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]”
‘Tis said that this is the time of year that the veil between our human world and the spirit dimension is at its thinnest. I’ll therefore share a tale or two which might entertain. These are not the old (and somewhat hackneyed) Jersey legends. They are either first-hand, or from reliable sources.
My first is from Jersey in 1942. It is a written account by the grandmother of a woman I know and run with. It is September and the island of Jersey is occupied by Nazi forces. A decree has been made that all non-Jersey born people will be deported to Germany. This decree includes the narrator and her husband, together with their five children. They have 24 hours to prepare for the journey into the unknown.
It is the night before they are due to depart, at the family home just around the corner from where I live now. Here is her story.
“By 3am I had succeeded in gathering together what I considered to be the most useful articles of clothing for each of us for a stay of perhaps several years in all weather conditions. The children would all be growing during that time so that had to be taken into account – and each person was only allowed up to 28lbs of luggage. 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 I knelt down and flung my arms above my head onto 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.”
Endnote: The family remarkably avoided deportation at the last minute.
All the afternoon she walked until her feet were sore. She found the South Bay and walked along the sand, even venturing to take off her shoes and refresh her aching feet at the water’s edge. She bought herself tea and a cake at one of the many cafes along the beach. She window-shopped but didn’t buy. As evening approached Rose, thoroughly lost but not caring a jot, got directions back to her guest house. She snoozed in the lounge for a while, then read a few pages of her book. Feeling peckish she slipped out for fish and chips from the establishment on the corner then, worn out, she slept like a queen without a care in the world.
In the morning she paid the lady £30 to stay another night.
The Birmingham police scratched their heads. No one had seen Rose Hanley in three weeks. They had forced…
She was pleased, proud, excited all at once. She stood on tiptoe, reached up and popped the postcard in the red letter box. Her mother and gran smiled and applauded.
‘But Mummy, how will the man reach the card inside there?’ ‘He has a special key to open the box darling.’ ‘And then he’ll take it to Debbie’s house?’ ‘Yes he will.’ ‘Can I be a postman when I grow up?’
The postcard sat on the mantelpiece, the colourful image of bay and castle transforming that side of the room. Rose glanced at it with a curious mixture of longing and pleasure every time she walked by. At least twice a day she would pause, take the card and read the childish writing on the back.
Hi Debbie I am here on holiday in Scarborough why don’t you come too? Xxx Susie.
Time passes and you must move on Half the distance takes you twice as long So you keep on singing for the sake of the song After the thrill is gone – Henley/Frey
A certain air of melancholy descends once the last person has left an event and the gate has closed. Different in the case, say, of a football stadium with the knowledge that the next game will soon be coming along in the next few days or weeks.
The recent Jersey Festival of Words took place here recently in a huge marquee in Howard Davis Park for the first time. Putting it up was one thing, setting up the audio and video, laying the flooring, setting out the seating was quite another. Then the panic of the day before with the setting up of the various desks and stalls in the separate foyer marquee and the arrival of the food and other stalls. Then the few days of appearances by authors famous and not so much, playing to the public. Then at 10pm on the Saturday night as Lionel Shriver stepped out into the foyer for her book signing session, the take-down in the main marquee had already begun.
On Saturday and Sunday last we had our annual Faîs’sie d’Cidre (Cider Festival). It is one of the remaining old Jersey country fairs and we have unaccustomed crowds visiting Hamptonne to see the big horse helping crush the apples as part of the cider-making process. There is music, food, and lots of other stalls and entertainment. But everyone is gone by 5pm to the relief of our local residents.
Going back in for my Monday shift was a little sad. The remnants of the previous day were being cleared away, the last pressing of the apples was dripping into barrels, very much interesting the wasps. We awaited collection of the last mobile vans by the various vendors. A couple of the staff were recreating their cricket glory days, bowling apples at a bench. I even had a go, reminding myself why I haven’t played for 20 years or more.
And what about the folk who lived here for centuries up to fairly recent times – the young Charles II in waiting was thought to have been a visitor here in late 1649 during his exile. There are fewer places more likely to harbour the ghosts and spirits of those who have passed this way, and the merriment of the weekend must have roused them. But as things returned slowly to normal and the first day visitors arrived, I was not privileged to meet them.
Our Friday morning Slackers & Skivers run group – an offshoot of the amazing Jersey Girls Run – had its heyday during Covid lockdown. Since then, most of the group have found themselves returning to work, resulting in regular turnouts of three or fewer. So it was this morning I kept the flag flying by running solo in the lanes of St Martin, the parish which best retains the character of old rural Jersey.
