Brandy Butter Paws And Dumb Owl

30th December 2020.

Should a fat candle have been lit to burn through 2020 it’d now be guttering.

So I’ve taken stock. Of the so far unnecessary crammed into the impulse buy wardrobe. Hmm. Box of face masks. Box of rubber gloves. Cans of baked beans and chopped tomatoes. Packets of polenta and pasta. Sachets of Borș Magic and miso. Jars of sauerkraut and vine leaves… Vine leaves? Sell by dates all fine and dandy. Good until summer 2021, minimum. Better safe than sorry. Up till now the big cog in the Bailiwick that chose being antisocial to all and sundry Guernsey’s been a lucky wee island. Still, the number of times fingers got crossed and re-crossed led almost to collective tenosynovitis. Such has been the C-word effect.

As islanders raise the two-fingered V for vaccine sign, wind-shred waves from Guernsey to Sark raise whitecaps to Storm Bella. Who’s chucked about sodden branches in the raw. Blossom petal confetti has flown from the twig. Yet despite this yellow bright gorse is smelling of exotic coconut. The sea pink’s pink as pink four months ahead of itself. Our neighbour, Daisy Man, meantime, persists in mowing his garden’s obvious. To maybe pretend things are as they should be. Just for a day or two.

Exotic smelling gorse
Very early sea pink

Don’t be fooled. It’s gone bonkers here on this dark, mouse-scuttle, rocky microcosm. Actually, it’s not even that dark. Ignore the fact Jupiter and Saturn have aligned for the first time in eight centuries to achieve a damn fine impression of the ‘Star of Bethlehem’. Down almost every country lane garden installations blaze coloured light. It’s blinking dazzlius. Strings of brights bulb weigh heavy on throttled trees, electric reindeer shine silver and white, and giant orange bows illuminate privet. Bella’s made the Island positively tinkle.

Blinking dazzlius

She failed, though, to shift the eyesore. So I’ll confess to public spirited trespass. Better still, civic duty. If I’m called before the beak. Sorry gov, I’ll plead, but filthy trash can’t add to an already blighted future.

Gloved, and armed with my Brasher stick, I’d braved the snaggle-briars, and clambered the nailed shut, ‘No Admittance’, meadow gate to grab last August’s storm gift: a large shard of black besmirched polystyrene embedded amongst the now profuse Pyrenees butterbur. How Daisy Man’s wife had gawped at me before a thin smile twitched as if it were a whisker!

Then again, the chuckle-bundle Portuguese lady who works the deli counter had caught my eye too. Spying the Guernsey butter and paw print shopping bag in my Waitrose basket, she seemed to have thought I might be interested in the uncertain future of her friend’s cat.

Her friend, she said, had moved at the beginning of the month, but ‘le tronquet de Noel’, the traditional Island Yule log, was proper aflame when the friend’s grey mog, on its first night out from its new home, hadn’t returned. Despite its paws having being buttered.

“Buttered paws?” I ventured.

“Yeah, sir. Don’t you know butter on paws helps removes smell of old home? Helps find way back to new home. My friend says that.”

“Better to use brandy butter,” I suggested. “Least it would’ve made the mice taste festive. Has your friend checked out Guernsey’s Cat Community Facebook page? It’s very practical.” 

“It gives advice about paw-buttering?”

“It’s more a a pussycat lost and found.” 

“Maybe I tell her. How many turkey slice you want… sir?”

I guess slinky paws and Yule logs are as much to do with olde custom as a somewhat pagan rite which, although sadly defunct, is worth a mention. 

Once upon a gurnard, Guernsey lads had scooped out turnips to use as lanterns, dressed up a freaky effigy called ‘Le vieux bout de l’an’ (the end of the year) – I’m assured it was an effigy and not some bod’s virgin uncle – and on New Year’s Eve a mock funeral procession traipsed through the Island’s streets. Its purpose? To bury the ‘end of the year’ on the beach.

End of year beach

Apparently the Bailiwick’s Royal Court, after much Church wheedling, put an end to the shenanigans. As it oddly did to the poor and hungry begging from house to house that same eve. The fine or whipping doled out for breach, I’m led to understand, has never been rescinded. Oh Guernsey does so keep its feudal niceties tight to its little chest! Like a hubby having the legal obligation to sign off his missus’ annual tax return. “Outrageous!” chums of mine exclaim elsewhere, which right now may as well be Brigadoon.

The Island’s owls, mind you, don’t give a hoot. That I’ve come to be sure of. I mean Guernsey has been ‘home’ for twenty-one months and not once have I heard, let alone seen, a blessed owl. The missus, meanwhile, has earwigged a couple.

“Quelle surprise,” I’d said after number two. “Easy when you’re a night bird yourself.” I might have added that unawareness of strigiformes in my orbit was due to me primarily being a dawn-rising worm-tugger. But my brain warned ‘Nooo! Too risqué. An unfair charge of crudity would await.” 

‘Course, my personal dearth of owls has, like the polystyrene, nettled. But it’s worse than that. Wishing for the presence of an owl has morphed into obsession. Call it homesickness. You see, around proper home in Wiveliscombe owls are ten a penny. To the point my son once yelling at a super-articulate tawny to “pissing shut up!” being run of the mill.

Fate, however, took a funny turn in Guernsey’s darkest depths on the night of Flat 1’s party. The ‘Dancing Queen’ karaoke missed by the missus and my call to work. She on home visits. Me, her chauffeur, pootling her from one to t’other in Poopsie the Smart.

First summons was to the arse end of Rue des Fauxquets. Which translates as ‘Road of Fakes’. 

Beyond it’s ivy threatened name plaque, des Fauxquets is a narrow, Castel parish, deep-cut lane through the Island’s middle offering mud and mush, tumbled rocks itching to grind off a car exhaust, and a half mile of skeletal tree arch. There’s also a tiny smattering of homesteads sans gaudy jollity. One being the address of Roquette Cider, whose guddle a novice might mistake for a prime Somerset offering. And it’s where, I like to imagine, woozy mice in residence within wrinkly, stoic-stalked scrumpy apples when I should be concentrating on the bloody road.

Des Fauxquets fortuitously survived without undue incident, we arrived, bar a single light, at our pitch black destination. Gawd it was quiet. Dutifully I waited and waited for the missus to do her doings. Eventually impulse overwhelmed. I slid down the car window and sucked in the chill air. “C’mon Universe, deliver me an owl!” I implored. “Please. Please. Please. And may its sound be the omen of a happy new year!” 

“Doh,” sighed my brain, “You’ve only gone and bunged your hopes on a mouse murdering bundle of feathers.”

Five minutes later and the missus and I were on our way back the way we came. Buttered tyres not required.

“OWL!” I exclaimed, ramming on the brakes. Wow, the power of pleading.

“Be cautious of rash conclusions, my love,” choked the missus, nimbly adjusting her seatbelt. “This is des Fauxquets.”

“Shush. LOOK!” 

Sure enough, sat on a bare branch, staring straight at Poopsie’s headlights, a splodge of taloned white. A barn owl. Then a turn, a glimpse of tail and away down through the skeletal trees it ghosted. Noiselessly. “Thank you, owl,” I said.

“Amazing,” breathed the missus.

And that’s pretty much where she and I are at as we soothe our souls with Bailey’s chocolate liqueur and mince pies. Should I see a grey cat, sure, I’ll give it a pat. That surprise dumb owl worries me though. What did it know that it wasn’t prepared to say? In another world the C-word’s upping its game and full on Brexitdom’s mere hours away.

But of 2020? Had there been le vieux bout de l’an they’d shortly be a heavy stamping down of burial sand. 

Enough of mithering, I’m returning to ‘Carpathia’ the recipe book the missus’ gave me for Christmas. Sarmale in foi de vita (vine leaves stuffed with sticky rice and sultanas) requires a studious eye. Although the missus licking her brandy buttered paws offers further distraction as she meanders her way back from fridge to sofa.

Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

White Christmas Rabbits

13th December 2020.

White Christmas rabbits

On this island measured in perches rather than acres a fox is as unlikely to wander pass one’s vision as is a snow leopard. Before I revisit that statement that held true until yestereve, it needs emphasising that when it comes to the retelling of tall Christmas tales Guernsey’s biggest wild animal hops centre stage. Enter the leading rabbit.

Currently, atop the sooty chimney pots closest to the missus and my flat window, a pair of robins December bob-a-bob. Exhaust plumes emitted from the old codger’s Fiat Doblò continue to drift, making the seagulls cough. Aloof from the starling gang sandpipers paddle at Jaonneuse. Whilst a Brexit fretting fishing boat trusts to luck in the bay. Along the Cobo sea wall, colourful lollipop signs promote ‘Brave It’, the up-coming Boxing Day charity dip. Vying for attention: the States of Guernsey Agriculture, Countryside and Land Management Services. Their signage hints at the faecal: “WARNING. Keep clear of any water near the outfall. Always wash your hands before eating.”

