Europe | United Kingdom (UK), Great Britain | Channel Islands | Jersey – Eating for four
What is about tax havens that makes young people feel a need to dress up in wrestling masks, pyjamas and gorilla costumes? Unbeknownst to each other, groups of Swiss and Jersey lads came up with similar cabaret acts, even jumping around and smacking each others bottoms in similar ways. The only real difference is that the Swiss played guitars and the Jerseyites play Casio keyboards.
‘What are you doing in Jersey?’ You might ask. Well, I saw there were ZERO entries on Worldsurface.com for Jersey, and I was on my way there…
One bitter winter day about 10 years ago, when New York was under several feet of snow and all flights were cancelled, some stranded Americans at Gatwick airport looked at the outbound flights and said ‘But there ARE flights going! There’s one to Jersey!’
I have news for them…Jersey is an island in the English Channel. (though, yes, NEW Jersey WAS named by someone from Jersey Island). I’d never have thought to go if not for the offer of an all-expenses-paid trip. All I had to was wear a grass skirt and play guitar for an hour or so. So we have another band tour story here…that has nothing to do with family history…though the Germans occupied Jersey in WW2. Which also has nothing to do with the theme of my live diary…
The Meatballs, the local St Helier anti-heroes described above, were the opening act at the club night, the top floor of a three story venue that had lots of pools tables on the other floors. Sexton and Mike did their White Stripes style drum-and-guitar-only, deafeningly-loud-punk-rock set, and finally, at midnight (when half the audience had gone home cos it was Thursday), my band the Deptford Beach Babes took over the stage. Those who were there enjoyed it immensely, and said they’d never seen anything like us in Jersey. They might have men in wrestling masks, but women in grass skirts, beehive wigs and bikini tops were a rarity.
Jersey is a UK crown dependency like the Falklands or Gibraltar, but not in the EU (Europe). They have their own government, run by a guy called the “bailiff”, and cannot vote in British elections. Jersey is far less of a dirty money/tax evasion state than Switzerland, claims our host Darren, whose job it is to stop of dodgy bank deals. He seemed very relaxed for someone who has to deal with Russian mafia types. Must have had something to do with the 2 surfboards propped up in his courtyard. Has anyone ever met a stressed out surfer?
Most people on Jersey have lived there for their entire lives, often back many generations. It’s an island, 5 by 9 miles, and is therefore surrounded by water and beautiful coastline, which makes people extremely nice and relaxed; why would anyone want to leave? The quality of life here is excellent. For example, grandma walks over to baby-sit so Darren and his missus can both come out to the gig, also 3 minutes walk from their front door. No smelly tube trains, no dodgy mini-cabs, no begging friends to baby-sit. But before you think of moving here, you ought to know that the house prices are comparable to London. And to own properly in Jersey one must live here for 20 years.
There are a lot of rich people in Jersey. At an Italian restaurant, Sexton, Mary, Mike and I watched the couple at the next table eat 2 pizzas, a plate of garlic mushrooms, prawn cocktail, and then a big dish of pasta each. They were eating for four; their bill came to the same as ours. I thought about telling the boys not to smoke till the people had finished eating, then thought the better; they ought to stop eating. They were enormous.
The shops in St Helier are the same chain stores as anywhere in Britain. We were confused when our band was introduced as being from the UK; weren’t we there now? Everyone was speaking English (and the accent isn’t even as strange as, say, Birmingham), the pubs close at 11 and they drive on the left side of the road. But Jersey is not the UK. They have their own money, and still have pound notes, which we haven’t seen since the mid 80’s. Jersey money is similar to English money, only the Queen looks like a young Margaret Thatcher and the watermark is a Jersey Cow.
Pastel white washed streets, free from litter, clean like Switzerland… “But it must have a really sordid underbelly,” Mary said. And indeed we later learned that Jersey, like Zurich, has a massive heroin problem. However, the only evidence we ever saw of that were a few anti-drug posters on toilet walls. Even graffiti was non-existent here. We were surprised to see 2 British bobbies, after the gig, watching drunks spill onto the pavement. They had pointy hats and bullet-proof vests. Either they dont wear bullet-proof vests in England or I’m never that near a cop, but it looked mighty weird. Or maybe it was just out of place HERE. There doesn’t appear to be any crime in Jersey. We left all our guitars in Darren’s car when we went to the beach, shocked that we could do so. I asked a local about the bullet-proof vests and he said it was the Spud Guns. Um…potatoes?
More observations…there were quite a few shops that did 2 things – hardware and wicker furniture, estate agents and funeral directors, and the “turf accountants and betting shop.”
