Sark Odyssey II – Chaos, kindness, and an appointment with Monsieur Hugo.


I’ve had a morning of dealing with rude people: incompetent, belligerent, indifferent, ignorant, confrontational and stupid, which has left me wanting to return to Sark and the kindness and generosity of the inhabitants. The trip could have been a disaster from the outset. My record of travel with Condor Ferries is a long tale of woe, and not me alone, there are many disgruntled and unhappy travellers. Visiting the Channel Islands on an almost monthly basis, it has now become the norm to be delayed or transferred to another vessel, the slower freight boat, extending a 5.5 hour journey in to a 10 or 12.5 one, losing a day or a night in the process.  Condor have the monopoly on the route, there is no other option. However, on the morning of May 25th, their actions had repercussions meant that six of us almost didn’t make it to Sark at all.


It was the Saturday of the May Bank Holiday weekend and anticipating heavy traffic, we left our homes early, travelling in two cars to Poole. We planned to have a coffee at the passenger terminal but the café was closed due to staff shortages. One solitary Condor representative was at the check-in desk, juggling travellers, phone, pager and walkie talkies to the vehicle compound staff on another part of the site. A distressed family of five stood in front of us. The parents had photographic ID, but the three children didn’t. They were turned away, unable to travel. The Condor bombshell was then dropped: the new-ish multimillion pound vessel had engine problems and was running on reduced power. Instead of sailing from Poole to Guernsey, then onward to Jersey, it was going to Jersey first. In the original plan, we should have left Poole at 9.15, arrived in Guernsey at 12.15, picked up a little shopping, had lunch and taken the 3pm boat to Sark. Thank goodness we were booked in Club Class – with free refreshments and snacks – as the 3 hour crossing turned into one of 7.5 hours.

I telephoned ahead to Sark Shipping, well aware of their policy of being unable to change bookings or give refunds without 24 hour notice, but was told not to worry, they would re-book us on the 5pm sailing, but It soon became evident, that we were unlikely to make that either. During the scheduled stop in Jersey I spent most of the hour on the phone – hearing half conversations due to interference. The very helpful woman at Sark Shipping told me to go to Condor information onboard the Liberation and ‘demand’ that they let us off the ferry first when it arrived in Guernsey. She also gave me names of two individuals who might run a charter at short notice, so that if we missed the Sark boat, someone may be willing to take us to Sark ‘for a fee’. Sounds drastic doesn’t it? but the alternative – trying to find overnight accommodation for 6 in Guernsey on a Bank Holiday weekend would have been equally challenging.

Then came the realisation that not only would we be unable to stock up on supplies in Guernsey, but that both food shops in Sark would be closed by the time we arrived. I telephoned Julie at Sark’s ‘Food Stop’,

‘Is there any chance you could put together a few basics to last 6 of us until tomorrow morning?’ the interference became particularly bad, ‘maybe bread and cheese?’

‘and some SHSHSHSHSHS?’ Julie said,

‘and some what?’ I asked,

‘Some SHSHSHSHS?’

after several attempts I said, ‘whatever you think …’

I had my debit card in my hand, prepared to pay over the phone, but Julie said not to worry about that, to pop in to Food Stop the following day. I expected her to say she would leave our order outside the shop door to collect on our way past, but despite having made her local deliveries in the morning, she was also going to find someone to take the shopping to Coin de Grive! And then the bike hire shop – I phoned to let them know we wouldn’t make it before closing, and to find out whether they would be open on Sunday,

‘No worries,’ I was told, ‘We’ll wait for you!’

and over an hour after they had been due to close, true to their word, they were waiting for us, bikes ready.

Something Condor hadn’t considered when rescheduling the sailing to Jersey first, was that normally, passengers would be getting off in Guernsey and their vacated seats would be filled by travellers getting on in Jersey – so, readers, you can imagine the chaos which ensued when the Jersey passengers embarked to find their seats still occupied! The Liberation eventually arrived in Guernsey at 16.50, allowing 10 minutes to disembark as foot passengers, run down the gangplank, into the terminal, collect our luggage, exit via customs and almost sprint across to Sark Shipping. It says much about the difference in attitude of the two companies that Sark Shipping held on and waited for us! What a relief to be sitting outside on the Belle, in slightly misty conditions but heading to Sark between rocky outcrops and Herm, watching Terns and Cormorants. Arriving at La Mazeline Harbour, we were assisted up the slippery wet granite steps, our labelled bags whisked away by tractor, transported up the hill on the ‘Toast-rack’ bus, along the avenue, collect the bikes and arrive at Coin de Grive to find a box of groceries just inside the door and wine in the fridge.

Tour  of house done, rooms allocated, facilities checked out and we hastily packed a picnic and cycled to The Pilcher Monument to watch the sun setting over Brecqhou and Guernsey. It wasn’t a spectacular sky on fire with blazing oranges and purples, but it illuminated the rugged coastline and the contrast of the sky and the sea. It was turning rather breezy and chilly and we returned back to base before light failed and all had a good night’s sleep.

