And I’m off again! Two days after the Fake J and I’m heading out to the Real J. Let’s just clarify that for those people who complained that I was calling Plymouth “fake”. This blog is the one I intended for J, Plymouth was just shoe-horned in as I was going there anyway. Besides, how could you complain about being re-introduced to the delights of the National Express song?
Apparently some people can complain about that as it is a bit of an ear-worm. I can attest to that as I am alternating between National Express and Prorsum Semper Honeste as I get myself ready to go. To be fair, it’s not the worst ear-worm I’ve ever suffered from. This is:
Anyway, I shall move on confident that you’ll now be stuck with that for days. So I wrote up the last blog entry and got some great feedback from it which, naturally, encourages me to keep going. Will you never learn?
Packing this time is a bit different. I’m going by plane so decide to pack a small suitcase rather than relying on the backpack. I then pack a smaller backpack inside the suitcase for use while I’m away. Because that doesn’t seem weird at all, no Sir, it doesn’t. Because a flight is involved, there is a deal more planning as I have to get a train, another train, check in and then get the flight. I have planned everything to get me to the airport right at the start of check in to minimize waiting around.
So I get impatient and head off an hour early. It’s sunny and warm, the baseball cap and shorts are on, the age-appropriate hoodie has been packed and I’m off to Jersey. Why Jersey? Well, I only really know two things about Jersey. Number One: Bergerac
Number Two: Gerald Durrell
Ok, to be fair I know more than that about Jersey because I know about the cows and the fact they were occupied during World War II and they have a knitted garment with long sleeves named after them. (The last one could, of course, just be rumour but I couldn’t think of a third thing). But when I think of Jersey, Bergerac and Durrell are the two things that spring to mind. Why? Well when I was young I read Gerald Durrell’s books avidly and always wanted to visit Jersey Zoo as he created it. And Bergerac? I think everyone of a certain age would agree with me that John Nettles gave us the finest travelogue inspired police show on television for many years.
So, with a desire to visit based on a TV series from the 1980’s and a set of books I read over 30 years ago I head off. Clearly my vision of the island will in no way differ from reality.
The suitcase causes trouble from the get go. Although it’s quite light, it’s still a pain to lug it along. It does, however, have wheels and one of those little handles that allow it to turn into an Andy-tripping machine as I complained about in a previous blog entry. I give this a go and then find out why everyone with these things walk so slowly. If you move at any speed other than glacially slow, the stupid suitcase wobbles from side to side until it flips itself over and drags along the pavement like a recalcitrant child being taken to piano lessons. So I give up and carry it. I get to the station, grab my tickets and dive onto the train with seconds to spare (and the extra hour that I have due to being stupidly early). My reason for using the suitcase, by the way, is so that it’ll be a bit more robust in the hold as I think it’s too big for hand luggage.
I settle down with todays book – Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Another book that seems to be about the difference between generations that makes me think about the reunion I went to over the weekend. It’s a good read and I am only occasionally disturbed by concerns about what I’ve forgotten to pack.
I arrive at Reading where I will have a 30 minute wait. There are signs everywhere saying that Channel 5 are filming there – presumably a documentary about the least attractive train station. I make up my mind to avoid that. After my disappointment in Plymouth, I decide to test a pasty from the Lands End Pasty Company. Not bad – 7/10. Needs more meat and more seasoning, but definitely better than the Oggy Oggy disaster. The pastry is marvellously flaky and for the next hour I am brushing them off my shirt, shorts, bag and Evelyn Waugh.
The train arrives and the normal scrum forms to get on. Given the fact there are relatively few of us, I don’t bother to get involved. It strikes me that I’m actually taking a very relaxed approach to the whole journey today – maybe the weather is affecting me! The journey to Gatwick is all very civilized and as we pass through Reigate we get the constant companion of the North Downs to my left. It’s all green fields and hills and under the sun is very pleasant indeed. Gatwick, by contrast, is manic with people charging in all directions dragging suitcases and children behind them. I still maintain a certain composure as I wander through to check in. As I get there, I look at the frame you can use to see if your luggage is small enough to be taken into the cabin and, not really expecting it to work, drop my suitcase inside. To my surprise it slides neatly down into the frame – it fits! My elation is somewhat dashed when I realise that it fits almost exactly. There is no handle on the upmost side of the suitcase and there is just enough room for me to slide a hand down each end of it and I have to push my hands together and grip it and then try to slide it out. It takes a couple of tries before I get it out at which point I look up to see a middle-aged woman who has been watching me and is politely trying not to laugh. Glad that I have made at least one person happy, I head to the check in where the very helpful lady takes one look at my height and moves me to an aisle seat.