“Garden lane”, our route from the B&B into town centre (St Helier – it’s the only big town on Jersey) must be from horse and cart days due to narrowness but is well preserved and painted. Houses have names like ‘le petit jardin’ and ‘thyme cottage’.
Among the things to see is Mont Orguell Castle on the East Coast. There are plenty of places to eat on the harbour so don’t do what we did and trek up the hill to the restaurant. We couldn’t helping thinking of “American Psycho” cos it was all nouveau cuisine, ?5 for 3 pieces of pickled vegetables in a tiny tower on a huge plate. Dots of sauce, one piece of asparagus sliced lengthwise. We were all too polite to say lets go somewhere else when the menu came. It turned out Darren’s colleague had recommended it, and Darren was as unimpressed as we were.
Ancient History: Bones of mammoths were found under a cliff. Early Jersey inhabitants would scare mammoths to the cliff edge until they fell off, then go down and eat them.
More sites: Napoleonic Martello towers and a 1970s cabaret drag show (which would be on the seafront but instead it’s reclaimed land covered in car parks) – the show was meant to be a “round the world” trip but consisted of only English speaking countries plus Spain and Cuba.
More Jersey trivia: British newspapers sometimes dont arrive if there is too much fog for them to be flown in. Jersey is closer to France than England. You can see France from the shores. “Dont they want the island?” I asked our host. “A bit late now,” he said. The country lanes all have French names, but in town the names are in English. Once upon a time Jersey inhabitants did speak French but these days they content themselves being mono-lingual. Im told we can drink the water but it tastes of chlorine. I have bad guts and bulbitate on my return to London.
Nearby is also the Channel Island of Guernsey. There seems to be a rivalry between the two islands; “lots of inbreeding over there,” say our hosts. Billy Childish once played in Guernsey, and insisted his hung over band mates all get up at the crack dawn and look at war related historical sites.
There is a large immigrant population from Portugal and Poland making up the café, hotel and restaurant workers, a servant underclass. It’s like middle class English society with Portuguese servants.
For me the highlight of the trip was when Darren’s wife Julia loaned me her bike. Despite very heavy grey clouds I took off along the seafront. It was the height of summer and the beach was deserted. A sign said ‘one of Europes cleanest beaches’. Of course, cos there’s no one there to mess it up. Like the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Pure white sand and no litter anywhere – and no people either. It would be prefect if it was 10 degrees warmer and not raining.
Someone told Mary, before we left England, that Jersey is beautiful – when the weather is nice. But if not, there is nothing to do. One stubborn kite surfer was out in the gale. I had thought about trying Kite surfing, saying to fellow band mates than since we are a surf band, one of us must learn to surf- but only one. Like the ONE Beach Boy – but he drowned, didn’t he? “I am sure I will not die of drowning,” I had said last night as the bar closed after our gig…but one of those kite things, they could fall down and trap a surfer, couldnt they??
I huddled under shelters every few meters, then decided to give up. I hate cycling in the rain. 5 minutes later the sky cleared, rain and clouds vanished and blue skies appeared. I took the B25 towards a place called Red Houses, intrigued by the name. I climbed a hill through a canopy of tress, lush scents of flowers and post-rain growth. Glimpses of posh houses peeked though greenery. Tuned onto another B road that was more like a D road, which opened into fertile farmland. Stopped for organic carrots with long green stems which became like a child on the baby seat attached to the back of the bike.
There were perfectly pleasant D roads, and well marked cycle routes. Cars always stopped for bikes, no matter how long the queue of traffic when I did have to go on bigger roads. I thought it couldnt get much better but it did. I didn’t stop at St Oeun as we’d been there the day before, but further along found La Pulente L’Oeillere, which is one of those cliff top points above crashing surf and sea all around that is probably one of the most beautiful, peaceful places I’ve ever been. Solitude, bike, cliff tops, soft sand, and fine sandy beaches. Pretty excellent I must say.
Later on I had a huge beach all to myself. The nearest person was 100 m away. Clear water like a Swiss lake was freezing and had quite a bit of seaweed. Seagulls were the size of cats.
I met Mike and Mary after the bike ride. All of us were being clichés of our respective cultures – English people sitting in a café drinking tea, the American sweating up and down hills on a bicycle.
So would I go to Jersey if I had to pay for it myself? yeah, I’d like to come back and cycle around the whole island, as well as the smaller Channel Islands like Sark, where there are no cars at all. We also found the people to be very friendly and hospitable. I’m not sure if there are camping prospects for the budget traveller, though the B&B was about ?20 a head, about the same as England. Same with food and beer prices. The natural beauty really is stunning though, and people do come to cycle, as I saw in the airport when we were leaving – two road bikes being loaded up for the trip back to Belgium.