Sunday – and four among us hadn’t been to Sark before. Two set off for the shop. The rest of us prepared another picnic. We headed to the spectacular Isthmus which is La Coupee, although didn’t cross to little Sark on this occasion. Returning, we stopped at Caragh’s Chocolate shop, café and one roomed ‘factory’, the blissful joy of real hot chocolate made from huge flakes of pure chocolate and creamy Guernsey milk plus free cake! it would be rude to refuse! onward to the north of the Island, The Window in the Rock – more of a tunnel through granite than a ‘window’, blasted by one of the Seigneurs to gain a better view – and then down the cliff path and many steps to the beach below. Port du Moulin has a stony, pebbly beach and stunning natural rock arch and caves. Back up the steep, stepped path, retrieve the bikes and head for Epercurie Common. Here it was so windy we had to crouch low in the shelter of a rock to eat our picnic. Another day with plenty of fresh air, and Albert taking control of the kitchen when we returned to base, making a delicious soup for supper.

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To Laugh or to Cry? Cartwheeling in to 2019 …


Choices and decisions I have made in 2018 have not been popular with everyone. But there comes a time to cease trying to please everyone, all of the time, and focus on personal sanity and well being. Blood being thicker than water, family comes first, it really does – and it’s been a tough time for family this year. Blood relatives and in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews – we’ve all lost someone. Whenever under pressure from others, who could have been more thoughtful, empathic or even just sympathetic – I recall sitting next to my dad when he was close to the end, he had dementia along with many other health issues. He was heavily sedated and ‘sleeping’ most of the time. When visiting I would hold his hand and talk to him so that he knew I was there. On one occasion, he opened his eyes, stared at me, said my name and then, in the most lucid I’d heard him speak for a long time, his voice strong and clear,  ‘I know you will do the right thing.’

After he passed away, it seemed as if I was on a very steep gradient struggle, where the people who are supposed to be helping and supporting you, suddenly appear as the antagonists. Legal professionals only focused on the financial outcome and not my father’s wishes (his will) or my mother’s emotional well being. I can’t understand how one public servant can hold so much power to make decisions over the lives of people she has never met. Words that stick in my mind, in relation to family properties, my childhood home from the age of 3, and my grandparents’ home; having arranged a loan to pay for my parents’ care home fees with one of the properties as  security – a loan for a fraction of it’s value, a temporary arrangement until the properties could be refurbished / redecorated to rent out – the probate officer haughtily told me, ‘relatives have irrational attachment to family properties and given the high cost of care, it is inappropriate.’ We could have fought the decision through the courts, but with legal fees already mounting, we had to let them go. Houses my father and grandfather took on 2nd and 3rd jobs to pay for – they worked all day and then waited on tables or bar tended at local hotels – gone with a flourish of a stranger’s pen on a document. Onwards and upwards, thinking about it only creates turmoil – Focus now is on the care of my mother, and hope that she will be able to come and live with us.

The saddest passing this year was niece Ellie at the age of 31 – her mum is my late ex-husband’s sister, Sally. Although I hadn’t seen her since she was a little girl – being close in age to my elder son Jacob, they saw a lot of each other when they were young cousins. Through social media, I’d watched her little family grow, always life and soul of everything! so many interests and talented at many things, a love of football, fund raising fun runs. With an enormous family and huge circle of friends – they all rallied around during her fight with cancer of the womb and cervix. I followed her courageous battle: warrior beyond compare. She thought she had beaten it, but it came back in bladder and bowel. Further surgery followed, chemotherapy, small step recoveries and then another diagnosis, also sepsis – but she refused to give up for the sake of having more time with her family, especially her young children.  Ellie – you put up such a fight, my heart goes out to your partner Chris, children, your mum and dad, Sally and Roger, and brothers Lewis and Rhys. If love and positivity could have kept you alive, you would have lived forever.

My mum’s eldest sister Joyce died in September at the age of 95,  another sister passed away in May 2017 and then my father in the December. I had only just been to visit my mother – which requires a 2 hour drive, 4.5 hour ferry crossing – or an all night one, when I received the news. I felt I should have been there to tell her rather than her reading it in a letter. What to do? it’s impossible to talk to mum on the telephone, she is quite deaf, relies on lip reading. I contacted the care home where she lives and asked the manager if she could break the news to mum. She misunderstood, and about an hour later, phoned me back on my mobile, while I was in a queue at the local post office, ‘I’m just going to hand the phone to your mum now,’ and before I could say, ‘no, don’t,’ she did. Pauline, the manager, having said loudly to my mum, ‘Madge, it’s your daughter,’ at least she knew it was me on the phone, but the conversation went something like this (remember – I was in a queue at the post office,)

‘mum, I’m sorry to have to tell you your sister has died,’

‘Mr who?’ said mum,

‘your sister!’

