December No.2 2020

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New year from Vincent and Ian

JERSEY by Michael Southwell

Jersey conjures up in most of us a picture of tomatoes and sunny beaches perhaps even a bit of England. Many of us can be a bit nostalgic at times and dream of how things were in our youth. The surprising thing is that there are very distinct themes for life for the islanders. Yes there are long golden sandy beaches and a good variety of shops but then as you delve in its history the much darker side of the second world war appears when the island was occupied by the German Army. We tend to think that everyone in the army was pretty unpleasant to the locals but a book on this by John Nettles sets out the real facts in detail. Some of the senior officers did their best to shield the islanders from the mainland diktats. Luckily, the island has largely recovered from this and today it is a very pleasant place. On a drive round the island there are many small villages and rocky outcrops as well as the remains of too well constructed concrete gun emplacements. The island is rather like a time capsule of life in the UK some forty years ago. There are retail shops, markets and a relaxing way of life besides lovely views at the coast which of course is never far away wherever you are on the island.

Speaking of castles (there are more than one) there is a charming little excursion which can be made from St. Helier to Elizabeth Castle which is well within sight of St. Helier itself. At low tide there is a causeway which is easily walkable. When the tide is in it can be reached by a charming amphibious vehicle (complete with life jackets and safety briefing). It can motor onto the beach at both ends of the journey and in mid channel it becomes fully water born. It is worth planning to make a trip to enjoy this “little ship” as I heard a foreign tourist describe it. There are slightly less than 100,000 inhabitants but it is not easy to buy a property there as one must rent for a number of years first (in most cases). There is a slight sense of being “abroad” and a passport must be shown. Looking at the current web site there seems to be a limit of 90 days stay without additional formalities being complied with. I am sure that we have all heard of the island’s popularity with show business personalities, you may even meet Nigel Mansell who has a motor racing museum with some of his Grand Prix cars there. I don’t know if he still holds office, but he held the position of Special Constable at one time.  Flights there are readily accessible, or you can go by ferry and take your own car.   Happy memories.

Bar Room Reminiscences 1 – A message from a distant station?

“Oh no sahib we never stop for them”. Said the worried engine driver to Colonel Nicholson who liked to ride the footplate. The engine puffed on carrying its regimental load of armoured cars and cavalry personnel at a steady 20 mph across the desolate flat sandy landscape of the 

great plains of India. “But” said the colonel, “whatever it is, is going to cross the line and we may have to stop”. There were about 400 yards to go before they would intercept the strange figure, plodding toward the track from their right-hand side. The colonel was a worldly man and loved India and its customs. Always keen to learn more, he could not quite make out what the figure was. It walked like a man but was twice the height. “Stop the train” he ordered as they closed on the meeting point. “Please sahib no”. “Yes”!!

The train ground to a halt and the figure walked right across the track about 15 feet in front of the engine. It was hooded but not in any sort of local dress – the head did not turn to look or acknowledge them. It just missed one beat of its pace, seeming to halt but perhaps not really. Then it carried on walking out into the endless sand on their left-hand side. The driver went to open the regulator, his hand shaking a little. “No” said the colonel reaching for one of the long fire irons lying on the coal in the tender behind them. The figure was still moving away, not looking back and the driver’s hand still shook. “Please don’t get off the train sahib, please, please”. But Nick had to do it. 

He clambered down to the track bed carrying the fire iron and walked to where the figure had crossed their path. Laying the iron down he measured the pace of the footprints (just under 8 feet for each stride). He was just able to clamber up back to the warmth of the cab and the company of his driver. Would there have been any point in asking his men to cover him?

They drove on in silence leaving the figure just visible in the gathering gloom, still walking. The nearest village was at least fifty miles away.

When they arrived at the disembarkation point, very few words had been spoken and Nick thanked his driver as was customary, noticing that the driver had fixed his gaze on the fire iron. He was riven with anxiety. “Don’t worry I’ll take it”. He said just get me a chit and I’ll sign for a new one, you can get it from the yard tomorrow.

The colonel still has that fire iron stretching its length over his huge Ingle Nook fire-place where I saw it in the 1960’s.

Bar Room Reminiscences 2 – The Christmas Card

Many years ago, I showed a particularly captivating Christmas card that I had received from a junior colleague. It was so attractive that we also showed it to my mother when she dropped in for a Christmas Coffee (Irish style). We all commentated on its unusual artwork and I explained who the sender was before giving it a prominent display position.

On returning to work after the holiday I thanked the sender and mentioned how much we liked the card and its original artwork. She looked blank and explained that she had not sent one and could not have done as she did not have my address. Yet the full signature had been clearly read by three of us! As soon as I got home, I looked for it in its pride of place. It was not there, so I asked my wife if she had moved it. She remembered it well and without prompting described the picture. We searched high and low and mentioned its disappearance to my mother who also recalled it well. It was never found even when we cleared the flat to move out. But that is hardly surprising if it was NEVER SENT!

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