Friday, 10 November 2017

Métivier Day

I'd like to organise a party to celebrate the life and works of George Métivier. He has apparently been called the 'Guernsey Burns'. I say apparently because I've never really heard anybody call him anything whatsoever. As far as I'm aware, most people have never heard of George Métivier.

This lack of interest in him and his poetry is part of my motivation to organise a party in his honour. Aside from that, I'm looking for an excuse to organise a little shindig (mulled cider and beanjar anyone?). Still, I reckon I can list reasons why I think he - out of millions of people from the past - deserves a special get-together.

(For my sake, imagine the following statements are all prefaced with in my opinion):
His poetry is excellent. He is a local treasure. He could be a national hero for Guernsey. His portrait(s) should be emblazoned across any Visit Guernsey promotional material. We should try to recreate some of the ways of thinking and ways of behaving enshrined in his body of work (that said, I haven't even bought myself a lobster pot yet - I've a long way to go before I'm ready to whistle Norman folktunes while knitting my own Guernsey during breaks from vraic-gathering).

Burns Night is a Scottish tradition with more than two hundred years worth of observance. On 25th January each year, people across the planet host and attend suppers that glorify Scottish food, drink, music and poetry.

Métivier was born on 29th January. That sounds like a good date on which to glorify Guernsey food, drink, music and poetry. (Picture me on Monday 29th January 2018 with my bit gâche, my kazoo primed for a solo performance of Sarnia Cherie (the dog the only audience member) - I'll be happy, and if anyone wants to join me then v'la qui vaout).

I haven't really given any proper evidence regarding Georgie Boy's right to glorification. In order to rectify that, here are some pub-ready Métivier facts for sprinkling into casual banter:

  • his beard was prodigious
  • he translated The Gospel According to Matthew into Guernsey-French
  • his work blends the classical and the everyday 
  • a lot of the oral history and folklore he recorded would otherwise be lost
  • he studied medicine in England and Scotland
  • but gave it up to focus on literature
  • he was close friends with local painter and poet Denys Corbet 
  • and maintained correspondence with Jersey poet Robert Pipon Marett
  • Victor Hugo was the one to name him 'the Guernsey Burns'

The most oft-quoted piece of his work Métivier verse is as follows:

Veis-tu l’s écllaers, os-tu l’tounère?
Lé vent érage et la née a tché!
Les douits saont g’laïs, la gnièt est nère -
Ah, s’tu m’ôimes ouvre l’hus - ch’est mé!

     Do you see the lightning, do you hear the thunder?
     The wind is raging and the snow has fallen!
     The douits are frozen, the night is dark -
     Ah, if you love me open the door - it’s me!  

I would just like to point out that that piece of poetry mentions douits. Could you find me a more locally-referential 19th century lyric? Well, there's plenty more where that came from. The excellent Toad and the Donkey anthology is a really good place to start and the Priaulx Library has loads more to boot.

l'homme Métrosexuel, right? grrr

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Talk About It

I don't have any answers. I can listen though. And talking about it has to be a good idea.

Today I saw a line of seagulls at the very shore. The sand all around a brilliant reflection of the low sun. It seemed orchestrated actually. You know, though, that I'm a raging lunatic. I like that we can share that. I'm not calling you a loony. More like I'm calling you my mate, which might make you unhinged anyway.

You remember laughing like that. We should talk about it. Not reminiscing. Sometimes when that's all there is it feels hollow and sad.

Of course I'm a fine one to talk about sadness. I'm no longer past it, in a numb state. I'm no longer paralysed by fear. But so what. I almost cried at an insurance advert. And I did cry at one for a Thai banking firm. They really know how to jerk the emotions out of me, one shakey breath at a time.

We should share a knowledge that we knew each other then and that we could know each other again. You were happy here. You saw the gulls, too, right?

Of course no-one else saw that view at that moment. There was a pair of German tourists nearby. They were further along at that point and I never saw them look back.

Imagine the regret at the instant you know that you're dying. Having to get off the ride. It's still spinning. Music plays all the while. Bright lights are intoxicating. And you say you want to stop? Let me shut up. I'll listen. You can talk about whatever you want.

They always use the phrase 'bottle it up'. Never do that. Don't bottle it up. Don't stuff the thoughts somewhere unseen. Don't hold on to it like it's something the others will hate. It's not some precious madness that they'll never forgive. They don't want to steal your thoughts either.

