Guernsey Spectacles

8th August 2020.

A Guernsey spectacle

On St Peter Port’s Market Square sits the Mylk kiosk. I like it there. It’s the cool haunt of early morning latte slurpers and lunchtime crêpe gobblers. At its socially distanced bench tables, each decorated with a lavender sprig, dapper-suited fiscal investors perch and swear at themselves. Saliva moistened tissues rub at cheese or bacon fat besmirching colourful ties. Grabby gulls suffer the polished and laced ‘Town’ shoes aimed at their bums.

Then there’s the kids. They clamber and shake-slop on the bronzes, the life-size donkey and foal that so divide local opinion. “Guernsey’s answer to the Statue of Liberty,” agree some. “Cute but decidedly mawkish,” grumble the curmudgeonly. Some sweetie, crochet needles to hand, has lately gifted the beasts showy neck scarves. 

Overlooking the quotidian from a position of posh prominence, Specsavers. The ‘flagship’ branch of the the Guernsey founded world phenomenon begun in 1984 on a ping-pong table in Doug and Mary Perkins spare bedroom. 

Good that it did. I needed an eye test. My old glasses pair, I deemed, unquestionably passé.

Market Square

Truth is I’ve been rubbing my peepers rather a lot over the past fortnight. Beginning on the Cobo Road. By spying a Guernsey ute. A flimsy affair but nifty. A pedal bike towed two-wheeled, metal-framed trailer contraption. Conveying a big, bright yellow surf board. 

Guernsey ute

Further reason to rub lay at Rousse. A mauled boat. Name of ‘Shark Bait’. Akin to saying “Look Jaws, a tasty fisherman”.

Shark Bait

The wowza? Trump house. The shabby end of terrace. The one with concrete mushrooms, gnomes and fauns sat behind its front railings. Okay, it was only after a rub and a further peer did I wonder if Guernsey had taken a secret ride on the back of giant sea turtle. However, the garish red and blue flags wind-snapping the words ‘Donald J. Trump. Keep America Great! 2020’ from the upper windows are real enough.

Trump house

But seriously, my plain need for an optician can be put down to much screen gazing and… well… hmm. Let’s just say across the watery trench, in Taunton, during the first game of the much shortened English cricket season, Somerset’s skipper Tom Abell fell shy of doubling my age with his match winning century.

Still, many fellas having a mid-life crisis splurge dosh on something exciting and in your face. Me? The long and the short of it is I’ve committed to a pair of varifocals. 

Stewart soft-sold the eye-watering mega-quid idea. A Specsavers pro. Pudgy work T-shirt, a lightly tattooed forearm and a fanaticism for angling. Close up and personaI I followed his finger strategic at the corner of his eye. I said it was the cosiest human propinquity I’d experienced for five months apart from with the missus. Said too that I needed to see the shrews. The local tortoiseshell mog was littering them murdered on the garden path. Becoming flat outside the flat of home.

For his part Stewart told me new glasses take three weeks. That it’d be good if a didn’t leave grease on the Gant frames. To try garfish. Although the best local eating was the ‘chancre’ crab. Which I said I was aware of and shouldn’t be confused with a genital ulcer.

Chancre crab

Especially beware lady crabs, he cautioned. Those were small, red-eyed and dangerous, and found in rock pools. Adding how chuffed he was catching spider crabs two on a line in ‘The Pool’, meaning the harbour. 

Most importantly, Stewart informed me I was driving “on the cusp”.

True by observation. Or lack of it.

Pootling home from cliff walks in dimpsey light acknowledges nights have blearily begun closing in. Sometimes, however, drawing a veil’s what’s needed. 

I hint at last evening on the high sea cliffs. Where I was stumbling upon new ground. Finding things beautific between Petit Port and Bon Port in 7 o’clock sun-drop shadow. Far, far below, rowers rowed. A coxed four. Fast. Good as Asterix and chums showing off. Smooth oars. No sign of a caught crab. Although having to squint I couldn’t swear to it. 

Distant rowers

Around my head swallows zoomed. Combatants in some ‘Powder Puff Derby’. Me, minding my own business, undecided whether the birds flitting about the scrub were sparrows or finches, ouched. First notice of a muscle tweak. When a moving blur made me jump. “Wharro! You’re not from Guernsey!” 

Conscious of the wee Somerset CCC badge pinned on my New Zealand stitched tweed patch cap, I blinked focus. Coming toward me was a slight, dapperly ironed, senior. Sporting a smart white cap he climbed the rocky and rutted dusty path, in paces no wider than two packets of choc biscuits end on end, effortlessly. An unmistakeable Guernseyman. A proper ‘donkey’. 

Here was my sixth of mixed human encounters from within the hour. Already there’d been two stoutly intrepid backpacking lasses, a gracile lady – an Edwardian ghost liking bright red lipstick – dressed in frills and lace carrying a delicate parasol, a tubby puffing jogger worthy of applause and, penultimately, the chanced upon ‘other’.

Mister Dapper came to stand beside me and focused on the sea’s horizon. The Inquisition. My mentions of having become COVID marooned, of Belfast, Tripoli, Somerset and Melbourne were sketchy in detail. “Must stick out like a sore thumb,” I quipped.

“Unavoidably so.” Blunt. Inwardly I squirmed. Had the bush telegraph broadcast history barely fledged and best forgotten?

Honest to Gawd, it’d all been quite accidental. Course it had. Made worse by me being what the missus calls “bit of a lumpacus”. Then there was the intrepid bit. The high path that disappeared through a sun-flared… fairy portal? I was hopelessly enticed. Moth-like. 

Fairy portal?

Beyond the tree arch I soon entered a shady wood. One of orange flowering montbretia and pink campion, ferns and ivy-choked sycamores  The path, cramped. To my right, nettles and an overgrown stone wall. On my left, a low, sloped bank that lipped to a steep leafy plunge. Ahead rose a stone stile, the far side of which winded the steep descending lane to Bon Port. Where a memorable rub recently confirmed a white teddy bear supervising the kayaks for hire that lie massed on the beach shingle.

The shady wood

Bon Port’s ted and kayaks

All of sudden, coming up behind and closing fast I heard a ploff-ploff-ploff. A jogger’s footfalls. There was no mistaking a big lad. Muscled and garbed like a Kiwi All Black. Full-on do-not-dare-mess tattooed. Music ear buds. Lost in his own world. Quick panic how best to avoid.

From a standing start I plumped for left. Sadly, lacking upward push, gravity triumphed. My backward topple the perfect take out. Human propinquity thudded to the dirt. The woodland silence was brief. The ensuing grabble, sweaty. 

“Hi, I’m Tyler,” rasped my new found cushion. 

“I’m sorry. Chazzer. Nice to… sit on you,” I replied, struggling to disentangle. Squishing Tyler to fart.

Upright, profuse apologies made, I fossicked in vain for a dock leaf. For my victim’s nettle stings. He said “don’t bother” but suggested I use the glasses in my shirt pocket. Regretfully retired, I sighed; assuring him varifocals were on their timely way.

We parted well met within the crammed minute.

As birds twittered again footfalls faded away down the lane. Ploff-flup-ploff-flup. The unfortunate Tyler definitely nursed a limp.

Polite chit-chat having run it’s course, me having discovered my inquisitor alarmingly well connected, the ironed fellow turned, taking his leave. “Probably bump into you again,” he said. I dodged the remark.

“Yep, sure. See you later,” I answered. Optimistic, taking Stewart at his word, patience will only be required for another two weeks. 

I had one lingering question for a certain sparrow. Which was quicker: the rowing eight or the bush telegraph? The answer might prove more divisive than statuesque donkeys.

Oh, for a cheese and bacon bap. Seemingly, a way to better fit in if lacking ink or iron. But enough for now of Guernsey spectacles. I look forward to having so much more to see. Admittedly, some things will be hard to trump in the new normal.

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/ Charles Wood.

Alpha Mail

24th July 2020.

Supermarket dog stop

A refined catch-up hub, though not all-embracing, my nearest Saint Peter Port Waitrose – the town has two – includes a convenient Guernsey Post. Ideal for a cod fillet and an Amazon return. Or merely wasp-ready apricots and a couple of lickers. On the latter’s cost, I admit, I’m inexpert.

“If you’re going for fruit and a stamp get me a stamp too,” the missus had instructed.

“In-island or wider world?” I queried.

“For Castel. Where our eggs come from.”

“In-island. Okay. Will do. Love you!”

Soon, one hand clutching apricots and an impulse buy crêpe pan, an almost ready to go letter in my other, I dithered between two socially distanced thumb-twiddlers at the Guernsey Post counter. Both were ladies. To my right the bob-haired and spectacled had the close company of a twee ‘TRAINEE’ sign. To my left permed Experience supervised not a lot. “Choose who you like,” invited the Experience. “My colleague though needs to learn what’s what.”

In-store post

Obedient to the handball, I leaned right. “How much is a stamp for across the water? To the UK?”

The newbie cribbed from a paper sheet. “68p.”

“Great. That’s for the Vaudin. How much for in-island?”

A glance at the crib sheet followed a fleetingly flummoxed frown. “Same.”

Her answer surprised me a tad. “What? It’s the same sending to the UK as in-island?” 

Doubt caused further brow-furrowing. The newbie looked for back-up. The Experience nodded. “Yep.” said the newbie, conviction restored.

“Really?”

“And it’s the same whether it’s Big Ireland or the Northern bit.” She evidently considered herself on a roll. I twigged confusion.

“Eh? Oh. No-no. I don’t mean ‘Aye-er-lund’ of the shamrock. I mean in-island. Here. On lovely Guernsey.”

“You mean, local?” butted in the Experience.

“Yes-yes, I do. Absolutely, I do.” Blooming hoop-la.

“We get this confusion with Austria and Australia,” the Experience confided.

“Surely not?” I said. “Austria’s Austria. Strayla’s Strayla!”

The newbie, looking lost in the bush, toyed with a sheet of 68s.

“So… How much is… local?” I asked, the nub finally whopped.

“50p.” said the newbie, morphing into the epitome of conviction.

Sorted. Not difficult. “I’ll have one of those, too.” I said.

The newbie hedged her bets. “Sure. Which would you like? The 64 or the 50?” 

“Think the gentleman wants both an Ariadne and an Earl of Chesterfield,” smirked the Experience, again putting her oar in.  

I can take a bow being quickly up to speed the Experience was talking pictures on stamps. But let’s put flesh on those names. Both were among the very first mail ships. Alpha mails, if you like. The younger of the two, the Ariadne, was a three-masted, splosh and puff paddle steamer, skippered by Guernseyman Jean Bazin. He was legendary for Wesleyan bible-bashing and “hastiness of temper” toward “careless and unprincipled men in his ship’s company” and “very aggravating passengers”. I quote Jean’s biographer James Crabb writing in 1838.

