Jersey – Second test

I got to drive to the airport for a covid test. It was bright with occasional quick sea squalls. I took the scenic route down the five mile road. A kite coasted surprising close to my car, hunting for something in the scrubland. These are sand dunes turning to lush soil and then in turn to walls and buildings of that peculiar red granite that this island rises up with. Much has changed since those simple days when I lived here uncluttered. But much is the same.

Looking out at the dunes I shouldn’t have been surprised when I felt the tears on my cheek. This island … it’s my home. It carries that mark of a first place. The colours and sounds are how they are supposed to be here. The sea, ever present, blowing scent and life across this fecund rock, is right somehow. And in so many of my memories there are companions. The lost. Casualties of time and how is it possible when they feel so close, so close?

I drove past the stop sign where my grandparents had a mundane conversation that I remember precisely. Both of them are long gone now, sent back round or however it works, bodies buried down the road by the sea. And there, on the right, what used to be The Windmill House. Mum would say “Look, it’s The Windmill House!” There are no windmills anymore. I’m driving the car now, not her. She’s up on that hill in the weather. I’ll go and talk to her, but her voice will just be the wind and the grass and the stillness.

I was happy here. I didn’t know the island like an adult might. It was colour and light. It was smells and sensations in that way that children can be sometimes closer to dogs than people. I was digging in the mud and laughing large and running hard and totally unpolluted by the mess of responsibility and pain that comes with this adulthood. I was happy, and I feel their spirits gathered now. The energy of the lost perhaps to help me as I try once more once more and this time without giving up at the first knockback. I’m stronger now, and ready.

I miss them. Mum and dad. Da and Danda. Even Peter bless him. All taken too soon. I pulled up and waited for it to subside, watching the the sea as the waves broke over me. We can’t get out of time. It just keeps rolling. What little we have left is for joy. Not for being shut in a beige hotel room.

I’m exhausted. I’m going for an early bed, and believe it or not I’m allowed out tomorrow properly. I get to stop and touch the water, to talk to people, to begin things. It’s a long way between now and the end of this. If I had a home here, in my home, it would be easier. But I’ll muddle by somehow. Jersey. Now it’s time to start.

Jersey Day 4 – Running out of crap food

I have one more non alcoholic beer.

Today they gave me butter with my croissant. It was a highlight.

Tomorrow I have to drive to the airport and prove that I don’t have Covid again. After that I’m allowed out without getting fined. I can drive to the airport to get tested. That’s ok. But I can’t drive to the seashore and look at the sunset through the window because that’ll give everybody death. The pathogens respond to the nature of your journey, I think. If you ever worry that you’ve been exposed to it, just believe in your very soul that you are going to an airport to be tested, and the angel of death will pass you by.

Oh I’ve made a mess in my den. I have asked the hotel if they can let somebody in to change the sheets. The people who give me all the milk stay very very far away from my door and spend as little time as possible near it in case my contagion gets through the wood and into their lungs. They might come in while I’m off to be tested. The owner isn’t certain though. They’re wary. I guess the fear is that if my test comes back positive then they lose work.

It’s a constant diet of fearfulness, this era. Things like the Daily Mail that already specialise in separating us – they are having a field day with this, hammering wedge after wedge. “You are not safe you can only trust us!” And we are so absorbent. It’s why advertising is such a huge industry. We are sponges.

I’m going to delay much of what I came here for because it involves seeing very old people. Just on the offchance that I am carrying a brand new late developing asymptomatic variant of COVID, I’m going to avoid seeing Michael a few days longer until after my day 10 test. It’s as much for his peace of mind as my own. But this is bullshit and we all know it. I can’t even easily find a place to live because the idea of me coming over in the filthy boat with all my leaping nastiness – it’s not appealing at all in theory to people. I bet most of it Airbnb self catered places on the island are still closed because of this. I really don’t want to have to keep eating sandwiches and crisps and the occasional takeaway, in a suspicious smelling beige den.

