The Merchant’s House off-season

It’s a funny old time of year for Jersey Heritage. All sites are closed to the public until March, apart from Jersey Museum, which is open all year round. I’ve been taking the opportunity to re-visit the Museum several times recently.

Today I took a closer look at the Merchant’s House permanent exhibition. It is so called as the building which houses it, 9 Pier Road, was built in the early years of the 19th century by successful trader Philippe Nicolle. It is set out as it was in 1869 as the then owner, financially-stricken Dr Charles Ginestet who had married Nicolle’s widow, was preparing to flee for his native France to escape his many creditors.

Main drawing room, Merchant’s House

The exhibition features actors representing Ginestet, his wife and her sister – remarkably lifelike on film – arguing and lamenting how their comfortable life has come to this, as the vultures gather.

The Nursery. ‘Tis said that the rocking horse often rocks even when no one is near it 😮

All in all it’s an intriguing section of the museum, best absorbed when there are few other people about. Indeed today I was the first visitor of the day and as I left 90 minutes later, that was still the case.

Waiting for the Bus | A Short Story

If you like storytelling, here is a blogger/writer you ought to follow.

Bridgette Tales

Someone watches me from within the shadows of the curving metal archway of Hotel TwentyThree across the street. Although all I can see is a vague dark shape, I’m sure of two things—it’s a man, and his eyes are fixed on mine. Protectively, I pat the stack of freshly printed pages tucked in the inner pocket of my black, woolen coat and lick off my peppermint lip gloss.

The icy rain has turned the sky into a hazy, vertical river and I press my back into the farthest corner of the tiny bus shelter and hope the man can’t see me. The next bus won’t be here for another 20 minutes, perhaps longer due to the storm. I’m running out of time.

A car drives through the gutter creating a small tidal wave of grey water which soaks into my soft leather boots. An old oak tree scrapes its branches…

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Orla at the Lilac Ballroom

In the early 1980s I was on holiday in West Cork, visiting relatives. I was persuaded to head along with a few cousins and friends to a dance at the Lilac Ballroom, Enniskeane. I wasn’t to know but this was just before the death throes of the Irish dance hall and the discotheques became the new ‘scene’ for youngsters.

I based a scene in A West Cork Mystery at the Lilac. Here it is.

She stood, mesmerised. The big neon light sign above the hall flashed, promising a great time to all who would pay the entrance fee and come inside. Her friends Roseanne and Mary-Jo, both of whom were old Lilac hands, lit up fags and scouted all around them, taking in the scene.

The lads had gone for a quick drink and they wouldn’t be long, they said. Rory had driven them all out from Dunmanway in no time at all, swinging the Vauxhall Viscount with abandon along the, largely unlit, country roads. There was plenty of parking in front of the hall and, as eleven o’clock approached, the place was getting busier as more cars arrived from the surrounding countryside.

The girls hung around by the car, wrapping their shawls closer around their shoulders against the cold breeze. They fidgeted about, anxious to get inside. Occasionally one or the other would see and greet a friend, mutually admiring dresses, hairstyles, saying ‘hi’ to friends of friends.

Orla knew no one apart from her two friends, and of course Rory and John. She was nervous now, not quite knowing how to act, unsure of herself in these strange surroundings. She had on her best dress, a grown-up dress showing off her pale shoulders and a lowish neckline, though not so low as to bring on more tribulation from her mother. It had been a compromise purchase but Orla was happy with it. She had slapped on the make-up liberally, heavy on the eye shadow as she had seen the older ones do. She now pulled out her lipstick from her handbag and applied a little more, checking in her compact mirror and surreptitiously pursing her lips to see the effect. She sighed. She considered her face too thin, nose too sharp, cheekbones too high. Which boy would ever ask her to dance – a blind one maybe? But already there were admiring glances from both boys and girls at the striking tall girl with the red hair.

At last the local pubs seemed to be emptying and, to Orla’s relief, Rory and John reappeared refreshed and ready for action. The five of them joined the queue which had suddenly formed outside the doors which led into the foyer.

Orla had her half-crown ready, it was double for the men. It was money that Orla could ill afford. All of her group seemed to be paying their own entrance so that way there could be no misunderstandings afterwards.

They paid their money and took a ticket. Mary-Jo reminded Orla to keep the ticket as a pass-out, in case she went outside later and needed to regain entrance. Now they could hear the band, and the music hit them as they pushed through the swing doors into the hall.

