Time Travel Alert! Although it is now July, the events in this blog post took place in May. Terribly embarrassing. Realised this was an issue when a friend enquired about our terrible rescue experience and I had no idea what she was talking about despite having published the post the day before. I’m trying to catch up, and finding writing with a pencil(!) on some paper(!) means a lot more writing gets done, as there is no interwebs capering about in my notebook to distract me. Anyway. As you were.
Seeing my parents for a couple of days was a welcome distraction from the fiasco of our last crossing. They took us to the restaurants we’d previously only gawped at while lugging our groceries home. They also brought summer clothes, cheddar cheese and old post, and packed their car with our winter fleeces, mouldy boat cushions and broken/useless bits of one sort or another to take away. All this was done with warmth, affection and apparent enjoyment- something I hope I’ll be able to match in the face of my own child’s strange quests and enthusiasms.
One topic of conversation was the recent progress regarding a piece of land near Bristol we’re hoping to buy. It’s early days and I’m superstitious, so I won’t go into detail, but it’s very exciting and I hope it reaches a point soon where I feel safe enough to tell you all about it.
What I will say is this: If this journey still has any purpose (and I do wonder, believe me), it is to help us figure out where, how and with whom we want to live in an uncertain future of increasing global poverty and instability. A break from the life we were living has enabled us to look at its various parts more dispassionately, from a distance.
You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone- an old one but a good one. Within a month of leaving Bristol we knew we wanted to be near there but not in the city, with some land of our own to grow food on. Bereft of our community, we realised how strong, how loving, how skilled and how resilient it is. Searching fruitlessly in new places for people with the time and inclination to teach us old skills, we remembered friend after friend who possesses them.
Online I discovered and rediscovered multiple projects in and around Bristol that we could have got involved in years ago if we hadn’t been planning this journey.
So when a friend told us she was trying to buy a plot a 20 min train ride from Bristol, in a place already full of people we know, it seemed our dreams and the capital from our house sale finally had a place to go.
If you’re someone who believes the global banking system is doomed and running on borrowed time, the thought of turning all your worldly wealth from a handful of zeros in the digital casino to a piece of ground you can walk on and grow food from is a very comforting thought.
Mum and Dad’s visit was followed by a couple of weeks of our very favourite sport: Waiting in Cherbourg for the Bloody Wind to Change. Interspersed, of course, with our next best thing: Fixing the Fuckbucket Engine.
We changed the fuel filter again and ran it and pumped out air bubbles again and tested it in the harbour again and it was just like old times. It ran fine in the harbour of course, except for a few changes in note. We developed a lightning-fast Engine Glare that we instinctively exchanged every time the engine sounded a little bit different. On a couple of test runs, we tired our eyeballs out with The Glare but it never quite choked.
So one fine day we decided- good enough! And left Cherbourg, yet again. West, my friends- To Alderney!
The crossing was utterly glorious, quite short and required very little engine use. We swept to Alderney almost on a single tack over a joyously bouncy blue sea. For the first time ever I took sea sickness pills, and felt awesome as a result. For some reason I’d assumed they wouldn’t work.
On arrival we blew up our tiny red dinghy and somehow got our outboard strapped to it. The engine looked far too big for it, but we gamely loaded ourselves and our waterproof rucksack full of camera kit and laptops, and cast off. We hunched awkwardly there, squashed together with tortuously folded limbs that still managed to hang over the edges. Sam fired up the outboard and the whole back dipped underwater and drenched us. A swift and tangly bout of limb rearrangement stopped the water surging in, but small as the waves were, we were so low in the water that they slapped us in the eyes. We straggled ashore very wet indeed.
We’d hardly considered what Alderney would be like, in our anxiety over whether Cherbourg and our engine would let us leave. I think I’d assumed it would be a mix of French and English, so close to the French coast.
What we found was a place that felt more English than England. It was like a tiny bubble of 1950’s England had blipped into existence last week, quickly got to grips with the modern economy, whacked all the prices waaaay up and started flogging souvenirs.
No sign of a decent loaf of bread for under £3, nor a decent bottle of wine for under £6. But there was cheddar, and there were pubs.
There was also whimsy and sarcasm. The door of the Marais Hall, one of the oldest pubs on Alderney, was flanked by two hanging baskets made of the smirking corpses of Henry hoovers. Inside, the ambience of a true PUB enveloped us . We’d missed it more than we knew, and sighed comfortably. Dark wood and threadbare upholstery. Framed photos of the darts team dating back to the late 60’s. All team members plastered and festooned in fancy dress ranging from hairy French maids to Tellytubbies. Faded prints of dogs playing cards. An immense knicknack shelf groaned with unidentifiable brass objects and decrepit nautical paraphernalia. A fireplace with mantelpiece, on which no fewer than seven charity collection boxes jostled for space. Lifeboat. Guide dog. Pudsey. Several rattly tube ones. And on the wall above the bar, a huge string of letters, proclaiming “DON’T MENTION THE WAR!” Below, a trio of porcelain Hitlers seig-heiled their way across the wood cladding.
If this seems unduly touchy, bear in mind that the Channel Islands- Alderney, Guernsey, Sark and Jersey- were occupied by the German army during WWII. The British Government, with its overstretched military, essentially allowed this to happen. What followed was 5 years of military rule, curfew, seizure of food, crops and assets, and increasingly, as D-Day loomed, starvation of both the Islanders and the occupying soldiers.
The prisoners they brought to the Islands from conquered Europe fared even worse, designated as disposable humans. They were set to build fortifications, tunnels and military infrastructure and some brought to provide sexual services to the officers. Their life force burned up like so many human candles, they were not fed or allowed clean clothes or soap, and perished in large numbers of starvation, disease and exhaustion.
As in any history of an occupied people, some Islanders ‘collaborated’, some ‘resisted’. Still more were probably somewhere in between, trying to get through it alive.
Anyway, for the rest of the afternoon we reclined on the high-backed corner sofa, feeling English, not mentioning the war, and enjoying a pint and a packet of scampi fries. It was ace.