Thursday, November 25, 2010

Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Listening to a podcast of the BBC Radio 4 programme In our time, hosted by the excellent Melvyn Bragg about Foxe's book of Martyrs first published 1563. This is a book I'd only vaguely heard about. It contains illustrations of Christian martyrs in the act of being executed. My ears pricked up when one of the contributors started talking about Perotine Massey, a Guernsey woman burned, who gave birth during the awful procedure. The baby was tossed back into the flames too.

Just found these pictures of Guernsey burnings from the Book of Martyrs. Perotine is the top one. "A lamentable spectacle of three women, with a sely(?) infant brasting out of the Mothers Wombe, being first taken out of the fire, and cast in agayne, and so all burned together in the Isle of Garnesey. 1556 July 18."

Much more can be found on this matter here on this Guernsey Museums page.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Guernsey: year zero

I was sent recently by Tony Gallienne an essay called Guernseyness: In search of a Guernsey Identity (written as A C Gallienne). It is a remarkably thoughtful and sometimes lyrical piece which struggles with the idea of Guernsey identity, and the loss of Guernésiais as the dominant language.

I quote here from the essay, which was a first prize winner in the Guernsey Eisteddfod.

The granite bedrock of communal identity, to use the metaphor again, is language. By this measure I was disinherited from my Guernseyness the day that I was born. And not only me but my generation. Born in the nineteen fifties to Guernsey-French speaking parents we were brought up not to speak our parents’ own language. I heard it all about me – my parents spoke to each other in it – but it was out of reach. I could understand but could not speak. I had been made culturally autistic. I had been made dumb to the language that communicated the life about me. A language which could trace its roots back through the recent trauma of German occupation when, indiscriminate of source, it had incorporated the word kaput (Ch’est tche kaput), back through the centuries to Rollo, the Norman pirate who was given the Duchy of Normandy in 912 A.D., who dropped his Scandinavian tongue (what transmutation of identity was this – perhaps the same as ceasing Guernsey-French in favour of English) and adopted the langue d’Oil tongue of the native population of northern France (A few Nordic words were retained though and remain as part of the now fading language – words like mielles (sand dunes), dehus (dolmens), vraic (seaweed). In the case of vraic it may have just managed to jump into the Guernsey-English idiom and so may survive a bit longer). And further back to roots in the soup of Latin and Celtic and Frankish vernacular.

Guernsey-French was a mature language drenched in the lives that had been lived on the island over centuries, vowel sounds and consonant combinations with no exact parallel in French or English, phrases and sayings which used the local events of life to communicate some essence or other of thought – surely this must be an aspect of Guernseyness; the internal use of reference points – Guernsey culture taking its own experiences to use as expressions of its nature. I found these two entries in the Dictionnaire Anglais-Guernesiais: for the word “lengthy” – “en avant ni but ni fin ‘coum les pereieres de Jacques Ozaunne” (to have no ending like James Ozanne’s prayers) - Mr Ozanne was a Wesleyian preacher; and for the word “paunch”: “aen ventre de Doyen” (Dean’s paunch) – a well known country ecclesiastic of the late 19th Century was noted for the huge size of his belly which gave rise to the

And yet for all its vigour and history Guernsey-French has been given up without a struggle; pushed away, consciously severed, broken by the twentieth century. Guernésiais was vibrant but unprotected, a peasant language of unwritten rhythms and syntax which has had no shield against the long deep night of evacuation and occupation (what tests of expression to maintain the native tongue), and then the long attrition of the homogenising onslaught of the last fifty years. When I was born my parents, early in their adult lives, already knew that their own language was fading and that their children’s Guernseyness was going to be different to their own.

Their decision not to teach me the patois would sever a link with unknown ancestors. I was to become the ancestor of a new inheritance, of a new Guernseyness. My birth year was Year Zero.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Victor Hugo arrives at Guernsey

The Expulsion of Victor Hugo, by Jean Le Pelley, which originally appeared in the Transactions of La Society Guernesaise for 1970. Contains this glimpse into Victor Hugo's arrival on Guernsey during a storm. I love this portrayal of the great man's trunk with all his writings being in such jeopardy. In this description Le Pelly quotes Victor Hugo's son, François-Victor Hugo (known as Tòto) who wrote an account called Normandie Inconnue.

