Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Jersey: Mont Orgueil and the Salty Dog Bistro

My plan for today, Wednesday, is to leave my rather heavy bag here and head off to Mt. Orgueil. Apparently it’s quite big, with a tearoom, and there’s a garden centre with another café nearby. I’m planning a quiet day, pottering and reading an Arthur Machen book. I’ve picked up a new sketchbook and vaguely plan to sketch, though whether I will get round to it is hard to tell.

Another snag has cropped up unexpectedly. As I ate breakfast and tried to sort out a few emails, I had a sudden flare-up of my RSI that made it virtually impossible to operate the computer. I’m not sure whether sketching and so on will actually be feasible either. I’m very conscious of my hands right now and hoping they’ll recover soon! This has the awkward side-effect of making it very difficult to take any notes for my blog. Luckily, I remembered my trusty voice recorder. What I’ll be doing today, then, is making an audio diary and then transcribing it when I recover.

Basically doing anything at all involves going to St. Helier, since that’s where the buses depart from and where tourist information is, so off on the bus I go.


Something I wanted to do yesterday, but completely forgot about, is ask for info on Jèrriais. As a keen linguist, and in particular because I’m interested in minority languages of the UK, I want to scope it out. I was very dubious that would be any kind of organised location to visit for information. I know L'Office du Jèrriais exists, but I assume this is a nominal “office”, probably just a website run from people’s houses, or I suppose there might be a little bit of admin happening somewhere.

I visit Tourist Information and talk to the staff. There’s a bit of confusion because when I say “language preservation” they think I said “wildlife preservation” and dig up a stack of nature reserve information. On the plus side, they do turn out to have heard of the language, which I was somewhat concerned about. Once the confusion is resolved, they advise me to visit the Société Jersiaise. Apparently they have some related stuff and a library. Apparently there’s no equivalent of Creneash here, a heritage and language site you can visit. Of course, this is very dependent on circumstances: Creneash was an actual holdout of Manx after it vanished from most of the Isle of Man, whereas presumably there has been no equivalent here.

The Société Jersiaise proves to be a small collection of rooms near the Museum of Jersey. It’s not language specific, it’s a heritage place dealing with all kinds of Jersey history and culture, with its own small library. I see no real point going to the library, which will be archives and stuff; interesting from a heritage point of view but not for someone only here for the minority languages. However, there is a bookshop, and it does have some books on Jèrriais.

There aren’t as many as I’d like, alas. If this is a good representation of what’s available in and about Jèrriais, it seems Manx is doing considerably better. The stock is mostly very large dictionaries, which are neither very useful to me nor portable. There’s no way I’m going to buy any large books, since my rucksack bulged at the seams even when I arrived, but I decide to pick up the slender Brief History of Jèrriais. It should give me an overview, which is always interesting.

They do have The Toad and the Donkey, a parallel text Jèrriais/English book in the same series as Manannan’s Cloak, and that’s something I do want to pick up. But I don’t feel it would be a good idea to get a large book, and I have this enormous pile of books at home to read already.

I spend another 40 minutes on the bus to Mont Orgueil, reading The Terror. When I finally arrive, I am very thirsty. Looking around, Gorey (the town) seems pretty one-sided in its catering provision. There is a slew of rather posh restaurants offering rich three-course meals, and a dearth of cafes. I do spot one nestling amidst them, which is overcrowded (presumably because lots of people would in fact like a cuppa now) and manage to force my way inside. They do a very respectable scone and tea, which I munch cheerfully. I’m still planning to get lunch in the castle so I don’t want much.

I spend twenty minutes or so finishing reading The Terror, which turns out to be a short story. It's an intriguing read which looks like it's going to be weird fiction, only to spiral out into a Victorian supernatural morality tale. Unfortunately, this means lots of things don't really make sense about the events of the book, because this genre tends to assume that any and all events can be handwaved away with "morality!", rather than thinking about the whys and wherefores. The first 95% of it was good, though!