BLAH

It’s just me and my head, kids! For another 24 hours at least.

It’s not so bad. I keep my own company well enough. Aaargh.

Jersey 3 – Milk

Every day, in the morning, I get eight mini cartons of semi skimmed milk. Half and half you might call it. I’m in Jersey, the magical land of dairy, but the milk is imported from Ireland. I use two cartons a day.

This morning there was a knock on the door as there always is, with my daily food. “There’s no need to leave more milk!” I shouted from my bed. “Milk?” Comes the reply. “Yes. Milk! I’ve got loads!” There is a pause. “Ok, milk!”

When I go to get my the bag there are sixteen mini cartons of milk with it, as well as all the instant coffee and tea things I could never want. By the end of the week there will be no more milk at Lakeland Farm in Ireland. It will ALL be in my hotel room. Along with rivers of Nescafé. I knew the coffee would be shit so I brought those dripthrough things that go in the top of the cup. I’m not using the Nescafé and unlike ketchup sachets it isn’t going to end up in my car. Only the mad and the young like instant coffee. The dripthrough is pretty crap as well but at least it isn’t Nestlé gak.

I’m wearing a T-shirt that was in the bag with the camembert. That’s what we’ve come to. It’s the cleanest T-Shirt I’ve got. This hotel is 2 stars so I’m not expecting laundry service. By the time they let me out on Tuesday I’m going to have nothing but my suit left to wear. I’ll waft into the fresh air smelling unusually cheesy. I will look at the sunlight with the eyes of a starved man. The air will be on my face. Moving objects will be in my eyeline!

This is my view.

It’s a weekend, so the builders aren’t working. The generator will be on all day from Monday.

You can see what a lovely day it is. It’s gorgeous. Perfect. I know I haven’t got Covid. So do you. But still I have to wait. Another test on Monday and then once the result is through I will be allowed to see the world again. It’s ridiculous but “use your common sense” never works because there are too many people with none.

I still have no idea where I’m going to stay for most of this trip. I can’t stay here, I’d go batshit crazy and I can’t cook anything. The best offer I’ve had is twice the price and minimum four weeks which I can’t even do as I’m going home on the 5th June (so long as this is sorted). I should probably rent a place somehow. I might find a way to do that once I’m able to leave this fucking room.

Jersey – Quarantine Day 2

I’m staying in The Mornington Hotel. It’s a pleasant 2 star establishment about ten minutes walk from the maternity hospital where I was born. Most of the photos on the website show rooms that I cannot go into right now. The bedroom is comfortable, and it feels like I’m the spy on a John Le Carré novel. Cork walls and some sort of alarm clock radio type thing made by Rediffusion – (remember them?)

I’m usually exceptionally good at digs. When I’m on tour I spend the first few hours organising my bits. Usually I have my Bose Speaker wired to my iPad for music on Spotify. Normally I have the means to make a little altar in a corner complete with gong and beads and a variety of different smokeless incense sticks. Frequently I have a Kindle loaded up with books I want to read, a good selection of clothes, a panoply of personalia and memorabilia. All of this went out the window this time. As soon as the cat was in the box I was on autopilot out the door and I am astonished at how badly I packed. I’m in here with no music but my phone. I’ve tried to make sense of the Rediffusion thing to no avail. And I’ve got virtually no oojieboojie stuff. Just my tarot cards. Not even palo santo. I feel naked. No books even. I didn’t really take into account the practicalities. I was too busy worrying about the cat and freaking out as I didn’t know where I was going to stay. I seem to have lucked out here. It’s not l’Horizon but it’s cheap and they care.

At 8.30 in the morning there’s a knock on the door and my picnic bag is left there. It’s great. They even put a sandwich wrapped in foil there for later, and a variety of snacks. I feel like I’m back at day school… I just need a Club or a Trio.

