The King of Rome

This is a pleasing little story from the north Midlands of England. Not earth-shattering, and it probably would have remained in obscurity only for a folk singer/songwriter.

Pigeon fancying, pigeon racing got popular in England during the years of the Industrial Revolution. In the north in particular it became a hobby for some men, a release from their grim working lives down the mines or in the factories.

This story concerns such a man, Charlie Hudson, who lived in Brook Street, Derby. He bred pigeons and one day in 1913 he entered his prize bird for a 1,000 mile race from Rome back to the birds’ home lofts. Charlie knew that it was unlikely he’d see his bird again but he wanted to experience what freedom was like, vicariously, through his pigeon.

‘Yeah, I know, but I had to try
A man can crawl around or he can learn to fly
And if you live ’round here
The ground seems awful near
Sometimes I need a lift from victory’

As predicted, few pigeons made it back home. Charlie’s bird did. And today the King of Rome stands proudly in a glass case in Derby Museum.

Folk singer Dave Sudbury wrote some words about the King and composed a song. June Tabor and others covered it, most recently a powerful brass band-backed version by the Unthanks.

Long live the King of Rome.

Tradition in Action

There isn’t much call for thatchers here in Jersey. We have plenty of lovely, traditional granite buildings but of thatched roofs there are no more than a handful.

So when five thatchers from Devon arrived in the island a couple of weeks ago, everybody sat up and took notice. Here at Hamptonne we have three historic farm buildings, two of which have thatched roofs. It is 20 years or so since they were last attended to. It was only as they got to work with their bright, golden straw that it could be seen how overdue the work was.

It was a surprise when they initially just tidied up the existing thatch and prepared to lay the new over it. The second surprise was the thickness of the new thatch.

Scaffolding is up

The guys are a taciturn bunch. They don’t say much, but just get on with it, dawn till dusk, seven days a week though they finish a bit earlier on Sundays. We’ve had TV and radio up here filming and interviewing, reluctantly in the case of the boss thatcher. They just want to get on, finish the job and head home with a cheque in their back pocket.

One week later

Today they’re just about finishing off Hamptonne House, the former home of Laurens Hamptonne who was the first to acclaim Charles II as King when his father had his head chopped off. Shortly they’ll start on Langlois House assuming we can deal with swallow nests, bats and other impediments to work.

Finished and pictured in late afternoon

The Sound of Leather on Willow

“Baseball has the great advantage over cricket of being sooner ended.” GB Shaw.

A sure sign of Spring, men dressed in white, including several sweaters each against the Baltic temperatures, skipping or strolling out onto the cricket grounds of England. It’s the first day of the season and – at least in England – the professionals are plying their trade in front of empty seats.

Here in Jersey, where Covid restrictions are being lifted apace, the amateur leagues will soon be getting underway. The general standard of the game has come on in recent years both through a very good coaching programme and the regular exposure of the Jersey team to international tournaments. Yet the number of players overall has fallen away somewhat. Fewer social/bog standard players are willing to devote the best part of a Saturday or Sunday to the game.

Foliot Fields, home of Sheldon Marlborough CC

I was once one of those willing but limited participants. Years before I moved to Jersey I joined my local club in the Birmingham suburbs, Marlborough CC (they have now merged and play as Sheldon Marlborough CC), where I spent an enjoyable couple of years cricketing around the Midlands with David Genge, Stan Redding, John Green and others presumably long gone now* – this would have been around 1970. On leaving school I joined a rather posher club, Aston Manor CC who played (indeed they still do) in north Birmingham. There I scored my one and only century, 104 not out as we recovered from 29-2 to 231-2 dec. A couple of weeks later I was out for 96 but I assumed that the years ahead would bring many more centuries. If only I’d known. A few names from those days* – Tony Thane, Roy Cutler, Billy McDonough, Bob Lawrence, Malcolm Hayward, Peter Tucker, Barry Holbutt, David Cotterill**, Arthur Hodgetts, Keith Forman, Brian Mason, Peter Bilton, Gil Secker, my schoolmates Phil Bragg and Colin Prentice. A good bunch of lads with whom I enjoyed playing on many of the Midlands’ most picturesque grounds and always with plenty of beer to follow, win or lose.

