Saturday, 20 July 2013

Jersey - the Final Word

I've tried to be 'tight' with my timing on Jersey and it really feels as though I've merely scratched the surface in terms of my research into life on the island.  My blog posts can only capture a fraction of my learning experience and this 'final word' is an attempt to summarise the learning journey I've been on for the past month or so.

A summary of the themes

During my research on Jersey, I learned about Jersey's legal status - not part of the UK, but being closely linked culturally and politically.  I also learned about Jèrriais, the native language of the island, now considered to be severely endangered.  I learned about Jersey's reputation as a tax haven and I learned about the Occupation of the Channel Islands by the Nazis, during World War Two.  Finally, I learned how to make Bean Crock or Pais au Fou and Jersey Wonders, traditional recipes from the island. 

Tools for Research

I read the following books:

Tools for research in the afternoon light
Insight Guides: Channel Islands (2007 reprint, editor Brian Bell), which was useful for background research on topic areas.

Living with the Enemy (2002 reprint) by Roy McLoughlin - a useful overview of life in the Channel Islands under Nazi rule.

I also read Night of the Fox (1986) by Jack Higgins, the well-known author who has made Jersey his home.  It was an interesting novel and not the kind I would normally read, but I enjoyed it.  Perhaps most interesting was how a standard plot was turned on its head - somehow the 'good guys' seemed to be the deceptive ones and the ones who made the confession at the end - except it all turned out in their favour, whereas, normally the confession scene happens just before the bad guys get caught!

Finally, I read This is how you disappear (2007), a book of poetry by Jersey-born Jeremy Reed - but more about that later . .

Apart from The Others (2001) dir. Alejandro Amenábar and starring Nicole Kidman, there don't seem to have been many movies set in Jersey.

Nevertheless, I had great fun watching the very first series of Bergerac, the 80's detective show, which brought the island to British TV screens.  It's a bit dated now, of course, but I enjoyed John Nettles' performances and was surprised to learn that his birth-mother was Irish, although he was brought up by adoptive parents.

It was great to see the island on film and funny to think of the image Bergerac portrayed of Jersey, as a hive of international espionage, drugs, homosexuality, inheritance disputes and Korean war veterans!  I didn't watch the TV series when it was aired, back in the day, so it was all new to me and the kind of experience I would have completely missed, if it weren't for this blog!

I also loved the theme music - reggae meets French accordion - it's very catchy!

Unfortunately, other musical experiences were thin on the ground, but luckily the island's reputation has been saved by the wonderful Nerina Pallot who was nominated for the award of British Female Solo Artist at the Brits in 2007.  I particularly liked the song Patience, which is from her debut album, Dear Frustrated Superstar (2001) - I'm pasting in a clip from YouTube below, so you can hear for yourself.

Other Themes

As usual, I couldn't cover all of the themes I would have liked to, in such a short space of time, so here is a suggested list of additional Jersey themes which you can explore in your own free time;

Sleeves and Knitwear
The Battle of the Flowers
The Jersey National Trust
Dutch Elm disease
The St Ouen Wreckers
Lily Langtry, the Jersey Lily
William Prynne
Durrell and conservation
The Chausey islands
Salvage Rights
The Channel Islands on the Vinland map
The Clameur de Haro
The Beast of Jersey
Conway's Jersey Temple in Henley-upon-Thames

Dinner Party trivia

And here are some tidbits of information about Jersey, that will no doubt impress your fellow guests at upcoming dinner parties:

Jersey folk are nicknamed crapauds - the French word for toad - especially by their traditional rivals in Guernsey

The combined population of the Channel Islands is 160,000 people - an estimated 100,000 people live on Jersey

St Helier has over 50 international banks

John Copley's Death of Major Peirson (1793)
Jersey's most famous painting is John Copley's Death of Major Peirson (1793) - which depicts the 'Battle of Jersey' when locals defended the island from a French invasion

New Jersey in the United States was land given to Sir George Carteret, Governor of Jersey by Charles II, in recognition of his (and the island's) support of the Royalist cause

Whilst Jersey supported the Royalists in the Civil War, Guernsey supported the Parliamentarians

The Channel Islands were famous for their knitwear, hence the use of the word Jersey to mean jumper or sweater - I suspect that the Irish word for sweater, which is geansaí, comes from trade and contact with neighbouring Guernsey

There was a thriving illegal tobacco trade between Jersey and Devon in the 17th century

The first Red Pillar Post Boxes, those famous icons of London and England, were erected in Jersey in 1852

The differences in wildlife distribution between the Channel Islands is inexplicably large, eg. there are no magpies on Alderney and Jersey is the only island to have moles

Jersey was known as the Isle of Congers (eels) during the Middle Ages

Jersey has 350 miles of road

St Helier, the capital of Jersey, was named after a Belgian monk

There is an Irish community in St Helier which dates back to Napoleonic times

When Lord Carrington heard that the Jersey-born actress Lily Langtry had lost her parrot, he famously quipped 'I didn't know she had a parrot, but I'd heard she had a cockatoo'

Jesse Boot, the founder of Boots chemist's, married a woman from Jersey and is buried on the island

The Final word on Elegies

I want finish with a bit of poetry by one of Jersey's most famous literary sons, Jeremy Reed.  I don't often read poetry, as part of my research for this blog, so it was a pleasure to spend time reading This is how you disappear - Reed's book of elegiac poems from 2007. 

The collection reads like a who's who of London's gay artists, musicians, film directors and surrealists poets, many of whom were close friends of Reed's, some of whom died during the AIDS epidemic of the 80's and 90's.  Of course, I was already familiar with some of the people Reed writes about, like Derek Jarman, whose work I really love and Dusty Springfield whose music has been enjoyed by many of us.

I was much less familiar with some of the other people that Reed has written Elegies for - for example, the surrealist poet David Gascoyne, the US lyric poet John Wieners and the experimental musician John Balance.  It's a beautiful collection and my first taste, not only of the surrealist movement, but also of a gay London world that might otherwise be lost in the fog of memory.

I'm going to leave you with an excerpt of Reed's Elegy for John Balance and a YouTube video of Coil's At the Heart of it All.

'As you were carried off alone
in a black carriage led by a black horse
along a puddled drive to disappear
at the third bend - a stand of trees
commanding view and winter clouds
big on us, like they'd never clear'

Image credits:

The photo of my research tools was taken by me.

John Copley's Death of Major Peirson is in the public domain and, therefore, copyright-free. 

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