Saturday, 19 April 2008

What’s Guernésiais for ‘God bless England’?

So when I was, y’know, knee high to a grasshopper and family holidays were STRICTY a case of going to a desolate tin shack in Pembrokeshire, there seemed to be so little scope of going to an actual foreign country that the Isle Of White and, in particular, the Channel Islands exuded a certain El Dorado-like quality – exotic and isolated, yes, but surely their boundless mysteries were tangible, obtainable? Basically like all children, I was an idiot, and obviously now I am now a man of the world I scoff at such thoughts. I scoff heartily. Especially the ones about the Isle Of White, as I went there a couple of years ago and it were rubbish, like.

But anyway, my erstwhile housemate Jon Macrae got married last weekend, and thus after four years of mocking him from being from Guernsey, I ended up there myself. It’s not hard to trump the superannuated charms of the Isle Of White (which fossils do you prefer? The ones you dig up from the beaches or the ones wandering around in the streets), but Guernsey is far from rubbish, it’s very charming. Of course living in a charming place does weird things to your head, and Jon was ever a man possessed of somewhat rightwing attitudes. I’m fairly sure I now know why: despite the fact they spoke Guernésiais (a version of French) until the 19th century, nowadays Guernsey is basically 1950s England. Seriously, beyond a general lingering fondness for Maggie Thatcher, there’s almost no evidence of the last six decades having occurred. There are idyllic meadows, content townsfolk who say ‘hello’ when you pass, lolloping hordes of obese, docile rabbits, and St Martins, the hamlet or whatever that I stayed in, was so epically quaint that I couldn’t actually work out whether or not I was in the centre. There are apparently a couple of dozen Latvians on the island, which has upset people no end. There is no NHS. The cars only have four or five digit number plates. They have £1 notes. There is almost no street lighting. The main road is the one with the pavement. I didn’t see a single non-white person. The fact two of the hymns in the service – I Vow To Thee My Country and Jerusalem – were misty eyed peons not to Guernsey but England wasn’t so much an irony lost on people as one so glaringly patent there’s no point commenting on it. Oh, and my dress sense was apparently so garish by local standards that in the course of an afternoon wander into St Peter Port, the main town, I scored myself four beeps of car horns and, weirdly, a thumbs up off a pair of 12 year olds.
Anyways, it’s a bit like stepping into a sort of idealised version of England’s past, it made me fervently grateful that I grew up in ugly, cosmopolitan old Birmingham, and I’m actually surprised Jon didn’t actually turn out even stranger. But that’s just me, and it really is very nice; my hotel was the type of discreetly classy establishment that leaves me feeling like a fraud (I got a good online deal, y’see), but it was only a couple of minutes walk down to some lovely, wildflower-strewn cliffs, the sea was a perfect greeny blue, the weather was nice, I was a happy boy. I topped off my general outlandishness by sitting on a bench atop a cliff reading Edward Said’s Orientalism, thus potentially scaling a brave new height of pretentiousness.

Church weddings always kind of freak me out (well the two I’ve been to), I suppose because they’re these highly ritualised affairs that inevitably make you feel kind of hypocritical as a non practicing Christian. I mean, singing a hymn about how great God or England or England and God are... it’s just not what I’d come out with in real life. And I definitely wouldn’t sing about them. Except perhaps in the righteous arena of the karaoke bar. And I’m not saying I object to the principal of it all, it’s just that it’s a bit weird that the whole thing is kind of this performance designed to add gravitas to what is essentially a short legal ceremony in the backroom that none of us even get to see. I mean, it’s great for the priest and stuff, but Jon’s not a religious man (well, not a churchgoer), and I do kind of think that church weddings for non religious people are just a way of covering up the fact that the actual legal marriage process is kind of boring. Like, if the legalese required, I dunno, a trapezing bear or something then maybe less people would bother draping their day in religious ritual. Obviously a massive flaw with that argument is that plenty of practising types believe in God in some way shape or form, and even if they’re not regular churchgoers they want some sort of spiritual dimension to the wedding. Also two even if they’re vehement atheists (well, probably not if they’re vehement atheists), marriage is supposed to be lifelong love commitment, etcetera etcetera, and people want the chance to stand up in front of their nearest and dearest and be all in love. I suppose it’s just that I feel like I’m being a bad friend by singing a hymn about how much of a dude God is and not meaning it, like I’m going to jinx the love. Also, while fundamentally very moving, the bit where Jon said he would honour Alicia with his body was a bit, erm, well, I dunno, it could maybe have been a splash more street?

I know, I know, I’m a monster. Hey ho.

Anyway, everything went well, reception was basically dandy... best man’s speech involved copious jokes at the expense of the island’s Latvian population, which I thought was a bit awful, though I suppose somewhat ameliorated by the fact an obscure bailiwick having a grudge against an obscure Baltic state is pretty funny. Later on I sort of semi-started to confront him about it, but, erm, he clearly wasn’t up for a row and having a go at the best man/setting oneself up as a righteous champion of Eastern European feelings at what is supposed to be the happiest day of your friend’s life is kind of rude, so I just weakly changed tack after about 30 seconds. Go me.
I got chatting to the (English) wedding photographer, who was telling me she occasionally got taken for a Latvian because of her red hair, that not being part of the Guernsey gene pool. In fact the gene pool in Guernsey sounds fascinating – she was telling me that her fiancé often jokes(?) that the best thing to ever happen to the island was the German occupation, as it added some fresh blood, so to speak. He’s from Guernsey, so it’s okay for him to say that, au naturalle. She also asked me to plug her services on my blog. I don’t have the web address here, but I may add it later. After all, you never know when you might need to get married on a random British island. Anyway, good times, basically, I naturally ended up righteously drunk, not least because of my really wise decision to hoover up the remains of everyone else’s dessert wine. I don’t believe I’ve ever got pissed on dessert wine before, but I didn’t half have weird dreams – basically I was on the Palatine hill, interviewing a bunch of vampires about their new musical adaptation of an episode of Futurama. Interpret that, motherfucker.

On a final note, the wedding cake was entirely comprised of muffins. This is a very good idea, all take note, please.

Oh yeah, and Alicia Macrae (as she is now known) seems very nice indeed, happiness, fertility etcetera upon them both.

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