Early evening, Les Blanches Banques

Yesterday evening I had an hour or so before I was due to pick up my little jogging group. The nearby sand dunes, the Blanches Banques on Jersey’s western shoreline beckoned. They were shrouded in mist and I was quickly into a timeless zone, one that would have been recognised by the original Neolithic settlers of this place.

And, armed with pocket camera, I was soon lost in this amazing and living landscape. Click on pics to enlarge, and for captions.

Our ancestors left us these. Did they foresee 21c joggers admiring them?

The Blanches Banques has a pretty special eco-system, ever-changing, delicate, with many unique or rare species of plants and insects.

A bit of more modern history, and nature’s defiance.

Always worth a visit and you always spot something new. And yes, I just about made it out of there to meet my group!

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Here comes the (Jersey) sun

Mr Blue Sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long
Where did we go wrong
(Jeff Lynne)

It seems to have been a long and lonely winter. Wet and windy rather than particularly cold. For the first time I’m beginning to understand why so many retired UK folk head off to warmer climes for a few months.

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Duncan Foster’s pic – Manx Loghtan sheep at Devil’s Hole on Jersey’s north coast.

I’ve not found it easy to get out running the miles that I need to stay in race shape. (A ponderous 54min 10k last weekend.) Good intentions the night before have too often vanished on seeing what the next Atlantic front has blown in. Jersey sure is a windy and exposed spot in the wintertime.

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Lydie & Maureen with the sand dunes as a backdrop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But maybe we’ve turned the corner. Jersey’s 45 square miles beckons once more. Its endless country lanes with their banks, hedges and ancient walls. Forbidding old granite houses, brighter new developments in keeping with the landscape. Lush farmland which just needs to dry out a little more to welcome the Jersey herds from their winter quarters.

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Jersey’s south coast cliffs with Corbière lighthouse in the distance.

Then our coastal paths with breathtaking views of bays, cliffs, the other Channel Islands. Wooded trails, quietly and unobtrusively upkept when we’re not watching. And, for the observant, so many reminders of bygone days and echoes of those that preceded us.

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In the woods, St Peter.

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Old Jersey lavoir, designed as a communal laundry facility.

Here’s hoping for a long summer and to ending it in better shape than when I started.

Little darling, I feel the ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear
Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right
(George Harrison)

A post for those at a low ebb

Winter solstice time again. The longest night. And of course it’s a sad and lonely time for many who see celebration and merriment all around but who feel utterly bereft, for varying personal reasons.

Molly Drake, in her poem Lost Blue, pondered if the darkness of night might continue and not give way to daylight.

In the deep uncertainty of the night
The blue plate hangs on the wall
And I wonder: is it really blue at all?
Or was that stolen by the thieving light
And who can say whether it will return?

Oh, how the quiet plate must yearn
For her lost blueness in the dark
For though the day has brought it off before
She cannot quite be sure

And how can I be sure in the uncertainty of the night
That dawn will bring the same world back again?
I take for granted the ceiling would be white
And shadows long
And the yellow morning light limpid with the little midnight rain
And apples lying rosy where long grass grows
But no one really knows

Blue Plate

My suicidal character Tess Picot, on 22nd December 1935, woke up in hospital.

She became wide awake, conscious of the breathing, snoring and occasional groans of the other patients. At the end of the room, through the window, the night nurse was reading a book or magazine by the dim light of a lamp.

Here she was, Tess Picot, wide awake during the longest night. The nights could get no longer and the days no shorter. And, after the shortest day each day gets just a little longer. The ancients celebrated this time as the re-birth of the sun.

She had lived in her own all-consuming darkness for months. There had seemed to be no end to the darkness. However, of course there always is. There’s new life, lambs are born in the spring, the hedgehog awakes, the early potatoes are planted and thrive. Where there had seemed to be no life, indeed where there had been despair, nature from time immemorial had taught that the seasons turn inexorably and that from darkness comes light.

As the black night slowly turned to a hesitant dawn Tess saw things with sudden clarity. She made a vow. This was the bottom of her pit, she could get no lower. On this day she would start to climb again. She would draw on the strength that she knew was within her and she would grow again, and grow stronger. She would embrace the daylight and do her best to make her way in the world. Her dark days were behind her, starting today.

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Winter Solstice, Newgrange, Co Meath. Alan Betson.

Eight years ago I was at a pretty low ebb personally. Running and writing kept me on an even keel and I soon bounced back. Over the last couple of days I’ve read two or three quite sad blog posts. I hope that those despairing at this time of year find it within themselves to await the light, which is around the corner. Happy Christmas everyone.

Running Up That Hill.

I’ve peppered this post with a selection of Jersey pics taken during 2017. I hope you like them. Hover for caption.

Well the road racing is just about done for another year here in Jersey, C.I. I previewed the year from a personal viewpoint last New Year’s Eve. How has it turned out? Maybe I’ll be generous and give myself 7 out of 10.

