Friday, April 27, 2007
Kurt in Jersey
Tuesday 20 March 2007
Its 6am, and I’m perched – with my fourth cup of tea -- on the edge of my exceedingly comfortable bed at the Rocqueberg-view Guest House, Jersey, with winds and waves growling and crashing, and rain pelting outside, having just taken the first steps of the first journey in my new life.
Yes, I know I’ve been already, since landing in the Northern Hemisphere, for over a week with John and Greg in Coalville, Leics, but that doesn’t count. There I was with family, being looked after … this time it’s the real thing: I’m out on my own.
Actually, starting off with a little ‘sheltered’ time was a good thing. By the time last weekend came, I was rolling along nicely. I spent five hours ‘discovering’ Leicester on foot on the Saturday while John was at the football. A Joe Orton exhibition, a modern art exhibition (which seemed kind of teensy to someone who used to live right along the road from the Galerie Maeght), a visit to the 1960s Haymarket Theatre where we did FAT PIG oh so long ago… It’s a sign of the times that the theatre is closed, ready it seems for demolition, along with quite a few other shabby local buildings of that benighted period. Finally, round about hour three, my feet got tired (the rest of me was OK) and I decided a pint of Guinness would help them. Alas! It was St Patrick’s Day, Guinness was reduced at the city pubs to 1.99 a pint (from 2.65!!!), and those pubs were all overflowing with real and fake Irishmen. Finally, in a little back street I found the unloved “Richard III”, a very definitely working-class pub with only five customers, plenty of place to sit, and a TV playing France vs Scotland rugby. The locals, wary of me initially, woke up when they discovered I was a Frenchman (waaal, it livened things up and they’ll never know the truth!) and we had a jolly hour and a bit with what must be the first rugby match I’ve watched right through in over 20 years. France, as you will know, won easily.
Sunday morning, while the boys did housework and shopping and all the other things that real working folk do on their weekends, I played with my new toy. John has introduced me to a little ‘wireless’ gizmo which you plug into your laptop and which allows you to connect to the Internet and email without being plugged in! I knew it was about to exist, I didn’t know it did already. And only 20 pounds. It has, alas, at this point in time, its limitations – I was able to use it at Scotlands Rd but, when I tried it here in Jersey, I got no signal. Rather like mobile phones I suppose. It appears you have to be in a ‘hot spot’. And one way and another, this definitely ain’t one of those! But the advertisement for her says ‘Wireless Internet’, so I shall go downstairs this evening and try it in the ‘guest lounge’.
Sunday afternoon we went on a lovely jaunt to Colville’s surrounding villages. The Saxon Church of Breedon, a flea market straight out of “Bargain Hunt”, a stately home (‘private property’) with a fabulous chapel outside which I was photographed, a huge stately-home garden centre … and while we were there, guess what?, the snow came tumbling down! Ah! The British climate…
And then it was Monday, and time to venture forth.
I must say things did not begin well.
The taxi turned up on time, and the largest female taxiperson I have ever seen drove me promptly and reasonably to East Midlands Airport. So far so good. The taxi, that is. Not East Midlands airport. EMA – although undoubtedly useful -- is unpleasant and chaotic. Things are doubtless not helped by the fact that it is undergoing some sort of alteration or extension or improvement, but that doesn’t alter its lack of appeal. Checking in was easy enough, but then began the chaos. A line of hundreds and hundreds of folk stacked up, almost right back to check in, undergoing ‘security checks’. First came a severely intellectually limited bloke of dubious colour who was in charge of winkling out and disposing of liquids Well, not ALL liquids, just ones that wouldn’t cause too much upheaval. My Listerine was dumped, but the ladies around me were not deprived of their perfumes and other cosmetics. Imagine the hassle? Next time I shall simply lie and say my Listerine is green perfume.
Having negotiated that point by wriggling through the coven of disarrayed women apparently all trying to prove at once that their Chanel no 5 was not a bomb, one came to the next hurdle. The good, simple old Xray machine. Simple? Oh no. Jacket off, shoes off, hand luggage (neatly packed originally) explored, laptop leaped upon and re-scanned separately (I wonder what they expected to find that they didn’t find first time) .. I also wonder how many international terrorists travel between Nottingham and St Helier each day…
But it gets worse. EMA is not really an airport. It is actually a shopping mall from which planes fly in and out. The video screens don’t give you a gate number (even though you are told that if you are not where you are supposed to be 30 mins before the flight, you cannot fly), they exhort you instead – alongside your flight number – to “go and shop”. They encourage such an activity, also, by providing decidedly few seats for those who wish to fly rather than shop. I found a nasty canvas chair and sat in it firmly until (less than 30mins before the flight) a gate number finally replaced the advertising. Needless to say, the 30 mins rule was utterly dishonoured anyway.
