When I first ventured to Big London from Jersey I really didn’t have any perspective whatsoever. Islands can do that to you if you grow up on them. This island is crowded. Over a hundred thousand living here now. Perhaps a few too many are here to avoid paying their taxes. I’m here because grandpa had a diplomatic appointment and then his daughter made a baby that loved the island and she made me. I’m staying here a bit longer than I might so I can try to untangle historic tangles, but also so I can just BE here and think about what stories I might want to make on and about this rock. More and more I wanna come home. This place is really old but we’ve drawn over it. The more time I spend here the more I can start to crystallise the myths and the stories and work out how to tell them.
It’s small here though. Really small. And I think I might have carried that smallness into my university thinking and into my drama school audition thinking. I’m so glad of Guildhall accepting me for that three year life training. I’m glad of the breadth of different backgrounds in my year group. There was me, from this tiny island and with a cosseted upbringing here, working closely with friends to whom my upbringing was as alien as theirs to me. Crowded urban young men and women with broad thinking and wide angle on human behaviours. They understood things I initially just interpreted as threatening. They taught me how to London. Managed expertly by kind and smart teachers, I grew away from a lot of the small thinking I had grown up with. I started to be proud of my learning. My new perspective. Over decades I have become a thing that the youthful version of me would call “streetwise”. I can probably go out anywhere in London and not get knifed – although as I start to look older I might start to lose the invisibility.
Then I find myself in a conversation with some old guy in a bar in St Brelade. He’s with his friend who has found a guitar. The friend is noodling. Cat Stevens. The Beatles. Dad stuff. He’s bored as his friend is occupied. I’m eating mussels.
“I’ve never had a mussel.” That’s his opener. “They smell too vinegary.” “Have one of mine,” I say, but he’s not here to try new things. “No no no no no,” he tells me. “They aren’t vinegary,” I assure him. “No harm in trying one?” “I know I won’t like it.” That’s his conclusion. He knows he won’t like the thing he has never encountered. He’s made his mind up. Five minutes later he says one of the most unavoidably racist things you can say these days, just casually, because I’m his new mate and he’s decided I’m not different enough to be bad even if my skin is a few shades darker than his. Whether or not I think a bit of perspective might help him, I just excuse myself and go. I’m too angry to engage with bad thinking so I just literally walk into the sea. I’m staying in a beachside hotel and I had two pairs of dry shorts. Now just one.
The beach at St Brelade is wide and beautiful and clear. I’ll be back there shortly. I’ve had wine and it’s an hour and a half to high water. Dark but clear. I think I’m gonna wander down in the dark and just empty my head against the breakers in the dark. Like it or lump it I’ll be back in London in a few days.
Yesterday I saw a guy walking down St Brelade with a T-shirt saying “Keep Jersey Jersey”. He was wearing it without irony. I don’t know what it means any more than he does. But it’s a good illustration of how small it is here, that this guy is on the campaign trail for something that only really makes sense when he explains it to you. It’s sad because the message is probably hateful in intention. But I just found myself laughing lots about it. He’d gone to the effort of getting it printed too. Poor silly little boy. Jersey will be Jersey.
And I will stay in hotels with 6 jams at breakfast …