“The place where the story happened was a world on the back of four elephants perched on the shell of a giant turtle. That’s the advantage of space. It’s big enough to hold practically anything, and so, eventually, it does. People think that it is strange to have a turtle ten thousand miles long and an elephant more than two thousand miles tall, which just shows that the human brain is ill-adapted for thinking and was probably originally designed for cooling the blood. It believes mere size is amazing. There’s nothing amazing about size. Turtles are amazing, and elephants are quite astonishing. But the fact that there’s a big turtle is far less amazing than the fact that there is a turtle anywhere.”
I have often been suspicious that Guernsey exists as a world on the back of four elephants perched on the shell of a giant turtle. We have covid activity afoot, perhaps somebody has flouted isolation on return from a faraway land by nipping to the shops to buy a pint of milk and a packet of B&H? Who knows, but this all happened within a turtles fart of our Sir Lord and Saviour Gavin St Pier being toppled from the lofty heights of power by “Everybody’s Dad” (seemingly, although that sounds like a some kind of dapper nineties indie man-band, time will tell). Life is strange in Guernsey at the best of worst times. Deputy Ferbrache has taken the wheel for now. We raise our tea mugs in the mornings with a smile as we think about the faces who fell, Mother Mary, and Matt the Milk. I wonder now they are doing nothing, no longer powerful figures in the village (by village, I mean the Island of Guernsey). Politican watching is a favourite sport, and if you listen close enough to the local rumour mill (meat draws are hot beds of gossip) you can learn to speculate wild rumours of your own doing! Love local life! Live, gossip, love! I imagine that Terry Pratchett could have told the story of Saint Gav’s road to the backbench better than me. Hopefully this new assembly will not suffer humiliation at the hands of the electorate, or each other, before their time is up. And, hopefully they remind each other that bullying is not actually a style of leadership.
“I want nothing called after my name, and I will give nothing to those who already have much. …. If the money be not properly administered, better it had been thrown in the sea.“
Mr Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx’s original bequest
Before his death Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx gifted his house at Candie Gardens and his library, to the States of Guernsey, reluctantly. The Priaulx Library was established in perpetuity, and Osmond’s legacy lives on strong. On the Saturday morning that we visited it was buzzing with activity. The shelves of the ‘Family Room’ and ‘Press Room’ in particular were being tussled by visitors. Despite the island’s recent first foray into ‘island-wide-voting’ (IWV) the stacks of government Billet’s bound in leather were largely untouched. (‘Billet‘ pronounced ‘be-ay‘ with a silent Baracus).
“I, a Sarnian, Osmond de Beauvoir Priaulx, have placed my books, the solace of my life, in this library, and given them for ever to the people of Guernsey, in the 82nd year of my life. As they have profited me so may they profit you.”
Osmond softened before death, and was further by others, who bequeathed his library to the island, his name was to be bound to his books and the house forever.
The Library first opened in 1889. Osmond died in 1891 and he was cremated, following his wishes and his urn placed in Candie House, where it remains on view to this day in full view. I am sure that’s why workmen, in 2005, found wards in the rootops to keep the bad spirits away. I would have loved to have had a look around the attic, as well as the forbidden areas of the building. I had wanted to touch the urn itself but the librarians, and their small army of supernatural bookshelf hogoblins no doubt, would have booted me out of there pretty sharpish. I’m sure the basement holds a lot of secrets. For all of the other secrets that the library keeps you can peruse a collection online:
How do you make a “healthy” dessert that doesn’t look or taste healthy? Make this vegan chocolate cheesecake with silken tofu. EASY.
Ok ok, there’s plenty of chocolate in here but when you hold that up against the silken tofu (all that protein!), the dates (so fibrous!), the almonds (hello vitamin E!) and the hemp milk (oh heyyyyyy calcium!) you’d be hard pressed to find a healthier cheesecake in a non-vegan recipe. But we don’t do non-vegan around these parts, do we?