Bobbing robins
Jaonneuse starling gang
Paddling sandpipers
Cobo ‘invitation’ lollipop

“How’s things on your island paradise?” was my Melbourne dwelling son’s up front question of our WhatsApp catch up.

Here was my chance. To impart the newsy snippets: St. Peter Port’s Christmas lights look pretty-pretty; at Les Fauconnaires organic farm, Jim and Liz’s Guernsey cows swish their tails in time to the beat of the milking parlour’s piped in gentle music; the eagerly awaited annual ice skating rink has opened at the Island’s garden centre whose cafe’s mismatched crockery comes with chips as standard; and Santa’s being driven around in a veteran car chauffeured by an out-sized elf.

St. Peter Port Christmas lights

Best of all there’s Joseph. A goodly name for this time of year. A dogged chap, he broke a fibula and sprained an ankle chasing after a burglar. Winning himself the Island’s Crimestoppers Achievement Award. And being likened to playing out a Guernsey version of ‘Hot Fuzz’.

“Every time I went over a wall,” Joseph recalled, “he (the burglar) waited for for me so he could hit me when I landed, so I had to let him get away a little bit… I’m not a fit guy, I’m a bit fat, but he was equally unfit and I kept reminding him that, although I was fat, I was fitter than him.”

I spurned the opportunity to relate any of these joys. Instead, I whinged. “Feeling anxious,” I answered in reply to my lad’s question. “About venturing out after dark. S’pose one can always bugger off on the boat to Sark. But at Christmas? Nah. Definitely not.”

“How so?”

“Superstitious Sarkies say their streams turn to blood at midnight, Christmas Eve. As does the watery well. Go look and you’ll snuff it within the year. Reckon, though, an opportunity for a notable festive black pudding got spurned. Here on Guernsey I simply run the risk of being led astray … or a quick death by barn door. So it’s kind of Susan Hill gothic meets J.K. Rowling cutie-fantastical.”

“Okay, Dad. Exactly what have you been reading?”

“A bit of Victor Hugo. Dipping into his ‘Toilers of the Sea’, I’ve learned off-pat ‘Legendary truth is invention whose truth is reality.’ Old Victor loved full on Gothic. Plain as day.” Best example? Hauteville House, his Guernsey home when in exile from France. What a vestibule! A proper oddity. A metalwork of bat-winged creatures and skulls, devils and lopped heads, shrouded figures and bare boobs. Quite a contrast to the clock that ticked as he wrote adorned with quaint rustic scenery crafted by Dobel of Yeovil. Amazing. I mean, Yeovil! And it’s still ticking, shooing off this dreadful year.

Victor Hugo in his Guernsey eyrie
St. Peter Port ‘sea toilers’
Hugo’s still ticking clock
Gothic vestibule, Hauteville House

“Anything other than Hugo?” My son’s tone wrestled with more than a hint of boredom.

“Yep, I’ve had a major plunge into Sir Edgar MacCulloch. Glorious stuff. Folksy Victorian. Delve and strange whatnots get exhumed.” True, the last damned thing browsed before lights out can over-influence. Right now my imagination scampers amok. Especially as the festive season’s got a grip.

“Wanna hear olde ways highlights?” I asked.

“Go on then.”

“Know how a Guernsey fisherman occupied his December down time waiting for the tide to turn or fog to lift?”

“Pff, tell me.”

“Fashioning pairs of stockings. Undoubtedly fishnets.” I laughed, adding, “On the other hand, a Guernsey farmer put down extra litter as a Christmas Eve treat for their cows.”

“How d’ya mean ‘litter’? Crushed coke cans? Greasy pizza boxes? Polystyrene? That stuff’s the pits. Ooh, your Mars bar wrappers? Actually, let me think… probably empty milk cartons.”

“Nah, nah, nah, Master Sarky, litter as in straw.” This caused further seconds of debate about definitions before I shed light that cows were believed to kneel in supplication at the stroke of midnight. And no, the same didn’t apply to Guernsey’s rats. Although I couldn’t swear to it. The only known witness, a dairyman having the temerity to spy on his cow at the appointed time, met a sudden end. His weighty barn door mysteriously brained him. Perhaps it was Gabriel what did it, wary donkey’s said.

I ploughed on.

Next, the ‘veille’ – a neighbourly get together and no restriction on numbers. Whose turn it was to entertain in their cottage home led to, as near as dammit, a Guernsey conga. The routine was always the same. Elderly matrons flopped down on the ‘lit de fouaille’ – a bed, its mattress stuffed with whiffy, yucky, seaweed, above which draped a canopy ‘festooned’ with dry flora. The old hubbies stuck to stools in the inglenook. Short straws had the whippersnappers and even middle-agers sat on the floor.

Victorian Guernsey cottages

Those long, long pre-Christmas evenings under the dim light of the ‘crasset’, a ceiling-suspended oil lamp pointed at the bottom rounded at the top, had results. Knitting and crochet, wood whittling and quilting got sold in St. Peter Port market square to provide the wherewithals for a merry blow-out. The indispensables? Mulled wine, highly spiced and sweetened, always drunk out of coffee cups, mild cheese and the peculiar Guernsey biscuit. Confusingly, the latter ain’t a biscuit at all, savoury rather that sweet it’s more like a butter laden, firm crusted, fluffy soft-centred, bread roll.

Market Place

The most convincing stories of ghoulies and ghosties initially told off-the top-the-head and influenced by commonalities whilst plying veille work gained traction. Aeons before cinema’s ‘Harvey’ and ‘Donnie Darko’ unworldly bunnies had entered the Guernsey psyche.

Sir Edgar noted: “During the eight days before Christmas (Les Avents de Noel) apparitions are most frequent. Some find their path beset by white rabbits that go hopping along just under their feet… and when they believed themselves to be close to their own doors have found themselves, they knew not how, in quite another part of the island.”

Apparently spectral mutts are also out there, “large black dogs, which no threats could scare away and on which no blows could take effect.”

I ventured saying that unease is as infectious as wretched Covid. My son yawned. Out of sheer bloody-mindedness I went on to share the missus’ and my previous day’s adventure.

Sod Yuletide swims, she and I were trepidatious enough driving to the Island’s dark west. Braving ‘faeu Bellengier” or Will o’ the wisp pretending to be one dense fog pocket after another in which unseen ducks quacked alarm. Our goal, the treat of an early evening meal at Sunset Cottage. Indian grub. Egon Ronay listed. Beside the sea at l’Eree. Where our young waiter’s foible was to add “please” to his each and every short remark: “Makhani? Please.” “Napkin? Please.” “Thank you, please.” “Cobra? Please.” Et cetera.

Hiding Les Hanois lighthouse’s distant blink were burgundy curtains, drawn and heavy, immediately behind the missus’ back. Her burgundy top the perfect match. Shell splinter fears, meanwhile, meant a cautious attack on her crab xec xec. Half closing my eyes I got the full Sir Edgar effect. It was as if I sat opposite a chumbling disembodied head.

Distant Les Hanois lighthouse
Crab xec xec

My eyes were wider than wide soon enough. Without the pre-warning sound of a stopping car in tottered a wee demoiselle wearing pointy black pixie boots. Fox fur hat on head, snow leopard spotted top and snow leopard spotted hot pants, and, glory be, fishnet stockings, Miss Raunchy’s free spirit look wasn’t the Island’s everyday for collecting a Balti takeaway.

“Where you off?” a forward customer chap asked. “Only Perelle,” she answered, exiting, gastro-bag in hand, into the night.

“Hope she makes it,” I said to the missus.

“Makes what?”

“Perelle. Don’t be surprised if she ends up in Torteval.

“That’s way in the opposite direction.”

“Exactly. She better beware the white rabbits.”

“In those stockings she’d best beware full stop. And don’t even think about running after her to ask if she’s a fisherman’s friend.”

“She’s well gone,” I quipped. “And so the legend begins: The sleepy fox that rides the ghostly giant spotted mog out the fairy kingdom and across Guernsey’s perches wild. Wherever they went the air would gain a smell of exotic spice. Christmas rabbits will be rendered passé.”

The missus was emphatic.“For him, no more Cobra, please,” her brief to the attentive waiter.

We drove the scenic route home. Poopsie the Smart car’s window down, a woof could be heard. Distant. As could the odd duck quack. Attempts to bring a mislead Miss Raunchy to her senses? Or maybe those blessed rabbits were better occupied leading burglars away from temptation, letting Joseph stabilise his wits. Anyway, at least Les Fauconnaires, hushed as an udder-sipping rat, seemed to be enjoying a silent night.

“Mate, white Christmas rabbits, hey? Can you believe it?” I concluded, my son now fully up to speed.

His sigh was lengthy. “Dad, I’m bloody worried you’ve gone gonzo.”