Day one sandwich was ham and cheese. Day two sandwich was egg. And these details are the things that help me know it’s a different day. The sun rises somewhere and sets somewhere else but I don’t really see it. I’m under the impression that the world is still turning out there but I’m not part of it. I sit with my sandwich and maybe I look at a building for a bit out the window as I draft my difficult emails and unwrap snacks.

The bin is full of packaging. I’ve been working through the instant noodles in the evening. The sink has my remaining non-alcoholic beers staying cool in water. I managed to resist the bottle of single malt on the ferry. I’ve got no toothpaste.

This afternoon I realised there was half a camembert left over in one of my bags. I disposed of it humanely. It had achieved sentience. I wasn’t aware of the smell until I left my room for a moment and came back. Now I’ve compounded it by ordering Friday night curry from the local Indian. This little beige room now smells of cheese, curry and feet. I’ve got some Nag Champa incense. I’m a little worried I’ll set off the smoke alarm but it might take the edge off.

And here I am.

I haven’t put the telly on yet but I’m going slowly bonkers so I might get lost in rubbish for a while tomorrow. I didn’t even bring camomile tea. Just some ridiculous mashup of infusions. But I can’t go shopping. Or do anything, really.

I’ve only got to do three more days. There are skies in Jersey. Beaches. Parks!

Day 1 – Jersey

I timed my arrival well it seems. The next boat over will be filled with journalists trying to get photos of this blockade, or of the battleships that have been sent here. By the sound of it it’s all kicking off about fishing rights. No surprises. This place is much closer to France than it is to England. It’s bound to be complicated in terms of fishing rights. We’d need a competent Prime Minister to properly make sense of things, so not in my lifetime by the look of it. Right now it’s this oaf and his dead eyed joyless wonderless cronies.

These are just navy boats. I took this photo yesterday leaving Portsmouth. I have no idea if they are the ones coming here now.

I’m in a room. I’m slowly turning it into a den.

This morning I received a text message from the Jersey government. “How are you?” It was mandatory that I replied. It’s an open question. As a teenager I might have been tempted to respond “Not so bad thanks! Could have done with a spot of hot food,” or somesuch. Me? I just told them “WELL” because by the tenets of the message there are only two possible replies. The other one is “COVID” which would likely lead to the whole hotel getting covered in one of those things they use to fumigate houses in America. And I am feeling pretty well right now…

I wish that there wasn’t a portable generator for a building site noisily running through all the daylight hours directly outside my window. I wish there was some sort of a view rather than just an alley and the building site. It’s so strange being in the town where I was born but with no property and very few friends. I now live in a room full of snacks with the inside of my head for company. Things have been magnifying a little bit already in here. It was good to speak with Lou this evening as I was getting pretty fraught. She was giving me the blow by blow of the cat’s ridiculously cute behaviour and it helped me get perspective. She’s extremely busy while I’m in here slowly eating my own face.

They left me a little breakfast in a bag outside my room today, with a sandwich for lunch as well. I ate that, snacks, and an instant noodle. I’ll have to be a bit smarter with how I live my life in this room or I’ll be dead of too much sugar by the time I’m allowed out. Tomorrow maybe I’ll order some food in. But money! Aargh. I’m here as a last ditch, blowing my SEISS in the hopes I can unlock some funds for my brother and I before the mountain of debt falls on my head.

Four more days only. Then I’m allowed out to start sorting things out, hopefully…

Arrival in Jersey

It’s hard to clearly research what will happen when we try to cross borders at the moment. All I’ve done is go to the place where I was born. I made it, but it’s been pretty weird.

The alarm pushed me up at 5 for last minute snuggles and goodbye to the cat before a swift shot to Portsmouth. I was getting on to the Commodore Clipper, which is an incredibly slow boat that goes to Guernsey first. I arrived at the booth. “Have you got your negative test?” Fuck.

I knew I had to get a PCR test on arrival. I didn’t know I’d have to get a test to get on the boat first. Turns out lateral flow is fine. That’s the antibody test. They were giving them away at ASDA so I grabbed a pack after a frantic drive.