We looked back to where Jersey must be. Indeed we could just see under the cloud the line of the coast floating on the waters. It slid away and disappeared. We saw another line glowing in the darkness ahead... It was Guernsey! ... against the raging sea our steamer forged ahead, and an hour or so later slowed up, and then halted, in front of a faery like town, picturesquely staged up steep hill slopes... With its old Norman Roofs, with the proud Gallic cock on its church spire, Saint Pierre Port has indeed an air of home for us French refugees, which is indeed irresistible. The very name is a Welcome; remember that Saint Peter keeps the doors of Paradise!

Now all my father's precious manuscripts were in one huge trunk which he could not bear to let out of his sight. In the kind of weather we were suffering it was a terrible decision, that of entrusting all these unpublished masterpieces to a little cockle shell of a boat... Father had to decide to gamble twenty years of work and hand it over to the caprice of the waves. He took that chance.

And we climbed down to the boat that waited at the foot of the gangway, swinging ten foot up to us and ten foot away from us with each wave. Two burly matlows slung the trunk carelessly down, and perched it on the bows of the boat, with no more concern that they would have done with a bale of cotton or a basket of cod.

It was dreadful--for some minutes the trunk wobbled on the breakers... I could see the Contemplations disappearing under ten foot of water. But luckily there is a Providence which watches over Poets. Though the storm raged fiercely, more fiercely than ever, we landed safely on the quay.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Launching 'A Guernsey Double'

Back from Guernsey now after a very successful launch of A Guernsey Double, the publication of which was supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission. Perhaps most enjoyably we managed to get on BBC Guernsey with Jenny Kendall-Tobias twice. She's an excellent radio host and a lovely woman, and we did an entire two hour show with her. What we couldn't have predicted was that she would love our work so much.

The book launch itself was great fun too, and we were introduced by Jane Mosse who did a perfect job, and the event was hosted in The Greenhouse in St Peter Port which is a wonderful venue above the tourist information building - and we signed dozens of books right away. There is a buzz about seeing your book in a shop window, in this case The Guernsey Press shop, where we did a signing the next day.

The only blank we got was from The Guernsey Press itself, who appear to have little interest in a burgeoning literary scene that's right under its nose.

Online, a the first edition of A Guernsey Double is currently available from -- and before too long it will be on Amazon too.

Below Richard and JKT in our first BBC interview, me in reception, a book display.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Guernsey Double -- official launch

Have been somewhat diverted from working on the Anthology due to the fact that Richard Fleming and I have now finalised the contents of A Guernsey Double, our two person collection of poetry about Guernsey. The book is in two halves, my bit is called The Boy Who Fell Upwards, and Richard's The Man Who Landed.

The launch for this will fittingly be in St Peter Port on July 1st 2010, in the Greenhouse at 5:30. Every poem in the collection is directly related to the island, and Guernsey very much is the star of the collection.

We were lucky enough to get Professor Edward Chaney to write us a generous introduction, in which he says:
"Not since the extraordinarily poetic Book of Ebenezer le Page has a single volume made the soul of the island so unremittingly its focus. The results are powerfully moving: a work that deals with both losing a home and finding one. Two sides of the same coin. For Guernsey people, or visitors, this book is a rich addition to their experience of the island."
Naturally Richard and I looking forward to this a great deal. The book is a double fronted concept, which has two front covers. The name A Guernsey Double derives from the fact that there are two poets in it, is that doubles were coins, which were still legal tender into 1960s. However Jane Mosse has also been very involved, not least in proofing and editing. Without her help, for example, patois might have appeared (disastrously) as patios in the text.

Below, the double fronted cover, designed by Betsy Alvarez the barcode and isbn to be dropped into the bottom right hand corner.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Celia Jenkins

Have been contacted by Celia Jenkins, who is currently studying Creative Writing, and writing about Guernsey. Here is one of her poems...