It wasn’t just a Miss Raunchy boot that had a point. The Island, I admit, has morphed me into a prize flibbertigibbet.

And Cobo’s ‘braving it’? Me? Not a ruddy chance. I’m leaving bobbing to the robins. Better to spend time messing the kitchen with bread flour and judging the oven, challenging myself to call a roll a biscuit. Before that I’m refilling my coffee cup. 



Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Wakeful Tortoise In Rat Year

27th November 2020.

Wakeful tortoise in rat year

How has it come to this, me on a sea-rock obsessing over a wakeful tortoise and flower-tattooed rats?

Winter is yet to pitch up and seriously rap on autumn’s misty door. November’s waning hours are mere double digit. The Chinese ‘Year of the Rat’, however, skitters on and will only tail-off just short of next Valentine’s Day. Call out the elephant in the room, 2020 has been a PR disaster for Ratty.

Autumn’s mist

Islanders meanwhile continue to be chuffed that Guernsey life’s pretty much normal. So normal I’ve shaken the accountant’s hand over the missus and my ‘end of year’.

True, the Island’s surprise Covid-cluster baffled for a while given the Bailiwick’s border’s tight as a ling hooked line. Now after sweat and tears the rumour’s out the guilty ratbag’s been traced: a fly-in, quarantine spared doc from ‘Borisland’. On island for a measly day to attend a job interview. And whose résumé, no doubt, included a line about ‘wanting a challenge’. The afflicted now register three. Which is to say nought-point-nought-nought-seven per cent of the Island population. So despite some ruffled feathers Guernsey continues its good luck.

Seasoning themselves in last weekend’s mizzle the crowd cheered St Peter Port’s Christmas lights switch on. ITV live streamed the novel, socially sans distanced event. And not a face mask to hide a gawping mouth.

Guernsey gathers

This bonzer sea-rock has seriously wowed the world. Adopted ‘Donkeys’ – the name Guernsey people lovingly call themselves – from Murrooghtoohy to Minneapolis adjusted their digitals. As did the the missus and my dearest Muscovite friend. She WhatsApped from Melbourne: “Everyone is in warm coat – is it that cold already?”

My flippant reply ‘Most warm coats were on our rats” had the missus slap my wrist before I could tap ‘Send’. Instead, “Nope. It’s currently balmy, ‘cos it’s barmy” got the okay.

Island nature doesn’t know whether it’s Arthur or Martha.

Our Muscovite would smile to learn, within sight of Stream Mill Lane’s fat mill tower, the one with the horse weather vane, that’s suddenly looking festive, Rusky the Russian tortoise is wired. Wakeful. This close to his December deadline he’s flatly refusing to wind his neck in and hibernate. Then again, the sap rooted, too, lean toward the unnatural. Daffodil spears defy logic. Dandelions bloom amid fungi. Fringing the Les Petites Fontaines wild strawberry flowers peep through the fallen and brittling tree leaves. Right this minute Sooty Sid’s mowing his garden daisies. And a bumblebee hover-burrs outside the flat window. Seeking what? A betwixt-stone mortar snuggle-hole? With or without, the six-month lifer might yet, along with the mingling islanders, see it through to Ratty’s twelvemonth tail-off.

Fat and festive mill tower
Late November daffodil spears

Hmm-hmm, social distancing is a rare thing in this lucky Bailiwick. Be chuntered about otherwise. Like when, in this year-of-years, two words got themselves irritatingly painted both maw and arse of the Rue a l’Or.

Upon first mention of the name what I heard was ‘Roo alors’. Aussie conditioning imagining a kangaroo bouncing around St Peter Port. Now I know better. Rue a l’Or translates as ‘Gold Street’. Which is total pomposity. A status thing. An exaggeration for what’s dank, narrow, windy, down and up, and pitch black at night. For gawd’s sake it’s obviously a lane. Albeit with beautifully built high stone walls on both sides.

Midway along sprawls Guernsey’s noblest private house, Havilland Hall. In pre-pestilence times Prince Andrew was a regular guest. Or so the bibblers, tapping noses knowingly, swear in ‘The Drunken Duck’ – an honest public house at which the obliging public bus stops short feet outside the door.

An honest public house

Likewise for convenience I hold my hand up to having enjoyed the Rue a l’Or. Bypassing traffic snarl at times of stress and during after dark. However, connected words got spoken. Island politicos hurriedly shared notes. White paint was ordered. As were outsized stencils for tarmac. The result? ‘PROHIBITED STREET’. Me? I stick to calling it the ‘rat run’.

There’s a context to this.

In yesterday’s twilight, my hands on the steering wheel sticky from a melted Mars bar, Poopsie the Smart pootled up Le Vauquiedor steep following the stream of tail lights. Passing the Rue a l’Or spur I thought it unwise to nudge the missus and exclaim “Oh, looky-look! Rats doing the literal!”

Yet rodent eyes did scrutinise us. ‘Course they did. Brown rats are like that. Good old rattus norvegicus. Don’t be fooled by the name. They’re as Viking as scrumpy cider. The Latin’s the fault of pom ‘naturalist’ John Berkenhout. Him scratching a quill in the 1720s, confusing brown rats with Norwegian lemmings is, I suppose, forgivable.

Without wanting our Muscovite friend to scowl, I can avow, the Guernsey brownies, like Rusky, actually have Russian ancestry. Having sailed into St Peter Port aboard ships, the addicted migrators doubtlessly said “Zdravstvuyte!” (“hello!”). Which is understandably different to “Nǐ hǎo!”, the original brown rats nest having hailed from China. Which brings matters to being rather in vogue. And brings me to my light bulb moment of glorious Rue a l’Or inspiration.

I’ve hit upon what to give Romi my philatelist dad-in-law for Christmas. And it won’t be chocolate. That I keep for the Guernsey Post whoopsies.

‘BSBCB’ (‘Buy stamp, buy chocolate bar’) is a notion I’ve come share with other islanders. Honest householders who take the trouble to door-knock addressees whose mail delivery harassed posties have cocked-up truly deserve a Mars. I don’t fear the calories. The island’s puff-breath hills and zillion steps take care of them.

But my current forensic focus is on the stamps. Guernsey’s 2020 ‘Year of the Rat’ commemorative lickables. A full half dozen. Each with gold detail. The elegant work of a Sydney based artist. Chrissy Lau – by birth a Yorkshire lass whose parents owned a Chineses takeaway – has designed loose change for the Royal Australian mint, amongst other things. Guernsey rats have sudden kudos.

Chrissy Lau

The denizens of Martello towers and back alleys, cliff paths and everywhere else can now display their gnarly feet and twitch their whiskers proudly. Heavens, let the lady from Environmental Health lose a shoe down a blinking brown rat tunnel! And the twenty-five brown rats shimmying past a Port Grat fixed camera in as little as one minute thirty? What the heck! Ignore they got the Island compared to both a New York sewer and a Philippines rubbish tip. Doesn’t matter.

The scrabbling, a-gnawing rat. Chinese culture believes, promotes wealth, abundance and prosperity, as well as fertility and reproduction. Fine and dandy but did the stamps’ commissioner consider Guernsey’s very limited space? Can’t have ‘donkeys’ breed like the proverbials. Anyway, Chrissy’s flower-tattooed muck about with firecrackers, coins and kumquats in their pride of place to the left of Her Maj’s golden crown.

Flower-tattooed rats

“Only on Guernsey!” islanders forever laugh. The rats braving gloomy Rue a l’Or surely chitter their agreement.

Needless to add I placed an order for Romi’s set of six. And still hum and ha whether the Muscovite might also welcome them. To remind her both of the missus and me and what’s headed for the history books.

My immediate concern are Rusky’s munchings. Agreed, a lengthy hibernation is nothing that a slug of birch vodka can’t help induce. But gut fermentation of daffodils and dandelions poses a problem. A ticking time bomb. Reason to recommend a post-prandial Dulcolax soon as shut-eye’s nigh.

First up, I’m off for a rummage. Somewhere behind the kitchen wok are the hot water bottles. It’s suddenly begun to feel colder. Best keep the missus warm. Christmas! I’d be a ratbag not to.

Illustrations & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Squirrel Dreams And Beach Bombs

13th November 2020.

Old watch house, Le Guet

November. New incomers are treated with suspicion more than ever. Others aren’t welcomed at all. Not even if isolated. Iffy white geese wander L’Ancresse common. And mounds of niffy manure await spread on L’Aumone stubble fields. Marooned on a small, almost Covid-safe island one might still wish for a change of scenery. Guernsey’s powers-that-be are happy to oblige. Somewhat drastically.

Iffy L’Ancresse geese
Niffy L’Aumone manure

“They’re going to cut down the trees at Le Guet,” announced the missus looking up from the ‘Guernsey Press’. “Next week.”