Naming the Earl was no more than a great big suck. Formally the Royal Charlotte, its Captain, John Wood, re-christened the oak-built cutter in honour of the day’s Postmaster General, the 5th Earl, Philip Stanhope. Who in turn was best chums with King George III, swivelled potty, the Lancet claims, by the arsenic in his preferred face-whitener cosmetic overly lathered on. Barking, the Royal later appointed his Postmaster General… Master of the Horse. It’s the Earl that’s now valued at 50p. 

Ariadne and the Earl

For the newbie, light dawned. “That’ll be one eighteen.” I offered up a pair of greenies – Guernsey £1 notes. Funnily enough each depicted the right sort of era of topic. The newbie gasped.

The Guernsey pound

“We’d prefer it if you could tap a card,” remarked the Experience over-politely. Covid. Never far from front of brain. Even on mask-free Guernsey. Switch on, fella, I rebuked myself.

On my exit, three heads swivelled beside tin water bowls. “Sorry! Just me,” I apologised. The dog stop’s wag-o-meter of hope flopped. The Yorkie and the Westie’s snouts slumped. The cavoodle, resigned to shop-dawdle-natter ‘parental’ whims, began tracking me. With growing puzzlement. Why does a doggone human stick a stamp on a written envelope, have a perfectly good blue painted Guernsey pillar box a lead’s length away, but walk off with the envelope still in hand?

To explain to a creature of dichromatic vision limited to blue and yellow that I yearned to bung my letter in a red pillar box simply for the undiluted joy of doing so, I thought pointless. So the fluffy mutt left wondering, I headed for the Vaudin. 

Which is octagonal. Cast iron Victoriana. And not quite watertight. Forged by Jersey’s Vaudin & Son. Embossed with the number 1, V.R. and the royal coat of arms, the box sits on a street corner a shortish up-along stomp from the missus and my town flat. Having been around since winter 1853 it’s the British Isles’ oldest pillar box still in use. Though, astonishingly, it fails a mention in the Guernsey Insight Guide. I checked that fact twice. And another flick through to be triple-sure. Nothing. Despite plenty on shipwrecks and cows.

Number 1

Pure Victoriana

Lead inscription

Seriously, I wouldn’t call myself a letter box nerd, but they do have something about them. Unless of course it’s the highest box in Australia. The one on the 91st floor of Melbourne’s Eureka Skydeck. There’s nowt about that red box but polluted air. 

Australia’s highest box

Eureka Tower view

This island’s top-hole glory and all that followed was the brainchild of the mover-shaker and author Anthony Trollope. Knowledge of the bush-bearded, steel-rimmed glasses wearing, cigar puffer and Vanity Fair ‘Man of the Day’ had primarily entered my noggin while sat in a FE college wind-creaky porta cabin. Me an ‘A’ level English Lit student belittling ‘The Eustace Diamonds’, as ‘F’ing TED’. Only much later it’d dawn the novel’s clever, beautiful heroine Lizzie being a pathological liar was a seminal lesson. Although I can’t recall how things turned out for her, our disenchanted lecturer happened to loose a chuckaway fact into the cabin fug. Concerning Anthony and the post box. 

Anthony Trollope c. 1873

Nigh on a full score years before TED got published Anthony was a post office worker bagging a reputation for tardiness, insubordination and worse. Owing a tenacious moneylender two hundred quid for a twelve quid tailor’s debt he skedaddled. To Paris. Where he observed “a letter-receiving pillar”. A gimmicky idea the French soon ditched. Unlike the Citroën uppy-downy hydropneumatic car suspension, my absolute bane once upon a time.

Anthony, though, sensing an opportunity for his rehabilitation, was persuasive. How? I’d love to have been a fly on the wall. Anyway, Post Office wheels got set in motion. A trial run was organised somewhere out of harm’s way. Guernsey fitted the bill. And mail ships began busying themselves.

Therefore, there was me climbing Cordier Hill steps. Up shabby Allez Street. Quickly past the blue plaque warning “BEWARE THE WILLOWS THE HOME FOR THE BIZARRE OR FRIGHTENING OR MAYBE JUST INSANE”. Then the squeeze past States Works road menders in high-vis orange toiling on ‘Island Time’. 

Cordier Hill

The Willows

‘Island time’

Beyond the workmen and their gubbins, on the corner of Union Street and Havilland Street, the pride of Guernsey Post: the immaculately preserved Vaudin behind a set of gold paint topped railings. 

On the wall behind a piece of inscribed weathered lead reads:

 Victorian Pillar Box

The British Post Office installed its earliest

roadside posting boxes in the Channel Islands

in 1852/53. This box is the oldest survivor

still in daily use in the British Isles. It has

been restored to what is believed to be the original livery of that era.

And into the venerable one hundred and sixty-seven years of history, the alpha mail that beats all comers, I launched the Ariadne.

I still have to explain to the missus the crêpe pan’s arrival is down to her mentioning eggs. First though best hand over her Earl before sharing those super-ripe apricots. Something a cavoodle having a sense of abandonment might consider acceptable.

Anyway, that’s the local news.

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

 

 

Puffery And Peregrinations

8th July 2020.

Peregrine watchers

I tap news of puffery and flights of peregrination. Spiced with a precipitous Guernsey cliff overhang. Becoming awed by a pair of young pigeon snatchers. And an Irishman, with no front teeth, shedding a tear over canned Guinness. All because of chocolate twists and custard Danish.

So I cut to the point.

As a Sarnia millipede big-notes an awful lot of legs, so this small island, particularly in its south east corner, has an awful, awful lot of steps. Of all grades. From the carefree and easy to the muscle-ouch-ow. Hence caution. In me lies the spirit of exploration and the wisdom of a newly hatched beach duckling.

The carefree and easy

Beach ducklings

Where might this wee rustic treasure lead? I ask myself. A question that, until now, rarely applied to a steep descent.

For someone who matured near the Somerset Levels, up-downy steps, beyond the humdrum, were novelties to take or leave. Okay, I have punched the air atop the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s two hundred and ninety-six. But generally speaking I tend to stick to the rambler’s foothills, apathetic to opportunity. 

Take my Aussie experience. Many Melburnians took to the Kokoda Track, Ferntree Gully’s ‘1000 Steps’. To conquer them warranted stick-yer-chest-out pride. Wiping the fact check that reveals puffery in fullest bloom. I mean, come on! If Ferntree Gully has a thousand. Guernsey has squillions. Their effect, cumulative. Seriously, it takes a certain sense of humour naming the mighty flight in central Saint Peter Port ‘Constitution Steps’. My diet says leave them be.

The unstimulating ‘1000’

The ‘Constitution’

Still, the seven hundred and seventy actuals winding up through the tree ferns and bark-shedding manna gums had ginormous pull. At pre-Covid weekends, high days and holidays the car park was crammed. Hopeful achievers belched forth, primed to sweat – akubras and bucket hats, turbans and kippahs, lycra and denim, trainers and hiking boots. Even pairs of heels sought the cardiovascular. 

My personal take? Unstimulating. In that the ‘1000’ didn’t stimulate me in any heart felt way. The jostle and budge amidst lofty eucalypt sameness I felt was excuse enough. Anyway, the wildlife was pretty Strayla textbook. The biggest ants I ever did see assaulted flaggers. Flies clouded. Squawking cockatoos scared the bejeezus. Kookaburras laughed from lichened branch perches. And, keeping tabs, nonchalant wallabies chewed grass. Something made deliciously better use of by brown and milky Guernsey cows. On whose happy home possibility abounds.

Eucalypt sameness

Kookaburra

Nonchalant wallaby…

…Guernsey cows

Yep, I’ve been proper lured. By direction of the missus, who’s affectionately taken to call me her waddling auk. Something to do, she chuckles, with how I now walk and how oft I’m a-puffin. Even at Southampton’s watery and echoey Rose Bowl, in Cricket’s behind-closed-doors First Test, England opener Dominic Sibley’s big fat duck has a lesser waddle than me. So she says. 

And, further proof of Covid-free Sarnia’s laissez-aller, the wraps are off temptations. The local Co-op bakery’s gone gung ho. The in-store individualism, that of ‘stay safe’ cellophane around each and every of my ‘comfort friends’ – the twist and the Danish – whoosh, out the window.

My tum expansion however uses the door.

Concentrate on the hill reps, is the missus’ advise. “Go challenge yourself! Make me proud!” she says.

Emotionally blackmailed and dosed with artery cleansing wild berry powder the missus has worryingly sourced from the USA, I’m doing grand, adding patina to my trusty Brasher Country Trekker Anti-shock Walking Pole. And a packet of new ferrules for it has arrived as I keyboard tap.

I’ve become a sucker for the tantalisingly dust-scuffed. Shady pathways with man-crafted steps, anciently hewn, that disappear around secret corners. On Guernsey, apathy be damned. 

A descending shady pathway

Indeed, nosiness that may lead to joys, like say a medieval breakwater or a mysterious thumb-size ladybird stone, can also have drawbacks. Namely, the obvious.

A ladybird stone

Jauntily I meander, down, down, down, obbligato birdsong filling my lugholes, past wind-bent Quasimodo holm oaks and scented wild honeysuckle, past acceptable ants and daisy-sunning flies until the point of ha, bollocks, hmm. When backtracking the way I came dawns as being, perhaps, a little too arduous. 

Scented wild honeysuckle

Daisy-sunning fly

Marble Bay: a point of ha, bollocks, hmm

Staying put consoled by a small, melted Mars bar at Marble Bay really isn’t a sensible option. So best carry on and sod the consequences. Maybe I’d alight upon a granite, marker stone carved with a couple of helpful place names and directional arrows. Maybe.

Granite way marker

But there’s no getting away from puffing up. The words about a topography necessitating “a good deal of stamina” that leap from the Guernsey Insight Guide raise self-issues. And should have been read sooner. Good thing there’re benches. Each thoughtfully placed for a breath-catch. Each bearing a dedication: “Harold Dobberstein (1950-2015) a Guernseyman at heart.” Or “Our favourite view from our favourite seat. Margaret and Paul.” The most poignant? Possibly “Remembering Les Hinchcliffe. Rest yourself, enjoy the beauty and smile, as he always did.”  

Poignant bench

Above all, the Island’s steps take the biscuit. I mean, the only way to and from Petit Port beach, for example, snickers four hundred steps. One hundred and four more than Pisa’s notorious bell-tower.

Taking the biscuit

Petit Port Bay’s 400

For further comment I lean toward yesterday. An encounter after viewing Little Good Man Andrew’s best profile. Andrew being one of six rock formations known informally as the Pea Stacks of the East. Having skylined and blowing a bit – the steep, stumble-steps effect – I found myself in a face-off. 