The British Midlands flight itself was not a joy either. It was a no-frills job. Fair enough. Anything other than your few square inches of seat, you pay for. Everything from baggae to refreshments. I think a cup of tea (bag plus hot water) was a pound. Of course, I didn’t partake. To the extent of travelling with a tiny cabin bag only. I was also seated next a 3-4 year old child, whose black boots kept walloping into my beige trousers. And my legs. Mother of course glared at me as if I had no right to be there. Happily, the journey only takes about an hour, but by its end I was already becoming convinced that travel was not my scene.
At Jersey airport I was booked on a shuttle ‘Tantivy Blue Coaches’. Since I had hand-luggage only, I got there swiftly. And then had to wait for the rest of the folk. But I was surprisingly calm. After all, what was there to hurry for?
Not very much, I soon decided, as the bus wandered on its way, in gusting biting wind and under stormy grey skies (‘it was beautiful here last week’), from the airport to the coast and the various hotels at which its passengers were booked,. Disappointment washed through me. This wasn’t what I’d expected. I’d expected a mixture of Hove and Menton. Elegance. Old-fashioned seaside town stuff of the rather classy variety. This seemed more like Imperia or Southsea. The odd nice building, nicely kept, but mostly .. well .. not. More like the bad bit of Cagnes sur mer circa 1970.
Being the hardy one, who wasn’t staying in the more usual and central tourist hotels, but some way beyond St Helier, I got quite a tour… eventually along the seaside. But the tide was out – and boy, does it go out! Mapua mudflats are nowhere! So the view was scarcely picturesque. Then, suddenly, before I’d expected it, we were at Rue de Samares and the Rocqueberg-view Guest House. It didn’t look anything like the pictures… but the sign said “No Vacancies”? It turned out there were No Vacancies because (as I knew) they weren’t officially open. Myself and apparently one other gentleman were the only guests this week, as the ‘redecoration’ wasn’t quite finished. That was clear. You could smell the newness of the carpet. Also you could see it. It is bright crimson with little yellow fleurs de lys. And the boxes containing the new blinds stood on the landings. But never mind, I was by this time actively if with limited success trying to get myself into a more positive frame of mind. I was, I determined, going to like everything. Even if I didn’t.
I am in number nine on the third floor. It doesn’t have a view of the Rocque or the Berg (which I have failed anyhow so far to discover), it looks out on a field of unidentified green fodder and four grey tower blocks which look like some kind of prison, but are apparently council flats. This set of 1970s blocks disfigures the whole St Helier/St Clements panorama and is loathed by the locals, I have since discovered.
But, all efforts apart, I still wasn’t liking anything, so I thought I’d best get up and out and wander into town and find the places – my bank and the Opera House – which were my destinations for the morrow. And, in spite of the inclement skies and howling winds, I and my camera duly set forth.
First discovery, the Green Island Resturant, on the beach just down the road. It calls itself the Southernmost Restaurant in the British Isles, and it probably is. Horrid ‘schoolboy’ plastic chairs, everywhere an aura of ‘cheapness’ .. except on the menu which sounds rather better than the place looks. For the prices it would have to be. But I shall give it a try.
Next, off down the seaside road to St Helier. The grey skies are quite fun actually, they make much better photos than plain blue. I may get some interesting snaps. (I did). The tide is still out, but there are some nice old seaside houses and seaside installations.. a lighthouse or two .. and a crossroad. Damn. I thought it was just a straight line from Guest House to destinations. One sign says Town Centre, the other says something I’ve not heard of but it looks like a nice road. I take it. It is nice. The nicest bit of town I’ve yet seen. Lovely big old or mock-old hotels and apartment blocks.. so I keep going until I end up on top of a hill.. The Hill. There is only one. And beyond, a port. Why didn’t I get a map? Town Centre.. do I go on or back? I chicken out and (wrongly) turn back…
But something over an hour into my journey I finally arrive somewhere in St Helier town centre. Only its about ten times bigger than I expected. Its not a town, its just about a city. I dive in. Ten minutes later I am totally lost. Every time I see something that looks like a theatre it turns out to be a Weslyan Chapel or a pub.
When in doubt, ask a librarian. I dive into the public library where I get cheerful, first-class service, a street map and directions.. and suddenly I am feeling better. The town centre is really rather lovely, and I’m not lost any more.
And so, finally, about 90 mins after leaving Rocqueberg, I am standing in front of the Standard Chartered Bank. I shall go in and make my time with the secretary to see my bank manager tomorrow morning. But no! Mlle Vibert comes out of her ‘meeting’ and comes downstairs to greet me in person. And mon Dieu! She is charming. And stunning. How many people have a bank manager who looks like Piper Lauri? We shall do business tomorrow at 10.30m. Gives me time to walk in after 8.30 breakfast (Rocqueberg-view not being officially ‘open’ a late breakfast is all one can have). Now I am definitely feeling better. One part of this adventure is gong to be OK.
