new routine I observed that what I was now eating was, in the main, plant-based. Some lean meat certainly, some fish, but predominantly vegetables, grains, fruit, beans etc. I thought, well I’m pretty much a vegetarian now and it wouldn’t be much of a jump to make it so.

Then, out of curiosity, I looked up what a ‘vegan’ was. Turns out veganism can be as much a form of activism as it is food choices. Animal rights is a proper crusade with its proponents determined to make known the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals during their often sorry lifetimes and barbaric deaths. Tiptoeing into the subject on Twitter, trying to get a grip on what the facts were and suggesting there may be mitigations, I was howled down with something approaching hatred. My first reaction? I’m not going to be lectured, I’ll make my own mind up.

My decision? The activists are correct. There are no grey areas. I might slip up occasionally but I’m now essentially a vegan. But I’m not going to shout at everyone who isn’t, simply explain my reasons if asked.

Time on Your Hand?

That’s a trend I never saw coming. Apparently it’s been here a while as well. People don’t wear watches any more. Or at least many people don’t. I only noticed this for the first time yesterday (which says a lot about how much I stay relevant these days, I guess). I work a couple of days on the front desk at Hamptonne Country Life Museum here in Jersey. As part of the entry protocol, visitors need to sign in for Covid Track & Trace. Increasingly, many do so using a QR code – we’ve all become experts on QR codes over the last year or so. But there are also little paper slips which are easily filled in as well. Easily, only for the inevitable, “What’s the date?” followed seconds later by “What’s the time?”

Long ago, when I was growing up, everybody had a watch. To not have one on your wrist meant that either (1) you’d forgotten to put it on or (2) you were some sort of poor person.

I guess that people will say we all have phones, but isn’t it simpler just to glance at a watch? The average woman at least will take many seconds retrieving a phone (or anything) from the depths of her handbag. To digress, after 68 years I still have no clue what women find to stuff inside a handbag. It would take me for ever to find belongings to fill up an average handbag. (Not that I own a handbag you understand.)

Full disclosure – I’ve always worn a watch. These days it’s a Garmin which I use for running but it serves to give the time of day when not called upon to do anything more demanding. But I do remember the pre-digital days when you needed to wind it up, checking with someone else for the ‘right time’ if you’d let it run down completely. I also recall that you could, in extremis, use a public phone to dial TIM and a nice lady would tell you the time. (I read that the service was only withdrawn in 1986.)

Before the Industrial Revolution no one seemed to bother too much about the precise time. You got up when it got light, lit a candle when it got dark and went to bed when you were tired. Then someone invented the sundial which, as I understand, never became a popular attraction.

I understand that the high end of the watch market – the Rolex/Patek Philippe etc – is still holding up though more for investment value than show. Rich people can demonstrate their richness in many other ways these days, such as taking a ride into Space.

So – as I should have asked before I did all that writing, do you wear a watch?

Headway 10k 2021

I love race day. I love 10ks. Sunday morning dawned cool, damp and still. I generally like to race in either my Jersey Spartan singlet or that of my Irish club Crusaders, but this is most often worn over another t-shirt. Today it would be just the Crusaders singlet.

Headway is the local branch of the head injury charity and the race is sponsored by Jacksons the car dealer. The race director is Bryce Alford and he’s put together a well organised race. We start on the cycle track at Les Quennevais and this has the effect of stringing the field out a little before we head out onto the main road towards the airport. I’m feeling ok though my quads are still feeling the effects of Thursday’s sand dunes even though I had a good run the day after. Still, it’s only a dull ache and nothing to worry about.

So down towards the airport, turning right past Strive, the new health and fitness centre most recently used by the British and Irish Lions during their training camp, past the rugby club, diving left past St Peter’s football club and across the main Route de Beaumont into the lanes by St George’s Prep. I’m running pretty well, keeping up a decent pace, feeling strong. At half way now and I glance at my watch – just under 26 minutes so on course for 52 with which I’d be pretty happy.

The field is, of course, well spread out by this time and the fast men up front will be approaching the finish. Out of the lanes, back across the main road, behind St Peter’s Village and we connect with the path around the airport perimeter. Always I have the runners ahead of me as targets and I’m never satisfied unless I can nibble away at the gap and perhaps pass them out. But what’s this – John Cunningham onto my shoulder? We exchange a few words. John’s a legend of local running having completed the Comrades Marathon (in fact it’s 89 kilometres) in South Africa on a number of occasions. However he’s no spring chicken and has a heart problem so he’s taking it easy. Still, I’m honoured to be alongside him in a race. Now into the last 2k and trying to latch onto John’s heels keeps me from fading, still pushing for a decent time.

And, into the last kilometre, ahead of John is Sue Le Ruez, another legend and a good friend of mine. I’ve never even come close to Sue in a race and here’s my chance. But no. I can’t find another gear and Sue, then John pass over the line but I’m amazed to be so close to both of them. My watch says 50.42, quicker than I’ve run for many a long year.