The Pea Stacks and stumble-steps

The Good Man Andrew

A young, wispy-moustached chapper was distracted. Entranced at his buxom girlfriend stripping-off her sweat sodden top. Nothing untoward. Simply a warm Guernsey evening on the Petit Port/Jerbourg cliff path. He held a dog lead that had reached the fullest extent of its extendable length. On the business end, a dubious husky, bright-eyed, decidedly unwaggy-tailed.

The Petit Port/Jerbourg cliff path

I coughed politely. Then did the same again louder.

“Shit. Sorry! Didn’t see you there!” called out the lad, the lass failing to hide a blush. 

“I think your dog’s dying to see the Pea Stacks,” I said for something to say. 

“She can dream on. When you go down you’ve gotta come up.” 

There you had it, straight from the Guernseyman’s mouth. The perfect summation of my Guernsey issues. Just ask my knees and calves. Better still, confer with my heaving chest.

Be it heaving or not, sudden shrill shrieks got me striding kind of quickly. Over my shoulder the husky had led the masochistic plunge for a photo op with Good Man Andrew and his associate Peas.  

Then, wow! A blur. Boomerang winged. And that shriek again. Leading to a tooth-shy bod, in leather jacket, stood on a rocky overhang, a supporting hand on knee, a Guinness can rock-wobbly at his feet. He puffed on a fag.

“Have you seen it?” I panted.

“Them. ’Tis them,” said the cliché. The accent County Antrim. “There’s two. Young uns. Brown on their uppers rather than seasoned grey… There they are, right enough!” 

I followed the line of his fag held between fingers. Peregrines. Beautiful, beautiful peregrines. Crow-sized falcons. Doing loop the loops and stoops. As a spectacle, a kookaburra laughing till blue in the face wouldn’t come close.

“I’ve walked these cliffs for years,” mused the fella. “Seen loads o’ kestrels. There’s a nest of theirs below where I’m standin’. Saw an osprey from the bunker bird-hide out along. But I’ve never before seen peregrines. Not ever. Honest to God, they’re fookin’ MAGNIFICENT!” 

Jerbourg bunker bird-hide

“Don’t think the pigeons are so chuffed,” I muttered. An unnecessary attempt at levity. A distraction from the tear in my eye that matched his. Anon I left him to his stupefaction.

It was grand to share the wonder. A wonder I’d have missed but for one too many a custard Danish. Similar the favourite haunts of Harold, Margaret, Paul and Les. Goodness, though, how my legs do ache from my peregrinations and my Brasher pole cries for a change of ferrule. The missus, however, seems delighted with her waddling auk despite him drawing the line at the ‘Constitution’.

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

 

Reluctant Travellers and Top-Knot Takeaway

22nd June, 2020.

Reluctant traveller

It’s midsummer balmy. Guernsey has joined Easter Island as a world coronavirus free rarity. And yesterday, after three long, long months, the sweaty tweed cap on my head prevented shaggy hair flopping over eyes for one last evening. Bring on tomorrow, I thought.

At St Sampson’s harbour, the Island’s second biggest, I parked Poopsie the Smart car on South Quay outside Euromarque, her garage of choice, which, although shut at that hour, gave what I hoped, for her, was reassurance. Then off I set around The Bridge.

The Bridge, St Sampson’s

My purpose was twofold: One, take iPhone snaps to WhatsApp family in Melbourne and pop those soapy bubbles of misconception the Island offers nowt but beaut beaches and poppy-fringed sandy pathways. Two, finish reading a book by a bonzer author who, when a seven year old, classmates called ‘Bassey’. Tender years in which Bassey’s pretty bigheadedness was sussed out as necessary for his super intelligence. 

St Sampson’s harbour

Poppy-fringed sandy Vale pathway

My route led into the North Side shadows of the fugly power station and to what passes as Guernsey’s industrial area before heading into the ever so characterful Vale, formerly known as Le Clos du Valle or The Vale, once an island tag on. 

However, I was drawn to a short detour. Beyond the trip hazards of anchors and winch gear that ornament a walled thumb poking into the harbour is a small patch of grass and a strikingly red painted beacon light. A fab spot to frame an evocative photo of twin imposing cranes and a hugger-mugger of hulls, masts and spars. Sparrows chirped and fussed. Gulls were themselves.

I plonked down my Tesco ‘bag for life’ carrying light evening refreshment – a bottle of diluted elderflower cordial and a brie and Romano pepper sourdough sarnie – and my kindle. I reckoned on an hour to conclude Bassey’s or rather Sebastian Faulks’ joyful Wodehouse tribute ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’. The missus had barred book and me from the bed. My belly-shake guffaws made our mattress a “gale-rocked boat” she’d grouched. Finding the peace to devour, though, was no picnic.

A joyful tribute

“Ooh, you’ve been off Island.” Spoken with mouth full, but feminine.

Backside installed on a wooden bench, her back to the power station and beacon light, a dumpy lady of lost youth, forked takeaway curry, possibly biryani, from a tray on lap to gob. The crumpled yellow dress she wore tried hiding a turmeric stain. The paper napkin tucked into her cleavage, a seasoned flop. Content beside her a sniffy, immaculately presented French bulldog crunched on a poppadum.

How meagre my sandwich seemed. The patient queue outside Nur and Umar’s ‘Indian Cottage’ harbour side eatery might could just be added to. A Dansak chaser, perhaps? An instinctive thought and bugger the gall bladder. Something did niggle, though. An overheard Waitrose snippet gossiped through a face mask in late spring. Of a foodie scandal from before the missus and my Island arrival. I googled ‘guernsey press indian cottage’. Ah. The mice infestation. In 2013. An eye-watering fine dished out. Of course.

If not Dansak, what?

My local searching cued a prompt. A pop-up ad from Copenhagen appeared on my screen. Not from the capital of Denmark but from the Guernsey bar and grill named after the first Duke of Wellington’s war horse. Temptation, temptation. I mean, good grief, this small Island has oodles of takeaway choice. Amongst which humdrum fish and chips is so… antediluvian.

But takeaway Aubergine Parmigiana and Trad Paella? Though perfectly sound in concept, after experiencing Aussie goes at both, it was sadly a case of once bitten…

Copenhagen’s surfacing did, however, kind of give to the lie Islanders simply forgive and forget.

I mean, although the Iron Duke had been Napoleon’s nemesis, the belligerent Frenchman did cause the jitters and was as worthy of his moniker the ‘Nightmare of Europe’ back then as the Covid germ is now. Just the thought of him pitching up spooked Islanders. If it hadn’t, passage to my favourite beach haunts would be proving bothersome. As would getting to Vale Pond, a watery realm occupied by reed and coot that wind-ripples below sea level, that’s worthy of my binoculars for a half hour a week.

Vale Pond

Honestly, it behoofs to mention a bigwig called Sir John Doyle, Guernsey’s English commander. Toey about Napoleon invading Sir John hedged his bets whether he would defend as a general or as an admiral. The reason for his indecision being the briny cleanly cutting Guernsey daily into a big island and a little one.

Sir John Doyle

High tide allowed sizeable boats from Vale Castle on the bigger bit, once refuge from cutlass-waggling pirates, to Vale church on the lesser bit, once sanctuary to pontificating monks. The distance between castle and church was about a mile. Along a tidal channel named The Braye. Low water meant salt pans, a myriad of pools and sodding marsh. Fine and dandy for the long-legged egret to wade across. Not so much for Sir John’s redcoats.

Guernsey c.1757 showing The Braye top right

Vale castle

Vale church c.1785

Vale church today

The sensible used the available: the single connecting bridge near the castle. Phooey to the set of seaweed-slippery stepping stones at the church end. “Dam The Braye!”, ordered Sir John plumping for landlubber.

Come 1806 the sea invaded no more. Neither at Guernsey’s top nor bottom. Where there was sea bed Sir John instructed the laying of Route Militaire, a road, musket-barrel straight, to march troops from one side of the Island to t’other in double quick time. More than two centuries later The Bridge lives on in name. Its body harbour-dam entombed.

Route Militaire today

“I can tell by the Tesco bag,” said the lady letting a few rice grains escape to freedom. “That you’ve been off Island.”

“Pardon? If you mean Vale church, the golf course, and where greenfinches keep their beady peepers on me, yep I have.” Tch. No need for me to be so flippant. Blame it on peckishness talking.

“We ‘aven’t got a Tesco’s. Never seen one. Never left the Island meself.”

Holy muck! She really was on about the blooming whole! And me intrigued reasserted politeness.

Her name, she told me, was Patty. Her Frenchie companion, Finn. Her meal, “exotic”. Never had she tasted a Brummie Balti. Actually she’d never crossed the water to the mainland. Ever. Hard to swallow. Yet I had met an old maid, in full control of her capacities, on a West Bagborough farm in the 1990s who claimed never having seen the sea despite it being a mere two miles distant over the Quantocks ridge. My disbelief back then was only tempered by her being Somerset born.

Surely, surely, surely Patty must have gone somewhere. But where? Tied up to the harbour and half hiding The Bridge was inspiration, a boat called ‘Sark Venture’.

Inspiration

“Surely you’ve been to Sark?” I queried.

“Why would I want to go there?”

A simple stumping. “Fair point.” I muttered. “Pretty sure me going there caused me PTSD.” I elaborated further: I’d only been to Sark once. As a teenager. One who got deluge-drenched. One who had to sit in fuggy hovercraft jam-packed with other desperate steaming souls waiting for the weather to clear. For time enough to maybe read ‘Birdsong’ cover to cover. No food other than three soggy ready salted crisp remnants. No drink. Pneumonia threatened.

It’s a particular nightmare I’m regularly reminded of. Every clear day Sark winks at me from behind the priory steeple as I glower out the bedroom window.

Sark winks from behind priory steeple

“And it’s got bad crime. The connétable said so in the papers,” said Patty warming to theme.

“Yeah, true that,” I affirmed, lulled in autumn last year into thinking it was selective reporting.

Chiefly, Mike, Sark’s elected connétable, basically the top cop, was outgoing. He made press headlines calling for his successors to be kitted with drink and driving testing kits and speed guns. Heads were scratched to baldness given Sark has nil cars. The population of a few hundred bods get around by horse-drawn cart, by bicycle and, as with the island’s GP, by tractor. Indeed, the largest number of complaints was about “tractor usage including out of hours”. Reassuringly use of Guernsey tractors remains stereotypical.

Stereotypical Guernsey tractor

Mike considered Sark “awash with criminals” and also requested batons and pepper sprays. Now hold that thought. The year 2018-19 saw eleven alleged assaults, four burglaries, eight “carriage usage” and five “equine” issues, one knife crime, one firearm incident, a single road rage problem, eleven incidents of folk being adjudged wasting police time, and two cases of unexploded bombs. 