All the people in the booth needed in order to let me on the boat was a text message from the NHS. In order to get that message I needed to input the number of an existing test and tell them that my result was negative.

You could just choose to open the test, look at the number, input it and say it was negative. I’m glad that they trust us to do it properly and don’t insist somebody gets paid to test us every time. Things are so much harder than they ever were these days – we are so closely monitored and corralled that I’m glad there’s still space to completely flout the rules even if I’m not advocating it. And I’m pleased and surprised that the test I picked up at ASDA was free as well. I thought by now that we’d be skinned at every opportunity. Seems our data is enough. With a text message on my phone, I returned to the booth and was waved through. I could’ve forwarded that message to myself and altered the date. So many ways to mess with it, although it’s likely pretty easy to get fined.

Before arriving in Jersey I had to fill in a form with all my travel history and lots of stuff about how I promise not to tell fibs or I’ll be fined. I then got issued a QR code. Leaving the boat I was met by a young woman with a mask who carefully issued me with a PCR test in a bag. Then I had a conversation with a guy about the contents of my car. Then I met a third person in a full hazmat suit who really wasn’t much good at swabbing but kind of rubbed the thing in my nose and mouth before packing it up to go to a lab. The result will define my freedom but might take a while. I have to take 2 more tests – most likely self applied and collected by courier.

Meanwhile I’m in this little old fashioned hotel room. I’m knackered after such an early start and long trip. I’m in one of a pair of twin beds, looking around this little room that will be my world for a few days. Here we go. Eventually I’ll be loose in Jersey. For now, patience.

Bluebells of sighs

In the morning sunshine, two small children frolicked through the Bluebells in the wood up at Stanmer Park. The gale was easing down but present enough to deter visitors. Not a dog walker. Nary a crackhead. Not even the guy in a plastic shirt running. Just little Lou and little Al. The sun cut through the trees lighting the carpets of tiny flowers, the wind took their scent, pumping out of them after a day of rain. These slopes are protected. Not much mud. Just enough wind for the smell to be so present. The sound of birds, trees and yes, cars. But mostly nature.

Blue. That sharp bright blue in carpets between the trees, and we must have hit the peak of it then, as the storm was winding out. Something so ancient in that smell, in this shock of tiny seasonal flowers that were there for the Romans as they were for the Normans as they were when we fought the Germans. We were mostly silent, glad of the peace and the beauty.

“I want you to have this to remember when you’re shut in,” says Lou. And I will. The bluebells! I’ve booked the cheapest hotel with parking on the island of Jersey. I’ll be shut in a room there, looking out at a wall, surrounded by beige for five days, occasionally sticking something all the way up my nose in order to discover what we already knew. I’ve booked it for a week to get me through quarantine and a bit more. God knows where then. Hopefully somewhere where I can cook. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. At least the first week is covered. I can sit there and remember the bluebells and Lou and the light after the storm.

Now I’m in bed. I’m up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to discover what it means to go to Jersey now that everything is fucked. First I’ve got to drive to Portsmouth. Then my last taste of freedom on the ferry where I intend to spend the whole damn crossing on deck unless it’s a typhoon. Then into my beige box for five days where I’ll end up going feral and drawing pictures of bluebells with ketchup sachets.

Mao just jumped up on the bed. I’ve only got about 7 hours before the alarm so I’m gonna stroke all the things that must be stroked and doze off happily.

Storm and documentaries

At the marina in Brighton the old men know. “They’ll be closing the harbour wall soon,” they grumble to one another in the sunshine. I’m eating a mister whippy and looking at the pretty boats, wondering why people are taking the flags down and checking the ropes. It’s a gusty morning, but nothing to write home about.

Ten hours later and now the wind is coming off the sea and onto the windowpane to my left at a good 40mph. There’s the bang just now of something falling over when it’s not supposed to. It’s good the old men knew. They park their motorbikes facing the sea in this town if they know what they’re doing. This wind will have to cover a lot of ground before the edge is off. It’s cold and harsh and full of rain. I’m glad I’m in bed.

