People geeking out for tourists

In 1957 Colin Soudain began to decorate his house with shells. Over the years he accumulated so many mollusc shells, decorating every inch of the property, that he could boast it was the largest collection of mollusc shells in the world. As a kid the place was magical and ridiculous. We would go there and enjoy the artistry, and he would often be there, eccentric, presiding over his creation with a patrician air.

On his death he bequeathed this labour of love to The Jersey National Trust. He didn’t have a specific clause in his will to say they had to keep it open. You’d think that it was implied in the gesture. But the Jersey National Trust shrugged. “It’s ours to do with as we please,” they said. “And anyway, it’s got no disabled access.” So before his body was cold they flogged it to some geezer – probably related to somebody in the trust – and he tore the whole place down. I expect it’s flats now. Maybe there’s a laminated picture of a shell in a hallway. There are rats in this island, and some of them are people. I hope they get haunted, the ones who made that decision. I hope they wake up to find shells in their beds. I hope the ghost of Colin Soudain causes them decades of shell-related annoyance before one day they wake up with a jolt and say “I’m a complete bastard!” out loud in a revelatory tone.

I was thinking of places to go, this beautiful Sunday, that I remember from my youth. The Shell Garden has been eaten by rats as described above. The Fantastic Tropical Gardens are flats as well. I hope they are fantastic flats. I’ve done the zoo and the weekend is not the right time to go back there. So I stuck a pin in the map and I’ve driven to St Catherine’s slipway. It’s not artistic. There are no shells stuck anywhere. But there’s sun, a whole hell of a lot of boats and an Amazing Sand Sculpture, which is free and probably like those sand dog things that cropped up in London a few years ago with a proud looking grifter holding a donation bucket. The dogs turned out to be moulded and dropped like a sandcastle bucket, causing all sorts of outrage. The amazing sand sculpture is the real deal though, in a geodesic dome tent right next to a shop that sells the impossibly tall ice cream cones that everybody I have seen so far today is eating.

The dome is apparently the only green dome in Europe. Simon the Sand Wizard is thinking of selling it before long. He runs on donations from visiting coach parties who come to the café nearby. He’s made a huge fairytale out of sand and he hangs out next to it making conversation, smoking and accepting donations in exchange for postcards. I expect he hasn’t been raking it in this year. I was the only person in there.

He built the dome around an existing sand sculpture, and then be realised it had to be ventilated as the Jersey council wouldn’t allow it without it being green, and the reason why they are usually white is to reflect the sun. He’s rigged up loads of pumps to blow air about the place. It’s a huge bother for the occasional donation from a tourist, especially in a year where there are no tourists. I would say go bung the guy enough to buy a sandwich but it’s in Jersey. You can’t get here too easily yet. I have him a fiver.

At least the sand sculpture is ephemeral by nature. He’ll likely change it when he gets bored of it. I guess it gives him something to do, and when he dies it’s not gonna get turned into flats.

Coffee conversations

There’s a coffee shop in St Helier that has become my staple. It’s just next to Sand Street car park, which is less than a quid per hour. I drive there in the morning now so I can sit here and chill out before I get started. Fucked old antique furniture with throws. Shelves and shelves of knick-knacks, comics and books. You get your coffee in any old mug. It’s like being in my flat if I charged for coffee and there was room to sit down.

They’ve got a shelf full of graphic novels many of which I haven’t read yet. If I worked in St Helier I’d be in here every day before work gradually making my way through Sandman and Preacher.

Right now though I’m here just winding up for the weekend. There’s a group behind me of people who would have been my friends when I was in my early twenties. Due to my proximity to their area I’m wrapped in their conversation, a part of it but not a part of it.

It’s pleasant, and familiar. And it’s so strange. I’m a lot older these days. Apart from the fact that half of their topics are things that weren’t invented when I was that age, it’s making me nostalgic. Escape Rooms, Mayonnaise, Pokémon Go, Travel.