And there’s drugs,” Patty whinged giving a dramatic shudder. Finn licked up the fallout.

“Guernsey has drugs too,” I riposted knowingly but merely as witness. At ‘Dope Corner’, a nook of toke, spliff and roach at the Old Laundry halfway down my street, an enterprising pedal biker routinely delivered Leb Red or Moroccan Black to waiting guys and gals, some still in their PJs, who parted with rolled-up dosh. But seemingly spoilsport rozzers are on to the happy-stashers. Just in the past few days security cameras had been stuck up.

But – and it’s a big but – lack of a Sark customs post does mean there is no way of stopping dodgy substances being smuggled. Although as someone put it: “Saturday stag parties leaving on the 6 p.m. boat and a few teenagers smoking a bit of weed hardly makes the place downtown 1980s Beirut.” Indeed, my acquaintance Robert the Builder, who’s adopted a gull that thinks itself a duck, reckons Sark the second most boring place in Britain.

Reliable whispers of Sark swingers’ parties have obviously yet to make it to the official reports. Seeing Patty flick rice towards the sparrows and wipe her chin with the back her hand I demurred mentioning something so incredibly deliciously spicy.

“Well, hmm, surely you must’ve been to Herm?” I said instead.

Patty paused her fork momentarily, and to my wonderment, conceded the fact. “I did go for a couple of hours. Can’t remember why. It was years ago. There was nothing there. My friend bought a fluffy puffin. And the ferry was horrid.”

Herm ‘nothingness’

Herm ferry

I pounced quicker than a herring gull, and just as cheap. “So… you have been off Island!”

Patty was indignant. “Herm doesn’t count. It’s like Lihou but without the causeway.”

“Which is like The Vale before Doyle dammed The Braye.”

“Eh?”

Finn hopped from the bench and went to sniff the Tesco bag. The power station chimney began to belch. Patty Frisbeed her scrap of France another poppadum. My tummy rumbled. Time for me to say my farewells and discover peace for the purposes of Jeeves and a covetous sarnie-gobble, my gall bladder kept safe as safe.

Needless to say, this morning and no longer in the dark that Bertie Wooster and Jeeves both individually got happily hitched I was down the hill and deep into St Peter Port’s cobbled, wisdom-word graffitied Old Quarter as the priory bell tinkled nine. Meaning the town’s barbers were reopening en masse for the first time since winter’s end. I aimed straight for ‘Sam’s’ whose scissors, in a street of scissors, lay closest.

Wisdom-word grafitti

Oh tardy, tardy, tardy. Despite the sign on the door saying ‘Open’ the door itself was still locked. Too desperate to faff about, on to ‘Top-Knots’. Where the door was open wide. “Come in! You want haircut? I give you good haircut.” I needed no second invitation.

A northern Thai from Mae Hong Son, Boonsri, I soon learned, had chosen barbering, of all things, over ‘smelly work’ in the family run takeaway. That word again! She had even binned her family’s offer of free board and lodging. It was another way to have sucked her in to dollop out pad see ew and tom yum goong, she’d sighed. I didn’t pry as to which local establishment she meant.

“You come from Guernsey?” Boonsri nosed as she snipped. “You don’t look Guernsey.”

Relieved, I gave a brief summary of my life travels.

“You live Melbourne five years? Ooooh. I spend three week there. Then Brisbane. Very nice places. Don’t like London. Too dirty. Bangkok too hot, too busy. Everybody in Bangkok. I like Guernsey. You come here with your wife?”

“The missus, yes.”

Boonsri slipped into concentrating on snip and buzz. Such a cooling had me feel quite light-headed when a Miss Trunchbull figure with scraggily white hair and wearing a blue cardie prowled into the shop. “He looks finished to me. Get him out that chair! I want a chop. I’ll wait outside.”

“Jessica’s from Guernsey,” Boonsri cooed, breaking silence. “She very… forceful. Have strong opinion.”

“NFG,” I said.

My barberess looked puzzled. “NFG,” I repeated. “Normal For Guernsey. Do you think you’ll stay put here? On the Island?”

“Yah. Never want to leave.”

Handing over my fifteen quid I couldn’t help but snort-chuckle. “Somebody else said the same to me only yesterday. Have a grand day!”

“You too!”

Getting across my lopped locks almost needed a running jump. But if the cap fits… “Do you mind bagging this old mop of mine as a takeaway? Greenfinches will love it. Out in Vale they’re tame as Frenchies. Human hair’s what they stuff in their nests.”

“NFG!” laughed Boonsri.

 


Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Donkey Cricket And Beach Cat

6th June 2020.

Donkey cricket

It’s Saturday. At 4.15 a.m. Saint Peter Port’s little birdies were screaming their throats out. Not the best idea, then, to have left the third-floor flat’s double-glazed bedroom windows ajar. After a futile toss and turn the missus decided on a mug of organic rooibos tea to start the day. Like Mma Precious Ramotswe. No matter where the Hell you are books can be refreshing influencers.

I went and put the kettle on. 

Breakfast mozzarella and tomato on fork halfway to my mouth, WhatsApp pinged. A night-owl friend in London. “How’s life on the donkey sanctuary? Does Guernsey feel different post lockdown?” he messaged.

How to answer? The truth, I feared, might portray me a fibber. Seriously it could.

Almost a year ago, at the Island’s King George the Fifth cricket ground (The KGV), and damn confident my eyes hadn’t deceived me, I let rip: “ZUMMERSET-LA-LA-LA!” Craig Meschede, Johannesburg born, German dad, gave a slight turn of the head, creased a grin and continued his purposeful walk to the wicket. Gee, the former Somerset all-rounder really was playing for Germany. On his Twenty20 International debut. Against Guernsey. An island still crotchety about the wartime Nazi defensive blots.

Okay, admittedly a few have been turned into enlightening RSPB birding hides, but others bloody haven’t and remain eyesores. One such lours over the Pistol Club. 

Defensive blot turned RSPB..

… birding hide

Defensive blot eyesore lours over…

… the Pistol Club

The cricket match, in the Regional Finals of 2018-19 ICC World Cup Europe Qualifier tournament, had, shall we say, a slight edge. Goes without saying Craig top scored, helping his adopted side to win by five wickets. It was a game from another age that I humbly mourn the loss of.

Craig Meschede

However, a week ago today, when the Island entered phase four of its ‘Exit from Lockdown’ guidelines, the fresh sound of leather on willow spurred enthusiastic enquiries to the Guernsey Cricket Board. From Melbourne radio no less. 

And again my cricketing juices are flowing. Postprandial restless, I thudded, with off-spin, a favourite rounded beach pebble into a sofa cushion. “Out!” said the missus, grumbly inside her dachshund print dressing gown. “Go be creative… Go photograph that flower you’ve been banging on about. Maybe poddle off for a beachcomb. Just stop being an annoying hubby here.”

Ah, that flower. That orchid. The Island’s as proud of it as Australia is of its national bloom the Golden Wattle. Course, a beachcomb is self-explanatory. But annoying? Me? I take umbrage.

Still, off I mooched as bade into the early day, Smart car key in pocket. My mental navigation set for The Vale, the parish that, if Guernsey was a clock, sits between High Noon and three.

I felt a tad self-conscious in the dewed meadow grass of L’Ancresse common so close to the road.

Hurry up, I told myself. My healthy object of focus – stump-straight stem and a lax head of purple – would in two shakes likely wilt and curl. The majority of its ilk had done so already. I squint-framed the picture, the Vale church spire tiny in the background.

“Morning! That’s… the …. Guern….sey …… Or…….chid!” A cyclist. His remark left hanging in the wake of his slip stream. No point calling after him that I sincerely hoped it was what he said it was and not just some old commoner. Rumour of it being a hybrid and Island unique was the sole reason I crouched amidst a whole muddle of blooming orchids.

Guernsey Orchid

More blooming orchids

Soon as done I followed the Smart’s bonnet. Towards the hypothetical twelve-thirty tip of the of hour hand. And the tip too that’s the Mont Cuet landfill site with its ‘Danger. Keep Out.’ signs. Which I had every intention of obeying. What need poking my schnozzle into noxious nasties, pampas cuttings and hedge trimmings, olid weeds and manky peppers? None at all is my answer.

Mont Cuet landfill

The bonnet aimed just to the landfill’s right. Where, landmarked by the leaning pre-Martello Tower Number 9, and lying between the old gunpowder house that’s Fort Pembroke and the gunky quarry that embosoms 1967’s Torrey Canyon crude, is La Jaonneuse beach. A loveliness the missus and I always find oddly deserted. Perfect for a tartan blanket on the sand and a Kindle as the setting sun sucks up the daylight. Or for an anytime beachcomb. I mean, discovering a shark egg pouch is as elating as a silly point snaffle.

Pre-Martello Tower Number 9

Fort Pembroke

The Torrey Canyon, 1967

Quarry of crude

Shark egg pouches

La Jaonneuse loveliness

On route to La Jaonneuse, hoping to perhaps glimpse a stonechat whose modest voice passes for two weeny stones being knocked together, I gently applied the brakes. 

A friendly sort in shorts plus a cocker spaniel emerged from the golf course gorse and stood patient, waiting to cross the road. Nothing tyred, neither motorised nor pedalled, was coming the other way. Nothing following me. I gestured both to cross. A grateful hiking stick was raised. Two-thirds the way the spaniel stopped. Manners. Only after a woof of thanks did it catch up with master.

Life’s about perspective.

Beachcombing along Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay I had encountered much to tickle curiosity: dogs riding boogie boards, a sunken battle ship, syringes and needles, yuckety condoms, mega jellyfish, fairy penguins, the list goes on. But never ever anything resembling the fluffy white mog wearing a blue jacket I discovered at La Jaonneuse. On a lead, supervised by a teenage girl, it sat unprotesting on wave-sprayed rocks. My comment “Pretty catfish” was met with a giggle. “Tic-tic, tic-tic,” said a stonechat.

Port Phillip Bay

A stonechat

How I salute this small island! 

And you know it’s small when the lass behind the perspex shielded CoOp till says: “Haven’t you forgotten your tomatoes? You always buy your tomatoes on a Saturday.” I mean, woah. Stood in my sodden Stretchers I thanked her for her thoughtfulness.

Honest to goodness, it’s special here. The fisherman flying the Jolly Roger in Ladies Bay is a side issue. As is the huge Bearded vulture, the rarest of birds and a never before seen feathered visitor from the Pyrenees, that caused Bailiwick crows to scramble from their tower roosts to intercept. Lacking planes, the 10-foot wingspan was the biggest ruddy menace in the sky.