I nearly booked my ferry for tonight. Thankfully I’m not sailing until Wednesday by which time the storm will have blown over. Plain sailing, I hope, by then. I’ve got enough to be worrying about without one of those twenty hour crossings where everybody is sick.

Still no idea where I’m staying, but the Jersey Premier Inn is £30 a night with breakfast. I hate the idea of paying to be isolated in a cheap hotel in the town where I was born. A week in a Premier Inn when you’re allowed to leave the room is bad enough. A week in one where you have to stay there will be the worst. It’s looking like that’s the only option though, and I’ve just got to hope that St Helier has better delivery options for food now than it did when I was a lad. Lou suggested I stock up on Pot Noodles but I would literally rather starve.

As the weather descended gradually to the state it’s in now, so we retreated back along the coast until we were safely stowed here again in the relative warmth of the flat. I felt like watching documentaries.

“My Octopus Teacher” succeeds in being considerably less hamfisted and worthy than the title suggests. It’s a hymn to nature and a reminder of the power of doing the same thing every day. It made us want to go diving, to be near the Atlantic, to travel. Then we watched a short piece – The Last Honey Hunter – about the harvesting of mad honey in Nepal.

I often say it – the world is so huge. From the coastline of South Africa to the cloud forests of Nepal and again we were longing to travel. Jersey won’t cut it and will be mostly about paperwork anyway. I want the world back. Although I’m not necessarily sold on mad honey.

Rhododendrons can have a certain Granyanotoxin that can find its way into honey. If you eat it, you might have visions. You will also be mostly paralysed with your bowels loosened and the need to vomit. “The vomit is the important part,” says the guy who sells this honey at market. I don’t think I’m sold yet. Last summer I paid money to somebody to burn my arm and scrape toxic frog secretions into the welt. Moments later I passed out, woke up again, shouted about three litres of liquid, sat there gradually feeling more and more clear while still clutching a bucket, and eventually went home feeling fantastic. I’ll probably have more frog poison some day. But I’m not sure I’m interested in this rhododendron honey.

Incredibly hard work to harvest the stuff, and it’s a beautiful documentary made with a strong eye for the human. But it leaves me no more than curious about this honey – it feels like too much of a toxin and not enough of a medicine. No point going through that sort of thing just for kicks.

Anyway it’ll be a long time until I’m in Nepal and then one day I’ll see the stuff at a market somewhere and you’ll know one way or another.

Smoke?

I’m in Brighton with Lou. It’s half eleven. Lou is drifting off to sleep beside me. I picked up my phone to write my blog. I was going to write about taking Mao here. Maybe about the last minute panic to get the flat half decent. All of that went out the window when I read this text message, sent to me two hours ago:

“Hi Al..hope all is well, there is a smoke dectector going off a lot upstairs somewhere, sounds like a new tenant, maybe nit good at cooking or got the dectector in the kitchen instead of the reception room 🤦‍♂️”

Now I can’t sleep.

If the actual smoke detector is actually going off in my flat then that’s because my flat is on fire.

I was lucky enough to find a friend of Lou’s with a garage in Brighton. The car is there, under lock and key. I won’t be able to get it back tonight so a rush back up to London is out of the question. My messages don’t get through to this neighbour, who I hardly know. They come back rejected after a few minutes. Has the whole block burnt down?

I wasn’t cooking this morning. I lit no candles. I didn’t even make my usual coffee on the hob.

I have to look at the message and try to give myself some context. I tend to cook at about ten at night. I have an oven timer that I frequently use to time things, and I often leave it beeping to remind me there’s something left to do. I did this last night, and the two nights before. I often let it beep for over five minutes. Could it be that he’s a light sleeper and goes to bed early and this is him trying to preempt and prevent a fourth consecutive night of the unwanted beeping?