“Woah. I best photograph befores and afters. For posterity.” I answered, wiping my mouth of frothy coffee. Yay, a new lease of purpose. “Tomorrow’s Sunday. I’ll pop up for befores. What else is new?”

The missus referred to Facebook. The result had us raise eyebrows. Time hastened onward.

Le Guet (like in ‘baguette’) has a melancholic vibe. Been that way since the young fella’s suicide in autumn 2019. The ground, a pine needle duvet, is slopey. High. Raised by a gurt ‘rocque’ (rock). At the top and built of close-to-hand quarried stone squats the Napoleonic, single-storey, watch house. And on the cusp of having its view of sea and Cobo, marred for decades by Monterey pines, returned to former glory.

Le Guet view to sea and Cobo

Quite honestly, Guernsey doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Seriously it doesn’t. Nothing’s been said in the world news about the bearded man wearing a pink dress who pedals a child’s bicycle along the Rue des Varendes pavement. Nor indeed anything about the ‘Trump House’ eccentric along Les Petites Fontaines continuing to display a pink ‘Women For Trump’ flag that prompted a lady under a yellow umbrella to holler, “Pointless! No Guernsey girl will volunteer their boobs!”. Both pink shockers got denied a front page mention, I’m guessing, by US election news from Pennsylvania.

‘Trump House’

Largely ignored too, I bet, the BBC Radio 5 Live debate whether ‘Le God’, the long-retired Southampton and England football legend Matt Le Tissier, was from the Isle of Wight or Jersey. What?! I vented frustration within the sound-proofing of my head. “He’s a Guernseyman you nincompoops!” I mean, come on! Le God’s the wowza centrepiece of the Moores Hotel wall mural. Whose portrayal of Island worthies, including Dillon a deceased town cat, bang overlooks Le Pollet, a cobbled St Peter Port street.

Moores Hotel mural

With the kitchen clock gone back, dark times hit the skids. I so mourn that lost hour that makes daylight bungee-like. Yet there’s time enough for Guernsey hailstones to sting the rainbow gawpers.

As the bat said to the wet-market pangolin, “Don’t mess with nature”.

Advice the footballers of St Martin’s FC have taken to heart, letting the gurt gulls, whose island home this is, just get on with it at Blanche Pierre Lane. A footy pitch is a footy pitch you might think. But foolishly when the naked eye can’t see what wriggles and writhes under boot.

Where ‘Le God’ had donned the yellow shirt of Vale Recreation, St Martin’s local rival, and first exhibited his silken skills, gull-kind has discovered a paradisiacal midfield. A creepy-crawly Elysium. Causing voracious pecking, fossicking, and turf-tearing. It’s as if shire horses have partaken in ploughing. Football matches are, for now, postponed. The reason given, neither ‘waterlogged pitch’, nor ‘floodlight failure’, but ’other’. And what with gulls sharing ground with rat, rabbit and feral ferret, the Island surely doesn’t need the addition of further disruptive wildlife.

I only mention this because a silly sausage on the ‘Guernsey Have Your Say’ Facebook page has gone and fired up wrangling. About whether the Island should give a second chance to… the squirrel. Blooming bravo! Not.

In cosmo Australia where island space isn’t really an issue, marsupials are au fait with interloping rabbits, camels and foxes running amok. And, almost incomputable to Guernsey where every proud citizen’s known as a donkey, ‘Straya’ has five million free-roaming ones. Island space is relative.

The squirrel of topic is the red variety. Largely on the grounds that they are cuter than the grey. And live in happy abandon on Jersey and the Isle of Wight. So a kind of fluff-tailed numpty dream of keeping up with the Joneses.

Red squirrel (sciurus vulgaris)

Two truisms though defy Beatrix Potter’s ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ Squirrel Nutkin image. Red squirrels are cantankerous buggers. And they eat anything. Fungi and flowers. Bugs and eggs. Baby birds and mice. Amphibians. Oh, and bird table delicacies. So not good PR. The gulls certainly would have summat to cry over.

Worse still, imagine sciurus vulgaris sticking an inquisitive nose into a protruding bit of rusty metal in the ecstatic hope of having found a hidden cache of tinned peanuts. Actually, don’t. Because in Guernsey’s north east, past the Martello tower that flies the national flag and where crows caw, is the cliff where Fort Marchant overlooks Fontenelle Bay.

Martello tower

Here a grand view exists of Platte Fougere Light sat on Braye reef. Completed in 1910, the lighthouse cost ten grand to build. Was the first ever in concrete. And the first unattended. Control coming from ashore.

At a loose end last week, I thought the light worth a look.

When almost there, past my left lughole flashed a kestrel. Spooked. By what? My iPhone camera having snapped vanishing arse feathers I glanced behind me.

Ah.

The pair following were definitely on my heels. Blooming Nora! I stood aside. Politely and effing promptly. “Please go first. I invite you!” I offered.

The bearded and uniformed of the two hugged plastic shafted, steel-pointy stakes, cordoning-off tape and a ‘Danger Bomb Disposal’ sign. He encouraged his comrade, a scruffy brown mutt, to pad on ahead of him. “Nope-nope-nope, after you,” the mutt’s look pleading. They compromised. Walking side-by-side. The mutt likely with paw pads tightly crossed front and back. A report of maybe a mine, German. Or a depth charge, British. World War Two vintage. Tide revealed.

Bomb disposal comrades
Distant Platte Fougere light

Hellfire. What if a squirrel should scratch up another parachute mine? Like In Bluebell Wood. Similar to the coppers’ find in 2013? Can’t be allowed to happen. Really, really not.

Worryingly, red squirrels had indeed snuck in under the radar once before. A 1960s aberration. Petit Bot, the place. Today a nook of waterfall, sycamore, escaped nasturtiums and a sheltered cove. A ghetto of adorbs tried eking an existence and failed miserably. In fact they carked it. Tree shortage blamed for the inbreeding and starvation.

Petit Bot

To thrive a red squirrel ‘chucks’ and ‘wrruhs’ for a splendiferous tree canopy. Interwoven. Extensive. Guernsey’s more clumpy. And the arrival of Special Branch guarantees one clump less. The big one at Le Guet. Whose pine cones red squirrels would hold as menu toppers, delicacies to chomp the way people eat corn-on-the-cob.

Special Branch

Despite the Island’s Special Branch being nowt exciting, merely local tree surgeons, their chainsaws have properly put paid to subversive squirrel notions. Doing away with temptation. Damned decisively. Someone will, hopefully, nudge the silly sausage and gently break the bombshell.

Meanwhile, the Montereys. Their felling is ostensively because of age. They’re end of life. Supposedly. Dangerous potential topplers, authority insists. Named and shamed as Island gatecrashers. Better to plant indigenous. So hello to hazel and oak. Maybe.

A sepia photograph from the age of top hat and pony and trap shows a previous Le Guet. The huge rocque a stand out. Bracken and gorse from watch house front door down to foreshore where oyster catchers still peep.

Old Le Guet (rocque & watch house top right)
The ‘rocque’ today

Planted to grow quick, the Montereys hid from sensitive eyes brutish and foreboding watch house additions. German occupation during the Second World War had slave labour pimp the place with bunkers and heavy gun emplacements. A watch house, then, with teeth. Stark contrast to the concrete of Platte Fougere. Memories of reason, though, fade.

Watch house with teeth

But back to my befores.

Pre a brekky of poached egg, smoked cod and splotch of buttery steamed spinach, and out seeking a panorama, I puffed up Le Guet steep. Past the tragic spot. The sycamore dressed in faded ribbons, flowers long dead in cellophane placed at the roots. A photo in a clear plastic sleeve: a young man in a shirt and tie, hand written messages of sadness and loss.

Tragic spot

I arrived in mournful mood at the watch house courtyard. A pair of pigeons loitered. Three gulls and the ubiquitous large rat snacked. Sparsely.

“Mates! What you doin’? Far better picking at Blanche Pierre Lane. There there’s a full turf-wrapped buffet!” My words were met by an instantaneous flap of wings and a scurry. Sure as pine cones are pine cones, news reaching Le Guet travels slow.

Watch house courtyard
The Monterey pines

Who dropped the bag of crisps remains an open verdict. The cap wearing ancient geezer with the Jack Russell? The grim bloke with two St Bernards? Or the early riser nun? I could only hazard a guess. As great a mystery, then, as the apologia for ending it all.

This morning, the pine tree clicked mid fall and my thumbs up signalled, I had my afters.

Afters

It’s notable, the missus says, that today’s Friday the 13th. In 2020. Jeez! And, oddly, International Kindness Day. Interpretation as free as Waitrose’ gratis bunch of blooms. Tosh to any change of scenery. The missus and I are squirrelled away, sofa bound. Under our duvet of safety. The prickles of our newly decorative eryngiums out of stabbing distance.