Fisherman’s Jolly Roger

Crows and a gull scramble to intercept…

… the rare Bearded vulture

Most relevant is another flyer: Sooty Sid’s small son Jake’s new yellow kite. It has a puce kicking donkey motif. 

“Don’t diss donkeys,” I’ve had to remind my London friend. And too right. Ours have made Guernsey a proud world-beater.

For yonks, the donkey has been Guernsey’s mascot and the nickname for the Guernsey islander. Logical us being led by them. Those stubbornly sensible donkeys. Track and trace donkeys. Schmick donkeys. And on Wednesday the 27th May came the almighty Yay!: Guernsey, first in the British Isles having zilch active coronavirus cases.

The missus and I both took a deep, deep breath in. Such a fab feeling. We did it again. And haven’t stopped doing it. Even when snoring.

And it’s not just us benefitting. 

On the Rue de la Villiaze Sarnia’s twee Mallard Cinema is the first flicks in the British Isles enjoying a post-plague reopening. A steady trickle of the socially distanced head for ‘Trolls World Tour’.

While, this evening, a few piddly yards across our street, there’s a gathering. Legal. Welcome. The renovated town house with its front garden of orange marigolds has its balcony French windows open wide. The house chatter is Portuguese. David Bowie, audible. The five word singalong, sudden. Raucous. Accented. “SCARY MONSTERS AND SUPER CREEPS!” Laughter followed. Bottles or glasses clinked. Then back to easy-going Iberian chit-chat. I overheard Manzour the barber mentioned but not a word did I pick up about the cricket. 

But never mind.

Let Zummerset-La-La-La become Guernsey-La-La-La. Whoop-and-holler-wow, cricket’s first game of the British summer has been played. A starting pistol’s fired. At a stretch the crease of normality is a mere half bat length away. A Twenty20 featuring an Olly Tapp XI versus an Andy Cornford XI to blow away the cobwebs doesn’t quite have the kudos of the Island versus Deutschland, even when played on the same pitch, but hey!

It was pukka Donkey Cricket.

Barbarians-esque, players, each picked from amongst the many local teams, wore their club colours. Both the BBC and ITV did a report. Cameras prowled the boundary. A tidy eighty-four thousand watched the match live streamed on YouTube. Bowlers winced and rubbed at muscles. Batters snicked and snoodled. No histrionics, though. No high-fives. Not even for a fab diving catch. Merely undemonstrative, politely distanced, gentlemanly clapping. And definitely no saliva used to polish the cherry. Money raised went straight to the Covid-19 appeal. Nobody gave a hoot who won, though Andy’s bunch took that honour. With eleven balls to spare.

The buzz word doing the rounds, the one aimed getting local businesses back on their feet, is ‘Staycation’. Meaning thrive on what’s local. To stray is silly. Dangerous, actually. Having clocked our microcosmic life, the missus and I are chuffed being pretty lucky peeps.

Guernsey sunset

My WhatsApp reply to my London friend? Well, after a long day I kept it simple and, fingers crossed, believable: “Donkey sanctuary prospers, mate. Though is a tad different after lockdown… Cats head for the beach.” 

Having tapped ‘send’,  I bowled my pebble at the sofa cushion. 

“I can hear that!” called the missus.

 

Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Hamster-Beaver And Fairy Bread

21st May 2020.

Mulot and the dolmen cat

In a week that’s seen Guernsey appoint as the Bailiwick’s leading citizen its first lady Bailiff, I’m drawn to tap about the not insubstantial effort of one her predecessors.

Being bereft of a 2020 cricket season radio mumble-bumble due to the year’s obvious culprit has left me fossicking to alleviate boredom. The gurt tome ‘Guernsey Folklore’, a hazarded upon, mildewed chuck out, has done the trick. White-whiskered Sir Edgar MacCulloch, Bailiff, collated and penned it in the mid to latter 1800s. Much of the content having him maybe sweat in his Victorian ermine-trim robes.

Sir Edgar MacCulloch

The briefest dip into the book’s pages had had two disturbing morsels spring out mightier than goblin farts. The first concerned deflowering. The second, in a round about way, led to pondering whether it’s right to praise the Belgians for an unique hamster-beaver snack.

Best I explain.

Allowed blessed freedom to roam I can jostle myself out of bed each Guernsey day with a Weltanschauung of tabula rasa – my world view currently lugs zero set notions, if you will.

A new Guernsey day

Out yesterday for sun and curiosity, the missus opting instead for sofa-slump and Kindle, I passed a chap of dotage knelt on a cushion planting regimented snapdragons in his front garden. I just hoped there wouldn’t be tears. Prince Charles has urged peeps, in light of the current pandemic, to “Pick For Victory”. Such words are open to interpretation. Especially as Sir Edgar highlighted May having been Guernsey’s month of deflowering.

It’s not a good look to return to olde Sundays when the Island’s young lads and lasses “of the lower orders” would sally forth in packs on dawn raids. Their purpose, Sir Edgar fusses, was filching. Although the neat cottage gardens of the “peasantry”, he stresses, were the only target for the “large nosegays” pilfered. 

Guernsey folk of custom

Each to their own, so to speak. Course, if there were to be a resurgence of such behaviour any perisher unable to smell such ill-gotten gains would now be deemed Covid symptomatic, and worthily warrant isolation. Fingers crossed, by adding Guernsey’s effective track and trace there’d be a catch-all for any bunch of scallywag nicking Antirrhinums. Or so I surmise.

The kneeling gardener though was a mere distraction to reaching my goal: the L’Eree headland, a place of nature in the island’s west. Here views are of tranquil Lihou Island and of perhaps not so lovely Fort Saumarez, a Napoleonic era circular Martello tower with a brutish, slave-built Nazi observation tower plonked on top. 

Fort Saumarez tower highlights route to L’Eree headland

Distant Lihou Island

The headland at its best

I, however, was bent on revisiting Le Creux ès Faïes, a dolmen that in winter 2008 the BBC reported as being a portal to Fairyland. Who snitched that to the public service, I remember thinking. Was it just the name? Either way, I poo-pooed the portal gen last summer when the missus and I first moseyed by. 

I mean, sheesh, what fairies?

The dolmen’s information board had only alluded to the Megalithic tomb having been a den for shirking soldiers of George the Third. Something their commanding officer put a firm stop to. By ordering the hidey-hollow filled with rumble. Back to them manning the gun battery, a stone’s lob away, with diligence. And no excuses. The dolmen becoming a cow byre was seemingly a subsequent afterthought. Although, in fairness, at the board’s base, the missus did notice a miniature door. Faux. Of wooden appearance. Fairy sized. Our hunch? A mere mortal sense of gentle humour.

Faux fairy door

Napoleonic L’Eree gun battery

Now, thanks to Sir Edgar, I was more up to speed. For the dolmen was where a Miss Le Pelloy, seemingly a cut above the hoi polloi, told him fairy folk baked their Gâche. Which is Guernésiais for cake. A confusion in itself as Gâche is more a raisin, sultana and cherry stuffed bread. A chore to make today when Waitrose’s bakery shelves are so empty of exotics. And, if Miss Le Pelloy is to be further believed, the fairies lived cheek by jowl in the adjacent anthills. Begging the question: how did the little people keep their hands sanitary enough for baking? 

I digress.

Almost there, but holm oaks and general jungly leafdom hiding the dolmen from my view, I heard a girl shriek. “Mum! Stop that horrid cat! It’s caught something cute!”

The reply “Love, I’m busy!” was from more of a distance.

Providence! My moment to be a Sir Galahad. Melbourne had trained me. To protect the missus: a saucepan lid popped over a huntsman spider, a brushtail possum hissed at, a cockroach splattered by Birkenstock and ant armies vacuumed.

Tripping into the clearing things became clear.

Beyond a couple of prone bikes, a pre-teen lass stood rooted whilst a fidget-eyed women emerged from out the dolmen’s maw. Centre scene, the fuss. Amid a scattering of mazed ants, a huge fluff-tuff mog patted and batted a ball of fur. But what was it?

Not a mouse. Wrong shape. The size of a half-grown rat but definitely not a rat. I had a glimpse of big gnashers, titchy ears, a short tail, and a spherical bonce. A dinky hamster-beaver was the best way to describe the beastie. And it was squealing. Almost a high-pitched “Dammit! Dammit!” 

Gosh, stressful! Obsessed with the joy of play grub, the puss ignored my arrival. 

I opted for a fab cat-scare technique learned from the mother-in-law in Cologne: A loud, angry sounding “SCATZZZ! SCATZZZ!” while simultaneously stirring stumps towards the miscreant. Reaction? Flicks of an inelegant tail, a malevolent glower and a modicum of retreat. The hamster-beaver, needing no second invitation, scurry-limped into a cow parsley clump and vanished.

“You hero!” praised the mum. “That was amazing!”

I bowed twice. Then asked whether mum and sprog had heard about the fairies being anthill dwellers baking Gâche in the dolmen. I pointed at the ants. “Wanna stalk them home? I’m gonna check the tomb out for any tangible crumbs of proof.”

“C’mon love, let’s go,” said the mum, a bit abrupt. 

“Fairies? Really? Whoa!” breathed the girl.

“Sweetheart, we’re going. NOW!”

Moments later it was just me and the cat. The latter enjoying a sunny dust roll. As to fairy Gâche, well, having the whiff of fresh pee at the dolmen’s threshold caution against a thorough search, I chose to take Miss Le Pelloy at her word. Hang any evidence.

The dolmen’s maw

Hungry instead for hamster-beaver insight, back home to disturb the missus, I delved again into Sir Edgar and tapped queries into DuckDuckGo. Fascinating results got noted.

The hamster-beaver was a Guernsey vole. Which, I can vouch, is gregarious, outnumbers the Island’s humans two to one, is juicy in its uniqueness and a giant-sized twenty per cent larger than its closest cousin the European Common vole. Zoologists call it Microtus arvalis sarniensis. Island farmers, simply ‘Mulots’ (moo-lows!). Have done for yonks.

The Mulot

Beyond doubt the moniker was in common usage when a humungous plough called La Grand’ Querrue got dragged by a harnessed team of sixteen nags and six bullocks to assist the mega planting of the Guernsey favourite: the parsnip. An event a cagey Mulot surely spectated from a safe distance.

La Grand’ Querrue

So two fingers at the local rival. Guernsey has something Jersey doesn’t. And it gets better. The Mulot is to be found nowhere else in Britain. Apart from, well, hmm… I whisper a mystery worthy of Poirot: Mulot teeth and bones have been unearthed by archaeologists scuffing about Orkney. At Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar. Both neolithic. Seriously, how the deuce? Befuddlement, indeed!

