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
Edit 10th August, eight days later. The sunflower has gone, no trace remains. Another life snuffed out too early.
The scene is Hamptonne Country Life Museum, Jersey
Visitor at front desk: “We thought you should know, one of your chickens is inside one of the houses, down there.” Visitor Services Assistant (VSA): “A big white cockerel?” Visitor: “Yes! It’s upstairs, in a cupboard.” VSA: “Upstairs in Syvret House? OK, that’s normal. I’ll get the gardien to shoo it out. Thanks.” *Phones gardien* “When you have a minute could you shoo the white cockerel out of Syvret House please?” Gardien: *Sighs* “OK, on my way.”
Cockerel: “Okay, okay I’m going. But I’ll go at my own pace if you please. And if I seem indignant then I have a right to. Yes, I know that I’m a cockerel and, by the customs and protocols of the world, us birds rank below humans and are governed by them. We are subject to the whims and fancies of our human masters. I don’t wish to lodge a formal complaint though, or to appear difficult. It might not end well. Anyway, I am fortunate enough here at Hamptonne. I know only too well that the majority of the world’s chickens never see the light of day. They lead a (fortunately short) life of misery until their throats are cut. Here I can wander more or less where I wish, food and water for nothing and my chicks for free.
“But, you see, I wasn’t always a bird. I was Jack Syvret and that was my family home right there. I was born in 1899, the oldest of seven children, and I was brought up there. It was a working farm then. My father was the farmer and he kept cows and sheep, grew a little grain. Mother kept house and us children did what we could. I went to the new St Lawrence School down the road, next to the church. We knew everyone in the village. Then when the war came, off I went to serve with the Jersey Pals. I didn’t last long. I was shot dead on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. I’ve come back a few times, but never before as a cockerel. See, if I’d have lived, I’d have inherited the property.”
Gardien: “OK, all done.” VSA: “Good. That cockerel thinks he owns the place.”
I’m reading what is turning out to be an intriguing and quietly powerful book right now – The Phone Box at the Edge of the World. And, unusually, I’m bookmarking certain passages. Here’s one:
Takeshi was convinced that it was the survivors, the people left behind, who gave death a face. That without them, death would be nothing more than an ugly word. Ugly but, deep down, harmless.
What a myriad of thoughts, reactions, little side roads of consideration that quote has set off. And how true – we all tend to contemplate our own deaths with apprehension, but with nothing like the alarm we feel when thinking of when our own nearest and dearest will depart and exist only in the past tense. Do we have the capacity to look upon death dispassionately and therefore take the power out of the word? Probably not.
And for some reason I recall Anthony Trollope’s 1882 novel The Fixed Period. This concerns a country whose rulers decide that it would be good for the ongoing health and vitality of the nation that its inhabitants should be gently euthanised with honour at a certain fixed age. Like pruning a bush or deadheading flowers. The logic is embraced and the law unanimously approved. Inevitably doubts creep in as the first of the citizens approach the age decided on. Should there not perhaps be exceptions if, say, the person in question is in perfect health and his continued existence and acquired experience is in fact of benefit to the country? Inevitably the whole thing falls apart. I wonder if Trollope meant it to come across as humorously as it actually did?
But that novel, and one or two others since, imply that death – planned or unplanned – might be accepted as merely an extension of life and thus become merely a harmless word, though perhaps an ugly one.
Upon a dreary Sunday morning May be June but hard to tell A chilly wind blows in the drizzle The hour tolled by the mournful bell But we know the skies will brighten If not today tomorrow sure We can allow our hearts to lighten Expectation is the cure
Day 4 at Lords the people gather An England win they hope to cheer But this England team is fragile Talented but plagued by fear Too many times our expectations Turn to dust leave us forlorn The previous night our hopes assemble Resignation come the morn
The farmyard pig is loved by children Playing in its muddy hole The next day they will gaily chatter Eating up their bacon roll And when too soon the van approaches Unsmiling men with kicks and blows Transport the animal to the chamber And as that animal goes it knows
The young man’s sure to get there early Wait at the bus stop as arranged For his date agreed to meet him At eight o’clock and nothing’s changed The eight o’clock bus isn’t stopping The lad’s dismayed but not for long For sure nine was the time agreed on And so he waits his hopes still strong
Us Blues fans sing a merry ditty Of lots of joys and sorrows too For many years we’ve seen the sorrows The joys are very far and few The ghosts of previous generations Sit on the roof and watch the games Though we in turn grow old and weary Our optimism never wanes
The wife stays with her drunkard husband The more he hits the more she stays You have to leave him say the neighbours He’ll go too far one of these days But she remembers those sweet evenings When he was loving full of care She prays that soon he too will recall And things will become as they were
And as the years march quickly forward It seems that they accelerate We turn to thinking of our passing For hopes and dreams it is too late Will it come easy in the night time Or will our end of days come hard There’s only doubts as to the timing The fact we cannot disregard
But in our world of war and famine Of climate change catastrophe Can our children halt the passage Of things which we have failed to see Or at least have failed to conquer We’ve given up without a fight Our selfish hopes inconsequential The knowing clock soon strikes midnight
I did a rare shift at Jersey’s Maritime Museum the other day – front desk, selling entry tickets to (mainly) our overseas visitors. It is, by general consensus, an excellent attraction. The museum is pretty big and showcases the Island’s long maritime history in an imaginative and interactive way. Young and old enjoy it equally.
A major bonus within the building is the Occupation Tapestry Gallery. This was created in 1995 and is a classy and poignant reminder of the unhappy Occupation years and had much input by the survivors.
My 30-minute lunch break came but the usual cubby hole had an electrician working away therein. I was directed instead to the Boat Workshop, accessed through ‘no entry’ doors deep within the museum. Like Alice climbing through the looking glass I found myself in a different world I only vaguely knew existed.
Over two levels lie workshops for carpentry and related works together with a big library of seafaring books and other assorted ephemera all connected to the sea. I found a kettle, made a coffee and sat down. There on the table I glanced at a French language glossy trade magazine which could have been printed yesterday but which, upon inspection, was dated October 1992.
One of Jersey Heritage’s remits is the restoration and maintenance of the ‘Heritage Fleet’, vessels that have a long connection to the Island. This work is done mainly by enthusiastic volunteers.
The boats bob happily in the nearby harbour to be taken out for a spin around the bay when occasion permits.
Shame on me that it took me so long, and a busy electrician, to discover all this.
The fine map, above, was drawn in 1375 and is attributed to Abraham Cresques (courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division). it is known generally as the Atlas Catalan. What interests us is that it depicts two islands off the west and south-west coasts of Ireland (see detail below): Hy-Brasil and Demar. These landfalls are shown on maps since then through the centuries, the last depiction being in 1865.
We look out to the hundred Carbery Islands in Roaringwater bay. The view (above) is always changing as sun, rain and wind stir up the surface of the sea and the sky and clouds create wonderful panoramas. But, generally, the view is predictable: we know that Horse island will be across from us, and Cape Clear will always be on the distant horizon, while the smaller islets break up the surface of the ocean in-between, and help calm down…