At the far end was the band, presently playing an Irish dance-tune set. This was expected early in the night and only two couples were taking advantage to swing each other around the floor.

‘See ya later’ said Rory and John and they wandered over to where the men were standing. Orla followed Mary-Jo and Roseanne across to the opposite wall to join the women. There her two friends chatted animatedly to others they knew, Orla joining in when she could. She didn’t want to be the wallflower that no one talked to. Some, though very few, of the women smoked cigarettes. Orla had never tried one and had no intention of doing so. By contrast most of the men puffed away creating a foggy, slightly mysterious atmosphere over the dance floor.

At the end of each set – three tunes – the band paused for a few minutes and sipped from bottles of water. Some of the women headed off to the toilets or to the café-bar. Orla looked across the smoky room at the men. Almost all men these days had long hair, in complete contrast to the clean-cut looks of the showband who were getting ready to play again. Most had jackets and ties though, and flared trousers were all the rage. The men were laughing, joshing, horsing about, showing off. Just like the church hall after all, thought Orla. But she nevertheless noted that the men would cast their occasional glances across the room, sizing up the women. In much the same way, she fancied, that the farmers would assess the cows in the market square. She hoped that she might catch a nice one.

The band struck up again and, to cheers, the leader announced a set of pop songs. Taking his cue the singer launched into the first number, joined by many of the assembled crowd.

‘Oh Sugar, Oh Honey Honey…’

The girls commenced jigging on the spot; the first of the men bravely crossed the room.

‘You are my Candy Girl…’

The prettiest girls were the first to be asked. And, just as inevitably, they politely refused. ‘Sorry, I’m not dancing.’ The older, more experienced men took the early rebuffs without demur and went along the line until a girl would step out with them.

‘When I kissed you girl I knew how sweet a kiss could be…’

Soon the dance floor became less of a no-mans-land. Some of the women, still partnerless, danced around their handbags. A proportion of the men were now dancing, with varying degrees of style or none at all, cavorting, smiling, inviting their partner to be impressed with their moves.

‘Like the summer sunshine pour your sweetness over me…’

‘Thank you’ the girl would say at the end of the set and would retreat back to her fellows without further ceremony, head high. Even if the lad was a dish a girl wouldn’t risk her reputation publicly by pairing off that early in proceedings.

Orla got a dance on the third song of the set. A young, spotty lad but she supposed she ought to be polite and start to make an effort. She swayed her hips to ‘Bad Moon Rising’, gazing vacantly over the lad’s shoulder, ignoring his efforts to smile and make eye contact and, as the set drew to a close, she retreated back to the line with a ‘thank you.’

‘Come on, let’s get a drink.’ Roseanne led them upstairs to the bar area. Soft drinks only, which explained why the men tended to dally elsewhere before the dance. They bought Tanoras and sat at a table overlooking the dance floor.

‘I hope that Pat fellah asks me out again. He’s gorgeous.’

‘Well I dunno. There’s not many here tonight I’d look at twice. Be as well sitting at home with me Ma.’

The night wore on. The songs became livelier, the crowd less inhibited. Even the most sorrowful wallflowers were asked to dance though even they had the dignity not to cling onto their welcome saviour.

But then the last, slow set was announced and it was all to play for. Though Orla had been ‘up’ a number of times by now she had met no one interesting. Still, she hoped that she might partner a nice lad for this last set and maybe progress to a kiss or two outside before the drive home. At least then she’d have something of interest to say to the others afterwards when they’d be gassing in the back of the car.

But her heart fell when she saw Spotty making a beeline for her. She was sure that one or two other men had their eye on her as well but he was almost at her side. No one wanted to be left at the wall at this stage. Already there were a few stranded and loveless who were making for the exit as if they didn’t have a care in the world. As did many lads who had only been there for the music and the craic really.

Mary-Jo and Roseanne had disappeared. Orla resigned herself to her fate, no one was going to save her so she gave her best attention to her eager beau. Yes, a bit spotty, but not unpleasant, nice smile, teeth, Patrick he said. They one-two-threed around the floor among the other couples. He danced nicely enough, tried to hold her closer. She gently resisted. He bent his head to hers and, as she angled away he nibbled her neck. It tickled and she giggled. He laughed too and planted an unexpected kiss on her unwary lips. She smiled and returned the kiss. It was a nice sensation, gave her the shivers, and Orla thought this was the best she was going to get. She hadn’t had that many kisses from a boy and was quite unpracticed. Certainly at the church hall Patrick and Orla would have been prised apart by now. As the last number drew to a close Orla consented to Patrick holding her ever closer.