Next stop the Opera House. Built 1900. But rather attractive and solid. (Restored 1985 I later discover). And there are the posters for THE UNEXPECTED GUEST with my friend Mark in the cast…
Mission accomplished. 10.30 tomorrow at the bank, 1pm at the Opera House (which is only a few streets away) for lunch with Mark… two missions accomplished.
Well, I had better wend home by the Easiest Way, so that I know which way to come in in the morning. And now I discover that I am on the other side of the hill. How did that happen? How do I get back? Rule of thumb, follow the biggest visible stream of traffic. So I pass through Liberation Square (museum, wonderful old Southampton Hotel, the place where some local chaps did a Barbara Frietchie with a flag on free-of-Germans day, the harbour with all the boats stranded by the exaggerated tide..) and .. oh shades of my childhood in Wellington, NZ .. you can negotiate the hill by a tunnel! I plunge in, plunge through (peugh! What a smell!) and at the other end join up with my in-road of a couple of hours earlier..
With much spring in my step I head homewards but alas, within a few minutes the sky turns violently from watery sun to black, and, almost without warning, volleys of hailstones are pounding down on my number one haircut. I press on (what else can one do?) and .. . salvation! As I hit the seaside road, there is an inn. It is clearly meant for me. It is called “White Horse Inn”. So, the time of a pint of Guinness (what else) I take shelter from the storm, which goes as suddenly as it came, before heading back to Rocqueberg now in a very different frame of mind to that of the early afternoon.
A nice hot shower, a couple of whiskies, dinner at the Green Island and then back to my room to do The Diary.
The best laid plans…???
The Green Island Resturant, it appears, doesn’t open on Mondays. There doesn’t seem to be any other restaurant in the vicinity so I pop into the local Corner Store. It has nice fresh bread rolls, Jersey cheddar, some reasonable looking cold meats and – hurrah! – a half bottle of Bells. It will be dinner a la maison.
The hot shower didn’t happen. Neither did the diary. Just the whisky and the dinner, whilst I gazed amazed at a lobotomised British TV quiz programme. Goodness, how low we have sunk quizzically since such classics as “It’s in the Bag” and “Number Please” and the days when I, aged 14, supplied questions for radio quiz shows. Nowadays its alternative choice answers (they still got them wrong) to questions a 5 year old of my generation could have answered. I particularly liked the lady who declared than Johannn S Bach stood for Johann Strauss Bach. But the questions aren’t the nitty gritty of THE WEAKEST LINK. The nitty gritty is that the contestants every minute or so get to vote someone out of the game. So its just the umpteenth of those dull, negative shows for a dull, negative age which infest the kind of TV I don’t watch. Except in guesthouse rooms with no Trackside. . The Weakest Link? Easy. Its in the brain of the person who invented the show.
The combination of my walking (3 hours plus), the weather, my earlier frustrations, the whisky and the Weakest Link, not to mention an extraordinarily comfy bed, resulted in a ‘lights out’ at 8.30pm and a sound sleep till 4am. Wonderful!
Continued: 7.20pm 21st March
I really did intend to start on the Diary at 4am. But the bed wouldn’t let me. So I just lay here looking at my room and thinking how silly I had been the previous day. ‘Blackpool boarding house 1960s’ I’d self-muttered in my downer mood ‘when I wanted Hove or Sandown’. Well, yes, if you want to look at it that way, it is. But I don’t know of man, nay any, Blackpool boarding houses as neat, colourful, practical and comfortable at Rocqueberg-view.
My room is under eaves. Nice. It has the whiz double bed already referred to, a big wardrobe, a vast dressing table, 4 mirrors (a little unnerving), a tiny TV, tea making equipment, a very pretty vase full of fresh flowers, 2 armchairs, 14 drawers, and a separate bathroom with a new white suite, a power shower to die for (Triton Shower Pump, I wonder if one can get them in New Zealand), and brand new tiled redecoration ... in pink. Apart from the shower curtain which is primrose yellow with a big frill. The colour scheme throughout would not meet, I fear, with the approval of the Living Channel pundits – eg the dominant colours of the bedroom are pink and . orange! But, you see, Rocqueberg-view oozes with the personality of its owner: a delightful, jolly creole (?) lady by the name of Lucille.
Lucille gave me a breakfast of first-class bacon and egg, toast and jam, orange juice and coffee at 8.30am this morning (Tuesday), and she even loaned me her umbrella to venture forth into more rain, more winds, and more hailstorms on the 40 minute walk to my appointments. Tomorrow at breakfast I have to confess to he that I owe her an umbrella. The wind turned it inside out when I was just yards from my destination. Alas, the wind seems to be Jersey’s biggest disadvantage. Even to a man born in Wellington, NZ, ‘the home of all the winds’, it seems a champion in that league.