*wipes drool off chin*
And the ridiculous thing is, it tastes delicious. Don’t be put off by the tofu – it really doesn’t taste like it. I had a mild panic attack when I put the the silken tofu in the blender without any of the other ingredients and gave it a whizz, as it smelled so much like tofu. No one wants to eat cake that tastes…
“Le Creux Mahie is a place of legendary tales: a smuggler’s haunt, secret passages and a haunt of elves and fairies! An underground passage is said to lead from the cave to Saint Saviour’s church, and according to folklore it contains a table, plates and mugs all made from stone and laid ready for a great feast (or, a post Barbie-Bestival brunch! Yes!). A band of robbers are also said to have lived in the cave, and made forays into neighbouring farmland to steal cattle. What can be said with more certainty is that the cave was used by smugglers, as recently as the end of the last century. Thomas Picot, the rector of Torteval and Forest parishes in the middle of the 17th century, used it as a place of meditation until his unorthodox methods led to his dismissal.”
“Mahie’s cave is the largest in Guernsey, being nearly 50 yards in length and up to 60 feet high. It used to be called Le Creux Robilliard, named after the family that owned the cliff land above it… It can be accessed from the Torteval Post Office. Take the road towards the sewage plant (just around the bend). After a short distance take the unsurfaced lane on the left to a small car park. Head right along the cliff path to a fence, then follow the track behind this down a ridge and then back left. The cave can be seen at the foot of the cliff. There have been large rockfalls in the past, so don’t hang around the entrance admiring the view!”
“A set of neat steps lead under the narrow entrance (the relics of the guided tours which took place in Victorian times). Once inside the cave we are relatively safe from rockfall. At the back of the cave is the talus slope and near the top of this are several tunnels through the blocks which are fun to explore. One of the has a particularly memorable tight squeeze, the nearest thing Guernsey has to pot holing! Old clothes are essential for exploring the cave. The guides illuminated the caves with torches made from dried furze, and the soot is still grimed everywhere. “
“If the tide is low enough there is a pleasant scrambling east towards Les Ecrilleurs, or west a short distance towards Les Tielles. Here, if there is a swell and the tide is around the halfway mark, the waves create a blow-hole effect as they crash in the undercut rocks.”
La Valette Underground museum is a treasure trove of remnants leftover by Hitler’s occupying forces in Guernsey, and Alderney. The location was set up to refuel Hitler’s U-Boats, you can still see a tank in situ and smell the gasoline. Other aspects of Guernsey’s military history are covered. The collection is will truly chill you to the bone, and embed how brave and courageous islanders who witnessed local atrocities and lived alongside the Nazis were. This museum is one piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the occupation.
This is a quaint, and saintly place. A very small church has been fashioned out of broken Wedgwood, pebbles and ormer shells, all tended to with a whole lotta love over the years. The Guernsey tourist board will tell you that this site is “renowned around the world!” I had never heard of it. The chapel is nestled in Les Vauxbelets Valley (pronounced ‘Vo-blays’). It would be a perfect wedding venue in these covid times as you can fit a maximum of eight people inside. It was built by Brother Déodat, who put two versions of the chapel into the f*ck it bucket because you couldn’t swing a kitten in them. Version three exists today and it could be a wonderful place to host ‘Barbie Bestival’ or toy Pride (they won’t have to wear masks and could sweat against each other freely without fear of putting their elders at risk). The love that has pieced every morsel of Wedgwood, pebble and shell together over the years beams out from the grout with whimsical alacrity. I wish my barbies could have got married here, having been given away by a distant, slim, descendant of Brother Déodat. Like most steps on the island, they are erratic in size, therefore toddlers may require ‘up-ups’ for some of the time around the place. There is also a large collection box for donations – a great place to stash any one pound notes you don’t want to take back to the Isle of Man!