Nothing though stopped me have a peek at any local news update… Strewth! Oh, golly gosh! The harbourmaster, Cap’n Barker, is on his high horse, insisting on calm. World War Two ordnance had been found. Last Wednesday. Right here in bloody St Peter Port. An anti-submarine depth charge, he guesses. On his watch, the biggest he’s ever come across. A metre long. Half that in circumference. On the sea bed. Very close to the QEII marina.

St Peter Port marinas

Could have been loosed from a plane or been lobbed from a boat. And is currently cuddled by ‘marine growth’. Might be mistaken for a rock, the Cap’n said. Or, from a squirrel’s perspective, a barrel of nom noms, mused I. The ‘Red Squirrel Survival Trust’, adamant the focus of its existence swims, puts an end to sentimental hypotheticals once and for all.

On this, a human rock-dweller has his fingers and toes triple crossed.

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Bubbles And Ballots

8th October 2020.

Bubbles and Ballots

Here we are. In October. The air, tingle-chill. Lichen and sloe, cliff top standouts. Microcosm loveliness. The word ‘bubble’ retains its literal meaning. As the ‘Rule of Six’ does to a half dozen eggs.

Lichen and sloes

What absorbs the islander majority? Look no further than a quote from the poignant novel of Guernsey life G.B. Edwards wrote in the 1970s, ‘The Book of Ebenezer Le Page’.

“I don’t think anybody talk about anything else on this island now: except the weather and how much so-and-so is making, or what the States is or isn’t doing that is wrong.”

Fifty years on, nowt’s changed. Apart, that is, from a few noggin scratchers.

“There are some very strange people in the world,” mused the missus, Facebook absorbed.

“A plethora of ‘em,” I agreed.

And Time gallops.

Apple Day is faded news: the wallow hog roast devoured to the last crunch of crackling. And Sir Richard, the Bailiwick’s former Bailiff, beaten fair and square in the apple pie eating contest by the sprog with the speedy nibble technique. Yet reason remains to be found for many a box of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes discovered in the middle of the road near the island’s diary.

Moreover, Philosophy Carl’s quip that “Guernsey will be locked in a bubble of black and white while the rest of the world moves on to colour” has been received down the ‘Drunken Duck’ with puzzlement. Especially since the merry hurrahs for the Island’s lauded virologist, “incredibly honoured and humbled” by her MBE. The gift of the Queen for unfettering the Bailiwick from Covid-pestilence. Me? I’m still trying to quietly winkle out the sense of hyperbole when it’s nigh on impossible to remain anonymous.

Although it’s a mystery of a serial nature who was aboard the $54 million private jet that landed, it was definitely Sooty Sid who’s lit his family’s smoker for first time since May. The chimney’s belches buggering my wonderment at an aubergine coloured sky before Storm Alex, named such by the French met office, turned St Peter Port’s mazy streets subaqueous.

Subaqueous

Only for the bug – an inquisitive ladybird – peering in through the study’s double-glazed window pane to waggle an antenna in shock. Not at a cloud burst but by having got sugared and soapy sopped by the pop from what a moment before had been a huge floating orb of rainbow light. The bubble plus a legion of others wand-served into fickle, wind-gust heaven. By Sooty Sid’s ‘Granny Day Care’ mum thrilling at her downtime before school’s out. Flying leaves the self-invited bubble buddies. Leading me to big-up dry old politics.

The last ballots counted, today’s the shakedown from yesterday’s election. The first ever that’d been Island wide rather than parish narrow in appointing new States Deputies. Which meant any Botherkins this or Wheedlekins that stood in, say, Forest could earn a ballot pencil cross in the Vale. Or so to speak.

Ballot counting (Guernsey Press)

Yep, any elector was permitted to vote for as many or as few of the hundred and nineteen eclectic egos as they blooming chose. So long as it was no more than thirty-eight, the full whack of contestable seats. Smiley-cum-smug hims and hers vied for voter sympathy. Placards popped up behind walls. A strategic green banner distracted at traffic lights. While a discrete ‘Please Vote’ poster for the spanking new ‘Alliance Party Guernsey’ only became visible when a garden tree dropped its chestnuts.

Distracting banner
Fallen chestnuts

Someone, mind you, maybe could have sidled past gatekeeper gnomes and knocked on the portal of ‘Trump House’. To explain the election was simply for Guernsey. No more than that. Honestly, honestly. Despite the trouble the occupier of the tatty end-of-terrace has been to.

Goodness me, each passing day exhibited further addition to the festooning. Sprayed on Team Trump slogans. Bunting. The ‘Making America Great Again’ banner-flag the size of a codswallop trawler draped from the cast-iron paling has the company of a blood-red Trump 2020 battle flag. Topping the paling, mini USA flags all in a row. In a window ‘The Donald’ is illustrated a-horse, mimicking Jacques-Louis David’s painting of a Marengo mounted Napoleon. This on the island where the plethora of Martello towers – on which paragliders sweeping too low try not to stub toes – got built to blinking repel the wee Jupiter Scapin.

‘Trump House’
Martello Towers and paragliders

The ‘Trump House’ answers, in a small way, the question: where in gawd’s name 35.2 million bucks the profligate Republican National Committee spent on merchandise go?

Guernsey natives have come forth admitting confusion. And deflation.

Needless to say, manifestos promised the earth. Well, to at least address cannabis, kind of tinker with the airport runway, and question whether new-build homes should squeeze out the hanging-in there wild flowers, doe-eyed cows and Maris Pipers. Not forgetting the Island’s rum sugar cane.

Guernsey airport

The carousing Spaniards, meanwhile, in the villa across the road have a new sock drying disc-rack hanging inside the French windows. Not a dream catcher as I’d thought before putting on my specs, having Heffalumped into the Guernsey trap of wanting to know the ins and outs of the cat’s bum.

But hey, this chap, like any mog, has to eat. Likewise his missus. And I admit setting a mental alarm to catch the mid-morning window that helps avoids the Waitrose snooty crowd but alas not the judgement of aproned staff.

“Can I have that celeriac free?” I solicited. The last-on-store found unloved. Wizened. Hacked about by an ASBO deserving harvester, but, at a pinch, passable for steaming. And essential. Along with carrots, spuds and chicken breast. When cooled and chopped small, and mixed in with mayo, petit pois and diced gherkins, not forgetting salt and pepper, makes an addictive Moldovan salad.

However, I talked to the hand.

On till the diminutive and disconcertingly forward, ever nostalgic, Denise. My pat of buttercup hue, Guernsey butter wrapped in distinctive gold and black foil brought the comment: “Used to be orange, had foot and half of cream on top.”

“Sound’s like some rabid President,” I quipped. A needless bon mot that Denise to her credit ignored. Down the conveyor belt the butter cruised. All £1.85 of it. Sheesh, don’t me get started on the price of butter when a cricketer’s arm can likely chuck pats from diary to far flung island shop, yet can be bought for 79p in Banbury. Jin, bless her heart, has been quick to Facebook post, “I have payed £1.85 at to coop it make me mad that us locals hav to pay more then the uk and it’s from hear (sic)”.

Denise’s attention turned to the biodegradable bag holding red perfection: two Jack Hawkins beefsteaks – large, old school tomatoes – that the missus had capital-lettered on my shopping list. “These are very expensive,” Denise scowled. “What you want are local ‘slicing toms’. They’re much cheaper.” And in truth, I knew, in an altogether lower league. Like Exeter City FC to Southampton.

Long gone, sadly, is the Guernsey Tom’s halcyon age when boatbuilders turned wood-framed greenhouse chippies. A time when seven per cent of the Island was under vinery-clever concave roof glass. Ponder on the fact 1969 staggeringly saw the Island export over nine and a half million trays. Of tomatoes. Each tray’s content sitting on tissue paper whose colour denoted quality.

Guernsey glasshouse chippies
Tomato vinery glasshouses in halcyon age
… skeletal collapse
Defunct tractors
Sparse times

Scant evidence of the industry remains. Except for lonely brick chimneys in the landscape. Legacies of coal-fired hothouse heating and the annual pest-killing soil-steam. The major cause of the industry’s demise? The picnic downer. Those hard tomatoes. The tasteless, uniformly grown, orange balls of Dutch water. Plus, of course, scrummy competition from the Isle of Wight.

Chimneys in landscape

“Woe betide me if I don’t take these beauties home to the missus.” I answered, knowing anything inferior and less mortgageable would seen as half-arsed, no matter the providence, by my sweetness and light.

Denise was shocked. “You should know better. Where’s your island loyalty?” My ‘museau’, she said, had the look of a Guernseyman. Holy Mother of God! A new one for the list. At various times my face has had me mistaken for Irish, Irish-Indian, German, Syrian and Moldovan.

I blurted out more info than I was happy with, namely me being born a Hampshire Hog.