So on to Tuesday.
No photos on my walk to town today. Just a struggle with the brolly and the brief but regular flurries of rain, wind and hail that perforated my way. Needless to say, I arrived horribly early, but the kind receptionist, Heather, settled me down with coffee, the TIMES and a warm corner until my appointment was due. All went splendidly .. the low point of the morning was when I pulled out my computer and its gizmo, to get some serious banker’s help in doing my First Ever Australian Bank Transfer (Rosmarino’s Child Support dues) by Internet, and it said “no reception”!
Well, by the time my business was done, I was still an hour early to meet Mark so I popped into a local computer shop and shyly (?) asked a young man with studs in most parts of his visible anatomy whether he would give me five minutes to tell me whether (a) I was faulty (b) the gizmo was faulty (c) Jersey was faulty or (d) whatever. He was actually quite fascinated at his first view of an Apple Mac, so he didn’t mind at all, and quickly analysed that it was (d). My bedroom and the bank, it appears were not ‘Wi Hi’ hot spots. His shop was. I had 100 degrees of reception. Dammit why didn’t I get him to download my mail!
And so on to the Opera House stage door (early again!) and my rendezvous – oh lord, how may years on? apparently only eight … with our beloved Markie Wynter. Well! That man surely has a picture in the attic. He is three years older than I, and anyone seeing us together .. oh dear. He has all his hair, all his teeth, and is as handsome now as he was half a century ago when he was Britain’s favourite teenage singing heartthrob. And what’s more, in a theatre business which is dying from the waist down, he is still up there on the posters in big letters, still working .. Ian (who was his agent for most of his career, and whose favourite client of forever he was) would be proud of him..
We lunched and we talked, we walked (unsuccessfully to try to re-find my computer shop) and talked some more, we stopped for a bit and I showed him on my magic Macbook the photos of Ian and Gerolstein and the horses and the kitties and Wendy (he was particularly keen to see Wendy, the old reprobate!), then we stopped for coffee and talked some more, and from the coffee shop Mark rang old friend Chris Molloy, with whom I lost touch decades ago, and we reconnected .. . until suddenly it was five o’clock. We’d talked for over four hours.
Moment out re the coffee shop. I was, by now, totally reconciled to Jersey and everything about it. My grumpy first impressions were all out the window.
Having explored the heart of St Helier and met some of its people, I am wholly converted. But the Curiosity Coffee Shop is something else. Something special. For the price of a cup of coffee (and Markie had a piece of rich chocolate cake.. how does he DO it!), you have the right to a selection of adorable squdgy couches, newspapers, paperbacks, WiHi connection and no hassle no matter how long you stay .. our bill was a fiver, and we sat there for an hour .. it is sophistication on plate. Better even than a Vienna coffee house. If ever you visit St Helier, the Curiosity Coffee Shop is a total must.
It did, anyway, give me the courage to start the 40 mins tramp back to Rocqueberg. The hail and rain had ceased, but the sea was still grey and foamy, and the winds cutting and cold, and I discovered quickly that strolling and talking can be just as wearing as determined walking. I was very weary. I strode firmly past the White Horse Inn, determined not to weaken, and I made it ‘home’ at 5.45. I wasn’t quite ready to admit to Lucille about the umbrella, so I snuck upstairs ready for a shower, the Diary, and (given some dubious word of mouth on the standards of hygiene at the Green Island Restaurant) the rest of last night’s bread, cheese and cold meats (not to mention a drop of whisky…) before going downstairs to try my gizmo in the lounge.
For the second night in succession, I didn’t make it. Not the shower, not the royal blue lounge with its barrage of hi-fis and TVs. But I did make a wee nap, a little supper and I HAVE done the diary…
And now its 8pm, and I reckon I may beat even last night’s record for early to bed!
Why not? Tomorrow I’ll get my bacon (superb) and one egg, toast and butter (no marg!), orange juice and coffee at 8.30am, and then – weather more or less permitting – I set out, in my starting-to-suffer Hannah’s of Rangiora slip-ons, on the long coastal road that leads to Gorey and to Mont Orgeuil (‘closed weekdays’). Back earlyish, though, for come evening I’m going out to dinner with two lovely banker ladies (haha! Wynter .. you will be on stage!) in a French bistro along the coast. Then Thursday I am back in town for a visit to the Jersey Archives and to see Mark’s play…
The way things are going I shall need a stretcher to take me to the airplane..
I haven’t walked 4 and 5 hours a day since I was a stripling!
Verdict so far.
I shall be back.
But for now (8pm). Lights out.
Wednesday 21st March 4.30pm
Well! Well!! Well!!!
As Joe Orton famously remarked on a totally different kind of occasion.
What a difference a turn can make.
