Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Jersey: arrival

So, it’s currently one year since I had a job. Admittedly, six months of that was spent studying in Japan, but I have to say this was not really how I intended things to go. Between frustration, nice weather and opportunity, I decide to chuck in the job-applying shtick for a few days and take a little break.

Around twenty-two years ago, I encountered the works of Gerald Durrell and immediately became captivated. The zoo books, I mean – the family ones are decent, but it was the anecdotes of animal collecting, conservation and zoos that really gripped me. I ended up studying zoology more or less on the back of this, only to veer wildly away when it finally became clear to me, mid-course, that almost no part of a zoology degree would deign to consider any part of an animal larger than a single cell. Since this was precisely the opposite of what I cared about (my rule of thumb is ‘at least as big as an ant’) I felt rather cheated by the whole business. University prospectuses have, amongst their other failings, a habit of not really telling you much about what you will actually be studying, apparently assuming that prospective students already know this, despite being, y’know, prospective.

Anyway! For several years now my family have adopted a frog at Jersey Zoo for me each birthday, and I’ve received a free one-day pass to the zoo which I never managed to use. This comes of living hundreds of miles away and having nobody to go on holiday with. My brother and I had vaguely planned to go together for the last few years, but this was foiled by the (otherwise welcome) arrival of a niece. Mine, not his. Well, you know what I mean.

On a dull Monday morning I set off on the long trip to Jersey. I was strongly recommended to take the trip by ferry, which is apparently convenient and fun. Further research indicated that it would take at least six hours and £200 to reach the port, where ferries departed first thing in the morning, so an overnight stay would be necessary, followed by a lengthy sea voyage at additional cost. Reminding myself to avoid advice from people who live in the South, I booked a one-hour plane ticket for £85 instead. This still involved a couple of trains and a bus, but it was at least one day’s travel rather than two (and most of that was sitting around in cafes, rather than travel).

Liverpool John Lennon airport is fairly painless, but extremely dull. I heard worrying things about the security, so made sure to arrive early (rumour has it that they deliberately understaff security in order to sell fast lane tickets at several quid a pop). It took me about three minutes to pass through security, although it did take another three to repack afterwards.

A slight issue with the flight, and one of the reasons I came early, is that it’s at 1.15pm, which means I’m forced to eat in the airport. I suppose I could have brought a sandwich, but the website indicated they have plenty of places to eat. Inside, I discover that this is somewhat misleading. There are about four different restaurants, it is true, but that’s really only a matter of seating, because they all seem to serve pretty much exactly the same items: all-day breakfast, grilled steak, burgers, fish and chips, sausage and mash, chicken tikka, and a pasta or two. I reluctantly plump for sausages, which turn out to be very literal, in that they don’t come with any vegetables at all. It’s basically three sausages atop a mount of creamy, onion-gravy-drowned mash. I eat the sausages and a couple of spoonfuls of mash, and buy some juice.

The Easyjet flight proves to be about as expected. They only open the gates for about ten minutes, and only announce the gate a few minutes beforehand, but otherwise it’s basically like being on a bus. On reaching Jersey, we have a problem – despite the promising forecasts, there’s low-lying fog over the airport. We make a second circuit, with the pilot warning that if this fails, he’ll take us back to Bournemouth (although we can’t, strictly, go back somewhere we never were). Thankfully this second approach succeeds, and we arrive only half an hour late. It’s raining substantially, grey and somewhat dismal, although being from the North-West I am entirely accustomed to this. We meander out through the inoffensive airport and head for the bus stop, where the bus takes off like a shot just as the first of us reaches the door.

Poor Jersey hasn’t had a great chance to make a good first impression.

Being technically abroad, using a phone in Jersey involves roaming, which I’m well aware can be hideously expensive. Since I’m only here for a few days, I planned to simply avoid it, as the plans available seem unnecessarily extortionate. They also involve setting up an open-ended payment that you have to phone up to cancel, which is… not how I wish to do things, thanks, I want to buy a package for X days and be done with it. Besides, my hotel has wi-fi and a posh place like Jersey is bound to have a fair few places with wi-fi scattered around, right?

The immediate downside of this plan is that without signal or internet, I can’t look up any information, like using Google Maps to make sure I get off the bus in the right place, or indeed checking the directions to my hotel. Whoops.