‘What about my sister?’ said mum,

‘SHE HAS DIED,’ I said, raising my voice, not wanting to have to repeat it, sighs and ahhs, coming from people in the queue,

‘oh,’ said mum, ‘which one? Pam?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘she died last year,’ more sympathy from the queue,

‘Claudia?’ asked mum,

‘No, she’s fine as far as I know,’

‘Well who then?’

‘Joy, your eldest sister Joyce,’ I said, known as Joy to everyone except on official letters and documents.

‘oh,’ said mum again, she says it a lot when she’s trying to think of something else to say, ‘I thought she was already dead! are you sure? if she were still alive, she’d be in her nineties,’

‘Yes, she was mum, she was 95, she passed away in hospital yesterday, I’ll send you a letter to let you know what happened.’

The most poignant thing about going to Joyce’s home after she had died, was removing the lid of an old biscuit tin on the dining table and the first photograph in the contents being of her with my mum, probably taken about 75 years ago – mum would have been about 8 and Joyce 20. This would have been just before Joyce disappeared for many years: a family argument, I’ve heard two versions of what happened, but headstrong Joyce left home one day and didn’t return for about 30 years. I think this is why she and I had such a close connection during my childhood and teenage years, that when she got back in touch with family, I would have been the same age as my mum, when Joyce left home. Mum remembered Joyce being very generous to her as a child, taking her shopping to chose her own clothes and shoes, when as the youngest of the 7 siblings, my mother usually ended up with the hand-me-downs. Joyce also took  mum on holidays to Blackpool.

I loved the holidays I spent with Joyce when she had corner shops and laundrettes in Wimbledon. I used to travel on my own as an ‘UM’ (unaccompanied minor) flying from Jersey to Southampton or Gatwick. She was always on the go, hardly seemed to sleep. Although I had a dog as a child, staying with Joyce is probably where my love of dogs originated from. She had dynasties of Alsations, or GSDs as they are more popularly known now. When locking up at night, we would drop off a dog at each shop or laundrette to guard the premises and first thing in the morning, we would collect them all and take them for a run on Wimbledon Common. Days were spent at the wholesaler, pricing up goods and delivering them to the shops, collecting the cash from the laundrette machines and filling up the soap dispensers. Joyce had a regular Monday night box at the Wimbledon Theatre – every Monday afternoon we would have our hair done, dress up, go out for supper and then to the Theatre.

She found love late in life: there can be only so many things a man can pop into a corner shop for, before you realise he’s not really interested in buying anything at all! Uncle Bob – prolific letter writer (to me) older than Joyce and retired, he took on the role of tour guide when I visited Wimbledon. We walked the walls of old Londinium, the palaces, parks, museums and galleries, concerts and theatres. Realising much of this has stayed with me and been formative in my adult interests.

And just before Christmas, a year and a day after the death of my father, his eldest sister, Mavis passed away. How sad – the vast army of aunts is diminishing. This is Mavis and her late husband Uncle Phil at my Christening in 1960. Many evenings were spent at their first home in Garden Lane, St Helier and then at Jardin a Pommiers.

Following my recent house move, I’ve been trying to re-organise the vast collection of family photographs, from a time when the roll of film used to be handed in to be developed – I have four large crates from my parents’ house and just collected 2 more boxes from Joyce’s home.

Large family gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, weekends on the beach or sand dunes.

My parents had a large social circle and were out to dinner at local restaurants most weekends. Aunts and uncles met up regularly in each other’s homes – the women watching TV, knitting and chatting in one room and the men playing cards, beneath a cloud of cigarette and cigar smoke in another room. How things have changed.

I love the photograph above of Aunty Eileen’s (dad’s younger sister) wedding to Uncle Idwal (Eddie), left to right, Granny, my dad, aunty Mavis, Aunty Eileen & Uncle Eddie, Aunties Muriel and Rozelle and Popa. Look at the bean / pea strings neatly strung up the wall behind them.

After a long adventurous action packed life – we also said goodbye to gorgeous boy Whisp. 14.5 years is a good age for any dog, but especially a very large one – one who has wrestled badgers and deer and escaped from the garden over high fences. He was frequent Condor Ferries traveller, Jersey, Guernsey & Sark and as far north as Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. Gentle giant – I was his 4th home in 7 months when I took him on a trial weekend from Guernsey Animal Rescue when he was about a year old. He’d been living in a high rise block of flats in Manchester and was destructive, hyperactive and uncontrollable. The day after he arrived, he ate Emil’s Marks & Spencer football pitch birthday cake – the whole lot, cake, box, cellophane and 5 x 101 Dalmation candles, the only clue left was a thumb sized piece of the box and the ‘green icing poos’ the following day. He also survived eating a whole pan of hot chilli: hot as it was chilli and hot as it was still cooking in the pan on the hob! I slept on the kitchen floor with him that night, convinced his stomach was going to explode … but it didn’t. Always gracious in accepting other dogs into his home – long or short stay fosters – he had a special bond with long term foster Midge – being used as a pillow in one of the above photos – she also went to doggy heaven last year.