When you come out of the dearly beloved Rocqueberg-view (Yes, I’ve even started to be fond of the pink tiles, if not yet the shower curtain) you swiftly arrive at a cross road. Straight ahead, in 50 metres, you hit the Green Island Restaurant, the sea wall, rocks, mudflats and the ummm beach. Turn right, and you are on the way that I’ve followed the past two days, along the seafront to the tunnel and the big city. But today I turned left. And guess what! The Jersey I’d imagined, the Jersey that is by Menton out of Hove, by Italian Riviera out of Victorian Britain. and so forth? It exists all right. But you have to go to the east coast to find it. And the east coast was my trip for today.
I was in fine fettle after my vast sleep, devoured a whole extra slice of toast and honey at breakfast, and even found the courage to confess about the umbrella. After which we all had a go at trying to make the Internet gizmo work, but without joy. The folk here, it eventuated, knew even less about the whole thing than I, and the advertisement had been, shall we say, a tad premature. Never mind, it just means that you won’t get this screed in pieces but in one vast Jersey chunk, when I get back to Coalville and the living web.
So, a little before 9.30am, I hit the road, and almost instantly a different degree of civilisation was evident. Pretty houses, big properties with fine grounds .. and after just a few metres query number one was answered. The Rocqueberg? The famous Jersey mountain of myth around which the historical witches danced and lured silly Hubert (almost) to his doom? That rocky protuberance that I’d (not unreasonably) expected to see from my bedroom window? I found it. I’m pretty sure it was never visible from Rue de Samares. Not even with a telescope. It’s actually in someone’s private seaside garden, set in a grassy circle enclosed by the loop of a circular driveway. It wouldn’t have taken too many witches to make a witchy ring around it. About half a dozen-hand-to-hand. A berg? Its more the size of .. of .. well, it wouldn’t tower over my Elena!
Anyway, I’ve seen it, I’ve photographed it, and I really think Jersey needs to do something more impressive about one of its most publicised legends cum tourist-items.
My next encounter was with a man in a yellow council workman’s parka. He was coming up the first slipway down to the beach and didn’t look very busy. When he walked past me, I got to read the back of his parka. FOOTPATH REPAIRER. That man has an absolute sinecure. For as I was to discover as I wended my way along several miles of barely-wide-enough-for-two-cars road through the very attractive area of La Roque, Jersey doesn’t actually have regular footpaths. Occasionally you get a bit of 18 inches wide catwalk which runs a hundred metres or more along one side of the road, then the other, before vanishing and leaving you to squeeze yourself against walls and into driveways as the traffic hurtles by. But that’s all.
Actually ‘hurtles’ isn’t quite fair. The speed limit in Jersey is 30mph, with an occasional relaxation into 40. I’m told people stick to it, on pain of frightful fines, but at close quarters I can tell you it certainly doesn’t seem like it.
The walk along this perilous road was nevertheless pleasant and occasionally interesting. I, of course, loved the big old houses and I also cocked an eye at a whole series of Martello Towers which were apparently built along the water’s edge by Napoleon. Now what was he doing here? He doesn’t seem to have used them for long, if ever, for several of them have been hijacked and built into the fabric of C19th homes. Imagine having a Napoleonic Martello Tower in your living room!
Most of the time, my road didn’t run along the seashore. Not the present day seashore anyway. I was two sometimes three houses back from the water. And yet, the mostly less pretentious C19th houses on the inside of the road often had names like Beach View, Sea View, Stella Mare and so forth. They certainly have not an iota of a view of the water now. So I assume that the big houses on the other side – which look about the same age, mostly -- have poached the ‘back beach’ at some stage and crowded the little fellows back into the second or third row. I wonder if I’m right.
Still most of the additions and alterations to the housing stock were tasteful and pleasing.. until…
I arrived at a place named Grouville. Scraggy and horrid. A modern excrescence and a tatty shop. And the whole of the seaside area a mess of bramble, gorse and other unpleasant species. Why? I wondered. You actually can’t miss the answer. A big, vulgar grey statue of a man waving a stick in the air announces that this is The Royal Jersey Golf Club. Royal, indeed. Maybe the queen will send one of her gardeners to clean up the gorse and the brambles. An eyesore.
I plunged on eagerly, because by now my goal was clearly in sight in front of me: the famous castle of Mont Orgeuil perched on its crag above the sea. What took longer to come into sight was the port of Gorey which lies beneath the castle.
It took just one look. YES. If I am coming to spend a bit of time in Jersey, this is it. This is where I‘m coming. Its like a little French C19th fishing village with the added spice of that magnificent ruin plonked on top of it like an ice-cream topping.