Farmers’ Field, Jersey

Moving to Jersey in 1977 I hooked up with St Ouen CC and played with them until about 2004. Along the way I played evening cricket with the legendary Jersey United Banks RFC who provided not only intra-match beers for ourselves but also for that evening’s opposition. By now, limited overs cricket was becoming the norm with little chance of settling down to play a long, steady knock. Instead of improving I regressed until one day, in the middle of a match, the penny dropped. I was no longer enjoying the game and I packed it in at the end of that season to concentrate on my work with Jersey Spartan Athletics.

Now I can’t even be bothered to turn my head and watch a match as I pass by, something which would have been unthinkable 34 years previously.

*= names may be added as I remember them 🙂

**= One afternoon David was opening the bowling and I and another young player were fielding in the slips. In a short space of time, two or three edges had eluded us to David’s loud frustration. After consulting with the skipper, two more experienced players were moved into the slips and us two were ordered, in disgrace, to the outfield where we could do less damage to our team’s prospects.

Back at Hamptonne

Hurrah, Jersey Heritage’s sites are open once more for the season. With light Covid restrictions of course but open nonetheless.

The sites are (inside) Jersey Museum and Maritime Museum (outside) La Hougue Bie, Mont Orgueil, Elizabeth Castle and Hamptonne Country Life Museum. I have the great pleasure of working two days a week at Hamptonne on the front desk.

You’d have thought it might have been quiet this morning for my first shift, especially as I’d entirely forgotten the workings of the till and associated systems, my login passwords etc. But no, Hamptonne is a regular meet-up location for nannies and childminders and in they poured on the dot of 10 o’clock, young charges in tow, old and young flying through the shop, membership passes being flashed my way, chicken food being politely demanded. Track and Trace contact details to be collected. After a while the wave subsided and I was able to draw breath.

Hamptonne House

Hamptonne sits amongst quiet lanes in the middle of Jersey, not easy to find. The buildings date back 400 years and are quite beautiful. But the local families are more interested in the animals and open spaces, a lovely place for the often town bound kids. We have chickens free-ranging around and rabbits in the stables. New this season are sheep in the meadow and piglets to replace the monster hogs that virtually needed dynamite last October to shift them to wherever fully-grown pigs go. Finally, a couple of Jersey calves, the prettiest breed of cows.

The new Hamptonne sheep

A Gardien is in overall charge of each site, a VSA (Visitor Services Assistant) at front of house. In addition there is a regular stream of volunteers. Today, for example, we had Dave as Visitor Host who took some of the heat off me at the desk whilst providing good football chat in quieter moments. There are Tour Guides and, later in the season, we’ll see a bit of Living History, guys and gals that dress and act as if in the good old days.

Like all hospitality businesses, Heritage have struggled with the pandemic but we are well supported by the government. It’s nice to be able to open on time but everyone hopes that we’ll soon be able to welcome overseas visitors once more.

The Age of the Takeaway

A rainy old day. I ran around the coast road to Gorey Pier – a regular little run – ready with my bus pass to get the no.1 bus back to my starting point. The harbour area is a pleasant spot in the shade of Mont Orgueil and busy with tourists in a normal summer. There’s a large, four-sided shelter where the buses turn around. The benches on all four sides were occupied this day. The bus arrived and I hesitated, waiting for those who had arrived earlier to climb aboard.

No one from the shelter moved a muscle. On I got and off we went.

It’s the new phenomenon, here in Jersey at least. The cafés, unable to seat customers due to Covid restrictions have embraced the takeaway (‘takeout’ in the States I believe). So where do you go with your takeaway? Of course, one of the many shelters constructed for bus passengers or, elsewhere, for the weary tourist. They’re packed. The rubbish bins are full of cardboard cups and more bins have had to be deployed at popular spots.

This pandemic has certainly galvanised many local businesses into survival mode and who have made changes to adapt to the new circumstances. One of the striking first examples of this was at the time of the first lockdown in March of last year. Suddenly our local fishermen had no sales outlets for their catches. What did they do? They started selling right there from the harbour, from the boats, via a hurried social media campaign. The response from the locals was excellent.

Photo by Melvin Wahlin on

For general food shopping, queues formed outside supermarkets due to restrictions on numbers. In response, the supermarkets started to offer home deliveries, taking on extra staff to do so. Not to offer delivery was to risk losing market share.

Non-food retailers, classed as non-essential and therefore restricted even more, started to offer Click-and-Collect, rarely heard of before. Many upped their online presence with many more people now finding it easier to shop from their armchairs.

