FeaturesSoapbox: Alex Farnham

Soapbox: Alex Farnham

What do you define as ‘local’? For me, it means ‘community’ – especially after growing up in Jersey. Local means everyone knows one another, it means you’re aware that if you get caught in a conversation with ‘Lenny up the road who keeps the chickens’, you’d better cancel your plans, because you’re not going anywhere for a few hours.

To an extent it can also be used in a negative context. For example ‘If you’re going to The Farmer’s tonight watch out for the locals!’ (That’s a made up example, The Farmer’s Inn of St Ouen is actually one of the friendliest pubs on the island). My point is, there are a lot of places where ‘local’ can be defined as something that’s exclusive, unwelcoming, and unfriendly, but it’s not often you hear that about Jersey, unless you’re talking about the ‘local’ finance industry.

I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to experience the worst possible definition of the word local a few times in the various places I’ve visited on the mainland, one of said experiences being an argument in McDonald’s that reached a crescendo when one of the tracksuit-clad youths blurted out: ‘When my Dad gets out of prison, I’m going to get him to stab you’… I feel I should mention my views that if incarceration is in any way effective, reoffending should be way down on Daddy’s to-do list. I think it goes without saying that you should never stab a kid anyway, or anyone for that matter, but I understand how frustrating it can be when the bloke before you in the queue orders the last Big Mac. Doesn’t it just make you want to get your dad to stab someone? Anyway, to me, that’s the bad definition of local, and it’s rare you see that in Jersey… sure you get the odd tosser who ruins it for the rest of us, but on the whole, we’re a friendly place.

I recently went to a small city in Spain on holiday, where (like Jersey) tourism is a main drive of their economy. My friend who lives there took us to some lovely places that welcome everyone, especially tourists, and in passing showed us the strictly local bars that, if we were to venture into, would stare us out in a matter of seconds. It’s a similar sort of balance to Jersey, the locals understand and thrive on tourists, whether it’s giving needlessly detailed directions to Gorey Castle or arguing over the best place to get a bowl of mussels – Jersey understands the necessity of tourism, and understands that it’s friend not foe. I’m fairly certain that everyone I’ve spoken to who has visited Jersey has told me that everyone was really friendly – good job everyone, I feel a sense of pride every time.

Are you ready for an absolute textbook topic sentence? Because this is going to blow you away… The term ‘local’ is defined by Oxford English Dictionary as ‘Relating or restricted to a particular area or one’s neighbourhood’, and the use of such juxtaposing terms as ‘relating’ and ‘restricted’ greatly emphasise the duality of what it means to be ‘local’. Ha! In your face any University tutor who said I wouldn’t make it! I was once told in a lecture that English students always found themselves asking the same question after graduation: ‘do you want fries with that?’… And before you ask, no I wasn’t behind the counter when I experienced the chavling conflict mentioned previously. Please don’t judge me… I’m not at all saying there’s anything wrong with working in McDonald’s… it’s just that if I wanted to do that I wouldn’t have wasted three years of my life pretending to read books and trying to stay awake in lectures. Anyway, it’s true, you can either see being local as something beneficial, or an excuse for isolation – either invite someone to experience your local community, or warn them to watch out for the locals. We have the power to control our own definition of local, and it seems as though the majority of us have made the right choice.

For a living these days I write commercials for a local radio station, and it’s by far the best job I’ve ever had. Not only do I get to experience how much our listeners like to get involved (and involve us) in their communities, but I also get to speak to different people from different businesses in countless different industries in order to write their commercials. When I ask them what they believe they absolutely must have in their script, 99% of them say ‘we’re a local business’. I come across it again and again, and I think it’s quite inspiring that although we’re all guilty of feeding the monster of corporation, it still means something to us if a company’s product is local.

So although to the angry few the term ‘local’ means ‘exclusive’ and ‘no trespassing’, to the great many it’s more an embodiment of pride, of community, and more importantly, an invitation to join.

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