The castle, which is sometimes open and houses all sorts of ‘exhibitions’ (entrance: 9 pounds!) was closed, because the season doesn’t begin till 1 April, but apart from a glance of general admiration I wasn’t that interested in the castle. I’ve seen a good few of them in my time. But I was interested in Gorey. Along the waterfront, three pretty hotels, several bistros, a wine merchant, a lady making fresh crab bisque, a French clothes shop (why?), a couple (just a couple) of effortful touristy shops selling ‘Jersey Pearls’ and ‘Gold Jewellery’. A pretty good mix. One could eat somewhere different each night of the week. Since there seems to be no provisions store, one would be obliged to eat somewhere ever night of the week!
But this is just Gorey Port. Around the corner is Gorey village. So I set off to investigate. Typically, I did it the hard way. I clambered up the steep rise past the small not-so-nice part of town (a tatty One Pound Shop, some little houses vaguely ‘under repair’ etc) to the not very ancient Gouray (sic) Church high above the harbour. And what do you know, it was open. It is nice, but I suspect rebuilt during the grey concrete era, and in no way lovely. Still, I signed the visitors book (‘New Zealand’) complimentarily before moving on. Opposite the church a winding stair led back down to Gorey Village.
Gorey village is really nice. It’s not beautiful, but it has no ugly bits that I noticed. And it’s not a monument, it’s a working village with 10 or 12 shops that sell all the necessities of life. Even if not very many of them. It is a place where one could spend time very happily, even though it has none of the romantic charm of the Port. As an adjunct of the port (10 mins walk away) it would do very nicely indeed.
I doubled back for a second look at Gorey Port and, yes, I like it. I like it a lot. I liked it enough that I even went into the prettiest (and lowest rated!) hotel to ask about rates and Internet availability. Oh dear. Mr Teixeria (sic) is Portuguese – as I now discover a number of the inhabitants are -- not speaking much English or French (which can’t be good for business). When I asked to see the rooms and the tariff list, he shoved a brochure in my hand and pointed to a picture. When I asked about Internet he lied unconvincingly. And I could see a mess of broken furniture shoved in a back room…A shame. Even at 26 pounds a night I will seemingly not be writing my Jersey book at the pretty pink Hotel Seascale.
Never mind. Gorey is top of the pack so far. But there’s a long way and a lot of places to go yet…
Having been mildly disappointed at seeing so many back doors and very little seaside on the trip out, I decided on a radical re-route for the homeward leg. The map showed a wide yellow beach reaching all the way from Gorey to La Roque. I could walk on the sand, and apart from anything else, avoid gruesome Grouville and its grey giant.
I suppose you really shouldn’t trust the colours on maps. I mean all those British Empire countries weren’t tinted pink when you got there. But you forget. Anyway, the Plage de Grouville (argh!) isn’t yellow, it’s grey. Very grey. Grey sand, grey pebbles, grey other stuff. Only the smelly seaweed is brown (At least, I think the smell comes from the seaweed). It is also, even at almost low tide, very wet. I don’t understand why it is wet, but from under the sea wall and its supporting rocks flow little spreading streams which look as if they are evacuating the ground water of the entire island. Occasionally, too, there is a rocky pipeline with a metal hatch from which a larger amount of water flows. I think it is water. Anyway, the result isn’t very aesthetic. The beach is much better-looking from a distance than close up. But it’s all right to walk on. Fairly solid. You just have to skip and hop over the larger streams of water. It gets rather like a game of hopscotch.
What it does do is (a) get one from Gorey to La Roque more quickly than the road and (b) allow you to see the mansions and other buildings which have hijacked the front stalls which were once the privilege of ‘Beach View’ and its like.
Strangely, an awful lot of them – having got the front stalls seats - have built fences and walls on their sea frontage which look as if they would almost completely block out the sea view! Only when La Roque heaves into view do you get some fine homes with genuine seaside view and access. Odd.
Anyway, my hopscotch talents proved equal to the occasion, as I progressed south counting Martello Towers as I went. For after the final Tower (‘Chateau La Roque’) the beach on the map turned from yellow to grey, and that seemed ominous. But when I reached the slipway alongside that last tower, there was another man in a yellow parka. ‘Do I need to exit the beach here?’ I asked, ‘or can I get all the way round without being a rock climber?’ He scoffed largely at the idea of my exiting, so I ploughed on. But soon the rivulets were running not between patches of sand but a maze of rocks, and from what I could see ahead it got progressively more perilous. So finally, when a little (private?) stone slipway appeared, I decided on discretion and clambered up it to the garden of a dear wee cottage and just a metre or two away .. the main road!
The rocks, sand and water had not been kind to the Hannah’s slip-ons, nor had they been kind to my feet. Once back on tarmac the familiar burning feeling, the familiar ache in the bunion joint of the left big toe, weighed in heftily. The last stretch home was going to be tough. But I knew that somewhere along this road was the La Hocq Inn. And I knew I’d thoroughly earned my daily pint of Guinness.
