I know it’s been a while. There are a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve been a bit ill and whinging, moping and feeling sorry for yourself really take up your time; and 2) It was Easter so I’ve been home to experience some motherly love and a fridge that actually has food in it. But, as well as an endless cheese supply and intravenous gin, home also means an enforced state of complete and utter not-looking.
I was brought up on a little island, roundabout here. It’s a pretty place with lots of beaches and flowers and cliffs and things. In summer the sun shines, when it’s not raining, and the tourists burn like hog roasts. About 65,000 people are crammed into 30 square miles of space, which to give you an idea is about the same size as the centre of Nottingham. There the comparisons end though. There’s no sea in Nottingham and there’s no gun crime in Guernsey. It’s a fair trade in the circumstances.
But when I hit 15, this non-ballistic sea presented a major problem: it’s quite big and deep and does a jolly good job of trapping you on small land masses. (I am the next Attenborough.) And all that trapping doesn’t just trap you, it traps everyone else too. So basically, after a decent amount of time, say 15 minutes, you know everyone on your small land mass or you know someone who knows them. Or, beyond the age of 15, you know someone who’s snogged them. After 16 that becomes shagged them. After 21, had kids with. After 25, divorced from. Island life does not make for rich pickings in the love department.
I think the last time I snogged a Guernsey boy was in 1997. (Please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong.) Among my snogs to that point were a bloke who it later transpired had snogged my sister a few weeks before (I’m shuddering at the thought) and another who’d just snogged my mate, and I mean just. I’m sure there are other similar eye-scrunching episodes but I don’t want to think about them long enough to remember. We all do daft things when we’re young but these, in hindsight, were more than a little bit wrong.
Being a small community with a big sea to block it off from DNA infiltrators, this sort of snog-swapping goes on until much later in life. I would probably still be part of it if I were single and back on the Rock. I would probably have to be. On the evenings I went out during my last visit, I wasn’t even tempted to give a bloke the proper once-over – no-one presented any allure, or certainly nowhere near enough to warrant a rule-break.
There was limited choice available when I was 15, when everyone was still single and ready to suck the face off almost anyone else, provided they were of the appropriate gender and used a bit of Clearasil. When you get to 31, that small field has – between marriage, emigration, sexuality-swap and untimely death – slimmed down a lot. When you subtract all those who’ve exchanged fluids of some kind with a friend/enemy/neighbour/kid-you-used-to-babysit-for, there’s essentially no-one left.
On a night out, a friend of mine was telling me her brother was on the look-out for a nice young lady and bemoaning the fact there were no girls left on the island who didn’t have some kind of history with someone he knew. Later I realised, even if I lived on the island, I couldn’t go there – he once went out with one of my good schoolfriends. The tangled web is woven pretty tight on the island.
Don’t get me wrong – and please don’t any of my island friends send me a barrage of bloney abuse – Guernsey is great. Here, let me show you.
Guernsey is genuinely sunnier than the UK, you can see France on a clear day, the sea is clean, the beaches are amazing, the seafood is fresh, booze is cheaper, tax is lower, people are more relaxed, the only thing you have to worry about when walking home late at night is rats, and nowhere’s more than a 15-minute drive. It’s just that, well, nowhere’s more than a 15-minute drive. Unless you want to see a comedy show or some sculpture or a gig by a band with an actual record deal. Then it’s a 15-minute drive to the airport, a 45-minute flight to Gatwick and a 30-minute train journey to central London.
Clearly hauling ass off the island at 18, and barely making a reappearance for longer than a week since then, hasn’t worked out for me in terms of the man thing. But I’ve done a lot of personal, if not physical, growing instead. I got a degree (no unis on Guernsey), worked in the Valleys of south Wales (no unemployment on Guernsey), saw a dead tramp floating in a river (only 2? tramps on Guernsey), saw a river for that matter (river + island = 2 islands), went on strike (illegal on Guernsey), got some letters after my name (not all available on Guernsey) and entertained a number of menfolk, none of whom had snogged anyone I knew before (not available on Guernsey).
I’ve no doubt moving back to the island would immediately and completely zero my FAILs. I wouldn’t look at all. Not once. I wouldn’t want to look because of the reminders of transgressions past, and I wouldn’t have anyone to look at because even the transgressions past are married now. And a bit fat.
But I am as certain as I can be, with no empirical evidence whatsoever, that not-looking on Guernsey would get me no closer to finding myself a lovely chap than to continue looking my little buns off here in London. And at least here in London, I can unsuccessfully look my little buns off at a Daniel Kitson show or at The XX gig at Somerset House or with the beautifully unreal realism of Meredith Frampton at Tate Modern. Or, indeed, whinging and moaning about being ill, at home, alone, like a hermit. (Not one from Herm.)