To head inland from this coastal road one has no option but to head uphill. The long Mont des Landes provides an early opportunity to get the heart going and the calves stretched.
Each of Jersey’s 12 parishes has its own character. St Martin always seems dark and quiet, no one ever seems to be out and about. Today the heavy drizzle is welcome after a dry summer and early autumn. Nature reigns, happy in its solitude and gets on with gently adapting to the season’s turn. Acorns and chestnuts lie in profusions along the lanes.
Then over to the Farmers’ Cricket Field. The season having just finished, Jim Perchard has scarified the outfield in preparation for re-seeding. The ground was formerly agricultural land but opened for cricket in 2005 thanks to Jim the landowner and his passion for the game. It quickly replaced Grainville as the premier cricket ground in the Island, just as Grainville supplanted the FB Fields in the late 1970s.
Turning back towards my starting point and a little diversion down another quiet lane which runs, little used, back to the coast road.
Back to civilisation after just 9k. A welcome coffee at the Driftwood Cafe and entertainment from a woman complaining bitterly over the freshness or otherwise of the croissants.
Out on a little run this morning I was pondering on how simple life can be. Yes, of course all of us have worries, issues, problems to a greater or lesser degree. But as with the practice of mindfulness, running a few miles along quiet lanes on a fine morning can reduce the world momentarily to the one you are living in – the buildings, the fields, sky, sun, clouds. Nothing else matters. The past is gone and can’t be changed. The future is uncertain and can be dealt with as and when it comes. You are experiencing and enjoying the now, which is usually, at least, OK.
But the meditative effect of putting one foot in front of the other can also have other, surprising effects. In the past I have suddenly had worrying problems unknot themselves, unbidden, on a long run. I have, now and again, ‘lost’ a mile or so of a run – no recollection of having run the roads which have got me to my present position.
And this morning I thought of a little thing that happened over 50 years ago. It was of no consequence, one of the millions of memories which are generally stored in the dark recesses of one’s brain to stay there, but occasionally to pop to the forefront for no reason. I was still at school and it was the early 1970s. I was in west Cork with a school friend of mine, looking up relatives who were plentiful at that time – aunts, uncles, cousins. We visited a woman whose identity escapes me, but we were aware her daughter (or granddaughter) was celebrating her birthday – maybe her third or fourth. Accordingly we bought a cheap doll, duly arrived at the house, and presented the parcel to the little girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen wonder on anyone’s face such as that of the little girl as she unwrapped the present and saw the doll. Enraptured, she removed it from the box and clutched it to her chest.
Then she carefully put the doll back into its box and wrapped it up before walking away, returning to it and reliving the joy of opening the present once more.
That little girl will be in her 50s now. If she has children and maybe grandchildren I don’t think they’d be so easily pleased.
In 2009 Jayson Lee, a fellow runner and all-round sportsman, collapsed and died. The following year his family organised a 10k race in his memory. More than 200 runners took part – I finished in 49.24. That year, 2010, was my best running year.
Last Sunday was the 13th running of the Jayson Lee Memorial 10k which again attracted an entry in excess of 200. I finished in 49.18.
And just a couple of minutes behind me was my daughter Emma with her 5-month old son Dawson.
At the end of the race I exchanged mutual congratulations with a few runners I’d brushed shoulders with out on the course, took a bottle of water and walked back around the track to encourage those who were approaching the finish. I know full well how a clap, a shout, a few encouraging words can give you a lift as you dig deep through the physical pain, having given everything. I’m in a good place with my running right now but there have been many times when I’ve struggled way back towards the end of the field.
There were many familiar faces there, young and old. Those I have run with socially, a pleasing number I recognised having coached them in the past. Most managed a smile and a word or two, others merely grimaced all the more – believe me I understand that! But for a few minutes I reflected on how lucky I’ve been to be able to stay healthy and continue to take part in the sport. And how many good people I’ve met along the way.
I have mentioned before my slight obsession with a 20-year-old au pair from Finland, Tuula Hoeoek, battered to death here in Jersey in the final hours of 1966. Yes, I still pass by the field entrance where she was found dead, 2-3 times a week. I say, “Hi”, remind her of the date, give her a weather update. I move on, never expecting or receiving a reply
This morning I paused there as usual, happy to catch my breath after a bit of a climb. The field is overgrown right now, but something had appeared that wasn’t there 48 hours earlier. Standing all alone.
Edit 10th August, eight days later. The sunflower has gone, no trace remains. Another life snuffed out too early.