Amidst a global pandemic, Guernsey, a very small obscure island in the English Channel, has been carrying on as normal. Yes, we did a lockdown. And now we force all arrivals to quarantine, throwing the book right in the face of anybody that dares to pop to the shops for ice cream or sweets to go with their 9087 hour netflix binge, or a bottle of water. Leaving your cell/hotel room for cigarettes and milk, if you are in quarantine town, is the same as doing a big fraud or buying yourself drugs off the dark web. You will get pinched for breaking quarantine, which is ironic because that’s like breaking a prison sentence in itself? If you have bottomless bags of cash and can afford somewhere with an infinity pool, and stables, you might not be so tempted to nip out before your seven or fourteen* days are up (*depending on where you came from). This new way of life has been challenging. As a new mother I have enough guilt to start my own religion. Living comfortably during a global pandemic adds an entirely brand new dimension to guilt, and what religion may come of this will be mostly of the bread and wine kind (with cheese and dark chocolate used as symbolic ways to give blessings and thanks to our Sir Lord and Hero St Pier of Gavin, and the Dr Brink). They will be revered at the May lockdown-lift Festival of Drinking in Pubs, where cocktails named after Sir Lord St Pier of Gavin, and the Dr Brink, will be sunken by many, many people.
In light of being trapped on a small island with nowhere else to go (is the Isle of Man a “destination?” and you can’t ever really get to Alderney when it isn’t hoolie-season) I will put together a daily ‘one hundred things to do‘ like notches on a bedpost.
I am being flippant as a coping mechanism as my family live across the shores, in England. Flippancy defends me from feeling savagely sad about not being able to have a mummy cuddle anytime soon. I will offer a ‘guide’ for what people want to do after there quarantine is up, or if they choose to come here freely once the pandemic has f*cked off (#upyourscorona!!)
Number – One – Things to do in Guernsey when the Rest of the World has Gone to Sh*t
#001 Go for a walk, run or truffle shuffle around the reservoir at St Saviour’s. The Millennium Nature Trail is a thing of beauty. True, it’s not an orgy, or a bath of gin. But in these colder and rainier months it is a glorious mud fest of autumnal mulch that is the colour of the rare and ubiquitous pumpkin latte that will absolutely blow your cockles off. Your may even spy some fairy toadstools. If it is sh*tting it down, you will be in safe hands around the trail. You can take a journey into yourself. Let the rain wash away anxieties and the wind blow off some hot air from your ego. Let the earth mulch beneath your feet and ground you, and let the rosiness in your cheeks warm your fiery heart. Take new eyes with you if you have been around the reservoir before – you will always discover something new here.
***This is my “unwinning” entry to the 2020 AA Gill writing competition, set up by Flora Gill, for imperfect but dedicated writers who always need a place to go***
At the end and frayed edges of the English Channel there is a granite rock called Guernsey. Priaulx Library records reveal a dark past; spine curdling accounts of burning witches, prosperity from privateering, smuggling and harbouring eccentric exiles, mystical toilers of the sea. Great and terrible things happen on small islands. Invaded and occupied in the summer of 1940 to 1945 by Hitler, most children were evacuated and thousands of islanders remained, who foraged to survive and made ‘potato peel pie’ to combat hunger and starvation. When the tomato farming industry soured to a stale gazpacho halt, the finance industry blossomed and bloomed. The vineries were abandoned, humiliated and heartbroken; now they decay like Mrs Haversham’s wedding breakfast. Discreet offices with black tinted windows are everywhere if you know where to look.
Bean Jar is the official delicacy, all you need is a slow cooker and a ham hock, butter beans, haricot beans, an onion, carrots and a handful of herbs. After midnight, chips cheese and gravy is the unofficial national dish if you have had a pint or ten in the Thomas De La Rue, St Peter Port.
Guernesaise, the local language, haunts the cobbled streets of ‘Town.’ The seafront promenade is lined with eclectic, vibrant restaurants. There is even a restaurant at the bottom of a car park where you can meet the dish of the day if you don’t want to read the menu. But if the universe were to end suddenly, with a “gnab gib”, and the weather was pleasant enough, we would go to have lunch at the Fermain Beach Café.
The island is an untold treasure trove of honest and easy, laid back gastronomy. Sarnia Cherie, gem of the sea, dear Guernsey, sparkles in the sunshine and shimmers, with whimsical alacrity, in the wind. Simplicity is pervasive. Island life is set at a lower pace – a safe contagion for travelers and tourists who stay.