Hopping off the bus in St. Aubin, I remember the directions fairly well and manage to find my hotel. Thankfully the rain has stopped, although it’s still overcast and grey, so about as inspiring as Llandudno in winter.

Actually St. Aubin, and Jersey as a whole so far, reminds me quite a lot of Llandudno, or the Isle of Man. There’s the mixture of coastal-town jolliness and small-town simplicity. I clamber the many steps to the Panorama, where I’ll be staying this week. It looks rather nice.

I emerge into a garden. The garden is empty, but there are several doors leading inside. They’re unlocked, so I walk inside and look for a reception. There isn’t one, as far as I can tell, although there’s tea-making refills and tourist board accolades and things that confirm I’m in the right place. I wander round, unwilling to try opening any doors because nothing seems to be labelled, and I’m scared of wandering into someone’s bedroom and looking like a burglar (this, it turns out, was correct – there are bedrooms all around). I can’t see anything that says “press here for assistance” or points me towards the owners’ rooms. Eventually I run into a nice German lady, who explains that when she arrived she just rang the doorbell. I go back into the garden and ring the doorbell, which appears completely silent. After waiting a few minutes, and trying several times, I decide that it is. Going back inside, I look through the back door and see a buzzer-type intercom there, so I go out and use that. Success.

It turns out that the back door is in fact the front door. The front door is on a quiet back street I’d never have found otherwise, while the back door leads onto the main road by the bus stop and has a large sign outside advertising it, but it’s still the back door. The landlady explains how things work and shows me to my room. As soon as she’s vanished like a Wodehousian Earl, I realise I forgot to ask how to access the hotel wi-fi, but I can’t see any way to do so now without ringing the bell again. It’s actually not quite an intercom, but effectively an ordinary doorbell with an intercom built in, so it rings through the whole building. I am too embarrassed to do this again just now. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

I dump my stuff, and discover that I can’t connect to the wi-fi. I don’t know why. It’s not asking for a password or anything. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. I prowl around for a few minutes hoping the landlady will pass by, but she doesn’t. Eventually I give up, grab a backpack, and decide to head out. I’ll stroll around St. Aubin for a bit, scope out places to eat tonight and find some wi-fi. My original plan was to head into St. Helier when I arrived, go to tourist information and buy a bus pass, but it’s nearly 4pm already. I’m pretty sure things will be closing so it seems a bit pointless.

Wandering round St. Helier, I realise that there are a few differences from Llandudno, at least as I remember it. For example, there doesn’t seem to be a restaurant in the place (and there are a lot of restaurants for its apparent size) where you can get change from £20. I can’t check, because I can’t find any wi-fi. The only café I located is an indie one without wi-fi. While normally I like going into independent cafés, the fact is that I’m only looking for wi-fi. My hotel is right there, I can make tea myself. I decide to press on a bit as there’ll presumably be cafés around the bay.

An hour and a bit later, I find myself reaching the outskirts of St. Helier. I have passed cafes that were apparently closed, cafes that were actually Thai restaurants, but nowhere I can get a signal. Around the halfway point in the bay there seemed little point turning back. Although it’s grey and a bit windy, it’s surprisingly warm and humid, which means I’m sweating unpleasantly in my coat carrying this laptop around. At this point I no longer just want wi-fi: I want a loo, somewhere to sit down and recover, and maybe food. I might as well try to eat here rather than go back to a much smaller place with very expensive restaurants.

As expected, almost everywhere has now closed. Jersey is, after all, British. This isn’t precisely anyone’s fault, but I’m in a fairly lousy mood by now and feeling somewhat under the weather. I didn’t get much sleep, having been woken about 5.30am by an overzealous milkman. I pull out my map (hooray for old technology) and begin exploring St. Helier. Perhaps I shouldn’t have scorned the KFC on the outskirts, but greasy chicken and chips is exactly what I don’t fancy when I’m not quite on form. Nor curry from the takeaway I pass.

St. Helier has a bit of the same problem as Liverpool John Lennon, in that its eating options seem rather repetitive. Most of them are Italian restaurants, and very expensive. The cafes are closed, because it’s after 5pm, and what sort of person would eat a light meal after 5pm; are we barbarians?, asks the imaginary café-owner rhetorically. Circling round, I pass a couple of pubs too. They have the historical, small-windowed, advert-free look of Local Pubs for Local People and I have no idea whether they serve food. I avoid them. The M&S Café has closed. The BHS Café closed about 3pm and the shop is slowly digesting itself in sales as the chain slides into bankruptcy. Ideally, what I want to eat right now is just a bowl of boiled vegetables and maybe some rice, but of the two Chinese restaurants I spot, one is closed for good and the other very clearly expects large parties who order banquets, not individual blokes with a small appetite.