They’re going to a friend’s wedding today and they are clearly dreading it. It’s curious though, most of my friends who tied the knot when I was that age are still going strong surrounded by large kids. I was hanging out mostly with Christians and perhaps that’s why. Perhaps it’s the terribly wholesome nature of the conversation that I’m connecting with. It’s cute, middle class and clever. Plus they mostly aren’t talking about popular culture which I get. I haven’t switched the telly on in my hotel room once since I’ve been in Jersey. I’m always a little out of touch. I was even more out of touch when I was their age. Even at Guildhall I used to dread Mondays, where the whole year group would take most of the day talking about people they’d seen on the telly over the weekend as if they knew them personally. Talent show contestants and characters in dramas. I just sat quietly until it was a spent topic.

“I just took a Covid test and I desperately hoped it would come back inconclusive so I wouldn’t have to go to this wedding,” one of them sends, and that’s a topic I wish was spent. “Say you’ve just had the vaccine and its had side effects,” is the advice. It strikes me how quickly we’ve normalised this unthinkable mess we are all in. Jersey is “further ahead” than the UK apparently, although the forces of fear are still selling as many copies as they can with sensationalist headlines. Everybody is still masked and hunted, and the conversational currency is to do with where the variants are from, with fearful emphasis on the name of the foreign place. “The Indian variant has been detected in Jersey,” I’ve heard a few times. I think the implication is that the more exotic the place is, the more threatening the variant is considered to be. “We want British Covid, from British Britain. None of his foreign Covid muck.”

It’s a good cup of coffee though. I’ll be back for more of that. I’ve got another two weeks here, with change… Good to have a few down days. I’m beginning to feel how small this island is now. But I’m still really happy to be back here.


There’s nothing more to be done but wait, and it’s a bank holiday weekend. I’ve taken the pressure off and I’m on the beach.

My feet are pale from an extended winter in walking boots. I’m letting them feel the sand. My white abdomen is on display, a little larger with pie than I’d like it, but proud. My T-shirt is on my head. Fuck it.

There aren’t many people here at St Ouen despite this being one of the first good days where the sky shows no threat of a change to come. A couple of windsurfers. A couple of families watch as the kids dig with spades and wallow in puddles. The misanthropes among you would be happy here right now though compared to how I remember it can get, when you have to pick your way through the litter to stake out a patch still warm from departed bottoms.

Lockdown has been great for Jersey. I’m sitting on a rock where the tide breaks. Cuttlefish bones lie half buried in the thin white sand. Bladderwrack and jumping sand flies, mermaids purses and cockle shells but not a single Macdonalds packet. No Coke cans and beer bottles. It’s sad but I find it almost impossible to believe. The town centre pavements are still a treasure trove of crisp packets and masks, dumped without thought to blow or wash to the sea and kill turtles and birds for us long after our fingers are worms. But here on this white sand I can see no litter – and I’m looking. I’m gonna give it five minutes from now.

Impressive. I had to range widely. I found something decayed that looks like it’s broken from a boat, the blue plastic top of a lotion bottle, and a tiny bit of polystyrene masquerading as cuttlefish. Good work, Jersey. I’m going to lie here, read, and listen to the sea for a while before I cart it off to the nearest bin. It’s probably not hot enough to get sunstroke. Let’s find out.

I’ve moved, but still the constant roar of the sea. I’ve been reading Gerald Durrell on a bench above Corbière Lighthouse. The tide is coming in and the sun is falling. My book is helping me remember to observe the little things – to see rather than just look. I’m watching the seagulls as they head home to their roosts, watching the blackheads squabble and oh look, there’s a small brown kite, playing in the wind. It could almost have just come from France across the sea, and it has found a place facing into the wind where, with minimal flapping it can hold that stationary position, hovering like its namesake, scanning the scrubland. The sun is dipping, taking an orange tinge, timing its descent perfectly today with the rising of the tide to cover the causeway.

For the first time I feel like I’m on holiday, and knowing that I can achieve no more this weekend I’m going to let that feeling wash over me, and wander through the sun barefoot and observant. And for now I’m signing off to catch the change from day to dusk over the rising sea.