I had been just on five hours on the road when I limped into the newly refurbished bar at La Hocq. A big plasma screen was playing the tale of some oil-rig disaster in America, the barman was deep into his laptop and the one decidedly weird customer (long hair and glasses affixed to said hair by a thick rubber band of a strap) was glued to a can of beer and the disaster. It was not the White Horse Inn of fond memory. I wolfed my Guinness, and set off on the short last lap to Rocqueberg.
Never was the famous comfortable bed more welcome! An hour’s feet-up, a shower and some fresh clothes (not many left in the wee red hand-luggage only bag!) and I was all ready for my evening out. An evening out! How long is it since I last went out to a restaurant with new friends? How long is it – give or take an Addington race meeting and my dinners with John at Coalville - that I went anywhere at night? Ah well, this is the new life..
Anne-Marie (who is naturally not Mlle but Mme, and the mother of two) picked me up and we headed back towards Gorey and a charming little eating place called La Poste (apparently it once was indeed a post office) where we were met by her colleague Alison. It was a delightful evening. It seems I have not totally lost my will to socialise after all. OK, OK, I know you all SAID I would be all right, but…..
I dined on asparagus and mussels - very New Zealand! And the wine, you will not believe it, just 9 miles from France as the seagull flies, was South Australian shiraz. And very nice too. Although as the evening flowed on, I think I probably took a little more of it than usual. But, hey, I was having a Good Time!
So, by the time I made my bed it was – for the first and only time during my stay in Jersey -- somewhat later than 8.30pm!
This meant, of course, no 4am rising. But I was up and raring to go in time for my breakfast, and out on the grey, wet road to St Helier – a route and weather now somewhat familiar! – by 9am. Today, however, I had a variation in my way, for I was heading to a new part of town, to the Jersey Archives. We had passed them on the bus from the Airport, so I knew what I was looking for and I was there, already, by half past the hour. My notorious bump of location is, with the help of a fine town map!, improving jut a little.
Why the Archives? Well, my new maybe-book is VICTORIAN VOCALISTS, and two of the featured vocalists therein were born in Jersey. On dates unspecified. The IGI hasn’t got round to Jersey it seems, for I could find no mention of them there or anywhere else on the web, but I wondered if perhaps the parish registers of 1820s St Saviour might be nestling somewhere amongst the local archives. Perhaps – big perhaps – a morning’s work might even turn up a birth date?
I explained my mission to Michelle, the lady in charge of the records, and – o miracle - ten minutes later I was in possession of not only all the details I could have wished for, but a number of other juicy fragments as well.
Just to top things off, it turned out that Michelle was from Gorey, so I asked her if such a thing as 2rms, k&b, sea view and obligatory Internet access even existed in the port and/or village. And if so could it be rented by the month. Well, give or take the Internet bit, which is going to be the contract breaker in many places, I fear, it apparently does, although, she confided, it is rather expensive. Like, how much? 700 pounds a month. I grinned. Inside budget!! So when I get back to the web I shall start exploring Gorey ‘to lets’. Who knows…. If the Internet is there, it’s a possible next summer..
Having achieved my genealogical aims in about 3 hours and 50mins less than I’d expected, I had an awful lot of time up my sleeve so I decided to return to the helpful library. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be only a few streets away. Once you get that Hill out of the way, the various bits of St Helier all seem to join up quite nicely.
Jersey Library is an immaculate modern building, everything neat and tidy and well-organised, everyone really helpful. They don’t seem to have a vast number of books, but then again I suppose there isn’t a vast population. They had, I noted disapprovingly, only one Gänzl. I suppose not surprisingly, it was ASPECTS OF LOVE. Bought rather, I fear, for Lloyd Webber than Gänzl!
The Local History department went to work on digging up any traces of my several Jersey born and sometime Jersey based singers, whilst I sat down at a microfilm reader with the usual screeds of old newspapers. Alas, the English papers go back only to 1845, and the earlier French ones were devoted to politics, law and commerce rather than music, so I didn’t find much. And the librarians alas found nothing. But I spent a pleasant morning, and after my Big Hit at the Archives .. well, the morning had been a decided success.
Next stop, the opera house and my (very) old friend, Bill Kenwright’s production of Agatha Christie’s THE UNEXPECTED GUEST with a genuine ‘all star cast’. I have to admit, however, that apart from Mark the only names that meant anything much to me were Simon McCorkindale in the title role, and Virginia Stride as the elderly lady of the piece. I am a little out of date, out of touch, also have never watched EAST ENDERS and the ilk. Anyway, the play is a clever one (my first ever view of an Aggie on stage, though I have read many), everybody was adept, some very good indeed in what were really rather two-dimensional characters – the plot, as always in Aggie, is the thing -- and only one thing got my critical juices going. For once a critic always a critic. The play, Mark later told me, is set in 1957. Yet the leading lady opened proceedings in a gown and a manner which howled ‘Joan Crawford circa 1935’, while the leading man, when he appeared soon after, was palpably in another era. Sartorially and above all stylewise. Something like 1970s? So the mix was, to say the least, odd and a little uncomfortable. I suspect that the star was giving his ‘act as known’ so as not to disappoint those familiar with him in what is apparently a well-known current TV character. Sigh. Such is the star system.