So now I have 3 hours to waster before my flight goes. I grab a coffee and carrot cake and sit watching four men who are clearly having a business meeting while they wait for their flight. Chuckling to myself at my good fortune to be on holiday I wonder how long I should nurse the coffee before heading through for the fun of the security check. I leave it about 45 minutes and head through. Now, I last traveled by plane a year ago – and as far as I’m aware nothing has changed since then. However, it’s now clear that my shampoo and deodorant will have to be dumped as 100 ml is the largest size allowed. I dump them – but manage to ignore the 150 ml can of Ralgex, I’m glad I hadn’t bought suntan lotion as they would just be something else to replace. I head through to the gate where I have to stand on a line and look at a camera. Which doesn’t like me. At all. After about 4 rejections, the security officer suggests I remove my cap and glasses. I do so and get straight through.
Now the luggage gets scanned and I start to question some of the rules. The iPad mini has to be put through separately, but my phone can stay in my luggage? I don’t have to take my watch and Fitbit off – that’s a weird one. The Ralgex catches me out, so my bag gets shoved to one side and opened – along with about half of the bags. The customs officer looks at the Ralgex and replaces it, saying that it’s below the limit (which it clearly is not). I sigh, accede and smile sweetly before heading through to the Departure Lounge.
Inside, they have taken a leaf out of Ikea’s book and you now have to take a long winding march through the Duty Free shops before getting to anywhere with seats. Ignoring the “bargains” I head through and look for the Boots on the other side. Boots are clearly aware that everyone will need to replace items, so they have deliberately hidden away all the 100 ml items. They have also got a lot of offers on 200 ml items that make them cheaper than the 100 ml ones. Hmm. I’m not too impressed with their business model though I can see why they do it – gives them a chance to cash in twice.
So I then settle down with Brideshead to wait for the Gate to open. I amuse myself for a while listening to the couple sat opposite me. I can’t work out whether they are speaking a foreign language, or whether it’s English but with a very strong accent. By the time the gate opens I still haven’t made my mind up. I head through the gate with everyone else to find myself in yet another queue. This has another facial recognition machine — but this one doesn’t mind caps or glasses. Or so I am informed after I have taken mine off and am trying to juggle suitcase, glasses, cap, book, passport and tickets. Whatever.
Eventually I get onto the plane where thankfully I can stretch one leg out into the aisle. It’s actually not too bad – until the man in front decides to bounce up and down on his chair, ramming it against my knees. Luckily he stops and falls asleep. But the flight is nice and short and remarkably quickly I find myself walking out of Jersey Airport. I’m not sure whether to get a taxi or a bus, but my decision is made for me as a bus pulls up literally as I walk out of the concourse. I head on and grab the front seat upstairs. I’m glad I did – given the size of the roads the taxi wouldn’t have been much faster and I get a great view across the bay towards St Helier. As a school colleague might put it, it’s quite a cerulean scene.
It’s a beautiful day. The accents on the bus are fascinating – a mixture of English and French and sometimes its difficult to make out what language is being spoken. The roads are quite small and it reminds me a lot of the Isle of Wight. A further similarity is the large number of bicycles and motorbikes being used. Jersey is clearly well sorted for bikes and motorbikes, including making sure there is enough parking.
I will later be assured that Jersey is renowned for politeness and courtesy – but my initial experience is not a good one. The bus is full and the back of the top floor has got several schoolchildren in. One has got quite the mouth on him and I (like everyone else) have noticed this due to his predilection for using some of the coarser of the Anglo-Saxon terms available to him. I have to admit that it’s getting to the point where I was going to ask him to tone it down, but one of the other passengers does it for us. Shame he’s had too much to drink himself. It ends up with him swearing just as much as the kid did, slapping the phone out of the kids hand, the kid yelling that he is going to call the police, the man being thrown off the bus and general mayhem and excitement. I did consider getting out my warrant card and calming things down — but then decided that I can’t evoke my usual air of authority while my knees are showing. Also, I’m on holiday. So sod it.
Despite that, I’m in a good mood as I get off the bus and navigate my way across St Helier to the Hotel Sandranne. I’m glad I’m not driving as St Helier has a large and complex one way system which would guarantee confusion. However, for a pedestrian it’s not a problem – especially as the drivers are all incredibly polite and keep stopping to let people cross the road. It confuses me initially – we so rarely see politeness in Slough!
