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.

Corner House

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

Passage

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.

St Fin Barres from Fort

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.

Too old for change

Back in 2011 I blogged about my favourite female vocalists. And, re-reading the post and listening to the sample song of each that I chose, I haven’t changed my mind. Each of them is – or was – truly unique and exceptional. Eva and Sandy have long since flown this life to meet on another ledge but Stevie, Adele, Carol and Elkie are still with us and are still actively performing.

Do you remember when we were very young and we changed our minds every time the wind changed direction? We’d have our favourite pop group or singer for a week or two before shamelessly changing horses the minute a new lot took our fancy. Then, in our teens, we grew to appreciating particular musical genres and tended to shape our own lives around them. In my school there arose a serious division between Progressive Rock nerds and the Tamla Motown crowd.

Then we grew up and our musical tastes firmed up. I, for one, am pretty stuck with those artistes I grew to admire in my 30s and 40s. Few newcomers disturb these tranquil and comforting waters.

Though now a couple more female artistes have barged in. The Unthanks have been around for a while now and I’ve admired their take on traditional folk songs. Then I was lucky enough to catch them in concert in Cambridge recently. So here are Rachel, Becky and the gang with not an instrument in sight – what do you think?

Unthanks

Tar Barrel in Dale

Liberation Day, Jersey 2011 – Reflections

On the Channel Islands’ 72nd Liberation Day, here is a reblog of a post from six years ago.

Back On The Rock

We came in one day
From far away
To Jersey’s lovely shore
You were standing there
With a smile to spare
For the soldiers you adore
This gorgeous isle
This welcome we will ne’er forget
And now you are free
Will you dance with me
To the Liberation Waltz

It’s 66 years today that two officers of the Royal Navy landed at the Albert Quay and accordingly ended five years of occupation by German forces. It’s a public holiday in the Island and there is no tailing off of the celebrations as the years pass. The big one though was in 1995, the 50th anniversary. They pushed the boat out that year. I attended the Grand Pageant at Fort Regent with my seven year-old son Eoin. It was a fabulous show depicting the capture of the Island, the Occupation and finally the joy of Liberation. It was a one-off…

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An Auspicious Day

As most people know (well, my Mum remembers, I think), I was born on 28th February 1953. An auspicious day, you must admit.

Watson & Crick

I was slightly miffed earlier this week, on popping into The Eagle pub in Cambridge, to see that a couple of guys called Watson and Crick have hijacked my birthday for their own ends. And collected Nobel prizes into the bargain. The Watson guy is still alive. I believe that I’ll be lodging a complaint with him.

Les P’tits Faîtieaux

Many places have their mysterious and mostly unseen supernatural beings, but the British Isles and Northern Europe are particularly rich in such folklore. In Ireland for example, the ancient race of the Tuatha De Danann were defeated in battle and retreated to dwell underground in the Otherworld. They manifest in folklore as leprechauns and fairies. Scotland’s equivalent are divided into the Seelie Court (benevolent) and Unseelie Court (mischievous).  Norse mythology has its elves, both dark and light.

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Les P’tits Faîtieaux (The Little People) – Kerry-Jane Warner

But it’s not so well known that Jersey has it’s own ‘little people’ who dwell in our ancient dolmens. Like their cousins elsewhere they are capricious. They can cause harm when annoyed but are capable of good deeds when placated.

Here, local artist Kerry-Jane Warner has portrayed a few of these folk caught unawares outside the entrance to the Neolithic passage grave of La Hougue Bie in the Jersey parish of Grouville.

Seeing Both Sides

It had been years now since he’d said a sweet word to her, or given her a cuddle, much less bought her flowers on her birthday. Barely a ‘hello’ as he came home from the office at the end of each day. Still, she believed it was her place, her duty to look after him – cook his meals, iron his shirts, keep a clean and tidy house.

‘There must be more,’ she often thought as they sat in silence each evening, watching television. He would frown in disapproval on the rare occasion that she’d go and see her friends, perhaps attend an evening lecture or even a performance of the local amateur dramatics society. He himself never went anywhere other than to and from work. Wouldn’t dream of accompanying her anywhere.

