If you’ve been to the cinema at any time in the last month you can’t have failed to notice the thundering avalanche of hype for the latest installment in the Transformers movie franchise. Calling these films “blockbusters” doesn’t really do the job of describing what they are: ruthlessly designed to be bigger, louder and more explodey than anything else you might pay to do for three hours of your life.
Transformers films are the logical conclusion of a direction that our culture has been heading in since the 1970s, and it’s almost irrelevant to note that they are overlong, badly plotted and pitched at the intellectual level of a seven year old boy. If that sounds like a criticism it’s not – these movies exist to be unsubtle and spectacular, and they do the job perfectly.
I’ve picked blockbuster movies as an extreme example, but they’re a good one, a symbol of our modern obsession with everything being bigger and more extreme than the thing before it. To get our attention buildings are taller, cars are larger, celebrities are richer and blown up like tattooed silicone balloons. This extravagant expansion may be a selling point for many things, but it’s never been an arena where Jersey should compete. We aren’t the most extreme holiday destination, or the loudest place to retire; the Bailiff doesn’t ride through town on a robot dinosaur and our potatoes don’t explode and blow the bad guys to pieces. We have Terrence the Train and the steam clock, and neither of those can change shape. If London or Tokyo are Saturday night blockbusters, by comparison Jersey is more like a documentary about squirrels, narrated by Alan Titchmarsh.
Although I do enjoy a gentle half hour of squirrels, I think we should do more to celebrate our relative smallness. What Jersey is, is exactly what Transformers and Tokyo are not. We’re not extreme or spectacular – we’re small, subtle, quirky and self-contained. We’re cute and compact, like a camper van, a Swiss Army knife, or Prince. Perhaps Prince isn’t exactly subtle, but like a stripper’s underpants he certainly squeezes a lot into a very small space. We should hire him, or make more of ourselves by borrowing a few of these other ideas that celebrate the self-contained. Memo to tourism: “Holiday in Jersey: it’s a bit like Prince, a pen knife or a stripper’s underpants.”
AN ENGLISHMAN’S SHED IS HIS CASTLE
Since the days when there was just two of us, Jersey people love to get upset about how the Island is getting full up. However, if you’ve spent an extended period in America and returned home, you’ll know that there’s something reassuring about the distinctly European approach to running out of room. America has so much space that everything needs to be a statement, but years of overcrowding in the old world has produced a culture of squeezing surprising things into the nooks and crannies that are often the only free spaces left. In Paris this might be a tiny cafe or restaurant that seats only a dozen glamorous winos, in Amsterdam a narrow house that somehow hides a coffeeshop in the basement and a brothel in the attic. In Britain, where we have a hundred words for rain, this culture finds its expression in the less exotic environment of the garden shed. To some people, a shed is for storing spades and spiders, but for others it’s a magical hideaway from the rest of the world. A shed can be a clubhouse or a library, it can be an artist’s studio, a bakery or a mechanic’s workshop. There are sheds that have been turned into cinemas, complete with curtains and popcorn, and few things could be more British than the tiny holiday homes crammed into the beach huts of Bournemouth, or indeed the fisherman’s cottages on our own Ecrehous.
Those of us who don’t have a shed make do with attics and cellars, and love the challenge of fitting odd and inappropriate things into these leftover bits of our homes. Some of the nicest booze holes I’ve been to have been shoe-horned into the owner’s basement, and what they lose in terms of room to safely play darts or pool they more than make up for in warmth and intimacy. Jersey is clearly missing an opportunity to make a positive out of our absurd land prices and confusing building regulations – it makes no sense that St Helier nightlife is dominated by enormous, shiny shirt meatmarkets when we’d probably be dealing with less fighting if the trend was towards intimate basement venues and smoky top-floor speakeasies. People who damaged their brains with tanning and gurning seem to think town needs an Ibiza-style superclub, whereas I’ve personally had more fun over the years dancing in random stranger’s lounges, or in the Miniscule of Sound, a portable nightclub built into an old horse box that has a maximum capacity of eight people and is so compact even the bouncer can’t get inside.
SMALL-SCALE SUPPER CLUB
Pop-up restaurants and street food represent another area that is rejuvenating many similarly expensive locations. You can easily spend a week’s wages eating out in London, or you can search out street food events where most of the stallholders will sell you one or two dishes, paid for in cash and cooked to perfection. You don’t need a grand opening, a Maitre’D with a stick up his arse or any weirdly shaped plates, you can get by with a converted camper van full of pulled pork, barbecue sauce and beer. Food trucks are certainly popping up more regularly here, and people seem to love them, which makes sense in the only place in Britain where you have farm fields the size of squash courts and we have so little spare land we’ve learned to grow our potatoes halfway down a cliff.
From Tyrion Lannister to midget potatoes, it’s obvious I love things that don’t take up too much space – at this point it’s traditional for me to complain about the inappropriate size of many of the vehicles on Jersey’s roads. Well, for once yummy mummies in oversized tank rovers are off the hook, because I’ve been thinking about it and there’s even a silver lining to that particular cloud – and I’m not talking about all the heavy metals in the rush hour air pollution. The ever expanding size of these vehicles, coupled with the eventuality that the Island will completely run out of free space, might actually work together in our favour. I almost got run over the other week by a vehicle so large that the back wheels were in a different time zone, and it occurred to me that even the busiest school run probably doesn’t use up a fraction of that space. Why not encourage our wonderful drivers of these vehicles to rent out some of their unused space for homes, restaurants or small businesses? I’ve seen studio flats with less room than the back seat of a Porsche Cayenne, and even if you don’t fancy moving in the morning traffic is so slow that a family could quite easily eat breakfast in the boot of one in the time it takes to get past Bel Royal. I think most of the drivers probably own a granite farmhouse, so why not return to feudalism and grow potatoes in the wasted space in a Jersey Land Rover? We can stop worrying about immigration and planning policy, as long as we make sure each immigrant comes with their own 4×4. Problem solved. If you need me, I’ll be drinking in my shed.