Night night Whisp – I miss you and am still seeing your shadow around the house and in reflections in the windows.

Along with the lows, came the highs – a wonderful week with fellow writers in Sark (see previous blog) – enjoyed so much, we are planning on doing it all again this year! And just before Christmas – a three day stay in Vienna with fellow writer Lisa, to visit the ‘Once in a lifetime’ exhibition of Bruegel paintings at The Kunsthistorisches  Museum. Learned so much! Champagne reception and private tour.

The museum building itself is fabulous, domed, marble columns and floors, the most spectacular café, with delicious cakes, decent coffee and a pretzel tree – murals by very well known artists including Klimt – at the start of his career.

Our stay coincided with Christmas markets, oooh, so many lovely things!

Just searching for another cultural break – Aha! it’s the 58th Venice Biennale this year …

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Sark Odyssey – The jinx of the hazelnut yoghurt and the quest for Medlar jelly

What a week!

Glorious sunshine in Guernsey and Sark last weekend, yet back in Hampshire, I had to scrape the frost off my windscreen on Monday morning.

My debut collection of poetry, ‘The Venus Pool’ was published last October – however,  it has taken until April 26th to have the official ‘local’ launch. Many of the poems are set in or inspired by Sark, the small car-less Channel Island. It’s a very weather permitting place. Not one that I or my friends could risk getting stuck on if sailings were cancelled!
As I sit writing this, on the first day of May, wearing at least four layers of jumpers, I can’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather.

My writer friend Lisa and I set off at a ridiculously early hour on Saturday 21st, to take the ferry from Poole to Guernsey. Arriving at Poole long stay car park at 7am, it was already a warm day. As Lisa was a first time Condor Liberation traveler – I had requested seats 1001 / 1002 at the front of Ocean Plus seating – a wonderful view on the approach to the Channel Islands – a calm crossing on a mirror flat sea. Disembarking in Guernsey late morning, and with a few hours to spare before the departure of the Sark boat,  we headed into St Peter Port where we walked along The Pollet, up Fountain Steet, down Mill Street, had lunch and then sat in the sun to wait for the Bon Marin de Serk. We got sunburnt! I believe it was the warmest April day on record. And the good weather continued.

Arriving in Sark mid afternoon, we collected our bikes in the Avenue and called into the Food Stop. I just fancied a hazelnut yoghurt. I had a shopping bag to fit into the bike basket and Lisa had a rucksack – into which she put the few lighter weight items – including the yoghurt. I’m sure my travelling companion won’t mind me saying that she is quite petite: she had lowered the bike seat – but unfortunately, it wasn’t secured properly. As we set off, with me leading the way, her saddle swivelled and she fell off … crushing the shopping and coating it, and the inside of her rucksack, with hazelnut yoghurt. Fortunately Lisa wasn’t injured, well, not seriously, her knee was a bit tender, but it didn’t stop us exploring the island. We carried on to where we were staying, our bags having already been delivered by Jimmy’s Carting Services. We put the shopping away, made ourselves familiar with the layout of the house and the very comfortable facilities, then made a hasty picnic and set off to watch the sunset.

There is a wonderful spot to watch the sun go down, close to the Pilcher Monument. Friends who arrived later in the week thought it was the PILCHARD monument! ‘well,’ they said, ‘fishing does go on around here’. It overlooks Brecqhou – the Barclay brothers’ island, and beyond it to Herm and Guernsey. We returned several times.

A couple of days later, picking up supplies in the village shop, I bought another hazelnut yoghurt and when we reached the check out, said to Lisa jokingly, ‘I’m taking this one! not risking you squashing another,’ Lisa led the way this time, heading back to where we were staying. Unfortunately, I was following a little too closely, so that when Lisa braked suddenly, to avoid running into the back of her, I toppled off my bike into the hedge … shoe flew off, shopping tumbled out of the bike basket – yes, you’ve guessed it – another hazelnut yoghurt bit the dust! just at the point someone I knew hurtled around the corner from the opposite direction on her mobility scooter. Shirley, American, but a long time Sark resident, called out ‘Hello! …’ and stopped to chat, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for me to be lying half in hedge and half tangled in the bike frame, one shoe on and one shoe off and splattered with yoghurt.

