Friday, 27 May 2016

Mont Orgueil

On the 11th of May, we woke up to a fog so dense we could hardly see the cliff top from our window. But more often than not, fog means a good day ahead, and we were determined not to let a little fog stop us from doing what we meant to do: See Mont Orgueil, the castle that had been described to us as "THE Castle" (see the end of my next-to-last post).

It was the first bus into town after breakfast, and there change to another line taking us to the small town (village?) of Gorey, overlooked by Mont Orgueil. This was our first view of the castle:
Fog does lend a special atmosphere to a place, don't you think? Climbing up towards the castle, we saw a bit more of it:
Looking out across the sea, there was a thin, white glow where water and sky met. The fog was lit up from behind, and it looked very surreal and very beautiful. Photos can only give a poor impression of it:
More of the castle:

Once you step inside, you find a maze of winding steps, dark passages, rooms large and small opening in the most unexpected corners. You turn another corner and find yet another staircase, and yet another passage to more rooms. For a while, you think you'll never manage to see them all, but we did get our bearings eventually and found all the nooks and crannies. We loved being able to go exploring on our own, without having to join a guided tour. Very well done of the Jersey Heritage people!

Every now and then, you reach a terrace or top of a tower, from where you can enjoy spectacular views... with or without fog:

There are various sculptures and other art works (such as holographic pictures) dotted around the castle. This huge silver tree represents all the kings and queens of England, a bit like a family tree.

A lady in medieval dress (down to her shoes) was playing music on various instruments of the time. In between playing, she explained about daily life in the castle as it once was. Just one of many volunteers doing a great job!

Slowly but surely, the sun was dissolving the fog:

Gorey Harbour:

The same house again, now without fog. Somehow, O.K. and I were fascinated by its layout. You can tell it is brand new (or at least the additions are), and parts of it are built into the slope.

Can anyone tell me the name of this bird? I thought it could be some kind of wagtail, but I am not sure:

We sat down for a snack at the nice little café/tea room at the bottom of the castle:

When we took another stroll around the harbour late in the afternoon, the fog was gone. Compare this picture to the first one of this post:

The following pictures are all by O.K.

Silly tourists!!

Mont Orgueil has actually three names. "Mont Orgueil" means "Mount Pride" or "Haughty Mount" in Jerriais, according to wikipedia. In English, the castle is Gorey Castle (the small town/village at its feet is called Gorey). Some Jerriais-speaking folk still call it lé Vièr Châté (the Old Castle). And old it is - construction began in the year 1204.

For centuries, it was Jersey's main defensive structure. But times changed, and so did weapons. With the advance of gunpowder, a castle like this was outdated, and when in the late 1500s Elizabeth Castle was being built, Mont Orgueil lost its importance.
Throughout the 17th century, it was still being used, now mainly as a prison.

The castle found various uses over the following centuries, and during the German occupation in the 1940s, it was fortified again - this time in a way as to blend in with the old walls. You can read a lot more in the above linked wikipedia article, and of course at the Jersey Heritage website.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Read in 2016 - 14: The Magic World

Edith Nesbit has been a firm favourite of mine ever since I started reading her books as a child. Back then, what I read were of course the German translations of her works, some of which are still in my bookcase.
Now that I have a kindle, access to the original English versions is much easier - I found plenty of her books available as free ebooks (without illustrations) at Amazon's kindle shop, and went on a veritable downloading spree after a post on Monica's blog reminded me of my old love for Nesbit's writing.

"The Magic World" (first published in 1912) consists of 12 short stories, 11 of which contain magic in various forms: animals that talk, people that transform into animals, objects that have magic properties (such as a spy-glass magnifying the objects observed through it), magicians, good and wicked fairies, dragons, and so on.
In one story - "The Related Muff" - I could not detect any magic, but the story still fits in with the rest, as it shows how things can go wrong without the people involved wanting them to, and how they can be made right again.

In one of the stories, a little girl enters a magic world through a wardrobe. Sounds familiar? Yes, C.S. Lewis was influenced by it when he wrote his first Narnia novel. Another story is reputed to have influenced Tolkien, while Nesbit herself knew Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and used similar elements in some of her stories.
The overall appeal of her writing lies, for me, not necessarily in the magic bits. It is her general style: clever, witty where appropriate, and never condescending (like some adults are when they talk to children, and probably were much more so in Nesbit's time).
There are messages in all her stories, often the same ones: Girls and boys are equal; animals are not to be mistreated; everyone makes mistakes; authoritiy should not be abused; things (and people) are not always what they seem; true love (and friendship being one form of it) conquers all.

