Angels dancing on the head of a pin, a painting on a single hair, the Taj Mahal carved from a grain of rice. These aren’t things that have been surgically removed from Lady Gaga, but are some of the peculiar attractions that found a home in Jersey in the 1980s. Each of these minute works of art formed part of Micro World, an exhibition produced by the Spanish artist Manuel Ussa and first displayed to eye-watering effect at Fort Regent.
The launch of the attraction saw queues as far as Bonaparte’s, although this is less impressive when you remember that each diminutive exhibit could only be viewed at any one time by a single person, with the aid of a microscope, and even back then very few of our tourists were able to boast 20/20 vision. Micro World was unusual enough to be a modest success, but sooner or later the Fort needed the space to install more slot machines and like many retired things the miniature masterpieces found themselves unceremoniously dumped in the western parishes, installed at The Chateau in St Ouen’s Bay. Since the demolition of The Chateau nobody quite knows where they ended up, but Bergerac is unlikely to take up the case due to the fact that the entire collection could quite easily have been burgled by a miscreant with moderately deep pockets. Like a shrunken version of the Fantastic Tropical Gardens, Micro World will live on in a series of anecdotes guaranteed to either bore or weird out people under thirty – but in a strange way the rise and fall of this small yet perfectly formed attraction might offer a warning about the possible fate of our tourist industry as a whole.
SMALL, DELICATE AND BEAUTIFUL: THE RONNIE CORBETT OF HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS
One of the odder aspects of package tourism in Jersey was that the presence of a captive audience means that people were willing to chance some unpredictable ideas in order to attract floating visitors who still had pound notes to burn and who’d already done the Fort funfair and Jersey Zoo. Young readers might struggle to believe this but at one point we had so much holidaymaker cash flowing into the tills that Jersey could support multiple leisure centres, three or four games arcades and nightclubs in places where there aren’t even streetlights today. Supplementing these more conventional pleasures we then had places like the Micro World, the Shell Garden and the Butterfly Farm, where a giant moth once landed on my grandmother’s blue rinse and took a dump that glowed a radioactive green and must have represented easily 70% of its body weight. Gran was fine, although she has since lived entirely on daffodils and has a habit of repeatedly banging her head against the bathroom window any time the moon is out.
If tourism was Jersey’s beating heart, then its body was kept alive through the slow circulation of its lifeblood: an endless, throbbing procession of pensioner coach parties, hire cars and the occasional German on a bicycle. Think of them as red and white blood cells, suspended in a plasma comprised of Mary Anne bitter and liquid scampi, carried to the vital organs of the tourist body. I think this metaphor means that Fort Regent was the brain, the Fantastic Tropical Gardens were the pancreas and small attractions like Micro World might have been some kind of appendix or a gallbladder – nice to have but ultimately the body limps on if they are removed and dumped in St Ouen.
MICRO WORLD WRESTLING FEDERATION
Well, that is what we probably thought at the time. What has since become clear is that strange little curios like Micro World were part of the package that made a place like Jersey unique. Even before the aviation industry decided to slash long-haul prices in order to hasten humanity’s total extinction through climate change, Jersey was never going to be able to compete with destinations like Florida or Las Vegas. We were always a smaller, cleaner Blackpool, a sandy miniature of the larger British isles, perfectly preserved like a ship in a bottle. We offered shows, seafood restaurants and beaches, but also a destination where you never had to ride on a coach for too long to reach another odd, endearing little attraction. Although no visitor was likely to prioritise a repeat visit to get pooped on by a butterfly, or revisit a painting on the head of an ant, attractions like Micro World helped our economy because so many of our tourists would try them at least once – like Indian food, lawn bowls, or swinging. They should be seen as an important part of our history, and it is sad that so little evidence exists of locations like the witchcraft museum above the Relais De Mielle, the Shire Horse Farm, or Wee Jimmy Krankie’s Kinky Dungeon.
DOES JERSEY NEED A NEW MICRO WORLD?
Joking aside, the answer to that is probably a no. Our main tourist priority is a ferry that works, but beyond that we are unlikely to tempt back visitors by offering an artistic rendering of Kim Kardashian on a bee’s tongue. What we do need to remember is that visitors continue to choose Jersey because we offer a unique scale, a small destination with surprises tucked away in unexpected spots. These don’t have to be weird museums or giant plastic dinosaurs, but can just be restaurants, boutique hotels and the many pleasures of our natural environment. In their own way, the tiny harbours that dot our coastline, the quirky buildings and tiny streets, are as unique as a diorama painstakingly etched into the eye of a needle. They also have the advantage that you don’t have to queue for 15 minutes behind a party from Bolton in order to look at them. Nonetheless, there is a danger that these subtle charms will be crowded out by the gradual expansion of UK chain restaurants and generic building projects, or suffocated under mounds of litter and sea lettuce. We should remember places like Micro World fondly, but also consider that if we aren’t careful their fate may ultimately await us all – dumped in the countryside, gathering dust and eventually bulldozed for another luxury house. Rest in peace, Micro World – you were easily the fifth best thing to do if it was too wet to play miniature golf and Belle Vue was full of teenagers.