Just talk about it. For me, it was that line of gulls on the shore. They were like something out of a postcard. They were like a dream to me.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Pumpkin Recipe for Guernsey-French Class: Part One

Recently I've been taking Guernsey-French classes. Our teacher, Yan, suggested that before the next class we prepare recipes to discuss in Guernsey-French. Notwithstanding my lack of cooking vocabulary, I need to get the process of making something straight in my mind before I can describe it in any language. Hence my need to make a blogpost about what I did with a pumpkin this evening.

The pumpkin (now I do know that one: pang-pang, though that's almost certainly not best to spell it that way) seems an obvious choice at this time of year.

By the way, I'd welcome any suggestions from anyone on how to describe the following recipe in Guernsey-French.

I cut the pumpkin in half and scooped out the seeds.

I removed the skin from the pumpkin and cut it into cubes.

I rinsed the seeds in a colander, removing any pieces of pumpkin flesh. Then I placed the seeds in a bowl with a generous spoonful of olive oil and a teaspoon of baharat seasoning. After stirring thoroughly, I spread the seeds on greaseproof paper in a baking tray. I then put them in the oven (at 150°) for 45 minutes.
While the seeds were roasting, I heated some oil in a saucepan and added in some crushed and chopped garlic. Once this started to sizzle I added chopped onions, some grated ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric and a little water.
I added my pumpkin to the pan. After stirring up the mixture and adding a little more water, I brought it all to the boil, turned down the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

Now it's all been served and eaten, I have to work out how to describe the process in Guernsey-French.
I mean, I know that seeds are groins in Guernsey-French. Could roasted pumpkin seeds be roti groins de pang-pang? I doubt it's that easy. Wish me luck, anyway.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Learn a Poem Challenge - The Lamentations of Damaris by George Métivier

The challenge has gone round at work – 'learn summat! It’s good for you!' (This challenge being part of a campaign to make us fitter, healthier, wiser and more mindful). 

Well, all right then. I will learn something. I’ll even pick something from the list of suggestions. Let’s consider these: “learn how to cook something new”. Daily I slave avail-lessly in an experimental fashion with vegetables and pots and pans trying to make something that approximates to edible matter. I reckon I’ve got that one covered. For the time being. Thank you. Berry much. 

Next: “learn how to fix something” – this I can do. I will do. This I need to do, in fact. 

Come to think of it, I really better get on and fix that bike of mine. With wet weather being so much more common now that winter’s properly in the post winging its way here-wards, the brakes I’ve been meaning to sort properly for a while, well, those are now deadly. And today, out of the blue, the blooming cable for my blinking rear derailleur on my goodness-knows-wonderful bike went and popped off with a pop sound like a pair of trousers splitting on my oversized behind.

I’ll fix that. But I want to learn something else. “learn a poem” says the Health Promotion Unit poster. Perfect! Here goes.

I will memorise and recite part of a Métivier poem (George Métivier: the author of the first Guernsey dictionary, wrote in the local language). I've chosen The Lamnetations of Damaris, which, despite being very specific to the 1820s in this Norman isle, feels timeless for me, as a Guernseyman, especially with its mention of somebody angry at the States knocking something down. Come on. The protagonist/persona of Métivier's poem "bitterly blameth the States" (chés tout-en-travers d'Etats!). It could be set in 2020 for all we know.

Please forgive my reading. Mea culpa, as always. The text, I'll post below. Video pending. Bisous.


Lamentations of Damaris

Old Fountain Street's all in a flutter,
Its dwellers are all in a stew,
There is growling from garret to gutter,
That the old must give place to the new!
Damaris harangueth her neighbours,
And bitterly blameth the States,
For enacting such wide demolition
Like aught but beneficent Fates!

Quoth the Dame: "I have lived in my rat-hole,
In quiet, for sixty odd years!
My blessed, old dirty, old attic,
The hearth of my hopes and my fears!
But the poor must submit to the wealthy,
The humble bow down to the grand;
We had better be laid 'neath the daisies,
In the churchyard of Mister Durand!
"It is said that pride preludes destruction,
But we are annoyed all the same;
Yes, Sirs, you may sulk or look smiling,
But I'll say what I think of your game!
To treat an old creature like me, so,
And pull down my crib as it stands,
Whence one can from the third-story window,
With one's opposite neighbour shake hands!

"My father and mother have dwelt there,
Have eaten their soup and their bit,
Have gathered their bairnies about them,
In that blessed old niche where I sit,
Aunt Ann spent her evenings with glee there,
And there, as young bairns, we were nursed,
Yet you harshly drive out the old woman,
Would it were in a coffin, feet first!"

