8th August 2020.
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.
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.
Further reason to rub lay at Rousse. A mauled boat. Name of ‘Shark Bait’. Akin to saying “Look Jaws, a tasty fisherman”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.