A Mulot sized up                     Courtesy of Imperial College, London

Guesses are guessed. Happily, though, there’s DNA. The closest voley matches are from the coast of Belgium. Yep. Honest to goodness. Belgium. So, the boffin theory? Ancient Belgian seafaring farmer settlers, and maybe some lost ones, carried Mulots as pets … or snacks. Like waffles.

But what reason for May’s deflowering? Surely, here, the Belgians can plead innocence. Tch. I caution ‘Pick for Victory’, on this isle of the fairy portal. Certainly, gawd save every snapdragon regiment. To even raise the issue, plus gaining awareness of OTT parsnip planting, and fairy bread helping me chance upon a Mulot, I can only with good grace thank the insight of Sir Edgar’s ‘classy’ stuff. That and obviously the lack of cricket.

Bring on tomorrow. Unflinchingly, it’ll be tabula rasa.

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Pebble Stacks And Union Jacks

9th May 2020.

Pebble stackers and Union Jack

I accept rambling blesses in two ways. As a keyboard tapped lockdown catharsis. And as a neoteric means to observe nature, Union Jacks and the flag of Guernsey. Indeed, the flags are everywhere. In multitudes. As is bunting, strings upon strings of the celebratory stuff. Of course, this is as it should be. Yesterday was VE Day. Today’s the day islanders cheer Liberation. In more ways than one.

Island flags…

and bunting strings

This morning’s warm sunrise screamed “Get out!”. Good the fates allow the conditional freedom to do so. 

Therefore, Brasher walking pole in hand and a tot of dry rosé in pocket in case of shock, it was up the leafy Les Poidevins where gurt flags hang from gurt trees, passed the derelict farmhouse where, beneath tall bamboos, ancient bicycles rust amid a tangle of rumpty hoes, then along the Talbots Valley and back home for a half-eight breakfast. Although the News headlines remain grim, the month of May, even beyond the flitting goldfinches and beauteous crowing cockerels, is wonder abundant.

Patriotic trees…

ancient bicycles and rumpty hoes…

on Les Poidevins

Small surprise, then, that moments before nine o’clock a ‘nostalgic’ air-raid siren wailed. Very loudly. I almost dropped my brekkie fish cake into my frothy coffee. Which surely would have done for my drawing pad’s blackbird and splotched my Moleskine notebook. By fine margins, the rosé tot was returned unopened to cupboard.

In two ticks the siren fussed again. Keeping me on my toes. A street-wag hollered “Effing siren beats a Covid app! Everyone inside! Hit the booze!” Within the hour, a ship in harbour boomed a protracted foghorn. Which set both  church bim-boms clanging and Benny Goodman’s ‘Gotta Be This Or That’ blaring out from Sooty Sid’s neighbourly back door.

On my reckoning, Liberation’s the Island’s fifth celebratory day in May’s first nine. But for the moment let’s stick to the today’s jol.

This is an important anniversary. 75-years since the wee small hours of May 9th, 1945. When, aboard HMS Bulldog, a Royal Navy B-class destroyer lionised in 1941 for nabbing an Enigma coding gizmo, Major General Hiner gave bit of a nudge. A prompt. To German Nazi commander Admiral Hoffmeier. Who, dressed in a medal-heavy naval greatcoat and a swastika-badged cap, did the decent thing and signed on the dotted line. Surrender formalities completed, Sarnian ‘donkeys’ – the islanders – had their home back. Inspired, local cartoonist, Bert Hill, was quick to paint his famous V for victory mural: a donkey hoofing a grossly plump Nazi soldier far away from little Guernsey. Slight artistic licence, but hey.

HMS Bulldog

Liberation!

Bert Hill’s mural

Sad to say, for some, the wretched Covid germ rekindles nightmares. The retiring Bailiff of the Bailiwick’s archipelago, Sir Richard Collas, has been moved to say: “We now have a better appreciation of what it meant to islanders to be liberated as we look forward anxiously to the lifting of lockdown.” Words that can only underscore current celebrations being somewhat neutered and private. On Les Poidevins a family hero is remembered. His image pinned to the cottage front door. A cottage where windows show rainbows.

Hero’s photo on door and rainbows in windows…

…and more bonkers festooning

Jeez, things were so different a year ago. Then the Guernsey concert band had rumpapummed breezily, Chelsea pensioners stood watchful. As did a smattering of ghurkas, war veterans, and a sprinkling from 201 Squadron. Nicknamed ‘Guernsey’s Own’, it’s amongst the oldest squadrons of the RAF. A dozen tightly knit purple-robed jurats, lay relics of the Twelfth century who judge fact rather than law, chinwagged. Sightseers pressed, mingled, waggled flags on sticks and applauded. The missus and I? We sipped chilled dry rosé in the ‘Pickled Pig’ and vowed Guernsey would replace Oz as our home.

The Guernsey Concert Band rumpapums in 2019…

Chelsea Pensioners are watchful

Jurats chinwag and sniffle

Amidst the slow-to-go pestilence, it’s wane more torpid than the month’s pollen-coaxing flower moon, let’s call today the apogee of recent doings and happenings.

So to backtrack a tad, May Day itself offered little save banks of perfuse colour from Portelet to Albecq and two snippets of news.

Profuse May Day colour… from Portelet

…to Albecq

I caught the first whilst I chopped soup carrots. A persuasive BBC Radio 4 lady guest made the recommendation about hearing gloriousness: the zenith of 2020’s birdsong. Hence, as the missus snoozed, came my reason for being ruddy proud of myself, swiping bothersome, shaggy lockdown hair away from my bleary eyes at 4.32 a.m. on the Third. Which was last Sunday – International Dawn Chorus Day. 

A mug of Earl Grey to hand; twin caffeine-laced paracetamols, for the lower back muscle, yowched the previous arvo on number 8 of the 10 silly bend-down-touch-yer-toes lockdown exercises, swallowed; I gave the flat’s third-floor bedroom window a painful shove onto … eurgh, a misty-murk morn. And dutifully took notes: 

‘4.35 a.m. Not a peep. Stir yourselves lazy birds. 

 4.48 a.m. First twitter. A robin. Good on it. Many a cheerily-cheeriup and peek-peek-tut-tut. 

 4.50: Trup and pink. Chaffinch. + Piercing tremolo. Blue tit.  

 4.53 Sparrow chips. 

 5.09. A gull. Late riser. Yawns discordant  ‘ark’.’ 

International Dawn Chorus Day morn

Not till a 6.02 did a pigeon deign to coo. Very tardy. But where was the boxwood flute of the blackbird, the feathered Beethoven? Good question. Sod clock-watching. Pulling the dooner back over my noggin I left the ornithological world to itself.

How I still ached for the call of a Melbourne currawong or sulphur-crested cockatoo. And could I revisit sleep? Nope. Alighting upon a chimney stack an unsocial distance from my window, the blackbird; proper late and full of gobby melodious apologies. 

Which brings me to May Day’s second piece of news. Sporting flags now flutter. Honestly, they do. Those that tree hang, or those that adorn back water cottages or Saint Peter Port’s town houses have company. The ones I’m on about are above holes. 

Stone the crows! And many flock about the Martello towers of L’Ancresse. The powers that be have let the golfers loose. Once more there are sounds of phwooph and dink.

L’Ancresse crows and let loose golfers

Yeah, yeah. Agreed. Rather them than Morris dancers. The latter, by their jingly-bell nature and their willy-nilly hanky wafting, warrant the strictest isolation. The garish golfer though is proof apparent Sarnia’s draconian lockdown is ever so cautiously easing. Although, I feel bound to confide, Guernsey folk have adopted certain other ‘coping’ eccentricities. An example of which the missus and I encountered yesterday morn while out on VE Day yomp.

Between L’Ancresse golf course and the slipway to pretty Pembroke beach sits an unremarkable green-painted kiosk that in old pre-plague times sold niche-market vegan Magnums and hired deck chairs at two quid a pop. From behind the kiosk’s shuttered self, came a male’s shouts: “Thirteen! …Fourteen!…Whoa! …And now for the flag!” Curious. The owner perhaps of the abandoned niblick that lay in full view? 

An untidy scorecard crossed my mind. How any shot could get to this particular spot was baffling. A mighty ricochet out La Varde, perhaps? From where I lurked I could see the devilish dolmen, the course’s high point and Guernsey’s largest megalithic magnificence, a long passage grave, snuggled beside the seventeenth green. Bugger bunkers, it’s the sure-fire death of par.

La Varde…

… the sure-fire death of par

“Oh, well done! … Whoops, third up’s iffy.” A woman. Youngish.“Wuff!” A small dog? Hmm, what breed? Inquisitive, and now with an excuse, the missus and I snuck to the kiosk corner and chanced a peek. 

“Ah, it’s a pug!” whispered the missus.

“It’s a pebble stack,” observed I, stepping forward. “Mornin’!” I hailed. 

“Morning!” A stereo reply. The speakers a responsible social distance apart.

“Like your stack,” I said. “Work of art, that.”

“It’s my first,” confessed the bloke, a mid-lifer puffed proud as punch.

“Richard’s no longer the virgin,” giggled the girl. “I’m a pro. Tookie here’s soooo long-suffering.” 

The look on the pug’s face was one of full agreement. 

“What better way is there to pass the time when your lad’s out on the course?” said the chap, as if in answer to my silent conundrum. “Becky’s a grand tutor. And this is the first time we’ve met. Union Jack’s my idea. I’m hopeful it can be spotted from the clubhouse.”

Clubhouse and broken duck

“It’s lovely… C’mon my love,” enthused the missus. “Let’s break our duck.” 

“Quack bloody quack,” quoth I, happily readying to the task.

Gravity defiers, pebble stacks, that some call ‘rock towers’, have become Guernsey lockdown’s sociable outdoorsy fad. A novel way to declutter beach pebbles hurled ashore in zillions by winter storms Ciara and Dennis. And a creative way to help spread joy and hope. Nowt more than a spirit of Island togetherness, really, during these dilly times.

The stacks now number in the hundreds. Actually, make that thousands. Each unique. Each created by the oodles of daily ‘exercisers’ exhibiting a steady hand and an eye for balance. 

Course there are the topplers, but the majority impress, lined along the seawalls. The purpose to a walk or a distraction from one. Yep, pebble stacking seems quite the furlough therapy. 

Beside the Rue D’Albecq, close to the vast crenellated stone edifice that’s Fort Hommet, stacks march, crenellation-like themselves, to the horizon. Amidst them, a ‘fourteener’ of painted pebbles – orange, yellow, red, green, blue and brown – plus a couple au naturel. Enough collective charm to gain celebrity in the Guernsey Press.