Let me give you a few quotes from "The Magic World" to show you what I mean by her clever, witty way of writing:
There are things misfortune comes after as surely as night comes after day.
For instance, if you let all the water boil away, the kettle will have a hole burnt in it. If you leave the bath taps running and the waste-pipe closed, the stairs of your house will, sooner or later, resemble Niagara. If you leave your purse at home, you won't have it with you when you want to pay your tram-fare. And if you throw lighted wax matches at your muslin curtains, your parent will most likely have to pay five pounds to the fire engines for coming round and blowing the fire out with a wet hose.
Also if you are a king and do not invite the wicked fairy to your christening parties, she will come all the same. And if you do ask the wicked fairy, she will come, and in either case it will be the worse for the new princess.
So what is a poor monarch to do? Of course there is one way out of the difficulty, and that is not to have a christening party at all. But this offends all the good fairies, and then where are you?
Another good example:
'Why,' he said, 'I'm not afraid of you any more.'
'Of course not, we're friends now,' said the wind. 'That's because we joined together to do a kindness to some one. There's nothing like that for making people friends.'
'Oh,' said Sep.
'Yes,' said the wind, 'and now, old chap, when will you go out and seek your fortune? Remember how poor your father is, and the fortune, if you find it, won't be just for you, but for your father and mother and the others.'
'Oh,' said Sep, 'I didn't think of that.'
'Yes,' said the wind, 'really, my dear fellow, I do hate to bother you, but it's better to fix a time. [...] Shall we start to-night? There's no time like the present.'
'I do hate going,' said Sep.
'Of course you do!' said the wind, cordially. 'Come along. Get into your things, and we'll make a beginning.'
So Sep dressed, and he wrote on his slate in very big letters, 'Gone to seek our fortune,' and he put it on the table so that his mother should see it when she came down in the morning. And he went out of the cottage and the wind kindly shut the door after him.
How about this:
'I said, I don't wonder, Octavius,' said the China Cat, and rose from her sitting position, stretched her china legs and waved her white china tail.
'You can speak?' said Tavy.
'Can't you see I can?--hear I mean?' said the Cat. 'I belong to you now, so I can speak to you. I couldn't before. It wouldn't have been manners.'
Oh, I could go on and on with excerpts, but I fear I would either bore you to tears or make you think there was no need anymore to read it yourselves. Well, maybe there is no need, but I can hihgly recommend "The Magic World".

Edith Nesbit (1858 - 1924) had a life I certainly do not envy her for: Losing her father when she was only four years old, and having a sister who was always ill; later, a stormy and scandalous marriage (she and her husband lived with the husband's mistresses and their children, adopted by Nesbit); the death of her own son at 15.
Money was the original driving force behind her writing, but it would take a while before her books became profitable. She ended up writing around 40 books for children and collaborating on another 20 or so. Her works include some novels for adults, too, but I have not yet come across any of them.
She and her husband were firm socialists and politically very active.
After her husband died, she married again, staying with her second husband until the end of her life, which came at 65, probably through lung cancer.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Elizabeth Castle

Go back one post if you have missed the start of our Town Day and want to see a bit of St. Helier, Jersey's capital. As I said at the end of that post, we walked on to Elizabeth Castle, which fully deserves its own post, and here it is.

Walking along the piers and seeing the different parts of the harbour brought us to the place on the Esplanade from where you can either take an amphibious car or ferry to the castle (when the tide is in or if you don't feel like walking), or walk across the sands on a path of concrete slabs laid there specifically for that purpose early in the 20th century.
Guess which approach we chose :-)

For about 300 years, Elizabeth Castle was Jersey's main defensive structure. The soldiers stationed on the island did not yet have the luxury of the concrete path, and many drowned on their way over, simply because they were too drunk to judge the time it would take them to walk over, and then the incoming tide caught up with them. 

Looking back towards where we came from: (picture by O.K.)