Where possible, we supported local businesses, well, one has to, but buying locally produced items – which is how we came to buy the Medlar Jelly, we also bought Crab Apple Jelly, as an alternative to Marmalade (both also go well with cheese). We purchased the jars from Comme Nous, the Sark Arts Co-operative where I was holding writers’ workshops: it has the most amazing display of art and craft items. Stunning handiwork – call in if you’re ever in Sark, Comme Nous is attached to the Island Hall. So, we returned there to buy more Medlar Jelly, wanting to bring some home with us, but they didn’t have any left. This set us on a trail to the Food Stop, The Gallery Stores, Mon Plaisir and the Island Hall. At the hall, they had other home made jellies and jams, but not Medlar. They kindly phoned Mollie McKinley who makes it, to see if we could pop along for a jar. Sadly, the one we bought earlier in the week was the very last on the island! no more until the autumn and the next batch of Medlars, once bletted.

On Wednesday morning, Lisa and I went on a guided Wild Flower walk through the Dixcart Valley, led by Susan Synott, expert on and author of ‘Wild Flowers of Sark’. The island is awash with wild flowers at this time of year, and wonderful to have Susan as a guide, pointing out things that could be so easily missed. After that, keen to see as much of the island as possible – we went from one end of it to the other. From the southernmost tip – The Venus Pool to the Northenmost – and the Bhuddist carving at the tip of Epercurie.

We visited La Seigneurie Gardens, the Window in the Rock, The Gallery Stores (now have my books in on their shelves!) Lorraine’s Pottery, Sark Glass, Tourist Centre and Heritage Room (where I caught up on all the gossip since my last visit!). This may have been the day that Lisa clocked up over 23,000 steps on her fit bit! plus we were cycling as well!

On Wednesday April 25th, my publishers, Dempsey & Windle, (now Dempsey & Dempsey as they have married!) arrived along with Julian Stannard, head of MA Creative Writing at Winchester University – my poetry mentor and dissertation supervisor. I’m sure, that when they agreed to come to the Sark launch of my book, they had no idea where they were going! … but considering they had been up since the crack of dawn and endured two boat journeys, they were in remarkably good spirits! We had a wonderful meal that evening, simple cottage pie with veg, followed by Lisa’s amazing Jersey Black Butter Creme Brulee, wine, coffee and Caragh’s chocolates – hand made on Sark … we could have stayed up chatting longer, but I warned my guests that we had an appointment to meet a local celebrity the following morning.

Oh! the speculation of who it might be? The Seigneur? The Barclay brothers? (no, no, no!) – what to wear? smart or casual? guests went to bed, if not with trepidation, with intrigue. So, it was a pleasant surprise for them, as we emerged from the leafy footpath from Coin de Grive, to the road in front of the Manoir, to find Ronaldo and his carriage (and lovely driver) waiting for us. Ronaldo is a Sark celebrity, he has his own Facebook page – ‘Ronaldo Sark’: he is the largest / tallest cart horse in Sark – a Shire. This was his first outing of the season, he only had his new shoes fitted the previous day. How blessed again with the weather! glorious sunshine! Ronaldo took us on a tour of Sark, around the lanes, up to Epercurie where we got out to look at the stunning view over Les Autelets. Back in the carriage, we passed La Seigneurie, and on to La Coupee, where we got out and said goodbye to Ronaldo, before going to take a closer look at the isthmus. We enjoyed and photographed the views and chatted to visitors and locals alike. Before we started to make our way back to the village, we stopped at Caragh’s for coffees, hot chocolate and chocolate sustenance – it would have been rude not to!

The main reason for the visit to Sark was to hold writing workshops for local residents and visitors and the launch of my book. On Friday 27th, we gathered at in the Bistro at Stocks Hotel for poetry readings. With a little persuasion, Jeremy, Paul, Sue and Lynn read out some of their work or favourite poems, and Janice, half of Dempsey and Windle, read a couple of very moving poems by Sark resident, Wendy Maitland. It was a really lovely evening, we over ran time considerably, but no one seemed to mind, least of all the very patient staff of the hotel, who had probably never been over-run with poets and writers before.

The following morning, we set off for La Maseline Harbour to await the Bon Marin back to Guernsey. During the few hours we spent in St Peter Port before our check in for the Condor Liberation back to Poole, we headed to the Museum in Candie Gardens. We paid our respects to Monsieur Hugo, had lunch, visited the exhibition ‘Medical Services in The Great War’, and the Rhona Cole Gallery. It houses some stunning works of art including Toplis’ oil painting of ‘The Venus Pool’ and Peter Le Vasseur’s ‘Tree of Life’.

Weary, but content that we had fitted a great deal into a few days – we all dozed our way back across the channel to Poole.

So many people asking, ‘are you going to make it an annual event?’

Very tempting …

Thanks to Janice and Lisa for many of the above photographs – Janice is only in two as she was behind the camera most of the time. I’m very grateful to Lisa, Janice, Donall and Julian for coming to Sark to launch my book.  Thank you – especially Rosalie La Trobe-Bateman, Ian Willis, Paul Armorgie and Stocks Hotel, everyone who came to the workshops and the residents of Sark who made us so welcome.