And I forgot to schedule it. Getting slack as I relax…

St Aubin Bay

The wind is just turning to chill now, but it’s been a beautiful day. I’m sitting here looking towards St Helier from St Aubin across the sweep of the bay at full moon high water. The table is wet from the wind bringing last night’s tide into the street, but this evening it’s calm.

The bells of The Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church just rang for 8pm and surprised me that it was so late already. The day is still bright, and people are playing on the water. A jetski buzzes around in the distance, and a waterskier. A young woman punts past with a friend on one of those paddle boards. To my left, four men in black with sunglasses talk animatedly in a language I can’t place. At first I thought it was Russian, but now it feels closer to Arabic. Scattered with English. Staccato bursts, tongue very far back in the throat. They’re drinking Peroni out of a Morrisons bag, and eating crisps, far too involved in the conversation that flows so fast between them to notice the flotilla of yachts coming home for the evening behind them.

“It’s like Norway, but flatter,” shouts the young man on my right. He’s having a conversation into his mobile that has mostly involved telling somebody what they should have done. Sound carries well enough for me to think he’s a bit of a prat.

To the right across the bay I can see the single chimney of “old smokey” – the power station for the island that used to drop us into darkness every few weeks when I was growing up. They almost had to fire it up the other day when the French were making noises about cutting off the cable because of Brexit. That’s not resolved yet, but this evening I can’t see any flotillas of angry French fishermen in the bay. Just these happy people cruising around, and I find myself envying the jetskier as he comes round right in front of me cutting his way back home to land.

It’s not crowded here as it might be in a normal year. I like that, which is just as well considering I’ve just extended my stay by a week. But the jetskier is right to head home. It’s just getting too cold now, with the sun falling behind the trees and the gulls crying home for the evening.

This is the weather I remember from childhood. Clear skies and sunshine with a light breeze. More of the same please, even if I haven’t got a garden to run around in anymore.

I went for a walk in the lanes with a friend and we looked at an exhibition about the occupation here. That’s a part of the history of this place that rises again and again – a scar on the island that gives character. Of all the stories I read the one that stuck in memory just was that of Fritz, who lost his family in the bombing of Berlin, and sat on a barrel of gunpowder with a grenade in his mouth.


I needed that! I just got to hang out with people I met through theatre in London who live here in Jersey now. First my actor friend a few days ago, now two more theatre people!

Last time I saw one of them it was towards the end of a Christmas Carol week and it was the night the election results came in and I got so drunk I thought my nose was my toes. He probably last saw me speaking in tongues to a moth. He was doing Carol too, producing it in Brighton – a town I now know so much better than I did then. I tried to loan him some plates. And she was a friend at BarclayHook Towers for those years where Brian and I hosted all the people and fed them fat food and oodles of booze and filled the air with breath and laughing and hugs and fun before it all got wound around a stick. Happy fun times.

In the way that you have to when your major source of income is telling energetic stories for complicated reasons and fun, the three of us started geeking out about all the possibilities of things to be made here on the island. We also just had a really fun talkative and vibrant evening and I remembered for a second how it used to be in the old world. It’s less complicated here in Jersey as they are further along the road to not having to be neurotic about everything. We hugged. There was pie. There was gravy and incredible roast potatoes. It was like the towers, but with a toddler sleeping upstairs.

He’s from Yorkshire. And she’s from Jersey. I mean… It’s a sign. Yorkshire, Brighton, London, Jersey. All of them places that would have rings around them if I was asked to make a map of the UK and mark the places that are significant in my life. And here are two people pulling them together. Maybe it’s more than just a pipe dream that I come back to his place and make beautiful things. Maybe it’s actually what the universe needs me to do for a while, before I go once more to lose myself in the jungles of Argrathoa to teach cockroaches the hokey-pokey.

I am back in my beige room now, and I’m growing to like it here. Perhaps just my mood has been lifted. The old man has done his usual thing. Once I manage to get him to do something, he hides and hopes not to be bothered by me any more. Not this time unfortunately. He’s wasted months like that. Years. Decades. But I’ve got shit to do now and until I can remove him I have to do it through and with him. It’s why I’m here. Likely I’ll have to come and park outside his house. I’ve got a good book.