Markie, needless to say, was spot on, although I had to suspend my personal disbelief at ‘my friend Mark’ suddenly becoming this Home Counties Liberal Parliamentary candidate! He made me do it, though, he made me forget it was Mark and just think of him as Major General Julian, and that ain’t easy. Have you ever seen a close friend in a theatrical role? You’ll know what I mean!
PS For the record may I say that, being familiar with Miss Christie’s technique, I picked the murderer, the motive and the means. So there!
After the play Mark and I were to have just a quick coffee together, so that I could get on the road before dark. But we talked, and we had dinner (haddock fish cakes and chips – vg – at a restaurant run by a man named Kurt) instead of coffee. And darkness fell as we talked some more.. so when I finally hit the road at a quarter before seven, it was severely night. But St Helier and St Clement are better at street lighting than they are at footpaths. Every metre of my waterfront way from the Opera House to Rue de Samares was beautifully lit, so that walk home (down to 35 mins now) instead of being a worry turned into a delightful view of Jersey by light and night. And, goodness, that funny old iron construction at La Greve d’Azette that I’d walked past each day? .. it turned out to be a working lighthouse!
And the day turned out to be just like the others. I blame the bed. I was in the arms of Morpheus by 8pm.
It’s my last day. I thought that, after packing my mini-bag and breakfasting, I might do just a little local walk, but it’s greyer and damper than ever, so I think I’m going to just make myself comfortable in my wonderful little room – not difficult, it is just so amazingly user-friendly! - until 1.30pm when the blue bus comes to pick me up.
Ah well. End of chapter one. And, all in all, a fine chapter. The weather could have been kinder, but what the heck, I suspect I am going to have frequent chances in the future to see Jersey in the sun.
Gorey? Maybe. Possibly. Probably. Sigh: I wish I could pick this room up and transport it to Le Port Gorey .. but maybe it exists there anyway. One can hope.
So, back to Coalville and a serious washing and ironing session to prepare my rained and hailed-upon ‘wardrobe’ (which is of a size to fit, with all my computer and camera equipment, inside Mum’s red canvas China Discovery cabin-luggage bag) for the next adventure … Amsterdam.
Once again, its not a wholly ‘out on a limb’ adventure. Jersey was made easy and happy for me by friends – (very) old friend Mark, new friend Anne-Marie, not to forget the charming people here at the guesthouse -- Amsterdam will be the same. Old (not very) friend Kevin, new friend Bert-Jan, plus .. who knows? I’m full of confidence, in spite of the fact that I have to brave EMA twice more in a week. And I have to admit that I don’t that the Hannah’s slip-ons will make it to the SS Tikeibank. But I think the budget will stretch to a replacement pair of feet at some stage.
The budget, actually, is doing OK.
These five days in Jersey seem to have cost me in total about 250 pounds ($700NZ?)
Air fare 82.00 GBP plus taxis to EMA and back 30.00 GBP
Guesthouse inc blue bus 100.00 GBP
Taxis buses and other transport in Jersey zero (with new shoes maybe to be set against this figure)
Meals, groceries, the half of whisky (8.50!) etcetera round about 40.00 GBP… (thanks to being twice taken out to dinner!)
Lets see if that balances. I had 85 pounds in my wallet when I got here. I took out 20 local pounds in the course of my lesson on How to Use a Cash machine. Total 105
I see I have 31 pounds left (15 reserved for taxi EMA-Coalville).
So I’ve spent 74. 15 on the taxi. 22 for the first meal with Mark. 12 for the blue bus. 19 I think for the whisky and groceries.
But I haven’t counted the daily pint of Guinness (4 times anywhere between 2.55 and 2.90), so my calculations are a wee bit out somewhere. Tut.
Anyway, I reckon I’ve done it well inside 300 pounds, which can’t be bad! And is definitely inside budget. A good start!
A good start in every way.
Conclusions at the end (almost) of adventure no1
(a) trust not in men in yellow parkas
(b) one bottle of Australian shiraz per evening is MAXIMUM
(c) always get a town map BEFORE you start walking
(d) a woolly hat should always be included in one’s wardrobe no matter how small said wardrobe may be
(e) buy Listerine in small bottles, as it has to be abandoned before all and any flight.
and roll on Amsterdam!
Kurt at Rocqueberg Guest House 11.40am Friday 23rd March 2007