The main lights were switched on and the band said goodnight. Orla looked around but her friends were nowhere to be seen. Never mind, they wouldn’t go anywhere without her.

‘Well goodbye Patrick, thank you for the dance.’

‘Thank you Orla, I’ll see you outside. Do you have a coat to get?’

The Lilac is still there in Enniskeane, though it’s now a Skoda dealership.

A West Cork Mystery is available here https://amzn.to/3i3n3w6

Gorey Run, New Year’s Day 2023

Nothing for it on a damp 1st January Sunday morning but to put my gear on and put in a few slow kms. I headed around to the north east and St Martin’s parish, parked up and headed off. As has become a habit, I declare my intention for the year by tackling a serious hill. In this case the two tracks leading up from Gorey Pier to Haut de la Garenne.

From there I plodded easily through the gloomy countryside (St Martin always seems gloomy, though pleasingly intriguing) following a roughly circular course and taking in the gentle morning, the nature and landmarks. Hope you like the pics.

Gorey Village Railway Station, closed 1929

Back to Longbeach car park 9.6km later, just as the rain began in earnest. Delighted to bump into Hannah Bechelet, a fellow runner and former Jersey resident now working as a TV presenter in Birmingham, back in the Island for the holidays with her husband and young twin boys.

I think the quiet months of January and February will find me doing a bit more rediscovery of our lovely part of the world at a suitably slow pace.

Running Round Up 2022

“One of these days I won’t be able to do this any more. Today is NOT that day.” One of my favourite quotes and one that, fortunately, still holds true. More than this, 2022 has been a very good year and one which I’ve enjoyed to the full. Fast approaching my 70th birthday I’m well aware that it will all end sooner or later but for now I’m riding the wave. Here, self-indulgently, I’ll review my running year.

Weight and health
Other than a bit of a bug late in the year I’ve remained in good health. In particular I seem to have escaped Covid altogether, though I’ve never actually been tested for it. My target weight is 80kg and I’ve largely fluctuated around 81-82 (though am slipping a little as we speak). A healthy weight is a must for enjoyable running. I’ve adopted a vegan lifestyle which is easy, aligns with my animal rights views, is a no-brainer for anyone concerned about the environment and climate change, and provides a healthy diet.

Mileage
In my case anyway, total mileage has always correlated with running performance. In 2022 I ran 2,310km (1,435 miles), a record year, overtaking my 2021 total on Christmas Day. I have to admit retirement from full time work has freed up lots of time for running 🙂

Training
I try to get out 4-5 times a week, usually alone but sometimes in company. It’s mostly easy running though I try to always throw in a serious hill, and occasionally a time trial or speedwork at the track. The flat out stuff I leave for race day.

The Races – (I love Race Day!)
11 Jan – Jersey Spartan 5k – 24.25 – I’m happy with anything in the 24s for a 5k.

29 Mar – Spartans 5k – 24.18

10 Apr – Spartans Spring 10k – 49.45 – sub-50 which is my 10k target.

19 April – Spartans 5k – 24.21

22 May – Durrell Challenge 13k 72.42. Tough old race, from town out to the Zoo, two serious hills in there. Finished strong and three minutes faster than last year. 146th out of 395.

12 June – Jersey Half-Marathon 1:57.45. Died a bit of a death on the tough final section but content enough with sub-2.

26 June – Headway 10k 49.39. 46th out of 105.

5 July – Spartan 5k 23.17. The highlight of the year and maybe my second fastest 5k ever. Winged feet, one of those rare occasions when it all comes right.

21 July – Spartans 10k (actually 9.76k) at Les Platons 50.02. Always a deceivingly tough course for which one needs to summon extra mental strength.

11 Aug – Spartan 8k Jardin d’Olivet 40.22

14 Aug – Jayson Lee Memorial 10k 49.18. 65th out of 219. Always a good race to run and well supported by the running community.

9 Oct – Spartans Autumn 10k 50.07. My favourite course (St Catherine) so annoying I was outside the 50.

18 Oct – Spartan 5k 24.43. Lost about 30 seconds after colliding with a bike, my own stupid fault. Could have been much worse.