At 6pm I discover a Coffee Republic and embrace them like a long-lost brother. Figuratively speaking. They don’t (to their shame) have wi-fi, but they do have places to sit down and a loo. I linger for half an hour, very glad to have the weight off my back. Somewhat refreshed and a bit less irritable, I realise there’s a Bella Italia nearby. It’s not what I was looking for, but it’s a lot less rich than the hunk of meat that any pub will offer, and it’s a fraction of the price of the other restaurants. I even discover a coupon for 25% off on the map. I’ve never actually used one of those coupons from a tourist map before. It will be an experience.

I still make several wrong turns trying to find the place, but I do pass a shop (remarkably, still open) where I manage to buy a couple of apples and some cereal bars. I have a feeling I’m going to need them.

Bella Italia proves crowded, but I get a table and sip my water and a glass of rosé. Eventually my Marco Pollo pizza arrives. This is a creation of duck, plum sauce and spring onion. To my mild dismay, it turns out that the plum sauce isn’t a replacement for the tomato, but an extra. I don’t really like tomato sauce, but I bite the bullet and eat it all anyway. Unimpressive as it may seem, this is actually good going for me, because until I went to Japan I really struggled to eat pizza. I decided while over there that, considering I was willing to eat raw horsemeat and octopus (and, for that matter, mpane worms) I really should get over my inability to consume tomatoes. Go me.

I sensibly head for the bus to return to my hotel, and discover to my joy that the bus station has wi-fi. Salvation! It doesn’t appear to be the wi-fi network that’s actually advertised on the bus station, and it only appears to be 24 hours’ use, but I’m prepared to put up with pretty much anything right now. I manage to send the promised email to reassure family that I’ve arrived, and notify them that they should expect radio silence. To my annoyance, for some reason I am completely unable to download the Google Map of Jersey for my phone – the option simply doesn’t appear. Rage. It looks like I’ll be resorting to primitive methods for this trip. Despite only having had a laptop for a couple of years and a smartphone for a few months, this already seems like severe privation.

There is something rather mournful in the realisation that sitting in a bus station in a provincial town* of an evening seems like a better option than returning to your hotel.

*I live in a provincial town far more boring than anywhere in Jersey, I’m not knocking it.

Eventually I take the bus back, sit briefly in a not particularly interesting pub, and head to my hotel for a few cuppas and a very welcome shower. Unfortunately, the night proves rather unsatisfactory.

For quite some time, I’ve been using white noise to help me get to sleep. This requires my computer be plugged in, or the battery will be flat by morning. There’s a socket by the bed, but it turns out this is for some reason completely non-functional. I manage to set the laptop up using one at the far end of the room, but I can barely reach it from the bed, which is a bit of a pain if I need to adjust it as usual. It also means that to watch a bit of anime before bed (it’s good practice for my Japanese) I have to unplug it, then remember to plug it back in. I can’t simply dial up the two to run in succession, then let myself drift off.

The next problem proves to be the bed, which is simply not to my taste. The pillow seems to be a high-quality feather pillow, which is to say, it behaves like a sack of clay under my head, moulding itself firmly around my face and then staying put. The bed, on the other hand, is definitely sprung, but nevertheless has learned all it knew from an inflatable bed, and so wobbles and tilts alarmingly at the slightest wriggle. Because it’s a single bed, this gives me the disconcerting feeling that I’m about to fall out at any moment.

The windows are old single-glazed sash windows, which means I can hear people moving past. There are faint footsteps from the room above. I turn up my white noise.

Eventually I fall asleep.

I wake shortly before 3.15am. I know this because I look at the clock at 3.15. I get up, have a glass of water, and try to get back to sleep. At 4am I am still awake. About 5am, a particularly twittery bird begins busking immediately outside my window, and the sun begins to percolate through the thin curtains. Abandoning any hope of further sleep, I get up and write this blogpost while consuming enormous quantities of tea. I plan firmly to buy earplugs as soon as I reach somewhere with a pharmacy.

This holiday has not got off to a particularly good start. At least the forecast’s good.

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