So, not fast by the standards of the ‘proper’ runners – the race was won by George Rice in 32.01 with Katelyn Ridgway first woman in 37.04. Still, 89th out of 175 finishers ain’t so shabby.

Cork’s Pandemic – 1956

News of the 2020/21 Covid-19 pandemic has been, from the outset, through the power and reach of the internet, widely publicised and commented upon. CLOSE THE BOARDERS (sic) bayed many in Jersey in the early months.

65 years ago there was an outbreak of the dreaded poliomyelitis in Cork in southern Ireland. Though news travelled less swiftly in those far off days, travel it did. And the panic was disproportionate in relation to the damage which, was, in the event, very well dealt with.

Ireland loves its sport, and Cork more than most. That year both Cork’s Gaelic football and hurling teams had reached their respective All-Ireland finals, to be played in Dublin. The women’s camogie (similar to hurling) team had likewise reached the All-Ireland semi-final, to be played against Mayo in Castlebar, the county town of Mayo in the north west of the country.

There was outcry in Dublin and Castlebar. The residents of those places were panicked and demanded that the games be cancelled so that the expected hordes of plague-carrying Cork supporters would not come. The governing body, the GAA, duly postponed the matches but eventually they all went ahead. Cork’s men lost both of their matches, the loss to Wexford at hurling proving to be the 10th and last All-Ireland final appearance of the great Christy Ring, eight of those appearance being on the winning side.

Christy Ring

The Mayo ladies refused to play the rearranged semi-final so Cork progressed to the final to face Antrim in Dublin. By all accounts the better team, Cork were beaten by a heroic goalkeeping display by 14-year-old Teresa Kearns.

In the event, the 1956 polio epidemic claimed just five deaths in Cork and 20 across the country. The disease has now been virtually eradicated around the world.

In the absence of a pic from 1956 here is Cork’s All-Ireland-winning camogie team from 1934.

Sunset Trophy 2021

I thought I’d reinvigorate this occasional blog by recording bits about my running – training, races etc. I’ll start off with a race report from yesterday evening.

One of Spartans’ long-established events is the Sunset Trophy. Originally, this was two circuits of the sand dunes which climb from sea level at Le Braye up to the high ground of Les Quennevais – the playing fields, the golf course and the Les Ormes resort. The course has has since been modified so that the climb takes place only the once (small mercies) and the runners are then decanted off the dunes and onto the playing fields, along the Railway Walk, down La Pulente Hill and back along the road to complete the circuit. Only 3.2 miles but still a bit of a challenge.

23 of us lined up at the car park, amongst them Paul Holley who we don’t see much of these days but who immediately became the pre-race favourite. The first objective as we set off though was to avoid breaking an ankle in one of the many rabbit holes. Then there’s the matter of choosing the best course up the dunes. The choices are many and, having made brave but wrong decisions previously, this time I dutifully followed the majority.

There is a reason that athletes and other sports players train on the sand dunes – it is a trial of strength as you slip back one step in three and fight for grip to maintain upward momentum. Still, I made the gate off the dunes with a few runners behind me and settled in for the two remaining flat/downhill miles.

Bernie Arthur is a class runner but he’s now 73 to my 68, and also struggling a little with injury. He came up onto my shoulder and threatened to pull away. OK, I was in a race. I like that. It brings out a bit of my competitive instinct and raises my game. I concentrated on keeping the gap manageable and with the last flat mile to go I was on Bernie’s shoulder again. I felt I had a bit left and thought I might test out his injury, see if he could respond. (Sorry Bernie.) I pressed on the gas a little, no response. And so I opened the gap and finished in 13th place out of 23 in a time of 28.14. Paul Holley had duly won in 19.22.

Is this normal?

I suddenly stopped what I was doing and thought, “Is this normal? Does anyone else do this?” I was grafting the last sliver of a bar of soap onto a new bar so as not to waste any. Like so.

Exhibit A

I’ve been doing it all my life, just the way I was shown by my mum. Now, as a working class family in Birmingham we weren’t rich but Mum and Dad worked hard to feed and clothe us and pay the rent. They were used to being thrifty, looking for bargains, cheap cuts of meat, squeezing the last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. But soap grafts? I’ve never known anyone else do it. Do you?

Hold on though, there was something else.

Exhibit B

This is a cricket jumper. When you are little your jumpers get too small don’t they? And your mum buys you a bigger one. Oh no, not my mum. As I grew she’d buy a ball or two of white wool and knit an extension. Then another, then a third. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to me to have differing shades of white on the bottom of my jumper with the original stripe (yellow/black in the above example) up around my chest somewhere. The sleeves must have got the same attention. I wondered by the other boys used to giggle.

Did I have the worst mum in the world or are these things quite normal?