Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Challenge Number 26 – Visit an island

It could have been a Canary. It could have been a Balearic. It could have been a Caribbean. It could have been one in the middle of a lake only accessible by rowing boat. It could have been a bit of a cheat since we live on an island in the first place. But it ended up being Jersey.

Actually, it couldn’t have been any of the first three since we decreed that we weren’t prepared to spend more than an hour on a plane with a wriggling, writhing, wrestling oversized toddler on our laps. And once she turns two and we have to pay full fare for her to have her own seat, we’ll be too poor to fly anywhere.

So Jersey it was. I’ve always wanted to go, ever since I used to watch Bergerac on Saturday nights in the 1980s with my mum. It’s the only island in the world that actually turns into John Nettles’ face when tipped on its side. True fact.

But Jersey was a wonderful holiday choice. It really is the most beautiful island. It has beaches to rival any of the world’s best, from sheltered coves, steep cliffs and vast expanses of sand perfect for castles, some of which are actually overlooked by real castles. It has a spacious sense of light, narrow country lanes framed by green foliage, rustic French-style architecture and its own vineyard. It has Waitrose.

Normally, Jersey has good weather. I wouldn’t say that it did the week we were there, but frankly anything short of a blizzard or tornado would have been a vast improvement to what we had left in Yorkshire’s crap summer of 2012. We had sunshine at some point on most days, and only one morning of torrential rain. And with a little one in tow, sunbathing’s not really an option any more anyway.

Jersey also has German bunkers. Everywhere. Now, these aren’t pretty, but are an important part of the island’s history since the Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by the Nazis in the Second World War. Hitler decided that Jersey had to become an impenetrable fortress that he wouldn’t have to hand back so bunkers and concrete walls were built all round the coast. One of the bunkers houses a small military museum telling the story of the Occupation. This is done to greater show and fuss in the Jersey War Tunnels in the centre of the island, but this tiny bunker had a far greater effect on me than all the sound effects, idiot-proof explanations and video diary gimmicks of the tunnels. It was just jam-packed with Nazi memorabilia: newspapers, crockery, uniforms, guns, flags. Even an Enigma machine. You just never see this anywhere else. For obvious reasons, Germans don’t put it on show, and in most places where the Nazis invaded, anything they left behind was destroyed by those who had suffered under their rule. It is in fact telling of itself that all this stuff survives in Jersey today: its native citizens, through collaboration, luck and a general holiday atmosphere about the place, got off relatively lightly. British people who stayed behind, members of the resistance movement, Jewish people and slave labour imported from the East didn’t, of course. What hit me was the fact that all the stuff on display was (for want of a better word) real. We’ve all seen bad and better war films, photos, reconstructions in documentaries. But I’d never seen a genuine swastika that was actually on display during the 1940s before. (Not that I’d had a desperate desire to do so, I hasten to add.) There were also footprints in the concrete on the floor made by jackboots of German soldiers going about their daily business. And it all sent a creepy shiver down my spine.

Jersey also has Durrell, named after its founder Gerald, which has shaped how zoos today look all over the world. Durrell focuses on rescuing and breeding endangered species – orang-utans, fruit bats, gorillas, chicken frogs, lemurs. They are all about as free to roam as you can get whilst still living in an enclosed space. It’s a wonderful place.

Jersey is covered with beautiful coastal flowers at this time of year. There are many gardens to visit, and we called in at one belonging to Reg. Reg’s Garden was very pleasant, yet with serious touches of the surreal on its borders. There was a nice koi carp pond and waterfall, some caged birds and colourful flowerbeds. But then there was a mini amphitheatre, which every year pays host to “Regstock”, Reg’s own music festival. And then there was the fairy grotto, which had miniature cottages and glass angels on trellises. And a greenhouse absolutely stuffed full of Barbie dolls dressed as fairies. Ee-gads. It was time to go.

We stayed in a self-catering holiday park called Les Ormes. Accommodation is stupidly expensive on Jersey and this was all that was left and all that we could vaguely afford by the time we got round to booking. We were slightly concerned that a map clearly showed that it was situated right beside the airport runway, but actually it was fine. Besides, for a toddler “plane-in-sky”s are quite a novelty, and there were no night flights. And it’s not like any Jumbos fly into Jersey. Plus our lodge had its own hot tub, which sorted our evening entertainment and would make me forgive anything.

Oh, and Dave saw Jim Bergerac’s vintage car on display in a park that he took Charlotte to while I went round the War Tunnels. Of this I was very jealous.

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