Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

I turned a key ... and thought I was face to face with a Nazi

Island life: Dick Strawbridge's Guernsey trip sparked memories
Island life: Dick Strawbridge's Guernsey trip sparked memories

The timing was eerie. I was pottering about at the weekend with the television on aimlessly in the background when a familiar seascape stopped me in my tracks. I couldn't quite place it until the camera cut to Dick Strawbridge talking against the backdrop of a long pier that suddenly made the penny drop.

"Look!" I bellowed to a startled family. "That's my pier! There's my gun!"

Strawbridge was reporting from Castle Cornet in Guernsey – which sits protectively out to sea from St Peter Port – in a repeat of an old episode of The Hungry Sailors. And there he was standing right outside its cafe, where I had worked during the three summers I spent living in Guernsey. There he was setting off its traditional noon-day gun which I heard booming every single day as it signalled the manic lunchtime rush.

The timing was strange because I had been thinking about my time at Castle Cornet just the day before, while watching emotional coverage of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. What is forgotten sometimes is that the German occupation of Europe did stretch into Crown territories. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to come under Nazi control during the Second World War – a brutal occupation that lasted five long years.

I arrived in Guernsey in 1996 largely unaware of this history. I was there to party. It was my first time living away from Northern Ireland so I certainly wasn't interested in the troubles of others. So long as I was making enough to pay for the partying I was happy, so I got a job at Castle Cornet.

Dating back to 1206, it looks like a castle from that era should but I was baffled by the concrete bunkers which had been thrown up with no regard for the original architecture. One of them was an outside store for the cafe from which I got an uneasy feeling from the moment I first turned the key. I don't believe in superstition, lingering spirits or any such sort but that store gave me goose-bumps from the start. It was ice cold and gloomy but as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed the crude concrete walls were covered in words. I ran my fingers along the bumps until I realised with a start, they were names. German names, scrawled into the drying concrete. If I had come face to face with a real-life Nazi it wouldn't have chilled me any less and I fled.

I left the island for the last time in 1998, still only vaguely aware of its sacrifices in the Second World War, until a beautiful book called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society came my way a decade later. I read it purely because it was about a familiar place that will always have a special place in my heart but it brought that war era alive in a way that made me ashamed I hadn't bothered to find out more when I had the chance. It reminded me that I had touched this history, literally with my fingertips, on the scarcely-seen inside of extra fortifications the Germans imposed when they took over on June 30, 1940.

Guernsey sits just 50 kilometres from the beaches of Normandy but the islanders had to wait almost a full year for liberation after D-Day while dispatches of bravery and growing hope floated across the waves.

Lest we forget the bravery of the soldiers on the beaches of Normandy.

Nor should we forget the suffering of a small corner of these islands who lived cheek by jowl with the enemy and bore it with great stoicism on our behalf.

 

Anyone for tennis? Er, me, actually

Move over Maria Sharapova. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh have ruled that people with a dark eye colour — brown or hazel like my own — have faster reaction times than those with blue eyes. And therefore they make good tennis players.

But the boffins also say that those with dark eyes can tolerate less pain, can’t hold their alcohol, have a higher rate of depression, are less likely to study and have a more negative outlook on life.

Going against my genetic disposition for being negative, I’ve decided to be pleased about the new tennis skills I’ve suddenly acquired.

Wimbledon, here I come!

 

Celebs divorced from real world

First we had ‘conscious uncoupling’, and then came ‘thoughtfully and consensually finalising’ a marriage. What is it with celebs who just can’t admit they can’t stand the sight of their spouse anymore?

Although it’s sad to hear about Melanie Griffiths filing for divorce from Antonio Banderas after 20 years together, the announcement has given us another insight into the weird break-up vocabulary of the rich and famous.

“We have thoughtfully and consensually decided to finalise our almost 20 years marriage … in a loving and friendly manner ...,” Melanie declared. Whatever happened to good old irreconcilable differences?

 

 

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