I dump my luggage and then head to Royal Square where I have an average dinner sat outside in cafe style. I could almost be in France – especially as there are several conversations in French going on around me. It’s very relaxing and pleasant and definitely a good start to my visit.
So here I am at the Hotel Sandranne – which can at best be described as faded chic, and at worst be described as tacky. The room is a good size, but the bed linen is all pink except for the duvet cover which is floral with ruffles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ruffled duvet cover before. The room has a trouser press (definitely old school) and a fridge. Not a mini-fridge, a proper fridge which sits and hums quietly to itself all night. My window has a delightful view of the backs of some houses and looks directly onto a flat roof, which does give me some security concerns. There’s no welcome pack or anything like that and the Wifi password is grudgingly given out by the receptionist when I ask for it. (Actually she puts it into my phone without telling me what it is). However, the bed is comfortable and they do serve a passable full English breakfast. At breakfast I can see that most of my fellow diners are workmen, two of whom seemed to spend all night sat on the front porch smoking. I mention this as you don’t often see people in armchairs on the front porch of a hotel. All in all, I feel the best days of the Hotel Sandranne are many years past.
As I head into the bus station I note the odd naming conventions of the roads in Jersey. Some are English (Charing Cross, Broad Street), some are French (Rouge Bouillon, La Rue des Mielles) and some have 2 names — although unless my linguistic skills are seriously atrophied they are not direct translations:
I am also somewhat confused by the naming of the road that the Hotel Sandranne is in — Rouge Bouillon. As far as I can work out the road is called Red Soup. I cannot imagine how it got that name. Other names are easier to work out and as I get to the bus station I see some of the evidence of the pride that the residents take in their history.
So, today I’m off to the Zoo. Some may say that travelling to Jersey just to go to a zoo is a bit of a waste – but I really don’t care. I’ve wanted to visit here for nearly 50 years and I’m really excited that I’m finally going to get there. The zoo opens at 10:00 and after a chat with the very helpful customer service lady at Liberation Station I sort out which bus I need to catch. We have a short chat which involves having to explain my shirt to her (Good grief, it’s like talking to a dolphin). It turns out she is not a fan of the Big Bang Theory but she still gives me some good advice. I have about 45 minutes to wait so head out to some local geocaches. I find one that involves a revolving clock – but it doesn’t operate before 10 am so I’ll return to this one later today or tomorrow.
I return to the station where I pass the time by reading The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers. This is meant to be a book of horror stories but after the first couple, it’s padded out with some very bland material.
The bus arrives and just before 10 am I arrive at Jersey Zoo. The zoo is quite small – only 32 acres – but is very well designed and so seems much larger than it actually is. All of the enclosures are large and so I send a lot of time trying to find the animals. They are also remarkably well trained. When I do find them, they always manage to turn away from the camera just as I take a photo. However, I do catch a few of them out.
The fun of the zoo is somewhat dampened by the arrival of some children – but they are actually quite well controlled and taken around in small groups rather than a coach load at a time. I have a really enjoyable wander and then head for the Dodo Restaurant where I am quite disappointed that they don’t serve any poultry at all. I am very sensible and have soup….and because I’ve been sensible, I then have cake as well. I then head out for part 2, including feeding time for the gorillas and the orangutans.
The feeding times are excellent as the keepers accompany them with some very informative talks about the animals and the way they are looked after. It’s good to hear them talk as they both clearly care deeply for the animals they look after and talk about the work they do with them. Really impressive. This is definitely a zoo for people who don’t like zoos as the trust does a lot of good work around conservation.
On the way out I manage to resist buying a ton of books (I already have most of them, but it’s a book shop!) and I head back to St Helier happy in the knowledge that I’ve managed to tick something off my bucket list. Back at St Helier I have a good wander around, firstly down by the sea front and then around the town. The docks give some great views over the bay and to Elizabeth Castle.
However, low tide does seems to have caused some parking problems for some people.
In town, there is quite an array of artwork to look at. Some is clearly to do with the liberation.
Some celebrates the produce of Jersey.
And some is just a bit random.
While I was photographing this I asked a police officer what it was about. He had no idea. Though he said that it might be because the residents of Jersey are referred to as crapauds as Jersey is the only Channel Island that has any toads on it. Sounds as good a reason as any, but doesn’t explain why the toad is on top of a column inscribed with the names of crimes. This road also has a lot of insets on the pavement:
I can only assume these are somehow related.
What it does mean is that a walk around the centre of St Helier is surprising and interesting. I finish off the day with dinner at the Adelphi (http://www.randalls-jersey.co.uk/pub-guide/st-helier/adelphi-lounge/). This was recommended to me by the lady at the Hotel Sandranne and is a very good meal.