6 Nov – Durrell Dash 12k approx – 62.39. 89th out of 203. Lost time re-tying shoelace, a rookie error on this tough course.

20 Nov – Frubbs 10 miler 1:30.14. My one really poor race, at the tail end of some sort of bug. I was treading water in the last few miles as many others floated past me.

Before it all turned bad

20 Dec – Spartan 5k handicap 24.02. A fun race where the slower runners start ahead of the faster. It produced a good time in my case.

26 Dec – Spartans Boxing Day 10k 49.49. I couldn’t hold on to a fast start and my splits drifted upwards as the race progressed. Still, another sub-50.

Chasing Nicola in vain, Boxing Day

31 Dec – Bouley Bay Hill Climb (1.6km) 10.13. This annual torture attracted a nice crowd with the youngsters very much in evidence, this being one of the few races that is open to all with no age restrictions due to distance. I was a little way off my 2021 time but never mind.

Plans for 2022?
If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. Maintain body weight, maintain running consistency, keep running the races hard. And as I slip into the M70 age group I might be tempted onto a plane to enter a few UK races – there are few other silly old buggers still running here in Jersey 🙂

Happy New Year to all.

A Bad Day?

So, yesterday evening I drove into town, parked up and competed in the last 5k road race of the year – the course is out of town, along the south coast walkway, turn at half way and return. Pleased enough with my time I jogged back to my car (a Nissan Juke) for the short drive home. I turned the ignition key – buzzzz! – no other reaction, least of all the expected comforting purr of an engine. Now, I have never been under the bonnet of the car in the five years I’ve had it. There’s no point in doing so as I have no idea of what goes on in there.

A few buzzes later I gave up and jogged home, not so far. There was nothing else I could do before the morning.

This morning I walked into town and tried the ignition again. Buzzz! Now armed with a few phone numbers, on the second try I managed to get a garage to come out and have a look. The nice young mechanic quickly diagnosed a dead battery. He quickly charged it up and instructed me to go for a long drive to fully charge it – and took a call-out fee of £63.

Off I happily went for the long drive. Some while later I happened to stop momentarily, and the engine stopped. You’ve guess it – Buzzz! as I turned the key. The battery had NOT charged. Another phone call. The same guy again arrived in no time and got me going with instructions that I should go straight to Roberts Garage in town who would replace the battery while I waited. Another £63 call-out fee.

With great trepidation I drove the few miles to Roberts Garage and thankfully got there without further mishap. Within 15 minutes I was off again, new battery fitted, £129 paid.

The sheepish-looking offender

So yeah, a bad day. But now I reflect it wasn’t so bad in the great scheme of things. Yes, my negligence in getting the car regularly serviced had cost me money I’d rather not have spent. But I was surprised and grateful that the tradesmen had been so efficient and fixed me up without delay.

And here I am, sitting in my cosy seafront apartment, dinner cooking, football commentary on. The money is a nuisance but at least I had it. I have my health. I’m working the next two days at a part-time job I love and which, at this time of the year, entails little more than reading a book in between looking after the occasional visitor.

Had I not won the lottery of life I might be starving or homeless, sick, fighting in Ukraine with death a strong possibility. I could be a beggar in the streets of Kolkata, desperate to feed a wife and children. I could be on a flimsy boat in mid-Channel with fifty others, desperately seeking escape from a murderous regime. I could have been the guy found dead in the undercarriage of a plane which arrived at Gatwick from the Gambia last night.

I wonder, if asked, would others swap their bad day for mine.

Strange Tales – 5

At Hamptonne Country Life Museum recently a member of staff was walking down the passageway alongside the 15th Century Hamptonne House. A heavy book fell from above, landing at her feet. Looking up, it appeared to have come from a first-floor window so she ran into the house and shot up the stairs. No-one was there. Here is the window in question – how could a book have been dropped or thrown from there?