An Introduction to the Island of Guernsey, with interludes of Patois

What can I say of a local girl?
Well it’s clear al a la langue bian pendue.
(That’s having the gift of the gab, by the way)
Or maybe al est natte troubllaie.
(She’s completely mad? Most likely)
It’s not hard to see that we local folk are of one ilk,
kindred since our day of birth.
From the Neolithic Guerns who sculpted our dolmens,
to the current dwellers on Sarnia,
(yes, that same one from Sarnia Cherie, all together now...)
We are tied by traditions and traits alike.
Ask a Guern a tchi qu'vous navidgai?
and they’ll likely reply that they’re off to milk the Guernsey cows,
or plant more tomato crops.
We the people, crew crowd and kind,
alike in our fishermen’s knitted jerseys
and jaunty berets,
born and bred a fellowship
to a club, a sort who understand our culture and pride,
these things that make us who we are:
Victor Hugo, liberation, lilies, ormers,
bean jar and gauche from the Viaer Marchi,
the little chapel, phone booths and post boxes painted in blue.
We are a band, a gang,
blood, stock and house,
connected by lineage and familiar soil,
our gem of the sea.
A la perchione.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sam Thompson

Sam is one of those writers who has fallen under the spell of Guernsey, and has sent me some of his work. I am really delighted that lately more and more writers with a Guernsey connection are becoming interested in the Anthology.

Here is an extract from Ste Marguerite de la Forêt (2006) is the penultimate poem in a sequence of 15 free verse sonnets entitled Church Poems depicting the churches which have featured prominently in his life.

From Guernsey’s rugged south coast cliffs
the Forest parish
Climbs through lanes where sunlight
catches a stream or douit
And crosses the fields of the high plateau.
Here a tower and spire
Rise beside the jumbled houses of Le Bourg:
its walls a jigsaw
Of granite slabs, its cornerstones
once part of a dolmen,
With grass and graves on all sides the church stands
alone in its own walled garden.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Toad and the Donkey

Interesting email from Geraint Jennings from Jersey letting me know about the forthcoming book "The Toad and the Donkey" which he is editing with Jan Marquis.

Click here for more news about their forthcoming book. Meanwhile here is an excellent poem in Channel Island French by Geraint, and its translation below.

À ces sé

La lueu du rêsèrveux blyînque blianche au bliu du sé;
lé couochant lanche des pétales d'rose sus les côtis.
Du haut du mont jé d'vale – l'alanchie dans l'èrfliet
d'la mathe tchi m'fliatte atout eune fliotte dé caûques-souôthis.

Et j'pâsse par des fôssés endgèrrués en nièr,
entouortilyis dé veîl'yes dé r'lié et d'amèrdoux.
Les rêvacheurs d'la niet en vithevardant d'travèrs
ont voltilyi par 'chîn, par là – des vielles d'avoût.

La batt'tie d'ches néthes ailes a libéthé man tchoeu:
rôdant les c'mîns à la r'vèrdie, j'touônne en ouéthou.
Les pétales sont pouôrries et n'yées dans la nièrcheu;
les caûques-souothis ont chuchi l'rouoge d'la séthée d'v'lous.

Tout veint à fîn: un jour, un c'mîn, un tchoeu tchi bat,
les dreines lueuthes d'eune séthée, man soûffl'ye et man suffat.

This evening

The light of the reservoir blinks white in the blue of the evening;
the sunset throws rose petals on the côtils.
From the top of the hill I descend – diving into the reflection
of the pool which caresses me with a flock of bats.

And I pass by the hedgerows overgrown blackly with ivy,
entwined with field bindweed and woody nightshade.
The dreamers of the night zigzagging across my path
have fluttered here and there – summer whirlwinds.

The beating of these black wings has freed my heart:
roaming the roads at dusk, I turn into a shapeshifting spirit.
The petals are rotten and drowned in the darkness;
the bats have sucked the red from the velvet evening.

Everything comes to an end: a day, a road, a beating heart,
the last tatters of an evening, my breath and my burden.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Denys Corbet

Richard Fleming and myself went to visit Joan Ozanne who is a mine of local information about local culture. She showed us an old book called Les Feuilles de la Foret/Les Fieilles d’la Fouarêt/ The Leaves of the Forest) by Denys Corbet, published in 1891. Richard and I had a quick thumb through, and there was some interesting content.