The earliest parts of the castle date back to 1594, but bits were still being added until the early 19th century, whether it be barracks, a military hospital or work on the fortifications according to the latest developments in military engineering of the time.
Sir Walter Raleigh had his Governor's seat here from 1600 to 1603, but never lived there - he preferred to stay in town. It was he who gave the castle its name, of course in honour of his Queen, Elizabeth I.

Some time before the year 550, a  monk of Belgian origin arrived on the island we now know as Jersey, accompanied by another monk. The men were Helier and Romard, and they found a small community of fishermen at the place that is now Jersey's capital. They were eager to learn the new faith, but Helier especially had mainly come here to find the peace and quiet he craved. Instead of living with his community, he chose the remotest of the chain of islets off Jersey's coast, and built himself a shelter, where he would live and spend his days and nights in prayer and contemplation for about 13 years. 
His companion travelled back and forth between the islet and the fishing village, and every now and then, Helier must have done that, too, because he apparently found time to perform a miracle every now and then. He also warned the fishermen about approaching ships (which usually meant nothing good), seeing them first from his vantage point. You can read this and some more about Helier here on wikipedia; it makes an interesting story, whether you believe in saints or not.

I doubt the single room dwelling on top of the rock was whitewashed at Helier's time; it was probably very cold, windy and uncomfortable - perfect for an ascetic hermit. However, the house offered spectacular views in all directions. Of course Elizabeth Castle did not yet exist, and there was no connecting road between Helier's islet and the one where the castle now stands.

Picture by O.K. Yes, that pink dot is me.

We wandered around the castle and visited one of several museums/exhibitions inside the former barracks. The exhibition we saw was very well done and informative. You could see how living and working conditions changed throughout the centuries, and how they varied between the higher ranks and the common soldiers, who sometimes had their wives and children with them.
Drinking and petty crimes were a huge problem in the overcrowded quarters; part of the soldiers' payment was given in cider, and they had nothing to do most of the time. Much later, conditions improved somewhat, but learning about such things always makes me double glad and grateful that I live where I live and when I live.

Some more pictures O.K. took:

View towards St. Helier:

One of the volunteers working there for Jersey Heritage talked to us for a while. He was one of those people who are truly enthusiastic about what they do, and it was a pleasure listening to him. He recommended Mont Orgueil to us, saying that to him, that was THE castle. We had already decided that we wanted to see the place anyway, so we were happy to have our idea for the next day confirmed by his comments.

Monday, 23 May 2016

St. Helier

Tuesday, the 10th of May, was going to be our "Town Day". We took an early bus from Bouley Bay into St. Helier (only 7 km apart - see map -, but the bus of course takes in many tiny settlements and villages along the way, making the trip about half an hour long) and walked around the city for some time.

When the clock struck 12, the figures on the facade of Rivoli Jewellers began to move, and there were at least two different scenes - I was too slow to capture them on camera in time. The one you see here was accompanied by bells ringing out the tune of "Who Wants To Be a Milliionaire":

This toad does not always carry a seagull on its head:

The following pictures are all O.K.'s, and I am glad I am allowed to use them here!
As you can see, the tide was out when we arrived. It is a little odd to see all these boats grounded, but of course they don't stay like this all the time.

There was more water in a different part of the harbour:

It's not all picturesque little fishing boats and rich folks' yachts there. This is very much a working harbour:

We did a little bit of shopping (mostly of the window type). St. Helier's centre is not unlike many other towns and cities I have visited in the UK, with the familiar high street names present, such as M&S, Costa Coffee, Jo Malone, Molton Brown, Boots, Monsoon, Dorothy Perkins, Waterstone's, WHSmith and so on. There are maybe a few more glossy boutiques and plenty more jewellers than what you'd find in an average town of the same size (roughly 35.000 inhabitants) elsewhere, but this is Jersey for you - its special administrative and political situation makes it particularly attractive for People With Money.

Later, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at Marks & Spencers. The food and drink was alright, but I was not impressed with the upkeep and general atmosphere of the restaurant - it wasn't very clean, and it was rather noisy (which is of course not really the restaurant's fault). Still, we needed something to eat, and sitting down for a few minutes was welcome, too - there was quite a bit of walking in store for us in the afternoon, when we went around the harbour area and across the sands to Elizabeth Castle.

That, however, will be the subject of another post.