And Hampshire’s detached part is The Isle of Wight. And fact is Hawkins are mainly grown there. If anyone was exhibiting island loyalty is was me. But noticing the beginnings of a queue I held my tongue. Instead I asked Denise whether we could actually discuss the celeriac.

Wizened celeriac

“It’s got character,” she smirked, holding the up the root of discussion as if it were a Portland vase. “A gourd’s got character too.”

A bit left field but I acknowledged the truth of it.

“My mum used to paint watercolours of them. Gourds,” she continued, ignoring the coughed arrival of a perfumed, run-along-a-ding-ding, laden trolley shover. “Mum stopped when Dad’s oils of boats and cliffs got exhibited in the Royal Academy. You know how it is living in a shadow?”

I said I could imagine. Adding I was bit of an artist myself and had illustrated some books.

“That’s good enough,” said Denise. As indeed, in her eyes, was the naff specimen of celeriac. I wouldn’t though put it to a vote.

Soon it’ll surely be made clear if the new Deputy-elects confound the words of G.B. Edwards. Whether the opinions of Philosophy Carl’ll be made blinking obvious to bibblers in the Drunken Duck I’m not holding my breath.

Right now? I’m about to slam shut the window. To hold at bay the acrid whiff of chimney smoke that swirls in this metaphorical bubble. After the missus and I gollop supper’s bonzer salad I’m sure there’s leftover apple pie.



Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Happy Hackers And Flying Yaks

12th September 2020.

Happy hacker and flying yaks

Safe from the Covid-coaster but marooned upon this Channel Island rock, horizons expand and contract like Richard Reed Parry’s squeezebox as the mood takes. And on a day of mixed messaging and a clash of date this Guernsey newbie, although having now attained resident status, is still not quite up to speed with local normality.

Local normality

Excusable me being distracted, my focus on other things: getting the lavender taste off the tip of my tongue after smooching the missus’ scented oil smothered forehead and day four events at Worcester. Where Somerset’s cricketers tied up the loose ends for a place in the red ball Bob Willis Trophy final. At Lord’s. The home of English cricket. Where my book ‘Another Somerset Century‘ has snoozed in its dust jacket for what must be seven years on the library shelf.

Perhaps, in light of day three at Worcester, there’s an opportunity to blow off the cobwebs and offer a rewrite?  I mean, why not? A fresh sporting record has occurred. A splendid one. Especially given the old ‘un has lasted 106 years. 

Tom Lammonby is now the youngest Somerset cricketer in the club’s upsy-downsy history to carry his willow through an entire innings. A 20-year old sprog, opening bat Tom not only walloped and nurdled an undefeated century but by being not out when his team’s tenth wicket fell he’d eclipsed Arthur ‘Dudley’ Rippon.

Arthur ‘Dudley’ Rippon

In my head I was still cheering events that seemed so very far away when other oldies, a Spitfire and Hurricane, waggled wings as they passed over Havelet Bay. Where a seal’s been spotted. (By which I mean a ‘mermaid-mutt’ has been seen.) I had sense to click to the Facebook page of ‘Guernsey People Have Your Say!’ No mention there though of seals and antiquated planes. The topics of concern updated minute by minute were horse shit and suicide. 

That it happened to be ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ added poignancy to the simple wooden cross, I’d chanced on, in memory of a leaper from Jerbourg’s precipitous cliffs. Small cards offering help to desperate souls in our desperate times are currently sellotaped to the Island’s lamp posts. 

In memory of a leaper

‘I for one find this island suffocating and claustrophobic after a while,’ posted Lydon. Beverley commented she was being driven to desperation by Guernsey’s horse problem. 

And there was me thinking this was a paradise of happy hackers. That’s ‘hackers’ in the bog-standard horse riding sense. I haven’t been a fan since a bastard riding school beast dumped my teenage self in Exmoor’s Barle Valley nettles. 

My Guernsey gee-gee knowledge is limited. It extends to Snookles the pony who offers a muzzle whenever the missus and I happen to pass by his paddock. Of course, there was also the rider obsessing over her smart phone, reins tangled with earphone cables when me in Poopsie the Smart drove around the Mont d’Aval corner at high noon. And I’ve picked up some useful scraps from Helen who lives up Les Petites Fontaines. 

She keeps a smart van and the wolf from the door saddle fitting and doing horsewear repairs. A wrinkle on the saddlecloth can leave a swelling on the nag’s back. True as true, she says. Me quipping about princesses and peas had me put properly in my place.

Helen’s van

What else? Unquestionably, Helen’s super willing to look at a broken fly mask. Something that in prime condition keeps buzzers out the pupils rather than the nostrils and maw. And gives a horse the appearance of an equine épéeist. Reason enough for Helen being paid to watch the lunge. For forty quid she offers a ‘flocking’ top-up. And there’s me thinking nags came in herds, like Brumbies. 

Mind you, she hasn’t mentioned offering a horse nappy service. However, given Carriere stables’ golf buggy towing trailer and shovel hasn’t been spotted following bums for weeks, Carissima’s banging on about benefits of ‘The Catch It!’ manure bag, a lightweight vinyl horse diaper. A view shared by the bibbler sages in the ‘Drunken Duck’ mulling over the muck smear risk to paddle boards on Cobo beach.

Cobo beach

Which brings me on to Beverley’s Facebook post about some hacked nag or other having plopped on the road outside her home, prompting somebody to shovel the doings onto the pavement by her front gate. And no she didn’t grow roses so she herself had scraped a return to road. A few hours later the offending foulment was back. And school kids had traipsed through it. Her comments opened the floodgates of eclectic opinion.

‘Sell it for £6 a bag in Guernsey Garden Centre.’

‘You want lynch mob for a public hanging. None so queer as folk is there?’

‘Horses here before cars and worked the land to feed us.’

‘They can still feed us. ‘Hedge Veg? What about hedge horse meat? Go Walloons!’

‘The world is in a pandemic crisis of life and death – in Guernsey we have horse poo.’

‘If it were a dog it’d be against the law.’

‘Walk with a hop skip and jump! Problem solved and no more whinging.’

Enough! I still still hadn’t cottoned on why the seal was being wing-waggled at. I Google searched spitfire guernsey september’ – and, aha! ’Semen for sale. Beachwood Spitfire. English Guernsey Cattle Society’. Um. Nah.

I tried again, exchanging ‘spitfire’ for ‘hurricane’. What I got was 1869’s news of wrecked ships and multiple death. Daft ‘apeth, be sensible and bung in the simple word ‘plane’, I told myself… 

Result. ‘Battle of Britain’ 80th anniversary celebration’. Wow! How could I possibly not know? And me and the missus having a St Peter Port eyrie over-chimney-tops view.  Uber-joy. Such are the little things in insular life.

Fact is, it was probably around the time Beverley did the scraping that Jez the Boss, along with his mates Peter the lawyer, Den the real ale lover, and, depending who you believe, Az the Morris dancer, known collectively and internationally as the Yakovlevs, departed Henstridge in South Somerset – which, to put it on the map, is near the nondescript village of Templecombe once home the Knights Templar – and hoofed their Yaks, a whopping 400 horse power apiece, toward Guernsey. I’m talking Yak 52s. Nothing hump shouldered, horny, hairy or bovine. Think authentic cold war Russian warbird. Meaning vintage military planes now operated by civilians, exempli gratia Jez, Peter, Den and Az.

Their imminent arrival was forewarned by a dragonfly whirring unexpectedly in through my open study window. Abdomen-quivery, it gawped back out at the world from whence it had hurried.

Sanctuary seeking dragonfly

The Yakovlevs howl within a split-second was tight formation. Zooming over the roof. My head and neck scooching tortoise fashion into my back fat. A shocked gull, bless it, added to the guano that whitened its favourite chimney pot.

Hell’s bells. And keep them polished with a hanky. I’m guessing pure engine roar hid the cockpit tinkles and jingles of Az, a pilot who’d quit the Soviet military and his brutish Mig 21 ‘Fishbed’ with its lengthy nose ‘harpoon’ for a love a Yak and aerobatic display. 

Yakovlev Yak 52

The Yakovlevs on-the-day high speed passes and crosses were in honour and memory of Alderney’s late Blue Islands airline founder Derek Coates. ‘RIP’ tweeted Jez the boss.

Displaying in 2012 at Faku on the North Korean border during the first ever China Air Day the team broke China Central Television viewing figures. It’s claimed 380 million tuned in. Ten seconds on BBC Channel Islands news a meerkat can’t compare.

The Havelet seal’s day, however, went from bad to worse with an incoming Catalina, a huge seaplane. Which in turn gave way to the Red Arrows. Hawk jets. And oh my, oh my. So much red, white and blue smoke trailing past the priory steeple. So many loop the loops and dives. And many a Woah! from the missus. A sky dive heart with an arrow plunged at Mach 1.2 through its centre the pièce de résistance.

