Jersey 2009 – 6

Arriving at Portsmouth
Arriving at Portsmouth

“Boong bong,” said the public address system, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, breakfast is now being served in the brazzerie bar.”

As I like to take a run at the day, I was already up and doing.

We decided to have coffee and toast in the “brazzerie” and a “proper” breakfast ashore later. Our train tickets are valid only from 10 am so we have over 3 hours to spend in Portsmouth. Having a solid breakfast is a good way to spend some of it.

The ferry has come to a halt and we are now awaiting the announcements. As foot passengers, we shall be called last so we have a while to wait yet.

HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Harbour
HMS Warrior in Portsmouth Harbour

Once ashore we took a taxi and asked the driver to take us to a good cafe. He knew one near Portsmouth Harbour station, he said, that was always full of workmen so must be good. When we got there, however, it was closed. There was a newsagents with a cafe in the back but the door was still locked.

On the station, we found a Pumpkin cafe open and made do with lukewarm cheese and tomato croissants and coffee. And a couple of muffins to help keep our spirits up.

We now had three hours to wait before we could take the train, so we sat and waited. Tigger read her book, which seems quite gripping, while I watched what was going on all around and went out to take a few photos.

This is not a submarine
This is not a submarine

Time passed as it eventually always does and at 10 am we went over to platform 4 to find the 10:12 to Victoria awaiting us. The journey passed without incident and the number 73 bendy bus completed our journey. Tigger is feeling a little tired and has gone for a nap while I finish off this account and collect my email. Later we shall go out for a leisurely late lunch.

The flat seems a little empty without a certain furry person who, were she here, would probably be ecking away 19 to the dozen. I will go and fetch her tomorrow as planned, then we shall be complete once more.

Jersey was an interesting experience and we enjoyed it. I think we shall certainly return to the Channel islands in a couple of years, perhaps to visit Guernsey and possibly other islands. While the pace of life on Jersey is gentler than in London, I didn’t get quite the same feeling of going back in time that I got in, say, the Isle of Man.

The people were generally polite, friendly and helpful but the interesting point about this is that the population of Jersey has in recent times been swelled by immigration and so a lot of the people we had dealings with were not Jersey born and bred. This seems to indicate that where you are from is less important than the pace of life and the culture of the community, how you view life and interact with others.

There are some beautiful places on the Island. The Devil’s Hole was particularly spectacular but other places all around Jersey compete with it for beauty and interest. We were impressed by the bus service which, though running to the winter schedule was reliable and ran on time: the bus companies of Cornwall in particular might like to take a leaf out of Jersey’s book. Fares were reasonable too.

There seems to be a huge amount of building work going on. At least some of this appears to be the building of plush accommodation for the affluent. Now, I recognize that the rich, like anyone else, have to live somewhere, but what I think is a bad idea is when they are allowed to build their monstrous dwellings slap bang in the middle of beautiful places, spoiling these for the future.

Tourism is declining in Jersey as it is in the UK. There are hopes that the famous credit crunch will encourage Britons to holiday nearer home but I am dubious about this, personally. The Channel Islands have the disadvantage of remoteness from the UK: if you are going to travel that far (and at that cost), why not go to France or Spain or other favourite locations? Jersey once had the advantage that tourists could buy cheap goods there but that advantage has now disappeared. Some things are cheaper, some more expensive, but I would guess that they average out to about the same as the UK. On the other hand, the pound has fallen badly against the euro and this might still give the Channel Islands the edge.

How is Jersey and its companion islands to survive in the modern world? I saw a notice at the terminal which underlined the fact that the economic climate is cooler than it used to be. The notice warned Jersey citizens travelling to the UK that the arrangement with the UK NHS was being “switched off” (their words) from April 1st and that travellers should take out their own medical insurance. The question at the beginning of this paragraph is therefore an important one. Jersey’s money markets will continue to be important but will they suffice, especially under pressure from the EU and the US to make their dealings more transparent?

On a more pleasant note, I was fascinated to learn about the Jersey language, variously called “Jersey French”, “Jersey Norman”, “patois” or Jèrriais. From being a generally spoken language up until the early decades of the 20th century, it has suffered a disastrous decline. According to the 1989 census, 3.3% of the population spoke it, largely older folk. That percentage has surely declined further although today the language is being taught in schools.

So what is this language, exactly? It is a descendant of the Norman language taken to the Islands when these were claimed by the Duchy of Normandy in about CE 933. This language is still spoken on the mainland, in Normandy, alongside the French language. It is important to understand that this Norman language and the languages spoken in the Channel Islands are not corrupt versions of French. They are a genuine family of languages that developed in parallel with the dialect that we today call “French” from the Vulgar Latin of Roman times.

What gives the languages of the Channel islands their distinctive quality is that they have evolved in isolation both from Normandy and from one another. For example, it appears that the language of Sark derives from that of Jersey but that today, speakers of the Sark language and of Jèrriais hardly understand one another. The incomer, even a native speaker of French, would therefore find these languages barely comprehensible, though a speaker of Norman from the mainline could make some headway. Even in Jersey itself there are about 6 “linguistic pockets” showing local variations, though all are intelligible to speakers of each variety.

The language is interesting both in its own right and because it is intimately bound up with the history of the Channel islands. I am glad it is being taught (though I wonder which variety, exactly, is being taught and whether it is being modernized to make it usable in today’s world) because it deserves to be preserved and studied and, if possible, revitalized. For too long, it has been regarded as an inferior language so that parents did not bother to pass it on to their children, thus depriving them of an important slice of their heritage. I hope the current generation can recover the same pride in it seen by young Welsh and young Cornish people in their own native languages.

As you can see, I am interested in the Channel Islands languages and concerned for their future but I will not bore you further with this. If you are really interested, there are Web sites that describe it and books on it as well as books on the history of the Channel Islands. The Islands were occupied for 5 years by German forces during WWII and this marked a very important phase in their history and one that still has importance and an influence on Island life today.

I will for a long time remember my stay and carry in my mind’s eye pictures of the beautiful places on Jersey that we visited. Jersey is a special place and I hope it may long remain so.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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