Getting stuck in again

Just so you don’t think I work for the Jersey Tourist Board, it has rained every single day since I’ve been out of isolation. You should know that. It’s like living on a really big stationary boat, here. The weather just happens and there’s nothing you can do but take the sails down. Right now it’s been wet. We’ve been sailing through storms. Or the storms have been sailing through us. On the way north to you guys. Is it always wet here? I don’t remember as much, but memory is selective – particularly where the halcyon days of childhood are concerned.

I am now the proud owner of my uncle Peter’s cosy wax jacket. It doubles my volume when I’m wearing it, and it does a very good job at stopping me from soaking. “Bring waterproof clothes,” I was told while I diligently filled my suitcase with nothing useful whatsoever. I’m lucky Peter had so many clothes and left them with people who don’t just chuck them in the bin.

I am finally completely shorn. You can’t see the shining glory of my beardless face in the photograph, but you’d tell me I look young if you could. I decided I wanted to summon the summer by getting my face ready for it. I went and got it done by a Pole called Katharina. She sliced off half my face, but that always happens with this babysoft skin. Mostly it was a pleasant experience being pampered and shorn. A little bit of pain reminds us that we’re alive.

I’ve sent a letter today. My hope is that the letter brings good things. I’ve got all the numbers they want. It fucking better work. I’ll probably be more specific about what I’m doing if it does work, but right now I’m still trying not to jinx it.

Cheap hotel means guilt free restaurants a couple of times a week which are always a joy for me. I’m happy in a cardboard box so long as I get a good evening rib eye from time to time, and I love trying places to eat. I’ve been relatively restrained so far but I’m building up a decent internal culinary map of Jersey. St Aubin is definitely looking better than Gorey right now for steak, kids. I can’t help on vegetarian options.

I’m gonna renew The Mornington again tomorrow for a week. The daily sandwich helps. I’ll eat any old shit in the daytime and it’s much better than a Boots Meal Deal.

I’m happy here, and that’s despite the rain. I miss my people but we’ve been mostly cut off for a year anyway. And I miss the animals. If I had a cottage on a hill here with a big garden and an Aga… But that place is long gone. My beige room will have to do.

Jersey Zoo

I’m sitting here in this aviary, surrounded by extremely rare birds. Outside I can hear the wind and occasional flurries of rain, but we are protected here, the birds and I. When the sun comes, many of them sing. Others are content to just sit. A peacock strolls past my feet. A Nicobar Pigeon regards me from a nearby branch. It’s the closest living relative to the dodo. It’s astonishing here, and there isn’t another soul.

This place is all about the dodos. Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust was it’s name when I was a child. Or The Dodo Trust. They call it Jersey Zoo now as it’s much easier to get tickets sold with a familiar word like “zoo”. But it’s not a zoo really. It doesn’t exist to show us animals. It’s a captive breeding program. The dodo is an emblem, as we weren’t quick enough to stop it becoming extinct. The intention is to try to replenish wild populations of other such creatures. Like this Nicobar Pigeon.

Most of the enclosures are vast, with plenty of places for the animals to hide. I didn’t get any luck with the Andean Spectacled Bear, but the orang-utans were out after the rain. “Don’t drop things into the water,” it says near the terrapins. And what I love is that the sign is enough. They aren’t putting up spikes and CCTV, and there isn’t a young man threatening us when we walk in. There is still TRUST here of sorts, borne of the huge free spirit of the man who made this all possible, Gerald Durrell. Ok so the Aye-Ayes are locked because we can’t be trusted not to lick each other in the darkness. But mostly this is open and with a surprising lack of neurosis.

A day like this is always best. Rain blows over here fast, and sunshine clouds over just as quickly. But the water in the air and the fact it’s Monday has discouraged all but the foolhardy from coming here to be with the animals. As a result, it’s peaceful and they aren’t flooded. The more anxious animals might pop their heads out when it’s like this – the screaming kids are at home on the Nintendo. It’s just me. I had a sandwich under the quiet ancient scrutiny of a gorilla. Now I’m sitting with these birds, and I’ve been still enough that they are singing without concern. It’s beautiful.