Wikipedia has some useful information on Denys Corbet giving his dates as 22 May 1826 – 21 April 1909). Corbet described himself as the Le Draïn Rimeux (The Last Poet). He is best known for his poems, especially the epic L'Touar de Guernesy, a picaresque tour of the parishes of Guernsey and Les Feuilles de la Foret (The Leaves of the Forest) among others. Contemporary Canadian artist Christian Corbet is a cousin of Denys Corbet. A forthcoming biography by Christian Corbet is currently being written.

Also this new site The Official Website of Denys Corbet appears to be being created.

Corbet wrote in Guernsey French, French and English - rather like Métivier, his older contemporary.

Here is the opening to an amusing poem called Beards.

Ho! all ye sons of froth and smoke,
Who daily to the eyes must soak
In reeking lather that might choke
Old Nick, thus smeared :
Come, hear me sing, ye smooth chinned folk
My theme's the beard.

All ye who every morning mow
Crops that have no time to grow
Bid you but once the luxury know
Shown in my lyric,
You would your strops and razors throw
Where th'wise threw physic.

We children of the good old school,
Observing Nature's every rule,
Wear a long beard to keep us cool
In summer season,
And warm in winter--where's the fool
Can better reason?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jim Cathcart show

Richard Fleming and I went in to chat to Jim Cathcart in BBC Guernsey. Jim is really professional and easy to chat to. You can hear the interview here for the next few days.

Some interesting new information gleaned on this latest trip to the island, updates soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fermain Tavern

Visited the Fermain Tavern while over in Guernsey. There is a regular night held there once a month featuring local poets and musicians. It was hosted by prolific local writer Lester Queripel, who was in the enviable position of not only reading from his own book 50 of the Best, but also having other audience members selecting from this to read out too. Some interesting material on what was rather a quiet night - possibily due to it being officially the year's most depressing day.

There is a thriving local scene these days, which many people on the island are contributing to. It's great to learn.

Below Lester Queripel at the Fermain Tavern.

Off to Guernsey

Off to Guernsey this morning to stay with Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse. Will be at the Fermain tonight to hear some local poetry, and then with Richard, I will be on the Jim Cathcart show on BBC radio on the 27th.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Selling of Wilf Gaudion's Field

Interestingly, I've been sent a play by Jim Willis, called The Selling of Wilf Gaudion's Field. Jim tells me it was performed at the Beau Sejour Theatre, as part of the Guernsey One Act play festival. Jim was born in Orkney to Irish parents, but has lived in Guernsey most of his life, and ran a horticultural engineering company for 33 years which put him in close contact with the growers.

This contact informs his play, which is rooted in Guernsey matters of property and ownership, and the tomato trade. What strikes me on first reading (and I've not seen this performed) is the effort Jim has taken to faithfully represent a Guernsey way of speaking. Here's a short excerpt:

Doris: Yer, it’s all round the Bridge, your sellin’ to a Jerseyman. That Mrs.Falla from Holmdene, she says you took a lower offer than Tom Duquemin’s. She says you got no soul, sellin' our heritage to a foreigner. When I went in Le Riches, the girl behind the counter never lifted ‘er head once to speak to me, just took my money. There was a Jersey pound note in the change! We’ll have to do somethin’. What’re we gonna do?

Wilf: We’ll go to the bank an draw out all the housekeepin’ this week in crappo money. See if they don’t take it. Besides, Le Riches is a Jersey firm, she’s workin’ for the crappos. (Pause) ….Somebody painted a ‘J’ on the number plate of the truck last night and what’s more, they altered the name of our house from Sevenoaks to fiveoaks.

Doris: If this keeps up, we’ll have to sell up an’ move to bloomin’ Jersey.

Wilf: No fyur, it’d be all crappos to us two donkeys………What we’ll do is ask Mr.Critchlow to put an ad in the Press to say the field’s still for sale, that way they’ll know it’s not sold to anyone.

Doris: Is anyone else interested in buyin’?