Thus endeth this mini-series, for now. Jersey actually isn’t too active when it comes to modern day sightings of what might be termed ‘high strangeness.’ Either that or people are keeping quiet about it. However, one Jersey woman now living in England, has a popular podcast devoted to modern-day fairy sightings. Jo Hickey-Hall interviews people who relate their personal experiences of encountering strange beings. It’s becoming the case, I think, that people are becoming less afraid to share their experiences. Jo’s website and podcast can be found here https://www.scarlettofthefae.com/

The hotspot of high strangeness in Britain is North and East Yorkshire. Over the years, and to the present day, there have been countless sightings of lightforms and strange airborne craft along the cliffs north of Flamborough Head and out over the North Sea. Many aircraft, mainly military, have unaccountably crashed into the sea around there. Sightings abound of unearthly humanoids and animals, cryptids etc. There have been many disturbing animal mutilations down the years. The researcher Paul Sinclair has documented many of these – you can find Paul’s website at http://www.truthproof.uk and he has a YouTube channel. Paul argues that it is impossible to explain many of these encounters within the boundaries of our present scientific knowledge, and just because they can’t be explained doesn’t mean that they aren’t real.

Keep checking under your beds before falling asleep.

Strange Tales – 4

Mont Orgueil is an 800-year-old castle facing France on Jersey’s east coast. It has a host of legends and ghostly encounters attached to it – this is common with many such ancient buildings. However, the origins of these stories have been lost with time and have often been embellished over the years. Mont Orgueil has had its share of ghost hunters down the years and they have pinpointed hot spots in the castle which us guides can point out to our visitors.

But there are modern day, first-hand accounts too including several from the summer season just finished. Just a couple for your delectation:

  • The castle Gardien, locking up the rooms in the Keep at the end of the day, clearly heard several footsteps on the nearby staircase. He called out that the castle was closing. The footsteps stopped and no one was in sight when he checked. On closing the outer door the remaining member of staff confirmed that no one had left recently.

  • There lives in the castle a soldier called Sid, young though 400 years old, who is unhappy with his lot and who doesn’t want to be a soldier anymore. This related by a lady who chats to him, having a gift for this sort of thing.

There are others. But if you want ghosts, head to Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland. Kilmainham is now a visitor attraction but it has a sorrowful history. Prisoners were routinely hanged in public view above the gaol entrance – there were about 180 in all. Fourteen of the ringleaders of the 1914 Easter Rising were shot there. No wonder the building is riddled with ghosts. The caretaker keeps in their good books by announcing, ‘Good morning lads’ on opening up and wishing them goodnight at the day’s end.

Strange Tales – 3

This is a very sad tale, but one which was freely given to me. The narrator is a friend of mine, an Irish woman who has lived in Jersey for many years now. At the time she was a 14-year-old growing up in the family home in a small town in Ireland. Her father, to whom she was devoted, suddenly passed away right in front of her. You can imagine how distraught she was at the time and for many months thereafter.

It is a few weeks after her father’s passing as she takes up the story in her own eloquent style.

“One day I was lying on my bed/mattress on maybe my 100th reading of one of my great artist magazines. The lightbulb in the room had already ‘gone’ and the only light into the room came from the landing. As I lay on the dangerous, spring-popping mattress I turned to my right, just randomly, and a long shadow lifted from the bed next to the mattress. I watched it gently move high above. I only realise now that the shadow was the greatest, for my whole world changed. As soon as the shadow had risen, in my mind it was about to turn and look at me. I shot out of that room like a bat out of hell.

“I sometimes think that this shadow followed me my entire life. At first I thought it was my mind playing tricks, but the clear outline of the shadow figure has now left no doubt in my mind. In those precious moments, and despite my fear, I know that all the beauty and meaning of my short 14 years of life was made up of a shadow in Mammy and Daddy’s bedroom at no.56 and whenever there is a shadow there is always light and my light came slowly that summer. I moved from a 14-year-old to a 24-year-old. My little 14-year-old died a little inside only to be reborn and to rise again in a stronger and wiser version.”

Strange Tales – 2

This next is from an old Jerseyman, an ex-military, no nonsense chap who I worked with recently. It refers to a time just after the war, maybe 1947, and he was perhaps nine or ten years old. He lived with his parents in a large house in the parish of St Saviour, close by the Neolithic tomb known as La Hougue Bie. He takes up the story:

“One afternoon I was cycling home from school. There was a big white gate at the entrance to [the house] and there was a monk standing there. He opened the gate for me to go in and I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ I went into the kitchen and said, ‘Mum, who’s that? Who’s that monk at the gate?’
She said, ‘What do you mean?’
‘A monk just opened the gate for me to come in.’
She dropped the glass which she was drying. It wasn’t long after that that we moved. The house was definitely haunted. We moved to a small cottage but I do have many memories of really terrifying feelings at [that house]”