"Hoopla, le ciel est bleu et le soleil brille", as Molesworth mite sa.

I think I found the castle.

Mont Orgueil

As usual, the walls are overgrown with plants. Notices in the grounds said it is a habitat for all kinds of rare species.

Looking up! I liked the stylish cross against the clear blue, and the flowers bursting from the walls.

There are lizards in the walls! They are adorable! I was enchanted.

The castle itself up on the rock. It's a complex mish-mash of architecture from different periods, built and rebuilt constantly to adapt to changing tactics, and the arrival of gunpowder weaponry. The ability to mount cannon on ships posed a particular problem for this castle, which guards the harbour.

In the old gardens up above, I find a lady playing historical instruments. We talk for a while about various things. She also let me take some pictures.

So. Cute.

I stop at various benches to watch the lizards and write postcards to friends. I didn't manage to write to everyone this time, despite my best efforts. Friends, you are too plentiful! This is the best problem to have. It's very hot and sunny, so I couldn't hurry around here even if I wanted to. I sort of bask gently (doing my best lizard impression) and wander around sleepily. I also meet some of the very nice Germans from my hotel, and chat. I am speaking so much German this holiday, it's ridiculous.

Fun fact: it always seemed weird that people draw the sea as blue, because where I grew up, it's grey-brown almost all the time. The water is quite silty and the sky is overcast a lot of the time. I can see how people living in Jersey might feel different!

This is a display in the dungeon, with some skeletons revolving on a pedastal. Okay?

When I finished walking around, I nipped into the cafe in the hope of some lunch. I was out of luck, though. It was a very small cafe, and the assortment was pretty limited. I don't remember exactly, but it was basically a few sandwiches and pasties,or tomato soup, and lots of cake. Cake is all very well and good, but I did want a healthy lunch. I don't eat premade sandwiches because they always seem to come with butter, marge, mayonnaise, and other repulsive slimy things that I can't stomach. So, back into town...

This would have been a great time to remember the existence of the garden centre and cafe, but alas, I don't. Instead, I hop back to Café Louise, where I end up having another tea and scone. It's not quite cake, right? Also, frankly, the best I can find at the time. I'm still not up for a three-course meal.

The Museum

In the afternoon (it's about 3pm when I get back to St. Helier) I don't have time to do much, so I decide to return to the Société Jersiaise site, where the Jersey Museum lives. It's interesting in that quiet, domestic way these museums tend to be. Of course, most of it would be far more interesting to a local or someone with a personal connection. There are galleries of newspaper extracts showing off important happenings, including a section from the German Occupation when the paper was German-run, of course.

I'm hoping this will offer some more insight into the situation of Jèrriais, and indeed it does:

That's it. For reference, there is more space given to a section on the royal family than on the unique language of the islands. Sigh.

Above this is a recreation of a merchant's house, with various fixtures and historical displays. I start looking around, but quickly realise two things. One, I'm actually quite tired. It's super hot, and I've been walking around a lot with probably inadequate food, and the museum hasn't been particularly interesting so I'm starting to lose concentration. It's not its fault, but I've seen a lot of similar things before. Two, my knees are acting up for some reason. It's probably a running injury that I haven't noticed previously, but tramping up the stairs of this house becomes uncomfortable. So I give up.

I go for a leisurely cuppa in a cafe nearby, then back to the hotel to chill out before my evening meal.

Baby's First Bistro

In the evening, I decide to bite the bullet. I’m on an island full of expensive restaurants, I need to have at least one expensive restaurant meal. Surveying the options, I decide that the most tempting is the Salty Dog Bar and Bistro nearby. Most of the restaurants are some combination of Italian, curry or grill – I’ve never been keen on steak or burgers, don’t know curries well enough to choose without someone holding my hand, and I don’t particularly like Italian food in the first place. The Salty Dog offers a good range of things that I don’t typically see on the menu of restaurants I visit.

