I am an exile, but I am not alone.
Most people I know live far away from where they grew up. Though born in London, my mother moved to Guernsey to live with my grandparents when I was little. I started school on the island, and my brother was born in the old granite cottage where we lived with my grandparents. I am lucky. I return often to what I think of as my heartland. I can walk about in the parish of my childhood, and many things are the same. A wall on the Icart Road has an uncle’s initials in the plaster between the granite blocks, the hedge of the old family home still has my Grandmother’s fuchsia growing in it, and the old wishing well remains the same.
When I return to Guernsey, I am conscious that what I am exiled from is not the place, but the past. Each lane is full of muttering memories. One lane was always very dark at night – which is why we called it Screaming Lane. It was here my grandmother lay in wait in the inky hedgerow shadows wearing a gorilla mask, ready to spring out on an unfortunate guest to the party she was throwing. Or just down the road from where we lived, a corner called Le Coin d’la Biche was supposedly haunted by a terrifying goat, and was a place that my grandfather sped by when we walked past it at night. But my grandparents are long buried, and some feud after my Grandfather’s death put a rift in the remaining family.
Over recent years Guernsey managed to weather recessionary storms better than most places. But properties in St Martin’s parish, where I lived, have been bought up by rich folk working in finance not from the island. I sense a resentful division between locals, and others. When I arrive at the airport, I often am asked if it is my first time on the island, and I want to say no, I belong here. But of course I don’t, and however many times I return to Guernsey I will never be a local.
I have written love letters to Guernsey since I was a teenager. In fact, being away from Guernsey was what started me writing. I tried to capture the safety of my long summer holidays, like the dozens of different insects in my Grandparent’s back garden I collected in jam jars when I was a kid. These sweating trapped insects are my poems. And the publication of A Guernsey Double with Richard Fleming about the island, received generous coverage on BBC Guernsey radio (but was snubbed by the local newspaper). My poems have also been set to music, including a current project with a local composer. Just sometimes, it is possible to feel that my love letters were not sent to a granite heart.
Last week I was on the island for a few days honeymoon with my wife Lorraine. We caught a bus into town. But in Guernsey, buses are suddenly controversial. A two-tier pricing system has been introduced, and boarding a bus in spring I was told the fare into town is £1 for locals, £2 for non-locals. I was charged £2 by a dour bus driver from Yorkshire (to add insult to injury) and I sat down feeling furious – confirmation that I did not really belong here. Last week, happily, a different driver charged us £1 each and asked us no questions.
Settling into our seats, I noticed one of my poems on a poster inside the bus. With having just married my lovely wife, I was in an emotional state, but this little surprise felt like a moment when something precious was requited.
HOOKED by Peter Kenny
I stuffed my hook in a ragworm’s jaws,
caught a glum cabou with a ground line,
hooked peacock rockfish, cats-meat pollack,
spinning with the twins off The White Rock.
With a sun-thawed, severed sandeel head,
I foul-hooked fighting green-boned longnose
on a short-traced float from the lighthouse.
From boats I dragged foil, feathers, bare hooks
past ravenous packs of mackerel.
I heard spider crabs skitter on deck,
saw lobsters lobbed out from lobster pots
went home to the kitchen scream of crabs.
Now I fish for something I can’t describe.
I wait for the ormer skies of sundown,
my fine line curving somewhere out of sight
its weightless trace baited with silence.