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Home for the Holidays: Jersey
My son, Jasper is exploring my home island of Jersey with all his senses - I am just following him around.
After 20 hours, 2 flights, 3 failed escape attempts, little substantial food and even less sleep, Jasper and I made it to Jersey. Having grown up here, I will always have a fondness for the island, and will fiercely defend its appeal to anyone silly enough to challenge it, but on this visit, as I see Jersey through Jasper’s wide and curious eyes, I am more appreciative of it than ever.
I am beginning to wonder, only a few days into our six week stay here, if Jersey might just be the exact opposite of Mumbai: the fine dining to Mumbai’s all-you-can-eat buffet; the solo harp to Mumbai’s one-thousand strong drumline; the gentle watercolour to Mumbai’s fistful of powder paint; the sensory garden to Mumbai’s concrete jungle. Mumbai is about as impatient, loud, erratic and overpowering as Jersey feels content, quiet, measured and understated.
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Dylan and I joke about Mumbai being a sensory overload, but I haven’t given much thought to the impact that might be having on Jasper, until now. In the short time we have been in Jersey, Jasper has already, on numerous occasions, found himself so captivated by something he can smell or hear or feel that he stops dead in his tracks. He turns to me and says in his soft little voice (which I can’t hear above the sound of the Mumbai streets, even if I put my ear directly against his mouth) ‘What Japper smell?’, ‘What Japper hearing?’, ‘What Japper feeling?’. It is heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure watching him explore and absorb the tiniest details of the new environment in which he finds himself. It is as if he has never heard a bird sing, or never smelled a scented flower. He has, of course, but since being able to speak and therefore to express his curiosity, he has never done either of these things in isolation - without having to first separate it from a wall of noise or identify it in hot, heavy air, thick with conflicting aromas. As I answer his questions and encourage him to explore further, I realise just how easy it is to take a place like Jersey for granted, and how important it is that we take him out of Mumbai as often as we can.
Whether because it’s spring - which means blossoms, and daffodils and baby farm animals, or because the last time I was here I didn’t want to be here, Jersey feels renewed. It feels delicate and calm and if I’m honest, a little bit like it’s showing off so that I miss it more when we leave. As Jasper and I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac of Jersey’s small-but-international airport and breathed in our first outside air in hours and our first fresh air in months, I felt a rush of relief at being away from the city. And then as we wound our way through vibrant green country lanes, past cosy granite cottages and sweeping coastal dunes, I felt a pang of guilt at having left Dylan there while Jasper and I jetted off for our long island break.
Both of these feelings were quickly interrupted by our arrival at my mother’s house, where Jasper decided to go full ‘toddling tornado’ in his haste to see, touch, smell, bang and move absolutely everything within reach. Up and down the stairs he clambered, round and round the kitchen he ran, and in and out between the kitchen and garden he hopped. And then, unsurprisingly, he crashed out.
The next morning, we both woke early and I brought him into my room in a feeble attempt to stop his excited babbling from waking everyone else at 5:30am. We lay in bed listening to the raindrops playing a melody on the windowsill - ‘is it like piano?’, quizzed Jasper. We listened to wood pigeons and tiny, whistling birds singing in the trees outside and Jasper did his best to join in before giggling and saying ‘Japper like hearing birds’. You know a place is quiet when Jasper is the loudest thing in it.
Our first full day involved a trip to the supermarket (supermarket, noun: a shop that sells everything I need all in one place), a visit to Aunty Liv’s house and plenty of time playing with his new helmet (which came with a scooter but has so far seen far more use) in the garden. In the middle of a very energetic, late afternoon game of peekaboo between Jasper outside and Nana inside, he suddenly stopped and, clenching his hands open and closed a few times asked me ‘what Japper feeling?’. I took a minute to respond, and while he waited he touched his hands to the patio tile. ‘Oh!’, I said. ‘You’re feeling cold!’ Despite it being April, there is an icy bite to the wind at the moment, and chilled fingers is not something Jasper is used to.
Our second day took us on a walk down to Aunty Liv’s house via the quiet country lanes. On our 20 minute stroll we saw one van and one lady walking. The rest of the time it was just Jasper and me. He wanted to know what was growing in the fields (I guessed carrots), what kind of bird was singing in the tree above (I guessed a starling), what the purple flowers are called (I guessed forget-me-not but was later corrected by Liv saying they were bluebells). I loved that I could hear all his vocalised thoughts clearly above the spring silence, despite him being in his buggy and facing away from me.
From Liv’s we went into town, and there Jasper demonstrated that although he might be a city boy, he’s a sheltered one with no street smarts. Granted, St Helier does have a pedestrianised feel to it but there are still most definitely roads, and there are most definitely cars. As tiredness and fresh air got the better of him he tried to play a squirmy version of hopscotch on a zebra crossing and wanted to use the very edge of the pavement as a balancing beam. I hope that by the end of our time here he is a little safer out in the real world.