Loneliness

Yet he wasn’t cruel, didn’t mistreat her. Separation had never entered her head. But one evening, not feeling well, the pent-up frustration got the better of her. She shouted at him, cried, poured her heart out about her wasted life. He looked at her in astonishment, said not a word.

The next morning he packed a bag and was gone.

She was in despair, at her wit’s end. She was alone. No one even to watch television with. She burst into tears over a cup of tea with a friend. The friend suggested she join a club, a group, a society. So one day she steeled herself and presented herself, with tennis shoes and an old-fashioned tracksuit, at a beginners’ jogging group. There she quickly made new friends, lost a bit of weight. Her confidence growing, she changed her hairstyle, starting wearing make-up again, bought fashionable running gear and a Garmin watch.

A few months later, hardly believing herself, she lined up with hundreds of others at the start line of the local athletics club’s annual 10k road race. It wasn’t easy but she wasn’t last by any means. As she approached the last fifty yards, the crowds applauding the competitors, she couldn’t help but burst into tears. This time tears of joy. She had never known happiness like it, not since her wedding day.

And as she accepted her medal her vision was too blurred with tears to notice, arms aloft and receiving the cheers like a champion, her husband as he, too, trotted over the finishing line.

Do Not Go Gentle

We meet most Sunday mornings. She is much older than me but I don’t care. Funny how she always seems surprised as I gasp ‘Good morning’, as if she’d never seen me before. ‘Good morning’, she answers back. Then we are apart again.

Shuffling along with her stick, skirting Grouville Common, set on a destination unbeknown to me. To her daughter’s house maybe. A cup of tea and a chat. Looks forward to seeing her grandchildren.

She certainly has a past, a long one too. What stories could she tell if I were to fall into conversation with her? Of her Jersey childhood, the village school, visits to the nearby beach, a weekly visit to the town of St Helier. Then the arrival of the Germans and the five long years of hardship before the Liberation. Love, marriage, a family. Maybe none of the above. I know nothing about her.100_0870

Perhaps she was a champion swimmer as a young lady. She wishes someone would ask her about her medals. Now she walks to keep fit, unbelieving that her body could ever let her down.

And does she know, or care, that this puffing stranger is also raging against the dying of the light? One day, sooner or later, we’ll meet no more.

I wonder who will let the other down?

A character looking for a story

In my second novel ‘A Jersey Midsummer Tale’ the early scenes were of four young Jersey people meeting up on Midsummer Day 1935. Soon enough one of them – Tess Picot – was trying to tell me, convince me, to write her story. And so I did in ‘Tess of Portelet Manor’.

In ‘A West Cork Mystery’ a young, feisty barmaid in Darwin, Australia makes a brief appearance to help out one of the story’s leading characters. Later, Chantilly Taylor reappeared as the subject of a short story in my collection ‘Aspirations of a Sheep’.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Chantilly won’t let me go. I have explored her character, personality and appearance. She is pale, ash-blonde cut in a severe style, blue-eyed, straight-talking, gay or a-sexual, likes Goth music. But she is highly intelligent and, despite her background, has always wanted to study History at one of the Oxbridge colleges. Due to some good fortune she has managed to get a place a Magdalene, Cambridge.

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Nothing to do with this post, but a nice view of Havre des Pas, Jersey from the old swimming pool.

Never having been to Cambridge I have researched the city, and Magdalene, in some depth. And I have written the first couple of introductory scenes. And I have no clue what comes next! I haven’t a plot, though I want it to be crime-based.

Which got me to thinking about the popular authors who have readers gasping for their next release. Lee Childe must always be thinking up new adventures for Jack Reacher. Tess Gerritson and her protagonist Jane Rizzoli, Rowling and Harry Potter, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. There are innumerable examples. What is their process for thinking up a new overarching plot?

It’s a new one on me but I’m going to have fun figuring it out. Meanwhile Chantilly is getting used to her new life as a fresher in Cambridge.

Thoughts?