(translation taken from J. Linwood Pitts’ anthology The Patois Poems of the Channel Islands, 1883)

If you'd like more background on the poem, I'd recommend the Priaulx Library's excellent page on it. Additionally, they have this page here on Fountain Street as it existed in 1763. Clearly, Métivier's not the only one to say that the top story windows in opposite buildings on 'old Fountain Street' came so close that residents were able to shake hands from building to building. Seems like those States Works boys were doing the right thing when they brought those homes down to widen the way. Still, Damaris lost her home, so I can see it from her point of view. (enough rambling).

Before reading this poem I didn't know that Damaris is a figure from the Bible, one of Paul's letters to be precise. She was present at one of Paulie's speeches, it says in Acts.

By the way, the text of the poem I have included above is abridged. My video of the poem, which I'm trying and failing (at the moment) to upload here, features an even more abridged version.

from Patois Poems of the Channel Islands

Georgie Boy himself

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Sources Say

sources say the heart of the river is a mixed meltdown pure and simple - America's number one diplomat in China has quit, say sources - sources say that Jennifer Garner confronted Lindsay Shookus - she rode into town aboard an inflatible swam atop a wave of holy water, sources say - unnamed sources claim that Russian intelligence hacked the Oscars - Justice League is a mess say sources close to Batman on Film - sources say we have lingered in the chambers of the sea - he headed to the Green Shutters after dark, they say - brought his mistress with him apparently - sources say that we'd prefer a free afternoon - the speckled cat slept on my knee, they say - and all this is just noise

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Peake & Pye in Sark

The Sark Folk Festival begins this Friday. When I've been in the past there's been a happy atmosphere and, with its mixture of varied music and friendly people, it's not been difficult to enjoy. Also, they lay on some good cider.

Preparing to travel to Sark is making me think of Mr Pye. I read Mervyn Peake's slimline, fabulistic novel while camping in Sark a couple of years ago. It is a unique and charming book, in which the island of Sark is described in great detail and with much affection, so that it becomes as much of a character as the titular newcomer.

Peake's loving descriptions of the island must have come fairly easily, as the author spent so much time on the island. He was part of a collective of artists and bohemian types that moved to the island (on Peake's part to do outdoor nude painting according to some sources) and built a gallery that is now the island's post office.

a not-nude Mervyn Peake (possibly thinking about being nude)

Peake illustrated a number of children's books, though some of his work was rejected for being too gruesome.  Below are some examples.

one of Peake's illustrations for The Hunt for the Snark

from Peake's illustrations for Alice in Wonderland

from Peake's illustrations for The Rime of the Anceint Mariner

As well as being a bit of a dab hand at the old drawing, penning the trilogy of novels for which he's best known: Gormenghast, painting in the nip on Sark and writing Mr Pye, Peake wrote some brilliant poetry. He mostly wrote what he called nonsense verse and most of that was aimed at children. There are a few examples below:

"The paper is breathless
  Under the hand 
  And the pencil is poised
  Like a warlock's wand."

"O'er seas that have no beaches
To end their waves upon,
I floated with twelve peaches,
A sofa and a swan."

"Leave the stronger
and the lesser
things to me!
Lest that conger
named Vanessa
who is longer
than a dresser
visits thee."

"Each day I live in a glass room
Unless I break it with the thrusting
Of my senses and pass through
The splintered walls to the great landscape."

Finally, I particularly like the sentiment expressed by one character in Mr Pye.That's Tintagieu, who's described as "five foot three inches of sex" and she asks: "Can't a thing just be itself without its having to mean something?".

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

李紳 - 憫農: Li Shen - Pity Farmers

A lot of effort goes in to growing the food that we eat. That may be obvious, but it can also be comforting to see continuity between what's obvious now and realities enshrined in poetry over 1,000 years ago. 

illustration depicting Li Shen's poem taken from

The following poem is one of the canonised classics of Chinese poetry that appear in the collection Three Hundred Tang Poems. The collection was first brought together in 1763.Despite what the title might lead readers to believe, this cornerstone anthology comprises 326 poems that were written during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). 
chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
weed grain during noon
hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
sweat drops grain down earth.
shuí zhī pán zhōngcān,
who would have thought one lunch,
lì lì jiē xīnkǔ.
each grain hard work.

This poem was written by Li Shen (), who was an official of the Tang dynasty who served as chancellor for a time. During his lifetime Li Shen became renowned for his poems depicting rural life.

I like the following translation from Peter Wang, since it maintains the concise nature of the original .

Farmers weeding at noon,
Sweat down the field soon.
Who knows food on a tray
Thanks to their toiling day?

However, below is an alternative, from Andrew W.F. Wong. It elaborates well on the sense behind the text.

He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun,
Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat:
Each grain, each ev’ry granule, the fruit of his labour done.

illustration taken from Flickr user vacquey
taken from
credit: 易界神刀