Our afternoon excursion took us to the east of the island, to Gorey Beach, and more specifically to what is arguably the island’s most scenic playground. Jasper was initially hesitant on the sandy ground, but took on the challenge when he realised that it was all that stood between him and what turned into almost an hour on the swings. He tried the big swing, the medium swing and the small swing, played briefly on the climbing frame and then returned to the smallest swing where he could sit comfortably and without needing to hold on, while he daydreamed out over the flat, turquoise sea. His unfocused expression told me that he was listening and feeling more than he was looking.
As we walked along the beach from the playground to the ice cream van, he was intrigued by the sand; how soft it was, how lightly it dusted his fingers when he scooped up a handful and (thankfully) how unsatisfying it was to throw. He crunched on the scattered seaweed and exclaimed loudly as he spied shell after shell lying half-hidden in the sand. The real hero of the afternoon was the cow parsley (closely seconded by the ice cream, I think). He joined me, almost nose to nose, as I bent down to smell it, and then nodding in appreciation for its sweet scent, wrinkled his eyebrows to ask ‘is it like a broccoli?’
As we drove home, we found ourselves on a stretch of road which might as well have taken us straight through a cow’s digestive system. From cow parsley to cow pat was an unwelcome transition, according to Jasper’s horrified face and instinctive response of covering his nose and mouth with his hands. I wondered for a second if he might vomit. ‘What Japper smelling?’ he choked, through shallow breaths and clasped hands. ‘Cows’, said Aunty Liv. ‘No. Cow poop’, corrected Jasper. No amount of books or petting zoos could have prepared him for the sting of cow urine and excrement on the inside of his nasal cavity. It’s just a shame he’s too young to be forming lasting memories yet. I’d like him to remember his first aromatic assault from a battery of bovine bottoms.
Tuesday was day three, and we headed to the cliffs. Looking like a miniature fireman, bundled up in his newly purchased yellow waterproof trousers and black rain jacket, and sporting an old hat of Nana’s, Jasper strode confidently away from where we parked, towards the grey-blue sea we could see in front of us declaring ‘I want to swim in that pond’. That pond was the English Channel, and is currently hovering at around 11°C. Luckily, we didn’t walk that far. We followed a trail through some woodland, and although we didn’t stray from the path, for Jasper it must have seemed like we had fallen into a magical realm. His icy little fingers were hidden inside his coat sleeves but he still wanted to hold my hand to steady himself as he navigated twigs and tree roots and leaves and uneven mud underfoot. Every few seconds he paused and after a few stops, he looked up at me and said ‘Japper keep stopping. Japper like hearing’. He wanted to listen to the rustle of his trousers for a few strides, and then stop to work out where the bird song was coming from. He wanted to roll his feet back and forth over sticks to know how that felt. He was fascinated by the mounds and dips in the trail and glowed with pride as he clambered up and jogged down them. When he wasn’t asking for explanation about what he was seeing, or hearing or feeling, he was quiet and contemplative as he took it all in. Again I was reminded that all these sounds and sensations would be completely drowned out in Mumbai.
The one sense which Jasper does not seem so willing to fine tune while we are here, is his sense of taste, however. As we sat on a bench, gazing out towards the ‘pond’ which we never did reach, he dug into a packet of kid-friendly crisps. He was still on his first mouthful when he turned to me and said ‘Masala? Is there a masala one?’ He wasn’t fooled by my attempt to convince him that the vaguely pink-ish one must be masala (rather than tomato) but I recovered his faith in my snack-provision abilities when I found him a pack of sausage flavoured crisps later in the day.
Wednesday then, was day four and high time we visited the Hungry Man - a no-frills island favourite, a shed-cafe perched on the end of a pier. In between sips of coffee and mouthfuls of cake, Nana, Aunty Liv and I took turns entertaining Jasper’s death wish and determination to stand as close to the edge of the pier as he could, watching the buoys and boats as they bobbed about in the bay. He was shivering more than he ever has in his life in the cold cross-wind, but when I asked him if he was cold, he said no. I took it to mean no - not to his knowledge. The bay we were in is picture perfect and could have been the inspiration for one of his books. He worked his way around the bay, pointing out everything he’s seen in pictures and holding his hands to his face with glee when a real life fisherman started loading real life lobster pots onto his real life fishing boat. He took in every detail and then demanded that Aunty Liv and I recreate the scene with colouring pencils after lunch at her house.
Before coming to Jersey, I was busy researching classes and activities similar to those he enjoys in Mumbai, not wanting him to ‘lose out’ due to being away from the place he calls home. But now that we are here, I realise that all I really need to do is make sure he experiences Jersey: top to bottom, inside and out, in all its multisensory glory. And luckily, all the best things in Jersey are free, too, which makes a nice change from Mumbai.
So, for the next five and a bit weeks, you can expect a bombardment of photos of Jasper striding, forthright and confident, away from me, as he sets off to explore his surroundings in whatever way he chooses. I only have to try and keep up with everything he learns, everything he loves and everything we need to come back and revisit the next time.
The joy the simplest things in Jersey seem to bring to Jasper reminds me of a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (bear with me) which used to feature in an undeniably 90s-esque, 4D cinema experience at a long-closed interactive museum here:
“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”
As long as Jasper doesn’t lose his footing on one of the many cliff walks I foresee, I think perhaps the museum had it right - that this quote may well have been inspired by Jersey.
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