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Times they are a-changing …

I haven’t been my usual self lately: I left my hand bag on the handle / hook of a shopping trolley and drove home – fortunately an honest member of the public handed it in to customer services – all contents intact. I then spent about 10 minutes attempting to scrub a stubborn mark off of the bath – only when I gave up and turned the light off, I realised I had been trying to scrub off a shadow!

 

January 11th should have been a day of celebration, my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. Sadly, my father passed away in December and we held the funeral on the anniversary day. Until the past year, he liked nothing better than to turn to the back page of the JEP for the obituaries, even more so, the Guernsey Press, when he could get hold of a copy – where they record everyone who attended the funeral in addition to who were ‘also representing’. I once mentioned to my aunt, in a jokey way – about dad’s obsession with the obituaries, and how grumpy he would be if the JEP was late, and she replied ‘ah yes, but there was one day last week when I knew more deceased than he did!’ It was a topic of conversation which could last a good hour on the telephone to his sisters: where the deceased lived, where they went to school, who they had married, work, children, grand-children.


My dad, Michael or Micky to some, used to be such a social person before ill health took hold. As a young child I spent many happy hours in the barber shop at Georgetown where he worked alongside his father. These were the days before La Route de Fort was built and Don Road was still a two way street – hard to believe it was allowed, but cars used to pull up and park right outside the barber shop and men pop in for a haircut and a shave with a cut throat razor. It was like an exclusive gentleman’s club – all the news, good humoured discussion, setting the world to rights – there was definitely a ‘feel good factor’ about a visit to The Georgetown Barber.
And then there came a dramatic career change: along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones the 1960s brought long hair, and not enough work for two in the barber shop. Dad went to work for Ronez Quarries, rising quickly to foreman, with his own team of men. Many of us may have groaned about the way he talked non-stop about his work – but if only people today had the same kind of dedication and enthusiasm for what they do. Throughout this time, he still cut hair, visiting the homes of those unable to get to the barber shop, or sometimes they would visit to him: there was a special chair kept for that occasion – haircuts in the kitchen at Glenville. He and Madge had a busy social life and circle of friends, almost every weekend they would go out to dinner with the Quenaults, Callecs, Derriens or Landins – most of whom are sadly no longer with us. I have a very happy memory of mum and dad dancing around their kitchen to Esther and Abi Ofarim’s ‘Cinderella Rockerfella’

There were family gatherings – on the beach at Green Island or the sand dunes – when cars could be driven on to the dunes, park up and picnic. All the birthday parties and evenings get-togethers, the women knitting, chatting and watching television in one room while the men played cards in another. Celebrations meals – where dad loved to cook, and before anyone asks me – no, I don’t have his recipe for brawn.

I’ve often thought there is a kind of Island mentality that makes one get on and do things, a ‘can-do’ attitude – and dad epitomised that. He was always ready to help someone out, be it on a farm, building, gardening, moving house – he would turn up and pitch in. The first home I had after I married had quite a large overgrown garden on St Clements Coast Road, and almost every day after work and at weekends, dad would come and reclaim a bit more of the wilderness – he planted the most amazing vegetable patch for me. How to dig, how to plan a plot, how to plant and raise things from seed – most of my gardening knowledge came from him. Likewise, much of my cooking ability too. I rarely saw him use a cook book.

Dad was always supportive of Mum working: unusual in the early 1960s – she worked nights for many years which meant that he was usually left in charge of me during the evenings. One memory I have from early childhood, I must have been about three years old, if that … having visited Popa at Jubilee Villa, at the top end of Langley Avenue, we left to find it snowing. The car wouldn’t start. In the days before seat belts, child seats, air bags and health and safety – he sat me on the front passenger seat and told me not to move. He started singing nursery rhymes – which we often did in the car. He then disappeared, but I could still hear him singing, so I sang too … the car started to move and gathered a little speed as it was facing downhill. I became aware of dad running alongside the car – fortunately managing to jump in and bump start it! One of several ‘don’t tell your mother’ moments.
He loved children – all called him Micky. He usually managed to sneak them some pocket money when parents weren’t looking. He had endless patience with his grandsons – I would not have been able to work had it not been for my parents support and looking after both boys. Dad was always interested in what they were doing and immensely proud of their achievements. And as someone who had made a career change himself, he didn’t try to stop me or try to dissuade me from doing the same, even though it meant leaving Jersey.
Of course there were arguments, disagreements, huge rows – but what family doesn’t have these and they were usually a flash in the pan and over with quickly. I am very lucky to have had such a wonderful father.
I wrote this poem a few years ago – from a collection about childhood memories.

