Friday, October 23, 2009

Mervyn Peake in Sark

I have been looking at some of Mervyn Peake's work, and there is a great site here, run by his son Sebastian Peake. I emailed Sebastian to ask for permission to use one of the photos on The Anthology of Guernsey site. Sebastian says this picture is of his father "at work writing Gormenghast in the conservatory of our house on Sark, Le Chalet, in the late 1940s".

I was also interested to learn that Peake had lived near Warningcamp near Arundel. I have walked around the country round there several times, and looking over the river Arun towards the castle is a view which must have informed the creation of Gormenghast.

Image of Mervyn Peake in Sark by kind permission of the Mervyn Peake Estate. The other image is one I took a while ago inside Arundel Castle.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Goats and ghosts

Last night added a story to the website about La Biche, by Freda Wolley which was broadcast in the eighties on BBC Radio Guernsey, about the legend of the giant ghostly goat.

La Biche happened to live very close to where I stayed as a child in La rue des Grons, St Martin. I remember being distinctly sped up by my Guernsey Grandfather walking past a particular corner of that road at night.

Let me state as a fact that Guernsey can feel very spooky at night. This is reflected in the folklore and supernatural tales that about in the island. And is certainly what Victor Hugo picks up on for his story the Toilers in the Sea.

It is no coincidence that court records June 1550 to July 1649 reproduced in These Haunted Islands by Chris Lake, show that 111 people were tried for witchcraft in Guernsey. As Maris De Garis says in Folklore of Guernsey:

"It is often stated by the sceptical, as an excuse for unbelief, that tales of supernatural manifestations are only hearsay happenings, several times removed from the listener. However, in Guernsey it does not need a lot of investigation to discover instances of of these occurrences at first hand, experienced by the very people who relate to them. Perhaps the close inter-relationship, inevitable within the confines of a small island, conduce to a tendency of psychic awareness uncommon in people living in a larger-land mass."

Friday, October 16, 2009

George Métivier and the Crapauds

Into the Guille-Allès Library at St Peter Port a couple of days ago, to photocopy a few poems by George Métivier.

The Guernseyman George Métivier (1790-1881) was apparently known as the "Guernsey Burns", and was the 'national poet' of the island. He also prepared the first Dictionnaire Franco-Normand, the first dictionary of Guernsey French. He wrote fluently in Guernesiaise, French and English. One of his poems which caught my eye was Aux Crapuads. For channel island folks, a poem addressed to the Crapauds can be inflammatory, as it is what Guernsey people call Jersey folk.

Aux Crapuads

Salut, nos chers cousins, honorables crapauds!
Lentement vous rampez ; en êtes-vous moins beaux?
Que d’amis indulgents, ce n’est pas qu’ils vous flattent,
Admirent vos grands yeux ! ils brillent, ils éclatent,
Et votre robe humide aux reflets enchanteurs
Plaìt à l’homme éclairé, séduit les amateurs.
Même dans vos crachats, âme sublime et pure,
L’heureux naturaliste admire la nature,
Et l’altière Jersey, mère qui vous nourrit,
Balance en main, vous pèse ; ah ! comme elle sourit !
D’allégresse les mains à St. Laurens on frotte,
Et l’île boit rogomme à l’honneur de CHARLOTTE.
Que de baudets chez nous ! que de jolis badauds !
Vive à CÆSAREA la danse des crapauds !

I gave the text to a good friend Ken Goodwin, who specialises in translation of old French texts, including lately works by Mably. I took his version and made a few tweaks for flow, and produced this first version.

To the Crapauds!

Greetings to our dear cousins, the honourable toads!
Slow you crawl, though are you any less beautiful?
Don’t indulgent friends always flatter you?
Admire your great eyes ! they sparkle,
And your sodden clothes have an enchanting shiny sheen,
To delight the enlightened man, and seduce lovers.
And even when you’re gobbing, soul sublime and pure,
The naturalist will admire you as wildlife,
And haughty Jersey, the mother feeds you,
Balance in hand, weighs you; Ah! How she smiles!
With lightness of touch, one strokes St. Laurence's hands,
And the isle drinks itself silly in CHARLOTTE's honour.
What donkeys there are here ! What lovely loafers !
Long live the dance of the toads in CÆSAREA !

The original text had the word bandets, which Ken didn't recognise, and thought was a misprint for baudets which means asses or donkeys, which makes sense as this is what the Crapauds call Guernsey people. But I have to check if it is a Guernsey French word. Also I still have to find out about St.Laurence's hands, and why Jersey folk would drink to Charlotte's honour.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse

Have just seen Richard and Jane for the second time in a short visit to the island (which co-incided with my birthday). We met for coffee in the afternoon as we seem to drink lots of wine when we meet up. In fact one of our first meetings, which with three poets (and my mother) in the room, was so liquid that Richard broke a couple of ribs lurching about in his bedroom afterwards.

Both Richard and Jane fit into the Discovered Islands section of the Anthology of Guernsey, and both have agreed to let me use some of their poetry on the site. Jane's career as a poet is burgeoning lately with an excellent international competition result, while Richard and I have been reading each other's work off and on for years.

They are both very supportive of the project. Jane is sending me some work soon, but in the meantime here is a lovely poem of Richard's.


The heart beats now a mourning drum
behind the coffin held aloft.
Head bowed, you step, back ramrod-straight,
blue light, through stained-glass, falling soft,
from the black car beyond the gate
into the congregation’s hum.

Grief carves a beauty in your face
or highlights what was there before,
unrecognised: you seem to shine,
to have become not less but more,
while others’ faces, at this shrine
to gracefulness, lack any grace.

The hedgerow birds, today, seem dumb
as one by one the black cars leave:
you by your crumpled father’s side,
comforting him, holding his sleeve,
so full of elegance, dry-eyed,
with redefined years still to come.

Copyright Richard Fleming 2008