There are twenty seven unique beaches on the island. There are marble landings and cobbled jetties, pristine white sand dunes and crystal clear horseshoe bays. Lobster and crab pots are bobbing about everywhere, so are fishing tugs tied up, softly fretting in the high tides to break loose. Hitler’s desperate, and dissolute, heavily fortified bunkers stand guard.
The Fermain Beach Café operates out of an old ammunition store, hidden at the bottom of a winding, hairpin bend hill. A whooshing wall of pebbles separates the land from the ocean. The bay is a sheltered cove, hidden away and less than a five minute R.I.B ride from town. In earlier times a ferry would take you from ‘Town’ to the bay. A smooth and sandy loophole tower remains beside the wooden picnic tables, now fully restored, its cursed rubies and smuggled gold have been long since lost or stolen. From the water, it looks like a creature conjured out of a Miéville bouillabaisse gouged out a bite of the sea wall during the winter storms. All of the monsters that once inhabited the island are gone but who dares to repair the storm damaged in case the kraken awakes?
Late on a summer afternoon last year we ventured out of the house without forgetting to take our firstborn with us. Elvis, who was very new to the world, had not yet experienced the divine delights of Bel and Manuela’s beautiful beach cafe. We were haphazard, late, sleep deprived. A long queue had formed, the kitchen had closed to catch up with orders, this information was delicately balanced with the availability of a table and our sleep deprivation, so we decided to stay. There was nowhere else to go. Bereft, with nothing to do but to look out to the ocean, gazing somewhere beyond the gently bobbing dinghies and boats, way out, lost in the sea and old dreams. The summer interlude let us lean into the scenes of sailors and divers emerging from the shoreline, bejewelled with beads of fresh, salty seawater, and teasingly unzipped their wetsuits halfway undone before reaching the kiosk to order chips and beers. Clear waterproof wallets, satellite phones, silver coins, and stolen rubies were tied to their sun kissed ankles for the watery commute to shore. Life envy was very much in full flow that afternoon. I had almost half forgotten about the tyranny of motherhood. Our little king snoozed beautifully through these easy scenes. The beers that sailed past our picnic table and glistened fifty shades of gold, were a delicious tease. The chips could easily have been dipped in honey, smothered in local Guernsey butter and made to walk the plank like rogue dominoes into a scene from a Pirate themed Busby Berkeley movie, of spinning hot vats of glorious oil before enduring a vaudeville finale of salt and vinegar.
I am a civil servant in Guernsey and everybody calls our headquarters, ‘The Custard Castle.’ By that definition I am just a clown imitating life, waiting for a moment in time to join a queue to order food. Yes! That’s what island life is all about, simplicity. “Tànt mouoïns qu’nou broule la vie, tànt pus qué nou peut en baïllier pour bagoulaï” ( – the less we complicate life the more we can devote as much of it as we can to idle tittle tattle gossip). I’m not a local born Sarnian so I can say what I like. Every place to go for lunch is an opportunity to crowd scan and inhale the scent of a scandalous affair and island notoriety. Everybody knows everybody else’s business. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle with heady tinctures of fear and delight when I bump into somebody that knows mine. Guernsey isn’t everybody’s coupaïe d’Tée!
At the horizon it was all cornflower blue skies, the trees that surround the bay prevent the sun’s warmth from penetrating the water. The shimmering stillness of the bay was in glorious harmony with the busy undertow. We had ordered and just as the plates arrived, on cue, Elvis woke up to be cuddled and entertained. My Lulu Guinness looking salmon salad did not disappoint. Delicious at every bite, sumptuous and divine. A confession, it’s what I always order. It looks like a handbag and tastes amazing, every time, every bite. I have done a lot of lulu salmon salad in my time, but I can control it. Quit your holiday elsewhere. Hand in your reservations. Resign all hope at finding anywhere that can do delicious, divine and simple with honest elegance and grace. Enjoy the queue.