The Barber Shop
When I was young my father was a barber.
The shop opened early morning
when he cleaned the windows,
until evening when he lit the Barber’s pole.
Chairs of chrome and creaking leather,
green and black Art Deco relics,
spun on their bases,
from mirror and basin and back again.
Businessmen on their way to town offices
called in for cut throat razor shaves.
I can hear the slap of the blade on the strop
the hiss of the steriliser,
snip-snip of the scissors,
the buzz of the clippers.
Feel the heat from the cabinet of hot towels.
All manner of embrocation and friction rubs
pungent, exotic, shampoos and aftershaves
in regimented bottles above the wooden till.
Soap, leather and cigar smoke.
Iodine massaged into scalps for baldness,
Styptic pencils for shaving nics,
I swept up the hair with a child sized dustpan and brush,
and rubber stamped the paper bags
for cigarettes, matches and
‘something for the weekend sir?’
This modest temple to hirsuteness,
vibrant with gossip and intrigue.
Where a politician waited next to a fisherman,
a Viscount passed the time of day with a window cleaner,
an occasional priest, or a prisoner handcuffed to his jailor.
‘short back and sides sir?’
Fathers bringing sons for their first haircut.
‘It will all end in tears and a wonky fringe if you don’t sit still sonny Jim!’
Dad standing all day, never complaining.
Ten minutes for a light up and inhale lunch
and tea from his thermos.
‘Keep the change Sir? Thank your kindly.’
All gone now, all gone …

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The Venus Pool

Pleased to announce publication of my debut collection of poetry – mainly reminiscences of a Channel Island childhood, a way of life fast disappearing and the importance of family values, love and loss. Fabulous book launch evening at the Poetry Society Cafe, Covent Garden on Saturday 25th November, the recording of which was on Wandsworth Radio last night … Ideal stocking filler, available on Amazon or signed and post free from me! message me.

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Lost in the passing of time …

(A reminder that The Perseids Meteor shower peaks night of 12th / morning of 13th August)

Before we know it – everything is lost to the passing of time. Grains of sand flowing through an egg timer – growing increasingly smaller with each turn, until they become little more than dust. Such are memories.  That’s what it’s like when asking my mum something, each recollection becomes more distant, more elusive in her mind, although she’s amazing at making up cleverly crafted convoluted tails to cover up gaps in her memory. The psychologist calls it confabulating. I’m left with decades missing from family history, unidentified black and white photographs.

A few years ago, while I was working for a care agency, I became aware of the wonderful, sometimes quite incredible lives people had led. I often had to verify these tales with family members – as they seemed so improbable, rather than impossible. How cruel the ageing process is, to make it seem incredulous that the stooped, vulnerable,wrinkled, grey / white haired / no hair / confused person before us can have lived such an amazing life. How sad the habit of keeping diaries has gone out of fashion. Digital records and photographs lost forever when an elderly person one day forgets their password and no longer bothers to try logging in. There is a great deal in favour of the good old fashioned ‘paper trail’. It has made me consider, as a writer who takes inspiration from research / archives / family letters and documents for my faction / fiction – what happens when people no longer pass on paper documents and photographs either to family members or to archive departments and museums.

On a lighter note – looking through old photographs I realise how much my boys take after my side of the family for looks. It has to be said that Jacob (elder son) looks very much like his father, but you can’t deny he has something of his great-grandfathers nose and eyes. Emil – well … photograph of my dad at the same age – over 60 years ago – and their faces and build are very similar indeed.

The garden has been disappointing this year – partly due to the weather and partly due to lack of time spent in it. The plum tree appears to have died. Deer have eaten baby pears off the lower branches of the tree, we’ve been eating beans (several varieties) and courgettes, in fact so fed up with them I’m having to try to disguise them! but the pumpkin … well … it’s marched its way across the greenhouse and out of the door. Last week I was worried that there weren’t any pumpkins on it – but they have now appeared – golf ball size – but – if they grow at the rate of the foliage – there is still hope for Halloween.

And a car … yes, have a replacement for the Terrano which has given good service for 8 years … Geoff found it for me – the subject line in his email read ‘you’ll never lose this in a car park …’ or on the car deck of the car ferry … or anywhere else for that matter!

I went to a poem-a-thon recently – one of the poets read a very amusing poem about her mother – who sounds a bit like my mother! I can remember three of the amusing things … although not in poetic form:- the elderly woman concerned, still driving at 95! had put her car into the garage for a service and MOT – she was thrilled when she got it back – that every time she turned the ignition – it played tunes! (she’d had the car for 15 years and didn’t know it had a radio!) same woman had an operation for cateracts (I know … had been driving with cateracts! don’t even go there …) and was thrilled with the results – however, complained to the surgeon that the operations had left lines etched on her face – (wrinkles – they weren’t visible the last time she had seen herself clearly in the mirror!) and lastly – same woman caused hysterics in the local pub by approaching the counter one lunchtime and asking whether she needed to buy food in order to qualify for the free wiffy (thinking it was alcoholic – and probably a member of the Whisky family).

oh … and before I go … I’ve signed a publishing contract! the years of blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights, deadlines,  (and that’s just for the Creative Writing Lecturers who marked my work!) typos, printer failure, lap top ‘permanent fatal errors’ could well have paid off … will keep you all informed re progress from manuscript in to print.