Despite the obvious sign of love the dragonfly was going nowhere.

Red Arrows

With the sky trails faded and the dragonfly assured the coast was clear the missus and I went for an evening stroll. No hops. No skipping. No jumps. To Bordeaux. Where, upon a no parking sign, was slung a delicate, lacy white bra. 

Liberation day?

Had me wonder which Island lass mistook the Battle of Britain anniversary for Liberation Day. Mixed messaging indeed! Certainly something to mention down the ‘Drunken Duck’ if I could get a word in edgeways over prattle about egos, political wannabees and manure. 

Come tomorrow I might condescend giving Snookles’ muzzle a stroke with a tentative forefinger. Maybe good for the mental health. As for the locals Facebook page comment has also switched to the forthcoming Guernsey elections. The new normality. “Urh,” Carissima moans, “I’ll soon lose the will to live.”

Hurricanes, meanwhile, mass in the Atlantic as I sniff the missus’ forehead before braving another tender loving smacker. 

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

 

Dodgems On A Fly-Speck

4th September 2020.

Dead dodgem and the Lemuroids

In 1972 Gerald Basil Edwards finished his acclaimed novel about Guernsey life, ‘The Book of Ebenezer Le Page’. In it Ebenezer says: 

“There are so many cars on the roads, you risk your life every time you put your nose out; and, as for the boys on motor-bikes, they have no business to be allowed at all.” 

Almost a half century later the words are truer than ever as summer’s end hails blackberry season under a changeable sky.

The moochy crow, crying gulls and many a piping oyster catcher, were signs I’d escaped the stresses of St Peter Port aka ‘Dodgem Town’ whose car-infested streets smack of rat runs and mouse scoots. And are little different in St. Sampson’s or St Martin’s, et al.

Blackberry season

Moochy crow

‘Dodgem Town’

Yet, having pootled Miss Practical, Poospie the Smart, all the way to Petils Bay’s remote shoreline car park, who would’ve thunk it? Wheem-wheem. The racket of three mopeds. Their exhausts defying bafflement. Was nowhere sacred from the Lemuroids? 

The missus and I did chew over naming the island roaming, irritant whippersnappers the Three Amigos. Lemuroids, though, stuck. Born of the L-plates and the occasional finger-flick ‘move it!’ from the odd copper. In Oz a Lemuroid is a white variety of possum with a lemur-like mug, hailing from the Carbine Tableland. So a whimsical moniker for those who’ll likely grow to be part of, perhaps, the Island’s biggest problem. 

One about which curmudgeonly islanders cast around to appoint blame. 

For some it’s Guernsey’s twenty-seven wowza beaches each being of getatable choice. Speedsters, for instance, from every Island nook and corner and with a singular intent, hightail in droves to the vast race space of Vazon sands. But they aren’t everyone.

Vazon sands

So, perhaps, it’s the wearisome up and downy hills that have allowed engine horse power to enthusiastically replace Shanks’s pony. I mean hellfire, in the annual British Hillclimb Championship cars summit St Peter Port’s steep, 830-yard Val de Terres in under twenty-seven seconds. Achievement won, like at Vazon, with nowt but a slammed down foot.

Val de Terres

But a few see the blatantly obvious. 

“There it is, the culprit,” said falcon-eyed Carissima, old money out walking her mini, aged Schnauzer. Her boom-voice alarming the oystercatchers more than the aforesaid trio. 

She pointed out into the evening twilight beyond Hommet Benest rock. Where a puff-funnel, blue-hull tanker headed toward St. Sampsons harbour. Her name, Sarnia Cherie – the same as this Channel Island’s national anthem – translates as ‘Dear Guernsey’. Her cargo, petrol. For 86,000 thirsty motors. Among a population, including me and the missus, of 63,276. All crammed into five miles by three. Were the per capita discrepancy the Covid-coaster ‘Argh’ number it’d cause the screaming abdabs.

The ‘Sarnia Cherie’…

… puffs into St Sampson’s harbour

To quote the ‘Guernsey Insight Guide’, “Guernsey has one of the highest car ownership rates in the world, and the amount of traffic and parking problems may deter you from driving.” The powers-that-be have run with this thread, providing Dodgem Town locals ‘Seafront Sundays’.

Few and far between, these Sundays offer a carbon perfume reprieve. The motorist banned, dogs promenade during a tarmac takeover. Tut sharks flog nostalgic kitch: trad, wooden, Isle of Sun Guernsey tomato boxes etcetera. From under the brasserie awning a saxophonist’s tuneful blowing can be heard. A distraction from those who, haply suffering an excess of either shucked, quid-a-pop Herm oysters and Prosecco or just the local cider, chudder into the harbour. The suddenly Lemuroids appearing not so bad.

Tarmac takeover

Shucking Herm oysters

Vending local cider

Suffering excess

My iTunes having shuffled Jethro Tull’s ‘Stuck In The August Rain’ seamlessly to My Morning Jacket’s ‘Old September Blues’, I cogitate about the unspoken emotion of ‘Je t’aime ma belle voiture’ and know I’m on a rock of addicts. 

Je t’aime ma belle voiture

Bizarre really. What with open-season pavements along skinny, suck-your-breath-in roads, often stone walled both sides. Plus a top whack legal speed of 35 mph out of town, 25 mph in town, plummeting to 15 mph in the mazy Ruettes Tranquilles. Not forgetting gurt obstacles like the number 41 bus to Grandes Rocques.  

Many, however, still feel the need. To free untapped potential energy. Neither the fines keeping the Island’s coffers nicely topped up nor a prompt appearance in the ‘Guernsey Press’ deter. Apart from the former college tutor admitting to doing 72.

News is, our one-way street being a rackety drag, the missus, bless, has resorted to earplugs. The heavy duty sort, the preferred choice of jackhammer operatives. Corner cottages likely have a lucky horseshoe nailed to their front door. Cats need full use of their nine lives. And the hedgehogs… well, hmm, yes, the hedgehogs…

Rackety drag

Writing in the ‘New Statesman’ the journalist Will Self, tongue-in-cheek, called Guernsey a “fly-speck of land” with “a vast amount of car-flesh on display”. Much, may I add, is in organised chaos. At the filter boxes. 

The quirky, cheap alternative to traffic lights and yellow-painted large where roads join, the filter box requires the motorised or pedalled to go the way they want in turn. A simple notion, easier said than done. Particularly at rush hours. When a kind of clockwise observation game ensues while guessing where ’12’ is.  The result? ‘You go’, ‘gawd sake, nit, you go’, and ‘you damned wait before I go’. Self-regulatory, failing common sense and luck, tyred ballet it ain’t.

A Guernsey filter

Chuck in a ‘Horror’ and it’s trauma and schadenfreude. The local nickname for a hire car, the ‘Horror’ comes with big fat H-stickers front and rear. Hence, easy to identify the causer of mayhem. The missus and I drove several when we first pitched up on this island of more than a few bloated bank accounts. 

A ‘horror car’

Top end, a bespoke Rolls-Royce. The registered to island ‘Sweptail’. Giant glass roof resembling a boat. And rumoured in ‘The Drunken Duck’ to be the dearest new car ever sold. Ten million quid attached to licence plate number 08. Think I might once have gawped at it out gadding with the everyday honour-badged dinted, dented and scratched. However, maybe my peepers deceived me and what I spied was a swish and valeted Bentley.

An everyday ‘honour-badged’

Marginally lower in the pecking order are the Porsches. Of these Guernsey suffers the highest per capita number on the planet. By the law of averages I encountered one earlier today that summed up dodgem life.

Another ubiquitous road closure had me zip down rat run Allez Street. The grey, badly behaving Carrera coming t’other way had Poopsie’s near side wheels the Guernsey way, riding the high kerb cobbles. Just as a young lass threw her bruise-black Abarth’s nose out from mouse scoot George Street. I lip-read her “Oh, shit!”. We raised palms. We smiled. Politely.

I’ve smiled too at red-bearded Paul. His Mitzi pickup, a true ‘Gulliver’, ticks the vastness box. 

Paul’s ‘Gulliver’

Another frequenter of Petils Bay, I found him there, stowing aboard his yellow kayak, rods and tackle, plus a bonus bag of fresh caught fish. Stoic about the long-shadowed lazy light, he and his gas-guzzler headed off into the glare. Alert to dangers. Like Margie. A delightful biddy who never bothers to indicate. Because everybody knows where she lives, she says. 

Certainly the latest Margie anecdote sees Raymond in ‘The Plough’ smack down his pint in a slop of froth. “Guernsey has some of the worst driving I’ve seen,” he groans.

Dare I say, akin to Raymond’s beer mat, the Island’s reached saturation point?