And never mind the cafés, the high-end restaurants are now offering takeaways and home deliveries to keep a little income flowing before life returns to ‘normal’. My local Chinese takeaway was rushed off its feet during first lockdown, the delivery guys couldn’t cope. However they are now quieter than previously as so many other places have joined the battle for the home delivery market. (Personally I still don’t understand why many people won’t stretch their legs a few yards to collect their food but I guess these are the times we live in.)

And when this is all over our retail landscape will most certainly have changed forever. I doubt it will be benefitting our previously thriving town centres though.

The Lighthouse Keeper

I left St Philip’s Grammar School, Birmingham in the early summer of 1971. I’d scraped three middling ‘A’ Levels. I didn’t have a clue what to do next.

At St Philip’s, once you had signified you had no interest in going on to university you became a non-person. All you were doing there was damaging their statistics by drifting away into the general world of work. I recall one interview with a disinterested careers teacher, the task probably an unwanted add-on to his normal job. He had no more clue than me, which is why he was a teacher I suppose. I think any of us that went to see him got the same takeaways – try Banking or Insurance.

Yeah, I did six weeks at Eagle Star Insurance on the Hagley Road, since airbrushed from any subsequent CV. I was so miserable in the office there that I pushed my resignation letter under the manager’s door, walked out of the building and never heard from them again.

I had no plan and no one to turn to really. All I really liked was my sport. I wrote (this was well before internet days of course) to the elite PE colleges of the day, Loughborough and Carnegie. I even went up to Carnegie in Leeds but recall nothing of the college or interview. Anyway, though I loved my sport I wasn’t considered good enough at it to tempt those bastions. Perhaps if I’d aimed lower, if I’d been advised where to aim, then my career might have been very different.

I spent hours wandering around Birmingham trying to find inspiration. I found none in the then heavily-industrialised streets though I’ve since developed a great liking for post-industrial landscapes. I wrote other letters. I was invited to interview for an apprenticeship at British Leyland – I didn’t go. British Rail sent me a rail ticket to London to attend an interview. I used the ticket to go and see a football match instead.

I earnt a bit of money in a few local factories doing odd jobs, sweeping etc. I don’t think I impressed the foremen, neither did I fancy it as a long-term prospect.

I spent time in the local library – they had a couple of big books on careers. I studied them for hours looking for something that I might be suited to. Everything under the sun, and I had qualifications for most but I was in a hopeless rut. So hopeless that I kept turning to the same section in the middle of the book, Lighthouse Keeper.

Lighthouse Keeper. I rather fancied that. In Birmingham you’re pretty far from the sea so it would be an adventure. The money wasn’t bad. The way of life appealed to me – weeks at a time on duty, then a free week or two. Not much to do, how difficult could it be to keep a light from going out? I liked reading, I’d have plenty of time.

I never got around to writing to Trinity House. I never got around to doing anything much. In February 1972 I sort of fell into the world of accountancy and never left. I see they don’t need lighthouse keepers these days but I still wish I’d had a go.

Goal Mile Christmas 2008 – Reprise

GOAL is a humanitarian charity established in Ireland some 40 years ago. Each Christmas Day, one of their fundraisers is the GOAL Mile. Held on athletics tracks throughout Ireland, the concept is simple – pay an entry fee, run a mile (a distance rarely raced in competition nowadays), and everybody wins.

By Christmas 2008 I’d been in Dublin for a year and had embedded myself in the life of Crusaders AC who have their track and clubhouse at Irishtown on the eastern edge of the city. Crusaders host one of these GOAL miles. This year – 2020 – it’s a virtual event for well understood reasons, but in 2008 I was there on Christmas morning to do my bit.

Fortunately it wasn’t just one mad race that morning as Dublin has some seriously good athletes. I jumped into one race in which I stood a chance of not being embarrassed. On the whistle, off we set, two or three of us in running gear plus a couple of Mums pushing prams and trailing slightly older infants. It was a bit surreal, not many spectators as we headed past the clubhouse, down the back straight, around the final turn from where you can see the big cargo boats at Dublin Port and down the home straight to complete the lap. Unfair obstruction as I had to weave between and past scampering children and buggies but my complaints went unheard as they’d paid their entry fee as well.

Fair play to myself, I pushed my body hard if not fast. As I passed the finishing line for the last time I heard the time – 6.58 – which remains my PB to this day.