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Updates, ups and downs …

Many people have asked about my parents following earlier posts. So, including a photograph of them here. They have good days and bad, it goes without saying that they would rather be at home, than in nursing homes. But their safety and well being is the priority. They are being well looked after and meet up regularly. I’m very grateful to my aunts, cousins, neighbours and mum’s former work colleagues who visit regularly.I feel weighed down by the amount of admin: the form filling in, legal and financial side of things. Obviously the Registrar and Solicitor General (who oversaw my application to become Curator for both parents – similar to Power of Attorney in the UK) had to make sure that I am a suitable candidate for the post – the old adage of ‘jumping through hoops’ comes to mind. Nothing could be completed in one trip. Nor could I say when I planned to be in Jersey next, it was a case of ‘we will send you an appointment time’ – as if I was a short drive away. Each time I feel I’ve made progress, there seems to be a catch or problem. For instance, bearing in mind that this all came to a head in December – I finally received a cheque book two weeks ago – the first one having been sent to my parents’ address in Jersey, requiring a replacement being sent to me in the UK … cheque book has my name ‘Curator for’ … then my mother’s name. I was hugely relieved as I’ve been stalling on paying some of the larger bills, while paying the smaller ones out of my own pocket. However, when I attempted to set up internet, then telephone banking, I was advised that because I am in the UK and the accounts are in Jersey – I can’t have that option. I tried visiting my local branch of Lloyds, they can’t help either. This means, that although I have (at last!!!) a cheque book – I do not have any means of transferring funds into the new cheque account unless I visit my parents’ bank in Jersey and make it in person – showing ID and the document of Curatorship.

 

 

The ‘down’ in the ups and downs – is that my car has died. I can’t complain at the service it has given – over 250,000 miles on the clock! as far North as Loch Lomond, countless visits to Jersey, too many journeys up and down the M3 and the A31, in and out of London – The Albert Hall, Lewes, Brighton,dog rescues, dog transport, 101 trips to the garden centre and back laden with plants … sadly, the gear box has had it and too costly to repair. Need to decide what to get next … I like the new Mini Clubman – but with 7 dogs, that might not be the most sensible option.

So … to the ‘ups’ – Up number one. Youngest son Emil has been on work experience – two weeks done, one week to go. He’s in the 2nd year of 3, on a course of ‘Game, Wildlife and Estate Management’ – posh title for what is basically ‘trainee gamekeeper’. He’s been working on a large sporting estate just across the Hampshire border into Wiltshire. It’s not the shooting season, and therefore much of the work he has been doing is maintenance. The day usually begins with feeding the terriers and the gun dogs and then taking them for a walk – which means taking off across the fields on a quad bike with the dogs in pursuit. He has also been on a Deer hunt – out and about on the estate’s 2500 acres locating sick or injured Deer. Every day is different and much of it spent in woodland or fields.

Up number two – receiving an email advising that one of my poems has been short listed in the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize 2017 and will soon be printed in an anthology ‘Poems for Keeps’ which will be launched in July of this year: my poem, The Conger Eel Confessional – is based on childhood memories – I would know as soon as I opened my parents’ front door if Conger was cooking – the smell churned my stomach and I would come up with all sorts of convoluted excuses not to eat it!  It’s my  second poetry success this year – the first one being 2nd place in the Guernsey Literary Festival ‘Poems on the Move’ Competition – that poem ‘ La Fete du Cidre’ is going to be printed on a bus! I’m going to Guernsey next week for the awards ceremony.

And Up number three – a little anecdote told to me be my friend Annie (which may or may not be her name). Annie is a very stylish woman. Always immaculately turned out, despite spending much of the day with her horses and dogs – there were chickens too but the fox got them ALL. So – a couple of weeks ago, Annie’s husband who gets up ridiculously early to commute to the city, called upstairs to Annie, that their cat had brought a mouse into the kitchen – he wasn’t sure if it was dead or alive, he didn’t want to get down on his knees on the kitchen floor while wearing his suit, to find out. When Annie went downstairs a little while later, the cat was still playing with the mouse – just a tiny one – could even have been a shrew … so Annie shoos the cat away – gets the dustpan and brush and thinks she has swept up the mouse. However, there was nothing in the dustpan, nor under the central units in the kitchen, she assumed it had scooted out of the way and would turn up later in the day or make it’s own way out into the garden, as the doors from kitchen to garden are often left open. Like many women I know, myself included, Annie pottered about in her dressing gown doing various house hold chores, including a fair amount of ironing. Suddenly noticing the time – she dashed upstairs to shower. In the bathroom, slipping off her dressing gown, Annie threw it towards the chair – at which point the rather shocked mouse, who had been enjoying a cosy little rest up her sleeve, flew across the room! This time – he jolly well did get put outside!

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