Wilf: Not yet, but Mr.Critchlow is bringin’ someone around later, says he has cash in hand. That sounds dodgey to me, wot if ‘ees English, or French, we’ll have no friends left.

Doris: I’m off to Lilly to help ‘er bunch,…by the way ther’s a letter come…yer…. cheerie.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Appointment with Venus

My friend Catriona lent me this 1951 novel by Jerrard Tickell, an Irish novelist (1905-1966). Appointment with Venus was made into a film the same year, with a cast which included David Niven, Kenneth More, Glynis Johns and others, and shot in Pinewood Studios and on Sark. The story features an imaginary Channel Isle named Amorel, which appears to be a thinly veiled Sark.

Very much a product of its times, and seems sexist and in its reference to "seeing a coon show" in London, unacceptably racist. While Sark aka Amorel is portrayed as a backwater, with simple French speaking locals to add a bit of colour local. The plot revolves around an unlikely wartime scheme to steal a valuable pedigree cow called Venus from the island. Local girl and plucky love interest Nicola Fallaise accompanies Valentine Moreland and others on the rescue mission with predictable results. It is a surprisingly good escapist read however, if you fancy a bit of stiff upper lip brandishing wartime hokum.

Below a film poster for Appointment with Venus.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Compton Mackenzie and D.H. Lawrence

Have been in touch with Stephen Foote of the Guernsey Society. We are going to link swap for the anthology site. Really usefully, Stephen sent me a link to D. H. Lawrence's "The Man Who Loved Islands". This story is new to me, and I have just read the introduction by Chris Jennings, which says that Lawrence:
"...was a friend of Compton Mackenzie who had met on the isle of Capri in 1925. Mackenzie objected that he had been used as a model for the character in Lawrence's short story. There are, indeed some similarities.

Compton Mackenzie lived on Capri from 1913 to 1920. He then bought the island of Herm and Jethou in the Channel Islands. After financial difficulties, he sold Herm and moved to the smaller island of Jethou in 1923. In 1925 he bought the uninhabited Shiat Isles near to Harrris in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. He never lived there but did live on the nearby island of Barra, where he built a house. When Sir Compton Mackenzie died in 1972 he was buried on the island of Barra."

According to Wikipedia "Mackenzie at first asked Secker, who published both authors, not to print the story and it was left out of one collection".

When I was last at the Prilaux Library in St. Peter Port, I saw there was a good deal of Mackenzie material there, and I knew he had a connection with the island. But this is a great lead to follow up on both writers.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Island Madness

Have just started to re-read Tim Binding's Island Madness, and I will upload a section to the Anthology of Guernsey site shortly. Again, and at the risk of sounding like a one trick donkey, a vastly more rewarding book about Guernsey than the Potato Peel Pie effort.

Its first chapter has stayed with me very clearly from when I first read it ten years ago, shortly after its publication. The opening section where a German plane flies over the south coast is beautifully written. But also this bit, which repeats the word concrete, which I find reminiscent of Dickens use of the word fog in Bleak House. The use of 'Him' to denote Hitler is also intriguing, like some sort of unnameable Antichrist, or Sauron figure in Lord of the Rings.

All through that winter men had been pouring in, onto the island: engineers from Belgium, skilled construction workers from France, men laden with theodolites and drills who bored holes and tapped rocks and drew their indelible marks in the sand. There seemed no end to them. Down in St Peter Port the harbour was jammed with trawlers and tugs and great floating cranes, their necks bent double in search of their prey; metal rods, barbed wire, timber, and cement – always cement, the essential dust of His creation, cement in the flat-bottomed barges which wallowed their way from Cherbourg, cement stacked twelve feet high on St Julian’s Pier, cement hauled round the island on the narrow-gauge railway built from Cherbourg, to be mixed and poured and moulded into the fertile shapes of war. A military chastity belt of His design had been fitted around the island’s most tender regions, so that like a jealous lord He could prevent any violation of His fresh, plump property. But still He wanted more: more concrete, more guns, more men. In all of Western Europe there was nothing that glittered in His mind eye more brightly than the Channel Islands. Inselwahn, they called it. Island Madness.