Beside Rue D’Albecq

A gull’s inspection

Fort Hommet

Ignoring the five of us a wind-hovering kestrel did a sudden plummet-dive and committed murder behind a blooming gorse bush. Be happy bird, I thought. Enjoy your good old normal. Five years the German occupation lasted. Requiring such astounding stoicism. Strewth, Covid lockdown’s only in its third month. The end, no pointy-pen Bulldog moment. And, forgive me Tookie, ‘pugalism’ is pointless. Guernsey’s shedding of lockdown will likely be a gentle tapering. Like a perfect pebble stack. 

Hints of a gentle tapering

I was too polite say, but sadly I predict Richard’s effort a toppler. And already there’s been too much of it: toppling. Certainly amongst us humans. The Island, though, does seem to have got a grip. Heck, best keep flag lowering limited. Enshrine it in policy. Can’t have more photos being pinned to doors.

Poignantly, on cue, arrived celestial hope. The Island’s Princess Elizabeth Hospital, this evening arched by a Liberation Day rainbow, furthers wonders.

Liberation Day rainbow

A quick count on my digits and I’m sure as a rosé’s a rosé that I’ve now covered the May celebrations to date. Reckon tomorrow another ramble beckons. Of the outdoors sort. Love to be up and away before the sluggish blackbird drops upon its stack of choice and fills my lugholes with mellifluous excuses.

 

 

Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Sniffle-Nosed Bat And Donkey Hopscotch

Easter Day, 12th April 2020.

 

Cacti pedaller and largest of Guernsey wildlife

April’s egg moon having blazed the sea orange between Guernsey and Sark, Easter catches it on the wane. I suggest, though, this isn’t the cause of any gobble-slump in chocolate eggs this year.

Egg moon

Blame it on nerves or boredom or lack of vitamins B and D, but upon this rock where islanders boast of themselves being ‘donkeys’, decisions have become more challenging. For me included.

Take last week’s major event: putting the recycling gubbins out into a twilight of mega wind gusts. “Eeny-meeny-miny-moe”, I’d recited, pondering what to don. The Birkenstocks, the Pikolinos boots or the Stretchers? Less dither would have avoided a close encounter. With a bat. Not the willow sort hurled in frustration upon an untreasured golden duck. But leathern-winged and petite. A pipistrelle. That missed my nose only to flump at my feet. And it looked Pikolinos cautious. Small surprise when the world’s second-guessing Covid’s possible kick-off culprit.

“Where’s home?” I asked. “Roof? Palm? Camellia? Herm?” 

In response, a hard glare. 

“You wee rascal”, I said. “Don’t you go biting any local mutts.”

A tap on my iPhone camera saw the tiny creature flutter to the nearest wall and cling there, willing me to disappear. Which, in full awareness of social distancing, I did.

The pipistrelle bat

Honest to Gawd, it was ironic. I mean, I’m having to look deep into my inner psyche for what prompted me, best part of two years ago, to randomly draw a sniffly Aussie fruit bat – a critter bigger in size than a chihuahua – to inform ‘Don’t be batty, sneeze into your elbow crook’. It graced a Melbourne doctors’ surgery. Sheesh, at the time, how could I ever imagine getting the collywobbles as I did yesterday arvo?

Shouts of “Go to your left, girls!… No, left! Great, great! Now throw them in the air!” got me spying out the window at the steep flower meadow. Its entry, a very official no-no.

Risking the wrath of the Bailiwick, a sports-capped dad videoed two trespassing kids in floral dresses beach ball messing amongst the buttercups. Suddenly he turned my way and sneezed mightily, his elbow crook too slow. Quick to slam my eyrie’s casement and pinning hopes that matey had nowt worse than hay fever I’m reminded of Gigua’s prayer I once reserved for Brexit: ‘Lord, things are serious. This time come yourself. This is no time for a boy.’

Still, amid these grave times of pestilence there’s a new normal. The ‘one-in-one-out’ at the local Co-op. A wary smile to chaperone a hearty ‘Good morning!’. The Guernsey flags that hang from homes of dogged Island spirit. And rainbows aplenty. But hey, today’s Easter Sunday and we spring-bask.

The new normal

The sweet chestnut trees are in lambent leaf. Primroses, bluebells and campion brighten the hedgerows. The white flowering three-cornered leeks are all over the shop. Sturdy hottentots and pink thrift blanket the sea cliffs softening German wartime concrete. And rabbits, Guernsey’s largest furry wildlife, are doing what bog standard bunnies do best. Potato peel pie remains a needless fear. 

Bluebells and campion…

pink thrift…

hottentots and three-cornered leek…

and wartime concrete

Much is presumption, of course. Like Clyde the Pedaller still towing cartloads of his lovingly nurtured cacti to the Island’s cherished pop-your-dosh-in-an-honesty-box ‘hedge veg’ stalls.

Truth is, missing visual delights due to the cocoon of lockdown pains. Awfully.

I’ll not lie. I lean toward being pretty outdoorsy. One bygone Easter I dug daft sheep out of a Somerset snow drift as Kate Bush shrieked from the Land Rover radio, challenging the blizzard sough. A dramatic example, climate emergency aside, why the missus and my balcony lacking, third floor flat rental, at present, threatens cabin fever. So bollocks to playing Warren Zevon’s ‘Splendid Isolation’ from the dark corner in my iTunes library.

Least the windows were open to the extent of their hinges. We breathed in the fresh air. Deep easy lungfuls. For which we felt blessed and most thankful. The sky was a marvel. Unsullied. No planes. Zero vapour trails. Total blue. The morning’s only bug, a visibly hungry mosquito. A monster. The ‘Seekavan’ executioner racquet crackle-zap was shockingly loud.

Then again, every sound seemed amplified. The vigorous campanologist nuns tugging the priory’s celebratory trebles. The few car and motorbike engines. An ambulance siren. The wheeling gull cries. The bicker and preach of sparrows.

An ambulance siren

Human voices too.

“I’ve dyed my hair purple.” A woman. Somewhere the missus and I couldn’t see despite craning our necks.

“Ta for telling me that, love. Thought for a mo I’d gone colour-blind, got me worrying about the rainbow I’ve crayoned to stick on the door with those others,” came a manly reply. Tch, sarkiness is immutable hereabouts. 

Spotted but unheard along down Les Petites Fontaines, a child on her hands and knees chalked out pavement hopscotch. 

Time passes. 

What more to add, other than re-stressing being part of a major historical event ain’t exceptional fun?

Well, some local chap, a donkey-jacket worn for emphasis, out on allowed exercise amble got distracted. Those chalkings, though proper scuffed, had him, in the deserted street, absorbed in light-footed hopping. And hopping.

But there was no time to waste spectating on small joys. The missus needed her supper. Comfort food. Shift duty called. Through a whole night of the waning egg moon. And I can’t say I’m much taken by her in the latest fashion wear. Oh jeez, that costly PPE! Scrubs, rubber gloves, hooded coverall, face mask and visor. Good decision, though, her collaring a full set. 

Latest fashion wear

Me? I plumped for a nutritious but rushed frugal affair. A sort of bastardised tourte pascale – spinach, goat’s cheese and a nutmeg pinch slopped into a shortcrust pasty case with a strategic egg, an Easter nod, middle for diddle. No hint of spud.

Frugal tourte pascale

The creation bunged in the oven, I popped to inspect Mister Sarky’s rainbow of hope. Because more the merrier. Better them than a mawkish picture of a sniffle-nosed bat.

 

 

Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Gull-Duck And Saviour’s Ant

19th March 2020.

Boris the Gull-Duck and a Saviour’s ant

My sainted aunt! Sainted everything! Hit the Bluebottle! A 2020 cricket season is an unlikelihood. And an ageing ant has affirmed dwelling on a buggy island is airtight. Reasons enough for ‘The Astounding Eyes of Rita’, Anouar Brahem’s melodic oud playing on my iPhone – music more soothing than memory’s dawn magpies warbling the roof possum to sleep.

Anouar Brahem’s ‘The Astounding Eyes of Rita’

Lugging two bags of Waitrose remnants toward home sanctuary, I sniffed Tyneside Robert’s fag before I saw him across the street taking a break from yakka on a renovation. With him living near the reservoir ducks on the Island’s west side and me here on the east, I grabbed the opportunity for a catch-up.

Saint Saviour’s reservoir

Thin-framed, though slightly stooped, Robert has survived Guernsey for thirty years. Over which time he’s picked up a thing or two. Like Boris, a herring gull that quacks and waddles like a duck. In ignorance of social distancing the seabird’s impressed its way into the badling that musters outside Robert’s kitchen door for a daily stale breadcrumbs breakfast.

“Heya, what’s new?” I greeted. Which was to ask the bleeding obvious.

“Not a good time to be a spitter!” he replied, his tone teasing.

“Yeah, yeah. Covid, right?”

He took a deep thoughtful drag, brushing away windblown ash from his cement-smattered overalls and seemed to make a decision. “Meself, I’m… Eh? Phwoar, Milly. Eh? On.”

Qué? Repita? Too early in the day to be pissed, surely? Easy option: quiz who Milly might be.

Robert spelled it out. Slowly. “F-O-U-O-R-M-I-L-L-I-A-O-N. Means ‘ant’. I’m an ant.”

Whoa, he was pissed. “You been at the gin?”

Bluebottle: a buggy tipple

“The Bluebottle? Nah, nah, nah. ‘Bout time you had key Island education… You gotta learn that cat is ‘cah’.

“A cat’s a car? Meowwwww!”

“Don’t be an ‘efa’. Car’s ‘mohtoh’. Look. Everyone from Saint Saviour parish, like me, is an ant. And before you ask, I dunno why. Next door, in Saint Pierre Du Bois parish, they’re ‘etchebots’. Beetles to you. You living in Saint Peter Port makes you a … ’cllichard’.

More spelling out. “C-L-L-I-C-H-A-R-D… Means ‘spitter’. Not that you’re disgusting, just that Peter Porters’ spoke oddly. Don’t like the idea? Move to Vale. Become an ‘ann’ton’. A cockchafer.”

“What’s an ‘efa’?

“A child.”

Wonderful! I was initiated. To Guernésiais – Sarnia’s thousand year old native language. Each of the Island’s nine parishes lumbers a patois sobriquet on its denizens. A grand distraction from WhatApp pics of homemade orange skin face masks and bog roll bearing Saint Bernards, and video parodies of ‘I Will Survive’.

A form of bastardised French, Guernésiais is only spoken fluently by two per cent of the Island’s peeps, most of those aged sixty-five or over. A tiny percentage. And a figure in proper danger of droppage. Fair play the millipede wrong-footed in a hospital corridor didn’t make it to even the inner pages of the Guernsey Press. Holy Mother of God, the top story’s all consuming.

