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A quiet December day, I’ve been de-selected from jury service. Go back to work maybe? Nah. I’ll take a walk and – in particular – pay a visit to Mont Orgueil, something I haven’t done for years. And fair play to them for opening all year round. Times past, Jersey basically shut down from October to March, its money made from the summer tourists. Those days have gone.
Gorey became a fortress town 800 years ago. As relations improved with France over the centuries its strategic position fell away. Oyster farming became a big industry and source of employment, until the oyster beds were dredged out. Shipbuilding took its place, until steam overtook sail.
Today Gorey is probably as quiet a place as it has been for 100 years. Let’s take a look.
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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!
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Most weekday mornings and evenings I walk through this park to and from work. It is on the fringes of St Helier. I am always impressed with the hard work, dedication and care that the gardening staff show, but right now, in the springtime, it is a picture.
First of all, a bit of fun – a couple of ‘then and now’ shots. The first one is (I believe) from shortly after the park opened to the public in 1938 and I think it has been colourised. (Photo credit to Jerripedia). The second is from much the same angle today.
So onto the main gallery where you can see the Allied War Cemetery, the formal gardens (looking a bit bare), exterior and interior shots of the billiard room, the only remaining bit of the original property ‘Plaisance’, a silhouette of George V with the mast of ‘Westward’ behind him, the Merton Hotel (in the ‘then’ shot above) and a general selection of shots, the final one with St Luke’s Church as the backdrop.
You’ll notice, top right, the grave of Maurice Gould. He is part of one of Jersey’s Occupation ‘escape’ stories which I will relate at some point.
It brought it home to me yesterday. I helped out with a spot of timekeeping at our local athletics track. It was beautiful Sunday morning. Dozens of children neatly kitted out in shorts and singlets. Many of the little ones wore track spikes and a few had tempted fate by wearing spikes of contrasting colours – you’d better be good to wear those.
The competition was hard but friendly. In a morning of four events the losers on the track had a chance to make up points with a good throw or jump. Smiles and chat all around. Parents manned the tea room whilst others cheered the young athletes on in their endeavours – not a pushy parent in sight, everyone got a clap.
The ground was pristine, the infield emerald green, good nature abounded. Little mementoes were awarded and everyone drifted happily away to lunch.
In September 2011 the excellent Jeremy Clarkson wrote challengingly on the subject of Africa
‘…the leaders are corrupt, violence is a way of life, the Sahara is getting bigger and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.’ And
‘Bob Geldof may have it in his head that I went to Live Aid so that others, less fortunate than me, might have a happier life. Well I didn’t. I wanted to see the Who.’
Visiting Kampala, capital of Uganda with his daughter. ‘’In a two-hour walk I didn’t see a single girl under the age of 18. ‘They don’t survive’ said our guide. Which, when translated, means they are either raped and then murdered to shut them up or they are beheaded by witch doctors in the daily child sacrifice ceremonies.’’
And he talks of the Lord’s Resistance Army ‘which runs about in the north of Uganda torturing, mutilating, murdering and raping pretty much anything that hasn’t already died of starvation.’
Even allowing a little latitude with the facts, in which place would you prefer to be born, your present home country or Uganda? Are there bloggers in Kampala?
A few years ago an Amnesty International spokesman told a film audience here ‘We in the West have already won the lottery of life.’
Recently The Economist produced a ‘Where to be Born’ survey. Here’s the link
A few surprises. I thought the UK would be higher than 27th – it has fallen from 7th in 1988. America has fallen from first place to 16th. A large helping of subjectivity in there I guess. But the first African nation – South Africa – doesn’t appear until 53. The survey only covers 80 countries when there are something like 207 in the FIFA (soccer) rankings.
The Channel Islands aren’t shown separately but they would certainly be top ten.
I wonder where Uganda figures? It receives foreign aid of US$1.6 billion. The President has ruled for 26 years and lives in a palace.
The purpose of this rant? None really. Only to wish yet again that people in the developed world would realise their luck, make light of their ‘issues’ and stop fecking moaning at every little thing that offends or displeases them.
A year or so ago I had some interesting correspondence with a New Zealand resident, Sue. She had read my Jersey novels and they took her back to her younger days when she worked for the Seymour family. The Seymours own the now-derelict Portelet Hotel and other land nearby.
I thought little more of it – until two days ago. I was happily mooching down the German-built road that leads down to Noirmont Point, the sun shining, the wild flowers of the common beginning to appear. A car came down the road from behind me then suddenly pulled over. As it did so the occupant of the back seat nearly fell out as she tried to get out before the car had come to a halt. She crossed over and said
‘Hi, I’m Sue from New Zealand. Do you remember I emailed you? Well, after that I just had to come back to Jersey to see the place for myself again.’
‘But…how did you know it was me?’
‘I just thought it was you!’
I didn’t press the matter and the lovely Sue, after introducing me to her husband, drove off. Now, we never exchanged photos or anything like that. My photo isn’t exactly splashed all over the Net nor is it within my book covers. And remember Sue would have had a rear view when approaching me shambling along towards the Point.
So I hope Sue enjoys her break in Jersey and gets in touch again in due course. And maybe I’ll ask her the same question – how did you know who I was?
But there again, maybe some little mysteries in life are best left as mysteries. What do you think? Any other odd or coincidental encounters out there in bloggerland?