Rare trees everywhere, running water through the enclosures, armies of staff strimming the hedges and going round back to feed and breed. A book drop. A second hand shop. This isn’t just Durrell money now. Every bench has a plaque. People find peace and wonder here, they see that it’s making a positive change, and when they die the coffers fill and even more becomes possible. I always loved it here and I have a feeling it will be a sanctuary for centuries to come.

When I was a child there were cheetahs here for a while. Black Rhinoceros. Tapir. Snow Leopards. There was an angry old monkey that used to live on a pirate ship. One of the gorillas, Jambo, became a celebrity after looking after a kid that fell into the enclosure. It was on John Craven’s Newsround. It’s still possible to fall in with gorillas, thank God. There are some places that haven’t yet been killed by the dead-eyed safetyarmy. Nobody has fallen in of course, but you could do it if you tried.

The Nicobar Pigeon has started to roll its throat now. It vibrates right through me, a sound older than we are. We brought our death in the name of rats to Nicobar on ships, as we did to Mauritius and so many other places. We are burning out orang-utans for Palm Oil to bind together our sugary snacks. We really have got too clever and we are far too good at dissociating our convenience from the larger effects. At least some of us, like Durrell, are using what they have to try to redress the balance. We could all do more.

I’m going to sit with these birds a while.

Waiting for Lefty

My friend was in a play and I got to see it even though I was in Jersey.

Zoom. I still miss being in a room with sweaty people, either as one of them or watching them sweat for us.

I’ve watched plays in actual theatres before and commented afterwards that it felt like some of the actors weren’t in the same room as each other. Sometimes that happens, where actors get so involved in their own stuff that they forget to be “live” to one another and thereby sacrifice the single most important thing about what they’re supposed to be doing in this live-art thing. But with this live-on-zoom medium, many of the actors are literally in different rooms. They have to work double hard to try and inhabit the same relative space – to react to what they’ve been given without all the information of pheromone and spacial reference and nuance. So much gets lost but there are other angles to catch things from and other things going on. It’s a cut off and reconnected medium…

My friend lives with another actor so the pair of them could dance. That was lovely. Moments of subversion and cleverness and touch are always heavy with meaning as we climb back out of this connection-hole. Actors are a funny lot, pretending to be all sorts of different things for money. Remembering all those lines. I was asked again last night about the learning – it’s a thing. As we get further and further from an oral tradition, the notion of a brain trained to take and hold huge tracts of interaction grows less and less familiar to most people. Convenience has stolen our memory. Before writing, everything was passed down from generation to generation. More and more information is stored in devices now. We don’t even know our own phone number half the time, let alone anybody else’s.

But I was charmed by this piece, by watching lots of people I knew pretending to be from New York. I enjoyed losing myself in the otherness of it, familiar yet different as it was definitely my great friend and definitely her living room but somehow it wasn’t at the same time. And I watched it on my phone. Halfway through I even got in the bath. I had made sure my camera and mic were off, and for the first time in my life I watched live theatre while soaking in a hot bubble bath. It makes us lazy, this technology, but sometimes it’s a delightful laziness.

The panel afterwards was enlightening as well, and listening to it from the bath I felt no pressure to put my hand up and ask a question. I just let clever people talk to me about things I didn’t really know anything about until this evening. So much to think about. I’m gonna go to bed rich with thought.

I saw the last night of it, so it’s kinda pointless pitching the show to you. It was Waiting for Lefty. But you knew that already.

Good food on a Saturday and nothing to report

I’m back home in my little beige room. Today was a good day for food.

This is a family run hotel and the guests get swept up into the family. Christine makes us all little packed lunches that I reckon are identical to the ones her kids used to take to school with them. Sometimes there’s a surprise, like an extra pastry or unusual fruit in the fruit salad. This morning though, she excelled herself. She had run out of ham so she sent me up a hot bacon sandwich, and just to make sure I didn’t miss it she rang me on the room phone and told me. I never normally eat in bed, but I started the weekend with good warm bacon sandwich in bed.