Not a bad idea praying to a ninth century teenager martyred for improper love, whose relics are held in an Anzu basilica in Northern Italy. A place smack plum in the epicentre of today’s plague in Europe where the shut away sing ‘Nessun Dorma’ from balconies. I speak of Saint Corona, the Patron Saint of Pandemics, twanged apart by Roman soldiers’ letting go tension on two palm trees that suspended her. Guernsey boasts palms aplenty, some bang outside the missus and my front door. Easy, then, being ‘Rona’ reminded.

Saint Corona’s end…

… and ‘Rona’ reminding palms

Seriously, the saint really is worth the bended knee. Nerves jangle amongst the worried well. I mean, sheesh! Rumour spreads that Sarnian swabs results remain delayed. Want of chemical reagent, the probable reason. Supply being unable to keep up with demand. Similar to toilet tissue and dry pasta, I suppose.

What else can I say, other than it’s already been a long, long day?

Since one minute past midnight any bod arriving on the Island from anywhere else on the planet, be it Somerset or Zanzibar, must self-isolate for fourteen days. And no argument. Lucky those then that squeaked in on yesterday’s last flight. Like Dicky the doctor who’d travelled light. Or Romanian Mihaela, an online worker topped off with face mask. Lumping three suitcases and a backpack, she planned a month’s stay… on Sark. A small community and clean air, her reason. I wish her good luck. The hotels there are inconveniently tight-shuttered and a homeland return’s problematic.

Mihaela is one of five ladies to have bumped Mrs Holmes from the the Guernsey Press’ front page. Who’s Mrs Holmes? Well, a saint herself, almost. Glorified for selflessness, throwing caution to the wind. Reportedly she lifted her skirt and straddled a barbed wire snagged sheep. Hers an act of restraint to aid rescue. The story ran and ran. Much like the mites and ticks, a plague perversely lighter borne than invisible microbes.

High praise, however, is a moveable feast, an Eye of Sauron, now upon a Sarnian quartet of subtle skills. Proving too good for their Scottish opponents, the winners of the women’s fours at the British Isles Indoor Bowls Championships in Llanelli, have, like Doc Dick, managed to scarper home by a whisker. To where competition’s more localised. And focused on priorities.

Parish folk very local to me – the spitters plus the ‘ane-pur-sangs’ (pure-blooded donkeys) of Castel and ‘les croinchons’ (the siftings) of Saint Andrew – panic-pillage.

Not a loaf…

… nor a sausage

Take this morning’s checkout queue. A safe two metres in front of me, a basket. Nowt in it but four bottles of Pinot Noir, three packets of prunes and the last sodding nine rolls of Andrex bum-delight. Me? With lentil daal for supper, a mere four-pack of home branded ‘ultra soft’. Though better than nowt. Gawd, I’d lived that trauma: the loos, Tripoli International airport. 1987. The red bucket of pristine stones. The black bucket’s content being scrubbed clean by a crone. But each to their own.

Behind me, beside the shelves empty of Basmati rice, a woman sobbed, disturbed brown rice and Arborio let lie. A young mum screamed and tugged at her tot. A geezer had coughed. Carrots got dropped. A young gun became angry – no common-or-garden soap.

Sucking in the fresh air again I noticed a goodly half-dozen green broccoli curds trolley-rattled toward a spouse and a pet pooch in car. Both were horror-struck. “Cedric, you NITWIT! I told you to get purple-sprouting! You know Bobble-Chops won’t eat that!”

Passing me, trotting t’other way , a focused chap with a neat white moustache. “You don’t want to go in there!” I remarked, feigning cheeriness.

“HELLO! Good see you!” he replied, a dart of eyes before refixing them goal bound.

Never seen him before in my life.

Tch. I can’t forget a Saturday morning best part of five years ago. Some blokey shouting through a loudhailer, “YOU’RE ALL LOCUSTS!” as he pedalled his bike through Melbourne’s busy Victoria market. Waitrose today might tempt a similar loon onto a saddle.

Tomorrow, before the Bailiwick likely proclaims lengthy lock-down, I’ll whisper-ask Saviour’s ant which beach he suggests has the smoothest, roundest pebbles. Fingers-crossed the missus and I won’t have need to etchebot there.

And Anouar Brahem? On this bugdom he stays on repeat. Soothing a spitter yearning fewer nasty surprises and who, unlike Boris the Gull-Duck, has accepted becoming isolated as a millipede. Paracetamol would be nice. Bluebottle, too. But, as with everything else, both have been blessed magpied.

 

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Hopeful Dog On Worm Moon

9th March 2020.

Beebie, the ever hopeful spaniel

I admit my Island education is on the slow side. But preferable to the Oz fast lane. There, possum swotting’s a no-no. Doesn’t matter the patio wisteria risks obliteration. The fine will pauperise. Spot a white-tail spider on your sanga? Let it be, lest you be physically scarred for life. Here, on Guernsey, scars are proving the mental sort.

Examples? Easy. In my odd pooch-poop bin lacking end of town, two things on this the day of the ‘worm moon’. First, the Island has a diagnosed coronavirus case. So whoop and howl, in our microcosmic world, Guernsey’s beating Jersey at something. Second, to dogdom’s distress, the two meadow gates across the way remain nailed shut. 

Dog meadow

Seeking sanity and a distraction from the invasive germ, bless the steep, damp meadow on my doorstep. Nil access to which has rather split opinion. And all because some curious winter flowers just won’t die off, despite appearing visibly peaky. 

The consequences? Well, for one, a principled Nissan Leaf has huffed away not ten minutes ago, a noxious bag of mutt-doings tied to the rear wiper. Better that, though, than walk-deprived. But seriously, Saint Peter Port’s dogs, on leads, daily mooch up the lane, providers in tow. The latter no longer bother a glance over the meadow wall, let alone a gate-punch. And all regular as clockwork. The pair of huskies? Ten to five, arvo. Phlegm is palpable.

Noxious bag of mutt-doings

The walk deprived…

… and the regular as clockwork

Lilo, next door’s black and white cat, has taken full advantage. From the kitchen window I can see him now, birding and mousing, immune to mutterings about being out of bounds.

Debbie, Lilo’s servant, has already filled me in as to the whys and wherefores. Doing so at safe distance and through the bars of her wrought iron fence due to the microbe factor. Her tomcat’s become broad daylight brazen because of the meadow being in isolation. Nada dogs. “The rule’s an unwritten one,” she said.

“Hence, the lacks of signs,” I replied.

“Yes. The nails do the necessary. The ban’s purely arisen out of opinion.”

Rash ideas flooded whose opinion that was. A Bailiwick senator’s? Or the daft apeth in a suit I’d captured for posterity? A dapper mystery gate-scrabbler holding paperwork, his furtive meadow escape missing key elements of Lilo’s grace.

Dapper furtive gate-scrabbler

I cut to the chase. “Why are the dogs barred?”

Debbie gave me the look reserved for dumbasses. “Because of the butterbur. You can well see the meadow’s full. And there’re two ways to look at it. As a rhizome menace. Or as little gems. Ours is the Pyrenees sort. Sminks of liquorice.”

“Exotic.” I casted an eye over to the mauve-pink flowers that have been out since Christmas.

Problematic Pyrenees butterbur

“Tch! Listen. The large leaves give butterbur its name. Right? Butter was wrapped in them.”

“As the Cornish wrap Yarg cheese in nettles?”

“Not really. My gran did the leaf thing to stop the butter going runny when weather felt warm. Any road, back in the real old days, monks used it against plague and fever. And come the … um… sixteen-whatevers – you know, around the time Castle Cornet’s donjon exploded, killing the Guv’nor’s wife? – it was the bee-knees for treating coughs and wheezes.”

“Gosh, oh yay! You mean here in front of our eyes is the world cure for Covid-19?”

Debbie merely shrugged, returning to pick slugs off her garden hyacinths as an unknown hangdog whippet with a glum chaperone passed by both us and some grotbag’s sinister, discarded tissue.

However, several dogs have cheerily introduced themselves. For instance, Charles the pug. When the meadow was a wonderland of sniffdom and gambol he would split from his band of blood brothers and pronk with the elan of a muntjac. A mention too for Priapic Pip. The Jack Russell’s wooings were akin to a bunny’s.

Charles (left) and his band of blood brothers.

And before the ‘worm moon’ rises I’ll surely hear dependable happy ruff-ruffing. Of Beebie. The town’s ever hopeful springer spaniel. Course, the spaniel has been a favourite Island breed for century’s. Indeed, a dog loving mason in the early twelfth century opted for a spaniel’s head as his mark. Chiselled into granite, an example can be spied on the arch above Vale church’s pulpit.

Spaniel’s head, Vale church

Beebie is just just tad more lively. Long coat, brown splodges on white, she’s the persistent tail-wagger. The joyful greeter of every living thing – be they sparrow or Lilo, Debbie’s slugs or Sooty Sid’s chocolate lab that eats soap bubbles.

Oh, how dear Beebie does so bring Kiwi actor Sam Neill to mind!

“When I barked I was magnificent,” mused Sam in his divine role as Dean Spanley, recalling woofs at the moon during his former life as an absconding spaniel. Lovely film, Dean Spanley. Quirky. A 2008 British comedy drama. Stemming from Irish author Lord Dunsany’s 1936 fantasy novella. 

Dean Spanley, 2008

Beebie evokes the hero in that daft affair. And maybe tonight he’ll express his own magnificence, albeit slightly high-pitched, at the worm moon. Full proof of blooming March. Proper spring. Not the faux one offered by February’s daffs out there wilting, their time done.

I accept the seasons being arse about tit, but honestly, out of pity for dogs, now’s high time that winter things are gone, pathogen or not. And this once-in-a-year celestial event, to be suspended fourteen per cent super-sized, can give no bigger hint to the butterbur.

I mean Heavens, the worm moon’s been up there since the Anglo-Saxons. Those old-timers insisted it made earthworms cease deep underground winter snoozes and wend upwards. Each to celebrate fragrant air amidst a wormy cast. Such fab annelid advertising. Unless hidden. of course. Which, in the meadow they indubitably will be – blanketed by those round green Guernsey butter wrappers. So chuck the blackbird into the mix of the disgruntled.

Yet, since the ‘Day of Nailing’ over hundred and twenty days ago Beebie has been Pollyannaish on each and every one.

Maybe tomorrow, Beebie. Maybe tomorrow the gate will be open. Maybe the blackbird will trespass and tug naughtily. But Butterbur as a sneaky nemesis? Another maybe. Sanity, my backside. To show whose side of opinion she’s on, the missus has taken to wearing a pink, dachshund print dressing gown. Me? Once over the tum-churning notion of liquorice tainted butter, I’ll go suss out what a donjon is.

 

Postscript.

Saint Peter Port, Wednesday, 18th March 2020.

Goodness me! There’s a sign. The dog meadow gate has a sign! Restrictive. Very official. Hard to miss. Appearing only to apply to those on two legs. Beebie can stay hopeful.  

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.