31 May 2013

Living in the Past

One of the most common nasty things said about New Zealand is that on arrival, you go back 20 (or 30, or 50) years into the past. I've always found that to be a cruel thing to say (and now quite untrue), but have to admit that in the 1980s it did feel a bit like the 1970s, or earlier. Quiet, terrible coffee, bright walls, plastic chairs, and bland food.

A few days ago I passed through Jersey's port of Saint Helier (Google Map) on my way to St Peter Port in Guernsey. Being much closer to France than the UK mainland, Jersey and Guernsey were the only parts of the UK to be occupied during the second world war, a legacy that lives on in the street names and attitudes. Occupation saw Russian POWs brought in to build the fortifications that dot the coast. Underfed and poorly treated, accepting any food surreptitiously passed over or under the wire by locals, already themselves burdened with inadequate rations.

Sadly the coffee shop at the port is also a reminder of days gone by. While the city is becoming a strange morphing of Canary Wharf's glass faced buildings and old French(ish) village square, there has been no modernisation of the restaurant at the port. Truly it feels like traveling back to the 1980s or earlier. The coffee is better (just), but the food and ambiance is dire. Oh, and in a nod to the occupation, all the accents are Slavic.

It should be impossible to make a bad cheeseburger. Should. But under wartime conditions, who would be surprised by a little sawdust to fill out the meat content? Still, it is nicely in context for the era, whichever era Jersey remains firmly locked in.