I head back to my hotel and review the general hilarity and mayhem going on in the WhatsApp group that was created on Sunday. It’s been a good day and I head to bed.
My last day dawns and its farewell to the Hotel Sandranne – which overall gets a 4/10. It’s still sunny today but chillier so I’m doing a bit of dodging between pools of sunlight to stay warm. However, as it goes on it gets warmer and the age-appropriate hoodie gets left in the pack. My flight is at 17:40, so I need to be at the airport by 15:40. Because it’s me that means I’m planning to leave St Helier at about 14:00. My first task is to dump my suitcase and get rid of any of the local currency that I’ve managed to accrue.
As I walk around, I notice that there are no high rise apartments in St Helier – nothing over about 6 stories. So although there has been some development around the docks it doesn’t make a huge impact. (I later do see some high rise blocks but they are far from the centre of town). I leave my suitcase in Left Luggage and start off with some geocaches. The first one takes me on quite a hike out of the centre of the town and into the St Saviour area. From here there are some great views back over the town and I also find the grave of someone famous.
Leaving Jersey Lillie behind, I head back into the centre of town and then head up to Fort Regent.
Fort Regent looms over St Helier in the same way that Dover Castle does and as I climb up the steps towards it I’m expecting a similar experience. Imagine my surprise when I get to the top and find that my options are a car park or the front entrance of an Active Gym. I head inside and speak to the receptionist who confirms that this is the entrance to Fort Regent and I wander inside with a deal of trepidation. Basically, the entire Fort has been converted into a leisure complex with a central area that is used for an arena (Sarah Millican is performing here in September, folks!)
The central area has been covered and in the whole is billed as follows:
A dedicated children’s play area with PlayZone, arts &crafts, quad bikes, excellent café and free films every Sunday at 9:00 make this a fabulous family venue. Our fully equipment gym caters for all needs or why not have a quick game of table tennis or pool or join one the sports workshops and try something new. Visiting acts and local productions provide entertainment year round plus The View Bar offers amazing views over St Heller whilst you relax with a glass of wine or too.
I am in two minds about this. One side of me says that it’s great that use is being made of a heritage site and that it is adding value to the lives of many people who would otherwise never use it. It’s a very efficient way of using something that otherwise would be left to slowly ruin over time. The other side just keeps yelling the words “Bloody philistines!” in my ear and after a while gets quite annoying. Despite that, as time goes on my view tends towards the latter as I walk around a site that has existed for centuries and is now being set aside for pilates classes. There are information panels that tell you about the history of the fort, but they are carefully put up so as not to offend the people who are here to improve their bodies. In fact they are so carefully placed that some are difficult to find — and if a major event is on, you can’t get to one of them. But I persevere and find an external walk that allows me to walk around the ramparts.
There are some marvelous views across the bay and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
I am massively disappointed and I head back into town. My feet are aching which doesn’t help my mood. As a result, when I see this sign I feel the need to mock.
Oh really? The best in the world, eh? Well, we’ll see about that.
Bugger me, they might be right. Superb pasty, right balance of meat and veg, good seasoning, great pastry. I can’t fault it. Buoyed up by that I get my exploring feet back on and see what I can find. That includes the revolving clock that I missed out on yesterday.
The clock has three scenes on it representing Finance, Tourism and Agriculture and it rotates on the hour. As it rotates, the clock chimes and plays tunes and is, frankly, the tackiest thing I have seen in quite some time. If you visit St Helier make sure you see it. It is to fine clock making what the Eurovision Song Contest is to classical music.
In my wanderings, I find some more art and a maze which is half hedge, half fountain.
It’s excessively entertaining watching someone try to get their child through the maze. Suitable cheered by the site of other people getting wet, I head back to Liberation Station and board my bus back to the airport.
Today’s book is The Enormous Room by E E Cummings. It’s the story of what happened when he was accused of treason when working as a volunteer ambulance driver in Paris during World War I. It’s remarkably good, surprisingly funny and (even more surprising) he uses capital letters!
I get to the airport in good time and then have my usual wrangle with security. This time the Ralgex is rejected and I point out (in vain) that it was allowed through on the way out. This time security required watched and Fitbit to be removed. The security guard is very apologetic – I can’t really blame him though.
I manage to get an aisle seat on the plane again and we have an uneventful flight which gets us in 20 minutes early. That’s just as well as it means I catch an earlier connecting train which gets me home an hour earlier. But it still means that its 21:30 when I walk through the door. I’m knackered and I wish I wasn’t doing K tomorrow.