Obviously, some households muck with the averages. Raising the bar of how many cars can be squeezed into a Guernsey gravelled garden. One small, flag-flaunting bungaIow boasts seven. Including a Fiat 500. Which, I swear, the Island breeds. Indeed, the missus hissed at a hidden nest in Perelle. In all colours imaginable, the tin buggers are everywhere. 

Mucking with the averages

Struggling plants meantime look to migrate. And appear to be of the opinion if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. Raymond said as much when I pointed out the violet flourishing on his twee Hyundai’s car cill, passenger side. He’d live with it, though. A hydrangea would be more impractical. Especially when overtaking.

Travelling violet

For an undertaker, look to Nature. On parcels of ground where, not that many years ago, one might have reared the family pig, dead dodgems rust. Easily spotted via Google maps satellite view, spied from terra firma Volvos to Mercedes hide behind marigolds and in bramble plumps. And meld into the mulch.

Melding into the mulch

With this now said the ‘Sarnia Cherie’ will surely, too, have offloaded. Just as mischievous leaves think to fall. Best no more silly, distracting waffle about possums. Better to concentrate on braking dodgems on a fly-speck.

 

Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

Sunflowers And Thieving Mice

20th August 2020.

Thieving mice

Honest to goodness, Guernsey has become mid August shaggy. And a bit bedraggled, given last night Storm Ellen licked her lips at the small target. This morning the tall sunflowers in Sooty Sid’s garden lean like St Sampson’s harbour crane jibs or have drooped to the sod.

I admit to liking sunflowers. A lot. They evoke beatific places I’ve lingered. Such as Moldova. The dusty road to Călărași in particular. Beside which seeds ripened in the field. To feed the honest poor.

Dusty road to Călărași

Seeds ripening

Here in St Peter Port, however, I do fear Ellen’s made not just the sunflowers suffer but the meadow cicadas too. 

Hearing them in yesterday’s twilight, just as the double rainbow faded, was another nostalgia tickler. For me cicadas remain the sound of suburban Melbourne. And how their Guernsey relations chirred! Sudden and loud in amongst the blowsy, white, granny-pop-out-bed convolvulus trumpets. I fumbled with my iPhone. Swiped to the GarageBand app. And… silence. The buglets had seemingly all found themselves a bonk in less than a half minute. In Oz the singing crepitation was incessant. Hour upon hour. Emphasis if emphasis is needed that this island is a very small place.

Cicada evening

Granny-pop-out-of-bed trumpets

The Financial Times, no less, calls it ‘a pocket’. One so attractive to international finance that it hails being the closest finance hub to London. Which is good for the local money who strut about with pleats in their shorts or in designer heels. Their confidence boosted by hedge funds and the low crime rate. So says the FT.

But relative is relative when things are a bit special and ages-old smuggling swims in the local gene pool.

Yes, bush-bearded Steve the Grout does reckon that the Island’s coppers, on slow days – those when not stop and searching youth for MDMA ( 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine to the boffin, ecstasy or molly to the ‘dabbler’) – may as well follow up on mice thieving from the plethora of hedge veg stalls. Which, for the uninitiated, are rough and ready and where islanders sell their garden surplus front of home, an honesty box placed for payment. And are downright cultural.

Cop car

Hedge veg, Bordeaux

Naturally, Steve concedes, there exist some very bad eggs. The ejit that stiffed the school chicken with a kick to the noggin, an example. Another, the serial killer of peregrines remains on the loose, a bounty of £15,500 on their addled head.For the non-drugged and unfeathered, however, the Island’s their idyll. Regardless of being COVID free for well over a hundred days, it’s the best place to live in the world Steve believes. Guernsey born, he says knows who’s who. He went to school with either them or their cousins.

“Tell me please who the blazes ‘the man with the chips’ is.” I asked as he engaged with silicon worms and social networking, knelt in the missus and my leaky shower cubicle. The Guernsey Press had given ‘the man with the chips’ repeated mentions after his day in court.

“Absolutely,” Steve replied. “It’s the ‘man with the chips'”. So runneth the current Harry Potterish joke of the chap who can’t be named. 

Man with the chips  Guernsey People Have Your Say! Facebook

Seriously, though, Steve’s steadfast certain ninety-nine-dot-dot-dot per cent of Guernsey donkeys are kind hearts. From the top down to the screaming la-la. 

Steve the Grout

This has reassured me. Making me share my wonderment at what I spied in a car park up by the Doyle monument that melds history plonked on Jerbourg’s iron age fort.

The monument, a high stone needle, commemorates military bigwig Sir John Doyle whose main worry was Napoleon. The needle itself is Mark 2. Mark 1 had been felled by WW2’s occupying Germans, jittery that nuisance locals might think to shin up it and naughtily signal SOS and worse.

Doyle monument

The empty bike rack on a petite, attention-seekingly red VW had me guess the driver was off on a cycle. Not wanting the pointy jabbing whilst pedalling the reason perhaps for trusting the car key to the car’s rear tyre. An act only ever seen in the movies. Why so foolhardy when security amounted to the gull stood on needle point?

Act of trust

Security gull?

“Just Guernsey,” said Steve. “I live on a council estate and always leave my keys in the car. Any road there’s no escaping with a nicked car so why bother?

Practicalities breed the Island honesty then? Nn-nn, it’s not quite as simple as that.

Take the saga of my beloved ‘paw bag’, a shopping bag made from recycled PET bottles I’ve had for yonks. It’s carried everything from Somerset scrumpy to Melbourne pumpkin bread. Imagine my woe to discover having lost it. I mentally retraced my steps but without excessive hope.

Paw bag

“When do think you might have mislaid your old bag?” asked the kindly Waitrose lady on the ‘helpful desk’ as I stood in front of her.

“On Tuesday just gone. ‘Bout 6 o’clock.”

“If it’s been handed in it’ll be recorded in the book.” She thumped a bulky ledger onto the counter. A post it note scrawled ‘Lost Property’ sellotaped to its front. Turning pages she ran a finger down the entries some in biro, some in pencil.

“Teenage lad handed in a wallet the other day,” she said. “Customers always forget their wallets. This one had four hundred pounds cash in it. I keep telling myself I‘d had done the same but…” Her voice tailed away, her eyes for a moment unfocused. I sensed a slight deviation from community spirit. I gave my lip an anxious chew before reminding myself of Hannah’s purse, a story currently doing the rounds.

In a nutshell, Hannah whooshed away, her purse on her car roof. Within twenty minutes she’d had a call. From one of four youngsters who’d found it. Reunited, Hannah found the contents fully present and correct. Now she’s out telling everyone to quit slagging off the Island’s youth.

“Whereabouts did you lose it? The bag?” asked Ms Waitrose having pulled herself together.

“Likely between the sunflowers and the red onions. When filly-faddling with missus’ red freesias. Plus I had a distracting tune in my head. A proper earwig. ‘Tea For Two’. My friend Big Jeremy recorded a version in his kitchen. Lots of ching-ting-ching with two mugs and a teaspoon. He’s put it up on YouTube, you know. Along with his ‘4inabaa’. A flock of sheep bleating Handel.”

Rough location of loss

“Are you taking anything?” She peered at me oddly.

“What? Oh. No, no, no. I know there’s an Island problem. But I plead innocence. Honest.” That word again.

She humphed. “So in-store. Definitely not in the car park?” She flicked through the entries

“You’ve got me doubting myself, now.”

“Mhm. Can you described the bag?”

“Blue. Dog paw prints. Old and much loved.”

Further pages were lick-thumbed and turned. Her finger travelling meticulous. Her hand slap on a leaf made me jump. In a blink a large cardboard box was magicked, its lid lifted on treasures. Amongst the designer scarves,  random keys, posh pens, a pair of spruce pink trainers, a kindle, two mobile phones, a tartan coat that might have fitted a dachshund, a hoodie and bag upon bag, there it was. My faithful.

“Yay! This blessed blooming isle! I whooped. “And bless the handers-in!” Ms Waitrose beamed and beamed.

Blessed blooming isle

However, this is not the time for today’s final full stop.

Twenty-four hours ago ten kids’ bags lamentably got pinched from the skate park. Most had phones and cash in. With the year feeling neither half in nor half out the police may, for now, need to leave misbehaving mice with the run of the hedge veg.

Steve the Grout, confessing to having his wallet rummaged out of that box twice, fancies islanders are muttering of strange individuals out there. ‘Beware the beaches’ is a new trope. Honest to goodness, we live in uncertain times. Sadly this pocket Elysium deepens toward dark despite those hedge funded with the fattest wallets probably sleeping soundly.

Behind a vase of sunflowers in my pocket kitchen and GarageBand primed, I’m in vigil for the randy cicadas, ‘Tea For Two’, that narky number, has me switch the kettle on. Best please the missus. Later I’ll take a shower without fear of flooding. Then a snack from the cupboard perhaps. Of those roasted seeds that rather became a habit.




Illustration & text © 2020 Zum Beamer/Charles Wood.

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.