“There is a smoke detector going off a lot”. If it was going off when he wrote the text surely he’d just say “there is a smoke detector going off.” It’s going off “a lot”. Enough for him to start to get pissed off? Maybe (hopefully) this isn’t actually an emergency message. Maybe this is a passive aggressive neighbour finally plucking up the courage to address a regular source of annoyance. “A lot”. At least he knows it’s two words.

Then there’s the imaginary bad chef, the “new tenant” in Covid times.

I am a dangerously louche liberal who is probably murdering people with drugs in my flat. This is the accepted stance of my various neighbors, one of whom saw a guitar once when they were younger. I keep hours that are not normal and I frequently have facial hair. I am bad.

“A new tenant” he mumbles. “probably a prostitute criminal,” he says darkly to himself. *BeepBeep* “CAN’T EVEN FUCKING COOK!”

Maybe every time my oven timer has gone off over the last few weeks, he has grown more and more apoplectic with this covidrage we are all experiencing. He’s imagining some louche drug-liberal burning a nightly steak in his sandals with a smoke detector directly above the cooker and The Doors playing so loudly in his earphones that he can’t hear it to stop it.

Then we have the facepalm emoji… That doesn’t read like somebody who is worried the block is going to burn down imminently. You wouldn’t send a facepalm if an actual smoke alarm was blaring, would you? The emoji reads like somebody making a suggestion. “Ha ha you and I both know that only stupid people put the detector in the kitchen and not the reception room”. That’s what the emoji says. Hoping I will think “I’d better not look stupid. I’ll move the detector to my reception room.” But I don’t even have a reception room. What even is a reception room? I have a living room. And a corridor with a detector in it. Or I had a corridor. It might all be ash now…

There’s nothing I can do about it tonight. Either everything is ash or it isn’t. I hope it isn’t, but hope springs eternal. I think my textual analysis is correct and he’s just an awkward fucker timing his communication incredibly badly. That English degree of mine can come in handy sometimes.

I’m still going to call him first thing tomorrow. I’m still going to be worried until I’ve spoken to him. But I think now I’ve thought it out I ought to be able to sleep.

Boxes and naps

My friend moved to Olympia. I got a few quid to help her move in. Now I really know how lucky I am to have a lift.

It’s a top floor flat with two internal flights of stairs. The mattress was a killer. By the time I was finished I was no good to anyone. I went back home. As you’ll have seen from photographs, The Chairman likes to sleep on my half of the bed when I’m not there. Sure enough, there he was. I curled up next to him, just for a second, and gently held his belly as he started purring. I woke up two hours later. A cat nap. “Where are you going,” he seemed to say when I untangled from his happy warmth.

I have been meaning to get my flat ready for a friend to stay in while I’m in Jersey. That’s been my slow focus for some time now. I haven’t really been as efficient as I could’ve been, as nobody reading this will be surprised to hear. I did as much as possible in as short a time as possible, assisted by my delightful brother. It’s just much nicer to do anything with company. Even the heavy lifting this morning was in company with two fine gentlemen, one of whom drives a Luton van and knows lots of the people I know. Max and I talked about everything, as it always has been with us, from Kipling to governance through our parent’s friends, to Blondie and Atheism. His scientific brain has always elided well with my chaoshead. The two of us could make something curious and thought provoking, I think. It’s probably time to think of a way to combine our schticks.

But first, Jersey. We got everything into the spare room, which at least is out of the way for now, even if it makes one room in the flat uninhabitable for now.

Nobody is sleeping there any time soon, but the sofa is comfortable and my nearly-evicted friend has the Hampstead flat for a few months now so I’m not going to be bedless while my friend and I share this place through the summertime. It’ll be nice to have company here again too. I like being on my own but I achieve more when I’m not.

Tomorrow I’m going to have to clean up before I leave which means early wake up, which means I’m up far too late already as can often happen when you catnap in the middle of the day. He’s still fast asleep next to me. He only really wakes up for snuggles. It’s a cat’s life.