It’s a good thing I head in early and prefer to sit outside, because as it turns out, they’ve booked out the inside very thoroughly. Shortly after I turned up a few people are turned away who don’t want to be outside. Why? It’s lovely. The air is warm, but there’s a cool evening breeze that’s heavenly after a very hot day. It’s beautifully light, whereas the inside is just as dark as all restaurants mysteriously insist on being (why? Don’t they want you to see what you’re eating?).

The service is a little slow, but I don’t mind because there’s a lot of people here and I brought things to occupy me. I assumed that a posh restaurant would involve a fair bit of waiting around, so I have both a book and some postcards to write. These will be important later.

I’d actually selected my meal before venturing inside, so my personal wait isn’t actually necessary, but I cheerfully spend that time writing postcards. I always mean to write to people, but there’s not actually many opportunities. Being on holiday means you have something to say, which is always a plus.

After a while my orange juice turns up, since I’m not having a starter. Experience of the last few years suggests that I can’t actually manage a starter and a main course, which after lots of discussion I put down to mains having got significantly bigger over the course of my life. This seems like a shame. There’s been altogether too many times when I just couldn’t manage a pudding, or when I felt horribly stuffed after a meal. Most recently, I ordered a ‘light bites’ fish and chips during a walk, rather than the normal fish and chips, since I didn’t want to be full on a lengthy walk; it turned out the ‘light bites’ option was the size I would personally expect a ‘large’ fish and chips to be.

Anyway, what I selected is the Whole Black Sea Bream Wrapped in Banana Leaf Crushed Sea Salt, Roasted, Northern Thai Hot & Sour Sauce, Lime, Palm Sugar, Coriander, Bean Sprouts, Long Bean & Toasted Crushed Peanuts , Jasmine Rice.

It turns out this is a good choice. You can have it with greens, new potatoes and chive butter for a more European feel, but why risk it?

The jasmine rice is succulent, sticky, fragrant and pleasantly mild. It’s a beautiful contrast to the sauce, which is rich and has a notable streak of spice, plus slices of chili. The bream I haven’t had before, but immediately resolve to eat again: it’s got a substantial flavour to it, which is a welcome surprise considering how bland a lot of fish seems to be, and is tender and altogether delectable. It does have bones to pick out, but it’s fish, come on.

The meal comes with a heap of vegetables that is substantially bigger and more interesting than I usually see, which is also welcome. I’d considered getting a side of vegetables just in case, but here we have sliced courgette, sugarsnap peas, and a nice sharp red pepper, all drizzled with crushed peanuts. I devour it slowly, savouring every morsel. My choice of rosé wine as an accompaniment proves to be correct.

At this point, the retired couple at the next table (whose meal has been far slower arriving) go in search of the facilities, and I offer to keep an eye on their bags. This was a good move. It immediately inspires some good-natured back-and-forth and I warm to them. While they’re away, naturally, their starter arrives, and I begin writing postcards again. This evokes approving comment from the couple when they return, since postcards are pretty rare these days, and we fall into conversation. By the time they’ve finished their starter we are essentially boon companions. They are absolutely charming, and offer suggestions for some walking I can do around the northern coast. Getting recommendations from locals (Jersey born and bred, and I think the first actual Jersians I’ve encountered so far) is pretty priceless.

The conversation does somewhat distract me from my pudding, which is a bit molten by the time I eat it. I chose a simple set of ice cream (that being the island speciality) and an amaretto coffee. Both are excellent. With some reluctance I leave my new acquaintances and go to pay. The bill actually proves rather smaller than I’d prepared myself for, which is also a nice surprise. Substantially bigger than I’d normally end up with, yes, but acceptable for a posh evening out indulging myself.

Should you visit Jersey, I can highly recommend the Salty Dog. The food was excellent, the location nice (sit outside!) and the staff were all very pleasant.

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