Posted in Travel

What Size is Your Jersey?

This exaggerated-colour image of Jersey was ta...
Satellite view of Jersey (Image via Wikipedia)

Collecting our hire car at the airport, I wonder whether fuel will be cheaper on this island, renowned for its lenient taxation.  I don’t have the chance to find out.

“The tank’s half full but don’t bother replenishing it before you return the car,” says the chirpy young man at the Hertz desk.

“But we’re here for five days – will that be enough?”

He smiles kindly, as one might at a child who’s just asked a sweetly naive question.

“Jersey is a small island, you know.  Half a tank will last you more than twice five days.”

I accept his advice.  I’m never one to rush to the petrol pump, the red zone on my fuel gauge being a familiar friend of mine – as is the area just below the letter “E” for “Empty”.  This approach always makes for a more interesting journey.

Prior to our trip, I’ve read in the guide book that the roads in Jersey are very narrow.  This does not worry me.  Where I live in rural Gloucestershire, there are plenty of single-track roads.  Provided you make a mental note of the passing places as you drive, the worst that can happen is that you have to reverse more often than you’d choose.

What I hadn’t expected was the island’s low speed limit.  It’s just 40mph at its fastest, 30 or less in built-up areas and down to 15 in “Green Lanes” (whatever they are).  As most of the roads are barely the width of our hired Ford Ka, I’m not sure how the road network can accommodate the cars of affluent residents.  (I spot more Rolls Royces in our five days on the island than I’ve seen in Gloucestershire all year.) The few roads that are multi-laned are always packed bumper-to-bumper with slow-moving traffic.

But it doesn’t matter that every journey is slow, because the distance to be travelled is tiny. Looking at the map, you assume a trip to the other side of the island will be a pleasant day out, so it comes as a shock when you arrive at your destination in less than half an hour.

We are staying in St Helier on the south coast. The drive to the zoo, near the north coast, takes about five minutes.  So although we are forced to drive slowly, it still feels as if we’re driving at great speed because we reach our destinations so quickly.  Sometimes it’s not even possible to map read as fast as we travel. I feel like I’m queen of the island, I’m mistress of the entire Jersey road network.

The low speed limit also makes the island seem bigger than it really is.  If we applied normal British speed restrictions, it would seem even tinier.  Any small state despot should follow suit: it will make him feel much more important.

If we were using at a road map that included the European mainland visible from Jersey’s east coast, we’d soon gain a true sense  of perspective.  But as the only land mass on our tourist map is the island itself, it’s easy to forget  how small it is – especially when the brochures are constantly boasting that we’re on the largest Channel Island.

I’m reminded of the long-suffering Miss Hardy, who had the misfortune to be my Geography teacher before the subject became cool.  The environmental movement must be a gift to Geography teachers everywhere, making the subject  relevant to pupils’ every day lives. I still struggle to find a practical use for my intimate knowledge of the jute production cycle. No wonder we got bored enough to play pranks, one by one hiding under the desks whenever her back was turned until the classroom seemed empty.

Despite our bad behaviour, Miss Hardy’s face would light up whenever she talked about a year she’d spent on an exchange in  an Australian school.  She told us once “I said to my hosts ‘You are so lucky to live on an island!’ and they said to me ‘But you do!'”  What a delightfully colonial mistake to make.  And if a Geography teacher can get confused about scale, I’ll not be too harsh on myself for my own misconception of Jersey.

I’m less sympathetic to the couple in front of me at the admissions desk to Jersey Museum.

“The island’s so much bigger than we thought it would be,” the woman was saying in a plaintive voice.  “In one episode of Bergerac, we saw John Nettles  on the north west coast, and the next minute he was in St Helier.  It took us half an hour to make the same journey!”

The lady behind the desk gave a wry smile.  I don’t think it was the first time she’d fielded this complaint.

“That’s just the editing,” she said patiently.  “It’s what television people do.”

Good old Bergerac, he must really have boosted tourism to the island – no wonder the museum attendant rushed to his defence. But I don’t think I’d choose him as my tour guide.

Posted in Travel

Have Hairdrier, Will Travel

Flybe Dash 8 in planform view
The Flybe Dash 800 - matching curling tongs also available (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m crossing the Channel in a hairdrier.  Or so it seems to me. As soon as the pilot starts the twin engines of the small Flybe Dash 800 on which I’m travelling to Jersey, the propellors judder noisily with that distinctive buzz normally associated with a blow-dry.  It makes my whole body vibrate. Though the speed of their rotation soon renders the propellors invisible, the noise only increases and I quickly realise it’s going to be with us the whole way – in the unlikely event that the engines don’t drop off along the way.

I should have anticipated that our plane would be so tiny when the stewardess at the gate told us we’d be “walked” to it for boarding.  To be able to nuzzle up so closely to the terminal, the aircraft would have to be pretty small.

It turns out to be only slightly bigger than the Air Luxembourg plane I took once as a teenager when couriering computer parts for my engineer father.  (Well, Luxembourg is a tiny country, they have to make best use of their airspace.)  As one of a small group of passengers, I was put on a bus to the plane.  After a few moments’ drive across the tarmac, the bus stopped and opened its doors.  I was puzzled – why were were stopping when there was no plane in sight?  Only when I stepped off the bus did I discover why: the plane was so small that it fitted below the sightline of the bus window.

On board awaiting take-off, a chirpy stewardess strolled down the aisle offering a quaint straw basket of sweets.  We passengers each seized a handful, hopeful that they contained an anti-emetic, if not cyanide.

But our Jersey-bound plane today proves bigger inside than it looks.  The official capacity is 78 passengers.  About a third of this number are on board.  The stewardess quickly curtails anyone’s intention of spreading out.

“Please consult a stewardess before changing seats,” she announces over the tannoy. “This aircraft is movement sensitive.”

We sit very still after that, worried that the slightest motion could change our course. Flip a page of the inflight magazine too quickly and we could end up in Guernsey – or the sea.

In less than an hour, we’re landing in Jersey, but only after a white-knuckle touchdown.  Never usually an anxious flyer, I think I’m about to become one.  Normally I love the moment when the plane first contacts the ground, making you suddenly aware of the tremendous speed at which you’ve been travelling.  But this time the rush is too much. It’s accompanied by loud gasps and ill-suppressed shrieks.  Moving as one, we grip the back of the seat in front of us, stiff-armed to guard against concusion on its headrest.  If ever there was a moment in my flying experience that I’ve expected the stewardess to cry “BRACE, BRACE!” in earnest, as heralded in every preflight safety talk, this is it.  If we carry on taxiing at this rate, we’ll run out of Jersey before we stop. We’ll be ditching into the sea beyond its shore.  That lifejacket under my seat is about to see active service.  I make a mental note not to inflate it before leaving the aircraft.

Welcome sign in Jèrriais in arrivals at Jersey...
A Welcome sight indeed - Jersey Airport's welcome sign in local languagu Jerriais (Image via Wikipedia)

But in the nick of time, the brakes take full effect, and not a moment too soon we’re inside the tiny terminal claiming our baggage from the carousel.  As I wait for my polka dot travel bag to appear, I wonder why no-one ever warned me of the perils of this tiny, bumpy, noisy flight to Jersey.  Is it because I don’t know anyone who’s lived to tell the tale?

Ah, but I do – and it comes back to me that just the other week a friend was singing the praises of Channel Island flights.  Who was it again?  Ah yes, my hairdresser, Natasha.  Well, I suppose for her, travelling in a hairdryer would make her feel right at home.