 

I’ve run regularly, both with my social group the Jersey Joggers and solo. And I’ve taken part in most of the races Jersey’s limited running scene has to offer. This mixture of easy jogging and harder work is, I think, the best way when you’re in your 60s. Run hard all the time and injuries will transpire. Jog slowly everywhere and you’ll only ever be any good at…jogging slowly.

 

So, my first tangible achievement is that I’m on course to complete 1,000 miles for the year, albeit that’s only likely to be reached in the last few days of December. It will be only the fifth time I’ll have reached that goal after 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2015.

 

So how have I done in the races? 12 months ago I said that I was going to have a crack at challenging my PBs. On that measure, not so good. Appallingly I haven’t broken 25 minutes for 5k all year (my PB remains 22.51). In my defence these 5k club races are held in the evenings and my energy levels are definitely low at that time of day. But that 25min mark is out of step with my other timed distances.

 

A couple of good 10ks, both under 52mins. A couple of ‘ok’ Half Marathons – just outside two hours though I ought to be nearer 1.55.

 

In the early part of the year my body let me down badly for six weeks or so. (I’ve encountered similar issues several times over the years and they remain unexplained.) Sadly, my only off-Island race, the Southampton Half-Marathon was one of those bad ones. I just couldn’t get going, my race was going from bad to worse, and I stepped off the course at the four-mile mark. At least it was a nice day for a walk back to town. A few weeks later I struggled to complete the tough 8.1 mile Durrell Challenge. But gradually I snapped out of that bad period.

 

My break in Cork, Ireland kick-started my running year with some great long morning runs around the Lee estuary area. I really started to enjoy running and racing again. I love race day, being part of the running community. And doing the races is the one occasion where you test your body to its limits.

 

And the challenge of staying ahead of newer, mostly younger runners, and one or two long-time friendly rivals is a great incentive to stick at it for as long as I can.

 

And 2018 will see me step into a new age band where I’ll be one of the youngest again! I’m not finished with this malarkey just yet.

Sharpening my pencil

It’s taken a while, but I feel my writing spirit stirring again. A couple of years have passed since my sixth and seventh books were published. And then I dang ran out of steam, or inspiration, or something. I’d completed my first try at writing a book and a subsequent follow-up (check), two Jersey historical novels (check), two Irish mysteries (check), and a collection of short stories.writer

And strangely I also lost interest in a few other things. I no longer coach athletics to the kids, I’m not much bothered about cheering on Jersey Rugby Club every weekend, my blogging is sporadic at best.

Last week was the Human Rights Festival put on by the local branch of Amnesty International. The three films I attended with (sadly) very few others, were thought-provoking and disturbing as one would expect. The first featured the issues of child brides/mothers and their adult children in Israel. Then we saw the fate of many juveniles in the Californian justice system who are sentenced as adults for their crimes. Finally the quite inspiring story of the Waziristan girl who grew up loving and playing squash. She was only able to do so by pretending to be a boy. At age 12 she and her family started to receive death threats from the Taliban for ‘insulting their culture’ so she had to stop playing. Finally she left the country to train in Canada. Maria Toorpakai Wazir maria toorpakai waziris now world-ranked and high-profile, she and her family openly defying the continuing and constant threats.

And I remembered it was after the same Festival a few years ago that I tore into a novel about human trafficking. I got 22,000 words down in no time and got some very valuable critique from one or two people. But I wrote myself into a corner and I put it away. So I have a mind to pick it up again, start over, keep the bits that I think are good and re-write the rest.

A few of you will remember it as a bit of a challenge. I write first person through my young woman protagonist, and the story is set in Nepal and India nepalwhere I’ve never been and am unlikely to visit. I’ll still need external guidance and affirmation. But also I can maybe find a role for Chantilly, my Aussie punk barmaid/student who is waiting in the wings!

All being well I ought to be on the way to a good first draft by the Spring.

FB Fields of Dreams

With acknowledgement to Jersey Heritage and Mike Bisson’s excellent Jerripedia.

The FB Fields has been home from home to me since I arrived in Jersey in 1977. Within weeks I had played my first game of cricket there. This morning I set out (unsuccessfully) to do a little intervals session on the athletics track. But, with the exception of one other jogger, the several acres were deserted.

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Netball at the FB Fields in 1940

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Same scene this morning – the netball girls are long gone.

We know that the previously uncultivated land in the south of the Island was used as a playing fields as long ago as the mid 1800s. The coming of the Jersey Eastern Railway in 1873 made the fields more accessible and, in 1896, a new station – Grève d’Azette – was opened adjacent to the fields.

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This section of granite wall is all that remains of Grève d’Azette station.

Enter Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists fame, who had earlier met and married local girl Florence Rowe whilst convalescing in Jersey. The couple retired to live in Jersey in 1920 and became involved in philanthropic schemes. They bought land in the St Clement area, financed the building of 22 tradesmen’s cottages, and in 1928 gifted the playing fields land to the States of Jersey as trustee, to be used in perpetuity for recreational purposes. They became officially known as the FB Fields.

