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A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Guernsey Literature Photography Richard Fleming

Home is where the hurt is

JasonWilde-Lower-ResFor someone who hates flying as much as I do, I seem to travel a lot. Countries as far apart as Mexico, Chad, and Japan have seen me emerge from the plane blinking in gratitude to the sky gods for my safe arrival, and ready to explore. But when I return to Guernsey I feel I am coming home. I turn inward to reboot and take a long hard look at myself and what I’ve been up to since my last visit.

Guernsey obsesses me. I want to back people into corners and tell them everything I know about it. Being exiled from the island hurt me into writing poetry when I was in my teens. I’ve written about it ever since, including in A Guernsey Double (2010) with Richard Fleming, and more published work since then.

Last week my wife and I took my mid-20s stepchildren and their partners there for the first time. But I soon realised what I chose to show them wasn’t just the island, it was a covert way of showing them myself. I began to wonder uncomfortably if I was actually seeing Guernsey at all, instead of something scripted by my imagination and my memory. Frankly it was all getting a bit ‘me-me-me’. It made me think how my writing about the island has been received with a suspicion – above and beyond the fact it was poetry – in some quarters. For example when A Guernsey Double was published, Richard and I were welcomed more than once onto BBC Guernsey, while Guernsey Press completely ignored its publication.  I can completely understand this however. It’s a bit like how I was tempted to blah-blah about the island, and show people around ‘my’ island. I fully understand that local people must be heartily sick of folks imposing a narrative on their home.

I couldn’t help note the irony that I was tripped into this realisation by an exhibition by London based photographer  Jason Wilde, whose exhibition Guerns, was running at the museum in Candie Gardens. Jason’s photos captured candid images of local people in their own homes. There was some piercing work in the exhibition, as you can see from the lovely spotty piece above. I loved the absence of sentimentality, nostalgia and how it didn’t over-egg its subject matter. The exhibition has an admirable clarity and truth about it.

This exhibition jabbed a sensitive spot on the island. Guernsey is a small place that was once dependent on tourism and its tomato industry. Guernsey Toms were familiar to shoppers in the sixties and seventies. But when the UK joined what was then called the Common Market, Guernsey Toms were undercut by cheaper Dutch tomatoes. The industry rapidly sank, and for a while this was replaced with flower growing but that withered too. The island that once glittered with greenhouses as you flew into it, is less sparkly now.*

Since that time the financial industry has been Guernsey’s mainstay. To keep it going it has imported lots of well paid folks from the UK and beyond, which is in danger of creating a two-tier society.  The gorgeous parish  I grew up in, St Martin’s, nearby houses were full of my relatives, who were ordinary local people. But the houses have now been gentrified. Now you just have to look at the cars parked in the gravelled front gardens to see how things have changed.

As Jason Monaghan, Director of Guernsey Museums said talking about the Guerns exhibition, “The contemporary photographic archive that is being built throughout this series is invaluable and is something for both current and future generations to enjoy”. I whole heartedly agree, and would add that Jason Wilde has photographed local people at what may feel like a vulnerable and uncertain time in their history.

I have recently finished a long poem about the island, imagining it as a kind of Atlantis sunk in time. It is the culmination of a long sequence of introspective poems that goes back to my teens, but this last one feels like the end of a chapter.

I am already planning my next visit. But next time I am going to go different places, and will speak to different people. There are new stories I’d like to hear told, and Jason Wilde’s exhibition has forcibly reminded me of this.

So it’s a big well done from me to Guernsey Arts and Guernsey Museums. Brilliant stuff.

* I took the snap below last week, there are several ruins of the tomato industry still to be seen.

P1010069

 

Meeting Guernsey Arts Commission

Went to Guernsey in June and had a meeting with the Guernsey Arts Commission, about creating an Anthology of Guernsey writing. Liked the Chairman Tony Gallienne right off the bat. The meeting was inconclusive, but they were encouraging.

I spent a couple of hours in the Priaulx Library where I met Amanda Bennett, the Chief Librarian, who took time to show me an extensive collection of books, all of which have some tenuous connection to Guernsey.

She told me a few things right away I didn’t know, such as PG Wodehouse went to school here, and that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the composer had performed on the island. And that Edmund Keane the nineteenth century Shakespearean was pelted with vegetables in St Peter Port. Spent a happy couple of hours with my nose in dusty tomes. A venerable place, busy with people tracking down old stories from the Guernsey Press, and tracing their ancestors.

Then to the Guernsey Museum, which is a matter of a few yards away. Here I met Guernsey’s switched on Museums Director Jason Monaghan. Interesting chat with him. He also gave me a signed copy of a self-published book written under his nom de plume Jason Foss called Islands that never were. After a brief look at The Three Garnsey Women Martyred by the Papists {Anno 1556}. Jason has let me know subsequently of a Dr Who novelisation set in Guernsey too.There is rich ground to be covered.

Already receiving a good deal of help and advice from the excellent Catriona Stares of the Commission, and Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse, notable poets resident on the island.

Creating an anthology for Guernsey

So to catch up on recent activity. I returned from a short trip to my former home of Guernsey recently where I presented to the Arts Commission, who were interested in the project.

So I am shortly about to kick the project off, and have bought AnthologyofGuernsey.com for a song.

While I was over, I spent a couple of hours in the Priaulx Library where I met Amanda Bennett, the Chief Librarian, who took time to show me an extensive collection of books, all of which have some tenuous connection to Guernsey.

She told me a few things right away I didn’t know, such as PG Wodehouse went to school here, and that Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the composer had performed on the island. And that Edmund Keane the nineteenth century Shakespearean was pelted with vegetables in St Peter Port. Spent a happy couple of hours with my nose in dusty tomes. A venerable place, busy with people tracking down old stories from the Guernsey Press, and tracing their ancestors.

Then to the Guernsey Museum, which is a matter of a few yards away. Here I met Guernsey’s switched on Museums Director Jason Monaghan. Interesting chat with him. He also gave me a signed copy of a self-published book written under his nom de plume Jason Foss called Islands that never were. After a brief look at The Three Garnsey Women Martyred by the Papists {Anno 1556}. Jason has let me know subsequently of a Dr Who novelisation set in Guernsey too.

There is rich ground to be covered. Already receiving a good deal of help and advice from the excellent Catriona Stares of the Commission, and Richard Fleming and Jane Mosse, notable poets resident on the island.