Some proper runners from the famous Crusaders club

It might have been short-lived and long ago but I still treasure those days with the Crusaders and still I still wear the club vest whenever possible.

Last day with the Crusaders kids, summer 2009

My Running in 2020

Tradition dictates that, at this time of year, I summarise how my running’s gone recently. I first started to take running seriously in early 2003, as I approached my 50th birthday. Getting involved in admin and coaching at Jersey Spartan AC was the main driver in this. The energy of the kids at the track was infectious and I started to contemplate my own comparative lack of fitness. And I’d also got slightly annoyed at one or two of the road runners challenging me to come and race. Well, since then I have got huge enjoyment as well as physical and mental benefits from this slightly crazy hobby.

With Laura, tracing the path of the German rail line, Pont Marquet to Ronez

But, as any runner will tell you, it’s a sport with more than its share of ups and downs. If you don’t have a bit of mental fortitude and ‘bouncebackability’ you had better take up something else.

In darkest Trinity, which way?

2020 was no different. The simple fact of the matter was, as the year commenced, I was carrying too much weight. Again. How often have I been there? Two years previously I was fit and flying, now I was huffing and puffing, everything a big effort. On 1st March I ran a hopeless 58.30 10k in what turned out to be the last race before Covid struck. Falling and bashing my ribs didn’t help for a week or two either.

What a summer we had to compensate for our troubles

Lockdown, and what did I do? With genuine good intentions, instead of frequenting the fresh food aisles of the supermarket I decided to support the local corner shop in these troubled times. What the corner shop sells is convenient but rarely conducive to healthy living. I continued running after a fashion but it was now becoming something I wasn’t looking forward to. Walk breaks during runs had become the rule rather the exception.

With the Jersey Joggers (once allowed) here at the quirkily historic quarry horse layby at Handois

Meanwhile my daughter Emma (who has yet to beat me in a race) had lost weight after consulting a local sports nutritionist Kit Chamier. She was flying as a result. The penny dropped. I went to see Kit and it was comedy gold as I wondered aloud to him where I was going wrong, talked him through my general diet, and watched him rolling around on the carpet, helpless with laughter. The scales told the horrible truth. He sent me away with simple, strict instructions and a weekly spreadsheet to fill in and send back to him.

And here at one of our ancient dolmens

And, Dear Reader, I am now finishing up Week 15. Plenty of weight lost, plenty to go. And (amazingly) I’m running pretty well again and always eager to get my shoes on. In spite of everything I’ve completed 800+ miles and – much more importantly – maybe I now have a lifetime template for healthy eating and enjoyable running. We’ll see. Check back this time next year by which time, surely, we’ll be back racing again.

Jersey’s stunning south coast cliffs

The End of the World

Thoughts on family survival from the talented storyteller Naomi Baltuck.

Writing Between the Lines

©2020 Naomi Baltuck

I dedicate this story to Jamie G. Dedes, my friend and the founder and editor of the BeZine.  When she was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease, she must have felt like her world, as she knew it, had ended.  But her poetry, more than ever, hummed with truth and wisdom, each poem a love letter to the sweetness and bittersweetness of life.  Jamie built a new world, and with all her disabilities, she lived every day with more life and love and energy and purpose than any able bodied person I know.  She pulled together a global collective of poets, artists and writers dedicated to peace, sustainability, and social justice to carry on her work.  Her life was a gift she shared with us all, and her legacy timeless.

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Written in the Stars

I blogged about Ireland’s Bloody Sunday some time ago. In a nutshell, on 21st November 1920, in reprisal for IRA assasinations earlier that day, British military forces went along and sprayed bullets around Croke Park in Dublin where the Dublin team were playing Tipperary at Gaelic football.

15 were killed or fatally injured, and many wounded. Amongst those killed was Michael Hogan, the Tipperary captain.

Michael Hogan

Last weekend was 100 years since those landmark events. The provincial Gaelic football finals were played, amongst them the Munster final Tipperary v Cork. Tipp hadn’t won the Munster championship since 1935, i.e. 85 years ago – Kerry (especially) and Cork habitually fight it out amongst themselves.

It was written in the stars that Tipp would win, which they duly did, thus honouring their former captain who was taken too soon.

And another strange coincidence occurred. That year, 1920, the provincial champions were:
Munster – Tipperary
Leinster – Dublin
Connacht – Mayo
Ulster – Cavan

That was how they finished last weekend as well.