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FB Fields in 1945. Top left the scarred football pitches, below them the Boots’ FB Cottages and – to the right of the cottages – the wartime allotments where the athletics track is now situated. Running west to east is the still-visible railway track, disused since 1929.

During the Occupation years the land on which the athletics track is now situated was used as much-needed allotments.

Countless sports have been played there, and most locals will remember it from school sports days and the like. In 1987 the all-weather athletics track was installed, and, in the late 1990s, a superb table tennis centre.

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The gloomy and deserted athletics track this morning.

Most of the time the fields are sadly underused. Yet, thanks to the foresight of the Boots, this prime land is protected forever from the rapacious gaze of property developers.

The Day I Met…

Jimi Hendrix is acknowledged as one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. His fame with the Jimi Hendrix Experience lasted a very short space of time, from late 1966 until his death in 1970.

During that period his band members consisted of Englishmen Noel Redding (bass guitar) and Mitch Mitchell (drummer). And, like the Rolling Stones, they were a bit wild. Respectable grown-ups disliked them – they weren’t like those nice Beatles or Monkees. But they made great music.

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LtoR – Redding, Hendrix, Mitchell

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After Hendrix’s death both Redding and Mitchell continued their musical careers, though with much lower profiles. In the mid-eighties I wandered into the Anne Port Bay Hotel, a quiet bar on Jersey’s east coast. It was quieter than ever that evening, just one chap sitting in the corner reading his paper. I was introduced to him, quietly spoken, wet-fish handshake. He said hello politely and the former hell-raising drummer Mitch Mitchell returned to reading his newspaper.

Mitchell died in 2008, five years after Redding.

Round the Rock (Jersey) 2017

Last weekend saw the 7th running of this endurance event here in Jersey. It’s approximately 48 miles around our coastline, much of it off-road with long stretches of demanding but wonderfully scenic cliff paths.

Many did it solo – hats off to them. Others formed relay teams, such as my teams Jersey Joggers and Jersey Girls Run.

Jersey coastline

One of those solo runners was Stephen Cousins. He not only completed the course in just over 10 hours but filmed the whole thing. So here is a gorgeously produced 7-minute showcase of what Jersey’s coastline has to offer.

Cork, July 2017

If I have a spiritual home then it’s in Cork, Ireland. My parents came from the west of the county and I always get a clear sense of ‘coming home’ as I arrive there. Last week I made my first visit in six years.

These days there’s a cheap Dublin Airport – Cork express bus link. A bit of a rugby scrum to get on but it deposited me in the city centre in the early evening. For a Thursday the pubs were hopping with music everywhere as I re-made my acquaintance with Murphy’s stout, Cork’s superior answer to Dublin’s Guinness.

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Corner House, Cork city

The next day, a few miles out to Douglas to stay with my old friend Deirdre. Formerly a stand-alone village, Douglas is now firmly part of the city. It has the best of both worlds having all modern amenities (though including an alarming number of fast food outlets) but situated beautifully on the estuary of the lovely River Lee as it completes its journey from the Shehy Mountains.

For a runner, especially a slow one, it is perfect. The route of the old Cork – Blackrock – Passage West railway line has become part of a well-used and picturesque trail for walkers, runners and cyclists. Three nice runs of 8-9 miles with not a hill of any sort – lazy stuff but just what the doctor ordered.

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Old railway bridge over the estuary

Blackrock Castle

Blackrock Castle

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Harbour, Passage West

Some of this good work unravelled in the course of evenings of Murphy’s and crisps at my favourite-ever bar, the South County. The weekend pub crowds were buoyant with the Cork hurlers winning the Munster title and thereby progressing to the All-Ireland semi-finals. The early week evenings were quieter though always with a bit of music not far away.

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South County Bar, Douglas

Trips into the city included Elizabeth Fort, the new Nano Nagle Heritage Centre and the Crawford Art Gallery, with a final evening Chinese meal overlooking the beautiful Lough, protected since 1881.

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St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, from Elizabeth Fort, Cork city

Back to Jersey with yet more fond memories. A pity that my aversion to flying makes these visits so infrequent, but it certainly makes them precious.

Forty Years Ago Today…

…my BAC1-11 touched down at Jersey Airport. I found my guest house and watched Borg beat Connors in the Wimbledon singles final. Two days later I rocked up for my first day in the offices of Turquands Barton Mayhew & Co.

As a recently-qualified accountant in 1977 I had many options. Employers were fighting each other for young and reasonably cheap professionals. The Channel Islands finance industry was expanding rapidly and I was one of a number recruited from the UK mainland around about that time. We’d stay for a couple of years, gain experience, have a good time and go home.Jersey Airport aerial view

Only thing is, few of us ever went home. We’re either still here or dead. In my case I met a local girl, got married, had two lovely children (Eoin 29, Emma 27), got divorced. I broke for the border a second time in 2007 but, after an ill-starred couple of years in Ireland, found myself Back on the Rock.

A lot has changed over those 40 years. Maybe I’ll reflect on some of those changes over the next few posts.