Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Crown Peculiar

The Queen (with no crown?)

Rozel Bay window, Jersey

Michael and I check out the view to France
Is Jersey part of England? It lies in the English Channel, just 12 kilometres from France – you can see France from Jersey. It has its own parliamentary system, and makes its own laws. Famously, it is a tariff free port and has very low taxation (every billboard on your way into the airport is for a financial institution). Here’s what I learnt on my recent visit: Jersey was, way back, part of Normandy and part of the lands of William of Normandy, known to us as William The Conqueror (or Guillaume le Conquérant if you were from Jersey). In 1066, when William conquered England, Normandy – and Jersey – came with him. The French later recovered Normandy, but despite numerous attempts over the years they never managed to regain Jersey. These days, Jersey answers directly to the British Crown, not the British Parliament. The Crown provides defence for Jersey, and a rather ceremonial Lieutenant-Governor, and the Jersey people go their own way. The official term for this arrangement is ‘Peculiar of the Crown’.

Mont Orgueil and Gorey Harbour

But enough of politics and government: I spent a charming weekend in Jersey (despite the unusual snow), and it reminded me a lot of my home island of Tasmania. Perhaps there’s something about islands. Jersey has lighthouses, long cold beaches, wild water now and then, a lavender farm, wonderful local produce, including potatoes, farmland, cows...as I said, very like Tassie. There are a few differences of course – the language for one thing. French is still common on Jersey. The local language is called Jèrriais, and is a kind of Norman French.
Local yummy things

It was wonderful to see the sea – I had forgotten how long it was since I last saw the sea. Jersey has several castles and various fortifications because of its long history of being fought over. It was also occupied by Germany for five years during the second world war, when more bunkers and fortifications were built. The island is the largest of the Channel Islands (the other main ones being Guernsey, Alderney and Sark), and is the most southerly of them. It’s 45 square miles, roughly 9 miles long and 5 miles wide. Brigitta, Michael and I managed a full circumnavigation, with many stops and investigation of byways, in a few pleasant hours on a Sunday drive.

Jersey - at low tide?

Jersey people have always fished. The island has amazingly high tides – up to 12 metres – and it’s said that the island is half as big again at low tide. The whole place is really just a big lump of granite, and it’s sometimes called ‘The Rock’. The local fish, by the way, is absolutely delicious – I can speak for the scallops and the sea bass, at least (deliciously cooked by Brigitta).

Local sea bass: the best!

'Jersey Royals'
It was wonderful shopping in the markets for lovely fresh food – Jersey cheese (from those contented Jersey cows), Jersey honey, local pate, baguette (of course), and the famous Jersey Royals: small, delicious potatoes, a strain discovered by a Jersey farmer.

In addition to cows and potatoes and fish, you will have heard of the term ‘jersey’ applied to a sweater: Jersey for centuries had a huge knitting industry in which the whole island was involved.

I should also tell you about a local liege lord named Sir George Carteret, who kept Jersey on the side of the Royalists during the English Civil War (1642-ish). The reason he will be of interest to you is that, despite being on the losing side, Carteret managed to keep the tenure of all his lands, including a gift of land given to him by Charles I – in America. That’s the bit that became known as....New Jersey, of course!

Baguette, anyone?
A few final factoids – because I know you probably don’t get many chances to learn about Jersey: Lily Langtry, the famous mistress of Edward VIII, was born on Jersey – they called the ‘Jersey Lily’. The population is about 90,000 and the funds under management are over £400 billion (2004 figures). And the name of the charming capital is St Helier. Now you’ll be right for the next Trivia Night.

Many, many thanks to my kind hosts Brigitta and Michael for a fab weekend!

Warm friends on a cold weekend.

Jersey coast line (pun intended).

Map from: http://www.math.temple.edu/~anne/

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