Then into the day which was mostly reading enough stuff that I should end up with a BTec. It’s like being back at school. As one friend said, there’s a structure in place with money to make sure that you have it before you can get it. The gatekeepers want their slice of the pie and they want it first. Greed. There’s so much greed. And the doors are closed until you force them and feed the fatties. There’s not much kindness in the markets. I guess that’s why most of the people you know who have made that the centre of their world are absolute bastards. A couple of decent types might slip through – there are always anomalies. I’m going to get good at it if I can.

And then I was invited to supper and was made to feel welcome in the island and connected to it again. I had a home cooked meal. My first in weeks. We sat round a table and talked and we all know how rare an experience THAT has been this past year and more. I even ended up with a cardigan of my uncle’s, and a wax jacket, dug out of some wardrobe where he left them forever ago. I often think back to that old fucker at Peter’s wake, taking the opportunity for a cheap hit: “Well I suppose this is the end of your family’s connection to our island,” he said with his little hard piggy eyes – maybe a rival of my grandfather’s. Well, no, old man. It fucking well isn’t. Even if I don’t have anywhere to live anymore, it isn’t.

I’m staying in a beige room with free sandwiches for now but who knows what might be possible if I can make sense of this mysterious avalanche of documents that I’ve been dropping hints about for the last fortnight. Tomorrow hopefully I’ll make it to church, and I’m meeting the old man in a coffee shop, likely so he can patronise me and be obstructive again, and tell me he’ll do something but do nothing. His heart is weak, so I’m trying not to stress him out, but the suppression is going to make my own heart explode before long.

I’ll go to my grandfather’s old church and have a good pray. You never know. It might help.

Sand dunes

Jersey’s west coast faces open water all the way to America. The wind flogs the breakers into the beach at St Ouen, and whips the dry sand into flurries that sting your face. The buildings there are blasted squat stone bunkers and on a day like this the only people on the beach have wetsuits. It’s weather for surfing. It’s heavy weather. It’s not the most clement time for a walk but it’s wild.

We met for crab sandwich in an awning tacked onto the side of a bunker. Relying on the diligence of whoever hammered the spikes in, our knives and forks clink and we delicately squeeze the lemons while outside it’s blowing so hard it’s like a hammer. There are sand dunes across the road, huge and forever shifting, too fluid to build on, left for the wild and for the two of us. Full of crab and sober we let the wind blow us up to the top as if we are drunk. A panoramic view back down. I still have sand in my ears.

The gun emplacements left over from the occupation are full of sand now, a mockery of their purpose, built and maybe stationed for a while but never used. They are graffitied now by the hardier Jersey kids, with their desperate stamps of identity here in this very much not happening part of a quiet middle class island. “There’s so much horrible new money here now,” I hear, not for the first time. They’re letting all sorts in. Those gauche little Johnnies with their Lamborghinis and their big “fuck you”. The speed limit is forty miles an hour and the air is full of salt. Nobody needs to be screaming around in one of those things.

It’s had a history this island, small though it is. The Germans. The French. The Normans. It’s strategic. This is why, when we go to the surf shop, they’ve run out of hats. The French are fucking with the supply chain because of those fuckwits in parliament and the war over fishing rights. Hats aren’t the only thing you can’t get anymore. It’s really random stuff. I can’t remember offhand but it’s like a taramasalata and brazil nut shortage here. The good Waitrose customers are up in arms. They’re blocking the boats in and out still, it seems, or at least they’re showing their anger enough to worry any trader that hasn’t been entirely honest on the insurance documents.

Documents have been my bane today. I tried to apply for one number for a document, and I found myself needing three more and to get them who knows, maybe I’ll need even more. Once again my morale took a hit as I remembered a time five years ago when I dared to believe it would all be sorted quickly. One day I’ll be more specific, but I’m waiting for a breakthrough. It may never come. I’ll be like the inventor in The Wild Duck.

Good to see a friend here. It can be depressing, this uphill struggle, not aided in the least by the only person who might be able to help. At least on the sand dunes for a moment all the heaviness blew away. It’s gonna work out…